The Importance of Looking Back

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

The other day, Brody came home and shared that during Bible class they had all taken a Myers-Briggs personality test. If you aren’t familiar with Myers-Briggs, you can check it out here. Basically, it includes four different pairs of traits with 16 different possible combinations.

It’s kind of a joke among family and friends that my oldest, Brock, is like his dad, and my youngest acts just like me. So, it was no surprise that our Myers-Briggs results were basically the same. He is an ENFP, and I am an INFP. The E and I stand for extrovert and introvert. (That basically means that he gets his energy from being around other people, and I recharge by being by myself).

Despite that difference, there are a lot of ways my son and I are alike. One of those ways is that we are both idea-people, with ideas popping up so fast, it’s kind of like whack-a-mole, but with ideas.

 

Looking Back Isn’t My Natural Tendency

As idea people with lots of different interests and passions, it’s easy to jump to the next project or idea without ever looking backward at all to see what worked and what didn’t with previous things.

This tendency is never more present for me than at the start of a new year. I get excited about all the possibilities, and ideas for projects and goals flood in. This makes things difficult in two ways. First, it’s hard to know what ideas and goals to pick because as I’ve been learning in recent years, I can’t do ALL THE THINGS! The second issue is that I get so excited about what is coming up that I usually forget to take a look behind me to see what I’ve learned, so I can better move forward.

Giving Yourself the Gift of Time

So this year, instead of jumping in with tons of goals and projects the first week of January, I’ve given myself the gift of time – time to sort through 2017 (which was a tough year around here), and look at what I learned. Before stepping into all the new and shiny,  I want to take stock of the old and broken-in and decide what I want to take with me and build upon in the new year.

This is a practice I want to implement in more areas than just new year’s resolutions, though. I did a lot of journaling about what I was learning as I worked my way through the Gospels this year, and I wrote out a lot of my prayers this year to stay focused.  I also wrote down quotes from some of the books I was reading.

Taking the time to look through those journals was eye-opening and encouraging. I was able to see ways that God answered my prayers, themes of what God was teaching me, lessons I’d learned, and wisdom I had read (which would have been lost in the files of my brain probably forever if I hadn’t written them down!).

Lessons from 2017

As I look back at 2017, I’d love to share with you a few key lessons (besides the importance of looking back!) I learned that I hope you’ll find helpful, too.

The importance of writing things down

As I said before, I did a lot of journaling this year, and it was a huge blessing in my life. I tend to process and learn through writing, so writing down what I was studying and learning as I read my Bible helped me to both remember what I was learning and be able to go back to refresh my memory. I have also started to write down my favorite quotes from books I was reading. Since I read a lot, this has been an especially great practice for me, so those little gems don’t get lost or forgotten!

The importance of prayer

It seemed everything I read, everything I heard all pointed to the importance of prayer. I know this seems like a no-brainer to those of us who grew up in the church, but knowing something and doing it are two totally different things. In my quest to understand prayer better, I did a short study on prayer in the Bible. It showed me a few things. First, I found that the prayers recorded in the New Testament had much more to do with others spiritual well-being than their physical well-being. Not that we shouldn’t pray for others physical well-being, but it’s equally, if not more, important to pray for their spiritual well-being, too. The second thing I saw was the importance of being persistent. This is something I struggle with because it feels rude to me, but it’s stressed multiple times with positive results.

The importance of the eternal

I spent much of 2017 reading through the Gospels. For whatever reason, I had kind of resisted studying the them. After all, wasn’t it four versions of the same, exact story? Hadn’t I heard all the stories umpteen times? I am so glad that I overcame that resistance though because God showed me so many awesome things. One of those things was the value Jesus placed on the eternal over the physical. This year was a year of loss for me. I not only lost my dad, but a great-aunt and great-uncle, along with my parents’ best friends. That eternal perspective was a life line during loss.

The importance of doing one thing at a time

In our crazy, busy world, it seems like you have to multi-task to even have a hope of keeping up. What I realized this year is there is no such thing as multi-tasking. In reality, you are just switching back and forth between two or more things. As someone who is easily distracted, this is just a recipe for disaster for me. I have found great freedom and peace from giving myself permission to concentrate on one thing at a time. Try it, you might like it too!

