Monday, December 25, 2023

Comforting Words

Around the time my Dad died, a lady in our church broke her ankle. This lady is dear to me and brings so much value to our body. I was so sad to hear she'd been hurt, but I was overwhelmed with everything going on in my own life. As a pastor's wife, I try to be attentive to the needs of our people and encourage them when I hear things are going on in their lives. I was sad when I realized quite a few days had passed and I still hadn't reached out to Janice to check on her and let her know I had been praying for her. I quickly composed a text and sent it off in the hopes that Janice would feel seen and encouraged. In less than an hour Janice had responded with her thanks and these words...

"Just take time to rest in the arms of Jesus. We will all be fine."

And there it was. Permission I had apparently not given myself. Permission to rest, and grieve and be comforted by the Lord without having to tend to the needs of others. Permission to do something I don't often do. I had wanted to encourage Janice, yet she in turn gave ME the gift of feeling seen and encouraged.

I really can't express what those words meant to me. Just 5 simple words with such a powerful impact that brought me to tears...

We. Will. All. Be. Fine.

I've thought about those words a lot over the last few weeks. I thought about them as we gathered for our first Thanksgiving without my Dad, our first birthday celebration without him and our first Christmas celebration since he went to heaven. Not just on the big days, though. There have been normal days that have found my heart heavy with sadness AND the weight of responsibility, but my sweet friend's words have echoed in my mind...

"We will all be fine."

Thank you, Janice, for the sweetest gift you gave me. I will forever be grateful.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Distracted By Grief

Grief. Such a complex and personal experience. One that no amount of mental or emotional energy can really prepare you for what to expect when you find yourself surrounded by it.

Living life, but especially life in ministry for close to 35 years, has allowed us the privilege of walking with so many people through times of profound loss and deep grief. We have rejoiced with those who rejoice, but we have mourned with those who mourn on many occasions. We have watched wives bury husbands and husbands bury wives. We have watched children bury parents and parents bury children...and all of it has been heart-wrenching. 

2 1/2 years ago I got a taste of personal grief when we lost my father-in-law. He had struggled with health issues for quite a while and we had to watch a deterioration of his body over time. I was deeply saddened by this loss because he was an amazing man and he loved me so well. Visits to my in-law's home were still so special, but there was always a sense that something, someone, was missing. We didn't grieve without hope, though, because we knew Big Earl was with Jesus.

A month ago one of our dearest and closest friends died after a year-long health struggle at 56 and we again were faced with personal grief. We watched his wife and children, people we have loved for decades, grapple with their new reality. It hurt deeply and, at the time, it felt surreal. It still does. We tried to love and encourage our friends while navigating our own grief, but again, our grief was most surely not without hope because of the assurance that Bengie was with Jesus.

On November 16, 2023, just 3 weeks after losing our friend, grief hijacked me in the deepest parts of my being as I sat with my Mom at my Dad's bedside while he took his last breath. I thought I knew what grief felt like. I know I have experienced it before, but something about this felt different. This was the first man who ever loved me unconditionally. This was the man who taught me, counseled me and helped form the essence of who I am as a person. Suddenly grief felt all-encompassing and mind-numbingly real despite, once again, being wrapped carefully in the hope that He was whole and healed and spending eternity in the presence of Jesus.

I have found myself doing what needed to be done in the days that followed ~ caring for my family, fulfilling commitments, helping my Mom with endless paperwork, laughing at the antics of my grandchildren, welcoming people to my home and being mindful of the pain of others ~ all with the sense that I'm in a deep fog. I find myself forgetting things I would (and should) normally remember, not caring about things that used to mean a lot to me and just generally going through the motions of life. I attributed all this to sadness and great exhaustion, but one day I was struck by what I sensed I was experiencing...

I was distracted by grief.

I was going through the familiar motions of life in an unfamiliar way because grief had caused the background of my brain to be always running, attempting to help me process, at any given moment, what a world without my Dad would now look like and how I would fit in it. Like the barely discernible hum of the refrigerator, my mind was in a constant state of trying to regain its emotional equilibrium after such a life-altering blow. 

I have so many things to be grateful for, not the least of which is a Dad who loved me so well, and I know I will be okay. I know there will come a time when I will not constantly be plagued by the sense that I have forgotten something that need not be forgotten. I know I will experience deep joy again. I know I will laugh freely, be surprised by joy and will be stopped in my tracks by a sense of wonder. I know all this because I know I walk with the One who is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I know because I am assured  that He has collected all my tears in a bottle. I know because He says that I am blessed when I mourn, for I shall be comforted by Him and His comfort is unlike any other. 

I know all this will happen in due time, but until then I will be gentle with myself. Until then I will cry when I feel the tears spilling over and will sit and reminisce when the memories start flooding in. I will listen to my mom, my siblings and my immediate family process their own pain and I will be ever mindful  of this one thing...

that being distracted by grief is a small price to pay for experiencing such an extraordinary love!

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Lies We Believe

 I spent all but one year, out of 27 years, homeschooling at least one child. That run ended last year when Caleb graduated and, while there was great relief to finally be done, I also found myself filled with some angst and self-doubt about what my viable contribution to my family, our church and the general population as a whole really was now that I could no longer wear this label of "homeschooler". I found great joy and purpose in raising, teaching and training my children and suddenly felt a sense of purposelessness that seemed a little all-encompassing. 

I read some books and different articles and teachings on purpose and prayed desperately that the Lord would show me mine. One sort of questionnaire I read to help you hone in on your purpose encouraged you to ask some who were close to you what your "super powers" (things that stood out about you) were from their point of view. I asked Tim what he thought mine were and he said "hospitality" and "empathy". I totally expected the first word, but was surprised by the second...although I really shouldn't have been because I do recognize I can almost be empathetic to a fault sometimes.  I then asked 2 trusted friends who know me well and the first said "hospitality" (again as I expected) and the second said "empathy". "Okay Lord, you have my attention now!", I said with a chuckle. The first, again, was obvious, but the second I suddenly recognized as a helpful companion to hospitality, especially when you like to provide a place where people can share their lives and their stories for the purpose of learning to walk in freedom.

Shortly after these discussions happened, I began to read the book Living Fearless by Jamie Winship. I had taken it to the beach with me and started it, armed with it, a note pad and a pen. Throughout the book, Jamie poses questions that we are to ask the Lord that are to help reveal our true core beliefs and any lies that may lie therein. One of the first questions posed was...

"Lord, where in my life am I am not living in truth?"

Jamie encourages you to ask the Lord that question and then write down what first comes to your mind. My answer came quickly and clearly...

"I doubt that there is deep purpose for me besides just taking care of people's basic needs, especially in these later years in life."

There it was, written across my page like a painful confession. Even though I do see my gifts are hospitality and empathy, for some reason I saw them as somewhat small and irrelevant in the big picture of life now that my kids were grown and I had more freedom with my time. Nonetheless, my lie was out there and now I waited for the truthful response from the Lord to counter the lie. I didn't know how or when He would respond, but I had no doubt that He WOULD respond with His personal truth just for me.

It was, by now, late afternoon and I headed back to the house where we were staying to shower and get ready for dinner. My friends and I were taking turns cooking and cleaning up and this particular night I had dish duty. I was washing my cast iron skillet that I brought to the beach with me and was laughing to myself about bringing the "tools of my trade" with me on vacation. I mean, who the heck packs for vacation and says to themselves, "Oh, can't forget the cast iron!" Us foodies, of course! At any rate, I no sooner thought "tools of my trade", than I found myself giving a sharp intake of breath as the answer to my earlier question became clear to me.

You see, just a couple of weeks before, Tim had been teaching from Luke 7:37-38 about the sinful woman (she was a prostitute) who brought an alabaster jar of perfume and worshipped Jesus by anointing His feet with her hair and the contents of the jar. Tim had made the observation that this woman used the "tools of her trade" to worship Him. As soon as I had uttered those words to myself, "tools of my trade", my purpose became crystal clear.

My deepest purpose is to worship Jesus...

and that is what I am doing when I nourish and care for others, especially in my home. I believe there will be other things He'll have me do, but I don't have to search desperately for purpose. I just have to faithfully live out my purpose of worshipping Him according to the way He has wired and gifted me, which is unmistakably with hospitality and empathy! I found it so exceedingly kind of the Lord to give me an immediate, Truth-filled answer in such a clear and personal way, but I realized He was able to do it because I had recognized (through Jamie's book) the need to ask the hard questions and wait for the answers, whatever they may be. 

Are you struggling with wondering what your purpose really is before the Lord? There's no shame in the struggle and He's just waiting to guide you to the answer and to freedom from any doubts you may have that your existence matters and that you can make a difference in the lives of others. Ask him to show you where you are not living in truth and then wait, with an open and expectant heart, believing He will answer you.

"Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."

Hebrews 11:6