Scripture Journal Challenge: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve joined me here for very long, you know I have a particular dislike for what I call “Sunshine Christianity”.

It’s not because I’m opposed to smiling faces and feel-good Bible verses plastered across doors, hallways, t-shirts and social media.

It’s because it doesn’t tell the whole story and sets up hearts for disappointment (at best) and walking away from Jesus (at worst) when their personal experience falls short of this hap, hap, happy picture portrayed by so many.

This life is NOT all smiles and rainbows. It’s hard work, hard times and often devastating circumstances.

That’s the bad news.

But we don’t have to face them alone.

That’s the good news.

If you are struggling, I’m hoping that you are willing to wrestle. So many people seem to be seeking a bumper sticker God with whom life is clean, easy, and problem free and answers are clever, even punchy. But life is never clean. It’s far from easy. And it’s never problem free. That’s why I believe putting God into an easy-to-explain box is not only unwise but dangerous. To really know God, you have to wrestle through pain, struggle with honest doubts, and even live with unanswered questions.

So while I won’t promise you that God is your copilot or that the Bible says it and that settles it, I will promise you this: if you wrestle with him, seek him, cling to him, God will meet you in your pain.

Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark

From cover to cover the Bible is filled with God’s people facing problems and God’s promise to be with them when they did. Some of the problems were of their own making and some were circumstances visited on them by others.

Sometimes God miraculously intervened (the three Hebrew children in the fire) and sometimes He didn’t (every disciple but John was martyred).

Often I can’t make sense of the difference.

If I’m honest, what I want is a pain free life.

I want to walk this earth and not be subject to death, decay, disasters and doubt. But that’s not how it works this side of the Fall which ushered sin into the world and assured no one since our first parents would ever experience the pure joy of a painless existence.

Isaiah was tasked with delivering messages of judgement against rebellious Israel but he was also privileged deliver some of the most beautiful messages of hope in the Old Testament.

Today’s verses are a combination of both. The prophet doesn’t say, “if” you go through these things but “when”.

Trouble is coming. But God is still in control.

But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.

Isaiah 43:1-4 The Message

It can be hard to read these verses and both believe and doubt at the same time. God promised Israel that when they passed through the waters or were in the midst of the flames (more traditional rendering) they would not be overcome. Yet we know from history that many in the nation WERE overcome. In relatively recent memory, millions were rounded up and exterminated by anti-Semitic, power-hungry German nationalists and those who sympathized with them.

Where was God then?

One of the difficult tasks I’ve had in grief is arriving at a place where I can hold pain and promise in the same heart.

I’ve had to learn to live in that mysterious space where I trust that God HAS an answer even if He chooses not to share it with me this side of eternity.

Like Israel, I have been redeemed. I am bought with a price. Christ gave His life for my sins and therefore I have hope.

But also like Israel, that doesn’t mean my mortal flesh is spared. It doesn’t mean my family is exempt from death-even the death of my twenty-three-year-old son.

What it DOES mean is that God is with me.

And while I may be overwhelmed and undone for a season-perhaps for this entire earthly life-it won’t always be so. One day God will redeem, restore and resurrect everything the enemy has stolen.

In the meantime, I rest in His arms, on His promise and depend on His strength.

QUESTIONS:

  • How do you interpret these verses? What does it mean “to be spared”?
  • Is is difficult for your heart to accept that pain is part of our experience as believers? Why or why not?
  • Can you give a defense of the gospel and of verses like these to those who don’t yet know Jesus? What explanation can account for the fact of evil and pain in the world when God is sovereign yet doesn’t seem to intervene (in many instances)?
  • Do you wrestle with God or do you try to stuff your questions? If you do wrestle, when has God met you at your private Peniel (Genesis 32:30). If you don’t, do you think it impacts your faith in a negative way or not at all?
  • What pressing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking and/or faith shattering circumstances are you currently facing? Consider writing your own lament and pouring your feelings out on paper.

PRAYER:

Lord, I so often demand answers, long for understanding and feel disappointed when I get neither. I’m not disappointed in Who You are, but I AM disappointed that I have to live my days wondering. I want You to explain Yourself. Yet I know I’m owed no explanation.

In my most faith-filled moments I can find a way to accept this. But not always.

Like Job, I’m jotting down the questions I’m going to lob at you when I finally DO see you.

And like Job, when my heart is tender and I’m looking full into Your Word and Your face, I cover my mouth. I have nothing to say.

Your majesty, grace, goodness, holiness, love and mercy overwhelm me more than my questions ever do. You ARE the God of the Universe, my Shepherd King, my Bread, my Living Water, my very Breath.

Help me to trust You in every circumstance. Help me to feel Your Presence every moment. Help me walk by faith and not demand you give me supernatural understanding of how you work in this world.

Amen

Why Am I Still Writing?

I ask myself this question often:  Do I want to keep writing in this space?  

Sometimes the answer is a resounding, “no!”. 

Because while I love to write, some days it’s hard to put together words in a way others can understand.  Sometimes I’m tired, or rushed or just tired of thinking about how grief and loss impact my life.

And then I ask the follow up:  Do I still have anything to say?

That’s the one that keeps me here. 

Because as soon as I think the answer is “no” to that question,  a conversation or a comment thread or a personal experience brings up something that I feel I need or want to write about.

So I sit down and begin again.  

your-story-could-be-the-key

I made a commitment in the beginning to be as honest as possible and I’ve done that the best I know how while protecting identities of those who are part of my story but who have their own stories to tell (should they choose).

I also promised to be transparent about my thoughts on God, on faith, on life everlasting.  I feel like I’ve done that.  In fact, I’m pretty sure some of my rambling has shocked friends and family from time to time.  But I’m not afraid of shocking God.  He knows my frame, knows my heart and cannot be made small by my questions or doubts.

I try to do research when appropriate to bring together resources and ideas for bereaved parents in one place. 

One of the most frustrating things to me in the early months of missing Dominic was how hard it was to find good resources.  The Internet is not your friend if you are looking for local and accessible help for practical problems.  It was over a year and a half before I found a closed group of like-minded bereaved parents.  But once I did, oh, what a difference that made in my journey!

So if you are interested in finding a safe, closed group, ask me.  I know of several.  

And then there’s the sweet comments that (usually) mamas send my way-either through Facebook or here.  When someone writes that looking for the blog post each morning helps them get out of bed-well, that’s both encouragement and a serious responsibility.  I don’t want to not show up and disappoint a heart.  Even when all I have to offer is only my words.

So for now, at least, I plan to stay.  

When my life circumstances make it impossible to carry on or I run out of things to say (which my mother will swear won’t happen!) then I’ll quit.

I send each post into cyberspace with a prayer-even for my readers who don’t believe in prayer: 

“Father God, help each heart hold onto hope.  Send a ray of sunshine into every cloudy day.  Bring someone along who will listen, who will care and who will offer a hand to the one who is too weary and broken to take another step.  Help them believe that they are seen, they are loved and that they matter.  Overwhelm them with Your love, grace and mercy.”

You DO matter.

I DO care.

If you need to talk, message me. 

If you need a safe space, I’ll direct you to it.  

I’m not going anywhere.  

compassion and stay with you

Repost: Being There-No Substitute for Showing Up

I totally get itwe are ALL so busy.

Calendars crammed weeks and months in advance and no white space left over to pencil in lunch with a friend even though we desperately NEED it.

It seems impossible to make that call, write that note or stop by and visit a few minutes.

How can I meet my obligations if I use precious time doing the optional?

But when the unexpected, unimaginable and awful happens, suddenly that calendar and all those appointments don’t matter.

Balls drop everywhere and I don’t care.

Read the rest here:  Being There: No Substitute For Showing Up

Being There: No Substitute For Showing Up

I totally get itwe are ALL so busy.

Calendars crammed weeks and months in advance and no white space left over to pencil in lunch with a friend even though we desperately NEED it.

It seems impossible to make that call, write that note or stop by and visit a few minutes.

How can I meet my obligations if I use precious time doing the optional?

But when the unexpected, unimaginable and awful happens, suddenly that calendar and all those appointments don’t matter.  Balls drop everywhere and I don’t care.

Because when your family or best friend needs you, you come-no questions asked.

You toss a few necessities in your carry-on, lock the door, unplug the coffee pot and RUN.

You connect that phone to the car charger and dial away as you drive down the road.

And you show up.

Because when someone needs you, REALLY needs you, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for presence.

And the world keeps spinning.

All those “important” commitments cluttering my calendar are still there.  But a few phone calls later and they are easily rearranged. Medicine refills can be sent almost anywhere.  Church responsibilities can be shouldered by someone else.  Social dates can be rescheduled.

The only thing that matters is being exactly where your heart tells you it needs to be for exactly as long as you need to be there.

But you don’t have to wait until it’s an emergency to show up.

If it can wait if it HAD to, then it can wait.

You will not be going over a “to do” list with your last breath.

Choose to make people a priority right now-you might not get a second chance,

cant change the beginning but can change the ending

 

 

 

No Contest: There’s Enough Heartache to Go Around

I may get jeered by my fellow bereaved parents but I’m committed to honesty so here it is: there is no hierarchy of grief and loss.

Now, am I saying that losing a dog is the same as burying a child?  Absolutely not!  I’ve written about that here.

But what I am saying is that grief, sorrow, loss and heartbreak comes to us in all shapes and sizes.  And what may be small to me may be huge to someone else.

In the past weeks I’ve been exposed to a number of people who were waiting for those magic minutes of visitation allowed for intensive care units.

Each one had a story.  

Each one had a cross to bear and a complicated life they were trying to maintain outside the additional stress and strain of a loved one hooked up to tubes and heart monitors.

None of them revealed (to me at least) that they were bereaved parents.

But I could clearly see pain, sorrow, grief and weariness etched in their furrowed brows. I could hear exhaustion in their voices as they placed phone call after phone call to update people that wanted to know how things were going but couldn’t make it to the hospital.  I noticed hope spring to life in each heart when the clock ticked toward the assigned visitation window and how they leaned forward willing those last seconds to fly by faster.

heart and wood

I knew they were hurting.  It didn’t matter if they hurt as much or less than me. There’s enough pain to go around in this life.

It isn’t a contest.

And I realized that because of my great grief and sorrow, I had a gift to share.  I could reach out and take a hand, listen to a story, hug a weary shoulder empathetically, gently and without judgement.

I understand the weight of hard things.

I know by experience that life can change in a single breath.  I carry both the ongoing burden of missing my son and the traumatic memory of life changed instantly by a knock on the door.   It’s made me stronger in ways I would not have chosen.

I will not squander that strength.

I will put my shoulder to the harness alongside my fellow humans and offer to help carry some of their burden.  I will extend my hand to the stumbling, strengthen the heart of the hurting and offer a listening ear to the one who has no one to talk to.

yoke-of-oxen

I cannot undo what I know.  I cannot undo what has brought them here or may take them to places THEY don’t want to go.

But I can be present.

I can refuse to turn away because I think their grief is small in comparison to my own.   

I can choose love.  

hands-passing-heart

 

Healing? Curing? Same Thing?

Healing and curing are not the same thing.

Healing is a process that takes as long as it takes and may never be complete this side of eternity.  It’s a folding in of the hard parts of my story, an acknowledgement of the way I am changed because of the wounds I’ve received.  It involves scar tissue and sore spots and ongoing pain.

healing is not the absence of pain silhouette of sorrow

To be cured is to be free of the effects of disease or injury.  

And there is no cure for child loss.

I will never be free of the effects of burying a child this side of Heaven.

I did not understand the difference until it was my heart bearing an incurable wound.

The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief or through the process of reconciliation requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.

~Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

It really IS all about relationship.

Relationship first with the Living God through His Son, Jesus.

The ongoing life-giving ministry of His Spirit calls courage to me as I travel this Valley and sings hope to my heart when I cannot hear anything else.  

He will not leave me in my distress.

He does not abandon me in my darkest hour.

flesh-and-heart-may-fail

But it is also about relationship with others.

Relationship with those willing to meander with me along this unlit and winding path.  They are the ones who give me courage to carry on. They are the ones who lift me up when I am unable to lift myself and who lie down with me when even their best pep talk is not enough to get me off the floor.

friends pick us up

They have listened to me tell and retell my story.

The first time I told it, I didn’t have a clue what to say or how to say it-what to leave in, what to leave out.  How do you condense a life-sized earthquake to a novel, much less a few sentences?

But I find as I practice telling my story, it is healing.

Sometimes it’s as if I speak without my mind being engaged and listening,  I have an “aha” moment-suddenly recognizing a new insight and another place that needs work or has received healing.

I’ve learned that there is no substitute for companionship on this journey.  

My healing depends on the faithful Presence of my Shepherd

AND

the faithful presence of friends who refuse to leave even when it seems we are lost in the wilderness of grief together,

relationshipmatters-pic

 

 

 

 

Subtle Disapproval

I mention that today is a hard day to someone who knows my story and the words fall with a loud “thud!”  between us.

I don’t know whether to pick them up or not and she isn’t having anything to do with them.

So I move on to another topic.  Clearly this one isn’t going anywhere.

There are lots of ways to send messages of disapproval.  You can “just say NO” like kids are told to do in anti-drug and anti-bullying campaigns.  You can rant and rave and argue and rail against someone or something in person and on social media.

Or you can just ignore someone when they spill what matters to them like an offering on the ground at your feet.

The opposite of love is not hate.

It’s indifference.

The opposite of support is not opposition.

It’s looking the other way.

Strangers line streets to cheer marathoners on-offering cups of water and words of affirmation.

“You can do it!”  “Keep going!”  “You are more than half-way there!”  “Don’t give up!”

hobbling-runner

And yet many of us are running the race of our lives without a cheering section.

I get ityou are so very tired of the fact that I am so very tired.  I have worn out the welcome mat to the door of your heart.  It DOES get old when I bring the same baggage with me each time we talk.

baggage

Trust me, I’m working hard at unpacking it.  I’m doing all I can to lighten my load and what I ask you to help me carry.

But it is a slow, slow process.

And every time I need help or encouragement and don’t get it, another brick is added to the suitcase.

You might think you are helping me learn to ignore the pain by ignoring my mention of it but I don’t have that luxury.

It’s my heart wound, not yours.  

It’s my child buried, my child not here, my child gone from sight-how exactly should I ignore that?  Which of your children could you put away for a lifetime and forget was ever here?

If you want to help me lighten the load,

let me unpack my pain by telling my story.

If you want me to finish the race strong,

cheer me on.

best way you can help me