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.

Really Good News

The following is an adaptation of a message preached by Benny Phillips called “Hope for the Bruised and Exhausted”, preached from Isaiah 42:1-4. It was first printed on the Redeemer Church of Lake Nona blog. 

In the lands around Palestine reeds grow in abundance, particularly along the edges of the Jordan River. They have fragile, hollow stems and are easily knocked over by the wind, rough waters or animals that come to the water’s edge to drink. Once a reed is broken, it can’t be fixed. Whereas other plants may repair themselves, reeds cannot.

099Like reeds, people can become bruised, hurt, knocked over, easily. We can be knocked over by life, broken relationships, disease and sickness, by the thoughtlessness and carelessness of other people. There are many people that are bruised, broken, and hurting, all around us, living next door, shopping where we shop, playing where we play.

Jesus came to have an impact, not on reeds but on people. He did not come to break a person who was already bruised or knock down a person who was already bent low with the difficulties of life. Unlike a reed, which cannot be fixed, Jesusis able to bind up our broken lives. He gives us new strength, and applies healing salve to our damaged lives. He came softly and gently to mend the broken reeds of the world.

Jesus did this throughout his ministry. The leper of Matthew chapter 8 was a bruised reed. He was diseased, cast off by society, shunned by everyone, destined to a slow and terrible death. But Jesus came and touched him and his life was forever changed!

The demon-possessed man in that same chapter of Matthew 8 was also a bruised reed. He was living among the tombstones, naked, tormented, cast out by society. But Jesus came and touched him and his life was forever changed!

The woman caught in adultery was a bruised reed. She was about to be cast away by society, stoned for her sin, and they would have been justified in their stoning according to the laws of their day. But Jesus came and touched her and her life was forever changed!

The woman with the flow of blood was a bruised reed. She was in pain, weak, weary, an outcast from society. She thought she would touch Jesus, but instead, Jesus touched her in a way that she never dared hope. Like the others, her was forever changed!

I have been a bruised reed, angry and bitter, hurting and depressed until Jesus came and touched me and my life has been forever changed. Jesus is the answer for the bruised reeds in our world. He is the answer for those who are bruised, broken, hurting, cast aside by society.

Jesus changes lives. Has he healed you?

When Only an Embrace Will Do

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mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

Have you seen the youtube videos of children greeting their camo-clad father or mother upon their return from oversees military service? I have watched several through tears. Watching little ones jittering as if they need to use the bathroom while waiting for Dad or Mom to come into view, then seeing them rush with outstretched arms to a parent who own arms have longed to hold their beloved child gets me every time.

I imagine that when Dad, for example, was gone for all that time Mom tried hard to offer their child a good explanation.

  • “Daddy is working hard far away to protect and serve our country.”
  • “I know you miss Daddy, sweetie.  He’s doing a really important job and he’ll be home as soon as he can.”
  • “What does Daddy do?  Well, he fixes big tanks and trucks so people can use them to help keep others safe.”
  • “You know Daddy is a pilot, right? Well, right now he’s flying things like food and medicine to people far away who wouldn’t have those things without Daddy.”

I don’t know a single child who would understand why their Daddy or Mommy needed to be the one to do these things. What child would say, “Oh, I get it. Now it makes perfect sense why I won’t see my Dad or Mom for a year.  Thanks!”

Explanations don’t satisfy kids who miss and want their parents when only an embrace will do. A child who misses Mommy or Daddy can’t fathom any reason good enough for not having them tuck them in bed at night month after month or missing their birthday party or not being there on Christmas morning. The only thing they want is to be with Dad or Mom…now.

And that’s what their parents want, too. Seeing the beaming faces of mothers and fathers on those videos clutching their kids, often with tears streaming, fills my own heart with joy.

I’ve been thinking about how this relates to my relationship with God. You see, sometimes I think knowledge will help, especially during difficult seasons. There have been numerous times when trials or suffering left me craving an explanation.

  • “If I just knew why this was happening, I’d feel better.”
  • “God, just explain how all this is going to ‘work together for good’ (Romans 8:28) and then I’ll feel better.”
  • “So, Lord, what’s the purpose in this awfulness? Help me understand and it’ll be easier to endure.”

During challenging times it helps me to realize that knowledge isn’t what I need; I need God Himself. The answer to difficulties isn’t explanation but relationship. You see, even knowing the future good that will come “someday” isn’t all that comforting in the midst of sorrow, loneliness or disorienting circumstances. Knowing that “down the road” fruit will come from a dry and painful season doesn’t take today’s sadness and weariness away.

The only thing that makes today’s hardships lighten is the Father’s embrace.

Are you going through a tough time? Do you believe that having God sit down and explain why this is happening and the good things that will come from your pain will really help you? Consider Job. If he knew that his dead children would be “replaced” by future children, would he have said, “Oh, I get it. That makes me feel better.” No. Knowledge just begs new questions, not fresh peace.

When we Christians are hurting and craving explanations for tough times, what we need is to tangibly experience the nearness, comfort and warmth of God’s embrace. Hearts that crave knowledge bow to arms that feel welcomed and loved.

I pray you’ll find the strength to let go of the demand for explanation and knowledge and just run into your Father’s eager arms. You’ve missed Him, not answers.

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.

Kristin’s Story

On Friday I mentioned I had a story for you. It’s a story about what “speaking [gospel] truth in love” (Eph 4:15-16) can look like in real life.

Last Thursday we had Community Group (our church’s small group ministry) in our home. This is not the group we typically attend. In fact, it was our first time with them since our new church started them two months ago. Benny opened the meeting by reviewing the purpose of our groups: to grow in biblical fellowship by learning how to incarnate the love and hope of Christ to one another. After some brief comments he asked if anyone in the group had anything happening in their lives for which they wanted help.

After a brief pause, Kristin (not her real name) spoke up. Because she is new to both Christianity and to the group, I was impressed by her humility and the obvious grace she had witnessed in the group the prior time she had attended. Who would so easily open up their life to a group of people she doesn’t know well — unless she had witnessed the compassionate care she now desired to personally experience?

Kristin humbly shared concerns and disappointments about her marriage to Scott (who wasn’t present) but did so without putting him in a bad light. She started by communicating her eagerness to focus on her own weaknesses because she understands the only person she has any control over changing is herself. I didn’t know this young woman, but I was already inspired.

As she described weaknesses in how she and Scott communicate, my heart was warmed when Benny and other men in the room identified with Scott. This prevented Scott from being “the bad guy” as several husbands empathized with his responses and thinking, and wives admitted they struggled similarly to Kristin. What grace.

Group members also asked helpful, compassionate questions about her struggles. She responded to each with gut-level honesty. As a young woman expecting her second child in less than two years, it became apparent that she is in a tough season. Martial strife and anger, pregnancy nausea, fatigue, and financial stress are taking their toll on this new Christian.

“Sometimes I get so upset I just have to leave. So I go outside, sit in my car and read my Bible. And God leads me to something that helps me to know what needs to be fixed in me. I can’t fix my husband but I know God can fix me.”

How inspiring that such a young Christian facing weighty challenges could be so open and have such a healthy dose of self-suspicion! She is also running to God, rather than becoming bitter that becoming a Christian didn’t solve all her problems. Amazing. Individuals in the room communicated how inspired they were by her humility. Even her honesty wasn’t without an understanding disposition toward a husband toward whom she regularly struggles with disappointment and anger.

Then someone asked Kristin if she felt God’s biggest priority was to “fix” her.

You see, Kristin grew up in a religious system where doing or praying the “right” thing was a focus. That night she wanted to know what she needed to do to change. Her desire to focus on herself rather than her husband is impressive, but the fact is their marriage is hard. They are both suffering from patterns of sin in themselves and their spouse. They’re weary. Frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Financially strapped. Young and inexperienced. And another baby is coming soon.

When someone asked Kristen what one thing she most wanted to see change in her marriage she said, “Our communication. Even when we’re sitting together on the couch watching TV I feel alone. I just want him to listen to me. To care about what I’m saying. To understand what I’m going through. But my overreactions and anger aren’t helping. I understand why he doesn’t want to talk to me sometimes because our conversations start with me being angry.”

A woman in the room went back to Kristin saying she needed to be “fixed” by God.

“Kristin,” she began, “You obviously see that your angry outbursts and over reactions to situations are hurting yourself and your marriage. And you’re right. But God is helping you to see this and it’s an evidence of His grace that you have eyes to see the affects your sin patterns are having. Yet I’m not sure God’s priority right now is to fix you. I think what might be most important to Him is for you to know He loves you.”

Kristin needed to hear that what she is looking for — attention, affection, a listening ear, comfort, companionship — will never ultimately come from Scott. Yes, Scott needs to grow. By God’s grace, he will learn how to more tenderly care for his wife. But chances are that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Two of the ladies (representing me, too!) were able to share how common her and Scott’s struggles are by admitting similar temptations to anger and criticalness.

And even if Scott changes, God is the only One who will always love her; always be available to listen to her; always care about what she says; always accept her. Because of His death on the cross, she is forever loved and cherished, even though she gets angry and has become bitter toward her husband.

As these thoughts were shared, Kristin began to cry.

“I came tonight hoping I could get help. I thought that people would tell me I need to stop nagging and being so angry at Scott, which is true. But God is saying He loves me even though I’m sinning so much? That just makes me love Him more.”

Oh, the hope that gospel truth brings.

Speaking the truth in love to Kristin means telling her the whole truth. The gospel truth. It’s true that her pattern of sinful anger and bitterness is eating away at her love for Scott (like his sins are equally hurting their marriage). It’s true that she needs to change. But it’s also true that God loves her. He looks on her with favor, acceptance and tender care. He is never angry or frustrated or wearied by her talking or impatient or selfish. And His power is at work in her to help her to go from seeing her sin to experiencing real and lasting change.

Scott will never be God to her. There is only One who is capable of loving her endlessly and perfectly.

As peace settled onto Kristin, one of the guys spoke up. He shared that unlike Scott (and other husbands in the room…smile) God always wants to hear her talk and that she didn’t need special prayers to communicate with Him. “Just talk to Him like you did to us. Pour out your heart to Him and He will always listen. Don’t feel you have to say it the ‘right’ way.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?!?!?” she exclaimed. “I was just going to ask for prayers I can pray to have this kind of relationship with God.”

Oh, how I love the active presence of the Spirit of God when His people gather.

I know this post has been long. Thank you for your patience. But it’s not enough to read about “speaking the truth in love.” Kristin’s story shows us what speaking gospel truth to one another can look like in a real person’s real life circumstances.

As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Yes. That’s the gospel. And I saw it in action last Thursday night.

Is Kristin’s story your story?

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.