A prayer of gratitude for my dad

Lord, Over these last few weeks, I’ve barely been able to pray. My brain can’t seem to form words, but I feel Your love cradling me. I’m tired—so tired that the word “tired” doesn’t seem to touch it. I’m sad—so sad that I’m practically beyond tears. But somehow my heart sings because I got to ...

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Lord,

Over these last few weeks, I’ve barely been able to pray. My brain can’t seem to form words, but I feel Your love cradling me.

I’m tired—so tired that the word “tired” doesn’t seem to touch it.

I’m sad—so sad that I’m practically beyond tears.

But somehow my heart sings because I got to have him as my dad.

I got to hold his hand when we crossed streets or walked around art fairs or when I sat beside his hospital bed.

I got to share his red hair and freckles and calves that are bigger and sturdier than any girl ever wants them to be.

I got to stand beside him at art shows, listening to him brag on me to his fans when they asked if any of his talent rubbed off on me. And I got to hear his wonder after reading my first book, opening the door to conversations we’d never had before.

I got to have him criticize my paintings—because, let’s face it, no one could outshine him. But I also got to watch him discuss his mistakes, see how he took them and cropped or painted over or lifted the paint or added a fence or found a way to make the mistake beautiful. And when that didn’t work, I saw him put them in a drawer so he could try again another day.

I got to witness the way he walked to the studio in the back yard after breakfast because he couldn’t wait to paint again. And watch him load his golf clubs when he didn’t feel like it—or when it was just too pretty of a day not to golf.

I got to hear his critique of my softball skills, ride behind him on a three-wheeler and snowmobile until I could drive them myself, sort through old art school projects in his attic, and abscond with his discarded typography books and art supplies. I got to ride home from art fairs listening to him reminisce about the 40-some years that came before, when people lined up and bought paintings from the back of his van before he could even unload. I heard about him painting all night after selling out the first day so that he would have something to sell on the second day.

I got to watch the way he loved Mom in her last days, the way he would hold her hand to steady her as they walked together. The way that, even when the toxins in her brain turned her mean, he’d wait until she was sleeping and walk by and kiss the top of her head when no one was looking.

I got to eat countless lunches with him (lunch combo #3 or a steakburger with cheese, pickles and mustard), talking through whatever he felt like talking about. I got to walk across the driveway to eat dinner with him and Kerry’s family, fortunate that because we live in the “complex,” he got to visit us both at the same time. We drank wine and talked, always something more to talk about—or not, but either way, feeling comfortable enough to simply relax together. I got to hear in detail all of his health complaints, the small and annoying ones, and yet when it got really bad, his complaints seemed to decrease. I got to hear how his pain level was always the same—“it really hurts, probably a four or five,” and “not bad, probably just a four or five”—and smile across the bed at Kerry as we reached for the next dose of medicine.

I got to watch as he drove an hour to return the extra change a server gave him at dinner the night before. I got to listen as he found reasons to praise the oncologist who gave him the bad news, and the aide who helped bathe him, and the nurses and therapists who came in—always, even in his pain, commenting on something good that they did. And meaning it. And I got to know that generosity was one of his defining marks.

I got to see the way he opened his arms to our friends who wanted to have a dad like him. And I got to see the loyalty of his friends, the character of the men he chose to let into his life, and the tears shed by some of these big, strong, masculine men as they said goodbye.

I got to fill his water glass and hold his straw, set my alarm to give him his meds through the night, and lie there at night, silently crying for him as the medications gave him hallucinations. But I also got to sit beside him, rubbing his arm, his hand gripping mine, as we talked about what he dreamed, knowing he was comforted simply by my presence.

I got to be one of only two people in this world who could say about him, “You probably know my dad,” expecting to hear nothing but good stories about him. And I got to be proud of that, to let myself be defined by who I belonged to.

And now, even though he is no longer here with us, I still get to be proud. I still get to be the person he and Mom made me to be.

So, Lord, I thank You for this. For all of this. For all of the ways my life was enriched by my dad. By the fact that he always made me feel loved, always made me feel special, never left me wondering.

Dad helped me see what unconditional love looked like because he modeled the kind of love You have for me.

I don’t really want to let myself think about what I lost. I don’t want to face that he is really no longer here. I know it, but I haven’t let myself really, really go there yet. Maybe it’s denial, but maybe it’s also the fact that I want to dwell in this place of gratitude.

When Mom died, I was making a list of things I was thankful for, trying to make myself truly feel it and falling woefully short. But when Dad died, I wasn’t looking, and I saw it anyway.

And I don’t want to over-examine that. I don’t want to rationalize away this feeling that it is well with my soul. Because the truth is, it IS well.

