When It Comes To Loss

He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.”

Deuteronomy 32:10 ESV

I have a bonsai that I treasure. I started it from a seed, and although that was probably a year ago, it is still not very big. This bonsai is called a desert rose, and someday will have beautiful blooms when it is in season. Thus far, it has only grown leaves, but they are shiny and smooth, and very pleasant to the eye. Over the course of the last several months, it has dropped its leaves many times. At times I was fearful that I would lose this plant that is so special to me, but with the right care, I was able to bring it back to full health each time. After this happened many times, I found out that desert rose bonsais hibernate when the weather is bad – dropping their leaves in order to survive what would otherwise destroy them. But as soon as conditions became conducive again, it would put out more leaves.

Over the course of the last several months, I have experienced a lot of loss myself. At first it was devastating, reaching a point where a broken fan made me weep. It was when we were moving out of the shelter into our own apartment. We had very few belongings while living in the shelter, but I had purchased the fan for the room we shared because we lived above the kitchen, and it got very hot in our room once winter began and the building’s heaters were on full force. The night we left the shelter for the last time, I had the fan and a few other belongings stacked on a small cart and was pushing it out to my car. The fan was not balanced well enough and tumbled to the ground. When I realized that it was well and truly broken, I felt all of the loss of the three months before slam into me like a wave in a turbulent ocean. I put the few belongings from the cart in to the back of my car and then I sat down in the front seat and wept. To be honest, it was a full blown panic attack. Because it wasn’t really the fan I was weeping over. It was the loss of the life that I knew, the loss of the innocence I had maintained in my naivety of how the world works, the loss of nearly sixteen years of my life. It was a reminder that no matter how positive I tried to keep my attitude, no matter how determined I was to overcome every obstacle, no matter how hard I worked to make life as normal as possible, I was not in control of any of it. But being broken like that made so many things easier from that point on. Once I finally realized it was all out of my control, I was able to surrender and truly begin to trust in God and what He was making out of my life. I began to see my life as the beginnings of a stained glass window – in order to become a beautiful piece of art for His light to shine through, my life first had to be broken.

The process of breaking hurts. It is a stabbing, stinging, shattering thing that you are surprised to discover you’ve survived when you look back on it. And many times we try to find a way to patch ourselves up – to get ourselves back to “normal”. But God is not calling us to be normal. Normal doesn’t change the world.

The Scripture at the beginning of the post is beautiful to me. It was a promise God made to the Israelites – His chosen people – after they had left Egypt, but before they made it to the Promised Land. He promised His people that He would love them and take care of them, even though He knew they would behave like spoiled, demanding children. There were consequences for their bad decisions, and many even died as the result of their sins, but God was always faithful to them. He was always ready and waiting to bless them once they returned to Him. He was there for them when their enemies threatened and attacked, and He fed them when there was no food to be found. He guided their every step and protected them from enemies and elements.

“He found him…in the howling waste of the wilderness….”

I feel this phrase in the depths of my soul. I have been in the midst of the howling waste. I have been buffeted by winds and waves and lashed by flying debris. And every time, I felt God’s strong hands surrounding me, lifting me up. Not out. Up. He didn’t rescue me from every situation, but He held me steady as I made my way through.

Almost everything I have lost, He has replaced. And the things He has not yet replaced, I believe that He eventually will. I don’t have it all together, but I know He does, and I choose to trust in Him.

I visited a friend’s church this morning, and they sang a song that resonated within me. I had heard it before, but today, it was an anthem declared from every fiber of my being.

If you are facing loss, are in the midst of it, or are close with someone in either situation, please know that this is not the end. And even if it feels like God is far away, know that I have been in your shoes, and I can promise you from experience that God is right with you, He loves you, and He will continue to meet your needs. It may not look like what you expect, but it will be what is best for you in the long run. Like a great artist, God can see the finished product and knows what needs to happen in order for you to reach completion. If you don’t have enough faith right now, rest on mine until you can find yours again.

Planting Reality

Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.

Earl Nightingale

Many of us have heard the popular catchphrase “what you think about, you bring about.” It seems so trite to me – like a bossy older sibling talking down to you from their place of supposed superiority. Not that I know what that feels like from experience; I am the older sibling.

Regardless of my thoughts about the tone of the phrase, I find it to be valid in my life. If I believe it’s going to be a bad day, my brain will be constantly scanning for the negative. That said, I do not believe that it is true one hundred percent of the time. I can believe it’s going to be a good day and be proven wrong. This would be where a few radical people would step in and say that I could choose for it to be a good day anyway. I disagree.

I remember sitting in youth group one Wednesday night, listening to a guest speaker. She was beautiful, which made her message even more believable to an impressionable teenager like myself. She was sharing how after a certain point in her life (in which she had had some sort of Divine experience), she no longer had bad days. That she was able to continually choose that each day was a good day because Jesus was her best friend.

Whoa, wait a minute. I am about to say something that some of you might find controversial. But I politely request you continue reading with an open mind before you make a judgment. You might find that we do agree afterall.

Having Jesus as your best friend/Savior/Lord/Master, etc., does not make every day a good day.

Say what? It’s true. Nowhere in the Bible does it say “thou shalt have a good day, everyday.” Nowhere does it proclaim that your glass must be half full (or half empty if it’s full of something nasty).

We are not called to be eternal optimists.

For some of you, this is probably hard to agree with. For others, the chains are loosening, and long-buried hope is struggling against the dark soil of your struggle.

But what about salvation? The promise of heaven? The end to our present suffering? Joy unspeakable?

I think the What Would Jesus Do? movement of the 90’s can help us figure this one out.

In John 11, Jesus received word that one of His dear friends (Lazarus) was dying. Scripture made it clear that Jesus loved Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, very much. Despite this love, He chose to stay where He was for two more days, saying, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” After a few days, He told the disciples that it was time to go, that Lazarus was dead.

When they arrived, Jesus talked with Martha. Even though Lazarus had been dead four days, He told her that Lazarus would rise again. He then met with Mary, and was “deeply moved” at her weeping.

Let’s pause for just a second. Jesus knew from the beginning that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Okay, back to the story.

Jesus allowed his friends to lead Him to the tomb where Lazarus lay, and knowing He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead just moments later, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Read that again. “Jesus wept.”

He did not plaster a big smile on His face and act all cheery. There are two lessons in this: 1) Real friends grieve with their friends. They don’t pretend everything is peachy and tell their friends to “look on the bright side.” 2) It’s okay to weep, to be sad, to be angry. I won’t belabor this point because I wrote another post about this a while back.

As friends, we can usually see the bright side to someone else’s problem. As the person with the problem, sometimes we can see it too. Jesus didn’t just see the bright side, He was the bright side. But still He cried over the loss of His friend and the pain Lazarus’ friends and family members were experiencing.

So now that the pressure to be Positive Patty (no offense, Patty) all the time is invalid and unnecessary, what do we do with the whole thoughts become reality thing?

What are your dreams? What are you passionate about? What do you want to do that you are not sure you can do? (Realistically – even if we had the ability to fly, mythology makes it clear it’s probably a bad idea.)

We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. It’s been twenty years since you graduated from high school and you want to go back to school to pursue a degree in a field you are passionate about? You can do it. As Mr. Nightingale said above, “nourish with repetition and emotion.” Do things that promote that dream. Even if they are tiny things, like researching the differences between online and physical college classes. Find blogs, videos on YouTube, Pins on Pinterest that motivate you to step out of your comfort zone. And then keep building.

One other aspect I want to touch on quickly is when we do need to look on the bright side. That’s when we start to wallow. You know, the woe is me, my life is over, things will never get better pit that we all seem to get stuck in at least once or twice in our lives.

Feelings are healthy. Feelings are not choices. Our choices come in when we choose how we will respond to our feelings. And as I have written in the past, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and feeling our feelings. But we can’t just sit there forever.

Life is not easy. It’s time to stop pretending it is.

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

Wesley, The Princess Bride (written by William Goldman)

It’s Not All Sunshine And Roses

It’s 12:47 am and I have to be up in about five hours, but I felt the need to write this right now. I’m tired and I want to go to bed, but something said this needed to be done, so here I am.

I just finished uploading the biggest part of my grade in my current online class around ten minutes ago. It was a paper I entitled Truth or Fiction: The Fibonacci Sequence. Uploading this paper meant that this class (which I have loathed – umm, hello, math) has only one week left. Uploading this paper meant that the one thing I could do well in this course would be done. Math is not my friend, but I am really good at research and compiling it into a paper.

The problem, however, is that it was due at 11:59 pm on Sunday, April 21, 2019. My paper uploaded at 12:32 am on Monday, April 22, 2019.

It wasn’t that the paper wasn’t done. Oh, believe me, it was done. The school websites didn’t want to load quickly, and some of them wouldn’t load at all. I thought it might be my internet connection, but I didn’t have that problem with other webpages, so it had to have been on the school’s end. Once the page I needed to upload my paper to loaded, it didn’t want to upload my paper. And then it said my paper wasn’t a file. And then the file I uploaded disappeared completely from the page. Finally it uploaded correctly and I was able to turn it in. Hopefully I won’t lose points for something that was out of my control. I tried for nearly an hour to upload my document before succeeding.

