Advent for the Brokenhearted: By the Holy Spirit

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

 

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 MSG

I’m not the first person on the planet God has asked to walk into the future without understanding exactly what the plan is. 

When Joseph found out his bride-to-be was pregnant, of course he suspected that she had cheated on him.  That’s how babies are made, isn’t it???

Yet he was noble and kind and hesitated to expose her to public ridicule, or worse (the Old Testament penalty was death) so he waited a bit, deciding what to do.

As he waited, God spoke to Joseph’s heart, assuring him that this was no natural conception and that Mary had done nothing wrong.

God also gave Joseph a commission:  to raise His son as his own.  

Joseph received this word and did as God commanded.   

Now God hasn’t spoken to me in a dream, or in clouds across the sky or from the mouth of a donkey or any other supernatural phenomena.

BUT He has spoken to me by His written Word.  

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

Romans 8:24-27 PHILLIPS

It’s hard when life seems to be going terribly, terribly wrong to trust.  

It’s understandable to look at what I can see and assume that is all there is. 

But I don’t want to do that. 

I can choose, like Joseph, to embrace the command to wait, to be patient, to step confidently in the direction of tomorrow because He is already there.

I want to stretch my faith-receiving God’s promises, holding onto them, and walking boldly into the future trusting they will be fulfilled.  

he is faithful who has promised

 

 

No Contest: There’s Enough Heartache to Go Around

I may get jeered by my fellow bereaved parents but I’m committed to honesty so here it is: there is no hierarchy of grief and loss.

Now, am I saying that losing a dog is the same as burying a child?  Absolutely not!  I’ve written about that here.

But what I am saying is that grief, sorrow, loss and heartbreak comes to us in all shapes and sizes.  And what may be small to me may be huge to someone else.

In the past weeks I’ve been exposed to a number of people who were waiting for those magic minutes of visitation allowed for intensive care units.

Each one had a story.  

Each one had a cross to bear and a complicated life they were trying to maintain outside the additional stress and strain of a loved one hooked up to tubes and heart monitors.

None of them revealed (to me at least) that they were bereaved parents.

But I could clearly see pain, sorrow, grief and weariness etched in their furrowed brows. I could hear exhaustion in their voices as they placed phone call after phone call to update people that wanted to know how things were going but couldn’t make it to the hospital.  I noticed hope spring to life in each heart when the clock ticked toward the assigned visitation window and how they leaned forward willing those last seconds to fly by faster.

heart and wood

I knew they were hurting.  It didn’t matter if they hurt as much or less than me. There’s enough pain to go around in this life.

It isn’t a contest.

And I realized that because of my great grief and sorrow, I had a gift to share.  I could reach out and take a hand, listen to a story, hug a weary shoulder empathetically, gently and without judgement.

I understand the weight of hard things.

I know by experience that life can change in a single breath.  I carry both the ongoing burden of missing my son and the traumatic memory of life changed instantly by a knock on the door.   It’s made me stronger in ways I would not have chosen.

I will not squander that strength.

I will put my shoulder to the harness alongside my fellow humans and offer to help carry some of their burden.  I will extend my hand to the stumbling, strengthen the heart of the hurting and offer a listening ear to the one who has no one to talk to.

yoke-of-oxen

I cannot undo what I know.  I cannot undo what has brought them here or may take them to places THEY don’t want to go.

But I can be present.

I can refuse to turn away because I think their grief is small in comparison to my own.   

I can choose love.  

hands-passing-heart

 

Fifth Sunday Singings and a Mama’s Broken Heart

Fifth Sunday Singings are a tradition down South.

We gather in the evening or afternoon every time there is a fifth Sunday in a month and sing, sing, sing.

Sometimes there are featured groups but often it’s just the faithful few who enjoy picking favorite hymns that might not get much air time on Sunday mornings.

Inevitably the hymns that are chosen most often include a verse or two about “when the roll is called up yonder” or “the streets of gold” or “amazing grace”.  Because almost all of us have a hymn etched on our hearts during a time of trial or sorrow or deep suffering.

And it’s the promise that God is faithful, His word is true and this life is not all there is that gets us through.

But for this mama’s broken heart, a few choruses in and I’m in tears.  

While I am thankful, thankful, thankful that I know I will see my son again, these hymns remind me that a lifetime may lie between here and there.

The waiting is hard.  

waiting with hope water

 

 

Repost: Life at the Intersection of Desire and Self-Control

Maybe you can relate:  It is easier to do without if what I want isn’t close enough to tempt me. 

I don’t shop if I don’t want to spend.  I don’t get donuts if I don’t want to eat sugar.  I don’t have soda in the house if I don’t want to drink carbonated soft drinks.

It’s much harder to deny my desires when what I long for is within reach.

Read the rest here:  Life at the Intersection of Desire and Self-Control

Not Ashamed to Wait

“Those who wait for Me with hope will not be put to shame.”

Isaiah 49:23c NLV

We love stories of overcomers.  We invite testimonies that end in victory.

We applaud members of the Body who have a “before” and “after” tale of how Jesus plus willpower took them from the dust of defeat to the pinnacle of spiritual success.

But we hide the strugglers and stragglers in the back pews.

If suffering lingers long, whether or not it is in the hands of the one who suffers to do anything about it, we cringe and pull back and hope they go away.

We don’t offer them the pulpit or the Sunday School hour to speak of how Christ continues to be the hope to which they cling.

Because deep down, we think there must be something wrong with them, something wrong with their brand or quality or strength of faith.  If they only got it “right”, they too, would have the victory.

We would rather shush the suffering than face the tension between God’s goodness and His sovereignty.

We shame them to silence by implying they have nothing to share until they are able to wrap their story with a perfect spiritual bow.

We add insult to injury when their need for help exceeds the allotted three weeks or six months or whatever arbitrary deadline we impose on the prayer list and our patience.

But maybe what God has for me and others who suffer long is not a victorious tag line that can be slapped on a photo or shared on social media.  

Maybe it’s only in the continued press of suffering that God reveals Himself in ways the non-suffering never see.

Maybe a dash to declare victory is actually rushing past what God has for us in deep pain and ongoing struggle.

Maybe waiting in hopeful expectation for what God is doing and will do in me and through me IS the victory.

We wait for Yahweh;
He is our help and shield.
For our hearts rejoice in Him
because we trust in His holy name.
May Your faithful love rest on us, Yahweh,
for we put our hope in You.

Psalm 33:20-22 HCSB

 

Road Work

One of the “fun” events this summer to happen in my neck of the woods is a set of long overdue road projects.

I’m not sure where the funding came from but my rural county suddenly decided that several roads, including the one leading to my house, would no longer suffer from insufficient patches that wore out in a week and would instead get the full treatment-totally repaved, new stripes and new guardrails.

I admit, it was a bit inconvenient.

Especially when for an entire week I could no longer travel the most direct and timely path toward the closest town because the road was closed.

And, more than once I was stuck behind that “pilot truck” crawling along a mile or so until freed from the restraint and allowed to go on my merry way.  Once I was even stuck in my own driveway, unsure of whether or not I could even leave the property due to large and loud machinery blocking my path.

BUT, it was temporary.

It was only going to last so long.  These efforts would culminate in a smoother, more enjoyable and accessible way to get from “here” to “there”.

It was not going to last FOREVER.

I learned a few things from those weeks of waiting.

One thing I learned was that I still think (in spite of burying a child) I have some control.

And when that sense of control is threatened, I resent it.

I rarely have to go anywhere that can’t be rescheduled.  But when I was sitting at the end of my driveway, trying to figure out if I could even drive out onto the road, I was frustrated. Actually,  I was downright angry that these folks were blocking my way.

Silly, I know.  But revealing.

Another thing I learned was that I could more easily endure inconvenience or delay when I chose to focus on the eventual outcome instead of my current irritation.

If I looked at the clock on my dash and counted up the minutes I spent waiting, I was indignant that my agenda was delayed.  But if I could turn my thoughts to how pleasant it would be for years when they finished this project, the minutes flew by much faster-it didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice.

Some of my waiting was done beside the cemetary where Dominic’s earthly shell is buried.

And it made me think again of how very brief life is-not only his-which was shorter than most-but even my own-should I live the threescore and ten David wrote about in Psalms.

No matter how much I have to endure in this life, it is but a moment compared to an infinite and unending eternity with Jesus and my son.

Eternal perspective is hard to hold onto.  Especially when missing Dominic is so much harder than rearranging my schedule or waiting behind a dump truck for my turn to pass down the road.

But the principle stands:  when I focus my heart and mind and soul’s eyes on forever, even this awful pain of burying my child is a little easier to bear.

If I can lift my head-or let Jesus do it for me-I can cast my gaze to the horizon of His promise.

The troubles of this life are temporary.

But the joy of Heaven is eternal.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 MSG