Lament: The Doorway to Blessing

Me:  God, I’m angry.  I need help dealing with this.  

God:  You’re not really angry.

Me:  What? You are all knowing.  You see me, know the circumstances I’m facing and you’re telling me I’m not angry?

God: You don’t have to hide your feelings from me.  I want you to be vulnerable and authentic.  

Me:  Huh?  I am being vulnerable.   

God: Today you finally stopped carrying this alone and brought it to me for help.

Me:  Yes, I need help with this anger.

God: So why are you angry?

Me:  You know how I’ve been hurt in that relationship. There’s so much that I don’t understand and after all these years of friendship to be treated like an enemy is hurtful and makes me sad. I tried to reach out to talk but she shut the door on all communication.

God:  Ah, so you’re hurt and sad?  Have you read Psalm 55: 12-14?

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. Psalm 55: 12-14

Me:  Tears flow …

God:  My door is always open to you. Read Matthew 5: 3-4 and mediate on those verses for awhile.

I come before the Lord empty.

Spiritually I’m destitute.  I’m not strong enough in my own strength to handle this. I need Him. I open my bible to Matthew 5: 3-4:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

There’s no room for anger, unforgiveness or pride, not even a little wiggle room.  

I humble myself, I’m truthful about who I am and what I’m feeling.

Lacking what I need, I open my hands. I’m ready to receive.

This is my vulnerable place.

My mind flashes back to when I first came to Jesus years ago. I was finally truthful with Him about who I was.  That was the door to salvation.  

He swung open the door and welcomed me in and here in this present moment He does the same.

That vulnerability that brings me to God comes through what the Bible refers to as lament.

Lament means: “To express sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something.” Or: “A passionate expression of grief or sorrow.”

Jesus’ first sermon goes counter culturally to what our world says we need in order to be fulfilled and lamenting seems weak.

But God shows me, in the first beatitude, that being poor in spirit brings me blessing and that His kingdom is mine.  

I read it again: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Matthew 5:3

That’s present tense.  That means right here; right now.  

Honest lament and being truthful with God is the doorway into His presence and that doorway leads to His kingdom … on earth as it is in Heaven.

I share my hurt, sorrow, confusion, grief and I am transported above this painful circumstance.  

I’m free to grieve.  I’m free to be vulnerable.  It’s ok to not be ok when I’m in His presence.  

I mourn my loss.  I read Matthew 5:4 again. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.

I am comforted, at peace and spiritually full. This is what it means to be blessed.

An Anchor in the Storm

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. Hebrews 6:19

Since my husband, Bob, became critically ill 6 years ago, I’ve been referred to as his anchor. Mostly by his medical care teams and by his friends whom he confides in about what direction my role has taken in our marriage.

Being a caregiver to a spouse who has been hospitalized at least 12 times in 6 years with many of them being 1-4 week hospital stays has been daunting.  

At the beginning of this journey, I knew that the only way that I was going to be able to fulfill my calling as Bob’s caregiver was to make sure that I took care of myself as well.

That becomes difficult when you feel the pressure to be the anchor of the family. The one who keeps the ship (so to speak) stable, secure, supported and free from floating erratically in the wind of the storm, keeping it in our safe harbor protected from invaders … or in our case, pathogens that can infiltrate the weak and vulnerable one on board.  

The anchor is lifted when we have to sail to another medical procedure, treatment or check up and anchor in that harbor until it’s time to return to the safety of our home. Anchor down. Our life once again lived in our isolated stable environment. It takes its toll at times to be the support in turbulent times.

God knew long before I knew that this was going to be a difficult storm.  One that would not be over quickly or easily and that Bob would be on deaths doorstep several times and I would be called upon to buoy him up and hold our ship steady. Miraculously his life has been spared time and time again and most recently when a palliative care/hospice physician released him from his care with the words, “Not time yet.” God knew and His plan prevails. How grateful I am to still have Bob here with me.

At the outset of his illness I knew that part of taking care of myself was remembering that I wasn’t capable, in my own strength, to be an anchor.  It was too heavy for me. When I tried, when I became overwhelmed, I needed someone to help lighten the load. God provided everything that I needed in Jesus and through the harshness of the forces coming against us He became enough.  He is still enough …

  • Enough to plant a deep faith in me
  • To show me daily what I need to add or subtract from my life to keep me in His peace
  • To supply the desire and strength to walk 2-3 miles most days to keep my body and mind healthy
  • To provide me with good nutritional choices to make balanced meals
  • To bring me resources to help keep my mind and emotions healthy
  • To give me gifts and hobbies to use and enjoy
  • To move in the hearts of family and friends to call or text me when I need encouragement
  • To show me who I can share my deepest thoughts with
  • To have good listeners available when I need to talk
  • To lead me to friends who won’t judge my words or emotions
  • To keep me from sharing too much so I don’t become a burden
  • To encourage me to share my story to help someone else
  • To reveal to me the good in the hard
  • To fill me with joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit

Enough, enough, enough…He is always enough.

