28
November

When we Struggle to Believe

Image result for being saved by a hand

This is a struggle for me to write.  I have struggled to believe.  I have struggled to believe that Jesus has me.  I have struggled to believe that He is enough.  I claim that He is.  Sometimes I just write #Jesusisenough to help me believe that He is, even if at that moment I am struggling with even having just a little bit of belief.

I was raised in the church.  Jesus saved me when I was six.  I knew my Bible from Sunday School.  I listened to sermons at church.  I started a Bible Club in my high school.  I was active in youth group.  I went on mission trips.  I graduated from a Christian college and I married a Christian guy who had a crazy testimony.  It was totally opposite of mine.

We moved to Seattle to go to a specific church.  We didn’t have jobs.  We got a place to live online (in 2000 no one did that), and we ended up moving 4 blocks away from where the church was meeting.  We knew that God would provide.  We were stepping out in faith, and He took care of us.

But when life hit the fan…

We had lived in Seattle for four and a half years by the time Mike’s mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away suddenly and a month later we had Tullie nine weeks early and diagnosed with Down Syndrome.  It wasn’t even 10 months later, I was on bedrest at the hospital for three weeks and delivered our son Eli (we both nearly lost our lives during the delivery), and Jesus took him Home the following day.

Those months following Eli’s death, I was living on the edge and in constant fear.  I was in protection mode.  I was just waiting for the the next thing.  I didn’t know what it would be, but I was ready for whatever it was.

I stopped talking to a lot of people.  Every time someone used some sort of Christian tag line with me, I’d get mad on the inside.  I knew how to hold it together in church.  I didn’t talk much because I didn’t trust anyone to really be there.  I questioned God’s goodness.  I questioned who He was.  I thought that He was cruel.  I thought that He was unkind.  I thought that His people just wanted happiness and no one around me understood the pain that I was experiencing.  It had been a lot in a very short amount of time and I was done.

About two years after Eli’s death, I hit a wall.  Everything I learned in Sunday School didn’t seem to help with life.  Everything I learned in my Bible and Theology classes in college could not have reasoned away the pain that was in my heart.   Those games from youth group were no help.

I woke up one day and went to the Bible study that I had decided to attend.  Kind of begrudgingly.  I was starting to enjoy my own self-pity.  It was the day before Eli’s birthday, but I had decided already that I was going to be tough and save face, nothing was going to cause me to cry.  I had formed a tough outer exterior.  When I showed up a friend greeted me with a gift.  During the time that we all came together a friend sang, “It is Well” (a song played at Eli’s service).  While my friend was sharing her heart she read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (The verse written on the cover of the program for his service.) Before she was even done with that verse I had completely lost it and ugly cry happened right there in front of 20 ladies that I barely knew.  My heart still hurt so bad.  I was still so broken.  I was angry. I was bitter and I was a complete wreck. 

After that study, I decided to start to relearn everything I had learned before. I was at a crossroads.  I had to decide what it was I believed.  Did I believe that God created the world? Yes. Did I believe that Jesus was born of a Virgin?  That God sent His Son? Yes. Did I believe that He was crucified, died and rose again? Yes.  Now what?

I read a book called, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth E. Prentiss, it was life changing.  The story of suffering and hope.  A woman trying to understand her Lord even in the midst of tragedy.  I started reading people that I knew had suffered.  I started talking to people who had lost babies.  I started reading about how our Lord had suffered.

About four years after Eli passed away, two ladies in our church delivered babies born still.  They started coming over every Monday.  They came over for a year.  Each Monday, they were at my kitchen table and we talked. We laughed. We cooked.  I watched their kids so that they could talk or we just talked about our weeks.  During that year, Jesus changed me.  I didn’t think that anyone understood my pain before this year.  During the time between Eli’s second birthday and when these ladies were coming into my kitchen, I learned the Gospel all over again.  I learned that Jesus came and died for me.  I learned that He loved me.  I learned that He hadn’t forsaken me, but that He had held me when I wasn’t even paying attention. In the midst of my unbelief, He had me in His grip.

Life. Is. Hard. There is no way around it.  I cannot explain why pastors do what they do.  I cannot explain why babies are taken away from their mamma’s and daddy’s.  I cannot explain why racism is even an issue.  I cannot explain what tragic tornadoes run over people’s houses.  I cannot explain why children have disabilities.  I cannot explain why spouses cheat.  I cannot explain why addicts become addicts.  I cannot explain life around us, but I have learned though that our Lord is a God who loves us and who came for us.  He cherishes us and he wants us in the midst of life’s tragedies and brokenness and heartache.  He wants us.

When we have been hurt by people and when we have been hurt by life, where are we going to turn?  Do we turn to ourselves?  Can we make things better?  Do we turn to our spouse? Or to our pastors? Or to friends who we think have it all together? It is so easy for us to turn to people.  So easy for us to try to find strength within ourselves, and take credit for our own healing, but those kinds of fixes are transient.  They are temporary.  And they will eventually fail us.

When we learn the Gospel and we learn the Gospel in it’s fullness, we are able to be full of joy and peace that is unmistakable.  When we understand our weakness and we understand how He was made weak, so that we could see His strength, and we can see a glimpse of His power.

Since Boston has gone Home, I have spent hours crying. Weeping. Asking Jesus why.  I have spent time in Psalms reading about David yearning for God to save him from His enemies.  I can understand David.  I understand his yearning.  I understand his struggle.  I also understand how he was a man after God’s heart. He wasn’t shy to question the circumstances in his life.  He wasn’t shy to ask God why.  He understood God’s hesed love for him through his pain.

A few months ago, Mike and I were talking and I told him, “I believe in Jesus. I trust Him, but I don’t want to believe because this is so hard. But I can’t not believe.”  Jesus has a grip on us. Even if I am just being dragged and He’s holding me by the thread of my sweater.  He has a tight grip on that thread.  He has a grip on you too.  If He has saved you, He has a tight grip on you, even in your unbelief.  Even in your doubt.  He has a grip on you in the midst of your questions during your pain.  He has a grip on you in the midst of the hurt that you’ve received by someone you trusted.  He has a grip on you in the midst of grief and suffering and chronic pain.  He has a grip on us. All of us that are is, He has a solid grip.  That thread doesn’t loosen between his fingers.  Our fingernails don’t break in His grip.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39

I can’t stop believing, because He has saved me from my muck and He has held me through the darkest and most taunting hours of my life.  He has remained steadfast and He has remained gracious even in the midst of my doubts and my unbelief.

This Advent season is about Hope.  This Advent season is about how Jesus came to save the world from darkness.  The waiting was over when Jesus came and conquered death.  We now have Hope eternal. Life everlasting.  Jesus is enough to make it until we are Home. He promised that He would be.

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26
November

Not Leaning In

 

We Christians like to make up a bunch of sayings to make people feel better in their grief and pain.  It seems like an art that we have well mastered to sound like Truth, when it isn’t Truth at all.  It’s not even in the Bible.  We say these sayings  in an effort to comfort, but really they just fall flat.

A few classics are: “Jesus never gives us more then we can bear.”  “Lay it at the foot of the cross and Jesus will take it away.” “Jesus doesn’t want to us to suffer.  He wants us to be happy.” “Lean into Jesus.  When we lean in, He gives us strength.” I’ve said this stuff before.  I really believed it too.  But when I believed it I hadn’t been the one suffering and broken.  I was just a person who didn’t know pain well and was trying to comfort someone who was in immense pain.  It was trite and it was unkind.

The church’s theology of suffering has been poor as of late.  Especially the American church.  I don’t know if it’s because we live in such a prosperous country, so then we feel like we need to be prosperous theologically as well?  Or if we just simply don’t want to suffer and we don’t know what to do when we do suffer, so we’ve just made up one liners in order to try to feel better about our circumstances and the circumstances of others.

I probably sound very cynical at the moment…

I have had an ongoing annoyance with these one liners for years.

The one that got me most recently was when a friend who is suffering called and shared that she had some friends telling her to, “Lean into Jesus.  When we lean in, He gives us strength.”  I wanted to poke my eyes out.  I got so frustrated.  Then my poor friend was the brunt of my frustration, because by then I went into protective mode.  The poor advice broke my heart.

When I hear, “Lean into Jesus.”  I hear another command.  I hear another task.  I hear something else that I’m not doing right.  When I hear this, I think to myself, “Am I not leaning in right?  Life doesn’t feel any better. I love Jesus. He saved me, why isn’t He with me? Where am I messing up?”  When I hear this, I get insecure.  All I hear is how I’m not leaning in good enough and I’m just continuing to not “lean” the right way, because I still feel pretty crummy.

I understand that these things are said with generous hearts and hearts that truly want to be helpful, but this isn’t helpful to the one who is grieving and the sufferer.

Jesus didn’t say, “When you lean into me, I’ll make you feel better.” or “When you lean into me, that’s when I’m going to give you strength for this trial.”  No.  He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for MY power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)  He died for this trial!  He died for this suffering!  He died for this grief!  There is no amount of “leaning” that we can do to make our circumstances change.  To make what He has already conquered better.  His grace is enough for it.

The fact is, is that there is nothing that we can say to make someone feel better or make their grief disappear.  We cannot change someone’s circumstance when their child has died.  We can’t bring a spouse back to life.  We can’t always put a marriage back together.  We cannot always stop someone from abusing drugs or alcohol.  We can’t change someone’s sin.  But Jesus died for all of this stuff.  He died for death and sin and shame and heartache and grief and lost relationships and our kids’ bad attitudes and our bad attitudes.

Griever, it is OK for you to not be OK.  It is OK to feel lost and broken and out of sync and not feeling good about anything.  It’s OK.  It’s OK to feel terrible.  It’s OK to ask Jesus what He is doing, because you don’t understand.  (I have yelled and screamed and wept asking what He was doing.)  If Jesus has you, He is not going to lose you.  It doesn’t matter how many trials, how many deaths, how many life shaking and changing things that happen in life, He died for this and He is stuck to you with his love that is so strong and fierce that He suffered and died for you and conquered death so that there is and will be a very hopeful end to your story.

…many of the worshipers at the Lord’s hill are desperate people holding on to Yahweh by their fingernails because they know they have nowhere else to turn.~Dale Ralph Davis, Slogging Along the Paths of Righteousness 

We ARE desperate people in need of a Savior.  A Savior who loves us, who wants us, who died for us, who gives us grace and not more rules or laws that we need to live up to, especially when we are in the midst of pain.  Jesus is big enough and strong enough to keep us.  To take care of us and to drag us by our fingernails until He takes us Home.

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24
November

#Grateful30

 

Folks on Facebook hop into this thing during the month of November and give thanks throughout the month leading up to Thanksgiving.  It’s fun. I’ve hopped on the bandwagon for a few years.  I tried this year, with good intentions, but life got busy and I didn’t keep it up.  Not because I wasn’t thankful for anything, I was simply just forgetting.

I can honestly say that the Novembers after Tullie was born and Eli passed away, to ask me to grateful for anything would have been trite.  I seriously would have struggled to be grateful for the shoes on my feet at that time.  Last year, though, I was determined to make it through each day of the month being grateful for something.  Even if it was just the shoes on my feet.

The accident hadn’t even been two weeks old, and November started.  November 1 I wrote my first thankfulness about friends and family coming from so far to be with us. As the month went on some days were really hard to find something to be grateful about and other times it seemed that Jesus’ grace was evident, like the day I lost the diamond from my engagement ring and Mike found it on the floor of the motorhome, or the day that Humansville had a dinner and auction to support our family. On the really hard days, I was thankful for shoes or lobster or clam chowder or pho or pretty sweaters. I felt like even if it was trite and silly, at least it was something.

It’s easy in grief to feel a lot of self pity.  To feel like the world is against you.  To feel like nothing is right with the world.  In a lot of ways, all of the above is true.  The world IS against us and NOTHING is right with it, however, we do still have things to be grateful for.

Psalms 118: 1 Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

Gratefulness isn’t just for November, it’s for life.  The Lord’s “steadfast love that endures forever” isn’t just for November, it’s for forever.  It’s unending.  It is such an amazing, incredible, full, overwhelmingly wonderful love that “steadfast” and “everlasting” aren’t good enough adjectives to describe it.  It is a hesed love.  A Hebrew word that is difficult to translate into the English language. A loyal love. A deeper and more committed love then what we understand here.  If we have nothing to be thankful for, we can be thankful for that. No matter where we are in life.

I cannot claim a thankful heart all the time.  My heart is full of anxiety, frustration,  fear and self pity.  I am quick to anger and I get frustrated with my kids quickly.  I get irritated when asked to help with something I don’t want to do. I look at others and think that their lives look so much better then mine.

We need to choose thankfulness each day.  Especially on the hard days.  Especially on those days when it doesn’t seem like anything could go right.  Especially on the days when everything is crashing in on us.  There is always something to be grateful for. Always. Even if it is just cool new shoes.

Today, I am grateful for my husband, my children, Boston’s t-shirts made into a cozy quilt by a dear friend so that I can be warm on a cool night while I type, Gilmore Girls reboot in less than an hour and most importantly, the hesed love of a Father that I do not deserve and the grace to make it through the days ahead.

Psalm 16:9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.

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22
November

A Year and a Month and Continuing to Move…

It’s been a year and a month.  Since the accident.

