What Fills Your Heart?

Jesus taught that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What I value most is where my heart rests.

Burying a child has pushed that truth right in front of my eyes.  I am pouring my life into something–no way around it.

So two questions fill my mind most days:

What am I willing to die for?  What will I live for?

Dying for something or someone would be a moment in time, an unrepeatable and finished work.  A single act.  

It’s much more challenging to think about what I will live for.  

I have to decide and commit to THAT over and over.

My first journal entries after Dominic died were filled with prayers begging God to pour His love, mercy and grace into my broken heart and to make me a vessel of healing for othersto not allow me to become bitter or hard or uncaring–

It was the only good I could imagine coming from the horror of burying my child.

Years ago, my husband gifted me with the CD “Revival in Belfast” by Robin Mark.  And in these months after losing my son, it is the one soundtrack I can play over and over because it speaks to deep places in my heart and spirit.

One of the songs,  “When It’s All Been Said and Done” has become my anthem:

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and heaven after
For you’ve joined me at my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone…

When It’s All Been Said and Done (lyrics)

When It’s All Been Said and Done By Robin Mark

“Only what I’ve done for love’s rewards will stand the test of time.”

I want my heart to be filled with love.  

I want my treasure to be eternal.

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

I Corinthians 13:13 MSG

I Can’t Do This Anymore!

A worthwhile and enlightening read.  Janet Boxx is honest and gives a glimpse into what it takes to continue the work toward healing from child loss.

This is the second post in a series entitled “Pulling the Curtain Back – Grief Revealed.” Feel free to skip the introduction paragraph if you read yesterday’s post!

Source: I Can’t Do This Anymore!

Relationships Not Rules

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.  It appears that rules may make life easy.

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

A Daily Struggle

I despise the platitude plastered across social media memes:  “Hard times either make you bitter or better”.

It makes it sound so simple.

As if all I have to do is make a single choice between two equally available paths.

Enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.

Every day I am forced to confront my heart’s tendency to turn inward and embrace loneliness and isolation in an attempt to protect myself from further and perhaps greater pain.

Each moment I have to choose whether I will lean into despair or hold onto hope.

And I just don’t agree that there are only two possible outcomes of a life that endures hardship or grief.

Bitterness is certainly an option.

If I allow myself to rehearse the reasons why my son should not have died, why my family doesn’t deserve this grief, why my life is so much harder than it should be–then the case for bitterness grows strong and becomes attractive.  I can pack my briefcase full of evidence and pull it out at every opportunity when confronted with yet another “happy moment” splashed on Facebook.

Bitterness is always a temptation, and I must refuse it everyday.

But “better” implies that I lacked something that I have now gained.

Better diminishes my grief and gives the impression that I’d do it all over again because my painful experience has wrought amazing results.

Losing my son, regardless of what I have learned, is not the same as sticking to a diet or working up to a marathon run or getting a master’s degree.

The subtle danger in declaring myself “better” is that I can decide I’m a measuring rod for others to judge their grief journey.  Or I can become like the reformed smoker who forgets how many tries it took to quit or how hard it was to finally stop smoking and instead mocks those who are still struggling.

I am not “better”.

I am broken.  

I am bankrupt of any illusion that I am the captain of my ship.  I understand by very, very painful experience that there are no earthly guarantees life will turn out according to plan. I embrace with both hands the notion that the most precious gift is people we love and no matter how long we have with them, it will never be enough.

I can’t claim a final victory of faith over doubt, of good out of bad, of lessons learned from effort expended.

Instead I extend my empty hands and hurting heart to be filled with grace and mercy.

I choose love and refuse hate.

I continue to engage this broken world from my broken perspective and offer compassion and understanding to those who are broken too.

Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement; who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation whatever, through the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 DARBY

 

 

 

 

 

Not Quite So Dry Bones: Learning to Dance Again

I wrote this post several months ago–when falling autumn leaves turned my mind to how every living thing dies.  When the thought of another holiday season without a complete family circle pressed hard against my eyeballs and threatened to undo me.

I felt so very tired.  Some days I still do.  Some days are “dry bone” days.  But there are days when I hear laughter–look around and realize it flows from my own mouth.

I believe God is healing me.  He is restoring life to my bones.  He is redeeming my pain and resurrecting my hope.

It is a process.  So if you have only recently begun a grief journey, don’t despair.  It is hard and it is long.  But there is hope.

Grief has sapped the strength from my body and the life from my bones.  It has turned this forward-thinking planner into someone who rarely ponders even an hour from now.

