Shattered Dreams

The book SURRENDERING TO HOPE is a compendium of chapters by several different authors, each identifying how a relationship with God helped them through the worst of circumstances. If you think that sounds trite or easy, read through some of my posts as I have blogged through this book. I am truly stunned at the experiences of these authors and how they managed to hang on to faith when there was nothing less. When all their dreams were shattered, they still knew that God was with them.

Shattered Dreams is a chapter written by my friend Bobby Valentine. He begins his chapter by relating with enthusiasm the time he met his wife and the beautiful daughters that they enjoyed. They moved to Arizona to work with a church. They moved into a house that they had built. His wife took a class at the local college that Fall. It all seemed so perfect.

One Sunday morning in December, my wife and I went to church early so that she could email her final assignment from the office computer. Between Bible class and the worship assembly, she left. … I discovered on my computer her unclosed email to her professor with whom she had run off.

As Bobby writes, “The dream was over.” He shares vividly the painful feelings and consequences of his wife’s departure. “Shattered dreams hurt like hell. They are, in fact, hell.” Those who have suffered through the hurt of divorce can relate, I’m certain of that.

In a search for God’s wisdom grace in all of this painful experience, Bobby found that through ‘glimpses of God’ he could see the ‘gifts of grace’ that would help him move forward. These included the church.

When I literally had no place to stay, God reached out through Christ’s body to pick up my broken pieces.

Other gifts from God included Solitude and silence, friends, and the fellowship of tears.

God has not chosen to reveal to me why hell invaded my family. I have not discovered secret insights from church, solitude, or friends. What I have found is the communion of broken hearts and the fellowship of tears. My own tears are reflected in God’s pain, suffering, and tears.

Scattered throughout Bobby’s chapter are somber but helpful Scriptures that remind us that God suffers as we suffer. In many ways he discovers that after Shattered Dreams, “God raises up new dreams.”

I invite you to get a copy of Surrendering to Hope and read in much greater detail Bobby’s journey through the pain of divorce. Especially if you have been left behind by someone you once loved, I believe it will bless you.

Bobby Valentine is the minister for the Eastside Church of Christ in Anitoch, California. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow his blog Stoned-Campbell Disciple. 

Surrendering to Hope is published by Leafwood Books and is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine.

 

Restored Identity

I think one of the great values of a book like SURRENDERING TO HOPE is to gain insight into the struggles of others. This can lead to greater compassion as well as an ability to understand, to some degree, the depth of pain that someone is going through.

In Lee Ann Foster’s chapter, Restored Identity, a painful path of abuse, trauma, and recovery is revealed. At the center of this story is the fact that Lee Ann was adopted at two weeks of age. When she was eight years old, her adoptive mother died. Her adoptive father remarried quickly. But she was already living in a cycle of abuse began that had a significant impact on the rest of her life. She writes, “...I endured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of many different people from the time I was four years of age until my early teen years.” Living in this hostile world of abuse and distrust had a significant effect on Lee Ann’s life.

…I chose another identity. I would become the invisible one. I would live life under the radar. And it worked! Well, it worked some of the time. … I never felt safe.

After some turbulent experiences in college and graduate school, she met Jesus and her husband! “...I experienced several years of spiritual and emotional growth. I dove into the Scriptures and grew in my ability to enjoy human relationships. We had two children...”

This could be the end of the story, but we should know that surviving traumatic abuse isn’t solved in a few easy steps. As Lee Ann’s daughters grew older, she began to suffer from ‘invasive visions of violence and tragedy overtaking’ her girls. I can only imagine how her childhood experiences were repeating themselves mentally. Only someone who has been through it can truly understand.

Using the trauma of childhood abuse is one of the enemy’s most prized strategies for disempowering God’s kingdom on earth. 

This is not a hopeless story at all, but in keeping with our theme of SURRENDERING TO HOPE, Lee Ann experienced some profound healing. I hope you will buy the book and read about how she found hope and healing through counselors, mentors, retreats … and an amazing blessing from God when she found her birth mother. That wasn’t the end of her struggles, but ultimately hope has found its way into Lee Ann’s heart.

I wish I could say I’m completely healed now, but I am not. There seem to be layers of healing that the Lord reveals as I journey through the seasons of life … What I have now that I did not have before I addressed my trauma is a deepening, conversational relationship with Jesus … What I have now is a better sense of my true identity.

In our next chapter, we meet a Korean-born son of a soldier who was stricken with polio, given up for adoption into an abusive family. Then one day he met a student from a Christian University.

______

Lee Ann Foster is co-owner of Neurosource. Lee Ann’s passion is to help people learn how to live the healthiest, happiest, most fulfilling lives possible. As a Master’s level psychologist, counselor, a Wellness & Epigenetics Coach, a Neurofeedback provider, a Stress Resilience expert, a Psych-K Facilitator, and a lover of God and people, Lee Ann gives her clients the type of care that is well rounded, holistic, and evidence based. Even more importantly, she helps people learn how to take care of themselves and become their own healers.

SURRENDERING TO HOPE: GUIDANCE FOR THE BROKEN is Edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. It was published this year by Leafwood Publishers.

Hope Renewed

When the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE came out, I started blogging through the chapters. There were a few reasons for that. One, I wanted to share the diversity of subjects and authors found in this book. Also, I wanted to reach out to those who were going through various experiences so they would know that there are Christians who understand…they are going through them as well.  Somehow, I got sidetracked and didn’t blog for a bit, but I did want to get back to making my way through this book. 

Hope Renewed is the appropriately titled chapter by my friend Paula Harrington. She begins by sharing, “I’m drawn to the survivor stories of the Bible.” When you read her chapter, you won’t wonder why: Paula is a survivor. Her dad was a preacher who died at a too-young 30 years old, a victim of the terrible disease known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Paula remembers that this was a catalyst for very dark times in her family. In her struggle to cope, Paula’s bi-polar mother wrestled with addiction that spiraled out of control. The death of Paula’s mother created more difficult situations that she outlines in this chapter. Eventually, she writes…

“I had a two-year-old and a two-week-old when I became a single mother. I was twenty-two with no place to live, no car, no job, no money, and no parents.”

Did I mention that Paula is a survivor? Through her disappointments and discouragements, she remembered her childhood spent listening to her father talk about his faith. Like many others in SURRENDERING TO HOPE, she ultimately found hope in the One who offers it to all. By turning to Christ she found she had the power to rebuild her broken life.

“Every time I see myself as a failure, I remind myself that God calls me chosen. Every time I remember a sin, God whispers ‘You are forgiven.’ When I dwell on my faults and weaknesses, God covers me in grace and calls me beloved.”

Looking back over the circumstances that defined her young life, Paula can see that God was at work in unexpected ways. Because of her specific struggles, she can identify with others who are going through the same things.  Paula has used her survival skills to bless in a personal way those who suffer through the hardships of life.

“I finally appreciate that there is peace, joy, and hope in the midst of turmoil and dysfunction. I learned firsthand that God is the father of the fatherless and will not leave us as orphans … Hope has a name and its name is Jesus.”

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of SURRENDERING TO HOPE in either paperback or ebook for your Kindle. I know I was blessed to read through Paula’s story, especially when I notice how she continues to amazingly extend herself to the impoverished, imprisoned, and those in impossible situations. 

Paula is a public school teacher in Paducah, Kentucky.  She writes a column for the Marshall County Daily. Paula and her husband, John, are the parents of five children. She is compiler and editor of the books, Once Upon a Bible ClassA Common Bond, and Sunday Afternoon with the Preachers’ Wives. Her work has appeared in Christian Woman magazine, the Christian Chronicle newspaper, and numerous other sites and websites. A preacher’s kid, grand-kid, niece, and sister, she enjoys speaking at ladies events, workshops, and lectureships. You can connect to Paula on Facebook. Read her BLOG.  Follow her on Twitter (@paulaharington).

Surrendering to Hope is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine and is available from Leafwood Publishers and other booksellers.

Lost Sons

“I’m sorry but we’ve pronounced your son dead.” 

Those are the crushing words my friend Rex heard from the doctors after his infant son Kenny had stopped breathing.  In that stunning moment, he and his family experienced a devastating loss that changed their lives forever. 

Rex writes about this experience in the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE: GUIDANCE FOR THE BROKEN.  I can identify with Rex’s loss, and maybe some of you can too. He is a minister of the Gospel, and you can bet that he wrestled with his faith during this terrible experience.

Through believing in Jesus, we are assured of eternal life. My son Kenny would not be dead forever. I would see him again one day because of Jesus. That faith helped me survive...”

As I read through Rex’s chapter I see so much of my own journey there in his words. His faith helped him survive, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t giant struggles in his own heart.

…Feeling that he had failed his son

…Questions about why God allowed this to happen

…Wondering why other people’s children experienced healing and Kenny didn’t

As if those questions weren’t weighty enough, not long after this loss another loss rocked their family as well.  As Rex reflected on these losses and the impact they had on his faith and his family, he came to a new understanding of God’s work in his life. 

Before we are faced with significant loss or crisis, we often have a view of God that is genuine but incomplete. We haven’t had to rely on him through traumatic losses that have no real answer. We haven’t had to put one foot in front of the other not knowing if some other terrible thing is about to happen. The truth is that we would be content to stay in that place. But when we don’t have a choice we do gain a new understanding of God’s place in our lives.

