We left Zechariah yesterday just stepping up to the Altar of Incense.
I like to put myself in the story and imagine him slightly trembling at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to creep closer than all but a handful of Israelites to the Holy Presence of God Almighty.
Perhaps he was already a little afraid.
Maybe his heart was racing and his palms sweaty. He most certainly recognized the privilege and responsibility as he offered the fragrant smoke and many prayers.
And how like a human heart to hand up its desires in the midst of corporate pleas for mercy, justice and grace!
But it seems Zechariah didn’t expect an answer. Certainly not the one he received.
11 All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.
12 Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. 13 But the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer[c] for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. 14 His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. 15 He will be one of the great ones in the sight of God. He will drink no wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before the Lord as a forerunner, with the same power and anointing as Elijah the prophet. He will be instrumental in turning the hearts of the fathers in tenderness back to their children and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of their righteous fathers. And he will prepare a united people[f] who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”
Luke 1: 11-17 TPT
I can imagine the years and years Zechariah and Elizabeth fell asleep praying God would grant them a child. I can just picture Elizabeth outside in the Temple courtyard adding her longing and hoping, hoping, hoping Zechariah would dare to bring their personal plea before the Most Holy God.
The angel not only promised Zechariah a child, he promised him a childOFpromise-one whose birth had been foretold. This would be no ordinary son. He was to be the forerunner and path-maker for the Christ!
No wonder Zechariah had a few questions.
I’ve had questions too.
Prayer after child loss has been hard for me.
Before Dom ran ahead to Heaven, I was a seriously praying woman. I kept prayer journals, wrote individual prayer cards for people I loved and knew and was a fervent believer in God’s faithful answers-even if they were long in coming. I had personally experienced the power of earnest prayer to make way in the heavenlies.
I never asked for a life of ease, only life and the grace to greet each day.
So when one of my most oft-repeated and (what I felt was very basic) prayers went unanswered, it shook me to the core. Why was my son not kept safe?
It’s taken a long time for my heart to rest again in what seem like straightforward promises of Scripture and to venture tentatively toward the Throne of Grace expecting any favors.
God does answer.
But like Zechariah, long years of waiting and disappointment have made me more than a little surprised when He does.
Do you pray? Why or why not?
Do you expect God to answer when you pray? (Not audibly but through circumstances, people, His word.)
How has loss changed your prayer life (if it has changed it)?
How do you feel when it feels like God doesn’t hear your heart?
Have you ever waited long only to be surprised by God’s ultimate intervention or answer to your prayer?
What are you longing for that you need to bring before the Throne of Grace today?
Does Zechariah’s story encourage you?
Lord, You are the Most High God. You know the beginning from the end and hold time in Your hands.
It is so, so hard for me to wait patiently for answers. And, frankly, some of the answers are not blessings but heartache.
I’m wary about bringing my requests to You because while I know You have the power to grant them, You also have the power to delay or deny them. So I am sometimes surprised when You answer. I’m often amazed at how You weave together the ordinary with the extraordinary and how Your eternal plans are always being worked out.
Help my heart lean in and take hold of Your hand. Help me trust in Your unfailing love and abundant grace. And give me bold courage to step forward with open hands, bringing my requests to You, resting in the fact that whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or “wait” it is for my ultimate good and Your glory.
Some are outside myself and others start in the secret corners of my own heart.
All of them make me wish for quiet and calm, peaceful waters where I can sail the ship of life and not worry about sinking beneath the waves.
When I’m afraid I remind myself that Jesus is the Peace Speaker.
He calmed the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee and He will calm the wind and waves of my heart.
He is the unchangeable, faithful God and I am always safe in the sea of His love and goodness.
Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: “It is true there is ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.” You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, You remain the same.
Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of Your love I came to life, by Your love I am sustained, and to Your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by Your unwavering love….
O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea.
When Jesus claimed me as His child, I was liberated from darkness and made a prisoner of hope.
No matter how black the night, there is a pinhole of light. No matter how crushing the despair, there is a sliver of strength. When I want to stay under the covers, He beckons me to come out and I cannot resist.
I am a slave to the promise of Heaven.
I am bound by hope to the One who makes the rain, the One who spoke the mountains, the One who breathed the stars, the One who gives and takes.
And in that hope I find perfect freedom.
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God
No Longer Slaves by Joel Case / Jonathan David Helser / Brian Mark Johnson
The music reminds me of the Glory to come, and I know Dominic would approve.
Music was his passion.
I like to think of him surrounded by songs and sounds of unimaginable beauty. So I count the days, and I count it joy that I will see him again.
I can hear him saying, “Do you really believe, Mom?”
I was reminded today how close fear sits to the door of my heart and to the door of the hearts of many bereaved parents.
Once again a mom shared an experience of not being able to get in touch with a surviving child and how that quickly spiraled downward to a frenzy of fear.
To some it may seem like an overreaction. But to those of us for whom the one thing you think won’t happen, HAS happened, it made perfect sense.
Before Dominic was killed on his motorcycle I had the normal parental misgivings about my kids driving here, there and everywhere. I always prayed for them and tossed a, “Be safe!” as they walked out the door with keys in hand.
I shook my head sadly, teared up and felt awful when I saw an accident report on the news.
But I lived in the protective bubble of never having actually experienced sudden, tragic loss and I was blissfully unaware of how quickly and how completely life could change.
Now I know.
And fear creeps up my back and takes hold of my heart in an instant if anything unusual prevents a loved one from answering his or her phone when I think they should.
In the first couple of years I could not stop it. I was at the mercy of my feelings and my mind was quickly overwhelmed with all the “what ifs” and would imagine every possible awful outcome.
So our family put some simple protocols in place to help everyone’s heart.
We text or call when we arrive safely somewhere; we offer alternative phone numbers if traveling with others so there’s a second means of contact; we know that if one of us calls another repeatedly it’s important and regardless of where we are or what we are doing, we need to pick up; and if we are on a longer trip with multiple stops we provide an itinerary.
Now I’ve learned a bit better how to push irrational thoughts away, to focus on the probable and to allow a little time and space for someone to get back in touch with me.
It’s hard and requires great effort.
But I was reminded just the other day that no matter how hard you try or how much you work to push those feelings away, they can threaten to overtake you regardless.
My dad and I talk every morning. He texts me when he’s up and I call him when I’m done with morning chores. On his end, two texts, one hour apart, had gone through to my phone with no response. He finally called me because he was afraid something was wrong.
The same day, I began a conversation with my daughter by saying, “Your brother called…” at which point she immediately asked what happened. I realized my mistake for starting with those words and quickly assured her everything was just fine.
You never forget making or receiving that phone call delivering the unchangeable and unbelievable awful news.
I am still prone to jump to conclusions.
If it happened once, it can happen again.
But I’m trying hard to learn to live in a less friendly, less safe world than I once depended upon. So I aim my heart and mind in the direction of the most likely instead of the most awful.
Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I could be awfully self-righteous.
I could not understand how some people (notice how I dehumanized them by lumping them together) couldn’t just act right, do right, pick themselves us by their bootstraps and get on with life.
Now I am more apt to wonder, “What awful thing has happened to this person?” instead of “What is WRONG with them????” when I notice someone acting a bit out of character or not quite living up to their commitments or somehow missing the mark of societal expectations.
Take all this coronavirus craziness.
Some of us are being more cautious.
Some of us consider caution a sign of insecurity or fear or lack of faith.
None of us have enough information (really!) to make an informed decision.
Lack of testing, lack of research, lack of transparency and not enough time means we are all essentially guessing what is the most prudent and appropriate individual response to this threat. I’m choosing not to judge anyone’s choices even if they are different than my own.
I’ve felt judged many times in the past six years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
People who haven’t buried a child really don’t understand how it changes EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t stop them from offering an opinion or advice or making comments on social media that are clearly intended to correct or shame me.
Now that things are opening up on the back side of blanket stay-at-home orders I’m probably going to be judged again.
What people don’t know about me-what they can’t see and can’t know unless they ask-is I suffer from an autoimmune disease. The treatment impacts my ability to fight off infections. It lowers my white blood cell count. It makes me susceptible to things that other folks never have to worry about.
I had latent (non-contagious and asymptomatic) tuberculosis a couple years ago.
I’m not part of population that would normally be considered “at risk” and only found out about it because it’s protocol to test for TB before prescribing some of the more potent medicines used in treating rheumatoid arthritis. I still have no idea where I was exposed to it.
Eight months of antibiotics with unpleasant side effects later I was disease free.
Based on first person accounts of what it feels like to have Covid19 (not even considering the most dire outcomes) that was a cakewalk.
So I’m not standing in line to try my hand at surviving this new threat.
And I have other, very real, very painful, experiences which inform my choice to be more cautious. I know that regardless of odds, of treatment and of what a heart HOPES will happen, things don’t always go as planned or as predicted.
I know the horror death leaves in its wake. I know the toll trauma takes on a life left behind.
My family has already had to deal with more than I could have imagined and I will not purposely expose them to something else if I can help it.
So regardless of local, state or national guidelines, protocol or recommendations I will be mostly staying home.
It’s not lack of faith.It’s not fear. It’s prudence based on experience.
You can make a different choice and I will absolutely positively respect that.
For many folks it’s the first time in their lives they’ve been forced to come face to face with the truth we really have little control over anything.
Some of us can’t leave our homes, most of us aren’t supposed to.
Some long desperately to hold grandchildren but social distancing means only a long distance wave (if you’re lucky) or FaceTime on a screen. Some want to visit parents or grandparents in eldercare facilities but are forbidden lest the virus be ushered through closed doors and run rampant down the halls. No local gatherings. No play dates for kids. No school routine (who thought they’d miss nightly homework battles!). Work from home or no work at all.
Parents are suddenly with their childrenALL DAY LONG.Some children are suddenly imprisoned 24/7 in unsafe homes-no escaping to school for a few hours respite.
And toilet paper. Lots and lots of toilet paper (for some, apparently) and none for others.
The people who are supposed to have the latest, best information seem like either they aren’t getting it, reading it and digesting it or they really don’t know what they are doing.
Social media is allowing some front line workers like doctors, nurses and paramedics to publicize snapshots and give commentary on the inside of ambulances and hospitals and it’s truly frightening.
And oh, by the way, if your person gets sick enough to be wheeled away from home and inside those big doors, you can’t follow. No matter how sick they are, you can’t sit by the bed and hold their hand.
Is it any wonder many of us are not only stir crazy but crazy sick with worry, fear and anxiety?
So, my friend, I want to know-really truly know-how are you doing?
How are you managing under the stress and strain of unwelcome change you can’t control?
What is helping you hold on?
What is making it harder?
I know some who gather in this space are not praying people and that’s OK. I’d like to share a prayer anyway, if you’ll let me.
Because that’s how I hold on. ❤
This is such a fearful time.
Too many changes too fast and more coming every day. An invisible enemy is stalking those I love and there’s really not much I can do about it except to follow the best advice being tossed out by people who are supposed to know but who don’t really inspire a lot of confidence.
I’m afraid of what I know and afraid of what I don’t know.
I’m petrified someone in my intimate circle will fall ill and I won’t be able to be with them. My job may be in danger too and I might not make my bills. My kids are confused and I wonder how all these months of no school is going to play out next fall. The list could go on and on.
Help my heart hold onto hope. Help me find a bit of joy-the rose among the thorns-each day. Sandwiches on paper plates with the whole family. A breath of fresh spring air through open windows. A funny meme sent from a friend far away so we can share a laugh even if we can’t share a cup of coffee.
Let every sunrise remind my heart that the world is still turning and no night lasts forever.
Child loss has changed me in ways that continue to unfold even years later.
As pandemic and panic sweep the world, my heart has been both more anxious and less anxious at precisely the same moment.
I’ve experienced more generalized dread and unease fed by media frenzy, friends’ posts and comments and the other-worldly photos of empty streets in big cities and families hanging out balcony windows in Italy and Spain.
Trauma from sudden death has left its mark and societal panic is is ripping open the wound.
The thin layer that protects my heart most days is wearing thinner.
When the thing you think won’t happen DOES happen, you simply can’t find solace in platitudes or pithy prayers or puny human promises that “every little thing will be all right”.
In a perverse twist, knowing the worst HAS happened, makes me less apprehensive about the future.
I’ve given up the idea that protection is guaranteed by doing all the right things or following all the rules or obeying every law.
Oh, we still do all that!
We are washing our hands, practicing social distancing and limiting necessary trips to anywhere. But my faith is not in any of those things to necessarily keep this silent, creeping evil from my doorstep.
Some might call it defeatist.
I call it reality.
The hours of each day are filled balancing these two opposite but very much connected feelings. Sometimes I want to crawl out of my skin or run as far and as fast as I can. Sometimes I just sit, waiting for whatever might happen TO happen.
The anniversary of Dominic’s death is less than two weeks away so all THIS is layered on top of THAT.
Honestly, it’s exhausting and I wake most mornings already worn out.
Almost six years has taught me the world doesn’t stop spinning and the rising sun won’t wait.