The importance of knowing your limits

In the past year, God has been really teaching me that I can’t do all the things. I know this should be fairly obvious, but I have struggled with over-scheduling myself and being very stressed out as a result. I am the queen of thinking I can do way more in an allotted time period than is remotely possible. Because of that, I have felt a lot of frustration last year. I am also interested in a lot of different things, so I have a hard time saying no to new commitments. So, this year, I’m trusting God that I won’t miss anything important as I limit what I focus on and clear off my calendar.

The importance of anchoring your hope in Jesus

As I looked back in my journal, I saw over and over again that I had doodled the words from an old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” With everything going on in the world and what was happening in my own, personal world, I realized once again that the only firm foundation is Jesus. It is only through HIS strength that I can do anything at all. It is only through HIS steadfastness that I can have peace in the midst of turmoil.

The importance of planning ahead

I am not much of a planner, and tend to be more of a by the seat of my pants type of girl. I tend to resist planning because it feels restrictive to me, but I am learning that when used correctly, it can offer freedom. By planning ahead, I can eat better, use my time more wisely and be more intentional about spending time with my people. I started work on my first novel in November, and I decided that I needed to do some plotting (planning ahead) rather than just diving in. This has been a refining process and doesn’t come naturally for me, but I believe I will have a much better, richer novel than if I had just plunged in without any planning at all.

The importance of leaving the outcome to God

I don’t know about you, but when God asks me to do something I tend to get all wrapped up in the outcome. As I prepared to speak at a teen conference in the spring, I found myself tied up in knots over how good of a job my words would do. I had gotten caught up in the trap of thinking the outcome was up to me. In reality, all God asks of us is our obedience. He is the one who is responsible for the outcome. I don’t know about you, but that takes a huge load off my shoulders.

So how about you? What did God teach you in 2017? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

Five Minute Friday: INTENTIONAL

Life has been a bit crazy the last six weeks or so, but I am back at Five Minute Friday. If you haven’t heard of Five Minute Fridays, it is where women (and some men too!) from all over the world write about one word for 5 minutes. No editing. No second guessing. Just publishing. You can join in with your own post OR just read others HERE.

The word this week is INTENTIONAL.

Intentional is kind of a buzz word these days, isn’t it? Everyone it seems wants to be intentional – in their parenting, in their relationships, in their faith, in their work, even in their play. People (especially women) have woken up to the fact that they want to be intentional with their time and how they spend it.

I get it. I do. We have one life to live, and we don’t want to waste it. And let’s be honest, if we aren’t intentional about our time, we can waste it, frittering it away on social media or just sort of drifting through our days and letting life happen to us rather than the other way around.

But here’s the deal. As good as all that is (and it is – even the Bible says to use our days wisely), I think it has become another form of perfectionism that can paralyze us from doing the very thing we want to do: live intentionally. 

We can become so afraid that we aren’t being intentional, our schedules can become so rigid there is no room for spontaneity or fun. We can become so “intentional” we end up missing the very people we WANT to connect with on a deeper level because we’ve lost our flexibility.

A case in point – I am a lover of PowerSheets. This is product put out by Lara Casey (you can find the 6 month versions here as the full year has sold out) that helps you do some soul digging work to find good goals. Not the typical New Year’s resolutions that you abandon a week into January, but truly meaningful, good goals that you work on all year long. (am I the only person who feels like they have to accomplish ALL the goals in January?). As a buyer of PowerSheets, I am also part of the Facebook group for the first time this year. I was surprised just how paralyzed many of the women felt – like they were going to do goal setting wrong, like they had to get intentional living just right. Despite the fact that Lara is an active participant in the group and is always encouraging everyone that things don’t have to be perfect, still, getting this intentional living thing right was truly paralyzing to some of these women even with the perfect set of gel pens and planner stickers (yes, these are a thing!).

I’ve been there – so afraid of going in the wrong direction I stayed rooted to the spot.  So afraid of messing up my beautiful goal planner that I was afraid to write the wrong thing. Even though that is what it is for. 

That’s why, this year, I’m going to be intentional about not being perfect. Yep, imperfection is a goal of mine. It’s why I decided to intentionally give myself January to dream and think and plan. I find most of the pressure I live under is put there by me!

If we want to live intentional lives, we have to get past the paralysis of perfection and step into the messy of actually walking it out. 

When Christmas Feels Dark and Hopeless

Is it just me or has 2017 felt like a rough year?

The world has seemed like a darker, harder place this past year. On a personal level, there has been a lot of death in and around my life in recent months.

Since April, my great-aunt and uncle passed away. My parents’ dearest friends both died within months of each other – one in August and one in November. My dad left us in early September. One of my best friends is fighting for her life because after 12 years, her body is rejecting her transplanted lungs. The son she and her husband waited years to adopt will be two in January.

