Suffering and finding God faithful

I am a pretty open person. Josh sometimes accuses me of being a little bit too open, but he’s come to appreciate my transparency and ability to never meet a stranger. 

And this blog of mine is a comfortable place for me to just share stories or thoughts. If you go all the way back to 2008 or 2009 you will find many silly stories about my, then, toddlers and preschooler. You will find anniversary celebrations sprinkled throughout the posts and birthday party photos. First day of school and last day of school photos with curriculum highlights in between. Moves, successes, failures, funny stories and sad ones. Devotional thoughts and daily challenges are also here. Yet, to just carry on with the blog after the death of my mom has proven to be more challenging than I would like. It’s hard to go from, life, life, life, life, death. Then, right back to life, life, life. It seems inauthentic, not genuine and real. Yet, the world wide web of my friends and family who read this are likely not able to take in all of my thoughts on my mom’s death. I will leave those for the Lord and my counselor. I do pray for some of my journey to be able to be shared if it would ever help someone else that finds themselves in suffering and loss, grief and trauma. I find others’ stories of how God met them in their darkest days to be a great encouragement to my heart these days; I would love to see God use my hurt for His greater purposes. And I do believe that I will be able to comfort others with the comfort God has shown to me. Eventually.

For now I will say that life is challenging. I still find it hard to focus on a task or think clearly throughout the day. Questions still come and interrupt my day. What-ifs attack a normal afternoon. Anger and frustration mix with sorrow in a very strange way. I’ve read that all of this is normal for someone who is grieving a loved one who took their own life. It’s hard to separate the mom I lost to death and the person who took her life, seeing how they are the same person. But I am also coming to grips with the fact that her body and mind were in a terrible place of pain and confusion. After-effects of surgery and complicated recovery coupled with a dangerous anti-anxiety drug and multiple doctor appointments with no immediate or even future help seemed to wreak havoc on her very quickly.

But, I will also say louder and stronger that God has been my Comfort. He has been a refuge, a friend, a listener. He is the only One who understands me fully. God has provided books and a counselor to help me with the process I find myself thrust into. God has used His Word like medicine in a wound. He has given me sleep. He has given me strength. He has given me perspective—on my earthly relationships and on my own life, and even on my mom’s life. And He is giving me more and more of a heart for others walking around doing their daily stuff while they’re wounded. And that would be all of us at some point or another. 

I thought it might be good to share some resources and quotes and verses that have been a help to me during this season. 

IMG_5401.jpeg

As you can see in this photo, my Bible is there on the bottom. God’s Word is a solid Rock and a firm foundation. I go there first thing in the morning and find God’s presence to be such a comfort and a guide. Then, there are devotionals and books that have helped. I am so grateful for people willing to do the hard work and research or to be vulnerable and share their stories of how God has met them in their dark time.

Psalm 62:8 “Trust in Him at all times, Kristy; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

Psalm 34:10 “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.”

Psalm 42:8 “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.”

Psalm 37:23-24 “The steps of a man are established by the Lord and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.”

Genesis 41:52 “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”  From STREAMS IN THE DESERT—“You can see the rain, but can you also see the flowers? You are suffering through these test, but know that God sees sweet flowers of faith springing up in your life beneath these very trials. You try to escape the pain, yet God sees tender compasion for other sufferers finding birth in your soul. Your heart winces at the pain of heavy grief, but God sees the sorrow deepening and enriching your life.”

Psalm 145:17 “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and loving toward all He has made.”

Psalm 31:14-15 “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times (future) are in Your hand.”

Psalm 56:9 “This I know, that God is for me.”

STREAMS IN THE DESERT— “Measure your life by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth. For love’s strength is found in love’s sacrifice, and he who suffers most has most to give.”

Psalm 112:7 “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”

Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

And all of Psalm 119 that proclaim how good and helpful and needed God’s Word is.

SUFFERING IS NEVER FOR NOTHING by Elisabeth Elliot defines suffering as, “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” And she adds, “And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God.”

“Whatever is in the cup that God is offering me, whether it be pain and sorrow and suffering and grief along with the many more joys, I’m willing to take it because I trust Him.” EE

“I am convinced that there are a good many things in this life that we really can’t do anything about, but that God wants us to do something with.” EE

Henri Nouwen— “The paradox is indeed that new life is born out of the pains of the old.”

SURPRISED BY PARADOX by Jen Michel— page 190 “Maybe the mystery of suffering isn’t only that this world could be so fragile; maybe it’s also that God could be so close, bending His ear to the earth to let every grieving heart crawl inside and find rest. Not answers, but comfort. Not certainty, but trust. And perhaps this is enough to tide us over till the dawning of a new world when the heavy boots of death are sent straight to hell and everything fragile is made unbreakable again, where falling becomes rising and faith becomes sight. A world where wonder is finally made worship.”

GRIEVING A SUICIDE by Albert Hsu—page 49 “Lament is not passive acceptance. We do not merely resign outselve to the cruelties of life. Instead we declare that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. We rage agains the messed-up world that drives people to despair. Lament grieves. It mourns that this is the way thing are, that they are not the way God intended.”

Page 45 “When we mourn, we get outside what’s going on inside.”

Page 146 “Walter Wangerin says that grief is a process that turns the bereaved back to life. ‘The goodness of their grieving is that it brings them by stages into the stream of the living again, however slowly, however painfully.’ We do not stand by the grave forever. If we grieve properly, grief moves us back to life as different, changed people.”

Page 129— “We survivors of suicide know we have been wronged. We have been victimized by our own loved one, in an act of intense betrayal. But there is no point in harboring resentment. We cannot seek revenge. Our loved ones have already sought vengeance upon themselves. So we grieve them as victims, and we forgive them for the wrong they perpetrated on themselves and on us. After all, if suicide is forgivable by God, it can be forgivable by us. We can forgive them, for they knew not what they did.”

Page 106— “We must relinquish unrealistic desires for full explanations. Listing reasons to explain a suicide will not bring peace. When Job demanded answers from God, he didn’t get the explanations he wanted. He was instead given God’s presence. Somehow this was sufficient.”

I know that is kind of a lot, yet it isn’t even scratching the surface of the last month of emotions and reading and grieving. God is so good and so present. He is working in the dark, and I trust Him. I am standing on His promises!

No answers.

It’s a beautiful day in Charlotte, NC. I just got back from the grocery store. You would think this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but every normal thing takes more effort than usual. I begin to think that I wish we practiced the ancient Jewish ritual of covering ourselves in ashes and dust and wearing torn garments so that people would know we were in mourning. But Ron, who loads my groceries and helps me to the car, asks me how my Memorial Day was. He talks about the weather. The checkout lady wants to make small talk about my cleaning products. 

It’s not their issue—they have no idea I’m walking around with a shattered heart, confusing thoughts and an exhausted body. 

My mom’s decision to end her life is a sad one, a hurtful one, a confusing one. I have zero answers. The questions try to hijack my day. I remember something I read in Jen Pollock Michel’s latest book, Surprised by Paradox, “Sometimes there is no untangling the why.”

I had been on Jen’s book launch team. She asked us what section of her book we thought the most or least about (Incarnation, Grace, Kingdom or Lament). I answered honestly that I didn’t think about lament very much. And now that’s all I seem to be doing.

“Evening and morning and at noon I will complain and murmur and He will hear my voice. He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me.” {Psalm 55:17-18}

This afternoon I read Psalm 131

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;

Nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; 

Like a weaned child rests upon his mother, 

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.

And I found this framed photo of me resting contentedly on my Mama’s lap. 

