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Ruth: Such Joy and Such Sadness

June 17, 2018 22 comments

On May 28th, my dear Ruth died. We were betrothed to be married June 23rd, 2018. This is the first I have been able to write about it and am doing so from Tofino where I have come away on a retreat with my fiend Wayman.

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I had just landed in Sacramento CA for a meeting when my phone rang and I was told that Ruth was in the hospital and they have identified cancer in her ribs, back, hip, lungs and liver. There was no treatment plan possible and Ruth was being put directly into palliative care.  This was just one month and two days before we were to be wed in a beautiful service we planned on Keats Island surrounded by our family and a few close friends.

As God would have it Cam Roxborough, a long-time friend, happened to be right there, at that time, in the same airport and he asked me if everything was okay? With tears I said “No” and told him of Ruth’s diagnosis. We stood praying together by the baggage carousels and that began a new journey for me, but one I was all too familiar with because of walking with my wife Brenda just years earlier.

The blog I wrote just prior to this one is called “Beautiful Story.” Ruth and I used this as a means of announcing our relationship. Inspired by the song of the same title written by Mia Fieldes, it proclaimed how God was in the background of our lives orchestrating every detail and customizing it for our lives.

This seemed so true for Ruth and I for in very different ways we needed each other, and it was perfect. Our love had made us like giddy teenagers yet we were inspired by a maturity in our faith that filled us with dreams of how God was going to use us together for his Kingdom.

Little did I consider, if at all, that now I would have to accept that God had been in the background orchestrating a story that did not end as we had presumed. At one-point Ruth was alone with me in the hospital room and tears were rolling down from her beautiful eyes. She asked me, “What is happening?”

“Dear, your body is shutting down” I shared as tenderly as I could amidst my own tears.

“I know that” she replied, “I just thought that we would have much more time together.”

“Me too, me too” I said with my head resting on the side of her bed.

Irish Literature

Irish literature is well known for its disproportionate number of dark tales involving personal struggles and the supernatural. Perhaps because of my background I feel trapped in this presently. We tend to like stories with happy endings – this is not one for me.

Many people around me keep saying that this just isn’t fair! Ruth’s death is not fair!

I get this feeling and it flits by in my thoughts but has not really landed. I wonder, why when our relationship was so perfect would she die before our dreams had really begun? With Ruth dying just three weeks before we were to be wed I feel personally slighted. I feel like a young child who has just been grounded saying “That’s not fair!”

You and I live in a society that is obsessed with ‘fairness’ but the application of fairness is actually quite subjective. The shadow side of ‘fairness’ and that is ‘selfishness’. In Matthew 20:10-12 Jesus shares a story of farmers who felt unfairly treated by the landowner. But Jesus in his narrative later says “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

In my living room there is a copy of Rembrandt’s painting “The Prodigal”. As I look at it today I feel like I am the older brother standing in judgement over the father who is being entirely unfair in welcoming back the prodigal without as much as a penalty. What is ‘fair’ about that? Nothing. But it is an expression of God’s grace.

Just five days after Ruth’s death I sat around a fire with my sons and Martin Sanders from New York asking questions.

“Why would God allow love to form in me again only to have it separated by death?”

“If God desires that we flourish, where do I find that in this situation?

“If God is kind, where is kindness in this?”

“With all that we know about God, how does one make sense of Ruth’s death?”

God’s knows things that we do not. That is the only place I can land these questions. His sense of what is fair, and what is not fair, is beyond human understanding. While intellectually and in faith I can say this, it is not very satisfying in my grief. It has caused for me a serious reconsideration of what I consider to be fair.

Grace

Grace is the only thing that is giving me perspective on all this. As I shared at Ruth’s service, despite the tragedy of this seeming to destroy a beautiful story, we can experience a constant dripping of God’s grace into our lives just like the IV bag was dripping fluids into Ruth in her last days.

If God were ‘fair’ with us then he would not have Jesus die on the cross in payment for our sin. He would not be here walking with me every day helping me get through this and bringing whatever strength I have. He would not have provided me with family and friends who have surrounded me with love and call to check on my well-being or ask hard questions about whether I am feeling suicidal in any way (a question we should be more open to asking those close to us who are hurting).

