God’s Ink Of Love…

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About a month ago I was contacted by a new blogger friend, Lindsey (great name btw) who writes about homemaking, parenting, grace and Jesus.   She had been following our story and wanted to do a series on motherhood and asked me to be a part of it.   Slightly daunted by the task to share specifically about motherhood when my experience has been so different from most I knew immediately the one word, the one verb that God has both grown, challenged and cultivated in me as a mom is that of surrender.  Would I be a mom who surrendered my life, my children’s lives and stories to Him?   Would I trust that He writes stories with a pen dipped in the ink of love?   I invite you to read my guest post With Child: God’s Ink of Love at Redeeming Naptime and pray your heart would be moved to greater surrender too!

To read more of the stories of the momma’s who have written in Lindsey’s “With Child” guest post series click here.  Enjoy!

 

Bring your Broken

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It was a “sovereign” meltdown as we sat around the table passing around the phone and talking with Jess, one of 12 college friends who have been gathering together over the past 15 years since we graduated.  We’ve celebrated each other’s joys and grieved each other’s losses. We’ve gone from late night giggles over crushes, crazy adventures, learning how to study the Bible together in college, growing in relationship with one another, to dancing at each others weddings, celebrating new babies, mourning broken relationships and watching each other grow as momma’s, friends, wives and daughters of the King.   We all had a decision to make that weekend, would we bring our put together selves or our broken selves?   Jess was one of 4 of the 12 of us who couldn’t make it for the weekend reunion, the first we’ve had in several years. But she spoke the words that brought about the sovereign meltdown that allowed me to bring my broken self to the table as the 7 other women present listened in and she shared an image she’d had of me as she was listening to the song “Come to the River” by Housefires II.  The lyrics inviting…

Come to the water

all who are thirsty

 Come and drink  

Come to the table

all who are hungry

 Come and feast  

Those who are weary

Those who are needy

Come receive  

Come to the river  

Come to the river  

Taste and see…

While listening to this song, she’d had a vision of me with tears streaming down my face at the foot of Jesus, letting my hair wash His feet with my tears as he looked down and jewels of sapphire, rubies and other precious gems poured from the sky. Tears, I couldn’t hold back began to fill as she spoke and I began to break. “But, I don’t feel like he sees my tears”, was the cry welling up inside and then out.  To which she replied, “But this is how he sees them.”  These tears, the only offering I’ve had to give Him. I could hardly hold back the utter sobs welling up and trying to find their way out.  Sobs that I had allowed myself to release and cry out on the beach, alone, as I let out my tired, my weary, my broken self to my King. The one I am angry with simply because of all I do not understand, and yet still deeply love. “Do you see me God? Where are you? Do you see these tears? I must know where you are in this.” I wanted to let them out with my friends who had gathered for the weekend.   This was in fact the catalyst for the reunion in the first place.   One of the 12 had buried two of their babies in the last two years and that was the rally cry that we needed to be together.  How was I that one? I wish it had been none of us.  We all had our broken, and yet they wanted to enter in and gather around mine.   I didn’t know how to let them in and they didn’t fully know how to enter in. The unfamiliarity of grief is like that… for the one grieving and the ones who want to enter into the grieving. But people were praying, countless friends and family, for our weekend… for God’s presence to enter into this sacred place where 8 women who loved Jesus gathered to love one another.

Everything in me wanted to leave the room as the tears and sobs began to flow, yet it was as if the Lord’s gentle voice said “Stay, I want you to do this here.” I sensed He was entering into the cries I had just screamed at the wind and the waves on the beach, “Where are you God? Where were you?” as I sat in the chair and my friends saw for the first time the utter pain of loss pouring out, the lamenting cries for God’s presence, the unfiltered and unanswered questions that were on my heart now on my lips.   As I looked up… I saw tears in their eyes as they surrounded me and simply sat with me in my pain.   Their friend had buried two babies and there were certainly no words for that.   It wasn’t how I thought it would happen, but Jesus brought my broken to the table.   And throughout the weekend, in the midst of the deep laughter and joy, each one of us brought our own tired, weary and broken selves to the table too.   Broken relationships, job loss, challenges in marriage, tired momma’s of littles in mere survival mode, trauma in families that had given way to fear, miscarriages, infertility, death, loneliness in community… we all had our broken. We all had those places where we were asking God to enter in and redeem and bring hope as only He can. All of us needed this tangible picture of Jesus loving us in our joys and heartaches. All of us needed to see how He sees our tears…. That simply HE SEES. That when our broken, our tears are often the only thing we have to bring to Him… perhaps that’s all He really wants. Our tired and weary selves.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burn offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  Psalm 51:16,17

And so my friends sat with me, watched videos of Dasah with me, prayed with me, offered no empty platitudes, did not try to fix me… but entered in.  And waves of relief, refreshment, healing washed over my soul.  Underneath my cry that Jesus would see my tears was really the question… If you see them, why won’t you do something about them?   But that day, He did do something with them. He let them pour out in front of friends who love me and so let me see His love.   He let me see through the pain and tears in their eyes that YES, he sees me. YES, he weeps with me.  YES, this is not how it was supposed to be, and YES, he will heal, restore and redeem. But first, would I let him continue to be simply with me in the pain through his people?

We all walked away a little more refreshed, a little more seen, a little more okay with our broken, a little more raw, a little more authentic that weekend.   We brought our broken, not our fake put together selves, to each other and ultimately to our King and we sat with one another in those places of pain as Jesus sits with us.  Our broken gave us freedom, brought moments of deep belly shaking laughs alongside the profound and broken cries.   Our broken brought the blessing of the weekend. And we tasted together, just a little more deeply that truly…

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit… for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

 Jesus met us in our broken. Will you let him meet you in yours?

Spending intentional time as women brining our joys, our broken, our hopes to the table

Spending intentional time as women brining our joys, our broken, our hopes to the table (or the living room)

So.... we call ourselves the Red Brick Hotties... obviously.

So…. we call ourselves the Red Brick Hotties… obviously.

My top 21 books on grief, loss and suffering

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In the past two years, through the loss of our first two daughters, I have devoured over 20 books on a variety of topics mostly connected to grief and suffering.   Many have asked me what has been helpful and I wanted to share with you the top books I would recommend for anyone walking through loss or suffering of any kind (or those who simply want to understand it more… we have felt incredibly loved by family and friends who have picked up some of these books to try to better understand what we are walking through).  This is in no way a comprehensive list and there are many books on my list to read that I simply haven’t read yet. That said, I only offer to you the books that I have actually read that have been helpful to me.  I’ve included a list and then divided them into categories that could be helpful as well as included a few of my insights on the book and why I believe it fits on this list!*

 *Please read my disclaimer at the bottom if you are considering sending any of these to a friend!

And for the one who is grieving, I read these books over the course of the past two years in different seasons of my grief.  Some I began to read and had to put down for a while, some I wish I had earlier, some haven’t been helpful at all (which is why I didn’t include those!).  Every person grieves differently.  My prayer is that God would lead you to the right one for the season that you are in now. If you would like to contact me personally and get a suggestion for yourself or a friend… please feel free, I can’t promise I’ll be helpful but I’d sure love to try!

1. The Bible (more on that below) 11. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller
2. A 30-Day Walk with God in the Psalms By Nancy Leigh DeMoss 12. A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada
3. The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie 13. Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith by Jon Bloom
4. Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman 14.The Prisoner in the Third Cell By Gene Edwards
5. 90 Days of God’s Goodness by Randy Alcorn 15. Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard
6. Experiencing Grief by H.Norman Wright 16. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
7. A Grief Observed by C.S.Lewis 17. Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of A Child by John MacArthur
8. A Grace Disguised; how the soul grows through loss by Jerry Sittser 18. I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith
9. When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One: Finding Hope Together by Nancy Guthrie 19. A Symphony in the Dark: Hearing God’s Voice in Seasons of Grief by Barbara Rainey and Rebecca Mutz
10. Holding On to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie 20. A Gift of Time: Continuing Your Pregnancy When Your Baby’s Life is Expected to Be Brief by Amy Kuelbelbeck and Deborah L. Davis
11. Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie 21. There’s a Party in Heaven by Gary Bower

*If you’re not a reader, or simply enjoy listening to sermons, here are two sermon series I would HIGHLY recommend (or you could always get the books above on audio)

When Suffering Enters Your Door by Paul Tripp: A 4 part series that is both authentic, honest, funny and challenging.  I heard Paul Tripp do this series just a few months ago and it was both timely and gave me Biblical tools to better understand our suffering in light of God’s kingdom. You can download as an Mp3 or Mp4 or order the DVD or CD Series.

Sermons in Job: The Gospel of Suffering Series by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian.  I have begun to study the book of Job and listen to this series and it is challenging my view of suffering in light of the gospel.  It is a 12 part sermon series but it is well worth your time, even if you only listen to his introduction sermon!

