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/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Life Everlasting

Today’s verses are ones often read at funerals and memorial services to remind those left behind that for believers in Christ, death does not have the last word.

What a comfort!

But it’s also a reminder that the world as it is right now, is NOT the world God intended. He made everything perfect and perfectly alive.

Sin brought death.

Death brought heartache.

And for those of us who have too soon been separated from the child of our heart, we know how very much a heart can ache.

I absolutely rest on God’s promise that there will be a Day when everything is redeemed and restored. Christ’s resurrection is proof that His sacrifice is sufficient.

But even Jesus does not yet (in time) possess the full reward for that sacrifice.

So it’s no wonder we often struggle walking in the here and now while waiting patiently for the perfect hereafter.

We are not the first to wonder just how long we might have to wait! Paul was writing to comfort the church at Corinth. He reminded them of truth. He encouraged them to take hold of it and hide it in their hearts as ammunition against the lies of the enemy of our souls.

 Stay close because I am going to tell you a mystery—something you may have trouble understanding: we will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be transformed. 52 It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! 53 We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life. 54 And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says:

Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.[a]

55 Hey, Death! What happened to your big win?

 Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?[b

56 Sin came into this world, and death’s sting followed. Then sin took aim at the law and gained power over those who follow the law. 57 Thank God, then, for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Liberating King, who brought us victory over the grave

I Corinthians 15: 51-59 VOICE

Look at that first verse, “I’m going to tell you a mystery…”

Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us!) that what he’s about to say doesn’t necessarily “make sense” in the way a math equation does. In order to lean into the truth to follow, I have to become comfortable with the space between what I can see, taste, touch and feel and what may very well be true but not accessible by my limited physical senses.

That can be hard and uncomfortable.

So often I want tangible proof.

But that’s not how God works.

He asks me to step out in faith and trust His heart even when I can’t trace His hand.

The good news is that the world is not being tossed about in a battle between equals.

There’s no doubt that the final victory belongs to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of my faith.

So how can I arm my spirit against the wiles of the evil one? By studying the Word, hiding it in my heart and choosing-as an act of willful obedience-to believe.

Questions to ponder:

  • Do you believe that Death is defeated? Why or why not?
  • Obviously people still experience physical death. How does that fact impact your understanding of how God works in the world today?
  • What about the mystery Paul reveals is hardest for you to accept or understand?
  • How does the promise that these bodies we inhabit aren’t the last word encourage your heart?
  • What does it look like to live confidently in the hope of redemption, restoration and resurrection?

Prayer:

It’s not always easy to choose life, Lord

Because then we have to struggle with who we are

and why we are, and who you are,

And what to do with who we are,

and why we are, and who you are. 

We have to let you make us new,

and being made anything always hurts.

Father,

Let the morning come in our hearts,

So morning can come in our lives,

And the world that needs a word of hope can hear

‘Death has lost, and life has won.’

Verdell Davis, Riches Stored in Secret Places

Please join the conversation as we encourage one another, discuss Scripture and ask questions.

Just remember that THE BLOG site is PUBLIC. My own Facebook page post is set to PUBLIC. So any comments you post there will be visible to ANYONE.

All of the closed groups for bereaved parents are PRIVATE.

Only members can see your comments there.

I don’t want anyone to accidentally post something publicly they would rather remain private. ❤

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.

On My Worst Days, Mustard Seed Faith is Enough

I didn’t grow up doing in-depth Bible studies so when I “discovered” the Bible in my early twenties, it was an exciting adventure to dig for treasure in the Word of God.

Along with Scripture itself, I devoured book after book on theology.

I could not get enough.

By my mid-thirties I had developed a fairly well-defined and defensible doctrine. I really thought I understood how God works in the world.

Then my son died.

And all the things I thought I knew, all the absolutes I had marked down in an notebook followed by an underlined verse to support them, didn’t seem so solid or well-defined.

I never questioned certain fundamental truths:

  • God is in control.
  • God is good.
  • God is present and will not abandon me.

But what form His goodness and control might take was unpredictable and many times beyond my understanding.

I’ve learned in the years since is that I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to have my theological ducks in a row. I don’t have to be able to give a defense (to myself or others) of how God works in the world.

I don’t have to have faith that moves mountains.

I only need mustard seed faith and God will do the rest.

I only need to hold onto the hem of His garment, and Jesus will honor my outstretched hand and heart.

When I Feel Like God’s Not Listening

I think nearly every bereaved parent has a crisis of faith that takes one form or another.  

When I read scripture I see that most of the “giants” of faith had moments of doubt as well.

I have certainly felt sometimes like God wasn’t listening or if He was listening, He didn’t care.  He’s disappointed me because my prayers were not answered the way I expected them to be or they weren’t answered at all (from my perspective).

Those feelings are normal but feelings don’t always reflect truth.

If I’m to battle the lies my heart is tempted to believe, I must feed it truth until it’s able to take hold of it.

So I go to the Psalms of lament and follow the pattern laid out there:

  • Express my frustration, fear and disappointment (exhale my doubts);
  • bring my broken heart to God (position myself to receive);
  • and recite the truth that God does not lie and that every promise is “ yes” and “amen” in Christ ( inhale strength, faith, comfort and hope).

It’s not a once and done thing- sometimes I do this dozens of times a day. But I always come away stronger and better able to face my fears and doubts.  

If you currently feel like God’s not listening I pray you will take that pain straight to the Throne of grace.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
  Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

  We are brought down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
   Rise up and help us;
    rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 44: 23-26 NIV

 

May you choose to trust truth even when your heart doesn’t want to.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
  yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17, 18 NIV

And may you hear the Lord sing grace and mercy over your soul.

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3: 17

Suicide and Child Loss: Christ’s Blood is Sufficient

I try hard not to imply that MY child loss experience is representative of EVERY child loss experience.  

Because, as we all know, every parent’s journey (even parents of the same child) is utterly, incontrovertibly unique. 

My son was killed suddenly in an accident.  Other parents I know have stories of prolonged illness.  Some feared it coming as his or her child struggled with addiction and dangerous choices.  And still others bear the added burden of suicide in child loss.

I have always, always felt a special duty to tread lightly with respect to those parents in particular.  I want to honor them and never suggest I speak for them.  I’ve started and discarded at least a dozen posts on child loss and suicide.

So when a mom who lost a child to suicide shared this in one of our closed groups, I messaged her and asked permission to publish her comment here. 

Sheri Yancy Brown graciously agreed.  

So here are HER words, precisely as she shared them:  

“The Lord showed me this on Friday [Good Friday, 2019].  I hope it is a comfort to those of you who have lost a child to suicide.

“Two of the hardest things to come to terms with regarding Tyrel’s suicide for me (a Christian) have been:

  1. I don’t know why he did it and
  2. The religious stigma from other Christians regarding his salvation.

“There’s a very common scripture in the book of Isaiah that has been on my mind this morning because it is Good Friday.  It was written long before Christ died on the cross.

“The scripture is:

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:5‬ ‭KJV‬‬

“The main questions I ask myself after reading numerous books, attending many support groups, and meeting many people with this type of loss are:

“Was Tyrel’s suicide:

  1. An intentional sin?
  2. a premeditated personal choice?
  3. an impulsive act due to short term mental anguish?
  4. an act due to long term chemically based mental illness?

“Look how this scripture literally covers all four situations!

  1.  To transgress is to choose to intentionally disobey (Is suicide an intentional sin?)
  2. Iniquity refers to a premeditated choice (Is suicide a premeditated personal choice?)
  3. Chastisement of our peace means He took the punishment so that we may have peace  (Is suicide an impulsive act due to short term mental anguish?)
  4. With his stripes we are healed (Is suicide the result of some long term chemically based mental illness)

“According to this scripture, the whys don’t really matter and Tyrel’s salvation is not in question.  As a believer for all of his short life, he is covered no matter which way you look at it.  Tyrel’s unimaginable actions are exactly why Jesus went to the cross.

“The Bible says so.”

coffee and journal morning