Monday, April 25, 2016

GRIEF: for widows it involves rebuilding

There's grief, and then there's widowhood. Is there a difference between the two?

Obviously, many people experience grief, but only a widow (or widower) experiences widowhood. Do you think the grief of widowhood is different than grief in general?

I sure do! A major difference I've observed (and personally experienced) is that while people grieve over losing a loved one, and grieve deeply, when that loved one was your spouse you are left with the task of not only grieving but also the task of rebuilding your life in a major way.

I'm going to let that sink in a bit.

Do you agree? Do you face an unknown future? Have your plans and dreams pretty much turned to ash? Do you feel lost and like half of you is missing? Do you wonder what next step to take? When we have to deal with any of these questions, it's because we need to begin to rebuild.

Now that's a huge topic, and differs widely amongst widows, but I've found an Old Testament man who could show us a thing or two about starting over. If you feel far from home, surrounded by possible dangers, unwelcomed, or overwhelmed at times, read on about this guy named Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was far from home, exiled to the land of Babylon, employed as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. When he heard how Jerusalem was trampled and the walls needed to be rebuilt, his heart broke. He bravely requested leave of the king to serve his homeland.

Miraculously, the king granted leave to Nehemiah, and he traveled hundreds of miles to Jerusalem at great cost.

But did he receive a warm welcome when he arrived carrying his building supplies? No! Enemies of Jerusalem stirred up conspiracies of jealousy and murder threats. Nehemiah's every step became complicated, every move was subject to sabotage.

Do you ever have days like that? Some widows come close when employers try to weasel them out of due benefits, or relatives circle the estate like sharks. For others, health problems, bills, a washing machine overflow, car repairs, or the kids getting sassy and disrespectful are problems enough to relate to Nehemiah. Does it seem like the cares of life are cresting against you, too?

Here was Nehemiah’s solution: “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (Neh. 4:9)

I’m reminded that whether we’re rebuilding walls, or rebuilding a life after loss, we, too, have enemies.

“Guard your hearts” says Proverbs 4:23 in agreement with Nehemiah.

When you are occupied and concentrating on the good work of rebuilding, like Nehemiah, you need to post a guard. Ask your family, church family, friends, neighbors, widows group, pastors, etc to help guard you with their prayers and watchfulness. You're not asking for rescue, you're only asking them to stay alert for you, to faithfully pray for you like they were your personal bodyguard, and to let you know when they see dangers, threats, and things that ought not to be in your life. Is that too much to ask? You have enough to do with rebuilding! But be a guard for your own widowed friends while they, too, rebuild.

Be alert and keep rebuilding. Do you have some examples, questions, ideas or suggestions about guarding and rebuilding? Let's talk about this more with your comments today. 

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1-3

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Darlene and the children she's sponsored.
Is it any wonder she says this is her favorite picture?
What a beautiful gathering!
I've often done "Saturday Sabbaticals" on this blog, urging my readers to set aside time over the weekend to rest both physically and spiritually. Could you use some rest today? Our best rest comes from praising and worshipping the Lord through the truths we find in the Bible; it's how God restores our soul. Today seems like a good day to return to that idea. After all, we've "travelled" all the way to Rwanda and back with Darlene!

Here are some verses that reminded me of her journey... verses that many widows can declare with gratitude ... and let me encourage you to open your own Bible and read the entire amazing chapter of Isaiah 54.  Have a restful, restoring weekend my friends. ferree
Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
Psalm 66:16
...more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband, says the Lord."
Isaiah 54

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rwanda: The Rest of the Story

Dear Reader, Darlene had a very full week in Rwanda that will encourage and inspire you to keep pressing on. I'm reminded of Hebrews 12:1 which says, "...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Even though widowed, abused, and as she mentions here, wearing a leg brace, Darlene has learned to run! It's a great joy and privilege to meet women like Darlene (and you!) who come back to life after being knocked down by life's greatest sorrows and challenges. That's what God does! He gives new life whether it's in heaven's eternity (as our late husbands experience) or today's step, by step, by step we take in the strength of the Lord.   ferree

by Darlene McComis O'Lena   March 26, 2016

Meeting some of the sewing students she sponsored....
On Monday afternoon, I got to meet Claudine, the young woman I had sponsored the sewing machine for when she graduated sewing class.  Claudine is a beautiful young woman, very quiet, with a small child. She was thrilled that she now had a sewing machine to make clothes not only for her family, but to sell.  We visited at her home and met her husband.  He seemed like a kind, gentle young man.  He thanked me over and over for what I had done.  Claudine presented me with a beautiful quilted bag that she had made for me to thank me.  They offered us the customary bananas, then he prayed before we left their home.  

Tuesday. We went to Fumbwe sewing center, and then Laura and I delivered a few mattresses that were donated to a few of the women.  One woman said it was the very first mattress that she had EVER slept on.  Oh, the things we take for granted…. 

I also got to meet Godance.  I had seen a picture of Godance a few months ago as she graduated from a sewing class.  She has been a BIG motivation to me because she is a young crippled lady and walks with two canes. Godance wanted to learn to sew so bad that she walked two hours to get to the sewing class every day.  What an inspiration!  We met with Godance at her home and she was thrilled to get to meet me!  We even compared our leg braces!!  
Godance and me.
  Godance is crippled and uses two canes to walk. 
 She graduated from the sewing class
 and now can make clothes to sell for income.
 We were comparing our leg braces.
Meeting some of the school children she sponsored....
I visited with some of my sponsored students in their homes that afternoon.  Their homes reminded me of little caves.  They were made from concrete and had 1-2 very small rooms.  The door to the home was generally a curtain hanging.  They always offered me a seat on what was probably the only chair in the house.  And they ALWAYS offered something to eat, as was their custom.  Mostly, if they were very poor, they would put out a bowl of bananas.  If they had a LITTLE money, they were proud to offer you a “Fanta” soda.  Yes, Fanta is still available out there.  Fanta almost seemed like a status symbol.  Each parent expressed their sincere “thank you” for sponsoring their child in school, as schooling would not be affordable otherwise.  I even received some gifts from some of the students, whether it was a handwritten letter to me or something they had made.  Before we left each home, a prayer was said, as is the custom there.  

Visiting various sites and ministries....
On Wednesday, Randall, Jennifer, and I visited the Genocide Memorial in the morning.  What a sad place that is.  The Genocide happened about 20 yrs. ago between two tribes.  One of the tribes was seeking power.  They used their machetes to hack people to death, even small children.  Thousands were killed.  The pictures of the people that were killed were hanging in the building.  Rwanda set up a memorial garden for the dead and buried what remains were found.  I was thankful that they gave the people a decent burial and remembrance.  

That afternoon, we went up to the hospital in Masaka.  Laura, Randall, and Jennifer routinely go up to this hospital, bring small gifts to the patients, and pray with them.  Most of the patients truly wanted the prayers.  I noticed that the hospital didn’t seem very clean, with patients lying on dirty sheets.  Laura told me that the people had to bring their own sheets.  
Next we visited with baby Grace in the hospital. She is a newborn that had been abandoned.  She had a mark on her head, as if her mother had tried to kill her, and is somewhat delayed mentally.  Laura and Jennifer take turns going to visit her and exercise her legs and arms.  They also bring clean clothes and blankets for her.  As I was getting tired by now, Laura suggested that I sit in a chair with baby Grace and rest for a while.  So, I sat and rocked Grace.  I sang “Jesus Loves Me” to her and any other songs that came to mind.  I noticed that I had a number of women coming by and staring at me.  I guess it looked unusual for a white woman to be rocking an African baby! Jennifer said I looked like a “Grandma” there!  Well, I’ve had lots of experience with that….

