Saturday, June 30, 2007

Healthy Grieving: Part V

(This is a cropped picture of a painting I have by Ann Hardy. I thought it captured part of the mood of this series. So I shot it with my camera. Cool thing is that the glare from the flash put a "sun" in the sky. The symbolism made me smile...)


Welcome back to my interview with Kathy Padgett from 121 Community Church! If you're just joining us, the series started a few days ago. You'll want to scroll down, perhaps, and begin at the beginning! OK, Kathy. We're winding down with the questions... just a few more to go. Question #8: What can be gained from the valleys? Anything?


In the long run, a tremendous amount can be gained from the valleys. But during those valley periods, there is a desperate need to cling to your relationship with God. I really feel sorrow for people who don't have a relationship with God, especially when they lose a loved one. The scary part of the "valleys" is the fear that seems to linger there. It is usually unfounded/false fear, but it is felt fear, which makes it real to the grieving person.

Fear can leave a person immobilized. The fear of being alone, of not being safe in the home, of financial ruin, of not loving again, of not trusting again, of losing sanity, etc., can cause a person to stay in the valley. Prayer, friendships, church support...many things can help a person be lifted out of a valley. When you talk to a Christian who has survived a tragic loss and is now actively helping others through grief, they will tell you that they wouldn't trade a single second of those valley periods, for they felt God more strongly then than any other time in their lives.


The feeling of rescue by God is like none other. Yet in all of our lives there are inevitable periods of "silence." Experiencing pain and hearing your own echo is a miserable thing. But, as you say, our relationship with God can be greatly strengthened through faith and perserverance. Knowing that God has led us through something, though we may be changed and even scarred, has a way of shaping our character and growing us up.

You mentioned the psalms earlier. The Lament Psalms can be white hot and almost shocking in their intensity. A familiar cry of the laments is this sense on the part of the psalmist that God must not be seeing, hearing, caring, etc. It's a picture of abandonment. Yet, the psalmist always gets back to a focus of trust in God. On the other side of raw emotion is a return to an unclouded vantage of a merciful and just God and a place of hopeful withstanding on the part of those who suffer (like the "hupomone" we read about in the NT).

Writing on the psalms for the Christian Research Institute (CRI), Dennis Bratcher said this:

The function of a Lament or Psalm of Petitionary Praise (Westermann), is to provide a structure for crisis, hurt, grief, or despair; to move a worshipper from hurt to joy, from darkness to light, from desperation to hope. This movement from hurt to joy is not a psychological or liturgical experience only, although it includes those. And it is not a physical deliverance from the crisis, although that is often anticipated. The movement "out of the depths" from hurt to joy is a profoundly spiritual one.

Bratcher called the emotion in the psalsms "an honest expression of pain in the face of grief and ending"... and "a valid Biblical response to God in prayer from the depths of our humanity."

I was thinking of your comment yesterday, Kathy, that grief is "messy." We see this "messiness" in some of the psalms. This should encourage us to be expressive, "unplugged" and totally real with God and to never, ever lose hope.

Question #9: Kathy, is there anything that can accelerate the process of healing?


Yes! But like I said earlier, it involves pain, and people are so afraid of pain that sometimes they will delay their own healing process. Deliberately facing pain will mellow pain! And I mean will not could. It does! God is faithful! Not facing pain will cause the pain to linger. Facing it will cause it to lessen over time.

Two years ago, my Uncle Joe died. His wife, my Aunt Clara, loved him for 65 years. She said she quite literally can't remember a time when she didn't love him, and they were married for 63 years. She says there were many days when she couldn't get out of bed in the morning.She would just lay in bed and cry. But she did cry, and she would talk to God (and to Joe) and she would pray for strength. She faced her pain. She didn't deny it and get busy and can some peaches and pretend like she wasn't dying inside! She faced it daily when she went to the Senior's Activities Center and continued to play games, she faced it when she went to church and sat alone, she faced it when she sat in her kitchen and ate alone, she is still facing it, and she is strong today, in spite of the fact that she will not stop missing him until she sees him again in Heaven. Clara helps more people today than she has ever helped in her life. She has passion for life and for others. There is an "other side" to loss, and she is living it out.


That is such a poignant story about your aunt and uncle. We can learn so much from others. Thanks for sharing that and for everything you're teaching us, Kathy.

The last blog post on grief with Kathy Padgett is coming tomorrow.

Kathy Padgett is the Women's Lifegroup and Pastoral Care Minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Prior to joining 121, she served as a hospital and home-care chaplain. Kathy is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

On my iPod... Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of by U2

Friday, June 29, 2007

Healthy Grieving: Part IV

Back today with more of my interview with Kathy Padgett from 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Scroll down to Monday's post and begin at the beginning if you're just jumping in!


We're learning a lot about grief, Kathy. Run into it versus away from it has been a huge take-away for me. Yesterday, you introduced a few tactics for responding to grief once the shock wears off. You told us about the importance of "thinking" about our loss versus trying to block it out (which we can't really do, anyway). Then you mentioned writing, talking and weeping...


That's right. Beyond our need to THINK about the loss, we should WRITE about it, too.

Journaling is a tremendous tool for grief recovery. It is a place to voice anger, frustration, loneliness, and any felt loss. It is also very practical! Writing helps slow the brain down - you can't write as fast as you think. Writing also helps to lessen the pain that is felt when the writing first began. Just look at King David's psalms of lament in the book of Psalms!

TALK: here is where loved ones and friends can really help. Just remember: We are the listeners, not the advice-givers! Never be judgmental or condescending... simply listen. The more a grieving person talks in a safe environment, the more the pain will begin to lessen. Even if the same thing is talked about over and over, let it happen. Ask a grieving person to recall humorous moments. Laughter releases tension and improves health!

Also very important is that the grieving person has a safe place to talk about the negative parts of the relationship. Or admit guilt. Or admit hurt. Once these feelings are confronted, they can be analyzed and resolved.

WEEP: As I mentioned earlier, crying is a God-given release and it should happen frequently in grief! Weeping during grief is healthy! We need to be more concerned with the person who does not weep!


Kathy, this is so helpful. I absolutely agree that people who hurt don't want a lot of advice. They want someone who's not going to be overbearing or overly opinionated... just someone quietly "in their corner." But I think with what you've just mapped out... the need to think, write, talk and weep... you've given us something we can easily share with others... when the time is right... as people come out of shock and need to move forward in a healthy, restorative direction.


Yes, these tactics are easy to remember and extremely beneficial to share.


Question# 7: Is grief inevitable? Does anyone escape it? Is it possible for a super mature Christian to somehow be immune from all the pain?


Absolutely inevitable. I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone you love will die. Many of them before you. And there will be grief involved in all of those situations. I don't know why we ever think anyone is immune to grief. It is simply not possible.

I was watching TV one afternoon when I was sick at home, and on a Christian station was a senior pastor from a very prominent, large church in Alabama talking about what he went through after his wife died (keep in mind that he had done grief counseling with people for 45 years). She died unexpectedly, and he found her dead from a stroke in the driveway when he returned home from a preaching trip. For a solid year, he talked to her out loud all day long, and "heard" her voice often. He went to her graveside twice a day. He wouldn't get rid of anything that was hers and left everything just the way it was. He felt like he cried all the time. He talked about her to everyone he could. He thought he would never get over it. He couldn't preach. He couldn't eat. He thought he was doomed. But then he began to realize that he only desired to go to her graveside once a day... and then only a few times a week... and then only a few times a month... and he began to desire to preach again, and he gained some weight, and he donated her clothes to a battered women's shelter... and he felt a strong desire to help other people through grief...and he realized that God had not only carried him through his grief, but had made him stronger because of it.

That can be the outcome for every single person...but we get a choice and we have to choose to face that grief. We can never run from it and get past it. It is sneakier than we are, and it won't go away.


Quick... think fast... word association... for grief.


Uh... messy! It is also unpredictable, it is painful, it is eye-opening, it is self-absorbing, it is a doorway, and it is just plain hard. But it definitely is messy. (That was more than one word, wasn't it?)


That was a good fusion of thoughts! I like "doorway" best. But messy is good, too. I've come to a place of peace with certain aspects of messy, actually. Let's face it, life is not neat. So why go around pretending that it's not messy when it is? You saw my notes on Monday! They were messy. I wouldn't know what to do with a day planner, really... set my coffee on it?

Am I flipping channels?

Coming Tomorrow: Next to last post in this series.

Grief in the lyrics...

The sun's still shining in the big blue sky

But it don't mean nothing to me

Oh, let the rain come down

Let the wind blow through me

I'm living in an empty room

With all the windows smashed

And I've got so little left to lose

That it feels just like

I'm walking on broken glass

--Annie Lenox "Walking on Broken Glass"

Kathy Padgett is the Women's Lifegroup and Pastoral Care Minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Prior to joining 121, she served as a hospital and home-care chaplain. Kathy is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

(Photo by: this is your brain on lithium; see for restrictions)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Healthy Grieving: Part III

Continuing today with my interview of Women's Lifegroup & Pastoral Care Minister Kathy Padgett from 121 Community Church. Kathy joins us this week with thoughts on the subject of grief. The series began on Monday... scroll down to catch up!


OK, Kathy. Let's talk about our responses to grief. Beginning first with what we shouldn't do. Question #5: What are some of the unhealthy ways we respond to grief?


When we "avoid" grief, we actually begin a downward cycle called "pain avoidance" which will manifest itself in unhealthy ways. When we run, we begin to suffer things such as physical or emotional illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, marital strife, truancy (school and/or work), fatigue, promiscuity, depression, broken relationships, poor job performance... any of these things will cause a new experience of pain...




... which will add to the grief already there, which can cause a person to keep running, or run in a different direction. What ends up happening is layer upon layer of negative experiences in a person's life, many times to the point of suicide. There is nothing good that comes from running or from avoiding grief. The truth is you can't run from it! You can't avoid it! It's a lie to think you can! (and obviously, it is Satan's biggest lie to people who are in grief!)


Some people rush into new relationships more quickly than others following a significant loss. Does this speak to the depth of love present in the original relationship -- i.e., those who love more deeply will move on less quickly? Or is something else going on?


People who grieve well (and I mean that they don't run from the pain, but push into it) tend to move on in every phase of their lives more quickly than those who don't. They are able to enter into new relationships at the right time. However, I have seen many people run to someone else as a "solution" for their grief, which is not grieving at all, but displacing the grief into a new relationship. And if that new relationship doesn't fill the void caused by grief (which it can't), the relationship will fall apart.

You see many many men who are widowed re-marry very quickly...and oftentimes those marriages are rocky, at best. That poor new wife cannot become the dearly departed wife, as much as the husband may try to make her be! And she also cannot take his grief away...he still has to push through that pain on his own.


Question #6: What are healthier ways to respond?


In the beginning, right after a loss, just getting through the day is a victory. And consider it a victory! Getting through the day-to-day chores and duties for a few months is huge. I won't even begin grief therapy with someone for several months. Shock is usually still present in most people for quite some time. After a period of time, however, (usually 3-6 months) there are some very healthy and helpful things you can do which are therapeutic: THINK, WRITE, TALK, AND WEEP.

Let's begin with THINK: people often tell grieving people when they remember an event or place connected with the loss, "Oh, just put it out of your mind," but that is bad advice. They need to be unafraid of their own thoughts. For instance, instead of avoiding driving by the Sonic where you used to sit and eat popcorn chicken with your sister who is now dead, you should go to that Sonic and eat popcorn chicken as often as possible... until you can do it without feeling like someone has stabbed you in the gut with a chef's knife!




So, don't avoid thinking about someone/something, and eventually you won't be afraid of the pain associated with that memory. It will actually be a warm memory.

Coming Tomorrow: More of my interview with Kathy Padgett on healthy grieving... the importance of writing, talking and weeping!

(Pic by janesdead; see for restrictions.)

On my I-pod... When You Love Someone by Bethany Dillon (Bridge to Teribithia Soundtrack)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Healthy Grieving: Part II

(A painting I love by Ann Hardy)

Welcome back for more of my interview with Women's Lifegroup & Pastoral Care Minister Kathy Padgett from 121 Community Church. Kathy joins us this week for an interview on the subject of grief. The series began on Monday... scroll down to catch up!


Picking up where we left off last time... Question #3: What does the "cycle" of grief look like? How long, typically, does it take people to recover from a profound loss?


One of the worst things that has ever been taught is that there are "stages of grief." Just as God created every single person on this planet differently, every single person on this planet will grieve differently! The so-called "stages" may manifest, but do not follow a predictable order.

There are many "faces" or "aspects" or "characteristics" of grief, but no two people follow the same pattern. The only commonality is that most people begin grief in shock. "I can't believe this has happened" is the most common reaction in the beginning, which makes total sense! It takes the human brain a while to comprehend this type of loss. Shock is a blessing from God. It is one of the ways He protects us. Our heart rate slows, our mind slows down... this keeps us from self-destructing in the face of deep loss.

But to say that everyone goes through predictable, orderly stages of grieving is simply not true. Some of the "faces" of grief are confusion, disbelief, fear, anger, depression... and there are many more. But it is a roller coaster ride - not a chart! A great quote by C.S. Lewis from his painfuly eloquent book A Grief Observed (written after the death of his wife):

"Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one: you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat."

We do our loved ones, and ourselves, an injustice when we feel that we are "going backwards" or "not making progress" while going through grief. As long as we are facing the pain, we are making progress, even if it doesn't feel like it at the moment. Ignoring grief is the only way to not get stronger. It will hit you one day, when you least expect it, but it will never go away.


I haven't read the C.S. Lewis book you referred to, but I learned about his relationship with his wife in another book. It is an incredible love story about two people who met later in life and found such joy despite serious illness. Given the depth of the love he expressed, I can only imagine how hard it was for him to lose her. You know, somewhere along the line, I was taught the classic "stages of grief"... it's surprising to learn that these "stages" are off the mark. But it makes much more sense, based upon what I've personally seen and experienced, that it's more complex and not so easily "bucketed" into "whew... now that part's over" stages. Seems that feelings and emotions tend to reprise. Yet it would appear that there is a place at which grief is most palpable and acutely painful. Question #4: How long does the experience of I-don't-think-I-can-get-out-of-bed-grief tend to last?


There are several factors which determine that:

1) The age of the person: younger people usually have larger circles of supporting relationships. Age usually narrows those circles. Also, age may have an influence on the general health of the grieving person;

2) The manner of the death: compare the death of a small child with leukemia to a parent dying in their sleep in their late 80's...can you see why it would take longer to get over the trauma of the first death than the second one? A traumatic, shocking death will ALWAYS waylay the living;

3) Previous warning: when a death due to terminal illness occurs 6-18 months after a diagnosis, there is a better adjustment than when death occurs before 6 months, or after 18 months. The shorter time frame can produce shock and denial...while the longer time frame has usually included some rallies which produced hope;

4) The personality of the survivor: dependent people have a much harder time adjusting than independent people;

5) Life experiences while growing up: a person who never experienced any loss (or was sheltered from it by their parents) or any kind of deprivation while growing up has a LOT harder time with grief;

6) Relationship (healthy or unhealthy interactions) with the person who died: a person tends to grieve longer if there was guilt, unforgiveness, or hard feelings involved...they tend to think "if only I could have had another chance...";

7) How intimately a person knows God: believing He is there and active will shorten a person's painful grief tremendously.


Question #5: What are some of the unhealthy ways we respond to grief?

The answer to this question and much more from Kathy coming soon!

Kathy Padgett is the Women's Lifegroup and Pastoral Care Minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Prior to joining 121, she served as a hospital and home-care chaplain. Kathy is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

Did you know... There's a medical condition called stress cardiomyopathy that researchers believe afflicts 2% of patients who think they are having a heart attack. Symptoms mimic heart faliure, but are linked, instead, to stress. The condition is otherwise known as "broken heart syndrome."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting Through Grief

tears tear

(Photo by Julian used with permission only: All rights reserved!)

I learned a lot about handling grief recently from my friend, Kathy Padgett, who is a Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) graduate and minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. What follows is insightful counsel on a subject we will all encounter and struggle with in the journey of life.


Welcome, Kathy! Thanks so much for taking time away from a busy ministry to help us sort through a very difficult topic.


Thank you! It's my pleasure! There's so much misunderstanding about grief that sometimes I just want to explode when I hear incorrect (but well-meaning, I'm sure) statements on the subject. So this is a much better way (versus imploding) to get the information across! Seriously, grief is necessary, though this sounds ironic, grief is good. But we don't understand it and we run away from it, especially in our culture. I hope this helps some people get prepared or deal with present grief.


OK. We're off...


Before we get into specific questions, could I mention a couple things?


Of course!


First, it's important to realize that we all have a life "script." Whether you consciously think about it or not, you have a picture in your mind of what your life is (or should be like one day). But we rarely write into our scripts the possibility of the death of a loved one, or any type of devastation.

Our script is threatened or shattered when we experience a devastating event. Slowly, we realize that the script must be rewritten, and slowly, we accommodate to the reality of the continuing life experience. This is when a person understands what grief truly is.

Those who are reading these words and have already experienced a devastation of some sort are resonating with what I've just said. Those who haven't experienced it yet, will. We will all experience grief in this life, and it is important to know something about it. We can simply not escape it.


Never thought of the idea of a life "script"... but that makes so much sense.


Yes, it's something that we all do! Second, I want people to understand the importance of pain. It sounds weird, but pain is good! The fear of pain comes from a misunderstanding of it. Pain is really an indication that a person is aware of loss and is in the process of assimilating it.

Deliberately facing loss brings a person into the experience of pain, and as pain is experienced fully, it has a way of mellowing instead of intensifying. This is the key to grief recovery!

Think about it this way - if you plug the mouth of a spring with a rock, the water will find another place to surface, and it just might be a place where it shouldn't surface. If a person denies his or her pain, eventually it will surface in places it's not meant to be. When a person chooses to plow into the pain, he or she will find that it decreases each time. This is a truth which cannot be denied: experiencing pain mellows pain, in time. Time, by itself, will do nothing.


So the old "time heals all wounds" adage is misleading?


Yes! The only wound that time can heal is a physical wound! Broken bones take time to heal, but time can never heal an emotional injury like grief. It can change it (usually negatively), but it can never heal it.

Did I say I had a couple things to say?


Think so... but you can keep going!


Actually there are three things I want to mention. Let's talk about crying. CRYING... WEEPING... SOBBING. Crying is a God-given release when we are going through pain. Do not ever tell a grieving person not to cry, including yourself!!! If you will allow yourself to cry intensely when it is needed, you will feel relief afterwards. Babies cry themselves to sleep...God has given us tears for a reason...and the urge to cry for a reason...don't fight it. CRY when you need to. Even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Let them deal with their own is a necessity to cry during grief.


I just blogged yesterday on crying... ran an excerpt from a book by Chuck Swindoll. It was very comforting.


I just get so angry when I hear people tell someone not to cry! "Ohhhhh, don't cry, it's going to be OK..." The reason we do that is because we are uncomfortable - not because it's hurting them! Matter of fact, in grief therapy, if a person never cries at all, I will do everything in my power to make them! It is healing!


Women and men should feel free to cry, right?


Yes! Men really need to cry! Very often they aren't taught to cry when they are growing up (usually because of a father who thought it wasn't "manly") and then they freeze later in life when they really need to let that kind of emotion out. I have seen grown men get violent before they would let themselves cry. That's just not healthy. Jesus cried! He modeled it for all men! It does not mean a man is a sissy if he is real with his emotions!

OK! I'm off my soapbox. Ready to tackle your questions!


That was really good, Kathy. You set the stage for us beautifully. OK. First question: There are "blues" and then there's grief... what's the difference?


Think about it this way - you've heard the word "bereave" in reference to someone in grief, right? The words "bereave" and "rob" come from the same root...when we lose an important relationship, it feels like robbery - like someone has been ripped away from us. That can happen through death, divorce, or a horrible conflict that rips a relationship apart. It is something that is not easily overcome. It takes work to get through grief. With the "blues" usually it just takes some time to get over them, or a change of focus. Time never heals grief - let me say that again: By itself, time never heals grief. Time plus looking grief in the face and pushing into it is the only way to get through it.


Question #2: When I think of grief, I think of someone enduring the loss of a loved one who has died. But is there more to grief than that?


That is the most common type of grief, absolutely. Not much hurts us more than someone we truly love dying. (a side note - the absolute worst grief is the death of a child, and the statistics of divorce among couples who lose a child is astronomical) But I've also done grief counseling with people who went through divorces they didn't want, people who lost their lifelong careers, people who lost the ability to walk or take care of themselves, people who were diagnosed with a chronic illness with no hope of recovery, etc.


Question #3: What does the "cycle" of grief look like? How long, typically, does it take people to recover from a profound loss?

Coming Soon: A surprising answer to this question and more of my interview with Kathy Padgett.

Kathy Padgett is the Women's Lifegroup and Pastoral Care Minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Prior to joining 121, she served as a hospital and home-care chaplain. Kathy is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Value of Tears

I'm going through my books to organize our home library and ran across a slim little title written by Chuck Swindoll with some comforting thoughts on the valleys...

When words fail, tears flow.

Tears have a language all their own, a tongue that needs no interpreter. In some mysterious way, our complex inner-communication system knows when to admit its verbal limitations... and the tears come.

Eyes that flashed and sparkled only moments before are flooded from a secret reservoir. We try in vain to restrain the flow, but even strong men falter.

Tears are not self-conscious. They can spring upon us when we are speaking in public, or standing beside others who look to us for strength. Most often they appear when our soul is overwhelmed with feelings that words cannot describe.

Our tears may flow during the singing of a great, majestic hymn, or when we are alone, lost in some vivid memory or wrestling in prayer.

Did you know that God takes special notice of those tears of yours?

Psalm 56:8 tells us that He puts them in His bottle and enters them into the record He keeps on our lives.

David said, "The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping."

A teardrop on earth summons the King of Heaven. Rather than being ashamed or disappointed, the Lord takes note of our inner friction when hard times are oiled by tears. He turns these situations into moments of tenderness. He never forgets those crises in our lives where tears are shed.

