Archives For Emotions

There are many ways for us to get into the Christmas spirit.

Some of us listen to and sing along with our favorite Christmas tunes. Others of us watch Christmas movies or send out Christmas cards to family and friends.

Many of us bring out the Christmas spirit by decorating. We put up a Christmas tree and hang up all sorts of ornaments on its prickly green branches. Those of us who are not too averse to climbing up ladders string lights on the outside of our homes.

100_5401I have one clever friend who gets into the swing of the season by decking out her car with reindeer horns and a bright red nose.

Speaking of reindeer, I invite you to check out this short clip of a YouTube video that has recently gone viral. Claire Koch, who is just five years old, captured hearts across the world (and the essence of the Christmas spirit) when she used sign language in a school Christmas concert so that her deaf parents could understand the lyrics to the songs.

With her little hands and big heart, this adorable child showed what getting into the spirit of Christmas is truly all about.

Even in the smallest of ways, Christmas is about giving. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ—our Creator God’s most extraordinary of gift of love and joy—by shining His self-giving love into the lives of others.

 

 

Needs and Wants

Dennis Moles —  December 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

flickr/Creative Commons/R Stanek

In a world where Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become proper nouns, it’s hard to distinguish between needs and wants. Every year I have the same conversation with my mother.

Mom: “What do you want for Christmas?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Mom: “Do you need anything?”

Me: (long pregnant pause while I think) “I don’t think so…”

Heading into the Christmas season causes me to wonder, “What do I really need?”

John 4 tells us of a time when Jesus needed something: “But [Jesus] needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:4 NKJV).

At first glance this might seem like an odd verse to reference in an Advent-related blog, but the passage stands out to me as especially applicable to this season. It stands out mainly because it clearly shows what Jesus did when needs and wants came into conflict.

In the first century, no self-respecting Jew would have wanted to go through Samaria. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They hated each other so much that many Jews would take the longer road around Samaria when traveling from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south. They did this because they did not want to be around, touch, or associate in anyway with the “unclean” Samaritans.

But Jesus needed to go through Samaria because there was a woman who needed His love and a group of disciples that needed His example. Jesus went though Samaria because the woman with the worst reputation in the town of Sychar needed to know that she was loved. But He also needed to teach His disciples that the gospel is meant for all people (John 4:33-38).

On second thought, I do need something this Christmas. I need the same thing that the disciples needed that afternoon in Samaria. I need to be reminded that following Jesus means walking through the places I want to walk around. I need to be reminded that Jesus has come into the world to meet the needs of the needy, not the wants of the greedy.

Merry Christmas!

I look forward to Christmas . . . and yet I don’t. I like listening to and singing along with the mostly cheery-somewhat melancholic music I hear on the radio and in stores, and I enjoy the tinsel, bright lights, and other festive decorations. I like decorating the tree and wrapping gifts. I love family gatherings and yummy meals and the sharing of gifts. And this year I especially look forward to the joy of watching my two little bright-eyed grandsons open their gifts.

But frankly, I have mixed feelings about much of the “to-do” about Christmas. I don’t like the expectations associated with gifts. So often I’ve given someone a gift and then learned that it was something the receiver already had, didn’t want, didn’t fit, or simply didn’t like (though usually that was kept hidden). And before that came the process of thinking about what to buy and then shopping, while avoiding the crowds, and hoping to get the perfect gift on a limited budget.

Speaking of budget, there were years when I did all my shopping in the month before Christmas and ended up using credit cards to buy the gifts or to pay necessary expenses in the months that followed. I’ve mostly solved this problem by buying fewer and less-expensive gifts on sale with cash and throughout the year, but sometimes that just gives me more time to agonize over whether or not I’ve purchased the right gift.

And though most family gatherings are cheery and fun, not all have been of the same caliber of togetherness and joy. (And this year will be sadder because both our dads/grandpas will not be here to celebrate with us.) In the past I’ve also gotten so caught up in preparing the food and making sure everyone was comfortable that I’ve missed out on conversations and moments the others shared. Now when everyone gathers at my house I’ve solved that dilemma by ordering pizza and having everyone bring salads or desserts.

And then there’s the letdown when all the hustle and bustle is abruptly over.

If that were all I had to look forward to in this holiday season, I’d be like all the rest of the world that has no real reason to celebrate. Thankfully, I do! I celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. In a seemingly insignificant birth to two insignificant people, Jesus quietly entered this world with only lowly shepherds to witness His coming (Luke 2:1-20). Yet that birth was heralded by angels and set in motion the chain of events that gives significance to my life here on this earth and in the life to come.

That’s why I can take special joy in setting up my manger scene, singing carols of praise in God’s sanctuary, and savoring the stories of His birth found in Scripture.

I’m eternally thankful that He came, and I pray that I keep Him at the center of my celebration—not just in this season but all throughout the year.

It has been nearly 25 years since the phone rang bringing us the terrible news that my younger cousin Jacob had been badly hurt. He had been playing with some neighbor kids and in a freak accident a guttering spike had been driven 6 inches into his brain. It entered between his eyeball and the orbital bone. He was rushed to the hospital, but the situation was grave and the doctors gave us very little hope that he would survive. It would take a miracle.

During this crisis, our family scrambled into action. Several hurried to the hospital to be with Jacob. Several others gathered at with my grandmother’s house to wait.

The usually light atmosphere at my grandparents’ house was replaced by one of heaviness and sorrow. Without much conversation, we gathered around Grandma who lay weeping on the couch. With Jacob barely clinging to life, we did the only thing we felt we could do. We prayed. I did not know it at the time but that prayer would forever change how I approached God in prayer.

As we began to pray, my grandmother could do nothing but weep. We prayed and she cried. She cried and said “Please, Father” under her breath as we timidly plead for Jacob’s healing. As the family prayer session went on, Mommaw started to pray.

There was no pretense or pleasantries in her prayer. At first it was agonizing to listen to her, but then the agony, while still present, began to give way as she charged boldly into the throne room of the Almighty. It was clear that she was asking for God’s help. She wanted Him to heal Jake, but it was also more than that. She also needed His presence, for without His presence she could not survive the pain. She needed to know that even in this terrible circumstance God was near. That He still heard and still cared.

By the time she really hit her stride in prayer, we had all stopped praying. We simply knelt quietly, and with our eyes wide open we watched Mommaw pray. We all knew she had taken us to a holy and intimate place. It was a place she seemed to know well; she had obviously been there before.

In those tense and fearful moments, Mommaw showed us that what we all really need in times of intense grief and sorrow is the Lord’s presence. We longed for Jacob’s healing—and by God’s grace and mercy we got what we wanted—but what we really needed more than anything else was God Himself. For He truly is our only hope in life and in death.

Unavoidable Pain

Tim Jackson —  February 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

In my role as a father, I’ve always considered protecting my three children from harm and from things that would hurt them as one of my primary missions. Hot stoves. Sharp knives. Power tools. Bikes. Cars. People. All of them have the potential for good or harm. Knowing how to handle each is crucial to minimize the risks of pain.

At times, I’ve succeeded. But all too often I’ve failed miserably. Or at least that’s how I feel when I’m helpless to prevent something from hurting one of them.

On Friday, I felt that helpless feeling again. This time it was a text from my youngest, my baby girl. (Yea, she’s 22, but she’ll always be my baby! You dads know exactly what I mean.)

The text was urgent, simple, and pointed:

“Please pray. One of my friends Micah is in the hospital after passing out in the pool. They haven’t been able to fully revive him yet. Please, please pray!”

A few moments later, she wrote, “He didn’t make it . . . Please pray for his family.”

My wife and I were on our way to meet my son and his wife for dinner. We were anticipating a wonderful time together. Now we were stunned, kicked in the gut. We ached for our daughter, but we felt a deeper grief for Micah’s parents who we’ve never met and who just lost their precious son. (His older sister had been on my daughter’s floor last semester.)

As we parked the car, my wife and I clutched hands and prayed. We asked that God be present with our daughter, and that He would hold and comfort her, her friends, the student body and staff of the Christian college she’s attending, Micah’s family, his roommate, the young men on his floor, and the students who pulled him out of the pool and did their best to revive him. All are reeling in pain from the loss of this vibrant young man.

We prayed that God would surround them with His loving embrace so that they would know they were loved even in the middle of their pain.

Recently I’ve been working through some material on the loss of a child in preparation for an upcoming program. In his book Written In Tears, Luke Veldt writes about the tragic and sudden death of Allison, his 13-year-old daughter. He makes an astounding and terrifying statement: “It took the death of my daughter for me to begin to understand the love of God” (p. 24).

Yikes! I want to know the love of God, but must it require that pain and loss be inflicted on my heart to truly know His love? Luke’s book describes his personal journey through grief and “how I came to know God better, not just despite my loss, but because of it” (p. 25).

Luke goes on to quote A. W. Tozer who wrote: “The Bible was written in tears and to tears it will reveal its best treasures” (p. 22). It’s the journey through grief that often drives us to the God of the Bible for answers. But there are no answers that will bring our loved one back or remove the pain of their absence.

Yet God is there. He’s not silent. And He weeps with us because He loves us. He’s not impotent or uncaring because He didn’t prevent the pain. Even though He’s a perfect parent, God never promised to protect us from all pain. But He’s with us in our pain.

The journey through painful loss was never meant to be taken alone. We need others to go with us, reliable guides who have walked this path and found hope in the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). How Can I Live With My Loss? is a booklet we’ve prepared to help you navigate your journey through grief.

And a request: Please pray for Micah’s family, my daughter Tracey and her friends, classmates, and the staff at Moody Bible Institute as they take this journey through grief together. Pray that the pain of this loss will bind them into a healing community that is empowered by the loving God who welcomed Micah home with joyful celebration.

October Baby

Jeff Olson —  January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Over the weekend I watched the film October Baby. It tells the story of a college-aged girl named Hannah whose world is turned upside down after she discovers she is the adopted survivor of a failed abortion.

This story about a girl whose life almost wasn’t is a powerful film on forgiveness. Hannah had to wrestle through strong bitter feelings and forgive several people before she could move on with her life.

The film’s grace-filled, non-condemning treatment of Hannah’s biological mother, who had attempted to abort her, was also a surprising breath of fresh air. Women who suffer the heartache of having had an abortion may find watching this film to be a very healing experience.

Something Hannah’s adoptive dad shared with her near the end of the movie also stuck with me. Hannah’s discovery and search for her birth mother caused a lot of tension between the two of them, which he often didn’t handle well. As they stood next to each other at the graveside of the twin brother Hannah never knew she had, her dad confessed,

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s that I’m trying honestly to learn to trust God again.”

Leaving things we care about in God’s capable and loving hands is a most important lesson for us all to learn.

The major sports story this past week wasn’t what was accomplished on the field of play but what went on behind the scenes in the life of the man who was until recently renowned as the greatest competitive cyclist of all time—Lance Armstrong.

In his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance finally admitted what many have suspected and some have know for the last 14 years—that the 7-time Tour de France champion used performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping throughout his cycling career to gain an edge over his opponents.

As he described it, his “ruthless desire to win at all costs” drove him to brazenly lie about his use of banned substances for over a decade. His deep fear of losing propelled him to do whatever he thought it would take to win.

Losing was never an option for Lance. And that gets dangerous, not only for him, but for all of us who have drank from the winning-is-the-only-thing well.

When I watched Lance’s interview, what flashed through my mind was the scene from Cool Runnings, the 1993 Disney film about the Jamaican bobsled team at the Olympics. Irv, played by John Candy, was a former U.S. Olympic champion in the four-man bobsled event. He’d been stripped of his two gold metals and banned from competing in the sport ever again for cheating in his last competition by placing weights in the front of the sled.

Derice Bannock, the driver of the Jamaician team that Irv was coaching, asked him why he cheated and this was Irv’s response: ”It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?”

Derice: “No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.”

Irv: “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it”

When winning is everything, you’ll stop at nothing.

If we lose ourselves in winning at any price, we truly lose ourselves. We become less than who we were made to be. We fail to recognize that we are more than our accomplishments, more than our net worth, more than where we live or what we drive or what we wear.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book Bread for the Journey, “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. . . . Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. . . . Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness” (Jan. 4).

I think Henri had it right. Hopefully, Lance is on his way to learning that too.

But what about you and me? How aware are you that you’re sacrificing your integrity at the alter of your drive for success? Whether it’s in your profession performance or keeping up a well-manicured image in relationships, it’s time to admit that all of us struggle.

I know I do.

Drivenness to succeed in ministry is still drivenness. It’s all about me. The apostle Paul reminds us to “make it our goal to please Him [Jesus]” (2 Cor. 5:9). When we focus on Him, it’s not about winning but about fruitfulness through faithfulness.

Lance reminded me in his interview that winning at all costs simply costs too much. Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and lose our life for His sake (Mark 8:35) is the way to discover a richness and fulfillment in life that surpasses any other finish line we may attempt to cross. And that’s the real victory.

