Quietly standing at the edge of the crowd that came to pay tribute, she stands alone longing to be all alone with her sibling just one more time. Solemnly, in reverence for the life he lived, she moves within a few feet from the coffin, hoping to steal away just a few moments to collect her thoughts and convey her love to his shell. Seconds turn into a minute before she is interrupted by a hand on her shoulder meant to comfort and unify. She is deeply disappointed to not have more time to just be in the presence of the man who passed too quickly from this earth.
Funerals are the earmarks of suffering. Funerals are difficult, whether the funeral culminates in: a life well lived; an illness, albeit a quick death or prolonged illness after a diagnosis; a tragic loss through murder, still birth, suicide. Depending on your family traditions, funerals or wakes can be a time of celebrating the lives of those no longer with us; this celebration of life can assist in all stages of our grief.
I remember going to the funeral of a childhood friend, Laura, under the age of 8. As it goes, Laura was excited to ride her bike in the neighborhood. Back then a helmet was simply not used. Just before leaving, her mom reminded Laura to stop at the stop signs and look both ways. A neighbor driving down the street had hit my friend as she pedaled through the stop sign, not heeding her mom’s caution. She hung on for several days in the hospital; seeing her laying still on the hospital bed has never left me. Laura’s family and the driver have never been the same. These scars have thick layers of regret mingled with soul-wrenching sorrow; you cannot see these scars with your eyes, they are there nonetheless. I have attended funerals for family and friends who have lost a parent, child, or sibling. I have attended funerals for my relatives and friends. In my view, the most tragic are those who were young, with more life to live, those who never got to experience life, or those who chose to take their own life.
About twenty years after my friend Laura’s funeral, I attended Anastasia’s funeral, supporting our dear friends grieving the loss of their first child. My husband and I, along with a handful of others, attended her funeral; Anastasia was still born at 23 1/2 weeks. I can still picture her perfect face that clearly reflected her beautiful mother. Throughout these 25 years since, as I look at my eldest, the memories of my friend’s difficult pregnancy and birth have filled my mind’s eye; what would Anastasia have liked or disliked; how tall would she be; would she still be a ‘mini-me’ of my friend? The conversations shared following her daughter’s passing are tucked into my heart; her pain, grief and desires are still heard from time to time. The four of us felt such relief when our son (and not a daughter) was born 7 weeks later; as planned, they were the first visitors to welcome him.
Various situations can cause scarring: death; broken relationships; divorce; violations to our physical, mental, or emotional state, to name a few. Each represents the loss of something once held precious. In medical terms according to WebMD.com, scars are formed after an injury when collagen fibers form to assist in healing. So, scars are to assist in healing. Realistically, they can cause more future difficulty physically, emotionally and spiritually. Physical scars can actually cause so much pain that surgery if performed to remove them. It is the emotional and spiritual scars that can be challenging because they are not easily detectable.
Do you have any scars from various accidents growing up? I definitely do. There are two scars that cannot be missed, one less than and one greater than 6 inches. The larger scar has taught me how to cope with nagging aches throughout the years. Ironically enough, the smaller scars have caused the deepest invisible pain. There is no way to conveniently forget the scars when the healing initially began; now, the scars themselves and their causes do not get a second’s thought. You may have scars that run as deep and in many instances, deeper than mine. Maybe you still experience the sharp devastating blow of unforeseen loss or you may have moved to a more dull ache.
How could ‘lovely scar’ be descriptors of suffering? Stay with me for one more illustration. The first time I got to hear Tami’s story was 7 years ago. In 2008 she had 5 children, the eldest 20 years old. He had been murdered in his new apartment, moments after saying good-bye to his mom. Why? It really does not matter, does it? He was brutally taken from his mother, from his 4 younger siblings, from his 2 step-siblings, from his step-father, from his father!
That is a tragically deep scar.
She did not blame God or ask the proverbial, “Why me?”
Was she angry? Yes.
At God? No.
What did she do to manage the loss, pain and anger? She literally cried out to God Almighty and told Him her thoughts and feelings: could she in some way have stopped the murder; grateful to God for the time she had with her son; desired justice for the young man that took her son’s life; anger over his death; anger over the fact her son was no longer here with her; anger over her son not being alive for his siblings and family. There was more, I am sure.
I want to punctuate something here. Tami had a choice then and has a choice now. As she shared with me, 7 years ago and in the years since, she thanks God for the time she had with her son; she refuses to look at what she does not have, but what she had been given. Such a testimony to me and I hope to you.
I am not saying my friend is perfect. I am saying that she chose to look at her horrific tragedy (words fail me here!) with a grateful heart. NO easy task. When I look at my friend, I see loveliness in her scars. The beauty of relying on a God that is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, who relents to bring calamity upon us, as it is written in Joel 2:13. It was not easy when she lost her son nor was it easy when she experienced her husband’s death two years ago. She does not understand the reasoning, however Tami understands the character of God as written in Joel.
Suffering is difficult. Many times our suffering should be shared with someone we trust. Why? You do not want to just cope, as I learned to do with my larger scar. You are still here on earth, meant to live, whether or not you want to or agree. In the proper sharing of our pain we can find some relief. When receiving care from another, an opportunity for our ache to lessen is provided. More importantly, when experiencing such monumental loss and grief, we must allow ourselves to feel. Tami did. She was careful with whom she shared. She ran into the comfort of her Father, even when she did not understand the whys. She shared with those who would point her back to the knowledge that Jesus himself knew grief at the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus was compassionate to his friend’s sisters along with those he met that experienced illness and loss. I pray you find that same comfort. As always, I will be praying for you, that you will find rest, peace and joy in your journey through grief.
One of the most difficult actions that we may ever experience is waiting.
My husband has had to wait for me many times. Some have been out of frustration because I am waylaid for one reason or another, forgetting all but what is in front of me. Other times, too many to delineate, he has had to wait while I was in the OR. In these various circumstances a multitude of emotions can run across our hearts and minds, leaving us breathless, searching for peace.
You have had to wait as well, for different results, from varying sources: a physical test; someone’s health; an educational test; a court system; a response to your request; a child’s obedience. The waiting can be anywhere from easy to down-right painful.
What about the circumstances that leave us empty and alone, questioning if we are really loved, missed, cared for.
Quite a few years ago when my children were young, I experienced such a time. Not to bore you with unnecessary details, I found myself hospitalized for the second time within a few weeks. I experienced a relapse of complications to pancreatitis, which the doctors could not explain. In my weakened state, I was given a PIC line and monitored for several days before heading home.
If you have ever been in the hospital while ill and weak, you know that you do not always want visitors but would not say so. I was feeling super yucky and didn’t have the desire to talk to anyone.
A friend of the family came by to see me. Phil was my husband’s boss and a part-time pastor for a local church. He was and is a wonderful man, husband and boss equipped with a fantastic sense of humor. He stopped by only for a few moments.
The only thing I needed to do that night was to listen to Phil pray for me.
As I listened, I felt a little numb; then I got angry at his words that I deemed ‘insensitive’. “How could a prayer be insensitive,” you ask?
Phil had the nerve to thank God for my illness! Thanking God for my suffering, seriously?
Phil knew that I had already endured several medical procedures, leaving me unable to really take care of my children and husband, let alone myself.
And still he thanked God for all of it.
After my indignation of his prayer deflated like a helium ballon being drained by eager party-goers wanting to sound like a Wizard of Oz Munchkin, I tentatively asked God why Phil prayed this way.
The answer came in Philippians 4:4-7. It speaks on prayer, beginning with what our attitude should look like, rejoicing. We are to show others our gentleness, knowing the author of this attribute is God Almighty and that He is near to us. We are told to not be anxious about anything.
Remember the list of circumstances that cause us to wait?
So, even in our waiting we are to be patient? OK, I can try.
Then we are told further in verse 6 that in everything we are told in the NIV, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
That is a mouth-full that causes a chain-reaction of mind-boggling, heart questioning confusion.
Prayer is simply speaking to God about what is on your mind and in your heart. He knows what is on your mind and what is in your heart already; prayer is an opportunity to spend time talking with Him about those things, just like you would do with your best friend.
The word, supplicate, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary means, to make a humble entreaty; especially: to pray to God. I looked at four dictionaries on-line and the key word in each of the definitions was a form of humility. Scripture tells us that, ‘by prayer and supplication,” we are to present our requests to God.
This word, humble, gets us to the point of the matter. To be humble is to be aware of who you are in relation to whom you are speaking or addressing. In this case, Phil knew who he was, a man in service to God, follower of Christ. He also knew to whom he was speaking: The Creator of my body.
We are then instructed to have thanksgiving as we make our requests known to God. Hmm, thanksgiving, huh?
So, Phil was acting out in faith what the scriptures told him to do.
Once I came down off my self-made pedestal, my prayer life and discussions with God have never been the same.
Because I realized that God understood the waiting game. He has waited and waited to be acknowledged by man on many levels; on many levels I am sure He has been disappointed at the lack of recognition of Who He is. He has waited for men to come to him with their weary hearts and minds, desiring to give each and every one of them rest as stated in Matthew 11:28 – 30.
I finally understood that my prayer, any prayer, was an act of worship because when I spoke to Him humbly with thanksgiving, I was recognizing Who He was and is and who I am not. I am not God.
I also understood that when I told Him I was thankful for difficulties, like my illness, I was being obedient and I was recognizing that it was because of my illness, or circumstance, that I was privileged enough to come before my Mighty God.
That is it.
A privilege to speak to God; to be recognized by God; to be accepted by God; to be listed to by God, Creator of all.
I finally saw that the waiting game posed a priceless opportunity in front of me, in front of anyone willing and able to see: the privilege to talk with God with thanksgiving for the horrible situation I found myself.
Every time since I have thanked God for the ugly, unkind, unforgiving, judging, unfair and what I deem as unnecessary in my life. I have then found what the rest of Philippians 4 says, I have received God’s peace in the midst of tragedy, heartache, confusion and suffering.
Possibly you are in a difficult situation and are waiting. The best type of waiting is done with the assurance that God, Creator of all, is listening, desiring to hear from you and respond to you. You may not always get what you want, when you want. For me and my illness, I had to wait an additional 30 days to recover from my illness. Doctors did not have any understanding of why.
However, I came out of that dark time with the knowledge that God loved me for exactly who I was and that He was for me, not against me. Ever since, I have looked at God and prayer quite differently than most people. I am so thankful for Phil Frye and the invaluable lesson God taught me through his obedience to God and compassion toward me.
Can Satan read our thoughts?
This is a serious.
Some people do not want to pray out-loud for fear that our Enemy, Satan, will have power to do his worst to us or to someone we love. Here are some things to chew on and even explore.
Satan is NOT Omnipotent (all-powerful), Omniscient (all-knowing), nor Omnipresent (everywhere at all times). The only power that any of us have is what God enables us to have, see Acts 17:28. All things are under Jesus, as he is superior to all even angels, as written in Hebrews 2:8. Remember Job? In Job 1 Satan was, ‘roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’ Then Job 1:12 we read, ‘The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he (Job) has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’”
We think that Satan can read our minds. We forget how we talk about and think about those things that we fear. Since Adam and Eve this world has been Satan’s sandbox where he stirs, harasses, pounces and more those who seek after God; he has and will continue to distract, isolate, accuse and hinder them from trusting The loving God. He also misleads and misrepresents himself. Why? He wants to be God. The first man and woman chose to not trust God’s instruction and to trust the serpent’s suggestions. His tactics have not changed in all of these years.
Satan doesn’t need any special powers to know that we as humans fear and that fear is different for each of us. He uses various tactics with every one of God’s children until he hits on something that causes us to fear the circumstance or particulars more than we fear God.
Satan is a grand illusionist, manipulator, wanting us to believe and live our life, in the most base of terms, in a way that demonstrates our belief that God is not faithful nor loving, also that we are not worth God’s effort to remain steadfast, loving us in and through our trials. Satan’s aim is to take our eyes off of our loving God; he tries to manipulate us into believing that God never loved us or that God has given up on us.
Satan takes our humanness and capitalizes on it.
Our fear of God is to be reverent fear full of love and trust, not distrust. If and when we distrust that perfect Love, Satan has gained the upper hand in our minds, hearts and is reflected in our lives. It is not easy to combat these things, especially our feelings. I have experienced this in my life; I have had to willfully choose to believe God and His love for me more than the circumstances unfolding before me. I have shed many tears, had sleepless nights, read God’s Word, communicated with Him through talking and singing to overcome situations and fears. It takes an active participation, intention, determined will to trust God in he midst of chaos, pain, uncertainty.
Choosing to trust God and His love is the essence of FAITH. See Habakkuk 3:17 – 19. Yet will I trust.
We sell ourselves short when we do not trust in God. We begin trusting in someone or something that cannot help us, love us or care for us as our Father does. Some believe that by praying out-loud we are giving Satan access to our concerns and therefore, giving him the ability to cause things to happen. Let me just say that there are things that happen every day that God does not want to happen due to the free-will that he gave every man. We then suffer the consequences of some of those bad choices.
Revelation 12:11 tells us, “They overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus!) and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” As we fear Satan’s limited power over us, we give him what he wants, to keep us from worshiping God through praise and prayer, and in so doing we unwittingly honor our enemy. We need to overcome the lies with words of truth from the Bible and what we know about God’s character. “Our weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world,” as stated in 2 Corinthians 10:4, “On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In other words, speak the truth and yes out-loud to demolish, squash Satan.
Stay with me for just a bit more.
We must look at this fundamentally, is God sovereign? According to my Google dictionary, ‘sovereign’ is defined as possessing supreme or ultimate power; it’s synonyms are absolute, unlimited, unrestricted, boundless, ultimate, total, unconditional, full, to name just a few. If God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, these qualities clearly point to His sovereignty.
Look at the synonyms again; do you see ‘unconditional’; in human terms as best we can understand, God’s lavish love for us is unconditional. While Satan and his cohorts twist, misconstrue, mislead etc., we must actively cling to the Hope we have been given in the form of Christ’s blood shed on the cross.
Remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Although with our human eyes and heart we cannot conceive what good could come out of tragedy, God knows.
I do not always understand God’s reasoning simply because I am not God.
But, I know God loves me because he sent his son, for me.
I know that Jesus trusted God for good to come out of his death.
The darkest times in my life, God had been there, loving me even when I did not.
For those, who like me, have fallen into the trap of believing that you are not worth ‘the long haul,’ ‘worth the effort’ or ‘worth the time,’ dwell on this fact: Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” I have to imagine that Jesus did not look forward to experiencing pain, physical, emotional or otherwise.
Yet, he chose to accept his Father’s decision.
Satan wants us to forget the words Jesus said as he hung on the cross and breathed his last, “It is finished.”
His work on the cross was complete, his blameless body bruised, tortured, exposed and he endured the penalty of death because of my sin, your sin. It all comes down to this fact: one drop of Christ’s blood declared Jesus’ lavish love for me, for you.
I describe God’s love as lavish because He did not choose the easy road, he did not reason with the officials, he did not turn away.
Jesus stayed. He saw the task through. Until he died.
Then, on the third day, God exerted his power and raised His son from the dead, defeating death for all who believe and trust in Jesus as the Son of God, Savior to all.
He did this, he finished the race because He knew you were worth the effort, worth the pain, worth His love. Is He worth trusting even when you do not know what comes next?
I first became aware of them when we lived in the Mid-West.
My eldest had come home from school one day to declare that the bus driver had given a prize for his good behavior: a shark’s tooth wrapped with wire. I was actually fascinated in an odd way as I vividly recalled the movie “Jaws”. My skeptical side wondered if my child truly had a tooth from a shark. Throughout our children’s school years they all had received such a gift, and yes, from different bus drivers each time.
I had not thought of these little wonders until we moved from the mid-west to the south-east near the Atlantic Ocean. A colleague of my husband’s told us how to find them on the shore; a gauntlet for my sleuthing abilities as we pulled into Guano State Park. Determined to find at least one tooth for the day, off we went. I looked, searched with determination and of course, I couldn’t find one! I was seriously questioning our tutor and my abilities. I did as directed: stand with the sun behind me so as to not cast my shadow on the area in which I was looking; black is the color of choice; a triangular shape sought. My husband found one which ignited my negative self-conversation.
Have you ever tried to find a shark’s tooth?
I left the shoreline empty-handed sitting down in my garden of tiny, sharp shells to attend my pity-party. Amazingly, I found one, then another. I felt accomplished, that is until my husband shared the finds his eyes spied. Yes, my shoulders drooped, just a little. He had big shark’s teeth which took up more room than my tiny teeth in the small empty brown vile we brought to hold our treasures.
Each time we go to the beach my mission is clear, find teeth and shells I consider worthy to keep. Some, I have bottled up along with sand from local shores to send to my sisters for their own “beach in a bottle” (all contents hand-picked). One time, as my husband and I were leisurely walking the shore searching for treasures, a woman mentioned to my husband and I that shark’s teeth tumbled differently than shells. My husband quickly concurred. Try as I might to see the difference, I could not physically detect the difference as my husband could. Clearly we have differing vantage points that goes beyond our 9 inches of height difference.
Memories are like that for us, those that are sad definitely tumble differently in one’s mind and heart than the happy. My mind goes back to times when I had to face some horrific memories that I tried my best to keep at bay for years. As a girl I had told an adult, who was to shield me and protect me, what had happened to me; my only reward was rage that left more than just the physical scars on my face. The lesson to not trust others had then been embedded into my mind at heart-breaking speed, creating an iron coating under lock and key about my heart. These experiences served as teeth, similar to shark’s teeth, sharp even after tossing in the ocean for years. Stepping on them can cause much pain.
Just as lost shark’s teeth find their way to the ocean floor, to inevitably become entangled with sand and shells, resurfacing as the tide draws them to the shore, so did my memories, even when I did not want to put all the pieces of my memory puzzle together. If I looked at these memories closely enough, I would have to face the pain I had experienced shaping me into the woman I had become. I believed that anything more than a cursory glance at these memories would rendered more broken than I was already, due to the pain, rejection, and the hatred for the trespassers.
One of the people in my life that was a conduit of encouragement toward peace was a former pastor of mine. He had seen me during some dark days and knew that I had ignored difficulties for years. When I was open to discussion, we spoke. He told me that if I were to walk down the road to healing that he only had one piece of advice, “Face the roar of the lion.” He said that if I wanted to be healed and whole in Christ, I must be willing to trust God with these memories. Not wanting to ignore the anger, hatred and confusion that ultimately affected me, I met with the woman my pastor recommended to get the basics down and to decide if she could counsel me through my past that plagued me. She told me that it would take years; I determined to get through it in short order, less than a year at most, a few months the least. Funny how time goes by; it was not until years later that I finally felt whole and found a true Godly love for those that had so altered my life.
Skeptics say forgiveness and reconciliation are not possible in some circumstances. I say, it is. Godly counsel, acknowledging who I am in Christ and how God views all sin, along with prayer and seeking His truth through scripture necessitates this process. I have no inclination to give details nor to name names, defaming others. My story is between myself and God, as well as those who have been forgiven.
I will say that I could not forgive on my own. Acts 17:28 tells us that it is in God alone that we live, breathe and have our being. He enables us to do good, He is the source of forgiveness and I only need to be willing to forgive. Numerous times scripture tells us that God will forgive us as we forgive others. While forgiveness is a choice, the emotions that accompany the betrayal, rejection, or other experiences are something all together different. The choice of forgiveness happened in a blink however, navigating the emotions that were tied to the events drew me into the quicksand of the past, desiring me to wallow and struggle, which eventually could have led to suffocation. Each new step taken toward healing in the process of facing the lion’s roar was not easy. I had to lean on what my Pastor and counselor wisely told me, “You have survived, the memories cannot hurt you any longer.”
I liken it to this: I stood at the ocean’s edge with thick muck all over me, high tide rolling in; each time I acknowledged every painful layer of the past, forgiving, the tide swept over my crusted self; with each roll of the water, a layer of muck would be whisked away with the tide, eventually leaving me cleansed and free from that which held me still with fear. The process was not easy, many times it was frightening and knocked me down, however, Christ picked me up and helped me stand.
A struggle many have when facing a tragedy they cannot comprehend, is to ask any of these questions: Where were you God?; Why did you allow this?; Am I not important enough?; Don’t you love me, God?; Have I done something wrong to deserve this?
To my questions I heard the whisper, “I was there. I wept.”
The choice to damage me rested completely on the abusers’ shoulders, not God’s will. The image that replaced the most horrid of my memories was that of God weeping. He wept for the deep wounds left on my physical body to my spiritual soul and every other place in between.
He also wept for those who hurt me because in so doing they caused a divide between themselves and God. He desires all men to be complete in Him; He is the only One who can complete us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap, the divide caused by our sin, whether it is lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, murder, adultery, defaming another, wounding another in any way, and ignoring Him; the list goes on.
Jesus suffered everything that I had suffered and He understands it all. He was blameless. He took all men’s errors in judgment and action and took it upon himself so that we would not have to pay the penalty of our wrong doing, our sin. My God is big enough, strong enough, compassionate enough, gentle enough, to heal all emotions. He is Faithful and True. He is able to handle all things and manage them perfectly whereas, we as humans can become overwhelmed with reality. He is also just and will defend us as needed. This is why I run to Him for advice and to vent.
Scripture also tells us in Ecclesiastes that God makes all things beautiful in his time. Maybe you do not feel that your mistakes of all the yesterdays could be used for good. I say, “Yes, God can use them for your good.”
I entreat you to search for Him, cry out to Him with your fears, pain, hopes and dreams. God loves the victim and the trespasser alike. When it all melts away, it comes down to the truth: I am nothing without God; I am not saved, not healed, not whole, not forgiven and certainly not at peace. He has illuminated my doubts and shown himself loyal, worthy and trustworthy, more than any other in my life. If you do not have this peace, I urge you to look, ask, surrender and trust. Peace, until next time.
Little touches, they can make your day or can finish the process of your world crumbling.
You have been there, going about your business, completely engrossed in the task at hand and wham! you are sucker-punched by someone or something.
Growing up Dad would use that term, ‘sucker-punched’. He explained it this way: when you are coming around a corner and someone hits you, knocks you down when unaware of the attacker’s presence.
At other times, a person could be sucker-punched when in the middle of a difficult time or tragedy. An attacker can also prey upon another’s weaknesses and opportunities. An example of this would be the day I said, “I do,” to my husband. My family traveled 90 minutes North and as it turns out, friends of one of my brothers had seen this event as an opportunity to break into his home and take what they coveted. That is probably the worst kind of sucker-punch, another word for ‘betrayal’.
Thankfully, I have not had someone pick a fight with me in this way since childhood. I have been challenged to a verbal sparring match, though. Have you – someone disagreeing to just disagree or prove how right she happens to be? OK, truth be told, I have been that person verbally challenging another. Oh, those times are exhausting for everyone involved!
I find that in today’s sterile techno-gadget world, we have forgotten how much the ‘human touch’ can really affect us.
Some examples of when we need or miss the human touch: trying to get an answer or correct option from a computerized voice over the phone; emails sent in response to a job application; Facebook or text messages that are vague, leaving much room for interpretation. The list can go on and on. Many today find it completely normal to communicate only through electronic messages, even when asking another out on a date, offering or eliminating jobs, and even breaking-off a relationship. Really? There are a few words that come to mind to describe my view on this!
Living away from my hometown or being away from where most of my family live has advantages and disadvantages. In traveling I happily was no longer known as the relative of so-and-so but was making my own impressions and experiencing new places for myself. A disadvantage is not having a network of those you can rely on when my car broke down in a new city hundreds of miles away. I was and am left longing for the human-touch to which I had grown accustom. You can think of other pros and cons.
After we get sucker-punched in life or feel drained by various circumstances, we may feel a bit fragile. Maybe a smile or a helping hand, a hug or a thankful attitude from a stranger can help our resolve to keep going or to put us in a better frame of mind. I like to call these touches a type of ‘unexpected blessings.’ Your day can become brighter when someone encourages you or just touches your heart and mind when you are experiencing something difficult.
We are able to show concern and care for others, even for strangers. The smile, ‘thank you’, ‘welcome’, ‘how are you’ or ‘how can I help’ and meaning it, can truly change another’s outlook. It is simple really, just think about someone else instead of yourself so much. The simplest things are sometimes the hardest to act upon, though.
This takes practice, especially because we are all human and let’s face it, we are selfish by nature.
This thing we call life is rather dismal and confrontational when we least expect it. It is comforting to have a friend around, but in reality, during these trying moments our friends are not usually right there with us. So, in the spirit of the scriptures, we will indeed reap what we sow. These days some like to say it is, “karma.” Seriously, it has nothing to do with karma but everything to do with scripture being played-out in human nature throughout thousands of years.
This is our challenge, to practice thinking of others and touching another’s life. In doing so, the outcome is that this selfless action when practiced becomes second nature, a part of how we love, of who we love.
We are capable of this love because of the love we have been given through Christ’s love for us, which he displayed in the greatest selfless act: his innocent sacrificial death on the cross for all men. Every man, woman and child gains eternal freedom as they confess the need for the Savior and ask for his forgiveness of their sinful, wayward heart. He promises to be with us always, helping us through these difficult times.
Trust in Him.
We have so many opportunities to help and love, witness first-hand growth and maturity, and to see love blossom. Don’t miss these sacred moments. Practice the little touches. It is so refreshing to have someone in your home or place of work that when present your home or office or experience is all the better for her being there.
You may think: it doesn’t matter, really; that’s just not me; what would my family and friends think? Just remember, there is something to be said for being a pioneer out from the shadows of your family or your past and blaze a new trail!
Try it, you just might like it so much that it becomes a part of how you express the love He has given you.
I triple-dog-dare you!
Do you know someone who can remember anything? Maybe you are that person that remembers details (Detailer), tells detailed stories. When you remember well and someone you are close to does not remember well, frustration can set-in as situations are generally remembered differently. Each believes that they are correct and the other is wrong, this can make a volatile situation, particularly when one of the parties is ‘right‘!
This is not a blog on arguments. Let us see if you can figure out the topic by the end.
As a Detailer, I am challenged to not remember the hurtful things that have happened to me; this was not always the case. For years I could not remember much from my childhood because quite frankly, I did not want to. Like many others, I put off many of the painful memories, not all. That is, until the Holy Spirit wooed me into the desire of wholeness in Christ, meaning, that as I grew in my personal relationship with Jesus, desiring to be more like him, I could not ignore the bitterness and pain from the past. This walk of faith is a continual process that requires guidance that can only be provided through His Word, prayer, fellowship and active listening to the call of the Spirit. None of us will be complete until, as scriptures tell us, we see Him face to face upon departure of this earth and the immediate presence with God.
As I grew, I pushed painful situations to the abyss of my memory. Many were unaware of the turmoil that brew within. When the pain became too much of an obstacle to my growth, I had a choice: continue to bury my grudge closely woven with bitterness, resentment, hatred and fear or relinquish my hold on these slow eaters of sanity and health to Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals. I will not say that the road to wholeness was an easy trek, on the contrary, it was wrought with prayer, tears, fasting, Godly counsel, tears, honesty and more prayer, all the while being encapsulated in the reassurance of God’s Truth as written in the Holy Scriptures. As I faced the blackness of the hatred I chose to carry, for others as well as for myself, and traded it in for forgiveness and love, not only did my heart change but my hatred for those who injured me had given way to love. Many having experienced similar situations in their lives have disagreed with me, maybe you disagree too. However, I cannot claim any recognition for this healing, for it was God and God alone that performed this miracle in my life.
Let me paint a picture for you to distinguish the difference. A grudge keeper is: angry, at well-selected moments, explosive when unguarded; hurt deeply in her past by others causing distrust; is locked-up in the pain, unable to live and love freely. Yet, the one who has experienced forgiveness is: free to love; free to live through God’s Spirit and by God’s enabling love that was lavished upon all men through the shed innocent blood of Christ.
My husband and I were recently discussing a thought that has privately captured me over the last several years and has spurred me on to complete this blog. My thought of thankfulness was this, that had I quit or given up on our marriage years ago, I would not have seen and tasted the sweet outcome of the spiritual surgery that only God Almighty can do. Most marriages start well and many, in these sad days, end badly; our marriage began on rocky roads and has been smoothed by God’s patient love. When we individually surrendered our wills and selfish desires to the will of God, He was then able to perform brain and heart surgery on us. Being able to forgive, truly forgive, is an essential part of life, especially when dealing with others! There were plenty of times that I did not want to forgive because it hurt deeply; this is when I had to ask God to help me forgive and He did, ever so gently. As the healing of this spiritual surgery took place, He helped me recognize my own failings and claim responsibility in various past events due to my desperation to become closer still to Christ. This freedom allowed me to walk in love for my husband and for others, viewing each through God’s grace and mercy.
I have not arrived and will not until I see Him face to face. Yet, I must continue. Just as love is a choice, forgiveness also is a choice. I must choose to lay down, walk away from the desire to hold onto a grudge and pick-up, walk in forgiveness and mercy. When I think of all that I have done in the past and that which God has freely forgiven me, it becomes easier to choose freedom by forgiveness rather than bondage by a grudge.
Most of us have received gifts from someone at some point in our lives that have caused us to pause. The gift-giver could have given a gift that she wanted for herself, that was re-gifted to you, that was thoughtfully planned out or that was a ‘after thought.’ If you have not experienced it yourself, you may have witnessed the not so gracious ‘thanks’ or possibly the, ‘I really wanted….’ The receiver may have been gracious to ungrateful or gushing thanks to ‘you shouldn’t have.’ Any way you look at it, I want to rest on one kind of giver of gifts.
My friend, aka ‘Yaya’, is a mother of 5 grown children and two grandchildren celebrating her 29th birthday for the 20th time. Yaya’s tender selfless expression to her grandchild touched me so much that I would like to share. Her grandchild was turning 4 and like most families, birthdays have certain traditions, one being the joining of the entire family to share a meal together to celebrate the life of our loved one. Some celebrant’s choose a restaurant while others choose a homemade meal to enjoy. If the celebration is in public, no one in my family desires anyone to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them; singing this fun-filled, sometimes silly, song publicly is completely off-limits! On the other hand, some of my siblings, as well as Yaya, would only revel in the public resounding of this traditional song honoring their birth. Yaya’s granddaughter made it crystal-clear that she did not want any singing to her in public; private singing only for this soon-to-be four-year old! Even though Yaya could not understand this request, she honored it. Yaya told me that she and her husband took their granddaughter out to dinner, “On the very last day of her life as a three-year old, with no singing!” Yaya enjoyed her time with her husband and granddaughter because she knew that her sweet three-year old was delighted. Did her granddaughter realize at the time that Yaya had listened to her request and honored her preferences? Probably not, yet I would like to think that as this sweet girl grows, she will remember the care and consideration her Yaya showered on her that day.
This may seem to be such a minor exhibition of love to some; to me it is a great witness to love listening and fulfilling the heart’s desire of another person. It was a simple act of the heart. I have seen a few birthdays in my life and early on I was left with an awful imprint upon my birthday to such an extreme that I do not look forward to the day. Through the years and with God’s healing touch, I have learned to be thankful for the day God chose for me to be born. Through the years of healing and leaning-in to hear what God had to say to my soul, I have come to find that this old gal is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good work, Ephesians 2:10 says. Please, this is no, ‘Woe is me.’ Honestly, it is the opposite. Because of Christ’s completely selfless, unconditional love, I am whole. There are a few people in my life that I have remained close to throughout the years that do not even know these feelings, although they are my closest of friends, confidantes in human form, yet not as much as a confidante as God Almighty. During the time He was healing me of uselessness and ugliness, I happened to look at a digital clock, which showed the month and day of my birth. Once it registered, the Lord whispered to me, “I created you for my pleasure. I love you and have a purpose for you.” This was the most wonderful present I have ever been given; He heard my heartache and answered me sweetly. This is exactly what my friend Yaya did for her granddaughter. Yaya heard a little three-year old’s desire and gave it freely. He is always listening to our thoughts and our hearts, the silent desires that no one hears and longs to show compassion and love. I pray that you take advantage of this everlasting, unconditional love. I rejoice each time I think of Yaya’s smile escaping as she told me her story.
So in honor of my Yaya, on March 15th I specifically thanked God for you in my prayers, as you celebrated your 20th ‘do-over’ of your 29th birthday. The world is a better place because you are in it! For all the others in my life, I love you and celebrate you; remember that there is someone much more loving, more forgiving, more thoughtful, more caring than I, who saw your unformed body before you took your first breath and loved you; He is the ultimate Gift-Giver. Jeremiah 29:11 – 13, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The key is, seek Him with all of your heart and He will be found by you.
Can you see what I see, through the lens of my perception, in the image caught on my camera?
I find that too many times in the journey of life we look for clear direction but do not like the answer given us or cannot see or hear with clarity. While the photos below are not the typical road signs you would find in the U.S., we get the idea:
Do not walk past this point, people, or you will walk into a wall!
Do not turn right, it is the wrong way…
Follow the arrows to the left, to go the correct way!
We long for a clear path from God to show us the steps to take and yet when He does, we squander his loving guidance because it does not seem plausible, it is out of our comfort zone, our control. In some form or fashion most have experienced difficulties rendering us helpless, unable to control that which we so desperately want to control. We forget how lavishly loving our Father in Heaven is to us, his beloved children. He loves us freely, without restraint, desiring to commune with us. Without our instant or quickly found answers, we forget to add to our ‘to do’ lists: ask God’s opinion; waitfor God’s answer; accept God’s direction. Each of these three steps is an action. We cannot forget that to wait is an action. If patience is lacking, we tend to take matters into our own hands. I wrote about my experience doing this in the earlier blog.
Sometimes in the waiting room of life we decide that waiting is not an action and we must act. In so doing, we tend to reach for those habits that are comfortable to us. We try to fit the old self into the new self, even though the ‘old’ does not have any part in the new life, particularly the activities, the desires, the friends, the habits, the familiar that draws us away from His loving plan. Let me give you a picture for this. One of the days when I was meandering around Caernarfon, I went to the town square which is surrounded by various businesses. The ground is mainly paved with slate and brick. Yet, I found this:
We tend to do this, patch the difficulty the best we can with what we have instead of asking and receiving what He has for us. Scripture tells us that we are not to put new wine into an old wine skin. This is because the old skin is weakened from use. Let me say it this way, while growing up we wore hand-me-down clothes, patching them when necessary. My mom would cut a piece of material from scraps to patch these older garments. The patched clothing would eventually wear thin around the edges of this patch, leading to the demise of the clothing. How quickly we forget that in Isaiah, God promises that he would make a way in the desert, streams in the wasteland. He promises to do something new and beautiful in our lives and He wants to declare it to us one step at a time. If you are like me, you cannot see it because maybe you are not looking in the right spot for the right thing. One this journey, we must put off the old self and walk in His light by studying His Word, the Bible, which is the light that shines on our path of life. We must be willing to actively wait, which mean continue on doing, anticipating His response and direction. Guarantee we will not always like it but it will be the best.
We cannot walk alone. We need God to guide us through his Spirit so we can tell and show others God’s love, grace, mercy and hope. Corinthians talks about God using the simple to confound the wise and that His strength comes shining through our weaknesses when we call upon Him for guidance and strength. Let the weak say, “I am strong in the strength of the Lord.”
One of the golden rules of public speaking/performing is to not focus on what you do not want to do. As Paul tells us in scripture, the very thing I do not want to do, I do. I sense his frustration, I have experienced it too many times to discuss; my brain and heart hurts just bringing it up. As we walk through this life of trusting in God we should remember these cautions: expect distraction; expect failure. Sounds bleak, I know. These cautions should also come with the red diagonal slash through them with the caption reading: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!
The majority of Welsh have left church and have chosen to not trust God. I do not want to speculate. I am sure that there could be many reasons why the Welsh have turned from God, however, I believe there is a remnant in Wales that will help turn the Welsh back to God. Quite honestly, I also pray this for the United States of America, the land that I love. I am ever thankful that God is faithful even when we are not. Please, pray for Wales, as a main source of income for many had been taken from them several years back when the slate quarry was finally closed. Walking through the towns and the quarry, I sensed an oppression, lack of direction. Even so, I cannot help but be captured by the simple beauty of the landscape, the simplicity of life. There is a peace that permeates the land, though the people as a whole seem so far from God, with little to no desire to hear from Him who is able to provide for them. It begs me to pray for this land all the more, for the inhabitants to thirst after a personal relationship with the Giver, the Hope of all man, Jesus.
During my time in Wales, several things had fallen under Murphy’s supervision, many did not. You have heard about my misgivings about my abilities and then about surrendering my way of doing things to the guidance of the Spirit. Honestly, I flubbed speaking with others, worried about the wrong things. Out of our team of 6, 5 of us had some very difficult issues happening ‘across the pond’ in our homes that we could not do anything tangible to help. We were left to prayerfully trust God for his peace and movement in each situation. In some, God is still revealing himself, in others He has already been victorious; in each He reigns.
One of my delights was getting to know some remarkable people in Wales. I do not think that I would have ever met them, nor would many blessings be mine for knowing them had I not gone to Wales. So to God I am grateful. To Shirley, Andrew, Sue, Sheila, Sam, Jake, Jamieon, Rebecca, Harley, Tara, Will, Nathan, Cameron, Kimberley, Diane, Daniel, Jordan, John, Phil, Wallace, David, Nic, Fred, Brittany and Ashley, I am ever thankful for your service, patience, transparency, friendship and example. You each have touched my life and heart, warming it and making it long for the sweet spirit I was privileged to experience. I am ever thankful for the burden written on my heart for you all; may you prosper in life as you seek the face of God.
Can you remember when plans did not unfold as designed? Murphy’s Law, expect the unexpected at its best. I grew up trusting very, very few; I was definitely not Eeyore or Rabbit. However, outwardly, Tigger’s exuberance and positive outlook was mine, minus the confidence. In the last blog, people watching and all the doubts that flooded my heart and befuddled my mind days before my departure for Wales was covered. I paused to wonder what in the world I had been thinking: traveling to another country with 5 other people I knew little about; living with these fellow sojourners for 10 days in close quarters; depending on God completely; what could go wrong? I was planning on doing as I was told to do by the leadership that was put into place for the trip and then, oh yeah, follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance; pray, pray, pray! Everything was in order, in my mind at least. So what does the unexpected look like while traveling in a foreign land? Read on….
