What if Tomorrow Never Came?

I know, I know, we’ve all heard it–no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Depending on the setting, and depending on your age when (usually) an older person says it, this admonition is easier or harder to ignore.

But I am here to sound the trumpet:  There might not be a tomorrow for you or for someone you care about!

So if there is something you need to say, something you need to do, please, please, please–for the love of LOVE, say it or do it!

My family will tell you that I’ve always been one of those people who says things on the phone and writes things in cards that most folks just think about but never put into words.

And since Dominic’s death, I am even bolder.

Because we had NO CLUE that the last time each of us spoke with him, or texted him, or exchanged emails with him was going to be the LAST TIME. He wasn’t sick or going off to war, so there was no reminder of the brevity of life the day before he died.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not always roses and buttercups around here.  We have plenty of disagreements and misunderstandings.  And every one of us has strong opinions about almost everything.  But we refuse to stay angry for more than a few minutes.  Even when all that can be said or done is a text, “I’m sorry.  I love you.  Let’s talk about this later when we’re not so worked up.”

That’s what we do.  

That’s what we’ve always done.

And we are not shy about blessing one another either:  “Great job!”  “I knew you could do it!”  “Sorry you are having a bad day-praying.”

Who decided that smiley face stickers were only for kindergartners?  We all need encouragement every day.

I can’t bring Dominic back.  

I can’t get one more second, one more minute, one more day with my third born child to tell him I love him and that I am so very proud of him and that he was witty and a wonderful drummer and a good, good friend to so many people.

But I know he knows.

Because even though I can’t tell him now, I told him then.

I told him often and I told him in ways that were meaningful to him.

So, I carry the burden of missing him.  I carry the weight of sorrow that comes from burying a child.  But I am free from the awful cross that I might have been forced to bear if I didn’t know that I had loved him well.

And for that, I am grateful.

 

 

Another Confession

Emboldened by my confession of fearing the dark, I’m here to make another one:

I really want to finish well-and I’m afraid I might not.

Foolishly perhaps, I had imagined the years on the other side of the Great Divide of fifty to be ones in which I could coast a bit.  As one sweet lady I knew used to say, “It’s great to be over the hill-that means it’s all downhill from here!”

And in some ways I am coasting.

I no longer struggle with the angst of being comfortable in my own skin. Since I’m not in the market for cosmetic surgery I have made peace with the fact this body is the only one I’ll have (until that wonderful day when I get my glorified body!).

I’ve decided that as long as I am kind about it, I am entitled to express my own opinion, even if I’m the only one who holds it.  I don’t have to receive affirmation for my convictions to be true.

Doing the regular chores of life come naturally and I can accomplish them without toddlers or teenagers undoing my work in one room while I’m making progress in another.

But on the spiritual front…well, that’s another matter entirely.

Losing a child has forced me to re-engage questions I thought I had settled long ago.  It has made me less certain of some ideas I once held tightly with both hands.

And it has made plain that these last years are going to be just as hard as the early ones in which I dug deep in Scripture to sort through what I had heard or been taught and compare it with what the Word actually says.

I am learning that God is not as easy to comprehend as our Sunday School tag lines make Him seem.  I am coming to understand what Job declared:

“I had heard of You [only] by the hearing of the ear, But now my [spiritual] eye sees You.”

Job 42: 5 AMP

Knowing now, by experience, that the road ahead may be just as hard and just as bloody as the one I leave behind, it would be easy to give up.

In my family, quitting was never an option.  My dad used to say, “You can do anything you want to do if you want to do it badly enough.”

But in this battle to keep going, I am too weak to continue by myself-too beaten down to make it to the finish line in my own strength.

I want to be faithful until the end.

I am purposing to refuse simple explanations and easy answers that tickle my ears but may not reflect truth.  And I will admit that I often just don’t understand–that I am wholly dependent on the God Who made me to keep me.

I want to let God mold me and shape me until I am a prize He is pleased with.

I want to present Him to others as the One Who has upheld me and keeps upholding me, even in this struggle to finish well.

So I go directly to Him. I go straight to His Word.  I will lean on, rely in and place my full trust in Jehovah:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Job 42:1-6 MSG

Perspective

For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness]!  So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 AMP

Grieving a child is not light nor is it momentary.  It is a heavy weight that threatens to drag me into despair.

I feel like I’m struggling to walk up a mighty mountain with few footholds and steep cliffs. Sometimes I just want to give up.

What was Paul thinking????

“Light and momentary distress”–this from a man who had been left for dead, imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked and abandoned by his friends?

But Paul was a master of rhetoric and used words to invite his readers to thoughtfully consider the things he said.  You can’t read one of his letters like a paperback novel–you have to slow down, read carefully and think hard.

Paul depended on people’s experience that distress is in fact often heavy and lifelong to show, by contrast, how excellent and marvelous and exceedingly valuable our eternal inheritance is through Christ.

 If the awful burdens of this life seem light and momentary when we enter the fullness of God’s promises in heaven, then how very great those promises must be!

Only the grace of a mighty God can give me the strength to face each day with hope and the faith to believe that the things I see are not the things that truly last.

And only the faithful love of a Heavenly Father can give me the assurance that one day I will barely remember how hard it was to walk carrying this load.  

No Rush

Time, by itself, does not heal all wounds.  

But of all the factors that promote healing, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for time–not in the physical world of surgery and broken bones and deep wounds and not in the inner world of  emotional pain and brokenness and sorrow.

Our bodies are made to be amazingly resilient.  

Most people don’t really think of surgery as an assault on the body, but it is.

The surgeon knifes through layers of flesh and tissue that are designed to keep intruders out, mucks about inside, does what he or she came to do, and closes up–hopefully without introducing bacteria into the wound. Some medication may be prescribed to promote healing, control pain and reduce the risk of infection.

Then the patient goes home to recover.

But it is really TIME and the body’s own healing powers that do the lion’s share of the work.

Our hearts and minds can be resilient too.

Frequently, someone who suffers an assault on their emotions may not bear outward signs and symbols to mark what they’ve  been through.  And well-meaning friends and family can forget that healing has only begun and is far from complete.

Sometimes broken people feel pressured to put on a brave face and to stuff their feelings.

For the body, ignoring doctor’s orders to rest after surgery can mean another hospital stay due to complications that might have been avoided if the patient had been given sufficient time to recover.

Emotionally wounded people can end up with complications from pressure to rejoin regular activities and engage society in ways for which they are not yet ready.

It takes TIME to heal from burying a child or any other traumatic loss.

There is no way to rush the healing.  It takes HOURS AND HOURS to think about, respond to and process the feelings that overwhelm anyone who is grieving or trying to cope with emotional upheaval of any kind.

ok to just breathe

So be patient with yourself.

  • Understand that there will be good days and bad days.
  • There will be forward movement and steps backward.
  • Sometimes it will be easy to do something or go somewhere and the next time it might be really hard.

And don’t be afraid to let others know you are still healing.

Deep emotional wounds require great care and an extended period of time to heal if the healing is to be sound and free from unnecessary complications.

You are not selfish to draw boundaries around what you can and can’t do, what you will and won’t allow and where and when you engage with others-you are being wise.  

For those walking with the wounded:  extend grace and be patient.

Thank God you are not bearing this burden and be mindful of placing demands or pressure on the wounded to heal according to a predetermined timetable.

Then support them in their effort to give themselves the TIME they need to heal.

smiling through tears

 

 

 

God of the Day and God of the Night

I was afraid of the dark until I was almost forty years old.

My fear was rooted in scary childhood moments and even years of adult experience could not rip it from the soil of my psyche. I never could convince my heart what my head knew to be true: there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t also there in the light.

It was fear, not darkness, that controlled me.

There is great darkness in grief.  So many unanswerable questions, so much anquish, so much pain.

And there is darkness in many other painful, unchangeable circumstances.

The darkness can hide things that I see clearly in the light.  And if I’m not careful, I  can allow the darkness to foster fear and keep me from venturing futher.

In my own strength, depending on my own resources, I am afraid.

But when I call out from my scary place to the God Who made me, I can face the fear in confidence He hears and cares.

When I am afraid, O Lord Almighty, I put my trust in you.

Psalm 56:3 GNT

Sometimes believers in Christ can convince themselves that admitting their world is dark with pain or suffering or questions diminishes the power of God–that it speaks ill of God or that it means God is insufficient to uphold us in our weakness.

If I pretend that I’m never afraid, or that I never experience darkness, I am denying others my aid.

Even worse, I may be shaming them to silence, sending the message that if they are experiencing pain, something is wrong with THEM.

How many people are sitting in our pews with broken hearts and broken lives, afraid to reach out for help because–in addition to the pain of their broken life–they live under condemnation?

Life is full of pain and darkness.  Even for those who follow Jesus.

When I deny that truth, I also refuse to testify to God’s power to help me carry on and give me the courage to face my fear.

God is the God of the day AND the God of the night.  

I do not diminish Him by admitting that I experience both.

He invites me to lean into Him and to hold hands with His children as I journey on, even when it’s dark.

“Christians with this unflinching faith in the sovereign God do not deny grief. But even in their darkest hours, they borrow God’s strength. In their tears and pain they cling to God who will never let them go. What the Savior has done for others He will do for you. When you are shaken, and you know that life will never be the same again, you can trust and not be afraid. You can live in HOPE with the sturdy confidence that God will dry your tears and put you on your feet again.”

“Grief, Comfort for Those Who Grieve and Those Who Want to Help” by Haddon W. Robinson

 

 

 

Identity Crisis

Yeah, so one more thing that grief has made  harder: empty nesting.

While my nest is not technically empty, I have long since finished raising and schooling my children.  I had the great privilege of staying home with my kids and teaching them all the way through high school.  And even in college and graduate school, mom was still editor-in-chief and head of the crisis management center of our home.

I spent a lifetime pouring myself into my family and now they are grown. Sure, they need me now and then, but they are well-established, functioning adults and quite capable without my help.

This is good–I always intended to work myself out of a job.

But losing Dominic, and the burden of grief I carry as a result, has made this transition from “hands-on” to “standing by” that much more difficult.

We all have pictures in our mind of where life is headed–where we imagine ourselves in five years, ten years or even further.  In part, those visions are what make hard days bearable, what keep us going when obstacles seem insurmountable, and what beckon us down the road when we can’t see exactly where it is leading.

I had those.

Now I can’t manage a plan or vision for a single day, much less a year or the rest of my life. I feel as if I am cast adrift in a sea of possiblities but none look inviting. It’s like I have one oar in the water and all I can do is paddle in a circle.

I’m not idle-I keep moving.  I have things to do, but I’m not sure they are things that make a difference.

And I have to admit, it’s a little frightening to think about the future given my recent past experience.

So I’m trying to learn to rest in the arms of the Father.  Trying to tune my heart to His. Trying to be patient with myself and with my own impatience.

For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction, to give you an end and patience.

Jeremiah 29:11 DRA

 

denial

To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.  

Dying, Jesus honored His mother’s courage by acknowledging her pain. She was losing the Son she loved and it hurt in a way that only mothers can comprehend.  He didn’t tell her that it would “be alright” or that “the ending is ultimately victorious”.

Instead, He looked upon her trembling figure and saw her broken heart.

He made what practical provision He could by telling John to care for her. He knew it would not undo her sorrow.

Some in the church preach that pain and suffering are anamolies–that they are aberrations in the “victorious Christian life”.

And we place great emphasis on the idea that even though we may have “trouble” in this life–“We know the REST of the story!”  Jesus WINS!

Yes. He. does.

But some of our earthly stories-the ones we are living right now- do not have tidy, happy endings:

Some are burned in the fire.

Some die of cancer.

Some fall headlong into mental illness.

And some bury their children.

What to do when you are confronted by undeniable pain in your own or someone else’s life?

Acknowledge it.

Look with mercy on the broken heart.

Allow suffering to flow from the cracks unchecked and unjudged.

Be still and be love.

Offer practical aid without strings attached.  Be mindful of what is actually helpful even if it doesn’t make sense to you.  Come alongside for the long haul.

There is no greater gift to the one who is suffering than a faithful friend who refuses to be frightened away.

Loving burden-bearers help those of us living with no-happy-ending earthly stories cling more securely to the hope of ultimate victory in Christ.  

And by doing so, declare the power of the cross.  

For the message of the cross is foolishness [absurd and illogical] to those who are perishing and spiritually dead [because they reject it], but to us who are being saved [by God’s grace] it is [the manifestation of] the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:18 AMP