Advent for the Brokenhearted: Announced by an Angel

When the angel came to Mary and told her she was to be the mother of God’s Son,  she was (rightly) confused.

Her first thoughts ran to what she knew and understood:  children are conceived by the joining of man and woman, she was a virgin.

How can this be?”

The angel Gabriel explained (sort of):  “Your child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And as proof of God’s miraculous ability to do what He says He will do-your old relative, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant!” [loose personal paraphrase]

So Mary graciously bowed her heart to this strange thing God was doing in her and asking of her.

“I belong to the Lord, body and soul,” replied Mary, “let it happen as you say.” And at this the angel left her.  (Luke 1:38 PHILLIPS)

She was willing, even though she could not possibly have understood all that would be asked of her in the end.

God did not give me any warning that He was about to take my life in another, very hard, very painful, horribly sad direction. 

No angel explained to me what God was doing. 

I didn’t have a chance to ask questions or beg for a different path.

I cannot change what HAS happened-Dominic is dead.  But my heart attitude determines how I will REACT to what has happened.

I am faced with precisely the same decision Mary had to make:  Will I trust God-Who cannot lie and Who will fulfill every promise-or do I turn my heart from Him and seek my own will and way?

I am not nearly as gracious as Mary.  I have kicked against the goads and screamed, “Why???” at the sky.

I will still tell anyone who asks that I do not like this plan at all.

But I am learning to rest in the same truth that guided Mary’s heart. 

I am God’s servant-His bondslave-and He is in control. 

He may do with me as He pleases.

mary-and-jesus

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: At the Right Time

Change can happen fast.  

There is nothing that prepared me for that split-second when the words, “I’m sorry to tell you….” sank into my brain and my world went black.

In a single instant, life as I knew it was utterly and irrevocably destroyed.  

Some changes can be seen from far away.  

A mother waits nine months to birth her baby.  Time enough to set up a nursery, choose a name, pick out clothes.

And then some changes are longed for, hoped for, hinted at but seem that they may never actually come to pass.

The birth, life and ministry of Jesus was all these things.  

Prophesied for so long, Messiah’s coming was almost a sacred fairy tale passed down from one generation to another-a nice thought, a promised Savior-but no more likely to happen TODAY than hundreds of years ago.

And then, there was Mary.  Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and bearing within her body and heart the beautiful knowledge that He had finally COME!  It was years more before Christ began His public ministry and others were privy to what only a few knew in the beginning.

Finally, Jesus completed His earthly task-paying in full the price required for sinful and selfish men-died, was buried and rose again

He conquered death.  

He offers abundant, eternal life to all who believe.

For the Jews that lived centuries before, it seemed as though God had tarried. 

For those who lived at that moment, it seemed a sudden and unexpected thing.  

But for God, the timing was precisely right.

He had neither forgotten His promise, nor delayed in keeping it.  

When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters. Because you are now part of God’s family, He sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts; and the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father.” You no longer have to live as a slave because you are a child of God. And since you are His child, God guarantees an inheritance is waiting for you. “

Galatians 4: 4-7 VOICE

He sent Jesus when it was time.  

I often wonder about the timing of my son’s death.  From my perspective, it feels like his life was cut short.  It feels wrong.  

But I don’t know the end from the beginning like God does. 

I don’t have a panoramic view of all history so that I understand precisely where I fit in, where Dominic fits in and how our stories mesh with the story God is writing for everyone.

So I  lean in and trust that the Father Who sent His son at the right time, knows what He is doing.

And that when it is again the right time, He will redeem and restore this pain I’ve carried.  

Because what He has promised, He will do.  

blessed is the one who believed his promises to her

 

 

 

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Kingship Foretold

There are so many surprises in the Christmas story.

A young woman “has” to get married.  She and her husband are forced to make a long journey while she is large with child.  Bethlehem is so full of folks there’s not a single place to lay their heads so she and he and the Son of God sleep in a “barn”.

But the birth is only the beginning.

God continued to bring forth His plan to save the world in ways our human hearts could never imagine.

Rejoice, people of Jerusalem. Shout for joy, people of Jerusalem. Your king is coming to you. He does what is right, and he saves. He is gentle and riding on a donkey. He is on the colt of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Ruler over all the earth.  He reigns supreme and cannot be conquered.

