Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 2011

We had the pleasure of meeting three new gals tonight, in addition to one who came back who we were so glad to see again!

Tonight was a bit of a hodge podge of topics.  Lots of word pictures, which work well for me...but if they don't for someone else, well, tonight may have been a little hard to follow!

First I read the ladies a blog post that you can read here. It's talking about things that act as bungee cords, snapping us backwards as we try to move forward, and how to cut the cord.  Not that what is behind you is bad or must be forgotten, and not that what is ahead is excellent or what you want, but that in order for us to continue walking we have to be free of things that snap us back. 

I shared about one of the things on my 1000 gifts list - being thankful for weeding the sandpit after it rained. Weeding sets off my allergies, I'd rather there not be weeds in the first place, weeding is still work, even after rain.  However, after the rain they come up easier and I get more of the roots, which means a smaller chance that the exact weed will grow back.  Seeing weeding as a chance to be thankful rather than a chance to gripe.  And drawing a parallel to life - people often connect rain with trials and difficulty. Yet it is often after a storm that we see most clearly and can uproot what had been holding us back. Things we may have not realized if the storm had never come. 

Sometimes it's when we're telling God exactly how we feel and how wrong this seems and how we don't understand that we hear ourselves saying a deep-rooted lie we didn't even realize we believed.  Now is the perfect time to uproot that lie.

Amy brought up what she'd been learning in Bible study about the word "hope," and how Biblically it doesn't mean what we think it means. We use the word to mean something we'd like to have happen but aren't sure will happen. But the Bible uses hope to mean something we are assured will happen.  We are assured of God's promises, so we can hope in them.

The idea of hope is key to how life with God is radically different than life without God. With God we can have times of despair, anger, frustration, deep disappointment, and grief, while always knowing that there will be a way out at some point in time.  Without God, there is just despair, anger, frustration, deep disappointment, and grief - never ending, no reprieve imaginable.  I am so thankful to be on the side of hope. To have hope at my side. To have hope in my heart.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jeans that fit...Pain changes you

Here is an all-too-familiar scenario: you go to a store to buy a pair of jeans. You pick up several styles in the size you used to be and head to the fitting room. Why they call it that, when almost nothing fits when you're in there is beyond me.  But I digress. You try on all of the pairs and get frustrated, possibly even emotional. They just don't fit!  This is the size you used to be! Why have things changed? You didn't ASK for them to change. You didn't WANT them to change.

But they have.

Now you're faced with a few options.  1)Buy the old size jeans and fight with them every day, a constant reminder that you're no longer the old size.  2)Don't buy jeans at all and just hide out in seclusion because nothing fits and therefore you are in pjs all day.  3)Buy whatever size jeans you are RIGHT NOW that look as good as possible on you and feel as comfortable as possible.

On this side of the fitting room, options 1 and 2 seem illogical at best. It just makes sense to wear what fits you, to accept the size you are right now and move forward, even if that includes working toward change.

What in the world does this have to do with pain or loss?  I'm glad you asked!

When we face a loss, we are changed.  Forever. But wait - that doesn't have to come across as depressing.  Change, while hard, is not necessarily bad. A lot of times change is good, in our best interests, a blessing in disguise down the road. That doesn't mean that the loss that preceeded the change is good or a blessing, just that the resulting change can be good and a blessing. We say that we believe God works all things together for good and that He doesn't waste pain, using it instead to increase our Godly character.  Yet we often live and act as though all is lost, or as though we are simply surviving until we return to the "old" us.

Sometimes friends and family do not understand the changes pain has brought into our lives - they expect us to be going through a phase and to soon return to normal. What they do not understand is that what was normal is no more. We have a new normal. This isn't a normal that includes forever gaping open wounds, but a normal that does not attempt to ignore or hide our scars. 

Remember how Christ showed His scars? He could have risen without them, but instead they were there for all to see. They increased His believability, credibility, and impact on others. In the same way, showing our scars, or letting them be seen, will benefit those we encounter.

