Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent - Hope (To Dance with the Joyful)

I've spent a great deal of time pondering over the question of what to do about Christmas.  It is the first Christmas without my husband.  There is sadness just in admitting that fact.  One thing is certain; Christmas at our home will look different this year.  I’m not going to do a lot of decorating and I probably won’t bake Christmas cookies.  There are several traditions that I think I may skip this year.  But there is one thing we did the last few years that I am going to keep doing.  I'm skipping the Christmas tree but I have pulled out the Advent set.

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child.  For us, it was a weekly reminder of the true meaning of Christmas and a way to stay focused on God in the midst of the hustle, bustle, busy of the holidays.  Each week I would light the advent candle and Bobby would read the week’s devotional thought.  We would usually talk a bit about what that meant to us.  It was a good little tradition the two of us shared.

This Sunday is week one and today I lit the candle of Hope.  Christian hope is not a wishful, maybe-something that might possibly happen one day.  Christian hope is a looking forwards with a certainty of knowledge that God is faithful and He keeps His promises.  God is hope. 

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

Allowing God to fill me with joy and peace has been challenging.  I'm learning to be sad without letting the sadness take over and to grieve without being completely overwhelmed by grief.  

What does hope mean to me this year?  Someone shared Jeremiah 31:4 at church tonight.  That verse says, you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful.”  I had to smile when I heard those words.  I thought of my husband being pain-free, making music and dancing with the joyful in heaven.  There is joy in that very thought and I believe it to be true!  Hope means that I am able to own that joy and thank God for it.  

Whatever your life circumstances are at the moment, I pray that you too will be able to find the joy and peace which the God of hope longs to share with us all.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Gratitude List

The holidays are approaching quickly.  It is a time of joy, excitement, and anticipation for many.  This time of year can also be touched with sadness, especially as we think of those who will not be with us this year.  A really good habit (that I’m not always so good at) is to keep a gratitude list.  I got to thinking about that last night.  There has been much sadness in my life this year but there has also been much to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for…
My Friends and Family – The older I get, the more I realize what a blessing it was to be raised among a large extended family.  I grew up not only with parents, siblings, and grandparents, but also within a large circle of aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends.  I am thankful for the impact that each person had on my life and I treasure memories of family get-togethers.  I’m thankful for the other family I joined when I got married.  I’ve been blessed with some awesome friends and I am thankful for each one of them.

I'm thankful for...
The Simple Things – It is the simple things in life that tend to get overlooked and taken for granted.  I’m thankful for sunny days in autumn, music, little birds outside my window, flannel sheets, friendly hugs and smiles, sweet potato fries, baby animals, and long walks.  I’m thankful for rolling hills, tiny creeks, pine trees, and the sounds of nature.  I’m thankful for the ability to find humor in life and for smiles in the midst of grief.  

I'm thankful for...
Life – Life is a gift from God and to be thankful for life is to be thankful to the One who gives life so abundantly.  Faith in God above is the foundation of my life.  I am so thankful for the life He has given me.  I’m even grateful for all the bumps and valleys along the way.  God has used the tough parts of my life to mold me into the person I am today and He will continue to do that.  It is hard to be thankful for sadness and dark days, but I am.  I know there is something more to come, there is a light in the darkness, and there is a path that leads to joy.  The dark days teach me to better appreciate that light and to cherish the good days.  Lord God, I thank you for this. 

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart  (Psalm 138:1)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Combating that Feeling of Failure

Ever feel like a failure? This is something many people struggle with from time to time.  We fear that we are not doing enough or we are not doing it correctly or we are just plain out living life wrong.  It is a tough thing - feeling like a failure - and there have been some major pity parties thrown as we worry over the real and imagined failures of our lives.

This sense of failure can come when we measure ourselves by an impossible standard.  Perhaps we set up unattainable goals for ourselves - trying to be the perfect spouse, parent, volunteer.  We see people on social media who seem to have the perfect life and wonder why our lives can't be like that.

How can we combat that feeling of failure?

Turn your thoughts from yourself and fix your eyes on Jesus.  This is a habit worth cultivating.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive.  We do not have to dwell on thoughts of failure when they come to mind.  There are much better things to think on as Philipians 4:38 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Realize that God can use even the most imperfect life.  No life is beyond repair.  No one is un-fixable.  God is able to work in ways that will turn our biggest failures or messs-ups into something wonderful.  This, I think, is one of the true lessons of Romans 8:28.  "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

Stop striving for perfection and simply trust God.  We may not always be able to see it but God does have a plan.  I often remind myself that my view of life is so very tiny and limited by space and time.  God has a much bigger view that is unlimited.  His plans are really big and how awesome it is that He uses us to accomplish those plans.  Our parts may be tiny and we may not understand how we fit into the plan, but He uses us anyway.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."(Proverbs 3:5-6)

 Ed Welch has a few words on the subject of failure in this post at CCEF.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

He Changes Times & Seasons

Earlier this year my life became dark and confused as I was overwhelmed with grief.  I remember holding tight to God, to His word, and to my faith.  It was during this time that I came across these verses in the book of Daniel.

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.” 
   (Daniel 2:20-22, ESV)

Something about this passage struck me so deeply that I copied these verses and pinned them to the wall above my desk.  That phrase – He changes times and seasons – has come to mind many times during this year.  There are simple truths in this passage that are easily overlooked, especially when life gets confusing. 

He changes times and seasons

God changes things.  Change is what He does.  He changes times and seasons. During our lifetime we go through many different seasons – a season of childhood, a season of study, a season of parenting, a season of marriage.  Most seasons of life flow seamlessly into the next.  Death brings an abrupt change.  There was no gently easing into a season of widowhood.  It happened suddenly.  Trusting that God is still in control of changing times and seasons brings comfort.

He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding

God gives us information according to our ability to comprehend.  At times of great change, there is a tendency to turn to God and ask WHY??  We search for answers to help us make sense of the unsensible events in life.  Often there are no easy answers to be found.  God’s ways are so very different from our human ways.  God does work to help us understand as we are capable.  This takes time and prayer.  We have to let go of our expectations and thoughts and find understanding by noticing how God is working through the change.  This kind of faith brings peace.

He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him

God knows about the darkness.  He knows there can be great sadness and loneliness.  He knows that life can seem hopeless.  He knows about the giant waves of grief and the tears and the heartache.  He knows.  It is okay to go to Him with this.  For, even as on the darkest, stormiest day, the sun still shines above the clouds, so there is a light always with us in the darkness.  God’s light sustains us through the dark days and brings us closer to Him.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stormy Weather

It is the little things.  The ones I don’t see coming until, Bam! – there it is and I find myself suddenly undone.  Today’s little thing was a church donation envelope.  The envelope for April 26, 2015 is the last envelope for Bobby & Julie.  The last one – another reminder that life has changed and next Sunday’s envelope will be from Julie alone.  

Then there are the big things.  Our anniversary is coming up next month and my mind is already trying to come up with ways to avoid that date.  I’m not looking forward to it and am considering possible healthy ways to handle that day.  There doesn’t seem to be a direction book for how to handle holidays.  I struggled just to get through Easter.  I cried through church and all through Life Group.  (I love those good people who have so graciously put up with my Sunday morning tears.)  I wish I knew how I was supposed to do this on the holidays.

I went on a short solo retreat of sorts earlier this month.  Took a short trip to Orange Beach, AL as a time to pray and reflect.  It rained off and on.  I spent time laying in a deck chair doing nothing and thinking nothing which is something I rarely/never do.  I prayed, I read Scripture, and I cried.  I walked on the beach and along the water’s edge.  I sat in the sand and stared at the seemingly endless expanse of water.  I cried some more.  Woke up early Sunday morning to the sight and sounds of a storm rolling in across the Gulf.  I sat on the balcony, listening to the roar of the ocean’s waves, and watching the rain fall.  There was wind, thunder, and lightning.  I thought of Job.  In the midst of Job’s grief, there is a storm. 

“A voice roars: He thunders with His majestic voice, and He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard….Stand and consider the wonders of God.  Do you know how God establishes them, and makes the lightning of His cloud to shine? Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds?”  (Job 37:4,15,16) 

My plans for the trip involved a few warm sunny days.  Instead, God gave me rain.  Even in that storm, God was at work creating a new day – a wet, cool, gray day.  Stormy days are not bad.  They are a part of God's creation.  This storm has caused me to slow down.  I've held on to God a bit tighter because He is my Comforter.  Life is still often overwhelming and I'm so glad He has a plan, because I really don't have much of one at all.  I also know storms are temporary.  There will be time for sunshine later. 

I had hoped for some great insight as to what my future will look like without Bobby.  I had hoped to gain peace about all those tomorrows I face.  Instead, I returned home with an appreciation of the importance of living in the here and now.  I have many good memories of life with Bobby.  One day I will be able to fondly look back on our life together.  That day is not yet here.  Right now, looking back puts me in a dark, sad place and I find myself tempted to stay there in the past just replaying certain memories over and over.  I could get stuck there.

I haven’t spent very much time thinking about the future.  Looking ahead brings worry and anxiety.  I can not wrap my mind around the idea of living the rest of my life without Bobby.

So I prayerfully am going to attempt to walk through this season of life focusing on the here and now.  To just live this one minute now, this one hour now, this one day now is my goal.  I know that I do not walk alone.  Even in this storm, this grief, this loss, God is at work this day.  

This is the day which the Lord has made...