Monday, June 27, 2011

Encountering (and colliding) with God

You just never know when God is going to bump into you – and you, him.

A lady learned recently what a beautiful thing it is to collide head-on with the Lord. Over the past several years, she had grown slack in her relationship with him and had not been in fellowship with a church family for a while. It grieved her, but she couldn’t seem to move herself to correct the situation. Shortly after relocating to a different state, she lost her husband. Neighbors who had already connected with her and her husband during his short illness were right there for her with food, comfort, and moral support. She hardly knew them, but they cherished her and her husband as if they all were old friends.

These neighbors invited her - now a new widow - to return with them to their church services (she and her husband had gone with them a time or two previously). She complied, thoroughly enjoying everything. She was drawn in to their weekly ladies Bible class, and also began helping with various other activities. She found a wonderful new friend, a wise older lady, also a member at the church. These activities and friends were life-savers as she confronted the many, many tasks widows sometimes must resolve by themselves, and which can take months, not weeks, to deal with.

Through one avenue at a time, the Lord began speaking to her in her spirit. In studying Jeremiah in ladies class, a burden settled on her: her need to repent of lukewarmness toward Jesus. She made up her mind she would share her burden and her repentance with these sweet women. However, in the service the next Sunday morning, everything seemed to unite to further prick her conscience: the song about heaven, and Amazing Grace – My Chains are Gone; then the sermon on forgiveness particularly moved her. The neighbor shared his handkerchief with her as they both wept.

She hadn’t intended to go forward at the invitation song, but after scribbling a note, she walked down the aisle and handed it to the minister. He read her confession aloud to the congregation. She told them she had not been faithful to the Lord before moving to their community, and felt she had set a bad example for her family, friends and relatives. The note concluded with “I now want to live each day for the Lord. I ask for prayers to set a good example for everyone around me. I now feel so free.”

The preacher asked God to use her repentance to touch many lives. Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, the father of four girls (who worked with the youth and taught the high school class) made his way to her and whispered that he was struggling with a lot of problems. In fact, he had decided to walk away and stop coming to church. But because of her open repentance and confession, he, in his words, "won’t do that now" and thanked her. Her response to God's call had enabled another to collide with the Almighty!

I’m sure she floated out of the building that morning!!

Her concluding thought in her email was this: “I am sorry I wasted years being a bad example and not being faithful like I should. I had many excuses too numerous to list why I just couldn't do... what I now am able to do with God's help.”

Praise the Lord for these collisions!! May we all have more of them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Encountering God Through Grieving with Another

I visited with an old friend recently. We reminisced, caught up on our children’s doings and each other. Like most of us, her life has been checkered with sorrow, including the untimely death of her father of her two daughters.

We were silent for a long moment, thinking of our shared past. She said finally in a resigned voice, “You just don’t know what life’s going to throw at you; you just do what you have to do.”

I replied, “You’ve certainly had your share of suffering, and losing Pat was probably the worst.” Even though he died nearly 20 years ago, and she has been happily remarried for awhile, her blue eyes glistened as big tears welled up and overflowed. In a shaky voice she whispered, “And I still cry over that one.”

The death of one’s mate is not easily “gotten over.” I have not experienced that loss, but I’ve known many women who have. “My husband died” is a phrase stuffed so full of multiple emotions it’s a wonder it doesn’t burst wide open. Which is similar to how some widows feel in the days, months, even years after laying a husband to rest.

We who are on the outside looking in on this life struggle try to comfort and console: we deliver casseroles, pound cake and iced tea; we offer sympathies and clich├ęs. Then after the “proper” amount of time has passed, we’re concerned if the bereaved woman is still grieving. We wonder about her if she wants only to talk of her loss when we visit. We try to involve her in activities and events (potlucks at church, a movie, a trip, a part-time job, etc.) to blot out the pain. If prematurely presented, these things are only a bandage covering the wound for a time. She still sorrows. At this point, after we’ve suffered long with her; after we’ve given all the comfort we can call up; after we’ve offered wise advice, even quoted Scripture, do we now, in a crevice of our minds, think: Okay, it’s time to get on with your life! Enough! I confess I did when I first confronted this type of pain. No more.

Mourning is a complicated process that cannot be shortened by a few well-meaning/chosen words and actions. It cannot be compressed into a Reader’s Digest version. In the days of the movie, "Gone with the Wind," a widow was given a full year to mourn a life turned upside down. Not such a bad idea – no expectations put on her, or early deadlines issued – the widow’s black clothing prescribed how others should treat her as she recovered.

Maybe we want so badly for the veil of sorrow to lift because we are terrifically uncomfortable and nervous when faced with the grief of another. True, it’s soggy, sad, and frankly, not much fun. Perhaps a popular statement is in order here: It’s not about me - it's not about us. It’s about the woman who's suffered the loss of her mate. It's the supreme act of love to grieve with that widow, offering no platitudes and not attempting to cut short the tears. To listen heartfully every time as she remembers, agonizes, and/or worries about the future. It’s part of the healing process. Include her in your life, invite her to accompany you to whatever, but if she declines, accept it graciously. And continue to include and invite (not badgering) until she’s ready to accept.

It’s not about me, or us; it’s about her.