Loss-cancer

Salons, Scissors & Seeking

God still works miracles! I remember the day I decided to shave my head. I didn’t want to have to deal with seeing big strands of my hair fall off due to chemo. I woke up early that morning and got in the shower, thinking to myself that I would make an appointment at the hair salon and drive over. I was determined to be radical in my brave decision to cut it ALL off! 

In my younger years, I had watched the movie GI Jane and the actress Demi Moore just looked SO COOL!!! I had even thought, if I lived in Europe, I could probably pull it off and get the look.  

As I was getting dressed and thinking of where and who could do the job, my phone rang unexpectedly. Amanda’s Salon, one of the high-end beauty salons in the city, was on the other end of the phone line.

Amanda’s soft voice greeted, “A friend at church told me you might be needing a haircut.” I could not believe what I heard! I told her I was just about to grab the phone and make an appointment to get my head shaved off. She told me I didn’t have to go anywhere, because she wanted to come over and help me out.  

Instantly, I thought how awesome and amazing God is. He knows our desires and always shows us that He IS WORKING THINGS OUT that we can’t see!  

She ended up coming over, and even prayed for me before starting the process. This moment in time reminds me of God’s LOVE and MERCY. He is in the smallest of details. Sometimes His miracles are in the middle of the hardest, most painful things that we go through in life. And, in the painful, fearful place, He shows up with a miracle, and it is the very same place that we worship Him. PAIN/FEAR to MIRACLE to WORSHIP. 

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7 

Contributor-Ivette Menendez

Photo-Kadir Celep

Loss-spouse

Stones of Remembrance

Dartmouth College has developed a Life Change Index Scale also referred to as “The Stress Test.” One is to go through the listed events assigning them a designated score for that event. Events include death of a spouse or close family member, divorce, loss of job, moving, change in eating habits, etc. The higher the score, the harder it will be for one to recover. Many of us have gone through such events. How is our recovery going?

Think of Joshua and the Stones of Remembrance. After the loss of a close family member (Joshua and the Israelites had lost Moses), after moving (they had moved around for forty years), and after experiencing a change in eating habits (think manna and quail)-What would Joshua’s score have been? What would all of the Israelites score have been?

According to Dartmouth, it would be very high, and they were at risk for a very difficult recovery.  Yet, despite the stressful events, including crossing what was a full river Jordan (yet miraculously dried), Joshua decided that a memorial should be built, “Stones of Remembrance.” He wanted them to REMEMBER all that God had done: To stop and take the time to reflect on God’s faithfulness in the middle of their stressful circumstances and to use this to teach their children about who God was.

In Joshua 4, the Israelites built a memorial out of stones. These stones were taken from the middle of what could be considered the SOURCE of their stress. The Jordan River. This was also the exact spot of miraculous work. They stayed longer in the dried-up source of stress, the place of miracles, to create a memorial to remember God’s divine deliverance and great goodness. In the exact same dirt: the source of stress, a miracle, then worship.

The stones were to serve as a prompt–so that future generations would ask what the stones were for and they would be told the testimony of how they could not cross the Jordan River (their stress) until it was dried up by the Lord. So that ALL could know that “the hand of the Lord is MIGHTY, so that [they would] fear the LORD [their] God forever.”  

I want to be like Joshua, allowing the Lord to use stressful events and my recovery to bring him GLORY for generations to come. Now… what will my “stones” be?

Contributor-A. Rightmire

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic

How Long, O Lord

This is a New Year. Over the past year, I have listened to many sermons. Many focused on the disappointments of Covid. Changes, cancellations, job loss, death-all unexpected & unwelcome. 

We are not used to suffering. We are not used to death. Understandabily. It hurts.

In the middle of unforeseen tragedies, there is groaning deep inside: HOW LONG, O LORD? 

Maranatha means, “Come, Lord Jesus!” I whisper this more often these days when I hear news of another strand of the virus, or of a neighbor dying from Covid, or a friend’s friend losing their child to suicide. I wonder–how long, O Lord? How long until Covid is gone? How long until You come back?

It reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years asking the same question. But, I also think of how they persevered in great trouble. Generations of people in history have withstood massive suffering: the Roman Empire brutality, the Black Death, religious wars in Europe, the Crusades, slavery, potato famines, the Holocaust, the French Revolution, corrupt kings, the Russians under Stalin, the Italians under Mussolini, wars, wars, and more wars.

Paul David Tripp comforts that “Scripture never looks down on the sufferer, it never mocks his pain, it never turns a deaf ear to his cries, and it never condemns him for his struggle.”

Lam. 3:22-23 states “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease. For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” Lovingkindness means loyal love, faithfulness based on a promise, not on performance. Since the death of my son, this verse has woken me up every morning. I awake and don’t plan to say it, but I do. I rely heavily on its promise.

How long? God’s answer: I am faithful. No time given. This year, take one day at a time. Each day with new mercy, focusing on God’s character. A challenge-choose to remember, think, speak, sing of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

We aren’t the only ones who have asked this question. This is David speaking in Ps. 13  likely during the time that his own son tried to stage a coup to overtake him:

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?

How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul,

Having sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Mary & Joseph Believe

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Each year at Christmas, I revisit the story of the birth of Christ and try to see a new aspect of something I hadn’t seen before. One day while listening to the song “Precious Promise” by Steven Curtis Chapman, I thought about the unforeseen circumstances of their story.

Mary’s condition would have surely caused her and others to shame and question. Pregnant? Not wed? Mary had done no wrong to bring about this particular result. Luke reminds that she had found favor with God. Questions and fears were likely for Mary. How was this happening? And, would Joseph believe? Yet, she rejoiced. Her faith was remarkable in the Magnificat. She saw God’s mercy toward her, even though this may have been difficult: “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

Joseph’s faith was surely tested. Would he believe even when he didn’t understand the occurrences? At first, he considered divorce. But, God intervened supernaturally. Would he act on his faith and believe the angel, though his circumstances might be perceived as shameful? Would he worry about what others thought or continue to obey God? He chose to obey God.

Later, their son was crucified. Ouch and double ouch: The pain this couple endured. They were just ordinary people like us. Their marriage survived it. Hearing stories of others who face agonies, can inspire, embolden, and fortify.

This year I see something new in the Christmas story: humans and God together in the midst of confusing, unexpected events and facing shame, yet glorifying Him. Mary and Joseph both had to trust God and believe that God would do something bigger than their situation. They chose faith rather than fear. They must have believed that God was good.

In grief, this is essential too: to continue to believe despite plights and predicaments. It is hard and at times, hearts doubt, because suffering hurts so much. Your faith may feel like a tiny mustard seed some days, but that is okay. Maybe Joseph and Mary felt that way too at first. This story can strengthen and encourage perseverance through confusing hardship.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1: 4-6

The wicked are not so,

 but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1:4-6

Literally: “Not so the wicked, not so.” This is a double negative, emphasizing the fact that the blessings, previously discussed, are not true for the wicked. Wicked-this is such a strong word. What does this word mean? Those who reject God. Those who don’t enjoy the rushing water and refreshment of God-closeness with God. The wicked do not love the law of God; they are not like trees planted by streams. “They are like chaff.” The husks around the grain that have no life-giving nourishment. Chaff is easily carried away by the wind: no matter how much power–industrially, academically, monetarily. Chaff is dead. Dead to what? Dead to God…not alive in Him. 

This begs the question-who are the righteous? Scripture says that there aren’t any (Rom. 3:10)! True, so, the righteous are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered, whose iniquity is not counted, the one who trusts in the Lord (Ps. 32). They are not perfect, but real. They look to the Lord for help and for hope (Ps. 146). They do not have a righteousness of their own or from the law (Phil. 3:9), but from faith in Christ.

On earth, the righteous and the wicked commingle. In heaven, they do not. This is sobering. In heaven, tares are separated from the wheat.

The Lord watches/approves/attends/acknowledges/affirms/guides the righteous, even when they are in darkness or in the “tempest of affliction” and He understands. Job says, “He knows the way I take.”

But, the wicked perish and so does their “way.” Their way leads to separation from God. This is heartbreaking. The righteous should have deep concern and compassion for this. The righteous are here to live amongst the wicked, sharing a message of deliverance: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8-11). The message that no matter the circumstance, the despair, the sin, God can deliver us and help us. We reap what Jesus has sown. When we are burdened beyond our strength-there is a Savior.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

 O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin & the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:54-58).

