Scripture Journal Challenge: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve joined me here for very long, you know I have a particular dislike for what I call “Sunshine Christianity”.

It’s not because I’m opposed to smiling faces and feel-good Bible verses plastered across doors, hallways, t-shirts and social media.

It’s because it doesn’t tell the whole story and sets up hearts for disappointment (at best) and walking away from Jesus (at worst) when their personal experience falls short of this hap, hap, happy picture portrayed by so many.

This life is NOT all smiles and rainbows. It’s hard work, hard times and often devastating circumstances.

That’s the bad news.

But we don’t have to face them alone.

That’s the good news.

If you are struggling, I’m hoping that you are willing to wrestle. So many people seem to be seeking a bumper sticker God with whom life is clean, easy, and problem free and answers are clever, even punchy. But life is never clean. It’s far from easy. And it’s never problem free. That’s why I believe putting God into an easy-to-explain box is not only unwise but dangerous. To really know God, you have to wrestle through pain, struggle with honest doubts, and even live with unanswered questions.

So while I won’t promise you that God is your copilot or that the Bible says it and that settles it, I will promise you this: if you wrestle with him, seek him, cling to him, God will meet you in your pain.

Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark

From cover to cover the Bible is filled with God’s people facing problems and God’s promise to be with them when they did. Some of the problems were of their own making and some were circumstances visited on them by others.

Sometimes God miraculously intervened (the three Hebrew children in the fire) and sometimes He didn’t (every disciple but John was martyred).

Often I can’t make sense of the difference.

If I’m honest, what I want is a pain free life.

I want to walk this earth and not be subject to death, decay, disasters and doubt. But that’s not how it works this side of the Fall which ushered sin into the world and assured no one since our first parents would ever experience the pure joy of a painless existence.

Isaiah was tasked with delivering messages of judgement against rebellious Israel but he was also privileged deliver some of the most beautiful messages of hope in the Old Testament.

Today’s verses are a combination of both. The prophet doesn’t say, “if” you go through these things but “when”.

Trouble is coming. But God is still in control.

But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.

Isaiah 43:1-4 The Message

It can be hard to read these verses and both believe and doubt at the same time. God promised Israel that when they passed through the waters or were in the midst of the flames (more traditional rendering) they would not be overcome. Yet we know from history that many in the nation WERE overcome. In relatively recent memory, millions were rounded up and exterminated by anti-Semitic, power-hungry German nationalists and those who sympathized with them.

Where was God then?

One of the difficult tasks I’ve had in grief is arriving at a place where I can hold pain and promise in the same heart.

I’ve had to learn to live in that mysterious space where I trust that God HAS an answer even if He chooses not to share it with me this side of eternity.

Like Israel, I have been redeemed. I am bought with a price. Christ gave His life for my sins and therefore I have hope.

But also like Israel, that doesn’t mean my mortal flesh is spared. It doesn’t mean my family is exempt from death-even the death of my twenty-three-year-old son.

What it DOES mean is that God is with me.

And while I may be overwhelmed and undone for a season-perhaps for this entire earthly life-it won’t always be so. One day God will redeem, restore and resurrect everything the enemy has stolen.

In the meantime, I rest in His arms, on His promise and depend on His strength.

QUESTIONS:

  • How do you interpret these verses? What does it mean “to be spared”?
  • Is is difficult for your heart to accept that pain is part of our experience as believers? Why or why not?
  • Can you give a defense of the gospel and of verses like these to those who don’t yet know Jesus? What explanation can account for the fact of evil and pain in the world when God is sovereign yet doesn’t seem to intervene (in many instances)?
  • Do you wrestle with God or do you try to stuff your questions? If you do wrestle, when has God met you at your private Peniel (Genesis 32:30). If you don’t, do you think it impacts your faith in a negative way or not at all?
  • What pressing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking and/or faith shattering circumstances are you currently facing? Consider writing your own lament and pouring your feelings out on paper.

PRAYER:

Lord, I so often demand answers, long for understanding and feel disappointed when I get neither. I’m not disappointed in Who You are, but I AM disappointed that I have to live my days wondering. I want You to explain Yourself. Yet I know I’m owed no explanation.

In my most faith-filled moments I can find a way to accept this. But not always.

Like Job, I’m jotting down the questions I’m going to lob at you when I finally DO see you.

And like Job, when my heart is tender and I’m looking full into Your Word and Your face, I cover my mouth. I have nothing to say.

Your majesty, grace, goodness, holiness, love and mercy overwhelm me more than my questions ever do. You ARE the God of the Universe, my Shepherd King, my Bread, my Living Water, my very Breath.

Help me to trust You in every circumstance. Help me to feel Your Presence every moment. Help me walk by faith and not demand you give me supernatural understanding of how you work in this world.

Amen

Repost: Just Plain Hard

I wrote this last year about this time but it suits me this year too.

So many big stressors combined with dozens of small ones have me begging God for relief.  The end is not in sight but I DO know how the story ends.

If I can hold onto hope -which I manage to do most days-and make space for my heart on the days I just can’t, it will be alright.

Maybe not soon and certainly not in this lifetime.  But it WILL be alright.  ❤

Today is full of tears.

No real reason-other than the obvious one-but so many things coming together to remind me this life is hard, hard, hard.

I find on this side of burying Dominic that when two or three other stressful events pile one atop the other I crumble.  Sometimes it’s other family members  doing the best they can to muddle through and sometimes it’s physical pain or disappointment or the random “ya-ya” stuff of life in community with other people  Whatever it is, the weight-in addition to grief-just absolutely overwhelms me.

I used to be stronger.  

Or at least I thought I was stronger.

Read the rest here:  Just Plain Hard

When Help Doesn’t Look Like I Thought it Should (or Hoped it Would)

I suspect I’m not alone in growing up with stories of a handsome prince coming to the rescue on his white charger.

If you hear the tales often enough they burn an image in your mind of exactly what help should look like-brave, bold and unmistakably obvious.

knight1

Trouble is, real life rarely plays out that way.

Oftentimes help doesn’t look like I think it should or even like I hoped it would.

Sometimes, in fact, it’s pretty much opposite of what I had in mind.

And that means that if I’m set on preconceived notions, I might just miss out on precisely the aid my heart is hoping for.  In my prideful arrogance I can overlook the hand that’s reaching out for mine.

This past November, my youngest son thought of a wonderful way to spare my joints while I did the chores around here.  I spend a good part of each day walking, toting buckets (and other assorted stuff) and tending to our animals and our property.  While the walking is great for my health and my bones, the carrying isn’t.  So he suggested I think about getting a golf cart to make things easier.

Can I just be honest here?

My idea of someone who used a golf cart to go a mere half mile or so was that they were L-A-Z-Y.  (No offense to any readers or friends who use one.  ❤ )

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

I was NOT going to be THAT person.  I was going to carry my big behind and feed buckets up and down the driveway unassisted.  I needed the exercise and, after all, I was plainly capable of doing it.

But after talking it over, and after my husband generously agreed to purchase one, I gave in.

golf cart and roses

I absolutely, positively LOVE it!

It makes all the difference in the world to my hands, ankles, hips and wrists.  I still get plenty of exercise but I’m no longer wearing out my joints doing daily tasks.  I didn’t realize how carrying buckets, wood, limbs and other random things for a distance was impacting the swelling and pain I experienced on a daily basis.

And it made me think of how many times I may be missing out on precisely the help God is sending me because I don’t like the package it comes in or my pride is preventing me from accepting it.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I have needed so. much. more. help.  

Things that used to be easy are hard and things that used to be hard are harder.  

Sometimes that help has come from people I least expected to offer it.  Sometimes that help has come from people I (frankly) didn’t want to be beholden to.

Sometimes I’ve waved off the very help I need because my pride has reared its ugly head and won the battle for my heart.

What foolishness!  

So I’m going to try to finally let the lesson sink in.  

Every morning as I hop in my cart and go, I remind my heart that pride is folly and proffered help should be received as the gift it is-whatever it looks like,  ❤

melanie in golf cart sunny

 

 

Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.

letting-go

Time, by itself, heals nothing.  But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.  

If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.  

Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow.  I cannot turn back time.  Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them.  I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.

Daily choices add up.  When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me.  Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church.  I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.

Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith.  It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away.  They won’t.  I have to drag them into the light and examine them.  Doubt is not denial.  If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory.  He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.

My mental diet matters more than I might think.  I have to be very careful what I feed my mind.  If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger.  If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.

I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like.  Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing.  But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.

me too sharing the path

Grief is hard.  

It’s work. 

And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.  

I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity.  But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.

I want to live. 

I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.  

So I do the work grief asks of me.  

Even when it’s hard.  

give yourself space to do the work grief requires

 

Holidays and Grief: Having Hard Conversations

You don’t have to bury a child to know that changing long-standing family traditions around holidays is a hard, hard thing.

Just ask a parent trying to work out Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time after an adult child marries.  Suddenly the way things have “always been” are no longer the way things are.

If you’ve decided to try to do things differently this year, you know that means telling other folks who might not like it.

And that’s really hard.  

But the sooner you have those conversations, the better. 

Because the only thing that makes it worse is procrastinating until it feels like an ambush to your extended family and friends.  

Read the rest here:  Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

 

 

 

Keeping It Real: It’s STILL Hard

When I started writing, Dominic had been gone nearly 18 months.  

Before I went public with my thoughts, I had filled six journals with page after page of ramblings, Scripture, quotes from books, questions and tears.  

Those are some of my most precious possessions because when I look back I can see how even in the very first hours (yes, I started writing that morning) God was already bringing truth and healing to my shattered soul and broken heart.  

In a couple months it will be three years since I started sharing here.  And while I rarely look back on the posts in any orderly way, I can see that God has continued His faithfulness when I do.

But just like I promised when I wrote the introduction to my site, I will always be as honest as possible when I share.  

So let me just tell you:  It’s STILL hard.  

Not in the same first, breath-robbing, soul-crushing, can’t-lift-my-head sort of way that makes a heart certain it can. not. survive.

But in a slow-leak, not-enough-air-in-my-tires sort of way that makes every road less comfortable to travel and necessitates lots of stops to make sure I can keep going.

I’ve just endured two weeks of one bad thing after another.  

All of them have a solution which (on my scale) makes them hardly worth noting.  

But each disrupted my life and will require significant time, energy and resources to address.  

And for a heart that has learned how to make it by going slow, choosing predictable paths and incorporating lots of stops along the way, those kinds of disruptions create stress and strain on an already taxed system. 

I will absolutely survive.  

I’ve already survived the cruelest and most difficult days of my life.  

But it’s no cake walk.  

It’s still hard.

track record for bad days is 100

 

Just Plain Hard

Today is full of tears.

No real reason-other than the obvious one-but so many things coming together to remind me this life is hard, hard, hard.

I find on this side of burying Dominic that when two or three other stressful events pile one atop the other I crumble.  Sometimes it’s other family members  doing the best they can to muddle through and sometimes it’s physical pain or disappointment or the random “ya-ya” stuff of life in community with other people  Whatever it is, the weight-in addition to grief-just absolutely overwhelms me.

I used to be stronger.  

Or at least I thought I was stronger.  But maybe the truth was the burden I was carrying wasn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it was and I just didn’t have anything to compare it to.

Now I do.

And I am oh, so weary!  I want to curl up in a ball and wish for it all to be over. I want to hide in a hole and hope the world passes me by.  I want to wait out my years unnoticed and unchallenged and pass peacefully to eternal rest and the joyful fullness of what has been promised.

Not an option.

So I hang in and hold on.  I cling to hope and I climb the mountain.  I crawl when I can’t walk. I beg for mercy when my mind grows dark and all I see is the long years stretching before me like a prison sentence.

And I cry.

I let the tears roll down my cheeks and fall into the corners of my mouth.  I taste their salty sweetness and let them remind me that Dominic matters. That even when other folks have forgotten and moved on, he’s still part of my every day. My heart is still in pieces. My family circle has been torn apart.

Some days I can push it down and forget a little.  But today I can’t.

It’s just plain hard.