February 27, 2011

Finding Shelter in the Words of Jesus
“Jesus Wept…
Then He shouted in a loud voice ‘Lazarus, come out!’”
 John 11:35, 43
And finally…the tent of compassion and power!
On February 22, 2005 my daughter died within me and I died as well.  That evening the doctor arrived to the hospital and timidly placed the ultrasound probe on my bulging stomach which boasted of life.  I looked up at the monitor which pierced my eyes with the sight of four resting chambers of a once rapidly beating baby girl heart.  As the doctors “I’m sorry” sank into my heart and mind I began screaming as only a grieving mother can.  When the words “Jesus” escaped my desperate and pleading lips, the doctor who was also a believer said with a rush of desperation and faith, “Let me check again.”  Once more the monitor revealed death.  No miracle would be happening today.  I grabbed onto Chris searching his eyes for a solution.
I was famished for the comfort and compassion of God.  I was literally starving for His tender affection and His godly condolence.  Though these needs were buried under the rubble of death’s quake in my life, I was starving for the human heart beat of Jesus to reassure me that He was in fact aching too.  I wanted to believe that my pain brought Him to His knees in empathetic agony.  I had read about this Jesus in the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus and I wanted to believe that He was weeping with me too- just as He had wept bitterly with Mary.  But I couldn’t believe it.  His plan for Lazarus was victory, life and a miracle.  Where was my miracle?  Where was my powerful God?  We had even made space for such a miraculous occurrence, and yet…nothing.  His comfort and compassion must have been packed up in the same box with His power, removed very far from my life.
We are all crying out for the compassion of God in every circumstance of our life which requires that sort of tenderness.  We were made to be consoled by a God of infinite empathy, tenderness and ultimately a force of love so great action is invoked.  I remember receiving cards in the mail filled with scriptures about this God of compassion and yet, I struggled to believe a God who would allow a death so wrong and so sad would then present Himself as comforter?  Can it, does it work like that?
And so I buried my head deep into Chris’s chest each evening weeping as we held onto each other.  His compassion was a relentless force that fed me in nurture and comfort in every moment I needed it, and yet still, I ached for something more…
“I am so sorry.”
These were the words I heard Jesus speak to me just a few months after Anna died that changed the course of my grief and beckoned my wandering heart to His.  I had been crying in Anna’s nursery, rocking in the chair that had given us nine months of sheer glory together, when my moment was interrupted by this image:
I saw myself weeping in the rocking chair and Jesus was sitting at my feet crying as well.  He kept looking at me saying something, but it was as if an invisible wall was between us and I couldn’t hear Him.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that my anger toward Him was the sound barrier.  After a while though, my curiosity got the better of me and I simply said out loud, “What are you saying?” Humbly kneeling at my feet, Jesus looked up into my swollen eyes and in nearly a whisper yet with immeasurable conviction he said,
“I am so sorry.” And then He bowed His head and continued crying.
It was in this moment that I realized how parched my soul was for the compassion of God.  He was in agony for me.  I was His baby girl and He was bent over in grief for my pain.
If we imagine God on the throne and forget for even a second on the days when our sorrow is the greatest that He is weeping with us, then we miss the heartbeat of the gospel.  It was compassion that motivated Jesus Christ up the hill to Calvary to endure horrific pain, to endure hell and the hatred of the people He came to save.  Compassion motivated and preceded every beautiful story told in the gospels of God’s power.  I have since learned that the Jewish people understood and equated the word “compassion” with the physical description of “gut or bowels bursting forth.”  Compassion wasn’t just a feeling.  It was an emotion so strong and severe that it ached and tormented the body…and for Jesus this always led to action.
So I sat in the nursery literally drinking in the compassion that was being offered and after a while, my thirst was quenched.  I felt (for at least that moment of grief) satisfied.  Probably like a tiny baby taking in the nourishment from his mama; in that sacred moment I was being nourished by the sweet compassion of God.
Now there was no denying it, just like Mary, Jesus wept for me.
I emerged from the nursery later that evening, my grief and faith altered and yet still I ached over the absence of God’s power.  He had raised Lazarus back to life after He had wept and comforted Mary.  He walked to the tomb and shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!”  At this, Lazarus who had been dead for four days emerged from the tomb still wrapped in his burial cloths.  Jesus then spoke, “Free this man!”  I had now experienced God’s tender and holy compassion, but how could I reconcile the absence of His power?
For six years I have walked in grief.  Three of those years were spent in complete and total agony with the addition of spiritual turmoil and a lack of peace with God.  The past three years, I have continued to grieve but with the presence of peace and friendship with God.  It is from this place of spiritual reconciliation and renewal that I can say, I HAVE EXPERIENCED THE POWER OF GOD!!!  The POWER that erupted from His COMPASSION for me in death, the power that did in fact raise someone back to life…and that someone is me.
It wasn’t too long ago in reading this beautiful story again that I realized His power had been there all along.  “Kate, Come out!” was the voice that shouted to me in my own tomb of misery and near spiritual, emotional death.  And I have walked out into the glorious sunlight of God’s love.  “Free her” He spoke again, and the garments of death fell off.  I then realized that though His power had not maintained Anna’s heartbeat that He had raised her to life in eternity where she waits for me.  It was the power of the cross that made that transaction possible.  And the cross would never have happened had it not been for the compassion of God…gut wrenching love and tenderness for His lost children destined for hell if He didn’t take action.
So as it turns out, the day “God did nothing for me,” was in fact a day when His power was surging in the heavenlies, triumphing death and delivering my Anna into the embraces of angels, saints and her heavenly father.  It was power that made that happen.  And it is His power filled compassion that has served me and slowly revived me each day since leading to this day where I stand on the outside of the tomb with my burial cloths around my ankles.  I am free and all because of the compassion and power of Jesus!
The past week has made me limp from sorrow.  As I sit here and type, my eyes burn from crying, my body feels like I have run a marathon.  I have ached for that baby girl and yet simultaneously have soared to new heights in joy embracing her existence as NOW, as ALIVE and as WAITING for me!  This week the tent has been a haven of necessity.  And in here there has been a lot of weeping, but I am not the only one.  The Savior is here too, crying for the pain He knows I will tote with me for the remainder of my earthly days.  But His power is here too- a power ignited by the recognition of truth; the power of resurrection that has lifted a baby to eternity and her mama from the tomb of despair.
This month I have shared with you about the Jesus I have met in my grief, the one who is present and current and longs to build a tent for you too.  A place you can crawl into under the harsh elements and dark nature of the wilderness.  A place that will (if you allow it) be the most nurturing and fulfilling home you have ever come to know.
I’ll close with this…
February has once again come to an end, but grief remains and Jesus will be greater still!  I cannot wait to know you Lord and to continue experiencing you as we journey through life together.  I imagine as spring approaches that I will find my way out these woods.  The tent will be rolled up and placed again in the back-pack and I will move into another season of life.  And yet as I go, I realize I am not alone.  The Savior walks with me into each new frame of my life.  And oh for the day my feet take their first steps into the land of redemption.  My imagination and my longing heart allow me to nearly hear her laughter and her little feet running to get to me.  And on that day Jesus will be not beside me, but before me, running with Anna, wearing a smile of indescribable JOY!  For this is the moment he has held in mind during all the moments when He wept with me.  And He will wipe every tear as promised and I will spend an eternity touching, kissing, hugging, knowing and beholding Anna Rose Katherine Kelty!!!
But until that day…I have a very good tent!
Happy birthday to you baby girl…I am overwhelmed with delight for who you are and the reality of where you are and who you are with….We love you!!!

February 19, 2011

Finding Shelter in the Words of Jesus
“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32
Tap, tap, tap go the wind spurred branches on the side of the tent.  My tranquil moment is suddenly hijacked by a simple sound.  There seems to be a voice that whispers to me that it’s not really a tree branch at all.  Suddenly the shadows on the tapestry of the tent morph into all sorts of terrifying creatures advancing upon my safe haven.  Grief is not the only unwelcomed presence here in the woods…
I remember reading in a Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis that he “never imagined that grief would feel so like fear.”  When the unthinkable happens to you, then everything you imagine becomes a possibility. Tonight I walked out to my car in the pitch black 8:00 p.m. night and suddenly I found myself in an uncontrolled state of panic.  An unexpected sound dove into my ears gripping my heart and before I even had time to construct a rational thought, an entire scene of abduction ensued. When I turned to discover a sweet, smiling couple getting into the parked car next to mine my rational thought came out of hiding.   I was stunned to find myself (as if I’d had an amnesic episode) clutching my steering wheel having just locked the doors, my heart pounding out of my chest.  Again, tap, tap, tap, go the branches on the side of my tent.
What happened?  All was well.  I’d had a fabulous day absorbing the unexpected February sunshine.  I’d just enjoyed a wonderful dinner out with my family.  I ran an errand and stopped by Cold Stone for a generous helping of mocha oreo creamy goodness and then BAM!  I’d been ransacked by fear.  Last night we turned the lights off to go to sleep and a few minutes later I heard Chris ask, “Kate are you crying?”  I was crying.  I am a 31 year old woman but in that moment I was reduced to a little girl and suddenly I wanted very badly to clutch my childhood teddy bear.  As I started talking I realized I had been pushing down lots of fear and anxiety in an effort of avoiding this very moment….and yet here I was.
If you read my last post then you will remember that I wrote about the “Burden Bearer,” the Jesus who literally lifts the yoke of our pain and grief.  We are freed by His rescue mission defined in the proclamation:  “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29).  Today I’d like to share with you about the “Bearer of Truth,” The Jesus who literally freed me with the rescue mission defined in the proclamation, “Then you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
The reason that fear has an unruly ability to grip me, twist me and reduce me in February is because the wilderness invites the tempter into my life.  Remember Jesus’ wilderness experience?  It wasn’t until He was weak from hunger that Satan came to temp Him.  And how did he tempt Him?  With lies…big fat, ugly, stinking, lies!   I will never forget my therapist’s explanation that the cavernous void death vacates in our hearts is a playground for the deceptions of the enemy.  Anyone else feel like screaming UNFAIR!  First we suffer the pain of death and then our minds are tortured by the dirty mouth of Satan.
“There is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language for he is a liar and the father of lies” (2 Cor 10:5).  His very definition is deceiver and he is on a mission to rob us of the freedom God promises to those who KNOW the truth.
Our earthly battles are not simply “against flesh and blood, but against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly sphere” (Ephesians 6:12-13).  An unbelievable shift took place not only in my grief, but in my life when I began to realize that our earthly lives are being played out in an invisible battle field.  The enemy’s weapons are his lies.  And as children of God, we have “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).  Jesus gave us the victory recipe in His own wilderness experience.  He fought the enemy’s deceptive efforts with scripture.  And what happened?  After three attempts to deceive Jesus, the devil left because he cannot and will not ever win a battle where there is truth.
The lie I currently find myself battling is that I am not safe, that I should stand in fear of not only this day, but every unknown day before me.  The deception is that February pushes the off switch on some invisible force field leaving me vulnerable to any and every possible attack.  As I approach the 22nd the day my life was forever changed by unexpected tragedy, there is a sense that doom will come for me once again.  And I am not alone.  My sweet husband dreamed on the evening of February first, that he was trying to take care of our kids and he kept breaking down, crying.  Then he realized that I had died.  February invites us into the wilderness and the wilderness invites the enemy to prey on our fragile hearts and minds.  And so I know without a shadow of a doubt that I need my tent, the one that shelters me in TRUTH and delivers me into the freedom that is absolutely MINE in Christ Jesus!
I feel like a soul sister to Eve who was also tempted by the enemy.  He lied to her in the garden in the form of a serpent and caused her to believe that God was withholding from her, that He wasn’t good and that she should take life into her own hands.  Deception led to her disbelief in God and therefore dependence upon Him was removed…you know the rest of the story.
The day Anna died was the day the serpent slithered upon my path and began hissing a multitude of lies about God’s ability to take care of me.  I was so weak and tired I couldn’t even as much as lift my head to notice that a snake was the one bellowing in my ear.  And so I bought the lies, I took the bait and I have spent the past six years climbing out from under the web of deception that entangled, no, practically strangled me.   But here is the beautiful pattern I have come to rely upon:  for every single lie I believe there is a matched truth to set me free.  This picture comes to mind:
The lie is a pit.  When we believe it, we fall in and our ability to see and to move is suddenly removed.  The truth comes spiraling down like a rescue rope.  We have the choice to grab it and be lifted to freedom or stay in the pit.  The hard part is that the power of the lie becomes greater once we are in the pit.  The hissing continues, “That rope can’t hold you…don’t you know the second you grab it the rescuer will let go.  You’ll fall.  You are destined for a life of disappointment and tragedy.  Didn’t the death of your child teach you that?  You are safe down here, protected from a life and a God that will hurt you.”  That’s how it happened for me.  Many times I realized the rope was there and went to grab it, but the power of the lie, the enemy’s voice, was so great, that I turned from the rope and sank back down to the floor of the ditch.  The lies were many and great.  Some resulted in anger, some in guilt and some just left me stuck to even want to let go and move on.
I suppose I should mention that one of the reasons I was reluctant to trust Jesus, was that I wanted the TRUTH to be a promise statement that I would never be hurt or blindsided by such an awful loss again.  I had a very definite idea about what the rope should look like.  It wasn’t until I finally tried the rope that Jesus was offering me that I realized the truth was enough!  The truth came in many different ways but really it all boiled down to this: Jesus and whatever He had to offer, whether peace, strength, joy, companionship or endurance was ENOUGH for me.  His grace was in fact sufficient.  I initially thought I could only be at peace and free from my fear if I knew the future.  But instead, coming to know Jesus was supernaturally, exactly what I needed!
I have been in the hospital twice this week with what we assumed was pre-term labor.  The second trip turned into a Valentine’s date where two shots of “brethane” were still unable completely stop the contractions.  A fabulous test revealed that I was not in labor and so I was sent home…with contractions.  A week of drama in an already dramatic month, but I have been at peace.  I know the only reason is because I am aware that the enemy would love to use this as an opportunity to whisper all sorts of nasty lies about my life, the fate of my baby and the rest of this pregnancy into my ear.  I am on guard.  My sword is drawn and I am claiming a collection of truths that are winning my fragile heart into freedom moment by moment and day after day.  I think the reason I was plagued by panic the other night in the parking lot, was because my sword was down.  I am not on guard against those kinds of fears.  The enemy came through the back door.  Now, I’m ready!  And if and when he comes at me again, I am literally smiling just thinking about the blow I have for him.
How does this work?  How is it that TRUTH can actually set us free?  For me, I have a “weapon bag.” Every day, sometimes several times, I open it, pull them out and hold them, sharpen them and admire them.
Here are a few of my favorites:
“My peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (Thes 3:16).
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!”  (Phil 4:13).
“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9).
“For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 5:8).
The messages here are all the same; Jesus offers peace and strength, joy and purpose, all the time.  Circumstances can’t change what He has, can and will do for me.
I will close with these cherished words:
“But then I will win her back once again.  I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her there!” (Hosea 2:14).
There is a cruel voice that whispers to me in the woods.  But there is also a tender voice.  And He has won me back.  We sit together in the tent.  As the tap, tap, tap, begins to infiltrate my ears, reaching for my heart, the voice of Jesus begins to recite age old words that lead to freedom.  It is a windy month, the noises and shadows are undeniable…but so is the presence of the “Bearer of Truth” and I am Free!

February 13, 2011

Finding Shelter in the Words of Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:27-29

Do you ever wake up sad?  A few days ago I woke up feeling this strange sense that I had spent the entire night crying.  I was weary.  I then remembered that my dreams were laden with memories of people and the love they once provided that has since vanished.  I woke up into a general sense that my life was incomplete, that there was something to mourn.  Anniversary grief does that to me.  It’s like jumping into a car on February 1st knowing the destination is February 25th but the scenic route to getting there is the rehearsal of lifetime of losses.  The grief of Anna is stored in a memory container that holds many other experiences of loss as well.

So freshly triggered in this sense of sadness I prayed, “Jesus I need you” and quickly the words came, “Not by bread alone.”

I ran downstairs, turned on my computer, headed straight for bible gateway and typed in the phrase I had just received.  The same words were first spoken to the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness upon their exodus from Egypt:

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2-4)

I thought to myself, “I too am in the wilderness…I am hungering…WORDS of GOD…food.”

I then came across Matthew 4:4:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.  The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

I thought to myself… “Jesus too was in the wilderness…Jesus hungered…WORDS of GOD…food.”

The wilderness experience was nothing new; first the Israelites, then Jesus Christ, now me.  We all have wandered in the wilderness, weak and vulnerable.  These conclusions quickly enumerated themselves in my mind.

1.  God wants to teach me that His words will give me sustenance in the wilderness of my grief.  His words alone can satisfy me.

2. God wants to teach me that the wilderness is a place where the tempter will come and that truth is the way to fight the lies and temptations of the enemy.

And so I prayed, “Lord what is the manna you have for me?  What words will you provide to be my food on this particular day in big, bad, February?”  Instantly my mind was filled with two cherished scriptures:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:27-29)

And secondly,

“Then you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

And there I was, in the tent, sprawled out under the phrases which were so beautifully scripted above me.  I saw myself laying there on my back, hands folded behind my head, looking up at them as you would the stars on a clear, bright night, admiring their splendor.  I smiled at the arched sentences remembering how they came to be shelter for me in the first place.  Each of these scriptures identifies a way by which to approach Jesus with our pain.  In some instances we will call on the Burden Bearer, the One who will simply lift our burdens and replace them with rest.  And in some instances we will call on the Bearer of Truth, the One who will replace pain derived from lies and give us truth that will yield freedom.  In order to give each scripture the attention it deserves, I am going to share my thoughts and experiences with Matthew 11:27-29 today and will write regarding John 8:32 later this week.

The Burden Bearer

It was a bad day, one I always tried to avoid.  It was about six months after the loss of Anna and I was alone.  Chris and I tried desperately hard to avoid these occasions.  We always felt safest when we were together.  I sat in Anna’s nursery, which was unfathomable to disassemble, and began hyperventilating.  These were the moments when Chris’s words “Breathe Kate, breathe” and his touch, were magical medicine.  But now he was gone and I was afraid this particular panic attack may be the end of me.  Who would reassure me, who would comfort me in his absence?

I’d had a recent conversation with my therapist where he’d encouraged me to call on Jesus and to ask him to bear my burden, to take the pain from me in these moments.  He had explained that pain falls into two categories.  True based pain surmounts from things like, disappointment, and grief.  They are true realities where the only remedy can be for Jesus to come and be the “Burden Bearer.” The second category is lie based pain, pain that surmounts from certain untruths we believe.  This is where the “Bearer of Truth” is needed.

My therapist was concerned that I was holding onto pain that could be alleviated if I would take Jesus up on His offer: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  The thought of asking God to take my burden was completely undesirable to me.  Comfort me, yes!  Give me peace and strength to endure, yes!  But take my burden…NO!  The pain acquainted me with the depth of my loss and the enormous vacancy Anna had left in my life.  What would I be saying if I asked God to take away the very thing that reinforced my love for her?  Would asking God to take the pain mean I was also ready to move on?  That was unthinkable.  The presence of the pain existed right along side of my love and desperation for her.  And so if being consumed with her meant pain, I would just need to be tougher.  No burden would be taken from me!

But in this particular moment sunken down on the floor, hyperventilating by the empty crib, desperation overcame my strange need for the pain and I cried out,

“Jesus, help me.  Jesus I need you.  Jesus, take this pain from me.”  And as soon as the plea passed my lips, my eyes were once again opened to the face, the actual presence of Jesus.  Just inches from me, He cupped my face in His hands and proclaimed, “Sweetie, don’t you know, I’m going to take the pain, not the love.”
And with that the entire room as well as my heart and mind were infiltrated by a peace so pervasive and so substantial it seemed as though I should be able to hold it.  I sat there for a moment, eyes fixed on Jesus, His words being massaged into the core of me.  When I opened my eyes I knew I had just experienced a manageable and supernatural way to be in relationship with grief.  I had just met the Burden Bearer.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This scripture I had known for years seemed to lift from the pages of Matthew and wrap itself like a band-aid around my wounded heart.  Love for Anna free from the pain was a supernatural recipe I knew only Jesus could give…and I wanted it bad!

