When it Doesn’t Feel Like Grace

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

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

Or abandonment.

Or forgetfulness.

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

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

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

“God must not love me.”

“He must be hiding something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my weakness I rest in His strength.

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

2 Corinthians 12:9 VOICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sparrows DO Fall

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

But there are some who do.

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

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

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

Matthew 6:33 KJV

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

I would argue that they have it all wrong.

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

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

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

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

Matthew 10:29-31 AMP

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 55:8-9

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

Intact and beautiful, but empty.

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

Even though He is watching, sparrows do fall.  

The Silent Joy of Memory

We live in a noisy world.

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

We live in a busy world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Blessed are Those Who Mourn?

I must remind my heart every day that Jesus Himself declared the blessing in mourning.  I must remember that there is comfort available at His feet.  Not in running from my pain, but in embracing it and trusting Him to redeem it.

What blessing is there in mourning?  What comfort in distress?  What good can come from pain and brokenness?

Good questions.

Honest questions.

Questions I have asked God. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”~Jesus

The folks that followed Him up the hill were part of a nation that had waited centuries for deliverance from sin and persecution.  Jesus was surrounded by people powerless to change their circumstances. They were grieving, mourning, in distress.

So when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” He was offering real hope to the brokenhearted. He was issuing an invitation…

When we  reach the end of our own strength in grief, God invites us into a fellowship of suffering that includes Jesus Christ.

Burying a child is a humbling experience.  It is teaching me that I am powerless and oh, so dependent on the grace and mercy of God.

My heart was broken open wide to receive the truth that fierce love makes me vulnerable to deep pain.

And the pain cleared the clutter and noise of the everyday to focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on the eternal.

My life is swept clean of distraction and foolish things and filled with new understanding of what is important and lasting.

My pain has not disappeared.

But it is making room for the God of all comfort to fill it with hope:

That what I am feeling right now is not forever and forever is going to be glorious…

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 21:4 KJV

Hallelujah is an Exhale

You can’t hold your breath forever.

But when you first learn your child is dead you want to–oh, how you want to.

I don’t know if it was defiance or hope that made me certain that if I could just stop breathing, I could freeze time.

I could undo the truth.

I could stop the creeping terror that seized my heart.

But it was impossible.  My body insisted that my lungs release the poison of carbon dioxide and refresh my oxygen supply.

There is a spiritual counterpart to the physical desire to stop breathing. 

Most bereaved parents will tell you that at some point in their grief journey, whether they would describe themselves as “believers” or not, they have had to examine their notion of God.

They have to ask, “How am I to relate to this Person that controls the Universe–this Being that could have saved my child–but chose not to?”

I am a Christ follower.  I believe in Jesus and I trust His Word.

But I will honestly confess that burying my child has made me reexamine just what that means and just Who He is.

Before my son was killed, I gave mental assent to the idea that “God is in control” but wasn’t forced to reconcile His control with my heart’s desire to guarantee my family’s safety.

But His existence, and His character does not depend on my understanding.  And to be frank, a God I can comprehend wouldn’t be much of a God at all.

I could not will my body not to stop breathing.

And what I am learning in this grief journey is that I can’t hold my spiritual breath forever either.

The poison of doubt and the insistence that I be able to comprehend the fullness of God will suffocate my soul as surely as lack of oxygen will stop my heart.

So, “Hallelujah” is my exhale.

It is my letting go-my drawing in again the life-giving truth that God is God and I am not.

And acknowledging that while I cannot understand His ways, I can choose to trust His Father love.

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heartache and Hope

Someone suggested not too long after Dominic died that I might start a group for bereaved parents in my area–there aren’t any close by in our rural Alabama county.

I was not even ready to talk openly about my own feelings, much less listen to and absorb the pain of other grieving parents.

A few months ago I was introduced to a wonderful ministry called While We Are Waiting (whilewearewaiting.org) and discovered the blessing of belonging to a community of people who (unfortunately) know how I feel and can relate to my experience as a bereaved parent.  I began to realize that Facebook can be a place to connect people that otherwise might feel isolated in their pain.

I’m still not ready to sit face-to-face with more than one or two people at a time for deep conversation about life and death and fear and hope.

But I have opened a FaceBook page–Heartache and Hope–and it is public-although I am moderating posts.  I want to facilitate a way for parents in my area or in their own area, to find one another and form communities of support.

