Friday, March 6, 2015
We are a broken people.
Lots of people don't want to admit to that.
Even those who follow Jesus and have deep faith. They want to prove themselves educated or well-off, or sufficient, their own saviors, their own independent clauses.
When I was little, my line was: "Alice can do it." This meant, step aside, Mommy and Daddy, I can set the table, I can put my own shoes on, and later it evolved to, I can be sufficient. I don't need anyone.
Some of us try to cover ourselves up with accessories and the newest fashion, and fill our minds with an expensive education. There's nothing wrong with looking good or being smart. (I tried it once; it was wonderful!)
But when our pride of what we can do starts to deceive us into thinking we are superior to others or better off or more loved, then we aren't living a life of humility or service. We aren't transparent. We're soaked up with ourselves. We can do it. Alone. Look at us. Like a kid swinging from the top bar of the jungle gym, "See me. I am strong. I don't need you."
Then we fall.
Where is God?
Why do I hurt so much?
What is wrong with me?
"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone. My hope comes from Him." Psalm 62:5.
God alone gives us hope. Nothing else.
In all our pain and struggles, He alone restores us to Him, comforts us, knows us.
We were born broken and we will die broken. There is no complete restoration of us---not the kind that transforms us into independent creatures without a need for The One who gives us the only Hope worth pursuing. We cannot save ourselves. We can't fix ourselves.
But we can accept our limitations. And quit trying to pretend that we are self-sufficient. We need Him. Sometimes I still fight how much I do.
Because inside of me is this little voice that wants to do it on her own.
Find rest, O my soul.
When you reach out to rely on Him, when you hand Him the broken pieces of your life, that's when real living happens.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I pick up leaves and name them. Then I drop them onto the pavement.
I try to walk once a day for a few miles. Walking, I have found, is good therapy. Since my "job" keeps me at the computer for most of the day, I need to exercise away from it.
Walking not only improves my physical health, but it allows me time to view cardinals, flowering crepe myrtle trees, and an occasional deer or turtle.
Even though the benefits are vast, there are some days I don't feel like walking.
I have been in a season of wilderness for over two years now. I've slacked on my daily walks. I fret. I worry.
There's the problem of finances. Or lack of. There's the trouble with my children. There's their step-dad, my husband, and their relationship with him. There's a feeling of uncertainty about my future, whether or not I will get to continue to write and speak for a living. In all of this, I try to cling to the one thing that is certain in this changing fragile world---The Creator of the cardinals, the crepe myrtle, the deer, and turtle and me.
"God," I often say aloud as I walk through neighborhoods and on trails, "You are all I really have. Teach me how to trust you."
One day I'm on a walk in our neighborhood when the verse about God's burden being light comes to me. Another verse about God caring for the birds of the air rests in my cluttered mind.
Like I said, I worry about my loved ones. I am tired of being without enough money to make ends meet. I don't know if we can continue to pay our mortgage. I hate being in debt.
On this autumn afternoon, an idea comes to me. Bending, I pick up three leaves. Symbolically, I name them. Today I name a large magnolia leaf, "Children and their current struggles" and the second one, "Finances and our new carving business". The third one is, "My writing career".
As I walk, I gently toss the first leaf to my side. Then after a few more steps, I drop the next one.
With each leaf's release, I pray, "God, this is yours. I am dropping it now. It's a burden I am releasing to you. You take it. I know you love me. This I know."
Empty-handed after releasing these three leaves, why is it that it's easy to want to continue my worry?
Reluctance at the act of letting go fills me, spreading through my veins. Like I've lost something and I must go back for it. Is it because I don't know how to cope without giving into worry? Over the years, have I bought into the lie that fussing over things in my mind produces some sort of satisfaction or good?
I know that letting each leaf go means I can't carry it any longer. If I keep bothering with the concerns each of these leaves stands for, what is the point in letting them go?
As much as I want to be free from worry, how human-like it is for me to continue with my fretting. It's almost as though I want to find those leaves I deposited a half a mile ago and pick them up. But the reality is there: I would never be able to do that. They are strewn into the yards with other brown, red, and gold leaves like them. They are left there for a reason and unable to be identified as the ones I once held.
"God, take my burdens and help me to trust you with each one. I'm weary of carrying them all." With that, I don't look back, but forward. God has my troubled heart. That, I have to believe. I have to trust The One Who Knows and Loves Me or I might as well just take off my jacket, lay on the road, and give up.
Gradually, I increase my pace, smile at the setting sun. And I hope for tomorrow.
This is how I've learned to walk with leaves.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
That holiday-pang hit my stomach the first October after Daniel died. Greeting me at an arts and craft shop were gold and silver stockings, a Christmas tree draped with turquoise balls and a wreath of pinecones and red berries. What was this? And was "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" playing as well? It was only October.
I had anticipated that Christmas and the holidays would be tough. In fact, I'd wake on those cold mornings after Daniel died in February and be grateful that it was still months until his August birthday and even more months until Christmas. I dreaded living both without him. I would have preferred to have been steeped in cow manure. At least then I could take a hot bath with sweet smelling bubbles and be rid of the stench. But bereavement isn't that way. As those who had gone on before let me know, you have to live through it.
Christmas came. I did live through it. It continues to happen as do the other significant days of the calendar year. Daniel never arrives at any of them although his memory lives on. By incorporating him into these days of festivity, I can cope.
Some of you have your child's birthday and/or anniversary day within the November through January season. These days, in addition to the holidays everyone else is celebrating, make the season even more complicated and painful, I'm sure.
I offer eleven tips I've used to survive the holidays. Some are my own suggestions and some are borrowed from the many who walk the path of grief.
1. Know you will survive. Others have done it and you will, too. Keep in mind that your first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day will not be easy.
2. Find at least one person you can talk to or meet with during the holiday season. Perhaps this person has gone through a few Thanksgivings and Christmases before and can give you some helpful ideas that have worked for her.
3. Things will be different this holiday season and perhaps for all the rest to come. Don't think you have to do the "traditional" activities of years past when your child was alive. Your energy level is low. If no one in your household minds, skip putting up the tree. Forget spending hours making your holiday cookies.
4. Spend the holidays with those who will let you talk about your child. You will need to have the freedom to say your child's name and recall memories, if you choose to do so. Your stories about your child are wonderful legacies. Tell them boldly again and again.
5. If going into the mall or stores brings too much pain, shop for gifts online or through mail-order catalogs. Thinking everyone is happily shopping at the malls with intact lives while your heart is crushed is terribly tough. Go easy on yourself.
6. Getting away from the house is an idea that worked for my family. The first Christmas without Daniel we went to a nearby town and lived in the Embassy Suites. The kids enjoyed the indoor pool and breakfast buffets. Christmases that followed were spent at a rented cottage on the shore and the Christmas we rented the beach house, we were able to invite extended family to join us. We all shared in the cooking.
7. Create something to give to those who have helped you throughout the year. I made some very simple tree ornaments with "In Memory of Daniel" stamped on them and gave them to friends that first Christmas.
8. Decorate the grave. Put up a plastic Christmas tree with lights. Sometimes being busy with decorating the grave gives a feeling of doing something for a child we can no longer hold.
9. Do something in memory of your child. Donate to a charity or fund in his memory. Volunteer. My oldest daughter Rachel and I volunteer at the Hospice Tree of Remembrance each December and share memories of Daniel as we spend this time together.
10. If your bereavement support group has a special candle-lighting service to remember the children in your area who have died, attend it. Doing something in memory of your child with others who understand the pain these holidays hold can be therapeutic.
11. Spend time reflecting on what the season is about. Everyone around you may be frantic with attending parties, services, shopping and visiting relatives. Perhaps you used to be the same way. Now you may want to avoid some of the festivities. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from them. Light a candle in your favorite scent. Record some thoughts in a journal. This is great therapy, too.
One day you will wake up and it will be January 2. The holidays will have ended. You will have made it. If you are like me, you will find that surviving the tinsel has made you stronger and although you may cry, somewhere within you, you will feel that core of new steel.
~ Alice J. Wisler
[First published about twelve years ago, about four years after Daniel's death.]
Thursday, October 31, 2013
“To be accepted, to find home, to belong.”
How often I have realized that so much of living revolves around this theme. No matter who we are or where we grew up, we want to feel needed, accepted, cared for. We desire that place where we can take off our shoes, relax, that place where we can be ourselves, and belong.
The need to belong is a universal theme, a basic human necessity and I use it in my novel, Still Life in Shadows. To portray this theme, I chose to set my story in the fictitious North Carolina mountain town of Twin Branches. Gideon, who is one of my main characters, has come to this area after running away from his Amish home in Pennsylvania. He knows what it’s like to leave home and community. He understands what it takes to adapt to a society removed from his own.
Yet Gideon has carried some of his old rigid thoughts and beliefs about God with him. As he learns the ropes of working as a mechanic at Ormond’s garage, he realizes that he can be just as judgmental as his father and those in his Amish community that he couldn’t wait to leave. On his farm in Carlisle, life revolved around the Ordnung: order, rule and discipline. Here in Twin Branches, Gideon longs to fully embrace the freeing love of Jesus Christ. But in order to do this, he knows that he has to forgive.
I grew up as a missionary kid and pastor’s daughter in Japan. I have been in churches and among Christians all my life. Yet, I see how guilty we all can be when it comes to having pride and lack of humility. We forget to put on the nature of Jesus like we read about in Philippians 2. We neglect the passages that we are not to judge, but to love. “Make love your aim” (I Corinthians 14:1) seems far removed from us on days when we are filled with strife or disharmony in our own communities. And for those times when we see our shortcomings and beg to be forgiven, there are times when we feel we don’t deserve it. We have been a disappointment to our very selves. Sometimes being able to forgive ourselves is the hardest task as Gideon learns when his brother comes to visit and when he has to make that unexpected journey back to his roots.
Kiki, my autistic teen character, also strives to belong among her peers. She has some disadvantages, but in spite of them, teaches Gideon more about God’s grace than he could learn from any adult. Kiki is quick to love, eager to accept.
In Still Life in Shadows, I want my readers to know that they are each loved by God and that as a shepherd He carries us in his arms, close to His heart. No matter who we are, no matter how far we might feel from Him. He asks us to bow down and worship the One who knows our name, the One who has our very name tattooed on the palm of His hand. The One we belong to.
Come, stop running, take off your shoes, rest, and learn from Him. He always welcomes you.
Read the reviews for Still Life in Shadows and get a copy today.
[First posted at River North Fiction on October 28, 2013)
Thursday, October 3, 2013
But those who wait on the Lord
shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings as eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
I used to think that the person who would do all of this soaring in the sky was doing it AFTER his waiting was over. So as a waiter, I sat and hoped and prayed. Weary, I read how one day I would run and walk without the burdens of wondering and waiting.
The other night as I sat under a crescent moon on my porch stoop, I saw it all differently.
Because although we do have to wait, and often painfully long, God is a God of now.
He is calling us to live now.
Even in our waiting, He doesn’t go on vacation or cease to listen to our cries or leave His throne.
He grows us.
We grow while we wait.
In fact, my waiting has produced some of the best growth and spiritual character. In spite of waiting I can still live today. I can still experience joy and contentment (as the Apostle Paul wrote of). I am learning in the waiting room of God. I cling to Him. I have also felt the needs of His people, praying often for others who must wait, dear friends old and new who have asked me to pray for their really tough circumstances.
Last night I promised God that when He answered one of my prayers in this waiting room, that I would not feel as though I was done with needing Him or trusting Him. I promised that I would not grow cocky or overly proud or think I had accomplished anything. I told Him that I would still love Him, still seek His face, and still know desperately that I need Him. Always. And that I can do no good thing without Him. I told Him I would never want what He has taught me to be taken away from me.
I felt as though the clouds of my mind had parted. It was a growth spurt.
Today, as I was going about my usual writing and wondering when God was going to act, I received a wonderful surprise. I received an answer. I was given a writing assignment from a publishing house to write for them! I rejoiced. I wanted to run, to soar.
Hallelujah! At last!
Happy, I was eager to celebrate with a hunk of chocolate or drink that special tea or even open the bottle of champagne. God had heard my cry, God provided me with work!
But the truth is, this is not my first time to have to cling to God and wait nor will it be my last. I still have other areas of my life to wait over.
Yet this time around, instead of wanting to hurry up the wait or push it aside or hold my breath until it leaves, I'm learning that waiting upon God is not at all ONLY a season. The truth is, it is a way of life.
Before I thought once my prayer was answered, I could kick up my heels and I'd be done with waiting. (I used to be young once and I think youthful minds think this way.)
Now I see the value in waiting, the beauty in growing, the honesty of a cultivated-by-God heart.
Dear God, I am your servant. I belong to you.
And I wait.
Because you are a God worth waiting for.
Are you waiting?
What are you waiting for today?
What do you want to learn as you wait upon Him?
Monday, September 16, 2013
I originally wrote this at the end of 2012 for the new year. But now that we are more than halfway through 2013, I thought it appropirate to take another look and see how we've been doing with our writing.
Take Time to Regroup: Finding your Goals and Aspirations for 2013
Discouragement. To authors this is a loaded word, heavy with feeling. Discouragement can last for weeks, sometimes months. It can start with something as simple as one bad book review or a book signing that ends in only a few sales. Discouragement can kick in when viewing royalty statements that show declining book sales. It can fester into more anguish when receiving simultaneous rejections. Discouragement can seep into the crevices of our minds and cause us to lack any zeal to write another book. Or plan a book event. Or praise God.
If God called me to write, then why is the path such a hard one? This is not the glamorous life I thought writers were entitled to!
As if the career aspect wasn’t daunting enough, there is more to the struggle. Writers have others lives besides trying to make their characters come alive. They have children to care for, children with problems, children with attitudes; many have marriages, and in-laws and water bills and ovens that conk out right before Christmas. They’re affected by rising health insurance costs, illness, spouses losing jobs, and relatives who don’t understand.
In our despair how easy it is to run off course. Pretty soon we forget who we are. We forget who loves us. We forget to look up and expect of God. Our world becomes small, consumed with how badly things are going for us. Perhaps you haven’t sunk into the dungeon or the feeling like you are swimming uphill. Or perhaps you are there right now.
What to do?
It’s time to call a meeting with your CEO. It’s time to regroup. And what an appropriate time to do this—right at the beginning of a new year!
WALK--- Pull away from your computer and take time to go to a place where there are no reminders of work. A walk at a nearby park always helps me. As the endorphins kick in, my mind clears. When I breathe in the scent of honeysuckle or see the black-eyed-Susans or feel the breeze and hear the rustle of the tree leaves, I am refreshed. I am reminded of who I am and of who God is.
Open your heart to God. Cry out to Him. Then spend some time focusing on your passions. Ask yourself: What led me to write? Recall past milestones that deemed as signs of God’s calling on your life. Have you perhaps gotten off track? Are you spreading yourself too thin? What are your priorities? Are you doing what you feel led to do?
The other day when consumed with family issues, writing woes and wondering if the world was going to end according to the Mayan calendar, I thought about who I really want to reach with my written words. As I walked over a path of crumpled brown leaves, I was aware of the types of people I have a deep concern for. Broken people. Those who like me, have had a child die. In the weeks to follow, I set out to do more with this part of my writing and created another online grief writing course. I sent letters to those in support groups about my new devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning.
When you return home from your walk, write down what you learned during your time of reflection. Keep a journal; you know that writing out your questions, hopes and dreams is therapeutic. I confess that my reflections are currently not in journal format, but rather, written on slips of paper secured with a large paper clip. I keep these in a desk drawer. I also include the date. It helps to look over these pieces from my heart every so often and marvel how God met each need in His time.
SURRENDER --- There is a bench in the park where I walk that holds more meaning to me than slats of wood framed with metal. This is my Surrender to God Bench. On numerous occasions I’ve sat on it as a symbolic action that I am giving a particular struggle over to God. I like to walk, time myself and keep up my pace, but when I am hit with an “a-ha” moment during one of my meetings with my CEO, I have to sit down to show that I can slow down. The very act of resting at this spot and committing my burden to Him is a sign that I want to give every area of my life over to the One who loves and knows me best.
LEARN --- Although I write a lot of fiction, there are times when I need the guidance of a non-fiction book to encourage me. Authors need the valuable lessons recorded in books by Christians—from how to write better stories to how God teaches, loves and showers His grace and mercy upon us.
Read something new by an author new to you. Stretch your mind. If you always read fiction, try a little non-fiction and learn. Think. Be challenged to grow.
TRUST --- Take time to know that you belong to Him first and that He wants to teach you even in the midst of what looks to be bleak. He works in the winter when all appears dead to the human eyes. But the glorious spring shows us that He has not been silent; He has been creating all along and working behind the bare scenes.
As you get to know yourself better through your times of regrouping, get to know God better. Learn to listen to His voice more than you listen to your own fretting. Dive into scripture about how much He loves you, cares for you and is growing you. Increase your trust.
ASK --- Whenever I ask God for some encouragement, He provides. Don’t neglect to ask Him. The reply might not happen immediately, but wait for it. God will send you what you need.
Just recently I received a letter from a reader that came out of the blue. Here is some of what Blake wrote after reading my novel, Still Life in Shadows:
Just to write to say I loved the book about the mechanic and the little autistic girl.
It was real to me.
I’ve tried to read other novels, but most of them aren’t real. I felt yours was real through and through.
The book helped me deal with my dad. He’s been long, long gone; but bitterness lives. Your book helped me to talk it out, cry it out, let it go. I can only say thank you.
Perhaps I can help my kids see a better dad than I saw. They say they love me. I generally hated and despised my father. He was rough. Thanks for writing.”
This letter came with a twenty dollar bill (I love unique fans) and boosted my spirits. Once more, I was reminded of how readers play an important role when they take the time to reach out to an author. And yes, I certainly was grateful for that enclosed bill—another blessing! The monetary gift also served as a reminder that God does take care of all my needs and to stop wasting time worrying. (“Do not worry about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:34. “I tell you, do not worry about your life.” Matthew 6:1)
BE THANKFUL --- When you are filled with zeal and ambition, you’re a fun person to be around. When you’re gloomy, you most likely won’t exhibit that happiness. Don’t deny your feelings, but know that during this season of aggravation, you need to be around others who can lift you up. Hang out with positive people. Other Christian authors who know the industry might be able to supply you with resources as well as the affirmation you covet. They also can be instrumental in praying for you. Let these people know that they have made a difference in your life. Many of my writing friends have stepped beside me to offer the words I have needed to hear during my season of despair. I treasure their positive messages of love. They are like a cool cup of water for this parched woman walking in the desert.
BELIEVE --- “You are a work of art in progress,” I wrote in my new devotional and like to sign copies of my book with this phrase. The other day I asked myself if I believed what I tell others to grasp. It is easy to toss out hopeful lines to those around us or to write them. Sometimes we need to read our very words about how valuable we are to God and believe that they are true.
It’s a new year! Make sure you aren’t just recycling your old writing goals or your old discouragement. Look up! God send manna from the sky; lift your head so that you won’t miss what He has in store for you in 2013. Let this be the year that you walk, surrender, learn, trust, ask, are thankful, and believe!
[First published in Book Fun magazine.]
Friday, September 13, 2013
"I can't take it anymore. I just want to give up."
It sounds much too familiar to me. Life can be overwhelming. Whether you are in pain over the death of a loved one, or suffering from a breach in a relationship, angry over the loss of a career, or brought to your knees from financial woes, there are days when fighting to put one foot in front of the other gets weary. You have tried and tried with that relationship. Nothing seems to work. You want to feel human again after a break-up. Or you want so much to love yourself after you've been abused, rejected or betrayed. Your heart may be barely beating after you've had to tell a loved one good-bye. You may be wondering where God is. You may think you will never see the sunlight like you once used to.
When we are in the throes of sorrow or fear, it's easy to tell ourselves negative statements. Soon our minds are a receptacle for untruths. We doubt. We fear and we live out of our doubts and fears. We waver and can't seem to stand. We dismiss all the truths we once knew about God and His love for us.
We become liars.
Today, as I thought about my current financial deficit, a butterfly on a bush caught my attention and I stopped to view her work as she fluttered around each flower. I was about to do my usual begging and pleading to God when instead I thought, I am rich. And as I continued my walk, I said, I am rich because I get to walk on this beautiful morning.
The bank doesn't think I'm rich. The world might not. But we know that richness is more than numbers in a bank account. I began to come up with statements using the first words, "I am rich".
I am rich because I get to watch the sun rise over the Carolina pines.
I am rich because I have felt the ocean on a summer day.
I am rich because I have seen forgiveness.
I am rich because I know the Giver of Life.
I am rich because I know without God I will fall and fail.
I hope you'll give this exercise a try!
Spend some time listing the ways in which you have been blessed by God. In spite of your current sadness, look up. Even if it all seems hopeless, know that you are priceless to God.
The Apostle Paul stresses to keep our thoughts on things that are praiseworthy, pure, true.
Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
There are days when you might feel that you are not only drawing near to God, you are counting on Him for your every breath.
Negative thoughts damage, make us feel unworthy and before long, we forget that we were bought with a price. Negative statements are not life-giving.
Do this instead: Tell yourself words that heal, that encourage, that bless you and help you to remember that He who gave you life, is your life. And when you live each day with the words He has meant for you, you can walk with hope.
Don't give up!