Friday, October 31, 2014

My remembrance stone

The Bible, in the Old Testament, speaks about remembrance stones. God's chosen people, the Israelites, set up remembrance stones as ways to honor God, to remind themselves and their children of God's faithfulness, how He rescued them from their enemies and brought them through impossible circumstances. God has done the same for me. He has brought me through what I thought, and even wished that, I wouldn't survive: the death of my 16yo. son, my firstborn.

So I did what I said I would never do. I got a tattoo. Two tattoos, to be exact. My first tattoo was three weeks ago. It is Matt's signature, in his handwriting. I have thought about getting a tattoo for three years (as long as Matt's been gone). I waited because I knew I didn't want to do it as a response to my pain and grief. I also wanted to be sure I wasn't going to regret it since they are, essentially, permanent. I am glad I waited, too, because I didn't know, until recently, that a person could have a signature tattooed. (Matt's actual signature is about a 1/3 or more smaller than my tattoo, but they can't do tattoos that small. They took his signature and enlarged it.) I am so, so happy with it. I love seeing it every day. I love that it's small and simple. I feel as if I have a part of my son with me every day.

I knew immediately, however, that a tattoo of Matt's signature was not the only one I would get. As special as it is to have his signature, I knew I wanted something else that signified what God has done for me. I wanted to set up, so to speak, a remembrance stone. I could think of no better way to do this than by getting a tattoo of a cardinal with some Forget-Me-Not flowers in Matt's favorite shade of blue.

From the beginning of this grief journey, the cardinal has been our "sign." Matt loved watching the birds daily while siting at the dining room table. He knew every one. His favorite were the Indigo Bunting and the Cardinal. Our family of nine ate lunch and supper together every day, so Matt's absence at the dinner table was particularly difficult for me. But the LORD knew. For the first year after Matt died, a cardinal showed up at the feeder at dinner time every single day. Every day. No matter what time we ate dinner, the cardinal showed up. It was as if God were saying to us, "Don't worry. Matt's closer than you think. The veil between here and eternity is so thin."

The cardinal tattoo is my remembrance stone of what the LORD has brought me through. He has done so much for us. Our hearts still ache daily and Matt is still gone, but God continues to be our comforter. He is our Rock. He is the reason I live and move and have my being. (Acts 17:28) I don't ever want to forget what He has done for me in surviving the loss of my son and also in giving me eternal life. Because of that, I have the hope of a glorious reunion with Matt and eternity in the presence of God, my Father, and His son Jesus Christ where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. (Rev. 21:4)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Women of Faith

I attended the Women of Faith conference last weekend. I hadn't planned on attending because I knew there was no way we could swing it with our budget. However, I was completely stunned when a friend showed up at my door the night before the conference with an unexpected gift, a ticket to the Women of Faith conference. Yet, even with the gift of a free ticket, there was still an estimated $150 in hotel cost, transportation, and food. But God is good. My hotel, transportation, and lunch were taken care of, as well. God made a way where there was no way.

I had wanted to go for several reasons. One reason being the theme of this year's conference. It was titled, "From Survival to Revival." A second reason for wanting to go was having Kay Warren in the line up for scheduled speakers. My mom's group had read Kay's book “Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough.” Kay is also a grief mom, having lost her adult son to suicide 18 months ago. I knew she would likely be speaking on something I would relate to. Lastly, Matthew West and Natalie Grant, as well as Anita Renfroe, were the entertainment. (I wasn't disappointed!)

Each of the speakers talked about the struggle of faith in difficult times, overcoming life's hurdles, what happens when life doesn't go the way we plan, and how to find hope again. They each shared their story, and each individual story was filled with chapters of their lives that were stained with loss, heartache, and grief. They were chapters that they, at one point, didn't want included in the story of their lives. Oh, how I could relate! How I wish I could erase this “chapter” (the death of my son, the last three years) from my story.

But what I recognized in all of these brave speakers was the same message I heard right after Matt died (and continue to hear). You are loved. God loves us so very much. There is nothing, nothing, in our lives that He doesn't use for good. Now, this doesn't mean the circumstances are good. They most certainly are not good. But God will use those horrible circumstances for good. He wastes nothing. Not even our sorrow. And what I realized, in listening to the Women of Faith speakers, was that, without these chapters we would miss how great, how sufficient, and how near is our God.

You see, God is the author of our story. We simply think we are the one holding the pen, but in reality, it is HE who dips us, His pen, into the black ink of life's trials and temptations. And it is us, His pen, who determine whether we will pour forth a flowing script, testifying of His faithfulness and love in our lives or spill out an unintelligible blot upon the page of this short life. The chapters are not what we would have chosen, but we are held in the hand of the Author who poured out His life for us, an author who purposes good out of bad, beauty from ashes, and life from death.

I left the conference a bit down, honestly. But I also left secure. Secure in knowing that this chapter, this chapter of child loss, is not the final chapter. The story of my life doesn't end with grief. It ends with joy. Joy in being held. Held in the grace of God. Held in His presence. Held by His love.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dear Matt

Wednesday night, I had the most wonderful, amazing dream. I dreamt that you had come back. I remember feeling such incredible, indescribable joy. Joy like I've never felt before. Joy that I've wondered if I would ever feel again. Joy that, for once, went as deep as my grief. You were back, and I soaked in your presence, your voice, your body, your hair, your skin. I have missed you so. I was so, so happy. I asked others in the dream, "Is this for real or am I dreaming?" Because I knew if it was a dream, I didn't ever want to wake up. I went searching for a camera because I wanted to take as many family pictures as we could. I watched you playing with your little brothers and thought, "Yes. This is what is supposed to be. Finally. I have missed seeing this so much." The feeling of joy was just so overwhelming, so bone-deep! Every fiber of my being felt joy.

I could sense the rise to consciousness, however, as daylight began to stream through the windows, and I knew that it had all been a dream. I didn't want to leave it or lose that feeling of immense joy. I fought against waking, but it was useless. I could feel sadness trying to creep in, but then I wondered, "Was this the same feeling of joy that we'll experience in heaven? Is this what it will to feel like to be reunited, both with Christ and with you?" How could I be sad when I have this kind of joy to look forward to? I miss you every day, Matt. I love you. Love, Mom

I believe the LORD gave me this dream because I have wondered for so long if I would ever have joy as deep as the grief I have felt. The answer is yes. It may not be here on this earth, but it is a surety. Because of this surety, I can face today...and tomorrow. I can face this life without my son because God has promised me eternal joy. Joy without sorrow, joy without sin, joy without separation.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Buried deep

I struggled with God last week. Or I don't know, maybe it was the week before. I'm not sure, because it all seems so long ago, the struggle. The struggle to see. The struggle of being still. I had it out with God and fell at His feet, begging Him to please let me see. I was so tired of waiting and walking by faith. I grew impatient and just wanted God to let me see that this whole Christian walk thing was real. To reassure me that His promises are real. I missed my son, and missing makes a mother scream. And it's not the same pain of missing David, our Brazilian-exchange-student-turned son, who moved to Florida two months ago. I know that David is here on this earth, alive and well and less than 2,000 miles away. I can pick up the phone and talk to him and hear his voice. I can Skype with him whenever we want. Who can say, however, how many miles away Heaven is?

I pleaded with God to give me an answer, to just show me something, some sign that would help me in these aching, withdrawal tremors of missing Matt. But I didn't get an answer. I climbed into bed that night with a heavy heart, wondering why God was silent, wondering why this faith thing has to be so hard some days.

The next day, still heavy with missing Matt, still wanting to see, I went to my Precept Bible study on the book of John. The video that evening was on chapter 14 of John, and Kay Arthur spoke about peace. Her talk was titled, "Six Things You Can Do When Your Heart is Troubled." "Really, LORD?" I thought. Tell me He doesn't see and hear the heart cries of His children. I knew He had a word for me. I knew He had heard my cry. I needed to hear from my Abba Father. I wanted Him to comfort and reassure me.

Peace, as Kay explained, is "not an absence of outward turmoil. It is an inward sense of goodness that is unrelated to circumstances. It is undisturbed, untroubled well-being." She went on to explain that there are six things you can do when your heart is troubled.

1. Believe. The key that unlocks the inner sanctum of peace is faith. And faith is taking God at His word.
2. Remember that God does not lie.
3. Look to God's future for you.
    a. look to eternity (not to the temporal)
    b. look to your heavenly father
    c. look to your calling - the words and the works you do manifest God's glory
4. Ask in His name - according to Jesus' character and His word
5. Never forget that you are not alone.
6. Love and obey.

I chuckled to myself when I heard the first point. It was as if God was telling me, "See? I told you so. Just keep believing. Trust me." But it was point number two that brought quick tears to my eyes. How I needed to be reminded that God does not lie! His promises are true. Eternal life in heaven is real. Our loved ones are alive in heaven, and we will see them again. The pain of missing Matt had blinded my vision of the truth last week, and I had lost sight of hope.

In my missing Matt, I had grown impatient. And God, who is El Roi, the God who sees when I don't, gave me hope, again, through the words of Ann Voskamp. How to keep hoping when you want to give up. My hope was buried deep, yes. But God's word takes root in the dark and grows until it reaches the light. What a seed of encouragement! Hope sees in the dark with eyes of faith. When I cannot see, God does. And He plants hope.

Speaking of hope, here's to spreading some in the lives of 10 people last week:
Matt's GoFundMe update

Friday, October 3, 2014

My girl's group

The women in the photo above are my sisters in grief, my mom's group. They "get it" because they have all "been there, done that." They are mothers who have lost a child(ren). These women are on the same journey I am, though each of our journeys are unique. We each met through GriefShare and Compassionate Friends, but have continued to meet long after the group sessions were done. We occasionally go out for drinks and/or dinner and have done several book studies together. We're currently working through Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts.

Every parent who loses a child is on their own journey, and it is a most solitary experience. Yet, though we each walk our own path of grief, we are not alone. The way is filled with fellow companions. It is an ever-fluid journey. From the beginning of my journey, God, in His great mercy, gave me what I desperately needed. Others who had "been there, done that." As anyone knows in almost any situation, having others who truly "get it" is a balm to the soul. It brings comfort in a way that nothing else can. That's what these ladies do for me.

It's funny, too, because we've each been told how strong we are. But we aren't strong because we possess some inherent strength that other people don't. It's because we've made a choice. A choice to trust God, to believe that this world isn't all there is. We've determined that the best way to honor our child/ren's memory is by living the best life we can. We've chosen to hold on to hope. Hope is the difference in our grief. Hope in God and in His Word is the anchor when we are sucked into the pit of pain. The pain of missing our children, the pain of the "what ifs" and "if onlys." The pain of enduring days that "should have been" occasions our kids experienced.

I am blessed. I wish these women were not part of "the group no one wants to be a part of," but I can honestly say I am so thankful for them. I pray that other bereaved moms would find the comfort, encouragement, and joy that I have in having a mom's group in this journey of grief.