I was a visionary.  

Now I’m a survivor.

I understand why Naomi changed her name to Mara-“bitter”.

When I read her story in the book of Ruth, I’m tempted to challenge her across time to “look on the bright side” and to “think of the future”.  But she felt her hope and her future had died and been buried with her husband and sons.  She was old.  She was spent.  She couldn’t understand what God was doing or imagine life beyond this moment or this day.

She was dried up all the way down to the bone.  

The breath of the promise of God had left her heart and she was barely there.

But God brought joy back into her life, He breathed life into her dry bones.

The book of Ezekiel records an amazing vision.  God shows the prophet a valley of dry bones.

Very dry bones.

No-life-even-in-the-marrow bones.  

And He challenges Ezekiel to prophesy to them:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37: 4-6 NIV)

I long to have the LORD make His breath enter once again into my own dry bones, so I read His word and prophesy to my dry bones.

He is the God of the resurrection, and He will redeem my sorrow and pain.  

He IS the breath of life.   

I am clinging to His promises and trusting His heart.

One day, these dry bones will dance!

Dropping the Mask

Despite my commitment to authenticity, I do have a plastic smile I can pull out of my pocket and slap across my face.

Sometimes I just don’t want to have to have to answer the question, “How are you?” with more than a nod and a wave.

I tell myself that it demonstrates maturity and self-control.

And I actually think that’s OK. I don’t always need to spill my guts to every unsuspecting stranger I meet.

But if I allow it to become a habit or use it as camouflage to keep my distance from my fellow man, it is unhelpful.  It gives the false impression that life is mostly smooth sailing, when that’s just not true so much of the time.

And it builds a wall between me and others.

Because if the people I meet think that I have it all together all the time, they are going to be much less likely to admit that they don’t.  And let’s be real, none of us have it all together.

We all have at least one place in our lives that hurts and that needs healing.

Everyone has scars.

Losing a child is teaching me many things.  One of the things I am learning is that I am not self-sufficient.  I am not capable of meeting my own needs or bearing my burdens alone.  I need companionship in this journey.

When I walk around with my mask on, I isolate myself from the very people that might help me heal.

It is humbling and sometimes frightening, to let others SEE my brokenness.

I might be inviting judgment and condemnation.  But I am also welcoming love and companionship.  I am opening my heart to the gift of friendship.

When I refuse to pretend, I give permission for others to take off their masks too.

Being real creates space for authentic healing.

It unlocks doors to sharing truth.

Jesus came as God in the flesh so that He could experience our trials, our temptations, our joys and our sorrows. He came to KNOW.

But He also came to make the Father KNOWN.

And He has left His followers to continue making the Father known in the world.

If I want to minister to the painful places in the lives of others, I have to let them see the painful places in my own. I have to drop the mask and reveal my face.  When I do, I invite them to let me help carry their load and to let them help me carry mine.

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

 

 

Hopeful Waiting: Healing in Community

Since losing my son, I often feel like I’m in a holding pattern, circling life and unable to land.

I’m better at doing than waiting. 

I was prepared for the tears and the sorrow and the longing of grief.  But this lifetime of waiting took me by surprise.  

I am caught  between the here-and-now and the hereafter and I must give each a measure of my attention.

Waiting weighs me down and makes it so very difficult to move.

Because the one thing I want to DO is bring Dominic back.

But that is impossible.

And I groan in travail, desperate to birth into fullness what God has promised.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, acknowledging the tension between our earthly experience and the glory of heaven:

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

Romans 8: 24-26 Phillips

And these verses are the cornerstone of a ministry to those who have experienced child loss called “While We’re Waiting”.   (While We’re Waiting)

Founded by two bereaved mothers, it is a Christ-centered, supportive environment that provides a safe place to share with those who understand by experience what grieving parents are going through.

The Facebook page  (while we’re waiting ) is a way for bereaved parents to connect with and encourage one another.

In our mutual waiting, we are all learning that “hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got.” Together we are spurring one another on to finish well.

This community has been so helpful as I continue my grief journey.

By example, I am learning how to keep living and wait for reunion at the same time.

I am learning to persevere.

I am learning to rest but also to work.

I am learning to bear the heaviness of sorrow and deferred hope while also walking confidently in the path God has laid before me.  

And when I am worn out in the waiting, overwhelmed with the prospect of a lifetime of longing, I am encouraged by the love and support of fellow travelers who remind me of God’s faithfulness and provision, even in the wilderness  of grief.