Learning to be Thankful When Life Hurts

I had a breakdown outside of Safeway the day before Thanksgiving. Running to my car in the rain, I slammed the door behind me to endure my ugly cry in solitude. The trip should have been painless; I just needed to pick up a few last minute items. Yet, stopping by the florist department on my way to the checkout counter, set me heart into a tailspin. As I delicately placed a bouquet in my cart, the tears welled behind my eyes. Realization hit hard – while most of my friends were baking pies and cooking with their moms that afternoon, I was left to only deliver flowers to the cemetery. Holidays are hard. Triggers are everywhere.

Wiping my eyes in the parking lot, I pondered this question…

How do we be thankful when life hurts so bad?

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Why I Teach Them How to Fall: A Lesson Learned On the Slippery Slopes of Life

Skiing down the majestic slopes of Mt Hood, my little girl raced ahead of me, weaving in and out of passing skiers. Uncontrolled in her movements, I watched in horror as she entered the tree-lined bank, crashing into a twisted heap of skis, legs, and gear. Rushing to her side, I found equipment littering the landscape and fresh tears falling down her cold, pink cheeks. Sprawled flat on her back, she muttered this one simple question,

“why does it hurt so bad to fall?”

Bending down, I gently picked her up from the ground. Dusting the fresh powder out of her hair, I looked intently into her eyes and replied,

“because I haven’t taught you how to fall properly.”

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Our Terminal: A Community of Hope Facing Terminal Illness

Out of the pain of losing Mom, a web community has been born.

When Mom first got diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015, I searched far and wide for resources to help navigate the journey. I wanted to find stories of other people who had walked a similar journey, anyone who could provide me a window into the future. I desperately needed to find redemption and hope when the circumstances seemed void of it. My search came up very short. Feeling like I was in uncharted territory, I turned to a few friends who had walked this road before me, knowing not everyone has people who can support in this way.

After Mom’s death, a deep desire has been birthed in my heart. Knowing others were experiencing similar grief, I yearned to create a space where people can gather when a terminal illness enters their world. A central hub of resources and information. A place to share the ups and downs of our stories. Most of all a corner to experience HOPE.

After walking Mom through her final stage of life, I was able to see gifts, big and small, that were given to us during those months. The word “terminal” began to take on a new meaning to me…

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My Bitter Root of Unforgiveness

Strong. Fortified. Impenetrable. Deep. The roots of our tallest oak tree spread under the surface of our yard like a maze of power. Unseen from the eye, they are hidden beneath layers of rock, soil, and mud. How vast they travel no one knows, until a bulge happens under the sidewalk or across the yard. When the root finally pushes through the surface, it is obvious and intrusive. No longer hidden from the world around it, the damage must be dealt with swiftly, to lessen the blow to the surrounding landscape or to a pedestrian passing by.

There are deep roots in my heart too.

Wounds happen, words sting, friendships fail, opportunities are lost, and we mess up from time to time. Living in a fallen world with broken people insures that. Not able to escape the ugliness of human nature, we grow weary from feeling slighted or forgotten. Consumed by continual disappointment, certain people reinforce long-formed hurts, growing deeper and more complex as time goes by. Yet sometimes we forget that we have done our fair share of hurting too. That other people might have been pushed down by our words or inclusiveness. Forgetting that our bitterness is hurting us more than them, our heart is weakened by holding on to the pain of past deed or present circumstance.

My bitter root of unforgiveness can’t be ignored anymore.

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“Give Your Child the World” Give Away

Growing up my parents sent me and my sister on trips across the world. Starting at the tender age of eleven, I began participating in international peace camps through an organization called Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV). My travels took me to far away places such as Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, and Slovakia. Living for a month at a time with children from around the globe, I fell in love with various cultures, people groups, and places. Beginning to see other cultures in light of my own, differences weren’t obstacles to our friendships. Skin color didn’t determine the depth of our relationship. Language barriers couldn’t stop lifelong bonds from forming.

Experiencing the world at a young age helped me to value all people. Most specifically those different from my mainstream, upper-middle class, white, American, Christian self.

Camps like these are rare and hard to come by. I don’t take it for granted that my parents sacrificed much to give us these opportunities. Besides a semester long stint in Switzerland, my kids haven’t grown up with the same opportunities I had. Longing for them to experience other cultures, we have had to actively seek ways to help them touch the world afar. It sounds like a great goal, but it is hard to know where to start. So the question becomes, “how can we spark a love for other cultures in the hearts of our children, when it is so far removed from our every day lives?”

Author, Jaime Martin, has found a way.

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Running Towards Grief

I AM A RUNNER. 

When stress overtakes me…I grab my sneakers and hit the pavement. When people hurt me…I desire to seek refuge as far away as possible. When life gets hard…I search for the greener pasture. This is a part of my DNA. My makeup. For as long as I can remember, my propensity has been to run. Flee. Take flight. Escape the uncomfortable.

On the other hand…

MY MOM WAS A FIGHTER. 

When stress overtook her…it motivated her to dig deeper and challenge the obstacle. When people hurt her…she confronted them, desiring reconciliation or at least a chance to be heard. When life got hard…She rose to the occasion, passion pulsing through her veins. This was who she was. Her default. Mode of operation. For the 34 years I knew her, she stood up, faced the hard, and conquered the awkward.

The summer after my senior year in high school, I came home from a month-long camp to find a friend problem waiting at my doorstep. As teenage drama happens, people misunderstood people, circumstances got twisted out of focus, and real feelings got hurt along the way. All the while I was living on the Slovakian mountainside.

