Debate and Faith

There are those who say faith means you never doubt.  Those who live by the creed, “Don’t ask questions!”

But I say faith is exactly what you cling to in the margins of doubt–when you have exhausted all the possibilities that exist in the physical, you-can-touch-it world and yet you KNOW there is MORE.

Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].

Hebrews 11:1 AMP

Questions are how you mark the borders of what you know and find the edges of what you don’t.

This week I judged a high school debate.  It took me back over a decade to the time and place my own children were competing in tournaments.  As I watched the eager and earnest faces of these young adults, I remembered the equally eager and earnest face of Dominic.

He was always passionate about a debate.

Not so much the formal ones–he was on the tail-end of our family’s participation in that scene–but the kind you have around the dinner table and the campfire.  He did not like to lose.  But more importantly, he would not tolerate sloppy thinking or lousy logic.

And I hear his voice in these months after his death challenging me to think critically and work carefully through my doubts and my feelings about life, about death, about grief and about eternity.

When we discussed Scripture, or politics, or lifestyle, or the intersection of all three, Dominic would often be the one digging deeper, looking longer at the hand-me-down Bible verses used to proclaim and prop up popular points of view.  He asked, “Why?” and “Why not?” The six of us spent hours talking (sometimes arguing)–passionately defending our own understanding and interpretations.

All of my children are critical thinkers.  And I am grateful for this.

I don’t want to raise a generation that accepts without comment the thoughts and actions of the generation before.

Isn’t that part of what blinded the Pharisees and Saducees to the Presence of Messiah in their midst?  They clung desperately to what they thought they knew, all the time missing the very revelation of God they craved.

So, in honor of Dominic, I will allow myself the time, the energy and the space to wrestle with my questions.  I will search the Scriptures.  I will ask God for insight.  I will push back against the knee-jerk reactions and answers that come too easily and offer a false sense of closure.

God is not threatened by my wondering.  His throne is in no danger due to my queries.

It is most often other believers who find the questions unsettling.

I don’t want or expect to have the last word.  I believe that belongs to the Creator of the Universe.  But I think He will hear my plea.

In my trouble I called to the Lord. I cried out to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice. My call for help reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6 ICB

 

 

 

Perspective is Everything

NOTE:  I’m including links to another blog and an old post of my own.  You’ll see that I am unskilled at inserting them smoothly. Yet another in the list of losses–Dominic was my tech advisor…

When my husband and I visited the Sequoia National Forest, we were overwhelmed by the enormity and beauty of the trees.  Even standing beside them, it is hard to realize how very huge they are.  But when you are able to drive your car through one of them, that gives you  some perspective.

Losing a child changes your perspective.  Some things look bigger than they did before and some much smaller.

And some things I thought I understood, I find I don’t understand at all.

Lately I have been challenged to re-read Bible stories I once blazed through like a novel and pay more attention to the people in them and their feelings and lives.

I was reminded of the story of Hagar by fellow blogger Janet Boxx [Boxxbanter.wordpress.com] when she commented on my recent post Sparrows Do Fall:

(https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/01/12/sparrows-do-fall/)

And I am ashamed to realize that until now, I saw Hagar’s story as a kind of minor corollary to the over-arching and “more important” story of Abraham.

But to Hagar and Ishmael, this was THE story–it was THEIR story and it was as important as any other story that was happening at the same time.

Perspective is everything.

Eye-witness testimony is often touted as the most solid proof when presenting a criminal case.  But those who study eye-witness accounts know that there can be as many versions of a story as there are people who see it.

What stands out to one person will be ignored or misremembered by another. Different witnesses focus on different aspects of the same scene because their individual experiences make them vulnerable to having their attention turned to various details.

I know that before I lost a child, I was more likely to focus on the “good” that came from the child’s death:  testimonies of lives changed, people coming to Christ, community activism on behalf of a cause or a condition that contributed to the death.

But now, I’m consumed by thoughts of the child’s parents.  I think about the siblings left behind.  I know by experience that they are just beginning a life-long journey that will be so very hard.

When others view the lives of bereaved parents, it is easier for them to place the narrative that consumes the attention, energy and passion of the parents within the larger story of “what God is doing in the world” because they (the non-bereaved) can see the panorama while we (the bereaved) are looking through a keyhole.

And no matter how you twist and turn to try to expand your view when it is limited by physical facts that defy alteration, you just can’t do it.

Hagar called the LORD, Jehovah-Roi,” The God Who Sees”.  

As a slave, no doubt Hagar was often overlooked and undervalued.  But the God of the Universe, SAW HER.

I know in my bones that God does see.

I don’t know or understand what He’s doing, but I know He sees. It is both comforting and disturbing–part of my ongoing wrestling.

Being seen is powerful.  When another comes alongside as witness to my journey, it is helpful.  It speaks courage to my heart to keep on walking and to continue to trust.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I’m Learning

The way things are supposed to be isn’t always the way things are.

I can experience joy and sorrow in the same breath.

The capacity to love and extend grace is enlarged by suffering if I submit to it and don’t fight it.

Never, never, NEVER underestimate the power of presence or texts or the random, “thinking of you” card.

Encouragement comes from unexpected sources.

Truth is the best defense against lies.

I was not nearly as grace-filled or kind as I thought I was before Dominic died. I’m trying to do better.

Hard things are hard.

Sad things are sad.

There’s no use pretending to be stronger than I am, God knows already and no one else is served by my pretending.

Questions are o.k.

My faith is a gift from God, is kept by God and I cannot “lose” it.

Grief is exhausting.

Life is exhausting.

Doing both at the same time is REALLY exhausting.

There is no limit to the pain you may have to endure this side of heaven.

Lightning can strike twice in the same place, and fear of what you know by experience trumps fear of the unknown by miles.

I can decide where to focus my thoughts.

Feeding fear is a choice. feeling fear is not.

 

 

Reminded to Rest

I was reminded in the past few days that I am oh, so vulnerable to attack when I am already wounded.  And that even when I see it coming, I am often unable to fend it off successfully.

The enemy taunts me and encourages me to compare my life with the lives of others.  He stands on the sidelines and calls out, “Your Father loves others better than you!”  He accuses in the shadows, “You are a failure.  Your faith is pitiful.  You will not persevere to the end.”

But he is a liar and the father of lies and deception and untruth are his native tongue.

I have to go back, again and again and again, to the Truth and recite it, write it, declare it and hold fast to it.

I must remember that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I must remind myself daily that victory has already been declared even when I can’t see it or feel it.

And when I am too tired to fight, I must allow myself to withdraw and catch my breath-extending the same grace to me that I would extend to another in my place.

It is o.k. to draw boundaries and to create safe places where I can recuperate and regain my strength.

I am not in competition with anyone else.  God has marked my course and He will lead me home.

 

But I stand silently before the Lord, waiting for him to rescue me. For salvation comes from him alone.

Psalm 62:TLB

 

 

Looking Up

It is so easy to think that the world I see is all there is.  It is so tempting to believe that the here and now is more important than the hereafter.

My heart is deceitful above all things and it can settle its affection on temporary things. The only remedy is to return to Truth.  To feed my soul on the bread of heaven and to strengthen my spirit with the Word of God.

So [I] fix (resolutely focus, gaze intently–without wavering) [my] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, BUT what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV

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.

Losing my child  has changed that.

Heaven is much more personal.  

This world much less hospitable.

My eyes aren’t attracted to shiny store displays or creative TV ads or flashy cars and clothes.  My eyes strain to catch a glimpse of the glory of God in the sunrise or the sunset, the breeze in the trees reminds me of His Spirit and stirs my heart to cry, “Come now Lord Jesus!”

I want to live the life I have left on this earth with a clear set of priorities that reflect my eternal perspective.  I don’t want to waste my days on things that don’t matter.

 “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

C.S. Lewis

People are eternal.  

Love is what matters.  

So I will fix my eyes on what is unseen and I will turn my heart to forever.

Coming Soon! (slowly)

About a week ago, I promised a series of posts highlighting the time “after” loss–and I have had some amazing responses from grieving parents willing to share their experiences.

But the number of responses has made it challenging to distill the different voices into a collective and representative picture.  So it’s taking a little more time than I thought it would.

I hope to begin the series early in  February.  A good time to start sharing how others have loved us who walk this path in the valley of the shadow of death.

It won’t all be sunshine and roses.  Valleys have dark places and the sun is often hidden by the high mountains on each side.

There are times when the Body of Christ and our own families have failed to show up or minister in meaningful ways.

But there are so many good stories of faithful friendship, encouragement and genuine compassion!  

Thank you to all who have shared with me.  And if you have thought about it, but let it slip your mind, it’s not too late–send me an email, comment on this post or message me on Facebook.

I look forward to hearing from you.

It Never Rains in Sunny California

My husband works in Southern California so I spend part of each year on the West Coast.

While shopping one day, a brief rain storm blew in and caught me off guard.  As I was leaving the store, I noticed the reaction of my fellow shoppers–they stood, dumbfounded and paralyzed behind the plate glass windows unsure how to get from the shelter of the store to the shelter of their cars.

They had no idea how to walk in the rain because they didn’t expect it and they were unprepared.

For Christians, pain, loss and death can feel like a sudden storm.  Often these events catch us off-guard, unprepared and we stand frozen–immobilized because we have no idea what to do.

As long as our Sunday schools, sermons and supper table conversations don’t make room for the very real experience of pain and suffering in the Christian life, we are raising a generation to believe that pain and suffering and loss are rare events and that they may very well get through life without experiencing them.

And we are leaving them vulnerable to attacks of the enemy when painful events come along.

Hurting people make us uncomfortable.  It takes courage to sit with the suffering and allow them to share their pain and struggle.  It requires energy and effort to enter in and help bear their burden.  But when we do, we not only offer help for their wounded hearts, we are also learning things that will be useful in our own journey

That day in California I walked to my car, unfazed by the drops falling from the sky because, being an Alabama girl, I was used to the rain.

I share my story and pray that others may find comfort in their own grief and pain.  Not everyone will lose a child.  But everyone will face trials and testing and times of doubt.

And the only safe harbor in the storms of life is in the Person and Promise of Jesus Christ.

He alone can still the wind and waves that threaten to overwhelm us and drown our hope.

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:18-20 MSG

 

 

 

 

the cost of compassion

I can’t help it.

I think too much.  I wonder too often.  I work too hard to make sense of things.

And the thing that is puzzling me right now is why people pull away from those experiencing deep and lasting pain.

Like the pain of burying a child.  Or the burden of chronic physical disability.  Or the unceasing struggle of overcoming addiction.

I think I’ve hit on a few possibilities:

  • There is no end in sight.  None of these scenarios offer a tidy final chapter that wraps loose ends into a comfortable narrative.
  • It challenges what we believe about God.  It’s one thing to consider the problem of pain and suffering in the world from a theoretical perspective and quite another to experience it in real time.
  • Our days are too full of “busy work” to leave room for real ministry. Overscheduled and frazzled,  we don’t have the emotional, physical or psychological energy required to stand with someone while they battle.

So we trade pity for compassion.

Pity says, “I’m sorry for you.  Let me do something for you that makes me feel better.”

We offer platitudes and prayers from afar as a substitute for presence and personal interaction.

And when our attention is turned elsewhere, we drift away–abandoning the broken to sit alone with their pain.

Most of us don’t mean to do it–we just move on, leaving the limping behind.

But the cold shoulder wounds as much as hurtful words. Acknowledgement is as great a blessing as an extended hand.

Compassion says, “I see your pain.  I hurt with you.  Let me stay with you until you feel better.  And if you never feel better, I’ll still be here.”

Compassion requires conscious commitment to push back against our tendency to forget those who live with things they cannot change and will never forget.

God Himself stepped into His creation to feel the pain of brokenness, to bear the price of sin and to open a Way for restoration and redemption.

Jesus came to make the Father known.

There is no substitute for walking with the wounded.  It is costly, it is painful, it is hard.

But I would argue that when we do, we are most like our Savior.

 

Searching for the Rhythm

Counselors tell the bereaved that grief will change them.

They readily acknowledge that life after loss will never be the same as it was before death entered our world.  But they encourage us that there will be a “new normal”–different, yes,  but some kind of settled pattern that we can count on.

I’m not sure when this is supposed to happen.

Every day I feel out out of balance, off-kilter and have to scramble to catch up to the clock ticking off the hours.  I can’t find the pattern, the beat…

Grief sways to a rhythm of its own.

Hard to follow, impossible to second guess.

I step on my own toes trying to keep up and find that often I fall flat on my face.

When Dominic applied to the University of Alabama Law School, he had to submit a personal statement.  The idea was to give the selection committee insight into intangibles that might make a prospective student a good candidate for the program.

Dominic wrote about being a drummer.

He made the case that percussion is the heartbeat of music.  It marks the pace, leads the way.  If a drummer misses a beat, it can throw the whole band into confusion.

My life as a bereaved mother feels like music that can’t find its way.

There is melody and harmony and sometimes sweet singing–but I can’t discern a rhythm and I don’t know where it’s going. Discord clangs loudly in the background.

These years were supposed to be the ones where I swayed instinctively in well-worn paths to familiar tunes.

Not ones in which I had to learn a brand new step to a song I don’t even like.

I don’t have the option to request a different tune, so I do my best to keep moving to this broken beat.

Sunrise Benediction

My living room window is a huge, energy inefficient affair that lets in too much heat in the summer and too much cold in the winter.

But I will never replace it–because it also gives me a breathtaking view of the sunrise.  

Every morning my body responds to an internal alarm set to the time I was startled out of bed by the deputy delivering the news of Dominic’s death.  I cannot sleep longer.  So I rise, make coffee and settle into my rocking chair with computer, Bible and journal close by.

I spend the dark hours writing, reading and sharing in community with other bereaved parents who wake to their own alarms, unable to fend off another day of living the reality of missing our children.  

It is so quiet that the purring cat in my lap sounds loud in my ears.

Slowly other sounds join the chorus of daybreak–roosters challenging the sun to a duel, birds flitting from branch to branch, calling out the news that now is the time to get the worm.

I look up and the warm glow of sunrise silhouettes bare winter branches of giant oak trees and reminds me that the world still turns.

Seasons still change.

And I am still breathing.

Darkness hides things from us, it fosters fear and isolates. The black of night turns familiar territory into fearsome wilderness.  The enemy thrives in the inky corners of unlit places.

But light disarms the darkness.

I venture forth boldly in the daylight where I would not set foot in the night.

So I treasure the daily reminder that darkness does not last forever, even the night has limits.

Open up before God, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.

Psalm 37:6 MSG