Choosing ... the Blessings of Widowhood

Widowhood - rarely did I ever have thoughts of it, and those thoughts were quickly dismissed. God had blessed our lives so richly. Would not my husband, Howard, and I enjoy many years together ... Grow old together ...

While enduring a chronic cough that had begun three months earlier, on April 27, 2011, Howard received the report that forever changed our lives. It was 5:01 in the afternoon. We were in the office of our home when our family physician called to tell Howard he had been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer that had metastasized to his bones, liver and lymph nodes. My husband’s calm response was "Doc, you can’t threaten me with heaven." We were not given the stage of his cancer nor his life expectancy; later our research revealed a life expectancy of two to three months.

Forty-five blessed and wonderful years of marriage - how would I live without him? What would I do? What should I do? By faith, I chose to trust in God, my loving, heavenly Father. I surrendered unconditionally all that I was and all that I had to Him including His perfect will and timing for Howard’s home going. I trusted in His sovereign control in a way I hadn’t ever chosen to do in the past. I chose to trust in His unchanging character, attributes and promises. I chose to trust that His perfect love is in the tragedies as well as the triumphs of life - He either sends them or permits them to happen for His glory and our good.

During the month following the call from our physician, Howard made preparations for me and my life as a widow. Though he was suffering the effects of severe sleep deprivation, he persevered with selfless love, care and concern for me as he had done throughout our marriage. He prepared lists of personal possessions to be given to loved ones, organized his personal files and contacted friends he knew could and would help me in specific areas of need. Though exhausted, with love and care, he telephoned or visited family and friends to inform them of his condition. In an effort to soften the heartbreaking news, he would simply refer to his condition as "a bad case of cancer."

After the month of preparation, we followed God’s leading and sought alternate cancer treatment for Howard at an outpatient clinic in Mesa, Arizona. It was then, as never before, that I began to experience the reality of God’s enabling grace as I trusted in His promise to meet my every need - physical, emotional and spiritual.

Each day, I was grateful for Howard’s strength to care for his personal needs and persevere in the daily treatments at the clinic. Each day, I was thankful for health that enabled me to be Howard’s arms, legs and physical strength when necessary. Though I could see Howard’s body failing, it was during the tenth week of treatment that a PET scan confirmed the seriousness of his condition. As he grew weaker each day, I prayed God would give him the strength to return to Colorado. God graciously answered my prayer.

We were home less than forty-eight hours when it became necessary to rush Howard to Hospital Emergency. His condition was rapidly deteriorating, and seventy-two hours later, at his request, he was moved to a hospice. Selflessly and lovingly, his decision was driven by his desire to spare me of any memory of his death in our home. God took my precious Howard to His heavenly home thirty-six hours later.

Widowhood was now a reality. How would I begin to fill the emptiness in my heart created by the death of an incredible man - my husband, my best friend? How would I live each day as a widow - so many "firsts," so many choices, so many decisions ...

  • No longer could I look to my husband for love and acceptance. I chose to believe the truth of God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me.
     
  • No longer could I look to my husband to meet my needs. I chose to trust God to meet all my needs through His all-sufficient love, grace and mercy.
     
  • No longer could I seek my husband’s protection and provision. I chose to trust in God’s promise to protect me and provide for me.
     
  • No longer could I look to my husband for joy and comfort. I chose to trust in God’s divine enabling to live an abundant life as His child.
     
  • No longer could I delight in my husband or distract myself with wifely duties as excuses for not spending more time with God. I chose to delight myself in His Word and His presence and seek to fulfill His purpose for my life as a widow.
     
  • No longer could I seek my husband’s wisdom, understanding and discernment. I chose to trust in God’s promise to guide and direct my ways as I surrender to His perfect will and perfect way for my life.
     
  • No longer could I look to my husband to care for me in times of illness. I chose to trust God with my health—surrendering to His care and provision for me.
     
  • No longer would I be anxious about the unknown. I chose to trust my all- powerful, ever-present and all-knowing God with all areas of my life.
     
  • No longer would I seek worldly things to satisfy. I chose to focus on my eternal, heavenly home and live each day in light of eternity.
     
  • No longer would I live in self-sufficiency and self-dependency. I chose to reaffirm Christ as my life, my identity and my power.
     
  • No longer would I focus on my loss. I chose to be thankful for the gift of a godly husband, for forty-five blessed years of marriage, for Howard’s godly influence that lives on through me and for the certainty he now lives in the presence of his Lord and Savior. I choose to remember the past but live in the present.

Each day, God, my heavenly Father, honors the choices He has guided me to make. How grateful I am for His faithfulness and lovingkindness! Each day as I trust and obey Him, my love for Him and my faith in Him grow deeper, and my walk with Him grows closer. Each day, I seek His best for my life as I yield to His will, as I anticipate His revelation of His plan and purpose for my life as a widow. Each day, I choose to be thankful for the many blessings of widowhood.

Shirley is a dear friend and champion of Exchanged Life Ministries. She met Howard Long her husband of 45 years at the age of eighteen. They were married two years later at Fort Gordon, Georgia while Howard was serving in the U.S. Army. Howard and Shirley’s love and support of Exchanged Life Ministries spans several decades. They have brought countless newcomers to Grace Life Conferences through the years. Shirley has continued this tradition even after Howard’s passing. In the summer of 2009 while attending Grace Life Advanced Training, Shirley came to know Christ as her life. She currently resides in Centennial, Colorado.