Archive | August 2014

God is . . .

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God is . . .
My Tower that never crumbles;
My Light that never flickers;
My Hiding Place that never closes;
My Shield that has no chinks;
My Guide who never gets lost on the trail;
My Guardian who doesn’t take naps;
My Eternal King whose banner I joyously wave;
My Ocean of Love that never has a low tide;
My Provider whose shelves are never empty;
My Physician who still makes house calls;
My Father who is never too busy to be with His child;
My Creator who knew what He was doing when He made me.

O God, Your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as You? You are the God of great wonders! Psalm 77:13-14 NLT

~Roy Lessin

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This entry was posted on August 29, 2014. 4 Comments

Wrestling with God

Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won. Genesis 32:28

~Pain is the price of admission to life on Earth. It comes to us all and can strike at any moment~

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Battle weary, burdened and in need of rest, the trials and tragedies of life continue to overwhelm us, draining our strength. We want to lash out. We want to blame. We want a target for our pain. Things appear difficult, impossible in fact which brings a question to mind ~ have you ever wrestled with God about it? Maybe your imagination can’t stretch that far. But maybe it is in prayer and conversation with Him that we wrestle for answers and understanding. Do you think we have the right to go to God and beat on His chest? To take Him to the spiritual mat, as it were, and challenge Him with tough questions? I say yes because He says yes. Sometimes God is the Wrestler at Peniel.

Perhaps some explaining is in order. There is an old Bible story about Jacob. His bio is fascinating and you are welcome to check it out. Meanwhile I’d like to zero in on a portion that touches me deeply . . . in that deep soft spot where gnawing pain resides, although thankfully it is more subtle now with the passage of time. However it is pain I must learn to live with and I imagine you agree if you, too, have lost a beloved child.

Pain didn’t start with us, however. We have to go way back to the beginning of time and there we will find pain. Bible stories are proof enough that to follow God is to walk not with a swagger, but with a limp. God has always used pain in the lives of those who choose to follow Him. Pain is never our choice; it is what is chosen for us. Why? Let’s see if a particular Bible story can shed some light on the topic of pain.

There are many examples to choose from and three, who have had personal experience with pain, come readily to mind:  Peter, the arrogant hot head, Saul, the violent persecutor who became Paul, and Jacob, the lying swindler who is the subject of today’s story. All three men discovered first hand that God never leaves us where we are, but rather turns us into something useful for His glory. Let’s pick up Jacob’s story in Genesis 32. You may follow along if you like while I attempt to share a bit of his story in my own words (with the help of Pastor Brian Zahnd, wolc.com, who brings Bible characters to life in his storytelling).

Jacob was a twin. He followed his brother Esau out of the birth canal holding on to his heel. Thus he was born a supplanter or “holder of the heel”. He became a fast talker, a manipulator, a hustler. He honed his instincts to size up and use people on his way to the top. He cheated his brother out of his birthright and went on to con his uncle who conned him back. His definition of success was to swagger through life with the confidence of a con man. Life was a race and he wanted to cross the finish line first with his backpack full of riches.

But as it often happens, Jacob’s life suddenly took a nasty turn when he got word that his twin brother was hot on his trail with murder on his mind. Jacob quickly divided his family into groups sending them to safety while he stayed behind to face his brother alone. He prayed that God would save him from the wrath of his brother. Alone in the darkness, with the words barely out of his mouth, he was knocked to the ground by an unknown assailant. Esau? No, it couldn’t be Esau. This guy was way bigger and stronger than he remembered Esau to be, but there was no time to figure out who his attacker was for he was in for the fight of his life.

Let’s “invite” Jacob to continue the story in his own words.  ~ Down we went into the weeds and reeds, tumbling over and over in slimy mud. Who is this madman? Desperation gripped me in a cold sweat. It was hard to get a grip on this guy, but if this fight was to end in death then I was going to give it my all. My mind raced ahead, grimly reminding me of my evil deeds, one on top of the other. Is this how my life will end? Will I never get to tell Esau how sorry I am for everything? For stealing his birthright?

We fight on into the night, the silence broken only by the sounds pounding flesh. I willed my body strength, but we were ridiculously mismatched. Clearly he could take me, so why didn’t he and get it over with? It’s obvious he’s playing with me. I’m his prey, his pawn. Just as the foggy whisper of dawn nibbled at the edge of darkness, he made his move. It looked like a lightening bolt passed between us and zapped my hip. Searing pain like a hot knife engulfed me. I writhed in agony on the ground. Did I catch a glimpse of his face or was that pain talking?  He was trying to pull away now, but I clung to his neck with a grip tighter than I knew I had. I would not let go. The agony of pain was nothing compared to the agony of soul. My wretched life passed before my eyes . . . it couldn’t end this way. I must have a blessing. Please . . . I must have his forgiveness! Defeated and crippled for life, would he now leave me here alone? I held on for dear life. I felt his hot breath on my neck when he finally spoke,

“Let me go, for day is breaking.”

I dug my nails into his skin. Through clenched teeth and with a voice strained from fatigue and pain I cried,

“No! I will not let you go unless you bless me!”

Then he asks me my name. I told him. Then he said the most amazing thing,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.”

I relaxed my grip, stunned by his words. Though in agony I could hardly wrap my mind around the blessing I had just been given. I was no longer Jacob, “supplanter”, but Israel, meaning “‘God prevails”. How awesome. I could scarcely take it in but I would have plenty of time later to replay the greatest event in my life. Now I must ask him one more question,

“Please tell me your name?” He leaned down to my ear and softly spoke, “Do you really need to ask?”

No, I didn’t. My heart knew. I began to quiver with emotion from head to toe. I had wrestled with my Maker .  . . and survived to tell my story! How is that possible?

And Jacob said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and I am still alive”; so he named the place Peniel. Genesis 32:30

Heavenly Father,

As hard as it is for me to admit and even harder to be thankful for . . . over time, lots of time . . . I have come to be thankful that You brought about pain in my life. For it was in the horrific crucible of losing my son that I truly found You.Thank You for reminding us through Jacob’s story, that it is through wrestling with You that we prevail. Amen.

Hymnlines: “Part the Waters”

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Hebrews 6:19

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This doggy looks like he’s having the time of his life. Does this picture remind you of you? Boy, it does me . . . the dog paddle part anyway. I have no claim to fame in the swimming department. In fact, dog paddling is the only stroke I mastered . . . minus the chunk of driftwood. Perhaps the wood would have kept my head out of water. But it’s tough swimming strokes after suicide. We have no strength. We have no interest. We’d rather drown. But God tosses us a life preserver ~ or driftwood so we keep paddling.

There is a song that Evie Karlsson sings that I just love. The words have much meaning in my life ~

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

I do feel like I am going under, Lord. Don’t you see me frantically paddling, kicking my feet, but getting nowhere? Thanks for the piece of driftwood, but I need more. I need your hands under me, guiding me like a rudder to safer depths and maybe soon I will even touch bottom and stand up on solid ground.

Knowing You love me through the burden I must bear,
Hearing Your footsteps lets me know I’m in Your care,
And in the night of my life You bring the promise of day,
Here is my hand, show me the way.

Lord, take my hand. Lead me to safety. I know you know everything about me and those around me. I know you know far more than I know about those I have been forced to say goodbye to. I know you know I long to understand why. I know you know I find myself blaming you and others for his/her death. I know you know you can take the blame for you took all our sins and laid them on your one and only Son at the cross and left them there. And He arose to everlasting life, showing us the way to life eternal. So that horrible “goodbye” was not final.

Knowing You love me helps me face another day.
Hearing Your footsteps drives the clouds and fear away;
And in the tears of my life I see the sorrow You bore,
Here is my pain, heal it once more.

Here’s my pain, Lord. I am ready to hand it over to you. Knowing you hold me up in the raging waters, knowing you will part them and lead me to shore, knowing you are the only one who can heal me I hand over my pain to you. I choose to lean on your everlasting arms. You love me unconditionally and I love you back. You will supply my every need and I thank you for that. And when the storms of pain rise within me threatening to engulf me once again, you are my anchor.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

If there is even one person within earshot of my words who thinks drowning is an option, please listen. I know the intense, insatiable pain of losing a child, but adding our deaths only doubles the pain on those left behind. I know the temptation to blame others and to blame God for I have experienced both. So where to turn? Turn toward the sun; turn toward the Son of righteousness. Believe in the One who knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. It is he who has an undying love affair with you. Who else can claim to care that much about you? He shares your pain and someday, in the not so distant future, all will be made plain and when you are reunited with your loved one, all of this pain-filled world’s history will fade from view and we will be free of the enemy at last and home at last.

