Friday, August 28, 2015

The quiet days of grief

Surrendering in God is a beautiful thing, and the peace that follows surrender is unsurpassed. The raging waters settle and there is little that resembles the storm that surged only hours before. There is quiet in the soul. There is acceptance without resentment. There is peace. These are the days of grief that I did not, could not, imagine when in the midst of the tsunami of our child loss. These are the quiet days of grief.

With the ebb and flow of sorrow's pain, I often think of the pain scale used in the medical field. Patients are asked to rate their pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten being unbearable. If I were to rate my pain most days, I would give it a 2. Some days a 1. Some days a 3. But for the most part, it stays below a 5. (Those dreaded "anniversaries," birthdays, holidays, etc. often exceed a 7, most a 9 or 10.) Never, however, is the pain completely gone. Instead, sorrow's silent presence in my heart has become white noise.

I continue to fill my mind with truth, still reminding myself that Matt is alive. Driving past the cemetery the other day, I caught myself thinking, "I had a son." Thankfully, I immediately countered my own thoughts with "No, I have a son. He is alive in heaven, and I will see him again. He is at my Father's house." (The idea of Matt being at my Father's house came from reading about the death of Anne Graham Lotz' husband, Danny.) Speaking God's truth about death becomes the life jacket I wear when the waves of grief assail.

The surrender, this trust again in God, has deepened my desire for joy and rekindled my hunger for Christ. I thirst for a restored closeness with Jesus. I recently shared with a friend about how my relationship with God the last several months had changed, and she said, "It's not that you've left God, but it's more like the relationship went from being eye to eye, you and God looking into one another's faces, to one where you're no longer facing each other, but instead, you are walking side by side." Yes, that was it exactly. And now, I am wanting to look into His eyes again. I want to be able to say of our son's loss what John Piper said of cancer:
“We waste our cancer if we think that ‘beating’ cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ. Satan’s and God’s designs in our cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy our love for Christ. God designs to deepen our love for Christ. Cancer does not win if we die. It wins if we fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean us off the breast of this world and feast us on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help us say and feel, ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:8) and to know that therefore, ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21).” -John Piper, Don't Waste Your Cancer
In other words, I waste my loss if I think that 'beating' death means merely surviving rather than cherishing Christ...Death does not win because my child died... My son's death will mean nothing if I don't, as a result, cherish Christ more. Death didn't win when Matt died. It wins if I fail, subsequently, to cherish Christ. I long for my son, but I long for Christ even more. And that is indeed a deep and severe longing.

It is a longing, however, that causes me to fight for joy, to quiet grief's voice with shouts of joy. This has been playing on repeat:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Grief and God are terrifying

Perhaps one of the most surprising elements to me after four years along this journey is the continuous battle between faith and fear. Looking back, it seemed almost easier to exercise unwavering faith in the beginning of this journey. I unhesitatingly and unquestionably exercised faith in God and His word. That time of faith without fear was sacred indeed. At the time, my faith, amazingly, matched my searing pain. It didn't seem a struggle to find my faith, and fear had not yet taken root. After all, my worse fear had come true: I lost a child.

I'm not sure exactly when fear sprouted and my faith wavered, but I know now why Paul calls faith "the good fight." (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7) Last week, my faith and fear stepped into the ring, fear swinging fiercely. My faith stumbled. It fell hard. It took a hard hit and didn't get back up quickly. For the last several months, actually, fear and faith have danced around the ring, hung off the ropes, and ducked a few punches. For whatever reason, the four year anniversary of our son's death was an agonizing affair.

The battle raging between my heart and head has been privy only to God, for it is with Him that I have contended. See, I know how powerful God is. I know He is mighty and strong. I don't hold any safe, tame notions about God. This article? Oh, yeah, I get it. And that is exactly what I have been trying to reconcile in my head for the past several months: the "terrifying" nature of God and His goodness, His majesty. How do I completely trust God again, the very One who wounded me so deeply? 

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” - C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

But this God? My Father? Oh, yet He is amazing, for He accepts this mistrust of mine, these fearful questions, and my faltering steps, and He waits. He listens. He answers. He knows the very thoughts I think. And I am blown away by His grace, by His tenderness and compassion toward me. The intimacy He displays toward His children never fails to astound me. I wept with conviction when I read this article on Tuesday: Did God Betray You? What confirmation and comfort it was to know that He knows me so well. 

Finally, my faith got up off the mat, stood to her feet, and sucker punched fear to the ropes. For it was while lying motionless on the floor, faith heard these words: The Secret to Organizing Your Priorities & Perspective When Things Aren't What You'd Hope. God sees the unseen, and He invites you to see what He sees. Those empty baskets Ann speaks of look a lot like my heart. I feel as if grief has emptied it completely. But an empty basket? It's good for something. It's good for filling. For filling, again, as Ann writes, "with eternal, unseen things." She continues with this quote from clergyman James Aughey: “As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out toward things unseen.”

Those eternal, unseen things are God. He fills the empty spaces with Himself. Fear seeks to fill the void, and it will, if it's not filled with Him. I have wanted, needed, so desperately to trust Him again, but I have been afraid. He terrifies me, this God who has the power to take a life. I'm terrified that He will do it again. How do I root out this fear that cripples? Relationships do not thrive on fear. Fear suffocates and extinguishes life. Relationships thrive on love. And God. is. love. This Lion of Judah? He is powerful. He is mighty. He is for me. He chases after me.

But what I saw was not what I thought I saw. Fear convinced me that the lion chasing me was out to destroy me. Fear lies. This untame God was not after me to hunt me down and attack. No, He was after me because He saw what was ahead of me. He was behind me, protecting me, waiting to pounce upon the enemy in front of me: fear. I had totally missed God as my protector and mistaken Him as the hunter. This God? He will do anything to protect His child.

Fear is terrifying, and so is God. But the difference is that God is motivated by love. It's the reason He came. Love compelled Him to die on the cross for me so that sin and death would not win. Fear says that my son's death is proof that God is not love, that though He can protect, He doesn't. Fear says you can't trust God. Faith says that though this world is a place of hurt and loss, it is a world that has been and will be redeemed. Faith says God is love, that He works all things for good, because that's what love does. Love hurts with us. Love stays with us. Love grieves with us.       

Faith exterminates fear. Faith fills the empty heart. Faith remembers Love's character. God sees this cross, the stinging reproach, of child loss that I carry. He sees the scars. And He asks me to trust Him with them. Faith will say yes whereas fear always says no. Saying yes, I lift the shield of faith with hope because Love is all around me.