Friday, April 22, 2011

Crucifixion Moments

We’re all faced with them every day, those opportunities to die to ourselves… one tiny step at a time. They can seem so insignificant. You and I could be in the same room… even involved in the same conversation, and you may not notice my crucifixion moment. In fact, I may miss it myself. How often have I missed a crucifixion moment, and along with it, a chance to be transformed?

Nancy Leigh De Moss talks about crucifixion moments in her book, “Brokenness.” She says, “Every time you are confronted with a crucifixion moment, choose to lay down your self-life. Choose to surrender you pride, your expectations, your rights, your demands. Choose the way of the cross. Let someone else get the credit you deserve, forego the opportunity to have the last word, die to the demands of your flesh.”

Those are some tough things to lay down—my rights, the opportunity to have the last word, letting someone else get the credit I deserve? Ouch! Crucifixion moments can happen in our daily circumstances—a stressful job, a difficult relationship, family conflicts. I can choose to fight against those circumstances, responding in pride, resisting and resenting them or even giving in to despair. Or, according to DeMoss, “We can choose to respond in humility, to submit to the hand of God and allow Him to mold and shape us through the pressure.”

I’m really asking God to help me see those crucifixion moments as opportunities for transformation. So that instead of bristling and retaliating, I will allow God to break me—to break my pride—to make me more like Him. Lord, help me, during my crucifixion moments… to be more like you… and choose the way of the cross.

Solidifying Truth

I’ve been wrestling with a couple of issues in my life—pride and food. And I’ve just read a couple of books on those two issues and I want their messages to take root in me. I don’t want to just say, “that was a great book,” and put it on the shelf. I want the biblical truths of those books to change me.

The best way I know of to do that is to journal about what God is speaking to me through the things I’m reading and experiencing. So, my next few blogs will probably be based on “Brokenness” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and “Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst.

Hopefully, some of what I’m learning will resonate with someone else too.   

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Pastor, My Friend

My pastor resigned this week. He’s moving to another church. I’ve worked in ministry for over 20 years and I’ve seen lots of pastors come and go, but it’s going to take me a while to wrap my brain around this one.

My pastor is not just the leader of my church. He’s not just my boss. He is my friend. He has listened to me sob bitter tears of grief. With great grace, he has patiently endured my anger, hurt and frustration. He has been my small group leader and his wife is my dear friend. His daughters are my daughter’s favorite babysitters.

We first visited our church almost seven years ago. We visited because some kids at school had invited our older daughter. Our first visit was in early June, 2004. We visited one or two more times before the landscape of our lives was forever altered by our daughter's death. Just three weeks after that first visit, the coroner was asking me who my pastor was. We hadn’t been at our church long enough for me to consider it home, and I felt like my pastor was at our old church 2,000 miles away.

The days that followed that short meeting with the coroner were a haze of funeral and travel arrangements, sympathy cards, flowers, and thank you notes. But by August, I found myself writing “Thank you for the lovely flowers” for the last time, and I was petrified! What would I do when there were no more arrangements to be made, no more thank you notes to be written? I was already struggling with the fact that there would be no more soccer games or concerts, no more grade cards to worry about, no more proms, not to mention that there would never be a graduation to attend, colleges to visit, a wedding to plan or grandchildren born to our daughter.

I had no idea who I was or why I was here. I had no purpose. I had no place to be and nothing to do. But the day I wrote that last thank you note, I got a call from the senior pastor of our new church inviting me to come and talk with him about a project he was hoping I would do. I made the appointment for the next day. I didn’t care what the project was, I just needed something to do!

The next day, my pastor spent almost three hours with me, sharing his vision, answering my questions about this denomination that was unfamiliar to me and listening to me grieve. I’ve never had a pastor invest that kind of time in me.

That original volunteer project never did get done. But I ended up with a part-time job at the church. But it was so much more than that for me.

At a time when I had no reason or desire to get out of bed in the morning, this man offered me hope—hope that God still had a plan for my life—hope that I still had a purpose. He gave me some place to be—a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and I will always be grateful for that.

I understand why they’re leaving and I believe it’s the right thing for them to do. We’ll get a new pastor and I’m sure he’ll be great, I may even like his wife. But my pastor and his family will always hold a very dear place in my heart and I will miss them very much.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Gift of Grief

Yesterday, at our church, the sermon was based on the movie, “Letters to God.” It was about suffering and grief, and how God makes something beautiful from our pain. Topics like that always resonate with me.

Years ago, I thought being a Christ follower meant having all my needs (and wants) met. Prosperity, healing, a perfect family. Yet that hasn’t been my reality, and it has taken me years to learn why.

“Letters to God” is based on a true story about Tyler, an 8-year-old boy who has brain cancer. In one of the scenes a grandfather figure explains to Tyler that he was “chosen by God” for a unique “honor.” Chosen by God to suffer? Not exactly. Tyler was chosen by God to be a warrior, to point people to God.

That’s kind of the way I feel about grief. When we first lost our daughter in a car accident almost seven years ago, I felt like I had become a member of a club no one wants to join. I’m a member of a few other clubs I rather not have joined, but the “Outliving Your Child Club” has been one of the most painful.

As I woke up this morning, I had a picture in my head of grief being like a gift. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. It’s a gift that no one really wants, but we all receive at some point in life. Some of us receive it earlier in life. Some receive it more often. But if you ever love anyone, chances are, you will receive the gift of grief somewhere along the way.

My grief if wrapped up in a beautiful box. Early in my grief journey, I carried it with me everywhere I went. It was heavy and it consumed every moment of every day. It invaded every decision, every action, every move I made. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t go into Wal Mart without carrying this giant gift with me.

As time went by, I was able to leave my gift at home more often. It was still there. It was still mine, but I didn’t have to carry it with me everywhere I went. Now, almost seven years after my daughter’s death, it’s like I keep my gift on a shelf. Every now and then, especially on holidays, birthdays, and what would have been milestones in her life, I take my gift down off the shelf. I open it up and take out my grief. I hold it in my hands, turning it over and over. I feel the weight of it, the hardness of it. I know this sounds crazy, but I also admire its beauty. I cry a little—sometimes a lot. I blog about it some, but not as often as I used to. But then, I put my grief back in that box. I tie the beautiful bow around it, and I gently place it back on the shelf.

Then I go on with life. Seven years ago, I never would have believed that I could go on with life without my daughter. But here I am, functioning, parenting again, serving, living. And my gift of grief remains… until the next time I take it down off the shelf. My grief has changed my life, but it no longer consumes my life. Because of this gift, I have found a Hope that I otherwise would never have known… a true Unswerving Hope.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Humility: The Right and the Wrong of It

Humility: The Wrong and the Right of It

I’ve been reading a lot about pride and humility lately. They are both so much more complex than they appear. Despite what I was raised to believe, humility does not equal self-loathing. And I have recently learned how easily pride can disguise itself as humility. Who knew that it was my pride that was compelling me to be conformed to the mold of “humility” that was actually a false humility!

According to C.S. Lewis, the wrong end of humility involves having a “certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of [one’s] own talents and character.” It is trying to believe that my talents are less valuable than someone else’s (which may or may not be true). That makes me become defensive and easily offended. It also keeps me from accomplishing anything for God! It is like “pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.” Lewis goes on to say that, since what they are trying to believe is not true, they will not succeed in believing it. But in the never-ending attempt to believe this lie about themselves, their minds are “endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.” In trying so hard to be what we think is humble, we become self-absorbed, overly introspective and totally ineffective for God. Not only that, Lewis says that, “self contempt can be made the starting point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty.” All the while we thought we were trying to be humble, we have become gloomy, cynical and even cruel! We’ve come to “love” our neighbors with the same contempt with which we “love” ourselves--not even close to what God wants to do in us.

The right end of humility—God’s goal for humility—is for one “to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents.” Lewis says God wants to restore to us “a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.”

Wouldn’t it be great to be that free?! Am I the only one who struggles with this? To be so free from my own bias, from trying so hard to be noticed and affirmed, and yet remain “humble”… to be able to rejoice in someone else’s talents as well as my own would be real freedom for me!

To rejoice in my own accomplishments without pride… is that possible? According to Lewis, with the right end of humility, it is.