Navigating Life’s Devastating Losses

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The date was April 14, 1994.  I had only been at the office for about an hour when I received a call from a neighbor.  “You need to come home quickly. Your residence is on fire!”  We jumped in the car and sped home to asses the situation.  We couldn’t get close because of the number of fire engines on the scene.  We got out of the car and ran toward what was once our home.  I was devastated to see that there was nothing left but smoldering timbers and a burnt out shell.  We were left with nothing except the clothes we were wearing.

I’ll never forget the feeling of loss when the fire crews escorted us back to the scene to see if there was anything we could salvage under their close supervision for our safety. “Things”, as people suggest, can be replaced. But photos of the kids in various stages of their lives, parties, family heirlooms passed down, one-of-a-kind keepsakes-all gone in an instant. Thirty five years of history and collections reduced to ashes.  Grateful to be alive, of course, but the loss was real and the mourning genuine.

This week as we witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding that is still wreaking havoc, my heart goes out to the victims because I know exactly how they feel and the challenges they face financially and emotionally as they begin the slow process of rebuilding. Some of these victims were already displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  It does my heart good to see how the Texas community has already come together to offer shelter, aide and whatever assistance is necessary to assure the best possible outcome to the neighbors they have never before met.  In a world of social media wars and disingenuous outrage over issues of little significance in comparison, the things that matter most quickly rise to the surface when such tragedies occur. Our thoughts and prayers will be for the people of South Texas as they begin the rebuilding process.

However, burnt timbers and flooded homes are not the only signs of a devastating loss.  For some, life may have seemed to be going fairly smooth when suddenly everything they held dear was stripped away and they are left sitting in a pile of rubble no less devastating as the aftermath of a powerful natural disaster. Through the death of loved ones, broken relationships, divorce and other emotional tragedies, one can find themselves sifting through the rubble trying to find anything they can salvage from life as they knew it.  The stress and psychological effect can be paralyzing, the will to move on temporarily nonexistent and the realization of the losses traumatic.

I would offer up that it may in fact be easier to replace shelter and bedding and clothing than it is to replace the overwhelming loss of the infrastructure that makes up one’s life and the broken hearts that are left with no real consolation. Time may heal all wounds, but how much time is always the question, as is the real level of recovery expected. It is in these times of loss that God’s grace is the only remedy and hope one can cling to without being disappointed or let down. God is close to the brokenhearted and collects our tears as His gems.  Only those who have suffered the loss of everything they own can fully relate to the sense of loss others in similar situations experience.  And only those who have lost all they hold precious and dear can fully appreciate the feeling of hopelessness as they somehow try to muster the strength and courage to regroup, rebuild and recover.

The best source of hope we all have in dire circumstances can be found in scripture.  They may for some ring a bit hollow at first, but through repetition and eventual adaptation, they become our strength:

From Job 5, “He sets on high all who are lowly and lifts those who mourn to safety”

From Isaiah 41, “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed for I am still your God. I will strengthen and help you and hold you in the palm of my mighty right hand”

From Matthew 11, “Come to me, all of you who are weary with heavy burdens (and broken hearts), and I will give you relief.”

However devastating our losses may be, whether material or emotional, our Father is not oblivious.  There is noting hidden from His view, nothing that catches Him off guard and nothing too big for Him to resolve.  I tell myself this everyday-I have to.  May it be so for you as well.

 

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Sleeping Through the Storm

barn-in-rain-2I have fond and vivid memories of our Summer visits to my grandparents farm in Mississippi when I was a young boy. Of all the stories I could tell and experiences my kids will never know, one of my favorites was crawling up into the loft of one of the old barns where they stored some of the peanut crop and resting during a southern Summer rain storm.  There was something incredibly peaceful, relaxing and almost hypnotic about listening to the rain hit the old tin roof.  As much as I love the ocean, if I could make a sleep sound mode machine of my choice, it would be that familiar sound when raindrops collide with rusty tin.

