February 14, 2021
She was my valentine for 71 years
Since my wife died in December, friends have been telling me that the burden of grief will become lighter with the passage of time. That is surely true for me, but not because “time heals.” Time does not heal but the passing of time allows one’s perspective to change. I sense that my sorrow has become more manageable because my grief is gravitating toward gratitude.
Two months after the shock of Dean’s death, I am now able to stand back and look at “the big picture.” Dean was six months past age 88. We were married 68 and a half years. We enjoyed good health most of those years. We lost our first child to leukemia at age three, but God gave us four more fine sons who became our pride and joy. We lived to see 12 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. With Dean by my side cheering me on, I have preached the gospel of Christ for 70 years. Only a fool would not be profoundly thankful for the blessings we shared together!
For many years I have loved the popular song, “One Day at a Time.” It reminds me that life is best lived one day at a time. Seize the day. Enjoy the day. Don’t fret about yesterday’s hardships. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Live today to the fullest. This was the way Dean lived. She was devoid of pessimism and always optimistic. If it was raining when we woke up, she would still repeat her most quoted remark: “Oh what a beautiful day it is!”
I had a good laugh the other day when the spokesperson for Social Security called to inform me that Dean had not been employed enough quarters to qualify for the $255 burial benefit. I laughed out loud, remembering that Dean had spent her life thankful for the honor of being not a housewife but a homemaker. From day one she was totally dedicated to making our home a haven of blessing and a place of peace – and the Lord crowned her effort with success! When we did not have two nickels to rub together, she picked wild flowers out of a ditch and made a beautiful centerpiece for our dinner table. She could make a can of Spam taste like a beef roast, surrounded by onions, carrots and potatoes. I am sure the good woman on the phone did not understand why I responded to her announcement with a hearty “Thank God!”
I began asking Dean to “be my valentine” when we were 17, three years before our marriage. So, she was my valentine for 71 years. I gave her a box of chocolates. A few years ago, instead of a valentine card, she copied on a sheet of paper a picture of a man’s hands placing an engagement ring on a woman’s finger. Below it she typed this message: “This I will remember, when the rest of life is through: the finest thing I have ever done is simply loving you.” She signed it: “Dean.” I was speechless; I just hugged her and hoped she did not see my tears. As I held her I was thanking God for His kindness in allowing one so undeserving to be loved by such a remarkable woman. Hallmark will survive but this year they will miss the sale of one lovely valentine card – and at least a small box of chocolates.
As I reflect on the big picture of our life together, I realize that gratitude is overcoming my sadness in losing her. That must be what it means to grieve in faith, to be sustained by the promises of God instead of being crushed by sadness. Living with Dean, one day at a time, made every day exciting. I want to illustrate by sharing the gist of a message she delivered in our church five years ago. I had asked her to speak one Sunday (she refused to call it preaching) and she spoke, without notes, on this theme: “Getting the Most Out of Life.”
Standing beside the pulpit (she would not stand behind it: “I am not a preacher but a witness”), she began by saying, “Today is a beautiful day! It is all we have and we will never have this day again. If you woke up breathing, you can make this a good day. You can start with your face. Don’t settle for a frown when you can offer others what Robert Louis Stevenson called a ‘glorious morning face.’” She then quoted from memory these few lines from Stevenson:
If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:-
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake….
She took us into the Gospel of John, reminding us of the words of Jesus: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Then, lacing her thoughts with scripture, she spoke of five things we need to do to get the most out of life:
1. Live life abundantly! Jesus came so that you can live life to the full. He does not want you to live a drab, boring life. Life is difficult but despite the hardships, by trusting Jesus we can enjoy an abundant life.
2. Love deeply! Peter reminds us that love covers a multitude of sins. Since none of us is perfect, we need to offer one another forgiving love that covers our sins.
3. Offer hospitality freely! What a great joy is ours when we open our hearts and our homes to others in the name of Jesus. We say “Come in!” to those who come to our door. Come and enjoy our fellowship with Jesus. Let us learn and grow together.
4. Use your gifts gratefully! Make this world more beautiful by your offerings. Plant flowers. Bake a cake for a friend. Sing a song. Play the piano. Whatever gifts you have been given, use them to bless others and thank God for the privilege!
5. Serve others joyfully! Pick up a broom, a mop, a hoe or a shovel and sing while you help somebody. Never serve the Lord with a sad face. Do what the Psalmist said to do: “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing.”
That was not just a 5-point talk. It was the way Dean lived, day after day, one day at a time until the Lord called her home. The more I remember this, the more grateful I become for the privilege of living a long life with her. Precious memories then become more than sentimental remembrances; they allow gratitude to overpower my sadness and give God a chance to heal my broken heart. Believe me, I am ready to experience what Jeremiah heard God say He could do: turn my mourning into gladness and give me comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
Such healing, of course, does not usually happen overnight. So, I wait patiently with hope, trusting God as the songwriter says,
One day at a time, sweet Jesus
That’s all I'm asking of You
Just give me the strength to do every
What I have to do
Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine
God help me today
Show me the way
One day at a time
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