Posted in Faith, Family, Stepfamily

Grief, forgiveness and new beginnings

Let’s face it: this time of year can be difficult. With Thanksgiving and Christmas back-to-back, we can be forced to face a lot of emotions we aren’t ready for: people that trigger us, loved ones who have passed, relationships that have ended, gatherings that force us to be social, etc. Any fellow INFJs out there? ūüėČ

One thing has been made clear to me recently through my Bible study and my walk with the Lord: as a follower of Christ, walking through grief is necessary and mandatory to be obedient. Ignoring it will stifle my spiritual walk and hinder growth. Disclaimer: This post is intended to be a transparent account of one believer’s journey through trials, grief, forgiveness and eventually hope. It is not written maliciously, but with the intent to provide enough detail for comprehension and learned lessons. Please don’t misinterpret or misrepresent my words. This is not libel in any way.

grief

While the stages of grief are listed as: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, not everyone follows the pattern listed sequentially. But the end result of acceptance is the universal goal for walking through grief, and typically is an indicator for healthy mental health.

This year, for me, has brought many instances of grief, and I’ve learned more about myself coming through each one. Though not every instance has been extremely painful or one that causes me deep despair, I’ve felt the emotions come and go, tried to analyze them rationally and have learned to lean on God in new ways as a result.

Exhibit A: I am a stepmother. I’ve been married for over seven years to my best friend who had two daughters from his previous marriage. If you’re not a stepmother who has drama at times, I apologize. This is a bit of a rant. In the small family unit we have, the dynamic is clearly broken. It is not God’s design to have broken marriages and relationships that aren’t clearly marked. So much pain resides. I’m encouraged by some families who weather the differences and come to accept new family members. My dynamic has not. I remain on the outside, chosen by my husband yet completely unwanted by others.

I continue to try to love with all that I have, and have been struggling to not become bitter over repeated offenses. After so much time has passed, there are still words and actions from so many on that side of the family, that have been deliberate to get a reaction from me. I, unfortunately, get stuck trying to determine why, after all this time, we are still playing games. It’s frustrating and downright irritating. Maturity would help, but clearly that’s asking too much. Insecurity changes people and lack of going through the grief process completely stunted some. So I back off and don’t respond anymore.

But I’ll just be honest. Some days I win the battle. Some days the enemy does. Value is sometimes hard to find when you’re a “back burner”. Others’ feelings are valued higher than yours. Where a Christian spouse puts their spouse (2nd only to God), in divorced families, the lines seem to get blurred between kids, wives and even parents. Guilt inhabits my spouse at times and causes him to make decisions that put me out in the cold, and I’m left to fend for myself. This is so clearly not God’s intention. But it is so in line with the enemy’s intentions of killing and destroying. You think he’s after your family? Check the relationship between you and your spouse.¬† How’s your marriage going? The enemy is after that first. If he can erode from the center of God’s precious design, the rest will just unravel. Be on alert ALWAYS.

Sadly in our situation, the children (and others unknowingly) have been used repeatedly to carry out tasks that make no sense to me, and I’m left to question their motives and hearts. I can see the insecurity in the other parent, the need to prove something, the lack of accepting responsibility, the resistance to acceptance. I process and process, and when I feel like I’m finally okay again, something happens again to make me question my ability to love with Christ’s love. I realize I’m not able to do it in my own power. And I’m expected to keep peace and not make waves. Who can imagine why I camp out in anger? The tower Grace built has no drawbridge, a deep and deadly moat and you had better believe there are alligators in there! Just try to get to me!!

castle

But as much as my love for isolation and justified anger tries to grow, the Holy Spirit within me fights against this. I am not a new creation who is meant to harbor hurt and justified offenses. I am reminded repeatedly through Scripture WHO I am and WHOSE I am. And Jesus died for ALL of us; me, my hubby, the kids, the ex-wife, the in-law, etc. Whoever started the pain doesn’t have to end it.

So I’ve grieved the relationships I thought I would have by now. I have accepted that I helped raise two daughters who keep me at arms length because of expectations on the other end, and am hopeful some day they can be released from that obligation. But until then, I accept that my husband chose me and that is enough. It’s still painful, but he is well aware now. And we knew that choosing Jesus would do this to us. It’s worth it all.

