Monday, December 15, 2014

Grieving with Hope

Our funeral rose


But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:13-18, ESV).

With our grief over my grandmother still fresh, my family is singing carols this year in a minor key. The yearning Advent hymns suit all the "firsts" we're walking through, all the milestones that make the loss real and raw and new again.

We've walked through receiving a box of cards and gifts we'd given her, including our wedding program and photos of the first year we set up the Nativity scene Nonni and Nonno had given us;




setting up that same nativity scene again this year;





moving her dining table and china cabinet, the site of countless Christmas Eve ravioli feasts, into my dining area;

letting their last legacy gift buy me a big-girl DSLR camera;

making the first trip back to Fort Worth since the funeral and realizing the exit for Nonni's and Terza's house now only belongs to Terza's family;

keeping Thanksgiving without a group speakerphone call to her in her absence from our table;

sorting the last of her personal effects by my dad and his siblings;

Dad's letting go of the car Nonni gave him when she moved out of her house and stopped driving. It's death was timely and untimely both. Certainly old enough to retire, but so close to the loss of its owner?

The winter birds have come. The juncoes flock to the patio to clean up the seed that falls from the feeder when the bigger birds come to dine. Papa cardinal, Nonni's favorite, makes a daily appearance. The scaups and gulls have arrived at the pond, but this year I won't be calling to tell her so.

Nor that I made the first batch of toffee and will send her some as soon as possible.

And so we grieve. We think the tears are subsiding, and then something prods the still-raw wound and we have a soggy day that seems to come out of nowhere.

Yet in the tears and in the firsts, I remember the words Nancy Leigh DeMoss quoted on the radio, words I didn't need at the time but squirreled away for the day I would:

"As Christians, we do not grieve without hope,
but neither do we hope without grief."
graphic and photo courtesy of Quozio.com

The key lies in the 1 Thessalonians passage which began this post, and in its cousin in 1 Corinthians 15. The apostle Paul acknowledges the Thessalonians' sorrow for their fellow believers who had died (or "fallen asleep"). He doesn't tell them to keep a stiff upper lip and dry their tears. At the same time, he exhorts them "not to grieve as others do who have no hope."

The Christian grieving the death of a Christian has hope, even in the loss, because the Christian has the sure and certain promise of a reunion with those who have died knowing and trusting Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, all who know Christ will be "together with Him" and "always with the Lord" when He returns.

So we grieve, but we grieve with hope. Beth Moore captures the paradox in her recent study Children of the Day, which examines the Thessalonian epistles:

Grief is the sacred love seat where we fellowship acutely in the sufferings of Christ. We are not glad to be drawn to that seat, but there we find Him if we're willing. Oddly, we also find a faith beyond what we thought we'd lost.... 
To the degree we have loved, we often mourn; but we can be whole again piece by piece if we accept what 1 Thessalonians 4:13 holds in its other hand. 
If one hand of solace holds permission to grieve, the other hand contains insistence of hope.... 
Life can be painful here. Loss is inevitable. So let us grieve when we must, but God forbid that we grieve as the hopeless do. In His hands, we find solace. In His heart, we find rest. In His time, we find meaning. In His eyes, we are blessed. In His strength, we're made mighty. In His light, morning breaks. In His Word, He has promised. In His coming, sleepers wake" (Children of the Day, 104-105).
Advent, the present season of the church year, both completes and begins the circle of the liturgical calendar. It looks back in remembrance to the birth of Christ and leans forward to His coming again. This December my family is leaning forward more earnestly than we were 12 months ago. This is not a bad thing. An uncomfortable thing, surely, but not ultimately bad. We have confidence that someday, when we see Jesus face to face, we will also see and enjoy fellowship with not only Nonni but all our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Him. Even some loved ones we've never met save through paper and ink or pixels on a screen.

Even in loss, we can light the hope candle on the Advent wreath because for the Christian, death is not "good-bye" but "ta-ta for now." Our blessed hope draws nearer by the day, and then there will be no more death, no more tears. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

And we will always, always be with the Lord.



Laura Boggess

Monday, December 8, 2014

Calendar Giveaway

{The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Laura Boggess, our calendar winner!}

Blessed Advent, my Crumble friends! We are overdue for a giveaway here, and it's time to remedy that.



The afternoon before my Nonni passed away found me hard at work on a calendar project for her Christmas gift. She loved working in her garden and watching the birds. When she moved to the apartment where she spent her last year, the flowers, yard work, and winged things were what she missed most. We would take her photos of our garden and birds when we went to visit, but I thought we could do better: a 2015 calendar so she would have a photo of outdoor beauty for each month of the year.


April
Blackberries (August)

September


Then the Lord took her Home, and I considered abandoning the nearly completed project. Amore disagreed, suggesting the project could be in Nonni's memory instead. In thinking through who might like one, we thought of you.

The photos (for better or for worse) come from my camera and resemble what you see here on the blog. If this would bless you or perhaps someone you love who, like my grandmother, has limited access to outdoor beauty, please leave a comment below as your entry. Random.org will select the winning comment number on Saturday, December 13, 2014. Entries will be accepted until noon that day. If you read this by e-mail or in a feed reader, please comment at the Web page for this post. I will contact the winning reader by e-mail to obtain his or her physical mailing address.


Linking up to Laura Boggess and her Playdates community today:
Laura Boggess

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Amy Carmichael's Thoughts "For a Time of Sorrow"

On this mountain Yahweh Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
Yahweh has spoken.

In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is Yahweh, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25:6-9, NIV


"Sorrow is one of the things that are lent, not given. A thing that is lent may be taken away; a thing that is given is not taken away. Joy is given; sorrow is lent. We are not our own, we are bought with a price, 'and our sorrow is not our own' (Samuel Rutherford said this a long time ago), it is lent to us for just a little while that we may use it for eternal purposes. Then it will be taken away and everlasting joy will be our Father's gift to us, and the Lord God will wipe away all tears from off all faces.

"So let us use this 'lent' thing to draw us nearer to the heart of Him Who was once a Man of Sorrows (He is not that now, but He does not forget the feeling of sorrow). Let us use it to make us more tender with others, as He was when on earth and is still, for He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities."

~Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways, 193

Monday, December 1, 2014

Focal Point {from the archives}

My reading Saturday morning included 2 Corinthians 4. It's a favorite chapter (like Ebony, I say that a lot), but I confess to reading hastily and partially, rushing through preparations for the Living Proof Live simulcast with my mother at her home.

Knowing me as He does, the Lord gave me another chance at getting the hint. In the midst of the first teaching session of the simulcast, Beth Moore starts talking about jars of clay, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, . . . I drew in breath, whispered to my mom, "That's 2 Corinthians 4. I just read that this morning."

The day's exhortations held so many lovely, personally helpful thoughts, however, that this one might have been lost among showier treasures, so the Lord sent a third witness, a man I didn't know reading the epistolary portion in the Sunday service. The reedy monotone of his recitation could not conceal the words I should have been expecting by now. For the third time in 24 hours, from three different translations, once again the Lord presented me with these thoughts from 2 Corinthians 4:6ff (HCSB here):

For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but notin despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you.  And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, and therefore speak.  We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you. Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory.
Therefore we do not give up.
Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction [Or trouble, or tribulation, or trials, or oppression; the Gk word has a lit meaning of being under pressure, mgn] is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
It appears here that Paul is not enjoying the best of days. He describes the "seen," "temporary" circumstances of Timothy and himself this way:
  • pressured in every way
  • perplexed
  • persecuted
  • struck down.

If he had stopped there, this passage would not be cherished by so many, including myself, as a source of hope and encouragement. Thankfully, he does not stop there. If you notice, the list in the text is composed of contrasts, indicated by the repetition of "but not":
  • pressured in every way but not crushed
  • perplexed but not in despair
  • persecuted but not abandoned
  • struck down but not destroyed.

Why in the world are they not crushed by despair and abandonment in their sorrows? The good apostle explains that, too, beginning with a trio of "so that" clauses:
  • We always carry about the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (v.10).
  • We who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus' life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh (v.11).
  • Everything is for your benefit, so that grace . . . may cause thanksgiving to increase to God's glory (v.15).
Paul and Timothy persevere in their afflictions in the expectation that the life of the risen Christ will be manifest in them even as they "carry about the death of Jesus." They persevere in the expectation that the same God who raised Jesus will raise them and reunite them with the Corinthians in the presence of God (v.14). They persevere in their afflictions for the sake of the Corinthians, in the expectation that the grace they receive will multiply thanksgiving among God's people and thus glorify God.

Those hopes are so great that they do not give up, even though earlier in the letter he had written, "we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life" (1:8).

This chapter concludes with another series of contrasts which support me  in my afflictions more than all the preceding ones, although I grant that my afflictions are so far surpassed by Paul's that they hardly seem worthy of the name. The seen present, he says, involves affliction and the destruction of the outer person, but this is temporary, momentary, and light. The unseen gain, on the other hand, is glory and the renewal of the inner person, and this glory is eternal, absolutely incomparable, and weighty.

Paul looks through the lens of faith and chooses not to focus on the ugliness and sorrows of the foreground but instead to shift his focus to the unseen, eternal glory in the distance.

Crumbles, this finds some of you in quite serious afflictions. I do not mean in any way to make light of your suffering. Nonetheless, I take God at His word. Even though difficult to believe and impossible for me to imagine, someday even the worst this life can inflict on us will shrink to the significance of so many grains of sand in oysters' flesh. The glory awaiting us in the kingdom of God is so magnificent and weighty that it will seem a heap of shell-bursting pearls, overwhelmingly beautiful and valuable beside the bit of grit, yet produced by those same afflictions, in that day light and momentary by comparison.

You are hurting now, but piles of pearls await you. What is more (retreating to 4:6-7) the chips and cracks in our clay jars now are the places through which "the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ" shines out of the believer's life into a dark world. It boggles the mind, doesn't it?
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
May you experience the reality of that overflowing comfort through Christ in your need today. God grant that we may be able to say with Paul, "Therefore, we do not give up."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hope for Hungry Hearts {from the archives}

If you are hungry, dear Crumbles,
Hungry for hope, hungry for healing,
If empty-bellied crowds fill your prayer list,
And your only resources are a slice of moldy Swiss
Sliding off half a Saltine,
And you despair--

Come, behold the living Word in the written Word.
Fall at His feet, the place of healing.
In His hands, a fallen crumb can heal a daughter,
And a sack lunch becomes a feast and more,
Hampers full of leftovers collected
When the empty, needy crowd is satisfied.

Behold His grace, unhindered by His disciples' forgetful unbelief.
Behold His riches, enough for every want.
Behold His compassion, spilling over the boundaries of His own people
     To all the nations, even native enemies like us.
Behold Him, and feed on His faithfulness.
He is fullness for our emptiness;
He is satisfaction of our longings;
He is hope for our hungry hearts.

These glimpses of Jesus in Mark 7:24-8:21 and Matthew 15:21-16:12 are feeding my soul today. He is the source of all my hope, for this life and the next.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pondering the How of Hope {from the archives}

I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
Psalm 130:5,7-8, NASB

Your comments  on "Hope Waits" have resonated in my mind all week. I hear you, friends. I hear your wondering how not to let hope slip when things start to go sideways; I hear the tug of the "groaning in the longing"; I hear the confession of deep disappointment scabbing over into distrust of the One who allowed it, and His "tenderly tend[ing] my heart" all the while.

I hear, and I think I understand, having felt and done the same myself.

And then there is the commenter mulling over whether Calvin's faith-then-hope sequence is all there is to the case, whether "a really crucial feature of hope is that it can come *before* faith, and be as it were the seed from which faith grows."

Judging by the dubious standard of subjective personal experience, certainly there seem to have been times for me when hopeful feelings seemed to buoy faith and make it easier to believe what God has revealed to be true as well as times when I needed to turn my back on feelings and hold fast in trust to the truths I knew, waiting for the feelings to follow suit.

Judging by the standard of Calvin's words from the earlier post, there also seems to be room for regarding hope as a "seed from which faith grows," or at least grows stronger:

...faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth.
From Calvin's words (for which I unfortunately do not have the larger context), it seems to be a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the seed or the plant? Each one (or the potential), seed and plant, is present in the other at any given moment, and depending on where one is in the life cycle of the organism the seed may seem to come first or to follow.

Always, though, I want to hold subjective experience and even the best human words up to the straight edge of Scripture. After more meditation than systematic study so far, it seems to me that hope and faith or hope and believ* occur together a fair number of times in the English Bible. Both expect God to be true to His character and His promises, though hope connotes more of a waiting and looking to and faith a relying on. Both occur in noun and verb forms and as commands.

They seem wrapped up so tightly together that I wonder if they are as fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau striving together in the womb, a hand of one emerging, a heel of another, then a head crowns and a body follows, another head, another body, and only the mother and the midwife know for certain who entered the world first.

But how does that work? If I'm the one who has lost hope, as I have been plenty of times, what do I do?

If I have someone to pray for me, I ask them.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NASB).
If not, I take it on faith that Jesus and the Spirit are interceding for me in the best way. And they are, even if the child of God has no faith to believe it.

Recognizing that we are whole persons and our bodily health and spiritual-emotional health are interwoven, I ask whether there is some remediable physical cause for hopeless feelings: illness, sleep deprivation, inactivity or overactivity, feeding my body the wrong fuel,...

And most importantly, I look to Scripture to find my way.

If there is something to lament, if I am Job on the ash heap, then by all means I am free under grace to lament, to pour out my heart to God. It's all right to grieve. There's nothing wrong with being sad about a loss, whether loss of life or dreams, love or livelihood or health...

But what if I have grieved, if I have lamented, if I want to find my way back to hope but don't know where to look for it? If I am in hopelessness and despair, I know no better example than Jeremiah:
He [Yahweh] has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.”
 
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me. (Lamentations 3:15-20, NASB).
What does he do when in such a hopeless, broken state? He digs channels of trust for hope to flow. He searches the archives of his recollection for some truth about God to undergird him and raise him up:
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hopeThe LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,"Therefore I have hope in Him.”  (Lamentations 3:21-24, NASB).
Regardless of how hopeless I feel or how disastrous things look, God is still love, His compassions never fail, His faithfulness is great, and He is my portion. Hope is a gift to the believer because of the resurrection of Christ, but like love it is also a choice, an action we can take. To hope means, in Scripture, to look, to wait, to expect. Not necessarily to feel optimistic, though that also is a grace when it comes.

By no means do I intend to make light of the deep suffering of lost hope. By no means. I am neither a counselor nor a theologian trained to search these things out in "the right way." Maybe I am a Job's counselor adding platitudes to the suffering. If so, I ask your forgiveness and invite you to help me do better. My intention and prayer here is not to overload bowed backs but to seek after truth alongside you and record for myself as much as for you what has helped me persevere in the dry times.

When there's nothing else to be done, when the problem is not fixable, hope by its very nature waits. Hope waits for the fulfillment of God's promises to appear on the horizon. Hope waits for Him to prove true to His character. Hope waits, "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13, NASB). When I lack the feeling of hope, I can look to the Person who is my hope.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hope Waits {From the Archives}


Hope, like perseverance, is a virtue for the "not yet" waiting time of life in this groaning creation. Hope waits, the father watching at the window for the prodigal to appear, the prophet Daniel in exile counting the years until 70 and the return to the land, the sisters in Bethany waiting for Jesus to come and help their brother. Hope waits for the promises of God to catch up with our desires, or so it seems.

John Calvin articulates the forward-leaning character of hope:
"Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. 
Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when His truth shall be manifested; 
faith believes that He is our Father, hope anticipates that He will ever show Himself to be a Father toward us;
faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed;
faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth."
     ~John Calvin, courtesy of Graced Again, emphasis mine
As beautiful as that is, who can weave the groaning, waiting perseverance of the now and the hope of the not yet better than the apostle Paul?
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25, NASB).
Hope waits, anticipates, groans, and ultimately longs until Christ returns to fulfill fully the promises and kingdom of the triune God. Come soon, Lord Jesus!