I have not seen my sister’s grave,
Though via Zoom I saw the place
My heart still weeps in unbelief
A twin cannot be replaced.
I want to sing with her again
Enter into heaven’s space
I know I will in future time
God’s promise cannot be erased
That hope causes me to smile
While tears run down my face
My journey of faith struggles into hope is available. Preview and purchase Songs of Joy in the Valley of TearsHERE
What do you focus on when you feel anxious? Your pounding heart? Your tight throat? Your racing thoughts?
I've done that and anxiety escalates. Several times, I've ended up in the ER. Gradually, I've learned anxiety doesn't need to control my life. I can control it. The following story is an example.
For many years, when we traveled beyond the boundaries of the familiar roads my husband and I normally take, he did most of the driving. That’s not because I was incapable of navigating more crowded highways. It was because John enjoyed driving, and I enjoyed relaxing or reading books. The problem was: I gradually lost confidence in my driving ability. I didn’t realize this had happened until I needed me to make an eight-hour trip by myself.
My immediate thought was, “I can’t handle this! I’ll have an accident!” I felt almost panic level anxiety. Were those feelings a red light signaling me to stop? In some instances, intense anxiety could be warning me of danger, and it would not be wise to proceed. Sometimes, the opposite is true. Anxiety is a green light, telling me to go ahead; it’s safe to proceed.
Emotions, such as anxiety, are like a “tree” with roots (core beliefs), limbs and branches (conscious thoughts), leaves (feelings) and fruit (attitudes and behavior). Read more about this in Emotional Freedom
If we focus on the feeling-part of anxiety, it can overwhelm us. We will automatically act as if it’s a red light and stop forward movement. When we continue to allow feelings of intense anxiety to determine our direction in life, these are the consequences. We become more and more anxious. We withdraw from people and avoid doing things. We stay home. Our world becomes smaller and smaller. And we feel increasingly incompetent and unable to handle anything unfamiliar in life.
Instead of focusing on the feeling-part of anxiety, it’s helpful to turn our attention to the thinking-part of anxiety. We can ask God to show us our thoughts about anxiety and whether they're based on truth or lies. By asking appropriate questions and considering all the possible actions (behaviors) we might take, we can determine whether our anxiety is a red light warning us of actual danger; a yellow light telling us we need to slow down and prepare ourselves for success; or a green light telling us it’s wise to ignore our anxious feelings and keep moving ahead.
I decided my driving-related anxiety was a yellow light signaling me to slow down, not a red light signaling me to stop. I looked at my destination and determined the route that would be easiest for me to drive. I scheduled the time I'd be driving through large cities so that I could avoid rush hour traffic. I asked friends to pray for me. After that, I decided that anxiety was a green light. I made the trip without my husband. Did I feel totally at peace while driving? No, I did not. A couple of times, I got lost. My heart pounded. I felt like crying. I stopped, prayed, felt calmer, and got back on the road. When I finally reached my destination, I felt very tired, very thankful, very happy, and much more confident in my ability to drive.
Questions to Consider:
In what situations do you think of anxiety as a red light? A yellow light? A green light?
If it’s a red light, what good things is it keeping you from doing?
How could you prepare yourself to safely “feel the fear and do it anyway”?
Have you ever accomplished something good and felt embarrassed about it, even though others around you thought you did great and congratulated you? That’s what recently happened to me.
My pastor, Jim Holt, invited me to talk with him about my book, Songs of Joy in the Valley of Tears. He planned on 30 minutes of sharing, but I was so excited I went far over the time limit. Secondly, what was designed to be a dialogue became more of a monologue. Neither of those things was huge problems for Jim. The Hope Chat would be edited before it went online. Jim said to me, “You did great!” (Here it is) Yet, the next day I woke up feeling terrible. So embarrassed.
“Jesus,” I prayed, “What is the problem? Why do I feel so terrible?” As I listened quietly for some insight, the above Scripture verse popped up in my mind. I recognized the terrible feeling as a “shame attack”. I had tuned in to my old way of unhealthy thinking in which perfectionism and denial of certain emotions were rules for successful living. So my not-completely-transformed conscience, still functioning under law instead of grace, punished me.
According to my old rules (laws) of living it was not okay to admit to feelings of grief, loneliness, or anger. Especially anger. I talk about all of these emotions in my book on grief and mentioned them in my chat with Jim. According to my old rules of living, I broke a “don’t talk about this” rule, so I must be punished. (Shaming ourselves is a form of self-punishment.)
Thankfully, after my conversation with Jesus, the shame feeling left. Unhealthy ways of thinking cannot hang around long when confronted by the truth-seeing eyes and grace-filled, loving arms of Jesus.
If you have been taught to believe you must hide your feelings of loneliness, anger, and grief, it may be hard to believe otherwise. Spend some talking to Jesus about them. He can free you from the heavy load of shame . . . the need to look good, be perfect, and hide your grief.
On April 1, 2020, I wrote in my diary that social distancing and other restrictions to prevent the pandemic from spreading would be extended for 30 days. Along with most people, I never imagined the massive spread of disease and loss of life that would occur in the year ahead. In the eyes, speech, and movements of those around me, I see and hear signs of weariness. Can we find the strength to “hang on a little longer” as many health care workers urge us to do? I believe we can.
On this Easter weekend, I find renewed comfort and hope for strength in the promises of Scripture, such as the one quoted above. You can find that verse and the following poem on pages 190 and 191 of my book, Songs of Joy in the Valley of Tears
God's Promise of Strength
God will strengthen my mortal body;
That's the word I heard him say.
God will strengthen my mortal body:
That's the one I possess, today.
God will strengthen my mortal body.
It may be old, but it's not decayed.
God will strengthen my mortal body,
If from wisdom I don't stray.
God will strengthen my mortal body.
I will trust him and obey.
God will strengthen my mortal body;
That's the promise he made to me.
God will strengthen my mortal body
And raise it up on resurrection day.
“Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
1 Thessalonians 4:17 NLT
The pandemic which began in 2020 resulted in unimaginable and unexpected grief for the entire world. If you are one of the many people who lost a loved one during that time or in 2021, I hope you will reach out to Jesus who loves us far more than we can imagine.
Jesus’s amazing statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25 NLT, along with the promise that he will return gives me great comfort and hope that I will be reunited with my sister who passed from this earth on June 11, 2020.
As I remember these promises, I find the grace to grieve. After a three-month break, I am writing blog posts, again. My hope is that as I share my story, you will find the courage to share yours.
The grace to grieve is the grace to cleave– Cling to Jesus when I’m tempted to leave, Find in him strength for today, When my sister, my friend, has gone away.
The grace to grieve is the grace to believe Others can help me if I choose to receive Them into my journey and openly weep. We are all wounded and hurting sheep.
The grace to grieve is the grace to care About others in pain, choose to be “there”. When I choose to be present in their journey My faith and love become more sturdy.
In grieving alone, we are never finished Our sorrow is buried, not diminished. In grieving, together, there are breakthroughs of laughter In which we find strength for what will come after.
In grieving together, we discover fresh purpose Actually, discover we have a surplus Our hearts overflow with hope and love And we share it with those who don’t have enough.
"Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges."
--Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT)
What Did Christmas Mean for Jesus?
No words of mine are adequate
To describe what it must have meant
For the God of this universe
To make it safe for us to converse
With him, face-to-face, without a mask;
Before his purity, we’d not last.
We’d disintegrate, fall apart.
(Arrogance would not be smart).
He saw our sad condition
And descended from heaven
Into a human’s body;
Depended on that mommy
To nourish and to feed him;
Let a human dad train him,
Teach him the sharpness of a nail.
(With a nail he’d be impaled).
His hands developed calluses.
His feet walked on roads of dust.
He always listened to the Spirit;
Never bragged about his merit;
Distributed kindness everywhere,
Taught us about submission and prayer;
Got angry at injustices,
Was honest in all his practices;
Taught us what it means to live
In harmony, and truly give
God the honor he’s worthy of—
Become united in perfect love.
For doing this, he was mocked and killed.
It was for us, his blood was spilled;
It was for us, he conquered evil.
It is for all, he’s prepared a table—
A table of festivity
That far exceeds what we now see.
What joy awaits us if we choose
To give up, now, what we will lose;
And grasp, by faith, the final prize
That Jesus sets before our eyes.
Only then, will we recognize
What Christmas meant for Jesus Christ.
The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.Isaiah 61:11 (NLT)
While death is spreading through the earth,
God is working in ways unseen.
Peace and righteousness will spring forth.
Evil and injustice have no claim.
Like seeds planted in fertile soil,
Nurtured in love and faithfulness,
Light-filled energy will prevail.
I sing with joy and gratefulness.
Join me, my friends, do not despair.
Focus your eyes on Jesus, Give
Him full attention. He is here.
In his power and victory, live.
For a few days, I fed on news reports, set no boundaries on my Google searches, and paid no attention to the time I spent doing this. As this activity increased, so did the level of anger, anxiety, and depression in my soul.
Last night I went to bed. I tossed and turned for a long time. After sleeping for three hours, I woke up. The same negative feelings flooded my mind. ”
What could I do?
Help me, God!” I prayed.
Nothing happened. My feelings did not change. I repeated my prayer. “Help me! Help me! Help me!”
I waited. Repeated my prayer. Waited.
After a while, these words from Psalm 103 popped into my mind– “Bless the Lord, my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.”
I continued repeating and meditating on this verse, eventually fell asleep, and woke with a joyful melody in my heart. What relief!
In this season of isolation and uncertainty, it would easy for me to fall back into anger, anxiety, and depression. What can I do to increase and maintain joy in my heart so that when Thanksgiving arrives (in 12 days), when Christmas arrives (in 41 days), and when 2021 arrives (in 47 days), I can celebrate truly celebrate?
This is my plan to increase and maintain a joyful heart. I will change my focus to one of gratitude. Every day, for the next 47 days, I will
Read Psalm 103 (verses 1-5), reflect on God’s blessings, and thank him for them
Write down as many gratitude statements as I can think of
Read them aloud before I go to bed
Read all of them on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years’ day
Send a “Thank you” message or affirmation to at least one person
How joyful is your heart? Does it need a little encouragement? If so, I invite you to join me and adopt my action plan. Start as soon as you can.
Or make up a action plan of your own. Share it with me and/or someone else.
Perhaps the first and second lines of my poem would better be written: “In this week that’s called ‘Election undecided'”. What a stressful time this is for our country and for the world! Let us continue to encourage one another, pray for one another, and work toward reconciliation and unity.
In this day that’s called
When the world awaits
Him who will be “knighted”—
Creator and Blesser,
Righteous and Loving,
Your reign is forever!
Open our eyes
To see what you’re doing;
Open our ears
To hear what you’re saying;
Place in our hearts
A desire to please you;
Create in our wills
Resolve to obey you.
Oh, Father of lights,
Sustainer of all life,
Have mercy on this world
Filled with violence and strife;
Oh, great physician,
Healer of all disease,
Cause us to repent
That war and pain may cease.
May your will be done.
May your kingdom progress,
As your children live
Cherishing your word,
Following your command,
Expressing you love
In ways that you’ve planned;
Not living my chance,
Nor distracted by threats;
Not yielding to fear,
Nor to greed’s excess;
Gentleness and self-control;
By the Spirit’s help,
Possessing our soul!
The usual answers to the “why I vote ” question are
It’s a privilege
It’s an honor
It’s my responsibility
I can exert influence on politicians
Beyond that, voting causes me to clarify what I believe and take a stand for it. It tells me something about myself. I want to be shrewd, not stupid or naive, i.e, lacking in experience, judgment, or information.
Though I might lack experience in politics, I can become informed and learn how to make wise judgments. In making decisions about who to vote for, I consider more than presidential debates.
Here are some questions I ask myself when answering the “who do I vote for” question?
Do I think through what I believe and why I believe it?
Or I let others choose for me?
Do I take into account the character of the candidate or do I disregard it?
Do I consider all of the issues or just pick my favorite one?
Must I vote totally for one party or could I split my vote?
If my friends or family are strongly in favor of one candidate or party do I automatically vote with them?
If I vote differently, am I willing to share that decision?
What place does my faith have in determining how I vote?
As the above Proverb tells us, there’s a danger in being naïve. We have a tendency to take shortcuts and to make quick judgments and hasty decisions without thoughtfully examining evidence and asking pertinent questions.
We can be tricked into believing safe people are dangerous and dangerous people are safe. How do we know who is safe and who is not?
Jesus compared people to sheep. He was called the “Good Shepherd”. He displayed his goodness in the way he treated people and in the way he honored Our Father in heaven. He lived a life of perfect love and integrity, truthful in all his interactions and fair in all his decisions.
He warned us about people who claim they are “good” but are actually thieves. He called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” He did not say, “Beware of sheep in wolves’ clothing” because a sheep never wears a wolf’s clothing. Sheep are not out to deceive people. They’re just set on following a path and they need guidance in order to find the right path. They need a shepherd.
When Jesus looked at the crowds of people in the world around him, he said that they were like sheep without a shepherd. I don’t think much has changed since his day. The world is full of sheep. Sheep can easily be deceived. They need a shepherd.
That shepherd needs to be a safe person. A safe person is someone with integrity. Someone who never deceives us. Someone who always tells the truth. Someone who is patient, kind, and good. Someone who does not expect perfection. Someone who does not condemn us when we fall down. Someone who walks beside us and helps us recognize dangers, not only points them out but teaches us to recognize the dangers ourselves. Someone who teaches us how to have discernment.
We need to ask questions. Appearances can be deceiving. A safe shepherd does not go around comparing one sheep with other sheep. They are all equally cared for and protected. He or she does not condemn sheep. He or she does not go around causing divisions among the sheep. A safe shepherd brings sheep together and teaches them to live in peace, unity, and understanding.
Because his or her self-worth is settled, a safe shepherd confidently makes decisions. He or she is not looking for approval or even acceptance. Nor is a safe shepherd hungry for power or control. A safe shepherd has control of his or her own life, shows us how to gain control of ourselves, and assists us in escaping the control of abusive shepherds.
When I look at the world today, I’m concerned. I see a lot of naïve sheep and very few safe shepherds. Yet I do not despair because Jesus is still alive. As we look to him, listen to his words, and follow the guidance of the Spirit he has given us, we will gain discernment and not be deceived by wolves dressed as shepherds.