Bittersweet Waters

Bittersweet Waters

I held it together pretty well until I saw her lean over and speak tender last words.  Tears spilled from her cheeks and she groaned from the agony ripping her soul.  Heartbreak like this was something she’d never experienced, it hurt to breathe.  How was she ever going to say goodbye?

After all, you only get one momma.

Thankfully my carpool companion had the foresight to bring a pack of Kleenex, I signaled I needed one ASAP and quickly tried to wipe the tears.  My heart was so heavy.  I cried not just for my own personal loss of a friend but because I understood the loss this dear family was facing.  And, I cried because I miss my mom.

Funerals are so hard.

I don’t remember a lot about my own mom’s funeral, I do remember a lot of folks came and told me they would be praying, I’m sure that’s why I’ve made it this far.  Today I showed my respects for another set of daughters who lost their mom so young.  It was a holy experience for me, a chance to see how it felt to mourn my own mom without the ripping pain in my chest.

The feeling is more of a constant deep ache these days.

The choir stood to sing as the family walked in to say their final words to her mortal body, each making promises to see her again.  At first my heart objected to the upbeat music escorting the train of family past the coffin.  These occasions are supposed to be somber, sad and thought provoking, not the hand clapping, head bobbing, praise and worship service the group up front was leading.  I sat for a moment in silent opposition, but then I began to listen to the words.

“God will not let you fall.”

Refrain after refrain always followed by, “God will not let you fall.”  He will take care of you, He will not let you fall, He will comfort you, He will not let you fall, He is beside you, He will not let you fall, He loves you, He will not let you fall and on it went.  Slowly, like the dawning of the sun, the truth of what they were singing began to warm my soul.  I began to tap my foot as my eyes filled with knowing tears.  Oh the truth in those words.  As the usher moved forward to close the casket, loud singing echoed through the small church building, the volume peaking at the perfect time as the lid closed forever…He will not let you fall. 

I am most certain the angels in heaven were joining in the refrain.

I wanted to run to this precious family and reinforce what they already knew, He really won’t let you fall.  Oh, you may feel like you won’t be able to get up and face another day, but you will.   You may think the sorrow is going to overtake you and surely death might be easier, but, you will wake up and you will face another day and you will eventually find a way to smile and really mean it.

He will not let you fall!

This was my first experience at this type of funeral.  I’ve sat through some where there was hand raising during a worshipful song and maybe small amounts of laughter at a funny memory, but, this was unlike anything I’d ever been a part of.  Person after person got up and read scripture or shared a story about our dearly beloved friend, some sang songs but the resonating theme throughout the hour and a half long ceremony was joy.  Joy in life, joy in loss, joy in memories, and joy in the morning.  There were plenty of tears, but they poured down cheeks of people standing and lifting their hands up to heaven in praise.

Even as we mourned death, our celebration was for life.

And then it was time for the pastor to speak, he was young and full of enthusiasm.  He began to talk of the bitter waters from Exodus 15:23.  The Israelites had narrowly escaped slavery in Egypt only to be led into the unbearable desert, they were tired, hot and thirsty.  I am sure they were sunburned, had blisters on their feet, their children were probably crying and the dust had to be caked on their robes and scratching their eyes.

They must’ve been miserable.

If I’m being completely transparent, I’m sure I would’ve joined the group as they began to complain and wonder why God had brought them to this place only to give them water they could not drink.  Did He not care about the well-being of His people?  The disgruntled newly freed slaves took their complaints to Moses and Moses took those complaints to God.   The young pastor reminded us it is in these deeply painful times, when we are so weak and it seems impossible to pray, those who love us can pray on our behalf, they can take our requests before the Lord.

When we can’t, those who love us can.

He went on to explain the water the Israelites camped beside was not really bitter as we think of the word, but salty, not drinkable.  Then he described how God instructed Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water and it became sweet, not sugary sweet like the sweet tea we enjoy here in the south, but drinkable.  Our lives are like the bitter waters when it is filled with sorrow and pain and we long for relief, then finally, when we are parched from crying and in desperate need of relief, God comes and only through the miracle of His love and healing makes the sorrow bearable.

And our water becomes sweet, drinkable.

In other words, we survive, we may not thrive, but we make it through.

The whole time the pastor was speaking folks all around me were crying out to encourage his discourse.  “Amen!”  “Hallelujah!”  “Yes, Lord!”  I sat quietly, soaking it all up like a sponge.  It was beautiful.   It was sad.  It was joy and it was sorrow and I’ll never forget it.

As the minister prayed the final prayer, I bowed my head and fixed my thoughts on Jesus.  This service had been a gift to me.  These precious people had opened up their hearts and shared their sorrow and in the midst of all that had gone on around me I realized I had come full circle.  I had been given the chance to rejoice in the life of my own mom as theirs was laid to rest.  It was as though the Lord gave me a second chance to remember all the wonderful things she’d done in her life and in my mind I lifted my hands and said “Amen!”

And I knew I could say to anyone who needed to hear it, “You’re going to make it, you may not feel like it right now, but you will.”

I left that place lifted. Oh, I didn’t feel like jumping for joy or anything, but I felt a sense of closure, like God had put another piece of my shattered heart back in place.

I was reading in my devotion a few days later about sorrow.  It was profound how Oswald Chambers explained the results of having been through it.  He said,

“Sorrow removes a great deal of a person’s shallowness, but it does not make the person better.  Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me. You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot find or receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give into complaining.  The only way to find yourself is through the fires of sorrow.  Why it should be this way is immaterial…If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.

And that is exactly why I am here penning these words to you today, because God has taken my sorrow and turned it into nourishment.  He has taught me more than I will ever be able to communicate, loved me more than I could ever return and brought me to a bearable place.  I still miss my mom every single day, and I will miss my sweet friend too, but I will get up tomorrow and I will stand in the strength of God alone because He will not let me fall.

He has made my bitter waters sweet.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:26

“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.)  So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”  Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.” Exodus 15:23-25

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Table Talk

whole family not paying attention edited

I love it when I have a houseful of family to celebrate, and this weekend we celebrated big.  Father’s Day is extra special for me these days since my dad is my only living parent.  So, we bought burgers, pulled out the grill and invited all the family that was available to come and feast at our home.  When the whole crew gets together, we make a lot of noise. Kind of like the family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  One of my all-time favorite movies because sometimes we ARE that family, I can so relate.  We tend to be like the folks I see on TV sporting events who have their faces painted two tone colors to support their favorite team.  The ones wearing the big foam number one finger shaking it around all over the fans near them.  Yeah, you get the idea.

We’re just loud, enthusiastic, and in my very bias opinion, a ton of fun.

It didn’t take long to grill the burgers to charred perfection and to top each with a slice of yellow cheese; then we sat down to indulge.  My table has a couple of extensions so it’s plenty long enough to accommodate our bunch. We have the space, just not enough chairs.  So, we pull out whatever we can find. You never know exactly what you’ll be seated on if you’re not one of the lucky ones to get an actual chair.  This particular evening I was sitting in our small swivel office chair on the very corner of the long table, the perfect view to see everyone who’d come to celebrate.  We were crowded, but that only encouraged the easy banter tossed around while we ate and laughed between bites.

In all the chaos, passing of dishes, pouring of drinks and digging in, I looked around and began to thank the Lord for each person present.

They are all so very different and bring something different into my life.

My brother in law keeps me in stitches, he is just so funny.  He’s also loud and somehow his humor mixed with his volume makes me laugh even harder.  My son is very quick witted, he doesn’t miss any opportunity to create drama out of a funny interchange.  He is also a debater and sometimes that drives me crazy.  But, I remind myself often to be thankful for someone who challenges me and keeps me from being surrounded with opinions that only reflect mine.

My dad needs a hearing aid; yes, I said that.  He knows it, but his answer every time I tell him to get one is, “what?”  He’s hilarious in our messy conversations because he responds to questions and statements that were never asked or said.  In the midst of all the humor, he brings wisdom and tells of days gone by when times were simpler and everyday Americans still loved God and country.  He can fix anything, seriously, he’s always been handy with gadgets and cars.  I am forever grateful for the times he’s fixed our car or helped with our plumbing or any number of things.  He’s shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears at our home.

He is the cornerstone of this crazy family and he has the two tone face paint to prove it.

My daughter is the realist, she is good about bringing us all down to earth.  I would surely be wandering around chasing pipe dreams with enthusiasm if she were not in my life.  She reminds me all things are possible but not all things are a good idea.  Like when I get so excited and I’m about to embarrass myself, she’s always there to remind me how it might look for this forty something to break out in a happy dance in the middle of a crowd.  She’s saved me from myself plenty of times.   She also listens to me, really listens. As I get older I am so appreciative of those who have the gift of not just hearing but listening.  Many times she will sit quietly and allow me to pour my heart out and only offer the comfort of feeling heard.

I cannot imagine my life without her quiet spirit and down-to-earth perspective.

And then there is a new member at our table, my dad’s wife.  If you’ve read my blog for very long you know we lost my mom almost three years ago.  The period of time after she died was nearly unbearable.  But, the Lord is so faithful and just when I thought we might drown in grief, He started us down a road I never thought I’d travel.

My dad remarried.

I wasn’t sure how I would bear this new normal, but I have learned you can accept and even embrace the future without betraying the past.  She has become a joy to us and it has brought deep healing into the brokenness of my heart. She exudes peace and works harder than anyone I know.  She is such a good example of unconditional love and second chances.

I am so thankful she sits at our table these days.

And then there’s my husband, this man who has stood by me through thick and thin.  He is the best of the two of us.  He is strong to my weak, comfort to my heartache, stable to my roller coaster, and love to my needy heart.  He is our game player, the one who begs anyone, yes anyone, even you, to play cards or any game with him on any given night.  Sadly, he married a total game dud.  Poor guy, this is definitely his cross to bear.  He makes me laugh when I want to curl up in my protective shell and be left alone.  He reminds me I am not that important, don’t gasp, it’s actually for my good.  (Remind me to tell you the story later.)  He brings a solid foundation to our sometimes shaky table, the kind you can count on in a pinch.  He is faithful to the core and if he’s you’re friend, you’ve got one for life.

Our youngest son is much like his dad.

All of these thoughts and many more floated around in my mind as I sat around the table enjoying the hearty conversations and small talk.  It was in the midst of all the social clutter I realized something, my table could be a metaphor for my life story.  When I think of the many people who come in and out of my life day to day, each one brings something different to the “table.”  Some make me laugh, not only at silly things, but at myself.  Others make me think about why I do the things I do.  Some carry my burdens like their own and pray for me like family.  There are a few who have been in my life for many years, I share history with them that allows easy conversation of life stories and shared victories.  I work with some and we share the stresses and accomplishments of busy times and good work.  There are others who celebrate with me when my kids are successful and pray for my disappointment when they’re not.  Many who share my faith and encourage me to keep growing, and a couple who shoot straight with me when I really don’t want to hear what they have to say because it might hurt.

All of these precious people make me better, richer, happier, more grounded and most importantly, they keep me growing.

My “table” is full, maybe even a little crowded, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sometime soon when you’re gathered with your family, or friends that are like family, take a look around and realize what each one brings into your life that you really couldn’t do without.  It’s amazing how really good we can be for one another.

And if you’re really lucky, they’ll paint their faces two colors and point the way to joyful living with a giant number one foam finger.

 

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I Cor. 10:31

“A friend loves at all times, a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Psalm 17:17

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Psalm 27:17

Good News

Good News 2

I was wrapped up in a fuzzy robe resting comfortably on a chair that had seen better days, it suited the weathered deck that stretched the expanse of our small rented chalet. The view was breathtaking and the air crisp causing steam to rise from my morning cup of coffee.  The mountain is beautiful.  I can see why it bears the name “Lookout”; there is beauty everywhere.  Not elegant or refined beauty but the kind that tends to be rough around edges.

I’m pretty sure that last sentence defines my life.

It has been a hard few years since I suffered such tremendous loss and only recently have I found myself willing to look back for more than a few seconds. I’ve had to keep my mind and feet going forward, to avoid drowning in the pain.   I haven’t allowed myself to think too long about the way things were “back in the day”; it hurt too much.

But not this morning.

Perched over one of the most breathtaking views I’d ever seen, I found myself reminiscing and dreaming.

It’s been a long road and I finally feel like I am able to breathe again without hurting so much I want to curl up in a fetal position. As a matter of fact I journaled not long ago about a word I believe the Lord had spoken to me.  Something that made me smile way down deep in my heart.  I felt impressed time and again He was going to give me good news.  At first I thought it was just my imagination, or wishful thinking, but it seemed the impression wouldn’t go away.

And some good news after all the hurt and devastation sounded pretty appealing to me.

It took me a while but finally I nervously told my husband what I thought the Lord was saying to me. I am not a person who feels impressions like this very often. Oh, the Lord and I talk frequently, I need a lot of Him to make it, but, this was different. It was almost like a promise for something to come; not a general promise to the world but specifically to me. So I told him casually trying not to make too big of a deal out of it; I mean, what if I was wrong?

Looking back I wish I had never said it out loud because a lot of bad things happened almost immediately.

I don’t really believe in “jinxing” something, but, wow, if I did this would be the perfect example.

The same day I spoke those words to my man, I got a call from one of my adult children with bad news. Nothing life threatening, just disappointing.  Then a call from another child, more difficult news.  The same weekend there were family struggles that seemed to escalate, relationships gone awry.

“What in the world is going on?” I cried out to the Lord more than once.

In the midst of all of this my youngest graduated from high school and empty nest was looming before me. I am happy to say the Lord helped me to get through graduation without too many tears, so the pictures aren’t forever laden with my puffy, make up stained face from an emotional breakdown.  But, my heart was heavy from all the difficulty that was going on around me; where was my good news?

A few days after the graduation ceremony my family of five took off on an adventurous vacation to the mountains. That’s a big deal for this beach loving girl.  My mom always loved the mountains, but I never really cared about going.  The ocean called my name.  But, my husband wanted to plan a vacation to remember and it started in the Smoky Mountains.  So we stuffed five adults in a vehicle probably meant for four and hit the highway.

Nothing like close quarters to encourage intimacy, right?

As we were driving from our home to our vacation cabin, I found myself mentally replaying so many of the hurts that had happened in the week leading up to our time away. My thoughts mocked me as I tried to remember my promise of good news.  Why had so many difficult things happened all at once and why did it feel like I must’ve misunderstood what I felt the Lord impressed on my heart?  Why does life have to be full of complicated relationships and bad news?

Round and round my mind went.

The whole time my three adult children were sitting in the back seat talking and laughing enjoying being together. It’s like a unicorn sighting to have them all in one place these days, their lives have become full and busy.  But, here they were, all of them, headed out of town for an entire week.

Still I was looking for my good news.

A few days into our week in the most beautiful place and still I struggled with a heavy heart. I don’t know why I carry everything around with me, all my emotional junk and worries everywhere I go. I pray and then I get up and take all the “stuff” I just prayed about with me.  Not something I’m proud of, but it’s the truth.

I’m such a work in progress.

One evening we were sitting around the coffee table playing a never ending game of Monopoly. I was sipping coffee from my new Rock City coffee mug when I felt a spiritual nudge to look around at these precious people and be thankful.  There will always be difficult circumstances, situations and relationships, but this moment would soon pass never to be again.

My eyes teared up and I quietly thanked the Lord for each of them.

Why was I holding on to things I had no control over and missing out on what was happening right in front of me. I inwardly promised myself I would lay the negative thoughts aside and put my whole heart into fully engaging and loving on the folks I was with.  So, we laughed, drank lots of coffee, stayed up late and I totally lost at Monopoly.

Still, no good news.

I faced some fears over the course of our time away. I was thrown around in a raft and I’m sure narrowly escaped death more than once, but I laughed so much I hardly noticed.  Of course, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit terrified the entire time.  White water rafting is no joke.  I lowered myself off a forty foot drop with a rope and a prayer.  I’ll never forget the feeling of leaning straight back with only air and the ground beneath me.  It took all I had to trust and take the first step back off the cliff.

I will never forget it.

I rode bikes on a narrow trail with a deep drop-off on one side and a steep hill on the other. It was the trails of Cloudland Canyon State Park and I feared for my safety a time or two.  I wanted to quit and call for help on more than one steep hill I cycled, but who was going to help me?  My family members had their own bikes to navigate and no one would’ve been able to hear my cry so deep in the forest.

So on I rode.

I won’t go into all the details about sore muscles, obstacles, turtles, sweat, and tics. I’ll just say it was the best feeling to finish.  Not just because it was over but because I’d done it.  I was living in the moment just like my Heavenly Father had reminded me to do.  I appreciate moments like these so much more because of what I’ve been through, the past has helped to make my present richer.

But, there was no good news waiting for me at the end of each day.

I found myself waiting and waiting for some giant announcement, or for some miracle. But when I looked back at our time together, I began to realize something.  Maybe my good news was not one thing in particular, maybe it was the combination of a million little moments along the way.  A beautiful sunset overlooking the most amazing view I think I’ve ever seen, watching my children play hours of Monopoly, discovering a new part of the country, laughing until our stomachs hurt, riding bikes like we hadn’t in years, and talking about things that really mattered.

All of it.

The joy of living beginning to return to my broken soul may be the good news I’ve been so anxiously awaiting.

I understand now that our memories are the colorful thread that weaves its way through our lives and eventually tells our story. It is one thing we all have in common.

We will all remember.

I was spending so much time looking for good news that I almost missed it, a life lived well is full of good news, good moments, and good times even in the midst of hardship. We must look for it because it is always there.

And if we are intentional about living well, we will have many good memories filled with good news to tuck us in at night.

I learned a lot on my vacation.

White water rafting scares me to death, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Cliff repelling requires trust and perhaps a little bit of insanity, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Monopoly is the worst but I would probably play it again…probably.

But mostly, I learned I want to live well and always be looking for the good news.

Chances are, it’s right in front of me.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭52:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