The Danger of Rushing to Serve After Loss

There are all kinds of doubts that creep in and take up residence in a mind after child loss.

Most of them have to do with the child that ran ahead to heaven.

But many are also about me:  “What should I be doing? Where should I go from here?” 

For those of us active in church ministries, we wonder, When do I return to service?”

There can be a lot of pressure to “get back in the saddle” if you fill a large role in a particular ministry.

No one ever wants to find a replacement for an effective Sunday School teacher, youth worker or hospitality hostess.  It’s hard when you have months of warning and nearly impossible when the vacancy opens up suddenly and unexpectedly.

But does the difficulty in finding my replacement mean that the burden is on me to keep serving, even when I am utterly broken, empty and unable to do so?

I don’t think so.  

I’ve learned many things through child loss and one of them is this:  the world still turns and things still get done in spite of the absence of any single person.

God invites us to join in the work He is doing in the world.  It is HIS work, not mine.  And He will absolutely assure that it gets done.  If I am unavailable to fill a position, then He will raise up another to fill it.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  

His yoke is easy, His burden light.  

yoke-of-oxen

We are never to serve out of a place of exhaustion, weariness, emptiness.  

Grief certainly exhausts us, wears us down and depletes our resources.  

Take a season-as long a season as necessary-to allow the Holy Spirit to minister grace, mercy and love to your broken heart.  That is the calling of Christ on our lives.  To listen and follow our Shepherd-our Gentle Shepherd-who promises to bind up our wounds and tend our shattered souls.

heals the broken hearted

People who have not suffered the death of a child will not understand.  But it won’t be the first time you’ve been misunderstood if you’ve ministered for more than a minute.

Don’t let others’ expectations or your own fear of failure keep you from hearing the call of your loving Father to come to Him, to lean on Him, to rest in His arms as He sings over you.

rejoice over you with singing

There will be a day for ministry again.  

I promise.  

crown of beauty planting of the lord

 

Did God Take My Child?

This is a question that comes up all the time in bereaved parents’ groups:  Did God take my child?

Trust me, I’ve asked it myself.  

How you answer this question can mean the difference between giving up or going on, between turning away or trusting.

So this is MY answer.  The one I’ve worked out through study, prayer and many, many tears.  You may disagree.  That’s just fine.  I only offer it because it might be helpful to some struggling and sorrowful soul.

I believe that God is the Author of life and the arbiter of death. What that means (to me) is that He is ultimately in control of everything and could (if He chose) intervene and stop the death of any person if He wanted to.

Nothing and no one is stronger nor more powerful than God.

However, we live in a fallen world where sin has tainted the original creation God declared “good”. So there are natural disease processes, genetic malformations, undetected birth defects (that may go unknown until well into adulthood like heart defects) that lead to death.

God does not intervene each time-but He could.

People make sinful and foolish choices that have natural consequences. My son was going way too fast in a curve on his motorcycle. God did not override my son’s free will (just as He does not override our free will all day every day) and my son ran off the road.

There are universal physical and biological laws that most of us are thankful for each day that then took over in my son’s case and doomed his motorcycle to certain paths and his body to certain death when it impacted the ground.

God didn’t intervene but He could have.

Job was ultimately protected by the fences God placed around his person. I believe each of us are too.

Yet God is weaving a bigger tapestry, writing a bigger story than only the part that includes me and my family.  So my son’s death and the changes it has wrought in me, in others that knew and loved him and even further out into the world are part of God’s big story.

I have made peace with the fact that I do not understand nor like what God has done in my life by allowing my son to die, but I will trust His loving character and wait to see how it will be redeemed in eternity.

No, God did not TAKE my son. But He allowed his death.

I gain more comfort in a God Who could have saved my son but chose not to, than a God Who does not have that power.

His word declares that He keeps my tears in His bottle. 

I believe it. 

And I believe that one day He will redeem every one and restore what my heart has lost.  

you keep track of all my tears

It’s My Story and I’ll Cry If I Want To

I don’t cry nearly as much as I used to.

That kind of bothers me.

I don’t know if I’m just not as sad or if I’ve just used up most of my tears.

I think it’s a bit of both.

I DO still cry.  And I try hard to remember that I do not need to be ashamed of my tears.  I don’t need to apologize for them-even if they make some folks uncomfortable.

Because, gee whiz(!), if  YOU are uncomfortable watching me cry, how uncomfortable do you think I am that I risk crying in public?

