I AM Defined [In Part] By Grief

I’m not at all fond of the saying, “Don’t let your grief define you”.

I understand that I shouldn’t let my grief CONSTRAIN me, shouldn’t let it circumscribe my life, making it smaller and smaller until all I think about, speak about or experience is sadness, sorrow and missing.

And I don’t.

But I cannot ignore that losing a child DOES define me.  It defines me in exactly the same way other momentous events-good and bad-shape, mold and make me into who I am.

Marriage, divorce, receiving Christ as Savior, growing up in a small town or big city-all those things matter to me and in my relationships with other people.

Becoming a mother changed everything. 

I was no longer free to think only of myself, consider only my wishes and schedule, eat, sleep and go places without making arrangements for this new little person.

Burying a child changed everything again. 

I was no longer free to believe that I would be spared great heartache in this life.  I couldn’t ignore the hard question of why does a good God let bad things happen?  My heart was shattered and though the pieces are coming back together again, it will never be the same heart it was before.

We routinely ask one another, “What kind of work do you do?”  

Why?

Because learning about a person’s work usually gives you insight into many aspects of a person’s life, character, preferences and inclinations.  

In the same way, you can’t really understand me unless you know that one of my children lives in Heaven.  

 

Am I ONLY a bereaved mother?

Absolutely not!

I am many other things besides- a wife, mother, follower of Jesus, shepherd, daughter, rural resident, bookworm, writer, lover of all things living.

But I AM a bereaved mother. 

And that colors my perceptions of the world just as surely as any of those other aspects of my identity.  

I can’t ignore it.  

To do so would be to dishonor my child.

I refuse to do that.

Unbroken

I call my parents pretty much every morning.  

It was a habit started years ago after my mother had a bad spell and ended up in the hospital.  I like to start my day knowing how she and my dad are doing.

The other day Papa and I were talking about the movie, “Unbroken” we saw a couple years ago.

There’s a scene where the main character was forced to hold a heavy beam over his head in a Japanese POW camp for hours.  If he let it fall, he would be shot and his torture over. Malnourished, mistreated and disheartened, he somehow found the strength to do it.

He endured.

unbroken movie beam

His courageous example lent courage to the others in that camp.  His victory was in not giving up or giving in, though he bore the scars for the rest of his life.

These past months have been difficult ones for both of my parents.  Mama’s fall, heart attack and multiple hospital stays have left her very different than she was last summer.  Someone needs to be with her all the time.

That means my dad-who has no physical limitations-is as housebound as she.  

Papa is absolutely committed to caring for Mama and he’s doing a great job.  

But it’s hard on a heart to be confined when you are surrounded by so many chores that need doing and so much wide open space that begs you to get out in the sunshine.

He is enduring.  

And I am thankful for his example.  

So few of us will have an opportunity to do really grand things that make headlines.  But most of us will have a chance to be faithful in hundreds of small things that make up meaningful lives. 

courage doesn't always roar male liion

Quiet, everyday commitment to not giving up when life is hard and rest seems so very far away is victory even when it doesn’t feel like it.  

It speaks courage to other hearts to hold on.

Truly.

Always.

 

be strong you never know who you are inspiring

 

 

“Why Am I Robbed, And Who is Benefited?” Mark Twain on Child Loss

I only recently came across this quote by Mark Twain.   

It’s from a letter he wrote to a close friend after his favorite daughter, Susy, aged 24, died of meningitis while her parents were abroad. 

It is heartbreaking and utterly perfect.  

You have seen our whole voyage.  You have seen us go to sea, a cloud of sail-and the flag at the peak; and you see us now, chartless, adrift-derelicts; battered, water-logged, our sails a ruck of rags, our pride gone.  For it is gone.  And there is nothing in its place.

The vanity of life was all we had, and there is no more vanity left in us.  We are even ashamed of that we had; ashamed that we trusted the promises of life and builded high-to come to this!

I did know that Susy was part of us; I did not know that she could go away; I did not now that she could go away, and take our lives with her, yet leave our dull bodies behind.

And I did not know what she was.  To me she was but treasure in the bank; the amount known, the need to look at it daily, handle it, weigh it, count it, realize it, not necessary; and now that I would do it, it is to late; they tell me it is not there, has vanished away in a night, the bank is broken, my fortune is gone, I am a pauper.

How am I to comprehend this?  How am I to have it?  Why am I robbed, and who is benefited?mark

He and his wife never returned to the home where she died.

there is no at least in child loss

 

Barefoot Over Broken Ground

I first shared this in 2014 not quite a month after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

His leaving has made me much more aware that what we read as “stories” where we can turn to the last page and know the ending, others lived in real time, with no ability to fast forward to the ending.

It’s easy to be impatient with a heart barely holding onto hope and try to goad someone into “looking on the bright side” or hammer them with Scripture because “we know how this ends”.

But when you are walking barefoot over a path of sharp stones, you really can’t focus too much on the fact that it might not be as long as you think.

All you know is it hurts like hell right now.

When I read the Gospels it is tempting to mock those who refused to see that Jesus was bringing in a kingdom that would be so much better than the earthly one they expected from Messiah.

But they were living a day-to-day reality of hopelessness under Roman rule that made them ache for relief.

When life this side of heaven is more than you can bear, there is great tension in your soul to beg God for relief in this earthly life and to be a bit impatient with the idea of “all things working for good” in some distant future.

It doesn’t mean you don’t believe it, but it does mean that you carry a weight of sorrow.

So be patient with broken hearts and with those walking a broken path.

You might think declaring “Victory in Jesus” is helpful.

But it’s not. 

Instead, hold a hand, call courage, choose to walk alongside.  

In the end it’s endurance that’s the real victory and that is only possible when a heart can hold on.

endurance is patience concentrated

 

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice….

There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Parents weren’t interested in policing every errant word out of the under 18 crowd’s mouth back in the day.

It was a simple (and effective!) rule:  If what you want to say does not meet the criteria of T.H.I.N. K. (true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind) then

just.

don’t.

say.

it.

THINK ACRONYM

I wish grown-ups would follow the same advice. 

Especially when it comes to offering up “helpful hints” to broken hearts.

In that instance it is rarely a case of another person aiming to be ugly or to hurt someone, but words are not neutral and they do hurt when tossed out carelessly by people who really just don’t understand another person’s pain.

So, for those who are tempted to fill empty spaces with empty words, may I help you apply the T.H.I.N.K acronym to the kinds of situations more likely to face us as adults?

T-Is it true?  You may think that giving out a Bible verse would automatically mean you were safe on this count.  Yes.  God’s Word is truth.  But how we use it and whether or not we understand the context can make a particular application of God’s Word UNTRUE.  And even if we get the context right, hammering a heart with a Bible verse may not be helpful.  You are not the Holy Spirit.  Let Him breathe truth gently into a wounded heart.

H-Is it helpful? This is tricky because sometimes what is helpful for one person is unhelpful for another.  I try to use this as my litmus test:  When have I ever been distraught and helped by someone pointing out the obvious? Or laying out a plan of action (when they don’t have access to the full picture)? Or reminding me that “all things work together for good” when right now all things really stink?  If there is any doubt about whether or not what I say will be helpful, I swallow my words.

I-Is it inspirational?  The word, “inspire” has roots in the the idea of breathing into someone or something.  Will my comment put wind in a person’s sails?  Will it breathe courage into his or her heart?  Will it lift them up and help them hold onto hope?  Is it the equivalent of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or am I instead sucking what little breath they have left out of their body?

N-Is it necessary?  This single criteria helps me hold my tongue so many times.  I might think of lots of things but is is necessary for me to speak them?  Am I warning someone of impending danger or am I just trying to make myself sound wise or insisting on making a point?  To be honest, very few things I have to say are necessary. Most of the time a hand on the shoulder, a hug, a smile, a friendly nod are the only thing someone really needs.

K-Is it kind?  The word kind comes from the same root as “kin”-which means family.  Is what I’m going to say something I’d want someone to say to me or my close family?  Am I treating (with my words) this person they way I want to be treated?  The Golden Rule, rules.

I can’t claim to always follow my own good advice.

But when I do, I find that I am building people up, not tearing them down.

There’s enough tearing down in the world.

I want to speak light and life.

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

Calvary Love

We just moved through the feel-good season of Christmas where we look with awe on baby Jesus, cute and cuddly in swaddling clothes, surrounded by His loving parents.

But what most moderns miss is that even in His birth, His death was foretold.  

The manger was most likely hewn from stone, as was His tomb.  And while the wise men’s gifts were costly and appropriate, they not only spoke of His kingship, they also included myrrh which was used for embalming the dead.

Jesus came to live so that He could die.  

Both His life and his death are models for my own. 

Every day of ministry was a day of self-denial-a pouring out of life onto and into the ones He came to serve.  

And if anyone-if ANY. ONE.-could have lifted Himself above those who presented their brokenness like offerings at His feet, He certainly could.  Not only was He without sin, He was God Himself in the flesh.

But look how gently Jesus welcomed the lost and lonely.  See the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His confused sheep.  Notice the love and kindness as He gathered the children around Him.

THIS is my example.

I am most certainly not above my Master.  

I am called to love and serve as He did-not in a condescending way that says, “I am helping you because I am better than you.”  But in a way that says, “I am helping you because I AM you.”

I have nothing I did not receive.  I have nothing to give except from the bounty of my Lord.  

My heart is just as broken as the next heart.  

We all need His touch.  

calvary love

Here We Go Again: Season of Joy-Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

I wrote this two years ago,  our second without Dominic.

This will be our fourth.

I’m still feeling my way along this path, still trying to figure out how to honor the missing and love the living in ways that are meaningful and helpful. I didn’t get a “how-to” book when my son died. I and other grieving hearts are doing the best we can.

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

Read the rest here:  Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays