Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Is a Gift/Blessing?

How do you define a blessing? Is a blessing always a positive feel-good event? I couldn’t possibly begin to imagine how you would answer those questions and I’m not completely sure that I know how I will answer them. On Tuesday morning (12/21/2010) at 4:38am my son was born into this world. What a miracle, what an opportunity to worship my God the Creator of all. As many of you have noted on facebook, twitter, text messages, or email, this baby boy is the best Christmas gift I could ask for or that his birth and health is an incredible blessing. I agree with both statements and appreciate them deeply, however because of some events in the past year of my life, I have been forced to think about gifts and blessings a little differently (see posts beginning April 3, 2010 until now for a broader context). I wonder what types of messages I would have received if Andy would not have been healthy? Would his lack of health been the opposite of a gift or a blessing? So, let’s think about what awesome gifts and what incredible blessings actually are.
Almost exactly 11 months ago my dad was brutally murdered, is that a blessing? Shortly thereafter my grandmother passed away. Not long after that my aunt lost her battle with cancer. Then just 9 days ago (my birthday) my grandfather’s body finally gave out and he died as well. Would you describe this past year that my family has endured a blessing? Well I guess that all depends on how you define a blessing. If you define a blessing as something that leads to immediate joy and happiness, then this year could not be defined as a blessing for me. However, if you defined a blessing as something that will lead to my greater dependence on God, my deeper devotion to God, and my long term character maturation, then these events can and should be called a blessing. I consider it a blessing that God would give me an ability to preach and share his word at 2 of these funerals. I consider it a blessing that I got to spend more time with my family than usual. Mostly, I have come to realize this year that most events can be reframed and redefined to more adequately reflect their true meaning.
I would not have been able to consider these losses as blessings last year. Even now, I still miss and deeply long to see them. I think about what they would have thought about my son. I wonder what they would say when they saw my little boy. But just because I miss them and wish they were still here, does not negate the blessing of their passing. And even though I tend to be completely egocentric thinking that everything that happens directly relates to me, I also realize that the death of my loved ones is ultimately a blessing for themselves. Each of them were believers in the person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf so their sins would be forgiven and they received the free gift of eternal life. Ultimately their blessing was to give up their sin laiden and dying bodies for a perfect and completed one that will never struggle with sin, getting older, or any type of disease ever again. They are now seeing clearly our God and Creator of all and likely worshiping Him with a vigor like never before. What a blessing! Even though I miss them and at times wish they were here on earth with me, even I the selfish manipulator, couldn’t ask them to give up eternal glory and perfected bodies for their former earthly ones. That would be ludicrous and unthinkable, but it took me almost a year to realize that my desire to have them back was asking just that, to give up their perfected bodies and jump back into their lives of pain and suffering. What a blessing that not only my family members have received but one they have provided for me as well.
Nevertheless, your comments and notes are right; Andy’s birth is the greatest Christmas gift that I could imagine at this point of my earthly life. He is also the most incredible blessing I could think of at this point of my earthly life. But I hope that if Andy was not healthy that I could and would make the same exact statements. I guess I am learning that a blessing is something/someone given by God in order to bring about his eternal purposes, which include making his name great and my character more dependent on Him. What about you? Are there any events in your life that need to be reframed as blessings from God?

This is my prayer…
Father in Heaven, I praise your holy name for the many blessings that you have graced me with this year; the more difficult blessings and the easier more readily accepted ones. I beg that you would continue to develop me into a man that is able to raise Andy (your child) in a way that makes your name great and leads him to fear and worship you from an early age. I beg for your grace and mercy in the times where I fail and thank you for your guidance throughout the times I succeed. Amen

By the way... Andrew "Andy" Prentis Arnold was born on 12/21/2010 at 4:38am. He weighed 6 lbs 15.5 oz and measured 19 inches in length.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On Fathers Day...

