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White Scarf Story

When you find yourself tangled up in a mess you cannot free yourself from, or in a place of utter despair and hopelessness, it’s good to remember that you are not alone.

It’s even better when that truth becomes a reality.

She was 17. A junior in high school. Wrapped up in an unhealthy dating relationship that went awry. Dreams of graduating from high school and becoming a fashion designer were replaced by abuse, fear, guilt, and shame.

This was my crossroad reality.

Mwangi Gatheca

And yet, my sin and brokenness became the very instrument God would use to demonstrate his above and beyond grace in my life.

Grace, mercy, and love came to me through various acts of unconditional love shown to me by a loving mother and father, and friends who genuinely saw past my shame and celebrated the life I was carrying inside me.

My struggle of personal torment prevented me from seeing the future God had planned for me. My personal failure held me in a place of hopelessness and despair and unworthiness.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners,  Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8

“While we were yet sinners!”

While I was clueless of God’s plan of grace for my life – he had already put his redemptive plan in motion; to rescue me from a life of pain and regret.

God used the kindness of one particular woman in my life to show me what unconditional love and grace looked like.  As a very young child, she had suffered at the hands of an abusive father. And there she stood in front of me, extending the sweetest kind of kindness and love – the one that Christ had given her in her own story of faith, grace, and healing.

In her kindness, I felt as though I was being adorned with a white scarf of beauty and grace.

God’s personal love also came through his Word in a place of desperation.

Betsy…sweetheart…I wrote these words for you beloved daughter:

“I know the plans I have for you (my daughter). Plans to prosper you.

Not to bring you harm. Plans to give you a FUTURE and a HOPE.” Jer 29:11

I was undone.

My friend and God’s Word.

But Jesus did not stop there.

I was learning to trust the One who made me and the child within me. I began to embrace and trust God’s plan for my life not knowing what the future held…but trusting the One who held it. I was learning to walk in the hope and forgiveness I had found in Jesus.

Pivotal moment.

I was unmarried and two weeks away from marrying the father of my child. A relationship that was marked by drugs, alcohol, and abuse. Through a series of events, I knew God was telling me to let go and that he had something better in mind for me. By God’s intervening grace, I broke ties with this person and put my life, my unborn child life, and my future in God’s hands.

During my pregnancy, I began to gather things I would need.

One day, I went to an old fashioned church “rummage sale” and spotted a small white silk scarf that I fell in love with. It was a custom made child’s scarf that had an “S” monogrammed on one side near the bottom.

The only problem was that my last name began with a “D”.

I almost left the scarf on the shelf where I found it because it didn’t have the initial of my last name.

But I loved it. So I bought it. And I took it home and tucked it away.

I imagined myself bringing it out and placing it around my little-one’s tiny neck on the very first, cold, Cleveland, winter day.

Fast-forward a year and a half later. Through a blind date, I met the man I would marry.

We married the winter my son turned two years old. My new last name, of course, begins with an “S”.

This scarf is one of my most treasured earthly possessions because of what it represents. Little did I know then, how God would use this white scarf of grace in my life.

Blessing me with the task of raising eight kids.

Leading a ministry for teen moms. And now, at this season of life as an empty nester, writing to offer the gift of grace to midlife women experiencing a major season of change.

Who is that woman that God has brought into your life to offer his White Scarf of grace? Or has God placed someone in your life that has made a profound difference in your life? Why not offer them a gift of the white scarf of gratitude?

It’s just one small way we (who were once found, lost, hurting, and hopeless) can bless and serve the beautiful hurting women God brings into our lives.

Elizabeth Duncan Stretar, (Cleveland, Ohio) is the mother of 8 married adults, grandmother to 16, and enjoys spending her empty-nest time with husband, Frank. She is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (MACL), Young Life’s first national director and currently working as a major airline Flight Attendant. Stretar’s passion is to help others live an above and beyond kind of life, by encouraging them realize their untapped potential, discover their life-purpose that strives to make a difference in the lives of others.

She’s a published author of children’s book, Acorn Gert & Brother Bert (Halo Publishing, 2016) and blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life (betsystretar.com)

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Choosing Brave

At the end of every day, I collapse onto the couch and make the most of my evening with Netflix and a glass of wine or warm cookies or salty, buttered popcorn, glad to waste brain cells and time until I crawl into bed and fall asleep. My husband died three years ago, when my son was two years old and I was still pregnant with my daughter; being a single mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Quite often when someone finds out I’m a widow, the conversation comes to a grinding halt. I watch as their eyes glaze over and they enter the foggy land of “what on earth do I talk to her about when my hard stuff could never compare to being a single parent of young children, grieving the loss of a partner?”.  I really wish we would stop comparing hard stuff; the challenges you face in life are daunting for you, just as mine are for me, and nothing gets any easier when we insist on making life the saddest type of competition.

In the last five years, I’ve lost my dad and my husband, given birth to two children, and learned to live with my chronic anxiety and depression. It has been incredibly challenging and tremendously rewarding. I have learned what it means to live bravely.

Ten years ago, if you asked me what it meant to live a brave life, I would have described something along the lines of giving up worldly possessions to live in the deepest, darkest jungles like the Swiss Family Robinson. Or to join an elite military squad, risking my life just to do my job. Or to escape a human trafficking or other abusive situation. But I never would have used the word brave to describe what happens after a loved one dies.

I would never have said it’s brave to keep living.

As I explore what it means to practice courage, I realize that brave and heroic are not the same thing. Parenting my children when I’ve lost the person I built a family with is brave. Getting through my daily routine when I’m in a brutal depressive spell is brave. Breathing through a panic attack and remembering it will end is brave. Celebrating another life milestone without my dad or my husband to cheer me on is brave.

Going food shopping when we could have cereal for dinner, but we’ve already done that for a few days is brave. Maybe not, but that last one sure feels like a giant accomplishment.

Grief and anxiety pull my thoughts towards the past and depression makes survival seem impossible. But I’m learning to dream again because loss and mental illness don’t mean my life is over. There are more good things to come. Dreaming and hoping are brave.

Anyone can be brave. Courage doesn’t require an extra chromosome or special coursework. It simply (but not easily) requires the choice to be brave. Maybe your brave thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe you need to say no to something. Or say yes. Brave can be admitting life is hard, but choosing not to give in. Or acknowledging the broken parts of your heart and pursuing healing.

I wasn’t born brave and neither were you, but we can choose to live bravely, together.

Becky McCoy

Becky L McCoy lives on the Connecticut coast with her two precocious and hilarious children. She once enjoyed teaching high school physics and now tells her story of loss, grief, and joyful living on her blog. Having struggled with depression and anxiety and experienced several seasons of grief and struggle, Becky is passionate about creating an online community where people share their stories and encourage one another to choose to live bravely and authentically through disappointment and discouragement.

You can find Becky on all forms of social media @BeckyLMcCoy, on her blog at BeckyLMcCoy.com, and her podcast Sucker Punched.