I may have mentioned this before, but a few years ago I signed up for Lent and Advent daily devotional/reflections from Goshen College. I so enjoy it! I recommend signing up — you can get a gem in your email inbox during Lent and/or Advent. I have been super busy at work and have met myself coming and going and have not had time to write blog posts like I want to. But I did pull from the Lent devotionals a few things from just this week alone that I’d like to share with you. Think about it, reflect on it. Make it personal for your life.
“Remember how you were sustained before. Remember”
“No one party ever has a monopoly on Truth. It is with this sense of wonder that I accept neither a sedating grace, nor a self-bestowed grace, but a “costly grace” that simultaneously comforts, discomforts, and calls us to follow the Incarnate God.”
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
“Brokenness happens in life. It is not what we desire or hope for, but challenges and fractures befall us. Looking at restorative processes in nature is a helpful reminder that renewal in the midst of brokenness does happen. Jesus is the orchardist who is committed to acting in our lives. Christ is the one who brings salve to our wounds. We are made right by the loving, Creator God.”
“This Lent, may we be able to see the strangeness of Jesus, the ways in which he pushes cultural boundaries. May we be able to look beyond the surface of the familiar stories and be drawn in by Jesus, who confuses our expectations. May we be so compelled that our lives speak of this Jesus.”
One thing that has been made plain to me is that people generally don’t like someone to be grieving or mourning more than, say, a few months. Six, at the most.
People want you to be over it. Like you could possibly be over losing part of your very heart. As if it was a football game where your team lost, or the cancelling of a TV show you really like.
I have had two people in the past two weeks ask me how I was. I hate being asked that when I’m grieving. I almost always say “Fine”, or “Okay” even when I’m not. It is what they want to hear and anything else makes them uncomfortable. I’ve learned this through painful experience.
With both people, who I thought I knew well enough to share with, I said something other than “Fine”. And both of them suggested counseling. One person mailed me a list of therapists and grief groups in my area, the other (who is a Counselor in her day job) suggested I talk to someone, or join a grief group.
What they said was not wrong, and I know it was meant well. But – why suggest counseling? Just because I am still grieving and in mourning 10 months after my dear husband passed away, they are thinking I should be over it? Or I need help getting over it? Why is that the first thing they want me to do?
Do you know what I would have much preferred they say? I would have much preferred if they would have said, “Why don’t we make a date to go walking on the beach this weekend?” Or, “There is a new Chinese place I’d like to try. Would you like to go to dinner next week?” Or, “Why don’t you come over for dinner tomorrow?” Or even, “Why don’t we go to lunch after church?”
That is what would help. That is, actually, what I need. That is what would make a difference to me, in my life. It is sad, really. Grief makes so many people so uncomfortable. They don’t know how to deal with it. They don’t want you to start to cry when you talk about the person who is gone. They squirm and change the subject or make excuses to get away. If I do that when talking to you – you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything. Just listen.
It is sad, really. I wish people in my life could understand grief and mourning.
I returned last night from a conference in Long Beach. As tired as I was, as anxious to get home as I was, as excited to see my kitties — I just had to stop and take a picture of this moon over San Francisco Bay.
The church I attend is starting “The Daniel Plan”, based on the Rick Warren book. As part of that, we are studying the book of Daniel and talking about it.
My mind many times goes to ‘the story behind the story’ when reading the Bible. And I was struck by how Daniel’s parents must have influenced him. His friends also, but I’ll focus on Daniel.
As near as we can guess, he and the other young men that were taken to Babylon with the first invasion of Jerusalem were probably around 15 years old. Daniel was born during King Josiah’s reign, so there was a great revival in Israel during that time which much have influenced his parents and him in his early years.
I like to think of Daniel’s parents being friends and even perhaps business associates of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah’s parents. I picture all the boys as being friends, perhaps living in the same district in Jerusalem. Playing together, going to temple together, being taught by their parents. Celebrating Passover together, and the other feasts. Living a good, carefree (one would hope) life. Until the years before the first invasion by the Babylonians, when it must have been difficult to continue to live as an orthodox Jew. The people were falling away from their worship of God and following other gods. They must have seen shrines, and idols. They probably saw and heard rituals and practices of those who worshiped the other gods. Maybe some of their friends stopped coming to temple with them, stopped talking to them, because their parents started following these other gods.