I wish I could tell you that metaphorically speaking I can always sleep with such peace in the midst of storms. More times than not the sound of the rain and the chill of the wind leaves me more on edge than at rest.  Even though I’ve lived through and survived my share of life’s storms there is still an uncertain but familiar tension that arises and remains until the storm passes.  When I lived in Florida I recall during the monsoon season that the sun would be out and the skies would be clear and in mere seconds the sky would open up with a torrential rain storm seemingly out of nowhere.  Life for many is much the same-smooth sailing, sunny skies and kaboom-instant thunderstorm, dry one minute and drenched the next, warm and cozy to bone-chilling gusts before you knew what hit you.

There is a story recorded for us in Matthew Chapter 8 that most are very familiar with:

” And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

I can almost hear readers making the obvious observation because it’s the same one that I made.  “Yeah but He’s Jesus and I’m not”.  Of course He did have a bit of an unfair advantage as He was the creator of the seasons and the storms and was undoubtedly not in any peril. But how easy it is for us to automatically displace Christ when we are in these storms, forgetting that “this same spirit” remains in us and consequently the same peace also resides within us.  I’m fifty-five years old and have known the Lord as my Savior since I was seven, and to this day I have to be reminded that I always survive, that God is always in control and that the spirit of Christ is always at my side.  It’s ironic how we as a people can be wronged and we may never forget it but when we are “righted”, rescued and restored, time and time again, we have such short memories.  No matter the severity of the storms we face we must as believers find shelter in the words left for our comfort and encouragement:

Psalm 107:28; “when they cried out to the Lord in their trouble He brought them out of their distress.  He calmed the storm and its waves quieted down…”.

Nahum 1:7; ” The Lord is good, a stronghold in days of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him”.

Isaiah 25:4;” For You have been a strong place for those who could not help themselves…and a safe place from the storm and a shadow from the heat”.

Isaiah 44:6; “There will be a booth for shade by day from the  heat, and a shelter from the storm and rain”.

When I first met my wife I took her to meet some friends of mine in Dana Point, CA who had a thirty-nine foot schooner.  This was her first experience on a sailboat. There was a red flag warning out that day, meaning the winds were too high for sailing, but they subsided just long enough for us to take a quick cruise to the Newport Harbor and back.  Although the warning had been lifted the seas were still choppy and rough.  My friend asked me if I wanted to take the helm for a bit and I jumped at the experience.  After just a few minutes he said I looked like I knew what I was doing so he and everyone on board went below deck for a nap and left me at the helm with instructions to let him know when were close to our harbor. At no time was I afraid or timid.  It remains one of my most precious memories. Alone at the wheel of a boat surrounded by sea with large swells, and I was having the time of my life!  My approach to life’s storms should be equally undaunted, knowing that Christ has placed me at the helm of something He knows I can handle and he is taking His siesta, asleep but close by if needed.  He has given me instructions, set my compass, and provided me with coordinates that I need but follow so that even on a stormy sea, I can hold and follow a true course through the waves.  How easy that sounds through keystrokes.

 

 

What Does Real Courage Look Like?

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The Social media has been ablaze this week with articles, debates, mud slinging and downright vicious attacks over the subject of bravery and courage.  You would have to have your residence in a cave to have not been exposed to it through either the televised news media, recent magazine publications or your preferred social media outlet.  One thing is sure, when it comes to real bravery, real courage and true heroism, America has certainly perverted the definition and twisted the perception of how we once defined these rare attributes.

This week I want to share my definitions of courage and how I recognize real heroes.  You may not agree-you would certainly not be the first this week! I choose not to mention specific names but rather share stories of what bravery and courage looks like to me.

A female student who loved the Lord was among the victims killed in a senseless shooting in Columbine. When approached by one of the two gunmen and asked if she believed in Jesus she responded without hesitation, yes.  She died of wounds to the head.

One of the twenty Christians shown recently being executed in the Middle east for their faith, was actually not Christian at the time of his capture.  However, after seeing the bravery of the men who were executed for their faith before they reached him this man had a change of heart.  When it came his turn to denounce his faith in Christ, he replied “their God is my God”.  And with that became a precious martyr.

Twin brothers in Chicago were on their way to the High School basketball game when they were accosted by four men who wanted one of their coats.  When they jumped one of the brothers the other brother placed himself between them and his brother allowing the brother to escape.  The brother who intervened was shot and killed. He was just fifteen years old.

A woman who was burned by her husband in Pakistan when her husband threw acid on her, scarring her for life because of her conversion to Christianity, now spends her time working with other women who were burned for the same reason as an advocate and a support resource.

A promising NFL football star with a lucrative seven figure contract laid it all aside because of an overwhelming urge to serve his country in the war in Iraq. He traded his team colors for his country’s colors and was buried with honor as a fallen hero.

A woman who found freedom after being trapped in the world of the sex for sale industry now spends her time counseling other women who are looking for a way out, risking her life as pimps lose their profits.

In Sandy Hook 20 students lost their lives as did six teachers.  One female teacher hid her kids in a closet and told the gunmen when they entered that they were in the gym.  The students however panicked and began to run from the closet to escape, at which time the gunmen open fired on them.  The teacher died from wounds as she put herself between the gunmen and her students.  More then one teacher died that day doing the same.

Right here in Las Vegas last month some friends were cliff diving at Lake Mead.  One of the teens jumped even though they were not a great swimmer and did not emerge from the water right away.  Another friend dove in and located the friend and brought them up to safety but quickly disappeared under the waves himself.  They found him the next day just under the water’s surface, our latest drowning victim.

These are my heroes. These are the men and women I would want to emulate in similar situations, the ones I would prop up as the face of courage and bravery. Maybe you have your own stories.  Courage doesn’t have to be this dramatic.  It can be seen in the single mom who works two jobs to take care of her kids when no father is present.  It can be the long time addict who finally finds the strength to overcome his addiction and become a sponsor to someone else trying to do the same.  Courage can be the deeply scarred burn victim that society doesn’t want to look upon who goes through life happy to be alive and more beautiful on the inside than their scars would indicate on the outside. Courage can be that teen at a party who stands alone and true to their convictions against drugs or alcohol or sex. Courage can be that person who comes to the defense of the unpopular kid in school who is constantly bullied. Bravery can be that young child fighting cancer who always has a smile for someone else engaged in the same battle. Courage can be the wife of that police officer killed in the line of duty as she hold back tears in a show of strength for her children.

My point is simple really-let’s give honor and credit where it is due, not where it is sensationalized. Let’s be careful in our tendency to idolize the ordinary and look past the heroic acts we encounter in others every day. Don’t fall for every story the media wants to feed us about who we should cheer and champion as our heroes. Let’s be sure we show our kids and grandchildren how to recognize courage, how to act courageously in the face of adversity and Who to call upon when our courage and strength is weak. And if I haven’t given you enough examples of true courage, feel free to pick up the Bible and start reading in Genesis.

FEAR-Life’s Greatest Thief

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Eighteen years ago on our wedding day we were introduced for the first time to our newest beautiful dark-haired granddaughter Sierra. This week she is graduating along with thousands of others with the High School Class of 2015. I could write volumes just on how quickly times flies and never returns. But instead I want to offer some words of encouragement to the Seniors about to embark upon the big, sometimes unfriendly world of adulthood. Fear serves a purpose in life when it is used as a tool to slice through the dense woods of the unknown. But fear can also be crippling when misunderstood or left unchallenged. Fear can rob you of life’s greatest pleasures if you allow it to control you instead of you becoming its master. So I want to list ten areas of common fear that this year’s class can identify, recognize and utilize to their advantage in a proactive manner in their first steps after High School.

Don’t be afraid of dying-be afraid of not living! Young people tend to approach life with reckless abandon, feeling immortal, but for some, the opposite is true. They are so worried about what might happen that they deny themselves of life’s greatest thrills. Tackle that monster roller coaster-plunge off the high dive-take precautions but go for it-no regrets.

Don’t be afraid to fail-be afraid of not trying. Some of the greatest achievements in science, in technology and so forth came only on the heels of many failures. Failure at anything only serves to eliminate an incorrect methodology! If there are ten possibilities, failure will narrow down the options until you discover the correct one. In the same manner, you will never discover success without the aid of failure. Michael Jordan was cut from his grade school basketball team-I’m just saying!!

Don’t be afraid to dance! I’m a 6’4″ white boy who dances like one.  I would never be caught on a dance floor when I was younger except for the slow couples types dances. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun but I was too cool to be fool, more worried about what I looked like to others than how much fun I could be having. To quote a song, you can’t dance “with your back up on the wall”! Dancing doesn’t have to be suggestive-it can just be an expression of freedom and joy-go for it!

Don’t be afraid of disappointment. Sure, none of us want to experience disappointing situations or events, but understanding how we respond to disappointment gives us a more clear perspective on how others feel at those times when perhaps we are the source of their disappointment. Feel it, understand it, accept it and try with all your might not to cause it.

Don’t fear trying new things! I put peanut butter on my waffles. My wife thought it the most gross thing she’d ever seen, that is until she tasted it for the first time. Now we BOTH refuse to eat at restaurants that don’t serve peanut butter, and trust us, we know which ones they are! So perhaps peanut butter is a little underwhelming as an adventure but the moral is the same-again, going back to my old days and quoting a TV commercial, Try it-You might like it!

Don’t fear the opinions of others. The world is full of haters. They may be jealous, they may be self-righteous, they may be judgmental. Rise above the status quo of mediocrity. Much of the world’s criticism is designed to keep us meek and inconspicuous so that we don’t steal any of their spotlight. Learn to discern the constructive criticism of close friends and family vs. the negative binds of naysayers who only want to keep you down. Be your own person-be individual-change the opinions of others!

Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are the cleansing solution for the heart and the conditioning substance for the soul. The flow of tears displayed at the sound of an old sentimental song, the ending of that romantic tearjerker movie or the tragic loss of someone close is only evidence that the natural God-given emotions are in good health and working order. Tears are not a sign of weakness but rather the ultimate sign of strength and compassion.  Whether tears of happiness or of sorrow they only serve as evidence that you are alive and engaged! Let them out-big boys do cry!

Don’t be afraid to stand alone. Some of life’s greatest challenges will involve solitude in the midst of popularity. Standing firm on principles, on ideals, on beliefs takes courage. The 12 men who birthed the New Testament church after the death and resurrection of Christ stood, and died alone against the popular religion of their day. Those who abstain from addictive substances at social gatherings often stand out in the crowd. Those who dare to wear purity rings are definitely alone among their peers. Don’t be afraid to stand alone when you are right. Be more afraid of blending in with the crowd when your spirit tells you they are wrong!

Just two more but they are biggies. Please, don’t fear love.  Don’t be afraid to receive it or to dish it our freely. Those who know you best will do things for you just because they love you-don’t look for attached strings-many times there are none. Don’t let the tainted or misguided love you see in others cause you to withdraw from expressing love to those in your world. Love is always pure and fresh and not defined by what you witness in the lives of others. And when it is time for you to enter into God’s perfect eros love with someone else, don’t allow failed relationships, divorce trends or horror stories from others create fear in your relationship as it will only fester and become a cancerous tumor you can’t remove or see around. Love recklessly without abandon, with passion, with forgiveness and with your eyes closed! True love is a beautiful thing. Perfect loves casts out all fear, and wounds of the heart caused by love are only healed by love!

And lastly, Fear God, but don’t be afraid of Him. Know God. Have a relationship with Jesus. Desire to be counted among the friends of God and the Bride of Christ. Christianity is not a Sunday thing, not a parental thing, not a trendy or fashionable thing-it is a commitment and a lifestyle. We in our sinfulness deserve nothing less than death, but God in His love has offered instead forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation to Him through His Son Jesus who has already taken our sentence in the ultimate display of unselfish love. Every challenge, every obstacle, every disappointment, every tear, every new adventure, every failure-every broken heart-they will all be more easily endured as you hold onto the Hand of the One who loves you more than anyone on this earth ever could. A healthy fear of God’s majesty and sovereignty will serve you well through life’s most joyous moments and it’s darkest nights. He will be your light, your guide, your strength and your calm.

Congratulations to this years Class of 2015. May God richly bless and keep you as you enter the world of the unknown without fear.