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

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The Passion that Changed the World

 

 

There are things said to us in life that we never forget. Some of these words spoken are good for our souls. They are life-giving. But, some words hurt our hearts and cause us to bleed for a while.

Many years ago I had a part-time job that was helping us get by financially. What should have been a life-giving environment was not. When I received my yearly evaluation I was rather stunned when out in the margin was the question, “Is this your passion?” I was offended by that question. I felt unfairly judged by this fellow pilgrim. We never had a chance to discuss what she had written out in the margin. The evaluator and I definitely had different perspectives on some things.

However, something positive resulted from this. I did some introspection and asked myself, “What are your passions, Kristi.” I didn’t have much trouble coming up with them. When I did, I knew they were the right ones for me in that season of life. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines passion as a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.

My passions revealed my priorities and they were spot on. I didn’t have to feel guilt for not being passionate about the job I had at that particular time in my life especially when it was full of difficult stresses. But it was helping provide for some needs in my family and that lined up well with a passion concerning my family which was finding a way to live debt-free. Our passions may change over time. A passion can flame up for a while and then pass.

There’s another kind of passion that I investigated through my recent study of Romans. It is the passion of Christ.

When we speak of the “passion” of Christ, we speak of his suffering. Jesus had no “excitement” about the cross. Death on a cross was likely the most horrific death ever experienced. The physical suffering on the cross alongside the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing the sins of all mankind are of such a magnitude that is beyond imagination.

But in his suffering, Jesus did find joy! Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was the joy before Jesus? Perfectly obeying the Father, for sure, but also, I believe Jesus had joy because he saw your salvation and mine! Jesus’ passion changed the world.

Because of the cross and resurrection death lost its sting and we are given all we need to live abundantly now with hope, power, love, comfort, joy, and courage. He gave His all so that those who trust in Him can really live.

Today, Easter 2018, is a great time to revisit what we’re passionate about. Do our passions honor and please the Savior who suffered and gave His all so we could really live? Do our passions include using the unique giftedness God has placed within us? Our passions make known what we love. If our “loves” are wrongly placed, it’s never too late to let the old go and replace with something new. It’s the best way to live.

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

Sacred Moments Always Remembered

 

My mother had Alzheimer Disease for eight years. I live in Tennessee, Mother and Daddy in the Texas Panhandle. During her battle with this disease, I made trips to see her and Daddy once every three months. I wish I could have gone more often, but it’s a long way from Tennessee to Texas. Daddy’s a tough Texan who had the strength to take care of Mother at home until the very end. What a gift he was able to give her.

I was already in Texas with Mother and Daddy, three years ago, when she began her final decline with this cruel disease. God has gifts for us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death with those we love. The gift He gave me was that I was there with them during her last days here.

Hospice came regularly. For two weeks they told us her final breath was imminent. God holds the key to life and to death. Only He knows why her lingering was as long as it was. I trust Him in His timing but those were rough days.

The morning of October 23, 2014, I got up about 6:00 and decided to go and sit with her while I spent my devotional time with God. It was one of those mornings I wasn’t sure where to read, but I landed in Psalm 119. It’s a long chapter! 175 verses!

I did something I’d never done before. I read it out loud. I sat awhile and read, I walked awhile and read, I prayed some of these verses over all of our loved ones. Even though her eyes were closed, I knew she heard me and was delighting in the Word of God as I.

The entirety of this Psalm is devoted to the praise and honoring of God’s Word. The room where Mother took her last breath became a sacred sanctuary. The aroma of Jesus filled that place because His presence and His word were with us. His Word gives comfort, gives strength, gives joy, gives hope, gives guidance, gives refreshment, gives wisdom.

Mother took her last breath as I finished reading this Psalm. It was a sacred place.

Every time we worship God in quiet stillness, in reading and meditating upon His Word, and in prayer the place is sacred. There is a blessed communion among Father and child. This Psalm is the place where my eyes will focus on all the October 23rds that are given me by my gracious loving heavenly father who knows my days, and knows your days, too.

