Repost: Looking Up

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.

Read the rest here:  Looking Up

Child Loss: Marking the Milestones

When your child is born you take notes.

You plan to mark this day as a special milestone for the rest of your life.

You absolutely, positively NEVER think you will have to mark another one:  the day he or she leaves this life and leaves you behind.

But some parents have to mark both.  The dash in the middle is shorter than we anticipated, and our child’s life ends before ours.

grieving mother at grave

So how do you do it?  How in the world do you observe the polar opposite of a birthday?

Here are some ideas (shared with permission) that parents shared recently in an online discussion sparked by one mom’s very honest admission that she just didn’t have it in her to create another video montage from the same old photos to mark yet another year without the earthly companionship of her precious son:

Don’t do anything.  That is an option. We do not have to draw a red circle around THAT day on the calendar, gather folks as if  it’s a celebration.  As one mama said, “Yes, the day they left us does not need to be ‘remembered’.”  For some parents, going to work like it’s a regular day, engaging in whatever normal activities are required, ticking the hours off on the clock until night falls and the earth turns to the next day may be the very best choice.  Another mama wrote this:  “I have friends who celebrate a ‘heaven day’ for their son.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  If it were up to me, I would probably go camp somewhere all alone, and not move a muscle for the entire day.”

Do something big (or small).  Some parents choose this day to hold an annual “Celebration of Life”.  It might take the form of a balloon release, or lantern release at home, at a park or other outdoor venue or at the cemetery.  It might be lunch or dinner out at your child’s favorite restaurant or at home with your child’s favorite menu.  Invite friends and family to join you and ask that they bring a photograph or memory and share.  One mom said that such an event kind of happened organically and spontaneously when contacted by her son’s widow:  “We went to one of [his] favorite restaurants.  Told funny stories about him, talked about how missed he is, then went o his grave and put fresh flowers.”

balloon release

Serve others.  Did your child have a special interest in a particular charity or community organization?  Maybe you can spend this day volunteering or raising awareness/money for that group.  Often having something to do helps a heart from sinking into despair.  If the group allows, maybe put up a sign saying, “Volunteering today in honor of __________” and attach appropriate photos of your child.  Some parents whose child died from cancer or suicide or violence participate in walks or fundraisers that highlight those causes.

Encourage Random Acts of Kindness (RAK).  I plan to do this one in April.  It will be five years (!) and I can barely stand it.  But so many of the comments from Dominic’s friends after he left for Heaven went something like this one, “He was always doing something for someone else.  Fixing their car or showing up when they needed an encouraging word.”  He was known for his many acts of generosity and kindness and I feel like he lives on in the hearts of others because of that.  I had cards printed ( I intentionally let his “dates” off) which I will distribute well in advance of April 12th for friends and family to leave behind when they do a RAK in memory of Dom.  Vistaprint and other online publishing companies offer reasonable prices and will guide you through the process step-by-step.

random act of kindness

Escape.  Lots of us find being at home (alone or in the company of others) too hard to bear.  Many received word of their child’s death at home and as the day creeps closer, the memories crowd every corner of mental and physical space and are inescapable.  So sometimes parents plan a trip around this time.  Go somewhere your child would have loved to go or go somewhere he or she enjoyed visiting.  Take photos and post them in honor of your child if you want to.

Focus on family.  You may not want to be alone, but the thought of being with anyone outside your closest grief circle is overwhelming.  That’s OK.  Spend time with the people who, like you, are most affected by your child’s absence.  You don’t have to do anything special.  You can make room for them to speak or not speak about their grief as they choose.  Sometimes just having another warm body in the room is enough to ward of the chill of despondency.

grieving dad

Flip the script.  For those of us who believe that this life is not all there is, the day can be one of celebration.  Our children have escaped life full of sorrow and trouble and are safe forever in the arms of Jesus, where we will also be one day.  Waiting is hard, but waiting is not forever.

Simply allow yourself to feel the full force of missing and grief.  “As far as his death day, for me, that is a day when I allow myself to fully feel and express the pain of my loss.  It is a way to (temporarily) empty myself of all this pain, so I can breathe again to face another day.  I will sit in his sweatshirt, listen to reflective music, cry a lot, talk to him, pray to God, and just allow myself to feel all the pain and emotion that everyday responsibilities cause me to stuff away.”  If you can manage it, taking the day off work and giving yourself grace and space to grieve in ways that are denied so often may be the very best way to experience the day.

