Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday: A Study in Contrasts

Twenty-four hours separate one of the most outlandish global parties and one of the most somber religious observances on the Christian calendar.

Many of the same folks show up for both.

Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday”, is the last hurrah for those who observe Lent-a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation before Resurrection Sunday.

It’s a giant party-food, fellowship and fun-a wonderful way to celebrate the blessings of this life.

Ash Wednesday, by contrast,  is an invitation to remember that “from dust you came and to dust you will return”.  None of us get out of here alive.

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Even where the Gospel is preached every Sunday there are those who forget this life is hard and often full of pain and suffering.

If your experience so far has looked more like Mardi Gras and less like ashes, well, then-be thankful.

But don’t be deceived.

“From dust you came and to dust you will return.”

For some of us it was a similar twenty-four hour turnaround that upset our world, tossed us headfirst into the waves of sorrow and burned that truth into our hearts, not just dabbed it on our foreheads.

Sometimes I feel excluded from fellowship with the saints because I can’t join in the celebratory spirit of a worship service.

When the hymns only focus on our “victory in Jesus”  my heart cries, “Yes-but perhaps I won’t see the victory this side of heaven.”

When the congregation claps and dances to feel-good songs that celebrate the sunshine but ignore the rain, my eyes swim with tears because I know the reality of a downpour of sorrow.

Because sometimes praise is a sacrifice.

offerings

Church needs to be a place where we can share the pain as well as the promise that Christ will redeem it.

Jesus Himself said,“in this world you will have trouble”.

So I can’t claim allegience to the Church of the Perpetually Cheerful.

I want to create space for the hurting and broken and limping and scared.

How about a new demonination that acknowledges the truth that life is hard.  Instead of the Overcoming Apostolic Praise-filled Ministers of Eternal Optimism I would name it the Trudging But Not Fainting Faithful.

By all means enjoy the “Fat Tuesdays” in life.

Drink them in, dance, celebrate!  But remember that it can change in a heartbeat.  And that it HAS changed for many of us.

There is hope.

All is not lost.

But in the meantime, it’s hard.

will-have-trouble-but-i-have-overcome

Repost: Exploding the Myth: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

You know, I don’t expect those outside the Body of Christ to have good theology-that’s like expecting me to be able to explain thermodynamics.  

Ain’t gonna happen-it’s outside my scope of understanding and practice.

I do expect those who have spent a lifetime reading Scripture, studying Sunday School lessons and listening to sermons to know better.

But many don’t.

Read the rest here:  Exploding the Myth: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

I love the idea of Random Acts of Kindness-it’s a beautiful way to spread love and joy in our broken world.

With a few dollars or a few minutes, I have the opportunity to make someone’s day brighter, their burden lighter and remind them that not everyone is “out to get them”.

BUT-as I’ve written before here:  Relational Acts of Kindness, it’s relatively easy to do my good deed and walk away.

When I bless a stranger, my work is done.

I feel good, they feel good-it’s all good.

I find it much harder to purpose to be kind every day to the people I actually KNOW-the one who may have said cutting things in the past, the one who consistently rubs me the wrong way, the one I feel is lazy or subversive or just holds opinions with which I disagree.

How about the one I thought would show up to help but didn’t?  Or the one who has told tales about me or my family?  The one who lets her children run wild at church? The one who makes others uncomfortable with her dress, or language, or lack of social skill?

Being kind to THAT person is hard.

I want to turn the other way.  I want to make excuses.  I want to pretend that my kindness toward strangers balances my lack of kindness to those with whom I walk daily.

It doesn’t.

I am called to be kind at precisely that place where it is most difficult.  I am called to act in love toward just that person who is most unloveable.  I am called to lay down my life where it looks most likely to be unappreciated.

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Denying myself is the very method by which Christ builds His kingdom.

Offering my body as a living sacrifice is the pressure He applies to mold my flesh into His likeness

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But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be your slave—just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”

Matthew 20:27-29 PHILLIPS

 

 

Choosing to See Wounded Hearts

I can see her all the way down the aisle-even if she doesn’t say a word,  I know.

I know.

widow

She‘s carrying a burden wrapped in love and buried deep inside.  Someone she poured life into is no longer here.  The missing and the daily sorrow is etched on her face even as she smiles.

What to do?  What to do?  

Making a decision without her better half to help her is overwhelming.  She wants to cry but holds back the tears because, “What would people think?”

So I go up to her and tell her what I think:  “Would you like some help?”

That opens the floodgates.

“I’m looking for hairbands-something to match my white hair.  I have so little left-losing it because of stress, you know. “

Silence while I help her look.

“My husband passed three months ago.  We were married 60 years.  I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

I tell her about Dominic-brief version-so she knows that I understand.

“He’s not suffering anymore and I guess I should be better.  But I just miss him!”

I take her hand and look into her beautiful eyes-eyes that are full of love and compassion and sorrow-and tell her that she will miss him as long as she lives.  That’s how we’re made.

Great love means great grief.  A shared lifetime can’t be severed by death.  We carry that sorrow because our hearts still carry the love.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And I tell her that no one has the right to rush her along. Her wounded heart is a witness to love.  It’s a tribute to her husband and the life they shared.  It’s testimony to the power of God in her that she can bear the wound and still remain.

We prayed, and hugged and both went away refreshed.

Walking wounded has made me much more aware that God places people in my path who are wounded too.  

I want to be the person that stops, no matter what.  I want to be who God created me in Christ Jesus to be.  I want to walk in the good works He has laid out for me ahead of time.

It’s a way of redeeming this sorrow and weaving something beautiful from  my tears.

God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would do good works. God had planned in advance those good works for us. He had planned for us to live our lives doing them.

Ephesians 2:10 ICV

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Repost: The Cost of Compassion

 

compassion is a choice

I can’t help it.

I think too much.  I wonder too often.  I work too hard to make sense of things.

And the thing that is puzzling me right now is why people pull away from those experiencing deep and lasting pain.

Read the rest here:  the cost of compassion

What to say? What to do? Loving the Grieving in Public Places

 

Last week I wrote about some strategies I employ when in a social situation: Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss

But if you are the friend, family member or acquaintance milling around who bumps into me or spies me across the room, here are some things you can do and say that will help me as well:

Be aware that the greeting, “How are you?” sometimes feels like a challenge instead of an invitation. I’m scrambling for words to express my true condition without ruining the mood of the gathering.  It would be so much better if you simply said, “Hello” or “I’m happy to see you” without additional comments about how long it’s been.

Don’t pose or push for answers to questions that are primarily designed to satisfy your own curiosity.  If I give a brief reply, take the hint and move on.  If I say I can’t talk about it, drop the subject.  If I turn the conversation back to you, pick it up and carry the ball.  Public spaces are not the place to try to draw me out.  If you are concerned about me or want to REALLY know how I’m doing, take me to lunch or bring me dinner or invite me out for coffee.

questions

Notice my body language.  If I am fidgeting or hugging myself or backing away or crossing my arms it’s time to let me go.  I may hold my tongue but my body will give you abundant clues that I’m nearly at my limit for social interaction.  Give me permission to end the conversation and preserve my dignity.

Hugs are almost always wonderful.  Physical touch conveys love and compassion without requiring any response.  If you know me well enough to hug me or squeeze my hand, please do.

brene-brown-on-empathy-image

Don’t corner me-physically, emotionally or spiritually.  Backing me into a tight space makes me feel trapped.  If I’m on the end of a pew or aisle, don’t ask me to scoot down so you can join me.  I’m there in case I need to make an exit.  Don’t stand too close to me while we’re talking-my need for adequate personal space has greatly increased since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  Don’t throw Bible verses at me or ask me how Jesus is meeting me in my sorrow.  These are things we can talk about together, in private, in a way that makes space for me to be honest and express emotion without fear of embarresment.

Don’t make comparisons between my missing child and person featured in the wedding, baby shower or engagement party we are attending. Trust me, I’ve already done the math. I already know the distance between Dominic’s homegoing and this day.  I am already mourning one more thing I’ll never get to see him do.

cant-understand

Please don’t use this time to tell me about another bereaved mother you “just want to introduce to me”.  I am open and willing to walk with others on this journey, but this is not the time nor the place to put me on the spot.  If you know of another mom that needs my help, write me a note, give me a call or text me.

If I leave a room, don’t follow (unless you are a very close friend).  Let me go.  I will return if I can and if I can’t, I won’t.  Text me if you’re concerned.  If I come back, let me slip in without any fanfare.

If I cry, hand me a tissue or a handkerchief.  Don’t ask, “What’s wrong?” Besides the obvious, I may not have an answer for you.

woman-mourning

Please help me move conversation along when I lose my train of thought or seem at a loss for words.  Grief makes it hard to think sometimes, especially when in a crowd and/or a place with lots of background noise.  Give me permission to end a conversation-it probably doesn’t have a thing to do with YOU-I’m just running out of steam and need a few minutes’ respite from having to talk.  

Attending social events is exhausting for me now.  I want to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations-but that means a lot of people and a lot of unknowns.  Dozens of potential triggers, any one of which might conjure a grief wave that can drown me.  

I do what I can to be prepared. 

But I’ll take all the help I can get.

best-way-you-can-help-me

 

 

Who Steps In? Who Walks Out?

I was absolutely overwhelmed in those first days.

Cars, cars, cars filled my long driveway and front yard.

People spilling out like ants scrambling after the hill is disturbed.

Oh, our hill was disturbed-knocked wide open by that deputy’s visit.  Phone calls to let others know.  Phone calls from people who couldn’t get in touch with him and were just checking “in case something had happened”.

It had happened.

It. HAD. happened.

After the customary ceremony and handshaking and food, the cards flooded in.  Some with hand-written heartfelt messages of, “praying for you”, “we are so very sorry”, “we love you”. Some with pre-printed poems that absolve the sender of the need to find words for things for which there are no words.

My son is dead.  What can you say to that?

And then the silence.  The morning that I woke up to  realize I had done all I ever could do for Dominic.  My last act was to find his body a resting place and pray his soul to heaven.

He was home.

I was left in a strange country filled with landmarks I no longer recognized and a language I no longer understood.

Who comes into that?

Not many.  Only a few brave souls stick around for the after-only a few true friends keep calling and coming and caring for the long haul.

Because sitting with me in my grief, listening to me question my faith, keeping company with uncertainty and loss of control is frightening.  It takes great self-control to simply be present and not try to say something or do something to try to fix the unfixable.

If it could happen to MY family, it could happen to theirs.  And no one wants to think of that unless they have to.

So most leave.

Not immediately and not flamboyantly.  They just drift away like unmoored sailboats caught in the rising winds of life and busyness and school plays and church socials.

My personal tragedy is a footnote to their life journal-and who reads footnotes?

But there are a few who purpose to make my burden their burden.  

A few who call and write and text and message on the important dates like when he died, his birthday, Christmas, Easter.  Even fewer who call and write and text and message just because-just because they heard a song or saw a sunset or remembered for a moment that there is a mama out there who carries this grief 24/7.

I have no idea how Jesus will reward His followers when they make it Home.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the ones who choose to run in when others run away will receive a crown. Because their faithful love in the dark places brings life and light to hurting hearts.

And isn’t that the essence of the gospel message?

You are not alone.  

You are loved.

There is a way forward.

When you have exhausted all your own resources, God has made a way where there was no way. Even when you can’t take a step on your own-especially when you can’t take a step on your own-Jesus will carry you.

The ones who stay sing the gospel song to my heart.

They remind me that Jesus hasn’t forgotten.

presence best gift

 

 

One More Time: What Broken Hearts Need From Others During Holidays

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it.  I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

Read the rest here:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Exploding the Myth: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

blessings-come-through-rain-drops

You know, I don’t expect those outside the Body of Christ to have good theology-that’s like expecting me to be able to explain thermodynamics.  

Ain’t gonna happen-it’s outside my scope of understanding and practice.

I do expect those who have spent a lifetime reading Scripture, studying Sunday School lessons and listening to sermons to know better.

But many don’t.

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” is bandied about freely among those who, if they thought about it before they said it, know it isn’t true.

god-doesnt-give-you-more-than-you-can-handle

Usually it’s tossed at someone going through a tough time in an effort to encourage them.

Can I just let you in on a secret?  It is NOT encouraging.  At. all. Not one bit.

Because what’s implied is that I SHOULD be able to handle this.

But I can’t.

And it lets you off the hook.  

It’s like I’m drowning and instead of diving in to rescue me, you’re giving swimming lessons from the safety of the shore.

It’d be much more helpful if you threw me a lifeline.

life-preserver

God routinely gives me more than I can handle.

It’s one tool He uses to turn my heart to Him.  It’s one way He helps me understand (although He knows it already)  that I absolutely cannot handle it by myself.

So instead of sending the message that I should be able to handle this-join me in the dark place, hold my hand as we walk together and help me feel God’s love through you.

 

presence best gift

 

 

 

How To Respond When Someone Shares Their Pain

empathy-dictionary

We’ve all been there-we ask a routine question and someone refuses to play the social game.  

We say, “How are you?” and they answer honestly instead of with the obligatory, “I’m fine.  You?”

Suddenly the encounter has taken an unexpected turn.

“Oh, no!  I don’t know what to say,” you think.

It can end badly-both of you walking away uncomfortable and wary.

But it doesnt have to. There are ways to express compassion and empathy, words that can comfort and encourage.

What should you say when I, or anyone, shares their heart-their pain?

  • Acknowledge my pain. Don’t be silent or gloss over my declaration by changing the subject.  Silence often feels like disapproval and changing the subject feels like dismissal.  I have just entrusted you with something important, something it was hard for me to share, something that is a great burden on my heart-let me know you heard me.  Good responses that are always appropriate:  “I’m sorry”; “That must be hard”and “My heart hurts for you”.  In person, a hand on the arm or a hug is good.  Give me space to cry if that’s what I need to do.

 

  • Ask questions.  Not the who-what-when-where-why questions that fuel gossip and make good news stories.  But questions that can help me share more:  “Do you want to talk about it?” or “How can I help you?”.  It may take a few moments for me to answer-I may have to think about if I really do want to share more.  You may help me by asking, “What’s especially hard right now?”  

 

  • Accept that this hurts ME-even if you think it wouldn’t hurt YOU. Everyone’s story  is unique.  You may be more emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually resilient than me.  Great!  But this is MY story, and this hurts ME.  Please, please, please do not try to talk me out of my pain.  Please don’t toss Bible verses or platitudes at me seeing if they will stick.  Please don’t tell me about how YOU would handle my situation (unless I ask). And, more than anything, please do not turn my heartfelt sharing into a discussion of how my pain causes you pain.  It may be true, but now I feel guilty instead of supported.

 

  • Affirm me for sharing, for enduring and leave the door open for next time.  It takes courage and energy for me to share my pain.  Many days I gloss over inquiries because I’m just too worn out to spend the limited emotional energy I have left on the drama of sharing honestly.  If I risk it, it’s because I’m either desperate or I trust you.  Either way, let me know you appreciate my bravery.  Tell me that you see how hard it is and that just carrying on is an accomplishment.  Leave my heart better than you found it so I’ll be encouraged to share again.   

Brene Brown has done some amazing work in the area of shame, hurt, compassion and empathy.  I’ve found it valuable in my own valley and also instructive in serving others in theirs.  

This short video based on her work is incredibly helpful. Please take a moment to watch it:  Brene Brown on Empathy

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