That evening, several students showed up for a Bible Study.  These are the older students that were going to vocational school to learn a trade.  The students were very friendly.  We played Jenga with them, which they EXTREMELY loved !  Then we talked about the Bible.  One student, Manuel, said that he loved the book of Revelation!  He was a very educated young man.  He proceeded to talk about many Bible stories and that Jesus was coming back some day.  I really loved listening to him and commented that maybe he should be a pastor someday…  

On Thursday, we took a two and a half hour ride up into the mountains to the Akagera National Park.  It seemed we were one of the only people there.  It was beautiful up there, with its mountains and savannahs.  We started out driving in our little Toyota car, but it started to rain.  The dirt roads turned slick immediately and we slid around as if we were on black ice. We did manage to see many monkeys, zebras, warthogs, several species of birds including an eagle, a large crocodile, and a hippo who decided to duck under the water just as I was taking his picture!  

Friday, I was terribly tired, so we decided to stay home that morning.  We were having a party for all the children that I had sponsored that afternoon.  We set out bananas and breads for them.  The children showed up and we fed them.  Laura had brought some games, so the children were taught to play Memory and make puzzles.  I have to say that the Rwandan people really concentrate at everything they do, even games.  There is no fighting or arguing when someone wins.  They all get along.  If only our American children were like that!  We went outside with some bubbles that Laura had brought, which were a BIG hit!
On her last day in Rwanda....
On my last day, Saturday, we once again went to the Children’s Bible Club in Masaka. Laura brought the bubbles along, which these children had never seen.  Oh, what FUN!! The children were THRILLED as I continued to blow bubbles for them to catch! As Laura went on with their Bible stories, I had two children, one new little child and one of my sponsored students (whose name was DARLENNE) sitting next to me.  They cuddled up closely to me as if we had known each other for years.  Oh, how my “hug tank” was filled in Rwanda….   

As I flew out that night from Kigali headed for Amsterdam and home, I realized how God had made all the pieces fit in this trip perfectly. It took 20 years to go, but 20 years ago I would not have been a widow and had a story to tell.  20 years ago I would have still been married and maybe not have been able to go with a husband who was ill. 20 years ago, I might not have had a healed heart yet from all the abuse, but now I am comfortable talking about it.  20 years ago, I would not have been the independent woman I have now become, able to travel this distance by myself.  Oh, yes, God really DOES do things in HIS perfect timing.  God really DID turn my TRIALS INTO TRIUMPHS.  And He alone fulfilled my heart’s desire…
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”.
Psalm 37:4

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rwanda continued: Why God Called Her There

Dear Reader, Let's pick back up today to Darlene's story and discover that the Lord had strategically placed her there for a reason....

by Darlene McComis O'Lena   March 26, 2016

The next morning was Sunday.  We left at 7:30 a.m. for a two hour drive up into the mountains to a small town called Ruzizi.  There we met the pastor and his wife at their house.  It is a big thing for these people to have visitors. The hugs abounded! They set out bananas and breads to eat. They also provided Chai tea. We had some prayer time, then walked behind their house to the church.  The church wasn’t very old and wasn’t completely finished.  It still had mud walls and a dirt floor.  But the worship time was wonderful!  Songs were sung in their language with a choir.  I didn’t understand all the words, but our interpreter, Kabuto, who had come with us, explained the words to me.  They were all about Jesus, being covered in His blood, the King of Kings, etc.  You could just FEEL the Holy Spirit in the room.  Randall preached that morning and Kabuto interpreted to the people there. The pastor announced to the people that I would be speaking in the afternoon at 3 p.m. and all the women were invited.

65 women showed up to hear me speak! I’ve been a speaker in the past and also a teacher for a few years, but I didn’t have a clue what I was going to say to these women.  I would have Kabuto to interpret for me, which I had never done before either.  So I decided to give my testimony.  I talked about sexual abuse, physical abuse, and verbal abuse that I was a survivor of.  Then I talked about being a widow.  It turned out that more than half the room was widows.  As I talked about the depression, loneliness, and anger that comes with being a widow, I saw a woman in the front row nodding her head with everything I was saying.

