God Uses Broken Things

It is a hard lesson to learn:  that my brokenness is more useful for God’s purposes than my strength.

When I feel strong, I’m like the Israelites who, being full of good things, forgot the One Who gave them.  I carry on, giving God a nod, but feeling quite capable of accomplishing things on my own.

Sure, it’s nice if He blesses me here and there-but the blessings are icing on a very thick cake.

I’ve got resources.

But when I’m broken, in the dust on my face, begging for the touch of His hand, pleading for His Presence, I am open to what He wants to say to me.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. Lewis

My brokenness allows the life and light of Christ to shine through the cracked veneer of self-assured independence.

It makes me useful in God’s Kingdom.

What I see as ruin, God views as the seed of victory:

Jar of Clay

 

 

 

Guiding Light

Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.”

John 8:12 MSG

He didn’t say that there would be no darkness.

He didn’t promise that night would never come.

Instead, He declared that those who follow Him would have a guiding light. That those who look to the Good Shepherd won’t get lost, because He will lead the way.

Even though I am now two years into this grief journey, there are still sleepless nights. And as I lie in bed, remembering Dominic, rehearsing the events surrounding his accident, feeling the pain and longing for relief-it is the trustworthy lamp of Christ’s Presence and the eternal truth of His Word that sheds light on my path.

A Single Candle

Sunrise Benediction

My living room window is a huge, energy inefficient affair that lets in too much heat in the summer and too much cold in the winter.

But I will never replace it–because it also gives me a breathtaking view of the sunrise.  

Every morning my body responds to an internal alarm set to the time I was startled out of bed by the deputy delivering the news of Dominic’s death.  I cannot sleep longer.  So I rise, make coffee and settle into my rocking chair with computer, Bible and journal close by.

I spend the dark hours writing, reading and sharing in community with other bereaved parents who wake to their own alarms, unable to fend off another day of living the reality of missing our children.  

It is so quiet that the purring cat in my lap sounds loud in my ears.

Slowly other sounds join the chorus of daybreak–roosters challenging the sun to a duel, birds flitting from branch to branch, calling out the news that now is the time to get the worm.

I look up and the warm glow of sunrise silhouettes bare winter branches of giant oak trees and reminds me that the world still turns.

Seasons still change.

And I am still breathing.

Darkness hides things from us, it fosters fear and isolates. The black of night turns familiar territory into fearsome wilderness.  The enemy thrives in the inky corners of unlit places.

But light disarms the darkness.

I venture forth boldly in the daylight where I would not set foot in the night.

So I treasure the daily reminder that darkness does not last forever, even the night has limits.

Open up before God, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.

Psalm 37:6 MSG

Dragging Grief into the Light

During the course of my lifetime I have seen many topics dragged from behind closed doors out onto the stage and under the public spotlight.

Frankly, some of them could have remained in darkness as far as I’m concerned.

But there is something still taboo in polite conversation–something hushed with awkward silence should it ever be spoken aloud in a crowded room–mention GRIEF and eyes drop to the floor or someone hastily throws an arm around you and says, “There, there–it’s going to be alright.”

I don’t blame them.

In my growing up years I don’t remember anyone speaking about death and grief for longer than the time it took to go to a funeral home visitation and stand by the grave as the casket was lowered in the ground.  People were designated by their loss:  He was a widower; she lost a child; her mother died when she was young.

But what came AFTER the loss–not a word.

We need to talk about it.  We need to educate ourselves about it.  Because, like my EMT son says, “No one gets out of here alive.”

You WILL experience grief in your lifetime.

I pray that the people you lose are full of years and ready to go–that you get to say “good-bye” and that all the important things have been said and done so that you aren’t left with extra emotional baggage in addition to the sorrow and missing.

But you never know.  Neither you nor I are in control.

And even in the one place where it would seem most natural to talk about life and death and grief and pain–our churches–it still makes those who are not experiencing it uncomfortable.

Yes, there are grief support groups.  And, yes, they are helpful in ways that only a group made up of people who understand by experience what you are going through can be.

But much of life is spent rubbing elbows with folks unlike ourselves, with parents who know the fear of losing a child but not the awful reality.  And just a little bit of openness, a little bit of education and a little bit of understanding would make such a difference.

So for the next few days I am going to be posting about the grief process itself.  About what grieving parents experience and how friends, family, co-workers and churches can support them.

If you are a grieving parent, I hope these posts will serve as a launchpad for you to have conversations with your own friends and extended family.  If you aren’t a bereaved parent, please commit just the few minutes it takes and consider how you might support someone in your circle of influence who has lost a child.

We don’t want pity.

We aren’t looking for special accomodations that single us out and mark us as “needy”.  But we long for understanding and compassion and the opportunity to tell our stories.

 

 

Choose Wisely

Even if I live to be ninety, the years I spend on this earth will be the tiniest dot on the eternal timeline of God’s Kingdom.

“Humans are like a breath of air. Their life span is like a fleeting shadow.”

Psalm 144:4 GW

I have one life, one opportunity to do the work for which I was created. There are no “do overs”.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

C.T. Studd

Every day I am confronted by choice.

I choose life or death.  

My words can heal or my words can wound.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.

Proverbs 18:21 MSG

I can help or I can hinder.

My life can be a light or it can add to the darkness of this world.

Father, help me to choose wisely as I enter this New Year. Empower me by Your Spirit to do ‘the good works which [You] have prepared in advance for me to do’ (Ephesians 2:10). Give me the grace to embrace whatever comes my way and accept that it has passed through Your hands before it reaches me.  Fill me to overflowing with Your love so that when I am shaken (and I’m sure I will be shaken), kindness and gentleness spill out.

 

 

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

 

Navigating Grief for Those Who Have Lost a Child

With GPS apps on our phones and in our cars, getting lost in the physical world is becoming ever more rare.

But grief is disorienting and every day I must relearn which way is true north.

It has never bothered me to ask directions.  I’ll pull off in a heartbeat–ask a stranger–stop a mailman–look for a fire station (they have to know all the addresses of their district).  I’m not shy and I’m not proud.

But as a bereaved mother,  I’ve struggled to find a map, or guide or landmarks that can help me navigate this wilderness called grief.

Twenty months down this path, here are some practical ways I’ve discovered to help me get through this unmarked world.

It is hard to concentrate so I have learned to break tasks up into smaller units.  I might only clean the bathroom sink and then move on to something else, coming back later to do the tub or mirrors.

I have trouble remembering EVERYTHING so important things like my phone and keys ALWAYS go in the same place.  My purse has designated pockets for specific items and I hold onto my keys when I get out of my truck so I don’t lock them inside.

Going to the store can be very challenging with all the noise, distractions and people (and the memories of his favorite foods).  Even if I’m only shopping for a few groceries, I make a list.

Keeping track of things like phone calls, gifts or thank you notes is also difficult. I use an inexpensive spiral notebook that lives on the kitchen table to write down numbers, notes or anything I need to remember.  I staple receipts to a page so that I won’t lose them.

I use a pocket calendar to note appointments, family schedules or important dates.  I don’t agree to or change anything until I have it in front of me.

I have learned to ask people to repeat things that I’m not sure I understand. Sometimes it seems as if folks around me are speaking a foreign language because my brain simply won’t process the words.

I don’t apologize for my tears or for my need to give myself space and time to make a decision when asked to do something. 

Grieving requires so much emotional, physical and mental energy that there is little left for everyday tasks.  But life goes on even if I want it to stop.

This is who I am now, and I will need to make accomodations for that as long as I live.

 

 

 

Chasing the Darkness

I live in a rural county.  You can travel for miles without seeing a street light or a house light or even the lights of an oncoming car. But the deep blue-black of a winter night can be pierced by the tiniest pinprick of light–even a pocket flashlight can chase away the darkness.

There are so many people struggling to find hope and light in this world.

Especially at this time of year, when it seems that everyone else is having a “holly jolly Christmas” those who can’t find even a spark of joy in their hearts feel abandoned and alone.

Walking this path of grief has made me so much more sensitive to people in pain.

My repeated prayer has been, “God, fill my broken heart with Your mercy, Your love, and Your grace.”  I want to shine light for those walking in darkness.

Even if it’s faint, and small and not very bright.

There are hurting people all around us and it is so easy to hurry past because their pain makes us uncomfortable.

Stop.

Look at them.

Ask the hard questions and LISTEN to the answers.

Hope is often only a tiny glimmer at first and each of us has the ability to shine that much love and light into someone else’s life.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 MSG