Lessons from Loss

I’ve decided to take another week off, before getting back to my series on Godly traits. On Monday my daughter texted me that a woman from our former church had died unexpectedly. I was in shock. Mary was only a few years older than me. She had five grown children, a devoted husband and her first grandchild, a girl, whom she adored. She was dearly loved, not only by her immediate family, but by siblings and church family and friends. What really floored me, and many others, was the fact that last summer Mary had gone into the hospital with a lung infection. After months in the hospital and rehab, she seemed to get better. She got to go home and resume a somewhat normal life. Not long after life started having some semblance of normalcy, Mary lost her sister to cancer, this was just last month. Last week, Mary ended up, back in the hospital and Monday morning she died.

Sweeny family. Mary is in the middle with her husband Paul. My daughter took these pictures this past spring. Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull.

Sweeny family. Mary is in the middle with her husband Paul. My daughter took these pictures this past spring. Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull.

I felt myself questioning God. Why, Lord? Why? This was a beautiful woman; one of your sheep, who loved and gave and was gracious. She was a beautiful soul, inside and out. She loved her family and took others in as if they were part of the family. She exuded the peace that passes all understanding and I would often see her posting quotes from Ann VosKamp’s One Thousand Gifts on being thankful. The funny thing was, I didn’t really know Mary that well. We moved in different circles as our kids were growing up and while we went to the same church, we weren’t able to spend vast amounts of time together. However, I still feel this loss. It is as if in a galaxy full of stars, Mary’s shown so brightly, that the burning out of that star affected the whole universe.

Image by  Gerd Altmann  from  Pixabay

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I am not sharing this with you to look for sympathy. This was a tragic and unexpected loss, but what I wanted to do was use these musings as a branch from which to tie a rope, take a leap, swing out and fall into the river of God’s grace.

How do we deal with these things? How do we get past the shaking of the fist towards the sky, to the questioning why, to the acceptance, to the choice to believe that He is good, no matter what, to the final step of lifting our hands in praise, adoration and thanksgiving? Two words come to mind which I have used on the blog before, baby steps.

Image by  Barbara Jackson  from  Pixabay

Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

A baby does not learn to walk immediately. It is a process. They reach, they scoot, they rock, they roll, they crawl, they grab, they pull themselves up, they move around the furniture and eventually they let go and take those first steps. Those first steps aren’t perfect, but they are full of enthusiasm. When we are new in our relationship with Christ we are full of enthusiasm. We want to tell the world what He has done, not only for us as individuals, but for the whole world. We want to share the good news that Jesus loves the unlovely, rescues the drowning, lifts up the cripple and fully redeems that which was completely lost.

Then life happens. We experience disappointment, pain, heartbreak and loss. If we are being honest with ourselves we do not like these things and many of us probably thought when we came to Christ that it was going to be smooth sailing. How very wrong we were. If anything, it seems, at least for some, that we are being shot at by the biggest guns available on a US battleship. Worse yet, we might be getting hammered by friendly fire, while well intended, completely misses the mark and wounds us instead of helping us out.

So how do we approach loss without losing our faith? How do we endure pain without giving up hope? How do we continue to walk when we are clearly wounded and would rather lay down and die?

One baby step at a time.

Baby Step 1 - Shaking fists and questions.

Image by  Niek Verlaan  from  Pixabay

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

God is much bigger than we are. He created us and He knows our frame is but dust. As the Creator he manipulated that dust, breathing life into it. Don’t ever think, He doesn’t get it. He most certainly knows our weaknesses, our pit falls and our innermost feelings. You might not be literally shaking your fist at Him, but He knows what you are thinking on the inside. Sometimes it is okay to get mad, to raise our hands, not in praise, but in frustration, anger and pain. The key is to not stay there. It is okay to say:

I don’t get it.

It’s not fair.

Why? Why? Why?

I don’t like you right now?

It hurts and you let it happen.

That is exactly how I felt about Mary’s death. She was a vibrant woman and God let her die. I couldn’t help thinking, there are thousands of others, suffering with debilitating illnesses, pain and complete loss of ability to remember their own families or even how to use the bathroom. Why not take one of them? Why not relieve someone else of their burden? But He didn’t. He took Mary.

It felt wrong to have those thoughts and feelings, but they are real, visceral, but real and doesn’t God know that? He gave His own Son to suffer and die. He knows loss. He knows pain. Jesus knows loneliness and abandonment.

This is an absolutely acceptable part of grief. Whether your loss is the death of a loved one, an unfaithful partner, a divorce, a rebellious child, a parent going through Alzheimers, or the loss of a long time job, it is okay to feel anger, and it is okay to question why.

Baby Step 2 - Wear the blanket.

Image by  Katrina_S  from  Pixabay

Image by Katrina_S from Pixabay

When my father died back in 2006, I distinctly remember walking in a fog. Life just seemed rather cloudy and my brain felt full of cotton. Often when we grieve we think that the best thing for us is to throw ourselves back into life, subduing the overwhelming sense of loss to a dull ache. In most cultures the process of grief is much more elaborate and loud.

In 1985 I spent a summer in Africa. During that time, I got to experience a true death wail. It was unnerving as a group, of mostly women, wept and wailed and cried over a baby who had tragically passed away. This was no reserved whispered ceremony. This was a loud progression of frenzied sobs and tears. They let their expression of the sadness they felt erupt into the still, dark night, like a mass of molten lava pouring out of a volcano.

While I do not expect that, here in our US of A, we are going to start doing a death wail, it is good to allow ourselves to feel grief. I truly believe wrapping yourself up in the blanket of grief every once in a while, helps you to heal faster. If putting on a real blanket helps with the symbolism, go ahead. However, you do it, take some time to feel the sadness and the pain. Cry, sob, moan and even wail. It’s okay. Then when you feel a bit of relief, put the blanket away and go live life. Eventually, you will find, you don’t need that blanket quite so often. Eventually, you will be able to put it away, all together.

Baby Step 3 - Choices.

Image by  Pexels  from  Pixabay

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The best way to handle making choices during a time of grief is to choose slowly and thoughtfully. Don’t rashly give up your faith. Don’t decide to sell everything you have, join a commune and move to Tibet. Don’t start drinking. Don’t obsess on your loss. The greatest mistake we make when we are in the throes of grief is to think we are okay and we can handle this on our own. It is important to choose to take care of ourselves and to allow people to take care of us. We were not meant to be islands. We are supposed to live in community with others. In fact you might find there are others who have already been through the grief process before you. They can help, if you let them .

In addition, choose truth. Often we question whether God really loves us when someone or something has been taken away from us, but if we keep our eyes on scripture we will remember verses like:

The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.
— Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:39 (NASB)
Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
— 2 Corinthians 13:11 (NASB)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
— Ephesians 2:4 (NASB)

God does love us and He always will. He will always be there for us, even in the midst of trial and grief.

Baby Step 4 - Take Action

Image by  Olya Adamovich  from  Pixabay

Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

Once we have worked through the emotions of anger, pain and sadness we can begin to, once again, take action. Action might start out with something simple like getting out of bed, taking a shower and getting dressed. Eventually, you might be able to go out and take a walk or meet a friend for coffee. Down the road, you may make it to church and then out to do something fun again. Your loved ones would not want you to stop living life. Besides it is in the choice to start living again, that God reveals His most precious and magnificent promises.

After I found out Mary was gone, I knew my sadness and shock was not as sharp as the edge on the sword her family was and is feeling right now, but I also felt that God had let me down. I prayed for Mary’s healing and He didn’t come through. That evening, my husband and I took a walk. I looked up at the expanse of night sky and heard His voice saying, “I’m still right here.”

Wow! That was just what I needed to hear. He is still right there and He always will be. He is there for us to lean on, pound on and depend on no matter what and knowing that is sometimes all we need. When I realize He is really all I need to get through, I am able to raise my hands in praise to Him and I can start remembering what I am thankful for.

My friend Mary was a Christian. She is with Jesus now. She is also with her mom and her sister who went before her. She left behind a legacy of love, and friendship for her family and her friends. The world is a more beautiful place because of her and I can be thankful that I knew her.









A Lesson in Weaving

She watched her through the open window that looked down on the small balcony. The young girl looked out over the river that lazily wandered past the castle. The child was hers, but she was no longer looked like a small girl. She had grown in those years she had been held captive by the enemy lord. She felt a lump in her throat that she could not swallow. The girl, her girl, didn’t want anything to do with her, her very own mother, nor her grandfather, the King.

Image by  DarkWorkX  from  Pixabay

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

When they had first found her in the enemy’s castle she was like a caged animal. The room they found her in was filled with waste and squalor. The girl did not recognize her mother at first and when she tried to take her in her arms, which ached to hold her again, the girl screamed. That scream had pierced her soul. They were finally able to get her out of the castle by coaxing her out with sweets. The thought of it still made her shudder.

Eventually, the girl saw that they were not going to hurt her and in fact were going to provide for her pretty clothes and good food, things that she hadn’t gotten when she was a captive, but still, she kept asking when she could go home. It galled her to think her only child thought of his palace as her home, even after how she had been treated.

A noise from behind her caused her to turn. Her father, the King, approached. He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze.

