Dropping the Mask

Despite my commitment to authenticity, I do have a plastic smile I can pull out of my pocket and slap across my face.

Sometimes I just don’t want to have to have to answer the question, “How are you?” with more than a nod and a wave.

I tell myself that it demonstrates maturity and self-control.

And I actually think that’s OK. I don’t always need to spill my guts to every unsuspecting stranger I meet.

But if I allow it to become a habit or use it as camouflage to keep my distance from my fellow man, it is unhelpful.  It gives the false impression that life is mostly smooth sailing, when that’s just not true so much of the time.

And it builds a wall between me and others.

Because if the people I meet think that I have it all together all the time, they are going to be much less likely to admit that they don’t.  And let’s be real, none of us have it all together.

We all have at least one place in our lives that hurts and that needs healing.

Everyone has scars.

Losing a child is teaching me many things.  One of the things I am learning is that I am not self-sufficient.  I am not capable of meeting my own needs or bearing my burdens alone.  I need companionship in this journey.

When I walk around with my mask on, I isolate myself from the very people that might help me heal.

It is humbling and sometimes frightening, to let others SEE my brokenness.

I might be inviting judgment and condemnation.  But I am also welcoming love and companionship.  I am opening my heart to the gift of friendship.

When I refuse to pretend, I give permission for others to take off their masks too.

Being real creates space for authentic healing.

It unlocks doors to sharing truth.

Jesus came as God in the flesh so that He could experience our trials, our temptations, our joys and our sorrows. He came to KNOW.

But He also came to make the Father KNOWN.

And He has left His followers to continue making the Father known in the world.

If I want to minister to the painful places in the lives of others, I have to let them see the painful places in my own. I have to drop the mask and reveal my face.  When I do, I invite them to let me help carry their load and to let them help me carry mine.

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

 

 

Hopeful Waiting: Healing in Community

Since losing my son, I often feel like I’m in a holding pattern, circling life and unable to land.

I’m better at doing than waiting. 

I was prepared for the tears and the sorrow and the longing of grief.  But this lifetime of waiting took me by surprise.  

I am caught  between the here-and-now and the hereafter and I must give each a measure of my attention.

Waiting weighs me down and makes it so very difficult to move.

Because the one thing I want to DO is bring Dominic back.

But that is impossible.

And I groan in travail, desperate to birth into fullness what God has promised.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, acknowledging the tension between our earthly experience and the glory of heaven:

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

Romans 8: 24-26 Phillips

And these verses are the cornerstone of a ministry to those who have experienced child loss called “While We’re Waiting”.   (While We’re Waiting)

Founded by two bereaved mothers, it is a Christ-centered, supportive environment that provides a safe place to share with those who understand by experience what grieving parents are going through.

The Facebook page  (while we’re waiting ) is a way for bereaved parents to connect with and encourage one another.

In our mutual waiting, we are all learning that “hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got.” Together we are spurring one another on to finish well.

This community has been so helpful as I continue my grief journey.

By example, I am learning how to keep living and wait for reunion at the same time.

I am learning to persevere.

I am learning to rest but also to work.

I am learning to bear the heaviness of sorrow and deferred hope while also walking confidently in the path God has laid before me.  

And when I am worn out in the waiting, overwhelmed with the prospect of a lifetime of longing, I am encouraged by the love and support of fellow travelers who remind me of God’s faithfulness and provision, even in the wilderness  of grief.

Loving Well: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting People

I am a shepherd.  My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.

And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.

But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago.  So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.

Jesus called Himself, “the Good Shepherd” and He told Peter to “feed My sheep”. The relationship of shepherd to sheep is important if we are to understand how God wants His church to function.

Many churches serve more people than the number of animals in my care. And a pastor is only one person.  He (or she) cannot personally meet every need of every member of the congregation.

Still, a pastor is in a unique position to demonstrate priorities to a church and lead by example in ministering to the weakest and most vulnerable among them.

So how can a pastor lead the church to love the grieving and other hurting people well?

Cultivate a Culture of Compassion:

Does your local body welcome the wounded?  

Like those carrying the pain of burying a child.  Or the burden of chronic physical disability. Or the unceasing struggle of overcoming addiction.

Pain is a reminder that this world is broken. It’s uncomfortable to feel it, to be near to someone who is feeling it. We try so hard to “fix” our own and other people’s pain.  And sometimes if we don’t feel like we can fix it, we ignore it.

A cold shoulder wounds as much as hurtful words. Acknowledgement is as great a blessing as an extended hand.

Compassion means “to suffer alongside”.  It requires getting to know someone and listening to their story.  It means inviting others into your life, not only your pew.

Is your congregation too busy to truly SEE? The business of the church is people.

If we are to minister to the broken, we must reach out to them.  The first step is to welcome them in.  Then show them that you care.

Come alongside, bear witness to the tears, lay a hand on an arm, reach out with only love-often in silence. This is compassion, it touches the soul of one who hurts and reminds them that pain is not all there is.

No one should leave a church service ungreeted.  No one should leave feeling more alone than when they entered the building.

Communicate the Cost of Compassionate Response:

God is the God of inexhaustible resources, yet sometimes we act as if we are in a zero-sum community.  If we give too much over here, there won’t be enough over there.  But God has promised to supply every need according to His riches in glory.  

If we are to live in true fellowship with one another, loving one another through thick and thin, then it will be costly.  Ministry requires giving of resources, energy and time.

I have written elsewhere that, “There is no substitute for walking with the wounded.  It is costly, it is painful, it is hard.”

But it is what we are called to do.

God Himself stepped into His creation to feel the pain of brokenness, to bear the price of sin and to open a Way for restoration and redemption.

We shouldn’t set a time limit or a resource cap when we minister to those He has placed in our midst.

Commit to Continue:

Compassion says, “I see your pain.  I hurt with you.  Let me stay with you until you feel better.  And if you never feel better, I’ll still be here.”

Compassion requires conscious commitment to push back against our tendency to forget those who live with ongoing challenges.

Ministering to hurting people rarely leads to a tidy final chapter that wraps loose ends into a comfortable narrative.We need to be honest about this.  A weekly program is not going to be enough.

Pastors can help a congregation remain focused on compassionate response so that members do not abandon the broken to sit alone with their pain.

True ministry involves RELATIONSHIP.  And relationship is time-consuming.

But relationship is at the center of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No longer separated from God by our sin, we are invited to His table–welcomed into His family.

We are all broken.  And without the compassionate love of our Savior, we are all without hope.

When we welcome the wounded, we are living the Good News.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Well in the First Days After Loss

The death of any loved one opens a door and forces you to pass through.

You cannot procrastinate, cannot refuse, cannot ignore or pretend it away.

Suddenly, you find yourself where you absolutely do not want to be.  

And there is no going back.

Many bereaved parents describe the first hours, the first days after losing a child as a fog–we feel both horrified (I can’t believe this is happening!) and numb (Is this real? Am I dreaming?).

There are so many details, so many decisions that must be made immediately following a child’s death.  

And it is so hard to make them when consumed by overwhelming pain and loss.

This is when loving bereaved parents well is so very important.

After reading dozens of comments from bereaved parents in response to my question, “What one thing did people do for you when you lost your child that was especially helpful”, I found that the answers fell roughly into three main categories:  

  • compassionate care,
  • committed companionship, and
  • continued concern

So here they are.

Compassionate Care

The first few hours and the first days are when bereaved parents need immediate, continuous and committed help.  They need someone to step up, to take the burden of some of the  choices and chores off their shoulders and allow them to use the limited energy and focus that remains to take care of themselves, their surviving children and to prepare to say goodbye to the child they have lost.

“We were 1300 miles away when we received the call that our son would not survive.  A friend of my husband’s drove to the house, asked for a phone and credit card and made all the arrangements for us to travel to be with our son.  He contacted a local funeral home and made an appointment for us.  His fiance did our laundry.  The next morning he took us to the airport and was by our side the next three days.” ~a mom who had just had a lung biopsy earlier that day

I heard this over and over:  People showed up, they cleaned our home, they stocked our refrigerator, they mowed our grass, they answered the phone and opened the door to visitors.  They put plates of food and drinks by us, even if we weren’t eating–hoping to tempt us into at least staying hydrated.

“I wanted to gather things from my precious girl that represented LIFE to take to the funeral home.  Someone asked if they could take care of it for me and I relinquished the task.  A small army of mamas displayed everything so beautifully.  I walked in there and my daughter’s life was just bursting forth in a way I could never have imagined.”

One sweet friend who had recently lost her husband came first to cry with me and came back a little later with a car full of toilet paper, paper plates, kleenex and paper towels.

Many of us received prayer shawls–our pastor’s wife brought one for me and my daughter. I wrapped it around me and wore it every day, everywhere until several weeks after we buried Dominic.  It became my security blanket, my “God hug” that reminded me He was still with me.

“On the day of the burial, friends put bottles of cold water and granola bars in our car for us to find after the service was over.”

“Look for little things that both make life easier and that we might forget to take care of in our grief.”

Committed Companionship

It is hard to sit with the grieving.  Hard to watch them, especially in the first hours, the first days.

But our lives have been turned upside down, we need a hand to hold so we are assured we aren’t falling down a bottomless pit.

Some longtime friends showed up at my door just a couple hours after we got the news and stayed all day and late into the night until my husband arrived from California and a son drove home from West Virginia.  An “adopted” son came even sooner. By the afternoon, our home and yard were filled with people who loved our son and love us.

“When my son died, we were waiting to donate his organs.  His pastor stayed with us all night and all the next day until things were finished.  I will forever be grateful to him and his wife for the support they gave my daughter-in-law.”

“My son died very unexpectedly.  My aunt began the hymn, ‘Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place’ and everyone joined in singing as family and friends piled into the hospital waiting room.”

“I love my friends that just let me ramble and vent and didn’t tell me, ‘You can’t think like that’ and told me, ‘You did everything right’.”

“One of our good friends came, he put his forehead to mine and said, ‘Think on the good things.  He’s OK.  Remember the love.’  He just kept reassuring me,  I actually felt my spirit calm.”

“We had some missionary friends come sit with us for a couple hours each day until our family was able to get here.  Pretty sure they’d brushed up on some grief books before coming over.  They asked a few questions, but mostly just sat with us.”

Continued Concern

Because our son was killed in a motorcycle accident and because his death occurred on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, there was a delay in holding the funeral.  So it was nine long days between his death and burial.  It felt unusual to me, but I have since realized that there can be many reasons for delay.

Our friends and family stayed with us.  They continued to minister to us.  Food kept pouring in.  Cards piled up on the foyer table (many parents just can’t read them right away–but they are a source of comfort when they can).

“My son’s friends, many of whom I’d never met, came out of the woodwork to offer comfort.  They often text or message me.  When I need to reach out to a young person just to hold and hug because I can’t hug my son anymore, any one of them is willing to do that for me and I appreciate that.”

“Offer to get the other kids out of the house and do fun activities with them.  One of the hardest aspects of losing a child with other kids in the house is helping them deal with their grief….it’s difficult for the parents to get the time and space they need to process their grief whne they are also trying to help their other kids work through their grief.”

“One mom and her sons came and worked in our yard a couple of months after our daughter died.  It was so nice to pull in our driveway and see a tidy yard and flower beds.”

Texts, cards, phone calls (even if we don’t pick up) that tell us you are thinking about us, praying for us and care are so encouraging (speak courage to our hearts) as we transition from “saying good-bye” to living with the absence of our child.

When Dominic died, I felt like I was set adrift in a giant ocean, no land in sight.

The familiar markers I had always used to navigate life were gone-POOF!  And the little boat I was clinging to had holes in the bottom, threatening to sink any minute.  I was baling as fast as I could, but my feverish activity was barely keeping me afloat.  The compassionate care, committed companionship and continued concern of friends and family gave me the courage to carry on.

Love expressed through the Body of Christ lifted my heart so that eventually I could lift my head.

How we serve the grieving in our midst makes all the difference in whether they lose sight of their Hope or whether they finish the race set before them, with their eyes fixed on the Author and Perfector of their faith.

God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.

I Thessalonians 5:9-11 MSG

 

 

 

Loving Well: Meaningful Ministry to Grieving Parents

Our journeys begin in different ways.

Just as every birth story is unique, so, too, is every parent’s story of loss.

It may be a phone call or an officer at the front door.  It may be a lingering illness or a sudden one. Our children may have lived days or decades.

Their death may be anticipated, but it is never expected.

And it is always devastating.

No one is prepared to bury their child.

But some of us have to.

In the best circumstances, loving well is a challenge.  It requires commitment and energy when many of us feel like we are already running on empty. The challenges are magnified in the face of child loss.

Yet as members of the Body of Christ, our calling is to minister to, encourage, care for and walk with those among us who are grieving.  And it is a daunting task.

If, as W.H. Auden said, “Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic”, then the death of a child is the sound of a tornado.

Compassion compels friends and family to reach out, but fear can constrain them.

“What do I say?”  “What can I do?”

Unsure of the answer, they may say and do nothing.

Yet some friends and family dive in bravely and do everything they can to help parents face this awful reality.  And I am certain so many more would come alongside, speaking courage and offering help if they knew more about what DOES help and what IS encouraging.

I have three goals for these next posts:

  • To share the way many bereaved parents have been loved well by those they know.
  • To encourage the members of the Body of Christ to reach out to anyone who has suffered loss and to give concrete ideas of how they can do that.
  • To exhort pastors and other ministry leaders NOT to set up a PROGRAM but to create a NETWORK of individuals, gifted in mercy and willing to serve, who can be responsible for shepherding the members of a local body who have experienced the loss of a child.

I hope you will join me as I share from my own experience and the experience of other bereaved parents how the Body of Christ can minister to members who bear the pain of grief and loss.

Please don’t think that these suggestions are appropriate only for those who have lost a child or even only for those who have experienced grief associated with death.

Grief enters our lives in many forms: the end of a marriage, chronic disease, job loss, and any number of unexpected and often undesired life transitions.

Ministry begins with awareness.  When we learn to see with the eyes of Jesus, we can become vessels through which His grace and compassion are poured out to others.

Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

Matthew 9:35-38

Tomorrow:  Loving Well in the First Days

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well With My Soul?

If you have been in a church that sings hymns, I’m pretty certain you’ve heard the backstory to the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”.

Or at least the most popular version–Horatio Spafford lost four daughters in a tragic accident.  Only his wife survived the sinking ship on its way to England.   Once there, she sent a heart-rending telegram, “Saved alone” to Spafford who had not accompanied them on the voyage.

As the story goes, Spafford, upon crossing the Atlantic to meet his wife, passed over the spot of the sinking and the words to the famous hymn came to mind:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

But, as Paul Harvey was famous for saying, here’s “The rest of the story”.

Spafford belonged to a congregation that staunchly believed difficulty and tragedy were divine chastening for sin or lack of faith.

Apparently, in the minds of at least some of his friends, the awful things that happened to Horatio and his wife were their own fault. Eventually, Spafford and his family removed themselves from the church and created their own fellowship.

Tragically, it seems that Spafford died confused, dismayed and perhaps, disbelieving.

Why is this important?

Because the support (or lack of support) bereaved parents receive from their fellow Christians can make all the difference between losing sight of Jesus and finishing well, with our eyes fixed on the “Author and Perfector of our faith”

We love the shortened version of the Horatio Spafford story because it ends with a triumph of faith, a crescendo of hope and a tidy finish to a messy story.

But the same reason the broad sweep of Spafford’s life is rarely brought to our attention is the same reason many find it difficult to walk beside grieving parents in their journey–even sincere, committed Christians can have doubts.

Even those who have read and believe the Bible can take longer than anyone would like to settle firmly on trusting God again after tragedy.

And even when we who struggle because of deep grief reach the place where our hearts can again rest in the sovereignty and goodness of God, we may always have unanswered questions.

Believers in Christ are called to minister to the members of His Body.  We are commissioned to encourage, uplift, care for and help each other.

It often involves more energy, time and effort than we are willing to give.

But if we believe, as Paul said, that every single member is called by God to serve a specific purpose then can we afford to ignore even one of them?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

I Corinthians 12:25-26

 

 

Life at the Intersection of Desire and Self-Control

Maybe you can relate:  It is easier to do without if what I want isn’t close enough to tempt me. 

I don’t shop if I don’t want to spend.  I don’t get donuts if I don’t want to eat sugar.  I don’t have soda in the house if I don’t want to drink carbonated soft drinks.

It’s much harder to deny my desires when what I long for is within reach.

I have practiced the spiritual discipline of fasting on and off for over a decade.  And I have learned a great deal about myself, about desire and about how very weak I am, in my own strength, to continue long on a path of self-denial.  Who can resist chocolate when it’s right there in front of you???

When I perceive that God is calling me to give up food or something else for a span of time to focus on Him and on spiritual growth, I can prepare myself.

I can pick a date.  I can arrange my home and schedule and commitments to accommodate what I know will be the challenges associated with the battle that is to ensue.

But there is a difference between choosing to fast and being forced to starve.

For those who live in parts of the world overrun by famine, choice has been removed. They don’t go without food because they desire to exercise personal or spiritual discipline–it has been decided for them. And many times, there is not one thing they can do about it except to hang on and try to survive.

Grieving my son feels like an odd and uncomfortable mix of both scenarios.

I certainly had no choice in the matter–I was not consulted, prepared or given any warning.  And he is gone. Gone, gone, gone.

Yet I am surrounded by memories, physical connections and constant reminders of the one I miss.

I must live everyday at precisely the intersection of desire and self-control.

No, I cannot “have” him back.  When I am thinking correctly, I don’t want him back here in this broken world with broken people.  If what Scripture says is true (and I preach to myself that it is) then he is experiencing joy and beauty that fills his heart so full there’s no room for missing me.

But the heart wants what the heart wants.

And my heart wants my family circle whole again.  My heart wants to see how Dominic would use his gifts and talents to impact the world.  My heart wants my surviving children and my husband and my extended family not to have to carry this heavy grief load and to be free to live life without the intimate knowledge of the darkness of death and loss.

Every day I am forced to acknowledge my heart’s desire and then exert the self-control necessary to get out of bed and participate in daily life.

It takes so much energy.  I am often tempted to give up and give in.

This fast is the most strenous ever thrust upon me.

I know in my head my desires will never be fulfilled this side of heaven.  This passionate longing won’t end until I am reunited with Dominic and ultimately, all my loved ones in the Presence of Jesus.  And I have no idea when that might be.

So I must focus my thoughts and fix my heart’s affection on the promise of God in Christ: that He will redeem every broken thing, that He will restore every lost treasure and that resurrection will rule.

Energize the limp hands,
    strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
    “Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
    on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
    He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

 Blind eyes will be opened,
    deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
    the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
    streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
    thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
    and barren grasslands flourish richly.

Isaiah 35:1-7 MSG

 

 

 

Debate and Faith

There are those who say faith means you never doubt.  Those who live by the creed, “Don’t ask questions!”

But I say faith is exactly what you cling to in the margins of doubt–when you have exhausted all the possibilities that exist in the physical, you-can-touch-it world and yet you KNOW there is MORE.

Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].

Hebrews 11:1 AMP

Questions are how you mark the borders of what you know and find the edges of what you don’t.

This week I judged a high school debate.  It took me back over a decade to the time and place my own children were competing in tournaments.  As I watched the eager and earnest faces of these young adults, I remembered the equally eager and earnest face of Dominic.

He was always passionate about a debate.

Not so much the formal ones–he was on the tail-end of our family’s participation in that scene–but the kind you have around the dinner table and the campfire.  He did not like to lose.  But more importantly, he would not tolerate sloppy thinking or lousy logic.

And I hear his voice in these months after his death challenging me to think critically and work carefully through my doubts and my feelings about life, about death, about grief and about eternity.

When we discussed Scripture, or politics, or lifestyle, or the intersection of all three, Dominic would often be the one digging deeper, looking longer at the hand-me-down Bible verses used to proclaim and prop up popular points of view.  He asked, “Why?” and “Why not?” The six of us spent hours talking (sometimes arguing)–passionately defending our own understanding and interpretations.

All of my children are critical thinkers.  And I am grateful for this.

I don’t want to raise a generation that accepts without comment the thoughts and actions of the generation before.

Isn’t that part of what blinded the Pharisees and Saducees to the Presence of Messiah in their midst?  They clung desperately to what they thought they knew, all the time missing the very revelation of God they craved.

So, in honor of Dominic, I will allow myself the time, the energy and the space to wrestle with my questions.  I will search the Scriptures.  I will ask God for insight.  I will push back against the knee-jerk reactions and answers that come too easily and offer a false sense of closure.

God is not threatened by my wondering.  His throne is in no danger due to my queries.

It is most often other believers who find the questions unsettling.

I don’t want or expect to have the last word.  I believe that belongs to the Creator of the Universe.  But I think He will hear my plea.

In my trouble I called to the Lord. I cried out to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice. My call for help reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6 ICB

 

 

 

Perspective is Everything

NOTE:  I’m including links to another blog and an old post of my own.  You’ll see that I am unskilled at inserting them smoothly. Yet another in the list of losses–Dominic was my tech advisor…

When my husband and I visited the Sequoia National Forest, we were overwhelmed by the enormity and beauty of the trees.  Even standing beside them, it is hard to realize how very huge they are.  But when you are able to drive your car through one of them, that gives you  some perspective.

Losing a child changes your perspective.  Some things look bigger than they did before and some much smaller.

And some things I thought I understood, I find I don’t understand at all.

Lately I have been challenged to re-read Bible stories I once blazed through like a novel and pay more attention to the people in them and their feelings and lives.

I was reminded of the story of Hagar by fellow blogger Janet Boxx [Boxxbanter.wordpress.com] when she commented on my recent post Sparrows Do Fall:

(https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/01/12/sparrows-do-fall/)

And I am ashamed to realize that until now, I saw Hagar’s story as a kind of minor corollary to the over-arching and “more important” story of Abraham.

But to Hagar and Ishmael, this was THE story–it was THEIR story and it was as important as any other story that was happening at the same time.

Perspective is everything.

Eye-witness testimony is often touted as the most solid proof when presenting a criminal case.  But those who study eye-witness accounts know that there can be as many versions of a story as there are people who see it.

What stands out to one person will be ignored or misremembered by another. Different witnesses focus on different aspects of the same scene because their individual experiences make them vulnerable to having their attention turned to various details.

I know that before I lost a child, I was more likely to focus on the “good” that came from the child’s death:  testimonies of lives changed, people coming to Christ, community activism on behalf of a cause or a condition that contributed to the death.

But now, I’m consumed by thoughts of the child’s parents.  I think about the siblings left behind.  I know by experience that they are just beginning a life-long journey that will be so very hard.

When others view the lives of bereaved parents, it is easier for them to place the narrative that consumes the attention, energy and passion of the parents within the larger story of “what God is doing in the world” because they (the non-bereaved) can see the panorama while we (the bereaved) are looking through a keyhole.

And no matter how you twist and turn to try to expand your view when it is limited by physical facts that defy alteration, you just can’t do it.

Hagar called the LORD, Jehovah-Roi,” The God Who Sees”.  

As a slave, no doubt Hagar was often overlooked and undervalued.  But the God of the Universe, SAW HER.

I know in my bones that God does see.

I don’t know or understand what He’s doing, but I know He sees. It is both comforting and disturbing–part of my ongoing wrestling.

Being seen is powerful.  When another comes alongside as witness to my journey, it is helpful.  It speaks courage to my heart to keep on walking and to continue to trust.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I’m Learning

The way things are supposed to be isn’t always the way things are.

I can experience joy and sorrow in the same breath.

The capacity to love and extend grace is enlarged by suffering if I submit to it and don’t fight it.

Never, never, NEVER underestimate the power of presence or texts or the random, “thinking of you” card.

Encouragement comes from unexpected sources.

Truth is the best defense against lies.

I was not nearly as grace-filled or kind as I thought I was before Dominic died. I’m trying to do better.

Hard things are hard.

Sad things are sad.

There’s no use pretending to be stronger than I am, God knows already and no one else is served by my pretending.

Questions are o.k.

My faith is a gift from God, is kept by God and I cannot “lose” it.

Grief is exhausting.

Life is exhausting.

Doing both at the same time is REALLY exhausting.

There is no limit to the pain you may have to endure this side of heaven.

Lightning can strike twice in the same place, and fear of what you know by experience trumps fear of the unknown by miles.

I can decide where to focus my thoughts.

Feeding fear is a choice. feeling fear is not.