When Mother’s Day Just Isn’t Happy

Sunday is a special day for many women — a day full of warmth and joy.  But for other women it’s a reminder of loss, estrangement, disappointment or pain.

And it’s often hard to admit in the midst of all the flowers and cards.

Read more about my story and the story of man others here.

Blessings!

Sheree

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Talking Bird Feathers

Yesterday I just had to see the ocean. It’s been so cold in Florida (no jokes, northern friends, it’s been down into the 30’s and 40’s!) that I just needed to be reminded that in a couple of months I’ll be photographing little people on the beach again.

As Benny and I strolled down the beach I started noticing bird feathers and realized I should collect some for a science project two of my grandchildren are doing. While homeschooling some of them for their moms over the past few weeks, I learned some stuff about bird feathers, like when a feather is lost on one wing, a feather on the other wing in just about the same spot is also lost to keep the bird balanced.

This process of feather molting is a fascinating one! Here are some cool facts provided by Cornell University researchers:

  • Birds mature through seasons of molting.
  • One of the reasons for molting is when feathers get damaged beyond repair.
  • Molting frequently occurs during less stressful seasons of a bird’s life, like before migrating or after nesting.
  • Feathers are lost and new ones grow in a progression that protects the bird’s ability to fly. That’s why when a feather is lost on one wing, a commensurate feather on the other wing is also lost.

As I walked on the beach yesterday I thought this familiar passage from Matthew chapter 30:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (vs 29-31).

Think about it: If God so exquisitely cares for birds by making sure their wings stay balanced to fly by causing feathers to fall off in perfect order; protects them from danger by insuring that damaged feathers fall at just the right time to allow healthy ones to grow; uses “down” times in their lives to grow new feathers because of the work their little bodies exert to grow new feathers; and uses loss to insure that they mature…well…then how much more does He meticulously take care of those who are created in His very image?

You and I are worth more than birds to God. But from them we see how tenderly He cares for us.

Are you experiencing loss right now? Loss of reputation. Grief through the death of someone you love. Job or income loss. Brokenness and conflict in a treasured friendship. Lost hopes and dreams. Death of a long held dream. Recognition of personal limitations and weaknesses that leave you wondering who you are?

Life is a series of losses and gains; soaring joys and crushing disappointments; hopes and struggles; laughter and tears; cherished memories and sinking reminders. As Christ-imitators we are called to follow the One who grieved over the death of a friend but then rejoiced at his resurrection into a life characterized by both ecstatic joy and piercing suffering.

The feathers I collected on the beach yesterday reminded me that He who governs their every loss governs mine, too, because I’m worth way more than they are to the Savior who took my place on the cross to earn me a place in heaven where there will be no more loss.

Spiritual molting is to mature and help me fly, not to ground and render me ineffective. Honestly, there have been times in my life when loss seems to far outweigh growth. Know what I mean? In fact, the recent months have been one of those seasons. How wonderful to see God at work molting and protecting and preparing and loving me through losses scattered with new growth that reminds me I can still fly.

It’s good to know He keeps us balanced…even when it seems our wings are awfully bare.

Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

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footage.shutterstock.com

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

Jenny’s Stubborn Darkness

Earlier this week I was on the phone with Jenny (not her real name). She’s going through some severe trials. Wave after wave of difficulties have been bearing down on her.

She admitted to me that the primary reason why she continues to trudge through each day is because she doesn’t want to be a burden to her husband. His own struggles would only be multiplied by her sadness, questions and requests for him to help her. She asked for prayer, saying she didn’t know how much longer she could keep going without falling apart.

Have you been there?  Have you felt at times that your needs are going unmet because you have to keep your spouse, children, family members or friends in mind? Do you remember how alone you felt? How much energy was required to do simple tasks? How desperately you longed for someone to think as much about you as you were about them? The nagging hesitance to hope things would get better because you couldn’t bear yet more disappointment if nothing changed?

Jenny is probably experiencing with author Ed Welch calls the “stubborn darkness” of depression. I know that stubbornness. And at least two of my friends are in the middle of it now, including Jenny.

Does God expect us to obey Him and do what’s right in the midst of trials and suffering?

I reminded Jenny yesterday that while I’ve experienced the hopelessness and go-through-the-motions way of living in which she is currently, it’s more important to remember that Jesus is empathizing and praying for her. In the garden He asked God to not make Him go to the cross unless there was no other way. “Let this cup pass from me,” He asked.

And what cup was that? Scripture tells us the cup was filled with the wrath of God (see Ps 75:8, John 18:11, Matthew 20:22, Revelation 14:9). Jesus was fully God but also fully human, just like you and I. He didn’t want to suffer an agonizing, humiliating death by hanging naked on a cross while cynics mocked and Satan laughed. He wasn’t a stoic who kept a stiff upper lip. No, he was a man with flesh and blood, temptations and grief, emotions and desires.

But in His darkest hour He, the God Man, elevated what was right over what He felt. “Not my will but yours” was His conclusion to a heart and mind so filled with agony that his sweat became blood.

Jenny knows that while she feels like crawling into a ball and retreating behind closed doors, she can’t. There’s laundry to do and lunch to make. Errands to run, a frig to clean out, and dust bunnies to sweep up. Kids to get up for and an upcoming birthday party to think about.

Because her suffering Savior thought of her during His darkest hours, she has His indwelling power to do the same.

The thing is, I’ve watched her do it for years. When stubborn darkness refused to lift and bad news rolled in like thick fog into her world, she demonstrated maturity and strength beyond any woman’s ability. Yes, a lot of her motivation was, like now, to not “be a burden to her husband.” I don’t know about you, but in my life that doesn’t last long. I may start out  wanting to respond well to a hard situation to help and support Benny, but before long complaining and “somebody take care of me” attitudes creep in (or in some cases fly out of my heart and mouth). Only God can help a hurting person to continue to incarnate the love, sacrifice and service of Christ when circumstances tempt him or her to crawl into that ball of pain.

I told Jenny that because of the grace I’ve observed in her over the years, I was confident God would continue to help her to be like Him. To get up in the morning when she wanted to pull the covers over her head and pretend she wasn’t needed. To referee sibling arguments when she wanted to tell the kids their bickering was just stupid compared to what she’s going through. To love a man who doesn’t seem as focused on her as she is on him. And to keep pursuing God when she’s wondering if more disappointment at His sovereign plan is coming.

Jenny, thank you for trusting God through stubborn darkness. For being honest about your struggles and pain without using them as an excuse to be irresponsible. For serving others when you would have loved being served; reaching out when you could have pulled away; worshiping instead of charging God; being patient when friends comments are insensitive rather than helpful; and, most of all, growing in godliness rather than becoming bitter and self-absorbed. And for being brutally honest about your sadness, temptations, sinful reactions and struggles in the process.

God has been busy in your life and I’m grateful to have watched Him sustain you through the “many dangers, toils and snares that have already come.” The gospel has been on display in your life and I’m confident that “grace has brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.”

I love you, my friend.

P.S.  You can find Ed Welch’s helpful book, Depression: Looking Up From a Stubborn Darkness here.

You Will Laugh Again

It was late 1998 and I was yet again on my face in my bedroom literally crying out to God for help. So much had changed in my life in recent months and it often felt like the shifting sands beneath my feet would never stabilize. I was tired of being sad.

In the darkness God spoke. I wrote these words in my journal…by faith: “You will laugh again.”

Laugh? I could hardly smile due to the weight of anxiety and sadness that was gripping my heart. When I considered the future I could only see more darkness.

Have you been there? Are you there now?

  • Are your circumstances closing in on you, tempting you to wonder if God really is in control?
  • Are you discouraged over longstanding challenges or tension in cherished relationships? Does it seem like things are too broken to ever get better?
  • Does fear grip your heart? Does it seem at times that God can’t care or that He has somehow lost sight of you?
  • Are you afraid to hope things will change because you don’t want to be disappointed…again?
  • Has it been too long since you really laughed?

You are not alone. 1998 wasn’t the only time in the past 15 years I’ve felt hopeless and found myself face down pleading for God’s help. And last week I found comfort in the reminder that God’s people have struggled throughout history when suffering choked out their faith.

In my study of the Book of Exodus I’m seeing God’s tender love and patience with His ever-drifting children — and some of the freshness of His word is because of the difficulties through which I’ve walked in the past decade plus. When Moses heeded God’s call to return to Egypt, he went to the leaders of enslaved Israel to tell them about God’s plan of deliverance. Did they begin leaping and praising God for finally hearing their cries?  No. Their surprising response (note Exodus 6:9) to such incredible news reveals issues in their hearts to which I can relate:

“They would not accept the hope offered because of their ‘broken spirit and hard labor.’ Consumed with the darkness of their present circumstances, they [like I have done!] failed to appreciate the light of truth about their future. Nevertheless, their lack of faith did not affect the promises God had already made to them” (Women’s Evangelical Commentary).

I know this to be true for two reasons.

First, because God did fulfill His promises to Israel. He gave them a deliverer (Moses) who led them out of slavery by a powerful display of His sovereign control over both nature and the hearts of men (in the form of things like frogs, gnats and blood stained water). He provided for them in the desert — even when they were rebellious idolaters — and led them into a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

But, second, I know that unbelief doesn’t disqualify believers from receiving God’s promises because the deliverer of His people then pointed to The Deliverer to come. Jesus Christ led me out of slavery to my sin by dying in my place and then being raised from the dead to prove His sacrifice had been effective to declare me not guilty. Even when I have been “consumed with the darkness of [my] present circumstances” He has patiently endured my weariness and unbelief to prove His faithfulness time after time.

God was faithful and I eventually started laughing again.

If you are walking through dark times, you also have a Deliverer. If you’re a Christian, He’s here to say, “I am with you. Hold on to My promises. I will never leave you and I will always do what I say I will do. My faithfulness does not depend on your ability to trust Me, but on my eternal character and unfailing love.”

(And if you’re not a Christian, certainly He is pursuing you or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.  Even if someone sent this to you, I pray you are comforted by the knowledge that God sees and wants to help you.)

Whatever is going on in your life, you’re not alone. And your circumstances, though hard, don’t mean you won’t laugh again.

The Israelites were so weary and discouraged they couldn’t muster the faith to believe help had come when he was standing right in front of them. Isn’t it good to know that even though your Deliverer is living right inside of you His purposes won’t be thwarted by your inability to trust Him right now?

I will go through tough times again. I will be tempted to doubt God’s control and care again. But I will also be the recipient of His love; patience; conviction; strength; and fulfilled promises.

Again.

A Stubborn Struggle

The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) has helped many Christians deal with the shame of depression by taking it from shame to suffering.

Yes. The depressed are sufferers. Even if part of the reason why suffering happens is because sinful choices were made, ongoing discouragement or depression just hurt.

Whether you are battling depression yourself or know of someone who is — or who you think may be — this brief but compassionate video by Ed Welch gives us a tender look at this common struggle.

Remember, depression ranges from mild to severe and touches people of every age and season of life. Even when discouragement or gloominess come and go, the hope that is available to the depressed can help!

I pray this will comfort you or someone you love…and would benefit from hearing what you think.

Beauty in the Desert

Yesterday I mentioned a time 15 years ago when I became familiar with the desert.

Due to all that was happening in our lives at that time, I assumed  the dryness and darkness in my life was simply and only because I was sinning. I wasn’t trusting God. I wasn’t thinking biblically. I was just feeling sorry for myself and wishing life was different. My and others sins were the reason why I found myself in a bad place. Period.

Deserts, to me, were ugly, hard places to avoid…especially since you only got to those dry places because of some wrong you had done. This was before Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression or Ed Welch’s Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; wonderful books that offer hope and healing to the discouraged and depressed. Back then the common thinking was depression was primarily the consequence of wrong or sinful thinking or decisions. No wonder people (including myself) were hesitant to talk about it — which is exactly what is needed!

Studio 707

The thought of the Lord leading me into the desert to speak tenderly to me (Hosea 2:14-15) was a surprising thought. And how in the world could vineyards — with their beauty and fruit — thrive in the desert???

Prior to the last six months, God has helped me to look back on my late 1990’s desert experience as just that: a really hard season that produced many good things in my life. During the recent challenges I’ve been walking through, though, those comforting thoughts escaped me. Over the past few weeks God has graciously brought a fresh hope-induced perspective.  I am experiencing genuine relief for my soul and  I will someday look back on this dry time with the same eye toward God’s faithfulness.

By God’s grace, that’s starting to happen!

Does the thought of God leading me into the desert disturb you? I wouldn’t be surprised. But if the desert was a place God led Jesus for His good, then why wouldn’t He lead us there? I can honestly say that the hardest seasons of my life are those where God did speak to me with tenderness. And on my retreat last week, He did just that.

I even received some Fatherly correction from Him.  Tender. Clear. And with love. I look forward to telling you about that next week.

The desert is really hard and really helpful.  Only God can do that.

The Desert Within

What comes to mind when you think of the desert? For east coast Americans, our only reference is media imagery: bright sun, endless sand, little or no life forms, no food, and no water.  Not a place I want to visit, much less hang out!

Yet the Bible has a lot to say about deserts, probably because the typography of many Bible story locations are deserts or semi-deserts.

Just think about it: The Israelites had to pass through the desert to get to the promised land that was flowing with milk and honey. David hid in the desert from Saul (1 Samuel 1) and Elijah spent some considerable time there while in danger, too (1 Kings 19).  And, of course, Jesus had his amazing encounter with Satan in the Judean desert (Matthew 4).

I’ve recently been encouraged by remembering that Paul was knocked off his horse and converted in the desert on his way to Damascus, after which he spent three whole years in Arabia (Galatians 1) being prepared for the history-changing ministry God had for him.

Desert experiences are hard. But the really good news is that they always result in sweet fruit.

Real deserts are one thing. But dark nights of the soul (a widely used phrase from a poem by 16th century mystic Saint John of the Cross) are deserts within. Some of the symptoms can include:

  • Praying for years for something that hasn’t happened and battling fear or unbelief that God cares.
  • Feeling demotivated and disengaged from things and activities you used to love.
  •  Wondering if long held dreams and goals will ever happen.
  • Battling depression and hopelessness.
  • Wanting to withdraw from people; having to force yourself to go to meetings, hang out with people; etc.
  • Struggling with self-pity and gloominess.
  • General feeling of “going through the motions”; lacking joy.

Are you in the desert? If this list describes you all or in part, consider doing what I did recently and see your doctor to discover if there are things beyond your control that are playing a part in your struggles. Then let people know you’re hurting. For some reason, going through dark times is not something about which we Christians talk to each other. We are too often tempted to put on a happy face and feel ashamed to disclose the desert within.

But what freedom comes when we humble ourselves and say, “I’m not doing well. Can you pray for me?”

More tomorrow on my desert journey.  The hard time I have been walking through doesn’t compare to that of so many who have struggled far longer and for far more serious reasons. If you’re not struggling right now, thank God…and maybe think of someone you know who could use some encouragement.

Because there’s always hope.