Category Archives: Grief

Rise Up, My Love (264): Overcoming Trials

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”Are you feeling all clear and cheery today? No clouds in the sky of your heart? Or, are the clouds gone but you’re burning under the heat of the sun? You’ve laid your burden at the foot of the cross, but you’re still wandering through the wilderness?

Healing is always miraculous, and sometimes God heals us completely in a moment, but often giving our struggles to Jesus is like getting a cast on a broken leg. It begins the healing process, but it may take months before we can walk without a limp. Or, as in the case of Jacob who became a “prince” with God, we may limp for the rest of our lives (Genesis 32:31-32).

Whatever the consequences of our sins and trials may be… Jacob came through his wilderness experience as a prince, and so can we. In case you’re still struggling, let’s consider this verse again. We all have wilderness experiences in our lives. We all have times in our lives when we feel very alone, very lost, very betrayed…very hurt. We feel pain. Often we feel great loss…loss of love, loss of trust, loss of the presence of those we love.

Most of us have experienced the anguish of, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). Our whole world turns grey. Our minds race like rats running a maze, but all we can find are dead ends. There is no way out. There is no way of escape. We can run, but will that help? Which way is the right way?

I used to always want to run away from pain, but I’ve learned over many years that running away doesn’t work. Yes, there are some types of physical pain that can be avoided by running, but we can’t run away from spiritual and emotional realities. In the spiritual realm, we must learn to make the painful journey out of the wilderness—not by running wildly away from trouble—but by leaning on our Savior and finding all we need in him.

No matter how wonderful our spouse, family, and friends are, there are times when they will fail. No matter how much our parents love us, they can’t always be there for us. I am one of the very blessed ones. Some have no parents or spouse at all, or the ones they have are cruel and wicked. Some people have no friends or family at all…good or bad! They are alone in this world…not just part of the time, but all of the time. What then?

No matter what the circumstances of your life are today, if at some time you have come to the Lord repenting of your sins and asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior, then you are a child of God and a part of the family of God and bride of Christ. In that case, whatever the wilderness…he is with you. How shall we escape? “How shall we then live?” By leaning on the everlasting arms of our Savior. By looking into his eyes and sensing his love…by being filled with his peace and presence. By following his example and walking beside him.

What is the wilderness? Most of the time it is the sense of emotional desolation we feel when we are disappointed by the circumstances of life. Really, it is the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1), and at its heart—the wilderness of our own sin, created by looking inward and feeling sorry for ourselves instead of looking upward and rejoicing in God when we are suffering tribulation.

Yesterday (fifteen years ago!) I called a former pastor’s wife whom I knew was suffering with vision problems and bruised ribs from a fall in the bathtub. When I asked her anxiously, “How are you?” expecting to be empathetic with her pain, she responded with incredibly cheery faith, “Oh, I’m just rejoicing in the Lord.” Wow! What a testimony to the realness of her comfort in God’s grace. This is the true secret of overcoming!

Just today (while editing this), I talked to a friend wh0 just come out from anesthesia after a hip replacement. I asked her, “How are you feeling?” to which she replied, “Oh, we had a fun day. They wheeled me into the wrong surgical suite, but they figured it out before they took out my appendix, and we all had a good laugh.” What a great attitude!

During the biggest test of my life, I “failed of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Under the torch of God’s hot refining fire, I gave up in many ways. I gained fourteen pounds in six months. I lost all desire to live and just wished I could die and go to be with the Lord, “which is far better”(Philippians 1:23), more absorbed by my own pain that moved by the needs of those around me.

Have you been in the wilderness? Have you come to the foot of the cross? Have you found the way out? Please take the time to read Hebrews 12 slowly and carefully. In my (Scofield) Bible, the heading for this chapter is “The walk and worship of the believer-priest.” That’s you and me! Don’t forget our calling and responsibility. What are we to do? Look up, and know that God is all wise, all powerful, and present everywhere…even here this minute.

