Scripture Journal Challenge: The God Who Comes Near

If someone asked me to describe Jesus I would say He’s the God who does not turn away.

He’s the God who comes near.

He’s the God who will always, always, always show up and bend down.

That’s what I hold onto in this life I didn’t choose-that my Shepherd Savior sees me, hears me, loves me and will help me.

For the Eternal watches over the righteous,
    and His ears are attuned to their prayers. He is always listening.
16 But He will punish evildoers,
    and nothing they do will last. They will soon be forgotten.
17 When the upright need help and cry to the Eternal, He hears their cries
    and rescues them from all of their troubles.
18 When someone is hurting or brokenhearted, the Eternal moves in close
    and revives him in his pain.

Psalm 34: 15-18 VOICE

Not long after Dominic’s death there was a horrible mass shooting and the perpetrator was in his fifties. I have to admit I literally yelled at God, REALLY???? This guy lives to his fifties only to kill a bunch of innocent people and You didn’t save Dominic from his accident?!!!”

I was angry and frustrated and sad and broken.

If I’m honest I’ve had a few more moments like that since then.

But I’m brought up short when I read these verses and others like them. The wicked do not have God’s ear. They will not know eternal life with Him in Heaven. They may even be worldly successes but nothing they do will last forever. Riches don’t secure immortality.

Only a penitent heart leaning fully on the grace and mercy of God is eternally safe.

Because I am His child. when I’m hurting, God does not run away or turn a blind eye or a deaf ear-He meets me there.

Jesus is the lover of my soul.

He is the Healer of my heart.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you feel heard by God? By others? Why or why not?
  • How do you deal with the fact that sometimes evil seems to win and evil people prosper?
  • How would you describe Jesus? Has grief changed how you describe Him?
  • Is your description consistent with what Scripture tells us about Him?
  • Theology matters-especially when grieving. What I believe about God and Christ either undermine or strengthen my faith. Write down ten things you believe to be true about God and/or Jesus.

PRAYER:

Father God,

I admit that it’s infuriating and feels unfair that sometimes those who don’t love You still prosper. They seem to have a life free from trouble and heartache. And here I am-hurting, deeply harmed and holding on by a thread.

But You are not unjust. You are not ignoring me. You will work all things together for good for those who love you. Help me trust those truths.

You are the God who came near in the stable and on the cross. You are the God who dwells inside those who receive the gift of salvation through Christ. You are not far away.

Hear my cry. Touch my heart.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Tears Won’t Last Forever

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I didn’t cry much.

Since April 12, 2014 I’ve cried a river-tears for breakfast, lunch, dinner and into my pillow at night when I tried to fall asleep.

When sorrow overtakes a heart, it’s hard to think about anything else.

There was a very real danger that sadness would drag me down in a pit so deep I would never be able to crawl back out.

And then the enemy of my soul would win.

But God.

The most beautiful words I know.

God reached down and raised me up from the depths of despair. He dragged me out of the pit of sorrow. His light shone so bright that even the darkness of death could not hide it.

Like the Psalmist, I can praise the Lord for saving me from my enemy.

I praise you, Lord, because you have saved me
    and kept my enemies from gloating over me.
I cried to you for help, O Lord my God,
    and you healed me;
    you kept me from the grave.
I was on my way to the depths below,[b]
    but you restored my life.
Sing praise to the Lord,
    all his faithful people!
Remember what the Holy One has done,
    and give him thanks!
His anger lasts only a moment,
    his goodness for a lifetime.
Tears may flow in the night,
    but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30: 1-5 GNT

It’s thought that David wrote this psalm on the dedication of his house. He had been pursued, fought battles and only now taken the throne promised to him years before. He had literally been saved from death on many occasions. His enemies had plotted and planned and never been successful.

If God is for us, who can stand against us?

I think David was also thankful that God had rescued him from the pit of despair. I can’t read the psalms without a sense of David’s internal battle against what may have been depression but was most certainly deep, deep sorrow and disappointment that life didn’t go as planned.

When David thanked God for reaching down, lifting him up and setting his feet on solid ground he was as thankful for the emotional rescue as for the physical one. He had learned that things might be bad for awhile but they would not be bad forever.

Despite how long the darkness lasts or how awful the blow, it’s only a tiny blip compared to eternity.