In the last year and a month, we have, in no particular order: bought 27 acres, traveled to the Northeast and along the eastern seaboard and Christmas last year on the Gulf Coast, we swam in the lake several times, we’ve visited Silver Dollar City a half a dozen times, went to White Water a few times, had an auction, went to Seattle to visit friends, cried (a lot), continued to schooling the kids, we travelled to Tennessee for a family reunion, the girls have started gymnastics, Josiah started Warrior Sports, they all started piano lessons, Mike has continued working at work and building things up here at the inn, began building storage containers, new lego creations have been built, new knowledge has been learned, more books have been read, Harry Potter has been started, we designed plans for a new house, we also got new family pictures taken, we have grieved and there have been many days we weren’t sure we would make it out of bed, but each day we did and at the end of each day I wondered how we made it through another day.

It’s amazing how life continues to roll on.  It’s amazing how our lives fall apart in quick moments or long moments and with each day Jesus gives us grace to make it through the time we step out of our beds and back into them at the end of the day.

I cannot take credit for making it through 398 days with strength and grace and mercy, because most of those days I did not have strength, dignity and grace.  There were usually a bunch of moments of grief, heartache, snapping at my children, frustration with others and messes to clean up with an ungrateful heart.  Somehow Jesus was gracious enough to allow us to make it through the end of the said days and to wake up for more.

In the book Stepping Heavenward, Mrs. Campbell says to Katy, “…before I go, I want once more to tell you how good He is, how blessed it is to suffer with Him, how infinitely happy He has made me in the very hottest heat of the furnace. It will strengthen you in your trials to recall this my dying testimony. There is no wilderness so dreary but that His love illuminates it, no desolation so desolate but that He can sweeten it. I know what I am saying. It is no delusion. I believe that the highest, purest happiness is known only to those who have learned Christ in sickrooms, in poverty, in racking suspense and anxiety, amid hardships and at the open grave.”

My husband made a comment in a grief group that we were a part of several months ago, he said, “I don’t want to be healed.  My wounds will not be healed.  My heart will not be healed.  I want to suffer well.” Mrs. Campbell suffered well.

Stepping Heavenward has been a long time favorite of mine. I started reading it two years after Eli passed away. I was wrestling with God’s goodness.  I knew He was good, just not good to my family.  Then I realized through this book and through studying that God was good because He gave His Son. Because He died for us. Because He conquered death. Because He saved us. It’s that simple, but it’s that’s hard too.

We have gotten up for the past 398 days, because of His goodness.  Because of His death.  Because He conquered death.  I have wept myself to sleep and I have called and texted friends to tell me the Gospel because I had forgotten. Jesus has held us.  He has.  I cannot describe how He has carried us, but He has.

Jesus is enough. Always. Because He promised He would be.

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24
February

Happy Birthday, Sweet Boy. Happy Birthday.

orange balloons

 

We’ve tried to celebrate the kids’ birthdays well.  Presents, cake of their choice, food of their choice, sometimes birthday parties, sometimes small gatherings, sometimes the beach, sometimes family from out of town and sometimes just hanging out at home.  I guess Boston’s birthday is no different, even though he is with Jesus for his 5th birthday.

For quite some time last year, he kept telling me that he wanted five birthdays.  He’d say, “Mom, I want five birthdays!”  My response was always, “I WANT you to have five birthdays.”  He’d give me a hug and run off and go play.  I remember thinking each time, “That’s weird.  Why does he say that?” I never told him that he would have five birthdays.  I just couldn’t.  I knew, after losing our son Eli, that life has no guarantees.  I couldn’t guarantee him five birthdays.  In good conscience, I couldn’t do that.  Jesus knows the number of our days, I do not.

Boston is five.  Tomorrow.  He is five.  This is his fifth birthday.  There has been celebration already.  Family has come to town.  Friends are coming.  Orange balloons have been lifted to the heavens.  A Captain America cake is in the works. Presents will be given, but not how we had originally expected.

Our hearts hurt so badly.  We are so so sad.  No words can even convey the sadness.

Boston, we love you. So much.  You are so missed.  We cherish you.  We feel so honored that Jesus asked us to take care of you and love you for nearly five years.  We loved your laughter, your jokes, your smile, your love of monster trucks and super heros.  We love how high you could jump on the trampoline and your toughness when you fell off your bike.  We love how you would drag your blankie all around the house and how big you were getting to leave it in the car or on your bed.  We love the curls in your hair, the smile on your lips, your big blue eyes and your sweet arms that would wrap around our necks and be as tough as the Hulk.  Your love of life was infectious.  You were a joy.  You were healing for our family and Jesus knew exactly what we needed when get lent you to us.

Until we are Home…Boston we love you.  So so so so much.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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