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When You’re in Pain: How to Make Holidays More Joyful, Part 1

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyfulLast week, I dove straight into some of the reasons my own holidays can be painful. Since I know many people struggle this time of year, I thought it might be nice to turn the pain around and find ways to make this season better.

Next week I will address holiday celebration more directly, but for now, here are some basic non-festive suggestions to ease the pain.

1. If you can be around a pet of any kind, do it.

Seriously, pet therapy is so healing. If you have resident furballs already, you know what I’m talking about. I have two Shih Tzus who love to hang out on our laps, but during my darkest hours last winter, I enjoyed my friend’s Golden Retriever and Yellow Lab. They sensed my sadness and immediately came to me. The Golden maintained a protective stance and leaned into me the entire time. The mere weight of that was comforting and ministered to me.

Is it any wonder that animals are so good for the soul? They were created by God, and He “knows” them.

Psalm 50:10-11, ESV

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.

God uses animals to describe the coming peace that Christ (root of Jesse) will bring. Isn’t that beautiful?

Isaiah 11:6-10, ESV

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

If you are allergic to pets, try cultivating a houseplant. I was given one when my father passed, and I’ve really enjoyed taking care of it and watching it grow. My younger son and I also grow a sunflower every summer. Working the ground is always good, so planting bulbs is possible this time of year—but hurry, Baby, it’s cold outside!

2. Nature watch.
Read the rest of this entry »

 

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In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

I took a deep breath and carried out my plan. I had prayed about it for a week, wondering if it was the right thing. I read the Bible, poured out my heart to God, and then quieted myself to listen for a response. What I heard as confirmation came from several trusted sources speaking in unity.

It was very difficult and painful, but it was very important. I didn’t treat it lightly. I was incredibly afraid to act on anything without God speaking into it. It’s not that I thought a lightning bolt would strike me down in a moment of acting solo and impetuously. I simply knew that not consulting God did not yield good fruit. I had to remain in the Vine as my source.

John 15:1-9, ESV, Jesus speaking

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Before I made a big move, I went to my own personal wilderness to pray. I’ve learned the hard way over time that I tend to be rash and make hasty decisions. I needed situations, trials, and heartaches to discipline me in self-control, patience, and seeking counsel. Oh, and chipping away at that whole pride thing. There’s that.

This wasn’t something that came to me on my own. I found it while teaching our Junior High Sunday School class about Jesus’s miracles.

We discovered that Read the rest of this entry »

 

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A Necklace and the Intimacy of God

A Necklace and the Intimacy of GodIt was December when I received this text: “Hey, Bonnie: Did you happen to get any mail from me this week?”

Oh, wow, mail. I hadn’t gone to my mailbox in days. I usually love Christmas cards, but I had just lost my father, and I knew the mailbox was either filled with Christmas cheer or sympathy cards. I treasured both, but some days I simply couldn’t read any.

I sent my daughter to the mailbox, and she brought back a few advertisements, some bills, five cards, and a small package.

Great. Mission accomplished. I tossed everything else in a pile on the floor and eagerly opened the package.

Oh my goodness!

Inside was a necklace with four charms: The Lord’s Prayer, a heart, a cross, and an angel.

The note read something along the lines of: “I thought you could wear it to remember your Dad.”

My heart caught in my throat. I had not told my sweet cousin about my wish, my regret. I had not shared with her that just that week I had told my husband to get our daughter some jewelry because I wished my father had bought me just one piece that I could wear to remember him by. It just wasn’t Dad’s thing. And yet, my heart ached to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Is That God Waking Me Up?

Is That God Waking Me Up

I woke up in the middle of the night. An old wound reopened. My mind was rushing, and I could not for the life of me understand why certain memories were flooding back upon popping one eye open.

Didn’t I take care of that business, Lord? Why am I awakened by this?

Truth be told, I was having a hard time sorting out whether I was being tormented (which isn’t God) about something in the past just to derail me and disrupt my peace, or if God had woken me up to sort through something.

I was aware of the small trigger that had set off the memories, but I felt I had dipped them in His amazing peace, prayed them down, and stepped off the memory platform.

Apparently not so.

Ever have something come back and revisit, and you’re not sure what to do with it?

Yeah, me too.

Whenever this happens and old tapes play in my head, I have two choices (because ignoring them doesn’t work): Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You’re Stuck, Like Me

When You're Stuck, Like MeThis article was first published at Your Tewksbury Today, where I wrote in real time as I processed the loss of my father during Advent 2015. While this was two months ago, to the day, I feel it is important to revisit it; it is part of an ongoing series I am writing on grief. Sometimes it is a stuck place, and we need a little help to get unstuck, but it’s not just grief that leaves us feeling this way. We can land with legs up in the air, unable to find our ground during any kind of loss: relationship disappointment, abandonment, betrayal, a crushed dream, etc.

I hope you find something in it to bring you or someone you know peace and comfort as you/he/she experience/s the inevitable: mourning what was and adjusting to the new normal.

—————–

I was stuck—a stuck mouse to a glue trap in my grief. Arms and legs flailing in perpetual motion but no ability to move forward. My sweet father lingered in a place where peace was promised ahead, but he had to cross the precipice by himself, and there was nothing I could do about it. The push-pull of those last days brought such conflicting feelings that penetrated my very marrow. Waking or sleeping, all I could do was picture the glory ahead and a sweet man with fingers gently reaching up to wait for the hand of Christ.

When I look at my youngest son’s limbs, hands, and feet, freckled and long, I see my father. The auburn wisps around his face? Another genetic transfer. For years, when we lived in the Marshall Islands, we would send his hair clippings to Dad to show him that beautiful autumn fire that successfully lived on in the gene pool.

Last week I found myself holding my breath just looking at my son. I was grateful my father was so evident in his appearance. I walked around half-completing tasks, afraid to be in public when the phone would ring, immobilized in my favorite IKEA chair with both dogs on my lap, and unable to fully clear a table, finish a load of laundry, or make a meal. Time. Stood. Still. I was waiting for the crossover with a grief that engulfed me for what would be—a fearful anticipation of life without Dad. I could not move on.

What about you? Have you found yourself stuck in grief, fear, disappointment, shame, or disillusionment? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Top 10 Healthy Ways I Am Grieving

Top 10 Healthy Ways I Am GrievingMy father recently passed away, and while I knew it was heading in that direction and he certainly had fought a good fight against what turned out to be seven cancers over 30-some-odd years, there was more to grieve than just his death. Death has a way of putting what is unhealthy under a microscope and forcing it up to our eyeballs to view it whether we wish to take a close look at it—or not.

If you are grieving a person, a relationship loss, or even a shift in the plans you had for your life, some of these may work for you. I am not an expert on grief. I share this as a layperson going through the motions in real time.

10. Color!

Say what? Huh? My therapist handed me an adult coloring book. If you need one, here are some examples at my friend Mary’s site (which is fun to check out anyway): inspiredbooksguide.com. Some similar books can be found at Walmart for $5. I spent the holidays coloring through visits with family, a funeral trip, and some relationship dynamics.

I almost laughed out loud when my therapist recommended coloring, but I gave it a try, and I have to admit: It is so grounding. I often pray as I color. It causes me to be still, so I can hear and not just talk when I pray. I use twistable colored pencils so I don’t have to keep sharpening.

I even color through my children arguing! We all have to usher the peace in any way that we can, right?

9. Rest, Be

As Dad was passing and even afterward, I found it difficult to focus. Everything moved in slow motion. The rest of the world seemed to be moving at a swift pace while meanwhile I floundered between stunned and weary. I gave myself permission to go to bed earlier, whenever possible, and to catch a catnap here and there.

I also expected less out of myself for a while. I didn’t want my days to be spent escaping between the covers, which can be its own red flag after a while, but I also didn’t try to take on the world. I lowered my expectations for each day and focused on the few things that had to be accomplished, like feeding and driving family members to activities. I didn’t write a lot or even keep my blog marketing schedule going.

One of my favorite songs is “Be Still” by Selah. I needed someone to record this concept for me because I am usually resistant to Be Still. I have been attempting to get to know Be Still for a while now. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2016 in Grief and Loss, Ministry Moments

 

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Keeping the Strength in Our Lattes—and Character!

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A dear friend of mine recently met me for coffee and delighted me with a “publishing congrats” gift: a coffee-bean-shaped ice cube tray to keep some iced espresso on hand so that when I chill out my iced white pumpkin mochas at home, my ice cubes will offer espresso instead of watering down my coffee joy. If you’ve read a blog or two so far, you probably know how much coffee and I get along. We are companions of the sweetest sort. The sounds of my coffee machine grinding beans and whirring foam in the morning really do motivate me to not just go straight back to bed after the school buses roll away.

So, as proud as I am to have these awesome ice cubes keeping the coffee strength and love fully rocking my espresso drinks, I started thinking about how much we each need to keep the strength in our character. What does that look like? How do we do that? Where can we improve (because we all can)? Some of the things that make me question someone else’s character are exactly what I should be keeping in check in mine (your list may be different, but this is mine):

Gossip
Critical spirit/negativity
Lies
Malice
Sneakiness/deceit
Passive-aggressive behavior
Conflict-avoidance (which is different than drawing boundaries in toxic situations)
Favoritism (preferential treatment of certain groups of people over others)
A need to control/dominate
Selfishness or chronic self-absorption
Anger/bitterness that shows a lack of self-control
A competitiveness that is so extreme it hurts people to get to the top
Taking advantage/using people
Fair-weather friendship
Jealousy
Manipulation

So, when I think about this list, I consider how frequently:

  • I try to steer my kids away from attitudes that come too close to the extreme negative end of the spectrum where you find these traits.
  • I tend to look for friendships that don’t lean heavily in these directions.
  • I desire to right or improve places in myself that veer too close to these characteristics.

I think about how we each have seasons of life where, of course, we are more angry, self-absorbed, bitter, tempted to lie or criticize. The tendencies are human. But if we stay stuck in these places and don’t work on leaving them—and don’t ask God to help us find our way out—we end up perpetually circling the drain, unable to un-do who we’ve become a ways down from our initial stroll at the start of Negative Lane.

Maybe last year nobody would have defined us as bitter or critical, but this year we are the poster child, and people are heading the other direction?

Maybe we have a few close friends willing to keep a hand out for us to grab, but everyone else is running for the hills?

When this happens, we need help.

The Bible says the fruit of the Spirit is:

Galatians 5:22-26, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

That’s lovely, and it truly is an awesome way to live, but if we’re currently chomping regularly on the bitter apple, how do we get from the opposite of “Spirit fruit” to a life that bears that positive fruit, that draws people toward peace and hope instead of offering them darkness? How do we get back into the Light?

Good friendships hold us accountable. Trusted people in our lives can call us out and lovingly remain alongside us as we try to find fresh air again. But Who and what has the power to turn us around, to change us?

Prayer. Asking God’s help (conversation with God, which is prayer). If you put your faith and hope in Christ, confessing your need for Him as your Savior, you have the Holy Spirit within you. “Keeping in step with the Spirit” means to listen to how He guides us.

Romans 12:2-3, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Paul talks about not conforming to the world. The world—the news being one example—shows us darkness all of the time. It’s easy to take up residence with parts of it and become regular companions. It’s also easy to think of ourselves as “more highly than [we] ought to think.” That is often what is behind a critical spirit.

2 Corinthians 10:5, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

We have to regularly ask God to cleanse our hearts, to remind us to practice thankfulness, and to take each of our negative thoughts captive and submit them to bow to the reign of Christ in our lives.

For me, asking God to purify my heart is like asking Him to take the watery ice cubes that weaken who I am and replace them with His strength. I like my lattes strong, for sure, but even more so, I love my character strong in Christ. And the only way to do that is to ask Him to take me out of the muck and mire and give me His heart.

How about you?

Psalm 26:2-7, King David speaking, ESV
Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD,
proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. 

More on how to renew our minds and live more days outside of the negativity whirlpool than inside can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.

 

 

 

 

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