Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

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