Life Goes On

Today James Michael turns twenty eight! Since May of last year, he graduated from Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, got married, trained and served as a deputy sheriff in West Virginia, moved twice, and joined the Air Force.  Just typing this leaves me breathless.

But it’s true:  life goes on.

Our surviving children have done a bang-up job of pushing through and moving forward even with the burden of grief weighing them down.

I don’t know how they do it.  

I have managed a few minor projects but am still unable to think beyond today.

I struggle to carry grief and plan ahead.

When you realize that your world can change in an instant, it seems silly to mark things out on a calendar as if paper and ink controlled the universe.

So I celebrate the days as they come and cling to the promise that God has a plan and purpose for this pain.  I place my heart in the hands of the One Who made it and trust that He will make it whole again.

 I rest in the reassurance that death is not victorious and the grave is not eternal.

 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! 

I Corinthians 15: 51-57 (MSG)

We are Not Home Yet

“Are we there yet?” * “I’m tired.” * “I’m hungry!” * “I need to go to the bathroom!!” 

When I was young, my family took many cross-country trips from Alabama to Arizona and back again.

My dad would hand me the map and a small calculator (one of the first-with only a few buttons and no fancy functions!) and tell me to add up the miles to our next stopping place.  It required focused concentration and careful calculation, but I was rewarded with an accurate assessment of where we were and how much farther we had to go.  Then I could count the mile-markers and measure our progress.

I had a sense of where I was going and how much longer it would take to get there.

I don’t want to be the whiny kid in the backseat, but my grief journey has me crying daily, “Am I there yet?!”

I am confident of where I am going but there’s

no map,

no mile markers and

no real way to measure my progress.

I can’t calculate how long I have to wait to see my son again and I can’t foresee what twists and turns this road may take.  I grow tired and impatient and uncomfortable.

I know each day brings me closer to the moment when my family will be reunited and whole.  Sunrise to sunrise is twenty-four hours less that I have to wait until eternity swallows my pain and longing.  Every revolution of the earth moves me toward the finish line of victory over death.

God has not ordained that I know when this journey will end, so I concentrate my focus on truth and lean into the promises of Scripture:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for

and assurance about what we do not see.

This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song: We Are Not Home Yet.

It helps me remember that my life is a journey, not a destination.

My true home is heaven and there all things will be redeemed and restored.

The Wilderness of Grief

I was fifty when Dominic died. I had lived long enough to experience first-hand, and through others, the impact of loss on life and love.

Studying for my psychology degree exposed me to the stages of grief and the typical, observed behavior and emotions that a person experiences when faced with the death of a loved one. So even in the midst of hearing the most terrible news of my life, I thought I knew a little about what to expect.

But there are secrets that no one tells you.

Feelings that lie in wait to ambush you.  Overwhelming changes alter the way you see, hear, experience the world and think.

Grief turns the landscape of your life into a wilderness that is suddenly unfamiliar and often threatening.  The landmarks you depended on for navigation from one day to the next are swept away in a flood and you stand, bewildered in the midst of this strange place wondering how you got here and what you must do to escape.

There is no escape.

I can’t take a shortcut through this altered world.  I can’t close my eyes, click my heels and say, “There’s no place like home” to be transported back to BEFORE THE ACCIDENT. 

It feels like I live in a place where many speak a foreign language of petty grievances, first world problems and longing for bigger, better things.  I struggle to remain connected but find that I just can’t relate anymore.

Talking on the phone for more than ten minutes makes me feel trapped and anxious even when I wish I could listen to the voice on the other end forever.

I used to be able to make myself at home in any group and start conversations with strangers in a grocery line.  Now I feel isolated and insulated and it is hard to reach out.

I take quiet delight in the moments when I see or hear my surviving children laugh, when there is a small shaft of light in the shadows that define our days.

I try to forge new paths in this scary place so that my feet won’t stumble and my heart won’t fail.  I can only lean harder on the One Who made me and trust that following Him will lead me home.

“The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts: and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.”

Habakkuk 3:19

Just Passing Through

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 here and now 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 plan to go this week.

Losing a child changes that.

Heaven becomes 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.

Thankful But Broken

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

My birthday sometimes falls on the day itself, and I have often been able to celebrate with extended family and friends-a full table of food and a full house of fellowship.

I love the colors of fall, the scents of cinnamon and pumpkin, the freedom from gift-giving pressures that lets me focus on the people in my life.

A few years ago, Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, was published sparking a renewed interest in the Christian community to focus on thankfulness as a way to open our hearts to the goodness and faithfulness of God and to open our hands and lives to serve others from our bounty.

An invitation to trust and not be afraid.

Across social media, people began to post , “Today I am thankful for___________.” Instagram.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Good stuff, and good reminders.

And I am thankful.

Really.

I am thankful that my family has managed to survive the loss of Dominic without going crazy  or becoming bitter or running away. We continue to support, love and care for one another.

I am thankful for the few, special friends who have made it a priority to visit me, love me and give me a safe space to vent my grief.

I am thankful that I have food to eat, a place to live and clothes to wear.

I am thankful for my Bible, the one I got while carrying Dominic beneath my heart-the one filled with notes, prayers and underlined passages-because it reminds me that God is still God even when I can’t feel Him.

But I am broken.

Truly.

Losing a child, not being able to save the life your love created, not being there when he breathed his last, not holding his hand as he entered eternity-that is humbling.

My November and Thanksgiving will be quieter than in years past.

No daily posts.  No long lists.

I will lean in and listen hard for the whispered promises that one day heartache will end.

I will open my heart and hand to a hurting world.

I will trust and not be afraid.

Walking The Balance Beam

One reason grief is so exhausting is that every step I take is on a balance beam of faith and hope.

I must navigate every necessary task without falling off.

According to one sports writer, “The balance beam is often regarded as the most difficult event in women’s gymnastics at any level of competition. At only four inches wide and four feet off the ground, there’s barely enough space for a person’s foot to fit on the beam let alone enough room to flip and dance.”

But an average competitive routine lasts only 30 to 90 seconds.

I will have to walk this narrow way the rest of my life.

Despair lies in wait on my left.  One misstep and I’m lost.  Down on the ground, hurting and hopeless.  Doubt, guilt, anger and grief threaten to drag me into a pit so deep there’s no way out.

Delusion calls from the right.

Singing a lullaby to my wounded heart-he’s not really gone.  “Can’t you feel him in the wind?  See him in the clouds?” It would be so easy to just step off the rational and faithful path and embrace some fluffy facsimile of biblical truth.

The solid beam is my faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That what He said is true.

That what He promises will come to pass.

That even though I cannot see proof of life after death, it exists and Dominic is experiencing it.

That, like David said when his baby died, “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.”

It takes every fiber of my being to focus my will and to direct my attention to the Truth.

Many nights I fall asleep reciting Scripture.  Many mornings I wake before the sun and remind myself that even in the dark, God reigns.

So when you see me and I look tired-I am.

But I wait in hope for the LORD…

   We wait in hope for the LORD;  He is our help and our shield.
 In Him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in His holy name.
 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22 NIV

The Power of Presence

For fifty years I was on the “other side”-the one where I looked on, sad and sometimes horror-stricken, at the pain and sorrow friends or family had to bear.

I wanted to help.

I wanted to say the “right thing”.  I wanted to express how very much my heart hurt for them and that I badly wished I could carry some of their load.

Sometimes I think I did a pretty good job of reaching out and touching the wound and offering a little bit of comfort.  But other times, I would say nothing because I didn’t know what to say.

Now I am the one bent under the burden of grief-my heart and body and soul laboring to carry the weight of burying a child.  And there are those who are brave and reach out to me and offer words or hugs or prayers and their efforts give me strength and comfort.

Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, these gestures are lights in the darkness, hope for my heavy heart and encouragement for a weary body.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

It’s tempting to avoid someone when their world is dark.

It’s uncomfortable to choose to enter their pain.  But Jesus has called us to walk beside the suffering, to encourage the disheartened and to lift up the ones who stumble.

There are no magic words to erase heartache.

Only presence.

And isn’t that why Jesus came?

We are most like our Savior when we are willing to leave our place of comfort and venture into the threatening world of another’s pain and suffering.

“Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”

(Philippians 2:5-8)