Christian, gifts from God, loss

Stained Glass Lives

wreckedThanksgiving Eve in 2015, I sat in church holding a rock. As part of the service that evening, we were each asked to write something on that rock as a memorial. We would place those rocks on a table as a thankfulness monument to what God has done. What was God doing in our lives? What gifts had he blessed us with? Who were we becoming that should be memorialized? The word that kept running through my mind was “WRECKED!” God had wrecked my life. He hadn’t just thrown me a curve ball, nor had he simply turned things upside down. He had wrecked it. He had torn my heart out of myself. He had destroyed my very being. Could I be thankful for this? Could I see it as a blessing? I sat in my own little prison of broken dreams and silent pain, and wrote on that stone, “Wrecked my life.”

It wasn’t an accusation. It was both fact and resignation. I was working things out in my life or maybe more accurately, God was working some things out in my life. I was trying to catch my breath and lean into God in the midst of the pain. I was giving it over to Him and thanking him for the suffering, not in the, “I love agony” sense, but in the, “I know that God is good and I can trust him to turn the pieces of my heart into something beautiful” sense. Jesus and I had been clenched in many a wrestling match over the years, and I had stumbled through some pretty graceless dances with him as he tried to lead me, but nothing compared to this. I was holding onto the pieces of my life and waiting in wretched expectation.

Holding those broken pieces was difficult. The sharp edges cut deeply, and I was bleeding out. I was sure I died a few times. If I’m honest, I wished to literally die several times throughout that season. I couldn’t bear the place God had brought me, and I wouldn’t open up my bloody scarred hands and let him help me. As I was spilling my life out slowly and gasping for breath, Jesus was working his miracle. He was working out His perfect plan. I am certain he had been working it out long before I even knew I was broken.

I wish I could say that it was the end of the breaking, but He had barely begun. There would be a lot more shattering and crushing in the months that followed. I’m not naïve enough to think that he’s done the painful work, but I am far enough along to see the light shining through the artwork that he made from some of those broken pieces. I am far enough along to see that darkness helps us to see the light, and that my mind isn’t big enough to imagine what He had in store for me. This week I found myself counting the blessing that have come from the brokenness of that year, the brokenness of my life. Stained glass needs to be seen from a few steps away or you miss the full extent of its beauty. Sometimes life is like that too.

 

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resoultions

Release: A New Year’s Eve Resolution

 

My New Year’s Eve tradition has been to write a reflection piece. I often chose a word to summarize the past year or a resolution for the coming year. This year I am choosing a word that does both –release.

Release is a verb. It is active. It is hopeful. I love the images stirred up by its most common use: to free from confinement, bondage, obligation, pain, etc.; let go. Don’t we all desire to be released from all those bitter things in our lives. However, it was another meaning that caught my attention- to allow to be known. Isn’t that our deep desire? Do we not hide our flaws in fear that we will fall short of some expectation? Don’t we worry that we will be rejected or unloved? We yearn to belong, and so we become acutely aware of everything within us that makes us different or makes us the other. In order to fit in, we masquerade, as whatever we perceive will make us acceptable. And it is our façades that ultimately make us all the more isolated. We cannot drop our guard, let our hair down, and be ourselves. We cannot release.

The recent years have been hard. They have been filled with loss and grief and pain. Yet in the midst of dying a million deaths, I found surrender. When we stop wrestling and clinging to the things that we believe protect us, we find release. A sense of healing comes when we stop fighting the tears. What freedom we find when we stop striving. We find a sense of community when we cease holding on to our masks. 2016 most certainly brought with it many struggles, but it was in letting go that I found real hope.

My resolution for 2017 is that I will continue my journey of release. I will let go of all that holds me back, most notably myself. I will allow myself to be truly known by letting go of the many different facades I have carefully crafted to meet the many different roles that I play. (Can you not hear the theater lingo in this common phrase?) I will allow myself to be known, by releasing myself from the need to prove my character, prove my faith, prove my intelligence, and prove that I am right. I yearn to release myself of the obligations I have allowed to be placed on myself by others and myself. I commit to leaning into the struggle rather than clawing against it because that is the only way to really let it go. I commit to clinging to Christ alone.

 

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grief and loss, parenting teens

When the Stockings Aren’t Hung

Our family tends to be a little late in the game for getting ready for the holidays.  So there I was on the 23rd, pulling out the Christmas decorations. I was searching for a book to read on Christmas morning to the pre-K-K Sunday School class. In the third box I opened, I found the stockings. I began pulling them out and laying them on top of a box of ornaments when staring up from the bottom of the box was Sean’s stocking. I lifted it out of the box and a million emotions flooded me followed by a number of thoughts.

Do we hang it?

Do I mention it?

I certainly am not going to get rid of it, but will this become my new holiday tradition of finding his old stocking and weeping?

Should I move it somewhere I won’t keep bumping into it?

With the items I needed removed, I returned it to the box and tucked it back in the closet. I did’t know how everyone else would feel, and I didn’t want to create an issue that didn’t need to exist. But the next day, my daughter told me that she thought we should hang his stocking. I disagreed. I explained my reasoning, how we hadn’t hung it since he stopped sleeping over on Christmas Eve, and how I feared hanging it would create a tradition that would be difficult to stop.

As a parent I also worry that I might let my processing of grief hinder my children who might have different grief needs than I do. Parenting multiple children through grief while grieving yourself adds an entirely different dimension to every decision made, and one might be surprised just how many decisions one actually faces in life as you adjust to a new normal.

So his stocking didn’t get hung. It sat empty in a box in the a closet under our stairs.

Christmas came and went. Tears were shed. Memories recollected. And a whole new set of memories made for the first time without Sean. One more hurdle in the grief process was crossed although not gracefully.

Life after loss will always be a little bittersweet. There will always be the “should have been here” moments. Sorrow will always seep into every sweet family celebration. The grief will change, but it will never be fully gone. I have experienced enough of its ways to know this truth.

There will always be the stocking that doesn’t get hung.

 

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gifts from God, grief and loss, loss

The Cumulative Impact of Grief

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I’ve been thinking a lot about grief these past weeks as we move into the holiday season. This year will be a hard year for our family as we celebrate the first Thanksgiving, birthday, and Christmas without our son. I have cried a little almost every day since the week before Thanksgiving. I haven’t sobbed or broken down, but tears roll down my face during car rides, certain songs on the radio, or just at random moments. For me, this is the 3rd major loss I have experienced. Each being different, they began with the loss of my father 20 years ago. 20 years ago. It seems like I should be long over a grief that old.

 

“Cumulative grief” tends to focus solely on several losses in a short time. That isn’t me. Yet, I doubt that my grief experience is unique.

For me, the loss of my father was deeply devastating. I was a wreck for months. I gradually worked through the loss. I certainly don’t think I would consider my grief “unresolved”, but I definitely miss my Dad, wish he didn’t have to miss so many life events, and at times genuinely ache to have just another moment with him.
When my mom became sick a few years back, I grieved the loss of my father again. Certainly not anything like the original grief, but I thought of him more often, teared-up over little things more often, and longed for him more. As my mom deteriorated and eventually passed, I grieved for my mom, but oddly enough I grieved for my dad almost as much.

Just over a year after my mother passed, we would lose our adult son. It was sudden, like the loss of my dad, but he had not been healthy, so it was always in the back of our minds. We had long expected the day would eventually come. I cried, was sad, and missed him, but not the level of grief that one would expect for such a great loss. But the grief has built up these past days and weeks. It has grown heavier as we enter the holiday.

I grieved now for all three of them. Memories of any one of them might lead me to tears and thoughts of the others. Our son passed late in June. In early September, I remember crying at a family birthday party, because our extended family had gotten so small. There were so few of us now that we could all comfortably sit at our table. That same thought has crossed my mind so many times since that day. My Christmas shopping list is short. The entire family can comfortably be included in a single group chat. I know one day our family will expand. There will be weddings and babies (hopefully not mine). But for now, it is just small and my losses are painfully evident.

Sometimes I am fearful that growing older means that grief will pile upon grief and that each loss will magnify the previous ones. Do we simply accumulate our pain as we walk through this broken world, this world that was never meant to be marred by death?

Grief sure is an interesting beast. It morphs and changes, with an ebb and flow across the seasons and years. Many days it sits quietly, almost stealthily on the sidelines, but in an instant it can come out of nowhere to blindside you. While there are many ways to protect oneself from these attacks of grief, the truth is that grief is a gift. We are people who love and with that love comes a vulnerability to pain. It is only in our loving of others that we face such deep loss. It truly is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

So, no. We are not bound by a grim future of loss. While, Yes, these deep losses will impact us for the rest of our lives, there is more. There is hope and restoration and a supernatural comfort from a God who counts our tears and holds us through our suffering. And it’s enough. It really is.

 

 

 

 

 

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ethically traded, social justice

The Purpose Filled Wedding

wedding-favorRecently, I went to a fabulous wedding, truly one of the best ones ever. Like all Christ-centered weddings, it was filled with praise and worship, scripture, and the deep symbolism that facilitates the embedding of Truth into our hearts. I cried. I always do. It was beautiful and joyous, and a reminder of the love and life my husband and I share together. It was simple yet profound. And then we went to the reception.

Wedding receptions are one of the few true celebrations of sacraments we still honor in our post Christian society. They are filled with food, music, and laughter. Everything at this reception was Pinterest perfect. And what did I take a picture of? The plates. I’d call them paper plates, but I’m not sure they can be called “paper” as they were made from palm leaves, completely biodegradable, and as they don’t destroy trees, they are environmentally friendly. I’d seen a video on them prior to the wedding, but I wasn’t aware they were available already. (Yes, I have already purchased some for my next family affair.)

wedding-plates

The wedding got me thinking about previous weddings we had been to and creative ideas I have seen that could make your upcoming wedding a little more justice focused. A few years back, friends of ours decided to do away with the traditional wedding favors, and instead gave guests a choice of three different charities to choose from. They donated $1 per person to the charity they selected. Not only was this a better use of their money and a time saver, but it opened up conversation around the table as we all talked about which charity we liked best and learned a bit about them.

Here are some ideas you could use in addition to palm leaf plates and charitable donations.

  • Start with an ethically traded engagement ring and wedding bands from a company likeDo Amore.
  • Buy a fair trade wedding dress from a company like Celia Grace.
  • Invite your bridesmaids to join you for your special day with Mercy House bridesmaid invitation card and earring set.
  • Find your wedding day accessories from a fair trade organization such as Trades of Hope, Noonday Collection, or War Chest Boutique.
  • Decorate with white lights from Holiday LED and candles from Thistle Farms.
  • Serve Equal Exchange coffee, tea, and chocolate.
  • Consider getting your meal catered by an organization that is helping people such as Thistle Stop Café or Edwin’s Restaurant.
  • Donate your leftover to a local soup kitchen, rescue mission, or other organization.
  • Order your thank you notes from To the Market or  Ten Thousand Villages.
  • Consider checking out Love Gives Way, an organization that helps people find vendors who donate a portion of their profits to ending  sex trafficking.
  • Reduce the use of cheaper dollar store type items that creates a marketing demand for products that would be difficult to produce in an ethical manner.

I discovered a number of organizations devoted to ethical weddings, but they were located in the United Kingdom and Australia, so less helpful in the United States. A quick internet search will give you plenty of other ideas to chose from.

Happy planning!

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Bible Study, Christian, ministry, social justice

A Mile Wide: A book review (of sorts)

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Thirty years ago, I gave my life to Jesus. I was just 13 years old. Growing up in a Christian home, I had attended church and Sunday school, VBS, and sang in the choir. I had believed in Jesus my entire life, and I had faithfully done all that Christians were suppose to do. Then, in the wooded grounds of Agape Farms, surrounded by tens of thousands of other Christians, speaker Roger Cooper introduced me to a personal savior. I didn’t need a second invitation; I didn’t struggle with whether or not I wanted to surrender my life to God. I just did it. I had no idea that I was missing such an important piece of the Christian walk, until someone shared it with me.

While my walk has had its stumbles, I have never looked back. I have followed Jesus faithful, albeit imperfectly, for three decades. And after all this time, what I know is that there is more. Deep in my soul I know it. There is more than what modern American Christianity is offering. There is more than getting out of bed early in the morning for some quiet time with the Lord. There is more than Sunday morning and Wednesday night church, Friday morning women’s study, and Friday night home fellowship. There is more than twice a year service projects and a summer mission trips. I’ve done these things. These are not bad things, but there is more. There is more than growing in the Fruit of the Spirit so the church pews can become nothing more than bigger and bigger baskets of fruit that never meet the true hunger of the world. Many in the church are fermenting in the pews, and not in a meaningful way.

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For me, like for many, my period of greatest change came with a period of great loss. In 2010, many of those things in life which I was holding on to as my identity began to slip away. When I started to question who I was, I ran to God. More accurately you could say that I was in a wrestling match with God that could rival that of Jacob. It was in that time that I began to really look at global issues of injustice: slavery, honor killings, child brides, poverty, gender based violence, and broken justice systems. I knew I needed to do something, and that something needed to be hands-on volunteerism, not just writing a check. It began with writing a check, and I continue to do so, but the hands-on part has still eluded me. I knew I needed this, but life has been hard and time and resources are in pretty short supply. How could I find the time to meet all the commitments I had in life as well as serve others? I was worn thin, and my spiritual life was suffering. The Christian status quo wasn’t working for me.

As a teacher, the first week of summer break is reading week. I curl up and read. This summer, my book of choice was A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker. I read and cried. C.S. Lewis said that friends are made when one person says, “You too? I thought it was just me.” Brandon (I’m making us on a first name basis, because, you know, CS Lewis said we were) wrote:

“I don’t know how you interact with God or if you, like me, have been trying to force intimacy in a way that isn’t really you. But know this: he will meet you where you really are. He’s there in that simple, authentic, vulnerable place where your questions are hard and your words are unrehearsed . . . he’s waiting for you, to meet the real you among the muck and the mire.”

Yes! Yes, to all of that. I have tried to grow in my relationship with God by mimicking others who seemed to be doing it better, but whose path did not fit  my journey. For instance, the morning devotional time, sneaking out of bed before everyone else to have quiet time at “the foot of the cross.”  Not happening. I’ve tried it. I promise you, I don’t like anyone early in the morning, not even Jesus.

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So was this just another how-to-book, following another person’s 5 step plan to a deeper prayer life, a more faithful walk, and a better ministry? No. It was the answer to my question, “What am I missing?’ And while I haven’t had the chance to live out what Brandon offers as a solution, I am confident it is exactly right. The answer isn’t to learn more about living like Jesus or to be a better church goer. The answer is found in living a life like Christ and not Christians. The answer is not in more Bible studies, more prayer breakfasts, more outreach programs, or more serving the church. The answer is in less. The answer is in less of me and more of Jesus, less church programs and more relationships with “the least of these” and the nearest of these.  The answer is profound and perfect.

I know this book will change my life. I already feel the freedom.

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I RECEIVED AN ADVANCED READER’S COPY FROM THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW. YOU CAN READ THAT REVIEW ON GOODREADS.
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Bible Study, Christian, writing

A Little Bible Math

Time for a little math. I have just completed writing out the book of Mathew. In my paper Bible the book of Matthew covers 32 pages out of a total of 1072 pages. The book of Matthew takes up 1/33.5 of the entire Bible. I filled up 1.5 composition books. Based on the current rate, it will take me approximately 51 composition books to complete this project. It took me 2.5 months.  It will take 84 months to complete or 7 years. Considering I chose a 5 year Bible reading plan that is 6 days a week and I intend to write 7 days a week, and I began this during the summer when theoretically I have significantly more free time, I would say I am going a lot slower than I would have expected.

The good news is that I intend to still be a Christian 7 years from now, so I’m sure I won’t mind taking that long. I definitely can find enough shelf space for 50 notebooks. I still hope to be more faithful in my study, and I suspect that the writing plan breaks the chapters up differently based n the book. Todays venture into 1 Samuel had me writing more than the typical day in Matthew. I like the focus on manageable pieces of the story rather than a set number of verses.

Small sustainable life changes are the best kind of changes. Slow and steady wins the race. Run the race with endurance.

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