Monday, November 27, 2017

Where is the hope when all is pain?

Photo by Zhifei Zhou on Unsplash
THOSE who have borne pain begin to bear others’ pain. Cause and effect locates the bearer in a position where others’ pain irritates their own pain. It is why healing is so necessary.
Healing is heartfelt acceptance
never a thing we can do for ourselves.
If there is no healing, pain is simply too much to bear, and trauma re-incises old wounds, and festering of character and spirit takes place. But courage is mere choice and opportunity away. Hence, hope.
Pain forces us toward or away from hope, and the latter only because we gave up hope of finding it. The former is pain’s objective — to locate hope and reconcile who we are amid pain, and who we are to be post pain.
Wherever we encounter people of the latter school, those founded on despair, insight may give us the gift of seeing the sickness emanate from within them through varying forms and degrees of cynicism and helplessness that highlights they are fugitives of blessedness. They never hoped to be that way. Nobody ever does. And there are still so many individuals and groups for which pain doubles and trebles. A world where despair overwhelms.
But so too does blessing multiply.
It’s why healing is so important. Hope is central.
And yet, the hopeful former ones, who sought hope and promptly found it, can barely understand the latter’s affliction. Even less can those see who have never been afflicted. And there is no empathy possible in those who think they have suffered but indicate from the way they live that they have not.
Agree with what I write here or not, we have a problem in this world, and God gives us the want to bring His hope to all. But we cannot help unless we agree the aggrieved have cause. Their cause is not easily understood, and we can only help if we understand. It takes time and the humility borne of sacrifice to overcome ignorance.
Sometimes understanding is knowing
and accepting we don’t understand.
Sometimes the hope people seek amid their pain propels them into a deeper nuance of pain. There is courage needed to endure in the quest for hope. But hope will never disappoint us. It is worth every openhearted query. Yet we all need to be reminded through encouragement.
Pain causes us to stretch desperately toward hope, and where there is hope pain has meaning.
This article is not intended to heal. It’s merely an encouragement to keep searching and exploring.
Here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT):
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Healing is not an overnight process. But hope will hold us afloat in the meantime. There is one thing to do then: hope.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thanking God for the Courage in your Encourager

They serve us by lifting us when we’re low, and they help affirm our calling when we’re curious. They are faithful companions on the journey of life: the encourager.
There is courage in the encourager. Look at the word: en-courage.
The encourager has courage in them
for putting courage in those they encourage.
The outcome of encouragement is courage fills us.
We may call it confidence or boldness. It’s still courage.
The encourager is an opportunist. They draw from within themselves the courage in them to encourage others. They see their opportunities and they take their opportunities.
Encouragers are risk takers. They would rather say something kind and right and get it wrong than miss the opportunity altogether. Encouragers don’t have to do what they do. They do so because they’re principled. They stand to feel rejected if the person they seek to encourage responds negatively. But for them the chance to do some soul-lifting is worth the risk. In any event, the light of Christ that burns brightly in them is too resplendent to repress.
Most encouragers are so adept at honouring what they feel so strongly about. If they see something in us worth us knowing, they don’t assume we know already.
They take the courage from within themselves, fashioning words, and they say them. Some encouragers are so courageous they’re prepared to sacrifice themselves in joining us on our journey. (But not in a co-dependent way! — in a faithful way of a mentoring sage.) They serve us in ways we know they’re there for us. All service of sacrifice requires courage. That’s a humble courage of committed faithfulness.
Thank God for the courage and confidence in them that builds courage and confidence in us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What if we only lived 10 years

