Broken Circle, Unbroken Chain of Love

I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.

I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.

When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019. 

Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else. 

And that is very, very true. 

We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically. 

I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”. 

That’s hard. 

It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa.  We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives. 

It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time.  There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old.  So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years.  She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable.  It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss. 

But she didn’t. 

Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright. 

Mama chose love.

Mam and all my children, 1994

In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation.  She had two visits from her great-grandson.  One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him. 

I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap. 

For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him.  She even got to be the first one to see him turn over.  That tickled her! 

All the Grandmas and Captain Ryker

Truth is, that last date isn’t the end.  There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life.  Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic. 

But even here, on earth, love lives forever. 

It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love. 

Our circle is broken today.  Death is awful and it’s hard.  It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration. 

But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.

I love you, Mama. 

Say “hi” to Dom for me.

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Good Shepherd

I have been a shepherd for twenty years.

The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.

Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.

But I never give up on them.

A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.

I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.

David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.

It prepared him to fight Goliath.

It molded his heart to lead God’s people.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE

I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.

But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.

If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.

I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.

They know my voice.

They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.

If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!

Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.

Go back, read them again.

Know that the Lord God loves you.

He LOVES you.

He loves YOU.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
  • How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
  • How has God provided necessities for you?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
  • What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.

PRAYER:

Lord,

You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.

This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.

Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.

Lead on, O Precious Shepherd. Lead on!

Amen

The Penalty and Gift of Love

Love is risky business.  

There’s no way to guarantee you’ll escape unscathed.  

And a broken heart can make us oh, so afraid to try again.  

I get it.  

My heart was absolutely, totally shattered when that deputy knocked on my door and delivered the news. 

But I refuse to lock my love in a vault so my heart can be safe.  

Because life without love isn’t life.  ❤

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Repost: Why I Say, “My Son Died.”

Died.  

It is a harsh word.

I understand completely that some parents don’t want to use it to describe their child and I respect that.

I have chosen to use it often (not always-sometimes I say “left” or “ran ahead to heaven”) because what happened IS harsh. I don’t want to soften it because there was nothing soft about it for me or my family.

It is heartbreaking, lonely, heavy, hard and utterly devastating. 

Read the rest here:  Why I Say, “My Son Died.”

Spring Isn’t All Sunshine And Flowers For Me

Like most of us I am enjoying the change from cold and wet to warm and sunny.  

Spring breezes and spring sunshine usher in fresh beauty and speak hope to a heart.  It reminds me that the earth will not always be locked in darkness nor be a frozen wasteland.  

But spring isn’t all sunshine and flowers for me.  

It’s death and dying and tears and heart wrenching reminders that no matter how hard we try to hold onto life in THIS life, we can’t.

Right now I’m holding my dying cat.  He’s been a faithful companion for thirteen years. 

I’ve had many, many wonderful animals in my life but none have come close to being the constant shadow and empathetic friend that Roosevelt is.  His warm body snuggled into my arms like an infant every morning has been a touchstone that kept me from floating away in grief’s inviting fog.

I will miss him.  

Death is awful. 

death matters lewis

I do not equate Roosevelt’s death with Dominic’s.  There isn’t a scale conceivable that would measure the distance between the two.

But one of the things I’m learning in this Valley is that every death taps the same wound.  Every death hurts my heart.  Every death reminds me that this life is not as it ought to be, not as God intended it to be when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden.

how terrible it is to love something that death can touch

And every death reminds me that Christ came, Christ suffered, Christ conquered precisely BECAUSE death. is. awful.

Resurrection is coming.  

But it is not yet.  

So I wait.  

In hope.  

Clinging to the promises.  

life is eternal and death a horizon

 

**My faithful companion died in my arms- peacefully and without pain. ***

Weak Knees, Strong Savior

When I was a little girl, I used to wrap my hand around my daddy’s forefinger when we walked together.  His long legs meant that mine had to work double time to keep up. 

But no matter where his legs took us, I knew I was safe-because he was with me, he wouldn’t leave me and he would take care of me.  

When I was afraid, I could just squeeze his hand a little tighter and courage flooded my soul.  

I’m very thankful for the example and blessing of a faithful, loving earthly father because it makes it so much easier for me to trust my Heavenly Father.  

There are many things that terrify me in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Left to myself, I’d turn and run, hide or just lie down and give up.  

But I’m not alone.  

My Shepherd walks alongside me.  His Presence gives me courage and strength to keep going.  

When I am afraid, I cling tighter to His promises, lean harder on His grace and hold on for dear life to His love.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

In the hour of crisis, I may be weak in the knees, but I must step forward. I may bow in my private Gethsemane, sweat blood, and cry for deliverance, but then I rise to take up the cross and move toward yonder marked-out hill of suffering. The fight of faith does not allow me to flee in terror. … I dare not and will not deny the sustaining power of the living God.

When Paul wrote, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13), he was not boasting of his cleverness or aptitude in mastering circumstances. He was expressing deep confidence that in whatever condition — sickness or health, abundance or poverty, life or death — Christ would enable him to cope, even triumph. He experienced and preached what he truly believed: ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).   

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

 

How Terrible It Is To Love Something That Death Can Touch

I know as a believer in Jesus I’m supposed to be able to look beyond “this mortal veil” and treat death as a mere “address change”.

Well, I can’t.

Death is the enemy and I do not experience it as simply a transition from one state to another.

The last enemy to be abolished and put to an end is death.

~I Corinthians 15:26 AMP

Death is a reminder of all that is wrong with this earth.  It’s a reminder that sin is costly.  It’s a reminder that this world is not my true home.

find in ourselves a longing c s lewis

It’s just plain wrong!

I hated death long before I counted my own son among the casualties.

Living on a farm, we have buried everything from domestic livestock to random wildlife that wandered up, wounded and we tried to save.  I have hatched eggs found in disturbed nests,  loved on baby rabbits, squirrels, deer and woodchucks, nursed abandoned kittens, lambs and goat kids.  Many of them didn’t survive and every one took a bit of my heart when they breathed their last.

how terrible it is to love somthing that death can touch memorial stone

I have said “good-bye” to my 99 year old aunt, my grandmothers, my grandfathers and my own son.

There is nothing pretty about death.  It wasn’t in God’s original plan and I hate it.

Lately, I’ve been worrying about my “therapy” cat-Roosevelt.  He’s aging.  And all things being equal, he won’t last much longer.

r and christmas

 

He sat in my lap as I recovered from numerous surgeries and hospitalizations.

And he stayed with me as I received concerned family and friends when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I don’t know what I would have done without his warm weight holding me in the chair when all I wanted to do was run away and hide.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

He has been a compassionate companion in many sad and lonely moments-never asking for a thing and giving so much with his presence and unconditional love.

Every night he sleeps beside me, snuggled down tight against my neck, purring peacefully.

But he’s getting old and I am becoming fearful that I don’t have too many more years left with him.  I hate that most nights I drift off to sleep thinking he won’t be here much longer.

And then I feel guilty.

Because the death of my cat (when it happens) can’t begin to touch the depth of pain of the death of my son.  It seems, though, that every death taps that wounded spot in my soul.

dominic at olive garden

But every death-whether a person or an animal I love-opens the floodgate of sadness I work so very hard to keep behind the dam.

I know I’m not supposed to borrow trouble from tomorrow and I work hard not to do that. 

I’m working hard to cherish each moment with everyone I love without worrying that it may be one of the last. 

It’s a fine line I walk every day.  

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