We have to accept that how we are today is the new us. It isn't necessarily the forever-on-this-earth us, but it is true for right now. While there may seem to be an abundance of negative aspects of the new reality, there are positives as well. We just have to decide it is ok to find the positives and begin looking for them.

Better to be comfortable with where God has you right now, today, with a heart willing and ready to grow and learn, rather than fight against yourself every day in desperate hopes of forcing yourself to be how you used to be.

One more thought.  It is almost as though we have made the assumption that if the loss had not happened, we would have always remained the way we were. But God doesn't let ANYONE stay the way they are!  He has so much for each of us, and it will involve change of some sort.  The enemy would love to convince you that because of your loss, you will forever be living a second rate life. But that is in direct opposition to what God promises about having a plan for your life, about blessing you abundantly, about loving you with an everlasting love.

Say it with me: This is how I am today. There are blessings in today.  I choose to trust God, walk with Him wherever He leads, and continually surrender my life plan in exchange for His plan for my life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


In a perfect world, there'd be no need for this ministry.  Within the reality of this broken world, the best scenario would be that every woman who experiences the loss of a baby or of the dream of being pregnant would be surrounded by people who are actually helpful and supportive.  Instead, most of the women we have met have at least one person in their lives who is more of a burden than a support. Most of the time these less-than-helpful people mean well, and want to help, but they just keep messing up.

While we wholeheartedly recommend seeing past the words and actions of well-meaning people, seeing instead their heart of love, there comes a time when it is important to put some boundaries in place. This is easiest to do with the people on the outside rings of relationship - those you only see once in awhile, with whom you have not invested much time or relational energy. However, the closer you get toward the center ring of relationship, the stickier boundaries become and the more pronounced the consequences may be.

For example, if you have a parent or in-law who is consistently draining your tank rather than filling it, perhaps by acting as though you should be supporting them rather than them supporting you, it's time for a boundary.  Let me be clear - I'm NOT advocating selfishness or overlooking the needs of others. It's not like a time of grief removes all responsibility for being a blessing to others.  But sometimes the most loving thing you can do is put a boundary in place that will actually preserve the relationship long-term, even if it seems to threaten the relationship in the short-term.

Boundaries can include limiting the duration or frequency of phone calls, emails, or visits, changing the topic to something neutral or more positive, and even not sharing with that person the things with which you are struggling.  If someone isn't supporting you during your season of grief, stop looking to that person for support!  This isn't the time to idealize a relationship, focusing on how it ought to be or could be or might be one day. Be honest with yourself, and look for the people God has placed in your life who will actually support you.  Of course nobody is perfect, and outside of God, everyone will let you down.  We'll forget an important date, not return a call or email as quickly as you'd hoped, say something insensitive, or talk too much about our own situation instead of giving you space to process.  But hopefully you'll see which people are chronic offenders and which ones are simply human.

Many women have commented that they felt they needed to be strong for those around them during loss.  While there is a place for being strong, be careful! It just might give people the impression that you are doing better than you actually are. How can they help you if they don't know what you need? Honesty and vulnerability can be scary things, but without them you are almost certain to be disappointed and let down. Those who truly love you will give you the space you request and will respect the boundaries you put in place. They may kick and scream before they accept the boundaries, but they'll come around. And I bet you'll discover that the relationship will then be stronger and healthier than ever before.

Friday, July 29, 2011

July 2011

Some random thoughts from tonight:

God's ways are higher than our ways. So why do we try to figure it out? We don't have to make sense of things. We just have to trust Him. We may not see His plan right away, or even at all, but that doesn't change the fact that He is in control, loves us more than we can imagine, and has amazing plans for us.

The enemy, in a continual quest to steal that which God has given us, lies to us - often the same lie - in areas already wounded.  Rather than climb steadily toward healing, he wants to paralyze us with the same fears and lies over and over again. We must choose to ignore his voice and instead listen to God's gentle whispers of truth.  Sometimes we have to search for the lies, as they are often hidden by our thought patterns. As hard as it may be, we need to identify the root belief, determine if it's true, and either find God's answer for the truth or His answer for the lie.  Either way, we do not have to remain stuck.

Losses of any kind can include loss of relationship, at least to some extent.  It can be hard to choose to reach out to people after being hurt, rejected, or misunderstood. Yet we were created for community with others, to know them and to be known by them, to bless them and to be blessed.  When we are sure of who we are in Christ, we can offer ourselves to others, in all of our strengths and weaknesses, and weather any conflict that may arise.  Damaged relationships are painful, there's no denying that. But they need not define who we are or keep us from building other relationships.  We must learn to approach others with an open mind, not being defensive or assuming they will think badly of us if they only knew us. 

Finally, for those of us who tend to think too much, go ahead and imagine that whatever you are fearing or avoiding were to happen.  Take it all the way to it's logical end.  And ask yourself "then what?"  At the end of the "then what" answers, you are left with the same promises of God you would have if life went just as you planned it.  He does not change, and His promises do not change. Ultimately, a life full of loss but full of God's presence is better than a life without loss and without God.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 2011

This month's gathering was what I had originally imagined our gatherings would be...and that's not saying there's anything wrong with how they have been!  I went with a topic ready to share, opening up conversation about what will now be July's tentative plan, but instead we were able to just be a community of women sharing hurts and losses, as well as hope and truth.

The enemy steals, kills, and destroys, but God redeems and restores.  His gifts are abundant and His plans for us are amazing.  We have to hold on to those truths even when it seems impossible for them to be true.  We think we want to know the future; we think we want to know how He will answer the deepest desires of our hearts.  But I have come to realize that what we actually want is to know that He will answer those desires exactly as we want Him to. It is so hard to imagine that He could have a plan that is seemingly opposite our plan and yet is immeasurably better.  As much as I'd like to have some questions answered, in the end I am glad that He who knows best and loves perfectly is calling the shots.  Hold on, it's bound to be a wild ride.

Psalm 73:25-26
"Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 2011 - Abundance

Baseball – when throwing a ball, where you look and where you point your finger is where the ball goes, regardless of where you SAY you want it to go or even where you truly WANT it to go.  Saying and wanting are not enough. It takes focus and choice of what to point at.  Keep this illustration in mind as we continue.

You can spiral up toward God or spiral down away from Him – it is your choice; you cannot remain still.

The enemy steals, kills, and destroys. He may have stolen your hope, dreams, goals, etc., or killed or caused destruction to a person or thing that you love/treasure/etc., but don’t let him continue to steal, kill and destroy as a result of you not choosing to focus on God and the good that God IS and the good that God WILL bring forth.

So here is where it gets tough...and here is where I pray that you understand my heart and what I mean, and don't get turned off by how harsh this may come across. It is not meant as harsh, and it is difficult for me to live out - so I'm certainly not asking of you anything I am not striving for myself!  Just read it all the way through with an open mind, and ask God to show you His truth.

We can focus on the “not enough” or focus on the “abundance.”  We don’t have a “right” to ANY good thing. We have longings, often placed in our hearts by God, but we do not have a RIGHT to anything.  Rather than lament the short time we had with someone, we should be aware of and thankful for the abundance we DID have. We do not have a right to tomorrow, or even to the next second of today – for our own life, or for the lives of those we love. Every moment we HAVE had is proof of God’s blessings, of His abundance, of His love toward us. Sure, it feels like much less than love to have these losses, but each loss also represents abundance. Every good thing, every good moment, every good anything is abundantly more than we deserve. Perfect life, where our every longing was fulfilled, could only have happened in the Garden of Eden. Because we are not there, perfect life cannot happen. But God chooses to still shower abundance upon us. Can we see it? Will we choose to look for it?  Will we trust that it is there? Will we look back and realize that it has been there all along? Will we look ahead and KNOW that it will be there in our every moment?

Even if the ONLY thing you can see in your life, or in a situation, is that God was/is with you – isn’t that still proof of His abundance? For as many times as we have each failed Him, disobeyed, fallen short, He still is with us…isn’t that abundance? Yet we have so much more than that! Of course loss still hurts, and it may always hurt. Of course we grieve – God also grieves. He is not the author of stealing, killing, or destroying. He is the author of life. He is the healer, the great physician, the provider, the giver of strength. 

The enemy wants us to believe that because of one loss, or even multiple losses – because of something that was stolen, killed, or destroyed, that there will never be a time of redeeming that loss, never a time of restoring, never a time when abundance is seen again. But to believe the enemy is to allow him to continue to steal from us, to continue to kill and destroy that which God has purposed in our lives. It is to choose to miss out on the abundance that is happening all around us, the abundance of now. 

This is all about perspective. This is about remembering, grieving, longing, yes – but also about remembering, hoping, SEEING. (What will we remember? For perhaps it is the stuff of remembering that is the first step of both spirals.) Oh that we may SEE the abundance all around us – in our own lives, and not just in the lives of others. For when we see, our perspective changes. And while we grieve, we also find life. For God gives life, and he has abundance waiting for you and for me.

Back to the baseball illustration.  If we focus on the stealing, killing, and destroying, if we point out all the things around us and in our lives that are lost and stolen, then our lives will head in the negative direction, spiraling downward. The more of the negative we focus on, the more negative we see, and it is overwhelming and fills us with despair. BUT if we focus on the giving, the abundance, if we point out all the things around us and in our lives that we HAVE, things we have no right to have, we will go in a positive direction, spiraling up closer and closer to God. And the beauty of this is that as we spiral up, we see more and more of His goodness, more and more of His abundance in our lives.  Spiraling up doesn’t mean an epiphany every time you open the Bible, nor does it mean that you spend half of every day having a quiet time. It just means that you are desiring Him more, leaning into His truths, seeking His face in each day. 

It’s not some super-spirituality that only a few can attain. It is a relationship in which God is inviting each of us to share life with Him.

Where will you focus? Where will you point? Because where you look and where you point is where you will go. Want it, say it, focus on it, point toward it. Point with relentless abandon. Point even when it doesn’t make sense. Point even when everything in your natural body is screaming at the injustice of what you are experiencing. Point to God and His abundance. It is all you have. And it is everything. 

And it is enough.

April 2011 - Stepping Stones gals are back!

Hooray for repeat-sharers :)  Yes, that was probably grammatically incorrect, but you know what I mean, right?

Janet and Lynn (and Leslie in spirit) again blessed us with some of their God-given wisdom.  First, a few random thoughts I wrote down as they shared...I promise it'll get more cohesive as this post moves on.  Who knows what I was thinking at the beginning?

Hebrews 12:11 - Discipline is training in righteousness, not a punishment for sin.
Job 3:16 - the Bible recognizes stillborn babies as infants.
Isaiah 65:20 - in heaven, babies won't die before their time

A few things Janet remembers learning during her journey through infertility:
- the world is not out to get me
-those around me who are fertile are not out to get me
-couples with kids, or with a certain number of kids, are not blessed while I am not blessed (kids don't define whether or not I am blessed)
-focus on the blessings I HAVE received
         -God says, 142 times, to remember
-keep my eyes on the path God has for ME, not the path He has for others
-He has a unique purpose for each of us.

In Isaiah, it says that God does not thresh all grain the same. He knows the exact pressure for each piece of grain, for it's intended use. We have to trust that the way God is choosing to thresh us is exactly right for the purpose He has chosen for us.  (And the way He is choosing to thresh another person is exactly right for the purpose He has chosen for them as well.)

Be more honest and open with friends and family members.  Remember that if one partner is infertile, both are infertile (it's not about blame or who is at fault - you are ONE body).

Walk outside your door and find someone you can minister to.  Isaiah 58:10 - as you minister, your grief lifts.  Janet shared that at one point in her journey, she quit kicking against God's plan for her life, and invested in a ministry.  (Doesn't have to involve kids though!)  The ache in her heart remained, but a joyful ache, not a bitter ache, believing God's best for her.  You have to lay it down and let Him pick it back up if that is in His plan.  Make God the singular source of your delight.  Psalm 37:4 -He will either give you what you are currently desiring or show you something else you are desiring (or that He causes you to desire).

