August 21, 2019

Thoughts Under the Umbrella

Isaiah 55:13   Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of His power and love.

Many times we read something in the Bible over and over again, and I think we sometimes forget the power behind the words. I have read and memorized Psalm 23 since I became a Christian. I have seen it on many a memorial card placed at funerals. I am once again reminded that we often times just scratch the surface of what gems can be found in the greatest book ever written. I just experienced that lesson in a Bible study on Psalm 23. I have learned so many hidden gems in this psalm by simply studying the roles of a shepherd and his sheep. The role of the shepherd is to live and die for his sheep. The shepherd provides for his sheep. He offers a place of peace and he restores and heals his sheep. The shepherd supplies all of their needs and is their ever present help when his sheep are in trouble. He has mercy on them when they fall off the path. He will search high and low if one of them gets lost. 

Being from the city, I really knew little about sheep. What I did know was that they were cute as lambs and then grew into what I thought were not the smartest animal.  I have discovered they are not dumb. They have an amazing memory and are actually good at problem solving. When they are ill, they know what plant to eat to make themselves better. What really spoke to me more than anything, is the fact that when the sheep leave a pasture after grazing, the pasture is better off than when they arrived. The shepherd’s knowledge on how to care for the land and protect the land for future use allows the sheep to leave the land rich and fertile. 

Our Shepherd in Psalm 23 promises us that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life if we will dwell with Him in the House of the Lord.  Paul writes In Ephesians 3:18-19 that we have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. When we experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to fully understand, then we will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. When we dwell with the Shepherd, it is not hard to chew and graze on His goodness and mercy. When we understand goodness and mercy, it is going to change what we leave behind in our pasture. What is our pasture and how do we leave it better? The translation of Romans 12:1-2  in The Message Bible, Paul describes what our pasture is and how we leave it better. “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” 

So my pasture needs some work. How is your pasture? Do we add goodness to the pasture or do we destroy the beauty in the land we find ourselves in? This really spoke to me. When I walk throughout my day, are things left better than when I arrived? Am I bringing forth goodness and mercy, or am I chewing and spitting out all the poisonous venom that will leave the pasture dried up and unusable? What does my life say about my faith? This simple little fact has challenged me every moment throughout my day. I ask myself this question, “Michele how are you leaving your pasture?”  Maybe you can join my flock and ask yourself the same question, how are you leaving your pasture? I pray we are fertilizing our pastures with grace and mercy.

                                                                                                           – Michele


                                             

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.


August 1, 2019

Courage

Life can be a hodgepodge, an ebb and flow, a maze  – of inspiring, enabling promises and, broken ones – of fulfilled dreams and shattered ones – of successes and failures – of carefully planned and achieved hopes and seemingly random, often cruel, perversions of what is good.  Life is a journey that reaches for a destination, but the journey may be detoured, or abruptly interrupted.  What do we do when that life is our own?  Most of us walk forward rather nonchalantly when our world is quiet, even if it may be busy, intense with pursuing or at least, meeting the expectations and plans we once laid out.  Even as believers, we gain a theological stance, a set of beliefs we are comfortable with, a God who fits nicely into our well managed lives.  But then, shattered, broken pieces intrude on our calm.  Marriages are threatened.  Finances can no longer be stretched.  Mental health or physical health perplex both us and the doctors trying to help us. The child we love lies cold in a grave.  Or, the child we love makes choices contrary to beliefs we have always rooted deeply in our hearts.  What do we do when that life is our own?
The church is learning that real people living in the reality of a real and broken world need a real God who loves and cares and provides.  And we are learning how to face the reality of our needs, acknowledge the effects of those needs on our lives, and we are learning how to journey forward with our very real and caring God and asking Him to do what we cannot do.  We are learning it needs to be a journey of utter dependency on our God, waiting for His leading and His enabling.  There is an element though of courage that must still permeate the journey, because although courage too is a gift from our God, there is still a choosing on our part that embraces the gift of courage.

When we embrace the gift of courage, we choose to walk forward when confronted with loss, pain, emptiness, inadequacy, personal challenges, the darkness and insecurity of the unknown. The gift of courage chooses to walk forward even when I know that in myself I have nothing to give.  It knows that I must find something, someone, bigger than myself to cope with the waves, the triggers, that want to engulf me and smother any resources I thought I had.

Courage
 is really faith in action because faith too is a choice, and faith chooses God in the middle of all the muck, reaches for His hand, responds to His heart, and chooses to put all the pain, the inadequacy, the darkness, and the emptiness in His hands, and leaves it all with Him. Courage is wise enough to know when the rawness scrapes again and courage is wise enough and dependent enough to know that the over and overof courageously choosing to stay with God is okay.  It’s more than okay.  It’s essential.  It’s vital.  And that courage helps me continue to walk forward on my journey, finding others who will journey with me, but more importantly, continuing to choose my God and let Him hold me, keep me close, comfort my broken spirit, and saturate me with His hope that gives light and purpose for all of my tomorrows.

God has not promised days without pain, laughter without sorrow, nor sun without rain, but He has promised strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.  When we courageously choose to walk forward with our God, we make the choice not only for courage, but also for faith, and our faith becomes a vibrant, courageous choice for God.
                                                                                          – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9; Psalm 31:24; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 14:27)




July 25, 2019

Thoughts Under the Umbrella

Psalm 84:11   “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

An egg is laid which develops into a caterpillar.  The next stage is a cocoon.  In the stage of a cocoon, the caterpillar is being broken down and the adult insect is being formed.  Even though this process looks as though it is just hanging by a thread and just surviving, there is a process going on.  The cocoon is being spun and changed until it is ready to open up and be transformed into something that does not closely resemble what encased it.  The result is a beautiful butterfly that spreads its wings and skates through the sky, drinking sap from all the colors that landscape the earth.

As I listened to each woman open up their hearts to each other, the pain and struggle could be felt throughout the room.  There is no hidden agenda or fakeness in a woman who has experienced the loss of a child.  All pretenses have been shattered away.  What you see is usually what you get.  They spoke of a feeling of just surviving, not really feeling like they are living at all.  I look at them and see just the opposite.  I see them as truly living, feeling life at its fullest, the joy and the heartbreak.  They know how it feels to love, only the way a mother can love. They also know what it feels like to feel the loss of that love.  They will also discover as their healing continues that this love is not lost but has just been changed.

They too are doing the work of being transformed. They are clinging to their faith and in some instances, questioning what they believed about their maker.  They are dealing with anger, guilt, resentment, sadness and all of the hurtful feelings that grief brings.  Each woman is looking at what they once thought important and taking inventory and stripping away all that does not matter.  These women are not just surviving; they are truly living and understand the frailty of life.  Their grief for now has encased them, but God is in the process of transforming them.  Do you feel like them, feeling like you are just surviving?  Just know that for now you are being set aside and you too are being transformed.  One day you will not resemble this grief that has encased you.

Lord, we have Your promise that You will not withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly.  We might be bent over in grief, but only You can lift us up.
                                                                                          – Michele

July 17, 2019

Not of This World

Psalm 121:1-2   “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

As we trudged through the lush green leafy trail that led to the mountain up ahead, I stopped on the small foot bridge to take a picture of the river that was winding through the valley. I looked up to see the dewy fog covering the ridge and breathed in the crisp morning air. It was Sunday morning and as we were hiking to the cross on top of the hill, I knew instinctively that the weekend getaway with other moms who had lost children had penetrated through yet another layer of the cocoon I had wrapped around myself throughout my journey of grief. Even though I was with these beautiful ladies, the Lord was calling me to Himself so He could undo some of the anguish and protective barrier I had cushioned around my heart so the world around me could be shut out. It was as if He was peeling me open to uncover the isolation  I had surrounded myself in. He wanted me exposed and vulnerable so He could continue the delicate surgery only He could perform; it was incredibly painful and harsh, but the reality of the season was upon me. I realized this weekend I had lost my sense of community. I didn’t feel like I belonged here even with these other ladies I so identified with; in fact, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Looming up ahead was the anniversary of Elisha’s transition to his heavenly home, and as I anticipated with dread the four-year mark on the calendar that my beautiful son has been gone from the earth, it no longer seemed to hold the dark black emptiness from years gone by. Instead, it was replaced by an overwhelming fear, an anxious apprehension that I was forgetting the child that been so much a part of me for 22 years. Of course, I had hundreds of photographs and memories that would always be stored safely away in the substrata of my mind, but for a fleeting moment as I ascended the mountain, I could not remember our time together. I could not reach into the past and extract a single instant where I could see his face gazing into mine and so as I walked, I willed his image to come alive before me, but all that I could see were the still photographs that remained.

Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.” This wasn’t the first time I have felt like a foreigner in a world I do not feel a part of. Jesus said His kingdom is “not of this world.” (John 18:36.) As a follower of Christ, there is nothing here on the earth that holds any hope for me, but I have always felt like I had a place and purpose here, that God would use me for His glory, to do the work of His kingdom for as long as I was alive. Since the death of my son, the longing I have for Heaven has been overwhelming, but even more than that, the things of this world no longer matter to me. I have come to a place in my life where all that truly matters is that I am a reflection of His character and my only desire is to be an image bearer of my Creator. How can I do that if I isolate myself from the world around me? How can I be the hands and feet of my Savior if all I want to do is run away and be near Him on the top of the mountain?

2 Corinthians 1:9 says “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” I have come to the conclusion that the Lord does not want me to reach out to other people to find my comfort and my peace. The reality is that I do not belong here, this is not my home and these are not my people. While I am here, I will experience the trials and tragedy of this life, but my citizenship is in Heaven and the darker it becomes here, the more I understand that there is no hope apart from my relationship with the One who sees me, the only One who really knows me. These difficult and lonely days only help me to understand the trials of others and my suffering has equipped me to come alongside them and share the hope I have received from a tender and gentle Savior who is there at the foot of the cross on top of the mountain. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

                                                                                                                       – Melody

July 10, 2019

Heavy Backpacks

Michele is one who can paint with words a dramatic, passionate picture of what it is like to hike the ascending trails of the California mountains.  She became a hiker, not out of a love for the great outdoors and not out of a desire to conquer one of nature’s challenges, but she chose hiking as a way to spend quality time with her husband, who was an avid lover of hiking, and those rugged ascents became times to connect, growing understanding and appreciation of each other.  She also came to learn there’s a checklist to use in preparing a backpack that will hold all the necessities for being on the trail, thinking in terms of known necessities as well as being prepared for any surprises on the way.  Outside of the things you will really need, everything else is left behind. This will help make your ascent to the top easier, and it will keep you from being hindered in the forward journey you are wanting to make.

Sharing her picture of mountain climbing with the moms sitting in front of her, she compared the physical mountain hike with the emotional and spiritual journey we embark on when our child’s life is cut short, and we too must walk forward, bent and broken with our loss, desperate to find answers for our tomorrows and for the intensity of pain and exhaustion that is ours.  The moms in front of Michele understood.  In our grief, we too each carry a backpack, and everything in our backpacks makes it heavier.  The greatest heaviness is the weight of our child’s absence from our lives – a weight that bears down on us emotionally, physically, relationally, cognitively, and even spiritually.  Our lives and our personal perspective can be totally changed.  Although not always readily understood, grief is godly in the love we have given and still give, and in its potential to bring us in utter dependence to God.  

Some things in our backpack of grief involve choices we may go to, but some of those choices do not move us forward in healthy, godly ways.  Things like isolation, self-medicating, choosing anger over forgiveness, holding on to regrets.  In other things, we have little or no choice.   They are simply facts that illustrate the reality of loss, facts that are often normal with loss, or facts that sometimes complicate our loss – even though God doesn't want us to be consumed by them or stuck in our journeys because of them. 

But, whatever the heaviness, God longs for us to give Him the heaviness, place it in His hands, and allow Him to lighten the burden through His grace, love, and hope.  In Psalm 121, the psalmist looked up, acknowledged his help comes from God, and chose to count on God’s help.  We can do the same.  And in the reality of our journey of grief, we may well find ourselves going to our God over and over and over, each time choosing Him and His help, realizing I cannot do this journey alone, but God can help me, and I want to give Him the heaviness, over and over and over, so I can know He holds my hand – He even carries me – and lightens my backpack as WE walk forward together.
                                                                                – Bev, and Michele too :)

(Related Bible reading: Psalm 121:1,2)

June 26, 2019

Emotional Intensity

In a not-so-recent article from Christianity Today, it says, “The gospel writers paint their portraits of Jesus using a kaleidoscope of brilliant ‘emotional’ colors. Jesus felt compassion; he was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal; he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved; he sighed; he wept and sobbed; he groaned; he was in agony; he was surprised and amazed; he rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy; he greatly desired, and he loved.”  Later in the article, the writer,  G. Walter Hansen, continues, “I am spellbound by the intensity of Jesus' emotions: not a twinge of pity, but heartbroken compassion; not a passing irritation, but terrifying anger; not a silent tear, but groans of anguish; not a weak smile, but ecstatic celebration.”

When my own emotions become intense, they conflict, they overwhelm, they evoke a sense of judgment against my own person, they create expectations, and they tend to resolve ever so slowly.  I have thoughts of hypocrisy, a questioning of normalcy, and the nagging taunt of “a child of God, especially one in leadership, would never go down this path.”  Rarely do I put my intense emotions within the context of the spiritual struggle in Romans 7, and never have I identified any similarity between my emotions and the emotions of Christ.  Now, I am not talking about exploding emotions or the reactive stance emotions can take; I am simply, or not so simply, speaking of those emotions that can consume my inner person and bring a screeching halt to any rational thinking.  I am speaking of emotions that arise from situations that intrinsically carry opposition.  That opposition is the fruit of human difficulty clashing with human love, while at the same time clashing with a perception that interprets a godly response as being a subdued, quiet acceptance and a submissive prayer that yearns to know God’s direction while still feeling a total sense of nodirection.  It is the young mother whose infant has died.  It is the parent of the prodigal.  It is the betrayed and abandoned spouse.  It is the loss of deep and meaningful friendship when character is assaulted.  It is the forced adjustment to situations beyond our control.  It is the heart-cry of, “What?  God, what would You have me to do?” and hearing no answer.

Slowly, I am learning not to condemn myself because I happen to be the emotional being God created me to be.  I am learning to face those emotions and feelings, to attempt to discern the varying nuances of what is happening and why, to place myself in the conflicting struggle of Romans 7 and find what is Christ-like in my emotions and what carries a root of selfishness, and to keep walking, knowing that God will in His time and His way bring the needed resolution He desires.  And, I am learning more quickly  to recognize that even my “broken” emotions may well serve in the days to come, as the healing salve for another in her brokenness.

                                                                          – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Mark 1:40,41; 3:1-6; 8:1-3; 10:13-16; 11:15-17; 14:32-34)