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This picture was taken for a story in UAB Magazine featuring my husband and oldest son who graduated together in December 2009. You can read the original article here: Like Father, Like Son

It is one of my very favorites. I was surrounded by my family, filled with pride and promise.

This is how I like to think of us-together and strong. 

Our circle is broken now-it is a continuing struggle to figure out how to navigate life in the wake of our loss.

And some of the greatest challenges present themselves in unexpected ways.

Redefining how to think about and present my family to the world led me to the solution presented in this post:

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Child Loss: The Question of Photographs

When I shared this post awhile back, it sparked quite a discussion among friends and an online community of bereaved parents to which I belong.

Pictures are a mixed blessing to those of us who have buried a child:

We love to see our dear one’s face beaming back at us but we also long to touch and hold the one represented by the two-dimensional image.  And when others share a photo on Facebook or Instagram, we are sometimes caught off-guard as our newsfeed scrolls by–There he is!  Our hearts stop for a moment.

I love to get pictures of my son through email or in notes and letters-many are ones I would otherwise never know about.  So if you have photos that a bereaved parent might like to see, think about sharing them.  And write a line or two about how our child is still part of your life.

We miss our children and welcome ways to connect with them through others.

“Pictures are everywhere today–much different than when I was a child and you had to go down to the local studio to get a decent family photo. Poloroids were fun and fast, but the number of shots you could take was limited to the film in the packet.

One of the challenges facing bereaved parents is what to do about photographs–both the ones that exist and the ones yet to be taken.”

Read the rest: Bereaved Parents and The Question of Photographs

Taking a Breather

The sun is shining in Alabama and I’m going to try to plant a garden again this year for the first time since losing Dominic.  I haven’t had the energy to invest in tending to growing things before this Spring. I pray it is good therapy and that seeing things sprout and bloom will encourage my heart.

So I’m going to share again a couple of posts that were popular. Some of you may have read them but there are a number of new followers that might have missed them.

I hope you are enjoying the warming weather too.  New posts coming soon!

One day a few weeks ago, I decided to simply make a list of the things grief is teaching me. I think I could add a few lines to this post, because I am learning something new every day…

To read more:

Things I’m Learning

Another Confession

Emboldened by my confession of fearing the dark, I’m here to make another one:

I really want to finish well-and I’m afraid I might not.

Foolishly perhaps, I had imagined the years on the other side of the Great Divide of fifty to be ones in which I could coast a bit.  As one sweet lady I knew used to say, “It’s great to be over the hill-that means it’s all downhill from here!”

And in some ways I am coasting.

I no longer struggle with the angst of being comfortable in my own skin. Since I’m not in the market for cosmetic surgery I have made peace with the fact this body is the only one I’ll have (until that wonderful day when I get my glorified body!).

I’ve decided that as long as I am kind about it, I am entitled to express my own opinion, even if I’m the only one who holds it.  I don’t have to receive affirmation for my convictions to be true.

Doing the regular chores of life come naturally and I can accomplish them without toddlers or teenagers undoing my work in one room while I’m making progress in another.

But on the spiritual front…well, that’s another matter entirely.

Losing a child has forced me to re-engage questions I thought I had settled long ago.  It has made me less certain of some ideas I once held tightly with both hands.

And it has made plain that these last years are going to be just as hard as the early ones in which I dug deep in Scripture to sort through what I had heard or been taught and compare it with what the Word actually says.

I am learning that God is not as easy to comprehend as our Sunday School tag lines make Him seem.  I am coming to understand what Job declared:

“I had heard of You [only] by the hearing of the ear, But now my [spiritual] eye sees You.”

Job 42: 5 AMP

Knowing now, by experience, that the road ahead may be just as hard and just as bloody as the one I leave behind, it would be easy to give up.

In my family, quitting was never an option.  My dad used to say, “You can do anything you want to do if you want to do it badly enough.”

But in this battle to keep going, I am too weak to continue by myself-too beaten down to make it to the finish line in my own strength.

I want to be faithful until the end.

I am purposing to refuse simple explanations and easy answers that tickle my ears but may not reflect truth.  And I will admit that I often just don’t understand–that I am wholly dependent on the God Who made me to keep me.

I want to let God mold me and shape me until I am a prize He is pleased with.

I want to present Him to others as the One Who has upheld me and keeps upholding me, even in this struggle to finish well.

So I go directly to Him. I go straight to His Word.  I will lean on, rely in and place my full trust in Jehovah:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Job 42:1-6 MSG

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

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!