When I visualize my mother, the first image that always comes to mind is of her with her worn Bible across her knees, index cards and pencil at hand, preparing her Sunday School lesson. Her old King James Version was falling apart, the spine of its cheap leatherette cover peeling off, pages spilling out. But she treasured it because it had belonged to her beloved Aunt Ruby, a spinster who spent her entire life on the family farm in southern Mississippi.
On the flyleaf of her Bible Aunt Ruby had written, Whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11. After she died in 1945, her bachelor brother Rod, who lived on the farm with her, gave Mama her Bible.
Mama must have introduced me to that verse and to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi shortly afterwards, because it was a verse, a family story and a lesson that I cannot remember ever not knowing. It is the verse and the letter that has made widowhood bearable and that led me from grief to joy.
Whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11
Philippians is a short letter—only four chapters, a few pages of text—easily read in less than an hour. But it is a letter packed full of encouragement and hope for a poor, discouraged, divided congregation; and its advice is as helpful today for all those who have experienced darkness as it was 2,000 years ago.
Whenever I am discouraged or depressed, I reread Philippians. I read it in the early morning hours after Lev died and over and over again in the weeks that followed. I buried myself in its wisdom during the three years I wrote Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows.
Rejoice! Paul said repeatedly. What an impossible-sounding admonition! How can one rejoice in the face of loss—loss of relationships, personal identity, home, health or financial security?
On four Tuesday afternoons this summer, beginning July 11, I will join Debra Klingsporn, wife of the senior minister at First Congregational Church, Nantucket, for Porchtime at the Parsonage, where we will lead a conversation on how to move from discouragement and loss to rebuilding our lives and reclaiming joy. I am excited about the opportunity, and I hope it is only the first of many opportunities I have to share what I have learned in my own journey and from others who served as my mentors and role models.
While my book is a memoir, not a devotional book or a “how to,” I plan to develop a four-week leader’s guide to accompany my book, as well as a daily meditation guide for those want to find a few minutes of peace each day in the midst of darkness. This summer on the parsonage porch is a gift to me—an incentive for me to develop these materials.
More than that, though, I am grateful to share what I have learned with others. I hope that by speaking openly and honestly about my own journey, I can help others see they are not alone. They are not the first to start on this journey. They can emerge from the darkness. Life is not over. They can reclaim joy.
Porchtime at the Parsonage
Reclaiming Joy: Moving From Discouragement to Joy
4:30 p.m. Tuesdays on the FCC parsonage porch
July 11—Love Overcomes Fear
July 18—Unity Strengthens Relationships
July 25—Maturity Brings Wisdom
August 1—Peace Leads to Joy
Photo: The porch of the 1790 parsonage on Centre Street