Flickers Of Light, Guiding My Heart Home

A fellow bereaved mom commented on my recent holiday post with this question: How do you make joy, when your heart has no joy?

It was a good and honest query. One that stopped me in my tracks.

When your heart is so broken that all is dark inside AND outside, where does the word “joy” even fit into your vocabulary?

I’m not sure I would have described anything as joyful for months after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven even though those days included two graduations and a wedding.

I felt positive about those events and I longed to feel joyful, but I just could not muster the energy to do much more than smile for the camera.

So I think, for me, it was a matter (over time and with much effort) to choose to allow joy back into my broken heart.

There are moments of beauty even in the darkest and most difficult days.

At first I refused to recognize and acknowledge them because to embrace joy seemed like treason. It felt disrespectful to Dominic-making light of the horror of his untimely death.

But eventually I realized that embracing whatever good I might stumble upon in a day wasn’t denying the awful, it was admitting and affirming that death didn’t have the last word.

I am walking the Valley now, but this journey will not last forever.

One day it will end with more joy and love and laughter and glory than my finite mind can imagine.

So the bits of joy along the way are simply flickers of light guiding my heart Home.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Unshaken and Unshakeable

If there is one phrase that describes child loss it’s this: Utter destruction.

When that deputy showed up at my door and the words he spoke sank into my brain, my world imploded and exploded at the same time.

There was nothing left that made sense except the hands of the two children who happened to be home that night.

I held on for all I was worth because I was certain if I let go I’d float away into nothingness like an astronaut whose spacesuit tether is cut in two.

Living this side of 2000 plus years of Christianity, it’s easy to forget that Paul probably felt much the same way when the religion he had embraced, had vigorously defended (to the point of putting “heretics” to death) and had trusted to frame his life and understanding of the world was swept away on the Damascus road.

Not only did he endure three days of blindness, he endured three years in the desert as the Lord helped him connect the dots between what the Scriptures (remember-there was no New Testament yet) said and what He was doing in the world through Jesus, His Son.

Then as he took this Gospel-the Good News- to others, he was subjected to prison, beatings and more. Often he despaired even of life ( 2 Corinthians 1:8).

Yet Paul kept on going. He clung to the promises of God that no matter how much he suffered, the comfort of Christ was enough to help his heart hold onto hope.

All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. For even as His suffering continues to flood over us, through the Anointed we experience the wealth of His comfort just the same. If we are afflicted with such trouble and pain, then know it is so that you might ultimately experience comfort and salvation. If we experience comfort, it is to encourage you so that you can hold up while you endure the same sufferings we all share. Remember that our hope for you stands firm, unshaken and unshakable. That’s because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so you will also share in our comfort. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 VOICE

Paul doesn’t simply receive the comfort God offers and hoard it. He doesn’t pile it up in a corner and keep it to himself. No! He declares that the comfort he receives is meant for sharing!

A pastor friend says, “Your misery is your ministry.”

I think he’s right.

Child loss has been my greatest challenge, my deepest pain and my most profound misery.

But is has also been the very place God has met me with the greatest comfort, the deepest compassion and the most profound revelation of Who He is.

So it is with suffering; it never leaves you the same. You run into the traps of temptation that greet every sufferer and are left with a cruel harvest in your heart and relationships, or you run toward the comforts of grace, which shine most brightly in the darkness of suffering, and reap a harvest of blessing. Yes, you may continue to suffer, or its effects may remain, but you now live with a changed heart, a sturdier faith, and a joy that suffering cannot take away.

Paul David Tripp, Suffering

The comfort I have received is now mine to give to others.

In spite of everything I’ve endured, my hope remains unshaken and unshakeable.

QUESTIONS:

  • What specific comfort have you received that you could share with others?
  • Is God placing people in your path who need that comfort?
  • How might you do that? Where can you share your story?
  • If you are already sharing, do you edit yourself so that the hard places don’t seem so hard? Why or why not?
  • Are you afraid to share the darkness you felt/feel because you think it undermines God’s reputation?

PRAYER:

Father God, open the eyes of my heart so that even in the darkest place, the most desolate path, I see Your light and feel Your Presence.

You don’t ask me to deny pain or to pretend that things are “just fine” when they aren’t. You only ask that I bring all my broken bits and heartache to You. When I choose to do that, You are faithful to minister love, grace, mercy and comfort to my spirit and renew my strength.

Help me hold onto hope. Help me to lean into love. Teach me to trust Your truth even when it’s hard.

Take my life and turn it into a testimony of Your faithfulness. Make my misery a ministry to others. Give me beauty for ashes.

Amen

Life is Absolutely NOT Fair

Raising four kids as critical thinkers and encouraging debate led to many, many long discussions about thorny theological, social and family issues.

As my children aged, grew, had more exposure to different people, places and philosophies, the discussions grew more complex and wide-ranging.

It was no longer enough for them that a particular point of view was MY opinion-they began to demand facts, figures, examples, references  and consistent logic.