MY TOP 21 BOOKS BROKEN DOWN: 

Getting in God’s Word (even when it’s hard)

This may seem obvious or it may not, but here is the thing of all the books I’m going to suggest for you, God’s word is the only one that holds words of LIFE, words that have POWER, and words that never return VOID.   No matter how hard it is to open God’s word, no matter how dry it feels or how much you disbelieve every sentence that you read… IT’S DOING SOMETHING IN YOU. I promise.  I’ve seen it in my own life. The past two years have been a roller coaster for me in God’s word. It has been incredibly dry at times and then full of life at other times.  Sometimes His word has been like salt on a wound and other times like balm to my soul.  Regardless, I know that his word is “living and active and sharper than any two edged sword able to judge the thoughts and intentions of a man’s heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) No other book on this list has words that have that kind of power. None. This is not to say that other books aren’t helpful, the are.  God uses men and women to give us greater insight into Himself and ourselves.  I have read a ton of books that have been extremely helpful to me on this journey (which is why I’m including them here) but the book that has had the greatest impact and left the most lasting impression is… you guessed it.  His word.  I’m actually a little surprised to say that as I write because the last year His word has been quite dry to me, but there you go… evidence that it’s alive and working even in seasons where it feels as though it’s not alive at all.  Okay, more on that in a later post. Sometimes, in seasons where it’s hard to get the word in you, you just need a little help to even open the Bible so below are several devotionals/books of the Bible that have helped me dig in the Word and meet with Him over the past two years…

  1. The Psalms (found in the middle of the Old Testament): If there is a book to open up and study in a season of suffering it’s this one. As I’ve been reading the Psalms I find myself longing to be as brutally honest as the Psalmist is.  So I have begun to learn, through the help of my friend David (because I’m pretty sure we’d be friends), how to grow in honesty with God and myself in this season of grief.
  2. A 30-day Walk With God in the Psalms by Nancy Leigh DeMoss: a guided study that helped me dig into God’s word when that has been more difficult to do on my own (as an aside, I broke many of the days up into multiple days because my mind just had a hard time digesting a lot at once… a normal experience for those in a season of grief)
  3. The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie: Let’s just say these simple daily devotionals tackle the thoughts and questions every sufferer is asking, asks questions to get you to go deeper and gives additional verses to study more.  For example: Week 1 is entitled “Brokenhearted”. Yes! How known do you feel that she starts there!?
  4. Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman: It’s a classic devotional and great for any season of life.
  5. 90 Days of God’s Goodness by Randy Alcorn: His perspective on heaven and eternity will challenge and encourage and is a great devotional when eternal perspective and an elevated view of God’s goodness is what you desperately need.

Am I crazy? Is what I’m feeling normal? What is normal? I don’t even know what I’m feeling?  Why isn’t he or she as sad as I am? Is there hope?  If you’ve found yourself asking any of these questions then… these books will/may/i hope rock your world.

(hmmm… not sure if “rock” is an appropriate word to use in this context)

  1. Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright: I just began to read this book and am surprised I hadn’t heard of it earlier. It is short, practical and addresses the reality of experiencing grief so well. And the best part is that even if you don’t like to read the chapters are each only 1-3 pages long.  And it’s only $4! Whaaaat!? Just get it.
  2. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis: This is basically pieces of his journal that he kept after the loss of his wife. The questions he asks and ways that he wrestles with life and what he believes have again helped me feel less crazy and shown me a little more of what it looks like to press into my grief.
  3. A Grace Disguised; how the soul grows through loss by Jerry Sittser: If anyone has the right to title such a book and speak on such a subject it’s Sittser.  He lost his mother, wife and young daughter in a tragic car accident and uses his story to share how God’s grace transforms our sorrow. This book was the first book I read when we found out Sophie’s condition and has helped to shape the ways Kevin and I have pressed into our grief on this journey. It is still one of my favorites.
  4. When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One: Finding Hope Together by Nancy Guthrie: A great book for the entire family who has gone through loss on how to understand how each person is grieving, what to do about holidays etc. This has been very helpful for our parents and siblings.  It’s soooo practical! It also addresses grieving as a couple… do you know that everyone grieves differently? This has helped Kevin and I give each other freedom to each be where we are at and love one another even when we don’t understand how the other is grieving (we have in no way mastered this!)

When you’re wrestling with where God is and who He is in the midst of suffering or how in the world God and suffering could possibly go together: 

  1. Holding On to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie: Guthrie weaves her own story of the loss of two children through taking you on a journey of discovering the heart of God in the midst of suffering. She uses the story of Job as the backdrop and includes an eight-week study on Job in the back of this book. This books is chalk full of scripture!  And I could have probably put it in the above two categories too.
  2. Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie. Basically this book does just what it says… and it will help you know Jesus in a new and fresh way.
  3. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller.   I can’t say enough good things about this book. This book has radically lifted my view of suffering outside of my western American mentality. Keller lays out beautifully how to face suffering in a way that is both validating to the one in pain but challenges you in your walk with God. I so appreciated how He wrote and covered so many different aspects of suffering. This is the best and most comprehensive book on suffering that I have read and I would highly recommend it to anyone… in suffering or not.
  4. A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada:   From the back of the book “If God can heal me, why won’t he? How do we navigate that agonizing distance between such a magificant yes and such a heartbreaking no?” Tada, a quadriplegic from a diving accident 40 years ago writes with honesty as she has wrestled with these questions herself and finds herself in a fresh season of wrestling.  I read this as I was trying to wrap my mind around why God didn’t heal Sophie. It was just what I needed to read at the time from someone who had the platform to speak on such things.

