Imagine you’re standing in a dark hallway in front of a shut door and you’re knocking on the door…over and over you’re knocking…and it just never opens up. The hallway is so dark you can’t see your own hands in front of you, so you’re too scared to move from in front of that shut door that simply won’t open. You even try the knob and push against the door to see if it’s been left somewhat ajar, but it’s locked and won’t budge. You’re just stuck out in this black corridor…waiting. Then, waaaaay down at the other end of the hall, you see a sliver of light growing bigger and brighter. There’s a door down there…and it’s open wide! But…it’s unfamiliar…and it’s not the door you wanted to enter…it’s not the path you wanted to take. You have a choice, keep knocking in darkness, or start walking toward the light.Sometimes you have to walk through doors that you never intended to open. Sometimes it’s intimidating, and not at all what you’d imagined. But that’s how God works. When He opens a door, He doesn’t leave it cracked…He swings it open wide…so that there is no mistaking that this is His way! What we have to then do, is remember to always follow His light…to just keep walking toward it. I can promise you this, He has never led me astray, not one time. Sometimes His way is harder. Sometimes His way requires that we give up what we desire. But we have to trust Him. Don’t stand in the dark, so focused on a shut and locked door that you miss out on the beauty that’s found in His presence…down His path. He is calling you today, out of the darkness, and into His marvelous light. Don’t miss out.
This devotional was originally posted in my church’s blog, for which I am a contributing author. I wanted to share it with my Nitty-Gritty friends, because there are so many of my friends and loved ones who are struggling with the loss of loved ones. It’s one of the most difficult journeys that we take in life, and it is only by the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit, and the hope we have in Christ, that we can make it through to the other side…where we are able to experience true joy once again. I hope that it helps you, and I hope that if you know someone who is grieving, you will share this with them, and that it will help them also.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-56, NLT) 51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. 54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
From November 2013 through May 2014 was a very difficult time in my family. We were faced with mortality and grief in various undesirable ways. In November 2013, my grandmother passed away after suffering from a massive stroke that hit her three years prior to her death. The following April, my grandfather (who had lived with Alzheimer’s Disease for 7 years) made his grand entrance into Heaven. Then the very next month, my dad was diagnosed with advanced, rapidly progressing, Alzheimer’s Disease. To say that we felt devastated doesn’t quite encompass the depth and magnitude of our anguish.
I could write page upon page about the crippling effects of dementia (as well as other types of neurological diseases) on the victims and their families. It is a certain, and often slow, death.
And there it is, the thing we most fear will happen…death. Our humanity causes us to accept death as final. In our minds, it is the end. When a loved one passes on, people tell you that it’s not goodbye…not the end…and you nod and feign your resolve and agreement, but in that moment the only thing that you can truly feel is the emptiness and pain left behind, and the only thing that you believe is that you’ll never see that person again. We are humans, and to us…death stings.
To us, death feels like a punishment, because we have to go without someone that we love…missing that person and holding fast to our memories, hoping to never forget anything. In our grief, we are blinded by emotions and we forget the truth of God’s word about death. We are hurting, so we don’t understand or remember that because of Christ we have a HOPE that goes beyond mortality.
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14)
Though we can’t accept it in the hours of distress and pain, the truth remains that death is only temporary. It isn’t the end for those who are in Christ. Essentially, our mortal lives are but a progression toward our own individual appointed times. So we have to get out of our heads when it comes to the dread and anguish associated with death. Death has no sting or victory…not because we don’t have to experience it and deal with it, but because we have a promise that far outshines anything this life, this temporary existence that is riddled with heartache and difficulties, has to offer us. This life is not purposed to benefit us. It’s not about you or me. Every moment spent breathing air is a gift…not because this life will be the pinnacle of your existence, because it just isn’t. It’s but a vapor that lasts mere moments in the span of eternity. It is a gift because we have been created and chosen to be a part of something bigger than ourselves…to live outside of our own needs and serve a purpose in God’s plan for humanity. So when we have lived that out, when we have given our lives to Christ and done our best to serve God’s plan, we don’t have to fear what comes next. We naturally miss our loved ones, but what purpose does it serve to give ourselves over to the emotions of grief, sadness, and distress? Having victory over death isn’t cheating death, because we don’t have that power. The victory is in knowing that even when the wages of sin is death, we don’t have to pay that price because Christ did when He went to the cross. His sacrifice gives us the victory that comes from not fearing our exit from this life.
