A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

 A collection of essays dealing with pain and lossThis collection of essays from Frederick Buechner delve into the nature of how we deal with pain and loss. Buechner is no stranger to this topic as he has spent much of his life grappling with his father’s suicide when he was a young boy. As an adult, he faced the anguish of his daughter’s anorexia. Even though God may seem silent during  times of crushing grief, Buechner discovered God’s presence and his grace–that he truly is close to the brokenhearted.

The author, an excellent storyteller, tells about an experience at a retreat. Someone commented to Buechner that he had experienced a great deal of pain in his life, but he been a good steward of his pain. That was a new concept to Buechner–and to me as well. I like the idea that we can choose a positive way to manage the sad and puzzling events that happen in our lives. We can be good stewards of our pain.

Buechner says the tendency is to push pain away, to forget what happened, to never speak of a loved one we have lost.  Yet miracles happen when we walk through the gates of pain.

Miracles happen because of the willingness to open the door into your pain. Open your ears and your eyes to the elusive, invisible, silent presence of healing, of the power of God to heal, which moves as quietly, as undramatically, as the wind moves.

The author concludes that joy is at the end. When we enter through the gates of pain, we can encounter joy. Treasure can be found when we are willing to work through our sorrow. Buechner’s gentle, easy style draws readers in and gives hope. His compassionate, authentic wisdom make this book well worth reading.

 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Courage to Carry On: Finding Hope When You’ve Lost Everything

Courage to carry onCourage is something I’ve thought about often during the past month–a commodity sorely needed by victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Like many of us, I’ve witnessed the heartbreaking devastation of these storms as news channels have broadcast moment-by-moment updates. At times, I felt like I was watching a natural disaster movie. It all seemed surreal. But to the people of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and other areas where there’s been massive flooding and wind damage, it’s all too real.

To say I even begin to understand is an understatement. I have no idea what it’s like to lose everything you own. Sure, it’s easy to say material things are just “things” and don’t matter. What’s really important is our loved ones. And that’s true. But putting your life together after such a disaster is painfully difficult.

I’ve experienced the anxiety and terror of wildfires burning close enough to our home that you see flames. Three years ago, a wildfire burned more than 250,000 acres in our beautiful Methow Valley in Washington state, and destroyed more than 300 homes. We watched our friends reel from their losses. We also watched as they courageously began to rebuild their lives. Two years ago, another fire devastated our area and claimed the lives of three brave firefighters. The tragedy shook our entire community. Several hundred friends and neighbors gathered in the community park for a vigil. The stillness of that August night was lit with the glow from flashlights, cell phones, and glow sticks. Suddenly, material possessions seemed insignificant.

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand.
                                                                                                                     -Gloria Gaither

Believe

A few years ago, I did a word study on courage. In these times of unspeakable tragedy, courage is what will carry us forward. For me, courage is built on a foundation of faith. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s looking at your fears full-on and saying, I believe! I believe God is with me through any circumstances I face, no matter how difficult. Whatever situation you’re facing, just breathing the word courage can help you remember God is with you. He is the source of your strength and the reason why you can be courageous.

When I think of courage, people like Corrie ten Boom come to mind. She and her family made the bold decision to hide Jews in their home during World War II. Corrie, her father, and sister were sent to a concentration camp when they were found out. Only Corrie survived to tell the story. She proclaimed God’s faithfulness in the midst of tragedy for the rest of her life. Countless people heard her story–including a former Nazi guard who came forward and asked for her forgiveness. Offering forgiveness to someone who has caused so much pain takes courage to an entirely different level.

And then there are heroes of 9/11–too many to write about in this short blog. The courage of people like Welles Crowther, who is known as the man in the red bandana, inspire us. Welles was twenty-four years old when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center where he worked. He managed to get out safely. But then he ran back in numerous times to save others, accompanying them down forty floors to safety. Welles lost his life that day, but his story lives on. Courage has a way of leaving a legacy.

Take Action

The Bible talks a lot about fear. In fact, the words do not fear appear at least 366 times. What that tells me is having courage and not being afraid is important enough that God inspired the repetition of that command. Sometimes we think courage is some kind of bravery we have to muster up in our own strength. Not true! Courage is a by-product of faith. The antidote for fear is faith. 

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,  I will try again tomorrow. -Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey

That’s what will make the difference for hurricane survivors. Having the courage to believe they can take the next step, and then the one after that, one-day-at-a-time. They need courage to believe they can walk through this difficult time and come out on the other side–probably with a story to tell and being different from when they began this unwanted journey.

Walk Through

To carry on is the courageous keeping on with whatever is at hand, whatever is next in importance to do. During World War II, when London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 59 straight nights, the city never shut down. The people of London went to work and kept their daily routines. That’s remarkable!

I would have been tempted to stay in bed with the covers pulled up around my head. Courage says to keep going, to walk through those deep valleys.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.

-Theodore Roosevelt

That’s the bottom line. From somewhere deep inside, you find strength that you could never have imagined and the courage to carry on.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

We are praying for everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes. May the Lord give you His peace that passes all understanding.

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

Do Not Grow Weary and Lose Heart

Tonight when I was browsing on Facebook, I saw a post that I immediately shared on my timeline… words to a song by Laura Story called Blessings…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?

My heart was touched…not only by this artist’s insights into the questions we all struggle with…the whys of tragedies like Boston, West, Texas, Newtown, Aurora and countless other arenas closer to home, but no less painful. But I was also moved by the hundreds of comments that flooded in. The person who posted this message, Teresa Allissa Citro, asked people to share their prayer needs, where they were feeling weary and losing heart. I scrolled through the endless requests. I realized this wasn’t just any social media post. On this ordinary Thursday night, I took time out from the kitchen clean-up. I laid the dish towel on the counter. I prayed for the woman whose son took his life in December, the single mom trying to make ends meet, though she’s homeless and jobless. I prayed for others with chronic medical problems and financial concerns. I asked God to help those who feel despair, pain, and heartache. I prayed for hope.

I felt immersed in this extraordinary circle of prayer. I felt in awe for technology that allows us to come together across continents and countries as sisters in Christ. Even when we don’t understand and we have more questions than answers, our hope is still in God…the One who is strength in our weakness, calm in the storm, comfort in our sorrow.

Laura Story’s song speaks to this. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen. You’ll be blessed!

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16   

  

 

A Holy Comfort for Our Grief

There are times when you know you’ve encountered a holy experience. Two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, friends gathered to remember our friend Melissa. She lost her agonizing battle with depression and took her life on a Saturday morning in early December.

We who knew her have reeled with shock and grief over her tragic loss at only 38-years old. A service was held in the new community where she and her family had relocated in October. Several close friends felt it was important to honor Melissa here, where she had made her home for at least a decade.

About two dozen of us sat in a large circle in the church fellowship hall. A slide show flashed pictures of Melissa and her family. We each told how we had come to know and love her. We cried and even laughed together, remembering the happy times. 

What could we have done differently? How could we have helped her through those dark times? Questions hung in the stillness. But each person spoke comfort where answers are hard to find. God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances, one close friend reminded. She talked about how Melissa’s new church, a group of people who barely knew them, had rallied to support the grieving family. Another friend mentioned that Melissa’s oldest son’s teacher had also lost her mother to suicide when she was a child. God is certainly with those who are brokenhearted–even when we are at a loss to understand.

We held hands, sang a song together, and prayed for God to do what none of us can–to bring healing, peace, and comfort to all who grieve. Melissa’s close friends had packed up all of her clothing and brought it to the church. Please take something, they urged. Her husband wanted it that way. When I walked into the hall and saw the tables of neatly folded and sorted clothing, I broke into tears. How could I take anything? I saw Melissa in so many of those garments. Then I sensed that it would be wrong not to take something. I picked up a raspberry colored top and instinctively held it close. Her friends had given me a precious gift.

A favorite place

Maybe you’re walking through a season of grief, wondering how you’ll make it through the next moment, not to mention a lifetime. I pray you’ll know God’s faithfulness and be comforted, just as we were on a cold, January night. 

 

   

God’s Presence in the Dark Night

It’s Saturday morning and I’m still wrapped in my bathrobe. Really, my favorite time of the week because I can sit quietly, no place to rush off to. Oh, there’s plenty to do…get ready for winter projects, housework, all those chores that beg attention. But for this moment, I’ll enjoy looking out at the dazzling blue skies, feeling a warm breeze through the open window. I’ll soak in every moment of this final “summer” weekend. October is imminent and the weather here usually changes like clockwork. 

In this morning’s quiet, I’ve been reading Deb Watson’s incredibly touching book, Kiss Goodbye: The Story of God’s Presence in the Dark Night.  I’ve read her story over several weeks, and each time I pick up her book, I feel as if I’ve been invited into a sacred and holy place.

I first “met” Deb on Twitter. I was scrolling through the daily tweets and saw one from Deb Watson who reported her excitement about her first book being published. I think because she and I share the same name and I know the feeling of a first book coming off the press, I twittered back to her.

Congratulations, Deb, I wrote. I pray your book will be successful! 

Then the conversation began. Deb answered that her book was about the death of her 19-year-old daughter. I felt the pang that only another mother can understand, even though I have never journeyed to the depths of grief as Deb and her family have. After I watched the book trailer for Kiss Goodbye, I emailed Deb again. She graciously offered to send me a copy of her book which I gratefully accepted.

I knew this would be a difficult read, but I had no idea how Deb’s telling of her family’s loss of their beautiful daughter and sister, Cathy, would completely draw me in as if I were there with her as a friend. Sitting in the livingroom with them in shock and disbelief the night of the tragic accident, anticipating all the “firsts” of those weeks and months after Cathy’s death, or the longing for one friend to call or stop by on that first Christmas Eve without Cathy. And no one did.

Deb pulls aside the curtain of private family suffering and with her real and honest writing style, allows us to glimpse the intensity of raw pain in coming to terms with the loss of someone we dearly love. That she invites us complete strangers into this sacred, intensely personal place, is truly courageous.

In reading Kiss Goodbye, there is no doubt where this courage comes from. Woven through the anguish, is the inspiring message that God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances. We may each know that on different levels, based on our life experiences, but the Watson family’s story underscores the truth of God’s presence in any dark night, especially in the midst of unimaginable suffering–and that offers much hope and comfort to us other pilgrims on life’s journey. For it isn’t a matter of if we will ever experience the pain of losing someone we love, but when.  Deb’s example gives me courage to believe that with God’s grace and the support of loving family and friends, I too, will be able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side.

Since I received Deb’s book, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of talking with her on the phone. Hearing her voice resonate with compassion for others who are suffering, yet with unmistakable joy in living life as a devoted follower of Christ, is more solid evidence that the Lord does indeed use all things for good, even the most heartbreaking and hard to understand circumstances, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Thank you, Deb, for your sharing your story and your friendship!