I can’t imagine how difficult it was to hear of and then see the Babylonian army come against Jerusalem. How frightening that must have been! And yet, I think that Daniel’s parents had started planning for this. Instilling in their son the teachings of the Torah, and helping him to learn as much as he could. I think they knew what an exceptional son they had. And I think they knew it was a good chance this son of theirs would be taken from them and be brought to Babylon.
I’m imagining that Daniel’s parents, his father especially, had talked to traders and anyone else he could. Asking them about the Babylonians. Asking about what happened to people taken to Babylon. And so he prepared his son. I think he exhorted his son in the strongest terms to hold tight to his faith and belief in Yahweh, and no matter what, to continue to pray and live as he should as a follower of God. As the army came against Jerusalem and there was no more hope that God would save them as He had done before, I imagine that Daniel’s father, as well as the fathers of his three friends, took the boys and talked with them about what was to come.
They would make a long journey. They would be taken care of, since they were to go into service for the King of Babylon. They would be brought to the palace grounds, into the service of the chief of the eunuchs. I am sure they explained to these boys they would never father children. The King would want them to be eunuchs so they would devote all their time and energy to his kingdom and its business. Can you imagine a teenage boy hearing that? What must have gone through their minds? What they must have been thinking?
I think the fathers encouraged the boys and told them to use the gifts Yahweh had given them to bring glory to Him. To do the best they could. To stand firm. And these boys, being intelligent and quick to learn, used to following their parents and obeying, probably drew strength from their fathers.
There must have been tears. Everyone must have been frightened. But the Babylonians did take the boys, just as the fathers said they would. And everything happened as they had been told. They made a long trip, but they were taken care of. I imagine on the trip the four boys continued to pray and worship Yahweh, talking among themselves and helping each other to stay positive.
When they arrived and were made eunuchs, Daniel became their spokesperson. He knew they should not be eating the food or drinking the wine that had been offered to idols and were unclean. I’m sure he sent up prayers to God for help, and then he boldly spoke up, and was granted favor. While the other young men ate the unclean food and drank the wine, Daniel and his friends stayed strong. And they flourished.
If you notice, Daniel and his three friends are talked about during the book of Daniel, but all the other young men “without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand” – they were never heard about again.
Hold tight to God!
I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions, as I’ve posted here before. But this year I seem led to seek God’s will and plan and purpose for my life to a level I have not experienced before. I want to live the way He wants me to live, and be the kind of light that He wants me to be, where He has placed me.
As I was praying today I thought about a deep pool. Picture a tall hillside. It is rocky, but covered densely in trees and brush. There is a tall waterfall, seeming to come down from heaven. It is falling straight into a natural pool. The pool is wide and deep, and at the far end where it narrows a bit, the water spills out into another waterfall that falls into another pool, which falls into another pool, and so on.
The first waterfall is the presence of God, His blessings, the empowerment of God to me. He pours down His wisdom, his discernment, his knowledge. His blessings flow, and His peace, and His grace. The water is His love and patience (oh, so much patience!) flowing down, pouring into the pool. The water is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. The pool holds the water, swirls all of it around, and embraces it between the banks. But it does not keep all this. No, all those things make their way to the far end of the pool, where they find an opening, an outlet, and flow and splash down to others.
As I was praying today I saw the pool, and the waterfall, and the other waterfalls flowing down. And I pictured myself in the pool. I’m not a good swimmer, but in my prayer I was swimming down, deeper in the pool. I embraced the water all around me, going deeper. I could feel the water pressing in and the purity of it as I went deeper. Though I was deep, I wasn’t afraid. Though I was deep, it wasn’t too dark. I could look up, and through the grace and love and peace and wisdom and blessings I was surrounded by, and I could see the light above.
And I wanted to go deeper still. I think I will get there. Maybe not this year, but someday. In the Narnia series of books that C.S. Lewis wrote, in the last book, after the characters have entered Aslan’s land (though they don’t know it yet), one of them states “Further up and further in!” I have always remembered that phrase. It is what I feel led to do. Go further up in my walk; go further in, closer to God.
Have you been opening your gifts this month? The gifts that God is waiting to give you, that He has all ready and wrapped for you?
I had a small gift opening last week. I have a friend, a former co-worker. She is out on disability, which is a long story I won’t get into. She was raised Catholic but rejected that once she became an adult. Now in her 60’s I’m not sure what she believes, but she has stated clearly that she thinks people who go to church are stupid.
And yet she does not object to my asking her if I can pray for her, or telling her I prayed for her. She admits she prays. At any rate, we recently had a bad wind and rain storm and during the course of about an hour and a half the power went out and came back on several times. The longest time was about 25 minutes.
I realized how grateful I was that Randy was not there. My dear husband, the past few years of his life, was on supplemental oxygen. When he was in the house we had an oxygen concentrator and a long tube (really, a series of tubes) that connected to his cannula and he could be on the oxygen anywhere in the house. When he had to leave the house, he used portable tanks. He could last about 45 minutes without oxygen, but that would be cutting it close. It was always very, very stressful and frightening when he ran out of oxygen when we were going somewhere and we had to switch tanks. And ditto for when the power went out, or the concentrator died for other reasons.
And now I don’t have that worry. Now my stress and anxiety don’t spike when the power goes out. I shared this with my friend, and I told her that it was a little funny to me that after almost 10 months of him being gone, I could find something to be grateful for that he was not there.
She wrote back and thanked me for sharing that, and told me it gave her a new outlook on her own situation with work and being on disability. I really felt that was a gift from God. Out of my pain and loss, I was able to help someone else. It blessed my heart.
It has been nine months since my dear wonderful husband Randy passed away. Just before New Years I felt a healing by God over my grief. I still miss my Randy just as much as I ever did. I still think about him and even talk to him. But the daily crying jags and the horrible pain of my loss has lessened quite a bit.
I had the last two weeks of December off, and spent it at home. I did some things outside my apartment of course but I didn’t make any trips or go out of town. One of the new things I tried this year (or, retried would be a better way of describing it) was to try paint-by-numbers kits again.
When I was around 10 – 13 years old I did a lot of paint-by-numbers. You used to be able to buy these kits for very little money in the Five and Dime stores. Those were the equivalent of Dollar Stores today, for those of you not old enough to get the reference. I did a lot of them. Mostly they were horses, since I was horse mad and I enjoyed the pictures. I don’t know for sure if it started then, but I have always had a love of painting. Using watercolors and acrylics. I truly do love to paint, and I am truly bad at it. I am not being modest – I really am. I have tried and tried over the years to get some idea, some vision, some memory down on paper or canvas in watercolor or acrylic. And I have always failed miserably. It has been pretty frustrating to me, but my love of painting has spurred me on to keep trying.
So when I stumbled across paint-by-number kits on a web site I thought, “Hmmmm….. I wonder if I will like doing this as much as I did when I was younger?” Turns out, the answer was YES. As you might guess, they have made a lot of improvements in the paint-by-number kit market in the 40 odd years since I last tried one. I bought one that was not on the cheapest end, but not in the middle price range either. And started working on it.
While I can’t paint, I can follow instructions to paint a specific color of paint in a specific area of a canvas. And when I was all done? It looked like something! It looked like what it should look like! You can actually, you know, recognize what it is! And the thing is, I found that I enter into a kind of zen state when I paint. In fact, I found that there were times I sat for four hours at a stretch, painting. So I have had to set the alarm, and purposefully get up more often. Painting does something to my crafty, artistic soul. And I believe it was God-led. I do believe God pointed me in that direction because He knew I needed it. He knew what good it would do me.
One of the things I did on my vacation was to go to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but Randy wouldn’t have been able to do all the walking and standing. I had been there before, about 6 months after it had reopened, and really enjoyed seeing everything again. I found myself talking to Randy as I made my way slowly through the exhibits, and it was very comforting. When I was there they had a special showing of minerals and gems, and Randy really loved that stuff. We had a long conversation about the stones as I looked through all the display cases. In the rain forest, they had several glass cages set up for newts. And I heard him clearly in my head reciting the lines from the Monty Python movie: “She turned me into a newt!” “You’re not a newt” “I got better”. He could do the accent, and his timing was perfect and every time he said those lines it cracked me up. It cracked me up again when I stood looking in at the newts.
My time at the CalAcademy was sad, yes, but it was also fun and loving and warm and … comforting. It did not make me cry, it made me smile. It made me happy. It made me grateful, yet again, that my Randy was in my life and enriched it in all the ways he did. And that was a blessing, and a healing from God.
Here is a picture of the second paint-by-numbers kit I completed.