Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Living limbless - 22 months

We went to the farm for the Memorial Weekend. There's no internet or t.v. there, but there is plenty of wood ticks and wind. We have 20 years of memories at the farm.  It's a bit different now that Grandma has moved off the farm and Grandpa is gone. Being there is bittersweet. For the kids, it remains great fun. For me and Tim, it's a chance to get away, to rest, and to disconnect from the "everyday."

Seeing the kids do so much of the same stuff their brother used to do is hard to watch because it makes me miss Matt all the more, yet it also brings joy in seeing his siblings enjoy what he did. Memories are now so very bittersweet. How is it possible to be both happy and sad at the same time? It is an enigma to me. I cherish the rest of our children and the memories-in-the-making with them all the more.

One of the bittersweet memories from this last weekend was watching Tim teach Abby how to drive the Bronco. The Bronco is a staple of our farm memories. The kids think it's SO cool to ride in it. I have no idea what makes it so amazing, but it's one of their highlights when we're there. Seeing Abby driving, of course, brought back memories of when Matt drove the Bronco with his dad.

As momentous events like graduation, driver's ed., and birthdays draw nearer and nearer with Abby (and David), I am finding it harder and harder to fight withdrawing. Today marks 22 months since losing our son. This, too, is the year Matt would have graduated. Just over a week remains until graduation. I wrestle with a multitude of conflicting emotions because David is here and will participate in the graduation ceremonies. While I want to be here for him and celebrate with him, I honestly don't know if I have the strength to get through it. Yet, I want to attend for David's mother because, at the same time, in a somewhat similar way, I know what it's like to be a mother who can't be there for her child's graduation. If I can be there for her, then I want to honor her in this way.

I feel as if I've been trying to claw my way out of a deep hole the last several days. I don't see the light at the top. I only feel weak and panicked. Yet I am frantically trying to repeat God's truth to myself. One such truth is this:
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
1 Cor. 13:13 
What strikes me most in this verse is actually the faith part. I've read this verse so many times before, but really only glossed over the word faith. I think I had seriously underestimated how important having and keeping faith was. Only in experiencing the loss of my child have I realized how great a role faith plays. These days where the pain of separation, loss, and grief are deepest are the hardest to hold on to my faith.

But GOD is faithful. HE will never let go. In order to have hope, one must have faith. And if faith and hope are to mean anything, then one has to realize what love is. God is love. (1John 4:7-9) The sorrows and trials of this life are not intended to destroy us. They are intended to refine us. As James MacDonald says, "God's love is not a pampering love. God's love is a perfecting love." Yes, the loss of a child feels like decimation, but the truth is, "your loved one is precious, but not essential to you living." (From my GriefShare workbook notes.)

These are hard, hard truths to swallow, aren't they? Who wants to believe that their child, spouse, or loved one isn't essential to their life? It sounds too harsh, too unbelievable. Yet if we refuse to believe the truth, then we are really saying that our loved one is/was more important than God. You see, everything and everyone can be taken from you. If that should happen, God is all you would have left. And GOD is all you need. There is no one greater, no one who loves you more.

It is because of His great love that we can hold on to our faith. Remembering that God gave up His one and only Son for me is a sustaining comfort when I am overwhelmed by grief. (Romans 5:8) Without understanding God's love, faith would be fickle. And "without faith, it is impossible to please Him." (Heb. 11:6) The good news is also this: My faith is not of my own works or strength. It is from Jesus, "the author and perfecter of faith..."(Heb. 12:2)

Romans 10:17 says, " So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." For me, listening to hymns is one such way to hear the truth. Grief is a dark liar and will pounce at every opportunity to strike when one is alone and hurt. But darkness cannot hide the light and lies are revealed by the truth. I am meditating on this:

Be Gone Unbelief
Begone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.

Though dark be my way, since He is my Guide,
’Tis mine to obey, ’tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken, and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.

His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.

Determined to save, He watched o’er my path,
When Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death;
And can He have taught me to trust in His Name,
And thus far have brought me, to put me to shame?

Why should I complain of want or distress,
Temptation or pain? He told me no less:
The heirs of salvation, I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation must follow their Lord.

How bitter that cup, no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher, and darker than mine;
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine?

Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine is food;
Though painful at present, wilt cease before long,
And then, O! how pleasant, the conqueror’s song!

Faith is not always easy. It's sometimes easier said than done. But always possible. Because God's grace is sufficient...for anything. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Staying on track

[en-door, -dyoor] Show IPA verb, en·dured, en·dur·ing.
verb (used with object)
1. to hold out against; sustain without impairment or yielding; undergo: to endure great financial pressures with equanimity.
2. to 
bear without resistance or with patience; tolerate: I cannot endure your insults any longer.
3. to admit of; allow; bear: His poetry is such that it will not endure a superficial reading.

verb (used without object)
4. to continue to exist; last: These words will endure as long as people live who love freedom.
5. to support adverse force or influence of any kind; suffer without yielding; suffer patiently: Even in the darkest ages humanity has endured.
6. to have or gain continued or lasting acknowledgment or recognition, as of worth, merit or greatness: His plays have endured for more than three centuries.

This grief thing. It takes endurance. Like it or not, there are lessons to be learned from grief. This is one of them. Getting through Mother's Day took endurance. I honestly never thought of myself as a strong person (Yes, I know those of you out there who know me well are snorting right now and thinking, "What?! Are you serious?"), but within the last couple months, I am realizing I am strong. Strong in the sense of developing a thick skin, so to speak, when it comes to certain things. Things like Mother's Day and my birthday, for instance. Last year they were excruciating. Though still painful, it's a bit like physical therapy in that I am strong enough now to endure those events. Painful, but stretching, strengthening, and endurance-building as well.

The loss of my son is just as deep and irreversible as it was the morning of July 29, 2011, but the pain has receded enough that I can now acknowledge and recognize joy. Color is slowly returning to my world.

A friend recently posted on her FB asking, "What does joy really look like?" What does it mean to be full of joy? I came across the following blog post by Kay Warren, referring to joy: (click on the link to see the full article.)

"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 alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.
You’ll find nothing in that definition about happy feelings, because, as we all know, happiness is fleeting and temporary.
We tend to think that life comes in hills and valleys. In reality, it’s much more like train tracks. Every day of your life, wonderful, good things happen that bring pleasure and contentment and beauty to you. At the exact same time, painful things happen to you or those you love that disappoint you, hurt you, and fill you with sorrow. These two tracks — both joy and sorrow — run parallel to each other every single moment of your life." 

Kay's definition is the best I've seen yet for explaining what it's like to have joy and grief coexist. Life before losing Matt was a series of hills and valleys for me. Now, it is the synchronization of joy and grief. I now have a "settled assurance" and a "quiet confidence" that I never had before. I did make a "determined choice to praise God" when I saw our son's lifeless body. It wasn't easy, but God is trustworthy. He is good, and He is love. What I need to do now is stay on track...because some day, those rails are going to meet at their ultimate destination.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Special days

I opened a card from the kids on Wednesday, our 20th wedding anniversary. They had written their four year old brother's signature on it and had all signed their names to the card. It was so sweet. But then I realized Matt's name and signature weren't there and started to cry. *sigh*  I can't avoid my loss or ignore it. Grief may not consume every waking moment any longer, but never for a second do I forget that my son is not here. There are, and always will be, reminders of him.

Well meaning people say things like, "Remember, you have six other children to think of." This is poor comfort, indeed. It's like telling an amputee, "Forget about the leg you lost. Just focus on the leg you have left." It negates a bereaved parents' loss. What they don't understand is this: No one appreciates their remaining children more than a parent who has lost one. The existence of pain doesn't nullify joy. Unfortunately, that appreciation and joy, however, is embalmed in grief, unrecognizable to most bystanders.

It is so very true what a fellow bereaved parent said. The highs aren't as high, and the lows aren't as low. The world is seen through a different lens after the loss of a child. Things I once thought as such highs, simply aren't the amazing, incredible things I used to think they were. For instance, I used to think line-dried laundry was the epitome of a beautiful day. Now I shake my head at the thought. Yes, line-dried laundry is great, but it's not the be-all, end-all of a great day. The converse is true as well. Things I once thought were the major downers of a day are not any more. For example, a rainy day used to depress me, and the entire day would seem ugly and nasty, with nothing seemingly going right. Now, I take deep, abiding joy in knowing that God sends the rain, and whether I think it's necessary or not, I trust that HE is Sovereign. The circumstances of a day no longer control my mood. (At least most days, anyway.)

So here I am with an impending Mother's Day. Honestly, I want to stay home from church. I want to avoid holidays, anniversaries, and special days altogether. Yet, like the death of my son, I can't avoid it. It is what it is. What I can do, however, is rely on the grace that God gives me. I remember right after Matt died hearing things like, "This will make you stronger." and thinking, "I was perfectly fine where I was, thank you." I didn't want to be stronger. I wanted my son back. But that's not possible. And I can take what is and either allow the LORD to redeem it, or I can refuse His hand, His comfort, His help. I don't want to waste my sorrows and neither does God. He is the redeemer. With His strength, my family and I will make it through, and whether I wanted to be or not, I am stronger...because of HIM.