Hearing God

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There was a moment in my fifth grade classroom today when I gave up.  It happens most days around 2:00pm, just thirty short minutes before all twenty-four of them will go home and the room will be blissfully silent again.  By 2:00, they’re tried and watching the clock, and therefore, so am I.

Then this afternoon, in the midst of a review game on the Declaration of Independence, I turned into King George.  With my arms across my chest, I heard myself bellow like the tyrant himself, “Well, I am just going to stand here until you are ready to listen.”

What is it with the whole human race and listening?  (It’s no better in our staff meetings.)

 

Recently, I wrote about seeking God’s direction for 2017.  A friend of mine bravely responded by saying, “Oh, but the LISTENING. And discerning. And searching for clarity. THAT’S the hard part (for me)!”

Isn’t she exactly right?  Very often the listening and hearing is the hardest part.  What does it look like to listen for His answers?  What does it sound like when He does answer us?

It seems like such a BIG thing to try to listen for the God of the Universe to answer our little cries for help and direction.  There must be a cosmic formula that makes sense in our human brains.  Something like 1) ask Him and 2) He will answer in some mysterious and difficult-to-decipher way and 3) we scrunch our noses and scratch our foreheads as we try to hear His spiritual code words.

And we are left stuck. Still.

 

I went to my favorite source for taking big Biblical concepts and making them understandable:  The Jesus Storybook Bible.  Faith like a child, they say.  His ways are not meant to be understood by only the most theologically-minded, but rather by the simple-minded, like little kids, for instance.  I love how the author put it:

“So one day, Jesus taught the people how to pray.  He said, ‘When you pray, don’t pray like those Extra-Super-Holy People.  They think if they say lots of words, God will hear them.  But it’s not because you’re so clever, or good, or so important, that God will listen to you.  God listens to you because He loves you. 

‘Did you know that God is always listening to you? Did you know that God can hear the quietest whisper deep inside your heart, even before you’ve started to say it?  Because God knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him,’ Jesus told them.”

[Jesus continued] “‘You see, God just can’t wait to give you all that you need.  So you don’t need to use long words or special words.  You don’t have to use a special voice. You just have to talk.  So when you pray, pray in your normal voice, just like when you’re talking to someone you love very much.’”

“You see, Jesus was showing people that God would always love them – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.  So they didn’t need to hide anymore, or be afraid, or ashamed.  They could stop running away from God and they could run to Him instead.  As a little child runs into her daddy’s arms.   (p. 225,227)

With a loving God like that, how could we not run to Him with our concerns?

 

“[The Lord Himself says] Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  Jeremiah 33:3

The first part to hearing God is to call out to Him.

I must confess that sometimes I want to hear what a Genie-God says regarding my concern, but I’m not willing to take the time to slow down and actually talk to my Relational-God about it.  He wants so much more than simply our requests.  He wants US.  He wants a relationship with us.  It’s when we call out to Him in trouble that we get to see this characteristic of Him.

David poetically captures this answering characteristic of God well:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call on me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honor him.”              Psalm 91:14-15

 

So, there we are.  We’ve expressed our concerns to our relational God, and now what?

In my experience, God seems to respond with one of three answers: “Yes, now,” “Yes, in a little bit,” or “No, but I’m going to do something else good with this situation.”

 

The last six weeks of my son, Tage’s, life were the absolute hardest.  We had just been sent home from the hospital and toward hospice care, and he was suddenly eating through a g-tube, something that caused me a lot of anxiety at first. Many visitors came by the house in those weeks so I was rarely alone, but when I was alone, the anxiety sank its teeth into my neck and shook me like a dog’s chew toy.  I could not escape its grip.

At first, fear entangled me. I forgot that “the Spirit of God, who raised Christ from the (freaking) dead, lives in (me)” (Romans 8:11).  My friend, Kathryn, reminded me of this, and sent me the song A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Christy Nockels.  She told me, “Play this song in your house, and sing it out loud when you need to be reminded who your powerful God is.”

Later that day, my heart rate started to rise again, and I could feel the anxious pounding in my chest, hot blood racing through my body, my breathing tight, tears forming in my eyes.  I started singing the first words to that song, and felt my neck tighten even more at first as the words struggled to escape my lips.  I was trapped, held down against the ground by an invisible, strangling grasp. I was overtaken.

I knew it was my enemy. I had never been so scared.

Pressing past the fear, I struggled to break the surface, to take a breath in the midst of my drowning. “Jesus….help…me,” I barely whispered.

His powerful voice resounded like roaring water in the heavens. “Yes, now!”  Even still, tears come to my eyes while I type this, because suddenly peace seeped into my soul as I continued to try to sing.  My heartrate slowed, and I cried gratefully as I felt the grip let go.  I had defeated my enemy!  I can only imagine what unseen battle was happening in my kitchen in that moment.  But our God reigns!  When we call on Him in trouble, His presence is immediate.

