Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Learning to live again, Matt

Today marks four months since you entered eternity, Matt. I can't imagine you worshiping before God, though, no matter how hard I try. You were just not the outgoing, vocal type. That's why your nickname was Mr. Stoic. But that's o.k. I also know that while you may have been reserved and stoic here on earth, I'm guessing that, in heaven, any inhibitions we have are no longer. It is a comforting thought.

My heart wound is just as deep as the day you went to be with God, but the Great Physician has been tending to it since the very second it was wounded. There have been days where I have wanted so much to die. Days where the pain has just been too overwhelming. Yet I also have to reluctantly admit that it is not my time, which is why my heart continues to beat, though I haven't always wanted it to. Life has gone on, regardless of whether I wanted to be a willing participant or not. And that is where I must submit to God's sovereignty and authority.

As time goes on, and months turn into years, I find myself wondering if I will be the only one to remember each of these "29th's." I imagine every single mother who has lost a child does the same. I find it curiously interesting that the observance of these dates now is so similar to what I did, as a mother, when you were in my womb. I don't know of any pregnant woman who doesn't count down the weeks until the pending birth of her child. Each week is carefully and lovingly measured by her watchful eye and the calendar on the wall. And now I find myself doing the same, only it's no longer a joyful anticipation of birth, but an observance of the day you died.

As the calendar pages turn, and the time goes on, I cannot deny that life here has continued. Some days I honestly can't believe I am alive. Yet I know it is because of His great care. God has never taken His eye off of me, or our family. He has, and continues, to change the dressings of my wound, to comfort me, and to care for me as I recover from this near fatal wound.

Recovery is not easy. This is an ugly, ugly wound. There are absolutely no words to describe how deep it goes. It is so very difficult to continually keep an eternal perspective. It is with great comfort, however, when I, as I lie hurting, see the Great Physician come into my room. This wound requires constant supervision, and He has often had to dig out angry looking infection, scrape away dead skin, and treat impending infection. I have found His remedies, though sometimes slow, in my opinion, to work, to be quite a balm. His Word, and the truths found in His Word, must be applied daily. The days in which I have neglected to apply the salve of His Word are not good ones.

Healing is very slow. So slow, in fact, that I'm not even aware of it at times. However, today I noticed it. I could find joy in the sun shining today. I found myself being able to give thanks for friends and six other precious blessings. Your brothers and sisters are helping me to live again, Matt. They give me the courage to go on, to not let grief be my identity. I have a longing now for heaven that I honestly did not have before. And I want ALL of us there, together again. But that's only possible if I teach them about our true home and how to find it.

Your dad's owner of FPX said it best with this quote in her condolence card, Matt. "Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal." ~Author Unknown I refuse to believe that God cannot heal even this. For sure, there will be scars, and there are. But Christ himself bore scars on His body. We do not have a Savior that cannot sympathize with us. He knows, and He cares. He gave His life for us, so that we could have LIFE with Him, forever. I will try to remember that, as I mark each passing week, month, and year, that you are alive, my son. You are alive and I will see you again. Thanks be to God because of His indescribable gift, your dad and I, and your brothers and sisters, do not grieve as those who have no hope. (2 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:13)

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.  ~Kahlil Gibran 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

An empty chair

Our Thanksgiving was o.k. I had picked up my mom on Wednesday and she stayed with us until Friday. We then visited my grandma on Saturday. It was a long drive, but I was glad to get the chance to see my grandma again. She is 88yrs. old. With the lack of snow, we really felt we needed to take advantage of the driving conditions and see her now instead of late spring. I also got to see two of my sisters and my uncle, though briefly.

I am convinced that I could not have gotten through Thanksgiving without my mom here. Our Thanksgiving meal was excellent, though I did forget to make the stuffing! I put the turkey in the oven the night before and it was FABULOUS! I believe I have found a new turkey baking tradition. It was even moist left over!

I had wanted to avoid eating in the dining room, but the way things all came together, we ended up in there after all. And amid the chaos, the distraction of toddlers, and the saying of grace, the empty spot where Matt used to sit did not go unnoticed. An empty chair that was once occupied cannot be ignored.

Dh and I cried together before going to sleep. It was a relief to have the day over with. In all truthfulness, I was more than ready to be done reading all the Facebook posts about what everyone was thankful for. When one is grieving and so caught up in one's own loss, it is downright difficult to be thankful. It's not that I'm not thankful, either. I know full well how very much I have to be thankful for, but the pain of losing my son overshadows, for a time, the thankfulness.

It took me until today to realize, too, why it's been so difficult to voice thankfulness. I guess I didn't want to admit that I was angry. And even less willing to admit with whom I was angry. I was mad at God. I have been angry for a few weeks. I have questioned how it's possible to trust a God who hurt me so. I have wondered at my passive faith, wondering if I even had faith, and wondering if I would ever have it again. But I was reminded today of how good God is, of how He loves me, and of how He has provided for us during this most difficult and darkest of times. I was reminded of His character. And I was reminded of how small I am. In a way, I have been acting a little bit like Jonah. And in the words of a Steven Curtis Chapman song, "God is God, and I am not."

I was also reminded of hope. That some day, there will be joy again. I don't even necessarily have to believe it. I just have to keep trusting Him. This week I have frequently envisioned myself being carried by God. I have no strength of my own, yet I have feebly struggled against being carried. I realize now that I need to stop resisting and, instead, cling to Him as He carries me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Does Jesus care?

I flipped open the hymnal tonight looking for a song that I had had running in my head earlier today, but instead came across this one:

Does Jesus care?
(Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. 1 Pet. 5:7)

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress
And the way grows weary and long?
Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?
Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief there is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?
Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?
Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

We went to our church's annual Thanksgiving dinner last night. The dinner was good, but it was the time of thanksgiving and praise afterward that was difficult. I have heard so many times that this "trial" will make me stronger. The quoting of several verses such as from the book of James, chapter one, doesn't help, either. I don't want to endure. I don't want to be stronger. I'm just saying. Yet I know that is the flesh speaking. It is the heart of a mother grieving for her son. I also know, and take comfort in the fact, that God sees my heart. He knows that though I have no strength to praise Him with my mouth, I still worship Him in my heart.

I wanted to stand, as others did, and give praise for our church family, but I couldn't. Instead I sat there and cried. (Admittedly, I have learned to always carry tissue with me.) Being at church is, surprisingly, one of the most difficult places for me (and Tim) to be. We have been there all of our married life, eighteen years. Our church is, and has been, a HUGE part of our lives, and of our children's lives. It is a second home to us, so to speak.  I have yet to get through a Sunday morning without crying. Yet our church family is a big reason why we have been able to function. They have helped to carry our burden of grief these past 3 1/2 months.

As we enter into the holiday season, it's actually not the holidays I have a hard time with. It's every day. It's the commonplace, ordinary day I struggle with. It's the empty spot at the dinner table. It's the fact that I will forever now speak OF my son, but not TO him. It's the reality that Matt will never be in a family picture with us again. I never have been big on "tradition" or holidays. Our thing was birthdays. It was one of the few things I was traditional about. I always make a cut out cake from scratch. May 2nd is what I dread. It's not the holidays, per se.

So while I have struggled to stay afloat in this sea of grief, I have grabbed a hold of the only thing I can. God's love for me and my family. God has reminded me of this repeatedly. His word assures me that, though death makes no sense, it will not "be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Psalm 139:16
Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained [for me,] When as yet there was not one of them.

After intense struggling last night, I think I "got" it. I think I've accepted that no matter what I "could'a, should'a, would'a" did or didn't do, it would not have made a difference. God has a set number of days for every single person. When your time is up, your time is up. I realized it doesn't matter the circumstances in how you go. The Creator of the universe ordained a set number of days for each person's life. Period. I had a new found sense of peace after "reasoning" His word last night. It actually brought me a sense of comfort. The number of days God ordained for our son from his birth day to his entrance into paradise was 5,933. It comes to 16yrs., 2mo., and 28 days. How precious was every single one of them! (Not to mention the number of treasured pregnancy days carrying him...however many those were.) And I thank God that in heaven we have eternal life. There will be no end of days. Amen and Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Grief and guilt

Tonight's GriefShare was hard. It was said that the bereaved need to grieve honestly. I think I've done a fairly good job of that. So to continue in that thread, I have to say how very difficult it has been dealing with guilt. Guilt, for me, has a lot to do with the "if only's." I can't help but think that if only I had not moved Matt's cooler off of the ledge the night before. Then his lunch would have been IN the cooler...and then his Gator-aid bottle would have never rolled under his feet...and then he wouldn't have been reaching for it...and then he wouldn't have ended up in the oncoming lane colliding head-on with a semi. And he'd still be here.

I try to hang onto God's word, to the truth. But this week has been hard. I have found myself wondering if this pain will EVER let up, if it will EVER get any easier. I find myself wondering if my faith was really all that real to begin with. I thought it was, but am wondering if, all along, it was only a passive faith. And then I wonder if it will ever be active.

I find myself listening to the words of certain songs and my fleshly instinct is to respond with "no." NO, I don't want the "blessings of this life" to be accomplished through raindrops or tears. I don't understand it and the flesh in me doesn't agree. I find myself responding sarcastically to certain verses, especially Romans 8:28 and Matthew 11:28 saying, "Well, I'm not seeing it and, trust me, I'm not getting rest."

Laura Story - Blessings
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

I have guilt, too, that my son, who was such a cautious driver, inadvertently caused injury to another driver. The truck driver's life has forever been changed. He has suffered greatly and is still recovering and not out of assisted care. It grieves me. If only. If only.

The GriefShare video for tonight addressed the issue of guilt and how to deal with it. It was said that those grieving need to decide if guilt is true or false. If it's true, then seek forgiveness from the only One who can give it. I pondered that and then jotted down the question, "Was it my intention to cause harm by taking his cooler off the ledge the night before? Was it a sin?" I know the answer is no, but I'm not so sure my heart does. 

A few other points mentioned were that we confuse responsibility with accidents. We also need to stop blaming ourselves. We need to remember that God determines how long we live. We also need to accept that we can't go back and change it. That is what hurts the most for me. That I can't go back and change it. Because everything in my being wishes I could.

I hate being buffeted by waves in this sea of grief. And hate is an understatement. Choosing to focus on the truth is crucial. Honestly, however, it is a constant battle with the flesh and I am so tempted to give in at times. I am tired of fighting. I am weak. I am exhausted. I am hurting. God is going to have to lift me up. It's a good thing He is a covenant keeping God. It is a good thing He gives us His strength and His forgiveness. It is a good thing He is truth and can not lie. I need to know these things. I need to remember them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One step forward, countless back

15 weeks. In so many ways, it's so much harder. Psalm 46 says, "though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging" I will not fear. God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Clinging to the rock that is higher than I.

Fridays are just hard days. I have privately wondered in anguish how long it would be before I lost Matt's smell. Yes, his smell. We have kept his sheets, blanket, and pillow in our room since the day he died. For the first several weeks, Dh and I slept with Matt's comforter between us, trying to capture our son's presence, to grasp whatever we could, whatever we had left of him. I have smelled his pillow every night before going to bed. Oftentimes I will pause throughout the day in the usual coming and going into our bedroom and savor the smell of his pillow.

This morning, I could not smell him. It was like having my heart wound torn open all over again. I knew it was not going to be a good day. The waves of grief came crashing violently in and snatched me out into the deep. I couldn't handle dealing with the two-year old, so I called a friend and she came to take him for the day. What a blessing and a lifeline.

Trying to regain my footing, I decided we would do "night school" and directed my energy instead on the mindless task of switching out the last of the seasonal clothing for Miss T.T. and Mr. Monkey. The older girls did their own several weeks ago. I had managed to get Army boy's and Drama boy's clothes done a few weeks ago, too. There's also been a towering pile of "homeless" clothing on the shelves in each closet for several months that have needed tending to. So I bit the bullet and pulled ALL of them down and drug out ALL the clothes boxes from sizes 2T through size 6. We spent ALL day sorting, throwing, and giving away.

Grief is hard work, no matter how you slice it. I am in awe of how many tears one can cry. It amazes, humbles, and comforts me, too, to know that God is aware of every one of them. Psalm 56:8 "Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" I cannot fathom how many mine are, much less all the millions of other peoples' who have experienced sorrow of some sort. 

 Grief is exhausting. Yet I will not apologize or feel ashamed for crying. It is healthy and necessary for healing. If I feel like crying, I will cry. Whether it's in front of others or alone, I will not deny the God-given expression of sorrow. The physical impact of grief is crushing. It compromises the immune system in ways I never knew. We have suffered from sleeplessness and illness for literally months. But we have been sustained and provided for by friends and family the entire time. Without them, we honestly would not have been able to survive. "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you..." Phil.1:3

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moving forward

It's been said several times by various people in our GriefShare group that we don't move on, we move forward. Each step forward is painful, but necessary for healing. I liken it to a burn victim or amputee participating in physical therapy. Painful, but necessary. My "PT" today was making homemade bread...for the first time in over 3 months. While the bread was rising, I went into the shower and cried. I believe another session of "PT" will be writing out condolence thank you cards. Again, painful, but necessary.

I met with another mother last night who lost her 15yo. son just over a year ago. For the bereaved, grief forges an instant bond between strangers. It is a reluctant, yet comforting encounter when two grieving souls meet. We talked of our loved ones and spoke of God's grace in our sorrow. We both emphatically agreed that having had His word hidden in our hearts has been one of the reasons we have been able to move forward.

As much as we want time to stand still, as it did at the moment of our loss, it cannot. For the bereaved, healing must happen. The hard work of grief must take place. "PT" must have its place even if difficult and exhausting. Moving on doesn't mean the loss is gone. Moving on means learning a new way of walking, though this time with scars. It means trusting God because He, and only He, is trustworthy. I am reminded of a stanza from our pastor's poem The World Stood Still Today.

The time came to start the clock again
We didn’t want to, but we had no choice
Slowly, painfully we moved
We moved back into the flow of time

Monday, November 7, 2011

A rant on grief

I hate grief. I hate the way it turns your life upside down. I hate the effect it has on you. I hate what it does to a person. I used to sleep fine. I used to be in charge of my emotions. I used to think I was strong. I hate being sucker-punched by waves of grief. I hate how it reminds you of milestones and events you will never celebrate with your loved one. I hate what grief steals from you.

This world is broken. And that is why we have grief. A broken world was NOT in the original plan. This wasn't how things were supposed to be. But it is what it is. So what do we do with it? We hang onto hope.

This weekend was spent at Hearts of Hope grief camp. It angers me that we even had to be there. Yet I am so very thankful for places like this, for people that understand, for the reminder that this, too, shall pass.

While the kids were at camp, Dh and I were at a parent seminar all day Saturday on "How to Raise a Grieving Child." There was a ton of valuable information. One very powerful statement I heard was "You don't ever get over it. You get through it."

It was a rough weekend filled with much emotion. But Dh and I knew we needed to do this for our kids. They needed it. For them, it was great fun. Children do not grieve the same as adults. While adults carry grief constantly, kids handle it in bursts. The fun was scattered throughout the weekend with various activities. They got to tie-dye t-shirts, make a memory plaque, participate in a candle lighting ceremony, write their thoughts on an "anger wall" and a "love wall" and scale a climbing wall. They also learned about hope and that they are not alone. We were all reminded that grief doesn't get the last word. Hope does.

1Cor. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Heb. 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grief makes you think

Thoughts just keep swirling like a blizzard in my head. This grief thing is such a paradox. The searing pain, though just as deep as when the news of Matt's death first hit, is different. Not any less painful, but changed in form. At first like flowing molten lava, it has now transformed. The flow incinerated our lives, obliterating everything I once thought to be secure. But after three months, the pain has begun to settle. However, though the lava has stopped flowing, the cooling crust hides the heat beneath. It is still there, and it's going to take a very long time before it cools.

The daily tasks of life have been reinstated, but with changed perspective. The things that once gave me cause for anxiety, no longer give me pause for concern. It is a curious outlook. For instance, Mr. Monkey currently has the chicken pox. What began as a few strange spots on his neck last Friday developed into a full blown case of the pox. Four months ago, this would have freaked me out. Now it was merely a light blip on the radar screen. I am sure, as with the way of grief, that these things will change as time goes on. But for now, it is almost like an out-of-body experience.

Earlier, I worked on the GriefShare homework for this week. It was very sobering and convicting. It was stated "Your life is about more than your losses." There was a warning that "If grief becomes your identity, it will hurt you." I was convicted that I have, indeed, been tempted these past few weeks to do just that. The death of my child is inexplicable, but I was reminded of the truth. I can focus on "Why?" or I can focus on what I know to be true. Especially what I know to be true of God.

I was given the book Streams in the Desert. What a blessing and a comfort. The daily readings and poems are short, but powerful. Each day's reading is a balm to my soul, though I don't always like what I read. Who volunteers for suffering? Who looks forward to walking a seemingly impassable road? Who would willingly choose the path of sorrow in order to grow in their faith? But I know in whom I have believed. (2 Tim. 1:12) "Christ Jesus...who for the joy set before him endured the cross..."(Hebrews 12:2)

"When the frosts are in the valley,
And the mountain tops are grey,
And the choicest buds are blighted,
And the blossoms die away,
A loving Father whispers,
"This cometh from my hand";
Blessed are ye if ye trust
Where ye cannot understand."
(excerpt from Oct. 23 reading - Streams in the Desert

 It is a good thing I can not see the future, for I know I would have surely denied the trial. I would have refused to walk this path. But the amazing thing is that I do not walk alone, and I do not walk on my own. He gives me His strength, His courage, and the company of His presence. Today's reading from Streams in the Desert says, "The chiefest values in life and character are not blown across our way by vagrant winds. Great souls have great sorrows." And from Oct. 27th's reading: "Out of the buffeting of a serious conflict we are expected to grow strong. The tree that grows where tempests toss its boughs and bend its trunk often almost to breaking, is often more firmly rooted than the tree which grows in the sequestered valley where no storm ever brings stress or strain. The same is true of life. The grandest character is grown in hardship."

These are not easy things to accept. In all honesty, I was comfortable where I was and happy to maintain the status quo. But at least if I am to travel this way, I am comforted in knowing that there is a Shepherd who leads the way. He has walked the path before me and knows what lies ahead. There is a purpose and a plan, even if I don't ever see it, much less understand it. I am glad to know that it is not in vain. The apostle Paul knew what it was like to suffer for Christ, to lose all that he had. Paul says, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ." (Phil.3:7) I honestly can't say I count the loss of my son as "rubbish so that I may gain Christ" (vs.8) but I can say as Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.."