Courage – From Bitter to Blessed!

Moms JoshuaCOURAGE, n. L., – Bravery; intrepidity; that quality of mind which enables men to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness, or without fear or depression of spirits; valor; boldness; resolution.

With a tender touch, she pulled her mother-in-law close and wrapped her arms around her small frame. The finality of the moment was suffocating. How many more losses could they survive? The feelings of pain and loss were so fresh that it was hard to breathe. Taking a step back, her mother-in-law took one last look at her dead son and turned toward home. Home for now. With the loss of her father-in-law and now both the boys Ruth wasn’t sure what would happen to them. The three widows walked silently along the street. Each woman trying to sort out the recent loss. Ruth and Orpah looked at each other over the top of Naomi’s head. Both girls knew that this may be more than Naomi could bear.

Days later, Naomi emerged from her room with shoulders stooped but a determined look in her eyes. Naomi was going home to Bethlehem. Falling to the floor, Ruth weeps brokenly. Grief is strangling her heart. Preparations are made and Ruth and Orpah walk Naomi out of the city of Moab back toward Israel. Every step reminds Ruth that this is the end. The end of love for her. The end of her marriage. The end of her dream for a baby. The end of a friendship that has sustained her through the death of her husband. Naomi embraces the girls and gently tells them to go back home to their fathers. The death of Elimelek and her boys leaves all three women without a home or land. They must go back to their families. Orpah kisses Naomi and turns back. Ruth clings to Naomi and makes a choice that will change the course of history. This doesn’t have to be the end.  Ruth steps out with courage and begs Naomi to allow her to stay by her side. She promises her faith and loyalty to Naomi and ultimately to God. Knowing that this choice will be life-changing and difficult, Naomi tries to persuade Ruth to turn back. The passion and courage that Ruth shows at this moment, perhaps the hardest moment of her life, gives us a glimpse into her soul.

Years later Naomi, who returned home bitter but through the love of a Moabite girl learned to trust God again, cuddles with her little grandson named Obed. Ruth was courageous and obedient and God rewarded her faith through a man named Boaz. A love story for the ages. In little Obed’s eyes Naomi sees not only her own redemption but the redemption of a nation. Obed would be in the line of Christ. Ruth’s courage changed the course of history.

Ruth 1-4

Is courage a character trait that matters? Yes! We must run our race with courage. Through loss and grief we must stand with courage. Through trials and testing we must embrace opportunities. Through joy and suffering we must have the courage to wait on God. Courage is something we need to nurture in ourselves and in our children. Many times our lack of faith and worry restricts our children from becoming courageous. They feel our fear and hide from God’s best. We need to free them to live in the abundant life that God is offering. We need to live with courage and allow our children to walk with courage.

Here are 3 ways we can live with courage and lead our children to live with courage:

  1. Respond boldly to circumstances and events – For Ruth this meant leaving home. Ruth 1:16
  2. Wait on God’s timing – For Ruth this meant waiting on the events to play out and not manipulating the situation. Waiting takes deep courage and faith. Ruth 3:18
  3. Take advantage of opportunities. – For Ruth this meant humbling herself and opening her heart to potential new loss and grief by going to Boaz. Ruth 3: 5

Joshua 1:9

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

What is filling you with fear? Respond boldly! Is God asking you to courageously wait on His timing for an answer? Be of good courage! Embrace the opportunities before you with joy and courage! God is with you wherever you go.

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Oh Mary, I hope you didn’t know!

Christmas 2015

Frink_Jones_Family_Christmas_Card_2015Recently there was a very difficult situation that involved one of my kids. It was hurtful and painful for the child involved and excruciating for me as a parent. I had to sit back and watch my baby (not much of a baby anymore) be hurt. It took all my restraint and spiritual maturity to respond with grace. When I get stressed or upset, I get a migraine. I could feel the headache right away. Three days later, I was still fighting the headache and the heartache. My initial reaction was to get involved and change the circumstances so that there wasn’t a chance for any additional hurt. Knowing that wasn’t best, I had to sit back and watch things play out. Parenting isn’t for wimps!

During Christmas I love to read about the birth of Christ. I am humbled by the sacrifice made by God and Jesus to provide a way for us to have a way to Heaven. I also love to read about Mary and Joseph. I feel empathy every time I read the story. I can only imagine how difficult the situation was on both of them. It was a horrible stain on Mary’s character and reflected so badly on Joseph that he could have had Mary stoned. I hurt for Mary as she had to keep all the things she knew in her heart. I love that she was able to find comfort with Elisabeth, her cousin.