IMG_5148.jpg

God’s personal love and tender care for me is evident. He has matured me over the years through His Word and by His presence, and I have more and more trust in His goodness and His sovereignty than ever before. I am like a weaned child–gaining strength and no longer in need of things that at one time were indispensable. I am choosing to rest on Him and in Him. I need Him; I don’t need answers.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.”  {Psalm 31:14-15}

AND THE WORD CAME WITH POWER

And the Word Came With Power has been our family’s fondest read-aloud over our ten years of home schooling. We received the book authored by Joanne Shetler with one of our Sonlight Curriculum sets. We were on a camping trip as we were finishing up this book, and I can still remember like yesterday sitting around the campfire with Josh and Ruby and reading it outloud. The other two kiddos were a bit distracted with playing to tune in very well, but the three of us around the fire couldn’t stop reading. Well, technically, we couldn’t read for crying so we gave the book to Ruby to read the last few pages. 

IMG_4867.jpeg

This book tells the story of Joanna Shetler’s time in the Philippines translating the Bible into the Balangao people’s heart language. She tells of the tremendous challenges and the overwhelming victories that God gave. She introduces you to people that you will never forget and will long to meet one day in heaven. You gain a respect and love for her and these people she served as you read each page. 

Imagine my surprise when Josh told me we were invited to an event at JAARS (“a multidisciplinary team of problem-solvers committed to the belief—and the vision—that people’s lives and communities are transformed as they experience God’s Word in their own language“) in Waxhaw, NC to hear Jo Shetler speak! I went and found my prized book and re-read parts of the story since it had been about 6 years since our campfire read aloud. We learned that Jo lives in Waxhaw and still works in strategic ways to help the Word of God get translated and the new believers to be discipled in God’s Word and ways. On top of getting to hear her speak, we were able to sit with her and eat with her beforehand! She was absolutely lovely. I hugged her and thanked her for writing her story down. And I told her my favorite parts of the book! 

IMG_4869.jpg

I also asked her if there was one thing she’d like to say to my kids—a word of advice or encouragement or challenge. She immediately said, “Soak your mind in God’s Word.” She went on to tell a story about how a convert from the Balangao people became a traveling preacher and worked really hard at spreading the Gospel and teaching the scripture. She said that his son had a terrible experience with a neighboring gang and ended up beaten up very badly. In their culture, the way to handle something like that was to retaliate with killing the person that did this to his son. The pastor was overwhelmed with the desire to kill and show his family that he cared about them and show the other people that this kind of behavior isn’t tolerated. Responding this way would bring respect to him. HOWEVER, he was more overwhelmed with God’s Word. Scripture flooded his mind about God’s ways and how vengeance is God’s—not man’s!  He ended up asking the gang and the leader of the gang’s father to meet him and his son at the police station. And for one hour he shared the love of God and forgiveness and how to live at peace with each other. They all ended up hugging! She said the policemen were dumbfounded as they looked on. And God was glorified. Hiding His Word in our hearts helps us not sin against God.

IMG_4868.jpeg

Joanna started out her talk by saying that God has a plan for reaching the world and every person plays a critical role in the mission.

She said when she was a young girl of only 13 years of age, she felt a call to the mission field. She didn’t know how or when or where, but she began to pray, “Whoever they are and wherever they are at, get them ready to hear.” WOW.  That is powerful. And any of us can start praying that right now!

She also said very plainly, “It really does matter if you pray and it really does matter if you obey.” So simple. So true.

And at different poignant parts of her story, she would say this: “God will answer any prayer you pray that brings Him glory.”  After several stops in her story to say this, one time she added to it that, “oftentimes the road to God’s glory is a difficult one.”

I could have listened to her for hours. She was full of wisdom and graciousness and even some humor. She knew when she was younger that she wanted to live her life for something that would matter and last. What more impactful work is there than giving people God’s Word in their own language? I can’t think of one. 

Mother’s Day 2019

35A72352-8C9F-4C44-B775-BAFE0BD59F09

I celebrated my 15th year holding the title of “Mama.” It’s such a special relationship—a mom and a child. There is such sanctification in motherhood. And accountability! They rarely miss a thing, yet they are always so quick to forgive and keep loving me.

I actually wrote each kid a note last night to give to them this morning. They are the ones who made me a mom, after all.

And each of them wrote me a sweet note. Well, mostly sweet. Ruby started with “There’s so much to thank you for, how could I fit it on a piece of paper?” She gives three reasons with explanations and included several ” I love you so much” sweetness. And ended with her signature and in parenthesis “who made you a mom.” She wants to get her full credit!

Molly wrote some sentences on an index card. Sentences like, “I get scared when you don’t sleep good” and “Thanks for homeschooling me so I can understand what all of these words mean.”  Crazy girl.

And Mack’s note started out with “Dear Mamacita, Happy Mom-er’s Day!” He is a funny kid, and I appreciate all the ways he makes me laugh.

I am now resting after our Take-Out Outback lunch after our awesome church service. And just extremely thankful for how much I am loved by Josh and our kids. Josh helped them pick out and purchase a couple of gifts that I love. And Ruby bought a sweet candle and a pretty coaster for my new office. She is so thoughtful! And I am so blessed and grateful for all that has come my way as a mom. The fun and not-so-fun, the easy and hard stuff, the highs and lows, the sweet times of bonding and the conflict to work through,  AND all the while God holds my hand as my perfect Heavenly Father, teaching me how to be a mom, how to love and keep on loving. How to serve and keep on serving. How to give and keep on giving. How to celebrate and keep on celebrating. How to comfort and keep on comforting. How to challenge and keep on challenging. And I pray that they will see me walking with the Lord through all of life, and that they will do the same for all of their life. He always knows best. And I am glad he saw it was best to give me Ruby, Molly and Mack.

Catching up

I have been posting from time to time on Instagram. The unfortunate thing about that is that I am not keeping up with the blog the way I want to. I post a picture there, but what is missing is the story or anecdote for the photo I post. So, I am going to jump in with some events as of late that might catch me up here on the blog. And my heart’s desire is to write here more. Because I always have words. Always.

Molly got to help lead worship a few weeks ago, and she got to sing a song she helped write. It was a great night!

 

Here is the video of the song:

 

Mack has been playing football lately. He doesn’t exactly love it this season, which has come as a surprise to me. But we are making him finish even if all he remembers is that we don’t quit what we start. Unless it’s that writing class we just quit a couple of weeks ago because I am flat out of steam for his last writing project deadlines. It’s May. I am barely making it in the area of home school. ESPECIALLY with a new school on the horizon. So, yeah, we don’t quit what we start except for when we do.

What he loves is talking and drawing and watching baseball. He’s shown some interest in playing baseball lately, so Josh has been teaching him a few things and doing some throwing and hitting with him. It’s fun to watch him learn new things! And Josh is a good one to learn from. He did walk out to bat to the song lyrics, “Here I am–Rock you like a hurricane!!!!!” during is University of Georgia days. No pressure, Mack.

Ruby has been going to workout with me three days a week, and she is doing so well at it! It isn’t her natural desire to workout, but she knows it is important, so she decided it would be a great PE class for her 9th grade year. She is learning a lot! I have little to no photos of her because she doesn’t allow me to take pictures much anymore. She is every bit of an almost 15 year old girl.

9874E2BA-8EE3-4850-B573-DBC6DC5983E4

 

I am currently listening to Beth Moore on a podcast about being a mom. Wow. It is so good. I want to be a happy mom who is pleasant to be around. I am reminded that it is only the Lord who can do that work and use me throughout the day to be a mom to these three very different kids. It is hard work, this mothering business. Hard, hard work.

I remember when Ruby was 4. Molly was 3 years old and Mack was about 18 months old. I was near crazy. I stood at the cabinets, my back to the children and just cried. There was no reason I could put my finger on, but I was not doing well, and I knew it.

I was tired. {Aren’t all mothers of little ones?} I did what I could to get sleep, which usually meant not waking up earlier than the kids because #1) I wanted to sleep and #2) If I put my feet on the floor, my kids knew it! and I wanted them to sleep as long as possible. But something clicked in my head and heart that morning that I stood there with my tears and with three babies waiting on breakfast. I decided I would try to get up every morning before the kids so I could read my Bible and get some substance for my weary soul. I tip toed down the stairs, careful not to step where I knew the creaks were hiding. I began drinking coffee at this time of my life. What a blessing coffee has been to me!

Now some mornings I would turn around after pouring my coffee and see Molly standing right behind me. I learned to just go with it and let her play quietly while I tried to read, but for the most part, I was able to have time alone with the Lord. It was such a sweet time.

I suppose some mornings I wasn’t as laid back as I just led on in the above paragraph because I just found this prayer written in my journal during this season over ten years ago:  “Quite honestly Lord, I am mad–I am trying to be alone with You after a headache ALL night, but Molly will not obey and give me my time alone. She is frustrating me–What am I doing wrong????”

But then there’s this one: “I know my life isn’t bearing much fruit these days. I do, however, see and feel a huge difference over the past 3 1/2 weeks as I have gotten up early to open Your Word and hear from You. Your Spirit has been more alive in me, I have made better choices by the Spirit’s guidance,Your Word that I have meditated on has been refreshing reminders and good for my thought life. I have enjoyed worship corporately more than ever, I have enjoyed Josh and the kids more also. Help me this day to remain in You. Tend Your garden with Your gracious hand and precious word. Apart from You, I can do nothing.”

And then scribbled over to the side as an addition, ” Thank you for sensitivity I have been given this week. Thank You for the tears.” 

There has been tears. Tears of joy. Tears of sadness. Tears of tiredness. Tears of frustration. Tears of love. I am thankful for all the parts of mothering because they have taught me so much about God. He is such a good Father. Perfect in all of His ways. I cannot imagine my life without His precious guiding and love and faithfulness and help and patience and life!!!! Yes, being a mother is hard work. There are varying seasons and none of them have been a walk in the park for me. I am a hard case. But this I know, God has taught me so much about Himself through mothering these three kids. My desperate need of Him being the foremost.

Good to keep in mind as we head towards Mother’s Day.

Change on the horizon

I should have seen it coming. 

And I suppose I did see it coming, eventually.

But the day the girls requested their own rooms, which would inevitably mean not having a school room anymore, was the day the shift happened.

No longer did we have a whole room dedictated to school work. The big table with four chairs in the center of the room, the large map of the world on the wall, the chalkboard laden with words and numbers, the timeline taped around the room, the pencils in a jar and also scattered all over the room, and books absolutely everywhere.

Where would we put all of this stuff?? How would we learn if we didn’t have a space dedicated to the learning hours?

Ruby and Molly got their wish, as much as it pained me to have them not in the same room. {I have been slow to accept that maybe there is such a thing as “too much togetherness.”} And all the school stuff somehow got maneuvered into an oversized closet at the top of the stairs. It could best be described as a total disaster. I would only open the door when I had to get something off the printer or maybe to retrieve our next read-aloud book. But this room frustrated me, overwhelmed me and made me feel like a terrible home school mom.

We schooled at the kitchen table. Ruby stayed at her desk in her room; she is in 9th grade and quite self-sufficient in her learning. Besides, time alone is one of her favorite things. 

Mack and Molly would spread papers and books and pens and pencils all across the kitchen table, and I would direct them and help them as they needed it. And I would loathe the chaos that it all was. We have two ottomans that double as storage, and you can imagine how much junk from school got crammed into these two ottomans. 

About four months into this past year of homeschooling, Molly asked me if I would look into enrolling her into a local christian school. Molly is definitely the most independent and social one of my kids, so I wasn’t surprised and was immediately open to the idea. I looked online and made an appointment for a tour of the school. Just her and me. 

Well, when the other two realized what I had done, they said that they wanted to go, too. They were also ready to try something different. 

