Choosing Transparency

I’ve had two conversations in as many days that revolved around how hard it is to be transparent in relationships.

And it seems that the difficulty lies not only in our own desire to present ourselves in a way that casts a positive light on our actions, thoughts and feelings but also because of an unspoken rule in social transactions that demands (and I don’t think “demand”is too strong a word) we conform to the “I’m doing just fine” standard that is prevalent everywhere you turn.

All around me, people are faking life.

They are acting as if there are no hurdles, no burdens, no wounded places in their own hearts.  They run around proclaiming, “this is my best life now!” somehow convinced that if they say it loud enough and long enough it will be true.

But everyone sees what we think we are hiding.

Many know what we think we’re not saying.

And we all walk around, seeing and knowing but never acknowledging the truth:  we are not as strong or as perfect as we wish we were.

All this fake life is costly.  It’s costly to us who try so very hard to keep up appearances-it robs our lives of energy that would be better used in loving and serving others.  It is costly to the people around us because as long as we play the game, they feel like they must play along too.

And everywhere, hurting people hurt alone.  Scared people remain isolated in their fear.

That is not the life Jesus came to give us.  That is not the way to build true community among His called-out ones.  That is not the way to teach our children how to lean into and hold onto the strength and hope that Christ died to bring.

When I lost Dominic, many feelings overwhelmed me-sorrow, pain, disbelief-and, to my surprise, humility.

For the first time in my life it made sense to me why in many cultures bereaved people sit in the dirt and tear their clothes.  Because I remember saying over and over, “I am cast to the ground, and ashes are my food.”

And while that feeling is no longer as strong as it once was, it still echoes in my heart and mind.  I carry it with me wherever I go.  It has freed me from the game of “let’s pretend” that held me hostage to other people’s expectations of how I should act or what I should hide from public view.

Let’s just STOP.

Let’s be honest.

Let’s refuse to hide our scars, our tears, our fears and our failures.

If those of us who love Jesus refuse to acknowledge our weakness, how do we expect others to acknowledge their need for a Savior?

“The Christian often tries to forget his weakness; God wants us to remember it, to feel it deeply. The Christian wants to conquer his weakness and to be freed from it; God wants us to rest and even rejoice in it. The Christian mourns over his weakness; Christ teaches His servant to say, ‘I take pleasure in infirmities. Most gladly …will I…glory in my infirmities’ (2 Cor. 12:9)’ The Christian thinks his weaknesses are his greatest hindrance in the life and service of God; God tells us that it is the secret of strength and success. It is our weakness, heartily accepted and continually realized, that gives our claim and access to the strength of Him who has said, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness”

― Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ

Making Space for Brokenness at the Table of the LORD

As we enter the week on the Christian calendar when most churches celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am reminded that often we race past the road that lead to Calvary and linger at the empty tomb.

But to understand the beauty of forgiveness and the blessing of redemption, we MUST acknowledge the sorrow of sin and the burden of brokenness.

When our sacred spaces draw boundaries around what we can bring to the Lord’s Table, we exclude the very ones who are desperate for the bread and cup.  When we treat the path as unimportant and only acknowledge the destination, we discourage those that are struggling to keep up.  When we welcome only the triumphant, we exclude those that are trying.

Let’s throw open the doors to the church and

Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness [remove the obstacles]; Make straight and smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3 AMP)

Let’s invite the outcasts, the limping, the hurting and the broken to the table.

Let’s declare to the wounded that in Christ there is healing!

As I’ve written before: “The truth is that none of us escape hardship in life.  All of us have hidden heartache.  We all have cracks in our polished persona.”

Read more:  Beautiful Broken

 

 

Defining Moments

I recently read a young bereaved mother’s blog post and it saddened me.  She had suffered two pre-term losses and in addition to bearing that pain, she had been pressured to dismiss her babies’ deaths as unimportant.

This grieving mama was told that she was “not defined by her tragedies” and encouraged to “rise above them” and to “move on”.

Along with the natural questions about God that arise in the wake of loss, her believing friends didn’t offer the support she needed to persevere in faith.  She now defines herself as “faith-less”.

I told her I was so very sorry that this was her experience.  And that we ARE defined by our tragedies, just as we are defined by our joyful moments, our exciting moments and our fearful moments.

Only people who have never suffered a great and deeply scarring loss can afford to say something as flippant as that.

I am a wife.  I wasn’t always a wife.

But one day I went into the church in a white dress and walked out of the church a wife. No one would argue that the moment my husband and I stood before God and witnesses didn’t redefine both of us in ways we wouldn’t fully comprehend for years.

I am a mother.  I wasn’t always a mother.

But one day a little life began growing inside me and nine months later, my daughter was in my arms.  Three sons followed soon after. Even though they are all grown and one son lives in heaven, I AM STILL A MOTHER.

I am a college graduate, a Southerner, a shepherd, a follower of Christ–all parts of who I am that were declared in a moment, that define who I am today and will continue to shape who I am tomorrow.

So when my son died suddenly in an accident and a deputy came to my door to give me the news,  it changed me.  It modified who I am and who I will be.

Bereavement became part of the fabric of my life, altered the color of the threads and changed the pattern of the weave. It is impossible to pull out that thread without unravelling the whole cloth.

I can make choices about HOW tragedy will define me, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t affect my very soul.

It’s easier to acknowledge pleasant milestones and moments because they affirm our hope that life will be joyful and happy.  We wear symbols to remind us of them–wedding rings, school rings, crosses–and invite people to share how life has changed because of choices made.

It’s much harder to offer hospitality to the hurting heart.  It takes more energy to listen to the tragic tale.  It requires more understanding to allow a broken soul into our living room and bear witness to the pain.

But the most beautiful art is defined by contrast between light and dark. The most moving music contains major and minor keys.  The most compelling story includes tragedy and triumph.

There are many things that define me and bereavement is only one of them.  But it IS one of them. My life can only be understood by including them all.

SCHeart1-main

 

 

 

 

Brave

I grew up reading and hearing tales of bravery, of one person risking their life for another, of people standing for their convictions and dying because of it.

The first time I read The Hiding Place,  a book about Corrie Ten Boom and her family’s commitment to hide Jews from the Nazis, I cried and cried.

It cost them everything to do the one thing God had called them to do.

As the years rolled by, I learned of personal stories of rushing into burning buildings to save children and of others standing between violence and its intended victim.

All of these people were brave.  All of them put aside fear of their own safety to do the right thing.

But I am here to tell you, some of the bravest people I know are mamas who have buried a child.

It’s one thing to act in an instant-when adrenaline rushes through your veins and pumps extraordinary strength to your muscles and grants clarity to your mind to gather all your nerve and power to jump in and DO SOMETHING.

It is quite another when, without aid of chemical courage, you wake each day to a long list of “to do” items knowing all the while you will be dragging the heavy weight of grief and sorrow everywhere you go.

Brave is the mama that still participates in her surviving children’s birthdays and school plays and graduations and weddings–all the while marking in her heart the child that IS NOT THERE.

Brave is the mama who gets up, gets dressed and walks out the door to work.  The one who manages to lay aside the overwhelming grief load and still get the job done.

Brave is the mama who boxes up what’s left of her child’s belongings, the things that speak of who he was and who he was going to be and lays them aside for another day, when the pain might be less and she can look  at them again.

Brave is the mama with the broken heart who keeps on keeping on-who shows up to church, who goes shopping, who cleans her house, who refuses to give in to the cloud of doom that threatens to undo her.

And the very bravest thing about these mamas is that they know, THEY KNOW, that this side of heaven, there will be no relief, there will be no respite and they have no idea how close they are to the finish line.

courage doesn't always roar

These brokenhearted warriors are committed to continue to love the child they lost and those around them by bravely facing each day as it comes, giving the best they have to give, and persevering until the end.

Who is the Keeper of my Faith?

No one has dared to say it to my face, but they don’t have to.  In the darkness, whispers abound and they taunt me:  “Where’s God now?”

“What has this faith in Jesus done for you?”

And my first response is to add up the “good” things that have happened in my life and weigh them against the “bad”.

How do I balance scales that on one side include burying my child?

How many good things would have to be piled up to outweigh the heartbreak of losing my son?

But then my heart reminds me that this is the wrong equation.  The underlying premise of this arithmetic is that I can give proper value to the things I’m adding up.  Even more, that the scales I am using are correctly balanced, unbiased and trustworthy.

I want my relationship with God to be one I can comprehend.  I want to be able to explain Who He is and what He is doing.  I want to KNOW.

Adam and Eve KNEW-they walked in the cool of the Garden with the Lord God.  And even that was not enough to keep them from doubting His goodness, His promise, His heart.

So is it any wonder that on my weakest days, in my most broken moments I doubt what God is doing as I walk this valley?

If my faith depended on me, there would be no hope.  If my feelings were the measure of truth, there would be no way to gauge falsehood.  If my future is in my hands, I am doomed.

But all is not lost–because from before the foundation of the world, God planned my redemption,  He arranged my adoption and He keeps my faith and my future secure:

Praise be to God for giving us through Christ every possible spiritual benefit as citizens of Heaven! For consider what he has done—before the foundation of the world he chose us to become, in Christ, his holy and blameless children living within his constant care. He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ—that we might learn to praise that glorious generosity of his which has made us welcome in the everlasting love he bears towards the Son.

Ephesians 1:4-6 PHILLIPS

Goodness of God

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.” ~popular church saying.

I’ve never been comfortable with direction from the pulpit instructing people in the congregation to “repeat after me”.  Maybe I’m a little rebellious, but it always seemed disingenuous to appropriate someone else’s sentiment for my own.

And I think there is danger in adopting pet phrases to explain God (as if He can be explained) and creating shorthand for concepts that require so much more discussion to even begin to understand.

In fact, I think these bumper sticker mantras and t-shirt worthy slogans often push genuine seekers to the fringe because they cannot embrace simplistic explanations for complex issues.

I admit that there are times they slip from my mouth.  I might be too lazy to engage with someone or too hurried to take time to really listen to their heart.

But in the wake of losing my son, I’ve become much more aware of how simply repeating one-liners falls so very short in meeting the needs of those around me.

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.”

When spoken to someone whose life is going well seems like a benediction, an affirmation–a confirmation that God’s seal of approval rests on them and results in physical blessing.

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.”

When spoken to someone whose world is crumbling sounds like a rebuke or reproof–adjust your attitude because it can’t really be as bad as all that!

I think we misunderstand God’s goodness in each case.

I want to think of God’s goodness in terms of concrete benefits that I can point to in the physical world.  I want  to see tidy endings to messy stories that wrap things up so I can wrap my mind around them. I like stories of miraculous healing, safety in the midst of storms, provision from out of nowhere.

But so many who love Jesus die.  And there are Christ followers around the world who starve and who have no place to lay their head.  Are they unfaithful?  Are they unworthy?

I am beginning to embrace the truth that I have no idea, really, of what “good” is when I try to  use the word to describe  God. I cannot limit God’s goodness to only what I can see, feel, taste or touch.

I am learning that “good”, when speaking of God, is higher and bigger and different than anything I know.  My mind is not capable of comprehending the goodness of God in all its aspects and manifestations.

I have experienced the faithfulness of God, the provision of God and the Presence of God in the midst of this pain-but I had also experienced those things before my son left us.

I do not see the “good” in burying my son.

But right now I walk in half-light, in shadows and in partial revelation.  I cannot wrap my ongoing experience in the shadow of the valley of death into a tidy chapter book with a happy ending.

And I refuse to adopt simple explanations of the mystery of this pain.

I am living the story, leaning on God, trusting in His character and waiting for His revelation of how this apparent defeat will ultimately be victorious.

So I trust the truth of Scripture that tells me goodness is the character of God. And I rest in my past experience that in Christ all God’s promises are “yes” and “amen”.

And I long desperately,like a drowning man gasping for air, for the day when I will know fully even as I am fully known.

For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know andunderstand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. I Corinthians 13:12 AMPC

 

 

Gifts of Spring

I spend a lot of time outdoors and love to notice the small details that announce the changing seasons.

Just a week ago I began to see tiny purple flowers peeking through the winter brown and heralding Spring’s return. Yesterday I found the first shy violets lifting their heads and today green has spread across the pastures overnight until it fills more space than the drab gray patches left over from last year’s bounty.

IMG_1762

It is a good thing that the earth still turns and the seasons still roll.  It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promise:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22 NIV

New flowers, new life, longer days, brighter sunshine are gifts.

But they are also a reminder that another season has passed, another calendar page has been torn off, another year has rolled by without the companionship of the child I love.

One of the things I am learning in this grief journey is that pain and joy, gladness and sorrow, hope and regret will forever be mixed in the marrow of my bones.  Every smile will carry with it a tinge of sadness.  Every new memory made will conjure up an old one undone.

And this is a gift as well.

Contrast sharpens the edges of everything.  And death makes life more precious.

Now that I know, by experience, breath is fleeting and that no matter how carefully I plan, the future is not in my hands, I am free to live and love and inhale the fragrance of this one sacred moment because there just might not be another.

 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 MSG