We jump to Mary having to take a trip just when she was ready to have the baby. I can remember thinking that even a soft bed was uncomfortable right before I was ready to have the boys. Can you imagine riding on a donkey? I would love to have heard the conversation on that trip! Mary gave birth for the first time in a stable with animals and had to put her son in a manger rather than a clean baby bed. As the shepherds came to see the baby, we all wonder if Mary really understood and knew that she had just given birth to her Savior. I love the song written by Mark Lowry named “Mary, Did You know?” It was just performed by Jordan Smith on the Voice. Pentatonix has a great version as well. David Phelps  is still my favorite version.  Listen to the recording below.  The song asks if Mary knew all that was to come for her baby boy. What an amazing thought. Oh Mary, I hope you didn’t know!

Mary from the movie The Passion of the Christ

Mary from the movie The Passion of the Christ

Years later, after Jesus has been beaten, humiliated and hung on a cross we find Mary right there in agony watching it all play out. What a horrible position for a mother. In John 19:25 it says, “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother.” Can you even imagine? To stand by as the leadership of the day wrongly accuse your son and watch him beaten and then make the walk to Calvary with the cross on his back must have been terrible. The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross was witnessed up close and personal by the one who loved him the most on earth. Boy, that makes my experience pale in comparison!

Christmas is tomorrow. A day of celebration but also of grief. A day that started a chain of events that allowed the reconciliation of man to God at a horrible cost. A wonderful day that showed the immense love God has toward us. How sad it would be for such a wonderful gift to be given at such a great cost only to be rejected. Oh Mary, I hope you didn’t know how much Jesus was going to have to suffer so that we would be able to enter Heaven. Friend, please take time to accept the gift God gave us on Christmas. It will change your life. If you have already accepted the gift, celebrate Christmas and the joy of Jesus’ birth with the shadow of Calvary across your home this year. Keep the focus off of material things and remember what a sacrifice the gift of baby Jesus was for all involved. Remember that we are called to live a life that compels others to want what we have. Merry Christmas to you and yours. I pray you cherish the day together and if you are alone, allow God to comfort you. Oh Mary, I don’t know if you knew, but I am thankful for your Son’s sacrifice for me!

 

SCF 002: Authentic Answers about Grief from a Pastor’s Wife

Still Choosing Faith Podcast

Today I am answering questions that came in from readers and listeners about grief. These may be some of the same questions you have but have been hesitant to ask face to face. So many times we reach out to Christian leadership for help while grieving and as leadership in our zeal to give a Biblical answer we give the “all things work together for good” canned response. Listen and hear me address questions from real people going through real grief from a Biblical viewpoint with candor and authenticity. I have been there and understand!

Click on the title below to read recent blogs on grief:

Grieving at Christmas

There is no Right or Wrong way to Grieve

Click here to get your copy of Choosing Faith Against the Odds written by Pastor Cliff and Mrs. Evona during their fight with cancer.

There is no Right or Wrong way to Grieve

It's a personal thing

one way We have a tradition with all our “Monsters” that on their birthday they can choose what type of cake they want. We have had some interesting cakes over the years. Chocolate cake, vanilla cake, Jello, (BTW this one was REALLY hard to get the candles to stand up in!) dirt cake, cookie cake, artfully arranged donuts, carrot cake and the list goes on. Never once in all these years did we say to the kids, “No, you can’t have donuts. Normal folks don’t ask for donuts for a birthday cake.” Well, maybe we did say that, but we still laughed and enjoyed the variety and allowed Smelly Monster #1 to be authentic and unique.

A friend of mine loves surprise birthday parties and has us plan one for her every year! LOL! Larry would rather eat his shoe than be the center of attention and wants to have a quiet dinner at home for his birthday. Why is it that we embrace differences in the way people want to celebrate but we want to give folks who are grieving a template on how they have to behave? Grieving is VERY personal. Some people need space while others need to feel connected. Some people still cry every time the loved one is mentioned even after many years and others can laugh and remember fun times. Sometimes some of us crazy folks even laugh and cry at the same time! None of this is wrong and none of this is right for everyone.

