When Sunday Morning Doesn’t Come

“I agree that marriage it hard, and a good marriage is worth it.  However, the hardest thing I’ve ever done isn’t marriage….the hardest thing I’ve ever done was a long, ugly, extremely messy divorce and the unhealthy, dysfunctional co-parenting relationship I have with their dad.”

I was sitting in the studio interviewing relationship experts Jeff and Debbie McElroy about the goodness of marriage when my phone buzzed with this message from a friend who was listening. She knew she could contact me, because we have walked the same journey of “long, ugly, messy divorce”.

As I sat in the studio with Jeff and Debbie I was encouraged. Encouraged to see two people so deeply committed to each other and so obviously in love. As Jeff described the “why” of marriage I found myself nodding along, “yes, this is what marriage is for! It’s for showing the gospel!” Jeff and Debbie continued painting the picture of how marriage models the gospel for us, how it shows us redemption in tangible ways. How in each marriage God wants to enter into every hopeless and dead place and bring resurrection. As Jeff says “Every marriage has a Sunday Morning coming.”

After they left the studio I needed to be alone for a few minutes. I needed to sit with the reality that the “Sunday Morning” of my marriage will never come. I needed space to grieve that fact, to take that truth to Jesus and sit with Him in the pain of it.

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Last week we received a message from someone who was hurting. He had heard a story of how God had healed a man’s wife of cancer, but his wife died. The same God who allowed cancer to take his wife’s life allowed another man’s wife to have more years with her husband and kids. His “Sunday Morning” of cancer-free-life will never come. And, I imagine, the reality of that truth hurts daily.

What do we do when the reality of our situation is that for us here in this moment Sunday Morning isn’t coming?

Today I’ve been thinking about Job and all that he lost. I saw him sitting there in sackcloth and ashes with dust literally pouring from his head and I was jealous. Not of all that Job had gone through, but of the time Job took to sit and mourn his loss. I was jealous of Job’s ashes. Ashes that told everyone who saw him and everyone who came in contact with him that this was a man in mourning.

I sometimes wish we had something to wear to let others know that our season of mourning hasn’t past yet and that we are still filled with grief.

I think we do a pretty lousy job in our American culture of grieving that which is important. We wear black to funerals and the next morning wake up and put on whatever color suits us. As quickly as the flowers from the funeral spray shrivel up, die, and are thrown in the trash, society tells us to move on. We’re not allowed to sit and blankly stare, or to talk about our loss, or cry. Our employers give us a day, maybe two, off of work to attend the funeral and say our goodbyes and then we’re expected to return to work and the task at hand.

But grief isn’t an occasion that comes and passes, it comes and stays, lingering at the door of our heart. It sneaks up on you unexpectantly in the strangest places. When you’re going through your day as normal and all of a sudden you catch the scent of something that reminds you of them. When those day’s come when time slows and memories seem to wrap your mind like a blanket and grief is stirred back up again. And you have to leave the room and lock yourself in the bathroom to mourn in private, because it’s unacceptable to mourn in public.

We live in a society that is afraid of emotion. We don’t know how to express it and we don’t know how to comfort others that do. We’ve been trained to not grieve and mourn, we’ve been trained to get over it, or at least pretend that we have.

But God is not afraid of our grief, or our anger, or questioning, or fear. He is not caught off guard or intimidated when we come to Him with shaking fists and tear stained cheeks and beg for the pain to go away. He doesn’t mind when our eyes fill up with tears at the most awkward moments. He doesn’t turn His back to us when we come with questions and fears and ask “why”.

Jesus was a man acquainted with grief. He wept and was sorrowful. Jesus mourned. And He shed tears, unashamedly.

He welcomed the broken woman who literally washed His feet with her tears and He did not push her away or tell her to pull herself together. He welcomed her to His feet to pour out every single bit of grief that she had carried for so many years. He did not dismiss her tears. Yet, we feel as if we can’t bring our emotions into the throne room of grace because we feel like we can’t bring our emotions into our modern day churches or workplaces or homes. But if there is one place that grief is welcome, it is in the presence of God.

I hear people talk often about how in Heaven we’ll never cry again, but I’m not sure that’s true. Revelation 21:4 says “He will wipe every tear from their eyes”. To me the picture of Jesus wiping tears from our eyes is not the picture of bride who never cries, but a picture of a husband who lets her, and who comforts her when she does.

Tears are precious to God. He collects them, He doesn’t dismiss them. We are welcomed into the presence of God when our hearts are filled with grief and sorrow.

I find it interesting that in biblical times ashes were a symbol of grief. When someone they loved died or a tragedy happened they would literally take ashes and throw them on their heads. They would cover themselves in filth to represent the darkness of heart they felt.

“To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isa. 61:3

Jesus offers us a holy exchange. He invites us to come to Him, ash covered and tear stained. He bends down into our sorrow and He wipes the tears from our eyes and pours oil over our heads. And as that oil runs rivets down our face and our shoulders and our hands and feet, it washes away the ashes of our mourning.

But we have to come.

We have to come to Him and bring every bit of sorrow. We have to come and sit with Him in the pain. Only when we come can He reveal the true beauty there.

~Keri

Photo by jmtimages Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Holding Hurt Hostage

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Two summers ago I read a story in a blog that has recently come back to my memory. In fact, I can’t quit thinking about the monkeys Fab saw that day…

One time I made the mistake of going to the Austin Rescue Zoo with a friend of mine. It is probably the most depressing way you could spend a day; each of the animals has been rescued from a terrible environment. I was excited to see the monkeys because (a) I like monkeys and (b) because these monkeys had been trapped in tiny containers (barely the size of their bodies) their entire lives and now they had this huge enclosure with room to swing in the trees and finally act like monkeys. I scanned every branch, but there were no monkeys to be seen. Then I saw a little girl pointing to the corner of the enclosure, and sure enough, there they were. The monkeys sat with hunched bodies in the corners of the cage with their faces pressed up against the bars. It was as if they didn’t know that they had been set free and behind them lay this huge open space. I guess they felt more comfortable in the position they had known their entire lives. They didn’t know how to move their bodies the way they were made; it hurt to stretch and move their muscles. So they just sat – looking at the exact same view they’d had before they were ever rescued.

There are times in life when hurt holds us hostage. When misfortune finds its way into our hearts and displaces everything else. When we are so wrapped up in grief and circumstance that we feel trapped by it, enslaved even. Thankfully, for the most part, those are seasons in our life that come and go. Usually they stick around longer than we’d like, but almost always they do end. The problem is, when hurt has lingered long it’s hard to break free from it. Sometimes, long after hurt has let go of us we still hold tight to it. Instead of hurt holding us hostage we hold hurt hostage. We invite misfortune to pull up a chair and stay a while. Hurt moves in and takes up residency in our hearts. And all the while we hold the power to set them free. Instead of letting the hurts go and releasing the pain of the past we hold it hostage. We tie it to a chair and point a gun to its head. The problem is that we ourselves become the prisoner.

I’ve watched too many movies. I know what hostages are like. You can’t turn your back on them for one minute or they will escape. So we live with one eye trained on the hurt. We can’t fully engage in life because we’re tied to watching our hostages; fear, anger, depression, bitterness, mistrust, resentment, cynicism, abuse. They cloud our vision and keep us from being free. We can’t let them out of our sight or they might escape. I hate my hostages, I want to be free from them, but somewhere along the way I’ve taken them on as mine and feel responsible for guarding them. But what if we let them go? What if we put the gun down and untied the ropes? What if we opened the back door and let the hurt leave? What if we made room for something else to occupy that space? What if we emptied a few chairs and risked letting peace or love or joy to come and sit with us?

We live like those monkeys. God has delivered us, but we’re still not free. He has broken the power of the hurt and pain, but we can’t let go of the memory of it. We’re afraid to turn around and explore our new found liberty because we might get hurt again. We feel more comfortable in the presence of pain and sorrow then we do in the presence of life and joy so we hang out with what’s familiar. I get it; it’s risky to leave the cage. It’s scary to head into unchartered territory. It’s silly to think that we’d rather stay tied to hurt than to run out into abundant life and joy and freedom. But when you’ve been hurt too long, and broken too much it’s flat out hard to change.

And we don’t have to. We can keep living like we’ve always lived. Overcome by fear, in the shadow of doubt, with closed off hearts. Or… we can let go. We can chose to cut the ropes that tie us to our past. We can open the door of our heart and let love and life blow in. Scary? Absolutely. Worth it? I think so. (I know the right answer is “yes, it’s worth it” but in full disclosure my heart is still in the “I think so” stage.)

When we hold hurt hostage we live small lives. We live trapped. But we don’t have to. God longs to set us free from the confines of our own fear. He longs to bring us out of the dark dungeon and into the light of life.

“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

Let’s make room in our lives for the spacious places God has planned for us. Let’s take a deep breath, close our eyes, and let go off all we’re holding hostage in our hearts. Let’s live free!

~Keri

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Photo by IKO Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Matthew Paulson Licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

When Christmas Is Heartbreaking

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She would have been twelve.

I just assume that I only make girls. Being a self-professed girly girl, I soak in all the sugar and spice. Fairy tales and make believe, chasing after dreams like clouds thinking if I jumped high enough I would hold them in my hand.

I haven’t thought about her in a while. But, for years thoughts of her consumed my waking moments and my dreams.

It was Christmas time; all was jolly and bright with the gentle mixture of fear. What would motherhood be like and would I be good at it? All I knew was that strong desire to mother was within and we would figure it out together. I would grow into motherhood with each breath she took.

Three days before Christmas something happened. I knew something was wrong, I began to miscarry a dream, and a fragile life. I could see it every time I looked in the mirror, fear staring me in the face. I spent a few hours in an ER room longing to hear a heartbeat that was never meant to beat.

I pulled myself together, packed our gifts in the car, and said goodbye to my mother. All I really wanted was to stay there with her, but there was more family to be seen with Christmas days away. I tried my hardest to celebrate the birth of the baby that changed everything for me. And yet all I felt was heartache tinged with anger and questions. Why me?

A tiny cry that all of heaven celebrated, the God-child. Immanuel, God with us, and even as my heart broke He was with me unafraid of my questions. Never once did I feel Him condemning me. I just felt His all-consuming love.

I opened maternity gifts and I cradled the new life around me, and new additions to our family, and then I slipped upstairs to grieve without watching eyes. I laid down in the bed, pulled the covers over my head, and fell apart.

My mother-in-love followed me upstairs, sat next to me, and cried with me.

“It was our baby too.”

I’ve never forgotten that moment or that feeling, but at times I have returned that same gift of just crying with those who are hurting.

I don’t know what you are experiencing right now, but I know so many of you are dealing with a loss of a loved one or maybe even a death of a dream. I pray that you find joy, deep joy, in the season and know that the God-child came wrapped in flesh so that we might identify with Him. His love caused Him to leave the comforts of heaven to die for our sins.

Because of the baby in a manger, I have great joy and hope. I have experienced the pit of depression and have been awakened with greater joy in knowing that through that pain, God alone has a purpose in forming us into His likeness.

I have experienced healing and restoration in my body and received the joy of two beautiful girls. But, I haven’t forgotten that Christmas filled with tears and how God met with me and cradled me through it all. So many this season have experienced loss and I just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you, of your pain, and if I could I would sit beside you and carry that pain with you and just cry.

My prayers and thoughts are with you. If you have a prayer request or maybe a testimony like mine, leave a comment and we will be praying with you.

Much love,

Jennifer

The Long, Painful Goodbye & Watching Silver Hair

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My husband and I have been pastors for a little over ten years now, he was twenty-eight when he was voted in. I’ll never forget it and I’ll never forget the moment I realized I couldn’t love another congregation more. I also remember saying that about the people we loved so much at our former church; we have heart-ties that will last a lifetime. We spend some our of time watching silver hair turn more silver and watching wisdom grow so much deeper as we watch beautiful hearts fade into eternity. And some cause a deep emotion in me, leaving me breathless as we say goodbye because I just love them so much.

Pat was beautiful with bright blue eyes and sincerely welcoming when we moved first moved. I was pregnant and scared because I had lost two babies to early miscarriages, and getting larger by the minute.

“Let me take you shopping and to lunch, this one is on my husband.” She would wink and lay down her credit card.

I would smile and think, “No woman feeling so very pregnant with cankles, due any moment, wants to shop.” But I went anyways. Lord, knows that woman was trying to get me to walk, or waddle that child out. But most of all she just wanted to connect with me. She would tell me stories about her five children and living life on a farm…and how she wasn’t afraid to pack heat making this classy lady familiar with handling a shotgun. My eyes would widen and I would laugh taking a mental note to never mess with a classy, southern belle who knew how to take care of business. With a shotgun. She told me about her first husband, the one of her youth, and how he died. And much later, I watched her fade out to join him while her second husband tried his best to keep her here. The last thing she whispered in my ear was “love.” She always told me she loved me and I would echo it back to her. But this time I whispered it back achingly.

“It’s ok, I’ll say it for you. I know you love me and I love you too.”

Later she was trapped in her own body, completely unable to speak, yet still coming to church. Her husband asked me to check on her in the bathroom. She was sick from medication and throwing up. I wet some paper towels and handed them to her and cared for her like I would my own. As I watched her look at her reflection in the mirror, it was as if she was looking at a beautiful stranger, trapped and tired, ready to go home. As I walked her out to her husband of her old age, I nodded to him as he said he would take her home. And then I went back in the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and cried. Hard.

And now I’m doing the same thing with my beloved grandmother Margaret, yet it’s harder for me to remove myself from the situation and just have a good cry and then move on. Even though I’ve lived away from her for over fifteen years now, watching her fade grips me to the core. I’ll admit I have a hard time dealing with it because of what she means to me, even going to see her less frequently because I’m a total wreck in her presence and she has no idea why. No one should have to be trapped inside their own body with Alzheimer’s…especially her.

I’m pretty sure my mother was my first love and my grandma was a close second. Truth be told, she was my very favorite because of the way she spoiled me with so much love, backrubs, quality time, mash potatoes, and Little Debbie’s. She was such big part of my life from a chubby baby, to a scrawny child, and then as a crazy teenager who used to lock myself in her bathroom and color my hair as she knocked and laughed knowing that my sister and I were up to no good. Reflecting back on all my memories with her, I know why I’m such a good mom…because she left traces all over my heart. And even though she is fading and our family has to say a long, slow, painful goodbye; it’s okay that she’s forgotten so many things and might not be able to recognize me, or call me by name. Because I will never, ever forget the lady that shares my brown eyes and my heart. Such a love like that will never fade, I won’t let it.

I love you Grandma.

I’m not sure what you are having to say goodbye to, or what you may be facing, but I do know this. God is so much bigger than this dreadful disease, or cancer, or even painful goodbyes. We can trust Him with the people so dear to our hearts and we can trust Him in our painful goodbyes.

Much love & prayers,

Jennifer

In loving memory of Pat Doudy & my favorite preachers wife, Arretta Melvin.

Because of You

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel with a group of single moms to the Survive and Thrive Conference. My head is still spinning with information and encouragement and heartbreak from the weekend. I feel like I need a week in solitude with my journal to process all that I experienced in those few days. But one thing from the weekend just won’t seem to go away. It’s begging to be processed first, and I think it must.

First can I ask you to watch a video? One of the sessions I went to was titled Filling the Daddy Gap and the facilitator showed this video. I sat in a room with 80 or so single moms wiping tears from their eyes as they saw their own pain and their children’s pain being portrayed in video and song and my heart thought of you.

We all carry pain. We all have been hurt. Damaged. And we can all cry out right alongside Kelly Clarkson and say “Because of you…”

Blame isn’t new. It’s a natural reaction to pain and consequences. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. We all want to justify our behavior by reminding others why it is we behave the way we do. And most of the time our blame is justified. We truly were wronged. We truly were hurt or abused or abandoned or betrayed. So we blame. And we justify. And we stay trapped in our pain, repeating the cycle of suffering.

We rightly cry out “Because of you…” Mom, dad, childhood bully, ex-husband, rapist, abuser, drunk, coach, teacher, pastor, friend. Because of you I’m afraid. Because of you I can’t trust. Because of you I lost my way. Because of you I’m angry. Because of you I’m bitter. Because of you I’m broken. Because of you.

It’s easy to get caught in the cycle of “because of you”. Easy to let it take over our thoughts and emotions. But it’s a dangerous place to live. It’s a place of perpetual pain. It’s a trap that our enemy loves and God despises. Yes, God hates the sin that hurt us. But He also hates the cycle of blame that we continue to live in.

So how do we move forward? How to we break the cycle of blame? The same way, with the same words.

Because of You!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy set before him endured the cross,

scorning its shame,

and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Heb. 12:2

When we take our eyes off of our circumstances and look to Jesus and say “Because of You, Jesus!” everything changes. Because of You, I am free. Because of You, I am healed. Because of You I am not afraid. Because of You I have found hope and trust and joy! Because of You.

It’s time to turn. Away from our pain and towards the cross. It’s only when we fix our eyes on Jesus, only when we see His love for us, demonstrated by the suffering He endured so that we could be forgiven, and that we can truly be free.

When we’re tempted to point a finger and dish out blame, instead let’s look to the cross and say, “Because of You…”

Monsters in the Closet

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As a little girl I was scared of monsters hiding in my closet. Then I got older and learned that six eyed, clawed, sharp teethed monsters aren’t real. Then life turned cruel and I learned that monsters are real, and they’re deadly. Real monsters don’t have sharp teeth and claws, but they do hide in closets. Not because that’s their natural habitat, but because that’s where we put them.

At least that’s where I put my monsters of shame, and anger and hurt. That’s where I hid the whispering monster that said I wasn’t good enough. That’s where I placed the loud monster that told me to be afraid. That’s where I hid the ugly monster that convinced me that I deserved to be angry and bitter and unforgiving.

The monsters we’re too big and too scary to face, so I did all I knew to do… I tucked them away behind closed doors and locked them up tight.

It was much better that way. As long as my monsters were in the closet I could pretend like I was okay. I could smile and act like my life was “just fine, thank you”. Until it was dark and quiet. Then I could hear them scratching on the door to get out. I could hear their muffled voices, smell their rancid breath. Or if you were getting too close to me, if you were pressing in and truly interested in my heart and not just my image. Then I would hear them again, beating and pounding against the door. Frantic to get out. In the dark night and in the intimate conversation my heart would race and panic would grip me. I was desperate to keep those monsters locked away.

It was exhausting.

But it was the only way I knew to coexist with my monsters. Keep them locked away, hidden, out of sight. What I didn’t realize was that as long as I kept my monsters in the closet I was the one trapped.  That as long as they were concealed behind closed doors I was bound to them, bound to hide them, bound to fear them, bound to check on them.

Finally, I got so sick of the monsters that I decided to do something brave, and perhaps a little crazy. I opened the door and let them out. Not all at once. One or two at a time I released them. And never alone. Always there was a brave companion by my side. A counselor, or trusted friend, or spiritual mentor. Together we would stand and face that beast.

A funny thing happened when we opened the closet door… when those monsters stepped into the light of day they became a lot less intimidating. When they stood before me, with the Sword of the Spirit in my hand and the King of Kings standing beside me and a trusted friend praying on my behalf, they lost their power.

I know they would have overtaken me and killed me had I faced them on my own. I’ve seen it happen before to people I love. When they faced their monsters without Christ they were the ones who lost. I also know that they would have killed me if I’d have left them in the closet. Slowly but surly they would have drained the life from me. I’ve seen that too. Seen friends slowly shrivel up and die because they’re too afraid to face their monsters. But when we stand empowered with the Word of God and the victory of the cross, the only things that die are the monsters that haunt us.

“The pain is real

You can’t erase it

Sooner or later

You have to face it down”

JJ Heller (song is below, so worth 3 minutes of your time)

Monsters can’t be tamed and they can’t be silenced. They can kill you or they can be killed, but they cannot be ignored. They are real. The pain is real. The hurt is real. But as long as you ignore it, it has power over you. You can lock it up, but it will not die. And eventually, it will get out of that closet and come after you. The only way to not live in constant fear of that day is to finally, once and for all, face the monster and put it to death.

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And you can! Yes, really! You can face the monster. You can defeat the monster. It might be a long hard battle, you’ll need to be vulnerable and ask for help. It will require you to know and stand on the Word of God. It will demand that you pray and trust Jesus like you’ve never done before. But the silence that comes after the battle… it’s worth enduring the fight.

“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” Eph. 5:11

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Eph. 6:10&11

Over and over and over again the Word of God commands us to be strong and courageous (see Joshua 1:9). Following Jesus isn’t easy or safe or sweet. It’s a battle. It requires courage and strength and sometimes blood and tears. But girls, we have to fight. It’s when we run from the battle that the enemy runs over us. When we turn and face the enemy, when we stand our ground with Jesus, our enemy cowers in fear.

It’s time to pick up our swords and fight. It’s time to kill the monsters.

When Mother’s Day Hurts

flickr flower I remember what it’s like wishing I could sleep through Mother’s Day. I remember what it felt like to know that I was a mother deep in my heart and yet I did not have the children to prove it. Bareness and dreams miscarried, a heavy heart with empty arms, I was doing my best to fake a smile.

The safest place within me to carry a baby was my war-zone. Doctor’s visits and testing dates littered my calendar instead of playdates and first haircuts. I remember the ache when I saw flowers in every shade of pink and paper cards with sloppy handwriting in crayon. They were masterpieces in my mind and of more value than a five-dollar card. I longed for sloppy kisses and a baby on my hip.

Dear sister, I remember…so I whisper prayers and know that they will reach heaven for you. You are not forgotten, the love of God will cradle you during your loss.

Gone are the days where I dread this day set aside, yet my heart hurts for those with broken relationships making it hard to pick out cards because the mother/child relationship limps and is fractured. My heart hurts for those with an empty seat around the family table from death that took their precious child away from them much too soon.

My heart hurts for the friend who just lost her mother and this is her first Mother’s Day without her best-friend. Even though I celebrate and rejoice for ten years of being a mother, I cannot forget my sisters who ache deeply and would rather skip this weekend entirely. I’ve been there. God met with me there. My arms were empty but His arms were strong enough to carry me through it.

My strength and faith deepened during that time where my body was so frail. I’m grateful for the heartache I have felt because I love deeper and feel like every day, even the messy ones, is a gift.

“He raise the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with the princes- with the princes of His people. He grants the barren woman a home, like the joyful mother of children. Praise The Lord.” (Ps 113: 7-9)

You are not forgotten, I remember what it’s like when Mother’s Day hurts. I’m praying for you to be lifted out of the ashes of grief as God mends your broken heart. May joy be restored to you. You are loved.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Ps 30:5)

Much love, Jennifer