Grief: A paradoxical gateway to gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Along with the expectation for turkey and pumpkin pie is an even greater expectation of a heart bursting with gratitude. Some years that feels like a lot of pressure. This year is one of them for me.

I spent yesterday retreating from the busyness of the world, choosing to spend the the day in silence and solitude at my favorite retreat center. The day began with frustration and disappointment, but I shrugged it off as I made the 30-minute drive, happy to enter the quiet beauty of the center. I settled into a favorite chair with my Bible and my journal, prepared to encounter the Lord in whatever way He chose to present Himself. I was surprised to see what first flowed from my pen onto the page of my journal…

Thanksgiving is two days away…and I am here to grieve. Perhaps so that I can be truly thankful in two days.

Seriously, I had no idea that was what the day would hold.

I miss my Mom. I understand now how she came to be the person I often didn’t like, and my heart feels tender now towards that woman. The life she lived was not easy, and she didn’t have Jesus to lean on. (I am so grateful for you, Jesus!) I wish I could tell her that I understand now. I could be kinder and gentler and less angry now. But it’s too late. Nevermind that I had to experience the loss in order to arrive at this plac of understanding. Perhaps I need to be grateful for that, too–but I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

I miss youth. I’ve never wanted to be a person resentful of the aging process. It’s inevitable, so what’s the use in fighting it? But I don’t like it, nor do I want it really. My body doesn’t move as fast or as easily as it used to. I can’t see as well or think as fast. I want to welcome that as a green light to slowing down the pace of life a bit. But, truth be told, I am afraid of feeling useless.

I grieve unmet expectations. I have never been one to dwell long on regrets and I don’t want to start now. But I realize that I have precious few years left, and I don’t want to get to the end of them and be sad that I let opportunities pass by. There is so much of this world that I want to see and experience, and not nearly enough time left.

I’ve always loved the change of seasons, but today I grieve the end of warm sunny days. Winter is upon us. Lord, please don’t let it settle in my heart, too.

And the Lord graciously answered. I wept (honestly, I wailed!) until I had no more tears…and I didn’t apologize for it, not to God or to myself.

Then I went for a long walkdsc_0054-2 where I encountered beautiful fall color in the midst of the dull brown of approaching dsc_0122-1winter, admired the beauty of a bright red cardinal, and sat with a turtle slowly making his way through the fallen leaves. I took a nap. I sat in the afternoon sun, wrapped in a blanket, on a gently rocking porch swing and finished a really good book.

And at the end of the day I wrote…

I feel better, I think; ready to face home again. Maybe ready to be grateful as Thanksgiving arrives. It’s been a good day. Thank you, Lord, for listening while I poured out my grief, for collecting my tears in your bottle, for gently wiping my face dry. Thank you for legs strong enough to carry me down the trail and back up again, and for a camera that helps capture that which my eyes don’t see as well as they used to. Yes, it’s been a good day and I am grateful.

There’s something about grieving that opens our eyes and our hearts to gratitude. If you are struggling to be grateful on this day before Thanksgiving, perhaps you need to grieve a little…or a lot. Do it. And I will be praying that you, too, find it to be an unexpected gateway to gratitude.

 

 

Forgiving God

Forgiving God may well be the first step in trusting him.

Does God need my forgiveness? Absolutely not! That would imply that God has done something wrong. He is God–incapable of doing anything wrong.

Do I need to forgive God? Probably. We all experience disappointment in life, and sometimes we blame God for it. Of course the blame is not his, but he is generous and so full of grace that he allows the blame to rest on him. For a while, anyway.

At some point, however, I am blessed if I realize that it’s not God’s fault that I am disappointed. It is mine. I most likely decided that I knew better than God, and so I did what I wanted to do–what I thought was best–rather than what God says is best. That means those consequences I was so mad about were absolutely my fault, not God’s, and it’s really me that needs forgiveness.

If I can see that God was right and I was wrong…

If I realize that he is so full of grace to allow me to blame him for my stubborn decision to have it my way in spite of his warnings…

If I repent of ever thinking that God needed my forgiveness…

If I ask God to forgive me…

If I accept God’s forgiveness…

I just might learn to trust him more fully.

Interestingly, this process repeats itself throughout the life of any Christ-follower. It’s how our faith grows.

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Is God good?

I became a Christian in 1986. For several years, my focus was on Jesus. I read the New Testament because it was clearly about Jesus. I prayed to Jesus. Jesus was my Lord and my Savior, my Brother and my Friend. I was all about Jesus.

Nevermind that Jesus continually talked about the Father. Nevermind that Jesus prayed to the Father. Nevermind that Jesus said He only did what the Father told Him to do. Nevermind the Father. Jesus was all I needed. It only took about 20 years for me to start paying attention to the fact that Jesus was always pointing to the Father, and to decide that perhaps I should take notice and follow Jesus’ example.

During a season of upheaval in my life, I sought the help of a Christian counselor. I know it’s a tired metaphor, but I felt like a rudderless boat in a storm-tossed ocean, and Jesus was nowhere in sight. The source of my angst defied illumination until one day the counselor asked, “Do you believe that God is good?” He quickly followed that up with an admonishment not to give him the Sunday school answer! (How well he knew me by this point.) I remember clearly just sitting there in stunned silence as the tears welled up from a place deep, deep inside me. When my sobbing subsided, it was like the sun breaking through clouds after a summer storm. At long last, the turbulent sea of my soul was calm.

I really wasn’t aware that I was ignoring the Father. I didn’t struggle with the mystery of the Trinity. And I didn’t have “daddy issues” resulting from a poor relationship with my biological father. He wasn’t perfect and we had our issues from time to time, but I always knew he loved me.

So why did I distance myself from God? Perhaps because God didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I suffered a deep loss at a tender age, and I blamed God. For years I had nothing to do with God or Jesus, or any form of religion. Even when I accepted Christ as Savior, I simply put Father God on a shelf. I had Jesus, and that was enough.

I’m sure there are others who have great fellowship with Jesus while keeping God at arm’s length, unsure if he really is as good as Jesus says he is. If he is such a good God, why does he allow pain? Why does he not stop all the suffering?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions. I do know that my problem was a direct result of my expectations. When I understood that he is GOD–omnipotent and almighty and beyond my manipulation…while, at the same time, loving and gentle and merciful–it was at that moment that everything changed.

I know now–beyond a shadow of doubt–that God is good. He is the definition of good! That certainty came about because someone asked me what I believed, and wouldn’t allow me to put on my church leader mask to evade giving an honest answer. It stands out as one of the best days of my life.

Since then, my experience of Father God has been totally different. Mornings are spent in quiet communion with the one who loves me, reminiscent of walks in the Garden when we were God’s beloved companions. I sense his love in the core of my being, and his wisdom and provision are what I most long for. I pray always now to the Father. Jesus–my precious Savior–is continually with me, too, the bridge to my Father’s open arms.good father

So, on the off chance that you have been ignoring Father God in favor of Jesus, let me ask you…

Do you believe that God is good?

And, please, don’t feel obliged to give the Sunday school answer.

 

P.S.–Two of my favorite songs that remind me of God’s goodness: Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin and King of My Heart by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan

Surprised by Mystery

Several days ago I had the privilege of praying for healing for a woman with a kidney problem. She has been struggling with this for months, and at times it has been quite debilitating. As we began to pray, my prayer partner received a word of knowledge from the Lord that he–God–would heal that kidney. As we finished praying, the woman said that the pain was gone. Last night I received news that the woman had gone back to the doctor and had another ultrasound, which showed the kidney is completely healed.

I was surprised.

That probably sounds strange coming from someone who regularly prays for healing. It feels awkward to admit it! Until, that is, I recognize that the surprise I feel is not rooted in doubt, but in delight.

I do not have any idea why God heals some people and not others. It’s a mystery. I’ve certainly asked God about it, and I’ve read a lot on that subject. I’ve not found a definitive answer, and I don’t believe there is one to be found. (That is the definition of mystery, is it not?) The way I see it, to believe I should have an answer to everything I don’t understand is simply arrogant. Some say that I’m blessed to be at peace with the myteries of God, but I think it’s as simple as knowing about a particular woman in a garden long ago who was tempted by the notion that she could know the mind of God. She gave in to the temptation, and look where that got us!

Personally, I find a great deal of peace in knowing that someone who is bigger and smarter than me has everything under control–the good and the bad. God is not capricious. He is good and he does good. Always. The mysteries will someday be revealed and the very word “mystery” will become obsolete. I can wait.

I believe firmly in divine healing. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve even experienced it myself! Yet I am always surprised when God chooses to heal. Evidence of doubt? Not at all. It’s delightdancing-with-god in witnessing the mystery all over again. So I will continue praying for healing when the opportunities present themselves and joyfully embrace the surprise when I’m reminded of the mysteries of God!

A new perspective

I am a lapsed blogger. Yes, it’s sad, but true. There was once a time when I wrote a blogpost every week. Over time, I slipped to one every other week. Now I do well to write one a month. I keep telling myself that it’s OK…I’m certainly not alone! But the renewal notice for my domain name popped into my mailbox last week. To renew or not to renew? That is the question.

To be honest, I have struggled to find a voice lately. For years I have written about equipping, aka volunteer ministry. I’m definitely for it, and have had lots of thoughts and ideas to share about it. But over the past year or so I’ve wondered if I have said all I have to say on the subject. Nothing new or particularly interesting has come to mind. I still equip volunteer ministers in my church, and I still work with church leaders to help them develop their volunteer ministry. But when it comes to writing…well, I just don’t have anything new to say. It’s easier to point to the stuff I’ve already written.

I was blessed to lead a retreat recently, speaking with women about the deeper journey of living from the Christ-self. Not my usual presentation material. But preparing for the WP_20160520_018retreat helped me understand why I feel I’ve lost my voice for equipping ministry. God has been changing my perspective.

I’m a second-half-of-life person. I’ve turned a corner, so to speak, and am finding that the old me and my old way of doing things is something less than satisfactory now. I recently prayed with a woman who is also in the second half of her life. She had been experiencing health problems that sidelined her from ministry she loves. As we talked, the Spirit showed me that she was fearful, prompting me to ask her if she was afraid that God was taking away her ministry permanently. She wept, confessing that she was indeed afraid. “I know this is the ministry I’m called to do because I am so excited about it,” she cried. “It’s what I live for. It’s who I am.”

For several years I’ve asked the question, “What excites you?” during ministry discovery conversations with people. I think it’s a valid question for people in the first half of life. But once we turn that corner into the second half, we begin to see that excitement isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

A few years ago, God decided he had something new for me to do. I didn’t like that idea, but my arms are too short to box with God. No amount of protestation would change his mind, so I reluctantly submitted. These days I have fewer opportunities for gifts discovery conversations with people, and many more opportunities for offering healing prayer. Which brings me back to the woman I was praying with.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.                          2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

As we spoke, I was able to share my experience of God calling me to a different path and a new ministry. I was a bit surprised to tell her that I don’t get as “excited” about healing prayer ministry as I do about discovery conversations. And yet this new ministry is equally as fulfilling and life-giving as the former. As it turns out, excitement is not the litmus test I once thought it was. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.
I guess it’s OK that I don’t have anything new to say about equipping. God is revealing some new things, giving me a fresh perspective in this season of life. Hmmm…Maybe I should renew that domain registration after all, just in case I find a new voice!

 

Is God fickle?

You are just toodling along doing your ministry thing and–BAM!–suddenly God is Paths-to-success-shutterstock_88995475-500x290calling you down another path. Really? What’s up with that? Did God suddenly become fickle? Did the unchangeable God change?

Does any of this sound familiar? You invest time discovering your unique design for ministry, identify a serving role that energizes you, engage in equipping through reading or training, and now you are joyfully and faithfully serving in a ministry you love. It all fits together perfectly. But then God throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing through this niggling thought that just won’t go away, “I want you to do something else.” You read scripture and you hear the whisper. You have a conversation with a friend and there’s the whisper again. And then someone actually voices what you really don’t want to hear: “Have you ever considered serving in this ministry? I think you would be perfect for it!”

