Throughout my life, I have come to be sure of several key characteristics of God. He has proven Himself to be not only the ultimate author of THE most amazing real-life stories, but also a God of redeeming love, healing, restoration, hope, and provision.
How has He shown me these characteristics, you ask? [Oh, I’m so glad you did.]
The first proof of His goodness came before I was born. Before I could talk He began writing the most interesting and unbelievable story for my life. Full of heartache and joy, ups and downs, mistakes and redeeming moments. All which kicked off at the age of two with my adoption, the point at which he gave me a chance for an amazing life with wonderful parents. Parents who introduced me to Christ, and gave me every opportunity they possibly could.
I can’t wait to share that story with you another time, because it truly is beautiful. Today, however, I want to focus on two other moments in which God gave me a glimpse of His provision.
A Revelation from Widowhood
God’s Story is so intricate that we may never see how everything fits together, but I can tell you this: Every good and tragic thing has a purpose because God connects every piece of our story together for our good. And what a blessing it is when we get even just a glimpse of how a few small pieces of it fit together.
Losing your spouse at any age is more than heartbreaking. You feel like you’ve been ripped in half. I’m not the knower of all things, but maybe it feels that way because part of our very identity has been taken away. The Bible tells us that through marriage, we become one with our spouse. So it makes sense that when I lost Craig, it felt like part of myself had gone missing. One of the hardest parts about widowhood was relearning who “Helen Elizabeth” was again. Not Helen Elizabeth the Wife. Not even Helen Elizabeth the Widow. But who was “Helen Elizabeth” in Christ, without the labels?
This is where I found my first glimpse of God connecting pieces of his story. This time it was not only my story, but also Julie Strickland’s, Craig’s stepmother.
I will never forget sitting in the police department in Ponca City, OK, waiting to begin our search for Craig. I had found a place to sit by myself over by the restrooms and water fountains. Julie came over and sat with me, and after a moment she said, I never knew why I lost my husband at such a young age…but now I realize it was so I could help you. So I could help Randy. So I could help this family in their greatest time of need.
Yes. God is a God of provision.
It is such a special moment when we have the opportunity to see how God is working together for our good. In a time when I didn’t know how to work out my latest identity crises, I had someone who had walked this path before me. In the days/months/years to come, I was going to need guidance and someone who would “tell it to me straight” without beating around the bushes…and the Lord knew I’d get that with Julie.
Making the Decision to Remarry
Nothing about making the decision to date again and/or get remarried is easy. No part of introducing a new person into your life and to all those watching your life is easy. It’s messy. And quite frankly [excuse my language] it just sucks. But at some point, you have to put it out there and let it be awkward (as Julie wisely informed me). The good news is if we ask God to help us along the way, He’ll make a way for us…because when God’s writing your story, you know it’s gonna be good.
Looking back on my widowhood, I’ll be real with you, I didn’t do hardly anything the way I would do it if “today Helen” could go back and help “newly widowed Helen”. I struggled with communicating, making friends and family feel left out of my life. I struggled with laziness, not allowing God to use me fully. But through every confusing emotion, one thing stood. God was present. And he was making a way for me long before I ever lost my husband. Long before I ever knew Craig, and long before I knew what I wanted to do with this life.
Let me take you back to Junior year of High School, during cheer tryouts at a new school, and a chance encounter that would greatly impact my life.
A Chance Encounter
(Yes, that means I’m currently about to be 30, I’ll save you the time and energy of having to do the math. Math = Gross.)
As I stood in a gym I’d never been to before, watching girls I’d never met practice cheer moves, I laughed to myself as I observed teenage boys making as much noise as possible. They were practicing baseball on the other side of the gym, doing anything they could to snag a glance from this very stressed group of practicing cheerleaders. The girls were about to try out for next years cheer squad, and so was I. No one from the school I currently attended, and cheered at, knew I was trying out or was planning to transfer schools. I had made the decision on my own, going against my parent’s wishes for me.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering why I chose to transfer as a senior. Ya. The guy at the school district head office, who steadily refused to grant my “transfer to a school I wasn’t zoned for” request, wanted to know the same thing. To be honest, it was for two reasons. I wanted to get to know some people I hadn’t grown up with before we all went off to college. And on a more personal level, the previous year I lost a close friend that went to the same school I wanted to go to. I wanted to be with her sister and our mutual friends. Well, after a week of sitting outside his office, the head guy of transfers finally caved. And that’s how I ended up at my new school, trying out while knowing almost no one, and being happy as a clam.
Back to try out day…
As I walked to my car after tryouts, I heard someone pull up behind me. I turned around to find a guy yelling my name out the window of his friend’s red pick up truck. This very sure of himself Ricky-rando, who would later become a good friend of mine named Johnny (he sadly passed away recently, which actually makes this a sweet memory of our friendship to look back on), started asking me very detailed questions about my yellow mustang [my dream car I absolutely loved and referred to as “Stella”]. And after listening with an “I’m not impressed” face for a moment, I finally told him in my nicest matter-of-fact tone that it was “not a GT because my dad didn’t want me driving that fast, but it has a “pony pack” on it so it looks like one.” You see, I had a boyfriend that I was for sure going to marry because I was in 11th grade and grown and all that. So I didn’t need to be talking to this guy trying to make small talk. I quickly ended the conversation, but before giving my most polite ponytail flip and getting in my car…I happened to catch a glimpse of the guy in the front seat laughing at his friend’s failed pick-up line attempt. We made eye contact for a second and I couldn’t help my stop for a moment. There was something about him, but I hurriedly reminded myself that I “was in far too serious” of a relationship to be concerning myself with that.
Well, the end of the year went by in a blink, as time typically does when it’s springtime, you can drive, and have hardly any responsibilities but making your grades. I ended up making cheer at my soon-to-be new school and started hanging out with the girls and guys I saw in the gym that day at tryouts.
Have you ever had a summer that was your absolute favorite summer ever? Like “Phineas and Ferb ‘Best Summer Ever'” kind of summer? Well, that particular summer was my favorite ever. Hanging out at my new friends’ houses, playing Wiffle ball, feeling the heartache of a first real breakup, and other twists and turns along the way that would probably make for a pretty good pre-teen TV series. But the most exciting part of that summer was one person. Yep. The guy in the front seat of that red pick up truck…Andrew Peters – my now husband.
You may be asking, did I know then that I had met my future husband? Did I know he would marry me two and half years after the loss of my husband, Craig, giving me another hope for a family and future? Did I know that he would pray and ask Craig to lead me back to him if Craig saw him worthy to take care of me? Not at all…but God did.
To wrap up Part I of a three-part blog series, I want you to know that I firmly believe God was already working out a plan for my life the day I met Andrew. He was already formulating a story of provision, redeeming love and hope for Andrew, Craig and myself. God knew the storms I would face in the future and was already making a way for me.
Even in the hardest moments of life, we can trust that God will provide for us. We may have to wait and be patient, but He will bring beauty from ashes if we will trust Him.
Andrew and I didn’t work out the first time [or even the second or third time we tried to seriously date in college, ha!], and I never really knew why we didn’t. The only reason we’ve come up with was that we both needed to grow in our relationship with God – which is a very valid reason. But still, I had a few questions I needed to work through with God. So one day I sat down and asked Him, “Why do things have to be so hard, God? Why allow us to experience such hardship? Why do we have to suffer?”
God then reminded me: “Helen, think of all the people Craig’s story has helped. All the people who have given their lives to Christ. The impact you and the Strickland family have had for my Kingdom goes far beyond you just having a perfect life. Instead, you now have a story that shows my love for you and that can help lead others to find healing in Christ.”
The truth of that statement stopped me in my tracks. Even today, after writing that last paragraph, I thought about the woman I used to be compared to the woman I am today. Even with all the suffering, mistakes, and heartache, I’d take the woman I am today over the former because this woman is becoming more like the person God created her to be. If everything always went perfectly, I don’t know if I would ever have had a real relationship with God. By no means am I doing everything right these days, but I truly am proud of the woman God is creating within me and the strength I’ve found in Him.
I know now that every hard and painful moment I’ve experienced has allowed me the opportunity to find strength in my weakness through Christ Jesus, as well as help others do the same. I believe you can be that person for the people around you too. Our God is a God of Provision. Allow Him to show you how He’s been connecting both the joyful and the heartbreaking parts of your story for your good, and the good of others. Then allow Him to strengthen you from the inside out and use your story for His Kingdom. It will be well worth it, my friend.
Prayers going up for you as always.
Love in Christ,
(And for your laughter and enjoyment…a slideshow with a few photos from high school, college, and our engagement shoot! Side Note: Andrew really tried to get me to include two horrendous pictures of me from high school, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, ha!)