Scripture Journal Challenge: Battling Anxiety, Seeking Peace

Remember last August when we did a Scripture Journal Challenge on grief?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I need another one.

Television, social media news feeds and online searches scream one frightening headline after another and I need to be reminded Who is in control and to Whom I belong.

So this time we will focus on Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace.

Find a notebook, find some paper, get your pens and Bibles ready and let’s battle this monster together!

We will start tomorrow with a longer passage-Psalm 23. You may have memorized it as a child and think there aren’t any hidden gems inside the familiar words.

I think you’ll be surprised.

In case you need a refresher or weren’t following along last August here is the introductory post for that challenge to help you get started. (Just ignore the parts that are specific to that topic).

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/07/31/august-scripture-journal-challenge-grief-verses/

Melanie

Journaling My Way Home: Doubt Is Not Disbelief

When I was asked several months ago to speak to a group of hospice care workers, I titled the presentation “Lifting the Veil on Grief”.

One of the topics I covered was how experiencing the death of a loved one-especially out-of-order or untimely death- can cause even the staunchest believer to doubt.

And the first thing I said was, “Doubt in the face of overwhelming sorrow and hard circumstances is absolutely normal.  But doubt is NOT disbelief.”

So often friends, family, clergy, social workers and others want to steer hearts away from doubt because they are afraid that entertaining questions or expressing disappointment in God will always lead to someone losing faith.

That is untrue.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/03/02/doubt-is-not-disbelief-journaling-my-way-home/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.

Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.

The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.  

So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:

13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS

This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one.  At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.

And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.

But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”

And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”

Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”?  Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened?  How can this be your life?

Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?

  • Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
  • Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
  • Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.

But I am made of dust.

I am human.  I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.

He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it.  He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music.  He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.

And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost.  I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is.  I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.

But I still GRIEVE.  I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.

So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.

For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.

Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.

Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.

But don’t expect us not to cry.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
  • Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
  • Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.

My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!

When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: NOTHING Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

If yesterday’s verses were Paul’s closing arguments, these verses are his hallelujah!

When I am weak and weary and overwhelmed by the daily trudging uphill along the path of grief, my heart comes here.

Because truth is, over and over and over God has said in His Word, demonstrated by His actions and proved by His promises that love endures.

It was love that sought Adam and Eve in the garden.

Love that spoke to Noah and gave him strength to build the ark.

Love that drew Abram from the land of idolators, set him apart and made him father of nations.

Love that rescued the Israelites from Egypt.

Love that overwhelmed a young virgin and made her mother of Jesus the Christ.

And Love Incarnate that chose obedience unto death-even death on the cross-so that our sin debt was satisfied and the gates of Heaven opened wide to all who believe.

Love will not be denied.

Love wins.

Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.
37 No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us.
38-39 I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 8: 35-39 PHILLIPS

There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.

Nothing!

I am not powerful enough to do it.

Death is not powerful enough to do it.

Love reached down and resurrected Jesus.

Love will reach down and resurrect my son.

On my hardest days, my darkest days I remember this: as fierce as my mother love may be, it can’t hold a candle to the ferocious, eternal, unquenchable, undefeatable, reckless, perfect love of God.

QUESTIONS:

  • When I am deep in despair, I remind my heart that all this love I have for my child(ren) is just a tiny drop compared to God’s love for me AND them. Does it help your heart to think about how fiercely God loves you and your child(ren)?
  • I have shared the story before of my son running barefoot through the woods, briers and all, to rescue one of our goats from between the teeth of two pit bulls. It’s my favorite picture of God’s redeeming, relentless, reckless love. Can you think of a personal example that reminds you of God’s enduring, unquenchable, unrelenting and rescuing love?
  • Theology matters. What I believe about who God is and what creation is in relationship to Him matters. If He made everything (and I believe He did) then it is all ultimately subject to His will. That is amazing reassurance. Nothing. No. Thing. can separate us from His love. No created thing is greater than its creator. Put that thought in your own words. What do you fear might separate you (or your child) from God’s love? In light of these verses, do you think that’s a reasonable conclusion? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your love endures forever. Help me remember that. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may comprehend the depth, the width and the height of Your love. If I could grasp even a fraction of that, I’d never be afraid for a second that anything could get between You and me. Your love is relentless, reckless, pursuing and almighty. Nothing in creation can stop Your eternal, redeeming love.

My child may have made a foolish or even a sinful choice in his or her last moments on earth, but even that is not enough to separate him or her from You if they made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. How arrogant are we humans to think we can somehow undo the great redemptive work of the cross!

Thank You for this beautiful reminder in Paul’s words. Let them sink deeply into my spirit and bring life to my bones.

Hallelujah!

Amen.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Everything Sad Will Come Untrue

It was a harsh sentence: Forty years of wandering in the desert for not putting their faith and trust in the God who had delivered them from bondage.

But wandering wasn’t the half of it.

Death surrounded them. All those adults who gave in to fear were doomed to die before the forty years were finished.

Can you imagine how many graves were dug in the wilderness? How many tears were shed? How many fists raised to the sky or hands to hearts begging, begging, begging for the sojourn of sadness to end?

So it was no accident that the Lord commanded Israel to set her camp with the Tent of Meeting at the center. He wanted them always to be aware of His enabling, powerful, holy Presence.

Even in the midst of judgement, death and sorrow. He was there.

And God is here with me in the midst of my mourning too. I am thankful for His Presence.

But the most beautiful promise is that there will be a Day when He will wipe away all the tears. He will redeem all the pain. He will undo all the damage death has wrought.

Joy will once again be untainted by sorrow.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Revelation 21:3-4 KJV

I make seasonal wreaths for Dominic’s resting place. I include these verses every time.

Because I believe them with my whole heart.

I love the way The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones renders them:

And the King says, “Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!

Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones

“Everything sad has come untrue.”

Heaven will not simply be rest after a long life’s struggle.

It will be restoration, redemption, recreation and resurrection.

Every thing stolen will be restored. Every thing bartered away by sin will be redeemed. Every thing destroyed by carelessness, hatefulness and cruelty will be recreated in perfection. And every thing dead and buried will be resurrected to life everlasting.

I can’t wait. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that “God is here”?
  • What do you think Heaven is like? Is your idea informed by popular media or by Scripture?
  • Does the idea of “everything sad coming untrue” speak courage to your heart? Why or why not?
  • If you have felt God’s presence in this Valley, how has He manifested that? If you haven’t felt His presence, would you consider asking Him to make Himself real to you today?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I’ll admit that sometimes future hope is not much to hold onto when sorrow and longing and despair overwhelm my heart. I need to feel Your Presence here and now. I’m not asking for a burning bush, but give me assurance that You have not abandoned me.

Fill my heart with hope and help me hold onto the promise that one day all this pain will be redeemed. Give me an eternal perspective.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Your Word Revives Me

I realize not every parent enters child loss with the same reverence for Scripture and trust in the promises of God that I had when Dominic left us.

So it may be hard for your heart to believe the words we’ve been reading and studying this month. It may be near impossible for you to feel that God is a good Father, that He has not abandoned you and that He has a purpose and plan for your life, even here in this awful Valley.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that while I still have faith, it’s a tested faith. I have dragged every single thing I believed before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, held it up and scrutinized it in the cold light of loss.

Some things I don’t clutch so tightly anymore. Many things I wouldn’t spend five minutes defending anymore. But there are absolute, rock-solid, foundational truths that I will declare with my dying breath.

The character of God is flawless. His ways are holy and good. He will not allow the enemy of my soul to have the last word. Death is (ultimately) defeated and victory is sure.

When I was on my face in mourning, when dust was my food and bitter tears were my drink, these are the promises that breathed life back into my broken heart.


Remember [always] the word and promise to Your servant,
In which You have made me hope.
50 
This is my comfort in my affliction,
That Your word has revived me and given me life.

Psalm 119: 49-50 AMP

When people in the Bible asked God to “remember” it wasn’t that they thought He forgot. It was a way of reciting truth to their own hearts and praying God’s words back to Him.

So when I was just on the other side of the awful news but past Dom’s service and all the people and activities surrounding it, I began most days in my journal with something similar.

I would write out a verse confirming God’s promises to me and my family. I would make it personal-put our names in it- and pray it back to Him. The more I did that, the more my spirit was revived. The more my spirit came back to life, the more I was able to listen to and hear from Him.

It’s a slow, slow process.

The blow is sudden, severe and debilitating (no matter how your child left this earth).

Recovery cannot be rushed along.

I feel most days like I’m still receiving hope and life in drips and dribbles.

But the more I focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God’s sure promises, the more alive I feel.

And one day I’ll be fully alive-as Dominic is right now- dancing, laughing, singing to the tune of millions of rejoicing voices.

Until then, I’ll keep pointing my heart in the right direction.

My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.  ~Reepicheep

C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you have hope? Why or why not?
  • Do you think you can influence whether or not hope lives in your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you do each day to feed hope in your heart?
  • If you are new on this journey of loss, you may be certain you will never feel alive again. You may think you will never feel hope or joy or anything besides sorrow again. I promise that if you will let the words of God sink in, if you will take your heartache to Him and allow Him to touch the broken places, you will begin to revive. How do Reepicheep’s words speak to you today?
  • If you are farther along the road of loss, record some specific moments when you felt God met you and breathed life into your spirit.

PRAYER:

Lord,

Truth is that all life comes from You. There is nowhere else to turn but to Your face, Your hand, Your heart. Part of me wants to give up and give in. I want to be rid of this pain, this heartache, this sorrow and unrelenting despair. But I know You have a purpose and plan for me even here, even now.

Help me choose to make space for Your word and Your love to penetrate my heart. Help me offer up my broken bits to You and wait patiently for You to weave them back together into something beautiful.

When I have nothing left, touch me. When I give up, encourage me. When I can’t see the light for the darkness, shine on me.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: In The Very Presence of God

It’s kind of counterintuitive really-that my initial response to Dominic’s death would be affirmation of my faith and my response weeks later would be doubt.

But it makes a lot of sense really.

When the unthinkable happens, if your heart is already turned in a particular direction the path of least resistance is to keep flowing downhill.

A bit later, when shock has worn off and your brain wakes up and you begin to do the “math” suddenly it’s not so easy to believe that God is good, He is sovereign and He has a perfect plan.

I wanted explanations!

Like Job I had a list of questions for the Almighty. And also like Job, I found that when He showed up (not in person but through His word) I could only cover my mouth in shame.

When I was beleaguered and bitter,
    totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
    in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
    but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
    and then you bless me.
25-28 You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Psalm 73:21-28 MSG (paraphrase)

Here’s the good, good, good news: God isn’t surprised at my anger, disappointment or lack of understanding.

He- like every good parent who recognizes a child is reacting out of ignorance-takes my hand, holds me close and waits until the energy of rebellion and frustration spends itself, and says, “There, there, dear one. I’m here.”

I can’t scare God away. He’s the Perfect Father.

So if you are struggling with questions and struggling whether or not to take them to God (as if He doesn’t know)-go ahead. Hand them over.

He is neither afraid of nor offended by our weakness, our impertinence nor our honest questions. He wants us to let them go. He wants us to speak them aloud, admit to our own hearts we have them and then release them.

Because in the space created in surrender, He can work.

In the gap between our own strength and the awful struggle ahead, He will pour grace, mercy, endurance and hope.

He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

My parents would argue I am young.

My children would laughingly accuse me of being old. (My skin is definitely sagging!)

Some days I feel one way or the other and it has nothing to do with the years I’ve lived and everything to do with the hardships I’ve endured.

But I can say with absolute certainty that I am more sure now than I was before that God is God.

He is good.

He will redeem, restore and resurrect.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever been bitter? How do you think it might have informed your feelings about God?
  • Are you bitter now? Have you considered telling God about it?
  • Do you feel God is near you? Why or why not?
  • When the psalmist compares himself to a dumb animal he’s referring to the fact that oxen or donkeys go where their masters tell them to (or not!) and either comply or resist with no real understanding of why they may be asked to do this or that. But we are not dumb animals. We can choose to trust our Master because of past experience and the sure promises of Scripture. How does focusing your attention and heart’s affection on the Truth of Scripture help you surrender?
  • Our flesh will fail. It’s not a question of if but a question of when. Honestly,my flesh has failed many times in these 55 years. I’ve written before that I’m convinced the years of Bible study before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven were years spent preparing my heart to receive that blow. I was not spared, but I was prepared. If you haven’t made a commitment to spend daily time in Bible study and the Presence of God, would you be willing to try to do it now? Have these days of reflection given you any new nuggets to hold onto?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I know You can drag me around like a recalcitrant child or a misbehaved pet. But you don’t. You want me to bring my hurt, my anger, my bitterness, my disobedience and distrust to You.

You don’t run away. You aren’t hard to find. You don’t turn your back on me. You are always a breath away-waiting to hold my hand, wrap my heart in your love and whisper courage to my soul.

Help me run first to You. Always, always to You. You truly are my only hope. My true salvation. My Rock and my Shelter.

Keep my eyes focused on You and not on people around me. Comparison only breeds discontent. I know that one day-one glorious Day-the song I’ll sing will be to my Redeemer and tell of Your faithful goodness to me.

Amen