To Move Beyond Brokenness . . . .

We had worked together for months in the Counseling Room.  Many tears were shed along the way, but new vistas gained as spiritual insights helped to steady her course.  Then one day she walked into my office the color of ash.   I could see the hurt and anger in her countenance as tears brimmed full.  What do you do when faced with shattered dreams and the light of hope has suddenly been snuffed out?  Be they your own broken dreams or someone else’s, the need is the same: a listening ear, that human connectedness of a hug or embrace, along with the words, “I’m sorry . . . .” 

It is often said that, “Time heals all wounds.”  While that may be true in part, it certainly is not true when it comes to ministering to the broken heart.  Just as a broken bone needs to be set aright, wisdom and intentional care are needed to straighten and strengthen the broken mind and heart.  In the Counseling Room I have ministered to many people crippled emotionally and spiritually by the still raw evidence of wounds left untended for years . . . even decades.  I know of no better resource than the wisdom contained in the Scriptures that, when rightly applied, can open up light and hope like nothing else.

Hebrews 3:13 warns believers, to guard against letting the hardness of sin and doubt to fester in our hearts for even one more day:

“Above all else, guard your heart . . . .” Proverbs 4:23

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”
so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

True encouragement seeks not merely to placate or build up the ego; authentic encouragement speaks to straighten and strengthen what has been broken.  

In my last post, I wrote about the Heartstrings Illustrationa very practical tool that helps identify the primary influence(s) we rely on to make decisions.  As I watched and listened to my Client, I understood the pain she was in . . . but I also understood the danger of beginning to doubt the only One we can truly trust.  To help stop the emotional and spiritual “bleeding” of a heart so broken and raw, she needed the wisdom of Scripture to help her assess who or what influence was tugging at her heartstrings. 

We went to John 21–one of those special places in Scripture that I enjoy because it is so personal.  It begins very early in the morning, with Peter and a few of the other disciples returning from a disappointing night of fishing. I asked her to begin reading the passage to me–I ask all of my Clients to read aloud to me so that was nothing new.  As she read about how Jesus was waiting on the shore and the events that took place, her voice returned to a more regular tone.  Occasionally, she stopped reading as we marveled at how simply, but powerfully Jesus ministered to the hearts of those men–by providing a miraculous catch of fish while already having prepared a meal that was waiting for them on the beach.  We were touched, when Jesus took a walk with Peter (the disciple who denied knowing Jesus three times after He was arrested.) In the conversation that took place between them, Jesus challenged and commissioned Peter to, “Feed My sheep.”

The part that I hoped would most encourage and challenge my Client came in the final section when Jesus said:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger
you dressed yourself and went where you wanted;
but when you are old you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”

The text goes on to explain:

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death
by which Peter would glorify God.
Then He said to him, “Follow me!”

(verses 18 and 19)

Stunned by what Jesus said (in my mind I picture Peter blubbering to himself and extremely uncomfortable), Peter looked around and saw another disciple, John, was near to them.  Peter asked Jesus the question many of us ask in such situations, “What about him?” Jesus’ response, simple and direct, serves as a needful reminder as to who is God, and who is decidedly NOT God:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?
You must follow Me.”

(Verse 22)

The room was quiet as we reflected on the text. It was then that I recognized a melding of wisdom and hope as color returned to her cheeks. Using the Heartstring Illustration to gain insight into what had just happened, she said,

“When I walked in here I was totally fixated on the pain of my situation–I had lost all hope.
In fact, I was angry at God for allowing my life to fall apart.
After reading Jesus’ answer to Peter, I was struck by my foolishness.
I knew immediately how off-course I truly was.
Nothing has changed . . . I still have no idea of the direction my life is going to take.
Even so, I am at peace–with God back in His rightful place in my heart.”

Time does not heal all wounds.   But as we entrust ourselves to God (refusing the temptation to doubt in His Goodness), and rely on the Scriptures and His Spirit to help us, we discover the wondrous grace of His Peace.  To move beyond brokenness is not something we can ever attain in our own strength, it is only possible as we rely on Him as our Resting Place.

All to His Glory!

A Comforting Grace . . . .

“It’s hard, but God is good.”  Those are the words I find myself repeating when a friend mentions the loss of my father. Some look at me quizzically and a silence lingers as they wait for me to offer more– that I know that he is in a better place (which I do.)  The problem is, when I say anything more I find myself battling unwanted tears welling up in my eyes. The odd thing is, until a week ago, I would have told you that I was, “Doing just fine.”

IMG_0015
Christmas, 1953

Few of us escape seasons when we find ourselves battling emotions that appear to come out of nowhere.  To say that I have been surprised by grief is an understatement.  When I received word that Dad died, it was not unexpected. Dad’s health had been declining for several years, to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair the last time I saw him.  Living three thousand miles apart, my brother Norm has been extremely good to let me know about Dad’s overall health–the good days as well as his drastic decline three days prior to his death.  When I said goodbye to Dad last fall, I knew that it was likely the last time I would see him.  I was grateful Norm was there too . . . grateful to see Dad bask in the loving care he was receiving.

That Dad is in a better place is without question.  Yet, despite knowing this, I STILL MISS HIM.  I miss hearing his voice and seeing his face light up when I came into his room.  The one Scripture that truly speaks to the emotional loss I am presently experiencing is, “Jesus wept.”  (John 11:35)

It is a comforting grace to know that Jesus,
not only walked among us, but He wept for and with us. 

This especially resonates when we read about the death of Lazarus in John 11.  Jesus did not weep when He informed His disciples that Lazarus had died–in fact He initially told them Lazarus had fallen asleep. (verses 11-14)  It was not until Jesus saw Mary* and others around her grieving, that He was brought to tears:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled . . . . Jesus wept.”
John 11:33, 35

We talk about this in the Counseling Room.  When we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster after suffering a loss or when experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it is a comforting grace to know that God is not offended by our struggle.  In fact, when we find ourselves colliding with trouble, the Bible assures us that He has compassion on His people. (Matthew 14:14 and 20:34; Mark 6:34)

Yet God does not want us to remain spiritually frail.  During the twenty years I have been privileged to Counsel, I have repeatedly marveled at God’s faithfulness in transforming human brokenness into a loveliness and strength that is fully of Him.  The key to that transformation? Time after time it has consistently occurred in those who embrace the Authority of the Scripture as God’s Spirit has tended to each heart.  Jesus continues to call us to Himself, offering His Comforting Grace to all who seek Him:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.…”
Matthew 11:28,29

Yes, I still miss my dad and trust that I will for some time.  In fact, as I have been able to identify the blessing of His Comforting Grace being worked out in my life right now, I give thanks to God for the sweetness of memories that can never be taken away.

All to His Glory!

 *The sister of Lazarus who would soon anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair– John 12:3.

Hiding in Plain Sight . . . .

 When it comes to finding something that has been lost, my husband is far better than I am at staying on-task.  Yet for years, he has insisted that there is a conspiracy against him when it comes to finding something he is looking for.  On countless occasions, he has called me into a room (after he has torn everything apart) to help him find something he knows is there but it’s hiding and he just can’t see it.  There are times when it has been hard to resist a giggle, as I casually reach over and hand the lost item to him.  More often however, I join him in the hunt and we both end up frustrated.  In recent years we have learned to actually ask God for help in those situations and the outcome has been far better!

Sometimes people hide in plain sight–knowingly or unknowingly.  Clark Kent comes to mind– living a very ordinary life outwardly (thanks to a pair of glasses and a suit) but who whizzes around saving the world as Superman.  I love the cartoon that depicts him on a crowded bus sitting between a dozing Superman-want-to-be and a young boy trying to alert his mom to Clark/Superman’s presence–but she doesn’t want to hear it.  It makes me wonder how much of “life” I miss just trying to focus on my “to do list”  like that boy’s mom?

Superman–hiding in plain sight!

Do you ever hide in plain sight?  Until recently convicted, I never realized that I have that tendency.  What does hiding in plain sight look like?

We hide in plain sight 
when we go through the motions of what is expected, 
but our hearts and minds are not really engaged.
There are times when we hide in plain sight,
as we await God’s answer to our prayers.
We hide in plain sight,
when we distance ourselves from people we ordinarily trust– 
because we are afraid our tears will betray us.
We hide in plain sight,
when we throw ourselves into an activity–
to create a buffer between ourselves and the pain of loss or change.
We hide in plain sight,
when we stop doing what we believe we should do,
because it is too painful to continue.

 The common denominator of hiding in plain sight in these instances?  Fear . . . worry . . . the avoidance of pain and . . . the hardest of all to have to admit to . . . PRIDE.

Hiding in plain sight in the short term, can be helpful, as it gives time to process whatever weighs heavy on the heart.  For me, hiding in plain sight in recent weeks has given me time to sort out my thoughts and emotions when I think about my dad.  Three thousand mile separate us so I have always been grateful for our phone connection.  Recently though, I have ended up in tears as some days he seems to fade away, has put the phone down and forgotten to pick it up again.  Oh how I would love to be Superman and rescue my dad . . . but it just is not that easy.

There is a danger in hiding in plain sight for too long– becoming self-absorbed.  Many times hiding in plain sight for an extended length of time can deepen depression, increase anxiety and rob us of the hope God has for us as we learn to trust Him more.

