The Other Side Of The Wall

We can never, never, fully experience everything another person in this world experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re the same age, race, gender, nationality, social class….you can never experience everything because you are a different person than they are. Different family history, family structure, personality, talents, etc.

But, you can experience the same feelings. In the last post I wrote about watching loved ones getting ready to hit the wall. I wrote that it’s like watching them in slow motion as they are about to hit rock bottom, and there’s nothing you can do. And it’s extremely hard to watch. However, there is a gift that comes from going through pain. Actually, I believe there are a few gifts that come from going through the pain of anything including hitting the wall. One of those is being able to experience the emotions and feelings going through that painful experience. God created us. He created us in His image. He has feelings and emotions. It is clear in scripture that God experiences anger. His wrath is an expression of that. He has compassion. We see that in a few places, such as growing a plant to shade Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah is living in his own dysfunction. He delights in (or is joyful over ) us. Spend a few minutes reading and you will find many more examples of God and His emotions.

One of the gifts I believe we have through pain is being able to relate to those who are feeling the same emotions we did. If you’ve ever hit the wall, rock bottom, a crisis of limitations, you know how painful it is to watch others head down that road. A similar road, perhaps, you have been down before. It is painful to watch, to receive the rejection at times, from their dismissal of your warning. It’s hard to see people you love go through something that may, may, have been avoided.

God has us go through painful times to learn many lessons. Those lessons are usually about either Him or us. Coming out on the other side, we have a better understanding of who we are, who He is, and who we are in Him. And, those same emotions we felt during that crisis, during that pain, enable us to relate to others. They enable us to come alongside others who are going through similar crises.

Those times are not moments for “I told you so; I tried to warn you but you wouldn’t listen.” No, no shame. Those times are for sitting with the person hurting, confused, lost, in the fog, defeated…broken. Sitting with them. Listening. And empathizing with them. Meeting them in the emotions. That, that sitting, that is a gift. Jesus does that with us when we come to Him in those same times. When we are confused, lost, sitting in the forest unclear where to go next.

Paul sat in a time of confusion, instantly blinded and thrust into full dependence on the people he tried to kill, thrust into total dependence on the Body of Christ. God listened to Moses in those moments as well, allowing him to feel, to speak to God openly. That is a gift. To be that deeply engaged with someone and connect on that level, is something that is beautiful, priceless, holy. And being able to connect on that level with the Creator, the Builder of the universe and time, it’s a gift worth accepting and acting upon.

Will you sit in that with Him? Allow yourself to be open and honest with Him? Will you sit with someone who has hit the bottom? Will you use your gift-your experience to be Jesus to someone else? There is great healing and power in that act.

be blessed today

Roots

I used to have this great desire to work my way up the ladder. I can attribute much of that (not all) to an inward desire to be significant. Though I’m still trying to figure out why that desire is there, because it is still there, it doesn’t rear it’s head up as often as it used to. To be looked at as important, clever, needed, valued…all desires of mine that need to be met. But I looked for those needs to be met in working my way up the ladder, even though those ladders are as rickety and worn as they are.

I was trying to find roots. Something I could sink my teeth into, grab a hold of, cling onto when all else fell apart. Working your way up the ladder is ok if that is what God is leading you to. But when you are working your way up as a way of looking for security, significance or importance, then I would question whether that ladder will ever provide that for you.

Roots are needed by all of us, but what are we rooting ourselves is the tricky part. Henri Nouwen writes that it would be better if we were “rooted without being ‘settled with title, salary and prestige.'” He continues in his letter,”The solution-I think-is not in moving to another outer place but to another inner place,” (Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life; Convergent, 2016).

I wrote in my last post about the “now whats” that we ask ourselves when we are in an unforeseen transition. In my past, I was always looking towards the “now what.” The “next thing,” “bigger opportunity” or “next step” that was coming down the line. Maybe it wasn’t a physical move but it was a shift of focus. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, at least mine weren’t. But where my folly came was pinning that desire for significance, value, worth, importance on something other than what God has already given me. It may not be something that I can hang on my wall, show on a budget sheet or print on a business card. But it is something far greater than a rickety ladder made by man. It’s moving to a different inward place. Hopefully, you can start moving that way today.

be blessed today

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.public-domain-photos.com

What Are You Expecting For Christmas?

Transition is hard. For me, this transition from Mongolia back to America for an unforeseen amount of time,  has been the hardest transition thus far. YET, it’s been the most joy filled transition that I’ve ever had. Grief and joy…they seem to go hand in hand. Sometimes immediately, other times it may be days, weeks, years before the joy becomes present or is noticed. For me, they’ve been simultaneous…but I’ve mentioned that before.

The other night, I was praying with our youngest son before bed. He’s the one that likes to snuggle. As we were laying there in his bed, huddled up together, he began crying. Crying about his loss of friends here as we move back to the States. Crying about how hard it will be to make new friends. Crying about saying goodbye to our cat here, most of his toys, his room, his bed….and the loss of not traveling anymore like we do. He is in the midst, like we all are in our family, of grieving loss. And it’s sad. It’s hard. It’s painful. And, it’s so needed. We have had several nights like this the past few weeks. For him, this is his 11th move in 9 years of age. For our daughter, the youngest, this is her 10th move. Our oldest son, this is his 14th in 11 years of being born. And for Iris and I, it is our 16th move in 15 years of marriage. That’s a lot-A lot. And almost half of those moves have been international. Putting it down on paper makes it quite sobering.

I was reading through a daily guide through the Advent season the other morning. The scripture that day was Psalm 126….

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
    shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    bringing his sheaves with him. (ESV)

 

It’s no secret that Christmas time is a time of expectation, right? Whether it be the excitement of what present you’ll receive, or the reaction on someone’s face when they open their present. Or maybe it’s a little deeper, and there’s the anticipation of Christmas morning, the snow, the tree, Christmas dinner or perhaps the reaction from the kids. sigh….I love Christmas. I really do.

Looking back through the Bible, the Jews were expectant as well, looking for a Messiah. They were looking at someone to come and restore the kingdom, God’s chosen people. To regain control, establish the kingdom, perhaps to make them again, the great nation they were instead of the mockery they had become. They had expected a warrior king, not the Prince of Peace, and especially not a king that was born in a stable. How utterly ludicrous….and yet so paradoxically divine. Their Messiah, our Messiah has come, but in a way so very differently than expected. He did do what was promised. He is continuing to do what was promised. And he will do what is promised…bring restoration.

Reading through the book of Job, his story is also one of pain and hurt. The whole book, the whole story is of great loss and pain. From his property, to his children to eventually his friends and his own health. He suffered massive loss.

But then came restoration.

Job’s story, the story of the Jews and of us today, is one of restoration. A fallen world, us a fallen people, a place of hurt, pain, loss and grief that so desperately desires restoration, even when we may not know it. In the last chapter, we read that everything Job lost was restored….not replaced, but restored…and then some.  Jesus came to restore relationship and in Revelation we read how the world will be restored to what the Eden that was.

And that’s one of my prayers for my family, for my children. What great losses they are suffering, we’re all suffering, will be restored someday. We can never replace friends, loved ones who have passed away, even family pets. But we can be restored whole again. Joy does that. Better yet, God does that and joy is a part of that. It makes “Joy to the world” have new meaning to me. I wonder where, or what, needs to be restored in your life. Restoration isn’t fixing a problem. Restoration making it like it was before. And with Christ, his restoration is something far greater than what was before, more fuller than the loss suffered, though unexpected.

After writing last week and reflecting on this today, I believe God has given me these few words for Advent this year-realignment, restoration, renewal, re-establish. These are the words that I need to focus on during this time, this holy time.

What about you? What in your life needs to be restored? What does God desire to do during this holy time of Advent, in your life? Are you willing to take time and reflect on what it is?

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit Here

Are You Allowing Your Heart To Speak?

The radio just isn’t something I listen to. I mean the actual radio, as in tuning into a certain channel for the morning show, or Oldies, Jazz, Top 40, etc. Partly because here it’s too hard to try to understand in my limited Mongolian. Even in Russia, where we lived for 11 years and were both fluent in Russian, it was a strain. Just not enjoyable. I do purchase a ton of music though. My song list of 3,067 songs (I know, not many compared to most) is pretty eclectic to say the least.  There are songs I simply enjoy as they bring back memories, or simply transport me to another place. There are other songs that are simply there as an intro, a prelude, to another song I enjoy. Some are for running, cycling and working out, and others are for relaxing and sleeping. It just depends.

And then there are the songs. Not just the songs but the songs. They move me to tears, especially as of late, but perhaps not why you may think. One song is a classical song. No words, no lyrics, no voice. Simply just instruments that for whatever reason, usher in something that is a “peace that passes all my earthly understanding” and gives me a sense of hope. I listen to it over and over again, and if a symphony or orchestra is playing it too quickly, I just won’t listen unless it is played in the correct tempo. Perhaps I’m a little too picky 🙂

The other song, sometimes played right after the one I mentioned above, is a loud electric indie song that I play over and over fairly loudly. It has lyrics, but the lyrics are not what draw me to tears. Though I sing them, yelling them at times, it’s not the words that I’m drawn to. It’s the emotion-it’s the intensity. The emotion of the song is what brings out the sometimes guttural cries from my heart. It’s the emotion and intensity of the music that brings me to tears the past two years because it’s as if my heart is crying out with just as much intensity.

Why? Why cry? Why is my heart shouting out with such intensity, such passion?

Grief.

Two years ago, we were gong through a fog, a time of confusion, a journey through the forest with no clear picture of where the path was. God was leading us away from Russia, we knew that. But what we didn’t know was where God was leading us to. It was before we knew God was leading us to Mongolia. But since we knew God was leading us away, it was a time of grieving what we were losing. I, of course, didn’t really have a full grasp on what I was feeling. I went to our intimate church body one night, and during the time we were singing songs to God, my heart began to cry out in these deep, moans and yelling. Tears were streaming down my face, yet I couldn’t explain where this was coming from or why. Even though I am an emotional guy, it still didn’t make sense.

Processing this with Iris and my spiritual director, both people whom have experienced/experience deep grief, they both believe that’s what that expression was….a grieving heart. My grieving heart. It was grieving the goodbyes, the “what will no longer be” moments and things that we were leaving. My heart had been in mourning, and was trying to make it’s voice heard. It needed to grieve, it needed to be heard and not suppressed. In order for my heart to grieve, it had to speak up, yell, shout….groan deep from within so that I could finally notice it was even there, and then I could allow it to grieve.

Because of this, I’m learning to allow my heart to grieve more often. There have been some changes that I have been walking through recently (future posts, I’m promise) that are bringing about loses in my life that I am grieving. Life is a series of starts and endings, constants and losses. In my mind, when we left Russia, the loss was over, everything else is too small to grieve. And I’m here to tell you that this is a lie. It’s not true. All losses are losses. And all losses need to be grieved. Going from needing to be swaddled up to being able to walk; being at home most of the day with our parents to heading off to school; even from siting on our parents lap while they read us a book to us going off by ourselves to read on our own-these are all things we became accustomed to that turn into losses. And it’s ok, it’s just a part of life. Some of us are better at engaging with the losses than others. Suppression of the losses, however, is never good. That causes us to miss something, to lose something. And that “something”? That, that is celebration.

In his book, The Needs of the Heart, Chip Dodd writes, “…If we can grieve well, we will live euphorically. Euphoria means to bear life well. If we can love in the midst of knowing that we can lose this person or this passion, what a treasured experience the daily life with the beloved is. Every day we choose them, knowing that our time on the earth is limited, no matter what. Every day we can find gratitude to be with them. And then when they are gone, we know that we were fully present while life was happening. The only way to be present with the beloved is to be able to live in the midst of grief and celebration. Not only do we need to grieve, we also need to the opportunity to grieve.

But grieving isn’t just about losing someone. It could be losing that job, or moving to another town. You’re losing things that you’ve known, grew comfortable in, things that you enjoyed. Not that you won’t find things similar again, you probably will, but you wont have those things that you had before.

Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest and most decorated Olympian athlete proved how capable he was in his final Olympic appearance this past August in Rio. In an interview I watched of him he said “I knew this was the last one…the last time getting in the pool, the last time putting on a suit, the last time getting into the cool down pool.” He said “that’s why I was more emotional in these games than in London [four years prior].” Here, he was able to engage in the losses, the “lasts,” the “never more will be’s.” I  have incredible respect for him because of the gold medals, but I have even more respect for him because he is willing to go to the hard places that many don’t go-engaging in the grief. Because of this, he was able to celebrate his victories, accomplishments, prizes and he was able to show gratitude for all that he learned in the process. That is celebration as God intended.

I believe one reason why this election year has been so divisive between followers of Jesus is because many of us don’t know how to engage with grief. We all know that this country has changed from what it was when we were younger. It doesn’t matter whether this is your first election or your 18th (making you at least 90 years old), things have changed. We also know that things will be different after this November, and we are having a hard time grieving our losses. Losses aren’t bad, per se, if we engage in them. When we engage them,  we grow by learning a lot about ourselves, each other and God. But we must engage our grief.

Engaging in our grief is what allows us to celebrate. It allows us to become more gracious people, more thankful people, more honest people and more vulnerable people. Not just towards each other, but towards ourselves and towards Christ.

As I engage with grief of losses more these coming days, will you join me in engaging with yours as well? Perhaps in a month or so, I’ll be able to write about those things I have been able to celebrate. It would be wonderful if you could also write about your celebrations also. I’ll be asking for those things at some point on here, but for now, let’s walk the hard road of engaging our grief and letting our hearts speak out, maybe for the first time. Let’s take that first step together……

be blessed today…..and in those hard days to come

 

Photo Credit Here