“In the fifteen years since Laura and I lost Kenny, I’ve learned something of God’s heart that I didn’t know before. With all the brokenness that has marred God’s creation, I see how God is filled with loving mercy and compassion for those who suffer.”

What I love about the way Rex writes about his loss is that it’s just honest. It’s not demanding that you see things the way he does. He just wants to share his experience and hopes that somewhere in there you can find some hope. I appreciate that spirit. 

One day Rex and I and our families will be reunited with our Lost Sons. That is our sure hope.

Rex is the minister for the Newark Church of Christ (in Delaware).

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Surrendering to Hope (HERE) and read further about Rex’s journey.  Check out Rex’s blog HERE. You can follow him on Twitter (@krexbutts) and find him on Facebook. 

In the next few weeks I’m going to share some more from this excellent little book. Until then, Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading. JED

The Power of a Disappointing Story

summerblogtour

The Power of a Disappointing Story

(This is the last of a series of blog posts by some exceptional writers. I don’t know how I was invited to participate but I’m glad that I was. The last post is mine. Hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have. Thanks to Holly Barrett for the great Summer Blog Tour picture used for each of these posts! JD)

Disappointment is an experience that every one faces … and often in many varieties and shades. Sometimes disappointment comes at the hands of others, and sometimes we create it all on our own.

You know, that weight you were going to lose by now. The degree you were going to earn has somehow eluded you. The order you were hoping to establish in your daily routine escapes in the trap of too many late nights and way too early mornings. The books you wanted to write that once started remain unfinished. The commitment to write for someone else that has found you looking at an empty document, fingers stalled on the keyboard. The preacher who thought he would have been able to lead his church to greater heights.

Oh, excuse me… didn’t mean to spill MY disappointments in myself all over the place. But I bet I’m in good company.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ~W.B. Yeats

Age has a way of sneaking up on us. Health issues slow us down when we thought before that we could be active any time we wanted to. Like the addict who swears he has no problems, we blind ourselves to reality until one day when the stark reality of who we are doesn’t leave us any way out. We realize that all the things we thought we might be, well, they aren’t likely to happen.

After the crucifixion of Jesus some disciples grappled with their own disappointment. As they tried to sift through the information … he died … the women said they saw an angel who said he was alive … but we haven’t seen him … he must be dead.

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. ~ Cleopas and another Discouraged Disciple on the road to Emmaus.

How can there be any power in a disappointing story? You get to the end of the book only to find out the main character has died. Powerful? Not really. You watch all the episodes of a show that has you hooked, but in the end they just ruined the whole thing. Disappointment. Well, we may not be able to rescue fictional works that turn sour in the end, but your life is different. It’s nonfiction, no matter how crazy the details. Disappointments – great or small – can actually turn out to be a pretty powerful experience.

Sometimes out of the rubble of disappointment is a new reality you couldn’t have designed or pictured if you tried.

“Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and He has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our life. It’s hard to understand it at the time. Not one of us wants that thread when it is being woven in. Not one of us says, ‘I can hardly wait to see where this is going to fit.’ We all say at that moment, ‘This is not the pattern I want.” ~Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver

When Jesus revealed himself to the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, new light was given to their faith.

Luke 24:32-33 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Instead of continuing toward Emmaus they went to Jerusalem to join the other formerly disappointed but now ecstatic disciples.

Maybe your disappointments seem irreversible. Divorce. Financial ruin. Accused. Arrested. Abandoned. Abused. Mourning the loss of a person or even a pet … disappointment is one gut-punch we don’t just walk away from.

The one thing that never disappoints us is hope. Hope that is certain of what lies ahead. While our knowledge of God’s promises is secure, the road that we travel between here and there can be rugged. The reason hope never disappoints us is that we carry it with us through the dark streets of shame and uncertainty.

When God saved you He poured hope into your heart. Not just a little, but filled your heart up because He knew that there were going to be some real struggles along the way. If you’re disappointed, just clear out all the troubling thoughts and focus intently here:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~Romans 5:1-5

If you didn’t feel some disappointment lift, read it again. See the friendship with God expressed there? The assurances just pour out of this passage.

We are justified by faith.

We have peace with God through Jesus.

We have access to grace in which we stand.

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

We … boast … in … our … sufferings (disappointing, isn’t it, that sufferings have to enter into this passage).

People who suffer endure. Character is produced. Hope, the kind that can never disappoint us, has been given to us. Because God loves us. All in the face of suffering.

So, dear friend, when you’ve felt the pangs of disappointment, remember that your story isn’t finished yet. The hopes you had might be eclipsed by a more glorious plan that God has for you – even when it’s hard to understand.

Here’s a Prayer for the Disappointed
God so often my eyes are clouded and I can’t see the Powerful Risen Savior because the ‘facts’ of the day are staring me in my face. I am disappointed because I thought maybe You would provide for me in a different way. But in faith I affirm that You know much more about my tomorrows than I do. I know you’ll walk with me through days of glory and days of gloom. Would you bring healing and serenity to my hurting heart today? I don’t have to know all the answers. I just want to know You more. Father please remind me of the power of a disappointing story and how Your hope never disappoints. This hope, found only in your son Jesus, my Brother. Amen.

There’s No Disappointment in Heaven

11130149_10153237804557184_3623288705658994532_nJohn Dobbs is the minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to the former Margaret Willingham. They have two children. Nicole, who has provided two beautiful grandchildren. John Robert, who is deceased.

 

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Grief and Naomi and Ruth

One of the most beautiful stories ever written is found in your Old Testament under the title ‘Ruth’. It is a love story. We are even accustomed to hearing a passage from this short book used in modern weddings.

For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.

You may not have realized that this is also a study of grief and loss. In fact, the book begins with only a brief introduction of Naomi’s family before we are informed of the deaths that afflict them.

Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about 10 years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.

In this tragic circumstance, what can we learn about grief and surviving losses?

1. Grief Can Change Family Relationships. Drastic changes can take place due to placing blame, volatile exchanges, painful silence, even separation or divorce. These situations may be brief or have long lasting consequences. As each person grieves individually and in a different manner conflicts can develop. Naomi was not only grieving the loss of her husband and homeland, but two precious sons. Her ongoing relationship with her daughters-in-law says a lot about them all. (Ruth 1:7-13)

2. Tears Are An Appropriate Response to Painful Loss. At the time of the death of a loved one we should not try to hold back our tears. While some people may choose to cry only behind closed doors, others are much more demonstrative no matter the setting. But one should never feel that tears somehow betray a lack of faith or disbelief in God’s promises. I fully believe that my son is in heaven but many tears have been shed. Grief hurts. Trying not to cry is unhealthy and nonsensical.

Naomi …kissed them, and they wept loudly….  Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 

3. Faith Can Develop a Bitter Taste. When Naomi and Ruth came back to Bethlehem all of the locals were talking about the arrival of Naomi. However, Naomi asked them to call her Mara instead. Mara means ‘bitter’. Naomi said, “The Almighty has made me very bitter … the Lord has pronounced judgment on me and the Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:20-21).  Naomi’s bitterness was much like widows today. Her provider has been taken away, she had to move from her home, and there were questions about how she would even eat with no one to help take care of her. Christians who serve God wholeheartedly do not expect to have their lives turned upside down by loss, but it happens all the time. There will be seasons where we will actually blame God for not taking care of us. More, believing that God has punished us. Try to regard this as a season of turbulent faith, rather than a rejection of God. True enough, some people do reject God during a time of grief. A better path is to continue to express your pain to the Lord. He is big enough to hear your complaint and His grace is overflowing in your behalf.

4. Grief Can Be a Time of Redefining Our Purpose. After arriving back in Bethlehem Ruth begins serving Naomi by going out to gather food. Her love for her mother-in-law is observed and Boaz says to her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know. May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12) What a beautiful reflection of God’s grace came through Boaz to a grieving widow. Ruth took the experience of her own grief and turned it into a time of serving someone else who was hurting.  For a time immediately following a loss this may be impossible. However, there comes a time when the inward reflections need to be turned outward toward other hurting people. This is when healing can begin to take place. In fact, in chapter 3 and verse 1 we see Naomi beginning to open up her heart to serve loyal and faithful Ruth.

5. Watch For Blessings From the Lord. Chapter 4 of Ruth is a beautiful reflection of God’s provision for the mourning widows we first met in chapter one. Ruth was beloved by Boaz. They married and had a child.  There is no record of Naomi marrying again. Whether she did or not, however, she had traveled through a journey of pain to a place where she was able to see the blessings of the Lord. To be clear, her new blessings did not ‘replace’ the sons she lost nor the husband who was taken away from her. No one can ever take the place in our hearts that belongs to our loved ones who have died. But that does not prevent us from finding joy again.

Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him. The neighbor women said, “A son has been born to Naomi,” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. ~Ruth 4:16

In the first meeting of The Compassionate Friends that I attended someone said something like, “It won’t always hurt this way … we promise … there are brighter days ahead.” Over six years later I can testify that this is true. 

The narrative of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi chronicles for us a pathway through grief. It isn’t always pretty. It can be messy. But  it is a painful journey through which we press on. At times it seems so dark that there is no way out. There is light ahead, just around the bend. Don’t ever give up.

Thanks to Michael Whitworth for insights from his wonderful book Bethlehem Road that I’ve been studying in the past few weeks.