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Holding Grief & Joy…

Is it really possible to hold grief and joy at the same time?

Yes, I do believe it is.

November is a precious month to me because of what happened two years ago. I learned to hold grief and joy, together in my heart, like a mother would hold two newborns in her arms. You cherish both, you learn from both…one does not have to win out over the other. But man, it’s so hard to hold them both.

Our oldest daughter got married two years ago at the beginning of November and it truly could not have been a more perfect day! After three days of torrential downpours (which in SoCal is always a shock!) Saturday dawned with a freshness in the air, a promise of the joy to come that day! The blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds, no sign of rain at all. Watching your child get married is a surreal thing. It brings you back to your own wedding day. I was keenly aware of this man who was marrying my daughter, I knew him before I knew him because I prayed for him for 24 years. I trusted that the Lord was watching over this man who would one day capture my daughter’s heart. What tremendous joy!! I get teary every time I think of this fantastic privilege to see a prayer come to life. It was a perfect day.

The weeks that followed however, I would not classify them in the “perfect” category. I think this is when I began to learn how to hold grief and joy in the same embrace.

The Friday after the wedding, my husband was struck with a terrible case of shingles…on…his…face! It was awful and painful and a bit terrifying. He was on medication and had many doctor and ophthalmologist appointments to make sure the virus didn’t affect his vision. It was so painful to watch him go through it all.

We had just come from such a high high and now experiencing a tremendous low.

On top of that, a few days before the shingles hit my honey’s darling face, I discovered why my neck had been hurting for a few weeks. I had somehow popped the top right back rib out of place. I would seriously rather give birth without drugs (because I have!) than feel the pain of having a rib put BACK into place several times before it finally stayed in place. Oh, the tears and the ugly-cry that happened in the chiropractor’s office for the first week or two of treatment! Thankfully it was where my now married daughter worked, so she was a bright spot in my day!

So, in the span of a few weeks, we’ve got…wedding…popped rib…shingles…we had enough riding on the emotional rollercoaster of life and were looking forward to things settling down.

At the end of November my father-in-law, Jim, passed away. It wasn’t completely unexpected but it’s still never easy. My husband and I were able to be there the night before and have our time with him and we knew that was a huge blessing.

As I sat at the funeral home with my mother-in-law and two of my sisters-in-law, my own mom called and said that I should make my way to my grandmother’s apartment as soon as I could. Again, not completely unexpected, but still came as a shock. Her goal was to make it to her great-granddaughter’s wedding and we’re so thankful she was able to!

As I drove the hour from Orange County to Burbank, I cried and pleaded with the Lord to give me one more day with my grandma. I knew our little family couldn’t handle two deaths on the same day.

God was so gracious and there was my sweet grandma Marie, fully dressed with her shoes on, resting comfortably in her lift chair. She was sleeping, but she had changed so much. My grief took over, and I bolted from the room. In the midst of my own mother’s grief, she comforted me in mine. I knew my amazing grandmother was so close to heaven and I didn’t know how I could deal with it all.

But let me tell you part of the secret of holding grief and joy together…it’s what my grandma said to me when I went back into her apartment.

I sat down next to her and held her hand. She opened up her eyes, that were still sparkling with all that grandma love, and said how happy she was to see me and patted the back of my hand. But she could see the grief in my eyes. Her next question, “How’s Jim?” She had closed her eyes after asking for a just a bit, long enough for me to try and pull myself together. When she opened her eyes and say the tears streaming down my face, she just said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. But we know where he is.”

This is how we hold grief and joy at the same time.

She knew was she was not far from seeing the Lord face to face, something she was joyous about, but she was still able to have a tender heart toward my sadness.

We cannot press down and suffocate the grief.

We have to face it.

We cry and we are sad. Maybe we are confused or mad.

Those feelings must both be experienced fully to come out of pain on the other side and be okay.

But in the grief, there was joy knowing that all the pain and suffering my father-in-law experienced was completely gone. He was wholly healed and I love to imagine my staunch Missionary Baptist father-in-law, dancing and singing praises in heaven to the King of Kings. That is joy!

I spent the rest of the day with my grandmother, and much of the family began to come in. We gathered around her chair and celebrated her. We told stories and every now and then, she would too. When she finally needed to rest in her own room, we were able to go in individually, and have some time with her. And I treasure the knowledge that she prayed for her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren every single day! What a legacy of faith!

Those moments too were held together by grief and joy.

None of us wanted to leave that night because we knew what was coming.

The next day, I arrived and checked in with my parents who’d gotten there a while before me. We thought we had a few more days. But as quickly as the hospice nurses arrived to do their assessment, days became moments. They rushed us in, my parents and I, and we had the honor of singing her into heaven.

Another moment held together with equal parts of grief and joy. 

Yes, equal parts.

The next few weeks were a bit of blur as we had services for both my grandmother and my father-in-law. And all of that in the midst of preparing for Christmas. Family coming into town, hosting dinners and being together as much as we could. Even in all of this, the experiences are different for everyone. Our oldest daughter was a newlywed. Our middle daughter lives out of state. Our youngest daughter was navigating her Freshman year of college. My husband was still dealing with the effects of shingles. And I could now get dressed without wincing in extreme pain.

The physical and emotional pain. The grief and the joy. 

They don’t always take turns.

Sometimes they arrive at the same time.

But here’s the best part, as I believe we are created in the image of God, He orchestrates our life and helps guide us through those times when we are required to hold grief and joy at the same time. He is in fact an expert at this.

That moment on the Cross, when His beloved Son took upon every single sin and all depravity of every human being that had been born and was still to be born, He had to look away. The grief that God the Father had to sit with is unimaginable to me. But He did it because of the magnitude of joy that was brought on by Jesus’ death and resurrection ~ the joy that we now had the free gift of reconciliation with our heavenly Father.

Here’s a passage from Matthew 27:45-54 ~ take some time and ponder this in your heart of how God the Father had to hold grief and joy at the same time…

45 “Now from the sixth hour (noon) there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.). 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud [agonized] voice, [j]Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 47 When some of the bystanders there heard it, they began saying, “This man is calling for [k]Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and took a sponge, soaked it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him [from death].” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud [agonized] voice, and gave up His spirit [voluntarily, sovereignly dismissing and releasing His spirit from His body in submission to His Father’s plan]. 51 And [at once] the veil [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was [l]torn in two from top to bottom; the earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints (God’s people) who had fallen asleep [in death] were raised [to life]; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many people. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, they were terribly frightened and filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The Lord has felt it all ~

Every feeling.

Every emotion.

Every hardship.

Every trial.

Every joy.

Every happiness.

With Him, we can do the same. We can experience grief and we can celebrate joy.

And we can do this at the same time.

We can hold grief and joy together.

Blessings,

René

Holding Together Grief and Joy - blog pic

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

 

Christian Mentors, Moms, Parents, Public Speaking, Stay at Home Moms, Teachers, Uncategorized, Women's Ministries, Writers

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice…

I recently had the joyful privilege of traveling with my wonderful husband on two business trips back to back…first stop, Singapore!  Then on to Snells Beach, New Zealand (about 90 minutes north of Auckland).  It was absolutely amazing to be able to travel to these two locations.  And they couldn’t have been more different!  We actually took advantage of being able to check two bags for free ~ one was packed for the 90 degree humid weather of Singapore and the other for the 60 degree rainy weather of NZ!  I was so grateful for the two companies that made the allowance for me to attend these trips with my man!

What I want to focus on in today’s blog is the lesson the Lord taught me in New Zealand.

I don’t know about you, but honestly, the first thing I think about when I envision the land of NZ is…wait for it…The Lord of the Rings & Hobbit movies!  Yes!  I admit that I love these movies!  And Air New Zealand loves these movies too ~ they have a channel within their onboard “movie channel” dedicated to just those six movies ~ awesome!  Of course, the other thing I think of is sheep….lots and lots of sheep!

Staying in Snells Beach was a blessed retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  And honestly…away from the hustle of “regular life.” Rolling green hills, the bay on either side of the little town.  To one side you could see the Mahurangi Harbour and on the other, Kawau Bay.  I felt a little bad that Tony was working more on this part of the trip, but I was delighted with the gift of some time alone to see what the Lord has for me next.

We arrived quite late in the evening, so it was very dark upon our arrival to our little apartment on the campus where the animation studio is where Tony would be working for the next few days.  The next morning, he was off to work after breakfast in our room and I joined him a few hours later for lunch at the studio.  He happened to be walking over to the apartment when I was on my way over to meet him, and I couldn’t help but grin and say, “I’m walking around in New Zealand today!  How cool is that!!”

But soon, I would be driving around the area ~ and on the “wrong side” of the road and the car!  If I may brag…I did quite well!  And it was so much fun!  But I digress to my point….

The sheep!  Seriously ~ they were everywhere!  And I loved it!  So many different breeds and color combinations, but still the same.  Either lounging in the sunny spots in the pasture, or head down munching on the luscious green grass of the farms where they lived.  And I desperately wanted to cuddle one of those little lambs ~ you see it’s Spring time over in NZ (September) so there were little lambs prancing around all over the place!

One of the men that Tony is working with on this project, also runs a small farm filled with cows, a bull, pigs, piglets, and SHEEP!  He indulged my wish and ran after a little lamb so I could hold him.  Oh.My.Word!  The cutest thing ever!  And he was only about 10 days old.  The eyes of his sheep-mama and the eyes of the ram were on me constantly…what was I going to do with their little lamb?  Oh man…I wanted to take that cute black and white lamb home with me!  I know…I know…not practical!  And they grow up!  HA!

The next day, a new friend there, took me to a magical place…Sheep World!  Yes…this is a real place!  I was able to help sheer a sheep and feed a milk bottle to a one month old fluffy whjohn-10-verse-4ite lamb.  This was seriousness cuteness folks!

But the whole time, I could not get out of my mind the fact that Jesus is referred to so many times as the Lamb of God.  And we, as His followers, are often called His sheep. (yes…I took this pic…there’s more!)

In this passage, we read that sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice.  But how do they know which voice to follow?  They are trained and they learn what to listen for.  A tone of voice…a familiar call or command…a unique whistle ~ they know their shepherd’s voice!

We are called to do the same with our relationship with Jesus!psalm-95-verse-7

But we have to spend time with the Lord in order to KNOW His voice and to discern His commands and callings.

Do you see what it says here in the last part of Psalms 95 verse 7?  “If only you would listen…”

If only we would take the time to listen to the voice of our Savior.  To spend time deep in His Word so that we recognize His voice.

 We spend so much time on so many other things that we think we fill us up.  Yet, I know that when my focus is on expecting outward things to complete me, I end up feeling totally empty.  Christ is the only One who is able to fill up all the empty spaces and seal up all the cracks in my heart.

There were a few other key moments of those two “sheep days,” that God revealed to me.

As I was holding the little lamb that was almost 2 weeks old, was noticing how the huge horned ram was standing at attention in the field.  He did not allow his gaze to be interrupted.  I felt in that moment that this is how God the Father intently looked upon Jesus the Son, as He entered the world as a defenseless baby ~ as the Lamb of God.  The Father’s eyes are never off His children.

When we let the little lamb go and put him down onto the grass, he bleated his little heart out!  All the other mama sheep out there started bleating back…with the exception of his actual mama.  That was confounding to me!  What was happening here.  Then I looked back at the lamb and he was pacing back and forth, unwilling to step further.  He just stood there and bleated like crazy.  In that moment, I felt God showing me that when I stand in one place and act like a crazy person yelling out to God, without actually focusing on Him peacefully, even if He was calling out to me I wouldn’t be able to truly hear Him.  Once the lamb stopped calling out for his mama, started scampering toward the herd, all the other sheep began to quiet down.  His mama never took her eyes off her baby, and she began to baa for her little lamb. He immediately heard her voice ~ and ran straight to her.

That little lamb took the time to HEAR the voice of his mother so he could easily identify where to run!

The last moment to share was how the sheerer/shepherd (at Sheep World) was telling us how the sheep get from the hidden tops of the hills down to the corral.  With just a few verbal commands, he sends one of his trusty sheep dogs out to round them up.  That dog took off, jumped the corral fence, tore up the hill and began bringing those sheep down the hill in about 2 minutes.  This dog never barked…he only LOOKED at the sheep to get them where he wanted them to go.  And his goal was to bring the sheep as close to the shepherd as possible.

Now, this may be a stretch, but hang in there with me for a minute.

Jesus is referred to as our Shepherd* mulitple times in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is referred to as our Helper**/Comforter*** in God’s Word.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t bark at us ~ He uses the truths of who our Shepherd, Jesus, is and whispers those truths to our hearts.  His goal is to bring us back around as close to Jesus as possible.  Once we are close to our Shepherd, we can be cared for as needed.  We may need to be sheered ~ ridding our self of the excess in our life.  We may need to be fed ~ filling up our soul with the Bread of Life.  We may need to be washed ~ being cleansed from the filth of sin that creeps in.

Take the time my friend to get to know His voice.

Listen and run to Him.

Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you back to Jesus.

Blessings,

René

p.s. ~ Just because I love the joyful freedom of the picture…here’s one more from the trip!

rene-holding-a-little-lamb

* mentioned 34 times in the ESV: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=shepherd+Lord&qs_version=ESV

** John 14:26 (ESV)

*** John 14:26 (ASV)