Looking Up

It is so easy to think that the world I see is all there is.  It is so tempting to believe that the here and now is more important than the hereafter.

My heart is deceitful above all things and it can settle its affection on temporary things. The only remedy is to return to Truth.  To feed my soul on the bread of heaven and to strengthen my spirit with the Word of God.

So [I] fix (resolutely focus, gaze intently–without wavering) [my] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, BUT what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV

All believers in Jesus are commanded to live as aliens in this world. But it is so easy to get comfortable here. So easy to think we were made for the earth we see instead of an eternity with God in heaven.

Kenny Chesney sings a song;

Everybody wants to go to heaven
Have a mansion high above the clouds
Everybody wants to go to heaven
But nobody wants to go now.

And if we are honest, even most folks in church on Sunday would agree.  Heaven is a great place to look forward to, but not somewhere you would plan to go this week.

Losing my child  has changed that.

Heaven is much more personal.  

This world much less hospitable.

My eyes aren’t attracted to shiny store displays or creative TV ads or flashy cars and clothes.  My eyes strain to catch a glimpse of the glory of God in the sunrise or the sunset, the breeze in the trees reminds me of His Spirit and stirs my heart to cry, “Come now Lord Jesus!”

I want to live the life I have left on this earth with a clear set of priorities that reflect my eternal perspective.  I don’t want to waste my days on things that don’t matter.

 “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

C.S. Lewis

People are eternal.  

Love is what matters.  

So I will fix my eyes on what is unseen and I will turn my heart to forever.

Coming Soon! (slowly)

About a week ago, I promised a series of posts highlighting the time “after” loss–and I have had some amazing responses from grieving parents willing to share their experiences.

But the number of responses has made it challenging to distill the different voices into a collective and representative picture.  So it’s taking a little more time than I thought it would.

I hope to begin the series early in  February.  A good time to start sharing how others have loved us who walk this path in the valley of the shadow of death.

It won’t all be sunshine and roses.  Valleys have dark places and the sun is often hidden by the high mountains on each side.

There are times when the Body of Christ and our own families have failed to show up or minister in meaningful ways.

But there are so many good stories of faithful friendship, encouragement and genuine compassion!  

Thank you to all who have shared with me.  And if you have thought about it, but let it slip your mind, it’s not too late–send me an email, comment on this post or message me on Facebook.

I look forward to hearing from you.

It Never Rains in Sunny California

My husband works in Southern California so I spend part of each year on the West Coast.

While shopping one day, a brief rain storm blew in and caught me off guard.  As I was leaving the store, I noticed the reaction of my fellow shoppers–they stood, dumbfounded and paralyzed behind the plate glass windows unsure how to get from the shelter of the store to the shelter of their cars.

They had no idea how to walk in the rain because they didn’t expect it and they were unprepared.

For Christians, pain, loss and death can feel like a sudden storm.  Often these events catch us off-guard, unprepared and we stand frozen–immobilized because we have no idea what to do.

As long as our Sunday schools, sermons and supper table conversations don’t make room for the very real experience of pain and suffering in the Christian life, we are raising a generation to believe that pain and suffering and loss are rare events and that they may very well get through life without experiencing them.

And we are leaving them vulnerable to attacks of the enemy when painful events come along.

Hurting people make us uncomfortable.  It takes courage to sit with the suffering and allow them to share their pain and struggle.  It requires energy and effort to enter in and help bear their burden.  But when we do, we not only offer help for their wounded hearts, we are also learning things that will be useful in our own journey

That day in California I walked to my car, unfazed by the drops falling from the sky because, being an Alabama girl, I was used to the rain.

I share my story and pray that others may find comfort in their own grief and pain.  Not everyone will lose a child.  But everyone will face trials and testing and times of doubt.

And the only safe harbor in the storms of life is in the Person and Promise of Jesus Christ.

He alone can still the wind and waves that threaten to overwhelm us and drown our hope.

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:18-20 MSG

 

 

 

 

the cost of compassion

I can’t help it.

I think too much.  I wonder too often.  I work too hard to make sense of things.

And the thing that is puzzling me right now is why people pull away from those experiencing deep and lasting pain.

Like the pain of burying a child.  Or the burden of chronic physical disability.  Or the unceasing struggle of overcoming addiction.

I think I’ve hit on a few possibilities:

  • There is no end in sight.  None of these scenarios offer a tidy final chapter that wraps loose ends into a comfortable narrative.
  • It challenges what we believe about God.  It’s one thing to consider the problem of pain and suffering in the world from a theoretical perspective and quite another to experience it in real time.
  • Our days are too full of “busy work” to leave room for real ministry. Overscheduled and frazzled,  we don’t have the emotional, physical or psychological energy required to stand with someone while they battle.

So we trade pity for compassion.

Pity says, “I’m sorry for you.  Let me do something for you that makes me feel better.”

We offer platitudes and prayers from afar as a substitute for presence and personal interaction.