When God isn’t who you thought He would be and you just need to be reminded that you’re not the only one whose thought that: 

  1. Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith by Jon Bloom: Bloom takes 35 stories from the Bible and makes them come alive in fresh ways as he shares how men and women of old were challenged to walk in trust in the Lord regardless of what they see or their circumstances. The stories are short and insightful. An easy read.
  2. The Prisoner in the Third Cell “Will you follow a God who does not live up to your expectations?” By Gene Edwards. I read this book a month after our second daughter passed away and was deep in wrestling with the reality that God had not shown up like I thought He was going to, both in Dasah’s story but also in the story it seemed God was writing for our family and I didn’t like it.  This book was timely and wrecked me… in a good kind of wrecking… if there is such a thing.  It’s also very short, like I read it in two days short.

When it feels like sorrow and suffering just won’t leave your side:

  1. Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard: I can’t even tell you how many times I have read this book in so many seasons of life but this last year was the most poignant ever. This is a beautiful allegory of a girl named Much-afraid and her journey to the high places. It tells the story of the Shepherd leading her gently to the high places but much to her dismay, giving her the companions of sorrow and suffering.   I resonated deeply with every emotion Much Afraid experienced on the journey, how she viewed the shepherd and even how she began to see love and hope blossom in her heart.
  2. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom: I’m not sure what category to put this in but often in seasons of suffering I need to get my head out of my story and hear the story of another. This is a beautiful and honest story of hope and redemption and how Corrie Ten Boom’s faith grew in the midst of much suffering as her and her family helped to aid and hid Jews and eventually became a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp along with her sister.

Specific to those who have experienced infant loss:

  1. Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of a Child by John MacArthur: He answers the question that all of us baby loss parent’s want to know with assurance… is my baby in heaven?
  2. I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith: She tells the story of her daughters fatal diagnosis and choosing to carry her.   For those who are in the same situation this is a beautiful and heartwrenching read.   I took my time reading it through out my pregnancy with my firstborn, Sophie and couldn’t read the chapters that I had yet to experience but it was good to read a story of someone who had walked this path when I didn’t know anyone who had at the time.
  3. A Symphony in the Dark: Hearing God’s Voice in Seasons of Grief: by Barbara Rainey and Rebecca Mutz: Rebecca lost her daughter soon after birth. I devoured this story shortly after Sophie died and was struck by the faith of this family and the ways they pressed into the Lord in a season of great grief.

Specific to those who are carrying to term a baby not expected to live:

A Gift of Time: Continuing Your Pregnancy When Your Baby’s Life is Expected to Be Brief by Amy Kuebelbeck and Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D: I absolutely hated that I even owned a book with such a title but I have to say that this is the best and most comprehensive book on continuing your pregnancy and I would even go so far as to say every couple in this situation needs this book. It goes through everything from the emotions you’ll experience, the differences with your spouse, making medical decisions, funeral arrangements, a birth plan… I mean EVERYTHING! Very helpful guide as you go through this unchartered territory.

Bonus Children’s book:

 There’s a Party in Heaven! by Gary Bower:  a beautiful book for kids and adults painting a picture of heaven… get out the tissues for this one!

**There are many categories that I know I’m missing here, namely helping children deal with grief and of course books more specific to different losses.  There are so many more amazing books out there and I encourage you to look for the ones that would be additionally helpful to you and your family!  I will update this list as I find and read new ones!

Disclaimer:

If you are reading this list to know what to recommend to a friend please use discretion and caution. What is helpful to some is not helpful to others. Some may be offended if you send a book with a title that seems to add salt to their wounds. Unfortunately you will probably have no idea what that would be!  But please don’t let that keep you from sending a book that you feel led to send.  If you are unsure of how your friend may receive it or if it is a very fresh loss perhaps include a note saying something like this:

“Someone who has experienced loss recommends this book, it may not be helpful to you but I wanted you to have it in case the time came when you did want to pick up a book like this.   If it’s not helpful please feel free to pass it on or burn it or do whatever would be helpful for you. I just wanted you to know I care about you in your loss.”

Now a note like that would be both disarming and potentially amusing and your friend may truly thank you for giving them freedom to use or not use it. It’s like the friends of ours who sent us their Christmas card that said “Happy Holidays” and crossed out “Happy”.   Kevin and I laughed and felt so known!

So… Happy Reading! Or maybe “Happy Reading”is more appropriate.

I pray this list serves as a great resource for you who have experienced some kind of loss or has a friend walking through loss. Ultimately, I pray that God would use these books to give you permission to grieve and serve to draw you closer to Him, that you would begin to see Him becoming more real to you as you press into your pain and discover a deeper hope and joy than you’ve ever known.  At least, that’s my prayer for my husband and I and our family!

 

Grief and Sod

It was what would’ve been Dasah’s two-month birthday but instead of taking cute photos of her I was standing at her gravesite for the first time since we buried her.   It was a beautiful day and somehow as I was driving that day I found myself turning at the road that goes into the cemetery instead of just driving by as I usually do. Whenever anyone says they’ve just “found themselves” somewhere I’ve always thought they must be a little crazy… who just “finds themselves” somewhere? Well, that day I became that crazy person.  I think of turning every time I’ve driven by and just can never seem to muster up the energy to face whatever emotions the grave would stir. That day I chose not to think and just turn. So there I was, tears streaming down my face as I stood before the gravesites of not one, but both of my daughters. I didn’t know what to do or say. Do I talk to them? Do I just cry? How long do I stay? I never really know. How do you wrap your mind around such a loss? I’m still figuring that out though I’m pretty sure I never will. It was the start of the New Year and for some reason the fact that Dasah was born right before Thanksgiving had slightly warped my view of how much time had passed and made me think it had been much longer then it really had been. I found myself as the New Year began wrestling with all of the emotions still stirring within me like relentless waves of grief on the seashore that just when you think the tide has gone far out seems to come back in with a vengeance.   Tormented by that awful word “should”, or as someone used to call it “the should bug”. And I’d been bit by it.

 “I ‘should’ be more functional”

“I ‘should’ be able to accomplish more than one task in a day”

“I ‘should’ be able to re-engage with people better”

“I ‘should’ be able to initiate with others”

“I ‘should’ be able to open the Bible and concentrate”

“I ‘should’ be able to pray more”

“I ‘should’, I ‘should’, I ‘should’.

      I was living in a sea of “should’s” that was overwhelming me and causing me to put pressure on myself to be at a place that I just wasn’t and I didn’t know where or when the pressure would be released. As I had driven up to their gravesite I was taken a back by the fact that there was still fresh dirt atop Dasah’s gravesite, with a few small blades of grass peaking through (or were they weeds? I’m not sure, grass sounds better).  I didn’t think much of it until I got in the car and took a final glance back. It was then that the still small voice of the Lord entered into my world of “should’s” and gently said “It’s okay, the dirt is still fresh and so is your grief”. The relief that washed over me in that moment was as if the skies opened and rain poured down.   And I began to embrace the reality of where I was at and ever so slowly release myself from the “shoulds’ of where I thought I “should” be at (which as an aside is a daily battle… those bugs don’t leave quickly). I began to think of looking forward to watching the grass grow, ever so slowly, as I watched new life begin to sprout in my own heart.   “Don’t rush the grass”, my counselor said, as I retold to her the story. Oh how quick we are in our western culture to want the dirt gone and the grass grown as quickly as possible.   And so it is with grief, we don’t want to do the hard work of entering into the grief process, of letting it be uncomfortable and messy for an unpredictable amount of time (Grief never lets you know when it will start to loosen its grip). We just want the end result, the beauty, the redemption, the truths tied up with pretty bows, “here’s what I’ve learned” and on we go. Well, at least that’s what I would like sooner rather then later. But grief isn’t like that. Norman Wright wrote in his book Experiencing Grief (a must read for those experiencing loss):

 “Grief is slow, and you need it to be like this even though you’ll probably want to rush it along. It will take longer than you have patience for. Time seems to stand still especially at night. Don’t let others rush you through this process. They’re not experts, and you’ll discover others will be uncomfortable with your grief. Let your grief do its healing work at its own slow pace. You need its slowness. Grief can not be put on the fast track.”

      A week or two later, I simply drove by their gravesite again, the dirt still fresh and so my heart still feeling mostly a sea of brokenness like the ground broken before me. I liked how her site matched my heart. It felt like a visible reminder of the permission God was giving me to grieve and mourn my daughters still.  This week I went again and it had happened, just as I thought it might, sod had been put down (not very well I might add).   I had half a mind to take that wretched piece of sod off her gravesite in protest… “Let the grass grow, as slow as it wants to. Don’t rush my grief”.   But I didn’t. I wasn’t sure if that would count as defacing public property and land me before a judge explaining myself. (Though I imagine the judge may be quite sympathetic to my reasoning and perhaps even slightly amused).

As I sat there and peeled back the sod, just sitting a top the dirt with no roots attaching itself to the ground, I was reminded that if I try to speed up this grief process or ignore it all together then I am just like the sod. Having the appearance of new life planted but no roots to keep me there. So many of us respond to grief that way. One month, two months, everyone else seems to move on and so it feels as though you must too.   We are a microwave culture. If its not instant or can’t be, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

 “When you experience the thoughts and feelings of grief it moves you into unknown territory, but you need to walk through some wilderness.  And grief does have another side. Is it an easy journey? No. Is it a painless journey? No. Is it a controlled journey? No. Is the journey worth it? Yes. It will change you as a person and your perspective on life.” -Norman Wright, Experiencing Grief

     And so I’m learning, with the help of my counselor, husband and trusted friends to not rush this journey as much as I want to. To not live in the sea of “should’s” and simply allow God to meet me where I’m at and surface the questions, the fears, the longings, the groaning that must reach the surface before true healing can begin. Tullian Tchividjan said in a sermon I recently listened to “Pain is meant by God to be grieved.  Grief is an acknowledgement that things are not what they ought to be.  When we grieve we are demonstrating trust that the best is yet to come.  The groan is worship.” In this I’m holding onto the hope that “Weeping may remain for a night but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5) But I’m not going to rush the morning.

How about you? Are you in a season of grief that you’re covering with freshly cut sod that has no roots instead of pressing into the messiness of the dirt? Do you know a friend who is grieving the loss of someone they love? How can you encourage them to simply press into where they are and not rush them along?

 “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20)

     Grief is my companion now, often unwelcome but always there and someday it will be turned to joy. I guess I’ll let God choose when that someday is and let Him do the work in my life that needs to happen in the grief.

To my grieving friends, will you join me and let Him choose the someday and step into what He has for you in the process?

The darkness is not dark

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Psalm 139: 11, 12

I resonate with the Psalmist, David’s words. I feel the darkness around me, at times feeling like it will squeeze out any light that tries to creep in. That’s what death seems to try to do… squeeze out the light.   Is death, sorrow, heartache, deep disappointment, a darkness of the soul seemingly squeezing out any ray of light that seems to break through? You are not alone, the Psalmist felt your pain… my pain and yet, still lifted his eyes to the light even when it seemed there was no light around.

I recently read the following story of a man who lost his wife from Nancy Guthrie’s, One Year Book Of Hope Devotional:

 “Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse was one of America’s great preachers. His first wife died from cancer when she was in her thirties, leaving behind three children under the age of twelve. Dr. Barnhouse was driving home from the funeral service with his children when a huge truck stopped next to them at a traffic light, blocking the sunlight and covering the car with its shadow. He turned to his children and said, ‘Death is like that. It blocks the sunshine, but the sun is still shining.’”

 Yes, it feels as though death has blocked the sun, but the sun is still shining.   Jesus.

 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I’ve needed to be reminded of that this week, this month. As I’ve begun to enter into the deep places of my grief at times it has felt as if the darkness will engulf and overwhelm me. But Jesus.  Always “but, Jesus” in those dark places has begun to breath light and life… his life, his light in brighter ways then I’ve ever known.  Sometimes I’ve been resistant, sometimes I’ve been in awe and sometimes i’ve just been sorrowfully present and still Jesus has continued to speak light into this broken heart. This morning was one of those “light” moments as I read Isaiah 9.  I was struck by all the promises of light that Jesus brings, that his coming brings, that his coming again brings.

Are you in anguish?  There will come a day when there is no more gloom, no more darkness.

Are you walking in darkness? You will see a great light. The light of the world.

Have you been living in the land of deep darkness? Yes, it’s on you that the light of Jesus comes to shine.

Jesus will multiply the nation. Jesus will increase it’s joy. And we will rejoice before him.

The burdens, the rods, the oppression and the oppressors will be broken.

For the one whose name is

WONDERFUL COUNSELOR

For the one whose name is

MIGHTY GOD

For the one whose name is

EVERLASTING FATHER

For the one whose name is

PRINCE OF PEACE

 Has come. Is coming again.

 And HIS rule brings peace, a peace that will not end.

 He has come to establish HIS kingdom

 With Justice

             With Righteousness

 Forever. And ever. And ever. And ever….

Oh the light will shine, the darkness lifted… For He shines light in the darkness. He makes a way in the wilderness. This is the Lord. This is his promise.

The darkness will be as light.

It will not be dark forever, for he breaks through the darkness in ways unseen. He shines light… His light, redemptive light, hope light, into the places long devastated.

 Jesus has come.

Light has come. Light is coming.

Oh Jesus, will you shine your light, your redemptive, restorative, hope light into the dark places of my heart, of our hearts? I know at times it may feel like it gets darker before it gets lighter… but it is in the places of deep darkness where your light shines brightest.   And I want to know that kind of light.  I need to know that kind of light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 

Lay It Down

Lay it down

My rights to how my family may form
My rights to watch a little baby grow up
My rights to what my life “should” look like

Lay it down
he says
Lay it down…
lose your life and you will find it.  – Matthew 10:39

It is often not until the expectations of your life come to a crashing halt
disappointment ensues
that you realize you had any expectations at all,
that you were holding on to your life.

It is the privilege, the blessing of the sufferers,
the disappointed
the broken hearted
to learn to lay it down-
to wrestle in the laying down-
to know HIM in the laying down.

And the laying down gives us room –
Room to dream.
Room to breath.
Room to hope,
to hope in the one who is the author of hope
to hope that all will not be as expected,
it will be far greater
it will be true living
when we lay it down.

To know that he knows the way we take. -Job 23:10
He directs our steps. -Proverbs 16:9
And He knows, He Knows, He KNOWS…
The why of the blessing that has come in a form you never thought would be the way he would ask you to take…
The blessed to be a blessing.

We were blessed with two daughters in the past two years, but for a moment.
To be a blessing both now and to come.

And I’m laying down the “to come”
Because just as this year I anticipated a different path to joy our lives would take,
a baby in our arms, in our home…
I could never have written what unfolded.
It was and is broken and beautiful.
And still the grace that has been given in the broken pieces is finding a way to feed our souls,
To direct our steps
To be multiplied into the lives of others.

I want to plan this next year,
anticipate,
hope
for the blessings I think best.

Lay it down
he says
and
I will give you ALL.

The blessing has been Him. ALL him. Always him.
We just sometimes can’t see it or want it to be different or think that the fullness of joy can’t really come from simply just His presence.

“No good thing does he withhold from him whose walk is blameless”
-Psalm 84:11

The goodness is Jesus, redemption, rescue, grace.
Jesus in the pain. Jesus in the joy.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

“I count all as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
-Philippians 3:8

That’s how good it is to know him.
I see it more in the loss,
in the laying down.

“And suffering produces endurance
and endurance produces character
and character produces hope.
And hope does not disappoint.
-Romans 8:3-5

The kind of hope that comes from the love of God
poured down
                       poured in
                                      poured through
                                                     poured out.

Lay it down.

It’s the only way to love, to hope, to joy…
the kind we really want,
the kind we really need.
the kind that will pour out blessing upon blessing,
not the material kind-
the eternal kind.
The blessings that matter.

Lay down your rights,
your dreams,
your hopes,
your expectations

To the one who Loves. Who is LOVE. Who pours Love out and in and through and around…
and covers us with his love in more ways then we could imagine. -Ephesians 3:20

And let him rebuild
renew
restore
with dreams far greater
hopes unexpected
JOY found in the most unlikely of places.

It comes in the suffering
the trials
the broken pieces
the mundane places

This is where we either lay it down, or clench our fists.
This is where we learn to hope or walk the bitter path.

It is a constant, daily, moment by moment surrender.

It is a life of laying down our lives… to the one who laid down his life for us.

It is a life where beauty is found in the surrender.

Oh Lord, let this be a year of laying it down.
Of counting all as loss compared to knowing you.
That I would know more deeply what the Psalmist says:
                                       “In your presence there is fullness of Joy.” -Psalm 16:11

It is you Jesus. Always you.
And tomorrow when I forget,
and I clench my fists and hold on to my dreams,
remind me to lay it down.
That YOU are where life is found.

To weep with those who weep

Today, I’m excited for this guest post by my brother, Luke Parrott.   And while I might be a bit biased since he’s my brother, this post he wrote originally on his blog, here,  greatly opened my eyes and heart to what it looks like to suffer with those who suffer, to weep with those who weep and the privilege it is (yes privilege) to now have a greater understanding of the pain of others because of our own pain.

THE ONE WHO WEEPS

There is one shared experience of the entire human race that should unite us but deeply divides us all.  It is a socio-emotional factor.  It is the common experience of pain.  Pain can be an invitation to embrace others but it is more commonly used as a way of distancing.

It wasn’t until I visited an orphanage in Guatemala, that I began to wrestle with the invitation to care for orphans in their distress.

It wasn’t until I visited Rwanda and built friendships with those who carried deep wounds from the past genocide, that I began to feel their pain and learn from their grief.

It wasn’t until I shadowed the work of dedicated field staff in poor villages of the Philippines, that I began to associate with the psychological and social wounds of those who live in desperate poverty.

It wasn’t until I sat with Palestinians in Amman, Jordan and in Bethlehem, that I began to feel the weight of their oppression.  It wasn’t until I met Israeli Jews in their settlements and in Jerusalem, that I began to wrestle with their historical pain and perpetual fear of ethnic cleansing.

It wasn’t until I lived in the city and began to listen to the stories of the panhandlers on the streets, that I began to empathize with many of their present circumstances.

It wasn’t until I entered a black church and listened to countless stories of racial profiling and police brutality, that I felt the depth of their pain and suffering.

It wasn’t until I watched my own sister and brother-in-law walk through two terminal pregnancies in the last 20 months, that I have felt the anguish of pain, suffering, and death.  I have held my only two nieces in my arms for only a few minutes each.  I have only held them both two times.  Once when they were full of life.  Once when they had passed on to death.

In this grief of my own, I have become deeply sensitized to the grief of others.  All pain and suffering is different for each human.  We cannot really know what the other is experiencing.  But our pain feels the same.  Our grief rips us both apart inside.  Our tears are the same.

Nothing is more painful for a grieving heart than to experience it alone.  And nothing is more painful for a grieving heart than to see others distance themselves from your pain.  What pain needs is very simple:  presence.  And that presence does not need any words.  It just needs to share in the pain.

I didn’t understand this until I traveled to the Middle East last January for my very first trip to Jerusalem.  Two men that I deeply respect traveled with me from Amman into Bethlehem.  For what reason I cannot recall, the story of Jesus and Lazarus came into our conversation.  We were talking about why Jesus wept when he entered the town and saw Mary.  We talked about how Jesus knows pain, has felt it deeply himself, and that he too weeps with us–just as he did with Mary.  While still in the middle of much pain and grief from my first nieces’ death, I began to picture a new way of looking at God and suffering.   I realized that he too has wept with me over the loss of my first niece—and continues to share in my grief today.

While in Bethlehem, we spent an afternoon over in Jerusalem at my request to see the Old City for the very first time.  It was a very non-conventional way of visiting the city as we were without a tour guide, without any real agenda, and without a heavy time constraint.  As we entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, stopping for fresh squeezed pomegranate juice along the way.  We meandered through the crowds of pilgrims and took in the scene of thousands of people from around the world standing at the place where Jesus was said to have been crucified and buried.  Then, we made our way outside the church and around the corner to come upon the Church of the Redeemer which had a narrow and tall bell tower.  We paid our way to climb this 177 step ascent in order to look over all the city.  As we came to the top, we saw a beautiful view open up before us.  To my left was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  To my right the Jaffa Gate and David’s Tower.  Straight ahead, I could see the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and just beyond that, the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.

One of my friends gazed out toward the Garden of Gethsemane and began to talk about Jesus.  His eyes began to well up with tears as he spoke of how lonely a place it must have been for Jesus in that garden.  “The moment he needed his disciples the most, they were asleep.  Deep in his own anguish, there was no one there to cry with him.  He was alone.  No one cried with Jesus.”  And a few tears began to roll down his face.  He was standing in that bell tower, gazing across the city, looking into the Garden of Gethsemane, and weeping with Jesus.  In that moment, I, too, felt the pain of Jesus.

From the tower, we eventually made our way to the Garden only to reflect more upon the weeping Christ.  I began to see that not only does Jesus weep with me, but he invites me to weep with him.  Nothing could have been more powerful for me, than to see my friend weep with Jesus as he gazed from that tower into the garden.

Why am I sharing this story?  Because it keeps coming back to my mind.  I am still deep in grief.  Only 4 weeks ago did I watch my second niece pass away.  And now the pain of loss feels as though it has multiplied itself with the loss of two precious babies less than 15 months apart.

But, as I said before, I have become deeply sensitized to the grief and pain of others.  I may not know what they are going through, but I feel the very same sting.  Our pain is our commonality.  And I know that nothing is more painful than to cry out and not be heard.  To suffer and not feel one’s presence.  To weep and be left alone just as Jesus was left alone in that garden while his disciples, those nearest to him, slept.

I have now learned that when I hear pain, I choose to listen.  When I hear suffering, I want to be present.  When I observe grief, I want to partake.  Because that is what I have needed in my life during this season.  I don’t want to sleep through someone else’s suffering.  I want to be there with them.  Fully present.  Weeping as well.

Pain is a shared human experience.  It is common to all humanity.  Yet it is often the very emotion we attempt to avoid or the very emotion we use to distance ourselves from others.

Jesus weeps with us in our pain as he did with Mary.  He invites us to weep with Him.  And as we weep with Him, we realize we are weeping also with those who are in pain.  Those who suffer.  Those in grief.  To follow Jesus is to enter suffering.  It is to be present in pain.  It is to stand in solidarity with the one who weeps.  To ‘weep with those who weep’ is to weep with Jesus himself.

I am still in this season of grief.  But because I am now learning to weep with others, I am starting to understand their pain a bit more.  I can empathize a bit more with their oppression.  I can stand with them in their suffering.

Perhaps it is this Christ like action that can expose to use all the ‘god-complexes’ we carry.  If we would recognize our shared suffering and try to come together, united in the pain as common humanity, how would that begin a process of change for us all?  It would at least give us a common ground from which to struggle together to break the chains of injustice before us.

I wonder if we can only find unity in our humanity if we are willing to weep together.  To enter one another’s pain.  I think my country and our world needs this more than ever now.  Do we have the courage and vulnerability to enter the pain of others (even if we don’t understand it), grieve together, and allow that pain to be transformed into something new—for both of us?