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.

lily

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

Taboo

shh

I’m not a really big fan of games, but from time to time my family twists my arm and makes me play with them. If I do have to play a game I have my favorites; Scrabble, Boggle, and Taboo top the list. Notice a theme? I love words and word games.

Taboo is one of our family favorites. A quick refresher in case you haven’t played in a while: each team is trying to get their teammates to guess the “secret word” the only problem is there’s a list of words that are “taboo”. If you say one of the taboo words someone on the other team will buzz you. Buzzing people just happens to be my son’s favorite part of the game. I hate getting buzzed. Just when I seem to be on a role and getting lots of points for my team I’ll let one little word slip, hear that awful buzz in my ear, and be completely derailed.

It happened to me just last week, but I wasn’t playing Taboo, I was filling out insurance paperwork so one of my kids could get some dental work done. I’ve yet to meet a mom who enjoys filling out the endless piles of paperwork for their kids, but it’s unavoidable. I was about finished with the first page when I heard the buzzing… Are you: single, married, divorced, widowed. Ugh. Seriously? Why does it matter? And why do I hear that stupid buzzer every time I have to check the “divorced” box?

5472054774_54e07849fc_b

My parent’s divorced when I was a teenager. I was mad for a long time. Mad because they gave up. Mad because they didn’t try harder. Mad because they chose to walk away instead of fix it. I carried that anger into my own marriage. I was convinced that if you tried hard enough and loved Jesus enough that every marriage could last the length of time.

I was the most judgmental person you’ve ever met when it came to divorce. When I heard about someone going through divorce, especially if they were a Christian, my first response was to roll my eyes and inwardly scorn them for not trying harder. Pretty ugly, huh? But I’m being honest. I had zero mercy in my life when it came to this issue.

Then one Tuesday afternoon I came home from work to find my husband waiting with bags packed. He was done, and there was nothing in that moment that I could say or do to stop him from walking out that door. The day my marriage broke so did my Pharisaical condemnation towards divorce. I had created a standard for myself and imposed that standard on everyone around me; divorce is always avoidable and therefor never an option.  Now here I was facing the one thing I had determined I would never face. What do you do with that? How do you cope when you’ve moved from the position of casting judgment to being the very thing you’ve condemned?

labels

I had become taboo. I was labeled with the one label I swore I would never wear; the one label that I was convinced would bring me the most shame.

There are certain things that we tip-toe around in the church; divorce, abuse, addiction, mental illness, depression, doubt. I understand why we do it, they’re hard things attached to real emotions affecting real people. We don’t know how to broach such difficult subjects so we often stay silent or, even worse, spout off without thinking. I’m not pointing fingers, I’m the guilty one. I’m the one who sat in the seat of the scoffer. And as a result of my own judgment, three years later I still hear a little buzzer when I have to check the divorced box.

There are certain sins, certain struggles that we have deemed “taboo”. The problem is, making something taboo is pretty much the opposite of what Jesus did.

Luke allows us to see what Jesus does with those who have been labeled with something taboo in his gospel. He tells the story of two people, one a religious leader, the other a sinner. One who seats in the seat of the scorner, one who sits in the seat of the condemned. The Pharisee does exactly what I expect him to; he welcomes Jesus into his home and then proceeds to silently judge the sinful women talking to Jesus. He did just what I would have done, elevated himself to a position of “better than” and judged her and deemed her “unworthy”.

The woman, on the other hand, does exactly opposite of what I expect her to. Instead of hiding from Jesus, instead of avoiding the gathering altogether, she marches right into the thick of it. Does she feel shame? Probably. Does she feel like she doesn’t belong there? Most likely. Does she feel like her whole life is taboo? I’m sure she does. But, she doesn’t let that stop her.

“There was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.” Luke 8

The Pharisees had a reputation, she had to know they would judge her if she walked into that room. Apparently Jesus had a reputation too. I don’t know what she had heard about Jesus, but it was enough for her to press through the fear of being whispered about to get to Him. Jesus wasn’t afraid of her label. He didn’t buzz her and see her to the door when she bowed at His feet in humble adoration. He didn’t ignore her sin; neither did He condemn her with it. He simply loved her.

He loved the broken, sinful, repentant, humble woman.

There are two places we can stand when we feel condemned. We can stand outside, fearful and ashamed, weighed down with the buzzing we hear, or we can stand at the feet of Jesus.

The woman who came and washed the feet of her savior was washed by His love. She entered condemned, and left forgiven, cleansed and at peace.

The boxes don’t go away. We will still have to put check marks next to things we never dreamed in a million years would apply to us. But the buzzing can be silenced. No. Not silenced, replaced. Instead of the buzz of condemnation, if you listen hard enough you can hear another sound, a quiet, loving whisper, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

~Keri

 

Photo by (cup)cake_eater. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Melissa Emmons Photography. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Allison McDonald. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jesus is Better

heart

I’m learning that it’s a lot easier to believe something with your mind than with your heart.

For example, if you’re a single woman on Valentine’s week it’s really hard to make your heart believe that Jesus is better than any earthly man you could ever meet or fall in love with. At least that’s what my friend, Ramona, and I concluded this past Saturday night over a very long dinner.

Don’t worry, we’re fully convinced that Jesus is actually better… in our minds. We know logically that no one could ever come close to loving us, providing for us, or protecting us like He does. We say (and mean it) that if God never sends a man our way that we’re still blessed beyond belief and so incredibly happy with this life we have. And yet… we lay awake some nights thinking it sure would be nice to have someone to hold me. 

And there is the struggle… To figure out how to make the heart believe what the mind knows beyond doubt.

We wrestled with it for almost 2 hours at dinner then made our way to church. We had joked about going to go look for guys, but neither of us felt up for it; and we both knew our hearts could probably use a good dose of worship in His presence more than they could use a hunting expedition at Cabela’s or Best Buy (that is where single men hang out on Saturday nights right?)

We were a few minutes late to service so we quietly slipped in the back; and as we did the congregation started singing:

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

And there it was; the wrestle.

Over and over again we sang it… First a declaration: Jesus is better. Followed by a cry for help: make my heart believe.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”   Psalm 73:26

Do I know Jesus is better? Sure. Do I wrestle with this knowledge? You better believe it. My flesh is weak. My heart fails. But God is the one who strengthens my heart. He is the only one who has the power to transform my head knowledge to heart knowledge.

Maybe you don’t know the wrestle of singleness. Maybe your wrestle is health, or job loss, or family dysfunction, or infertility, or the death of someone you love. Whatever the wrestle, whatever the longing, Jesus is better.

Lord, make our hearts believe!

~Keri

 

Empty Chairs

1434541811_61e3298097_z

“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables…”

Les Miserable

For three Christmases now there has been an empty chair at my table. That chair sits empty the other 365 days a year, but at Christmas time it’s glaringly obvious that it’s vacant; that my family is incomplete.

The Christmas movies, and carols and commercials tell us how Christmas is supposed to look. Tables filled with food and family. Trees covered in tinsel and lights. Presents perfectly wrapped and ribboned. Not empty chairs, or unlit trees, or presentless Christmas mornings.

How do you celebrate when the husband leaves, or arms ache for a child they can’t hold, or the bank account sits empty? How do you sing Joy to the World when your world is filled with grief?

I keep searching for the comfort. The metaphor in the midst of the missing. The thing to fill the empty chair. I think I’m supposed to say that Jesus fills the empty chair, fills the empty places in our hearts. But, He doesn’t. If He did then my heart would be overflowing, and it isn’t… it’s aching. Aching for something I can’t have. And as much as I pray and as much as I seek Christ, the empty chair and the empty heart remain.

So does that mean Jesus isn’t enough? No. I don’t think it does. Jesus is enough. He is all we need. But that doesn’t mean He fills every empty place, not that He can’t, just that He doesn’t. Some seasons Jesus allows emptiness to fill our days.

That doesn’t mean He abandons us to our grief… no, He enters in. He enters into our messy, less than, imperfect, empty places and sits with us. Not in the empty chair, but beside us as we face the emptiness. He gives us strength to face the empty places. Strength to accept the reality of the brokenness. Strength to face the injustice of this world we live in. He gives us permission to grieve our loss. Permission to be angry at the unfairness of it all.  Permission to be weak and tired and needy. He doesn’t demand that we pull ourselves together, or put on a brave face, or pretend like everything is just fine when it isn’t.

He is the God who comforts us. Who draws near to our broken hearts. Who binds up our wounds. He’s not afraid of our empty places, even when we are.

The truth is; this Christmas may not be as full as we hoped it would be. This Christmas there might be empty chairs at the table serving as reminders of prayers unanswered. The truth is Christmas isn’t always merry and bright. But if it weren’t for the miracle of Christmas and the baby that came to dwell with us, our empty places would be unbearable. Christmas reminds us that the baby who came to bring peace in the midst of chaos will come again to bring us to dwell with Him where there will never again be places of lack and longing. Until that day, I pray that you (and I) will find Him close and comforting in the empty places of life.

Emmanuel, God with us, come.

Love~

Keri

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…”

No Thank You

This week isn’t turning out like I had planned. The kids are at their dad’s for a few days. Normally I fill any time they’re away with distractions. But this time the two friends I rely on to distract me are out of town, out of the country actually. So I’ve spent the last few evenings on the couch watching mindless TV and eating junk food.

That wasn’t my intention. My intention was to spend these few days with God. Every year I take a few days to get away and go on a prayer retreat. This year I haven’t been able to get away, so I had planned to use this quite time at home to spend quality time with Jesus. I had planned to finish reading the Gospel of John and work on a Bible study I’m doing, and spend time praying and listening. I’ve been looking forward to it, craving it actually.

A few weeks ago I wrote in my journal:

Father, help me to find satisfaction in You and You alone. Let my greatest joy be found in You, my greatest desires be completely met in You. I want my relationship with You to be my most cherished relationship. You are all I need.

The desire of my heart is more of Him. Yet, it seems as if the desire of my flesh is laziness and chocolate. I woke up this morning feeling empty. On my long ride into work I asked Him “what’s wrong with me?” And I was faced with the reality of my choices. My choice of television over communion with God. My choice of comfort food over feasting on the Word of God. The last few evenings I’ve been invited to spend time with the lover of my soul and I responded with a quiet “no thank you”.

This morning a friend shared with me a quote they had read from a pastor that said that “most of us are not bad people”. Well, I beg to differ.

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away. Yet no one calls on Your name or pleads with You for mercy. Therefore, You have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay, and You are the potter. We are all formed by Your hand.” Isa. 64: 6-8

As much as I’d like to think this passage doesn’t apply to me, it does. Left to my own devices this is who I am. Infected and impure with sin. Withered and swept away by my sin. Not crying out to God. Then I wonder why He seems so distant. Matthew Henry in his commentary of this passage poses the question “How can we expect that God should come to us in ways of mercy when those that profess to be intercessors are mere triflers?” Ouch. The truth hurts.

But there’s good news for us triflers, because He is the potter. He formed us in the beginning and continues to re-form us every time we unmake or deform His creation through sin or neglect. One simple cry of repentance, one simple cry of “Abba Father” and He instantly turns towards us with love and mercy.

“‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. you will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you’, declares the Lord.” Jer. 29: 12-14