working through grief as time marches on  4

 

Shortly after we lost our daughter, our three year old Kate said, “I’m so happy that Annie is with Jesus. But when He’s finished being with her she can come home.”

Today, March 9, 2017, would be Annie’s 8th birthday.

 

I’m never quite sure how to face these days.  Should I be sad?  Should I be grateful?  Should I be extra weepy? Should I be normal?

 

Like so many other things, there’s no manual.  No right or wrong timeline of how I should be feeling and experiencing.  There’s no measure of “normal” and it often makes me feel a little out of control.

 

Yesterday the wind blew with great big gusts.  Limbs falling, trash cans rolling in the streets, leaves swirling all around the yard.  My emotions on  surrounding these days feel unpredictable like the wind.

 

Those first few years were so intense with grief.  Every day was so heavy, so focused on getting through each moment and surviving.  The sorrow consumed me.  But eight years later, it’s not like that anymore.

 

Grief has become a familiar friend almost.  I can barely imagine my life without it, actually.  Talking about our loss, processing things about our loss is a normal part of our life.  There’s a constant tension between moving forward and remembering.

 

The capacity of my heart to feel sorrow has increased immeasurably.  But at the same time, I’m finding that joy can be experienced more than I ever thought, too.  Losing a child has given me perspective on things I never even knew existed.  Above all, I am filled with gratitude for the richness Annie’s life has brought to mine.

 

A friend texted me earlier this week to check in on me, to see how I was feeling.  “I’m thankful the years of intense grief are gone, but I also strangely miss them,” I told her.  Maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense?  But it’s true. I miss being so sure and focused on what really matters in life.  I miss being so desperate for God.  I miss the intensity of the pain, because the memory of Annie was much sharper.

 

However, as time marches on, I gain perspective.  The scars of losing Annie will always be a part of me.  Sometimes the wound gets ripped open again and the suffocating sadness rushes back.    But more often, time has given me the gifts of hope in my sorrow, of joy in my grief.  It has given me the gift of empathy, to be able to come alongside others who are hurting, to say, “Me, too”. It has forced me to be okay with having unanswered questions, to trust that God’s plan is bigger than what I can see with my own eyes.

 

“He shot his arrows deep into my heart.  

The thought of my suffering and hopelessness is bitter beyond words.

 I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  

  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!  

By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.”

Lamentations 3:13, 19-22

 

After her husband’s funeral following a long battle with cancer, Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Now I am setting out into the unknown.  It will take me a long while to work through the grief.  There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.”

 

Dear Friend, I don’t know where you are on the journey of grief… but she’s right.  There are no shortcuts.  Bravely face it.  Lean hard into God and trust Him to lead you each step of the way.  Dare to hope, even as you grieve your loss. It is God’s very nature to be merciful, so you can confidently know that He is full of mercy and He showers it on you.  He is a God who loves those who are brokenhearted.  Find rest in His love and mercy for you today.

 


[The truth of Scripture brings healing to your soul, so you need a list to turn to when you hope seems lost. Start with these: Matthew 28:20, Psalm 46:1-5, Romans 8:26, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 18:2, Psalm 62:8, Psalm 34:18, Psalm 73:26, Matthew 5:4.  My favorite versions are the New International Version, The New Living Translation, and The Message.]

Just a Coincidence  1

I passed up the good chocolate at the grocery store this week.  I’m not going to lie… it was a hard choice.  But my cart was full of too many essentials to justify my craving so I kept right on walking, even though there are plenty of ground breaking studies on how chocolate improves brain function and energy levels and godly parenting.

 

Imagine my surprise when a Valentine’s Day box from my in-laws “for the kids” arrived the next day. Inside was a bag of my favorite dark chocolates…with MY name on it.  Literally.  My mother-in-law wrote it in sharpie.

 

It wasn’t life changing or anything, but it was definitely a fun coincidence.

 

On a recent episode of “This American Life”, they asked people to submit their best coincidence stories and after receiving over 1300, they decided they should do an entire show.

 

“Here’s a definition of coincidence that seems right to me,” said Sarah Koenig, the producer and narrator of the show. “Coincidence is a surprising occurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related with no apparent causal connection.  It’s that middle part— meaningfully related—  that people seem to get stuck on. Because when events line up just so, you can’t help it.  You can’t help but wonder if there’s a message in that. In that way, coincidences are kind of like shortcuts to very big questions about fate, about God, even to people who don’t believe in either one.  The notion that somewhere out there, someone or something is paying attention to your life– that there might be a plan conjured through coincidences.”

 

So, friends, let’s talk about that.  Because we do have questions— big, sad, loud, bold questions— about fate and God.  We wonder if things “happen for a reason” or if it’s just by chance.  Would God really care about something as little as a bag of chocolates?  Or perhaps the better question would be, does God care enough about me to pay attention to the details of my life?

 

“Mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company with Him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.  Love like that,” Paul says in Ephesians 5.  

 

What if circumstances we call coincidences are really just God showing up in our everyday lives— assuring us that He hasn’t left us, that He cares for us?  What if, in his extravagant love, He knows you in the deepest ways, paying close attention and slipping in details we don’t see coming?

 

What if?

 

There are small coincidences, like chocolates, but then there are big ones– big enough to cause a shift in your thinking, to change how you perceive life.  There’s a Mandarin saying, “If there’s no coincidence, there’s no story.” … so here is mine.

 

A few months ago, my son Will and I were in Haiti, getting ready to present a little Bible lesson to between 30-100 kids (they somehow multiply exponentially every 3 minutes).  We had animal masks and a painted rainbow, little coloring packets with stickers and an animal cracker snack.  We were going to teach them about Noah and the Ark.

 

My hesitation was that Hurricane Matthew had struck a few weeks prior, and though the area we visited wasn’t devastated, there had been a lot of rain and flooding.  I had been to the little town of Nambien before— houses made of tree bark and corrugated metal with dirt floors.  Kids with no shoes who rubbed their bellies and asked for food.  Mamas who hold babies in their arms when the torrential rain starts to seep into their houses.

 

 

The story of Noah is about trust and obedience.  It’s about a huge flood where Noah and his family (and 2 of every animal) were kept safe as the storm swirled around them for 40 days and 40 nights.  And it ends with a rainbow, a promise from God that He will never flood the earth again.  In America, we cute-ify the story.  We decorate nurseries with little animals, we buy plastic toys with squat little animals and a white haired man.  But in Haiti, it’s different.

 

Telling the story of Noah and the flood seemed like the worst idea in the world.

 

The morning we were scheduled to go to Nambien, I sat at a little table overlooking the ocean, praying and going over my notes.  The rain was pounding against the tin roof as I read the words I would later speak over these children.  I was worried and unsure.

 

And that’s when I looked up and saw a rainbow on the horizon.  A promise that God sees our lives and He cares.  A promise that His Word is always true and He can always be trusted. A few hours later, Will and I stood in the middle of the a sea of kids to teach them the story.  I can’t tell you if it meant anything to the sweet kids that day… but I can tell you that God spoke to me so deeply in my soul.

 

How could I ever describe this as simply coincidence?

 

How often do we miss what God is up to in our lives by merely shrugging and saying, “What are the chances?”  How often is God trying to speak to our souls, and it barely catches our attention because we’re too preoccupied and explain it away?

 

Have you ever had something that just keeps coming up?  Maybe it’s a verse or a word or a circumstance that becomes a sort of theme for awhile?  We open our Bibles and there it is, we listen to the radio and the song is about it, we sit and have a conversation and it keeps coming up.  It’s not coincidence.  It’s God.  And if we’re brave enough to sit with it for awhile, we find that He is works through coincidences in order to teach us and bring us into a deeper relationship with Him.

 

My friend, in her car alone, with tears streaming down her face, had spoken audibly to God for the first time. “I’m done.  I can’t do it on my own anymore.  I trust You.”  She walked into our small group just a few hours later, her heart shattered into a million pieces, so vulnerable and tender.  She opened up the study book and saw the word TRUST in big, bold letters across the page.  The very thing she had said to God, the very thing she was struggling with the most.  And in that moment, she discovered the way that God loves us.  Extravagantly.  Knitting the circumstances of our lives together in such a way that we would be crazy not to see how intimately He cares for us.

 

Today, may you quit trying to explain away your coincidences.  May you dare to notice the ways that God is weaving the details of your life, speaking to you through his extravagant love.  May you see the ways He is active in your everyday lives, choosing to enter into your ordinary, sacred moments.  Pay attention and acknowledge the creative ways that He chooses to enter into your days.  There’s beauty in noticing it all.

 

 

Hello.
I’m so glad you found your way to this little space.  Wherever you find yourself today, I’m praying that my words will bring you hope.

Want to read posts via email?  When you subscribe to this blog, you’ll automatically receive a sweet printable with eight of my favorite verses of Scripture.  I’m cheering for you, friend.

My Three Favorite Books on Loss & Hope  0

 

After our daughter Annie died, I went through days I could only read a verse or two in the Bible (and plenty of times I just stared out the window, unable to even do that).  But there were also days I had an voracious appetite for anything I could get my hands on.

 

Before I experienced loss, I thought I had life basically figured out.  When everything changed so suddenly I struggled to reconcile my old life with the new.  I needed solid, Biblical truths to re-establish the foundation for my life.  Jesus used the words of people who had travelled the road of grief to bring healing to my heart.  I am so thankful for the gift they gave to me, knowing what it cost them to write what they did.

 

Today, I like to keep a stash of books on the shelf so at any point I can give them away to friends who are struggling with sorrow and heaviness in their lives. I get a lot of questions from people, wondering what resources I’d recommend. If you’d like to see a more comprehensive list, just click on my Resources page.

 

by Nancy Guthrie
Tattered and marked up, this book was my lifeline for the first year and I still flip through it often.  Nancy writes one page for each day of the year, split into weekly themes like “The Love of God”, “Why?” and “Finding Purpose in Pain”.  Each day is centered around Scripture— verses that have become so integral to my life that I can often turn to the exact page of the verse and topic I’m trying to find.

 

by Jerry Sittser
“Is it possible to feel sorrow for the rest of our lives and yet to find joy at the same time? Is it possible to enter the darkness and still to live an ordinary, productive life?  Loss requires that we live in a delicate tension.  We must mourn, but we must also go on living. We might feel that the world has stopped, though it never does.”  There is such loss in the world, and the circumstances may be different, but what remains the same is our ability to respond to our circumstances.  This book taught me how to allow grace to transform my sorrow, to dare to let joy enter into my vocabulary again.

 

by Nancy Guthrie
I’m excited to share this new book with you!  I know how difficult it can be to say the right thing when a friend is grieving.  I’ve been on the receiving end of hurtful advice (I just wrote about it actually).  But I’ve also been the one who desperately wants to help in loss, but everything that comes out of my mouth sounds ridiculous.  It takes courage to reach out and say something and it’s easy to let fear keep us from saying anything at all.  No one is more gracious than Nancy to help navigate what to say (and what not to say) and what to do.  She addresses heaven and hell and assumptions we might have that may not be scriptural.  There are also lots of quotes from people (including a few from me!) who have lived through the loss of a loved one and can offer advice.  It’s such a valuable resource!
Of course, if you’d like to read more of my journey and what I’ve learned about loss and hope, you can download my eBook for free from iBooks or Google Books.

 

Sorrow and grief touches us all in one way or another.  Going through loss can be so lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.  There are others who have gone before us and have had the courage to share what God has taught them through it.  I encourage you to pick up these books if you are going through a season of sorrow…  or if you have a friend walking through dark times.

 

As always, let me know how I can pray for you.  Drop me a line here.

The Real Reason I Can Make You A Mocha  4

 

I used to work in a small sandwich shop near campus right after Peter and I got married.  I still had a few years of college left (I was only twenty!) and he was working full time at a church in the next town over.

 

I loved that job. I learned how to run a cash register, how to fill the pop machine, how to make chicken salad, and how to lock up at the end of the day.  I was always striking up interesting conversations and I was given unlimited access to all the yummy baked goods in the glass case.

 

But there was this one little thing.  I couldn’t keep all the specialty coffees straight in my head.  Latte?  Cappuccino?  Americano? It was all just a jumbled mess to me.

 

So I did what any smart, capable college student would do: I always made a mocha.

 

I KNOW.  It’s so embarrassing.

 

No matter what the drink order was, I’d steam the milk, add some chocolate and pour it together with coffee.  Then I’d cross my fingers, hoping the loads of whipped cream on top would cover a multitude of sins.

 

There’s a real temptation to let fear rule our thoughts and our actions.  Instead of doing what God is calling us to, we shrink back, unsure our ourselves and our surroundings.

 

I didn’t memorize how to make all of the coffees because I was so afraid of getting it wrong, so I didn’t do it at all.  And yes, I know it makes absolutely no sense.  But isn’t that how we live life sometimes? Afraid the end product isn’t going to be satisfactory, we give up before we even start.  We start to believe the lies before we even give God a chance to whisper to us who we really are.  We get tricked into thinking we surely aren’t capable and we certainly aren’t willing to risk our comfortable lives.

 

What would happen if we quit believing the lies?

 

I was a junior in high school when I felt God was calling me into a life of ministry.  I heard His voice in a bilingual church service in Mexico.  Eagerly I went to the front of the church.  College applications had been pouring in, leaving me frustrated at my lack of direction. But that night, He whispered to me and I was ready to obey.

 

There were so many of us at the altar that night and I struggled to find a spot to kneel.  The pastors and leaders were going from person to person, surrounding and praying for each one. I kept waiting for my turn, to feel the hands on my back and the confirmation that what I had heard God speak to my heart was true.

 

But it never happened.  Somehow I was skipped over.

 

The prayer time ended and everyone returned to their seats.

 

I was left feeling so much confusion and doubt.  Why had I been left out?  Had I heard God wrong?  Was I trying to hear something that He was not saying?

 

And that’s how I ended up at the little sandwich shop, too afraid to make anything but mochas, too afraid to do what God was calling me to do.

 

I’d gotten stuck believing the lies that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t creative enough, wasn’t capable enough.

 

But you are the ones chosen by God,
chosen for the high calling of priestly work,
chosen to be a holy people,
God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him,
to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—
from nothing to something,
from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:9-10 (The Message)

We place far too much energy focusing on the dark instead of the light.  We too easily see what we are not, completely missing the marvelous truth of who we ARE.  Chosen by God, belonging to God, fully capable to do what He has called us to do, even when the world tells us otherwise.  The voice who whispers, “What right do you have to be here?” is not the voice we should be listening to.  The difference is night and day.

 

I don’t need any human permission to live the life I am being called to live.  Instead, Jesus invites us to be who He created us to be— something special, something extra, something beyond our wildest dreams.  At first I missed it and I wasted a lot of time believing the lies.  I’m so thankful for a God who doesn’t give up, who pursues us and calls us back to Him.  The more we listen for His voice, the more we hear Him, the more we live in the glorious freedom of doing what we were created to do.

 

May you today refuse to shrink back.  May you find the courage to stand up to the whispered lies.  May you feel your soul humming and stirring— awakening to the invitation of Jesus.  He calls you from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. May you quit living afraid of getting it wrong and instead live wildly this one live you’ve been given.

 

 

End of Year Goodness  0

With just a few hours left before the beginning of a fresh new year, I don’t want it to slip away before thanking you, dear readers, for your encouragement.  The words that make it onto this page aren’t always easy for me to get out, but you’ve shown me that Jesus can take our hurt and make it into something beautiful… Thank you.

 

 

If you keep up with me on Instagram you’ll remember…

  • I took my son William to Haiti with me.
  • My youngest daughter Eliza started Kindergarten (she’s pictured with her older sister Kate).
  • We had two really special weddings of people we love.
  • We took a six week sabbatical in our camper, covering over 5,000 miles all through the United States.

Here are the top posts of 2016:

 

December may be (almost) over, but my Advent Series on Hope is still relevant no matter what time of year:

 

What a privilege to being writing for Seedbed’s Soul Care Collective!  My first post, What to do When Words Hurt, was published a few weeks ago, and the next few will come out in January.

 

{Did you download my new eBook?}

I am so grateful to give you this gift, an eBook of my journey through grief and joy. Even in the midst of sorrow, I discovered that I could hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying our daughter, Annie.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Thank you for your support this year. Our family is thankful for you all, near and far, known and unknown. May you find deep peace tonight, remembering you are loved by the One who created you. Whether you ring in the New Year with with a loud party, a quiet fire, or asleep in your bed, may you know that our hope lies in a God who hears, a God who saves, a God who shares in our sorrow.

 

xo,

Sarah

 

The Love of Jesus {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus— ‘God saves’— because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this— a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Matthew 1:20-23

 

Christmas is tomorrow and I am finishing up lists I thought would never get finished. The house is filled with people and the kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement. It’s Christmas!

 

In the middle of the ham and potatoes, the gifts and the glow of the Christmas tree, there is Jesus.

 

“Only He who has experienced it can believe what the love of Jesus Christ is,”

 Bernard of Clairvaux wrote.

 

If I were to take all the stories of the family of Jesus, I could plop them on a timeline. Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Jonah, Habakkuk, Mary. Of course there are hundreds in between that I missed, but eventually we would come to Jesus. The Messiah. The one who had been promised and who they had been searching for all these years. He came from a line of cheaters and liars, of prostitutes and quitters. His descendants were sincere and loved deeply, they worshipped without passion and chased miracles.  There was sorrow, bitterness, grief and stubborn hope in the lives of those whose blood ran in His veins.

 

They were real people.

 

And then Jesus was born, in a crowded village, breaking into history and breathing hope into a weary world. His life and death and resurrection changed everything, of course. Not just because He came, but because He came for you.

 

On that very first Christmas, there were shepherds watching the very sheep that would one day be sacrificed for the sins of the people. But a new way was coming, and He had arrived! These tired and poor shepherds were the ones the Angels appeared to, the ones who heard the news firsthand… and their response is amazing. It’s recorded that the shepherds hurried to see Jesus, then they spread the news as fast as they could. Their hearts were kindled.

 

Years later, after Jesus had died and was resurrected, He appeared to a few of His disciples as they were walking from one town to another. Only they didn’t recognize Him for a very long time. When their eyes were opened, they looked at each other and exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

Lean in, my friend. This story is for you, in your emptiness and fear. In your broken promises and tension of the season. The family tree of Jesus didn’t end with Him. He has grafted you in. There’s a place for you. Let your faith be kindled, let your heart begin to burn.

 

I don’t know where you find yourself this season, but I do know that God does His best work in weakness, when we feel like we can’t possibly go another step, He is there.

 

Perhaps you feel like Mary, with empty places and an empty heart. Allow Him to rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Or maybe you are Habakkuk, and you must resolve in your hearts to praise Him, even in the midst of broken promises and dreams. He hears your cries.

 

Do you find yourself in Jonah, exhausted from running away from God? Listen to Him calls you back to Him.  It’s never too late to run into His arms.

 

Just like Naomi, He takes your broken hearts and deep bitterness and He gives Himself as your Kinsman-Redeemer, handing you new life and healing.

 

Do you need to be reminded of Joseph, and how God’s power gives you strength to choose forgiveness? Only with Him can we stand and declare that what was intended to harm us turns to good.

 

That’s when we discover that just like Abraham, when we open our eyes to the hurt of the world, we see that our lives can be a blessing to others, even in our grief. In our unforgiveness.  In our bitterness and emptiness. Slowly, as the walls of our hearts crumble, a new day comes as God heals our broken hearts.

 

This is the story of Jesus. Feel your heart burning within you and grab ahold of it. The tree with its’ handmade ornaments will soon come down, the lights will return to the tote in the basement.  But because of Jesus, you have been given the True Light.

 

Jesus, the hope of the world, has come.
Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Song of Mary {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David.  His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary.  Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.  But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear.  God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.” Luke 1:26-28

Something out of nothing.  Because Mary was willing to be obedient, God was able to take her empty womb and make it a place for the God of the universe to develop arms and legs, a heartbeat and skin.

 

God takes our empty places and grows miracles.

 

There’s the story of the widow who cried out to Elisha as the creditors came to take her sons as slaves.  “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asks, “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”  But all she had was a flask of olive oil.  Nothing else at all.  Think of her desperation and emptiness.  But Elisha didn’t give up.  He instructed her to borrow empty jars from her neighbors, to take her sons into the house and shut the door.  When they poured oil from their flask into the jars, they continued to fill each jar, until every single one was filled to the very brim.  The widow and her sons were able to sell the oil and pay their debts.  And not only that, but they were able to live on what was left over. (2 Kings 4)

 

When we offer our emptiness and what we lack to God, He is undaunted.  He is not stumped or disappointed that we aren’t enough.  He’s looking for our obedience, in spite of our weaknesses.

 

Even before my daughter Eliza could talk, she would sing.  She hummed and sang so often, we called it her motor.  It was our sign that all w}as right in her world. Kate has been singing “O Holy Night” the last few weeks and she has all the words down because it is what she performed in church on Sunday along with the all the other kids.  And even William belts out a few words every now and then.

 

It brings me such joy when I hear my kids sing, because I know they are happy.  Content.  They are expressing joy, even if they don’t tell me in actual words.

 

As Mary felt the Son of God moving in her belly, as she felt the roundness as He took up more and more space, she didn’t dwell on what she wasn’t. She didn’t think about her emptiness, but she allowed God to fill her.  And she found joy in allowing God to use her empty places.  How do I know?

 

Because she sang.

 

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!  
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the right away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For he has made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever. 
Luke 1:46-55

The words came from Scripture— a compilation of the Psalms and Isaiah and a few others tossed in.  Mary was grounded in who she was and in who God is.  So when the Angel came to her in her ordinary day, she was ready to receive whatever the will of God was.

 

God wants to be with you.  He wants to have a relationship with you.  He wants to take hold of your shaky hands and lead you onto solid ground.  He wants to shower you with grace and mercy. He wants to hear you sing, even as tears run down your face.

 

When we give God our emptiness, He gives us a song. He takes our empty places and make them into a masterpiece. Just as the Angel said to Mary, “God is with you”, you can believe the promise is for you, too.

 

Immanuel has come.  God with us.

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Resolve of Habakkuk {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

 

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields, 
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread up on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:1,17-19

Mother Teresa, the little woman who lived in the slums of India, the one who lived among the poorest of the poor, in a letter in 1959 wrote that if she ever became a saint, it would be one of darkness.  When he wrote her biography, Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk said, “You can be joyful even if you’re suffering because you are accepting, and you are working and acting with love that gives meaning to the suffering.”

 

Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

There’s a blanket of snow resting on the ground of the cemetery across the street, the one where we stood to say good-bye to our daughter.

There’s a widow sitting lonely as the dark grows longer each day.

There’s an empty refrigerator and hungry kids who don’t know where their mom is.

There’s a marriage and a family crumbling and angry words that can’t be taken back.

There are war torn countries and people who have seen so much atrocity they have forgotten how to cry.

 

Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

We look around the rubble of our lives and our world and it’s not what we dreamed of or expected.

 

In these moments, Habakkuk’s declaration rings in our ears:
I will rejoice:
… even if the figs and olives fail
…. even if the people go hungry
… even if our livelihoods are taken

…. even if there is an empty stocking hanging from the mantle
… even if the diagnosis is fatal
…. even if the terror keeps me up at night
… even as the bombs fall and the children are left as orphans
… even if my tears outnumber my smiles
Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

We can’t wait for suffering to go away before we praise the name of Jesus, or we may never rejoice.  Read the book of Habakkuk and you’ll realize that though the prophet is exasperated,  he does not give up.  He begs God to intervene on behalf of the people, wondering how long it will be until He listens to the cries of His people.

 

Margaret Feinberg in her book, Fight Back with Joy talks of her battle with cancer: “As my body slid through the tube, I understood why so many people have panic attacks in MRI machines.  The constricting space, the rhythmic sounds, the inability to move— all felt suffocating.  Click.  Clank.  Click.  Clank.  Listening to the clamor, I breathed deep.  My mind drifted.  Has anyone offered God praise in this place before?  I thought of Habakkuk, that brazen codger.  If he could rejoice when an entire nation crumbled around him, surely I could offer something to God in this space.  After all, I had discovered a valuable insight in this process: Fighting back with joy rarely makes sense.

 

The secret to joy is in focusing on the Father, not on our fears. This is what gives meaning to our suffering, what brings light into the darkness of the world. On the night Jesus was born, a night that began like any other night, the shepherds were tending the sheep.  They were terrified when the sky lit up brighter than the day.  The first words they heard?

“Do not be afraid.

I bring you good news of

great joy that will be for

all the people.”

(Luke 2:10)

 

There is light in the darkness because Jesus has come to bring meaning to our suffering.  Do not be afraid.   You can fight for joy.

 

Even though. Even if.  Even now.

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Repentance of Jonah {An Advent Series on Hope}  1

“Then Jonah paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish— as far away from God as he could get.”

Jonah 1:3

 

Sometimes when God calls us, we are terrified.  We are broken and unqualified, so we run.  Advent can feel like salt in the wound, like all of our sorrows are piling up and mocking us.   Everywhere we look, we see happy families and perfect endings.   And it just doesn’t seem fair.  So we run and hide.

 

Ann Voskamp says, “You aren’t equipped for life until you realize you aren’t  equipped for life.  You aren’t equipped for life until you’re in need of grace.”

 

Jonah had been called by God to warn the people of Ninevah, but he allowed fear to rule him.  So he sailed away in the opposite direction, determined to make his own plans instead of being obedient.

 

I’m smiling a little bit because I am a mom and I have three very determined children.  Once, when Kate was little, but old enough to know better, I put her in a time out for something I can’t remember now.  I instructed her to pray while she was alone in her room and make things right between her and God.  I’m not sure what I expected, but if there’s anything I know about Kate, it’s that she never does what I expect.

 

I ventured into her room a few minutes later and sat with her on the floor, face-to-face.  We were going to have a holy moment together, when I as The Mom would instruct her and lead her into a deeper relationship with Christ.  “Tell me what you said to God,” I said.  She looked at me with a scowl and replied, “I just told him bad words.”

 

Running and hiding from God.  No one has to teach us, it’s just in us.

 

But God has a way of calling us back to him, in ways we cannot expect.  It’s why Jonah tried to go to sleep in the bottom of the boat while the storm raged.  It’s why he found himself in the belly of a whale for three days.  We think the whale was a punishment, but have you ever considered that the whale was his rescuer?  That he would have drowned if it hadn’t come and provided a place for Jonah to work some things out before he was spit out?

 

It’s because of that that he turns and repents.  He turns back to God, he turns back to obedience.  He pleads with Ninevah to turn back to God before it’s too late, proving it’s never too late for repentance.

 

Almost 800 years later, there would be another storm and another man in the bottom of the boat sleeping.  His name was Jesus.  The disciples were terrified, and they rushed to wake Jesus.  “Master! Master, we’re going to drown!” they yelled above the crash of the waves. (Mark 4:35)

 

Jesus responds with a rebuke to the raging waters and suddenly all was calm.  He calmed that storm and He calms the storms in our lives.  Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights… Jesus was dead for three days before he rose,  paying the penalty for our sins.

 

Jesus does not abandon you in your storm, both the one that you are in right now and the ultimate battle for your soul.

 

I don’t know what’s raging around you.  I don’t know what wakes you up at night and what holds you captive.  But I know Jesus longs to calm the storm of your soul.  He is not afraid of what rages around you, He sees what you are so afraid to reveal.

 

He binds the broken and raises the dead.  He feeds the hungry and touches the sick.

 

Just this moment as I type these words, Eliza is on the computer.  Her headphones are in and she’s singing at the top of her lungs, “It’s the most wonderful time of the yearrrrr!” But you know how it sounds when kids have the headphones on.  It’s always slightly off key.

 

Which seems so appropriate as I type these words.  Because the most wonderful time of the year can be overshadowed by our own sorrow, by the sorrow we carry for others.  The storm rages around us and we are afraid.

 

But Jesus whispers, “One greater than Jonah is here.”  (Matthew 12:41) His words bring light to our weary souls.  In those times of waiting, claim these verses of Romans 8:22-28:

“All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But it’s not only around us; it’s within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within.  We’re also feeling the birth pangs.  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting.  We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become and the more joyful our expectancy. 

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Hear Him call you by name.  He is near to you this very moment. Peace, be still.

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Redemption of Naomi {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

comfortjoy-001

“When they arrived in Bethlehem the whole town was soon buzzing: ‘Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time!’
But she said, ‘Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter.  The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow.  I left her full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back.  Why would you call me Naomi?  God certainly doesn’t.  The Strong One ruined me.’
And so Naomi was back, and Ruth the foreigner with her, back from the country of Moab.  They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.”

Ruth 1:20-22

 

There’s a temptation to succumb to bitterness when we’ve done all the right things, followed the right plan, think we deserve better. The wind is howling outside as I type these words, and I’m watching the snowflakes blow in waves across the hardened crust of the eight inches of snow we got just a few days ago.  When life gets hard, I just want to harden.  It’s a  fight to keep from getting stuck in my sorrow.

 

Naomi had left with her husband to escape a famine.  They had settled away from home, their sons got married and life was good.  But tragedy struck and within a short, both her husband and sons died.  She was left alone, with two daughters-in-law and nowhere to go.  And so she went home.  She convinced her one daughter-in-law not to come with her, but Ruth, well, Ruth was stubborn.  She refused to leave Naomi.

 

Naomi had left home full of hopes and dreams of a better life.  But she returned home empty, defeated, and bitter.

 

Frederick Buechner says, “The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.  It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years, God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later. “ (from his book Telling Secrets)

 

We can be so empty, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  If Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), well, he’s not just talking about the few who make it through life unscathed.  He’s talking about us all.

 

Ruth returned with Naomi to her hometown of Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest— a time when the land was full again.  They had left at a time of emptiness, during a famine, and so happened to come back when it returned to fullness.  Landowners would leave the grain the harvesters had missed, for the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless to gather.  And that’s how Ruth ended up picking grain from the field of Boaz.  That’s how Boaz learned about Ruth and how Naomi discovered hope again.

 

Boaz, actually a relative of Naomi, was their Kinsman-Redeemer.  He was responsible for protecting family in need.  Kinsman-Redeemers would provide an heir for a brother who died or redeem a relative who had been sold into slavery, they would protect those in their family who were needy.   Boaz was Naomi’s Kinsman-Redeemer, able to rescue them from poverty by marrying Ruth.  Later he and Ruth would have a son named Obed, who would one day be the great-grandfather of King David… and eventually a man named Jesus would be part of their family line.

 

The entire book of Ruth is a testimony of redemption and transformation.   It’s the story from emptiness to fullness, from destitution to security, from desperation to peace. There’s a clear turning point in the story when Naomi is awakened to the hope that her life could be restored.

 

“Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!  He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!’” (Ruth 2:20)  That’s the moment she realized that she didn’t have to be known as Bitter, that her story didn’t have to end in heartache.

 

Don’t ever believe that God will leave you for empty.  He is a God of restoration and redemption. He will not walk out on you.

 

Jesus looks at your life and He has compassion for you.  He longs to take you in His arms and heal your heart.  Without Him, we are so broken.  But He whispers words of joy to our weary souls. He can take what brings us the most pain and sorrow and transform it into something beautiful.  He redeems us.  He wraps us up in His love and suddenly we see His pain for a broken world.

 

When we read the book of Ruth, we see the foreshadowing of our Kinsman-Redeemer in Jesus, the one who can take us from desperation to peace.  Naomi had every right to be bitter.  She lost it all— her family, her land, her home— but her bitterness was transformed when she trusted in the redeeming work of God. And Ruth, her daughter from another country,  was the one who kept pressing on, unswerving and selfless. She clung to the hope that God could and would use the harsh circumstances of their lives.

 

Jesus heals our broken hearts.
He is healing me.
He is healing you.

 

We may feel the weight of sorrow daily, but we are changed people because of the way Jesus restores.  Jesus looks at us and He doesn’t shake his head at our hardened, crusty hearts.  He doesn’t see a wasted life. Instead, He hands us love and hope.  He takes our wounded lives and speaks words of truth like salve on our souls.  And if we open our eyes we will see him bring good in ways we would have never imagined.  He is our Kinsman-Redeemer.  Our Rescuer.  Our Redeemer.

 

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.