Scripture Journal Challenge: When Peace Is Only A Whisper

My heart is so broken over the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Dayton, El Paso and Chicago.

Senseless violence spurred by hate.

I’m equally broken over Syria, the opioid epidemic and human trafficking.

It seems the world is spiraling downward into chaotic violence and unbridled hatred.

Peace feels like a distant hope, a faint whisper, a ridiculous aspiration of those who aren’t willing to see things as they are.

Our generation is not the first to feel this way.

The disciples were definitely not feeling peaceful as Jesus revealed that He was going away. They were afraid and confused. They could not imagine how the life they had come to know with the Rabbi they had come to love could continue without Him.

Jesus didn’t dismiss their fears. Instead He spoke words of comfort:

“I have told you these things while I am still with you. 26 But the [a]Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.27 Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.] ~ Jesus, to His disciples

John 14: 25-27 AMP

There’s all kinds of good news in this passage!

Jesus promised that although He wouldn’t be with them, He wasn’t leaving them alone.

The Holy Spirit was coming to comfort, counsel, strengthen and help them.

I love this rendering of these verses precisely because it teases out the various roles of the third Person of the Godhead. (If you want to be encouraged, look up all these words used to describe Him.)

Jesus assured them (and us) that they didn’t have understand everything right now. The Spirit was going to be there to remind them.

And then He promises peace.

But not just any peace-the perfect peace of God that passes all understanding.

The peace that transcends circumstances because it is based on the settled assurance that God is in control, that every promise He made is sure and that I am neither forgotten nor forsaken.

Fear reigns in the hearts of many-even those who believe in Jesus.

And if I trust in the government, or the police, or myself to keep me safe, I have every reason to be fearful.

But when I rest completely in Jehovah-Shalom, the LORD Who is Himself my Peace, I can be assured that I am safe.

Not safe from all harm, but safe in His love and care.

QUESTIONS:

  • What do you think about the Holy Spirit? Have you ever considered the many ways He ministers to believers? Why or why not?
  • Just a little while after Jesus spoke the words we’re considering today, He said ,”Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. ” (John 16:7) Does this shock you? Why or why not?
  • Sometimes people complain that it’s hard to understand Scripture. I usually reply with two suggestions: (1) get an easy to understand translation (not paraphrase) and; (2) ask the Holy Spirit to guide your heart and mind into truth. How do you approach Scripture study? Will today’s exploration change your approach?
  • Write your own definition of peace. Do you think peace is possible in the world or only possible in Heaven?
  • When have you felt a supernatural peace calm your soul?
  • How can we share the peace of Christ with others?

PRAYER:

Lord, You are Three in One. Too often I think about and am grateful for the Father and Son but neglect the Holy Spirit. And yet He is the One Who helps me in my weakness, Who prays for me when groans are all I can muster and Who leads me into all truth.

Thank You for not leaving me alone. Thank You for sending the Comforter.

Help me listen better to what He has to say to me. Help me lean into the truth He leads me into. Let that truth guide my heart to Your peace.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Groom Is Coming To Get Me!

There was a lovely tradition practiced in Jewish communities when Jesus walked the earth.

After a betrothal and before the final vows, a groom returned to his family home and built an addition to his father’s house in preparation for his bride.

The bride made herself ready and then waited because she didn’t know when her groom would return. What began as hopeful anticipation might sometimes have turned to fear if the groom tarried too long in coming.

But no matter how long it might be, she was expected to maintain that state of hopeful expectation. (The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Matthew 25: 1-13)

What a celebration when he finally showed up, whisked her off and the marriage feast began!

This was the image Jesus evoked when He spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper.

They had questions.

(I can identify.)

They were scared.

(Me too.)

They wondered where He was going and what they were supposed to do when He left.

(Yes, we have the Bible but there are lots of day-to-day situations that aren’t covered.)

He didn’t leave them (or me!) without hope for their anxious hearts. And he used familiar images to help them hold onto what He was telling them.

“You must not let yourselves be distressed—you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going and you know the road I am going to take.” ~ Jesus to His disciples

John 14: 1-4 PHILLIPS

When a groom left his bride, he wasn’t disappearing for good.

He was going away for a little while to make permanent arrangements for their forever home.

Jesus is the great Bridegroom and the church His Bride. Those of us who love Him, follow Him and wait for Him will not be disappointed!

Song: We Will Dance on Streets That Are Golden

I may cast off this earthly tent through death or in an instant at His return.

Either way, He’s got a place all ready for me.

QUESTIONS:

  • Why is waiting so hard?
  • Does the cultural background to this passage help you understand it? Why or why not?
  • Is it difficult for you to wrap your mind around the idea that maybe instead of (as suggested in popular culture and some churches) our own private mansion, we might well live in community with others in smaller rooms or additions? How might that alter our behavior here and now toward other believers?
  • Are you as excited for the Heavenly Wedding and Marriage Supper of the Lamb as you were for your own wedding? Why or why not?
  • If you listened to the song above, how does it make you feel?

PRAYER:

Father God, I’m just going to admit it-waiting is hard! Especially when I don’t know how long I might have to keep waiting. Help me hold onto hope as I look expectantly toward the future You have for me-not only my beautiful Eternal Home but also the earthly future and good works You have prepared in advance for me to do as long as I may live.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving me so well.

You don’t despise our weakness or our questions. Thank You for leaving us with vibrant images that help us imagine (even a little) of what awaits everyone who loves You in the glorious hereafter when every wrong is made right, everything stolen restored and everything lost, redeemed.

I know, know, know in my bones that You do not lie. You cannot fail. I will not be put to shame because I wait on You.

My Groom is coming to get me!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: When My Heart Needs a Reminder

This time last year I was on the front end of a very lonely, very frightening three and a half weeks.

Each morning began with a sixty minute drive in Los Angeles rush hour traffic toward the downtown courthouse. My husband and I parked and then walked through metal detectors and past guards down a long, long hall to the courtroom.

Every day was one more eight hour shift listening to lawyers, witnesses and a judge as the events of several years were laid out first by one side and then the other. Questions aimed to elicit unflattering responses hit my husband hard.

The opposing counsel even printed out a couple of my blog posts trying to frame both my husband and his family as intolerant fundamentalist evangelicals who certainly didn’t understand how things were done in the progressive West.

Our fate was in the hands of total strangers and the whole time I couldn’t utter a single word.

I was not allowed to nod my head, smile or frown or even cry when I watched my husband recount our son’s death and the toll it took on him as he returned to the workplace and tried to do routine tasks while being challenged repeatedly by a surly , vindictive and manipulative employee.

Trust me, no television courtroom drama can prepare a heart for the kind of stress, uncertainty, mental anguish and overwhelming fear that a real encounter with the justice system evokes.

Sitting alone (my husband was sitting with his attorneys) I could only spend time writing out scripture, taking notes and trying to guess how all this was impacting the twelve jurors sitting mere feet away. Only nine were required by California law to agree in order to reach a verdict which just added to the uncertainty.

I felt oh, so weary, scared and forgotten.

One of the scripture passages I wrote over and over was today’s verses.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,

    you, Israel, chosen of God—

Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;

    God has lost all interest in My cause”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,

The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.

    His wisdom is beyond understanding.

29 God strengthens the weary

    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.

30 Young people will get tired;

    strapping young men will stumble and fall.

31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.

    They will soar on wings as eagles.

They will run—never winded, never weary.

    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40: 27-31 VOICE

The nation of Israel was feeling lonely and all alone.

Had God forgotten? Had He abandoned them? Didn’t He care they were at their wit’s end and the limit of endurance?

So Jehovah sends Israel an encouraging Word through Isaiah.

He begins with questions: “Why are you questioning Jehovah’s interest in your cause? Do you think after all we’ve been through He’s forgotten you now? Can anything be hidden from His sight?”

As I sat day after day after day, I had to remind my heart that no matter how it FELT, God was very near. We were not abandoned. Whatever went on in that room with no windows was not hidden from our Shepherd King.

The very next set of questions Isaiah poses is one of my all time favorite verses: “Hey Israel! Do you really not know that God is eternal, everlasting, all-knowing and all-powerful? Haven’t you heard He made the earth and everything in it? Do you imagine He ever gets tired, worn out, too stretched to intervene in the affairs of men? “

This trial wasn’t the first time in my life I needed to be reminded that nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight. It wasn’t the first time I needed reassurance that God is never too tired or too distracted or somehow limited by my understanding of who He is to reach down and give me a boost.

In the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I’ve had days, weeks and even months when, in my despair and grief, I forgot the truth.

The whole passage comes to a dramatic conclusion that leaves Israel (and me!) with no room for doubt.

Hey-God breathed into Adam and made a living man from dust. Sure, you may be tired and worn out from circumstances or age, but He can breathe life and vigor back into you too. Young folks seem nearly invincible but even they have limits. You just wait (expectantly, in faith, certain that He will show up and keep His promises) on Him. The kind of energy Jehovah will give you won’t run out. You’ll be like an eagle soaring effortlessly on wind currents higher and higher and higher.”

I’m here to tell you that God keeps His promises. His Word is sure.

I look back on those three weeks and stand amazed that I didn’t fall over from exhaustion and stress about five or six days in because except for surviving my son’s death, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was absolutely, positively God’s strength and not my own.

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of my readers are bereaved parents and probably share my testimony of days, weeks, months of utter exhaustion under the load of grief that child loss dumps on a heart. Can you identify a specific moment when you felt God’s strength poured into your spirit? Can you think of an event, holiday or date you just knew you couldn’t face but somehow managed to survive?
  • How can meditating on these verses help your heart hold onto hope?
  • What new insight does including verses 27-28 to this familiar passage give you?
  • Consider looking these verses up in at least three different translations/paraphrases and compare them. Does that help you understand them better? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God, I want to always remember that You are so much more than I can ever imagine or comprehend. Too often I try to circumscribe You by my limited understanding of how you work in the world. But You are too big for any box I try to stuff You into.

When I forget, remind me. When I doubt, strengthen my faith. When I feel alone, make Your Presence undeniably real to me. When I am weary, breathe new life into my spirit.

Thank You for patiently, graciously, mercifully dealing with me. Thank You for your everlasting, faithful love. You are a good, good Father.

Amen

*If you want more details about what happened last year, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/24/heres-the-post-ive-wanted-to-write-but-couldnt/

August Scripture Journal Challenge: Verses on Grief

I don’t know about you but it’s been much harder for me to study Scripture since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Not because I don’t want to dive deep like I used to but because I don’t have the same ability to sit still and read like I did before.

So I’ve looked for easy ways to make Scripture study part of my morning routine.

One way I’ve done that is by using a themed “Monthly Scripture Writing” calendar.

There are several around and regardless of which month may be slapped across the top of the list, they can be used according to whatever topic is most helpful or appropriate for you at the time.

In an effort to encourage myself and anyone who wants to join in, I’m going to be writing blog posts using a calendar of verses on Grief.

Here’s the link: http://www.swtblessings.com/2017/03/april-scripture-writing-plan-grief.html (You can download and print your own copy.)

It will work like this:

Purchase or find a notebook you can designate as your Scripture journal. It can be a spiral notebook (easy to find and on sale now before school starts), a composition book (plain or fancy), a traditional journal (usually in a smaller format) or simply loose-leaf paper that you can pop in a three ring binder. It really doesn’t matter. Use what is easiest for you to keep track of and write in.

I personally prefer the cheap 70 sheet spiral notebooks because they lay flat when opened and make writing and drawing easier. It also means that if I want to or need to, I can use up to four pages per day and it will all still fit in one notebook. The covers are easy to decorate (if I want to) and pages are durable. I choose wide-ruled which leaves room for doodling around words for emphasis.

Round up some colored pens, pencils, crayons and/or markers. We will use these to highlight/emphasize words and to illustrate verses.

Purchase or locate a few regular pens that you prefer for writing. For just a couple dollars you can get roller ball or gel pens that really do make a huge difference when copying the longer verses. It’s no fun to write with a cranky instrument!

A Bible in the version you prefer. I have more than one in various versions but also use an online resource like Biblegateway.com or Biblehub.com which makes most English versions available at my fingertips. I really like that option because even though I will only copy out the verse in a single version, reading it in several versions sheds more light on the meaning than when I only read it in one. I’ve also found that familiar verses can become stale if I only read/copy them in the version I know best.

That’s really all you absolutely need for this challenge.

But if you are interested in making your journal more fun and expanding your knowledge a little more, here are a few other things I’d add to my Bible journal basket:

Sticky notes in several different colors. I love, love, love these! I will often copy out the verse in one Bible translation and then jot down significantly different language from another onto a sticky note and add it to the page. I also sometimes use these notes for my own insights or personal illustrations/examples. On occasion, when pressed for time, I’ll write out a question I want to look up later and pop it into the journal as a reminder.

A dictionary. I love to look up words. While it may well be that I technically understand the meaning of a word, when I look it up in the dictionary I’m always reminded of subtle distinctions I’d miss otherwise. Plus there is usually a list of antonyms and synonyms that refine my understanding.

Stickers. I confess I’ve never quite gotten over having these colorful, playful and pretty little additions in my stash to brighten pages here and there. Absolutely NOT necessary but awfully fun.

Topical concordance. If you’ve never learned to use one, now’s a great time to do so. Obviously our main topic will be grief for this month. But often as I’m reading a verse, I want to explore other topics mentioned and use the concordance for that. It’s true you can Google the topic but what you usually get in those results is someone else’s idea of which verses are most pertinent. A good concordance lists all the verses that contain that word in order for the whole Bible.

Magazines that I am comfortable ripping apart for illustrations. I comb through magazines and rip out pages that have interesting graphics or word bubbles or landscapes and keep them in a folder for when I want to add just a little something to a page.

This list could be endless. I hope that some folks will comment below and share what they enjoy adding to a journal.

I place all these in a basket I keep by my rocking chair so I never have to go searching for one or more of the things I need to complete each day’s assignment.

That’s really all there is to it.

Each day you will write that day’s verse(s) on one page. You can add in-text notes or save your observations and notes for after the Scripture. Use a second page to record thoughts and observations, cross-referenced scriptures, an illustration or two, quotes, pictures or prayers.

At the end of the month you will have your very own personalized topical Bible reference notebook and prayer journal.

I’ll be posting something about each day’s selection here and on Facebook in both our closed bereaved parents’ group and on the public Heartache and Hope page if you’re looking for companionship and encouragement.

I hope you’ll join me and add your own voice to the discussion.

Give Sorrow Words

The morning Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, after I made the awful phone calls I reached for my journal.  

I knew if I didn’t start spilling the grief onto paper my heart would explode with sorrow.  

Since I learned to hold a pencil I’ve been writing. 

It’s how I sort my thoughts, figure out my feelings and express my heart. 

i-write-because-i-dont-know

A few months after and I found several online support groups. 

There I learned a whole other  Language of Grief and Loss.  The more I read what others shared, the better I understood my own experience and understood how to communicate that truth to others.

You might not keep a journal or write poetry or craft lengthy essays about your pain and that’s just fine.  There’s no magic in written words.

Find a safe space or person and speak it aloud.  

Sorrow unspoken swells. 

It can’t be contained.  

It will absolutely consume you.  

Give-sorrow-words shakespeare

 

Grief Journaling Prompts

Journaling has been and continues to be a very important part of my grief journey.

Putting thoughts on paper gets them out of my head.

Writing them down helps me understand them.

i-write-because-i-dont-know

Reading them back is an excellent reflective exercise. It’s a way to track progress, recognize repeating patterns and see where I need to do more grief work.

Sometimes I use Scripture, quotes or other prompts to get me started.  Often I may look up words in the dictionary and jot down the definition or synonyms or examples.  I may draw my way around a concept or cut out pictures from magazines or the newspaper to add to my creation.  There have been days I’ve spent hours and several sheets of paper moving my feelings from my heart to the page.

So if you want to try your hand at journaling, here is a list I find useful.  

Don’t set any parameters or have any expectations.  

Just write, color, draw or whatever flows naturally.

And if the tears fall, let them.

grief journaling exercise

Doubt Is Not Denial: Journaling My Way Home

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.

When my son ran ahead to Heaven, I reexamined everything I believed.

But I did not “lose” my faith.

I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.

But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.

One of the ways I did that was to journal my questions, complaints, anger and disappointment.  I wrote it out.

Many of the Psalms are precisely that-David and others crying out to God, begging Him for understanding and for a sliver of hope.  As the Psalmist breathed out his doubts and fears, the Spirit of God breathed fresh life into his soul.

i wait for the lord

My journals are filled with strong words and strong feelings.  They are also filled with, what I believe, God spoke to my heart in response.  Sometimes it was in the form of a Bible verse, sometimes a memory, sometimes song lyrics or a prayer.  And sometimes the pages are simply a record of how my Shepherd gently led me through a particular hard moment or day or week.

So if you are struggling with doubt-let yourself off the hook. 

You can’t deny it. 

And you don’t have to. 

You’re in good company.

Grab a notebook and pen and start writing.  Just begin.  Don’t edit yourself in fear someone may read it one day.  God knows anyway.

When you’re done spilling, sit quietly in the Presence of your Shepherd.  Listen to what He may be speaking to your broken heart.

I have done this for decades through many hard things- child loss being the hardest.

The Lord is faithful to meet me right where I am and fill me with His Spirit.

He’s never leaves me without hope when I turn my heart toward Him.

but the lord stood with me and gave me strength