Sunday, January 4, 2015

Falling forward

What's important today is not that the year is new, but that God's mercies are new, not just every year, but every morning of your life. --Paul David Tripp

We welcomed in yet another new year on Wednesday, our fourth one without Matt. We hosted it at our church and had a wonderful time. It was an evening spent with many precious friends. It was heart-warming to see so many familiar faces, as well as several new ones. Many times throughout the evening, I caught myself giving thanks for these people and for the gift of friendship.

I thought of the three previous New Year's and gave thanks that each one has been a bit easier to handle. We enjoyed playing our favorite board games and learning new ones. I scanned the room and saw a table full of people playing Blokus. It's moments like that that cause my heart to skip a beat.

Matt was pretty happy to get the game for his 15th birthday. Hosting New Year's Eve game night has been a family tradition for many years. It holds countless memories, memories that make my heart ache and smile at the same time. There is always an undercurrent of grief. With every memory there is always the temptation to wonder, "What if?" or "If only." I saw Matt's best friends at the party, saw how much they've matured and grown, and immediately I had to stop my thoughts, redirect. I firmly believe the "What ifs" and "If onlys" are non-productive and, in fact, harmful to healing. I believe they keep one "stuck" in grief. I refuse to go there.

Instead, I purpose to remember that Matt is alive in heaven and that this life is short, though it definitely doesn't feel that way much of the time. I determine to fill my mind with what is to come, a glorious reunion, an eternal residence of perfection in a place of perfection. Oh, how much better this kind of thinking is for me! I refuse, absolutely refuse, to be one of those who say, "It never gets better." I can't even begin to count how many times I've heard this from other bereaved parents. It is a lie. It is better. But better doesn't necessarily mean what most people, myself included, think it means.

Oftentimes, however, it means it actually gets worse before it gets better. (For us, the second year of grief was worse.) But it does improve. It doesn't mean there will never be grief. I believe it will always be there. As long as I'm living, I will miss my son. I think about him every day, just as I think about the rest of my children every day. I'm not sure why our society has this belief that better means we have somehow forgotten our children who are no longer with us. Again, that's not true. I loved what another bereaved father said to me recently about what he tells others when asked about his loss, especially in reference to the remark, "But you have other children..." To which he replies, "I also have five fingers. And if I lose one, it will hurt, and I will still miss the one that is gone."

Healing doesn't mean that everything looks the way it once did or that things go back to "normal." Do we really think an amputee forgets the loss of their limb? Or that they aren't reminded daily of their loss? But, what they do is learn to live as well as they can with that loss. Recovery from grief is possible, yet it doesn't deny or ignore the damage that has taken place. Recovery involves taking stock of what is. It most assuredly involves bad days, days where we stumble and fall and make little progress. But it also has days of falling forward. There are days in which forward progress is observed.

This "falling forward" is helped along by a push of thankfulness from behind. Our church gym was filled with about sixty people, many of them close friends. I could be bitter about Matt not being there with us, or I could give thanks for the abundance of amazing friends we have. I could be bitter because my family doesn't get to create and experience new memories with Matt, or I can give thanks for the memories and give thanks for the time at hand with the ones I do have. I want to fall forward this year with more thankfulness. I know grief will remain, but cultivated joy will be what makes the wheels of this grief journey move forward. And it's God's grace, for every moment of every day, that make joy possible. A new year has begun, and with it comes grace, peace, and joy. May you fall forward this year, dear friends.

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