She remembers God asking her "will you love me if I don't give you any children/any more children?"  If you don't get what you want, how will you regard God? God's word is to give life, not to steal life. You will reap what you sow - choose now how you will respond to God's chosen gifts.

Never consider adoption as a second best option.  Adoption is God's FIRST choice - look at how we, as Christians, are considered to be part of His family!!  Sometimes God closes a womb and opens a heart.  But adoption should never be the fall-back option.

Journal - it is important to be able to look back and remember God's faithfulness.  Look back at the lessons learned...but also keep moving forward!

Make sure your hope, faith, trust, and confidence are in God - not in your doctor.  Think medical decisions through to the very end, so you are not caught off guard by a morally or ethically difficult decision that resulted from a previous choice you made.

Enjoy life - don't lose it to bitterness or wishing for kids or more kids.  Wishing for kids can become a controlling disease.

You have permission not to attend a baby shower!  For Janet, there was a time when attending a shower caused her to question God, so it was best that she not attend.  It wasn't about jealousy or anger.  And if you are hosting a shower, it can be very helpful for those struggling in this area if you include a line like: "if for any reason you can't come, know that you are loved, welcomed, and excused."

God wants to comfort us, but it's our choice whether or not to receive it.  Focus on God - the Giver, not on the gift you seek.  If you gain children but lose God, you have lost it all.  Are you wanting something more than you are wanting God's will?

If I can't have what I think is best, God must have something better.  Trust Him. Yield to God's purpose in your circumstance.  Quit kicking.

Oh, one more thing - angels are not recycled people!  When a baby dies, it is not accurate, necessary, or even helpful to say that God needed another angel.  :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 2011 - Beauty FOR Ashes

We were incredibly blessed by one of our gals, Tanya, who shared with us.  She gave us some background, including a recent adoption that fell through at the very last minute.  Something in her heart knew it wasn't going to end up how they'd hoped, yet she had been so sure they were following God's lead.  Perhaps even more than the loss of the baby, losing confidence in her ability to discern and follow God's voice rocked her world.  Had she just heard her own longing for a child?  Had God really led them across the country only to send them home with empty arms?  It just didn't make sense.  And where to go from there, when nothing seemed certain?  It felt so out of control, in a panic-inducing kind of way!

As time has gone on, Tanya once again feels confident that they did, indeed, hear God leading them regarding the adoption.  The ending, surprising to them, was not one bit surprising to God.  So what was the purpose of that pain?  Was it somehow for the birthmom?  Or for some greater purpose they'll understand down the road?  Or will they not know until heaven? 

Tanya shared a portion of an online devotional she read one morning.  It talked about a book that the author had read for several weeks, continually vacillating betweeen wanting to quit reading and wanting to know how it all would end.  If she quit part way through, she'd be left with the hopelessness found in the middle of the book.  She had to read the whole thing, every page, to discover the whole story and to figure out the author's point/purpose in writing.  Every page had value in the grand scheme of the book, even if that particular page included hard things.  At the end of the devotional, two questions were posed: If your life was a story, what would the title be?  What chapter are you on? 

Assuming God does not call us to heaven in the immediate future, we are not at the end of our book.  We are somewhere in the middle.  Chapters have come and gone, more are in the future.  Our current chapter may be filled with loss, pain, confusion, anger, doubt, etc., but it is not the end of the story. It plays an important part in the overall story, but it is not the end. 

Isaiah 61:1-3
 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
   and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.

This section of Isaiah 61 is called The Year of the LORD's Favor.  In verse three, it talks about God giving beauty for ashes.  Tanya explained how she had first thought the verse said "beauty FROM ashes," but it's actually "beauty FOR ashes."  FROM ashes seems to indicate that God will use the ashes to create something beautiful - kind of a recycling idea.  FOR ashes, however, indicates that God will exchange beauty for our ashes.  We won't have our ashes after we've been given the beauty.  How many times do we want to hang on to our ashes?  We hesitate handing them over to God, because they seem to be all we have left of our dreams, hopes, and goals.  We don't know what God will give us, how He'll give it, or when, so we want to cling to the ashes.  We'd rather hold brokenness than risk being emptied out by God.  Yet it is in the emptying and the subsequent filling - however long it takes to happen - that we are healed. 

