The Humbling Act of Being Thankful

I don’t want to leave this month without posting this.

It’s something I’ve been working on  for several weeks and something God has been teaching me for several years.

I’m still not all that good at it.

But when I am, it makes such a difference!

It’s popular to start the month of November with a call to thankfulness.

That’s a good thing.

We should spend more time thinking about our blessings and being thankful to the God Who provides them.

But often we don’t.

Because we like to think that what we have is the result of what we do or who we are.

That means we don’t owe anybody anything.

thank you is the best prayer sunset water

Thankfulness is an act of humility and submission because in that moment I must acknowledge I am the recipient of blessing at the hand of another.

That implies obligation.

And I don’t like feeling I owe someone something.

Imbalance is uncomfortable.

It should be.

Because it spurs me on to good deeds and loving relationship which keeps the cycle going. 

Thankfulness begets kindness which begets thankfulness which begets kindness.  

I want to live in THAT world. 

gratitude is the fairest blossom

 

All The Glory on the Ground

Fall doesn’t last long here in Alabama.  

We have summer right through September most years and even into October on occasion.

This year was even shorter-hot, hot, hot, hot, cold!

But no matter how long or short the temperate days I have two or three trees I look for when the cold nights work their magic and the leaves turn bright.

I know I have to drink in their beauty as much as possible because it won’t last for more than a week.  And that makes it all the more precious to me.

So I don’t rush by as I’m wont to other times of year.  I slow down as I round the curve and gasp again at translucent gold lit bright against a pale blue sky. 

yellow ginkgo tree

One, two, three passes and then one day they’re gone. 

A windy rain knocked every one to the earth.  

All the glory on the ground.  

And my heart notes once again that nothing in this life is forever.

Even the most beautiful and highly treasured things will fade and fall.

People too. 

So don’t rush by. 

Slow down and drink in the glory of family around the table, coffee with a friend, walks in your neighborhood, cuddles with the kids, hot chocolate around a campfire or the kitchen stove.  

Nothing in this life is forever.  

time with those you love

Fathers Grieve Too

I’ve gotten a similar comment from two different bereaved fathers in the past two days.

It goes something like this, “I’m offended by the implication (one was in a meme, another was a reader comment) that mothers grieve more than dads”.  

I appreciate the comments even though I disagreed with the interpretation these men gave to what was actually stated.

I responded by saying that since I am a mother-not a father-I write from my own perspective.  I don’t try to fit my shoes on anyone else’s feet.

I also said that if they chose to read any blog post I have written, I have never implied nor stated that a father’s grief is somehow less than a mother’s.  The only differentiation I make between my grief and anyone else’s is that child loss is qualitatively different than other kinds of loss.  

Losing your hamster just isn’t the same.

at least take away the hamster died

I don’t claim special status because I’m a mother grieving my child.  

But I will absolutely, positively admit that often dads get overlooked when people offer comfort and solace.  

Maybe it’s because fathers (as a group) tend to be more stoic, less demonstrative and quieter about the boatload of feelings grief brings.  Often men grieve privately, shed tears in secret and may not post anything on social media even when they are really struggling.

As all of us in the bereaved parent community know, most folks are trying hard to wait us out-hoping beyond hope that this period of active mourning will pass sooner rather than later.

So dads sometimes play right into that desire by staying silent.  

Let me just say this:  Fathers grieve too. 

Dads miss their children just as much as mothers.  My husband was overwhelmed by grief for months after Dominic left us.  It literally incapacitated him for a period of time.  So I know firsthand about a father’s grief.

If you’re a dad and feel marginalized, overlooked, forgotten or underrepresented in the bereaved parent community, may I ask you to do me a favor? 

Open up.  

Share your grief. 

Be a voice for bereaved dads everywhere.  

I, for one, want to hear what you have to say.  

bereaved fathers

NO Substitute For Rest

Some of us just don’t like sitting down.

That would be me.

I’ve always got the next thing to do written on a slip of paper somewhere and even if I can’t find that list, it’s hardwired into my brain.

Decades of guiding a busy household have worn ruts in my routine so that after my morning coffee I am compelled to get up and get going. 

