Hurricane Michael-One Year Ago Today

One year ago today Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida packing more wind and damaging power than any hurricane ever recorded hitting there.

What’s more, it held every bit of that strength and smashed trees, houses and power lines for miles and miles inland including the rural county where my folks live 60 miles away from landfall.

My parents and aunt were trapped and unable to leave due to downed trees across the driveway, “yard” and the road leading out to safety. No electricity, not enough fuel to run the generator to power my mom’s oxygen and no running water (well water provided by an electric pump).

They didn’t evacuate because in the 100 years family had been living on that plot of land NO hurricane had ever made it that far inland with more than heavy rain, some strong wind and temporary power outages.

Thankfully, a neighbor had a bobcat tractor and he plus others with chainsaws and tractors were able to clear the dirt road to the main road. Thankfully, my youngest son, Julian,  was able to find a way through the downed trees and power lines between our house and theirs and reach them with more fuel, more chainsaws and another set of strong arms to help them evacuate.

Thankfully, the trees that fell around the house didn’t smash it or hurt anyone.

My family had survived the frightening but escaped the truly awful.

It felt like pure grace that no one we loved was killed that day although our hearts broke for those for whom that wasn’t true.

Once power was restored and my parents were able to return home, there was so much to clean up, so much to do and so many repairs to make.

Who could have guessed that less than a year later another kind of storm would sweep across our lives, taking Mama with it?

This time there was nothing left to do.

There never is when death comes knocking and steals a person you love.

I am so grateful for the extra almost-year with Mama. I am so sad there won’t be more.

And today, when I’ve finally stopped long enough to let my heart begin to feel what that feels like, I find my longing for her is folded into my longing for Dominic.

Two deaths, one broken heart.

I’m thankful and confident that death is not the end of their story.

Mama and Dominic and all the people I’ve loved that love Jesus are together in Heaven and waiting for the rest of us to join them.

Unlike the broken trees and broken homes left behind by Hurricane Michael, there will be no tell-tale signs of repair when on that glorious Day our hearts are made whole again.

Every sad thing will come untrue-as if it never happened.

Every tear will be wiped away.

Every promise kept, every stolen thing redeemed and restored.

And Mama will be dancing while Dominic plays his drums.

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

Scripture Journal Challenge: When I Can’t Trace His Hand I Trust His Heart

No matter how much we love someone, we will eventually fail them somehow.

I know I recite my failure as a mother quite often-usually when I’m tired, weak, stressed and especially burdened with this grief I haul around like a bag of bricks every day.

So it’s hard for me to comprehend the unfailing, faithful, never-ending, compassionate love of God.

But it’s true whether I can wrap my mind around it or not: God’s love never fails.

That’s the message Jeremiah was tasked to deliver to Israel in the midst of some very awful circumstances.

They had really messed up. And they were going to reap the consequences of their sin.

It was going to hurt.

But God had not abandoned them. He had not forgotten them. He had not stopped loving them.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

Lamentations 3:31-33 NIV

The God I serve and Israel served is a compassionate God.

He is so very compassionate (which means to suffer alongside) that He chose to send His Son to take our sins, to receive our punishment, to pay the penalty and redeem us for Himself.

Grief is part of this life.

Before Jesus lived on earth, suffered, died and was resurrected, grief was part of the ongoing penalty of sin.

So Israel was punished when she turned from her true Husband and ran after idols and foreign gods.

Now, the penalty has been paid. Yet grief remains.

Our enemy the devil works evil in the world. People’s sinful choices result in death and destruction. The whole earth groans under the general burden of sin which means genes mutate, disease runs rampant and our bodies fail.

God does not always intervene.

But He always comes alongside.

He always offers comfort and promises that grief doesn’t last forever.

He takes those evil things, the broken things, the painful things and the hard things and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that will eventually reveal His faithfulness, goodness, love and glory.

QUESTIONS:

  • I’ve written before about whether or not grief and loss is a punishment from God. Yet these verses plainly state, “though He brings grief”. How do you explain them to your own heart? Have you thought through and developed a consistent theology that both acknowledges the truth that in the OT God DID bring grief (punishment) on His people for their sins and that in the NT God, through Christ, has taken all the punishment for every sin? (For more on this, read this post: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/15/is-god-punishing-me/)
  • Have you ever felt God was suffering alongside you? Do you think God suffers at all?
  • Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Most of His followers would have firsthand knowledge of the sacrifices a good shepherd makes for his sheep. That’s not something many of us know much about these days. Can you paint your own word picture of unfailing love?
  • Have you confronted the question of why evil exists, why pain is persistent, why death and destruction still reign? Are you afraid to go there? Why or why not?
  • I used to embroider quite a bit and really love the Corrie Ten Boom poem cited above because I understand it well. The top side of my work was lovely (most of the time!) but the underside was awful! Do you have confidence that God is weaving ALL the things in your life into a tapestry that will eventually reveal how even the dark and ugly experiences, feelings and heartache work together to make a beautiful piece of art? (See Ephesians 2:10)

PRAYER:

Father God, Thank you that I live this side of Calvary!

Thank You that although this life is filled with sorrow and pain I can rest assured that if I’ve received Your gift of forgiveness through Christ You are not punishing me for some forgotten sin. Thank You for your unfailing, faithful, compassionate love.

Help me to remember in the darkest moments, the most desolate path, the deepest pit You are there. Over and over and over You remind my heart that I am not alone. When I can’t comprehend how You might weave the next dark thread into the tapestry of my life, help me trust You anyway.

You are the Master Weaver. You are the Potter. Give me a willing heart to yield to Your work in my life.

Amen

I

On Suffering and Redemption

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

~Julian of Norwich

Truth is this life is not easy.

There is joy. 

Absolutely amazing awe-inspiring, breath-taking joy.

But there is also suffering. 

Utterly devastating, heart-breaking suffering.

Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.

~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning

When I ponder the pain of child loss, it helps to remember that Jesus suffered too.

Not just at the end, when He allowed evil men to crucify Him, but throughout His life when friends abandoned Him, people tried to kill Him, religious leaders mocked Him and sought to destroy His reputation and work.

It helps me to know that my wounds and scars, like His, will be transformed from evidence of pain and loss into a testimony of grace and redemption.  

The cross is both the symbol of our salvation and the pattern of our lives. Everything that happened to Christ in some way happens to us. When darkness envelops us and we are deaf to everything except the shriek of our own pain, it helps to know that the Father is tracing in us the image of his Son, that the signature of Jesus is being stamped on our souls. For Jesus, the darkness of night gave way to the light of morning.

~Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t perform another miracle or call down angels from Heaven to testify on His behalf.  He said, “Here, touch my wounds.”  

I don’t know what that felt like for Thomas, but it was the only proof he needed to believe.

And while Christ accommodated Thomas, He spoke a special blessing on those who would not have such proof.  

blessed are those who believe without seeing

I have doubts some days too.  

There are moments when suffering washes over me like a flood and I am swept under with the tide.  

It’s then I cling tenaciously to the promise that my wounds, like Christ’s, will one day not only be proof of pain but also evidence of God’s redemptive power. 

Could it be that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but not from our memories, that the renewed experience of the glorified saint will be to recall those sadnesses with the transforming joy which God’s presence and God’s disclosed providence will bring? Surely part of our praise in heaven will not merely be that we are now saved, but that we have been saved, that the very title of being those who have conquered means that our memory of victory will include a transformed awareness of what the whole battle meant.

What a difference this could make to my suffering. The scars I bear in my body, my mind, my soul, the adversities and setbacks, the pains that may yet await me before I get to heaven, the relational wounds, the memories from which I struggle to recover, the darkness of doubt and the battles with unbelief, will not necessarily be removed when I get to heaven, but they will be redeemed, they will be transformed by the long view that being perfected in the presence of my perfect God will bring. What an experience it will be to probe the scars, but to no longer feel their pain – to see them as contour lines of God’s grace by which I ascended into glory. What could it mean for my wounds to sing his praise, for my scars to record his perfections, for my memory of old pains to be set in the context of a new and never failing joy. That makes suffering sufferable now, and glory all the more glorious then.

~Andrew Roycroft, Thinking Pastorally blog, 6.23.19

 

 

Poured Out But Not Wasted

Even if my lifeblood is to be poured out like wine as a sacrifice of your faith, I have great reason to celebrate with all of you.
~ Philippians 2:17 VOICE

In many ways I feel like this season of my life is a drink offering-poured out on the ground-unrecoverable except as a sacrifice lifted to the throne of grace.

But my story is not only loss and pain, it is also life and love. 

I have to be careful to remember that.

 … you may reformulate your story in terms of sadness and pain. Because you lost a child, or experienced a divorce, or killed someone in a car accident, you will never be happy again. Or even worse, you are never allowed to be happy again.

In all of these cases, we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories.

~Cameron Cole, Therefore I Have Hope

Redemption is the overarching theme of my story, of all history.

It doesn’t mean I have to deny the pain and darkness.  In fact, if I try, I diminish His glory in redeeming what would otherwise be nothing but brokenness and loss.

I can lift those feelings to the throne of grace as a drink offering.

I can pour them out at Christ’s feet and trust that even though in the natural there is no way to recapture and restore what has been lost, in His power and love it is never, ever wasted.

And I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
~Revelation 21: 3,4
they that wait with hope shall not be ashamed

In Love’s Service, Only Wounded Soldiers Will Do

So often we hide our wounds.

Sometimes it’s because others have shamed us into covering up.  Sometimes it’s because our hearts have been stomped on by folks who might mean well but really don’t understand what it’s like to live every day with a messy and unfinished story.

But there’s no shame in being broken. 

And we have no obligation to pretend for those that are uncomfortable with our wounds and our sorrow.

In fact, there is no greater invitation to the good news that Jesus came to redeem and restore than a person whose life makes plain that they are depending on Him for that very promise.

only wounded soldiers will do

 

Enough or Not Enough?

I already struggled with the sense that I was rarely able to meet everyone’s expectations before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. 

That’s been multiplied by a factor of at least 100 since then.

For those of you who are so self-confident or blissfully unaware, it won’t make sense but for those of you who are firstborns or “Type A” personalities you know exactly what I mean.

I cannot ignore the gap between what people need from me and what I’m able to give.  

My internal dialogue is a combination of self-condemnation and pep talks to “do better”, “try harder” and “don’t give up or give in”.

But no matter how hard I try, it’s never enough.  

And I need to let go of that.  I need to let myself off the hook.  I need to admit that some people’s expectations are unrealistic or self-serving.  

But it is so. very. hard.  

I have had an invisible disease for a decade that saps my energy, circumscribes my ability to do daily tasks and gifts me with chronic pain.  Yet I tend to discount the impact it has on my life and try to ignore the fact it makes every. single thing more difficult.

It will be five years in April that Dominic left us.  FIVE YEARS!  I can barely type that.  I don’t even know what to do with it.

A lifetime ago and a breath away all at the same time.  

I feel like I am giving everything  I have to my family, to my friends and to other folks that count on me to show up.  So often it’s not enough.  So often I fall short.  So often I go to bed shaking my head and hoping that tomorrow is a better day and I’m a better person.

I try so hard to be brave.  

Sometimes I simply can’t conjure courage.

But I keep showing up. ❤

love is courage