Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Through the Ages: 2000-2014

It helps to look back. To count your blessings. 

For 2014, I wanted to count Christmas blessings. 
And, from what I remember, it had a lot to do with family. And, love.


 2000- First Christmas as husband and wife.

 2001- First child was born, our "Bright Girl."


 2002- Snuggled up in our cozy sweaters
 with the baby in a hoodie.


2003- Our first son, Luke, was born on December 5, 
but passed away shortly afterward.


2003- Bright Girl loved music and 
clapped along with her new Alphabet Pal.


2004- Bright Girl loved singing Christmas carols.


2005- "Little Man" was born and 
Bright Girl had another brother to love.




2006-Bright Girl stills loves to bake.



2006-Little Man still loves his cars.


2007-Our newest addition to the family, "Sunshine Girl."




 2007-The awe and wonder of Christmas.



 2008- Family trip to Stone Mountain.
Should have been called Cold Mountain!



2009- Family trip to The Great Smokey Mountains.
At this point we didn't know Little Man had developed autism.
He liked to look away or close his eyes for the camera.



2009- First Nativity play. Can you guess each person?



2010- Family trip to Maggie Valley, NC, where
we were snowed in.



2010- Sunshine Girl didn't mind. She loved the snow.



2011- Stayed home for the holidays.
I didn't want to travel with a newborn.



 2011- Introducing,"Little Bit." 
She thought it was a relaxing Christmas.




2012- First Christmas after Billy's job loss. 
We sold our house and moved into an apartment.
The kids didn't seem to mind as long as we were together.



2013- A new year with a new job 
and more presents under the tree.
But, the kids didn't seem to notice the difference.
They were happy either way.

Because it was Christmas.




No matter where we were or what was happening in our lives, Christmas--the fact that Christ came to rescue us--has brought us hope, joy, and peace. 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas in 2014!


"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
Romans 15:13


Merdith Andrews- He Has Come For Us (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)






Sunday, December 7, 2014

Steps to Peace in Grief




Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe,
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow. 

~Elvina M. Hall, 1865




***

I don’t know if I've always traveled the best way through grief, but the Lord taught me many things along the journey. I learned more about God, myself, and others, and we have choices to make in how we will react to all of life’s difficulties. The following steps are some choices I made on my own journey. And those choices lead to peace.
***
Steps to Peace in Grief:
1. Focus on the character of Christ in the gospels.  Seeking to know Him more fully will form us more into His likeness.

2. Look back and grieve—everything that has broken your heart, and ask Christ to reveal Himself to you in those times.
 

3. Turn to Christ and trust Him with your past, present, and eternity, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).”

4. Believe that when you are at a disadvantage, you are blessed, because it's a chance to see God come through for you.

5. Be thankful that Christ Jesus has redeemed you—every part of you, past,  present, and future, it all matters to Him.  He is faithful to forgive you and cleanse you of all unrighteous thoughts, feelings, or deeds (1 John 1:9).
 

6. Rest on Christ, the Rock, whose promise of salvation is a free gift. You don't have to be "good enough" to be loved and accepted by God. The Lord Jesus gave His life for us to rescue us from darkness and bring us into His family.

7. Immerse yourself in worship and sing songs of both lament and praise, which can stir your heart to hope again.

8. Rejoice that because of Christ, our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

9. Live for your Father's smile.

10. Persevere when you feel like giving up. God has a special place, purpose, and work for you to do in His Kingdom.
 

11. Remember you are precious in the sight of God.

12. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is like a little child.

13. Love others even in your pain.

14. Be confident that the things that overwhelm you are the very things you can trust in the Lord to give you His strength to overcome (2 Corinthians 12:9).

15. Trust in the Lord to protect you from evil. Suffering is a time when you are most vulnerable. (1 Peter 5:8,9)

16. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The Lord works through His people. You don't have to go through grief alone.