Believe it or not, this little fiasco was the icing on the cake of my night. As I sat down (a few hours before) to finish up my paper and turn it in, a sudden wave of discouragement hit me. I messaged my two best friends to let them know what was going on so they could pray for me. To be honest, I sent it to one and then screenshot the messages and sent it to the other one, because I didn’t want to risk running out of time to work on my paper.

I listed six things that were making me feel discouraged – the final one being, “And I don’t want to finish writing this paper.” Three of the other five were the issues that my three daughters are struggling with right now. As a mom, I sometimes feel powerless to help them through some of these struggles, but when I’m not feeling discouraged, I know that that is just the voice of my overwhelmed mind. I can’t fix them, but I can help them. It just won’t all be solved overnight. Some of them might take more than a year. One of the other two is knowing we need a new rental – like now – and I have yet to find one. I have been looking for months. I viewed one last Thursday that I really liked, but the landlord had several people to show it to, and I am waiting to hear back. I am supposed to view another tomorrow, but I have to view it within my work hours. Someone was going to pick up a couple hours of my shift so I could go look at the apartment within the allotted timeframe, but something came up and they are no longer able to cover it. The other one is something I won’t go into detail on. Suffice it to say that parts of my life are still under control – to a degree – of someone I don’t want them under the control of. Their control is very limited, but sometimes it feels like more than it truly is.

Once I was able to list these things out, I felt immensely better. It was also easier to go to God and ask for help for these things, as the causes of my discouragement were now very clear in my mind. I also knew my friends would be there in prayer for me.

So why the urgency in sharing all of this? Because it’s too easy to live social media lives that have little to do with our real ones. It’s easy to type pretty words and talk about how faithful God is when things are going well. And although I can share with you things I have dealt with in the past, I find it’s easier to be seen as a real human with real problems if I can share with you the things I’m struggling with now.

This is not a plea for sympathy. This is merely reassurance that I am you. Not exactly you, but I have issues too. Issues that are quite overwhelming sometimes. The shoes I wear are not always attractive, and they definitely are not always comfortable. But I still believe that God is here and He hears me. He knows my past, my present, and my future, and He is in control. Although all I can see are a bunch of strangely colored puzzle pieces that don’t seem to go together at all, He can see the big picture on the puzzle box, and He knows how it all goes together.

Five hours ago, I wanted to lay down and give up. But now, with less than five hours until my alarm wakes me up to start the day, I am confident. Not in myself and my abilities, but in the fact that because of Him, I can face another day with grace and peace.

Sow Light

When my oldest daughter was six, she referred to Good Friday as “Black Friday”. And even though I know why we call it Good, her name for it often seems far more accurate.

Think about it from the perspective of the disciples. Jesus had told them that He would rise again, but so many things He had taught while on earth were in the form of parables – which had deeper meaning than what they seemed to at face value. It would be easy to believe that perhaps Jesus had meant something else other than literal resurrection – especially as one day stretched to two, and two to three.

Even had they known for certain that Jesus was being literal when He spoke of his return to life, it’s easy to wonder if we are remembering correctly when things don’t come to pass as quickly as we expect.

I was just sharing with a friend that there were things prophesied over me before I was even expecting my oldest daughter – who will be fourteen in August – that have yet to come to pass. Over the years, and especially over the last three, I have often wondered if it was simply emotion ruling both the people prophesying over me as well as myself. Other dreams that God placed directly in my heart seemed absolutely impossible from day one. But as things have changed over the last seven months, I am now seeing ways that God is opening up for these dreams and prophecies. God can open any door, even if it appears locked and barred to me.

For many people, Good Friday is easy to celebrate. Jesus died and rose again over two thousand years ago. We know the end of that part of the story. We don’t have to experience the agony of waiting and wondering what will happen next.

For others, it’s still a challenge. Yes, we know that Jesus died and rose again, but many are still waiting for their three days to be over. And those three days could be three months or fifteen years. I don’t know about you, but I am not good at waiting. Add in stress, pain, and the unknown, and the waiting becomes even more difficult.

But the truth is that although Jesus died and the three days that followed were excruciating for most – if not all – of his followers (including his own mother), but the story didn’t end there. Jesus did rise again. He kept His word. Which means we can trust that He will keep His word in our personal situations as well.

As I was doing my devotions today, I came across a verse that I’ve read a dozen times before. It isn’t one of the more well-known verses, but it impacted me today. Here it is:

“Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to His holy name.” Psalm 97:11-12

How dark and terrifying Jesus’ death must have been! How dark and terrifying our lives can be now. But God’s Word promises us light and joy when we live for Him. We will not always feel light and joy, but it’s there waiting for us if we choose it. You will often hear me talk about choices, because I am a firm believer that our choices directly affect us, as well as the people around us.

