September 22, 2022

Redeemed

Isaiah 43:1-2 "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Seven years ago we were going on our planned family vacation to Hawaii, however, instead of bringing Elisha with us, we brought his ashes. We have been vacationing in Kauai since Elisha was an infant. We have a friend who has a home where we stay and there’s a little beach that Elisha loved to go to because it has a small cove with a natural beach break and there were no waves. It was there I left his ashes, right where he used to float in the water. It seems like yesterday, and yet it seems like an eternity, and as I sit here writing today, my heart is still breaking and the whole situation is still absolutely overwhelming to me; the pain in my soul and the hole in my heart still remain and I cannot seem to move past the fact that he is not here. I miss him terribly. I have been going to a grief group for mothers who have lost children called Umbrella Ministries; we meet once a month on Saturday mornings. I learned one weekend that for a mother who has lost a child, the second year of the loss is even more difficult than the first. I was told that it takes an entire year for the fog to be lifted and for reality to set in; by then our friends have moved on, and they don’t really think about what is still so fresh in my mind and, as a matter of fact, there are those who have told me that Elisha would not want me to still be grieving like I am, that he is in Heaven, healed and made whole. The thought that my son is living with Jesus in his eternal home is comforting, but the problem is, he is not here and statements like that do not help my grief; it doesn’t dim the sorrow and pain I am still experiencing as a result of his loss and in fact, it causes me to want to run away and retreat. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 says we are to “pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Each and every morning, when I meet with the Lord, I always find something to be thankful for; there is always something I can praise Him for and each day before I begin my devotions, I enter into His throne room with praise and thanksgiving. I picture myself coming before Him and bowing my knee in submission and saying to Him, “You are enough, Your grace is sufficient for me, there is nothing else on this earth that is important to me,” and instantaneously, there is a peace that comes over me, a calm that quiets the storm inside of me and the Spirit of the Living God falls fresh on me and is near to me. The Lord does not expect me to be thankful that my child is gone; He does not ask me in this scripture to give thanks for my circumstances; He asks me to give thanks in spite of my circumstances. And that is something I can do. When I deliberately express gratitude instead of sorrow, something supernatural happens to me; the Lord speaks to me through my thankfulness and says to me there is nothing on this earth that is too great or too small for Him, and He reminds me that “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) There are always lessons to be learned in the midst of trials; there is always a silver lining to be found in the pain and sorrows of life; there is always hope for our future and the fact that we will one day see our loved ones who have gone before us, but in the meantime, we still live here on earth tethered to our earthly bodies, longing for the day when He fulfills His promise to us that “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev. 21:4) So, for today, that must be enough and when I pass through the waters and the rivers that threaten to sweep over me, I will remember that He has redeemed me, He has summoned me by name, and I belong to Him. – Melody

September 16, 2022

God's Answer in Grief

Grief is that horrendous burden that invades every facet of my being and my circumstances when death separates me from someone I have deeply loved and committed myself to. Mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally – I am stretched, torn, and broken. My ability to respond to what is left of life is contorted and minimized. Grief has been described as a fog, a darkness, a deep hole of sadness, an oppression. For many, God seems distant and detached. And the questions scream at us. Grief can be complicated still more when negligence, guilt, murder, or suicide leave us with extended issues to face and to walk through. Secondary losses accumulate when a spouse isolates or walks out, when the needs of other family members demand our response and we have nothing to give, when friendships, finances, the security of a place to live or a job are all infringed upon. Grief brings a keen awareness too of earlier losses and deepens the abyss of loss that lays in the future – loss upon loss. And for one who has never walked a journey of grief, my words may seem empty, but for the one who journeys with her burden, my words affirm her harsh reality. Grief is desperate for an answer – an answer that will take away the pain, but still allow for the warmth of memories, a sense of presence, and an assurance that somehow, some way, tomorrow can be different. The practical answers are there – support groups, a caring, godly friend, even a counselor, taking the small steps and acknowledging them, guarding our own health, even a warm cup of tea, accumulating good nights of sleep, finding a purpose to support, a place to give and encourage someone else who walks their own unique journey of need. And the practical answers do help and in time, they need to be embraced. But to fully embrace the practical, and more importantly, to begin to find an inner healing that has the courage and the capacity to walk forward into my tomorrows – those answers come only with God and the hope He promises. An acrostic for hope can help us grasp it more fully................. H ...... Hope looks Heavenward. O ...... Hope looks Heavenward with openness. P ...... Hope looks Heavenward with persistence. E ...... Hope looks Heavenward with expectation. To look Heavenward is to believe that somehow, some way, God does have answers for me. To look Heavenward is to have a God-focus and a God-dependence. To look Heavenward is to realize, I can’t walk this journey by myself and God is the only answer who is fully capable of walking with me. To look Heavenward with openness gives me the freedom to come to God in the reality and rawness of my emotions, my thinking, my darkness – and to be totally honest with Him with my tears, my questions, my insecurities, my fears. Persistence is the over and over and over of going to God, knowing He always welcomes me, knowing He cares, knowing He understands, knowing that even if I walk away for a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks, He wants me to come back. Persistence is the over and over and over of letting God do what I know I can’t. And to look Heavenward with expectancy realizes God is able to do a work in me beyond my understanding. Although God is capable of “fixing things,” He doesn’t always do it. He changes me. He gives me the expectancy of Heaven itself. He helps me come to the place of realizing that although life will never, ever be the same, it can still be good. HOPE. The Godward look of openness, persistence, and expectancy. HOPE. Experiencing God when life doesn’t make sense. HOPE. Looking for the good, and knowing it is still there. – Bev (Related Bible reading: Psalm 23:1-6)

