Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) has moved in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

Light at the End of the Darkness

Annette Ness blur cropOn Saturday, it will be 17 years since I lost my best friend, Annette…however, it was a Thursday evening 17 years ago today, January 16th that I saw her for the last time.  Even the days of the week this year coincide with the days of the week when she passed away.  I had no idea our time together that Thursday evening would end up being the last moments we spent together and I suppose that made it all the more beautiful.  I told someone yesterday that I could not have been blessed with a greater or more perfect “last” visit with Annette.  Every single thing that happened that night was beautiful and complete.  It truly was completely perfect.

When we lose someone, we long for completion.  We long for closure and finality instead of unresolved situations or feelings.  Unfortunately, it is an extremely rare occasion when we actually GET the completeness we so desire.  I have lost many people in my life and almost all of these situations did have some kind of final closure for me.  That doesn’t mean I have forgotten these beautiful souls, but it means that I was able to experience some kind of commemoration of their lives that made me feel like they had truly been honored…or at least I had honored them if no one else did.  It is important to me.  It is just as important as my perspective on the brevity of life.  It is that truth that we are not promised another day that has always driven me to ensure the people in my life know how I feel about them.  I am not morbid; I simply think it is SO extremely important for us to express our love and gratitude for those special people around us.  It not only makes goodbyes more tolerable, it can actually add a sweetness to it.  It doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it more complete.

Annette and I did not have a perfect relationship, but we had a perfectly beautiful connection.  And in the end, our final time together truly was perfect.  As I reflect back to that night…this night, I am immersed in beautiful sensations.   There are no earthly words to truly express what I feel in my heart and soul when I remember that evening.  One of the things that stands out in my memory is a song I sang to her that night.  She wanted me to put on a tape I had made for her of me singing her favorite songs, so of course I did exactly that.  The music was playing in the background but then she asked me to sing along, even though it was already my voice on the tape.  There was one song in particular that Annette always loved.  It is called “Light at the End of the Darkness” and over the years she often asked me to sing it at church for her.  There was just something about that song for Annette that spoke to her and lifted her up from whatever difficulties she was enduring at the time.  It’s quite an old song, but it was never outdated in Annette’s mind.  I haven’t sung that song since Annette died and today I realized just how much I miss it.

Saturday, January 18th, is a day often filled with the memories of Annette’s actual death and of the terribly heartbreaking experiences of that entire day, but Thursday, January 16th, brings memories of the most beautiful kind.  It reminds me of how blessed I am to have been given such a night of perfect completeness with someone so important to me.  It makes me appreciate every single moment, word, touch and breath of that night.  It makes me thankful to God that He knew what was coming in less than two days so He provided me a night that, for most people, only exists in movies.  It brings back the sights and sounds of that night and brings such a sense of completeness that my heart doesn’t know what to do with it.  And then it hits me…I miss her so much it hurts.

So today, I have been listening to that song…but this time, I hear the words coming in the voice of my dear friend.  I see her smile and feel the warmth of her spirit…and truth be told, it is a special gift that continuously, simultaneously breaks and heals my heart.

Blessings!