Here’s a list of ways some parents honor their child on this day:  

  • Giving away stuffed toys with a card or note explaining why.
  • Taking goodies to first responders and/or nurses who were served their family during an accident or illness.
  • Handing out Bibles or books in memory of their child.
  • Making memory baskets for parent whose child will be born straight into heaven.
  • Adding to a scholarship fund or other charitable fund in honor of their child.
  • Placing balloons, flowers or other special decorations on their child’s final resting place.
  • Lighting candles, releasing butterflies, balloons or lanterns.
  • Placing a memorial advertisement in a local paper.

Do or don’t do whatever helps you make it through those twenty-four hours that represent another year of sorrow, another year of missing.  

missing child from arms

There is NO wrong way to mark or not mark this day. 

It’s up to you and your heart.  

And absolutely does not require anyone else’s permission or approval.  

dont trade authenticity for approval

 

 

God’s Provision is Adequate For My Pilgrimage

This is a hard, hard thing to grasp.

A painful lesson to learn.

But it is truth:

The provision of God is adequate for my pilgrimage. God does not fail to see, know, understand, care, love, and ultimately to work all things ‘in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11). His love is constant, though sometimes unfelt. His presence is assured, though sometimes He seems far away. His plan is good, though sometimes I hurt. For this present time I see dimly, mere faint outlines of all God’s purposes and plans. Yet I believe that His ways are better and His thoughts are higher than my own. In my time of trouble, my understanding is not crucial. It is my confidence in the person, the goodness, and the sovereignty of God that is the great, indispensable necessity.
~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

When my children were young, we made a habit of listening to classic books on tape as we made the miles between our rural home and all the places we had to go.  It was glorious to learn together, explore together and build up a reservoir of common literary references.  

pilgrims progress cover

One of the books we listened to was Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

In it, Christian, the main character, is making his way toward the Celestial City.  Along the way he meets all sorts of characters representing various temptations and snares common to all of us as we journey through this life.

I learned much from that book, the most important of which was this:

“To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.”

The road is hard.  The journey long.  The way perilous and uncomfortable.  

But I will go forward, trusting that the Lord has made every provision for my pilgrimage. 

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who’ve set their hearts in pilgrimage as they pass through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs. The autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion.” 

~Psalm 84:5-7

blessed are those whose strength is in you

 

Baby Steps Count

When my daughter was learning to walk, I would hover near-ready to catch her if she fell.

I covered sharp corners or moved furniture so that the chance of injury was minimized. I clapped and cooed each time she made a little progress-pulling up, cruising around the edge of the sofa and coffee table-those tentative moments when she was brave enough to let go and then plop on her bottom.

And finally, when she made her first unassisted steps between the security of holding on and my waiting arms.

It was a judgement free zone.  

I wasn’t looking for technical perfection or measuring progress according to any external metric.

crawling walking baby huff post

I didn’t rush the process. I couldn’t do it for her.  I could only support her own efforts toward the goal we both had in our hearts.  I never despised her baby steps.  

They were a beginning.  

And everything has a beginning.

When Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I felt like I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually knocked to the floor.  I had no idea how I was going to make a life after this great blow.   I could barely get dressed, much less do anything that took more thought or energy than that.

I was overwhelmed.   I had to learn to walk all over again.

And I did it with baby steps, in a judgement free-zone I created for myself where I refused to gauge my progress against anyone else’s.

its all about the baby steps

Because baby steps count.

Here are some of the baby steps I’ve taken and am still taking:

  • Got up, got dressed, bought groceries.
  • Cooked dinner.
  • Cleaned the bathrooms.
  • Went to church.
  • Remembered a birthday and sent a card.
  • Drove to an unfamiliar place to meet someone for lunch.
  • Exercised.
  • Made phone calls.
  • Went to work.
  • Volunteered.
  • Slept through a whole night.
  • Organized a party.
  • Showed up to graduations, a couple funerals and a wedding.
  • Kept doctor’s appointments.
  • Laughed.

I have yet to hit my stride and I don’t think running is in my near future, but I am moving forward.  I’m making progress.  I don’t have to meet a timetable or get anyone else’s approval.  

It’s my journey.

And baby steps count.  ❤

feet on path

 

 

 

Sometimes I Just Want To Be Me!

Even in the very first hours after the news, my brain began instructing my heart, “Now, try to be brave.  Try not to disappoint people.  Try to say the right thing, do the right thing and be the example you should be.”

Whatever that meant.

As I made phone calls and received concerned friends and family members I was so aware that they would take a cue from me-how much can I say, how hard can I cry, should I hug or stand back, should I talk about him or be silent lest it make the tears fall harder?

And here-almost five years later-I still feel like I need to lead the way in conversations and social encounters.

Read the rest here:  Can I Just Be Me?

How To Be Fierce Without Being Fractious

It’s funny how child loss has, at the same time, made me more yielding and more steadfast.

I give in without a moment’s hesitation to other people’s choice in where to go for lunch, what to do for birthdays, how to arrange this or that at church.  My brain simply doesn’t have the capacity any more to argue over trifles.

But I will stand up to a lion for the sake of love or to protect a hurting heart.

wounded_heart-960x600

I can be a little reactionary when that happens-snapping and biting the heads off those who might have said or done something in ignorance and not intentionally.

So I’m learning to think a minute before I launch into a tirade and try to discern just what will be most helpful.

I want to challenge and educate folks, not send them running for cover every time they see me coming around a corner.

I want to be fierce without being fractious.

I ask myself, “How can I communicate truth in love?” and I try to follow these precepts:

Don’t attack the person.  Quite often people speak without thinking and speak about things they haven’t experienced.  They may just be parroting something they’ve heard and not even actually believe it themselves.

Ask questions.  Try to suss out WHY they said or did what they said or did.  Again, without thinking?  Or is there a motive behind it?  Fear is a frequent motivator for pushing hurting hearts away.  People are afraid of how much they might have to invest in a relationship or they are afraid that what happened to me can happen to them and they just don’t want the reminder.

Many People Thinking of Questions

Educate.  I often start by saying something like, “If you haven’t buried a child, you would have no way to know this but…” and follow up with whatever I think they might need to hear.  No one can argue with my experience.  I’ve never had a single person walk away angry when I share this way.  Some have come back and thanked me for the insight.

schoolhouse

Extend grace.  I know child loss but I don’t know everything or even a tenth of everything.  So while my friend may have stepped on MY toes by saying or doing something today, I’ve probably stepped on HERS another day.  I try to assume that the person in front of me is doing the best he or she can and not aiming to inflict pain on my heart.

grace tree

Choose to end fruitless discussions.  If I realize that the person I’m speaking to is defensive, resistant and unyielding, then I find an opportune moment to end the conversation.  We’ve all been there-someone itching for a fight decides that now is the moment to have one.  I’m not interested in debating anyone over my experience so I just don’t.

calvin-cartoon_debate

As long as I walk in this world there will be others with whom I disagree.  some who actively seek to wound and many who are just ignorant of situations they have never experienced. 

I don’t want to bludgeon them with words, forcing them to agree with me.  

I want to be a light that opens eyes, a gentle breeze that blows away the fog and helps them see clearly.  

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

Should I Let My Young Children See Me Cry?

This was not my experience-all my children were adults when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven-but so many grieving parents want to know:  Should I let my younger children see me cry?

How much is too much for them to witness, process and hear?

Do I need to shield them from the awful truth of how much this hurts?  CAN I shield them?

It depends.

May I first say that there is NO way to shield even an infant from the overflowing emotions, stress and strain of child loss in his or her family.  If we stop and think about it, we know this.  And older children may look like they aren’t paying attention, but they are.

mother and child painting

So the question is not really, “Can I shield them” but is instead, “How do I help them understand what’s happening”?

Grief in this life is inevitable. 

Allowing our children to watch us grieve helps them understand how it’s done.  When we share openly, we give them tools and models for sharing too.

I think it’s important to be honest with even the youngest among us. 

When a parent speaks of the deep pain of loss, expresses love for the missing ones and looks longingly at photos and mementos, he or she is saying to the watching child: “Love lives.  Love is important.  Love lasts even when our bodies don’t.  I will always love you just like I love your brother (or sister).”

grief only exists where love lived first

Young children will create their own script if adults don’t help them write one.

Because their minds are not fully developed, they will often connect odd bits into an unhealthy whole.  Just as some children decide they are responsible for their parents’ divorce, some surviving siblings think that a random act of disobedience resulted in the death of a sister or brother.

And if a parent is modeling secrecy or a stiff upper lip, that child may never reveal her dark and weighty secret.

We can help our children by providing a safe space where they can express themselves freely without fear of correction or being silenced.  It might get ugly.  Our grief gets ugly.  It’s part of the process.

But children should never become the burden bearers for adults.

Crying in front of your child is OK.  Screaming, yelling, blaming and violence is not. 

No child should feel threatened or unsafe in his own home.  If you are out of control, THAT is the time to go to a room and close the door.  Or call a friend to come get the kids so you have a few hours alone.  Or send them outside to play.  It is NOT the time to unload on your surviving child(ren).

I wish that grief was not part of life.

But it is.  

How I deal with it, what I say about it, when and how I express it will impact my children for good or ill.  

I want to offer them tools they can use and build resilience for what they may face in the future.  

Letting them see me-especially the grieving me-is an important part of that process.  

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief