Monday, April 13, 2015

Walking in the Dark

I am so grateful for family. I don't live near my family so anytime I am able to spend with them is a blessing. A couple of months ago I visited my aunt and uncle, and in the middle of the night I woke up and went to the bathroom. When I went back into my room, I could hear their dog breathing and wagging his tail. It was pitch black so I couldn't see the little fellow; I began reaching for him to put him out, but could not seem to get my hands on him. Reaching for the light switch, I slid my hand down the wall. Where was that blasted switch? I reached and reached to no avail.

Pausing to think, I decided to go back into the hallway and turn on the hall light so that I could see to get the dog out of the room. As I turned to exit, I felt clothes on all sides. What? I was somehow in a closet. I went back into the bedroom and tried to leave again only to find myself once again in the closet. What in the world? Startled and disoriented, I stopped and pondered what to do. Aha! I would get my cell phone off the bed and use it as a flashlight. Why didn't I think of that sooner?

So, I practically leaped out of the closet and over to the bed. When I reached for my phone, I jumped in terror as I grabbed a leg! Where was I?  My uncle sat up in the bed as my aunt asked what I was doing. Mortified, I turned and ran back into the closet. I turned around and couldn't find another door. I rushed back into the closet as I frantically tried to leave the room. My aunt was calling out to me, "No Natalie, the other door." I couldn't see another door. Finally, my uncle turned on his phone so that I could see well enough to race out of the room. Embarrassed does not begin to explain my plight!

While I can laugh about this now, at the time I was both confused and lost. This is what happens when we walk in darkness. One wrong step and our path changes. We make one seemingly small compromise and it leads us down a path toward other compromises, taking us further astray. The alcoholic convinces himself that just one drink is harmless...thus begins the journey away from sobriety and toward a path he swore he'd never walk again. The teenager justifies that she can make out without crossing her boundaries only to find herself slowly progressing down a slippery slope to a path she swore she'd never take.

There are times when all it takes is a little light to set us back on track. Just as the cell phone lit up the room illuminating my exit, God's Word will guide us to a path of hope and restoration. May we take time daily to fill our lives with the Light so the darkness will flee from our lives.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Do You See What I See

Several years ago, I went to Sonic with friends and ordered an ice cream cone. Imagine my shock when the server brought me exactly what I asked for – an ice cream cone – but without ice cream. I tilted my head and questioned, “Um, can I have some ice cream with that?”  His face turned red and he looked down and mumbled, “Uh, yeah. Sorry,” and he turned and went back into the restaurant. The server did what was asked, but his actions were missing something vital – he missed the key ingredient!

Look at the picture above. Can you guess what object is in the picture?

Sometimes we are so close to a situation, that our perspective is limited. We tend to zoom in on one aspect of a given situation, without seeing the bigger picture.  In other words, we can’t see the forest for the trees. We all have blind spots in our lives where we need others to help us find perspective. One of the benefits of having a counselor is the ability to see things from a different perspective.

When Paul was on his missionary journeys, there were several times when he would travel for hundreds of miles only to be prevented by the Holy Spirit to enter a specific place. He would turn around and go a different direction. He could have gotten mad and cried, “God why would you bring me this far only to slam the door in my face now? How dare you!” I am amazed at Paul’s response. He simply kept going and waited for God to speak. There are times when God does things that make no sense to us.

When I was in college, I felt like God was leading me to spend my summer doing missions in England. I had been accepted by the sending agency and God had provided all the funding I needed for the trip. As the departure date approached, my excitement grew. Less than a month before my travel date, I received word that the missionaries on the field were having some personal trials and as a result the trip had been canceled. Not only was I disappointed, but I wanted to know “Why?” Why would God allow me to go through the strenuous application process and support raising only to be denied the opportunity at the last minute?

What I didn’t know was that God had another plan…he could see the big picture. I ended up spending the summer as a youth minister in my home church. God used that summer to call me into full time ministry and gave me a passion for discipling youth. If I had not spent that summer serving in the local church, I may not be teaching teenagers today.

God sees the big picture. He not only knows where we are, but He also knows where He is taking us. When our perspective is limited, we can trust in His ability to see the big picture. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

People Can Be So Insensitive

Why is it whenever someone loses a loved one to suicide, people feel like they have the right to question everything? My heart aches for families who have lost someone to suicide. For example, Robin Williams daughter had to ask the public to respect their privacy…people make all sorts of allegations. Kay Warren has been open about the hurtful things people have said to her after the death of her son. I remember my blood boiling when people would ask, “Did you have any idea Michael was going to kill himself?” 

What kind of question is that? If I suspected, then am I to blame? If I had no clue, am I at fault?  The guilt. The shame. It was often so heavy it threatened to swallow me.

Trust me from personal experience. When you lose someone to suicide, you tend to replay every word spoken over and over again, searching for clues, for anything you might have missed…blaming yourself for not knowing…shaming yourself over your inability to prevent the suicide. We do not need others to throw stones. We do enough of that ourselves --- we assault ourselves with accusations and allegations, searching, hoping desperately to find some sort of answer…anything to explain WHY.

I have seen a multiple posts on Facebook recently attacking a family who lost someone to suicide. I beg you to stop!  No matter what your personal opinions, families touched by suicide are hurting and do not need you to inflict further pain.

When someone dies from cancer, we pray for their families and look for ways to offer comfort. Why then, do we treat those touched by suicide differently?  May we look for ways to offer comfort and support to all who are hurting without judgment or condemnation. 

There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus…and as his disciples, may we do likewise.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ten Lessons I Have Learned in the Past Nine Years


1.  I have learned to love God for who He is and not for what he gives me.

2.  I have learned that when I am weak, He is strong.

3.  I have learned that it is not only OK to need others, but God planned it this way. In Genesis, God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." He created us with a need for each other.

4.  I have learned that joy is not dependent on circumstances.

5.  I have learned that God truly does comfort us so that we can extend that comfort to others.

6.  I have seen joy come in the morning.

7.  I have experienced the peace that surpasses understanding and it is a beautifully baffling gift!

8.  I have learned that masking your pain does nothing for the healing process. Healing begins once   our hurts are brought into the light.

9.  I have learned that feelings are neither right or wrong -- they just are.  Knowing this means that there is no guilt or shame when it comes to our feelings.

10. There are no shortcuts in the grieving process. The only way to experience healing is to walk the   path through the pain. Praise God we do not have to walk it alone. There were times when Jesus carried me.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Gift I Never Wanted but I Am Grateful to Have

Nine years ago this month, I received a phone call that changed the course of my life. Michael called to say goodbye; with every fiber of my being, I thought that we would find Michael and get him to a hospital where he would received help. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that phone call would be our last conversation ever.

Since that day, my life has continued to be ravished by suicide -- some resulted in the deaths of people I love and still others survived.  Suicide simply transfers the pain of the ones who died to the ones left behind. 

The following statistics are from SPAN-GA, a suicide prevention network:

One out of every TEN students has seriously
 considered suicide in the last 12 months. 
One out of every TWENTY students has ATTEMPTED suicide in the last 12 months.
For every ONE Youth Suicide, there are up to
 200 youth suicide attempts. 

The youngest suicide loss in Georgia was  
 8 years old, and we are seeing suicidal  
ideation as young as 5.
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for  
youth ages 15 - 24, and 2nd leading cause  
of death for college students. 

If these stats are true, why are we still silent on the issue of suicide? People are hurting and don't know where to turn to end their pain, so they take the life-threatening path.  I pray that we will listen with our hearts as well as with our ears and that we will be compassionate and non-judgmental.

I work with a support group for people who have lost loved ones to suicide; many feel embarrassed to talk to their family and friends about what happened, fearing that somehow they might be blamed for the suicide. Others heap guilt on themselves, wondering how in the world they could have missed the warning signs. I've been there, and I can tell you that going down that road only adds to the guilt and shame. Ultimately those who die by suicide are in such pain, that the only escape they see in the moment is suicide. If we could have prevented it, we would have -- sadly it was not in our control.

Iris Bolton describes the gift that many find in the healing process. Nine years ago, I would have balked at this. Today, I realize that as I share the reality of Michael's death with others, lives have been saved and others have found healing. This is not a boast about my actions but a testimony to the gift of God. Michael's death was not in vain. While I wish there had been another way, God has used it to not only transform my life, but the lives of many others as well.  The devastating pain has shaped me into a stronger more compassionate person -- an unexpected gift.

If you are hurting from the suicide of someone you love, wait for the gift. It may not be immediate, but joy comes in the morning.

 In my next post, I will share lessons I have learned in the past nine years since Michael's death.