And definitely enough to help me take on this assignment with grace for such a time as this. I feel deep in my soul that this is my best work. A deeply spiritual work.  A job here on earth with remarkable meaning and purpose.  A holy work. This job of taking care of someone who relies on me as I rely on God is truly holy work.  I have to be mindful of this daily and to practice the presence of my Lord and talk to him throughout the day and not just during my designated prayer times.  He is the anchor of hope and the anchor of storms.  

That’s not to say Bob doesn’t rely on God.  He does.  I could never take that number one place in his life. Nor would he want me to. Bob has a solid faith, his soul is healthy and strong but his body is weak. Our anchor, our God, our all in all, is the one anchoring our lives in this storm.

Blessings,

Nancy 

Beauty for Ashes

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

It was a few months into the global pandemic and her husband left her for another woman. With a wounded heart and two young children holding onto each of her hands, she tried to muster up the strength to move forward.

Then came her cancer diagnosis. Suddenly the path ahead became a mountain to scale.

It was as if she was traveling through an ash heap of burnt up memories, promises and lost dreams.

Surgery, radiation, ongoing treatment and sorrow filled her days and I imagine trying to be strong for her children only made the load heavier.

She’s a woman of faith, a photographer friend who gave me permission to share a little bit of her story here.

She set her camera aside for awhile. She told me that she didn’t have the strength to pick it up anymore and her passion for photography was gone. Her brokenheart didn’t have room for it anymore.

But God. But grace.

He’s been showing her that beauty and sadness can coexist. He’s given her strength and the desire to pick up her camera again. She’s sharing her art and the beauty she creates but sometimes the titles or captions on her photographs reveal her not so beautiful emotions … her unseen wounds.

I wrote a comment on one of her instagram posts when the sorrow of her words didn’t match the beauty of her photograph. “This is art (I wrote)…when beauty and sadness occupy the same space. It is possible to have both together.”

And it’s true. Isn’t it?

I thought about how that could be a metaphor for life. In the deepest of sadness there will always be times of encouragement. It can come from God in many ways but one way is through the beauty we see around us and even through the beauty we create.

I’ve noticed that most of us have an innate desire to create. That takes on different forms but think about yourself. What are your interests? Do you like to cook, bake, paint, draw, decorate, garden, craft, tackle home improvement projects … ? Also trouble shooting and coming up with new ways to handle a difficult situation falls under the umbrella of creativity as well.

We were designed by ‘The Creator’ and we were created in His image. Therefore, we must have those same qualities in us. Right?

I think we were all designed to be appreciators too. When we notice the beauty we see in our environment and appreciate it, we become people of gratitude. Writing down something we’re grateful for in a notebook or a journal at the end of the day can help shift our focus from our problems and alleviate some of the stress we’re feeling. This is especially helpful at the end of a hard day.

I was happy to see my brave friend capturing beauty again and creating art. Her sadness isn’t gone, her emotional and health struggles are still there but she’s managing to scale her mountain while trying to keep her mind on …

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

Seeking the good through our trials, being able to see the beauty in spite of our battles, and trusting that the mountains we scale will produce spiritual strength and ultimate growth will help us persevere. The outcome …the strength; the growth … that’s a wonderful gift from God. He recycles our ash heaps and gives us beauty.

That’s grace. That’s mercy.

Blessings,

Nancy

A Jewish prayer/blessing I heard recently and find myself repeating often lately: Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, through whose word everything comes into being.

