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


On Focus, and Ignorance, During Hard Times

I decided to take a break from the Traits of a Godly Person series for this week. There are so many things going on in our world, and I often wonder should I talk about some of the more difficult issues. I like my blog to be a place of encouragement, whether it is to dress better or to grow in your walk with Christ. However, there are people out there, some of whom might be following my blog, that need a different kind of encouragement.

Life really can be stinking hard! Relationships are complex and often the source of our deepest and darkest pain. More often than not, people who are going through great difficulty do not feel at liberty to talk about the situations they are facing, which means, they are not getting any support or encouragement. People who are going through great loss, also, don’t always feel free to talk about their grief and pain. I’m not really sure, how we got to this point. Why is it that we are afraid to let people know that we are not okay? Why do we hide our pain behind a smile and tell everyone who asks that we are doing fine? Maybe it has to do with not being able to express the deep pain and sadness we feel. Perhaps we are afraid that others will think less of us, if we show them our reality. Maybe we are just too dang tired from trying to cope, that we’d rather not put in the effort to explain all that is going on.

Image by  lisa runnels  from  Pixabay

Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

I think there is something much deeper and darker going on when we are struggling. Obviously, I believe in a real God and a real devil. I believe that Satan is our enemy and he is out to kill and destroy.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
— 1 Peter 5:8 (NASB)
Image by  steffenwienberg  from  Pixabay

Image by steffenwienberg from Pixabay

Our enemy is compared to a roaring lion. Why do you suppose Peter used the idea of a roaring lion, rather than that of a snake or some other creature? Obviously, lions are creatures to be respected. A lion can easily kill a man along with a host of wild creatures. Peter didn’t just make the comparison of the devil to a lion, but to a roaring lion. There is significance in the roar. Roaring commonly means, “This is my territory. Don’t get anywhere near.” Isn’t that interesting? Our enemy isn’t just trying to trip us up, he is trying to make us his own. He wants to claim us as his territory.

There are two problems that come up when we are going through difficulty that really affect our next step and our way of thinking. The first is our own focus. It is incredibly easy to focus on our pain. It is, our pain. The struggle is our struggle. Why wouldn’t we focus on it? This is made even harder when there is pain, illness, anxiety and broken relationships. Job loss is hard, but add to that a divorce and a persistent gall bladder problem and you are probably going to be feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
— Proverbs 4:25 (NASB)

Why is our focus so important? When you are walking you need to watch where you are going. This is especially important if you are walking on a narrow road, a path along a steep gorge or across a Lego filled living room. in those situations, it might be important to not be looking at your cell phone, reading a book or closing your eyes. This is also true when we are driving. The need for this straight forward, pay attention routine is even more important when things are getting chaotic, such as heavy traffic or passing pedestrians or bikers.

Image by  Free-Photos  from  Pixabay

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When we are going through the hard bits of life, or even through the longer pits of life, we need to keep our eyes on our Savior. In fact it is even more important to focus on Him when we are faced with difficulty. I have been reading, Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray. I started this book a while back, got about half way through and got busy, so put it aside. When I picked it up a week ago, I decided to start again at the beginning. There is so much good stuff in this book. Read these two quotes:

It is not the yoke, but the resistance to the yoke, that makes the difficulty; the whole hearted surrender to Jesus, as at once our Master and Keeper, finds and secures the rest.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Remember how Christ tells us if we are weary and heavy laden we should come to Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
— Matthew 11:28-29 (NASB)

Murray was referring to these verses when he was talking about the rest that is secured in Christ. Now look at this next piece from the same chapter in Murray’s book.

With this grace secured, we have strength for every duty, courage for every struggle, a blessing in every cross and the joy of life eternal in death itself.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Christ is to be our focus. Come hell or high water, this Warrior Prince named Jesus, has our back for every duty, every struggle and every cross we have to bear in this life. All you have to do is come to Him and believe He will do it.

The other problem that arises when people are going through hard times is the ignorance of those around them. How many of you have been struggling with a situation, only to have a friend give you advice on how to solve your problem? How did that make you feel? If you are like me, when I was going through a very difficult time in my life, the last thing I wanted was advice. What I really wanted was an arm around my shoulders, a friend who would pray with me, not tell me they would pray for me, a sincere hug and two listening ears.