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

Writing here has given me a little cushion since some mornings words pour out of me and I have to get them down before they escape my memory.  But even so, I might only extend my sitting time by an hour or so.

When the sun gets up good in the sky, that’s my cue to get up too.  Animals need feeding and even though there’s only me to feed at home I’m usually cooking for some event or someone else.

So I find it hard to rest-even when I need to and even when it is the difference between getting well and getting worse.

But this past week I’ve had to dial it back-a lot.  Some nasty cold took up residence in my chest and traveled to my ears.  It was the earache that sent me to the doctor even though the cough sounded like it was coming from my toes and just wouldn’t stop.

Thankfully a wise practitioner gave me the right mix of medicines and sent me home to let them work their magic.

I expected the antibiotics and steroid to kick in and kick that rotten bug right out.  But they didn’t.  In fact, although the earache dissipated by the next morning, I woke up feeling WORSE than when I had dragged myself to the clinic.

The prescription was clear:  Rest was what I needed. 

My family very sweetly kept reminding me of that when I forgot (at least once per hour!). But I stubbornly refused to rest as much or as often as I should have.

So it has taken longer than necessary for me to feel better.  

And once again I am learning the absolute necessity of REST to aid a body-or a heart-toward healing.  There is simply NO substitute for giving your body or emotions or spirit the space and time and leisure it needs to do the work that only it can do for itself.

When our schedules are piled high (even with good things!) and we don’t make a place for rest in our daily and weekly lives, we predispose (maybe guarantee?) ourselves toward crisis.  It might be a health crisis due to a weakened immune system or an emotional crisis because we just don’t have the energy or margin left to deal with people’s words or attitudes.

margin

For those of us already carrying the burden of child loss into this extra busy season, we have to find time to rest. 

We have to make space for solitude. 

We must declare some portion of our day or week a “drama free” zone.  

If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves exactly where we don’t want to be.  

Our bodies, minds and hearts will demand it-one way or the other.  

rest field

Hidden Manna

I’ve thought often of what good, if any, can come from child loss.  

I do not think for one minute that God “took” my son to teach me a lesson or to mold me in some way.  

But I do believe with my whole heart that God can USE this circumstance to conform me more closely to the image of Christ Jesus. 

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

Romans 8: 26-30 MSG

I also cling firmly to the conviction that there are things I can learn, truths I can understand and depths of love and grace I can fathom that are not available to hearts who have not walked the road of sorrow and trod the path of grief.

There are things I know because I have been forced to travel the Valley of the Shadow of Death that those who are spared will never know.  

I truly believe this is some of the “hidden manna” Jesus promises to those who persevere under trial, who resist the lies and lure of the evil one and who persist in holding onto hope in spite of all evidence that screams, “Let go!”

Let everyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: Everyone who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven; and I will give to each a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.

Revelation 2:17 TLB

My testimony is not flashy.  But it doesn’t have to be.

You won’t find me doing a victory lap around a defeated foe.  

Instead I cling tenaciously to the truth that God’s faithful love endures forever and that death is no longer the last word.

I swallow every bit of strength the Spirit offers me.  

Resurrection, redemption and resurrection are coming. 

And I wait, in hope, and with assurance that my story does not end in ashes.  

The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn’t rise from the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who had loved him and followed him that God’s divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who had committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life with him.

The world didn’t take notice. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread, and to whom he spoke words of peace were aware of what happened. Still, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the shackles of death.

~Henri Nouwen

 

 

Repost: Nothing “Normal” About It

Something you hear early on in this grief journey is that one day you will find a “new normal”.

I hate that phrase.

Because while I have certainly developed new routines, new ways of dealing with life, new methods for quelling the tears and the longing and the sorrow and the pain-it is NOT normal.

It will never be “normal” for my son to be missing.

Read the rest here:  Nothing “Normal” About It

At The Intersection of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will: Accidents and Miracles

I want to say up front that I am no theologian.  

I am, instead, a sincere follower of the Lord Jesus Christ who reads the Bible and tries hard to understand what it says and let it inform my worldview.  

I know I’ve written about this before but it comes up again and again in bereaved parent groups so I’m sharing MY perspective one more time.

Here’s the question: 

If God is sovereign (meaning all powerful) then why didn’t He save my child?  

Here’s my answer: 

God is sovereign.  There is no one more powerful in the universe.  He can and sometimes, does, interject directly in the affairs of men.  If He chose, we would be like automatons, simply doing precisely what He wanted us to do.

God has given man free will.  And that means that while there is a perfect plan and will of God for my life, for your life and for every life on this planet, I can choose not to follow it.  He will not force me into compliance.  I will often make foolish or sinful choices and may very well suffer the consequences.

The world is tainted by sin.  Our bodies are prone to sickness, disease, genetic abnormalities.  People make not only foolish choices but sinful ones-acting evilly against another person-causing harm and death.  Until the devil has been utterly cast out, we will continue to suffer in a world that is not at all as God originally intended it to be.

God has also set certain universal principles in place.  Gravity.  Physics.  Biology.  Each operates without His direct intervention according to the laws He created to give us a world that works in predictable fashion.  We have electricity in our homes because of these laws.  Internal combustion engines work a certain way, over and over and over.  When I get sick, my body temperature rises in an attempt to create a hostile environment for the invading bacteria or virus.  I depend on these laws every single day.  

In my son’s case, he made a foolish choice to drive too fast in a curve.  His motorcycle left the road (physics) and he could not maintain control nor stop it before he hit something.  His body could not sustain the blow (biology) and he died.

So many times people ascribe the word “miraculous” to someone who survives a nasty accident or is healed from disease.  It may be that God in His mercy DID miraculously deliver one person or another.  But it may be just as likely that the same laws of physics and biology (things we do not completely understand) which doomed my son, guaranteed their survival.  I cannot compare my life to theirs or my son’s accident to another.

COULD God have intervened?  Absolutely!  Did He?  No. 

But can I ask Him to step in and prevent these natural consequences when I would be very upset should He do it other times?

See, I want God to stop pain in MY life.  But (if I’m honest) I’d rather He allow it in the lives of others (those who molest children, for instance).  I want Him to reach down into this world He made and keep ME and MINE safe.

If He was reaching down all the time, this wouldn’t be the world I know, it would be a world where He was chess master and we were all pawns on the game board.  

The God I serve invites me to follow Him.  

He does not force me to make that choice.

It’s an uncomfortable mystery that I do not understand.  But I am satisfied that one day it won’t even matter.  

Because every question I have will melt away in the overwhelming joy of Heaven.  

trust god in the light

 

 

Birthday Musings

Today I turn fifty-five. 

Not old (not yet!) but hardly young.  

My body sometimes tells me I’m older than dirt while my mind plays tricks and lures me into all kinds of childish pursuits.  

Mornings I creak down the stairs, holding tightly to the handrail lest I step wrong and end up in a tumble at the bottom

Midday I’m out in the woods picking up interesting bits of nature that I bring inside and set on a shelf-I still ooh and aah over empty cicada shells and help stranded earthworms back into moist soil.

Mostly I kind of plod through time taking it moment by moment except when forced to look ahead and plan for the big things like (yay!) a wedding (my daughter!) and a grandchild (my son!).

brandon and fiona engagement

 

But some days I stop and take stock of the years gone by, the things I’ve done or not done and the things I wish were different.  

Birthdays tend to make me do that.  And since my birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, I usually add a list of things for which I’m grateful.  

I will always be glad that I chose to pour my life into my family.  All grown, we still weave our lives together across the miles and in spite of crazy schedules. I have never regretted for a single moment that the one great achievement that will outlive me is my children.

desimones uab family

Except for the one I have outlived.  And that is my heart’s greatest burden.  

dominic at olive garden

I am so thankful for a husband who has graciously provided for our family.  I never wrangled a moment over grocery money or necessary homeschooling supplies.  That is a gift! (And for his unending support for my crazy livestock lifestyle-here’s this year’s birthday present.)

golf cart and roses

I have the great privilege of the ongoing companionship of my own parents.  We talk every. single. day.  even though we are miles apart.  These last months of health struggles and Hurricane Michael destruction have forged new links in the chain of love and compassion that bind us to one another.

I have a close circle of “I’ll come over in the middle of the night if you need me” friends.  I remember being on the outside looking in for most of my high school years wondering if I would ever have a really, truly best friend.  In these years since Dominic ran ahead, God has given me one of the desires of my heart and blessed me with just that kind of friendship.

friends pick us up

I have a broader circle of parents that understand what it’s like to send a child ahead to Heaven.  They are a safe place to offload comments and questions that the rest of the world would neither appreciate nor comprehend.  So many have touched my heart with the right word at the right time.  I am overwhelmed by the compassion, grace and kindness of this community.

I write.  It helps my heart.  And the truly amazing and surprising thing is it seems to help a few other hearts too.  I am so thankful that three years ago I followed a prompting to compose that first timid and intimidating post.  Now I can’t imagine a morning where I don’t get up in the wee hours to peck away at the keyboard.

Five years ago I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with all my children, my husband, parents and a crowd of friends.

Tonight the celebration will be a little quieter but very precious.  

My fiftieth year was to be a jubilee of sorts-a culmination of so many dreams in our family and in my own life.  

Instead it was the year we buried Dominic, in addition to the beautiful things we looked forward to.

I’ve stopped making predictions about what a year will bring.  But I haven’t stopped looking forward to the good things I know are on the horizon.  

ultrasound 1 jm lillie

This year our family will grow again and that is a great blessing.  

So I wake and watch and wait.  

Happy Birthday to Me!

 

 

Thanksgiving As Sacrifice

Rocking babies I never dreamed that one day my life would look like this. 

I never imagined that one of those tiny bodies I held close to my mama heart would not outlive me.

Now I sit in the same rocking chair in the dark, thinking about how so many things I wouldn’t have written into my story are now part of it.  

And if I’m honest,  it can easily overwhelm my heart.  It can carry me to a place of despair and desperation where there’s no room for thanksgiving-not the holiday OR the feeling.  

Here we are-the fifth year of holidays without Dominic-and I’m no better at it than I was at first.  

empty chair prayer

Oh, I’ve figured out how to make my way through the day.  I can lay out the plates, fill the pantry and put on a spread.  I am not nearly as prone to tears as I once was-at least not while folks are watching. 

But that easy flow of laughter and near chaos that once marked our gatherings has been replaced by a kind of mechanical plodding that moves from one moment to the next until the day has passed and I’ve survived once again.  

I always expected our family to grow larger.  I looked forward to the day we would no longer fit around the dining room table and we’d have to figure it out.  Spouses and then grandchildren peopled my imagination with such clarity!  While I never saw faces, I could hear the laughter and watch the motion of so. many. new. lives filling my home.  

This year is especially strange.  

Circumstances and work schedules and distance dictate that Thanksgiving will be spent with most of my family far away from my table.  

So there won’t be just one empty chair today, there will be several.  

And if I stare too long or focus too closely on what I don’t have, I can forget what I still possess. 

It’s a temptation-always.  

But temptation can be resisted.  I am not doomed to follow that train of thought to the bottom of the pit of despair.  

I refuse to let the darkness overwhelm the light.  

I will be thankful for all the love this house has known, still knows and will know.  I will be grateful that even though we are physically distant, we talk to one another, sharing laughter across the miles.  I will cherish the moments I had with Dominic and rest in the knowledge that in eternity we will have so many more.  

I can’t fill that chair-no one can fill that chair except my son-but I can fill my heart with good things.  

I can choose thankfulness even when it’s hard.  

Maybe that’s what Thanksgiving is really about-not an unending list of all the sweet things in life-but a short list of beauty extracted from the hard places.

Thanksgiving isn’t always bounty, sometimes it’s sacrifice.

Repost: Gratitude and Grieving

Gratitude does not undo grief.  

There, I said it.

Gratitude is important.  It is (in my opinion) a necessary ingredient for a healthy and hope-filled and useful life.  It is the key to any real happiness a heart might find on this broken road.

But it cannot fill up the empty place where Dominic used to be.  

Grief does not preclude gratitude.  

Although some broken hearts swear it does. 

Read the rest here:  Gratitude and Grieving: Appreciating What I Have, Acknowledging What I Miss