ONWARD & UPWARD

Onward & Upward

Transition can be difficult to navigate. The loss of a friend, a move to a new town, the realization that some goals won’t be met are all somewhat confusing at first. When we grieve a loss or face a large shift, it’s important not to lose sight of what God has in store for us if we rely on Him. Our pastors have worked on helping us along the journey of transition with several devotions geared to give us important building blocks needed for strength to press forward.

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:5-9

When the going gets tough, God gets going. Our loving God has promised never to forsake us. The hope in Joshua 1:9 is profound. It is a verse that is to be bookmarked, highlighted and shared.

“Have I not commanded you?Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God keeps saying this and will say it until we embrace it. His love can enable us to hang in there. Our church, community, nation and world have faced one huge challenge after another. You may need this very word from Joshua. It is a word of promise to see us through to new places and new horizons.

Hang in there if…

  • You are in a tough stretch of your marriage
  • You are in the high octane years of child-rearing
  • You just got laid off
  • You are fighting illness or disease
  • You are faced with a critical decision
  • You have lost someone you loved deeply
  • You need your hope restored
  • You just lost a friend or need to find one

Our church needs to be strong. We long for that strength individually. God is always ready to meet us at our point of need. We will prosper not because of who we are but because of who God is.

Wherever we go and whenever we need God our Lord will lead us to a new place of hope and promise.

The Psalmist reminds us that the Lord is our light and salvation. Because of that glorious truth we have nothing to fear. Will you speak aloud your trust in God so that it might bring comfort and joy to your heart? Do it even now. Strength is your gift from your Maker.

In Christ, 
Rev. Dr. Harry Durbin

Walking by Faith – The Lord Will Provide

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested, when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Out of obedience, Abraham journeyed for three days to Moriah with two servants, wood, a saddled donkey and his promised child.  When Abraham saw the place at a distance, he told his servants to stay with the donkey. Then he assured them that they would return by saying, “We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

On the way, Isaac inquired about the whereabouts of the burnt offering. He asked his father, “We have the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” 

When they arrived, Abraham built an altar. He tied and laid Isaac on the wood. Then, he lifted a knife to sacrifice his son. When God saw Abraham’s faithfulness, an angel of the Lord called his name from heaven.

Abraham replied, “Yes, Here I am!”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a bush to sacrifice instead of Isaac. Because God provided an alternative sacrifice, Abraham called the place, “The Lord Will Provide.”

As we journey together as a faith community, we must believe God will provide another shepherd to lead us and walk alongside us. Like Abraham, we don’t know all of the details, but we have to keep walking by faith. Our journey my seem distant, lonely and unbelievable because of many unknowns. But we must continue to trust the unknown to an all-knowing God. In doing so, we’ll find security, comfort and peace as we seek a hopeful future.

May the Lord be with us,
Rev. Tondala Hayward

“The Lord is my shepherd, He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

This Psalm of David is a reminder that GOD IS WITH US! When he wrote this Psalm, I’m sure he reflected on his youth. He probably remembered the times he led sheep to pastures to feed and still waters to drink. As a shepherd, he was in the presence of danger many times; but he faced it head on. In the 17th chapter of Samuel, when David was convincing Saul to let him slay Goliath, he tells Saul “…Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears;…The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” David’s faith in God gave him comfort, strength and courage.

The highlighted verse in this Psalm undergirds stage 5 of the grief process, which is Acceptance. In Acceptance we come to understand things aren’t going to go back to normal. Therefore, we begin to move on and embrace closure; however, it doesn’t mean the pain is over. But we understand there is a new normal.

Life in a new world after experiencing a loss is quite different and challenging. In the Acceptance stage, we begin to experience life in new ways. This new life helps us to see what God now has for us. We depend on the Lord to comfort us in our mourning and protects us in our darkest moments. Like David we depend on the Lord to shepherd us. David experienced the death of a newborn, betrayal of his son, Absalom, and envy from Saul. Yet in his sorrow, his faith didn’t waiver. He was a man after God’s own heart.

As we conclude the five stages of grief, I would like for you to take a look at David Kelser’s video: The Five Stages of Dying. He explains the five stages of grief; but he adds “meaning” as a sixth stage. Kelser believes it’s important to find meaningful ways to live on after accepting a loss. His book “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” draws on the desperation he experienced from the loss of his son, David. He found essential ways to make life meaningful by supporting those who need to mourn like himself.

If you would like to meet with one of the pastors, please contact us.

May the Lord be with you,
Rev. Tondala Hayward

 

“Grief turns out to be not a state but a process. Grief is like a winding road where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” — C.S. Lewis

Maybe it helps to know that grief is an ever changing process not a state we are planted in forever. The pain we feel today can and will be different tomorrow, i.e., this depth of grief in the first months is probably not the depth we will feel in another month and in a year, etc. And hopefully it helps to hear that the “stages” will probably shift out of order and wind back around again to some of the same “stages,” rather than to think of grief as a prescribed path we walk. When we know this fact about the stages of grief, then hopefully it helps to normalize our “out of the blue” moments or days of anger or depression, or any of the other three identified “stages”: shock, denial, anger, depression, and bargaining.

The fifth of five stages of grief is bargaining. One of the ways we try to control the situation we have found ourselves in (losing a loved one) is to bargain. In times when we might feel vulnerable or helpless, it is normal to look for ways to regain control or figure out a way that we can affect a different outcome. Sometimes the bargaining looks like “what if” and “if only” statements. These are not uncommon during painful times of our lives. And sometimes we find we direct the questions to God: “God, what if or if only I would have (you fill in the blank with the action) ______ sooner, then this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Action is the antidote to despair.” Often we find ourselves trying to find answers through busy work (action) when we feel like we have lost control in our lives. Keeping our mind busy can be a way of keeping the emotional pain at bay. Being aware of this stage helps us to claim the “what if/if only” statements, recognize them, possibly gain some life-insight from them, then remember to set it aside.

A wise spiritual leader was often heard saying, “Be at Peace!” When the “what if’s” and “if only’s” begin to engulf our thoughts and we begin to try to rethink and control an already determined situation, Rev. David would have us hear: “Be at Peace!”

We can grieve and also celebrate a life well lived for Christ. And we can be at peace knowing that it is normal to try to bargain and ask endless questions or think through different scenarios. Maybe in our knowing that this is a part of grief, we will remember to also set the controlling questions aside at times, to let the tears fall and possibly step into yet another stage of grief.

Thank God for Church Family when we walk through difficult situations like surgery, divorce, addiction, tragedy, and death. And thank God for Church Family when we walk through glorious times of life like new babies, graduations, birthdays, weddings, and so much more. Let us continue to love and support one another as God’s Family through all the ups and downs that our lives bring.

You are each in my thoughts and prayers!

Hope & Peace,
Rev. Deborah

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. … Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning … You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Ps. 30:4-5, 11-12)

The Psalmist makes grief sound “easy” in these verses. And yet, in real life, you and I both know that the distance between weeping at night and joy in the morning is NOT JUST 8-12 hours! Depending on who in your life you are grieving, it might be 8-12 weeks, 8-12 months, or even 8-12 years. And so as Christians, we hold ever more firmly to the promise that there IS “joy in the morning” and there WILL BE dancing rather than mourning … someday. The Psalmist reminds us that we can cry out to God in our deepest despair and we will find healing and joy again! 

In Dr. Durbin’s last two articles he unpacked for us the first two “stages” of grief: shock and anger. Today we focus on the third stage which is depression, thus the desire for our mourning to turn into dancing. Depression is a normal part of walking through our grief. The hopelessness and deep sadness that accompany depression can be debilitating. Thus I encourage us to all check on our loved ones and help them remember the promises of our faith. Joy will come, … in time, … in the morning. And our mourning can turn into dancing. Our souls can find strength to sing praises to God once again. Loving one another well during these times is always a crucial and life giving part of the healing equation.

Staying connected to our faith, faith friends, Sunday school class, pastors, counselors, and other family is vital during this time. And like wise checking in on our friends and family who are grieving to make sure the depression does not become overwhelming or go on for too long, is vital. Rev. David’s death in some might be a deep grief. In others, it may tap into a past loss that makes all the pain fresh again.

Unfortunately, grief is not as simple and easy as step 1, 2, and 3. There are no definitive prescriptions for how we will or can or should walk through grief. Seth Troutt puts it this way:

No two people experience grief the same and there isn’t even necessarily a “right order” in which people must go through these stages. … However, the Five Stages do serve as a helpful description and, in my experience, give a vocabulary to much of what people deal with internally as they walk down the winding road that is grief. Ordinarily, the closer someone is to the deceased the longer it takes them to go through the five stages.

May you find strength and HOPE in knowing that depression, anger, and shock are normal parts of the grieving process and it is normal to move from one to another and then back again in no particular order. You might find yourself depressed for 2 days, then angry for a morning, and the next evening shocked all over again. May the words of the Psalmist above continue to give you HOPE, along with our deep faith that Jesus conquered death in his resurrection, giving us hope for today and eternal hope for all our tomorrows!

Each of you are in my prayers!

Hope & Peace,
Rev. Deborah

Since the Psalmist and likely from time immemorial, when individuals suffer great loss they experience what many identify as the second stage of grief. At first it is a season of shock and denial, then anger shows its face.

As some say, it is easier to be mad than sad. We may blame God or others for our loss. It has to be someone’s fault. C.S. Lewis has some informative words for us when we find ourselves in this second stage of grief. He penned how we may feel: “Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double-bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

A word to remember is that even in the silence, God is there. Our Lord has promised to never forsake us. The Spirit will not leave us comfortless. It is the testimony of scripture that nothing will separate us from God’s love, not even our anger. Trust me God can take it. This is a season in which we pour out our hearts and lay bare our souls. The door which now seems shut to our Maker, will on other future days open again.

Being angry may help us eventually move forward in our grieving. Being angry is a way of releasing energy and in effect protesting a loss that seems unfair and makes no sense. Emotions are not logical, but they are always real. Such anger may be expressed in many ways and directed to any range of individuals or to God. But there are ways to help cope.

See what may be fueling the anger. Seek professional or pastoral help if needed. Find ways to release some of those feelings in appropriate ways. It might be through sports, exercise, or physical labor. It may be through creative means like music, art, reading or writing. Seek God through prayer and scripture. Reach out to a friend, neighbor or fellow church member. We have committed to love one another in and through it all.

In the end, hope is greater than anger. Let’s lean into it as a family of faith. Let us keep honoring David until the peace he wished for us returns.

In Christ
Rev. Dr. Harry Durbin

You have lost one of your pastors. The death came quickly, almost unannounced. We all had prayed that David would get better and recover from his bout with Covid-19, but it did not happen and we were devastated.

It seems like an unimaginable truth, yet its reality is now fully among us. In searching for ways to cope and looking at stages of grief, I found a word that was helpful. That word was an acknowledgment that we are called to be instruments of grace to one another. God uses us to help in the healing process that all need to experience. Remember again these powerful words that are written by St. Paul in II Corinthians 1:3-7. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are partners in our sufferings, so also you are in our comfort.”

Seize your opportunities to lean into the pain of others and then serve them. 

In his article titled, “Two Things We Need to Believe To Help People Who are Grieving”, Dale Thackrah shares important points to remember:

1. Believe in the One Who Has the Power to Heal
2. Believe You Can be an Instrument of Grace

We, in the end, are simply called to be compassionate. It is a powerful word that literally means for us to “suffer with” another. It means more than just offering a sympathetic word or experiencing a moment of sadness.

Nouwen says it like this. “To live with compassion means to enter others’ dark moments. It is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes.”

God can bring the comfort and we can offer our presence. We are called to be there and be available. He concludes that compassion is possible when we walk with Jesus.

Our Lord has commanded us to love one another as He has loved us. God is part of our mourning, and when joy returns He will be with us still. Even, in our darkest moments, grace abounds and we can be used to translate that grace to one another.

In Christ, 
Rev. Dr. Harry Durbin

Rev. Renee Dillard, a counselor with Methodist Le BonHeur, thought it would be helpful to provide the following resources.

For Grief Support: