Comforting Someone in Their Grief

Reflecting on a tragedy in my life – losing a lifelong friend to suicide – became my first devotion published by The Upper Room. It was gratifying for me in three ways:

  • My first publication of a devotion, a form I enjoy writing.
  • Being published in a devotional I remember my mother reading every morning during my childhood.
  • Knowing God could use my personal and painful experience to create a closer relationship between him and his followers, and to show them how to love one another as he has loved us.

During the trying times we all face, it’s important to remember how much we and others are grieving various losses. It’s important to remember what people really need in their grief.

Image result for job and his three friends

A Gentle Presence

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:11-13

“There is a time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to speak.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

My dear friend since childhood had lost her brother to suicide. Although I had the opportunity to see her briefly the weekend of his death, our communication became one-sided once she returned home. Over the following years, I left a few telephone messages until her number changed. I sent three or four letters with news from home and the annual Christmas card. But her grief was deep; she was non-responsive. I prayed for her and for wisdom but let her grieve with no pressure.

Jewish custom calls for “sitting Shiva” during the first seven days of mourning. Traditions also asks mourners to refrain from unnecessary talking and allow the bereaved to initiate conversation. In the story of Job, the arrival of his three friends reflects this custom. They remained silent until he began to speak on the eighth day.
When nearly seven years had passed after her brother’s death, my friend called me. All that time, I had wondered if I was doing the right thing. (Did I write too much? Not enough?) But after years of silence she called and said, “Thank you for being a friend when I could not be relied upon.”
 
Lord, teach us how to be present with those who need comfort, when to comfort with silence, and when to comfort them with words. Amen.
 
Thought for the day: We comfort others with our presence.
Prayer focus: Families of those who choose suicide
 
Previously published in The Upper Room, 2006

Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus. Noah's Ark | ABCJesusLovesMe

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief. Viewpoint: Follow the Savior's “Perfect Example of Leadership” - Church News and Events

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

“Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name, lead and guide me.” Psalm 31:3

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.

Seeking the Savior

Is Christmas still “the most wonderful time of the year”? Christmas, for those who celebrate it, is probably the time most filled with traditions. We bake cookies, peanut brittle and fudge. We get crafty and make tree ornaments, stockings and … Continue reading

Chili Like This Makes Foodies Warm

For me, any time of year is a good time for soups and stews. I’ve never participated in a chili cook-off to bring my own for competition, but I’ve certainly stood in as a willing judge. I love chili.

It’s taken me years to get a chili recipe just right and what I discovered is I needn’t follow someone else’s recipe. You know me—I cook by-guess-and-by-golly. So here’s how I make my chili. Sort of. The amounts of some of these ingredients will vary, depending on what I have on hand.

Chili, Sort Of

  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 1 large can tomato paste
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb. 80/20 ground beef, cooked and drained
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 t. chopped jalapenos
  • 1 T. chili powder
  • Tomato juice (optional)

Drain and rinse all the beans. Place all ingredients except jalapenos into a large slow cooker. If chili seems too thick, add tomato juice until it’s the desired consistency. Cook on high until chili comes to a slow boil. Stir once or twice to prevent sticking. Turn heat to low setting and add jalapenos. Cook for at least 3 hours until flavors are mixed.

Obviously, the by-guess-and-by-golly is a good idea for making chili. At least in my (cook)book.

I prefer to use dried beans. That way I know what I’m getting. If you do too, you have to make your measurements of the beans according to how much chili you want. I use a cup each of the beans, a little more for the pintos since I like them best for chili. I’ve found black beans take a little longer to become soft compared to pintos and kidneys.

Also, I process garden tomatoes and make my own tomato puree. I use this instead of juice to thin the mixture. In fact, I save the water from the blanching process and can it to use in soup stocks. Rarely does anything go to waste in my kitchen.

Along with chili, I like the cornbread as a side dish. This recipe for Cheesy Cornbread is from a friend who goes by Annie Mae. Since she wasn’t stingy in sharing it with me, I’ll share this one too.

Cheesy Cornbread

  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • 1 stick butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

In a large bowl, mix the egg, both cans of corn, Jiffy cornbread mix, butter, and sour cream. Pour into a large casserole or 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread shredded cheese evenly on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Again, I alter the recipe slightly, but only so far as I use my own homemade cornbread mix. In that case, the equivalent to a box of Jiffy mix is about 1 ¼ cups of homemade mix.

Eat hearty!

When You’re Called To Worship

The shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Reference: Luke 2:1-20

When we get the chance late at night, Matthias and I lie on our backs and watch the sky. Marvelous things happen there. High clouds float on a wind we can’t see but feel tugging at our hair. They disappear in wisps trailed by more clouds and we name them by shapes.

We play our favorite game on clear nights when the sky is dotted with stars. Matthias, a pensive fellow, says the sky is poked full of holes for the light of God to shine through. Matthias really loves God; he teaches me a lot. I’m glad I was assigned watch with him in these fields. Living out here can be lonely. Besides, he says things like that about holes in the sky.

We name the stars knowing God has already named them and sometimes we find shapes in those too. That particular night a shape we never expected appeared in the sky.

It was an angel.05_Shepherds_Angels_JPEG_1024

I’m young but I’m not a madman. And there are more witnesses than Matthias and me. We all saw and heard. The stars paled in comparison to the light that shone around that angel. I believe the light of God really was shining then, not just through the star-holes. We were terrified. The sheep began to stir.

But the angel spoke to us and told us to not be afraid. I stepped closer to Matthias anyway; I couldn’t stop trembling.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel said. Its voice had a strange tremble as well, but it was clear as a bell on that clear night. Have you ever heard an angel? No, of course you probably haven’t. Oh, it was…fearsome.

But wonderful.

Then the angel spoke a message describing the birth of a baby in the nearby town of Bethlehem. Born to us, the angel said. “Christ, the Lord.”

“The Messiah,” I thought, “the Messiah has come!” Matthias fell to his knees. I did likewise just because I didn’t want to let go of him.

The angel then told us where to find the baby. The fact that the Messiah was a baby born that very night was incredible enough, but he was lying in a manger. That was the end of the message. I was stunned. I had heard it all. There was no doubt I had heard it right. God had surely put it in my heart.

found-watching-sheepThen, even as the angel finished speaking, suddenly the sky filled with them and they began to praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The sound was just like that of the other angel, a trembling but clear voice and so loud I thought the sheep would bolt and run. Miraculously, they were now still.

We were mute in the angels’ presence and as they finished their chorus of praise they fled into heaven. Matthias and I slowly stood. He recited the Shema; I think out of habit. I believe he was as nervous as I was. We all slowly began to walk toward one another and then ran. We met in a circle and stopped. Josias began to speak but his voice broke.

He started laughing.

Oh yes, laughing. And so did we. How happy were our hearts! No one else can understand the beauty of it. But the lovely irony was not lost on Josias and we knew too. God had chosen we lowly shepherds to be the first to see his Messiah.

“We must go quickly. All of us, even the sheep,” Josias said. “When the Lord calls, we obey.” Everyone was solemn now but still full of joy. Of course we would obey.

The City of David was full of people since a census was in process, but we found our way to the stable. It was small and dark. I cannot imagine why such a place would be the birthplace for this child, but I wanted so much to see him I laid my questions aside.

The mother was young like me. They–Mary and Joseph–were kind and welcomed us. We told them our story and they somehow didn’t seem surprised at the angel’s appearing. They acted as if angels to them were commonplace. Mary nodded knowingly, pondering it.

She unwrapped the baby a little so we could see him. I don’t know what I was expecting; he was just a baby. Nevertheless, he–Jesus was his name–was the Christ. We all kneeled and worshiped him. I have to admit I felt like weeping. I didn’t. I’m the youngest and the men would have laughed at me.

We stayed there a little while and Mary and Joseph inquired about where we were from. I noticed Matthias kept looking at Jesus and at one point wiped a tear. I promised myself not to say anything.

Finally, we left to return to the fields. As we walked out of the city the only sounds were our feet shuffling along the streets and the occasional bleating of sheep. How can you begin to talk about the experiences? Angels lighting up the sky, news of the Messiah and then seeing him like that–so pure? You have to stretch your mind to make it all fit.

When we reached the edge of Bethlehem, Matthias stopped us, sheep and all, and said, “We cannot keep this to ourselves.”

We looked at him, begging with our eyes so he’d continue. “No,” he explained, “The angel said it was ‘good news of great joy for all people.’ In obedience to God, we will spread the news.”

Can you imagine our joyful laughter at that? We began clapping each other on the back and we started right there in Bethlehem. People were amazed at what we told them.

Eventually we returned to our field, but we couldn’t stop talking about it. We praised God for the child and the good news the angels delivered. As we settled into our humble grassy dwelling, we agreed that because of that child’s coming, worship would never be the same.

Excerpt from “Approachable Jesus” by Paula Geister, copyright 2008

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Self Control

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

I suppose it requires a bit of self-control to write anything about self-control. So, seriously, what qualifies me to write about it? Because this is the fruit of the Spirit I struggle with most. To keep my heart with all diligence as the graphic below instructs, I must be submissive. (Raise your hand if you absolutely love being submissive.)

I believe the fruit of the Spirit don’t come to us in the order they’re listed in Galatians. In other words, we aren’t first given love, then joy, then peace, etc. The Holy Spirit grows each of them simultaneously because we always need each of them to live a holy life.

Certainly, love leads the way. Without the same love the Lord commands, we’ll never understand the other fruit.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:36-40 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31  

When Paul the apostle said we would grow in grace according to God’s plan, he was aware of God’s commandment given to the children of Israel. He knew Jesus had also commanded that love each other. “As I have loved you.” “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

Describing what self-control looks like isn’t easy. We may be exercising self-control without anyone around us even knowing it.

  • At the restaurant buffet, you select only one dessert.
  • Your teenager grumbles about his punishment for breaking the rules and you refrain from threats of making the punishment more severe just because you can.
  • In traffic, although you’re in a hurry, you stop and wave the driver into the lane ahead of you.
  • You decide you don’t need to have the last word.

My default mode is “Self,” so in any given circumstance, without the help of the Holy Spirit, I’ll think of my desires first. The circumstance may be pleasant, or it may be unpleasant, but I’ll find some way to make it all about me. Self-control was—for me anyway—first practiced with a white-knuckle grip. Eventually the Spirit only needs to whisper for me to loosen my grip. I give up what I want for the sake of harmony.

Most good ideas are simple ones. As my relationship with God became deeper, I could see how his ideas are simple; we’re the ones who complicate things. The idea of self-control is simple: it comes down to submitting to God and to others. However, carrying out a simple idea isn’t always easy. When we submit to God, allowing the Spirit to work in our lives, he makes it easier and easier to submit to others until it becomes a natural response.

For my next feat of self-control, I’ll stop writing this blog post before I start to sound like a wind bag.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Praying a Humble Prayer

She prays this earnest prayer when she realizes she is prone to behaving like, as we used to call it, a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I believe the prayer fits no matter what our age is.

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and one day will be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all; but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains, they are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are so hard to live with, but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talent in unexpected people, and give me O Lord the grace to tell them so. Amen

Anonymous Nun, Seventeenth century

 

“The Seven Deadly Friendships” a Review

The Seven Deadly Friendships by Mary DeMuth, copyright 2018, Harvest House Publishers, 208 pages

Recognizing seven types of toxic relationships, DeMuth describes each type with patterns of behaviors to look for in friends who can ultimately destroy relationships. The seven deadly are called Narcissist Nolan, Unreliable Uma, Predator Paige, Conman Connor, Tempter Trevor, Faker Fiona, and Dramatic Drake.

The book impressed me because DeMuth talks in plain language and doesn’t use language intended to prompt guilt or shame, in the reader or the person she suggests we avoid. She just says we should be aware, and if we need to, move on. Her tone sometimes suggests we need to have a forgiving nature toward others, no matter the hurt they cause us.

I read about the characters she describes and related to the problems because I’ve encountered all of them at one time or another. I called them “people who suck the life out of you.” I also related to the problems of each character because I’ve been each of them at one time or another. It was hard to admit that I was also at one time sucking the life out of people. I played Dramatic Drake like I was born to it. *sigh*

So does DeMuth offer any advice? Yes. She includes checklists to identify and evaluate a relationship based on patterns of behavior. For instance, the occasional case of a friend being unreliable is forgivable, but it’s the patterns she says that should send up red flags.

According to the author, red flags also apply to the reader and they should ask themselves if they also display these patterns. For instance, when Unreliable Uma is someone we identify with, we should ask ourselves if we say what we mean and mean what we say. She also helps us to understand why we may be attracting toxic people.

I’ve lived on both sides of the tracks of toxic relationships, so to speak, and the book gave me an opportunity to look at my blind spots. None of us, I suppose, is ever free of these tendencies. The messages in “The Seven Deadly Friendships” encourage us to rely on God to make our decisions about how we respond to others and what to do in each case.

DeMuth uses scripture to explain how to face the reality of broken relationships and how to heal and move on. The last three chapters are guides to finding healthy relationships based on the character attributes of the biblical characters, Jesus and Joseph. The book closes by describing seven life-giving practices.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

In some Bible translations, the word ‘meekness’ replaces the word ‘gentleness’. Many of us struggle with a clear definition of the word ‘meekness,’ but we know for sure the demonstration of gentleness when we see it. We picture a mother … Continue reading

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

  “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 In our relationships, we value trustworthiness in people. We want to be able to rely on them. The Holy Spirit grows this virtue in … Continue reading