And it’s not just me that death has touched either. Our pastor lost his father only a few weeks ago, and another church member lost her two-year-old grandson after a kidney transplant they never thought he’d live to have. There are so many people I know that are fighting cancer or other scary diseases.

Sometimes life just feels dark and hopeless.

This year, I’ve done a lot of journaling, both in Bible study and in prayer. As I flipped through my journal the other morning, I noticed something.

I do a lot of doodling in my journals and on page after page, I had doodled the lines of an old song. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”

That’s not a song I hear a lot anymore, but there it was in my journal. Not once, but many times.

As we come up to Christmas, the story is so familiar isn’t it? In our Bibles, the difference between the last book fo the Old Testament Malachi and the Gospels is a simple flip of the page. But the reality is, that flip of the page represents 400 YEARS of silence from God.

Four centuries of echoing emptiness. No prophets. No messages. No Word of the Lord.

Hope in the Dark

So, when we come to the story of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35, his faith stands like a shining beacon in what was surely a dark and hopeless time. His faith really was built on nothing less than Jesus – even though Jesus hadn’t been born yet.

Sure, the Jewish people said they were looking for the Messiah, but how many even believed that promise anymore? How many gave more than lip service to something they had waited for, well,  centuries? With no new word to give hope.

What I love about the Bible is that every time I read a familiar story, God shows me something I haven’t seen before. I’ve heard the story of Simeon many times. I’ve read the verses and thought, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But this time around, it brought me up short.

This time the echoing silence seemed to ring in my own ears. This time I could almost taste the dark  hopelessness of a people whose promise of deliverance seemed distant and dim.

Just a Regular Guy

Who was Simeon? Well, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I always thought he was a priest for some reason, but he’s not. He’s just a regular guy.

The verses in Luke say he lived in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. The big difference is he was looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. This was a big deal since the Holy Spirit wasn’t promised to every believer at that time.

In fact, the Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. And Simeon believed him. 

That was the difference about Simeon. He wasn’t just looking for Israel’s consolation. He believed the Messiah was coming. In his lifetime. Even though, the silence to the nation was deafening.

God Sees Our Faith Even in the Darkness

I love that God noticed an individual’s faith and that He blessed Simeon because of it. Yes, the nation was in silent vacuum, but Simeon wasn’t.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (emphasis min) Hebrews 11:6

The Bible is full of the difference individual people’s faith had – Enoch, Noah, and Abraham to name a few.

This story also reminds me that Jesus’ birth was a light during a dark and hopeless time.

I don’t know what is weighing you down today. I do know there are a lot of people who will not find this Christmas season one of joy and togetherness and celebration, but instead will find it hard and lonely and a little hopeless. May I say, Jesus’ birth STILL shines a light, no matter how dark or how hopeless or how silent your world feels right now.

 

 

5 Minute Friday – DIFFERENT

Today is 5 Minute Friday. It’s been a while since I participated in this link up, but if you don’t know, 5 Minute Fridays are when writers (mostly women) from around the globe all write about one word for 5 minutes, no editing, no second-guessing, just publishing. You can check it out HERE.

This week’s word is DIFFERENT

The new year, 2018, looms right around the corner. For many of us, that means looking at our goals and dreams for the next 12 months, looking at the ways next year will be different. Whether you go all out with colored markers and a special planner (I use Powersheets), or if you just use a plan piece of paper in a $1 notebook, looking at the ways you are going to make 2018 different is exciting and fun.

But for some people, the ways 2018 will be different aren’t fun or exciting. They are just sad and hard and frightening.

In September, my dad passed away after a 4 year fight with cancer. His birthday was on Christmas Eve. This year, everything will be different.

For my mom, 2018 will be nothing like years past. Not only did she lose my dad, but the couple my parents spent the most time with, both of them have passed away. What was once a happy foursome is now down to one person- my mom. This year, everything will be different. 

A church friend lost twins at 23 weeks. Her plans and dreams for 2018 don’t exist anymore.  This year, everything will be different than what she thought it would be. 

Another woman in our church lost her 2 year old grandchild, after that child had been put on hospice, survived and had a liver transplant. She and her family’s year will be so different than what they had prepared for. 

One of my best friends experienced organ rejection this year – after 11 years of doing wonderfully. She is looking at a second lung transplant in 2018, while caring for her toddler son. I’m sure 2018 looks much different than what she thought it would be even six months ago. 

The year 2017 had a lot of really great things it. I could rattle off a list of blessings and beautiful things, but it also was a hard year. It was a year of saying goodbye to loved ones for so many people.

Yet, in our grief or disappointment over how different 2018 looks to what we had dreamed, our hope doesn’t have to be on what was or what we wish things could be. Our hope is firmly anchored in a God who is never different, who is never changing and always faithful.

This past year, this old song’s chorus has been ringing in my head and sprinkled throughout my prayer journal.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – A Review

We Don’t Always Have to Agree

Several years ago, I read Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, and while I appreciated her story, I didn’t really agree with all of her theology.

So, I didn’t pick up another of her books until recently. I was in the library, and the title and cover of her latest book, Of Mess and Moxie, leaped out at me.

Being Real

It’s interesting because I just finished Jon Eldredge’s book All Things New which was a reminder that this earth is not our home, and we have so much to look forward to in the next. You can read that review HERE.

Of Mess and Moxie is a celebration of the life we are living right now. It is permission to admit that things can be messed up and it takes a bit of moxie to live on purpose and out loud these days.

While Jen and I probably are still not on the exact same page theologically, reading this book reminded me of something. It reminded me that as believers, even if we can not always 100% agree, we can still learn from each other.

This book was laugh out loud funny at times, and honestly, I wish Jen Hatmaker could be my in real life friend. This is a woman who loves Jesus and loves others and does it well.

I particularly loved the chapter on mothering. It seems like moms are under a tremendous amount of pressure in this day (even more than in decades past) to live up to impossible standards. I loved Jen’s fresh take and the permission she gives moms to stop trying to be perfect or to attain these standards that nobody – except on their instagram feed – can possibly achieve.

I found the entire book refreshing and encouraging and uplifting. If you are looking for a book that is real about the mess of life but also encourages you that you live life well and with intention, check this book out!

 

Why You Need to Fail

I Still Remember My First Taste of Failure

I remember the first time I really felt like I had failed in a big way. I was heading into my senior year, and I didn’t make the cheerleading squad after being on the Varsity for two years.

The worst thing about not making the squad was the total shock. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it since the coach kept asking me to demonstrate various jumps and techniques during the tryout period.

I remember staring at the list of those who made it, scanning the it over and over. I was baffled as to why I couldn’t find my name. It took several reads for it to finally sink in. I hadn’t made it.

My senior year suddenly looked completely different than how I had been imagining it.

As I blinked away tears and shrugged on a mask of indifference, my initial sadness was quickly replaced by embarrassment and humiliation. I had failed. I wasn’t a cheerleader anymore.

I had lost part of my identity.

That failure left a lingering taste of bitterness in my mouth, and to this day (I’m 44), I still feel the temptation to try to explain that failure away because it still kind of embarrasses me. Even after all this time, that first taste of failure still stings.

Sometimes Failure Is the  Whole Point

For the past several months, I’ve been reading through the Gospels, and as I came to the end of Luke I came to the familiar story of Peter denying Jesus. I’m sure you’ve heard all the sermons too, right?

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Growing up in church, I’ve heard a lot of sermons about this particular passage, everything from God’s grace to our fallibility as humans to the fact that satan can only get at us with God’s permission. But there was one thing I never noticed before – Jesus did NOT pray that Simon wouldn’t fail. 
Is it just me or do you find that kind of strange? I mean, wouldn’t it make sense that Jesus would pray that one of His dearest disciples wouldn’t betray Him? Wouldn’t it seem logical that Jesus would pray that Peter would pass the test?

But passing the test wasn’t really the lesson. If you read those verses again, you can see what that lesson was supposed to be: “and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

It wasn’t some kind of huge surprise to Jesus that Peter was going to fail this test rather spectacularly. He TOLD Peter, “Hey, Buddy, I know you have good intentions, but the reality is that you’re going to deny me before the rooster even crows tomorrow morning.”

We Always Seem a Bit Surprised By Failure – But God Isn’t

Peter – the same Peter who a few hours later would whip out his sword and cut off a guy’s ear – couldn’t even fathom denying Jesus. Peter was a fisherman. He was probably big and burly, and he was more than a little rough around the edges. He was probably the guy you did NOT want to pick a fight with. He was brash and impulsive (see the ear thing above). He often stuck his foot in his mouth far enough to choke himself (remember when he rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to die?).

But Jesus knew something that Peter did not. He knew that in order to truly be a servant leader, Peter had to fail and fail big.

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to succeed, but the thing is, as much as we don’t like it, we often learn way more from our failures then we ever do from our successes.

God had big plans for Peter, but He had to get Peter into the right mind set. He had to impress on Peter it wasn’t Peter’s abilities or goodness or leadership skills that were going to make him one of the main leaders in the early church. It was ALL God.

What satan meant for harm, God allowed for Peter’s ultimate good. God allowed satan to sift Peter to get out the bits that were useless.

When farmers process wheat, the first step is sifting it or separating the chaff from the actual grain. The chaff is this kind of dry, scaly stuff that encases the seed or grain. It serves a purpose as the grain is growing, but it’s totally useless and renders the grain inedible once it is time to actually use the grain for food.

It was time for Peter to step to the next level, so God allowed satan to get to Peter. Satan’s purpose was to sideline Peter, but God’s purpose was to soften Peter.

The first thing Jesus prayed for was Peter’s faith

When we fail, it is easy to allow our shame over our failure to keep us from continuing to seek to follow God. After Christ’s death, Peter went back to fishing. He figured Jesus was dead and he was washed up as a disciple because of his failure. Jesus went and found Peter at the shore. He commissioned Peter to go and feed His sheep.

In our own lives this might look like not attending church or not reading our Bibles or praying since, you know, we failed so God must not want any more to do with us.

If that were the case, though, the Bible would be a whole lot shorter. If you comb through its pages, if failure was all it took to sideline God’s saints, there would be precious few on the field of play.

David basically forced himself on another man’s wife and then killed her husband to cover up his misdeeds. Moses killed a man and ran away to the desert, a fugitive. Jacob’s life resembled something out of Jerry Springer with his two wives and their maids. Abraham passed his wife off as his sister and tried to hurry up God’s plan by having a baby with his wife’s maid (and you can see how that turned out!).

Obviously, failure didn’t cancel out faith.

The Second Thing Jesus Did Was Give Direction for After Failure

Jesus told Peter, “and you, once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus knew, not only that Peter would fail, but that he would repent and return from that failure. Peter’s screw up probably gave him a lot more empathy for his brothers and their struggles.

Isn’t it the same in our lives? I remember being a young mother to a toddler son who talked in sentences when he was less than a year old. Not only that, but all I had to do was explain why he shouldn’t do something and he didn’t (of course, I now realize that isn’t the norm!).

I honestly could not figure out what was wrong with other mothers and their bratty kids. I mean – just explain it clearly? How hard was that?

Then I had my second son (you probably see where this is headed), and suddenly, all that false pride I had in my own mothering skills evaporated.

Simply explain why you shouldn’t do something? That guaranteed he’d smile and do exactly that!

Have a reasonable discussion on why he couldn’t do something or have something? He’d throw a flaming fit – usually in public – for maximum mother embarrassment.

I can’t tell you what an unbelievable failure I felt like as a mother as I walked through Kmart one memorable day, while Brody screamed the entire way because I refused to buy him a bouncy ball (because the poor child onlyy had about 100 in his collection).

Did I enjoy these times? NO!

But it certainly taught me a lot. It softened my heart toward other struggling mothers, and allowed me to offer encouragement rather than judgment. It stripped me of my misplaced pride and introduced me to some much needed humility. It made me rely on God for direction and discernment rather than my own perceived abilities.

To this day, I look at my boys and thank God for the work HE has done in their lives. I have a keen awareness that while being a mother brings great responsibility, the outcome isn’t completely up to us. It’s up to God and His plans, His purposes and His timetable.

Failure, no matter what that failure happens to be, has a way of turning our eyes off of ourselves and toward God – if we let it.

I’m not sure what failure you are carrying around with you or how you are allowing it to limit you and keep you from moving forward.

I do know that failure is not a sign that God is done with you. Rather, it might just be a signal that God is preparing you for something way bigger than you can imagine.

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Need Some Hope?

Are you feeling a little hopeless lately?

I know I have. This has been a difficult fall. On a personal level, my father passed away in early September after a four year battle with cancer. You can read about that here and here.

While we were in the hospital with him, the country was hit by not one, but two, hurricanes. Wildfires in the West gobbled up land and houses and lives. There have been people killed in mass shootings and by cars used as weapons.

My Facebook feed was full of finger pointing and anger and hostility.

Even as I write this, one of my best friends is slowly losing her lung function to rejection and is facing a second transplant. She and her husband waited for several years to adopt a little boy. She found out she was in rejection a week after they celebrated his first birthday.

It has all felt rather hopeless and overwhelming and I’ve felt the desire to pull inward and hide in my house, preferably with the covers pulled over my head.

Finding Hope In the Pages Of a Book

Then I went to the library (so many good things in my life start with that phrase!), and as I perused the shelves I came across Jon Eldredge’s latest book, All Things New.

It blew a fresh wind of hope into my heart and mind that I didn’t even realize I desperately needed.

The whole premise behind the book is that we, as believers, have only this vague, shadowy idea of heaven, and to be honest, it sounds kind of boring – like an eternal church service or something.

Eldredge argues that our ultimate home is not heaven, but a restored New Earth where the things we hold dear and love will be restored in their true fullness and beauty. He backs up his assertions with a lot of Scripture, and it’s impossible not to catch the vision he lays out.

The idea is somewhat breathtaking in its scope, this idea of hope in the next life that isn’t just vague. I’ve been reading through the Gospels this spring and summer, and just finished up Luke which was the last one on my list (I read Matthew, John, Mark and then Luke for some reason).

One of the things that stood out to me so clearly was that Jesus had an eternal perspective. While He loved people and had compassion on them and healed their physical bodies, He never lost sight of the importance of their eternal souls. This was incredibly fresh in my mind when my dad passed away. (You can read about my thoughts here).

That is not to say, Eldredge is saying we shouldn’t enjoy and live fully in this life, but we’d all be lying (or just be incredibly young and/or inexperienced), to not know that life can be hard and even brutal sometimes. It can definitely wear us down and make our hope seem anemic at best. It can make being intentional in this life seem pointless and without purpose if we aren’t careful.

As C.S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most fo the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of hte other world that they have become ineffective in this.”

If we are going to press on in this increasingly difficult and complicated world, we have to have a clear vision and hope for our future. If we want to make a difference here and now, we can’t lose sight of the then and later.

“Much of the transcendent purpose God has for human life can only be properly discerned in light of eternity.”

Gary Black

If you feel short on hope these days, check out All Things New. I promise you it will breathe new life into your tired and worn out hope!

 

The Gift of a Life Well-Lived

First Brush With Death

I was five years old the first time I lost someone I loved. I don’t remember a lot. What I do remember is my grandfather being so cold and shaking.

I ran to get him blankets, but he was shivering so hard, I could hear his false teeth clacking together. I remember running behind a chair in the living room to pray. The chair was striped and velvety; the carpet was thick and cream colored. That was 39 years ago, yet those small details stand out in sharp relief.

I don’t remember my mom telling me my grandfather had died. I just remember looking at my grandfather in the casket and thinking it wasn’t him. All that made my grandfather him was gone: the big, booming laugh; the infectious smile; the twinkle in his eye.

My cousin picked me up and put my face up close to my grandfather’s. He smelled strange and I was scared. I spent the rest of the viewing hours out in the lobby with my Grandma Craig, tapping my patent leather shoes on the flagstone floor.

For over a year, I waited for my grandfather to come back. I kept imagining that he would burst into our house, laughing and saying it was all a joke. I was well into first grade when I finally believe he was really gone.

The Bewilderment of Grief

The next time I lost someone I loved, I was 25 and expecting my first child. As an adult, my experience was far different than when my grandfather died. Grandma Craig – the one who had sat with me in the lobby – was gone.

I remember feeling bewildered. How was I suppose to walk through this? How do you grieve? What does that even look like? Could you be happy about a coming baby and also be sad about the death of someone you loved at the same time?

Since that time, I’ve lost my other grandmother, a few friends, my brother and just recently my father. Even though I am not new to the grieving process, every single time, I still feel that strange bewilderment. How do you do grief?

Every grief is like a trip with a familiar destination, but each time, you travel by a different route.

Grieving Death is Different Than Grieving Tragedy

My brother died only two years ago, so that grief is still fresh and that road is still familiar. I thought I had a handle on this grief process, but grieving my father has been completely different.

With my dad, it felt like the ending of a fully told story. He battled cancer for four years, and I honestly thought he was going to die last year. I truly believe God answered my prayer for more time with him. I don’t know why He chose to answer that prayer since I know others have prayed it and not gotten the same answer. I am just unendingly thankful that He did.

Although I miss my dad terribly, God made it very clear to me that my dad had reached the last page of his story. Even though I didn’t want it to be the end and I didn’t want to close the book on his life, my dad’s life was one that was well-lived and finished well.