I can tell you that many times in the past I have looked into private schools or other schooling options out of pure frustration and a “get these kids out of here” kind of an attitude. But this time was different. It was not on my radar, yet it made total sense to me at that moment. All three kids were becoming more and more independent and ready to spread their wings. I was developing other interests and, quite honestly, I didn’t enjoy homeschooling anymore. 

Their differences were more pronouced than ever. And I was overwhelmed with schooling three very different kids effectively. I know many families who have many more kids than I do who are also very different. I have friends who say that highschool is the easy part…don’t send them to school now! You’ve done all the hard work, now let them do their work, get a job, enroll in college early, etc.! And all of this sounds great. It was the plan, yet over time I began to change my thinking about taking this route. I am ok with letting my kids be what age they are, doing things appropriate for that age without necessarily moving farther ahead. Key words in that last sentence: My kids.  I think it works beautifully for other kids in other families. 

So, after a little bit of a process, all three kids are now enrolled at Carmel Christian School. We are all excited and looking forward to the changes. I am also reminding myself to prepare for an adjustment period. This will be so different for all of us. Up and out of the house early every morning, empty house during the day, and work to be done in the late afternoon. Time managment will be developed in new ways. Organizational skills will likely improve. And my kids will learn how to test and quiz much more frequently than ever. I will get to experience some freedom. Some quiet. What is it like to not be THE teacher of all the things? To no longer carry the weight that somehow you aren’t quite getting through to them? To now be the cheerleader and helper instead of the heavy handed teacher constantly giving a lesson—-whether how to divide polynomials or identifying prepositional phrases or the correct way to clean a toilet, how to wash clothes, etc. Always talking at them about every part of our day is exhausting. And, like I mentioned before, I know families that homeschool much more gracefully than we do. “Kudos” to them. And “Let’s do something different” for us.

Even this beautiful April morning I woke everyone up and told them we were going to start the day with a walk around the neighborhood. 

Molly says she wants to run.

Mack and Ruby say they want to each take a scooter. 

Then, Ruby changes her mind to walk and hold the leash for Rolo.

Then, Molly decides she should take the leash because Rolo likes to be ahead.

Then, Molly can’t run well while holding the leash, so she gives it to Mack. 

Mack tries to ride the scooter while holding Rolo’s leash.

Rolo is scared of the noise the scooter makes, so she doesn’t want him to hold her leash.

Ruby takes the leash since she is walking.

Ruby decides she is tired of walking and wants to head home.

I take the leash, Ruby takes Mack’s scooter home because Mack is tired of riding it.

Then, Mack wants the leash.

Then, Molly is tired from running and wants the leash. She teaches Rolo how to stay with her instead of going ahead.

Mack thinks Molly is hurting Rolo by pulling on her leash.

They argue.

I referee.

Molly gives in and gives Mack the leash, and he runs home with Rolo.

Molly decides to run the rest of the way home.

I walk from behind, reminded that this new path is quite fitting for each child.

It’s time. And we are all ready.

Couples Getaway

Last weekend Josh and I were asked to come speak to about 36 couples in Rome, Ga. We got to see many familiar faces from our Woodstock years, and I was so happy to spend time with such sweet people.

Josh spoke the first night about personal reflection on the scriptures and how that is the catalyst for spiritual growth. If you aren’t prioritizing time with the Lord, then your time with your spouse is not reaching its full potential.

The next day we both taught through John 2. And we share some of our own struggles and “stuff” that we need to invite God in to for help and for hope and for the health of our marriage! It was a fun day.

Josh closed out the weekend Sunday morning with a continuation of the importance of walking with God in every season. He touched on ministry and being sure we don’t think that ministry only happens at church or behind a pulpit. Everyone, no matter what they do, if they are a believer, they are in ministry. It’s being used by God wherever you are!

He took the liberty to talk about Coca-Cola during each session in some way, shape or form. Quite impressive. ha!

Sure am thankful for 18 years of marriage. Hopeful for many, many more with Josh. He is the best for me.