A Step Toward Overcoming Depression

 

 

Mother never actually admitted it, but I knew. I could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice, and sensed it in my soul. Then, I saw the magazine. She had earmarked articles on depression in her Good House Keeping magazines. You’d never know. She was beautiful, sweet, kind, friendly, and always neat as a pin but she battled times of soul darkness. No one told her how to get through those despondent times. But, God made her, knew what could help, and led her to a place of discovering one of the most beneficial things she could do to elevate her mood.

The discovery my mother made was exercise. Her favorite mode: walking. I truly believe she loved it! Mother didn’t have fancy in home equipment nor a nice gym to frequent. She certainly had no knowledge of the natural endorphins that, when balanced and elevated, could lift her spirits. But, she did have the outdoors, some walking shoes, and a house. She had all she needed. At that time in her life her goal was two-fold: to look good in her cute clothes and keep enjoying sweets.  So she was killing two birds with one stone. She was successful. There came a time in her life, however, when she couldn’t walk outside or ride her indoor bicycle because of physical limitations. What did she do? She walked an hour inside her house. Through watching her, I became a believer in the power of exercise. God uses it over and over in my own life to bring me out of pits of despair.

Our bodies really do need physical activity every day in order for us to function in healthier ways physically, emotionally, and mentally.

If ever there was a time that some kind of daily physical activity is necessary it is now. Most of us would have to admit we are threatened with pangs of sadness, depression, gloom, fear, loneliness and anxiety. It is normal to experience these feelings during something as severe as this worldwide pandemic. However, we don’t want these emotions to overwhelm us. God wants each of us who today are healthy to care for our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and souls are in the need of special care. Since we have extra time on our hands, we can show love and respect to ourselves by taking time to do whatever kind of exercise that daily will get us moving. My husband and I have increased our walking time each day to an hour. It has been a stress buster and a mood lifter.

For those who don’t already have an exercise routine in place, it’s never too late to begin. Just as an experiment, I walked 6 minutes in the house last week and was amazed at the number of steps I was able to get in in that amount of time as I weaved in and out of rooms. It was early in the morning. I was surprised at how much more awake and refreshed I felt at the beginning of the day. I also used that time to speak the names of the people in prayer who I personally know who are fighting for their lives because of COVID-19.

Many people say that their best times of prayer and worship are done on walks. I agree. Somehow a muddled mind can find clarity. Our whole self can find calm. Toxins can be released. Pain can be dulled. Anger can subside. Tears can flow. Thanksgiving starts to spill out. The benefits are endless!

How about you, my friend? Are you taking care of the amazing body God gave you through creating times each day for physical exercise? I hope so. It’s a good daily practice that will help us all better manage the place we’re in where we have no control. It’s never too late to get moving. What will you do today to renew your soul through exercise?

Quieting Our Souls

We’re all walking out our own story in this outbreak of COVID-19. The most important question for me today: How am I walking it out? Maybe you want to ask that question with me.

Am I walking it out knowing Jesus is with me? Am I concerned for others, even those outside of my immediate family? Am I ready to share? Would I let go of something I’d like to hold onto if someone is in need? Am I praying more than I’ve ever prayed? Is my soul worshipping God as I pray? Do my prayers include those who were already fighting intense battles of all kinds before this virus crashed in like a tidal wave? I hope so. In a way, I think those dear ones may need our prayers more than anyone else. They need to know they are not forgotten.

Many years ago I read a Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. This classic has shown up on a required reading book list for The Soul Care Institute that my husband and I are a part of. It is good to be reading again about the life of Bro. Lawrence. I am reminded, through his life that my whole day can actually be God centered. It’s really possible for any person to practice the presence of God all during the day.

This pandemic has quieted our immediate surroundings – at least there’s less traffic and noise. But anxiety, stress and even panic have not quieted, and this is impacting our souls. Our souls long to be quieted. Our souls long for rest, hope and peace.

What an opportunity to give our souls what they long for. God’s presence in us and around us aids us in this soul posture. What an opportunity for me and for you to frequently set apart daily times to focus our gaze upon Jesus and pray like we’ve never prayed before.

We have the time.

Even Brother Lawrence, in his earliest days of his love journey of walking with Jesus, struggled with “wandering wild fancies that would invade his mind and take violent passion of the place of God.” During those times he kept calm, proceeded to rid his mind of the distractions, and returned to his commune with God.

