Embracing Solitude, Making Space to Hear

We strive so hard to fill our days–our feet barely hit the floor and we are rushing to get ready, to get in the car, to go somewhere, do something.

And should there be the rare morning when our schedule doesn’t demand our attention, we sleep it away and then turn on our noise machines to provide a soundtrack for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between.

One statistic notes: “our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes.”  (USA Today)

We are afraid to be alone.

Afraid to listen to my own heartbeat and thoughts and to consider my own questions.  So I fill the space with distractions and push away the necessity of facing them.

But grief will not be ignored.

It will not allow me to pull the covers over my mind and hide beneath them.  I cannot turn the music or television up loud enough to drown out the rhythm of sorrow keeping time in my head.

I am re-reading “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis.

It comforts me that this man who was an intellectual giant, a creative genius, and a thoughtful and capable apologist for the Gospel, struggled just like me when faced with the sorrow, pain, loss and questions of grief.

And, contrary to what I wish were true there are not answers available for every question.

Quoting Bible verses does not soothe every frayed nerve.

There are not rock-solid assurances that sweep away every doubt.

Being in one’s own company alone with God is challenging.  

Without the noise of outside distraction I am forced to face my fears and hidden darkness.  

with you always

 

And in the quiet I find that the easy answers leave me empty and unsatisfied.  I must listen carefully for the still, small Voice that whispers comfort.

In the end, it is to Jesus Himself that I must cling.

 

 

Leave in Love, Part in Peace

Yesterday morning my elderly aunt was taken to the hospital by ambulance because she was having difficulty breathing.

My daughter works in a local ER and patients young and old come through the doors–and some never leave alive.

I certainly didn’t think that when I texted Dominic the day before he was killed, our chatty conversation would be our last.

You just don’t know…

No Redshirts Here

If you are a Star Trek fan, you get the reference.  In most episodes involving fear of mortal danger, the landing team included several main characters and one or two “redshirts”.  Those were the expendable crewmen (or women)–the ones you knew would take the fatal hit and fade into the story background.  There might be a moment when Captain Kirk or Spock or Dr. McCoy were threatened, but in your heart you just knew that they would be safe because, after all, there’s next week’s episode.

In some ways, this mentality crept into my life.  The people I love are too important, too central to my life to die.  Sure, eventually, we all leave this earth. But not today, not without warning.

And not in the middle of the story.

I resisted the truth that “life is but a vapor”.  I acknowledged it in my head but ignored it in my heart.

I’m here to tell you–life is a vapor…it can be gone as quickly as the morning mist and there is no getting it back.

I console myself that Dominic knew I loved him.  Because I told him so–in person, on the phone and in messages.  I couldn’t save him from death, but am spared at least that one regret.  

If you knew that today would be the last day you would be with someone, what would you do differently?  What would you say? What would you choose not to say?

We never know.  Even anticipated deaths are often unexpected.  Age and illness seem like creeping things until the moment they strike the final blow.

There are no red shirts in real life. No telltale symbol to clue us in to who will be here tomorrow and who will enter eternity today. Babies aren’t born with expiration dates.

Choose to honor the ones that are important to you.

Leave in love.  Part in peace.

Worn

I used to think the expression, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was an exaggeration meant to paint a comical picture of someone who didn’t have sense enough to remove pounds of heavy bricks but buckled under the tiniest extra weight of a single straw.

Now I think it accurately describes those of us with no control over the baggage we have to carry and who find that it really is the small things that force us to the ground.

Just when I’m convinced I have this grief load well-balanced so that the weight, though heavy, is bearable, along comes LIFE and throws the whole rig out of kilter.

Grieving my son means that while I can usually get through the day, I have no extra emotional, psychological, physical or spiritual energy to draw on when things get just a little more challenging:

  • I mean to encourage, but miscommunicate my heart to a friend and hurt her feelings.
  • Family members have needs I can’t meet.
  • People I expected to lend a listening ear spend our time together unloading on me instead.
  • My rheumatoid arthritis flares and moving around just plain hurts.

And I realize that the load I thought I was managing is much too heavy and threatens to crush the wind right out of my lungs.

With my strength gone, the sorrow and the missing and the unanswerable questions dog-pile on my prostrate spirit.

The song “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North describes perfectly how I felt last night:

I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win…Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…‘Cause I’m worn…

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win…Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…Cause I’m worn…

And my prayers are wearing thin, I’m worn even before the day begins.
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight, I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes.

Let me see redemption win… Let me know the struggle ends…That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.

I want to know a song can rise…From the ashes of a broken life…And all that’s dead inside can be reborn…

 

 

Repost: Loving a Grieving Heart

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way we who have encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate.  And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

 

When it Doesn’t Feel Like Grace

It’s been said that everything this side of hell is the grace of God.

But burying my child doesn’t feel like grace, it feels like punishment.

Or abandonment.

Or forgetfulness.

I cannot add my voice to the modern Christian chorus of “Everything happens for a reason”.

Is this my tree, set in the midst of my garden?  The one about which God says, “Trust Me”?

I am tempted to argue, tempted to try to frame the meaning of my test in terms my human heart can understand.

“God must not love me.”

“He must be hiding something.”

I am faced with the same question that mocked my first mother, “Did God really say?”

And, like Eve, I am tempted to give in to the fear that draws my soul to doubt the wisdom and goodness of God.

Why would He bring me to this place where I am forced to walk obediently in trust and without light?

But these are whispers of the enemy of my soul, luring me away from the only Source of hope and comfort that there is.

And he is skilled at turning my feelings against the truth.

I am powerless to fight the serpent in my own strength, too weak to answer what seem like reasonable questions.

So I throw myself on the mercy of Him Who made me, of Him Who brought me to this point of testing.

In my weakness I rest in His strength.

and finally He said to me, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on—I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 VOICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sparrows DO Fall

I have never subscribed to the theory that the Christian life is free of pain and suffering.

But there are some who do.

Christian bookstores are filled with titles touting the path to joy and happiness, the way to wealth and material success.

And some of the claims of these authors and preachers rest on Jesus’ own words in the Sermon on the Mount:

But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33 KJV

They interpret this verse to mean that if your heart is set on God and His Kingdom, then He will give you the things that will make you happy and healthy.

I would argue that they have it all wrong.

My own experience and that of many other faithful followers of Jesus makes plain that loving Christ does not protect you from the evil in this world.  It doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer, that you won’t lose your job, or that you won’t suffer persecution from the enemies of God.

And it doesn’t spare you from burying your child.  

Just a few chapters later, Jesus instructs His disciples as they go out to minister and encourages them with these words:

” Are not two little sparrows sold for a [a]copper coin? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered [for the Father is sovereign and has complete knowledge]. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” 

Matthew 10:29-31 AMP

More than one song has been written to include the phrase, “His eye is on the sparrow”–meant to bring comfort in moments of fear.

And it is true.  His eye IS on the sparrow.

But read the whole verse: “not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” 

God knows when a sparrow falls, but He doesn’t always stop it from happening.

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

Isaiah 55:8-9

Since Dominic died, I have found an unusual number of bird’s nests knocked down from trees by the wind.

Intact and beautiful, but empty.

I’ve wondered about whether God is trying to encourage me, or simply reinforce the truth that I now carry in my heart:  

Even though He is watching, sparrows do fall.  

The Silent Joy of Memory

We live in a noisy world.

Music, television, voices and the hum of electricity tunnel into our brains and distract us from hard questions and painful circumstances.

We live in a busy world.

If I’m not in motion, I am getting ready to be.

It is tempting in my grief to try to stuff life full of noise and busyness so I can ignore the pain and emptiness of missing my son.

But there is quiet beauty in the unfilled space of my heart–the spot once brimming with the living essence of the son I love.

In the silence I can hear his voice and see his smile.

So I will guard the noiseless place that still belongs to Dominic and keep it as a treasure,  a comfort, and a tribute to him until we are together again.

There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer