Lamenting at Christmas?

I have found myself a bit more somber as of lately, and its been hard to know what to chalk it up to. Sure, 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. I think its more like a culmination of things, between the hard things I have watched our nation go through, the new (but not so new) things I am learning the more I delve into the pages of scripture, and the end-of-year calls for donations for just about every charity out there.

Generally I would say I am someone who can look at my immediate world and be happy that things are well. They are. I am in a great neighborhood, making new friends, and still have a job. I really have nothing I can complain about.

Yet I am in a season where the pain of the world seems more difficult to bear than usual. The slave trade is alive and well, where land is taken and people are forced to work for practically nothing. Sex trafficking, where young women and men are treated as propery and ravaged in a way no child should be. Refugees returning to war-torn places with nothing to sustain them, orphans who have nowhere to go, corruption and families across nations hungry, not even knowing when their next meal will come. (*see footnotes for ministries I support that tackle these very things in case you are looking for a place to help)

That being said, my heart is heavier right now, carrying the weight of the knowlege of all of this, and it has been for a while. I long for nothing, and what I have and can offer seems to barely make any dent of a difference. I long for things to change, for these stories I hear so often to be over. For bellies to be full, relationships restored and evil gone, for hope to rise and everything to be made right.

Not exactly the Christmas Spirit, I know.

But then again.. maybe it is, in a way. Maybe its a way to enter into the real desperation that was felt by the people that first witnessed the fullness of God take on flesh. The longing for deliverance, the longing for something to hope in, the cry for God to change the way things are.

When I can still my soul enough to remember…. I know that this longing for all things to be made right is not unique, for it is the same longing felt by every prophet in its day, every person on the pages in our scriptures, and by so many of us know who have had to endure our own pain, our own grief.. or who have watched it up-front-and-center in other countries.

What is your pain this season, your longing? Have you lost a loved one this year, that you never got to hug goodbye? Did you struggle in relationships or in marriage, did you watch a child leave home and not make choices that were good? Have you subsisted on little, having lost a job or on the brink of it even still? Did you make choices you are not proud of? Do you feel alone more than ever?

For this, Jesus comes. He knows the pain our world endures, for he walked its breadth and saw its hardship, its ugliness, its inability to heal itself….and he too wept over its pain. For even in the face of the darkness of humanity, the plan and purpose to breath life back into His creation cannot be stopped.

I read something this week that really struck me, given my musings about this lately. In his book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey was talking about how we tend to “santizie” our story of Christmas in a way, because we hardly ever talk about the slaughter that followed of all the boys under 2 in the region (p58). Somehow…I’m pretty sure those that live in dictator led countries and war-torn villages know what Mary and Joseph were living through a lot more than we do.

But Bailey goes on to point out that “If the Gospel can flourish in a world that produces the slaughter of the innocents and the cross, the Gospel can flourish anywhere” (p59-60).

In some way, then, there is a place for lament this time of year, if we will choose, to enter into the shared pain of all that is still not what it will be. To confess our weakness, our inability to fix things at our own hand, and to receive anew the MERCY of the one who can. To receive Jesus in a new way, as a good king, whose heart yearns for all to be made right. To trust that he is still building his kingdom, and to let our hearts find hope in this truth.

So I close this post with a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Rise in our hearts and remind us that you are in our midst, and you are with our brothers and sisters across the globe who fight for justice and mercy, who long for your peace and who share your love with their world as well. Make us one. Pour out your love and your presence on hungry souls this year, Lord, and let us work for your kingdom now, offering what you have given us to offer, even as we look forward to the day when all is made right.

Ministries I referenced earlier

International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org/

Preemptive Love: https://preemptivelove.org/

New Life for Haiti: https://www.newlifeforhaiti.org/

Lemonade doesn’t cut it

I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I know the intention is good, and I know it’s a way to remind people that there is always a way to take something that might leave a sour taste in your mouth and look at it a different way, or change your attitude so that you learn from it, and it becomes sweeter. Most of my life, I try to live that way, so I get it.

That being said, with loss of any kind – a job, a relationship, a child/friend/parent, a dream, your health – when you are in the throws of grief – there is NO making of lemonade. Or lemon martinis. Or lemon bars. Or lemon anything. It might make you want to THROW lemons at someone, or something though….. (never thought of that. Hmmmmm.)

Let’s be honest: making lemonade when life gives you lemons might work when its inconvenient stuff, but it sure as heck doesn’t work when you feel like life is falling down around you through no fault of your own.

You see – we might all know the verse where Jesus says “In this world, you will have trouble (in Greek the word also is used to mean affliction and anguish). But take heart! I have overcome the world”

If I’m honest, that verse wasn’t helpful to me at all when Jon and I starting talking about dissolving our marriage.. and I felt like I couldn’t even say that because what would that say about me? It’s hard to admit, but sometimes, even when you love God, it’s hard to take comfort in His word. It can feel like work, pressing in and striving to get your brain to follow the words on the page.

In some ways, it felt like trying to make lemonade out of lemons. And just in case you are wondering: I have experienced my share of trouble in life. I knew that following Jesus never meant life would be free of problems. I had told others this countless times. I had prayed and fasted. I knew how to hold onto the Lord and his promises. I knew how to deal with hard stuff. Yet somehow divorce was one thing I was sure that I would escape, because with God, all things are possible. With God, marriage can get through anything. I think I kept hoping I would somehow wake up and it would all just be a bad dream, that the conversation never happened, or that Jon would change his mind. It never happened. Reality just kept staring me in the face. Suddenly it was as if the part of me that knew all I had already learned about hiding in God and believing for things was on hold. I didn’t recognize myself any more.

I had to find something to hold onto.

That verse for me became Hebrews 6:19, a verse that I have worn on my wrist ever since then:

“For we have this hope as an anchor for our souls, firm and secure….”

The truth of this verse became my banner. Nearly 9 months later, it still is.

As much as we might think we are strong, or that “we got this” – our souls need to have something to hold onto when life feels like its falling apart. Sometimes it can be hard to find that one thing – but I believe the One that knows us best knows we need truth to hold onto. Don’t give up. God doesn’t change in his faithfulness or love for you, even when people do. Cry out. Ask for what you need, ask for something to hold onto.

What would surprise me every now and then is just how much the Lord knew what I needed. You see, panic attacks (which I had never before) became a way of life for me for a while. I dealt with them the way I had always dealt with hard stuff in the past: I went running. Partly to think, partly to pray, partly to give my body a more natural reason for breathing heavy.

I’ll never forget the night I had gone on a run, feeling lonely in my pain and needing to just…..well, I guess you might say I was having a pity party, attendance: one.

I plugged in my headphones, tied up my shoes, and went for a run. I had a mix of some worship music that I had been listening to at the time, songs to remind me of God’s promises, songs that I could get lost in when I just needed to know His presence. I had just finished one of the hills in the neighborhood and decided to lay on the park bench at the top and finish listening to the song (and cry).

I am smiling just thinking about it. Why?

Because right as the song finished, the sprinklers kicked on and I got soaked. I have never jumped out of a bench and sprinted to the sidewalk so fast in my life! All I could do was laugh. It was as if the Lord said, “ok, you got your cry out – now stop being so full of yourself! Time to get your eyes back on me and WHO I AM TO YOU!”

I think I laughed all the way home after that 🙂

You see, it can be easy to get stuck in the mire of pain and grief, but it’s up to you to determine if you will stay there. You may not be able to determine the timeline or intensity of the grief process, but when you can hold onto Truth that is bigger than what you are going through, it makes a difference.

If sometimes, you are dragged out with unexpected laughter, let yourself enjoy it! It doesn’t mean you are “all better”, and it doesn’t mean things still aren’t hard. But it can be life-giving if you let it.

Oh, one last thing. A great book I would recommend for you or anyone that you know who is just starting to go through loss and grief is the book “How to Survive a Shipwreck” by Jonathan Martin. He does an amazing job helping his readers face loss, assess how to move forward, and take care of their souls in the midst of it all.

Guess that’s all for now. Blessings!!

Tama

Fair Warning

When the girls were little, we spent two years in Ohio – two years that seem like a blur from where I stand now, to be honest. We made some friends while we were there, but the one couple we have stayed in touch with and absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE their family, we weren’t always close with. In fact, it wasn’t until we drove back through Ohio about five years after we moved that we reconnected. I cannot be more grateful that we did.

In our years living in the Chicago suburbs, everyone in this family (except for their oldest) came to stay with us, either with one of their parents or by themselves. Sometimes it was for vacation, sometimes it was to audition for The Voice *yes their kids are that crazy talented*. Those weekends were some of the best, because we got to catch up amidst raising our families in two different states and two different worlds.

Why do I mention them? Well, because I have come to love one of the things that my friend says whenever she has to have difficult conversations with people. I probably am quoting this slightly wrong, but with great love, she always looks them in the eye and says:

“I know you might not want to hear this, but we have to talk about some hard stuff”

I admire her for that, because she is not afraid to have the hard conversations – and she does it with great love and a heart for restoring relationships between both God and people.

So that is what I need to say to you all now:

I know you might not want to hear this (or read this), but we have to talk about some hard stuff.

For some of you, this may make you stop following my blog. Please know that if you choose to do that, its ok. Be free to go – no judgement here. For some of you, this is going to be hard to read because you know me. All I can say is that I understand, and I’m sorry for the sadness it might bring, but I hope you can hang with me. Because I can promise it gets better. I can promise that with what I am going to be sharing in the coming weeks, you will see the goodness of God in the midst of everything.

I have been hesitant to write about this for a while, mainly because I was very much still in process and it was just too raw. Not that I’m through it all, but I do feel like at this point, the Lord has brought me to a new place, a place where I can write with honesty and hope.

Where do I start? To be honest, I am not quite sure. I’m not sure there ever is a good place to start a conversation like this, because you see, I do not like conflict. I do not like to rock the boat or unsettle the waters, or do anything that will cause people to think less of me. Yet here goes, for the sake of living in honestly and truth, for the sake of showing how God is in the hard places, and hopefully for the eventual healing of someone else who is going through similar things.

You see….. last October, just a few months after moving to Colorado, Jon and I started having some very honest and tearful conversations that essentially unsettled just about every piece of me that could be unsettled. My marriage of nearly 25 years was suddenly shifting in a way that I NEVER saw coming. Nothing was right, tension and internal conflict began to rule my life, and fear took hold in a way that it never had before. Jon had reached a point in dealing with some things in his past that brought him to truth he could not admit to in the previous 25 years: he was gay, and he wanted to live as a gay man, which meant he wasn’t sure he could stay married.

[Bomb dropped].

Those are words no one ever wants to hear: I love you, but I have to leave. It didn’t make sense. All of a sudden, my world came crashing down. Everything I had looked forward to at this stage in our lives suddenly slipped away in that moment, and I was left with questions like I’m sure some of you, or some one you know, has asked at one time or another, whether due to divorce or loss of someone close:

Why, God?

Isn’t there any other way?

Nothing about this seems right.

What am I supposed to do?

How am I ever going to recover from this?

What am I supposed to give my life to now, if the love of my life is gone?

I had prayed over, fought for, and delighted in our marriage for nearly 25 years. So had Jon. We loved each other, we were best friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed the family we had built together.

I was faced with two choices:

Fight. Refuse to give in, hold him to the vow he made. This is what I wanted to do so badly, yet I knew to do that would be controlling, and he would resent me for it. On top of that, I would most likely add to the damage he had already experienced (that is a whole other part of the story).

Or, I could willingly let him go to be who he needed to be, living openly and honestly as a gay man.

I can still remember the exact place in our neighborhood where, on a run, I realized the only choice I could make was to let him go, and agree to dissolve our marriage. I cannot tell you how much that decision hurt. There are no words to describe the pain. I think I spent another half hour crying, having a panic attack for the first time in my life, and calming down before returning home.

Needless to say, we had many tearful conversations in the months between October and December, about what this meant and how we would tell family and friends. Some of those things I will be sharing, some I will not be. It was difficult for both of us, really. Jon was painfully aware of how his request, his decision, was hurting his best friend in the entire world. I felt lost and numb. Jon was hurting too, in his own way, over past abuse and shame, and having to hide this part of himself all these years. The hardest part was probably that we had always been there for each other, and I desperately wanted to be there for him in his pain, but how could I, when it only brought more to my own life? So we started the dance of finding the boundaries. We found our own support groups to talk about what we were processing. Hard doesn’t even touch it.

This is where, as a person of faith, I knew had a choice. I could turn inward and not let people around me know what was going on, or I could risk telling people close to me, and face the fear and shame that was growing in my head every day. This is where I knew, even with all our family had already gone through due to mental health issues, I had to choose whether or not I could still believe that God was still good, that His promise to sustain me and never leave me was still true when life hurt like hell. That hope still had a place, when all the hopes I had moved out to Colorado with seemed to just have come up empty.

If you have ever known loss, you know what I’m talking about.

And you also know, there are really no words.

Let me just say… if you have been there before, if you are there right now, or you know someone else who is – my heart goes out to you in ways it never could before. I get it now. I’m sorry I never did before.

I’m sorry for being overly cheery, for what might have seemed to you like a shallow sense of hope. I am sorry for not knowing what to say, or saying too much and not just sitting with you in your pain. Believe me, I thought I had gone through the fire a few times already, but compared to this? yeah… compared to this, everything before was a walk in the park.

As I continued to cry out to the Lord, he began to put people around me to support me in ways that I never expected. It was more than humbling to go from the one that always helped others, to being the one who needed to ask for others to pray for me. I had to let them be “my people” – because I desperately needed the support.

But that’s what we are to be for each other, isn’t it? That’s where we have to walk knowing that sometimes God may seems silent to our cries, but He always shows up. Sometimes, it is in the face of a dinner invite from a new friend, or in the rustling of trees on a walk in the neighborhood. Sometimes it is a song that reminds you that joy may not be present for you now, but that the promise of joy is still there.

Times like these are where trust in the Lord, and who He is to you, are forged in the fire.

And what I can tell you, what I can promise you, is that you are NEVER, EVER alone.

Tama