Walking through the Valley of Tears

“Nothing comes to you that doesn’t pass through God’s providential fingers first.” – Tony Evans

Oftentimes I post a blog after I’ve come through a valley and found myself on the other side. I can share my experience and hope because I’ve found comfort in the outcome or the resolution of a pain. However, I realized it may be beneficial to offer honesty in the midst of a tragic and deeply sorrowful season so others know they aren’t alone.

Can you relate? What happens when life hits and all you can think is, “it’s not supposed to be this way?” How can situations be reconciled when you’ve prayed so hard, fought relentlessly and tragedy still occurs? Waking up each morning with the gut wrenching alarm clock that life is forever changed…it isn’t merely a dream…this is a sickening awareness.

Sorrow is a deep experience encompassing the soul, overwhelming the heart and emotions. It is a process that can be devastating physically, mentally and spiritually. When tragedy happens through death, betrayal and losses of other types it can be paralyzing. Although time does not stand still, I sometimes wish it would so I could regain a sense of grounding. Each day is a battle, a conscious one, to face life one day at a time in the midst of a new reality. A new reality I didn’t choose. One that effects so many. One that was never supposed to happen but it did anyway. Where is God’s providence in that?

“Providence acknowledges that ultimately God is in control, and that His method of being in control often involves twists, turns and meanderings.” -Tony Evans

So how do we fight this battle with courage, hope and dignity? How can I maintain a patient enduring trust without an end destination in sight? Here is where I am landing. We fight, we fight relentlessly with His Word as our sword. I honestly take my pain, anger, hurt, frustration, confusion, fear and selfishness to His throne. I lay it down there multiple times throughout the day and ask for His wisdom to see the situation through His eyes. I seek Him through His Word and have found much comfort in Psalms. I repeat scripture back to Him. I cling to His promises even when my emotions don’t line up and trust they will…..eventually. His word penetrates and pierces down to the joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of my heart and WILL straighten out what is broken within.

“…God will often allow things in our own lives to go south, or remain unchanged in order to bring us to a place where His sovereignty is on display. Whether it is our own hearts or someone else’s, rebellion against God breeds further rebellion as the Lord uses those times and situations to demonstrate His sovereign hand.” – Tony Evans

When I’m hurt my tendency is to find someone or something to blame. Although this is only natural, we are not called to live a life of the natural but of the Spirit. The enemy is the enemy and we live in a broken, lost and confused world. He comes to steal, kill and destroy so when these fiery trials happen, why do we act surprised? It is in these moments that I must fight everything within me and choose to submit and clothe myself with the most unnatural clothing, that not of my flesh but of His Spirit. Why? Because bitterness and anger will only destroy me and many others around me. This is what I must set myself against, not another person but the self-will & humanity of my flesh. I’m called to be different and shine a light regardless of the darkness threatening to settle.

“Because when you know that God is in control – even of those things that appear to be out of control – you are able to move through life benefiting from the blessings of assurance, peace and self-control. When you truly understand that He is in your corner – our greatest defender and vindicator – you will no longer seek to rescue yourself.” – Tony Evans

The Valley of Baka, or Valley of Tears, is referenced in Psalm 84. I was led to this passage in Beth Moore’s The Quest just this morning. It is proving to be a balm to my wound and is pulling me out of the hole I crawled into when my grief overtook me. I pray I will embrace the blessing of His strength and sovereignty. When my world is falling around me and the depths of my sorrow know no end, I pray to pass through this valley as His strength transforms my pools of tears to springs of abundance because of His favor. I pray this for you also. This doesn’t mean the circumstance has to be resolved for my soul to be still. This is an active, daily choice knowing the Lord will work out His plans for my life, in His time.

So what will I do? I will grieve this season of life, fully. I will feel the emotions to the deepest levels. I will mourn with all that I have within me, but yet I will trust Him still. I will continue believing His promises and know that one day He will turn my mourning into dancing. I will allow myself to be broken completely so He can put me back together His way, not mine. My brokenness will be used for His glory. I will not pretend to be ok when I am not, but I will not be one without hope. Though outwardly I’m wasting away, inwardly He will renew me day by day. One day He will bring purpose and redemption, because He promises to do so. It’s who He is. I however must release any expectation of what that may look like. Right now my position must be one of surrender to mourn what must rightfully be mourned as He catches my tears, EVERY SINGLE ONE.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:8

Grief- A Story of Shattered Pieces

“Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.” Proverbs 14:13
This month I’ve had two episodes of glass breaking. The first occurred when Tyler knocked a lamp off a table shattering the light bulb spraying tiny pieces in every imaginable direction. The second happened when yes, Tyler, dropped a glass scale on the tile causing it to break in various fragments with a continual crackling in what remained of the scale. It’s interesting considering both breaks involved glass but the aftermath looked different. Such is Grief. It doesn’t have rules. There isn’t a playbook or a set expectation. Like glass shattering, grief sends splintered shards of your heart in all directions. Remnants of what “was” continue to be discovered as gut wrenching reminders of what will never “be” again. Not that things can’t be restored & made new but letting go of what has been is hard & that’s the first step into what is to come.
“For the land you are about to enter and take over is not like the land from which you came….” 
Oftentimes when I write it’s something I’m currently struggling through or learning, but at least feel some sense of resolution. Not with this. I’ve been waiting, writing thoughts and quotes as they grab my thoughts. I’ve been living and processing, but see no end in sight. I write to make sense of things. I write to share my experience with others. I write in prayer that somehow my pain can help someone who is struggling. Yet now I write out of pure obedience because I don’t see how my jumbled thoughts and emotions are going to make much sense. I’ve been holding onto this theme for several months waiting for the moment when I know it is time. That time did not come in the way I expected it to, but here I am typing away.
“Rather, the land you will soon take over is a land …. with plenty of rain.”
I’ve been waiting for a moment of clarity but inevitably something happens….a subtle reminder of the pain that remains. I so desperately want to share something encouraging that sends the message “I’ve figured something out.” No such luck. Time can pass but in an instant the emotions come crashing with an intensity I’m completely unprepared for. So here I am with an unnerving level of authenticity that I pray at least offers comfort of solidarity. Know you are not alone. I’m hurting too. When I used to envision grief and pain of loss it always dealt with death. The kind of death that involves one passing from this life into eternity. Although that is so utterly painful, it makes sense to me. This void causes a shift of perspective and makes each memory hold so much more depth. I remember this hitting me on the way to my grandmothers’s burial. Her death felt too abrupt, although we knew it was coming.
My current struggle is grieving the loss of what still holds breath. The letting go of what I thought life would look like. This grief is a daily struggle to determine what reality is, for today…one day at a time. Submitting is a daily grind when it entails a surrender of something you want with all your heart yet know its not in God’s plan, well at least not for today. Maybe it is a dream that appears to no longer be a possibility, maybe a relationship that has seen its last chapter or a calling to move onto something ahead but to leave behind what you still love. Perhaps the grief of time, as it does carry on lest our best efforts, has brought about realities you never thought you’d face yourself. How do I grieve what remains to offer life to others, but for today has no room for me? This reality can be utterly devastating. In these moments I find myself face down on my blue shag rug crying my eyes out to songs like “I Surrender” and “I’m Listening”. Other times I blast music as loud as it goes in my headphones, take off running down the road and try to drown out the noise with heavy metal and screaming guitars.
“…a land that the Lord your God cares for. He watches over it through each season…”
I’ve discovered a new form of grief in the changing of seasons. I’m learning what it looks like to let go of dreams and desires that aren’t bad in and of themselves but yet the answer is still “no” or simply not now. Guys, I’m in the midst of a heartbreaking journey. Yet where anything is broken there is a promise of restoration. My God is good and I trust Him, so I willingly remain steadfast abiding in the shadow of His wings. There is one thing I don’t want to miss, that’s HIM. Uncertainty is certain, but Jesus is here with me through it all. If the goal or end hope is anything other than Him, I’ll be greatly disappointed. There are so many things in this life that I truly believe are His desires for me, I just don’t have the road-map for all the stops along the way. I don’t want to give up dreams and hopes that are so deeply woven in my soul because something turned out differently than I thought it should. It can be excruciating, overwhelming, even paralyzing when life…well when life happens. We can pray continuously, sob endlessly, bargain and plead, but sometimes life just is what it is. What do we do then?
“….He will send the rains in their proper seasons – the early and late rains- so you can bring in your harvests…”  Deuteronomy 11:10-14
In this season of grief, I’m embracing the truth that HE IS ENOUGH. He is enough to handle my disappointment, questions, anger, sadness & fear. He is enough to be my comfort, teacher, Father, husband, counselor, refuge and friend. When the scattered pieces of broken glass appear & even cut me deep….instead of being surprised, I’m learning to immediately take the pieces to Him. The pieces will continue to appear as I live but I cannot live with the delusion that they aren’t there. He makes beauty from ashes. He creates collages from broken things. Out of my shattered heart He will bring forth a flame that will catch fire to refine my deepest hurts for His purpose of redemption. This I believe and hold fast when the pain threatens to suffocate. He is my breath. Not the outcome of a situation, healing of pain, restoration of relationship, return of what was lost…no, He alone is my comfort & He is here NOW. I don’t have to wait for the pain or grief to subside to live the life He has for me. I have a beautiful life in the midst of it all. God goes before us. His provision prepared in advance. Even in the midst of uncertainty, His plan prevails. He has planned for every moment. My life is so full today because it is centered on Him. I don’t want to miss the blessing of the present, I want to experience the depth of it all. The joy and the pain.
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, an no one else can fully share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10
When loss occurs there is a somewhat unsettling stark reality check. What once was will never be again. It leaves you forever changed. It adds a tenderness to life, an appreciation of the present. Grief doesn’t take away from the beauty of the moments in the past but adds a level of gratitude mixed with vulnerability sometimes in unwelcome measure. This is where I’ve been with grief lately. It’s a common misconception of mine looking back over life and still can be today. If I’m obedient, why does it hurt so bad? If I’m listening to God and doing what He’s asked me to do, shouldn’t it be easier? Grief is something in the past I’ve associated only with death or disobedience. It’s a new experience as I approach grief from a posture of obedience, trusting God’s provision. If you’re hurting and grieving please don’t think something is wrong with you. Sometimes obedience can hurt the most, especially when people don’t understand. Loneliness may visit, but remember you are not alone. Of one thing I am certain – He will never let you down.
“Oh Lord, you are my God, for in perfect faithfulness You have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” Is 25:1 
I picture a dark tunnel where I am standing at one end, seeing light on the other side and knowing the only way to get there is to walk through the pain. I never lose sight of the light up ahead, but there is uncertainty with what each present step has for me. I do not waver because the light is ahead. I don’t know how long it will take me to get there. What is behind may seem closer, maybe if I turn around and go back? But no. I must move forward. I must because He is calling. He has something waiting for me. So I trudge on.
“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.” Psalms 126:5

Breaking Free from Fear

The last post I made was entitled “Fear the Evil and Corroding Thread” which describes the imagery of fear perfectly. It’s a thread at the end of a woven sweater. If you tug on it and keep pulling, before you know it you’ll be short an arm. Eventually if you don’t cut it off, you’ll be left standing with a handful of unraveled wool and an exposed torso. The remnants of a once beautiful item but a memory, just because we refused to let go.

I continue to wage war and fight this battle to let go. I refuse to blindly accept my thoughts and emotions as truth. When my feelings are clearly in conflict with God’s word I must actively choose to live in active faith instead of dwelling in fear.

Without realizing it for much of my life I’ve had the expectation that “it” all works out, but my “it” has been an external focus. The “it” that will get worked out is my spirit, the inner man. I’ve been promised that He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion. I’m assured my tests and trials have purpose to produce steadfastness, maturing faith and for the comfort and encouragement of others. My expectation that “it” all works out hinges on a perspective originating from self, not the Lord. This view is so limited that I can wear blinders creating a tunnel vision effect and not even realize what I’m doing. “It” has to work out and “it” will, but it’s going to be worked out inside my spirit through the power of Jesus. My circumstance may not work out how I would like, wish or pray. That’s reality and where fear most often taunts and tethers.

When God says, “Fear not” He isn’t saying don’t be afraid because your life is going to be roses and butterflies. He wants me to trust Him even when it hurts. So many times God tells me not to fear but He’s not telling me there won’t be horrible, painful, heartbreaking trials and tragedies…no, He’s strongly suggesting I hold onto Him for dear life while everything inside screams in terror. He provides peace that surpasses all understanding in the midst of these situations, but I must choose to embrace it. He will keep me in perfect peace when my mind stays on Him because I trust Him. On my own I am not able or meant to withstand the tumultuous current of crashing waves on the shore of life. There are so many verses addressing fear because it is such a natural and common human response.

