Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Strength To Endure

When suffering is time-limited it is often more easily endured.

If I know six weeks of intensive though painful physical therapy will help me regain strength and use of a limb or joint, I can power through.

If restricting calories for a month helps me fit into that dress for a special event, I’m more likely to sacrifice for a short time so the pictures look good.

But if you tell me I’ll hobble around for the rest of my life because there’s nothing to be done about my bad back or crooked joints or you want me to change how I eat for good-well, that’s gonna take more strength than I have on my own.

When I realized-probably sometime near the end of the first year-that the sorrow and missing and pain of burying my son was going to be a burden I carried to my own grave, it was absolutely, utterly soul-crushing.

That’s why Habakkuk’s words resonate with my heart:

I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

Habakkuk 3:16-19 AMP

Habakkuk was a prophet in Israel just before the Babylonians came and wiped out the nation. He knew what was coming and asked God to spare them.

God said no.

No miraculous rescue coming, no divine intervention to prevent destruction, no manna raining down from heaven to stave off starvation.

Israel is going to suffer.

And Habakkuk, though righteous, will suffer too.

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Habakkuk is not immediately infused with courage and fearlessness: “I heard [what the Lord had to say] and I trembled…” Habakkuk isn’t only afraid, he’s terrified (“rottenness enters my bones”) !!

He’s out of things to do, convinced he must simply wait for whatever is headed his way.

So he sits down and waits.

And in the quiet stillness of waiting, his heart turns to truth.

Even though he will suffer, even though everything he depends on for physical safety may be stripped away, even though destruction and devastation is coming, he begins to meditate on the faithful enduring character of the LORD.

And he rejoices!

Nothing has changed except his focus.

Instead of concentrating on circumstances he is contemplating his Creator.

I admit I focus all too often on circumstances but sometimes it’s practically impossible not to.

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Remember the disciples in the boat with Jesus? A storm blew up and was tossing them back and forth all while Jesus slept soundly.

Fear really wasn’t a disproportionate response to a very real and present danger.

When the wind and the waves are high around me, and I realize how powerless I am to do anything about them, fear easily overtakes my heart.

But the disciples were not alone. The One who could calm the storm was in their midst.

The One who can calm MY storm is here with ME.

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Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and the disciples finished their journey in safety.

God did not save Israel (or Habakkuk) from the Babylonians.

The Lord did not miraculously preserve Dominic’s life and He may not miraculously (or otherwise) save me or my family from the fallout of Covid19.

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But whether He intervenes or does not, I know He sees me.

I know He loves me.

I know He longs to comfort me and strengthen me.

He IS my “personal bravery and invincible army”.

QUESTIONS:

  • Often Western Christianity focuses on “victory in Jesus” and tends to associate victory with safety or deliverance from uncomfortable or frightening or seemingly impossible circumstances. Habakkuk not only suspected God was not going to avert disaster, he’d been promised disaster was coming. How do YOU interpret “victory in Jesus”? Do these verses give you a different perspective? Why or why not?
  • It’s kind of been a joke that people rushed to stockpile toilet paper during the frenzy surrounding this pandemic. Apparently having enough TP made them feel a little more prepared, a little less frightened. We all have some tangible things that help our hearts stay calm. What are yours?
  • Fear is not a sin. Doubt is not disbelief. It’s perfectly OK to voice your fear, doubt and concern. But if you rest there, if you don’t then turn to truth, you will spiral downward into despair. What practical steps are you taking for yourself and family to keep the truth of Who God is in front of your eyes and foremost in your hearts?
  • For those of us who get our groceries from Walmart, the complete devastation described in Habakkuk may not be evident. Let me paraphrase for a modern audience: “Though the grocery store shelves are empty and there are no tasty snacks left in the fridge, though the last thing I had to eat was only enough to meet my caloric needs but not enough to satiate my appetite, though there is no hope that things will return to normal anytime soon and I may suffer more than I can imagine, I am going to shout for joy because I know God is in control and He has secured my eternal destiny!” Can you take these verses and rewrite them so they are specific to YOUR circumstances?

PRAYER:

Lord,

If I’m honest (and there’s no reason not to be since You already know my heart!), I want to be rescued. I do not want to live through whatever this stupid virus is going to do to my community, my country, the world. I don’t like the thought of weeks of uncertainty, forced isolation, reduced or nonexistent paychecks, figuring out how to keep kids that should be in school occupied and learning.

I hate this!

When I read the headlines or listen to the news, it feeds my fears.

Help me to be like Habakkuk and appropriate the strength You provide so that I will not only endure, but will thrive! Speak courage to my heart when I would falter. Make me stalwart in the face of fear. Teach me to trust You when I would doubt Your lovingkindness.

Be my personal bravery.

Amen

He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’

Julian of Norwich

Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Sure And Fearless

I don’t know about you but “sure and fearless” doesn’t necessarily describe me these days.

I’m not sleeping particularly well.

I try to avoid all but the most needful news and instead fill my days with useful work and outdoor activity.

But I wouldn’t be honest if I said it was working.

In fact, the combination of time of year (I am rapidly approaching the sixth anniversary of Dominic’s death) and the utterly unbelievable changes in the world around us is more than working my nerves.

So I’m really, really depending on the truth I find in Scripture to counteract all the other messages I’m receiving from the media, from friends and from my own unhelpful thoughts.

That’s why I’m spending some quality time with the first three verses of Psalm 46.

God is our shelter and our strength.

    When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.

So why run and hide?

No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.

    When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless.

    When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.

Even in heavy winds and huge waves,

    or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless.

Psalm 46: 1-3 VOICE

The verses stand by themselves as a source of great encouragement, but I thought today I’d walk you through one way I appropriate the truth of God’s Word for my own heart.

I often copy out a verse and use a dictionary or thesaurus to expand key words so I get a richer understanding of their full meaning.

Sometimes I include parts of other verses or pertinent biblical concepts.

Doing that for Psalm 46: 1-3 looks like this:

VERSE 1: ” God is our shelter [sanctuary, refuge, safety, defense, hideaway] and our strength [courage, fortitude, stability, vitality, steadiness]. When troubles seem near, God is nearer [the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete or Advocate, Counselor; Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us] so why run and hide? [If God is for us, who could stand against us?]”

VERSE 2: No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails [what time I am afraid, I will trust in You]. When the earth spins out of control [the world is surely out of control right now!], we [those who trust in the LORD] are sure [confident, certain, convinced, free from doubt] and fearless [bold, confident, courageous, daring, assured, dauntless, lionhearted, indomitable].

When mountains crumble [when the very thing we believe will never be shaken IS shaken] and the waters run wild [when there’s no safe haven from a flood of circumstances], we [those who trust in the LORD] are sure [confident, certain, convinced, free from doubt] and fearless [bold, confident, courageous, daring, assured, dauntless, lionhearted, indomitable].”

VERSE 3: “Even in heavy winds and huge waves [even when the the storm is raging so violently there seems no possible way to survive it], we [those who trust in the LORD] are sure [resting absolutely in the certainty that God is who He says He is] and fearless [boldly and confidently waiting for the promised Presence of God in the midst of our storm].”

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Rewriting it once again and personalizing it for myself looks like this:

God is my sanctuary and safe place and my courage. No matter what kind of trouble is lurking at my door, He’s already here, right beside me, ready to help. Why would I run away or try to hide when my Protector is unbeatable?

I refuse to worry. The world is definitely a strange and very fearful place right now but because I belong to Jesus I am confident and courageous. Even though all the things I depend on in the natural world are proving undependable, because I trust in the Lord, I am bold and dauntless.

The current economic, social, and political storm is the biggest I’ve ever seen-bigger than I could have ever imagined. Its destructive power is far-reaching and will leave debris in its wake for years.

But I will rest confidently in my Savior and will wait courageously for His promises to be fulfilled.

~Melanie’s paraphrase

Then I turn it into a prayer:

Father God,

Help me always to remember that You are my sanctuary and hiding place. You are as near as my breath, as steady as my heartbeat. No one and nothing sneaks up on You.

Whisper courage to my soul. Lord, sweep worry out of my mind. Even when every single thing I thought I could depend on proves undependable, teach me to rest securely in Your love, Your promises and Your sovereignty.

Redirect my gaze so that instead of looking at all that’s going wrong, my eyes focus on Your face.

Make my heart steadfast. Overwhelm me with Your mercy, grace and faithful love.

Amen

QUESTIONS:

  • This is MY way of making Scripture personal. Do you have a way to make it personal for you? Can you take these three verses and do just that?
  • Have you ever looked up a word you thought you knew the meaning of only to find out you had misunderstood or not fully comprehended it precisely? I have! How can using a dictionary or thesaurus open up or expand the meaning of words? How can that help you understand what verses say?
  • Illustrating verses is another way many people appropriate Truth for themselves. How could you put the meat of these verses into a sketch?
  • One of the reasons I love journaling is because when I look back, I have a written record of God’s very specific faithfulness to me. Have you journaled before? If so, look back and note God’s faithfulness. Write a personal psalm of thanksgiving in response.
  • Do you feel the earth shaking right now? What is your greatest fear as a result? How do these verses encourage your heart?

Learning To Trust Again: Appropriate God’s Strength

My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).

It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.  It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

Not MY strength, but HIS.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/10/17/trust-after-loss-appropriate-gods-strength/

Sorrow Will Not Have The Last Word

If you find your heart limping through Scripture instead of gaining strength, may I suggest you try a different Bible translation for a bit? Sometimes familiar words-even the words of God or His prophets-just fall flat.

I can read them and not digest them at all.

So lately I’ve been reading and copying from the VOICE translation and it has helped me see old passages in a new light.

Here’s one of them. I think those of us walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death have a lot in common with Jeremiah.

I love to read familiar verses in different translations or paraphrases.

It helps my heart hear what I might otherwise miss because familiarity DOES breed a form a contempt even when considering the Word of God.

Recently, on my way through verses on HOPE I copied out Lamentations 3: 19-26.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/20/new-mercies/

TobyMac, “21 Years” and Child Loss

I am always devastated when another parent discovers the heartache of child loss.

They are forced to join a club no one wants to join.

But I’m grateful when that parent has a platform because of fame, fortune or circumstances and decides to draw attention to the truth of this painful path.

The singer Toby Mac recently lost his son and has chosen to do just that. He wrote a song that puts words to the sorrow, words to the struggle and vividly shares the heart of a bereaved parent.

Here it is (grab a tissue):

While I don’t identify with every word in the lyrics, I absolutely identify with the deep pain of sudden loss.

Why would You give and then take him away?

Suddenly end, could You not let it fade?

What I would give for a couple of days

A couple of days

TobyMac, 21 Years

I have cried the same tears, begged for the same answers, dug deep to find strength when I wanted to lie down and give up.

Thousands of parents walk around every day carrying a burden most say they would never be able to carry.

But you do.

Because there’s no alternative but to get up and go on.

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Even when your heart is breaking, even when your legs feel like they will not make one more step, you get up, face the day and begin trying to put the pieces back together.

And you learn how to love a child that you can only hold in your heart instead of your arms.

Is it just across the Jordan

Or a city in the stars

Are you singing with the angels

Are you happy where you are

Well until this show is over

And you run into my arms

God has you in heaven

But I have you in my heart

TobyMac, 21 Years

Grieving Differently: Growing Apart or Growing Stronger?

It’s no secret that men and women are different.

It’s the subject of everything from romantic comedies to hundreds of books.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” and all that.

So it shouldn’t surprise those of us walking this Valley that our spouse may be grieving very differently than we do. But it often does. Because everything is amplified when it echoes off the high mountains on either side.

And just when we need it most-for ourselves and for extending to others-grace is often in short supply.

So differences become offenses and offenses stack like bricks to build a wall between us and the one person as intimately connected to our missing child as we are.

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Instead of holding each other up, we sometimes tear each other down. Instead of leaning in, we pull away. Instead of talking, we tune out.

Instead of crying together, we cry alone.

Even when we open up and try to address these differences it often ends in disagreement or is met with silence.

That’s discouraging.

I firmly believe that grief doesn’t really change the fundamentals in a relationship but it magnifies them. We all have cracks in our marriages. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect couple regardless of how lovely the photos might be.

Child loss makes the cracks more evident. What might be ignored otherwise, becomes unavoidable. Add gender differences to the load of grief and it’s no wonder many of us struggle.

So how can a marriage survive?

Here are a few pointers:

  • Admit that you and your spouse are different people. Your life experiences, gender and personality affect how each of you grieve. Different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.
  • Purpose to assume the best and not the worst of your spouse. When he or she makes a comment or shoots you a “look” don’t immediately ascribe dark motives. It may be she’s having an especially bad day or he is tired or distracted.
  • Look for common ground. When you are both in a neutral environment and rested, ask your spouse what they need from you. Then listen without being defensive. It could be that seeing you cry upsets him so that’s why he tries to shut you down. She might long to hear him say their child’s name aloud. Even if nothing changes, sometimes being heard makes a difference.
  • Consider couples’ counseling. Having someone outside your immediate grief circle listen to and guide you through feelings, concerns and problems is almost always helpful. It might only take a few sessions to give you both the tools necessary to walk yourselves through the rough patches.
  • Talk TO your spouse instead of ABOUT him or her. This can be a hard one! I think we all need a safe friend or two who will let us vent. That’s healthy. But it’s not healthy to talk about our spouse to others in what amounts to a bid for support of our own opinions and prejudices. Gathering wood for the fire of offense is easy. Putting out the blaze (even if you want to) is hard.
  • Remember that when feelings fluctuate, commitment carries you through. Grief isn’t just one emotion, it’s a tangled ball of emotions. On a given day you might feel sad, disoriented, angry, anxious and despondent. All that emotional weight is added to whatever else you may be feeling about your spouse. Sometimes it’s just too much to bear and running away seems like the most logical answer. But it’s not. We can never run far enough or fast enough to get away.

There’s no magic to marriage before or after child loss.

It’s mostly work.

We can choose to do that work together in spite of our differences.

We can choose to grow stronger instead of growing apart.

****FULL DISCLOSURE****

My husband and I do not do this perfectly or even close to perfectly. But we are still trying. At different points in this long (almost) six years, we’ve been better or worse at all of it. So don’t think if you are struggling it means you can’t get hang on. Sometimes it’s by the tips of your fingernails, but if you refuse to let go, you can make it.

❤ Melanie

Repost: Absolutely More Than I Can Handle

We’ve allowed a lot of common sayings to rise to the level of Scripture in everyday language and that’s unfortunate.

Because many of them are just plain wrong.

And some of them are dangerous.

One of those I consider dangerous is this:  “God will not give you more than you can handle”.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/12/26/absolutely-more-than-i-can-handle/

It Gets Heavier Before We Grow Stronger

Oh, the weight of missing the son I love!

I thought I understood just how heavy it was the moment the deputy’s words sank deep inside and crushed my heart.

But I didn’t know the half of it.

You really can’t know how large a person’s absence is until you’ve explored the edges of the world without him or her.

When folks started coming up our long and winding drive, even though I knew full well he would not be among them, my eyes strained to see inside every car. When his friends gathered in our front yard, I couldn’t help looking through the picture window trying to make out his face among the crowd. When we walked into his now-empty apartment I thought surely he was in his bedroom, around the corner, just out out of sight.

But he was nowhere to be found. And the hole in my heart where he should be but wasn’t got bigger.

Those were just the early days.

In the weeks, months and years to follow I found everywhere I set my foot that followed a path we’d walked together, I missed him. When the next movie in a series was released, he wasn’t there to watch it with me. Family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduations all went on without him and my heart counted his absence.

From sunrise to sunset my heart marks all the Dominic-sized spaces in a day.

At night, dark stillness invites me to recite them.

But after more than five years, most people no longer see any tale-tell sign of this mama’s heart longing desperately for one more minute, one more hug, one more quick exchange of “I love you!”

I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of missing.

Daily exercise will do that.

And it IS a daily exercise-lifting the missing up on my shoulders or carrying it in a basket on my head like women hauling water from a well far away has taught me to bear it well.

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I still miss him.

I will always miss him.

Greater strength means I can shift the missing to make room for living. I can carry that weight and still find room to carry joy.

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Scripture Journal Challenge: Worn Out and Weary? Jesus Understands.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired.

Not just physically tired-although there are plenty of days when chores done in the Alabama sun beat my body down.

I’m soul weary.

My heart cries out, “No more! I can’t carry a single other burden! I’m buckling under the load!”

Jesus understands.

He knows that this world is a harsh place for tender hearts. He recognizes that other people heap heavy weights on already laboring souls. He understands that work and worry and even well-doing wear us to a nub.

And He offers a way of escape.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden andoverburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will [a]ease and relieve and [b]refresh [c]your souls.]


29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest ([d]relief and ease and refreshment and [e]recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.


30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, [f]good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne. ~Jesus

Matthew 11: 28-30 AMPC

The Pharisees and Sadducees (religious leaders at the time Jesus walked the earth) had overloaded people with rules, rules, rules and obscured the truth of Who God is and what He really wanted from them. They focused solely on outward compliance with man-made additions to God’s law and blinded themselves to the inward attitudes that should be a hallmark of God’s people.

Like us, they wanted boxes to check off.

They wanted lists to maintain.

Above all, they wanted to measure themselves against a standard that made them look good, often at the expense of others.

More importantly, their holier-than-thou lifestyle made regular folks feel like they fell so far short and were so far from the heart of God they didn’t dare ask Him for help.

Jesus said, “Enough!”

He said, “I don’t despise your weakness. I don’t dismiss your pain. Let Me help you take that off and give you a perfectly fitted burden. Yoke your life to Mine and we’ll carry it together.”

The most caring teamster carved the wooden yoke that joined his two oxen precisely to fit their unique shape. He checked it often to see if it was causing pain and he made adjustments when necessary. He yoked well-suited animals one to the other so that the burden was distributed evenly.

Any ill-fitting addition to a creature being asked to do a job makes that job oh, so much more difficult. It wears sore spots and tender places. It guarantees that you won’t get full cooperation nor highest performance.

We have many burdens to bear in this life. Some are of our own making, some are thrust upon us by others. Some are just a function of the fact we live in a world tainted by sin.

Jesus promises that the burden He asks us to bear He will make bearable when we bring it to Him.

Are you weak and heavy laden?

Are you struggling under a load that threatens to undo you?

Have you yoked your life to Christ and asked Him to help you?

Come.

He’s waiting for you.

QUESTIONS:

  • There are all kinds of burdens in this life. What feels heavy to you right now?
  • Have you offered it to Jesus? Have you asked Him to help you bear it?
  • Is it hard for you to lean on Jesus? Why or why not?
  • Do you ever try to hide your weakness or weariness from others?
  • The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were focused more on rules and less on relationship. What’s your faith heritage? Have you been in churches where there was a strong focus on rules? How did that impact your understanding of God?

PRAYER:

Father God, I can be like the Pharisees and make up lists of rules I think I need to follow to gain Your approval or at least to make myself look good in the eyes of others.

That’s not helpful for me or anyone else. Give me courage to tear those up.

Teach me Your gentle ways, Jesus. Help me lean into Your love and to yoke my heart to yours.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Safe In My Daddy’s Arms

When I was a little girl my family made a yearly pilgrimage to the white sand and clear water beaches in Florida.

We were allowed to wade out on our own as high as our waist while the adults talked and sunbathed on shore. If we wanted to go deeper, even for those of us who were good swimmers, we had to wait for the grown ups to join us.

I have a vivid memory of one sunny day when the waves were rolling in and my six-foot-tall dad was standing neck deep in the Gulf. I was a little closer to shore and decided to join him.

My young mind didn’t do the math between my short self and his taller one and stepped off an underwater ledge into water way over my head. I panicked when I realized there was no way for me to save myself.

In a flash, Papa’s strong arms scooped me up and held me close.

As quickly as fear set in, it vanished because I knew he wouldn’t let me go until I could safely set my own feet down in shallower water.

My daddy wasn’t about to let anything happen to me.

I think about that summer moment nearly every time I read today’s verses.

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.

Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Isaiah 41: 8-10 KJV

God assures Israel (the nation) that He chose them. He cherishes them. He has called them and He will never forget nor forsake them.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that just like Israel, those of us who have been grafted in by the blood of Christ are also heirs together of these promises. (Ephesians 3:6; Romans 11:17)

If you have received the gift of eternal life through Jesus, you can be absolutely assured that God is your Father . He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He will always take care of you.

Fear is a reasonable response to a situation outside our control.

It wasn’t silly for me to be afraid when my head went underwater and I despaired of saving myself.

When God tells me in His Word to “fear not!” it isn’t a rebuke. It’s encouragement.

God is my Father, He loves me so He says, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed”.

Why? Because He is with me.

As soon as my dad’s arms reached around me, fear fled. I was safe.

And if my earthly father’s strength and love was enough to allay my fears, how much more should my fears flee in the face of the strength, love and power of my Heavenly Father?

There are so many times I am afraid in this life.

So many times when things are out of control and beyond my comprehension. So many ways life goes wrong and I feel like they will never be made right.

But when I stop and point my heart in the direction of these promises, I can hold onto hope in spite of my fear.

Because my daddy has his arms around me.