Within That Hope, We Lament

Yesterday I stood next to my mama’s casket and met person after person who came to pay respects.

It was beautiful and awful all at the same time.

It was precious to hear the many ways Mama had brightened other people’s lives, extended hospitality, shared experiences and encouraged hearts.

It was awful to know she wouldn’t be doing that anymore. Her voice is silent, her smile is forever fixed into a not-really-like-her expression and her eyes closed.

I have been so busy that I really haven’t had time to mourn her yet. It’s coming.

Oh, how I know it’s coming.

But one thing I know now that I didn’t know when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven is this: Hope in Christ creates a safe space for all my questions, sadness and crying out.

God collects my tears. He does not disdain my sadness. He leans in and listens to my lament.

To have healthy fellowship with God we must be honest and realistic about our circumstances and our reactions to them.  To have a healthy emotional, spiritual, and mental life, we must be honest with ourselves.  One truth about our lives is that we are broken; we inevitably encounter our own suffering and that of others, and eventually we die.  How does our Lord teach us to respond to this?  He teaches us hope, and within that hope we use lament to speak to God of the painful delay of peace.  All laments ultimately go to God, with whom we wrestle and rest.

Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope

Peace is coming but it’s not here yet.

And it is perfectly OK to admit that, to mourn that, to take notice of the gap between the promise and the present.

Scripture Journal Challenge: When My Heart Needs a Reminder

This time last year I was on the front end of a very lonely, very frightening three and a half weeks.

Each morning began with a sixty minute drive in Los Angeles rush hour traffic toward the downtown courthouse. My husband and I parked and then walked through metal detectors and past guards down a long, long hall to the courtroom.

Every day was one more eight hour shift listening to lawyers, witnesses and a judge as the events of several years were laid out first by one side and then the other. Questions aimed to elicit unflattering responses hit my husband hard.

The opposing counsel even printed out a couple of my blog posts trying to frame both my husband and his family as intolerant fundamentalist evangelicals who certainly didn’t understand how things were done in the progressive West.

Our fate was in the hands of total strangers and the whole time I couldn’t utter a single word.

I was not allowed to nod my head, smile or frown or even cry when I watched my husband recount our son’s death and the toll it took on him as he returned to the workplace and tried to do routine tasks while being challenged repeatedly by a surly , vindictive and manipulative employee.

Trust me, no television courtroom drama can prepare a heart for the kind of stress, uncertainty, mental anguish and overwhelming fear that a real encounter with the justice system evokes.

Sitting alone (my husband was sitting with his attorneys) I could only spend time writing out scripture, taking notes and trying to guess how all this was impacting the twelve jurors sitting mere feet away. Only nine were required by California law to agree in order to reach a verdict which just added to the uncertainty.

I felt oh, so weary, scared and forgotten.

One of the scripture passages I wrote over and over was today’s verses.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,

    you, Israel, chosen of God—

Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;

    God has lost all interest in My cause”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,

The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.

    His wisdom is beyond understanding.

29 God strengthens the weary

    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.

30 Young people will get tired;

    strapping young men will stumble and fall.

31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.

    They will soar on wings as eagles.

They will run—never winded, never weary.

    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40: 27-31 VOICE

The nation of Israel was feeling lonely and all alone.

Had God forgotten? Had He abandoned them? Didn’t He care they were at their wit’s end and the limit of endurance?

So Jehovah sends Israel an encouraging Word through Isaiah.

He begins with questions: “Why are you questioning Jehovah’s interest in your cause? Do you think after all we’ve been through He’s forgotten you now? Can anything be hidden from His sight?”

As I sat day after day after day, I had to remind my heart that no matter how it FELT, God was very near. We were not abandoned. Whatever went on in that room with no windows was not hidden from our Shepherd King.

The very next set of questions Isaiah poses is one of my all time favorite verses: “Hey Israel! Do you really not know that God is eternal, everlasting, all-knowing and all-powerful? Haven’t you heard He made the earth and everything in it? Do you imagine He ever gets tired, worn out, too stretched to intervene in the affairs of men? “

This trial wasn’t the first time in my life I needed to be reminded that nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight. It wasn’t the first time I needed reassurance that God is never too tired or too distracted or somehow limited by my understanding of who He is to reach down and give me a boost.

In the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I’ve had days, weeks and even months when, in my despair and grief, I forgot the truth.

The whole passage comes to a dramatic conclusion that leaves Israel (and me!) with no room for doubt.

Hey-God breathed into Adam and made a living man from dust. Sure, you may be tired and worn out from circumstances or age, but He can breathe life and vigor back into you too. Young folks seem nearly invincible but even they have limits. You just wait (expectantly, in faith, certain that He will show up and keep His promises) on Him. The kind of energy Jehovah will give you won’t run out. You’ll be like an eagle soaring effortlessly on wind currents higher and higher and higher.”

I’m here to tell you that God keeps His promises. His Word is sure.

I look back on those three weeks and stand amazed that I didn’t fall over from exhaustion and stress about five or six days in because except for surviving my son’s death, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was absolutely, positively God’s strength and not my own.

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of my readers are bereaved parents and probably share my testimony of days, weeks, months of utter exhaustion under the load of grief that child loss dumps on a heart. Can you identify a specific moment when you felt God’s strength poured into your spirit? Can you think of an event, holiday or date you just knew you couldn’t face but somehow managed to survive?
  • How can meditating on these verses help your heart hold onto hope?
  • What new insight does including verses 27-28 to this familiar passage give you?
  • Consider looking these verses up in at least three different translations/paraphrases and compare them. Does that help you understand them better? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God, I want to always remember that You are so much more than I can ever imagine or comprehend. Too often I try to circumscribe You by my limited understanding of how you work in the world. But You are too big for any box I try to stuff You into.

When I forget, remind me. When I doubt, strengthen my faith. When I feel alone, make Your Presence undeniably real to me. When I am weary, breathe new life into my spirit.

Thank You for patiently, graciously, mercifully dealing with me. Thank You for your everlasting, faithful love. You are a good, good Father.

Amen

*If you want more details about what happened last year, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/24/heres-the-post-ive-wanted-to-write-but-couldnt/

Ask. Don’t Assume.

I’ll confess right here on the world wide web that I tend to go along to get along.

It’s a terrible and odd twist that the son who always encouraged me to speak up for myself has accomplished his goal by his absence.

Since Dominic left for Heaven I’m learning to ask questions I’d never dare ask before.

When someone does something or doesn’t do something, instead of assuming motives or assigning blame, I ask them why. It doesn’t always end well, but it’s worth the risk.

Most of the time I find the person has anticipated (often mistakenly) that his or her behavior, choices or words are helpful. Truly, family and friends are not usually out to hurt my heart.

Now, I admit in the beginning I didn’t care whether it was accidental or purposeful. I was already so burdened that any additional stress or strain was more than I could bear. I wanted people to put themselves in my shoes.

Truth is, they can’t.

All the times I IMAGINED what it might feel like to have a child run ahead to Heaven didn’t even come close to how it actually felt. All the scripts that played in my head when someone was late checking in, coming home or assuring me of safe arrival when traveling can’t hold a candle to the REALITY of a son never ever coming home again.

It’s not fair (but what about child loss IS fair?) that I have to educate others as I’m learning myself.

It’s simply reality.

I liken it to being forced to lead in a dance I don’t know to music I can’t stand to hear.

So I ask.

And I’m often surprised by the answers.

In utter innocence and genuine sympathy some friends and family make decisions they honestly think are good ones.

None of us has a road map for this journey-neither we who travel the road nor those who walk alongside us. It’s uncharted territory.

I would rather err on the side of love and grace then build walls between my heart and the ones I have left here on earth.

Sure it hurts.

But most things this side of child loss do.

I refuse to sacrifice relationship on the altar of grief.

Bereaved Parents Month Post: How Am I Doing? That’s A Hard Question To Answer.

I promise I’m not being evasive.

But when you ask me how I’m doing I never know exactly what to say.

Do I give the conventional, anticipated answer so we can each get on with our day or do I give you the answer that reflects the state of my heart right now?

Either way is risky.

question

When I go along with convention and answer, “fine”, I let others off the hook.  I assure them the card they wrote or the meal they brought or the flowers they sent have staying power to convince my heart they care.

Depending on my relationship with them, sometimes it’s all (or more than) I expected.  So we’re good.

But sometimes I thought they’d stick around, check in more often or offer some kind of ongoing support.  Then I battle the temptation to reveal the actual state of my heart as a kind of retribution for being abandoned.

When I bravely offer an honest answer, I may catch someone by surprise, or make them supremely uncomfortable, or put them on the defensive as they scramble for some kind of response.

As a society we are simply unequipped to deal with the ongoing impact grief and loss has on a heart.  We want all things to fit into the medical model of “wound-treatment-healing”. 

