Did You See That? – Processing Life Through Storytelling

Last year I had the privilege of attending the Women of Faith Conference with two friends. We boarded a tour bus  onshock Friday morning to travel to a large Pittsburgh arena where thousands of women would gather to sing, pray, weep and worship for 2 days.

About an hour and a half into our trip, someone in the back of the bus near where I was sitting  alerted the driver that there was smoke coming from the engine compartment at the rear of the bus. We happened to be driving through a populated area at the time with fast food restaurants and a strip mall which would have been a great place for a pit stop while the driver checked things out. He pulled over, got off the bus and walked around to the back to check it out. After making a phone call to the bus company, he boarded the bus and we were on our way again because there didn’t seem to be any apparent problems with the bus.

But within a half hour all of us in the back of the bus could see dark smoke wafting up the aisle in the bus. In the middle of nowhere along the Interstate highway, we pulled over again and the driver got out to check on things. He returned a moment later, pale and trying not to evoke panic as he told the ladies to get off the bus “NOW”  as he grabbed the firs extinguisher. Our bus was on fire!

We found ourselves standing  several hundred yards from the bus in a grassy area along the Interstate watching the drama unfold as the police and local fire departments arrived and motorists slowed down to see what was going on. Even Channel 6 News from Johnstown had shown up to do a quick segment on the “almost major bus disaster”. It probably would have been a more spectacular report if one of us would have been injured, but because no one even got a scrape and the bus didn’t explode,  it just got a very short clip on the evening news.  We had our 5 minutes of fame. LOL!

We waited by the side of the Interstate while the bus company sent a new bus, playing a get acquainted – gift exchange game, thanking the Lord that no one had been hurt. For that hour our conversation revolved around the incident as we retold our story to each other — “that our bus didn’t explode into flames; that we all got out safely; about the silly fun we were having waving at the passing cars;  wondering when our new ride would come so we could go to the bathroom; calling home to let family and friends know we were ok and when they could see us on the news….

As a matter of fact, the conversation for the entire rest of the two day trip was sprinkled with stories about our ill-fated bus and how we could have really been hurt…yada, yada. At first the conversation revolved around the facts of the incident and our feelings about what had happened. But as that first day progressed and we got into the wonderful worship of the conference, the references to the bus became less emotionally charged,  until we were actually making jokes about it and teasing our bus driver  on the way home Saturday night. The trip still comes up in conversation occasionally – like now – as I write this blog.

That’s because story-telling is a natural way to process the emotions evoked by serious  problems, fear or sometimes even excitement and joy. By repeating our stories over and over again to those who will listen,  it prevents the buildup of more toxic emotions like bitterness, hatred and panic that could cause us to have an emotional meltdown later.

Can you think of a time you felt so upset, frightened or even extremely happy that you  shared your story with everyone who would listen until you could process the event? How did it make you feel to share it?

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When God Writes The Story

Like a skillful writer God is constantly weaving events and people into the stories of our lives. Sometimes we don’t even realize what he’s  doing as the interactions unfold, but later as we look back, we realize how richly God has blessed us through the people he brings across our path.

Danny Dog and Eggo the Chihuahua

Danny Dog and Eggo the Chihuahua

Several years ago, we wanted to adopt another dog after our family pet died. I began looking at local shelter and rescue organization sites and found a sweet looking boy named Danny. I think it must have been his name that attracted me along with his beautiful face since my husband’s name is also Dan.

We found out that Danny was being fostered  nearby so  We contacted his foster mom and made arrangements to see him and ultimately adopted him. From the first day we had him, he brought  a lot of joy into our home. End of story? No – not in God’s plan. We became friends with Danny’s foster mom - a wonderful Christian woman – and kept in touch to let her know how Danny Boy was doing. When I needed to go back to work, she gave me a great reference that was instrumental in helping me get  a job in one of the school systems as a substitute aide.

But the story doesn’t stop there.  Our Danny Boy became very ill with a cancerous tumor and died just a few weeks ago.  Our friend was also saddened by his passing. But she knew of our affection for dogs and within a few days had found us a sweet Brittany girl named Daisy to foster  to fill the empty spot left by Danny’s passing.  Thank you, Susan, for allowing God to write you into the pages of my story so many times!

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Daisy

I could tell many more similar stories of people whose lives God wove into the story of my life that made a big difference on this journey. But as an added blessing, over the past few years, I’ve begun to hear from people I knew many years ago (Facebook and other social media have made the world a lot smaller!) who have told me how the Lord used me in their lives as well.

We never know how our lives will impact others. Sometimes they are only in our lives for a moment, for one small paragraph. Other times  our paths criss-cross many times, in many chapters.

Take time to remember these stories today and also to thank the Lord  for the richness he has added to our lives through these people. And while you’re at it, let them know how much they mean to you too!

 

*** Shameless plug LOL! Our Danny and Daisy both came from NBRAN (National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network)  For more information on how to volunteer, make a charitable contribution or adopt a beautiful Brit, check out the NBRAN website! Who knows? Maybe God will weave you into the pages of someone else’s book through reading this story?

 

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That Lightbulb Moment

In preparation for Easter, the youth class I teach started watching one of the early Jesus movies – The Greatest Story Ever Told – which was first1_115304_1 released back in the 1960s.  As the movie progressed, I began to realize something – the teens, especially those who had grown up in church, had a pretty good knowledge of the individual events portrayed in the film. But they didn’t seem to realize how all those stories were connected from the birth of Jesus until his death. It was like a light bulb turned on in their heads as they suddenly saw it as Christ’s whole life rather than just a bunch of unrelated stories!

Think about it - every child who grows up in Sunday School will hear the story of how Jesus was “left behind” by his parents at age 12. They go back and find him engaged in a theological debate with the priests in the temple. The lesson teaches the importance of “being about our Father’s business”  but have you ever wondered why that story was important in the whole picture of Christ’s life?

It’s there because it helps connect the birth of Jesus with his ministry and his ultimate death. Jesus wasn’t just born and never heard from again until he reached adulthood.  The story shows us He was the Son of God throughout his whole life.  But it also shows us that he had to go through  a period of growth and development just like we do to get to the point where he was ready to do God’s business.

Jesus had the knowledge as a young boy to debate with the priests,  but he wasn’t ready to be in full time ministry yet. He had more of life to experience  – like learning obedience and submission to his parents - like we  have to learn submission to God. If he hadn’t become obedient to his earthly parents at that point in his life, who knows what could have happened?

I can picture Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his trial and crucifixion. “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” And as he kneels there his mind flashes back to the experience in the temple when he debated with the priests as a 12 year old. He remembers his struggle as he must decide to submit and return home with his parents or to take his rightful place as a Bible teacher. After all, He was the Creator in the flesh and could have easily started his ministry then and there.

BUT HE CHOSE TO SUBMIT his will to the will of his parents. Perhaps that choice some 21 years earlier helped him  to submit to the eternal Plan of salvation as he faced shame and death on the cross. He really could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set him free in that moment.

His life was a journey, like ours – full of individual events and memories. Each one  of these events and memories builds on the one before telling us a little bit more about who we are as a child of God and preparing us for the plans God has for us. We must look at our individual experiences as well as our  whole journey to get the full picture.

What kind of reader are you? Do you  look at the Bible as a collection of individual stories and life lessons? Or do you see it chronologically as a progression of  how God has dealt with man through the ages? Can you see the importance of both?

How do you read the story of your life? Is it a collection of vignettes or a saga of growth and development?

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Learning to live in the middle of our story

How do you read a story?

Novels are meant to be read page by page because the stories follow a progression, each page building on the action, tension and conflict of the page before it. That tension is important to keeping the reader engaged in the story until the end where they will see the growth and change of the character. For most people, skipping around or to reading the ending first would spoil the story.

As a young reader, I developed a bad habit. Whenever I reached a point where the tensions began to mount too high for me, I skipped to the end. I had to be sure the hero or heroine would be ok before I could continue. It didn’t seem to dampen my enthusiasm for the story, but rather it enabled me to cope better with the mounting tension. After reading the ending, the rest of the story became a giant flash back, enabling me to see how the characters arrived at the end. I saw details I might otherwise have missed  in the rush to get to that breath of relief at the end.

Unfortunately for us, the story of our lives isn’t like that. God seldom offers us the chance to see how things will end ahead of time. There is no easing of tension in the middle of the action. We have to learn to trust him THROUGH the tension and conflict without being able to see the resolution.

But he does make ways to help us understand and cope with the tension that is causing us to grow and change. Sometimes in the midst of our trials, he will bring others across our paths who have gone through similar experiences. As they share their stories with us, we see a glimmer of hope  that we can and will make it through. Those “mentors” may come in the form of a Bible character or a counselor. It may be an ordinary person who has survived extraordinary circumstances.

God also gives us hindsight to help us through our difficult places. The older we get, the more we can look back on our own Christian walk and see how the previous chapters of our story have worked out. We can see how God orchestrated the events of our lives to make us who we have become. These flashbacks help to remind us of his love and power to keep, heal,  deliver and comfort us through the remainder of the journey. He allows us to see how we’ve grown and changed along the way. It’s one important reason to keep a journal rather than trusting our memory alone.

Best of all, he walks with us,holding our hand or carrying us when we can’t cope with the tension of our lives. It’s a lot like the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness – their circumstances weren’t comfortable or easy, but they always had God’s Spirit with them in the form of the cloud by day and fire by night as well as his provision – the manna. He offers us the same hope that we will eventually come to the Promised Land at the end of the wilderness journey. The Lord will always be with us in the middle of our life story.

We will get through by learning to walk with him in the present, to watch for the help he sends along the way  and to trust him with the outcome. After all, He is a masterful author.

Can you cite some examples of how God has walked with you in the middle of trying circumstances?

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Do Desperate Emotions Call For Desperate Measures?

The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Reman

 

At first glance, the Book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love and loyalty. But when I began to dig further, I found a rich source of life lessons for dealing with emotional hurts.

As Dr. Reman’s quote suggests, unresolved grief can lead to other problems including depression.  Perhaps it was the sheer volume of Naomi’s grief – moving away from friends and family, then losing her husband and two sons in a foreign land – that caused her to lapse into such a deep depression. We know she was depressed because she tells her friends to call her “bitter” (Mara) when she finally returns to Bethlehem.

Because Naomi felt responsible for her two daughters-in-law, she may not have allowed herself to fully grieve the lthCAJAZKZFoss of her  sons. Her depression may have escalated into anxiety and desperation causing her to push the girls  back to their own families – to ensure that they would have a future and to relieve herself of the burden of responsibility.

When Ruth refused to go back, the weight of responsibility for the young woman’s welfare must have hung even more heavily around  Naomi’s shoulders. She truly loved Ruth and wanted only the best for her, but in her depressed state of mind, Naomi couldn’t even imagine a solution. She became anxious and  desperate grasping at any small hope for a future for Ruth.

The Lord was orchestrating events for the two women in response to Ruth’s faith. He pointed her to the fields of Boaz, a perfect candidate to become the kinsman redeemer, a provision of Jewish law which ensured the care of widows and allowed the deceased family to retain their inheritance. But in Naomi’s depression she was unable to trust the Lord. When she realized Boaz could be a potential savior for herself and Ruth, she saw a glimmer of hope. But as time dragged on and Boaz didn’t follow through, Naomi became desperate and took matters into her own hands. She prostituted her daughter-in-law, hoping nature would take its course which would  force Boaz to “do what was right” by the women.

Because Ruth’s marriage to Boaz was part of God’s plan, there was no need for Naomi’s anxious and desperate measures. It would have worked out in God’s time with or without Naomi’s help.

God is in control of our lives as his daughters. Can you think of any times where you felt so desperate for something that you took matters into your own hands? What lessons have you learned about peace, rest and trust from these experiences?

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Dealing with depression and grief

tears-depressionAll of us will experience grief in our lives – through losses like homes or jobs or in other ways. We will all experience the pain of losing someone dear to us. Death is a fact of life.  For some, if left untreated, their grief will morph into serious depression. That’s where we find Naomi in  Ruth 1:19-22.

Naomi had lost everything. She lost contact with her extended family and support system when she travelled to Moab with her beloved husband Elimelech during the severe famine in Bethlehem. She lost her permanent home, replacing it with a nomad’s tent.  But, she grieved her losses and carried on with her life. She was able to cope because she still had her husband and sons.

While in Moab, her husband died. Once again, Naomi grieved her loss. She felt the loneliness of losing a spouse, partner and best friend. She wept and probably wailed as was the custom of her people. But Naomi was able to cope because she still had her two sons and hope for a future generation to carry on their family name. Her family still could be part of the promised Messianic line to come and her sons could once again possess the lands of their father when the famine was over.

But when both of her sons died without fathering sons, Naomi lost her ability to cope. Life became too dismal, too hopeless as she slipped from grief into the black pit of depression. She would have to sell her family’s holdings in Bethlehem because there were no sons to manage them. There was no one to take care of her in her old age.

As she traveled back to her extended family and support system in Bethlehem, she was too numb to feel the support everyone offered her. She admitted her depression, instructing her friends to call her “bitter” rather than “pleasant” as her name implied. With what little emotional energy she had left, she blamed God for her circumstances and curled up into a ball, waiting to die. No doubt she wondered often what she had done to make God so angry with her that he would take away everything that mattered to her.

Naomi’s story has a happy ending though. She got through her depression. Through the Bible narration, we see the Lord  at work in the background of Naomi’s story the whole time, orchestrating the events of her life to help her grieve while providing and caring for her. God made a way for Ruth to gather food for her mother-in-law. Ruth’s faith, love and prayers supported Naomi, especially when she couldn’t pray for herself.

As the story unfolds, Ruth marries Boaz and later through the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, a son is born.This child is a significant part of Naomi’s healing because at last she felt like God cared for her again. She let go of her anger at God and was able to trust him – understanding that he wasn’t angry with her.

Her story helps us to understand that we’re not totally alone as we go through our grieving process. No matter how deep our pain or extensive our loss, the Lord is always there working in the background  circumstances and events of our lives to help us grow into stronger, mature believers. Even when we cannot see him, he’s helping us, gently guiding us along the path to healing. In the end, Naomi’s hope is restored as God’s plan comes together.

We have the additional advantage of seeing into Naomi’s future – the Bible tells us that her grandson was indeed part of the Messianic line, an ancestor to Jesus. Wow! What a wonderful message to boost our hope as we go through difficult grief and depression.

Have you ever experienced loss like Naomi and given up hope? How did you cope? How did the Lord and others help you to heal?

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The invitation to intimacy with God

God said to Moses, “Climb higher up the mountain and wait there for me; I’ll give you tablets of stone, the teachings and commandments that I’ve written to instruct them.” So Bald Eagle in FlightMoses got up, accompanied by Joshua his aide. And Moses climbed up the mountain of God.   Ex 24;12-13  The Message

It seems I’ve tried to live healthier most of my adult life. I’ve gone through spurts of dieting,  exercising to improve my physical health, and  spurts of intense daily Bible study/Prayer to improve my spiritual health.  Usually, I’ve been able to keep up with these regimens with for a while.  But ultimately, I get frustrated or busy and end up quitting.  Then I have to get motivated again before plunging back into the battle for my spiritual and physical health.

During the winter of 1996-1997, we lived in northern NY where the winters seemed especially long and gloomy. When we moved there, I left my counselor and emotional support system behind that had sustained me during the beginning of my healing journey. After the move, I felt lost, like I was floundering and I wasn’t sure what to do to regain my spiritual equilibrium.

That January, I prayed about making resolutions for the year.  Of course, my spiritual life and physical health topped the list. I committed to a daily regimen of praying and scripture reading,  but because of the snow and extreme chill weather-wise, I really couldn’t walk outdoors to take care of my physical body. As I prayed, I felt a nudging by God’s Spirit to walk indoors – after all, the church we pastored was right next door and the sanctuary was large enough to easily walk a mile by going around inside several times. It was a perfect place to commit to both the physical and spiritual regimen I needed.

So I got up early in the morning, went next door,  put on some worship music and walked. It didn’t take long to realize that as I walked and praised the Lord, he was right there walking with me. I found I could talk to the Lord about anything, honestly and openly. And he would answer me.

For me it had become an invitation to intimacy, to “climb higher up the mountain,” as I walked and talked with the Lord each day.  The hour spent walking, praying and praising each day soon became my favorite time of day.

I wish I could say that those lifestyle changes became a permanent part of my life. But like Moses, I eventually returned down the mountain to “real life.” As spring rolled around, life got busier and  more things claimed my time and attention each day. Physical exercise took on a different form as it moved outdoors to include gardening and walking the dog. My spiritual exercise became a shorter morning devotional reading and prayer time.

But the lessons I learned about worship and  intimacy with God during that wintertime walk stayed with me.  It was there in the quiet sanctuary, walking and talking with him that I heard the beating of God’s heart. He became more real than  he had ever been and I learned to know his ways like Moses, rather than just knowing him for his acts like the people of Israel did. I am so thankful for his intimate healing touch in my heart.

Committing ourselves to obedience, allowing God to do what he needs to do for us in this healing process ultimately leads to an invitation to intimacy – an invitation to “come up higher” where we can know God for who he is, not just what he does.

I’d love to hear how you have experienced this in your healing process.

Have a blessed day!

 

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