Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blessed are those who mourn...

This blog should really be in two parts as it's going to be lengthy, but if you hang in there with me, I feel like it's worth reading the whole thing. Matthew 5:4 states "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
If you know me well, or ask my family about me, I'm pretty tenderhearted. In fact, other than insects, I have only killed something twice in my life. Each time a gerbil or hamster or cat or dog died (sometimes the cat WAS the death of said gerbil or hamster), we would hold a funeral and read Ecclesiastes 3 (a time to weep, a time to laugh,) over their dirt mound. One time I hit a cat, and I was horrified to learn that dead animals on the side of the road don't die instantly as I'd previously thought. My sister and I turned the car around and in the glow of the headlights we saw it lift its head when she called out "kitty, kitty, kitty". I didn't have the strength to finish it off with the tire iron though it crossed my mind. Ugh. My fiance (now husband) thought I'd killed a person when I called him sobbing about it. The other time I intentionally finished off a field mouse that my cat had tortured and left for dead. Its shallow breaths were more than I could watch, so I took the brush for our barbeque that had a nice sharp edge, turned my head and finished the deed. As soon as I heard and felt the crunch of decapitation I dropped the weapon and shook with sobs, crying "Lord, please forgive me!"
Perhaps you cannot relate. You may think it silly that I cried over a mouse. You may be like my husband, who believes if it is wise enough to survive, then it may stay in your company. If it gets eaten by coyotes or hit by a car, it wasn't worth keeping. Still, this is who God made me to be. And, death is a hard experience for me to process. Even separation from my parents when they'd take a much needed break from the five of us or my Mom when she traveled to a two-day teacher's conference would cause me to give a grand homecoming in their return. When I was 8 years old my aunt died-that was my first real experience with losing a loved one. Internally, my heart knows that we are not meant to be separated from those we love. From the moment I became a big sister, I have been attached to everyone-and devastated by any separation, permanent or temporary. That is a part of this world I will not ever enjoy. It is the reason I most anticipate heaven. Revelation 21:4 promises "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
While in college, I lost a classmate to suicide, my grandfather passed away, and a church friend and mentor was taken while recovering from surgery. More recently I've lost a classmate to cancer, and another was murdered while pregnant this year. Two of my cousins have died in the last two years, much too young to be gone. And in 2010, I faced the greatest grief of all. We'd had two healthy beautiful daughters, and the second pregnancy was planned-she even arrived on her due date. We planned our next pregnancy, I was charting, and recognized the signs that pointed to a pregnancy. Elated I had already begun to tell friends and had set up the doctor's appointment to confirm, though it was too soon for a positive test. 6 days later, something felt wrong. And, within a couple days my body processed a miscarriage. I didn't know why I felt so terrible. I hadn't even had a positive test, yet I was grieving in depths I didn't know possible. How could I compare my grief to someone with a positive pregnancy test, or someone who had measured their gestation in weeks instead of days? I didn't know what to say or how to feel. Until you go through it, you can't know. I'd been guilty in times previous of sharing a "comforting verse", or giving well-meaning advice to someone. I cringed at the letter I'd written quoting a New Testament passage about being reunited in heaven and how wonderful it was. Now on the receiving end of well-intended thoughts, words and verses, I realized how hollow and uncaring they could be in reception. "It's God's will." "It's okay, God's timing is perfect." "Just trust God." "This was His plan for your life." "I know just how you feel." "You can always have another one." "At least you have two healthy daughters."
I began to have very un-Christian thoughts toward people when they would state these things to me. I knew God was perfect and so was His timing, and I was angry with Him. I was wrestling with it. I didn't need a reminder from anybody whose faith wasn't being shaken. I was aware how unfair and imperfect the world had become and didn't need anyone but God to tell me about it. He was showing me that He was in control of my life, not me, and it was terrifying. He took what was His, but I thought it was mine. No chances, no warning, no saying good-bye. Just gone. Gone too soon. I felt guilty for my anger and my less than perfect faith. My sweetest comfort came from a friend who simply said, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm praying for you."
Finally. No judgment, no preaching, just compassion. Her own experiences had given her wisdom and tact that I greatly appreciated. In our love for others, we desperately want to talk to them, but there are no words. We want to hold them and let them cry on us, but sometimes there are no tears. If we are of opposite genders, sometimes it is inappropriate for us to reach out and comfort a friend, though our best intentions are there. It is then that we can truly lift them by prayer and let the Holy Spirit do all that we fail to do. He is intimately connected to the heart of hearts and knows what each person needs. If you long to hug your grieving friend, pray that the Holy Spirit will do it. Each thought you have, surrender it to God that He would reach out and heal internally those deep voids you cannot physically touch. Especially when you are at a distance from your friend or loved one who is grieving, do not hesitate to pray and pray often. Your prayers do far more than you could ever know. It is not necessary to use the worlds' means to do good for someone.
Job went through some serious losses. But though the Old Testament hadn't introduced Jesus or the Holy Spirit, Job 16:19-21 states "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend." Your prayers do a great deal of good for one who grieves. Sometimes, that is the best you can offer. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they WILL be comforted." (emphasis mine) ~Tammy

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Less than perfect

Most of you realize there is no such thing as a perfect mother.
Perfect wife, perfect Christian, perfect person.
In this world, we can be sure of one thing-only Jesus was perfect.

Still, we keep trying. Yesterday while two of my three sweet daughters were in their rooms sleeping or occupying themselves and the oldest was reading library books on the couch, I tackled the task of mopping our hardwood floor (not easy because nobody can travel from point A to point B until the floor is dry). Usually we keep it well swept and just spot-wipe the spills, but a thorough mopping is not a task that is easy or fun around here. While mopping, the epiphany set in that God doesn't have a plan for me to be a Perfect Tammy someday in this lifetime.

You'd think I would have realized that by now, but somewhere I got it in my head that Perfect Mother Tammy existed. That I was continually being measured against her standard of perfection and that at some point I would eventually "arrive". No longer would I be bothered with impatience, but would handle all tantrums with serene angelic peace. I would find loving, non-sarcastic ways to speak motivation into my children, showing them the rewards of obedience. The threatening and nagging would be a dim scratch on the surface of my new glowing approach to motherhood. My children would blossom into compliant, well-behaved members of society. They would no longer talk back to me, they would eat whatever was served to them instead of using such gems as "eew" or "I don't like it" or "That smells bad". (Who knew kids wouldn't want to eat hearty oatmeal with apples, cranberries and almonds in the packet at Grandma's house? They prefer plain oatmeal with milk and a little brown sugar.)

Truth be told, I've had a problem with perfectionism for most of my life. My first name, Tammy, is a Hebrew name that means "perfection". I can still remember the day I received a 99% on a spelling test in third grade and burst into tears. I still remember misspelling the word "bulldozer" (forgot an "L") in the fifth grade spelling bee.
Achievement seems to be something I strive toward. I want my performance for God to earn His approval and admiration. "Well done, Good and Faithful Servant." (that is Biblical) "I am impressed how you crammed an 80 hour work week into 60 hours faithfully. I'm keeping track of all those deeds you're doing for me. You're busy for me. Way to go!" (not Biblical but very indicative of our culture)

If we don't have something to show for our efforts, we cannot receive applause. My sweet husband gets to hear me tell him excitedly when I've completed some deep cleaning task that might otherwise go unnoticed (which is why it is an event in our house). There is a hole in our heart, our very soul that cries out, "Notice me!" "Tell me I'm doing a good job!" "Let me know that I matter!"

It's a needy, selfish soul we have, but our Creator made us that way. He and He alone can fill that need. This is my current prayer, that He would tear the veil of self that I'm hiding behind and take me to the cross. That I'll face the gods of self-esteem, self-awareness, self-confidence, to name a few, and kick them to the curb that He in His glory would reign on the throne of my heart.

My mom will be the first to point out to you that my middle name, Jean, means "by God's grace".

Ephesians 2:8-9 Good News Translation (GNT)

8-9For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it.

In the light of His perfection, I can simply be the Tammy He created me to be. A little louder than some, though I try to be mild, but eager to please Him and trying very hard to do my best. He gave me the children that I have specifically because they'd be in my care daily-but not because He wanted me to do it without His help. Until we are aware of our need for His help, we forget to ask.
He has been STRONGLY making me aware of my need for His help for the last year and a half. But now, I'm starting to get it.
:) Thanks, Lord. Your infinite patience is greatly appreciated.
And, no longer having to achieve perfection, your yoke truly is easy and your burden is much lighter than the one I've been lugging around!