Holiday Blues

Jeff Olson —  December 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

The holiday season is normally my favorite time of the year, but not so much this season. While much of the world celebrates the “most wonderful time of the year,” I’m often feeling blue, hurting inside over losing both of my parents this past year.

What I’m finding as I go through this first holiday season without Mom and Dad is that the things I’ve loved my entire life (Christmas music, decorations, family gatherings) are often painful triggers that remind me that my parents are gone.

Thanksgiving was rough. I cried as we drove over to a family member’s house for dinner and felt down throughout the day.

Christmas won’t be any easier. There will be no phone calls wishing each other Merry Christmas. No gifts to exchange. No “I love you’s.”

And when I’ve caught myself feeling festive and enjoying the season, I sometimes feel guilty. It feels “wrong” to be happy and to celebrate when they are not here.

Guilt tells me I should just be sad.

The truth is I am sad—for good reason. But I’m also happy. Though there are times I may need to feel one more than the other, God has been teaching me that it’s okay to feel both. Both can coexist in me.

There are no exact rules to follow as we grieve the loss of those we love, let alone go through the first holiday season without them. We each have to figure out our own way. For me, giving myself permission to experience both sadness and joy has been a part of finding my way through this season of grief.

It’s the holiday season. And the season seems to be expanding more and more each year. Stores small and large seem to be decked out earlier every year, with merchants trying to exploit the insatiable demands of holiday shoppers with dwindling discretionary income to spend.

But what’s the holiday season all about? From Thanksgiving through Christmas, this “most wonderful time of the year” has been hijacked by anyone trying to make a buck, hoping to make it into the black before the end of the year.

So, in an attempt to help all of us focus on the spirit of the holidays here at HelpForMyLife.org, we want to focus on some of the unique joys and heartaches, traditions and challenges, as well as opportunities that we hope will help all of us return to a more Jesus-centered focus at this “most wonderful time of the year.” After all, it’s His birthday that is being celebrated around the world.

We’ll be talking about traditions that we’ve found helpful and will give you some ideas that may challenge you to be more intentional in your celebrations this year. And we hope that will make the holidays more meaningful for you and your family.

First holidays celebrated with someone new—a spouse, a baby, a community—can be delightful and fraught with meaning. The newness can bring an intoxicating sparkle of wild-eyed discovery back into a holiday celebration that has become simply predictable or “ho-hum.”

On the other hand, first holidays celebrated without someone special—such as after a divorce or the loss of a spouse, child, parent, or dear friend—produce deep struggles with the ambivalent feelings of being torn over the heartache during a season made for celebration with precious loved ones.

Decisions regarding what traditions will or won’t be celebrated, to travel or not to travel on the holidays, and ways of avoiding getting sucked into the commercialization trap while balancing the desire to be a generous giver will be some of the topics we’ll discuss over the next 4 weeks.

So come and join in the discussion—” ‘Tis the season for sharing.”

Palm Trees

Jeff Olson —  October 12, 2012 — 4 Comments

One of the things the State of Florida is known for are its palm trees. You know you’re in the Sunshine State when you start to spot its unmistakable canopy of evergreen leaves sprouting out of the top of its long, branchless trunk

As I was returning home from a recent trip to Florida, it dawned on me that I didn’t remember noticing palm trees. Normally, these tropical icons are one of my favorite things to see in Florida. But on this recent trip, I didn’t “see” them.

The palm trees were there. I just wasn’t.

On this most recent trip, I had traveled down to my parent’s house in Florida to help sort through their belongings and settle their estate. (Earlier this year, both of them unexpectedly passed away).

This trip was another one of those emotionally taxing, but necessary tasks that adult orphans find themselves having to do.

This trip also reminded me of the fact that when you’re grieving the loss of someone close, you are not yourself. Things that used to be important don’t seem to matter as much. For a period of time, (sometimes a very long period of time), you often lose the desire and freedom to appreciate the things of life that you once enjoyed.

But unlike the ones that we love that are gone, our capacity to enjoy and appreciate things, even little things like palm trees, can return. It takes time. Sometimes it can take a few years. But eventually the fog of grief will start to lift, and our desire and freedom to enjoy life can slowly come back.

While future trips to Florida will never be the same without my parents, a time will come again when God will lift my heart to enjoy the majestic beauty of a palm tree.