When my day does not go as planned, I can still choose light. If I wake up in a lot of pain, I can still choose joy. When my finances are tight and I don’t know how I will pay for bills, food, or rent, I can still choose light. If someone chooses to try to destroy me with their words, I can still choose joy. And as you may have heard before, happiness and joy are not the same thing. Happiness is temporary and dependent on things outside of us. Joy comes from within – from knowing that our present troubles are far outweighed by what God will bring in and through us on down the road. From knowing that we have a place in heaven once this life is over. From knowing that God doesn’t waste pain.

Many will ask why God causes us to go through hard times, why “bad things happen to good people”. The truth is that He doesn’t cause us to go through bad things anymore than He causes us to burn our hands when we touch something that is really hot. He allows it – because that is how we learn not to touch things that will burn us – but He does not cause it. As we are healing (and after we are healed) from the burn, He enables us to use our experience of pain to help someone else. We can warn them away, or if we find them after they have been burned, we can empathize and help them to heal.

As you go through today – whether you see it as Black or Good – know that light and joy are not far away. Once you find them for yourself, I hope you will then sow them into the lives of others, so they may find them too.

It’s Okay To Feel Discouraged

Yesterday was not a bad day. It was my day off and I was able to get some things done before snagging a nap. I even got to talk to my mom for a little while (Hi, Mom!)

Around 3 in the afternoon, I started to feel really discouraged. God has been providing for us, but lately my financial situation has been overwhelming at times. Being a single mom can be really hard in a “normal” situation, and dealing with all we are going through makes it even more challenging for me.

At first I was irritated with myself. I shouldn’t be discouraged. God has brought immense healing to me and my girls, and He does keep providing. I immediately started thinking of ways to pull myself out of my funk, but then I felt a stillness that reminded me that it’s okay to feel discouraged.

I knew I didn’t want to stay discouraged, but letting myself feel this hard emotion is healthy. We live in a drive thru world – everything must be now. I’m hungry and tired and I don’t want to cook? Let’s go through the drive thru. My kids are whiny and fighting and I know screens will keep them occupied? Let’s go through the drive thru. I don’t like how I’m feeling and it’s obviously a lack of faith? Let’s go through the drive thru. There are a lot of drive thru options here. Alcohol, binge-watching tv, taking a long nap, and even some that sound like good options, like reading the Bible, praying, or listening to worship music.

Please hear me out. There is nothing wrong with going through a drive thru (especially if you are buying God’s chicken at CfA) when you are hungry and tired and don’t want to cook. There is nothing wrong with letting your kids have screen time sometimes when you are about to pull your hair out and/or turn into The Hulk. And napping is good when you need the rest and recharge. And yes, reading the Bible, praying, and listening to worship music are very good things.

My point is this – those things may help short term, but they don’t take care of the underlying problem. We can only do this by allowing ourselves to feel. When we don’t, it’s like slapping a bandaid over a surgical incision. We need to take time to discover why we feel like we do before we try to pull ourselves out of it.

My fellow moms will be able to relate to this story. When my youngest, who is nine, has feelings she doesn’t understand or doesn’t know where they are coming from, automatically assumes it’s because a little girl in her class has been “so sassy” to her. Now, this little girl has hurt my daughter’s feelings before, but nine times out of ten, that is not the real issue. The real issue is much deeper. Maybe she is feeling insecure, or lonely, or feels inadequate in some way. Maybe the trauma she has experienced in her life is raising its ugly head and claiming territory in her heart. But the easy answer is that this girl is being sassy, because that is what she can see on the surface. And even now, our nine year old inner child is doing the same thing.

A friend of mine recently got on a low dose of medication for anxiety. I asked them if I could make a suggestion, and they gave me permission. I suggested they not get off the meds (with their doctor’s help) until they resolve the underlying issues causing their anxiety. Not their growing to do list, not the financial crunch, not the loneliness they currently live with from day to day. I mentioned that perhaps it was a subconscious feeling of inadequacy because they had not reached certain important life goals, even though they were successful in many other areas. I’m not a therapist, but I’m a pretty good listener, and even if I was off with the subconscious sense of inadequacy, I knew there was something deeper.

We need to stop going through the drive thru with our emotions. Let yourself feel. Discover what hides behind the emotion du jour. Only then can you truly deal with what lies underneath. Only then can you find a permanent solution.

So please, read your Bible, pray, listen to worship music. But let it be out of a heart of gratitude to God – not as a temporary fix. God will use these things to bring healing to our lives, but if we are unable – or unwilling – to deal with the deeper issues, it’s only going to grow our guilt.

Faith is not being perfect. It’s trusting in the One who is perfect.