 

But sometimes, His answer is not always, “Yes, now.”  A few years prior to that day in my kitchen, after experiencing the pain of miscarriage, I had prayed that God would give me another baby.  I wanted to be a mom so desperately.  I prayed that prayer many times, and now, only in looking back, do I know that each time, His answer was, “Yes, in a little bit.”  Almost two years later, baby Tage was born.  I held him with even more gratitude than I could imagine.

 

When Tage was six months old, we received the terminal diagnosis.  I remember standing in the hospital shower that night, water and tears running down my face, hands pressed against the shower walls as I begged God to miraculously heal my son.  I begged Him every day after that.  Yet our loving God, who hears each prayer and sees each tear, looked at me tenderly.  His gentle answer was, “No, but I’m going to do something else good with this situation, Molly.”  And He wrapped His arms around me as we both cried.

And He HAS done something else good.  He’s done many good things because Tage went to Heaven much earlier than I had expected.  Most importantly, He’s given me the opportunity to share this unshakable peace, hope, and joy of Jesus with thousands of people.

I desperately miss Tage most days, but I know where he is, and that he is safe.  And I know I will see him again, and when I do, it will be for eternity.  And not only will I hug Tage, but as I stand next to Tage, we’ll hug all the other people that are in Heaven for eternity because Tage left Earth when he did.

Now, tell me that’s not good.

 

We know He will always answer us.  But what about when it’s hard to hear His voice?

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  –Jesus in John 10:27

A speaker I heard once said that when she traveled to the Middle east, she passed a large hill where dozens of shepherds were bringing their sheep to a barn.  Hundreds of sheep walked freely down a rugged cliff toward a barn, following only the sound of their single shepherd’s voice.

They know his voice, and they trust him completely.  So they follow Him.

Can the same be said about us?

 

It was easy to see that the “Yes, now” answers were immediate.  But only hindsight allows me to see when He answered with “yes, in a little bit” or “no, but…”

In the moment, He just seemed silent.

Perhaps he feels silent to you right now, too.

 

Patience might be the hardest virtue.  Nowhere in the Bible are we promised immediate answers.  We’re not even promised a timetable.  We are just promised that His answer is always the best answer, and He is never too late.  We are directed to seek Him and then trust Him.  That’s all.  And yes, many times that is very hard to do.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’”  Jeremiah 29:11

 

If it’s obvious His answer to our prayer is not “yes, now,” then it must be “in a little bit” or “no, but…”  As we wait to for the answer to be revealed, the time is not wasted if we use it to get to know our Shepherd’s voice even more.

Then, perhaps it’s in His words, or in song lyrics, or in a friend’s note, or when the house gets sold to another buyer, or in a sudden thought that hits you in the middle of the bread aisle when it comes – the whisper in our soul, His voice, the answer which allows us to trust Him a little easier next time.

Never according to our timetable, and rarely in the way we pictured it, but He is alway answering us.  So keep praying, keep seeking, keep listening.

We don’t have to search desperately and figure out some cosmic code.  Our loving God longs to answer our prayers.  As we seek Him, we can know that the answers will come in His perfect timing.

I know this to be true: God is not a tyrant. He’s not holding out on you.  He’s just working something good.  Every. Single. Time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask This in 2017

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I’ve sat down to type so many times lately. I stare at a blank screen, cursor flashing, trying to think thoughts….but nothing.

It’s a new year. What should I proclaim as the first post of 2017?

Can you hear and feel all that pressure? Ugh.

 
Then, on a run today, I told Him that I was stuck. I was drowning.  I needed His help. “What do YOU want me to do, God?”

Yes, He smiled. Exactly.

 
Each year brings new joys and new sorrows, new experiences and the end of experiences. We are turning new directions this year. We are going to be doing new things this year,

meeting new people,

starting new jobs,

and wearing new hats

as we play new roles.

 

God does not lead our lives the way I like to decorate: set it all up and leave it that way for years.

No, He creates new scenes for us, scenes of beauty and laughter, tears and growth — just like a good movie.

For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?   ( Isaiah 43:19)

 

New things scare the heck out of me. Even new paint colors sometimes. What if what’s coming is not something I will like? What if I will absolutely hate this new thing?

I’ve already begun it, He said.

But if I’ve learned anything in 2016 – through an unwanted divorce, an unwanted move, more unwanted loss – it’s that I don’t have to be scared. In the joys and the sorrows, the unknowns and the expectations, our God is so good.  I see now that in the midst of the painful, shredding experiences of my heart in recent years, He was simultaneously weaving parts of even those pieces together for what I’m doing now in my joy.

He says:

You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
there never has been, and there never will be.

I, yes I, am the Lord,
and there is no other Savior.

First I predicted your rescue,
then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
says the Lord.

“From eternity to eternity I am God.
No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
No one can undo what I have done.”    (Isaiah 43:10-13)

Do you hear how safe you are with Him? How unlike any other He is? How nothing surprises Him? Do you hear the love in His voice when He talks about rescuing us and saving us and how He chooses us?

Completely loving. All-powerful. There is no safer combination.

 

So despite the unknowns in our lives — where will I be this year, what will I do, who will come in or out of my life — we can rest. He’s good, and He’s got 2017 in His pocket.

New is not scary if He’s in it.

I can securely unclench my fist and simply ask, “God, what do YOU want me to do in 2017?”

And when you ask that question, you know it will be a good year.

Carriers of the Light

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She showed up Christmas morning, alone.  Her eyes were heavy, carrying the weight of a thousand burdens unspoken.  She wasn’t dressed in her usual, festive way, and she hadn’t brought anything to contribute to the meal.  She hadn’t even bothered to put on a dab of makeup.

As the crowd began to gather around the sizzling bacon and the gooey cinnamon rolls, she stayed in the other room until everyone was called to eat.  She slowly walked into the kitchen and did her best to plaster a smile on her face, but no one was fooled.

Her dad looked up and said to the family, “Could we actually gather in the living room for a second?”

Once everyone had found a spot, he said, “Molly, before we begin our Christmas breakfast, I want to take a minute to let you know that we are so glad you are here.  It breaks our heart that __ is not here with you this morning.  I’m sure this Christmas must feel so awkward and sad.  We are so sad with you, Honey.”

As I looked around with immediate tear-filled eyes, I saw all the heads of my family members nodding in agreement, some wiping their own eyes.  I took a deep breath and slowly relaxed my shoulders. One sister, scooted over and tucked her arm around my back.  “I’m really glad you’re here, Molly,” she said.

Then, Dad asked if he could pray for me and for my estranged marriage.  We all closed our eyes and bowed our heads, and enormous drops poured down my face while he spoke, my heart emptying of the grief and filling up with the Hope of what Jesus came to Earth to do in the first place: save us, heal us.

 

 

There may be some grieving family members under a roof with you this season. Yes, they will be there in body, but perhaps not in spirit, or emotion, or thought. Their mind will race with all the emotions of who is not there and why, of the cancer that has returned, or of That Thing that awaits when they fly home. They won’t be able to think about anything else.

Until you take the time to name it.

There’s healing in saying The Thing out loud. We can take power away from their unraveling thoughts, which loom larger in their mind the more they think. You, my friend, have the ability to flip on the light of truth and make the darkness flee.

 

 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   John 8:32

Even as hard as it is sometimes, speaking the truth sets us free. Once my dad took time to acknowledge my grief, I was able to enjoy the cinnamon rolls and the silly party games — but I couldn’t have until he said the words out loud.

This is an action of sacrifice. It is stepping down into someone’s pain rather than remaining only where the Christmas lights twinkle, the mistletoe winks at you from the doorway, and everyone has lip-glossy smiles across their face.

It means not making our feelings the most important thing. Grief doesn’t feel good, so it is an act of love to willingly have a conversation that doesn’t feel good.

But I am so grateful Christ didn’t do only what felt good to Him, and if I want to be like Him, I want to step into the hurt of the people around my Christmas table.

Here’s one route you can choose to love the grieving at your table this year:

1. Take time to SAY you’re thinking of the grief, too. Say the specific name of the person who is missing. Say the word Cancer. Say what makes you sad for them, and how this isn’t what you wanted for them, too.

2. Give them a gift: LISTEN to them talk about it for a little bit. Ask questions like, What do you miss the most? What has been the hardest part of this Christmas season for you? What are you afraid of moving forward?  Do not try to top their story with your own. Just listen. Nod your head. Cry. Put a hand on their leg or an arm around their shoulder. Bring them in close to you.

3. Offer simple ENCOURAGEMENT. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s okay to say that you don’t have the answers. But what DO you know? Perhaps you know that God is doing something in their life in the midst of this pain, perhaps you can attest to that in your own life, or perhaps you know that you will be texting them to check-in over the next few months, and you are so glad they are here with you. Perhaps you offer to pray for them. And when you hug them, squeeze them tight and for longer than one second.

4. Then, you can ENJOY the rest of the day!  Once intentional time is given to the grief, you don’t have to wallow in it. This is the surprising part. We may think that if we open the lid on The Thing, it will never close. So we just don’t open it. But instead, once you address The Thing, it quits pounding on the lid and will simmer down for a while. You turned the light on, so darkness has to flee.

 

“And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”   Matthew 4:16b

That line sounds like a final line in a Christmas movie to me — can’t you just hear the narrator’s deep, soothing voice saying it at the end of the movie?

Because Jesus came, those of us who live in the land of darkness, surrounded by shadows, and death, and divorce, and disease, we have Hope.

One year ago, I was in the shadowed valley of the death of my marriage. One year ago, my family members bravely and lovingly took time to take the lid off The Thing in my life for twenty minutes and shine some light into it. One year ago, even with The Thing not resolved in any fashion yet, I felt loved. I felt hope.

I felt the Light.

“You are the light of the world — like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light…” —Jesus to us (Mathew 5:14)

This year, I get to shine the Light for others.

Yes, we are in the land where death casts its shadow, but let us not forget – especially at Christmas – that the Light of the World has come!

And we are the carriers of The Light.

Get Ready

Perhaps you need to hear this: a lot can happen in a year.

Like, a whole, whole lot.

 

A year ago last month, my ex-husband stood in our bedroom doorway with a duffel bag slung across his shoulder as he told me he was going to sleep somewhere else that night.

I remember the anxiety, the fear of what this meant for my future, the wracking of my brain to think whether there was just one more thing I could do that might make him stay.

After a few very difficult years with too many tragedies, I was sure this final blow would be my collapse.

I wrote a post a year ago titled “A Weary World Rejoices.” That line in O Holy Night was my anthem. Gosh, I was so weary.

 

Shortly after he left, I started making a plan. Planning is my (false) security. I started going to a counselor, I read whatever she told me to read, I took care of myself, I made time for friends and made time to be alone. Then, when it was clear the divorce was happening, I met with a lawyer, met with a realtor, met with a financial planner.

All the plans.

Tucked in the back of my mind was that I might, someday, plan to go on a date, with someone, somewhere, just for fun. But I was certain that that wouldn’t be until at least a year after the divorce.

That was the plan, anyway.

 

During the early part of summer, I can remember exactly where I was sitting on my couch when I began to hear God so clearly as I was reading and praying. “I know this isn’t part of your plan, Molly, but could you trust Me even if I moved you out of state?” (He and I both knew this meant away from my friends and family which seemed like quite a bold move on His part considering all He had put me through.)

A few days later, I wrote a post about the redemption of my relationship with my step-mom, Jackie, and to my shock, He said, “What about you as a step-mom? Could you trust Me with that?”

Two enormous seeds He planted in my mind and heart that week. I wrote about those two seeds in my journal. I resolved that as long as the Lord would go with me — and I knew He would — I could do whatever He asked me to do. It was a big day.

 
Then, in July, a friend of mine asked if I was ready to date yet. This came as a shock, because I assumed I wouldn’t be crossing that bridge for a while still. “He lives out of state, is divorced, and has two kids,” she said.

Umm, nope, no thank you, and no, I thought.

But then she started to tell me about him. He didn’t sound like the average guy, and he wasn’t. We started slowly, chatting via Facebook Messenger. I delayed giving him my number at first, because I still wasn’t sure I was ready for this. But then he told me about making ballet buns on the heads of his two little ballerinas, and I was a goner!

Over many hours of phone conversation and eventually face-to-face adventures, I quickly became captivated by and grateful for the intentional, wise, lavishingly thoughtful, and ridiculously funny man God brought into my life.

And I just have to share this crazy thing with you: in a hilarious twist that only God could spin, my sweet dog’s name is Marty. His real name is Marten (after the trucking company because I was obsessed with those trucks when I was little) but everyone calls him Marty. Then, because I think everything has to have a middle name, I’ve ended up calling him Marty Guy. All the people closest to me call him that: Marty Guy.

Well, this guy I’ve been dating, his first name actually is Guy! And his middle name is Martin! Marty (Marten) Guy and Guy Martin…are you kidding me?! Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

And so, we’ve been doing this thing, carefully and intentionally, ever since.

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He is a gift to me. I am in awe of the way he treats people, the depth of his friendships, and the thoughtful ways he’s cared for me. I love hearing him talk (with a hint of a Southern accent) about the day’s crop from his garden, sitting next to him in church, and raising my eye brows at him when he feeds Marty people-food to which he replies, “I guess I just like to feed a dawg.” It feels SO good to smile and giggle again! Truly, I have never felt this loved.

A whole, whole lot has changed in a year.
Last Christmas, I remember sitting alone in front of my fireplace and reading this verse:

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.
Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Psalm 27:7-12

There was a lot going on last year. So much fear, anxiety, grief, and loneliness. At times, I could barely function. Yet, I resonated with those verses. I felt like I was not alone, because I could relate to those feelings. I wondered if I would feel this despair forever.

And right after those words, I found this promise:

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
Psalm 27:7:13-14

In the midst of darkness, we need to remember this hope! I needed to know that GOOD would come here in the land of the living and not only when I got to Heaven. I needed to cling to the hope that it would not always be this unbearable, that there would be some goodness eventually.

And right there, I found it. The goodness will come. All it said I had to do was wait: be brave and courageous and wait.

Or I like how my friend, Star, puts it. Star has beautiful, white hair on her head, so she knows a thing to two. This summer, only a couple weeks before Guy entered the scene, I was having breakfast with her and two other friends. Star told me about her own love story — a second marriage which has brought her love, joy, and a redemption that she never expected, and it came in the form of Gordon, one of the most tender and funny men I know. She said, “Molly, I know God is not done with you yet. I don’t know what He’s doing, but right now as you wait, you just need to get ready for it. Work on yourself, have some fun, seek Jesus. Something’s coming, Honey, so get ready!”

And I say the same thing to you, weary friend: get ready!

When we bring our negative conditions to the Lord, He will do something in His timing. So, we keep praying and waiting for the teenager to return, for the money to arrive, for the weight of grief to be lifted just a little. We have no idea what it will look like, but we wait with expectation. We bravely continue to do each day — set a morning alarm, go to work, buy groceries, fold laundry and pay bills — because we are clinging to the hope that we will see His goodness.

When we bring our negative conditions to the Lord, He will do something in His timing. So, we wait.

“I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6

I love this picture of a watchman. I picture a man in a lighthouse in the midst of a terrible night storm. This is not a passive waiting. It’s a waiting up on our tiptoes with our face pressed against the window looking as far out onto the horizon as we can. It’s a Hope, bubbling with expectation and daring to believe that even in darkness, we still have a reason to sing because we know the night won’t last forever: the morning always comes.

Isaiah 61:3 tells us the Lord desires to reverse the grief in our lives:

To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Our God is the master of reversals. Total and complete one-eighties. He wants to show you what He can do with that thing in your life, and He wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was HIS doing. Please don’t call it a coincidence when it happens!

And when the goodness comes, celebrate it! Because God is not only glorified in our suffering, but He’s also glorified in our celebrating. Circumstances worth celebrating are meant to be celebrated! Let’s not short ourselves in the celebrating. On Monday morning at the copy machine, my dear friend and co-worker, Liz, asked, “So how was the weekend with Guy?” The enormity of my smile was almost embarrassing — but I’m not going to stop celebrating the goodness.

 
I don’t know where you are today. Perhaps you are feeling the weight of a weary world as I was last year. But even still, in my moments of despair, He knew the good that was coming. Every so often, I could hear Him whisper to me, “Just hang on, Molly. The morning is coming, and it’s going to be beautiful. I’ve got something up My sleeve.”

And boy, did He. The anxiety, fear, loneliness, and grief of last year, He has turned to peace, hope, love, and joy. And I know He’s not done.

He can do the same in your life. Wait. Be brave and courageous. And get ready!

Last year, my shattered soul shouted “a weary world rejoices,” but this year my heart proclaims the joy felt through “a thrill of hope.”

A lot can happen in a year.

Get ready.

Permission to Grieve: a humble how-to

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It has been two years this week since I last saw his little face. Somedays it feels like a decade, and other days it feels like I just saw him yesterday.

I remember the days when I was certain the weight of grief and anxiety would never be lifted. I was convinced the pain would never end.

I remember the months following his death, the struggle of just trying to function. I was a window pane that had completely crackled from a hit and one small touch would send all the bits crumbling to the ground. I knew I was fragile — about losing Tage and about what this meant for the future — and I knew it was a tender place in my heart because when someone touched it, the tears came.  Push harder, more tears, like the bursting squeeze of a water balloon.

But I wanted someone to touch it. Because most people were afraid to touch it. They were afraid of the crumbling and the squeezing and the tears. But I wanted to get some of them out.

Perhaps you find yourself in this season of grief right now, too. I wish I could be the one to sit with you as you cry. We’d be tucked away in some back corner of a coffee shop, and you could sit facing the wall so the people wouldn’t see your weeping face. You’d talk about the pain, the things you didn’t get to do with them, the final questions you wish you’d asked, and how you don’t want to walk down an aisle if they aren’t going to be there. You’d ask, “When will it not feel like this anymore?”

The best analogy I ever heard was that grief is a river. You can walk around it, but it will take a long time. Or you can just jump in, and swim to the other side. Yes, it’s messy at times, but it will take a lot less time if you aren’t afraid to just dive in. It seems scarier, but it’s really not, and you will come out faster and healthier if you do it.

I know you are struggling to do the daily tasks, and you wonder how you might grieve with all that you have to do. So, maybe you just need someone to give you permission to do it.

Grief takes work. That means you have to say no to other things in order to take time to grieve well. I am not an expert, but I am quite experienced. So, friend, I want to give you permission to grieve well.

Here is what you are free to do:

You have permission to get the tears out. You may feel that if you let the tears come, they will never stop. But they will. Some days you may cry for hours, others you may cry for minutes, or you may start and stop ten times. But you need to get them out. You will feel better, despite the puffy eyes. You’re just cleansing your heart.

In order to do that, you have permission to say no. It won’t be forever, but for as long as it needs to be, you get to be selfish with your time. Grieving takes a lot of energy. A lot. You are wise to push some things off your plate, and people will understand. It doesn’t have to be forever, but be intentional about how you will spend your time for this season. They can find someone else for the committee, or the little league coaching spot, or the ministry at church, or the whatever. You have permission to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t right now.”

Which leads us to this: you have permission to carve out time to be alone. If you don’t carve out time to grieve, you will grieve when you don’t want to — like in the middle of a nice dinner at The Cheesecake Factory (which will really freak your young waiter out) or in the middle of a party for a friend who is in town (and no one wants to kill a party). Trust me on this one — make time to cry at home, or in your car, or while you’re out walking with your sunglasses on. It’s much better than crying when you don’t want to.

You have permission in your time alone, to read the Bible and talk to God out loud.
If you want this pain to have purpose, this is where you will find meaning. If you’ve read the Psalms before and thought they were boring, they won’t be now. You will find words for your soul, you will see you’re not alone, you will see you are not forgotten. God will meet you in places you’ve never seen Him before. He will not waste this pain as you seek Him in it.

Friend, you have permission to get yourself a massage. Grief makes knots. If you find yourself struggling to take a deep breath, or taking more deep breaths than normal, you are stressed, and of course you are. A massage will do wonders. Trust me. There is no limit on massages during this time.

Let’s talk about your health for a minute. I did both extremes. During one season of grief, I ate every comfort food and as much of it as I could. During another, I ran like it was my job and could barely eat. The former was a lot harder to recover from, but it definitely tasted better. So, for this grief season, you have permission to not eat “normally” — maybe more, maybe less. Either you’ll get in the best shape of your life, or eventually you’ll realize your pants don’t fit and be ready to make a change. This is not a big deal.

That being said, I must also mention this: you have permission to get outside and move. Maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk, maybe it’s a bike ride, maybe it’s a run or playing an organized sport, but you will be glad when you get out and get moving. Don’t short yourself by not making time for these moments. Some of my best cries were during a jog, and getting good exercise will help you sleep, which may be difficult anyway when you’re grieving.

So, you also have permission to sleep. Did I mention grief is exhausting? You may not be a nap person and suddenly find yourself napping. Do it. You may need to take a sleep aid so that you can sleep at night. Do it. You need sleep.

You may also need an anti-depressant. You have permission to get an anti-depressant. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, and it doesn’t mean you will be on it for the rest of your life. But if you find yourself struggling to function every day, it might be time to talk with your doctor.

Talking to a counselor also helps, so you have permission to find a counselor. The first one may not be the right fit (I saw three before I found one I really connected with). But a great counselor is a gift. They will ask you things your friends and family won’t think to ask, and they are comfortable with your tears. You won’t regret it.

Finally, friend, please don’t isolate yourself all the time. You have permission to spend time with friends and family and LAUGH. An hour after my mom died, we all stood in the living room around her body with our puffy eyes as we waited for her body to be taken away. She had requested that some of her hair be spread at our cabin, so my dear dad took the kitchen shears and cut a large piece of hair right in the front and center of her hairline. My sisters and I yelled, “Dad, what did you do?!” And then we all had a much needed belly laugh. She would have killed him for making her look like that!
Life is a mixture of good and bad, and when we grieve, we really need to laugh, too. The evening after my son’s funeral, laughing with my girlfriends at my kitchen table was healing, just as much as the tears were. It prevented despair. Find the people who know you and who will help you laugh. It’s a must.

Seasons of grief are bitter, but they can also be so sweet. I cherish the memories of sitting around my kitchen table eating pizza from two different places with friends because I couldn’t make a decision, the moments I spent crying as tears streamed down my face while I expressed anger but felt God’s deep love for me, the pan of creamy chicken cordon bleu baked by a friend that I singlehandedly ate because it was just that good, and the star lit runs in my neighborhood when I didn’t know what else to do. The pain is severe, but eventually we are able to turn around and look back at it, and we’ll see it is surrounded by such treasured moments. Don’t miss them. Slow down. Take time. It won’t feel like this forever, so be intentional with what you do and don’t do.

If you do the good work of grief, the grief won’t last as long.

Grief takes time, just like all noble things.

You have permission to take time to grieve well as you honor the one you love.

I promise, it won’t always feel like this. You’re gonna like the version of you after grief.

