Only Love is Eternal

I’ve read I Corinthians chapter 13 dozens of times. 

It was one of the Scriptures read at my wedding.  

And while I thought I understood what Paul meant when he wrote, “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love” I was oh, so wrong.

1 cor 13 love is

It took the death of my son for my heart to fully embrace the eternal power of love.  

I have lost many things since Dominic ran ahead to heaven:  my sense of control, any certainty that tomorrow will necessarily be better than today, the life I thought I would have here on earth, and foolish confidence in my own ability to discern how God works in this world.

But I have gained this:  Absolute unshakable rock-solid assurance that LOVE lives forever.  

the answer is still and again love

Only love can help a heart hold onto hope when all evidence screams, “Let go!”

Only love can overcome despair when darkness clouds my vision and obscures the light.

Only love can weave a golden cord that keeps me connected to my child in heaven.  

Only love is strong enough to drive the God of creation to send HIS Son to pay for MY sins.

john 3_16

Love is the strongest force in the universe.

Ask any bereaved parent.

When all else dies,

love lives.

child-and-mama-heart-together

 

Mind the Gap

My youngest son worked hard to retrieve some precious digital photos from an old laptop.

Being very kind, he didn’t tell me that we might have lost them until he was certain he had figured out a way to get them back.

So he and I had a trip down memory lane the other evening.

It was a bumpy ride.

Because for every sweet remembrance there was an equally painful realization that Dominic would never again be lined up alongside the rest of us in family pictures.

The British have a saying, “mind the gap” used to warn rail passengers to pay attention to the space between the train door and the platform.  It’s a dangerous opening that one must step over to avoid tripping, or worse.

I was reminded of that when I looked at those old pictures-my children are stair steps-averaging two years apart in age.

But now there will always be a gap between my second and fourth child-a space that threatens to undo me every time we line up for a picture.

I cannot forget that Dominic SHOULD be there.  I will never, ever be OK with the fact that he is missing.

To be honest, I miss him most when the rest of us are all together.  The space where he should be is highlighted because all the others are filled in.

No one else may notice, but I have to step carefully to keep from falling into a dark hole.

Mind the gap.

Be careful.

Don’t fall.

us at matts sunscreen

 

Funny Farm: Crazy Critters Keep Me Sane

Most of you know that I live and work on a small farm in rural Alabama.

And if you’ve read just a handful of posts, you’ve probably seen some photos of the silly critters that make up my menagerie.

I’ve written before about how vital animal therapy has been and continues to be to my own grief journey but today I just wanted to share some of the fun, funny and ridiculous sights that greet me nearly every day.

chickens morning light

They keep me smiling (sometimes in spite of myself) and they keep me going (because I know they depend on me for food, shelter and safety).

Truly, I am grateful to God for the love He instilled in my heart towards every living thing.  I’m grateful for a husband who indulges my crazy impulse to save, house and feed anything that wanders up our lane or is thrust upon us by others who just can’t care for a pet anymore.  I’m grateful for children who have built fences, tossed hay bales and put up with their mama’s eccentricities.

So here you go, I hope these make you smile too.

These two are Paco and Bob.  Paco came to us via a friend of a friend who thought that having a donkey was a great idea-until he got bigger.  We brought him home in a makeshift trailer and he’s been a ray of sunshine ever since.  He greets every visitor with a loud “Hee Haw” and loves, loves, loves to be petted.  I’ve had the opportunity to point out the cross on his back many times to the children that have come out to our farm for science classes or tours.

I never get tired of seeing his happy face.

bob and paco hayI’m rarely alone, usually lead or followed by someone or something.  Chores are better when you’ve got company.  

reepi and preciousHere’s Sugar.  She’s one of the first goats born on our place and an old friend.  Just last winter I would have sworn she wouldn’t live to see another summer but she did.  It took a lot of hard work, loving ministration and tender care, but here she is.  Spoiled rotten.  But I absolutely love watching her run out each morning to graze.

Shes a daily reminder of  how our Shepherd, Jesus, binds up our wounds and cares for us.

goat and mel on porch (2)

Natural and effective lawn mowers-most days I let my horses and goats out to browse and get whatever goodness they can find.  I love walking out among them.

