Heart of Flesh

We see the news, we hear the numbers, we count the dead.  We thank God that it wasn’t our friend, our husband, our child.

But it is someone’s child…every person is someone’s child.

I knew when Dominic died I wasn’t the only mama who had to open the door to a police officer with the news every parent fears. Mamas around the world bury their children.   Many because of hunger, or for lack of clean water or the most basic healthcare.

Last night many died because of violence.

In our hyper-connected world, it is so easy to become numb, to become hard.  I can shut down and shut out the things I don’t want to hear, don’t want to think about.

But it doesn’t make them go away.  

So I ask for grace to care.  To love.  To pray–not only for the victims of the violence, but for the families of the perpetrators as well.

No one is so far away from God that His love and mercy can’t reach them still.  

“LORD, take my heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.  Make me tender-help me mourn.  Stir me to prayer and action.  Give me hands that reach for those who hurt and feet that rush in when others run away.  Fill my lips with words of life so that those who have lost hope will know that You are God.”

Grief Dance

Grief sways to a rhythm of its own.  Hard to follow, impossible to second guess.  I step on my toes trying to keep up and find 

that often I fall flat on my face.

When Dominic applied to the University of Alabama Law School, he had to submit a personal statement.  The idea was to give the selection committee insight into intangibles that might make a prospective student a good candidate for the program.

Dominic wrote about being a drummer.

He made the case that percussion is the heartbeat of music.  It marks the pace, leads the way.  If a drummer misses a beat, it can throw the whole band into confusion.

My life as a bereaved mother feels like music that can’t find its way.

There is melody and harmony and sometimes sweet singing–but I can’t discern a rhythm and I don’t know where it’s going. Discord clangs loudly in the background.

These years were supposed to be the ones where I swayed instinctively in well-worn paths to familiar tunes.

Not ones in which I had to learn a brand new step to a song I don’t even like.

But dance I must, so I do my best to move to this broken rhythm.

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.

We are Not Home Yet

“Are we there yet?” * “I’m tired.” * “I’m hungry!” * “I need to go to the bathroom!!” 

When I was young, my family took many cross-country trips from Alabama to Arizona and back again.

My dad would hand me the map and a small calculator (one of the first-with only a few buttons and no fancy functions!) and tell me to add up the miles to our next stopping place.  It required focused concentration and careful calculation, but I was rewarded with an accurate assessment of where we were and how much farther we had to go.  Then I could count the mile-markers and measure our progress.

I had a sense of where I was going and how much longer it would take to get there.

I don’t want to be the whiny kid in the backseat, but my grief journey has me crying daily, “Am I there yet?!”

I am confident of where I am going but there’s

no map,

no mile markers and

no real way to measure my progress.

I can’t calculate how long I have to wait to see my son again and I can’t foresee what twists and turns this road may take.  I grow tired and impatient and uncomfortable.

I know each day brings me closer to the moment when my family will be reunited and whole.  Sunrise to sunrise is twenty-four hours less that I have to wait until eternity swallows my pain and longing.  Every revolution of the earth moves me toward the finish line of victory over death.

God has not ordained that I know when this journey will end, so I concentrate my focus on truth and lean into the promises of Scripture:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for

and assurance about what we do not see.

This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song: We Are Not Home Yet.

It helps me remember that my life is a journey, not a destination.

My true home is heaven and there all things will be redeemed and restored.

Soldier On

Grief doesn’t travel alone, it brings anxiety along for the ride.

I live by the mantra, “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow!” and I don’t struggle to fend off worry.

But this vague feeling of impending doom that follows grief is invasive and pervasive and relentless.  I can’t stop it, find its edges or outrun it.

If I could just pin it down, I’d toss it out…

I have never been in combat but I am daily doing battle.  The enemy of my soul wants me to give in and give up.  So I push back, dig in and soldier on.

I am worn out and worn down.  

This is the hardest work I have ever done.  No breaks, no vacations, no time-outs or pauses.  And no forward progress.

BUT I REFUSE TO GIVE UP GROUND.

My struggle is not against flesh and blood and my weapons are not physical.  The only hope I have is to remain rooted in the Word of God and to cling to this truth:

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God,

so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger],

and having done everything [that the crisis demands],

to stand firm [in our place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].

Ephesians 6:13 AMP

Jar of Clay

I’m not comfortable with helplessness.  It forces me to accept I’m fragile and made of clay.

It’s scary.

But it’s the truth.

I am helpless to change the fact that my son is dead.  I am helpless to lift the burden of grief that my husband and surviving children must bear.

I am helpless to mend my own broken heart.

The only thing I can do is purpose to persevere and cast myself on the grace and mercy of God—to trust in His goodness and believe that my being broken allows His light to shine through the cracks:

 The Scriptures say, “God commanded light to shine in the dark.” Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ.

 We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.  We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up.  In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.

~2 Corinthians 4:6-9 CEV

The Wilderness of Grief

I was fifty when Dominic died. I had lived long enough to experience first-hand, and through others, the impact of loss on life and love.

Studying for my psychology degree exposed me to the stages of grief and the typical, observed behavior and emotions that a person experiences when faced with the death of a loved one. So even in the midst of hearing the most terrible news of my life, I thought I knew a little about what to expect.

But there are secrets that no one tells you.

Feelings that lie in wait to ambush you.  Overwhelming changes alter the way you see, hear, experience the world and think.

Grief turns the landscape of your life into a wilderness that is suddenly unfamiliar and often threatening.  The landmarks you depended on for navigation from one day to the next are swept away in a flood and you stand, bewildered in the midst of this strange place wondering how you got here and what you must do to escape.

There is no escape.

I can’t take a shortcut through this altered world.  I can’t close my eyes, click my heels and say, “There’s no place like home” to be transported back to BEFORE THE ACCIDENT. 

It feels like I live in a place where many speak a foreign language of petty grievances, first world problems and longing for bigger, better things.  I struggle to remain connected but find that I just can’t relate anymore.

Talking on the phone for more than ten minutes makes me feel trapped and anxious even when I wish I could listen to the voice on the other end forever.

I used to be able to make myself at home in any group and start conversations with strangers in a grocery line.  Now I feel isolated and insulated and it is hard to reach out.

I take quiet delight in the moments when I see or hear my surviving children laugh, when there is a small shaft of light in the shadows that define our days.

I try to forge new paths in this scary place so that my feet won’t stumble and my heart won’t fail.  I can only lean harder on the One Who made me and trust that following Him will lead me home.

“The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts: and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.”

Habakkuk 3:19