Lessons From My Season of Loss

For the past month, my family and I have been mourning the loss of my maternal grandfather. He passed away exactly one month ago today after being on hospice care in my parents’ home for three long, difficult weeks. He lived a full life…but watching him slowly slip away was excruciating.  My Pawpaw, as I called him, was my last grandparent. I had survived the deaths of three other grandparents, but none of those experiences prepared me for this. When I jumped on a plan to Denver on July 23rd I had NO IDEA what to expect and there was no way for me to prepare for what we walked through.

My Pawpaw was strong, he was proud, he was a man who had made a living and a name for himself within the community. The small, frail man I saw laying in the hospital bed when I arrived was not the Pawpaw I grew up knowing. Over the two weeks I spent supporting my mom and helping care for him were possibly the hardest two weeks of my life. Constantly checking on him, giving him pain meds, changing him, bathing him, feeding him (when he was still eating), and worrying. That was the hardest part—worrying that I’d wake up and he’d be gone or that I’d leave to run an errand and come back to find out he had passed.

I learned a lot about end-of-life care through this experience. I learned that I need to be prepared and know my loved ones’ wishes. AND I need to make sure they know mine. I need to research hospice providers and read reviews and know who I want caring for me or my loved ones if that time comes. I learned to cherish the time I am given—the little moments carry a lot of weight when standing in the reality they will soon been gone.

I spent a lot of time talking to my Pawpaw, praying over him, reading to him, and singing to him. I wanted his last days to be as peaceful as possible, even if he didn’t have a full awareness of who I was or what was going on. Those are moments I will treasure the rest of my life, and moments he and I will surely reminisce about when I see him again in heaven.

As I’ve been reflecting over this season and the things I’ve learned, the Lord has brought a few things to my attention that I’d like to share:

This was not a surprise to God. He knew my Pawpaw’s life would conclude this way, he knew I would be involved, and he knew we would face the challenges we faced—He allowed all of it to happen for a reason.

Right before leaving for Denver, I finished a book called The Red Sea Rules by Robert J. Morgan. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. I used it as a devotional and it deeply enriched my quiet time with the Lord. In the book, based on Exodus 14, Morgan says when we find ourselves in a trial instead of asking God to deliver us (like Israel did when they faced the Red Sea) we need to ask Him how He can get glory out of our situation. I realized that with each day that passed I kept asking God “how long Lord…how much longer does Pawpaw have to suffer?” There were many nights in my prayers when I begged the Lord to stop his pain and take him home. Then I realized there had to be something in this that could bring God glory—and I started focusing on that instead.

Know who you can lean on—and lean on them! There were a few friends who texted me almost every day I was in Denver. They checked on me, got updates, prayed, and let me vent and cry and complain. And they on loved me every step of the way. When I was scared, they listened and encouraged me. They shared their own experiences so I knew I was not alone. One of them walked through this exact same situation with her grandfather and the other had experienced this with her mom. They were both such a huge blessing. Their love and care also taught me that I need to be this kind of support for my friends and loved ones who may walk through something like this in the future. They helped me get through this.

Ask questions, do research, and insist that the people you hire to help support your family in this time of need do what they say they will do. We had a very challenging hospice experience and I think it was partly because none of us knew what to expect or what questions to ask. The company we chose was one of two covered by my Pawpaw’s insurance, so we had little choice. They promised the sky when we hired them, but they DID NOT deliver. One word of suggestion or advice would be to consider a residential hospice setting. I’m actually considering writing this request into my own will. It was so draining caring for him by ourselves in our home. It would have been a much different experience to have medical staff supporting us at all times.

Remember the good. My Pawpaw was a unique and complicated man. I uncovered much more of his past than I wanted to as I prepared for his Eulogy. I found myself focusing on all the mistakes he had made and the hurt he had caused even though that had not been my experience with him at all. It made the grieving process really complicated at first. But then I thought back over some of my mistakes and things I’ve done that have hurt people and I realized I am not my mistakes—and neither was my Pawpaw. He was human, he was flawed, and he made a lot of mistakes over his 91-year life. But he was a great Pawpaw. I have only fond memories of him and those are the memories that I’m choosing to hold on to.