I finally took a moment and said “I keep watching this woman and I see that she has agreed with everything I am saying about being a widow.”  I walked up to her and she said “Yes, I am a widow.  I know all about depression and anger.  I didn’t know that American women had this happen too.” I hugged her and went back to talking.

Then I noticed that there was an older woman in the front row who looked very unhappy. I started talking to her and found out that her husband had been killed in the Genocide. His body had actually been chewed on by street dogs.  I didn’t know what to say.  Lord, what do I do?  I could tell that she was very bitter.  I finally asked five women to come up, lay hands on her, and we would pray over her.  We prayed and she sat back down.  I could tell that this woman was stuck in her grief, even though the Genocide had happened twenty years ago.  From what we could tell, this woman only came occasionally to church and sort of “wallowed” in her bitterness and grief.  She was unable to move on.  And it seemed that the other women were tired of hearing her story.  It was interesting to see the women that HAD moved on and this woman that HADN’T.  I encouraged them to stick together, to care about each other, to pray together, and to help each other.  Only a widow knows the feelings that another widow is feeling.  I shared Psalm 37:4 with them: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  I told them, also, that Jesus is a husband to the widows.  He is ALL we have, but He is ALL we need.  When I finished speaking, all the women rushed up to me and hugged me.  It seemed that the talk had gone well.  

On Monday, we took a drive out to Rusheshe to visit the sewing center where women were learning to sew clothes to sell in the marketplace and bring in money to their families.  These younger women so strongly desired to learn a skill so that they could be able to earn an income. Once again, I was asked to speak.  Laura said, “Why don’t you just give your testimony again?” So, once again, I began my story.  There were a few widows in the group, but what amazed me was the way that God turned my story this time and took it down another path.  As I once again talked about the abusive background, I could see the look in these women’s eyes that they HIGHLY understood what I was talking about.  I talked about how I had a hard time forgiving myself for things that I had done in my past even though I knew that God had forgiven me.

When I asked if anyone in the room had a question or anything to share, the room got quiet.  Then, one by one, women began sharing stories similar to mine. Laura told me later that Rwandan women seldom share things like that and that the women had really responded well to me.  It was good for them to talk their feelings out.  They also said that they didn’t know that American women had the same problems as the Rwandan women.  Laura shared with them that I had many medical problems, but had wanted to come to Africa all my life and now had a chance to do it. 

It brought a feeling of comradery between us as we talked about God’s love for us.  At the end, I shared with them Philippians 3: 13b… “…Forgetting what is BEHIND and straining toward what is AHEAD, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Many hugs were given before I left that day….   

When I got home, Randall, Jennifer, and I discussed the talks I had done in the two days there.  I felt that NOW I knew why God had sent me there.  These women needed to hear what I had to TELL them.  THAT was my purpose.  As someone put it, “God turned your TRIALS into TRIUMPHS.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rwanda, Day 1

by Darlene McComis O'Lena   March 26, 2016

So the morning of March 10th arrived.  I arrived at O’Hare airport and took my luggage up to the nearest guy handling it.  He weighed both of the pieces and said “That will be $200.  You’re overweight on both of them.” Oh, great. Yep, I was not only bringing little gifts to my kids that I had sponsored (which, by the way, had now risen to 14 kids), but I was also bringing food items to Laura and the people I would be staying with, Randall and Jennifer Smith.  Certain items, such as peanut butter and saltine crackers, are harder to get in Rwanda, so I was bringing them some.  All of this made the luggage extremely heavy.  As I prepared to pay it, I began talking about where I was going and what I was going to do.  The man looked at me and said, “You know what? I won’t charge you for the second suitcase.”  What a nice man.  I offered him ten dollars for helping me, thinking he could buy lunch with it or something.  He initially took it, but, after finishing taking care of my luggage, he handed it back to me, saying “Take this and buy something for the Rwandan kids.”  I was already starting to see God working with this trip.

