WiW: Not Stalled Forever

The Week in Words

I started reading Janette Oke when I was in elementary school. I loved the pioneer stuff, the romances, all that. I didn’t really notice all the deep stuff.

In my late high school years I looked on Janette Oke with a jaded eye. “How many years of my life did I waste with that pablum?” I thought, as I gloried in the intellectual fare I was now enjoying.

Now I’m a young professional, re-reading Janette Oke as part of my “read every book in Eiseley library” goal. And I’m astonished at how much stuff there really is.

No, it’s not intellectual, debate-the-meaning-of-this-with-your-friends material. But it’s solid, Biblically and experientially-based stuff. Yes, it tends to “tell” through conversations between characters rather than simply “showing” these big principles. But it’s still good stuff.

Re-reading these books has been like listening in as an older, wiser woman helps a younger, less experienced woman with the everyday details of her life.

In fact, that’s usually what it is–a conversation between Ma Graham and Marty in the first books of the “Love Comes Softly” series, conversations between Marty and her developing daughters later.

Or like the conversation that struck me just a few days ago–Marty’s advice to her grown granddaughter Virginia after the death of Virginia’s grandmother-in-law, who had lived with Virginia and her husband for quite a while.

“It takes time. Time and God…I was told that years ago when I lost someone. At the time, it wasn’t a’tall what I wanted to hear. But it happened–just that way. Oh, not that ya ever forget. Not ever. But life has a way of movin’ on. New things happen. New people come into our lives. God does not leave us stalled forever. He just nudges us forward. Pushes us on out. Urges us to look for new meanin’ in life. An’ it is there. It’s always there. Somethin’ new to live for. Somethin’ to give life zest again.”

~Marty Davis, in Janette Oke’s A Quiet Strength

As I read this, I thought of Marty’s losses (of a husband in the very first book in the series, of friends and neighbors later on, of children moving far away, of medical situations causing huge changes). I thought of Virginia’s loss. I thought of my own losses.

And with tears in my eyes, I thanked God for that one sentence of Marty’s:

“God does not leave us stalled forever.”

Sometimes in the midst of loss, it feels like we’re stalled on the side of the road, broken, going nowhere. Sure that the engine is fried, we might be tempted to give up, to abandon even life itself. Other people might be moving along the road, but we can’t be.

But God does not leave us stalled forever.

At some point, even if we can’t identify a specific moment, the hurt begins to fade, the missing becomes a little less all-encompassing. And something new rises to give meaning and purpose for continuing.

Deeply ambivalent, desiring a different life, you move to a new town, begin a new job. You choose to seek out new friendships, new opportunities to serve. And then someday you find that you’re no longer forcing enthusiasm for a life you didn’t want–you’re rejoicing in the opportunity that God has given you in this life you once didn’t want.

Not that you forget. No, it’s like Marty said. You don’t forget. But somehow, by the grace of God, you move on.

I am so thankful that God chooses to work in such a way–and that somehow, over the course of this past year, He has worked that beautiful miracle of healing in me.

Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

The Way of Grief

He’d just lost his wife, the woman he’d loved for years, the one he’d shared everything with. He described the early stages of his grief this way:

“How could things go on when the world had come to an end? How could things–how could I–go on in this void? How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide? Everything–every object–was pervaded by the void. I could teach my classes smilingly, even to calmly reading a poem about loss…But that first day of teaching after the St. Stephen’s night, when I left the class to go home, I saw the MG, small and somehow forlorn, invaded by that void, and I was barely able to get off campus before the tears came….There were, though, thousands of other things and memories, each of which must be seen once in that piercingly bleak emptiness.”
~Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

I read the words and identify with them. I know that void, the blankness of imagining life without, the reality that life will be–now is–without. I walked to classes, turned in assignments, taught my students, carried on with life. To the outside observer, I was fine. People commented on “how well I was taking it.”

I wasn’t taking it well at all. I continued in the routines of day to day life, but every step was now pervaded by the void.

Then as now, I shook myself and said I couldn’t be experiencing what I was. To say that my experience was anything like Vanauken’s is to make light of the depth of his grief. It’s like the pet owner who compares the adoption of his pet to the difficult process his neighbor is going through to adopt a child.

Yes, I had reason to sorrow. But grief? Grief like this?

A woman I know lost her husband of more than a quarter century at about the same time as I experienced my loss. She had reason to grieve. I–I was overreacting, clearly.

I was shamed when I wrote of the difficulties of day to day living–of living through my pain. She commented, identified, encouraged me to trust God amidst it all. How could she be identifying with my grief? She had reason to grieve–much more reason than I. I should be comforting her, not she comforting me.

Yet however small my loss may have been compared to the losses of others, I was grieving in the same way.

The same void. The same questions. The same need to trust God just to make it through the next moment. The same little things that set off fountains of tears. The same pain that can’t be put into words.

Long months have passed, months where it took all my energy to merely cling to Christ. Months where I’ve barely been able to see through the tears, through the void. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds every now and again. I begin to think that my grieving days may be numbered.

Then I read of grief like Vanauken’s and the grief rushes back into my soul. My heart aches as I read of the intimacy he shared with his wife, the years they spent together, the years he lost. My heart aches to think of the memories I don’t have, the time I didn’t share, the stories I can’t tell.

I am crying again, grieving again, feeling my loss with such intensity.

And again, I think, what right have I to grieve? My loss is so very small–Vanauken’s loss, Annette’s loss so great. How can I dare to grieve over so little, so long?

I don’t know, except to say that grief does not know the measures of reason.

“How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide?”

I don’t know, except to say that this is the way of grief.

Missing Mommy

Little John misses his mom. I sit him on my lap until he feels he can function again. He ventures away to play. I move on to new tasks. I hear a couple of deeply drawn breaths and ask my compatriot whether she’d heard a cry coming on. She hadn’t, but when John starts crying again, she looks at me and suggests that I’m telepathic. I’m not. I’m just attune to his sorrow.

Jarell misses his mommy too–but my lap isn’t enough to calm this little fellow. He wraps his arms around my chest and buries his head in my shoulder. He wants to be as close as he can be. I understand the feeling. I hold him close and let him take comfort in my nearness. It takes him almost half an hour, but eventually, he is ready to move forward, returning every so often to remind himself that I’m still here.

Cooper is generally stoic, playing happily with the other children. Today, he plays almost as usual, except that he periodically turns to me to say “I miss my mommy.” His little lower lip quivers as I respond: “I know. It’s hard missing someone.” I know.

McKenna asks me if her mommy will be back soon. I tell her it will be a while. A couple minutes later, she’ll be back to ask me again. She misses her mother, she wants her back. She cannot comprehend the scale I see, the hands of the clock ticking away the minutes. “I know it’s hard,” I tell her, “but trust me. She’ll be back.”

I am McKenna, Cooper, Jarell, and John–sometimes almost unaffected, sometimes incapacitated by the pain. I don’t understand what’s going on outside the walls of my nursery. “Where is my mommy? What is she doing? When will she be back?”

God, omniscient, knows what’s going on even when I don’t. He watches the clock, knowing the time when my suffering will end. “I know it’s hard,” He says, “but trust Me. It won’t be long.” Still, every few minutes I ask when the pain will be gone.

Does He feel my pain as I feel theirs?

Certainly He knows of me what I know of them–that this present suffering is only momentary.

And thus He calls me to rest, to trust, and to enjoy the place I’m at right now.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
~II Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

In the morning

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

I Peter 1:3-9

Thursday morning, I wrote of being blue. I wrote of grieving. I shared a tiny glimpse into my last several months. I wrote of feeling directionless, passionless, at a loss.

I’ve identified with suffering in the last few months. I’ve experienced testing. It’s been a tough go.

Friday evening, after a draining day of grieving, I read Romans 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I realized then that I couldn’t conjure up joy or peace or hope. But God is the God of hope. He is able to fill me with all joy and peace. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I can not just experience hope, but abound in hope.

Saturday evening, I was reading Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler’s On Grief and Grieving. In a section on denial, the authors say: “There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.” I laughed a bit as I read it, noting their mis-attribution. Nature has no role in this. But I can see the gracious providence of God as I’ve walked through some of the various stages of grieving. God has provided me with everything I need, and has apportioned the seasons of my grieving as He wills in order to accomplish His good purposes.

And then this morning, I was curling my hair and reading blogs when I came across the oddest Easter morning post. Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like wrote “You’re not naked.” He wrote of Adam and Eve sinning and hiding from God–and God’s question to them. “Who told you that you were naked?”

“There is hurt in God’s voice as He asks this question, but there is also a deep sadness, the sense of a father holding a daughter that has for the first time ever, wrapped herself in shame.

Who told you that you were not enough?
Who told you that I didn’t love you?
Who told you that there was something outside of me you needed?
Who told you that you were ugly?
Who told you that your dream was foolish?
Who told you that you would never have a child?
Who told you that you would never be a father?
Who told you that you weren’t a good mother?
Who told you that without a job you aren’t worth anything?
Who told you that you’ll never know love again?
Who told you that this was all there is?
Who told you that you were naked?”

I saw the valley I’ve been walking through and it was as if I heard the voice of God: “Who told you that this valley would be forever?”

Acuff ended his post with these words:

“But in response to what you are hearing from everyone else, God is still asking the question, “Who told you that you were naked?”

And He’s still asking us that question because we are not.

In Christ we are not worthless.
In Christ we are not hopeless.
In Christ we are not dumb or ugly or forgotten.
In Christ we are not naked.

Isaiah 61:10 it says: “For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”

The world may try to tell you a thousand different things today. You might close this post and hear a million declarations of what you are or who you’ll always be, but know this.

As unbelievable as it sounds and as much as I never expected to type this sentence on this blog:

You are not naked.”

The truth is, I am not without hope. This valley will not be forever. So I have had a glimpse of identifying with the death of Christ–but I have also and shall also identify with His resurrection.

Through His resurrection, I have been begotten again to a living hope–and when the trial is over, I shall praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Weeping may endure for a long night, but joy comes in the morning.

Thankful Thursday: Blue

Today I’m thankful…

…for the blue bike that I’m loving to ride

…for the blue sky that greeted me as I rode my way on to campus

…for the blue water bottle that keeps me hydrated as I fight against the wind

…for the blue backpack that enables me to tote all my books and papers about on my bicycle

Thankful Thursday banner

Today, I’m blue. And when I’m blue, I’m thankful…

…for my aunt, who can relate

…for my uncle, who reminded me that I am not without hope

“We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Grief is real and good and must not be glossed over. On the other (better) hand, there is joy in trusting in the Lord with all your heart and leaning not (at all) on your own understanding. I wonder to myself (truly, – not directed at you or anyone but myself) does God have contingency plans in case His plans don’t work out? My mind and especially my heart cannot conceive of it. — Peace”
-Uncle Nathan

…for my mom, who brought some clarity to my confusion and finally convinced me to look into some resources on grieving.

…for my dad, who tells me that God hasn’t given up on me, who asks me to consider whether my lack of interest in the jobs that have been coming across my desk might be God’s leading–that He’s holding me back from getting a job for a reason? (Dad said that while some people might experience God’s leading in a sudden interest or a kick in the pants, maybe this uncharacteristic lack of interest might be His leading for the generally go-gettum, make-things-happen me.)

…for God, who is ever-present, who is with me when I cry myself to sleep, who knows the heart I don’t know myself, who hears my every contradictory petition and works all things to accomplish His (good) will. I’m thankful that He hasn’t given up on me, that He hasn’t lost His plan for my life. I’m thankful that even when I don’t understand my own heart, my own emotions, my own will–God knows, and has a plan to work all things together for His glory and my greatest good.

Through the tears

I’ve had a plan, all these years–a plan that carried me seamlessly from high school to college to grad school. I had planned for every contingency and merely had to adjust to the appropriate path whenever life arrived at a branch point. I graduated from college unmarried–I had a contingency plan for that. I had contingency plans I didn’t end up using–plans for if I didn’t get into an internship, for example.

But now I come to the end of my plans. Now I’m at the great intersection where hundreds of paths lie open before me–and I have no idea which one to take. I have no well-planned flowchart here, no rubric for deciding.

The future is a hazy mist fast approaching, and I feel lost in the fog.

A ray of light shone through on a frightening path. I shied away from it at first. Then God eased my fears and I felt my heart come into focus. This, this was what I wanted for my future. This was what I hadn’t even realized I’d been wanting all along. All my dreams aligned along this path and I was ready to follow it wherever it went.

What I didn’t expect was the “road closed” sign just beyond my view. I came upon it and had no choice but to turn aside.

Now, once again, I stand in the valley of decision–a broad vista of limitless paths. They bewilder me, they overwhelm me, none of them truly excites me. I want that path back.

I didn’t have, still don’t have a contingency plan. That future that so frightened me at first had come to excite me so. And now, every future I can envision seems drab and cold and lifeless.

I should be excited. The world is open to me. I have my whole life in front of me. I can do whatever I want to do. I can be whoever I want to be. Except, that is, that I cannot do or be that thing which I came to desire more than anything else in this world. That path is closed to me.

Abraham lay Isaac on the altar, believing that God would resurrect him. Any hope of resurrection has faded in my soul. Now, like Japheth’s daughter, I say, “If this is what you have vowed, put me on the altar–but first let me grieve what I have lost.”

Assurance and Trust

It’s amazing how you can read something or sing something a hundred times, but it can continue to have new meaning each and every time.

A little over a month ago, I was overwhelmed by the task that seemed to be looming before me, fearful for what the future might bring. And when I sat down to sing some old hymns, the fifth verse of “Trust and Obey” struck me.

Then in fellowship sweet,
we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way
What He says we will do
Where He sends we will go
Never fear, only trust and obey.

He relieved my fears and gave me grace to trust Him for that particular path.

Now He has blocked the way along that particular path.

And new verses comfort my soul.

Not a burden we bear
Not a sorrow we share
But our toil He doth richly repay
Not a grief nor a loss
Not a frown nor a cross
But is blest if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove
the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
and the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey.

I don’t want to lay my heart, my desire on the altar. It truly is a sorrow, a grief, a loss. But if, in giving this up, I can somehow prove the delights of His love, then surely my loss is not in vain. I will choose, despite the pain, to trust and obey.

Today, I moved from “Trust and Obey” to the nearby songs, categorized under the heading “Assurance and Trust”.

And God ministered to my broken soul through the words of “Be Still, My Soul.”

Be still, my soul!
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best, thy heavenly friend
Thro thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

God IS for me (Romans 8:31). He is faithful (I Thessalonians 5:24). He will work all things (even my pain) together for good (Romans 8:28). I can be still. I can trust Him–in every change.

Be still, my soul
thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

God does not change (Hebrews 13:8). He was sovereign yesterday, and He is still sovereign today. Even though I don’t understand why, He does. And the circumstances are still under His power.

So be still, be still my soul. Rest in the arms of your Creator, your Pursuer, your Lover. Amidst the sorrow of this world, take delight in His unfailing grace. Find rest in Him alone.

From the valley

Would I give up the peaks
if in doing so,
I could save myself the valleys?
Would I surrender the heights
to never experience the depths?
Never feel sublime pleasure
so that I might never mourn its loss?

Would I walk forever in twilight
so as to never experience
the burning light of midday
or the anguished dark of night?

Would I give up joy
for a chance to not feel grief?

To live life without the superlative,
no extremes of highs or lows
The thought tempts my mind
when I sit near the bottom

But I have experienced the even
the world without feeling
I have tasted of the stupor
that allows neither hot nor cold

My choice instead shall be
to follow my Savior
where e’re He leads

whether beside the still waters
or to the valley of the shadow of death

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away
I shall bless His name