Weeping is NOT something which Christians are not supposed to do or to feel. Hot tears sliding down our cheeks, salty in the corner of our lips, is not a wrong thing to feel as part of our experience of life. It is only when the final enemy is destroyed and the last victory is won that all tears are to be wiped away. Until then we are meant to weep with those who weep, as well as to rejoice with those who rejoice … It is God who will wipe away all tears.

~Edith Schaeffer, Affliction

Sometimes I wish I could cry more.  I wish I could still get the release that sobs secured early on in this journey.

Now the aching sorrow seeps deep into my bones and settles in the marrow only to be freed when my body joins Dominic’s in the ground.

The truth is, I still hurt.

The tears are always near the surface but I can’t always let them flow.

I need to cry. 

I need to bear witness to this ongoing grief and give vent to the deep pain that my heart carries every. single. day.

I find it remarkable that even though Jesus himself mourned with tears, many within the Christian community set their jaw in opposition to this practice of ‘godly mourning and weeping.’ In our culture, we seem to have lost the significant practice of mourning and weeping. This lack has taken a toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually … Waiting and weeping go hand-in-hand.
~Jan Frank, A Graceful Waiting

I’m waiting for the day my tears will be redeemed.  Waiting for the restoration of what the enemy has stolen.  Waiting for faith to become sight.  

Trusting.

Holding on.

Offering my tears as testimony to both my sorrow and my hope.  

God not only knows your tears, but He records them and retains them? Why? So that one day He may transform them into gems of joy and glory. No tears are ever wasted when you follow Him.

~Warren Wiersbe, With the Word

Courage Requires Vulnerability

 

It’s a funny thing. 

If you’ve never faced anything very frightening, it’s easy to think that those who do and march on through are somehow immune to fear.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.  

courage is resistance to fear

Yet you cannot master something you deny.  You cannot resist that which you claim doesn’t exist.

Child loss is frightening. 

So frightening that those not forced to walk this road usually choose to pretend (in practice if not in words) that it simply isn’t part of the world they live in.

It’s so frightening that most bereaved parents experience a period of time we would describe as “being numb” and “shock”.

It was probably six months until my heart truly understood the fact that Dominic was not coming back.

Ever. 

It was frightening on so many levels-I had to face the fact I was not in control, had to face the fact my life was never going to be what I had envisioned it to be, face the fact that my surviving children would be shaped by grief in ways neither I nor they could anticipate, face the fact that I would live out my years carrying this heavy burden, and face the fact that no matter how hard I wished things were different, they were never going to be different-my child was dead.

sometimes even to live is an act of courage

And when the numbness began to wear off and fear creep into my heart, I had to choose: Was I going to embrace and experience this awful, devastating fear or was I going to try to deny it, distract myself from it or try to dismiss it as inconsequential?

Facing fear requires facing my own weakness.

Facing fear means becoming vulnerable-admitting that I am hurting, admitting that I cannot do this on my own, admitting that maybe, just maybe, I can’t climb this mountain without help.

cant get to courage without walking through vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability was its own challenge.

What if others mocked me?  What if no one helped me?  What if I just wasn’t up to the task?

courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen brene brown

I decided that NOT facing fear was not an option.  As long as it lurked in the shadows I would be its prisoner.  

So I turned and looked it square in the eyes.  And I found, with God’s enabling help, I could master that fear. 

Two verses became my touchstone:

When struck by fear,
    I let go, depending securely upon You alone.
   In God—whose word I praise—
    in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
    for what can measly men do to me? 

Psalm 56:3-4 VOICE

When I admitted my weakness, His strength was sufficient.

strength made perfect in weakness ant

Choosing vulnerability and facing fear opens the door for God to show His power in and through me. 

Child loss is still scary.  

I’m still afraid.

But the Lord gives me strength to master the fear.  

courage doesn't always roar male liion

 

 

Sterkte: The Empowering Strength of God in Me

Yesterday was four years since the day we buried Dominic.  I can barely comprehend it. It’s a terrible thing for a mama’s heart to watch the seasons change and think, “I need to change the flowers on Dominic’s grave.”

But I do it.

It’s one of the last things I can do for this child of my heart.

Sterkte. 

I didn’t even know this word when we buried Dominic.  

But I wish I had.  

Because “sterkte” expresses precisely the supernatural strength and courage that filled my heart, mind and body as I stood for the hours of visitation, sang the worship songs, listened to friends, family and our shepherd/pastor give a message and invitation to a packed sanctuary, then filed out ahead of my son’s casket.

Sterkte literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.

It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insurmountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

The morning of Dominic’s funeral-nine long days after his accident-I posted this on Facebook:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” 
~Habakkuk 3: 17-18

dom on mountaintop

Years before, in another dry but hardly tragic season, God had imprinted those verses on my heart.  Even if-even if- there was no way through but through, I was determined to trust God and to lean in and hold onto hope.  

I had no idea how that choice would be tested in the coming days, weeks, months. 

I had no idea that even now, four years later, I would have to hold on just as hard, wake each morning and make that choice once again, refuse the whispers of the enemy of my soul that spread seeds of doubt and confusion.

But in my own strength, all the determination in the world would be for nothing. 

I am not strong enough or brave enough to stand.  

It’s sterkte that held me up that day four years ago when my son’s body was lowered into the ground and dirt shoveled on top.  It’s sterkte that keeps me upright today when tsunami waves of grief still wash over me and sobs escape.  It’s sterkte that gives me strength to hold onto hope and lean into truth and keep marching bravely into a future that may yet hold more heartache.

Habakkuk committed to praise God no matter what happened.  

He understood sterkte.  It was his lifeline. 

After his declaration of purpose, he gives the reason why: 

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

~Habakkuk 3:19

The Lord God is my Strength.

The Lord God is my personal bravery.

The Lord God is my invincible army. 

He is the reason I’m still standing.

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

It is No Sin to Ask, “Why?”

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Sunday I sat through what started off as a promising sermon.  

The text was from  Jeremiah when he was sent by God to the potter’s house for an object lesson.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  

Jeremiah 18:1-6 NIV

This story hits home in so many ways.  

I identify with Jeremiah’s tears shed over the message he was called to deliver (Israel was about to experience harsh judgement) and the image of God as Potter and me as clay in His hands, to be molded and shaped according to HIS purpose and plan regardless of how I might like to be molded and shaped.

But the sermon took a turn that hurt my heart when the preacher began suffusing the message with personal experience.  It is absolutely his prerogative to relay his own life story as but it is another thing to draw general conclusions from HIS experience as being relevant and instructive for EVERYONE.

His wife had been diagnosed many years ago with a brain tumor.  She underwent extensive surgery and therapy but ultimately survived and is still living today.

Hallelujah!

I am thankful their story has a hopeful and happy ending (so far).  The problem came when the pastor said, “I never asked, ‘why?'”  and then proceeded to imply that asking, “why?” was wrong and the mark of an immature faith.

I’m delighted his faith was strong enough (or naive enough) that his heart never argued with his theological framework.  

That is not my experience. 

And it is not the experience of millions of faithful Christ followers who have been asked to bear up under burdens that do NOT have a hopeful or happy conclusion this side of heaven.

It took every bit of self-control I had to not stand up and shout, “REALLY?  What about Job?  What about Paul?  What about David?  What about JESUS?”

The Psalms are filled with questions.  

Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.

God invites us to ask.  

“Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord

Isaiah 1:18 KJV

My faith is stronger because I have taken my questions to the only One Who can answer them.

He doesn’t always answer. 

But He always listens.  

He doesn’t give me reasons. 

But He gives me Himself.  

I am the clay-I know that.  But unlike dumb physical material that can be molded and shaped without feeling or self-awareness, I am a human being, created in the image of God Himself and endowed with feelings, knowledge and a heart that longs to understand.

So I must chooseas an act of free willto offer myself as a living sacrifice, to remain supple and malleable under the Hand of my Creator as He makes me into what He intends me to be.

But submission does not preclude my questions.  

I would argue that true submission insists on acknowledging and asking the questions and choosing to yield anyway. 

Anything less is not submission, it is simply fatalism. 

I serve a God Who is my Father, not my dictator.  I serve and worship a Savior Who is gentle, humble and kind, not harsh, proud and uncaring.

It is no sin to ask, “Why?”

In fact, it is exactly the kind of exchange relationship insists upon.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

 

 

 

Repost: Feet of Clay

It’s not just my feet that are made of clay! I am clay from top to bottom and I am reminded of that fact every day. I try and fail. I strive but make no progress. I want to do better, but I don’t.

God is not surprised. I do not have to live up to some impossible standard in order for Him to love me. He made me, He knows me and He loves me. Covered by the blood of Christ I am free to live in that love, to love others from that love.

God is not offended by my human frailty.  He isn’t looking down from Heaven, shaking His head at my halting steps forward on this long, hard road.

we are dustHe understands my fear, my sadness, my longing for wholeness.

But sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that.

Read the rest here:  Feet of Clay