Book Review: Remember to Breathe

I’m a member of several online bereaved parents groups.

They are safe spaces to share my heart and be assured the ones who read what I write understand my pain.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to develop friendships with some of the women who, like me, have experienced child loss and who have made a choice to seek God in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Evelyn Fannell is one such friend.

I was drawn immediately to her honest but grace-filled posts and comments in our groups. I recognized a heart that was full of Scripture but was, like me, dissatisfied with pat answers to the difficult questions a mother has when her child is taken suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically.

When life throws you a curve, even if you hurt so much you feel like giving up or giving in, remember to breathe. Deeply. Hold on to that breath as though it were your last, and it will get you through the next moment. And you’ll get through the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that…until that when you see your beloved again.

Just remember to breathe.

Evelyn Fannell, Remember to Breathe, page 169

She has written a memoir that is honest, helpful and hope-filled.

Her son, Joseph, was killed by a distracted driver just a short distance from his destination.

Image result for Remember to Breathe Evelyn Fannell

No mama’s heart is prepared to get THAT phone call. It knocks the wind right out of you. But from the beginning, Evelyn knew if she was to survive this, she had to remember to breathe.

In Remember to Breathe, Evelyn draws on her experience walking the road of child loss and her relationship with her Savior and weaves them together in a way that grieving parents will find authentic and encouraging.

Even in my dreams, God reminded me to live and to breathe.

There aren’t words to describe how devastating it has been to lose my youngest child. But I have learned and grown through the experience of grief, and one of the lessons I’ve learned is something I think applies in a lot of different situations.

It is okay NOT to be okay.

Evelyn Fannell, Remember to Breathe, page 43

I’ve said here before that we have to exhale in order to inhale.

Remember to Breathe is one woman’s account of doing just that-letting go of the things and thoughts that weigh us down on this journey and inhaling the grace, mercy and courage of our Shepherd.

If your heart is longing for an authentic example to follow, I highly recommend this book.

Between Sleep and Wake: Speaking Truth to My Fear

When I was a little girl, I struggled mightily being afraid of the dark.

Sometimes I could barely close my eyes because I was scared something terrible would happen between going to sleep and waking up.

I outgrew that as I grew into my faith.

go to sleep in peace

But after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I found myself again afraid to go to sleep. 

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/10/28/between-sleep-and-wake-speaking-peace-to-my-heart/

Remember, Self Talk Matters


What you tell yourself matters.

What you rehearse becomes what you believe.

What you believe becomes what you do.

When Dominic first ran ahead to Heaven, I was determined to hold onto truth with both hands.  I would not allow my mind to wander the winding path of “Why? or “What if?” or Where now?”

I was able to keep that up until the funeral.

Then the bottom fell out.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/10/20/why-self-talk-matters/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Your Word Revives Me

I realize not every parent enters child loss with the same reverence for Scripture and trust in the promises of God that I had when Dominic left us.

So it may be hard for your heart to believe the words we’ve been reading and studying this month. It may be near impossible for you to feel that God is a good Father, that He has not abandoned you and that He has a purpose and plan for your life, even here in this awful Valley.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that while I still have faith, it’s a tested faith. I have dragged every single thing I believed before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, held it up and scrutinized it in the cold light of loss.

Some things I don’t clutch so tightly anymore. Many things I wouldn’t spend five minutes defending anymore. But there are absolute, rock-solid, foundational truths that I will declare with my dying breath.

The character of God is flawless. His ways are holy and good. He will not allow the enemy of my soul to have the last word. Death is (ultimately) defeated and victory is sure.

When I was on my face in mourning, when dust was my food and bitter tears were my drink, these are the promises that breathed life back into my broken heart.


Remember [always] the word and promise to Your servant,
In which You have made me hope.
50 
This is my comfort in my affliction,
That Your word has revived me and given me life.

Psalm 119: 49-50 AMP

When people in the Bible asked God to “remember” it wasn’t that they thought He forgot. It was a way of reciting truth to their own hearts and praying God’s words back to Him.

So when I was just on the other side of the awful news but past Dom’s service and all the people and activities surrounding it, I began most days in my journal with something similar.

I would write out a verse confirming God’s promises to me and my family. I would make it personal-put our names in it- and pray it back to Him. The more I did that, the more my spirit was revived. The more my spirit came back to life, the more I was able to listen to and hear from Him.

It’s a slow, slow process.

The blow is sudden, severe and debilitating (no matter how your child left this earth).

Recovery cannot be rushed along.

I feel most days like I’m still receiving hope and life in drips and dribbles.

But the more I focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God’s sure promises, the more alive I feel.

And one day I’ll be fully alive-as Dominic is right now- dancing, laughing, singing to the tune of millions of rejoicing voices.

Until then, I’ll keep pointing my heart in the right direction.

My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.  ~Reepicheep

C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you have hope? Why or why not?
  • Do you think you can influence whether or not hope lives in your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you do each day to feed hope in your heart?
  • If you are new on this journey of loss, you may be certain you will never feel alive again. You may think you will never feel hope or joy or anything besides sorrow again. I promise that if you will let the words of God sink in, if you will take your heartache to Him and allow Him to touch the broken places, you will begin to revive. How do Reepicheep’s words speak to you today?
  • If you are farther along the road of loss, record some specific moments when you felt God met you and breathed life into your spirit.

PRAYER:

Lord,

Truth is that all life comes from You. There is nowhere else to turn but to Your face, Your hand, Your heart. Part of me wants to give up and give in. I want to be rid of this pain, this heartache, this sorrow and unrelenting despair. But I know You have a purpose and plan for me even here, even now.

Help me choose to make space for Your word and Your love to penetrate my heart. Help me offer up my broken bits to You and wait patiently for You to weave them back together into something beautiful.

When I have nothing left, touch me. When I give up, encourage me. When I can’t see the light for the darkness, shine on me.

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

Scripture Journal Challenge: When My Heart Needs a Reminder

This time last year I was on the front end of a very lonely, very frightening three and a half weeks.

Each morning began with a sixty minute drive in Los Angeles rush hour traffic toward the downtown courthouse. My husband and I parked and then walked through metal detectors and past guards down a long, long hall to the courtroom.

Every day was one more eight hour shift listening to lawyers, witnesses and a judge as the events of several years were laid out first by one side and then the other. Questions aimed to elicit unflattering responses hit my husband hard.

The opposing counsel even printed out a couple of my blog posts trying to frame both my husband and his family as intolerant fundamentalist evangelicals who certainly didn’t understand how things were done in the progressive West.

Our fate was in the hands of total strangers and the whole time I couldn’t utter a single word.

I was not allowed to nod my head, smile or frown or even cry when I watched my husband recount our son’s death and the toll it took on him as he returned to the workplace and tried to do routine tasks while being challenged repeatedly by a surly , vindictive and manipulative employee.

Trust me, no television courtroom drama can prepare a heart for the kind of stress, uncertainty, mental anguish and overwhelming fear that a real encounter with the justice system evokes.

Sitting alone (my husband was sitting with his attorneys) I could only spend time writing out scripture, taking notes and trying to guess how all this was impacting the twelve jurors sitting mere feet away. Only nine were required by California law to agree in order to reach a verdict which just added to the uncertainty.

I felt oh, so weary, scared and forgotten.

One of the scripture passages I wrote over and over was today’s verses.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,

    you, Israel, chosen of God—

Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;

    God has lost all interest in My cause”?

28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,

The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.

    His wisdom is beyond understanding.

29 God strengthens the weary

    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.

30 Young people will get tired;

    strapping young men will stumble and fall.

31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.

    They will soar on wings as eagles.

They will run—never winded, never weary.

    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40: 27-31 VOICE

The nation of Israel was feeling lonely and all alone.

Had God forgotten? Had He abandoned them? Didn’t He care they were at their wit’s end and the limit of endurance?

So Jehovah sends Israel an encouraging Word through Isaiah.

He begins with questions: “Why are you questioning Jehovah’s interest in your cause? Do you think after all we’ve been through He’s forgotten you now? Can anything be hidden from His sight?”

As I sat day after day after day, I had to remind my heart that no matter how it FELT, God was very near. We were not abandoned. Whatever went on in that room with no windows was not hidden from our Shepherd King.

The very next set of questions Isaiah poses is one of my all time favorite verses: “Hey Israel! Do you really not know that God is eternal, everlasting, all-knowing and all-powerful? Haven’t you heard He made the earth and everything in it? Do you imagine He ever gets tired, worn out, too stretched to intervene in the affairs of men? “

This trial wasn’t the first time in my life I needed to be reminded that nothing is hidden from the Lord’s sight. It wasn’t the first time I needed reassurance that God is never too tired or too distracted or somehow limited by my understanding of who He is to reach down and give me a boost.

In the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I’ve had days, weeks and even months when, in my despair and grief, I forgot the truth.

The whole passage comes to a dramatic conclusion that leaves Israel (and me!) with no room for doubt.

Hey-God breathed into Adam and made a living man from dust. Sure, you may be tired and worn out from circumstances or age, but He can breathe life and vigor back into you too. Young folks seem nearly invincible but even they have limits. You just wait (expectantly, in faith, certain that He will show up and keep His promises) on Him. The kind of energy Jehovah will give you won’t run out. You’ll be like an eagle soaring effortlessly on wind currents higher and higher and higher.”

I’m here to tell you that God keeps His promises. His Word is sure.

I look back on those three weeks and stand amazed that I didn’t fall over from exhaustion and stress about five or six days in because except for surviving my son’s death, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was absolutely, positively God’s strength and not my own.

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of my readers are bereaved parents and probably share my testimony of days, weeks, months of utter exhaustion under the load of grief that child loss dumps on a heart. Can you identify a specific moment when you felt God’s strength poured into your spirit? Can you think of an event, holiday or date you just knew you couldn’t face but somehow managed to survive?
  • How can meditating on these verses help your heart hold onto hope?
  • What new insight does including verses 27-28 to this familiar passage give you?
  • Consider looking these verses up in at least three different translations/paraphrases and compare them. Does that help you understand them better? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God, I want to always remember that You are so much more than I can ever imagine or comprehend. Too often I try to circumscribe You by my limited understanding of how you work in the world. But You are too big for any box I try to stuff You into.

When I forget, remind me. When I doubt, strengthen my faith. When I feel alone, make Your Presence undeniably real to me. When I am weary, breathe new life into my spirit.

Thank You for patiently, graciously, mercifully dealing with me. Thank You for your everlasting, faithful love. You are a good, good Father.

Amen

*If you want more details about what happened last year, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/24/heres-the-post-ive-wanted-to-write-but-couldnt/

On My Worst Days, Mustard Seed Faith is Enough

I didn’t grow up doing in-depth Bible studies so when I “discovered” the Bible in my early twenties, it was an exciting adventure to dig for treasure in the Word of God.

Along with Scripture itself, I devoured book after book on theology.

I could not get enough.

By my mid-thirties I had developed a fairly well-defined and defensible doctrine. I really thought I understood how God works in the world.

Then my son died.

And all the things I thought I knew, all the absolutes I had marked down in an notebook followed by an underlined verse to support them, didn’t seem so solid or well-defined.

I never questioned certain fundamental truths:

  • God is in control.
  • God is good.
  • God is present and will not abandon me.

But what form His goodness and control might take was unpredictable and many times beyond my understanding.

I’ve learned in the years since is that I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to have my theological ducks in a row. I don’t have to be able to give a defense (to myself or others) of how God works in the world.

I don’t have to have faith that moves mountains.

I only need mustard seed faith and God will do the rest.

I only need to hold onto the hem of His garment, and Jesus will honor my outstretched hand and heart.