Friday, January 22, 2016

Second Year of Mourning

The journey less travelled is one that is harder. The Bible talks about the narrow way and the wide road. Obviously the narrow road is the journey less traveled. It is one that probably you have to climb over mountains along treacherous pathways where if you dare look to the left or right of you, you would fall, or become very afraid and start shaking with fear. It is followed by steep inclines into the valleys below the mountains, and then over another set of hills or mountains with deep dark valleys on the other side. This is how these last few months have been for our small family. I remember climbing Mount Inyangani in Nyanga, Zimbabwe and seeing the deep crevices in the rocks cutting down the other side of the mountain that had been put there by years and years of rain pounding the side of the mountain. There were also many trees standing bent over from years of strong winds blowing them in one direction. On the top of the mountain though was a fresh mountain stream with icy cold water. It was refreshing even on a cool fall day.

We have endured much suffering as a family by the US standard of suffering. Of course the Word of God says “we will suffer” in the last days especially. I think the believers on earth are suffering almost as much as those who lived in Bible times did, perhaps a little more.  Becoming friends with grief is not where I would like to stay. Grief can be your friend but really only for a period of time. I think for me personally the deep sense of loss of Walt happened almost right after the one year anniversary of his death. That is not so long ago. I felt desperation inside me that I was being carried by huge waves, like on a surfboard climbing to the top  of the wave and then plunging into the depths under the wave as it broke and washed up on to the shore. I am sure this sounds like depression. It probably is or was. I have never felt that way before in my life not knowing what I was going to do or feel the next second. To know that I was going to be okay I continued to play praise and worship music or Christian contemporary music in the night going to sleep, when I slept and 9 out of 10 times the Lord would minister directly to my heart through the words of a particular song.

More recently every time I get in the car or truck to run errands, take a son to practice, or even just when I wake up in the mornings my radio alarm clock has the perfect Scripture in song that I need to hear right  then. I think the grace and love of the Lord is chasing me, wooing me and drawing me to seek Him first and not things or stuff, to continue to bring myself back to Him and what He wants for our lives as a family.

I took a self-imposed retreat in the southern hills of Brown County in Indiana between Christmas and New Year. I was really alone without the boys for the first time in a year for more than 48 hours. It was deliciously enjoyable, yet being alone was good, and lonely at the same time. The Lord took me on a journey through 20 years of living in Indiana and all that I had seen and done with being married to Walt, being involved in three to four different churches and meeting some incredible people on this journey. So many of those folk were divine appointments. Some through doctors and nurses who just happened to be there at the right time when we needed prayer or guidance, others just met in the lobby of our church.

Whilst walking around the lake one cold afternoon I began to look at the trees and the broken down forests around and how they were all different in form.  My first picture is one of a cool fresh water lake that is dark and forlorn but beneath the surface of it life continues on perhaps just a little slower than other seasons. Fish go down deeper or move to warmer areas of the lake to keep safe.  Is this not what the human spirit does when times are cold and dark, we go to hide in the deep places so that our ‘hard’ is not exposed more to the cold damaging winter storms?

My second photograph is obviously of a tree that had fallen, but you know what, God still took that fallen trunk and turned it into something that glorified Him. I looked closer at the ‘life’ that showed up right there on something that most people would think was dead.  There is both lichen and moss growing prolifically on that trunk.

 God can still move. He is the God of the impossible. He is the God who clothes the trees, flowers and birds with exactly what they need. He gives them rest in cooler seasons, or instinctively plants in them the direction to fly to warmer places.  God can give that desire to us too to find warmer places to go for our spirits and hearts to be nourished too. God can take the dead things or what you thought was dead in your heart and bring them back to life again.  I thought that even when a tree is rendered totally dead and lying uprooted from the ground there is still life growing on or inn it. Even though your loved one may not be here any longer the Lord takes that legacy that in the natural is dead and gone, but 'new' things can start from there. Dead things can be changed to new dreams, new vision, new direction, new ideas - it is limitless with God.

Other photographs here show streams flowing into the lake and feeding its water supply providing freshness and newness of life to the lake. Though there were dead leaves everywhere I noticed that many of the lower branches of the trees were not on those really skinny trees. This is
because they had fallen off due to not getting enough nourishment or lack of light during the summer months I presume.  Sometimes, or a lot of times actually God has pruned situations, people and places out of my life. He showed me this again just to remind me where I have been and why.  The dead branches need to drop off at times to allow the tree to grow taller  towards the sky, but also to continue to allow its roots to grow deeper for security too. New growth and new branches come in the spring time too and remain for a time that the tree needs them or we need and allow them in our lives.

