A Year Later: On the Shore with a Towel Ready for You

This Easter, I read Jen Hatmaker’s post entitled My Saddest Good Friday in Memory . Her words broke my heart and I sat with them all weekend. I thought of her during a song at church on Easter Sunday and choked up.

First, and always first, I’m sad for Jen. This is her unique story. Yet, I could also relate to what she was describing in my own way.  A year ago, the following was my story, too:

“I’ll tell you a bit of how loss and grief and rejection will pulverize your heart and deliver you to Good Friday in pretty bad shape, or in any case, in the throes of recovery. ”

“Good Friday is about death – even a necessary death – and that makes more sense to me now than maybe ever. It speaks of a dark day and broken hearts, unmet expectations, mob mentality turned brutal.”

“I experienced betrayal from people I thought loved us.”

My reasons for why I arrived at Good Friday 2016 in pretty bad shape are varied and unique. It was a perfect storm. Any one stress or hurt on their own wouldn’t have taken me down, but gradually, I began to sink. I clung to the following quote in those dark days:

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2015/2016: I’ll never fully understand why things happened the way they did. Some of it was part of life – my best dog dying of cancer, newborn sleep deprivation, and a natural disaster. I can’t say that all of it was God’s plan. God has given us free will. Some people know the path that leads to life and light and they choose the one that leads to destruction and darkness. Thankfully, while I don’t believe that all of my loss, stress, and pain were part of His plan; I know that God can work things together for good and that He’s in the business of resurrection.

“I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone. ” – Jen Hatmaker

A year ago, I was attempting to keep my head above water.  This Easter, I realized something. I’m no longer in the water but on the shore! On Easter Sunday, I got choked up for Jen instead of myself (when you’re in a dark place you’re rather near sighted). From the shore, I’m cheering on those who have experienced loss and grief and rejection. I’m here for you and I’m saying: “keep treading water! Your feet will touch ground again. It will. I’m here! I made it. You will too. Keep breathing. I have a towel ready for you.”

Love,
R.

How to help and not hurt those who are grieving

My 96 year old grandfather died yesterday, April 4th. Yesterday, I was reminded again of the following reality when it comes to grieving: us humans (this includes me) tend to have a hard time just sitting with someone in grief. I find this to be especially true with persons of faith. Often, the uncomfortable reality of heartache is swept aside and those grieving are told to be grateful that the deceased is in a better place. While this may be true, this type of immediate response doesn’t make sense when we look at Jesus’ example surrounding the death of a friend.

John 11:35 tells us that “Jesus wept.” Why was Jesus deeply troubled and wept? Jesus wept after Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, delivered the message that Lazarus had died. Jesus knew that all would be well (he later raised Lazarus from the dead) but he still cried.

Another biblical example re: grief is found in the Old Testament. Job, who had lost family, livelihood and health, had people come to sit with him in his grief. Job 2:13 reads:

“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

What a beautiful picture of literally sitting with someone in their grief!

Recapping, the following are tips that may be helpful when coming alongside someone in bereavement:

  1. Showing tears is appropriate. Jesus wept. He knew all would be well and he still wept anyways. Don’t be afraid of crying for yourself or crying as you observe the pain of others walking in grief.
  2. Pause before immediately trying to put a positive twist on loss. And if you do want to celebrate something that you’re grateful for – do just that. Use “I” statements instead of “you.” Example: “I am glad that he lived as long as he did” instead of, “you should be glad he lived as long as he did.”
  3. Whenever appropriate, just be with those who are grieving. You don’t need to know what to say. Often, the simplest words go so far like “I’m so sorry”, “I will miss him” and “praying for you.”

Unfortunately, loss and heartache are part of this journey of life. Our lives are mixed with the beautiful and brutal. When it comes to grief, we can take our cues from Jesus and from those who sat with Job. We don’t need to push the sadness of death under the rug. We can show up. We can weep. We can sit in our own grief and sit in the grief of others. And that can truly be enough.

Love,
R.

Edited to add: We all need grace in the midst of grief. Extend grace to yourself and others. While there are ways that we can do this grief thing better, we will never be perfect at it. Showing up is what matters most and seeing the heart/motives behind comments and efforts made is very important.

The key to preventing bitterness

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Bitterness is easier to detect in others than it is in ourselves. You can just see and feel that someone is imprisoned by bitterness. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking.
But what about bitterness in our own hearts? We each need to be proactive with hurts and hang ups.
Those with chronic bitterness tend to be avoiders. They stuff hurt feelings and start collecting records of wrongs. They hold it in til they explode. They don’t speak directly to the source but talk to others (encouraging more imprisonment). But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Assertiveness is an effective tool for preventing bitterness. Assertiveness is not stuffing but speaking up appropriately to the individual (and to them alone). Assertiveness is kind. Assertiveness uses “I feel ___when” statements instead of “you always”. Assertiveness prevents chronic bitterness as one thing is addressed at a time.
I must mention that this message may not apply to every situation. Sometimes there are hurts that can’t be remedied by being assertive. But most of the time, it IS beyond helpful.
Ultimately love releases a life imprisoned by bitterness. And forgiveness is our parole officer. She checks in on us from time to to time as forgiveness is rarely a one-time event. But assertiveness is early intervention! Assertiveness can prevent a life from being imprisoned in the first place. And I have great news: no matter your age or background, assertiveness is a skill that can be learned and it gets easier over time with practice.
Love,
– R.

Why I’m rethinking the crucifix and you should too

Last month, after much searching, I purchased a nativity set that fit the following criteria: 1) one that our toddler could play with 2) one that I’d also like to display when she’s grown (this ruled out the Little People set – plus we couldn’t find one that wasn’t being sold for $80+!) and 3) a nativity set that had more than one shepherd. You’d be surprised how many nativity sets come with 3 wise men (who likely weren’t even visiting Jesus in a manger but as a toddler or young child) and only have 1 shepherd!

The nativity set that I eventually found is hand-crafted, wooden, and beautiful. It’s perfect except for one thing: it came with a manger but no baby Jesus! This oversight was my fault. The product never advertised it coming with a baby Jesus, but did say that it came with a manger.  Disappointment aside, a manger with no baby Jesus inside of it got me thinking.

Why has contemporary evangelical Christianity told me that a crucifix is wrong? The main argument that I’ve heard against having a crucifix is that Jesus is no longer nailed to the cross–he is risen!  We worship a living Lord. But if this is the reason why displaying an empty cross is superior to a traditional crucifix, then why do nativity displays in most evangelical churches have a baby Jesus in the manger? We all know that Jesus is no longer an infant child in a manger. He grew up to be a man, he died, and he rose again. Why then is it acceptable to have Jesus in the manger but it’s not acceptable to have him displayed on a cross? I have never heard of anyone questioning the need to have baby Jesus displayed in the nativity scene because “Jesus isn’t a baby anymore!” But I have heard of Christians being told by other Christians that displaying a crucifix is wrong because “Jesus isn’t there anymore!” Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters (among others) understand fully well that Jesus is no longer on the cross–they, too, worship a living Lord. So why is it “right” in evangelical circles to have baby Jesus in the manger but it’s “wrong” to see him displayed on the cross?

The crucifix isintended to depict what He endured for our salvation long ago on Calvary. Though it seemed a shameful, humiliating defeat at the time, Jesus’ death was actually a glorious triumph of love and obedience. His crucifixion brought about our redemption; this is why Catholics love it and portray it in sacred art”.

This quote was taken from a short/thought provoking post that you’ll want to read: Should Christians Use a Crucifix?

Could it be that the evangelical objection to crucifixes has more to do with how uncomfortable it is to be so visually reminded of Jesus’ suffering for our sake? I’ve attended a Good Friday service every year for as long as I can remember. While Jesus’ crucifixion is why we gather, I’ve been to many a service where there is little room or space to sit in this reality. The heartbreaking truth is quickly washed away with, “BUT SUNDAY’S COMING!” This reminds me of people who say to a grieving person at a funeral, “BUT EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON!” It takes appropriate grief and quickly sweeps it under the rug so that things don’t feel too sad or uncomfortable. Yes, it is incredible, amazing news that Jesus rose again! But let us never, ever forget the severe suffering that Jesus endured. Seeing a visual of Jesus hanging from a cross screams: YOU ARE SO LOVED!!                                                                                                                                                                           Jesus came as an infant in a manger. And he was also a man hanging on a cross. Seeing a visual of either one in your home or church doesn’t lessen the reality that Jesus also rose again!
traditional_lrgIf Jesus is present in our nativity scenes as a way of remembering, shouldn’t he also be present on our crosses for the same reason? Maybe crucifixes are not only “OK” for a Christian to display but maybe they are…dare I say…the better way?

5 reflections on 2016 & hopes for 2017

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This blog was started in 2016. In addition to the blog; twitter, instagram, and a fb page were created. I gave them all a trial and will be keeping active on instagram & fb and hopefully write more in 2017 on this blog! It was mostly me (R) writing and posting in 2016…maybe D will join me more in 2017. One can dream 🙂

As I begin to briefly reflect on 2016, I will share the following. I recently read my FB Memories from years past re: my new years reflections. Year after year, I wrote something to the effect of the previous year having its share of really difficult moments & good ones. I guess the saying from Ecclesiastes is true: there’s nothing new under the sun. With that said, I’ll pause to reflect on 2016 and offer some hopes for 2017.

2016

2016 certainly had a theme of loss. While we felt peace about our decision to resign from our church, I mourned the loss of those relationships in 2016. We also said good-bye to our dog, Mowgli, and our cat, Storm in 2016. I miss them.

2016 had a theme of personal growth, too. It wasn’t until the end of 2016 that I realized something: I grew a lot this year in the areas of grace and forgiveness. In 2016, I purposed to “feel all the feels” as well as to let go. Being hurt but not growing bitter is hard work! This could be a whole other blog post. Suffice it to say, I’m entering 2017 feeling light and free.

2016 was a year of growth as a couple. We grew in emotional intimacy and spiritually. We prayed more together in 2016 than ever before.

2016 was the year that I grew closer to my co-workers than ever before. I don’t know why this is. I wonder if my heavy church commitments (being married to a pastor & serving in my own way(s) in the church), caused me to be “less available” when at work. I know that I used to use my breaks at work to do church related things (like update the church fb page, read a book for book club, etc). It could also be the fact that several co-workers have gone through super stressful times this year and it’s more natural for me to “show up” for that than to do small talk. For whatever reason, I’m thankful for new and deepening friendships outside of church walls in 2016.

2016 had us feeling tired & so happy as we watched out daughter grow from a baby to a toddler. We feel tremendously blessed that dad was able to stay home with our girl from summer 2016 onward.

2017

2017 will be the year that we plug into our new church. We visited over a dozen churches in our area in 2016. We are praying about where to put down roots. I am so looking forward to having a church family in 2017!

2017 may bring us closer to discerning what’s next for us in pastoral ministry. Or not. We’ll see! The key is to remain open to whatever comes next. And to also enjoy the season that we are in (we are enjoying it!).

2017 is a great time to do all the new years resolution type things: lose weight. eat healthier. purge items from home. work on projects. read more. travel. I would like all of these! But most of all, I desire to grow in relationship with others this year. Family, friends, co-workers, church goers, strangers, etc. To make time even when you think you don’t have any time.  If I spend more time with people, if I’m more present with people, if I’m more vulnerable with people, and if my “people time” decreases online and increases in other ways, 2017 will be a success.

Do you have reflections on 2016 & hopes for 2017 that you’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear them! Truly.

Love,
– R.

Difficult December: Come thou long expected Jesus!

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December feels like a blur. In our household, at least one of us has been sick at any given time this month. And when you have a toddler who is sick – no one is sleeping. Suffice it to say, we are not ready for Christmas. And we are hosting Christmas at our house! Eek.(I have to stop and remind myself: the shopping, cooking, cleaning, card writing and even the gift giving is not what Christmas is ultimately about. To neglect to prepare MY HEART for the birth of the Christ child would be the biggest shame of all).

Besides feeling physically run down, my heart has felt heavy this month. I think of Aleppo. I think of the infant baby who was beat by his own father in Napanee (the child is on life support). I think of a family who lost their home and all their possessions in a fire. And I know several who are experiencing significant stress due to job loss at this time of year. My heart is heavy.

December has been a difficult month. A struggle. I haven’t been feeling very merry.  Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if the struggles of this month are providing me with a different perspective of this season. When I read the lyrics of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, the words hit me in a new way.

Come thou long expected Jesus.
Born to set us FREE.
Free from fears and sins.
Release. We find our REST in thee.
You are the hope of all the earth!
The joy of every longing heart.

A longing fulfilled. The birth of our saviour! The one who provides freedom, rest and hope is Immanuel, God is with us.

Whether this month has been mostly happy or mostly difficult, let us make time to focus on the long expected Jesus.

Love,
R.

Thanksgiving: when you’re feeling anything but happy

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. More Americans will make it a priority to be with their family & friends tomorrow than any other holiday (yes, even Christmas!). The day before Thanksgiving can be filled with anxiety that has nothing to do with baking or traveling. There’s a type of anxiety that is present for those who have seen heartbreaking changes since last year’s gathering. Death. Job Loss. Divorce. Diagnosis. These are just a few examples of what has happened to too many families over the past year. Individuals and families have been rocked to the core. Things don’t look or feel like they did a year ago. People are holding their breath and hoping for the best for tomorrow.

Thanksgiving can sting more than any other holiday because the focus seems to be pretty much all about family. The message society gives is one of showing up at Thanksgiving as a happy, happy family. To prove this point, what is the greeting that is said at Thanksgiving? HAPPY THANKSGIVING! But we know that for so many, tomorrow does not evoke happy feelings. For several, sadness or anxiety seems more appropriate than “happy”.

If you or your family are struggling on Thanksgiving eve, remember that you aren’t alone. Remember to take it one hour, one moment at a time. Take deep breaths. Hold a hot beverage in your hands all.day.long if that’s soothing. Go for a walk. Leave the party early if you need to. Do whatever will help you. Thanksgiving is about family but remember this: you are a branch in the family tree! You need to stay healthy so that you can bear fruit, too. You matter just as much as anyone else.

Instead of wishing you a “Happy Thanksgiving”, my hope is that you are able to find little & big things to be grateful for in the midst of the sad. Don’t deny your sad. But don’t miss seeing the good, too. With this perspective, show up tomorrow in the best way that you know how while also taking good care of you.

Lots of love,

– R.