I first met Lori Fox on a cold November night. Over our coffee she encouraged me hugely, and her words again reminded me that in God’s plan, no crisis is without abundant blessing. Maybe that blessing is not seen at the moment, but it will be. Our husbands both entered heaven on the wings of Lou Gehrig’s disease, April 21, different years, Bob in 2006, Eric in 2010. Thankfully she has shared her story with us. Read on.
I first was introduced to Miriam Neff and her website when I heard her talking on Moody Radio about being a widow. Being newly widowed. I really appreciated everything she said in her interview and it just made sense to me. A few months later, I remembered I had written down the book she had written and thought maybe I should get the book to read. I ordered the book online and found her website.
When the book arrived, I let it sit on my counter for a while. When I finally picked up the book to read it, I read the first page and saw that her husband died April 21 exactly four years prior to my husband and then learned it was from the same disease. After that, I knew I had to read this book and stayed up almost the whole night as I read chapter after chapter and just sobbed. Finally someone who understood me and could give some Christian advice that I could really take to heart.
I felt like I had made a connection, a friend even. I thought to myself she is my godly widow she describes we need on our Board of Directors. I don’t know too many widows as I was only 38 years old. When I read about journaling, I decided I needed to start writing again. My husband and I had kept a blog for two years with 200 posts on our journey with his sickness that I decided to end after he died. I got up in the middle of the night and went to my computer and my new blog was born. It is my journaling about my grieving and living after losing the love of my life. I will keep writing as long as God gives me things to share with others both to help encourage those on the journey with me and to help others who care to understand what I am going through.
When I found out that Miriam lived in Chicago, only three hours from me, I decided I needed to go on a road trip and meet this woman who had helped me so much with my grief and discovering the new me. I contacted her and she graciously responded and we met for coffee after she had spent her entire morning watching her grandson wrestle and take the championship. I was so blessed to meet her and talk more about our journeys and we quickly became long distance, dear friends though the mutual bond we share. She asked me a few months ago if I would be willing to share my story for her website and I am finally sitting down to share it with you so grab a cup of coffee and read on.
My life changed dramatically on May 18, 2007. I was in Rochester, Minnesota with my husband at Mayo Clinic when I heard the words “Your husband has a motor neuron disease called ALS. He has 2-5 years to live. You should get your affairs in order.” It may not have been those exact words, but that is what we took from our neurologist after a week’s worth of testing. I sobbed uncontrollably while my husband comforted me and held it together.
This is not how we planned our life together. We were going to grow old together. We were going to buy a bed and breakfast when our kids left the house and sit and rock at night on the large wrap-around porch together. All of my dreams with Eric were being slowly ripped out from under me. We talked on the Wings of Mercy flight home about what Eric wanted to do before he left this earth. Top on his list was to visit all 50 states , get a dog, spend time with those he loved and share Christ and his testimony with anyone he could.
Less than three years later on April 21, 2010, Eric went to meet our Lord in heaven. We had visited all but 5 states including Hawaii. We adopted a dog, not a puppy as my husband wanted. (I had to draw the line since I was his sole caregiver and we had two young children) He spoke at schools, for ALSA, in Washington before congressmen, we shared our testimony at our church and to anyone who would listen.
Christ was our Rock and our strength. Our verse we clung to during those years was 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. “
When Eric passed away, I thought I would never get through it, never be happy, never see past my grief, even after years of counseling. I couldn’t even see past that day and my sorrow. I recall feeling a similar feeling when I had my first child. The pain was so horrible, I thought I couldn’t imagine ever having another child after going through countless hours of back labor that ended in a C-section.
The very next day, as I held Zach in my arms, I thought that was not so bad and look at this beautiful baby we have. Now you may think this is not the same, you are talking about a life and a death, but God’s word says this in John 16:20-22 referring to the way the disciples would grieve at Jesus death. “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into this world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Jesus focuses on the joy we will receive after we grieve. Mostly that joy comes from the fact that we will meet Him face to face when we exit to heaven but also that we will see our loved ones again who believed in Him. The weekend we prepared for Eric’s funeral, I felt the Lord lift a heavy burden from me that told me I was going to get through this. I was even able to see God open up the sky after a weekend of rain and shine down on me at the cemetery when we were burying Eric as if to say “Eric is not in that grave, He is here with me and you will see him again.” I actually smiled for the first time on the ride home thanking God for his faithfulness. It is so hard to believe that suffering can produce joy, but there are so many references in scripture that say exactly that! (Psalm 90:13-15, Psalm 51:12, Psalm 126:5, Romans 12:12 and James 1:2-3 to name just a few)
I have done a lot of grieving and a lot of thinking and praying about what I am supposed to do with Eric gone and who I am, what is my purpose? Miriam said it so well in her book Widow to Widow. She said half of you has been torn away when you lose a spouse, you need to take the time to heal that wound and discover who you are as a new person. Not a wounded half person, but a new whole person. When I read that this past summer, I knew that is what I was doing and it was healthy and OK.
I did so many great things with Eric and supported him in so many of his passions all of our life together and now I had to figure out what God created me to do, what are my passions? I have decided to spend my time taking care of myself and others as Miriam suggests. I had neglected my health some while taking care of Eric so I started to focus on getting healthy. I have lost 30 lbs since September through eating healthier, smaller portions and exercising and I feel great. I have more energy to take care of my kids and others I care about. I have learned my spiritual gifts and my purpose by a small group study in my home called Chazown by Craig Groeschel and am so excited to live this out and “end up somewhere on purpose”. I have had numerous opportunities to testify to God’s goodness in my life.
Recently I heard another verse that summarizes well my brokenness and grief. Isaiah 64:8 states “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Then I heard another reference to this last week at church in Jeremiah 18:3-4 that says “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” I was marred and broken when Eric passed away, but God took that same clay he formed me with before being broken and is creating something new as He sees best. That is encouraging to me. God isn’t finished with me yet and His plans are always better than my plans.
Am I always at peace and clinging to God’s promises? No, the human flesh in me cries out often and I get anxious about my future and try to take over. I try to plan things on my own and figure out what my life may look like some day and then I start to worry. Last week in my Bible study, my teaching leader shared a truth with us. She said “every opportunity to fear comes with an invitation to trust God.”
This is so true. Eric and I decided to trust God when we got the diagnosis of ALS. I am deciding to trust God with my life and His plans for me, to trust God with my sister’s cancer. To trust God with my kids. To trust God with the scary things happening in the world. Fear Cripples us, but trusting in God sustains us and allows us to move forward with confidence.
A good analogy of how we see our life I had explained to me once is that of a puzzle. When you look at one piece of a puzzle, you cannot make out what the picture will become. You see just one fragment of the whole picture. As you join pieces together, you start to see some of the puzzle but you cannot see the whole picture until you fit every piece together. Our life is like this puzzle. We are just a few pieces of this amazing picture but we can’t make sense of it because it is not complete. Our pieces could consist of many things such as our family, where we grew up, friends, possible college or a career, marriage, maybe divorce, children, infertility, miscarriage, financial freedom, financial bankruptcy and in our case loss of a loved one, our husband. Many of these pieces don’t make sense on their own, but God is knitting together a beautiful picture and only He can see the whole thing. He is the Potter and we are the clay.
Romans 8:28 says “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes. “ God will make it clear to us some day. I pray that you know Him and his promises are real to you. I find it no coincidence that God has brought me comfort in his Word and the timing of it and I hope you may find that to be the case for you too and you are encouraged today!
Blessings, Lori Fox
Lori Fox-Ritter May 2014
When Miriam contacted me to write a Part 2 of my journey, I knew my answer was yes, however as I sit down to write it, my thoughts are where do I begin? So I decided to go back to my Part 1 on Widow Connection’s website and couldn’t believe in such a short time how much has happened in my life which reminded me that God is still not finished with me. His plan for me is a glorious one and only He sees the full picture in the puzzle I talked about in part 1. There have been many new “pieces” added to my life over the last few years and I am blessed. I was reminded as I read this in “Part 1” again that God is still forming me into something new after being broken and I am trusting Him with my life.
“Jeremiah 18:3-4 “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” I was marred and broken when Eric passed away, but God took that same clay he formed me with before being broken and is creating something new as He sees best. That is encouraging to me.”
It has been 4 years now since the loss of my husband. Sadly, after my husband passed away, I experienced another significant loss in my life on June 10, 2011 when my sister, Kristi entered heaven after her battle with ovarian cancer just over a year after Eric exited to heaven. I had learned to mourn way too much in my opinion in my 39 years on this earth as I have experienced other losses besides these that just don’t make sense. I’d like to think that I am safe from any more loss in my life but also know that I cannot control these things. God doesn’t cause these things to happen to us and his heart grieves along with us when we experience loss. I do know that He is the great comforter and that I can share the comfort I have received from God with others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
The summer of 2011, I was able to take a trip to Colorado with the youth group I helped lead at my church. My son and my sister’s daughter were able to go as well which was amazing!
We climbed a 14,000 ft mountain, camped in snow on the side of that mountain, and whitewater rafted through freezing water down a raging river. I saw God clearly in his creation as He spoke to me and continued to bring healing to my soul. All this wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t started the journey back to health and taking care of myself starting the fall of 2010. I had lost 40 lbs and I feel great and have made great choices concerning what I eat and how I exercise for the sake of myself and my kids.
That same summer, I was asked to come to Chicago again to help film Miriam’s video series for widows which connected me to some other widows as I listened to their stories and got to know them as we spent the day together.
At the end of that summer, I was introduced to a Christian man named Todd Ritter by a friend who also has lost a husband to ALS.
Now I won’t lie, it was after I had tried internet dating for a very short period and had just informed her that after only two dates that “I had decided to become a nun”. Well, I suppose God had other plans for my life as after only 4 months of dating and getting to know Todd and his family, I became engaged to that wonderful man. Within 10 months of meeting him, I became Mrs. Lori Fox-Ritter. Together, we have 5 children, now ages 11-21 who I love and cherish as we experience our new lives together. Together, we are a house divided regarding college football (I’m a Michigan State Alumni and he is a diehard Michigan fan) but a house united when it comes to serving God. Joshua 24:15 “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
There are blessings and challenges in this journey that we embrace together. I knew I wanted to find love again as I had a great marriage and I knew if God showed me clearly that there was someone else He had for me that I had a lot to offer someone. I was told by a counselor probably a year prior to pray for my future husband if that is what I desired for my life again one day. This relieved the anxiety of my future as I slowly let it go into God’s hands (not easy for a person who likes to be in control). After I met Todd, I prayed and sought discernment and God’s will as I realized He may be the man I had been praying for. An amazing thing was revealed to me after we were married and I had moved to Hamilton when a neighbor came over to say she was sorry she could not make it to our wedding. She told me she had been praying for Todd that someone would come into his life after what he had gone through. This was profound that someone was praying for “me” as I became that person for him!
This is our family photo from last Christmas.
Life is so busy and I love sharing it with Todd as we become more involved at our church as I am now on staff doing finances and Todd has become a Deacon. I still feel purpose and am constantly presented with opportunities to be God’s hands and feet. There are days when I wish I could clone myself or add more hours to the day but I am truly blessed. I am thankful that my kids have another Dad to help them with drivers training, tying their ties for prom, praying and tucking them in at night and showing them love and guidance. I am blessed to have an opportunity to be there for his kids when they need me or ask for anything. I am grateful to be doing things with Todd that I know I couldn’t do on my own and enjoying life as God continues to form the pieces together of my life to make a beautiful picture.
If you are unsure of your future and dating, some resources that have helped me are:
“From We to Me: Embracing Life Again after the Death or Divorce of a Spouse” by Married authors: Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge and Robert DeVries“Love, sex and Happily Ever After: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance” by Craig Groeschel to honor God’s plan for marriage and purity
“Where do I Go From Here: Bold Living After Unwanted Change” by Miriam Neff
If you have become a blended family, Ron Deal has some amazing material on that at http://www.smartstepfamilies.com/view/about-ron-deal