Bekah's Heart, Joy, transition

Grief and Gratitude

Grieving.

It’s a weird thing. Everyone’s grief process is different. Even when people experience what seems like “the same exact loss,” how they each walk through that grief changes (as it should!) from person to person. However, whether the loss is big or small, I feel like there is something that happens almost every time at some point along the way. Sometimes this moment happens immediately, other times it takes weeks or months, sometimes it happens again and again and again.

You’re going along in your grief, doing this hard thing. Maybe the grief is completely overwhelming you and the loss of the person or dream or job or house or life you thought would be is all you can focus on. But then, suddenly, unexpectedly, you find yourself laughing or enjoying something. And THEN, in a split second, you wonder: “Is this okay?”

In seasons of grief, there’s something about a moment feeling “normal” or even dare we say “good” that feels somehow “wrong”. It seems we’re discounting the impact of that loss, especially if the loss involved a person. We feel a pull to stay in the grief as a way to hold on to what is no more. We fear that if we enjoy the here and now we somehow have to let go of what was.

I experienced one of these awkward moments today. I was at work. Laughing with my teammates…. hard… at one point laughing so hard I was crying. It seemed everywhere we turned today there was something to laugh about. But, I didn’t know what to do with that in the midst of the loss of leaving Buffalo, and missing my incredible teammates there, and being so far from my friends and family who have become so dear.

But then, I stumbled into the answer… an unexpected grace. As I let myself, in that split second, just feel all the things… the joy and the sadness, the good and the hard, I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with gratitude.

I am thankful for nine amazing years in Buffalo AND new beginnings in Nebraska. I’m thankful for not just one but TWO teams that love to laugh (some people don’t ever get that in their whole careers!!!). I’m thankful for friends back “home” in Buffalo who still care for me well even while I start to try (not there yet) to call this place “home”. I’m just insanely grateful.

I don’t have to choose between all the feelings as if one would betray the other. Instead, I let them all lead me into a graceful space of gratitude. And that’s what we do with these awkward moments of grief… we give thanks. We give thanks for what was… and is… and will be. We give thanks for a God who walks with us through it all. We give thanks IN the circumstances not necessarily always FOR them. We give thanks because gratitude reorients our focus on the One who gives all good things.

And suddenly I’m reminded of how this whole year started for me… with a call to gratitude, back on January 1, with these words from Ann Voskamp on page 1 of my journal:

“Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: Joy.

Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.

When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, LIFE GROWS! The clouds open when we mouth thanks.”

And so I pick up my pen and I continue the list started 6.5 months ago… counting the gifts of this year one by one…

1237. A beautiful sunrise while out on an early morning run

1238. Teammates who love to laugh

1239. Seeing VBS pictures from Buffalo

1240. Being able to “be real” with teammates, sharing the joys and challenges, even only a few weeks in to the new job

1241. Memories shared of college days

1242. Becoming a NE resident

1243. Multiple Buffalo friends texting to check in today

1244. A hilarious video of my precious godsons

1245. A courageous 10-year old girl smiling with friends and singing praise to Jesus at VBS only weeks after brain surgery

1246. Joy

1247. Peace

1248. Hope

1249. New mercies

1250. Grace to grieve with gratitude

Advent, Devotional, Joy

LAUGH!

I wake up one morning and lay there in bed a while. I had been working for 6 months or so to get the iron levels in my body back up to normal and now, most days, I didn’t even notice it any more. But this day, I noticed; there is still a ways to go. With the stores of iron depleted, strength and energy can be depleted too. While it’s not a big deal and soon will be resolved, a lack of iron can inhibit a body’s ability to carry oxygen throughout, making the act of getting out of bed on a cold December morning an undesirable task.

Considering this, my hand slides toward the night stand and pulls back a book. And these words catch my attention from an Advent devotion I’m reading the fourth year through…

“Laughter… oxygenated grace.”

