Ambushed

I know that certain things will bring tears to my eyes or make it impossible to squeak out a sound.  So, when I can, I avoid them.

But sometimes I can be minding my own business and BAM! from out of nowhere a sight or a sound or a smell or a memory sneaks up and there I am, ambushed by grief.

The other day was one of those.

Waiting to meet my dad for lunch, I was wandering around Cracker Barrel, enjoying the cute kitsch when the song playing overhead caught my ear–

“I bet it gets so quiet in Heaven sometimes
Even God cries when an Angel’s hands are tied”

(Rodney Atkins – Angel’s Hands)

I started listening more closely.  And as I did, Bible verses and Sunday School lessons and sermons all ran together in my head:

“God sends His angels to intervene sometimes.”

“He sent an angel to try to stop Balaam from his folly.”

“Was there an angel there when Dominic had his accident?

“Does God cry?”

These thoughts shot lightning fast through my head and straight to my heart until I found myself searching for a corner where the tears could roll and I wouldn’t have to answer anyone’s polite inquiry, “Are you OK?”

Foolish and perhaps theologically unsound questions that sent me right back to Day One.

By the time my dad arrived, not a trace of my grief attack was left showing.

Some days are like this.  Some days are filled with sadness still.

But not every day.

Thank God.

Sanity Sundays

This is an insightful and helpful blog on depression and the church’s response. Some churches do a good job welcoming the depressed, the grieving and the lonely. But as this blogger notes, many “try to drown [their] pain with the cacophony of the untroubled”.

Lee's Notes

sanitysundays

For this week’s Sanity Sunday, Psalm 31 (Amplified):

In You, O Lord, I have placed my trust and taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed;
In Your righteousness rescue me.

Incline Your ear to me, deliver me quickly;
Be my rock of refuge,
And a strong fortress to save me.

Yes, You are my rock and my fortress;
For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.

You will draw me out of the net that they have secretly laid for me,
For You are my strength and my stronghold.

Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth and faithfulness.

I hate those who pay regard to vain (empty, worthless) idols;
But I trust in the Lord [and rely on Him with unwavering confidence].

I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love,
Because You have seen my…

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Better than?

We live in a world where rankings rule.

The FitBit craze, while a boon to healthy living, is also a testimony to our competitive nature.

You would think that in the pit of despair, the need to be “more than” or “better than” would disappear.  But that’s not the case.

I continue to judge myself in comparison to others.

I find it difficult to give up the inner tape measure that marks progress or regress in this grief journey.

When I’m having a bad day, I feel like a failure.  I feel guilty for not taking firmer hold of the promises of God in Christ.  I question my commitment to the truth and I wrestle with unbelief.

When I’m having a relatively good day, I congratulate myself on the distance traveled, the hurdles overcome and the positive progress toward pushing grief to the background of daily life.

This is unhelpful.  And it rests in a root of pride.

I am not in control.

My struggle to rate my “progress” in grief recovery is an attempt to exert my will over things I cannot subdue in my own power. And if I feel successful, then the glory goes to ME.

When I choose to practice spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting, I am placing myself in a position to hear from God and to be receptive to His will in my life.

Likewise, when I choose to lean into the support of others and focus on truth revealed in Scripture, I encourage the healing process.

But if my restoration rests on my efforts, I’m doomed. I do not have the power  or authority to redeem my pain.

I cannot save myself.

I need a Savior.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin [by which it brings death] is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory [as conquerors] through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose].

I Corinthians 15:56-58 AMP

 

Preaching to Myself

Some days I’m afraid that I’m not making progress.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m settling for lagging behind.

And there are moments when I want to give up and give in.

But I’m still in the fight.

I haven’t surrendered.

I WILL NOT QUIT.

Because my God is The Living God.

THERE IS NO DEVASTATION GREATER THAN HIS RESURRECTION.

There is no desert that will not bloom under His flood of grace.

There is no wall that is higher or stronger than His onslaught of mercy and no heart so cold that the warmth of His faithful love cannot penetrate it.

He has promised to redeem my pain.

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me
    because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
    pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
    a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
    and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
    give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
    a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

Isaiah 61:1-3a MSG

Truth out of Balance

A  wise pastor I know made a profound statement that has stuck with me through the years: Heresy is truth out of balance.

