Friday, December 31, 2010

I Love My Life!

The words slipped out before I realized what I was saying! I was talking to one of my dear friends this past Wednesday, and I heard myself saying, "I love my life!" And I almost wept...and I did weep later as I thought of it. Why?

Because that phrase used to be one that I used a lot, and I meant every word of it. But the events of this past 18 months stole that phrase from my vocabulary. Instead, more than once I heard myself saying just the opposite: "I hate my life!" (and I meant every word of that at the time, too!). So when "I love my life" spontaneously slipped from my lips this week, I knew that it was more than just a chance occurrence. Papa was wanting me to know that He has been healing some really deep wounds in me (duh!!).

I don't want to focus on me regarding this, though. Rather I want to thank God for holding onto my family and me so tightly over these past few months, holding onto me when I couldn't even think clearly enough to want to hold onto Him. And I want to thank Him for "shouting in our pain" over and over until we heard His voice in the storm. And I want to thank Him for surrounding me with so many loving friends that I won't know until Heaven how rich I truly am. And I want to thank Him for setting me free from the need to understand, replacing it with a renewed hunger just to be His little child. As I wrote to Papa in my journal yesterday, "it has been your patient wooing, healing and loving on me that have brought me to true understanding of intimacy with you again—thank you."

So with my future not really any clearer than it was a few days ago, I find myself facing this next year with hope and yes, even joy. I am still grieving, and I will for a long time to come, but I now grieve with clarity about Papa and His love that I didn't have before, and I will choose to step into His embrace when it gets dark the next time.

Romans 11:33-36 seems like a good way to end this note and this year:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (NIV1984)

My prayer for you, all of you and each of you, is that you too will be able to say, "I love my life!" Yes, there will be times when those words may be squeezed into silence for a while, but may the overall theme for all of Abba's children be permeated with this phrase.

I love my life (His life for me and in me),

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, December 24, 2010

"As for me, I will always have hope."

It started yesterday morning in yet another typically distracted time with Papa. I finally realized two very important things: first, that my greatest loss during this past season wasn't my beloved Jettie but the disruption of the amazing intimacy with Papa that He had brought me to over the past few years; second, that He is inviting me back into that intimacy right now, and I don't have to wait any longer to start that journey. And what better time than now in this season of wonder and marvel? In my typically transparent way I paste some of yesterday's entry. Don't be concerned about how bleak it sounds in places--the story gets better.

Papa, the other part of this, of course, is that if I look anywhere but to you for what only you can supply I am short-circuiting your plan for me (or delaying it, at least). Yet as always, I don’t want to view our relationship as a duty, so please, Papa, draw me close to you and woo me away from things that don’t matter. Ora Rowan’s hymn again comes to mind.

Ah, Father! I go back to find the first Ora Rowan entry for this year and it’s from May 16, and I weep and weep. So much loss, Father! Yet what I was mostly writing about there was intimacy with you, and I know all of it’s still true. I just don’t know how to get back to where I was because I am so stuck in grief, so lost, Papa. I know you know where I am, but I don’t seem to know where I am. Yes, Father, as I re-read the entry for that date, I see how lost I am. My failure to lay hold of healing has left me bereft of any ability to get back to that place. When Jettie died, everything seems to have died with her…

Yet I will always have hope. And I see now more clearly than ever how I have substituted human relationships for intimacy with you. Yet how can I change all this? I am miserable and feeling so lost so much of the time. How do I ask, how do I posture myself, to be so inundated by your love that you really do become “all I need”? And what do I do with all this grief?????

Father, my greatest loss in all of this is the journey itself, I think. But I know you are holding onto me, and I trust that at some point this whole thing will indeed result in my being “deeper.” But right now, as you know, I am a mess, and the surrendered/saturated life seems impossibly far from me. And so I wait, still painfully easy to distract, still smarting from my loss.

That was yesterday's entry, and I must admit that nothing changed noticeably throughout the day, excerpt perhaps the "grief of the season" got deeper. But in the back of my mind (deep in my spirit?) God planted a two-part seed from the morning, the quote from Psalm 71:14 ("I will always have hope.") and two of the stanzas from Ora Rowan's hymn:

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless (matchless) worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void (emptiness) and smart (pain);
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

And light began to dawn on me in a way that I haven't experienced since Jettie's passing: there is nothing, not even my deep grief, that hinders my re-engaging the journey of intimacy with Papa. I know this is a no-brainer, but for some reason the painful journey had caused me to lose sight of the obvious (my guess is that this was due to my loss of trust in Abba because things didn't turn out how I thought they should--but that's a subject for another time). So it is that this morning with blinding clarity, I saw the way back to Father's embrace (which has never left me--His arms have always been around me, of course), and this morning's entry ended with a new commitment to the Psalm 27:4 life God calls all of us to. In short, I see His beauty again, and it compels me to His embrace and steadies me in my grief.

What makes this rather remarkable in some ways is that, according to experts on grieving, just the opposite should be happening. Christmas is supposed to trigger the worst sense of loss for those who lose loved ones. Perhaps because so many are praying, perhaps because the wonder of the season is so undeniably present--I don't really know--but for me, "I will always have hope." And another of my favorite passages now rises up before me, expressing the now reawakened longing of my heart: "Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you." (Isaiah 26:8-9a) And so the beauty of His love, the kindness of His face invites me closer, back to His heart with the promise of even deeper love because of my brokenness!

I have written in this transparent manner not because I want this blog to be focused on me, but because I sense that there are others whose "loss" has left them in a fog, obscuring the loving face of Papa. May my journey be an encouragement to you: "As for you, you will always have hope" and that hope is God Himself.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

You can access a previous blog where I wrote about Ora Rowan by clicking here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Still More Reflections On The Grieving Process

"When do you stop counting?" My sister, whose husband, Jerry, died from cancer less than four weeks after Jettie’s passing, asked me this a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know the answer to that question—maybe never, eh? But I did ask Father why I keep remembering even when I am trying to move on, and the following came to me (now confirmed by others who have walked this path). Why do we count? Why do we have a hard time not remembering things we want to forget in our grief? The answer is that our “internal self” keeps track of things! We may wonder why “today” is so hard and why grief seems to be especially hard “today,” and the reason is often that our internal self (sub-conscious, spirit, etc.) is aware that “today” is an anniversary (Saturdays are often hard for me because Jettie died on a Saturday), or that “Christmas is coming” or that it’s simply time to process more grief because Holy Spirit says so! Perhaps that's why grief seems so unpredictable to our conscious minds: our spirits and inner parts of our self are busily keeping track, processing, considering, grieving. Once I realized this it became easier to work with what was happening instead of fighting it!
This is just one of the many things I continue to learn on this journey, and although I am hesitant to keep writing about grief, it seems important for me to do so, especially during this holiday season because such seasons are often harder for those mourning the passing of a loved one. So here are a few more things I am learning about grief with my comments.
  1. During the early stages of grief your judgment about your ability to make good judgments is not trustworthy! During my journey I have already found myself looking back at some early decisions when I was sure that my ability to make decisions was solid only to now ask myself in wonder, "What I was thinking!" Sigh... so I learned that during deep grieving, especially at first, we aren’t even able to decide about our ability to decide, no matter who we are. So what can we do? We can listen to other people, especially those who love us and know us well and perhaps especially when they disagree with us!
  2. So the common advice given to grieving folks not to make major decisions that will be hard to recover from if they are bad ones is solid counsel. But if you do make a bad decision, don’t beat yourself up about it. Come to Papa and ask Him to help untangle it. (But if you heed the first point, you won’t need this one).
  3. On the other hand, it’s normal to think about the future, including wondering about another life partner if that’s what God has for you, even while you are grieving. My thanks to my friend, Tony K., for reminding me of this early in my journey. I was feeling so guilty about thinking about my future instead of just being sad all the time, and his counsel that this was a normal way of coping with grief and part of the healing process was like water in the desert. On the hand, it’s probably not wise to start deciding much about the future because of numbers 1-2 above! Listening to God, listening to others, and waiting for Papa's timing seems a better option to me.
  4. Don’t put deadlines on your grief (thanks to my friend, Bobby B., for this one). The depth of the sense of loss seems to be closely related to the depth (quality and duration) of the relationship. Because Jettie and I had such a good relationship for such a long time, my grief has been, and may continue to be, deep and long. Ours was a rare love indeed, and we had been deeply happy for a long time (not perfectly so—I am tough to live with at times). So I am not telling Papa that I need to grieve a long time based on this, but I also won’t be surprised if I grieve a while longer than I would like!
  5. Understanding everything won’t help, nor is it possible. I am discovering that the reason I want to understand things is that I want to regain some sense of control in my life. This is a perfectly normal reaction to the total loss of control that has happened to me. I am finding that asking God to help me understand some things—the things I need to understand as He defines them—is good, but demanding to understand grows out of fear and a need to control things none of us can control. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a good passage to hang onto even (or more accurately, especially) when your world falls apart and nothing makes sense. Again and again as I have begun the "Why journey" Father has simply invited me to trust Him, rest in Him, allow Him to embrace me, and in His embrace whatever clarity I need comes. (Not that I don't find myself still resisting His embrace at times).
  6. As you progress through your grief, you will begin to hear God’s voice again (beyond His whispered encouragement and love, which for me at least, were always there). That has meant for me that I can now tell the difference between when I am feeling my loss and when I am headed into self-pity. Hearing God's voice helps me make better decisions about what to do with the powerful emotions associated with grief. None of us can control the fact that emotions come, especially at first, but as we progress through the journey we do become better able to make choices that keep the emotions from leading us the wrong way because His voice begins to be clear again. Thank you, Papa, for this one!
  7. I am finding that there is a lot of help out there for grieving people (as you know) and that the "common threads" among them are the most helpful. Whether the source is secular or Christian, there are some common observations about grief that, although worked out differently in each person's life, are true and therefore helpful. (Some of these reflections I am making had their beginning in such sources). Bottom line is again to seek the counsel of others. Grief was never meant to be experienced in isolation (although isolating oneself is often what one wishes to do!).
  8. Finally, I have discovered that grieving is highly visible and well modeled in Scripture. I wasn’t able to see that very well before. Perhaps in a later blog I will elaborate on this one.
So there you have it: yet another "view from the valley." I pray that my experience with grieving, which continues to this very moment, especially as Jettie's favorite time of the year (Christmas) approaches, will be an encouragement to some of you.

I invite you to nestle ever deeper into Papa's arms with me, allowing Him to pull you close even when you aren't sure you want that!

Tom, one of His little boys

Monday, December 6, 2010

The River of God's Sovereignty

     I am writing from yet another "slough of despond," but I wanted to write nonetheless. I am sitting in a hotel room, alone, in South Padre Island, hoping to work some things out with Papa regarding grief and the future. But for now, I write...
     As I have mentioned previously, tragedy tends to cause some people to say some rather odd things about God in their attempts to comfort those who have suffered loss. Nothing seems more odd to me than the statement, variously worded, that suggests that God somehow orchestrates the death of someone we love. The attempted comfort takes various forms: “Well, God just needed her in heaven,” or “Well, all our days are determined by the Lord,” etc., but the meaning is the same—somehow God is portrayed as pulling levers and pushing buttons that somehow cause every event that happens in life, good and bad. But going down that road causes us to end up with a god who kills babies through abortion, kills little children through disease, war and famine, sends massive hurricanes, etc., and that is not a good road to travel! (Please remember, too, that death was never God’s idea nor His plan for us, so death itself was never in His original purpose for His creation, never His choice.)
     A god who causes everything that happens is not the God of the Bible. The God of Scripture is indeed sovereign, but the fact that God is sovereign doesn’t mean that He makes everything happen! That blasphemous picture of God is called Determinism, and that’s the god of Islam, but not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So what does it mean that God is sovereign? It means that He takes everything that happens within the context of the freedom that He grants to His creatures and causes all of it to fit into His ultimate purpose (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28-29). So we live in a world where bad choices (starting with Adam and Eve) have allowed a huge amount of evil things to happen. But it is also a world where God is always working redemptively (and usually invisibly) to cause all things to work out for His ultimate good purpose: the revelation of the infinite love and goodness which are His glory. How God does this is beyond understanding, of course, but the Bible tells us that there are lots of thing that happen that are not God’s will (it’s His will that no one should perish, but some will perish, etc.). Yet in the end even those things that are not His immediate will somehow will be fit into His overall, eternal purpose (my head hurts when I think about this too much!).
     Why is it so important to understand this about God? A few things come to mind. First, we cannot have a relationship with God apart from understanding this. God’s desire for a relationship with us requires Him to allow us the freedom to make real and genuine choices. Relationships can never be coerced or forced. You may submit to a dictator, but you won’t enter into a loving relationship with him/her! But with the ability to choose relationship with God comes the ability not to choose that relationship and the evil that follows such a choice. You cannot have freedom without allowing for the possibility of evil, but real relationships require freedom.
     Second, as common sense tells us,  you cannot be in a loving and trusting relationship with a god who causes bad things! Thankfully scripture reveals that God is not like that at all. (Who could love a god who “hurts us for his glory” or who could do something but "for his glory" chooses to do nothing?). Understanding that God is good, absolutely and completely good, is a key to our trusting Him even when we don’t understand what’s happening around us or to us. I love how Pastor Bill Johnson keeps things simple in this regard: "God is good. The devil is bad!" 
     Finally, God’s desire for us to be like Him in His goodness requires that His creatures be free to make real choices. My friend Steve Schell recently helped me to see this. Only when we choose to be good are we really good (like our Father). Coerced goodness is not goodness at all. Love (the motivation behind true goodness) cannot be forced, and nothing is more like Papa God than love! So the very fact that we are created in His image means that evil is a possibility because free choice allows for it. But that doesn’t mean that God does or causes the evil, as I trust you can see by now.
     Thus we find ourselves in a world where, because freedom is genuine, freedom results in a world with lots of bad things (like a beloved wife, mother and grandmother dying prematurely from cancer or like mass shootings by insane and evil people, or like a hurricane from hell slamming into the U.S. coast, etc.). But we also find that our loving Father, in some way we cannot comprehend, redeems everything so that it’s good in the end. I can love and trust a God like that!
     I offer two final pictures that may help as I close. First, there is a discussion in The Shack that I think states the truth clearly. Papa says to Mack, “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means that I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
     Second, I personally picture God’s sovereign purpose as being like a huge river, flowing to a distant and beautiful destination. Everything in all of time and creation is being carried along on that river, and people (and other creatures like angels) on the river have complete freedom to do whatever they wish while being carried along in its flow. They can bump into one another, they can fight the flow, move with the flow, go from side to side, etc., but they cannot escape being carried along with the river to the final destination. This is not by any means a perfect picture, but it helps me, and maybe it will help you. There is a river of God’s purpose, flowing through time and eternity, that carries everything along to a good end even while it allows perfect freedom within the context of its flow. I choose to rest in that River, even when things bump into me or even submerge me for a while along the way.

Gratefully living in His River, looking for grace’s colors,

Tom, one of Abba's little children