An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

Charlie Brown was known for saying “Good grief!” when he was frustrated. There a very few of us that would consider grief “Good”. But, I’ve learned that grief is a gift.

My first months after my husband’s death were dark. I remember functioning on some level. The pain of grief was numbing. The colors weren’t there. The sun seemed to have disappeared. I felt as if I was trying to swim through mud: exhausted but getting no where. I spent hours in the darkness of night walking in circles and asking God “WHY?”

Many people would tell me I should be happy that my husband was with God. When the tears would start, they would try to make things better, to encourage me to be strong. I had read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 many times:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

Unfortunately, I took this verse to mean that I should not grieve. I felt guilty for grieving. I tried to hide my pain. I struggled with my faith. Was I just not strong enough?

I was blessed to have friends that understood grief. They walked beside me. They allowed my grief to bubble over into their lives. They didn’t try to “fix”me. They just stood with me. They allowed me to learn what a gift grief can be.

Most of us try to avoid pain, to avoid grief. We don’t talk about death. Too often children aren’t exposed to the sorrow of death and funerals. We “protect” them from seeing our own grief. And they are not prepared for tragedy when it occurs.

But death is a reality. Sometimes it comes too early and the questions keep coming. I found myself pointing out people that I didn’t think deserved to be living and asking God why he took my husband and left them. I screamed and begged to have him back or to be taken to be with him.

But one day, I realized that Terry’s death was his reward. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He wasn’t missing a thing. I was grieving for what I had lost. And that was ok. I didn’t have to feel guilty or hide it. I missed my husband. My kids missed their dad and the tears were a symbol of our love for him. I had a new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

When one loses a great love, grief is the result. It’s our last connection to that loved one. The grief will not always bring tears. The grief will not always be paralyzing. Grief will not remain acute. As you move through the process, it becomes chronic: enduring and sometimes recurring. You come to accept the dance with grief. It is bittersweet. A gift of love and memories.

“If you can’t say something nice. . .”

We’ve all heard that phrase:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other.  But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.

My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad.  I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past.  Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons.  I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.”  That’s not at all true.  I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings.  If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.

This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad.  This has been a hard lesson for me.  When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it.  Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought?  However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  They expect agreement and support from me.  I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion.  I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.)  I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree.  So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions.  It’s better to be stoic than honest.

My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me.  My answer was a possum.  A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her.  But, a possum is ugly.  It slinks around in the dark.  When confronted, it plays dead.  But, I want to be a flamingo.  A flamingo is beautiful.  It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together.  Everyone loves the flamingo.

I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said:  “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”

I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages.  I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others.  Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided.  I do, however, need to be honest.  And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others.   I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do.   I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations.  And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life.  I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG

A Prayer for my Children

As a mom, I have felt the joy and the pain of watching my children succeed, fail, love, mourn, laugh and cry.  I gave birth to and reared G & Z.  We’ve been through so much together:  great successes in school sports and music, spiritual awakening and growth, &  the death of their father.  I’m also privileged to have  three “gift with purchase” kids (K, R & J) that came with my second marriage.  I have known these three most of their lives, so I have seen them cope with many of life’s challenges as  well.  I also have a beautiful daughter-in-love (L) as well as a handsome grandson (JT).  I’ve had the privilege of “mothering” a “daughter-in-my-heart” (KM) that I have loved as my own for many years as she dealt with growing up after the death of her mom.  And, soon, we add another to the family as K & A are wed this fall.

One of the most difficult things I’ve had to learn through the years, is I can’t control everything that happens to my kids.  The good or the bad, it’s coming regardless of what I do.  I can warn and encourage, but ultimately, the decisions are their own.  These are the things I pray for my children:

  1.  Have the courage to be yourself.  You don’t have to remake  yourself to fit someone else’s ideals and you don’t need to bully your way through life.  You are special just the way you are.  Be confident in the abilities that God has given you and use them to build relationships, both professional and personal.  You don’t need to be part of a couple to be complete.  Value your independence and develop your whole being.
  2. Be content where God has you, but prepared to move forward in His timing.  It’s hard to be patient and wait for the right relationship or the best job to open up for you.  Do your best in all things.  Never stop working and improving yourself.  But, don’t try to handle things all on your own.  Remember that God has a plan for you and it’s all in his timing.
  3. If you commit yourself to another in marriage, remember you are in this for life.  Relationships are difficult at best.  It’s easy to take short-cuts and our world excuses and often encourages the failure of marriage.  Love your partner completely.  And by that I mean, always look out for whats best for him/her.  Your own wants should come in second.  Marriage is not about control.  It’s a partnership.  Loving someone doesn’t give you the authority to order them around.  Nor does love allow you to scream and call names to get your own way.  There will be disagreements in any relationship.  Don’t allow arguments to escalate into screaming matches.  Love fully and completely without selfish manipulation.
  4. Protect the intimacy that was designed to be shared with your spouse.  Beware of society’s bad advice.  Love is NOT just about sex and desire.  Sex should not be an automatic part of dating.  Sex should remain special not common place.  Girls, learn to protect the men in your life by dressing with modesty.  Boys, look out for the women you love and don’t promise love when you just desire the physical.  Love yourself enough to protect yourself, body & soul.
  5. Build lasting relationships.  Friends are important in life.  Find and cultivate relationships that challenge you to grow and mature.  In a marriage, friendship is essential.  The fires of passion may have spurred you into marriage.  Be assured that those fires will cool.   But, as you develop your relationship in other ways, the flames of true and lasting love will be stoked and burn even more brightly.
  6. If you choose to marry, don’t settle.  Many of those “cute” characteristics that you find so endearing and attractive today, will drive you crazy later.  You may try to overlook irritants and decide you can change them later.  Please hear me:  THAT WILL NOT HAPPEN!  You do not marry someone to change them.  You adjust to and for the person you marry.  Marry the person you can’t imagine living without, not the one you think you can live with.
  7.  Be aware of everything you say and do. Learn to filter what you say so you don’t offend.   And then FORGIVE, FORGIVE, FORGIVE.   Practiving “forgive and forget” is incredibly hard.   Make forgiveness a part of your everyday life.  Don’t hesitate to ask for it or to give it.
  8. Never stop building your relationship with God.  When you are at peace with God, you will be a better friend and/or spouse.  Make the effort to spend time with other believers.   If Sunday’s are your only day to sleep late and you just CANNOT give that up, there are other opportunities to grow your faith.  Cultivate time with God.  If you would get up early to go tail-gating, there’s not excuse for not getting up for church.  Don’t fall into the habit of “saying a little prayer and crossing your fingers” to get what you want.  God is not an awesome “Santa Claus” that provides whatever you want,  He is, however, the authority on all the things that occur in our lives.  The low times are much easier to confront and navigate when we’ve included God  in the good times.

Life can be wonderful and awful.  Do your best to be the best influence on everyone you meet.  Be the brightest part of the day.

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When the Mirror Cracks

maskedWhen I was in a high school Home Economics class, I was frustrated by my inability to sew a perfectly straight hem on a summer top.  I had ripped out sections and resewn it over and over.  I remember Mrs. Brown telling me that it was “straight enough for an active teenager.”  So, I finally stopped trying.  Whenever I wore that top, I would look at the bright green stitching and see the stops and starts of that hem.  It was an example of my struggles to be perfect.  As an adult, I worked in a building that had mirrored elevators. I never enjoyed those elevators. The light was harsh and the reflection never looked as good in those mirrors as in my home mirror. As a result, I tried not to look at the elevator reflection. I didn’t like it, so I ignored it and looked the other way.

We all have ideals in mind. Perfect hair, a perfect body, the perfect relationship. We strive to be the perfect parents and rear the  perfect family.    I tried to be the best at everything.  If I wasn’t sure I would be the best at something, I just didn’t try.  Failure was not acceptable in my world.  It’s easy to pretend life is perfect. Social media is quite handy when creating the “perfect” picture.  If we could only ignore the mirror of truth!

Too often, when the realization dawns that this perfect world doesn’t really exist, the goal mutates.  It becomes  extremely important to maintain the illusion of perfection.  We’ve all known the woman who posts about her perfect family with perfectly posed pictures amid the chaos of teen drug use and spousal abuse.  You’ve probably had a conversation with someone about how much they dislike spending time with a dysfunctional parent only to see the “best parent in the world” posted  on social media.  Or maybe, you’ve been with that couple that profess to love each other and to be excited about their life together.  But, they only complain about their partner  in private.   Truth is lost in the illusion.

I know how easy it is to fall under the spell of “the need for approval”.  It is so very hard to keep the facade in place.  I have worked to make sure those around me are content and happy.  I have been known to jump through hoops to take care of things for my children.  I have worked long hours and take criticism very personally even when it’s not meant to  be.   My desires often take 2nd (or 3rd) place behind those of my family members.  All of this in an effort to be “good enough”.   And more often than not, I fail.

With help, I’m learning that I am already “good enough.”   I can only do my best.   If others are not happy with my choices in life, I cannot change that.  I can choose not to spend time with those that continue to manipulate with disapproval.  I’ve learned so much about grace and forgiveness over the past two years.  I’m learning to accept and even embrace what I see in my mirror.

Is your mirror cracked?  Will you break free in 2018 and be the true and honest version of yourself?

 

“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”  Ephesians 4″:25 MSG

 

 

Love: What You Do Not Want to Miss

We search for love.  We yearn for love.  Sometimes, we fear love.  In Greek, there are four types of love:

  • Agapeo: Unconditional love; the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation
  • Storge: Love of family; Parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. In a very close family, agape is felt as well
  • Phileo: Love between friends
  • Eros: The sense of being in love; romantic love

For me, love is everything.  I believe that the God I serve is Love.  I love my children and my family.  I have several wonderful friends for whom I care deeply.  I have been blessed with the love of two wonderful men.  So, when someone asks how I knew that I loved my husband, why is it so difficult to describe?

There are lots of sayings about love:

  • Love is a many splendor thing
  • Love means never having to say you’re sorry
  • Love is something you do
  • Love is natures way of tricking people to reproduce
  • Love means to give everything you have…and not expect anything in return
  • Immature Love is: I love you because I need you.
    Mature Love is: I need you because I love you.
  • Love is making yourself vulnerable to someone, while fully knowing that they may betray you.
  • Love is blind
  • Love is never-ending

There is truth is all of the above statements.  But still, what do we want from love?  Safety, security, companionship?  What?

These are the things about deep and abiding love that I think you just don’t want to miss!

  1. Love is a choice.  We don’t  “fall in love”, rather we it’s probably more accurate to say we “fall in like” or even “in lust”.  We’ve all experienced crushes.  Those moments of elation when you just get to be near the object of your desire.  Your heart beats a little faster.  You just can’t imagine anything better.  Sometimes, crushes lead to relationships.  But, crushes fade away.  As the vision clears, you begin to see the real person.  You can choose to really love them or you move on to the next phase.  Choosing to love someone completely is wonderful.
  2. Love is hard work.  Anything that involves more than one person requires work.  A commitment to love and honor another person is a daily thing.  It means you don’t always get want you want, so you both sacrifice.  When you truly love someone, you look for ways to make their life more complete.
  3. Love doesn’t make you happy.  You may be married to most wonderful person in the world and still be unhappy.  If you are depending on someone else to fulfill you and make you happy, you will NEVER find happiness.  While many of us find happiness in relationships, we have to choose to be happy.  Many solid marriages end in divorce because one or both of the people involved were no longer happy.  Love is working through the unhappiness while still honoring the other person.
  4. Love doesn’t “complete” you.  You are the person God made you to be.  You are not 1/2 a person.  You are full and complete.  You may find someone and become half of a couple, but that person will never complete you.
  5. Love is never-ending, and it is also ever-changing.  The love I have for my husband has deepened since we married two years ago.  My heart still races when I think about him.  But, our relationship is evolving as we have learned to live together.  We learn things about each other every day.  There are new insights, new irritants, new joys and new challenges with every day.

I guess if I had to tell another woman what to look for in love I would say:

  • Look for the man who will take care of you.  I am pretty self-sufficient.  But, I really like it when my husband opens doors and pulls out my chair for me.   (Admittedly, I’ve had to learn to wait and allow him to do so!) I enjoy the flowers that he buys at the grocery store for me.  It’s comforting when he intervenes to protect me from activities that will cause me pain (both emotionally and physically.)  He has shown me how very much he cherishes me.  I do not have to “make” him do things.
  • Find the man who is interested in a partnership.  I can be very bossy.  So can my husband.  But, in our marriage, neither of us is “the boss”.   To do lists are general things that need to be done by either of us, they are not specific to either.  There are things that I do well and there are things that are his strong suit.  We try to bring out the best in each other.
  • Focus on the man who you cannot live without, not just someone you can live with (tolerate).  Deep and passionate love with get you through many intolerable situations.  There have been many people I could “live with” that have come and gone in my life.  But, the ones that I could not imagine doing life without have been very few.
  • Consider the  man who will honor you and wait for you until after the wedding vows.  In today’s world, we’ve come to accept sex as a part of dating.  Very few people get married without having already taken a “test drive” of sorts.  There is something extremely special about being worth the wait and sealing your wedding commitment on your wedding night.
  • Pay attention to the man who helps you feel secure and safe.  Being able to speak your mind and hear his opinions without fear is important.  Knowing that you are loved unconditionally is priceless.

I cannot imagine life without my husband, Tim.  I have experienced the death of a spouse and the pain of that loss was excruciating.  I promised myself that I would never allow anyone close enough to cause that much pain ever again.  But, God had a different plan and I am so very thankful for that!

loveis

 

 

 

 

 

God Provides

November 2005 was an awful time for my family. In an instant I lost my husband. My children lost their dad. I had no idea what it would be like to grow up without a dad there to give advice and encouragement. I had my dad well into my fifties. As I took on the unwanted role of single mom, I wondered how life without Terry would effect Zac and Gracie.

There were lots of offers in the beginning, “If Zac needs a male figure just call me” or “We are here to fill the void”. But, when those times arose, no one seemed to be available. It was “too awkward” or “there’s just not enough time.” But, God provides. The coaches and staff at Mayde Creek High really stepped up to the plate. I saw men just care about my kids. In time, Zac married a wonderful young woman and has a great father-in-law. He’s become a great dad himself. We’ve shed tears on all of his big days as we’ve missed his dad.

Two years ago, I remarried. It was a hard adjustment for Gracie. She had been her daddy’s little princess and had worked with him on lots of sets for children’s church and VBS. Then, it had been just “the two of us” for so long. Chris Dittert was always there to give my daughter a “daddy” hug on Fathers Day or any day she just needed it. And there were others that tried to be there, but we had developed our own rhythm. Tim was not a welcome change in her view.

As time has passed, the two of them have developed an interesting relationship. Gracie has learned to lay floors, build cabinets, run electrical wire and install windows. Although she is quick to say “we were just fine before you came along”, she has accepted and (I believe) loves her step figure in her own way. It does my mom’s heart good to see her talking and working with Tim. They share common memories of Terry as well as looking toward the future.

Both of my kids miss Terry. He was and will always be a big part of their lives. God has provided wonderful memories of the past. And he continues to provide for our family today and for the future.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . .”

Joel 2:25a NIV

Faithful or Fusspot

Is there anyone in the Bible to whom you relate? Are you like Mary  of Mary & Martha and just can’t wait to sit at Jesus feet?  Or maybe you are more of a Martha, always busy and wanting everyone else to be busy too?  Are you an evangelist like Peter or Paul? What about a leader like Moses or Joshua?  There are lots of people to use as a yardstick for our Spiritual lives.  Throughout life, circumstances and/or decisions may change your view of yourself.

I often have used King David as an example.  He was “a man after God’s own heart” and he did some very questionable things.  His faithfulness was never in doubt, even when his human desires stepped in to take over the situation.  But lately, another well know name from the Bible has come to mind more and more:  Jonah.

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet that God told to go to Nineveh and preach for their repentance.  Jonah didn’t like the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t think they deserved forgiveness.  So he did what every faithful follower does when faced with a distasteful assignment:  he ran the opposite direction.  We are all familiar with the story of Jonah and the Whale.  A big storm, Jonah thrown into the sea, a whale swallows him, after 3 days Jonah is vomited onto the shore. God once again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh.  At this point, Jonah decides to follow God’s instruction.

“This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.  Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.   Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”

The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”  Jonah 3:3-5  MSG

Jonah was successful.  The people heard what he had to say and repented.   And God forgave the people of Nineveh.   This was a reason to celebrate!  But, not for Jonah!

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of  forgiveness!  So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”  Jonah 4:1-4  MSG

Jonah was not at all happy.  He did not like it one bit.  He fussed and complained because God had given these horrible people another chance.  He went out of the city and sat and pouted and sulked.  We never find out if Jonah reconciled himself with God’s forgiveness.

If I’m completely honest,  Jonah’s reaction is very familiar.  I know there have been times that I just wanted to tell God what to do and how to do it.  In fact, I have done just that on several occasions.  I’m pretty sure I know who should be punished and who should be forgiven.  I’m pretty sure I know how things should be done.  And I’m more that willing to fill God in on the appropriate processes, especially when it comes to my worship services at my church.

  1.  There are people who just don’t deserve forgiveness.  I have a hard time letting go of the past.  There are some people who have caused pain to my family that I do NOT like.  I’ve been very eager to point out how they did not deserve God’s forgiveness.  Fortunately, God didn’t consider whether or not I deserved His Grace.  He just forgave me.
  2. What’s wrong with the way “we’ve always done it”?  I claim that I don’t like changes.  But, I’m always ready for the next computer or cell phone or other technology that is out there.  So, why can’t I be as open about changes in the way God leads in my church or my worship?
  3. The kids aren’t being taught respect.  Just look how they dress in church. When I was a child, I had school clothes, play clothes and Sunday clothes.  I had dresses that were only worn on Sundays that were a bit fancier than my other clothes.  Through the years, the way we dress has changed for work, for school and for church.  Business casual is the norm at work.  T-Shirts and jeans are acceptable nearly every where else.  Dressing up is not the norm.  I did require my daughter to wear a “girl” top and my son to wear a collared shirt on Sunday’s.  The more relaxed clothing expectations has made it more comfortable for some to attend church.  I still object to short-shorts or work-out clothes at church, but I can only control my own reactions.
  4. I hate the music used in church worship.  It’s too old-fashioned (or modern).   Music has become one of the most divisive areas in our churches.  If you grew up with the hymns and hymnals, the new stuff is “too loud” or “too repetitive” or “not musical”.  If you didn’t grow up with hymns, then they are “old-fashioned” or “have too many word” or “don’t make sense”.  I remember the discussions that arose over changing from the Broadman Hymnal to the Baptist Hymnal and then  later to the New Baptist Hymnal.  There were too many new songs (like “He’s Everything to Me”  or  “Because He Lives”) in this newer version.  I may prefer the “old” hymns over the newer praise music. However, my preferences cannot be the most important ones.  God is in control.  He has a plan.  I need to follow His leadership instead of pouting on the sidelines.  And, I’ve learned to love some of the newer worship songs.  Especially the ones that include a taste of the “old” hymns.
  5. Real worship only occurs in the sanctuary of a church building.  Many of the  churches that are most successful at reaching the community are meeting in schools, strip-centers, etc.  The less “churchy” environment is more inviting some.  My church meets in a movie theater.  We have the most comfortable seats around!
  6. Real worship needs an organ and a piano.  I don’t like guitars & drums.  Some of my dearest memories are of the Mrs. Stapp playing the organ at church.  I’ve played piano in my several churches throughout my life.  Not every church can afford a piano and an organ.  Many churches have no one to play them anyway.  Piano lessons were a given when I was a child: everyone when through lessons and recitals.  That’s not the case any longer.  A well prepared band or even a single guitar player can greatly enhance the worship experience. God used the loaves and fishes to feel the multitude, can’t He also use a guitar to feel your spirit?

I’ve done my share of complaining and pouting.  I understand Jonah a little more that I would like to admit.  I may want to be more like David and be recognized as one after God’s own heart.  But, I know that I am so much like Jonah in wanting things done MY WAY.  Unlike Jonah, I want the end of my story to be clear: I followed God’s leading regardless of my own preferences.

What about you?  Will you known as one of the Faithful or as the Fusspot who grudgingly served God?

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