Loving the 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.

 

 

 

Tell Me Your Story

One of my greatest fears is that Dominic will be forgotten.

If I ever speak it out loud, people are quick to assure me that he will always be remembered. But I know it isn’t true–unless others allow me to tell my story.

Not the Reader’s Digest condensed version–but the full length director’s cut–the one that takes time to tell and time to hear.

Because the farther away I get from the last living memory of him, the harder it is to think of him in the present tense.  And I know if that’s true for me, his mother, it must be doubly true for others.

We buy tickets to movies, purchase books and cruise the Internet gobbling up other people’s stories.  Yet we often make it difficult for those we know to tell us theirs.

We jockey for attention at gatherings, or worse, give all our attention to electronic devices.  We think we KNOW other people’s stories so we don’t want to bore ourselves with listening again.

The truth is, we know less than we think about the folks we rub shoulders with every day.

Invite others to tell their stories–not just the grieving, but the elderly, the quiet ones in the corner, or the neighbor you’ve only seen from across the way.

Take some cookies, put away your phone and just listen.

(And feel free to share in the comments section too–I’d love to know YOUR story…)

 

 

 

 

 

Praying Through the Pain

For most of my adult years I felt like I had a robust prayer life.  I regularly interceded for my family, for my church, for missionaries and for the world. I’ve kept a prayer journal for over twenty years.  

I felt connected to the God of the Universe.  

But when Dominic died I felt like I lost that connection.

Of course, the first moments after hearing the news I screamed, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” My foxhole prayer for divine intervention–make it stop; make it untrue; make it go away…

But it was true.  It didn’t stop.  And it hasn’t gone away.

As the reality of what happened sank in, I searched my heart for why.

Why did MY son die?  What fault had God found in me that wasn’t covered by the blood of Jesus and demanded my son’s life as payment? Why were people who caused death and destruction and spread hatred and strife still walking around?

Did I, whose son died, pray less fervently or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

So many people think that “good” Christians don’t ask, “why?” But I can’t find a compelling scriptural argument that supports this view.

The Psalmist asked, “Why?”

He often recited a litany of complaints that included his perception that God had abandoned him.  But there is a turning point when the Psalmist focuses his heart and mind on the truth that:

God is sovereign;

God is faithful;

And God’s love endures forever.

I am thankful that before Dominic died I had a habit of praying and reading Scripture.  I am thankful for the many verses that are so ingrained in my thoughts that they come, unbidden to my mind.

So I have continued to pray each morning, opening my journal and my Bible.

Even when I cannot feel the connection, I know God is there.  

And by an act of will and in obedience, I turn my heart and my mind to acknowledge His sovereignty.

To trust His faithfulness.

And to run for safety to His enduring love.  

 As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. Where can I find him to come and stand before him? Day and night I weep for his help, and all the while my enemies taunt me. “Where is this God of yours?” they scoff.

Take courage, my soul! Do you remember those times (but how could you ever forget them!) when you led a great procession to the Temple on festival days, singing with joy, praising the Lord? Why then be downcast? Why be discouraged and sad? Hope in God! I shall yet praise him again. Yes, I shall again praise him for his help.

Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan River flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract.

Yet day by day the Lord also pours out his steadfast love upon me, and through the night I sing his songs and pray to God who gives me life.

Psalm 42: 1-8 TLB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testimony of Hope

No way around it–this goat is ugly.  He was born a runt and never outgrew it.

But he’s my favorite.

Several years ago he was attacked by dogs.  One had him by the ear (thus his missing ear) and one had him by the hindquarters. Only my youngest son’s swift barefoot run through the woods saved him from being killed. Julian carried him out, mangled and bloody.

We spent weeks cleaning and treating his wounds and months nursing him back to health.

He has no monetary value–in fact he’s cost me a good deal.  But I love him because he is a testimony of hope.  

He lives in spite of his scars.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I’m meeting others who have buried their children too.

And it is so, so hard.

But these mamas are so, so brave.

And they are clinging with all their might to the hand of the One Who has promised to redeem this pain and these wounds.

I can’t tell you that anything “good” has come from my son’s death–at least nothing that couldn’t have come from his life.

But I can tell you that what the enemy intended to use to destroy me and my family has not done that.

I am hurt and I bear scars.

But the Shepherd of my soul has carried me and is carrying me.

I will continue to trust in Him and offer my life as a testimony of hope.

 

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming the Stranger

Last night I did something brave (for me).  

I went to a Christmas musical production at a large church about 45 miles away from my home.  It was brave because since Dominic died I haven’t been able to go to a worship service that includes a band and worship singers without being frozen in my seat, tears running down my face.

Someone posted a video of a practice run for the song “Mary Did You Know” done Pentatonix style and it was beautiful.

Made my heart long to hear Christmas music again.

I thought sitting in a different church, with different people  might just be the bridge to help my wounded soul  reengage in worship music.

So I arrived early, walked in and sat down in a row facing an aisle, right in the middle of the sanctuary.

By myself.

Clearly alone.

And not one person greeted or spoke to me or even smiled–though I smiled at several as they passed.

Flashing up on the large screen at the front of the room was an invitation to “send us your photo” watching the musical,  followed by various ways to connect with the church online.  Cute snapshots of people from around the area and around the world cycled through.

But no one saw, or reached out, or spoke to the person right there in front of them.

My feelings aren’t hurt. I wasn’t looking for affirmation or comfort and I’ve already “found” Jesus–but they didn’t know that.

I could have been a struggling middle-aged woman who had come, desperate for hope, or a reason to keep living,  or for the Savior everyone seems to sing about this time of year.

And that made me think:  What are we doing?

Really?

Are we so busy being IN church that we have ceased to BE the church?

The music was wonderful, the staging flawless, the choir amazing.

But what frightened and seeking and lonely people really want is a personal connection not a perfect production.

At this time of year when the days grow short and the nights are long, so very many people’s hearts are yearning for a tiny ray of light, the smallest gesture of compassion, a glimmer of hope.

And some of them bravely step through the doors of our churches.

One smile can bridge the gap.  One word can invite them in.  One extended hand can give them something and someone to hold on to.  

For if you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the heathen do that?

-Jesus

 

 

 

Messy Christmas

The Christmas story is a messy one.

An unmarried mother, a hurried and hushed wedding (you know they HAD to get married, don’t you!).

Life is messy.

It rarely fits into the tidy boxes we create for our convenience.

My grief has taught me that really, we are all a mess.

Some of us are better at hiding it but I’ve learned that sharing my own brokenness invites others to do the same.

Losing a child opened my heart as never before to the broken and wounded and ignored of the earth.

And isn’t that really the message of Christmasthat the Almighty God Who is unapproachable in His holiness, comes to us as the Babe in the manger–inviting us to draw near in our brokenness and receive grace, mercy and love?

Maybe the best way to honor the Son of God leaving the glorious perfection of heaven to enter the world in poverty and dependence is not creating lovely tablescapes and piling packages under a decorated tree.

Maybe the best way to honor Christ’s birth is to open our hearts and homes

to the outcast,

the lowly,

and the disregarded.

Sar Shalom

Sar Shalom.

Prince of Peace.

My favorite name of Jesus.

According to Strong’s Concordance 7965 Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

Peace is not a place or a promise–peace is a Person.

I made this paper weight in January 2014 to remind me that Jesus IS Shalom–He IS Peace.

Four months into that year, my confidence in this truth was shaken. What tranquility can dwell in the heart of a mama who has to bury her child?  Where is wholeness when the family circle is torn asunder?

And yet…

Even as I walk this hard path, I am strangely, inexplicably at peace in the core of my being.

And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 AMPC

Surrounded by violence and threats of violence, peace is hard to come by. Fear reigns in the hearts of many–even those who believe in Christ.

And if we trust in the government, or the police, or ourselves to keep us safe, we have every reason to be fearful.

But when we rest completely in Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace who is Himself our Peace, we can be assured that we are safe.

Not safe from all harm, but safe in His love and care.

 

Everlasting Father

We live in a throwaway society.

Cups, cans, plates and people.   Too often we toss friendships when they become inconvenient, uncomfortable or require more energy than we are willing to give.

Adults trade partners in a frenzied search for happiness and fulfillment and leave children’s hearts in the wreckage as families are ripped apart.

So it’s no surprise that many people find it difficult to believe in a Heavenly Father that is good, and loving and everlasting.

But God is just that:

He is an Everlasting Father.

A Faithful Father.  

A Father whose enduring love lasts FOREVER. 

 Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present andthreatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35, 38-39

My mother love is fierce.  But it was not strong enough to keep my child from the grave.

How much greater is the Father’s love that NOTHING can separate us from it?

What fills my heart and soul with hope and gives me strength to bear this great grief is unshakeable confidence that my son is safe in the eternal arms of my Everlasting Father.

 

 

 

Mighty God

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 HCSB

So many times, when I think of the “Mighty God” I conjure pictures of thunder and lightning or conquering power.  I’ve been in church services where someone will pray, “Show Yourself mighty here today, Lord!”  And what they mean is:  do something bold, easily identifiable and outwardly visible.

I believe the Mighty God shows up a lot more frequently than we realize. 

We are looking, like Elijah, for God in the whirlwind, but He usually comes in quietness and whispers.

I experienced the Mighty God the day I had to bury Dominic. 

I didn’t think I could physically survive greeting friends and family at his funeral, hearing loved ones tell him good-bye and watching his casket lowered beneath the earth.  But I did.

That morning I prayed:

“Father, bind any scheme of the enemy to take away the victory You have ordained for our great loss.  I know he cannot take away the real victory, but he delights in confusion, dissension and discouragement.  Only Your love, grace, peace and mercy can overcome hatred, bitterness, anger and discord.  Give us your Spirit in abundance—overwhelm us with Your Presence.  Help us say good-bye to our sweet boy in a way that honors You, magnifies You and honors his memory.  The only way we can do that is by Your grace and in Your power.  I must cling to the truth and to the Truth—otherwise all is lost!”

The Mighty God put steel in my backbone and upheld me with His love, grace and mercy.

He raised my hands in praise even as my heart broke in sorrow.

His warrior Spirit infused me with strength. 

I held on to the promise:

That one day Jesus, Who came first in meekness, will return in power.  He will set wrong things right and restore the earth to beauty and peace.

Death will be defeated and the grave will be no more. 

I am still fighting the enemy—every day he tries to defeat me and convince me that darkness and pain are all I will ever know.

But my faithful Savior, the Mighty God, comes quietly to my heart and reminds me that the victory is His—the promises are sure—and I, with Dominic, will dwell in His house forever.   

 

 

 

Jesus: Wonderful Counselor

Grief is confusing and scary. 

In a heartbeat I was transported from life-as-I-knew-it to a foreign landscape where I don’t speak the language, there are no sign posts and no way to get home.

Here is where God whispered the rock solid truth that He is near. That I am never beyond His reach, His care.  He brought to mind Scripture, and promises, and memories of past faithfulness–something familiar to cling to in the wilderness of grief.

The day Dominic died I wrote in my journal:

“The LORD gives and the LORD takes away.  Blessed be the Name of the LORD.  May my soul find rest in Thee alone.  May my eyes look only to Thy face.  May my heart’s peace be the Prince of Peace.  ‘Dominic’–belonging to God–You gave him to me and he is Yours again.  Marana Tha–Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

When Jesus was preparing the disciples for His death, He knew that they would need a Counselor in their grief.  They would need a guide through the difficult and scary and confusing path they were about to walk. So He told them:

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit-the Father will send Him in My name-will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”  John 14:26 CSB

What a gift!  To have the Living God in me–my ever present Guide even on this most treacherous journey.

 

 

 

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