17. Longing, seeking, finding, longing…it’s like a cycle that will end when we see Jesus face-to-face. Until then, stay the course.


18. Jesus longs for me even more than I long for Him. He has known me before the creation of the world. He gave His life for me. He’s preparing a place for me, and He’s waiting for me with a love that is higher than the highest mountain, wider than the widest sky, deeper than the deepest ocean, and longer than the longest road.


19. In this world, we have a lot to grieve, mourn, and wail about, but we must long for the day when we can be in the safest place of all—safe in Jesus’ arms. 


20. When you look your greatest hurts straight in the face, turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
~Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

"Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus", Music video featuring Nichole Nordeman

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Journey of Loss {Part 7}: Tree of Life



"Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life."

Proverbs 13:12




Jesus is our hope.


He is the tree of life;
The true vine
From which all life flows.

And, looking upon the tree
Where He died for you and me,
We are given eternity. 

To live in hope, 

We must live in Him.

~C.M.H.











Seeing Luke again is one of my greatest desires, but this longing is overtaken by the glory that sets me face down in worship of my Lord and King, who does all things well. He is the One who made it possible for eternal life. 

Christ Jesus, the holy and perfect Son of God, gave of Himself to the utmost, coming down out of heaven and sacrificing Himself for us. On the cross, when He said, “It is finished,” he breathed his final breath, and my sin debt was paid in full.

But, the story doesn’t end there. 

It was nearly dawn and three days after Jesus died. His body had been laid in a tomb with an enormous stone rolled out in front. Mary Magdalene, devoted follower of Jesus, had witnessed His execution on the cross firsthand. She had come to anoint his body with spices, but when she got there, the stone had been rolled away; the tomb was empty. 

Mary did not know what to think or do. She could not believe that his body could go missing like this. She began to allow herself to grieve and huge sobs poured out of her heart. As she covered her face in anguish, she sensed someone near her. Everything was a blur as she tried to adjust her eyes to the first gleam of dawn. She thought it must be the tombs’ groundskeeper.

“Sir, if you have taken the body of my Lord, please tell me where you have put him,” she implored.

“Mary.”

His voice was like no other. It was Jesus!

“Teacher!” she cried out, arms stretched wide to embrace him.

“Don’t hold onto me Mary, for I am still going to leave to be with my Father, but go and tell my disciples that I have risen from the dead.”

Mary’s despair had turned to joy. She ran off to tell all the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. 

Over the course of forty days, Jesus appeared to all his disciples and over 500 followers.  As he stood on the Mount of Olives, he lifted up his hands to bless all who stood by. Then, he was taken up high into the sky, until the clouds hid him from view. He returned to heaven to be with God the Father until the appointed time of His return (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11).     

I don't think we can ever get used to "the new normal." Maybe because we weren't meant to. The heart still doesn’t get death. We were made for eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Our hearts cry out in anguish that we are still feeling the consequences of the first sin. That is where the tears, the crying, the wailing comes from. But, Jesus tells us that He is the Resurrection and the Life. In Him, death has lost its sting and is swallowed up in victory. In this world, all will die, but, one day, Jesus will call, and those who belong to Him will wake up to new life eternal (John 5:24-30).



Hand-in-hand,
Walking briskly,
In the sand,
Toward the sound.
Two shadows,
Stretching before.
Dim street lamps,
Fading out.
I know it’s there.
But, where?

Cannot see.
No stars,
No moon,
No guide,
But Him.
And, I can hear it.
The sound,
Getting closer.

Too long,
Too dark,
Too uncertain.
My trembling hand,
Holding on,
To His dependability.
Are you pleased?
Are you smiling?
Or looking down,
 With furrowed brow,
Are you angry with me?
I guess,
 I’ll see.

Feet sinking down,
In the mire,
Still,
We trudge on.
Then, we stop,
And wait.
At the edge,
Of the shore.
How long?
Will it ever come?

And then,
It begins.

Brilliant light,
Casting colors,
Double image,
In the heavens,
And sea.
Filling my heart,
With joy beyond belief.
That familiar,
Orange sliver,
Peeking out,
At me.

Rising up,
Telling tales,
Morning glory.

~ C.M.G.


“Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3: 22, 23)





When I see a perfect Florida sunrise, I stand in awe, and my thoughts turn toward heaven.  Heaven is so mysterious, so other-worldly. I can hardly fathom what it will be like. More than that, when I think about Jesus coming back down out of heaven and setting His feet upon the new earth, what joy floods my soul. All things will be restoredthe dead will be raised back to life, and all things will be made new. 

The present sufferings of this world will pale in comparison to the eternal life awaiting us. It will be world without end, and I can only imagine how amazing it will be. I will see all my loved ones who have gone before me. And, best of all, I will see Jesus, who carried me through my darkest hours into the light of day. 


“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;
there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.
There shall be no more pain,
for the former things have passed away.
Then he who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”

(Revelation 21:4,5, NKJV)



"All Things New" by Andrew Peterson


This is Part 7 and the final installment of my story, Journey of Loss: Loving a Child With a Condition Incompatible with Life. Here are the links for Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Journey of Loss {Part 6}: The Weight of Grief and Glory



Burying Luke made it final; he was no longer with us. I came home with empty arms, to the still bareness of our bedroom.

There was no rocking our child in the wee hours of the night or cradle bed to lay him down to sleep. There was no gentle rhythm of baby’s breath or plaintive cry for a midnight feeding. There was an absence of baby smells—the lotion, the powder, the diapers, empty or full. I missed simply being able to hold the velvety skin and rest his cheek against mine. To pat his small frame, having my heart swell with motherly love. 

All these losses added up and left me feeling restless. That night, after the funeral, sleep became elusive to me. As I lay in bed, I felt like holding something or someone. I grabbed a small pillow and cradled it in my arms. It calmed my restlessness a little. It was as if I were fooling my heart into believing my baby wasn’t gone.   

The next morning, Billy and I woke up with a high fevers, chills, and aching bodies. We could barely get out of bed, let alone get to the doctor. It turned out that we both had come down with a bad case of strep throat. I figured grief must have taken its toll and wreaked havoc on our immune systems. 

We started a regiment of antibiotics and tried to rest. With pulsing head, I lay down on the recliner, and Billy was sprawled out on the futon. People from church brought us some soup, but neither of us had the strength to heat it up in the microwave. 

My stomach growled, and I knew I needed to eat something soon. “Could you heat up dinner, honey?” I croaked.

“Can you do it? I can’t get up,” groaned Billy.

We went back and forth, each trying to coax the other into making dinner. 

Finally, Billy spoke up with frustration in his voice. “You’re gonna have to get it. I’m too sick.”

“But, I’m sick and still recovering from having our baby,” I cried out emphatically. “Why can’t you make dinner?” 

Billy buried his face deep into his pillow and moaned. April looked worried and upset that her mommy and daddy were arguing. 

“Well, if we’re both too sick to even make dinner,” I lamented. “Then who will take care of April?” 

“Let’s call someone,” answered Billy.

It didn’t dawn on me that we could ask for help. Billy got up and gave my aunt a call, and she agreed to watch April for the night. Forcing myself out of the recliner, I heated up the soup and made us dinner.

A few days later, we were on the mend, but something had shifted between us. It’s like our grief was so heavy, our deep love for each other got buried beneath it. It set our relationship off course and we seemed to drift further and further apart.

At the same time, something like a shadow crept over me. Even when I went outside in the bright sunlight and pushed April in her swing, it brought me no joy. All I could feel was the heaviness and the shadow.




***

It was a few months later, when Billy and I went to a conference held by our church that I felt challenged to go on another mission trip. It was a very intense time for me. I felt so overcome with grief, I could barely lift my head. As the worship music played, I began to feel closer to the Lord. I literally bowed down in awe of Him and felt like a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. 
           
