Living In His Presence
By Sami Johnson
Hello friends. My name is Sami Johnson. I’m a wife, a mom, mother-in-love, Mimi of seven, sister, daughter, and friend. Sounds like I have a perfect life and praise God I do—now!
I do not make any apologies when I glorify God for my life! He has truly given me amazing people to surround me on my road called life. So why does a person who has such an amazing circle of people in her life write about grief? Because I’ve experienced two devastating events in my life. I’ve seen my young 33 year old husband lying in a casket. And, I’ve felt the unbelievable pain of telling my babies that their daddy had died. Later, I’ve also experienced the pain of divorce in the worst-case scenario. So, friends, I understand the pain of grief.
I’ve also experienced the amazing love of God reach down in the moments of devastation and pour out His love to me through others that He placed around me and through His personal love toward me in times when no one else was around. In both situations, the loss from death and divorce, I reached out to try to find comfort from outside sources, I shopped! That seemed to ease my inner pain for a few minutes. I never had a desire to drink my way out of the pain, alcohol never even smelled good to me much less had a draw on me. But the shopping helped, and its ease lasted just long enough to wear that new outfit and hang it in the closet.
My help came when I discovered praise and worship music. I could be in the worst state of mind and when I found my way into the sweet presence of God, my grief turned into joy- joy of seeing my young husband David again, joy in knowing that though my second husband rejected me, God Loves me with unconditional love. A love I had never-felt before.
Over time, I have learned to get in the presence of God in every circumstance of life- every day find time in His presence. My children, now grown, find their fulfillment in His presence. God has restored my family, given my kids and I the most wonderful man in the world who loves us as God loves us. He’s turned our little family of three into a large family of 12, and that’s just the beginning. Be sure to read my next article as I will go into how God sat us in the middle of an amazing family of siblings, step mom, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles who helped us on this road called life.
Have a blessed day my new friends. May God fulfill and heal you IN HIS PRESENCE.
See Sami's article: "Restored."
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Psalms 104:33 NKJV
in the Loss of my Husband
In 2002 I ran into David at my son’s ballgame. He was my superintendent 10 years earlier, when I was a Special Education Coordinator and teacher; the friend who encouraged me to go into administration. My 24 years in Special Education Administration were jobs he recommended me for. He was a friend and mentor who I eventually fell in love with and married a year later. We had a blast, traveled a lot, went to many kid’s games, attended many Cardinal games, worked hard, and fell in love with James River Church. Besides my kids, he was the best thing that ever happened to me!
Eighteen months after we were married he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, at the age of 57. One kidney was removed but we were told that “it was not a pretty picture” because it was Stage IV and had metastasized in the bones. There were no good treatments at that time, only clinical trials, and he quickly developed blood clots that they could not get control of. He was in Barnes Hospital, which is one of the best hospitals in MO, so I am extremely thankful for the excellent care he received there.
The beginning phases of shock and denial began in July when he was diagnosed. In October, about four days before he died, I woke up with an overwhelming knowledge that he wasn’t getting better. I think God was preparing me for the week to come. When he passed away, I was bombarded with the emotions of numbness, loneliness, hopelessness, anger, fear, guilt, an inability to think or concentrate, and feeling like God was far, far away. The result of all those raw feelings was depression, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia, health problems, fatigue, avoidance, and many “why” questions. There are no words to describe that kind of loss, but I did know that God would get me through it because He had proven that before!
Recently I attended visitation for a good friend’s husband and her father said to me, “You have been here, done this, and you never really get over it, do you?” When you love someone deeply you really don’t want to get over them, and at the beginning you really don’t want to go on. I discovered that I could stay stuck in the fog and pain or I could take whatever steps necessary to put my life back together. It isn’t recovery, but rehab, renewal, a new chapter, a new normal, or whatever the current phrase is that says, “Keep moving forward.” As my very insightful dad said to me, “You can’t live your life looking backwards.” So, I started on my journey feeling like I was taking two steps forward and one step back, but the truth is the number one factor that carried me through was knowing that God, my heavenly father, would be there with me.
