Waiting for the Holy Words to Fall Inside

Turning the calendar page to begin a new year, I am challenged once again to focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on truth. No sweet saying can give me the strength or endurance I need to make it through the days ahead.

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…’~Mary Poppins

It’s a wonderful thought–that even the bitterest medicine can be made tolerable by a tiny taste of sweetness.  But it’s not true.

Some things are too hard to swallow no matter how you try to disguise them.

Losing  a child is one of them.

I have been a student of the Bible for decades-I take Scripture seriously, believe it with my whole heart and trust that the truth it contains is necessary and sufficient for this life and the life to come.  But when Dominic died, I found I was forced to look again at verses I thought I understood.

There is no easy answer for why children die–no sweet saying that can wash away the pain and the sorrow and the regret of burying your son.

But I know this:  if my healing depends on me, I am lost.

If the God of heaven is not the God of all, then I have no hope.

If Jesus didn’t really come, and die and rise again, I have nothing to look forward to.

Ann Lamott recounts this tale in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

“There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

I can’t paste a Bible verse on my broken heart like a Band-aid on a skinned knee–the wound is too great and the damage too extensive.

So I will wait for the holy words to fall inside.

Prayer and Questions

I am part of a loving and supportive Christian community of bereaved parents called While We are Waiting  (whilewearewaiting.org).  It is a safe place to tell my story, to hear the stories of others and to ask the hard questions that must be considered if we are ever to heal.  So many of us are findng it difficult to face a new year without our missing child. Sometimes we wonder, “Where is God? ” and “Why MY child?”.

I believe that God invites us to ask our hard  questions. It’s not like we can hide them from Him anyway.  When we speak them aloud, we open our hearts to the healing power of His Spirit.

For most of my adult years I felt like I had a robust prayer life.  I regularly interceded for my family, for my church, for missionaries and for the world. I’ve kept a prayer journal for over twenty years.  

I felt connected to the God of the Universe.  

But when Dominic died I felt like I lost that connection.

Of course, the first moments after hearing the news I screamed, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” My foxhole prayer for divine intervention–make it stop; make it untrue; make it go away…

But it was true.  It didn’t stop.  And it hasn’t gone away.

As the reality of what happened sank in, I searched my heart for why.

Why did MY son die?  What fault had God found in me that wasn’t covered by the blood of Jesus and demanded my son’s life as payment? Why were people who caused death and destruction and spread hatred and strife still walking around?

Did I, whose son died, pray less fervently or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

So many people think that “good” Christians don’t ask, “why?” But I can’t find a compelling scriptural argument that supports this view.

The Psalmist asked, “Why?”

He often recited a litany of complaints that included his perception that God had abandoned him.  But there is a turning point when the Psalmist focuses his heart and mind on the truth that:

God is sovereign;

God is faithful;

And God’s love endures forever.

I am thankful that before Dominic died I had a habit of praying and reading Scripture.  I am thankful for the many verses that are so ingrained in my thoughts that they come, unbidden to my mind.

So I have continued to pray each morning, opening my journal and my Bible.

Even when I cannot feel the connection, I know God is there.  

And by an act of will and in obedience, I turn my heart and my mind to acknowledge His sovereignty.

To trust His faithfulness.

And to run for safety to His enduring love.  

 As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. Where can I find him to come and stand before him? Day and night I weep for his help, and all the while my enemies taunt me. “Where is this God of yours?” they scoff.

Take courage, my soul! Do you remember those times (but how could you ever forget them!) when you led a great procession to the Temple on festival days, singing with joy, praising the Lord? Why then be downcast? Why be discouraged and sad? Hope in God! I shall yet praise him again. Yes, I shall again praise him for his help.

Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan River flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract.

Yet day by day the Lord also pours out his steadfast love upon me, and through the night I sing his songs and pray to God who gives me life.

Psalm 42: 1-8 TLB

No Perfect Formula

Everyone loves a formula.

We spend millions (billions?) of dollars seeking the perfect, easy way to whittle our waistlines.  We spend hours (days?) googling tips on reducing clutter, improving relationships, decorating our homes (Pinterest, anyone?).

Christian bookstores are filled with tantalizing titles that promise a quick and effortless method for happiness and holiness.

We just want someone to tell us what to do, when to do it and exactly how to do it–we want life to work like a math problem: 2+2=4.

Sometimes, for a season, it looks like a formula might work.

But there is nothing predictable about life. And as long as people are involved, there’s no reliable method to accurately predict outcomes.

It’s just not that simple.

Looking for the perfect equation to balance life’s challenges distracts me from the life I’m actually living.  It offers false hope that one day, some way and somewhere, things will be “perfect”.

It seduces me into thinking that people behave like numbers and that I can size them up, put them in the math machine and turn out identical and predictable products.

Burying a child rips that notion right out of your head.

Nothing predictable about that.

There are no shortcuts.  No pat answers.  No perfect formulas.

Life is relationship.

With God,

with people,

with ourselves.

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:2-3 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Really Matters

Every day we are bombarded by numbers.

We judge and are judged by how well we  “measure up”.

How much do I own?   How big is my house? How small is my waist?

But how do you measure the value of a life poured out for others?

As you gather with family (some more difficult than others) this Christmas think on this:

If you could pile regret- one missed moment, an unspoken word, a hasty retort, a too-busy-right-now-stacked akimbo tottering high above your head, it would never be tall enough or monumental enough to convey the heartbreak of not having a second chance to love the ones God has given you.

The only metric that matters in the end is how much and how well I love.

Your glory, LORD, lights up the world; where love is real, it shines.

 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!

I John 4:7-12 MSG

Anticipation

All around the world children climb in bed tonight, barely able to close their eyes because they can hardly wait for the celebration tomorrow.

Anticipation is a powerful motivator.

Looking forward to a reward, children may find that they really CAN behave.  Thinking ahead to family flooding in, parents might realize that those piles of clutter that have been too big to tackle are easy to get rid of.

Presents, food and family fellowship will bring in the new day.

Anticipation fuels expectations and all too often our perfectly imagined Christmas morning doesn’t quite measure up.

Inevitably someone will be disappointed because what they thought they were getting for Christmas isn’t under the tree.  Eventually a cross word disrupts the harmony and hurt feelings reign.

People disappoint us.  Life rarely turns out the way we think it should or hope it will.

But there is One in Whom I can place my trust.  One Whose name is Faithful and True.

He came as a Babe but reigns as a King.

My heart longs for the day when wrong is made right and my faith made sight.

On that Day, I will take hold of my heart’s hope and I will not be disappointed.

Until then I will rest in the real promise of Christmas:

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

Luke 2:14 MSG

 

Costly Worship

I don’t know what the wise men expected to see.

It seems natural to us who know the story–who know the REST of the story–that they ended up finding Jesus-The King of the Jews-the One whose birth was announced by a star in a humble abode.

But I think it might have surprised those rich rulers traveling so far to worship Him.

In their experience, future kings were born in palaces, surrounded by servants.  Such births were announced and trumpeted loud and long.

So when they found this little child with poor parents in a poor house, perhaps they thought they were mistaken.

We don’t know because Scripture is silent on this point.

What we do know is that they offered the gifts they brought, they worshiped the One they had traveled long to see.

They undertook a treacherous and costly journey for the purpose of worship.

True worship is expensive.

To raise my voice and my hands after losing Dominic is hard. It requires that I trust God regardless of my circumstances.

It means I lay my treasure at His feet even when I don’t understand why or how He intends to use it.

But worship inclines my heart to the God Who made it.

Just like the star led the wise men, worship leads me to the feet of Jesus.

And there is where I can safely leave my treasure.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:1-2, 10-11 KJV

 

 

 

 

hospitality

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Matthew 35:34-36 MSG

Our home has always been open.  My children knew they never had to worry about bringing a stray friend with them for a meal or a place to spend the night.

Even since losing Dominic we have continued to welcome others to our table and into our lives.

I’ve thought a great deal about how easy it would be to shut the door, climb into bed and hide from the world in my grief. And some days I have to do that to preserve my sanity.

But God has placed in me a desire to open wide the gates of my heart and to welcome friends and strangers as I walk this valley. Not only to listen to MY story, but to invite them to tell me THEIRS.  

As a follower of Christ I am commanded to extend hospitality. This can feel daunting if I imagine it looks like a clean house and serving beautiful food to large groups of people. But at its HEART hospitality is openness and simply providing a welcome and safe place for people to express themselves.

Displaying the pieces of my broken life for all to see, I can say, “Here–I am fragile and wounded and imperfect.  Your heart is safe with me.”

Grief has erased borders and unlocked doors.

It is teaching me we all need to be made welcome, we all need to be invited inside.  

 

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

~Henri  Nouwen

 

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