Running with God – Breathe Deep!

Starting Block

I am a runner of the 5K variety.  I like to get out a few times a week for a few miles. This summer, however, I have been terribly inconsistent.  If you’ve ever taken a break from exercise, you know how long it can take to get back into it, both making time in your schedule and getting the old body back into condition.

While out doing the latter a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about breathing.   When I’m on a flat stretch, I need to keep my legs moving and breathe evenly.  Breathe in, two, three.  And out, two, three.   But if I want to be able to make it up a hill ahead of me, I need to breathe evenly and deep.  I’ve got to inhale and exhale hard, so I can still be standing when I reach the top!

On all types of terrain, a runner must keep breathing.  Lose control of breathing and languish.  Quit breathing and collapse.  Those realities remind me of our need as Christians to breathe deep of the Lord.  Life is a course with wide-open, flat stretches of routine, unremarkable days, steep hills that push us to our limits, downhills that bring peace and relief, and lengthy, low-grade uphills that require long-suffering endurance.

While running the terrain of life, we cannot stop breathing deep of the Lord.  For we, like a runner, will stumble and fall, or collapse, without faith-sustaining breaths.  The good news?  We don’t have to run through life gasping for air!  The Good Shepherd loves us and has provided for us.  Just as a runner trusts that deep breaths will fill her lungs with what she needs to keep going, the believer can trust that breathing deep of the Lord will provide what she needs to stay strong and press on in the faith.

How can we breathe deep of the Lord?

Thankfully, breathing deep of the Lord does not require any special degrees or spiritual superiority.  Everything we need to breathe deep is readily available to us: the Word, prayer, and worship.  We breathe deep by taking advantage of God’s Word and His presence.    Concerning these basics, it can be very helpful to do two things: establish a baseline rhythm and breathe deeper when life is hard.

  • Establish a baseline rhythm.  When I am out running, I often inhale and exhale in rhythm with my steps to help my endurance.   Walking by faith is similar.  Regular routines for Bible reading, prayer, and corporate worship help us to get in the habit of processing life through the lens of faith so we can endure to the end.
  • Breathe deeper when life is hard.  As I start going uphill when I’m running, I have to take longer, deeper, and more frequent breaths, maintaining a rhythm but quickening its pace.  It is tempting to stop trying to control my breath and gasp my way to the top, rather than fight to maintain even, deep breaths.  Similarly, on life’s hills, it is tempting to get frantic, pull back from faith-strengthening habits, and try to hurry away from the difficulty, and maybe even away from God.   But the Lord invites us to breathe deeper of Him on those hills – to suck truth into the lungs of our faith with determination and to exhale with zeal the lies that undermine our faith.  God is the breath of life for all who believe; we must breathe deeper when life takes us uphill.

May God uses these words to spur you on to breathe deep of the Lord, showing you specific ways to apply what you read here to the stretch of road you have before you to run today.

Keep running by faith, dear women, and don’t forget to breathe deep!

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Giving Life in Times of Grief

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“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” 
― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

 Trust is the armor of a woman who commits her life to one she has never met and may never know.

The grieving mother has a backstory etched into her soul – imposed upon her by the unthinkable.

We have a big family. Our home is teaming with life and has been for decades. But two little boys are missing. Knit together in my womb, not yet completed – their lives ended without warning. Two different seasons – no explanation.

This mom knows the jolt of grief – a thief that can rip the joy of living right out from under you.

But God  - who is rich in mercy and ‘well acquainted with grief’ draws near to the brokenhearted. He reaches into a mother’s heart and creates her life anew. Grief’s journey to wholeness is a long road marked with countless encounters. When someone you love suffers loss – here are some ideas. Take courage – step into their broken world – and offer hope.

10 Ideas for Giving Life in Times of Grief

  1. Pray! Really pray. Pray the word of God – insert your friend’s names in personally. Agree with God’s word over their lives. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 
  2. Choose your words carefully.  Questions can lead to exaggeration and sensation. A true friend can be satisfied with minimal information. I know it is hard – but some questions have no answers. Trust the sovereignty of God and let the facts speak for themselves. Let comforting the family overshadow rehearsing the details or speculating what went wrong. Luke 6:31, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ is the rule of ethics here. Caution: Social Media spreads the news instantly. With this power comes responsibility toward those we speak of. Facebook is no place for detailed questions. Be general in reference and uplifting in hope. Treat the brevity of the loss with the same weight in response. Think before you ‘like’ and reread before you ‘post’.
  3. Handwritten notes can be saved, read and reread. I have a box of notes written to us during the loss of our sons – but I no longer have access to the emails. Some of the senders I hardly knew and they never knew the impact of their words. Your note may be ‘fitly spoken in due season’. Proverbs 25:11
  4. Take a meal. Deliver food in disposable containers and make something special. Online Meal Trains help to deploy a community of friends. Take the food personally if possible and stay a few moments to give respect. No worries about what to say – your presence will speak volumes.
  5. Close friends - be there.  The family needs you. A long-time friend took me to lunch. She insisted. I wanted to turn her down so badly – and go back to bed – alone. She knew me well and  would not take ‘no’ for an answer. She helped me to feel normal again. We blended in to a girlie tea room and enjoyed the moment. Healing!
  6. Mark your calendar!  Heavenly children have 2 birthdays – the day of the loss and the expected or natural birthday. The family will remember both dates. When life moves on for the world around them – your acknowledgment will mean a great deal to the family.
  7. Refer to the child by name. We gave our babies ‘heavenly names’ – we know them as Judah and Nathaniel. Their names are etched upon their gravestones and into our hearts. A child’s name is sweetness to a mothers soul.
  8. Celebrate life. Flowers and plants are alive! When we lost our first son, I just wanted to be around living things! I had an overwhelming desire to plant a flowerbed. A friend showed up with a wagon full of perennials – she understood. Her creativity was unique to her personality. Yours is too!
  9. Treat the family – like they’re normal. They may long to return to normalcy and relish opportunities to experience everyday life without the weight of grief and pain. Enjoy their company – laugh, listen and love. If you do not know the family well, be careful not to avoid them in public because you do not know what to say. Look them in the eye – treating them with dignity. Loss is a new normal for the grieving family. Their loss is permanent. Show them your friendship is permanent too.
  10. Attend the memorial. When we arrived at the graveyard for the burial of Nathan – I assumed there was another graveside service close by. Tim smiled and responded, ‘Debi, these people are here of us’. Businessmen in suits, children standing in honor, faces of close friends and those we barely knew – all together for one purpose – to honor the life of a little man we would never know – this side of heaven.
Ministers and Chaplains have a manual for protocol. Every family needs one too. Keep this list – print it and add your own words. Make comfort a part of your family culture and train your children how to respond to grief.
Historically, families were given time to heal and expected to grieve. In fact, it was not socially acceptable to move on too quickly – and thought to be disrespectful of loved ones.
Nowadays, the grieving mother may be left in a blur of activity. Families are expected, by default, to blend back into life in short order. Their world has been rattled. Time will do its part in healing and the Lord will mend slowly and specifically. Meanwhile, they need you.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon [you], because he has anointed [you] to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent [you] to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18

Please Comment: We would love to hear your stories and further ideas. This is not a comprehensive list – there is not one. History is continually being written by you and I. May we love well and show our families, by example, how to do likewise.

 

There is Hope to Conquer Your Mountain

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today’s post is by Jennifer Kindle

Whispers behind the closed door proved the mess I thought I was in.  My husband’s words are always full of wisdom.  I’m not always thankful for his wise words in the moment but gratefulness does come once I’ve settled.  Deb’s recent post on the beauty of marriage bubbled up in my heart a new love and appreciate for my own sweet, gentle man.

I held back tears and poured out my heart, but only in pieces, not the whole.  The stubborn part of me didn’t want to throw my bare heart out in the open, the selfish part of me wanted to feel sorry for myself and find fault in everyone else, the wise  part of me knew I just needed sweet fellowship with Jesus, but prideful me wouldn’t run into his arms. My flesh is rather ridiculous and I love that my husband trusts the Lord in my life enough to say just a handful of words, offer a gentle kiss, leave me hanging with them, and walk away.