Watching someone that you love suffer through a disease is not easy. I see my dad, who is reduced to the mindset of a young child…unable to care for himself…no longer able to think rationally and independently, and I hurt. My humanity aches at the thought that soon we will no longer have him with us here at part of our lives. Yet there is this other part of me, driven by the truth of God’s word…by His promises, that longs for the day when my dad is free from his humanity and transformed supernaturally into his heavenly body that will never die. He’s earned that.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, sometimes our fears are born out of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect out of death, other than grief, so we are fearful of it. Help us to remember that mortality is but a present trouble. Help us to fix our eyes on the unseen…the glory of Heaven. When we are Heavenly-minded, we are able to see beyond the here and now. When we fix our eyes on You and Your ways, we are able to move beyond our emotions and accept our human experience for what it is…temporary. Thank you for this gift…for choosing us to live for this time. Amen.
Confession time…I’ve always been the type to hold a little back, to be cautious, to have boundaries and walls, especially when pertaining to friendships and really all relationships. Except for my husband, I can honestly say there are maybe only one or two people who know my leanings, inner thoughts and raw feelings. Keeping people a little at a distance has always seemed safer to me, protects me I guess. However, a while back some good friends of mine moved. I seriously love these guys. They probably don’t even realize the depth of my caring for them (due to my keeping a distance), but through this process of change I have found a place that needs to be opened up and shared a bit. It’s new, bigger place for friendships and really all relationships for that matter. It doesn’t come naturally though, but with some focus and intention, there will be plenty of people to bless and be called friends. I’ve decided to love the way God intended me to…with an open heart and open arms, no more walls or fear of rejection or of being hurt. How can any of us possibly fulfill what we’re called to do, if we’re closed off from the world around us?
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
While my friends’ leaving hurt and I sorely miss them, somehow, this thing that I’ve always been afraid of has made me realize the love I have passed up and that I have refused to give love to others. There’s a silver lining though, I know now not to take people for granted and there’s no time like the present to embrace a fresh opportunity. Imagine a world where we all are being the friend that we want others to be to us.
Don’t get me wrong, you can’t be everyone’s best friend or even possibly handle all the different personalities out there. Also, you can’t let people use you or in any way bully you…never ever is there room in your life for that. I tell my kiddos all the time to remember The Golden Rule. One thing I know about getting older, especially when I see my own children getting older, is there’s no time to waste. With that said…take some time today and be a good friend. It’s ok to be honest, open and caring with those who are in your life.
Luke 6:31-Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This time of year at our house there’s all the normal hustle and bustle of life, but in addition to that we’re planning, prepping and working to get our garden going for this year. I love this time of year, I see the sparkle in my husband’s eyes as he’s getting in the dirt and starting seedlings to transplant to the garden. There’s an excitement for the harvest that’s still in the planning stages.
There’s something spiritual about getting your hands in the dirt, feeling it, moving it and planting in it. Somehow being a part of the whole gardening process makes me more aware of God’s presence. Although it’s difficult to fully explain, I’m going to attempt to correlate gardening and God in our lives and how I believe you can meet God right smack in the middle of your backyard.
The hardest part of gardening is getting it going, kind of like getting yourself to church and the altar, especially if you’ve never been before or you’ve been out for awhile. Starting your garden begins with tilling. Which quite simply is breaking new ground, bringing out all the hidden stuff underneath, getting it out in the light and letting the air purify it. Tilling looks easy, but to those who have done it, know it’s harder than it looks, especially the first time breaking the ground. Tilling does get easier year after year, but it is still necessary after cold harsh winters for seeds to be planted and to bear fruit. When tilling the garden every year I’m amazed at how once the new dirt is pulled up how fresh and rich it all is, under all that hard, clumpy, gray mess is this soft, moist, fertile ground just waiting for you to plant seeds. Think for a minute, think back to the times in your life when you needed to be “turned over” or get back to God, and especially that first step towards Him in accepting Him as your Savior. You were hard, worn out and maybe even stagnant, but when you turned it all over to Him, you, much like dirt getting tilled, were unearthing all the hidden stuff in your life, bringing in out into the light and letting God purify it.
Still God’s not finished yet and neither is the gardener. All those unearthed, hard and messy things that needed to die in your life have a purpose in your future, just like your leftover unused fruit and vegetables from your garden can greatly enrich the soil of your garden when you compost. Let me say that again. The dead things that came out of your garden before are now fertilizing the soil to enrich it in order for new seeds to grow. Do you feel it? All the “things” that needed to die in your life can now be used for a greater purpose…..God’s purpose. Nothing goes to waste!
Now on to the good stuff….seed planting time!!! When you’re planting you’re holding these little treasures of possibility. It’s amazing that a large plant with huge yields of fruit can come from this tiny seed. It’s so exciting to sew these seeds, knowing the possibility of what’s to come. While at the same time it’s also a little intimidating because your just not 100% positive their gonna grow, but that’s where faith comes in. When you have opportunities in your own lives to sew seed into something or someone, that same uneasy, not sure feeling can creep in, but trust God with your seed and he will Bless it. Galatians 6:9-And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we not faint.
I’m not going to candy coat it, gardening isn’t always sunshine and roses. Most every gardener experiences some kind of frustration and aggravation nearly every year. Some of these nemesis are for sure the weeds and various pests that like to devour and poison your lovely garden. Weeding, is a must or the plants will get choked out and die from the lack of sunlight and/or the lack of sufficient water. The weeds steal the light, soil and water from your precious garden plants. You have to get to the root of the problem….aka the weeds and pesky bugs or they will just keep coming back and will eventually take over your whole garden. In our lives these nuisances can be distractions and even temptations that can “make or break” us. Only through prayer and discipline can you get through these trials. I have learned, that just like I have to research how to attack a problem in the garden, I also have to research the Bible and scripture to find my way through life’s diversions.
Pruning, this one I honestly wouldn’t have known the significance if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself. Removing green, growing and even thriving parts of a plant are hard to do, but when you see the benefit later of a larger more fruitful plant it is definitely worth it. It’s so obvious that we all need a good pruning as we grow into the people God made us to be. We go through situations and times in our lives that just plain hurt. At first we don’t grasp any reason at all for this pain or loss, yet later, maybe even years down the road we can see how these seasons made us better, stronger and hopefully wiser. Finding a good body of believers as well as an honest, wise Pastor to help cultivate you and raise you up to your calling is such an essential help in your life. John 15:1 ” I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”.
After some tough times of pruning, weeding and pest control your just about ready to throw your hands up! But wait! There’s light at the end of this tunnel. Just when you’ve had enough, the first fruits come in and man oh man, it’s hardly believable, but they were worth all the sweat, tears and prayers! Because you know the effort and sacrifice it took to get these amazing veggies here, they taste better than any you’ve ever had!! And rightly so, there’s no comparison of the taste of store bought produce to that of home grown produce. I refuse to even eat tomatoes from a store, I just can’t bring myself to do it after being spoiled with sweet, heavenly tomatoes from my garden. Let’s not forget about all the toils, hard work, prayer, tears and loss we’ve gone through in our own lives. All the prepping, feeding, protecting, defending, and pruning of ourselves is so worth it all. God can and does work for our good. Jeremiah 29:11 says- For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This only scratches the surface of how much He loves us, He truly knows what we need to be the best version of ourselves.