All Things Work Together

Grief…….. Such a small and easy word for such a complex topic.  There is nothing small or easy about grief.  All of us have experienced it, and all of us will experience it again. It hurts like nothing we have ever before felt. It grips our souls, controls our minds and emotions and demands to be dealt with eventually.

Grief……. The reality that loss is part of living.

As a society, we don’t handle the grief very well.  We usually do not give ourselves time to grieve, and we especially don’t give others the time they need to grieve. It is difficult to see people we care about in pain, so we want them to get on with life. When a loved one dies, we spend a couple of days mourning and saying goodbye, then it is over and life should return to normal. When a relationship ends, you can cry a little and eat your pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but only for a day or two. After all, there are other fish in the sea, and that one wasn’t good enough for you anyway. When the children leave the nest and break out on their own, that’s the happiest time for you. You finally have YOUR life back. Only you don’t, and unless you have experienced the loneliness of an empty house, you don’t understand. Difficult medical diagnosis? Let’s pray for a cure, or at least for comfort from pain. Job loss? Pick yourself up and get back out there. You have great skills to offer. Moving? Lose a beloved pet? Broken friendship? Divorce? Betrayed? Disappointed? These all cause a certain degree of grief. Why? Because either we have lost something/someone we loved or we have lost a dream of what could have been or both.

Grief is complicated. It’s not solved with a good cry or a beautiful funeral or your favorite comfort food. It is not healed by time alone. Although all these things might help. Grief is a process, and it is your process.

I have experienced grief in compounded ways over the last 6 months. My mother died. My 15-year job ended. Relationships and friendships changed and some ended. A family member was diagnosed with cancer.  And honestly, every time one of my children visit and then return to their home, I feel the loss and loneliness. I have had to make difficult decisions quickly because of these losses. I have needed to shake myself out of the grief sometimes in order to be of service to others and deal with daily life. Yes, I have had well-meaning friends express concern that I am “stuck.” However, I cannot simply bury the grief. It must be dealt with, and it takes whatever time it takes.

My go-to place has been my faith in a loving and good God.  Throughout this time, He has pointed me to two particular passages of scripture that I am holding on to with my every being.  I share them with you because either you are in a place of grief or someone you love is in a place of grief.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Psalm 37:4-5, 7 – Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.

As I have said in previous blogs, I have no idea where this journey will take me.  I do know, though, I need only be still, delight myself in a God who made me in his very image and wait patiently for his guidance and love. Because, truly, ALL THINGS work together for GOOD.

Selah.

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Oh, For Grace to Trust You More

A sweet friend asked me once how I “talked to God.” My reply on that particular occasion was I just freely let my mind lift praises, thanks, needs, thoughts and worries toward heaven, having faith that God hears the voice of my heart. She asked if God ever responded. I said, yes, but I must stop talking in order to listen. Just as when I have a conversation with you, my friend, I must open my ears and heart to hear what you have to say.

At times of distress or grief or pain, words for prayers do not always come easily. We become bogged down by the cares of this world. Life gets hard. People disappoint us. Troubles come. We become more aware of the fragility of life. A plan we had so carefully mapped out for ourselves suddenly becomes very uncertain. How do you pray during those times?

Do you cry out to God with a raised fist and ask him “Why?”       Yes.

Do you allow the tears to fall freely down your face in silence and allow the Holy Spirit to make intercession for you?             Yes.

Do you beg for God to change your present circumstances?       Yes.

Do you ask others to make intercession for you?    Absolutely.

You do all those things and more……. why, you might ask?  Because God is big enough for our praises, our angry cries, our silent weeping and our pleas for help. He is the great and mighty One who shelters us under His arm. He is the suffering servant who also prayed, “let this cup pass from me.” And He is the great Comforter whose presence is never more than a whisper away.

After you have prayed those prayers of why and cried those silent tears, take great time to just Be Still in His presence. Allow His peace that passes all understanding to envelop your soul. I promise, His voice will pierce through the silence; a light will shine on the path to follow; and you can find perseverance and hope. Remember, though, this God who loves us so deeply, also allows us to make a choice. We can curl up in great grief and shut out the world, or we can follow the path, even when the darkness covers the next step. The answers aren’t always instant. The pain doesn’t immediately disappear. Faith, though, grows like a wildflower in springtime, and we become aware there is something greater than just ourselves at work in our life.

Faith is the evidence of things hoped for…… I believe, and I hope you will join me in believing, one day the pain will ease. The path will have more light and the JOY of salvation will be fully restored.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him.  How I’ve proved Him o’re and o’re.

Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!  Oh, for grace to trust Him more.

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No Turning Back

No one has EVER used the word “athletic” to describe me. God gave me some wonderful gifts, but none of them made me graceful or quick on my feet or able to catch a ball. I have accepted that fact. However, I do like to get out and spend some time on a trail walking. Some people call it hiking.  I’m not sure if what I do qualifies as hiking. I usually like to go alone.  No one makes fun of me that way, I don’t hold anyone up, and I can take 10 pictures of the same tree with 8 different settings if I want to.  I am slow, I am clumsy and at times I am tentative because I have a HORRID fear of falling.

Today was the perfect day to get out and commune with nature and our Creator. I needed some head-cleansing time, so I decided to take off to the mountains and do a little hike. I chose something easy because it had been a little while since I had been on a trail. I THOUGHT I chose this nice little 1.5 mile trail that was relatively flat and somewhat of a mix between paved and gravel. On my drive, I had visions of beautiful wildflowers and birds frolicking in the trees while I enjoyed my nice little “walk.”  Like something out of Snow White, I guess!

I quickly realized that my little trail, while not the difficulty of one of the trails to LeConte, was also not the little walking trail I had hoped for. In places it was steep, there were lots of tree roots to trip over, and while I did hear birds singing, there was not a single wildflower anywhere in sight!

I continued on, though, because it was quite beautiful and quiet and I was the only perFile May 02, 6 55 39 PMson on the trail.  Halfway through my adventure, I came across a rather large maple tree that had recently fallen across the trail. It was completely blocking the path.  You couldn’t go around it and you couldn’t go under it.  I had two choices.  Climb over the trunk and large branch or turn around and go back. I knew what was behind me. It was pretty. I had enjoyed it very much. I had no idea what was on the other side of that tree on the trail.  Wildflowers? Frolicking birds? A nice stream or waterfall? But it was a risk for this non-athletic, somewhat clumsy, tentative person to climb over that tree. (It was bigger than it looks in the picture.) If I fell or gashed my leg open or something like that, I was alone. What would I do? It was risk.

I climbed over the tree.

I’m glad there was no one there to see it.  I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.  Yes, I got a little scratched up and a little dirty, but I got to see the other side of the trail, and it was beautiful.

As I continued on the path, tears started streaming down my face at the realization God had just given me.  You see, in the last 6 weeks or so there has been more than one large tree that has fallen across the path of my life and blocked the road. I have been trying to figure out how on earth I am going to get past the grief and heartache and live with the fear of the unknown. My cries to God as of late have been of questions and whys. God, I knew that path.  I’ve been on it before. I knew the way. And we were doing good things together.  Why does it have to change?  In the gentle breeze and the beautiful waterfall that was in front of me, God said, give me your hand, give me your heart, trust me, and let’s find out what’s on the other side of that tree.

Selah………

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The Circle of Life 

The scene is familiar.  Anxious members of the animal kingdom have gathered at the appointed spot. Each species seems to have its own special area in which to gather. The sky is a beautiful crimson and gold. Everyone is looking up in anticipation toward the pinnacle of a mountain. As the music swells and the animals sway back and forth in time, the newly born lion cub is raised high and presented to the adoring crowd.  The prince of the animal kingdom has been born and we all dance and celebrate and sing about “The Circle of Life.”  If you have ever seen the opening to The Lion King, it didn’t take you long to figure out what I was describing. 

But what is this circle of life? And how does it play out in our lives?

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us “There is a time for everything and a season for every purpose under heaven.” As of late, my season has been one of loss and mourning.  The circle of life continued its journey through my family as we buried my mother a few weeks ago. We watched over a few short months as her body, with its brittle bones began to break and become ill. When you compounded the physical illness with the deep grief of losing her husband of 68 years, it just became too much to bear for her. 

Since her death and subsequent funeral, I have been thrust back into the throes of a busy tax season.  I have felt profound loneliness as my children left my home and returned to their lives.  I have already experienced a first holiday (Easter) without either of my parents, and I have begun to ask questions like, “what now, God?”  The circle of life naturally follows the arc of our grown children flying from the nest and trying out those new wings.  Yes, the circle even includes the eventuality that we will bury those we love, that friendships and relationships will ebb and flow and possibly end. We must accept the reality that there truly are “seasons” in our lives. Sometimes those seasons aren’t pleasant.  We begin to fully understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he talked about the Spirit praying for us when we simply don’t have the words to pray. Sometimes the hurt, the pain, the grief is just too much. 

It would be my nature to “put on a happy face.”  I have always thought that was what was expected of me.  I am not going to do that this time.  I will not wallow in self-pity or become reclusive, but I also will not rush through this season, this arc of the circle.  For I believe there is something here to learn. I believe there is something here to embrace.  My faith is just deep enough to believe that in this darkness and in this loneliness, God has a great word for me.  And I want to hear what He has to say. 

I also believe the circle will bring arcs of great joy to me again. New friendships, new passions, new loves, and just as there is a time to mourn, there will once again be a time to dance!

Selah…

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Smoky Mountain Christmas 

She had blond hair, a beautiful smile and a pretty red dress. She was a little tentative at first, but eventually took my hand and let me lead her to the table where the crafts were being put together.  

He was a teenager, not really sure if he belonged at a party with all these children. Headphones in place, listening to his music, his eyes looked at little haunted if you looked deeply. 

Another woman walked in the door, 4 small children in tow and expecting another one soon. She looked at little tired, as all moms of young children do, but there was a tentativeness to her smile. It was as if she was trying hard to capture some holiday spirit for herself and her children. 

These faces and about 50 more had all gathered at a Pigeon Forge restaurant for a Christmas Party. They also are in the midst of rebuilding their lives after the devastating wildfire that hit Gatlinburg on November 28. The 15 families are employees of Johnson Family Restaurants and they represent a small fraction of the people who literally lost their homes and possessions the night of the fires. 

The gathering started a bit subdued. It was hard to know exactly what to say or what to do, both for the hosts and the attendees. It didn’t take long, though, to discover a simple marshmallow game could reduce a few girls to genuine giggles. (Especially when they convinced Jonathan to put a marshmallow in his mouth that had been on the floor!) Who knew green crepe streamers and bows could be wrapped around each other to make a Christmas “tree”! Quickly, the room erupted with the voices of children, eager to participate in a craft or decorate a cookie. Slowly, you could see parents start to relax just a little bit and the time quickly flew by with the party festivities. 

The little girl in the red dress found a handmade bow in her stocking to exactly match her dress. 

The teenager who wasn’t sure if he belonged, opened a gift that was carefully sought after just for him and those haunted eyes twinkled for just a moment when he watched a special video. 

The young mom still looked a bit tired at the end of the evening, but her smile was no longer tentative. It was genuine and she took great satisfaction in the happiness of her children. 

These families have lost so much, but they are constantly looking out for each other. As I approached another woman with a crate of homemade goodies and gift cards in my hand, she proceeded to take one small bag of goodies out and thank me. I told her the whole crate was for her and her family. She shook her head no and said, “Please share with everyone else, this is too much.”  As I explained there was a crate for each family, tears streamed down her face and she put down the crate and hugged me. She kept saying over and over that we had done way too much. 

An evening Christmas celebration won’t go far in replacing the needs of these people. Most will have a lifetime scar long after the mountains have healed. They will remember fleeing their homes. They will be haunted by memories and images most of us will never see. They will have uncertainty in their lives for a long time to come. Hopefully, though, for just a brief little while, we gave them joy instead of sadness and light in the midst of darkness. Hopefully, they heard the good news that God’s love never fails and hope was born on Christmas night. 

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? When was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” The king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Matthew 25:37-41. 

Selah. 

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Skipping Christmas

Several years ago. author John Grisham penned a book titled, “Skipping Christmas”. It is a fun story about a couple, the Kranks, who have just become empty nesters. Early in the holiday season, they come to the conclusion that if they forgo all their holiday gift giving, decorating and charitable donations, they can give themselves the gift of a tropical cruise, departing on Christmas Day. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but they find it is difficult to escape the hustle and bustle of the season. They find out just how great the expectations are of those around them, and they have some pretty hilarious encounters. 

I’m sure there are times for all of us when we would prefer to just “skip” Christmas. For some, these days bring the reality of loneliness and heartbreak a little closer to the forefront. Grief and loss seem somewhat more profound this time of year when memories of brighter Christmases come to mind.  We can certainly find ourselves feeling a bit more melancholy than holly-jolly. 

So what is the answer? Can we just “survive” until the season is past? Do we burrow ourselves in our grief and pain until the new year and hope no one notices?  How do we get away from the stress and pain and celebrate instead?

I believe in these times, we grasp on to the HOPE that is always within us. Sometimes we hang on to HOPE by a small thread and other times we might feel as if it doesn’t exist at all. The reality is, HOPE IS ALWAYS THERE.  Somewhere, in the depths of our souls, hope resides. 

The reason we celebrate, gather together, worship is because HOPE was born on Christmas. In a dark place, on a difficult night, in a moment of deep dispair and suffering for so many, HOPE was born. “And they called his name, Jesus, because he will save his people.”

Let’s not “skip” Christmas. Let’s embrace the HOPE it brings to us all and allow the light to envelop our dark and hurting souls. I have a feeling that like my fictional friends, the Kranks, we will find that even if Christmas looks a bit different, there is always reason to celebrate. 

“Unto us a child is born; Unto us a Son is given. And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

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A Prized Posession

Anyone who knows me, probably is aware of my fondness for Charles Schulz’s Peanut characters. I have loved them since I was a small child. As an adult, I have learned that Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and the rest of the gang can teach us some important life lessons. 

If you are familiar with Linus, you know he is never without his trusty blue blanket. It is certainly a prized possession for him. It brings him comfort in trying times, makes a great slingshot and can even be useful on the skating rink to pull someone along.  Linus relies on his blanket and he is somewhat lost without it in his hands. 

While watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I  learned something else about my friend Linus. He was not afraid to put his most prized possession to use to help out a dear friend. 

This is the scene….. Linus has just finished reciting the Story of Christmas from the book of Luke and saying those famous words, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  His friend, Charlie, bolstered by the promise of God found in Jesus, takes his pitiful Christmas tree, vowing to make it something beautiful and wonderful to honor the meaning of  Christmas. For Charlie, though, what happens to him is the same thing that happens to many of us on this road of life, when he places the first heavy ornament on that fragile tree, the limb droops. The ornament is too heavy a load for the tree to bear. Charlie walks off despondent and disappointed. His plan failed. 

Along comes Linus with his trusty blue blanket. He takes it and carefully wraps it around the base of the fragile tree. Giving it a sturdy foundation. Immediately, the dropped limb, with the extra support, pops back up and proudly displays the pretty red ornament. Linus used his most prized possession to give his friend Charlie a beautiful gift. 

I certainly have Charlie Brown moments in my life. Times of dispair and failure. Days where I feel like my best efforts are never enough. It is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in being linked in a community of believers.  There seems to always be a friend willing to wrap their blanket of love and protection around my tree to give me the confidence I need.  The best part is, they not only make me stronger, but just like Charlie Brown’s tree, they make me beautiful and whole. 

Yes, to all the Charlie Brown’s in this world, that’s what Christmas is all about……

A new branch will grow from the stump of a tree; so a new king will come from the family of Jesse. Isaiah 11:1n

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