The sting is sin that is exposed by the law. The law exposes sin. And, all people sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Without a law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15). Absolute truth reveals sin and that sin leads to death (separation from God). But, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). One can have faith. The law does not justify, but Jesus does. No one is justified by following the law, the righteous live by faith…Christ redeemed believers from the curse of the law. Sin entered through Adam, but grace entered through Jesus (Rom. 5:17). He made Jesus who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17). On the cross, Jesus remained holy, but was treated as guilty for all the sins of those who would ever believe. The wrath of God came down on him. Righteousness is credited to the believer. It is a credit in your spiritual bank account; He erases your debits. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (Is. 25:8). This is the paradoxical Gospel. And, this is what I am banking on for myself and others, because I know for sure that daily we do not measure up. Even the best of us. However, I know we are loved regardless.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Cycling

In a Les Mills Sprint cycling class, speaking figuratively, my highly positive instructor pronounced she was going to put her mom on her indoor bike for the last high intensity Sprint interval. She revealed to us that she lost her mom a year ago. 

Of course, I then imagined my son, whom I had lost within that year, on my stationary bike with me. She did not know about my son. A sort-of “God moment” occurred that happens often.

I closed my eyes, as my legs pedaled swiftly, and imagined all the times of riding bikes together…he loved biking so much. We biked down the boulevard to the shaved ice place, we biked in San Francisco last Spring Break. When he was a baby, I would put him in my running stroller, while my two other children rode their bikes beside us. Sometimes as a young family we would all ride together down the bayou or around the big lake. He would ride to the donut place, and all around the neighborhood. The memories flooded. I would notice his face, his smile, his happiness and joy, especially when he rode his bike. 

I could see his joy as I rode my stationary bike in that Sprint class. I pictured him in heaven being free, fully oxygenated, his eyes lit up, wind blowing his hair, and full of joy. To this day, that same image comes to mind often.

I continued on my imaginary bike and my imaginary journey, the music blaring and trying to keep pace with the fellow Sprinters. The class is described as a place “to push your physical and mental limits.” I was tired, but I kept going, sweat rolling down my face. 

Though this was a static, imaginary journey, I was on a VERY REAL, moving journey. The workout time was a perfect metaphor for my grief. I would try to cycle fast, yet it seemed like I was up against a wall. It was arduous. I would picture myself cycling up a steep mountain. I pictured my grief as a steep mountain. I would step down hard on the pedals, imagining that I would do the same with my grief. I would remind myself: just like I am persevering one spin at a time, I can make it through grief one moment at a time. Sometimes the emotion of trying so hard to cycle fast would bring me to tears, because my body was so full of grief and emotion.

The wall in the Sprint class had words on it painted in red motivational font: “hills, endure, persevere, grit, strength…” I would choose a word for the day as I exercised and think about how it applied to my grief. 

I thought to myself. I must finish my “sprint” down here on earth: I am here for a reason. Life may be like my class: l will hurt and have pain and climb and push going through many hills and valleys, sometimes feeling like I have no energy, sometimes going slow, sometimes fast. But, I will get through it to share hope with others. 

My Australian instructor, traveling her own personal journey, encouraged and prodded the class emphatically, “You…can…do…it!!” 

Yes, I can. I breathed. With the Lord’s help.  Hebrews 12:1b,3-“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Coping

About six months after my son’s death, I started thinking about how I was coping and pain management in life. I made a list of the things that helped me. My list is long and not everything applies to everyone, but maybe there is one idea.

It is easy during intense grief/pain to turn to unhealthy grieving, but sometimes just identifying what you are doing to cope helps to stay in the healthy grieving lane. I had to make a choice for myself to walk through the very painful grief without substances to numb the pain. 

When stressors are high, coping skills must be high.