I did it, and you are doing it, too. Just take one more step.

God: Unmoved

guy-sky

I walk my dog, Marty, every morning. And afternoon. And evening. We take a lap around the apartment complex, and he smells the grass and tries to uncover the ground squirrels who are just below the surface barely beyond the tip of his nose. He does his business, though never as quickly as I’d like him to, and he stalls like a two-year-old when we turn back toward home.

It’s completely dark now in these early fall mornings as we do this, which is a gift to me with my damp hair, no makeup, an over-sized fleece, and the lime green Crocs I thought were the best idea back in 2001.

As much as I completely detest having to take this stroll every morning, especially now in the cold, these mandatory walks force me to slow down and be quiet.

 

No matter where I live, no matter in daylight or in darkness, the sky silently shouts to me.

Sometimes through glowing sunrises, sometimes in crisp, blue, autumn hues, and sometimes as its thick rain drops splash on the carpet of yellow leaves below me.

This morning, I could see more stars than I have ever been able to see on our morning walk. They glittered from their positions millions of miles away from little me.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.
He directs the snow to fall on the earth
and tells the rain to pour down.
Job 37:5-6

There is something bigger, they whisper.

SomeOne bigger, they wink.

He is in charge of the stars; He directs the leaves when to change and when to fall; He orchestrates the weather; He designed the workings of each cell; He loves His creation, and He loves us.

There He sits, overlooking all of the movement and chaos, and yet He is unmoved. He is calm.

He is not surprised by an election, and He is not anxious about what may or may not come. He’s not shocked by a diagnosis or startled when a spouse leaves. His eyes don’t open wide when our shame and sin get dragged into the light. He is not scratching His head about where our lives should go from here.

He doesn’t need to make a Plan B.

He knows that our human systems will never be perfect. All of us are frail. All of us are a mixture of good and bad.

It’s been this way for all of humanity.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Ephesians 1:19

We don’t need to panic. He’s not.

We just need to acknowledge how much we need Him. Do we truly grasp how little we know compared to Him? How much we need His wisdom and perspective which will produce His peace?

Can we shift our focus from what we think should happen in whatever situation is currently capturing our attention and seek to discover what He’s up to when the plans aren’t going our way? Can I simply be quiet and listen?

He will surprise us when we slow down.  And we will discover more of who He is.

 

When Peter realized for the first time that Jesus was God (recorded in Luke 5:8-10), he fell on his knees before Him, and do you know what Jesus’ very first words to him were as a new follower? “Do not be afraid.”

What kind of “Welcome to the Club” speech is that??

But as followers of Jesus, with our very lives entrusted to Him, we have nothing of which to be afraid. He promises it. He commands it.

Do not be afraid. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart: I have overcome the world.

There. Is. Nothing. To. Fear.

Not one thing.

He’s in charge. He’s bigger than anything I fear. I am reminded of that when I look at the sky.

So what do we do in the midst of fear, anxiety, and chaos? We choose the next good action.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

In other words: focus on anyone but yourself.

I love that He has shown us how to do these things, by His example in Jesus.  If we study Jesus, we will see what to do.

Here’s how The Message puts this same verse:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

We don’t have time to fear and freeze up, friends. Kings and kingdoms come and go on earth, and our time here is limited, but as I tell my fifth graders: you can only control yourself.

These are our marching orders. And the King of the World says, “Now, go…”

(Even in your lime green Crocs.)

 

 

 

Photo Cred: Guy Huffman

Living with Loose Ends

looseends610

Some of my family members are cooler than me. They like artsy movies.

I want to like artsy movies, because I know that’s the hipster thing to like these days. But I’ve got to be honest: I just don’t like artsy movies.

The cinematography might be incredible and the score might move me to tears, but it seems to me that artsy movies never wrap up with a bow the way a perfect Rom-Com does.

A while back, my sister, Ellie, told me that she and her fiancé, Jared, went to a movie, and he leaned over and said, “Molly would love this movie.” I was so excited to hear what movie Cool Jared went to see that he thought I would like too, signifying that I was (somewhat) cool (occasionally) in his eyes.

With my eyebrows raised and my face lit with anticipation, I prepared to hear her answer.

“The Good Dinosaur,” she replied with sincerity. My shoulders dropped. An animated child’s movie? That’s what Jared thinks of me?

But he’s right. It’s a fact: I like when things wrap up with a bow. I don’t like loose ends.

 

Unfortunately, God uses loose ends more than He uses neatly wrapped packages.