This past week I found comfort in the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth.  II Corinthians 2:4 helped me come to terms with my fears and concerns for my dad and the family I hold dear.  Referring to a previous letter expressing deep concern for them Paul wrote:

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” 
(ESV)

As I read Paul’s letter the words affliction, anguish of heart and tears jumped off the page before me as they captured the essence of my emotions as I think of my dad.  Such emotions are painful . . . no one wants to endure such suffering!  Yet, I found encouragement as the words, abundant love flew at me like a banner of hope!  What do affliction, anguish of heart and tears have in common with abundant love?

Without the tension of the first three ingredients, there is no way of realizing our capacity to love as God has loved us.   
It is always the love of God that will ultimately reveal what is hidden, to bind and strengthen our relationships with Him and with others.

When it comes to finding what has been lost, God is the Primo Expert of all.  Have you been hiding in plain sight, perhaps struggling with disappointment or loss?  Be encouraged in knowing that God sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) . . . even when they don’t know they need to be found.  Pray about all that is on your heart . . . dig into His Word . . . and give thanks for His abundant love!

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” 
Ezekiel 34: 11, 12

 All to His Glory!

“The Quiet of Now . . . . “

“The quiet of now . . . .” It is a simple phrase that tumbled into my mind one morning as I was writing praises to God in my Journey Notebook.  I remember being struck by how it expressed the delight in my soul as I was aware of His Presence.  “The quiet of now . . .” is not so much about silence (although there may be a “hush” that accompanies it) but has more to do with the cessation of physical or mental busyness.  It can be experienced in times of blessing as well as in the midst of trial and heartache.  “The quiet of now . . .” refers to those rare moments when the world becomes distant as God awaits our stepping through the doorway to Him.  It is in such moments that Hope reigns supreme to both delight and comfort the soul.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when “the quiet of now” entered the forefront of my praises to God.  Our home had rocked for a week as our family of eight adults and seven children enjoyed the rare treat of spending time together.  Laughter, good food, messiness of varying degrees, old friends dropping in and a beautiful snow were the hallmarks of our week.  Several times, I found myself thinking about Mary who, after all the events that occurred around Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  In like fashion, I tried to store away odd moments in my mind to be savored later:

  • The way our kids and their spouses enjoyed each other.
  • Watching how the three oldest cousins sensitively played with their younger cousins.
  • The laughter shared by the five bigger boys while sharing stories about sledding one afternoon afternoon.
  • The two youngest leaving gooey fingerprints on our den windows as they excitedly watched the squirrels and birds romp around the bird feeder in the snow.

Yesterday, with everyone gone it was quiet–almost too quiet,  It was then that I pulled out those freshly stored memories and laughed “in the quiet of now.”  (I laughed even harder last night, when I noticed those gooey fingerprints still gracing our den windows!)  It was truly lovely to share those memories with the One who ordained them from the beginning of time.

Are you yearning to experience such a moment?  Perhaps you are feeling harried by the craziness in your life or are discouraged by the seemingly quirky unfairness of how things are right now?  Psalm 46 lays out a helpful formula to lead us to “the quiet of now . . .” when life is falling apart.  It concludes with this direction:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Consider this breakdown–

Step One:

~ BE STILL ~

Step away from what you are doing when you can; ask Him to help you see a window in time to be with Him,  (I guarantee He will help you to do this!)

Step Two:

~ KNOW ~

 Stop focusing on your problems and discouragement.  Focus instead on the One who loves you.  Ask Him to help you to know Him more intimately than you do— He will help with this one too!

Step Three:

~ I AM GOD ~

Bow before Him as you give thanks that HE IS GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE NOT!  (It is always such a relief to set that one straight!)

Step Four:

~ I WILL BE EXALTED! ~

If you got steps one through three in order, then enter His Gates (“the quiet of now. . .”) with thanksgiving and praise!

One final thought on entering “the quiet of now . . . .”  Since the fall of man we have sought and failed to create our own heaven/peace on earth apart from God.  The Bible makes clear, we cannot enjoy such quiet/peace apart from the Peacemaker–Christ Jesus–who unabashedly pointed to Himself as the path that leads to quiet we crave:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  
John 14:6

All to His Glory

Hope For Tomorrow . . . .

I was three years old when my dad returned from Korea.  I still remember him, so handsome in his Marine dress blues, picking me up in my shyness on that November afternoon in 1951.  There was much that I did not understand back then, how the impact of war on Dad would haunt him for years to come.  The one thing that I did know was the security of being lifted up into his strong arms, I was glad he made it home!

