Inviting Grief to Dinner

tamara-bellis-125877-unsplash (1)The Southern California rain surprised all humanity this year, giving my kiddos a false sense of hope, “Mommy, do you think they’ll close the schools because it’s raining?!”

Um, no. That’s not a thing.

The brown hills by our house have exploded into yellow flowers. They press on their tippy-toes waving hello. Maybe California should cancel school, offering a day to admire the new life with neighbors. Because when it comes to new life, we really go out of our way to celebrate it don’t we? If we desire the company of new life, we’ll find she always brings a guest.

Life and death sit side by side. So often we shoo the experience of grieving to the “obligatory guest” table. No one wants him at the party…but sooner or later, he shows up. I photographed weddings for years, and I promise you, there’s always a wacky relative in attendance (psssst… it’s your uncle). One wedding reception, the exuberant uncle was on the dance floor, flat on his back, pretending to look up the bride’s dress. Yeah. Sometimes grief acts like that guy.  Meaning- he has no sense of social awareness. We find ourselves asking, who invited him anyways?! 

But it’s not his fault. When we shove the process of grieving far into the burrow of our lives; he’s forced to rear his head at the most inconvenient times. Can you relate? The checker at Vons asks if you have bags and you burst into tears because you left them in the car. If grief wants your attention, he’s ruthlessly successful. I’m finding that depriving him the attention he craves, only makes him fervently jump up and down.

I’ve decided it’s best to offer him a space to be heard.

Learning to set a place for grief at our table is a grueling and powerful act of faith. But it needs to be done. Joy is painfully birthed out of sorrow. When we pull the chair out from under him and ask him to leave, we’re telling him he’s not important to our story; that he has nothing of value to add to the conversation. When in reality, God often uses our grief to scoot our chair closer to joy.  God wants to speak to each of us through our sufferings.

Many believers experience guilt over admitting they’re sad. The idea of feeling guilty for grieving is not biblical! We’re taught we should rejoice in our sufferings, to always be happy because we have Jesus. There’s truth here. However, the rejoicing does not negate the suffering- it accompanies it.

God has filled me with inexplicable joy over our new journey to be foster parents. But honestly, it’s the grief of failed adoptions that brought us here. It’s impossible for me to separate my new joy from my concurrent grief. They’re powerfully intertwined. Have we forgotten that Jesus wept three times in scripture? Each time, coupled with an occurrence of great joy: before the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:35); right after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); and in the garden before his own death and resurrection leading to the salvation of mankind (Hebrews 5:7).

It is possible to sit next to joy and grief at the same time. It’s healthy to look grief the face and “talk it out” or “cry it out” or slap him in the face. Whatever you need to do to acknowledge they’re times he’s going to come to dinner and you can’t ignore him. We’ve got to deal. But we’re not alone. God’s table is big. It may mean we pull up more chairs for counselors or sisters in Christ to help us mediate the conversation. Or, maybe we need to excuse ourselves for a “prayer break,” or take a moment to wash our wounds in The Word.

As we become more intentional in setting a place for grief, we can’t lose sight that where God allows sorrow, he assigns great joy.  “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b)

God’s word beautifully reminds us that he’s with us in our suffering. Check out these Bible verses for inspiration: God’s Word-Marked by Love- Suffering

p.s. If the voice of your grief is consistently louder than the voice of your loving Father, you may be experiencing depression. They are not the same thing. Please feel free to message me and I would be honored to help you find a counselor.

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Facing the Emptiness

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I have baby onesies with no pudgy legs to fill them. I have space where I hung dresses for a job I didn’t get.

Having empty space in our lives, doesn’t mean we’re called to endure emptiness. Once a woman wept outside an empty tomb and was met by the hope of the world.

Remember Mary, the shamed woman whose heart was seen by Jesus? In Him, she was most likely cherished for the first time. Then she witnessed the desire of her heart mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross.

Mary’s new identity was mercilessly pinned to a piece of wood. Her hope was in Jesus. And now it hung lifeless for the whole world to see.

Our desires may be holy and epic!  For me, wanting to adopt is that one desire I feel I’ve been watching die a gruesome death. It’s out of my hands.  All I can do is stand aside and feel the fool for believing. Have you ever felt this way; that God entrusted you with a longing but it seems it’s a no-go?

I’m guessing Mary may have felt this way. She proclaimed the hope of the world had come, and the next day they rolled a stone sealing His grave.

Still, she knelt outside the tomb, where her unmet expectations lay buried and dead.

Dying to self is a true death.  And it’s OK to treat it that way. As long as we don’t forget: We worship a God of resurrection!

Mary went to Jesus’ tomb, terrified and confused to find it hollow. She pleaded with the angels, asking where they’d taken him. (John 20:11-18). It’s not that she wanted Jesus to be dead, but it’s what she expected.

Sometimes, we’re so busy focusing on the hollowness of a situation…we miss the hallelujah!

We’re so much like Mary. If we’ve watched a desire of our heart be abused and buried, we visit the grave expecting it to stay that way forever.

We forget what hope looks like. When this happens, we can miss it staring us in the face.

Hope looks like Jesus.

Hope is Jesus.

Mary didn’t even recognize Him when he appeared to her outside the tomb. She mistakes him for the gardener!  (John 20:15) She was seized by the fact things didn’t remain irredeemable. The world was whispering, “What’s the point? What you hoped for is still dead.”

But the world lies. There’s always a resurrection!  Whatever’s  lifeless, looks different after revival.

Jesus looked different. He was glorified. (Philippians 2:20-21) I think it’s why Mary didn’t recognize Him right away.

It’s the same with the desires of our hearts. It’s not that they aren’t lovely, but God has something planned to take our breath away! Something we haven’t considered. Something impossible.