Grief is an undeniable gut wrenching sadness.  Well meaning people often say lots of things to soften the blow and take the edge off.  The goal here is fixing the unfixable.  Being able to offer a remedy to alleviate the pain, turning death on its head so the griever can conclude, “Oh, well then, now I get it.  This isn’t so bad…everything happens for a reason…now I feel better.”  These phrases are born out of desperation, and I get it because I used to say such things from a heart of deep love.  If you have grieved then you know what I’m talking about.  We learn to grin and bear it while thinking internally (if we can stand it), “That wasn’t helpful and I know you mean well but, go fly a kite!”  The beautiful thing about Jesus and grief is that He doesn’t try to explain it away or talk us into believing that the loss is somehow in and of itself good.  Yes He can turn it for good and I have watched Him do that very thing in my life, but death is just plain sad.  That is why Jesus was able to weep at the death of Lazarus.  He was God! He knew that in a matter of moments He would be giving his friend LIFE again.  But in that moment, death was sad and He knew it, He felt it and He wept.  Jesus, knowing the enormity of the weight of grief, doesn’t try to “fix it.” He instead lifts it, literally takes it off our hearts in order that we might be able to take a breather, In order that we might be able to rest.  Jesus is the only one that can do this.  So as February dawns on me I am comforted that Jesus doesn’t scold me for feeling the sadness yet once again, or give me a death pep-talk.  But rather He just asks if He can do what He does best and bear my burden.

This particular sad morning in February was tempting me to believe that I should stand in fear of the days ahead as inevitable sadness awaits me.  But as I lay in the tent, looking up at the arched words above me, I am at peace because I can hear the whisper of Jesus inviting me once again, “Come to me Kate…let me give you rest.” My job is simply the coming.  I know that in every moment where the pain creeps in, I can call on the name of Jesus and be saved.  Is it a little strange that I now have a bit of excitement for the harder days ahead knowing I will meet the Savior in my desperation, knowing I can and will experience the magnificence of the Burden Bearer?

Does the thought of being in love with your lost one but exempt from unnecessary burdens (whatever they may be) appeal to you?  There is space inside this tent for you too.  Jesus wants you to know He will take the pain and not the love.  The love you have for your beloved dead will not be lessened by calling on the presence of the Burden Bearer.  Moving forward is not giving up.  Letting go does not mean that the significance of the loss, nor the love of the one you grieve, will go anywhere but deeper in your heart.  Jesus created that person, He is preserving that person and that relationship is waiting for you in a place called Redemption.  Asking for the pain to be lifted will not take away that which Jesus is literally bursting to restore to us.

I am full…this particular manna was a good meal for me.  I had begun to fear that I was headed for immeasurable amounts of knock-down-drag-out, all consuming, inconsolable sadness.  I had momentarily forgotten about the nature and character of my Savior.  But now I’m okay.  I’ve crawled in the tent and I know that when the sadness does come knocking again, that rest and peace is right behind it.  They are waiting in the hands of my Burden Bearer and he loves to make trades.
So let me ask you?  Is there a burden that is weighing you down, causing you to feel pain and to weep?  Are you holding on for some reason?  Are you buying into the lie that to let go will cost you something?  When Jesus comes into our dark night, the only result can be greater peace, greater rest and truer freedom than we have ever known.  Be courageous to discover why you might be hesitant to ask for His help…and join me in the tent.  You may have to ask over and over, but becoming familiar with the One who bears our burdens is a routine that will not leave you disappointed.

This is a good moment, lying here in the tent, eyes closed, listening to the words of Jesus that almost sing above me…I am at rest.  It is February, I miss Anna with absolute desperation, but in this moment, I am at rest!

February 5, 2011

Finding Shelter in the Words of Jesus
“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
John (age 5) won’t go upstairs if the lights are off.  Darkness is a blank canvas for our imaginations to paint quite the picture with the medium of fear.  Even though he knows exactly where the light switches are, being alone in the dark even for a brief second delivers a sense of lostness, vulnerability and panic that is just way to uncomfortable to willingly permit ourselves to feel.  But something magical happens when he walks with mama or daddy. The darkness, though no lighter than before, becomes endurable.  We were born with an innate need and desire to trust.  God made us that way in order that we might know our need for Him and therefore become dependent children.  When we walk with a parent, we know we are safe in the hand of the one who leads.  We don’t need to see if we trust that they can.  In other words:
Darkness + Isolation = Fear.
But Darkness + Dependence = Security.
Perhaps this is why the darkness of my wilderness was so scary for me…I wasn’t sure that I trusted God anymore.  Who did I have to depend on?  I wanted it to be God and yet something in me told me to be cautious.  Though I used every tool in my trusty spiritual toolbox, my feelings protested that I’d been abandoned by the One I’d preached would “never leave us nor forsake us.”  I felt alone.  I felt dropped off in the wilderness and abandoned by the God who promised to be with me.  Worse yet, I feared He was the one who’d nudged me out of the plane.  Where was He when she was dying?  Why did He permit this?  I knew of His power, I had preached and proclaimed it.  So why was His power withheld in the moment in my life when I had needed it the most?  These were the questions (to name a few) that were beating unceasingly on the door of my heart.  Like robbers, they were advancing ready to snatch the truths that had once anchored me in trust.  Who was and where was Jesus?  These were the inquiries I shouted at the sky as I vacillated between anger and fear, pacing, shivering in the pitch black woods.  Big bad monster night had swallowed the light of day and I was stuck in not only inconsolable sadness but spiritual torment as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I desperately wanted to BELIEVE in God to be the hero I’d always trusted Him to be.  I wanted to be comforted by His word, rescued by the truths I’d always stood upon before without question or reservation.  But now that foundation felt like quick sand and there was nothing I could do to make the feelings go away.  Three weeks after Anna’s death I finally admitted to myself that I was reeling spiritually and questioning where God had been and where He was now.   And honestly, even if I surrendered to the age old truth that God in fact had never left me, I wasn’t sure I wanted Him around anymore.  “Was Jesus trustworthy?” This was the overriding message that seemed to be written in the smoke of the smoldering ashes of my life.
Tormented; One part of my soul aching to be held and comforted by my heavenly father, world renown heart surgeon, and yet the other part pulling away.  I felt like a wife who had been betrayed by an unfaithful husband.  The Savior I had assumed I knew so well was not behaving like my history with Him predicted He would.  How could I trust again?  But how could I deny my love and need for this God?  Tears led to desperation, which led to prayer.  Opening up to God led to painful questions, which in turn led to pulling away…like I said, Tormented!
And so by the prompting of King David I finally stepped out of hiding.  Presenting my crippled faith to Jesus I borrowed King David’s words and cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22:1.  It was in the moments that followed this brutally honest encounter with God that I saw Him for the first time since Anna had died.  Once again print from the pages of the big black book came to life and I was awakened and established in the proclamation:
“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5
Though not the answer I was looking for to my demanding question, it was the exact answer my orphaned heart needed to hear and believe!
The precious and sacred moment when these words became shelter for me goes like this:
I had just finished emptying my tormented heart to my new grief counselor when he (in desperation I suppose) suggested we pray. Eyes closed, I turned with the eyes of my heart to discover Jesus sitting next to me on a three cushion couch.  I was on the far right, He on the far left.  He was staring at me, piercing me with a look that left me feeling completely uncomfortable and yet totally entranced and intrigued.  Uncomfortable, because for all the silent yelling and accusing I’d been doing, this was not the face of a man who had prepared a rebuttal.  There was no defense. Instead, there was softness, a tenderness that seemed ill-fitting for the fight we were obviously in.  I noticed that His hand was extended, palm upward on the vacant cushion between us.
I opened my eyes, perplexed and overwhelmed that my mind was projected something like a waking dream.  What was this?  I sensed the extended arm was a silent invitation to hold His hand.  Opening my eyes was an attempt to avoid the offer.  I was still trying to figure God out.  Would holding His hand allow me the space I needed to do that?  But like I said, there was something so completely magnetizing about Him.  I couldn’t help it, I closed my eyes again to discover the same picture before me.  I saw His hand and then I looked up to greet His eyes, and I was locked.  The best words that I can conjure to describe the stare that held me are loving-kindness.  I reached out hesitantly and then felt my hand as it folded into His, and He said (words vibrating with tenderness) “I’m not going anywhere!”  The sentence seemed to dive from His lips through ever layer of hostile and painful murky water that had become the mush of my heart and faith. I felt those words reach the bottom, and grip something deep within me. And I knew…I was not, nor had I ever been alone.  Suddenly I clutched His hand extra tight, like a life preserver, realizing I had a guide in this pitch black woods I found myself now calling home.  The dark water was still there, the questions, the pain, the horrific grief, but one thing was realized in the core of my being, I NEEDED to belong to this God.  I NEEDED to know that He was with me and that no manner of my yelling and fighting would repel Him from me.  There was permission to allow myself to belong to Him, while figuring Him out.  There was an invitation to receive His partnership while at the same time processing and punching if need be.  He had gripped something so central to the very fabric of the way I’d been created.  He had by-passed every accusation and spoke to the unaffected child within me.  Looking back I think He knew exactly what my heart would need to know and believe about him first in order that I might be able to swim up and deal with the murky layers above.  I was not alone and though I was still unsure about Jesus, about why this death had been permitted, I was completely sure about one thing:  He was undoubtedly the One I wanted to be with in the dark.
When I opened my eyes I discovered that I was smiling.  I hadn’t smiled in nearly a month.  I was mad, angry and hurt but I couldn’t deny that something within me had just been rescued by Jesus.  The joy I felt at our encounter testified to my wounded feelings that in deed He was not the bad guy my fears had predicted.  My feelings, though understandable would at some point in time find rescue from this man.
Let me ask you…have you ever felt (or are you feeling now) as if the God you are fighting with is also the answer to your pain?  Are you wondering how to live with these two opposing components dwelling within you?  The answer is, God is not going anywhere and allowing yourself to acknowledge your need for His companionship, even with all your rage and confusion will be to your benefit in the dark. We were made for dependence and even though your heart and your pain may be whispering that God is the enemy, He in fact is the remedy.
Jesus spoke similar words to His disciple’s right before He ascended into heaven.  I imagine He knew that they would feel abandoned as well.  He was physically leaving His dearest friends to a brutal and hostile world.  And so His parting words to them were, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)  The promise of His presence (the Holy Spirit) was intended to be an answer to the loneliness and desperation He knew they would soon feel.  This proclamation requires faith.  He was asking His disciples to believe He was present with them invisibly, which would certainly be difficult given the fact that they had become dependent upon Him physically.  Now He is asking the same of us. Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind:  “Now faith is being confident in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
As I enter the dark woods of February, by faith I see the tent before me and I am literally running to get inside.  As I sit down and look up I see the words of Jesus embroidered above and around me, words like “Take heart, I have overcome the world” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The permanent presence of Jesus is a need our spirits will not deny given the opportunity to believe it, no matter how tragic our circumstances or brutal our fighting against Him.  And as I sit in the tent I am able to see my companion and guide sitting before me.  I look once again into the loving kindness of Jesus that melts every layer of my fear as He tenderly whispers, “It’s February and I’m not going anywhere.”
We are not alone!  God cannot help but gravitate to our orphaned feelings in the crisis of life.  He is drawn to our loneliness because He exists to be our guide…darkness is His specialty.  We are not alone!  It may feel like it and seem like it, but right now in the space you dwell, however dark it may be, the face of Jesus is before you, right behind the invisible curtain and His hand is extended to you in invitation.  Can you hear His still, small voice?  “I’m not going anywhere!”  Crawl inside with me and be at home in these words.  The wind may still be howling, the shadows of tree branches morphed into frightening creatures of the night.  But in the tent we are safe.  We are not alone!

February 2, 2011

Finding Shelter in the Words of Jesus

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

This morning I awoke with this unsettled sense that something was wrong.I quickly reeled through the lists stored in my mind.One is called, “Things I could fear.”Another is called “Things we are waiting for.”And yet another is called “Things I am hoping for.”I asked myself, “Where are these lists, did I take them away from God’s hands?Am I assuming responsibility for things I certainly cannot produce, maintain or control?”And because I am admittedly a control-freak and because I am quite familiar with this cyclical pattern, I gently chided myself, “Kate, don’t forget, they have to stay in His hands or this feeling will always come, the unsettled sense that something is wrong!”I bowed my head and helplessly offered a simple prayer of total surrender and waited for the peace that I can always count on to infiltrate when I let go of control, but it did not come.“What is it?” I was growing impatient at my inability to solve my own mystery.The sense continued and even grew.“What is out of place, what have I forgotten, what is WRONG?”And then as if a small wind entered the room from an invisible opening, my ears were suddenly awakened to a whisper so gentle and yet so piercing. “February,” it answered. With that came a measure of peace simply because there was an answer to the unnamed anxiety.But then, I smelled the salty air, the bitter ocean of grief and the approaching wave that forms, escalates and descends each year at this time.So what did I do? I nodded to it, the grief as if had just opened the front door.I’ve learned to be polite. This unwelcomed visitor is much nicer to me if I’m kind.And I got up, started doing the dishes very aware that it was time to unpack my tent.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

There are seasons in life that thrust you into the wilderness, like you have been dropped by a helicopter into uncharted territory with no way out.Sometimes, life feels like living in the woods, whether it’s a new trauma or the anniversary of a loss or tragedy, the woods is the place where living life normally suddenly feels very difficult and nearly impossible.Remember Tom Hanks from the movie Cast Away?When he was thrust into no-man’s-land, he had a choice, surrender to death or find a new way to live.For me the scariest place to imagine being lost is the woods.The pitch darkness, the unnerving sounds, the shadows, the cold air, the lack of resources, the desolation and isolation are terrifying to even think about.For me, the news of Anna’s death nearly six years ago was like being shoved out of the helicopter to land alone in the dark of a scary forest.Anniversary grief is composed of the memories of this season of time and the full awareness of how my entire being and future have been shaped by that death.I know its 2011, but the timing, the sounds and the memories are inevitable and that means so are the emotions triggered from such a reality.This is why I wrote, I know it’s time for my tent.

By being alone in the woods of my grief over several years, I like Tom Hanks have found a new way to live.Time and the courage to not surrender to spiritual, emotional death (though there was a season where I did that as well) introduced me to my resilience, to my courage, to strength and to the person that assists us in the dark.His name is Jesus and it was in the moonlight over many dark scary years that I began to see His face.When my desperation for healing grew greater than my need to hold onto the pain, I began with His help, to construct the tent by which the night time elements disappeared and I was able to rest, able to regain strength and even able to call the night a friend.

I was thinking that over the next few weeks of February I would invite you into my tent, invite you into the fabric that constructed my place of protection, this place of peace and even prosperity.I plan on camping here for the next few weeks and I would be so honored if a few grieving friends (and strangers) wanted to join me.February for me means, having the Grace to Grieve yet once again knowing the outcome will be more Jesus, more healing and simply MORE love for a sweet baby girl that belongs to me still, in heaven!


“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

These words for me have become the fabric of one of the largest sections of my tent, maybe even the flap door that invited me in.The bible is filled with words.For me growing up “Sloop” meant knowing and hearing quite a few of these words all the time (preacher’s kid).But hearing words and experiencing them are two very different concepts.The bible says, The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).The “Word” is in fact a name for Jesus.A Word that can actually dwell…let’s ponder that.

When you actually hear Jesus speak His very own phrases they stop being just words.They become a living, present conversation and those words transform into medicated salve for the wounded heart, a tent, a place to dwell, a place that is safe from the rest of the unknown scary woods of grief, of life.If we read the bible as a life manual without considering that the Word is in fact a living person, we exempt ourselves from the true spiritual reality that beckons us, relationship with the Word.

That’s what happened when I heard Jesus speak His words to me.A new relationship began to form.One that was way more glorious and satisfying than the previous version.The resurrected Christ, scars and all, was erected from the print of scripture and became a person, looking directly at me…and the words became power, perspective and a candle to clutch lighting my way to eventually more truths and words from Jesus.

It went something like this…

“Katie.” (At the sound of my name I looked up to discover eyes of love piercing every layer of my pain, my doubt, my accusation and disbelief.Simultaneously this gaze held intense compassion and immeasurable strength).“Here you are. This is your season of TROUBLE (the compassion and empathy were vibrating now) “But guess what?” (Jesus leans forward to whisper…a secret was coming, a smile, nearly a smirk crosses His lips) “TAKE HEART (have courage)!I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD!!!” In that moment my eyes flashed to the cross, the death of Christ for every sin, every evil and every senseless tragedy we are forced to endure in this diseased world.And Jesus lifted His head for a moment, from His crucified agony, the sacred moment in history time traveling at the speed of light through centuries to get to me and He said, “This my dear, is for your pain right now…this my darling is for Anna!And I won’t be dead for long, watch, because this is for you!This is your “take heart” power to overcome.”

Did an earthquake of some kind just shake your entire soul?Jesus Christ would have died to become the remedy, the power and the saving grace for your crisis alone. His death and resurrection is the anecdote to all this cursed world has and will continue to deliver to us.Jesus Christ loves you and me so entirely, so completely, that He would have endured the worst pain ever told just for you.His death for me not only means Anna lives, it means I too can live victoriously in the pitch black woods and that there is a day when I will look Satan in the face and say, “Nice try, but no cigar,” and enter the kingdom to spend an eternity with my baby girl!

Going into the tent doesn’t mean grief ends.It doesn’t mean your questions cease or that your pain is magically carted away forever.What it does mean is that for at least this moment of pain, relationship with Jesus, God of the broken and bruised, the only one who has ever conquered death, will extend His conquering power to you and to me.“Take Heart, I have overcome the world” simply means that your story has a page at the beginning that starts with the death of Jesus and a final page that reads of forever in a world where living out your customized version of redemption awaits you.Sometimes life means living on blank pages in between, pages that feel unwritten with a million questions that go unanswered.But I have found tremendous hope and strength just in knowing that the final page has been firmly established and is covered in VICTORY and a reunion that makes me weep with joy even now!

So as February dawns on me yet once again, I am literally crawling into the tent that saved me years ago, the one where Jesus sits waiting for me.And as I enter I hear Him say….

“Kate, here we are again. In this world you will have trouble.But take heart (this is when He smiles and I grab onto his arms for strength) I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD!”

Are you in the woods? Are you in need of a tent? Won’t you join me?





Anna’s 3rd Birthday

It is the morning after Anna’s 3rd birthday and we survived. It was a hard day and a sweet day as I imagine will be the case forever in regard to anna…bittersweet. Chris stayed home from school which was such a gift. Kristen and Beth came over first thing with bagels for us and a children’s bible they found with Anna’s story in it. I had been searching to no avail. The gift is so precious. We went out together to find a book for the boys in Anna’s honor ( a birthday tradition). We found a precious book which speaks of loving no matter what and no matter how far away. We watched Anna’s video in the afternoon. I have only seen it a few times and Chris had not been able to watch it since the memorial service. We piled into bed with John and watched it together. It was John’s first time watching the video and he was very tender with us as he watched it. He kept reaching out to hold our hands as we cried and hugging us. Thank you David for your labor of love in making it. It is a priceless treasure. Another treasure came this weekend in the mail from John and Laura Hatfiled. John wrote a precious song for Anna a couple of years ago and he recently recorded it. The beauty of the words and John’s voice and the effort and emotion that went into creating it are priceless. He writes of Anna, tender moments in the hospital with her and his thoughts regarding her life in heaven. We have listened to the song many times over the last few days. Last night we went to mom and dad’s, where we all gathered for dinner and cake. My neices made cards for us and Anna that were precious. We recevied so many phone calls and even flowers from a couple friends. We cannot thank you enough for remembering her and us. Here are a few pictures from February 25, 2008.