Hurricane Michael-One Year Ago Today

One year ago today Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida packing more wind and damaging power than any hurricane ever recorded hitting there.

What’s more, it held every bit of that strength and smashed trees, houses and power lines for miles and miles inland including the rural county where my folks live 60 miles away from landfall.

My parents and aunt were trapped and unable to leave due to downed trees across the driveway, “yard” and the road leading out to safety. No electricity, not enough fuel to run the generator to power my mom’s oxygen and no running water (well water provided by an electric pump).

They didn’t evacuate because in the 100 years family had been living on that plot of land NO hurricane had ever made it that far inland with more than heavy rain, some strong wind and temporary power outages.

Thankfully, a neighbor had a bobcat tractor and he plus others with chainsaws and tractors were able to clear the dirt road to the main road. Thankfully, my youngest son, Julian,  was able to find a way through the downed trees and power lines between our house and theirs and reach them with more fuel, more chainsaws and another set of strong arms to help them evacuate.

Thankfully, the trees that fell around the house didn’t smash it or hurt anyone.

My family had survived the frightening but escaped the truly awful.

It felt like pure grace that no one we loved was killed that day although our hearts broke for those for whom that wasn’t true.

Once power was restored and my parents were able to return home, there was so much to clean up, so much to do and so many repairs to make.

Who could have guessed that less than a year later another kind of storm would sweep across our lives, taking Mama with it?

This time there was nothing left to do.

There never is when death comes knocking and steals a person you love.

I am so grateful for the extra almost-year with Mama. I am so sad there won’t be more.

And today, when I’ve finally stopped long enough to let my heart begin to feel what that feels like, I find my longing for her is folded into my longing for Dominic.

Two deaths, one broken heart.

I’m thankful and confident that death is not the end of their story.

Mama and Dominic and all the people I’ve loved that love Jesus are together in Heaven and waiting for the rest of us to join them.

Unlike the broken trees and broken homes left behind by Hurricane Michael, there will be no tell-tale signs of repair when on that glorious Day our hearts are made whole again.

Every sad thing will come untrue-as if it never happened.

Every tear will be wiped away.

Every promise kept, every stolen thing redeemed and restored.

And Mama will be dancing while Dominic plays his drums.

I Will Not Let Death Win


I’m not brave by nature.

If I have a choice, I will run every time.  But there are just some things worth fighting for.

My family is one of them.

I will not let the enemy have them.

I will not allow despair to overtake us, fear to bind us, hopelessness to sap our strength.

I will not let death win.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/23/i-will-not-be-moved/

Ain’t Nothing Easy About Death

I remember the moment I realized I was going to have to summarize my son’s life into a few, relatively short paragraphs to be read by friends, family and strangers.

It seemed impossible.

But as the designated author of our family I had to do it so I did.

Today I wrote my mama’s obituary and though her death was not as surprising as Dominic’s it was just as hard to swallow.

Mama suffered a stroke a few days ago and along with her other health problems the prognosis wasn’t good. So our family gathered, said what needed to be said to one another and to her and settled in to wait and see if her will to live could overcome the odds.

It didn’t.

She breathed her last in this world, fell asleep and woke up in Heaven at 1:45 am Friday morning.

I like to think that just after she saw Jesus she ran on to hug Dominic and her own sweet mama she’s been missing for seventy-one years.

I don’t know why I thought saying good-bye to my mama would be any easier than saying good-bye to my son.

It wasn’t.

Ain’t nothing easy about death.

Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.

My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.

It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.

I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.

I’m sad today.

And I am all too aware that today’s sadness is small compared to what’s coming.

I’ll survive.

Compared to watching my son’s body lowered beneath the ground, watching my mama’s earthly shell lowered is easier.

She lived a beautiful, full and long life.

Still, there’s no way for the little girl inside this middle-aged woman to reconcile the fact that the world she inhabits no longer includes a mama she can touch.

I rejoice she’s safe and whole and pain free.

But I miss her. ❤

Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.

Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.

The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.  

So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:

13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS

This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one.  At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.

And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.

But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”

And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”

Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”?  Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened?  How can this be your life?

Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?

  • Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
  • Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
  • Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.

But I am made of dust.

I am human.  I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.

He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it.  He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music.  He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.

And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost.  I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is.  I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.

But I still GRIEVE.  I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.

So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.

For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.

Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.

Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.

But don’t expect us not to cry.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
  • Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
  • Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.

My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!

When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: NOTHING Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

If yesterday’s verses were Paul’s closing arguments, these verses are his hallelujah!

When I am weak and weary and overwhelmed by the daily trudging uphill along the path of grief, my heart comes here.

Because truth is, over and over and over God has said in His Word, demonstrated by His actions and proved by His promises that love endures.

It was love that sought Adam and Eve in the garden.

Love that spoke to Noah and gave him strength to build the ark.

Love that drew Abram from the land of idolators, set him apart and made him father of nations.

Love that rescued the Israelites from Egypt.

Love that overwhelmed a young virgin and made her mother of Jesus the Christ.

And Love Incarnate that chose obedience unto death-even death on the cross-so that our sin debt was satisfied and the gates of Heaven opened wide to all who believe.

Love will not be denied.

Love wins.

Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.
37 No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us.
38-39 I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 8: 35-39 PHILLIPS

There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God.

Nothing!

I am not powerful enough to do it.

Death is not powerful enough to do it.

Love reached down and resurrected Jesus.

Love will reach down and resurrect my son.

On my hardest days, my darkest days I remember this: as fierce as my mother love may be, it can’t hold a candle to the ferocious, eternal, unquenchable, undefeatable, reckless, perfect love of God.

QUESTIONS:

  • When I am deep in despair, I remind my heart that all this love I have for my child(ren) is just a tiny drop compared to God’s love for me AND them. Does it help your heart to think about how fiercely God loves you and your child(ren)?
  • I have shared the story before of my son running barefoot through the woods, briers and all, to rescue one of our goats from between the teeth of two pit bulls. It’s my favorite picture of God’s redeeming, relentless, reckless love. Can you think of a personal example that reminds you of God’s enduring, unquenchable, unrelenting and rescuing love?
  • Theology matters. What I believe about who God is and what creation is in relationship to Him matters. If He made everything (and I believe He did) then it is all ultimately subject to His will. That is amazing reassurance. Nothing. No. Thing. can separate us from His love. No created thing is greater than its creator. Put that thought in your own words. What do you fear might separate you (or your child) from God’s love? In light of these verses, do you think that’s a reasonable conclusion? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Your love endures forever. Help me remember that. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may comprehend the depth, the width and the height of Your love. If I could grasp even a fraction of that, I’d never be afraid for a second that anything could get between You and me. Your love is relentless, reckless, pursuing and almighty. Nothing in creation can stop Your eternal, redeeming love.

My child may have made a foolish or even a sinful choice in his or her last moments on earth, but even that is not enough to separate him or her from You if they made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. How arrogant are we humans to think we can somehow undo the great redemptive work of the cross!

Thank You for this beautiful reminder in Paul’s words. Let them sink deeply into my spirit and bring life to my bones.

Hallelujah!

Amen.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Everything Sad Will Come Untrue

It was a harsh sentence: Forty years of wandering in the desert for not putting their faith and trust in the God who had delivered them from bondage.

But wandering wasn’t the half of it.

Death surrounded them. All those adults who gave in to fear were doomed to die before the forty years were finished.

Can you imagine how many graves were dug in the wilderness? How many tears were shed? How many fists raised to the sky or hands to hearts begging, begging, begging for the sojourn of sadness to end?

So it was no accident that the Lord commanded Israel to set her camp with the Tent of Meeting at the center. He wanted them always to be aware of His enabling, powerful, holy Presence.

Even in the midst of judgement, death and sorrow. He was there.

And God is here with me in the midst of my mourning too. I am thankful for His Presence.

But the most beautiful promise is that there will be a Day when He will wipe away all the tears. He will redeem all the pain. He will undo all the damage death has wrought.

Joy will once again be untainted by sorrow.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Revelation 21:3-4 KJV

I make seasonal wreaths for Dominic’s resting place. I include these verses every time.

Because I believe them with my whole heart.

I love the way The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones renders them:

And the King says, “Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!

Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones

“Everything sad has come untrue.”

Heaven will not simply be rest after a long life’s struggle.

It will be restoration, redemption, recreation and resurrection.

Every thing stolen will be restored. Every thing bartered away by sin will be redeemed. Every thing destroyed by carelessness, hatefulness and cruelty will be recreated in perfection. And every thing dead and buried will be resurrected to life everlasting.

I can’t wait. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that “God is here”?
  • What do you think Heaven is like? Is your idea informed by popular media or by Scripture?
  • Does the idea of “everything sad coming untrue” speak courage to your heart? Why or why not?
  • If you have felt God’s presence in this Valley, how has He manifested that? If you haven’t felt His presence, would you consider asking Him to make Himself real to you today?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I’ll admit that sometimes future hope is not much to hold onto when sorrow and longing and despair overwhelm my heart. I need to feel Your Presence here and now. I’m not asking for a burning bush, but give me assurance that You have not abandoned me.

Fill my heart with hope and help me hold onto the promise that one day all this pain will be redeemed. Give me an eternal perspective.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve joined me here for very long, you know I have a particular dislike for what I call “Sunshine Christianity”.

It’s not because I’m opposed to smiling faces and feel-good Bible verses plastered across doors, hallways, t-shirts and social media.

It’s because it doesn’t tell the whole story and sets up hearts for disappointment (at best) and walking away from Jesus (at worst) when their personal experience falls short of this hap, hap, happy picture portrayed by so many.

This life is NOT all smiles and rainbows. It’s hard work, hard times and often devastating circumstances.

That’s the bad news.

But we don’t have to face them alone.

That’s the good news.

If you are struggling, I’m hoping that you are willing to wrestle. So many people seem to be seeking a bumper sticker God with whom life is clean, easy, and problem free and answers are clever, even punchy. But life is never clean. It’s far from easy. And it’s never problem free. That’s why I believe putting God into an easy-to-explain box is not only unwise but dangerous. To really know God, you have to wrestle through pain, struggle with honest doubts, and even live with unanswered questions.

So while I won’t promise you that God is your copilot or that the Bible says it and that settles it, I will promise you this: if you wrestle with him, seek him, cling to him, God will meet you in your pain.

Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark

From cover to cover the Bible is filled with God’s people facing problems and God’s promise to be with them when they did. Some of the problems were of their own making and some were circumstances visited on them by others.

Sometimes God miraculously intervened (the three Hebrew children in the fire) and sometimes He didn’t (every disciple but John was martyred).

Often I can’t make sense of the difference.

If I’m honest, what I want is a pain free life.

I want to walk this earth and not be subject to death, decay, disasters and doubt. But that’s not how it works this side of the Fall which ushered sin into the world and assured no one since our first parents would ever experience the pure joy of a painless existence.

Isaiah was tasked with delivering messages of judgement against rebellious Israel but he was also privileged deliver some of the most beautiful messages of hope in the Old Testament.

Today’s verses are a combination of both. The prophet doesn’t say, “if” you go through these things but “when”.

Trouble is coming. But God is still in control.

But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.

Isaiah 43:1-4 The Message

It can be hard to read these verses and both believe and doubt at the same time. God promised Israel that when they passed through the waters or were in the midst of the flames (more traditional rendering) they would not be overcome. Yet we know from history that many in the nation WERE overcome. In relatively recent memory, millions were rounded up and exterminated by anti-Semitic, power-hungry German nationalists and those who sympathized with them.

Where was God then?

One of the difficult tasks I’ve had in grief is arriving at a place where I can hold pain and promise in the same heart.

I’ve had to learn to live in that mysterious space where I trust that God HAS an answer even if He chooses not to share it with me this side of eternity.

Like Israel, I have been redeemed. I am bought with a price. Christ gave His life for my sins and therefore I have hope.

But also like Israel, that doesn’t mean my mortal flesh is spared. It doesn’t mean my family is exempt from death-even the death of my twenty-three-year-old son.

What it DOES mean is that God is with me.

And while I may be overwhelmed and undone for a season-perhaps for this entire earthly life-it won’t always be so. One day God will redeem, restore and resurrect everything the enemy has stolen.

In the meantime, I rest in His arms, on His promise and depend on His strength.

QUESTIONS:

  • How do you interpret these verses? What does it mean “to be spared”?
  • Is is difficult for your heart to accept that pain is part of our experience as believers? Why or why not?
  • Can you give a defense of the gospel and of verses like these to those who don’t yet know Jesus? What explanation can account for the fact of evil and pain in the world when God is sovereign yet doesn’t seem to intervene (in many instances)?
  • Do you wrestle with God or do you try to stuff your questions? If you do wrestle, when has God met you at your private Peniel (Genesis 32:30). If you don’t, do you think it impacts your faith in a negative way or not at all?
  • What pressing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking and/or faith shattering circumstances are you currently facing? Consider writing your own lament and pouring your feelings out on paper.

PRAYER:

Lord, I so often demand answers, long for understanding and feel disappointed when I get neither. I’m not disappointed in Who You are, but I AM disappointed that I have to live my days wondering. I want You to explain Yourself. Yet I know I’m owed no explanation.

In my most faith-filled moments I can find a way to accept this. But not always.

Like Job, I’m jotting down the questions I’m going to lob at you when I finally DO see you.

And like Job, when my heart is tender and I’m looking full into Your Word and Your face, I cover my mouth. I have nothing to say.

Your majesty, grace, goodness, holiness, love and mercy overwhelm me more than my questions ever do. You ARE the God of the Universe, my Shepherd King, my Bread, my Living Water, my very Breath.

Help me to trust You in every circumstance. Help me to feel Your Presence every moment. Help me walk by faith and not demand you give me supernatural understanding of how you work in this world.

Amen