Joy, Pain, and Peace

Quite the weekend! At a client appreciation dinner Friday night, Don and I received a significant answer to prayer, not only for us, but for someone we love.

Saturday we attended a magnificent Christmas concert at Twin Lakes Church. The rafters were raised and joy was present! Two hundred singers, instrumentalists, dancers, American Idol finalist James Durbin; Rebecca Jackson, violinist with the San Francisco Ballet; and Grammy award winning cellist Jonah Kim told the story, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of the cosmic war going on between light and darkness, and the knowledge that God in Christ has won the battle at the Cross, that Jesus is Lord!

My physical therapist, Emily, joined us, as did a former Intel colleague and his wife, Bill and Carol Munger. Bill and I haven’t been in touch for eleven years, until I recently learned he and Carol now live in the same area as we do. Wonderful to enjoy this concert with these friends. We were all lifted up, encouraged, renewed in spirit.

And tonight, we will celebrate a 50th birthday for one of my daughters-in-faith.

We are richly blessed in the things that really matter–family, friends, the God who is here with us, Immanuel. Beautiful, centering music. This morning, sunlight streaming through the window as Don and I sat across from each other, reading God’s Word and having our minds renewed.

Yet in the middle of all the festivities and celebration and joy, there is lots of pain.

  • Families have lost, and are losing, homes to California wildfires. Some don’t know where their next housing will come from.
  • Finances get stretched in the desire to provide a wonderful Christmas to our families.
  • A friend’s infant nephew is in the hospital with three infections.
  • Another friend’s husband has been in the hospital, fighting for his life, for over 200 days.
  • Families are stressed because of conflict, finances, illness, and other challenges.
  • Loneliness is heightened during a season focused on love, when many are surrounded by loved ones and it sometimes feels like everyone else has it together.
  • Political conflict abounds, here and abroad.

With all our technologies, our knowledge, life is still hard. Jesus said that “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)  While we still face difficulties, we have a God who has promised to be with us in all, who cares for our pain, and who promises His people a future when justice will reign, illness will have died forever, and we will live in peace, love and joy in His presence for all eternity.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” (Matthew 5:3, MSG)

Will you join me in focusing on moments of joy and gratitude this Christmas season, rather than in the “to do lists” we all have for the holidays? Let’s make more of presence than of presents; of the beauty in our loved ones than in our homes; of God’s good gifts than in our wish lists.

Blessings to each of you this Christmas!

Grief at Christmas

At a memorial for our dear friend this week, close friends celebrated Steve Stybor’s life and faith through sixteen years’ struggle with cancer. The pastor spoke of Steve’s love for Jesus Christ. Friends spoke of this man’s care for them, always wanting to know how THEY were doing in the midst of his own struggles. I experienced this too.

“How’re you doing Steve?”

“Not great. But how’s your shoulder healing?”

Steve made friends everywhere he went, from the Safeway clerks he knew by name, to the orderlies, nurses and doctors in the oncology ward and chemo unit, to friends at Bible Study Fellowship and at church.

We miss Steve. Conversations, shared memories, and his humor. He had two memorable caps he wore often: one embroidered with “Chemosabe;” the other with a fringe of fake red hair sticking out the top. Steve could laugh at himself as well as at, and with, others.

I expect some of you are either experiencing your own grief over the loss of a loved one, or know someone who is grieving this Christmas season. Somehow all the “firsts” hit especially hard as the loved one’s absence leaves a gaping hole as we go through the motions, hearts numb, minds unfocused, eyes either wet from unstoppable tears or dried out from the sobs that have already wracked our bodies.

So I thought I would repeat a blog I wrote two years ago.

It was Christmas, 2005. Eighteen days after my husband had moved from my arms into the waiting arms of Jesus.

All I wanted to do was crawl under a warm blanket for about three years, until the aching void in my heart had eased, the elephant on my chest been removed. But you can’t sidestep grief. I slept about eleven hours a night, often with a two or three-hour nap in the afternoon. The ache felt so HEAVY.  It weighed me down. In a daze, I moved from one thing to another, planning and communicating with friends about his memorial, filing for insurance and social security benefits, and taking care of immediate needs.

I thought my life was over. “How do you go on when half of you has been ripped away?” I sobbed. And yet, the very day of Jerry’s death God gave me Jeremiah 29:11 to claim as my own: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.” I knew that withdrawing into myself would not honor either my Jerry or my God. I stumbled on, with a deep void I thought would never leave my heart, tears accompanying me to bed and again on waking, the body pillow I hugged a very poor substitute for that living, breathing man beside me. And yet, the God who is FAITHFUL and TRUE promised never to leave nor forsake me.

I felt His care through family and friends who loved on me, who didn’t try to “fix” me, who let me cry or talk or be silent or a distant guest, lost in my own thoughts as others laughed and talked around me. My brothers supported me in a myriad of ways during and after Jerry’s death. My nephew and niece, who rented an apartment from me, came to my back door every night for weeks, to check in and hug me. My sister-in-law and niece prepared and froze quite a few individual meals for me. On each Tupperware container was a scripture or note of encouragement. And, having been widowed three years earlier herself, Mom listened and prayed and grieved along with me.

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

As we celebrated Jerry’s life a few weeks after his death, I knew my family and many friends who also loved Jerry, grieved with me. But two days later, during our family Christmas, I felt like I was in a bottomless hole. With hollow, red-rimmed eyes, I watched others open gifts. Their muted affirmations of thanks swirled around me. I wasn’t quite “there.” This was my first Christmas in 24 years without his love, laughter and teasing, his presence, his gifts, and gifts for him. It seemed surreal that life could continue when mine had been so radically altered.

It must have been hard for my loving family to watch me, as they reached out to me with hugs and tears throughout the day. They were dealing with their own loss, of a son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle.

Friends expressed love in a variety of ways. The day after Christmas, a dear friend sat on the floor in front of me and listened. The first person to whom I told the whole story of Jerry’s last day on earth, she loved me by squeezing my hand and murmuring words of compassion as I spoke.

How about you? Are you lonely this Christmas? Can you reach out for help, to a friend, a local church, a counselor? Be with people who will allow you to grieve at your own pace and in your own way?

Conversely, if you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, look for ways to encourage them.

  • Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Listen meaningfully and hug appropriately.
  • And oh, avoid giving advice (unless asked) or telling the person “this must have been God’s plan.” A woman approached me very soon after Jerry’s death, asking “What is the Lord teaching you through this time?” She must have caught my look, which said “Teaching me? Friend, I’m just barely hanging on by my fingernails.” “Spiritualizing” is NOT helpful. Listening IS.
  • Prepare a meal, or invite them to attend something with you. (And if they say no, ask again later–they may not have been ready yet to do anything public.)
  • Send a card or note telling them you’re thinking of them.
  • Offer practical help, such as grocery shopping, a ride to an appointment, or help finding resources such as grief recovery groups.
  • Allow your friend the freedom to express anger, pain, disillusionment, whatever he or she feels, without judging or trying to challenge those feelings. They need to be expressed in a safe place. LISTEN!
  • If many others are asking how they can help, offer to be the point person to coordinate so the grief-stricken individual doesn’t have to handle logistics at this difficult time.
  • Pray for them.
    • Now.
    • On the phone.
    • In person.
    • Privately.
    • However the Holy Spirit suggests.

Click on the link below for more ways to help a grieving friend.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devSupporting a Grieving Personine/death-and-dying_b_4329830.html

May you experience the love and comfort of our God, through Jesus Christ, no matter your circumstances, this Christmas season. “Immanuel” — God with us!

 

 

 

Speaking our Thanks

Driving home, I was conversing with a friend on my phone. On the center curb between lanes stood an older gentleman with a sign asking for help, saying he was a Vietnam vet. I spoke into the speaker: “Hold on a minute, Cindy.”

I reached over to pick up one of the food packets I often carry in my car for this purpose, rolled down my window, and smiled as I handed it to the man. “Thank you for your service.” He responded. “Thank you for acknowledging my service. God bless you.”

His words spoke to me, emphasizing the importance of expressing our thanks. My point isn’t to talk about the politics of that war; but I thought of how vilified many of the vets returning from ‘Nam were, and how much it may have meant to this man to have someone say ‘thank you’ rather than spit on him.

Expressing thanks is critical. As Rene said last weekend, it’s not enough to “feel” grateful; we need to express it! If we don’t, the person to whom we feel thankful can interpret that as rejection.

So … to whom can you speak thanks or appreciation this week?

Maybe it’s Jesus. How often have we stopped to thank Him – for salvation, unconditional love, forgiveness, sunshine, family, friends, puppy dogs, flowers, the beauty of nature?

Maybe it’s a loved one we’ve taken for granted, to whom we need to reaffirm our love, appreciation and care.

Maybe it’s a friend with whom there’s been a break, who needs to know we still appreciate them.

Maybe it’s a pastor, who probably hears more criticism than affirmation.

Maybe it’s a boss, a subordinate, or a co-worker, who has helped you complete a project, or has challenged you to grow in new directions.

Maybe it’s your child, who needs to know how incredibly precious he or she is to you, regardless of behavior, tantrums, or choices with which you disagree. Proverbs 17:17 says that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

I want to be a person who speaks thanks, who reflects gratitude, who encourages others in word and deed. How about you?

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” (or perhaps, affirmation!) Proverbs 27:9

Thanksgiving – Today, or Every Day?

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

(Psalm 95:1-2 NIV)

 

Thankfulness has been scientifically shown to have significant health benefits, including an increase in happiness. But to receive its highest value, we need to SHOW our thanks, not just feel it. As pastor and author Tim Keller states, “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.”

So as we enter this Thanksgiving week, I’m reflecting on the things for which I am grateful. And they are many.

  • For Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, who enfolded me into His family, who died and rose again so that I might have a relationship with Him now and for eternity. Who enabled me to move forward after the most devastating loss of my life, into a new life of love, joy, service, and community.
  • For Mom and Dad, who loved me unconditionally, even when I hurt them by actions or choices, and who taught me as a child to love Jesus.  Who provided a secure home foundation as well as resources for me to grow in faith and in life. Who pray for me, and their other children, daily.
  • For three loving brothers, Melvyn, Arnold and Robert, and their wives Vicky, Carol and Sheila, who have always had a significant presence in my life, and who have walked with me through significant joys and sorrows.
  • For Sunday School and public school teachers who taught, challenged, encouraged me to learn and grow and study and pass on what I learned that impacted my life.
  • For single missionary to Nigeria, Katherine Dick, whose life showed me that service to God was a joy rather than simply a duty.
  • For two loving husbands, Don and Jerry, both of whom love(d) me well, sacrificially, joyfully; with whom I delight in sharing life; and who work(ed) with me through the difficult times all marriages face.
  • For two precious daughters-in-faith, Grace and Tanith, who give me deep joy as I watch them develop their own walks with God, and who love me back.
  • For grandnephew Joshua, visiting from London these past two weeks, who helped Don put my new desk together and taught me a great deal more about my online presence and possibilities.
  • For my writing mentor, Karen, and my writing critique group members who hold me accountable and critique my work to make it better and more impactful.
  • For sorrow, without which I might not recognize–or appreciate as deeply–joy.
  • For my dear friends, who have stood with me through good and bad times, who have forgiven me when needed, who have invited me into their hearts and lives. You know who you are, and I thank you!
  • My readers, who take the time to let me know if something touches them, or if there is something I say with which they disagree.

And there’s more! Our country, the wonderful church Don and I are part of, a home, food, clothing, friendships, our sweet doggie …  laughter, tears, the ability to think, walk, see, hear, smell …

Charles Stanley: “Gratitude produces deep, abiding joy because we know that God is working in us, even through difficulties.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!” 

So, as we enjoy the food and festivities of this special day (and every day), have you expressed your thanks to others? If not, I challenge you to do so–for both your benefit and theirs!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

 

 

 

So What’s Next?

The right engine died. The warning light flashed. “Turn off the generator.” As Captain KD Jost lifted his hand to hit the button, following protocol, he heard a voice. “Don’t hit the button.” Trained in the exact steps to follow in an emergency, KD hesitated. Once again he heard, “Don’t hit that button.” As he pulled his hand away from the button, the plane’s left engine stopped. Had KD turned off the generator the plane would have been totally without power, likely leading to a crash and multiple deaths.

Another Captain, a friend of KD’s, stepped out of the pilots’ rest area and into the cockpit on a transatlantic flight. The navigator jabbed at one knob after another, trying to get the instrument controls to work. The pilot was catatonic, unable to respond to the crisis. Realizing their flight was off track and they weren’t getting any instrument feedback, the Captain literally slid under the pilot’s body and pushed him out of the way in order to take control.  In addition to being lost, the plane’s gas was running low. “God, help me,” he prayed. And he heard, “95 degrees.”

Looking at the navigator, the Captain spoke. “I’m going for a 95 degree heading.”

“You can’t do that,” the navigator said. “We have no idea where we are.”

“Well, the instruments aren’t telling us anything and this is the most helpful input I have so I’m going with it.”

Wonderful time celebrating KD’s retirement

Following the 95 degree heading and knowing the gas tank was near empty, the Captain began his descent, still not knowing where he was or what would greet him when he broke through the clouds. But as he did, he saw the runway of the Azores straight ahead of him. And just as he landed, the empty gas tanks caused the engines to flare out. All on board were safe because the Captain listened to the clear direction of the Holy Spirit for that otherwise-doomed flight.

These were just two of many stories KD told this weekend as family celebrated his retirement after 38 years of commercial flying and training other pilots on the newest aircraft, including the United’s Dreamliner. Eighteen of us had a wonderful weekend celebrating, visiting, catching up on each other’s lives, learning to know and love each other more, laughing, and of course, eating!

So what’s next for KD and his lovely bride, Connie? “Probably staying home for awhile, resting up, then we’ll see where God leads.”

Retirement … a new beginning. The end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. As Jesus followers, our purpose goes beyond when the paid work stops. God has used KD to serve the needs of his passengers, his crew, his trainees. And His work through KD is not finished. And just as He directed KD, sometimes in miraculous ways, during his years as a pilot, He will continue to lead. Our God doesn’t change, nor does His directive to love and serve God and others end as we age.

Some retirees use their RVs to travel to disaster sites to help rebuild.

One of my best friends started a volunteer group helping first grade kids with literacy, through a program in which local churches partner with neighboring schools to help make an impact.

Still others host refugee families or serve in the Church in new ways.

Paul reminds mature women to teach or mentor younger women to live in such a way “that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:2). In other words, to live and mentor in such a way that our lives, and the lives of those we mentor, honor God and family. One of my greatest joys in this season of life is mentoring two younger women in their faith walks.

Scripture talks of “elders in the gates,” giving advice and sharing wisdom with people in their circle of influence. I think of the life experience KD, my husband Don, my brothers and other men I respect have and are able to share with younger men, both in life and in their walks with God.

At retirement the world says “Enjoy life. You’ve earned it. Take it easy. No responsibility.” But God says we are to honor Him all the days of our lives–whether relaxing and enjoying the blessings He has given us; or serving the church and others. And while we may move more slowly, be limited in some of our strength or capabilities, we can still pray. We can visit those in the hospital or in need; help at a food distribution center; offer rides to doctors’ appointments; and do all with joy and grace in the name of Jesus.

And our God has promised to be with us through every day, every year of our lives. In Isaiah 46:4 He promises “I will be your God throughout your lifetime–until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (NLT)

So retirement is not an end, but a beginning, as we look to God, asking, “So what’s next?”

If you’re retired, where do you feel the most joy? If you’re not yet retired, what are you looking forward to in that season of your life?