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: My Good Shepherd

I have been a shepherd for twenty years.

The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.

Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.

But I never give up on them.

A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.

I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.

David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.

It prepared him to fight Goliath.

It molded his heart to lead God’s people.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE

I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.

But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.

If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.

I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.

They know my voice.

They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.

If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!

Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.

Go back, read them again.

Know that the Lord God loves you.

He LOVES you.

He loves YOU.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
  • How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
  • How has God provided necessities for you?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
  • What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.

PRAYER:

Lord,

You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.

This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.

Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.

Lead on, O Precious Shepherd. Lead on!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: God Sees You. You Are Not Alone.

We’ve all done it-pretended to be looking somewhere else when we pass a needy soul.

Who has time to get involved?

They might be an addict or have a contagious disease or mental illness. They might be too lazy to work, too unpredictable to trust, too likely to be here next week and need something again. It might cost more than the five dollars we’re willing to hand out.

So we walk on by and hope they don’t force the issue by standing in our way.

But God never ignores a hurting heart.

He never redirects His gaze so it doesn’t fall on the one begging for mercy.


He does not ·ignore [despise or disdain] ·those in trouble [L the suffering of the afflicted]. He doesn’t hide his face from them but listens when they ·call out to him [cry to him for help].

Psalm 22:24 EXB

How amazing that the God of the universe, the One who hung the stars in the sky and told the sea, “This far and no farther!” hears me when I cry out to Him for help!

And not only does He hear me, He longs to comfort me with His love.

He does not despise my weakness or look down His nose because I’m unable to solve my own problems or help myself.

Even when others ignore me or try to make my pain small, God is listening. He never sleeps. He’s never too busy. He’s never hoping I go away and stop bothering Him.

He knows my name.

I’m not a faceless, nameless one of thousands or millions chattering away like background noise in a crowd.

He hears MY voice.

God-my God-has a personal, specific relationship with me, His child.

He leans in, bends down and listens attentively to whatever I tell Him. Like any human father, His heart is pierced when mine is broken.

I am so, so thankful that the God I serve loves me.

He specifically, purposefully loves me with unconditional love.

Even when I’m weak.

Even when I’m running away.

Even when I question the things He allows in my life.

He will never look away or stop reaching for me.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that God hears you?
  • Do you always FEEL heard? Why or why not?
  • When have you felt God’s personal care and encouragement?
  • How might you help your heart hold onto the truth in this verse when it seems God isn’t listening or at least isn’t giving you the relief you seek?
  • Can you find two or three other verses that emphasize God’s attentiveness to His children?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Sometimes I am willing to give mental assent to the fact that You hear me. And yet my heart argues that my head must be mistaken because the answers I beg for are long in coming.

The silence is deafening.

But I know our ways are not My ways and Your time is not my time. Give me confident assurance that You hear me whenever I cry out to You. Thank you that in Christ I can call You “Daddy” and always rest in the truth You are for me and not against me.

Fill my heart full of Your love. Overwhelm me with Your grace-grace to ask and grace to endure no matter what the answer may be. Amen

Distant Music

I don’t know about you, but sometimes cute little memes intended to help me “look on the bright side” fly all over me.

Sure, if life gives you lemons (bad hair day, late to work, long line at the grocery store) make lemonade.

But sometimes it’s not lemons life gives you, it’s an avalanche of pain, heartache and world-shattering awful.

You can’t make lemonade from THAT.

So often life is absolutely NOT the party I had hoped for. And all the catchy psychobabble parading across my social media newsfeed doesn’t make it any easier to take.

This sweet little picture did though.

There are days when I just can’t. And that’s OK.

But when I stop to listen, even on the hardest days, there’s still sweet music in the distance. ❤️

Scripture Journal Challenge: Suffering and Safe Places

I have to admit that when I read the book of Job NOW, it’s no longer an intellectual exercise or detached theological foray into suffering and the sovereignty of God.

I was always appalled at what Job and his wife (remember her!) suffered. I was always a bit confused by God’s question to Satan, “Have you considered My servant, Job?” I was both comforted and confounded that God set boundaries but set them at the bare minimum to spare Job’s life.

Just being honest here.

Pastors and teachers love to talk about the sweeping arc of the story. They love to pull out lessons about how to comfort others in suffering, how to endure suffering ourselves and how, in the end, God restored to Job the things that had been robbed from him.

But my heart walks slowly through those pages. My soul weeps with every new blow struck against a man who, by God’s own account, was a righteous servant of the Most High.

I wonder if David knew the story of Job. It’s believed to have been one of the oldest books in the Old Testament.

If he did, I wonder if he took comfort in the knowledge that God eventually restored Job to a place of blessing, honor and safety.

David certainly knew what it was like to ride high on the wave of God’s favor and then to be dashed to bits on the rocks of adversity. He slew Goliath and then he was anointed king. He was Saul’s musician, ultimately his son-in-law and then his enemy. He knew that God declared his glorious future but he lived for years hiding in caves, eating what he could find and serving random wealthy patrons in hopes of a little peace between Saul’s attempts on his life.

So when he survived yet again, he wrote this Psalm as praise and prophecy.

He rode upon a heavenly creature,[a] flying;
    He was carried quickly on the wings of the wind.
11 He took darkness as His hiding place—
    both the dark waters of the seas and the dark clouds of the sky.
12 Out from His brilliance
    hailstones and burning coals
    broke through the clouds.
13 The Eternal thundered in the heavens;
    the Highest spoke; His voice rumbled [in the midst of hail and lightning].[b]
14 He shot forth His arrows and scattered the wicked;
    He flung forth His lightning and struck them.
15 Then the deepest channels of the seas were visible,
    and the very foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Eternal One,
    at the blast of wind from Your nostrils.
16 He reached down His hand from above me; He held me.
    He lifted me from the raging waters.
17 He rescued me from my strongest enemy,
    from all those who sought my death,
    for they were too strong.
18 They came for me in the day of my destruction,
    but the Eternal was the support of my life.
19 He set me down in a safe place;
    He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me.

Psalm 18: 10-19 VOICE

Again, David paints a vivid picture of God as Mighty Warrior.

But not just any warrior, raging through battle, unaware of who may be on His left or right. God is the One who protects His anointed. He is the One who reaches down and rescues.

God set David in a safe place. When He declared, “Enough!” no enemy could come further.

David had the sure promises of God to lean on. He knew that God is in control even when things feel out of control.

In the same way, the Lord established a hedge of protection around Job. He set the limits for Satan. He had him on a chain.

Of course there’s no indication from Scripture that Job knew his suffering had any limits. And while he didn’t sin by accusing God of wrongdoing, he certainly voiced his pain, indignation and desire to end his suffering through death.

I feel like I’m living in a space between the personal, rock-solid promises God gave David through Samuel and others and the blind faith of Job where God’s hand and purpose were concealed.

I know that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I know that the end has been written and everything that has been stolen, broken or touched by death will be redeemed, restored and resurrected.

But some days I wonder how long I’ll have to wait until I see those promises fulfilled. I wonder how much more I might have to endure, give up or lay down before I reach my heavenly Home.

That’s when I call my heart back to this picture of God as a Warrior who will always rescue me-both here and in the hereafter.

God has put my foot on a solid Rock.

When sorrow threatens to drag me deeper than my heart can bear, He reaches down and pulls me up.

When fear finds me in the dark and whispers lies in my ear, He makes His Presence real and speaks comfort to my soul.

Like Job and David and millions before me, I can trust the One who promises.

I can rest in His unfailing love and absolute sovereignty.

He never lets go.

QUESTIONS:

  • If you are like me, sometimes we read Scripture like a story book-we already know the ending and often ignore the very real human drama people were living through. Does it help your heart hold onto hope to know that even after God rescued David from the hand of Saul, he (David) was still not in full possession of the promise that he’d be king? Why or why not?
  • Child loss is absolutely the most devastating blow I’ve suffered in my life and it was a long, long time before I was able to look up in my brokenness and look for blessings. When I did, I found that while there was no cosmic scale that could balance my loss with whatever I might still have or gain, my heart was strengthened when I noticed blessings again. Are you able to look for blessings yet? If so, does it encourage you? If not, would you be willing to try to find one little smile-inducing good thing a day for a week?
  • I love, love, love David’s words: “He reached down His hand from above me; He held me. He lifted me from the raging waters.” Our God is a personal God who does not despise us because we are weak and unable to save ourselves. He delights in reaching down and lifting us up. How do those words make you feel? When have you felt God reach down and lift you up?
  • We end our study of this Psalm with verse 19: “He set me down in a safe place; He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me. ” We are ultimately set safely in the redemption of Christ (if we have received that gift by faith). But I also believe we can live our lives in a safe space even in the midst of suffering when we choose to focus on Who God is and refuse to let circumstances blind us to His love, His goodness, His promises and His strength. What concrete steps can you take to help your heart focus on truth when your feelings threaten to drag you into falsehood?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are the lover of my soul, my Mighty Warrior, my Savior and my Good Shepherd. Help me hold onto those truths when life threatens to undo me.

Give me the courage to face pain and suffering in the sure knowledge that You see me, You are with me and You will rescue me. I may not get a miracle or even a medical cure, but I will have the final victory in Christ.

When death and the awful darkness of grief roll over me like a flood, push it back with Your light, love and life.

Let me hear You singing joy over my soul.

Amen

***I combined today and tomorrow’s writing assignments***

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Righteous, Raging King!

They say there’s nothing more terrifying than a mama bear protecting her cubs.

If you’ve ever witnessed one come charging across a clearing, changed from a lumbering giant to a fierce killing machine you believe it.

What seems safe at a distance is oh, so terrifying up close and personal.

I think many folks picture God as the great Granddaddy in the sky, looking down benevolently at the earth and showering blessings on its inhabitants.

God IS love. Scripture says so.

But God is also a fierce Father who will protect His children.

That’s the image David brings to mind as we continue Psalm 18:

In my time of need, I called to the Eternal;
    I begged my True God for help.
He heard my voice echo up to His temple,
    and my cry came to His ears.
Because of His great anger, the earth shook and staggered;
    the roots of the mountains shifted.
Smoke poured out from His nose,
    and devouring fire burst from His mouth.
    Coals glowed from Him.
He bent the heavens and descended;
    inky darkness was beneath His feet.

Psalm 18: 6-9 VOICE

I’m so thankful that God in all His glory, majesty, strength and might is both my Savior and my Shepherd. He’s ready to defend me against the enemy of my soul and He’s made perfect provision for my eternal future. He’s also my constant Companion and guide as I journey toward Heaven.

I appreciate the passages in Scripture that talk about God as loving Father, as Comforter, as gentle, meek and kind. Those help my heart when I feel emotionally vulnerable.

But when I’m under attack, I want a Warrior to come rescue me!

When I cry out, I’m looking for a righteous, raging King to ride in and vanquish my enemy.

This is no battle of equals. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. The end of the story is already written.

I don’t fear my Father.

I know that in Christ His wrath is perfectly satisfied. I’m a child of the King, safe and secure in my position and my inheritance. He will defend me to the end.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

That’s a promise.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve cried out for deliverance do you feel the Lord has always answered? Why or why not?
  • If He answered, was His deliverance what you were expecting?
  • I’ve written before that some of us (myself included) might need to admit God has disappointed us.* If you feel like He hasn’t done what you expected/needed Him to do, are you prepared to voice that? Are you ready to breathe out the pain, the doubts, the disappointment-even anger-and make room for Him to minister grace and healing to your broken heart?
  • David’s imagery is definitely at odds with most popular depictions of God the Father as a Santa Clause type figure. Do any of the words he uses challenge your own idea of who God is? Are they comforting, frightening or something else?
  • What is your takeaway from the verses we’ve looked at so far in this Psalm? How can you make it personal?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Too often I want to stuff You in a box where I can pretend to understand You. Or I lean too heavily on verses that describe Your love and compassion and gloss over the ones that emphasize Your holiness and righteous anger. Truth is, when things are going along alright, I don’t really enjoy being challenged much.

But the “god” I design or understand is not You at all. You are more than I could ever comprehend. Your ways are not my ways. And when I’m forced to come face to face with that truth, it’s a little frightening.

Give me the courage to read and heed ALL the verses. Guide my heart to embrace the full revelation (so far as we have it) of who You are. Grant the grace to to receive Your love and Your correction.

Thank You that you are both Savior and Shepherd. Thank You for fighting for me and singing over me.

Amen

*Here are links to a couple previous posts about trust after loss and “forgiving” God:

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

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