How To Be Fierce Without Being Fractious

It’s funny how child loss has, at the same time, made me more yielding and more steadfast.

I give in without a moment’s hesitation to other people’s choice in where to go for lunch, what to do for birthdays, how to arrange this or that at church.  My brain simply doesn’t have the capacity any more to argue over trifles.

But I will stand up to a lion for the sake of love or to protect a hurting heart.

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I can be a little reactionary when that happens-snapping and biting the heads off those who might have said or done something in ignorance and not intentionally.

So I’m learning to think a minute before I launch into a tirade and try to discern just what will be most helpful.

I want to challenge and educate folks, not send them running for cover every time they see me coming around a corner.

I want to be fierce without being fractious.

I ask myself, “How can I communicate truth in love?” and I try to follow these precepts:

Don’t attack the person.  Quite often people speak without thinking and speak about things they haven’t experienced.  They may just be parroting something they’ve heard and not even actually believe it themselves.

Ask questions.  Try to suss out WHY they said or did what they said or did.  Again, without thinking?  Or is there a motive behind it?  Fear is a frequent motivator for pushing hurting hearts away.  People are afraid of how much they might have to invest in a relationship or they are afraid that what happened to me can happen to them and they just don’t want the reminder.

Many People Thinking of Questions

Educate.  I often start by saying something like, “If you haven’t buried a child, you would have no way to know this but…” and follow up with whatever I think they might need to hear.  No one can argue with my experience.  I’ve never had a single person walk away angry when I share this way.  Some have come back and thanked me for the insight.

schoolhouse

Extend grace.  I know child loss but I don’t know everything or even a tenth of everything.  So while my friend may have stepped on MY toes by saying or doing something today, I’ve probably stepped on HERS another day.  I try to assume that the person in front of me is doing the best he or she can and not aiming to inflict pain on my heart.

grace tree

Choose to end fruitless discussions.  If I realize that the person I’m speaking to is defensive, resistant and unyielding, then I find an opportune moment to end the conversation.  We’ve all been there-someone itching for a fight decides that now is the moment to have one.  I’m not interested in debating anyone over my experience so I just don’t.

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As long as I walk in this world there will be others with whom I disagree.  some who actively seek to wound and many who are just ignorant of situations they have never experienced. 

I don’t want to bludgeon them with words, forcing them to agree with me.  

I want to be a light that opens eyes, a gentle breeze that blows away the fog and helps them see clearly.  

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

Living Without Answers

We are a people who love a good mystery as long as it leads to a good ending-bad guys vanquished, questions answered, motives revealed and a tidy resolution.

But real life is rarely so neat and squared away.

Just consider your average doctor’s visit.  Diagnosis is often a result of trial and error when a simple blood test or throat culture is unavailable to confirm or rule out a particular malady.  Yet we blunder forward, trying this and that until something either works or the illness runs its course.

Relationships are even trickier.  We stand toe-to-toe with others hoping we understand what they are saying or not saying, feeling or not feeling-all the while forced to act and react in the space between.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all at war with one another.

And then there are the big “What ifs?” and “Whys?”

The cosmic questions that rock our world and threaten to undo us.

These are the questions that filled my mind and kept me awake at night after burying my son.  Questions I was free to ignore before they took up residence in my soul and echoed in my head with every thump, thump, thump of my beating heart.

It took a very long time for me to learn to live with them unanswered. And there are still moments when I scream aloud and raise my fist to the sky, demanding an accounting.

But most days, I can rest in that space between the asking and the answer-if not exactly at peace-then at least in a state of suspended animation.

And that may really be all God expects of me this side of heaven.

Job never did get any answers.

He stood before God speechless and in awe.

That’s pretty much where I am right now.

I don’t have to like it.

I don’t have to understand it.

I only have to be willing to admit that He is God and I am not.  

Job answered God:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Job 42:4-6 MSG

 

Arguing with God

I don’t expect to win and I don’t think I’ll get an audible answer, but I will tell you I’ve had some rip-roaring, humdinger arguments with God.

Now the pious among us will probably be shocked. They may tell me I’m pushing the envelope of grace or even sinning by asking God what exactly He is doing in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.

That doesn’t deter me-there are plenty of scriptural precedents for asking God, “why” and begging Him for an answer to the pain of this broken world.

Moses wanted to know how come he got stuck leading a bunch of whiny migrants tramping through the desert.

Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his flesh.

Jesus and Job both asked the question.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
‭‭Job‬ ‭13:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬

We usually don’t quote the last half of that verse, do we?

We stop at the affirmation and leave off the doubt-Job’s desperate desire to understand just what God was doing when it seemed unfair and capricious.

Most of the book of Job is full of questions.  Job asking why he was targeted and his friends asking him what sin he was hiding.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Isaiah 1:18 NRSV

God invites us to ask.  He opens the door to questions.

He is willing to “talk”.

But He doesn’t always answer every question. 

In the end, Job’s mouth was shut not by God giving him assurance of anything except His “otherness” and the fact that He IS God.

A difficult truth to embrace.

One I ponder often.

I hurt, I sorrow, I agonize over the loss that has come into my life. A precious life has been taken away. I feel great grief and pain. It sears my every waking hour and casts a puzzling dreary shadow across my life’s journey.

At a time like this, it is imperative that I remember that God has not promised to keep my life bubbling with pleasing sensations. I must not prostitute God by giving Him the responsibility of being an indulgent Santa Claus in the heavens. God is not my servant. I am His servant.

As I come to grips with my grief, I reject the sentimentalized, sickly religion so popular today. God’s comfort is not insulation from difficulty; it is spiritual fortification sufficient to enable me to stand firm, undefeated in the fiery trials of life. God’s provision is not always green pastures and still waters. Sometimes God leads into the valley of the shadow, but I may walk there with confidence, assured of the love and presence of God.

No longer can I offer a mindless, frivolous assertion that God always measures up to my every expectation of Him and always gives His children goodies. I must declare that some things are beyond my human understanding in the ways of God. Those mysteries have destroyed my comfortable existence, but I proclaim: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I will hurt for years to come. A hundred times a day I feel keenly the void left by death’s cruel blow. That pain, however, must drive me to stronger trust in God whose providence is not always compatible with my desires.

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Burning Bridges and Other Impulsive Acts

If you’ve followed the blog for awhile you’ve noticed that I rarely use this space to comment on current events unless they intersect with my experience of child loss.

So I have pretty much stayed away from our crazy political scene during this presidential election cycle because why add another voice to the screaming chorus when no one is listening anyway?

But as we make our way to the inauguration and I see heightened animosity, ugly speech and cruel separation of previous friendships, I realize that my experience is relevant right here, right now.

Until you wake up one morning to find out that your child whom you love, whom you raised and whom you were absolutely certain would bury YOU is gone, you have the luxury of assuming whatever bridges you burn can be rebuilt someday.

You may feel pretty confident that in a few days or months or years you will have the opportunity to pick up the pieces and reinvest in the relationship. You might justify your arrogance and impudence and violent speech that pushes others away by standing on principles, waving the banner of your just cause or simply being adament that YOUR viewpoint is the absolutely only correct one.

angry-man-pointing-finger

 

I’m a firm believer in social justice, political action, correct theology, and strong opinions.

If you’ve been around me for more than five minutes, you know this.

But I believe even more firmly that nothing gives me the right to be hateful, to be dismissive, to act superior or to cruelly treat another human being.

I am also a believer that whatever happens in Washington is only part of what makes the world.

Laws have consequences.

Policies have impact.  

Politicians make decisions that make life better or worse for millions of people.  BUT-how I treat the people I come in contact with every day also matters.

You can call me a coward or tell me I’m “selling out” but I am convinced that I can champion a cause without condemning a friend. I know I can disagree without being disagreeable.  

If my goal is to sway opinion, what hope do I have of that if I am blasting holes in the fabric of relationship?

Each one of us is making the world-day by day, decision by decision, interaction by interaction.

We are burning bridges or building relationships.

Todayjust for a single daylet’s all be kind.

be kind2

Let’s not bash others with our team banner, our polical banner or the banner of our favorite cause.

Let’s just love one another and offer a smile instead of a smirk- a hand up instead of a put down.

We might find we like that world a whole lot better than the one we are currently making.

coke-teach-the-world-to-sing

 

He Will Hold Me Fast

 

I’ve mentioned it before.

I’ve encouraged others not to resist.

But I want to be absolutely clear:  Losing my son made me doubt EVERYTHING.

I grew up going to church, listening to Bible stories, hearing “God is in control”, “Jesus loves me”, “prayer moves mountains” and  (even though it isn’t true) being “good” gets rewarded.

The prerequisite, of course, was receiving Christ, being “saved”, trusting Jesus.

I did that when I was eight years old.

And I leaned in and studied Scripture, fashioning my life around the Holy Word.  My home rested firmly on the solid rock foundation of belief in Jesus and the sovereignty and sufficiency of God.

For heaven’s sake!  I spent twenty years homeschooling my kids!  We might skip a math lesson but we never missed a chance to note how biblical principles and biblical truth informed our worldview and guided our choices.

I know, I know, I know that I don’t deserve special treatment.  I know that God does not promise to exempt any person from hurt and heartache as long as we walk this earth.

But somewhere I got mixed up.  

Somehow I thought that if I did all the right things, made all the necessary personal sacrifices, read the right books, walked the right path, my heart might be spared.

I was, oh, so wrong.

So when I had to bury my perfectly healthy, vibrant, brilliant, loving son who was here-one-moment-gone-the-next, I had to take a little while to decide how much of what I used to believe I could still believe.

I had to pull out all the verses, all the suppositions, all the theological arguments upon which my faith had rested and test them against my new reality.

Is God sovereign?  Does He have control?

I decided that He is and does.

Based on His Word and my own life experience, I am convinced that God is in control.

But His control does not routinely override the laws of physics He has put in place to rule the world.  His control does not always spare someone the natural consequences of choices made by free will.  His control does not always supersede the sinful brokenness that abounds on this earth.

So, here I am.  Left with absolute rock solid faith in the few, most important things upon which my hope can rest.

Christ died.

Christ rose.

Christ will come again.

Death is conquered.

Heaven is sure.

Redemption has been paid for and restoration will be complete.

I know by painful experience that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts.  

my-thoughts-are-higher

I do not understand everything.  

But I cling to what I can understand.

Doubt is not sin.  I don’t try to talk myself out of it anymore.

Because the One Who made me holds me fast.

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

~He Will Hold Me Fast, Getty Music

 

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Be Kind

I wrote and scheduled this post BEFORE the Nice terrorist attack and BEFORE the gunning down of police officers in Baton Rouge just yesterday morning.

But how very timely-as long as we divide the world into “us” and “them” we fuel hatred and acts of violence.  As long as we choose rhetoric rather than reason we encourage a mindset that believes only radical action will spur change.

As I wrote over a week ago, My Heart Hurts.  And I refuse to be part of the division that will only surely result in more death and destruction.

Instead I will choose to be radically kind.

This year has been filled with divisive politics, headlines and heartbreaking reminders of the many ways people can hurt one another.

I have my own opinions and positions on various issues and sometimes they are at odds with those of my friends or acquaintances.

But I am committed to speak, write and interact with everyone I meet in kindness-respecting our differences.

be kind2

Because we are all image-bearers of the One True God.

James said, With our tongues we praise our Lord and Father. Yet, with the same tongues we curse people, who were created in God’s likeness. Praise and curses come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, this should not happen!” (James 3:9-10 GW)

Jesus answered the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with a well-known parable that shocked His audience and challenged their preconceived ideas.

As soon as I ask, “Who is my neighbor?” I am trying to draw a circle around who I should and should not be obligated to treat with kindness and love.  

I’m not going to do that.

Henri Nouwen writes:

Kindness is a beautiful human attribute. When we say, “She is a kind person” or “He surely was kind to me,” we express a very warm feeling. In our competitive and often violent world, kindness is not the most frequent response. But when we encounter it we know that we are blessed. Is it possible to grow in kindness, to become a kind person? Yes, but it requires discipline. To be kind means to treat another person as your “kin,” your intimate relative. We say, “We are kin” or “He is next of kin.” To be kind is to reach out to someone as being of “kindred” spirit.

Here is the great challenge: All people, whatever their color, religion, or sex, belong to humankind and are called to be kind to one another, treating one another as brothers and sisters. There is hardly a day in our lives in which we are not called to this.

 I can purpose to listen even when I disagree.  

Ask Away!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard or read bereaved parents second-guessing themselves.  They say or write:  “I know you’re not supposed to ask ‘why?'”

Baloney!  The Psalms are FILLED with “Why God?”

Questions are where the rubber meets the road in the Christian life.  

Questions are where I learn to submit my heart to the lordship of a God Who loves me and Who has a perfect plan even when all I can see is pain.  

Questions are the way I weed my garden of faith-they force me to choose between trust and doubt.

“There are those who say faith means you never doubt.  Those who live by the creed, ‘Don’t ask questions!’

But I say faith is exactly what you cling to in the margins of doubt–when you have exhausted all the possibilities that exist in the physical, you-can-touch-it world and yet you KNOW there is MORE”

Read the rest of this post here:Debate and Faith