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The Crucible Part 2

Monday, February 15th, 2016

My last blog I spoke about a crucible. To summarize God uses the difficulties of life to stir up the defects in character so that he can help heal it. I mentioned that I was having a “Crucible” week and I must admit my dross that surfaced was yucky.

In the pressure-ful situation that was presented to me I choked. I said some hurtful words to my wife. Soon afterwards I knew I was wrong by principle but I suspect that somewhere internally I had given myself some sort of egotistical pass.

You know the type of self-authorization that has the rationale;

sure …I shouldn’t have said those little words

BUT SHE DID DO THIS AND SHE DID SAY THAT.

To be honest I was so focused on my own upset-ness and my own pressure that I had in effect warranted my own actions. That is until I met with my friend. My friend listened and validated my struggles but then he asked a simple question that humbly knocked my self-righteousness onto the ground. He asked me, “I wonder what it is in you that thought it was ok to say those things to the woman that you love, knowing that it would hurt her.” Proverb 27:6 came to mind “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses”

His pointed question hurt my pride but it was exactly what I needed; a revelation of the truth that was happening right then. I knew because I had been studying about how GOD uses stress and pressure to refine my heart. GOD was indeed appointing me to deal with some issues. Indeed what was in my heart that not only justified my unloving words toward my wife but blinded me to the conviction I needed to see the situation rightly?

I then thought about another verse that talks about the crucible; Proverbs 27:21 “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised.”

This is a very interesting verse to me and these days life presents it in interesting ways. Social media allow one to present the parts of life that we want other to see. I saw someone actually post on Facebook “I wish I actually had the life that I try so hard to portray on Facebook.” Sometimes it’s so unrealistic.

I’m not bashing Facebook. It has a very positive side. Celebrating the exciting and accomplishments in life with ease from a handheld device is fun and often fulfilling. It feels good to share the noble parts of life with people that care.

However if anything embodies the verse, “Man looks on the outward appearance but GOD looks upon the heart” Facebook would fit that bill. I have had many people build me up on what a “great”, “amazing”, “fantastic”, even “perfect” husband I am after many posts.

A lot of the time I bristle at these accolades. I mean the only person whose opinion truly matters on that subject would be my wife right? In this moment of my ugliness I could only pray that she remembered my good side. The“postable”me.

Of course there is a temptation for all of us to insulate ourselves from challenges and negative feelings. That’s what I was doing when I was justifying my own actions that were camouflaging the true issue of my heart. Believing the praise that I am really just a good guy, a great husband was the test here. The yuck of my heart had risen. A lesser friend may “multiply kisses” here and tell me that my true heart was fine but my counsel was to dig into my heart. To process why I chose the way I did. I am grateful I did.

What I saw there I did not like. Because I did not hide it, I was able to move from anger to guilt and restore relationship with my wife. It didn’t remove the sting of my words, which may only come with time and trust, but it showed me something about myself that as I look at it can bring valuable change and the intimacy and trust that we seek.

This is something that was tested by the praise that I received. I enjoy that praise. But when truth comes knocking it speaks a better word than praise and I heard it. I did not choose to comfort myself with the notion that all was ok and I was a good man. I chose to look at the whole truth and dig deep in the belief that becoming the man my Father wants lies in this path.

So as you read this blog don’t hesitate to say a good word because I do enjoy it. It does encourage me and build me up. But don’t be upset if I don’t believe every word all the time, I know it may be a test.

Dont Fear the Crucible

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Crucible: “a container of metal or refractory material employed for heating substances to high temperatures.”

Have you ever had a crucible day? I’m having one now. Actually it’s been a series of crucible days. A “crucible day” is where the pressures of life shove in, often overwhelming us and the heat exposes the emotions of the heart.

A Hallmark of the New Testament is not only God’s forgiveness but his promises that He will refine us.

Several places in scripture it is shown that the process God uses is similar to the goldsmith who refines gold. To do this the precious metal is put into a crucible and melted. Then the temperature is heated and the metal melts. As the temperature is increased and time goes by the impurities rise to the surface for the Goldsmith to remove.

God is an expert smith. He knows how to raise the temperature and he does it with prudent purpose. It is very important to keep our minds stayed on this fact because when the heat is turned up it feels very chaotic; the stress and often pain cause the deepest issues of the heart to be stirred and the impurities rise to the surface. It does not have the feeling of purpose.

Issues and feelings that seemed to be long gone surface in different ways. Feelings of failure and depression can set in. Emotionally it can seem like taking a big step backward in life.

I deal with that in a very deep way during these times of testing. But the one thing that encourages me is the knowledge that GOD is very much a part of my life and both allows the testing and accepts me in my failures. He is refining me. Knowing that although it feels like the ultimate in chaos it has intelligent purpose and God can use it makes a vast difference.

