Are you Grieving? {Advent: December 18}

  
My grandmother passed away this week. I’m grieving a great loss. In my faith tradition, I believe that she is in heaven with no more pain and no more suffering. I keep saying to my friends, “I know that she is completely healed, I know that she isn’t in pain anymore, I know that she is home.”

I know I know I know I knoooow.

But my heart still hurts. I’m still in so much pain. In the middle of a season with lots of joy and celebration, I’m hurting very badly. Every time I hear a Christmas song on the radio, I turn it off. I’m numb to all the excitement of the season. I love looking at Christmas lights. I’m comforted seeing light in the midst of great darkness. Where is my Meme? Why can’t she come back? I’m grieving.

Are you grieving this season? Maybe someone in your life has left this earth, maybe you’re in a difficult relationship with someone, or maybe you don’t see the point in all the excitement. I’m right there with you. Below are a few things that are helping me during this time. Maybe they can help you too.

1. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself cry, scream, shout. Whatever you need to do – as long as you don’t hurt yourself or someone else – let yourself go. Now is not the time to hold back any emotion.

2. Ask for help. I know, this is the part where people could just offer something instead of waiting for you to ask for it, but we all know that doesn’t always happen. The fact is that people don’t know how to help. They don’t know what you need. A lot of people just aren’t good at anticipating the needs of their friends. Being aware of this, you have to ask for help. Now isn’t the time to be codependent and think that you’re bothering someone by asking for help.

3. Be patient with yourself and with your other loved ones who are also grieving. It’s gonna take some time for the pain to subside. Lots of time. You’re gonna feel awful and awkward for a while.

4. Lean into the pain. Sounds weird, but it works. Let yourself feel awful and awkward. Don’t try to ignore the pain or pretend it isn’t there, because that will only make it worse. If you let yourself feel the pain now, you lessen the risk of dragging out the grieving process beyond the healthy point. What’s the healthy point? Only you can decide that. The point here is that you allow yourself to feel the painful emotions. Just make sure that you’re in a safe place and that you don’t hurt yourself or other people in the process.

5. The little things can be triggers for tears. Slow, sappy music in the nail salon, a TV show, a specific restaurant, and certain smells are among the small things that may trigger tears. You don’t have to run away from these triggers, but if you can go ahead and be aware that these bring on tears, you can avoid them or buffer yourself from their effect on you.

6. You’re not alone in your pain, so don’t isolate yourself. Everyone on this planet knows what it’s like to lose someone. You’re not the only one who has felt this pain. I’m not saying this to be rude. I’m saying this because you will be tempted to become isolated, and that is a dangerous place to be in. There are people in your life who know the pain that you feel.

7. Eat your feelings and do what comforts you. You heard me. Jillian Michaels may not be so happy about this one, but this is not the time to think about staying on track with some diet. If you’re craving carbs, pasta, sweet treats, or savory snacks, eat it! Now, you don’t have to become a glutton and you probably don’t want to make yourself sick, but let yourself enjoy the foods that comfort you. If it isn’t food that comforts you, think of something else that comforts you and go do it. Get a pedicure, a massage, go workout, sleep in, watch a movie, etc.

8. Don’t let it hurt you or surprise you if someone grieves differently than you. People grieve differently and experience a wide range of emotions at varying times. If someone isn’t crying at the same time that you’re crying, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care. There will come some moments that the other person is crying and you’re not. That’s okay.

9. When you think about funny things and start to laugh, don’t push away the laughter. You might feel like it’s an inappropriate time to laugh, but it’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to laugh, to cry, to be angry, to feel whatever emotion that you feel.

10. Find ways to talk it out. I know, talking is probably the last thing you want to do. If you don’t feel like talking, don’t. However, if you do feel like it, find avenues to talk about your loved one. Share some memories on your blog or call and talk to a friend. Don’t think you have to keep it all to yourself or hold it in.

I hope these will help you as they have helped me. May the Lord comfort you during this time, and may you find comfort among friends and family.

Breathe & Take a Break {Advent: December 9-15}

  
You need a break. Don’t let this season become a time in which you simply check off items on your to-do list, including advent devotionals. Don’t let them become a rote, mundane part of your day. Take some time to spend with God without someone else’s thoughts in your head. Talk to God, and tell him about your day. Listen for his voice. Practice solitude. Read a story you don’t know from Scripture.

Daily advent devotionals will resume in a week.

Smothered and Covered with Mercy {Advent: December 7}

  
Yep. That’s how mercy is. The title may or may not be alluding to Waffle House, and this might read as a weird advent devotion. Follow me here, though.

The food at Waffle House is delicious. You eat as much as you want for about eight bucks, and you feel icky afterwards. You feel icky walking inside because it’s usually freezing, you order the all-star classic hoping that they get your order right the first time, and you chow down on a blueberry waffle, some bacon, and those greasy, smothered & covered hashbrowns like you haven’t had a meal in four days. Then you pay and walk outta there with no more regard to holding in your belly as you waddle quickly to the car so you can loosen your pants.

Encounters with mercy are like this. You feel awkward because you know you don’t deserve it, but you readily receive it, and then after you’ve enjoyed your fill of mercy, you start to feel that icky awkwardness as you experience the bliss that comes with having been forgiven. In the moments when you receive mercy, you probably feel like the scum of the earth, but then as you begin to realize the beauty of being forgiven, you have no choice but to experience bliss and joy because of such mercy.

The enemy wants to keep us from enjoying the forgiveness that we’ve received through Christ. The enemy wants to keep us in a perpetual state of guilt so that we miss out on the fulfillment that comes from God’s mercy and loving kindness. However, why would God want us to experience mercy and then constantly feel guilty about it? He wouldn’t! That’s the whole point of the cross, to remove our guilt (real guilt and false guilt). Okay, well the cross accomplished more than that, but the point here is that God does not want us to stay in a perpetual state of guilt.

So, the next time you enjoy a plate of hashbrowns smothered and covered, think of the mercy you’ve received from Christ, acknowledge the ickiness, and move past it. You have been shown great mercy. Go live it.

What Inspires You? {Advent: December 5}

  
What inspires you? What makes you see your circumstances in a new perspective, and what causes you to let go of the unhealthy patterns in your life?

You need to spend more time around the things that inspire you. Things that inspire you range from a variety of categories. It can include people, patterns, styles, textures, destinations, colors, shapes, animals, plants, nature, music, landmarks, books, certain stories, blogs, a course you’ve taken, magazines, journal articles, smells, sounds, words, podcasts, movies, tv shows, retail stores, restaurants, your industry, etc.

So, take five. Take five minutes, get your journal, and write down ten things that inspire you. Be specific. If you think of more than ten things, write those down too.

Now for each thing that inspires you consider how to incorporate it more in your life. Think of purposeful, tangible, ways in which you can do so. For example, if there’s a certain pattern that inspires you, pick out a set of notecards or some scrapbook paper with that pattern to set on your desk. As another option, purchase a cookbook with your favorite kind of cuisine in it. Have an inspiring destination in mind? Purchase a travel book on that destination and plan out your next visit. Listen to your favorite podcasts daily. Purchase a year-long subscription to your favorite magazine. Network with people in your industry, or each month read a new book that relates to your career.

Whatever is on your list of inspirations, make a point to surround yourself with those items. Be sure you encounter those inspirations on a regular basis. Life isn’t supposed to be boring, so let it inspire you!

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Just to let you know, Dallas Theological Seminary is giving the gift of a free online course this Christmas to anyone who signs up. The course is an eight-week study on the Gospel of John. Click here to sign up for the course.

Lets Be Honest {Advent: December 4}

  
Really honest. You ask God for clear direction. You want signs, you want clarity, and you want to know that God speaking to you. But what do you do when you actually realize that He is talking to you? Do you listen or do you pretend not to hear him? Do you actually follow His leading or do you tell God, “No”? You see, we ask God to lead us, but then when we think that we hear him, we just ignore it because, “Surely God wouldn’t ask me to do that,” so we think. We want to be absolutely certain, and in our quest for certainty, fear starts to grow within us as we consider what it takes to respond to what God might possibly be instructing us to do.

Earlier this fall when I returned home to Alabama, I visited the church where I grew up. I still know several of the people on staff, and they know my family well. They also know that my family and I have been walking through a really difficult season: five members of my family diagnosed with cancer within the past four years and just witchin the past year, my grandmother’s health rapidly decreasing. Moving home has made me even more aware of the pain that surrounds my family, and my heart has become somewhat calloused. At the end of the worship time during the service, our pastor asked people to come down to the altar and have staff members pray over them. There was no doubt about it. This was one of those times when you just know that God is nudging you to move. At first, even though I knew that’s what I needed to do, I said in my mind that I would just sit through it and enjoy the comfy chair. Nope. God wasn’t going to let that happen. I got the message and asked my mother to walk down there with me. We caught up with a close friend who prayed for my mother, family, and me. It was a sweet time and was exactly what I needed. God knew it. I knew it. I almost ignored it, but God melted my stubborness.

What is God asking you to do? Go do it.

Speak {Advent: December 2}

 

This one is not as long, because I want you to have time to apply it in a practical way.

As we talked about yesterday, you have something to say. Deep, honest words and emotions are stuffed in your heart that you long to express. When you try to find an outlet to speak, you only end up hitting a wall. Jump over it. You need to speak. You want to communicate emotions that you fear others may judge. You want to express points that need to be said, but you are scared to say them.

Let me encourage you to speak. Your voice needs to be heard. You can find ways to say what needs to be said in a way that’s constructive. You can speak what’s on your mind with kindness. If there is something you are timid to say or if it is something that might hurt someone, write it down in a journal. Regardless, speak.

Broken {Advent: December 1}

 

Then Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6

What’s broken in your life? Take an inventory of your life at this moment. Make a list of everything that needs healing and leave space between each item. For each item on your list, write down questions you’d like to ask God or things you’d like to voice to God about the healing process for that item. When you write these, be honest about how you feel. Don’t try to sweep negative feelings under the rug for the sake of wanting to be holy. God already sees you as holy because of Christ’s sacrifice for you, so you can’t do anything to add to it. You certainly don’t get any holier by lying to God about how you feel.

During one of my classes in seminary, our professor talked about the suffering that he and his family experienced while serving on the mission field. He asked God why he had to experience such suffering, and he explained to us that he had negative emotions and doubts. As soon as he finished expressing such vulnerability, a student boldly raised his hand and asked, “Well, you’re a seminary professor. Shouldn’t you have known better?” Oh help me. There are some things you don’t want to cross, and a mad Southern woman is one of them. Our professor kinda nodded like the guy had a point, but I couldn’t helped myself. Before I knew it, my hand darted up in the air and words started coming out of my mouth. “Are you serious? Are you seriously saying that right now? Do you honestly think that God appreciates your surface-level “reverence” when such reverence is really just a lie to coverup how you really feel towards God? You can’t hide anything from God, so you might as well be honest about how you feel.” Okay, I didn’t say it that harsh, but that is the essence of what I communicated.

The truth is that God cares about how we feel. While our emotions do not dictate his responses, our honest expression of every emotion reveals a genuine relationship with him. The oldest book of the Bible shows this type of relationship with the Father. If God is big enough to create the universe, is he not big enough to handle your darkest emotions? The answer is that he is big enough to handle your darkest emotions, and you’re relationship with God will only grow stronger as you trust him to handle such darkness. God’s response to your cries might be similar to his response to Job, but at least you won’t be feigning holiness by hiding what’s already in your heart.

So, again I ask you. What is broken in your life?