An excerpt from For Those Who Hurt by Charles R. Swindoll

(Pic by locator; see for restrictions)

Coming Soon! Kathy Padgett on getting through grief.

On my I-pod... Thing of Beauty by Hothouse Flowers (This Irish band had its moments... and this was certainly one of them.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boys of Summer (6.24.07)

"If I could ever get this thing threaded, I might catch something..."

"I'm so glad my Nintendo isn't this gross..."

"Fish... schmish... I just want to hang out with Ruthy!"

On my I-pod... Feel Like Living by Hothouse Flowers

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Taking the Bait

There's a 12-year-old boy named Josh who has become our fishing guide this summer. He's found his way to our pond from another neighborhood and he's become a new friend to my three boys. Josh is a serious fisherboy... a kid who'd rather be at the other end of a fishing pole than a Play Station. He's given us lots of good, practical fishing tips. He told us all about the perils of grabbing a stinging catfish by the backfin and knew before I put my Sara Lee All-Natural Roasted Turkey Luncheon Meat on the hook that it would fail (a botched attempt at worm avoidance on my part...)

Our little fishing party did have a rather harrowing moment last week (well... harrowing for me and a fish, anyway). John's line began to jerk and we all rushed to see what was churning through the water. Up flung a medium-sized catfish in a flopping state of freak-out. Josh was the first to arrive on the scene.

"Look at that," he exclaimed! "That fish swallowed the hook!"

"Oh!" I cried. "We have to get it out!"

"You can't do that," Josh shot back. "It'll tear out its guts!"

Mere mention of the word "guts" made me swoon. John and I, new fisherpeople, looked at each other with E.T. eyes.

"Oh, that makes sense," I whispered, contemplating two very unsettling options. "So what do we do, Josh?" I asked.

"Cut the line," he replied, "that's the only thing we can do."

So that's what we did. And somewhere out there... (or maybe not)... there's a fish with a fading memory of a turkey roll-up and a permanent hook in its belly.

I'm still really upset about that fish... wondering if we did the right thing. And, for the first time, I really, really appreciate the power of a good fish analogy as we contemplate some aspects of living, particularly sin.

The Bible has its share of fish accounts and how many times have we heard sermons wrap around this theme? Like the "don't take the bait" admonitions regarding temptation. In that poor fish that swallowed John's hook, I now have a vivid and unsettling mental image of what happens in the wake of the "bait" we consume, whatever that represents in each of our lives. Like ripping a hook from the bowels of a fish, entrenched sin will leave us in pain, altered and, assuming we survive, scarred.

Sure would be depressing if that were the end of the story.

Thanks to a merciful God, it's not...

"... count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Romans 6:11

Coming Next Week: A wonderful interview with DTS graduate and 121 Community Church Women's Lifegroup & Pastoral Care Minister Kathy Padgett on getting through grief.

(Pic by 'scratch'; see for restrictions.)

On my I-pod... Guitar and Pen by The Who

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beyond 76 Degrees

I have a golden retriever named Ruthy. I take her for a walk on local trails most every day. Every once in a while, I run into a neighbor who has two goldens. We were chatting a couple weeks ago and she referred to her dogs as as the "76-degree guys."

"They're either inside the house where it's cool or inside my car where it's cool... it's an easy life for these two," she laughed.

I've been going through old books trying to clean out my cluttered home office and ran across a couple parenting books I never read. I flipped through these books and noticed that both addressed the importance of helping children build a good work ethic. Running into my neighbor and her dogs made me wonder if I'm raising "76-degree kids."

I've long understood the importance of leading our children into an abiding relationship with Christ. We also support and coach them academically and in sports. But are we doing enough, I now wonder, in terms of helping establish an exemplary work ethic? Am I helping or hurting them by working so hard to make sure their environment is comfortable and free of challenge and struggle?

Todd's engaged for extended hours this summer on a project at work. So, I decided I would turn my oldest "76-degree kid" loose on the lawn. It took the better part of four hours over a two-day period. He was sweaty and tired when he was done. But he was probably the happiest kid in the neighborhood, because he had accomplished something physical and grown-up. My two other children pulled weeds, and everyone was ready for bed at 8:00 p.m.

I'm taking a slightly different tactic with respect to recreation this summer, too. We've been fishing almost every day (I came very close to, like, touching a worm yesterday... I did think I was just going to die, though...). We can hang out by the pond for hours. No one complains or bickers. Phones aren't ringing. We're not glued to PSP's and plasma screens. Instead, we see ducks and ecrus and birds and trees and squirrels and catfish and bass and butterflies and turtles and frogs.

What we don't see are too many other kids. I wish they would come and experience what we've found outside 76-degrees. God has mercifully made possible air conditioning and advanced technology and I am so grateful for all of that. But in productive, physical work and the beauty of nature, he's provided much, as well... arguably, more.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (Colossians 3:23)

(Fish pond pic by lemonpepper; see for restrictions.)

On my I-pod... Weather with You by Crowded House

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

I used to buy a lot of women's magazines. But a number of years ago, it dawned on me that I was taking rotten bait. Endless hours spent poring over pictures of airbrushed glamour was causing me to focus too much on externals, spend excessively at the cosmetic counter, and long for attributes I will never possess. I'm happiest today in a pair of Levi's and have found, after years of searching, the best cosmetics for me are sunblock and pink lipstick from CVS. I'm pretty simple.

So... we find ourselves on Saturday night at Borders Books. Todd is looking for a computer manual of some sort and I'm booked out, so I land in the periodical section. It's been years since I've looked at a bookstore magazine rack and I was intrigued by all the new titles. One thick glossy magazine in the back of the rack looked particularly colorful and interesting, so I pulled it out. Turns out, it was an entire magazine about cosmetic surgery, complete with an exhaustive section on the country's top appearance alterers.

