Courage Requires Vulnerability

 

It’s a funny thing. 

If you’ve never faced anything very frightening, it’s easy to think that those who do and march on through are somehow immune to fear.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.  

courage is resistance to fear

Yet you cannot master something you deny.  You cannot resist that which you claim doesn’t exist.

Child loss is frightening. 

So frightening that those not forced to walk this road usually choose to pretend (in practice if not in words) that it simply isn’t part of the world they live in.

It’s so frightening that most bereaved parents experience a period of time we would describe as “being numb” and “shock”.

It was probably six months until my heart truly understood the fact that Dominic was not coming back.

Ever. 

It was frightening on so many levels-I had to face the fact I was not in control, had to face the fact my life was never going to be what I had envisioned it to be, face the fact that my surviving children would be shaped by grief in ways neither I nor they could anticipate, face the fact that I would live out my years carrying this heavy burden, and face the fact that no matter how hard I wished things were different, they were never going to be different-my child was dead.

sometimes even to live is an act of courage

And when the numbness began to wear off and fear creep into my heart, I had to choose: Was I going to embrace and experience this awful, devastating fear or was I going to try to deny it, distract myself from it or try to dismiss it as inconsequential?

Facing fear requires facing my own weakness.

Facing fear means becoming vulnerable-admitting that I am hurting, admitting that I cannot do this on my own, admitting that maybe, just maybe, I can’t climb this mountain without help.

cant get to courage without walking through vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability was its own challenge.

What if others mocked me?  What if no one helped me?  What if I just wasn’t up to the task?

courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen brene brown

I decided that NOT facing fear was not an option.  As long as it lurked in the shadows I would be its prisoner.  

So I turned and looked it square in the eyes.  And I found, with God’s enabling help, I could master that fear. 

Two verses became my touchstone:

When struck by fear,
    I let go, depending securely upon You alone.
   In God—whose word I praise—
    in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
    for what can measly men do to me? 

Psalm 56:3-4 VOICE

When I admitted my weakness, His strength was sufficient.

strength made perfect in weakness ant

Choosing vulnerability and facing fear opens the door for God to show His power in and through me. 

Child loss is still scary.  

I’m still afraid.

But the Lord gives me strength to master the fear.  

courage doesn't always roar male liion

 

 

Repost: Will It ALWAYS Feel Like This?

I belong to several bereaved parents online communities and this question comes up again and again-it was the first thing I asked a bereaved mom just after Dominic ran ahead to heaven:

“Will this suffocating pain remain sitting on my chest, smothering the breath and life right out of me?  Will I ever be able to stop crying? Will it ALWAYS feel like this?”

Read the rest here:  Will It ALWAYS Feel Like This?

How To Pray For Your Brokenhearted Friend

We’ve all been there-someone we love receives a terminal diagnosis, someone we care about loses a family member, her husband walks away from their marriage of twenty years, his addicted child hasn’t made contact in months.

The list is endless.

This life is hard and broken hearts abound.

What to do?

I’ve written extensively about the many practical ways a friend or family member can reach out and walk beside a wounded heart.

Choosing to offer compassionate companionship is the greatest gift you can give.

But there is another way you can help.  You can carry the one you love to the Throne of Grace and intercede on his or her behalf with the One Who can be there when you just can’t.

I’ve learned the hard way that many situations are not fixable.  They are only bearable.  And because we so often pray for blessings and miracles, when faced with this reality, words tend to fail us.

But there are prayers to pray for the brokenhearted.

Pray for God’s Presence. 

Father God, alone and broken is too much for anyone to bear.  I know you are right beside my friend, but give her assurance of Your Presence.  Let this wounded heart feel You very near her.  When she despairs that You are not listening, bring to mind Your Word and flood her with Your comfort.

Pray for the presence of God’s people. 

Lord, You don’t need people to do Your work, but you have ordained that the work of Your Body will be done by the hands of men.  Stir the hearts of those that follow Jesus to show up and bring practical help to this broken heart.  Give divine guidance to the people You want to be there so that they do things, bring things and say things that bless and do not harm.  May this abundant outpouring of love, grace and mercy give strength to a struggling heart.

Pray for grace.

Father, we so often think of grace as what You give us when we receive salvation.  But grace is so much more than that-it is the oil that lubricates the gears of life.  It’s what gives us the space we need to process offense, to overlook offense and to avoid offense.  My friend is wounded and oh, so vulnerable.  Overwhelm his heart with Your grace so that the unthinking and even unkind words or actions of others will not hurt him more.  Suffuse every single relationship that is being strained and stretched by this hard season with grace so that it remains supple and does not break. Fill the hearts of those who come to minister with grace to endure his silence or their rebuffed attempts to help.  Keep relationships alive and intact, even in this difficult time.

Pray for mercy.

Oh, Lord!  How well I know that one tragedy or unbearable hardship does not preclude another on its heels!  I beg mercy for this family!  Pour mercy out on them and in them and prevent any schemes of the evil one to succeed.  They are so, so weak and such easy targets!  Let Your mercy surround and protect them.

Pray for strength.

Father, “weak” can’t begin to describe the crumbling of a spirit under the crushing load of grief.  If You do not raise the head of my friend, she will not be able to raise it herself.  If you do not infuse her body with Your strength, she will not be able to make it through this valley.  You have promised that if we wait on You-expectantly and hopefully and trustingly-that You will give us strength as eagles.  We will run and not be weary, we will walk and not faint  You are the Everlasting God.  You are the Source of Strength.  Fill my friend with Your strength as You have promised.

Pray for faith. 

Lord, there is a space where faith and experience conflict.  Losing a child creates a gulf between what a heart wants to believe and has believed and the unbearable pain that fills it right now  Help my friend’s heart hold onto the hem of Your garment.  Give him the will and conviction to say, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief!”  Bring those who love You alongside to bear witness to this crisis of faith without correcting or shaming.  Send Your Holy Spirit in power to flood this hurting heart with an assurance of Your Presence and power.

Pray for courage. 

Father God, one of Your great champions, C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.”  He was right.  Grief feels like the most profound fear a heart can experience.  The entire world has shifted.  The bottom has fallen out.  It seems there is no end to the pain and suffering that a person may have to endure.  And it is scary-so, so scary.  Let my friend join the Psalmist in declaring, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46: 1,2 NIV) You are the unchanging constant Truth in a world where everything else seems untrustworthy.  

Pray for perseverance.

Lord, it’s easy to start well but something else again to finish well.  When a heart realizes that this missing, this sorrow and this pain is going to be with it for all the days of life on earth, that’s a whole other burden to bear.  Defeat seems imminent.  How can someone possibly carry this for years-perhaps decades?  Give my friend the commitment and strength to persevere.  Help her wake each day and decide to keep on keeping on.  Infuse her tired body, mind and spirit with the power You have promised to give to all who love you:  the power that raised Jesus from the grave (Ephesians 1:19,20).

Pray for love.

Father God, a broken heart is open and ready for filling.  And it will be filled with something.  It will be filled with love or it will be filled with bitterness.  Overwhelm my friend with Your grace, mercy and love so that all the spaces are filled to overflowing with You and there is no room for bitterness.  Bind the work of the enemy so that no scheme formed against him can stand.  Give him a heart of flesh-that even hurting, even broken-he can give and receive love.  Because love lives forever.

Amen.

hope holds a breaking heart together

Life. Suspended.

Grief … gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.

~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It is really impossible to convey the bizarre nature of life after traumatic loss to anyone who has not lived it.

And yet, here I am, trying my best to do just that.

I guess I always hold out hope that at least one heart will be affirmed in his or her experience or one heart will be made aware of how to offer compassionate companionship to someone they love.

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven my family has operated in two worlds:  one where every heartbeat taps out a rhythm of, “he’s not here, he’s not here” and another where we live, breath and move as we have always done.

But there are things I’ve had to lay aside for these past four years.  Things that used to consume time, talent, resources and energy that I just. could. not. do.

Before Dominic ran ahead I was a list making fool.  I was a manila folder maniac.  I was a put-things-in-their-place person.

That ended when Dom left us.

From that day forward, I have hung on by a thread.

I’ve managed by assigning things to piles or see-through plastic bins stacked mile high in the room that used to be his.  If forced to locate an important document, it takes hours or days to find it where before I could put my finger on it in minutes.

I feel like these years have been both a horrible journey and a giant parentheses in the story of my life.

While forced to carry on and meet every necessary obligation, every ordinary daily, weekly, yearly chore-it’s been kind of a dream.

I am just now beginning to reclaim some of the long-neglected corners of my house, my heart and my life.

I’ve hauled out the manila folders again.  I’m organizing some of the piled up papers so that I can once again lay hands on them in a timely way.

I cleaned my covered porch of years of dust, bugs, tools and random items so I can sit outside and enjoy the spring breeze.

I’ve purchased hanging baskets of flowers to brighten the front entrance and am remembering to water them (a giant leap forward!).

front porch spring 2018 edited

I’m writing more cards, sending more birthday greetings and making more personalized gifts for friends and family.

I still feel like I’m moving through dense fog some days but the corners are lifting and I occasionally see the sun light around the edges.

My life has been profoundly changed.

My life will always be informed by my loss.

But I am slowly learning to live this new way, with this new me and to be productive once again.

our cross may be heavy but one sight of christ

It is No Sin to Ask, “Why?”

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Sunday I sat through what started off as a promising sermon.  

The text was from  Jeremiah when he was sent by God to the potter’s house for an object lesson.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  

Jeremiah 18:1-6 NIV

This story hits home in so many ways.  

I identify with Jeremiah’s tears shed over the message he was called to deliver (Israel was about to experience harsh judgement) and the image of God as Potter and me as clay in His hands, to be molded and shaped according to HIS purpose and plan regardless of how I might like to be molded and shaped.

But the sermon took a turn that hurt my heart when the preacher began suffusing the message with personal experience.  It is absolutely his prerogative to relay his own life story as but it is another thing to draw general conclusions from HIS experience as being relevant and instructive for EVERYONE.

His wife had been diagnosed many years ago with a brain tumor.  She underwent extensive surgery and therapy but ultimately survived and is still living today.

Hallelujah!

I am thankful their story has a hopeful and happy ending (so far).  The problem came when the pastor said, “I never asked, ‘why?'”  and then proceeded to imply that asking, “why?” was wrong and the mark of an immature faith.

I’m delighted his faith was strong enough (or naive enough) that his heart never argued with his theological framework.  

That is not my experience. 

And it is not the experience of millions of faithful Christ followers who have been asked to bear up under burdens that do NOT have a hopeful or happy conclusion this side of heaven.

It took every bit of self-control I had to not stand up and shout, “REALLY?  What about Job?  What about Paul?  What about David?  What about JESUS?”

The Psalms are filled with questions.  

Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.

God invites us to ask.  

“Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord

Isaiah 1:18 KJV

My faith is stronger because I have taken my questions to the only One Who can answer them.

He doesn’t always answer. 

But He always listens.  

He doesn’t give me reasons. 

But He gives me Himself.  

I am the clay-I know that.  But unlike dumb physical material that can be molded and shaped without feeling or self-awareness, I am a human being, created in the image of God Himself and endowed with feelings, knowledge and a heart that longs to understand.

So I must chooseas an act of free willto offer myself as a living sacrifice, to remain supple and malleable under the Hand of my Creator as He makes me into what He intends me to be.

But submission does not preclude my questions.  

I would argue that true submission insists on acknowledging and asking the questions and choosing to yield anyway. 

Anything less is not submission, it is simply fatalism. 

I serve a God Who is my Father, not my dictator.  I serve and worship a Savior Who is gentle, humble and kind, not harsh, proud and uncaring.

It is no sin to ask, “Why?”

In fact, it is exactly the kind of exchange relationship insists upon.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

 

 

 

Even The Worst Day Only Lasts 24 Hours

Thursday was the fourth anniversary of Dominic running ahead to heaven and I felt like I was doing pretty well.

Maybe 48 months of practice had paid off.

No ugly crying-just drip, drip, dripping tears leaking from the corner of my eyes that morning.

Lots of thoughts were going through my mind but none touched my heart so deeply that I was immobilized.  In fact, my youngest son and I went to work on a project together.

Busy hands and all that, you know.

It was a beautiful spring day.  Just like THAT day when my lawn filled with friends and family, shaking heads and sharing hugs.

Doing OK, making progress, making a difference.

So, so many sweet friends sent messages to let me know they were praying for our family.  My phone was making happy noise all morning.

It spoke courage to my heart.

Until thoughtless words and random comments broke through defenses I didn’t even know I had built.

And there I was, overwhelmed.  It was not at all how I expected to end the day and it got worse.

Not only did I fall asleep ugly crying, I fell asleep angry and discouraged.

I know this emotional roller coaster is absolutely normal.  It is absolutely unavoidable.  All I can do is hang on and ride it out.

Friday morning’s sunrise brought new hope, new strength and new resolve. 

Even the worst day only lasts 24 hours.  

I’m so, so thankful for that.

because of the lords great love we are not consumed

 

Repost: Feet of Clay

It’s not just my feet that are made of clay! I am clay from top to bottom and I am reminded of that fact every day. I try and fail. I strive but make no progress. I want to do better, but I don’t.

God is not surprised. I do not have to live up to some impossible standard in order for Him to love me. He made me, He knows me and He loves me. Covered by the blood of Christ I am free to live in that love, to love others from that love.

God is not offended by my human frailty.  He isn’t looking down from Heaven, shaking His head at my halting steps forward on this long, hard road.

we are dustHe understands my fear, my sadness, my longing for wholeness.

But sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that.

Read the rest here:  Feet of Clay