Repost: No Magic

I was looking for it too, at first.

There had to be a secret path, a magic word, a hidden key that would make this awful child loss journey more manageable.

But there is none.

It seems unbearable to think ahead to the possible years of doing this hard thing.  And it is- UNBEARABLE.  If I look at the missing writ large across the rest of my life, I will crumble beneath the weight of it.

Read the rest here:  No Magic

Wisdom From C.S. Lewis

C.S.Lewis was an amazing man who died one day before I was born and just three years after his beloved wife ran to heaven ahead of him. 

In these later years I’ve often wondered how much grief played a role in his departure.  

I have appreciated his books for decades.  Shared them with others and spent hours reading The Chronicles of Narnia series to my children.

He is a family staple.  

But he can be a bit hard to understand at times-his rich background studying literature informed his own writing style.  So I often have to tease apart longer quotes to get at the meat of what he’s saying.

It’s always worth it.  

I read A GRIEF OBSERVED in my 30’s as another in a long list of “Books You Should Read”.  I gleaned a bit here or there that I thought might be of use later on.

But when Dominic ran ahead to heaven, it was the first book on grief I bought for myself and I read it like a starving man set down to a full table.  

This passage, in particular, was helpful in understanding how my absolute trust in the FACT of ultimate redemption of my pain and sorrow did absolutely NOTHING to take away the pain and sorrow-it only made it bearable.

 

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

My son is safe in the arms of Jesus.  And that is a comfort.  

And I, trusting in that truth and leaning into my faith in Christ, am also comforted that even here, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, am safe in the arms of Jesus.  I may FEEL lost, but I am NOT lost.

But-and here’s the experiential truth that separates those of us who experience the REALITY of child loss from those that IMAGINE it-my mother’s heart is denied the presence of my son for the rest of my earthly days.

All the things I had hoped for, dreamt of and expected to experience are robbed from me.  

There is no remedy for that.  

Absolutely none.

imagine child loss

 

We Are ALL Bruised Reeds from Henri Nouwen

I find great comfort in Henri Nouwen’s words. 

He was a Catholic priest who struggled with depression at times and ended his years living and serving at L’Arche-a community of able and disabled persons living together.

He wrote extensively and honestly and openly about his own struggles.  He was full of compassion for fellow travelers. 

He was honest about loose ends. 

I like that.

I’m sure I would have liked him too. 

Not Breaking the Bruised Reeds

Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged. Instead of repairing them we say: “Well, I don’t have time to fix it, I might as well throw it in the garbage can and buy a new one.” Often we also treat people this way. We say: “Well, he has a problem with drinking; well, she is quite depressed; well, they have mismanaged their business…we’d better not take the risk of working with them.” When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.

– Henri J. M. Nouwen

If you would like to receive daily devotionals from his writings you can click here and sign up:  henrinouwen.org

bruised reed

Repost: Will It ALWAYS Feel Like This?

I belong to several bereaved parents online communities and this question comes up again and again-it was the first thing I asked a bereaved mom just after Dominic ran ahead to heaven:

“Will this suffocating pain remain sitting on my chest, smothering the breath and life right out of me?  Will I ever be able to stop crying? Will it ALWAYS feel like this?”

Read the rest here:  Will It ALWAYS Feel Like This?

To The Ones Who Walk With Me: Thank You <3

I have never lived alone.

When I married at twenty I moved from my parents’ home to living with my new husband.

Within seven years of marriage, we had been joined by four precious children.

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

So even though I’m an introvert and crave quiet solitude, I’ve had precious little of it until the last couple of years.

Alone is good for many things.  It makes space to hear from God and to hear one’s own heart.

It can be a respite from the noise of our crazy, busy and LOUD world.

melanie and little bit

But alone is not the best way to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

If I isolate myself from others in this frightful place, darkness can overtake me.  My mind can embrace futility and hopelessness and convince my heart that there is no reason to push on.

There are songs that were never meant to be sung alone, valleys that were never meant to be walked alone. Grief is one of those valleys. And weeping is one of those songs.

~The North Face of God

Thankfully, I’ve not been alone on this journey. 

I’ve had beautiful family and friends who refused to leave me.  I’ve met amazing, brave bereaved parents who, even in their own grief, have lifted me up and spoken courage to my heart.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

And Godeven on the days when we haven’t been on speaking termshas not abandoned me. 

His faithful love endures forever.  His promises will not fail.  My name (just like Dominic’s!) is graven on His hands.

But He uses people to remind a heart of these promises and His love.

I will never be able to repay the people who have been “Jesus with skin on” to me! 

They are a gift,

a treasure,

a precious ointment to a wounded heart. 

friendship

 

How To Pray For Your Brokenhearted Friend

We’ve all been there-someone we love receives a terminal diagnosis, someone we care about loses a family member, her husband walks away from their marriage of twenty years, his addicted child hasn’t made contact in months.

The list is endless.

This life is hard and broken hearts abound.

What to do?

I’ve written extensively about the many practical ways a friend or family member can reach out and walk beside a wounded heart.