We partook of communion and a church elder handed me the bread and the wine and spoke a verse over me.

“The old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

That particular verse resonated with me in my grief. Everything was different now, but I couldn’t get used to this new normal. I wanted things to go back to how they used to be, before Luke died. 

I didn’t know how I could be happy again.

There were many speakers that night. One friend got up and asked for people to consider coming with him to Poland to help teach English to the Polish people.  

Something in my heart began to stir with compassion for the people of Poland. It was the same compassion that drew me to go to Ukraine to minister to the people there who didn’t know the love of Christ.


           
At the same time, I felt a twinge of hesitation. It had only been a few months since Luke died. I was still grieving and wasn’t feeling close to Billy.

It was the second time that Billy had the chance to go to Poland. The first time was when April was a baby, and he felt unsure about going. This time he had a strong desire to go, and he wanted me to join him. 

To see Billy want to serve the Lord on a mission trip with me gave me the motivation I needed to go. I set my reservations aside, and we both prayed and committed to go to Poland. 

The night before the mission trip, the whole mission team prayed and fasted. Shifting the focus from myself and my pain to the Lord filled me with hope. The Lord revealed to me that even though He was leading me out of my comfort zone, He had a plan and a purpose for it.  He was the One who didn’t change, even though everything else in my life seemed to be turned upside down.

***

From the moment I set foot on Polish soil, I felt the presence of the Lord with me. It was cool outside, and it started to sprinkle. As the refreshing rain tapped upon my face, I looked up to find a misty rainbow stretched out over the city of Poznan.

 

Like in the days of Noah, the rainbow reminded me of God’s provision of salvation. Though God destroyed all life on earth, by His grace, He provided Noah, his family, and the animals a way of salvation through the ark and made all things new. The same is true in Christ.  Like the ark, Christ saves us from perishing in the judgement of God against sin. In Him, we have new life, eternal life, where all things are made new.





On the first day of English Club, Billy and I kept arguing over seemingly trivial things. We couldn’t seem to work together as a team. It made me wonder. If we can’t get along here, what does the future hold for us?

The next day, during class, we read Jesus' parable of the Lost Son (from Luke 15:11-32).  Each Pole took turns reading a few verses, and we asked about their feelings toward each of the characters in the parable. The students shared a deep respect for the father in the parable who showed compassion toward his wayward son.

We explained that the word compassion meant to "suffer with" someone as if you felt their pain. Then we went around the room asking each student how they had been shown compassion. Everyone had a different story to share.
 
One Pole, named Micah, had a heart-breaking story. He told us about a time he was in an accident, and his car flipped over several times. He was stuck in the car, and kept seeing people walk by, but no one stopped to help him. 

He waited twenty-five minutes before someone helped. He said he didn't feel like people showed compassion like the father in the story.

By the end of the week, we felt close to all our new Polish friends. Some of them came with us after English Club to a park to play American sports.

On the way to the park, we rode a tram (similar to a trolley) and passed by a woman who was in a car accident. Micah's story went through my mind, and I hoped someone would stop to help her.


 

At first, her back was facing us, but as we drew closer, I could tell that she was bent over and holding her stomach. Then, someone who looked like a nurse rushed across the street to help the woman. 

By that point, I could see the woman was pregnant. I burst into tears, because I wanted to help her, but I was stuck on the tram. I buried my face into Billy’s chest, and he held me and prayed with me for the woman and her baby.  It took me a long time before I regained my composure. I think seeing the pregnant woman in need of help was a trigger for a new wave of grief.

The whole mission trip was bittersweet. It was hard to reach out to others in our pain, but at the same time, it was healing. I was thankful the Lord had led us to Poland. He was teaching us how to lean on Him as we leaned on each other.



Jason Gray- "Nothing is Wasted"

  
This is Part 6 of my story, Journey of Loss: Loving a Child With a Condition Incompatible with Life. Here are the links for Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.