[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

I am part of a loving and supportive Christian community of bereaved parents called While We are Waiting  (whilewearewaiting.org).  It is a safe place to tell my story, to hear the stories of others and to ask the hard questions that must be considered if we are ever to heal.  So many of us are findng 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

New Year’s Resolutions

The funny thing about New Year’s resolutions is that they are pretty much the same, year after year.  We all have particular struggles and the turning of the calendar seems like the perfect moment to commit to action to try to overcome them.

But most of us fail miserably and find ourselves back at precisely the point from which we started, regardless of our best efforts to change.

Truth is, we are terrible at remaking ourselves.  Habits wear ruts in our thinking and in our behavior.  It requires more strength than most of us possess to climb out and start fresh.

But God has promised that those who trust Jesus will be “made new”–they will be changed dramatically, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.  From the inside out and no turning back.

“Therefore, if anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation. Old things have disappeared, and—look!—all things have become new!”

I Corinthians 5:17 ISV

In the five years before Dominic died, I had slowed my Bible reading to a crawl–limiting myself to one chapter a day and writing it out in my journal.  After decades of church attendance, I realized that the stories had become too easy to rush through, the verses too familiar to resonate deeply in my spirit. I had just finished my journey through God’s Word in this way when my son was killed.

No one is prepared to bury their child, but God did lead me in the years before Dominic’s death to commit to reading Scripture in a slower, more deliberate way.

Having those Bible verses in my heart and in my head gave me a safe place to land when I received the awful blow.

So may I suggest that this New Year’s, choose the one resolution that can truly transform–if you don’t know Jesus, ask someone who does to introduce you to HIm.

If you are a Christ follower, commit to reading His Word. Store it in your soul. Write it on the tablet of your heart.  You never know what a new year will bring…

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.

Romans 12:1-2 TLB

 

curating grief

Most of us have taken a class or two in literature–we read other people’s writing and sit around discussing “what it really means”.  My husband has always scoffed at the notion that anyone but the author knows that.

Me–I love books, plays and poetry so I’ve spent a lifetime reading and trying to interpret the meaning of others’ words.

But now I find I’m leaning more toward my husband’s point of view.

One of the challenges I face as a grieving parent is finding that other people want to interpret my experience for me.

They want to curate my mourning like a museum exhibit–arrange and highlight and sift through the days before and after burying my child and lay my experience out in some way that makes sense to them.

Sometimes it is subtle and involves mentioning memories that cast the missing child in a positive light–extolling his virtues and highlighting his achievements–as if noting how wonderful he was when walking this earth makes it easier to let him go.

Other times it is direct and forceful–“Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  Or, my personal favorite, “You know he’s safe with Jesus and you will be together again one day.”

While my theology rests firmly on the finished work of Christ, my heart longs for the physical presence of my son.  So none of these platitudes are helpful and they only draw a sharper contrast between my hope and my experience.

Let me just be blunt:  unless you have buried a child, you do not know how it feels. 

Full stop.

No debate.

I am grateful for your support, for your prayers, for your kindness, compassion and love.

But please do not tell me how this all makes sense or fits together in God’s plan or will someday “make a difference”.

I  invite you to travel with me, to share stories (good and bad) of my son with me, to sit with me and look at the memories, feel the sorrow and experience the missing.

And, if you are brave, you can ask me what it means.

 

 

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

I woke up with this Scripture on my mind: “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”(Matthew 2:18b)

God warned Joseph in a dream, but apparently didn’t warn the other fathers.

It served His purposes for those children to die. There is no way to know if their mamas ever suspected the reason or understood the plan.

We read the “story” focused on Jesus-as is right. And we conclude that everything turns out well. But those families lived the rest of their lives with grieving hearts.

The Kingdom has always advanced at a steep cost and the ways of God are mysterious.

This tension is hard to  bear.

We live in a scripted world where we can watch and re-watch news, events, movies and Youtube videos.  We can read and re-read books. And our attention span is short.

Our compassion is often short, too.

We want to rush past the hard parts, the sad parts and the uncomfortable parts.

We want to get to the end of the story because we want to see how the parts fit together.

But when you are living the story, you can’t hurry to the end. You must live each day, each minute as it comes.

The only way to make it through is with patient compassion, tender mercy and extravagant grace.