Grief looks different for everyone. I’m an emotional person, but I made it through the entire day of my Pawpaw’s funeral and didn’t cry once. And then later that evening, when I was by myself and let myself sit still and actually feel what I had experienced that day…I lost it. I had two uncles, my Pawpaw’s sons, who didn’t attend the funeral at all because they don’t like being around death. I had other family members who cried the whole day. It’s a month later and I still have days where I just feel sad but for no particular reason—then I realize it’s the grief.

 The Five Stages of Grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But I’m realizing these stages are not necessarily a linear progression. I have gone back and forth between them and I have not experienced anger at all. I’ve accepted he’s gone, but still have days when I forget and have to settle into that reality all over again. I remember having moments thinking “what is wrong with me?” because I had not expected this loss to hit me as hard as it did. But however you experience grief know that it’s okay (as long as you’re not a threat to yourself or others). Give yourself grace.

The Lord has been so faithful and has covered me and my family with so much love and mercy in this season. I still have tough moments and sad days, but I rest in the assurance that my Pawpaw has no more pain, no more confusion, no more limitations in his body. He’s FREE… and walking through the streets of heaven taking pictures* 😉

Until we meet again…rest in peace Pawpaw.

~Blessings!

*My Pawpaw, Walter John Wedgeworth Sr. was a prominent and sought after photographer within the African American community in Denver for over 30 years.

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Posted Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 11:01pm 

Be You Boo ;)

We’re only 65 days into 2019 and most people have already fallen off the wagon toward achieving whatever resolution they set for the year. :-/

I used to make New Year Resolutions, but I got tired of always falling short and getting down on myself about it. So what I’ve started to do instead is spend January reflecting over the past year and praying about what’s next in God’s plan for me.

I saw this post recently and it really resonated with me:

(Credit: Emily McDowell Studio http://www.emilymcdowell.com)

Last year I survived heartache, disappointment, self doubt, and grief.

2018 was a challenging year full of hills and valleys, but I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned and how much I’ve healed and grown.

For me reflection is a great tool to keep me humble, focused, and constantly appreciative of just how far I’ve come.

The first week of January I sat down and created my 2018 Praise Report. Some of the things that ended up on that report:

  • Healing, forgiveness, and restoration in my marriage
  • Strengthened relationships with family members
  • Reconnecting with old friends
  • Growth as a leader
  • New blossoming friendships
  • Amazing mentors and peers who push me to be my best
  • A reignited passion to serve in my home church

The new year doesn’t always have to be about creating a “new you.” I’ve decided that who I am is enough–I don’t need to be recreated, I just need to continue this journey of growth and evolution.

Don’t let social media and other people get you all wrapped up in all this fuss about resolutions and who you need to become–remember the strong, courageous, amazing woman you already are and give yourself a high five and a pat on the back!

For those days when you need to encourage yourself, here are a few positive affirmations I came up with for 2019:

“I am the only me there will ever be, and I’m awesome!”

“You look good girl! You better WERK!”

“I am valuable, I am worthy, I am wanted.”

“God loves me, God sees me, God has great things planned for me.”

~Blessings!

Can You Hear Him Now?

Noise

Noise.

All around us.

ALL. THE. TIME.

From political antics to celebrity gossip–podcasts to endless playlists–news feeds to tweets–there is constantly something warring for our attention.  We are bombarded everyday with distractions.

In my life, I have seen this take the most damaging toll on my spiritual life. When I am busy and constantly distracted, it leaves little room for me to have the bandwidth to sit quietly in the presence of God. And the busier I get–the more distracted I become–the less I hear God.

I think we live in a time where silence actually makes people uncomfortable. Maybe we are so concerned with being heard and not feeling silenced by others that we hurry to fill all our quiet moments. We forget that it’s only when we embrace silence that we make ourselves available to hear God clearly.

