Death is The Enemy, Jesus Our Victory

We live in a culture where we see death often but experience it rarely.  

Movies, video games, cartoons, news stories all flash images of death across the screen so frequently that most of us either ignore them or they register only as numbers, not as human beings.

Of course many of the images are manufactured-the actors don’t REALLY die, the characters in video games are not real-but how often do we wait for a news report to tell us how many AMERICANS died in a plane crash or terror attack?

As if only those affiliated in some way with our own heritage “count”.

But when death comes knocking at your own door, walks in and settles down, that changes everything.  

I can no longer sit and consume death like a meal, meant to feed my appetite for entertainment.

And every single time I hear a report listing casualties I think of the families ripped apart by the absence of a life they loved.

Death is the enemy.  

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he said, “You shall not surely die.”  

He was wrong.

A single sin ushered in all kinds of sorrow and woe and the ultimate sadness was death.  It meant separation from breath and life, separation from those we love and, without the atoning blood of Christ, separation from God in eternity.  

My ninety-nine-year-old aunt died this week.  She lived a long, useful and fairly healthy life (until the last couple of years).

You’d think that in light of my own son dying at only twenty-three I’d be more OK with her leaving this life and moving to Heaven.  

But I’m not.  

Somehow her death-more than all the other souls I’ve known and loved that have left us since Dom ran ahead-has knocked me to my knees.

mel and mattie lou sahara

Maybe it was how hard and how long she fought against our common enemy.  

Maybe it was just the time of year.  

I don’t know.  

But she reminded me again that death is always sad.

And that Jesus is the only One Who can save us from death’s power.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

It’s The Little Things

I am oh, so grateful for every single thing someone does to encourage my heart.  

And I try hard to pass it on.

Because, really, when you think about it, it’s the little things that either wear us down or build us up.

says something small but fits into the empty space in your heart

 

The daily drip of encouragement or criticism is what shapes our hearts most. 

The hardest stone can be worn away by water over time.  And the softest earth can be packed firm and resist any new seed when trod upon and squeezed dry by drought.

Words are not neutral.  They either build up or tear down.  

And so many hearts are holding onto hope by the thinnest thread.  

I want to be the person that helps build it into a lifeline, not the one who snaps it in two.  

all you have to do is care coffee cups

 

Not Funny Anymore

Dominic had a habit of managing to travel on his birthday and often into the summer months.  

He’d jump at every opportunity to go here, there and everywhere.

He had the heart of an adventurer and life on our little farm in the middle of rural Alabama didn’t often offer the excitement his heart craved.

So just after his first year in Law School, he chose to study abroad for a short semester in the spring of 2013.

The rest of us gathered for the traditional Father’s Day photo with my husband and I thought it would be funny (and probably irritate Dom a bit) if I held up a photo of him as a two-year-old since he wasn’t there.

all of us on Fathers day except dom 2013 sunscreen

 

It WAS funny at the time.

And he saw it half way around the world and thought so too.

It popped up in my Facebook memories yesterday.

It’s not funny anymore.  

Those broad smiles have been wiped right off our faces.  

Because the ONLY way we can include Dominic in ANY family pictures anymore is with a photograph.

And while we’ve yet to have as many years between us as in the picture I held up that day, they’re coming (if we live and the Lord tarries).  

I hate that.

grief is great

Father’s Day for Bereaved Fathers-They Hurt Too

I wrote this a couple of years ago when I realized that in many ways bereaved dads are forgotten mourners.

I think it’s partly due to the fact that many (not all!) men tend to hide their feelings and are less likely to burst into tears when grief waves overtake them.

So most people (who really don’t understand child loss at all-thankfully) assume Dad is doing OK.

I can promise you that Dad is NOT doing OK.  His heart is in just as many pieces as Mom’s.  And Father’s Day is just as hard for him as Mother’s Day is for her.

I can’t pretend to understand exactly what it feels like to be a father who buries a child. I’ve only been able to watch from the outside as my husband absorbed the impact of that great wound.

But I can tell you this:  for dads, like moms, each holiday is another mile marker on the road of grief.

It is another poignant reminder that things are not as they were-they are not as they should be.  

Read the rest here:  Father’s Day for Bereaved Fathers

Sun & Shade: Picking My Path

I walk the half-mile stretch down and back on my driveway at least four or five times a day.

In the winter I follow the sun.

In the summer I follow the shade.

The path I choose to take either adds to or subtracts from my ability to make the trek in relative comfort.

It would be foolish for me to not take advantage of available provisions.  It would be silly for me to shiver or sweat more just because I was too lazy to adjust my trajectory.

I can’t change the absolute temperature outside but I can influence how I experience it.

I’ve found that the same practical wisdom applies to my grief journey:  I can make things easier or harder on my heart by making even small changes in how I face a day or situation.

I can’t change the fact that my son is dead.  But I can influence how I experience it.

On days when I am struggling with sorrow, I seek out some “sunshine”-both actual sunshine by getting outdoors and figurative sunshine by feeding my soul with positive images, thoughts and the truth of Scripture.

sunrise brightest

I minimize my interaction with “negative Nellies” and sites or shows or books or places that send me further down the path of despair.

I share my struggle with safe people who will listen and not try to correct me or force me into pretending that sorrow is not what I feel.

I go to bed early, knowing that each sunrise brings new mercies from our Heavenly Father and that one bad day does not have to define a week.

steadfast-love-in-the-morning

On days when I’m overwhelmed with the “heat” of commitment or too many people or too much activity, I seek out some “shade”-I look for a spot in my schedule where I can rest a bit and catch my breath.

I reassess and find things I can give up.  I find other ways to meet obligations that give me more space and require less frantic scrambling.

I make myself sit down and slow down, even if it is for just fifteen minutes.

let-yourself-rest

I’m honest with my family and friends, because if I’m not I will end up being ugly and hurting someone’s feelings.

So, so many things about grief are outside my control.  I cannot anticipate every random trigger that might land me in a puddle of tears.

Life goes on and continues to demand my participation.

I want to be fully present for my loved ones.  I want to show up and make merry for all the special occasions.

So I try to use wisdom in how I approach each day, assessing my grief “temperature” so that I can do what’s necessary to ensure I’m emotionally healthy enough to do what I really want to do.

Shade in summer.

Sun in winter.

between stimulus and response

The Danger of Rushing to Serve After Loss

There are all kinds of doubts that creep in and take up residence in a mind after child loss.

Most of them have to do with the child that ran ahead to heaven.

But many are also about me:  “What should I be doing? Where should I go from here?” 

For those of us active in church ministries, we wonder, When do I return to service?”

There can be a lot of pressure to “get back in the saddle” if you fill a large role in a particular ministry.

No one ever wants to find a replacement for an effective Sunday School teacher, youth worker or hospitality hostess.  It’s hard when you have months of warning and nearly impossible when the vacancy opens up suddenly and unexpectedly.

But does the difficulty in finding my replacement mean that the burden is on me to keep serving, even when I am utterly broken, empty and unable to do so?

I don’t think so.  

I’ve learned many things through child loss and one of them is this:  the world still turns and things still get done in spite of the absence of any single person.

God invites us to join in the work He is doing in the world.  It is HIS work, not mine.  And He will absolutely assure that it gets done.  If I am unavailable to fill a position, then He will raise up another to fill it.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  

His yoke is easy, His burden light.  

yoke-of-oxen

We are never to serve out of a place of exhaustion, weariness, emptiness.  

Grief certainly exhausts us, wears us down and depletes our resources.  

Take a season-as long a season as necessary-to allow the Holy Spirit to minister grace, mercy and love to your broken heart.  That is the calling of Christ on our lives.  To listen and follow our Shepherd-our Gentle Shepherd-who promises to bind up our wounds and tend our shattered souls.

heals the broken hearted

People who have not suffered the death of a child will not understand.  But it won’t be the first time you’ve been misunderstood if you’ve ministered for more than a minute.

Don’t let others’ expectations or your own fear of failure keep you from hearing the call of your loving Father to come to Him, to lean on Him, to rest in His arms as He sings over you.

rejoice over you with singing

There will be a day for ministry again.  

I promise.  

crown of beauty planting of the lord

 

Grateful

There’s all kinds of grateful.

There’s the receiving line, “I’m so glad you came” grateful.

There’s the ordinary, everyday “I’m thankful I have food, clothes a roof over my head” grateful.

And then there is the “I am about to burst because there is no way to contain my overwhelming thankfulness” grateful.

I’ll admit, this side of sending a child ahead of me to Heaven, there are days when even though I know I SHOULD still be grateful, I’m really not.

Then there are days when I realize how very many blessings are still coming my way.  

They don’t balance any cosmic scales.  They don’t undo my sorrow at Dominic’s absence.  But they do help my heart hold on.  They do help me find light in the darkness.  They do help me know that God is still working and hasn’t abandoned me.

My earthbound children are chief among these blessings.  

I am utterly amazed that as often forgotten grievers, each one is finding his or her own way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  My daughter and sons remain engaged, focused, loving and committed to one another and to me and their dad.

They have continued to pursue personal dreams and goals while also giving practical support to each other.

They aren’t perfect by any means.  We fuss, we get frustrated, we have times when we’d rather not be together.  But in the end, we have each other’s back.

And that is makes us all stronger.   It makes us all bolder. 

Life this side of loss is a battle.  

No one wants to go into battle alone.  

I’m thankful I don’t have to.  

beach-and-family-better