Showing posts with label ministry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ministry. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ministry work and house problems

Life has been busy, busy, busy lately. We've had some house complications, Thanksgiving is coming up and there's a lot of planning involved in that, and the first Empty Arms Connections meeting took place last night.

First, the house complications. If you live in Salem, have a drain problem, and need a plumber call me. I can tell you who to go to, and who to avoid, so that you don't receive - and nearly accept - a crazy high bid. Plumber the first told us they couldn't clear out our pipe and we would need to pay thousands of dollars to put in a new one. Plumber the second cleared out the pipe. We had a good time hyperventilating over the cost for twenty-four hours. I tried to be cheerful and optimistic because I just started the She Reads Truth thanksgiving study and was all full of give thanks in all circumstances verses and truth, but I quickly reverted back to, "we'll never move now! I know we have the money in savings, but it's still a lot! Wah, wah, wah."

Second, the first connections meeting. You guys, people came!! Not a lot of people, but we had six (ministry team included - so four really)! That feels like a good start. It was hard to get the conversation up and running, but there was discussion and tears and some laughter and I think people felt a little lifted and encouraged at the end. There was a moment in the beginning when I was like, hey wait, I asked a question, no one is answering, what do I do now? I'm an introvert, I'm awkward, this is awkward, am I really in charge of this, was this my idea?? but I said a quick prayer for confidence, and remembered that God doesn't call us to do hard things on our own.

Last night we read a devotion from the One Year Book of Hope and then talked a bit about how much God cares for us as we mourn. The conversation wandered all over the place, but that was the starting point.

For a long time I went to a support group that meets every month, but I haven't gone for a while now. It just wasn't a good fit for me anymore. I felt really guilty about that for a long time, and there's a lot of people from the support group I miss, but last night after the Empty Arms meeting I felt uplifted instead of broken and angry, which is how the other meetings left me feeling.

I've been conflicted about all of this for a long time: support groups and ministries, and where I fit, and where I want to fit, and worry about making people angry. I don't want to be a Christian who sections herself off with people who think and act like her, but in this particular time in my life I really need to be in my grief with people who believe in the hope of heaven and our great Comforter. I can't go into the grief for extended periods of time without that component in place. (I still really like that support group and highly recommend it, it's just not a good fit for me right now)

That doesn't mean if you don't believe you can't come to an Empty Arms meeting. And that doesn't mean we can't be friends if you don't believe in God. It simply means that I am giving myself permission to grieve in the way I need to without feeling guilty. I'm a people pleaser - to my very core - but in this instance I have to take care of myself and my heart.

It's been such a process to start the Empty Arms Ministry. I hope we continue to grow. I hope if people need us they ask for help. I know there isn't a cure for grief, or an end goal, or a way to be over the loss, but there is hope. I believe in Jesus and His promise that this is not our forever home. I need that truth to make it through life without Charlotte. And I want others to know that hope, and to know that God is not callous, that He cares about our broken hearts.

Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 56:8: You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Isaiah 65: 17-20:

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.

Monday, October 27, 2014

on building a wall

I read through the book of Nehemiah yesterday with the She Reads Truth devotion as my guide. It was so encouraging, and so applicable to where I am in my life right now, I can't stop thanking the Lord for pointing me to it.

Nehemiah is a short book about the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, but it is far from simple. Nehemiah's faith and trust in God is evident over and over throughout the book. He doesn't make a move without talking to God first. (2:4, 4:9, 6:9).

I am in the middle of following God's call to build a ministry for parents who have lost babies at our church. It's a mess, friends. It's hard work. It's discouraging. It's frustrating. It's way harder than I thought it would be. But Nehemiah's work is a reminder to stay faithful, to be obedient to what God is asking me to do, and to take every step with faith and prayer. (4:9)

Chapter three of the book of Nehemiah lists who worked on each section of the wall. The devotion that accompanied the passage pointed to instances when specific areas appear later in the Bible. It had been hundreds of years, but the wall was still up, and was still being used! The devotion encouraged readers to look beyond the boring list of names and see how God was using these people to support a later mission. And then this passage of the devotion jumped out at me:

"Could it be that the section of the wall God has given you is important for His glory today, but that He might also have an eternal plan for the work you're doing?

What if ... your simple job is the setting for miraculous kingdom-size work for generations to come?"

Oh. I hadn't thought about that! Honestly, I've been so busy trying to make everything go my way I haven't stopped to think about the future of our ministry. I'm head down determined to make things happen, too busy to look up and pray about why God is asking us to create this ministry.

If you've read this blog for any length of time you know I sat in the "why valley" for a loooong time after Charlotte died. You can read three or so years of blog posts on the scenery in that valley. I didn't really like it down there, but I couldn't figure out how to get out. And every time I found a path and began the climb I fell and ended up on the valley floor again.

What I finally - finally!! - learned was the only way out of the valley is reliance on God and an understanding of faith. Faith in God's plan, and acceptance of the fact that His plan doesn't align with mine. His plan is so much greater! And along with faith there needs to be a willingness to put aside the need to know why and accept that there won't be answers this side of heaven.

Here too, in this ministry building time, faith is the answer to all of my questions. I don't know what we're doing. I don't know if we're reaching people. I don't know how our ministry is going to grow, or where it will be in a year. I'm just one person working on a wall because God asked me to do it. There's amazing people building next to me, and we're praying for guidance with every brick we set. It's not about me, or my comfort, or my need to know what is happening and why. It's about loving people and being where God has asked me to be. Arms open, heart open, ready to serve. (4:6)

The first Empty Arms Connections meeting is on November 17th. It's not a support group, it's a hope group. There is absolutely nothing wrong with support groups, but our vision is to give people more than support. We want to remind them to look forward to heaven and lean on the truth that this is a temporary home.

As we face opposition and frustrations, as we try to work cohesively and peacefully with everyone around us, I'm going to keep Nehemiah and his faith at the forefront of my thoughts. There were armies trying to take Nehemiah down, but he stayed focused and He continually relied on God to guide him and take care of him.

Nehemiah 6:9 - 

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed."
But I prayed, "Now strengthen my hands."

The past two weeks have been challenging. The last month has been challenging! God is moving, God is working, and that means the Enemy is working too. Pray for us. Pray for our ministry. Pray for the mothers and fathers we will work with. Pray for us to seek God every step of the way.

All the glory to Him.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

empty arms: she remembers her babies

This weekend the Lord opened a door for the ministry I've been working on at my church. 

The church has been focusing on the importance of life, and encouraging members to celebrate it. My co-founder, who came to me a year and half ago with the idea of a ministry, filmed her testimony about multiple miscarriages a week ago. It was shown at all three services this weekend, and after each service we had a table outside with information as well as small tokens in remembrance of lost babies.

I love that I attend a church brave enough to support a ministry focused on pregnancy and infant loss. And I love that the pastor used baby loss and miscarriage in his sermon. At the beginning he talked about a fellow pastor who asked him what to say at the funeral for a two day old. Pastor explained that he has a better idea of what not to say, then told the pastor who asked for advice to tell the couple to "anticipate eternity." He then talked about how we do that. It was a wonderful, wonderful sermon. I know I say that a lot, this pastor deals with some tough issues, but this sermon goes into my favorites list.

After each service my co-founder and I talked to people who have lost babies. It takes a lot of bravery to walk up to strangers and share a story of grief and loss. With each story I feel like I'm receiving a gift; often it's a memory of a child that few knew existed.

One gentleman said to me, "My mother, she's 88, she has dementia. Between all of my siblings births she had miscarriages. She doesn't remember much, she doesn't know my name most of the time, but she remembers those babies."

How incredible is that?

We're just getting our ministry started. As we focus our goals this summer, and prepare events for the fall, will you be in prayer with us? We're starting from scratch and building with faith, but we don't know where the Lord is going to lead us, or what He has in mind for our ministry. We want to provide comfort to the hurting, but we're still figuring out what that will look like, and how we can best serve people.

I love that our ministry is about support, prayer, and honoring life. I'm always amazed by the things God has wrought in my life since Charlotte died.

I know there are many who read here who don't believe as I do. I find vast reserves of hope and healing within my faith. I desperately want that for every last person who reads here. I pray for you. I don't know who you are, but God does. I pray that you see I have only become this person through my faith and belief in God. I pray that you know Him. If you are hurt, or questioning, or angry know that I am willing to listen. And if you want me to pray for you by name, please contact me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

it never goes away

This morning a friend and I who have been trying to cobble together a ministry for pregnancy and infant loss at our church had our first outing as a ministry. Our church had a fall kick-off event for women and we were asked to set up a table that people could visit at the beginning and end of the event. It was just the kick we needed to push our ideas from almost completed to ready to present.

At first we wondered if anyone would be interested in our table as the demographic was mostly older women, but it quickly became apparent that there were people who wanted, and needed, to speak with us.

It blessed my heart, and made my soul ache, to see women who lost 15 years ago tear up when we offered them a small gift in memory of their baby. They were shy about taking it, reluctant even, but they always accepted. I saw at least one woman steal away during the luncheon hour to pick up a gift from the table and my heart just broke for her. It is so easy to internalize grief and allow the isolation that comes with the death of a baby to obscure the pain and longing.

This generation, our generation, is speaking out about loss and what it is like to lose a baby. We are standing as tall as we can without them and we refuse to move on or forget. I think social media helps because it strips away the feelings of isolation and lonesomeness. Even in the middle of the night, in darkened houses when everyone else is asleep and the tears come, we can reach out and find someone who is awake and understands.