At his funeral, as people shared what my dad meant to them, I could see the far reaching ripples that his love of Jesus and his faithful service to Him had created.

It is hard to know that my dad’s story is done, but at the same time, there is a peace and a comfort in knowing someone has run their course well and finished the race. I grieve, but there is a softer edge to this grief.

My brother, on the other hand, took his own life. Instead of coming to the last chapter in his life, I felt as if someone had ripped it out of my hands mid-read. His death left a lot of what ifs and if onlys that still bother me some days.

My brother was intelligent, handsome and outgoing. He never met a stranger, and he honestly talked himself into an untold number of jobs that he really wasn’t qualified for at all. He had so much potential.

His death laid waste to it all before it was time.

It is the difference between a life well-lived and one stolen by mental illness.

It was the difference between the natural cycle of life and tragedy.

The Importance of Finishing Well

I am 44 years old. According to statistics, I’m truly middle-aged. Half of my life is over, and hopefully, if I am not felled by cancer or heart disease or some other disease, half of my life stretches before me.

Maybe it is because of my recent losses.

Maybe it is because of my age.

Maybe it is because I am facing a new season very soon, as my youngest will be a high school senior next year, but I am impressed more and more that I want to finish well.

I want to live my life fully with the right priorities. It’s so easy to get off track and to get caught up in things that really don’t matter, especially in the light of eternity.

I get it – the house isn’t going to clean itself and the groceries aren’t going to travel from the shelves to your fridge on their own. But I don’t want to be so busy doing all my to dos that I forget to really live life.

Choosing To Let Go of the Good

As 2017 slowly ticks down and a new year looms with all its newness and possibilities, I’m trying to slow down, to really listen to what God wants from me this year.

He has very clearly told me to write. I’ve felt it pressed into my heart and whispered in my ear. The thing is, when we say yes to what God calls us to do, we have to say no to a lot of other things – even good things.

What that means in my life is really looking at everything I am involved in and deciding what may be good but isn’t best.

I love Arabah Joy’s blog. Tacked up on the wall next to my desk is a quote from her.

You can’t do all the good things people ask you to do if you want to do the one thing God is calling you to do.

I made that quote into a cute printable and tacked it up by my desk, and yet, I’ve spent a lot of 2017 doing things that are good, but not best. That is going to change in 2018.

Why? Because I want to finish well. I want to reach the end of my life and see “The End,” not chapters I never got around to experiencing because I was too busy doing all the things rather than THE THING God has called me to.

What about you? Are there things you feel called to, but you’ve let busyness or other people’s expectations keep you from?

I’d love to hear about it!

True Love – It’s Not What You Think!

The Anniversary That Wasn’t

This past week, it would have been my parents 54th anniversary. But instead of doing something fun with my dad this past Thursday, my mom spent her anniversary with me at Panera Bread.

With my dad’s death, my mom lost part of herself. How can you not when you’ve lived with someone for 54 years? When you’ve shared life in its ups and down, its joys and griefs, its beauty and ugliness?

 

An Example of a Good Marriage

When you are a kid, you don’t really think about your parents’ marriage, unless it is profoundly unhappy in some way. As a kid, I was oblivious. Sure, my parents fought at times, but I never wondered if they’d stay together.

There was never a doubt they were a couple – not just parents or partners – but two halves of a whole.

Heck, they went on dates before date nights were trendy.

They each had a role, but one was not more important than the other.

My dad led our home with a sweetness of spirit that never took advantage of his leadership role. He was never “the boss” of my mom. They worked together, and my dad listened to what my mom had to say. He recognized her uncanny accuracy and insight about people.

My mom always supported my dad as the family leader, but that didn’t mean that she silently sat in the background or just nodded yes to whatever my dad said. Instead, she pushed and challenged him in all the best ways. I think my dad would honestly say that he would not have been the man he was without my mom.

They served God together. I don’t remember a time when my parents weren’t serving together in some capacity at our church. My dad was a gifted teacher, and my mother is the most organized person you’ll ever meet. She can put an event together with one hand tied behind her back, blindfolded. (I did not inherit this gift, by the way).

They made friends and fellowshipped together. Throughout the years, our home was full of people coming for dinner or holidays or get togethers. My parents were never content to be spectators in life. They were full participants, and they participated not as individuals, but as a couple.

A New Season

So, when my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary rolled around, we celebrated with a big party. People came who hadn’t seen my parents in years. Friends came and shared what my parents meant to them. There was laughter and fun and even a few tears. It was one of those perfect days.

A week later, my dad got a call from the doctor, and just like that, their lives changed. 

Suddenly, their lives consisted of doctors’ appointments two hours away and drugs with long, unpronounceable names and lab results.

And while my parents had shown me what a good marriage looks like over their first 50 years, the last four years showed me what true love REALLY is – not the fizzy, false picture that Hollywood puts out there, but the deep, steady kind of love that says, “I’m always going to be here.” 

My mom never missed one of my dad’s doctor’s appointments – no matter how she felt or how tired she was – even when that meant 12 hour days multiple times a week.

My mom put her legendary organizational skills to work keeping track of the paperwork that goes along with cancer treatments, especially when the VA is involved.

My mom counted out pills and made sure my dad took them on schedule. When taking a pill meant my dad couldn’t eat for a certain amount of time, my mom didn’t eat either.

Three different times, my dad got sick enough that he needed to be in a wheelchair. My mom, who is petite and almost 80 years old, didn’t complain. She just found a lighter wheelchair so she could get it in and out of the trunk herself.

Love Through the Valley

During the last few months of my dad’s life, my mom’s role as caregiver became more challenging and certainly more exhausting.

Instead of just using a wheelchair when they were out and about, it became necessary for my dad to use the wheelchair in the house. My mom wheeled him wherever he wanted to go, whenever he wanted to go.

Everytime my dad got up, my mom had to help him. She would grip his hands. Usually it took about three tries, and on the third, my dad would get to his feet. Then my parents would kiss and smile at each other.

My dad didn’t sleep well, and got up multiple times every night, moving from recliner to bed and back again. My mom went with him. Every. Single. Time. 

By the end, she slept with one hand on his shoulder, afraid he’d wake disorientated and try to get up by himself and fall.

True Love in Real Time

True love is about loving someone more than yourself. Watching my mom care for my dad, I saw what true love was up close and personal.

As giddy, young couples, we say our wedding vows, “In sickness and in health, until death do us part,” but in the excitement and joy of starting a new life together, the idea of sickness and death seems far away. We don’t really think about what it means to walk that out.

What that means is walking through cancer with your husband, caring for him even when you are exhausted yourself.

It means dragging out the wheelchair and getting your very sick husband in the car to go get ice cream because that’s what makes him happy when you really would rather collapse on the couch.

It means walking through the valley of the shadow of death holding his hand, so he doesn’t have to make the journey alone.

It means staying by his side even when you’d rather not watch death coming closer and closer.

True love can be warm and fizzy and sweet, but it can also be hard and tiring and challenging. My parents taught me that whatever form it takes, it’s always beautiful.

Blessings, Rosanne

5 Minute Friday: SUPPORT

It’s Friday which means it’s time for 5 Minute Friday! If you’ve never heard of 5 Minute Friday, that’s when women (and I suppose men, too, if they wanted to) from all over the globe write about one word for 5 minutes – no editing, no stopping, no hesitating – and hit publish. Want to join us? Visit HERE.

 

SUPPORT

 

It’s always so interesting to me how the word for 5 Minute Fridays always seems to dovetail with my life in some way. When I saw the word SUPPORT, I knew I was definitely going to find the 5 minutes to write about it today.

Just 10 days ago, my dad died. It wasn’t sudden, but it was. He had cancer and hadn’t been doing very well. But he had bounced back so many times, we kind of thought he would again. We certainly did not expect him to go into the hospital and on hospice on Saturday and be gone by Wednesday.

Through those days at the hospital, I got to watch the Church support one of its members. After the first day, my Dad went to sleep. He never woke up. So, my mom limited visitors.

That didn’t stop people from texting and calling, wanting to help in some way, asking if they could be the exception to the no visitors rule.

My mom’s pastor and his wife were up every single day. They were a constant presence of comfort and support. Friends came up, offering their presence and more tangible support like food or help running errands.

I got numerous texts and Facebook messages, offering help and support, too. One of my friends brought enough Lee’s chicken for the Duggars!

While it doesn’t erase our family’s loss, support makes that loss more bearable. It gives you the sense that even though you feel adrift on a sea of grief, you aren’t drifting all alone.

Watching the body of Christ as they came to the aid of a sister was a beautiful thing. Watching that just reaffirmed for me that God created us for fellowship. We aren’t meant to do this life alone. It’s just too hard.

 

What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. ~ I John 1:3

Blessings, Rosanne

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