I Still Grieve (But I Understand Grace)

‘Who gathered this flower?’ The gardener answered, ‘The Master.’ And his fellow servant held his peace.”

It was November 13th, in the year of our Lord 1999, was unlike any day I have ever experienced. A beating with a baseball bat would seem preferable. On this cold afternoon, hell was unleashed on my wife and me. What we encountered was soul-wrenching and profoundly tragic.

Perhaps a parent’s worst nightmare is the loss of a child. On this day we lost Elizabeth Grace. She was stillborn, which is rare these days– or so I have been told. She entered this world fully formed, a beautiful baby girl. Today, she would have been 24 years old, and maybe married, planning a family of her own?

“But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:23, (When David’s newborn son died.)

Our loss was grievous, but we are not unique.

Plenty of families have suddenly lost a child. I can truly commiserate with them. Somehow we are connected in a perverse way. It seems like an exclusive club, that requires a secret handshake, or something. Suddenly without warning, you are thrown into personal chaos, and very little is remotely decipherable, even to a believer.

The book of Ecclesiastes that there is a definite “time to mourn.”  Matthew tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn.” He does go on to say. “for they shall be comforted.” This comfort is available for any who chooses to take it, but you can refuse it if you really want to.

Grief unites us all, but Jesus loves us infinitely.

I can’t imagine meeting life without his care and comfort. He has been outstandingly gracious to this family. Sure there was pain, but there was also tenderness and a kind grace. Still, sometimes it may have felt like a “kick in the head.” (But I assure you– it was grace.)

What I still can’t understand is simply this. What would it have cost God to allow Elisabeth to live? I mean, what ‘skin off His nose’ would’ve it taken to let her live? To this day I still have questions, but I have decided to trust. (I trust Him after all, to save my soul.)

Those who have suffered will comprehend and grasp, the noxious environment of grief and loss.

But we can only take what we are dealt. The sadness is there, but so is His comfort. Make no mistake, His love matches (and even exceeds) the pain and the loss of a child. Truly, God is wonderful and He is good.

I do know that He loves me, a weirdly rascalish, struggling disciple. He holds me close to His precious heart, and I will have no other gods except Him. I will not take up umbrage with Him on this. But I must believe that someday soon, I will truly and completely understand this.

Lynn and I celebrate her birthday every year.

 

Learning Pain. Ten Steps.

How do you handle the pain as a believer–the physical kind especially? What do you do when you want to curl up in a ball and just want to disappear? Please understand that pain isn’t in God’s original plan, it’s entered our world through human rebellion and sin. We who hurt must be aware of this.

Pain isn’t normal, but yet–it’s very much real. Too much. There are 10 things you really must consider right now.

First, I need to tell you this. There is pain that at times you can’t even imagine how you are going to handle another day. And the doctors have the audacity to tell you point blank, that you need to get used to it because it’s never going to get better. So now you must sort things out–as outside of a miracle, it’s only going to get worse.

Often there will be little help or counsel from other Christians. What do you do as a believer in Jesus? What will your discipleship look like now?

Here are ten thoughts that come to my mind. They’re not in any order, so don’t look for one.

One–Treat false humility as a worse disease than you’re facing physically. You’ll be very tempted to milk out your pain for all its worth. You’ll try to take advantage of others, and you’ll want to complain, and put yourself in the best possible light. But pain and ego were never meant to mix–especially as a disciple of Jesus. Renounce it now. Turn from it constantly. It will always be an issue, to one degree or another.

Two–Never find fault with God. He’s not to blame no matter what the evil one tells you. The Father loves you, and he will carry you all the way through this. Satan always tells lies. You must take a stand against him. Put on your armor! Super-glue Ephesians 6:19-18 into your thought life–and never let go!

Three–You can never lose track of eternity. My special verse is Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Please keep this front and center. It will help!

Four–You’ll start to learn to see others differently. There’ll always be another believer who has it worse. Think about them, and all that they must deal with. It helps a lot. Also, you’ll discover that your pain will be like new glasses for spiritual astigmatism. You’ll see things much clearer now.

Five–Your walk will deepen. You will learn to be joyful when all you want to do is cry. The littlest things become a cause of great joy. God values your singing more now, especially when you’re singing out of excruciating pain. Your songs are now more precious to him. The Word, and worship music, seem to be more meaningful. Surround yourself with music (and preaching too) that builds you up.

Six–You will discover the art of blending pain into your discipleship. Sleepless nights become diving boards for prayer, reading, and worship. You’ll change and deepen, and that’s always good. There’s something that can only be burned into you by pain. Also, be open to brand new ways of ministry now. Look for doors to open up. They are maybe different than you think.

Seven–You’ll discover that there can be solace in medications and treatments. I know that this is something really practical, but a handful of Motrin or other pain meds will become a special delight and something to look forward to. Also, listen closely to your doctor and therapist. Pray for them, pray they’ll have special wisdom for your situation. (And let them know you are praying for them. They need your encouragement too.)

Eight–You start to see that you’ll never be able to do this alone (and man, do you know it). God is giving you a gift. He’s designed to connect this way with others. You’ll also start to see people less in terms of their giftedness or ‘rank’ and more in the light of what they’ve had to endure. As you begin to see pain and sorrow as special friends, they’ll often show you who your true brothers and sisters are. They may come from unexpected places.

Nine–You’ll understand the Father’s love in a new way. Like an old-style pharmacist, God carefully measures out exactly what we need. He never gives you a single ounce of medicine more than is necessary. He’s exceedingly careful and very conscientious. Trust him. All that happens to you has come through nail-pierced hands. He understands pain. He understands you.