Photo by Blake Meyer on Unsplash

IMAGINE if God had designed human life to expire after just ten years. Try to think how that might challenge and change our perspective.
Could it be a worthy reflection, today?
What if we only had two years to grow through infancy, childhood and adolescence to adulthood. What if we married and had less than five or six years with our partner. What if we only ever had a three or four-year career. What if the final two or three years of our lives involved ageing.
I guess it’s a moot point, being that most people get nearly ten times that amount of life.
A near 100-year life should never be thought of as a curse, but perhaps complacency causes us all to take life for granted occasionally. If we lived ten years, with a 100-year life perspective, we sure wouldn’t waste one drop or one breath of life. If ten years was all we had, surely we would do with our lives what can never be done when we’re dead.
If we add the same logic to our near 100-year lifespans we should say why are we not given one-thousand? Even one-hundred years is miniscule in comparison with nine-hundred more. But, as any of us truly knows one-hundred years is more than enough, especially if we’re in chronic pain and/or our hope is to meet Jesus. Still, we suffer loss when we lose our parents and grandparents, just as our children and grandchildren will suffer the same anguish. Where there is life there is pleasure and pain.
What if our lives only lasted ten years. If we bore that in mind we might be more present, more grateful. Of course, a near 100-year life means we’re also rewarded for tenacity and perseverance.
Life is a sprint and it’s a marathon.
Run each stride with purpose and every mile with poise.
Live life with gratitude for time is fleeting, and with perseverance for the long haul.
Be present for yourself and with others, making the most of the present day.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Read this and you are NOT alone

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

OVERWHELMED is a feeling I get when I face a spiritual attack that always seems to come as a flurry of fiery darts. These six or seven issues confound my ability to face them one-by-one, and in being overwhelmed I just tear up and acknowledge that I can only accept what I cannot change. It is all I can do so it is all I do.
If you ever feel anything like this, please, you are not alone.
We don’t have to be strong to be capable when we are weak. But we do prosper when we accept the status quo. We do not need to be afraid that we feel alone. But we can understand and forgive our fear. You would be amazed at the sheer number of people who fold under the weight of spiritual attack. You are not alone in what you feel or how intensely you feel it.
The enemy is strong and cunning. And when we are under attack, we do not seem to recall just how infinitely strong God is. The most powerful thing God can say is you are not alone… I am with you. God has not and will never abandon us.
I am about sick of the alienating message of ministers of God who say, you need to be strong, when Scripture says, be strong… and courageous. We never need to be courageous when we’re feeling strong. When we’re feeling strong we do not need God, which is a dangerous fallacy. It is only when we are feeling weak and vulnerable that we need to be courageous. People most often need the opposite; permission to be weak, to overcome it through God’s power. When we feel weak we feel alone. But when we know others are weak we know we are in the company of friends. And then weakness, as a threat, melts away.
As you read this, you are not alone. The spirit these words are typed in feels alone. Yet, we are not alone, are we? We are never truly alone.
In case you missed it, God says this: you are not alone!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The company of God’s Presence in the numb night of grief

Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

SOMETHING is common in the experience of those who have been broken by a pain that rips their lives to shreds. God’s Presence.
A situation that pushes us too far into the realm of inner destruction makes us reach out, and in the reaching out we’re helped in ways we could not have imagined.
I can speak in these terms for two reasons. I’ve experienced it once if not a dozen times. (More actually.) That’s the first reason. The second is the people God has brought into my sphere — some who will read this — so many of them have spoken, too, of these secret hidden realities.
It seems God wants these realities to remain elusive. I find words hard to come by to explain these things in real and rational terms that are credible — words for experiences that few have — not a select few — experiences chosen for any who would capitulate.
See, we ordinarily won’t allow ourselves to be crushed.
So when life does it to us, and we find we have no recourse to remedy for denial, brutality or escape, we find ourselves in uncharted territory. Too broken not to need to be rebuilt.
Suddenly we’re in a place where there is only one thing left. Stripped bare of all things other than the experience of our existence, we reach out to the Creator. He says, “Finally!” “Son/daughter, come to Me and find your rest in Me, because you know I know your pain.”
Suddenly He who is the Hero of our faith, becomes real and living in that moment. That moment we’re met! And life can never go backwards from there. We can certainly suffer greater things, but our knowledge of the reality of God’s Presence can never again be denied.
We can praise God for the numb night of grief that cast our souls to oblivion. That is the night when, with nothing left, we reached out and met God.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Moving forward when you’re getting behind

OVERWHELMED by the sheer weight and number of issues in life, you could be forgiven for giving up. But there’s no purpose in it other than thinking it’s easier. The truth is it’s only easier for that millisecond — as soon as we give up we backslide, and the hell we move into is worse than it ever was.
There is only one way to move ahead and that is to move forward.
But that seems so hard when we can barely breathe, when life is crushing the life out of us.
Yet, by simply holding open the possibility of forward inertia, life slowly begins to change inside out. As we focus not so much on what is wrong, but on the things we can do right, God blesses our intent, and small victories come into sight, awareness and experience.
Suddenly we realise the power in our minds to create a dream rather than destroy it before it was ever imagined.
No matter how far behind we think we are, we’re only one decision away from forward momentum.
No matter how long we’ve been floundering, the transition from being stuck to mobilisation occurs in a heartbeat.
No matter how much trepidation we experience, we’re counselled to initiate movement, for only when we do, does fear ebb away.
No matter how little it seems, what little there is needed to shift our momentum forwardly is within us.
A change of mindset of faith is the only requirement. One heartfelt decision is all it takes to get the inertia moving in the right direction.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Your Presence Matters

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

TRUTH and lies fill all of our lives. Yet, we can choose to nourish truth and negate the lies. One such truth to nurture is your presence matters. It really does.
You being alive matters AND your presence in others’ lives matters, too.
God can do things through you He would not do otherwise. Put another way, without you there would be things God could not do that He wishes to do. That’s because you think in ways that are unique to you. You will get and act on ideas that nobody else may.
But, even more primary to God doing unique things through you is the fact that your being alive matters to other human beings — those who love you, who couldn’t bear to be without you. So whenever you’re tempted to disparage or berate yourself, think of those who love you who would not wish for you to contemplate or act on such lies.
Of course, your being alive matters to God. He meant for you to be alive for the entirety of your life, from conception through the passage of time and then into eternity. Being alive you bear your soul. You’re no less precious than anyone else God has ever made or will make.
Being present matters.
Every passive moment is a moment where we refuse to live. Passivity doesn’t mean we cannot rest. Rest is an active thing when we’re intentionally resting. It’s a spiritual discipline.
Being present is being active so far as making the most of life.
God’s counting on you being you and me being me. It’s primary to the outworking of salvation — that we would grasp just how wide and deep the love of God is.
When we do, we begin to stop judging and condemning how we look and move and respond.
We overlook what we were once so afraid of. And in this we see signs that the Gospel of Jesus is changing our lives from the inside out. Every true believer of Christ needs to witness their own fruit to bolster the truth of their belief.
When we experience the truth by living it, the wisdom of discerning truth grows in us more and more, and God shows us untold treasures related to the importance of our presence. Finally, we’re able to more fully believe we’re irreplaceable.
Your presence matters.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Do you ever ask, did it really happen?

BUZZ goes the phone, and as I check for the message it’s a friend. He reminds me of the significance of a date (tomorrow) I already know — yet, suddenly, God has me go in on a journey. He shows me something surreal. It catches me by surprise.
I ask, for the first time I can recall, did this really happen?
It seems like it didn’t for the pure fact that all emotion is contained, dealt with, sublime. Unless, of course, I go in, as if to lift the lid. There it is, right there, again! Just as it always was. Preserved. Intact. The combination of a reflective moment, some choice photographs, and a special highly evocative song. Then it’s as real as it ever was. But it doesn’t overwhelm us.
It is healing? Or, it is denial? It could be something else, but at times it feels like it didn’t happen to us.
Tomorrow, on the third anniversary of his funeral, we bury our son’s ashes in a special pot we will plant.
I feel compelled to write and share. Yet I feel guilty at times sharing about Nathanael. I wonder if people think I’m trying to profit in some way by rehashing these stories. The truth is, I think, that grief is a fathomless pit of experience — and not all of it is harrowing. Some of it is reflective and good. Some of it teaches me about the voluminousness of life and wisdom and all there is to know by experience. Some of it is unbearable, for sure. But much of it is ho-hum, like it would be better if it weren’t this way, but it is. I know that some people would rather I didn’t make so much of our loss. I’m prepared to be unpopular if our experience helps even one person. What we’ve experienced must have meaning. Perhaps it’s those who are unattuned to loss who feel uncomfortable?
I don’t really want to bury the box that contains my son’s ashes.
But we will. We’ve been wanting to do it for some time, yet it’s safe and clean in our house at present. Isn’t it funny that I’d want material from my deceased son’s body kept safe and clean? Some of you at least would say, no, that’s normal.
Of course, it did happen, and we know it happened.
It’s a nice, safe feeling to know I can access my historically true sadness anytime. It is a treasured legacy of having lost our shining gift of God.
I suppose it’s a nice, safe feeling because we’ve always been thankful that we can remember him and his important place in our lives.

On the other side of Acceptance

REALITY is only a threat when we cannot live in harmony with the truth. Yet reality is a real issue for every single one of us. It’s a phenomenon that must be mastered if we’re to live the life every human being is purposed to live. Comparatively few ever do. Yet it’s the opportunity God freely gives each one of us.
This is a companion article to Endurance is easier when we accept life is a test. In that article I suggested that accepting life as a test makes endurance easier; possible, when it feels impossible. Simply knowing endurance is possible, at times, fills us with hope.
Acceptance, when we land there, teaches us that our lives in their totality are in the hands of God. We have given up claim to our life. We’re ready to die if need be. The paradox is we’re never readier to live. We don’t want to die. But we’re prepared to do whatever God requires — no correspondence entered into. Of course, we land there and we can expect to be tested to that degree. That is a harrowing thought, but every landing must be tested.
On the other side of acceptance is a land where the Bible makes complete sense. Every page. Because it’s the Word of God. We expect to be pressed into discomfort. On the other side of acceptance, we accept mysteries, and perplexing situations don’t need to be explained. They are what they are. We judge less. But we’re also tested into further discomfort.
But how do we get there?
A big part of the answer to that question resides in accepting that life is a test, and accepting in our daily lives that every difficulty we experience has a purpose in our lives — as tests. These tests are not given by God or by people to stir us up, but they implicit within life. Tests of patience and kindness and self-control (among other virtues we may lack) are just the way life works.
When we exist on the other side of acceptance, tests are welcomed within our trials, because we know they’re part of life.

Acceptance teaches that trials can be welcomed as tests; a purpose revealing God’s glory in us and our growth in Him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Endurance is easier when we accept life is a test

‘Running the race’ in our occasional backyard

NOBODY really likes the sound of that title, I know. But deeper consideration of this truth evokes the super-conquering hope Paul talked about in Romans 8:37.
And a super-conquering hope empowers the possibility for endurance. Get this right. This is no triumphal prosperity doctrine. This is hope for the white-knuckled ride of life, because life is unliveable without it.
But it’s hard to learn because it’s something we can’t do; we can only allow it its way.
When we reduce life down to how it actually is — the rudiments of reality — we find there’s absolutely no purpose in resenting it. Bitterness is a rabbit warren to nowhere. And life is indisputably packed to the abundance with them. Around every corner there are things to get upset about — (unless we see them as tests that God knows we can overcome).
We only need to think of the absurdity in the following questions: do you have a happy life? Is everything as it should be? Have you reached all your goals? Is your life completely free of anxiety, sadness, fear and loneliness? Do you have enough money? Do you have a perfectly intimate relationship with anyone? With God?
Honesty forces the ‘no’ answer, because none of us are in heaven (yet). Indeed, the very authenticity of reality convinces us there must be a better way of dealing with it. Acceptance is what holds us afloat under all circumstances, whether acceptance is purely aspirational, at one end of the spectrum where grief interrupts unabating, or it’s a lived reality at the other.
Endurance is easier when we accept life is a test. When our expectations are conformed to how reality is, we’re licensed to walk the intrepid journey toward maturity.
We’re blessed when we endure the test. Sounds easy, but surrender is only easy when we let go. Most of us find that hard. To change that, expect life to test you, and accept it when it does, then endurance is easier. And hope abounds in joy despite circumstances.
That’s living the good news. The true effect of the saving grace of Jesus.

