Thursday, August 26, 2010

August - Pamper Yourself!

Don't skip over this blog post.  I know, I know, who has time for pampering?  And especially in the midst of grief, who even cares about pampering yourself?  Isn't getting out of bed a good enough goal?  Maybe a shower, possibly a homecooked meal?  Yes and no.  Yes, there is most definitely a time of being in survival mode, and that is ok. But there is also a time when the path to really living again includes doing a few things for yourself, simply because they are enjoyable.  

We started the August gathering by writing down some of the things that are our favorites - restaurant, drink, candy bar, movie, author, music, vacation type, flower, color, season, etc.  Then I posed a question to the ladies: what would happen if the church building was hit by a storm and badly damaged?  (I admitted to them that this was random, but that it'd come together in time...they were gracious and went along!)  They listed several steps: hold a meeting, rebuild, call insurance, pray, figure out exactly what needs to be done, freak out, share news on facebook, do some fundraising, clean up.  

These things seemed pretty obvious, but what do we do when a storm hits our lives?  Do we meet with others who care about us and/or who have been impacted by the storm?  Do we even want to clean up and rebuild?  Do we call the insurance agent?  (God is the insurance agent - He restores all things and gives us what is needed as we rebuild.)  

Losses that come from miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility affect us in all areas - physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  Regardless of our natural inclination, we must push through and take care of ourselves.  This is not a guilt trip - not just one more thing on our "should" list!  First let's figure out why God wants us to take care of ourselves.

Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The world's pattern is to find something and take it to an extreme.  You like an occasional alcoholic beverage?  Drink as much and as often as you want.  You like food?  Eat whatever and whenever you please.  You like to be alone?  Never venture out to be with others.  You like to shop?  Buy everything you like.  The world is not exactly about moderation or balance.  But God calls us to not conform to the world's pattern.  He knows it is destructive.  He calls us to renew our minds.  Yes, crazy thoughts come during times of grief, and that's ok.  But we cannot allow ourselves to dwell on those thoughts.  Renewing our minds does not only mean to toss out thoughts that aren't pleasing and perfect and honorable - renewing means to replace those "bad" thoughts with good thoughts.  True thoughts.  Thoughts that bring us closer to God and closer to healing.  This isn't pretending the hurt is not there; this is choosing how reality will look in your life, what the ramifications of what has happened will be.

1 Corinthians 6:19
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

As Christians, God, through the Holy Spirit, lives in our bodies.  For those who lived in Bible times, the idea of taking care of God's temple was a super big deal.  There were strict rules about His temple.  They understood the awesomeness and magnificence surrounding His presence.  Sometimes we take for granted that He now lives in us.  We forget that others are supposed to see God when they see us.  We sometimes think that we are actually doing a good thing to work so hard that we don't get enough sleep, or to avoid fun things because there's always something "more important" to do instead.  However, it is only when we take care of ourselves that our bodies can honor God, and point others to Him, in the way that He intended.

The next random question I posed to the gals: how would you want people to remember you when you die?  What would you want your loved ones to do?  They mentioned things like finding ways to honor their memory, new traditions to start, mourning but in time finding life again, laughing, moving on.  Moving on didn't mean forgetting or dishonoring; while we all hope that our lives meant something to others and that we'd be missed, nobody wanted to think that those they love would forever grieve and miss out on the abundant life.  

So now we know how we'd want others to respond to our own death...but is that how we are responding to the deaths of our babies?  Or are we closing up shop, merely existing, afraid to venture out and try new things, afraid to laugh or smile?  Are we believing the lie that anything good or enjoyable somehow dishonors the precious lives we wish were still here?  Perhaps by trudging through the darkness and one day seeing light and brilliant color once again - perhaps by not giving up and by seeking out ways to care for ourselves we will actually bring honor and even more meaning to those for whom we mourn.

We ended with a list of ideas of ways to take care of ourselves.  And a challenge was issued - strive to do at least most of these things in the coming month.  See how it can make a positive difference, how it can bring an important fresh perspective to everything going on.

Ways I can take care of myself:
Get enough rest
Dare to hope
Remember past blessings
Give thanks for small things
Enjoy a favorite food or drink
Get a manicure or pedicure
Get a massage
Spend reflective time alone
Spend time with a good friend
Take a break from being strong
Take slow deep breaths
Listen to music
Sing as loudly as you can
Do something artsy or creative
Learn something new
Read a book just because it sounds good
Take a long bath
Visit somewhere new
Bless someone in a similar situation

What will you do today?  This week?  This month?  Add to the list.  Work on these things with another person.  Dare to walk the road ahead of you - even if it includes beautiful fragrant flowers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

July gathering

How many kids do you have?
Don't you guys want to have kids?
Want to have another baby?
When are you due?

You're young, you can have another baby
Heaven needed another angel
There must've been something wrong with the baby


People can say some pretty insensitive things.  Most of the time people mean well; unfortunately knowing they mean well doesn't take away the initial sting from their comments.  So what do we do as Christians, seeking to be more Christ-like every day, when we hear these things?

Let's start with some verses.

Philippians 4:4-5  "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near."

Even when it doesn't feel like it,God is near.  He sees us, hears us, knows what we're feeling.  And yet He calls us to be gentle.  As hard as that may seem, when harsh replies are on the tips of our tongues, where He calls He also provides.  He does not ask us to do that which we cannot, with His help, accomplish.

Ephesians 6:12  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

As much as an individual can seem like the enemy with their insensitive remarks or actions, the hurts we feel are sent straight from our real enemy, God's enemy.  It is that enemy who seeks to destroy our sense of peace and contentment, to steal our joy and trust and hope.  We cannot succumb to the temptation to believe his lies and doubt all we know to be true.

1 Corinthians 3:16  "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"

This is perhaps the best news of the Bible, apart from the message of the Gospel.  God's Spirit lives in each of us!  We are not alone, we are not overlooked, we are not helpless, we do not have to do things in our own strength.  Because His Spirit lives in us, we are able to respond in a gentle and full-of-grace manner.

Galatians 5:22  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law."

I don't know about you, but when I am hurt or offended, the last things I want to exhibit are these fruits.  I want to say what I am thinking, act in anger or defensiveness, withdraw in hurt, or slip into a serious funk.  But, with that awesome Spirit inside of us, we can instead manifest HIS fruits.  And how much better life is when we choose His fruits over our own.

Proverbs 18:21  "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."

Perhaps we feel that another person's tongue is delivering death to our lives.  While it may defy human logic, we will never help a situation by returning death via our own tongues.  In every moment, in every reply, in every word, we have the power to deliver life to another person.  This may mean overlooking what they have said or done.  It may mean lovingly correcting them or educating them.  It may mean showering blessings upon them.  I want to eat life-giving fruit, not gross moldy fruit.  What is my tongue planting today?  I will reap what I sow more than others will reap what I sow.  Yes, they'll be impacted, but not to the degree I will be impacted.

Ephesians 4:29-30  "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Oh, this verse again.  I can't get away from it for long!!  (And for that I am thankful, don't get me wrong.)  Sometimes what is true is still wrong to say.  Does it meet the criteria of these verses?  Is it going to build up the other person?  Will it meet their needs?  (Not my needs of venting or being understood, but their needs.)  Is it rooted in bitterness, rage, slander, or malice?  Is it kind and compassionate and reflecting my forgiveness of another's wrongs?  If what I want to say fails even one of these tests, I am not to say it.  Some days that means it will be mighty quiet around here....

Proverbs 31:26  "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue."

Can this be said of me?  In good times only? Or also in the midst of trials, grief, offense?  Are my words faithful to my Maker?  Or do they reveal that there is more ugly in my heart than Godliness?  It is hard to think of others in the midst of our grief.  It may seem that all we can do is struggle to make it through each day, much less consider how what we're about to say will affect another.  However, there are not any disclaimers to God's Word.  What is true today is true tomorrow and was true yesterday.  He does not tell us that in certain circumstances we can disregard what He has commanded.  That HAS to mean He is right there by our side, ready to equip us and speak for and through us.  He will, through the Spirit, answer in a loving manner.

