BIG CHANGES!!!

“searching for daffodils” now has it’s very own (http://www.searchingfordaffodils.com/)!

The new site will still be similar to the old one, using the familiar WordPress framework.  By moving the site to its own domain, it can be presented more professionally and there are a number of worthwhile benefits for the author and the consumer.

For the time being, I will continue to post on the original site while I am putting the finishing touches on the new one.

Thank you for believing in me and for being patient!

– Andy

Don’t Try to Understand Them

FamilyLife Today (R) is a syndicated radio program hosted by Dennis Rainey.  Today’s episode was a rerun of a broadcast that originally aired several years ago, an interview that Dennis conducted with Hall of Fame college basketball coach John Wooden.  The “Wizard of Westwood,” Coach Wooden was known for his integrity, for the numerous national championships his UCLA teams won, and for being a teacher of both sport and life.

Dennis still remembers this interview as one of his all-time favorites.  Among the numerous anecdotes shared by Coach Wooden that most people would’ve never known otherwise, one stood out to me.  He recounted one of the few conflicts that he had with his wife, one in which he responded by leaving their home for a few hours.  The regret in his voice was obvious, and the coach iterated more than once that he was wrong to act the way he did.  When he returned to his residence that night, his wife had already gone to bed but she’d written a note for her husband to find.  It read, “Don’t try to understand me, just love me.”

How much difficulty might be lessened or eliminated if we treated every person in our lives as if they’d just handed us the same note?  The controlling in-law who always has suggestions?  The obstinate co-worker who makes your job harder?  The unsaved neighbor who bashes Christianity at every opportunity?  I Corinthians 13 is commonly referred to as “the love chapter;” its verses are often recited at weddings and utilized in premarital counseling.  The synopsis of those chapters – and Mrs. Wooden’s note – is this: without love, our thoughts and actions don’t matter.

You’re bound to have heard it said before, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  In other words, “If I don’t know that you love me – or if I know that you don’t – then I’m not interested in anything you have to say to me.”  We relate to that easily when others presume to speak into our lives with motives that are dubious or uncertain.  But, it becomes a foreign notion to us when we know exactly what someone should do but they refuse to heed our obviously wise counsel.  Why won’t they listen to us?  Is it because they are just too proud and stubborn?  Could it be, perhaps, that you haven’t earned the right to be heard and heeded because you haven’t truly shown the person that you love him or her?

Andy, what does all of this have to do with grief anyway?  I’m glad you asked!  We all know someone or three who grieves in ways that we don’t understand.  They are stuck in the mire of sadness and depression, and they seem to want to stay stuck there.  They find ways to direct EVERY conversation back to the person they mourn, even months (or years) later.  Maybe the opposite is true, maybe you don’t think they are affected enough or they get over it too quickly.

Here’s some advice that will help you, and it just might help you help them: don’t try to understand them, just love them.  When you love someone hard enough for long enough, you might just discover that your need to understand them goes away.  “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2b, NIV).

This Will Make Some of You Mad

I ran across a ‘Tweet’ by Jennifer Dukes Lee yesterday that moved the needle on my enthusiasm gauge more than a little towards the high end.  It read, “I am not a hypocrite or a crazy person if I preach happiness one minute and weep the next . . .”  Nineteen words from the social media account of a person I’ve never met perfectly sums up the goal of my blogging efforts.

Linked to the post was a picture with a partial quote of Hebrews 12:2: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (NIV).  Grab your Bible or open your favorite Bible app and look up that entire verse.  There is no reasonable compatibility with “joy” and “the cross.”  Crucifixion was intended to inflict anguish and humiliation.  The pain of the process was horrific and intentionally inflicted.  The joy that was set before Jesus was doubly motivated by: 1) his love for the people he was dying to save; and 2) his understanding that neither the cross nor the grave would be the end of the story.

One of my pet peeves of children’s ministry is that we tell our kids a Gospel that seems incomplete.  Our kids make it to middle school and their understanding of the Gospel is that “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.”  And He did.  But the story has an epic conclusion that’s often remembered as an epilogue afterthought.  What happened on the cross on Friday was necessary to pay for sin; Jesus did for humanity what humanity couldn’t do for itself.  Jesus didn’t JUST pay for our sin, though.  In the resurrection he showed that He is more powerful than sin (and death, and hell).

The days leading up to Easter are my favorite period of time to be on social media.  The screen is an incessant parade of memes and quotations, pictures and Bible verses reminding us of the greatest reason in history to celebrate.  For all of the gory details about Friday afternoon and the miraculous glory of Sunday morning, the Scripture is conspicuously quiet about Saturday.  Therein lies our dilemma: we live in a Saturday world.  We’re caught between the Friday of grieving over real hurts and the hope of a Sunday resurrection that’s coming but not yet here.

Jesus endured the cross with joy because He knew how the rest of the story would unfold.  The believer in Christ is in the position to know that the rest of the story applies to us as well.  Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, NIV).  

DISCLAIMER: Here’s the part that may evoke wrath.

Which group are you in?  Are you one of the brothers and sisters who is fully informed, or are you part of the general population who grieves without hope?  That’s an “either/or” proposition, it can never be “both/and.”  Contrary to popular belief, being dead is not the only prerequisite for going to heaven.  I’ve sat in attendance in some funerals and – while hearing the eulogy – double-checked the program to make sure I was at the right place.  On a couple of sad occasions, I’ve had to temper the expectations of families in mourning regarding what I could or would say about a deceased loved one.

Biblical Christianity is the ONLY worldview that can logically make sense of the problems of evil, the ONLY belief system that can satisfactorily answer the question of why bad things happen, and the ONLY faith that offers real hope after the problems of evil and bad things have been contemplated.  We don’t all serve the same God in different ways.  There aren’t many ways that lead to heaven; there’s only ONE way and His name is Jesus.  John 14:6 is a familiar verse to that end.

Among the multitude of struggles I see in peoples’ grief journeys, two are incredibly sad: 1) those who mourn for a person who did not have faith in Christ; and 2) those who struggle to make sense of their grief because they themselves don’t have faith in Christ.  Those struggles intersect at a common point, the crossroads of “there’s nothing we can do now for the dead” and “there’s always hope for those who are still here.”

All over the world on this day of celebrating the resurrection, pastors and preachers will pull from so many different Bible passages to build on the theme of hope that is found through the Gospel of Jesus.  I want you to have that hope, including and especially as you grieve.  While you cry on the Saturday of life, I want you to be looking ahead through your tears to the Sunday that’s coming instead of being trapped and unable to take your eyes off of Friday.

On Sunday morning, women who grieved more deeply than anyone else over Jesus’ death showed up at the tomb to finally give his body the treatment it deserved.  They didn’t get up early with the notion they could do anything to change circumstances, they only sought to bring some dignity to the process and some closure to their wounded hearts.  Disappointment, confusion, and even panic ensued when they found no body – literally – where there was supposed to be one.  Matthew 28:5-6 reads, “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (NIV).  If you’re one of the masses who hasn’t found faith in Christ, then those words will have no power or meaning for you.  If you’re a ‘brother’ or ‘sister,’ though, they hold a wealth of eternal promise and hope that overcomes our present & temporary trials.

Enjoy the daffodils, and happy Easter!

 

 

Jesus Wept, Too

In my years of student ministry, there were plenty of occasions in which teens were called to spontaneously quote a Bible verse.  Invariably, someone – usually a middle schooler, always a boy – would offer the ‘smart alecky’ response, “Jesus wept.”  It took me too long to turn those episodes into teachable moments but I eventually figured out how to do just that.  Whenever “Jesus wept” was an answer, I pressed for the scripture reference (nobody ever offered the correct answer of John 11:35).  Then I’d offer a follow-up question as a chance for redemption: in what biblical story is that two-word verse found?  The success rate was a little higher with that question (the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead).

I remember when that simple verse became real to me.  REALLY real.  I think it was in the summer of 1994, although I may be off by a year.  At this advanced stage of life, as often as not my mind will engage in synthesis instead of recall.  It was at the graveside service of a man I’d never met, in a cemetery in or near Goldsboro, NC.  I was there because the man’s son had been an instrumental figure in my faith journey, and my presence was the most tangible way of showing support to him.  It was a very warm summer morning, made to feel hot from wearing a dark suit out in the open sun.  The service itself wasn’t any more or any less remarkable than dozens of others I’d attended in my life to that point.  I hung around on the fringes, waiting for my turn to speak just briefly to my friend.  Most of the others there knew him and his father, so I felt they deserved my friend’s time more than I did.

I didn’t judge myself to be “affected” in any deep way.  I was thinking more about the rest of my day – and a trip to the beach – than about ministering to my friend.  Then it happened.  The end of the line finally made it’s way to my friend under that tent with the name of the funeral home on the side.  After waiting for quite a while, I had my opportunity to express condolences and offer encouragement.  Except I couldn’t.  Like the Grinch’s heart on Christmas morning, my adam’s apple grew three sizes.  Whatever cliche platitudes I had planned on spewing out wouldn’t come.  All I could do was look at him for ten or fifteen seconds, trying to speak but unable because I was also trying not to cry.

God finally gave me some words, and in looking back I think they were really good words.  I told my friend that I wasn’t crying for myself and I wasn’t crying for the man whose body was in the casket.  I cried because my heart hurt was hurting for my friend.  I told him I didn’t have anything brilliant to say, but that I hoped he knew someone who never met his dad was hurting with him and for him.

The next time I came across the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, my mind was taken back to that cemetery.  Over twenty years later, it continues to be taken back to that same time and place whenever I’m reading or hearing chapter eleven of John’s account of the gospel of Jesus.  Some suggest that Jesus wept at his overwhelming sadness and frustration that even the people closest to him ‘just didn’t get it.’  I don’t find that to be an inappropriate interpretation.  I will suggest that it’s an incomplete interpretation, though.

A lot of us, I think, view Jesus as a hybrid: half God, half man.  That view is flawed because Jesus was/is fully God AND fully man.  In coming to earth as one of us, some of his divine traits were subjugated (and that’s a topic for the blog of someone who is much smarter than I am) but he was never NOT God and he was never NOT a man.  It’s not unreasonable to believe that the man Jesus was driven to tears because the other humans surrounding him failed to see that God was literally in their midst.  It’s also not unreasonable to believe that Jesus wept as a response of his own sadness and for the compassion he felt for those around him who were also incredibly sad.  John 11:33 even hints to that, indicating that “Jesus was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled” (NIV) when he saw the others in deep mourning over Lazarus’ death.

During the season of Advent we’re reminded that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.”  He gave up his place and position in heaven to come down to earth as one of us.  He fully took on a human form, flesh and blood and everything that comes with it.  Jesus understands physical pain, mental frustration, and – yes – emotional anguish.  Our God is not separate and apart from us.  He is with us, He understands us fully, and He relates to us perfectly.

Whenever you’re struggling down a path that’s a little darker or steeper or rockier than you’d prefer it to be, remind yourself that Jesus wept, too.  There’s a good bunch of daffodils in that reminder.

What a Difference a Year Makes

It’s so much easier giving advice than taking it.  I’m a genius in dealing with everybody else’s problems and an idiot in my own life.  At least admitting I have a problem is the first step.

Yesterday was a milestone day in my grief journey, the one-year mark since my mom left this life.  A few friends sent messages of encouragement, letting me know they were thinking about me and praying for me.  There was such a sweetness in the mix, none of them specifically mentioned why they were thinking about me and praying for me but we all knew the unspoken reason.

By itself, there’s nothing magical about the one year-anniversary of any event.  When it comes to something especially sad, though, there’s a subtle psychological force that’s always there.  Some days that force lingers in the background and some days it’s front and center all day, but it’s there.  Even when it’s not affecting you heavily, that force is a constant reminder of “firsts”: the first holiday without that person, my first birthday when he/she wasn’t here, etc.  When I speak to people who are struggling with certain traumatic issues, sometimes I point to that first anniversary in trying to encourage them to reclaim territories of their lives that grief and sadness have invaded.  I just didn’t know how well I’d be able to implement my own advice.

I can usually gauge my own reactions a few days in advance.  I knew two full weeks before that Christmas would be a struggle for me, and it was.  At the time I predicted that the one-year anniversary wouldn’t impact me as heavily, and it didn’t.  I could tell a few days ago that I would be “okay.”  I’d thought about crafting a message on my mom’s Facebook page yesterday, but I wasn’t compelled to do that (and there were already good messages  left there by others).  I considered picking a little bouquet of daffodils and sticking them in a glass jar to place on her head stone, but the best of this year’s daffodils are behind us.  I didn’t need to “get away,” I just stuck with the routine of living life.

In that normal living of life, God sent a nice bunch of daffodils.  When you work with students in a church setting most of them view you with the attitude of “eh, whatever;” their personal feelings will wax or wane like the moon depending on the circumstances of the week.  On one extreme end of the spectrum are the students and parents who generally regard you with disdain.  On the other extreme end are the ones who love you personally, passionately, and unconditionally.  It was on that end of the spectrum where I found daffodils yesterday.

One of those “in your corner” students in my previous ministry was a sprite of a young lady named Riley.  Riley’s passion is dancing, and for five or six years she has been involved with an artistic company whose primary focus is putting on an evangelistic/worship production over the two weekends prior to Easter.  About 100 middle & high school dancers will practice for months to put together almost 30 numbers, and they’ll do eight fast-paced shows in a 500-seat auditorium with every show being over 95% capacity (most will be sold out).   The production quality is high, the ability of the dancers is strong, the creativity is unique, and the purpose unifying those traits is unrivaled.  Riley’s parents offered me tickets, and I jumped at the chance to take them for one reason – I’d get to see Riley in her spotlight.  She’s not the most accomplished of those 100 dancers (she is great, though!), but she’s the reason I wanted to be there.  I knew from experience that I would enjoy my time, but I wouldn’t have cared about the experience except for the little thing with flowing brown hair and a smile that beams.  I thought that was my daffodil.  And it was.  It just so happened there was a bouquet waiting to surprise me.

On stage for the finale, Riley saw my little group in the auditorium.  There were plenty of other folks who she knew there, but you could tell her awareness of our presence sparked her.  When the crowd was dismissed, I told my family we weren’t moving until we got a chance to speak to her.  The tiny dancer navigated her way through the swarm of too many people jostling for position in the aisles and she walked past more than a few of those familiar faces to come to me first.  She gave me the tightest hug that said – without actually saying it – “You were here for ME!”  Yes, yes we were.

Neither a sixteen year-old girl nor her parents understood their therapeutic roles in my life yesterday.  After writing last week – twice – about the time to mourn and the time to dance, I entertained the thought of writing about “the time to watch other people dance.”  The dancing was irrelevant, though.  What mattered was the reminder that there are people who love me for no other reason except they love me.  In spite of my mistakes and even though there’s not much I can offer them in any practical way, they love me.

A year ago at that same time, I was accepting that there was no medical intervention to preserve my mom’s life.  What could have been a somber and oppressive day was actually the opposite.  On the way home I was reminded of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (NIV).  The selfless act of a mom & dad and the genuine appreciation of a high school junior had NOTHING to do directly with my emotional circumstances, but they were a comfort of extreme proportions.

I can see my mom’s headstone from my house, but I don’t visit her grave frequently.  Yesterday after returning home, I did just that.  I didn’t stay very long, but long enough to smile at the bunch of daffodils blooming on my grandmother’s grave a few feet away and long enough to thank God for the wonderful people – including my mom – He’s put in my life.

Even when we don’t want it to, life goes on.  Let yourself find comfort in the people who love you.  Let yourself be comfort by loving the people in your life.  When you do that, you’ll enjoy a whole lot more daffodils beside the road of life’s journey.

What Do You Say?

I’m one of those people who loves social media and will admit as much.  I thrive on seeing what’s happening in other peoples’ lives, and the instant ability to send messages or offer some form of commentary are right up my alley.  Facebook is still my media of choice; I never obtained proficiency in Twitter (although I have gotten better) or Instagram or Snapchat or anything else.

One of the Facebook features I generally enjoy is “Memories.”  The first time you scroll to your timeline each day, you’re greeted with a photograph or status update that was posted to your timeline on this same date in the past.  It’s fun to be reminded of what you were doing and who you were doing it with.  Except when a year ago you were constantly updating your status to keep the world informed about your mom’s critical illness which was about to become her passing.

I know what this week is, as do my dad and brothers.  I’d know it without the daily reminder-fest that is Facebook memories.  We don’t avoid the topic, but we don’t look for reasons to bring it up.  I think we’re each a tad curious to see what kinds of responses will be elicited from within.

This topic has a loop road that detours off the main path.  There’s a nine year-old girl who has a bedroom in my house.  Every once in a while she’ll get teary at night.  Sometimes it’s a thinly veiled scam to sleep in mom’s bed.  Sometimes it’s the result of her brain thinking too much after she watched a movie scene that might’ve been more intense than she originally thought.  Then there was that one time – two nights ago – when it was because “I miss MeMa.”

That little girl was the apple of her MeMa’s eye.  MeMa and Pa were her daily caretakers from the day mom returned back to work after maternity leave.  When she started school, they were her bus home and her after-school care.  They introduced her to country cookin’ (the nine year-old has eaten a greater variety of foods already than her twenty year-old sibling has ever tasted).  My mom involved her in an endless succession of crafts, fuel to an imagination that still burns in her tank today.  Maybe they even spoiled her a bit; I kept telling mom to stop letting her surf YouTube because that was how her laptop was getting infected.  I guess giving joy to a child was worth the risk of malware.

We don’t keep secrets with the wee one about the tough stuff.  You can look her in the eye and tell her, “The doctor will probably give you a shot” and she won’t panic.  When someone is seriously ill, we give her enough age-appropriate information to process.  And last year, I told her that her MeMa was dying soon.   We gave her the choice of being at the hospital or not, and she chose to be there.  She’s cried a few tears here and there, but the only time she really lost it was in the room of that intensive care unit as the end was unfolding.  Nobody else was sobbing at the time, she wasn’t prompted to be dramatic.  That’s when it hit her and that’s how it hit her, so that’s when and how it came out.  In the days after, we let her know that it was okay to cry or to talk or to ask questions.  She had a few brief moments but nothing major, not in my presence anyway.  Until two nights ago.

What do you say to a child who’s hit by a spell of grief a year later?  What do you say to a child who wants to take one more trip to Hobby Lobby or do one more craft project or cut one more bunch of flowers?  I can only tell you what I said: not much.  I watched her cry.  I cried with her.  I told her it was okay to feel sad and miss MeMa.  I reminded her of some of the reasons she had to miss MeMa.  I pointed out some of the ways MeMa loved her.  I watched her cry some more.  I cried some more.  Then I kissed her and went to bed, letting her cry herself to sleep.  When she woke up the next morning, she was good to go.  She’s resilient, like her MeMa was and like the rest of us usually are.

I wish I’d had something more brilliant, something more fitting in line with what the “parent of the year” would say or do.  Maybe it’d be easier if we lived on a farm where at an early age you become very familiar with the circle of life.  I don’t live on a farm, I’m not the parent of the year, and I’m only brilliant in my own mind.  So, the only thing I knew to do was deal with her just like I deal with everybody else.  I don’t ever want her to be paralyzed by morbidity, but I also don’t want sickness and dying and death to be foreign concepts to her mind and heart.  I want her to know that they’re part of this life we are born into, and the emotions they elicit are not taboo.

Staring at her over the rail of the upper bunk, I was reminded of my post from the day before.  There’s a time to mourn AND a time to dance.  That night was her time to mourn.  The next night she was dancing (and cartwheeling and flipping and gyrating and leaping from one section of the living room to the other).  Both nights, there were still a lot of daffodils – literal and figurative – to be seen.

[NOTE: If you enjoy what you read here and would like to know how you can be directly involved in helping the author establish a footprint for his writing, send an e-mail to searchingfordaffodils@gmail.com and put “help” in the subject line].

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance

The title of today’s entry will likely elicit an immediate response within the minds of most readers.  Some will be pointed to the original source of those words in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes.  Others will first recall the eternally famous musical interpretation of those words as rendered in the 1960’s by The Byrds.  If you’re in the latter camp, there’s no shame in that!

Many people around the world – sports fans and non-fans alike – were captivated last month by the words of Monty Williams.  Williams is an assistant coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, and was previously the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.  Monty’s wife, Ingrid, was killed in a head-on collision.  Instantly, the coach became a single father of five kids ranging from ages five to seventeen.

Monty chose to deliver a eulogy for Ingrid, a task he executed masterfully.  For me personally, I was most impacted by his admonition to the audience that they shouldn’t say we’ve “lost” Ingrid.  His reasoning?  If you know exactly where someone is then they aren’t lost!  The mainstream media didn’t want to emphasize that too highly, it might be offensive.  😉

The portion of his speech that did receive much attention were still more than worthy.  Monty requested prayer for the family of the woman responsible for the crash (who also died), reminding the audience that two families were hurting in the same way.  He expressed that his family held no ill-will towards the lady’s family, and that was perceived on most fronts as extraordinary.

I had thought about using that eulogy as the basis for a post.  I’ve been drawn to it since the day it occurred, but the timing didn’t seem “right.”  Until two days ago.  His team issued a statement informing the world that Coach Williams won’t return to the sidelines this season.  He will continue to take time off to focus on healing for himself and his children.  What a contrast: the man who masterfully delivered such a powerful message at his own wife’s memorial service is the same man who will step back from the majority of his job duties while he grieves.

I see a daffodil in those circumstances.   Monty Williams is demonstrating that there are two sides to the coin of grief, even if the world only sees the side facing up at the moment.  Sometimes we tend to think of grief as “either/or” when we ought to see it as “both/and.”  On the days that your coin lands with the “dance” side up, it doesn’t mean that your grief is forever gone.  When “mourn” wins the coin flip, it’s not an indication that you’re failing at life.

There’s a time to mourn AND a time to dance.  Have an awesome day and find some daffodils for me!