Well hold on, there are some legitimate things happening that I’m afraid of. Yeah, I understand, believe me. Some of my greatest fears have been realized, but I’m still breathing. I’m facing some seemingly insurmountable obstacles which have aroused fear. There is almost relief being on the other side, no longer in anticipation and apprehension because in my desperation I have no illusions I could go forward on my own. I must live one day at a time in reality and His grace is here with me.

 

thread of fear

 

I heard the coolest illustration this week describing faith and trust. Faith is going to a circus, seeing a funambulist about to perform and believing he will walk across the tight-rope safely arriving on the other side. Trust is an entirely different thing requiring action. Trust is climbing in a wheelbarrow and allowing the funambulist to push you safely across. I have to take action to fight for victory over fear, because simply saying I have faith isn’t enough. Victory requires effort by consistently submitting to the Lord trusting His Spirit in me to overcome obstacles arousing fear. Faith without works is dead.

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

God continually told the Israelites in the Old Testament not to fear, be frightened, live in dread or be terrified of the enemy because He would fight for them. Yet they continued to doubt Him and complain. Reading through the stories its almost unbelievable how soon they forget God’s provision for EVERY single need. But you know what, I do the very same thing. When I begin to doubt, demanding answers to questions beginning with “Why” finding no satisfactory explanation to reconcile the hurt inside of me, similarly I too forget His provision. God usually doesn’t fight for me the way I want Him to. I want Him to fix, adjust, bring justice or alter a circumstance based on my perspective and when that doesn’t happen I can slip into doubt. Does He see me? Does He care? Well of course He does, but I have to open my eyes to see how He is fighting for me. I have to surrender and take a look at my heart. This process isn’t easy, its a hashing out of emotions and tears. My friends, life can be really hard sometimes, excruciatingly painful and overwhelmingly unbearable, but God is constantly fighting for us. Some days we may just need to cry, but not with hopelessness. It’s ok to grieve what has been lost, but let us never doubt God will redeem every moment for His good. The hope is in moving forward. We must go forward to receive what God has waiting. He has gone before, because unlike you and I, He isn’t limited to today. He is the God who is, who was and who is to come.

 “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

Exodus 14:13-15

In the New Testament as Paul reminds us of the Spirit of power, love and self-control Jesus has gifted us, not one of fear. The word used for fear in this verse is “deilia” which is always used in a negative sense. It applies to a personality trait of cowardice and timidity often translated to fright or fearfulness. In my previous post I spoke of the spiritual oppression and the sense of dread that comes with fear. If my response is to do nothing and hide in comforts and habits, I’m acting out of the personality trait referenced here. We are reminded that Jesus wants us to live freely. He did not rescue us for us to live in slavery to fear. In Romans Paul offers the encouraging truth testifying we did not receive a spirit that makes us a slave to fear but God has adopted us as His own.

Fear is in direct conflict with the peace Jesus desires for us. However another word for fear “phobos” and “eulabeia” can be used speaking of deep respect and accountability to God, a reverential caution or apprehension. I think there are some things we should be cautious about. There have been moments in my life where my gut feeling, my spirit, my conscience…basically everything inside of me screamed that something was wrong. I’ve learned those are the times I must hit my knees and ask for wisdom. Lack of power is my dilemma, but only when I’m trying to do it on my own. God has gifted us with His Spirit, if we’ve accepted Jesus as the leader of our life. All power is available to us in submission to Him.

Here is what its coming down to for me. Is the object of my faith Jesus or what I believe He will DO for me? Is my hope set on Him or how I’ve interpreted His promises? Is my respect for God and desire to live accountable to Him greater than my need for success, affection, approval, relationships, prosperity, financial security, ad infinitum? Do I trust Him even when it hurts and the tears won’t stop flowing? Can I live my life today, one day at a time expectantly awaiting His provision? Perfect love casts out fear and God desires to perfect us with His love. It’s the only love that will do.

I cherish this passage and will end with this. Jesus gets it ya’ll. He lived in the flesh and experienced all these feelings just like us. He hurt and sacrificed all to offer us freedom in the midst of pain.

“While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.”

Hebrews 5:7-9 NLT