After two eight-hour flights, I made it to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Laura, founder of Love Alive International, was there to meet me.  We got in the car she had borrowed and set out for her co-workers, Randall and Jennifer’s house. Randall and Jennifer had moved to Rwanda last fall so that they could help Laura with the mission. As Laura put it--“you’ll find Randall and Jennifer’s house to be better for you. They have INDOOR plumbing.”   

As we drove to their house, about 20 minutes out of the city, I found myself looking at mud houses and some pretty poor neighborhoods.  We arrived at the house, which was surrounded by a concrete “fence.”  It seemed that the larger houses had these fences around them that completely enclosed the house. I met Randall and Jennifer and immediately felt like we had known each other a long time.  After we talked for a couple of hours, we went to bed.  When I saw the bed, I felt like I was in a movie set because there was mosquito netting around the bed hanging from the ceiling.  I crawled into the bed and slept soundly.  

At 6 a.m. the next morning, I was awakened by a neighbor’s baby crying, an African woman singing in her language, and a rooster crowing.  That was a jolt to reality.  I got up and went to the bathroom.  In the bathroom was a toilet, a small sink, and a drain in the floor with a faucet over it.  No shower.  There was also what looked like a large garbage can full of water.  It turned out that there wasn’t running water all the time.  When it WAS running, you filled this can up to use when there wasn’t running water.  Well, we hit PLENTY of those days.  

Laura had drawn up an itinerary for my time with her.  On the first day, Saturday, we drove over to a place called ERM in Masaka to have a Children’s Kids Club.  It is similar to our VBS.  This was the second Saturday that they had met.  There were close to 100 kids there.
When I got out of the car, the kids began running up to me, hugging me for all they were worth.  Such lovable kids.  These kids had nothing material-wise, but they had LOVE.  We played with them for a little while, then Laura sang songs with them in their language, told Bible stories to them (and quizzed them on the stories), and passed out papers for them to color. They got two crayons a piece.  That’s all there was.  They didn’t care what color they were.  They seldom got crayons.  Then, we passed out something cold to drink and a little snack.  Bananas are prevalent in Rwanda, so many snacks are bananas.  After 3 hrs. with the kids and one last hug, they walked home.  

That afternoon, we visited with some children in one of the worst poverty-stricken areas.  These children seemed starved for love.  These people, mostly women with children, had little, if any, money.  Many of them turned to prostitution.  We walked into an area and met the children.  Laura brought them little gifts-- balloons to be blown up and a little craft to make.  Seeing the brace on my leg, one of the women set out an old wooden chair for me to sit on.  I must have looked really hot (I was), so the children began to fan me with papers that Laura had handed out to them.  Nothing like having ten little kids fanning you all at the same time! I had my own air conditioning! Then, two of the mothers were examining my hair.  They don’t see long, blond hair too often. The two of them began to braid my hair while I was sitting there!

(I think they did it because they saw how hot I was).  I had one long braid tucked up in the back and a small braid on each side. It was sure funny !!

Doesn't she have a beautiful smile? And did you notice Darlene mentioned her leg brace? It doesn't show up in any pictures, but she wears it because she  has Parkinsons disease. I just wanted to mention that because it adds another dimension of challenge and inspiration to her story. She didn't let it stop her! Please visit again tomorrow when you'll hear even more surprises that will lift your heart to praise the Lord with her.  ferree


Monday, April 18, 2016

A Widow's Journey to Rwanda

Dear Reader, Have you ever considered going on a short-term mission trip? You can join me this week as we visit the country of Rwanda through the eyes of my Facebook friend Darlene. She pushed through many challenges to get there and the Lord surprised and blessed her many times! ferree

Thinking about my little namesake,
Darlenne, over in Rwanda today....
  Praying for you, little Darlenne....
by Darlene McComis O'Lena   March 26, 2016

Rwanda, Africa. Called “the land of a thousand hills,” it is a small country on the east side of Africa.  A country full of extreme poverty.  A country that lost thousands of people in the Rwandan Genocide in the 1990’s.  But, it is also a country of people that are full of God’s love and aren’t afraid to show it.  

The idea of me going on a mission trip started 20 years ago. Friends of ours had gone on a trip and told my husband, Chuck, and me about it. That very Sunday, pastor gave a sermon on missions and asked people to step forward if they wanted to go on a missions trip sometime during their life.  Chuck and I went forward, as did many others. But shortly after that Chuck got sick and a few years later, passed away. The mission trip idea was put on the back burner.  

Now, jump ahead 20 years. I was sitting at my kitchen table doing my Bible study one summer night last year.  As I sat there, my mind strayed to looking back on my life.  It seemed to me that I had never done anything significant regarding sharing the message of the Gospel.  I found myself saying that night “Here I am, Lord.  Send me.” Little did I know what I was saying to God at that point would come true.

I had heard about a mission in Rwanda, Africa at my church. I had always thought about Africa.  One of my favorite movies as a child was “Stanley and Livingston,” about a missionary doctor in Africa.  As I listened to Pastor Jay at church talk about “Love Alive International” in Africa, I thought “I should check out their website.”  When I got home that Sunday, I went on the Internet and found the website. ( ) It showed how you could sponsor a child’s education in Rwanda for $35 a year.  Gee, I could spend that amount just going out to dinner.  OK, I’ll sponsor one child.  Then on the website, I saw that there were sewing classes for the Rwandan women so that they can learn to make clothing, purses, etc. to sell at the market.  This would provide money for their family.  When they graduated from the sewing class, they would receive their very own sewing machine.  These sewing machines would be purchased from people that would sponsor them, once again, on the website.  OK, that sounded like a good thing, so I sponsored one sewing student.  A couple of weeks later, I got thinking about the Rwandan children and sponsored three more.  

I received an email later from Laura, the woman who had started Love Alive International three years ago.  She thanked me for my donations and said “If you’d ever like to come visit us, we would be glad to have you.”  (As a side note, Laura later said that it must have been a “God thing”, because she had never said that to someone before). Visit Africa? Me?  That was quite an idea!  I thought about it again and again after that.  Driving to work one morning, I found myself talking to God about it.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  But God, where would I get the money to go?
God:  Just trust Me on that one.
Me:  But God, what about the innoculations?  You know my health isn’t the best and I always have     reactions to stuff.
God:  Just trust Me on that one too.
Me:  But God…..
God:  Are you willing to “step out” for what I am asking you to do?

Well, He had me on that one.  A couple of days later, I was driving home from work.  I turned on the radio and tried channel after channel for something to listen to.  All of a sudden, I turned to a radio station and a voice said “You know that missionary trip you’ve always wanted to go on?  Go do it.”  It sure sounded like God speaking to me.  (It turned out to be a Joel Osteen station).  Well, I had my answer.  I was going to Africa.  

It started with raising the money for the trip.  I figured I’d need about $2500 to go.  I sent out ONE donation letter to friends and church members.  I thought, “Well, Lord, if you REALLY want me to go, the money will have to come in.”  Within a short time, $2600 had been raised.  Hmmmm……

Next came the innoculations.  I held my breath when the doctor injected me with shots for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever.  He also gave me Malaria pills to take.  No adverse reactions to any of it.  

It was coming down to the wire now as the date of March 10th, my chosen date for my trip, got closer.  Satan started messing with me now.  I would find myself doubting my going and what could God possibly use me for?  I had no skills to teach anything.  I couldn’t think of anything that I could do there.  I took a test to see what my spiritual gifts were and it came back “Compassion and Mercy.”  What could I do with that? Oh, but God had a chosen plan for me!

Share your food with the hungry  and provide the poor wanderer with shelter —when you see the naked, to clothe them….Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness,   and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always;  he will satisfy your needs. Isaiah 58:7, 10, 11