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.

Wait!! Who punched a hole in my Monet?

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I Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

This past Sunday, Pastor John continued his series on the book of John. The message was based on John 9:1-12 describing the account of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. Pastor John told us the story about an $11 million dollar Monet painting that was punched and damaged by some random guy. To this day, the reason for this act of destruction is still unknown. Pastor explained that the restoration process took 18 painstaking months. He related the restoration work of this piece of artwork to the restoration work of God in our lives. It only takes a minute to destroy a painting and it only takes a single word, act or experience to destroy the “masterpieces” in our lives.  I really feel as though the Holy Spirit was not just tapping me on the shoulder but yelling at me “Are you listening? Are you paying attention?” So, I decided to take a walk through my own art gallery and take some inventory of the damaged Monets in my life!

So why don’t you grab your art museum brochure and wander through my gallery with me. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of pieces that feature squirrels; they take up a lot of my attention! I’ll act as your curator and explain each piece and the background behind them.

Ahhh, this first piece is a favorite of mine. It’s titled “Family” and the medium is finger-paints. It’s a precious picture of three sets of little hands. When we decided to become parents, I was determined that I was going to be the perfect parent. That lasted until we had our first child, Kenny!  Ohhhh! Who punched a hole in this painting? It looks like the size of  “Regrets’” fist!  Regret is an ugly character! He loves to attack often and when you are feeling vulnerable. And he usually shows up time and time again. I think Regret needs to be banned from my art museum!

Oh, and this next piece is special to me. It’s fondly called “Faith”. I’ve had this piece of art since I was 5 years old. It’s painted with a deep red paint, a shade that reminds me of the precious blood that paid for my redemption. There’s a cross on a hill and a little 5-year-old girl at the foot of this cross. I love this picture. I revisit it often and just remember the day this was painted: it was painted in a small Sunday School classroom located in the basement of the United Baptist Church in Peru. Audrey Wentzell oversaw this painting. Oh my goodness!! This painting also has a hole punched in it! Who on earth would dare punch a hole in this masterpiece? Let me guess! “Doubt”! I remember those days when Doubt would double up his fist and take a swing at my picture. Days like “There’s no more that we can do for your family member!”, or “I can’t believe God would allow this/that to happen to me!”, or “Are you sure God would really forgive you for….”. I think it’s time to move on to the next painting, this one is painful to look at right now.

The next painting is called “Friends”. This painting uses so many different colors and rightly so. I remember painting this piece throughout the years. I am so blessed by having some of the most precious people surrounding me. The size of this piece is very wide because it encompasses the friends I’ve had from an early age until this present day. If you are quiet enough, you can almost hear the laughter that comes with this masterpiece. And like the other paintings, there is a big old hole right in the middle!! And the culprit is named “Life”! During our lifetime, friends come in and friends go out. Different circumstances help to punch a hole in this piece of art. Sometimes painful situations come up as in “I no longer want to be a part of your life” or “We really don’t have that much in common anymore so let’s just part ways.” All too often, I try to restore these relationships on my own power without even considering that maybe God has allowed these friendships to fall by the wayside for my own good.

As I wander past these pictures, the Holy Spirit whispers to me and says “Remember what Pastor pointed out on Sunday? I restore sight to the blind and I can restore whatever you are hanging on to that needs to be restored!” And so with trembling and sometimes clenched hands, I turn over my “Monets” to him. They may not be worth 11 million dollars but they are priceless to me. And over time, sometimes not as quickly as I would want, He restores these masterpieces. I think back on the failures of being a parent and pray that God would fill in areas where I was lacking. I consider the faith journey that I have walked and thank God that He’s always been faithful even when I was not. He let me voice my doubts and He still loves me because He’s a gracious, loving Father. The friendships that I have made and lost, I turn them over to Him and let Him restore the relationships that should be restored and pray for peace for those that may never be restored this side of Heaven.

Thank you for walking through my museum with me. I encourage you to take a look at the masterpieces hanging on your walls. I’m sure, like me, you’ll see some with holes punched in them. You can trust me when I say that I have the best Restorer of Masterpieces working with me!

Oh, and one more thing!! Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop on your way out. We have lots of books for the art collector and bins and bins of stuffed squirrels for the distracted art lover. Ooooh, and what’s this shiny object……