God’s grace transcends fairness. Grace extends a hand of forgiveness to me every time I mess up and offers his Spirit as a tender comforter to me amidst the stinging heart ache that I suffer.

The pain for me is still severe, but there are some blessings I am beginning to count as I seek beyond my own selfishness. I have a new extended family. Despite not being married, I have become family to Ruth’s children and family and we can walk together through this time of grief.

My own children and grandchildren have gone through much and experienced significant loss in their lives. Yet I see a maturity in them that inspires me. They cling to each other, and to God, and offer themselves to serve others who are experiencing pain and loss.

Even being able to identify some blessings is a part of God’s grace. I recall anew Brenda’s expressed desire for me to continue sharing the gospel of grace after she was to pass, so consider this a little drip of grace for you. I will write more as I process and when I can.

Today I began a new season of mourning. I know the importance of this from our families grief journey over Brenda’s death. We need to mourn for a season. If we don’t mourn it is too easy to stay stuck in anger, pain, numbness and resentment.

There is a black band around my wrist as a marker of this season of mourning. Each time I glance at it I am reminded of my loss.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

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Beautiful Story

March 18, 2018 55 comments

BEAUTIFUL STORY

I have a beautiful story to share from my life about loss, redemption, and the expansive love of God.

LOSS

I have been in a season of great loss.

Today marks 1537 days since Brenda was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and 949 since she passed through. Brenda prepared us well as a family for her death, yet we have learned much since then. Together we have learned:

  • That grief does not necessarily get easier as time passes.
  • Embracing the full reality of the death cannot, and should not, occur quickly.
  • Some days the full depth of your loss will hit you.
  • Your personal faith as a Christian can have a tremendous impact on your journey with grief.
  • Even if you have faith in God, you still need to mourn.
  • With hurt comes healing.

Mourning is the outward expression of your many thoughts and feelings regarding the person who has died. In my case, this was Brenda, my wife, soulmate, best friend, and companion of thirty-nine years. I have been mourning and am not finished yet, nor feel compelled to hurry it along.

As follower of Jesus for many years and a leader amongst pastors and ministry people, I knew that I had a substantial foundation on which to stand for this next season of my life. Yet despite all this, I so longed for companionship. Most days I had come to believe that I would spend the rest of my life alone despite Brenda making it clear before she died that she wished for me to remarry.

REDEMPTION

In October, I sat in a quaint restaurant in a heritage home in Blowing Rock, North Carolina with my friends J John and Killy from the UK. They knew and loved Brenda deeply, but at that lunch felt called to pray over me regarding my desire for companionship. I had a similar response from my friends Rich and Debbie in Charlotte on the same trip.

On my return from North Carolina, I was speaking for a Young Adult conference that was held at Barnabas on Keats Island. This is a very special place for our family and has been for years. Arrow Leadership uses it as one of its prime locations for classes, and I have been going there for years.

barnabasBrenda and I prayed for the vision of Barnabas before it existed at this location, and I have been friends with Rob and Kathy Bentall, the founders, for decades. It is a ‘thin place’ – a place that is sacred; where healing, teaching and inspiration take place year-round. After Brenda’s death we decided as a family to support Barnabas by sponsoring one of the bedrooms in The Station, a new marquee building being built for teaching, dining, administration and some new bedroom accommodation. Though Brenda had travelled the world, she was quick to tell anyone that Barnabas was her favourite place on the planet. It seemed so right to us all that this would be a place of memorial for her.

KeatsLandingAt the end of the Young Adult Retreat I was transported to the Government Wharf with all the guests to make our boat ride back to the mainland off this beautiful island. At the top of the ramp I paused to give a hug to Rob and Kathy, and then to Rob’s sister, Ruth, who had facilitated the retreat.

When I hugged Ruth, I felt an electrical shock surge through my shoulders and back that made me step back.

“What just happened?” I thought to myself while trying to remain calm in front of all the people.

I’ve known Ruth for decades. We have done ministry side by side at Barnabas conferences, and consider her a friend, although we do not see each other all that often. All of my sons have worked for Ruth in their younger years at Barnabas.