Image by  Anemone123  from  Pixabay

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

My dear friends, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to keep your mouth shut and refrain from giving advice when someone close to you is going through a hard time. Give hugs, give time, bring food, pray with them, listen to them. If they ask you for advice, then and only then, open your mouth and be sure you are speaking from the Lord, not from your own large vat of worldly knowledge. In addition to that, sincerely, truly and intensely pray for that person. You will not know all the details and that is okay. God’s bigger than you and will work it out. Just pray.

He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.
— Proverbs 11:12 (NASB)
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
— Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
Pixabay - hope

Life is difficult. Some of you are going through things that you never thought you would have to go through. Don’t give up. Keep you eyes fixed on the author and perfecter or our faith. And for those of you who are watching a friend or loved one suffer, don’t give up on them either. Pray, for and with. Love, help and even just sit in silence with them. For all of us, let’s remember this:

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)



Realistically Setting Goals

This is the final installment in my series on New Year, New Mind. I’ve been discussing how our thoughts can easily derail our efforts to form habits that will make us healthier people, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. Last week I looked at a few ways to stop our train wreck mentalities and this week, I wanted to close with a look at realistically setting goals.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Baby Steps

The best way to start when setting goals is by starting with small steps. Rather than starting large and working your way back, start small and work your way up.

For example, if you want to get organized, but don’t know where to start, decide what your first priority is. If you need to work on meal planning, start by having a plan for at least three meals a week. Rather than being overwhelmed with a whole week, just plan a few and write them down. If you and your spouse both work and can afford the service, there are a number of food services now available that deliver all the ingredients and directions for meal prep to your door for as many meals a week as you want. My daughter and her husband use Blue Apron and have three meals a week delivered. All they have to do is open the box, take out the ingredients and follow the directions. There are lots of options available.

Perhaps you want to improve your health by exercising, and eating better. Instead of going cold turkey off all your favorite treats, start with a few small changes. Drinking more water, adding a veggie at lunch or a fruit at breakfast, eating one less meal out a week, or measuring out the potato chips so you only get one serving are all good baby steps to a healthier lifestyle. If you don’t want to invest the time or money in a gym membership there are plenty of videos on youtube.com . You can find pretty much anything to suit your lifestyle from short 20 minute walking videos to longer cardio to yoga and stretching.

Starting small allows you to see success quickly and will keep you from getting discouraged that you aren’t seeing results right away. Each step you take towards achieving a goal, is a step in the right direction, even if it is only a baby step.

Get Organized

This could be a problem, if one of your goals is to get organized. Ha, ha. I personally struggle with organization, not because I am incapable of being organized, but because I allow life to overwhelm me. Busyness, and fatigue have put a dent in my organizational capabilities. However, I know that being more organized will help with the busyness and chaos of life. Over the course of time I have come to see the following habits help life run more smoothly.

Meal plan. Planning out a weeks worth of meals help when you are grocery shopping, and when you are trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I used to do this more frequently when my girls were young and keep trying to get back to it. It saves money, time and your sanity when life gets busy. Meal planning is also helpful, when you are trying to lose weight.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Get up earlier. I know this is very hard for some people. I am a morning person and have the most energy before lunch. My hubby on the other hand could well be diagnosed with morning sickness. He abhors morning. Getting up earlier, gives you more time to get exercise, read your Bible, meditate and just get ready for the day ahead. This is especially important when you work and you have to get lunches made and help others get their days started as well. Start small, taking a baby step in that direction by getting up 15 minutes earlier. Gradually you might be able to work up to a half hour or more.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Invest in a good planner. I am a geek, so I love being able to get a new planner every year. If you get one with lots of spaces, you can use it for many purposes. You can put your meal planning in there, your appointments, work schedule and so on. A planner is a great way to keep you organized, the trick is to actually write things down in it. Ha, ha. I speak from experience!