What a day it has been. Today is a day that I have been dreading for the last couple of months. Ever since my dad passed away, I knew that there would be holidays and anniversaries that would remind me of him and the fact that I can't visit or call. That reminder of separation is tough and at times can be gut-wrenching. So how would I manage to give God glory and praise Him today for the loss of my dad?
I guess the adoration began when I walked into church this morning and was wished a happy father's day. I guess I didn't even think about this being a day I could celebrate the gift of life as well the Lord's grace in loss. My heart perked up a little as I thought about the baby that is growing inside of Laurens tummy right now. About a month or so ago Lauren and I found out that we are going to have a baby (Little A for now). This past Friday when we went cor a check-up, we were able to see Little A celebrating life. During the sonogram the little thing would not quit moving long enough to get a good read on the heartbeat. As we watched, Little A seemed to be dancing as it's maker and creator continued weaving and forming its inward parts. Little A was waving its arms, spinning around, and doing back flips. It was a precious site. I just wonder what was causing this little baby to be so happy (might have been the gummy bears mom ate after lunch...just sayin). I wonder if Little A's excitement is a picture of what heaven is like (I know there are theological questions that could be raised here but I just wonder if Little A was celebrating his creator).
As I thought about how this was a first fathers day for me, I also recognized that this is a first fathers day for my dad. Today he is sitting before the throne of God almighty with a glorified body worshiping the same Lord that is forming and weaving my child together. What an incredible reminder. Although I miss my dad greatly, I cannot imagine taking his perfected and sinless body from him and having him come back to live in this world. Lord, I exalt and praise you for the work you are doing. For bringing my dad to glory and rescuing him from his sin laiden body, all the while forming me and Lauren's child. Thank you for the gift of life both physically and eternally.

FYI- for those of you who didn't know... Lauren and are going to have a baby. It's still early (11 weeks) so your prayers are appreciated!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, May 07, 2010

Your Hands

Lauren and I are on our way to the beach via a stop in Jackson, MS to see my family and are listening to JJ Heller. Her song "Your Hands" is a pretty awesome tune, especially after my last post. I encourage you to go to iTunes or some other music network and purchase it or better yet her whole Painted Red album. JJ Heller is pretty awesome! Here are the lyrics to her song "Your Hands".

I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn’t there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That you would take my pain away
You would take my pain away

I am trying to understand
How to walk this weary land
Make straight the paths that crooked lie
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands

When you walked upon the earth
You healed the broken, lost and hurt
I know you hate to see me cry
One day you will set all things right
Yeah, one day you will set all things right

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands

Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me
They hold me still

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Peace... a new understanding

Over the past few blog entries I’ve mentioned a concept that has been difficult for me to understand… peace. As noted in a couple of my entries I mentioned that I questioned whether or not I was a believer because I did not have peace. I was encouraged about a week after my dad was killed and before his body was found that I needed to show others that I had a “peace that surpasses understanding.” This would draw those unbelievers who were grieving to the cross. The encouragement was meant to push me to be a greater witness, but it ultimately had a different effect. I remember sitting at a table and feeling completely defeated and almost unable to breathe. I was trying to regulate my breathing while tear drops fell from my eyes. My wife and mother were holding me and praying for God to give me peace. I sat still through the prayer and immediately stood up and walked away. I felt like there was an extreme weight on my chest and I couldn’t take a deep breath. I met panic for the first time and it was ultimately because I didn’t have “peace.” I went into a bedroom weeping and tried to catch my breath. My mind raced with questions about peace… why didn’t I have peace, if Jesus has given me peace why can’t I feel it, why do my prayers seem to be unanswered, why is there not an absence of conflict in my mind. These questions, many others, and likely the influence of the evil one led me down a dark path of questioning my faith… was it real, was I part of the elect, or maybe I have never “really believed” or was not “chosen.” All the while it became harder and harder to breathe. What an impact a five letter word can have… P-E-A-C-E.
Now that I have had some time to reflect on the early stages of this trauma, my panic, and why I was not experiencing “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” I have learned much about my own personal walk with the Lord and this concept called peace. When I try to define what I believed peace to be while I was questioning my faith I feel overly simplistic. I assumed having peace would have resulted in me being calm and not worried or anxious in any way. That’s what peace is right… the absence of conflict or problems? The Apostle Paul suggests we should “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). Does this verse mean that if I pray God will provide me with peace? Does it mean that if I pray then this worry about my dad will… poof, disappear? I can guarantee that I was begging and crying out to God to take this worry and anxiety away from me, so why was there no absence of worry… no absence of problems? Maybe it was because I was not trusting God enough in the situation. I wonder if I would have conjured up a little more trust if these thoughts, this hurt would vanish? I was actually told, on multiple occasions, that I needed to trust God more in this situation. It’s in God’s hands. Everything will be ok. My only problem with this advice (other than the fact that while I was hurting, I felt like people were belittling my walk with the Lord) was that I could not figure out how to trust God more. I believed that he was sovereign over the situation and that he ultimately was in control. I trusted that he would bring justice in his timing. I trusted that he would take care of my family and others who had been affected. I trusted that his glory would be made known through this awful tragedy. I felt like I completely trusted Him, so how could I trust him more? Would I be trusting him more if I quit crying, if I quit having nightmares and flashbacks, if I quit worrying about the well-being of my grandparents?
What I have come to realize is that “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” is not the absence of problems or conflicts but the company of God in the conflicts. It is not just having a harmonious relationship with someone, but having a bond with the creator of the universe. Peace is not something that I can just conjure up at any moment, but something that God is… always. I have come to realize that peace is the presence of God in my life. It is not necessarily a feeling but a reality.
I am able to look back at the first couple of weeks of this trauma and realize worry and anxiety are reactions that God created in each of us. These reactions are good when we sense danger and need to get away from a situation or defend ourselves. I believe this anxiety response is: fight or flight. Our adrenaline increases and we have abnormal abilities to manage difficulty. I was in a situation for the first 72 hours or so that was dangerous. My body was in a crazy bind: leave my grandfather by himself or continue to stay at the crime scene to protect him. On one hand I needed to flee, but on the other I needed to protect. These juxtaposing needs caused confusion and panic. However, the reality is that the peace of God never left me. When I became so confused that I questioned my faith and quit “walking with the Lord” He walked and He carried me. That’s a peace which surpasses comprehension.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Authentic Prayer? Are There Times When It Is OK?

I copied this prayer off of a friends blog because it made sense to me and wanted to share it with you. The blog i ripped this from is:

Authentic Prayer
I found myself sometimes angry, often hurt, always broken—but the bottom line of my heart was this: Lord, where would I go if I turned away from You? If I didn’t have You, I would have nothing. I have nowhere to turn, so while I’m pounding Your chest with my hurt, pain, and anger, please know that I am still facing You, still leaning into the warmth of Your embrace, not sure I can trust You, but knowing You are all I have. If I left You, I would be completely aimless and lost. So while I feel devastated by what You have allowed to happen, I still cannot resist pressing into the comfort of Your strong arms. I am angry that I am not resisting You more. Because I know You could have stopped this thing from happening—but I have nowhere else to go…by Carol Kent

What do you think about a prayer like this? How would you respond to this seemingly angry, hurt, broken person? A person who seemingly would rather walk away from God if her options looked a little better. A person who is willing to lean into the chest of God and willingly admit that they are not sure they can trust Him, so they are angry they are not resisting God more. They believe that God is omnipotent and could have stopped this thing from happening but didn't. 
What a conflict... I feel like i know exactly how this person feels. This terrible thing happened (likely trauma) and their mind is shaken up and poured out like a bunch of puzzle pieces. Now they have the task of trying to pick up the pieces and fit them back into their minds somehow. at first they are all mixed up and Satan even further mixes things up and deceives us even more. Their world-view will likely change as they begin seeing the world differently from this experience. See the person's confusion in the prayer ,who physically was lying on the chest of God, learning into the warmth of His embrace. This is an action that screams I trust this one I am embracing but wait a minute i am mad and i cannot trust someone who let this travesty happen. Thankfully, before the deception grew she recognized that she is right in the perfect and safest place ever, under the protection of her Father's arms.
I think i was praying similar prayers over the last couple of months. Mine were nuanced with different words but i was ultimately crying out to the Lord to give me the "peace that surpasses all understanding" but for some reason i didn't get it. As i was picking up my pieces i confusingly began panicking  that if i had no peace then maybe i was no believer at all. Thankfully i had my incredible wife their with me to hold me and pray for me through those moments. As the process has moved on and i have talked with  many trauma and grief victims and they all have a similar story. Many of them have given me a heads up for certain times  and triggers and they were exactly right. I'm convinced that people progress through grief very differently  and specific to their certain situation , however most of us tend to follow the same broad progression of challenges. I would encourage someone who might be a victim of trauma/grief to find a Christian Counselor who has some training in trauma/grief to begin walking through some of the struggles. It has been incredible for me to have wonderful counselors at school who are always available and also my primary counselor who has truly helped me to recognize that I'm not headed to the crazy house but simply passing through a phase of difficulty. This process is tough but this is my prayer, taken from "The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions."
Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender,
  lest I offend my blessed Friend
  in thought and behaviour;
I confide in thee and lean upon thee,
  and need the at all times to assist and lead me.
O that all my distresses and apprehensions 
  might prove but Christ's school
  to make me fit for greater service
  by teaching me the great lesson of humility.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Grief Observed/Compared

Over the last couple of years in my counseling and psychological studies I have learned that grief often comes in waves after trauma/crisis. Since my father’s murder in January, I have found this to be true. I have had times of complete and utter distress (as seen in previous blog entries) and times of thanksgiving/hope. At times, the waves are like a calm day at the beach but more often than not, they have been colossal with deep swells and a powerful surge.
The last few days I have really wrestled with the process of grief and the great divide between those grieving and others. I feel like CS Lewis understands and explains much of how I feel in his book “A Grief Observed.” He testifies that the grief he is experiencing is similar to fear and at times he feels drunk or concussed. He suggests that it is like “there is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me” (pg. 3). I understand this type of out-of-body experience where I feel like life is happening around me but I am really not part of it. I also, at times, feel like no one can understand me nor the battle that ensues in my mind. People recognize when I am sad and when I am happy but can’t quite figure out that regardless of the emotion I am presenting my heart is aching. I agree with Lewis that the toughest part of this pain is that “I not only live each day in endless grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief” (pg. 10). I rationalize and try to anticipate the next dark moment. Even during the good times I am constantly thinking about when the next wave will hit me and how will I respond. Lewis, likewise, appeared to ride this roller coaster of emotions (or waves as suggested earlier). At times he thinks he is progressing and feels better while at others “all the hells of young grief have opened again” and he suffers much pain (pg. 56). Lewis suggests that, “Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain is often” (pg. 41). Nevertheless, CS Lewis recognized the grief was a process. He illustratively explains that “grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape” (pg. 60).
It is nice to be in the company of a great man of God. He grieved the loss of his wife and even questioned God’s character yet he never failed to believe. His book “A Grief Observed” has helped to normalize the process and convince me that I am not crazy for being overwhelmed with grief.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Questions from a Concerned Brother

Soon after my last blog I received a message from a concerned brother in Christ. As I read through the questions he sent, I realized that it is possible that many others might be wondering the same things. Below you will find his message and then my reply. Thanks for your concern!

The Message:
Hey man. I read your recent comments and was praying for you. I felt I needed to send this. I hope you read this coming from a brother in Christ in love and compassion. It truly is normal to grieve but it seems like this is consuming you and as I thought on this some questions came to my mind that I would want to ask myself if I was in your position. What about my dad's death bothers me so much? The violence of it? The pain he must have felt? If he had died of a heart attack would it be affecting me this much? if not why? Am I unsure of his salvation? If so am I angry with myself for not sharing the gospel more? Was my dad an idol to me? Did I put to much hope and trust in him? Why does my dad's death take me to the end of my rope? For what purpose might this be? I know this time must be hard. I can not imagine. There are times here where what we say we believe meets with a situation in which we must test that faith we confess. I hope and pray you will persevere and stay in the Word even when you don't feel like it so the gospel can wash over you daily. I know I probably did not say anything you do not know or have not heard but I hope in some way it has been an encourage. Grace and peace.

My Reply:
Thanks for reaching out. It's nice to have someone outside my regular circle of support willing to ask some tough questions. First, let me start by stating that my blog is intended to be a way for me to vent and begin expressing some of my thoughts and prayers. It has been a way for me to "breathe out" some of my mental madness. Second, to think about what troubles me so bad about my fathers death is difficult. I know that he was a believer because we talked often about his salvation. Also, if he would have died in a more civil fashion I feel sure that things wouldn't be quite as tough because I wouldn't be thinking about my dads blood that was spread all over his garage, back yard, and truck (also I'm not consumed with thoughts about my grandmother who died unexpectantly just 2 wks after my dad's body was found). I guess being at the crime scene and close to the investigation aided my imagination in recreating what might have happened. Not to mention his blood on my shoes and clothes that I wore for the first couple of days after he was murdered messed with my mind in the earliest stages of trauma and grief. I really do not know why I continue to struggle through this but I do trust that the sovereign Lord knows just where I am. I am even, at times, thankful to God for how he is growing me and forcing me to be completely dependent on Him. I wish the thoughts, day dreams, and nightmares would stop but for some reason they haven't. Is it because of sin or because God is preparing me for something yet future? I don't know but I continually cry out to the Lord confessing my weaknesses and an over dependence on myself. I ask that you would pray for my ability to spend quality time studying Scripture. It is a discipline I have prided myself in because it is something that I really enjoy and spend lots of time doing... Until now. My ability to comprehend or even to recognize words is overwhelming and likewise frustrating. I can't figure out why reading is all of a sudden so tough but it is. I carry note cards with me with verses on them as they are easier for me to ingest but I long for more. Nevertheless, I, like you, have been asking myself, my seminary and counseling professors, and the Lord all the same questions you posed but I simply haven't gotten many answers other than trauma and grief of this nature will take some time. I often feel like I'm going crazy but I am going to give myself a little grace right now. The past 2 1/2 months have been really difficult as I have lost my dad and grandmother, my aunt was placed in hospice care, and my grandfather has verbally disowned me for having him admitted to the hospital for psych testing. I have been forced through alot here lately and I will give myself a pass for a little while longer. Thanks again for your concern and I beg you for your prayers for me and my family. Our worlds have been turned upside down and we are trying to figure out how to organize all the pieces.