Friday, December 27, 2013

Grief lesson #1 - You Are Not in Control

It only takes seconds after a loss for this lesson to solidify in the heart of the bereaved. Especially as parents, we tend to think we have so much control. We're so busy running our lives, and the lives of our children, that we are deceived by the facade of control. But then tragedy hits and you realize that any control you thought you had was just a mirage. For those who don't believe in God and His sovereignty, I would imagine there is very little comfort after the loss of a loved one. For believers, however, the knowledge that there is an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God brings a comfort beyond understanding. Comfort because it means there is a reason for our suffering. Loss is not without purpose. Loss, in God's economy, is not wasted. Jesus carefully and tenderly gathers up the shattered pieces of our devastation and redesigns our life. Comfort doesn't diminish the pain, but allows one to bear it.

This is only our third Christmas without Matt, yet, for me, it feels like it's only the second; the second because I don't even count the first one. The first one isn't even a blur as I simply have no memory of it! The entire first year is gone, like my memory was erased. Losing a child is traumatic, to say the least. I understood so much more going into the second year why "everyone" (those who've experienced child loss) said the second year was actually harder. It's because you have no memory of the first, you're in shock. You come out of the cushion of shock the second year and the reality hits full force that your child one is never coming back. Never. (Not this side of heaven, anyway, and not until you join them on the other side.)

When grief teaches you this lesson, that you're not in control, it opens your eyes to a lot of things. Since Matt died, I think I definitely say yes more. It made me realize that when you have nothing left but memories, then you desire to create memories. It taught me to let go more. It showed me that the things, the battles with my kids, that I thought were so important were really just quite stupid. They were not the big issues I had perceived them to be. It drove home the reality that life really is short. The Bible isn't joking when it says that our lives are like a vapor and are but a handbreadth. (James 4:14, Psalm 39:5)

While there've been positive results to learning grief lesson #1, there have also been negative ones, fear being the biggest. The fear of losing another child is persistent. I mean, never in a million years would I have thought I would lose a child, but I did, and the unthinkable happened. And because it happened, fear now stalks. I've lived the reality. I have proof that it happens. It is a daily choice to trust God with the lives of my children and husband. It's choosing to resist, as well, the temptation to control as a result, because control is birthed from fear.

This lesson has also taught me to recognize what I can control and what I can't. What I can't control is when grief hits, but I can control how I choose to respond to it when it does. I can't control the punches it throws, but I can control how I fall. I've learned that leaning into grief, not avoiding it, is really the best way to deal with the sucker punch it throws.

I knew Christmas was going to be tough, but I wasn't expecting the blow from out of nowhere on Monday. I had dropped off "Army Guy," Matt's younger brother, at church for ping pong. (They have a group that plays several times a week. Matt really enjoyed being a part of this group, too.) As I watched Army Guy go into the church, grief walloped me right good, square in the face. Army Guy sauntered into the church, and that's when I got hit. His saunter was what threw me. It was just like Matt's. And then my heart split wide open with a fierce ache. I tried to hold it together, but by the time I got home, I realized I wasn't getting out of this one. I knew I needed to cry. It just sucked that I had be thrown to the ground with Christmas Eve looming. I guess some part of me had hoped I'd duck the blow and get through Christmas unscathed.

A friend on Facebook, another bereaved mom, posted this timely link, however:

Artwork by Tanya Lord
I read her post and decided then that I wouldn't feel guilty for however I was feeling. I wasn't sure if I was up to attending our church's Christmas Eve service, and after being hit unexpectedly by grief on Monday, I decided it was okay to wait and see how I felt. I ended up staying home and spent the day in bed. We spent Christmas Day alone as a family and, for once, I was glad we hadn't invited anyone over. I found myself still trying to throw off the cloak of grief from Monday. I knew I needed to get focused again. I started with listing 25 things I'm thankful for. Thankfulness doesn't come easily when the heart hurts badly, but I suppose that's why Hebrews 13:15 calls it a "sacrifice."

I spent some time giving thanks and then put on some music. Once again, music had the power to touch my hurting heart. Even better than music, however, is the Giver of music. While I don't understand God or His ways at times, especially when my heart aches so badly, I know that He intends ultimate good for His children. I may not be in control, but I know the One who is.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Matt,

Dear Matt,
Friday night, I finished a bowl of cereal and sat on the couch flipping through the t.v. channels. I smiled when I realized it was the same time of night you always ate your bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats© cereal and that "The Office" and the "The Red Green Show" were on at the same time. I wondered what mood you would have been in and which one you would have picked. I went with "The office." "Burn Notice" was on, too, but that's for you and Dad to watch. I'll watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" next time, maybe. I love you. Love, Mom

P.S. Dad, Sweet Stuff, Artsy Girl, and Army Guy just got back from the movies...opening night of "The Hobbit." Apparently, it's pretty good if their excitement is any indication.

Dad, Sweet Stuff, Artsy Girl, Army Guy, and Miss T.T. were playing Poker downstairs...your favorite, too....Texas Hold 'Em. We never noticed before, either, that your poker case is the Cardinal brand. Miss you so much. Love, Mom ♥♥♥

P.S. I finally got the ornament for you that I'm putting on our local Compassionate Friends' Christmas tree at the hospital. I knew you'd like it. :) Your aunt Cathy always posts when the Pack is playing, too. Makes me feel good. Love, Mom

P.P.S. We also went to the Christmas program at church tonight. Seeing Drama boy up front reminded us so much of you. At least he didn't jump on and off the stage like you did for your first program at age 6. LOL When he was playing with his shirt sleeves with his arms up by his ears, it was like déjà vu. Love you so much! Love, Mom

I opened several Christmas cards today. I exhaled with the realization that last year, I couldn't even open any at all because it was just too painful. Healing is bittersweet. I like to think, though, that you'd be proud of me. I also listened to Matt Redman's song, "You Never Let Go." I wonder that no one told us the songs we played at your funeral were going to be so excruciating to listen to afterward. It's been 28 months, and I finally listened to it without falling apart.

P.S. Your sister asked me the other day why I hate Christmas and why I always change the radio station when Christmas songs come on. I started crying and answered, "Because Matt's not here." I don't hate Christmas, but songs like "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" are lies. Christmas, in society's eyes, is all about being together with family. Well, guess what? My family's not all here, and you're not coming back. BUT...BUT GOD...He reminded me of what I already knew: Christmas is about Jesus Christ who came to redeem the lost. Without Christ, I would have no hope of a reunion with you, my son. Without Christ, I would be lost. Without Christ, I would have no reason to rejoice. Though there is sorrow, I do "rejoice in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Friday, December 13, 2013

The club no one wants to be a part of

Sunday evening was emotional. There were tears, and there was laughter. We participated in the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle-lighting ceremony. There was great comfort in getting together with our group. We had decided to meet at 6pm for a potluck before the 7pm lighting. It was a wonderful time with no pretense.