Be blessed, dear ones, and stay close to the heart of Jesus. “Seek the Lord and His strength. Seek His presence continually.” Psalm 105:4

 

 

 

 

The Way to Live-The Way to Leave

 

In September of 2018 while on a spiritual retreat in Colorado, I peeked at Messenger. It was the kind of retreat where we were asked to put all technology aside, but I did happen to glance at my phone and saw something from my cousin, Greg. We lived 1000 miles apart which made keeping in touch difficult. Because it was unusual for him to message me, I knew it had to be something important. It was. He was asking for prayer. He had passed out in a restaurant which landed him in the hospital for testing. The doctors feared he had leukemia. The fear was confirmed.

Greg was a farmer. A friend has the right word to describe farmers: tough. Yes, farmers are tough. Greg had strength and toughness. But, he had something else, too: gentleness and a great capacity to love and spread joy. He poured out that love and joy to his teenage daughter, Sydney. He couldn’t bear leaving her. She’d already lost her mother 9 years ago. So, Greg fought hard for one and a half years. Two weeks ago yesterday, his final earthly battle was done.

I called Greg frequently during his stay at MD Anderson in Houston. His stay was long: eleven months. Our conversations were gifts to me. I remember one of his comments, “It’s a win-win, no matter what happens.” He said those words with joy and assurance. He could say them because he knew he had the hope of Heaven awaiting him. He knew that’s where he was headed, either sooner or later. Of course, he desired later, but he was entrusting it all to Jesus whom he loved and had given his life to years earlier.

God, through His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to attend Greg’s memorial service. Actually, God worked a miracle in order for me to be there. Yes, there was intense sadness for Sydney, Greg’s mother (my precious 90-year-old Aunt Nancy) and Greg’s brother, Mike. And, sorrow for all the rest of us who loved Greg. But, what we received from the memorial service gave comfort and even joy.

The pastor and shepherd, Rick, who’d spent much time with Greg, shared what Greg whispered into his ear one of the last times he saw Greg. Greg’s declared, “It is well with my soul.” How could Greg say that? He knew Who he belonged to and what he had to look forward to. It’s evident he’d surrendered everything which included his every breath to the keeper of his soul: Jesus.

Greg left the proof that he’d surrendered it all. This proof was included in the words he wrote that were read at the funeral: “Everyday God gives us is a blessing. When I’m gone I’ll be with him. What a blessing.” In these words printed on the memorial program, Greg again affirmed, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

This proof was also in the words of the two songs Greg wanted sung: “When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, when troubles come, and my heart burdened be. Then, I am still and wait here in the silence until You come and sit awhile with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.” And then the song Even If by Mercy Me “. . . I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t my hope is You alone.”

Greg left us in a way that brought glory and honor to the One who made him. Greg’s hope was in Christ and him alone. He breathed his last breath knowing all was well with his soul.

Questions we must answer: How is my soul today? How will my soul be the day I take my last breath?

What we do right now in this very moment will determine the answer.

Eight Essentials for Embracing Life

 

 

 

 

It’s February. Just last week I took down the last few Christmas decorations in our house. They are the decorations that look both Christmassy and wintery. I love the wreath I always place above the fireplace that has beautiful silver Christmas ornaments that sparkle and shine. Yes, it’s hard to believe it will be back up in less than a year.

As I put the wreath back up in the attic, I know it’s time to say good-bye to 2018. I realize I’m a little slow in this, but it really doesn’t matter. There’s a time table that’s just right for each of us which even includes holiday decorating: the putting up, and the taking down.  I know I’m just now strong enough to embrace the newness that awaits me in 2019. I’m prepared to walk strong again with the essential elements that are needed in order to embrace life with gusto.

What are the needed essentials for embracing the days ahead that breathe life back into me, into you, especially if we happen to be one who feels like the wind has been knocked out of us?

1.     Get alone with God in solitude. This place of stillness allows us to be aware of His presence. In this space we have the opportunity to be more aware of His perfect and unconditional love that is life-giving and life-changing.

2.     Be mindfully grateful throughout the day for blessings that are around us. They are there even when we are in a place of emotional or physical distress. If possible, write them down.

3.     Choose not to focus on failures or misfortunes of the past year that we have caused or that have come through the actions of others. Focus on what has been learned through the struggle and on creating a new vision of what God’s plan is that is good and that brings Him glory.

4.     Spend time with friends and family in community. Make sure time is with those who are life-giving. These are ones with whom you can be your authentic self. It’s a place of love, acceptance, and safety.

5.     Value others. We show how much we value and love one another through being intentional in kind and thoughtful deeds and encouraging words. Even something we may consider being small can have an incredible and significant impact on someone.

6.     Read portions of scripture every day in a way that is transformational. We will know transformation is real when we see ourselves moving to deeper places of worshipping God. We also see it’s real when we observe that our heart is being changed in ways that display more of the character of Jesus.

7.     Care for our physical well-being through getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, eating healthy meals and snacks, and being active through some type of physical activity 4-5 times a week.

8.     Be on the look-out for small or big opportunities that allow us some whole –hearted adventure.

Grief-A Hard Journey

 

 

It’s good having people in our lives who frequently ask, “How are you really doing?” I’m grateful for family and friends who take me as I am today no matter where I am emotionally. It is hard to admit where these weeks of May 2018 have taken me emotionally, but I know I must.

I remember calling a beloved friend of my sister’s on the day she died, May 26, 2017. I cried out these words, “I didn’t think it would hurt this badly!” She said, “I know.” She did know and she understood. She, too, had lost a cherished younger sibling to the enemy of cancer.

I didn’t think it would hurt this badly because I knew, as did my sister Kimberly, and others knew, that she was going to lose this earthly battle with this wretched disease. I thought somehow that this knowing would help me be more prepared to tell her bye and to accept it, but it didn’t. I also thought that because we are a family of Jesus followers who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when we take our last earthly breath that the next breath will be in Heaven with Jesus that my grief wouldn’t be so intense. But it was.

All in all, I believe I’ve walked this journey of grief in a good and healthy way. It’s been a hard journey, but with God’s care and the help of family and friends, I think I’ve done pretty well. Joy returned. I went with a friend to her cabin in the Smoky Mountains in April. I laughed and shared funny stories about Kimberly with her. I remember thinking, “Kristi, you’re doing quite well! It’s nearly been a year and look at you! You’ve hardly shed any tears during the last weeks. You are in such a good place.” But then, May rolled in. The first week of May I was off on an overseas mission trip. The trip was full of good, life-giving activity. Again, I thought how nice it was that I was doing so well. Then, unexpectedly, during the second week of May grief grabbed me again. I thought it would hold off until this week. It didn’t.

Sunday my pastor took his sermon from Matthew 18, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He said we are to be child-like, not childish, which means we are to have a child-like faith that comes from humility. This is being totally God-dependent.

On my way home, grief punched me in the gut again. With tears rolling down my face, I knew I was going into a place that seemed very childish. And, in all honesty, I knew God could take it. My heart was throwing a temper tantrum before God as I cried out, “I want my sister back. I miss her so much. This hurt and pain is awful!” A child’s needs are to be met by parents. I know as a parent, I did not always meet my children’s needs in a perfect and loving way, but my Heavenly Father meets His children’s needs in a lovingly perfect and right way. He lovingly listens, He lovingly shows patience. He lovingly shows He understands. He knows I am weak and frail. I admit my weakness and frailty. Perhaps it’s in the admitting of my childishness that I can grow deeper into that child-like faith. When a child falls, the parent reaches down and lifts them up. That’s exactly what my Father God is doing for me today: He’s lifting me back up, and He will do it again and again. Of that I am sure.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:2-3

A Transformational Tool That Has Impacted My Life

                                                                                                                                                                   Photo courtesy of Rfitzel.com

Personality theories have always intrigued me. A few years ago my daughter introduced me to a new personality typology. I thought, “Why not learn more about this one, too.” This particular typology has a strange name— the Enneagram. Of course, she had to spell it for me and pronounce it quite a few times before I could even come close to getting it right. She signed up for an all day teaching on this odd sounding personality study and invited me to go with her.

I left pretty overwhelmed that day. You see, this is a typology that identifies more than just those nice strong characteristics that work for good in our lives when we use them in the way God intends. It also identifies negatives qualities that can show up: the sinful part, our lower nature, which we all have. I was pretty uncomfortable. I left that day with more questions than answers. I left that day pretty down on myself. Surely those negative characteristics in what was looking like “my number”, “my space” weren’t true! Well . . . they are there. I wanted to hide.

