Love is a gift. Have you received it? Have you given it?
Easter is also a time of renewal, rebirth. We see the signs of rebirth every spring when seeds become beautiful flowers and new leaves emerge on barren twigs of shrubs. The greatest rebirth, however, is what happens within us when we reach out and take the gift God extends to us.
What is the gift we receive at Easter? Love – salvation – another chance – another opportunity – freedom to live with our God every day from now throughout eternity because He provided a way for us to come to Him through the sacrifice made on two pieces of wood nailed together.
On the 4th of July, we celebrate the freedom of our country as we reflect on the cost of soldiers who fought and died so long ago to make this country free. At Easter, I wonder if we have somehow lost the message of cost and sacrifice made by God to give us freedom from our sins, as we place so much focus on bunny rabbits, Easter eggs, spring flowers and new outfits.
What do we do with this love, so freely given to us? For love is a gift – no payment is due – in fact, if we have to make payment for it in any way, it no longer is a gift. If we have to pay for love, it has lost its value – it is diminished. The gift of love cannot be bought or bartered for or earned in any way. It is just that – a gift.
We often associate the value of a gift with how much it cost. The higher the cost of sacrifice made by the giver, the more value it has to the receiver. What greater cost and sacrifice can there be than to die for someone?
Jesus Christ chose to die for us. By choosing to die for us, He protected us from destruction – from the harm that befalls us when we are separated from God. In His death we are delivered from the consequences of our sins. It is a gift given to each of us. It is an expression of love – a love that says, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to have you with me forever.
We all want to be loved. It is a need as necessary as the air we breathe and the water we drink. We can’t manufacture love or find it in our halls of justice or science labs. Love is a gift freely given. When we accept God’s gift of love and salvation, we recognize our need for it and our unworthiness to receive it. But in that giving and acceptance of this great gift of love, we are re-born.
As we accept this gift, we are then asked to share it with others. We are to give it away to everyone: our children, our spouses, our neighbors and co-workers. In giving it away, it grows and becomes even greater than it was.
Happy Easter. As you accept God’s great gift of love and salvation, may you experience the greatest of joys. May it be a time of beautiful rebirth for you.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
When I write or speak about hope, I share my own personal life experiences as well as scripture and science. Throughout the Bible, we read stories of God interacting with His people where faith, hope and trust are played out. Within science we know that the thoughts we dwell on will have an impact on us mentally, physically and spiritually. Hope can change the chemistry in the body.
Hope says there is the possibility of something good happening. It is not only a belief, but a feeling that “something desirable” might happen. Without hope, we give up or find ourselves repeating the words made popular in a song of the 60’s that said, “Is this all there is”?
When we are encouraged, we gain confidence. Within confidence, we find courage.
With encouragement, we become motivated – motivated to look for solutions to tough problems and difficult life situations.
When we are feeling helpless and hopeless, our energy is drained and depression settles into every cell and fiber of our body rendering us at times almost catatonic. Hope can change that in an instant. Hope allows us to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do.
When we feel hopeful, we expect a different outcome. We don’t worry about whether the earth will keep rotating; the sun will come up in the morning or go down at night. When the sun is hidden in clouds, we know it still exists and take for granted that it is there.
Hope played out in our lives expects that tomorrow has the possibility to be brighter than today, that our pain will recede, and that we can experience joy again. Hope says that when the world is all dark and we think we have been locked in a prison of despair, that we can place our expectation on a God who we can call upon in our time of need and trouble. We can go to Him anytime and anywhere.
When our expectation is placed on God, we believe that He exists, that He loves us, and that He will never leave us or desert us. He will give us the strength to endure. Hope believes God’s word that tells us He cares about us personally, and that His love is so great, He is willing to die for us. In fact He did – on the cross at Easter and rose again.
Hope never gives up
Hope doesn’t quit. When we are exhausted and think we can’t do anything more, we hear God whispering to us, “I am here with you. Try again – one more time”. We feel His arms carry us. We hear his promises in our ear and feel His strength flow into us. He intervenes in our lives.
Hope is surrender
Hope relies on something greater than ourselves. When we surrender to the knowledge that we do not know it all, will never know it all and we need God in order to survive, we begin to experience hope. We recognize that we are not sufficient unto ourselves.
Sometimes in that surrender, we are asked to let go and allow. The focus is no longer making something happen, but surrendering to what is happening and adjusting our responses. In that surrender, we find peace in acceptance. Hope then reveals itself in looking for blessings in all things.
The Easter story is that revealing of hope for us that there is life after death – a new life that goes beyond the grave; a hope of salvation made possible by God. Within our tragedies lies new hope and new life as well.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
Hope is choice. How has hope moved you forward?
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
A Time to laugh and a Time to cry
We find ourselves within the chapters of Ecclesiastes. The seasons of life are demonstrated everywhere in the physical world and we identify with them. But making the transition from one season to another isn’t always easy. We don’t want to give up one to gain the other. We want life – not death. We want laughter and joy, not weeping and mourning. Yet both are necessary in order to live life to the fullest.
Perhaps it is only within our difficulties, troubles and losses that we are able to discover more of ourselves.
When we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually wounded, we retreat from the world to find solace and direction. This isn’t just a time for introspection, however, but an opportunity to discover anew God’s great love and purpose for us and our need for Him. As He gently walks beside us in our grief and pain, we begin to feel His spirit strengthening ours.
When I was grieving the great loss of my husband, there were times when I felt like a little child, my soul crying in depths devoid of sound to all except God, and in those moments found myself picked up and comforted by Him. Grieving is a journey to heal the wounds of the heart and spirit.
In our retreat and solitude, we arrive at a place where we need to lay our burden down, give up the struggle and rest in the comforting arms of our Lord. In acceptance we gain peace.
Hope is an active Journey – Hope is a Choice
Hope is actively and purposefully taking part in the healing process as we explore options and possibilities. In my book, “Healing the Wounded Heart,” I share vignettes of from my healing and growth journey. Perhaps you will recognize some of your own journey here.
“Learning anything new requires struggle, work and determination. It seems at times, however, that in the process we continue to push a proverbial stone that won’t move. And then, one morning, we wake up and find ourselves sitting on top of that stone! We haven’t moved it – we haven’t gone around it – we have climbed on top and are on our way over it!
“That’s how I feel this morning. I have reached the top! I’m not sure how I got here – but here I am. Every morning I have written about my struggle to believe, make sense of what has happened and move forward. It was a new skill I was developing as I grieved my loss.
“And now I sit on top of this mountain, my proverbial rock and look back and see the black canyons and deep abysses and steep trails that had challenged me. Now I see what I couldn’t see while climbing those often treacherous paths: the guardrails that God put up for my protection; the “angels” He sent to comfort me and the green pastures that were sweet resting places along the way. He put people in my life to assist and support me – to just “be there” for me. He provided protection, love and strength to endure.
In my times of solitude and retreat, I didn’t just journal about my loss. I took my Bible and met my God every morning in my reading and my writing. Gradually peace replaced pain, hope replaced despair. Even when the road seemed endless or too steep and I wondered how I would make it through the day, I moved ahead with resolve and the assurance that I wasn’t alone – God was with me. He would never leave me. For God never does leave us; it is we who leave Him.
Whatever the loss, grieving takes time and work. But in the process, we have the opportunity to make many new discoveries that might otherwise remain hidden. I ended that day’s journal entry with the following:
“This morning as I sit from my new vantage point, I am captivated by the view extending before me, the options available to me. As I remember the dark, deep and narrow canyons, I am reminded that even there, patches of blue sky could be seen. When I had looked up, those walls expanded and I felt the power and love of my Heavenly Father and I would receive a new surge of energy and hope. And when the way out of those dark canyons of grief and sorrow seemed to disappear, God gave me toe-holds, branches to grab hold of and hang on to until the path became clear once more.”
Perhaps you are experiencing the pain of divorce, a life fractured by anger and misunderstanding, a chronic illness that forever robs you of the life you knew, or just the deep sorrow that you will not have the opportunity to realize your dreams. But we don’t have to remain in that ending.
With hope we can move forward to a happy new beginning.
Hope is action – It is moving forward even when the world is the blackest. Hope is believing there will be an end to the pain and struggle. There are good days ahead. Hope knows you are never alone – unless it is your choice.
While we may be in our time to weep, retreat and mourn, we know that we do not need to stay there. In the journey out of that ending we can find great blessings, renewed purpose and meaning.
Marlene Anderson, LMHC, NCC
“I cry out in the night before thee. Let my prayer come before thee; incline thy ear to my ear. . . I’m standing my ground, God, shouting for help, at my prayers every morning, on my knees each daybreak. For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting, I’ve taken the worst you can hand out and I’ve had it. . . I’m bleeding, black and blue”. Psalm 88 (New Oxford Bible and The Message)
In those frantic days with the rapid advance of a brain tumor that took the life of my husband, I found the inner strength I needed every day to deal with this crisis within the Psalms. The Psalmist spoke the words my heart was experiencing. He articulated my pain, tears and cries for help, both before death and later as I grieved my loss.
Hope – Hopelessness
There were so many times when I felt as though I was falling into the dark abyss – a bottomless pit with no hope – only continual sorrow. My world was disintegrating, unraveling bit by bit before my eyes and there were no promises for a bright tomorrow. I, too, felt black and blue and was shouting to God for help.
In my book, “A Love so Great, a Grief so Deep”, I described hope as a “double-edged sword”. I met people who would share stories about others they knew who had the same diagnoses as my husband and were living far beyond their original prognosis. It stirred a powerful hope within me that my husband, too, would have more time – more months and years to live. But when the symptoms could not be ignored, I was thrust again into the frigid water of stark reality where hope was shattered.
Perhaps you, too, have experienced what seems like a double-edged sword, where hope became a strong conviction, an expectation and anticipation only to be dashed leaving you in the grips of despair.
Hope is the wish that something good can happen, is possible and will happen. Hope energizes. Without it, we become depressed and lack the will and motivation to keep trying. Hopelessness is the result of believing we no longer have any choices. We give up and become a victim. In the midst of personal tragedy, when we feel powerless, the tenants of hopelessness can quickly settle in.
Hope is the lifeline we grab hold of and hang onto with all our strength and will. When it seems we have little or no control over events, it is the belief that we not only can weather this storm but will be okay in the end that sustains us. The promise of a better tomorrow or another opportunity keeps us afloat when we feel we are sinking in an ocean of regret or despair.
While we are capable of many things, if our hope is placed solely in our own abilities or in a shallow and imperfect world, I believe we will continue to experience hopelessness. But when our hope and trust is placed in a loving and caring God, we will not only receive the hope, strength and fortitude we need to persevere, but will experience peace as well.
We want to live happy and fulfilled lives. We want to believe there is predictability, an end to sorrow and the possibility of a new tomorrow. And even in death, we want to know we can let go of our loved ones, and believe we will not only survive but will be able to create a new life.
“. . . but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
Would you consider yourself a good friend? If so, what makes you a good friend?
We were all traumatized. Because of distance and other intervening life events (our daughter had just given birth to her first child prematurely and our sons lived out of state), it was our friends who gave us the physical and moral support we all needed when my husband got ill and died within three and a half months.
My husband and I always had lots of friends. When we moved to another state that offered opportunities to cruise with our sailboat in retirement, we left behind many lifelong friends. We built our dream house, settled within a large friendly community and was just beginning to enjoy semi-retirement when tragedy struck. For a man rarely sick throughout his life, a brain tumor quickly took him from a viable force to rapid decline and death.
The new friends we had made within this wonderful community came to our aid in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. One woman organized a team of people to take my husband to his daily radiation treatments 45 minutes away from our home. Over a hundred people quickly signed up with a waiting list. Another friend flew from Great Britain and stayed with us a month.
As we slid down the slippery slope to death, friends took care of our little dog when trips to the ER became more frequent and when my husband eventually had to go into a hospice facility. Another friend took over the sale of our sailboat; a couple came and cleaned our entire house; and friends never thought it an imposition to sit with us in ER after just arriving home from vacation. Others arrived at our door with dinners.
My husband had been an integral part of my life and when he died I felt as though part of me had died as well. These same friends rallied around me after his death. They didn’t wait for me to call – they called me, they came by. I was included for dinners as though I were a member of the immediate family. And the list of support goes on.
How would you define friendships? I think most of us would describe friends as people we enjoy being with and spending time together. We assume friends will be loyal and that we can depend on them if we need help. But perhaps it is in adversity where we truly discover the depth and meaning of friend.
Even when we do not share a history together, people can quickly become friends who reach out in time of need. When pancreatic cancer rapidly took the life of my son, his friends rallied around us as we worked to meet his needs during those last frantic days.
Living out of state, his friends were his extended family – a family of people who would do whatever it took to be there. They extended their caring and love of him to me as well. I would not have been able to handle the crisis that rapidly evolved without their help. Nothing was too great a sacrifice of time or effort. That friendship and help continued after his death as I closed up his apartment and his affairs.
Friends are people who are willing to extend themselves beyond their own comfort zone, to be there in the dark of night and chill of dawn. They become aware of and fill needs before they are expressed. They are willing to sacrifice time and effort when it isn’t convenient.
My friends have taught me a lot about friendship. While I can never repay them – something that if I tried would diminish that love and friendship – I can extend the same hand of friendship to others around me.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
In designing a class for individuals struggling with chronic illness, our three member team examined all facets of life that were affected by chronic illness and pain. We all agreed there needed to be a balance between the adjustments illness and pain thrust upon us and finding a way to bring joy and happiness back into our life. So our class material contained handouts on humor and a lesson devoted to taking adversity and finding some way to laugh at it.
It doesn’t matter what the tragedy, if we can find that speck of humor, it can make the journey bearable. When we take what happens and laugh at ourselves, we have elevated ourselves above our situations. It replaces the sting of pain and interjects it with hope and normalcy.
Here are some ways you can put humor in your life.
Take your bad day and deliberately blow it out of proportion. Make a mountain out of that molehill to the extent that it becomes humorous. Linda Richman calls it “creative catastrophizing”. Successful comedians take difficult situations and exaggerate them until we have to laugh. “I had such a bad day . . . you wouldn’t believe how bad it was . . . it was so bad. . . “It might seem awkward at first, but the more we exaggerate our problems into laughter, the less power they have to keep us down.
Turn your situation into good news/bad news
Start with the bad news and then end it with a humorous punch. The bad news was I lost the keys to my car; the good news, I found my checkbook I lost weeks ago.
Start a “Happy Diary” or a “Blessings Journal”
The world looks gray and dismal when you are hurting. Paste a large smiling face on the cover. In fact post smiling faces all over your house: on your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator, you car dashboard, your computer, etc.
Purposely look for blessings every day and record at least one happy, pleasant or joyful event. Include the times when someone said something that made you smile, or sent you warm comments or made you laugh. Write about a beautiful sunset or a favorite saying. Paste cards and letters in it. Write a love letter to yourself.
Use affirmations daily
Make a list of positive affirmations and say them every day as often as you can. Here are some you can start with.
I choose to be happy this very minute
I love to laugh
I see humor and love and beauty all around me
I take charge of my life
I choose to let go of bitterness, judgment and anything that keeps me from feeling peaceful and good
I am so thankful to a loving God for all my blessings
Make a list of fun things to do
Include all the things you have always wanted to do. Choose to do one each day. Keep adding to the list. It is a proactive way to step out of our sad or depressive feelings.
Smile at yourself every time you pass a mirror!
At the same time, give yourself a big hug. (Simply wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze!) Then, the next person you meet, ask for and give them a big hug. Hug somebody new each day while still being sensitive to their individual private space. I have found that most people not only are willing to receive hugs, but want to give them as well. Cut out jokes and cartoons and place them around the house. Create some of your own. Even stick figures can make us laugh.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
Laughter heals – There is humor in everything.