Some of my most memorable encounters with God have happened after I poured my heart out to Him in prayer and then patiently waited in silence for Him to unfold His plans in my heart.

I believe that our Heavenly Father longs to commune with us daily–multiple times throughout the day. But our distractions–the noise–keep that from happening. How many times have I come to God in prayer seeking guidance or discernment and quickly “wrapped up” my prayer and moved on with the rest of my day. I don’t do this in other relationships in my life. I don’t ask my husband an important question and then abruptly leave the room before he has the chance to respond. That would be ridiculous!

So why do I behave this way with God. Why? If I’m being completely honest, part of me feels that maybe my prayer life lacks deeper faith. I’ve become accustomed to coming before God in prayer, but not anticipating He’ll actually answer me in that moment. I believe I’ve come to a place of expecting God to take His time answering my prayers, but I realize now that there are probably many times when I am simply not giving Him time to respond.

What could happen if I came to God first, with the goal of communing with Him–spending devoted time worshiping Him and thanking Him for His goodness and mercy. And then seeking His will with a heart of anticipation and actually sitting in silence and listening to His still small voice. I know what will happen, because it’s happened before. God will meet me in that space and speak to my heart.

He’s not going to compete with the noise in our lives. He’s God. We have to take the time to quiet our minds and our hearts first.

Embrace. The. Silence.

Blessings!

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13

 

The Debut of “Baptists Preaching”

Honored. Humbled. Grateful.

These are the only words that can even begin to express how I feel today. This afternoon the Baptist Standard launched a new site called “Baptists Preaching” featuring a sermon I preached at my church last month.

This new site, the vision of Baptist Standard Executive Director, Eric Black, is meant to showcase the preaching of Baptists from all areas of Baptist life. What an amazing platform and source of encouragement!

Read Eric’s own words about what inspired this new venture here: https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/editorials/baptists-preaching-ways-deliver-message/

I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Eric Black and the Baptist Standard for this amazing opportunity. I am truly grateful and deeply honored!

Link to Baptists Preaching feature: https://www.baptiststandard.com/baptists-preaching/rev-mary-whitehurst-gods-got-this/#

The Silver Lining in Our Suffering

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces HOPE, and HOPE does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” ~Romans 5:3-5

Paul’s words here in Romans 5 are some of my favorite to reference, but my LEAST favorite to experience.

Suffering sucks.

It just does—there’s no way to sugar coat it.

And if anyone knew about suffering it was Paul. He was doubted, talked about, mocked, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and imprisoned all in the name of Jesus. All of this to fulfill his call to spread the gospel.

I’ve recently been experiencing a season of spiritual warfare that has been really difficult. During this season I have questioned my call to ministry (including my call to preach as a woman), I’ve felt inadequate as a leader, wife, and mother, and I’ve wondered if God is hearing my prayers.

Me and Jesus have had some long, tearful, conversations filled with me pouring out my heart about my disappointments and hurts. I recognize that the negative thoughts I’m experiencing and the opposition I’m facing is from the enemy. But you know what? Even realizing these are spiritual attacks is evidence of the spiritual growth I’ve experienced over the past few years and the endurance and character God has developed in me.

Knowing you’re experiencing spiritual warfare doesn’t make it easier—but it does change the way you respond. In this tough season I’ve found myself reading and reciting Ephesians 6:10-20 almost daily to remind myself that God has equipped me with His armor. I have the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the belt of truth, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

Some mornings I have literally sat with my eyes closed visualizing myself puting on this armor and preparing to face my day.

When I remember I’m protected by God and that in Him I have the strength to stand firm against the lies of the enemy, it changes my entire mindset.

Every time I withstand the enemy’s flaming arrows I get a little tougher and a little stronger. That gives me HOPE that I can keep going and FAITH that God is STILL who I know Him to be. His power, His might, His strength, His grace, His mercy, and most importantly His LOVE have already conquered the enemy.

Like Paul, We’ve all been called to spread the Gospel and the enemy doesn’t want to see us succeed. But be encouraged my friends, EVEN in trials and struggles, because God is on our side and He’s preparing us for greater things. We’ve already won! We are more than CONQUERORS! (Romans 8:37)

~Blessings!

God’s Got This

On Sunday, August 12, 2018 I had the honor of preaching at my home church, David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Joseph C. Parker Jr.

The focal text for the message was Psalm 3:1-8, and I have shared the video footage below.

Please feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions about the message, and if you have a “God’s God This” testimony I’d love for you to share that too! My hope and prayer is that God will use this message to encourage you!

~Blessings!

 

 

Walking in Faith Through Your Exile

Last Saturday, August 4, 2018, I had the pleasure of speaking at an event held by Sisters Network Inc., Austin Affiliate Chapter. Sisters Network Inc. is an organization made up of African American women who are breast cancer survivors. They provide support and services for breast cancer survivors, women currently fighting breast cancer, and women who need breast cancer screenings.

They are an AMAZING group of women and I was very honored to speak at their Candice Scott Tea Brunch. The theme for this year was “Walking In Faith,” based on Jeremiah 29:11. The message God laid on my heart was Walking In Faith Through Your Exile. 

We all have seasons in our lives where our circumstances suddenly shift–when something happens that makes us lose our bearings and turns our world completely upside down. For some it may be a cancer diagnosis, or perhaps you discovered infidelity in your marriage. Maybe it’s the loss of a job and your financial security or possibly the death of a child…a spouse…a parent…a friend.

Maybe you, like me, have found yourself looking up one day and asking, “whose life is this?!?!” because the normal, comfortable, steady life you were familiar with is gone…almost as if you have been kicked out or EXILED from your own life. The life you knew can now only  be seen in the distance—you are in new, unfamiliar territory—you are walking through an exile. 

How do we “walk in faith” when our circumstances have us broken, defeated and losing hope?

God gives us a clue in Jeremiah 29:5 when He tells His exiled people, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” (NRSV) 

In essence God tells them to Build, Live, Plant, & Grow. They are to build community and put down roots in this new place. God tells them to keep living their lives–don’t become stagnant and paralyzed by despair because of what they’ve lost. This is a time for increase and growth, not decrease.

When tragedy or hard times strike our lives the enemy wants us to fall apart, but God calls us to keep living–one day at a time. And the only way the exiles were going to survive 70 years in Babylon was to walk through it together. They needed community…they needed one another to walk in faith. And so do WE!

We serve a good God, but He does allow us to walk through difficult things—He allows hurt to enter of lives—He allows us to be exiled. But our good God, uses those tragedies and those hurts for good—He brings us through our exile. And when we get to the other side we’re different. Our faith is stronger…we are stronger!

To hear the full message, please follow the link below. Blessings!

“Walking In Faith Through Your Exile” (Audio) 

Jeremiah 29

Reckless Love

When I was in my early twenties I met a guy who I thought would be my husband. I fell in love–fast and hard–and when I looked up two years later I realized I had lost myself in this relationship. This man was a great person with a good heart, but his personality and ambition were so big they did not leave much room for me. I realized that staying with him meant I would always have to make myself smaller.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves in relationships that are unhealthy–even reckless. I talk to so many women each week who are with men who don’t see them, don’t value them, and don’t cherish them, and yet, they stay. They stay trapped in these reckless relationships because they don’t yet know what real love looks like. They don’t know their value, because so few people in their lives have treated them with the love and respect they deserve.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but when I have an opportunity to freely and openly speak into the life of one of these women, I make sure to affirm in her that she is worthy of love. I tell her that God loves her and is always with her–even in her darkest place. I am not a stranger to darkness, and every time it has felt like I wouldn’t make it through, God has pulled me back into His glorious light. He never gives up on me and he never fails me.

This weekend I am attending the She Speaks Conference in Concord, North Carolina hosted by Proverbs 31 Ministries. Today I heard the worship song Reckless Love (by Cory Asburg) for the first time and it absolutely wrecked me! I mean completely WRECKED me! (pun intended *wink*)

It speaks so vividly about God’s reckless love for us. To clarify–God’s reckless love is different from the reckless love I mentioned earlier. When we (in our human, sin-filled brokenness) love recklessly, it’s always to our detriment.

The word reckless means “without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.” (thanks Google *wink*) When we–especially as women–love recklessly, it’s usually without regard for ourselves. The consequences might be abuse, neglect, damage to our self-esteem and self worth or at the extreme, severe physical harm or death. But when God loves recklessly–in the beauty of His Holiness–it means He doesn’t care what it takes, He’ll do whatever must be done to capture our hearts. And everyday He pursues us.

When I think of God’s reckless love, I am reminded of one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Psalm 23. Verse 6 says, “Surly goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The word translated here as “follow” is the Hebrew word radaph which literally means pursueSo this verse is telling us that God’s goodness and mercy pursues us all the days of our lives. He’s pursuing us–all the time.

The lyrics of Reckless Love say:

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
O, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

Isn’t that so POWERFUL!?!?! There is nothing He won’t do to get to us. He will come into our darkness, climb mountains, kick down walls, tear down lies…all to get to us. He doesn’t care what it costs Him–He proved that when He sent His son Jesus to the cross for us. His love is THAT reckless. Just let that sink in…

Blessings!

P. S. Please check out this song if you haven’t heard it.

Cory’s Original                      Israel Houghton’s Version 

In Over My Head…

When I was young, I was always the first to volunteer for things the teacher needed done. I was the one my friends confided in and looked to for advice. I was the one who took charge, and got things done. You may have even called me the b-word…BOSSY! 😉 But this is who I’ve always been. I’ve always been a LEADER. I don’t know why– this is just how God made me.

As I’ve grown and have been given opportunities to lead in a professional environment, I’ve discovered one thing–leading/managing people is hard. Much harder than I ever anticipated. And to be honest there have been many moments over the past two years when I’ve looked to God and asked, “Did I make the right decision?” ” Is this really where you want me?”

As a “recovering people-pleaser” I am constantly reminding myself to not let people’s opinion of me dictate how I act, or more importantly, how I view and value myself. This is a constant struggle, because the “high” of people-pleasing is constantly calling my name and tempting me to give in. But I’ve learned that being a leader means that not everyone is going to like everything I do or every decision I make. Sometimes people will get upset or disagree with me and sometimes they will even misjudge my motives or intentions. But I can’t stop being who God created me to be.

Each day I strive to treat every person I meet with the dignity and respect they deserve as children of our gracious God. But even in my pursuit to be compassionate and loving, I’m a pretty direct person. As a leader I often have to correct behaviors and hold people accountable–and I don’t know how to beat around the bush. For me the only way to say what needs to be said is to just say it–anyway you slice it, that’s gonna rub some people wrong.

I’m working on my delivery and time and “compliment sandwiches”, but I’m human and imperfect, so I make mistakes everyday. But I try to acknowledge when I’m wrong and I try to make things right. I am constantly asking my team to give me grace as I navigate through the ins and outs of being a godly leader.

At the end of the day I have to give it to God.

There are few days when I don’t feel like I’m in over my head. But I know that through every challenge, situation, conversation, decision, meeting, conflict, and resolution God is growing me into the woman He created me to be…for His glory. I’m so grateful for His grace.

If you are a leader who understands where I’m coming from and has felt the way I often feel, let me encourage you.

Hang in there!

Keep running your race and striving to be your best. God has a plan for you and he doesn’t waste any experience. Gold is purified in the fire and diamonds are made under immense pressure (I know that’s cliche, but it’s so true!). Count your trials as joy, because they are strengthening your faith. When you feel overwhelmed, GO TO GOD and allow him to bear your burdens. It is in our weakness that He is strong.

When you feel like you’re in over your head–that’s when God can really show you who He is.

Blessings!