Monday, August 30, 2010

Zooming Out

I’m an iPhone convert. I clearly remember the days when I used to think cell phones were unnecessary and even annoying. (I’m from the generation of teens who carried two things in a purse: lipstick and a quarter for a pay phone.) When Bryan came home with my iPhone, I said, “This is way more phone than I need! What am I going to do with it? I don’t even know how to use it.” It took about 24 hours for it to become my favorite piece of technology ever invented. I may have absolutely no sense of direction, but I’ll never be lost again thanks to my handy-dandy iPhone. Plug in a doctor’s office, friend’s address, or shopping mall, and “presto”—have wheels, will travel.

I love the map feature. I can zoom in or out, depending on what I need to see. Whether it is my little neighborhood or the great state of Texas I want to navigate, just a touch of a finger provides an instant change in perspective. If only navigating life was that easy. So often, I get honed in on my tiny corner of the world, and all I can see is that flashing blue dot. When I stare at that blue dot too long, the rest of the universe becomes fuzzy. How often God reminds me to “zoom out” and look at the big picture!

My daughter Mary Claire got a special present for her sixth birthday: a ruffled pink tooth pillow hand-sewn by her aunt. She has carefully placed it on her bed each day since in anticipation of losing her first tooth. Her seventh birthday came and went last month, and still she hasn’t lost a tooth. When we were at the dentist on Friday, the hygienist noticed that Mary Claire has a wiggly tooth. As she sat in the chair grinning from ear to ear looking like she had won the lottery, my daughter exclaimed, “I can’t wait to tell Stephanie and Austin about my loose tooth! I’ve been waiting and waiting all these years!”

Ah, yes, all these seven years. Such a long time to her. Such a short time to the rest of us. You see, she is “zoomed in”. To a seven-year-old, a loose tooth is a big deal, and the first one takes a long time coming!

I’m really not much different than my baby. My grown-up hopes and dreams may not be the same, but I am equally impatient when it comes to what is important to me. I have to work hard to think outside my own self-prescribed time table, much less outside my lifetime into future generations and even into eternity. You see, time is a much different thing to God. That’s because he is “zoomed out”. He can see the big picture for us much like we can see it for our children.

Beginning to wrap my mind around God’s time table instead of my own has become imperative for my personal healing. Often I cannot cope when I become obsessed with my present circumstances. Choosing to “zoom out” when I am tempted to hone in on my own pain affords me the hope that God can make something good of it in spite of me…in the long run. It helps me make decisions that hurt in the short run but will leave a legacy of love and grace for my descendants. It may sound crazy, but I am really starting to think about my great, great grandchildren!

On an episode of Glenn Beck last week, historian David Barton spoke about the Great Awakening (mid 1700’s). He said that revivals always span decades and therefore generations. He told of heroes of the American Revolution like Patrick Henry and John Adams who were once children at the feet of pastors who were great orators during the first part of the Great Awakening. Their values and passions were formed as the generation before them turned back to God. Barton gave reasons why he believes our country is once again in the midst of a revival. Our church has been praying for it. I know others have been, too. And, we are seeing signs of it, even in the midst of a dark time in the world.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who is sitting at my feet listening to me as I turn to God in the midst of suffering? What child is developing values and passions that God may one day use for great things? How will the decisions I make today (as hard as they are for me to make) affect future generations? What would happen if I gave in to my temptation to despair?

We often underestimate our influence. And, we often are very short-sighted. God is not in a hurry, but he never wastes time. Think about that. It means that the things we do now matter. We will probably not ever know how much they matter in this lifetime. But, because God is sovereign and he can see things I cannot, I’m going to trust him—even in suffering. I deeply desire to have a big-picture perspective. I’m asking God to help me “zoom out” more often.

Is that something you need to do, too?

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS. Psalm 89:1

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the PROPER TIME we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

(Read the context here, but the psalmist talks about affliction in light of eternity, and concludes…) This will be written for a LATER GENERATION, and a NEWLY CREATED PEOPLE will praise the Lord. Psalm 102:18

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cheers and Tears

A sacred event is taking place in our community today. Little minds and bodies are filing back into classrooms, toting backpacks twice their size, feeling excitement and jitters, making first impressions and new friends. There is just something wholesome about going back to school. It seems to bring out the best in everyone. Parents, kids, and teachers alike put their best foot forward. There is anticipation in the air. Hope is palpable. Something good is going to take place. I love new beginnings. But, in my world, the good always comes with the bad (and sometimes the ugly). Everything in life has two sides…

The first day of school could not have come too soon. My house had been inching toward anarchy as the summer waned. As much as I wanted to relish the last few lazy, hazy days of summer and cherish the reason I am a stay-at-home mom, I could not get excited about another minute without order! The kids became increasingly energetic, and I became increasingly irritable. I need my routine. Summer is fun for a while, but all good things must come to an end. Hasn’t anybody ever read The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Vacation?!

Yesterday my girls attended their first gymnastics class. It was a nice kick-off to our fall schedule. They absolutely loved it. I had a blast watching them and remembering my own days as a gymnast. I was transported to 1984. I recalled the smell of the sweaty warehouse in August, cooled only by the humming of a few industrial-sized fans. I remembered warming up on the balance beam to the music of Huey Lewis and the News. It was a carefree time. Caroline and Mary Claire’s experience was no exception. They bounded out of the gym chattering about what next week’s lesson has in store.

If only the jumping around had ended in the gym, perhaps we would have been spared the near-ER-worthy injury that occurred when Mary Claire decided to play monkey bars in our house. The audible thump from upstairs clued me in, followed by the scream and the blood dripping from her ear. Good times. It was a fun afternoon…until it wasn’t fun anymore.

Things often do not go as planned. We had lunches packed and clothes washed and ironed. Backpacks were hung by the chimney with care. But, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that I would be gingerly rinsing dried blood out of my child’s ear and trying to fix her hair without touching her head on the morning of the first day of school. That threw a wrench in things for sure.

By the grace of God, we all managed to maintain a positive attitude this morning, but there was a dichotomy present that I have become quite familiar with in recent years. From the physical to the emotional, good and bad coexisted in an uncomfortable harmony. Like a dissonant chord. It’s musical, but something is out of place. It needs to be resolved.

This morning was supposed to be Audrey’s first day of kindergarten. As Bryan took pictures of the girls on the front porch, I couldn’t help but fill in that third spot with another blond head dressed in her best clothes toting a backpack too big for her little body, feeling excitement and jitters, ready to make first impressions and new friends.

At school, kindergarten parents parted ways with their tiny students and marched into the library for the annual “Cheers and Tears Breakfast”. To me, this says it all. The dichotomy of life. The good with the bad (and the ugly). Cheers and tears. Holding hands, Bryan and I also marched along…right past the library, looking in and wondering. Cheering and shedding tears of our own.

As I left, I couldn’t help but think that experiences like these, ones where that dissonant chord plays in my life’s song, are reminders that I long for my Heavenly home. Not only a home where Audrey gets to attend her first day of kindergarten, but also a home where every aspect of life is no longer fraught with that bittersweet dissonance. A wholesome place where everyone puts their best foot forward. A home where anticipation is in the air and hope is palpable. A place where something good is sure to happen. A home where good exists without the bad (and the ugly) and, finally, it all is resolved.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Forgiveness is a Four-Letter Word (Part 2)

So, let’s get down to brass tax. I’ve got questions. And, if I don’t get them answered, I’m going to keep thinking of forgiveness as a four-letter word! What does the Bible specifically say that will soothe that nagging in my soul? And, when the Bible is not specific, what common sense is consistent with Scripture?

It’s a work in progress, but here is my make-shift “question and answer session”. I hope it will reassure you and also challenge you as it does me.

Q) How do I forgive when I have been hurt so greatly?

A) I recognize that I, too, need forgiveness.

As I have prayed through how to respond to each situation I have faced, what has surprised me most is that I have been made keenly aware of my own sin. I knew I was sinful, but I had no idea I was THAT sinful! It has really shocked me. Who did I think I was anyway? How embarrassing. But, how refreshing! I am free now to let God be God.

I am relieved that God has so tenderly put me in my place. I expect this process to continue, and believe it or not, it is helping me to forgive. It is slowly healing my soul, my marriage, and my world. When my attitude is one of humility, my choices are more loving and forgiving. When I compare myself to other human beings, I have a much harder time responding in kind, self-sacrificing ways.

In order to forgive, we must be willing to look at the darkness in our own hearts. We must confront the prideful thought, “I would never ___________.” When we compare our thoughts, actions, and motivations to those of a holy God, we see our own depravity. Our perspective is skewed if, instead, we compare ourselves to others. We begin to weigh and measure sin by its earthly consequences instead of by the pain it causes a perfect and holy God.

Q) Why do I have to forgive others? What about justice?

A) I am called to forgive because God has first forgiven me. God promises justice in the end, but for now, he wants me to imitate his mercy.

Jesus teaches Peter about forgiveness in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). A servant owes the king money and begs him not to sell his family and all he owns to pay the debt. The servant promises to repay the debt and asks for patience. The king takes pity on him and cancels the debt. But, as soon as the servant leaves the king’s presence, he finds a fellow servant who owes him money. When the fellow servant begs for mercy, he throws him in jail. This angers the king, who scolds the servant for not passing on the mercy he has been shown. The king then turns the servant over to jailers to be tortured until he can repay the debt. Jesus concludes, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (v. 35)

Jesus’ teaching is this: Forgive because you have been forgiven. When we read the simple parable, we can clearly see that begging for mercy, being forgiven, and then turning right around and punishing someone else for the same thing is absurd. However, when we apply it to our own lives, things get fuzzy. Life is more complicated than that, we rationalize. We somehow justify our own unforgiveness by measuring our sin against the sin of others. If we are honest, when we put ourselves in the story, we imagine that our debt to the king is smaller than the other servant’s debt to us. And, therefore we justify holding others’ feet to the fire. But unlike us, the king in the story is not focused on the debt at all. He is concerned with the heart. With God, it is all about the heart.

Jesus’ teaching is also this: If it is fairness you want, then you can spend eternity apart from God trying to pay back what you owe. Ouch! You see, the truth is we would never be able to repay our debt. That is why Jesus came. We think we want justice. But, if we got it, we would be truly sorry. Jerry Sittser, in his book A Grace Disguised, writes, “Forgiving people decide that they would rather live in a merciful universe than in a fair one, for their sake as much as for anyone else’s. Life is mean enough as it is. They choose not to make it any meaner.”(p.141)

Q) How will I ever be strong enough to do what God is asking of me?

A) My ability to forgive will be born of my intimacy with God.

God calls us to a very high standard. But, he doesn’t ask us to live the Christian life and develop Christ-like character by our own strength. He is the power source. 2 Peter 1:3 says that he has given us everything we need for life and godliness. When we are close to him, we hear his voice (John 10:27, Isaiah 30:21). When we are close to him, we are empowered to do things we cannot otherwise do. He promises that his strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

If I want to forgive the way God forgives, to obey him, to imitate Christ, then I must stay on a short leash. In order to do the kinds of things I have been called to do in my life, I have no choice but to cling to God! I absolutely cannot try to do ANYTHING apart from him (John 15:5). I must pray. I must study. I must listen. All the time. Every other method has failed. There is no such thing as being good apart from Christ.

Q) What does forgiveness look like in the “real world”?

A) Forgiveness is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

As far as I can tell, there really isn’t a blueprint. I think it looks different depending on who and what is involved. It is personal. It is sacred. It always involves the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It requires seeking the heart of God, waiting on his timing, and then obeying. Sometimes it feels great, and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no formula.

Q) What if I don’t feel better after I forgive?

A) Forgiveness is a choice. The way we feel about it does not negate the choice we make.

The act of forgiveness can take many forms. It can be blessing someone with kind words. It can also be restraining oneself from speaking if it would remind someone of their mistake. It can mean loving sacrificially with no expectation of return. It can be keeping your distance to avoid causing someone further pain.

Put simply, forgiveness is choosing not to treat others according to the harm they caused. Psalm 103:10 says God “has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” The phrase “dealt with us” and the word “repaid” are action-oriented. They refer to God’s response to our sin, not to how he feels about it.

One does not have to “feel” forgiving to offer forgiveness. Feeling angry or hurt does not negate forgiveness. Negative feelings are natural consequences of sin. And, the consequences of sin long outlast the sin itself. Are we to be immune from the consequences of sin simply because we are Christians? No. We cannot be immune. Even God is not. In fact, he is angry at sin! Psalm 90:11 says, “Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.”

The Bible says that when Jesus suffered he did not sin in response. When he was reviled, he did not revile back. He entrusted himself instead to the One who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:22-23) The emphasis in the passage is on Jesus’ restraint. But, it doesn’t state that the sins committed against him didn’t hurt his feelings or make him mad! Like Jesus did, we can choose to entrust our feelings to a God who is just and who is as mad as we are. But, we don’t have to beat ourselves up for having to work through the process. God knows how he made us.

Q) What if I can’t forget what someone has done to me?

A) Forgiveness does not mean we have to forget the offense.

About a year after Bryan’s infidelity came out, I was talking candidly with close friends about how it still frequently affected our lives. Two of them strongly urged me to try to “forget”. You’ve heard the phrase: “Forgive and forget.” What does that mean, anyway? I knew they meant well, but that did not make practical sense to me. I felt very lonely trying to deal with my pain since even my best friends didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t really forget. Maybe others could more easily “forget”, but I had to try to rebuild a marriage with the guy.

I read the passage in Exodus when God told the Israelites to remember their bondage in slavery so that they would recall how he had freed them. I had a sense that this awful time in our marriage would hold that kind of significance. It would serve as a reminder of a place we didn’t want to revisit and also a place from which God had rescued us. But, I still needed more Biblical knowledge about this forgiving and forgetting thing.

Then, one day, I found the most amazing encouragement. In his book, If God Is Good—Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, Randy Alcorn discusses two Biblical passages where it is said that God will not “remember” past sin (Isaiah 65:16-17 and Jeremiah 31:34). Alcorn explains, “Remember is a covenant word that includes acting upon what comes to mind. To not remember doesn’t mean to forget. It means that though God could recall our past sins, he will never hold them against us because he sees that we are covered by Christ’s blood and made righteous in him. God doesn’t have a mental lapse; he chooses not to bring up our sins.” (p.297-8)

This makes so much sense to me. To not “remember” doesn’t mean to forget. It means that though I can and will recall past sin, I will choose (with God’s help) not to hold it against people. This is still a tall order, but at least it is possible!

Q) If I am still hurting and I have to choose to forgive all over again, does that mean I have not truly forgiven in the first place? How many times must I face this dilemma?

A) Forgiveness is not a once-and-for-all proposition.

Each time I recall a past sin (because it is not possible, short of amnesia, for me to forget), I have a choice whether or not to forgive. Each time my present reality bumps up against the pain of my past, I have to choose again to forgive. Jerry Sittser says, “In one sense, forgiveness is a lifelong process, for victims of catastrophic wrong may spend a lifetime discovering the many dimensions of their loss.” (A Grace Disguised, p. 144)

The Bible is clear that we are called to forgive as many times as is necessary. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

I wonder, is Peter saying, “How many times do I have to forgive the same person for hurting me over and over again?” Or, is he asking, “How many times do I have to keep forgiving the same person for what he did to me in the past?” There is a difference. But, I think if it were relevant, the Bible would have discriminated between the two. Either way, Jesus makes his point. Peter, you must forgive a whole lot more than you want to forgive.

I am confronted with this reality daily. It’s not that people keep hurting me as much as it is that I continue to discover the many dimensions of my loss. Maybe as healing occurs, I won’t be called to forgive so often. But, for now, if I don’t stay super-close to God, I can foul things up really quickly. In the moment, sometimes I forgive, and sometimes I don’t. I have made the over-arching choice to forgive. I have taken my stand. But, in the little things, I don’t always do it right. It’s impossible on my own. I just hope that over time, as I draw nearer to my Savior, my record will improve. But, I think the Bible teaches me that I will never be able to say that I am done forgiving.

Q) If my relationship with someone is permanently damaged or even broken, does that mean I have not forgiven him? Must I maintain a relationship at all costs?

A) Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.

Hear me when I say this: Forgiveness does not necessarily require putting ourselves in situations where we will continue to get hurt. There is always a healthy way to show mercy, to refrain from treating others according to their sin. Forgiveness does not demand that we allow others to abuse us. We must be sure never to confuse forgiveness with reconciliation.

Forgiveness is about our own hearts. It can be offered regardless of what the “offender” chooses to do. It is not dependent upon the condition of the “offender’s” heart. Forgiveness can be a one-way street.

Reconciliation, however, is always a two-way street. The degree to which both parties are willing to humble themselves before God and submit themselves to his Spirit is the degree to which healing can take place in a relationship injured or broken by sin. Sometimes reconciliation can never be complete this side of Heaven. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible this side of Heaven.

I would contend that reconciliation is at the heart of the situation I mentioned in Part 1 where the people who committed genocide are worshipping alongside family members of those they killed. Certainly, forgiveness had to be offered first, or no reconciliation would have taken place. That is a miracle in and of itself. But, in this case, the offenders have also turned their hearts toward Christ. And, that made reconciliation possible.

Reconciliation is beautiful. And, it is astounding. We should note why it is astounding, though. It simply cannot be done without Christ. He is the power that makes it possible. And, as we forgive, I think we must pray for reconciliation that knocks the socks off of people! All we can control, though, with God’s help, is ourselves. We need not feel condemnation if our “story” doesn’t end the way we wanted it to end. We need only take this advice, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Preparing to write on this topic led me to make a difficult choice about two weeks ago. In Part 1, I mentioned that I am struggling to forgive a friend who was involved with my husband in adultery. Whew, I wish there was a nicer way to say that… Anyway, I prayed intensely, and God flat out told me to take initiative and write her. I didn’t really want to do it. But, he made it clear by Scripture and the Holy Spirit that it was right. So, I just obeyed. I am NOT TRYING TO BE GOOD, just in case anyone is curious. It was just time, and God said so. I meant everything I put in the letter, but it was painful to write. I stuck it in the mail, and then I wanted to throw up. But, there was no turning back.

I planned on posting Part 2 of my forgiveness blog today, and I tell you, God is not done showing off in my life. His timing is impeccable. In the mail TODAY was a letter of response from my friend. It was a sincere apology. And, if not fully satisfying, it brought me peace. More peace than I had before. I don’t feel like throwing a party, but it didn’t make me cry or make me want to scream. I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself. I still have questions to ask her, but I am not sure that finding out the “why’s” will help. A wise person once told me that a better question to ask is, “What next?” So, I suppose we will be negotiating what is next with God’s direction.

No matter what, I am humbled by the way God lovingly led me into this place of obedience. He is already blessing what he began. And, I know that he will be faithful to complete it.

I guess I’ll be writing on the personal benefits of forgiveness before you know it. If forgiveness is a four-letter word, that word is love—love straight from the Father’s heart to ours.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Forgiveness is a Four-Letter Word (Part 1)

Ever gone on a “bear hunt” with your kids? On your way to find the bear, whether you are facing the tall grass or the squishy mud, the poem repeats, “You can’t go over it, you can’t go around it. You have to go through it.” This perfectly describes my journey with forgiveness. Like it or not, I’m going through it. And, I’ve just about decided that forgiveness is a four-letter word!

I have been hearing that still small voice for months now telling me to study forgiveness and write about it. There was one tiny problem with that. I didn’t wanna.

I’ve got some people to forgive. I’ve got some pretty impossible things to forgive. In each situation, I think I’ve done the right thing to the best of my ability. But, I’m still angry, and I’m still hurt. And, if it was ok, I’d probably punch a few people in the face. I’m just being honest. And, God and I…well, we’ve gone round and round about what it means to really forgive someone who does you harm, whether it is accidental or intentional.

What does forgiveness look like? How do I know when I have truly forgiven someone? What does God ask of me? And, if I can figure that out, does it count if I do what God asks even if I don’t want to do it?

Let’s just use my life as a case study, shall we? Bear with me. The information is oversimplified, personal, and raw, but I think it is useful. I’m banking on the fact that there are other people out there who are wrestling with the same questions, if not the same sordid circumstances. Otherwise, I’d rather keep it to myself…

My friend was watching my daughter for me when she was killed by the driver of a carpet-cleaning van in the driveway of her home. I trusted my friend with my most important possession. And, she was momentarily careless. I know she wasn’t neglectful. There, but for the grace of God, go any one of us moms. But, the truth is that, in that moment, she was prioritizing something besides Audrey. These are her words, not mine. And, I appreciate her candor and her remorse. My husband and I gave her our forgiveness the day the accident happened and have given it many times since. We have had her and her family in our home since the tragedy. Still, seeing her is painful for me for so many reasons. We no longer spend time together or share our personal lives. Does this mean I have not forgiven her?

My husband confessed his bondage to sexual sin just less than one year after Audrey’s death. He lied to me for the better part of a decade. He struggled with internet pornography and hid it from me perfectly. It led to several encounters with women I did not know…and one with someone I did know and trust. It should have utterly destroyed us, but by God’s grace, it did not.

I am truly grateful God provided the opportunity for me to make the choice to stay. Many women have faced different circumstances that forced their hand. I have been afforded the privilege of fighting for my marriage because of my husband’s contrition. And, I love him. And, he loves me. And, he is a really good man. But, having made that choice initially, I am now facing the process of reconciliation and rebuilding trust. Fair or not, a large part of the responsibility for the success of my marriage rests on my ability to truly forgive. That fact has angered me like no other. I thrash against it. I hate it. But, it is true.

It has been a bumpy ride. Even when Bryan’s behavior and temperament are steady, I have to fight to keep my thought-life pure. I fight traumatic images, and I fight fear. I fight pride. I am tempted never to trust him again. The slightest thing can send me over the edge. I cannot forget what he has done to me, but I am trying. Does that mean I have not forgiven him?

Then, there’s the issue of the friend who betrayed me with my husband. That one is a real kicker. It has been two years, and she has not said one word to me. I guess that is better than some scenarios that could have played out. But, I am troubled that I do not know the condition of her heart. I don’t know if she is sorry for what she has done or if she would do it again if she had it to do all over. And to make it worse, the two of us have a relational tie that will never allow us to be permanently separated. No, this person will be in my face for life in one way or another. No way around it. Gotta go through it.

What the heck am I supposed to do with this situation? How have I forgiven her so far? I have not come to her house to burn it down. Before anyone gets worried that I’ve seriously thought about doing this, let me ask you what you would want to do? Let’s just say I’ve restrained myself. And, I think that is a form of forgiveness—it’s mercy, really. Not paying someone back according to their sin against you. My Christian counselor says that if the wages of sin is death, then anything I do short of killing people is mercy. (Can you see why I like this guy?)

With this situation, though, I will have to do much more than restrain myself. Someday this former “friend” and I will have to stand in the same room again. For the sake of other people in my life, I hope it is sooner rather than later. The consequences of this insane, Satan-inspired sin are constantly hurting people I love. So, by God’s grace, I am willing to do what many would find impossible. But, I don’t want to go have coffee with her and shoot the breeze…probably ever. Does that mean I have not forgiven her?

In the many months following these tragedies, I have wrestled with God. Have I really forgiven someone if I still want to rip out their eyeballs? Well, maybe not. But, what if I cannot trust them again? Have I really forgiven someone if I am still hurting because of what they did or did not do? What does it really mean to forgive?

I’ve heard amazing stories of people in war-torn countries who have suffered genocide. And, through Christ, they have found a way to reconcile with people who murdered their family members and friends. They even attend church together and worship side by side. Forgiveness like that astounds me. It inspires me. And, yet I’m befuddled. It seems impossible.

So what’s the difference between those who hold a grudge forever, those who mostly forgive (I think I’m somewhere in here), and those who worship side by side with the very people who have killed their parents, spouses, and children? What is forgiveness anyway?

Chew on that for a few days. If you are willing, think about what God has asked YOU to forgive and what you know about forgiveness. Then, in part two, I’ll explore what the Bible says about this “four-letter word” and (whether you like it or not!) I’ll begin to unpack my hard-earned pearls of wisdom…


Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Power of Walking Alongside

I have a super-star pen pal named Ginny. She has three little girls like me. Her youngest is Audrey’s age. Though we go to church together and I teach Sunday school with her mother and father-in-law, we hardly ever see each other. I always thought we would have a lot in common, but she and I live at opposite ends of town. We’ve never been to lunch or swapped life stories. But, that hasn’t stopped Ginny from powerfully using her God-given gift of encouragement to bless my life.

When Audrey died, Ginny began writing me notes. And, two and a half years later, she hasn’t stopped. The notes are often short and sweet. They come at expected times—like birthdays and holidays. And, they come at unexpected times, too. They let me know she is thinking of me. They tell me she hasn’t forgotten my pain. They reassure me of God’s truth and inspire me to hold on to eternal things. They identify with me as a mother of little girls. They are simply amazing.

Ginny’s most recent note came after our church honored this year’s high school graduates. She said she had watched the proceedings and grieved for me, wondering if I was thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to see Audrey up there someday. I honestly hadn’t. But, I might have on a different day. I thought it was cool of her to venture a guess.

Maybe some others look at me on certain occasions like graduation and feel pity for me. Maybe some of them count their blessings and think about how glad they are not to be me. I would. Maybe some pray for me. But, not many near-strangers are willing to walk a minute in my shoes, if only in their hearts and minds, and then write to tell me so.

I have a super-star old-friend-turned-neighbor named Viki. This woman would jump in front of a bus for me. I know it. We finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes I think we share a brain. She has offered every practical help to me in the last 18 months that any human could offer, including keeping my kids for a week while my husband and I went away to Hawaii. Five days a week, while we walk on the treadmill together, she listens for an hour as I ramble on about whatever is in my head, even if it is repetitious, self-serving, or boring. Just a week ago, when I saw a chubby, blond two-year-old in a swimsuit who reminded me of Audrey, she held me in public while I cried. And, she cried, too. She has cried with me at least a hundred times.

Bryan and I have a super-star couple we can always count on named Aaron and Kristie. They are relatively new friends. Their twins were in Audrey’s Sunday school class when she was killed. The twins were only two at the time, but at five, they still talk about her. Aaron and Kristie decided at the time of our tragedy to be our friends, and they have pursued us and have found their way deep into our hearts. They are there to celebrate life and play with us and do everyday things with us. We laugh together. But, they are also unafraid to think about what we must be feeling and to walk with us in our pain. They brought us dinner on Audrey’s birthday this year when we just didn’t feel like having a party, entertaining people, and pretending to be happy. They initiate conversations about Audrey with us and let us tell the same five stories over and over again.

When they came home from Disney World in April, Aaron told us about meeting a dad who lost his son to war. He was wearing a hat that read, “My son gave all.” Aaron told us how he thanked the man for his son’s service to our country and proceeded to ask the man about his son. He credited us for teaching him how much people want to talk about their children, especially ones they’ve lost. Hearing stories like that make me feel like there is some purpose in our suffering.

If there is one thing God has given to Bryan and I, it is friends—good ones. My list could and should go on and on. But, my point—I really am getting to one—is that there is great healing power in walking alongside people for the long-haul. There is value in responding to a crisis when it happens. I could never thank people enough for what they did at the time of Audrey’s death. The body of Christ worked perfectly to meet our needs. But, just as many days have passed now since Audrey’s death as passed in her short life. And, newsflash: I’m still grieving. We still benefit from folks who minister to us in our loss.

Loss is a curious thing. It blindsides you in the present tense. I’m still trying to get over what happened in the past, sure. But, I’m also trying to deal with all the ways my past affects my present. And, not many people think about that. Who knows that eating lunch with my mom randomly made me think about the fact that I’ll never have grandchildren from Audrey? Who knows that I cried through Mary Claire’s dance recital because it made me sad I’d never get to see Audrey in a tutu? A select few who choose to ask.

As time passes, then, how do we practically continue to help those who have suffered loss? I have some ideas:

o Talk about the loss—whatever it is. Be specific.

o Write down the date of the loss. Don’t ever forget it. Remember the anniversary of a death, a miscarriage, a missed due date, a divorce, or a failed adoption. Trust me, the person who is grieving will.

o If the loss is a death

1. Talk about the person who died. Encourage others to do the same. Reminisce. Talk about what you miss. Anticipate Heaven together. Talk about what you will do when you see that person again.

2. If the loss is a death and you have ever grieved the person who died or thought about that person when the family wasn’t around, tell them. It is nice to know that the person you loved meant something to others, too.

3. If the loss is a death, ask to see pictures or videos of the person who
died. If you have any pictures or videos of the person, then by all means, copy them and pass them to the family. I guarantee they are sad they will never have current pictures, but ones that are simply “new-to-them” will be a great comfort.

o Encourage with God’s Word. It is the only thing that comforts. But, be aware that people who are grieving doubt and lose their faith temporarily and often. Let them know they are not alone and it is ok to feel that way.

o Ask the person who is grieving how the loss is affecting her at the present time. There will be a different answer to that question every day for the rest of this life.

o Venture a guess as to what the grieving person may be feeling or thinking. In my opinion, it is much better than ignoring her pain because you are not sure what to say. I frequently give an “E” for effort!
o Be sparing and discerning with advice.

o Pray for the grieving person and let her know when you do. Tell her what you prayed.

o Send notes, flowers, and gifts randomly. Any regular old day is a good day.

o Lather, rinse, repeat. Never ever give up!

I am grateful for Ginny’s notes, Viki’s tears, and Aaron and Kristie’s willingness to say Audrey’s name freely and often. They have been powerful communicators of God’s love in our life. More than that, they have taught me how to respond to others who are hurting. In fact, Ginny’s grandma is dying…with a lot of grace, I might add. I am in awe of her. I really need to go write and tell Ginny I think so.