Now . . . a lifetime later I continue to celebrate God’s goodness for the gift of sixty-plus years with Dad,  Over the weekend he seemed to lose the strength he had gained with his physical therapy the previous week.  By Monday morning he was obviously weaker.  To say that it was hard to say goodbye is an understatement.  The truth is, I bawled like a baby and stayed with him until he fell asleep.  (I could not bear the thought of him seeing me leave.)  It had been  a joy to visit him each day; to tell him I would return the following day.  This time though, I was leaving to return to my home three thousand miles away–I could make no promises about tomorrow.  It was probably one of the most emotionally charged moments I have ever experienced–my elderly father using every ounce of strength he could muster, reaching up from his bed to put his arms around me.  I settled myself down next to him, sobbing at the thought of never seeing him alive again.

So precious to see Dad stronger three days before I had to say goodbye.
So precious to see Dad stronger, three days before I had to say goodbye.

When I was sure he was asleep, I quickly walked down the hallway of the skilled nursing facility,  With every step I took I saw the years between Dad’s hugs appear to melt away.  I felt every bit as vulnerable as that shy little girl waiting on the Navy dock for her daddy, this time knowing that he could not hold my world together.   I quickened my pace as I thought about how much I hate death and the pain that is part of living on this earth.  It was at that point that I recognized the choice I had to make:

Give myself over to despair . . .
or to the Eternal Hope given us by Jesus.

It was not a difficult choice, but I started to choke up as I remembered the Hope given to all who face such moments in Revelation 21:

 ” . . . I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.   He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Verses 3, 4–ESV)

It was then that the loving arms of my Heavenly Father enfolded me with Hope.  I thought about the myriad of saints who have gone before us, broken by deep sadness but who found Comfort and Strength to meet each day with the miracle of His Hope.  The words of a Charles Wesley hymn surged through my soul:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of His grace!

I received word a few days after returning home that Dad is being treated for pneumonia again.  What the immediate future holds for him I do not know, but God has been faithful to provide care for Dad as it has been needed.  I do not know if I will see my dad again in this life, but because God is faithful to keep His promises, I trust that I will enjoy Dad into eternity.   

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part,
but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”  
(I Corinthians 13:12)

I share my story to offer you the courage and hope I almost lost sight of at the thought of losing my dad.  The lesson I learned, was that when we turn to God in our pain, He provides the courage and determination we need to walk by faith. God’s Spirit and His Word reminded me of the Hope of Heaven that calls us onward and upward.  Hope for tomorrow?  Oh my yes!

All to His Glory!

The Secret to Aging Well . . . .

If old grapes become prized as fine wine after aging over time and old furniture  increases in value as it is deemed to be antique, why do we have so little regard for people as they age? Living in a culture that celebrates youth and regards aging as something to delay or stop altogether, I fear that we have lost sight of the wisdom and perspective that can only be gained with time and experience.   I wonder if:

  • In our quest to avoid appearing older, we do ourselves a disservice in denying not only our own mortality but also our Creator?  
  • As we absorb ourselves with appearing outwardly young, are we leaving undiscovered the potential richness of character grown over time as we entrust ourselves to God as we age?
  • Have we, in our self-absorption, not only lost sight of God with our warped outlook but also lost the secret to aging well?

Of course, not all grapes become fine wine and most furniture either breaks, is worn out or discarded long before it could be categorized as antique.  The same can be said about people, except that inanimate objects have no choice as they age but you and I do.  The Scriptures teach that at the end of our days we will have to give an account to God as to how we have lived and the choices we have made.

So, is there such a thing as aging well?  I cannot speak to you as any sort of authority except to say that, like you, I continue to be a work in process.   However, the Scriptures have much to teach us to help keep our priorities straight:

  1. In I Samuel 16:7 we gain insight into how vastly different God’s priorities are from ours:  “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  Our lesson?  Go to God with an open and contrite heart; admit your need to for His help to make your heart right before Him.
  2. Starting NOW, give thanks to Him for the hope that is ours because of what Jesus accomplished on your behalf and mine.  Determine to live each day as Jesus directed in Mark 10:15, 16, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.”  

There is no formula or magic potion to help us age well, but attitude is certainly important.  What truly pleases God (no matter what our age) is a simple, trusting faith that opens heart, mind and soul to Him.  I don’t know when or how I learned it, but I have found this classic children’s prayer to be helpful for nearly six decades when life has been especially tough and I have been at a loss as to how to pray:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
    I pray the Lord my soul to take . . . .”

It is a scary prayer to pray, sobering even for a child of seven.  I still hesitate before reciting the words, “If I should die before I wake . . . . “  as I am reminded of my own mortality before a holy God.  Part of me wants to pull back out of fear, but I am still compelled to push past those fears because of Christ’s faithfulness.  Even now, as I pray those words I choose to trust my Creator, surrendering my body . . . my mind . . . and my soul to Him.

So what is the secret to aging well?  I believe it is the mysterious working of God’s Spirit and His Word in those willing to trust Him:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  Hebrews 4:12, 13

It is faith lived out on a daily basis that demonstrates a life lived well at any age.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.  I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!