Joy at the Cross

pain face

I’ve been thinking a lot about mothers lately mostly because I am watching the health and mental capacity of my mom decline.  The once vibrant mom I knew is slowly fading with dementia day by day.  It’s like a slow death.  So I asked the Lord to bring me joy FOR her.

Joy is difficult to realize when you lose someone you love dearly.

However, there are some situations when it’s easily accepted.  For instance, at the end of person’s life with the natural progression of old age.  We often ask for early release unto death with the suffering by pain and with the terminally ill.  Over the years with technology and advances in modern medicine, we’ve even grown accustomed to watching pain close up too.

How can joy ease the pain of death?  I think about how Mary, the mother of Jesus handled it.  The Bible relates her standing at the cross where Jesus died.  She had support system that included, John the beloved, and two other Marys.  Onlookers to this event had a front row seat to watch the immense pain-filled suffering of Jesus, and watch her response as his mother.  I would have been wailing if it were me.

I’m grateful she handled it gracefuly.

The Bible doesn’t talk about her emotions a lot, but I assume she cried.  This tragic event would be in addition to all the other times a mother weeps for her children from her kitchen, on her knees, or while sharing with other mothers.  Mary was a normal human and full mothering emotions after all.  Did she use self-control?  Did she weep for days when Jesus died?  Was there any consolation for Mary even knowing Jesus was going back to the Father?

There had to be some comfort for her, afterall, Jesus predicted his death many times.

I’m also reminded as a mother that watching your child die, at any age, is never easy.  I know, however, Mary was highly favored and entrusted with the care of Jesus unto death.  I would agree joy is part of God’s design which can be activated in very tough and joy-less situations like death, grief and loss of a loved one.

So where is the joy in death?  Mary witnessed death with intensity.  No one expects to be crucified, a brutal and cruel death nor leave this world in such a way.  So where’s the joy in watching death slowly snuff out life?  Jesus explained how joy works in his last meeting with the disciples and I think he explained it specifically for mothers to grasp ahold of.  Here’s his final word on death:

“The Disciples’ Grief Will Turn to Joy”

John 16: 15-33  Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”  At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Wait a minute, did Jesus just say joy is completed in death?  As hard as death is to watch, it’s even harder to accept the reality we will never see our loved one again this side of heaven.  But encouragement comes with joy, because we know one day we will join them again in Heaven.  Jesus encourages us further for days filled with trouble…

“I have told you these things, so in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I believe Jesus was saying there is joy found in death, and this joy completes our peace.  Joy, through death, comes in knowing where our final destination is.  There’s an eternal Home waiting for our arrival and for many of us, a lot of loved ones are waiting for us to arrive!

There’s joy in knowing there is an end to pain, suffering, and a place where automatic joy begins.  So when watching someone die a slow painful death, for me joy paves the way for my faith and gives me assurance that I too can have joy here right now.  Joy has become my sacrifice of praise and helps my heart to understand there is joy complete when peace comes.

Let this kind of joy be yours as you suffer through a death or difficult situation.  The opportunity to choose joy is only given this side of  heaven.  Heaven is already abounding and full of JOY.

Jesus gives us joy but He IS JOY too!

The compassionate heart of Jesus amplifies joy in our lives.  God knows how valuable and helpful it can be, as joy becomes our reward for going through all situations.  You can have the attitude of joy in your heart with great rejoicing on your lips even in death.

 

When Your Tears Turn to Joy

joy gratitude

I was raised by parents who didn’t show much emotion.  It was many years later when I realized it was the older generation who grew the non-criers.  They saw it as a sign of weakness.  As a result I learned to be closed off about my feelings.   It hit me early one morning, as I was driving to work.  I was thinking about my brother-in-law’s suicide and it was if the tears I left unshed in those tension filled, grieving days were collected in a heavenly vessel.  I was overcome with so many tears from so many years at the thought of re-applying mascara was impossible.  In a span of about 45 minutes, regret hit and filled my mind with unexpressed love.  And my emotions spilled over into my lap.

I was a DJ on a Christian Radio Station, and people tuned in to hear a happy tone. Somehow I had to gather my happy voice and speak encouragement to listeners.  How could I put aside my regret-filled feelings one more time?  I tumbled out of my car and plodded into the studio.  It was like any other day on the inside of the building.  I greeted my co-worker with a normal “hello” and he immediately sensed something was wrong.  “Tears are a sign of weakness!” I scolded myself.  I braced myself for the kidding ahead about being a girl and crying about everything.

My friend and co-worker said something profound which I’ll won’t forget.  “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Being a crier by nature, my tender heart sometimes gets the best of me.  Ever been there?  Do you apologize to others for showing emotions or for leaking your emotions down your face?  Sounds incredibly similar to a hormone imbalance doesn’t it?  I don’t know how many times I’ve apologized for crying in front of someone!

Crying is a human emotion which God has placed inside. It’s no different from anger, fear or even joy. We don’t apologize when we’re feeling happy. “Oh gee, I’m so sorry. I can’t seem to stop smiling. I’m SO embarrassed!”  You often see tears at the beginning of life with newborn babies, and at the end of life when saying good-bye to a loved one.  As a parent myself, I know there are buckets of tears shed in times of praying that are collected in a mother’s heart.  It was years later that I discovered the encouragement in this verse:

Psalm 126:5 “Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.”

Having joy and tears on my mind a lot lately, I’ve been trying to understand the principle of reaping joyful heart from the tears that I have been sowing.  I realized when I had cried I usually associated my tears with sad emotions, extreme waves of shock, disappointment, grief, loss, etc.  That’s a natural expression of heartache and hurt.

Although grieving and letting go has a place in the death process, it’s difficult to find joy in that kind of hurt but I know that a supernatural joy exists in death.  After the reading the context behind the verse, I do know that this song was written after God’s people were delivered out of captivity.  I too, have cried some tears from a bound up place in my life and I’ve longed for freedom.  It was in that moment, I realized the tears I was expressing had come from a supernatural place where the Holy Spirit transformed my tears into joy, in freedom from a place of my heart’s gratitude.

My heart welled up again with a joyful expression.

Sowing takes a process and requires seeds, a small start.  Once planted or given over to the process of casting out, putting into the ground and fertilizing the seed, it takes time for the seed to develop and expand into the germination phase.  The outer shell of the seed is softened by the grounds moisture and the water given to the fertile soil.  In the softening of the seed, it sprouts with new growth.  It takes a seed time to burst out with the seedling, an expression of its own design.

That’s what tears are.  An expression of the heart, and some expressions just need to germinate and grow before expressing them.  I think that’s how joy in freedom comes, in the expression of our hearts when we are truly free.  When our hearts are truly express joy, it’s a sign of growth, from a sensitive and free place.  I don’t think it shows weakness at all.

Sometimes it takes the strongest person to be honest with their expressions.  What I have learned about joy and songs lately is that each time joy is sung over a battle it brings strength to the troops.  Tears can also express happiness, praise, and laughter.  I understand there’s a place for all our emotions.  I think joy is often misunderstood and represents the sensitive side of God, who wants us to have joy alongside all phases of life.  After all, it’s second to His love and a gift of the Spirit’s work in our lives.  Joy and tears are expression of Heaven too.  We have to remember God has blessed us with each emotion and we can always express our emotions of gratitude with freedom.  It’s the language of our hearts.

When You Walk Through The Valley of Death

 

death

“The only thing we know for sure about life is that we won’t get out of it alive.”  Louis L’Amour

We don’t know when or how death will come and most of us don’t consider death until we have to.  In a lighthearted way, my husband and I discuss the worst ways to die.  When it comes to being eaten by a bear, it’s better to be frozen human Popsicle for a polar bear frenzy over a living steak for the Colorado Mountain Black bear.  We take such a light hearted approach to death because we both have the assurance of salvation, a serious matter we secured long ago.

For me death doesn’t hold fear but promise of an eternity with Jesus.  It involves me dreaming of my room with a view in the palatial mansion in a higher place.  An expansive estate my Heavenly Father has prepared for me and my family.  It gives me peace at night to know I have an open reservation for my immediate check in time, and it’s the fulfillment of wholeness which awaits all of us who believe.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”   This one verse connects me to God’s original intention for His children from our very beginning.  When God created the world, He pronounced it very good (Genesis 1:31).  Since the Creator cannot improve on the created order, then the best thing for us to acknowledge is all of creation was made and established in perfect order.  We live to enjoy the life we have, and accept when we die, the same order established in the beginning will usher us all home by His loving care and peace.

Having peace in times of death removes all the scary parts about dying.   Charles Stanley puts it like this:  “Absent with the body, present with the Lord.” Peace comes in knowing where you are going if you are a believer in Jesus Christ.

We spend most of our lives running from death when in actuality we all have an appointed time to die.  Think about all the ways we try to regain our youth from diet pills to spa treatments and tons of quick fixes for our ailments.  All to stop the natural process established by God’s order since the beginning of time.

Okay, so we can accept we all have an appointed time to die.  We, as believers, know our eternal landing spot, Heaven, so what is so scary about death we don’t like to think about it?  It’s how we are going out.  I always thought I would come crashing through the gates of Heaven.  Not from my careless living but as a result of someone else’s carelessness.

All this fuss is over the recent death of my father last week.  I was looking for joy and couldn’t find it.  After all, at 94, he had a full life and handed down a rich legacy of work to his children.  He worked hard all of his life until his health forced him into an “early retirement” at 93.  His life left an imprint of caring for a neighborhood church doing what he loved to do, gardening and mowing.  (Yes, he really did like to mow the grass).  His life statement was “I would rather wear out than rust out.”  Oh sure, he made mistakes like the rest of us but as far as his tenacity and responsibility for family, I find myself grateful and blessed to be one of his children who will carry on his rich heritage of caretaking.

Since his parting, there’s been a sense of urgency in my heart to share the personal perspective on death to lend a more compassionate view of death itself.  There are many who don’t know Christ sitting in the church pews.  Sure, they may know of God, and call on His name frequently but how many really KNOW Him to trust Him unto death?

At some point in life, we have to come to grips we are not invincible and will die.  Even further, our children have questions too, and as a mom I can honestly say I didn’t have the answers when my children were young.  Although as a family, we had to grip the fact of death for real in my husband’s bout with cancer, the subject never came up where we wrestled with the reality of death in his life.  Thankfully, he was healed of cancer and has walked cancer-free for 21 years now.  I shudder thinking about having to raise my two young children alone.  I wasn’t prepared to be a single-mom at any age.

Death should force us all to come to grips with the afterlife and the reality of our eternal home.  Death forces the issue of life in death.  From my personal perspective it helps to understand death is only a new beginning to our eternal rest.  My adult children believe I think about the morbid things too much.  I believe you can’t prepare too much for arriving on Heaven’s door.

I was surprised however when my daughter called and told me a conversation between my 5-year-old grandson, Avery, and his daddy.  “Daddy, are you going to die?” he asked.  I gasped, when I heard her relate such a big question coming from her little guy.  It was obvious he had been churning death around in his mind.  After all, the question came following the death of two of great-grandpas.  Let’s also mention he made a decision to secure his eternal home by accepting Christ in the same year.

My daughter continued sharing her husband’s fatherly response, “No, son I’m not dying, why do you ask?”  Avery replied, “Well, I saw the back of your head today, and your hair looked like great-grandpa’s hair.  And he died so I thought you were dying too.”

I smiled through my tears.   I was able to have joy in the death of his fear and it helped me have a light hearted approach to the death of my father.  Dealing with life and death matters through the eyes of a child are always less complicated.  But each and every time it does hit us by surprise.  Here are some simple steps to help us ALL accept death as a part of life:

  1. Be their “ear” through the pain and grief of loss. Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2 “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die.”  When it seems like everything is falling apart, remember there’s an order to death ordained by God.
  2. Be comforted through uncertainty and fears. Ecclesiastes 3:4 “A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance.”   Peace is our anchor in every storm which chases life.  An anchor holds through hard winds and uncertainties, insecurities and fears.  It holds us calm in every storm.  My dad went peacefully in his sleep, it was the best point of entry he could have.
  3. Be God’s love past the hand of death to pass it around.  Ecclesiastes 3:8 “A time to love and a time to hate.  A time for war and a time for peace.”  Confusion is often an adversary in death.  When you understand death is a part of God’s love timeline for all of us, we can accept it as less of a harsh blow and more of a blessing.  In all actuality, death doesn’t steal life, but accelerates our eternal life with Jesus.    As believers, there is no better end than to live eternally with our Creator.
  4. Be time generous – spread joy and peace in the face of sorrow. Ps. 23:4 “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid for you are close beside me.  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”  Yes, death hurts and we mourn our losses.  We are not alone in death but always (even in the dark days of death – He is with us!) have the presence of God in our lives.  If our loved ones, who go Home before us, could really share with us what they see now and how they are seen and fully known, we couldn’t ask them to come back.  Yes, we miss them but we celebrate they made it home before us.  What a reunion time it will be to see them plus ourselves whole and as we are fully known to God.

Points to ponder:  The reason you are still alive and reading this is your purpose on earth is not fulfilled yet.  There’s more people to love, spread joy to and bring with you through the Heavenly gates.  Don’t be sad when a loved one passes away, find joy in the fact they are whole and fully known now.  Imagine the finest drink from the fountain of youth!  And the view…Oh my…if you could see it….you would be telling your friends about it too.

In what ways have you helped a person through the pain of death?