Choosing to offer compassionate companionship is the greatest gift you can give.

But there is another way you can help.  You can carry the one you love to the Throne of Grace and intercede on his or her behalf with the One Who can be there when you just can’t.

I’ve learned the hard way that many situations are not fixable.  They are only bearable.  And because we so often pray for blessings and miracles, when faced with this reality, words tend to fail us.

But there are prayers to pray for the brokenhearted.

Pray for God’s Presence. 

Father God, alone and broken is too much for anyone to bear.  I know you are right beside my friend, but give her assurance of Your Presence.  Let this wounded heart feel You very near her.  When she despairs that You are not listening, bring to mind Your Word and flood her with Your comfort.

Pray for the presence of God’s people. 

Lord, You don’t need people to do Your work, but you have ordained that the work of Your Body will be done by the hands of men.  Stir the hearts of those that follow Jesus to show up and bring practical help to this broken heart.  Give divine guidance to the people You want to be there so that they do things, bring things and say things that bless and do not harm.  May this abundant outpouring of love, grace and mercy give strength to a struggling heart.

Pray for grace.

Father, we so often think of grace as what You give us when we receive salvation.  But grace is so much more than that-it is the oil that lubricates the gears of life.  It’s what gives us the space we need to process offense, to overlook offense and to avoid offense.  My friend is wounded and oh, so vulnerable.  Overwhelm his heart with Your grace so that the unthinking and even unkind words or actions of others will not hurt him more.  Suffuse every single relationship that is being strained and stretched by this hard season with grace so that it remains supple and does not break. Fill the hearts of those who come to minister with grace to endure his silence or their rebuffed attempts to help.  Keep relationships alive and intact, even in this difficult time.

Pray for mercy.

Oh, Lord!  How well I know that one tragedy or unbearable hardship does not preclude another on its heels!  I beg mercy for this family!  Pour mercy out on them and in them and prevent any schemes of the evil one to succeed.  They are so, so weak and such easy targets!  Let Your mercy surround and protect them.

Pray for strength.

Father, “weak” can’t begin to describe the crumbling of a spirit under the crushing load of grief.  If You do not raise the head of my friend, she will not be able to raise it herself.  If you do not infuse her body with Your strength, she will not be able to make it through this valley.  You have promised that if we wait on You-expectantly and hopefully and trustingly-that You will give us strength as eagles.  We will run and not be weary, we will walk and not faint  You are the Everlasting God.  You are the Source of Strength.  Fill my friend with Your strength as You have promised.

Pray for faith. 

Lord, there is a space where faith and experience conflict.  Losing a child creates a gulf between what a heart wants to believe and has believed and the unbearable pain that fills it right now  Help my friend’s heart hold onto the hem of Your garment.  Give him the will and conviction to say, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief!”  Bring those who love You alongside to bear witness to this crisis of faith without correcting or shaming.  Send Your Holy Spirit in power to flood this hurting heart with an assurance of Your Presence and power.

Pray for courage. 

Father God, one of Your great champions, C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.”  He was right.  Grief feels like the most profound fear a heart can experience.  The entire world has shifted.  The bottom has fallen out.  It seems there is no end to the pain and suffering that a person may have to endure.  And it is scary-so, so scary.  Let my friend join the Psalmist in declaring, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46: 1,2 NIV) You are the unchanging constant Truth in a world where everything else seems untrustworthy.  

Pray for perseverance.

Lord, it’s easy to start well but something else again to finish well.  When a heart realizes that this missing, this sorrow and this pain is going to be with it for all the days of life on earth, that’s a whole other burden to bear.  Defeat seems imminent.  How can someone possibly carry this for years-perhaps decades?  Give my friend the commitment and strength to persevere.  Help her wake each day and decide to keep on keeping on.  Infuse her tired body, mind and spirit with the power You have promised to give to all who love you:  the power that raised Jesus from the grave (Ephesians 1:19,20).

Pray for love.

Father God, a broken heart is open and ready for filling.  And it will be filled with something.  It will be filled with love or it will be filled with bitterness.  Overwhelm my friend with Your grace, mercy and love so that all the spaces are filled to overflowing with You and there is no room for bitterness.  Bind the work of the enemy so that no scheme formed against him can stand.  Give him a heart of flesh-that even hurting, even broken-he can give and receive love.  Because love lives forever.

Amen.

hope holds a breaking heart together

Repost: They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I remember the first couple times I ventured out in public after Dominic left us and the flurry of activity surrounding his funeral was over.

I felt naked, afraid and oh, so vulnerable.  

The tiniest misplaced word or random glance could undo me and I burst into tears.  

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Life. Suspended.

Grief … gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.

~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It is really impossible to convey the bizarre nature of life after traumatic loss to anyone who has not lived it.

And yet, here I am, trying my best to do just that.

I guess I always hold out hope that at least one heart will be affirmed in his or her experience or one heart will be made aware of how to offer compassionate companionship to someone they love.

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven my family has operated in two worlds:  one where every heartbeat taps out a rhythm of, “he’s not here, he’s not here” and another where we live, breath and move as we have always done.

But there are things I’ve had to lay aside for these past four years.  Things that used to consume time, talent, resources and energy that I just. could. not. do.

Before Dominic ran ahead I was a list making fool.  I was a manila folder maniac.  I was a put-things-in-their-place person.

That ended when Dom left us.

From that day forward, I have hung on by a thread.

I’ve managed by assigning things to piles or see-through plastic bins stacked mile high in the room that used to be his.  If forced to locate an important document, it takes hours or days to find it where before I could put my finger on it in minutes.

I feel like these years have been both a horrible journey and a giant parentheses in the story of my life.

While forced to carry on and meet every necessary obligation, every ordinary daily, weekly, yearly chore-it’s been kind of a dream.

I am just now beginning to reclaim some of the long-neglected corners of my house, my heart and my life.

I’ve hauled out the manila folders again.  I’m organizing some of the piled up papers so that I can once again lay hands on them in a timely way.

I cleaned my covered porch of years of dust, bugs, tools and random items so I can sit outside and enjoy the spring breeze.

I’ve purchased hanging baskets of flowers to brighten the front entrance and am remembering to water them (a giant leap forward!).

front porch spring 2018 edited

I’m writing more cards, sending more birthday greetings and making more personalized gifts for friends and family.

I still feel like I’m moving through dense fog some days but the corners are lifting and I occasionally see the sun light around the edges.

My life has been profoundly changed.

My life will always be informed by my loss.

But I am slowly learning to live this new way, with this new me and to be productive once again.

our cross may be heavy but one sight of christ

Not Anti-Social. Just Selectively Social.

Grief changes lots of things.  

I am simply not able to spend energy on frivolous and marginally meaningful social activities anymore. 

I’m sure that hurts some folks feelings and I am truly sorry.

But I can’t help it.  

Truth is, we all have a limited amount of energy to spend on life’s commitments, celebrations and unexpected circumstances.  It’s just that most of us aren’t forced to admit it very often.  Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I could “rob Peter to pay Paul” as my daddy used to say.  A few days of not enough sleep, a few days of rushing here and there, a few days of biting my tongue and smiling when I wanted to cry were bearable.

I could survive a week or two and then take a day or two to recover.  Good as new.

I don’t have that luxury anymore.  

Now I operate every. single. day. on a razor thin edge of just enough energy to get by and not enough energy to get out of the bed.

So I am selective about social commitments because I know the energy just isn’t there.

I’m not withdrawing, I’m drawing boundaries.

I promise you are still important to me but I may have to check up online instead of in person.

I want to know about every special and exciting thing going on in your life-I want to celebrate with you!-even if it’s from a distance.  

Please don’t scratch me off your list just because I don’t always say “yes” anymore.

I will keep showing up when I can and send a card or gift when I can’t.

I care.  

I promise.  

I’m doing the best I can.

 

Sterkte: The Empowering Strength of God in Me

Yesterday was four years since the day we buried Dominic.  I can barely comprehend it. It’s a terrible thing for a mama’s heart to watch the seasons change and think, “I need to change the flowers on Dominic’s grave.”

But I do it.

It’s one of the last things I can do for this child of my heart.

Sterkte. 

I didn’t even know this word when we buried Dominic.  

But I wish I had.  

Because “sterkte” expresses precisely the supernatural strength and courage that filled my heart, mind and body as I stood for the hours of visitation, sang the worship songs, listened to friends, family and our shepherd/pastor give a message and invitation to a packed sanctuary, then filed out ahead of my son’s casket.

Sterkte literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.

It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insurmountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

The morning of Dominic’s funeral-nine long days after his accident-I posted this on Facebook:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” 
~Habakkuk 3: 17-18

dom on mountaintop

Years before, in another dry but hardly tragic season, God had imprinted those verses on my heart.  Even if-even if- there was no way through but through, I was determined to trust God and to lean in and hold onto hope.  

I had no idea how that choice would be tested in the coming days, weeks, months. 

I had no idea that even now, four years later, I would have to hold on just as hard, wake each morning and make that choice once again, refuse the whispers of the enemy of my soul that spread seeds of doubt and confusion.

But in my own strength, all the determination in the world would be for nothing. 

I am not strong enough or brave enough to stand.  

It’s sterkte that held me up that day four years ago when my son’s body was lowered into the ground and dirt shoveled on top.  It’s sterkte that keeps me upright today when tsunami waves of grief still wash over me and sobs escape.  It’s sterkte that gives me strength to hold onto hope and lean into truth and keep marching bravely into a future that may yet hold more heartache.

Habakkuk committed to praise God no matter what happened.  

He understood sterkte.  It was his lifeline. 

After his declaration of purpose, he gives the reason why: 

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

~Habakkuk 3:19

The Lord God is my Strength.

The Lord God is my personal bravery.

The Lord God is my invincible army. 

He is the reason I’m still standing.

melanie feet crocs and driveway step