Ten–You must learn to laugh again. Little things become a source of real joy. The smallest things will make you laugh again. (Weird, I know.) Get a joke book, that may help, especially when you get sour and withdrawn, and maybe even mean. “A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom will leave you bone-tired” (Proverbs 17:22, MSG).

Definitely, this list is not complete. I apologize, there are many others that really should be added, but maybe this is a start. If I’m missing something fairly critical, let me know.

We must be aware that our pain allows us access to His ‘careful’ grace. Our trials, properly received, endow us with special abilities. I’m serious. They are now our new ‘superpowers.’

(So, move over Batman!)

You must, you must learn to embrace your pain and your sorrows. They come to us at too high of a personal cost. Don’t waste them! They’re precious and far too valuable to neglect. Squeeze them and extract all that they can give.

Also–just one more (number 11?) Be easy on yourself. You’ll find that you’ve much to learn. And that’s ok. That’s very much ok.

Here’s a quote that has always sustained me. It’s really good to remember–

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?'”

–John Newton

A good site is Joni Eareckson Tadas. She’s a believer who has suffered a great deal and has a ministry to the afflicted, Joniandfriends.org.

Also, brokenbelievers.com has an older teaching post that may help, check it out if you want to go deeper into this–“Suffering Intelligently.”

Tears Have a Purpose

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I’ve been thinking a lot about tears lately—in part because Pastor Bryan pointed out to me how many hits my post titled God Keeps Your Tears in a Bottle has had, in part because I’ve cried more than a few tears this year, and in part because I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash’s Cry, Cry, Cry in my car all week—and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you all here.

People cry for a lot of reasons.

Earlier this year my sister died of breast cancer at only 61 years old. I cried, a lot. It’s normal and even helpful to shed tears over the death of a loved one even if we know where they are going when they die, because it allows us to express the grief we feel over not having them in our lives any more here on earth.

I remember a time I had a previous boss say some very cruel things to me in front of other people. She accused me of having done things I had not based on motives I did not have. I was very angry, hurt, and frustrated. And I cried, a lot. I didn’t cry in front of her, mind you, but afterwards I did. And it was good to express that anger to others.

Just yesterday I experienced unexpected tears.

I was reciting the prayers of the people in church, which I’ve done many times. Our church has many prayer concerns for members, family, and friends with health concerns and more. Towards the end of the prayer I began to lift up prayers for a church member’s brother-in-law who is a pastor back in New York because he is faced with conducting the funerals of two teens who had been killed in an accident last week, and with comforting the families of three other teens who are in critical condition.

I unexpectedly had tears in my eyes and my voice cracked praying for these teens and families that I don’t even know. But they were good tears because they touched those who heard my prayer and I know they touched our Lord, too.

I have cried tears of loss, anger, indignation over an injustice, frustration, compassion, and even of joy. I sometimes cry tears of regret when I hear a beautiful song about the sacrifice of Jesus, knowing it is my sin that required him to suffer.

Tears often serve a purpose, as expressed in this poem that I wrote recently:

Tears

Tears of sorrow, anger
drench my soul
course without end
eroding pain, anguish

Where once only aching
occupied my heart
now is a deep empty ravine
carved by a river of tears

Tears of forgiveness
water my soul’s riverbed
allowing flowers of love
to flourish and grow

Peace arises in my heart
held aloft by God’s promises
the fragrance of sweet alyssum
blossoms of my soul

I think the saddest tears of all, though, are the tears of major clinical depression. These tears are so sad because the one who cries them doesn’t know what purpose they serve.

I remember when I was suffering from depression sitting in a chair and just crying. When someone asked me why I was crying all I could say was, “I don’t know.” And I truly didn’t. The tears didn’t wash away pain; they only seemed to make it all the worse.

In the midst of such tears, there is One who knows their purpose.

Romans 8:26 says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Through prayer God can sometimes lead us to an understanding of the purpose of the tears of depression, and ultimately to healing. Often the wounds are so deep it takes years and a great many groaning prayers to heal. But we must accept our weakness and our need for God’s Holy Spirit to intercede for us.

For me, after much prayer of my own, the blessed prayers of others, and the intercession of the Holy Spirit, God led me to an understanding of the purpose of my tears. They were tears of anger and unforgiveness; they were tears of lament that I had allowed myself to remain in bondage to the sins of another for so long.

With God’s help, the tears did lead to healing once I truly understood why I was crying.

May You Know His Peace,

Linda K

Linda has a good and perceptive blog that touches hearts worldwide. Please do pay her a visit.

 

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. When I am almost dead, You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our special sorrows. But there are times when our pain pounds us intensely, and it can get really bad. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. We might devastatingly discover that there are things that are worse than terrible.

I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— she was stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to devastating sorrow in just seconds. It came “out of the blue,” totally unexpected.

We were completely undone. 

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are also promises.

There can be brutal sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing for all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (If you’re in the thick of things, I’m trusting the Holy Spirit will help you to your next step.)

There can be such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one who is “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He is there when the switch is flipped and it becomes instantly dark. We can’t, won’t, and will not leave you to face your pain alone.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness. I have tried awfully hard to be a disciple, even through the worst of it. They may be right, wrong or just okay, I don’t really know…

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology. Maybe it’s hard to trust Him right now–that’s more than understandable. In eternity, I believe, it’ll make perfect sense.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow. He knows.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything again. Nothing will go to waste.
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the intensive crash course in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like your not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit may be working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He has carried all of our pain and illness. He clearly comes alongside every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love. I will be very blunt with you, that idea has to be implicitly rejected. Its origins are satanic.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.”
Psalm 147:3, TPT

*

 

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