Why you can’t do grief alone

I’ve been re-reading Ann Voskamp’s book on Advent, “The Greatest Gift.” The entry for December 12th drew from the book of Ruth with the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi’s story gives a glimpse of real life, life with death and disappointment. Naomi’s husband has died, as well as both of her sons. She has been through famine and a subsequent move, and is preparing for yet another move. Her life hasn’t been easy. I know some of you can relate. However, Naomi does have her two daughters-in-law. But, seemingly strange, she tells them both to return to their mothers’ homes. Her words to them reveal much, I think, about her state of mind.

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1)

Even if she thought there was still hope, Ruth is still hopeless. What happens when hope is gone, you wonder? Ruth’s words leave no ambiguity. Bitterness slides in when hope evaporates. With all her heart, she believes God is against her. Do you feel like Ruth, Friend? Listen as Ruth continues:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1)

Wow. That’s strong stuff, right? Naomi doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s clear who she thinks is to blame. Bitterness doesn’t hold back, and neither does Naomi. Bitterness blames, but God’s favor (and character) are not dependent on our circumstances. Circumstances do not dictate God’s character. I believe that’s where Naomi got it wrong. While she’s correct that the LORD has afflicted her or allowed these things to happen, her response to these tragedies, albeit honest, is wrong. She, like many of us, missed the obvious truth: God is sovereign. He reigns. He alone has supreme power and authority. Pastor and theologian J. Vernon McGee put it this way: “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.” 

Grief has a way of clashing with sovereignty. We want our way. We want things done sensibly, understandably, neatly. But heartache, catastrophes, and sorrow are never these. Seeds of bitterness, watered by hopelessness and despair, grow quickly if one disregards the soil of sovereignty. Many who have lost a loved one can tell you how how swiftly the temptation towards bitterness sweeps in, how the temptations to choose bitter over better keep rolling in like waves upon the shore, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Friends, left to ourselves to deal with our grief all too easily creates ripe conditions for bitterness to take root. Naomi wanted to be left alone with her bitterness. She wanted to nurse the wound, reject healing. Like bitterness does, it wants to complain. Naomi doesn’t lament; she complains. She complains about God rather than lament to Him. Complaint blames God. It demeans Him and separates us from Him. Lament draws us to Him with honest cries and a yearning for Him. Lament draws closer despite not understanding.

Thankfully, Ruth refuses to leave. Ruth stays and Naomi is ultimately blessed through her. Naomi couldn’t do it alone. She had Ruth and the women around her to remind her of the truth. They reminded her that God had not left her, that He was, indeed, the restorer of her life and her sustainer.

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4)

Grief will do its best to isolate and embitter. Allow those around you to carry hope for you until you can again. Don’t push away the hand of healing, but embrace the One who died for you. Accept that though He wounds, He also heals. Ruth stayed with Naomi, and there are “Ruth’s” who will stay with you. Compassionate Friends is one Ruth. If you’ve suffered child loss, CF is there to make sure you “need not walk alone.” GriefShare is another Ruth. For loss of any kind, GS is available to provide hope and healing through a Christ-centered perspective and video seminars.

Grief was not the end of Naomi’s story, and it is not the end of yours. Naomi’s God, your God, proved Himself faithful. As He sustained Naomi, trust that He will sustain you. You are not alone. This holiday season may you be reminded, most of all, that Emmanuel, “God with us,” is with you. Yes, in even the grief.

Blessings,

Angie

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Finding hope in homeschooling when you’re weary

So….I don’t know where all of you homeschool mamas are in this season of home education, but I’ll be honest and say that I am weary. I don’t want to discourage anyone when they see this 17 year homeschool “veteran” spilling her exhausted thoughts, and thus gain an inaccurate view of homeschooling. For the most part, it’s been an amazing journey, one I cherish and wouldn’t trade for the world. It is a joy, a gift, and a position I don’t take for granted.

But there are times, seasons, miles, whatever you want to call it, where home education is downright grueling. The reality is that there are challenges. There are days (months?!) when a particular child just isn’t “getting” it. There are times when you question whether you’re cut out for this, when the voice of doubt doesn’t whisper in your ear, but shouts intimidatingly in your face like a drill sergeant. Life and homeschooling happen simultaneously, yet some of us (me!) forget that. We try to compartmentalize school from our daily life, but there’s a reason it’s called homeschool. Public school is great, but home life and education at home are like peas in a pod; they coexist. Compartmentalizing isn’t conducive to homeschooling.

This morning as I printed off my kids’ assignments and checked our calendar for the day, I knew it was going to be a struggle to complete our work. I had already left the house to deliver two teenagers to the High School before 8am. (My one teen takes 3 classes, and the other participates in a foreign exchange student program, studying abroad in the U.S.) We were scheduled to be out the door again at 10am for a library event, and then I left the house once again shortly before noon to pick up the first teen. I will leave the house again this afternoon for one more drop off and pick up. So how does one do school if one is never home? How do I accomplish what needs to be accomplished if I’m leaving the house five times in one day? (Welcome to the teenage years. And I thought the toddler years were hard. Little did I know they were just prep years for having five teens!)

The 2017 school year has been hard. It’s been frustrating. It’s been exhausting. I have lost the joy in teaching, and patience is a thing of the past. School has become about check-marking the “done” box instead of fostering a love of learning and encouraging academic strengths while working on weaknesses. I remind myself often that this homeschooling thing is a season, but the truth is, it’s not helping. While I am convinced that the majority of our home school problem lies with my students’ bad attitudes, the legitimate reason rests with my attitude. Ouch.

However, this is good because I realize it. I just didn’t know what to do with it. Until today. See, my plan of action was that I was just going to plow through the school year until we were done. I was going to grit my teeth and bear it, joylessly. (And make everyone else miserable in the process and kill their joy, as well.) That is, until I watched the following video this morning. (How do you motivate people to do difficult work?) Though a video from the Global Leadership Summit may seem unrelated to our homeschool woes, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The message was an eye-opener for me. I realized I need to change direction with our schooling for this year, put on my own oxygen mask, so to speak, and rediscover joy.

What does that look like, you ask? Well, to begin with, I’ve determined to put away the textbooks periodically and do more hands-on learning, incorporating more field trips to museums and other institutions of learning. We will make use of our Netflix subscription and library membership watching documentaries and historical DVDs. Perhaps, more importantly, I’ll intentionally make fun a priority in our day. We’ll implement educational board games, as well as educational websites currently unexplored. One of the best things about homeschooling in 2017 is the plethora of resources available.

I’m so thankful that homeschooling isn’t always difficult work. But when it is? Then it’s an occasion, perhaps, to explore hope. When you are weary with homeschooling, it may be time for the teacher to become the student.

I’m still learning…and finding hope.

Blessings,

Angie signature

 

Needing Jesus

Jesus. Every hour I need Him. I know it doesn’t make sense to some. Some see this as the epitome of weakness. But the truth is, my weakness is the very place in which He steps. He becomes the strength I lack. He is not my crutch. No. He is my spine, my very support for this imperfect body. I need Him, and I am not ashamed to need Him. Every hour. Every day. #Christinme

 

Blessings,

Angie signature

Throw it

What’s weighing you down today, friend? Throw it upon Jesus. Throw. it. Throw it and don’t reel it back in. Don’t stand there and watch to see if He catches it. Don’t wait or hand it to Him slowly. Cast your cares upon Him. Because He cares for you. You don’t throw your cares upon someone who doesn’t care for you. You throw your cares at the One who is waiting for you to throw them upon Him. He cares. He cares.

Strong’s Greek Dictionary: 1977. epirriptw epirrhipto, ep-ir-hrip’-to
from 1909 and 4496; to throw upon (literally or figuratively):–cast upon.

Cast your cares

Blessings,

Angie signature

A Heart Full and Empty

 

matt airfield3-2
Matt getting lessons on flying at the RC air field with the plane he won through a contest at our local library. 

This is my 7th Thanksgiving without my son. He would be 22 years old, and I find myself wondering (as always) what he would look like, how he would sound, and where he would be working. I wonder where he would be living, and if he’d be bringing a girlfriend home for Thanksgiving dinner. I wonder what kind of car (or truck) he’d be driving, and how tall he would be. I wonder if he’d play with his younger brothers after dinner and tease (torment) his sisters. My heart aches with longing, and most days I don’t allow myself to “wonder,” but these significant days, like holidays, birthdays, etc., I need to wonder. I need to grieve. I need express what is in my heart.

I don’t remember the first Thanksgiving after Matt died. But I do remember not finding anything for which to be thankful. When grief is fresh it paints your world black. There is no light, no world outside of your loss. There is just surviving, even if there’s no desire to. You simply go through the motions of living. All I wanted was for my child who had died to be “un-died.” I just wanted him there. I still want him here.

Some of you won’t remember Thanksgiving 2017. Some of you will ditch Thanksgiving and break with tradition. Some of you will stay in bed the entire day. Some of you will put on the “mask” of the bereaved and show up with a smile that hides the ache. And some of you will celebrate with your family while your heart silently longs; each beat of your heart echoing a quiet “whoosh-whoosh” of their name.

It’s okay. However you spend Thanksgiving this year, it’s okay. I’m giving you permission to spend your Thanksgiving doing what feels right for you this year. (As long as you’re not hurting yourself or others.) Just keep leaning into the One whose heart breaks with yours. Give yourself grace because He does. God knows where you’re at; He knows the jumble of emotions you’re experiencing, for He made you to feel. He just wants you to come to Him. Bring whatever it is you’re feeling, and give it to Him. Yes, even if it’s anger, disappointment, or bitterness. Throw it at Him. He will catch it. God isn’t asking you to do this Thanksgiving thing alone. He’s asking you to do it with Him, for He sits with you. He sees the empty chair. And He invites you to dump it all on His lap. Let Him provide the strength for today.

Seven Thanksgivings without my son is hard to fathom. Every one of those Thanksgivings has been different. Every one of them has been difficult. But every one of them has been filled with God’s presence, provision, and power. My heart overflows with gratitude for what remains and for what God promises will come. My heart aches, but it is also full. I am grateful. I am grieving. I am thankful.

A gentle Thanksgiving to you, my friends.

Angie signature

Thanksgiving 2017

Deuteronomy don't forget

As we approach Thanksgiving this week, our pastor preached Sunday on Deuteronomy 8, drawing upon Moses’ reminder to the Israelite’s to remember God’s faithfulness in the midst of their impending abundance. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Israelite’s were about to enter the promised land. The people had only known God through their experience of hardship and daily dependence on Him. Every meal, every footstep they took, depended on God’s provision and guidance. The desert was a harsh place, but God was their all in all. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell. (Deut. 8:4) The place of barrenness was the place of God’s presence.

The desert, their place of hardship, was difficult and dangerous.

“…the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water;…” Deut. 8:15

But the place of hardship had purpose:

“…that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.” Deut. 8:16b

The times of trouble were not without God’s presence, provision, and power. Moses instructed them to remember where they had been, but, more importantly, to remember who had delivered them, provided for them, and given them great abundance.

“Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God…” (Deut. 8:11a)

God was about to fulfill His promise to His people; they were about to enter “into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” (Deut. 8:7-9)

Life was about to get good, really good, for God’s people. And the temptation when things are good is to forget God. Moses warned them not to forget where those good things came from, not to forget from whom those good things came, and not to become proud or believe that these good things resulted from their power and own strength.

We, too, need to remember God’s provision. It’s tempting to complain and focus on what we don’t have, but it’s a dangerous, slippery slope on which to stand and only leads down hill. When we are intentional in calling to mind God’s faithfulness, it reinforces truth and strengthens our faith. In the darkest time of my life, when my 16 year old son died, God provided His presence, power, and provision. I can tell you that it isn’t easy giving thanks when your world has shattered into a billion pieces and you don’t understand what God is doing. But I can also tell you that it is possible.

Yet the dark times and times of testing are not when we’re tempted to forget God. Times of abundance and prosperity, of goodness and wealth, are when our hearts’ inclination is to become proud and forget Him. Friends, whatever your situation this Thanksgiving is, whether you find yourself in want or in plenty, remember to give thanks. Whether you’re struggling or experiencing the best time of your life right now, do not forget “the Lord your God.” Remember all that He has done for you. Remember and give thanks.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Attitude is half the battle

I’m not sure who authored the phrase, “Attitude is half the battle,” but there are days where I wonder if fifty percent is far too small a percentage. Some days, I’d say attitude is ninety percent of the battle. You know those days, right? The days before you even wake up, you know it’s going to be a struggle. The lack of sleep, the lack of sunlight, the lack of right relationships, or the worries from the day before encroach upon your thoughts before consciousness has had a chance to awaken. Though the clock may say it’s a new day, you certainly don’t feel like it is.

It seems like I’ve had far too many of those days lately, friends, to be honest. I’ve had my Light Therapy lamp going for a few weeks, and, while it’s helped greatly, it’s not a cure-all. I continue to battle depressing thoughts and a negative attitude. I know, too, that my over-scheduled calendar is a huge part of the problem, but frankly, the calendar isn’t going anywhere. More than that, even though I do daily morning devotions, I’m not currently in a Bible study. This, I’m realizing, may be the biggest problem. Not studying God’s word and making it a priority is the real issue, for when I center my thoughts on the world and it’s cares, I am not held in place. I feel as if everything is spinning out of control, like I’m caught in a horrible case of “life” vertigo. God and Christ Jesus are the center of my gravity; they hold me steady, but I have lost my balance, my center of gravity.

I am frustrated and reaping the fruit of a life without margin.

So what do I do? Light therapy helps, and self-care is beneficial, but there is more I need to do. I play worship and praise music throughout the day and, again, it helps, but it is not a replacement for the study of God’s word. I need more. I need more than “quick fixes” and a carbohydrate style of filling myself spiritually. I need margin, the margin of God’s word. His word provides margin where there is none. 

Remember this visual of putting important things first?

I haven’t kept the study of God’s word a priority. And nothing else fits. Because His word is the biggest thing. His word is the most important thing. And when you don’t keep it first, all the other “stuff” will squeeze God right out of the way. Little by little, before you know it, you’ll have tip-toed your way out of His presence; one small, quiet step at a time. I don’t want God to be an acquaintance. I want Him to be my most intimate of friends. I want Him to be the first person I run to in the joyful and sorrowful moments that fill my day.

When I am not reading and studying God’s word daily, I am left feeling empty. My soul hungers for Him because I am not feasting on the Word.

Honey words

That feeling of satiation? It’s what’s been missing. Don’t get me wrong, worship and praise music and daily devotions are wonderful, but I dare say they are my “carbs.” They are good, and beneficial, but are not meant to be a substitute for being in God’s word. I can’t rely on them alone for providing what I need. I need the “meat” of His word.

My attitude lately has, quite frankly, stunk. It’s one thing to say attitude is half the battle, but it’s another to admit that the battle isn’t won by attitude alone. It takes standing next to the One who has already won the battle.

Blessings,

Angie signature