I want to remain in this attitude of thankfulness. I want to thank You, Lord, for every single thing, for all the ways my dad made me the person I am, and for all the moments we got to share. Please help cushion my slow return to the regularly-paced world, to the meetings and work and appointments and to-dos that fill page after page. Give me strength to take care of the business aspects of my loss, but even more, help me to not collapse under the emotional aspects of it.

Thank You, God, for showing me after losing Mom that even if I don’t like the outcome, You are still good. You are still there. You still love me, and You still hear me. Thank You for revealing to me that a bad thing does not even begin to cancel out the good of who You are.

Even when I’m sad, You are a sustaining God. Even when I’m lonely, You are a loving and compassionate God. Even when I feel alone, You are my God. Even when I lose such a good, strong, talented, kind and loving dad, You remain. And You will never leave my side.

Thank You, Lord. Amen.

His banner over me

Lord Jesus, You are here. Whether I feel You or not, whether I talk to You or not, You permeate the atmosphere. I know this is true. When my pleas begin—and end—with “Lord Jesus…” because I don’t have the capacity to form another syllable, You are here. When I lie down to sleep, You cradle ...

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Lord Jesus,

You are here. Whether I feel You or not, whether I talk to You or not, You permeate the atmosphere. I know this is true. When my pleas begin—and end—with “Lord Jesus…” because I don’t have the capacity to form another syllable, You are here. When I lie down to sleep, You cradle me. When my tears fall, I feel Your comfort.

Even so, I don’t know how to do this.

When I lost Mom, I felt as though You’d abandoned me. Later, I realized that if I didn’t feel You then, it was because I had pushed You away.

Oh, Lord, I want to lean on You this time. I want to abide in the shelter of Your wings. I want to draw my strength from You. I want to find joy and I long to worship you in the midst of it all.

But honestly, I don’t know if I can.

I’ve been functioning on auto-pilot. Facts, statistics, details. Because that’s all I think I can handle right now. Facts don’t require emotions.

But you know what else I know? Your banner over me is love. (Song of Solomon 2:4)

When I hold Dad’s hand in the middle of the night, soothing him in the wake of the hallucinations caused by his pain meds—when I show him love—You are here.

When we make his favorite foods or order carryout from Little Mexico, hoping to find something he’ll eat, Your banner of love is waving overhead. When he commented that the sunflowers I bought for his room reminded him of Van Gogh’s famous painting, I smiled because I already knew that, and You were here.

When we set our alarms to give him his meds around the clock, when we help him brush his teeth or adjust his oxygen or refill his water glass or hold his straw or call the hospice nurse with questions or respond to people’s messages or lie in the dark alongside him, tears streaming, unable to sleep, You are here. When we sit beside him, hearing the sounds of his labored breathing, checking his skin for mottling, watching him grimace in pain, squeezing drops of liquid pain medicine into his mouth, listening to the incoherent words he’s mumbling, even when we know he is no longer aware of us being here, You are here.

Wherever love is present, You are too.

Love isn’t the problem. This is: I am certain that I am not strong enough to do this. I don’t know how to move forward after the inevitable conclusion, even though I simultaneously long for it to hasten to arrive.

When Mom died, I felt as though there was nothing to tether me any longer. I felt like I was loose, lost, free (but not in a good way). I lost all sense of who I was when she wasn’t around to define me, to know me. I don’t know what losing Dad is going to do to me. Mom’s personality was strong, and I spent much of my life resisting her. It didn’t stop me from loving her, or calling her three times a day, but it was a different relationship than the one I have with Dad.

Because Dad and I have always just fit together. We enjoy each other. Understand each other. Notice the same things. We can sit together and be comfortable, whether we’re doing something or not. I can easily grasp the kind of unconditional love the Heavenly Father has for me because of the sweetness and completeness of the love Dad has always shown me. I have never ceased to feel adored and cherished and valued with Dad.

What do I do when he’s not here to show that to me any longer?

I try to rest in You, Lord. I want to lean on You, but the distance between where I am in this moment and where I’d have to be to turn to You seems impassable. In order to let You in, I have to lower my defenses. If I open my heart, I will have to feel pain. To get to You, I have to step out from behind this brittle wall protecting my heart. And I just don’t think I can do that, because in that split second of time between the two, it seems as though my heart might disintegrate. The vulnerability in that moment of transition might just obliterate me.

I want You, Lord, but I just don’t know how to get to You right now.

I’ll have to rest in the certainty that Your banner over us is love. Your love is freely and boldly declared, visible for all to see, marking me as belonging to You, just as our love for Dad marks us as belonging to him.

Love is Your defining characteristic. You are the source of all love and the embodiment of it. And there is most definitely an abundance of love in this room. In my heart, and in Dad’s, and in the hearts of those who are here with us.

So please, Lord, know my heart. Don’t abandon me or withhold Yourself because of my failings in these moments. Be bigger than I am. Stronger and more faithful. More true, more understanding, more gracious. More forgiving, more hopeful, more solid. More loving. More present. More certain, and more comforting, and more…everything than I can imagine or dream or articulate.

I’m so glad that You are my strength when I am weak, because I’ve never felt weaker.

When the end comes, let Dad pass peacefully from here, where he is cradled in our arms, to there, where he is cradled, forevermore, in Yours.

Please don’t ever let go of me. I will need You then even more than I do now.

And even though I can’t seem to tear down these barriers I’ve erected in self-preservation, I do know how much I need You and love You. I thank You for this incredible man who is my father, and I pray that I don’t need to find the right words in order for You to know that and hold me tight when I collapse. In that moment, please, Lord, whisper to me of how much more You adore and cherish and value me than even my dad ever did. Let me know that, believe it, and in those moments, let me feel him with me.

Because I will always be my daddy’s little girl.

And I will always belong to You, too.

Amen.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one ...

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I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo


Dear Lord,

Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer.

It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels like my mom should be. When, even after several years, I feel lost… adrift… permanently damaged, even as I go about my days. I’m not depressed. But I miss her. I feel perpetually lonely without her.

On a day like today, all I can think about is what my mom did for me. How she—even through her criticisms—was my unconditional place. My biggest supporter and strongest cheerleader. How she saw what was bad, misguided, or just plain wrong in my actions—and didn’t hesitate to say so—because she believed I was capable of so much more. Because she thought I was so much better than that.

I wonder now—when I rebelled, did it hurt her the way my own kids hurt me?

Did she stand firm in her opinions anyway, simply because there was no other choice? Because she had to be the mom she knew I needed, rather than the one I thought I wanted?

Did she lie awake at night, wondering if she was doing right by her kids?

Did she fume all day when I yelled at her unjustly?

And even so, did she defend me, instinctively, against any and all criticisms?

Did she mourn over her inability to protect me from people who would hurt me, injure my opinion of myself, break my heart?

I’m certain she did. As a teen, I was oblivious to that. As a parent myself, I now understand her better. Lord, You gave me wonderful mom, and I’m so grateful. And You’ve blessed me with remarkable, amazing children. So why do I feel more like crying than rejoicing?

Because I fully recognize all that I lost. All that she was to me. All that a mom should be to her child. And I’m afraid I can’t live up. I’m afraid I’ve already failed irreparably. I’m afraid my kids will never understand the depths of my love for them. My desperation to shield them from all that could harm them. My unlimited hopes and aspirations for them. They may never understand how deeply I feel the things that hurt them. Or how much I believe in them.

Maybe they’ll get it when they have children of their own.

Maybe someday they’ll cling to You when they realize they don’t have control over their own kids’ lives. Maybe they’ll live in awe of a God who loves us with a Father’s love. Maybe they’ll understand that we are forever connected, whether we’re both on this earth or not. Maybe they’ll grasp the reality that parenting well involves huge risk. It involves making unpopular decisions and hard choices and knowing that we can’t fix everything. It requires being hands-off sometimes when our instincts tell us to cling tight. It consists of a love so great that it isn’t changed by circumstances, actions, achievements—or by disappointments or failures. Our hearts are forever tethered to each other.

Lord, as I write this, I feel my heart loosening. My gratitude welling up. My sadness is still there but not bringing me down… instead, it’s lifting up my head, directing my sight towards You. Because I do have reasons to celebrate. Reasons so much greater than flowers and gifts or the perfect card.

I have You. And I had her (and will always have her, even if she’s not here). And I have my kids.

And I do have joy… in spite of the sadness. But on this day, with Your help, I will let joy prevail. Thank You, Lord.

Amen.

#HonorAllMoms—and May prayer prompt calendar

Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely ...

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Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely on board, because after I lost my own mom, I’d had a similar experience. I’d rather cry and go off on my own than “celebrate” on that day—even though I have three kids who I love with all my heart. Sometimes the pain overshadows the joy. And sometimes, people aren’t in a position to feel joy because the reminder of their loss is too great.

I’ll stop talking now so you can hear from Sarah, but don’t forget to download the prayer prompt calendar here or on her website.


Mother’s Day was celebrated in a big way where I grew up. As a child, I’d sit alongside my family in the slick wooden pew and gaze at the fetching flower arrangements crowding the floor of our sanctuary.  Roses, peonies, and spring blooms sat ready to be awarded to the ladies of my small Southern Baptist church.

Ms. Nita, smartly dressed in a pastel dress and a Sunday-go-to-church hat, always seemed to be in charge of the program. After we sang from the hymnal, the kids were beckoned to retrieve a bundle of roses from a basket and encouraged to hand the blooms to beaming mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. After the hugs ended, Ms. Nita took to the center stage and said, “Would all Mothers please stand?”

My mother and grandmother would rise and stand amongst the females of my community. It was like a battalion of matriarchs. Then, the ceremony of awards began. We’d quickly find out who was the oldest mom, who was the youngest mom, and who was the mom with the most children. This tradition of honoring mothers is still one of my fondest memories of my childhood.