Like iron-filled, oxygenaged cells are needed for my heart to pump and my body to live, laughter fills up grace, gives it life and strength, so my soul can live. Anemic souls, like cells, need oxygen too.

When God’s breath of grace fills our lungs, we can choose joy over fear. We choose laughter, because in these hard, uncertain times— in health, in families, in marriages, in our country, in our world—grace is what we need and sometimes it’s laughter that makes it possible. When the tears flow and our entire soul feels lacking in iron-like strength, we laugh. Because God is still good and God is for us and God longs for us to enjoy life, to enjoy Him. Perhaps that’s one way we are able to get out of bed another morning, putting one foot in front of the other.

Laugh!

And suddenly I’m reminded of a moment from earlier that week standing at the front of the church. Bowing in reverence, contemplating the seriousness of my sin and the beauty of my Savior’s sacrifice, I prepare to recieve the beautiful gift of Christ’s body and blood. Something happens and suddenly a giggle starts; it can’t be contained. My Pastor and I try to keep it in, control it, but we

can’t.

stop.

laughing.

It seems so irreverent, so inappropriate even by some. But there, in God’s presence–receiving this gift of Christ’s strong and powerful blood in me–I think God smiled and laughed with us. When amazing grace overcomes us it often overflows. And as that oxygenated grace (a.k.a. laughter) filled my lungs and snuck out in uncontrollable giggles, hope awoke, joy flourished, and all seemed well with my soul.

The world remains in shambles around us, uncertainty lingers awaiting what will come next in our lives, and who in this whole wide world even knows what this day will bring. But, as one proverb says:

“[A noble woman] is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Proverbs 31:25

So find a reason to laugh a little today. No more fear! Only dignity and nobility! Only strength!

Let the corners of your mouth creep up when the world pushes you towards a frown. Don’t ignore the hard, but stare it in the face, fill up your lungs with that “oxygenated grace” and laugh. Offer that strong grace to others as well.

Perhaps the opposite of fear is laughter itself. And there is nothing to fear… in this day, this week, this life. His love is faithful… and because of the Lord’s faithful love, we are not consumed by the anxieties of this world (Lamentations 3).

Sliding the book back to the nightstand and my feet to the floor, these words from the author’s heart echo in mine:

“There is nothing left to want. There is nothing left to fear: ‘All fear is but the notion that God’s Love ends.’ And His love for you never will. So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed. Laughter—it’s all oxygenated grace.”

– Ann Voskamp

Breathe it in deep today! Be strong!

LAUGH!

Bekah's Heart, Devotional, Family, Joy

A Lovely Day! {A letter to my niece… and myself… and every one of us}

2017-11-22 14.25.42Dear Maddie,

I loved spending this Thanksgiving week with you. At two and a half years old your joy and passion for life bring me so much joy and teach me so much. Just this morning I heard you waking up in your room, calling for your mom who was still asleep. When I walked in, I expected a somewhat groggy toddler, sad that it was not actually “Mommy” who responded to your cries. Instead I suddenly saw this beautiful, smiley face (with some typical Maddie bed-head) pop up above the railing and declare boldly:

“Aunt Bekah! Look! The sun came up today! It’s a lovely day!”

You have astounded me with your joy this week. You remind me to be thankful for the little things, like a friend coming over, the sun outside, a bowl of mac-n-cheese, or a Mickey Mouse Christmas tree ornament. You feel so deeply every little thing.

I see also in you that these honest feelings aren’t always fun. Your pure joy at the simple fact that the sun is shining took a drastic turn one evening when it took us an extra 20 minutes to get out the door to go somewhere because you were sobbing (real, giant tears) because “the sun went away”! I love this about you, too. You’re not ashamed to feel what you feel.  While I pray you never lose the ability to feel things deeply and honestly, unfortunately I fear as you grow up that will change. Whether literally or metaphorically, I think some day the fear that “the sun may go down” may keep you from rejoicing in its rising in the morning.

As we grow into adults we fear risking loving the people around us because we have been hurt when we’ve loved in the past. We don’t let ourselves hope in anything because “what if we’re let down again?!?” We don’t trust anyone or even God because our trust has been broken. We don’t let joy in because we also know that feeling anything allows for the potential to feel hurt.

People will disappoint you, Maddie, and you may not always get what you want. At some point in your life it will feel safer to shut out difficult people or situations, refusing to trust and never getting your hopes up. But Maddie, I pray you have strength to fight against the fear and keep feeling deeply.  While it seems safer, it also keeps us from feeling the joy that I see you experience so fully right now.

Here’s how an author, Katie David Majors put it in an a book I read recently called “Daring to Hope”:

“…the world would teach us that pain is what ruins us. We are trained and conditioned to run from pain at all costs. … Only the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit can override this fear of pain with a love that is greater. The world would teach us that once we are broken, we cannot be used, we cannot be strong, we cannot be happy. But this is not true. In the greatest miracle of all time, our Father resurrects His son Jesus out of the dark tomb and conquers death. After the brutal beating and scourging and mocking that is a direct result of the ugliness of my sin, Jesus whispers, “Father, forgive them.” And He does. Out of the black of the tomb, new Life emerges and new Light shines forth.” (pg 61)

Maddie, our God is in the business of making beautiful things come out of brokenness. He longs for us to experience true love and with that comes risk. He risked that in giving us free will to be able to love Him and others. We messed that up and now live in the pain and consequences of our rebellion. But our God doesn’t change! He remains good! In Zephaniah we read that: “Each new day He does not fail” (Zeph 3:5). He sent Jesus to take all the brokenness, hurt, distrust, hopelessness and restore our hope again. He came. He died. He rose from the dead. He will come again.

Whenever you feel sad that the sun has gone down, or something hurts you, or you lose someone, go ahead and feel that sadness. Grieve. Hurt. Feel. But never lose hope, because the sun WILL rise again. Jesus will come again and He promises us this about that day:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)

“And there will be no night there–no need for lamps or sun–for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)

2017-11-22 20.16.36Oh what a lovely day that will be, Maddie! So go ahead and get your hopes up, girl! Feel deeply. Celebrate life. And when the dark nights come, because they unfortunately will, remember, a day even more lovely than you can imagine will come and when that day does come, the light will never fade again!

Look Maddie! The sun is up! It’s a lovely day!

Love always,
Aunt Bekah

 

Joy, Mission Work, Uncategorized

A story of scars…a story of joy

We sat gathered around in a small room in her house. Worship and teaching were happening in the next room over.   We couldn’t all fit and so those of us who weren’t teaching let other have our place.  The church leader joined us and instead of sharing our testimonies, we had the honor of hearing hers.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about how she became a Christian as much of her story has to do with what came next.  The abuse and beatings… by the hands of her husband.  Any time he found she had gathered with Christians or went to another prayer meeting, the beatings ensued.  For years this went on, sometimes worse than others.  Her young daughter would even blackmail her saying that if the mom didn’t give her what she wanted, she would tell Dad she was at another meeting. One day he got so mad that he got out a knife.  As she told the story, she lifted her shirt to reveal a 12-inch scar down her side.

Her local church graciously took her in and helped her get out of this dangerous situations.  Years later after forgiving her husband, she sensed God working to restore their marriage. She prayerfully hoped in the process He would help her husband see the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  Shortly after her return, the husband was arrested for theft and spend 3.5 years in prison.  This gave her even more time to grow in her faith and pray for her husband.

He is out of prison now and while he is not a believer… YET… we were sitting, gathering, worshiping God in their house.  He was there as lunch was served.  He was present, listening intently as one of our translators shared the gospel with our bus driver, assuming the husband was a Christian, and realizing later that while the bus driver ignored him completely, the husband was listening to every word.  He is not a Christian yet (or at least not when we were there a year ago), but I can’t help but wonder what God did in him that day as we sat in his home.