I remember a particularly good but also frustrating encounter with Dominic when he was about 12 or 13.  As a middle child (third of four) and middle son (second of three), something happened where he felt overlooked, underrepresented and left out or cheated.

So he challenged me regarding whether or not his treatment was “fair”.

I honestly don’t even remember what he wanted to do or wanted to be excused from doing, but I do remember he was passionate about what he believed were different standards applied to HIM versus his brothers and sister.

I spent well over an hour exploring the concept of “fairness”-pulling out my best mom arguments that if we want every single thing to be exactly even then it doesn’t serve anyone well because sometimes one family member needs more grace or freedom or material resources and on another day it may be someone else.

He would not budge.

He wanted every sort of pie in our home to be measured, cut and divided in perfect portions-precisely fair regardless of need.

pumpkin pie perfect slices

There was no way to convince him that while this might be good for him one day, it might be awful another day when HE was the one who needed a little extra whatever (money, grace, clothes, rest or freedom).

It ended with him deciding I was unfair and he was given the short end of the stick most, if not all, the time.

Every morning I lean over to add food to the cat’s bowl which rests precisely where he stood when he was arguing with me.  So I’ve thought about that conversation often in these years since he left us.

And while I was on the side of accepting that things/life/situations are inherently unfair when arguing with Dominic, I now find myself on the side of lamenting the very thing I was willing to accept then.

its not fair peanuts

Because one of the things I’m learning this side of burying my precious child is that there is no upper limit to the sorrow and pain I may have to carry in this life.  And it’s no use comparing my burden to that of another-begging God to consider the differing weights and to make adjustments to lighten my load because it is heavier than that of another.

I do not get a pass on daily stress and strain. 

I’m not guaranteed physical health. 

I am just as likely as anyone else to get the grumpy cashier, to drop a dish or lose my keys.

I cannot point to a single stretch of more than three days when one or more minor (often major) disruptions, problems or just stinky situations weren’t piled on top of missing my son.

I can sit and soak and sour in my feeling that this is “unfair”.  I can allow my heart to become bitter because “other people have it better, or easier or have more”.

But all that does is ruin MY day, hurt MY heart, stop me from living MY life.

Life is NOT fair.

thankful for what is given rather than what is withheld

Things are not doled out with measuring spoons so that each person on the planet gets the same amount of love, of opportunity, not even the same amount of food or freedom.

If they were, my burden might very well be greater instead of less.  

And if  I take a moment to consider the overall sweep of my life, then I have to admit that I am, in fact, blessed.

dom looking up with camera

I had my son for nearly 24 years and nothing can take away those sweet memories and the light and life I carry inside my heart because of that.  

So I will use my mom voice and remind myself that life isn’t fair,

but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.  

collect beautiful moments

 

 

 

Repost: Displaying Our Scars

What if, instead of hiding my pain, I allowed others to see it and offer it as a testimony of the power and grace of God in my life?

What if, instead of pretending that “everything is alright”, I admit that it’s not, but that God is still on the throne?

What if, instead of creating a gulf between myself and others by walling off parts of my life that I deem too messy, I throw open the door and invite folks inside-mess and all?

Read the rest here:  Displaying Our Scars

Time Alone Does NOT Heal

time does not heal its a lie Time, by itself, does not heal the pain of child loss.

But time, plus the work grief requires, plus God’s grace poured out on my heart and in my life, does bring a measure of healing.

heals the broken hearted

I did not believe that in the first months or even years. But I can testify to that truth today.  It has been a slow and very painful process full of stops and starts, one step forward, two steps back.  

Am I still very broken?

Absolutely!

Am I still limping?

YES!

Until the day I die I will never be the same.

But I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of sorrow and God is helping me turn the ashes into something beautiful.

beauty-from-ashes-clothespinThat something bears witness to my son, to my pain and to the truth that, with God’s help, I can endure faithfully to the end.

And God is no respecter of persons-He has not given me anything He will not pour out on every single heart that asks.  

My prayer for each wounded reader is that you will feel the Father’s loving arms around you and that He will flood your broken heart with His grace, mercy and comfort.   

 

close to the brokenhearted

The TRULY Beautiful People

I’ve spent the last three days with over a hundred bereaved parents.

And they are all beautiful.  

Beautiful in their bravery and their brokenness. 

It was probably the most diverse and HONEST “church service” I’ve ever been to-and it had nothing to do with the facility.  It had everything to do with hearts.  

These are hearts desperately longing to beat to the rhythm of the heart of God.  Hearts that are too shattered to pretend when there is an altar call.  Hearts that don’t care if sobs escape or tears stream down.

And hearts that receive other hearts with open arms no matter if the body that carries them looks familiar or proper or fashionable or is the same color as their own.

It was hard to be surrounded by so many hearts carrying so much pain. 

But it was also beautiful. 

I wrote this last year and was reminded of it yesterday:

We spend so much time, money and effort trying to make our decaying frame look less like the temporary shelter it’s intended to be and more like an eternal monument to beauty.

But try as we might, we are impotent against the forces that will eventually drag us to the grave.

What if, instead, I worked as diligently to exercise my inner woman as I do my too-generous bottom?

Read the rest here:  Beauty That Lasts

Repost: Beauty for Ashes

It crosses my mind sometimes.

And it’s a topic of conversation among bereaved mamas:

  • Why fight?
  • Why struggle on in this hard life without my beloved child?
  • Why keep on keeping on when I am so very tired?

Read the rest here:  Beauty for Ashes

Fake Flowers and Strong Winds

Don’t judge me but in an effort to add a bit of color to my entryway and make peace with the fact that goats eat EVERYTHING-I’ve created pots of colorful silk arrangements.  And if I do say so myself, they look pretty authentic as long as you don’t examine them too closely.

This morning I woke to find my carefully arranged fake flowers strewn across my front yard.  Strong winds during the night had lifted them out of the pots and carried them everywhere-betraying their true nature.

No pretending now.

As I stooped down to gather the remnants and reposition them I thought about how much of my own life is spent trying to look better than I really am.  How often am I arranging “fake flowers” in an effort to fool the eye of the beholder?

And who am I trying to impress anyway?

When the winds of life come blowing hard, all that “fake me” gets stripped away.  I’m not strong enough to withstand the wind and keep pretending.

It hardly seemed like a gift at the time, but when Dominic left us, I realized that I had been utterly exposed-every false thing was stripped away and I was standing, defenseless and naked-emotions everywhere, my ability to “keep up appearances” absolutely GONE.

For a time I no longer tried to curate my life so it met with others’ approval.

But old habits die hard and I find myself slipping back into the rut of trying to be something I’m not.  Pride clings to every pore and insists that if I don’t do the right thing, say the right thing and look the part, people will turn away.

Wouldn’t it just be better if I was real ALL the time?

Wouldn’t my relationships be stronger if they were built on honest sharing and authentic connections?

I have learned through the years that God does not want just our happy; He also really wants our sad. Everything is not fine, and God wants to hear about it. He is drawn to us when we’re mourning and blesses us in a special way. God is not up there minimizing our pain and comparing it to others who have it worse than we do. God wants all pain to be surrendered to Him, and He has the capacity to respond to it all with infinite compassion.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine, p. 35

So I’m taking back the gift of authenticity that was purchased at such high cost.

I’m re-embracing the honesty that being stripped of all pretense exposed.

I’m keeping my fake flowers but I’m ditching the fake me.

souls instead of bodies

Bluebirds and Hard Work

So, what keeps my heart tied to this weary world when what it really wants is to go Home and be free of pain and sorrow?  What anchors me to the sod when my soul longs to float away?  What compels me to stay?

Last week it was bluebirds and hard work.

Washing up dishes from a morning cooking frenzy, I raised my eyes to look out the window and there-looking down the chimney of our smoker-was a bluebird.

bluebird

Unconcerned with me he rested for some minutes where I could drink in the vibrant hue of his feathers. There’s just nothing like that blue anywhere but on the back of those beautiful birds-no matter how long I look at one, I always feel it’s not long enough.  Then off he flew to join another on a branch.

It was a gift.

And I tucked it in my heart to pull out later when I needed a reminder that there is still beauty and life in a world that also includes pain and death.

About an hour later I joined my youngest son at his house just a few miles from the farm. It’s an older home on main street in our little town and needs some work before he moves in.

It was carpet day.

So for the next few hours we worked together and by the end of the day we had done it! Carpet laid.  No major mistakes.

carpet-installers

Success was sweet!

I was really just a go-fer and cheerleader but it felt oh, so good to have something work out just as planned.

It felt absolutely victorious!

We sat in the finished room and drank it in.

Someone else may have just moved on to the next task in the long list of tasks needed to finish the house.  But when life has gone terribly wrong, you learn to relish those moments when it goes right.

THIS is what I hold on to.

These slices of beauty and victory are treasures I tuck inside.

collect beautiful moments

 

Hidden Blessings

I’ve always been this way-careful as I walk through the woods.  I don’t remember a time when I could crash unaware of what was underfoot.

So when springtime brings the violets, I find myself zig-zagging this way and that to avoid crushing them as I go about my daily chores.

Often obscured by last year’s leaves-I can make out the vibrant purple peeking from underneath-if I’m paying attention.  

But there are plenty of folks who make it all the way through March and April without ever seeing them.

And that makes me sad.

They are so beautiful.  

I consider them a gift.

It’s easy to race through life and never take note of God’s gifts.  We get busy and distracted and overwhelmed by the need to make a living and we ignore the Lord of life.

If I am going to SEE what He’s doing, how He’s providing, where He is blessing, I have to open my eyes.

But once I do, I find that blessings pop up everywhere.  

Just like springtime violets.

violets-in-wood-not-mine