September 8, 2022

God's Sense of Humor

Psalm 126:2 “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” This year will mark my twenty-fifth year living here on earth without my daughter Katie. It has been a long journey filled with tears of immense sadness, but also tears of amazing joy. It is a road well traveled. This well traveled road has taught me so much about myself and so much about my Savior. Even in my darkest days when I wondered where He was, I can look back and see He was there every minute. In the time right after Katie died, her high school decided to offer a scholarship in my daughter’s name, The Katie Paul Memorial Scholarship. The ironic thing about this scholarship is my daughter was just an average student in high school. Her chances of ever receiving a scholarship were slim to none. How funny of the Lord that for twenty-five years her name has been called out at each high school graduation. Our greatest fear as a parent after the death of our child is people will forget who they were. The Lord took great lengths to make sure she will not be forgotten at her high school. The last twenty five years her name has been spoken with a little tribute about who she was. Nothing is said about her GPA. What they do hear about is her love of the Lord and the love she had for others. I think back twenty-five years ago and the Lord looking down on me in my brokenness. I know He was thinking, “Just you watch, Michele, what I am going to do in your daughter’s life. Miracles will happen. There will even be a scholarship given out yearly where they will not only know about her, but most importantly they will hear about her Lord who she loved and who loved her.” This year the Lord once again has shown His faithfulness. My heart was overwhelmed with joy as I found out the recipient of her scholarship this year has a connection to my daughter. The recipient’s father graduated with my daughter and he knew her. They were friends so I am sure he sees the irony in this too. I am sure Katie is looking down from heaven and can’t wait to tell me, “See, Mom, all the lecturing and worrying about my grades and I walked away with a scholarship with my name on it and they get to hear about Jesus.” Makes me laugh thinking about it. Casting Crowns sings about leaving a legacy. I pray I live my life so that when I am gone, people will know the name of Jesus: And I, I don't want to leave a legacy. I don't care if they remember me -- Only Jesus. And I, I've only got one life to live. I'll let every second point to Him -- Only Jesus. All the kingdoms built, all the trophies won, Will crumble into dust when it's said and done, 'Cause all that really mattered -- Did I live the truth to the ones I love? Was my life the proof that there is only One Whose name will last forever? And I, I don't want to leave a legacy. I don't care if they remember me -- Only Jesus. And I, I've only got one life to live. I'll let every second point to Him – Only Jesus. – Michele

August 31, 2022

My Story & His

I am so fully aware of the beauty God is capable of bringing from the ashes of our lives. To be a young pregnant mom, squeamish with her own doubts and fears, and yet overwhelmed with the anticipation of the joys of mothering, to be that mom, walking into the hospital’s ER with back labor, days after her calculated due date and sensing that nothing was happening in accordance with “the book,” to be that mom, to be ushered into an x-ray room rather than a delivery room, to be told, “Your baby will not live” – to be that mom – ushered in a crushing, unimaginable darkness. I was that mom, and I am not the only mom who has faced that same crushing, unimaginable darkness when her child has died. With the knowledge of our daughter’s impending death, my husband and I were asked if we would be willing to donate her body to medical science for research. In the midst of the darkness, we reached for a glimmer of light – the possibility of helping another family avoid the darkness. Her body was taken, and in the months, the years, the decades that followed, we heard nothing. And the questions left a hole in Tonia’s story, a hole that paralleled the lack of closure we had in our own hearts. What had happened to her body? Was knowledge gained that could help others? Was her body left on a shelf, was it discarded in the trash, was it buried? And if she was buried, where could I go just to remember? Beauty still came though from the ashes of her death. God gave me a heart of compassion. A heart that cared. A heart that wanted God’s answers and not my own. A heart, in time, that found a compulsion to embrace the hearts and darkness of other moms. And a heart that was able to focus on the joy of Tonia’s gain – the presence of Jesus, the perfections of Heaven, and the absence of all that sin stains. And when it was least expected, God gave me the answers to some of my questions. Tonia did aid in research focusing on developmental and congenital defects. She was cremated, and a small, historical cemetery holds her ashes within a site trimmed with hibiscus bushes and marked with a plaque that honors not only the gift of her body, but also the gifts of others. The hole in her story was being filled, and my heart was finding a greater closure. But in the midst of joy-filled tears, the reality of Tonia’s gain began to shout. Jesus. The perfections of Heaven. The absence of all that sin stains. Her broken body made whole. And in her wholeness, she is embraced by the One who made Heaven possible, dancing, growing, becoming, joining the voices of others who sing His praises. A little girl I too will some day embrace while every darkness of earth will be fully turned to light. I sent an email to a friend, trying to conceptualize what I was feeling ... As much as her earthly story means to me, her Heavenly story is so much more important, so much more full of hope and expectancy. And as I reflect, I am reminded again that God tenderly holds it all in His hands. He has never left me, my husband, or my child. He cares about the beauty He longs to bring from the ashes, but He cares too about the details that may not matter to anyone else, but He knows they matter to me. It is my story woven once again into His story – a story that will vibrantly live through all of eternity. – Bev (Related Bible reading: 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Revelation 21:3,4)

August 27, 2022

Hope of Heaven

Psalm 69:34 “Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and all that move in them.” I’ve been thinking a lot about Heaven these days. I love to walk on the beach and look out to the sea, and feel the wind on my face, and I feel so close to Heaven and to God when I am there. Dwight L. Moody said, “A little faith will bring your soul to Heaven, but a lot of faith will bring Heaven to your soul.” There are some things on this planet that bring a “little bit of Heaven” to my soul. Sitting out on my deck and watching the sunset, sitting on a grassy slope with bare feet on a hill that overlooks the ocean, and sitting on the beach with my feet in the sand breathing in deep the salty air and listening to the crashing waves, the seagulls crying, and feeling the gentle wind as the sun is setting on the horizon. It is during those times that I stop for just a moment and give thanks to the Creator who made all these beautiful things in my world possible. Whatever creates a touch of Heaven in my life for me is a gentle reminder that God loves me and that He wants me to be filled with His joy. My faith aligns with Him and my trust in Him makes that moment even greater, and I long that those moments would come more often. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” God speaks His power into His creation and when I look at the beauty that He has “declared” and the sun and the skies that He has “proclaimed,” I cannot help but be in awe of His handiwork. The heavens have its own language and when I spend time with my Creator, there are no words that need to be spoken. My soul aligns with my God and I long to be where He is. Ephesians 2:4-6 says, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions --it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” The Message tells us that “God embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives, and made us alive in Christ. He picked us up and set us down in highest Heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” Salvation brings spiritual life to the dead. The power that raises believers out of death, makes them alive, and it is this same power that energizes every aspect of Christian living. Heaven is the supernatural realm where God reigns and where Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God. This Heaven that God created is our inheritance; it is where our affections should be, where our thoughts should be, where we must place our hope. There is no hope here on Earth except to die in our sins, but God’s grace made a way for us to live for eternity and His Word promises us that we will be seated with Him and with our Savior, Jesus Christ, in the heavenlies, where we will enjoy fellowship with the Lord and with other believers. It is the realm from which all divine revelation has come and where all praise and petitions go. Ephesians 1:3 says that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” God’s super abundant blessings belong to His children and we are blessed beyond measure with His spiritual blessings that come directly from the source of His divine nature, the realm of God’s complete heavenly domain, from which all blessings come, including His righteousness, His resources, His privilege, His position and His power. Everything that He has, belongs to us and we are to praise His Holy Name for giving us more abundantly than we could have ever hoped, dreamed or imagined. I know for me, I cannot wait to see Him; I cannot wait to spend time with my Creator, and to finally see my eternal home and His handiwork, where I will live in awe and wonder for the rest of my days. – Melody

August 11, 2022

Silence is Golden

Job 2:13 “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw his suffering was too great for words.” In the Jewish tradition, people who would come to comfort others after loss, would not speak until the mourner spoke. Oh, how so many people want to fix us when we are in grief. Don’t you just want to hold up your hand and without saying a word, let them know there is no fixing the pain of loss. What has happened when we have experienced the death of our child is the very thing we dreaded most in life. It is what kept us up at night. When others come in and offer their advice, and they have not known this pain, it is better to sit and to sit quietly. Eliphaz, Job’s miserable comforter, asked Job, “What do you know that we don’t? What do you understand that we do not?” There are so many important lessons we learn in walking through this journey of grief. Do you have people in your life who you would call a miserable comforter? They can add even more pain to our loss. They cannot understand the depth of this pain because they can’t know. The only way to taste this pain is to walk through this loss. It is best to protect yourself from miserable comforters. Keep them in your prayers that they never have to walk through this. They can’t fix us. Forever there is a piece of our heart that has been changed. Grief is a walk one has to do walking their own journey. The fixing or healing will come slowly, but it will always be with us. The finishing of it will come when the Lord Jesus once again says, “It is finished,” as we enter those beautiful pearly gates. Lord, one lesson may we learn in grief – not to be a miserable comforter. – Michele

July 28, 2022

Rainbows and Black Dots

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