The wife had been praying and praying that God would send foreign believers to come and encourage them, despite the risk of spending years in prison by having us there.  She recounted a time in the recent past when her husband mockingly said, “Do you really think that by your loud praying God will send foreigners here?!?”  She laughed and continued her story, “This morning I told my husband: ‘You see! God answers prayers!’

A friend of this woman went on to tell us that the believers of her village all became followers of Christ because of this woman’s testimony!   And the community continues to be radically changed!

“They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink to death.  Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell there in.” Revelation 12:11

I wish I could show you a picture of this woman I took as she finished sharing her story and let us pray for her.  Pure JOY is the only way to describe the look on her face.  Please continue to pray for her and believers just like her all over the world.  Pray they would have grace and strength to stand firm in the faith no matter what comes against them.  Pray for protection, peace, and continued overwhelming joy!


Joy, NY Adventures, Random, Uncategorized

Summer Bucket List

I’ve stumbled upon the habit of having a “summer bucket list” the past few years and a few weeks ago I started putting together my list for 2016.  It’s not a traditional bucket list in the sense that I actually expect to check off every single thing, but rather one that reminds me of all the fun things to do around Buffalo in the summer (when you can comfortably be outside) and to give ideas of how to enjoy moments to relax and be refreshed and celebrate life in the midst of a busy work season!  Some won’t happen at all, some will be adapted, others will be added and still others will be repeated over and over! Since “blog at least once a week” is on the list, here we are.  Let me know if you want to join in on the fun! 

Here’s to abundant living this summer! 

In no particular order:

  • Walk or run at least 50 miles total (17 down since beginning of June)
  • Make a pie 
  • Go for a hike
  • Sing around a campfire (6/2)
  • Lick drippy ice cream (6/3)
  • Buy myself flowers (6/8)
  • Take someone else flowers
  • Play a game of something out on the grass
  • Go cloud watching
  • Watch as many sunrises or sunsets as possible 
  • Go to a festival
  • Get food from a food truck
  • Pancake date (or other adventure) with the Christ kids
  • Find a new park (6/2)
  • Go kayaking or waterbiking
  • Read 5 books (The Long Awakening,)
  • Go to a baseball game 
  • Spend a morning or afternoon intentionally getting lost 
  • Blog once a week 
  • Go berry picking (6/12)
  • Go visit friends in Rochester 
  • Finish China scrapbook
  • Do the self-tour of all the Underground Railroad sites around WNY
  • Get dressed up and go somewhere nice (6/11-BPC banquet at the Lafayette)
  • Write a letter to your future self
  • Take a fast from all technology for a day
  • Run a 5K
  • Spend an afternoon or morning reading outside
  • Visit a new coffee shop (6/8 – TeaLeafs on Main) 
  • Take dinner to someone 
  • Invite someone over for dinner
  • Walk to work one day
  • Visit Canalside (Maybe for Tuesday Night Flix)
  • Write a note to a friend 
  • Shakespeare in Delaware Park  
  • Buy NOTHING for a whole week
  • Don’t get out of PJs for a whole day

Joy, Lent

Sunday Joy: I Choose Joy

Joy is a facinating thing to me.  I don’t quite understand it and am thankful that it is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in my life and not something I have to muster up on my own.

But until recently I think that’s how I treated it…as something I must make happen.  People would say something like “choose joy”– a phrase I’ve heard, loved, and even used for years–but sometimes I wonder if my “choosing joy” really was more like “acting-like-nothing’s-wrong-and-putting-on-this-happy-Christian-face”.  (Which, by the way is not really joy at all.)

I knew I had experienced joy–true genuine joy–before and I knew I wanted more of it in my life, however I think a few weeks ago I finally understood it a little more.

In talking with a friend about a certain situation throughout the course of a day, my attitude had much improved about this situation from earlier in the day.  She commented, “You sound happy.”

I knew what she meant, but it still didn’t seem quite right. In fact I was anything but happy about the situation, and I suddenly realized, I wasn’t happy, but I WAS joyful.

I began to wonder if maybe “choosing joy” isn’t really a choice between “joy” and “sadness” as I had always supposed it to be.  No, more often than not, that just ends up with the fake smile plastered on your face.  Maybe, the choice is rather between joy and HAPPINESS.  Those are really the things that are at times in competition with each other.

As I talked about earlier this week in the post about giving up the pursuit of happiness, my definition of what will make me happy in life is first of all very unlikely to actually come through. More than that, the pursuit of happiness often ends up stealing my joy not fulfilling it.

Joy and sadness or pain or struggle on the other hand I’ve found often go well together. Because joy is not dependent on circumstances but rather on Jesus, our Joy-Bringer. And from what I’ve come to learn about this amazing God is that He loves to bring joy in EVERYTHING.

Habakkuk said it this way:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk‬ ‭3:17-18‬)

So, as I told my friend the other day, at least in that situation: Happy? No. But by God’s Grace, I’m was filled with joy and for that I’m thankful!

Joy, Lent

SUNDAY JOY: I Choose TRUTH!

When people count the 40 days of Lent (such as me and this blog series of 40 Days of Giving Up), it doesn’t include the Sundays.  The thought process behind this is that even though Lent is a somewhat solemn time to focus on the sacrifice of Jesus in his death, each Sunday of the year, including those in Lent, is to be like a mini-Easter celebration.   So, on the Sundays during this Lent season, I’ll take a break from “giving up”.

Today, I want you to think about the number 6.  Keep thinking about the number 6.  When you go throughout today think about the number 6, over and over and over.  When you brush your teeth…. when you get the car… when you’re in church (I guess you can take a break to listen to Pastor’s sermon)… when you’re eating lunch… when you’re watching TV… constantly think about the number 6.

Now let’s say you did that for a whole week… constantly thinking about the number 6.  Then, all of the sudden, next Sunday, I told you to just STOP thinking about the number 6.   It would be practically impossible.  After focusing on it so much for a whole week, you couldn’t NOT think about it if you tried.  And when you would try you would then fail, because in trying to not think about 6, you actually think about 6, and then get frustrated that you can’t stop thinking about 6.  Which, again, would be thinking about 6.

This is how it can be when we’re trying to give up these hard things that are so ingrained in us… things like worry and pride and busyness.  If we couldn’t even “stop thinking about 6”, how could we ever just “give up worry”.

BUT, what if instead of just telling you to stop thinking about 6, next week I told you to START thinking about the number 9 instead?  When you brush your teeth…9  When you get the car…9.  When you’re in church… 9. When you’re eating lunch…9.  Constantly think about the number 9. At first you might slip up at times and think about 6 instead of 9, but then you could refocus on 9 and before you knew it, 6 would be less and less in your mind as 9 overtook it.

So many of these things I’m choosing to give up this Lent are based in lies. Lies about myself, lies about God, lies about the world and the people around me.  If I simply try to stop believing those lies, I will never actually succeed. BUT if I shift my focus on truth, slowly those lies will fade and loose their power.  Sure I’ll slip up, but more and more I’ll be able to catch myself and refocus my attention.

When I find myself worried, I can remind myself that my God provides everything I need.  When I over-commit to things and am way to busy, I can remember the truths God shares about the value of rest, and make adjustments to my schedule.  When I get caught up in pride and selfish-ambition, I can focus on the truth that God alone is powerful and worthy and ask Him to give me a spirit of humility and service.

Yes, I give up all these things, but only when I choose truth instead, will I find any success.

Jesus, help us give up these things by imprinting Your truth on our hearts.  In Your Name we pray, Amen!