Heading off to college, I was content to just let things play out. After all, I’d probably never see these people again, right? Mom couldn’t have disagreed more. Before I could raise my hand to object, the phone dialed a few numbers, and Mom was slamming my car door shut as she drove out of the garage. By the end of the day, I had made four house calls, talked through the disagreement with each friend, and felt a burden lifted. That day allies were restored, relationships salvaged, and wounds forgiven. With Mom behind the wheel, my running days were coming to an end. Quick.

Yesterday would have been the perfect day to just hide away and pretend like it wasn’t happening. Try to stay comfortable and just move on. Staying extra busy, I could have glossed over the hurt, stuffing it a little bit deeper into the corners of my soul. Being the one year anniversary of Mom passing away, I had navigated 365 days without the lady I turned to in my deepest pain and brightest joy. Grief is just plain hard. The hurt cuts to the core. Doing most anything to make it go away, this monumental marker felt like an enormous end-cap to the hardest year of my life.

But just like Mom that summer day in high school, God had other plans for my troubles…

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When the World Rages On

Ding. My phone lit up at 5:45am this morning. One of my favorite people in the world was in a rage. Literal, chemically induced, uncontrollable rage. Anger, aggression flowed out of her in rapid torrents. Out of control, she cried out to God, “Why did you allow this pain in my life!” Flare gun prayer shot straight to heaven, she yearned to hear an answer.

While the world raged on.

Why does this world hurt so bad? Why are we exposed to pain and disappointment? Who is in control of this chaotic, pressure-filled globe we call Earth? Will there ever be relief from our suffering?

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Jesus Has Outgrown His Manger Box

As we approach Christmas this year, the air is filled with a different kind of wonder. Yes, the Christmas lights are still twinkling and pretty, the hot chocolate is still warm and welcoming, and the entertaining of friends and family brings joy and contentment. Even the thought of presents to unwrap brings a smile to our faces. However, our perspective of Christmas has changed because our year has required our view of our Savior to change. For years we have loved Him, have always tried to celebrate His birth at this time of year, and have tried to remember the true reason for the season. It isn’t all about Santa Clause after all, is it?

This year Christmas looks different because Jesus looks different.

Over the past year, Jesus has showed up in the midst of the darkest storm of my life in a way I have never experienced before. He stretched His arms out wide and brought us deep comfort, peace and dare I say, joy, in the midst of our hardest trial and deepest pain. He brought endurance to face difficult days and rest despite sleepless nights. He brought acceptance and hope. He brought people who loved us well. He brought wonder at His character. He brought a real, living Jesus, a full-grown, perfect Savior. He brought Himself as the spotless Lamb of God who actively intervened in our world and in our story of grief and our hope of redemption.

He isn’t just a cute baby in a wooden manger to us anymore.

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The Year That Changed Everything

I woke up October 30, 2014 full of hope, excitement and anticipation for the year ahead. For the first time in 10 years we would have a grandma living in the same town as us . My mom had woken up one day that July and just knew she needed to move to us. She bought a house sight unseen, one that was only one mile from ours. She just knew Texas wasn’t suppose to be her home anymore, even after 33 amazing years in that community. She just knew this year everything needed to change.

As we waited for the moving van to arrive on that beautiful fall day, we talked about the sleep overs, family outings and projects we could do together. She was excited to make friends, get involved and open this new chapter of her life. She was full of hope for her life here, eager to see what blessings lay ahead. She just knew she was where she needed to be. In hindsight we just didn’t know exactly why.

Today, October 30, 2015, I left the house keys on her kitchen counter, releasing her home to some other family. Exactly one year ago we were moving her into this house, with dreams in tow. Now it lays empty, void of her smells, her furniture, our plans. As I walked the halls for the very last time, I shed tears for the loss of her presence. I cried, mourning the memories yet to make. I broke over the way we suffered together, shared life together, and clung to hope side by side. The emptiness of her place was overwhelming. The finality deafening.

This Year Changed Everything.

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When God Gets It Wrong

We prayed.  We petitioned. We cried out for a miracle. We trusted God was big enough, strong enough, and good enough to heal. We knew His promises, were trained in His faithfulness, and depended on His mercy.  But instead of healing, death came, at least in the finite, earthly, temporal form.

I sometimes think that God gets it wrong.

He doesn’t answer some of our most heartfelt, guttural, vulnerable prayers, ones that cut to our core and rip us of our pride. Venturing into an area of trust we haven’t experienced before, only groans can express the deepest crevasses of our heart. Our trust wavers when our loved one’s body shows the unmistakable marks of impending finality or when our dreams fade far from reality.

Doubts swirl in our mind:

Where is God when He says no?

What is His plan when we don’t see the good in our circumstances?

Can we truly say He is good and holy when our life is crumpling and the pain is unbearable?

Is He just? Is He fair?

Does He really love me after all?

Sometimes it feels like prayer doesn’t work, has no purpose, and yields no response. I get tempted to just give in and quit asking, especially when it comes to the deepest longings of my heart.

My very first time praying occurred five years after realizing and accepting the fact that I needed a Savior. My dear friend, Katie, was on a trip with her family when she had a sudden heart attack and slipped into a coma. For three days she teetered between death and life, leaving us unsure of what lay ahead for her life. Three friends huddled around a living room ottoman in North Texas, crying out to God on Katie’s behalf. Spare her life, God! Deliver her! Heal her heart, Lord, a heart that loves people with genuine compassion and grace! Save her parents, siblings, and friends from enduring the agony of her death!

But, Katie died. Not seeing the end of eighth grade like the rest of us, her numbered days were done. My first time praying ended in death, disappointment, and despair.

God answered wrong.

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