Between Two Gardens

butterfly ©

We live between two gardens

but at times it’s hard to comprehend

that what was lost so long ago

will be restored to us again


All the good and lovely things here

and the beauty we behold

are only glimpses of the remnants

left from the paradise of old


We long for more of all that’s good 

in that once beautiful garden space

but now we only know in part 

with scripture assuring us of that place


With our eyes of faith we can see it

as if it’s on a distant shore

so we’re not consumed by darkness here

for on that shore there is no more


God’s promises through Jesus Christ

make everything so clear

as we share with Him life’s bleakness

and verbalize our fear


We gain a deeper understanding

when we do not handle life alone

and seek Him and His Kingdom first 

with our gaze fixed on our forever home 


This hope will keep us steadfast

as we rejoice in Him and what will be …

a new heaven and a new earth 

and someday with our sight we’ll see

Nancy Janiga

Revelation 21

In Our Trouble

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“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Trouble.  Jesus promises us trouble.  He didn’t say you might have trouble or there is a possibility of having trouble.  He tells us we will have trouble.

His words are recorded at the end of chapter 16 in the gospel of John.  Right smack dab at the end of His teaching to the disciples–which was meant to prepare them for His impending death and resurrection–He tells them what to expect and that it wasn’t going to be easy or comfortable.

He taught them but they really didn’t get it.  He also promised them a gift…the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When they received that gift after His resurrection, they understood and they received power to live as overcomers.

Jesus overcame death through the resurrection.  And His followers will too.  “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

But what does all this mean for me today in the here and now?

In my present situation, it means that when the doctor tells me that I will be my husband’s nurse–post bone marrow transplant–and there will be daily infusions to give him in his chest catheter, flushing the 3 lines with saline and heparin, taking his blood pressure, temperature and watching him closely for signs of disease…I tremble!  This is trouble!

And I cry out to God and I overcome my fears, not by bailing out, but by sticking in there with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When I am at my weakest, when I feel helpless and I look at Bob who is even more helpless, this is trouble!

And I cry out to God and somehow I’m uplifted and given strength that I could never muster up myself.

When I say, “I’m not capable for this task.  I’m not a nurse and if I wanted to be a nurse I would have become a nurse,”  and when I fear doing new things and organizing and administering 13 medications, preparing food that Bob can tolerate, keeping the house fit and sanitized for a transplant patient, and transporting him to hospital visits, I miraculously don’t cave under the weight of it.  Humanly, I think I will.  But I don’t

God knows ‘I can’t’ but through Him I can do all things.  Just like Philippians 4:13 promises.

And in the midst of the trouble there’s even moments of repose, quiet and deep peace.

It doesn’t always come easy but it comes.

God is good in the midst of trouble and in our weakness He is strong.  And that’s how we overcome.

Blessings,

Nancy

(The above photo was taken in our home away from home near the hospital where my husband is being treated.  I have been photographing indoor scenes since I don’t get out in nature much.  My camera is my companion on this journey.  I thought I’d have to give up my photography but how could I?  It’s a gift from God, and all that I photograph are reminders of the small delights and simple pleasures that I have to be thankful for).

When God sends messengers

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My husband, Bob, has been in the hospital for a little over two weeks. He’s already had 4 rounds of intravenous chemo and they just changed his oral chemo med tonight. The oral chemo targets the Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.  The intravenous chemo targets the Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  The CML mutated into ALL but the CML still exists.  The doctors tell us that both cancers have the Philadelphia Chromosome, which makes his condition rare and difficult to treat.  Since they don’t have much data to fall back on with this rare combination, his medical team came up with what they are referring to as a “hybrid treatment plan.”

He’ll receive round 5 of intravenous chemo this Thursday.

All his blood counts are in the range that the doctors expected them to be this week and overall his doctors are happy with how Bob is responding.

About 4:00pm yesterday, Bob’s chemo nurse told him that he would be receiving another chemo drug by injection on Friday and that his doctors would explain more about it in the morning.

Bob wasn’t expecting to receive anything on Friday so the news was overwhelming and hard for him to hear.  He slipped into depression.

I wasn’t there when he heard the news. I returned at 5:00pm.

I usually park in the parking garage but decided to go in the emergency entrance when I got back to the hospital.

As I entered, there was a man sitting in a wheel chair by the door. He looked at me and asked if I was a volunteer. I said no. He asked, “Do you work here?” I replied, “No, I’m on my way up to the 5th. floor to visit my husband. The man asked, “What’s your husband’s name?” I responded, “Robert”. “Can you give Robert a message for me?” he asked. I nodded. Then he said, “You tell Robert that I’m praying for him and to keep the faith!” I smiled, thanked him and told him that I’d definitely give him the message. As I approached the elevator, he yelled out “You both keep the faith!”

How can we not keep the faith when God sends messengers (perhaps even angels) to encourage us daily?

Bob’s words after he heard the message? “Our God is good. He is reminding me that He’s right here with me and He’ll never leave me.”  His spirits lifted.

Peace returned to Bob’s heart and he rested well last night.

Blessings,

Nancy

(I snapped the above photo from Bob’s hospital room)

Breaking up the Unplowed Ground

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It’s been a long goodbye this week.  I’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones traveling cross-country to start a new chapter of life in a new place.  It’s been a bittersweet separation these past few days.

My emotions range from being hopeful, happy, excited and then sad and lonely all at once.  Then there’s worry and anxiety close by to turn my world upside down.

Letting go.  It’s hard.

I spent the last few months in my garden.  Weeding, working the soil, planting.  It’s therapy.  And the therapy became a blessing as I have anticipated this week for some time now.

I worked the soil, in a large planter on my deck, trying to release a stump leftover from a shrub that once grew in the pot.

I dug, pulled, chopped, yanked.  Little by little the deeply embedded roots gave way to my prodding and poking.  Bit by bit I tossed the entangled roots until I got to the stump.  I dug a little more and released its grip.  It was finally gone for good.

Adding more potting soil, it was ready to receive fresh new plants.

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My heart can feel that way sometimes–choked and clogged by a number of embedded emotions that need uprooting so that new growth can sprout.

It may seem easier to let them fester, ignore them or even wallow in them but if I want to flourish, both emotionally and spiritually they need releasing.

It’s funny how God can speak to me in the most unbelievable ways.  Yesterday it was through a Persian poet born in 1207.

I opened a magazine and these words popped out at me:

Do not worry that your life is turning upside down.  How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?  Rumi

Ok, God.  I hear you.

I wandered through my garden today and noticed the beauty.  There are flowers blooming everywhere.

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The hard work this past spring produced an over abundance of growth.

I know It’s time to work the unplowed ground in my heart too.  I sit quietly, flipping through the pages of His unshakable and reliable word.

Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.  Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts…   Jeremiah 4: 3-4a

Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.  Hosea 10:12

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I’m doing the hard work of pulling out some of those deeply rooted roots and weeds in my heart, because I know that to see new growth and flourish I must first dig out the worry and anxiety.  I have to uproot the wanting to hold on tightly when it’s time to let go.

And you know what?  The more I work at this uprooting process the more I’m seeing evidence of joy and peace sprout once again.

What do you need to uproot today?

Blessings!

Nancy ©pensandjournals.com

Savoring Moments Through My Lens # 2

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The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.  Psalm 24: 1-2

The sandpipers poked their beaks in the sand not noticing me at first.  As I approached them, they dispersed.  Flying across the water Afloat; they scattered.

I’m sitting at my desk doing what I do…writing.  I’ll publish my next writing post (most likely) by Monday.

I just took a break from writing to read and respond to the Daily Post’s Friday Photo Challenge: Afloat.

Besides writing, I also enjoy photography and savoring moments through my lens.  I captured the above photo on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida.

I marvel at God’s creation.

Be blessed!

Nancy

Expressions of Love

heart sunset 2 - Copy wdp“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”  Sarah Kay


I’m not sure why I was having a bad day.  It was several years ago.  All I remember was there were tears and I wanted a little slice of time to myself.
Bob left the house and returned later with a box of Good and Plenty, handed it to me and said, “I thought this might make you feel a little better.”
I smiled, opened the box and we went for a walk while I ate my candy.
And you know what?  That simple gesture of love lifted my spirits.
He could have brought home a dozen roses, a box of chocolates and a diamond ring and it wouldn’t have had the same effect.
I’m not saying those gifts would be meaningless but there’s a time and place for everything.
The little box of Good and Plenty was perfect.
Why?  Because it came from someone who has studied me, therefore knows me and my husband picked a simple, thoughtful gift for that day.  Knowing that Good and Plenty was one of my favorite childhood candies, he went out and bought a box.
It was just an ordinary day, with me needing a little encouragement and my husband decided that Good and Plenty may do the trick.  I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I ate that candy–it was many years ago so it was a special surprise.
Silly, huh?  But you know what?  It’s often the simplest gestures of love that mean the most.
As hard as I try to remember, I can’t recall why I was so sad that day and either does Bob but we both remember the gift of Good and Plenty and how it made me feel.
That’s important information for many of us to remember, especially during the month of February when images of love abound as we approach Valentine’s Day.
We can start by studying our loved ones, making mental notes of their likes and favorite things, listening for clues of what may lift their spirits, bring them joy, put a smile on their face and then follow through with a simple gift.
It doesn’t have to happen on Valentine’s Day.  Actually, an unexpected gift expressing love on any day has even more meaning and impact.  However, Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to express our love to a spouse, child, friend and even a stranger with a random act of kindness.
Sometimes bigger isn’t better and less really is more.  One simple rose (in a favorite color) placed in beautiful vase instead of a dozen roses — a box or boxes of favorite childhood candy instead of a box of expensive chocolates — think, study, explore, put thought into purchasing a simple gift and then share your love.

I took the photo of the sunset, at the top of this post, on February 13, 2014 in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico.  My husband and I were walking the shoreline when we noticed that the sparkling reflection of the sun on the sand looked like a heart.
I refer to that photo as the night that God kissed the shore with a heart for us just in time for Valentine’s Day–a reminder of his love for us.
His love cost everything he had — his only son and his very life.  That’s truly the only BIG GIFT worth receiving, because that’s how we learn how to love even in the smallest of ways.
We love because he first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
The greatest gift is LOVE–go out and express it in creative ways and give someone a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Blessings!  Nancy ❤    © 2015

When too much salt spoils the soup

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It was a cool autumn day, lunch time, and a hearty bowl of soup sounded good.

Bob and I stopped at a familiar restaurant and ordered the vegetable beef soup and a salad.

As we waited for our lunch, we sipped our coffee.  Not just good coffee but great coffee — something the restaurant is known for and we enjoyed every drop.

When our meal arrived, I scooped up the steaming liquid brimming with chunky veggies and bits of beef and tasted my first spoonful.

Bob asked, “So how is it?”  I swallowed then responded, “It’s flavorful.  Almost too flavorful.  Actually, It’s pretty salty.”

He tried his.  “Wow, you know me, I like my meals salted well but this is overpowering.”

Both of us kept remarking how salty the soup was with every spoonful.  I don’t know why we didn’t send it back.  We should have.

By the time we left, we had a bad taste in our mouths.  Not only because of the overpowering salty soup but toward the restaurant who served it.

On this side of that lunch experience, we have lost our desire to go back there to eat.  We’ve steered clear of it ever since.

Just one bad experience, from a normally good establishment, and we don’t want to return.

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 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13

Recently I’ve heard several people say that Christians have lost their saltiness.

That statement may be true in certain situations.  Salt was used as a preservative in the first century, because of the lack of refrigeration.

Followers of Christ are like preservatives in the world, preserving it from evil.  I get that.

But salt back then was also used as a flavor enhancer.  Just as it is now.  That hasn’t changed.

Followers of Christ should enhance the flavor of our world.  We should influence the world toward good, bringing out the best in it just as salt brings out the best flavors in the food we eat.

  • Where there is strife we are peacemakers
  • Where there is sorrow we are comforters
  • Where there is hurt we should bind up wounds
  • Where there is hate we should love

Did you ever notice the gentle way Jesus engaged the broken, sick, sorrowful, hurting, unloved, abused people in conversation?   With great love.

Did you ever notice who He was the harshest with?  The religious leaders.  The ones who loved to use their religious rules to pour salt into the wounds of people.  The ones with the judgmental pointing fingers — pointing out all the wrongs in others — those were the ones that He was harshest with.

How thankful I am that Christianity isn’t about religion but about a relationship with Christ.  He doesn’t force Himself into anyone’s life but when we open our lives to Him a beautiful relationship begins.  Out of that loving relationship comes the salt of the world.


Back to the soup story.  It tasted as if someone had removed the top of the salt shaker and, instead of a little sprinkling, all the contents ended up into the bowl.

It was too much of a good thing.  A lesser amount would have been perfect.

“You are the salt of the world…

Sure we can lose our saltiness but we can also be guilty of using too much salt and become overbearing like the salty soup we ate that autumn day.

The grace given to us is a flavor enhancer to sprinkle on our surroundings by using just the right amount at just the right time.

We don’t want to pour our salt into the wounds of the hurting.  Those who are grieving over their choices, or the choices of others, those who are trying to take steps back to God don’t need our salt poured out carelessly.

And even if someone isn’t taking steps toward God, even if they don’t agree with us or we don’t agree with their lifestyle, the right amount of salt doesn’t judge.  It loves. It’s patient.  And it’s respectful.

A little salt goes a long way to flavor the lives of others and possibly wet their appetites.

Then hopefully, through God’s grace, they won’t leave our company with a bad taste in their mouths.  I think that glorifies God.  Don’t you?

Blessings!  Nancy