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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On the Couch

Some people I love had a big huge devastating loss recently.

{You know your people are hurting when you choose the color of your lipstick based on the the color of the marks it will leave on cheeks and foreheads of the people you’ll be kissing as you grieve and comfort together}….yeah, that.

As the first waves crashed and started to subside we met up in a living room. In a situation where there are no words we just hugged and cried. The sweet one we were comforting was sitting on the couch and so that’s where we all ended up. I remember trying to reach around and embrace or touch all the precious ones there. It occurred to me later that night that we were like a giant Twister game gone wrong….arms and elbows and knees entangled and hands messing up hair as they tried to reach, tried to comfort. As others came we tried to make room; but all just ended up piled up together on the couch.

In the last week;
  • Love and support has been shared.
  • Family has been strengthened.
  • Secrets completely apart from the situation have been exposed to healing light.
  • Unrelated lies decades old have been crushed beneath Truth.
  • Perspective has been challenged. Somehow the little peevish issues you had with a brother or sister at church don’t seem to matter as much…..

Good stuff {Romans 8:28 with feet on kind of goodness} is happening already.

Yet the truly hard work is just beginning, and it’s not so comforting to be told that your loss is someone else’s gain… least not at first.

Comfort doesn’t come through spiritual platitudes however well meaning they are; it starts from the Couch…..from sharing life and sorrow and pain and genuine “I don’t know whys” with a generous amount of “it ought not bes” and more present silence than you think you can tolerate.

Listen people. We are not doubting God’s sovereignty when we get all up in someone’s pain and feel it and hate it as it crashes over them! There’s no spiritual glory in loving the pain for the pain’s sake. God doesn’t do that, why should we? (See more about God's heart for your pain in Lamentations 3:33)

Now don’t misunderstand, difficulty is without question part of God’s plan for each of us and sometimes it comes through painful loss. But pain is not the hero, God is. The glory is His alone. The glory comes only when we choose to keep walking with God, trusting and acknowledging His character when our circumstances scream against His goodness. 

When it’s yours to walk through; His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). 
When it’s yours to walk alongside; learn to comfort well (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

One of my friends has been sharing 1 Peter 5 with us this week; Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NIV

Yes, do that.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor], Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you. 1 Peter 5:10, AMP

Yes. Let Him do that.

The end of 1 Peter 5 in the Amplified says, “Amen (so be it).”

Until Jesus returns or calls us home speaking HIS Amen on our lives, let’s spend the time we need to on the couch. Then let’s be up and about together; believing and serving and loving one another in real life.

Jesus. So Be It.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grief Gate

My trip to Israel is still on my mind. On our last day in Jerusalem we visited the Southern Steps. These are what is left of a large set of steps that led to gates on the southern wall of the Temple Mount. We learned a lot about this place that I could share:

  • Jesus came here as a baby, (Luke 2:22).
  • As He grew up He would’ve come with his family for the annual pilgrimage astounding everyone as He learned and taught (Luke 2:4-50).
  • Jesus taught here as an adult, Luke says Jesus would teach at the temple “every day” (Luke 19:47; 20:1; 21:37–38; 22:53). The Southern Steps would have been one likely place for these teachings.

The Bumpy ones at the bottom are where Jesus would've walked....

Some of the steps have been rebuilt, but there is a section that is original to Jesus’ time. It is certain that He stood there. [My husband shared a very special story about this place at the end of his blog post here, but I want to share something else].  As our group sat on these steps and tried to fathom the wonder of being there our guide told us about a Jewish tradition that happened here. I almost missed it; I was so overwhelmed with the wonder of imagining Jesus’ feet resting where my fingers brushed over the stones. I focused as He taught us about how the Jewish worshippers would’ve approached the temple only after visiting the ritual baths nearby. As the freshly prepared worshippers ascended the southern steps just east of where we sat, they went through a large triple gate on the east side of the steps (now filled in with stones). As they entered they would’ve been singularly focused on their religious duties and worship. However after their visit to the temple they wouldn’t exit back the same way, they would exit through a double gate on the west side….right onto the Southern Steps, opposite where they entered. Here they would visit and listen to teaching and relax in the aftermath of community and worship [for us, this is the follow-up hugs and tender conversations in the foyer after church]. He said that everyone of course knew how to enter and how to exit. It was tradition, and according to Roni the Israeli Tour Guide “we never change tradition.” Part of the reason that the southern steps were so ideal for teaching is that they were wide (about 200 feet) with alternating narrow and wide steps making a great gathering place. I found a picture recently in my Study Bible that shows this part of the wall. You can see the Triple Gate on the right, and the Double Gate on the left.... 

It’s so exciting to me to have stood there. 

You went to the ritual baths, entered through the triple gate, and then exited through the double gate. 

Every Jew knew this. 
Every Jew did this.

There was an exception. 


If you were grieving you entered in reverse. Instead of climbing the stairs and entering with the throngs under the triple gate, you entered through the exit, the double gate. And everyone knew what this meant.  Our guide shared that as a man or woman entered the wrong way everyone knew it was because they were grieving. As the crowds were exiting, they would make way for the bereaved just approaching God’s house and wave them through, encouraging them to enter, saying…….

"This place will comfort you…..”

This is what is left of the Double Gate....where people would've normally exited.

As I write this we are days away from the bombing at the Boston Marathon, which is especially chilling to me as the wife of a marathon runner.  I’ve waited in a crowd at a marathon finish line twice and am certain to do so again.

As I tuck in my child who is afraid of gunmen in school and bombs in crowds, old enough to know that mom’s platitude of “that’s not gonna happen” rings hollow, I feel angry and helpless.

As I prepare to teach about trusting God in disappointment and protecting our hearts from bitterness even when you lose everything you love I feel nearly superstitious, as if sharing the lesson is inviting the pain.

As my imagination paces on the verge of a panic not covered by grace, I know I need to settle down. And I remembered these pictures and the story of this tradition. Even though I can’t corroborate it, I love the truth found in the sentiment. Grief is mean. One of the meanest tricks grief plays is changing things that used to comfort into unfamiliar routines as ill-fitting and cumbersome as a heavy jacket that smells like a stranger. Grief snatches you unprepared, tosses you up against events and emotions you can’t control, and then lands you back home where everything now feels foreign. Mean.

How perfect that coming to God when you're grieving would be illustrated at the Temple by going to church backward? How fitting that those who’ve experienced God would see you coming and not look the other way or remind you of proper protocol, but welcome you in? How comforting that the place and people who once were familiar would just invite without demands or meaningless platitudes saying instead….
“Come in. This place will comfort you…..”

Let's not let fear stalk and slay us.
Let's not let grief convince us to hide.
Let's share life even when it feels backward, offering honest comfort that serves.

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”
Psalm 10:14 NIV

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
John 16:22 ESV

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine.”
I Peter 1:6-7 NLT

View from the wall at the top of the steps....looking down on the steps.

Here are my other posts about our trip to Israel: