Us and Them

I recently was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Texas.  He told his audience that we are all one phone call away from having our lives turned completely upside down.

I received that phone call Friday morning from my husband, who had received a life-changing text at 3 am from his father.  N and I always turn our phones on airplane mode at night, so he didn’t read the text until later Friday morning.  In his calm, collected voice, N told me that he received word from his dad that his aunt, Colleen Hufford, had been attacked at work and had not survived the attack. The breath was taken out of my lungs and I could have sworn my heart stopped.  My brain was furiously trying to make sense of the words.  But when senseless things happen, no meaning can be made.

We knew very little detail about what had happened, but being citizens of a digital society, we would soon begin to learn more than we could ever imagine, and frankly, more than we could process.

Headlines changed from attack to murder to confirmed beheading. To type out that word is painful.  It seems like a barbaric practice from ancient history, not something we would ever expect in this country.  Two days later, we are still in shock ( I imagine we will be for some time).  I cannot even begin to fathom what Colleen’s husband and daughter are going through. They have lost the love of their life, their mother, their grandmother.

We immediately reached out to our closest friends, community group, and church prayer team for prayer for the family.   We kept the details vague, but as news reports spread and her name was released, we found ourselves saying over and over, “Yes, she was the woman from Oklahoma killed at her workplace” and “Yes, she was the one killed in the horrific story you read about.” Our close friends had remembered that this was the same Hufford family who had lost their home and everything in it less than a year and a half ago in a tornado that struck Moore, OK.

I took to social media to spread the word to friends and family.  I was torn about doing it, but N’s family needed all the prayers they could get.  And making one announcement over the Internet is easier on our weary hearts than explaining the lost look on our faces right now to each individual friend and acquaintance we encounter.

I will admit I don’t often watch the news and get most news updates as I check emails daily.  But, of course, when a catastrophe strikes, I tune in to get the details.  When I have read about terrible tragedies like the shooting the in Colorado theater, Boston Marathon bombing,  or Newtown school massacre, my heart ached for “them”.  You see, I had true, heartfelt emotion for the families enduring the incomprehensible loss and suffering. I cried and prayed for each family touched by unthinkable loss.

But I never believed such tragedy would overtake our family.  And not in a defiant way like, “Oh, that could never happen to us.”   I was truly so sorry for “them”, but it never even crossed my mind that I would read about the gruesome, random, senseless death of my husband’s relative on CNN, NBC, The New York Times.

In an instant, we had become “them”- a family affected by an unthinkable tragedy.  The one thing I have said over and over to friends in the last 48 hours is that you never in your wildest imaginings picture seeing the personal tragedy of your family played out on 24 hour news and Internet venues.  Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling.

Though this is something I never would have thought my husband’s family to go through, there are beacons of light in this extreme darkness.  I have a whole new understanding and perspective for the horrors that occur in this world.  My prayer life is more honest and deeper because of this tragedy. I have literally screamed at God this week, and known He can handle it and feels my pain.

Unfortunately, this is not the only hardship my family has gone through this year.  But it is certainly the hardest to process.  But when I hear of other stories of Christians suffering the same end in Iraq due to ISIS or children who are diagnosed with life threatening diseases (both of which I have learned about in the past few weeks), my heart is leaning more toward empathy than sympathy. And I am even more aware that people all over the world are brutally attacked, raped and murdered every day.  But to us, they will be forever nameless, with no recognition of their lives and no justice for the atrocities they face.  My heart is heavy, sick, and crying out to God for mercy for these people.  I have the peace of knowing God is bigger than all of this.  This life can kick you when you’re down, wear you out, and break you. That is when we need God and each other more than ever.

My family has never met the majority of my husband’s family due to geographical distance.  But they are praying and looking for ways to help as if it were their own flesh and blood. I am so proud to be a part of a family who goes beyond their own hardships to serve others.

Living far from family, I have always celebrated the amazing support system we have in our church family and friends. Today I ran 10 miles with Team World Vision as our half marathon is just a few weeks away.  One of my very best friends was waiting for me before the training run as I exited my car to hug me tight. She actually startled me when I looked out the window and we both laughed. We had no words, but that embrace meant more than anything she could have said.  Another friend prayed not only with me, but she prayed for us during the majority of her 10 mile run. We have received countless emails, texts and offers for help in any way from friends near and far. Friends have brought cards and flowers to our home. We were hugged and cried with and stood in still silence with our church family at service tonight.  And N and I sang loudly to profess “the Lord our God is EVER faithful”.  He has not foresaken us, even in this.

For my final thoughts, I pray with everything in me that no other “us” becomes another “them”.  I know that is unlikely, but I also know my God is greater than I can even begin to fathom. The solution to this is beyond me, but we can all do something.

First, be sure to tell the people in your world you love them, every opportunity you get.  Because you may not get a tomorrow.

Second, pray for the “thems”.  We read of tragedy daily in this world and these people need to be surrounded by prayer and helped in tangible ways.  What if instead of going out to dinner  one time a week, we found a family in need on GoFundMe or CrowdRise and gave them $25-$50 instead? People dealing with tragedy need to know that they have a team of people backing them up.

Third,  teach your children about love and peace.  Being a Christian, I know many people who identify as Christians can be bigots, spiteful, and terrible to those who aren’t.  I apologize for those people and honestly question if they’ve ever opened a Bible.  But I also offer this: we are all sinners, don’t look to us. Because no matter how much I try to love all my fellow man, I will always come up short. Look to Jesus.  He spent his time with people everyone wrote off and hated.  And He loved them.  And he called them his friends.  And He gave his life as a ransom for many. Let’s all take a page from His playbook and show each other a little more compassion.