The candle lighting service began with a reading of the Compassionate Friends creed and the song "Light a Candle" by Paul Alexander. We then lit our candles and spent the hour taking turns sharing the name of our loved one and how our holidays and traditions might be done differently now. It was powerful to look around the room and see the glow of so many candle flames. There is comfort in shared sorrow because it is in sharing that we draw strength from one another and peace in knowing that there are those who will never tire of, nor be uncomfortable with, you speaking your child's name, no matter how long they've been gone. It was also very heart-warming to realize that as we blew out our candles the lighting continued elsewhere around the globe. The club no one wants to be a part of is so much bigger than I would have ever imagined.

Monday, of course, followed Sunday. I had impatiently been waiting weeks for Monday evening as several "grief" moms and I were meeting for dinner. We finished our weekly book group meetings a few months ago and hadn't gotten together since then. We managed to pick the next book by the end of dinner, but only after several hours of much laughter and tears. The restaurant was closing as we left, and I wished I had brought my camera to snap a picture of us. Who would have guessed that the lively four women at the table in the back of the restaurant shared in common the loss of a child?

We left the restaurant, each to our own vehicle, yet united in a camaraderie none of us could have fathomed a year ago. We all know getting through Christmas isn't going to be easy, but we also know we're not alone. We still wish with our whole being that we didn't have to run this marathon of child loss. Not a single one of us signed up for this club, yet each one of us has discovered that the lifetime membership comes with a pretty incredible support system.

This week turned out to be quite draining, emotionally. However, I am blessed. Blessed by the members of this club no one wants to be a part of, but also blessed by those that are not a part of it. God reminded me that we have so many friends and family that continue to support and pray for us. They may not be a part of the club, but they are on the sidelines urging us on, watching us run.

Hebrews 12:1-3 reminds me that I am to run this race with endurance, fixing my eyes on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He endured the cross because of the joy set before Him and I, too, have eternal joy set before me. Because of this, I will not grow weary or lose heart for long. I remember that God himself is a member of the club no one wants to be a part of.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Muddling through

This past Sunday found me feeling very worn. I was tired and ached with longing to see my son. I was just so sad and in disbelief, once again, that it's been 28 months since I've seen Matt or talked to him. 28 months since I've heard his deep, quiet voice or seen him walk through the house. 28 months since seeing him sitting in the middle of the couch with his laptop open atop his lap. 28 months since I've heard the creak of the kitchen cupboard door at 10:30pm when he would help himself to his nightly bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. I miss Matt. I miss him with an ache so deep it is indescribable. There is nothing that takes away the pain when these moments hit. They are the "phantom" pains an amputee experiences, pains that one simply has to endure.

I found myself despairing and wondering how on earth I was going to get through the next several weeks. Compared to Christmas, getting through Thanksgiving was easy. Thanksgiving is just one day in that it doesn't have a countdown of days like Christmas, nor does it hold the same excitement or build-up for people that Christmas does. We muddled through Thanksgiving mainly because we were able to share the day with another family who is experiencing a tremendously difficult situation. We didn't need to hide our pain from one another or pretend to be o.k. We understood that the holiday was exceptionally difficult for both of our families.

Having survived Thanksgiving, there was barely room to breathe before the onslaught of Christmas. By Sunday, the radio stations were in full swing playing Christmas music. I remembered it being excruciating to hear last year. While it's not as painful this year, I'm still not ready to be inundated by the 24 hour merriment of holiday songs. Thankfully, I am prepared with several CD's in the van, ones I burned with my favorite "grief" songs over the past two years.

As the rest of the family got ready for church on Sunday, I dragged behind. Grief had already wrapped his cold, bony fingers around my bloodshot eyes and had whispered, "Despair!" enough times to make me want to forget about going altogether. However, I knew it was better to stay out of the pit to begin with than to climb out of it later. I told the rest of my family to go ahead without me and that I would drive separately and be there shortly. I finished getting ready and wandered into the dining room. I stood looking out the window at the bird feeders. There were no birds in sight, and the trees in the back yard looked desolate. I silently prayed to God, asking Him to help me make it through the day. I told Him how I felt and asked Him to show me hope, to remind me that the veil between Heaven and earth is thin. I wanted to see a cardinal. It had been so long since I'd seen one. The first year Matt was gone, we saw a cardinal every single day. The second year, it became a little less. Recently, it's only been every once in a while, and just the kids have seen it. I didn't need to see one, but I desperately wanted to see one, and I told God that.

The bird feeder remained empty, though, and I then left the room to put on my coat. As I finished getting it on, I turned one last time to look out the dining room window. There, at the feeder, was a cardinal. It hopped and turned my direction, then cocked it's head as if to say, "Matt is near." I cried. I cried at God's goodness, at His answer to my prayer. He doesn't always give us what we want, and He doesn't have to. He is God, and I am not. Seeing the cardinal, however, was as if He tenderly reminded me that He hears. He hears my hurting heart and gives me His presence.

I realized right then that I wouldn't have to muddle through the next three weeks. Instead, I would have to appropriate the grace God gives. And the grace He gives is for the moment. I will stop running ahead with the future and trust Him with now. I will remember how He has been good to me and fix my eyes on the hope He has promised. 

The Birds in the Trees
by Angie Cherney

I saw the branches of the trees.
Brown they were, without leaves.
They appeared lifeless and cold.
So much like me, and old.
I asked God for a red bird so fair,
Then flew one swiftly in the air!
The birds in the trees so bare
I did not see them, though there.
Hidden treasures for me,
A cardinal I did see.

Friday, November 29, 2013

When you wish it would all go away

I so thought I was going to be o.k. And I was. Until Monday. Then a wave of grief came pounding over me. It threw me down. I got back up, but I was mad as hell. Sometimes I just get so tired of crying, it's easier to get mad. Only anger doesn't stay contained. It hurtles a rapid-fire succession of bullets everywhere, on anyone within it's vicinity. It impales shrapnel on innocent victims. I did what I said I would never do after Matt died. I yelled at the children. I chuckle as I write this, however, because it isn't the first time I've yelled at them during the past two years. But I realized that my anger was because I was grieving. AND IT SUCKS! It still sucks. I so desperately wanted to deny it. I wanted to deny the hurt I was feeling. I didn't want to end up lying in bed crying, sinking into the pit of despair. I was not going to let grief win this one.

In a desperate attempt to reach the surface before drowning in the sea of grief, I grabbed hold of the only tangible buoy I Christian music brings comfort like nothing else. It speaks truth and ministers to hurting souls. Music doesn't deny feelings, but allows you to give way to them. It affirms that this life hurts, but God is bigger than the pain.

I've heard this song repeatedly over the past week, and the reason I love it is because it reminds me that this pain is temporary. I may have pain right now, but there will come a day "when I wake up in a land of glory." (Big Daddy Weave - partial lyrics to Yours will Be (The Only Name)

I wanted so badly to go elsewhere this year for Thanksgiving, but this song reminded me that I have all I need. I have God's love. Everything else is icing on the cake whipped cream on the pumpkin pie. (And though we didn't go anywhere for the holiday, we were blessed in staying home by ministering to another broken family. Dessert was followed by throwing dozens of raw eggs at a board set up outside in the back yard. Thankful for eggs!)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving #3

I received an email from the facilitator of our local Compassionate Friends group this week as a reminder for our monthly meeting. She wrote (in part):

"Hello Friends,
We are poised on the brink of the holiday whirlwind.  Shoppers have started buying, decorations are up, and some are lighted.  Some of us would like to pull a quilt over our heads and wake up January 4.  Since that probably isn't feasible for most people, we will try to give you tools to help you get through the next few weeks as well as possible.  We want not only to survive, but to provide a nice holiday season for those we love who are with us, as well as time to remember and honor the ones we love who are celebrating in heaven this year." 

My first thought was, "How did she know that I wanted to pull a blanket over my head and wake up Jan. 4?" Then I quickly remembered that she's been there, done that, too. As another bereaved parent, she knows. Yet she and her husband are much, much farther down the road of grief. (20+ years, in fact.) It's exactly for this reason that I am so thankful for the Compassionate Friends group and the wonderful people we've met through it. Because of their transparency, compassion, and dedication to minister to other bereaved parents, I am able to see that life without my son is not only possible, but can be joyful and meaningful. These parents are a tremendous source of encouragement. They are people who do not limit grief to a specific amount of time and are always willing to listen as we struggle through ambushes of grief, even if those ambushes are years down the road. 

The Compassionate Friends meeting this month couldn't happen at a better time. While I have much to be thankful for, the reality is that grief and joy now coexist. Holidays are a mix of apprehension and settled assurance(joy). Apprehension because there's no dodging the bullet, the empty chair at the table remains empty. Assurance because what remains is deeply appreciated and not taken for granted.

So while I want nothing more than to pull up the covers over my head and wake up Jan. 4th, I know that's also not an option. I will look to God for strength and hope, and I know He will not disappoint. As we gather around our table for Thanksgiving, I will remember that He has been good. His grace is sufficient, and we are blessed. May your holiday be filled with comfort, peace, and joy from the One true source of all comfort, peace, and joy.

P.S. - Don't forget! The Worldwide Candle Lighting Ceremony is Sunday, December 8, 7-8pm. This is to commemorate and honor the memory of all children gone too soon.

2013 WCL logo 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving thanks - fake it 'til you make it

Psalm 13

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

When I had a miscarriage between my first child and second child, I clung to this psalm. I still do. Back then, however, it was easier to say, as in verse 6, that the Lord had been good to me. Though I was devastated by the loss at the time, I remember giving thanks that the miscarriage happened early in the pregnancy. In fact, it was only hours after I got the call from the clinic saying the pregnancy test results were positive that I began to bleed. It was a Friday, and I lost that baby over the weekend.

Giving thanks, however, has been so much harder to do with the loss of Matt. Thinking about the impending Thanksgiving holiday fills me with dread. Matt's absence at the dinner table is never overlooked, but it becomes glaringly obvious on special occasions. It's easy to identify with verse two of psalm 13, but not always easy to transition to the praise in verse six. Verse six forces me to call to mind what God has done, to remember that He has been good to me.

More and more I'm realizing that giving thanks not only takes intention, but sacrifice. (Heb. 13:15) I have to lay my sorrow down(sacrifice), lift up my hands, and give praise with my mouth. It means I have to take my eyes off myself, my own hurt, and see the multitude of other hurting people in this world. It means giving thanks with purpose, not for the "things" God gives, but for who He is, for what He does, and for what He has done and will do. 

It doesn't come easy when all you see is your loss, and it is exactly why it's so important to know Him. Circumstances do not dictate God's character. I may not find anything to give thanks for, but I can give thanks that He never leaves me nor forsakes me. I can give thanks that His word is true, despite what circumstances look like. And sometimes, that means you "fake it 'til you make it" because, eventually, the truth pierces the darkness and shines brilliantly.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Living well

I read a blog post this week from a mother who experienced the loss of her infant son through stillbirth. She is bitter, beyond bitter. I hurt for her because I believe that bitterness, left unchecked, will grow like a slow-spreading poison that will eventually contaminate every one of her relationships, but most especially, her relationships with her remaining children. I understand how she can be bitter, I do, and I pass no judgement on her. Families are complicated. Communication is challenging. Grief in the midst of both is an intricate, delicate dance.

Her post served to again strengthen my resolve that my son's death would not be in vain. I can ensure this by changing the way I interact with Matt's siblings. One of my deepest, most painful regrets is that I did not do this with Matt. Our relationship was beyond strained in the weeks and months before he died. In a phone conversation with my best friend just a few weeks before Matt died, I uttered words I never thought I would say in my life. I told her crying, "I just want him out of my house." It is my "dirty little secret" that Satan fires relentlessly at me in order to condemn me and to bind me in paralyzing chains of guilt.

Satan's goal is to kill and destroy, and there is no better means to accomplish it than using condemnation, guilt, and lies. If it were not for the truth of God's word, I would have surely drowned in a pool of guilt by now. GriefShare was my life preserver. The truth is that I am forgiven and, had Matt lived, we would have worked it out. I'm not proud of the way I handled things with him and, while I don't get a "do over" with him, I can commit to see that I don't make the same mistakes with his younger brothers and sisters. It is one of the best ways I know of to honor his memory and to not let his death be in vain. With God's help I will be a better parent.

Matt's second youngest sister is so much like him, though she is the extroverted, "party" version of him. It, too, can be a cause of much friction and disagreement. I realized early on after Matt died that things needed to change or she and I would possibly be headed down the same road of difficulty. I have prayed fervently for God's wisdom and help. This week, I believe I received an answer to prayer when I obtained a copy of the newly released book Love and Respect in the Family.

For several years my husband and I have benefited from applying the principles put forth in the Love and Respect study materials, and I had actually yearned many years ago for something similar that would address the same issues between parents and their children.

As soon as I got the book, I started reading the acknowledgement page (Yeah, I do read that page!) and was struck by what Emerson said about his parents being in paradise. When I am tempted to lament the loss of these temporary, joyous occasions with Matt, I need to remember this: My son is in paradise! How could I not want that for him? While I am sad for me (and for his dad and Matt's brothers and sisters) and it makes me cry, I am comforted in knowing that paradise (and reunion) awaits for all of us who have trusted and believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I also have hope because God heard my prayer and is bringing beauty from ashes. He is weaving good in the midst of sorrow. I will live life well because it is yet another way to honor my son's memory and honor God. 


Friday, November 1, 2013

Removing the bandages

It's been 27 months since our son died. The past month was yet another paradigm shift in grief. I believe I finally made the transition from emotional remembering to historical remembering. It was, quite honestly, a brutal and agonizing process. It was a laying down of my loss, an acceptance that this is the way it is. It came a few weeks ago when I allowed myself to scream. With everything in me, I screamed. And with the release of that scream came surrender, the surrender to God's will; to be obedient to live fully the rest of my life here on this earth without my son.

The switch from emotional remembering of our loved ones to historical remembering is much like removing the amputee's bandages. The removal of the bandages reveals that, though the limb remains missing, healing has been attained; enough so that a surety of life is pronounced.

Removing the bandages happens only after significant healing has taken place. Healing takes time, and time to heal means waiting. It requires being under the supervision of the Great Physician. He alone knows when it's time to remove the bandages, and it requires trusting Him to know when that time is right even if we're unsure of it. I've been waiting on and hoping in Him with these words from the Psalms:

 Psalm 62
My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold;
My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him. 
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold;
On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. 

To come to this place of acceptance doesn't mean that I don't still grieve, but that I am no longer defined by it. Though grief and joy run like parallel train tracks, I know now that there is no moving forward without letting go of the past. (The past being the event of Matt's death.) I cannot stand in the train's engine compartment while holding on to the caboose. It is the choice to either stand in the caboose, looking wistfully at the past, or to stand in the engine car looking with anticipation toward the future. It's not a denial of the past, but a gratefulness for it. It's an appreciation for the journey I've traveled and a settled confidence that I will reach the desired destination in due course. I am accepting the present, finding joy in it and cherishing it while viewing the wound as it is - scarred, but closed and no longer bleeding, yet pulsing with the blood of life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Just like John

This...this spoke to me. This is what I have struggled with...being offended with God, just like John; wondering, wrestling, doubting.

Blessed are the unoffended (When God hurts our feelings).

He was His cousin.
He had taught about Jesus. Prepared the way for Him.
He had even baptized Him.
And yet, there John sat. Rotting in a prison.
Wrestling with doubt and questions, he sent word to Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) Certainly, he knew Jesus was the Coming One. But surrounded by the dank walls of a prison cell, his heart began to doubt. And can you blame him for doubting? For questioning why he was sitting in there while Jesus and all of the other disciples were out and about doing God’s work?
Jesus’ response - “Go tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)
Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. 
I feel sure that answer brought John great peace. Jesus knew what John’s heart needed to hear. But can I be honest with you? If I had heard a whole list of things that were being done, miraculous things happening outside of my cell walls while I sat and waited for certain death? I probably would have been more offended.
Miracles are happening? Amazing. You really are the Messiah? My heart rejoices! So…why am I still here? Why no miracle for me? You are able to save me, and I am willing to serve You. So why aren’t You moving for me?
But that last sentence of Jesus’ reply remains.
Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. 
The Word says that with God all things are possible. All things. There is no limit to His ability or His power. And yet…sometimes He doesn’t move. We know that He can, but sometimes He doesn’t. And we? We get hurt. We get offended.
God, I know You have the power. I know You could do this one thing in my life. I see You moving in this person’s life and that person’s life. Why won’t You move in those ways for me? 
And I wonder if He would gently whisper to us -
Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. 
Blessed. Happy. Fortunate. To be envied.
Unoffended. Not tripping. Not stumbling – on who He is and how He works and what He does and does not do. Not piling up those tripping places until there is an insurmountable wall between us and Him. 
Being unoffended? Being able to be at rest when He is not moving the way we want Him to, the way we expected Him to? It. Is. Not. Easy. Because, quite honestly, it hurts. We feel rejected. Forgotten. Unnoticed. Unloved. Uncared for. Why, God? Why won’t You move? I just don’t understand. 
I want there to be some feel-good ending to John’s story. A miraculous intervention. Something to make us feel better, to make us think that God will always eventually do exactly what we want Him to. But the truth is, John died. He was beheaded.
Why didn’t God move on his behalf? And why doesn’t He move every time we desperately want Him to? I don’t know those answers. None of us can really know.
So what do we do in the face of all that we don’t know? We stand on what we do know.
We cling to the truths we find in His Word – that He is for us, that He loves us, that His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours, that He has a plan for each of us – to give us a hope and a future, that when we get to eternity with Him all that we have been through on this earth will seem like nothing compared to the glory of being with Him. We trust He sees what we cannot see, knows what we cannot know, and He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
We believe that when we meet John in heaven, he is going to tell us what we will see for ourselves. That it was all worth it. Every. Single. Second.
Why is the person who is unoffended by Him blessed? Because they have a heart that, even though it may hurt, can grab a hold of true peace. A heart that knows how pure and steady and unfailing His love is. A heart that knows He is worthy of our trust. A heart that does not pull away from the Lord when He says “wait” or “not now” or an all-out “no.” A heart that stays fully His.
Offense causes separation.
Offense says, “I know better than you.”
Offense says, “I am right and you are wrong.”
The unoffended heart says, “I am going to let You be God.” 
Do we continue to ask for Him to move? Do we continue to ask for those things we desire? Absolutely. He tells us to ask, to seek, to knock. But the unoffended heart does not pull back saying, “I am going to wait and see if You do what I want You to.”
The unoffended heart tucks in closer than ever before. 
Lord, You made us. You know that we are dust. You know that our hearts are weak. You know that we can be so easily offended. Forgive us for doubting You. For doubting Your love, for doubting that You care for us, for doubting that You always have our best in mind. Lord, strengthen us by Your Word, especially in those places where our hearts are failing us. Remind us of the truth of who You are and who we are to You. Tear down the walls that we have built up. Heal and restore our places of broken intimacy with You. Help us to be secure in Your love, having the blessing of an unoffended heart. You are worthy of our trust, worthy of our praise, worthy of our hope. Always. Amen. 
Praying He loves on you in extra tender ways today, friend.

***You can find a running list of this series at the end of THIS post. And don’t forget you can check out LOTS of 31 Days posts at the Nesting Place.***

It was no accident that I came across Kimberly's blog. I am thanking God for His truth and the reminder of His love!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hope and encouragement...and even a little fun

I have desperately needed some encouragement and hope lately. Living with grief feels a bit like being a participant in an episode of "Hoarders." To find joy is to sift through the rubbish, piece by piece. It's an overwhelming task, and progress doesn't come without concentrated effort.

What sustains me, however, is the awesome and intensely personal presence of God and His word. Eyesight will tell you that He is nowhere to be found, but faith will usher you grandly into His presence.

This week, faith sparkled in every devotion that came to my inbox. The current Max Lucado devotional series is from his book You'll Get Through This. Monday's devotion was appropriately titled "Getting through when life shuts down." This line really struck me: "He not only survived; he thrived." It resonated with me because I realized that I wanted to be like Joseph, too. I don't want to just survive the loss of my child. I want to thrive, but I am still figuring out what that's supposed to look like. Further down in the devotion, this line also stood out: "What did he know? How did he flourish in the midst of tragedy and difficulty? Joseph knew that in God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good. He worked a plan and he trusted God. He knew that, with God’s help, he would get through." I needed this reminder that God will bring good from this. Whether that means something tangible or whether it just means that I become more like Christ, I have to trust that God will do what He says He will do.

Just a day or so after the devotion, I came across an interview (from August) featuring Max Lucado in which he was asked the question, "So what do you tell people when they don't get through it—when your wife dies, you lose your home, or an addiction hangs on? What do you say then?" Max replied, "I say don't give up. From a Christian perspective, we do get through it, even if the "getting through" is not until heaven." (Christianity "Even if the 'getting through' is not until heaven" is the part that got me. This is what I appreciate about Max Lucado. He is honest about the struggle. He is upfront with the facts. But that's not all. It's not all because there is hope. And that hope is in the Helper. The One who comes and cleans up the mess with me. The God who sees the things that I hoard; things like sorrow, despair, and doubt, and He promises me that, with His help, I will get through this.

The Max Lucado "You'll Get Through This" mantra:
You will get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

PS - The fun part was last night when my Dh and I were treated to a special event featuring 
a private concert with Train. It was good to have some fun. It's been a long time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

In the silence

Monday was a good day as far as grief goes. I'm still chewing on the whole trusting God thing, and He's still reassuring me that He's here. This past week, I've come across the story of Lazarus no less than four times. I joined a Precepts Bible study on the book of John at our church last week, and the story of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus was the first reference. A day or so later, I downloaded, and started reading, a free Kindle book (through David C. Cook ebooks) titled When God Breaks Your Heart. Go figure...The author's premise happens to be from the story of Lazarus, also.

By the time I got to the third "coincidence," I knew the LORD was trying to tell me something. Or, as is usually the case, teach me something. The prayer I've prayed ever since becoming a Christian is that I would have a teachable spirit. *I* know how stubborn determined I can be, and I also know that without a teachable spirit there isn't going to be a lot of growth. I know when I'm not willing, so I've also prayed, "Lord, make me willing to be made willing." And one thing is for sure: There are lessons to be learned from grief, alright.

The thing about the story of Lazarus that keeps coming back to me are the words of Jesus. "...If you believe, you will see the glory of God."(John 11:40) I believe He is whispering to me, "Trust me. Just keep believing. Trust me in this and you will see My glory."

God's glory is hard to find, however, amid the cacophony of grief. Grief incessantly hurls insults and yells nasty, discouraging remarks, always quick to remind you of your loss. And when you feel, at the same time, as if God's being silent, Grief's taunts seem believable. You know what it's like to wait with Mary and Martha when you don't see God and wonder where he's at and you keep asking, "When's he going to show up?" "When He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was." (John 11:6) But God makes it clear that His silence and His delay are not a sign of His absence or lack of love. John 11:4 is followed immediately by this: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

Jesus is the only One who can bring healing. Healing must happen. A wound has to heal. There is no middle ground with a wound. It either heals or it doesn't. Doesn't is not an option here, for several reasons. First, it does the rest of my children a HUGE disservice to them if I choose not to accept God's comfort and healing. Second, it, in no way, honors my son's memory. Third, it simply does not glorify God.

Unfortunately, however, I think there is the perception that healing means that we (the bereaved) will look like we did before and be the way we were before. But that's a lie. And the sooner it's recognized as a lie, the sooner real healing can start. Rebuilding life after child loss is way more involved than anyone, even those experiencing it, wants to admit. I am not the same person. That person died the day my child died. My child's death has redefined me, and I am still trying to figure out what that means and what it looks like.  

The story of Lazarus has reminded me that God knows, He cares, and He is working. I know that every parent who has lost a child has felt this: "...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;  indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves..." (2 Cor. 1:8-9a) Yet reassurance comes in knowing that He is good. " that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,..." (2 Cor. 9b-10)

I need to again hope in Him. While grief screams at the top of his lungs, God whispers in a steady, calm voice. He is whispering to me with gentleness and love the same thing He said to Martha: "Believe and you will see My glory."

Speaking of glory  ̶  This was the sunrise this morning.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Walking the rails

I screamed at God on Monday. In the midst of my tantrum throwing and yelling, "It's not fair!" I remembered our pastor's sermon from Sunday. Of all the stories from the Bible that one would think is the most unrelatable to grief, it would be the story of Jonah. Basically, God asked Jonah to do something, and Jonah didn't want to do it because he thought he knew better. He was convinced that the people of Nineveh should get what they deserve because he knew that if they repented, God wouldn't give them what they deserved. He knew God was gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Jonah was mad. Jonah thought he had every right to be angry. The sermon struck me because I related to Jonah. I was mad. I, too, felt I had every right to be angry. Like Jonah, I questioned God's actions, convinced He didn't know what He was doing. 

I've been walking the rail of grief for weeks now, and it is a tiring balancing act. I don't know if I've sorted anything out, but I have come to the conclusion that my life can't be all about my loss. God does not intend for His children to live in despair any more than I intend for my children to live in it. There is joy, though it may mean I have to mine for it.(Isaiah 45:3)
 “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. 
He knew it already. It was I who didn't.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed  

I cried out to God telling Him that I needed to know He was there. When I opened Ann Voskamp's devotional email yesterday, I laughed. It was titled, "When You Need to Know God's There" Obviously, God was telling me He is here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

It's Not Fair

It's Not Fair

It's not fair I have to live the rest of my life without my child.
It's not fair my children have to live the rest of their lives without their brother.
It's not fair my children have to deal with a broken mother.
It's not fair I have to be the parent who lost a child.
It's not fair I can't have graduations with, and a wedding for, my son.
It's not fair that I will never have grandchildren of my son's.
It's not fair that grief can come unannounced and uninvited at any moment and stay for as long as it wants.
It's not fair that grief still visits two years later.
It's not fair that somehow I get to be the unofficial spokesperson for grief and how to handle it well. (HA. Isn't that a riot?)
It's not fair that I'm a part of a club I didn't want to be a part of and didn't ask to join.
It's not fair.
It's all so damn not fair.

I wish with all my heart that this wasn't true, that my son was still here. I need to know God is here with me. I need to know I'm going to make it. I need to know my kids are going to be o.k. I need to know I can count on God. I don't want to keep asking, “God, why did you do this?” I want to know that faith is real. I want to finish the race. (Though I don't see the finish line.)

I wish it were easier, but it's not. I wish I could do this myself, but I can't. I wish it didn't hurt so bad, but it does. I wish I weren't so weak, but I am.

I need help, and I got it. I got it yesterday when Tim and I went to the One Bright Star Memorial service and sat amongst a hundred other bereaved parents. I got it last week when we participated in the Angel Walk. I got it when we attended GriefShare and Compassionate Friends and met other people who understood. I got it each and every time someone listened when I talked about Matt. I got it every time someone spoke Matt's name. I got it when I woke up every morning of these past 794 days and saw my other children and heard their voices. I got it when God sent me a foreign exchange student named David. I got it every time I heard a song that ministered to my broken heart. I got it every time I read and heard God's word.

He is here alright. He is real. He knows. And though this process is painful and feels unending, His grace is sufficient, His power is made perfect in my weakness, and His strength is abundant. I am not alone. It is as Job 23:10 says, ““But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold." He is with me.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bitter or better?

Just over two years ago I left one son buried in a grave, and Sunday night I left another *son at college. Two completely different griefs, yet both a grief of separation; one son separated by eternity and the distance between Heaven and earth, the other son separated by geographic location and budding adulthood. Whoever would have thought it possible to experience such grief, and yet such joy simultaneously?

My heart is in a precarious state. I wrestle with my thoughts, longing to unite my firm faith in God with my tentative trust in Him. My head knows that, as the worship song in church on Sunday stated, "He is mighty to save," but my heart and life experience knows that sometimes He doesn't. I am left with trying to reconcile those eighteen inches from my head to my heart.

It's all too easy to entertain bitter thoughts when these "milestone" moments arise. It's a temptation I wish I didn't have to face, but I wouldn't be honest if I said they didn't exist. I recognize them easily enough, and I know that they are really a choice to scorn thankfulness and a determined decision to focus on what I don't have. It's just another opportunity to choose between being bitter or better. 

Has your loss made you bitter or better? Getting to a place of acceptance isn't easy, but it's necessary in order to live a life that honors your loved one's memory. I've "met" many bereaved parents online through reading their blogs. It doesn't take long to know which ones are bitter. I am sad for them. Sad because they have rejected the comfort God gives. I understand this, though. There have been many times along this journey that I, too, didn't want to be comforted and pushed His hand away. But I also know that if I stay in the corner licking my wounds, not allowing the Great Physician to do His work, it also means that healing won't happen. If I am bitter, it does not honor my son or his memory. I can't live with that option. I refuse to do that.

In grappling with bitterness I have sought to find it's remedy. Bitterness is only conquered by thankfulness. Bitterness focuses on what has been lost, but thankfulness focuses on what remains. It's not easy, either, because reminders of loss remain constant. You don't get used to your loss. You learn to live with it. You accept it because there is no other choice. The searing pain that used to take your breath away and knock you unconscious eventually becomes just a catch in your throat. Scar tissue, thick and ugly, takes the place of the scab.

Giving thanks, like grief, takes work. It requires humility and transparency before God and a submission to His Sovereignty. When the hurt is overwhelming, it's not easy to do. But bitterness will never lead to healing. Bitter sees only what isn't. Better comes when we look ahead and choose to give thanks. Bitter or better? I want better.      

*son - Our Brazilian exchange student who came to live with us last year and has stayed to attend college. (He was birthed in my heart.) ;)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A glimpse of their grief

I went to correct my nine year old daughter's school work this afternoon and saw this:

Really sucks. In a split second, grief stepped in and took a seat at my table. I wish I could take away my kids' pain. Instead, all I can do is cry with them, listen when they want to talk, and pray for the LORD to comfort them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

When you don't trust God

I got this in my inbox last week. A bit of needful encouragement as it relates perfectly with the struggle I've faced lately: My Utmost for His Highest Devotion - Going Through Spiritual Confusion. Oddly enough, what came to my mind, of all things, was the quote from C.S. Lewis's book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:(The quote references Aslan, the lion, who represents Jesus.)

 “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

The past several weeks have been spent wrestling with the question, "Do I still trust God?" After being taken through things I don't understand (the loss of my son), I'm left feeling afraid. Afraid of God. Afraid of being hurt like this again. I'm just not sure I can trust God any more. He's hurt me so deeply. Yet He is Sovereign. He is good. He is my Savior. My faith is in Him, though my trust has been shaken to the core. I've been afraid to admit it, too. But He beckons me to come to Him with these fears, these doubts, and this difficulty. I don't understand why the LORD, in His Sovereignty, has allowed such a deep, devastating hurt.

It's been many long, strenuous-filled weeks, but Sunday was a step forward. I sat in church listening to a group of about 30 men sing and tell their stories of how they're overcoming drug and alcohol addiction through being enrolled in the MN Adult and Teen Challenge program. These are brave men who have faced their past honestly, and who, with courage and hope in the LORD, are moving forward. They're trusting God to redeem some pretty horrible choices, mistakes, and abuses in their lives. As these men were sharing their stories, I was hit with the realization that they, and their lives, will show others what God can do. God is taking the broken, ugly, horrific circumstances of their lives and creating a breathtaking mosaic. Then it struck me. That's what He can do with mine. If I let Him. If I trust Him.

Hebrews 10:31 says, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The question now is, "Am I going to ruled by fear or will I trust Love?" ("...God is love." 1 John 4:8) Jesus Christ, who died for me, is waiting patiently with outstretched arms for me to trust Him. Tragedy can cause even a righteous man like Job to question God. It's not wrong to question the LORD, but it is wrong to not submit to His authority, and to put ourselves in His place.

Job starts out well by saying, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”(Job 2:10b) But as Job's trial continues and he grows weary of pain and grief, wishing he had never been born, God reminds him of who He is. He puts Job in his place and basically tells him that He is God and Job is not. He reminds Job that He is the Creator and Job is the created.(Isaiah 29:16, 45:9) He is God Almighty, and I am not. 

I don't know how God is going to redeem this sorrow or how He can bring beauty from ashes. But that's okay. Because all I have to do is bring Him the pieces and trust Him to create a masterpiece. Praying that I would trust the Creator.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I've been really struggling again, but it's not with the question of why or how. It's with the question of what. What's true? What is the purpose of life? What is the point of all this? What if it's (heaven, eternity) not all true? What if God's promises aren't real?

Whew. Talk about doubt. Grief's first cousin is doubt. It's one thing I didn't do much of before. Doubt. My trust in God used to come so easily before. Now, I'm not so sure. It's much more of a battle to defeat doubt, and faith is much more of a fight to keep. Yet, I am so relieved that none of it matters! None of my doubt changes God at all. He is still who He says He is. He can still do what He says He will do. I am still who He says I am.

He says He is able. He says He is trustworthy. He says He cannot lie. He says He is love. He says there is purpose. He says He knows. He says He sees. He says faith is believing without seeing. He says He is faithful. He says I am redeemed. I am chosen and dearly loved. He says I am sealed and no one, not even myself or my doubt, can take me from His hand. When I don't have the strength to hold on, He does. He upholds me. He restores me. He forgives me.  He is with me.

I heard this song for the first time this week, too. Perfect timing.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Just not a good day

The water heater went out last night, so I didn't get a shower this morning (or any hot water, for that matter, for anything else). I also woke with a sore throat (always due to lack of sleep). On top of that, within one minute of his rising this morning, I had to tell the four year old to go back to bed until he was ready to come out cheerful. And if that's not enough, grief decided to stage an ambush. Then, to mess things up even further, I had to be out of the house to take Sweet Stuff (15yo.) to her french class.

On the way home from dropping her off, I heard the song "Never Let Go" by the David Crowder Band. I pulled into the driveway as it played and gave in to the wave of grief, crying for the almost five minutes it took for the song to play. The repetition of the lyrics was something I didn't realize I desperately needed to hear.

I'd had a heavy heart since last night when Matt's 6yo. brother came to me and said he missed his brother. While I am so thankful that 1) he remembers his brother and 2) he's secure enough to come and talk to us about it, seeing him hurt, coupled with the fact that I can't take it away, pains me deeply.

I was greeted by a cheerful 4yo., however, when I walked back in the door, all due to the amazing 13yo. sister he has. She was making colored pancakes for him. There is grace and mercy and blessings on this road of grief as well...and for that, I am thankful. He never lets go. 


Friday, September 6, 2013


I wonder how I can still be so surprised every time God speaks to my heart. It just makes me love Him all the more. Last week, just when I wondered how I could go on, Ann Voskamp's blog post came to my inbox. This time, she shared the words of Joni Eareckson Tada. I cried through reading it. Once again, the message of courage. Courage to go forward. Courage to run to my Abba Father with every one of my hurts. When we are courageous and step out in faith, He steps in.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Living in the middle

What I've wanted to do desperately all week is just lie in bed for the entire day and cry. And there is a time, early on when grief is fresh, that one must do that. It is necessary, and it is healthy. Then there's a time, like now, two years down the road of grief, that one simply can't give in to sorrow at every incessant wave. There comes a time when one has to take courage, fight the current and stay afloat and stand firm. There is a time when the demands of daily routine once again take precedence. It has to be this way. There is no going forward without the courage to move forward. Courage doesn't negate fear. It doesn't gloss over it and proclaim, "I'm not afraid." Courage, instead, says, "I'm afraid, but I'm going forward anyway."

I've had to do exactly that this week as the first week of college commenced. I tried not to cry Sunday evening as David prepared for his first day the next morning. I was sending him off to college. Only he wasn't mine, really. I've just been incredibly, astoundingly blessed. Blessed by another mother who willingly gave up her son, sending him to a foreign country, to a family they didn't know. Blessed to have gained another son, not by birth, but by heart. Such unspeakable joy and grief, the epitome of bittersweet.

After David left the next morning, I struggled to keep my thoughts in check. I had wandered into his bedroom and took note that his belongings were gone. It made me think of Matt and I didn't want to go to thoughts of, "What if?" and "If only I was sending Matt off to college." I had bucked the waves of grief a few months ago as David and I registered him for college, so I knew that if had made it through that, I could make it through this. Missing two sons, in completely different ways, feels like balance-walking a train track.

This joy and grief thing is also a fine line to walk. More and more lately, I have felt like I'm caught living life in the middle. Much like the apostle Paul, I know that "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Phillipians 1:22-24) The days and moments I miss my oldest are excruciating, yet when I hear my younger children's laughter coming from the other room, I am torn. I am living in the middle.

Living in the middle feels isolated and lonely, but I have hope! All week the words to Natalie Grant's song, "Hurricane" keep coming back to me: "He'll find you in the hurricane." Though I may be living in the middle, I am deeply comforted in knowing that He is here with me. Right in the middle.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Riding it out

I've been doing my best to ride out this neck-jerking, teeth-jarring roller coaster ride of grief this week. I wanted to say that there's no reason for why it's been so difficult, but I'd be lying. With the start of the impending school year, I am thrown under the bus with the reality that I won't be sending my son off to college. I won't be taking any photos of this new chapter in Matt's life. And it still sucks.

Thankfully, however, I've gotten a bit familiar with the grief ride and have learned a few tricks to getting through the drops. Getting off the ride isn't an option. The ticket of bereaved parent comes with a lifetime membership and is non-refundable. But I refuse to be a victim. To succumb to bitterness and live a life void of joy would mean my son's death was in vain. I refuse to accept that.

One of the crazy things about the grief ride is that it, at times, is predictable. The birthdays, the anniversary dates, the milestones, they are predictable, repetitive. Because of this, we can brace ourselves and prepare for what's coming. Of course, it doesn't make it any less painful, but it does keep you from getting the wind knocked out of you. One of best ways I know of how to combat the sharp turn of the roller coaster is to lean hard into it. Leaning into the grief, not denying what I'm feeling, and then dumping it all on my Heavenly Father's lap is the most effective remedy I've learned in getting through the despairing moments.

The second tip is to put on the praise and worship music. There is simply no better way to drown out the voice of sorrow and regret than to drench it with the truth of God's word and the reality of who He is. There are days I literally play a song thirty times. I love that God Himself puts such great emphasis on music. He instilled our souls to be moved by it. He knows what touches us. He knows what speaks to us. He knows what words change us. He uses the music He has gifted us with to do that.

So while the ride this week has been rough, it's been filled with His grace. He's gotten me through days I didn't think I would get through. He gave me comfort. I have His presence. I will ride this out with Him beside me.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Grief will mess with your head

There's been a "theme" of sorts in my life lately. Every devotion, article, and website link I read speaks the same message. Courage. It's almost gotten to the point of ridiculous, really. The Global Leadership Summit I attended last week started out with the very statement that leadership takes enormous courage. Of course, the statement was in context to the summit, but I have no doubt that God was using the GLS conference to reinforce the message to take courage.

One of the speakers from the GLS, Brené Brown, has this definition of courage: "The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”"

I've recently (as in last week!) realized that I am courageous. The sharing of my blog, the sharing of my feelings is, indeed, courageous. I've never thought of myself as courageous. Seriously. In fact, I thought quite the opposite. I am was full of fear. I let fear rule for too long in my life over too many things. But when your greatest fear comes true and you live through it, you realize fear was just a myth. You realize that, with God's help, you are braver and stronger than you think. You realize the handcuffs that fear throws on you are from the Dollar Store and are made out of plastic. You realize you have the capacity to break out of the cuffs.

But fear is persistent. He thrives on silence and counts on the fact that those fears will be kept private. He knows he can keep you prisoner if you believe certain lies. His MO is to walk beside you whispering lies. It's all too easy for him, really, because when you fall for his lies, you turn to him with your arms out, and then he slaps on the cuffs quicker than you can blink.

Fear is just one of many companions along the journey of grief. And if fear can't take you into custody, then despair will give it a shot. He has a way of messing with your head, making you wonder and doubt. It's not just one's faith that gets pounded when one loses a child. Despair takes advantage of the sleepless nights, the jumbled thoughts, and the physical exhaustion of grief. He lunges at you in the dark.

It takes courage and truth to escape the lies of fear and despair. I'm so thankful for the truth of God's word. There is nothing more powerful than His word, especially when battling grief. I've been attacked by despair and handcuffed by fear, but the LORD sent the way of escape through His word. This email devotion on Monday was my way out: Antidote for despair. The key to freedom for me was this line about David: "Despair wasn’t avoided by seeing the goodness of the Lord but by believing he would again see God’s goodness."

I need to keep believing the truth and stay courageous despite what the companions on this grief journey say.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What about joy?

Ann Voskamp again.... "Real prayer has eyes on Christ, not the crisis." and "No one enters into the real joy of the Lord in spite of the hard times —- but squarely through the door of the hard times." and "God uses everything to call us out of apathy." 

Those were the words that echoed to me when I read her post titled, "When You Just Want God To Show Up & Answer Your Prayers." What she said. All true. I think we all wish for the easy road, but don't spend nearly enough time remembering that it's the things we fought for that mean the most to us. The things that cost us are the things that become deep-seated treasures. I'll never forget what my dear friend Julie (who passed away 9 years ago) once said when we were speaking over the phone of trials and the ways of the LORD. She said, "Just because it's a rough road, doesn't mean it's the wrong road." So many times, we think that if we encounter difficulty in our path, we must be doing something wrong or going the wrong way when, in fact, just possibly God is using it to build our character, develop perseverance, or draw us closer to Him. Why is it that we fight doing hard things? I think it's because somewhere we're believing the wrong thing. Believing that God isn't trustworthy or that it's too difficult for us. 

Lately, however, the more I've done my homework this summer in the Beth Moore "James" Bible study, the more I've been faced with the truth. God uses suffering to bring a better ending. I don't understand how anything good can come of my son's death, yet I wonder if God doesn't perform a bit of chemistry in these incomprehensible life experiences, mixing trials in the beaker of His Sovereignty and changing devastation into beauty.

Through God's Word we can know that these sorrows, trials, and temptations are not designed by a God intent on making us suffer. They are filtered by the hands of the Almighty who, because He so loved the world, gave us His one and only Son. He is the master refiner who never turns away from His work. 

While we are in this world, Jesus assured there would be trouble. But He also said to take heart because He has overcome the world. We are to have peace in Him, not in our circumstances. Happiness relies on circumstances. Joy relies on Christ. I especially love the definition that Kay Warren uses in her book, "Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough." Kay states: "Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God." 

Honestly, it was easier for me to believe and praise God early on in this grief process. As time has passed, however, I am finding it harder to do. I believe there's a reason the Bible intentionally says to "offer the sacrifice of praise."(Heb. 13:15; italics mine) It takes, as Kay said, "a determined choice." I'm not as surprised now by the verses in the Bible that talk about "contending for the faith" (Jude 1:3) and "fight the good fight of faith." (1 Tim. 6:12) 

Nothing will challenge your faith, develop your endurance, and redefine your joy like the loss of your child. I continue to grieve the loss of my son on this side of Heaven, but take joy in knowing that some day God will finish the work He began, both in me and on this earth. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The day I buried my son

Dear Matt,

Having our three best family friends here Monday night was God's provision for getting us through the 29th of July. It was so good to see the kids laughing and having fun. They wore blue shirts since it was your favorite color. It was even their idea, too. I wish you were here (or that we were all there). I saw how much your best friends have grown and my throat closed up with longing. The guys had a great time playing hacky sack, Halo, and throwing eggs. We had a bonfire and made S'mores. I saw your sister playing with a stick in the fire, and I remembered how often you would do the same thing. You always liked the bonfires in the backyard, and it was fitting for us to have one on Monday. Seeing everyone together was like holding a dim photograph of the past, examining it and straining to pick you out of the photo. Only I couldn't fool myself and I knew the truth. 

It's been such a horrible roller coaster of emotions this week. I have wanted to "check out," but as the LORD wills, it turns out it's an incredibly busy week. Two years later I can't believe how different grief is and yet how familiar. I am still amazed when I try to remember the first year. It is nothing but a blur. I don't recall hardly anything, yet I think that's a good thing. I think God does that for a reason. I'm much stronger this year than last, though the grief remains as deep as ever.

In one of the bad moments of this week, with panicked thoughts rolling and crashing in my head, I sent a message to a friend. Over ten years ago they lost their daughter at nine days of age. I wrote: I guess I had been hoping it wasn't going to be this way. How on earth have you made it this long? In so many ways, it seems like my faith was easier in the beginning. As time has gone on, it actually feels like it's gotten harder. Harder to believe that Heaven is really out there, that God's promises are really going to come true. I think about going another 20 years or 40 years without Matt and I simply can't fathom living that long without him. I don't know how you guys have done it. We have incredible, great support, but loss and grief are such a daily thing. I really struggle because the "good" days are when I'm not so much thinking of Matt. Yet what mother wants to go the rest of their life not thinking about their child? Such a horrible place to be. Where do you find the balance? And when does it get easier? I still can't look at photo albums. It's just too painful. I tried watching a video tonight of when child #3 was a baby and Matt was in it, and now I'm a mess. Ugh. I know God is good, and daily life is certainly not like it was even a year ago, but is this heaviness in my heart ever going to go away? I don't want to just get used to living with grief. Does that make any sense? I just feel so much like an amputee some days. Well - I've cried on your unsuspecting shoulder long enough....hope you don't mind a bit of honest sharing. I just needed to talk to someone who's a little farther down this road, hoping you'll shed some light my way. Thanks for listening.

Two years ago today is the day I buried my 16yo. son, my firstborn. Naturally, my mind seeks to relive the events of the day, but I need to take captive those thoughts and do as Philippians 3:13 says and forget what lies behind. I will not think through the moments of that day or try to remember it bit by bit. I will not torture myself by thinking of every detail of the funeral or memory of the cemetery ceremony. Instead, I will think of my son and remember who he was. I will remember that our separation is temporary! I will remember that whatever memories I have of him are a gift and a blessing. I will pray for the grieving mothers (and fathers) I know whose memories are much, much fewer. I will remember that GOD's grace is sufficient, that my strength comes from the LORD. I will remember that He has been good to me. (Psalm 13) I will trust in His name, for He is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals.