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, BrenĂ© 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.