What do you hold onto in times of loss?    

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”  Job 1:21  

The other day I said that over and over with tears streaming down my face.  I said it because I believe it, not because I felt it.  I had finally hit a wall with the losses in my life.  Usually I’m able to “grit and gratitude” my way through life’s pain.  But the dam broke and the tears came.   

Good Friday, our 13 year old pup, Faith, passed away from cancer.  Last September, I lost my Dad.  April of 2018, my brother passed away.  June of 2016, we lost my mother in law.  Between 2016 and now, there have been other losses:  uncles, a cousin, some major traumas on both sides of our families.  This January, my husband and I decided to exit the financial services industry.  My part time job as Admin Assistant in his office disappeared at the end of February.  I was looking forward to focusing on my senior care performances.  Then COVID 19 hit and they all cancelled.  I was planning to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day, back in PA.  She’s 92, part of the most vulnerable population, so that’s not happening, either.      

When the tears came, I was staggering under the weight of attempting to hold myself together, telling myself I was trusting Jesus, not sure that I truly was.  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away”.  As I said those words, it was with a mixture of accusation and surrender.  “How could you?” I thought, then immediately “Because you’re in control and I’m not.”  Wave after wave of grief has threatened to drown my faith these past few years.  I’m finding that the only faith I have left is in my Creator, my Redeemer, my Sovereign Lord and Savior.   

I have no faith in the news media, in politicians, in social media.  So many differing opinions, so many contradicting “facts”.  I don’t have the energy to sift and sort and process all this anymore.  I’m finding it difficult enough to focus on what needs to be done daily.  I’m trying to shift gears with my music career and get motivated.  Some days it works.  Some days it’s all I can do to get through the day without getting back under the covers.  Taking a shower and eating are sometimes major accomplishments.   

I thought back to years ago, when I was still a board-certified music therapist, required to take continuing education classes.  This particular class was led by a music therapist working in hospice.  She gave us a piece of paper and had us write down 4 people we love, 4 hobbies we enjoy, 4 of our favorite foods, 4 places we like to visit.  Then she told us we had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Step by step she took us through the disease process, at different points along the way telling us to cross off one of our “favorites” in a certain category.  I’ll spare you the details; it was a heart wrenching exercise in empathy, as piece by piece, I lost everything and everyone that I cared about.  We got to the end of the exercise and she noted that we had crossed everything off our papers.  But, had we?  

As I looked at my list, my heart began to soar.  I still had something left without my pencil line drawn through it.  When I wrote down the people I loved?  One of them was Jesus.  As I went through this exercise of losing everything I cared for, He was the One who walked with me every step.  He was weeping with me.  He was with me in my physical pain.  He mourned every loss with me.  And when the end of my life came after this imaginary terminal illness?  He would reach out His hand and usher me into eternity where I would spend my new life with Him.   

I have never forgotten that day, when I proved to myself that no matter what or who I lose in this life, I will never lose my Savior.  As I navigate my current losses and ponder what losses might be coming, I know He will give me the strength I need.  He knows my weaknesses.  He understands my current confusion and frustration.  Unlike my ego, He doesn’t need me to do something great for His Kingdom right now, He isn’t disappointed that I haven’t figured out something “spectacular” to do with my creativity.  Knowing that, I will continue to sit at His feet, learning how to truly rest in, trust in, and be loved by Him. So that I can say AND believe “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”        

What's Your Focus in Times of Fear?  

We live in unprecedented times.  The recent coronavirus pandemic is like nothing I’ve seen in my 50 years on the planet.  Thirty minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed today was enough to see plenty of frightening news.  Empty grocery store shelves.  Numbers of diagnosed cases rising in my state of Missouri and next door in Illinois.  Major public music and sporting events cancelled.  Schools shutting down.  People talking about the end of the world.  About the prudence of “social distancing” to avoid contracting or spreading the virus.  My own church cancelling in-person services and starting to live stream from YouTube.  I got up from my computer with a pit in my stomach.  Fear was getting the best of me.  

I had a choice to make.  What was I going to focus on for the remainder of the day?  

Of course, I want to be informed.  Sticking my head in the sand and pretending this isn’t happening won’t lead to wise decisions.  Other things that won’t lead to wise decisions?  Anxious, racing thoughts.  Expecting and worrying about worst possible outcomes.  Allowing myself to get so stressed that my body responds negatively.  Psychosomatically, even.  I could quite literally worry myself sick, with the exact symptoms I’m hearing about.  My thoughts are that powerful! 

So, I fought the fear.  I chose to capture all of my thoughts and give them to Christ.  To cry out to Him to help me focus on the right things.  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)  I chose to be present in the moment, to take a deep and cleansing breath, to center my thoughts and to be grateful.  Grateful for my health, for my husband, for my family and friends, for my puppy dog, for the birds and bunnies in the backyard, for my Savior and His amazing love for me.  On and on I poured out my grateful heart to the Lord and found myself feeling lighter, less burdened, able to think more clearly.  

This choice was a decade in the making.  In 2010 while we were still living in Phoenix, Clayton lost his job in the spring, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, completed treatment in August, he moved to St. Louis for a job in October, I followed in December.  I was anxious.  I was worried.  I was in physical pain.  Every morning I would wake up and check the Facebook app on my phone before anything else.  After months of that routine, I heard the Lord quietly speaking to my heart.  First, He asked me to delete the Facebook app from my phone.  Then, He invited me to spend time with Him first thing in the morning, reading His Word and journaling my prayers and thoughts.  

Ten years later, I can tell you that one of my life verses is “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33) The “things” that have been added to me are His presence, His wisdom, His counsel, His peace, His calm, His strength, His courage, and an intimate, heartfelt knowledge of my Savior that I never imagined I’d experience.  He even helped me chronicle my journey with Him in my Catch a Falling Dream program.  While I was writing and editing that program, I saw where His hand guided me my entire life.  It helped me to trust Him even more, knowing what He’d brought me through.    

Another choice I will make is to pray continuously, like never before.  I pray that the Lord stops this pandemic in its tracks.  I pray He gives the leaders of our nations wisdom and discernment; I can’t imagine the stress they are under.  I pray for the overburdened medical personnel.  I pray for the elderly in senior care homes, and the families who are currently unable to visit them.  I pray for the people around the world who are grieving their losses.  I pray for those who are fighting their own fears.  I pray that He heals those who are sick.  I pray that He draws people closer to Him through this.  I pray that He helps me to focus on the right things.  Because I can’t do everything that needs to be done.  The needs are too overwhelming.  But I can do something.  I will focus on my Savior and my Counselor and He will lead me.