And when our attention is turned elsewhere, we drift away–abandoning the broken to sit alone with their pain.

Most of us don’t mean to do it–we just move on, leaving the limping behind.

But the cold shoulder wounds as much as hurtful words. Acknowledgement is as great a blessing as an extended hand.

Compassion says, “I see your pain.  I hurt with you.  Let me stay with you until you feel better.  And if you never feel better, I’ll still be here.”

Compassion requires conscious commitment to push back against our tendency to forget those who live with things they cannot change and will never forget.

God Himself stepped into His creation to feel the pain of brokenness, to bear the price of sin and to open a Way for restoration and redemption.

Jesus came to make the Father known.

There is no substitute for walking with the wounded.  It is costly, it is painful, it is hard.

But I would argue that when we do, we are most like our Savior.

 

Searching for the Rhythm

Counselors tell the bereaved that grief will change them.

They readily acknowledge that life after loss will never be the same as it was before death entered our world.  But they encourage us that there will be a “new normal”–different, yes,  but some kind of settled pattern that we can count on.

I’m not sure when this is supposed to happen.

Every day I feel out out of balance, off-kilter and have to scramble to catch up to the clock ticking off the hours.  I can’t find the pattern, the beat…

Grief sways to a rhythm of its own.

Hard to follow, impossible to second guess.

I step on my own toes trying to keep up and find that often I fall flat on my face.

When Dominic applied to the University of Alabama Law School, he had to submit a personal statement.  The idea was to give the selection committee insight into intangibles that might make a prospective student a good candidate for the program.

Dominic wrote about being a drummer.

He made the case that percussion is the heartbeat of music.  It marks the pace, leads the way.  If a drummer misses a beat, it can throw the whole band into confusion.

My life as a bereaved mother feels like music that can’t find its way.

There is melody and harmony and sometimes sweet singing–but I can’t discern a rhythm and I don’t know where it’s going. Discord clangs loudly in the background.

These years were supposed to be the ones where I swayed instinctively in well-worn paths to familiar tunes.

Not ones in which I had to learn a brand new step to a song I don’t even like.

I don’t have the option to request a different tune, so I do my best to keep moving to this broken beat.

Free eBooks

Kathleen Bailey Duncan has published a book inviting others to share her Journey from Grief into Grace–a sound, Bible based resource for bereaved parents and those who want to minister to them. Free on Amazon this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in eBook format. I highly recommend it!

kathleenbduncan

Both of my books will be free this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on Amazon.com in eBook format.

For more information about the books, click here.

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Sunrise Benediction

My living room window is a huge, energy inefficient affair that lets in too much heat in the summer and too much cold in the winter.

But I will never replace it–because it also gives me a breathtaking view of the sunrise.  

Every morning my body responds to an internal alarm set to the time I was startled out of bed by the deputy delivering the news of Dominic’s death.  I cannot sleep longer.  So I rise, make coffee and settle into my rocking chair with computer, Bible and journal close by.

I spend the dark hours writing, reading and sharing in community with other bereaved parents who wake to their own alarms, unable to fend off another day of living the reality of missing our children.  

It is so quiet that the purring cat in my lap sounds loud in my ears.

Slowly other sounds join the chorus of daybreak–roosters challenging the sun to a duel, birds flitting from branch to branch, calling out the news that now is the time to get the worm.

I look up and the warm glow of sunrise silhouettes bare winter branches of giant oak trees and reminds me that the world still turns.

Seasons still change.

And I am still breathing.

Darkness hides things from us, it fosters fear and isolates. The black of night turns familiar territory into fearsome wilderness.  The enemy thrives in the inky corners of unlit places.

But light disarms the darkness.

I venture forth boldly in the daylight where I would not set foot in the night.

So I treasure the daily reminder that darkness does not last forever, even the night has limits.

Open up before God, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.

Psalm 37:6 MSG

Help Me, Please!

Burying my son and living life without one of my children walking with me continues to be the hardest thing I have ever done.  I wouldn’t wish the pain and struggle on my worst enemy.

But I am determined not to waste the things that God is teaching me through this experience.

I want to allow Him to redeem this brokenness.

That’s why I share my journey.

I am working on a series of posts that will highlight some of the most helpful things people did for me and our family in the early days of our grief journey.  I will also share the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological challenges and experiences of bereavement.

I am asking other bereaved parents who are willing,  to share their experiences so people can have the benefit of many and varied voices:

(I will never reveal any names or identifying information)

  • What did people do for you and your family that was particularly helpful around the time of your child’s death?
  • What do you wish had been done differently?
  • What advice would you give to a parent in the first few weeks of grief?
  • What support did you receive from your church or faith community?
  • What support did you wish you had received from your church or faith community?
  • What were the greatest challenges with extended family?
  • What was helpful for your surviving children as they grieved?
  • What surprised you most about grieving your child?
  • What do you want others to know about your grief journey?

These are just a few questions that I would like to explore–you may think of others. Please feel free to respond in the “comments” section or send me an email to Godsgrdnr@aol.com.

You can also join the discussion on the public Facebook page:  Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child.

There is nothing easy about grieving a child, but I pray that sharing our experiences can help ease the pain of other parents just beginning this journey.

 

 

 

 

 

An Invitation

When Dominic died,  I was unaware of any  resources available to bereaved parents other than books written on the subject.  Thankfully, through personal contacts and Google searches, I found out about groups, online communities, blogs and excellent articles that helped me understand I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy and I could survive.

I am working on a series of posts that will highlight some of the most helpful things people did for me and our family in the early days of our grief journey.  I will also share the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological challenges and experiences of bereavement.

If you are a bereaved parent or someone who loves a bereaved parent, please consider joining me on my public Facebook page:  Heartache and Hope:Life After Losing a Child and share your perspective.

Someone suggested not too long after Dominic died that I might start a group for bereaved parents in my area–there aren’t any close by in our rural Alabama county.

I was not even ready to talk openly about my own feelings, much less listen to and absorb the pain of other grieving parents.

A few months ago I was introduced to a wonderful ministry called While We Are Waiting (whilewearewaiting.org) and discovered the blessing of belonging to a community of people who (unfortunately) know how I feel and can relate to my experience as a bereaved parent.  I began to realize that Facebook can be a place to connect people that otherwise might feel isolated in their pain.

I’m still not ready to sit face-to-face with more than one or two people at a time for deep conversation about life and death and fear and hope.

But I have opened a FaceBook page–Heartache and Hope:Life After Losing a Child–and it is public-although I am moderating posts.  I want to facilitate a way for parents in my area or in their own area, to find one another and form communities of support.

For some of us, online will be best.  Others may choose to get together in physical spaces.  Whatever works and brings hope to grieving hearts is wonderful.

I am not going to “invite friends” to like this page-thankfully, I don’t have that many people on my friend list who have buried children.  But I am inviting those who read my blog, and who have themselves lost a child to “like” the Heartache and Hope page.  And please invite other bereaved parents too.

There is no agenda other than encouraging one another in Christ and reminding ourselves of the hope we have in Jesus:  death is defeated, the grave is not the end, and our children will one day be reunited with us in glory.

 

Listen very carefully, I tell you a mystery [a secret truth decreed by God and previously hidden, but now revealed]; we will not all sleep [in death], but we will all be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed],  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at [the sound of] the last trumpet call. For a trumpet will sound, and the dead [who believed in Christ] will be raised imperishable, and we will be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed]. For this perishable [part of us] must put on the imperishable [nature], and this mortal [part of us that is capable of dying] must put on immortality [which is freedom from death]. And when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the Scripture will be fulfilled that says, “Death is swallowed up in victory (vanquished forever). O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 AMP

Dragging Grief into the Light

During the course of my lifetime I have seen many topics dragged from behind closed doors out onto the stage and under the public spotlight.

Frankly, some of them could have remained in darkness as far as I’m concerned.

But there is something still taboo in polite conversation–something hushed with awkward silence should it ever be spoken aloud in a crowded room–mention GRIEF and eyes drop to the floor or someone hastily throws an arm around you and says, “There, there–it’s going to be alright.”

I don’t blame them.

In my growing up years I don’t remember anyone speaking about death and grief for longer than the time it took to go to a funeral home visitation and stand by the grave as the casket was lowered in the ground.  People were designated by their loss:  He was a widower; she lost a child; her mother died when she was young.

But what came AFTER the loss–not a word.

We need to talk about it.  We need to educate ourselves about it.  Because, like my EMT son says, “No one gets out of here alive.”

You WILL experience grief in your lifetime.

I pray that the people you lose are full of years and ready to go–that you get to say “good-bye” and that all the important things have been said and done so that you aren’t left with extra emotional baggage in addition to the sorrow and missing.

But you never know.  Neither you nor I are in control.

And even in the one place where it would seem most natural to talk about life and death and grief and pain–our churches–it still makes those who are not experiencing it uncomfortable.

Yes, there are grief support groups.  And, yes, they are helpful in ways that only a group made up of people who understand by experience what you are going through can be.

But much of life is spent rubbing elbows with folks unlike ourselves, with parents who know the fear of losing a child but not the awful reality.  And just a little bit of openness, a little bit of education and a little bit of understanding would make such a difference.

So for the next few days I am going to be posting about the grief process itself.  About what grieving parents experience and how friends, family, co-workers and churches can support them.

If you are a grieving parent, I hope these posts will serve as a launchpad for you to have conversations with your own friends and extended family.  If you aren’t a bereaved parent, please commit just the few minutes it takes and consider how you might support someone in your circle of influence who has lost a child.

We don’t want pity.

We aren’t looking for special accomodations that single us out and mark us as “needy”.  But we long for understanding and compassion and the opportunity to tell our stories.