It reminded me of the image of a person holding a single deflated balloon by a string, being offered a bunch of large, brightly colored balloons.  In order to accept the bunch, first the person must let go of the deflated balloon.  Until that hand is empty, it cannot grasp the new gift - the beautiful.  We are not guaranteed what God will give or when He will give it or how long we'll remain emptied out.  But we ARE guaranteed that he will give beauty for ashes and He will be with us every step of the way.

Tanya recently read Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey.  She is coming to terms with the fact that God is not unfair - life is unfair.  Even though listening to His voice is what seemed to take them through intense pain, what alternative is there, really?  She is seeing some positive changes God is making in her life, which is very encouraging.  She is not afraid to ask the "why" questions of God - sometimes in the asking we are able to grow nearer to God.  As another gal pointed out, there is a difference between asking with a humble and open heart, and asking angrily, expecting a certain answer.

Psalm 139:16 says that all of our days are written by God in our life book.  So we do actually have a book!  He alone knows the exact title and the arrangement of the chapters.  But as the author, He also knows the way the story ends.  He knows how He will bring justice, how He will renew our strength, and just how long each chapter should be.

Lamentations 3:20-24
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.”

The Message version says it like this:
19-21I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
   the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
   the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there's one other thing I remember,
   and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
 22-24God's loyal love couldn't have run out,
   his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning.
   How great your faithfulness!
I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).
   He's all I've got left.

Tanya shared with us the words to Laura Story's song "Blessings" 

YouTube - Laura Story "Blessings"

Laura Story - "Blessings" Lyrics

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
But long that we'd have the faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home,

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise
Another gal, whose precious son died less than two hours after he was born, has learned so much about God in the year since her son's death.  She encouraged us to just soak in the now.  Take what God gives and love it.  Don't try to fix the pain or run from it.  Embrace it - for it is in the very midst of great suffering that you will learn life-changing truths about God and about yourself.  Fighting your way through the journey of grief may get you at least temporarily to the other side, but you will miss out on the richness of relationship that God is offering along the way.

So - what chapter are you on?  Let us encourage you to keep walking one day at a time.  God knows the end to your story, and it is amazing.  He also knows the trials contained within the book - and He promises to walk with us every step of the way.

Monday, March 14, 2011

February 2011 - Vision

I was reading a blog and came across this quote (I really wish I had written down the blog address...if I find it again I'll update this!) - "We can let our obstacles or our vision determine our future." 

I don't know about you, but I have this stubborn and independent streak in me that bristles at the idea of not having options.  To think that an obstacle, ie something I would rather not have in the first place, will determine my future, well, it makes my face scrunch up just thinking about it.  So I started thinking about my obstacles (easy to do) and my vision (what?) and realized I needed to delve into this a bit more.

Biblical examples always help.  Moses heard God's voice tell him his future, but doubted that future because of his relationship with the king of Egypt and the Israelites, because of his speaking ability, etc.  What God called him to do - the vision God had for his life - did not make sense or seem possible because of obstacles.  I imagine Moses saying "Uh, God?  Did you forget that the king is mad at me, my people despise me, and I fumble over my words?  I think you have me confused with someone else."  How often do we feel that way?  Feel that God is calling us to something that is just not possible given our circumstances?  Feel that He is just asking too much, too soon? 

Losses have a way of sucking every ounce of vision from our lives.  Suddenly the world is turned upside down and what was formerly important, besides what was lost, is now unimportant.  The idea that there's enough right with the world, and with our lives, to have a vision that would carry us forward almost seems insulting.  And yet that's exactly what God gives us.  He knows best, even (and perhaps especially) when we think He is wrong.  Our losses were not a surprise to Him.  He knew how it would all fit into His master plan, His vision for our lives.  That's not saying He is glad babies died, or that He wanted it this way.  Remember His original plan - it did not include death. 

It is important, especially in times when we cannot see clearly, to ask God for His vision for our lives.  Sometimes, though, our grief, as well as the world around us, is so loud that we cannot discern that vision.  In those times we must start with the Bible and search for direction.  It may be a generic vision at first, but it will at least get us heading on the right path so that in time we will be able to discern His specific vision for us.  Find what God is doing and join Him - His vision does not change!  Our part in that vision can change, and it will likely be different than the part those around us will have. 

Write down 5-10 obstacles in your life right now.  Things that are disappointing, crushing, not how you'd like them to be, not how they should be.  For most of us, that list pretty much writes itself! 

Now look at that list and try to convince yourself that God has a vision for your life EVEN WITH those obstacles on the table.  Perhaps because of those obstacles - He has crafted something just for you that will not waste one ounce of the pain that has come from those obstacles.

Now think about your vision, or God's vision for your life.  Write down 5-10 ideas, words, phrases, etc that describe what you think your vision includes.  For me this list included words like joyful, loving, content, fulfilled, serving, life-giving, and making a difference for God.  No, that doesn't tell me what specific action plan to flesh out when I wake up tomorrow - or does it?  Until I have a more specific vision, I can certainly choose to live out, with increasing success, those key words and ideas.  As I am more content and serving, I will be at least walking in the right direction. 

Which will you choose to focus on this week/month/year?  Your obstacles or your vision? The one you focus on is the one that will gain power and momentum.  Will you trust God to have answers for your obstacles as He works out His vision?  Or will you be stalemated, stuck forever in the desert? 

Perhaps you feel like right now you are sitting in the middle of the desert - I do that sometimes.  I just get overwhelmed and sit down, preferring to stay in this yuck rather than keep fighting to find the right path.  The problem is that nothing will be get better by sitting down.  The Israelites ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years!!  The idea of wandering in my own desert that long (or even 40 days) is not happy.  But God was with them the entire time.  He had their exact path mapped out, and He didn't waste that time.  If they had chosen to just sit down, their journey would only have been prolonged.  Only by walking, one step at a time, one day at a time, can you get any closer to getting out of the desert.  Your circumstances, your obstacles, they may feel like the desert, but you can at least make yourself get up and start moving.  Better to wander forty years than sit until you die in a place you never wanted to be.

Here's that quote again: "We can let obstacles or vision determine our direction."  Which will you choose?

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Beginnings

It is January, and people all around are making resolutions.  Ok, so it's halfway through January, so people all around are breaking their resolutions...!

While I'm not a huge fan of resolutions, I do think it can be powerful to see each year as a new beginning, and take some time to think about what we hope and plan for the new year to bring.

For our January gathering, we reflected a bit on 2010 by writing down three good things that happened, big or small.  With most everyone having experienced a major loss in 2010, looking for good things proved to be a challenge.  But we acknowledged that the good things were woven throughout the year whether or not we recognized them.

Next we wrote down three dreams/hopes/goals for 2011.  Just a little looking ahead and imagining things to be different from how they now appear.  Sometimes we can feel stuck in a perpetual circle, not making any forward progress.  And that can be discouraging.

We took a brief journey into the lives of several Biblical characters.  It is important to remember that these were actual people who lived long ago - not fictional characters.  We began with Jonah.  His life calling was to present people with God's messages.  I imagine he was waiting for his next assignment, hoping to be sent to give good news to some wonderful town, when God told him to go to Ninevah and call the people to repent.  To Jonah, this was an awful assignment.  The last thing he wanted to see was the people of Ninevah being given another chance.  This new beginning felt like a slap in the face.  Jonah, angry, went in the opposite direction and boarded a ship for Tarshish.  Of course he could not hide from God any easier than we can today...God sent a fierce storm that threatened to break apart the boat and cause the sailors to drown.  Only by throwing Jonah overboard did the seas calm down.  God sent the huge fish to swallow Jonah, preserving his life, giving him a chance to repent and get his heart right.  After being spit back onto land (and hopefully taking a nice long shower), Jonah began the journey to Ninevah.  While his feet were obeying, his heart was still resentful of the assignment.  He missed out on some of the blessings he could have received.

Jonah is an example of the wrong way to react to a new beginning that we do not desire or welcome.  Running from the next thing God has planned or allowed will not change our new reality. It will only prolong what must take place, and may very well result in negative consequences along the way.  Let's not make a hard situation worse by refusing to submit to what God is calling us to do.

Next we looked at the life of Ruth.  After her father in law, husband, and brother in law all died, Ruth made the hard choice to travel with Naomi (mother in law) to Naomi's native country.  Ruth left all she knew to accompany another grieving woman (who had lost husband and two sons).  That was probably not an enjoyable trip.  Once they arrived, Ruth had to find discarded/leftover grain from fields so she and Naomi would have food to eat each day.  Perhaps she only collected this food for a few weeks before meeting Boaz, the man she would later marry, but Ruth did not know at the time that the season of collecting grain would be short.  Yet rather than despair or dwell on the obvious hardships in her life, she made the most of her new beginning and "did the next thing" that needed to be done.  Her story ends well, with a new husband and children, provision, and many other blessings.  None of us can see what is ahead, just around the next curve of the road we travel.  But we do know that God is with us every step of the way.

Remember the kid song "12 men went to spy on Canaan, 10 were bad and 2 were good"?  The 2 "good" spies, Joshua and Caleb, saw the same super-sized men who inhabited the land of Canaan as did the 10 "bad" spies, but rather than be overwhelmed by the idea of overcoming those giants, they chose to focus on the abundance of God's provision in Canaan.  God rewarded their faithfulness and trust.  While they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years with the rest of the unbelieving Israelites, they were allowed to enter into and enjoy the promised land with the next generation.  When God reveals to us a destination or calling, we must be single-minded as we place one foot after the other in the direction He has marked out.  We need to put on blinders like those that horses wear to keep them from being distracted or scared by things to the right and the left.  God's callings and destinations do not come without trials.  We should anticipate them and choose to trust God through them.  Let's not miss out on His abundance by being scared of the journey.

Joseph - you know, the one who had that coat of many colors?  Favored by his father and hated by his brothers, he was sold into slavery.  Not a great new beginning.  He kept a good attitude, trusted God, served well, and was thrown into jail as a result of a woman who lied.  Not a great new beginning there either.  But even in jail, Joseph was faithful.  He was eventually released.  Through another series of events, he was promoted to a high status in Egypt through which he essentially saved the people from starving during a famine.  Among those he saved were the very brothers who sold him into slavery years ago.  Joseph forgave them and they had a wonderful new beginning as a reunited family.  He is a great example of persevering through very difficult circumstances and trusting God regardless of what life threw his way.

Finally, we talked about the woman in the New Testament who had the unstoppable bleeding.  Doctors couldn't heal her.  When she learned that Jesus was coming her way, she pressed through the thick crowds of people so she could touch the hem of His robe - certain that even a tiny touch would bring healing.  She was in desperate need of a new beginning, and she knew exactly where to go.  Straight to Jesus.  May we all do the same.  He can bring a new beginning through a changed situation, changed relationships, or "simply" through a changed attitude and renewed faith and trust that God can do all things and that God loves us very much.

Some new beginnings are truly a leap of faith.  Hold tightly to what you know to be true, regardless of what your feelings tell you.

We finished the evening by talking about the fruit of the Spirit.  We shared which of the 9 fruit of the Spirit we felt our losses highlighted we needed to increase, as well as which of the 9 we wanted to specifically focus on in 2011. control.  They are all part of one fruit - that's why it's called the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruits.  Working on one will have a domino effect and result in improvements on all nine.  Amy brought up the important point that on our own we are helpless to become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, etc.  Only through God working in our hearts, changing us, shaping and molding us, can those traits increase.  It is God's will that we become more full of each trait, so we know that by trusting Him and walking with Him we will see improvements in these areas.  She also reminded us that God can give us the "want to" even when we don't feel strong enough (or obedient enough) to desire change.  (Philippians 2:13, Living Bible)

What will you focus on in 2011?  Which trait do you feel would make the most positive difference in your life?  Are you ready and willing to let God guide you into your new beginning?  The end of all God stories is wonderful...and well worth the trials we experience along the way.