Mourning & Joy (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 10, 2016)

On our drive down to California over the winter break (while two boys flew to Texas to visit family for a few days), one of the younger ones commented out of the blue, “Mom, I bet you feel normal right now.” Confused, I asked what he meant. He said, “Well, you only have three kids instead of five!”

 

I guess he was kinda right; I suppose we did look a little more “normal” to outsiders than usual. The thing is, though – this chaotic, smelly, loud blend of testosterone, unbridled energy, and a grocery bill that would blow your mind – this is our “normal.” After my world turned upside-down, inside-out, and sideways in January 2009, I struggled for a long while to figure out what “normal” was supposed to look like. Well, this is it.

 

Mourning & joy are odd bedfellows, but they are a recurring theme in the Bible (check out Psalm 30:11, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 31:13, John 16:20). God has a way of turning our darkest moments into opportunities for us to be a light of hope to others. Take this devotional, for example. Many of you have graciously commented to me over the years about different posts that have touched your heart in some way, and I cannot begin to tell you what that means to me. This devotional was born out of grief that was so painful, I had to write thoughts down to force myself to read my Bible consistently and to keep my sanity. My own healing process and spiritual growth have been poured out onto these pages, and you have walked alongside me through it. Thank you for that. To think that some of what I have experienced has also helped others with various trials in their lives is mind-blowing to me, and I’m grateful.

 

I’m not a fortune teller, and I don’t know what the new year holds for any of us. However, I can guarantee that there will be ups and downs along the way. Praise God; he is bigger than our problems! If you hold onto faith and trust in him, then he will light your way through the dark times. You’ll be able to look back days, months, or perhaps years later, and see that he never abandoned you. He even promised he wouldn’t (John 14:16, Hebrews 13:5)! He can help you find joy in the midst of mourning.

 

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Dear January [yet again],

Dear January,

This is my third year of letters to you. You and I haven’t been on good terms for seven years, but I think the truce that we worked out last year is going ok so far, at least until my Facebook newsfeed blows up later in the month. (Facebook has a new thing now where it reminds you of posts that you wrote in years past, so I think I’ll take a hiatus toward the end of the month. I still remember the post that I wrote quickly on Jan. 23, 2009, asking for urgent prayer because something awful had happened to my brother, but I didn’t know what. I really don’t want to relive the posts from the days and weeks that followed that night.)

The 23rd falls on a Saturday this year, and I’m contemplating getting a sitter for the kids and going away for the weekend — just me, myself, and I. A little solitude might be nice.

This year holds a lot of promise, and I’m going to focus on being optimistic about the future. I’ll be finishing my second year as a professor, and I’m loving my job. Two of my kids are in high school now, the middle is in junior high, and this year is our last round of elementary school. When the fall semester begins, I’ll only have to deal with TWO school schedules!

I still imagine sometimes what life would look like if Nathan was here. Most likely, I would still feel stressed about being outnumbered raising three boys and have no clue about how capable I really am. I suppose I have that to be grateful for. Without the trials, I wouldn’t know how strong I could be. I would give anything to have him back, but life manages to go on, and so do I.

January, I feel like I have more confidence facing you this year than I have in several years. You don’t intimidate me like you used to, because I’ve proven to myself that I can make it through, and in just a few weeks, you’ll be gone and February will arrive in your place.

Till next year,

Ang

When Life Feels Like a Punishment (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 18, 2015)

Since we began these weekly posts nearly five years ago, I have been pretty transparent about grief and mourning, but I have tried not to dwell too much on my own personal life. However, the truth is that sometimes I have crummy days. I had a particularly rough day recently, and I whined and cried my frustrations to the Lord. I confessed something that had been on my heart for a long time, but I never mustered to courage to say it aloud until then: It feels like I’m being punished.

 

I’ll spare you the whole pity party, but suffice it to say that sometimes I feel like I have given everything I could possibly give, and then I’m expected to give even more. I go through periods where I feel unappreciated, taken advantage of, and excluded – sometimes simultaneously. It’s as if my life is not my own, but I’m responsible for damage control. That’s when I came across this passage from 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 (NLT):

“Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike. Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.”

 

Whew, it’s like Paul was reading my mind! Jesus never promised that following him would be a bed of roses, and if you’ve read a feel-good book or heard a televangelist say otherwise, then I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

 

Why, then, would anyone want to follow Christ? I think Paul sums it up well later in the passage quoted above. In verse 20, he writes: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.” My life is not my own; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that Jesus paid an expensive price for me. Though some days are hard, I stand firm in God’s power that is living in me, and that’s worth the rough times.

The Shadow of Death (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 30, 2015)

I have shared in previous posts that my testimony has a lot to do with overcoming fear – namely, the fear of death. I have attended more funerals than I can count, and my experience with death began at an early age. Even though I no longer fear death, I still don’t enjoy having it thrown in my face, which is why I don’t really care for crime scene shows, the zombie craze, Stephen King books, or realistically violent movies.

 

Psalm 23, one of King David’s poems, is often read at funerals with the intention of comforting people, but to be honest, I always found it a bit creepy: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” (v. 4, NJKV). It conjures up images in my mind of something sinister lurking behind a bush, waiting to jump out and snatch me. Shadows are menacing. After all, how many horror movies are set in broad daylight?

 

It took me many years to come to the realization that the “shadow of death” can be a comforting shade, not a threatening omen, to the believer in Christ. Think about it … how do we gauge parking spaces in the summer heat? The best spaces aren’t judged by distance from the front door, but by proximity to shade! Shade is simply a shadow, and we love it, in that context. Or, consider the story of Jonah, chapter 4 – God allowed a plant to spring up suddenly to provide much-needed shade for Jonah, and he was grateful (v. 6).

 

The “shadow of death” does not have to frighten us. As followers of Christ, we can find comfort in our mortality because to be apart from the body is to be in his presence for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). When life tries to beat us up, we can “take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings,” as David wrote in Psalm 36:7.