But it wasn’t until I was an adult, sitting in church on Mother’s Day fresh from the heartache of my first miscarriage, that I realized how many women actually had hurting hearts on Mother’s Day.

I sat recollecting my childhood and recalled how at my old church the mother with the most living children was awarded one of the biggest and most beautiful bouquets.  The congregation always erupted in applause for this dear soul who had her hands full.

But now, with a babe in Heaven and one in the church nursery, it struck me as an odd banner of honor. I realized that beneath smiles many women silently mourn on Mother’s Day. I instantly thought of my mother-in-law. She has five children. But only three are living. Jesse died at the age of two and Lauren at the age of twenty. Then I thought of my mother. She has three children. But only two of us are living. A gravestone in the church cemetery only marks one tiny soul, who was stillborn. Then the face of a friend, who wanted nothing more to be a mother, came to mind.  Infertility had robbed her of the chance of becoming a mother and finances had prevented her from adopting. She too hurt on this special day. It made me realize that these sweet women—and those just like them who had endured the death of their own children or a dream that never came true, were women who also deserved an extra special bouquet.

My grief opened my eyes to the invisible grief that many women bear on Mother’s Day. We often forget these brave women, don’t we?

But we shouldn’t.

Mother’s Day is still one of my favorite days of the year, and it should be celebrated with unbridled jubilation, breakfast in bed, and homemade cards.

And I love how, at Ms. Nita’s gentle encouragement, my childhood church always collectively gave a big applause to mothers.  Mothers should receive a standing ovation.

But we should expand our celebration of Mother’s Day by showering love and support to all mothers—including those who view Mother’s Day as a stark reminder of what doesn’t exist. Each year, in the United States alone, 1 in 160 deliveries end in stillbirth, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, 3,500 babies under the age of 1 die, and 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. Let’s stand in solidarity as individuals and as the church to #HonorAllMoms this Mother’s Day.

Let’s also set aside the month of May to pray and encourage all sorts of women—those who have a baby to hold in their arms, those who do not; those who wanted to be a mom but never got to be, and those who were placed into that role by circumstance; children who have lost their moms and moms who have lost their children.

I think Ms. Nita would want all these special women to have a beautiful bloom.

“After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.” Christian Dior


SARAH PHILPOTT, PhD lives in Tennessee on a sprawling cattle farm where she raises her two mischievous children (and one little baby!) and is farmwife to her high-school sweetheart. An award-winning writer, Sarah has contributed to academic books, scholarly journals, and outlets such as the Huffington Post. Her book, Loved Baby: 31 Devotions for Helping you Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss, will be published in October 2017 by Broadstreet Publishing. Sarah is a lover of coffee (black), rocking chairs, the outdoors, and Hemingway. Visit allamericanmom.net where she writes about life on the farm and cherishing life in joy and sorrow.

 

A Prayer for When Christmas Has Lost Its Sparkle

Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com… Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy ...

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Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom five years ago, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?

Read the rest of the post here.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer. It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels ...

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Dear Lord,

Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer.

It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels like my mom should be. When, even after several years, I feel lost… adrift… permanently damaged, even as I go about my days. I’m not depressed. But I miss her. I feel perpetually lonely without her.

On a day like today, all I can think about is what my mom did for me. How she—even through her criticisms—was my unconditional place. My biggest supporter and strongest cheerleader. How she saw what was bad, misguided, or just plain wrong in my actions—and didn’t hesitate to say so—because she believed I was capable of so much more. Because she thought I was so much better than that.

I wonder now—when I rebelled, did it hurt her the way my own kids hurt me?

Did she stand firm in her opinions anyway, simply because there was no other choice? Because she had to be the mom she knew I needed, rather than the one I thought I wanted?

Did she lie awake at night, wondering if she was doing right by her kids?

Did she fume all day when I yelled at her unjustly?

And even so, did she defend me, instinctively, against any and all criticisms?

Did she mourn over her inability to protect me from people who would hurt me, injure my opinion of myself, break my heart?

I’m certain she did. As a teen, I was oblivious to that. As a parent myself, I now understand her better. Lord, You gave me wonderful mom, and I’m so grateful. And You’ve blessed me with remarkable, amazing children. So why do I feel more like crying than rejoicing?

Because I fully recognize all that I lost. All that she was to me. All that a mom should be to her child. And I’m afraid I can’t live up. I’m afraid I’ve already failed irreparably. I’m afraid my kids will never understand the depths of my love for them. My desperation to shield them from all that could harm them. My unlimited hopes and aspirations for them. They may never understand how deeply I feel the things that hurt them. Or how much I believe in them.

Maybe they’ll get it when they have children of their own.