However, something significant took place that day. My daughter and I went to a deeper place of connection in our relationship. We talked. We cried. We asked for forgiveness from one another. We gave it to one another. We now have more understanding and compassion toward one another. We have more grace towards one another because we understand ourselves and each other better.

We discovered we each look at life and even at each other through a different lens. Many of us believe others see things in life just like we do and if they don’t then we believe they’re wrong and we’re right. That’s not necessarily true. I’m very grateful for the new discoveries I continue making about myself, about others, and about God through using the tool of the Enneagram. There’s spiritual wisdom to be found in this ancient typology system. It’s leading me closer to God.

In my journey of studying the Enneagram I ran across this quote by John Calvin. “Nearly all wisdom we possess, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. No one can truly know God without knowing oneself and one couldn’t truly know oneself without knowing God. Which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”

God uniquely and beautifully designed each of us. Unfortunately, sin marred God’s perfect design. Placed in the perfect Garden of Eden, the first man used the gift of choice and chose to disobey God. But, God in His perfect love sent us a Rescuer who redeems. His name is Jesus.

The Enneagram is a great tool that can help us confront those things in our lives that Jesus wants to redeem and transform. I love what Eugene Peterson says: “In His love, Jesus, diagnoses what is unique in us. He understands the precise ways in which things have gone wrong, and diagnoses the particular aberrations that have seeped into our lives, and then He mercilessly saves us from them. Jesus’ love awakens the sleeping parts of our lives to the colors and delights of eternal life. This waking is not without pain or difficulty or struggle. Being awake requires more energy than sleeping. There is also the possibility of more pain. Sleeping people don’t suffer.”

We can be asleep at the wheel of our lives and stop growing in our relationship to God, with each other, and in relationship to ourselves, which includes knowing what is going on in those deeper recesses of our hearts. This is a part of spiritual transformation. There is pain and struggle involved, but it moves us to a deeper place of flourishing that is joy-filled, love-filled, and peace filled

God is using the tool of the Enneagram to make me more aware of who I am: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Each day God reveals more of Himself to me through the Holy Scriptures and through His Spirit.

Roberto Assaglio aptly describes spiritual transformation: Spiritual development is a long and arduous journey, an adventure through strange lands full of surprises, joy, beauty, difficulties, and even dangers.”

I can honestly say the past year included all of those things. It’s included grief like I’ve never known before, Biblical study in a way I’d never done before, obedience to God in areas that surprised me and stretched me, deeper connections in relationships with family and friends because of my own spiritual growth, and the opportunity for deeper training in understanding the Enneagram through an exceptional Enneagram coach. That training has opened doors for me to coach others using the Enneagram, too.

I’m learning how to truly love God, others and myself (Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:14, 22-23). The journey is just beginning! In coming blogs, I’ll share more of the transformation God is doing in me and, I trust, you’ll be challenged and encouraged, too. Are you in a growth process? How has God been transforming you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking in Threes: It Makes a Difference

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I attended a couple’s retreat. The theme was “Be Refreshed”. It was a delightful couple of days hearing different speakers share the importance of being refreshed in our souls, marriages, ministries and other areas of our lives. The men and women met together for many of the sessions, but we had two separate breakouts. Mike shared his notes from the men’s session with me. Don’t we all love to hear someone speak whose presentation is full of good “take away’s”. His was.

The topic for this particular breakout session was “Be Refreshed in Your Soul.” Our soul is our mind, our will, our emotions. The speaker for the men, Tony Rankin, had many practical suggestions in the area of mind refreshment. It’s hard to find times of refreshment during the day when we have a list a mile long of things to get done. Tony suggested taking that list, but limiting ourselves to thinking about and only doing three things on the list at a time. When a set of three is done, then take a break, maybe a 5-10 minute break. Then, start on the next three things.

I like this idea. This week I thought I’d give this a try. I tweaked it just a bit for me. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with life, so on my blank, small piece of paper I wrote down only three things. That made it more manageable. By the end of the day it brought great satisfaction to look at the many “threes” that were completed. The last set of three’s wasn’t completed, but it really didn’t matter since I could look back and see the other “three’s” that were completed.

Thinking in three’s can actually be something quite spiritual. The number three is significant in the Bible. It’s used hundreds of times. It seems to be the number of completion and perfection. My life has been and continues being changed by these “three’s”:

  • The Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Where would I be without having a personal relationship with God the Father through His perfect son, Jesus? Where would I be without the abiding power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in me, through me, and around me?
  • The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ means I can now live free from the power of sin and death. This is available to all who have put their faith and trust in the One who gave His all so we can truly live. Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
  • Our design as made by our Creator God – body, soul, and spirit. We are created as image bearers of the one Master Designer. This is who we are. We are His workmanship

The plan of working in “three’s” is quite practical. I may get to the end of the day and find that I’ve checked off most things in those sets of threes. In most cases, if something is left undone, we are gifted with the newness of the next day to complete what was left unfinished.

Additionally, there is an important question I must ask myself when I look at that list. How many things were centered on self and how many on others? If it’s way out of balance, I need to do some re-prioritizing in my life.

Recently I got to the end of the day – much was accomplished. Then I saw a word on one of my lists of three’s that didn’t get done . . . a word I really don’t like very much. I saw the word iron. It hadn’t gotten done.

In reality, I didn’t have to do that ironing. My husband has plenty of clean shirts to wear, but it was something I could do and wanted to do because I love him. It was an opportunity to die to self in a real practical way. Making a deliberate focus on serving others a part of my daily planning will be a huge blessing to me and others. I sense that more will be accomplished, too.

If fullness of life comes from living and moving in a way that honors the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, then the days that make up our lives will be days that delight the Father. These kinds of days bring us joy, peace, satisfaction and a sense of completeness in Him. They are days of productive fruit-bearing.

Two Important Questions

 

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? This is the first line of a song written by Andre Crouch: To God Be the Glory. Yes, it’s impossible to ever say it enough, but I need to live my life trying.

As I think about living a life of thanksgiving, I can’t help but think of the last month of my sister’s life. She was a woman on the go pretty much till she took her final earthly breath. She’d texted these words to many of us two weeks prior to that day: “I ain’t down yet!” And, she wasn’t.

Kimberly and I had a phone conversation a month before she stepped into eternity that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget it because she asked me a question that shocked me. It shocked me because it was coming from someone whose life was fading because of terrible cancer. Her question was, “Have you ever felt like God was giving you the desires of your heart?”

I think I kind of stumbled around trying to formulate my answer. I said, “I guess so, but many times those desires aren’t material but spiritual.” I was having trouble with her question because we’d prayed so much for her healing over many years and it wasn’t being answered the way we wanted. That was the main desire of my heart and I know it was hers. And yet it seemed she was living on a different and higher plane than I by asking me that question. Now I can’t help but wonder if she already had one foot in Heaven. She probably did.

Kimberly went on telling me many things God was giving her and doing for her. I was blown away by what she was saying and with the joyful attitude she was saying it. So, I asked her for a favor. I asked if she would write down these blessings in a journal so she could share them in person with me since I was going out to see her soon.

A few days later I got a text from her saying she was just going to text these blessings to me. These are some of the things she wrote the last weeks of her earthly life:

  • Today I am SO blessed! This is the day the Lord has made! I’m having coffee in bed. I slept 7 hours!
  • Today I’m really resting. I’m in bed with pillows propped up, have a food tray, TV remote in hand that “I” control, Jesus going before me like a hurricane!
  • Today I’m headed to Arkansas for a wedding. I got a portable breathing machine. My breathing is 100% better!
  • God keeps doing so much for ME minute by minute. “I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” God is in control!
  • I’m having a fun snack: chocolate chip cookies, lime potato chips.
  • Let us rejoice because JOY is in this morning

How was she able to live her last days with this kind of joy and attitude? She was joyfully fighting to live and make it to one of the most important days on her calendar – the wedding of her son. She was fighting not with her own strength but with the strength of her beloved Jesus. At the time she said Jesus was going before her like a hurricane I had no idea what that meant. Now I do. She loved contemporary praise music and the song she must have had on her mind was “Fierce” sung by Jesus Culture.

 

Before I call

Before I ever cry you answer me

From where the thunder hides

I can’t outrun this heart I’m tethered to

With every step I collide with You.

Like a tidal wave

Crashing over me

Rushing in to meet me here

Your love is fierce

Like a hurricane that I can’t escape

Tearing through the atmosphere

Your love is fierce.

 

Kimberly experienced Jesus’ powerful love in ways she’d never known before. She had spiritual eyes that could see the Lord Jesus at work in her life during the most difficult journey she’d ever taken. She found joy in that last leg of her journey because of His love – the most powerful energy there is in the Universe.

