Poured Out But Not Wasted

Even if my lifeblood is to be poured out like wine as a sacrifice of your faith, I have great reason to celebrate with all of you.
~ Philippians 2:17 VOICE

In many ways I feel like this season of my life is a drink offering-poured out on the ground-unrecoverable except as a sacrifice lifted to the throne of grace.

But my story is not only loss and pain, it is also life and love. 

I have to be careful to remember that.

 … you may reformulate your story in terms of sadness and pain. Because you lost a child, or experienced a divorce, or killed someone in a car accident, you will never be happy again. Or even worse, you are never allowed to be happy again.

In all of these cases, we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories.

~Cameron Cole, Therefore I Have Hope

Redemption is the overarching theme of my story, of all history.

It doesn’t mean I have to deny the pain and darkness.  In fact, if I try, I diminish His glory in redeeming what would otherwise be nothing but brokenness and loss.

I can lift those feelings to the throne of grace as a drink offering.

I can pour them out at Christ’s feet and trust that even though in the natural there is no way to recapture and restore what has been lost, in His power and love it is never, ever wasted.

And I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
~Revelation 21: 3,4
they that wait with hope shall not be ashamed

Why Faking Fine is Unhelpful

For so much of my life, I thought sucking it up and faking away the pain showed true strength. But real strength is identifying a wound and asking God to enter it. We are robbing ourselves of a divine mystery and a divine intimacy when we pretend to have it all together. In fact, we lose an entire vocabulary from our prayers when we silence the reality of our pain. If questions and cries and laments are not cleaned up throughout Scripture, then why are we cleaning them up or removing them completely from our language?
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Social media is replete with memes, stories and “pass this on and Jesus will bless you” messages that imply if only our faith is strong enough or our hope steadfast enough things will be alright.  

But sometimes they aren’t!

So when I see posts about a survival story and another family spared the awful journey my family must make, I am truly thankful but my heart cries out, “Why him and not MY son?”

It was a long, long time before my first reaction to someone surviving an awful car accident or motorcycle accident (my son died on his motorcycle-instantly) was joy for the family of the one that survived.

I would have a moment of relief for them (that they didn’t have to suffer this pain) but then my mind went to the place I wish I didn’t-why them and not us?

One of the hardest tasks in this journey has been to lay aside the questions I know won’t be answered before Heaven and to learn to live in the now with them tucked away.

I’m better at rejoicing  but I still can’t tolerate talk of “miracles” (even if it really IS a miracle) or “answered prayers” or “prayer works” or someone trying to justify why one person dies and another lives in the same circumstances.

I can tolerate mystery but not men’s attempts to explain away God’s working in the world. 

So I have learned to let it out in the privacy of my own prayer closet or journal and beg God to pour more mercy and grace into my broken heart. Pretending it’s OK doesn’t help me or anyone else.  Lament allows me to exhale my doubts, questions and disappointment and make room to inhale the truth that the Lord is faithful and that He loves me.

I know my Redeemer lives and that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.  

I hang onto that truth, even when my heart begs for more.  

lamenting is a painful process

 

Repost: What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.  

In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”

It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group.  After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.

But, oh, when I did! What relief!  What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!

Read the rest here:  What I’m Learning From Other Bereaved Parents

Twenty-Three Years, Ten Months, Fifteen Days and Holding

Today would be Dominic’s twenty-ninth birthday.  

Except it isn’t.  

Because I have absolutely NO IDEA if anyone is aware of the passage of time in Heaven or if birthdays are even a thing there.

So instead of celebrating another year with my third born, I’m celebrating the years I had with him-too few as far as my heart’s concerned.

I am oh, so thankful for the time I had.  

But my heart cries, “More! More!”

I’m no good at this “birthday in absentia” thing.  This is the sixth time May 28th has rolled around without Dominic here to eat cake, open presents or break his usually strict dieting rules and gobble down pasta.

IMG_2637 (1)

A couple of years I’ve purchased a cake in secret at a local bakery for a child that shares Dom’s birthday.

Most years I’ve quietly remembered the events leading to his birth including what now feels like a prescient experience:  my obstetrician’s nurse came into the room as I was waiting for a C-section delivery and whispered, “Dr. H is here, but his daughter completed suicide yesterday”.  *

When they brought Dom close to my head so I could kiss him before they whisked him away and sewed me up, tears streamed down my face.  I really had NO CLUE, but I realized (in a tiny way) that this man was here ushering life into the world as his own heart was breaking for a life that was no more.

All I could say was, “Thank you!  I am so, so sorry.”

And I meant it.  

Now I know what it cost him to be there.  What it cost him to see a family made larger at the moment his (earthly) family had been made smaller.

This year we are at my oldest son’s home savoring the first precious moments holding our grandson.  Born too early, his story could have ended badly.

It didn’t and for that I am thankful.  

Ryker’s original due date was May 27th-one day before Dominic’s birthday.

It’s fitting that we have a new life to celebrate even as we celebrate missing Dom.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to merge these two lives, these opposite feelings, this joy and sorrow meeting in my heart.  

I vacillate between overwhelming sadness and overwhelming gratitude that my grandson’s story is beautiful, remarkable, nearly miraculous.  

So today I will try to honor Dominic-who he was, who he still is (even more so and perfectly in Heaven!) and the precious gift of another generation to love, nurture and cherish.

I’ll try to lay aside the awful knowledge I carry in my heart that any day things can change.  What you never think can happen DOES happen.

I’ll celebrate love.  

Because love lives forever.  

Always. 

they know love lives william penn

*Dominic was killed instantly in a single vehicle motorcycle accident April 12, 2014.

Repost: Please Be Patient With Me

I wrote this a couple of years ago in response to post after post across social media of (mostly!) moms lamenting the fact their son or daughter would soon be moving away or off to college. 

I get it!  

When you are used to having your kid around it’s tough when he or she leaves the nest.  

But there is a vast difference in having to work a little harder to stay in contact or arrange visits and never being able to speak to your child again. 

It’s an adjustment to compare calendars to find a day your family can celebrate together but it’s heartbreaking to know that one chair will always be empty at every family gathering.  

Read the rest here:  Please Be Patient With Me

Child Loss: Adding Up The Missed Milestones

So we went to my niece’s high school graduation this week.  

It was another in a recent long line of events Dominic was not here to celebrate with us.  

Another set of pictures missing his grin, his shoulders, his goofy antics, his presence.

It’s really beginning to add up. 

And it hurts.  

We were plunged headlong into some important celebrations in the first two months after Dominic left us-two graduations and a wedding.  But there was a kind of lingering aura that made it a little more bearable.  Everyone involved KNEW Dominic.  So while he was not there bodily, he was present nonetheless because so many people carried a piece of him in their hearts, had stories to tell and made comments about how he would have done this or that.

My niece obviously knew Dominic.  And that’s a comfort.  But the last time he saw her she was just entering her teen years.  Now she’s leaving high school headed toward adulthood.

Fiona’s new husband never met Dom.  His friends are a world set apart from our pre-loss life.  His family knows Fiona lost a brother and me a son but they have no idea how that fact changes everything.  They can’t.  They don’t have anything to compare it to.

My sweet little grandson will grow up hearing stories but never seeing the man behind them.  He will perceive Uncle Dominic as a tale told sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter but never be the target of Dominic’s sometimes wicked humor nor feel the comfort of his strong arms.

IMG_1816

In some ways five years might as well be a lifetime.  

So much has changed.  

So much I want to talk over with Dominic.

So much I wish he was here to see.

I know he is perfectly content in Heaven with Jesus.  He’s not missing out on a thing!  But I can’t stop my heart from selfishly wanting him here with me as well.

It’s like playing a piano with a sticky key-somehow the melody is always just a little off. 

Never quite right. 

missing them from your side

Grief is a Family Affair

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling.  Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.

But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.

This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.

Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.

I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:

  • Don’t force it.  If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go.  You might be able to do it another time.
  • Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”.  There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space.  If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
  • If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT!  I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist.  There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
  • Mix and match more structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
  • If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids.  You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
  • If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them.  If tears flow-that’s progress!  If ugly feelings are expressed, listen.  Try not to be defensive.  Try to hear the hurt behind the words.  It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming.  But don’t shut them out or shut them down.  

These are just ideas.  

Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.

Find things that fit YOUR family. 

The only way through is through.  

You have to feel and deal to heal. 

selfcare for families

Repost: How and Why I Keep Writing-A Shepherd’s Heart

I am still utterly amazed that since November 2015 I have managed a blog post every day.

At first, I was writing because I wanted to make public the things I was learning in this Valley and to honor my missing son.  

dominic at tims wedding

He had been in Heaven a year and a half by then and it was clear to this mama’s heart that (1) people (including ME before it WAS me!) had absolutely NO IDEA what life after child loss was like once the funeral was over;  (2) one way to redeem this pain was to share how God had been faithful even as I struggled; and (3) I just didn’t see too many honest portrayals of life after loss for Christ followers (which is not to say they didn’t/don’t exist but I hadn’t found them).

So I wrote.

Read the rest here:  How and Why I Keep Writing: A Shepherd’s Heart

When It’s Hard to Give Yourself Grace

My little congregation is hosting a volunteer team blessing us with a new roof for our leaking sanctuary.

What would have been absolutely impossible if we had to rely totally on our own resources is happening right now!

The week after my daughter’s wedding.

fiona and brandon down the aisle

Which means that I am especially exhausted as well as depleted emotionally, mentally and physically. 

I’m simply unable to participate like I want to and feel I should.

I’ve brought food up to the church each day but I can’t stay to help serve because my family is still doing leftover wedding tasks.  My heart is torn between what I know I have to do and what I would like to do.  And it’s impossible to do both.

It’s so much easier for me to extend grace to others in similar situations.  I am often the first to say, “Don’t worry about it!  We’ve got it covered!”, and mean it.  The last thing I want to do for any struggling heart is add to the burden.

Yet here I am, knowing full well that the smart thing, the right thing and really the only thing I can do is accept the same grace from others I’ve extended in the past and I can’t stand it!

I’m pretty sure it’s pride stopping me from admitting my limitations.  I’m pretty sure it’s selfish ambition that goads me into trying to finagle a way to be in two places at once.  I don’t want to be the one person who didn’t show up all week, meet the volunteers and tell them face-to-face how very much we appreciate them.

How my heart can twist things!

These past six months have been hard ones.  Goodness-the past almost two years have been one crisis after another, more travel away from home than in the decade before, more heart-stopping, mind-blowing moments and challenges than any other season since the first year after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

And still I will cling to my pride.

I need to accept the abundant, overwhelming, free-flowing and never-ending grace of Jesus.

I do no one any good by refusing it.

Least of all me. 

god opposes the proud humble hands

 

Grief Journaling Prompts

Journaling has been and continues to be a very important part of my grief journey.

Putting thoughts on paper gets them out of my head.

Writing them down helps me understand them.

i-write-because-i-dont-know

Reading them back is an excellent reflective exercise. It’s a way to track progress, recognize repeating patterns and see where I need to do more grief work.

Sometimes I use Scripture, quotes or other prompts to get me started.  Often I may look up words in the dictionary and jot down the definition or synonyms or examples.  I may draw my way around a concept or cut out pictures from magazines or the newspaper to add to my creation.  There have been days I’ve spent hours and several sheets of paper moving my feelings from my heart to the page.

So if you want to try your hand at journaling, here is a list I find useful.  

Don’t set any parameters or have any expectations.  

Just write, color, draw or whatever flows naturally.

And if the tears fall, let them.

grief journaling exercise