Yet He is also a Humble Servant, who gives Himself to all who ask.

My life is certainly not what I thought it would be.  It’s upside-down and backwards from the plan I made for myself years ago.

It would be natural to turn away from God because what He has allowed is not what I want nor would choose.

But when I read the words of Zechariah, I am encouraged.

God turns the world’s wisdom on its head.  He is not bound by my expectations nor my understanding.

I can rejoice because I know He is working His will even when the story is hard and painful and full of sorrow.

Jesus saves.  Jesus redeems.  Jesus restores.

That’s a promise.

rejoice greatly zech 9

Trust After Loss: Access the Truth

 

“I wake before the morning light.  Every. single. morning.

I get my coffee, sit in my chair and wait for sunrise.

I never worry that today it might not happen.

I’m never concerned that after all these years of faithfulnessthis day may be the one where daylight fails to make an appearance.

There is no fear in this darkness because I know it will not last forever.

Morning is coming.

Morning. Is. Coming.

And that’s the hope I cling to in this longer darkness of the Valley of the Shadow of Death-no matter how many years it may bethe Valley has an end.

The same God Who keeps the earth in orbit around the sun has ordained that death will not have the last word.

Light will triumph.

Darkness will have to flee.”

From Morning Is Coming

sunrise trees

I have loved Scripture as long as I can remember.  When I was in second grade I got the notion to read the whole Bible straight through-in the King James Version.  I made it to Leviticus before I threw in the towel.

By the time my kids were grown I had read and studied Scripture for decades. 

But three years before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I realized my reading had become rote-I felt like I “knew” all the stories.  So I slowed my study to a crawl-only one chapter a day-and I usually copied the whole chapter plus my notes into a journal.  I had just finished this time through the Bible in January before Dom was killed in April.

And all that truth stored in my mind and heart was what I “read” for months when my eyes were too full of tears to see print on a page.

Many verses stung-some still do-but I was committed to bathe my broken heart in what I knew was true.  I would take it like medicine, even when it tasted awful.  I knew-in the end-it was my only hope for help.

It’s easy when doubt creeps in to let my heart hold onto it-even in the face of Truth that puts the doubt to rest.

But if all I do is question, question, question and never still my soul to receive God’s answers or His comfort, then I will simply run out of oxygen and faith.  I will lay prostrate with the enemy’s foot on my neck.

I will lose all hope and give up and give in.

I let my feelings, questions and doubts OUT, but I also choose to take the Word of God IN.

And when I can’t do anything else, I recite and cling to the names of God:

Jehovah-Roi-the God Who Sees Me.  This is the name Hagar gave God in the desert.  He didn’t change her circumstances but He assured her that she was seen, not overlooked and not abandoned.

Jehovah-Nissithe LORD my Banner.  God is the One I look to in the battle.  He will not always save me from the fight, but He has guaranteed the victory.

Jehovah-Shalom-The LORD my Peace.  Jesus is Sar Shalom-the Prince of Peace Who promises Himself to every heart that will turn in faith to Him.  This peace is inner certainty that He is Lord over all, even when the evidence I can see is telling me that’s not true.

THE NAME OF THE LORD IS A MIGHTY TOWER.  THE RIGHTEOUS RUN TO IT AND ARE SAVED.

I leaned hard on the Word stored in my heart. I was too broken (and some days still am too broken) to open my Bible.

God had prepared David for years as a shepherd to lean hard on Him.  David’s Psalms don’t end with “Where are You, God?” they progress to a recitation of the character of the LORD, to an enumeration of His past faithfulness, to a true understanding that sometimes there’s NO understanding what He is doing.

And David leaned in, hung on and recited truth to his heart even when his head couldn’t figure out how what he was experiencing squared with what he knew to be true.

The whole book of Job is full of questions but it is also contains Job’s declaration he was firmly convinced that “as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last.”  (Job 19:25)

hallelujah1

“You can’t hold your breath forever.

But when you first learn your child is dead you want to–oh, how you want to.

I don’t know if it was defiance or hope that made me certain that if I could just stop breathing, I could freeze time.

I could undo the truth.

I could stop the creeping terror that seized my heart.

But it was impossible.  My body insisted that my lungs release the poison of carbon dioxide and refresh my oxygen supply.

There is a spiritual counterpart to the physical desire to stop breathing. 

Most bereaved parents will tell you that at some point in their grief journey, whether they would describe themselves as “believers” or not, they have had to examine their notion of God.

They have to ask, “How am I to relate to this Person that controls the Universe–this Being that could have saved my child–but chose not to?”

I am a Christ follower.  I believe in Jesus and I trust His Word.

But I will honestly confess that burying my child has made me reexamine just what that means and just Who He is.

Before my son was killed, I gave mental assent to the idea that “God is in control” but wasn’t forced to reconcile His control with my heart’s desire to guarantee my family’s safety.

But His existence, and His character does not depend on my understanding.  And to be frank, a God I can comprehend wouldn’t be much of a God at all.

I could not will my body not to stop breathing.

And what I am learning in this grief journey is that I can’t hold my spiritual breath forever either.

The poison of doubt and the insistence that I be able to comprehend the fullness of God will suffocate my soul as surely as lack of oxygen will stop my heart.

So, “Hallelujah” is my exhale.

It is my letting go-my drawing in again the life-giving truth that God is God and I am not.

And acknowledging that while I cannot understand His ways, I can choose to trust His Father love.” 

From Hallelujah is an Exhale

There is no easy answer for why children die-no sweet saying that can wash away the pain and the sorrow and the regret of burying your son.

But I know this:  If my healing depends on me, I am lost.

If the God of heaven is not the god of all, then I have no hope.

If Jesus didn’t really come, and die and rise again,  I have nothing to look forward to. 

Ann Lamott recounts this tale in her book, Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith:

There is a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who alwasy told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts.  One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?”  The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside.  But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words fall inside.”

My heart is already broken-burying my son did that. 

Now I’m waiting

and trusting

that the holy words will fall inside.  

band-aid-and-heart

 

Repost: He Knows My Name

Grief can be isolating.  

It separates me as one who knows loss by experience from those who have only looked on from the outside.  

It opens a chasm between me and people who aren’t aware that life can be changed in a single instant.

And I can feel like no one sees me, no one cares about me and no one notices my pain.

Sometimes it even feels like God has forgotten me-that He isn’t listening, that He doesn’t care.

Read the rest here:  He Knows My Name

Where’s That Peace Jesus Promised?

Horatio Spafford wrote the hymn, It Is Well,  after a series of personal tragedies.

It has become both an anthem of hope (for those who can identify with the peace it celebrates) and an impossible standard (for those who cannot find the same peace).

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

I have felt both hopeful and guilty singing this old favorite.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I had faced a number of trials in life.  But none disturbed me so greatly that I didn’t still have an underlying sense of peace.  I was convinced that beneath waves of uncertainty or difficulty, the water was calm.

That changed the morning of April 12, 2014-my son’s death wasn’t a wave, it was a tsunami.  

Not a single part of my spirit, soul, mind or body was left undisturbed.

Peace was a distant memory.  

It took me a long time to understand that maybe I needed to redefine peace in a different way: the peace of God which passes all understanding is not necessarily a feeling or sense that “all is well”.

Instead it is a settled assurance that God is in control, even when all is definitely NOT well.

The peace that Jesus offers is a confident leaning on the truth of Scripture when my heart doesn’t want to or can’t hear it.

It’s holding my hands up and saying “help me” because deep in my spirit, I know He is there and that He will gather me in his arms like a lamb.

More than three years later, I still often don’t FEEL peaceful but I AM peace-filled. 

The Fight For Joy is Not for the Unarmed

 

the fight for joy is not for the unarmed

This is very true.

I found that when I received the news of my son’s accident-it was Scripture I had hidden in my heart that helped me stand.

My Bible was available, but I could not open it. My heart was too broken to read.

But the Spirit brought to mind exactly what I needed from the storehouse of Scripture hidden in my heart.

I am still fighting for joy.  

I still have days when my Bible lies unopened beside me.  

And it is still those verses engraved on my heart that help me battle on.  

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