My marriage counselor is fond of Romans 5:3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

To Glory in suffering sounds crazy. It would be crazy to glory in suffering and we groan often when he reminds us of this verse. But we groan with a smile because knowing that GOD is working behind the scenes in our hearts and in our life to allow the trials to change us is a key that can take miserable suffering into a different dimension. It does for me.

Sometimes it’s the only thing that encourages me. It keeps me Never Giving Up.

Another interesting fact about the refiner is that as he continues to heat the Gold it releases more and more of the impurities and as these are scraped away the less the surface distorts his reflection. The process is most complete when the refiner can see his reflection clearest in the crucible.

So, God….can you see yourself yet? Not quite? Drat… I guess I need to put my summer clothes on, its hot around here.

Grief only for a (life)time.

Monday, February 1st, 2016

On the radio I heard the preacher deliver his sermon. He said there is a time for every purpose under heaven. He tried to explain that there is a time to grieve and then a time to move on. While I saw some validity to what he was saying, I also disagreed emphatically.

It’s been said, “Never trust anyone who doesn’t walk with a limp.” I could just tell that this preacher didn’t walk with a limp. I don’t believe he comprehends the extreme pain of losing a child. I agreed with his premise that after death life does go on and it implores us to live it. Within the depths of grief no demands no matter how legitimate call loud enough to drown out the pain to move us to action. I do agree on one hand that there is a time that ability to choose to live is reestablished.

Even that sentence is so much easier said than done. The issues that need to be wrestled with are complicated and painful.

Is it ok to be happy again? Is it ok to have other siblings? What does it mean to move on? Is not thinking about my child forgetting?

All of these questions may be easy enough to know the answer but the intense pain involved distorts and makes them excruciatingly difficult. They are only able to be individually wrestled through and answered and there really is no time limit. Some of these questions need to be answered repeatedly. I imagine that working through these questions to the other side is what the radio preacher meant and I don’t underestimate the importance of them.

On the other hand, there is a part of me that will never, ever move on.

I will never be complete this side of Heaven.

For me, as a believer it is a comfort to realize that I was never intended to be complete this side of Heaven anyway. My hearts cry for something else is accurate and in some ways helps me to be grounded in what is important.

I will always “walk with a limp.” My heart will always miss my daughter and I will always wonder what things would have been like with her here.

It just doesn’t go away.

Deep pain is the price of deep love.

I still love my daughter and I still feel pain that she is not with me. So even though I agreed that moving on is essential, I also am absolutely certain that it is simply not imaginable that I will be “over” her being gone.

She will always be a part of me as long as I love her and that will be forever.

So Yes, I am living life. Loving my wife and family in a deeper way than I ever did before, I suppose that could be termed “moving on.” But this term is just a bit offensive and inaccurate because I know that my Love for my daughter never will be extinguished and I will never try to move on.

I know some day I will move UP. Perhaps then, when we are reunited I will truly be able to say that I have “moved on.”

Until that day. I am NEVER GIVING UP.

Running the Race of Life

Friday, January 15th, 2016

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

This last weekend I raced my first run in decades. To be more precise, I finished the race without giving in to exhaustion and walking. I ran successfully in High School and obtained a scholarship in college so running is something that I have a history around, but that was many miles ago.

Life has had many obstacles in the decades since my college running days. Responsibilities and life have taken precedence over training and health. The fight against cancer and then the passing of my daughter have made food a support for me emotionally. Inevitably I gained me some pounds.

This last year I have been fighting to get back in shape. I have lost several pounds and dropped 7% bodyfat but I had not really tried to compete in a distance race. My mental strength for distance running is very untested. Ok, It is quite weak. We ran the color race where they threw colored powder and squirted color gel on you as you ran so it was lighthearted. Though it was fun, I was serious.

I was determined to keep pace until the end. My first mile went well. However, when I went up a slight incline the defeating thoughts began. They started as a thought of just a little rest. Then they blew up into a constant gnawing to just stop. The pain in my quads and in my lungs joined in to attempt to convince me to just take a break but I kept going. I reasoned that I could stop if I still wanted to,” just up this hil”l, then “Just down this hill.” etc

I had my music playing in my ears and when I was headed into the last ½ mile a song about the crucifixion of Jesus came on my headset. It spoke of the pain Jesus endured on the cross when the nails were pierced through his hands after he was beaten and set up there to die.

At that moment when I was in my self imposed pain I knew I had a choice to stop and I recalled that Jesus had that choice as well. The Bible says that Jesus could have called upon the angels to deliver him from his pain but he chose to endure it in all its agony for me.

For YOU.

Faced with this realization I focused on my small burden of pain and pushed myself to the finish line. The scripture came true that said, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Consider in the greek is aporao which means to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something. When I got my focus off of my pain I was able to endure more. It just clicked on this day.

Isn’t that the story of my life. The pain of child loss has often left me in a state of disability that has hindered me from life. In the beginning it was all I could do to just leave the house. The pain pushed me to just hide. Endurance and dealing with the pain has been an ongoing lesson on how to continue on in this life to, “finish the race.”

Lately I have been challenged to take on many things that are not comfortable for me. God has used working out and pushing my physical body as a training ground to teach me about other areas of life. I see how what I though was impossible (enduring more pain) was a product of bad thinking and focusing on my pain. In college I used to be able to overcome this but I am learning to do this all over again.

I am learning to do a lot of things in life again. Traumatic grief changes the emotions in profound ways and I am stumbling to learn new ways of living. But this day I won. I accomplished the goal. I focused on my Lord and how he endured. I learned a new tool that keeps me going.

I know I will be in pain again. I will be in pain and I will focus on my Lord and how much he endured, so that he could get the payoff; the salvation of all those He loves. Pain has a way of making you give up on dreams. On people. On life.

I am determined today to Never give up. I will focus on Jesus and what He endured so I will not grow weary or fainthearted.

God can handle ugly

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Last week’s blog was entitled,” the mourning need love not logic.” This week’s blog could be a companion piece of sorts. I received a message after reading that blog and asked How I kept my faith through it all. I thought about it for a bit and the most obvious answer to me was that God honored and respected each of my feelings, including the “ugly” ones.

When you grieve your loneliness, shame, anger, sadness, all of it overwhelms your senses. When you lose a child it involves your hopes, dreams, and security for the future. When you have prayed and trusted God for a healing it feels like a betrayal.

I was in this predicament 7 years ago when I found myself yelling, screaming and yes even cursing at GOD. I’m not going to tell you what I said but it was ugly. I felt so abandoned and I was angry and I let GOD have it. It was gut level, loud, angry and I am certain I would be embarrassed if anyone saw it. It was also very true and real. I was very angry and very stuck. But the thing about it was that I believed that I was still accepted exactly in that place.

I believed that my reaction was sinful but that was ok. God sent his son to get me out of that sinful place. Forgiveness and Love was his department and if anyone was in need of a Savior it was me.

When I yelled at him and vented my very genuine and ugly emotions however I felt afraid. Wasn’t now when a lightning bolt was supposed to hit me in the head with judgment from on high? So as I was in a heap on my office floor I said to God, “It doesn’t even make any sense but I still want and need you so bad.”

Then I remembered the time when Boey was still with us near the end. The cancer had invaded her hip bones and caused fractures so she stayed in her big brown chair and mostly slept. The time came when we needed to bathe her so I ever so carefully scooped her up in my arms and began to carry her to the bath. This caused an extreme amount of pain and my little girl shrieked with agony and proclaimed, “I hate you…I hate you..” as I carefully walked her to the bath. In that moment, as her daddy, I knew exactly what was happening. She was in such intense pain and she needed some sort of outlet and so she spoke those words that were not even the essence of what was in her heart but she needed some release.

When she was done with the bath and I returned her to the comfort of her big stuffed chair I could hear her words, “I LOVE YOU…I LOVE YOU…I LOVE YOU…” as she trailed off to sleep. In those moments I knew that my daughter trusted me that she could be who she was and act how she needed to act just to make it through the moment. She trusted me and my love for her to be real.

In this moment, as I was shrieking in emotional pain and proclaiming my hate for GOD I was comforted greatly by this picture of me and my daughter. Matt 7:11 came to my mind, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” GOD accepted me just the way I was, warts and all, Hate and all, with the same heart of love and full knowledge that I had for my daughter.

GOD and his love is not limited by my hate or my sinful condition. He is a good parent and he stands unchanged by my immaturity. He is who he is and my feelings and struggles don’t change him. He really is an unchanging rock. A rock of love.

That was a powerful revelation and one that was crucial in my wanting to stay close to HIM. If I only believed the sinful part of the equation, that I was a sinner and needed to repent. Forget it. I would not be able to stand before God. I actually had hatred for him. I would reject him.

But I had enough experience with GOD to know he was not like that. The story of the NT is that GOD sent his son to save that who was lost. When they didn’t know or love him, when they were in rebellion against him Jesus was sent and He gave. Love does that

The bible says we are ambassadors of his. As Gods ambassador I want to invite those parents who have lost children and are grieving to not be afraid of your darkest emotions. I know these emotions. God knows these emotions. He can take your emotions. He knows you have no other way of acting. He is well aware you can’t change you. He wants to love you. Period. Even more than I loved my daughter He longs to love and comfort you. Knowing this is crucial. This will transform you. It is transforming me. Know that GOD can take ugly and that is why he sent his Son.

HE UNDERSTANDS. HE LOVES. PERIOD.