I read my Bible.  I have been in church for most of my life.  I’ve heard sermons, participated in Sunday School lessons and listened to teaching on tapes and the radio from sound expositors of the Word. So it is unlikely that I would fall headlong into chasing after a wildly twisted theology that bore little resemblance to biblical truth.

But, I can be seduced into taking tiny baby steps away from the straight line of doctrine and look up one day only to realize that I am miles from where I thought I was headed.

The Pharisees clung tenaciously to the Law until they excluded grace.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he addressed the opposite extreme, answering the argument that if grace was so abundant, then perhaps one should sin more so that grace could be made more evident:

Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought!   ~Romans 6:1, 2a Phillips

Grieving the loss of a child, I am forced to face and balance questions that I thought I had once settled firmly in my mind:

  •  Is God good?
  • Is God in control?
  • Is there a heaven?
  • Is the blood of Christ sufficient to cover all sin?
  • Why does God save (physically) some people and not others?
  • Why do bad things happen to “good” people?
  • What, exactly, does God want from me?
  • Does God love me?

And if all I do is roll them around in my mind, depending on my own reasoning , I am at risk of answering my queries in a way that may seem right but which might actually be far from the truth.

There is a way which seems right to a man and appears straight before him, But its end is the way of death. ~Proverbs 14:12 AMP

Or if I look to other people and their lives, I am limited by what I see–which is never the whole picture.

So I must meditate on the Word and balance my interpretation in light of the whole counsel of Scripture as well as being honest about my own feelings and experience.  I must ask God through His Spirit to “lead me into all truth”.

And when I find it, I must cling to it with all my might and refused to be uprooted by the winds of sorrow and pain.

“Make them ready for your service [Sanctify them; Consecrate them; setting them apart for service] through your truth; your ·teaching [word] is truth.”

~John 17:17 EXB

 

 

 

What Fills Your Heart?

Jesus taught that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What I value most is where my heart rests.

Burying a child has pushed that truth right in front of my eyes.  I am pouring my life into something–no way around it.

So two questions fill my mind most days:

What am I willing to die for?  What will I live for?

Dying for something or someone would be a moment in time, an unrepeatable and finished work.  A single act.  

It’s much more challenging to think about what I will live for.  

I have to decide and commit to THAT over and over.

My first journal entries after Dominic died were filled with prayers begging God to pour His love, mercy and grace into my broken heart and to make me a vessel of healing for othersto not allow me to become bitter or hard or uncaring–

It was the only good I could imagine coming from the horror of burying my child.

Years ago, my husband gifted me with the CD “Revival in Belfast” by Robin Mark.  And in these months after losing my son, it is the one soundtrack I can play over and over because it speaks to deep places in my heart and spirit.

One of the songs,  “When It’s All Been Said and Done” has become my anthem:

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and heaven after
For you’ve joined me at my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone…

When It’s All Been Said and Done (lyrics)

When It’s All Been Said and Done By Robin Mark

“Only what I’ve done for love’s rewards will stand the test of time.”

I want my heart to be filled with love.  

I want my treasure to be eternal.

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

I Corinthians 13:13 MSG

I Can’t Do This Anymore!

A worthwhile and enlightening read.  Janet Boxx is honest and gives a glimpse into what it takes to continue the work toward healing from child loss.

This is the second post in a series entitled “Pulling the Curtain Back – Grief Revealed.” Feel free to skip the introduction paragraph if you read yesterday’s post!

Source: I Can’t Do This Anymore!

Relationships Not Rules

We spend millions (billions?) of dollars seeking the perfect, easy way to whittle our waistlines.  We spend hours (days?) googling tips on reducing clutter, improving relationships, decorating our homes (Pinterest, anyone?).

Christian bookstores are filled with tantalizing titles that promise a quick and effortless method for happiness and holiness.

We just want someone to tell us what to do, when to do it and exactly how to do it–we want life to work like a math problem: 2+2=4.

Sometimes, for a season, it looks like a formula might work.  It appears that rules may make life easy.

But there is nothing predictable about life. And as long as people are involved, there’s no reliable method to accurately predict outcomes.

It’s just not that simple.

Looking for the perfect equation to balance life’s challenges distracts me from the life I’m actually living.  It offers false hope that one day, some way and somewhere, things will be “perfect”.

It seduces me into thinking that people behave like numbers and that I can size them up, put them in the math machine and turn out identical and predictable products.

Burying a child rips that notion right out of your head.

Nothing predictable about that.

There are no shortcuts.  No pat answers.  No perfect formulas.

Life is relationship.

With God,

with people,

with ourselves.

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:2-3 MSG

A Daily Struggle

I despise the platitude plastered across social media memes:  “Hard times either make you bitter or better”.

It makes it sound so simple.

As if all I have to do is make a single choice between two equally available paths.

Enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.

Every day I am forced to confront my heart’s tendency to turn inward and embrace loneliness and isolation in an attempt to protect myself from further and perhaps greater pain.

Each moment I have to choose whether I will lean into despair or hold onto hope.

And I just don’t agree that there are only two possible outcomes of a life that endures hardship or grief.

Bitterness is certainly an option.

If I allow myself to rehearse the reasons why my son should not have died, why my family doesn’t deserve this grief, why my life is so much harder than it should be–then the case for bitterness grows strong and becomes attractive.  I can pack my briefcase full of evidence and pull it out at every opportunity when confronted with yet another “happy moment” splashed on Facebook.

Bitterness is always a temptation, and I must refuse it everyday.

But “better” implies that I lacked something that I have now gained.

Better diminishes my grief and gives the impression that I’d do it all over again because my painful experience has wrought amazing results.

Losing my son, regardless of what I have learned, is not the same as sticking to a diet or working up to a marathon run or getting a master’s degree.

The subtle danger in declaring myself “better” is that I can decide I’m a measuring rod for others to judge their grief journey.  Or I can become like the reformed smoker who forgets how many tries it took to quit or how hard it was to finally stop smoking and instead mocks those who are still struggling.

I am not “better”.

I am broken.  

I am bankrupt of any illusion that I am the captain of my ship.  I understand by very, very painful experience that there are no earthly guarantees life will turn out according to plan. I embrace with both hands the notion that the most precious gift is people we love and no matter how long we have with them, it will never be enough.

I can’t claim a final victory of faith over doubt, of good out of bad, of lessons learned from effort expended.

Instead I extend my empty hands and hurting heart to be filled with grace and mercy.

I choose love and refuse hate.

I continue to engage this broken world from my broken perspective and offer compassion and understanding to those who are broken too.

Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement; who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation whatever, through the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 DARBY

 

 

 

 

 

Not Quite So Dry Bones: Learning to Dance Again

I wrote this post several months ago–when falling autumn leaves turned my mind to how every living thing dies.  When the thought of another holiday season without a complete family circle pressed hard against my eyeballs and threatened to undo me.

I felt so very tired.  Some days I still do.  Some days are “dry bone” days.  But there are days when I hear laughter–look around and realize it flows from my own mouth.

I believe God is healing me.  He is restoring life to my bones.  He is redeeming my pain and resurrecting my hope.

It is a process.  So if you have only recently begun a grief journey, don’t despair.  It is hard and it is long.  But there is hope.

Grief has sapped the strength from my body and the life from my bones.  It has turned this forward-thinking planner into someone who rarely ponders even an hour from now.

I was a visionary.  

Now I’m a survivor.

I understand why Naomi changed her name to Mara-“bitter”.

When I read her story in the book of Ruth, I’m tempted to challenge her across time to “look on the bright side” and to “think of the future”.  But she felt her hope and her future had died and been buried with her husband and sons.  She was old.  She was spent.  She couldn’t understand what God was doing or imagine life beyond this moment or this day.

She was dried up all the way down to the bone.  

The breath of the promise of God had left her heart and she was barely there.

But God brought joy back into her life, He breathed life into her dry bones.

The book of Ezekiel records an amazing vision.  God shows the prophet a valley of dry bones.

Very dry bones.

No-life-even-in-the-marrow bones.  

And He challenges Ezekiel to prophesy to them:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37: 4-6 NIV)

I long to have the LORD make His breath enter once again into my own dry bones, so I read His word and prophesy to my dry bones.

He is the God of the resurrection, and He will redeem my sorrow and pain.  

He IS the breath of life.   

I am clinging to His promises and trusting His heart.

One day, these dry bones will dance!