Be anxious for nothing

Be anxious for nothing

Anxiety, whether it’s rational or not, is real.

It took me hours to fall asleep last night, and when I finally did, I woke at 5:30am. (It’s a little late to think of sleep aids. Moving on.) Amid jumbled thoughts and a racing heart, I sought to find rest, but overwhelming fears pushed their way to the front of my mind. Lying in bed with feelings akin to panic, I briefly, but seriously, considered canceling my flight. I messaged my son in Florida, telling him that I was starting to freak out about traveling. He replied with, “It’ll be all okay mom, remember people do it all the time.” Oh, the voice of reassurance and the presence of truth! How I needed to hear it.

See, what anxious people need to hear isn’t, “Don’t be silly.” or “That’s ridiculous.” They don’t need to be told that what they’re feeling is irrational and makes no sense. What they need is reassurance and truth. They need validation, validation that says, “Look, I know you’re afraid. I know this is scary, but you can do this. You’re not alone. We’re here to help.”

Anxiety is the result of fear. It is the machinations of the mind, thoughts fueled by untruths. Anxiety manifests in the body, but begins in the mind. The key to containing anxiety isn’t only in shutting the door on wrong thoughts, but on replacing them with the truth. Anxiety is arrested when we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5b)

Since I couldn’t sleep (and wasn’t doing a great job at reining in my thoughts), I got up and went to the dining room where I flipped open my summer Bible study book. I sat down and, as I always do when seated at the dining room table, I turned to look out the window.

Imagine my surprise to see the cardinal at the feeder. At 5:40am. What a God-Nod. It was as if God was saying, “I’m right here. I’ve got you. I won’t leave you.”

Are you anxious, Friend? He is there. He will not leave you. I will not fear, for He is with me.

Blessings,

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Signs in the bereavement world

Sadness creeps in during days of July sunlight, and in the midst of happy occasions and also in the quiet reverence of Sunday morning drives to church. As my thoughts sought to land in the place of “going there” with “what ifs” and “If onlys” this past week, the LORD gently, but soundly, said, “Uh, uh. Eyes on me. Not on what you’ve lost or the “What ifs” and “If onlys.” Keep your eyes on Me.

The moments of sadness threaten to overwhelm, but I am being held.

As most of you know, the cardinal is, and has been from the beginning of this grief journey, special to us. It began when we were planning our son’s funeral. While searching for the “perfect” program for our son’s service, we couldn’t find any. You’d think with three albums of programs to choose from, it wouldn’t be difficult to find a suitable one. But there aren’t really funeral programs for teenagers. Finally, however, just as we flipped to the last page of the last album, there was a program with a cardinal on it. We knew instantly that that was the program we wanted. It was “perfect.” Matt was an avid bird watcher. He would sit daily at the dining room table watching the birds at the feeder and knew each variety that visited.

My mom and I also visited several flower shops before the funeral. She was looking for the “perfect” arrangement to contribute, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was that she was looking for. She just knew that when she saw it, she would know it was the one. And she was right, for as we stepped into the entryway of the third shop, our eyes fell upon a resin cardinal on a display shelf at eye-level. We both stopped, looked at one another, and nodded in agreement. It was “it.”

During the visitation, as well, someone mentioned the cardinal, unaware of its significance to us. It was a confirmation to us of God’s presence and comfort, His intimate knowledge of our needs during that time. We noticed, too, even from the first week in this journey of child loss, the cardinal showing up at every single mealtime, no matter at what time meals ended up being. In fact, the cardinal showed up at supper time every single day for a year. Coincidence? Nope. It’s what my grief mom friends and I call a “God Nod.” Or, as many say, a “sign,” a sign that our loved one is near, that they are still present. Personally, I prefer to use the word “God Nod.” These signs are, I believe, God pulling back the curtain, so to speak, of that thin veil between earth and heaven, reassuring us that our precious loved ones are alive and well and ever so close.

Many of my grief mom friends have shared stories of their God Nods. These God Nods evidence in all shapes and sizes. For some, it’s rainbows, double rainbows, dragonflies, petunias, ladybugs, pennies, hearts, etc. For us, it’s the cardinal. Countless times over the past almost six years I’ve witnessed a little God Nod in the appearance of a cardinal.

Most recently, I was a bit sad at one point during a party we were attending, so I walked off by myself for a moment because I was missing Matt, missing having him there with the whole family, and as I walked around the corner of the house, a cardinal flew straight over my head as if to say, “Remember, I’m right here, just beyond the veil.” Only one other time (this summer, in fact) has a cardinal ever flown directly over me.

This past Sunday while driving to church, again, I was sad. I had begun to “go there” with my thoughts, wondering the “What ifs” and “If onlys” when I suddenly had to step on my brakes as a cardinal flew directly in front of my front right bumper. I would have struck it if I hadn’t hit the brakes. And it was like God said, “Uh, huh. Eyes on me. Not on what you’ve lost or the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Keep your eyes on me.

It was a powerful moment, a moment I won’t soon forget. These God Nods are precious. They are moments of great grace. They are intimate whispers from a God who loves deeply, sees all, and comforts tenderly.

I can’t deny the days of the “crapiversary” are pressing in, threatening to pull me under. I feel as if I am treading water, gulping mouthfuls of sorrow and growing weary of fighting the waves of grief. I want to just sink into the depths of loss, but I know that He will uphold me. I know that the LORD is near, and I trust that He will strengthen me and hold me. I know that He speaks through simple, seemingly insignificant “God Nods,” nods that remind me of His love and care. He grants these small signs that make me aware of His presence, His presence so close that I can almost feel His breath upon my neck.

Oh, God, I need you. I need you to remind me that I am Yours and You are mine. I need to know I am loved by You. I need You and You alone, for You are my God.

Grieving with hope,

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The space between feelings

I’ve been quiet, I know. Those of you who have children know the adage that if your toddler is quiet, then you know they’re into something they shouldn’t be. Similarly, I write and post regularly, and if I’m not, then something is up. The “up” is a myriad of things: birthdays, graduations, holiday celebrations, the summer calendar, etc. Life in general is busy. But busy, while challenging, doesn’t typically keep me away from the keyboard.

What keeps me away from the keyboard is the processing of emotions. I’ve felt, in fact, a bit like a toddler lately: happy, with a cheerful disposition one minute, but contrary and disposed to throwing a tantrum the next. Bearing down like a fast-moving locomotive, the impending “crapiversary” date barrels along the grief track. I admit I’ve been burying my head like an ostrich, pretending July 29th doesn’t exist, keeping myself busy, hoping that doing so will somehow “bypass” the date. Like riding a Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair, I’ve been filling my days with non-stop activity, hoping the dizziness of the grief ride will somehow make the 29th spin by. Only child loss grief isn’t an amusing carnival ride.

Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, I finally stopped the busyness. I stood still with the pile of perplexing toddler-like emotions and realized what feeling I had failed to identify. I was sad. I am sad that we are, again, marking another year without our son. It still sucks. It will always suck. And I am sad. I miss my boy. My husband misses his son. My children miss their brother.

For whatever reason, sadness wasn’t an emotion I easily identified. Anger, yes. Sadness, no. I suppose it’s because the ache is always there, the loss always present. Grief is a constant, though not as cutting or as fresh as it was in the beginning. I’m used to grief. But sadness is different. It’s hard to explain. However, for as much as there is sadness, there is grace. Grace for every day, grace for every moment.

You are my hiding place

Once I acknowledged the feeling of sadness, things shifted. Peace came, and I spent the rest of the holiday weekend with feelings of joy and sadness coexisting. Acknowledging the sadness allowed joy into the space, as it is in validation that feelings become manageable, for it is in bringing them to God that we are held in His arms and He bears our burdens. Some, indeed, bury their grief, but we are not designed to bury it. We were designed to lament, to pour out our hearts before the Lord, both in praise and in pain. When we bury feelings, we bury love, and to love is to live.

Instead of hiding my feelings, I want to hide myself in Him. Our God is a God of comfort. He is tender and compassionate. He is abounding in love and His grace is enough. He is bigger than our grief, His love greater and deeper than our loss. Yes, grief remains and there is sadness. But there is also a deeply settled joy, a sure and certain hope, and a peace that passes understanding. There is laughter and happy moments, and a vibrant love that lives on. I am secure because I am covered by the love of God, sheltered beneath His wings. He is my hiding place.

Blessings,

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My soul weeps

July 1st. A new month. Many look forward to it with happy anticipation and joyful expectation of a fun-filled summer month. Independence Day celebrations and fireworks galore will fill the skies. Birthdays will be celebrated and the hot summer days beckon the human race to slow their pace, to soak in memories like rays of sunshine.

But for those, like me, whose child died in July, it is a slow, agonizing month. Like many bereaved parents, the countdown to the “crapiversary” date began the month before. Every day that passed stomped relentlessly forward. Like many bereaved parents, I just want to skip the entire month in which my child died. I want to skip July.

Of course, I realize this isn’t possible. And, once again, I’m left with no choice. The reality is my son is gone. There will be no 4th of July celebration with him, no listening to him bantering with his siblings, or overhearing relaxed conversations with the visiting relatives during vacation.

weeps with grief
And my heart aches. My soul weeps with grief. I woke this morning asking God for His strength and grace to make it through the day as I mentally ticked off the number of days until the 29th. This daily loss? It never goes away. Child loss isn’t something you ever get over because your child never comes back. For as long as I live there will be a headstone with my son’s name on it. It remains horrific to me.

And yet life goes on. At times, I still cannot fathom it. If not for the autonomic nervous system, my heart would not still be beating, I am sure. If not for the foundation of Truth upon which I stand, I would not have survived, I am surer still.

“From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2

God’s word comes back to me in these moments, sustaining me, giving me hope and encouragement. His words give me strength and life. His promises carry me forward. His love overwhelms me. His grace pours out, and His presence comforts me. I am reminded that my son is ALIVE in heaven, that this life is just a “skip,” a hand breadth, a mist, a vapor. I remember that this world is not my home, that there is a place of perfection that awaits, a world without sin, where death will be no more. I call to mind that God is perfect and His ways are not my ways, that He is good and holy. I remember that if Jesus did nothing else for me in this life, He gave me salvation, and that is more than enough.

I begin to give thanks. I begin to see beauty and count the ways the LORD has been good to me. I thank God for His love and mercy, for His provision and power. I thank Him that when grief overwhelms, He is never overwhelmed. He is never surprised, yet delights in us and in His creation. He rejoices and He sorrows with us. I do not have an impotent God or wishful thinking. I have a sure and certain hope in a God who is sure and certain.

I choose this day to acknowledge my grief and loss, but I also choose this day to trust the LORD with it, to believe that He will do what He says in Isaiah 61:3 “…and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”

Blessings,

Angie signature

You are loved

I’m not sure who told you you were unlovable and unworthy, or if maybe those thoughts have just always been there for as long as you can remember. Perhaps no one said it verbally, yet somehow you just knew you weren’t loved, knew there must have been some reason the people in your life didn’t love you, that it was your fault, something you said or did wrong, that made them reject you. And no matter how many times you’ve been told you are loved, you don’t believe it. There’s always some little piece inside you that rejects those words. Oh, you wish you could believe them. You ache for them to be true. But deep in your heart? You’re not convinced.

I know the mantra, friend. I remember the deep, bone-marrow conviction that shouted above the voices of reassurance. All proclamations of love were drowned out by my mind’s absolute certainty of the contrary. For as long as I could remember, I, too, remained a prisoner to the lie that I was not loved or lovable. No amount of “proof” or repeated declarations could sway what I believed was the truth.

Are you with me? Do you get what I’m saying? You know what I mean, right? Yeah. I thought so. Oh, my friend. Will you trust me on this? Will you believe me when I say that what you’re believing is a lie? For once, will you doubt the voice of condemnation? Will you dare to trust the voice of the One who made you? Will you step out of the lies that bind and fall into the arms of Him who loves unconditionally?

I don’t know what it’ll take for you to believe the truth. I only know that carrying a burden of self-hatred and false rejection never leads to freedom. The way to freedom is through Christ.

know the truth

My freedom came when I did a Precept Bible study titled “Lord, I Want to Know You.” It was through the study that I learned who God was, and in knowing who God was (and is), I discovered His love. For the first time in my life I learned what God thought of me, how He saw me. I was acceptable just the way I was. He showed me that I was loved simply because I was His, not because of any merit on my part. I didn’t need to be smart, pretty, or even lovable. I found my identity in Christ. I didn’t need to be dependent on other people’s opinions of me. I could believe I was loved.

When your identity is in Jesus Christ, you are set free. Lies will always enslave and reduce. Truth enlarges and relieves. Will you believe God today, friend, that He loves you? I pray you will live in freedom in the knowledge of the truth: You are loved.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Don’t leave me

Becoming God's People

I listened to our pastor preach a sermon this morning, our last on a series titled, “Becoming God’s People.” Pastor Dave covered the passage from Exodus 33 where Moses asks God to reveal His glory to him. Moses was bold in what he asked of God.

How often are we, I wonder?

Even more astounding to me, however, is Moses’ boldness in what he states before requesting to see God’s glory.

God has revealed to Moses that He will not go up with the people of Israel because they are “an obstinate people…” (vs.3) Moses knows the verdict, that God will not go with the people, but instead has decided to move forward with Moses alone, depriving the Israelites of His presence, yet fulfilling His promise to Abraham through Moses.

But Moses remained, like the title of this morning’s sermon, “Standing in the Gap.” Moses boldly proclaimed, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.” (vs.15) Moses stood in the gap for the people of Israel, reminding God of His character.

