It will soon be seven years since Dominic stepped into Heaven.
It’s really hard to write that and harder still to live it.
In those years I’ve spent a great deal of time dragging out what I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world, about how we take Scripture and wrap it around preconceived notions to make us feel safer and more in control.
I’ve had bad days and better days. Days of doubt and days of faith.
But every day I’ve felt assured of this truth: Even when my grip on Jesus is slipping, He holds me fast.
I’ve mentioned it before.
I’ve encouraged others not to resist.
But I want to be absolutely clear: Losing my son made me doubt EVERYTHING.
Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.
Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.
Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.
Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Luke 2:19-20 VOICE
My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.
She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.
I’ve pondered too.
“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).
When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.
I was forced to make a decision.
I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?
After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.
I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.
I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.
But she held on.
And the Lord called her blessed.
I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.
Sometimes my faith wears thin.
But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.
We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
How has child loss impacted your faith?
The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?
You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.
But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.
Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!
Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.
So often it seems like God is dragging His feet, holding out on us, refusing to grant something we desperately desire.
The people of Israel waited and waited and waited for Messiah.
Many felt abandoned.
But God wasn’t being slow, He was waiting for the precisely perfect moment to send His Son.
Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.
4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.
Luke 2:1-7 VOICE
An entire kingdom was mobilized to fulfill prophecy!
Because Rome demanded taxes from conquered peoples and wanted every penny owed, a census was ordered. Because the only way to get an accurate count was to order folks back to their ancestral hometowns, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. Because of the timing, Mary was bursting with baby and gave birth.
Just as promised: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. ” Micah 5:2 KJV
Caesar was acting in his own self-interest.
Mary and Joseph were complying with the law.
Nature took its course as Jesus grew in the womb.
All the while God was weaving together the strands behind the scene to bring forth His purpose and provide salvation for His people!
I’m not privy to everything God is doing in the world. And, frankly, what I see sometimes looks like He’s not doing much. I want Him to step in and make things right according to my limited knowledge.
But He’s working behind the scenes in ways I can’t imagine or comprehend.
He has a purpose and plan that will not be thwarted.
I do not for one moment believe that God Took My Child. But I absolutely, positively believe that He is using what the enemy meant for evil to accomplish good.
So I try to be patient.
Even though it’s a lifetime.
Because no one who waits on the Lord will be disappointed.
It’s so easy to read the familiar words and forget that each element of the story was important in fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever looked back on a series of seemingly unrelated events and realized how they came together to orchestrate God’s purpose in your own life?
I have often wondered how much Joseph and Mary might have thought about (if they thought about it) the words of the prophets as they fulfilled God’s commission to faithfully raise His Son. Can you put yourself in their position and imagine the weight of responsibility and also the fear of uncertainty they might have experienced in real time?
I admit that waiting is hard. I long for a supernatural revelation that gives my heart a handle on how long I’m going to have to practice patience. But I take some comfort in the multitude of promises kept by my God and His ever-faithful, always trustworthy character. When your heart doubts, what promises do you cling to?
You literally moved Heaven and Earth to bring salvation to Your people. You work where I can’t see and in ways I can’t comprehend.
But it’s hard to hope when things look dark and it seems as if You are slow to act. And sometimes it looks as if evil, death and sin are winning. That’s when my heart has the most trouble holding onto hope.
Help me cling to truth in spite of my feelings. Give me light in the darkness. Teach my heart to trust and sing hope over my soul. You are Faithful and True.
Even if I wait a lifetime my waiting will not be in vain. Every one of Your promises is “yes” and “amen” in Christ. The end is guaranteed. Victory is assured.
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-“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.
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?
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.
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.
We left Zechariah yesterday just stepping up to the Altar of Incense.
I like to put myself in the story and imagine him slightly trembling at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to creep closer than all but a handful of Israelites to the Holy Presence of God Almighty.
Perhaps he was already a little afraid.
Maybe his heart was racing and his palms sweaty. He most certainly recognized the privilege and responsibility as he offered the fragrant smoke and many prayers.
And how like a human heart to hand up its desires in the midst of corporate pleas for mercy, justice and grace!
But it seems Zechariah didn’t expect an answer. Certainly not the one he received.
11 All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.
12 Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. 13 But the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer[c] for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. 14 His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. 15 He will be one of the great ones in the sight of God. He will drink no wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before the Lord as a forerunner, with the same power and anointing as Elijah the prophet. He will be instrumental in turning the hearts of the fathers in tenderness back to their children and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of their righteous fathers. And he will prepare a united people[f] who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”
Luke 1: 11-17 TPT
I can imagine the years and years Zechariah and Elizabeth fell asleep praying God would grant them a child. I can just picture Elizabeth outside in the Temple courtyard adding her longing and hoping, hoping, hoping Zechariah would dare to bring their personal plea before the Most Holy God.
The angel not only promised Zechariah a child, he promised him a childOFpromise-one whose birth had been foretold. This would be no ordinary son. He was to be the forerunner and path-maker for the Christ!
No wonder Zechariah had a few questions.
I’ve had questions too.
Prayer after child loss has been hard for me.
Before Dom ran ahead to Heaven, I was a seriously praying woman. I kept prayer journals, wrote individual prayer cards for people I loved and knew and was a fervent believer in God’s faithful answers-even if they were long in coming. I had personally experienced the power of earnest prayer to make way in the heavenlies.
I never asked for a life of ease, only life and the grace to greet each day.
So when one of my most oft-repeated and (what I felt was very basic) prayers went unanswered, it shook me to the core. Why was my son not kept safe?
It’s taken a long time for my heart to rest again in what seem like straightforward promises of Scripture and to venture tentatively toward the Throne of Grace expecting any favors.
God does answer.
But like Zechariah, long years of waiting and disappointment have made me more than a little surprised when He does.
Do you pray? Why or why not?
Do you expect God to answer when you pray? (Not audibly but through circumstances, people, His word.)
How has loss changed your prayer life (if it has changed it)?
How do you feel when it feels like God doesn’t hear your heart?
Have you ever waited long only to be surprised by God’s ultimate intervention or answer to your prayer?
What are you longing for that you need to bring before the Throne of Grace today?
Does Zechariah’s story encourage you?
Lord, You are the Most High God. You know the beginning from the end and hold time in Your hands.
It is so, so hard for me to wait patiently for answers. And, frankly, some of the answers are not blessings but heartache.
I’m wary about bringing my requests to You because while I know You have the power to grant them, You also have the power to delay or deny them. So I am sometimes surprised when You answer. I’m often amazed at how You weave together the ordinary with the extraordinary and how Your eternal plans are always being worked out.
Help my heart lean in and take hold of Your hand. Help me trust in Your unfailing love and abundant grace. And give me bold courage to step forward with open hands, bringing my requests to You, resting in the fact that whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or “wait” it is for my ultimate good and Your glory.
When I first began writing in this space, “lament” had only just come into vogue.
Now, it’s everywhere.
If this year has taught hearts a single thing, I hope it has taught them there’s no use pretending life doesn’t hurt sometimes. We were not created to carry that kind of pain alone.
And thankfully, we don’t have to.
God, in Christ, invites me to speak it, to sing it, to release it as an exhale so His grace and strength can rush in to fill that empty space.
You’re invited too.
Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.
I loved everything about it: the color scheme, the food (I love, love, love to cook-it was never a burden), family and friends gathered around the table, and the wonderful slowness of the day as it lingered into nightfall.
It was more flexible than Christmas for including all sorts of folks who otherwise didn’t have someplace to go. Living near colleges meant that we welcomed students from around the world-we might have two or three dozen laughing faces milling about.
It was wonderful.
And I loved going around the circle, tummies bursting, to share what people were thankful for and why.
When Dominic left us everything changed.
Oh, I was (and still am) so very thankful for so very many things…
It’s easy to imagine when sitting in a safe place surrounded by other believers that if tragedy should visit my home, my faith would remain rock solid and unshakeable.
After all, I stuffed my head and heart with truth, kept a prayer journal, wrote out Scriptures and jotted notes and dates in the margin of my Bible.
I put on the full Armor of God and raised my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Our family didn’t just attend church, we served the Body of Christ inside and outside the four walls of the building.
But when the knock came and the words from the deputy flew at me and pierced my heart, I unraveled.
Not at first, mind you.
Oh, I screamed and couldn’t catch my breath. I fell to my knees and barely made it to the sofa where I had to make phone calls. I was shaking and crying.
Still, a blessed numbness fell over me and my first Facebook posts and my first words to friends and family affirmed my belief that God was still in control and we would somehow make it through. It was reflex to lean in and take hold of the faith that had carried me that far.
I clung to the only life raft I could see in that awful storm.
It really wasn’t until a few weeks later, when my heart and mind began to fully comprehend the neverness of Dom’s return that the questions started.
I soon realized that if my faith was to endure, I had to examine everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world in light of child loss.
Platitudes and hand-me-down interpretations of Scripture were not going to be enough.
So I brought the questions to God Himself in prayer and pleading, in whispers, shouts and writing. I sat silent waiting for His response and I searched the pages of my Bible looking for new insight into old, familiar passages.
I got some answers.
But not all of them.
And I had to decide what to do with that.
My heart isutterly, absolutelyconvinced that God is a good God, a faithful Father and the trustworthy Savior of my soul. He is all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present. He knows the end from the beginning and I can trust Him to work all things (even child loss) for good.
So I’ve learned to still my spirit, to quiet my heart’s restless quest for answers and abide in the arms of my Shepherd.
I will live in the mysterious space between what I know and what I can’t comprehend.
I will wait patiently for the answers or until eternity when my pain is redeemed and what is lost restored and the answers won’t matter.
Because they who wait on the Lord will never be put to shame.