Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Purest Praise of All--Job

I have struggled the sermons and the thoughts others have expressed in regard to the story of Job. Especially when the sermons and thoughts judge Job and/or His wife harshly for the way that acted in the aftermath of the many losses they experienced. The Bible tells us Job was a blameless and righteous man who feared God. He was wealthy and had ten children for whom he continually offered burnt offerings. Job walked so uprightly that even God even viewed him as a blameless man. Because Satan claimed Job only feared God because of the God's blessings, God permitted Satan to test Job to prove Job's faith ran deeper than the blessings he received. To be honest, I still wrestle with this part of the story. I tend to get so focused on the here and now I can forget there is a battle being fought in the spiritual realm. Today I am focusing on the lessons we can learn from Job about grief.

When I first read the book of Job, I couldn't wrap my mind around the kind of loss Job and his wife faced. So, I read it from an intellectual viewpoint, focusing on the questions that arose over Satan and God's conversation, the conversations Job had with his friends, and the conversations Job had with God. It was not until one of closest friends suffered three losses--a miscarriage, a six month old, and a twin girls at six months in the womb, that I began to look more at the losses and emotions described in the book of Job.

I remember sitting with my friend during the funeral and seeing the anguish my friend experienced as the music began. I remember sensing her spirit calm when the pastor spoke, only to realize the tears were still streaming down her cheeks. I also remember her meeting me at the drive way a few days later and falling in to my arms as sobs racked her body. After her tears were spent and we were walking back into her house she said, "I know they mean well, but some of the things people say in the cards they send don't help!" At the time, we concluded that some people just don't know what to say, so they say churchy things and quote verses, some of which were taken out of context and most of which was truth my friend already knew.

It was after her loss that I began to challenge people when they put Job or his wife down. I can't even imagine what it is like to lose one child, much less ten children in one day. I can't imagine what it would be like to also lose all my servants (coworkers) and our lively hood in the same day. In addition, Job lost his health and was covered in sore's and boils as he sat in an ash pile grieving. Because he was the one plagued with boils, his hurting wife assumed some hidden sin in Job's life had brought this devastation upon them which was a common belief in their day. Her words, as   biting as they were, were spoken in the anger of deep grief of a mom who had to stand over the graves of ten children on the same day.

Walking through grief with my friend who viewed me as a safe friend, allowed me to see raw grief in it's many forms. Sometimes the grief was expressed as a quiet sigh. Sometimes it came out in an uncomfortable laugh. Sometimes it was expressed through quiet tears gently streaming down the face, sometimes in tears shed only on the inside, and sometimes tears accompanied by shaking shoulders and sobs that could be heard throughout the house. Sometimes grief came out in loud angry words of protests followed by irrational bartering. And, sometimes grief came out in a declaration of God's goodness and love in the face of unbearable pain.

It has been over thirty years since I watched my friend bury her child. I have experienced some losses of my own and watched others bury husbands, children, siblings, parents, and grandparents. I also have learned that death is not the only cause of grief. Friends have grieved as they learned to care for their daughter who has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Friends who have lived courageously, grieve the health they once had as they repeatedly deal with cancer and chemo. Friends and family members are grieving as they continually deal with invisible autoimmune diseases and wake up tired to experience unexplainable pain everyday, These people whether they grief is the loss of a person or health or wealth, have had platitudes or unsolicited advice thrown at them.

I came to realize those who do this, do it for three reasons. First , they are uncomfortable with the pain they are observing in someone they love. Second, they say those things and offer advice because they are uncomfortable sitting in the powerlessness they feel in not having the ability to alleviate the suffering of others. Third, they offer advice like Job's friends did, because it gives them a false sense of security that by living right they could head off the kind of suffering they are observing.

Yesterday I was watching a Facebook Live by Todd Smith of Selah. He mentioned his song Broken Praise. I wasn't familiar with it, so I looked it up and found a video of Job set to the words of Broken Praise. It gave me chills, because for the first time ever I felt like someone had given honor to Job and the suffering he endured. The first two stanza's describe what my friend went through as she read the cards people sent her:

"If one more person takes my hand
And tries to say they understand
And tells me there's a bigger plan
That I'm not meant to see

If one more person dares to suggest
That I held something unconfessed
And tries to make the dots connect
From righteousness to easy street."

He goes on to say that he (Job) had the same assumptions that a man's honest life entitled him to an easy life. Then he askes God if He would hold him and stay with him so he can raise the broken praise to Him. Job also asks who else will see his suffering as an opportunity to educate and expose flawed theology and who would come along and try to tie up loose ends, hoping to sweep awkward moments from the room. Todd ends the song with acknowledging that God filled Job's cup and God emptied it and telling God that even if He never filled his cup and his story ends to just give him one more breath to sing Hallelujah.

I encourage you to go to one of the links below to see the video, hear the song, and read the words in their entirety. This song could help us all to learn to better respond to suffering. You and I will have to choose at some point how we want to respond to the suffering of others. We can either be like Job's friends, whose response was to debate and accuse, or we can do the more vulnerable thing of simply sitting with someone in their pain, holding them when they cry, and listening to their words as they grapple to make sense of the goodness of God in light of the pain they are feeling until their heart can offer praise from it's broken state. For broken praise is the purest praise of all.  

Links to Broken Praise by Todd Smith:

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

When Memories are Hard

Eighteen years ago, I woke up before the rest of my family and grabbed my coffee and settled into a comfortable chair to watch the morning news. They were broadcasting pictures of one of the twin towers burning. I was sad and overwhelmed at the thought of a fire that could impact so many people. Then all of a sudden an airplane came into view and hit the second tower and I knew that what I was viewing was not an accident. I ran toward the bedroom calling my husband to come because something was terribly wrong. Soon after that the pentagon was hit and another plane went down in a field. As I drove our son to high school that morning I told him repeatedly he didn't have to go and he repeatedly told me he was wanted to go. And, I drove home wondering if I did the right thing leaving him there.

As I think about that day now, pictures pop into my mind--pictures I wish I could forget, but can't. Pictures of people fleeing the area on foot totally covered in dust and debris, their faces full of shock, terror, and confusion. Pictures of people jumping from the windows of fractured buildings, falling to their death. Pictures of first responders rushing in, risking their own lives in an attempt to save others. Pictures of the Pentagon with a great big gapping hole in its side. Pictures of a field burning where a plane was heroically forced down by citizens who refused to let the terrorists hit their intended target. Pictures of people being interviewed, with tears streaming as they described the last conversation they had with loved ones trapped in hijacked planes and crumbling buildings. And, pictures of people overseas chanting of their hatred of America and its people, realizing God had called me to love my enemies and in the face of such strong hatred I no longer knew what that looked like.

As I think back on that day, I also remember what it felt like to be a mom whose son's marine reserve unit was activated and sent to war to fight the enemy that was different than the enemies the USA has fought before. I watched as he and his pregnant wife hugged tight. Then I watched as he and his dad hugged and patted each other on the back, mumbling words I couldn't hear. Then I took my turn, trying to portray a courage I certainly didn't feel for my son's sake. I can still see him in my mind's eye, climbing the bus's steps along with the other young men in his unit. I remember waving until they were out of sight, trying to get one last glimpse of his face. I remember us slowly walking back to our car and the silence that filled the car as we rode home, each of us lost in our own thoughts and fears doing the hard work of holding ourselves together.

At the time I thought the hard was the goodbyes we said at the armory, but I was so wrong. The hard was the waking up morning after morning, not knowing if our first born was safe or in harms way, if he was dead or alive, or if he was lying injured on that desert sand with no one to help. No one told me what to do with the hurting mom's heart that daily wondered what his heart was feeling. We made it through and got to see our son climb down the bus steps into waiting arms, fully aware that many others didn't, And, it hurts my heart to this day to think about the spouses, the parents, and the kids who bravely watched soldiers leave, who got the dreaded call, telling them they were being robbed of the opportunity to ever see their loved ones come home.

Eighteen years later and these memories are still vivid and they are still hard. But along with these hard memories come memories of the intimacy I felt with God as I learned to pour my heart out to Him. At that time, I walked every morning and as I walked I prayed. The prayers I prayed weren't just everyday prayers, they were fervent prayers. I remember telling God daily about the great big fear I was feeling, asking Him to give me the courage just to face the day no matter what was in the news and what the day might hold for us. I remember telling the Lord about the hurt I was experiencing when the news showed the faces of those who hated us and asked Him to help me learn how to love the people those images represented. I told Him how I longed to see our son again and to have the opportunity to see him hold the little baby his wife was carrying in her womb. I asked the Lord to empower our son to be the kind of light he had been in his high school.

As my walks came to an end each morning, I found myself able to praise Him for the peace He was pouring into my heart daily. I praised Him for who He was and what He was doing in me, my family, and our country during that time. I thanked him for the kindnesses other nations were showing us after the attacks our nation had endured and for the extra love and care we, as a people, seemed to be showing one another.

I realize now it was during that time I began to really grasp what was meant by casting our cares on Jesus who cares for us. Up until then I had interpreted 1 Peter 5:7 to mean I was sinning when I experienced anxious feelings. So, I often pretended everything was okay when it wasn't. I had pretended I wasn't concerned about things a mom should be concerned about--things like the severe asthma that plagued our youngest, the bully in our neighborhood that did all he could to hurt my kids, the ugly obscene phone calls that came regularly to my daughter and me, sometimes in the middle of the night and sometimes every hour on the hour. I started out trying to handle the events concerning the towers the same way. I tried to pretend I wasn't concerned that my son was on the front lines of a war.  I tried to pretend the attack on our country didn't hurt my heart and instill a fear in me I had never experienced before. And before long I just reached a point I couldn't pretend any more. I could no longer portray myself as something I wasn't just because someone might disapprove and might tell me I was sinning because of the anxiety I felt.

That was when I became brutally honest with my Jesus about my fears and my feelings. I fully expected God to scold me and walk away from this hot mess that I was. But, God didn't! Instead, He met me on my walks in my brutally honest cries, and strengthened my heart to face each and every day as it came. And when the news showed nations ranting their hatred, I could rest in the fact that I was deeply loved by a Savior who had sacrificed His own life for me and I found the strength to pray for the hearts of those chanting to be turned towards God. In my raw honesty, I found my worship to be more pure and heartfelt. And, it was in that honest crying out, that I also began to see the bigness and the holiness of God more clearly than I ever had before.

I came through that time realizing that sometimes believers have the tendency to shame by hurling verses taken out of context at those living in anxious moments. Maybe our God would have us sit with them in the hard instead, gently helping them that God has His ears turned towards them, longing to hear their voices humbly crying out to Him so He can comfort and  strengthen them and provide the peace they need to survive the hard He has called them to live.

When memories are hard, I find them more bearable when I remember the memories carry with them reminders of the beautiful lessons learned about our great God and how compassionately He relates to His people as they walk moment-by-moment with Him through the hard they faced.


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!