What helped me the most? Probably most important was the number of prayers that were on my behalf. I had tremendous support from my sons, my parents, friends, co-workers, and church. There were several school counselors in my office at the time, and they knew it was important for me to talk about my feelings. They encouraged that a lot. They saw my tears and were not afraid to make me go there. In order to do my job well and take care of a teen-age son at home, my doctor prescribed medication for depression and sleeping pills for about a year. I also took some natural supplements for adrenal failure. Although I was hesitant at first, I realized it was necessary to get through the most difficult time. I began reading short devotionals specifically for grief. Gradually, I began reading books like Ninety Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real. I’ll be honest, it took months before I could read things like that. I remember attending the Grief Share classes at James River Church several months later and hearing that I’d feel some better after a year. Wow, I was not going to take that long! But, it really is a process and doesn’t follow a timeline. A few years later, I took the class again. It is difficult but a tremendous help to be able to talk to others going through the same kinds of loss. I can’t stress enough the importance of a support group!
As recommended, I didn’t make any major decisions. I did retire after five years and moved closer to my sons and my church. I thought it would be easy then, but like any big change it took time and work to keep moving forward. I joined the James River Choir and started a Life Group. Those things helped bring a newness of God’s love and direction. I have since then begun co-leading a single women’s life group, am a co-facilitator of the church Grief Share classes, am involved in other fun volunteer activities, and have taken life coach classes to better help people experiencing grief and loss.
In summary, after eleven years, I look back to evaluate what are the things that were most useful in my process?
A relationship with God, prayer, scripture verses, and Bible studies, such as Beth Moore’s.
Motivational books like Authentic Happiness, If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat, Search for Significance, Plan B, and Guidepost Magazine.
Listening to on-line services like James River Church, Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen, and attending a positive and uplifting church.
Listening to Christian music.
Grief share discussion/support groups.
Daily emails from www.griefshare.org
Classes on grief/loss.
Strengths and personality surveys. (See Resources)
Finding new passions and interests
CD series by John Lindell on Heaven (See Resources)
Participating in a wonderful Life Group.
Traveling to new places (even short one-day trips are helpful).
Planning and praying ahead for the difficult times.
Scheduling time with family and friends.
Playing with grandkids.
You will find a resource list that will give you many options to choose from for ideas.The important thing is to keep moving, keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep taking positive steps, and you will find hope and happiness again!
GOD’S PROMISE IN GRIEF AND LOSS
An Interview with Mike Woody
By Debbie Edge
Mike Woody lives in Ozark, MO. He is a marketing director at
Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO, and has been a Grief Share
facilitator through James River Church for 22 years.
DE: Mike, would you like to share some of your story?
Photo by Susie Wilson
Of the losses that have affected me deeply and personally, the first one was in 1984. My first wife, Elizabeth, the mother of our four children, died after a surgical procedure in Springfield, MO, on December 16 of 1984. She was brainstem dead, and I made the decision, along with the family, to remove her from life support and to make an organ donation; then we buried her on the 19th of December in 1984.
Then my most recent loss, sudden in the sense that it was not an illness, was the loss of my son, Gregory, at the age of 40. It was just a combination of unfortunate choices in alcohol and prescription drugs. He was found unresponsive, after a night of binging on both, in September 2015. Due to that, he was declared neurologically dead on the 26th of September in 2015, in Loveland, CO.
My Life has been marked with loss within my family, and of course like everyone else, other types of losses in terms of friends, family, and dreams. Those are the two that have been most deeply personal to me.
DE: Of those situations and losses, what helped you the most to get through them?
You’re right, that is exactly what this is all about. It is about choosing the pathway to recovery. And trust me when I tell you this, I made a lot of very poor choices with the death of my wife, Elizabeth, in the sense of rushing through it. I give myself a little bit of a break there because I was a single father with four children. My mother moved in to help me with the day to day because I was actively employed and still am. It would have been impossible to work and parent at the same time. On weekends I was Mr. Mom, so I had a lot of time with four kids and made a lot of mistakes in terms of over disciplining, under disciplining, and that bedtime thing. But again, that’s just part of learning to perform differently in a very unique role.
