Buying Time?

It’s been awhile since I braved the crowds and participated in the shopping frenzy known as “Black Friday” looking for a great bargain or the perfect present.

In years past, my mother, my daughter and I would wake up before the sun, slip out into the cold morning, hit two or three stores for a special gift and then head to a breakfast buffet to recuperate.

breakfast-buffet

I can’t remember a single purchase, but I remember the laughter and conversation and comraderie.

Losing a child puts lots of things in perspective.

Like memories and time.

Time is the only thing in life that moves in one direction.  From birth to death in a straight line.

This season has most of us rushing from one place to another, squeezing in another activity, seeking just the right something to put under the Christmas tree.  We start the day after Thanksgiving and hurry into December, and suddenly the month is gone, the days have fled.

Ask any parent who has buried a child what they want most in the world and they will not hesitate–another heartbeat, another second, another opportunity to say, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or “Thank you”.

All the world’s wealth won’t buy even one extra minute–the ticking clock is no respecter of persons. 

think-you-have-time

I cannot buy time, I can only spend it.

We all trade this life for something–a unique transaction–no refunds, no exchanges.

It’s up to me to choose…what am I going to trade it for?

My life for love?  

Or stuff?

No contest.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

Love never dies. I Corinthians 13:1-2, 8 MSG

 

love deeply2

 

 

 

Surviving Christmas

February, 1992 I came home from the hospital with our fourth baby and woke up the next morning to a house full of children ages infant to six.  I thought that would be the most stressful and challenging season of my life.

kids cartoon

I was wrong.

This season of grief has required more strength, more endurance and more faith than all the sleepless nights, harried days and craziness of homeschooling and nursing babies and changing diapers ever did.

But when I ventured outside the house with the children–two in the stroller and one on either side–it was apparent to all who saw me I had my hands full.

The hardship and daily struggle of living after burying a child is not nearly so easy for people to see.

No taletell outward sign of the heavy burden, the sleepless nights, the tiresome days spent carrying around the grief and sorrow and still trying to do the things that life requires.

And so there is much less help, much less encouragement, much less grace extended to ease the pain and struggle.

Bereaved parents are particularly challenged at this time of year, because in addition to regular responsibilities and commitments, we are expected to attend extra church services, holiday get togethers and generally be “merry and bright”.

But grief doesn’t take a holiday.  And we beat ourselves up because we want to maintain the Christmas spirit for our surviving children, other family members, and friends.

It is so very hard…

So I will observe traditions that bless my wounded heart and lay aside the ones that are too painful right now.  There may be a time (or maybe not) when I can take them up again. But it’s o.k. not to this year.

It is not a sin to do things differently or to do some things and not others.  

God knows that I am a frail and feeble creature and losing Dominic was a devastating blow.

At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus, His leaving the glory of Heaven to come-humble and naked-as a baby.

jesus-the-heart-of-christmas

Perhaps my grief and vulnerable heart are a more fitting tribute to Him than all the tinsel and bright lights and piled presents could ever be.

As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

He certainly knows what we are made of.

 He bears in mind that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14 GW

Jubilee

Two years ago today I turned fifty.  I was celebrated by family and friends with a sweet surprise party organized by my children.

It was going to be my Year of Jubilee–a year of celebration and freedom.

About three years before, I had figured up on fingers as I sent my last homeschooled child to college that in 2013/2014:

All my children would be through undergraduate studies;

James Michael would be married and have his DVM degree;

and Dominic would be in the home stretch for Law School.

I had no idea I would bury my child.

I have thought a lot about how the year didn’t go as I planned and about how my year of celebration turned into a year of mourning. Instead of feeling free, I felt bound by sorrow and sadness, weighed down by grief and the gravity of carrying this heavy burden.

My fiftieth year stripped me of all illusion:

that what I hold is my own possession;

that this physical life is all there is;

that I have any control over the future;

or that my plans are secure.

I did not willingly surrender my child but surrendering him I was forced to accept that what I thought was mine is only on loan from God.

It is a hard, hard lesson--one that can find room only in a broken heart:

“Do I delight in what God gives me or in Who God is?”

It doesn’t seem that the children of Israel ever observed the Year of Jubilee. It was just too painful to return land to the original owner, to free slaves when you depended on their labor.  It was too hard to give back what God had given to them.

There is a certain freedom in letting go–a certain weightlessness that comes from an open hand.  It is not the freedom I would have chosen, but perhaps the one I need…

I discovered that Jubilee is really about what I hold in my heart and not what I have in my hands.

Adonai is all I have,” I say;
therefore I will put my hope in him.

Adonai is good to those waiting for him,
to those who are seeking him out.
It is good to wait patiently
for the saving help of Adonai.

Lamentations 3:24-26 CJB

 

 

 

 

Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

We want to enjoy the family that gathers, but their presence makes the empty chair more obvious.

It is so hard to find a way to trudge through the tinsel when what you really want to do is climb into bed and wake up when it’s all over.

There are some practical ways family and friends can help grieving parents during the holidays:

  1. Don’t resist or criticize arrangements a bereaved parent makes to help him or her get through this season.  If they are brave enough to broach the subject, receive their suggestions with grace and encourage them with love.  Do your best to accommodate the request.
  2. If the bereaved parent doesn’t approach you–consider thoughtfully, gracefully approaching him or her about what might make the holidays more bearable.  But don’t expect a well-laid plan-I didn’t get a “how-to” book when I buried my child…this is new to me and very, very painful.  I am doing the best I can to keep my head above the waves and I cannot be expected to captain the boat through these turbulant waters.
  3. Don’t be surprised if a bereaved parent doesn’t want to exchange gifts (or at least, not receive gifts).  No one can rewind time or restore my family circle to wholeness and I just can’t think of anything else that I want or need.
  4. Don’t assume that the bereaved parent should be relieved of all meal duties around the holiday.  For some of us, doing the routine things like baking and cooking are healing.  For others, there just isn’t energy for anything other than the most fundamental daily tasks. ASK if they want to contribute.
  5. Don’t corner surviving children for a private update on their parent’s state of mind.  My children are grieving too.  When you expect them to give an update on me you diminish their pain and put them in a difficult position.  If you want to know, ask me.
  6. If there are young children in the family, it might be helpful to offer to take them to some of the parties/gatherings/church services that their parent may not be up to attending. Ask, but don’t be upset if they say “no”–it might still be too traumatic for either the child or the parent to be separated from one another.

I know that life goes on, the calendar pages keep turning and I can’t stop time in its tracks.  I greet each day with as much faith and courage as I can muster. This season requires a little more-and I will need help to make it through.

 

Crowing in the Dark

Walking the path of a bereaved mother is hard and uncomfortable

Right now my world feels dark…sunrise seems far off and uncertain. But I know in my heart the night won’t last forever.

The roosters on my farm remind me that what I see is not all there is.

Ever ponder why God made roosters crow? Some of my scientific friends will give me the biology of it but, really, why?

I think it was to bring Him glory and announce His faithfulness.

Even when the light is imperceptible to human eyes, the rooster sees the promise of the coming day and cannot contain himself in his joy.

My roosters start their call to worship about 3:30 each morning. When weather permits and my bedroom window is open, I hear first one and then the other, declaring the beginning of a new day.

It looks like night to me.

But maybe they perceive the faintest glimmer of light cresting over the horizon.

Or maybe they just announce it because they trust the One Who brings the sunrise even when they can’t yet see the sun.

So I will follow their example and trust even in the darkness and declare the truth–the Son is coming and physical death is not the end of the story

Jesus promised:

I am the Door; anyone who enters through Me will be saved [and will live forever], and will go in and out [freely], and find pasture (spiritual security).10 The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” John 10:9-10 AMP

 

 

Handle With Care

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is  no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

Waiting On Someday

It’s been said that children are a mother’s heart walking around outside her body–mine certainly are.

And now part of my heart is in heaven.  That makes the promises of God so much more personal.

So I hunt for, cling to and chew on every word like it really is the bread of life–because while I walk the valley of the shadow of death this is the food that sustains me.  

Today  my heart is broken, but someday it will be whole again.

Today I walk in shadow, but someday I will walk in bright light:

“No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Isaiah 60:19 NLT

Today all creation groans under the curse of sin and death, but someday everything will be restored, renewed and redeemed. 

On this mountain [Zion] the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples [to welcome His reign on earth],
A banquet of aged wines—choice pieces [flavored] with marrow,
Of refined, aged wines.

And on this mountain He will destroy the covering that is [cast] over all peoples,
And the veil [of death] that is woven and spread over all the nations.

He will swallow up death [and abolish it] for all time.
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
And He will take away the disgrace of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

It will be said in that day,
“Indeed, this is our God for whom we have waited that He would save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us shout for joy and rejoice in His salvation.”
Isaiah 25:6-9 AMP

Settled Forever

Losing a child not only draws a line across time, it causes a seismic shift in priorities.

Beef or  chicken? Heels or flats? Red or blue?

Sometimes I still have to make these decisions–but there are some things settled forever.

Saying, “I love you” is always a good idea.

I don’t hesitate to tell a friend, “Thanks for being here!”

I drive slowly through neighborhoods.

My anger rarely burns longer than the minute hand moving one tick to the next.

I choose to be gentle, extend grace, give mercy.  A kind word or small gesture might be the only light in someone’s day.

Good-byes always include hugs and an eye-to-eye smile.

If you’re behind me on the highway, yes, I’m going to let that car over

I refuse to sweat the small stuff-and, unless life hangs in the balance, it’s ALL small stuff.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Colossians 3:12-14 MSG

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.