Thursday, August 18, 2016

When grief takes a back seat. And it will.

I can’t begin to count how many times over the past five years I’ve heard the phrase, “It never gets better.” I instinctively cringe when I hear it. And trust me, I’m not a “Happy-Go-Lucky” person by nature. I’m not one to see the glass as “half-full.” No, I tend to be a realist. (Or, as some might say, “Complainer.” Ouch.) It usually takes me a bit to find the “silver lining.”

But I do find it.

I find it because, honestly, I’ve trained myself to find it. Please don’t read that as prideful. It certainly isn’t. In fact, it’s been a work in progress. It’s been work. Period. As a natural complainer, I’ve had to retrain my mind, to think the things God thinks.

Especially when it comes to grief.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Phil. 4:8

“It never gets better” comes from the lips of both the bereaved and non-bereaved. From the non-bereaved, it is a death sentence. It is perhaps one of the most unhopeful things that can be uttered. And the bereaved who have spoken this? They are possibly the most hopeless people I’ve met.

Before our son died, I knew some of these people. And I didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want a lack of joy and bitterness to characterize my life. When Matt died, I refused to believe that “it never gets better.” Everything in me repulsed at this idea. I simply could not, would not, accept that.

And God knows the deepness of this pain. He knows the bone-marrow depth of grief. He understands our pain because He has been there.

God’s word, however, has always been about redemption. His plan from the very beginning has been to rescue us from this sin-filled, grief-stricken world. He will not leave us here in the broken places. He intends to bring healing.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3
This journey of grief? We are not meant to stay focused on our grief.
"...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,..." Ecc. 3:4

When grief hits, we are floored. Literally. Some of us cannot fathom, or even desire, to get up, to go on. And this is where I grabbed hold of His hand, the hand that is always outstretched, always offered. God wrapped His hand around mine and pulled me up "out of the miry clay.” (Ps.40:2) His word sustained me.

I didn’t “move on.” I moved forward. Every grief-stricken, painful step of the way, I moved forward. With Him, In Him, and Through Him. Healing doesn’t just happen. It isn’t incidental. It is purposeful. It is doing the hard work of grief: crying out to the LORD, making your needs known to others, and holding onto hope.

Hope is symbolized in Christian iconography by an anchor. And what does an anchor do? It keeps the ship on course when wind and waves rage against it. But the anchor of hope is sunk in heaven, not on earth.
Gregory Floyd, A Grief Unveiled

Grief is a chauffeur in the loss journey, but I have learned how to drive now. Grief no longer sits in the front seat navigating this journey. (Sure, he takes over at the wheel occasionally still, but not for long.) Grief is a good teacher if you pay attention and learn what he teaches. I’ve studied forgiveness and compassion and learned much about being humble. I have not welcomed these lessons, but have discovered that they aren’t taught by any teacher other than grief.

I’ve also discovered this: Eventually, grief does take a back seat.

It doesn’t mean he exits the vehicle. No. But he does slip into the back. “It never gets better” is transformed into “It gets softer.” 

I think of my son daily, countless times throughout a day. But Fridays are no longer dreaded, and I have long since stopped counting his absence in months. The pain that once seared now lies like cool embers, occasionally fanned into flames on those “special” days (his birthday and death date) and holidays. (As well as the random “grief ambush” days.)

But as for “It never gets better?” Oh, my. Yes, yes, I can say it gets better…because love grows stronger. Love sits in the passenger seat where grief once sat. Grief now sits in the back. Love guides this journey, navigating the way. Love is greater than grief, for it is eternal. 

Take heart. Take hope, dear friends. 


**NOTE: I've prayed for many, many months about when and how to "close" this blog. This post is it. I have begun blogging at a new blog. I will continue writing and hope you'll join me in looking through the window of "The Life I Live, Crucified with Christ" blog. Thank you, friends, for joining me in the journey!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

God showed up

We each have things in our lives, experiences, we wish we could forget. If only we could take an eraser and wash the slate clean. We long to have a “do-over,” for things to be different.  But no amount of wishing changes some things. Death isn’t something we can fix. Burying one’s child isn’t something one can forget.

