Friday, April 29, 2011

A Time to Laugh

"a time to weep and a time to laugh..." (Ecclesiastes 3:4). I think I have laughed more in the past month than in the previous 5 years! Laughter is back! And as I mentioned on April 19, it appears that Father has now led me out of the deepest parts of my mourning, having healed at least the bigger wounds in my broken heart. Today as promised I share some of the highlights of His healing work in the desire that they give hope to you or to someone you know.

As I begin, I remind you that everyone works through grief in her/his own way and some take a longer or shorter time than others. And with me there are several factors that may be contributing to a more rapid healing. First, I tend to process things deeply, with great emotion, and this obviously helps when working through sorrow. I am also one who has always embraced change quickly--this means that the huge changes thrust upon me by Jettie's death haven't traumatized me like they would some folks. Also, I have for a number of years been blessed with an incredible walk with Abba, and, even in the darkest times, the deep well of this life with Him has made it possible for me to hear His voice and sense His "strong right hand" holding onto me. I have also been blessed with many who love me and pray for me, and it is, I think, mostly through the prayers of the saints that I am still standing today! I also know that I have a call on my life that needs to be stepped into without unnecessary delay--thus I have told Papa often that I don't want to languish in sorrow if there's a way to embrace it and then move past it. I very much want to live the life He has for me so that others may benefit by knowing Him more deeply. I therefore want nothing to slow my journey into the future. Finally, over the years God has enabled me to store up a fairly large reservoir of Scripture in me so that even when was not emotionally ready to "read the Bible," its truths were still with/in me and therefore available to Holy Spirit to use to speak to me.

But having pointed out these factors, some of which may or may not be present in various ways in others, I still think I should share what God has done in me to move me towards healing so that you and others may be encouraged to believe that He will work similarly in you.

First and most importantly, this is something God has done! The other day I was remembering that in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50) the author explains how Joseph got where he needed to be with the simple phrase, "but the LORD was with Joseph." And so as I write I am deeply aware that “the LORD was with Tom.” As I have noted in earlier entries, Papa's promise to lead me through the mourning process has been wonderfully kept! I cannot tell you how “present” Papa has been! "I AM with you" has taken on much deeper meaning because He has been speaking, leading, gently correcting, bringing others and their words at just the right time, etc. And the good news here is that this truth is for everyone. The same God who has guided me through this process will guide anyone who listens for His voice and surrenders to His leading!

Here, then, are some specific things He did that I think may encourage you and others you know.

  • He kept reminding me to listen, listen, listen to Him and to respond to what He was saying! Once the "time of tsunami" was done (the season where you are too stunned to do much of anything--about two months for me) He started speaking very clearly, urging me to listen and trust and do what He was saying. Sometimes that meant leaning into an emotional moment, other times it meant moving away from it. Sometimes that meant making some hard choices about letting go of something, other times it meant permission to treasure something and carry it into the future. The bottom line was for me simply to listen and respond. Too simple, eh? But it is that simple, yet as I have said many times, simple is best but not usually easy!
  • He led me to embrace reality. He showed me that there are two realities that I needed to embrace simultaneously: First, there was the reality of my loss and of the permanent change that came as a result. One example of how He did his is that He had me take off my wedding ring very early on. At first I wondered why He had me do that so early, but I quickly noticed that my feeling the "missing ring" was His gift of reality to me. Every time the odd sensation of the missing wedding band came, I was gently but clearly reminded that Jettie no longer lives here on earth and that my life has changed forever. And there have been many more ways in which He has had me embrace the "cold, hard reality" of loss. But far more important and more beautiful than this, He has led me to embrace the reality of Heaven! I wrote a little about this on April 19, but I want to elaborate a bit more on how this helps so much by citing two quotes from a remarkable book, Room of Marvels, by James Bryan Smith. "When we cry, 'Come back,' it is for our own sake. We never stop to consider whether their return, if it were possible, would be good for them. We want then back to restore our happiness. But in truth, we could not wish anything worse for them." (p. 56). "As Christians we know--or at least have heard--the glorious words of Christ and his people about their future life in the presence of God. But, frankly, few really believe them. To really believe them would mean acting straightforwardly and spontaneously as if they were true. It would require being confident that with every pore of our being that any friend of Jesus is far better off dead. It would be to rejoice, in the midst of our parting sorrows, over the indescribably greater well-being or our loved one who has moved on 'further up and further into' the greatness of God and his world." (Dallas Willard in an afterword on p. 187). To these quotes I add what Father said to me soon after Jettie's transfer to Heaven, "You don't have to grieve Jettie's suffering and pain because I have transformed them!" This word, given every time I tried to go to the places of trauma and pain, constantly pulled me back to the reality of Heaven, and I cannot overstate the power this has had in bringing me out of the valley of weeping!
  • Third, He brought many others into my life who shared my sorrow and gave counsel and encouragement as needed. Everyone says to those grieving, "Don’t journey alone," of course, but the truth is that there is a tendency to want to go off in a cave and lick our wounds. Yet God blessed me with many who gently pursued me, prayed for me, listened to me and spoke timely words to me. And along the way, I learned to lay hold of these gifts of grace when they came to me. One of the most powerful healing moments in my entire journey came through a passing remark by my friend, Tony, who simply noted his realization that Maxine's (his first wife) "assignment on earth was finished." Those words were taken by the Holy Spirit and transferred directly to my heart: "Tom, Jettie's assignment on earth was finished." And something remarkable happened in that moment that allowed me finally to release to God all my questions about "What else could I have done, Did I fail, etc." (Thanks, Tony, dear friend!). And there were many more timely words from many others, of course. And because God has called me to a listening posture, I think by His grace I have caught at least some of them, and in catching them my heart has been healed! Listening seems to be a real key here, eh?
Wow, this is a long blog entry! But I needed to get these things in place, I think. I offer them to you simply as an encouragement. As I said in the beginning, everyone's process is somewhat different, but I believe that God's grace in calling us to listen, respond, trust, embrace reality and invite others into our hurting places will help anyone who is in the valley of Baca (weeping--see Psalm 84:6).
Praying that Papa will draw you so close that you cannot miss His whisper...
Tom, one of Papa's little boys

Friday, April 22, 2011

On This Most Holy Day...

I find myself filled with a sense of hushed awe today on this most sacred and amazing day. This day, above all other days, is the loudest and deepest "shout" of God's love for us. And I pause in wonder--"This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for us." (1 John 4:10)

Because this is "Good Friday," I will defer until next week my reflections on how Papa has led me out of the darkest parts of mourning for Jettie. This day is too wonderful, too holy, in my opinion, to focus on anything besides the timeless demonstration of God's love for us we see in the cross. And so I offer a small reflection from my often upside down viewpoint.

I find myself today asking God to please help me go past all of the "religion" and assumptions that I carry in order to grasp in some new way the depth of His love for us/me. As I do this, I find myself wondering if I am sometimes too casual when I speak of "The blood." We sing about the blood, we "claim" the blood, we "pray the blood," etc., but I wonder if in doing so we don't forget at times what is behind the shedding of Jesus' blood. I wonder if at times I have thought of Jesus' blood as a "commodity" or as a "tool" rather than that which is most precious in all of the Universe because of what it cost God (Father, Son and Spirit!). Yet even in my wondering I choose not to go to a place of condemnation--that would deny the very thing that God paid so much to purchase for us: freedom from condemnation and the restoration of intimacy with Him! So instead I simply wonder, and in my wondering ask Papa to help me catch better than ever what is holy, what is good, and most of all, respond to His sacred embrace.

Lost in wonder and glad of it...

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Your Best Life, Later!

I am late with this post, because I spent time in Houston last weekend and was not able to take the time to post on the blog. But I need to write just a wee bit, I think, about how important it is for followers of Jesus to remember that our "best life" always comes in eternity not in the present.

What triggered this is the remarkable way that Papa has taken me out of a time of intense mourning and placed me into a new season of joy and expectancy. "There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." (Ecc. 3:4). Evidently Papa decided my season of deep mourning needed to come to an end, because in light of some amazing graces of healing in my life a couple of weeks ago, I find that it's now quite hard to stay in "mourning mode." I will spend more time in this Friday's post describing how this happened because it will serve some of you, I think. But for today I want to highlight one of the most important keys for believers as they heal from the catastrophic loss of a loved one: the reality of Heaven.

The undeniable truth that Jettie is now "better off by far" because her life on earth ended with a direct transfer into God's presence and indescribable blessing is the one thing above all others that has enabled me to let go of loss and move into the future. Because I know that for believers the life that follows this one is infinitely superior to this present existence, it makes sense that "we do not grieve as those who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And so I have indeed moved past the sense of deep loss that was present for the first 6 months (I can hear the doubt in some of you as you read this, but it's really true! And I will explain more on Friday).

But knowing this is not just for those who have suffered the death of a loved one. For every follower of Jesus, this present life is not the best we will experience. Indeed, for a large percentage of believers around the world "your best life now" sounds rather odd as they suffer through persecution and other calamity. Our persecuted and poorer sisters and brothers already know that our best life always comes later, and that "your best life" is life lived not for self but for the One who redeemed you and called you into His purposes. ("In this world you will have trouble, but be encouraged! I have overcome the world!" John 16:33). And I find myself wondering how we would live if we all truly believed that our best life comes later... just wondering...

More later this week.

Reflecting on the realities of eternity...

Tom, one of Abba's little boys


Friday, April 8, 2011

The Evils of The "Christian Religion"

"It's not a religion, it's a relationship!" This is the mantra that many Christians are taught to use in sharing their faith, and it's certainly true. But if it's true, what's up with the fact that most believers have only a very distant "relationship" with the One who lives inside of them and who has hidden them inside of Himself in Christ? (Colossians 3:3)?

I am not sure I can get even the big rocks in terms of answering this question, but I have been grieved in my spirit more than once lately by how evil it is to degrade the joyful, love-infused relationship with Abba into performance-driven, shame-based religion. The "Christian Religion" creates some of the meanest and saddest people I have ever seen! Why? First, because that's what religion in any form always does (can you think of any "religion" where joy is the chief characteristic of its adherents?). But I also think that twisting the grace-drenched, love-fired message of the Jesus life into a religion does some especially harmful damage to those who are the victims of the twisting. How else can we explain the cruel things "Christians" say to one another or do to others (the Koran burning folks come to mind, along with those who carry those hate-filled signs condemning those who struggle with homosexuality)?

You see, when we twist a message about love and grace into the shame-permeated life that religion is based on, we create mutants! We create a people who live in constant and monstrous inner tension, whose lips are often proclaiming words of grace and relationship while in reality their lives are driven by the demands placed on them by others who tell them what a "good Christian" does. ("What would Jesus do?"!!!) Ironically, most of these sad and despair-ridden "mutants" started out healthy. When they met Jesus their lives were filled with the joy of childlike trust and wonder that a relationship with Abba brings. But then someone "discipled" them and it went downhill from there...!

So what are we to do about this? I don't have many answers--not many at all--but here's a few things Papa has given me. First, He encourages me to live the most love-bathed, grace-filled, Spirit-drenched life imaginable! The joy and peace that this produces gives birth to a life that is such a paradox that it creates a question that often leads to an invitation. (My life is a paradox the leads to a question that may lead to an invitation!) Second, Papa sees to it that my paradoxical life (What?!!! A believer who really is peaceful, joyful and kind???!!!) leads to opportunities to pray for folks, to build relationships with those who become hungry, to suggest a few key books to read (Truefaced and Bo's Cafe, So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, He Loves Me, The Shack, all come to mind), and more. The joy of the relationship with Him inevitably leads to joyful relationships with others. Third, because I am free from having to perform, all of this "just happens" as Father works and invites me to join Him from time to time. This is so fun! No wonder I often find myself saying joyfully, "I love my life!"

Not sure any of this makes sense. I am a still smarting today because one of my dearest friends just got slammed by a "practitioner of the Christian religion," but perhaps some of what I wrote will trigger something good in some of you. My hope is that my words will invite you deeper into Father's embrace and farther away from the "Christian religion."

May God deliver all of us from that evil religion, the "Christian Religion"!

Drowning in His love and not planning to come up for air!

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Does God Have a Prioritized List?

I am feeling a nudge of late to write some thoughts about the Ultimate Reconciliation myth because so many who are opposing it are doing so in a way that prevents those who have been enamored by it from hearing them--think about that one for a minute. Now to give you a hint about my approach, my concerns about this strange teaching have more to do with how unloving and incompetent God ends up looking--how's that for a surprising approach? But I won't write until God's heart and thoughts have been more fully clear to me about this, so today I write about another lesser myth: the notion that God has a priority list in terms of helping us and blessing us.

This topic was triggered by words that came from my own mouth just a few minutes ago. I was lifting a personal need to Papa and heard myself saying, "I know there are others with far greater needs" (with the implication that their needs should therefore take priority over my lesser need. Papa quickly interrupted that thought by reminding me that any need of any of His creatures has first priority to Him ("His eyes is on the sparrow," remember???). That set me to thinking, of course, and here's a few thoughts as to why God can care equally (infinitely) about every need.

First, God doesn't need a priority list because He is infinitely loving and powerful. Infinite love is able to embrace the largest and deepest needs (He weeps with those who weeps and draws near to the broken-hearted, etc.). But because it is infinite, His love is at the same time to embrace the smallest need of the least of His creatures. We only have to prioritize things when we have limited resources. God is unlimited in both caring and ability, so everything can matter equally to Him.

Second, God doesn't need a prioritized list because He is all-knowing (omniscient) and present everywhere (omnipresent). We need prioritized lists because we cannot be everywhere at once and because we are limited in what we know to be important or true. Neither of these are issues for God! Knowing everything all at once and being everywhere all the time gives Papa the ability to care equally powerfully for everyone--no list needed in that case, eh?

This third one is a bit harder, at least for me. Sometimes when I look at the suffering around me I begin to shrink back from asking God for good things that don't seem so important in light of someone else's suffering. But once when I was thinking these thoughts, Papa pointed out to me that all the suffering around me doesn't change His nature. He is the infinitely and completely good Father, who wants to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:7-11) even while He enters into the suffering of those caught up in great pain (which He did and continues to do for my family and me during our painful journey!). You see, God's nature is to bless and bless and bless, so someone else's tragedy never defines His posture towards me or anyone else in any way except to bless (and I know now from personal experience that He is blessing greatly even in the midst of great sorrow and pain. Glory and honor to you forever, beloved and holy Father!).

But saying all of this about doesn't mean that He doesn't stretch us constantly to get past ourselves to a place of increasing God-focus and other-focus. If we never get beyond asking for a favored parking place we are a terribly stunted. Not that that's wrong, but if that's all you do you have missed the heart of God rather badly! (I ask for God to give the person behind me a favored space and I look for one farther away so that the prayer can be answered, but that's just me, I guess!) So God doesn't have a prioritized list for how He responds to need, and He will keep blessing and blessing to those who ask (says so right in the Bible!), but in His blessing He is also always inviting us to live out the life we have already been placed into (seated with Him in the heavenly realms, hidden in Him with Christ)--amazing!

I hope this is clear.