Thursday, June 9, 2011

Special Chicken: continued

I have a new batch of chickens in my pen. These tiny girls are about six weeks old and it never ceases to amaze me the lessons I learn from my little flock. I didn’t raise these chickens the way I did the first six. The first six started out in a Rubbermaid tub in my living room. We were so enamored with the soft, fluffy day-old chicks, that we handled them every day. The kids would reach in and scoop them up, like a person would a new puppy. The first six chicks were pets.

The new chickens are not pets. They spent their first few weeks in a dog kennel under a lamp for warmth. I would poke my head in a couple times a day to check the temperature and water level. I only picked a chicken up every now and then, when I wasn’t in a hurry to finish my chores. When I did, they would run from me and I would have to real-quick grab one of the fluffy little girls. As soon as they were ready to spend time outside the brooder I only checked once a day. These chicks don’t know the warmth of my hand.

Now when I go to check on the chicks they do the same thing as they did when they were little: run. They have a little cubby hole they like to sleep in that I had affixed their lamp to when they were younger. Now, even though the lamp is gone, they still run for cover in their little hole. The little box I built for them feels safe. They remember the warmth of that spot but they do not know that the warmth they experienced there was provided by me.

Only after I have laid the food and water on the ground do they slowly inch toward the vitals. I can stand there and watch them gobble up the food but they don’t want to be near me.

Do they not recognize that everything good in their life comes from my hand?

My hand is strange to them… They are familiar with the instruments I use in their life: the box, the lamp, the water feeder, the food… but they do not know that it’s from me. I sit there some times on a bucket turned upside down. I watch them… loving them from a distance.

Their feathers are coming in nicely. Only a few have a little bit of fluff hanging on. For the most part they look like grown chickens, only smaller. They remind me of a boy I know who has the same freckles on his nose that I did and beautiful hazel eyes… just like me. I know boys aren’t supposed to look pretty but I think he is just adorable. There is something instinctive about loving someone who looks like you…

IT’s a pleasure to watch my flock grow. I am not your average chicken farmer. I don’t just like them for what they give to me. I love them because they are beautiful creations and I find that God has given us some beautiful things to look at in this grand picture he is painting. My chickens are a bright spot there.

The chickens don’t reciprocate… not even like a dog when the master comes home… No, but I love them all the same.

And isn’t that how we are… We walk through this life eating up all the food God gives us… snuggling down in the shelter he’s provided, without even a thought as to where it comes from. Even if we do recognize that EVERYTHING GOOD in our life comes from God, do we even take a moment to thank him? Do we even take a moment to sit at his feet? IF God is anything like this special chicken farmer, all he wants is for us to draw near to him….

Maybe, just maybe, we are too unfamiliar. Maybe we do not know His hand. How can we run for the warmth he has provided and not know that it’s from him?

Maybe my chickens are just looking at what they can see- eye level… Maybe they only SEE the feeder and they never look up long enough to see me…

Maybe I am just too busy running after the things I want from God: a nice house, good food, good friends, air conditioning on a hot day, heat on a cold day… maybe I just want what God has to offer me and I eat it up before I can ever give a thought to it…

Unless of course the things I want are missing.

One day I came into check on the chickens and strangely enough they met me at the door. The older chickens do that, but these little ones never had. I quickly noticed that the water was empty and it was a HOT day. All of the sudden they KNEW they needed me…

That is exactly how we are. We only look to God when we notice our water has dried up and we are dying of thirst.

Oh that I would look for God’s hand on my life and not only his provision. Oh that I would stop looking at what I can only see eye-level. May I look to the heavens and sit at HIS feet and know HIS warmth and feel HIS hand and rest in the truth that the one whose image I bear is right there with me, even when I don’t realize it.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

How chaos can order your life:

“Things don’t matter. Pictures don’t matter. I have my husband and my daughter and my Momma. That’s all that matters.”

She just stood there stunned, not knowing where to begin. The tornado had ripped her home apart and nearly taken the lives of the three that were there.

We had arrived to help them salvage what they could of their belongings and discovered that they didn’t have renters insurance. That meant that whatever we picked up was what they had to start over with. It’s hard to imagine (although I had tried before we arrived) what a monumental task it would be to pick through piles of a twisted broken house to try and find one little thing that might have survived. A ceramic jar here, a bed sheet there, a stuffed animal hanging from a tree limb; that was all we found at first. No one really had a plan. How could they? Just look for anything that is salvageable. For me it was: try and find something precious: a picture, a cherished trinket… something.

Finally after a few hours of finding just a few items that covered the bottom of a rubber maid tub, a plan began to surface: clear a path through the rubble, pick through a pile (lumber this way, scrap metal that way), throw away what is clearly garbage and box the rest so the family can sort through it when they are finally able to think. Our plan was to get the salvageable items centralized so we could cover it with a tarp before it rained again.

The woman couldn’t offer direction at all. She said all she did was cry when she went up to the house site. She sat on the tailgate of a friend’s truck and told her tale to her neighbors and family, probably a thousand times over. She needed to talk. I think maybe it’s easier for someone unattached to pick through the rubble. It did not devastate me to throw away a busted up fisher price toy. But what would go through her mind if she picked that up. Would she wonder if the baby had been there, would she have survived?

What do we do when storms rip through our lives? How do we pick up the pieces and keep moving? Right now this woman is surrounded by friends and family, but what about a month from now when all has settled down and she only has a few card board boxes full of her things to start over with?

All the family and friends could do was thank us and all I could say was: this is what I would want. If I had lost my home and my belongings, I would want people to come and help me salvage what I could. I have had other storms come through my life and it takes so long to pick through the rubble.

Where do you begin?

When storms rip through your peace of mind… when people have taken their last breath and their earthly shell lies under a mound of earth… when marriages dissolve with a few words and blots of ink on paper… when the one you vowed to cherish forever lies in another’s bed… when disease cuts deep and words cut deeper… where do you begin?

No one really has a plan at first. How can they? We just look for something salvageable. We grasp for something to hold onto… a child, a friend, a pastor…

How do you clear a path through the rubble of your life? How do you find the strength to move on? How do you not simply stand there in the rain beating your fists against heaven? How do we continue to believe that God is good when what we see being served up to us is unpalatable?

I don’t know what this woman’s life was like before the twister twisted her home apart. I don’t know what her priorities were but I know me. I know it is so easy to get my own priorities out of whack. I run here and there trying to get the laundry done and the bills paid and “pick up your toys” and “don’t leave that in the living room.” I seek to make order out of my life and I forget what really matters. I mow over the hearts in my home, trying to order my home. I never think that a storm could come and spread my belongings for miles and I would all of the sudden be ORDERED. “Stuff doesn’t matter. People matter.”

In the eye of the storm there seemed to be the MOST chaos and yet that is where the most ORDER was found. Her priorities became suddenly clear. When God rips all the clutter out of our hands a spreads it for miles, we look to see what is left and maybe, just maybe we can see what is important.

Then we can begin to slowly pick through the rest, throw away what is clearly garbage, and try and salvage what we now see is important. I think when storms have come our way, we NEED to have others to help us sort through the rubble. I believe those who have also endured their own personal storms offer the best wisdom. I don’t want someone who has never suffered to tell me how to recover from searing grief. Not that others cannot help. They can… they can sit on the tailgate and JUST listen. That is so very important.

It is important to let people in. There are those who would not receive any help and sometimes we are just like that. When help comes, don’t close the door on it. Let those who have endured storms help guide you. There is wisdom to be found there.

Picking through the rubble of your life will be a slow process. I have learned it’s best not to rush it. I have also learned that you can’t junk all the things in your past. It is tempting to believe that all is lost when taking in the whole scene but no matter how big the storm is, there is always something to salvage, even if it is simply that you are still living and breathing and able to keep going.

Centralize what you have left and preserve it, before the rains come again. They will come, I believe that God is moving us toward himself with the rain. Whether we bless or curse God, we press toward him during trials.

As someone who has endured trials, I see God using the rain to press me toward him. He uses chaos to order me and I know I have been fired and can see God’s purpose for the storms.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hidden Sorrow

You would think this time of year would be lifting this winter fog off my mind. Everything is greening, everything is warming, life is emerging everywhere. My bulbs and wild flowers are faithful to send up jade leaves, slowly unfurling.

There will be flowers.

My flowers come in seasons. First the Daffodils, then Primrose (we call them “ I love you” flowers- a cherished memory of courtship), quickly the Irises will don purple bonnets, and lastly the Daylillies and Canalillies will explode the yard with orange and yellow.

And yet with all this promise of visual food for my soul, there is a fog that lies heavy on my heart. It is strange that my grief consumes me even when I am not conscious of it. I wake up in the morning wondering: what is wrong with me? Am I just overwhelmed by the clutter that marks my calendar… the constant “hither and yon” of children and church and just ordinary responsibilities? Is it that undone task that is nagging at the back of my brain? Why can’t I button up just one simple thing in my life? Why can’t I complete something? I want to line all my accomplishments in a row and prove to the world or just prove to myself that I have finished SOMETHING.

As usual, I want to be more than the Special Chicken that I am.

I look again at the calendar. I know why I am foggy. The answer probably lies on April 8th.

I don’t know exactly what time she died. I know it was after midnight on a Tuesday. It’s funny how: not knowing the exact date has troubled me. I know it doesn’t really matter but it has pestered me a little. I wonder if she lay there unconscious for hours as her breathing slowed and death drew near. I wonder how long the window of salvation stood open as she lay there un-rescued.

Salvation… that word nags at me too. I had saved my mother from death many a time. But I am not the one who saves souls, am I? I could save her from tasting the grave for a time but I could not save her from standing at the judgment seat. We all stand before the Lord someday.

They call us survivors. When they write out the obituary, they list the immediate (and sometimes the extended) family. The person is survived by… For years I felt like I was just trying to survive. I am finally in a place where I feel like I can actually live. It doesn’t keep me from wishing that she could have found a good reason to live. I still battle guilt that floods in for a moment and I pray to my God to swallow up my grief. He has swallowed up a mighty river before.

I met a woman once that called herself a survivor of suicide and she noted the difference between this kind of death and natural or even accidental death. I think that the difference is the human factor. It was not God’s decision to take. The person made the decision. Then there is the “if it was in human hands, then why couldn’t I have prevented it” factor.

After that, I met two more women who had lost their own mothers to suicide in the same year I lost mine. I wanted to reach out and comfort them. I wanted to clearly state the answers the Lord had shown me, and yet my grief still plagues me. It is not a paralyzing grief that shuts me down and incapacitates me (most days) but a hum in the back of my mind that seeks to distract me or make me seek distraction. I want to flip on the TV or really loud music that will drown out doubt and fear and uncertainty.

In the quiet, the tears slip out. I see my departed loved one in the soft notes on the piano… my sweet boy reflects his grandmother in musical genius. I knew this before she died. He carries on her song.

Within the silence I feel my grief loud and yet in facing it, I find a peace that surpasses understanding. Within the deafening sorrow, a light shines. I know this is not a worldly venture. It is a holy quest. I am not one who is ignorant of Holy Pilgrimage and so I press on.

Maybe I am trail blazing and other survivors of suicide will be encouraged to blaze their own trails through the valley of grief. Maybe this is just another Refining Fire. Either way, I am awed at the hand of The Creator on my life.

As the second anniversary of my mother’s death draws near, I feel another link in my chains of flesh broken, another layer is cut off my uncircumcised heart…

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Model of Mourning

There are many kinds of grief. I have known many kinds of grief. I see people suffering under their own grief daily. Some embrace it, cling to it… make it their identity… refuse to surrender the burden to the ONE, the only one, who can carry it. Some suppress it, pretend it is not there. They suffer under confusion. Buried grief in the soul shows on the countenance of the face and is revealed through action… through our WALK.

I suppose in our culture, grieving is not a process we are good at. In any culture, mourning is not a process that will produce much of anything good without God. Without a place to take our grief, we are left simply trying to accept the reality of living in the fallen world. Without revelation from the WORD of God, we are at a loss to see any purpose or hope in our place of suffering.

I have a friend who lost her husband recently and she named her blog: Good Greif. That title strikes me two ways: First I chuckle at the thought of Charlie Brown’s exasperated phrase. Then I think, is grief good?

“Oh show me Lord the purpose for this grief that plagues me.”

That has been my cry for years. Well, it didn’t start out like that. It started out like, “Lord take this pain and grief from me. Help me… Heal me…” Then it turned into, “Lord show me the reason.”

I could give you a list of the things that grieve a person, but I don’t have to. You know your own heartache. Even if you have buried it deep, you know that you hurt. If you take a moment, you can probably identify that you have buried.

As for me, my grief and my season of grieving did not begin when my mother took her own life. That is the time when most would agree is the appropriate time to grieve. No, my season began when I realized that I had I had suffered trauma as a child and that I had an open wound in my soul. I spent a long season learning how to grieve what I had lost and pour out my burden on the Lord.

I think that is the point of transforming a worldly sorrow into a sorrow that brings salvation. It is all about WHO we are pouring our grief and heartache and pain on. I go back to Lamentations and to David the author of about 73 Psalms. The object of the lament is ALWAYS the Lord. If David was a contemporary song writer, he would have been writing some SAD songs. Like most song writers, he was working through his grief through his craft: music.

As a young person, I was always drawn to sad songs, so I suppose it makes sense that I would be drawn to the Psalms. But unlike the worldly way of broadcasting our misery so others can commiserate… relate to our suffering, the Psalmist’s grief provides what I think is a model for mourners.

David was suffering different kinds of grief. He was persecuted and pursued. He mourned the tragic death of many Godly men. He grieved over his own sin and the consequences there-of.

I think that is how my grieving happened. I grieved over wrongs done to me and senseless tragedy and then I grieved most bitterly over my own sin and the people I had wronged.

David poured his lament out on the Lord and yet in his grief, he was doggedly committed to the idea that God is good. Even as he accused God of forgetting about him, David reminded himself of the truth.

Psalms 13:1-6 says For the director of music. A psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (2) How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (3) Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; (4) my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (5) But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. (6) I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

Do you think God has forgotten you? Do you wonder how long this season of suffering will last? Cry out to the Lord in your grief. Remind yourself that it is God who saves you. God has unfailing love for you.

I think we are so afraid to say what we really think to the Lord. I think we are afraid to admit to God that we don’t think he is coming to our rescue. Let me tell you, when you tell God you think he is not coming to your rescue, you can bet he is going to prove you wrong. That moment of confession is the moment God will whisper to your heart.

I was speaking with a friend who is suffering with depression recently and I asked her if she was crying out to God and placing her burdens at his feet. She said that all she could really manage in the way of prayer was: HELP! This morning I chuckled when I was going over some of my favorite psalms. I saw one that begins with the word: HELP.

Psalms 12:1-8 For the director of music. According to sheminith. A psalm of David. Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. (2) Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. (3) May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue (4) that says, "We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips—who is our master?" (5) "Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise," says the LORD. "I will protect them from those who malign them." (6) And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. (7) O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever. (8) The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.

Is it true that EVERYONE lies and faithful men have vanished from among men? Well, no, but that is just where David was at. He was oppressed and pouring out his frustration on the Lord. He even used graphic words to tell the Lord that he wanted those fools to SHUT UP! I can even hear David saying, “Well they were like…. And I am like… well God says he’s gonna get you cuz he is ALL for the under-dog!”

This last part of this model of mourning is VERY important. Whatever your lament begins with… and whatever you pour out before the Lord, it should ALWAYS be directed at the Lord and it should always end with either a statement of the goodness of God or praises to Him.

The place we deposit our lament…. the receptacle of our cares is the Lord.

Psalms 55:22 says Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

What good does it do to pour our cares out on people? They cannot change your situation or bring peace to your conflicted soul. If they are believers it may serve the purpose of reminding you of the goodness of God or the promises he has for you in your situation. But the FIRST place we lay our burdens is on the Lord. He may give you people in your life who will help you carry that burden but all the solutions come from HIM. We need to remember that: all GOOD things come from God. He is the one who sustains us.

If you have hidden the word of the Lord in your heart, most likely, by the end of your lament, there will be a ray of light in your soul. Just the simple act of heart-felt confession of your burdens to the Lord can turn your negative attitude into an attitude of praise.

That is modeled in Psalm after Psalm begins like: My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—(Psalms 55:4-6)

And end like: But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. (17) Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. (18) He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. (22) Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (23) But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you. Psalms 55:16-23

Even if that truth we cling to is just a small morsel, it is a crumb on a trail that will lead to the abundance of God. David grieved the persecution he suffered and yet his morsel of truth was that God will sustain those who cast their cares on Him. That tiny flame of truth can spread into a circle of flames that will surround you in even the darkest moments on the path.

Even if all we can manage to say to the Lord is: HELP. We have begun the practice of crying out to him.

I am so good at coming up with my own feeble solutions. I will spend hours of my day trying to work things out and yet fail to spend one MOMENT of my day crying out to the Lord: HELP! I have come up with charts and strategy and all kinds of my own solutions and yet now I see that when I seek the Lord for answers, all the puzzle pieces fall into place.

Whatever kind of grief you have, follow the model in scripture: Take it to the Lord, pour out your HONEST heart cry, and then remind yourself of a tiny bit of truth from scripture. Then you can watch that truth grown and swell in your heart until it crowds out the lies.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I struggle with writing words about painful experiences. Are we not supposed to dwell on the positive?

Philippians 4:8 says Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Why broadcast my pain and heartache to the world? Has not the Lord healed me? Is there a basis for grieving in the bible? If so what is that basis?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 says There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: (2) a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, (3) a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, (4) a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Weeping, laughing, mourning, and dancing… What is appropriate? When is the season? What does it look like to mourn? When does mourning turn into brooding? When does grief turn into bitterness?

My mind turns to the “greats” in the bible who mourned… the ones who poured our their grief before the Lord… the ones who lamented great tragedy and yet their hearts did not turn from the Lord.

Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet.” He wrote a series of poems which are now called Lamentations. He grieved his own personal tragedy but more then that he grieved the fallen city of Jerusalem. He grieved the fallen condition of the heart of man. Yet through it all, he remained in the posture of a man who knew that all of the things the Lord did were GOOD.

The city was broken and yet that is what had to happen. It had to happen to make a way for the ONE to come and restore man to true communion with God.

I believe every tragedy we experience in our lives are making a way for God to move. Every heartache we experience is making a way for God to reveal himself to us or someone else. When I see God moving in someone else’s life, I STILL SEE GOD.

When I experience pain and heartache, I have a choice to make. I can either become bitter and resentful toward God or I can make the choice to believe that God has a plan and a purpose for my pain. The refining fire is painful most of the time but the purpose of the fire is to bring out the best in me.

What about you? Do painful circumstances in your life make you press in harder toward the Lord to try and get a glimpse of his hand in it OR do you dwell in your grief and become distant from the one who would show you the way to TRUE peace?

Where is the line between heart felt cries to the Lord and bitter lamentations?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Godly sorrow recognizes that salvation comes from the Lord alone. Your sorrow, your pain over wrongs done to you should lead you to a place where you recognize that all men have evil veiling their good hearts and that evil is no respecter of persons. Evil does not seek out the guilty… evil seeks to destroy the innocent. The turning point comes when you recognize that you have evil in your own heart and that your sin is no different from the sin that the person who wronged you has committed. This Godly sorrow LEADS to repentance.

If you surrender yourself to the process and believe the LORD wants to heal you, you will see the Lord’s hand on your life.

Worldly sorrow is a perpetual carousel of replaying that grief over and over again. To dwell in that place without the purpose of seeking the Lord’s hand in it… to stay in a place of asking whys but not wanting to hear the answers…. That is a path that leads to death.

Do you want to hear why God allowed pain in your life? Do you want to know why the innocent suffer and evil men seem to prosper on this earth? Do you want to know why, if God is loving God, why does he not simply make everything RIGHT again? Do you want to know why followers of Christ seem to be dealt a double portion of grief?

Do you truly want the answers to these questions?

There ARE biblical answers but if you are drowning in a worldly sorrow, you probably do not want to hear the answers. Godly sorrow seeks to find the true answers to those questions rather than wallowing in a sea of bitterness and self-pity. And yet even in seeking the answers, there is still pain.

THAT is why I write about painful experiences because you need to have permission to ask the hard questions. God is not scared to hear your cries… any of your cries… He wants you to seek the truth in this place. He wants you to press into the hard stuff so that you can be healed. He doesn’t just want you to sweep it under the rug.

He wants you to hate injustice and seek to expose lies and proclaim truth.

That is what I am here to say: There is a wealth of injustice in the world. The truth is that God is good and he wants to heal you.

Lamentations 3:18-26 So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD." (19) I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. (20) I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (21) Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: (22) Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (23) They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (24) I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." (25) The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; (26) it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Chapter Closes

Bones remember what the heart does not

I have to pause at this spot

The spot that I have tasted pain

Drown in pools of tears that rain

The echo of a song not sung

The image of beloved one

Whose hand forever slipped away

On that fateful, tragic day

A day not very long ago

When will these tears cease to flow?

The epic tale, this chapter closed

Marked the fork in the road

My loved-ones earth journey is now done

They reached the end on race they’d run

In this gruesome, bloody war

Dirt stained hands wanted more

We wanted all to make it out alive

No one dear to up and die

And yet this chapter’s tragic twist

Tries to pull me into abyss

Of sleepless nights and guilty days

Turning from the lighted ways

It tries to drag me into night

Or from this battle to take flight

Do I want the fate of those?

Who tried to fight our forever foe?

Can I withdraw from the fray?

Just be “normal” as they say?

I know I didn’t start this fight

Does that justify my flight?

Or do I have to stand and fight?

I don the armor of the ONE

I know the war’s already won

But in this battle, here... today

Could just go either way

Behind the armor, my body quakes

I shiver… I pray I do not break

I grab hold of the only weapon known

To smite the enemy it’s shown

To uphold the weary one

That’s what the WORD of God has done

I mediate on it everyday

I try to walk in the WAY

I know I can only cling

Of His GRACE I boldly to sing

And his praises loudly ring