We can never say thank you enough to the One who gave His all so that we can really live. But we can live trying. It makes a difference in the way we look at our yesterdays. It makes a difference in the way we view today. It makes a difference in the way we view our tomorrow.

Thanksgiving allows joy to take over instead of despair. With the apostle Paul we can say, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

 

Hope or HOPE!

For the past three months it seems like the word hope has shown up over and over in my life.  It has come from different places in the Bible where I just happened to be reading. It has also appeared in secular books I’ve read. And then Sunday the worship leader read Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope.” I thought it rather strange that he read that scripture since it wasn’t the passage the preacher would be focusing on in his sermon. It was a word for me. I’ve think lately I have tried to run away from leaning into the word hope because of the grief in my life and possibly because it’s a word I overuse. We use this word for all types of wishes and desires. We want something to happen. Recently these are some things I said or thought:

  • I hope I get enough sleep.
  • I hope I can find that receipt.
  • I hope I can find my fit-bit.
  • I hope the new recipe I tried turns out.
  • I hope there’s time to get everything done that needs to get done.

When I look at this list I can’t help but ask myself the question, “Do I feel anxiety every time I use the word hope in these situations?” The truth is, probably so. Yes, I pray in many of these instances, but there’s a lack of peace when I don’t get a positive yes to what I’m hoping for. These types of hopes are wishful thinking. These are not earth-shattering things, but I do allow these things which are really minor to bring disruption to my soul. These aren’t bad desires. These things can seem small, but are still worthy of praying about. Then, there are majorly serious things in my life that I have hoped for. Many of these hopes have been fulfilled. I’ve been happy because of them. I give God thanks for them.

But, one of my hopes wasn’t fulfilled. The disease of cancer invaded my sister’s body 5 ½ years ago. Cancer took her life on the morning of May 26. My hope, her hope, hundreds of others’ hopes – prayers prayed in faith didn’t receive what we hoped for. It didn’t turn out like “we” wanted. God in His goodness has been blasting out this word HOPE for a reason. God in His goodness wants me to take a good look at what this Biblical HOPE really means.

“Rejoice and exult in hope…” (Romans 12:12) What kind of hope is it that I can rejoice in? Can this kind of hope help me to not get bent out of shape over the “little things” that might not go my way? Can this kind of hope carry me through grief when my heart is broken? Absolutely and emphatically, YES! Hope is tied to something that I hope will happen in the future. Most things I hope for have some uncertainty in them. Biblical HOPE is a hope of certainty. It is based upon the Word and Character of God. There are some things I KNOW are true for today and therefore are true for tomorrow. What are they?

  • I am never alone. Jesus is always with me. “And lo I am with you always.” Matthew 28: 20
  • I don’t have to stay in a place of discouragement. God says, “I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Isaiah 4:11
  • God will lift me out of the pit, Psalm 40:2
  • God will turn my mourning into dancing, Psalm 30:11
  • God will use my pain to bring Him glory and to develop maturity of character in me, Romans 5:2-5
  • I have the gift of eternal life in Heaven awaiting me. I will see Jesus face to face and experience living with Him forever! I will see my sister again! 1 John 5:13
  • I am perfectly loved by God and will always be perfectly loved by Him. Nothing will ever separate me from this perfect unconditional love. Romans 8:31

God is my HOPE and He never fails. I can rejoice even in my pain, even through my tears, even in my waiting because I have attached myself to the God of sure, secure hope. This rejoicing is not based on how I feel; it is based on knowing who God is and what He freely and lovingly gives me. These gifts are never given because of my performance, but because of my faith and trust in Christ and His love for me.

I had a text from Kimberly the day before I flew out to see her, three days before her death. She wrote these words, “It’s been another PERFECT DAY WITH JESUS, and Annalena (her grandbaby)! I’m doing fine! In recliner resting.” She understood what Biblical, Christian hope is and she was doing FINE! She knew she was secure in Jesus and she was satisfied.

Joy and satisfaction and peace can be found only through anchoring our whole self to Jesus, who is our Hope for today, tomorrow, and always. As a friend said to me just this morning, “How can we live without hope!” Because of Jesus and what His death, burial, and resurrection means, we don’t have to! He’s our hope of Glory!

Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!