Understand that not one sparrow falls without his consent, and not one person falls without his consent either. We may feel alone, but we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us through terrible suffering…perhaps similar to our own…perhaps even worse. Most of all, “Consider him [Jesus] that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3). Trust Jesus. Lean on him. As soon as you can, stop crying and wipe away your tears!

Eventually it’s possible to find peace and joy again—even after terrible trials—and feel like being alive once more. It’s possible to come up out of the wilderness. I know. It happened to me.

Rise Up, My Love (263): How to Survive Heartbreak

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” This is a magnificent verse. It is speaking—of course—of the bride. From whence is she coming? The wilderness. How is she coming? Is she alone? No, not at all. She is coming in the company of her beloved, enabled by his support.

This is a verse that gleams like a gem lying openly atop the burning desert sands of life…no digging to understand what’s meant, just scoop it up and it’s yours! Better yet, it’s like the glitter of light reflecting from an artesian well, marking an oasis in the desert of life…no need to dig the well, just draw out the water and be refreshed. You know what the verse is saying…just meditate on it…”chew on it” for a while and allow its truth to become your own experience!

Have you ever been in the wilderness? About fifteen years ago, I lost my mother after ten long years of her suffering with Alzhiemer’s, and shortly thereafter I learned that one of my dearest friends had betrayed me in a most devastating way. I felt desperately lonely and heartbroken…I believe it was the lowest point in my life, and my husband was totally unhelpful. (He is now very supportive, just for the record.)  At any rate, it took me many years, but I learned a very painful lesson. When we’re in the desert, we’re never going to survive unless we start taking one small step at a time…putting one foot in front of the other even if we’d really rather die and go to heaven. Nobody can do this for us. God wants us to lean on our Savior and walk out of the wilderness with him, but there are certain steps we have to take or we’ll never really get out.

*We have to confess our own failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

*We have to forgive those who’ve injured us: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

*And then, we have to consciously refuse to think about the past hurt, just as our dear heavenly Father does: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  *Finally, we have to start walking up and out of the wilderness, like someone who’s trying to recover from a broken leg (or for us older folks—a hip or knee replacement), leaning heavily on our beloved spiritual husband, Jesus Christ, for support. Slowly but surely, without even realizing it, we’ll start to heal and find joy again, but it comes from leaning on Jesus and communing with him with an iron-clad resolution to refuse looking back.

Will you take time to stop for a few minutes and sort through your life relationships? Are there injuries that rumble like thunder through the back of your mind and send a bolt of jagged pain ripping through your heart when you remember them? If so, how about taking a few moments to visualize something with me. Imagine gathering up all these terrible memories one by one as if they are billowing black clouds that you can reach up and pull down into a bundle. Imagine taking the bundle and bringing it to the foot of the cross, giving it entirely to Jesus so that it is no longer yours. Confess and forgive: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (Luke 11:4).

Have you given your burden to the Lord? If so, it is his. You don’t own it any more. Don’t try to take it back; don’t open the bag; don’t try to sort through the memories anymore. They belong to Jesus, and he wants you to choose to “remember them no more.” That chapter is finished. Over. Done. Look forward.

One night while our family was leading worship at our local rescue mission, a big, handsome, fierce-looking African-American man with dread locks came to the front of the room at an altar call carrying a long knife, which he lifted over his head, holding one end with each of his hands. For a moment we all held our breath, not perfectly sure what he intended, because carrying concealed weapons was strictly forbidden at the mission, and no one had known that he was armed with such a deadly knife.

However, when the man reached the front where my husband was standing, he kneeled down and laid his weapon on the floor. This is just what we need to do with those killer thoughts that we’ve kept hidden within us! Lift that lethal bundle over your head, come straight to the cross, and lay it at the feet of Jesus.

“This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing” (Isaiah 28:12). “Casting all your care upon him: for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7).

A Time for Heaven Contrived By God

 A Time for Heaven is one of those “fact is stranger than fiction” stories that would seem contrived and “too good to be true” unless it is, and they say it is!! A Time for Heaven is definitely advertised as being “based on the incredible true story about a tenacious nurse who helped people that had reached the end of their lives come to terms with God and heaven.”  I couldn’t find any more information on line to test just how closely the story line followed the realities, but I did learn that the real nurse was fired from the hospital for being too open about her faith.  A Time for Heaven (2017) is G-rated and has a 7.6 from IMDb, so it’s a well done movie your whole family could enjoy together (or at least those old enough to deal with the issue of impending death).  It showcases hospice care at its best, starring a compassionate young nurse who is assigned a very grouchy patient.  Although he’s hard on her, she’s up for the challenge, and eventually the patient is loved into peace and contentment about his imminent death.  Despite (but also because of) the amazing coincidences, A Time for Heaven is a beautiful story about life, death, abandonment, forgiveness, and hope, and it has a wonderfully happy ending.                                         So, what’s not to love about that?   Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

Thanksgiving, Thanksgetting, or Both? (With Illustrations from India and Nepal to Give Perspective)

I have four of the world’s best daughter-in-laws, and my one and only son-in-law is right up there with the best of them too! He is warm, quiet, affectionate, generous, always helpful, devout, ingenious, artistic, and usually has a bit of a smirk on his face, which I presume is his creative imagination kicking in to add a bit of humorous (albeit silent) commentary to life.    I wouldn’t trade him for a barrel of monkeys or anything else you might offer!  All this intro is so you don’t misinterpret his wry pseudonym for Thanksgiving, which is (as you’ve probably guessed) “Thanksgetting.”   So, what are you doing for Thanksgetting tomorrow? Lord willing, we’ll do what we most often do: Gather with those of our family who are able to come and share a Thanksgiving “feast,” and then we’ll sit in a circle around a candle-lit coffee table in our living room and play “The Thankful Game.” Do you ever play that game? It’s a time of reflecting on all the blessings we’ve received over the past year from God, and we go around the circle sharing one by one, round and round until we all seem content that we’ve remembered to give thanks to God for all the most important things we’ve gotten from him. It’s really an opportunity to recognize God’s goodness in our lives and a great way to worship Him, whether you’re alone for Thanksgiving or in a big group.
However you celebrate, I hope you focus on what you’ve gotten rather than what you’ve given this year, and if it’s been a terrible year where you’ve suffered great loss, perhaps you can think about what you still have.  I have a number of friends who’ve had serious physical problems this year, and some who have lost someone precious to them, and my heart grieves for them.  Still, after visiting India and Nepal recently, I am reminded of how “good” most of us have it in America.  King David suffered terrible losses in his life, and yet he wrote beautiful psalms of praise to God for His goodness and graces.  I pray that whatever your circumstances, you’ll be able to say with David: “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116 :17, emphasis mine; notice that sometimes it is actually an act of sacrifice to believe in God, surrender to him, and find reasons to give him thanks in the midst of anguish). Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2). Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:4).   And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing” (Psalm 107:22).   “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

What About Dead Parking Meters and No Outlets? Is There No Hope?

Have you ever gone up to put money in a parking meter only to discover that it’s dEAd? Today is my son Daniel’s thirty-second birthday, and when I asked him what he wanted for a gift, he said a little wistfully, “You know, I think time is about the most precious gift.” I wasn’t exactly sure how to buy him time, but after reflecting on it a little, it did occur to me that I could offer him a little of my time to babysit their two little ones so he could take his wife out on a date!

It also occurred to me that their toddler, Samuel, likes donuts, so I decided to stop at Van’s Pastry (which has some of the best donuts in town) and pick up some donuts to make his day a bit brighter.  Can you believe this parking meter? In all my years, I’ve never seen this before, but it did make me think about what it means to be “dEAd.” On the way to their home, I also pass a cemetery, and I’m always taken with this sign: “NO OUTLET.”                                Once you’re dEAd, is there really “no outlet?” Over the weekend, Alan and I watched two movies, both based on true events that dealt with life and death issues. In one movie (A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on the youth of Amos Oz, who lived through the terrible years of Israel going from a British Mandate to an independent state), one of the main characters became terminally depressed and looks at Death (personified) as a comforting protector. The other story, The Unmiracle, is  about two brothers (one an ex-marine) trying to cope with the tragedies of life, although in their situation, they began to see a glimmer of hope even in the midst of all the darkness. Quite a few years ago, I bought three cups and let my two sons (who were living with us at the time) each choose which cup they wanted. They chose “Love” and “Faith,” leaving me with “Hope.” At the time, I don’t think I completely appreciated the value of “hope.” I knew that God is love (1 John 4:16), and that to love God above all else and our neighbor as I love myself is God’s highest command (Mark 12:29-31). I also knew that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and through faith we’re justified and have peace with God (Romans 5:1-2). But, I didn’t appreciate the role of hope in life. Hope is what gives us joy and makes us happy (Psalm 146:5). It’s what gives us the courage to go on. I read about a study on what helped people survive during World War 2. It wasn’t physical strength and health (although I’m sure that gave people more of a possibility of surviving). The strongest factor was the will to live, and that was usually based on the person having a sense of hope.

Are you lacking hope today? Do you feel dEAd and like there’s no outlet? Please, please, please turn to Jesus and cry out to him for help and hope. Trust him. Call on him. Let him help you! Truly, He will!

*Here are a few readings from the Bible to get you started if you’re wanting more hope:

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these Mark 11:29-31.

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:1 6).

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord (Psalm 31:24).

That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God” (Psalm 78:6-8).

Some Healing Balm for Grief and Loss

Becky Baudouin’s book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy was so full of helpful ideas on grieving loss (not only cancer but any loss) that I want to share just a few of the multitude with you this morning:

“Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same.” Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised

“Sometimes you will never know the value of something until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Seuss

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Helen Keller

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when your pain has caused you to forget it.” Cherelea A. Purcell, Restored

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” David Augsburger

“Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“Grief is not a one-time visitor…Grief comes, always uninvited…Grief demands acknowledgement…So invite grief in. Take your time and unpack the bags. Listen to the stories and feel the feelings. Don’t rush the process. Do the hard work of grieving—and make no mistake—it is some of the hardest work  you will ever do.” Becky Baudouin, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy

“When you make your way through grief, you don’t leave that person behind. You bring that person with you, where your memories of that person and your thankfulness for that person [become] a happy experience and not filled with so much pain.” Susan Lutz, GriefShare

“Resignation is an outer posture; surrender is an inner one. Resignation is giving up; surrender is accepting…Surrender invites us to a radical but always freeing posture of nonresistance to reality.” David Benner, Soulful Spirituality

“You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have.” Corrie Ten Boom

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning…Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.” Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder

“I did not get over my loved ones; rather I absorbed the loss into my life…until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised

The rest are all by Becky Baudouin from her book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy:

“Like a GPS processing new data so it can determine a new route, we do our best to recalculate—to adjust our thinking based on what we know to be true. Our changed reality forces changes in us. In some ways we become a different version of ourselves, a different version of who we were becoming. We are shaped and forever altered by these moments.”

“I am beginning to see that maybe the best way to lead my children is to let them walk with me.”

“Cancer threatens our future time together, but the gift is that it also fully opens us up to the present.”

“It is a profound privilege to walk with a loved one on an unwanted journey, because in the midst of the darkness and the fear, when we can’t see where we are going, we find out that we are not alone.”

“Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.”

“I’ve searched the Bible for this verse promising that God won’t give us more than we can handle, and I can’t find it…I believe that God is in control and does allow trials to come our way, and that he is always working for our good. but it’s not our own strength that determines how we will weather the storms of life; it’s our dependence on him that matters most.”

“When we put our faith in God rather than in a desired outcome, we are empowered to take the next step, even when we can’t see where we are going. We can rely on God’s unfailing love and goodness even through life’s darkest trials. We can worship him even in the midst of crushing grief and loss, holding on to the promises that he will see us through and heaven awaits us. ‘We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2, New Living Translation).”

“Fast-forwarding is great for skipping television commercials, but it would not be good in real life, even for skipping over the hard moments, because God is in those moments.”

“It’s often difficult to know what to do when our loved ones begin to lose their independence, their health, or their abilities. It is a transition that is never easy or smooth. There is a delicate, impossible-to-find balance between encouraging and pushing, between helping and enabling.”

“Life is best lived in community. She showed me that healing comes as we make ourselves vulnerable and tell our stories…Our stories have the power to become a transforming force in the lives of others.”

“I didn’t expect the sorrow to be laced with beauty. In some ways, it remind me of childbirth…I see my mom being born into heaven.”

“Some people call it grief brain. It feels like your head is stuffed with cotton, and you can’t think clearly…Here’s my explanation for why we can’t think clearly after a tragedy or loss: Part of the brain is processing what happened and another part of the brain is protesting. Amidst this tug-of-war between acceptance and disbelief, there is a whole lot of remembering and mental reorganizing taking place. All of this requires enormous amounts of energy, and it is absolutely exhausting.”

“In pretty much any given moment, if I quiet myself, I can imagine what my mom would say to me. I can still hear her voice and feel her love. Now I know what she was trying to tell me. Her love has become internalized inside my heart, and in a way that means she lives on in my thoughts. It means that she is always with me, in my heart.”

“I don’t think true happiness is found by escaping our everyday lives. I think it’s available and attainable in the mundane, ordinary, less-than-perfect places. I think it’s found by loving God and loving others.”

“Spending time together as a family is one of the best things we can do this side of heaven…loving and accepting one another is the greatest gift we can give, and…together we can make it through anything. We were never meant to walk alone.”

 

When Faith Brings Unexpected Joy to the Cancer Journey

If you’ve had any experience with cancer, you can’t read Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy: What My Mother Taught Me About How to Live and How to Die without feeling the profound weight of grief Becky Baudouin experienced as she walked through the great shadowlands with her mom.

My husband appears to be healthy today, but he’s a survivor of prostate cancer, and once “The Big C” enters your life, it never quite leaves, hanging like a gloomy cloud perceived somewhere at the edges of your peripheral emotional vision. The husband of my dearest friend from childhood is going through chemo treatments right now, so the fear is fresh again in me…the hope for healing…the longing for health…the insecurities about the future…

Becky’s book is like a basic 101 course in dealing with life and death issues!   However, it’s also like taking medicine, so I was very ambivalent about starting. It’s painful to reflect on past losses; it’s even painful to process present challenges! And, it’s downright terrifying to consider possible future worsts while hoping for bests. Therefore, reading Becky’s book was an exercise in faith and hope…hope that faith could bring unexpected joy even in such tragic circumstances as the loss of an irreplaceable loved one.

Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy was truly therapeutic! Becky opens the doors of her heart and takes you on a journey with her through her own childhood, her mom’s illness, grieving the loss of her mother, and coming through the depths of grief back to life. Interwoven throughout the book are some of the treasures she learned from her mother about faith, life and death. The author’s motivation is obvious—she wants you to know that you are not alone in your suffering, that all the crazy stages (such as grief brain) are pretty much universal, and that (as her mom taught her) you don’t have to be afraid of death.

Shining through the weight of grief is the weight of glory. One of my favorite thoughts was this: When we were little, sometimes our mothers would call us home, but we wouldn’t want to stop playing. However, at other times, we would realize how hungry and tired we were and would be glad for the dinner bell! Reflecting on this, Becky writes, “…surrendering in death is accepting God’s timing when he says, ‘It’s time for you to come home now.’ When we live a surrendered life, when we’ve learned to listen to his voice and follow where he leads, we trust him because we believe he loves us and knows what’s best. And hopefully when he calls us, we will realize how hungry we are for heaven, how ready we are to go home.” Amen? Amen. I think that will be the greatest unexpected joy for each of us as we anticipate death! We will see Jesus coming for us, and suddenly, we’ll be overjoyed to go!

Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour” (Isaiah 43:1-3).