My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me,  and I give them eternal life, so that they will never be lost. No one can snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:27-28, CEV

 song by Charles F Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking wounded

For God so loved…John 3:16

We are the walking wounded, friend. I see your pain, feel it in your words; it is both pulsing and palatable. This is not a path we would have ever chosen, but it is ours to walk. We do it hand in hand, walking with an unseen Guest who knows our grief first hand. It was God and His Son, Jesus Christ who agreed to a plan that they would not have chosen either if there had been another way to save mankind from self-destruction in the hands of evil management of this world.

In God's hands

In God’s hands

From my years on this journey I have the “vantage point” of reflection while looking back to remember all the stages and how God has led. You may not factor God in the equation and that is okay. But if you don’t mind I want to continue this train of thought.

I was born with an empty backpack waiting to be filled. All negative things were easy to store in my backpack which grew heavier as I grew older. I got busy raising a family, therefore, like most of you, holding down two jobs. There was always something to push my nose out of joint so in the backpack it would go. Maybe it was a snide remark made by a coworker or boss that I was afraid if I spoke up I’d be fired. Maybe it was a smart remark  from one of my children as he skidded out of the driveway staying away until he thought it was safe to return . . . and I’d have forgotten. I have a memory like an elephant . . . for pain that is. So in the backpack it goes. There’s always room for more pain in there. Sound familiar?

And then the unspeakable happened. Suddenly, tragically, we lost our firstborn child to suicide. That pain would not fit in my backpack. It was the size of Mt. Everest and broke me. I shattered like shards of glass splintering in all directions. There was nothing left to salvage. The me I knew and others around me knew,was no longer. It seemed as if time should stand still now. The atmosphere void of oxygen. Not even a heart left to beat.

Perhaps you would describe your experience differently or maybe you are nodding in agreement. You can add more sentences and we would all nod in agreement for we are familiar with the trauma of sudden death. It sucks the life out of the living making even thinking about living impossible . . . for a time.

But I do have good news. God can recreate. It’s His specialty. He loves His sons and daughters on Earth with an unconditional love ~ a love so awesome He would agree to watch His own Son be murdered by our ancestors. He loves us still; both Father and Son love us inside and out. And they know the trauma we live. They suffer with us in our grief.

“Spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the Devil is one long, continuous struggle. The battleground has front lines and rear flanks. There are soldiers of Christ and backsliders gone AWOL. The Enemy has a strategy, and he’s out to kill, maim, and wound. But God’s strategy is to advance His kingdom and reclaim enemy territory. ” ~Joni & Friends

God is fighting for us and Satan is fighting against us. And we are caught in the crossfire in this battle between Good and evil. There are converts on both sides. You and I have met both. Perhaps in your grief you have met those who don’t give you the time of day. In their ignorance they are allowing the enemy to speak through their mouths and work through their actions. This may be more than you can comfortably swallow and that’s okay. What I am suggesting is that the picture is much larger than our minds can fathom. The whole world groans with the actions of the enemy and God misses none of it. He hurts when the enemy destroys a child, any child. and too often it is our child. God is not the destroyer. Satan is. (John 10:10)

So where is the good news? This is how I describe it. God is recreating me brick by brick. I don’t know when I will be completed; perhaps I am a work in progress until Jesus returns. But I now know where to turn. I turn to God. I take off my heavy backpack and drop it at His feet with words that go something like this. “Here. You take it. I’m done carrying it.” This is an act of total surrender to a Power greater than myself who sees time from beginning to end and “giving up” is giving Him permission to act in my life. Surrender must be practiced daily for it is too easy for me to want to get behind the wheel and take over again. And even though my heart is often very heavy, my steps are light and my mind can sing His praises because I know I don’t have to fix what I am incapable of. That’s His job and He does it with love.

 Recreating brick by brick

Bricks of hope, forgiveness, faith, love, trust . . .

 

This entry was posted on August 15, 2014. 6 Comments

Hymnlines: “God Will Make A Way”

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Tragedy is the biggest blind side. We’re never prepared for sudden death. Never. Whether by accident or murder or suicide to name three big ones, we’re never prepared. It’s hard enough when disease slowly ravages your loved one’s body and death is breathing down their neck, it is still hard when they breathe their last.

If you’ve never heard this song, you will find it on YouTube by Don Moen, who is credited with writing this popular song born out of tragedy; God gave him the words when his family was in a tragic accident. There are at least two versions and I happen to like Janet Paschal’s which is shared here.

Must have felt strange to end up stranded between an army and the sea                       
They must have felt forsaken wondering why God wasn’t all He said He’d be
When your back’s against the wall
It’s the hardest place of all
But somewhere between provisions and impossibility

Is your back against the wall? Often mine is. The anniversary of my son’s death creeps slowly upon me like a snake weaving back and forth as it stealthily inches toward its prey. It’s ugly. Who care bear it? The memories should have faded by now and be fresh no longer, but they are! Granted, the edges are softer now than they were years ago, but it still hurts and is likely to until I draw my last breath. It’s time to seek comfort. I tap awake my iPod which I haven’t bothered to touch in years; long forgotten are all the songs that meant so much to me back then . . . and a song by Janet Paschal, cancer survivor, begins to play and my tears begin to fall . . .

 

God will make a way
When there seems to be no way
Forever He is faithful
He will make a road
When you bear a heavy load
I know, God will make a way

“To put it simply, the only way to have hope is to have Him. The only way to have peace is to have Him. It’s Jesus alone. As Paul reminds us in Romans 15:13, hope — as well as peace and joy — come through faith. It is true that many people claim to have faith in God during the good times, but when trials come their way, their faith is clearly lacking. In times when our vision of God becomes blurred by sorrow, the eyes of faith are more important than ever.

George Macdonald, author and mentor to C.S. Lewis, once wrote: ‘I think faith can never have a greater victory than when it will trust even in the midst of darkness and doubt and temptation.’

What a great definition of victorious faith! — faith in our victorious God who never loses control of His people…and His planet.”

When a wall of circumstances leaves you crying in the night
And you struggle til your strength is almost gone
God will gently hold you in the shelter of His heart
And carve a road for you to carry on.
So carry on ~

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“The truth is, God’s will for us isn’t even nullified by our suffering, nor does it end at the grave. Our hope rests in the promise that our lives will stretch far beyond these few fleeting moments on earth, into an eternity of heavenly joy and satisfaction. Are you willing to believe that God will make a way where there seems to be no way? He works in ways we cannot see…He will make a way!” Dr. Stephen Davey (Oneplace.com)

No matter your favorite artist or which version you prefer, the message will give you encouragement and hope, strengthening your faith in the One who has us in the palm of his hand and tells over and over in so many ways how much He loves us. We are each unique; each one His beloved treasure.

 

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us everlasting consolation and encouragement and well-founded hope through [His] grace (unmerited favor), comfort and encourage your hearts and strengthen them [make them steadfast and keep them unswerving] in every good work and word.  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

This entry was posted on August 8, 2014. 2 Comments

Silent Salute

For me there is something powerful in our military salute. I love it! I love my country. I am sure you do too and we support everyone who defends our freedom. It is a costly task leaving many spouses, children, parents, siblings and other family and friends to mourn. Thankfully, these United States of America are still free. May we always be free.

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One of my children served in the U.S. Air Force and I am proud of his accomplishments. He has served his country faithfully, doing his best, giving his all and fortunately lives to share his stories.

Then my firstborn died by suicide. I have only why questions and no answers, not unlike many of you. We survive the tragedy by the grit of our teeth; enduring the shock of it all by God’s amazing grace.

Perhaps your memories of loss are etched in your mind . . . seared more likely and tattooed forever on your heart. Me too. Getting through those first hours, days are still somewhat a blur . . . perhaps never to be fully slowed down and the blanks filled in but instead, just remain a blur. But there is one exception in my bank of memories about the events that followed after my son’s death.

I love each one of my boys unconditionally. I was blessed to give birth twice. I was privileged to add a 3rd son by marriage. Soon after we had our first real family gathering, we were forced to say goodbye to my firstborn. Of all the choices I am allowed to make in my life, preventing his death was not one of them. Fortunately my remaining children have managed to go on and live their dreams which gives me great joy. They are privileged to live by independent means and I am blessed to share my life with them even if only in small ways and sometimes from a distance.

Recently I watched our President share heroic stories about our fallen comrades, those who gave themselves as a living sacrifice to defend our homeland. I know the pain in the hearts of the families will never go away. They have been blessed to share their children to keep us free. We owe them a debt of gratitude and our President paid the nation’s respect in their honor. After the stories came the medals followed by a crisp salute given by our President and received by the one who is fortunate to have survived.

Perhaps this post will seem disjointed. For that I apologize. The pain in my mind and heart slow down the flow of words to the page even though my mind swirls in search for just the right words in an attempt to convey feelings from my heart to yours. Perhaps you understand this internal conflict? Those of us on a survival journey “get it” and require no further explanation. There is a story that I shared in my book “Shattered by Suicide” that took me forever to write. The telling was so wretchedly painful and the words so deep that unearthing them seemed an impossible task then and still does now. I have a point. Really.

The point is about the salute. I won’t quote the book. That would be silly. And I won’t reread it now for I don’t want this to be a carbon copy. The images are stuck forever in my mind. We had gathered to say our last goodbye to my firstborn son. We were sitting in the shade under the canopy that hot August day. Morning or afternoon. Hmmm. I remember sunshine, but I’m unaware of the time of day. Apparently it didn’t make the cut in my memory. You know the drill. Most of us have experienced such a gathering at least one time in our lives and too many times it is in honor of one of our children . . . way too often and if you, too, have lost a child, let me say how sorry I am for your pain.

My stepson spent much of his life serving his country. He looked fine in his uniform, creased and pressed to perfection. He had the gait, the language, the perfect performance, the manners learned and executed flawlessly throughout his career. He knows the salute and has given it often when in the presence of a senior officer. Nothing less would be tolerated. It is a habit, but respectful to be sure.

Back to the tent. The last words of comfort had been said although I don’t remember them. I heard sound ~ mostly my own weeping. We each caressed the box . . . oh how I hate the box . . . but it contained precious remains so I must cherish it. Slowly we stood to our feet. It was time to leave the box behind for that is the decision we made at the time. Mind numbing pain = mind numbing decisions which could later be mulled over and regretted, but not now. Now we must bid a fond farewell to the box displayed on red velvet. No matter the softness of fabric . . . nothing about this moment softens the blows to my heart.

And then I saw it. My stepson stood to his feet, approached the stand where the box rested. He paused, then snapped to attention, clicking his heels together and gave his brother a sharp salute. Silence. Even the air seemed to pause in respect and stood still. Through blurry eyes I witnessed a shower of honor bestowed on my firstborn by an elder brother. For him, the salute offered the highest respect, love and praise to his fallen brother. No, my boy did not die in combat, not like we usually think of combat. And yet it is combat. The forces of evil fighting against the forces of Good. My heavenly Father, in His unfathomable love and mercy gently laid a hurting heart to rest . . . for now.

Slowing the story down frame by frame is not intended to draw tears (even though mine flow) but to bring relief. If you are a parent who has lost a child or you lost your sibling or a dear friend, you understand the need to slow it down, do you not? The heart aches to unearth pain. The heart aches to release to the wind the agony it feels. The heart aches to share it, for it is in the sharing that we deepen our understanding of loss where mind and heart ache to be connected again. We can’t bring our loved one back, but we can open our hearts for the benefit of others who may not have experienced such tragedy. Not to be morbid, but somehow in the telling of our stories we help others to become wiser, more reflective and understanding in the love and honor we feel about our fallen child. Does that make sense?

Like a maze, we work our way thru twists, turns, stops and starts as we tackle the pain from within, trying to put it into words not only for the healing of our hearts, but to help those who cannot fathom our suffering. With encouragement from a willing listener we are able to unearth some painful words deep in the core of our being and release them for a bit of relief. Granted the process repeats often for there is always more, still more. Such is the process of healing, slow and steady.

For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.  Philippians 4:13, LB

 

This entry was posted on August 1, 2014. 6 Comments