Ephesians 6:12 states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. I’m not fighting people for my value. Because I am a daughter of the King, I already HAVE value. I’m fighting the enemy whose goal is to destroy my ability to see my value. And if he can destroy that, he thinks he wins. Those who continue to hurt are only being used by him. And the truth is they have hurts they need to address as well that have absolutely NOTHING to do with me. So in turn, I give the offense to God to handle, and I carry on with my life.

armor of God

Exhibit B: This year also brought a physical loss to grieve: my maternal grandmother passed away early April. Though expected due to her mental decline and physical inabilities at 91, the actual loss hit hard. A family member who abandoned our family almost 25 years ago made all of us wait EIGHT hours to show up to pay last respects while my grandmother’s body laid on a table decomposing. I couldn’t fathom the selfishness and the audacity to not care until after a shift of work was completed. Irritation took over and I had to surrender it. To me, the actions were incomprehensible.

I was able to forgive quickly in that situation, however, because I had been accustomed to the rejection by that family member and had noticed lack of healthy grieving patterns over the years I had known them. This was not surprising, just unbelievable regarding the relationship between that person and my grandmother who had passed. And dealing with the loss of my last living grandparent made me ache for Heaven like I can’t even express. Lots of emotion, but we had more pressing tasks at the moment.

I watched my mom and her three sisters grieve completely differently and was sadly able to assess where each of them were on the day we laid Nanny to rest. Prayers were going up constantly due to strained relationships and for the ability for all four daughters to get through the motions so that each could move on and grieve separately later. Since my grandmother had dementia, she hadn’t known me for a while. I had grieved her ability to do so long ago, but recognizing she was completely out of this world and onto the next took some time. That acceptance was a little slower.

A few weeks after her passing, while visiting my parents, I had asked my mom who had gotten Nanny’s Bible. My mom went upstairs and brought it down for me. Immediately, I was actively grieving her again, this time seeing my grandmother as a young woman searching hard after her Lord. I read her notes in the margins, saw her highlighted verses, read her underlined passages with notations about soldiers, or those who suffered depression, or those seeking hope.

1

Reading her Bible was like reading her diary. There was such a connection and I wanted to respect that privacy, yet I couldn’t tell her. She was already gone, and I had to grieve that she hadn’t known me as the Christ follower I am today. How I wanted her to know that out of nine grand kids, I could say where I was – her prayers had paid off!! I wanted her to know that I fell away during my teens and twenties, but that God got a hold of me at 27 and I finally heard His voice! The ache for her to understand wasn’t rational, but I knew I could find comfort in knowing the Lord knew my decision for Him and He knew her influence on my life.

7

6

 

2

3

10

Within the well-worn pages, I found a handwritten note from fifteen years earlier when she was praying for my dad’s salvation. That broke me! Her fervent prayers, in her beautiful cursive, locked into the pages clinging to hope. And all I could think was, “What a legacy.” And yet, I have memories that aren’t all that exciting when I think about time spent with her as a child. I know she loved me and I know she loved all of us grand kids, but I also know she struggled with depression and value. I have been able to forgive my grandmother for hurt from years ago, recognizing the similarity to the people Jesus prayed for on the cross, “They know not what they do.” Recognizing her inability to stretch in certain areas allowed me to give grace that only the Lord can give. And I saw her hurting, so I forgave.

Exhibit C: I accepted two positions this year: one of them was a permanent position within the US government, and within six months, was asked to take the Lead position in the same department. Any of you who work in leadership know the isolation that can result because you are under management, but above the production. I’m smack dab in the middle and though I love the challenges, I have no counterpart to assist. So I have to go to God for wisdom, guidance and help when working certain tasks.

I have had one worker who attacks me on a routine basis. She is a great worker, but one who is verbal when she has ideas of how something should go, and isn’t quiet about suggesting them to me. I listen and implement as needed, but don’t make all of the decisions. I also have made mistakes in the course of my training period, which this person has pounced on repeatedly.

facepalm

I find myself constantly having to forgive her so that I can remain professional, and simply because I cannot respond or address the situation without having the union involved. I choose to let things go, accept the support from upper management when they are aware and step in, but I can’t say that it’s not painful. One of the hardest things for me is when someone repeatedly does something to me and I have absolutely no clue why. I am simply her lead. I have to forgive. And God has been patient with me in learning this step. I turn the offense over to Him, and trust Him with the outcome. In turn, I am respectful through email, Skype and other means of communication and let it go.

Exhibit D: Two years ago, the Lord made it clear to my husband and myself that He was asking us to leave the church we had been growing at for almost ten years, and move to another church in the same town. We went, knowing only one person there, and tested the Word. It was biblical. Kevin knew immediately that we were being sent there. I had a month’s worth of sermons before I was a believer for the move. But I began to accept that this is what He was calling us to, and a few months later, there was a clear reason why I was at our new church (they were seeking to start a new women’s ministry – WOOHOO!).

But that didn’t stop the enemy from using the new location as a means of value-shredding. Our old church was so close-knit. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. We were greeters, task-doers, project-completers, life group leaders and Bible teachers. Once I knew my spiritual gift, I jumped in response, and it was awesome to see Kevin grow too. Then we were asked to move…to a bigger church…to where ONE person knew us…to where we had to start relationships from scratch…to a place where it seemed everyone knew each other already. (I know these are lies from the enemy, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t rush out after each service each week!) [Insert panic here].

running

And to top it all off, those close friends from our old church began to fade away. Those who said they would stay in touch, didn’t. We helped one couple move and after promises of dinners over and get-togethers have been to their home once since. There’s still a bottle of wine that was meant for them as a housewarming gift collecting dust in my collection. God’s response to my heart ache? Forgive.

Proximity changes relationships. If we see each other every week, we’re probably more involved. But staying in touch with those we don’t see actively can be challenging. I’ve learned to grieve the friendships that I thought would stand the test of time. I have learned to forgive even Christians who have hurt me unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally. (People who are hurting, hurt others – Christian or not.)

The enemy uses some of the people closest to me at times to tell me that I’m unwanted. And I believe him. I know that I’m loyal, love deeply, and have always felt like only certain friends can handle me. I want to be loved back the way I love, but end up aching instead. So I get the message that I’m too much. And it hurts. And I get angry. And I wallow in the loneliness for a time. And then I stop wanting girls as friends because the pattern never seems to change. Guys were always easier to hang with and had great senses of humor. But I digress…¬†

Then last week during Bible study, I had a revelation. God spoke into my heart in one of those a-ha moments. Those who followed hard after the Lord all had one thing in common: They did it alone and on the dependence of God. Their expectations for man had to be surrendered, and the calling placed on their lives shifted to primary.¬† Are we seeking the approval of God or man?¬† Paul asks this very question in Galatians 1:10.¬† If we are seeking men’s approval, we aren’t really servants of God.¬† And I know what I want to be…with or without those I thought would be standing next to me, because I know WHO IS ALWAYS WITH ME.

New Exhibit A: David was “a man after God’s own heart”, yet if you ask some, they remember primarily his infidelity. I’ve walked in those shoes, as a recipient and the accused. I know what I deserve. I don’t need human judgement, thank you. My Lord asked for a repentant heart and since I believe in and follow Jesus, He has granted me forgiveness and grace.

David was a Shepherd who took down Goliath (murder), and then later became King after Saul died – trying to murder David! God used Him, and David didn’t have an army of his besties running with him at all times.¬† He had his faith in what God could do.

Exhibit B: Rahab? She was a prostitute. Yet God used her to protect Joshua’s spies and in return, her family would be spared when the Israelites came to destroy Jericho. She didn’t have the acceptance of her town or the people of her profession. She exhibited faith and was obedient so her family could be protected.

Exhibit C: John the Baptist. He was a desert dweller who liked bugs and solitude, until he had to start baptizing people. Then he jumped wholeheartedly into his calling and was alone. Shouting for people to repent will definitely isolate you.¬† But he kept telling the truth about what was happening (and who was coming).¬† He was even imprisoned for calling out Herod’s improper marriage, and was beheaded for it. But it didn’t stop him from doing the right thing.

Exhibit D: C’mon…Noah? Clearly thought to be insane when he began building an ark, when there had never been a flood before. But he did it with faith. He obeyed, built and reaped the reward of listening. There were no neighbors cheering him and God on. There was no encouragement from the peanut gallery.

My understanding is now this: I have to follow hard after Christ on my own. It’s great to have encouragement and biblically we are told to encourage others for accountability and such, so don’t take my revelation to be saying we should exclude people and hide/isolate/build walls. That would be counter productive to what the Lord is asking us to do.¬† But the ache of thinking others are going to come through will only lead to human disappointment.¬† Expectations lead to conditions, which leads to conditional love, and truly, that’s not love at all. So, we have to let go of the expectations and forgive those who hurt us: all of the time, not just when it makes sense.¬†¬†

The actual steps we need to take in our walk, will be completely by ourselves, holding the hand of Christ in faith.  

holding hands

Can we feel it tangibly?¬† No.¬† But we can definitely see it throughout Scripture that those who really trusted in God weren’t clinging to human relationships.¬† They were following hard after Christ.¬† They were doing the unthinkable and were willing to die for it.¬† They weren’t pleasing men or seeking approval from others who were supposed to believe the same things as them (or even those who didn’t believe the same things).¬† They were stepping out in faith, answering the call, and accepting that it may lead them AWAY from family (Abraham and Lot much?).¬†¬†

The words of Jesus: 

‚ÄúDo not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.¬†For I have come to turn¬†a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law‚ÄĒ¬†a man‚Äôs enemies will be the members of his own household.¬†Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.¬†Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.¬†Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:34-38

If that’s not division, and a call from Jesus to serve Him no matter the cost, I don’t know what is.¬† I think we have to recognize that it can be completely unhealthy to uplift our family, friendships, relationships (or insert vice/idol here) above Jesus, because it means we aren’t willing to fully follow Christ.¬†

Because the cost of Christ is truly losing things, and not having the rosy relationships we desire.¬† Sure, we may be blessed along the way with wonderful moments and happy times, dear friends who get it and are still encouraging- but we are in a battle.¬† And the goal of this present age is loving others to Jesus, not being so self-focused that we focus on the grief we haven’t moved through.¬† We have to be others-focused.¬† We have relationships that may never change this side of Heaven.¬† And THAT’S OKAY.

I’ve come to realize that forgiveness does indeed take time, but it is mandated by Christ in Scripture because it is evidence of a life changed by Him.¬† When we hold onto grudges, or justified anger (righteous or not), it’s not beneficial to the Kingdom if it creates disunity.¬† Forgive, have the conversation if it’s necessary and move on.¬† Vengeance is HIS anyway.¬† He sees their treatment of us.¬† He doesn’t need us to seek revenge and hurt others more.¬† We have to step back and let HIM fight for us.¬†¬†

We can ask the Lord for help in accepting the boundaries where they are, focus on the lost who need His truth, and continue to carry the light into the world.¬† If you have family who are walking alongside you in this, fantastic!¬† If you don’t, be encouraged that the goal of your faith is the salvation of your soul.¬† And you’re never alone.¬† Let this be your new beginning.¬† ūüôā

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!¬†In his great mercy¬†he has given us new birth¬†into a living hope¬†through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,¬†and into an inheritance¬†that can never perish, spoil or fade.¬†This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,¬†who through faith are shielded by God‚Äôs power¬†until the coming of the salvation¬†that is ready to be revealed¬†in the last time.¬†In all this you greatly rejoice,¬†though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.¬†These have come so that the proven genuineness¬†of your faith‚ÄĒof greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire‚ÄĒmay result in praise, glory and honor¬†when Jesus Christ is revealed.¬†Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him¬†and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,¬†for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.¬†

1 Peter 1:3-10 

Advertisements
Posted in Faith

New Year…New perspective (again)…

Image

HAPPY NEW YEAR, dear ones! ¬†God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Typically each new year, I would try to think of a resolution (or more than one) to work on throughout the year. ¬†Last year, I wrote about not letting what others think about me, affect me. ¬†I’m sad to say that I failed miserably. ¬†If I look back over the past year, I can pinpoint certain areas where God was trying to get my attention, and yet, I was too busy pointing fingers at others, so I missed many of His teaching opportunities and glorified myself instead…ugh…

For future notice, however, I’m changing the course. ¬†This year, I’m not going to list things I’d like to change. ¬†Instead, I’m going to meditate on a passage of Scripture that caught my eye, has resonated in my heart, and has become this year’s newest desire…to follow the one command, and it’s one that I’m pretty sure I can’t screw up…

Second Corinthians 13:5 states the following:

¬†Examine yourselves¬†to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.¬†Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you‚ÄĒunless, of course, you fail the test?”

This statement is clearly a command; to test oneself, and check our genuine faith in Christ. ¬†It’s a statement (for those who claim to be Christians) to be aware that it’s very easy to fall back into old ways of thinking and acting. ¬†Notice there’s not one hint of comparing oneself to someone else or judging others. ¬†We are to simply test ourselves to be sure we haven’t been swayed, that our actions follow His. ¬†It’s a self-evaluation of our hearts. ¬†That’s it. ¬†And honestly, it’s simple. ¬†

In the book of Galatians, beginning at chapter five, Paul wrote a letter to the churches in Galatia, mainly to the Gentiles there who were being swayed by others who were pushing legalism.  His goal for the letter was to bring the gospel message forefront once again.

St-Paul-Preaching-in-Athens
Paul preaching in Athens

At verse 13, Paul addresses the church’s issues with legalism and explains how all believers are free, however freedom isn’t meant to be used for fleshly purposes. ¬†Paul wanted the church to understand that the freedom given by Christ was meant to serve each other in the Spirit, not continue to be led by the law.

If you, dear reader, are new to the concept of being a Christian, flesh is defined as human nature and the parts of ourselves that are still vulnerable to Satan and his advances (natural instincts, sinful tendencies, anything that gratifies US literally and emotionally).  In the context of Scripture, the flesh is always fighting with the Holy Spirit who comes upon believers at the moment they surrender their lives to Christ.

The Bible says only one of them wins.

If the flesh wins, we give into sin and selfish desires that separate us from God.  

If the Holy Spirit wins, flesh is left at the base of the cross, as Christ was crucified, and we give God Lordship of our lives.

The two can coexist, but they are constantly at war.

The command to test ourselves means that we need to constantly be checking our behaviors and attitudes, thoughts and desires, to make sure that they are in line with the Holy Spirit whom we represent.  This means DAILY.  Here are the differences.

Galatians 5:19-21 states the FLESH problems: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,¬†impurity and debauchery;¬†idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions¬†and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.¬†I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

not Kingdom worthy
not Kingdom worthy

Clearly the things listed here are direct, listed for our attention and should not be skipped over.  Any one of these things is in direct contrast to the will of God in our lives, and separates us from Him.  The warning at the end solidifies the destination of those who partake of these behaviors.

On the contrary, the rest of the passage defines the FRUIT of the SPIRIT: “But the fruit¬†of the Spirit is love,¬†joy, peace,¬†forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,¬†gentleness and self-control.¬†Against such things there is no law.¬†Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh¬†with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit,¬†let us keep in step with the Spirit.¬†Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Spirit-producing
Spirit-producing

At any time, if we don’t see “fruit” being produced in our own lives by the items listed above, we can be sure that there is a “glitch in the Matrix” so-to-speak, and we need to realign ourselves through repentance and connection with God. ¬†It’s that simple.

The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity of God.  He is GOD dwelt in us.  Believers, though surrendered, are still vulnerable to sin.  Because of the blood of Jesus, however, the Holy Spirit comes to rest in us and helps to transform us into the image of Christ.  Each day will present new opportunities to follow the legalistic rule of the world, to point fingers and judge, to fulfill a narcissistic way of thinking that glorifies ourselves, but that is not the mark of those who walk with Christ.  Only those who have surrendered their lives and are being led by the Holy Spirit will have fruit that is visible to the world around us.

not physical fruit, but our actions that lead the hurting world to Jesus
not physical fruit, but our actions that can lead the hurting world to Jesus

The life of a believer is constantly yielding to the direction of the One who is in us, who is in the process of creating, transforming, changing, revealing and perfecting. ¬†We will not be perfect here, but we can learn to be less of ourselves, for the glory of the Lord. ¬†We can’t even boast that it’s because of ourselves, because apart from God, we all go back to our old ways.

So, instead of trying to keep a list of things I need to change and trying to work on them this year, I’m going to instead focus on testing myself (yes, just myself).

Am I showing love to everyone, even those who hurt me? ¬†Am I aware of the consequences if certain words pass my lips? ¬†Do I put others before myself? ¬†Am I patient? ¬†Do I hold grudges? ¬†Am I not listening? ¬†All of these things, as small as they might seem, become a slow fade into old Grace, and that’s not who I am any longer. ¬†I am redeemed and capable of producing fruit for the glory of God. ¬†My new year’s prayer is that you too can walk with the Holy Spirit and shed the flesh that holds you back from being all that you are meant to be in Christ.

This year, instead of focusing on how I’ll fail by February, I’m going to focus on the presence of God in my life. ¬†I’m going to self-evaluate my behavior, actions, thoughts, and stay in constant communication with God. ¬†I know that He is walking with me daily, and that through my obedience and surrender, He is able to produce fruit that shines into a dark world. ¬†To Him be all glory.