Is God Punishing Me? Theology Matters.

Even though I knew better, one of my first thoughts after I got the news that Dominic had run ahead to heaven was, “Is God punishing me?”

Because when something THIS awful happens, it seems logical to assume it is in response to a massive cosmic imbalance.

As a matter of fact, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s almost more comforting to believe there is a discernible reason behind my son’s death than to swallow the truth I may have to live the rest of my years not knowing.

I combed through my life-searching every nook and cranny-for what I did that deserved this kind of retribution.

And while I, like all of us, have a closet full of sin, I could not find a single transgression that rose to the ranks of demanding my son’s life in payment.

But then I realized that any of my sins-whether I counted them big or small-DID demand payment.

And God sent HIS Son to pay for them.

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

I John 4:10 PHILLIPS

They HAVE been paid for.  All of them.  Every single one.

There is no sin debt outstanding.

That’s an important concept to grasp.  It is absolutely critical that bereaved parents (and others who suffer horrible tragedies) get this theological point right. 

God is not out to extract payment for sin.

Now, He may well allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sinful actions.  There may be things we must endure because of sinful choices we make.

But that is very different than suggesting God is visiting sickness or death or ill fortune on a heart because of unconfessed sin.

As a matter of fact, that was precisely the charge God Himself laid against Job’s friends when they simply would not let go of the idea that Job must have done something to justify his suffering.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job 42:7-9 ESV

Even Job wanted God to explain Himself.  

While the Lord showed up, He never did give Job an answer. 

Instead HE asked the questions.  

We like to think we can figure God out, dig up the reasons why this happens or that doesn’t.  

Truth is, we’d do better to follow Job’s example once he encountered the Living God:

Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
        I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.  (Job 40:4) 

Before I knew only what I had heard of You,
        but now I have seen You.
    Therefore I realize the truth:
        I disavow and mourn all I have said
        and repent in dust and ash.

Job 40:4 ; Job 42:5,6 VOICE

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, His ways are not my ways.  

But He is perfect. 

He is SO perfect that He has provided the once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the price of sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I may not understand (DO not understand!) why He has allowed my son’s death. But is was NOT punishment.  God does not lie.

I can rest satisfied in that truth.

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

Only Love is Eternal

I’ve read I Corinthians chapter 13 dozens of times. 

It was one of the Scriptures read at my wedding.  

And while I thought I understood what Paul meant when he wrote, “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love” I was oh, so wrong.

1 cor 13 love is

It took the death of my son for my heart to fully embrace the eternal power of love.  

I have lost many things since Dominic ran ahead to heaven:  my sense of control, any certainty that tomorrow will necessarily be better than today, the life I thought I would have here on earth, and foolish confidence in my own ability to discern how God works in this world.

But I have gained this:  Absolute unshakable rock-solid assurance that LOVE lives forever.  

the answer is still and again love

Only love can help a heart hold onto hope when all evidence screams, “Let go!”

Only love can overcome despair when darkness clouds my vision and obscures the light.

Only love can weave a golden cord that keeps me connected to my child in heaven.  

Only love is strong enough to drive the God of creation to send HIS Son to pay for MY sins.

john 3_16

Love is the strongest force in the universe.

Ask any bereaved parent.

When all else dies,

love lives.

child-and-mama-heart-together

 

Death is The Enemy, Jesus Our Victory

We live in a culture where we see death often but experience it rarely.  

Movies, video games, cartoons, news stories all flash images of death across the screen so frequently that most of us either ignore them or they register only as numbers, not as human beings.

Of course many of the images are manufactured-the actors don’t REALLY die, the characters in video games are not real-but how often do we wait for a news report to tell us how many AMERICANS died in a plane crash or terror attack?

As if only those affiliated in some way with our own heritage “count”.

But when death comes knocking at your own door, walks in and settles down, that changes everything.  

I can no longer sit and consume death like a meal, meant to feed my appetite for entertainment.

And every single time I hear a report listing casualties I think of the families ripped apart by the absence of a life they loved.

Death is the enemy.  

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he said, “You shall not surely die.”  

He was wrong.

A single sin ushered in all kinds of sorrow and woe and the ultimate sadness was death.  It meant separation from breath and life, separation from those we love and, without the atoning blood of Christ, separation from God in eternity.  

My ninety-nine-year-old aunt died this week.  She lived a long, useful and fairly healthy life (until the last couple of years).

You’d think that in light of my own son dying at only twenty-three I’d be more OK with her leaving this life and moving to Heaven.  

But I’m not.  

Somehow her death-more than all the other souls I’ve known and loved that have left us since Dom ran ahead-has knocked me to my knees.

mel and mattie lou sahara

Maybe it was how hard and how long she fought against our common enemy.  

Maybe it was just the time of year.  

I don’t know.  

But she reminded me again that death is always sad.

And that Jesus is the only One Who can save us from death’s power.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

The Danger of Rushing to Serve After Loss

There are all kinds of doubts that creep in and take up residence in a mind after child loss.

Most of them have to do with the child that ran ahead to heaven.

But many are also about me:  “What should I be doing? Where should I go from here?” 

For those of us active in church ministries, we wonder, When do I return to service?”

There can be a lot of pressure to “get back in the saddle” if you fill a large role in a particular ministry.

No one ever wants to find a replacement for an effective Sunday School teacher, youth worker or hospitality hostess.  It’s hard when you have months of warning and nearly impossible when the vacancy opens up suddenly and unexpectedly.

But does the difficulty in finding my replacement mean that the burden is on me to keep serving, even when I am utterly broken, empty and unable to do so?

I don’t think so.  

I’ve learned many things through child loss and one of them is this:  the world still turns and things still get done in spite of the absence of any single person.

God invites us to join in the work He is doing in the world.  It is HIS work, not mine.  And He will absolutely assure that it gets done.  If I am unavailable to fill a position, then He will raise up another to fill it.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  

His yoke is easy, His burden light.  

yoke-of-oxen

We are never to serve out of a place of exhaustion, weariness, emptiness.  

Grief certainly exhausts us, wears us down and depletes our resources.  

Take a season-as long a season as necessary-to allow the Holy Spirit to minister grace, mercy and love to your broken heart.  That is the calling of Christ on our lives.  To listen and follow our Shepherd-our Gentle Shepherd-who promises to bind up our wounds and tend our shattered souls.

heals the broken hearted

People who have not suffered the death of a child will not understand.  But it won’t be the first time you’ve been misunderstood if you’ve ministered for more than a minute.

Don’t let others’ expectations or your own fear of failure keep you from hearing the call of your loving Father to come to Him, to lean on Him, to rest in His arms as He sings over you.

rejoice over you with singing

There will be a day for ministry again.  

I promise.  

crown of beauty planting of the lord

 

Why I Say, “My Son Died.”

Died.  

It is a harsh word.

I understand completely that some parents don’t want to use it to describe their child and I respect that.

I have chosen to use it often (not always-sometimes I say “left” or “ran ahead to heaven”) because what happened IS harsh. I don’t want to soften it because there was nothing soft about it for me or my family.

It is heartbreaking, lonely, heavy, hard and utterly devastating. 

grief bubble

As a believer in the promises of Scripture, I use it because I want to paint a stark contrast between hopelessness without Christ and the hope I have because of the blood of Jesus applied to my heart and the heart of my son.

Without that assurance, the hopelessness would continue for eternity.

romans 10_9

But because of Jesus, while this reality is harsh, hard and heartbreaking, I have an eternity of rest, renewal and redemption to look forward to.

not ashamed

I think each of us finds our own path through this Valley and should say or use whatever word is best for our own heart.

This is simply one choice among many.  

I’m so sorry that we need ANY words to describe our child’s physical absence in this earthly journey. 

no evil can conquer grace forever

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.  

Then I realized (much to my surprise!) that there were mamas (and a few daddies) hanging on by such a tenuous thread to hope that my meager attempt at redeeming this pain was strengthening their grasp.

Then it became a ministry.

Shepherding is in my blood. 

I’ve been a shepherd my whole adult life-first to my own children and then to other children through various home school groups and activities.  Then God granted a desire of my heart when He allowed me to become  a “real” shepherd 20 years ago to a flock/herd of sheep and goats.

goat and mel on porch (2)

I’ve learned so, so much.  

I’ve learned that consistency is key. 

My herd depends on my faithful feeding and my peaceful presence.  They love routine and hate change.  They respond immediately to my voice and run straight to me when they are afraid.

They will endure nearly anything as long as they are assured it is from my loving hand.  

I am not able to shepherd every heart that reads this blog. 

But I hope that a bit of my shepherd’s love and care and compassion is present in each post.  

My desire is that consistency helps the hearts that congregate here every morning.  I long for my words to feed hope to you from time to time.  I pray that routine gives you something to look forward to even on the hard day.  I pray that I faithfully point you to the Shepherd of your soul who can provide shelter no matter where you are or what is chasing you.

sheperd

I pray that together we can endure and persevere and finish strong and well.  

I continue to write because I love you. 

I continue to write because if a single post reaches a single heart on the verge of giving up and helps that heart hold onto hope, then it is worth every minute I spend thinking about, composing and producing these posts.  

And, frankly, many of you have ministered hope to MY heart.  

hope holds a breaking heart together

Dom left for Heaven about when my nest became empty.  Thirty years of raising children and twenty-plus years of homeschooling came to an end right when my heart was dealt this grievous blow.

All the energy and time I had poured into shepherding my children was suddenly available for a new adventure at the very moment when adventure was the last thing on my mind.  

Sharing has turned survival into something beautiful.   

I am so thankful for that.

And I am oh, so grateful for each of you.

thank you

 

 

 

Repost: The Authority of Compassion

I don’t like pain.

I don’t enjoy suffering.  

But deep pain and suffering have left a lasting impression on my soul.  Experiencing the loss of a child has enlarged my heart and sharpened my senses to the pain and suffering around me.

Choosing transparency in pain is hard and vulnerability is frightening.

But when I let others in, they see that I am just like them. I struggle, I cry out for mercy, I need God’s grace, mercy and strength to carry on.

And that lends authority to my invitation to meet Jesus.

The Authority of Compassion