Dealing with Tragic Loss

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming”—Helen Keller.

If you’re struggling with betrayal, abuse, or the loss of your spouse for any reason, you may be dreading the holidays rather than looking forward to them. Thanksgiving is just past, but we’re facing a month of holiday cheer that will be choked with tears for many lonely and hurting people, and if your heart is broken right now, I’d like to recommend He Left God Stayed. Annalee’s book records her journey from the devastation of being abandoned after twenty years of marriage to finding her way through the pain to wholeness . . . over the course of nearly twenty years, learning to lean on the everlasting arms of her Lord and God.

At first I read the book on the recommendation of a girlfriend who’s had a similar experience on the theory that it might be inspirational for any of my readers who are living through heartbreak, but I quickly realized this book is full of rich insights for all of us. Each chapter begins with some of her story but ends with “insights to grow by” and a prayer. I am not a fiction reader, but Annalee’s book became as fascinating to me as the page-turner mysteries that so engage my husband!

By the time I finished, I had been challenged in many areas personally, especially in reflecting on my own life, learning more about forgiveness, growing in submission to God, and desiring to be more compassionate as a Church toward those who’ve been abandoned. I’m not charismatic, but I appreciated reading about Annalee’s experiences. Her faith is sincere and her walk with God in many ways very like my own. Besides all that, I’ve ended up with three new books to read, based on insights she’s gleaned from them. It reminds me of the good ole days of grad school when every worthwhile research paper needed to end up providing new leads for further study!

To bless you with some bits of wisdom from her book, and possibly to whet your appetite for more, let me share a few favorite quotes:

“He [God] wanted to heal me and replace the anger with forgiveness, the fear with peace, and the shame with joy.”

“I needed to mature and respond, rather than react, to life’s circumstances. Learning to walk the road to wholeness was scary—it felt so unfamiliar.”

“The Holy Spirit wants to reveal the hidden things in our lives that keep us from being free to love and serve God with our whole being.”

“Praise is more spontaneous when things go right; but it is more precious when things go wrong” (—Author unknown).

“Praise was an important key to finding the life I’d longed for—a life free of fear, anger and shame.”

“When we are broken, we have to make a choice. Our way, or God’s way. We can turn our back on Him, or surrender everything to Him.”

“Brokenness is not the opposite of wholeness; it is the continuing precondition for it” (—Roberta Hestenes, quoted on p. 89).

“Forgiveness is not an option for a follower of Jesus Christ. If we fail to forgive, it affects our relationship with God and interferes with our spiritual growth . . . Forgiveness is for us. It’s to help us move forward and choose to live instead of staying stuck in the past with all of its pain.”

“Don’t be afraid of the future. God is already there” (—Bill Gothard).

“If you do God’s work, God’s way, God will provide” (—James Hudson Taylor).

“You have as much right to believe what you believe, as others have to believe what they believe” (Annalee’s mother).

“It’s everybody’s business if you sin. When you’re tempted to sin, ask yourself what it will cost you. . . It is your family’s business if you sin . . . It’s the church’s business . . . it’s the world’s business” (—Dr. Crabtree, speaking at Annalee’s ordination). He also said, “Allow God to interrupt your agenda with glorious surprises.”

From one of her prayers: “Help us to forgive those who have done evil acts against us and forgive those who weren’t able to protect us. Reveal to us those whom we need to forgive. We release anything from our past that would delay the bright future You have planned for us. Please give us the grace to walk in your ways and the courage to move forward in life.”

“My life was fuller than it would have been without the suffering . . . I had become what God intended for me to become. Instead of merely surviving, I had thrived. And so can you.”

“For your Maker is your Husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (—Isaiah 54:5).

P.S. —He Left God Stayed is available on Amazon, but Annalee will send it to you at a discount if you contact here personally between now and December 8 at: rev.annalee.davis@gmail.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (58): Give Up Your Doubts!

This has been a really difficult week. The father-in-law of one of my sons “died”—from our perspective here on earth, although I am confident that he has been safely birthed into heaven. As Tony said before he left, “I know where I’m going, and I know God does all things well. It’s just hard to get from here to there.” He is now there! How do I know? Because he believed: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:8-11). Tony found and walked the path of life, and now he is experiencing the fullness of joy and eternal pleasures of heaven.

Do you believe in heaven? Probably the most profound questions every person ponders while battling earth’s final headmaster go something like this: “Is there an afterlife? If there is, what’s it like? What will happen to me after I die?” Each of us has to grapple with these enigmas for ourselves. Atheists say there simply is no afterlife, but I’ve heard there are no atheists in foxholes, and I think the contractions we feel as the womb of death seeks to expel us must be more terrifying than any other experience on earth.

I don’t know what you believe about life after death, but may I share with you what the Bible teaches in case you don’t know or haven’t yet decided what to believe? Jesus taught that there is life after death, and that He, Himself, is the way to get to heaven after we die: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).

So simple, but not easy for adults who have spent their lives trying to be good and find their own way, often without even recognizing their need for a Savior. God gave us the Mosaic Law to test us, and without exception, we all fail. We are incapable of being perfect, of always making the right choices, or of always wanting to be good! Jesus came to earth as God incarnate (“in the flesh,” as a man), lived a sinless life, and died in our place as the perfect Lamb-of-God sacrifice. We don’t have to spend our lives trying to be good enough. We’ll never be “good enough,” but Jesus was. All God asks is that we acknowledge our sinfulness and accept Jesus as our Lord (“master”) and Savior, asking Him to make us new (“born again”—reborn spiritually as a child of God).

Where are you on your journey of faith? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus? Is it possible that you don’t want anybody becoming your “master” or telling you what to do? But, do you want to go to heaven? If so, please don’t doubt the goodness and love of God! Jesus won’t make you miserable if you surrender your heart to Him. He loves you! He wants you to live a holy (which will make you happy) life here on earth and live forever in heaven with Him.

Have you asked Jesus to become your Savior and Lord, and to bring you safely home to heaven when you die? Jesus wants us to stop worrying about this life—even the most basic aspects of how to provide for ourselves, like food and drink. Jesus invites us to accept his invitation and become part of his “bride,” his Church. Just as a man cares for his wife, Jesus will care for us if we’re willing to entrust our lives fully to him.

Are you still doubtful? Afraid? Too proud to open your eyes and see Love staring you in the face? Death will indeed search for and destroy our bodies, but even the final headmaster has a Master. . . the God of Love who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If you’re not yet a believer, I beg you to give up your doubts and believe! If you are a believer—well, let’s encourage one another. Let’s not “be ye of doubtful mind” about anything. As we keep our hand in His, Jesus will take care of us, even on our deathbeds. He will provide for us, so that even though it’s the hardest thing on earth to get from here to there, we can have every confidence that we’ll be safely birthed from this life to the next!

Text for today’s meditation: Luke 12:23, “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”

(Photo credit: “Come Follow Me” was painted by Yongsung and used by permission of http://Havenlight.com)

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

Enjoying A Miracle Season

Are you all excited about the fall sports season? I love all the inspiring movies based on true stories have been coming out in the past few years. One I missed from 2018 until recently is The Miracle Season, which recounts the triumph of joy over sorrow just a few years ago during 2011 when a group of high school girls from West High in Iowa City tried to rally after losing their star player through a tragic accident.

Danika Yarosh as Caroline “Line” Found

Caroline “Line” Found was the sort of person who loved everybody and was loved by everybody.

William Hurt as Dr. Ernie Found

Her father, a surgeon, was also very involved in trying to foster team spirit and good will between the team members and throughout the community.

The Real “Found” Family

However, he had his own set of heartaches,
not the least of which was the fact that his deeply loved wife was dying.

Helen Hunt as Coach Kathy Bresnahan

Their coach (who won National Coach of the Year in 2011)
was dealing with a lot of pain and loss in her personal life as well.

Erin Moriarty as Kelley Fliehler

Of course, the kids on the team—and especially Caroline’s best friend from childhood, who was chosen to replace “Line” as the team’s center—were all totally traumatized by the loss and emotionally immobilized.

Although West High’s volleyball team had been the state champions in 2010, they lost every game in the fall of 2011 until they would have to win all fifteen of the last games in order to qualify for the championship playoffs.

Could they do it? What happened? Wanna know?

If you’ve got a free evening for a heart-rending, heart-warming story of overcoming sorrow to “Live Like Line!” (giving life all the best you’ve got), take time for The Miracle Season.

You never know, it just might spark a miracle season this fall in your own life too!

After all, God is the God of the impossible, and He delights in helping us when we cry out to Him for help!

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2).

Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Thoughts on Trying to Comfort Those Who Grieve

Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.

There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.

Alan and Kathi at Meijer Garden

Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.

Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.

There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!

So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).

Zen Garden at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI

“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.

Hydrangeas in sunshine at Meijer Garden

“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).

“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of  your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).

“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).

“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”

Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).

Listening to History at Meijer Sculpture Park

Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Plaque in the Faith Reflective Garden. Meijer Gardens, Michigan

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?

Home Along the Dead River Falls

Have you ever thought about the fact that some time may be your last time? When our children were little, we lived in a beautiful home on 50 acres of pristine woods that abutted the Dead River Falls in Marquette, Michigan.

Our six sons and little girl spent endless hours playing among the ferns and foliage in that somewhat paradisal setting, and so when we took our two oldest and their children on a Roots Tour of the Upper Peninsula last month, it was important to us (and them!) to hike their beloved Dead River Falls with their kids.

Foxgloves (from our old home), ferns, and a little boy

I had contracted a miserable cold and felt feverish that morning, so I slept until after noon while the kids took their hike, which broke my heart in a way, but I was too sick to participate. So . . . what are you going to do??

They didn’t want to disturb the present owners of our old home (with nine rambunctious children), so they parked along the power line (on property which had been taken away from us by “right of public domain” . . . so we felt justified in still using it) and retraced what had been a very common and extremely pleasurable hike.

Wild strawberries and wild blueberries ripening at the same time
in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

In the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan), it is so cold and the growing season so short that all the flowers and fruits that are going to grow have to grow quickly, and you can often find more than one crop of wild berries ripening at the same time!

Scrambling up steep rock faces along the Dead River Falls in Michigan

If you’re ever in the Marquette area, a half day adventure climbing the Dead River Falls is well worth the effort! According to “Great Lakes Waterfalls and Beyond,” this is “one of the best waterfall adventures in Michigan,” and I totally agree!

In a 0.7-mile stretch, the Dead River drops 90 feet on its way to Lake Superior, tumbling over a wonderful series of waterfalls.

Three of the waterfalls drop over 15 feet, but there are dozens of merry falls cascading down the rocky river bed.

Shortly after we moved to Marquette, Alan and I took a cruise of the Hawaiian Islands, and we felt like Maui’s “Seven Sacred Pools” were no more beautiful (albeit a great deal more well known)!

Seven Sacred Pools by Eric Chan, Wikipedia Commons

(In truth, it was very dry when we visited Maui, and just googling for images of the Seven Sacred Pools now, I see that when they are full they are bigger and more spectacular. Still, there aren’t as many waterfalls, and they are less cloistered, so I think thirty years later I still prefer the Dead River Falls!)

Kids examining a garter snake along the Dead River Falls

Besides, there are no snakes in Hawaii,
and what would a nature hike be without snakes?

(What, you say you’d like that??!?) 🙂

If you’d like to use your GPS to find the lower trailhead,
it’s located at: 46.56841N 87.47839W

Picnic Lunch along the Dead River Falls
(You have to wash up in the river afterward and pack out all your trash. It’s rustic!)

Before making the somewhat arduous trek back to the top of the falls, they stopped for a picnic lunch. Major Armstrong’s army skills and strength came in handy, as he packed and carried ALL the supplies for a scrumptious lunch (along with his youngest son in a front pack).

The Dead River Falls were such a magical part of the kids’ growing up years that I wrote a mystery story for them called The Dead River Diamonds. A GR publishing house expressed interest in it, although they wanted me to cut down the number of children from seven to four, which I couldn’t imagine doing! How could I ever “cut out” any of my kids? Maybe someday I will improve it and find a publishing house who will consider a mystery series based on a such an unfashionably large family. 🙂

Father, sons, and grand children along the Michigan’s Dead River Falls

I have every hope of returning to the Dead River Falls again some day, but as I write, I’m grieving with a young friend who just lost her precious husband, who is the age of my sons.

One of my sons dated her older sister when they were teens. It occurred to me that I may never live to hike the Dead River Falls again. In fact, my sons and even my grand sons may not live to hike the falls again—what a horrible thought!

Looking back, even long lives seem short; how much shorter those that end before their youthful beauty fades? “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth” (Isaiah 40:6-7).

Family enjoying a day at the Dead River Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

It is my earnest hope and prayer that my family—and everyone who reads this—will enjoy a long, healthy, active life. But, I have to ask: Are you as prepared to die as you are to live? “Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:13-14). “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Are you saved? If you’re not sure, all you have to do is ask Christ to save you: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:9-11).

Loving Even The Least of These

On the topic of loving our enemies, the new 2019 movie, The Least of These,

is a horrific account of one cataclysmic clash between radical Hindus and Christians in India just twenty years ago, in January of 1999.

Based on the life story of Graham and Gladys Staines, who were missionaries from Australia caring for a leper colony in Odisha, The Least of These traces the life and legacy of the Gaines family, who spent forty years caring for the needs of the least-of-the-least untouchables cast out from society because of their leprosy.

I don’t want to tell the end from the beginning, but it is a heart-rending movie.

Gladys retired in 2004, and the following year, she was awarded the Padma Shree in India in recognition of her work among the lepers.

In 2016, Gladys also received the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.

The movie was shot on location in 2012, although it took many years to produce and was just released in America this year.

If you’re looking for an inspiring example of the love of Christ, you will appreciate this movie. (Because of the content, I do not recommend it for children. I think the PG-13 rating is exactly right.)

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).