April 18, 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

Philippians 1:20–21   “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

These verses recently have been in the forefront of my brain.  I am not sure why except I have felt a huge attack on my Christian faith in many areas of my life.  I have come to the realization that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It has made me take a more in-depth look on what and why I believe what I believe.  It has also compelled me to look at my own walk. 

As I take inventory of my life, I ask myself, “Can others see the difference Christ has made in the way I live my life?  Is my speech always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that I know how I ought to answer others?”  Actions always speak louder than words. What I do can erase any good  I might speak. How do I conduct myself when I am with others but also by myself?  Am I a person who sees a need and steps up to fulfill that need?   1 John 3:17 asks this question, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  How do I love?  Do I love with strings attached or do I love others no matter who they are or what they have done.  Do I love unconditionally and offer grace to others?

When I ask my three-year-old granddaughter a question and she doesn’t know the answer, she will say to me, “Grandma, I can’t know.” I was thinking about her answer when it comes to others being asked the question about me as a Christian. Would they remember me as a person who touched their life in some small way?  If someone were to ask if I was a follower of Christ, would someone else give the answer my granddaughter gives me.  Would they see Christ living in me or would their answer be, “I can’t know.” 

Lord, I know I often fall short of representing Your love. I ask You to help me see my shortcomings and point me in the direction of living boldly for You.

                                                                                                        – Michele

April 12, 2018

Hope anchors the soul.

Hope anchors the soul.  That was the theme of the one day retreat for moms who have experienced the death of a child.  One hundred and twenty moms gathered together to be encouraged by those farther ahead of them on this journey called grief, and one hundred and twenty moms were drawn together with their tears and understanding, and sometimes, even their laughter.  We were pampered and we were loved by the moms and by women who were simply caring volunteers, and we were gifted over and over again.  One of our gifts was a corded black bracelet with a small silver anchor attached.  I put it on to wear, but sometime in the hours after the retreat, I realized it was no longer on my wrist.  I was saddened because of its significance and felt an emptiness even in a simple, singular loss.  Arriving back home though, my emptiness was dispelled when the gift was found amidst the mix of clothing and “stuff” being unpacked.  

It reminded me of how lost I have sometimes felt.  Unconnected.  Wandering.  Searching for purpose and meaning.  On the outside of the circle looking in; isolation deadening my spirit.  Wondering if I could ever find a meaningful place in the maze of our broken world; wondering if I could even ever be accepted in that world.  Hope anchors the soul.  Someone showed me that hope and she made it very real, and she invited me inside the circle, and God began to transform me from the inside out.  Slowly, almost systematically because that is the needed bent of my temperament, God awakened my spirit, brought acceptance, and shaped purpose and meaning from the brokenness.  Hope anchors the soul.  I learned the necessity of anchoring and I nurtured the only hope that truly anchors – one that is found in relationship with the God of Hope.

Crisis, tragedy, major life changes, loss of people relationships, deep disappointments – these and still more, can challenge the anchor.  Suddenly, or slowly, the anchor is dislodged, and instead of being securely imbedded, it drifts as circumstances, emotions, and irrational thinking take their toll and drag the anchor along a rough and sandy bottom, once again, feeling lost, life darkened because the hope that anchors seems unfounded, and the heart that longs for hope, cries out in desperation.  We acknowledged at our retreat that it does happen – that one time commitments, for a myriad of reasons, can get bumped and bruised, squeezed and strained, even with the best of intentions, even with a heart that longs to please God – the anchor of hope can become a cloudy, disconnected memory, and lostness once again consumes me.  And at our retreat, we confronted that reality too.

Even “cloudy, disconnected memories” are still memories, and we need to intentionally rehearse them.  The God of Hope has lifted me before from my lostness, and my God of Hope hasn’t changed.  He longs to do it again.  And He wants me to know that the “over and over and over” puts me at His feet, and in my willingness to vulnerably share my own heart with Him, He exposes His heart for me.  My total and raw dependence brings the resources of His promises – over and over and over.  
Hope anchors the soul.  In the death of my child.  In the waves of grief that follow.  In the threatening ebb and flow of life’s circumstances,  Hope anchors the soul.  It is found in the over and over and over of staying close to the God of Hope.

                                                                                                                          – Bev




(Related Bible reading: Hebrews 6:16-20)

April 4, 2018

Perseverance of Faith

Hebrews 12:1-2   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
 
Have you ever come to a place in your life where you are standing at a crossroad, or perhaps teetering on the edge of a precipice, where there is nowhere to go and nothing you can do?  When you’ve run out of options and you realize that in your own strength there is absolutely no human answer for the difficulty at hand, it is in this very moment that you may realize you need something more, something beyond human comprehension, an intervention, if you will, of something greater than us in our finite limited capabilities.  Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” I have always considered myself an overcomer; I am a survivor, and there has always been something deep within me that causes me to persevere and rise above the overwhelming odds that have been the story of my life.  It has not been very often that I find myself in this very place, because after all, I am a believer, a follower of Christ, and my faithfulness to Him should be sufficient for the day, right?  But the day came when personal tragedy struck and I was unable to connect the dots of my personal faithfulness to a God who is supposed to be the tenderhearted, benevolent, compassionate lover of my soul, and that is when doubt set in.

2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”  How do you move past the crippling doubt when the popular influences of the day tell people that our God wants us to have good health, wealth and prosperity?  When my child died, I couldn’t help but ask my Father in Heaven, what did I do wrong?  After all, I truly thought I had based my whole life on believing His promises. Oh sure, I never believed in the prosperity gospel, but I did believe that my God was a good, good Father, and that He wanted good things for His children. In the days and months following my child’s death, my pain overshadowed His promises. I was bone weary; I was tired of running the race, and I had lost track of the prize.  I hit a brick wall.  I could not bring myself to believe that God could use the ugliness of my pain and overwhelming grief that came as a result of his death. The question I asked Him over and over again was, “God, where are You in this?”  The truth is, His promises are that of peace, joy, love, goodness, forgiveness, salvation, sanctification, fellowship, hope, glorification and Heaven, which are all made possible and are being fulfilled in this very moment in Jesus Christ, yes, in Christ alone.

Philippians 4:19 says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” We cannot run this race in isolation, we need the people of the Living God, encouraging us and cheering us on. Perseverance is built on the promises of God. Perseverance is born out of my pain, but it is not built on my own strength.  I have always looked at what my pain is taking from me, not what my pain is doing for me.  The enemy of my soul is constantly telling me I am alone, that God’s promises are not true, but I know now that God is using this, all of this, and that the God of peace is with me, but my misplaced expectations of my circumstances was based upon incomplete information. And so I will throw off the illusion that all should be what I think is called good, the misguided notion that what is occurring in my life is not a part of His divine plan, and I will put into practice all that I have learned, all that I have received from Him, and boldly run the race fixing my eyes on my Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.

                                                                       – Melody

March 28, 2018

Running the Race

Believers are called to run a race for God.  For the non-athletic among us, that terminology has little appeal, but to the writer of Hebrews, it was a vivid picture that his audience was well aware of.  Foot races in the arena, with crowds of spectators shouting their encouragement, were occasions for the best to be given, training weights to be laid aside, and endurance stretched to the maximum.  Likewise, the believer is encouraged, and even admonished, to run the “track” laid before her – to run it with freedom, with endurance, with self-control, and in pursuit of rewards that are imperishable.  It is a race to be run well, to finish, and to win.  It is the life of the believer, lived not for self, but for the glory of God, fulfilling the unique purpose that believer has been given, and testifying always of the grace of God that enables her to run.
Sometimes we learn best from the youngest among us, and sometimes what God most wants is seen in their lives.  The young student I met at a speech meet I was judging, gave an incredible testimony that he was running the race well.  Fighting a life-threatening illness, living with a childhood turned upside down by doctors and needles, medications and surgical procedures, he stood before a room full of other students and some of their family members, and spoke of realities that could cripple the faith of an adult, and told how those realities were being used by God to fulfill the unique purposes God had for him.  His faith was unquenchable; his life, a radiating testimony to the glory of God.  I was unquestionably challenged.

How do we do that?  How do we run the track we are on with its potholes, distractions, and detours?  How do we keep on going and maintain the endurance that is needed? Hebrews 12 not only calls us to run well, but it also gives to us the example of Christ Himself.  The shameful death He died was reserved for the lowest of the low, the worst of the worse.  In naked humiliation, He was ridiculed, dishonored, and shamed.  He became the very sin God hated – the sin of the pedophile, the sin of the murderer, the sin of the adulterer, the sin of the liar, the sin of the gossiper.  Why was He willing to do such a thing?  Simply because He loves us.  His love is part of the joy that was set before Him – the joy of completing the will of His Father, the joy of the promise of resurrection and exaltation, the joy of the future certainty of presenting His redeemed ones before His Father in heaven.  We will neverstruggle as Christ struggled.  He too was asked to run a race – and He did so willingly.  He did it with a profound love within Himself for all of humanity and for the Creator of that humanity.  He did it because He looked ahead to a future joy – a joy that could not be taken from Him.  And yet God gives still more than the example of His Son.  He gives us His grace – just as He gives it to a young boy whose faith is unquenchable.  Precious believer, may we all run well – may we finish and may we win.

                                                                                       – Bev


(Related Bible reading: Hebrews 12:1- 4) 

March 21, 2018

Thoughts Under the Umbrella

Philemon 1:7   “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.”

Paul wrote these words to Philemon in a letter to him.  Philemon was a man whose heart was filled with love and compassion.  He was a man who revived and restored the faith of others. 

I was talking to a friend the other day and with tears in her eyes she thanked me for Umbrella Ministries.  She felt when others were through with her grief, Umbrella Ministries stepped in to walk alongside her.  The definition of a first responder is someone who is designated or trained to respond to an emergency before more highly trained or professional personnel can arrive on the scene.  When the waters have receded and the fire is out, the first responders have done their job.  This is the time when one is left with the reality of the destruction.  This is where the hard work of restoration begins.  There is a wall of faith that needs to be propped up.  Emotions that need to be sorted through.  Hearts that need mending and a total life that needs a remodel.   I believe each one of us who has lost a child can potentially become the more highly trained and experienced grievers.  We show up when the first responders have left.   Many times we are the first responders and the professional when we are closely associated with the one walking through this devastation.  We feel an immense necessity to help carry their pain.  They are in need of a Philemon to walk through their door.

Each one of us who has lost a child, as we grow stronger can be a Philemon.  We can walk beside a mom who has been shattered and be an encourager. We can motivate and replenish faith when  faith has been depleted.  We can offer what we have learned on this journey and give them hope that they too will be restored.  This journey is difficult whether you are the griever, the first responder, or the professional that walks alongside someone in grief.  We have the Lord’s promise to hold onto.  When we pass through the rivers of tears they will not sweep over us.  When we walk through the fire of grief the flames will not set us ablaze.  We have the privilege of watching and working alongside the great Healer. It is a blessing to walk beside women who have withstood not only something that was meant to destroy their lives but who also have chosen to make beauty out of ashes.  I know the Lord is looking at us this day and saying you have given me great joy because you have refreshed the hearts of my people.

Lord, I pray we all can be on the lookout to be a Philemon in someone’s life today.

                                                                                       – Michele

March 14, 2018

Trust Isn’t Always Pretty

Trust is a foundational principle for entering into a relationship with God and trust continues to be a foundational principle as we live out that relationship within the context of our circumstances, our relationships, and our emotions, feelings, and thinking.   And “living out” embraces the moments that meld themselves together to form our days, and those days accumulate layer upon layer through the years and decades of “earthly” life with God.  I vividly remember some of the many times, I sang with a congregation or simply pondered the words myself to the old hymn, Trust and Obey.  Trust and obedience were proclaimed as the strengthening pillars of the Christian – walking with Jesus, blessing, happiness, favor, even the delights of God’s love – solidified and enlarged by trusting and obeying.  Obedience has rules to follow and being a rule-follower simplifies the obeying.   Trust though is much more abstract; its parameters lacking clear definition.  It’s even debated – how much is needed, what it can accomplish, what hinders trust from giving us the answers we are looking for.  

Feeling dissatisfied with most of the definitions of trust I have heard, especially those definitions that inject predetermined feelings, I struggled with the whole concept, wanting God to give me something that was real, true to life, and fully dependent on Him.   What I came away with was that trust allows God to love me in all the circumstances of my life, as I draw from Him strength, encouragement, wisdom, direction, enablement – or still more.  Trust is my response to God’s love.  In becoming a believer, I had to trust God’s greatest demonstration of love.  I had to believe that the death of Jesus was an acceptable payment before God for my sin, that it was a free gift God wanted to give to me, and I had to open my own heart and life to receive it.  Trust opens my heart to God.  I trusted Him at salvation, and the answers that life demands require that I continue to trust Him.  I need to allow God to love me in all the circumstances of my life.  That’s“trust.”

Allowing God to love me is trust.  The resources are there because God is there.  As I look to God, allowing Him to love me, He will meet me in the circumstances of my life.   And that is where trust can get really messy.  Trust isn’t pretty when the young mom is told her newborn child is not going to live.  Trust isn’t pretty when the wife who has given all she knows to give, finds out her husband has been having an affair.  Neither is it pretty when differences destroy a friendship, when physical or mental health issues change the whole landscape of a family, when adult children place a call to mom and dad because they are being charged with a crime.  Trust isn’t pretty when an addict struggles and fails, or when the survivor of abuse or abandonment still feels dead inside, but she is crying out to a God she cannot touch or feel, and He seems very, very distant.  Trust is far from words on a page at those times, far from simply a doctrine, or an academic understanding.  Trust at those times is fraught with emotion, and often with pain.  It is soaked with tears, restless nights, and tension filled days.  But it is a trust that believes God is still in the darkness, even when He isn’t heard.  It is a trust that stays at His feet, desperate for His presence, desperate for His answers.  It is a trust that often literally feels the arms of God wrapped around her.  It is a trust that knows God can, and is willing to wait.  And in the midst of such a messy trust, self-sufficiency gone, a heart aware that nothing, absolutely nothing else, can bring any semblance of rationality, in the midst of a brokenness that lies vulnerably and prostrate before her God – in the midst of it all, she can know she is trusting as few others trust.  It isn’t pretty, but it is trust.
                                                                                                                    – Bev


(Related Bible reading: Psalm 13:1-6)