 

I’ve been living in this apartment for six whole months now. It’s been a season of many loose ends. But I’m thankful that the Lord doesn’t allow all the ends to be loose at once – I am so grateful for the consistency of my job as a fifth-grade teacher and my lovely co-workers who have become dear friends, for my church family and the ways they love me, for stepping back into serving at my church after a two-year sabbatical, for some new life-giving relationships, and for the continued cultivation of relationships with the friends and family who have been such constants and encouragers to me. And, I’m grateful for you, dear Reader, who cares enough to read this post, to willingly follow my crazy life story, to pray for me on occasion, and to reach out to me with encouragement when you feel led. Truly, not all my ends are loose.

But there’s a new normal now, ya know? There’s a calmness. It’s a quietness I haven’t experienced since before two years ago on that September day when we received Tage’s diagnosis, and it all unraveled from there.

Now, there is no major drama, nothing that causes my heart to race, no thoughts that prevent sleep or fears that wake me up in the middle of the night.

Dare I say that it feels weird? That sometimes I almost miss the drama? There was purpose in the drama. There was a sense of unraveling anticipation, even if it was negative.

 

Now, it’s just…calm.

 

Adjusting to the quiet, slower pace has taken effort. I find that I no longer inhale the Bible the way my dog, Marty, inhales his ¾ cup of kibble every morning as if he can’t get it in him fast enough. I miss that feeling.

Or the way I would literally talk out loud to God all day long. He was never far from my thoughts. I miss that, too.

My counselor told me back in January and February, when I was in the darkest place, that even in old age I would look back on those winter months as some of the most precious moments with God in my lifetime. I knew it then when she said it, and I really know it now. Last winter and spring, I could say as David did when he was in the desert:

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”          Psalm 63:1

But I’m no longer parched or weary. Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful to be out of the desert, and I praise the Lord for restoring me and for all He has brought me through! I am in a good, full, joyful place! In a word, I would describe this past summer as rejuvenating, and I’m on the other side of the pain now, a place I didn’t know existed last winter.

And now, as I turn around and look at the path I just walked, I can see the gifts that it brought. I see the closeness with the Lord I had in a way that only one who is parched and weary can experience. The Lord was so good to me.

And I see that that is behind me now.

I know I’m no longer in that desperate place, and there is a whisper, much like what Moses heard from the Lord as he wandered and struggled in the desert:

“You have circled this mountain long enough. Now, turn northward…” (Deuteronomy 2:3).

 

Eventually, it’s time to stop ruminating in the sad stuff.

That’s not to say we don’t forget it. No, we’ll never forget it. It has changed us. We will still think about it occasionally, but it doesn’t require our constant attention anymore, and that’s a good thing.

Yet, I find myself a little sad to move on. Despite all the grief, pain, and loss, the past two years brought me so much growth and faith and hope. This season feels like a good friend who saw me at my worst and made me better, and I don’t want to say goodbye.

But if I think about it, it wasn’t the season that impacted me so. It was my God. Jesus is whom I met more intimately in these years. It was He who sat with me as I cried, who pointed me to Hope found in the Bible, and who strengthened my heart with His wisdom and love as He gently pruned the parts of me that needed pruning. HE did that, not the season and the circumstances.

And as I’ve learned so intensely in these years: He’s never leaving me.

He just doesn’t have to carry me anymore.

We can just walk beside each other for a while now. He’s still right here, and His Spirit is still in me. As I look to the future beyond this pain, I am still not alone, no matter what’s next.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and will be in you.” –Jesus   (John 14:16-17)

 

Have you been circling the same pain over and over? Do you sense it might be time to move on from the past, that memory, that emotion, that pain?

There is no reason to fear moving on. The Lord did good work there, and He will continue to work as we seek Him in prayer and in Scripture.

 

But why did God tell them to move northward? Why not east or west, or why not let them choose where He wanted them to go?

I wonder if it’s because He had a specific plan for Moses and the people even still. God is not willy-nilly in His plans for us. When He tells us it’s time to quit circling the past and the sad stuff, it’s because there’s something specific He wants us to do with what we just went through. He has a specific plan and direction in mind. The ends are not loose to Him.

 

I invite you to take time, as I am today, to honor what was, how we changed and grew, and then to make the choice to take a step northward.

 We don’t know exactly where northward will take us (so there may yet be some loose ends from our perspective), but we know the Lord will go with us, and He already knows the plans He is weaving together with our perceived loose ends, and they are plans to prosper us and not to harm us. They are plans to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

So, I’m working on being okay with loose ends. With waiting. With wondering what’s next and not having the answer right now, today.

But in the meantime, if life seems like a bunch of loose ends and you just need something small (like a movie) to wrap up with a bow, Jared was right: The Good Dinosaur will not disappoint. Not only that, but the Pixar landscapes and “cinematography” will delight your senses, and your emotions will be stirred by a beautifully moving score.

 

So there, Jared.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Personal Note: Congratulations to Jared and Ellie who will tie the knot in 8 days!  I love you both so much!  Thanks for letting me be your buddy and third wheel. xo