Tap my shoulder…PLEASE!

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Just when I think I’m maintaining a pretty good pace on this marathon called The Christian Walk, life happens. Ugly, heartbreaking, tragic life happens.  And I pray…and I wait…and wait…for the Holy Spirit to tap me on the shoulder to tell me that He’s right there, and everything is going to be okay.  And I wait…and wait….and the sound of crickets is overwhelming.  And then I remember that I’m not alone in feeling like this.  Many other believers feel like this and have felt like this.  David wrote his raw feelings in the Psalms:

Psalms 10:1 “Why, Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalms 13: 1 & 2a “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

Psalm 22:2 “ My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”

It’s been around 6 years since I’ve felt this loneliness this deeply, this silence so deafening, this sense of pain so deeply.  And once again, I have to go back to what I know about God and not what I feel.  And while I wait for the Holy Spirit to tap me on the shoulder again, I feel the taps on my shoulder from those whom God has placed in my life:

  • my friend Robin (our pastor’s wife) who stands out in her front lawn and prays with me
  • our church family who text, email or message me to let me know that they are praying for me
  • a dear friend who slips me a piece of paper during church to let me know that God wants me to bring my burdens to Him (Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”)
  • family members who encourage;
  • a co-worker who send you a verse to remind you that our prayers don’t have to be just the right words, we just need to rest in the fact that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. (Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.)
  • a sweet sister in church who slides over by me during the service to just be by me because she knows I’m having a tough morning.
  • elders in our church who pray for me and other members of our congregation; men who have the spiritual gifts of encouragement, mercy, compassion, discernment, and wisdom.

And so as I wait and as I continue on this marathon called The Christian Walk at maybe a slower pace than normal, I’ll continue to remember these truths: 1) God has promised to never leave me; 2) I don’t need to understand everything that happens; 3) I don’t have to have the right words to pray effectively.  The Holy Spirit takes my cries and interprets them on my behalf. 4) I’m not responsible for other’s responses to life situations. 5) I don’t save people, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

So for tonight, I’ll remember what the Psalmist wrote in Psalms 4:8:

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord,   make me dwell in safety.”

 

If I’m still moving, I’m not stuck!

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Well, it happened again today. “It” comes over you at the most random times. It’s not always a convenient time, it’s not always in the privacy of your home and it’s not always explainable. What is “it”? Grief. That moment when you really feel that hole in your life that has been created by losing that special person. And this afternoon, “it” happened at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine.

On our way home this afternoon, Mark and I stopped to visit a very dear lady who has played such a huge role in my life. She was in the same section of the hospital as my mom was when she was recovering from heart surgery. Back in 2008, Naomi, Sarah and I were waiting for my mom to come out of bypass surgery. While we waited in the family waiting room, Naomi found a small booklet that explained the history of the hospital. My sister loved doing dramatic readings for our entertainment purposes. On that day, 9 years ago, she had Sarah and I crying from laughing. Apparently, Naomi thought the history of the hospital was a wee bit too dry so she added a little drama to the story so it soon resembled a Harlequin Romance novel. (We were actually laughing and crying so hard that the volunteer at the desk called for a chaplain to come check on us to make sure we weren’t having a nervous breakdown from the stress of waiting for news of our mom’s surgery!) Only Naomi could turn a stressful situation into a time of laughing and just enjoying each other’s company.

Today, when I stepped off the elevator into that same waiting area that the three of us spent so much time in nine years ago, I was taken right back to that day. I told Mark that it was almost as if I had opened the door and saw Naomi, Sarah and myself sitting right there in that sunny waiting room, laughing and begging Naomi to stop because Sarah and my stomach hurt from laughing. And then “it” happened. I stopped, looked at the chairs where we were sitting just a few years ago and started to cry. And poor Mark had no idea what was going on. It took me a moment to gather myself and tell him what I was feeling.

Now the reason that I write this is not to get sympathy. I write so others understand and have compassion and patience for those who have lost a very important person in their lives. So many of our friends and loved ones are just starting their Journey of Grief. There are so many things I want to tell them as they take their first baby steps in this lifelong voyage.

  • You are not going crazy! The week after my sister’s passing, I stood in the bathroom with the plug of my hair dryer, staring at the light switch wondering how I was supposed to get this plug to fit into the light switch! Please be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to realize that your brain has suffered a shock and you are adjusting. You are going to do really strange and random things. You will feel as though you have forgotten almost everything you have learned. Be gentle on yourself. You are not going crazy!
  • Give yourself permission to feel your emotions! For those who grieve, the grocery store is notorious for bringing on waves of emotions. I used to tease Naomi that her beef stew was really just cans of Alpo (dog food) dumped into a crockpot. From experience, I know that you will get strange looks when you cry at the sight of Alpo dog food in the grocery store. Friends have told me that the cereal aisle brings them to tears. Don’t be embarrassed to show those emotions.
  • Talk about your loved one! We talk about those whom we love. I feel as though it is my responsibility to the Farrar Five (my nieces and nephew) to talk about their mother with them. Who will share the memories that her and I shared? Who will tell them about the time she colored my Siamese cat blue while I was at school? Who will tell them that she was one of the bravest people I know; she was always the first one to jump off the 8 foot tower on our raft each summer?! Who will tell them about the spy club that Naomi, Angela Moro Barkhouse and I had?
    I am so grateful for our friends and family who do not feel uncomfortable when I talk about my sister. She was a huge part of my life even if it was for 41 short years. And as long as I live, I will continue to talk about her, especially for those five very special “kids” that she left us to care for.

And yes, there are days when I feel as though I’ve taken baby steps in this grief journey but as long as I’m still moving forward, somedays it’s at the pace of a turtle but… I’m not stuck!

2 Corinthians 1:3-4   “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

I Can Be Your Eyes

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When Mark and I first started dating, he revealed to me that he had an eye disease called RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa). There is no cure and it is a progressive eye disease which eventually leads to blindness. Being married to someone with a progressive eye disease brings a whole new dynamic to a marriage. Part of my wedding vow to Mark should have read “I promise to watch out for you and not let you walk into those yellow ‘Wet Floor’ signs. I promise to steer you clear of lolly-columns and telephone poles. And when we are climbing around the rocks near the ocean, I promise to save you from stepping off the ledges into the water.” Being Mark’s “Seeing Eye Wife” (and I told him that I refuse to wear the harness that you see service dogs wearing!!), I sometimes feel as though I’ve stepped out of the role of being his wife and stepped into the role of being his mother or caregiver. We’ve had many conversations about his continued loss of vision and what our future will look like. I’ve told him that I want him to be totally honest with me when he feels as though I am hovering over him too much or keeping him back from doing something he wants to do. Recently, while we were visiting one of our favorite falls in Maine, I asked him if I was being too cautious. Mark told me that if I see he’s headed for danger, he most definitely wants me to warn him (well, duh!) and that he trusts me to keep him safe. He relies on me to see for him, to be his eyes in dark restaurants or other places, to warn him when he’s headed for something that will cause him harm.
While I was thinking about my role as his additional set of eyes, the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Isn’t that kind of what I do for you?” God sees what’s ahead for us and does what He can to protect us from pain and heartache. Instead of a cane or seeing eye dog, God gives us His word to direct us and keep us on a safe path.

Psalm 119:105 says:

thy word

And sometimes, I get distracted by something shiny and forget that Mark is relying on me to make sure his path is clear of any obstacles. Only when he bumps his shin or runs into something am I brought back to what I was supposed to be focusing on: his safety and what’s ahead of him! Isn’t that the same thing that happens to us believers when we take our eyes off what we should be focusing on? And then when something in life comes our way because of our lack of focus, we realize that if we had just been listening to that still small voice or had been using the “lamp/light” (His Word) that has been given to us, we may have avoided this pain or obstacle.

What a comfort knowing that God sees further down the road than we do. What a comfort that our loving Father sees that the pain and heartache that we are experiencing now and knows that there is greater purpose that will one day be revealed to us. And what a comfort to know that God never gets distracted and forgets to be our “eyes”! What a comfort to know that one day, when Mark arrives in Heaven, his eyesight will be perfect!

And now I need to go because goodness knows what type of mischief Mark has gotten into because I haven’t been keeping an eye on him.

Do you smell smoke?

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One of my all time favorite things to do is to sit around our fire pit in our backyard or the campfire while we are camping.  And usually, for the next few days the smell of the fire and smoke stay with me even after washing my hair a number of times.  I have a love/hate relationship with the smell of smoke.  When I do catch a whiff of the lingering smell of smoke in my hair, it brings back the memories of sitting around the fire with family and loved ones.  But then, while I’m sitting at work and a co-worker is standing by me and I smell smoke, I think “They must be thinking ‘Does she ever bathe?!'”  Lol.

Sitting around the fire also reminds me of one of my favorite accounts in the Bible: the time when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found themselves in a fire pit themselves!  We read about this hot incident in Daniel 3.  The background of this story is that King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that when the trumpet and other instruments was blown or played, everyone was to bow down to the golden image that he had made.  Whomever did not bow down to the image would be thrown into the fiery furnace.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being believers of the one true God, would not bow down. They told the king that they knew that God could save them, but even if God didn’t deliver them from the furnace, they still would not bow to the image.  So  they were bond by ropes and thrown into the furnace. King Nebuchadnezzar looked in on the trio and saw four men instead!  The king summoned the three young men out and noticed that their hair was not singed and their robes were not scorched. The only thing that was consumed in the fire was the ropes that had bound them.  And I love this part of the story: “and there was no smell of fire on them.”

So many times I, like other believers, pray that God would spare me from unpleasant and painful situations.  I’ve been lulled into this thought that my life should be pretty easy, carefree and comfortable.  But the reality is this: life is painful!  Life is not always easy!  I will go through and have gone through some pretty difficult times in the past few years.  And even though God did not spare me (and other family members) and prevent me from going through these times, I know for certain that just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, God was walking right beside me in those “fiery” times.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had the ropes that bound them burned off while they were traipsing around the furnace and that got me thinking “What ‘ropes’ were keeping me bound while I was walking through painful times?” Maybe the “ropes of unbelief“:  Why would God allow this to happen to me?  Isn’t He a good God? This doesn’t feel very “good” to me right now! Maybe the “ropes of doubt”:  Does God really know what He’s doing?!  Do I really trust Him to see me/us through this time of being uncomfortable? this time of being in pain? this feeling of being lost? of feeling abandoned?  How about the “ropes of anger”:  How could You possibly allow this to happen?  “Ropes of pride”:  I’m/We’re one of your children and THIS is how You choose to treat me/us?  I’ve been living a pretty good life testifying to how I believe you and THIS is the thanks I get?!  As you can see, I should have bought stock in a rope company!!

And just like our three heroes of the Old Testament, it sometimes takes a fire to burn off these ropes that keep our hands, our feet, our hearts, and our minds bound.  And just like our fire walkers, we realize that no, maybe God didn’t deliver us from having to go through these fiery times of pain and hurt, but we know without a doubt, that we didn’t traipse through that fire alone. God didn’t keep us from going through it but He certainly was right there the whole time.

Oh and that favorite part of that verse: “there was no smell of fire on them”?  The Holy Spirit gently taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that even though I have walked through some fires in my lifetime, because of His presence and His grace, people won’t be able to tell that I’ve gone through the fire.  Because instead of the lingering smell of smoke on me (and in my hair), they will only be able to smell the sweet smell of Him saving me by grace and walking beside me while we both watched those ropes disintegrate and disappear.  Yeah, every once in a while I pick up those familiar ropes again and start wrapping myself up in them.  But soon enough, the Holy Spirit reminds me of what it took to burn those things off.  I can stop and remember that even though I had to go through those times, I’m not the same person who was thrown into that fire and I’m certainly a different person after I came out of that “furnace”.

And with that being said….who wants some s’mores!!  I’ll grab the lighter and the marshmallows!!