“Father, I don’t know what to do. I feel absolutely helpless…I know she is hurting, and probably angry at me. I let it happen. I let her get caught by that evil man. I am to blame and now, I can’t even look at her without feeling utterly hopeless.”

The King took in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. She often saw him do this when he was thinking before he spoke, a practice he always thought wise.

“Daughter, you know how very much I love you, so I can understand those feelings of helplessness and even hopelessness. Did you know that I could not sleep at night when you were being courted by your late husband? It terrified me to let you go, knowing each step you took towards independence took you further and further away from me. But, I had to learn to trust the One. I knew that He would always take care of you, no matter where you were. Even when I eventually sent you into battle.”

Image by  Enrique Meseguer  from  Pixabay

She pulled away from him, suddenly feeling angry. “This is not a simple courting session that my daughter went through. She was beaten, starved and we don’t even know yet, if he did other vile things to her. She was just a child. Was the One with her, when that was going on, or has He abandoned her…has He abandoned us?”

The King sat heavily in a chair that stood near the fire burning cheerfully in a brazier. He pulled the footstool in front of him and patted it.

Once again, he wanted her to sit, to listen, to learn from him.

As she did so often, she began to pace. “No! I am not going to sit at your feet, like a little child and have you explain to me, how I need to trust the One. He let my little girl get hurt. He let her get caught by that vile enemy.”

“Now wait a minute. Is it your fault, or is it His fault?”

She stopped and stared. “Well…I….I….I don’t know! All I know, is that little girl is not the same person I knew before she was taken.”

“Are you the same person you were before she was taken?”

She inhaled, trying to practice the same technique he did, not speaking until she was sure she was in control.

“No. I am not.”

He patted the foot stool again and smiled.

Reluctantly she sat.

He leaned forward and took her hands in his own large ones. She could feel the callouses there. He was no show piece. He was a king who fought and bled beside his own men for the causes he believed in. How could he keep his calm demeanor? He always seemed at peace, no matter what.

“How do you to it? How did you send me into battle, knowing full well, I might never return?”

“Do you remember how your mother used to love to weave tapestries?”

Image by  MrsBrown  from  Pixabay

Image by MrsBrown from Pixabay

She smiled, remembering her mother, the Queen working tirelessly into the night weaving various colored threads together. “She used to hang it, so that when we came into the room, we could not see what the finished picture would be.”

The King let out a chuckle. “Oh yes. Once time I tried to sneak in when she was away and she had the loom booby trapped! I suddenly found myself doused by a bucket of honey mead. I couldn’t get the flies away from me for weeks.”

She laughed, remembering her father taking bath, after bath, after bath, but unable to get the sweet ale completely washed out of his hair.

He squeezed her hands. “Your mother always had a purpose for everything she did. Why do you think she presented the tapestry to us only from the back side, until the work was done?”

She shrugged. “I had always assumed she just loved the surprise on our faces when we finally saw it.”

“Oh there was definitely that! However, in addition to that she wanted to remind us of what real life is like.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Life is made up of all manner of threads, some beautiful colors and others dull and even ugly. If you didn’t know that the front of the tapestry was going to be made into a beautiful work of art, you would have thought the piece merely an ugly, jumble of random colored threads and knots where the threads had been tied off. It is that jumbled mess that makes up our lives. The ugly threads and the beautiful ones are all necessary to make the completed picture.

The One is weaving those threads. He is making all of it, even the threads we don’t understand or want to understand into a picture of such great beauty that it will be declared a masterpiece, when we finally see the finished product.

Your mother was an artist and she taught you those same skills before she passed on. What are you going to do with your threads? You can use them to create beauty, or like our now dead enemy, you can use them to weave chaos.”

The King leaned forward and kissed her forehead, then he rose to his feet and quietly left the room.

She stared into the fire, that slowly claimed the fuel it was burning. The fire was chaotic, yet it served a purpose to provide warmth and cook food. It was even beautiful in its dance of flame. Could it be, her father was right; that beauty could come from the chaos of life?

She knew what she had to do. She would teach her daughter the loom. She would teach her the dance of light and flame, darkness and chaos and pray the One would bring healing and beauty for them both.

This is a fiction piece by Amy D. Christensen

In 2010 Ravi Zacharias wrote a book titled, The Grand Weaver. It was this book and the images he shared of God being the grand weaver of our lives that inspired the imagery revolving around the tapestry in this story. If we can grasp His divine plan for our lives, in which He uses all the good, the bad and the ugly, how much easier would it be to let Him have control. I hope you enjoyed this story.

You can see the previous parts to this story by clicking on the links below:

Part 1: Return to Battle

Part 2: A Father’s Perspective

Part 3: Waiting

Part 4: Ready to Die


What Giants are you Fighting?

Last week I wrote a fictional piece that was based on a dream I had a number of years ago. At the time a girlfriend and I were doing a study by Mark and Patti Virkler titled, How to Hear God’s Voice. It was an eye opening study and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in delving deeper into their relationship with God. However, I will caution, this study is not for everyone. Some of Virkler’s practices and teachings might grate against those who are more conservative and traditional. It is my opinion that the concepts Virkler addresses are solidly backed by scripture and accountability, thus eliminating the possibility for misunderstanding or being led astray.

All that being said, at one point in the study, the author encourages the reader to ask God for dreams that are of Him and to journal and share those dreams with an accountability partner, which is imperative to the study. It was during this time, God gave me the dream about the giants. When I wrote the piece for last week’s post, which you can read here, I added a few details, but the essence and message of the dream is the same.

All of us are facing giants in our lives. Some of those giants may have us so entangled in their lies that we no longer realize they hold us captive. Many giants we face are brutal and ugly and others are merely just annoying, simply taking up large spaces in our homes and eating our food. In this post I would like to share with you a few of the giants I battle on a regular basis.

The Giant Called SELF

Pixabay

Pixabay

This one is a doozy. He is huge and like an oversized octopus has his tentacles digging into everything. I find him lounging around my home, like he owns the place and am often at a loss as to what to do with him. However, the Bible is clear on the likes of this one.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,
— Philippians 2:3a (NASB)

It says do nothing, from a selfish standpoint. That is pretty specific. I mean, shouldn’t I be able to do at least a few things from a selfish point of view?

I hear a giant growing.

I mean, isn’t my time, my time? Shouldn’t I be allowed to do what I want, at least once in a while? Don’t I get to wallow in the bad stuff that has happened to me? Don’t I get to voice my opinion? Don’t I have rights?

No wonder that giant has gotten so big.

Please don’t misunderstand there is a difference between taking care of ourselves and something called selfish ambition.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
— James 3:16 (NASB)

Selfish ambition is a seed of self centeredness that is allowed to grow…well, into a giant. What ensues is disorder and every evil thing.

Let me give you an example that many of you might understand. In marriage there is little room for selfishness, yet so often it is self centeredness that leads to arguments, misunderstandings and eventual break downs of relationships. I know! I am married and I still battle with this giant almost every day in my marriage. I believe that is true for two reasons.

1. Satan hates marriage and has no problem creating havoc in a marriage.

2. Marriage and family is, perhaps, the toughest proving ground for living selflessly. After all, any time other people are involved that closely the giant of SELF is bound to interfere.

The Giant Called FEAR

Pixabay

Pixabay

This giant may be a home dweller for some of you, but for me he just sort of comes and goes. He’ll pop up when I have to do something different from the usual, like go to the dentist or meet someone new. Sometimes, he comes around when it gets dark or just when I am going to lay down for the night. All too often he torments me when I am alone.

Once again, the Bible is clear on this as well.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
— 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

I quoted this verse in the New King James Version of the Bible, because that is how I learned it. I love the focus that this verse has. God is not the one who makes us afraid. Fear is from Satan. God gives us power, love and a sound mind.

Start listening to the news and you can tell people are afraid. People are fighting for power, dying for love and taking meds and drugs to create a semblance of a sound mind. Satan created fear and he bases fear on lies. Lies that say if you don’t have money or power or this or that you won’t ever have security. Lies that say, if you don’t dress this way or do this or that you’ll never have love. Lies that also say if you don’t have it immediately you aren’t going to be happy or that get you to focus on details that don’t even matter to such an extent that you can’t sleep or eat or think straight.

This giant is persistent and without divine intervention will be a constant companion.

The Giant Called DESPAIR

Pixabay

Pixabay

This is probably one of the hardest giants to fight. He usually doesn’t make an appearance until I am so worn down I have nothing left to fight with. He often takes over where the other two giants leave off. When I have become focused on myself and am obsessing over my fears, then he steps in and I become hopeless. He often brings up things from the past and leaves me feeling useless and used up.

The Bible is full of stories of people who were sad and despairing. Job, Esther, Ruth, Naomi, David and many others felt the weight of having their souls in despair.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.
— Psalm 42:5 (NASB)

Often when this giant is looming over us, we don’t even know for sure why he is there, but one thing is often the case, we begin to doubt. We doubt God and all the promises He has made in His word. This doubt is like candy for Giant DESPAIR. He feeds off of our doubt. That is why the psalmist placed his hope in the Lord. Only the Lord is a steady rock in a very shaky world.

Next week I’ll be giving a few pointers for battles the giants we face in our lives. Until then, don’t give up the fight!