Maybe one day, we will see an end to all these random acts of violence. And as far as seeking peace goes, it is my prayer that you would pray for the soul of Colleen’s attacker.  If I am honest, bile rises in my throat as I write that.  The part of me that seeks retribution wants to see justice served on this man and served harshly.  I know that’s not a very “Christian” thing to say.  But I am human and this man has hurt our family to the core.  However, I know that no matter what punishment this man faces on this side of eternity, it is no match for Hell.  I pray that he can come to recognize the gravity of his actions, seek forgiveness, and find Truth in Christ. Thank you for being “us” with us as we figure out how to be “them” with grace. May the peace and love of the Lord be upon you always, -L

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A Matter of Focus

Yesterday afternoon, I was talking with a friend that I admire for her strong commitment to her family and her ability to set boundaries to keep her focus on what matters most. I was confessing to her that I felt a little overloaded lately. As a people pleaser, boundaries have always been a little tricky for me. I like to help, so I end up helping too much. I like to serve, and sign up for too many things. It eventually catches up with you.

Life has been hurried as of late. New beginnings, new jobs, new roles, new school year. Hurry is not a friend. It brings stress, anxiety, exhaustion. It robs you of peace. There is a huge difference between activity and hurry. Activity is healthy, necessary. Hurry is too much activity and the state of mind it brings. This hurry, undoubtedly, has been brought about by weak boundaries and out of focus priorities. So for the last few weeks, there has been a struggle in my heart. To stop the hurry, sacrifices will need to be made. What good things need to go to make room for the best things? How do I gracefully step away from things I love because this isn’t the right season? How do I invest in myself so all my pouring out of time and energy doesn’t leave me drained?

The Lord put a very vivid picture of my reality in front of my face last night. It was no coincidence. I was hunched over a crib, back aching from being in that position for 45 mins, humming lullabyes to and patting a teething, sleep deprived, separation anxiety-experiencing toddler. I was tired from comforting him and just wanted to lay down. Especially because I knew, if the recent pattern held, he would be up again at 3 am. As I stood there, frustrated and just done, something caught my eye. Because of the way I was leaning, my necklace hung before my eyes. I have been wearing a silver crucifix lately, the one I received on my first communion, nearly 25 years ago. The funny thing was, because of my position, I couldn’t see the charm. My eyes couldn’t focus on Jesus from where I stood. It was like God was saying to me, “You need to make a change in position to properly focus on Me.”

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A few minutes later when those little eyes finally closed and I was back in bed, I started to really think about what it will look like to change my position and find my focus. Here are a few things I am doing and/or committing to do to aid in this journey:

1. Learning to say no and withdrawing from commitments– I read a great quote on the Proverbs 31 ministries page recently that said, “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.” There is so much truth here. I have committed to not accept any more commitments this year and to pray about which current commitments may need to leave my plate. All of these commitments have blessed me is some way, but they also require my time, resources, and energy. Thankfully, a few of those commitments are time bound and coming to an end soon. Two great resources I would recommend if you deal with boundary issues like I do are the books The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst and Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud.

2. Defining a focus for our family– N and I have talked for a few years now about creating a mission statement or creed for our family. A mission statement will clearly define who we are, what we stand for, and what direction we will move. We have committed to creating this document and displaying it in our home by year’s end. The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler has some fantastic ideas about creating family mission statements.

3. Realizing my family is my ministry-I serve in a few capacities at our church. I enjoy service, it’s a way I see the work of God in those around me. I am realizing, however, that my first and most important ministry is my home. If that is not in order or is causing stress, I am not mentally or physically in a good place to serve outside my home. This means that service may look a little different for me from now until my chickadees leave the nest. And I am okay with that. My days with them are few and precious.

4. Seek out mentors-I have been blessed the past few weeks to run with a mom further in her journey than I am. Our long runs go by quick and I don’t notice little twinges or aches physically as much because our conversation is engaging my heart and mind. Her encouragement and challenges to me have made me feel at peace with my decision to let go and slow down.

5. Fill my cup first-Serving, whether it’s your own family or to the church or community, is often referred to as a “pouring out”. But when you are serving, it’s important to be “poured into” as well by activities and relationships that feed your soul. Nothing can be poured from an empty cup.

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I can’t be a good wife, mother, or servant if I am depleted. I have joined a women’s Bible study lead by a mentor woman from our church and committed to exercising every day for my “pour into” activities.

6. Don’t lose sight of God– This is the final, but most important piece. Busyness and hurry are caused by too much activity. Too much activity leaves little room for quiet time with God and experiencing our relationship with Him fully. My eyes knew something was wrong when I couldn’t focus on Jesus on a piece of jewelry. It was a direct reflection of what our hearts know: life unfocused on God is not the right way to live. I may not always get the length of study and quiet time I want, I may be stepping on cereal and moving crayons to make way for my Bible. But that is okay. The habit of being in the Word everyday is what keeps your focus intense. I am reading through the Gospels and completing 1-2 short quiet times per day with a devotional I am working through with my Bible study group.

I certainly don’t have this all figured out and I am sure hurry will continue to try to creep into our lives. But I have a game plan going forward. If you’re like me and this week has been pulling your heart in different directions, stop, change your position, and focus on Him.

-L