On this day five years ago, we buried our 16yr. old son, our firstborn.

But on this day five years ago, God showed up in so many ways. 

From the second death showed up at the door, God stepped into the room. He was there when our neighbor drove by at exactly the time the State Troopers told me we would need someone to drive us to St. Mary’s. He was there at exactly the time we discovered our son did not make it. He was there when one of my best friend’s showed up at exactly the time I needed her. He was there at exactly the time when I flipped to the last page of the funeral home’s program book and finally found “the right one.”

He was there when my husband’s best friend from childhood showed up at exactly the time we were to enter the sanctuary of the church to begin the funeral service for our son. He was there when the beloved people of our church served Matt’s favorite dish of goulash for the luncheon. He was there at exactly the right time when everything I kept hearing at the cemetery service was “You are loved.

God showed up in every cardinal I saw, always at the bird feeder during meals. He showed up at Hearts of Hope family grief camp when we learned that throwing eggs is, indeed, a wonderfully healing exercise. He showed up at exactly the right time by providing people who prayed for us on the days when we could not.

God showed up for us then.

And He is still here for us now five years later.

Psalm 18: 1-2
I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Friday, July 29, 2016

1,828 days

1,828 days. Five years since I've seen my son. Oh, the ache that remains. There are, still, no words to describe what it's like to live with this kind of loss. This blog has been my feeble attempt at describing it, however. It's been a place of refuge where I can pour out my heart to God in my native language, the language that comes naturally to me: the written word. It's been a window into the grief world for those on the outside seeking how to best help their loved ones who are in "the club no one wants to be a part of." I hope and pray it's been helpful, but more so, honoring to God and glorifying Him.

While I am tempted to count each of these 1,828 days as lost with my son, I am reminded of one of the lyrics from the well-known hymn, Amazing Grace, penned by John Newton:
"When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun."
These are words that give me hope, that help me grieve with hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) For our short time on this earth results in absolutely not one day less in heaven. For each day that passes here without my precious son, I have not lost one day in eternity with him. In fact, time in heaven does not count down or shorten. Every day in heaven is forward. Unlike this earthly life, in heaven we will always look forward, there will always be a next day. This life may not have tomorrow, but heaven always does. What a glorious thought.

Gregory Floyd, A Grief Unveiled:

Today, as we mark these 1,828 days without Matt, we remember where our hope is placed, in whom it is placed. We continue to press forward with the GoFundMe campaign so that others, through the ministry of Trout Lake Camps, can experience the hope and salvation through Jesus Christ that we, and Matt, have. We are only $810 from our goal. We invite you to wear #Mattsblueshirt today and, if you are able, give to the GoFundMe in memory of our son.

I can't thank you enough for supporting us. Your prayers, thoughts, donations, and love are appreciated more than words can convey. They have carried us through.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

For the 5 year anniversary

I found out yesterday that Matt created several Facebook pages. Of course, they were all weird and totally "him." They each reflected his personality and likes. He also had a few events he attended, and one of the events he "attended" gave us a laugh and left us shaking our heads in amusement. It was an event titled, "Wear A Blue Shirt Day." Yes, his favorite color was blue and he had a few favorite blue shirts that he wore frequently.

But it's a certain shade of blue.

It's not baby blue, and it's not dark blue, either. It's a tricky shade to describe and hard to pinpoint. I finally found the right hue, though, after a bit of online searching. It's called cerulean. Cerulean is a deep sky-blue color.

The 29th this year is a bit different than past years for several reasons. We've had a French foreign exchange student staying with us for the month of July. It's been wonderful and we only wish we could keep her for the year and not just a month! As it turns out, her departure date is the 29th. This year, also, two of the kids will be gone over the anniversary date. Our second oldest is away for the summer working, and our fourth child (teen) leaves tomorrow and returns the 30th.

Of course, as a parent, I want all of us together on this significant date, but it isn't possible. Things change, and life with teenagers and young adults is definitely not like it was when they were toddlers. It's no longer my calendar, but my calendar and theirs!

However, in an attempt to keep us "together" on this day, I'm running with an idea that came from Matt's Facebook "Wear A Blue Shirt" event. I'll be getting some cerulean blue t-shirts for us to wear on the 29th. While the 5 Year Remembrance GoFundMe campaign is our "plan" for observing this anniversary, I want something tangible for the day, something I can do.

I invite you to join us and wear a cerulean blue t-shirt on the 29th for Matt. (#Mattsblueshirt) Feel free to send me a picture of it, too! It would warm my heart and bring us comfort in knowing that Matt isn't forgotten.

Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

One of "those" days

I dreamt about Matt Saturday night. I don’t often dream about him. In fact, I’d say it’s less than five times in the last five years. It’s one of those grief parent things where you long to dream about your child and yet dread it. Longing because it’s in your dreams that you get to see them again. You get to touch them, talk to them, and be with them. It is such indescribable joy.

But then you wake up.

And reality sucks because the ache that you had finally managed to control comes roaring painfully alive when you wake from the dream. And you’re left afresh with the pain of your child’s absence once again.

This is what Sunday morning for me ended up like. In a deep sleep, I was ecstatic, taking Matt around to friends and family, showing him off, telling them, “Look! He’s back! Matt’s alive!” But in the space of a few seconds, from sleep to awake, he was gone. And the reality that my son died hit my waking consciousness like a bucket of ice water.

I rose with a heavy heart and knew it was going to be one of “those” days, those days where I had to fight harder to find joy, to give thanks, and to dig deeper to grab hold of God’s truth. It was one of the “those” days where looking at pictures doesn’t bring comfort, but instead, a disbelief that he is gone. You’d think after almost five years, there would no longer be any disbelief.

But there is. Still.

We got ready and drove to our “home away from home” church, one we visit a few times a year when we’re away. It’s a beautiful community of believers, and I was looking forward to worshiping with them. We arrived and were informed that the schedule of service was a bit different due to the holiday weekend. The message would be condensed as they had a special guest. Their guest was a gentleman by the name of T.K. Hilton who has been an opening musician for Loretta Lynn.

Music has been instrumental in this grief journey for me, providing much comfort and resonating with truth. Sunday morning was no different. What a treat it was to listen to T.K. Though I’m not a country music fan, I am a fan of hymns. Hymns are saturated with the truth of God’s word. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I smiled as T.K. began to play the first few notes of the familiar hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”

This song, for whatever reason, gives me joy and hope. I had woken with the harsh reminder that my son had died, but the lyrics to “I’ll Fly Away” reminded me of the truth, the truth that Matt is alive and all is good where he is at. I don’t ever have to worry about his safety or fear for his future. He is home.

T.K. also sang and played “God on the Mountain,” another favorite of mine. Again, a perfect reminder of God’s promises, that “when things go wrong, He’ll make them right” and “the God of the day is still God in the night.” Such comfort for my heart, these words.

What a blessing it was to worship on Sunday, for it also reminded me that God is in control. He is in the details. I don’t have to worry about “those” days. I don’t have to fret about the outcome of the GoFundMe campaign or fear the 29th. I can sleep without anxiety because I know that someday, I will wake with eternal joy. God is bigger than our dreams and more fulfilling than anything we can imagine. I am thankful that though my Sunday began as one of “those” days, God is one of “those” Gods: Able, Only, and Always.

**A tremendous THANK YOU to all who have donated toward Matt's five year remembrance GoFundMe campaign. There are just over three weeks left to reach our goal, and you have already hit the halfway mark! Thanks to you, hundreds of campers will hear the good news of Jesus Christ and experience some awesome Knockerball fun while at Trout Lake Camps. Please consider giving in memory of Matt if you haven't already. **

Friday, June 24, 2016

Redeeming the pain at five years

As many know, next month marks five years since Matt died. Each year we have sought to find some way to redeem this horrific pain and glorify God and His goodness toward us. Each year has encompassed something different, but always with the endeavor to display Matt's personality, interests, and skills to hopefully give those who never got the chance to meet him to somehow know him.

This year we have chosen to create another GoFundMe campaign. We would be deeply honored if you would join us. Please follow to link to read more:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Do you want to be healed?

John 5:1-9
1After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.
3In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters;
4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
5A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
6When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
7The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”
9Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
Do you want to be healed? 

I've been pondering this question for several months now after listening to a sermon on these verses from the book of John. What an odd question, I think, for Jesus to ask this man. 

Of course he wants to be healed! 

Why on earth would Jesus ask this, we wonder. I mean, it even says in verse six that Jesus "knew that he had already been a long time in that condition..." 

A long time. 
Thirty-eight years, to be exact. 
Yeah, that's a long time. 

Just as odd, to me, is the man's response. Does he respond with an emphatic, "Yes! Yes!" No. No, he doesn't. Instead, he perplexingly gives an excuse. (Verse 7) 

But Jesus heals him. He heals him, and I realize why the man responded as he did. You see, friends, once you've been in a condition in which you have tried repeatedly to secure healing, but without any success, you lose hope. You begin to think healing simply isn't possible. You begin to believe you're always going to be this way. You even quit trying to find healing. This man's answer reflects his hopelessness. 

Recovery from child loss is like this man. Child loss, like this man's illness, doesn't go away. Year after year, the loss remains. Recovery sits on the sideline wondering if healing is ever going to happen. You begin to believe that healing is for others, not you. You sit on your mat of child loss and watch while everyone else's prayers get answered. In the meantime, your hope takes a dive in a different pool. 

But then Jesus comes along. 

Jesus comes along and asks the same question: "Do you wish to get well?"  Oh, therein lies the real issue. Do you, bereaved parent, want to heal? See, it seems like such a dumb question, doesn't it? Of course we want to be healed, right!? But the problem is this: It means we have to get up off the mat of child loss. The mat that, perhaps, has become our excuse to stay out of the healing waters. 

Why on earth would we avoid the water, you ask? Well, I can tell you why. For one, being close to our grief means being close to our child. If we leave our grief then, in a sense, we leave our child. As bereaved parents, we're already separated from our child(ren). To chose healing seems almost like a betrayal to our precious son or daughter. But that simply is not true. Choosing life, laughter, and joy is not a barometer of our love for our child. Our love is not measured by how long we grieve. See, grief can subside while our love remains as deep as ever. Living with joy, moving forward with life, and finding our purpose does not diminish our love for them.

Second, like the man who had been ill for 38 years, we begin to say, "I can't do it. I've tried, but I just can't get there." This is a dangerous place to be, in all honesty. This is the place where hope has died and discouragement and resignation rules. We can sit here in our loss, too, unless we do what Jesus said to the man: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” (verse 8)

Healing begins when we take action.

When we pick up the mat of grief and make the phone call, attend the meeting, or share with a friend or family member, we are taking our first steps to healing. Asking for help, daring to hope, and believing God are the toddler steps that grow our faith and promote healing. These seemingly small steps have a huge impact on the outcome of our life with loss. These steps are the hard work of grief, but if we persist, we will find strength. Our feeble legs will become increasingly stronger and more coordinated the more we use them.

Finally, we avoid the healing water because, again like the sick man, our grief is not some short-lived illness. It is a serious, debilitating condition that lasts for years. When loss is fresh, the bereaved cannot fathom healing. Pain obscures our vision. We long to die so that we can join our child. Healing is a pool that we simply don't know how to get to.

But Jesus shows up.

He asks the question, "Do you trust me?" Do we trust that He will bring us through this agonizing, indescribable loss? Do we trust Him that His word is true? Do we believe that healing is possible? Jesus's question begs an answer. We don't have to understand how He's going to provide healing, we simply have to believe He will.