For some of us, online will be best.  Others may choose to get together in physical spaces.  Whatever works and brings hope to grieving hearts is wonderful.

I am not going to “invite friends” to like this page-thankfully, I don’t have that many people on my friend list who have buried children.  But I am inviting those who read my blog, and who have themselves lost a child to “like” the Heartache and Hope page.  And please invite other bereaved parents too.

There is no agenda other than encouraging one another in Christ and reminding ourselves of the hope we have in Jesus:  death is defeated, the grave is not the end, and our children will one day be reunited with us in glory.

Listen very carefully, I tell you a mystery [a secret truth decreed by God and previously hidden, but now revealed]; we will not all sleep [in death], but we will all be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed],  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at [the sound of] the last trumpet call. For a trumpet will sound, and the dead [who believed in Christ] will be raised imperishable, and we will be [completely] changed [wondrously transformed]. For this perishable [part of us] must put on the imperishable [nature], and this mortal [part of us that is capable of dying] must put on immortality [which is freedom from death]. And when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the Scripture will be fulfilled that says, “Death is swallowed up in victory (vanquished forever). O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 AMP

[Context]

At my house, I’m the keeper of the calendar, the one who sends family greetings for birthdays, holidays and get well cards.

The first time I had to write a note and sign our family names, my heart stopped and air refused to fill my lungs.

Moving down the family line from my husband through me and each of our children, how was I going to mark the place where Dominic SHOULD be but no longer is?  Or, better said, how do I represent the space he continues to hold in our hearts and lives but can no longer be easily seen by others?

You ADD children to your family, you don’t subtract them. 

I have struggled with this for many months.  I tried signing just the family name but that has always seemed impersonal to me–quick and easy and kind of lazy.  I tried including only our living children and our new daughter-in-love which meant that there were still six names but my heart knew one was missing.  

Dominic is a living, breathing heartbeat within my own chest.

You can’t know me without knowing him.  My story, my family’s story includes him even though his physical presence is no longer with us.

So I have decided that I will list his name with ours on traditional family greetings.

[Dominic] will appear in the proper place on my family signature line.

Brackets are used in quotes to indicate that a direct quote has been edited–that something must be added to understand the context or to fit the quote into the surrounding information.

I will honor my son and let others know that although my life has been edited, the full text can only be understood by including  him.

 

Beautiful Broken

We try so hard to hide our scars.

We work diligently to cover signs of aging.  We spend billions on face lifts, tummy tucks and hair implants in an effort to fool ourselves and others that time and trials can be erased like chalk on a blackboard.

We aim for smooth perfection, though few of us achieve it.

But there is no escaping or covering the deep wound of losing a child. All the make up in the world couldn’t return my “after” face to the carefree expression of “before”.

Photo filters and special effects will never recreate the light of eyes that did not know the sorrow of burying my son.

I am broken.  This life has made cracks in my body and pierced my soul.

My wounds can be offensive to others–a reminder that they, too, may receive a blow that can’t be concealed.

The truth is that none of us escape hardship in life.  All of us have hidden heartache.  We all have cracks in our polished persona.

Dominic could be brutally honest.

A promise I made to myself, in honor of him, was that I would not hide my heart behind a false front or a fake smile.  I would allow others to see both the brokenness and the usefulness of a life lived with pain.

Recently I was introduced to a Japanese art form called “kintsugi”. Artists repair broken pottery with lacquer dust mixed with precious metals, joining the cracked pieces and highlighting the imperfection.

According to one source, “As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”

What a beautiful tribute to truth!

My brokenness is part of me, but so also is the healing.

Revealing my wounds, I invite others to reveal their own. Sharing my pain, I encourage others to share theirs.  Opening my heart, I welcome you to open yours.

Displaying my scars, I uncover the glory of the God Who is healing them.  

This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 4:7 Phillips

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Holy Words to Fall Inside

Turning the calendar page to begin a new year, I am challenged once again to focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on truth. No sweet saying can give me the strength or endurance I need to make it through the days ahead.

“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.

Prayer and Questions

So many of us are finding it difficult to face a new year without our missing child. Sometimes we wonder, “Where is God? ” and “Why MY child?”.

I believe that God invites us to ask our hard  questions. It’s not like we can hide them from Him anyway.  When we speak them aloud, we open our hearts to the healing power of His Spirit.

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

%d bloggers like this: