Friday, July 31, 2015

Look for the helpers

You know those days when you just count the hours until bedtime, until the day is “officially” over? They’re endless, those days. At least they sure seem that way. Yet, the thing to remember, to keep at the forefront of your mind is the truth: every day has just 24hrs. That’s it. Just 24hrs. That was my mantra Wednesday as my husband and I marked four years without our son, Matt’s siblings without their brother. It was a hard day.

We did our best, but honestly, I think we were just gritting our teeth and boring through. We had booked a night at a hotel and the kids enjoyed the pool and water slide. We missed having our usual close family friends along this year, and it pitched a different tone for the day. Though we had a plan, it just felt flat. I wish we had done more. We didn’t do any of Matt’s favorite activities and even neglected to buy his favorite drink, a Mocha Frappe. We didn’t throw eggs.

I wanted desperately to just lie in bed and cry the day away, but I felt obligated to redeem what I could from the day. Yet I failed miserably at appreciating the children in front of me because I ached for the one who wasn’t. While I didn’t lie in bed and weep, I also wasn’t present for the rest of my kids. I was crabby and short-tempered. I wasn’t kind in my speech, and I was far from redeeming anything of value from the day. I sucked at parenting Wednesday. I tried to short-circuit grief and force a fa├žade of joy.

As a result, I learned a valuable lesson. You cannot short-circuit grief. At least, not without some pretty negative consequences. I had refused to go through my grief and, instead, believed I could ignore it. I declined to acknowledge it and, instead, threw up the “if we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away” sign. Mmmm, hmmm. Worked like a charm. *NOT*  You cannot fake joy because genuine joy results in peace. And let me tell you, I didn’t have peace Wednesday.

But the awesome thing about mistakes is that God’s grace covers them all. God’s grace is abundant and excessive. It is altogether lavish. I stand in today covered in grace. I re-read my blog post from Wednesday and have pondered over Jennifer’s words. The admonishment to “look for the helpers” has fixed itself in my mind. As I scrolled through my Facebook notifications, I was humbled in gratitude, for I know who my helpers are. They are many. They are every individual who took the time to pray for us, to post, or to message a word of comfort. They are those who acknowledged that Wednesday was tough. They are the ones who recognize that our hearts still hurt after four years.

I am incredibly thankful for you people. You are my helpers. You are God’s grace in action. You are the aroma of His love. You are a source of comfort and joy. I thank God for you. I looked for you, and you were there. Thank you. Because of the helpers, I can see redemption. I know that today, too, holds 24hrs. 24hrs. in which we can throw eggs, buy a Mocha Frappe, or talk about Matt. We have today to remember the gift of Matt that we were given. We have today to remember the joy he brought while he was here. And we will endure, as Jesus did, because we, too, have the joy set before us.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

4 years, and I am held.

Four years ago today my 16yo. son died. There was no warning. There was no answered prayer, no miracle. There was no goodbye. Instead, there was a knock on the door and two State Patrol cars in the driveway. There was a long ride to the hospital. There was the sound of my husband screaming, screaming what they call the "death cry." We were hit unexpectedly by a storm, an F5 tornado, a tsunami, a hurricane. Whatever you want to call it, it was a storm of massive proportion.

Four years later, we have sifted through the rubble and risen from the ashes. We have rebuilt from the ground up. And we still grieve. We still ache for our son. We still cry. But never have we ever walked alone. Never once has God left us. He was in the midst of the storm, and He is in this new life we were forced to build. He has been patient with me in this grief journey as I've struggled to sort through trust, anger, despair, fear, doubt, jealousy, joy, and faith. Grief seems like such an encapsulated experience, but peel away the lid and it's a hornets nest of emotions.

How I wish, still, that I could just erase July 29th from the calendar. How I wish this life didn't include it's "Job" moments. I wish God had a different plan. Oh, God, forgive me. I don't mean to sound like I know better than you because I don't. I just hurt. I miss my son. I don't understand this plan of yours. These "anniversary" dates are tough. They are painful. But pain serves a purpose. That I know. Pain compels us to cry out, to seek relief. And it's to whom we cry out that makes all the difference in our healing. It's where we turn for relief that determines how well we recover from the devastating storms in our lives. I cry out to You, Lord.

I thank you for the pain because without it I would not seek You. I would go about my life and believe I had no need of You. I thank You that You are in the midst of this. I thank you for who You are, Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides. You have given me much: strength when I had no strength, friends and family to walk beside us, and words of encouragement and wisdom when I need it most. I silently begged You for help today, and I wept when I read this morning's devotional from James MacDonald titled, "Even Though."

You keep reminding me, Lord, that the only way out is through. And yet not only that, You go with me. You carry me. You hold me. You also provide helpers for the journey, as my friend Jennifer writes about: When You're Going Through a Storm
You tell me, too, Father that joy is possible. Again, as I struggled today, desperately wanting to hear from You, I "stumbled" across this post:  I had to smile, for You know that those two verses (..."for the joy set before Him" and 2 Cor. 4:17) have been my lifelines on these difficult days. I wanted a different "God-nod," but You gave me what I needed. You gave me truth. Thankful that I am held. By His hands. By His word.

Natalie Grant - Held

Two months is too little
They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence
Would take a child from his mother
While she prays, is appalling
Who told us we'd be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
Were asking why this happens to us
Who have died to live, it's unfair
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held
This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and
Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly
To lilies of the valley and tomorrow
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held
If hope if born of suffering
If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our savior
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held

Friday, July 24, 2015

I don't want to do this anymore

We are five days away from July 29th. It will mark four years since my son died. I've been posting pictures daily on my Facebook wall of Matt this month in an attempt to redeem a month that holds such incomprehensible grief. It is a grief complicated by the fact that it is sandwiched between two significant, joyful, dates. They are Matt's sisters' birthdays. Tomorrow is his youngest sister's birthday, followed by his oldest sister's birthday ten days later.

I don't understand why God would choose my son's homegoing date to be where it is, between his two sisters' birthdays. (As if there's a better day to lose one's child, right? *insert sarcasm*) Fighting for joy in the midst of grieving is beyond my ability. I don't have the strength for it. But I know who does. I know who gives me strength. I know the One who carries me. I know His strength. I know that everything He does is good.

Circumstances do not dictate God's character. Not understanding those circumstances, too, does not negate His character. I am thankful I don't need to understand in order to know that He is good. I have witnessed His goodness all throughout this journey of grief. To be sure, there are days I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to feel any more pain. I am tired of it. I want to escape. And yet, the very thing (grief) that causes so much pain is the very thing that catapults me into the arms of my Father. The closer July 29th draws, the greater my pain. But the greater my pain, the more God carries me. His grace will carry me through. 

His grace is greater still than all my sorrow, and His grace leads to so much more. Four years into this grief journey, and I can now see joy. I am thankful that there are things to celebrate. I am thankful for the distraction of birthdays. I am thankful for healing. I am thankful for God's patience and sovereignty. I know now that grief, though constant, is fluid. Grief waxes and wanes. I know that joy is not the antithesis of grief. Joy is not grief's competitor. Joy runs a race all her own. Joy is an expression of faith. Joy is Faith's daughter, and she is beautiful.

Still playing this on repeat. Finding joy. Finding faith. With God. Through all of it. Even when I don't want to do this anymore.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The hurting days

There are days that just hurt. Days in which I feel I just can't do this child loss thing one more day. Days that push me to the ground and make me fall to my knees. Days where I think if only there were a rhyme or reason to this messy, ugly grief. How I wish I could wash off my grief-bloodied hands on these days and wipe them clean, make them look like they did before. But before is gone. It will never be again. Before is the past. And I am left with now. Now is what I have been given.

I don't want to miss now. I want to embrace it, for I know how short this life is. I don't want to be so busy mourning what was that I miss what is. I know now, almost four years into this grief journey, that joy comes. It comes softly, quietly. It comes after each hard-fought choice to believe truth, the truth of God's word. It forms each step of the walk out of the valley of the shadow of death. I don't know where those steps lead, but I do know that with every breath of thanksgiving I have uttered the past almost four years, it has created a step out of the valley.

The hurting days are detours, my friend. Detours that, for whatever reason, bring us to a stop, slow us down, or simply reroute us. A detour is seldom welcomed, not always anticipated, and often misunderstood. But God knows. He sees, for He is the master planner. There is not a step we take that He doesn't see. He has a purpose even if we don't discern it. I'm convinced the detour of the hurting days is simply the opportunity God provides for us to come to Him, to step toward His open arms full of grace. The hurting days are an invitation to throw yourself at His feet when grief shoves you to the ground.

I'm never unamazed by the intimacy of God, how He knows me so well. He knows my struggle, my every cry, and every need. As the four year anniversary date of my son's death draws near, each successive day has felt just a bit more heavier. Yet, how reassuring He was through the words of my friend Jennifer this morning: What We Need to Know When Life Takes a Detour. I give thanks for God's presence, His very presence in the midst of the hurting days. For every step through the valley, He walks with me. I am thankful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

July number four


As I write this, it's July 1st. I don't even have words to describe what July means to me. I hate July. I hate that it will forever be the month that my son died. And yet, this month I am thankful I am not where I was almost four years ago. This year, I am no longer in a grief fog. This year, I can smile and find joy. This year, I will make beautiful memories despite grief.

This weekend we will celebrate the 4th of July holiday as we always do, in our usual spot, our favorite spot. It will have it's moments of sadness, to be sure, but this year I will recognize the joyful moments as well. I will fight for joy, and I will miss my son. I will cherish what I have, and I will grieve what I don't. And that is o.k. because I have learned that neither joy nor grief is exclusive. Jesus said, "...In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!.." (John 16:33)

Jesus lived with sorrow, and He lived with joy. He knew what it was to suffer, and He knew what it was to rejoice. More and more, I think about how incredible it was for Christ to leave perfection, to voluntarily inhabit an earthly body with all it's limitations and finiteness, and to live on earth with sin and brokenness. He didn't have to do that, yet He chose to so that we could ultimately be coheirs with Him. It just stuns me. When my grief overwhelms, there is great comfort when I remember His sacrifice.

Monday, July 6th

God knows how much this month makes me feel broken, busted wide open again. And, try as I might to find joy like Ann Voskamp entreats, I am bruised and sore. The child loss scar throbs and rubs raw this month. Yet I grasp for the one thing that sustains me: the truth of God's word. And how beautiful it is when played on repeat with the music of MercyMe (Flawless), Colton Dixon (Through All Of It), and Morgan Harper Nichols (Storyteller). The strains of the music are like salve on the wound. I keep applying their lyrics and they keep my heart still, my spirit from being troubled. I am humbled at how God ministers to and comforts His children. When I think I can no longer bear the sorrow, His grace pours over me.

This month, as I am reminded daily of God's grace, I am compelled to make July overflow with joy. Grief is a given. It doesn't take any effort to experience it. But joy? Joy is a choice. Joy is hard won. Joy steps over grief and plants her feet firmly in the dust. She doesn't wait for permission. She doesn't wait to "feel" it. Joy believes God's word even if it doesn't make sense because she trusts in Him.
I want to choose joy and, while joy is a choice, it's not easy. Choosing joy sometimes takes all the strength I have. But it's always the right choice. I rarely (if ever) look at photos of Matt because it's just too painful. But I decided I would try to "redeem" this month by posting photos of Matt daily on my Facebook wall. I'll be honest and admit that it's tough. Really tough. Going through photos daily is emotionally draining. I'm struggling with falling into that grief pit.  Yet I am encouraged by the joy it brings to those who see the pictures. I had forgotten how much Matthew smiled. (Not that he wasn't happy when he was a teenager, but there's a reason he had the nickname "Mr. Stoic.") ;)

As I try to redeem this month of grief, I hope to grow in grace and joy. (Do you sense a recurring theme?) I hope that instead of seeing what I have lost, I will instead see how much I have gained. My God is great. He is my Redeemer, my healer, my comforter, and my hope. He is matter what.