God wants you to have the space to grieve and feel the loss but there are a few things that WILL steal your joy and keep you from thriving for God’s glory:

  1. Focusing on your loss rather than your loved one. This may seem too subtle to point out but believe me it changes everything! When I stopped saying how sad and unfair it was for me and the boys to be alone and shifted to how blessed we were to have had such a godly husband and dad it changed my perspective. It didn’t change the situation but it did change how I looked at things. It freed me up to enjoy our memories.
  2. Allowing bitterness to take root. During an interview with a radio station they asked me how I avoided bitterness. I shocked them by saying I wasn’t able to avoid bitterness. (Funny how long it takes an interviewer to recover when you don’t answer the way they were expecting!) I shared that I wake up every morning with bitterness trying to gain space in my heart and have to make a choice… daily and sometimes hourly… to choose thankfulness over bitterness. Eph. 4:30-32
  3. Expecting people to understand. Cliff’s Aunt Cathy explained to me that people don’t understand. They have not experienced your same loss or pain. They are doing their best. You don’t really want them to understand because then they would have the overwhelming pain you are feeling. Turn to God for understanding. He has felt the pain and loss and knows just what you need. If you expect your family and friends to fill your needs, you will be disappointed. God wants you to turn to Him! 2 Corinthians 1:3

Grieving is a personal process that doesn’t have a shortcut. There are no magic verses that take the pain away but it is comforting to know that God is walking the path of grief with us and wants to hold our hand.

I have found that intentionally remembering Cliff’s birthday rather than the day he died gives our family comfort. We choose a project every year to celebrate Cliff’s life and his impact on us and others. One year our project was helping widows; another year it was creating personal memory books with pictures of Cliff and that family member together. What types of things have you found help you through your grieving process? Post some ideas below in the comments and help others learn to thrive not just survive!

Podcast coming on Saturday morning answering questions sent in by listeners and readers about grief. Don’t miss it!

Still Choosing Faith Podcast 002: Authentic Answers about Grief from a Pastor’s Wife

Grieving at Christmas

When Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year!

Christmas Tree (1 of 1)My husband, Cliff, died in October and the world still celebrated Thanksgiving in November. I was outraged. Christmas came and people were laughing and shopping like nothing had happened. I walked around like a zombie wondering how all of these strangers could be so heartless. I attended a school Christmas concert alone and sat behind a couple who were bickering and nagging at each other the entire time. This is the honest truth before God. I reached forward and tapped both of them on the shoulder and asked them to stop fussing or leave. I explained that I had just lost my husband a month before and that it made me want to do physical injury to them because they were squandering precious time together that it looked like they didn’t even deserve. Needless to say, I cleared the area. LOL! Not my most grace-filled moment but authentic!

Loss and grief can cause wonderful times of the year to become unbearable. If the loss is fresh, you don’t know how you will feel. If the loss isn’t fresh, you know you are going to feel bad. Either way it stinks. Here are some holiday-surviving lessons I have learned over the last 9 years:

  1. Don’t try to keep all the previous traditions right away. It’s kind of like our new “nutritional plan.” We had to give up milk and now we drink almond milk. You can’t take a big swig of the new milk expecting it to taste like regular milk. You drink almond milk, expecting it to be good but different. You can’t fill the missing place your loved one left. Things will not be the same. It doesn’t work to try to do all the same traditions and events expecting them to feel right. Your loved one is gone. It changes things. You may eventually be able to go back to the old tradition, but give yourself some space to heal.
  2. Make new traditions to honor and remember your loved one. We watch 3 Stooges movies and eat pop tarts. I’m pretty sure that isn’t going to be your new tradition, but it works for us! Think of something new that you can do that brings back good memories and make that a tradition.
  3. Do something for others even if you don’t feel like it. I love to find projects or help families in need during Christmas because Cliff loved giving himself and money to others. I intentionally give and help because it makes me feel better. I know it is right and biblical, but it really does comfort me more than those I am helping.
  4. Give yourself a pass. You don’t have to do it all. You only have so much emotional energy. Right after a loss and during times that are hard (like Christmas) you are drained. Some days it is almost too much to lift your arm to brush your teeth. So don’t! (Well, maybe try but if you can’t we will understand.) Loving people will try to tell you what you need to do and they don’t always know what is best. My favorite line to a sweet well-meaning older lady who was telling me what I should be doing right after Cliff died was, “That is so weird. I thought God’s voice would be deeper!” Hee hee!

We don’t grieve as those who don’t have hope (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), but we do grieve. Embrace the comfort and grace God offers.

Share a new tradition you will put in place to honor your loved one and help you and your family THRIVE, not just survive during the holidays.

Being Thankful Changes Everything

Happy Thanksgiving!

As every parent of a teenager knows, the key to a good fuss is the wind up. You have to lean back and take a deep breath before you start because it takes a lot of energy and you can’t show any signs of wavering. Teenagers can smell insincerity a mile away. This tiny window of weakness gives them just enough time to employ whatever tactic they have found to derail the fuss. Smelly Monster #2 usually talks in his Nacho Lebre voice or his Irish brogue to make me laugh.

During a recent trip to “Wally World” on a Saturday (my first mistake) with Smelly Monster #2, I was winding up for a fuss. I was cranky and grumpy AND at “Wally World” on Saturday. Not a good combination. SM #2 doesn’t like it when I pull the cart from the front while he is supposed to be pushing it from the back. In my defense, he only has three speeds: turtle, snail and slug. He was somewhere between snail and In all things give thanksslug that day. I pulled as he was trying to push and we were at immediately at odds. This was the culmination of a day of frustrations. I was over it. I leaned back and took a deep breath. At that same moment Smelly Monster #2’s eyes became as large as saucers. It was like slow motion took over and I looked up just in time to be hit squarely in the head by a 12 pack of paper towels that had fallen from the top shelf. Not sure how to react, we both stood there looking at each other as a second package pelted me on the head.

Parenting tip #27: When you know you have lost the upper hand give in gracefully.

At that point there was nothing else to do but laugh. My favorite part of the story is when SM#2 came around the cart and gave me a hug and said, “I guess we should be thankful that we weren’t in the bowling ball section!”

The Bible says to “give thanks always for all things.” Ephesian 5:20

Ick, gag, ugg! This is not my favorite principle. However, I have learned that a thankful spirit and attitude changes everything. Grief is an overwhelming emotion and it clouds and blurs everything in our lives. Cultivating a thankful, grateful spirit helps us bring things into focus.

Here are 3 steps to cultivating a grateful spirit.

  1. Remember past blessings. Lamentations 3:20-21 The current situation may be painful and difficult but I bet you can list 10 things right off the top of your head that are blessings from your past. Good times with you lost loved one. Happy events with your friends. Simple gifts that lifted your spirit. Write them out and remember.
  2. Notice new blessings. Because of the blur and cloud of pain you are living in, you can miss good things happening all around. Psalm 28:7 God is continuing to give you strength and sustain you. Really look around and notice those current blessings.
  3. Choose to be thankful and grateful. Many times we have to take action first and then our emotions follow. Psalm 118:24 This small choice can change your entire life. Why just survive when you can thrive?

I wonder if God found falling paper towels as funny as my Smelly Monster? I am thankful that we were not in the bowling ball section.

Since today is Thanksgiving take a minute and post at least one thing below in the comments you are thankful for today. I hope you have a great day with family and friends.

Who Will Take Care of Me?

“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” Psalm 3:3

Illness impacts us all at some point. It may be a grandparent or parent. It strikes the young and the old and we have to respond whether we want to or not. I know I have thought privately and talked to those close to me about the concern of facing an illness that makes me unable to care for myself. None of us want to be in that position but we do not dictate when and if we have to face that challenge. During my first husband’s illness we wrote a blog. We shared many personal moments but not all. Cliff became so ill during one of his stays at Moffitt that he didn’t know who anyone was around him and needed constant care. I would lie beside him in the hospital bed and rub his hands and feet and put cream on his sweet bald head. I wiped tears from his face and lifted him up to drink so that he wouldn’t become dehydrated. After his passing, there were days that I couldn’t physically get out of bed. I would turn my face away from Cliff’s side of the bed and weep. I remember crying out to God asking him who was going to take care of me. He showed me Psalm 3:3 that was underlined in Cliff’s favorite Bible.

 “But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”

GOD was going to take care of me. God was personally going to reach down and lift my head and offer me protection, comfort and support. What an amazing gift. I still argued with God many times after that over my human lack of understanding and desire to have Cliff back to lift my head but God has been compassionate in spite of my frailty.

Are you broken and needy today? Have you suffered new loss or relived a past loss? Are you dealing with illness or heartache? Accept God’s offer to provide support and comfort as the “lifter of your head.”

Still Choosing Faith,

Evona