January 20, 2018

umbrella Ministries

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.

God in My Darkness

My heart was heavy, and I didn’t even feel like God had an answer.  Too many needs.  Too many people that I loved and cared about who were hurting.  But God kept nudging me, and in the gentleness of His grace, He drew me back to Him.  “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord.  ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’” God does know more than know.  He works in ways, I simply do not understand.  His word is my connection to Him, and to peace, and to joy – all of which seemed to have vacated my soul.  “I send out my word, and it always produces fruit.  It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.  You will live in joy and peace.  The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
If I focus on truth, healing will come.  If I focus on the irrationality I am so capable of, I will miss God’s healing.  My right choices, even when they seem difficult, choices to focus, choices to do, will be covered by God’s protection and by His presence.  “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.  Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.  Then when you call, the Lord will answer.  ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”  My depression, even though a natural tendency, and even though it may have roots in reality, needs to be shaken off, and along with it, any tendency I have to blame others.  “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.  Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors.”

Ah, and the truth that can seem so simple, but is only grasped with an outpouring of God’s grace.  I am most full when I focus on others – on giving, rather than receiving.  To do so, lifts the heaviness of my own darkness.  To do so, quenches the thirst of my own spirit.  To do so, enlarges my own strength.  “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.  Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.  The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.”  

And like an ever-flowing spring, freedom will grow from its true source.  Freedom to know there is no answer except with God.  Freedom to pursue Him and His truth.  Freedom to walk in His presence.  Freedom to allow Him to carry me when I cannot walk on my own.

                                                                                       – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Isaiah 55:8-13; Isaiah 58:8-11)

January 10, 2018

His Glory Revealed

Romans 8:18   “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

“Where can I hide?” This thought was never far from my mind in the days following the death of my child.  No matter where I would go, there I was.  Images plagued me, haunted me, in the waking hours of the day, robbed me of sleep in the wee hours of the morning, and I would try to do whatever it took to erase the suffering that followed me.  How can I shut off my mind? Interestingly, the typical ways that used to help me check out, like going to a movie or reading a good novel, weren’t working for me anymore. The only thing that seemed to help me ease the overwhelming pain and sorrow was being with other people, godly people, loving people, living words, live testimonies.  That’s new, I thought; when have I ever craved being with another person?  I was hungry for something, but I didn’t know what; I was aching and longing for an emotional reprieve, but there was no relief. Even my Bible became blurry; the pages and words just ran together.  I needed to get out, but where would I go?  Worship music no longer soothed my aching soul; it no longer allowed me to enter into the sanctuary where I could kneel before my King in the throne room of grace and mercy, but instead threatened to suffocate me. I needed to talk, I needed to process, I needed to spend time with someone who was safe, who would listen and not try to fix the intense brokenness within the substrata of my being, just a friend who knew me and wanted to take a moment to really see me.

Romans 8:35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  Joni Erickson-Tada said, “Suffering wakes me up from spiritual slumber, it keeps me hungry for the bread of heaven and thirsty for the Living Water of life.” I was entering in to uncharted territory, into a place in my walk with the Lord that I had never been before. The intense suffering that occurred in watching my only biological child suffer and die was beyond anything I could comprehend, anything I had ever experienced in this realm; it had far reaching consequences and I stood in an abyss between darkness and light. I had two choices; I could let the blackness consume me or I could look up into His marvelous light. Such a delicate place to be in, wishing I could jump off the world and end this incredible undoing of who I had always been; it pricked me, prodded me, threatened to drown me in the sea of nothingness, but it was fear that kept me from going under, the one thing that used to move me to do whatever I needed to do to keep going.

Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” So I sought the friendships of those who I knew had one thing in common with me – they knew the Lover of my soul. Each of these ladies intimately had a relationship with the Father; they were the hands and feet of my Savior when we walked around the lake, they were His words of encouragement that I longed to hear when we met for coffee and they were the Lord with skin on when they gave me a hug. And each time I met with a beautiful friend, I walked away with a tiny piece of joy that had not been there before, a satisfaction in my soul that I had not noticed before, a sweet memory that I tucked away and that encouraged my heart, a connection to the Almighty that was tangible and deep and in those moments my suffering diminished and just a little bit of His glory was revealed in my countenance.
                                                                                                          – Melody

