You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, â€œI lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.â€ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. â€“ Eleanor Roosevelt
Feeling like your life is a bit of a mess at the moment?
Been there…. more than once.
Curious what mistakes people frequently make in the midst of hardship and how to prevent them?
What are some tips for staying organized when so much is coming at you at once… without obsessing?
On whom should you depend when you need advice?
Recently, I wrote down five important tips that have helped me to navigate through tough times.
Michele from our home church lost her son Hezekiah a few months back to anencephaly. In her blog, she wrote about her pregnancy, her baby’s short, yet precious, time on this earth, and now is blogging about her grief. (Will you please pray for her and her family?)
To lose someone you love, especially a when it’s a child, is so jarring.
I keep a basket of little booklets and tracts in my bathroom for anyone who wants to read them. One of them is called Grief: Finding Hope Again by Paul David Tripp.
Today, I was that person who picked up the minibook. When I read these two paragraphs, I thought, “Thanks, God. I knew this, but I needed to hear it again.”
Death Was Not Part of God’s Original Plan
We all feel death’s wrenching finality. Death is so wrong, so completely out of step with life as God planned it. The apostle Paul could think of no better word for it than “enemy” (I Corinthians 15:25-26). Death is the enemy of everything good and beautiful about life. Death should make you morally sad and righteously angry. It is a cruel indicator that the world is broken; it is not functioning according to God’s original design, where life was to give way to life, on into eternity.
It is biblical to treat death as the sad, unnatural thing that it actually is. God encourages you to mourn. Death was simply not meant to be. When you recognize this, you will hunger for the complete restoration of all things. You will long to live with the Lord in a place where the last enemy – death – has been defeated.“
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ties in well with Tripp’s thoughts:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
“Did children die in the earthquake?” my seven-year-old daughter Tabitha asked gravely when I told my children the devastating news.
“Yes,” I said.
She hung her head.
“Will the earthquake come to Japan?” asked Aiden, age six, concerned.
“Not this one,” I replied.
“But there are earthquakes in Japan, right?” Aiden pressed.
“Yes. Sometimes there are,” I answered honestly. “Remember the one we had last summer?” He nodded. It was a small one in comparison, but it left us quite shaken.
Talking to my children about the January 12th earthquake in Haiti was an important but heart-wrenching conversation. With death toll estimates between 50,000 to 100,000, it is even hard for grown-ups to fathom the loss of life.
Why did it happen? Like most adults, my children wanted to know, “Why?” I asked them a question in return. “Why don’t we live in a perfect world?” The answer is one they can recite off the tops of their heads, but it’s easy to forget in situations like these. It bears repeating.
A long time ago, God did create a perfect world. When God was finished with creating the Earth, He was satisfied with His handiwork. He said it was very good. Delicious food was readily available. Adam and Eve were perfectly made for each other. Humans co-existed with wild animals. Childbirth didn’t hurt. There was no death. There was no shame. There was no suffering. There was only beauty and an intimate relationship with the Creator. Adam and Eve disobeyed the one rule that God gave to them. By their own hands, they picked and and ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Everything changed.
As humans, created in God’s image, we long in our hearts for perfection and purity. People, even those who do not consider themselves to be “religious”, see pain and suffering and know deep down that it is not how things are supposed to be.
When Jesus, the Great Physician, was on Earth, He performed many miracles. It was as if He was thumbing His nose at the fall and saying, “I am here to restore the Earth to how it was meant to be.” People with life-long deformities, illnesses and injuries were made whole. A blind man saw. A lame man walked. After twelve years of incurable hemorrhaging, a bleeding woman got her life back. Leprosy was cured. Peter’s severed ear was fixed, good as new. As I have said before, never once did Jesus partially heal someone who came to Him. They were always restored instantly. It was never â€œtake two of these and call me in the morningâ€ or â€œcome back in a month to have your stitches removed.â€
In a world of quick-fixes, where there is an easy-to-swallow pill for just about any ailment, we have distanced ourselves from the idea that pain and death are real. We think of the “fall of mankind” to be like an ancient fairytale. We forget that we are mankind. We kid ourselves to think that if we just recycle enough plastic, get enough anti-oxidants in our diet and make strong buildings that we can live forever. Natural disasters are especially jarring to us because they poke a hole in our comfort bubbles. They remind us that, as much as we’d like to think so, we are not really in control. That any of us are still alive and breathing after the fall is only by God’s grace and mercy.
We have a responsibility to help. As Christians, we need to help those in Haiti. We can do this by giving, by praying, and by offering our own time if we are able to go and help on the ground. Helping others, though, goes beyond doing something to create a rewarding warm feeling in the cockles of our hearts. Reaching out to those who are hurting and finding ways to gently restore them – not just in natural disasters, but disasters of the soul such as being caught in a sinful pattern – is a way to claim dominion over the fall. Bearing one another’s burdens is a way to show a glimpse of Jesus; of Eden; of Heaven.
It was simple example, but this point was driven home to by my friend Debi at All Saints, my home church. God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field.” Whenever Debi pulled up the bracken and weeds from her garden, she would call it “exercising dominion,” that is fulfilling one of our purposes as humans, to “fill the earth, and subdue it.”
We can prepare for disasters. While we cannot prevent natural disasters from happening, we can do our best to ready for them. We are not fatalists. If we feel the earth beginning to rumble, we can have our children move away from windows and crouch down under something to protect them. We can teach our children ahead of time tips for surviving an earthquake. We can build strong buildings – the wise man built his house upon the rock. We can keep a reserve of food and power supplies on hand in case there is an emergency. We can practice stewardship all the while remembering our fragility and that sometimes, even when we do everything right, bad things can and still do happen in this fallen world.
We can prepare our hearts. As my children and I read about Haiti’s earthquake, we came across the story of the rescue of 11-year-old Anaika Saint Louis, who later died from complications of her injuries.
One of the things that brought tears to my eyes and peace to my heart was something Anaika’s aunt, Etiana Jean-Baptiste, said during an interview, “[Anaika] said … ‘Bring me a Bible. There is a psalm I like a lot, which is Psalm 23. She spent all her time reading the psalm. She said, ‘My God, come help me.'”
Anaika trusted in God even while her body was being crushed down by the weight of the rubble. She did not give up hope. She lost her mortal life, and gained an eternal one. Even though she was a child, she thumbed her nose at the effects of the fall by putting her trust in Christ. Just as a flower dies and its seeds live on, Anaika’s soul can proclaim in its heavenly body, “O death, where is your victory? Where is your sting?”
The Bible says that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” None of us know the day or the hour when our life will be required of us. We have a choice to live in fear of that moment, or live confidently knowing that our souls are secure.
As mankind, our bodies are not the only things that suffer the effects of the fall. So do our souls. Yet, God did not leave us stuck under the weight of this rubble. He sent his perfect son as a sacrifice for sins that we can again have the same kind of fellowship with Him that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden.
When I read Anaika’s favorite Psalm, there was something particularly chilling about it that tied everything together for me. It is the message that was amplified in Anaika’s life and death. It is the message that lives on past the grave. We can honor Anaika by realizing what she held fast to even in her dying moments: Jesus restores souls.
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Despite all my interest in childbirth, I have never read it!
Now, I’m about halfway through the book.
Here’s a beautifully-written description of the burial of an infant who died after being a prematurely born:
“I held my sister, who was never given a name, and who never opened her eyes, and who died in my arms.
I was not afraid to hold that small death. Her face was peaceful, her hands perfectly clean. It seemed she would wake at any moment. The tears from my eyes fell upon her alabaster cheek, and it appeared that she mourned the passing of her own life. My mother came to take my sister from me, but seeing my sorrow, permitted me to carry her to burial. She was shrouded in a scrap of fine cloth and laid beneath the strongest, oldest tree within sight of my mother’s tent. No offerings were made, but as the bundle was covered with earth the sighs that poured from my mothers’ mouths were as eloquent as any psalm.”
My friend Betty Lou passed away after a sudden heart attack yesterday.
I am told that she felt light headed after church and decided to take a nap. She never woke up.
Today is the day that her daughter in law is to be induced, as the baby is past due. It is very sad that Betty Lou never got to meet her new grand-baby, but she loved that baby deeply before it was born.
What a bittersweet moment the birth will be later today.
One of my favorite artists for greeting cards and calendars is Marjolein Bastin. I happened to have one of her cards on hand that was very fitting. On the front was a lovely watercolor bouquet of lavender, pansies and white roses and a few sprigs from the bouquet were painted inside.
In it wrote,
A big hug to you!
E— called me at 1AM this morning to tell me that Betty Lou had gone to be with the Lord. We talked and cried together, remembering what a sweet, kind lady she was.
I am so thankful to have seen both of you at the grocery store last week. It was a busy time of day â€“ the store was crowded with many shoppers â€“ and she didn’t hesitate to get my attention and say hello. This was so typical of her friendly personality, purposefully going out of her way to greet people and to encourage them in the Lord.
Her love for you, M— and S— and the new baby was also a beautiful testimony of a godly woman who saw it as a joy to care for and nurture her family. She wrote to me earlier this year, so tickled, because she had managed to surprise M— for his birthday. She delighted in being a blessing to others.
Betty Lou always followed up on prayer requests, too. After a few weeks of receiving a request, she would always write or ask me in church how things were going. She emailed me little notes to let me know she was praying for me when Tom was traveling, when the children were sick, or after the birth of a baby. There were countless times that her notes brightened my day.
She did not quench the Spirit when the Lord put it on her heart to pray for and encourage me. When I received these notes, exactly at the time I most needed them, it was as if it was God’s way of showing me how much He loved me… working through the actions of your sweet Betty Lou.
I will miss her very much, and I cannot wait to see her again someday. What an honor it was to have had her as a friend. I am thankful for every moment of our friendship.
Today I am praying for you, M— and S— and I am praying for a safe delivery, too, of your precious new grand-baby.
PS: This passage reminds me of Betty Lou. Her life was like a fragrant aroma, one who â€œwalked in love.â€
Ephesians 5:1-2 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
On Saturday night, I had a positive pregnancy test.
It was faint, so I took another one first thing Sunday morning – also positive.
On Monday night, I had really painful cramping.
Tuesday morning, I started bleeding.
My doctor’s nurse arranged for blood work to be done Tuesday afternoon. I got the results this morning.
Here is a copy of an email I sent this morning to the people who knew:
Dear Friends and Family,
The results from yesterday’s blood work came back this morning. The pregnancy hormone was at “2” and the nurse gently said, “I’m really sorry – you’re no longer pregnant.”
The antibodies screen came back normal – no worries.
Pregnancy hormones increase each day of the pregnancy. If the number was 5 or higher, then they would have kept testing to see if there was a baby still there. So, in a way, I’m relieved that we don’t have to keep holding on to hope and wondering.
The nurse said I should be alright because it was so early, but gave me things to look for to know if I needed to go to the ER.
I feel more worn out from sadness than anything else.
Tom and I gathered the kids around this morning and told them the news. They were sad, but took it well.
We are very thankful for the five children that we do have and for this little flicker of life that has taught us so much.
Thanks for all of your prayers, your stories and your sweet notes and calls filled with encouragement. No one could ask for a better circle of friends and family. I am very thankful that we did not have to go through this alone. You mean a lot to us! Praise God.