This. Is. Faith. Standing outside a graveyard and believing resurrection will come.

We’re completing our Foster Certification. Something mind you, we said we’d NEVER do. God, through the past five years of loss and frustration, has been tirelessly crafting our powdered dreams into something completely different than what we expected to see. The idea of becoming Foster Parents was our equivalent of Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener. We initially flipped out, “Where have you taken our dead dream?!!” I just wanted to remain face down, ugly crying like Mary.

Sometimes, it’s easier to sit in disappointment then to step into the unknown. This is a big unknown for us! But I know the sweet face of hope. I refuse to mistake Him.

We’re approaching a desolate space and expecting the impossible to happen.

We’re expecting God to resurrect all that was lost.

We’re expecting desires to look different.

Standing right in front of us, could be the glorified, holy, resurrected will for our lives.

God has the tender ability to resurrect ANY situation in our life. Check out these Bible verses for inspiration:  God’s Word-Marked by Love -Resurrection

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Restoration Offered to All

 

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Having several women in my life who have experienced domestic abuse, both physical and verbal, it is impossible not to have compassion for them. My heart breaks, my spirit ebbs and flows to try and speak hope and life into their situation. The church is divided on how to address this issue in many cases. I was hashing out thoughts with one of my best friends. I voiced my struggle, “The hard thing is, it is easy to love the victim and want to help them…and we should! But as much as it disgusts our human minds at times, Jesus died on the cross for the abuser, too. We are called to love and restore the abuser, not just the victim. THAT is the truth of how deep the love of Jesus is. THAT is the test of how much we look like him”. My friends eyes welled up as she pushed out the hushed words, “Jenna,  when I hear you say that. I think of my abortion and…it’s like…I was that abuser. I was that murderer.” 

My eyes burned back tears. Oh, how I love her. My, godly, courageous, beautifully restored friend. Yes. We are all the abuser. We are all the murderer. We are all that thief on the cross who needs saving. My best friend, who had carried the pain for so long, needed the people of God to love like Jesus and say, Come in, there is love here for you. There is forgiveness here for you. There is restoration. There is freedom. 

Jesus can change anyone. No one on earth was excluded from the work done on the cross. It hit me: If I feel disgusted that Jesus even offers salvation to vile offenders, then I have no real sense of who I was before Jesus saved me. Bill Hybels reminds us, “You have never looked into the eyes of someone who does not matter to God”.

Seriously, this quote.

I’ve used it to test my level of understanding of the love of Christ. I’ve held up photos of Hitler, looked into his empty eyes and said out loud, You will never look into the eyes of a person Jesus didn’t die for. There is no evidence that Hitler ever accepted this gift of salvation, but was it offered? Yes, by the work of the cross. I only go to this uncomfortable extreme, because, how do we understand how deep and wide the love of Christ? How will we ever be able to understand the power of his blood on the cross?

Jesus paid it ALL. Jesus paid it ALL.
ALL to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

Do I believe he has the power to do that?

For me?

For Hitler?

For the wife beater down the street?

Are we intentional in seeking after abusers who want change, saying, There is hope for you! It is imperative that we crowd around the people they have hurt, offering them a safe place to stay. Let us not diminish our distinct, urgent call to aid and protect the abused! But then, what of the offender? Do we never look back?

The intent of this specific blog is not to give direction on how to restore each specific, abusive person (that would entail a book). This is not how...but an offering as to why we must engage in the work. 

What if Ananias did not go to see Paul after he had been blinded on the road to Damascus? Paul was a man who was overseeing the murder and persecution of Christians. Paul was an abuser; possibly a murderer. God knew it would be hard for Ananias to believe such a vile man could change. He graciously spoke to Ananias in a vision instructing him to care for Paul because he was God’s ‘chosen instrument’(Acts 9:15). What if he had not been obedient to care for Paul? What if he refused to go heal him as God instructed? What if he did not believe God could restore a, man like that.

Without realizing it, Ananias was a huge catalyst in the spreading of the gospel and the writing of the New Testament. All because he trusted God’s power and was obedient. He was one of the first people to offer Paul the tangible acceptance of Christ after his radical conversion, even referring to him as, brother.
There are two forces at work here. The most significant being, the work of God himself. God blinded Saul with his power. God must do the work to bring someone to repentance. Ananias had no power to bring Paul to faith. The second is also the work of God, but, it is him working through his people. He used one of his people to give Paul back his sight. We have a role to play. We must understand God has called us to participate in the restoration of others–no matter their offenses. 


I think of my best friend and what a powerhouse of God’s love she is. God is moving and using her life in crazy, beautiful ways to bless others. And it makes me think, what would the kingdom of God look like without her?  The answer: Not the same. Jesus crafted a role just for her. In His power, I foresee her moving mountains. I have no doubt God will partner with her to bring restoration to other women. She will have the honor of acting as an Ananias. What if she had been left to her feeling of condemnation? What if she remained in the shadows and believed her name was murderer? What if Paul remained the same way?! What if Ananias never said to him:

Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here- has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17).

Oh, Satan would have loved for Ananias to keep silent.

He wants all God’s children to remain blind to their divine purposes. He wants us to keep our old names. Remember, Satan is forever bound to his name, which literally means, ‘the accuser’.  He wants us to be forever bound to our condemning names as well. We should not listen to him.

We should listen to one whose name means, “God Saves”; our precious savior, Jesus. He tells us the truth of who we are, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John:31). Let us not be silent regarding this truth.

Pull the people around you closer to the foot of the cross. Show them their new name carved into the wood. On the days they forget who are they are, engage in the work of restoration. Take them by the hand and go back to the foot of the cross. Find your new names. Say them out loud. Praise God!