I crossed a few bridges. These reminded me of the help that our family had been given both financially, spiritually and physically in our home. Help with my boys now is gratefully received and cherished too. Bridges take us from one situation to another over another. There are rails on the bridge to make sure we stay in those boundaries and don’t try to venture out into side streams once again to find better options than what God wants for us. The lord puts those boundaries there for protection. Not to harm us like we usually think.

On the ground was leaves and moss, with the moss standing out in such vivid color against the dull brown, broken, dried leaves. To me this resembled how the broken
days had passed by but there were patches of green showing life once again. In the middle of the hard days there are times you can smile, laugh, or just have joy in your heart whilst tears are pouring down your cheeks. My broken dreams of what we may have accomplished together are no longer there. My dreams of spending nights snuggled with him are gone but we instead have different challenging evenings. Evenings that are not peaceful. The strategy to adjust that is coming slowly.

Lastly at the end of the pathway around the lake there were some amazingly tall trees but half of their root system was exposed. These thick strong roots had originally been covered, but even though now they were exposed they were still holding the tree up tall and strong.  All around these exposed tree roots were outcrops of moss. Green against gray.  I would rather take the green of ‘newness’ any day than gray of the old.  Our strength comes from the Lord. I am thankful for the Word of God and people that taught me this Word at a young age. I memorized verses like “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) as a little girl by learning a song.  Sometimes I have to hum the chorus often through the day to remind myself if I am not seeking Him then I can not possibly be living the best possible way for Him. The tree roots I think have to grow twice as deep as the height of the tree to prevent the tree from buckling when the winds are strong. I could be wrong on that point but it made sense to me.

In order to become a stronger person of faith your roots and nutrition need to be stronger. This is the Word of God actively working in your life 'under' the soil. I am not an avid reader of the Bible right now but have to fight for every verse. I want to run and hide when the words jump off the page and convict me or scold me with their truth. But God's word rightly divides the truth from the garbage. I only want what is good to be inside me, and to be in my children. Living this out is a daily, sometimes hourly challenge. My closest friends know so many of our struggles, and mine and why, and still love me. Leaning on their faith and strength helps us through some days too.   Your roots will be exposed when the strong winds and storms come. Keep holding on is all I can say from experience.

1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your cares on Him and He shall direct your paths.” God’s word is the nutrition and food that our spirit and soul needs. I am preaching to myself right now because he reminded me how to live and why I live, because I’ve been redeemed, by the Blood of the Lamb. Only Jesus can rejuvenate those weary, depressed tired spirits in our lives. Only Jesus can nourish your aching heart where no-one can see that pain or talk through it with you.  It is a daily and hourly job to keep giving those cares back to the Lord. We do not need to carry them off the altar and then try to figure out what to do with all of them. I am so guilty of this one even in the last 24/ hours. That’s a fact.

We have to keep feeding our family the right nutrition both physically and spiritually.  I know I cannot depend on my children’s church pastor to be responsible for my son’s Christian walk. No that is my responsibility until they are old enough as a teen to take over.  There will continue to be life in my family. There will be joy and laughter again. There will be changes in our daily lives all the time, but if we keep eating the right Word nuggets day by day we can build back up the soil around the roots of our tree, or just grow deeper roots to search for a better source of nutrition. New branches will grow again on our trees.

I learned so much about the very nature of God’s design for my family just on those walks around the lake. Nature is like free counselling.  In the middle of my widowhood there is still life, it may be buried deep beneath the surface of our daily ‘grind’. But God – he rose from the dead and He can resurrect new trees or old trees strongly rooted with new branches too.  There are cardinals in the woods in winter too providing a different sense of color, the blood of Jesus showing up to remind us of His sacrifice for everyone. Your sacrifice as a man and allowing God to lead and guide you is minimal. A bird singing in the distance says there is still JOY in this season of barrenness. A woodpecker knocking against the branches means Jesus is still there knocking at the door of some of you who won’t let him in to all the hard places. (Speaking to me here for sure.)

So from a snowy cold Midwest stay safe in the storms and hold on with all you can.