We talked about how the relationship we have with a person often determines how we will receive what they will say.  If we already trust their motives and their heart, we will likely hear their words through a loving filter. If we have a difficult relationship with them, or barely any relationship with them, we are more likely to interpret their words as offensive.  Realizing this can help us see more clearly and figure out an appropriate response.

Finally, sometimes we need to examine our hearts.  What is causing us to react in anger?  What are we believing that is not true?  Do we believe we are alone, forgotten, wronged, punished - and what the other person just did or said seems to prove our belief to be true?  It can be challenging, but try to empower the other person through your response.  Empower them to support you in your situation, and/or empower them to be more understanding and sensitive with others in the future.  This may require taking some time to collect your thoughts (hours, days, weeks, months, etc.) until you are sure your response is God-honoring.

People will continue to say and do hurtful things.  There is no avoiding it.  And, honestly, I know that I from time to time say hurtful things to others - perhaps without having any idea the negative impact I had upon another person.  The good news is that God's power within us is more than great enough to reply in a way that brings Him glory, and moves us one step closer to healing.

June gathering

May gathering

We tell people that you do not have to be fully healed or "moved on" (whatever that means) before you can share what God has taught and is teaching.  Nor do you have to be done grieving before you can bless another person.  (Good thing, since we're never really done grieving!)  In May, Cathy Bonnesen was proof of both those statements.  A dear friend, she agreed to share with us her journey.

Her topic: girdling roots.  A master gardener, Cathy has extensive knowledge about all things green.  She had been working on their landscaping and noticed that one tree was not doing so well.  Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the tree was suffering from girdling roots.  Basically that means that the roots grow around themselves, around the base of the tree, instead of going out in all directions.  The problem is that over time the roots will strangle the tree, as they won't allow the tree to continue growing.

Cathy shared some of her story, which includes infertility and miscarriage.  She read Psalm 103:1-2 

"Praise the LORD, O my soul;
       all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
       and forget not all his benefits"

She and her son Noah, whom she homeschools, had studied the elephant.  Most of us were probably taught that an elephant never forgets.  The above verses challenged Cathy to remember what God has done, to never forget the "benefits" He has placed in her life.  The dictionary defines "benefits" as an act of kindness, something that provides well-being.  Strongs Concordance defines it this way: to treat a person well, to bestow upon, deal bountifully, do good, reward, ripen.

Psalm 103 goes on to say: 

"3 who forgives all your sins

       and heals all your diseases,
 4 who redeems your life from the pit
       and crowns you with love and compassion,
 5 who satisfies your desires with good things
       so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

What are some ways we can "forget not" what God has done for us, especially in the midst of tragedy, grief, or trials?  Cathy suggested finding meaningful scriptures in the Bible and putting them in prominent places in our homes.  Take notes over a teaching message and look over it periodically.  Make a list of things for which you are thankful and review it regularly.  Journal good things that happen.  

Psalm 77:12 says " I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds."

Meditate means to "murmur in pleasure or anger, to ponder, imagine, study" (Strongs)

At times we can over-meditate, or meditate over the wrong things.  It's easy to meditate over what ISN'T happening, over the losses we have had, what someone else's life looks like, etc.  It can be unhealthy for us.

Here's where the concept of girdling roots comes in.  Cathy showed us some pictures of girdling roots, and explained that just as girdling roots on a tree eventually choke out the life of the tree, when we forget all of God's benefits we go round and round, and healthy growth cannot happen in our lives.  Eventually we are at risk of emotionally and spiritually strangling ourselves.  When we just keep circling over the same subject over and over again (infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, etc), it becomes impossible to focus on the bigger picture.  Don't misunderstand - the Lord does direct us to focus on these areas for a season so we can work through what we need to in whatever timing is for each of us.  But there comes a point when we need to look beyond what we see right in front of us.  Sometimes we can't see it for ourselves - others can, and God may speak through them to try to get through to us.

Cathy shared the idea of a Victories List - she and her husband created a list of things that were good that happened in their lives. Many of them were relatively small, daily things that are so easy to overlook and very easy to forget.  She shared how helpful it was to look over the list and remember what God had done, remember the small and big ways He showed Himself to them. It helped them to take heart and press on through trials.