Raw Reflections from the Journey

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Miracles I'm willing to work for (aka, New Year's Resolutions)

Sounds a little off, doesn't it? Miracles I'll work for? By definition, a miracle is something beyond the norm, and usually not something you bring about for yourself, but follow me for a minute (or two).

Typically, New Year's Resolutions are desires for something different because a person is sick of the way things are. So, typically, a statement of resolve goes something like this, "Next year, I'm not going to..." That's a set up for failure because its about eliminating some type of activity or behavior. Better is a statement of what one IS going to do. "Next Year I'm going to eat low cholesterol proteins toward the goal of developing a more lean body, and healthy cardiovascular system."

An even better and more successful way to accomplish goals is to visualize the end result and the benefits of achieving that end. "Next year, by June 2012, I will be cycling with the strongest group of riders in my hometown at or near the same body weight that I was when racing ten years ago." There are a lot of do's and don'ts embedded in that goal, but the way its said increases the probability that it will become a reality. And, it becomes more desirable as something I'll work for as I visualize myself doing this and enjoy some emotional imagination about how it will feel.

As 2011 winds down with a big accomplishment (Publishing our book, "Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship") and a big loss (my father's passing on Nov. 28), I've been moved to consider what I want for the next season of life and the action-steps to make those desires a reality. The tired language of "New Year's Resolutions" just isn't cutting it for me, and some of my desires seem so big that I think they would be on the order of a miracle and would also require my cooperation to bring them about and sustain them, thus the lingo, "Miracles I'm willing to work for."

I came to this partially from experience in our counseling and coaching practice, Grace and Truth, this past year as we watched many miracles unfold. One was particularly poignant.

A person w/ life-long addiction came to a head when they attempted to purchase heroin. The deal went bad, and the buyer was slashed with a knife. The cut was millimeters from a major artery. Sobered by the near death experience, they prayed for Jesus to take the desire to get high. A week later, with bandages still in place, they appeared in my office with family for a pre-treatment evaluation. "I'm healed. I haven't had any cravings at all.", they said, in part because they didn't see the need for treatment since the desire to use had abated. "Great!" we exclaimed in celebration about the miraculous cure Jesus had administered.

"Now" I argued, "Let's begin an aggressive course of treatment to help you to steward your miracle". My tact was appreciated by a long suffering family. "God has graced you with the absence of craving to get high again. Now, let's support that with education about all the ways you can steward this with time-tested principles and behaviors that will help to support enduring sobriety."

The end of this story is happy, so far. Indeed, it appears that a miracle was wrought in this person's life, AND the follow-up treatment to educate about ways to handle any temptations to relapse, as well as development of healthy personal habits and disciplines and growth in interpersonal communication and conflict resolutions skills has been the due diligence on the back end of the miracle that supports it.

Make sense?

Perhaps you feel like you need a miraculous break-through in an area of life that has long plagued and troubled you? Or you'd like to return to a level of functioning or fitness (not just physical, but also perhaps spiritual, mental, relational, etc.)?

My conversation with the Lord recently has been to confide desires in several areas (physical, spiritual, professional) that I don't think will happen until they begin with the provision of supernatural grace. "Lord, here are some miracles I'm willing to work for. Would you begin by initiating them with desire or removing desire, and then give me the grace, desire and strength to say yes and no to the habits and activities that will steward the miracle?"

What are miracles you'd be willing to work for? What is the eventuality that you want to realize, and backing up from that (its 5 months till June for me), what do you need to start or stop doing, and do more or less that will make your desire a reality?

I've dared to write out my list, and I'm praying over it every morning, working as if the attainment of these goals depends on me, and praying for God's miraculous grace as if it depends on Him!

God bless,


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Laid to Rest

We laid my father to rest yesterday. Finally, closure on a long and painful illness.

It's pretty surreal to carry your father to his final resting place. A gray casket draped by a flag from the University he loved (Wittenberg), after a long but fitting service that featured music by choirs he trained and conducted and solos by him that included "The Lord's Prayer" and "How Great Thou Art". It was impossible not to sob. Dad sang The Lord's Prayer at our Wedding, and yesterday's service concluded with all of us joining him in the chorus of all four stanzas of How Great Thou Art. How fitting to hear him sing, one last time, and to join in praise for the One he served and sang about his entire life.

I'm stunned by how hard this is. I was warned, but didn't get it until I was on this side of it. "Losing a parent is really hard" the survivors said. "Wow". I didn't know how hard.

Three weeks ago I spoke at "Hope for the Holidays" for the funeral home that served our family. Littleton and Rue (www.littletonandrue.com) holds an annual service for the families they've served. This years service was Nov. 19th. I shared that my father was in hospice. Nine days later I joined the ranks of the survivors I spoke to.

What's so hard about this? The finality, obviously. No more phone calls, visits, "I love you dad", "I love you and I'm proud of you, son". No more actual conversations and experiences, only memories.

I shared the following at the funeral.

"Did you ever know a man to fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run as fully as my father? His was a life dedicated to fulfilling the legacy of his namesake, John Wesley (John Wesley Williams) who exhorted all he influenced with the following, 'Do as much good as you can for as many as you can, as well as you can, as long as you can'. Many of you have been saying that JW was a great man. Part of what made him great was that he believed that each of us was born for greatness too, and he dedicated himself to exhorting us to fulfill our God appointed destinies even while he was fulfilling his, which included him calling us forward to our own unique greatness. On behalf of our entire family, I thank you for coming to honor and celebrate my father's life and to enjoy the fabulous music God made him to make, one last time." And then I read Psalm 100.

I'm glad the service was long; almost 90 minutes. But it wasn't long enough. As each part of the program was concluded it was clear that dad was going to stop singing, and there would be no more, at least not in this life. We have the recordings, and they are marvelous, but we'll have to wait for the beginning of our own adventure in eternity to see and enjoy him again.

It's helpful to write. And thank you for reading.

Sleep in Jesus, dad. i love you. Jeff

Surfing and Sobbing: Sudden Shifts in the Grieving Process

You've either lost a parent, or you probably will. But the loss might not have been death, but some other sudden and significant loss or change in life. Whatever or whomever you've lost, you're probably familiar with grief and its varied expressions and emotions.

My dad died on Nov. 28; one week ago tomorrow evening. And it's been hard; harder than I expected. Others who've lost parents warned of this, but I excepted myself. "Dad and I have had the conversations we needed to have; differences have been resolved and appreciations expressed. "It won't be a big deal when he graduates to his eternal adventure", I reasoned. But it has been a big deal. I've had many more deep feelings and much more disruption to life than i expected.

I've encouraged clients throughout my career to expect 'waves' of grief, and to lean into them when they arrive. "Let yourself go with your thoughts and feelings. Don't suppress the feelings, or distract yourself." It's not always pleasant, but the alternative is to stuff and avoid feelings, medicate them with some type of distraction or mood altering experience or substance, etc. In other words, unhealthy alternatives even if they do temporarily relieve distress.

Friends and clients have said that my comparison of ocean waves to waves of grief has been helpful. Imagine sitting in the surf with your back to the ocean. Is this a game you've played? I do every time I get the chance to be at the beach. Waves come in one after the other. In between there are peaceful lapses, but then another comes. Some are gentle, but some are strong. Once in awhile big ones surprise you and even come up and over you. Grief is like this. Waves of emotion come in one after another. Some are gentle and some are strong. The healthy thing to to is to let yourself go with the waves of grief when they come. Think the thoughts and feel the feelings. I know, it hurts. Burning eyes, lump in the throat. But there's one way through grief, and its through it.

The pain will eventually subside. Time does heal. The waves may come in pretty strong from time to time, triggered by different thoughts, sites and sounds. But if you allow yourself to go through the process not only will you will be cooperating with God's plan for the process; to fully absorb and integrate the magnitude of your loss into your life, and thereby be prepared to live on.

With love, from one mourner to another

(I began this on Dec. 5, but didn't have the heart to finish it until today, Dec.11)