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.









Traits of a Godly Person: Faithfulness - God's

This week and next, I want to look at the trait of faithfulness. Galatians 5:22 lists faithfulness as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Let’s take a step back for a minute and think about the two passages we are looking at that list the traits of a Godly person. 2 Peter 1:1-11 and Galatians 5:16-26. When we compare the two we see many similarities, but the 2 Peter passage seems to put the emphasis for obtaining these Godly traits on us.

Image by  congerdesign  from  Pixabay

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
— 2 Peter 1:5 (NASB)

We are told to apply diligence.

Whereas, Galatians 5 seems to put the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. It is His fruit that is being brought forth in our lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
— Galatians 5:22 (NASB)

Seeing these two passages separately we might think they are not both talking about the same concept, that of Godly traits, but I believe these go hand in hand, complimenting and enhancing one another in a dance that only the Holy Spirit can direct.

Since we discussed Faith the last two weeks, it seemed fitting to move on to the trait of faithfulness. The definition of faithful goes something like this according to Webster’s Online Dictionary:

1 - steadfast in affection or allegiance

2 - firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty

3 - given with strong assurance

4 - true to the facts, to a standard, or to an original

5 - full of faith

This week I want to focus totally on God’s faithfulness to us.

The book of Psalms is probably one of the clearest books in the Bible on God’s faithfulness. The psalmist, who was most often David, understood the difficulties of life. He fought giants, ran from King Saul who was trying to murder him, committed, not only the sin of adultery by being married and laying with Uriah’s wife, but also had Uriah killed. He was on the run, running the kingdom and messing up, yet he repeatedly saw God’s faithfulness to him. That doesn’t mean he got away with his crimes. His sin found him out and the unrest in his kingdom lasted until his death. For more on David read 1 Samuel 8 - 2 Samuel 24, as well as 1 Chronicles 10 - 23.

Image by  Parveender Lamba  from  Pixabay

Take a look at how the Psalmist describes God’s faithfulness:

For the word of the Lord is upright, And all His work is done in faithfulness.
— Psalm 33:4 (NASB)
Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
— Psalm 36:5 (NASB)
I will sing of the lovingkindness of the Lord forever; To all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth.
— Psalm 89:1 (NASB)
Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness.
— Psalm 96:13 (NASB)
For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.
— Psalm 100:5 (NASB)

In addition to the psalmist, a man called Jeremiah understood what the faithfulness of the Lord was. If you have a few extra minutes today read Lamentations 3. Read all 66 verses. There are four verses that stand out and that you have probably heard before.

21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
— Lamentations 3:21-24 (NASB)

Why is it that both of these writers speak of God’s faithfulness during and after great tragedy or difficulty? I believe, that is when we see God’s faithfulness most clearly. Let’s face it, when life is going well, most of us don’t really think about what is going on behind the scenes. We get food from the grocery store. We go to the doctor if we are sick. We have the Geek Squad to help us with our phones and computers. We don’t really have to think about where the food comes from, or will I be able to get in to the doctor, or even waiting very long to get a problem fixed. We live in a drive up window, instantaneous fix society. When things really go wrong and we have no easy answers, that is the time (hopefully), that we realize how very precious each day is and how faithful God has been to us throughout the years.

I am sure each one of you has a story of God’s faithfulness. I love it when God goes over and above to show me His love in the simplest of things. During an especially difficult time in my life, I was feeling very hopeless. I knew in my mind that God was faithful and that He would work things out, but I felt very alone in my grief. It was spring time and my husband and I decided to take a walk at one of our local parks. In my mind I sent up a prayer to God that went something like this:

Image by  Ulrike Mai  from  Pixabay

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

“God, I know that You are faithful. I know that You will work all things together for good, but right now, I need to see You. I need to see something to remind me that You are there and that You are at work.”

I have inherited my mother’s love for birds. I don’t have the time to be a true birder, but I always get excited to hear them in the morning, especially in the spring, as birds that left for winter, return. Shortly after I prayed my desperate prayer, I saw a flash of red on the trail before me. Ohio’s state bird is the cardinal, but this was no cardinal. There perched in a tree right along the trail was a Scarlet Tanager (click on the link to see a picture and read more about this bird). If you know the bird I am talking about it is brilliant red with a striking black wing and tail. These birds like to stay hidden in the foliage of oak trees, but there he was, just waiting for me.

I knew that bird was my answer to prayer. It still makes me tear up, knowing that the Almighty God did that for little old me. That is faithfulness. It shows His steadfast affection for His creation and His allegiance to upholding me through every circumstance.

I know some of you who are reading this are going through terrible stuff. God wants to remind you, He is faithful. Always and forever.

I would love to hear your stories of God’s faithfulness in your life. We are all in this journey together, so please share. You never know how your story might encourage someone else and remind them of God’s great faithfulness.

Next week, we will take a look at what our faithfulness should look like and how we can make this Godly trait a regular part of who we are.