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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sheldon Crutchfield, Through a Daughter's Eyes

Once upon a time there was a girl and she loved her father very much.  That girl was me, and I'd like to tell you about the man I called, 'Dad.'

But, what can I tell you about my Dad?  You know him - have heard so much already.  But you can tell something about a person by what moves him - to tears, to anger, to action and where he finds joy.

You know about Dad and his work - the stuff he did 'out there' (and sometimes it was way out there).  But let me peel back the curtains a bit for you now - a behind-the-scenes peek into what it was like to be his daughter.  To many of you he was 'Sheldon the missionary' or, as I like to say, 'Sheldon, the pillar of Hong Kong' or 'Sheldon, Mr. Beautiful' (as he often introduced himself this way)!  To me, he was simply my Dad.  As a kid, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the stuff he did outside our home.  It can be tempting to over-focus on ministry to the neglect of family; thinking the grand importance of gospel-work is greater.  Dad always made us a top priority.  He drove us to school each day - to our lessons and activities and took time to be with us in the ordinary things.  He made each of our children feel that they mattered specially and specifically to him.  He generously gave his resources - often beyond his means - to those in need in far-off places - and then would go on and give even more to us, his family - spending his last few dollars on a milkshake.  He was extravagant with us and with anyone he saw in need.  Sometimes I'd be concerned for his needs and he'd say, "The Lord will take care of us.  He always has."

So, what moved Dad to tears?  Only a handful of times did I observe Dad weep.

  • He wept hard when learning of his brother's death, and when he lost each of his parents.  He did not shield his tears, but wept like Jesus did on hearing of Lazarus.
  • When I had hard times during my teenage years, he would weep over me, and pray asking God to forgive him for not being a better Dad.  He would pray for me, but not to preach at me.  His prayers were honest, humble and at times, desperate.  My heart was like ice during these times, but his tears spoke to me and melted my resistance, though I didn't let on.
  • Once, on July 4th we watched a T.V. special and during the singing of 'America' I saw him with tears streaming down his face. 'You okay, Dad?' I asked. 'It's so beautiful, it makes me weep.'
  • When Caleb was born, he was with us, and he wept tears of joy at the birth of his first grandchild.
  • When my sister lost a baby in early pregnancy, Dad wept hard.  He wept.  His heart carried our sorrows.  His tears for his hurting children were an outward expression of his deep love for us.

But there were also things that made Dad angry:

Our life had many crazy events - one of which was when neighbours clobbered me on the head with a brick.  Dad expressed such anger and outrage that Mom had to hold him back from going over and doing damage!  (It wouldn't look so good for the missionary to do in the neighbours).  At the time, I only saw his fury - but later it dawned on me that this outburst came from a place of fatherly protection.  His anger in this situation was a reflection of his heart that deeply loved me and couldn't stand the thought of harm coming to me.

But I also saw Dad express anger when he observed injustice and oppression.  These stoked his anger.  And in ministry, he had ample opportunity to witness this kind of abuse.

It seems that Dad understood social justice long before it was a 'thing.'

Injustice bothered Dad so much that he spent the better part of his life driven to action for those who lived under oppression.  Yes, this was his ministry, but even more, it was his life's passion.  And in daring greatly for the cause of God's kingdom, he instructed me in what God is like.  The God Dad showed me is not one who merely cares for us with passive sentiment, but One Who takes action - Whose care translates into presence and help.  Often Dad would whistle the tune:
                         'O God our help in ages past, 
                         our hope for years to come.  
                         Our shelter from the stormy blast 
                          and our eternal home.'
Dad lived taking refuge in God, his help, and sought to bring the message of this eternal refuge to those who had not understood this.

Dad took so many trips that in recent years we would try to gently encourage him to consider the idea of retirement. "What would I do?" he would say.  "You would lead a quieter, simpler life and travel less and spend time with the grandkids."  "That might get old quickly," he said.  We couldn't argue with that.  Compared to gallivanting about the bush in the Philippines, or hiking in remote regions of Vietnam, the idea of staying put did seem somewhat anticlimactic.  He was honest about the life he wanted to live.  Some people say, "Shop 'til you drop." But Dad lived the opposite - he lived to give, and he gave to the very end.

I have mentioned weeping, anger, and action.  But not for joy.  Most people would have described Dad with words such as jovial, funny, lighthearted, quick-witted.  One friend, on hearing the sad news of Dad's homegoing commented: "The laughter in heaven just got a lot louder."  On the surface, we could say Dad was funny and jolly (when asked to play-act as Santa for poverty-stricken kids, he gladly did so and fit the bill perfectly!).  But he also had a much deeper joy.  Dad used humour to put people at ease, to make them think and to build bridges.  I was amazed how he could even use his corny jokes to draw students to be curious about the Bible.  A friend was recently reflecting on his ministry and how he so naturally used humour.  She said that often it is a foreign concept to many: the idea of a God Who laughs, Who is delightful, joyful - a happy God.  This is far from the rigid, religious ideas of what God is like to many people.

He would be embarrassed that I say all these nice things about him.  He'd be embarrassed because he didn't view himself highly.  I have never known a more humble man.  Dad admired and was proud of his family heritage: there's even a book that chronicles his lineage.  Many were high academics and great entrepreneurs and had talents in music and verse - or even public office: one cousin became U.S. Ambassador to China.  I know that while God uses and calls many to serve Him in business and academics, that His calling on Dad's life, uniquely used Dad in his gifting to the bearing of eternal fruit.

I can say, with confidence, that self-giving characterized his life, knowing it isn't to his own glory, but to God's.  And here's why: I only knew Dad for the 39 years of my life.  His earlier years weren't so great.  When he would talk about his life post high-school, I got the impression that he shrunk back from doing much of anything.  He had been a poor student (which was always a great encouragement to me), and was directionless in life, until he met my Mom.  He thought of all the great people in his family and just felt he couldn't measure up.  But in my estimation, though he never climbed corporate ladders or dwelt in halls of academia, his life's work in investing in eternal things, was no less remarkable, and possibly more so.  Later in life, he recognized, in great humility, that only by God's grace had he become such a willing servant in God's kingdom.

Dad often talked with pride of his own father who had been president of the Florida Citrus Commission - and there were pictures of him with various U.S. presidents.  I like to think of my Dad being welcomed by the King of Kings, as having served in His vineyard, as a cultivator of spiritual life and fruit.

So, how does one become such a willing and fruitful servant?  How did Dad become the treasure that he was?  I'm not sure I can adequately answer that.  So let me direct you to something that came to mind as I was thinking about Dad.  He loved to point out these verses in John 15:

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other."

These verses talk about being a servant, and being a friend.

In Dad's life of service I know he faced many challenges - often feeling weak and much in need of God's sustaining help.  Knowing his own weakness, he lived in full dependence on the Lord Who loved him so much.

The greater identity, however, I believe is that of friend.  Dad's servant's heart flowed from a soul deeply rooted in the love he found in Christ and the desire to worship Him with his whole life.  Dad found joy in a very personal friendship with the God He served.  I think one reason 'Jesus loves me' was Dad's favourite song was because of its profound simplicity - but especially because he could relate so well to the words, "Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong."  He drew strength from knowing how much he was loved by God, and he taught me to do the same.  I know he felt so unworthy of God's love.  But he took refuge, joy and hope in it.  Worship - being with God's people, meditating on God's word, expressing love to God in prayer - this drew him close to God, and was never a chore for him.  It was something he was eager to do.  He always looked forward to meeting with God's people, and often I saw him tear up during worship or when he would share thoughts at the Lord's table.  God's love came through and reached me through my Dad.  Often he would pray, with deep gratitude and tears, thanking God for loving him and saving him.

Dad's greatest joy was introducing people to his best friend - the Lord Jesus.  He knew that there is no greater way to live than as a child, dependent and perfectly loved by the God Who made us.  His life is a testimony to what the love of God can do.

Often Dad referred to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 58, when he saw oppression - he knew it was incompatible with the life of faith.  He had no respect for lip-service Christianity.
Let me close by quoting one of his final facebook posts, as I think it speaks for the life he lived:

"It seems to me that the emphasis in fasting for most people is something passive, such as not eating or going without some other activity for a time.  Isaiah 58 makes it clear that God considers fasting to be much more active than passive.

'Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?...
Is it to...spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
'Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;...
Then shall your light break forth..., and your healing shall spring up speedily;...
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickeness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday...
and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail."

Isaiah 58 (portions) (ESV)

At the last memorial service we held for Dad in Hong Kong we closed with a song that Dad introduced to his home fellowship in recent months.  It communicates a message, and a call that Dad lived and longed to see fulfilled.  As we grieve his homegoing, the question remains: who will step up to the plate and fulfill God's mission on earth?  Who will dedicate themselves to living for what matters in eternity - the Word of God and the souls of people?  What investment are you making in eternity - in what will outlast the days you live in this earthly vessel?  How are you bringing God's love to a hurting world?  Dad has gone on to his eternal reward, but we are left facing a task that remains still, quite unfinished.

Facing a task unfinished that drives us to our knees,
A need that, undiminished, rebukes our slothful ease,
We who rejoice to know Thee, renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee, to go and make Thee known.

Where other lords beside Thee hold their unhindered sway,
Where forces that defied Thee defy Thee still today,
With none to heed their crying for life, and love, and light,
Unnumbered souls are dying, and pass into the night.

We bear the torch that, flaming, fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose.
Ours is the same commission, the same glad message ours;
Fired by the same ambition, to Thee we yield our powers.

O Father who sustained the, O Spirit who inspired,
Saviour, whose love constrained them to toil with zeal untired,
From cowardice defend us, from lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us, to labour for Thy sake."

- Frank Houghton

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Theology and Parenting a Child with A.D.D.

I'm not going to start off by telling you any reason why I have the right to tell you these things.  My thoughts should prove helpful regardless, I imagine.  If I were talking to a group of parents who are struggling with the challenges of raising a child with A.D.D. here are some of the things I might say to them:

Before I get into all the nitty gritty, I want to begin with a basic premise - seemingly so obvious that it might be redundant to state it, but I believe it is a foundational starting point from which to parent any child - or even to interact with any human being, and it is this:  Your child was created by God, with His very fingerprints all over them.  God stamped His own image, His own self, into the very person you deal with on a daily basis.  Your child is created imago dei - in God's image, by God Himself.  So we can all agree, God wanted your child to exist, and was intimately involved in the process of making and shaping this child.  We can thank Him for that.

I have to start there because parenting in general, and parenting a child with A.D.D. specifically, brings many challenges.  It can be frustrating.  We arrive at parenting after we ourselves have gone through many seasons of shaping and growing and find our outlook on life shaped by an adult(ish) perspective.  This is why parenting shocks us a bit.  (And some of us, more than a bit).  Because we recognize that this helpless human being needs to be shaped and formed into someone who will not only manage their own lives, but will be productive members of society.  This is a huge task.  Part of the adulting process (and I'm still not there yet, so I'm just kind of guessing at this) is realizing relationship between cause and effect: if I do this, there will be a predictable outcome.  And adult living involves manipulating life to desired outcomes.  This is, in general, a healthy endeavour.

Then there is a child in the picture - and children don't often cooperate off the bat with our methods of manipulation.  (In this context I am going to refer to manipulation as a healthy, desirable thing, whereas in many contexts of relationship it is an area to tread carefully). When a child has their own outlook, and does not cooperate, this is where the breakdown begins: frustration ensues.

Here is an off-the-top-of-my-head overview of some of the hurdles children with A.D.D. face:

  •  Short attention span - unless, of course, attention is being given to video games or other desirable activities.
  • Difficulty focussing on specific assigned tasks.  (Often confused with a disobedient, rebellious nature).
  • Physical and Sensory needs that seem blown out of proportion.  (Certain sounds, textures, or visual stimuli have a stronger impact than we expect).
  • High needs for nurture and understanding and validation
  • Needs to interact with learning material in creative and unique ways
  • Emotional Regulation after disappointments - I like to say there is almost a lack of 'emotional skin' - the part that holds us all together in one piece.
  • Lack of understanding from the adults or peers in their lives.  Social norms aren't always appreciated or followed.

There are, of course, many more - but those just give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

Obviously, a child who doesn't jump through the hoops we expect them to, or who doesn't learn quickly the relationship between cause and effect ("if I scream and rage over a tiny offense, people will probably stay away and not want to be my friend"), will try any parent's patience.

If you live with these kinds of struggles, as a parent or as a person with A.D.D., I want you to know you are not alone.  You are not going crazy (okay, maybe you are - this kind of experience drives any sane person totally nuts at times - but in this case, it is what I like to call: situational craziness).

I used the word 'theology' in the title of this blog.  That's because my perspective on most anything tends to always be driven to the deeper, theological implications of the subject at hand.  Parenting challenges are no different.  Who you are, who God is, who your child is - these all matter as we approach the nurture, instruction and shaping of a child.  The bottom line of parenting for me is: my child is made in God's image.  God loves him and wants him to experience His love.  I am the first conduit of the love of God to my child.  Therefore, I'd better pay careful attention to how I communicate what God is like through my own behaviour and attitude towards my child.

This is not to heap on parent-guilt.  I can't stand that.  Guilt-tripping has no place with me.  So please, get what I am saying: I'm saying, "START WITH LOVE."

I get that your kid drives you nuts.  And I get that we need to instruct our kids in right and wrong.  But frankly, I think we overdo this at times.  If you are even a mediocre parent, I'm sure you've taught and told your kids a million times (or more) what is right and wrong and what you think they need to do or not - ad nauseum.  I think we don't give kids - A.D.D. or not - enough credit.  I really think they do know and hear what we say to them.  The challenge for them is their fleshly immaturity and we as parents would do well to recognize that and instead of seeking to bludgeon them into discipline, we need to seek to bless them with an intimate understanding of what it is to be loved unconditionally by the Father Who created us.  They are not going to waltz into a discovery of this when we lose it because they exasperate us for the umpteenth time as they forget to put their shoes away.

(I get the frustration - really, I get it.  I have told my children more than once, in my 'about-to-break' moments: "Do you WANT your Mommy to turn into a monster?!  Because I am very close to becoming one.  That's your warning!")

But however your child behaves - no matter how frustrating - underneath that behaviour is a person who bears God's image, who has deep (often unmet) needs for validation: You matter.  Who you are is important.  If you misbehave, I will still love you.  Your sin is my opportunity for grace.  Your weakness is an invitation to receive the grace God pours on all His weak children.  Your emotional despondency is a reflection of human brokenness.  You are part of the human family.  I welcome you.  I embrace you.  I know, I care.  Life sucks at times.  We'll be here for you.

These are the messages I think we all need to hear - and even moreso, children who struggle with their own awkward tendencies.  Children who are difficult are typically acting from a place of need.  Instead of: "Here's where you're right and wrong and how I want you to fix it" - parenting, what about: "Here's where I see you're struggling and I want to know where that comes from and how I can be your advocate, not your adversary."

I have made huge blunders in parenting.  I know I have broken my kids' trust way too often and in the process lost seasons of productive influence over them.  I have behaved in ways that have shut their hearts to me.  But I can recognize this and apologize.  I can articulate this: "Do you trust me?  No.  I understand why.  I hope in time to show you that you can share your heart with me and that I will honour and respect it."  That kind of thing.  Apologizing to our kids - often - as needed - I believe is one of the first parenting skills to equip us for the journey.

So how do you deal with the kid who is freaking out 'cuz you won't let them bang on the piano?  Who is inconsolable at the thought and won't stop sobbing hysterically and screaming - unwilling to accept your no?  I can't tell you exactly what to do - maybe your kid has sensory issues and won't want to be held.  Maybe he will want more sensory stimuli.  You've got to know what your kid needs, and sometimes you won't know, but you can grow in your understanding.  In my case, in the above scenario, I was going to be parent-boss and get my kid to conform.  I was going to force emotional regulation.  I was going to leave unwanted behaviour at the door (between house and garage) and teach my kid what we expect in our home (i.e. not tantrum behaviour).

You wanna know how that worked out for me?  Yeah, not great.  You can imagine.  How many hours should I leave my kid to rage and wail before it becomes an emotional form of child neglect?  (My current answer to that is 0, by the way).  That scene was a turning point for me as a parent.  I changed from: "I need to be in control" to "He is hurting and needs care."  It also turned from: "I will demand conformity to my demands" to "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."

If I couldn't understand life and the normal disappointments it brings, and I grieved every loss, no matter how minor, as a great tragedy ("No, you can't bring your leaf and twig collection into the house." - that kind of thing), I would want someone to nurture and comfort me - not to tell me my pain was meaningless and to just grow up.

There are umpteen resources to help understand parenting challenges - I do suggest doing your homework and reading them.  Each of them will offer perspective and help as you try to bring out the best in your child.  But at the same time, I really think that the bottom line of it all needs to be seeking to understand your kid, what they need, and being a companion in their growth and not a thorn in their wounded hearts.  They have enough struggles and obstacles to overcome.  You, as their parent, can be a minister of the healing balm of God's grace.  As they grow, they can come to rely on your nurture and care as a constant source of blessing.

And maybe, someday, they will come to see you as God's image-bearer too.

(Feel free to share this with parents facing the same struggle).

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mourning Fire: An invitation to Grief

Four weeks ago today I could've talked to my Dad.  I had called a few times over the weekend but missed him - or got a few words before the concert he was attending began.  We had a couple conversations the week before.  Nothing of great significance crossed my mind, so it was the usual stuff - and he talked a bit with each of the kids.

Today I cannot speak with him.  Four weeks ago, this evening, he was on his way to see us and had stopped for the night in a motel in Georgia.  He and my Mom had a nice visit with friends, then booked into their motel and headed for bed.  He was reading in the other room and seemed to fall asleep.  My Mom tried to wake him to come to bed.  But he wouldn't be woken.  His peaceful sleep had merely been a transition from this world to the next.

I got the call at 10:30, and I was already asleep.  My mind could not take in or comprehend those words, "Dad is gone."  I refused to believe while grief swept over me.  These are some of the darkest days of my life.  My heart has been pushed in all kinds of directions - disbelief, grief, regret, self-examination, shock, refusal, pain, sorrow, tears, detachment, numbness, silence.  And all these at varying degrees at varying times.

I have often known of others losing a parent.  I have felt sorry and sad for them.  But I had no idea what they were truly feeling.  I observed others' pain with a certain distant sorrow.  I had no way to comprehend or understand what it meant.

Yes, this was sudden and unexpected.  I lost words.  I could not write, other than to record facts in halting sentences that ran together like a child's description of events.  I could not hash it out in emotive streams on the piano.  No passion would flow from me.  I could not speak, except when it was necessary.  I could not see people.  I needed silence and time and space.

But I am a Mom.  I have to run kids all over and do laundry and make meals.  God graciously met all these needs the first few days.  Sam took off work and did my duties.  My sister-in-law stepped in to take over many of the responsibilities, including more oversight of her mother (my mother-in-law, who also lives with us).  I did nothing the first few days but stay in bed and sob.

But I needed a change of scenery.  And to be still, and alone.  We have a fire pit outside, so I gathered twigs and leaves and heaved over some bigger logs and I lit a match.  I sat and watched it burn.  The first day I sat a few hours.  What mother of 5 has hours to sit alone?  It is totally unrealistic.  But it was my mourning fire.  I let it burn and burn and watched as it smoldered.

The next day I did it again.  I lit the fire and watched it burn.  Sometimes I sat hypnotized.  Always I sat alone and in total silence.  Other times I wept.  I let the tears come and sting my eyes together with the smoke.  I imagined Dad with me and continued to deny the reality that he isn't here anymore.  My fire became, and still is, my quiet place of grief.

I tell people openly that I am still in denial and quite a bit of shock.  How does one reckon with a reality that has been bedrock for the entire duration of my 39 year life?  How do I wake up one day and believe the truth that Dad lives in realms beyond, and not in this earthly one?  How?  I don't.  I admit reality in my head, but my heart refuses to budge.

So I sit by a fire and wait for the reality to hit.  And it does.  Only in stillness do I confront the truth - the harsh reality that bites like bitter winds during a deep freeze in Chicago.  And it feels like a cannon has been shot through the center of my being and left a gaping hole where my heart should be.  And yet I live, but feel so dead inside.

A Mourning Fire is my place of reckoning.  The flames leap and seem alive, but they are reminding me how quickly life passes.  We think our days in this life will go forever.  That is a preposterous idea, and we tell ourselves the truth - 'we all die' - but live in perpetual denial.  Yet somehow denial in grief seems odd to others, but I say, we all live in a certain denial if we don't reckon with the inevitable end of our own days.

The Psalmist says, "Teach us to number our days rightly, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Yet we think eternal matters are the department of the religious.  Those who live in mysticism, fantasy, superstition and the like.  Yeah, whatever.

Not so.

My time of grief seems to me to be an inevitable reality for the rest of my earthly days.  They say it lets up in time.  They say...

But I'll believe it when I see it.

Until then, I will continue to sit by my Mourning Fire and hash out my grief in silence, while I tell my soul the truth that my head knows but my heart resists.

And as the truth sinks in, I weep.

Monday, February 29, 2016

February 29

An extra day - a breather; a pause.
Crisp air, rushing winds, but deadness still sits on parched and empty branches.
Just enough warmth to warrant hope and a hint of squishyness in the mud -
To promise the dawning of spring.

Lent is a season of austerity - a time away from what is our common lot.  I put off a habit and add one that requires discipline.  I wonder what it is really all about - the ashes, mourning, reflection on spiritual life.  Perhaps the last moments of this winter are a visual, experiential reminder of the deadness of soul, which without Christ's redeeming - and resurrecting - work, would remain our permanent condition.

Winter's deadness seems to say, "Come, and sit a while in this quiet emptiness.  No life is visible in me, yet we know resurrection is at hand.  But, for now, wait in it - feel what the absence of vibrant life is like.  And wait.  Yearn.  Hope - while it is dark and bleak.  Be still in it.  Do not merely rush through this time, with your sight set only on survival.  Welcome this pause.  Let it have its work."

And so I do.  It takes work to be still.  To not jump ahead of where I am.  It takes both presence and presenting.  I must hold myself in this moment - present to it - while also presenting myself to the Spirit of God, as His vessel.  "Come, fill me while I wait," I say, knowing that in the stillness I am not alone, for He is ever with me.

I know this to be true only when my spirit is awake to His presence.  I heard Him in the song on the radio.  A pure, angelic voice singing, "Holy, holy, holy." - words so familiar, but calling me yet again to the adoration of this merciful and mighty God.  In His might I may fear Him too much and falter in my courage to be present to Him.  But in His mercy I am welcomed simply as I come with no demands but that I come, that I be, that I need, that I trust; the only demand is that I see and taste and savour this moment as a gift from His kind and tender hand.

He, Who loves the limping soul - it is He Who walks through the winter stillness and whispers His promise of hope and fulfills His promise of presence: "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Why the double promise?  Are they not one and the same?  No, in fact it is not redundant.  In the promise, "I will not leave you" we are assured His presence will not be lost - He will truly be present with us every step of the way.  But forsaking?  That has everything to do with trust and security.  It encourages us to want His presence - it tells us, "It isn't merely my presence I give, but my welcome."

I have experiences of people not leaving me - there is a joy in that to some degree.  Faithful friends and family who remain - this is a picture of permanence and presence.  But more than once I have had the bitter taste of feeling forsaken - emotionally discarded, abandoned and rejected.  Jesus' second promise here offers me far more comfort than the first.  I have His presence (I need His presence).  But I need even more to trust that His presence is good, kind, merciful and that it brings a promise of welcome.

"There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good.
There is mercy with the Saviour; There is healing in His blood."  - Frederick Faber

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Missed Blessing

Recently a friend wrote me a lengthy explanation of how God wants us all to experience the victory of joyful living and that for a Christian to experience ongoing struggles of depression or other types of sadness is not what God intends.  It was an interesting read, and she asked for my response.  Since I am not posting her viewpoints here, and have probably overly simplified them above, I am possibly being one-sided and unfair in this response.  However, since I have something to say on the matter, I'll just put it here where I tend to just dump all my ramblings anyways.  I don't intend to respond to her point by point but just sum up some of my thought-process regarding grief, mourning, sorrow, depression, sadness, and general difficulties we face in life that can pull our spirits downward.

Basically, the question came down to one of codifying the morality of sadness - is it wrong for a Christian to be unexplainedly sad?  I tend to not think in these areas of black and white - what's the point, I say?  Because it all comes out in the wash.  If I'm sad - for good reason or not - does God not meet me in it?  Does He wag His proverbial finger in my nose and tell me to hold my chin up, cheer up, don't be so gloomy, and muster some joyful fortitude within me?  Maybe this is how some relate to God - it is not how I relate to Him.  Perhaps He tailors His responses to the needs of His child.  I am not one who would respond well to that approach.  Maybe someone else experiences life that way and it works for them.

I do see the Psalmist telling himself to cheer up.  But those words come from within himself to himself and not from God to him.  In fact, speaking of the Psalms, I can't fathom a theology with no place for sorrow, depression and suffering.  A whole category of Psalms are called lament because they are openly grieving and giving air to the muck of the soul - the stuff that drags one down into a pit that seems never to end.  A whole other category of Psalms are called imprecatory - for one to lash out verbally his anger to God, for all the injustice and wrongness in the world.  The Psalms instruct our soul.  They say, "It is okay to feel this way.  God hears these kinds of prayers, not only the prim and proper ones.  He hears the breaking heart, the hurting soul, the angry cries.  He listens to these - stoops down, even, so we are sure to feel Him near.  He can handle the full range of our very human frame and He welcomes our expression of them."  In other words, "No, it is not wrong to feel depressed."

When I hear the term, 'walking in victory' I do a double take.  I mean, what is that supposed to mean, or look like?  I see people living very jolly, successful, happy-go-lucky, spiritually fulfilled lives.  And I see others, equally as spiritually fulfilled, living painful, difficult, trying, desperate, hurting lives.  The concept of victory=overt happiness does not equate in my book.

In answering any spiritual question, I like to always try the Big Three when it comes to an answer.  The Big Three are known as 'Sunday-school answers,' and they are: Jesus, God and the Bible.  So, let's start with Jesus.


Jesus wept (John 11:35).  Jesus was known as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief - one whom men hid their faces from in His deepest suffering.  Yes, He was suffering on our account, bearing the sin of the whole world - but that is exactly my point.  He suffered with us, for us, and like us.  He endured it all for the joy set before Him - and taught us to do likewise.  We endure pain in this life because we know it has a purpose and not being omniscient, we don't always see or know what that purpose is.

Jesus also said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."  I pondered this long and hard.  Jesus blesses those whose hearts are weak, sad and mourning.  He promises them blessing.  I asked myself, "What if I don't tend to mourn much?  What if my spirit is never sad?"  And my answer to that was, "Then perhaps I miss out on this blessing."  I don't think Jesus was telling us to turn our joyful selves into gloomy selves so we can receive His blessing.  But He was clearly stating, "In my Kingdom, there is room, and even blessing, for those who grieve."  He gives this talk during the Sermon on the Mount - His defining Manifesto, so to speak.  If I shut pain out of my life, give it no room, do not acknowledge it, do not see it, tend to it, lay my soul bare before the King of Kings, I lose out on the blessing of the mourner.


Now, what does the Bible say about facing soul-turmoil?
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is found in Ecclesiastes where it says, "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth."  The Bible confirms that reflecting on our mortality and being among mourners is of value.  There is wisdom in this.  Of course there are many, many other verses - like, "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." And, "The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads."


And thirdly, how does God demonstrate His heart to the wounded, hurting, weakened, depressed, mourning?  With Elijah in the desert, He provides for his physical needs, then leads him to a place where he can get rest and fellowship with a faithful widow who looks after him.  With Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, He administers hope.  With Paul He provides companionship in a travel-mate named Titus.  With Hagar, He said, "I see you." God does not speak to any of these servants of His with rebuke, but with compassion and care, provides the very thing that is needed to support and sustain them.

Some of these were suffering specifically as God's servants, and others suffered just because life sucked frankly.  David suffered because meanies were out to get him.  Hagar suffered abuse at the hands of her master.  Joseph suffered in prison and as a slave because his brothers had been unjust towards him.  Naomi renamed herself Mara, or 'Bitter' to reflect the lot she had in life.

My point?  Sometimes suffering comes to us because we are being faithful to God in His work, but often suffering just happens as a part of life and because there is something deeply broken about the world we live in.  God knows, sees, cares and reaches out to us in it all - and He blesses those who mourn.


The same day I received this challenge to respond to the whole concept of 'victorious Christians don't live depressed' I also received a letter in the mail from a family who has suffered.  Each member has been touched by a sickness brought on by environmental toxins that has hampered their journey in this life.  The cost emotionally, physically, socially and in all aspects of life is enormous.  Yes, they have joy in it, but they also are honest about the struggle.  I would not dare to try to tell them what it might mean for them to have joy in their suffering, though they courageously demonstrate this anytime I am with them.

That same evening we read the Bible as a family and the passage that came next was Lamentations 3.  I believe God brought these three interactions to me in the same day: a challenge about Christian suffering, an example of Christians suffering and an example in the Bible of what that might look like.  So, to close, I give you portions of Lamentations 3 to reflect upon - may it bless you as it did me:

I am the one who has seen the afflictions that come from the rod of the Lord's anger.
He has led me into darkness, shutting out all light...
He has made my skin and flesh grow old.  He has broken my bones...He has surrounded me with anguish and distress.  He has buried me in a dark place...
And though I cry and shout, He has shut out my prayers.
He has blocked my way with a high stone wall; He has made my road crooked.
He has hidden like a bear or a lion, waiting to attack me.  He has dragged me off the path and torn me in pieces, leaving me helpless and devastated...
He shot His arrows deep into my heart...
He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink...
Peace has been stripped away...
I cry out,..."Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!" 
The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.
Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!"
The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord...
Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord's demands.
Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last...
For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
Though He brings grief, He also shows compassion because of the greatness of His unfailing love.  For He does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow...
My tears flow endlessly; they will not stop until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees. My heart is breaking...
But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit.  You heard me when I cried, "Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!"  Yes, You came when I called; You told me,
"Do not fear."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Season of Re-

Pardon the poetry these days.  Sometimes it just spills out here and there.  Words emerge in mingled masses until I throw them on a scrap of paper, only to be lost somewhere along the way.  Here and there I may get them into this blog, for a more permanent chronicle of the gazillion thoughts that I think.  This one is mostly thoughts I am telling myself.  Am I the only one who talks to myself?  Hope not!


Re-tell, Re-write, Re-alize.
Re-engage, Re-turn - 
A turning again to what once was,
that might have missed its place - 
the place of significance, of priority, of impetus
on your journey.

Re-think, Re-new, Re-birth:
Because these all flow, 
each from the other.

Re-open - open your eyes to see what has been there,
but you never dared to see.  
See reality.  See yourself.  See the love you haven't held.

Re-visit - the things you tossed aside as useless -
Gifts of heritage and faith.
Re-evaluate.  You may find treasure.

In your rest, find a place to begin.  
To everything, turn again, and return.

What you once rejected, perhaps you will now re-integrate.
In receiving, be re-born.


In a discussion recently someone wrote these words, which I think apply to what I wrote above: 

"So rethink grace.  Relearn love.  Reacquire the liberty Christ died to give you.  Do that work.  It's worth it." (Thanks, Mike Moore).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Do not think much of me for the things I say.
Do not think much of me for the things I do.
In fact, do not think much of me at all.
Think much of Christ - of His greatness, worth and love, and then,
Only then...
Think much of me as His broken child - needy, helpless and empty;
Waiting to be filled by Him,
To be soul-fed by His real food and bonded to Him by His real drink.
I thirst, and am nothing but a hungry child.

Think much of my want, my lack, my nothingness.
And think much of the Christ I love; the perfect Treasure of grace and truth,
Whose supply abounds.
There is nothing much to think of me,
And oh, so much to think of Him.