Community of Faith

Suicide is not a sadness I have been called upon to endure. I haven’t earned the stripes to say, “I understand” to the grieving parent, sibling or friend who has lost a loved one to this devastating cause of death. Nor, have I had a family member dabble with drugs to the extent it ended their life. I don’t know what it feels like to lose someone I love to these maddening modes of death. Associated with each of these saddening scenarios is a unique blend of emotional scars, unexpected life changes and demands different levels of forgiveness. However, because of my firsthand experience with a similar piercing pain, I offer my most heartfelt and sincere prayers of comfort to all peoples, especially those here in my hometown that are dealing with these caustic situations at present. May you be blessed by Heaven’s sweetest assurances.

This time, I watch from a ringside seat. Not directly involved in the disastrous set of circumstances. My stint of being in the brutal boxer’s ring has come and gone. Nevertheless, because of past happenings I am well aware of what follows after a crisis rocks the fiber of an otherwise peaceful community. Sitting from the security of my desk chair, I can sense the inner chaos coursing through all of us affected. Causing us to grasp for answers to the why’s and what-if’s. The pain that punctures the souls of citizens when we lose three of our students is obvious in every Facebook post and personal conversation.

The anxiety that creeps into the thought processes of all those that are aware are on display as we try to understand and get a handle on the harrow that drives a child to act out in such harmful ways. Everyone grasping for preventative measures so that our young people aren’t at risk to act on their overwhelming emotions with life altering actions or take a hit of some abusive substance to escape reality; or worse yet, as a wicked form of entertainment. A lack of physical involvement in the aftermath of tragedy doesn’t lessen the ache for those of us acting as bystanders. We grieve alongside you as we witness your outcry. We join you in your efforts to enlighten our children and uplift our neighborhoods. You might not be able to see us, but know we stand with you during these difficult times.

This topic of care and love that weaves its tender tentacles throughout our sleepy little town has tumbled in my heart for some time. For I was once comforted by my neighbors, fellow school moms, church family, close friends and concerned strangers. Acknowledging Community of Faith Blog 2my position of need wasn’t natural. We humans tend to shrink and turn inward when we hurt. Thinking to allow and accept help is a sign of weakness. Sometimes, vulnerability makes us uncomfortable and we don’t allow people in. Thankfully, many many persons pushed past my awkwardness and made their loving presence known. Not allowing me to embark on the lonely journey of recovering on my own. The channels of communication where varied; cards, letters, emails, tender comments, flowers on my front porch, an extra hug or a hot meal. Prayers, poems and spiritual support found their way to me when I couldn’t find comfort on my own. Memorials and remembrance services were setup, people took time out of their schedules to show up and offered their personal support. These healing messages and tokens of thoughtfulness expressed in so many different ways encouraged me to carry on. Without them my path to peace would have been much more cumbersome. Each act of kindness tossed off a heavy stone of burden.

Guilt often riddled my emotions when I thought about properly acknowledging all that was bestowed upon me. There were no adequate words to express the depths of my gratitude. Nor, was it possible to accomplish the gargantuan effort required to reach all that responded to my needs. So, today I journal to record my thank yous to each and every person that extended themselves in any way on my behalf and on behalf of my family. Your loving support was silently appreciated. What you had to say mattered, what you did made a difference and your prayers of comfort and peace straightened my back bent with heartbreak. I appreciate and will forever hold dear your abundant outpouring of love.

Almost five years later, I see our community being stirred again. Waves of tragedy have pushed through the calm waters of our steadfast families. Causing our awareness to heighten and propelling us to respond. Witnessing the current upheaval in our community triggers memories to flood my mind. Tempting me to retrace a painful trail in my life. These local losses have touched one of my own, stirring within my daughter a deep and distracting sense of sadness. So much, that she placed a teary call to share her heavy heart. Confused by her own reaction she sniffled her way through her sentiments, “Mom, I just feel like my soul has been shredded these past few days. I just know how bad it hurts.” I responded as gently as I could, “Of course your heart hurts. It’s called compassion and it is causing you to mourn your own loss again. ”

With these uneasy feelings creeping around me, I can’t help by let my thoughts wander to the scriptures for wisdom when I am seeking to dispell the shadows lengthening around me. I’ve learned I have to work against the forces that turn my thinking away from the goodness of Christ. Therefore, in anticipation I go to God’s word to show me the light; the better way of thinking, of reacting, of behaving. I find words that speak to me as I thumb through Matthew, 1 Thessalonians and The Book of Galatians:

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 

Matthew 22:36-40

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Rather than letting triggers take control and drive me downwards, I lift my eyes and see the good works of those that I live close to. People creating prayer chains to hang in school hallways, worship services being held to guide young adults to bring their grief before God, principals who pray and lift the needs of their students on a weekly basis, pastors visiting schools and Community of Faith bloggroups gathering to openly address the issues of mental health, students responding with palpable support for families they care about, coaches setting aside strenuous practices to allow for athletes to process the loss and pull together as a team. I have limited knowledge to the details surrounding the situation but, it is my guess that the outpouring of faith and love is brimming in the inner circles of those personally touched. I am confident it is happening, for I once experienced it myself. I know you are there.

This is where I stop, reflect on what is going on around me and measure my community with an eternal yardstick. Asking of myself what would Jesus think about all that is going on? Looking down on the tranquil setting of the Northshore of Louisiana would his heart be moved by the reactions of the people that live there?  Minutes pass as I sit and ponder this scenario. My window is open, the birds call to one another and every so often I am kissed with a gentle breeze. In this stilled setting, I can imagine an echoing shout from above, “Hey guys! Yes, you are getting it right! This is how I want you to respond to one another. Love each other through the trials of life. Lavish grace and mercy, compassion and care on your neighbors as I have taught you, especially when hearts are heavy. Lead people to me when they hurt and help them to find their way to the path of restoration I have laid out.”  Sitting on the fringes, I can see His call being carried out. Is there always more we can do? Absolutely! More glory, more worship, more praise, more trust, more witness, more love would always please our Heavenly Father. However, I don’t think that discounts what is being done. Our community is once again responding to a tragedy with traits characteristic of Jesus and that is a beautiful thing.

After being the recipient of such outlandish love and concerned reactions myself, I wondered how many people reacted the way they did because they knew Christ. Or, were their actions offered out of innate kindness and a genetically engineered tender heart? In honesty, I believe the first statement carries more truth than the second.  This ability to be intuned to the Holy Spirit has been poured out on humanity. A spiritual radar; so to speak . This spirit is the essence of self that moves us to behave in a holy way. When we act in love, with compassion, show care, extend forgiveness, offer mercy and pray about another person’s ache we are acting like Jesus. And, based on what I know that is how this community responds to a crisis. Tucked underneath our busy lives of practice sessions and afternoon lessons is a community of faith. A web of people connected through school carpools and weekend soccer games that collective believe in Christ. Oh, we attend different places of worship and align ourselves with varying denominations. However, we all direct our attention and adoration to the same Saviour.

Sometimes that strong undergirding doesn’t shine through our hectic schedules of work and play. Often times, we don’t openly talk about our faith during halftime of a high school football game or after enjoying a tennis match. Blessings and miracles aren’t the main topic discussed during lunch. Jesus isn’t introduced during gym sessions, nor in between power reps. However, at a time of crisis this spirit of compassion and quest to aid those in need certainly breaks forth and builds a safety net for our next door neighbors that are hard pressed. Spiritual strength is shared while waiting for children at the bus stop and when we end our evenings visiting with neighbors in the driveway. Warm meals are delivered and closing thoughts for the day lift the needs of others.

Let us continue with this sacred way of living, not only responding when we are made aware of suffering, but let Christ rise and be the very fiber of our lives. Forging loving bonds between us that are evident when our worlds are sweet and serene and overpowering during times of difficulty. May God be at the center of every dance lesson and in every sports huddle; welcomed in every meeting and called upon at the start of every performance. May His name rise from our voices as we work together to build upon what is already going on. Let’s not lose momentum when life gets easy. Instead, let’s come together and continue this journey to Christ, leading our children along the way. Strengthening the number of believers that possess the faith muscles to move mountains for one another.

I know this exists because I have felt the power it has to offer. An incredible force converged on me during my time of need. Your unity of faith lifted me from my knees and helped me walk again. May we always respond with such Christ centered valor when the call to rise and react is placed upon us. As well, when we walk along peaceful paths Therefore, weaving holy connections that glorify our God and bring hope into our lives.

By doing this we will strengthen, widen and enrich our …. Community of Faith.

 

 

 

 

For her …. For Him.

liz's library 2

Each of my “off of work” days, allows me to take a few steps closer to JustDoToday.org, what it will be, who it will serve. Those are the days that are spent thinking, reflecting and remembering, finding ways to filter what is stored in my head and heart and then pouring that experience into other persons. I’m learning to leave those spaces open, without an agenda, so the task list can be created by someone greater than myself.

Lately, there are times when those that surround me push up against my surrender, lessening the importance of listening, wondering when I will do the next thing. Today, my “to-do” list blinks in the back left quadrant of my brain screaming to be sort and recorded and completed. As, there are terrifying yet, fulfilling steps upon me. However, I’m going to ignore that urge and instead, share a book I once read.

Circumstances in my community press upon me. A tragedy has occurred that stings the souls of some of those I do life with, as well as myself. “What do I do? What is the best way to help?” , “I just want to share with someone that knows.” are the string of texts that have been typed.

In those quiet hours of today, I stared at my bookshelf and knew what to share,

I Will Carry You

Angie Smith was eighteen weeks pregnant with her fourth daughter. Audrey Caroline, when her doctors discovered conditions leaving Audrey “incompatible with life.” Faced with the decision whether to terminate the pregnancy, Angie and her husband chose to carry Audrey for as long as she had life. This began what turned out to be three months of loving and carrying a little girl that was not expected to live more than a few minutes.

Beth Moore, best selling author and speaker, summarizes, “This is a beautiful and tender book that would touch any woman’s heart, no matter her age or realm of experience. It is about a relationship so intimate with God that it carves a safe place for crises of faith, for faith proved genuine, and for divine callings willed, sealed and fulfilled.”

Some of Angie’s thoughts tucked into my heart :

She doesn’t explicitly tell Him the solution (the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus) she is looking for but rather states the problem and waits to see what He will do about it.

As I read their words, it occured to me that this is not the way I approach the Lord with a crisis. I run to Him with a laundry list of suitable responses and beg Him to accommodate me.

“Heal her heart, Lord.”

“Make her kidneys work.”

“Let her live.”

I am pretty comfortable saying He is in complete control until the ground grows weak beneath me. At that point I tell Him what He should do to fix it. While I know there isn’t anything wrong with asking God to intervene, there is a gentle surrender that I was drawn to in this story.

Recognize who He is – kyrios (the early Christians confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord, Master instead of emperor, derived from kyros, power might) – and tell Him the problem.

Leave the rest to Him.

As we will discover, there is always room for doubt wherever God has made a way for faith. Yet in this moment Mary and Martha simply called out to Him.

I sat, humbled, as many I love spoke wisdom over me, and I admitted to myself that I was going to need help to get through this season of life.

And so the rain fell, the wipers wiped, and the Lord listened, I let Him into a place I had never fully invited Him before. A place of communion where I could rest knowing He heard me. A place I would reside for months to come.

What an atrocious club to join.

People constantly ask me how it is that I am not angry with the Lord. My honest answer is that I have been angry, and I have been disappointed. What I have not been, and what I refuse to be, is disbelieving. However easy it may be to allow myself to wail over my loss, it is a far more satisfying thing to believe that all of this is a brief season. The Lord I have placed my trust in tells me that I will see my child again, and while He stands besides me, He weeps. He doesn’t weep at the barren ground, nor does He weep the browning branches. He cries because I can’t see what He can. And in the fluttering of the breeze, with my heart pressed to His, I can hear Him whisper, “Spring will come, my love.”

I was going to have to make some hard choices about my walk with Him. i couldn’t go on living it out the way I wanted to, the safe way. It was time for me to let down my hair, give it all away, and spend spreading word of the glorious riches with which He had blessed me. But she died right? She did.  And to be truthful, I wish it handn’t been this way. As a Christian, I know that I am called to glorify the Lord no matter the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense.

He gives and takes away. Have I moments of genuine questioning where I blamed myself and anyone I could? Yes. But when those thoughts come, and they will, we must make a choice about who we will be from this day forward. Either we will go through life as bitter servants, or we will make Him famous with our love. I want Him to be famous!

IMG_5111Exclamation marks, underline and written thoughts are scored in the sidelines on just about every page. Remembering, as I read how many of Angie’s thoughts I shared and gaining wisdom through the others I hadn’t had. While searching for hope through the stories of scripture Angie reads the account of Lazarus, bringing a sweet balm to her hurting heart. Hence, she weaves her faith-filled story of Audrey Caroline with a biblical story about the truth of Heaven. By writing about what she experiences, Angie is helping us to understand how better to cope with loss and disappointment.

May you read the book and be blessed!

Quotes, Creeds and Other Words of Wisdom

final cathartic quotes image

I’m a nerd and I know it! No longer am I going to hide from my love of words and excitedly looking up their definitions to know their origin and understand their meaning.

Trying to figure out a way to share some of the sentences that have impacted my heart, I researched the word “cathartic”. I thought the word had something to do with “action” (i.e. – catalyst) and healing. Thinking I had the gist but, wanting to assure I was using the word the correct way. Actually, the meaning was better than I thought:

Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”) is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration

Ooooo, I liked it. This word describes what some of the words that I have read had done for me. Alas, the weren’t mine. So, I clarified the word quote:

Quotation is the repetition of one expression as part of another one, particularly when the quoted expression is well-known or explicitly attributed by citation to its original source

Voila, Cathartic Quotes, a spot at JustDoToday.org that allows me to share some of what I have read, that others have said, that had an impact on how I thought which resulted in a purification or renewal of my emotions. Each gathering of words, a grace given, altering my thinking for that day and thereafter. Whether it is a quote, a creed or words of wisdom, I’m going to pass along the reflections of others that helped me along my way.

I knew that how I responded to the accident and functioned as a father would make all the difference in the world to them. They were my “big project.” As it turned out, they were also my redemption, but I didn’t know it at the time.

A Grace Disguised ~ How the Soul Grows Through Grief

Authored by Jerry Sittser