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Posts Tagged ‘Comfort’

What mom or dad hasn’t heard these words? Many times. And what did you say to that frightened child? Be quiet and go to sleep? Did you fuss and tell your child you needed to sleep? Or did you get up, go to your son or daughter and lovingly give them proper comfort and instruction?

But where does a parent go when shadows fall like a shroud and pitch you into the depths of unknown terror?

If you haven’t been there yet, just wait. It will come.

Twenty years ago my husband had an aneurysm rupture in his leg. Petrifying weeks followed as we waited to see if he would loose his life or his leg. Waited to see if he would be able to work or still have a job. Waited for that time of unequivocal darkness to pass.

Until job loss, heart attacks, financial distress, deaths—all long black tunnels of fear, sucked the light from our lives and plunged us into the inky abyss of anguish. We couldn’t hop over ‘em, dig under ‘em, or run around ‘em. I sobbed, “Abba, Father, it’s so dark and I’m afraid.”

And when I cried, my Father was faithful to hold me, comfort me, and give me His strength. Strength to put one foot in front of the other.  One step at a time. And travel with Him through the sightless night back into the light. During that time I feared I might stumble and die in the process.

But God taught me there were lessons I must learn in the dark. Lessons I can’t see in the bright light of day. Lessons I must learn in the discipline of darkness.

This discipline required me to walk in lock-step with the Lord Jesus, forced me to focus on His face, instead of the things that creak and groan in the night. And reminded me to call out, “Daddy, I’m afraid.”

I only do that when I’m forced to abide behind the sooty curtains of heartache.

God shines the truth of His love on me in the light of day. But in the darkroom of trouble He develops the knowledge and understanding of my faith in Him. Then I see the profane and unclean things lurking in my mind, things I have refused to acknowledge in times of blessing. I see pitfalls and traps that would have entangled me, had I not slowed my pace and clung to Jesus. And I am convinced it is better to walk with God in the dark than to stand alone in the light.

But as sure as day follows night, turmoil will pass and His light, like the sunrise, will disburse trials and tragedies. I will blossom again, strengthened by His comfort to know when darkness returns all I have to do is cry “Abba, Father—Daddy— I’m afraid.”

And if you’re His child, He will wrap you in His arms of comfort and carry you through ’til morning. Because He loves you.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but  you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15 NAS).

“What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee” (Psalm 56:3 NAS).

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Stuffed in my ears and heaped in stacks around my feet. From hands-free devices to flat screens. TVs. Phones. And books. Zillions of them. A constant barrage of words. All day, every day and into the night, words surround me.

But is anyone listening? Does anyone really hear my words?

As a parent I’ve asked the above questions concerning my children, my spouse and my friends.

So why should I even take the time and energy to speak today?

Because the Lord Jesus Christ gave me the ability to speak and the command to go and tell.

“So what am I supposed to tell them, Lord? And how am I supposed to say it?”

Jesus instructed I am  to… “Go and make disciples.”

Now preachers go to seminary to learn apologetics—how to present God’s Word to their congregations. But I’m just a normal person. I don’t have all those degrees. I don’t know what to say or how to say it.

My mind raced back to those first century Christians. How did they make disciples? They didn’t have Bibles. Yet their numbers multiplied. They just shared their experiences. The joy and peace they found in knowing Jesus after centuries of enduring a bloody altar that didn’t fix their sin or their problems. The joy of suffering persecution on account of His name. The joy of knowing and believing their life on this earth was only the beginning.

They understood with their minds and believed in their hearts that at the moment of death they would open their eyes and be in the presence of the Lord. Forever. In His everlasting kingdom that is to come. Where He will rule and reign here on earth.

The accounts of these early saints lives and deaths are an incredible role model for us today as we see persecution of believers escalating around the globe.

Perhaps that’s the problem. We lack experiences. Maybe. But I don’t think we need more experiences or how to—I think we need more want to. I wonder if pride and churchiness aren’t the issues preventing us from sharing our heart.

Fear and pride are sister-boogers-in-the-woodwork. Fear and pride of what others would think if they really knew what we had done, what had been done to us, or what we really think in those dark corridors of our minds. Fear and pride of deception, thinking we are better than we are.

So we retreat behind the walls of the church, compare ourselves to all those sinners who don’t go to church, and become clones of one another. Using fancy words. Words without power. Words that do not affect or change the life of another, much less our own life.

The cure comes when we begin to recognize the depth of our deception, dear church, acknowledge our need for repentance, and get real with others about how and why God is transforming our lives. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not. Being transparent is painful, to us and sometimes to others.

I’m here today to use my word limit to share my troublesome boogers with you. Not with flowery words that loose us in a trail of sweet sounding emptiness. No. Just the sorrow of my heart and the immediate and responsive love of my Savior.

This past Christmas Season was the most difficult one of my life. Family issues, changing relationships, grief and coming uncertainties for America, brought the onslaught of a spiritual battle in me that loomed larger each passing day.

‘Til I admitted that terrible word—depression—and fell on my face, crying to my Lord Jesus for help. I was ashamed and confessed that I had squandered this year’s holy celebration. More concerned about me and mine rather than focusing on the miracle of His conception and pondering the purpose of His birth, death and resurrection. I had to confess I had ignored God. When I did that, I bowed to worship of The Sovereign God of all creation—Immanuel—God with us.

He didn’t stand me in the corner. He didn’t shout reprimands. He immediately answered the groaning of my heart and reminded me, I’m His child. He dried my tears and wrapped me in the warm Emergency Room blanket of His love and refocused my eyes and my heart on His mercy and everlasting love for me.         

“You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records?” (Psalm 56:8).

The battle ceased. The fog of deception lifted. Have the problems vanished? No, but the bottomless well-spring of His joy immediately bubbled-up and filled my spirit to overflowing. When a wisp of gloom tries to creep back into my thoughts I capture that thought and give it to Jesus. The light of His love overpowers the shadow of darkness every time.

The formula is simple but sure:

My plight + my cries to Him + His love and power = His comfort, His mercy, His grace and His healing = complete forgiveness and restoration for me, now and forever.

As soon as my lids flutter open in the morning, my heart tunes to sing the anthem, “For Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me, the glory and the lifter of my head.”

No sin is beyond His ability to forgive. How long has it been since you have had honest words with God? How long has it been since He rescued you? How long has it been since you’ve used words and actions to tell and show someone what God has done for you? Now is the perfect opportunity. I invite you to share with the readers of this blog what God has done and is doing in your life today.

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We are the object of attention—until the day after the funeral. That’s when everyone’s life returns to normal. Everyone else’s life, that is.

But not ours.

It’s like we’re on the outside looking in. We humans want to fit in, we’re miserable when we don’t. And in the aftermath of grief we don’t belong. Anywhere. We’ve been stuffed in a sack, shaken up and dumped out. Forever changed.

There’s good news and bad news about grief. The bad news? We will never be the same again. The good news? We’re on the way to our new normal.

And the trip can take a while.

The days and the months, perhaps years, creep by and we long for the way things used to be. We choose to isolate or hide behind closed doors so that others can’t see our pain. Or we zoom here and there, filling life with any and everything. Pretending we’re okay. Trying to not think, because thinking hurts.

Family and friends prefer the hyper-active you. Because they want their old friend back. Like you, they want to pretend you’re alright too. But try as you may, the old you is gone. Forever.

Death has brought you face-to-face with a life-changing reality: life in this world is brief.

Things of this world have filled our lives, our relationships, even our worship. Most of us have lived as though this is all there is. In this age of want-more, get-more, we have tethered ourselves to the here-and-now.

Until someone we love dies.

Then our gears are stripped and we come to a screeching halt. We are backed into a corner and forced to decide whether we really believe what we have said we believed all these years. Can we look beyond the immediate to the eternal? That is a major cross-road for each one of us traveling this road called grief. It’s the intersection of a street called Earthly Delusions with the rough, still-under-construction detour named New Normal.

When our daughter died, I wrapped myself in robes of self-righteousness and parroted, “Oh, I know she’s with God and everything is fine. I’m okay. Really. Why no, I’m not angry. With God? Don’t be silly.”

And for two years I walked that I’m okay—you’re okay road ‘til one evening a family dispute raked the scab of the lie off my hypocritical words and I bled rage. The glass full of iced tea flew from my hand and splattered against the wall and I heard my voice scream, “You could have stopped this, God. But You didn’t.”

Ah. There it was. I told Him I didn’t understand and I didn’t like what He had done. But in the deathly silence that followed I had to confess to God, I was angry. Like He didn’t know.

And you know what? God didn’t send a lightening bolt to strike me dead. He didn’t turn His holy back and walk away. He didn’t condemn me.

He opened His arms of love instead, and I crawled into His lap and sobbed. And He comforted me like a loving father comforts his child after the temper tantrum subsides and the child is remorseful.

Because of  His truth and my repentance, those moments produced my first glimpse of hope and joy in two years. How? When the light of God’s truth shoos away the darkness, it illuminates and cleanses the place where anger and bitterness have thrived. Then the power of His Spirit moves into the open spaces and begins to teach us the lessons that, up to now, we’ve refused to learn.

I began learning those lessons in the following months, and my attitude changed. I was convicted of the self-righteous things I had said and the proud ways I had acted in the past. And as I acknowledged my own needs, compassion for others filled my previously cold, indifferent heart.

God brought people into my life, week after week, who were also experiencing the ravages of grief. I could sympathize with the emotions their losses perpetrated. And I was able to comfort them, because God had comforted me. I saw God work in all of our lives and my emotions were refreshed.

Through a series of unusual circumstances God brought me to GriefShare. Then He opened the door for me to lead a support group. At last my new normal was a work in progress.

I came to understand that like a thermometer, happiness was based on my surroundings. But joy springs from my heart and controls my attitude, in spite of my surroundings. Like a thermostat.

Did the pain go away? No. But I learned that joy and pain can co-exist in my heart. 

Pain is the roto-rooter God uses to increase our capacity for the well-spring of joy to continually bubble-up in our hearts. Day by day, I chose to trust God to lead me forward into this sea of new life. Day by day joy became the key to my endurance. And it still carries me forward, day by day.

When our joy is rooted in people and things that perish, grief will become our identity. But when the tap root of our heart’s joy is anchored in Jesus Christ, He will carry us safely through the storms and tragedies of life. And we will grow and blossom when He sets us down to walk in the new normal on the shores of life again.

“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, Take courage, fear not.  . . . But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (NAS Isaiah 35:1-4a, 9b-10).

Where are the roots of your joy planted today?

PRESCRIPTION: Go to www.griefshare.org and click on Find A Group. Fill in your zip code and select a group near you. Make plans to attend and let God work that new normal in your life too.

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It’s been a year. Maybe two.

You ask, “When will this pain go away?”

You’re ready to be done. Ready to be normal again. Ready for any tiny glimmer of hope and joy.

Grief is an exhausting zillion-mile-an-hour trip down Life’s Mall, through dense fog. People are talking, but you can’t understand them. Their blurry faces pass before you, but you don’t recognize them. Your mind operates in slow motion—if at all. Day. After day. After day.

Grief steals your ability to concentrate and focus. Misplaced keys, memory loss, forgotten bills and events are common, unwelcomed additions to life after the loss of a loved one. I would be driving down the freeway confused about how I got to that place. Worse yet, we live in the country with winding two lane roads. More than once, I wondered where am I and how do I get home?

Grief also precipitates physical pain. Your muscles tense causing neck, back, and shoulder pain. And you’re tired. All the time. Sleepy, but unable to sleep. The fridge is heaped up and running over with all those dishes of love from well-meaning friends. You’re not ungrateful, but you’re not hungry. Worst of all, you’re alone, in the middle of a crowd. That one missing loved one means you stand alone.

It’s not uncommon to see your deceased loved one walking down the hallway. You swear they’re real. But you know better. Your mind plays tricks in the middle of devastating turmoil. Troubling. But normal.

You’re not crazy. It’s grief.

But grief is not the end. It’s just the beginning.      

Remember the story in John 6:1-13 where Jesus feeds the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fishes? Truth is that was only the men. When the women and children were counted, there were probably ten to twelve thousand hungry folks to feed that day.

Do you recall how He blessed that little boy’s meager lunch, broke it up, and the disciples distributed it to the crowd?

But do you know the rest of the story?

After everyone had eaten their fill, He instructed the disciples to gather up the fragments so that nothing would be lost or wasted. And there were twelve baskets full of left-overs.

When death shatters your life, by the loss of a loved one, all that remains are left-overs. Fragments.

Then I make a ridiculous statement: God never wastes anything—even your grief.

You ask, “How can God ever use anything as dark and ugly as what I’m going through? What am I to do with the crumbs of my life? Which way do I turn? Where do I go?

The answer is to Jesus. He scoops up the cracked pieces of our lives and places them on His potter’s wheel to repair, integrate, and reshape us into new vessels. By the power of His love, the warmth of His hands, and the pain we’ve experienced, He changes pride into humility, anger into hope, and sorrow into comfort.

Then He certifies all He repairs, “comforting us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (NAS I Corinthians 1:4).

I know this arduous journey has taught me lessons I could never have learned any other way. Jesus used those scattered fragments of grief, after Michelle’s death, and made a new beginning for me.

Would I love to have my daughter back? Of course. But wouldn’t that be selfish? She’s healed and with her Lord Jesus. To have her back would mean she’d have to die again.

I am so thankful God didn’t abandon me outside the hospital room that night.    And neither has he abandoned you.

