Surviving Christmas

February, 1992 I came home from the hospital with our fourth baby and woke up the next morning to a house full of children ages infant to six.  I thought that would be the most stressful and challenging season of my life.

kids cartoon

I was wrong.

This season of grief has required more strength, more endurance and more faith than all the sleepless nights, harried days and craziness of homeschooling and nursing babies and changing diapers ever did.

But when I ventured outside the house with the children–two in the stroller and one on either side–it was apparent to all who saw me I had my hands full.

The hardship and daily struggle of living after burying a child is not nearly so easy for people to see.

No taletell outward sign of the heavy burden, the sleepless nights, the tiresome days spent carrying around the grief and sorrow and still trying to do the things that life requires.

And so there is much less help, much less encouragement, much less grace extended to ease the pain and struggle.

Bereaved parents are particularly challenged at this time of year, because in addition to regular responsibilities and commitments, we are expected to attend extra church services, holiday get togethers and generally be “merry and bright”.

But grief doesn’t take a holiday.  And we beat ourselves up because we want to maintain the Christmas spirit for our surviving children, other family members, and friends.

It is so very hard…

So I will observe traditions that bless my wounded heart and lay aside the ones that are too painful right now.  There may be a time (or maybe not) when I can take them up again. But it’s o.k. not to this year.

It is not a sin to do things differently or to do some things and not others.  

God knows that I am a frail and feeble creature and losing Dominic was a devastating blow.

At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus, His leaving the glory of Heaven to come-humble and naked-as a baby.

jesus-the-heart-of-christmas

Perhaps my grief and vulnerable heart are a more fitting tribute to Him than all the tinsel and bright lights and piled presents could ever be.

As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

He certainly knows what we are made of.

 He bears in mind that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14 GW

Bringing The Sacrifice of Praise

Job said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I shall have nothing when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 TLB)

It’s so easy to be thankful when things are going my way–

So easy to trust God when my pantry is full and my family safe;

So easy to laugh when pain is something I read about and don’t carry in my heart.

But how can I give thanks and say that God is good when I buried a child? How can my spirit make peace with the truth that God gives AND GOD TAKES AWAY?

True thanksgiving can’t spring from the notion, “it could be worse”. Guilt can’t lead me into the throne room of praise.  I can’t drag my broken heart to the table and mumble a makeshift prayer to a God I don’t believe will hear me.

Real thanksgiving rests on the bedrock of truth that it is ALL a gift.

Every moment.  Every breath.  Everything.

Even pain.

So today I will sit at our table and trust, missing Dominic, but loving the ones still here.

My heart hurts and it is hard but I will bring a sacrifice of praise to the God who gives and the God who takes away.

 

 

When It’s All Been Said and Done

What would you die for?

What are you living for?

These are the questions that fill my mind most days.

It’s easier to think about what I would die for:  my family, my God. Definitely not stuff…

But if I were to die for something, it would be a moment in time, an unrepeatable and finished work.

It’s much more challenging to think about what I will live for.  I have to decide and commit to THAT over and over.

Living after losing a child is a daily exercise of walking in two dimensions–the here and now and the world to come.

My first journal entries after Dominic died were filled with prayers begging God to pour His love, mercy and grace into my broken heart and to make me a vessel of healing for others–to not allow me to become bitter or hard or uncaring–

It was the only good I could imagine coming from the horror of burying my child.

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and heaven after
For you’ve joined me at my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone…

When It’s All Been Said and Done (lyrics)

We each only get this one life–how are we going to spend it?

When It’s All Been Said and Done By Robin Mark

Jubilee

Two years ago today I turned fifty.  I was celebrated by family and friends with a sweet surprise party organized by my children.

It was going to be my Year of Jubilee–a year of celebration and freedom.

About three years before, I had figured up on fingers as I sent my last homeschooled child to college that in 2013/2014:

All my children would be through undergraduate studies;

James Michael would be married and have his DVM degree;

and Dominic would be in the home stretch for Law School.

I had no idea I would bury my child.

I have thought a lot about how the year didn’t go as I planned and about how my year of celebration turned into a year of mourning. Instead of feeling free, I felt bound by sorrow and sadness, weighed down by grief and the gravity of carrying this heavy burden.

My fiftieth year stripped me of all illusion:

that what I hold is my own possession;

that this physical life is all there is;

that I have any control over the future;

or that my plans are secure.

I did not willingly surrender my child but surrendering him I was forced to accept that what I thought was mine is only on loan from God.

It is a hard, hard lesson--one that can find room only in a broken heart:

“Do I delight in what God gives me or in Who God is?”

It doesn’t seem that the children of Israel ever observed the Year of Jubilee. It was just too painful to return land to the original owner, to free slaves when you depended on their labor.  It was too hard to give back what God had given to them.

There is a certain freedom in letting go–a certain weightlessness that comes from an open hand.  It is not the freedom I would have chosen, but perhaps the one I need…

I discovered that Jubilee is really about what I hold in my heart and not what I have in my hands.

Adonai is all I have,” I say;
therefore I will put my hope in him.

Adonai is good to those waiting for him,
to those who are seeking him out.
It is good to wait patiently
for the saving help of Adonai.

Lamentations 3:24-26 CJB

 

 

 

 

Handle With Care

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is  no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

Waiting On Someday

It’s been said that children are a mother’s heart walking around outside her body–mine certainly are.

And now part of my heart is in heaven.  That makes the promises of God so much more personal.

So I hunt for, cling to and chew on every word like it really is the bread of life–because while I walk the valley of the shadow of death this is the food that sustains me.  

Today  my heart is broken, but someday it will be whole again.

Today I walk in shadow, but someday I will walk in bright light:

“No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Isaiah 60:19 NLT

Today all creation groans under the curse of sin and death, but someday everything will be restored, renewed and redeemed. 

On this mountain [Zion] the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples [to welcome His reign on earth],
A banquet of aged wines—choice pieces [flavored] with marrow,
Of refined, aged wines.

And on this mountain He will destroy the covering that is [cast] over all peoples,
And the veil [of death] that is woven and spread over all the nations.

He will swallow up death [and abolish it] for all time.
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
And He will take away the disgrace of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

It will be said in that day,
“Indeed, this is our God for whom we have waited that He would save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us shout for joy and rejoice in His salvation.”
Isaiah 25:6-9 AMP