The Gifts of Grief

Grief is not a “gift” one wants.  Grief is forced upon you.   It doesn’t give you a choice.  It’s presence can be over-powering and suffocating.  You move through grief , taking life’s lessons as you go.  It’s not pleasant to endure.   As I look back,  I’m grateful for many of the gifts I received along this journey.

  1.  The more you love, the greater the grief.  On days when grief seemed impossible to endure, I remembered the great love that I had experienced.  And I realized that I wouldn’t have given up a single moment of that love to lessen the grief I was feeling.
  2. Seize the moment. You never know when death will come.  We are only promised this moment.  Don’t wait to tell someone how much you love them.  Never miss a chance to give a hug or smile.  You may not get another opportunity.
  3. Show your appreciation.  It wasn’t until after my husband died that truly realized how important he was to my life on a daily basis.  He prepared paid the bills, shopped for groceries, ran errands, drove me to and from work, held my hand, and listened to me talk.  I lost so much the day he died.  I wish I had thanked him more.
  4. Recognize the gift you have.  I was as guilty as anyone of complaining about my husband’s faults: he snored; he was a dreamer; he procrastinated.  After he was gone, I would have done anything to have one more night laying awake listening to his snoring.
  5. Cherish those you love.  Stop complaining about things that won’t matter in the long run.  Be grateful for the time you have now.  It’s not a competition on who does the most around the house.  Who took out the trash last won’t matter in the long run.  Decide to say only positive things about your spouse or family members to others.  It will change the way you think about the ones you love.
  6. Never miss an opportunity to show love.  Some might think I say “I love you” too much.   But, I promised that I would never miss an opportunity to say those words again.
  7. Relationships that withstand grief will be unbreakable.  My children and I had to learn to be a family of three.  We are probably closer than we would have been had their father lived. We spent lots of time together just trying to survive.  Many people don’t understand the bond that we have.  They don’t understand the reaction my kids have when they hear friends criticizing their own parents.  Others are not prepared for the defenses that come into play when any one of our family is “attacked” verbally or otherwise.  Our interdependence was formed through our grief.  As our family has grown, the defenses have spread out to in-laws and step-family.

When it comes to loving my family and friends, treating every moment as if it may be our last is the greatest  gift I received from Grief.  I never miss a chance to let my husband know how much I love and appreciate him.  I want all of my kids to know they are precious and loved.  I hold more tightly to those that I love because I’ve learned the value of  that love.

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“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still, Just be Still

be still

Being still is hard.  Sometimes, it feels impossible.  It’s especially difficult for me when anxiety is running wild.  We all have moments of anxiety.  But for some, anxiety is ever-present.  It’s often linked to depression.  And, it can be exhausting.

Have you ever had so much caffeine that you can’t seem to put a thought together and just felt jittery?  That’s what anxiety felt like to me.  Anxiety is defined as stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event, the inability to set aside a worry, and restlessness.  When I feel that things are getting out of my control, I can get extremely restless and fidgety.  My thoughts are not always logical.  Everything around me can feel irritating.  I have a need to “fix it” or “hide from it”.

My first husband’s death sent me into a tailspin with grief.  I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  I didn’t want to manage alone.  The fears were so strong and so deep that just deciding what to wear in the morning was almost too big of a decision.  I wanted to know where my kids were at every moment.  I had nightmares,  so I didn’t sleep much.  I spent hours just walking in circles around the living room in the middle of the night.  As the months and then years passed, I believed that I was getting over it all.  But, the reality was:  I had just gotten used to coping with the anxiety and depression.  I could put on a good face for friends, family and co-workers.  I scheduled as much into my week as I could.  I worked full-time.  I volunteered with my church.  I volunteered for activities at the school my kids attended.  I stayed as busy as I could.  My kids grew up and life slowed down.

I found comfort in concentrating on anything.  Most people would call it obsessing.  Terry and I had dreamed of replacing our wedding dishes with depression glass.  So, I set about doing just that on Ebay.  I bought platonite place settings and serving dishes.  I bought emerald-green depression glass.  I found a particular glass goblet that I liked and bought a whole set in emerald-green and red as well as matching cocktail glasses.  I collected peanut butter glasses with state flowers.  I hunted for cottage cheese bowls (I had 5 different colors.)  I bought leather purses.  My kids would joke about all of the boxes I was getting.  I collected flamingos for the yard and for the house.  When I was looking for new things to buy, I didn’t have to face my life.

When both of my children left home, I had a more difficult time filling the time.  I would cook a big elaborate meal once a week and my son would come and eat.  But, the rest of the week, I would buy take out and eat in my driveway.  On weekends when my daughter wasn’t coming home or I wasn’t going to see her, I would just stay in bed and watch TV and sleep.  The only reason I would get up was to let the dogs out.  I avoided the reality of my life as much as possible.  Things that should have been important, just weren’t any more.  I felt like my life was over and I was just waiting it out.  I prayed and studied, but nothing seemed to make a dent in the numbness that had become so normal for me.

I had convinced myself that I was “just fine.”  I had worked through all of my issues.  As Tim and I began to talk about a future together, my very tightly wound ball began to come undone.  Emotions and feelings that I had not allowed to surface for years were suddenly in full view.  It was at that time, I sought the help of a counselor.  It took a few tries to find a good fit, but it was worth it.  I could sit and talk about my fears and doubts.  I began to work on issues that had been around for way too long.  I began to feel that I was gaining control; I was becoming a whole person again.

I was no longer afraid of being alone, of being still.  I realized that I needed time alone to spend with my Bible and in prayer, writing or drawing.  I had allowed grief to become self-doubt and fear.  I stood by as the enemy had robbed me of the ability of “being still”.  I had to learn, again, what peace comes with knowing God.

Stop the busyness.  Look at what God has for you.  Listen for His leading.  Be still.

Just be still.

Would I Follow?

I am currently reading the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  This book is Nabeel Qureshi’s personal account of his life as he went from a devout upbringing in the Muslim faith to find that Jesus Christ was indeed his personal savior.  Throughout the book, the author talks of how simple it often was to shut down any Christian that tried to talk to him about faith in Christ.  The reason it was so simple: the  Christians had only a head knowledge of the “whys” of their own beliefs.  They could not back up the normal rhetoric that is given to prove their beliefs.

I have been struck by many parts of this book.  Most of all, I have to face that many of us cannot defend the faith we say that we have.  Nabeel studied the Bible to be able to  refute the usual comments.  It wasn’t until he met someone who was willing and able to give him facts that Nabeel began to truly “hear” the message.  On the flip side, Nabeel also had to come to terms with the fact that much of what he knew of his Muslim beliefs were based on what he had been told.  Studying the Qur’an and other documents as he defended his childhood religion was very unsettling for him.    Even though he have read the entire Qur’an by the time he was 5 years old, he didn’t know or understand much of the basics of his faith.

Nabeel Qureshi’s decision to follow Christ was not an easy choice.  It took years to get to that decision.  He had to weigh giving up EVERYTHING in order to follow the Christ of the Bible.  This decision caused immense pain for both of his parents.  In “Christianity Today”, he made this spoke about the effect his conversion had on his family:

“A few days later, the two people I loved most in this world were shattered by my betrayal. To this day my family is broken by the decision I made, and it is excruciating every time I see the cost I had to pay.
But Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation. He redeemed my suffering by making me rely upon him for my every moment, bending my heart toward him. It was there in my pain that I knew him intimately. He reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering. It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”

I have to ask myself, “Would I do this?”  I’ve lived a pretty easy life.  Sure there have been bumps along the way, some of them very big bumps.  When my first husband died, I struggled with my faith.  I reviewed all that I said that I believed.  And, I concluded that my faith in God was correct and real.  But, I was never required to give up everything:  my family, my core beliefs, the familiar.  Would I do that?  Could I defend my beliefs to another in a logical and cohesive manner?  Would I be able to give details and truth?  I wish I could give a resounding YES, but I’m not sure.

My family and I have been watching the Leah Remini show on Scientology.  I often sit in astonishment at what people are willing to do and to give up for their beliefs in this “religion”.  While reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have a different understanding of the Scientology followers:  they too risk everything for their beliefs.  The difference?  Nabeel Qureshi’s Muslim upbringing did acknowledge parts of the Bible and recognize some of the same people as Christianity (although differently), he had a basis to build upon when confronted for Christianity.  He was willing to debate and discuss to prove his point.  Scientology doesn’t allow any questions.  There is no debate.  It’s all or nothing.  As we have listened to people who have left Scientology, it is so sad to see that most have still not found salvation in Jesus.  How do we as Christians help to fill the void?  How do we take steps in this tender and painful area of trust for people’s of any faith that are hurt and searching?  Do we really care?  Do we really want to step out?

Again, I’m not sure.  It’s more  convenient to throw a tract or book at someone than to interact with  them in any depth.  It’s emotionally safer to invite someone to church than to sit down and have coffee and talk over  and over again.  It’s easier to only communicate about God when you need something by asking  for “a little prayer for _____”  instead of getting involved with God on a daily basis with His people.  It’s less intimidating to just mind my own business and let someone else do the hands on stuff.

I’m challenged.  I’m struggling.

For you see, standing up for one’s beliefs to those in your closest circle of family and friends can be hard, especially if they don’t agree.  It takes balance to lovingly rebuke those who claim to be Christian and  do not live as such.  It takes a measured patience to be ridiculed as “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” when you have lived and may actually have a basis for this “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” advise.  The easiest road may not be the best choice and momentary laughter does not mean a lifetime of joy.

Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer on September 16, 2017 at the age of 34.   His parents were helping to care for him during his illness.  I am so fortunate to have his story from which to learn.  He has touched and continues to touch many lives with his stand for Christ.

Would you follow?

 

 

I Have a Plan for You

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. ”   Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

This verse is often quoted when things are difficult or confusing.  It’s a comforting verse.  I’ve quoted it many times and have held tightly to it during rough periods of my life.  Today, I read the entire chapter.  It’s either the first time I’ve read the whole thing or the first time I’ve paid attention to it.  Either way, my eyes were opened.

This verse is in the middle of God sending a message to His children.  The children of Israel had been taken into captivity in Babylon.    Their only desire: to go home.  There were prophets that were assuring them they would be going home soon.  But, God had a different message:

“This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:   “Build houses and make yourselves at home.  Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.  Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.  Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.  Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.

” Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree!

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”   Jeremiah 29:4-11 MSG

God did promise to gather all of His children together and to bring them home.  After 70 years had passed in Babylon, that is.  I don’t think that was what the people wanted to hear.  God was telling them to make their homes there in Babylon.  They were to live their lives to the fullest.  In Babylon.  And, (I think this would be the hardest part for me), they were to PRAY for Babylon to do well!  Really!?!  They’ve carried me and my family away into captivity, and I’m supposed to pray for good things for them?

I don’t know about you, but when I pray for God to do something, I really want it done now.  Next week might work.  A month from now would be pushing things.  I’ve never requested or expected to wait 70 years.  Wow.  This changes the way I look at “plans to give you the future you hope for”. 

How many times have I kicked and complained with my lot in life?  How many times have I cried out to God and questioned His decisions?  How many times have I accused God of not listening or caring?  Truthfully, more than I would like to admit.

I’m currently living within some parameters that I don’t like.  There are rules and consequences that many times seem to take over my every moment.  My life is not always mine to do with as I please.  This will be my life for the foreseeable future.  When I read these scriptures, I knew God was reminding me to wait on Him.  I can live my life, captive to circumstances out of my control.  I can live fully and trust Him.  He doesn’t promise to remove the issues as I would prefer.  But, He does assure me that “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”   

The next few verses are actually when the comfort arrives:

 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”  Jeremiah 29:12-14a MSG

This doesn’t say, “Call out to me and I’ll give what you want.”  He does promise that I can always find Him.  He will always listen.  I will not be disappointed even in circumstances or trials that I just don’t like at all.  I need to make finding God my priority, not escaping from my “captors”.

So, I will always be glad that God has a plan for me.  But, my new goal is to this:

SERIOUSLY seek God and put Him above every circumstance in my life. 

Are you struggling with your own “70 year captivity”?

 

 

 

 

But, I Want to be Angry!

I am beginning to avoid reading anything from the news to social media these days.  Everywhere I turn, someone is tearing down someone else.  It’s bad enough when it’s people that I do not know, but when life long friends take to social media to bash other life long friends (either openly or passively), I cringe.  I’m not going to weigh in on the “controversy du jour”.  It really doesn’t matter what the issue is or is not.  The reason changes weekly if not daily, but the voices, the criticism, the anger never change.  I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that there are some who are just angry and need to have something or someone on which to focus that anger.

I believe in free speech.  I believe in candor and honesty.  I also believe that a little tact goes a long, long way to promote the unity of opposing sides.  I enjoy a healthy debate.  I think discussions are pivotal to a healthy community and world.  But, mud-slinging and name calling are not be part of it.  Social media does very little to foster productive discussions and usually just fans the flames of both sides.  My opinion may not matter to you, but it does to me.  I have been known to adjust my views when presented with a calm and rational argument.  Continuous bashing and belittling of others’ convictions or opinions (right or wrong) are perceived as anything but calm or rational.  I had a supervisor who mentored me in my younger days to pick my battles carefully.  I learned to take a deep breathe and step away for a bit to collect my thoughts BEFORE I bulldozed through the issue.  I discovered that I usually got much better acceptance and cooperation this way and the outcome was often what I wanted in the beginning.  The path to get there was just a little different.

So, take a breathe.  Calm down.  Anger is debilitating to the bearer and often counter-productive.  As many old grandpappies have said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Gray is not for Cakes

I have always loved the color PURPLE!  I’m drawn to the color in everything from clothes to décor.  I have my favorite purple sweatshirt with my name on the front.  My dad helped me paint my trombone case purple.  I had a purple furry coat.  I just loved the color.  And, I still do today.

When I was about 10 years old, my parents and younger sister took an October trip to the Ozark Mountains.  My brother and I stayed with my grandparents and my Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me.  My birthday was very near this time, so Ruth and I decided we needed to make a birthday cake.  And of course, I wanted a purple cake.  We did not have access to the myriad of food coloring products that are available today.  We had the box of 4 basic food colors from the grocery store: red, green, yellow & blue.  My aunt was in Junior High, so we knew that we could mix the red and the blue to get a beautiful color of purple.  We mixed the cake (from scratch) and then added the food coloring.  The cake was more lavender than truly purple, but that was okay.  After transferring our batter to the pans, we decided that swirls of color would be even better.  So, we added drops of all of the colors to the cake in the pans and stirred it around.  We stirred a little too much we would discover later.  The  beautiful purple cake I had envisioned was more gray than purple.  There were flecks of color here and there, but over all, it was a gray cake.  It tasted great, but it was not very appealing to the eye.

I am going the Bible chronologically this year.  Recently, I’ve been in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  The various kings for both Israel and Judah are listed and their history is recorded.  I found it interesting that each account included one of these statements:  “as far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life” or “in God’s opinion he was a good king” or “… did what pleased God for as long as he lived (even so he did not . . .)”  There were several kings that were just bad.  They worshiped other gods and led the people to do the same.  There were a few kings that did what God decreed and destroyed the other temples and led the people to worship Jehovah only.  And then there were the kings that lived the way God decreed, but allowed the people to continue to live in sin by worshiping other gods.  These were the “grey” kings.  If you kept your eyes closed or didn’t look too closely, they were good kings.  But, they didn’t follow God completely.  They failed the people they were chosen to lead.

When I look at my own life, I wonder if my life is “gray” when God looks at it.  I don’t think I’m living a bad life where God is concerned.   But, do I live in a way that pleases God?  Am I a royal purple follower of Christ and His commandments? Or, do I slip into the “grey” area that encompasses too many things?  Have I become so desensitized to the sins around me that I just don’t realize it?  Is political correctness the center of my focus or is God’s word?  Do I show compassion to everyone or just to the people I “like” in that moment?

I think we all like to believe that we are on the side of right.  I don’t know anyone that deliberately takes a stand that they believe is wrong.  However, we can’t all be right about everything.  Just as the early kings of Judah and Israel condoned the sex-and-religion worship by allowing temples to be built to worship the gods of fertility, we condone everything that makes us uncomfortable by NOT speaking up.  It’s just easier to live our own lives and ignore those around us.  I’m not advocating throwing stones at others.  I do firmly believe that we are to be kind and compassionate to those around us.  But, do those around you know what you believe?  Do they see someone who God is blessing when they see you?  Do you take a stand on a daily basis or is the act of attending Sunday and/or Wednesday services enough of a witness?  Is your relationship with God based solely on the current crisis in your life or do you spend time with Him daily regardless of circumstances?

Too many additions and too little knowledge/experience, made my birthday cake grey.  I don’t want my life to be gray.  I want the knowledge that comes from reading the scriptures.  I want to experience everything that God has to offer.  I want to follow Him completely and to exclude anything that is outside of His will.  That’s doesn’t mean I wont make mistakes.  (I can promise you I will make plenty of them!)  It does mean that I will stay aware and correct any mistakes with God’s help.  It does mean that I may have to give up some things.  I may have to get up a little earlier to spend time with God.  I may not get to sleep in on Sundays because I NEED to be in church worshipping with others.  I may have to give up my reliance on “finger-crossing” and “quick prayers” to really spend time with God to learn what I need to know.  I may have to learn to be part of the crowd and not in the spot-light where others can see me and comment on how wonderful I am.

Gray is a popular color for walls.  But, I don’t recommend it for birthday cakes.  Or life.

 

 

The “F” Word

It’s not what you think.  It’s not THAT “F” word.  It’s the “F” word that we fear, that we try to escape.   And, it’s the “F” word commonly accepted and used in our own self-talk.  To which “F” word am I referring?  FAILURE!  No one sets out to be a failure.  To fail is not acceptable in most areas of life.  Yet, how often do you or I accept failure as a way of living?  Why do we allow our own minds to attach failure to so much of our lives?  Why?

I struggle with depression.  I’m also an “overachiever”.  After my late husband’s death, feeling down became “normal.”  Just being able to get out of bed or a day without tears was a good day.   I learned to cope.  I convinced myself I was okay.  Because, I needed to be okay.  To be anything else, was to be weak.  I could not and would not be weak.  That was failing.  I read the books.  I did all the things I was told I needed to do (except counseling!) I moved on with my life.  I didn’t excel at life, but I was living.

Do you know some symptoms of an overachiever?  These taken are from John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement.

  1. It’s all about the outcome:  Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves
  2. You secretly think you’re not good enough:  While some people will “self-sabotage” when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
  3. There is a short list of things you want to be good at: and that list only includes things you know you’ll be judged on.
  4. Criticism is the worst:  It all goes back to the fear of failure — overachievers’ public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something.
  5. You’re very future-focused:  Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future — and as a result, often neglect the present.
  6. You feel anxious a lot:  Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress.
  7. You’re a perfectionist:  Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home.
  8. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs:  They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices — all in the name of a strong college application.
  9. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions.  All parents, to some extent, feel the need to “do it all” for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big — attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child’s teacher — because they care so much about being the best parents.
  10. Crunch-time is the worst time:  When the stakes are high, “the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they’re so concerned with the outcome.

I never quite live up to the ideals that I picture for myself.  The smallest glitch can send me into a tailspin:  I’m not a good mother, I’m failing as a wife, I’m just not good enough.  I struggle with the fear of being utterly alone and unloved, of not being good enough to earn the love of those for whom I care so deeply.  I’m caught in a whirlwind of needing to be the best and feeling like a failure at every turn.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate.  I have a husband that is constantly reassuring me.  I have friends that love and support me and are always there with words of encouragement.  I have a counselor that listens to my irrational fears and helps me see the truth.  I don’t want to be a victim of the “F” word.  I struggle each day to see value in myself and my actions.

I’m encouraged when I read  that others in the Bible suffered bouts of depression.  David wrote in Psalm 38: 21-22:

Don’t dump me, God;
    my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
    I want some wide-open space in my life!

There are several scriptures that talk about anxiety and trust.  Believe me, I’ve read them all.  I go to those verses when I’m overwhelmed with the daily concerns of life, when I am confronted with my lack of perfection.  I don’t want to fail.  I will not fail.  God is with me every step of the way.  I must look to His strength and remember it is through His love that I am made perfect.