But they don’t.  

So, so many sad, heartbreaking, life-changing blows are never healed this side of Heaven. 

Child loss is one of them.  

So some days (or moments) I’m doing pretty well.

Some days (or weeks) I’m not well at all.

How am I?

That’s a hard question to answer.  ❤

how are you fine words in letters

 

Repost: How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs To Ask

After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet. 

Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.  

Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.

And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream: 

How do I DO this? 

Read the rest here:  How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs to Ask

Not a State But a Process

C. S. Lewis gave voice to so much of human experience in ways that help us understand ourselves and one another.

His book, Mere Christianity, began as a series of radio talks that were later compiled, published and sold millions and millions of copies.

I think Lewis managed to use a conversational, inviting voice in all his works.

When I read them I feel like I’m chatting with a friend (granted, an extremely erudite friend!).  He and I are discussing a thing, reasoning through it together.

He’s not teaching me something, he’s guiding me to learn it for myself.

When he experienced the loss of his beloved wife, this giant of the faith struggled like all us mortals.  His grief journal was eventually published as the book,  A Grief Observed, and has helped many of us who sorrow describe our feelings and find our way.

I particularly love this quote:

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process … There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape … Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.
~C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Lewis understood that grief was not a state which could be changed like ice to water through the application of heat. 

There is no quick fix for a broken heart.  No remedy for missing someone you love.

Instead, grief is a process.

It’s a lifelong journey of remaking a relationship that can no longer depend on physical presence and new memories.  It circles back again and again, asking the same questions, sometimes finding new answers but often having to settle for the old ones.

mixed stages of grief

It’s almost five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and while I have forged new paths in that time, much of my travel has been over well-worn ruts that bring me to the same watering holes.

I’m often surprised that life after loss is not linear at all.

I do feel (as I’ve shared before) that the circles progress ever upward.

I’m not standing still.

But I’m not free to escape the valley.

How To Be Fierce Without Being Fractious

It’s funny how child loss has, at the same time, made me more yielding and more steadfast.

I give in without a moment’s hesitation to other people’s choice in where to go for lunch, what to do for birthdays, how to arrange this or that at church.  My brain simply doesn’t have the capacity any more to argue over trifles.

But I will stand up to a lion for the sake of love or to protect a hurting heart.

wounded_heart-960x600

I can be a little reactionary when that happens-snapping and biting the heads off those who might have said or done something in ignorance and not intentionally.

So I’m learning to think a minute before I launch into a tirade and try to discern just what will be most helpful.

I want to challenge and educate folks, not send them running for cover every time they see me coming around a corner.

I want to be fierce without being fractious.

I ask myself, “How can I communicate truth in love?” and I try to follow these precepts:

Don’t attack the person.  Quite often people speak without thinking and speak about things they haven’t experienced.  They may just be parroting something they’ve heard and not even actually believe it themselves.

Ask questions.  Try to suss out WHY they said or did what they said or did.  Again, without thinking?  Or is there a motive behind it?  Fear is a frequent motivator for pushing hurting hearts away.  People are afraid of how much they might have to invest in a relationship or they are afraid that what happened to me can happen to them and they just don’t want the reminder.

Many People Thinking of Questions

Educate.  I often start by saying something like, “If you haven’t buried a child, you would have no way to know this but…” and follow up with whatever I think they might need to hear.  No one can argue with my experience.  I’ve never had a single person walk away angry when I share this way.  Some have come back and thanked me for the insight.

schoolhouse

Extend grace.  I know child loss but I don’t know everything or even a tenth of everything.  So while my friend may have stepped on MY toes by saying or doing something today, I’ve probably stepped on HERS another day.  I try to assume that the person in front of me is doing the best he or she can and not aiming to inflict pain on my heart.

grace tree

Choose to end fruitless discussions.  If I realize that the person I’m speaking to is defensive, resistant and unyielding, then I find an opportune moment to end the conversation.  We’ve all been there-someone itching for a fight decides that now is the moment to have one.  I’m not interested in debating anyone over my experience so I just don’t.

calvin-cartoon_debate

As long as I walk in this world there will be others with whom I disagree.  some who actively seek to wound and many who are just ignorant of situations they have never experienced. 

I don’t want to bludgeon them with words, forcing them to agree with me.  

I want to be a light that opens eyes, a gentle breeze that blows away the fog and helps them see clearly.  

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle