Friday, October 14, 2011

Challenges, Trials and Perserverence…can we really do it???

In the summer I heard reading from the book of James for, what I would have to admit, the first time ever. I am sure that there is a great amount of the bible that I’ve heard before and a great amount of common passages that I can recall but I have to admit that I’ve never REALLY listened before and never really appreciated what I was listening to.
The recurrent theme in my blogs lately has been of the things that get us through life…the good things and the bad. I’ve thought a lot about this scripture when I heard it and heard our pastor speak on it….
James 1 2-4, 12
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Wow… what a concept. To consider it pure joy to face trials. To think that we should celebrate the challenges, the trials, the burdens, the loss, the tragedy, the crisis. If you’d told me that 2.5 years ago, I would have told you to jump in the lake. And really, even now, I have a hard time with this on the surface. If you only read that first verse you would slam the bible shut if you were in crisis. But the next few verses are what make me think…it helps that I heard a sermon on this topic too LOL!
The testing of our faith brings perseverance. To persevere can be defined as :a steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. Our pastor found synonyms for the word perseverance… to go up and through, to carry on, to endure and to maintain. The theological definition is continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation. And to go up and through certainly seems like that state of being that you find yourself in when you are in tragedy. My faith has been tested many times… most certainly in our TTTS journey but many times before and since. Sometimes I just want to scream why??? Sometimes I want to say ‘I’ve had ENOUGH!!!’. Sometimes I throw my hands up and say ‘really God, you really think I can get through this’. And I’ve also been known , while tears stream down my cheeks or my heart races with the worry, stress and strain, to say ‘I give up…I can’t do this’. But I do it, I keep going, I push forward, push up and through. And I get through it. Full of questions and asking why but I get through it.
Asking questions is okay…He expects that. Last spring when the community I live in dealt with the loss of two volunteer firemen, lost in the line of duty, the minister at the service shared something very interesting and comforting with us. He told us that someone once asked Mother Theresa what she would say to God when she first met Him in Heaven. Her response was “You have a lot of explaining to do”. If she can question God then I think all of us certainly can!
But back to perseverance….. Can I really believe, in my heart, that I should be happy and filled with joy that I am being given a burden to carry and a crisis to endure??? I am not sure I always do that now but I promise you I never did it before. I didn’t give up my faith, I didn’t give up on God. But I wasn’t able to find joy in my loss or my challenges. But it most certainly does build character, give you wisdom and help you grow. It is a most challenging concept but I am beginning to understand how true it is. When you get through it, when you persevere, you know that you did it through strength, tenacity and courage. Where do those things come from? To me, I say the Lord. He gives us those gifts, He gives us the strength.
We are blessed when we’ve persevered, we have accomplished great things through faith and by not giving up, we have shown the Lord that we are ready for judgment, we are ready for the crown of life because we love and trust the Lord.
Sounds so easy, doesn’t it. It isn’t, it never will be. But then, neither was the trials that Jesus endured for us. He suffered so much more than I ever have and yet his faith never waivered, He knew his reward was the crown of glory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart!

Happy Belated Thanksgiving everyone! And to my American friends…this is , in my opinion, the best time to celebrate this wonderful holiday….when the harvest is coming off and the smell of fall is everywhere. It is a time to Thank God for the wonderful food we are so fortunate to enjoy and to thank Him for the ability to see, hear, touch and taste the glorious harvests.
I love fall and feel so fortunate to live in an area where we can appreciate the fall in its glorious splendor. I love that I am a farm kid and actually enjoy the dust and dirt of the combines, the smell of corn silage in the air and the slow pace that tractors and combines take. I love that my drive to work takes me past bush after bush of trees in all shades and past fields and wagons of pumpkins, gourds and squash.
We are such a blessed people and it is so wonderful to give thanks for that but thanks should not only be given this time of year….and yet it so often is. So often we can only think to say thanks when we are told to…and that isn’t right.
And so often people cannot seem to give thanks for everything in their lives.

1st Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Everything thing we have is a gift from God. EVERYTHING!!! It’s not just the obvious things like health, and happiness. It’s not just the opportunities and abundance. It’s not just the people and relationships. It’s every single thing you have, every morsel of food, every button and lace, every shoe and sock,every smile and laugh, every tear and sorrow…. every moment of everyday. And even when these things don’t seem to be going your way or you aren’t sure of things in your life, you need to be thankful…you need to find things that are good and thank God for those.

Philippians 4:6-7(NIV)

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is just that simple…. Give thanks for everything in every situation and don’t worry about anything. I know , I know , who am I kidding. I know it is hard, impossible some days. Life hands us some pretty big challenges sometimes. It hands us little challenges too…it hands us things everyday which are often hard to be thankful for or to see past and find the things that are good. And yet it is essential that we do that, that we work hard to see the good, the peace, the hope. If we don’t, then we are giving up and letting it control us. I always find it interesting when people focus on themselves and how horrible their life is. I am know I am guilty of this at times but thankfully it doesn’t happen for any great length of time. Usually I am just beginning my poor, poor pity me rant when I see a story on the news or on my favourite social media outlet…facebook… about a loss, crisis and tragedy and I realize how good my life is. I wish everyone could operate that way, I wish people could look at those around them before they complain and realize how good their life is and give praise for that. Instead they complain about things that sometimes those who they complain to would give anything to have only that problem…or just have that problem.
I recently wrote to some other grieving parents about finding ways to peace. I spoke about trying to give purpose to your loss in order to give you hope and peace. I also, as I have often in the past, tried to get others to see what they can be thankful for in the midst of this overwhelming sadness that the loss of a child brings. But what a difficult thing this is…. How do you feel thankful for anything when your heart is broken??? My answer is simple… are you alive? Did you survive to live another day and have more opportunities, more moments to live, love and laugh? If so, then those are moments to celebrate and give thanks.

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

I mean isn’t it really a gift, a reason to celebrate that we, as parents who have lost a child or children are still here . I know it is hard to think of it this way but isn’t it a gift to know that we have endured the worst pain ever and still survived… permanently changed but still here. We are stronger for it…despite how many of us feel every day. We have survived what many think would ‘kill’ them. We have made new friends, learned so many new things and travelled roads we never thought we would. Yes it is a world we would have never wished we travelled, it’s a world we’d never wish on anyone. But we are still here and for many of us, we have a closer connection to God and I guess to Heaven. And for that I am thankful.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Encouragement... it's what gets us through

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”William Arthur Ward
Our pastor quoted this a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking of it and of writing about it since then. Admittedly I had planned to write this, oh about three weeks ago, but life, once again, got in the way. But that might actually makes the timing on this a bit better because I have had so many people encouraging me in so many areas lately, so many praying for me in various ways, and now I can Praise God that some of my prayers have been answered.
Encouragement is an interesting thing…. It can be so easy to do and yet can be done in such a way that it really isn’t encouragement at all. And the results can be just as William Arthur Ward stated above.
I’m sure we can all think of people who are full of flattery but don’t back that up with support. They can tell us how awesome we are but they never give any feedback to our deeds and actions, they never offer support and critiquing…only positive comments. That only gives us a false sense of security and eventually leads us to wonder what this person actually sees in us and our actions. When something doesn’t work out the way you wanted or your efforts backfire it is very hard not to remember the person who didn’t give you any advice but just gushed at all you were doing. You know, when you are planning something let’s say and you ask some people if your ideas sound good, really looking for suggestions and support and what you get is ‘your ideas are so wonderful, you are such a great person for doing this, everything will go great’ etc. So you go into your activity thinking that it’s going to go off without much of a hitch because that is the feedback you’ve been given. When the event doesn’t turn out as planned and you realize you overextended yourself, planned the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong crowd etc. you realize that you needed more honest advice, more encouragement, more offers of support and help.
And the same can be said for the opposite type of support. You know those types too…the ones who never support you, who don’t believe in you, tell you they don’t know why you do the things you do, that they’d never do it that way or never do it all. That just makes it really hard to be around that person, makes it hard to really like them because you always feel judged.
And ignoring…well that seems to come in all circles too. How many people have the kind of friends who never seem to engage in conversation, never inquire how you are, never offer to help or support you. You co-exist with them but you never interact despite all your efforts to engage them. How often have you asked for general support for something via email or facebook only to have the same people over and over again not bother to respond or reply. Sometimes all you are asking for is a few words of support, encouragement or even just someone to listen to you and yet this seems to be something that is just too much to ask.

Therefore encourage one another, strengthen and build up one another, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11

But encouragement…well that is truly a gift you can give someone. It makes me smile when I think of those that have encouraged me right here on this blog. Those that have thanked for sharing my inner most thoughts and my inner most grief. I feel so warm all over when I think of those people who always reach out to me when I need support, who always help when I ask for it. I think of the encouraging words I had when planning the fundraiser (and no, I still don’t have a grand total for it yet). I was in awe of all of the baking that was donated…Brycen made $300 or more on his bake stand. That is encouragement. People telling me that the cause is so very worthwhile, that is encouragement. People driving distances just to come and say hi…or to meet for the first time…that is encouragement. Random people sending us donations or donating to Zack’s bike a thon (which raised almost $1100)…that is encouragement.

And those that have checked in all summer with me about my job status…always asking if I was moving schools….if I got what I was wanting and praying for… some that never seemed to forget that I was praying for this move. That was encouragement. My new friends at church who praised God with me when the news FINALLY came that the job was mine…that is amazing encouragement. Those that rejoiced with me online when I announced my move…that was encouragement.
Without encouragement we can lead pretty sad existences. As Christians we need to encourage others all of the time. We need to love and support those around us because not only is it the right thing to do but because it will come back to us. When we need support, love, encouragement, we will remember those times when we struggled and we will remember those that encouraged us. That is how we learn, by modeling.

Bear one another's burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ and complete what is lacking in your obedience to it.
Galatians 6: 2

But our biggest source of encouragement is those of our faith and most especially our Father in Heaven.

Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be moved Psalm 55: 22

Sometimes it is so hard to cast our burdens, to forget that God is holding us in the palm of his hand and that we can give it all up to Him. We are only human, we make mistakes, we forget. It is likely one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn as a Christian…that I must give up my worries and burdens to God.
Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon Him; fret not yourself because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass. Psalm 37: 7
When Cameron was baptized by our friend Theresa, she used this topic in her sermon. She spoke as a mother and as a friend of how hard it is to cast your burdens onto the Lord and to not fret. She knows first hand how hard that is when it comes to your children….she lived it in one of the same places I did…St. Joe’s.

Casting the whole of your care, all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. 1 Peter 5: 7

And I know that all of you know that I do too… for obvious reasons in regards to Cameron and Cole but also for reasons in my marriage, my family and our situation at the moment. I am working very hard to give my burdens to God and to not worry about our financial situation and Geoff’s job. I know God will provide for me as long as I believe He will. If I doubt then the chances of my worries being taken away and the outcome I desire happening are pretty small. I need to feel encouraged by the love of Christ and I need to feel encouraged by those who believe in me, who support me and who will be cheering me on as I take the journey of life.
And all of that encouragement…well that is love. That is what love is all about. It’s unconditional and it causes a cyclical affect. So I guess now I am forced to love you… and I praise God for that!