December 13, 2018

                                             

Weekly thoughts for the believer's walk with God, a walk that is intended to nurture us on a personal level as we embrace our grief and embrace the God who longs to walk with us on our journey.


Thoughts Under the Umbrella

“For to us a child is born. To us a son is given and the government will be on His shoulders, and He will be called wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

The holidays are upon us. Some of us are where we can put merry and happy back into our vocabulary. Those who are new to this journey of grief just want to put the covers over our head and come out sometime in January when all the festivities have passed.

Who else better to help the newly grieved than those of us who have found our way through the minefields of the holidays? So what advice can I offer you during this time of year? Be patient with yourself and try not to put too many expectations on yourself. We are bombarded during the season with what the holidays should look and feel like. We see families intact, smiling and celebrating as if all is right with the world. Words can hurt us especially when we feel the pressure to have to perform. What if for this season we remove the words that create the expectations. Remove the words happy and merry at least for the time being. What if we place our focus on the true meaning of the holidays?

What if we view this time to look at what is really important to us? Take time out of the busyness to connect to our faith and to those we love. These are the things that truly matter. It is a time to be thankful. Yet how do we be thankful when we are grieving? We might not be able to be thankful for where we are right now but we can give thanks. We can give thanks for the love we have received from our child and from others. We can give thanks for the future that will come as we set our hearts and minds on healing. 

During these next weeks that lie ahead, feel the emotions that come over you. We cannot fix what we feel but we can quiet them. Emotions both good and hard are a gift from God. When we feel them we are actively participating in our grief. Frank Santora, a counselor, spoke on how we try to hide our true feelings around others. He said, “Pain and grief have been kept buried for ages, bred in secrecy and shame, wrapped by an ongoing conspiracy of smiles and well-being. Pain and grief are most healing and ecstatic emotions. Yes, sure they can be hard, yet what makes them most devastating is the perverted idea that they are wrong, that they need to be hidden and fixed. In this world everyone is bound to get ill, experience pain and die. The greatest gift I can give myself and the world is the joyful acceptance of this. Today I want to be real. I will not hide my pain as well as my happiness. I will not care if a gloomy face or desperate words cause concern or embarrassment in others. I do not need to be fed with reassuring words about the beauty of life. The beauty of life resides in the full acceptance of all that is.”

So don’t cover up your feelings, whether they are good or hard. Wear your grief on your sleeve. In order to fill our souls, we need to let the pain out. So this holiday, put on your best sleeved shirt and make sure it’s waterproof because tears will fall. I pray they will not only be tears of sorrow but also thankful tears for those who love us right where we are.

Lord, You are our Counselor when we are overcome with grief. You are the Prince of Peace when our soul is in turmoil.
                                               
                                                                                                            – Michele

December 5, 2018

Rising Each Time

I am awed by the story of Joseph.  He went from ordinary kid to victimized brother to trusted servant to distrusted servant who was lied against and imprisoned, only to emerge ultimately as the second most powerful leader in the nation.  In the end, he responds to the brothers who had plotted and enacted a cruel vengeance against his perceived arrogance.  Joseph’s words resound through the millenniums, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”  I am awed by Joseph’s faith in a sovereign God and the good he ascribes to Him, but I am probably more awed because he held tenaciously to the faith he was taught as a child.  That faith gave him a work ethic that set him above those who worked with him.  His faith refused to transgress the trust that had been placed in him.  It refused to go contrary to the character of his God.  His faith protected him from bitterness and revenge.  His faith immersed him in the love of his God when circumstances were unjust.  It was his faith that could carry on duties beneath the common man.  It was his faith that drew wisdom from God, extended love to those who had abandoned him, and wept with joy over a plan of God that to most of us would have seemed very unfair.
Some can relate all too well to the ups and downs of Joseph’s life.  We’ve been there.  Content with the bounty of our blessings, and then rudely having them snatched from us.  Family members that withdrew their love and their loyalty.  A reputation destroyed with ugly and bitter words.  Promises and dreams that once radiated from the horizon, overshadowed and darkened by the unexpected.  The pressures of work and home taunting us with success and then slamming us against unmet expectations.  How do we respond?  It’s easy to follow our emotional inclinations, but that too leaves us empty and unfulfilled.  It’s harder to be a Joseph who holds tenaciously to his God.  A Joseph who never quits regardless of his circumstances.  When I was in college, we were taught that failure never comes until we quit.  Joseph was not defined by his circumstances.  He was defined by his God.
A poem by an unknown author tells the story of a young boy running a race as his father cheers him on.  To the child’s disappointment and embarrassment he falls, not once, not twice, but three times.  But each time he fell, he found the voice and the face of his father, and he picked himself up and ran again.  No, he did not win the race, but he finished, and he won the applause of the crowd and the affirmation of his father.  The father’s words are for all of us, “Winning is no more than this, to rise each time you fall.”  That’s what Joseph did, and always with his eyes on God.

                                                              – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Genesis 50:14-21)

November 29, 2018

Thoughts Under the Umbrella

Psalm 30:11 “You turned my wailing into dancing: you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

On July 2, 1997, I became a mother without her daughter.  On July 4, 2018, I became a daughter without her mother.  I am forever grateful that I was with both of these two as they entered into the arms of the Lord.  As I continue to process the loss of my mom, I have found myself revisiting the time I spent with both of them as they transitioned into Heaven.  Each loss is so different.  I felt with my daughter, I was not only grieving my past, but my future.  The day she was born changed who I was.  She became my top priority.  My mom has had a constant presence in my life since the day I was born.  Both of these two have left a huge imprint on my life.  Death is always such a hard thing to grasp.  

When I was in the hospital with my daughter, the reality that confronted me when I walked in her room sent me to the floor.  I spent that day trying to come to terms with what the doctor told us.  My daughter was brain dead and the noise coming from the machines was the very thing that was keeping her body alive.  I spent that day wandering the hall, and then back to her room, trying to find a place to hide.  Yet I always found myself pulled back to where my daughter was, hoping she would open her eyes and we would all go home together.  The strength it took for us to silence those noisy machines amazes me how we made that decision.  I never thought I would have to bury my daughter.

My mom has been in my life from the very beginning of my being knitted inside her.  Her voice was the first voice I heard.  She was 89 years old.  She and my dad were married for 70 years.  They had seven children, 24 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren.  They had such a full life.  They also had many of the heartaches that happen in life, especially living for 89 years.  As I sat in the hospital and slowly watched her fragile body loosen her grip on life, the joy of the Lord was very palpable to me.  She was surrounded by her loving family.  We sang to her, we laughed, and told our funny crazy mom stories.  I always knew one day I would have to bury her.
How I have reacted to both of these losses has taught me the need to hold on to what I know to be true even when my feelings want me to believe something else.  This is what I know to be true.  I believed Jesus was God’s Son, and that He died for our sins so we would have a life after death.  I stood on the words of the gospel that gave me hope.  I trusted He would never leave me or forsake me.  I knew that somehow, some way, He could take my losses and bring good from them, even though I had no idea how. 

The joy of the Lord comes from these promises.  These promises, when I truly believe them, give us our strength.  This strength gave me the peace of releasing my mom with joy in my heart for her and what her future held.  The joy of the Lord did not feel the same in the death of my daughter, but I know it was there.  I had the strength to turn those life giving machines off.  I walked through weeks of greeting people who were hurting for us and themselves after the death of my daughter.  They needed to see me just as much as I needed to see them.  The joy of the Lord to an outsider did not look joyful –  it looked like mourning. I found my strength in His promises, to mourn with the hope of eternity in my future.  In time, I was able to shed my sackcloth of grief and watch as I became clothed in joy.

Lord, we rejoice in Your promises that help us get through our darkest days.

                                                                                                               – Michele

November 21, 2018

Rainbows and Black Dots


We were driving home and I was in the front passenger seat.  Passing an entrance to the mall on the other side of the street, we stopped long enough at our own traffic light for me to be enthralled by the rainbow of colors splashed across the usual starkly black and white directional sign at the mall’s entrance.  Soft colors, but vibrantly alive.  I literally wanted to linger a bit, but our traffic light changed its own color and as we moved forward with the green light, I realized the colors on the directional sign truly had been “just” a rainbow.  On a warm sunny day in southern California, I really don’t know the science behind the rainbow I saw, but I was blessed.  It was a rainbow in an unexpected place, and I contemplated how often God gives us rainbows when we least expect them  – the friend who calls or gives a hug, interacting with a caring staff when you would have preferred to not even be in need of their services, the one you love making forward steps when it would be so easy to do otherwise, reminders from those who are praying, a relationship healed or maybe just begun, a few extra dollars, a special sale.  Beauty from ashes and brokenness.  Rainbows.  Not even expected, but given.

And then there is the story of the professor who gave his class of students a sheet of white paper, a blank paper except for the singular black dot, not very large, but obviously apparent.  One small black dot.  Lots of white.  The professor asked his students to write about what they saw.  Every student focused on the black dot.  No one wrote about the dominating whiteness of its background.  After reading all of the written responses, the professor explained the parallel of what they had done, to life, explaining that we are surrounded by so much that is good, so much that gives us reason to celebrate, to be thankful, and yet so often, it is the black dot that consumes our thinking, our feelings, and our energy.

For me, the concept is understood in considering mirrors and windows.  Life happens, and life can be hard, and even tragic.  I can allow all those raw and harsh realities of life, or even just the somewhat confusing ones, to be a mirror of reflection, and when life is reflected back to me, I see my own image, an image caught up in self, disappointment, and a diminishing capacity for a godly response.  Or, I can allow life to simply frame the window through which I focus on my God – not denying reality, but allowing my reality to draw me to my God, secure in His love, dependent on His grace, waiting and watching for Him to unfold my tomorrows. 

Within it all, I have choices to make.  Look for the rainbows.  Be consumed by the black dot.  Find myself in a mirror.  Look through the window and see my God.  Ann Voskamp challenges us to find 1000 gifts that God has given us.  Write them down.  One at a time.  Short, brief.  Words are secondary.  The heart is what is most engaged.   Doing it, I find the rainbows and I look through the window.

                                                                            – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Psalm 131:1-3)

November 18, 2018

Intimacy with God


Psalm 42:1-2  “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God.  When can I go and meet with God?”

I was walking to my car from the beach in Coronado with my sweet golden retriever when a text message came through to my phone from my sister, saying, “Please pray; my son just called; they can’t find the heartbeat.”  My nephew’s wife was 30 weeks into her pregnancy.  This would be my sister’s first grandchild, and she had moved from Missouri to Arizona in anticipation of his arrival.  My heart skipped a beat, and as I caught my breath, there was a sinking feeling in my gut.  Although my sister was a believer, her relationship with the Lord was tenuous, at best, but one thing she did know about me is that, whenever she asked, she knew I would stop whatever I was doing and I would pray.  I asked my friend who had been with me at the dog beach if she minded if I called my sister to pray with her, and of course, as I began to pray for my frantic and distraught sibling, my girlfriend was right there, praying with me, calling on the Lord to rain down His peace upon this horrible situation.  As I sat down on the grass and closed my eyes to come before my Heavenly Father, scenes flashed before me to the weeks and days leading up to my own son’s death, instances where I knew the Lord was speaking gently into the center of my being, preparing me for what was about to come, not wanting to believe it, but knowing in my heart that I would not be bringing my son home from the hospital.  I pushed those thoughts away, willing this not to be about me, but thinking about my nephew’s wife and what she was about to go through, right here and right now, and as I started to pray with my sister, the Lord gave me a glimpse of my niece in the hospital, and instantly, I knew exactly what I needed to do to intercede on her behalf.  I didn’t know her very well, but the Lord was revealing to me bits and pieces of her, enough to know that she needed to be bathed in prayer, she needed protection, she needed a shield about her, and she, my nephew and my sister all needed the Lord, not just this one time, but they all needed His angels and His warriors to be encamped around them as a safeguard for what was about to come.  Yes, mostly they all just needed Him.

1 Peter 1:6 says, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  For the past three years, even though I have longed and desired in the depths of my soul to have a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord, even though I am head over heels in love with Him, my need for Him is abundant and so incredibly significant, if I am truly honest and transparent, I will tell you my deepest darkest secret -- I don’t always like God and there are times I struggle in trusting Him that what is occurring is really in my best interest.  I don’t like it that my great nephew just died; I don’t like it that my son was disabled; I don’t like it that my friend just died from cancer; I don’t like it that mothers are grieving for their lost children; I don’t like it that we have to suffer many trials and tribulations on this earth. And yes, if I’m really truthful, I don’t want to endure the sorrow, the pain, the loneliness and the devastating fallout that has occurred as a result of the death of my son. Here’s a spoiler alert -- He already knows how I feel and He takes great joy in the fact that I’m honest with Him. Because if you really think about it, I bet you anything, at the heart of every single agnostic, at the root of all atheistic people, at the foundation of every ambivalent person who has walked away from an intimate relationship with a loving and benevolent God, is an unanswered prayer or a deep-rooted anger toward our Heavenly Father for not coming through for them when they needed Him most.

John 16:33 says, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  We are citizens of Heaven and we don’t belong here on this Earth; this is not our home and we are just passing through. The Bible tells us we will have tribulation, we will have pain, we will have heartache, and we will have death. So the question I have for you is this.  Where do you find your peace?  What is hindering you from developing a deep, genuine, personal, intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father?  True intimacy means you have a hunger and a thirst to get to know God; you have a longing in your heart to cultivate a relationship with Him, and you are not satisfied until you truly know Him on a deeper level.  But how can you be intimate with someone you really don’t trust or even like very much?  How do you get past your thoughts that sometimes this life really sucks and all of this is all just way too hard?  I will tell you how. You consistently spend time getting to know Him.  Spending time with the person Jesus Christ, being honest with Him, brutally honest and transparent, having a desire and a thirst to be intimate with Him, seeking Him with all of your heart, your mind and your soul, earnestly yearning for Him, is the key to developing trust in Him.  My soul thirsts and pants for the Living God.  Where can I go to meet Him?  He is right here, right now, He sees me, He knows me, He is for me, He loves me and He sees every tear that falls.  He knows me more intimately than anyone else on the face of this planet, and all I have to do is look up and He will meet me right where I am and He will fill me with His peace and I will be satisfied that He is enough just for today.

                                                                                       – Melody

November 7, 2018

“I will survive.....”

Long before self-help books became the source for understanding human behavior and long before some of the vocabulary of behavioral science crept into the speech of everyday people, an eleven-year-old child, surrounded by only some of her siblings, and feeling very, very alone, spoke the silent words that marked her determination.  “will survive.”  In front of her stood an elderly matron, slightly stooped, and attempting to be welcoming.  Grey-haired and serous-minded, her welcome did little to quiet the fear pulsing in the young girl’s heart.  All the child knew was that “family” as she had known it had just been torn apart.  The brick institutional building she was standing in was to become “home” for as many years as it would take to rebuild the brokenness and hopefully, reunite a family – her family.  I was that child and spoke those words.  willsurvive.
Peter was desperate for survival too. The relative calm of the Sea of Galilee can be obliterated by the winds and waves of a violent storm in the middle of the night, threatening death even to those in fishing boats big enough for a full crew of fishermen.  In such a boat and in such a storm, far from land and fighting heavy waves, the disciples were terrified.  Their terror is magnified with the appearance of what they think is a ghost.  Hearing the “ghost” speak brings a request from Peter.  “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  Jesus responds to Peter by assuring him of who He is and welcoming him to come.  The journey before him isn’t long, but it’s scary, life-defying scary, but Peter’s “I will survive” is focused on his God.  Over the side of the boat he climbs, and one foot in front of the other, he begins walking, the raging waves submitting to his footsteps.  Peter’s focus though suddenly changes as the roar of the storm still around him, pummels his ears and his heart.  Jesus too though was still there, and the cry from Peter’s lips begged for Jesus to do what only Jesus could do.  Jesus reached out, grabbed Peter, and together they climbed back into the boat, the storm fully submitting to the One who truly was the Son of God.

will survive.  I found out I couldn’t do it by myself.   I tried.  I tried to be “the good girl.”  I tried fitting in with the other girls.  (Now that’s an oxymoron.)   I tried getting good grades.  I tried denying the reality that was wrecking havoc with my emotional needs.  I took “responsibility” for the marriage of my parents – and I couldn’t fix it.  I felt distant from God and I really didn’t understand Him.  But, as life unfolded, and the waves still crashed – just in different ways – I heard the voice Peter heard, and I said, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” Although I was still desperate for survival, I had learned, I can’t.  I can’t make survival happen.  Only God can.  And I needed to let Him.  And when my focus suddenly changes because the roar of the storm is still around me, I need, like Peter, to cry out to the Jesus who is still there too, and let Him do what only He can do.  And He will reach for me, grab me, help me climb back into the boat with Him, as my own storm, whatever it may be, submits to the One who truly is the Son of God.

                                                                                       – Bev


(Related Bible reading: Matthew 14:22-33)