danacox31

Hoping to share the love, joy, and grace I have received in my own life.

A Prayer for Each Stitch

I have been waiting to share this story for a week.  My oldest daughter, Megan, got married  Saturday, July 2nd.  We’ve been planning the wedding for over a year. One of the first things Megan talked about when the planning began was how to have her brother’s presence there with her on the most important day of her life thus far.  Trevor has been physically gone for more than four and a half years now.  We know that he will never fully leave us and that we will see him again.  Of course, that isn’t enough, especially when it comes to planning a day as big as his sister’s wedding.  Megan wanted everyone else to know that our family knows he is with us and to have just a few glimpses of her love for him. The very first idea that Megan wanted to incorporate into the ceremony was a heart cut from one of Trevor’s shirts to be added to her dress.  She had seen examples of this before and some were sewn on the inside of the dress.  The bride knew it was there, but no one else did.  That wasn’t Megan’s plan.  She wanted everyone to know that her brother was with her.  She chose to have the heart stitched on the outside of her beautiful Oleg Cassini gown.  She wanted me to stitch it.  I never told Megan this, but although I wanted to do whatever my little girl wanted for her wedding, I really struggled with this task.  I am still not really sure why.  It is a beautiful way to honor her brother.  My heart just ached with the thought of cutting up one of his shirts and the labor it would take for every single stitch to attach it to the gown.  I know that sewing (at least in this situation) is not exactly labor intensive, but I was concerned with the labor of my heart.

I kept telling Megan I would get it done.  Each week she would ask if I had started and each week I replied with “Not yet, but I will.”  I am not gifted in the craft of sewing.  As the wedding was drawing closer and Megan asked again if I had started Trevor’s heart patch, I responded with my usual, “Not yet” and asked her if she thought it would be better to have my cousin, Carolyn, or friend, Donna, help with the stitching.  I was certain they would make it look much more beautiful than I could.  I didn’t tell Megan that the real issue wasn’t my lack of skill, it was that I didn’t think my heart could handle the work. Megan replied, “No, Mom, I want you to do it.”  I said, “But it’s your wedding gown!  Don’t you want it to look just perfect?”  She responded, “Mom, it’s not perfect that Trevor isn’t here.  It isn’t nice and neat.  It doesn’t have to look perfect.”  Wow.  My amazingly smart daughter is absolutely right.  I never again thought about asking someone else for help with this special project.  I knew I had to do it myself, but I still kept putting it off.

I was reminded of a special circle of women that I have had the privilege of belonging, The Red Tent.  One of the first books the group read after I joined was Anne Lamott’s “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair.”  I grabbed the book off the shelf and read pieces again.  In the book, Anne says, “But what if the great secret insider-trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life?  Is that good news, bad news, or both? … The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places we have been to.  Pretending that things are nicely boxed up and put away robs us of great riches.”  I was going to stitch that patch myself.

Just six days before the wedding I still hadn’t made the first stitch, but the next night would be my Bible study night with another group of amazing women.  I couldn’t miss my time with them and knew that I had to have that dress done to be able to attend our meeting, so I began cutting hearts from Trevor’s shirt until I had what Megan and I both thought was a usable one (not perfect, not neat and tidy.)  Megan’s dress had been on a dress stand that we had placed in Trevor’s room since the day we picked it up from being altered.  I walked in his room with my needle and thread and the heart cut from Trevor’s shirt, closed the door, and fell to my knees.  The ache in my heart was extraordinary.  I prayed for God to guide my stitches, for me to sew this heart just the way my amazing daughter wanted me to and for Trevor to know just how much I love him.  I put the first stitch in…maybe two or three stitches.  I would become overwhelmed with emotions repeatedly as I stitched that heart on Megan’s beautiful gown.  Each time I felt I needed to stop, I prayed for the strength to keep going.  There are many, many prayers inside each stitch on that little patch.  Each time I fell to my knees, I would add another prayer…for Megan and Austin’s marriage, for Trevor’s friend, Ben, and his willingness to be a part of this special day, for my husband and I and both of our daughters for the pain that we would all have as we took family pictures at the wedding without our son/brother in the frame, for all of the marriages in our family and in Austin’s family… Prayer after prayer, stitch after stitch, the Holy Spirit, the love of my son, and the words of Anne Lamott got me through.

“You have to keep taking the next necessary stitch, and the next one, and the next.  Without stitches, you just have rags.  And we are not rags.”

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Mended

sunrise 6.9.16

This week I have had the privilege of driving to work just after the sun is coming up.  This morning a little before 6 a.m. I stopped to take this picture.  I took a deep breath and thanked God for the beautiful morning and immediately thought of someone important to me who is struggling right now.  When his face came to mind, I looked back at that light shining through the clouds and asked God to help him battle the demon he is fighting.  As I put my car back into gear to move along, Matthew West’s new song, Mended, came on The Message (the Sirius radio station most often played in my car.)   This so often happens to me.  Music was such a huge part of Trevor’s life and has always been in mine.  So many times I hear just the song I need to lighten my mood, put things in perspective, or to just remember past experiences that I don’t want to forget.

I hope the person that needs to hear this reads it today, but this message isn’t just for one person.  If you are struggling with anything in your life, if you think you are just too far removed for God to love you…you are so wrong.  Where you see broken, He sees mended.  Take a listen… Mended by Matthew West

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Fishing Without Bait

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My husband has been laid off for three weeks.  For the past two Fridays, he and I have gotten out on the river in our boat to do a little fishing.  Last week we both did fairly well.  We took 8 fish home (4 each) and threw several back.  This week was different.  Although Jeff was catching a few, I wasn’t having much luck.  Then I realized I was fishing without bait.  I had plenty of stink bait (we’re catfishing), but we left home too early…before I had done  my devotion.  After a while (a few hours) of only one small catch, I told Jeff I was ready to give up for the day. He said, “Where’s your faith today?  Didn’t you bring it with you?”  I always have my faith, but my day was off because I didn’t spend the time I need on a daily basis with the Holy Spirit.  That was it.  No, I don’t believe God “punished” me with one small catch because I didn’t spend my time with him, but my day was off because I didn’t start it right.  I might as well have been fishing without bait. So I put my pole down, opened my Bible in the back of the boat and thanked God for the beautiful day, this special time with my husband, and for the reminder that the time I give to Him in the morning is for me. 

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  I wasn’t worried that I wasn’t catching fish this morning.  Although I joke about it being a competition between Jeff and I, we really just enjoy the time together, regardless of who catches the most.  This morning, though, I was off my game.  I know it.  I need my time with God every day.  I can’t say I am never “anxious about anything”, but there is a significant difference to how my day goes with devotion first thing in the morning.  Today, like other times I have thought I could just do it later, I just find myself remembering why it is that I do it before dawn.  When I begin to get anxious or feel things aren’t quite right, I get into prayer and suddenly my heart and mind settle and my day moves forward in a much more peaceful way.

My study in the boat this morning led me to be reminded that God’s peace is different than the world’s peace.  True peace isn’t found in positive thinking, good feelings, or in absence of conflict.  It comes from knowing God is in control and I don’t have to be.  God’s peace guards my heart against anxiety.  I just need to allow him the time to do it.  

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More Changes

I haven’t kept it a secret that in my greatest sorrow I have found faith, hope and love like I never knew. The past few years have been completely life changing. I miss Trevor incredibly but feel him with me even more as I am hearing God’s call and letting Him lead me into a new life. I am so blessed to be a part of two churches.

Our family started attending and became members of Lighthouse United Methodist Church shortly after we moved to Ogle County in 2002. The family we have at Lighthouse was there with us as our kids grew and when Trevor died. As some families do after a death, we struggle a bit and can get very emotional attending church at Lighthouse. We all miss Trevor’s presence there in our pew (fourth row on the north side.)

In my search for answers from God, following Trevor’s death, I began hearing a call to share my story, my journey of grief, and I have done that through this blog, through Serenity Hospice and Home and Healing Hearts. I thought I was doing what God was asking me to do and I was, but He slowly keeps revealing a little more of my life in front of me all the time and I realize this isn’t an overnight answer to my questions. He is slowly getting me there, in His time. The transformation that has occured in my heart over the past few years (and particularly the past 15 months) is one of nothing less than God’s work in me.