Did God change his mind? Well, I can’t really answer that for you, but I can share with you my experience with change and where it has led me.

During the summer of 2013, I began to suspect that God was up to something. I had been on a path of conviction about prayer ministry for several months. God had been bringing to mind past training in prayer ministry, as well as my own experiences of both emotional and physical healing. Over coffee with a friend, he mentioned a local healing prayer ministry that he thought I might be interested in. Before I got home from the cafe, my friend had connected me via email with the director of that prayer ministry! Out of curiosity, I met with Jeff and, as he described his prayer ministry, I sensed God nudging me towards healing prayer. My response was a flat “no way.” I had spent 20 years in equipping ministry. I loved helping people discover their God-given design and identify where/how God was calling them to serve. (Still do!) I had a significant investment in this ministry, even coming alongside other church leaders to help them develop healthy equipping practices in their churches. God surely couldn’t be calling me to something else. I wasn’t tired of doing this yet!

That same afternoon, my pastor told me that he believed God was calling me to establish a healing prayer ministry in our church, and offered to release me from any other ministry that would impede me answering that call. I was completely confused. And yet, I knew in my spirit that God was calling me to something new.

In 2014 I began offering prayer ministry during Holy Communion each week. Since that time there has been only one Sunday when no one came for prayer. I am developing a team of prayer ministers and equipping them through books, seminars, and conferences. Last year we began exploring moving our church from a suburban location where we rented space from another church to a downtown location where we would rent space from a faith-based non-profit ministry seeking to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized. We had our first worship service downtown on January 3 of this year. Since then, two more people have expressed interest in serving on the prayer team, and our new host is very excited at the possibility of having a church meet there who will actually pray with people who need any and all sorts of healing! In hindsight, it’s obvious that God has been redirecting me, as well as our church.

But here’s my biggest “ah-ha”: When dealing with people who were hesitant to serve, I would become frustrated. God is showing me that often the underlying reason for that hesitation lies in a need for healing. When one experiences the deep healing power of the love of Christ, the desire to serve the One who heals will soon follow.

one pathDid God change his mind about my ministry? Not really. He has simply opened yet another avenue for equipping ministry. He has provided a way through my former frustration into a wide open space where I can better serve his people as I pray for their healing and then help them find the ministry that God is calling them into.

Is God fickle? I don’t think so. Scripture says he is not. We just need to yield to his plan as he unfolds it, trusting that he knows what he’s doing!

 

How much do we care?

There are two kinds of, “I’m sorry.”

The first kind is the apology of responsibility, of blame and of litigation. It is the four-year old saying to his brother, “I’m sorry I hit you in the face.” … The other kind of sorry is an expression of humanity. It says, “I see you and I see your pain.” This is the sorry we utter at a funeral, or when we hear that someone has stumbled.

You don’t have to be in charge to say you’re sorry. You don’t even have to be responsible. All you need to do is care.                                                                                                            -Seth Godin (read the entire post here)

I just returned from a healing prayer ministry conference. For two days I experienced people who cared. They cared enough to say, “I’m so sorry you have had to endure that.” They carecaringd enough to pray for me and every other participant. They cared enough to speak words of blessing and encouragement over us, corporately and individually. They cared enough to labor on our behalf to plan and execute the conference that brought healing of body and spirit to so many.

How many people do I pass by each day who are wounded and hurting, who just need someone to truly see them and offer them a respite from their pain. Perhaps it’s a smile or a kind word they need. Maybe they just want someone to literally look them in the eye rather than a passing glance. A prayer may be the lifeline they desperately need.

“Pray for–bless–everything that moves, and leave the results to God!” the conference leader exhorted us. Amen!

As a Christian, I can offer the love of Christ to those in need, a healing balm like none other. What’s more, I am called and empowered to do so! And isn’t the body of Christ as a whole called to do the same? Christ himself is the great Healer! The Church is the hands and feet and mouthpiece of Christ, bringing healing and truth, freedom from sin’s chains.

[Jesus said] “And so I am giving a new commandment to you now—love each other just as much as I love you.  Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  -John 13:34-35

How are we doing, Church? How much do we really care?