I often think, “What a privilege to have this freedom and space!”

This is Barnabas-named after the Barnabas (son of encouragement) in the Bible because one year we had a number of goat kids rejected by their mamas and he was willing to lay next to them to keep them warm on cold nights.

He’s a good companion, always comes when I call and walks with me in high grass when I’m afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows.

barnabus on front port

Some days I encounter a non-resident who takes advantage of the goodies in the feed shed! 

possum

And then there are my inside pals.  Always cozying up to me (and getting in the way!)

fat cats on my bed

I tell everyone that these crazy critters keep me sane. 

They make me smile.  Most days, they make me laugh out loud!  

For that I am very, very thankful.

she who laughs lasts

 

Why is the Second Year SO Hard?

I remember very well the morning I woke on April 12, 2015-it was one year since I’d gotten the awful news; one year since the life I thought I was going to have turned into the life I didn’t choose.

I was horrified that my heart had continued to beat for 365 days when I was sure it wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours. 

And I was terrified.

During that first year there were multiple punctuated stops along the way-the first major and minor holidays scattered throughout the year, a family wedding, two graduations, Dominic’s birthday and on and on.  I’d muddle through and then turn my face forward towards the next one looming in the future.

There was so much emotional upheaval, so many things to process that I was unbalanced, focused only on survival without a thought to anything beyond the next hill.

But when I realized that I’d made it through one year, was still standing, was still breathing and was (apparently) going to survive this horrible blow, I began to think about living this way for the rest of my days.

And it was overwhelming.

Facing something for a defined period of time-even an awful something-is doable.  There’s an end in sight, relief on the way, endurance will be rewarded-just hang on.

But when a heart can’t lay hold of the finish line-well, that’s enough to undo even the bravest among us.

exhausted-over-trying-to-be-stronger-than-i-feel

All the things I muddled through the first year were just going to circle back around over and over and over for decades!

My grief took on a new dimension-it wasn’t something that was going away-it was life long.  

I spent the entire second year and most of the third just wrapping my mind and heart around that FACT and trying to develop tools to carry this burden for the long haul.

Every heart is different, every family unique.  

The second year is NOT harder for everyone. I’m not even sure it was HARDER for me.  But it was definitely different and full of new challenges.

It forced me to dig deeper than the first year when I was mainly in survival mode.  

The crying tapered off but the reality of my son’s absence loomed larger.  The breathless agony of his death really did grow more manageable but the prospect of this being a life sentence weighed more heavily on my heart.

But God’s grace has been sufficient in every season of my grief.  He has sustained me, strengthened me and carried me.  

i made you and i will carry you

Here I am-six weeks into year five-still standing, still fighting and still holding on to hope.

God is faithful.  

What He did for me,

He will do for you.  

god is always listening

No Straight Lines in Grief

Grief is unlike anything else I’ve experienced.  

There’s no pattern, no clear path, no steps a heart can follow to get from broken to healed.

my grief journey scribble and bumps from wes lake

And that adds to the burden.  Because there is so much pressure on bereaved parents to “get better” (whatever that means!).

I wonder sometimes who imagines that if there was a way to be free of this sorrow I wouldn’t jump on it?

All I can do is go where the grief takes me.

No shortcuts.

No detours.

How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs to Ask

After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet. 

Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.  

Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.

And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream: 

How do I DO this? 

How do I keep on living when all I want to do is give up and give in?  How does a body carry this pain-is it even possible?

grief bubble

When I dared look past the moment to the days, weeks, months, DECADES that stretched before me, I was undone.

Even now, if I look too far ahead, my heart pounds and my head explodes.  

So I don’t.  

Honestly, THAT’S how you do it.  

One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

One breath at a time.

I keep reminding my heart that the only thing I have to do is right now. I hold my attention to this very moment and refuse to let my thoughts wander. 

Sure I mark dates on the calendar and am even able to plan ahead a bit now.  But it was nearly three years until I could do that without shaking as I wrote them down.

So dear mama, dear daddy, give yourself permission not to try to figure out what a parent’s heart was never meant to calculate-how to live without the earthly companionship of the child you love-and just breathe.  

One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

One breath at a time.

 

 

 

Repost: Dispelling Marriage Myths Surrounding Child loss

I wrote this last year for our anniversary.  It is still true.

We are battered and torn but hanging in and hanging on to one another.

Don’t believe the myth that a marriage cannot survive child loss.  It can and many do.

Today my husband and I celebrate 33 years of marriage.  

Our thirtieth anniversary wars a mere two months after we buried our son.

Here’s the last “before” anniversary photo (2013)-unfeigned smiles, genuine joy, excitement to have made it that far…

Read the rest here:  Dispelling Marriage Myths Surrounding Child Loss

When I Don’t Know What to Pray: Praying the Names of God

The Bible says that “The Name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved.”  (Proverbs 18:10)

Clearly that does NOT mean that every person who calls on the Name of the LORD will be kept physically whole.

Many, many believers have suffered and died while the name of Christ is on their lips.  

But I do believe that in a very real, very meaningful way, calling on the Name of the LORD has saved me.  

It saved me first from my sin and guarantees that I will meet my son in eternity.

And it continues to save me when I am at the end of my own resources and need to appropriate the strength of my Heavenly Father to hold onto hope.

Over twenty-five years ago I was introduced to a wonderful book by Sylvia Gunter called PRAYER PORTIONS.  My copy is battered, dog-eared, torn and treasured.

prayer portions

It is full, full, full of wonderful teaching about prayer and, more importantly, of biblical prayers to actually PRAY.  

While my prayer life post child loss is not at all what it used to be, I still rely on her list of the names and attributes of God to help my heart make it through tough days.

Here is one Alphabet of the Names and Attributes of God

Abba Father – Gal. 4:6
Balm of Gilead – Jer. 8:22
Comforter – 2 Cor. 1:3
Deliverer – Ps. 18:2
Everlasting God – Isa. 40:28
Father of Mercy – 2 Cor. 1:3
Good Shepherd – John 10:11-15
Holy One – Pro. 9:10
Intercessor – Heb. 7:25
Judge of the living and thedead – 1 Peter 4:5
King Eternal – 1 Tim. 1:17
Light of revelation – Luke 2:32
Man of sorrows – Isa. 53:5
Never-failing One – Heb. 13:5
Offering for sin – Heb 10:14
Potter – Isa. 64:8
Quieting Love – Zeph. 3:17
Righteous – 1 Cor. 1:30-31
Santification – 1 Cor. 1:30-31
Teacher – John 14:26
Upholder of all things – Isa. 41:13
Very present help – Ps. 46:1
The Way – John 14:6
Exalted – Psa. 148:13
Your glory and lifter of your head – Ps. 3:3
Zealous – John 2:17
From PRAYER PORTIONS by Sylvia Gunter
I pray that it helps your heart as much and as often as it helps mine.
strong tower1

You are a Treasure

Grief has challenged every single thing I believed about God and about myself.

It made me doubt whether He is a loving Father, whether He keeps His promises, whether He even cares one whit about all us little humans running around on planet Earth.

And it made me wonder what in the world is wrong with me that MY child was killed?  What had I done to deserve this?

Grief tells lies.  

And one of the biggest lies grief whispers is, “You are worthless.”

That is simply not true.

Even if you weren’t treasured by your earthly parents, the God of the universe treasures you, and His thoughts about you are always good. He chose you when He planned creation (Ephesians 1:11-12), and you are not a mistake (Psalm 71:6), and His thoughts toward you are countless – like the grains of sand on the shore (Psalm 139:17-18). You are really, truly, deeply loved by God.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

I don’t know your story but I can promise you this: God isn’t finished with you yet.

IMG_5324

I believe that each one of us is celebrated as a unique creation of our Father.

That goes for our children, but also for us.

I have no idea why God’s plan includes me outliving my child but He has a purpose that is yet unfulfilled for my life.

What happens TO us doesn’t determine our worth-not even the awful and heart shattering experience of child loss.

You are loved by a Heavenly Father Who has a plan for your life.

He can bring beauty from ashes, even the ashes of child loss.

You are not alone-you have a community of bereaved parents who will listen, love and lift you.

Lean in and hold onto hope. Don’t let go.

I’m praying for you.

beauty from ashes clothespin