I began working for Rochelle United Methodist Church in February of last year when my grief had taken such a toll on me that I no longer wanted the stress of the employment I had for the ten years prior and God opened a door for me to work part-time for RUMC as an Administrative Assistant. Since beginning that job I have really learned to listen more to what God wants for me and to let the Holy Spirit guide me.

At the risk of rambling on and on about how this all evolved, I just want to share the overall message, which is what I was blessed to share with my Lighthouse family last Sunday when Pastor Chan offered me a chance to stand in the pulpit for him. When we are going through storms, that is the time that God is working His hardest. When I started to question God, “Why this? Why Trevor? Why me, Lord?” That is when I started finding my answer. The Bible doesn’t say that bad things won’t happen to good people. The Bible is full of stories of people, faced with real struggles that kept faith, no matter what. Before Trevor died, I was going along in life sort of stagnantly. I went to church, believed in God, and for the most part tried to do what I knew was right. Then the rug was pulled out from under me and I never thought I would breathe again. Yet, here I am!

My story is one that needs to be shared because I have been down and out….I mean really down and out. I buried a child…my son, my handsome, intelligent, funny, gifted son with his whole life ahead of him. I can’t cure my own heartache or more importantly, to me, the heartaches of my husband and daughters, but God can! He has brought me out of the dark and into a light that I want to share with everyone I know and even those I don’t know yet.

I am so blessed to be able to say that this week, I will begin a new full-time position with Rochelle United Methodist Church. I have been named the Director of Connection Ministries and I am going to be a part of an exciting movement to bring church out of the sanctuary and connect people with Jesus Christ. I am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead and the opportunity to share my story. I want the world to know that I have been on a walk that I would have never imagined and the further on the path I get, the more faithful I become. I have good news to share!

I will be posting to this blog more as I am following this call. I invite you also to like the Rochelle United Methodist Church Facebook page. Pastor Rob has already begun sharing short videos of his thoughts and there will be so much more to share as we move forward. The life we lead isn’t always easy, but a life with God is one that allows us to get through the muck and live a truly beautiful life, muck and all!

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A Day for Women

Mother’s Day is nearly here.  I can feel it now…the skipping heartbeat, lump in my throat, and the feeling that something is just not right…yes, I remember these feelings from the last four Mother’s Days.  Since this is the fifth one since Trevor died, couldn’t I just allow myself the grace to experience the day for what it is?  Last year at this time, I worked with women at the church to plan a special “Mother’s Day Brunch.”  The goal was to celebrate women of the church, all women, really, not only mothers.  The event had the name though…”Mother’s Day Brunch.” I had looked forward to it and wrote the prayer that I was asked to share before the meal.  A month prior to the event, it sounded like a good idea.  A month prior to the event, I didn’t consider how I would feel as the day drew nearer.  Believe me, I understand that people think I should be able to enjoy this day “by now.”  I know people think my time to grieve should be done or that I should at least be able to celebrate Mother’s Day.  I want to celebrate Mother’s Day.  I really do.  In my head, I was ready this year…until this week.  Then my heart said, “Whoa!  Let me rip this wound back open so you know you aren’t a typical mom!”  I recently read that the pain of childbirth cannot compare to the pain of burying a child.  Boy, is that the truth!  I know that many struggle with Mother’s Day…people who have lost their mothers, women who have not been blessed to have a child, people that may not have a good relationship with their mom…the list goes on and on.  I am not alone.  I am not a typical mom, but I am a mom.  I have two beautiful daughters that remind me every day how blessed I am in this life that I continue to live.  They love me.  They want to celebrate me on Sunday. I know that, but then other feelings creep in, ugly feelings.  I should not be celebrated.  I failed.  My son…the beautiful, intelligent, faithful, talented and loving young man that was a light in my life ended his own.  My heart is heavy.  That is not just an expression.  When I think too much about Mother’s Day, I feel a huge weight on my chest…the opening of that wound.  Will it always be this way?  A friend of mine posted a video last year  depicting the historical facts regarding this special day. Did you know that the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at a Methodist church in 1908?  It’s true.  In the mid-late 1860’s, Ann Jarvis started mothers clubs, educating women about the importance of hydration for fevered babies, sanitation, and nutrition.  When the Civil War began, Ann recruited nurses for military hospitals and when the war was over, she created friendship clubs to promote reconciliation between the two sides.  Harriet Olson, Chief Executive of the United Methodist Women said, ” Ann Jarvis was convinced that mothers, women, but especially mothers, had to work for peace because they could see the ravages of war in their husbands and sons, in a way that was so focused and so clear that their voices would be powerful.  And that’s what’s at the genesis of the current Mother’s Day.”   Though Ann died in 1905, before Mother’s Day had become an official holiday, her daughter, Anna, continued in her mother’s efforts and got Woodrow Wilson to sign the petition in 1914 to make it official.  Anna Jarvis was never a mother herself, but she was lead by her mother to celebrate this special day.  Anna was angered when Hallmark began selling cards and making money off of the holiday.  That was not why it was created.  She is quoted as saying, ” How lazy can you be to buy somebody else’s sentiments for your mother?  One day out of the year, sit down and tell your mother what you really think of her.”  This is the kind of Mother’s Day I can celebrate.  Much like Ann Jarvis wanted to work for peace after seeing the ravages of war in her husband’s face, I have seen another tragedy in my own life and struggle each day to find some peace in this life.  Mother’s Day wasn’t meant to be a flashy holiday.  It was created to celebrate mothers subtly…in church, with a handwritten note or words spoken by those that appreciate the labor and love given by women in their lives.  Mother’s Day can be a day to honor our mothers or women in general that have helped shape us into the people we are today.  It is a day of gratitude.  No sparkly gifts needed.  Mother’s Day is a day to reflect on the mothers in our lives.  My daughters continually remind me that they appreciate me, that I am a good mom.  I can see myself in them and am blessed to have them love me with all of my flaws.  I am going to celebrate Mother’s Day this year.  I am going to celebrate my mom, my grandma, my aunts, my friends that are always there for me…supporting me, loving me, guiding me through this life.  I hope that you, too, can allow this day to be what it was created to be and not let the ads for jewelry and flowers cheapen the true meaning of what the special women in and throughout your life mean to you.  Peace, Dana

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Recycled

I like the Facebook app “On This Day”. Every morning around 5:15, I receive a notification of things that I posted on that particular date in past years. I love the way the app gives me the chance to be reminded of little day-to-day things that I may not otherwise remember. For example, I posted this on April 21, 2010…”Trevor has a Wii, yet chooses sometimes to play the ancient Super Nintendo.  Last night he was playing it and his controller wasn’t working.  After listening to him whine for a few minutes, I said “Use the other controller.”  Trevor’s reply…”I can’t, Mom!  I made a sweet pair of sunglasses out of it last night.”  Hmmmm???”

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I got a little choked up reading the post, but instantly remembered this happening and smiled because it is something I might have forgotten otherwise.

The post not only brought joy to my heart, reminding me of my silly son, but it got me to thinking deeper. Trevor was always a rebuilder, a recycler, of sorts. From the time he was very young he loved to take things apart and put them back together. If I was getting rid of something, he would find another use for it. Sometimes it wasn’t even something I was prepared to get rid of. Like his Super Nintendo  controller, turned into sunglasses, Trevor saw things that I didn’t always see, but he always wanted to create something new.

As I reflected on that, I thought about how Trevor has done that with me. I know that it is not all him. God is working on me all the time. Through Trevor’s life and death, God has given me eyes to see a new life, a rebuilt life.
Just like an old electronic gadget that Trevor took apart to repair or to make into something new, God’s rewiring me to be someone new. My life will never be what it was before and I won’t see or hold my son as long as I am alive on this earth, but after his death I have come to really understand the grace of God and that His grace is a gift that brings new life. I’ve been recycled.

I am reminded this morning of God’s promise to restore Israel not only physically, but spiritually. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  This is what God is doing in my life! Through Trevor’s life and death my heart was changed (and is still being changed) by the hands of God. My life is new.