None of it is easy. But it is possible. And far easier than the way we’ve tended to live. Still, not easy. But worth the sacrifice of giving it a go! Like when the AA’s say ‘give it a go for three months’ — anyone who does never turns back, because they get to see mountaintop glimpses they would never see otherwise.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How the stages of grief manifested in me

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash
ONLY after three full years is there now the drawn-out dawn of a new era. New perspective continues to grow.
The stages of grief theory was of course posited by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (and David Kessler). It involves denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. The strength of the model is it highlights real stages we go through as we experience loss. One of its weaknesses is it’s not linear — the stages tend to reoccur chaotically. But it’s overall flow is true.
Here are my observations of the grief I’ve experienced over the past three years:
DENIAL – I’ve written a lot about our experience of grief losing Nathanael, which seems to eclipse the hundreds of articles I’d already written on grief previously — viewed through the lens of divorce. Much of what I’ve ever written is true to my experience, but some of it is aspirational. I’m an appreciative communicator and person, believing the best in others and myself — too much at times. And some of that I see as denial — the idealism that confounds realism. It’s the strength of light, but it’s also the weakness of not bearing the world well. I can admit that weakness now. I have often so wanted a particular better reality that I have attempted to wish it into creation.
Of course, life never quite works out that way.
ANGER – I’ve dealt with a lot of anger over the past three-plus years. It’s had a negative and regrettable impact on some crucial relationships. My anger revealed fear, and grief like nothing else breeds fear. Often pride has risen up, but it was truly fear that underpinned it. I have hated admitting my anger, as if pride would not allow exposure of such an odious weakness. No man wants to have an anger management issue, but my anger manifested mainly in ways that led to my own demise. I’ve had to pay for it. No one ever excuses it as a product of grief.
BARGAINING – linked somewhat to the comments I’ve made in ‘denial’, I’ve bargained so much through the past three years, mainly due to peripheral losses (that hurt just as much if not more than the central loss). I’ve bargained with God for the work that I’ve lost and therefore wanted back. And yet, the grief process has suggested I’ve had to grow through it, because not one iota of bargaining has worked. I’ve had to learn through not having the work that the work is superfluous. I am not defined simply by what job I do.
DEPRESSION – I can chart my progress with depression quite easily. Early in the three-plus year period I had low days, but the season was punctuated by never being too far from the black dog. More recently I’ve faced significant challenges — 2016 was the hardest year of my life thus far — and yet those low days don’t defeat me like they have, nor am I anywhere near the black dog these days. But I know the black dog well enough to know I’ll never be too far ahead of it.
ACCEPTANCE – I honestly have felt in the acceptance zone from day one, and yet I’ve experienced the full grief experience — all stages seemingly at the same time on occasion. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much ‘acceptance’ I truly experience as I endeavour to wish it into creation. Somehow acceptance has elements of the other four — denial, anger, bargaining, depression — in it.
Nobody ever tells you how hard it is to hold your world together in grief. And sometimes people simply don’t understand. Nor do some want to.
You can experience compassion from ninety percent of your world, but if the crucial ten percent regales without kindness your whole world is easily fractured. Such as it is with grief.

Grief is the embodiment of all stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — some days all five at once.