Even though there is another sorrow in my life, which is deep and fresh with raw emotion – the loss of my sister – this Psalm tells me: “God’s unfailing love is my comfort. When I’m laid low in the dust, my life can be renewed.” We are told, “Your compassion is great, O Lord; renew my life according to your law”.

What can we all be sure of in our darkest moments? We can be sure that He sees, He knows, He cares, He soothes. And the way to receive these blessings and more is having a heart that hungers enough and loves Him enough to spend time, not only reading His Word, but immersed and consumed by His Word.

Melancholic Joy

 

 

This week marks the four month anniversary of the death of my sister, Kimberly. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a third of a year. I seemed to experience more melancholy last week than this week. It’s probably because I was remembering the days that led up to her death. On the anniversary day of this week I woke up feeling great serenity, until I went to Yoga.

Tuesday during my Yoga class I discovered something new in my life: a melancholic joy. That’s kind of an odd place to discover this, and yet as I think about it, it’s not odd at all.

I tried Yoga a few years ago and wasn’t too crazy about it. Some of the poses were strange and I couldn’t achieve many of the positions to which our instructor guided us. I saw nothing relaxing in it at all, so decided it wasn’t for me. The time of the class didn’t work very well in my schedule either, so that too affected my decision not to go back. It’s funny though, how we change and how God uses all kinds of ways to take care of us in areas where we are unaware.

My renewed interest in Yoga came because a friend in another city began attending a Restorative Yoga class. I became intrigued and quite curious again about Yoga when she told me of the many benefits she is receiving. By the time each class ends she knows her body has let go of an incredible amount of tension which can build up so quickly in just a week’s time. When a new Yoga class opened up at our church’s family ministry center, at an optimal hour for me, I knew it was time to try this type of workout again. I was open to anything that could take me to deeper places of serenity.

The types of stretching, interesting poses, and focus upon deep breathing all are important components of the de-stressing processes of Yoga, but for me, the best thing about this class is the relaxing and spiritual environment that presents itself each week. Of course, I know this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible instructor God beautifully placed to lead this class. It’s evident that the Spirit of God is leading through her. When we’re in the pose with our hands together she often says, “Lift your hands in prayer to God.” This place becomes a worship workout with directions like that. The music she chooses to play during our class connects me to the heart of God. That’s where it dawned on me that there is a place of rest and serenity that is a melancholic joy.

It’s good the lights were low on Tuesday because my face got all scrunched up, my eyes became teary, and my nose sniffled with the closing music. The instrumental music that closed out our workout was Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. Later that afternoon while doing some things around the house, I tuned into my favorite Pandora station: Lullabye Radio. Two instrumental songs played: Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. I sobbed. I knew it wasn’t accidental that I was hearing those two songs again.

I thought, “God, why am I hearing both of those songs again?” It’s like He said, “It’s not the beauty of the melody that is bringing on the tears of melancholy, but there are some of the words of the songs I need to remind you of.” This phrase from Amazing Grace captured me, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” From Be Still My Soul, I focused on, “Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide. Through thorny way leads to a joyful end.”

I experienced a melancholic joy because even in the sorrowful place of missing my sister, Kimberly, I was overcome with joy because God’s goodness and graciousness was all around me. I had only to open the eyes of my heart, soul, and body to see it. It is in that place that I choose to continue living.

I will continue loving the One who loved me before I was ever born. I will continue being on the look out every day for things to write down in my thankfulness journal that come from Him. I will continue deepening those relationships most dear to me and cultivate the new ones that God brings into my life. This community of family and friends brings incredible meaning to my life.

I will be comforted everyday in the hope that I will spend not only 10,000 years in the perfectly prepared Home awaiting me, but will stay there forever. It’s in that place that I can gaze on Jesus who redeemed me, my sister, my mother and all others who put their faith and trust in Him alone. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… I Corinthians 13:12 The suffering of Jesus made possible the joy in sorrow I am now discovering which will one day be made perfect.

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!