The Grief that Led Us Home

Today is an anniversary I wish I didn’t remember. An anniversary that caused my family untold pain, but has gifted us with the sweetest joy we never would have dreamed of otherwise. Yes, these are unusual words, but they are part of my family’s story.

First, the anniversary. Seven years ago today, my mother-in-law passed away suddenly. We weren’t expecting it though she had been experiencing some health issues. In fact, my husband had taken her to the emergency room the previous evening, but they had sent her home saying she just had a simple infection. There was nothing simple about it though. She passed away that afternoon, and in the hours and days following, I felt like I was in a fog. We took care of everything that was necessary and made all of the notifications. We had a viewing and a graveside service, and everyone came and told us how sorry they were. Then, they left, and we were left to pick up the pieces. Anyone who has been through settling an estate knows of the difficulties, and I’m pretty sure we had them all in the year it took to settle everything. We had been living with her at the time so we ended up having to move, but it worked out in the end because my husband had found a job about an hour away from where we were.

We had lived in the city where we moved to previously; actually, it was the city where we had met and where both of our children had been born. It had been several years since we had lived there though so there was a time of adjustment. We were grieving too so it was not an easy time. My children were nine and twelve, and they had just lost the only grandparent they really knew. But, we kept going. We had to. We relied on each other and bonded as a family.

Was that the end of the story? No. It turns out God had bigger plans for us than we ever could have imagined. Because, you see, during that time, we did not have a faith family around us, and we were not involved in a church. Yes, we said we were Christians, but were we practicing Christians? If I wanted to be honest which I do, I would have to say no, we were not practicing Christians at the time. We did not rely on God, and he was not the companion to us that He is now even though my husband and I had both been professing Christians since we were teenagers.

So, God had more work to do before He led us home. A year and a half after my mother-in-law died, my husband got sick, had to have surgery, and subsequently lost his job. I felt so lost. It seemed like nothing we did was working out, and people didn’t waste chances pointing this out to us. There was no work to be found where we were so we traveled across the country to family who said we could stay with them. My husband looked everywhere for work. He didn’t limit himself. Shortly after we arrived, he applied for a job opportunity in a state we had crossed. It took four weeks for the interviews to be completed, and then he got the job on my younger son’s twelfth birthday! We drove back the opposite way to our new state. We were so happy to be on our own again!

It is almost unbelievable the way God showed Himself then, but once I explain it, you will understand what a miracle it was. First, I need to explain that during all of this time, I had been homeschooling our children. We had just finished our fifth year when we journeyed across the country. Anyway, I had made several online friendships during the years we had been homeschooling, and I always consulted them when I had homeschooling questions. Moving to this new state brought questions. I asked them, and it turns out one of the ladies lived three miles from where we were going to be. We met her and her family the first weekend we were there, and we hit it off. Our first friends in a new state.

I sank to my lowest point that fall and winter. Six weeks after we moved to our new state, I miscarried our third child. My friend was there for me and my family, and I will never forget what she did. By that point, my heart was starting to search for something though I wasn’t aware of what it was.

Winter turned into spring, and my older son decided he wanted to play baseball. We learned our way around our new city that spring going to the different ball parks and made some great friends in the process.

By the time baseball ended, the load on my heart had lessened a little more, and I was ready to answer the question my son asked me one day. He asked if we could find a new church. It took me unawares for a moment, but I realized his heart was searching for the same thing mine was–a home and a relationship. I called my friend and asked her. She said, “You need to bring him to Crossbridge. Mackenzie says it’s the most welcoming youth group she’s ever known.”  Her daughter and my son were the same age so I listened. My son and I began to visit Crossbridge that summer, and she was right. They welcomed us warmly. It was just a few short months before my husband and our other son joined us. We felt the presence of God in a way we had never felt before, and He re-entered our lives in a big way. It was the neatest feeling to know without a shadow of a doubt that God was in my heart, and He was there to stay.

I have learned more in the last three-and-a-half years about my faith and what my God means to me than in all the years previously. It wasn’t the end of bad times. I have dealt with depression, and we have dealt with job loss and illness since. But, I know that even though this story started with grief and the ache of loss, I know also that this grief we went through led us home to our God and to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and that I would not trade for anything!

God’s blessings on all of you today.

 

A Day of Waiting

We all do it. Waiting is built into every moment of our day, every moment of our week, every moment of our month, every moment of our year, and every moment of our life. There are almost too many examples of waiting to list, but I’m going to list a few. We wait for our meal to be ready. We wait in traffic. We wait in line at the grocery store and at the Department of Motor Vehicles. We wait for our next vacation or the next holiday to come. We wait for the next phase of our life to begin. I could keep going, but I think you have the general idea.

However, we aren’t very patient with our waiting. Many inventions over the last hundred and fifty years have been things which have shortened our waiting time. Inventions such as the microwave, the computer, the Internet and email, the automobile, the I-Phone and texting, and the airplane have all been things which have improved life in our society. At the same time though, I believe they have contributed to the growth of our impatience. When, for example, is the last time you have heard of someone who has sent a letter by regular mail? We also get impatient when our next day package being sent by Amazon is not in our hands at the exact time they said it would be.

Over two thousand years ago though, this day was a day of waiting. Jesus had been crucified on Good Friday, and his disciples had fled. Mary, his mother, and his followers were all mourning His death. It seemed there was no reprieve. There was no Internet to send an email from Jesus saying, “Whoops, I was just kidding. I’m still alive.” No, on this day, everyone thought He was gone and wasn’t coming back. It seemed as if all hope was gone. They didn’t understand that Sunday was coming. They didn’t understand what Jesus had tried to tell them. They didn’t know the miracle that was about to happen.

We, on the other hand, know what happened. We know that Sunday came and that Jesus, who had died for all of our sins, came back to life on that day over two thousand years ago. We know Jesus is the Son of God! This knowledge of His death and resurrection and the grace He gives all of us if we would only believe spread all over the world. It didn’t happen instantaneously, but this knowledge couldn’t be contained, couldn’t be suppressed, and the disciples’ efforts all those years ago are the reason you and I know about Jesus today.

Waiting is not a bad thing then. Good things can come from waiting. So, the next time I get impatient over having to wait for something, I will remember that time over 2000 years ago when the world was still and when the greatest miracle of all time was about to happen.

God’s blessings on all of you today, and Happy Easter to all of you tomorrow!

Blogging from the Ballpark

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these posts. It’s been long enough that I only have one son playing baseball now instead of two. Things have changed a lot in one way, but have remained the same in other ways. My first son is in college now. As a matter of fact, he’s almost finished his first year. I’m so proud of the young man he has become. He’s done things this year I never would have expected him to do. But, that’s what growing up is all about, and as a mom to this young man, I wouldn’t want him to do anything else.

My other young man is growing up too. He’s sixteen and a sophomore in high school. We are in the middle of baseball season now, and I have spent Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights for the past month watching him play. That is what hasn’t changed. The rhythm of the seasons hasn’t changed. Spring always comes at the end of every winter, and with spring, comes baseball. Even after my younger son is done playing, I think my husband and I will continue to be involved with the sport even if it’s just going to watch a game.

Last week, our old coach visited, and my husband invited him to guest coach. We’ve known him for four years, and I have appreciated the influence he has had with both of our sons. He coaches for the love of the game and for the chance to be a positive role model for young men. In the years he coached our sons, I never heard him belittle a player or favor a player. He gave all of the boys a chance to work hard and do their best. Yes, he liked winning. Everyone likes to win. But, to him, there were things more important than winning, and he imparted that to each of the boys he coached. I wish there were more coaches like him. If there were, I believe the state of youth athletics, college athletics, and professional athletics would be different from what it is today.

So, is there a way to change things? Is there a way to impart the best a sport has to offer instead of the worst to the youth of today? I believe there is, but it will take each of us making the choice as to where we put our money, who we look up to, and the attitudes we have about sports in general. It will also take those who are involved in youth sports making the choice to be kind and decent people and to coach for the right reasons and not just to win games.

Hope everyone has a great day!

Writing through a Fog

This is an entry for the Writing Contest: Writers Crushing Doubt hosted by  Positive Writer.  http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-2016/  I post this here because Christians rarely discuss depression, and it is just as worthy a topic as any other illness. So, without further adieu, here is my entry.

 

Four and a half years ago, my family and I moved to a new city for my husband to take a job. I had tried my hand at some fan fiction over the previous year and had received favorable feedback. My plans of participating in a novel-writing contest though were derailed when I lost our third child. Oh, I said I wasn’t going to stop. I said I was going to keep writing, but something settled over me. A thick, black, dark something I couldn’t define. We barely knew anyone in the city, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to put words to paper. Tried to write stories, but they all sounded wrong, sounded nothing like what I had written earlier.

I moved through the first part of 2012 barely managing to keep it together, but then the question came that would change all of our lives. My son asked if we could find a church in our new community. Something inside me broke a little, and I decided to say yes. Meeting the people at the church lifted my spirits, but there was something still there. It was a fog I couldn’t get past in my attempts to write. This fog made me doubt my ability, made me doubt I had something worth saying, and in late 2012, I was considering putting up my notebooks and my pens for good. I didn’t want to. Something in me was yearning to break free, but I didn’t know how to make the fog stop, how to make the pain stop.

Through speaking with the pastor of the church we had been attending, I finally realized at the beginning of 2013 I was suffering from depression. It had crippled me to the point where I could no longer see the good in my life. My pastor offered to counsel me, and I accepted. It didn’t take long for him to get clued in as to how I coped with the world, and he suggested I journal what I was feeling and be completely honest about it. See, that was something I was afraid to do—be completely honest. I did what he suggested though because I trusted him, and the fog started lifting. I had a place where I could be completely honest with myself, and it was a place I didn’t have to share with anyone else.

Since that time, I have filled many journals and written blog posts and stories. None of my stories have been published yet, but I know that is only a matter of time. I am grateful for the fog of depression and doubt lifting and look forward to encouraging others who have experienced the same crippling doubt about their writing ability.

Preparing for Easter

Preparing for Easter is different from preparing for Christmas. When I think about Christmas, I think about how Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem and I think about buying gifts and spending time with family and friends, all of which are causes for celebration. Yes, preparing for the celebration of His birth does involve a certain amount of reflection on what it all actually means, but it’s different for Easter.

Why is that? Is it because of what Easter actually involves? Is it because of Jesus’  sacrifice on the cross? I believe so. Easter represents the resurrection of my Lord and Savior, the coming back to life on Sunday after His death on Friday. We call this day Good Friday, but how can there be anything good about it. Jesus died for all of us, died for all of the sins we have committed or the sins we ever will commit. It is almost too much for me to wrap my head around. In those moments, He experienced all of our pain.

I wonder if I could do that. I wonder if I could die for someone I loved. I doubt anyone could truly answer that question until they were faced with the possibility of losing a loved one, but my first instinct at answering the question would be to say no. Why is that, you ask? Because all of us have a selfish nature that doesn’t want and doesn’t like to contemplate death.

It makes what Jesus did for us all the more amazing. He went to His death willingly. He walked with His cross willingly. I wonder if He knew He was going to be resurrected. I’m guessing He did because He was God in the flesh, but, still, He took on our pain willingly. My pain. And I’ve had more than my share in this life. He’s been there through all of it though even when I turned my back on Him. But, now, after five decades on this earth, I have a relationship with my Lord and Savior where I can talk to Him and be completely honest. He knows when I hurt, and He cares; more than anyone else on this earth, He cares. Why is that, you ask? Because Jesus is the only one who has ever died for me.

So, when I’m preparing my heart and my mind for Easter, I think these thoughts most of all. Jesus died for me, and today, if you don’t know Him as Lord and Savior, I would leave you with this. Jesus died for you too! All He asks is for you to believe in Him.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Everyone Can Pray

Yesterday morning, I sat in on a Bible class that talked about Martin Luther and referenced verses of Scripture that he said allowed all of us who believe, access to God without an intermediary. Here are some examples.

Romans 1:16-17 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”

Another example is from Galatians 3:13-14. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written. ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

Paul also says in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, if we are all free to believe in God, to pray to God, I wonder why those of us in Protestant denominations still think the only people who are good enough to pray with others are those in church leadership or their wives. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I often write about experiences I have in my church, and this experience is one I have had recently. It threw me for a loop. I know I don’t have the most perfectly worded prayers, but I know they are sincere. My relationship with God has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and I know it has grown because of the time I have spent in prayer. So, when I was told I was not good enough to pray because I was not a shepherd’s wife, I was hurt. I was very hurt. I really didn’t know what to say. I found the person a shepherd, and the requested prayer was offered.

Why can’t we pray for each other? Why can’t all of us offer prayers for each other? Why are the people in leadership the only ones considered good enough to pray? I’ve had these questions racing around in my head since the incident happened, and they’ve been complicated by the shepherd selection process we’ve been in for the last few weeks. I look at the people who have been selected, and while they are all worthy of the position of leadership, I wonder what makes them more worthy to pray for people than me. I want to grow. I want to serve. I want to be the hands and feet of Christ. But, I can’t do that if I’m not allowed to try.

I end by saying this. The next time a friend offers to pray with you, don’t reject them in favor of someone who is in church leadership. Let them pray!

Signed,

Someone who is not a shepherd’s wife.

Giving Our Best so God Gets the Glory

I’m not so sure about this title, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment so I’m going to let it stand. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. So many times, when we do well at something, we want to take all the glory and the credit, and we don’t want to give God any of it. It’s almost like we think we can handle all of it ourselves, and God is not necessary. But, then, when things go badly, we rush immediately to pray and cry out to God to heal or correct the bad thing and depend on Him for our strength and courage. God doesn’t want that. He wants us to talk to Him all of the time, not just during the bad times. The trick, I think, is to get the focus off of ourselves and get it to where it’s supposed to be…on God.

There is a time though when it’s tough to do that, and it’s when we are practicing something to become better at it. When we’re practicing a particular sport, a musical instrument, some kind of creative enterprise, or even just doing our best with schoolwork or our jobs, it’s hard not to think of the accolades we can get if we get good enough at whatever we’re practicing or in simpler terms, if we’re thinking about ourselves. What if we, who are Christians, changed our thinking about this? If, when we practiced something, we practiced it for God’s glory instead of our own. If, when we succeeded at something, we gave God the glory and didn’t take any for ourselves.

Examples of giving our best to God abound in Scripture. Some of these have to do with offerings or tithes, but others are more related to giving everything to God, in other words, our best. Malachi 3:10 is the best example of giving our best through offerings and tithes.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Colossians 3:17 talks about doing everything in Jesus’ name, what ever we do.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it ALL (emphasis mine) in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I think this last example proves my point well. God wants us to do our best at everything so He can get the glory. He wants to be seen through us so others can come to know Him, and if we are His, we should want that too. May we all do our best for His glory!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

The Comparison Trap

Comparing ourselves with others is a natural thing to do though I’m not sure it is something God wants us to do. It is made more pervasive in our society, and especially in Western society, by the constant media messages we all get saying what the “perfect” woman or the “perfect” man is supposed to be like or look like. Images of a size 2 woman in a bikini or a man with well-defined muscles represent society’s ideal.

Media messages about what men and women are “supposed” to be interested in and what happens when they’re not have also contributed to the pervasive nature of comparison. One only has to look at such controversies as Gamer Gate or the under participation of women in STEM  careers to know that women who are gamers or who are interested and have the potential to have a science, technology, or math career are not considered to be ideal women in our society.

There are also media messages about the stages of life  we’re all supposed to follow, and if we deviate from those messages, we are not considered to be as good as the people who follow them. The specific stage of life I want to highlight here is that of buying a home. At a certain point in our lives, we are supposed to have gained enough wealth or enough credit-worthiness to own a home, and if, for whatever reason, we don’t take that step, we are not considered to be as good as the people who do own homes.

A specific example from my own community has saddened me in recent weeks. We live a few miles from a large city in the United States. This area is separated into different cities, towns, and communities as I know most areas are in this country. One of these smaller cities is having a school rezoning issue at the moment, and the people in this school district are upset about all of the apartment residents they have to accommodate. I’ve read several articles about the issue, and a lot of it has to do with economics and having enough money to support programs at the different schools. But, the one thing that has especially saddened me is the comments on the articles. Many of them tell the residents of these apartments that they should go back to the large city and that they’re not good enough to live in the smaller city. Several comments used derogatory names that were racial and poverty related. It was like these people were trying to tell these apartment residents their children didn’t deserve to have a good education. I cried when I read those comments because I knew that some of the people making them might also claim to be Christians, and I also knew they had fallen into the comparison trap of thinking they were better than other people just because they owned a home and lived in this smaller city.

I believe these thoughts and attitudes make Jesus sad because comparing ourselves to others has also crept into the church, I’m sorry to say. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear I do believe that God made men and women differently, and that those differences should be celebrated not condemned. That being said, I believe there is a lot of leeway in how God made men and women and just because a man doesn’t like to play football or a woman doesn’t like having their nails done or going shopping doesn’t mean they are any less of a man or woman who does like these things. Just because a man or a woman lives in an apartment instead of owning a home doesn’t mean they are any less of a man or woman who does own a home. Just because a man or a woman serves in the background of a church instead of at the front of a church doesn’t mean they are any less of a man or woman who does serve at the front of a church. We need to make sure everyone in our churches knows they are valued and treated as such because we are ALL sons and daughters of God, and Jesus loves ALL of us. If we don’t do this in our churches, what reason will this broken world have to listen to what we have to say?

In other words, we need to remember 1 Corinthians 13:13. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Spiritual Warfare

There have been many sermons preached on this topic and many books written on this topic, but I think Christians today still don’t have much of an idea what it means. So, when I got this idea, I knew I would have to translate it into something I understood or something the basic layperson would understand.

Anyway, back to spiritual warfare. Here are Wikipedia’s meanings of both of these words separately.

Spiritual—1) of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. 2) of or relating to religion or religious belief.

Warfare—the set of techniques and actions used to conduct war.

Very simple and straightforward, I would think. Now, here is the definition of both words put together.

Spiritual warfare—the Christian concept of taking a stand against preternatural evil forces. It is based on the belief in evil spirits which are able to intervene in human affairs. Various Christian groups have adopted practices to repel such forces, as based on their doctrine of Christian demonology.

I think the reason Christians have such a problem understanding what spiritual warfare is goes back to where the words are defined separately. Most people understand the concept of spirit or being spiritual. This is something related to religion or the soul, in other words, something that is not material or physical.

On the other hand, warfare or conducting a war is entirely in the physical realm. The decision to wage war, the techniques and weapons, the actual battles in the field are all things that have physical results. The land and resources that the victor is able to obtain are all in the physical realm. The weapons used can cause physical damage—whether a soldier is wounded or killed.

Looking at this, it is obvious where there is confusion. People see these words as something diametrically opposite. Now, does putting the words together and defining them make a difference? It depends on where a person’s thinking is on the existence of evil in this world. Here is part of that definition again. “based on the belief in evil spirits which are able to intervene in human affairs” Evil is present in this world, but I don’t think people relate that to the events of their everyday lives. They go through such things as illness, death, job loss, fighting, arguments, or just discouraging events in their lives thinking that God must not love them very much if He puts them through these things. The presence of evil causing these events is usually not something that enters their minds. I believe most Christians would consider these things random or even caused by God because they don’t feel worthy to be loved by God.

However, I am here to argue this is not the case. Satan is using his demons to cause these events in our lives and draw us away from God. Sometimes, what he does is subtle, and other times, it is blatantly obvious. It does work though because people don’t have an understanding of what spiritual warfare is.

I believe that is why Paul wrote what he did in his letter to the Ephesians. Starting in Ephesians 6:10, he writes these words, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Again, these are more words that the people in his day might not have understood so he follows these up with physical concepts. Verses 13 – 17 say this, “Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Ephesians would have understood how these physical tools of war related to what Paul was trying to say, and I believe they give us a tool in how to understand the existence of evil in this world.

Now, the question of why God allows evil in this world could be asked. Why doesn’t God give us a life that would be easy for us? The answer to that question is simple. Easy comes later when we’re with Him in eternity. Eternity will be when there is no evil, no heartbreak, no sadness, no insecurity, no hurt. It will be a time of endless worship of our Lord and Savior. But, that time is not now. Good and evil both exist in this world, and I believe God allows us to experience evil for two reasons. One, because He wants us to hold onto Him as tightly as we can, and two, because He wants as many people to come to Him as possible. If we get to the bottom of our rope or the pit as I have spoken of before, we will be more likely to reach out for His hand, more likely to pray, more likely to depend on Him for everything. And that is what He wants. There is no way we can do it all on our own. He is willing to help us to fight the evil. All we have to do is ask and use the tools He has given us in His Word.

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Misfit Toys

I know I have been posting regularly on Monday for the last few weeks, but I had some words I just needed to get out today. For the last few weeks I’ve been feeling the sting of not feeling good enough or normal enough to be in the church. I have a friend who says I give a voice to what most Christians are afraid to voice, and I’m starting to think that is true. In the church, we pretend things are normal and don’t speak of the things that are on our hearts. We pretend things are okay and don’t spend time on our knees praying for each other. We put up shields as I’ve spoken of before, and we leave church lacking in the things Jesus wants to give to us. It has made me feel isolated and alone. Not sure where I first heard the phrase I am using for today’s title, but I think it fits my feelings. Today, I feel like I’m a misfit toy.

God was able to use people in Scripture though that started out as misfit toys. Peter denied Jesus three times, but became a leader in the early Christian church. Paul started out by killing Christian believers, but after his experience on the road to Damascus, he became one of the earliest missionaries and spread the Gospel over the known world at the time. There were misfit toys in the Old Testament as well. Moses stuttered. David had an affair. Jonah ran away from God and was swallowed up in the belly of a whale for three days. I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the point.

I’ve realized something though. There is someone who is always there for me. When I feel awkward about not having the right kind of family, I have Jesus. When I feel ashamed or think people are ashamed of me because I live in an apartment and not a house, I have Jesus. When I long for friendship and it’s just not there, I have Jesus. When I think people talk to me because of the things I do and not because of who I am, I have Jesus. When I get tired and want to cry, but don’t feel like I can, I have Jesus. When I need a hug, but feel awkward about asking, I have Jesus. When I don’t think I’m contributing, I have Jesus. When I am a misfit toy, I have Jesus. Jesus is always there, always in my heart when I can’t voice or even write my feelings. (and it’s rare for me not to be able to write my feelings down) He is there when there is no one else, and I am so grateful He died for me on the cross. He died for you too, and if I don’t communicate anything else today, I want to tell you that. All you need to do is believe, and it doesn’t matter if you are a misfit toy.

God’s blessings on you all today!