Meeting Rita

ritaEleven years ago.  September 24, 2005.  I remember the day all too well.  I remember the night even more.  As I stared at the TV screen as a wind-blown Geraldo reported the damage to me that was occurring in my southeast Texas.  All I could do was pray… for my husband, all the first responders trying to keep safety for others, those trying to keep the chaos at bay, and for all those in danger.  Hurricane Rita swirled with fury into our community recorded as the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever.  A category five that tragically took over 100 people’s lives that day.

The boys and I had left Hunter earlier that afternoon and also left our first home, and our sweet lab Maggie behind and made our way to stay at my dear cousin’s home in Tyler, Texas.  Reluctant wasn’t the word, as I pulled out of our driveway, tears brimming over in my eyes as I said goodbye.  My gut told me that this was the end of something…. Or the beginning of something… whichever way I want to look at it, maybe.

The next morning an early call finally came from my husband, who sounded so exhausted.  He was ok, and he was safe.  My heart was so relieved to hear his voice!  Maggie was safe, too!   He hesitated as he began to tell me that our home was not ok.  We had received severe high wind damage, resulting in part of our roof being peeled back, rain pouring into our home.  Light fixtures fallen, sheet-rock peeling back off the wall… everything wet, wet, wet, wet.  Our privacy fence, and roof to our pool outbuilding was found in various places… including across the road and field from our home.  It was all a wreck.  We comforted each other, “We’ll get through this, Joani.  We have each other, and that’s what counts,” Hunter reminded me.  So true.  What beautiful truth.

The following weeks without electricity compounded the devastating damage to our homes effected by this storm.  While my husband and all the wonderful community helpers, local law enforcement, fire departments, and disaster relief teams worked hard to clean up, re-build and help our community survive… the south’s heat and humidity continued to work its way with mold growing everywhere and anywhere Rita’s water and moisture had shown itself.

When I finally was able to re-enter the community, my heart sank as I saw such devastation everywhere.  But, my heart was lifted high as I saw weary faces all around, with smiles on their faces, love for each other in their hearts, and hands to help.

To be honest, to write all of my thoughts about the journey we began September 21, 2005 would be a novel.  So many beautiful moments, so many wonderful helpers, and some dark, dark days, too  — all part of God’s road for me.  And, honestly, I actually have written one!  Just not ready to share it all yet… Haha!  But, today being the anniversary I just wanted to share with you a bit of hope when days look dark, and the night even darker.  When the storms swirl in, and fear makes us tremble.  When so much is lost, that it’s hard to see what remains. 

SunRiseThe One who calms the storm in my heart, the One who created the sea, and told it where to stop.  The One who knew you and I before we were born, and knows every day that we will live on this earth.

He is greater.

There was a very sad moment of big realization for me as I held James’ blankie in my hand.  In our haste and emotions as we left for Tyler, I left it behind.  Now molded and ruined.  He was four at this time, and my grandmother had crocheted it for him at birth.  He loved that little green blankie.  He slept with it every night (sometimes even brought it to the grocery store with us, but shhh don’t tell him I told you ;)), and he loved how his fingers slipped and fit right in between the stitching.  My Mema is with Jesus now.  I miss her so much.  I sat and held the blankie close, ready to toss it in the trash with all the other debris of memories.  Crying, I felt the pangs of the loss of innocence for my children in this broken world, I cried for the interruption of their joyful times spent in the pool, the normal routine with play-days and school days with friends, the loss of all their belongings.

And, then right there, that still, perfect, small voice whispered to me.  Sitting on a moldy, wet carpeted floor, with piles of trash bags containing my home, mosquitoes buzzing in my ear… crying my eyes out holding a child’s little blankie…

I am greater.

Greater than all this.  And, I am here. 

Yesterday, as I woke up and opened my Bible, 11 years later, I searched for a verse of comfort for this season’s storms.. they aren’t a physical hurricane for me, but this world still has some swirling, whirling chaos trying to run my life some days.  The verse I ended up reading wasn’t the fuzzy, feel good one I kinda was looking for, it was so much more.  Deep meaning for true deep down comfort:

 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:26-29, (ESV) 

My life has been shaken. Shaken with things that felt like was shaking even beyond my core. Sometimes to the point of wondering how I will ever steady my footing again. My friend, what I have seen is that through my shaking He has been my rock that doesn’t move. Clinging to that steady rock, keeps me steady even in the biggest storms. I may shake, but my Father does not.  An amazing part is that through my pain, through my sufferings, through shaking like a leaf and standing vulnerable and helpless before my King, He has not only guided each step by His hand, but He has shaken off many things that needed to be stripped away, and He has replaced them with things that can never, ever be taken from me.

A quote that has come to have more and more meaning for me through the passing years, written in a book called “A Grief Observed,” by CS Lewis is this:  “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already.”

He is greater.  This I know.

Meeting Rita.. a new beginning.

Advertisements

forgiveness like a crown; reconciliation as an option; freedom to heal.

In the past few months especially, I’ve had several of those conversations that leave you reflective, and desiring to help others through these murky, messy complicated heart, mind, and spirit battlegrounds.  This topic I’m about to share my thoughts on, is one that I understand can be quite controversial with people.. I’m quite certain that there are many who will read this that are much more educated, theologically more sound, and all-around possibly more skillful to speak to this subject.  But, this is the clumsy offering of a person who has wrestled through some of these pathways.  I’ve listened to many pain-filled stories, and have talked to my Heavenly Father often about it, and now I can sit with coffee cup by my side, peace in my heart today staring at this screen sharing my heart with you.

One such recent conversation began in a group-class, where we discussed the topic of forgiveness.  A friend of mine, who has suffered sad, devastating abuses.. emotional, physically, and spiritually looked up with tear-filled eyes… “How can I forgive?  When I make myself be around him, I feel panicky and my mind feels so confused.  I feel so wrong. Why can’t I love stronger? I thought I’d forgiven him, yet everyone tells me I need to forgive and forget and move forward..”

And, looking into those pain-filled eyes, my heart broke for the condemnation she and others were heaping upon her, adding to the years of pain she had endured.  Oh, my Father, now we are heaping heavy burdens onto her weary soul in your name?  In the name of love?

flwoerOh my precious friend, what my Father has lovingly shown me through many pain-filled tears of my own is that forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different things. By summary of definition;  Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.  John Piper suggests that some of the following may be indicators that forgiveness has taken place; resisting revenge, not returning evil for evil, wishing them well, grieving at their calamities, praying for their welfare, seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you. We also would do well to remember that this is a spiritual journey that we each individually walk through in our own way, in God’s perfect timing as He is our healer and help.  We don’t “fix” others, we have the beautiful opportunity to love, LISTEN, contribute what we can to help, and to encourage others.  He doesn’t fix… He heals!  Forgiveness is a beautiful work that God does in our hearts — It’s truly a miracle that we can all experience, and the freedom releases us to soar!

——- > Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations.. So, our hearts and minds can most certainly be in a place where we do not wish for revenge, and even our heart may break for those who have wronged us.  We might even be in a place in which we pray and hope and believe for God’s very, very best way of love for that individual, whatever that might look like.  But, we must also with caution and carefulness seek reconciliation to the level that is safe for our heart, mind, and life.  There are many reasons for which I believe in some situations “restoring a friendly relationship” is not best or safe emotionally, spiritually, or mentally.  Sometimes, it may be that the reconciliation process just needs a more lengthy time to build trust, and security… Sometimes, it will never, ever be healthy to reconcile.  Especially, if the abuser is unrepentant and continues to wound, justify and blame-shift.  Often, we might get confused with what love is, and what love isn’t.  Making someone feel good about themselves, isn’t really love… and a person who has destructive mentalities and behaviors often continues on in their pathway, being enabled to continue by all the “feel-goods” from well-meaning people who think they are loving.  “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love is glad when truth is spoken. Therefore love aims at truth. It supports truth. Sometimes the truth is that the damaging behavior of another person cannot be in our life at this time, even though we have forgiven, or are working through that process..  Drawing close to the Father’s heart, knowing His freedom, seeking for truth in His word (and maybe less of other’s opinions), and resting in His love is a beautiful time of healing.

Forgiveness like a crown….

Reconciliation as an option..

Freedom to heal.

It’s ok, my friend, that you aren’t “strong” enough to sit at a Christmas dinner across from your childhood abuser (and actually facing and speaking the truth to say you don’t want to is being brave, truthful and courageous!)  It makes sense, my dear friend, that you feel panic attacks when feeling pressured to be “friendly” with someone that has given you tremendous pain in your life, and you are still trying to heal from the wounds.  You aren’t flawed when your heart requires needed time, space, and the ability to process.  Our Father weaves beautiful grace through these processes..

A few weeks ago, a helping friend of mine sat with me in my place of tears.  She reminded me that Christ not only died to set me free from the wrongs, and yucky messes my heart cooks up, but all those atrocities that were done against me.  The shame I carried for that which I have done, and the shame for that which was inflicted on me…. ALL taken care of at the Cross.  He traded my sorrows, my pain, my burnt-up ashes of dreams and innocence, the wrongs, and torment… HE TRADED IT ALL for my freedom.  For me, and for you.

All. Traded for the crown of beauty.

Not only the wrongs I have committed, but those that were committed against me… I am laying at His feet.  “Here it is, Jesus. You paid, what those who hurt me could never repay, and I don’t know how to get rid of..  You died to set me free. All the brokenness I’ve created, and the life-whirlwinds others have created for me… you want me to trade for YOU.  You died, so that I may live. The acts of others may try to slay my very soul in ugly, dark brokenness, but my Saviour lives through me to make ALL new and beautiful and ALIVE.”flower 2

“Trade these ashes in for beauty
And wear forgiveness like a crown
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy
I lay every burden down.”

~Don Moen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;to provide for those who mourn in Zion;

to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him.”

Is. 61:2-3

*Hi Friend, if you are reading this and are currently being abused in any way.. please reach out to a safe place.  1-800-799-7233 is the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 1-800-656-4673 is a safe place to discuss Sexual Abuse, or talk to someone you trust for help.  There is hope and there is help.

tears & smiles — guest post

The following is a guest post from my niece Abigail McBride.  The best word I can use to describe Abby is real. She is purely authentic and shares her love with a pure vulnerability. Because of that quality she is one of the most inspiring, strong women I have the privilege of knowing.  When I falter in my faith, I see clearly the strength of my God by seeing His light transparently in her life.. I do not take it lightly that she gives us the opportunity to peer into her soul, and I’m so grateful for a heart that desires to share a message of hope for those of you who might be reading and can find encouragement for your own grieving heart.  

 

Funeral home.

Burial.

Memorial service arrangements.

These are things no 20 year old should have to hear, especially when it’s referring to her husband.

But I did. I heard them, deep down in my soul. I heard the phone call, telling me that I needed to get to the hospital. I heard them tell me that he didn’t make it. I heard them tell me that they had done everything they could. I heard them ask me if I was ready to see him. I heard Liam fussing in the background because he was hungry. But I didn’t feel much of anything. Numbness. The kind that takes over your mind body and soul, trying to desperately shield you from the reality of what you’re facing.

I remember walking in, getting the news. And the only thing I could say was “No”. No this isn’t real. No this isn’t happening. No, no, no. Because, you see. We had plans. Great big beautiful plans. Plans for us, for our house, for our children, for life. But in an instant it was like our plans had never been dreamed. They were just a memory. MY plans. MY life. MY future. And it was all gone. In just an instant.

I walked in and saw him, laying there. He looked so childlike, so innocent and so completely peaceful. I was jealous. I walked in and knelt beside his bed and wrapped my arms around him. I can’t describe what came next, I was immediately calm. I breathed him in. Tracing my fingers over his face. He was with Jesus. I knew that. He was happy. I knew that. He was whole. I knew that. He was complete. I knew that. And somewhere deep inside me I heard a voice say “Abigail, don’t push God away. He is the only one who can get you through this.” Call me crazy, but I know that was from Jonathan. Because in life, he always pushed me closer to Christ. So why wouldn’t, in death, he do the same?

Am I telling you that I haven’t yelled at God? That I haven’t screamed into my pillow in complete despair? Am I telling you that I heard that voice and said “okay God, I’m good. You’re right. I’m fine. This isn’t so bad. This doesn’t hurt like hell. I’m okay with this.” No. It hurts. More than anything, it has completely shaken me to the core. I want MY plans to go back to the way I wanted them. The way WE planned them. I look into my son’s face and I see a little boy who won’t remember his daddy. He won’t remember the bond they had, how he would scream with delight when he saw Jonathan walk through the door. He won’t remember their bedtime stories, their nightly prayers, or going on walks outside. He won’t remember the pride and joy that Jonathan had for him, the look of complete love that he had every time he got to say “this is my son, Liam”. But I remember, and I can’t wait to tell Liam. He loved this little boy so tenderly and strongly at the same time.

I have chosen to put my future in Gods hands. I know his plan is greater than I can imagine. I know he cries when I cry and his heart hurts as mine does. I know he wants his very best for me. I know that he gave me Jonathan for a reason. And now, he’s gone for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is. I know he sees Liam and that he’s going to provide for him. In every area. We don’t always understand why life happens the way it does. And it hurts. It’s incredibly hard to be human. It’s hard to love someone and then have them taken away. It’s hard knowing that you’re going have to explain to a little boy one day why his Daddy isn’t here.

My comfort is found in God. And in remembering Jonathan as a man of God, my best friend, my love, the father of my son. A man who accepted me for who I was. A man who had a servants heart. A man who loved like Jesus did. Jonathan set my standards so high. I know how a man should treat his wife. I know how a man should love his family. I know how a man should treat his children. I know how a man should work. But most of all, I know how a man should love God fiercely. I will continue to thank God for giving me Jonathan, even if it was just for a little while.

I’m not here to preach to you about how when you follow God that it’s going to be a rose garden. It just not that way. There are trials. Trials that make you want to run and hide. But I can tell you this in full confidence. MY God will carry you through. MY God will give you strength you never knew was possible. He gathers up the broken pieces and creates something beautiful, not perfect, and not what you had before. Something different, something  that you look at and say “Only God could have done this.” Because, truly. Only he can take the broken and make it whole. The wounded and make them well. The tears and make them smiles.

I can smile because I know that Jonathan is whole and with Jesus. I can smile because he loved me and Liam. I can smile because Jesus promises me that one day I will see Jonathan again. Until that day, I can smile knowing that more than anything, that’s what Jonathan wanted for me.

 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28, (ESV)

abby2