Maybe someday they’ll cling to You when they realize they don’t have control over their own kids’ lives. Maybe they’ll live in awe of a God who loves us with a Father’s love. Maybe they’ll understand that we are forever connected, whether we’re both on this earth or not. Maybe they’ll grasp the reality that parenting well involves huge risk. It involves making unpopular decisions and hard choices and knowing that we can’t fix everything. It requires being hands-off sometimes when our instincts tell us to cling tight. It consists of a love so great that it isn’t changed by circumstances, actions, achievements—or by disappointments or failures. Our hearts are forever tethered to each other.

Lord, as I write this, I feel my heart loosening. My gratitude welling up. My sadness is still there but not bringing me down… instead, it’s lifting up my head, directing my sight towards You. Because I do have reasons to celebrate. Reasons so much greater than flowers and gifts or the perfect card.

I have You. And I had her (and will always have her, even if she’s not here). And I have my kids.

And I do have joy… in spite of the sadness. But on this day, with Your help, I will let joy prevail. Thank You, Lord.

Amen.

A Grief Observed—review & reading challenge

For this month’s Branch Out Reading Challenge, the category was a classic Christian voice. I didn’t hesitate to pick C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. It was already sitting on my shelf because a good friend bought it for me, but when I started it back then (a year or two ago), I only made it a couple ...

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For this month’s Branch Out Reading Challenge, the category was a classic Christian voice. I didn’t hesitate to pick C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. It was already sitting on my shelf because a good friend bought it for me, but when I started it back then (a year or two ago), I only made it a couple pages in. Too painful. And it’s been on my shelf ever since.

The power in this book is how raw and real it is. C.S. Lewis was in the middle of his grief over his wife, and he is hurting. The pain is palpable. But I’ll be honest—it was almost too much. Because the beautiful thing it showed me is that, at this moment in time, I’m not feeling that depth of pain. I miss my mom tremendously, and those feelings have been especially strong recently, but this July it will be five years since we lost her. No, time doesn’t erase the sadness. But it does temper it somewhat. I still have moments where it jumps up and overwhelms me. But I also have some where I can laugh about something annoying she did. And it doesn’t feel as though I’m dishonoring her.

There were lots of parts in the book that I marked, but one section in particular pretty much stopped me in my tracks. It was only four pages into the whole book (which, admittedly, is rather short.) Lewis put into words the ultimate fear I felt after Mom died.

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?…

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

And that truly encapsulates the thoughts I dared not voice. I always believed God was there, that God was God. I did not waver, even in my most alone time, even as I felt like I was drowning in my grief. But I was terrified that He was not who I wanted Him to be, not who I thought He should be. I was afraid that His idea of what was good and true and right was drastically different than mine. That I had put my trust in someone I didn’t like or couldn’t rely on. That He just wasn’t good.

That was the root of my devastation. Because I need God. I need Him to be my strength, my compass, my motivation and inspiration and truth.

Just as I’ve slowly made my way out of that quagmire, so does C.S. Lewis. He says, later in the book, “You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears.” And:

“I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own need that slammed it in my face? The tie when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

He goes on to say a little later, “He can’t be used as a road. If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.” Also, “Can I meet H. [his wife] again only if I learn to love you so much that I don’t care whether I meet her or not? Which is another way of saying what I wrote in my book, when I finally went to God, not in anger, not begrudgingly, but honestly telling Him how much I missed my mom. I felt an immediate response: “She’s as close as I am.”

Like Lewis discovered, the only salve for this gaping wound of grief is God. But I had to be willing to seek God for who He is, not for what He might do for me. He had to be the end of what I sought, not the means of getting there.

What about you—in your life, have you seen or discovered something similar? Do you agree or disagree? (I welcome diverging viewpoints, you know, and I love to hear your stories.)


MARCH: A book written by someone of a different faith

Hmm. I may want to re-read Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion. But I really don’t know. I know there are a lot of different beliefs, and I’d like to branch out to something new. I’ve enlisted Google to help me find some options. They don’t have to be memoirs, but I tend to love those, so I always lean a little bit in that direction.

Do you have any recommendations? Can you help me?

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilly
Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

Looking for gratitude

I drove down an Indiana highway recently, marveling at the crimsons and scarlets, the oranges and pinks and golds and yellows, the nearly-purple reds and the rich camel browns of the landscape. I almost couldn’t enjoy the magnificence because I knew it would end all too soon. With the ...

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[As posted today on Internet Café.]

I drove down an Indiana highway recently, marveling at the crimsons and scarlets, the oranges and pinks and golds and yellows, the nearly-purple reds and the rich camel browns of the landscape. I almost couldn’t enjoy the magnificence because I knew it would end all too soon. With the next rain, the leaves would fall, withering and crumbling on the hard earth in preparation for winter.

As the colors awakened a joy inside me, they also stirred up something I couldn’t ignore.

Because the truth is I do not always feel grateful.

What do you want to show me, Lord?

Gratitude and beauty are tangled up together. As an artist, I am proud of my ability to observe my surroundings, to recognize God in the midst. I actively look for the Who behind the what, and because I see Him, my prayer life begins with gratitude. As I give thanks, I feel God lean nearer. I see Him more clearly.

But what about those moments when gratitude isn’t so simple? When we’re facing loss, bottling up anger, frantically performing for the world, knowing that underneath the façade we’re a mess? What do we do then? Show me, Lord.

I filled page after page of a gratitude journal with exquisite details the week I sat beside my mom’s deathbed. Desperate for the redeeming beauty. Desperate to find something to praise God for. But did I find it in the dust motes floating through the sunlight, the curves of shadows on a hardwood floor?

No. I couldn’t see it anywhere, in fact. Not for a long time afterwards.

Because gratitude isn’t shallow, and I was looking at the surface. All the while, the pain churned down deep, unable to be touched by fleeting moments of superficial beauty.

And as I prayed, “Where are you, Lord? Show me,” for a long time all I saw were the barren branches, devoid of color, clacking together in the wintry breeze.

Later, as I slowly processed those days, my eyes roaming the surface again and again, I began to see more deeply. I turned my feelings upside down, burrowing into the center of each kernel of memory—and witnessed God embedded in each moment, unable to be separated from suffering. Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. I’m sad because of how much I loved her. I miss her because of the closeness of our relationship. I’m lost because she was such a strong force in my life.

Our God isn’t shallow; most often, we find Him in the depths. Reclaiming my gratitude was about inviting Him into that place I didn’t want to be—about Him entering into the pain with me. It was about recognizing the gifts of my mom’s life, the unconditional love of my family, and finally seeing that our prayers were answered in the years she lived after her cancer diagnosis and in the shortness of her final suffering.

In these glimpses, I saw something beautiful: God’s presence embodied in each detail. My gratitude bubbled to the surface—almost against my will. Oh, Lord, thank You for what You’re showing me.

It’s easy to give thanks when the kids are staying out of trouble, you’re feeling loving towards your spouse, finances are comfortable, temptation has stopped hounding you, your family and friends are healthy, and God feels near. But whatever you’re facing, it’s worth fighting to find Him in the middle of it—because gratitude is the key to entering God’s presence. And if we look long enough at the bare branches, the piles of dried up leaves billowing in the chilly breezes, we see that winter isn’t about death at all, but about rebirth. About turning within to become more fully rooted. About getting ready to grow, about preparing for a burst of phenomenal beauty. About overflowing with gratitude for what we don’t yet see.

He loves to show us. We just have to keep looking. Yes, Lord, I want to see.

A faith journey: the real beginning (guest post by Bekah Pogue)

Bekah Pogue got my attention when she wrote such a wonderful review of Praying Upside Down (always a good way to get me to notice you!). I started reading her blog Upcycled Jane: Embracing Beauty in the Everyday, and found this post. When I stopped crying, I asked for permission to share this one here. ...

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IMG_6238-e1405574557462Bekah Pogue got my attention when she wrote such a wonderful review of Praying Upside Down (always a good way to get me to notice you!). I started reading her blog Upcycled Jane: Embracing Beauty in the Everyday, and found this post. When I stopped crying, I asked for permission to share this one here. It’s the sixth and final essay in a series about the final week of her dad’s life. She said, “Loss served as the the catalyst to my faith, and it is through this story, I see God’s invitation to experience Him as the greatest story.” Enjoy!

I’m finding grief to be not like the stereotypical dark, hovering cloud, but more like a portion of my heart has been removed, not to grow back or forget its original whole, forever changing my  journey with a new heartbeat, a changed rhythm.

My heart beats heavy as I write. Conjuring up dad’s last day on earth is an unexplainable tug of sorrow and peace. It’s one I have to share, can’t help but process; it’s the day that will impact today, tomorrow, and every day after.

The afternoon of April 2nd, behind-the-scene momentum built after receiving the doctor’s shocking words that Dad would have to be discharged from the hospital. A shared skilled nursing facility room, or going home on hospice were our options. We made calls. We checked facility availability. It’s not unlike calling for hotel reservations, but with the realization that once you check in, you don’t check out. My years as a hospice intake coordinator came flooding back; talking with grieving families, helping them understand end-of-life-care. And here I was, on the other side, shaking my head at the horrible irony. We didn’t want Dad sharing a room with two other people, left to die in a foreign place. But we couldn’t bear the thought of watching him take his final breaths, lying in a hospital bed in the living room, near the piano. It was a lose-lose situation, and in the end, hospice at home was decided for the next day.

Before leaving, I found dad’s ear: Dad, please, go be with Jesus tonight. I don’t want mom to have to remember you passing away at home. I don’t want her to walk down the stairs every morning and re-live finding you there. Please, go be with Jesus. As much as I want you here, God would you please call him home tonight?

Leaving room 575, my dad’s breathing was regular, his deep coma almost a joke, as if he’d been taking a 5-day nap. We exchanged hugs with Michele, a dear family friend and former ER nurse, as she was planning to sit with Dad for a bit.

Ten minutes after arriving back at mom’s we received the call. God had called Dad home. He’d heard our cry. Dad was in glory. God’s timing perfect.

There are moments I’ll always remember: looking at my husband when the pastor pronounced us “husband and wife,” the elation at seeing our first positive pregnancy test, the joy at seeing it again two years later. And now this news; the reality that my dad was gone. It was a thousand emotions in the same heartbeat: relief, sadness, confusion, numbness, but blanketing them all was peace. An uncanny, undeniable peace. It was finished. Dad was no longer trapped in a cancer-infested body. He was now in eternity.

During the next few hours, time sat still. Every action became deliberate, every sense heightened. We bathed the boys, the water feeling neither hot nor cold, but wet. Food tasted like sandpaper, and moving took every ounce of energy. To bed- first Ty, then Tanner. Snuggled under dinosaur sheets in the bed he slept in when staying at Mimi and Papa’s, I cupped his face. Papa went to be with Jesus tonight, T. He got a new body, and they are having a huge celebration for him in heaven right now. My words came but tears lacked. We laid there, Tanner holding his Mario stuffed animal, his body wrapped in my arms. He was quiet for some time, and then spoke.

What about his glasses? Does he need them in heaven?

I smiled, touched by his child-wonder, a concrete question.

No buddy, he doesn’t. In heaven, he can see without glasses. He gets a new body; one that’s healthy and free of sickness. Simple faith, pure questions, that may be my new prayer. God, help me have child-like faith.

We met back at the hospital, our final visit to room 575, a building that had become our temporary home for the past week. I shut the door behind and approached my father. How different he looked in the hours since he’d passed. I’d seen death before- when working for hospice, and with my grandpa the day before he died. I’ve heard people talk about this peace but somehow thought it was a played up, spiritual emotion to make people feel better. Bending near, holding his cold hand, I can attest to the peace. A peace that surpasses all understanding. Staring at dad’s face, I couldn’t help but smile in the pain, feel joy in my greatest sorrow. I was looking at someone who was standing in the presence of God. Such a surreal and shadowy experience- like peering from behind the stage at a soloist’s dress rehearsal, seeing the lights, but not feeling their warmth as they do on their face. That’s the image I had of dad in that moment: warm light on his face, seeing His Savior, experiencing complete healing, then looking behind his Heavenly Father and seeing a familiar figure- his earthly father! Oh the hugs, and pats on the backs, and cheeseburgers that were enjoyed in heaven that evening.

And herein lies the clencher: this is not the end. Oh no! This, my friends, is the real beginning. The beginning of dad’s journey in Eternity, his journey enjoying Forever with his Maker, and this marks the beginning for each of us affected- his family and friends.

GRAPHIC my story doesn't end hereAs his daughter, this is the beginning of the story God is writing in my life. My story does not end here. I refuse to say that at 64, my dad passed away, and my world fell apart. Sure, it will for a while, really forever. But I refuse to hang my hat on that date. I refuse to say my life ended the dad my dad died. I choose instead to let this experience, this horrible, grace-threaded, full-of-heart-ache journey change me forever. Like Donna said, I will never be the same, and chances are if you’ve walked this with me, or someone dear to your heart, you too will not be the same. Good. Let this crazy grief process begin. Let the sobs and anger and questions and quietness come. But let us not forget that God is doing something beautiful in His time. And His time is every.single.day.

As I reflect on that week in the hospital, in the music God brought to mind, the prayers, the texts, the visitors, the clinging of Dad’s arm and the clutching of one another, in the questions and in the answers, one thing stared me head-on. Not once in that week did I think about my schedule. Amazing how I worry about the calendar and to-do lists and the entertaining of dreams and concerns of what if or if only…How quickly in an emergency, do the extras dissipate and priorities come into focus. Friends have asked how losing a parent affects my day-to-day and I say this: the small stuff doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. We are given today, and that in itself is a gift.

Busyness or distraction is my tendency and I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to sit in every feeling, taste every tear, be present in every second of this process. God is calling me, as He has for some time now, He is drawing me to the edge and asking me to jump. He is asking if I trust Him to be my everything or if I simply sing about it. It’s the scariest act I’ll ever do. But this is where His peace is made perfect, and I jump into waiting arms- the same arms that hold my dad, that hold all who know Him and have passed from this life to Glory.

If I live to be 64 like my dad, that means I have the next half of my life to experience this peace, God’s perfect love, this freedom in letting Jesus reveal His story day-by-day. And each day I’ll whisper, God, don’t let me miss you. Give me ears and eyes, hands, and a heart to see you everywhere. I’m here.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

Do it scared (guest post by Laurie Coombs)

Laurie Coombs is another one of those lovely souls that I’ve had the honor of “meeting” through shared connections in this business. I am so excited about this book. I think God is in it, through it, around it, behind it, before it—just all over it. His forgiveness is amazing, but sometimes we forget just what ...

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header_1Laurie Coombs is another one of those lovely souls that I’ve had the honor of “meeting” through shared connections in this business. I am so excited about this book. I think God is in it, through it, around it, behind it, before it—just all over it. His forgiveness is amazing, but sometimes we forget just what a divine gift it is. This story reminds us how profound and magnificent God’s forgiveness can be.

Let me set the stage a little with some info from her bio: In 2010, Laurie Coombs was called to love and forgive the man who murdered her father, which led to an exchange of letters between she and Anthony, her father’s murderer. During their correspondence, Laurie was healed from her past wounds, was given grace to forgive Anthony, and witnessed a powerful transformation in Anthony as Jesus brought him to repentance. And now, here’s an excerpt from her new book, Letters from My Father’s Murdered: A Journey of Forgiveness, published by Kregel Publications.

GRAPHIC Christian life passivity

One of my favorite phrases in the Bible is “but God.” I have it posted beside my bed, and every so often my girls ask me why I have those two little words there. I tell them, “All through the Bible bad things happen—people sin or something goes wrong—but over and over two words make it all okay: ‘but God.’”

You see, no matter what happens in life, no matter how bad things seem to be, God is still the constant. He is still working all things for good. The psalmist wrote, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26, emphasis mine). Joseph echoed this sentiment when he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20, emphasis mine). Yet in my mind, the ultimate “but God” statement in the Bible is, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, emphasis mine).

Jesus truly is our Redeemer. Seeing Him as such allows us the freedom to trust and surrender ourselves to Him. We need to know our God. We need to know who He is and what He has done. It is only then that we are able to understand that He is for us, not against us, which frees us to obey, knowing He will work all things for our good and His glory.

Coming to understand God’s heart toward me—that He loves me, that He is for me, and that He is my comforter and my guide— suddenly empowered me to live life differently. Sure, I was a newbie at this whole Christian thing, but I knew I served a faithful, loving God.

81u-FkusLHLI knew I could trust Jesus, for He had proven Himself trustworthy. That didn’t mean God’s call to love and forgive Anthony was easy to embrace. I was scared. I didn’t know where this was going. And I certainly didn’t know how it would end. But I also knew I had allowed fear to motivate me far too long.

Fear is a God-given emotion. Its purpose is to protect us from harm. This kind of fear is good. But so much of the fear we experience is irrational fear—fear that holds us back from living the full life Jesus died for us to have, fear that holds us hostage, never allowing us to see true growth of character. This kind of fear never brings good. And if we choose to live in irrational fear, we will never see the promises of God fulfilled to the extent they’re given. We will never follow Christ into our hard places and come out greater on the other side.

Here’s the truth. Sometimes, we simply need to do it scared. Over and over at this time, well-meaning Christians told me to “follow peace.” I wasn’t to move forward if I didn’t feel peace about taking a step. But the whole “follow peace” thing can be a ploy—shrouded in holy words—used by Satan to bind us and keep us from following God. Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones into places of discomfort. And in these areas, we’re not going to feel peaceful all the time. Yes, there is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and is available to believers at all times, but often our propensity to rely on ourselves and do things our own way hinders us from experiencing that peace, which means sometimes following Jesus feels a bit crazy. A bit unsettling. Oftentimes we will feel scared to do that which God calls us to do. But make no mistake—fear does not negate the call. Fear is simply a by-product of our desire to control. When following Jesus into our unknown, scary places, God doesn’t usually clue us in on the big plan. And this can feel anything but peaceful at times. But still, we must move.

Following-Jesus-Can-Feel-CrazyIn my prayer journal at the time, I wrote, “I am seeing more and more that the Christian life is not a life of passivity, but a life of choices empowered by the Holy Spirit. I pray, Lord God, for You to help me to walk in Your Spirit.”

I heard it once said we can choose to live each day motivated by fear or by faith. It’s a choice we must all make. Christian reformer Martin Luther wrote in the preface to his translation of the epistle to the Romans, “Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it.”* I needed this kind of faith. I needed great faith to move beyond my fear and follow Jesus where He was leading. I needed the kind of faith that allows us to step out of the boat and walk on water toward Jesus when He beckons, knowing that we can do all things through Him. The kind of faith that confidently says to Jesus, “Only say a word, and I shall be healed,” knowing full well that all things are possible with God. The kind of faith to follow Jesus into the unknown—into my scary places— regardless of the cost, knowing He will work all things for good.

 

 

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