Archive | June 2014

And the Oscar goes to . . .

Please, don’t misunderstand. I have nothing against bestowing praise on our fellow man for a job well done. But this post is aimed at our spiritual eyesight where we may not be so inclined to look. As Paul quoted Jeremiah, “Whoever wants to boast must boast of what the Lord has done.”  1 Corinthians 1:31, GNT

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What do you think he was talking about? I believe the best way to achieve personal understanding is to read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians and compare it with a variety of other texts, allowing scripture to speak for itself. In this post may I share a personal story in an attempt to illustrate Paul’s point?

If you are a woman, you understand the need for cover up, as in face cover up, as in makeup. There are days when one wanders slowly through the makeup aisles, hoping for a new idea rather than moving at  business pace which should read to employees: “Do not slow me down”. This day was a wandering day. I was ready to be approached and challenged with a new idea, actually a new cover up. Mine needed sprucing up. Could they help?

The sweet young thing behind the counter was energetic and delightful, the perfect sales person. She pointed to a chair and I sat down, ready and willing to be made over into youthful. Tall order, I know. But why not aim high? Apparently that was her thinking exactly for I was floored when a few minutes later, she handed me the mirror and with a flourish asked, “How do you like it?”

I was speechless . . . flabbergasted actually. I needed sunglasses to shield me from the glare as I looked at the face staring back at me from the mirror. I pondered which words could safely be said in this eager young thing’s presence. She waited . . . and waited. What could I say? I looked like I was headed to Mardi Gras! I had bright blue shimmer raccoon eye shades that covered me from side to side. Yes, I exaggerate for affect, but it was blue, no doubt about that. And I wasn’t headed to New Orleans, but to a wedding. Tamer, elegant, understated, was the look I was aiming for. No doubt I had failed to communicate my desires to the sweet young thing behind the counter!

I had stalled long enough. “No, I don’t like it” I answered softly. It seemed the only thing I could truthfully say. She was crestfallen. She pouted, “You mean you don’t like it?” She was obviously taking it personally. I tried again to explain the look that I was going for. She was not listening. Her countenance stated a determined, “sell it, sista” attitude as she looked about for a guinea pig. She found one. Her eyes lit on a young man entering the area, obviously in business mode. She stopped him in his tracks and asked him what he thought. I wanted to bolt, but they blocked the exit. I wanted to slide out of the chair, but that seemed too ridiculous a notion for someone with gray in her hair, so I waited. He stared. He walked around me, chin in hand, apparently looking for a better angle. Oh, dear. This was entirely more than I bargained for.

Finally he spoke, drawing back as if great distance would give him better perspective, “I think it looks . . . great!” He had taken too long. Like me, he didn’t want to hurt the sweet young thing’s feelings. But the makeup artist was on a roll and picking up speed. She was determined to find someone ~ any body ~ who would give her glowing makeup job glowing praise. Okay. Sigh. This quickie was quickly becoming unforgettable.

Then I heard her “yell”, “Hey, could you come here a minute?” No. She didn’t. Oh, but she did. She waved someone down who was innocently walking by in business mode and obviously not shopping for makeup. I turned around to see who she had captured. I was looking into the face of a bewildered senior not unlike myself. I can’t find the right word for the expression she wore, only to say that the sweet young thing was not going to get the A+ she desired. The lady hemmed and hawed and delayed to the point of further humiliation for me and exasperation for the clerk. “You mean you don’t like it?” Her words seemed to echo across the entire store.

“Well,” the gentle lady spoke finally, “it isn’t quite my taste.” Quickly she escaped. There was a lull. Now it was my turn to put space between me and the sweet young thing. Yes, there were stares as I hurried to the door. But yes, I became quite content with my own face. I could leave the makeup shopping to other customers.

Perhaps this story does not illustrate Paul’s point or maybe it does.  The sales clerk was more interested in seeking praise for herself than she was seeking to please the customer.

Remember what the King of Kings did for his disciples? He lowered himself to a kneeling position and washed their dusty feet. He took on the role of a servant and washed the disciples dirty, grimy feet; the lowest part of the body and the part most easily contaminated with the dirt of life. But he took advantage of the opportunity to teach his disciples by example how to experience and share humility.

We are not given to humility. We are born naturally with a spirit of pride. We seek the praise of others. We glory in ourselves. It is fine to take pride in a job well done and we lavish praise our children with the intent of stimulating them to work hard to do their best. I am not suggesting that we change these habits. But I am suggesting that we all look deeper into what God would want us to do. And then follow His example.

Glorify your name, not ours, O Lord! Cause everyone to praise your loving-kindness and your truth.  Psalm 115:1, TLB

 

 

This entry was posted on June 27, 2014. 2 Comments

The purity of mama pain

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8, MSG

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Perhaps this title gives you “word whiplash”, a double take as it were. That’s okay. The title looks a bit strange on paper to me too, but this post is about mothers losing their children to suicide which you may not have interest in. If you stop reading here, you won’t hurt my feelings. Since there is 1 suicide death every 66 minutes ~ actually 99 suicide deaths every 66 minutes around the globe, I think the topic is worthy of the time it takes to write and yours to read. Most of us know at least one family who has lost someone they love to suicide. Unless a mother precedes her child in death she will outlive her child, surviving the aftermath of terrible loss. I know this grief first hand so I hope you will give me a little wiggle room with my choice of words. They are intended to bless us both.

If you are not a mother, but you lost someone you loved to suicide, perhaps you are a sibling or a dad or a friend? I can speak around your pain and perhaps there are many similarities, but I cannot speak from personal experience to your grief. Each is unique. A mama’s grief is unique. It is this one I know and have known for 8 years. It’s not an easy journey as you may know. It is a tough assignment and certainly takes more than it gives, but there is gain in the giving back to help others along the same journey. This is what I do. In writing this blog, I drop back to link arms with you and we walk and share together. Hugs are exchanged. Tissues given. And in the sharing, our loads are lifted temporarily. I hope you have experienced this for no one need walk alone. There are many grief support groups out there and many as close as a click on your PC. If you aren’t familiar with grief sites on Facebook perhaps you will look for them. I was astounded to see the number of people, mostly women and mostly mothers so if you are a mother you will be in comfortable company of those who “get it”.

May I speak frankly? Suicide is a word fraught with drama. As I have written before, it is often used in circles where it does not belong, especially in the media as an attention-grabbing word, me thinks. From sportswriters to newscasters, they all use it and I have had to learn to accept it. What else can be done?

But what of those closer to us: family, friends, coworkers. Is there drama around suicide there too? I say “yes” because that is my experience. Funerals and weddings seem to bring out not only the best, but also the worst in human behavior. My memories of our memorial service are murky with the actions of others around me totally out of place and unacceptable, but I was powerless to stop it or change it at the time so I must live with the memories of it. But there is something I can do. I can speak openly in hopes that it will strike a resounding chord in some of you who will share it with others for maximum exposure.

I’d like to share my thoughts about funeral drama. Every family is different. Perhaps yours surrounded you and continue to support you in varies ways. Trust me it’s a blessing when they do. But some of us cannot think about the loss of our child without seeing the faces of those who tried to steal the day for their own purposes, therefore:

*I have given myself permission to move them out of my memory surrounding my child’s death.

*They are excluded from any thought I have about my child going forward.

*I choose to honor my child’s memory by keeping my grief pure with his name engraved on it. My tears have given me clarity over time. I will continue to shed tears as will you. I  choose to think of them as pure as rain drops, glistening rainbow colors in the sunlight with prism-like beauty. His memory deserves care and I will give it most tenderly.

I know others miss him and grieve in their own way. Bless them! I am glad they honor my son too, but they are outside the circle of my heart. Within me is the heart of a mother designed by the Creator with huge tear ducts! We can cry at a whim. We fall asleep drenched in tears, do we not? Each breathing moment our minds struggle to think about anything or anyone else especially in the beginning when grief is raw and bleeding. If you desire to move certain faces out of your memory, then do it. No one else need know. No one else around you can understand your mama heart, can they?

There is only one who truly understands. It is He who created us mamas with an enormous capacity to love! It is God, our heavenly Father. He knows all things so I assume that He, alone, understand our pain. So I talk to Him about my son all the time. I have no words, but I ask Him to write through me. If you are touched deep in your heart at what is shared here, please consider that it is the touch from God’s own heart. Our loving God understands mama grief. He is a super snuggler so fear not as you approach. He welcomes us with open arms and we can stay on His lap as long as we like and return time and time again. He offers His handkerchief to dry our tears and murmurs encouraging words that our heart understands.

There will come a day when we will cry mama tears for the last time. He has promised to dry our eyes for perhaps the last time. There will be no reason for tears of sadness because there will be no more death! Until this amazing day, we have reason to hope and bright blue words just seems to fit these beautiful promises.

Stop your crying and wipe away your tears. Everything you have done for your children will not go unrewarded. 

I will bring them back from death and from the land of the enemy. You will be a part of My royal family and I will always be your God.

I will wipe away all your tears and there will be no more death, or sadness or crying or pain. The former things are forever gone.                                              

Jeremiah 31:16 & Revelation 21:2-4, paraphrased

                                                                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Story of the Running Father”

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Romans 8:1 NIV

Sherri Gragg

“Everything was quiet. I sat very still with my Bible and journal on my lap by my front window in a picture of perfect peace. But my heart was heavy with familiar grief.

I had been in church my whole life. “Amazing Grace” was as familiar to me as the lullabies my mother sang over my crib, yet somehow my image of God was less of a kind and gracious Father and more of an angry, distant judge. How could a holy God ever accept me, one so flawed?

I bowed my head and began to weep and pray with the kind of honesty that only comes when we are at the end of all our strength.

Heavenly Father,

I know the Bible says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but I just can’t seem to believe it. Every time I turn to You, my first impulse is fear!  I give up. I can’t do this on my own. Will You please heal my heart?

Over the next year, God did for me what I had been utterly helpless to do on my own. He revolutionized my image of Him.

One of the stories that meant the most to me on my journey was the story many of us know by the title, The Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32. I discovered that in the Middle Eastern Church the story goes by another name: The Story of the Running Father. The difference in the title reflects important cultural knowledge that the people to whom Jesus spoke would have known.

In the biblical story, the son demands his share of the family’s wealth, leaves home and breaks his father’s heart in the process. Eventually the young man finds himself destitute in a foreign land and determines to return to his father’s house with the hope of working as a servant.

Scripture tells us the father sees his son a long way off and runs to him. It’s the image of this running father that was so powerful to the hearers of Jesus’ story.

First, it was considered extremely undignified for a Middle Eastern man to run anywhere. Running was for children. Also, running required men to hike up their robes and expose their legs, which was considered humiliating and disgraceful.

The reason he was running was even more significant. It was a very serious matter for a Jewish young man to lose his family’s inheritance in a foreign land. If he did, and he had the gall to actually return to his village, his entire community would then bring him to justice through a custom called the Kezazah. Once the community discovered the money was lost, they would surround him and break a pot at his feet. Then they would announce that from that moment on he was cut off from his family and community … as if he were dead.

But this young man’s father had been watching, and even though his son had broken his heart, he had been hoping for his return. He knew all too well what would happen when the villagers saw his boy. His son would be shamed and then the pot would fall, break, and his son would be lost. So, the father did what no first-century Middle Eastern man would do: he hiked up his robe and ran.

He ran through the village streets as his neighbors stared in horror. He ran as young boys began running along behind, shouting and mocking him in his shame. He ran ahead of the crowd as they moved toward his guilty, filthy son. He ran ahead of all that was reasonable and fair. He ran ahead of justice, taking his boy’s shame upon himself.

When he reached the boy, the father quickly gathered his son into his arms, kissed him on each cheek and called for a banquet in his honor.

This, Jesus tells us, is what God is like.

For too long my image of God was one of a tyrant, or a cold and callous judge. But now whenever I think of God, I see Him running toward me, gathering up my shame in His wake, to redeem me with His costly love.

My Father, thank You so much for running toward me. Help me rest in Your grace and trust Your great love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

TRUTH FOR TODAY:

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3, NIV

~SHERRI GRAGG

This entry was posted on June 14, 2014. 2 Comments

“God Sent Pipy”

We never know where life’s journey will take us. Many of us having been side-swiped by tragedy, seemingly out of thin air, forcing us to accept that our journey from now on will be laced with grief and take on a life of its own. Long before I became an author or a blogger, I wrote this story. I didn’t date it (somehow I always think I will remember), but it was written a few months after my son died. I sent it to a magazine; I do remember doing that. Searching through some stored papers recently, I came across it. I sat back and read it again allowing it to transport me back to another time when my life was innocent and fair. Here’s the beginning of my life with Pipy in it. May you enjoy the story whether you are a feline lover or not.

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“One warm evening last summer, my husband and I took a stroll down our country road. On the right side was a huge soybean field, lush and green from the abundant rain. Suddenly we heard a faint “mew”. It sounded like a kitten. We stopped and stared at the direction of the sound. A tiny kitten peeked through the foliage, a skinny little gray tiger kitten. Poor thing. Perhaps he had been looking for food in the field? He was not afraid of us and wanted to be held. We already had a cat, a spoiled unfriendly Samantha. But this kitten could use one good meal at least.

It was useless to put him down. He was not going back where he came from. He dogged our steps so it was either pick him up or step on him. All the way home, I pondered the options:  did he have an owner who missed him? Unlikely since we were surrounded by horse farms with barns and probably dozens of nameless cats. Was he tossed out to fend for himself? Perhaps, but he was not fearful at all. At least we could feed him before sending him back out to live on his own. One look at the way my husband held him gave me an inkling that this kitten’s chances had already improved.

He ate like the starved kitten he was. And as he did, he began to work himself into our hearts. Soon we were trying to think of names for this ‘outdoor mouser’. No way could he be inside with Sammy. I don’t know where the name, ‘Pipy’ came from, but he just seemed like a tiny ‘pipsqueak’, so small and frail. Soon he responded to his name and would come bouncing up to me from wherever his explorations took him.

Pipy turning out to be a kind and gentle kitten. He loves to play and has large almond-shaped expressive eyes. He soon won over our hearts to the point that there was talk about making him an indoor cat, considering the cold winter soon to come. Gradually we introduced Pipy to Sammy and to this day she snarls at him, but they seem to get along like any other siblings.

Little did we know that the fun antics from this kitten would soothe our broken hearts. Within weeks, we became shocked and grieving parents when our oldest son ended his life. There are no words to explain the anguish this created in our hearts. Perhaps time will help us learn to live again. Each day we shed buckets of tears that only God sees. We know that He is traveling this dark road with us.

During those first long and painful weeks, it began to dawn on us that perhaps God sent Pipy to us. He knew that our lives would soon be turned upside down and we would need this fun loving kitten to ease our pain and bring out peels of laughter in the midst of our grief. Each time we find ourselves laughing at this silly kitten, we remind ourselves that God does care about the simplest things when He gave us a ‘baby’ to love.

We could fill a book with Pipy’s antics. He is fascinated with the concept of gravity. He loves to push things off the edge of any surface and watch them drop to the floor. Needless to say, it is not unlike picking up after a child again. He and Sammy get into rough and tumble fights. Pipy is obviously having the time of his life. Sammy? Not so much. She hates having her calm and peaceful world so radically disrupted so she hisses and growls at him which of course fascinates him and makes us laugh.

One morning I heard what sounded like thundering hooves tearing up and down the hallway accompanied by a swishing sound. Sure I was imagining things, I turned off the hairdryer and peered out of the bathroom. There was Pipy, running around the house with a plastic grocery bag apparently attached to his middle and as he ran the bag became a parachute. Out of the parachute tumbled chocolate candy, hitting the walls and bouncing everywhere. The sight was too much. I doubled over, howling with laughter which brought my husband to the scene. By this time the show was over and a very frightened Pipy was hiding behind a chair with the empty bag still wrapped around him.

What apparently happened was Pipy, who loves the smell of chocolate, decided he wanted a piece of brightly wrapped Christmas chocolates which filled a pretty candy dish. I had covered the bowl with the grocery bag, hoping that he would leave the candy alone. Since the bowl was on the floor, empty, I assumed that in trying to uncover the bowl and help himself, he managed to dump the entire contents into the bag and off he ran, trying to get away from the bag that was flying behind him.

It has been a short 6 months since our son died. Each day is just as hard as the day before, but we put our trust in God. We know that He will get us through our grief to a place where we can have pleasant memories of our son. How thoughtful of God to provide us with Pipy, a source of comfort and laughter at a time when we need it the most.”

It seems strange to read something written at the 6th month point, which I remember thinking then that time crawled past slower than a snail. And now it is going on 9 years. I would have told you early on that years were impossible, but God has carried us along. So if you happen to be early in your journey, take heart and take my hand and we will both lean on God for comfort and support.

Every good present and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father who made the sun, moon, and stars.   James 1:17, GWT

This entry was posted on June 6, 2014. 2 Comments