When the heart aches

Faith's Lodge
Faith’s Lodge – Danbury, WI

It’s gorgeous, isn’t it, this view? The weather in Minnesota has finally turned to summer. The hot temperatures and clear blue skies provide the proof we desperately needed: that winter, indeed, doesn’t last forever.

But this gorgeous scene? It only shows what the eye captures. It doesn’t reveal the heart behind the lens. In this world of social media, lives are daily displayed in living color. Pictures are posted of our “Pinterest perfect” lives, leading others to believe that perhaps everyone else but you have their lives all together, their families whole, relationships pristine. To be sure, there are the Facebook “rants” and random messy peeks behind the social curtain, but the majority of posts portray a happy, cleaned-up version of our personal lives.

Why is this, I ask? Why do we strive to put forth appearances that are anything less than perfect? I suspect there’s more than one answer. For some of us, it may be that we are simply finding joy and expressing it, wishing to share it with the world. As Christians, we desire to give glory to God, to show others what He has done and is doing. Joy has a way of spilling over, resembling deep waters that cannot be contained. Like a rushing waterfall, joy shouts. Or, like streams in the desert, joy runs deep, sometimes reflecting instead the still, mirrored surface of our heart, a heart content with the moment by moment provision of God.

Others, perhaps, strive for an outward expression of inward desires. They hope, maybe, to somehow bring about the longing in their heart to fulfillment. Consciously or unconsciously, they want the peace portrayed on the screen. They recognize hope and thirst for it.

A few, however, gaze at the seemingly perfect lives of their friends and family through the social media lens and scoff. They know better. The still water and blue skies don’t fool them. They’ve been through more than a few storms and know the aftermath of them. They don’t see the beauty from before the storm, but only the devastation afterward. They want the “real” picture. They want the grittiness of life, caring not about platitudes, but honesty. They just want someone, for God’s sake, to stand up and be truthful, to bare the ugly as well as the good.

The social media snapshots of our lives may be breathtakingly beautiful, but they are just that: snapshots. Rarely does one have the full picture of the life beyond the screen, past the ‘net. The truth is, life isn’t perfect and some of the hard has made some hard. But some of the hard has made some soft, chipped away at the edges, the sharp corners. Some of the hard has made some, not bitter, but better. Can you see it? Does it look familiar?

Friends, the picture may be stunning and, while we give thanks for the beauty, let’s remember there’s more to what we see. Let’s not forget that a heart can hurt, can grieve and ache all while acknowledging the lovely. Let’s gaze with eyes of grace, mouths formed, not of pouting, but of pulchritude. May we recognize those who appear perfect, not as better than ourselves, but as one with a story, a perfectly imperfect story.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when was the last time you asked someone to tell you the story behind the picture?

(That photo above? It’s from Faith’s Lodge. Faith’s Lodge is stunning, a haven for the hurting. It looks perfect, right? But it’s beauty? Well, there’s a story behind the picture; an achingly beautiful story.)

Blessings,

Angie signature

Exodus

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Our church has been exploring the book of Exodus recently through a sermon series titled, “Becoming God’s People.” Believe it or not, it’s been amazing. I think many people hear “Exodus” or “The Old Testament” and their eyes immediately roll back in their heads and a yawn ensues. Oftentimes, I’ve heard remarked, “The Old Testament doesn’t apply to our times; it has no bearing on us now. It doesn’t really relate to today.” To that I say, “Wow! You’re kidding, right?!” I’m a bit shocked, really, because when I think about it long enough, I realize we are no different from the Israelites. We complain, we grumble, we disobey. We, like Moses, are oftentimes reluctant leaders. The Israelites had the very presence of God (through a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire), and we have the very presence of God (through Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit). Yet we both murmur and fret, disbelieve and turn our stubborn hearts away from Him.

It’s amazing to think about, really. The more I read about the Israelites, the more I see myself in them. Like many of the chosen people of Israel, I find myself getting caught up in legalism, trusting in rules over relationship. I, like them, fail to give grace, but offer plenty of judgement. I am stingy with love, but don’t hesitate to dump a truckload of harshness.

I particularly identify with Moses. Here he is in the wilderness, minding his own business, doing his own thing shepherding when God grabs his attention and gives him a mission. It’s not like he misunderstood or misheard God, either. God was abundantly clear in His instructions for Moses. (Ex. 3) Like being hit with a 2 X 4, Moses couldn’t deny what was being asked of him. He knew what he was supposed to do.

But how does Moses respond? Is he happy to leave the wilderness, to step out of the place to which he had run when he fled from Pharaoh? (Ex. 2:15) Was he eager to serve God, confident that God would be with him and work through him? Did he reply, “Yes! Finally! This is what I’ve been waiting for!”

No.

No, in fact, Moses responds by saying God’s got the wrong guy, that he is a nobody, that God is asking a completely unqualified guy to do the job. He continues by trying to convince God that no one will believe him and throws every excuse he can think of not to obey. He even resorts to begging God to please don’t make him go, don’t make him be the one to speak. Friends, does this sound familiar? Or am I the only one that can relate to Moses? I don’t think so. I believe there are many Christians like me who know what God wants them to do, but, like Moses, argue with God. We plead with Him to send someone else. We recite our list of faults to God, hoping that he’ll pick someone else to speak. Oh, friends. I relate.

What amazes me in these first chapters of Exodus is how God specifically states what He will do. He emphatically tells Moses that He will provide. He makes it clear that He knows every detail and foresees even Pharaoh’s response. He reassures Moses that he is not alone and will not be forsaken, that Moses will go in God’s power and strength. (Ex. 4) Friends, is there something you know God is asking you to do, but you keep giving Him excuses? Does what He’s asking you to do terrify you? Are you doubting your own ability? Have you questioned God, wondering if He’s made a mistake, chosen the wrong woman (or man)?

Ultimately, Moses obeyed God. He and Aaron went to Pharaoh and spoke God’s word. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright hard. I always remember, though, something a precious friend of mine once said: “Just because it’s a difficult road, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong road.” (Wise words from my dear friend Julie who died 12 years ago, yet is alive in heaven.)

God will ask you to do hard things, my friend. But, just as He did with the Israelites, He will do for you: Provide.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Is the cross a barricade?

My daughter was reading the book, “But Don’t All Religions Lead to God?” in the van while we ventured out for a day of shopping the other day. She read aloud as I drove, and a paragraph from p. 57 (chapter 7) about the cross struck me with wonder.

The author writes that those who reject Christ “will have to push past the cross of Jesus Christ, which He has erected as a powerful barrier to stop people from going to hell.” I had never thought of the cross as a barrier before. The Bible tells tells us that God desires that no one should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), but there are those who refuse to look to Jesus Christ for salvation. They have been blinded by satan, deceived. They see the cross as the enemy, a killjoy to their life of pleasure and self-sufficiency. They don’t see their need for saving, and they certainly don’t want to change the way they’re living; to glorify God in all that they do, say, and think. They see the cross as restrictive, offensive. Worse yet, some believe they are already saved. They think Love excuses sin, allows loopholes because, after all, that’s Love. Finally, they have swallowed the lie that this life is all there is. They have no hope or realization of eternity, whether in heaven or hell.

To this I say be careful. Just as a road barricade is put in place to safeguard against impending danger, the cross is raised before each of us to guard our lives. The cross compels us to consider our path. It begs us to examine our way, to inspect it’s claims. The cross makes incredulous statements about our life here on earth. Have you stepped up close to it, felt the rugged wood on which Christ was crucified for you? Will you stop before it, trusting that it is there to save your life instead of rushing past it, refusing to look up, believing that somehow the road ahead isn’t washed out, that it doesn’t lead to eternal death? Friend, take caution. Please don’t run past the barricade. Let it save you.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Mother’s Day for the bereaved mother

Ann Voskamp wrote a profoundly moving post for Mother’s Day: The most life-changing thing a woman can do for herself this Mother’s Day…What a mother really wants. It’s powerful and truthful and speaks to probably every mother on this big, amazing planet.

But after reading it, I found myself thinking, “No. No, that’s not all what every mother wants.” Because, for bereaved mothers, Mother’s Day is painful. Mother’s Day is just another public, neon-flashing sign that declares “Your child is not here!” It is salt to an open wound.

What does every bereaved mother really want?

They wanted to be out-lived by their child(ren).

Ann’s right, however. Every mother needs a “truckload of Grace.” Especially the bereaved mother.

Friends, this Mother’s Day, will you remember the mother whose child is no longer here? Will you give the best Mother’s Day gift you can give to a bereaved mom?

Speak their child’s name. Talk about them. Ask her about him/her. Acknowledge that Mother’s Day is hard for her. Tell her she is still a mother.

The hardest thing about Mother’s Day for a bereaved mom? Their child is gone.

The best thing about Mother’s Day for the bereaved mom? Love remains.

And their love for their child yearns to be recognized this Mother’s Day, every Mother’s Day. Give the bereaved mother grace this weekend. Pray for God’s grace to overwhelm her. It doesn’t matter if she has other children. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 30 years since her child died. I can guarantee you she still loves that child, still misses that child, still longs to celebrate Mother’s Day with that child. She’s not being ungrateful for what she has. She’s not “stuck” in the past. She’s doing what she does best for that child: loving him/her.

This Mother’s Day it’s okay to tell the bereaved mother, “Happy Mother’s Day…to all of your children.”

Blessings,

Angie signature

 

There is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card for child loss

22 years ago on May 1st, I was heavily pregnant with our firstborn child. We were everything first time parents are: scared, excited, and naive. My husband and I didn’t know what the next 24 hours held for us as we sat on our Boucle sofa late afternoon all those years ago.

But then my water broke.

I’ll spare you all the labor and birth/c-section details, however, and cut to the chase: 23 hours after my water broke, our precious baby was born. I heard the words, “It’s a boy!” but the long labor, the drugs, and the c-section left me barely conscious. A nurse held my newly-born son next to my cheek so I could greet him, but, instead, I drifted off to la-la land. It was hours before I was awake and alert enough from surgery to “ooooh” and “aaahh” over him.

22 years ago at 4:59pm on May 2, my son was born.

And I will never think of his birth without thinking of his death.

See, that’s the way it is with child loss. There is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card when you’ve lost a child.

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Every birthday, every holiday, every family gathering, every family picture, and every celebration is overcast with a faint cloud of grief. The longing for, and the absence of, my son fills every one of those memorable moments. There is no rhyme or reason with grief, as those who experience it will attest. This sixth birthday without Matt? I’m tired of trying to be strong. I’m weary of putting on a happy face. I don’t want to “Pollyanna”-up today.

And you know what? There is sweet relief in admitting it. There is a peace that fills my aching heart because I know I don’t have to do this child loss thing alone. I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to pretend it’s okay. I don’t have to buy into the world’s way of thinking that says it’s all or nothing, that we’re either happy or sad.

No, because the truth is that joy and sorrow coexist. The truth is that I am held. The truth is that I can be incredibly thankful for the gift of my son and incredibly sad that he’s not here with us for his 22nd birthday. The truth is that when I am weak, then I am strong.

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It’s hard to find hope when hurt obscures our sight. But God already knows this, which is why He calls us to walk by faith and not by sight. It’s why we, like David, hide His word in our hearts. (Psalm 119:11) Pain tempts us to lash out, to stumble and fall in our faith walk. Yet God tells us, not to see this world and it’s hurts, but to see beyond, to see Him and His hope.

God knew my heavy heart this morning even before I opened my eyes. He had already prepared the devotional I was about to read, the exact words He knew I needed to hear today. It made me weep because of His love and tenderness toward me.

Choosing to See Beyond Your Grief
Jennifer Rothschild —- May 1, 2017

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Ephesians 1:18 (NIV)

I remember when I heard the news. I was elated and squealed and cried! I hugged our kids, my husband, the dog and anyone else close enough to grab!

I asked my son and daughter-in-law a million questions. And then, hours later, alone in my bed, I processed the news … alone in the reality of fresh loss. The sadness closed in like the final curtain after a beautiful play. Elation was replaced by reality — a reality that brought feelings I never expected.

The reality is, I’m blind. I am about to become a grandma, and I won’t see my grandbaby’s eyes. I won’t know if he has Clayton’s nose or Caroline’s mouth. I won’t see his smile. I won’t see his tiny hands balled into fists as he toddles on chunky little legs taking his first steps. I was deflated. I wept. I asked God a million questions as I hugged my pillow.

Lord, I won’t be able to care for him or take him to the park or color with him or even play peek-a-boo.

Will he think of me as the grandma who isn’t fun? Will he feel safe with me? Will I be the grandma he’s unsure of until he’s old enough to understand?

As I tossed and turned and prayed and cried, I thought of how much I wanted to feel gratitude, not grief. Joy, like when I first heard the news … before sorrow clouded my vision.

I lost my sight at 15, but now at 53, becoming a grandma is forcing me to grieve blindness in new and unexpected ways.

Grief and gratefulness can share the same heartbeat, but they don’t always share the same viewpoint. I want to see beyond grief and fix my eyes only on gratefulness.

That’s why I need to see with my heart. And, sister, I have a strong feeling I’m not the only one. But we can’t unless God opens the eyes of our hearts, as our key verse says:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (Ephesians 1:18).

When God opens the eyes of our hearts, we can see the hope to which we are called. We’re not called to despair or constant grief; we are called to hope.

God wants to open our spiritual eyes so we can see hope with our hearts. When we see with our hearts, we see blessing and potential tucked within loss and disappointment.

When we see with our hearts, we focus on what we have, not what we’ve lost. We view our situations, our whole lives, through the eyes of gratefulness. And grateful eyes will always see hope.

Seeing with our hearts doesn’t mean we won’t still hurt. It doesn’t mean we see everything through rose-colored filters. Grief is still real, and grief still hurts. But when we ask God to open our spiritual eyes, we see beyond the
loss.

I may not see little dimples and dancing brown eyes with my eyes, but I can feel wonder when I touch that satiny skin. I may not see that baby’s sweet face, but I can hear a thousand anthems of praise in his giggle. I can caress infant skin bearing the fingerprint of God and feel gratefulness and hope radiate through my grief. I can and will see that baby with my heart.

You may hold unexpected grief in your heart today. Maybe you carry a burden that makes you grateful or a gift that makes you cry. No matter what life looks like for you today, God can help you see it with the eyes of your heart.

I know He can, my sister, because that’s what He’s doing for me. When we see with our hearts, hope bursts on the horizon, no matter how cloudy or dark the day.

God is the one who opens eyes. He opens eyes of the blind and those who see perfectly but are blinded by disappointment, loss or grief.

So, if what you see discourages you, ask God to open the eyes of your heart and fix them on what is unseen. Because what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Dear Lord, focus my spiritual eyes so I can see Your hand, Your heart and Your purpose in all I experience. Let me see with my heart today and every day, so I can see hope. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (NIV)

– See more at: http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/choosing-to-see-beyond-your-grief/#sthash.4eYVSxr5.dpuf

I don’t have to look ahead at the day today (or tomorrow) and wonder how I’m going to get through it. Instead, I need only to look at Him, Christ Jesus, who bears my sorrows, my sins, and my weakness and becomes my strength, my song, and my joy.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Dear Matt,

As your 22nd birthday draws near, I’m finding it harder and harder to “deal.” I want to scream at the clock to stop ticking. I yearn to crawl into bed and lie there until May 3rd. I want to shut down, drown out the world, drift far, far away. I am angry at everything and nothing because sometimes it’s just easier than falling apart. You know what sucks? This. This trying to celebrate the birthday of a child who died. I still want to scream, “It’s not fair!” It still feels surreal that you are not here, and I wonder if it always will. I want to make a cake and buy presents for you. I want to see you open your gifts and hear your deep, quiet voice while I watch in delight as you respond with that trademark smirk-smile.

But I can’t.

Because you are gone. You died.

And I am left to make the best of it. I’m left to try to find things to be thankful for when all I really want is to have you back with us. I’m left to remember and cherish the memories of you, the memories that were once all joy but are now all bittersweet. It SUCKS. It really, really sucks.

Oh, my son. How I miss you so.

This is hard.

But here we are, marking your 22nd birthday without you, the sixth one since you left this earth without warning one bright, sunny summer morning. Your birthday this year falls on a Tuesday, just like the year when you were born. I’ll never forget, of course, how surprised we were when the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” We were so sure we were having a girl. So sure, in fact, that even though we had had a boy’s name picked out, I called you Rachel almost the whole pregnancy. Haha! I’m not sure I ever told you that story, Matt.

Though I was disappointed at having a c-section after 23 hours of labor, I was never disappointed in having a boy. God gave me exactly what I needed. You were a gift, a gift beyond what words can describe. I still can’t believe the hospital let us take you home! Like most first-time parents, we didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew we were blessed beyond belief. We had a beautiful baby boy who stole our hearts the very second we knew we were expecting.

The pain of separation overwhelms me at times like this. Yet God tenderly whispers reminders of the truth: You are alive. You died, yet you live. God’s story is life, death, life. This life is not all there is. This is not forever. Death does not reign. Grief is temporary. Our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:17) We will be reunited, and never again will we be separated. God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Matt, you are and were God’s gift to me, to us. I cherish every memory, every photo, every moment we were allowed to have with you. We’re keeping it simple this year for your birthday and spending the day hanging out at the pool, which you loved. Your dad and others will drink a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, also a favorite of yours. More than anything, I will lean into the One who holds you. I will look to the Giver of life and the author and perfecter of my faith, Jesus Christ, who died for me and for you…so that we could have life eternal.

I love you, Mateo.

Love, Mom

68
Ah…that look. Matt, age 15.

Doing it God’s way

A few days ago, I posted When bad news comes. The situation hasn’t changed, circumstances remain the same, and I vacillate between unquestionable faith in God and outright perplexity in God’s dealings with mankind. Like a kid on a rope swing, my faith swings back and forth, a slow momentum of quivering fear rising in my belly as God takes me higher and higher in this place of trust.

I’ve never liked heights.

But I am learning to trust the strength of the One who holds me.

This morning, I read the entry from today’s study in the First 5 app. (By the way, if you don’t have the First 5 app, I highly recommend getting it.) The post for today spoke directly to my heart.  It’s written by Wendy Blight and titled Trusting God in the Hard Places. It ends with the following:

Are you in a hard place? Do you wonder what God is doing? Take courage. The one who God called a man after His own heart struggled too. Press into God for understanding.

David’s life teaches us that it’s in the unanswered questions that we gain depth of faith. We come to know more … not about our circumstances … but about our God.

Give God your anger. Give Him your fear. Give Him your questions. He is waiting to come alongside you and bring you to the other side … to a place of understanding, healing, wholeness, blessing and even celebration.

Prayer: Father, I confess that sometimes I don’t understand why You allow what You do in the world and in my life. I struggle with, and sometimes even question, Your goodness and faithfulness. Help me process my questions and doubts with faith and not emotions. When circumstances tempt me to doubt that You are good and trustworthy, enable me to remember that You are moving and accomplishing Your plans, and no matter what I see with my eyes, I can know those plans are good because You are good. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Oh, how I want to reach out and yank everything aright like David and Uzzah. I want to run ahead of the Lord, but deep in my heart, I know it would be wrong. Waiting on God is hard. (Can I get an ‘Amen’ to that?!)

But doing it His way is always best.

Always.

Blessings,

Angie signature