I know I should have just put it back, but some dark curiosity compelled me to keep flipping the pages. In about five minutes time, I learned about problems and cures for things I never knew existed. There are liquid lifts, thread lifts, knee lifts, even hand lifts! A major article detailed what one might "need" from about 40 on. There are slacking skin issues associated with parts of the face I never knew about. After becoming sufficiently informed and disgusted, I shut the magazine and shoved it back on the shelf.

A couple seconds later, Todd ambled by.

"Do you think I have sagging skin in the mid-section?" I wondered aloud.

"Absolutely not," he (wisely) replied.

"Do you know what mid-section I'm talking about?" I probed.

"Is there more than one?" he asked.

"According to this magazine, I have a mid-section in my face and things have no doubt begun to descend."

Todd studied my face intently, not knowing whether or not I was going over the edge on a raft or pulling his leg.

"Do you think I need a face lift?" I quizzed.

"Absolutely not," he (wisely) said. "Are you kidding?"

"I'm kidding," I allowed, "but, thanks to that magazine, I'm now aware of problems I never even knew I had!"

Billy Graham's beloved wife, Ruth, died at the age of 87 last week. At her memorial service, Dr. Graham was quoted as saying "I wish you could look in that casket because she's so beautiful." That, friends, is real and enduring beauty.

I think I'll pass on the remedy for my "mid-section" and hold off for a few decades on those knee and hand lifts. Because the beauty I really aspire to can't be bought or whittled.

(Pic by Charlier Brewer; see for details.)

Word Study: The Hebrew word hebel is translated literally as "breath" but used metaphorically throughout the OT to mean vanity, futility and/or temporality. In Ecclesiastes alone, the word occurs 38 times. While some scholars believe the author of Ecclesiastes concludes that all life is meaningless, others suggest that the point in context is that meaning in life cannot be found outside of God. ( Source: Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

Today I count my blessings for all the wonderful fathers I've known... my dad, my husband, my brother and the mentors along the way who have helped me see beyond cloudy horizons. I think of the grandfather I never met who molded the mind and the character of my own father, who is a truly great and noble man. I think about my husband, Todd, who on any given day is Spiderman, Superman, Mr. Incredible, The Incredible Hulk, Rocky (in his prime), the Maytag Man (technically speaking), the Verizon Guy (see Maytag descriptor) , General Custer ("Help!!! There's a BUG in the shower!!!!!"), Bruce Lee (Congratulations on your GREEN BELT!), Bill Gates ("Let's see what we spent this month at... Walmart, Target, Walmart, Target, Walmart, Target, Walmart, Walmart, Walmart...") and Bono (perenially cool) in the eys of his family. Lastly but above all, I think of my Father in heaven who made possible all these wonderful men.

For many, this is a day for rejoicing. For others, it is a day of reflection and sadness. Whether you celebrate those who live or mourn those who have passed, take comfort in knowing that Abba, your loving Father, is with you today and always.

Happy Father's Day, dear ones.

Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope. ~Bill Cosby

Saturday, June 16, 2007

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be...?

I've been kind of wafting along for the past couple years logging time between cancer check-up's and it occurred to me recently that this is a rather skewed if not unsatisfying way to mark one's existence. I think there's a natural tendency to go "on hold" in the face of any serious illness. But the prognosis continues to be excellent and I think I'm ready to get a little more purposeful and serious about writing this Fall. I was contacted by a publisher several months ago about submitting a manuscript for a novel. I'm but four chapters into it feeling like a Martian in Lubbock... fiction is a dramatic shift for me. Nonethless, that opportunity has presented itself. So, we'll see. Maybe I'll post a chapter or two and you can tell me whether or not you like it!

As many of you know, I am a reluctant marketer. I'd rather write and teach than sell you something and the commercial success of any of this is beside the point. But moving forward, particularly as it relates to finding a good publisher for future books, is a function of how well one demonstrates a solid "platform" (publishing industry speak for: someone people want to hear from). So future books, blogging, etc. will be largely determined by God's will and your word of mouth.

If any of you are inclined to create a "listmania" for Little Sins, Big Problems or write a book review on, that would be great: If you enjoy the blog, you can forward the link to friends and family:

Also, please keep me in mind as needs arise within your women's ministries for retreat and special event speakers. The topic that remains near and dear is: Enduring Life... By the Grace of God. It's a deep and reflective interactive seminar with Dr. Ramesh Richard's "Stars & Scars" as the centerpiece. Between my elementary schoolers and seminary study, I can only do a few of these during the school year, but if you are interested please feel free to contact me:

Have a great weekend, friends!

A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and, having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.

Ernest Hemingway

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Power of...

A somewhat dated but provocative commentary on the power of words...

The history of our time is a history of phrases, which rise to great power and then as suddenly pass away: the "merchants of death," the "malefactors of great wealth," "monopoly," "reactionaries," "liberals," the "labor power," "America first," "cash and carry," "unconditional surrender," "peace in our time," "collective security, " "bring the boys home," "disarmament," "the Red menace," "the atomic potential," etc., etc. At the time of their currency, few men have had either the courage or the resources to stand up to these tremendous shibboleths. They develop unpredictable authority.

Men are destroyed by them, and others are raised to power, and others are rallied to a fighting cause, and wars are declared, and people driven from their homes. And after all this havoc has been wreaked, suddenly the phrase disappears and is powerful no more--indeed, is lost and forgotten and replaced by something else, very likely its exact opposite... It's terrifying.... Where, in all this, is truth?

Russell Davenport (1899-1954): The Dignity of Man

(Photo by jacobz against censorship; see for restrictions.)

On my I-Pod... She Will Have Her Way by Neil Finn

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Do We Take God for Granted?

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. Psalm 42:1

We don't see too many deer roaming around the "woods" in this part of Texas. Where my parents live in Virginia, however, it's not uncommon to wake up to a small band of the shy creatures foraging for food in the back yard and adjoining park land. Unusual drought conditions this Spring no doubt made for a difficult stretch for the suburban Virginia deer population. I imagine there were days they could be found literally panting for streams of water.

When animals go out in search of water, it's not a function of whim or fancy. It feeds a biologically-driven, life-sustaning need. How far removed are most Americans today from a "panting" compulsion to satisfy our most basic needs? We intake and process oxygen without ever regarding it. We turn a knob or pull a lever and fill a cup with water. We swipe a credit card and haul away bags of diverse foods from the local grocery store. We lay our heads on soft pillows every night and drift into slumber without unreasonable fear that our homes will be invaded, our things will be pillaged, and our familes will be harmed.

But what if you were miles into the earth in a coal mine shaft that caved in and your oxygen tank was about to expire? What if you were hanging onto a chunk of debris from a capsized boat that was wafting away on top of the ocean with your plastic jug of clean water? What if you lost your way hiking in the Colorado Rockies and you were alone and stranded with nothing left but a stick of gum to sustain you? What if you got lost and ended up on a mean city street in the dead of night with a flat tire and a dead cell phone?

In any of these scenarios, you would no doubt get very intimate with God. Everyone and everything would fade to black as you rushed to God with a desperate plea for help. Because basic needs that you otherwise take for granted would be under threat. It's a scenario in which, perhaps, the only conceivable option is God because you know you can't save yourself.

Let's say there is a spectacularly good outcome to any of these scenarios. You are rescued in what could only be linked to the supernatural intervention of God. You cried and God answered. Your gratitude to God simply cannot be contained. You are a babbling, bubbling brook as you zealously recount the details of your ordeal and recue to anyone who will listen. You are a blinking, blinding, billboard-like testimonial and most certainly forever changed.

Then some time elapses. You slip into a familiar groove. Your memory of God's saving grace begins to dim. The billboard stops blinking. You are no longer acutely grateful. Life is going predictably. Your basic needs are met. This frees you up to focus on the non-essential things that annoy you. And maybe you communicate a little less and a lot less passionately with God.

There's this human tendency (read all about it in the OT accounts of the grumbling Israelites) to forget to be grateful for our sustenance when things are abundant and free flowing. I'm not going to be too grateful for basic security until my security is threatened. I'm not going to be too mindful of air and water and a nice, soft bed until they're compromised or taken away. I'm not going to be too thankful for every day of good health until I get sick. I'm not going to be too aware of God unless I really need him.

Taking God for granted is a risk for people at every stage of maturity. You could argue that the most mature Christians are, in ways, even more at risk. Because they know He is here... night and day... 24/7... yesterday, today and tomorrow. Some of the most haunting philosophical burdens are resolved in Christ. Life in a groove resembles a brown-paper package. Secure but plain. We can lose our hunger and thirst for God... until our basic needs are threatened and we know we need Him. Then we're on our knees, our hearts are racing, we're herding prayer warriors, speed dialing heaven, etc.

I was at the neighborhood pool yesterday afternoon with the boys. We had the pool to ourselves. I knew I'd be receiving a phone call regarding the outcome of my biopsy. The boys were splashing in the water and I was plastered to my cell phone. It was now late afternoon and I knew the call had to be imminent. Thoughts of God were suddenly louder even than Daniel's cry that John was pinching him underwater. I was staring at my phone thinking, "What would I say to God if I could text message Him?" I'm a lousy text messager, but I began to tap out a text message to God poolside as I anxiously awaited the phone call. I got three-and-one-half-typo-laden words into my communication to God and the phone rang with good news. I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked God, deleted my "silly" communique to heaven, then turned my attention to John who was, indeed, pinching his brother in the deep end.

My transition from gratitude to God to yelling at John stopped me in my tracks. God had just answered prayers and my gratitude seemed barely sufficient. We've all known people who are users. People who come to us only when they need something. Is this how I treat God? Don't get me wrong: I thank God daily and try to be thoughtful in my prayer life. But my most passionate communication to God comes during times of trouble.

I am challenged to find creative ways to keep the memory of God's intervention in my life fresh and alive when the sun's shining and the air is still. I am also challenged to be increasingly grateful to God for the basic, abundant provisions I have come to take for granted. And to have a heart that beats with joy and thanks that matches or surpasses the intensity of the heart that pounds in need.

Thoughts on this, anyone?

Photo by swannman; see for restrictions.

Blaring on my I-pod... If Everyone Cared by Nickelback

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

First We Suffer... Then What?

I'm reading Irving Stone's Lust for Life, a biographical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. In yesterday's post, I described the way in which Stone portrayed Van Gogh's heartache over a woman named Ursula who spurned his love. In subsequent pages, we read about Van Gogh's response to pain. Ursula is now married to someone else and the artist is smacked in the face with the reality that the woman he loves will never be his.

So he turns his focus elsewhere. He immerses for a time deeply into the ministry. His family has the means to advance him to a nice safe job as a pastor in a sheltered little city. It would be gentle, undemanding spiritual feeding and tending of a gentle, undemanding flock. But Van Gogh's heart drums for something else. It's the suffering to whom he will gravitate. It's in the slums and the bleak, cast-off, 19th century coal mining communities that Van Gogh lands as an evangelist. Here amidst metastatic suffering he has found an identity and a fitting home.

In Stone's fictionalized account of Van Gogh's young adult years, pain led the artist to God, then God made that pain profitable in service to others.

This leads me to question what we do with our own suffering. When we're nailed by life's inevitable fast-moving curve ball. Do we pull the covers up and stay in bed? Do we top off our wine glass? Do we pop a pill? Do we choke the life out of someone we're clinging to? Do we shop? Do we eat? Do we cheat on our spouse? Do we pick a fight with someone we love? Do we find someone unsuspecting to gossip about?

Or do we bypass all the unhealthy stuff and run like mad into the open arms of God? This, of course, is the right response. The thing we should do. The thing we, ideally, learn to do as we grow more mature in our faith and closer to God.

But what about the side roads we've taken? What about the mistakes we've made? What about the junk in our past? Or the junk in our present? Are these merely sources of shame and regret, like some old record that has a bad spot that skips from time to time in our heads so we can bog down in guilt?

Or is there more to pain and junk than that? Are we, perhaps, to take what we've learned from stumbles and detours and falls and learn something so that we might better serve others?

I have a connection to certain people. Cancer survivors, for one. When I meet someone who has endured cancer, I don't need to know another thing about him. I don't even need to know his name. By virtue of our shared detour, we are instantly bonded. I can minister to cancer patients because I get what they're going through. Reformed alcoholics and drug addicts can minister to people abusing alcohol and drugs because they get it. People who are healed and on the other side of broken marriages can minister to families in crisis because they get it.

In psalms with lament characteristics, the author sometimes appeals to God to mitigate his suffering or rescue him from enemy assault, then makes the case that there's still good work to be accomplished.

Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Selah. Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

Psalm 88: 10-12

I've found in my own life that running to God in search of respite is only part of the equation. Safety First, as the slogan goes. Then what? There's nothing in this world that can give me the peace and joy and comfort I receive from God. I have spent many a day broken and quivering under the mighty protective wing of God described in Psalm 91. But the nest is not meant to keep us forever sheltered from the world. There comes a time when we are nourished and strengthened and emboldened and ready to soar. Not a lofty solo flight. But off we go in search of the ones on the road we once traveled... those who do not know what we know.

Question: Who do you connect to and why?

(Photo by ZenPanda, see for restrictions.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Our Heart's Desire...

I'm back from a few days in Virginia with my parents. Our time spent back East was restful and fun. My youngest is now a second grader and I was reflecting on how much easier every aspect of traveling with children has become. We certainly mainstream better than we did the time we flew to San Francisco and our baby screamed so loud the entire plane was given free headsets. That event was so traumatic I'm not yet far enough removed to laugh. I still wonder from time to time whether or not we spawned a new post traumatic distress syndrome and pray for those poor, valiant passengers who unwittingly crammed into economy with us. Mercifully, the worst thing we did above the clouds this time was explode a can of Dr. Pepper (not even our fault...).

I spent some time last week poring through my father's massive library of classic and historical literature, a collection lovingly and thoughtfully compiled over more than 60 years. I was surrounded by the balance of this library growing up, but always tended to be more interested in current and political events, and pop culture. As I grow older and, perhaps a bit more nostalgic, I find myself drawn increasingly to the very books that put me to sleep when I was 20. At 45, they move me in a way that nothing current could.

I returned home with a few titles in my luggage. Right now I'm reading Lust For Life by Irving Stone. First published in the 1930's, it's a novel of the life of Vincent Van Gogh spliced generously with true-life events. Early on, Stone develops a visceral if not discomforting tale of unrequited love. Van Gogh has fallen hard for a woman named Ursula who spurns him in a surgical, tenderless way. As I was reading this account, I felt as if I were living it, and a Bible verse kept popping into my head:

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. (Psalm 42:1) The superscription for this psalm reads: "Thirsting for God in Trouble and Exile."

Stone bathed Van Gogh in a desperate wash of yearning. At the mercy of scorching, pendulum-like emotions, every sense was wrapped like string around the finger of the object he coveted above life itself: Miss Ursula. It was, in this fictionalized tale, a time of trouble and emotional exile for the artist. But rather than panting for God, Van Gogh is depicted in a rash, compulsive, aching pursuit of something that could fill a deep well inside. Like trying to grab a brick of fog, he would come to the realization that the thing that made him happiest was never even there.

How often in life do we fall into a similar trap? Chasing wholeheartedly after fillers and salves only to find that if and when we grasp them, they fall away and disillusion.

In God, our Father, we have an omnipresent and utterly reliable truth. Mysterious and elusive... a spirit we cannot touch. Yet One who is powerfully and assuredly ever present in our midst.

Coming Soon: The God We Take for Granted

On my DVD last week: Will Penny starring Charlton Heston and Joan Hackett... some intense scenes not suitable for young children, but otherwise a mighty fine retro cowboy flick and surprisingly poignant love story.

(Van Gogh by way of Lego by Dunechaser; see
for restrictions.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Let It Shine, Let It Shine, Let It Shine...

I love this...

"Christian Ethics is best understood as a response to the way God's kindness bubbles over into every area of life. As such it is simply an extension of the gospel. Christians may therefore talk about life, and then even live it, in such a mesmerizingly beautiful way that those who see and hear cannot help but want to know more of Christ. It is in this sense that Christians are in the business of saying 'Yes' to the world."

Andrew Cameron, "How to Say YES to the World—Evangelical Social Ethics," RTR, 66:1 (April 2007), 24.

Source: Michael Jensen's blog:

I'm off on an adventure but will be back blogging sometime after June 11! Until then, I wish you much peace in Christ.

(Photo by buck82; see for restrictions.)