I have had several days to process last week. It was an emotional roller-coaster for the most part. At one moment, I felt healed and the next I felt raw and fresh. Being with other widows has a way of doing this.
I took off Tuesday morning, taking only slightly longer than usual to drive to Dallas. Slowly, the writing team began to arrive. Kit, Sheryl, Bonnie, Elizabeth (that’s me), Lori, Erika, Sherry, Teri, and Karen pulled up chairs to a conference table for our pre-supper! This hotel had pasta, bread, and salad served during their “happy hour”! After catching up on our travels, we refreshed ourselves to go out for dinner! We met two local widows who would be helping us put on our conference – Kim and Colleen. When I mention each name, a “story” comes to mind. Each of these widows I have mentioned has an incredible journey to share. Each one. We range in age from mid-thirties to seventy. We range from kids at home, kids grown, or never having had kids. But each is a widow, totally depending on Christ for the strength along the journey. I wish I could tell you each story. You would be so encouraged.
Just after our long wait for our orders, and fourteen baskets of chips later, one of our gals received a phone call — her father was just found passed away, alone in his home. What a devastating way to begin our conference, especially for the conference director! She had planned every detail and had to leave immediately, unable to see her plans carried through. She drove home during the night so she could hop on a plane the following day. But we tried to keep her in the loop all week with how things were going and changes we made due to weather.
It seems like we kept hitting obstacles while preparing for this conference. Somehow it was going to work out–we just couldn’t see past all the barricades! We had two writers unable to make it at the last minute due to circumstances they had no control over. We had to scramble at the last minute, switching around speaking sessions and responsibilities. I was supposed to teach two sessions with two of the gals unable to be there! God got my attention really quickly; this was His show, not mine! As if I didn’t know that already…
We had some meetings with our team on Wednesday, and Thursday our ladies began to arrive. The church location was beautifully decorated by a team of ladies from the Dallas area. Our book table was “manned” by another team of local ladies, and a snack area overflowed with handmade goodies, including beautiful cupcakes. These local gals were invaluable. What a blessing!
The attendees arrived as just names on a page but became so much more. We shared bits and pieces of our stories over coffee or dinner or with a hug after a session. There were widows as young as twenty-two. I wasn’t even married at twenty-five! We had more ladies (at this conference than the last) just weeks into widowhood. Their grief was just barely below the surface. Their grief was still so fresh and raw. It took me back, instantly, to my first few weeks of widowhood. I was shocked they were showered and out of bed, honestly!
My sessions were on Friday afternoon, as the snowfall piled up. We made lots of last minute decisions to get the ladies out the door before dark, instead of staying late. We bumped all the sessions and group times up and ended early. I drove one group back to the hotel, while three or four cars of attendees followed me. Finally, I was able to speak a few words with one particular widow I wanted to meet. She is from south Texas and has six children the same ages as mine! What a sweetheart she is!
The last event before the early weather release was a candlelight ceremony honoring our husbands and what God is doing in us for our futures. I was shocked how easily my tears flowed as I saw Mr Mark’s name on the screen. And each name on the screen was SOMEBODY to another lady in that room. Each name.
But I truly believe the best part of the conference was Saturday…the ladies were stuck at the hotel because of the weather so they did what ladies do best…Bonded! Some went to the mall right next door. Some hung out in rooms to talk. Some bought matching bracelets. All of them hated for it to end. As they boarded their planes or packed their cars, these ladies were friends. Close friends. They came in as strangers, they left as sisters. God works so amazingly without me in the picture! They didn’t need our sessions–they needed time to bond. And bond they did. We praise God for the closeness of these ladies.
Let me give you some of the stats of the attendees:
- they came from California, Florida, Wisconsin, and Alaska
- they were victims of abuse and victims of deep love
- they were just weeks into widowhood and ten years into widowhood
- they had babies at home and they had grand-babies nearby
- they had tragic circumstances like murder, suicide, cancer, heart attacks – we filled the spectrum
- they were young and they were old
- they were part of local widow group and they had never spoken to another widow
The session I was to do on healing from negative emotions ended up being done with a little help from Lori, instead of one who couldn’t make it. The session on forgiveness was to be done with the gal who lost her father. Her forgiveness story is just incredible–her brother was killed in a drive-by shooting on his birthday, then her husband was killed by a drunk driver. I love how she tells about meeting with the man and sharing God’s love with him. She is a wonderful example of forgiveness. I kid her that I am the “before” picture of forgiveness – a work-in-progress, if you will. I have had so many opportunities to forgive but haven’t taken them always. Sometimes it seems more fun to hold onto that unforgiveness and dole it out as I see fit! But she used the story of the merciless servant in Matthew 18. How can we withhold forgiveness, when we have been forgiven so much more by God? Who am I to decide what should and shouldn’t be forgiven? God is the final judge, I just have to follow His instruction to forgive. Especially when it doesn’t make sense. She even had practical steps, explaining what it does and doesn’t look like. So I shared this in the class. But who am I to speak of forgiveness? There were ladies sitting in that room who had attempted murder to forgive, who had cheating husbands to forgive, who had lousy doctors to forgive, who had stealing relatives to forgive, who had hateful “friends” to forgive. I felt so out of place. I only could share what God’s Word said. I prayed that it would be enough for these hurting women.
On Saturday, I wanted to beat the ice and headed north to home. The roads were horrendous! It took me nearly five hours to get home, not bad considering. I had an inch of frozen yuck across the front of my SUV. But I made it home and had a day to just hang with the kids before we hit re-entry into the have-to-be-in-five-places mom role the next day. And it didn’t disapoint–When three o’clock hit, I was in the car until 7:30…I think I saw the youngest two somewhere in that chaos!
Thank you so much for your prayers. This is such a difficult journey I am on. I have amazing friends who surround you with prayers and hugs and encouragement. I truly have been so blessed, which seems hard to imagine when we have lost so much. I am thankful for the ones who walk closely beside me.
All for now,