In my pity party about life, people, relationships, to-do lists, overwhelming feelings, mountains too high to climb, impossible obstacles, even simple feats, I finally surrendered to the gentle nudging of Jesus saying, “Come to me, I will give you rest.”  What he gave me was the same thing he had already taught me before.  Why had I forgotten?  What derailed my focus?  Like Peter walking on the water, I took my eyes off of Jesus and gazed instead at the raging storms that encompassed me.

Apparently I’m a slow learner and need to be taught time and time again. I’m still in training, wise instruction is continually needed, so I will remember to make righteous choices, choices that honor my Lord.

I’m so thankful that he has kept nothing from me in this ridiculous moment of falling apart.  I was able to run into his arms, hear his comforting words, be renewed in the hope of his promises and fall asleep in peace, waking to his mercies that are new for me every morning. The thing is, I am victorious when Christ lives through me.  I am a conqueror of great feats when the Lord is my guide.  I can accomplish the impossible when I simply ask the Lord to show me the path.  He is so faithful to say, “Here is the path, now walk in it.” 

The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

The impossible has a different name day to day.  We all have diverse mountains to climb.  We may stand feeling helpless at the bottom looking up at our to-do list, our mounds of laundry, full calendars, books calling to be read, character to be instilled, finances to be managed, relationships to be healed or …..insert your own mountain.

Take courage today.  

One day at a time.

One action at a time.

One obedience at a time.

In my own family we say, “How do you eat an elephant?”  Of course, one bite at a time. Life can pile on and overwhelm us so.  Tomorrow always seems to creep in to today’s thoughts when they have no place there.  The Lord provided for the Israelites with manna, which lasted only for the day.  Believers have everything they need for life AND godliness.  I play these words in my mind and the Lord has to gently scrape off the rough spots on that bare heart of mine I don’t like out in the open. He reminds me that my job description as a Jesus follower is just that…….follow Jesus.

“Okay, Lord.  Where you go, I’ll go, lead me, I will follow.  Where?”

Follow me.

“But where, Lord?  What do you want me to do about this and that and tomorrow and next week, next year, on and on and on.  I’m willing to be obedient but to what?”  I must exhaust him, really.

Follow me.  Follow me in this moment.  Follow me today.  Wait to hear me before you speak.  Ask me before you act.  Hear me before committing to that activity.  Sit with me so I can show you how to pray.  Be obedient moment by moment.  Do not worry about tomorrow, I’ll guide you anew tomorrow.  Worry about following me today. 

The Lord comforted me in my desperate need to hear his voice and the following morning I purposed my day to follow him.  I don’t have any new clarity on the things that overwhelmed my heart yesterday but I trust that they aren’t my concerns.  He wants me to follow him today and how can I keep my eyes on him if I’m gazing at tomorrow or future anxieties?  Once again, like Peter, I will sink.

We shouldn’t survive, we should thrive.  The abundant life he desires for us to have is available when we follow him.  Simply and wholeheartedly, just today, follow him. I can very easily get caught up in my plans and ministry opportunities and school schedules and every single time I do, I feel my eyes gazing and my feet sinking.  When I purpose to hear God’s voice and ask him to show me the way, he gives me his vision, his creativity and his strength to walk in the path he puts before us that day.

I can still dream big because as I’m following him, he puts his dreams on my heart.  I can still make plans because as I’m following him, he puts ideas into my heart. The difference is that I offer them all back to him.  Take my dreams, Lord, and bring them to fruition but show me how to follow you today so you can get me there.  Take this creative idea and plan Lord, that I trust is straight from your heart, and work out the details for me because I can’t take my eyes off of you and work on that.  Here is my yes Lord, I will do that when you say to do it but until you bring it in front of me to act upon it, I will wait and keep following you today.  I will follow today.  I will choose righteousness today.  I will obey today.

Will you obey today?

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When We Face The Battle of Comforts

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By Katy Rose

As our class sings, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes!” my eyes go to the tiny toes poking through threadbare socks. My little friend isn’t without shoes because she is a stubborn three year old; she just doesn’t have any.

I mistakenly call a boy “she” for over an hour because his tattered, mislead by his pink floral clothing. But the lack of boyish clothes is the least of his mother’s concerns when they’ve spent years fleeing genocide and persecution.

It was his mom, in fact, who communicated in broken English that they had lived “like pigs” in the refugee camps, herded around in deplorable conditions. That was her reality for nearly 20 years.

I see bleak hints from their past everywhere: the young legless mother sitting in a wheelchair with a baby on her lap, the men with missing limbs and eyes.

I’m not on a trip to a third-world country. It’s just another day at our preschool.

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It all started a few months ago. Word began to spread of refugee families in desperate need in our city.

Though safely distanced from the genocide of their homeland and the squalor of the camps, these people faced a new onslaught of severe obstacles. Groups were rallying to help, searching for ways to provide comfort. Recognizing a few acute needs, a couple of ladies formed ESL and business classes.

My season of life doesn’t afford free mornings alone to go teach classes and minister to women. My little ones are with me full time – my primary “ministry” – so if we are going to serve outside the home during the week, we’re going to do it together. That’s not everyone’s story or season, but it happens to be mine currently, and I’m grateful for that.

The aching need in front of me called out with a haunting question: “How will you respond?”

The answer rested in the children. The student-refugees attending the classes were also mothers, and they had children running around a bit chaotically while they tried to absorb lessons on acquiring a new language and starting a small business. That circumstance understandably complicated their already herculean task.

To take the little ones aside for their own class could be an immense gift to their mothers.

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For a moment I was daunted by the thought of taking on childcare. I didn’t necessarily feel qualified and it would require organization and commitment. But then this came… My strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Ah, yes. Of course. But is it safe for my children? What about sickness, or lice? And we’ll miss naptime and it’s a long drive and a lot of gas money and I don’t know how all these details will fall into place.

But then… Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Was my scripture study on “Trust” last year without reason? Doesn’t every great story in the Bible begin when God urges his people to step into the daunting, the seemingly impossible, and lean into his comfort – the true kind of comfort that’s not man made?

Don’t we often face the Battle of Comforts? We forfeit the profound life-changing experience of witnessing God’s provision through us, and to us, when we are focused on pursuing our own worldly comfort.

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So what began with a long, nervous drive to our first visit, which felt a little crazy, has transformed into a natural rhythm of our days and weeks. It’s now just “preschool,” and of course my boys simply see the children in our class as friends, as it should be.

We sing and dance around the room with instruments. We read books aloud, color, write our alphabet, and paint. Snack time is always a highlight. And there are lots of hugs.

Our family is learning more with each visit. I’m floored with gratitude for the opportunity to meet some small but immediate needs in the hurting world, while at the same time nurturing and teaching my own sons in the process.

God is using these refugees to display his breathtaking love to me. I don’t know why I’m so taken by joy on the cold floor singing silly song with kids.  I can’t explain why I tear up almost every time I talk about them. I’m desperate for more ways to help, because when it’s our friends who are “the poor,” we don’t mind getting our hands dirty, do we?

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Meeting needs will look different for all of us. For some it must be done within the walls of the home, where often the most sacrificial living takes place. For others it will be at the office. For a friend of mine, it’s the hospital where her daughter is undergoing chemo and she interacts with anxious parents daily.  And another friend and her family have devoted years to troubled youth in the inner city.

But the common chord we can all cling to is this: The Comforter is on the move, for our joy, and for the good of others.

The Father of mercies comforts us, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.

But to receive that life-changing comfort often means stepping into the uncomfortable. And that’s where I’m prone to pull up short.

When we respond to Jesus’ call act mercifully, it brings with it a beautiful symbiosis. The Spirit, our comforter, allows us to exchange our fleeting, self-made comforts of safety and savings for the profoundly life-changing comfort of resting in the sovereign care of our God. And in so doing, we actually get the privilege of sharing that same comfort with those we serve.

May God give us the vision and courage to make that trade when presented with the opportunity.

When Motherhood Includes Grief

 

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Motherhood.  The word conjures up a host of emotions and experiences that we long for and dream of for years.

Planning.  Expectations.  Anticipation.  Celebration.  Embracing.

Millions of women have experienced the miracle of motherhood.  The transition from a woman with a whole heart into a woman with a capacity to have her heart live both inside and outside of her body is a beautiful and miraculous process.

A woman’s heart is never again whole once she has children.  For each of her children carry a piece of her heart with them through life.  Our capacity for love grows with each new child.  We may think our hearts are full to capacity and yet with each new baby emotions shift and unexplainable reserves of love make their way into our hearts.

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Yet, because we live in a broken world suspended between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and Heaven, we understand that life is not always carefree.  Sometimes, life brings events that shake our foundation for a season.

Infertility.  Miscarriage.  Stillborn.  Pre-maturity.  Death.

Harsh, ugly words that no one wants to say much less experience as part of their journey in life.

Yet…too many of us do have one or more of those words as part of our life’s resume.  Known as grief, there is a process that we go through when our hearts are disappointed and we lose people or dreams that we had loved and held onto in our souls.

And when babies we carried beneath our breasts, those who lived and breathed and whose heart beat to its’ own cadence closer to ours than any other human being will ever be, leave us…part of our heart goes to Heaven with them and never resides again here on earth.

  • When we miscarry, hormones rage.  Ovaries and uterus contract and try to find their rhythm again leaving us with emotions that are often hard to control.
  • When death comes to a child, the word sorrow takes on a depth of unexplainable meaning.
  • When we long for a child and fertility alludes us, empty wombs and arms seem to betray our femininity.
  • Grief includes waves of sadness that suffocate us making breathing seem a difficult chore.
  • In our valley, words spoken by well-meaning and good intentioned friends seem shallow.
  • Maybe most painful of all is that human comfort is lost for a season.

But then…God

The One who created life and orders our steps, reaches through the clouds of grief and reminds us that He alone understands our pain and offers comfort that carries us through the storm.  Slowly, often painfully slowly, He shows us grace and strength and the only true comfort that exists that can penetrate the human soul.

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When healing begins, and it will, the next season is to find a way to remember and celebrate the life we embraced even if just in our dreams and in our womb for a few days or weeks.  The danger with grief is that it is so easy to get stuck somewhere in the process instead of moving through each phase toward healing.  We can get stuck in the stage of denial, anger, etc.  It will be that one season of life that becomes so commonly focused on that it emerges as that for which we are remembered if we are not careful.

All of those harsh, ugly words that we fear most about motherhood are just a few of the issues that the winds of life have blown my way.  And, while each event rocked me for a season (or more sometimes), no one event is the sum total of who I am.  I don’t want to be defined only as the mom of a premature baby, special needs child, mom of a stillborn son, the lady who lost four babies, or a number of other things.  While all of those statements are true, they are not the only part of the legacy I want to leave behind.  My goal for a legacy is to be remembered as a woman who loved God with all her heart and though she failed so many times, she claimed the grace of God and loved her family and friends with all her heart.

So, if that is my goal, then that must be the thing on which I focus every day.  I am not minimizing grief.  Please know that.  It is real, painful, and a life-altering process.  But it doesn’t have to define us.  Grief doesn’t have to overshadow everything else good and wonderful in our lives.  Oh, it will for a season, for sure, and that is healthy and wise.  Grief is painful, intense, hard, difficult, and sometimes the very act of taking the next breath is physically painful.  I understand that completely.

I also understand that God is bigger than grief.  His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) and His grace is abundant and sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).  But please know that if you feel “stuck” in the grief process, there is help available.  Seek out Godly counsel and ask God to help you move “through” the stages of grief so that your legacy will not be that one traumatic experience.

There are some benefits when motherhood includes grief.  We are given a unique perspective on the true miracle of life.  We can celebrate on a grander stage those who call us mom.  We can embrace a little longer and relish the presence of those children who grace our homes.  And we can reach out to others who are newer to the journey of grief than we are and assure them that even when despair is fresh and pain is great, behind the clouds the sun truly is shining and it will break forth again in their lives.

Motherhood is a celebration.  An amazing gift God has granted the females of the human race.  It is an opportunity to nurture, embrace, train, love, disciple the next generation of human beings.  How blessed we are to be in that group of women who have held motherhood in our hearts and life in our arms.

Photo Credit: Terri King (Timberlake, NC) and Laurie Whitehouse (Lexington, KY)