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.









Pow! Biff! Sock! Crash! Holy Trouble Batman!

I am foregoing my Walking With the Psalmist post for this month in order to bring you another amazing and trouble filled episode of life! If you have been following my blog for a while now, then you know last May, my hubby and I attempted to take a vacation to Maine. We only got as far as Rochester, NY when I gave birth to a kidney stone. Ouch! Not knowing for sure if the kidney stone passed, I ended up spending a night in the hospital and we made our way home, feeling down and discouraged. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

Fast forward to May of 2018. Here we are again, planning a vacation, this time to my husband's old stomping grounds in various spots around Wisconsin. We were going to camp, hike, and visit with friends and family. Last week, I spent the entire week taking care of my grandson, who came down with whatever the going virus was at the moment for a week long battle with fatigue, fever, runny nose and loss of appetite. Guess who got sick this past Friday? Yup! Me. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

I did my usual regimen of echinacea tea, Zicam and other supplements to try to quicken the down time and speed up healing. No such luck! Today, I developed a fever, though I think I may have had one earlier. Today, I took my temp and it said, 99.5. Now, as you know that is not a high temp, but it is enough to make one feel pooky and even make my skin hurt. In addition to that I spent the night on the couch, coughing. I have always been a cougher. I had childhood asthma and I still think my bronchial tubes get especially irritated when I am sick. 

We were supposed to leave on vacation Thursday, but I am thinking maybe Friday or Saturday. Ugg! I'm sorry. I feel like I am complaining all the time and I don't mean to. I just feel that real life is happening all around and it is not always pretty or easy. Maybe when you read my stories of woe I will help you realize, you are not alone! We are all struggling through this journey together and I want you to know, I get the hard bits!

So when I started thinking about this post, I couldn't help but think of the old campy Batman and Robin show. Those of you who are my age will remember the silly fight scenes with the cartooned in words, "Pow!" "Biff!" and "Sock!" 

The reality is, my life is more like that colorful show of the the 1960's, than what some people are going through. We know more than one person who is battling cancer, several who already know they aren't going to make it. People struggle with such hurts, illness and pain, that I cannot even begin to imagine, but I understand. Sometimes life just sucks! For reals!

Pixabay - shower

This morning, when I was standing in the shower, feeling like crud, I turned my eyes to Jesus. I went back to the basics. I confessed my discouragement and frustration, I praised His name, and then I thanked Him. I thanked Him that I had a comfy couch, a blanket and a pillow to spend the night on. I wasn't coughing and shivering in a box in some alley. I thanked Him for the hot water that felt comforting to my tired and achy body. I thanked Him that, although this morning I wasn't able to keep my shopping and lunch date with one of my daughters, I was able to lay on the couch and watch Netflix. 

in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you
— I Thessalonians 5:18 (NET)

I can't remind you (and me) of this verse enough! Even when we are getting struck down and beaten on all sides, it is God's will that we give thanks. I would make the distinction that it says, "in everything give thanks," not "give thanks for everything." I have heard people say you should thank God, even for the bad stuff, but I think it is more the case that when we are going through the bad stuff we continue to give thanks. That, my dear sisters, is what will keep us standing and keep us focused on Him. 

I hope that we will still be able to get away in the next few days, but even if we don't, I feel that once again, God is who God is and He is trustworthy. I hope you will find Him trustworthy as well. 

A Letter to You

Dear One, 

You are my beloved. I know you can't see that right now. Perhaps you are feeling as far from me as you possibly could. Feelings can be deceptive. In fact feelings often become the focal point of a life, when in fact, truth should be the focus. I know you are hurting. Something terrible has happened to you. You are questioning everything you ever learned or believed. Your heart aches to the point that you wish it would stop beating, but I can't allow that. Not yet. 

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Three Little Commands

As a Christian I am often about, what to do. How do I serve? How do I minister? I often become fixated on one or two commands in the Bible and forget about all of the other ones. In recent years my life has gone down a path I never thought it would take and suddenly everything looks so different. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

You know how it is. You decide to take a drive in the country. It's a beautiful fall day, the colors are at peak and you are enjoying the scenery. After a while you decide you need to head home. You have things to do. Instead of turning around and going back exactly the same way you came, you decide to take a different route. All of a sudden, you have no idea where you are. Everything looks the same, and nothing looks familiar. 

That is how life can be. You are traveling along and all of a sudden you don't know where you are, nor how you got there. At those times the things we know can be helpful, but they can also be to our detriment. Knowing directions such as North, South, East and West are helpful, but if you insist you are going North, when you are actually going South, well that could be a problem.

For many years as a college student at a Bible school and into adult life, my focus was on how do I spread the Good News; how do I tell others about Jesus? When I became a wife and mother my focus became how do I serve God in my family and train up girls who would want to follow Him? I have never lost my direction as far as wanting to do what God would want me to do. I have however, gone down a path of suffering that I was unprepared for and would often find myself looking up at Heaven and asking, "Are you sure I can do this?" 

His answer was always the same, "With me, you can!"

While my direction was still the same, the tasks that I once thought were all important took second place to the all encompassing work of knowing Him better. Believe me, when you walk a trail that goes through some deep valley's the only way to get through them is to keep coming back to the purpose of life: to glorify Him. It was along this path that He lead me to these three little commands.

Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull .

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5:16 - 18 (NASB)

I often find myself back at God's feet asking Him, "What do you want me to do?" 

In recent years His answer is always the same, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all things."

"But Lord, is that really enough? Shouldn't I be doing more? Leading a Bible study? Helping at the soup kitchen? Going back to school?"

I always picture HIm smiling at me and saying, "Are you doing those three things yet?"

If you are like me, you know that rejoicing always is like backing your car all the way from Cleveland to Buffalo. It isn't something that comes naturally for most of us. Remember my post from a few weeks ago, Giving Up Grumbling? Yeah, well rejoicing always is a similar dilemma.

Let's talk about praying without ceasing? Does that just happen? Probably not. Prayer is work, just like exercise. It really must be intentional. There is a time and place for going into our prayer closets and having earnest prayer before the Lord, but how does that fit into our busy, chaotic lives? How do we actually pray without stopping?

Finally, in everything give thanks. It's easy to be thankful when things are going well, but when the poop hits the fan, being thankful sometimes goes right out the same window. 

We are all at different points in life. You may be a young Christian who is very zealous about telling others about Jesus. You might be a new wife, determined to love your spouse with the earnestness of the Song of Solomon lover. You might be a mother trying to fulfill the reality of a Proverbs 31 woman. There are so many ideals in the Bible, many of which we cannot fulfill, at least not without Him. None of these are bad. And God has each of us right where He wants us. 

path in the woods

So, for a little while this is the path I am walking. A path of rejoicing, praying and giving thanks, even when life is difficult. Maybe you are on this same path. Maybe life doesn't look exactly like you thought it would at this point and you are feeling a little lost. Don't worry. You are in good company. 

Over the next three weeks I want to look at each of those little commands in a much bigger way. I hope you'll walk with me.

The Trouble with Troubles

Have you ever been in the position where you keep hoping things will get better, easier, less painful, but they don't? In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we just see more of the same barreling towards us like a five ton elephant. Nothing against the pachyderms, in fact, they are one of my favorite animals. However, I wouldn't want to be standing on an open plain in Africa, with a large tusky male charging at me! So why shouldn't I feel troubled that difficulty only stands just far enough away to get a running start? Over and over and over.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Okay, so maybe I am part of the problem. I keep getting back up! Stupid! Just lay down. Let Jumbo squash me again and again. Somehow that seems less painful than getting up only to be knocked down again. 

Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary
— Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

When I am in that prone position, having gotten run over for what seems like the millionth time, I am in a perfect place to look up. Oh, there are times, the charge comes from behind me and I end up face down in the savannah, but eventually I roll over and I see the sky. God's word says, "those that wait for the Lord will gain new strength." If I am weary, it is most likely the case that I am not waiting for Him. I am probably frantically running, trying to fix things, trying to hide things, trying to take control of a charging elephant. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

God knew this fragile thing He made called humanity would get weary. We would get fatigued, tired, worn out, done in, call it what you want, but He knew. He said, "They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary." That's why I keep getting back up. I'm supposed to keep moving. I'm supposed to run. I'm supposed to walk and when I can no longer walk I am supposed to mount up on wings.....His wings. The wings of the almighty Jehovah Eagle!

Resting in the Lord is not dependent on your external circumstances at all, but on your relationship with God Himself.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - July 4th
StockSnap

StockSnap

Life is not going to stop being difficult. That elephant is not going to stop charging, but God! God can give us rest. He can give us peace. He can! He will, but I have to want it. I have to want Him. Sure I can tackle the elephant on my own, but I guarantee, that big old difficulty is going to come out in better shape than I do. Unless....Him.

Let Go!

What do we do when our faith is rattled? When something happens that shakes us to the core? When life just doesn't change for the better? When the small rock slide turns into an earth shaking avalanche?

Let go!

Usually we think hanging on would be better; hanging on means we still have some control, but we don't. Hanging on implies it has to get better, but it might not. Hanging on inevitably leaves me with sore hands and bleeding fingers.

Let go!

Photo credit  Ashley Knedler  on StockSnap.

Photo credit Ashley Knedler on StockSnap.

I know what you are thinking. I have been on the edge of that precipice looking down. I have clung with everything in me to that thing that was keeping me from falling to my death; that belief, that person, that job, that.......

Let go!

How does a baby bird learn to fly? He's literally pushed out of the nest. Perhaps he saw how far down the ground was and thought he wasn't ready. Maybe he liked the nest; it's cozy and he's getting free meals. But no! Mom knew when he was ready. Catch that? Mom knew. He didn't. One, two, three...shove!

Let go!

So, here you are. Free fall! Funny thing, you don't have a parachute. But God gave you wings. Spread them. His Spirit will buoy you up. He created the wind to lift you higher. Trust Him. He knew you were ready. Catch that? He knew. You didn't. One, two, three....shove!

Let go!

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
— Romans 8:28 (NASB)

We really need to pay attention to the words in that verse. Let's dissect it a bit.

"And we know..." We know....knowledge is important.  Knowing something means I am familiar with it. In this case is is God.

"...that God..." Our knowledge is of God. We know Him. We know His ways.

"...causes all things...." Just how can God orchestrate all things? Well, He is God after all. He created the world. He wrote the music. He can conduct the orchestra.

"...to work together for good...." I am sure that means the bad stuff too.

"...to those who love God..." Do you? Do you love Him? Do you even know who He is? Do you acknowledge His existence, or do you think it is all smoke and mirrors?

"...to those who are called according to His purpose." It may sound egocentric, but God is all about God. Our purpose has to do with bringing glory to Him. 

Photo credit  Amber Wolfe  on StockSnap.

Photo credit Amber Wolfe on StockSnap.

Let's go back to that bird. The bird, typically, is a mirror image of it's parent. A cardinal looks like a cardinal. A bald eagle looks like a bald eagle. You know what they are the minute you see them, because even if you aren't a bird person, you know what a cardinal and a bald eagle are. So we are to be mirror images of Christ. We don't look like Him, the moment we are born again, but gradually over time we can grow to look more like Him. God in His goodness and great love for you has pushed you out of the nest. No, it is not comfortable, but it is necessary for you to become an adult bird.

Let go!

 

It Hurts!

Suffering? Yeah, I get it. It hurts! Don't give me the platitudes that God won't give me more than I can handle, or that everything will turn out rosy, or that God will right every wrong. I have had more than I can handle. Things are not rosy and there are a lot of wrongs that have been done and thus far nothing has been made right. Don't worry, I'm not bitter. I'm too tired, too sad to be bitter. Sometimes the sadness wells up so fiercely, I feel like I will die crying, so I forbid myself to cry.

So what is the point? Why so much suffering? There are some, that say suffering always has a purpose and there are some who say, suffering doesn't have any purpose, except that we live in a fallen world. I must side with with a third party on this one. God Himself. 

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
— Romans 8:17 (NESV)

When it refers to Christ's suffering it refers to all that He experienced as a man. He understood the limitations of the flesh; the need for food, rest and the need to get away. He touched sorrow, saw disease and death. The culmination of His own experience was humiliation, pain and death on a splintered cross.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
— Philippians 1:29 (NESV)

You see, everything about our lives, about my life, has to be viewed in relation to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. When I put my trust in Jesus as a twelve year old, I wasn't just trusting Him for life and light and all that is beautiful. I was trusting Him with death and darkness and all that was ugly. I didn't know at twelve, just what sort of ugliness would touch my life. But yes, I signed up for the whole deal, not just the good parts.

If He considers me worthy of suffering with Him, I will suffer. If I should not only believe but also suffer for His sake, I will suffer. This isn't about me. It's about Him. And how very awesome, magnificent and perfect He is. He allows me to suffer with Him. 

I know we live in a fallen world. There is sickness, and pain and death and evil in its purest form, but if I look I can see glimpses of Him, His glory, His goodness, His love. The sun shining after many cloudy days, birds singing, buds carefully pushing their way out of darkness into the light, a meal to eat, a blanket to put on....

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
— I Peter 4:19 (NESV)

Not everyone likes the idea that it is God's will that we suffer. But Peter stated it pretty plainly. That doesn't mean when we make a choice to sin that we are going to suffer according to God's will. Sin has it's own consequences. I believe Peter was talking about the times that we suffer and it just doesn't make any sense. Look at the life of Job. By worldly standards and our own Christian standards we would look at Job and think he was a pretty fine fellow. He was wealthy, had a thriving family, honored God in all he did, but then God allowed Satan to test Job. It didn't make sense.

Suffering often doesn't make sense. We always want to know why. Why is this happening? What did I do wrong? If you read through Job you will begin to see, it wasn't about Job. It was about God. Our lives here on this planet are about Him. No one wants to hear that. We all want to think we are the center of it all; that life is all about us, what we do, who we hang out with, where we go to school, what our careers are, who we marry and what purpose our lives have. But the truth is that we exist to bring glory to Him. He truly is the potter. I am the clay. If He chooses to crush me or whirl me around on the wheel, He can do it. But He doesn't do it vindictively. He does it because He loves us and He wants all to come to repentance.

Have I had more than I can handle? Yes, but He has been with me through it. Is everything rosy? No, but I catch glimpses of Him at every turn. Will He make it all right in the end? Things will turn out as He wants them and that may not look like what I thought it would look like. Suffering is God's hands, taking my face and turning me gently towards Him. 

As with everything, I have a choice. I can pull away from Him like a defiant 5 year old and run. I can become bitter, claiming that God has not been fair. I can turn away from Him and walk in the flesh causing the ripple affect of collateral damage, or I can fall into His waiting arms and let Him wipe my tears, pick me up and carry me through. Forgive me, Lord, when I have tried to do it any other way.