What Grief Has Taught Me…

What Grief has taught me is that you’re never ready for its arrival.

Grief is more than a human heart can bear.

You never get over it, but somehow you move forward.

The only way forward is through it.

Grief is intimate. For me, sharing certain aspects of it seems wrong because it is now connected to the deepest part of who I am.

Grief strips away any part of you that cares what others think…

And although grief has ripped me apart like nothing else has in life, it has also been my teacher.

It has taught me to hold a breaking heart full of sorrow and a heart full of joy simultaneously.

It has taught me to laugh through tears.

It has introduced me to the deepest kind of friendships. It the kind of friendship that meets you at a bedside, or catches you as you run away, or finds you curled up in a hospital hallway.

It has taught my to hold on for dear life the examples of those who’ve experienced grief before me. And hold on for dear life for the ones recently acquainted with grief behind me.

It has taught me to live presently in the moment because there is only enough grace for today.

It has taught me to slow down, to take a moment to appreciate people and nature.

It has taught me to give as much as I have today because tomorrow is not promised.

It has taught me to speak kind words to everyone I meet because they might be hidding their own grief as well.

So although I met grief kicking and screaming, cussing and flailing… It has been one of my most hated companions and one of my greatest teachers.

I never wanted it to come, but I refuse to see it wasted.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad 💕

I woke up at 3:45am and drove south without looking back. The only breaks I took were for gas, bathroom and food. I arrived at home 15 hours later— exhausted but so grateful to be held by people who loved me.

The transition home was not an easy one. I spent a lot of time lost in my own head. Setting up my things and having no idea what was ahead or when and how to take the next step.

One afternoon, I found myself at my Dad’s computer. He always shared it when he wasn’t working on a sermon, or a talk or a new book.

I spaced out and analyzed every book on his bookshelf and every trinket in front of those books. He had his MacArthur Study Bible and commentaries closest. Then he had little nicknacks from all over the globe (given to him by people who lived all over the world). He had artwork from one of his 3rd grade students and love notes from us kids and grandkids. And proudly displayed on his shelf was the “Best Dad” trophy we got him for Father’s Day one year. Although he was a remarkable man, that was the only trophy he ever received.

I sat there and thought, “What a great man.” I told myself that I needed to write a blog on him, but I got sidetracked. Time passed. And then, suddenly, the same office and bookshelf I had admired just a few months prior was being disassembled. And as we disassembled it, it proved to me again that my Dad was a great man.

I wished I had written this blog when he was alive, but I know he knew exactly what I thought of him and how much I loved him. So Dad, this is for you.

My Dad. He wasn’t a flashy guy. He was the most steady, driven and disciplined man I have ever met. He loved my mom and us kids well. He always made time for us. If I ever needed him, he’d finish what he was doing and give me his undivided attention. He loved his sports, his popcorn, and his peanut m&ms. He was the smartest and the wisest man I’ve ever known.

And there was a side of my Dad that a lot of people didn’t see and I think my Dad was misjudged a lot because he was ridiculously confident. The side that speaks volumes to me and will for the rest of my life is how no matter what, my Dad never would retaliate. There was a season in my Dad’s life when he had some people against him. It tore him apart on the inside, but he persevered. I’ve never seen such a pain in my dad’s eyes. But, my Dad never spoke ill of them. Instead he just showed up day after day, week after week even though he was misunderstood and hurt by the things being said.

There was also a side that not many people saw. It was the “Doctor Dad” side. He may have lectured us on how we should have avoided getting hurt, but while he was lecturing, he’d be bandaging us up. And there was the side of my Dad who invested in us once a week during our “one on one time.” And there was the side that showed up for all the games we had that he could attend. You could never say that my Dad wasn’t present. And it’s his lack of presence that I miss every single day. But I hope that in my choice to show up every day, I honor his legacy.

You may not be able to pick my Dad out of a crowd, but you could never pick his place out of my heart. He was the greatest man I’ve ever known. He was a man of great character and integrity. Happy Fathers Day. I love you so much and I miss you terribly! And don’t worry you’re not missing anything with the Dolphins— they still stink.

Finding God in the Dark

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a woman’s fellowship. This was the talk I shared. Given that, this reads a bit differently than a blog, but I hope it encourages you.

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Before I begin my message, I would like to tell you my testimony. I think it’s important to understand people’s stories.

I was born into a Christian home. My mom was a missionary to Turkey for nearly three years until her first husband was martyred there when she was 8 months pregnant with my older brother. She came back to the States and a year later married my Dad who was a pastor of a local church. My Dad pastored that local church for over 30 years. Together, they worked with International college students for over 25 years.

So I grew up in a home that was very mission oriented and local church focused. Which I am grateful. I prayed that prayer of salvation with my Dad when I was six, but as I got into my teen years, I became very depressed and had suicidal thoughts. I knew enough to know that drugs, drinking, and guys were not the answer but I didn’t know what I was missing. I contemplated how to take my own life, but I didn’t ever want to hurt my parents. I felt stuck.

At that time, my Dad was taking our youth group to a youth event. I basically walked in the first night and said, “God, if you want me than you’ve got to do something.” The conference lasted three days and on the third day, during the last speaker, something became so clear to me. I was missing a personal relationship with Jesus. I was doing all the things my family was doing, but I didn’t have my own time with Jesus. So, I decided that day to get to know Jesus for myself.

My perspective and outlook did a 180. I was learning new things every day and would find so many treasures in my personal time with Jesus. About six months after I made my faith my own I lost a mentor of mine in a car accident. She had been someone who I considered an outlet. Being a pastor’s kid, it’s hard to know who to talk to in the church. This woman was outside of that circle because she lived in another state. I knew that day, I had a decision to make. Walk away from God or walk towards Him. I decided to walk towards him.

Over the years, I’ve had to make that decision over and over and over again.

I’d love to say that, losing my friend was the only loss I’ve had, but I would be lying if I did.

In the summer of 2017, my Dad was in a terrible car accident. He suffered severe head trauma. The doctor called my mom and siblings into a small room and said, “The Bill you knew this morning, is not the Bill that’s here today. On a scale from 1 to 5 … 5 being the worst, your dad, husband, grandpa is at a level 4.” It was only seven days after that, that my Dad passed away.

I’ve titled this message… “Finding God in the dark.”

I came across a verse after I losing my Dad that has stuck with me. It’s an aspect of God that I’ve wrestled with. The verse is in Psalms 88. Before I get to that particular verse, I’d like to share the whole Psalm.

Psalm 88 (A song of lament)

1 Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.

2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.

3 I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death.

4I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.

5I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.

6You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

7Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

8You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape;

9 My eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you?

11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?

12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14 Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair.

16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.

17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.

18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.

The verse that stuck out to me was verse 6:

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

When I first read that verse, I went back and re-read it. Surely, the “You” cannot mean God, right?! But, I went back, read the context, read commentary. And, yes, it is talking about God putting us in a pit.

Have you ever felt as though the darkness is all encompassing? Like you’re surrounded by darkness? Maybe it’s because you are in a pit.

There are certain aspects of God that are too much for us to understand. I once heard a godly woman say, “If I knew everything about God He wouldn’t be God.”

There were others who had their pit moment — like Jeremiah…

Lamentations 3:1-20 says this:

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding,

11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Did you notice verse 2?

He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;

The reality of life is that there are times that God either places us in a dark pit, or makes us walk in darkness.

Walking through the dark is never fun. It’s hard. Figuring out how to continue on, especially after a loss seems near impossible. So, how do we find God in the dark?! Is it even possible?

Luke 23:44-46 says this:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Verse 44 says, DARKNESS came over the whole land. This DARKNESS CAME DURING Jesus’ Crucifixion. I’ve read some historians who’ve reported that there was actually an eclipse that happened at the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion.

BEFORE I comment on these verses in Luke, I’d like to share a story.

As I was preparing this talk, I came across an article in Readers Digest about a man named Joe Serna who had served 17 as a Green Beret in the Army.

He shared one of his traumatic experiences:

There was one incident that caused the majority of his nightmares. As part of a convoy, he and three other Special Forces soldiers were inside a 19-ton RG-31 mine-resistant truck, driving through Kandahar, Afghanistan, to recover a fallen brother who had died after stepping on a mine. Just after midnight, as they were driving along a pitch-black dirt road that was flanked by a canal, the narrow road gave way. The massive armored vehicle fell sideways, slipped down the bank, and toppled into the canal.

“The truck started filling with water, and I couldn’t release my seat belt,” remembers Serna. Helpless, he felt the water rising over his feet, then up to his knees, then his chest. His heart pounding, he heard his team members screaming for help as the water swallowed them up. This is it, he thought as he struggled to free himself. I’m going to die.

But then one of his brothers came to the rescue. “When the water had reached my chin, I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor,” Serna says. “Sergeant James Treber picked me up and moved me to a pocket of air.”

The truck’s hydraulic system had been knocked out, so the doors wouldn’t budge. The soldiers were trapped. Because there was not enough space for both of them in the small air pocket, Treber dived into the water to find a larger one. Suddenly some fuel cans broke and contaminated Serna’s air pocket with gasoline. He passed out.

“I thought I’d died,” says Serna. “Someone pulled me out of the truck. When I came to, I saw three bodies lying on the ground. Everyone else in the truck, including Sergeant Treber, had died.” To this day, being stuck in a confined space can trigger flashbacks for Serna.

Serna turned to alcohol to cope with his post traumatic stress. He ended up in a treatment program, which required him to be tested for alcohol several times throughout the year. During his time in the treatment center, he got to know a judge who helped with the program.

A few months into the program, Joe tested positive for alcohol. He lied to the judge but then felt guilty about it. He went back to court and told the judge the truth. The judge sentenced him to one night in jail. The trouble was, tight spaces would trigger Joe’s PTSD. The judge remembered Joe’s story of the convey and the canal the minute he saw Joe’s Face after sentencing him to one night in prison.

The judge pulled some strings and had Joe sent to another jail where he would at least be alone but the cell space was still the same size.

Joe arrived at his cell and within minutes, he felt as though the walls were closing in. He was about to freak out when he heard the jail cell unlock. It was the judge with two trays of jail food.

“Here” the judge said.

Joe was baffled. He asked the judge what he was doing. The judge responded. Staying with you.

Joe didn’t know how to respond. True to his word, the judge stayed the night. The judge was a former veteran himself. He knew where Joe was coming from. That night they both swapped stories of their deployments, and Joe slept like a baby that night.

At the end of the article, the Judge tells a story that he once read about a veteran who was suffering from PTSD:

“The veteran was in a deep hole. First his family threw down a rope, but he wouldn’t come out. Then his therapist threw down a rope, but again he didn’t come out.

Then his minister, with the same result. Finally, a second veteran came by, and he, too, threw down a rope. But this time, he climbed into the hole with the first vet. ‘What are you doing down here with me?’ the vet with PTSD asked. The second vet answered, ‘I’m here to climb out with you.’

Now I’d like to comment on the crucifixion of Jesus in Luke. Because of the crucifixion of Jesus, because He came to earth as a man and yet fully God, He experienced darkness. He experiences being in the grave for three days. If anyone knows darkness it would be Jesus.

And when we first heard the story of Jesus we might have been tempted to think, why would He come the way He did? Why would He suffer the way He did? Why would he die the way He did?

And I realized it’s so that when we find ourselves being placed in a pit. When we find ourselves surrounded by darkness and people are throwing their ropes at us calling for us. Jesus gets into the pit with us and says, I’m here to climb out with you.

Hebrews 6:19- 20 says this:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

As I read this, I was reminded that you can’t see the anchor in the midst of the storm. You FEEL every wave of the storm you’re in. You SEE the dark clouds, but you CANNOT SEE the anchor. But the anchor is STILL THERE. It’s the anchor that holds us steady, even when we feel like we are going to get swept away. Jesus is our anchor. He stays with us through our storm and in our dark season. He will never let us go.

So, Finding God in the dark is not really about finding Him. It’s more about remembering He’s there.

Remember were we left Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:20? His soul was downcast within him?

Let’s read more of that chapter starting in verse 21:

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions NEVER FAIL.

23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.

29 Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope.

30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For NO ONE is cast off by the Lord forever.

32 Though HE BRINGS GRIEF, he WILL SHOW COMPASSION, so great is his unfailing love.

33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land,

35 to deny people their rights before the Most High,

36 to deprive them of justice — would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?

38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

39 Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.

SKIP DOWN TO VERSE 55:

55 I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.

56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.”

57 You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life.

So, my encouragement to you and myself, is that, if you’re in a pit season, a season of darkness, depression or grief, that you would remember that God is right there with you— even if you cannot feel or see Him. He’s waiting with you. He will help you when you’re ready.

And when you’re out… You’ll know how to help someone else out of their pit like Jesus helped you out of yours.

Eleven Letters

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I stared at the blinking curser. I reread the text message. I put my iPhone down. I had to pray because I couldn’t handle the hurt. I picked up my phone and wrote eleven letters. I never knew eleven letters could be so hard to write.

Before I was able to write those eleven letters, my mind, and emotions went on a roller coaster ride. Why would this person even write me? I thought. They haven’t written, texted, called in over a year and suddenly they feel bad when I lost my Dad? This person obviously still had my number. When I was hung out to dry, where were they? When I sent the goodbye email to them? Where was their response?

I could feel the anger, frustration and hurt rising up. I wanted to put my fist through the wall. But then I remembered something… I quickly looked up the passage of the Bible that was brought to mind. I counted the letters and realized that Jesus spoke eleven letters that I’m sure took every ounce of strength to say… He said, “Forgive them.”

I looked down at my phone and saw all the letters I managed to piece together “Thank you _ _ _” There were eleven letters. I knew I had to hit send. I hesitated for a moment, but was able to send it.

The person on the other end of the text wanted to continue the conversation, but I didn’t feel the need to respond.

This blog was started a year ago, but I remembered it tonight because this individual reached out for a second time.

I don’t feel the need to get into all the details, but I think it’s important to understand that when boundaries have been crossed, confidentially broken and an alignment is made with the side that is not trustworthy, or truthful, one needs to keep his/her own boundaries.

I had a very godly leader tell me that just because he’d forgiven someone who had crossed boundaries with his family (multiple times) that individual was not to be around his family. Every situation is different.

However, I think it’s important to understand that forgiving doesn’t mean allowing the one who has not sought reconciliation to walk back into your life. Quite frankly, they could do more damage.

I really wrestled with what to do with that text message. I cried from a deep part of me that still is tender to talk about at times. It’s a place that unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand. The pain goes so deep. It’s hard to know how to explain it. I’ve never been hurt as badly as I have by those few people. But time, and healthy relationships have helped more than I could have imagined.

Writing those eleven letters, took a lot of pray and supernatural strength. I could not do it on my own. But, if I believe in grace and have received grace then when someone is showing a glimmer of remorse, I need to extend grace. This does not mean I open my life to them, but I can be kind. God is love and love is kind and because God loved me, and was kind to me, I can love and be kind to others. But, I cannot do this on my own.

Forgiveness is a process and a powerful tool.

Where’s Donavan?

I got to work and was ready to get going. I was working a double so I needed to be on my A-game. I had a good closing crew so I wasn’t worried.

Donavan had become my favorite closing guy. He was much older than me and everyone else who worked there. He worked really hard and would keep the cashiers in line.

“Get back to work, Sarah!” He’d yell from the back of the store as he plowed through stacks and stacks of dishes.

Donavan was never late, so when 4 o’clock came and went and Donovan didn’t show, I knew something was up. I called in help to fill the shift but was pretty annoyed I hadn’t heard from Donavon at all. This wasn’t like him and I really needed him.

The next shift came and went and no Donavon again. I was pretty sad at this point because I realized there wasn’t much of a possibility of Donavon keeping his job when he now has two no calls no shows on his record!

By mid-week, we had scratched Donavon’s name off the schedule and filled the rest of his shifts.

I was at work again on another shift when the front door rang and I looked up and saw Donavon. He looked pretty sullen. He walked straight to the back after he asked if the boss was in.

I looked in the back to see my boss and Donavon talking. They looked like they were having a pretty serious conversation. I looked away and continued my work. A few minutes later, Donavon said goodbye and walked out the door.

I quickly went to the back to ask my boss what was going on.

“He was in jail.”

“What?!?!”

“With the wrong crowd and got picked up, but they took him in because of his record.”

I was starting to worry a little bit. What record? I thought. Donavon and I talk a lot. I wonder why he never mentioned it.

“What’s on his record?” I finally asked.

“Manslaughter.”

I about fell over. “Manslaughter?!?!”

“It was in the 80s and he’s served his time. He’ll be in tonight to close.”

I didn’t show it but I totally freaked out on the inside. I thought I am going to be closing with a man who killed another human? I don’t feel safe. My mind wandered wondering if all the worst possible scenarios.

I was filled with fear. I was trying to think of ways I could go home early. But, suddenly a thought came to me.

“You used to feel safe with Donavon. He was your favorite closer. He always did his work, did extra things to help you. And got the cashiers to do their job.”

I realized that this piece of information was in Donavon’s past hindered my ability to see him for who I had known him to be. I decided right there that when Donavon came in, I needed to treat him like I had before I knew he served time in jail for manslaughter.

So, that night came and went and it was just like old times. Donavon, like he always had, made sure I didn’t leave the store by myself and worked just as hard as he always had. Eventually, Donavon was having a hard time keeping up with two jobs and was let go. I never saw him again, but I haven’t forgotten that lesson.

Recently something happened that caused me to reevaluate someone I thought I knew. I think we all have gotten to know someone and thought them to be one person and in the end, they weren’t really who you thought they were.

There have been several times in my life that I’ve spend a lot of tears over individuals because they turned out to be someone I couldn’t imagine they’d be… But just like Donavon, I was reminded of something.

Jesus doesn’t look at me for who I am, but for who I will be. How many times have I been disappointed with my own self for not being who I want to be. I fall short all the time. I screw up. I get so angry. I quit taking to him. I want to quit all together. I have not become who I will be, but Jesus sees me as complete. He sees the final copy of me.

As I was given startling information about someone I know, I remembered, I need to see them as who they can be— not who they are right now.

Some people are harder to do that with because in the case of abuse or betrayal, you have to acknowledge that certain things took place. You have to work through those issues and it will take a lot of time and energy. But, I think I need to do some reevaluating in my own life and remember that just like I am not complete — they won’t be either.

Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Peter hadn’t become the rock yet, but that was Jesus saw him as.

We use this tactic is karate too. I have always been taught to view yourself as the next level belt. I am currently a brown belt and I often picture in my head the moment I am awarded my black belt (and sword). It helps me to remember where I want to be.

I think we need to do the same with ourselves and other. God says we are complete, so we are but we keep working towards it. I need to keep that in mind for when I see others too.

Fighting Fear: With the Opposite of Fear

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Introduction:
This month’s theme has been Fighting Fear!  Today, my dear friend, Connie, is sharing her thoughts on fear. Connie is one of my heroes. No matter what she goes through, she strives to be more like Christ and it is evident. To be truthful, she is more like a sister to me than anything else. I know you will enjoy her thoughts today :)!
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I’ve been thinking about fear this week, and how my sin is often rooted in fear. And do you know that the Bible commands – commands – me to not fear, not be afraid, and fear not over 100 times? So, fear is a sin, and apparently, one that is common enough and serious enough that God reminds us over and over again to just NOT DO IT. And I think one reason for that is that fear has a lot of power to cut us down, cripple us, and make us forget who we are. It’s a stronghold that has a very… strong hold.

So what’s the opposite of fear? If I choose not to fear if I give my fears to God and sacrifice them on the altar of my heart, what will replace it? One of my craziest fears is that if I let go of my fear, I’ll not have anything left… but I know this is a lie because God never leaves a void in us. Emptiness is meant to be filled by him. So how does he fill the newly-vacant throne of fear? The words that He revealed to me were these: Joy, Trust, Hope, Grace, Peace, Freedom, and Love.
So this week I feel like my prayers are stronger… instead of just asking God to wrench fear from my hands, I’ve been asking him for an exchange – my fears for his hope; my fears for his joy, my fears for his peace… It seems like an unfair trade, but his resources are endless and he is so generous, I don’t think he minds. In fact, I get the feeling he is pleased… And guess what is starting to fill up my heart?!

Connie Chandler
Website: conniesbowlofcherries.blogspot.com

Read my book, Tales of the Great King: Click Here

 

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Song of the Week: Overwhelmed, by BigDaddy Weave
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