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

When I first shared this post,  I received a lot of feedback from readers and much of it went something like this:  “I wish my pastor would read this.” or “I’d love to share this on my own FaceBook page but I’m afraid someone might be offended.”

I didn’t write this post to point fingers but I did write it to drag into the light a hidden place of pain and division within churches.  

There are so many hurting people in our pews and we cannot continue to ignore our responsibility to minister to them.  So to you who are timid, I say, “Be brave!  Share! There is no shame in sharing the truth in love!”

“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.”

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

A Spoonful of Sugar

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…’~Mary Poppins

It’s a wonderful thought–that even the bitterest medicine can be made tolerable by a tiny taste of sweetness.  But it’s not true.

Some things are too hard to swallow no matter how you try to disguise them.

Losing  a child is one of them.

I have been a student of the Bible for decades-I take Scripture seriously, believe it with my whole heart and trust that the truth it contains is necessary and sufficient for this life and the life to come.  But when Dominic died, I found I was forced to look again at verses I thought I understood.

There is no easy answer for why children die–no sweet saying that can wash away the pain and the sorrow and the regret of burying your son.

But I know this:  if my healing depends on me, I am lost.

If the God of heaven is not the God of all, then I have no hope.

If Jesus didn’t really come, and die and rise again, I have nothing to look forward to.

Ann Lamott recounts this tale in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

“There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

I can’t paste a Bible verse on my broken heart like a Band-aid on a skinned knee–the wound is too great and the damage too extensive.

So I will wait for the holy words to fall inside.

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.

Just Passing Through

So [I] fix (resolutely focus, gaze intently–without wavering) [my] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, BUT what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV

All believers in Jesus are commanded to live as aliens in this world. But it is so easy to get comfortable here.

So easy to think we were made for the here and now instead of an eternity with God in heaven.

Kenny Chesney sings a song;

Everybody wants to go to heaven
Have a mansion high above the clouds
Everybody wants to go to heaven
But nobody wants to go now.

And if we are honest, even most folks in church on Sunday would agree. Heaven is a great place to look forward to, but not somewhere you plan to go this week.

Losing a child changes that.

Heaven becomes much more personal.  

This world much less hospitable.

My eyes aren’t attracted to shiny store displays or creative TV ads or flashy cars and clothes.  My eyes strain to catch a glimpse of the glory of God in the sunrise or the sunset, the breeze in the trees reminds me of His Spirit and stirs my heart to cry, “Come now Lord Jesus!”

I want to live the life I have left on this earth with a clear set of priorities that reflect my eternal perspective.  I don’t want to waste my days on things that don’t matter.

 There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.

C.S. Lewis

People are eternal.  

Love is what matters.  

So I will fix my eyes on what is unseen and turn my heart to forever.

Thankful But Broken

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

My birthday sometimes falls on the day itself, and I have often been able to celebrate with extended family and friends-a full table of food and a full house of fellowship.

I love the colors of fall, the scents of cinnamon and pumpkin, the freedom from gift-giving pressures that lets me focus on the people in my life.

A few years ago, Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, was published sparking a renewed interest in the Christian community to focus on thankfulness as a way to open our hearts to the goodness and faithfulness of God and to open our hands and lives to serve others from our bounty.

An invitation to trust and not be afraid.

Across social media, people began to post , “Today I am thankful for___________.” Instagram.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Good stuff, and good reminders.

And I am thankful.

Really.

I am thankful that my family has managed to survive the loss of Dominic without going crazy  or becoming bitter or running away. We continue to support, love and care for one another.

I am thankful for the few, special friends who have made it a priority to visit me, love me and give me a safe space to vent my grief.

I am thankful that I have food to eat, a place to live and clothes to wear.

I am thankful for my Bible, the one I got while carrying Dominic beneath my heart-the one filled with notes, prayers and underlined passages-because it reminds me that God is still God even when I can’t feel Him.

But I am broken.

Truly.

Losing a child, not being able to save the life your love created, not being there when he breathed his last, not holding his hand as he entered eternity-that is humbling.

My November and Thanksgiving will be quieter than in years past.

No daily posts.  No long lists.

I will lean in and listen hard for the whispered promises that one day heartache will end.

I will open my heart and hand to a hurting world.

I will trust and not be afraid.