At Trevor’s funeral, my youngest brother, Jason, played guitar and sang Josh Turner’s song, “Me and God.” I’ll end this post with the lyrics. My son is in my heart and on my mind every day. Just like both of my daughters, Trevor continues to help me see that “there ain’t nothing that can’t be done by me and God.”

There ain’t nothing that can’t be done
By me and God
Ain’t nobody gonna come in between me and God
One day we’ll live together
Where the angels trod
Me and God

Early in the morning talking it over
Me and God
Late at night talking it over
Me and God
You could say we’re like two peas in a pod
Me and God

He’s my Father
He’s my friend
The beginning
And the end
He rules the world
With a staff and rod
We’re a team
Me and God

I am weak and he is strong
Me and God
He forgives me when I’m wrong
Me and God
He’s the one I lean on
When life gets hard
Me and God

He’s my Father
He’s my friend
The beginning
And the end
He rules the world
With a staff and rod
We’re a team
Me and God

He rules the world
With a staff and rod
We’re a team
Me and God

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Feeling Convicted

It hit me this morning. As I was sitting with my cup of coffee, my Bible, and Disciplines an unsettling feeling came over me and I am not sure how to resolve it.  On this Maundy Thursday of this Holy Week, I am struck with the guilt of not loving others as Jesus has loved me. Today’s scripture is John 13:1-17 and 31-35. Jesus is washing the feet of his disciples…all of his disciples, knowing that Judas was about to betray him and that Peter would deny him not once, but three times. Jesus still washed the feet of Judas and Peter. Amazing!

Even though the commandment to love others had been around since Leviticus, loving others as Christ loved others is another thing. This sacrificial love is hard to even fathom. As I sat this morning soaking it in, I was astonished. This awestruck wonder is peculiar to me because I have read this story over and over throughout my life, but today…today it leaves me feeling different. I’m sure that every time I have read it I have been in awe, considering the love of Jesus. I just don’t think I have ever felt so convicted by this passage.

In my life, I do my best to be kind and caring to others. I am involved in a benevolence ministry that reaches many and I feel called to help the people that most often haven’t yet found the love of Jesus Christ, even though he is right there and available to them every day.  I have had many talks with my pastor and others on our team regarding what Jesus would do in certain situations. The help for one case may be a detriment to another similar case. We pray, discern,  and discuss situations every week and in some weeks, every day. Maybe I need to keep today’s scripture in mind when discerning these situations.

In my own life, I am feeling convicted of not being a living example of God’s love. I want to love others, but I have gotten out of the love business in my own life. Don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of people. I care about people I do not even know, but since Trevor died, in protecting myself, I have not loved others as Jesus loves me. I have most certainly not shown love to others the way that Jesus did and still does, especially being reminded of this love on the night of Judas’ betrayal and the hours that followed.

Because the grief is so overwhelming (yes, still, after 4 years, 3 months, and 15 days) I feel as if I am not able to handle any additional personal burdens. When I have been present with family members or friends that need to be shown the love and grace of Jesus, I have chosen to not display that same sacrificial love to them. Because I so often feel like I cannot hold any other burden beyond the grief for my son, I have chosen to ignore, as much as I possibly can, the burdens of others that are close to me.

Through the benevolence ministry, I have displayed God’s love to strangers, but in my personal life, I have not shown that love to people close to me.  I think this is because although I care for strangers, I do not feel the need to take their grievances or struggles on as my own.  With the people that I care most about, though, it is hard for me not to let their pain become my own and to be honest, I just don’t think I can handle any additional pain.

I love my family. I love my friends, but love isn’t just a feeling. Love is an attitude that reveals action. Offering a hand although you have another place to be, giving of time and understanding even when we are hurting ourselves, and absorbing someone else’s pain without fighting back…these are actions that display the love of Christ. Yes, I have my own pain to bear, but I cannot become unfeeling to the pain of others. I want people to be able to see the love of Christ through me. It has taken me a few years to notice it was missing, but now that I have recognized it, how am I going to move forward?

 

love1

 

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A Tale of Two Journeys

I believe that our lives are a journey.  We are able to change paths along the way, according to preference, or sometimes we are thrown onto another path, not by our own choosing.  I’ve learned a few things about this journey we call “life” in the past 4 years, especially of my own life.  My journey from light to darkness occurred very quickly.  In just a few hours time, I went from what I believed to be a happy, normal life to one of complete darkness and despair.  When my son, Trevor, died (4 years, 3 months, and 2 days ago) pain and sorrow entered my life like a torrential storm.  I was tossed into this ocean of gargantuan waves, that although I was trying so hard to swim in, continued pulling me under.  This week, I realize how quickly that darkness came.  I was taken down hard and fast by the waves of this new life that I had no choice in.  After more than four years that darkness and those waves are not diminished, but I know how to tread water.   Although I never considered that my grief might end and knew that I would miss my son until the day that I am able to see him again, I am not sure I considered how grueling the grief would continue to be off and on for the rest of my life.  Pain and sorrow enter our lives so quickly.  I have read so much in the past four years and many stories are of people in situations such as mine that never return to a life of joy following tragedy.  That isn’t my story.

I am beginning to look at my life as two journeys.  I was on the normal journey, living day-to-day, going to work, going to church, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying life.  No, my life wasn’t perfect, but it was good.  In one afternoon, just a few short hours, that journey came to an abrupt end.  When I was tossed into that storm, although I didn’t know it then, my life began a new journey.  That new journey is really my story.  All of the things that occurred in my life before December 9, 2011 feel like they could fit in a tiny little box.  I was 41 years-old then.  I had been through a lot in my life.  What I have realized this week, though, is that those 41 years are miniscule in comparison to the last four years.  I think I know why.  The journey from light to darkness happened so quickly, but the journey from darkness to light is much more slow to come.  My first 41 years were happy, for the most part.  Don’t get me wrong. I have been through a lot in my life, like everyone else, but all of those four decades can’t compare to the past 4 years.  I’m not minimizing the wonderful things that happened in my life (my marriage, the births of all three of my children, celebrations, etc.)  I am just saying that looking back on those 41 years seem like a flash in the pan compared to the long agonizing last four.  I know why…my journey is new.  I have mentioned before that I frequently look at my life as “before Trevor died” and “after Trevor died.”  I see it now as two separate journeys. 

I have learned so much. Somewhere in the pages and pages of my writing I have a list of lessons learned not only following Trevor’s death, but also as a result of his death.  The greatest difference, aside from the incredible ache to hug Trevor, to reach out and touch him, to laugh with him, sing with him, play with him, and love him…the greatest difference in the first journey of my life and this new one is my relationship with God.  Are you familiar with the story of the woman at the well?  In John 4, Jesus is traveling to Galilee and goes through Samaria.  Tired from the journey, Jesus sat down next to Jacob’s well.  A Samaritan women came to the well for water and Jesus asked her for a drink.  The woman questioned how Jesus could ask her for water.  (She was a Samaritan and Jews did not associate with Samaritans.)  Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  The woman knew that Jesus didn’t have anything with him to draw water from the well and wanted to know what this “living water” was that Jesus spoke of.  Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Trevor’s death is my well.  Jesus met me there.  He held me up through the first excruciating days following Trevor’s death and has never left my side.  I was so thirsty and never knew it.  In a matter of days (and with the help of Adam Hamilton’s book, “Why?”) my thirst began being quenched.  The pain that seemed completely unbearable began to subside at times through prayer, meditation, and Bible study.  The deeper I dug into the Word, the less thirsty I was. 

I am not saying that my relationship with Jesus makes all of the pain go away, but about 90% of the time now…I can tolerate the pain.  I still have moments where I need to sob uncontrollably, lay in my bed with covers over my head and question “why?”, but I know that Jesus is with me.  The Holy Spirit comforts me.  God is there for me.  So…I get up, say a prayer of thanks and move on with my day.  Yes, my life is on it’s second journey, but I know who is with me and because of that, I can face tomorrow.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  ~Philippians 4:6-7

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Choosing Joy

I have received many gifts as a result of my grief.  Most of those gifts are lessons I have learned as a result of being in the very bottom pit of deep dark despair.  I have made several lists of all those lessons.  Perhaps the two most important lessons I have learned since Trevor’s death are understanding that God never leaves me and that sometimes I have to dig down deep, but whenever possible, choosing joy is the best option.

Don’t get me wrong. Things happen in our lives where choosing joy isn’t an option. When our son died, I thought neither Jeff or I would ever feel true joy again. I have learned that in those most desperate moments is when I need to turn to God. Knowing He is there and will never give up on me, no matter how I may give up on Him, gets me through the valleys of grief that I still experience. In 99% of my daily circumstances though, I can choose joy above everything else. Perhaps it is because I have experienced such excruciating heartache that I don’t want to let anything else bring me down.

My grief is like a heavy backpack that I carry with me in every waking moment. (Thankfully in the past several months if I dream of Trevor as I sleep, the dreams are full of love and light and happiness as opposed to the nightmares in the past.) Sometimes the backpack is light…almost empty. Sometimes though, the backpack is loaded with bricks. I started realizing when I was carrying the heaviest loads that I couldn’t tolerate any arguments, any bad attitudes, any other negativity. You see, that backpack was so heavy that no other brick burdens could be placed in it or the backpack would rip and I, along with all those bricks, would be dragged down the grief mountain I was climbing.

I understand that there are times that joy cannot be the choice, but honestly believe those times happen very few and far between in our lives. I think of times when I used to get upset over things that now seem like no big deal…the person in the car in front of me driving 40 mph on a beautiful day on a perfect highway or the food I ordered at a restaurant being served less than warm or overcooked.  Even things as mundane as scrubbing our toilet or putting away groceries or laundry are times that I now am able to not only choose joy, but focus on it.

My life is like the perfect cup of tea. If a little gritty salt gets poured into it, I can choose to stir it up into my everyday circumstances or I can ask God to scoop the salt from my life. Part of living with joy is choosing to endure unpleasantness as a sacrifice to praise God. That slow car in front of me? I choose to turn up my radio and sing a little louder. The not so great food before me at a restaurant? I thank God that we are able to afford a meal out.

Am I always joyful? No, but I am a work in progress. God isn’t finished with me yet.  I am now focused on making every possible attempt to choose joy in my life. I am thankful for all I have and for a God who is there continually to help carry that heavy backpack.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:16

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I Am A Branch

Just before 6:00 a.m., on this beautiful winter morning, there is darkness. In fact, it looks as though it’s the middle of the night rather than just over an hour before sunrise.

As I begin my devotion time, I feel like I will end up studying more about being a light in this world, because this morning’s darkness seems to pull me in. I got up from my glider several times to look out the window again. In the distance, I can see lights from farms across the land that is not yet even minutely visible. It seems, in this blackest night, I should be able to see stars and I look for one shining, just for me. From the small window, I don’t see any stars though. What comes to my attention is branches from the tree in our front yard. I see the branches reaching out towards our house and immediately think about John 15.

Jesus, after the Last Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet, leads the disciples out of the city of Jerusalem and stops in a vineyard where he tells them, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” 

Wow. This metaphor is exactly what I needed to be reminded of on this very dark winter morning. Jesus is the vine. God is the gardener. I am a branch. I have not yet been tossed aside for bearing no fruit, but am being pruned to bear more. The pruning is stinging, painful even. I consider the hardships I have gone through as a part of the pruning that Jesus is talking about. At first, the pruning hurts the branch as it’s cut back, but the healed branch bears more fruit.  The fruit is our good works… not only sharing the love of Jesus with others, but allowing God to work through us to bring Him glory.

In John 15:8, Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” 

In Galatians 5:22, Paul wrote, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”

Yes. These are the things I need to be sharing, showing my Gardener that the pruning is allowing this branch to be more fruitful.  Because I have been through the worst, the pruning is less stinging today. The more I believe and trust in the care of God, my gardener, and Jesus, the vine to which I cling, the more I am able to worry less about the pruning. I want to be more fruitful.

It is lighter outside my window now. I see the land stretched out, reaching to the farms where the lights are dimming. I pray that this day may be one in which I am given a chance to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

*Please see my added comment below.

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