  1. God’s Word and His presence replace truth for lies. At the beginning, friends made verses to carry around with me, because I did not have the strength to find Scripture that comforted. Then, I just read a chapter with no expectation; I just let it wash over me. It is like eating ice chips when your body can’t handle water when you are sick. For many, it is hard to read God’s Word at all,  because of the immense hurt, questioning or anger at God, then some experience guilt. But, don’t give up-sometimes worship music/sermons/audio are easier (be gentle with yourself and give yourself time). Covid gave me time to read Scripture for long periods of time and sit and think and cry and talk to God (not fully understanding). It was healing.
  2. Exercise releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that make you feel happy and release stress. I remember walking out of a cycling class after Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s…a very difficult two months last year and literally feeling the release of chemicals in my brain!
  3. Educate yourself by taking a grief class or read a book (learn about normal grieving). Again, reading can be a chore. In one group we learned from other grieving parents: They told us to picture our grief as a large hole. The leader explained that this will never go away, but he showed how in time, we would build more life around that hole, making our grief proportionally smaller. The truth that love/grief never fully leaves, but there is relief, was exactly what we needed to hear. Reading may be difficult, if so, sign up for daily emails about grieving (https://www.griefshare.org/dailyemails)-these are very short and to the point.
  4. Helping others gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment that you can encourage others to persevere and get help in hard times. This helps me tremendously: talking one on one, taking meals to people, whatever fits your gifts and personality. Knowing that your pain may help others in life, is therapeutic.
  5. Distract yourself at first to preoccupy your brain and difficult emotions. I got a part-time job to stay busy. Not so much to ignore your grief, but enough to learn to live again.
  6. Cultivate new hobbies such as music, cooking, gardening. The newness can be refreshing.
  7. Listen to uplifting music with messages of hope. Create playlists for yourself. Share with others.
  8. Talk to others as much as it helps you. Sometimes too much can be draining, but not enough feels isolating.
  9. Pursue counseling or find mentors-talking to someone who is not bias can help you grow.
  10. Find humor-I intentionally found a show that made me laugh that we watched every night.
  11. Go to medical appointments and get check-ups. Medication for depression (if necessary, there is no shame). Get help of any kind when you need it.
  12. Make a to-do list-my memory is not always 100% as I grieve (I hear this is normal).
  13. Taking a bath and drinking tea/coffee to relax.
  14. Get outside/hike/walk/nature-take it in; be in the moment; look around; be sure to rest because grief is physically taxing.
  15. List things you are thankful for in a journal or just think about it. This is hard at first, but even one thing can move your mind and heart.
  16. Journaling/Blogging-writing down memories can relieve the pain as a way of processing.
  17. Take care of something. Get a pet or find others who have animals to pet-they may make you laugh. Cleaning the house or organizing can be a release.
  18. Work on managing time and/or online time.
  19. Stay away from triggering/depressing situations; work on healthy boundaries.
  20. Increase problem solving and communication skills intentionally.
  21. Work on emotional regulation-identify and think about your emotions.
  22. Think about your purpose, your strengths, speak gently to yourself like you would to a friend.
  23. Forgiving yourself or apologizing can bring freedom.

Watch out for unhealthy coping choices and get help if you find yourself moving in this direction.

  1. Drugs and alcohol
  2. Cutting/Suicidal ideation
  3. Pornography
  4. Sleeping too much (Depression)
  5. Overspending
  6. Anger at others
  7. Overeating/Undereating
  8. Unhealthy friendships-being around people who are engaged in unhealthy coping
  9. Isolating

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-pornography

Dark & Light

When I think about anger in my grief, yes, I have been angry at God, myself, my son…but as I work through it, my rage is ultimately at two things: Satan and the darkness in the world.

Here is one example.

There is a major battle raging that is causing major shame, major depression, major anxiety, and suicide rates to soar. It is sneaky and hidden.

Pornography. 

It is at the fingertips of most adolescents. 90% according to FighttheNewDrug.org.

Sixteen states have been brave enough to call it a “public health crisis.”

Pornography can become an addiction and can increase depression and anxiety.

According to Twenge research, depression and suicide risk factors and rates found a sudden increase in 2012. Five years after the iPhone’s release–massive increases in mental health issues. Teens who spend five or more hours on devices are 71% more likely to have one risk factor for suicide, regardless of the content consumed. Regardless of the content consumed. Not even considering pornography, phone usage is causing depression and suicidal rates/risks to develop. Just think of how depression skyrockets WITH porn.

Similarly, according to the new film Social Dilemma, rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide have increased significantly (60-70%) after 2010. Not coincidentally, Instagram started in 2010, Twitter in 2006, Facebook in 2004, Snapchat in 2011, TikTok in 2016. I am not writing to trash social media (it is here to stay), but rather to point to effects and ways to manage it. 

According to The Social Dilemma, the business model for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and other social media venues, is: ENGAGEMENT. Engagement means keeping users on their phones. Design techniques and Artificial Intelligence to essentially make phone addicts: the photo tag, the ellipsis, the ding, the notifications–all aimed at changing behavior. 

All designed to change adolescent behavior. The AI knows what the individual likes and tries to keep the person on their site, so they dish up more of what is liked. What if a teen tries pornography? AI leads children to more of it in the name of engagement: more time on the device/social media. Forty percent of GenZers admit to being addicted to their phones. This same AI technology could be used to put safeguards in place for children/teens.

Porn usage is at an all-time high: in 2017, 81 million people visited porn sites per day. In 2019, 115 million per day. And, this is increasing during the COVID pandemic by 11.6% in March 2020 and up to 24% from February to March. Where it is free, there were increases of up to 61% (Pornhub, 2020). In 2018, Porn Hub boasted 33.5 billion video views per year. In 2006, world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix combined. In 2014, the proposed DSM-IV proposed a new diagnosis called Hypersexual Disorder which includes compulsive pornography viewing.

Things to do for FREEDOM?

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Tell someone.
  2. Think about what kind of accountability you want. Ultimately, no one is really immune from this.
  3. Get accountability software on ALL devices. Delete Google and add your accountability software as your browser. Get used to using this browser that sends daily emails showing any potentially hazardous screenshots to a trusted person of your choice. Covenant Eyes and Bark are strong ones. 
  4. Educate yourself regarding the effects of modern porn. Watch brainheartworld video: https://brainheartworld.org/?_ga=2.122162123.1700900426.1602764912-1219931294.1602764912
  5. Read articles on https://fightthenewdrug.org/overview/ and https://ibcd.org/topics/pornography/for ideas on how to stop or how to help others.
  6. Watch Social Dilemma.
  7. If you find yourself or your child on porn, don’t freak, but do get immediate counseling help. It may be a habit/compulsion/struggle, but can become an addiction and can lead to major depression. No shame in getting help. 
  8. Limit time on screens. Now, there are settings on the iPhone—ask a friend/family member to help you limit your time. Let them set a password.
  9. Parents-Plug in all phones in the parent bedroom.
  10. Watch out for “burner phones”–hidden phones that use Wifi in the middle of the night to access the internet. Check Wifi usage. Name all devices. If you see one that is using your Wifi at strange times, there may be a “burner phone” in the home.
  11. Address the heart. Satan wants anyone dealing with pornography to live in shame and to hide. He condemns and uses massive guilt to destroy. What pain is the porn medicating and masking? What lies are you believing about yourself or God?
  12. Talk openly about it, building trust. Let each other come up with lifelong plans.
  13. Don’t shame those who need help-“There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). This is our HOPE. Jesus takes EVERY sin and can redeem!!! There is nothing too dirty for Him to cleanse.

#nopornovember

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art-L. Ngo

Loss-child

Blessing

This year as I decorated for Thanksgiving, I purposefully put a blessed sign over a house. This is a reminder to me that my family is still blessed. I walk by it daily and it speaks truth. “Blessed” is a hard word to wrap my heart around during my grief. Sometimes I still pause. Is my family still blessed? With such a difficult loss, it is just so hard to accept sometimes. Suffering is a spiritual battle. How can I say that my family is blessed when we have lost a son and a brother?

One of my kids put the new worship song called “The Blessing” on in the car this summer as an encouragement, but instead, it made me cry. I realized that I wasn’t believing the words. I had cherished the Scripture that the song was based on, and now, I could not understand what felt like God not answering my prayers. 

You see, I had prayed for healing and that the chains of sin would be broken in our family, in our generation: addictions, divorce, relational strife, mental illness. I had pleaded with God to make my family different and honestly felt that this was happening. But, after the loss of my son, I was disillusioned by God. So, I researched the words to this song and found healing in my heart.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen.” This is from Numbers 6:24-26. God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to give this blessing to the people of Israel: The Aaronic blessing. I remember the first time a pastor spoke this over a congregation I was in. It had always brought me so much peace, just hearing it. 

The Lord bless you. The word “bless” means “adore” in Hebrew. In fact, “to adore on bended knee.” To bring a gift to another while kneeling out of respect. To give something of value to another. GOD gives US something of value. Righteousness, Holiness, His Presence. What stands out is how personal this is.  The Lord (Yahweh) gives US something–so tender and gentle-the Creator of the Universe gives US something–that is crazy love in and of itself. He kneels…and adores,,,before US…with a gift.

And keep you. May His face shine upon you. To keep means to “guard or protect” in Hebrew. His Presence illuminates (brings order out of chaos by shining light into darkness). His light shines grace, mercy, love, salvation, giving restoration and help. His face shining on us is so intimate and loving-so warm and inviting. His Presence with us IS the blessing.

“And be gracious to you” means He is healing, helping, being a refuge, a strength, a rescue.

“The Lord lift up His countenance and give you peace.” God’s face is lifted up, like one giving a marriage proposal, on bended knee, with a free gift, to His love. The receiver is humbled and cherished and honored. Picture the love in His eyes looking at His beloved. He is not looking down on us. Think of that. We are a pleasure to Him. 

“May His favor be upon you for a thousand generations for your children and their children and their children. May His presence go before you, and behind you, and beside you, all around you, and within you. He is with you.”  His favor is His forever relationship with us, not a lack of suffering in life. His favor is not stuff or perfect circumstances. He goes before, behind, beside–this shows His omnipresence in addition to the Holy Spirit who resides inside believers. He is with us wherever we go.

“In the morning, in the evening, in your coming, in your going, in your weeping, and rejoicing, He is for you.” He is for us regardless of time of day, location, mode of transportation, circumstance. He is good and is on my side.

So, now when I hear the word “blessed”, I pause and remind myself: we have the intimate love of God and the promise of eternal life. That is everything. It really is EVERYTHING….Because we trust that the promises of God are true, that He is good, that salvation cannot be lost. Period. Our loss amplifies the NEED for salvation, the NEED to share who Jesus is and His sacrifice, the NEED for the PRESENCE OF GOD during the suffering. The awareness of the NEED, the SALVATION, and the COMPLETE LOVE OF GOD are the blessing and this is why my family can still be called “blessed” in the middle of the most horrendous and hurtful grief. We are broken, yet blessed.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1:3b

He is like a tree

Planted near streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season

and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

This tree is near streams of water, not just one stream, but many streams. Even if one stream fails, there is another. These are streams of grace, mercy, forgiveness: the Christ Stream and it will never fail.

In the driest of times, God can make fruit and vines grow. In the agony of pain and grief, there is a soaking in of the water of God Himself that can replenish like no other: His Presence.

The country of Israel is so dry. I grew up in Arizona, which is also so hot and dry. God’s Word is water to the weary in an extreme dry land (grief can be that dry land). But, He can make vines, palm groves, gardens, aloes, cedar trees, roots, all kinds of trees, and fruit flourish abundantly. 

The fruit comes forth in season. “Patience in the time of suffering, faith in the day of trial, joy in the day of prosperity,” says Spurgeon.

Ezekiel 47:12

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.

The Lord even keeps our leaves from withering. Who cares about the leaf? God does. He cares about the tiny details. In fact, the fruit is for nourishment and the leaves are for HEALING

Whatever he does shall prosper. 

We know this promise, yet our trials and troubles “see the very reverse of the promise…But to the eye of faith this word is sure, and by it we perceive that our works are prospered, even when everything seems to go against us. It is not outward prosperity which the Christian most desires and values: it is soul prosperity which He longs for” (Spurgeon).

There are circles within circles. Within the circle of God’s greater good are ferocious losses, crosses, and sorrows: “The devil hates this leaf and the Word of God, so does he also those who teach and hear it and he persecutes such, aided by the powers of the world” (Martin Luther). There is opposition to this leaf prospering.

In Genesis 42:36, Jacob’s sons return from Egypt after talking to their long-lost brother Joseph (they do not know it is Joseph) and they tell their father that they have to take Benjamin back to Egypt. Jacob is terrified to lose another son. 

Jacob lamented, “‘You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.’” His human grieving heart hurt hard and cried out in consternation.

Yet, the larger purpose was revealed—-this excruciating, illogical, crazy circumstance kept the Israelites fed and alive during the drastic famine and a remnant was saved for later deliverance.

Contributor-L. Vincent