During our trip we had done ‘prayer walking’ and ‘narrative mapping.’ In essence, narrative mapping is getting to know the locals, their stories, their views on God; we were information gathering or collecting. Our other main task was wonderfully described by a local teen that captured my heart, Cameron said that prayer walking was ‘prayer … walking.’ For those who could not chew gum and walk at the same time, this was a challenge. At times we would pray out loud as we walked or stood still; often times we would silently pray as we walked, trusting in the Spirit to guide our prayers for the people, businesses, town and the whole of Wales. The impressions God left upon my heart for the Welsh people I will save for my next and last blog about my trip.
Connecting with the locals was my favorite. Hearing their stories helped me see their perspective and allowed me the privilege of praying for them. The first day of narrative mapping we were shown by example how to chat with locals while getting to understand their story and perspective on God. The second day, three of us were walking. Our leader told my teammate and I, “OK, this afternoon you do the mapping yourselves.” Now, I was with two men that truly had a gift to talk with anyone, I only ‘looked’ like it. Even so, my partner and I were at a loss of how to start. I was down right nervous, stumped on how to talk with anyone! Warning: putting someone on the spot can cause babbling, rapid heart beats, nervous laughter, mild sweating .
We tried one store to no avail and then decided to walk some more only to see our friends talking with some locals. They were not stumped!
So, with determination I took a deep breath and dove in, as Steven Curtis Chapman sang. We went into a travel agency and as I spoke with an agent the realization that I did not have the faintest idea how to start asking what was really on my heart almost completely curtailed my effort. I plowed forward any way, praying God would guide me. When we left the agency a few moments later to discuss what the agent shared with me, my thoughts would steer toward my failure. I felt that when I dove in it was to a pool without water!
The bigger question was not whether or not God was guiding me, it was: was I listening?
It wasn’t until later that day that the Lord whispered to me as I meandered around the streets window shopping alone.
Slowly taking in the beautiful town of Caernarfon, I heard the clear whisper of the Spirit, “Follow me. Listen to me. I will lead you.” I entered a small store that held some trinkets that beckoned me from the window display. As I browsed listening to the store owner speak with other customers, I knew I needed to listen, really listen. Earlier in the day at the travel agency I was working within my own capabilities and thoughts and not led by the Spirit.
I was too impatient and maybe anxious to ‘do something.’
During the week in Wales I had frequented a few shops many times, each time engaging the workers in conversation and thanking them for their service. Many times I wondered, why had God sent me on this trip with so many others more gifted? Then, one of the last days there, at the same store with the trinkets, two of my teammates and I went in and had a ball talking with the shop owner, gathering even more information. We were the only 3 customers at the time. We heard her story of how her shop came to be and were armed with knowledge of how to pray for her. We even took a few precious things home for our loved ones. I still pray for Sue.
By this time I was not so consumed with my own failings but overwhelmed by God’s goodness and guidance. It had nothing to do with me at all, it never did. My willingness to listen and do was all that He desired; old school would term this concept as obedience.
One of the other shops that drew me was a chocolatier. The first time we went in, three of us went in to talk and see what they had to offer. We spoke with the owners for a while and told them we would be back later in the week, armed with knowledge of various events to unfold in several day’s time. When we began our trip in Wales we were told that Wales had been experiencing a heat wave like they had not experienced in years. It did not rain one drop while we were there, unusual; it was also close to 90 degrees several days, quite unusual! Two days prior to a major event in Caernarfon, including celebrities and media, there had been record heat. We found out the next day that this small specialty candy store was not equipped to handle the high temperatures. When we entered the store, our lovely friends were optimistic about repairing their refrigeration units however, they were burdened and I could see it, feel it.
During this visit there were four of us with most making purchases. The Spirit whispered again. My teammates were almost completely out the door when it was clear I needed to talk with the woman. You see, she had told us that she and her husband had moved back to this quaint town and opened this store for their retirement. Because of the heat wave they were looking at a loss of much money, coupled with the refrigeration units needing to be repaired. So, I asked if I could pray for her. She quietly said, “Yes.” I bowed my head and prayed out loud for her, her husband, their business and their customers, thanking God for his provision and for their friendship. I asked God to reveal himself to them and care for them. I opened my eyes up to a thankful woman with tears in her eyes. That is being an instrument of God’s love. Yes, I still pray for them both.
This reminds me of the times that I so desperately want something better, something more and I am unable to see it. God promises us that if we seek Him humbly, He will answer. Often we just do not like His answer or the time frame in which He answers. I want to do it my way, in my time and get the results I want, or not. Just like my eagerness to gather information, I was doing it in my power, in impatience. At times when I do not want to do something but find myself forced it can be difficult. When I yield to God’s whisper for obedience, I am rewarded.
God is in the details of our lives. He is not like a dictator demanding us to perform and punishing us when we do not. He lovingly has his hand in all aspects of our lives, desiring for us to see, hear and follow. On one of the flights to Caernarfon I was seated in the ever popular middle seat, at the bulkhead no less, between two gentlemen. As we were taxing to our gate I had read a book on missions work. The man to my left saw it and asked about it. We had a great conversation about the book, my trip, his faith and family. After deplaning, this gentleman saw several of us waiting for others. He came over and asked if he could pray for us and our trip. Huddled together in the middle of the airport we worshiped as we prayed together.
What a beautiful picture: gathering together, even if for a blink of an eye, to encourage one another on our journey of faith as we glorify God the Father, minister as Jesus ministered and follow the counsel of the Spirit.