When my boat started to leave, I kept wondering “What just happened?”. This did not go away and finally I got up the courage to text message Ruth. I wanted to give myself lots of wiggle room so I asked her, “What just happened?”

Ruth replied, “I don’t know, but something happened! We should talk about it.”

Well, talk we did a week later, and we have been seeing each other and talking ever since. We spent time with our children seeking discernment. We sought wisdom of counsellors with expertise in second marriages. I went for a separate session to do a check on where I was at in my grief journey, to see if I was ready for a new relationship. I spoke to my closest friends about us when I realized that I was in love with Ruth, and she with me. As our counsellor said to us, there are no red flags, and we were both in a place of readiness for remarriage.

You have not heard much from me over the past months. It is because we intentionally have been quiet about our seeing one another. We needed the time and opportunity to know one another better without the pressures of our relationship circles – which are vast. Ruth and I have come to this new relationship out of deep loss. You are tender and cautious when you are in that space. Neither of us could have imagined this beautiful new relationship. God has been in the background orchestrating every detail. We are without words.

EXPANSIVE LOVE OF GOD

I spent time with my sons talking this all over. Ruth wisely reminded me that I was grieving the loss of Brenda, my wife, but my sons were grieving their mother and that was different. At one point one of my Sons asked a question about how all of this works. “How can you love Mom, and love Ruth?”

“Well,” I answered, “Remember when you first got married and how you thought love doesn’t get any better than this?”

“Yes” he acknowledged.

“Then Landon was born, your first son. Do you remember that moment when you first held him, and your love circle grew in capacity exponentially to include your baby?”

“Yeah I remember.”

“And then when you think that you simply could not love anymore, along comes your second son Liam and, oh my, the love expansion he brought to your life. You get the picture, it is one of an expansive love. I’m not sure exactly how this all works but I feel like God has given me that expansive kind of love for Ruth – while I still love your Mom. Your Mom will always be my first love.”

That was the best I could do at the time because I am still learning. When we love God, we’ll love others, because that’s the way real love works.  We’ll tell others of His love for them, because His love wants to draw others into that love.  We’ll delight in drawing others into our love, expanding our capacity, because that’s the way my God is, and His love working in us will affect us that way, too.

Well, in the spirit of this expansive love of God, and with the support of our families, and dear Brenda’s family, I knelt on one knee and asked Ruth if she would marry me. She said yes and we are planning to be married the end of June in a small intimate family wedding, on a small island in the Pacific. We look forward to leaning into how God is going to use our companionship and love, to further His ministry through us.

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Grieving and the Holidays: Canadian Thanksgiving

October 8, 2017 5 comments

 

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There are certain days for those who grieve that act like emotional land mines.

Thanksgiving is one such time for me. During this holiday, my emotions feel more intense than, on what I might call, normal days on the grief journey.

Thanksgiving was always a big family time growing up, and in our marriage. I have lovely memories of the joy Brenda had decorating the house for the season, and preparing for “her babies” to arrive for the big family dinner. This year, Thanksgiving converges with our wedding anniversary. This amplifies my emotions evoking moments of loneliness, sadness, despair and even anger.

The grief group I attended after Brenda’s death helped reiterate that all of these feelings are normal, though I would add, not pleasant. They taught that feelings are part of the process of grief and that we are to accept our feelings, whatever they may be, and not deny them or push them away. They also shared the importance of preparing before special days like holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. It is because we are used to associating the holidays with good times and our loved ones, so we will miss them all the more at these moments of the year.
Those of us on the grief journey must contemplate in advance what we are going to do, and who we are going to be with on these special days.

Brenda's MarkerSo, I have done some preparing. I have planned to spend quiet time at the cemetery giving thanks for our marriage and the incredible seasons of life that we lived together. I truly do thank God for those years and the memories. Brenda used to teach leaders “memories never depreciate and are worth investing in.” So true in my life right now.

There are other things such as having time to read my Bible, seeking both strength and comfort from the words found there. I attended a hockey game early in the morning to watch my eldest grandson play and receive the MVP trophy. Any time with my grandchildren always helps. Today, I went to church with Jeremy and Shari and Mac, Ellie and Georgia. In the afternoon I have arranged for gardening and supper with life friends who will surround me with love.

Then, on the holiday Monday, my family, all thirteen of us, will gather around the dining room as my “daughters” Kristin, Shari and Kirstie excitedly prepare and serve our traditional turkey feast. This gathering will provide time to identify where we are on our grief journey and express thanks for “Mom” and other things in our lives. As I mentioned, this would have been our 41st wedding anniversary. So, I am thankful that I will not be alone, but surrounded by those closest to me.

If you are grieving a loss, it is easy for these “special days” to sneak up on you, so be careful. You cannot eliminate the feelings, but you can prepare for them. I’ve been told that no matter how long it has been, you still carry a portion of your grief with you. That portion will be with you for the rest of your life. Emotions, you thought you had already dealt with, will come flooding back at unexpected times, but on these special days, you can anticipate. I’ve already begun to think and plan for Christmas.

When I am discouraged, or at a low point relating to my loss, the only real remedy is to look to the Father. God truly is the source of all healing and I am making the decision to remain close to Him despite my emotions. This morning the words written by the psalmist in Psalm 42:6 reminded me of this, “My soul is downcast within me; therefore, I will remember you.” So, even though I feel struck by grief once again, I am choosing to depend on God and I will praise Him and give thanks. For “though I am struck down, I am not destroyed.”

In Brenda’s journal entries, she often wrote what she was thankful for even as she faced death. I read this today and her list made me smile:

• God’s heartbeat in my life.
• The gifts of prayer and scripture.
• My loving family.
• Encouraging friends.
• A roaring appetite.
• Pretty good energy.
• The hope of Christmas, now just weeks away.
• So much love and goodwill at every turn.
• Hope.
• Laughter.

What are you thankful for today?

Two Years After: The grief journey as a family

August 12, 2017 4 comments

August 12, 2017, marks the second anniversary of Brenda’s passing. Two years and we still have days when we feel like we cannot participate in life. Yet the family are in this together (Phil. 1:30). We know it will not always hurt this much but even after two years it still seems so fresh as this woman loved and is loved, so deeply. We are choosing to move through this together. That’s how we roll in the Pue family.

We have established traditions around the anniversary date that we will maintain. It starts with all of Brenda’s boys – sons, grandsons (and Ellie) – attending the airshow. Why? It’s hard to explain, but when Brenda was in her final days she insisted that her boys go to the airshow, something we have enjoyed together many times. It was important to her.

I wondered if she just wanted time alone with Kristin (our first daughter in law), or maybe was just desiring some quiet time. We were at a stage where someone had to be with her at all times and Kris gladly stayed with ‘Mom’ while we all packed into the car and went off to enjoy something that in some ways took our minds off what was taking place at home. So part of our memories and thoughts about how intentional and thoughtful Brenda was, we went again and enjoyed the display of flight.

This  morning we gathered early as a family and go to the cemetery where we hold a private time as family sharing stories of Mom, Grammy and wife amidst tears. Then a reading to refocus us on hope for the future and healing followed by checking in with each other as to how we are doing with our grief. Jon closed as he prayed for us and we then we headed back.

It brings some joy to me to see how comfortable the grandkids are at the cemetery. They were an active part in her burial, actually hauling the buckets of dirt and helping the Burial Grounds Custodian tamp down the dirt as it was layered. My oldest grandson Landon dropped a note to Grammy into the burial box, Liam placed a flower in the grave and even my sweet Ellie who was dressed in a cute dress got herself all dirty helping with the dirt. Now when they come they feel comfortable and not afraid or fearful.

There is always something planned for the children to participate in our remembrance service as we want them an active part of our day. Today they laid a rose with us on the gravesite and either said something about Grammy or placed a drawing there for her. Dear Ellie found this morning hard. She loves so deeply.

When we gather at the house it is time for Grandpa’s (or as Georgia would say “Gwampa’s”) World Famous Pancakes . We placed more roses on the table with us in recognition of Brenda’s absence and we continued to share wonderful stories about Mom and Grammy while we eat as well as appreciating doing this grief journey together.

Tomorrow we pack up for a week away at Barnabas, a place illed with memories of Brenda. During Brenda’s illness we held a few family retreats here. It is a “thin place” as the Irish would say. We decided as a family to join together with Barnabas to finish a new bedroom in her memory. So we look forward to seeing how the construction has come along since our last visit.

IMG_3532Brenda and I have spent literally months at Barnabas over the years. Training Arrow  leaders, ministering to families, hosting retreats and all of our sons have  served there over the years. It as without a doubt Brenda’s favourite place on the planet and we wanted to acknowledge this by creating a memory of her there that we will be able to see used for ministry over the years to come.

Our week at Barnabas encourages our family value of summer camp and provides at time when we can learn together and just hang out without any other pressures on our busy family. It is not by chance that Dr. Steve Brown (Arrow Leadership) is the speaker for the week we are there and we all enjoy sitting under Steve’s teaching made especially touching in that he and Brenda worked so closely together, he married Jeremy and Shari and has been know to our kids for years. This being the first year at Barnabas with our newest grandson Roland (or Ro as he is already called) will be bitter sweet. Brenda would be all over him but we will gladly take turns caring for him.

I am not sure how the descending of the Pue clan onto the island affects others. We will definitely make it a bit noisier with our laughter and sheer number – 13 of us! I want all to realize that sometimes, in order to heal, we must free ourselves from others expectations and also from our own. There are times in a day when we actually feel like laughing and the Pue’s enjoy those times. We see loving laughter as a cathartic gift just as much as our tears. I’m sure we will laugh and cry, but we will do it together.

What are we learning about grief so far? There are many things I will share from my perspective in another blog that I will write while at Barnabas. But as a family unit we are realizing it takes time to heal such a loss. We have learned to be gentle on ourselves realizing we all travel at a different pace in processing the loss. We decided early on that we will take as much time as it takes. My friend, Susan Perlman, encouraged us to mourn as it is necessary to heal fully.

There is a season for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven . . .

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance.

– Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

It is a joy for me to watch my children treating each other with care and it is hard to imagine journeying alone through this. All are at different places but at this two year mark we can see how we have come along since last year.

The greater your loss, meaning the closer you were to the person who has passed, the more time you are going to need to heal. It is a testimony to Brenda’s relationship to each of us that we need more time. We all think that we were her favourite, but she made everyone think that.As people of faith we can see how God created us with the ability to heal, and we know that healing will happen.

It’s happening right now but more on that later.

 

 

“But If Not” Book Offer for 100 Huntley Street (30% Discount)

December 20, 2016 1 comment

Did you know that 100 Huntley Street is Canada’s longest running TV Talk Show? After decades of serving Canadians it is still a place men and women tune into to hear the stories of real people. With thanks to Lorna Dueck and her team I was invited to share a little about Brenda’s book and our family journey in grief after cancer.

Lorna is so easy to talk with I hardly noticed the cameras and lights. She and Brenda were close. In Brenda’s Bible she had a list of some leaders she prayed for each of the seven days in a week and Lorna was one of those leaders.

There is special offer for book purchases through 100Huntley to help share this story of courage, hope and trust with other men and women suffering with cancer or any terminal disease. To order click here to go the Arrow Leadership Store 

  1. Click on ADD TO CART
  2. Then Click VIEW CART
  3. Enter COUPON CODE using 100Huntley and the click UPDATE CART and a 30% discount will appear.
  4. Note your Cart total at the bottom of the page with your discount applied and PROCEED TO CHECKOUT
  5. At CHECKOUT fill in your billing data and you may safely use your credit card with Arrow’s PayPal system.
  6. Arrow will ship your books quickly.

Thanks to both Arrow Leadership and 100 Huntley Street for helping to encourage and comfort people during times of great testing.

Working with Words: Publishing Brenda’s “But If Not”

November 29, 2016 10 comments

fullsizeoutput_7f04What it was like to work on Brenda’s “But If Not” book – the journal of her 588 days living with cancer? That is a question a few brave friends have gently asked me over the past months. Here is my answer today..

It was hard handling her words, reading her inmost thoughts while facing the ultimate challenge – death. Hard also because I know how the story ends. Hard because I remember those days and they are precious memories for us – days I would never regret.

Other pages cause me to laugh out loud. Brenda is very funny at times while recounting her experiences with cancer and openly sharing the feelings she experienced. The sweet story about the Jack Russell terrier that followed us home on a walk, her struggling getting words mixed up, and the funny interactions with her boys and grand kids are hilarious at points. She never really lost her ability to make us smile and laugh.

I’m also moved by the friendships that are obvious throughout the book. Brenda has friends literally around the world. Not fleeting friends, or Facebook friends. I’m talking about friends who walk life with you, and most notably her Palm Springs Prayer Group. Readers will glean a great deal about how to be a real friend though Brenda’s story.

For me, recounting the first eleven days was difficult. I am so grateful for our family during those days of tests and more tests until the lung cancer diagnosis was given. We were a close family back then, and we are even closer today because of Brenda’s faith and leading us well in this incredible journey. The last section of the book called the epilogue was written by our adult children.  That particular section caused many tears on my part as I ‘listened’ to them share their individual perspectives on “Mom”. They sure love her.

When we received the first copy of the published book Jason asked me what it was like to hold it. I replied, “Good. It feels good.” We pray that readers will love the insightful, courageous faith filled words of “But If Not” and that these words will encourage others to live life with generous intentionality.

Categories: Observations

Red sky in mourning, sailors take warning

October 2, 2016 15 comments

redskyin-mourning

Today I am on my sailboat needing some time alone. At sunrise the horizon shone with red hues reminding me of an old mariners phrase. A reddish sky around sunrise means a lot of water vapour already present in the atmosphere and rainy weather is thus expected. This explains why sailors repeat, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight”.

Well today I changed it to “red sky in mourning” for that is what I am doing. Mourning the absence of my beloved Brenda and being sensitive to my own grief journey. Today, I had set aside in order to complete the edits on Brenda’s book “But If Not: 588 Days of Living with Cancer”. I knew that re-reading her journal of life and death would bring tears again, and it did.

It was actually both a time of tears and smiles. I read her words and was reminded of her attitude of gratitude amidst her pain. I read of the moments that brought her great joy while facing death and while they made me smile it served as a bit of a warning to me – or better stated, a reminder.

The reminder is found in this quote from page 246:

So may this journal of life and death inspire you to not waste a second of your life on things that are not going to last forever. Trust in God for eternity, and leave a legacy through your investment in others that will change the world through God’s love and mercy. In life we will experience disappointments, but it need not lead to discouragement. Trust Him.

Trust -is my focus word for this year. But these words also emphasized that we should not to put our time and resources into those things that are not going to last forever. That is important for all to heed.

What lasts forever? Only two things last forever and that is relationships with those we love and God’s Word. The other things we often allow to squeeze these priorities out of our lives will ultimately be burned up. I want to devote the balance of my years to investing in relationships, starting with those in my own family, while relying on the words of the Bible that are the only words that breathe life into us.

My friend Chuck Swindoll said it so well..

The wonderful thing about relying on God’s Book is that it gives you stability. It gives you that deep sense of purpose and meaning. No other counsel will get you through the long haul. No other truth will help you stand firm in the storms of doubt and uncertainty. No other reality will give you strength for each day and deep hope for tomorrow. No other instruction has the power to give new meaning to your life.

I have many moments since Brenda’s passing where I have been seeking new meaning to my life. I am finding it through being faithful in reading scripture daily. Brenda interestingly left me a list of those things she wanted me to continue doing after her death.

Brenda’s List

  1. Continue to lead our family and grandchildren.
  2. Take care of yourself: your health, your friends and remember to take holidays for restoration
  3. Continue to proclaim the gospel of grace through speaking, writing and encouraging leaders.
  4. Travel strategically for ministry and pursue your passion for China and Africa.
  5. Enjoy the business of executive mentoring.

Notice how they focus on things that are eternal? They are all relational and fuelled by the gospel or good news of God.

Only two things last forever—and I’m committed to both. How about you?

PS. Brenda’s book BUT IF NOT will be available soon and I will make it know once printing is completed.

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Categories: Observations