Waiting for the Holy Words to Fall Inside

Turning the calendar page to begin a new year, I am challenged once again to focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on truth. No sweet saying can give me the strength or endurance I need to make it through the days ahead.

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…’~Mary Poppins

It’s a wonderful thought–that even the bitterest medicine can be made tolerable by a tiny taste of sweetness.  But it’s not true.

Some things are too hard to swallow no matter how you try to disguise them.

Losing  a child is one of them.

I have been a student of the Bible for decades-I take Scripture seriously, believe it with my whole heart and trust that the truth it contains is necessary and sufficient for this life and the life to come.  But when Dominic died, I found I was forced to look again at verses I thought I understood.

There is no easy answer for why children die–no sweet saying that can wash away the pain and the sorrow and the regret of burying your son.

But I know this:  if my healing depends on me, I am lost.

If the God of heaven is not the God of all, then I have no hope.

If Jesus didn’t really come, and die and rise again, I have nothing to look forward to.

Ann Lamott recounts this tale in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

“There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

I can’t paste a Bible verse on my broken heart like a Band-aid on a skinned knee–the wound is too great and the damage too extensive.

So I will wait for the holy words to fall inside.

Prayer and Questions

I am part of a loving and supportive Christian community of bereaved parents called While We are Waiting  (whilewearewaiting.org).  It is a safe place to tell my story, to hear the stories of others and to ask the hard questions that must be considered if we are ever to heal.  So many of us are findng it difficult to face a new year without our missing child. Sometimes we wonder, “Where is God? ” and “Why MY child?”.

I believe that God invites us to ask our hard  questions. It’s not like we can hide them from Him anyway.  When we speak them aloud, we open our hearts to the healing power of His Spirit.

For most of my adult years I felt like I had a robust prayer life.  I regularly interceded for my family, for my church, for missionaries and for the world. I’ve kept a prayer journal for over twenty years.  

I felt connected to the God of the Universe.  

But when Dominic died I felt like I lost that connection.

Of course, the first moments after hearing the news I screamed, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” My foxhole prayer for divine intervention–make it stop; make it untrue; make it go away…

But it was true.  It didn’t stop.  And it hasn’t gone away.

As the reality of what happened sank in, I searched my heart for why.

Why did MY son die?  What fault had God found in me that wasn’t covered by the blood of Jesus and demanded my son’s life as payment? Why were people who caused death and destruction and spread hatred and strife still walking around?

Did I, whose son died, pray less fervently or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

So many people think that “good” Christians don’t ask, “why?” But I can’t find a compelling scriptural argument that supports this view.

The Psalmist asked, “Why?”

He often recited a litany of complaints that included his perception that God had abandoned him.  But there is a turning point when the Psalmist focuses his heart and mind on the truth that:

God is sovereign;

God is faithful;

And God’s love endures forever.

I am thankful that before Dominic died I had a habit of praying and reading Scripture.  I am thankful for the many verses that are so ingrained in my thoughts that they come, unbidden to my mind.

So I have continued to pray each morning, opening my journal and my Bible.

Even when I cannot feel the connection, I know God is there.  

And by an act of will and in obedience, I turn my heart and my mind to acknowledge His sovereignty.

To trust His faithfulness.

And to run for safety to His enduring love.  

 As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. Where can I find him to come and stand before him? Day and night I weep for his help, and all the while my enemies taunt me. “Where is this God of yours?” they scoff.

Take courage, my soul! Do you remember those times (but how could you ever forget them!) when you led a great procession to the Temple on festival days, singing with joy, praising the Lord? Why then be downcast? Why be discouraged and sad? Hope in God! I shall yet praise him again. Yes, I shall again praise him for his help.

Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan River flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract.

Yet day by day the Lord also pours out his steadfast love upon me, and through the night I sing his songs and pray to God who gives me life.

Psalm 42: 1-8 TLB

Choose Wisely

Even if I live to be ninety, the years I spend on this earth will be the tiniest dot on the eternal timeline of God’s Kingdom.

“Humans are like a breath of air. Their life span is like a fleeting shadow.”

Psalm 144:4 GW

I have one life, one opportunity to do the work for which I was created. There are no “do overs”.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

C.T. Studd

Every day I am confronted by choice.

I choose life or death.  

My words can heal or my words can wound.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.

Proverbs 18:21 MSG

I can help or I can hinder.

My life can be a light or it can add to the darkness of this world.

“Father, help me to choose wisely as I enter this New Year. Empower me by Your Spirit to do ‘the good works which [You] have prepared in advance for me to do’ (Ephesians 2:10).  Give me the grace to embrace whatever comes my way and accept that it has passed through Your hands before it reaches me.  Fill me to overflowing with Your love so that when I am shaken (and I’m sure I will be shaken), kindness and gentleness spill out.”

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

The funny thing about New Year’s resolutions is that they are pretty much the same, year after year.  We all have particular struggles and the turning of the calendar seems like the perfect moment to commit to action to try to overcome them.

But most of us fail miserably and find ourselves back at precisely the point from which we started, regardless of our best efforts to change.

Truth is, we are terrible at remaking ourselves.  Habits wear ruts in our thinking and in our behavior.  It requires more strength than most of us possess to climb out and start fresh.

But God has promised that those who trust Jesus will be “made new”–they will be changed dramatically, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.  From the inside out and no turning back.

“Therefore, if anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation. Old things have disappeared, and—look!—all things have become new!”

I Corinthians 5:17 ISV

In the five years before Dominic died, I had slowed my Bible reading to a crawl–limiting myself to one chapter a day and writing it out in my journal.  After decades of church attendance, I realized that the stories had become too easy to rush through, the verses too familiar to resonate deeply in my spirit. I had just finished my journey through God’s Word in this way when my son was killed.

No one is prepared to bury their child, but God did lead me in the years before Dominic’s death to commit to reading Scripture in a slower, more deliberate way.

Having those Bible verses in my heart and in my head gave me a safe place to land when I received the awful blow.

So may I suggest that this New Year’s, choose the one resolution that can truly transform–if you don’t know Jesus, ask someone who does to introduce you to HIm.

If you are a Christ follower, commit to reading His Word. Store it in your soul. Write it on the tablet of your heart.  You never know what a new year will bring…

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.

Romans 12:1-2 TLB

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

curating grief

Most of us have taken a class or two in literature–we read other people’s writing and sit around discussing “what it really means”.  My husband has always scoffed at the notion that anyone but the author knows that.

Me–I love books, plays and poetry so I’ve spent a lifetime reading and trying to interpret the meaning of others’ words.

But now I find I’m leaning more toward my husband’s point of view.

One of the challenges I face as a grieving parent is finding that other people want to interpret my experience for me.

They want to curate my mourning like a museum exhibit–arrange and highlight and sift through the days before and after burying my child and lay my experience out in some way that makes sense to them.

Sometimes it is subtle and involves mentioning memories that cast the missing child in a positive light–extolling his virtues and highlighting his achievements–as if noting how wonderful he was when walking this earth makes it easier to let him go.

Other times it is direct and forceful–“Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  Or, my personal favorite, “You know he’s safe with Jesus and you will be together again one day.”

While my theology rests firmly on the finished work of Christ, my heart longs for the physical presence of my son.  So none of these platitudes are helpful and they only draw a sharper contrast between my hope and my experience.

Let me just be blunt:  unless you have buried a child, you do not know how it feels. 

Full stop.

No debate.

I am grateful for your support, for your prayers, for your kindness, compassion and love.

But please do not tell me how this all makes sense or fits together in God’s plan or will someday “make a difference”.

I  invite you to travel with me, to share stories (good and bad) of my son with me, to sit with me and look at the memories, feel the sorrow and experience the missing.

And, if you are brave, you can ask me what it means.

 

 

No Perfect Formula

Everyone loves a formula.

We spend millions (billions?) of dollars seeking the perfect, easy way to whittle our waistlines.  We spend hours (days?) googling tips on reducing clutter, improving relationships, decorating our homes (Pinterest, anyone?).

Christian bookstores are filled with tantalizing titles that promise a quick and effortless method for happiness and holiness.

We just want someone to tell us what to do, when to do it and exactly how to do it–we want life to work like a math problem: 2+2=4.

Sometimes, for a season, it looks like a formula might work.

But there is nothing predictable about life. And as long as people are involved, there’s no reliable method to accurately predict outcomes.

It’s just not that simple.

Looking for the perfect equation to balance life’s challenges distracts me from the life I’m actually living.  It offers false hope that one day, some way and somewhere, things will be “perfect”.

It seduces me into thinking that people behave like numbers and that I can size them up, put them in the math machine and turn out identical and predictable products.

Burying a child rips that notion right out of your head.

Nothing predictable about that.

There are no shortcuts.  No pat answers.  No perfect formulas.

Life is relationship.

With God,

with people,

with ourselves.

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:2-3 MSG