January 3, 2018

Jesus Left the Familiar

The familiarity is gone.  We live in a new place.  We have new responsibilities.  A new church.  Reaching for new relationships.  The familiar is behind us, and Christmas has come.  If any time of the year stirs the emotions, Christmas does.  We have already done a lot of new things this year, and those things are good.  But the familiar is gone.  We even have some new blessings, big blessings, because they have brought us closer to some, although we have had to say good-bye to others.  The reminder though has come, boldly outlined, and all lit up, cause that’s the way God sometimes does things.  Jesus left the familiar at Christmas.  All the perfections and intimacies of Heaven – He left the familiar behind.  Why?  His Father had promises to fulfill, a plan for His Son to accomplish, a people, loved by the Father, but estranged to Him, a people the Father chose to sacrificially give to so estrangement could become intimacy.  The plan was shaped by His heart millenniums before, and now it was time.  Jesus left the familiar, and at Christmas, in tiny human form, He was placed in a manger in Bethlehem.  He would journey from the manger to a tortuous cross where God’s love would meet His holiness so He could fully embrace the very people He had always loved.

Sometimes we lose familiarity because we lose the one we love – a spouse, a parent, a child, a close friend.  That one is no longer here, and all the warm and familiar has changed.  And Christmas comes in the midst of harshness and pain, brokenness and confusion.  The thousand questions silence the Christmas music.  Why?  When will the pain stop?  Can I really, really know His embrace?  Can He still give tomorrows that will be good – tomorrows that can still allow me to find a place in His plan?

Jesus left the familiar at Christmas.  Mine is gone too – and maybe, yours.  I have faced the unfamiliar when life demanded change and being a newbie.  And I have faced the unfamiliar with loss – deep, searing loss that darkens the Christmas lights, silences the music, brings the heaviness of winter clouds my arms literally ache to push away – and I know others have as well.
O Jesus. Precious Jesus.
Born a baby.
Smelly manger hay, scratchy animals.
And all of Heaven gazing.
You wake the world to the love of Your Father.
O Jesus ........
Thank You for leaving the familiar.
Thank You for giving me a love so big, so unchangeable.
When my own familiar lies torn and shredded,
A distant memory.
Remind me of Your love, and help Your love
To be enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                 – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Galatians 4:4-7; 1 John 4:9,10)

December 27, 2017

Thoughts Under the Umbrella

Proverbs 12:1   “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”

There are the terrible twos, and my daughter would say that it quite possibly carries into the terrible threes! My granddaughter, since she has turned three, has found her voice. It is usually a voice of disagreeing with everything her mom tells her. I have to admit, in some ways, this can bring a little smile to my face. One day as my daughter was in one of these disagreements with a three-year-old, she looked at my granddaughter and told her, “You are being very sassy!” With a look that could kill and hands on her hips, my granddaughter boldly exclaimed, “I not sassy!” In a blink of an eye her place of timeout was found and this not-sassy little three-year-old was learning that maybe she was a little sassy. My guess is this was not a one time correction but a lesson that will have to be learned many times over.

I wish I could say I am much better behaved then a three-year-old. I find that I can be a little sassy and need correction even at the age when I should know better. How many times have I heard the Lord say, “You are being ... (fill in the blanks).”  Of course, there I stand with hands on my hips and boldly say, “I am not!” In a way I wish the Lord could put me in timeout because maybe I would instantly see my bad behavior. Many times it takes years of bad consequences in relationships to figure out what behavior I need to change.

My daughter is trying to teach my granddaughter good behavior to help her be a better person. Correction must be motivated by love. In order for correction to be received one must feel the correction is coming from a place of caring. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth. He loved this church, but they were often defiant, maybe even a little sassy. His words show his love and concern for their actions. He said, “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you, but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”

I know Paul loved this church. I know my daughter loves my granddaughter, and I know the Lord loves me. There is pain in giving out correction to the ones we love. That old saying, “This hurts me more that it hurts you,” is very true. The outcome of listening to correction helps to make us better people. I can only speak for myself, but I can be very prideful and not want to see the faults in my life. It is hard for me to open my heart and see what changes I need to make. It is just as hard to change them. The Lord promises to make me a new creation, but I have to do my part. When He shows me what I need to change, I need to listen and learn. That is where I gain knowledge. What I have learned so far is whether I am a sassy three-year-old or a prideful stubborn grandma I am never too old to be corrected.

Lord, You are not through with me yet. You and me have work to do!

                                                                          – Michele

December 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, Jesus!!

Christmas Thoughts for Moms Who Grieve...........

C ... C
 is for the Christ, the very essence and expression of God.  At Christmas, He Came to make God’s plan of redemption and hope, possible.

H ... H is for Hope, the Heartbeat of the believer that pulsates with longing for all of God’s gifts – the ones that encourage and strengthen here on earth and the reality of life eternal in His unchanging presence.

R ... R is for Resources, the ones that come from God, the ones He gives sometimes even without our asking – Resources that allow us to take one step at a time, one day at a time, embracing our tears while He holds us in His arms.

I ... I is for Inward or Inside, the place God most wants to meet us in the reality of our need; my anguish, sorrow, and pain, softened because Jesus came at Christmas.

S ... S is for Salvation, the reason for Christmas, a baby’s arms being stretched out on a cross simply because He loves me and He loves the child who died before me.

T... T is for Time, my todays, my yesterdays, my tomorrows – Jesus was born at just the right Time – and for Jesus and for me, God holds all of Time in His hands.

M ... M is for Manger, the earthly birthing place for Jesus, but M is also for Mercy.  Mercy too was born in the Manger, God withholding judgment because of the baby, and in its stead an overflow of grace for every tear and every need.  

A ... A is for Agony, the Agony of the cross that defeated the Agony of death, and it all started because God cares and understands, and He wanted to give His child so both me and my child would have hope.

S ... S is for Season, the Season of Christmas shadowed by the Season of my grief.  Neither Season ends – I’ve learned that about grief – but the Season of Christmas is eternal because God is eternal and the Season of Christmas is the reminder of all of God’s gifts that let me mourn and still walk, grieve and yet become, be comforted and in turn, give comfort to still others.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!! 
 And Thank You! from the depths of my heart....................


December 13, 2017

Finding God’s Forgiveness

Dugan’s dad was a man of gentleness and compassion, and an obsessively cautious driver as well.  Tragically, one day a boy on a bicycle turned abruptly in front of his car, and in a moment, the boy’s life ended, but so too, in many ways, the life of Dugan’s dad ended.  As guilt sat on his soul, grief and despair weighed on his every thought, and he became withdrawn.  He contemplated suicide.  His belief in a loving God was overshadowed by fear.  He could not forgive himself.  I could tell my own story of living under the horrendous weight of guilt, and I could tell of its consequences and the complications it darkens life with.  There is a difference between “true” guilt and “false” guilt, but both can be just as destructive.  Guilt stagnates within us, especially as believers, crippling us spiritually, emotionally, and often relationally.  Whether guilt though is “true,” given to us by God to make us aware of our own sinful choices and given for the ultimate purpose of drawing us to Him, or whether guilt is “false,” imposed on us by the lies we believe or by the responsibilities we assume that literally are not ours to assume – guilt that is rooted in truth or guilt that is rooted in lies – both can find their answer with God.  

Ultimately, God’s grace gave me the courage to face my own guilt.  I recognized I needed to fully confront the guilt.  In many ways, I had already done that.  Isn’t that the reason my guilt tormented me?  I knew it was there.  I knew “what” had put it there.  I owned it, and I owned all the degrading, intimidating, self-limiting, God-distancing consequences of it.  Confronting guilt though alone in the hidden darkness of my own thinking either produces nothing or it produces more distorted thinking.  Guilt must go to God.  Openly, with raw, painful honesty.   Jesus died for my sin.  God forgivessin because Jesus died.  Why, why, why then, when I cried and I cried out to God, why did my tears continue to seemingly find God’s heart and arms closed, and I was still sitting in the turmoil of my guilt????   

I believe it was because I was still listening to and responding to, the lies that had warped my thinking and my spiritual sensitivities.  Yes, I needed to talk with God, but I also needed to start talking with someone who had a heart for God and a heart for me.  Someone who could give me an accurate picture of God.  Someone who could give me God’s truth and God’s perspective.  Someone who could assure me of God’s love and forgiveness in the midst of my raw, painful honesty.  Someone who could help me find the truth in my story – what I truly had responsibility for, what I was taking responsibility for and it was not mine to carry, and perhaps, what was not clearly discernible.  Someone who could do all that, and then walk with me to the cross so I could give all of it to God.

Dugan’s dad also, ultimately, found his peace with God and came to a place too of being able to forgive himself.   He was able to forgive himself because he came to know that for whatever responsibility he held, God had fully forgiven him.  He wanted others to know his story so they too would know the reality of God’s forgiving heart.

                                                                                                  – Bev

(Related Bible reading: Psalm 32:1-5; James 5:16; Ephesians 1:6-8)