My real issue was that I was not grounded in faith. I had been raised in a mainstream denomination that simply was not able to help me formulate a confidence in my personal relationship with Jesus. And because of that, I just continued to kind of drift. After a season, I was able to find James River Church in Ozark as a church home, was remarried at that time, and was able to find my own deep and personal relationship with the Lord.
Therein lies the answer. There are other ways to console and contribute to our recovery, and those are appropriate as long as they are appropriate actions, healthy ways. Yet, there is just one way of recovery and that is through God’s grace and our compliance to that.
With Gregory it has been the same. It is different, different, different, different losing a child than it is losing a spouse or a loved one. I never knew that. I’ve heard and knew it intellectually, if you will, but I didn’t know it personally. This has been a significant challenge for me to realize that my son, through his actions, is no longer here on earth. That has caused me to have another deep journey of recovery, yet, I was at least grounded in my faith and I knew that; although God did not perpetrate this, God knew it was coming. God saw my tears of sorrow and was there to comfort me all the way through it and through the remainder of my life.
DE: You just touched on the point I want to make: how God is good and He doesn’t cause those tragedies.
I think it’s the standard question, not unique to me, but I think to everyone. We frame it this way:
We have a God all powerful, all knowing, all loving. He’s the creator. He’s the creator of Heaven and earth and all things good, but where is he? He can intercede at any moment, at any time, in any situation. There is abundance of grace every day, and there are miracles -- the same miracles today as all those years ago. This is a personal, living God, but where are you? Where were you when this happened?
So, is this because you are angry with me? Is this because you were angry with Greg? Is this because you have some other design for me? I am not a theologian, and I want whoever reads this to understand that. So this is my own journey, however, having listened to some anointed ministers of the Word, and Pastor John Lindell is at the top of that list, over time I have realized the following:
First, God is omnipotent. He knows all, He sees all, He understands all. So nothing surprises Him. There is no surprise to Him. God is all caring. God is love and because He is love, it is against His nature to do anything that is harmful or hurtful to His children. God has told us, “We live in a broken world.” This is not Heaven. This is earth, and because of that, bad stuff is going to happen.
He says, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world. Have faith. Be still. Be at peace. I will be with you till the end of time.” It took a while to get there, but now I joyfully accept the fact that life does happen, life does affect us, and sometimes we are just confounded by that.
I love in Isaiah when the author says, (God speaking) “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” Let me paraphrase. He’s simply saying, “Loved one, you are not going to get this. It is OK to ask me. I want you to ask me because when you are asking me I know you are relying on me. I know you are believing in me, but some things you’re just not going to understand.”
By the way, Debbie, I don’t think that passage was written to inspire us to say, “Oh wow, when I get to Heaven I’ll then know.” I don’t believe that at all. The Book of Revelation says clearly, “He will wipe away every tear. All the former has passed away.” So that is telling us that we are not going to be trying to recreate all the sorrow we experienced here on earth. We’re not! It’s over. It’s done. So to me that’s the real story, and it starts at the cross and, frankly, it finishes at the cross. It’s finished.
If you try to make sense of this in the natural, you will never ever succeed. I can say that with confidence. We must make sense of it through the confidence that God is good!
DE: Do you want to make any suggestions for people to help them move forward?
Let me start with Priority 1, and the rest of it will fall out based on the first suggestion.
Priority 1: Either become grounded in the faith or reassess your faith walk. Whatever you do, lean on God, directly and through the company of other believers.
Priority 2: Join a grief recovery program, as long as it is Biblically-based. I’m not saying that programs that are not Biblically-based don’t have benefit, they do, yet I’ve learned they become more about socialization than they do about faithful recovery, and that’s the only thing that will last. Faithful recovery is the only thing that will last!
Priority 3: Talk about it, talk about how you are feeling. Find a friend that will listen. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like laughing, laugh.
Priority 4: Just keep moving forward.
I think lastly, and this is one of the more difficult things to do, is to be good to yourself!
Please feel free to e-mail Mike at www.grieflosshope.com