Advent for the Brokenhearted: Preceded by John

The story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist is one of my favorites for so many reasons.  

It speaks hope to my heart: these two old folks had given up on the idea that they might yet have a child, yet God brought forth life where human thinking said it was impossible.  

It wasn’t just ANY life, it was a promised life, a planned life, a purposeful life.  John came in the spirit and power of Elijah to make hearts ready for Messiah.

And then there is the oh, so understandable reaction of Zechariah when he was told he’d be a father:  “Really?  How can I be sure?”

zechariah

I imagine any one of us would feel the same way, even if we didn’t open our mouths and let the thought escape.

On the other side of fifty, my life feels kind of dried up and worn out. 

Burying my son has drained  much of the giddiness I once felt that things could only get better and better.  My heart tends to look on the less-than-bright side most days.  

waiting with hope water

But just like Elizabeth and Zechariah, God still has a plan for me. 

He has not forgotten who or where I am.

I am not beyond His touch.  

So I wait-hopefully with a little more faith than Zechariah-for God to bring forth the life He desires from my inward parts.

He can do it.

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest by the name of Zechariah from the priestly group of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the family of Aaron.[a] Both of them were good people and pleased the Lord God by obeying all that he had commanded. But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.

One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. According to the custom of the priests, he had been chosen to go into the Lord’s temple that day and to burn incense,[b]10 while the people stood outside praying.

11 All at once an angel from the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the right side of the altar. 12 Zechariah was confused and afraid when he saw the angel. 13 But the angel told him:

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you must name him John. 14 His birth will make you very happy, and many people will be glad. 15 Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.

16 John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go ahead of the Lord with the same power and spirit that Elijah[c] had. And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.

Luke 1:5-17 CEV

Advent for the Brokenhearted: By the Holy Spirit

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

 

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 MSG

I’m not the first person on the planet God has asked to walk into the future without understanding exactly what the plan is. 

When Joseph found out his bride-to-be was pregnant, of course he suspected that she had cheated on him.  That’s how babies are made, isn’t it???

Yet he was noble and kind and hesitated to expose her to public ridicule, or worse (the Old Testament penalty was death) so he waited a bit, deciding what to do.

As he waited, God spoke to Joseph’s heart, assuring him that this was no natural conception and that Mary had done nothing wrong.

God also gave Joseph a commission:  to raise His son as his own.  

Joseph received this word and did as God commanded.   

Now God hasn’t spoken to me in a dream, or in clouds across the sky or from the mouth of a donkey or any other supernatural phenomena.

BUT He has spoken to me by His written Word.  

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

Romans 8:24-27 PHILLIPS

It’s hard when life seems to be going terribly, terribly wrong to trust.  

It’s understandable to look at what I can see and assume that is all there is. 

But I don’t want to do that. 

I can choose, like Joseph, to embrace the command to wait, to be patient, to step confidently in the direction of tomorrow because He is already there.

I want to stretch my faith-receiving God’s promises, holding onto them, and walking boldly into the future trusting they will be fulfilled.  

he is faithful who has promised

 

 

Why I Watch the Sunrise

I’m up way before the sun each day-pecking away on the computer keyboard, puttering around in the kitchen, doing a few indoor chores, getting dressed.

But I always stop to watch the sunrise.

Because no matter how many times I observe the red and gold streaks make their way up over the black silhouette of trees and chase the night away, it never gets old.

Every single sunrise is a reminder that darkness has limits. 

Every morning God whispers, “See, I’m still in charge.”

Every ray of light promises hope to my heart.

psalm 8_1

 

 

The Will of God

There are many things I do not understand about life this side of child loss.  Many more I do not like and wish were different. 

But this much I DO know:

God is here.

He has not abandoned me. 

He has not left me to walk this Valley on my own.  ❤

the will of God will never take you

#thankful AND #broken

I wrote this post Thankful But Broken, in November, 2015-just barely 18 months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

If that’s how I felt THEN, it’s even more how I feel NOW.

Both the thankfulness and brokenness have burrowed deeper into my bones.

Losing the earthly companionship of a child I love has shattered my heart into so many fragments that I can’t find them, much less piece them back together.

But it has also made me oh, so aware of each day’s blessings and of each moment’s sacred holiness.

be-thankful-for-today-change-in-one-moment

I can receive more freely because so much has been stolen.  I appreciate what I have because I know what it is to long for what can never be again.  I can both hold onto and let go of people and things and trust that in the end all shall be well.  Because I know exactly what it feels like when all is most certainly NOT well.

The cracks in my heart make room for more love, more joy (muted though it is) and more thanksgiving than my whole heart could have ever held.

heals the broken heartedI am truly thankful.  AND truly broken.

So my November exercise is to embrace BOTH.

My ‘Thankfulness Journal” has two lines for each day:  “I am thankful for” and “I am broken over”.  Like the Psalmist, I choose to breathe out my brokenness in lament and breathe in the promises of God in gratitude.

I am sad and shattered that this life is hard.

I am encouraged and comforted that God is good.

I can admit both and still be faith-filled.

faith is deliberate confidence

 

 

Trust After Loss: Acknowledge Doubt and Ask Questions

This is the third in a series of five posts.  If you haven’t read the first two, I encourage you to do so.

I am sharing from the perspective of child loss but the things God is teaching me have much broader application. If you are struggling because you feel like God has let you down, please read on.  And please read the posts that follow this one.

God welcomes us to the divine dinner table to talk things out.

Join us.

Grief forces me to walk Relentlessly Forward  even when I long to go back.

I can’t stop the clock or the sun or the days rolling by.

Those of us who are more than a couple months along in this journey (or any journey that involves tragedy and loss) know that it is ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE to feel worse than in the first few days.

Because as the edges of the fog lift and the reality of an entire lifetime looms before you the questions form and the doubt sinks in:

Where ARE You God?

Why don’t You DO something?

Are You even LISTENING?

So many of us who have been in church for a long time think that Wrestling With God or entertaining doubt  is sin-or, at best- unhealthy and proof of a weak faith.

faith is not an epidural

But Scripture is filed from start to finish with God’s people asking God:

“Why?”

“Where are You?”

“What exactly are is Your plan here?”

Truth is, you can’t hide it.  God KNOWS it anyway.

Some say faith precludes doubt 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.

Even in my most doubtful moments I knew God was there.  Even if I couldn’t see Him, even if I couldn’t hear Him, even if I couldn’t feel Him-I still knew He was there.  Somewhere deep inside me I knew He was still God. 

But I was trying to figure out how to re-engage with this God that wasn’t at all who I expected Him to be and didn’t act in ways I thought He should.  The relationship had changed because I was not the person I used to be before I buried my son.

HE is the same, but I am most definitely NOT.  

God invites us to bring Him our questions and our doubts.  He says, “Come let us reason together.”  Questions are how you mark the borders of what you know and find the edges of what you don’t.

God is not diminished by my desire to understand and make sense of my world-He doesn’t owe me an explanation-but He gives me freedom to ask the questions.

my-faith-is-a-wounded-faith

Wrestling is not UNBELIEF.  Wrestling is the hard work of true faith.

Walk through the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11-Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, David-every. single. one. had questions for God.

God is not threatened by my wondering.  His throne is in no danger due to my queries.

It is most often other believers who find the questions unsettling.  Doubters can be shifted to the back pew-not because people are mean but because our presence is threatening.  For someone yet to face the test of faith, our test can remind them that theirs may be coming.

I don’t want nor expect to have the last word, I believe that belongs to the Creator of the Universe.  But I think He will hear my pleas.

In my trouble I called to the Lord, I cried out to my God for help.  From his temple he heard my voice.  My call for help reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6 ICB

God is God of the day and God of the night-when I can’t feel Him, He’s still here.

He knows my frame-He made me.

He knows I’m strugging, I can’t hide it.

When I swallow my doubts instead of speaking them all I do is poison my own heart.

Lament is a biblical response to deep pain.

I have to exhale before I can inhale. 

If my heart is full of unreleased anger and bitterness, then it has no room for the Spirit of God to move.

If I want to keep my faith, I’ve got to acknowledge my doubts.  

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

 

 

 

Trust After Loss: Admit the Pain

Child loss is Unnatural-no way around it.

Out of order death is devastating.

When my perfectly healthy, strong and gifted son was killed instantly in a motorcycle accident on April 12. 2014 my world fell apart.  My heart shattered into a million pieces.  And after three and a half years, I’ve yet to even FIND all of those pieces much less put them back together.

So what does a heart do when that happens?  Because, try as I might, I cannot stop time. 

Even THAT awful day only lasted 24 hours.

When the sun rose again, the pain was still there.  And behind that pain and mixed with it was something else-disappointment, disaffection, distrust.

Where were You, God???

God is sovereign-He rules.

God is good-He loves.

How do those two truths live together in a universe that includes child loss? How can I trust the rest of my life and my eternal future to a God who lets this happen?

It’s a process.  And it takes time.  It involves purposeful choices by me to place my heart where it can hear truth even when it doesn’t want to hear and doubts every word.

The first step toward trusting again is to ADMIT THE PAIN.

You may be thinking, “Are you crazy?”.   

“Of course I know I’m hurting-my child is no longer here!”

But that’s the easy pain to recognize and own up to.  For those of us who have swallowed the western church model of “Sunshine Christianity”*, we will have a much harder time admitting our dismay that as victors in Jesus we feel discouraged, defeated and disgusted.

And should we dare to whisper it aloud we may well be shouted down by voices afraid to hear what they themselves sometimes secretly think but never speak.  So we convince our hearts these are phantom pains like those of a lost limb and try to ignore them.

But they will not be ignored.

The Bible is full of broken people bringing their hearts and their hurts to God.

  • He doesn’t despise my pain.
  • He doesn’t turn away from my tears.
  • He doesn’t hurry me through hearbreak.

Death is awful!  We dare not make it small!

It was the penalty for sin and the price of salvation.  To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.

I must admit my pain:

  • Own it.
  • Feel it.
  • Name it.
  • Speak it.

I’m not the first nor will I be the last to wonder about where God is and what He is doing.  Nicolas Wolterstorff’s adult son was killed in a climbing accident and his little book, Lament for a Son, was one of the best I have read in grief.

It struck a chord with me both because of the similarity of our loss and his honesty in exploring the edges of pain and doubt.

He writes:

Will my eyes adjust to this darkness?  Will I find you in the dark-not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness?  Has anyone ever found you there?  Did they love what they saw?  Did they see love?  And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim?  Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?

Noon has darkened.  As fast as they could say, “He’s dead”, the light dimmed.  And where are you in the darkness?  I learned to spy you in the light.  Here in this darkness, I cannot find you.  If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence.  Or is it not your absence in which I dwell, but your elusive troubling presence?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, LAMENT FOR A SON

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the loss of his wife, Joy.  And he also is honest and raw-asking aloud the questions that hide in our hearts, admitting the fear that the God we serve may not be the God we thought we knew.  

Giants in faith-both men. 

Yet they, like us, had to bring the shattered pieces of their broken hearts to the foot of the cross and beg God to put them back together. 

Admit the pain. 

God already knows.  

god shouts in pain cs lewis

*Sunshine Christianity is the notion that once one belongs to Jesus the road is smooth (God can make a way), the path clear of obstacles (if you have enough faith), and if I simply claim the promises of Scripture I have victory over every circumstance.  It does not square with either Jesus’ own experience nor that of the 12 apostles.