As I listened to the sermon, Moses’ words “If Your presence does not go with us…” hit me hard. Moses essentially said, “God, don’t leave me. Don’t leave us. If you don’t come with us, God, then we’re not going. We can’t go without you, LORD.” I choked back tears as the thought of living this life without God’s presence struck me hard.

Do we live our lives happily without God’s presence? How many of us go about our daily lives without Him? How often do we treat God as a visitor, inviting Him in for an occasional visit, but refusing to allow Him permanent residence? What about those who treat God like a holy vending machine, only seeking Him out when they want something, like a good parking spot or safety or miraculous healing?

When was the last time you, like Moses, begged God, “Please don’t leave me!” or when the thought of going forward without Him was too much, too inconceivable?

Friends, Moses stood in the gap for the people of Israel. Do you realize someone stands in the gap for you? That someone is Jesus. Because Jesus stood in the gap for you, you don’t have to wonder what it’s like to be left behind. You don’t have to live this life without God. Jesus is here, at this moment. The thought of life without God terrified me. Does it you? Thankfully, I know the Truth. He is with me, right here, right now. He is faithful when we are not. Jesus fills the gap. Will you be bold like Moses, Friend? Will you walk forward with Jesus?

Blessings,

Angie signature

Becoming God’s people

Friends, for those of you who serve (volunteer, lead, teach, etc.) in your church: Can I ask you a rhetorical question?

Why do you serve?

I’m participating in a summer Bible study (Beth Moore’s ‘A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place’), and as I was reading the lesson for this week, the verses from Exodus gave me pause. God has delivered the Israelites and provided for them in every way, even giving them meat to eat after they grumble and long for the old life (of slavery!) because they’ve grown weary wandering for just over a month in the desert. They’re hungry, crabby, and loud in their complaint. They are certain they were better off dead in Egypt. In slavery.

It didn’t take long for them to forget, did it? They had already forgotten the miracles that happened before their very eyes. As if protection from one plague wasn’t enough, God set them apart from ten. Ten plagues from which they were spared. And then the ultimate delivery: freedom from those who had taken them captive.

But still they didn’t trust God.

Still, they doubted His goodness, His provision, His deliverance.

As they hungered in the desert and God provided daily with manna, there were some who still refused to do it God’s way. Some tried to save their bread until morning, only to find it had rotted with maggots. (Ex. 16:19-20) Others, disobedient, or perhaps too lazy and irreverent, failed to gather their portion for the Sabbath and found none. (vs.27) Why is it so difficult for us to trust God? Are we really all that different from the Israelites?

This manna was given daily. By God. It was their job to gather it, but God’s job to provide it. Friends, your daily portion of grace? It’s there. But you have to get out of the tent and go gather it. That’s your responsibility. And the manna? The quail? The daily food? It was meant to keep them fully relying on God, to experience Him as Jehovah-Jirah, the God who provides. As Beth Moore states in the study, “Daily bread is about daily relationship.” “Our dependency on God,” as Moore states, “isn’t so that we become dependent people. It’s so that we become relational people.” She continues: “Manna was about being fresh. But we always want to store it up to last. Intimacy with God isn’t manna to be stored up. It’s to be experienced daily; new every morning.”

So what does all this have to do with serving? After everything God has done for His people, providing and caring for them daily, He speaks to Moses with instructions for the sanctuary they were to build. (Ex. 25) God could demand they give their offerings, but He doesn’t. Instead, He says, “…from every man whose heart moves him…”

Now this is where the story gets really good.

In Exodus 36, we see how they responded. We see just how well this freewill offering worked.

They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it. (Ex.36:3-7)

Here’s what Beth Moore had to say regarding this response in our study: (Page 52)

“Imagine your pastor announcing from the pulpit: “Stop that offering plate! And don’t offer to fill another leadership position, either! We have far more than enough to do the work God has called us to do!” Allow the response of the children of Israel to provoke a few personal responses: What is the motivation for my personal offering? Is my heart stirred to give? Has my offering become, at best, an act of obedience rather than a festival of opportunity?

This issue is not about checkbooks. It is about hearts—either stirred or stale.”

Wow. Seriously. When was the last time you served with a whole heart, a heart that desired to give generously, to serve because you wanted to, not because there was an empty spot that needed to be filled? I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but hopefully cause us to pause and consider. In many not-so-good ways we are like the Israelites. But giving, serving, to the point of too much? Are we like them in this? Oh, that we would be! Let’s serve, not just to be obedient, but to be relational. Let’s give, not out of obligation, but out of a desire to be in close proximity with God who daily provides for us, who desires an intimate relationship with His children. Will you trust God, Friend, in serving?

Blessings,

Angie signature