Pixabay

Pixabay

Getting organized in the normal routines of life and finishing little projects you’ve started is an important first step toward realizing larger goals. If you can’t get a handle on the small things, how will you ever get it together to focus on the big things?
— Joyce Meyer

Have a Plan

I have found the thing that helps me most in achieving my goals is to have some sort of a plan. It doesn’t have to be written in stone and signed in blood, because, let’s face it, real life often interferes with our plans. A plan that has some amount of flex to it is probably the best way to approach goal setting that will succeed.

For instance, when I want to lose weight, I come up with a plan. I decide on a way to keep track of my calories, because i have found calorie counting the best thing for me. It holds me accountable and lets me see my progress. I download a fitness app on my phone. I use a combination of Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. I also try to do more meal planning. As I said earlier, meal planning makes it easier to keep to a daily calorie goal.

Having a plan for any area of goal setting will help you succeed. Whether you make a daily plan, like keeping a list of things to do, or a weekly plan such as exercising three times or a monthly plan like getting rid of 10 items I no longer use, planning will produce results much more readily than no plan at all.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you develop a plan:

What do I want to accomplish?

When do I want to accomplish this by?

How am I going to accomplish this?

What sort of resources do I need to invest in to accomplish this goal?

How will I handle failure?

That question leads me to my last point.

Handle Failure Positively

Failing at anything is hard. We live in a society that condemns failure and honors success. Obviously, success is the goal. We want to be successful at whatever goals we have, but the truth is that failure is inevitable. If your goal is to lose weight, you will fall off the wagon. You’ll have a bad day and give in to those cravings for ice cream. When your goal is to declutter because you have been binge watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, you will end up at the mall scouring the sale racks at your favorite store, because things are marked down to less than five dollars. Maybe your goal is to be more patient with your family. Be assured they will push all your buttons before the day is over. This is real life.

One of my faithful subscribers said it best:

...instead of letting a day, or even a couple weeks, of a blown resolution or new effort derail us or cause us to give up completely, why not get up and get started again. Keep moving forward.
— Karen - SGM subscriber

We all need to hear things like this and this leads me to several thoughts about failure.

Failure thrives on Fear

Fear is perhaps one of the biggest factors in keeping us from getting back up and starting over when we have failed.

“I can’t do it. If I try, I’ll only fail again.”

Sound familiar? Stop being afraid. Failure is not your master! Many who have gone before us recognized this fact.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
— Henry Ford
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
— Winston Chruchill
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
— Thomas A. Edison
You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.
— Johnny Cash

I could go on with amazing quotes from amazing people who went toe to toe with failure. Reading these encouraged my heart and I hope they do for you to. Failure is but a stepping stone to achieving the goals we have set. Start believing that.

Failure abhors Friendship

Have you ever noticed when we fail, we want to be alone in our misery and throw ourselves a little pity party? Surrounding ourselves with good friends can turn failure into fuel. As I stated early, I have several subscribers that often comment on my posts, sharing their enthusiasm for fashion or their struggles as they walk the road of life and faith. This means so much to me and gives me fuel to keep going, to keep trying, even when I fail.

You don’t have to have a boat load of friends to be fueled by your failure. One good friend, or your spouse can be the one to reach down when you have fallen to help you back up. If your support system is limited go to Jesus. I have certain scriptures I return to again and again, like old friends, when I need encouragement or help getting back up.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
— Romans 8:1 (NASB)
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 1:6 (NASB)
But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
— Job 23:10 (NASB)
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
— Joshua 1:9 (NASB)

I hope this series on changing our thoughts has been helpful to you. The things I have written about in this series are just my opinions. I am not a licensed counselor, just a woman who has dealt with the failure mind set in my own life. I write as much to myself as to you, so I hope this was helpful.

Have a wonderful weekend and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

The Light of Joy

One of the things about the Christmas season that I get very excited about is lights. I love the look of houses outlined in tiny specks of shimmering light, whether they are white, green, red or blue, I love them all. I enjoy driving home from somewhere and seeing how many houses are embellished with twinkling splendor. Now don’t judge me, but I also enjoy seeing Christmas trees inside people’s homes. It’s not that I am being nosy. After all, don’t we put our trees in windows for that purpose, so the outside world can see our beautiful displays of light?

Pixabay

Pixabay

What is it about light that we so enjoy? I know that most of us would rather be out and about when it is day time. We enjoy when morning comes and feel loss at the slipping away of light as night time takes over. I personally have to convince myself that darkness is good and God allows the darkness so that we may rest. What I find fascinating about this God of ours is that He didn’t leave us in total darkness. He provided, even before sin became a reality, He provided the moon and the stars to rule the night, so even in darkness the light is still meant to preside.

Pixabay

Pixabay

There is a lesson here for us, if we are willing to see it. Light is always present even in the darkness. Darkness is, for lack of a better definition, the absence of light. But even in the deepest and darkest dark, somewhere there is still light. If we lost all electricity, the sun would still rule the sky by day and the moon and stars by night. As long as God allows the planets, stars, moons and sun to hang in space, there will always be light. What if those things disappear, or burn out? What if there is nothing left, but darkness? That will never be the case, because God is light and in Him there is no darkness.

Pixabay

Pixabay

When we think of Christmas we often have images of children playing, laughing and looking with awe and wonder at the lights and decorations. Can you even imagine a Christmas without the idea of child like joy being a part of it? I realize, not everyone grew up with wonder filled Christmases like many of us did. Some of you may not even celebrate Christmas or may think of it as merely an overly commercialized holiday meant to line the pockets of corporate America. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think most of us can relate to the idea of joy.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Joy is often misunderstood. It is regularly mistaken for happiness, but joy is eternal, whereas happiness is temporary. Let me see if I can explain this in a way that makes sense. Joy is light. Joy comes out in dazzling displays like fireworks and rocket launches, but it also twinkles like Christmas lights and candle flames. The difference is that when the fireworks and rockets are burned out and the Christmas lights break and the flame smokes, joy still shines. The reason for this came in the form of a bundled baby boy, born in a stable over two thousand years ago.

Pixabay

Pixabay

No matter how deep the darkness is, joy still shines. There is no darkness or evil thorough enough to overcome joy. You might not feel like you have joy right now. Maybe you feel like you have never had joy, but you know those moments that bring tears to your eyes; those moments are shimmers of joy. You experience them when a movie has a happy ending or a musical movement runs together into a river of sound so beautiful it sweeps you along with it. You experience it when you come upon a breathtaking view or stand at the water’s edge when the sun begins its descent into a cloudless sea. This is joy.

Pixabay - nativity

Then when life tries to break you and you cannot hear the music or see the sunset, that is when you must reach back and in, deeper and deeper, to the event where joy first burst onto the scene of humanity. A virgin birth. Shepherds watching their flocks. Animals in the stable. A straw filled manger. This event was and is and evermore shall be the birth of joy. At that moment joy moved from happiness to an eternal possibility. Joy became the essence of bliss.

If you believe in that light, then even when all is dark, all you have to do is call his name. Jesus. And that light of joy will explode, once again in your soul and the darkness will scatter.

Wait! I Didn't Want that to Happen!

What do you do when you are very disappointed? Do you blame God? Do you complain and become discouraged and frustrated? Let's face it, life delivers plenty of disappointments. Relationships fail, those things that we wanted for so long break and get thrown away and we even experience disappointment in ourselves due to our failures and lost hopes. Sometimes life leads us down a path that looks appealing, other times, it leads us to a place we don't want to go.

path in the woods - Akron Falls Park, Akron, NY

My husband and I left Thursday evening to begin a ten day journey out east. We were going to spend two nights with my mom near Buffalo, NY and then point our car towards Maine, a state neither of us had been, but both of us were looking forward to exploring. I had already made reservations at hotels and Home Away type accommodations and was anticipating new digs to stay in, new scenery to take pictures of, new places to walk with our new hiking boots and new restaurants featuring local fair like lobster and other seafood delicacies. Little did I know my hope and anticipations were about to be dashed to pieces. 

While we were at my mom's we took her to a nearby park for a walk. At ninety plus she is getting a little unsteady, but she is able to still walk with a helping arm. Here are some pictures from our walk.

Akron Falls Park, Akron, NY
Akron Falls Park - Akron, NY
Akron Falls Park - Akron, NY
Akron Falls Park - Akron, NY

Saturday morning we left my mom's house at 8:30 AM and hoped to put the hours and miles behind us as we headed towards Portland, ME. We had only just gotten onto the interstate when the pain that had been plaguing me in my lower abdomen on and off for the last four days suddenly torqued up the intensity. We stopped at the next rest area so I could use the restroom. I seriously thought I was having some sort of digestive anomaly. Two years ago I had been diagnosed with diverticulosis, but had never actually had an issue with diverticulitis. 

By the time I began walking out of the rest area, my husband knew something was wrong. He could see it in the way I walked and by the look on my face. He asked the nearest rest area employee where the closest urgent care would be and we were directed to the hospital at the next exit. 

By the time I was finally checked into the ER and was actually given pain medication at least two hours had passed. After a CT scan I was diagnosed with having a kidney stone. I have never had kidney stones before. I was told I would have to stay in the hospital over night to see if the stone would pass and they put me on a regimen of pain meds, antibiotics and drugs to widen out the ureters to help the stone pass. 

Me looking lovely in the ER!

Me looking lovely in the ER!

After a mostly sleepless night at the hospital with my faithful husband in a very uncomfortable recliner by my bed we decided this would not be the year we would go on our adventure to Maine. I write this post at a Barnes and Noble as we travel back to our home in the Mid West after spending another night with my mom. I would have been ruthless to not let my mom see me and know I was okay after all that had happened. It proved most beneficial to have a good nights rest and some food that I could actually eat. I feel much better today!

With our car still full of bags and treats and hiking boots as well as five new prescriptions, we began our trip home feeling rather glum and disappointed that things had not worked out as we had hoped. Now I go back to my original question: How do you deal with disappointment? In all honesty I only know of one way. 

Thankfulness! 

Yes! You heard me! Thankfulness.

Here is my list:

1. My husband was with me through all of it. He did not waver. He did not get upset. He was just genuinely glad that I just had a kidney stone (he's had one of his own) and not having surgery for a colostomy or finding out I had cancer. 

2. The hospital staff was great. Every nurse was kind, informative and professional. They answered our questions, let us know what they were going to do with clarity and a smile and always asked if we needed anything. Even the aides who had to empty out my little pee pot to check for stones were friendly and helpful. 

3. We were right near a hospital. I didn't have to drive for several hours to get to a competent place of care. In fact the hospital is in the same city where my brother works. He even stopped by to check on me while I was in the ER.

4. I only had to spend one night! Hooray.

5. By this morning, I was no longer in any pain, and no longer felt like I wanted to hurl every time I thought of food. 

6. Our drive home has been relaxing and enjoyable. 

These are only a few of the thing that I can thank God for during this disappointing time. Disappointments, as I have talked about before, can push us away from God, or draw us closer. I would definitely choose to draw closer every time. 

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5:18

How Do We Bloom, When Life is Tough?

I think as women we spend much of our time over thinking things. Have you ever asked yourself these questions: Is what I'm doing making a difference? How does my life count? What sort of legacy am I going to leave behind? Am I worthwhile? Am I enough? 

For this particular post I am not going to address all those other questions we ask ourselves: What am I going to make for dinner? Does my spouse really love me? Are my kids listening to me? Am I too fat? Am I pretty? You get the idea and I am sure you could add your own list of questions.

petunias

You have probably heard the phrase, "Bloom where you are planted." It has been around for a while. I found an interesting article on Huffington Post written in 2014. You can see that article here. The author, Smita Malhotra, MD has a basic premise; that we can live a full life no matter what situation we find ourselves in if we just practice four things:

1. (Remember) Every step in life prepares you for the next one.

2. Stop complaining.

3. Be a blessing.

4. Bloom through concrete.

To thoroughly understand where she is coming from it would be good to read her article. What I would like to do is use that as a spring board for us, specifically as wives, mothers, and grandmothers. You all know it is true, motherhood and sometimes being a wife is a thankless job.  I'm sure there are those who would say, If you teach your children properly, they will be thankful. While this is true, the hard bits of motherhood are not easily understood until experienced. 

I think there are several scriptural ideas that we need to be reminded of to enable us to better bloom where we are planted. 

1. God is in control. I know we all say it. It rolls off our tongues as easily as water, but how many of us actually believe it? It's okay to be honest. I have a hard time with it myself. Didn't the disciples struggle with believing He was in control those dark hours after Jesus was crucified then laid in the tomb? Read through the Psalms. David questioned God on more than one occasion.

Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?
Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
— Psalm 10:1 (NASB)

But he always came back to the fact that God was in control.

The Lord is King forever and ever;
Nations have perished from His land.
O Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear
— Psalm 10:16-17

Perhaps that is part of the problem. We let ourselves go through hours, days and even weeks of wandering, worrying and hand-wringing, when really all we need to do is exactly what David did. Bring it back to God. 

2. God is trustworthy. There is an element to trust that must be akin to jumping out of the airplane. Let go! When it comes to our kids and our grandkids, we want to be able to keep them from all evil, but frankly evil happens. Our wishing it away, or ignoring it, is not going to keep bad things from happening. However, we can choose to place our trust in the One who is higher than I. 

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
— Psalm 13:1-2 (NASB)

The Psalmist again, questions God's goodness at the beginning of the Psalm. This is showing us, it is okay to feel these difficult emotions. The worry, stress, fear, anger, are all part of being human in a fallen world. 

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
— Psalm 13:5-6 (NASB)

By the end of the Psalm, which isn't very long, the psalmist remembers who God is, and that He is faithful. He makes a choice to not allow his thoughts to stay on the despair and agony page. He is confident that God is trustworthy.

3. Thankfulness makes a difference. I can't say this enough. Ann Voskamp wrote an entire book on the subject, called One Thousand Gifts. Go to Amazon and type in books on gratitude to see the list that pops up. Nancy Leigh DeMoss wrote Choosing Gratitude. For perspectives that are not strictly Christian there is also, The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan and Daily Gratitude by National Geographic. Thankfulness can transform our minds and our lives. It is, after all, commanded in God's word.

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

4. Get positive. I wanted to differentiate this from being thankful because I think there is more to bringing our thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, than just thankfulness. Thankfulness is a huge part of it, but we can forget to be thankful, or we can express gratitude and then quickly move on to something else that is wearing away at our peace. God's word expresses this idea of positivity in the book of Philippians.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
— Philippians 4:8 (NASB)

This verse comes after verses 4-7 which talk about rejoicing, not being anxious and the peace of God. This verse brings the whole idea of positive thinking into fine focus. We are to be thinking about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, reputable, excellent and worthy of praise. Start measuring your thought life up against that list. Would you say your thoughts are mostly positive or are you seeing some work that needs to be done? 

Positivity can come from music, good books, uplifting movies, non-toxic friendships, exercise, getting out in nature, owning a pet and of course things like going to church and reading God's word. 

mirror

There are times when I look at my reflection in the mirror and I talk out loud to myself. I tell myself I am valuable, loved with an everlasting love and beautiful. I also tell myself that most of the worries I have are never going to happen, so just chill. Sometimes, I pray out loud, doing battle with the enemy and hearing myself say it makes me realize I have the power of God available to me at all times. I love to go for walks and when I do, I try to thank God for the beauty of the world around me, even on a gray day. 

Blooming where we are planted is basically the ability to be the person God wants you to be no matter where you are at any point in your life. You might not think you are blooming, let alone thriving, but try to remember whose you are and that He's got it all figured out. Then just lean into Him. He will help you to grow through the toughest concrete out there. 

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull

The Drudgery of Disappointment

Events over the last week have left many people feeling disappointed. We all know disappointment. We have all been introduced to that feeling of being let down, overwhelmed and done in. Disappointment is part of our lives. Who hasn't felt the frustration of difficult relationships or the strain of hardships at work or in the home? Who hasn't found themselves looking with anticipation to an exciting event only to be let down that it wasn't what we had hoped?

Pixabay

Pixabay

There are present disappointments, the kind that we face daily. There are also presumed disappointments. These are the ones that we believe will happen just by the mere fact that life continues to move forward. Disappointment can lead down a path of greater difficulty.

I'd like to devote this post to looking at two ideas. The first is that disappointment breeds disappointment. The second is to think about things we can do to combat disappointment.

Disappointment breeds Disappointment:

1. Dwelling on the disappointment. Putting too much thought into anything isn't necessarily healthy. Even good things can become distractions in our thought life, causing us to become less productive and even depressed. When bad things happen, we must go through a process of digesting them and learning to cope with them. That is healthy. However, continuing to focus on our sadness, our struggle or our worry over the future, is not healthy. 

2. Laying blame. We all want to ascribe blame. It is my husband's fault that I did this. It's my kid's fault that happened. It's my boss's fault that I lost my job. Think through your day. Who did you blame today? That bad driver who cut you off? That slow cashier at the grocery store? The lazy waiter at the restaurant? Notice how I added an adjective before each of those people, bad, slow, lazy. It had to be someone's fault that I had a crummy day! Or could it have been, I didn't get up early enough to get to work on time without racing? I could have made a list when I went to the grocery store earlier in the week when I had time, so I didn't forget that one item I needed to cook dinner....and why doesn't my spouse ever take me out to dinner? Maybe the waiter at the restaurant had one too many customers like me, disappointed and grumpy!

3. Letting disappointment turn into something more fierce and controlling, such as anxiety or anger. Disappointment, as I said before is a natural part of life. While being occasionally anxious or angry is also normal, these feelings should not continue unchecked. Anxiety is basically a fight or flight response that will not turn off. If you have ever had a panic attack you know what I mean. Anger and the subsequent damage it can do to our own health or the health of others is also an emotion that is not meant to be the norm. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

By allowing the three above mentioned processes take root in our lives we enter into a vicious cycle of disappointment breeding, not only disappointment, but other emotions such as anxiety and anger, which in turn can affect our health and the health of those around us.

Now let me turn to the idea of how to handle disappointment. 

For the one feeing the disappointment:

1. Don't dwell there

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

You have heard me harp on this before, but I only keep bringing it up, because I know it to be true. We are the only ones who have control over our minds. We can let disappointment rule us, or we can take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. Even if you are not a Christ follower, you have control over your mind. If you dwell on all that is hard, sad, or bad, you will feel overwhelmed, discouraged and worn out! There are so many beautiful things to dwell on, from the beauty of creation to the lovely feel of climbing into a nice warm bed or eating a delicious meal. 

pixabay

pixabay

2. Don't blame. Blame is not going to make the problem go away or get better. Be proactive. Find a way to make a difference in your home, in your job, in your community and yes even in your nation. My mother-in-law is a a big proponent of calling her elected officials, asking questions and stating her concerns. If enough people were actually doing that sort of thing, you can bet it would make a difference. Even if you don't see results immediately, you can know that you are doing what you can to make a difference. Being proactive takes away the feeling that you have been hurt or disappointed and gives you power.

3. Don't let deeper emotions take root. While anxiety and anger are just as normal as feeling disappointed, these emotions when left unchecked can result in much deeper trauma, not only to you personally, but to those you act out on. If you feel that you are heading down a road of being overly anxious or angry about a situation, find a good counselor, pastor or friend to talk to. Even making small  adjustments in your lifestyle can make a difference in your attitude. When I am anxious I quote scripture, listen to music or go for a walk. When I am overly angry, I do deep breathing, letting the anger go as I breath out. 

For those dealing with disappointed people:

Even if you are not the one dealing with disappointment you probably know others who are. You can be a light in their life and help them through the difficulty they are going through.

1. Acknowledge their disappointment. Don't say, "Get over it!" or "I don't understand why you feel that way." You may not understand, but the point is to be understanding. Let them talk, and try to understand where they are coming from. 

2. Use your own experiences with disappointment to have empathy

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
— Matthew 5:7 (NASB)

You'd be surprised how extending mercy can build bridges and break down walls! Your willingness to have compassion and mercy on someone who is struggling with disappointment could be the very image of Christ that person needs to see.

helping people - pixabay

3. Give of your time. Sometimes people just need a friend to help them over the disappointment. Invite them out for lunch. Ask them to go for a walk with you. Get some fun movies to watch together, preferably something not controversial. If they are willing, pray with them. Let them see you are a real friend, one who has also experienced disappointments. Be open and honest. 

I hope if you are reading this and you are experiencing disappointment that you will find some encouragement here. I also hope those of you who are not struggling right now, will extend your hand in kindness and compassion towards one who is.