We All Need Sheltering Trees

If you’ve never been caught short in the midst of an unexpected downpour you might not know how important refuge under the boughs of a cedar or oak tree can be.

Living in the middle of woods, punctuated by open pastures, I’ve retreated more than once to the safety of thick boughs which limit the rain’s ability to soak me through.

I have memorized every safe haven between the road and the middle of my 34 acres.

Faithful friends are like those sheltering trees-offering respite to a weary heart, providing a safe space to take a breath, granting protection when we are pursued by the enemy of our souls.

When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I was a mess.

Most folks that brushed shoulders with me in public might not have guessed but those who knew me well saw me devolve from “got it together” to “don’t even know what I should be getting together”.

I was utterly devastated.

Some people were repulsed. They either couldn’t handle my ongoing neediness (a week or a month on the prayer list ought to be enough according to them) or they simply found my presence too uncomfortable a reminder that bad things happen regardless of how “good” you are.

But there were a few…a precious, precious few who refused to go away. They showed up and stayed.

It didn’t matter if they had any remarkable insight or help or “solutions” to my heartache.

What mattered is that they bent over my broken heart and provided shelter.

We all need sheltering trees in the storms of life.

And I am beyond thankful for every single person who is brave enough to bear the brunt of evil winds to provide that shelter.

It’s A Family Thing: Helpful Tips For Interacting With Bereaved Families


I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

Read the rest here: Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

When You Are Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around: The Power of Presence

I’m not entirely sure this quote is an accurate one from the original Winnie the Pooh books but it is absolutely an accurate reflection of the characters.

And it’s a beautiful reminder to all of us how powerful presence can be.

May we all have Poohs and Piglets that come sit with us when we are Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around.

“It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.”

Read the rest here: Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore-The Power of Presence

Advent: God With Us

Jehovah is the God of promises made and promises kept.

From Genesis to Malachi, God sent prophets to proclaim the coming of Messiah.

And He used Mary and Joseph, willing servants of the Most High, to bring about His plan.

22-23 All this happened to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”)

24-25 When Joseph woke up he did what the angel had told him. He married Mary, but had no intercourse with her until she had given birth to a son. Then he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:22-25 PHILLIPS

Not only was Jesus the Child of promise, the Messiah, the Savior, He was God wrapped in flesh.

Fully God and fully human.

The King of all creation chose to subject Himself to it. He was born in the ordinary way though His conception was miraculous.

There are many religions in the world. But there is not a single other faith whose cornerstone is Deity come to earth.

Only Christianity can claim that our God left Heaven and took on flesh to dwell among His people and that makes all the difference.

Grief is isolating.

There are moments, days-even weeks-when I feel trapped inside an impermeable bubble of sorrow and pain. No human touch or words can pierce the armor around my heart.

I can’t pray, I can’t read my Bible, I can barely lift my head.

It’s then that Jesus comes to me gently, sweetly, with grace, compassion and love because He knows every single heartache I endure. He walked the earth and was betrayed, wounded, forsaken. He is not far off and unaware.

Immanuel Changes Everything | True Woman Blog | Revive Our Hearts

Immanuel-“God with us”-isn’t just a lofty theological concept.

It (He!) is a living reality.

In my weakest and most vulnerable moments, when I can’t conjure hope for myself, He brings it to me.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to YOU that God took on flesh?
  • Have you ever thought about Jesus as a man, living like a man, hitting His thumb with a hammer, stubbing His toe, loving His mother and all the other things life means? Or do you simply think about the punctuated moments described in Scripture?
  • The writer of Hebrews says that because Jesus experienced humanity in every way we have a High Priest who sympathizes and understands our weakness. I find that liberating! How might embracing this truth encourage your heart to bring every request, lament, praise and doubt to the throne of grace?
  • When have you experienced the Presence of Jesus?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your people waited long for their Messiah. After hundreds of years You didn’t just send just someone, You sent your own Son. Fully God, fully human. He walked among us. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that idea.

But what I know from experience is that You ARE the God of Presence. You do not abandon me to despair. When I am most lonely and my heart is crushed under the weight of sorrow, help me remember that.

Give me the confidence to bring the good, bad and the ugly straight to the throne of grace. Remind me that though Heaven is your high and lofty holy dwelling place it’s not so far You can’t hear me.

And You DO hear me. You see me. You capture my tears and count them precious. Thank You for your promises. Thank You for your peace. Thank You for your Presence.

Amen

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Trying To Remember In a World That Forgets-The Gap Grows

I’ve written before about how I choose to leave some things just as Dominic left them-even over six years later.

It’s my way of maintaining physical space in our home that represents the space in my heart where only he can fit.

It’s also more than that.

As time progresses, nearly every other tangible evidence that Dominic existed is being worn away.

Read the rest here: And The Gap Grows: Trying To Remember In a World That Forgets

No Substitute For Showing Up

These past two weeks have reminded me once again that there is absolutely NO substitute for being present when someone needs you.

Sure a phone call, text message or card in the mail express concern but there’s just something about showing up with a hug and maybe a casserole or pie that says, “You are important to me.”

It reminded me of this post from a couple of years ago:


I totally get it
we 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: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/10/07/being-there-no-substitute-for-showing-up/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Everything Sad Will Come Untrue

It was a harsh sentence: Forty years of wandering in the desert for not putting their faith and trust in the God who had delivered them from bondage.

But wandering wasn’t the half of it.

Death surrounded them. All those adults who gave in to fear were doomed to die before the forty years were finished.

Can you imagine how many graves were dug in the wilderness? How many tears were shed? How many fists raised to the sky or hands to hearts begging, begging, begging for the sojourn of sadness to end?

So it was no accident that the Lord commanded Israel to set her camp with the Tent of Meeting at the center. He wanted them always to be aware of His enabling, powerful, holy Presence.

Even in the midst of judgement, death and sorrow. He was there.

And God is here with me in the midst of my mourning too. I am thankful for His Presence.

But the most beautiful promise is that there will be a Day when He will wipe away all the tears. He will redeem all the pain. He will undo all the damage death has wrought.

Joy will once again be untainted by sorrow.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Revelation 21:3-4 KJV

I make seasonal wreaths for Dominic’s resting place. I include these verses every time.

Because I believe them with my whole heart.

I love the way The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones renders them:

And the King says, “Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!

Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones

“Everything sad has come untrue.”

Heaven will not simply be rest after a long life’s struggle.

It will be restoration, redemption, recreation and resurrection.

Every thing stolen will be restored. Every thing bartered away by sin will be redeemed. Every thing destroyed by carelessness, hatefulness and cruelty will be recreated in perfection. And every thing dead and buried will be resurrected to life everlasting.

I can’t wait. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that “God is here”?
  • What do you think Heaven is like? Is your idea informed by popular media or by Scripture?
  • Does the idea of “everything sad coming untrue” speak courage to your heart? Why or why not?
  • If you have felt God’s presence in this Valley, how has He manifested that? If you haven’t felt His presence, would you consider asking Him to make Himself real to you today?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I’ll admit that sometimes future hope is not much to hold onto when sorrow and longing and despair overwhelm my heart. I need to feel Your Presence here and now. I’m not asking for a burning bush, but give me assurance that You have not abandoned me.

Fill my heart with hope and help me hold onto the promise that one day all this pain will be redeemed. Give me an eternal perspective.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: In The Very Presence of God

It’s kind of counterintuitive really-that my initial response to Dominic’s death would be affirmation of my faith and my response weeks later would be doubt.

But it makes a lot of sense really.

When the unthinkable happens, if your heart is already turned in a particular direction the path of least resistance is to keep flowing downhill.

A bit later, when shock has worn off and your brain wakes up and you begin to do the “math” suddenly it’s not so easy to believe that God is good, He is sovereign and He has a perfect plan.

I wanted explanations!

Like Job I had a list of questions for the Almighty. And also like Job, I found that when He showed up (not in person but through His word) I could only cover my mouth in shame.

When I was beleaguered and bitter,
    totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
    in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
    but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
    and then you bless me.
25-28 You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Psalm 73:21-28 MSG (paraphrase)

Here’s the good, good, good news: God isn’t surprised at my anger, disappointment or lack of understanding.

He- like every good parent who recognizes a child is reacting out of ignorance-takes my hand, holds me close and waits until the energy of rebellion and frustration spends itself, and says, “There, there, dear one. I’m here.”

I can’t scare God away. He’s the Perfect Father.

So if you are struggling with questions and struggling whether or not to take them to God (as if He doesn’t know)-go ahead. Hand them over.

He is neither afraid of nor offended by our weakness, our impertinence nor our honest questions. He wants us to let them go. He wants us to speak them aloud, admit to our own hearts we have them and then release them.

Because in the space created in surrender, He can work.

In the gap between our own strength and the awful struggle ahead, He will pour grace, mercy, endurance and hope.

He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

My parents would argue I am young.

My children would laughingly accuse me of being old. (My skin is definitely sagging!)

Some days I feel one way or the other and it has nothing to do with the years I’ve lived and everything to do with the hardships I’ve endured.

But I can say with absolute certainty that I am more sure now than I was before that God is God.

He is good.

He will redeem, restore and resurrect.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever been bitter? How do you think it might have informed your feelings about God?
  • Are you bitter now? Have you considered telling God about it?
  • Do you feel God is near you? Why or why not?
  • When the psalmist compares himself to a dumb animal he’s referring to the fact that oxen or donkeys go where their masters tell them to (or not!) and either comply or resist with no real understanding of why they may be asked to do this or that. But we are not dumb animals. We can choose to trust our Master because of past experience and the sure promises of Scripture. How does focusing your attention and heart’s affection on the Truth of Scripture help you surrender?
  • Our flesh will fail. It’s not a question of if but a question of when. Honestly,my flesh has failed many times in these 55 years. I’ve written before that I’m convinced the years of Bible study before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven were years spent preparing my heart to receive that blow. I was not spared, but I was prepared. If you haven’t made a commitment to spend daily time in Bible study and the Presence of God, would you be willing to try to do it now? Have these days of reflection given you any new nuggets to hold onto?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I know You can drag me around like a recalcitrant child or a misbehaved pet. But you don’t. You want me to bring my hurt, my anger, my bitterness, my disobedience and distrust to You.

You don’t run away. You aren’t hard to find. You don’t turn your back on me. You are always a breath away-waiting to hold my hand, wrap my heart in your love and whisper courage to my soul.

Help me run first to You. Always, always to You. You truly are my only hope. My true salvation. My Rock and my Shelter.

Keep my eyes focused on You and not on people around me. Comparison only breeds discontent. I know that one day-one glorious Day-the song I’ll sing will be to my Redeemer and tell of Your faithful goodness to me.

Amen

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