It feels interminable. It seems insurmountable. But it isn’t. God’s goodness overcomes any scheme of the enemy and I need to remind my heart of that truth.

One of the reasons I watch the sun rise every morning is because it affirms this truth: night does not last forever. No matter how dark, no matter how cold, no matter how frightful, no matter how sad-night is constrained by the sunrise.

My earthly suffering is constrained by God’s goodness.

Tears are still my food more often than I could have ever imagined they would be.

Dominic is not going to be miraculously raised from his grave (although God could do it if He chose).

But my tears won’t last forever.

Morning is coming.

Sure as sunrise.

QUESTIONS:

  • I suspect I’m not alone in the changes child loss has wrought. For someone who didn’t cry much before, suddenly crying often was uncomfortable at first. Now I understand tears are often the only response I have left some days. Do tears bring relief or do they distress you further?
  • Does it help you hold onto hope to know that God will not allow our enemy, the devil, to win? Why or why not?
  • Some of the words used in Psalms hurt my heart. I may have been spared from the grave but Dominic wasn’t. How do you reconcile physical safety of some people with the fact that our child(ren) wasn’t/weren’t spared? It’s a question I had to face head on before I could allow God to begin a healing work in my heart.
  • Are you ever tempted to think your child’s death is punishment or that God is angry with you? It’s not and He’s not, by the way. (read this post for more: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/15/is-god-punishing-me/)
  • God is not confined by time like we are so often the authors of Scripture are speaking about events current to their own lifetimes and also writing prophetically. When David writes about weeping lasting “for a night” he’s not saying that all sorrow ends in twelve hours. He is saying that all sorrow will end. Does that encourage you? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord,

So often I am dragged down into the pit of despair by my sadness, sorrow and hopelessness. When I wake to tears on my pillow and fall asleep to my own sobs, it seems like there will never be a moment or a day when my heart is not overwhelmed.

I feel like the enemy is winning some days.

Help my heart hold onto the truth that I am only privy to a tiny sliver of knowledge. Give me strength to hold onto hope when my own strength fails. Put praise in my mouth when You pull me out of the pit, foil the schemes of my enemy and set me on the solid ground of truth. Speak courage to my soul.

Let each sunrise remind me again that the night will not last forever. Darkness cannot swallow the light. Death does not win. Life and light and love endure forever.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Keep Me Near

I have definitely felt besieged in this grief journey.

I imagined myself holed up in a castle turret, hoping against hope that heartache would stop battering the gates below.

For a long while I was afraid.

I was fearful that if the onslaught didn’t stop my heart would give in to despair, I’d let go of hope, I’d lay down and give up.

I don’t believe for one minute that David was never scared.

Instead, I believe that the words he used when his brothers mocked his step forward to take on Goliath were words God burned in his soul:

The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:37 NIV

David was courageous IN SPITE of the fear because he knew the God he served. He had prior experience with God’s faithfulness. He was confident that the Lord would not allow him to fail.

So we come to today’s verses. They were penned a good while after Goliath, after being anointed king but before he gained the throne.

He was running for his life, fighting enemies on every side.

David had to remind himself of truth, just like me. He needed to sing aloud so his heart could be brave.

When the armies of the enemy surround me,
    I will not be afraid.
When death calls for me in the midst of war,
    my soul is confident and unmoved.
I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
    my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
    in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
    in the company of His people.
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
    It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
    He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
God lifts me high above those with thoughts
    of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
    In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.

Psalm 27:3-6 VOICE

His soul was confident and unmoved in the midst of danger because he threw himself on the mercy of the Lord.

His plea was not, “Keep me safe” it was “Keep me near”.

Jesus told the disciples not to fear the one who could kill the body but fear the One who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 1:28)

David got it.

He knew that no matter what happened-if he lived or died-his true shelter and his true life was in the Lord.

He was focused on Who walked with him not what might happen to him.

Truth is, we don’t always experience miraculous deliverance from life’s troubles or dangers. People we love die. People we care about are cast down, carried through hard times and come out the other side battered, bruised and barely holding on.

If I can only praise a God who spares me, I have no songs to sing.

But if I can praise the God who loves me, who offers eternal security through the blood of Christ, the God who will weave ALL the threads of my life-the dark, the light, the ugly and the beautiful-into a masterpiece declaring His glory for all eternity, then I have a song as long as I have breath.

And when breath leaves this body and I am free of my earthly tent, I’ll sing a new song for ever and ever and ever.

This was David’s God.

This was the God of Moses, Isaac, Jacob. Peter and Paul.

This is MY God.

And He longs to be yours too. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • Who do you turn to when you are afraid?
  • When have you felt God’s assurance in the midst of a fearful situation?
  • My family was very involved in worship music ministry for years. Dominic was a talented drummer, among other things. In the first days after his death, music ministered to my soul. But after the funeral I felt the music die within my heart. Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a song to sing anymore? Did God meet you there and help you find your song? Are you willing to ask Him to give you a new song, even on this broken road?
  • Eternal hope does not keep us from feeling pain in the here and now. But it can help a heart hold on. What words from this Psalm stand out to you? Are you able to praise God even as you feel pain?
  • Can you ask for God to keep you near even if He doesn’t keep you (or your loved ones) safe?
  • Praise can be as simple as repeating truth aloud or writing it in your journal. If you can’t sing, consider speaking aloud the names of God, His eternal attributes or verses that describe them. Your heart is listening. Give it courage.

PRAYER:

Father God,

So many times I come to You with a list of petitions-do this, do that, solve this, fix that, keep me and mine safe, secure and happy. I’m seeking Your hand and not Your face. And when things don’t turn out the way I want them to I feel betrayed.

What you want is for me to trust Your heart even when I can’t trace Your hand. You have promised never to leave me nor forsake me. Help me, like David to ask you to keep me near, not just to keep me safe.

Your name is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved-not saved from earthly destruction or trouble but from eternal damnation.

When I lose my song, give me a new one. When I forget that You are with me, make Your Presence undeniably real. When I lose hope, speak courage to my heart. And when I doubt that I can make it one more minute, much less one more day, strengthen me with Your might.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: The One I Run To

When I read the Psalms I hear human voices.

I hear real people living real lives facing real problems.

Life and death and celebration and devastation-all laid bare for the ages.

They give me courage to speak plainly to God.

They help me frame my own struggles in the context of who God is and not only what I feel.

I love You, Eternal One, source of my power.
The Eternal is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation;
    He is my True God, the stronghold in which I hide,
    my strong shield, the horn that calls forth help, and my tall-walled tower.
I call out to the Eternal, who is worthy to be praised—
    that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.
The bonds of death encircled me;
    the currents of destruction tugged at me;
The sorrows of the grave wrap around me;
    the traps of death lay in wait for me.

Psalm 18:1-5 VOICE

David had escaped Saul’s attempt on his life. He could have given credit to his superior battle skills or ability to hide or just plain luck.

But he didn’t. He understood that God alone determined the outcome.

David knew that God was his true stronghold-not the cave or the tower where he might hide.

He is reminding his heart of truth-something I had to do the day Dominic left us.

I have never felt so desolate as the early morning when I was told my son was dead. My physical life wasn’t threatened but the life I knew was shattered.

The “bonds of death” circled my heart and I could feel them squeezing tighter and tighter.

Sorrow swallowed me whole.

There was nowhere to hide from the awful truth that death was on my doorstep.

In the hours between the knock on the door and sunrise I kept assuring myself that God was still God. I kept repeating that He had not abandoned us.

And then (because I didn’t know what else to do as I waited for family to gather) I went out to feed the animals.

Walking toward the rising sun I choked out the words to a favorite song:

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

Bless The Lord, Oh My Soul by Matt Redman

There was no moment of divine revelation.

I didn’t feel the burden lift.

But I knew if I didn’t remind my heart of truth, I’d be headed toward a darker path than the one I was already walking.

“I call out to the Eternal who is worthy to be praised-that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.”

QUESTIONS:

  • Why do you think it’s important that even when we experience victory, we acknowledge God as the One who gives it to us?
  • Are you ever tempted not to?
  • Obviously I’m sensitive to the fact that as bereaved parents our child was not physically saved. Does that make it hard for your heart to think of God as a fortress, shelter, safe place? Why or why not?
  • Even though I have not faced my own death, I find David’s description apt for the dark feelings that threatened to undo me after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. Do his words resonate with you?
  • David was a man on the run for years. He spent a lot of time in the rocky wilderness and describes God in ways that reflect his personal experience. If you were going to describe God as a place of safety, what words would you use that reflect yours?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are most certainly worthy of praise simply because You are God. Sometimes I struggle to praise you because You do not always give victory in the here and now and that’s hard to take. You don’t always step in and assure physical safety and that hurts my heart.

But you always invite me to bring that pain to You. You are a stronghold for my heart.

When the enemy of my soul whispers lies in my ear and tries to convince me You don’t care, help my heart refuse to be led astray. When despair tries to drag me down, speak courage to my soul and lift me up.

You have made every provision for our ultimate victory. Death doesn’t get the last word. Life does! Thank You for that promise.

Amen

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

 

Refuse to Hide: Lament As Worship

We usually think of worship as songs of joy and happiness extolling the virtues of God and Christ.  

While that is most certainly a form of worship, it is absolutely not the only one.  

Biblical lament is an honest, vulnerable expression of pain, a crying out to God in faith as we are suffering.
― Cindee Snider Re

Worship is also the broken whimper of a scared and wounded child, crawling into the lap of her Abba Father.  

There is no less adoration in this ultimate act of confident trust than in the most eloquent declaration of theological truth in word or song.  

Lament is worship.  

Christian lament is not simply complaint. Yes, it stares clear-eyed at awfulness and even wonders if God has gone…Yet at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.”
― Josh Larsen

Bringing my brokenness to God as an offering, trusting Him to receive it, to keep it and to begin to weave even this into the tapestry of my life is perhaps the ultimate act of worship.  

you keep track of all my tears

When I refuse to pretend, refuse to hide, refuse to run away and look for an answer somewhere else, I affirm that He is my God, and there is no other beside Him.  

A lament is an act of worship, a faith statement of trust, in the face of difficulty. It’s a wonderfully honest way to acknowledge our trouble to God as we also acknowledge our hope is in him.
― Linda Evans Shepherd

lamenting is a painful process

 

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
― Nicholas Wolterstorff

Courage Requires Vulnerability

 

It’s a funny thing. 

If you’ve never faced anything very frightening, it’s easy to think that those who do and march on through are somehow immune to fear.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.  

courage is resistance to fear

Yet you cannot master something you deny.  You cannot resist that which you claim doesn’t exist.

Child loss is frightening. 

So frightening that those not forced to walk this road usually choose to pretend (in practice if not in words) that it simply isn’t part of the world they live in.

It’s so frightening that most bereaved parents experience a period of time we would describe as “being numb” and “shock”.

It was probably six months until my heart truly understood the fact that Dominic was not coming back.

Ever. 

It was frightening on so many levels-I had to face the fact I was not in control, had to face the fact my life was never going to be what I had envisioned it to be, face the fact that my surviving children would be shaped by grief in ways neither I nor they could anticipate, face the fact that I would live out my years carrying this heavy burden, and face the fact that no matter how hard I wished things were different, they were never going to be different-my child was dead.

sometimes even to live is an act of courage

And when the numbness began to wear off and fear creep into my heart, I had to choose: Was I going to embrace and experience this awful, devastating fear or was I going to try to deny it, distract myself from it or try to dismiss it as inconsequential?

Facing fear requires facing my own weakness.

Facing fear means becoming vulnerable-admitting that I am hurting, admitting that I cannot do this on my own, admitting that maybe, just maybe, I can’t climb this mountain without help.

cant get to courage without walking through vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability was its own challenge.

What if others mocked me?  What if no one helped me?  What if I just wasn’t up to the task?

courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen brene brown

I decided that NOT facing fear was not an option.  As long as it lurked in the shadows I would be its prisoner.  

So I turned and looked it square in the eyes.  And I found, with God’s enabling help, I could master that fear. 

Two verses became my touchstone:

When struck by fear,
    I let go, depending securely upon You alone.
   In God—whose word I praise—
    in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
    for what can measly men do to me? 

Psalm 56:3-4 VOICE

When I admitted my weakness, His strength was sufficient.

strength made perfect in weakness ant

Choosing vulnerability and facing fear opens the door for God to show His power in and through me. 

Child loss is still scary.  

I’m still afraid.

But the Lord gives me strength to master the fear.  

courage doesn't always roar male liion