Perhaps this refusal to be silenced can be used to reach out to those who were forced, or expected to, move on after losing a baby. Perhaps our strength can embolden our mothers and grandmothers to share their stories. Because one can tuck that lost baby, or babies, deep inside but the memories, the counting of lost years, and the longing and wondering never dissipate. That just has to wear on a person and offering to listen and hold a small piece of the grief may allow healing and release. 15, 20, even 40 years, is an awful long time to be silent and grieve alone.

Today I was reminded of the woman who shared her loss with me shortly after Charlotte died. It had been 43 years since her son was stillborn, but she still wondered if he was the child who would not have disappointed her. She still missed him and she still grieved over the fact that she never saw or held him. I know many loss parents who mourn over a lack of pictures, or a short time with their baby, but can you imagine never having the opportunity, or choice, to meet that sweet soul?

Today I was also reminded that there is opportunity in brokenness and there is healing in sharing, even if the story is "just about a miscarriage." (You know how I feel about that phrase). I feel blessed to have this opportunity to listen. Every baby is a miracle and every story matters. I don't know where our little ministry will go from here, that's in the Lord's capable hands, but I feel blessed to have this opportunity to reach out a hand and offer to listen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dear Ministry Leaders: Helping Families Through Baby Loss

A few days ago I received an email from a local blog reader who will be speaking to a group of ministry leaders about ministering to families who have lost babies.  She wanted my take on things since she has not lost a baby herself, though she works hard for the loss community via Calvin's Hats.

Responding to her question gave me time to process and think about my faith journey, and how Charlotte's death affected it.  I like what came of the exercise, I feel like it explains me a bit more, so thought I would share it here.  I added a bit, but otherwise left it unchanged.

Dear Ministry Leaders,

Be gentle, be kind, be loving. Two days after Charlotte died our good friends came over. They said, "We just want to love you through this time," and then prayed for us. I think that's the best thing any ministry leader can do. Love, love, love the families who experience baby loss.

Do not speak of God's plan, or will, or unique timing.  Shortly after Charlotte died I didn't want to hear about her death being God's plan or will. I don't believe He took her away from us and at the time I couldn't separate the idea of the overall plan He has for my life from that one instant. 

Losing a baby is a solitary thing, very isolating, and families need a place to fall apart. I spent many a Sunday crying through worship and the sermon. And there were a lot of weeks when we couldn't find the energy to go to church. So if a family isn't around for a few weeks check in on them. Minister to them at home because going out is too difficult (so many babies at church!).

Remind the families of God's love. Over and over and over again. It's easy to lose sight of that in the midst of grief. And remind them that he knows pain and grief and the loss of a child. He sent His Son to die for us, He knows that unique pain. When we mourn, when we hurt, when we experience great sorrow it brings Him to His knees. He doesn't like it when His children suffer because He knows how it feels.

One of my favorite hymns is How Deep the Father's Love for Us, mostly because of these lines:

"How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns his face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory."

Read and pass on When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It restored my faith in God, gave me an idea of the meaning behind losing Charlotte even though there isn't really any meaning to be had.

Recommend or give out Steven Curtis Chapman's Beauty Will Rise album. He wrote the songs after his daughter died in an accident. His songs carried me through the darkest of times. The words reminded me that Jesus was with me through it all, even when I felt utterly alone.

Understand that those who lose babies are mad, mad, mad. And their rage is often directed at God. They wonder why God didn't save their baby when they prayed and asked Him to.  Allow room for that anger. Create a safe space where it can be vented so it doesn't fester and affect family and spiritual relationships. A lot of loss parents turn away from God, but I think they can be gently guided back over time with lots of prayer, love and understanding.

I often felt like I shouldn't go to church because I was confused about God and our relationship. We didn't go for a while after Charlotte died, but when I got pregnant again we returned. Not consistently, but more than we had been attending. I felt guilty, like I was only going because I wanted to keep my baby safe, and I thought bringing him - via me - to the house of the Lord would accomplish that.

Over time I realized going to church doesn't protect us from hurt, but it does provide a sanctuary when life crashes down around us. I learned that God doesn't care if I show up with a confused heart and clenched fists; He can work wonders on any spirit.

It took me nearly two very long years to come to a place of healing and acceptance, and to renew my relationship with God. I don't know why Charlotte died, but I've grown and learned and accepted that her death has led to transformation in me.

Perhaps God wanted me to long for heaven, to crave it more. That has certainly been accomplished. Or maybe He wanted me to lean solely on Him, to understand my faith and fully commit to living as His child.

I think God uses trials and times of great sorrow to remind us He is present, holy, in control of our lives, our Father. Though it feels like we walk alone, He is always by our side ready for us to reach out and ask him to help us through. And ministry leaders are a conduit, a way for those who are reaching to connect with the One they are seeking.


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