He picked up those heart wrenching fragments and transformed me.

And He is ready to transform you too.

Yes, God didn’t waste anything—even the darkest moments of my grief that sent me fleeing into His arms.

Now it’s your choice—His light or your darkness. His comfort or your anger. His love and mercy or your doubt and unbelief.

He will transform your life, if you allow Him. You will become a conduit of His mercy and grace to be poured out on others about to enter this foggy journey. And your legacy will point others toward the light of His glory that shines in the darkness of this very long tunnel.

So don’t quit. Don’t run away. Don’t take grief as your identify.

Because grief is not the end. It’s just the beginning.

 

Prescription: Sort the fragments of your grief into a neat stack. Then one by one, “Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (NAS I Peter 5:7).

           

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When our daughter died, the children moved in with my husband and me for six months while our son-in-law completed required Army schooling and relocated to his next duty assignment.

After that I relocated with the children to the new Post to help establish their household. My husband, the children’s Papa, stayed behind in Dallas to keep our home fires burning. Yet another loss for me.

My list of secondary losses grew day by day. Only I didn’t know what they were or even that they were. I just knew I hurt and everything in my life spun out-of-control. But there were more important issues to address—children who had lost their mom, and a father who had lost his wife. So I put my grief aside.

I thought.

Papa came for weekend visits once or twice a month. During one visit I gave him a box of vintage Madame Alexander dolls to take back home for safe-keeping until our granddaughter was old enough to care for them. Some were her mom’s dolls and some were my mine. Treasures. Waiting to be passed to this child of my child.

Papa rented a car for his trip and when he returned it to the rental company, he forgot the dolls were in the trunk. Half-way home he remembered and backtracked, but the dolls were nowhere to be found. Like so many other things that had vanished during the past six months, they were gone forever.

The emotional rip-tide of tears eroded deeper trenches in my aching heart.

He apologized, over and over again. But I could do nothing but weep, snarl at him, and pile this new heartache onto the mounting stack of losses. I had no idea, nor did I care how he felt.

I’ve come to understand that during the grief process husbands and wives are total  strangers. Unlike a woman, the worst thing a man ever has to face are his emotions. Now Papa had to deal with his emotions as well as a wife drowning in her raging ocean of grief. He was clueless. And I did nothing to ease his guilt.

We are all like porcupines during this anguish.  If threatened or aggravated, our quills extend, aim, and fire at the first shift in the landscape. We are so self-absorbed, we don’t recognize that other family members are also grieving. We focus on ourselves. On our pain. On our loss. Unable to comprehend that our hemorrhaging hearts need a transfusion.

But the old saying—the bumps are what you climb on—holds true. And eventually these losses are rocks we must climb and conquer. Some are not too bad, but others are jagged boulders that feel like we’re scaling Mt. Everest.

So how do we begin managing these troublesome after-the-fact losses?

One profound fact is, Hurt people hurt people.

That’s true among family members where death has intruded.  Understanding this doesn’t take the sting out of hateful words or actions we’ve received or inflicted, but it encourages us to think about why and then choose to forgive whoever caused the pain and anguish. Just like Jesus forgives us when we cause Him pain and anguish.

A few weeks after the lost dolls, I was reading the Word and crying out to God when I heard that still, small voice inside me ask, Would I withhold anything from you that you needed?

I had to answer, “No Lord. But her dolls? Lord, why?”

My mind flew back to the verse that had become my life-ring, The secret things belong to the Lord. The things revealed belong to you and your children forever…”(Deuteronomy 29:29). This would be another one of those secret things.

Again, another question.  Do you trust Me?

My pathetic voice, saturated with fear and very little faith said, “Yes, Lord. I trust You, even with those dolls.”

And for the moment His peace reigned in my heart.

That’s what the grief journey is about—a rollercoaster ride through heights of His peace interrupted by heart-stopping plunges into the abyss of the next secondary loss.

This pain and confusion you’re going through will not last forever, but it lasts longer than you ever imagined. The goal is to accept the fact you are mourning the loss of someone you loved and you must let tears come when they may. Jesus wept over Lazarus, even as He knew in the next moments He would issue the command and Lazarus would walk out of that tomb—Alive.

Over the years, I’ve wondered if perhaps some father or grandfather who worked at the rental company saw those dolls and his little girl had no dolls. Could those dolls have brought joy where there was none? I choose to believe God allowed those dolls to be held and loved by a little girl He knew needed them. And I thank Him. I’ve also come to understand that God never wastes anything. But we’ll talk about that next week. That’s right. God never wastes anything—even your grief.

Prescription #2:   Be still and quiet before the Lord God and read and listen to His Word.  Then make a commitment to compose a Loss History. Take a sheet of paper and list every loss you can remember experiencing. At the edge of the paper make two columns Historical and Current.

As you list each loss, evaluate whether you’re still grieving. Even if it was fifty years ago. If you are, mark Current. If there is no churning or anger, mark Historical. Every loss must be individually dealt with.

Every grief is unique. You can choose to forgive, even when your heart and mind want to raise a ruckus. Cast your pain on God and leave it there. Refuse to hurt people because you’re hurting.

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Those of you who follow my blog know my husband and I lost a daughter eleven years ago. Michelle’s death plunged us into deep, inky waters of grief. While struggling just to survive we were blind-sided by Grief’s ugly-step-sisters—Secondary Losses.

Grief is an unwelcome guest who stays much too long, not pretty at all, who plunges the family into chaos. But Secondary Losses are the evil relatives of Grief that slip in the back-door and linger forever. They litter the landscape with shrapnel-sized-shards of anguish that are often as difficult to deal with as the original loss.

Worse yet, they lurk behind the shadow of family members, good friends, even making appearances at happy events. Ever waiting to earn the greatest buck-for-the-bang and then they implode. The injuries they inflict are not terminal, but often perpetrate permanent disabilities upon their victims.

So what in the world are secondary losses?

Well, they’re certainly not bashful. Their name shouts their identity—a related loss that evolves out of the original loss. An additional loss that strikes when you least expect it, when you are most vulnerable.

Like the granddaughter whose grandmother died this year. Her Mimi was the glue that held the family together. Several weeks after her death, grandpa announced he wanted all her stuff out of the house and wanted nothing to do with the rest of the family. Ever. No more Sunday dinners at grandma’s. No more visiting the home that stored a lifetime of memories for this teen. No more relationship with the grandfather she had loved. Three secondary losses that left this grandchild shattered.

When an infant dies, the parents loose their future—their dreams. There will be no first steps, first words. No smiles or hugs. No first day at school. The list multiplies. For years after a baby’s tragic demise, secondary losses accumulate, building a wall of separation and blame between the couple. Unless the grieving couple gets help, more often than not, their marriage disintegrates.

When a husband or wife dies the spouse will most likely remarry. The family is swept up in a reconstruction zone. Where the flood waters of grief mix with the dust of new construction and can cause a murky mess.  Often there are too many in-laws for the new mom or dad to deal with. These secondary relational losses impact everyone—kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and yes, sometimes even family friends. Holidays, birthdays, and special events change or are forever lost.

The loss of an older child results in the loss of an expected future for the entire family. The role that child played in the family circle sits vacant. For siblings, it’s a wrenching or splitting apart of the oneness that brothers and sisters enjoy that leaves them empty. Half of a whole. If the siblings were twins, many more layers are involved.

The aging process robs us of our parents. While they may be sick and ready to leave this life, there are secondary losses even with an expected departure. You and I are moved up—next in line. We unwillingly become the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. The structure of the family changes. Everything changes. And we don’t like change.

So what are we to do with these loose strings of grief that tangle, knot, and upset our lives? Are we doomed to a life of grief? No. Not at all. But we must travel those dark corridors. Not climbing over, tunneling under, nor sneaking around the pain. We must work through the grief. And it is work. Left to itself, grief will make you bitter. With God’s help and comfort you will become better. But it’s your choice.

We must understand and accept that it is alright to grieve. It is necessary to grieve. It is normal to grieve. And yes, Christians must grieve. Grief is the normal reaction when someone we love dies.   

Tears are the safety valve God has given the pressure cooker of our injured hearts and our shattered dreams. I tell my GriefShare folks they  must cry 5,395 times during this sorrowful journey, so they’d best get started. Scripture tells us God saves our tears in a bottle. (NAS Psalm 56:8).

Strength and ability to endure great tragedy and loss comes from the power of God, through the Word of God, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. There is no true healing from this traumatic life experience outside of the touch of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Oh, you can stuff your agony into the depths of your heart. But I promise you, if you bury grief alive, there will be a resurrection one day, and it won’t be pretty.

So let’s determine to walk together in this wretched journey for the next few weeks and I’ll introduce you to several prescriptions that will bring you safely to the other side of this horrendous event, if you’ll follow the Great Physician’s orders.

Prescription #1 – GriefShare is a Christ based support group that is a safe place to empty all the pain and anguish threatening to drown you. Go online to www.GriefShare.org and click Find A Group to locate a group near you.

Next week we’ll talk about how to manage those nasty secondary losses.

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