Flickers Of Light, Guiding My Heart Home

A fellow bereaved mom commented on my recent holiday post with this question: How do you make joy, when your heart has no joy?

It was a good and honest query. One that stopped me in my tracks.

When your heart is so broken that all is dark inside AND outside, where does the word “joy” even fit into your vocabulary?

I’m not sure I would have described anything as joyful for months after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven even though those days included two graduations and a wedding.

I felt positive about those events and I longed to feel joyful, but I just could not muster the energy to do much more than smile for the camera.

So I think, for me, it was a matter (over time and with much effort) to choose to allow joy back into my broken heart.

There are moments of beauty even in the darkest and most difficult days.

At first I refused to recognize and acknowledge them because to embrace joy seemed like treason. It felt disrespectful to Dominic-making light of the horror of his untimely death.

But eventually I realized that embracing whatever good I might stumble upon in a day wasn’t denying the awful, it was admitting and affirming that death didn’t have the last word.

I am walking the Valley now, but this journey will not last forever.

One day it will end with more joy and love and laughter and glory than my finite mind can imagine.

So the bits of joy along the way are simply flickers of light guiding my heart Home.

Repost: And If Not, He’s Still God


It’s a hard, hard lesson to learn.

It’s even harder to carry it like a precious burden in the bosom of your heart.  

Because while it is oh, so true, it does not take away the pain when circumstances just don’t change no matter how hard you pray, how long you endure or how much you wish they would.  

God’s ways are not my ways.  His thoughts are not my thoughts.  He is not required to fit into whatever box I want to put Him in.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/10/09/and-if-not-hes-still-god/

Photographs And Memories

Tuesday, October 1, 2019 we said our formal good-byes to my mama. Saw her face for the last time on earth surrounded by friends and family. Sang a few songs and walked away from the cemetery back to a fellowship hall full of people.

A crowded place never felt so empty.

A noisy room never sounded so quiet to ears straining for the one voice we longed to hear.

It was like that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven five and a half years ago-I stumbled back across the grass to the waiting food and folks both relieved the public spectacle was concluded and horrified that the final act of committing his body to the ground and commending his soul to Heaven was complete.

Left with only photographs and memories.

They were not enough then and they are not enough now.

Flat, lifeless representations of the vibrant, funny, sassy mama that only recently rediscovered her appetite and snuck past the kitchen to the bowl of candy on the dining room table at every opportunity are NOT. ENOUGH.

Even though it was delightful to dig out old photo albums, scour the house for boxes tucked away in corners and open drawers searching for mementos and precious tokens of a long life, it was also a heartbreaking reminder that if she were still breathing we’d never be invading her privacy.

I remember boxing up Dominic’s things in his apartment only a few days after we buried him.

We were trespassing, pure and simple. He deserved to have whatever secrets he’d been keeping (though they were small and not at all dark or dishonorable) and here we were dragging them into the light.

I hated every minute of it. I sucked in my breath and held back the tears as I piled a life into containers of “save”, “toss” and “give away”. A lifetime reduced to lifeless objects.

We buried Mama with a white rose and a small photo of Dominic placed in between her hands. It was a tiny token representing both our heartache and our eternal hope.

I am thankful for every memory and photograph I have of Mama and Dominic.

I tuck the memories away safely in my heart and place the photos carefully in labeled albums.

But they are a paltry substitute for their earthly companionship.

Within That Hope, We Lament

Yesterday I stood next to my mama’s casket and met person after person who came to pay respects.

It was beautiful and awful all at the same time.

It was precious to hear the many ways Mama had brightened other people’s lives, extended hospitality, shared experiences and encouraged hearts.

It was awful to know she wouldn’t be doing that anymore. Her voice is silent, her smile is forever fixed into a not-really-like-her expression and her eyes closed.

I have been so busy that I really haven’t had time to mourn her yet. It’s coming.

Oh, how I know it’s coming.

But one thing I know now that I didn’t know when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven is this: Hope in Christ creates a safe space for all my questions, sadness and crying out.

God collects my tears. He does not disdain my sadness. He leans in and listens to my lament.

To have healthy fellowship with God we must be honest and realistic about our circumstances and our reactions to them.  To have a healthy emotional, spiritual, and mental life, we must be honest with ourselves.  One truth about our lives is that we are broken; we inevitably encounter our own suffering and that of others, and eventually we die.  How does our Lord teach us to respond to this?  He teaches us hope, and within that hope we use lament to speak to God of the painful delay of peace.  All laments ultimately go to God, with whom we wrestle and rest.

Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope

Peace is coming but it’s not here yet.

And it is perfectly OK to admit that, to mourn that, to take notice of the gap between the promise and the present.

Broken Circle, Unbroken Chain of Love

I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.

I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.

When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019. 

Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else. 

And that is very, very true. 

We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically. 

I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”. 

That’s hard. 

It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa.  We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives. 

It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time.  There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old.  So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years.  She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable.  It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss. 

But she didn’t. 

Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright. 

Mama chose love.

Mam and all my children, 1994

In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation.  She had two visits from her great-grandson.  One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him. 

I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap. 

For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him.  She even got to be the first one to see him turn over.  That tickled her! 

All the Grandmas and Captain Ryker

Truth is, that last date isn’t the end.  There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life.  Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic. 

But even here, on earth, love lives forever. 

It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love. 

Our circle is broken today.  Death is awful and it’s hard.  It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration. 

But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.

I love you, Mama. 

Say “hi” to Dom for me.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.

Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.

The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.  

So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:

13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS

This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one.  At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.

And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.

But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”

And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”

Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”?  Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened?  How can this be your life?

Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?

  • Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
  • Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
  • Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.

But I am made of dust.

I am human.  I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.

He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it.  He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music.  He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.

And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost.  I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is.  I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.

But I still GRIEVE.  I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.

So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.

For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.

Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.

Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.

But don’t expect us not to cry.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
  • What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
  • Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
  • Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.

My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!

When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: A Living Hope

We toss the word “hope” around a lot.

I hope it rains. I hope I get the job. I hope it’s a boy!

Most of the time we could exchange “wish” for “hope” because we have no power to make the things we hope for come true.

So when we read “hope” in this passage, it doesn’t necessarily evoke the sure promise Peter is trying to convey in his letter to suffering Christians of the first century.

It would be cold comfort to families as they were forced at sword point to walk off cliffs or thrust into the arena with lions if Peter’s hope was just a wish.

But it’s not.

Peter opens his letter with a bold declaration based on his eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He’s alive!

And His living Presence means that THIS hope is a promise.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I Peter 1:3-9 NIV

These are some of my favorite verses in the epistles.

Peter packs so much in so few words: I have an inheritance, I have a future and I have joy.

My inheritance in Christ is safe, secure and eternal.

There is no law of diminishing returns in Heaven. Unlike that dress I bought that seemed so wonderful a week ago, I won’t ever get tired of reciting and reviewing all Jesus purchased for me with His blood.

Do you ever fear you might lose your faith?

Peter reminds us we are shielded by God in Christ until the full glory of our salvation is revealed at the Last Day. Jesus Himself said that those the Father gives Him cannot be snatched from His hand.

Doubt is not denial.

If you have put your trust in the finished work of Jesus then you are saved.

Trials will come. But they are not the last word.

When we lean on Christ and trust Him to walk with us through them, take the heat and refuse to melt, then we are refined and His glory is purer, clearer and more easily seen in our lives.

And in the midst of trials I have joy because my hope in the living hope of our resurrected Savior sustains me.

Consider Paul’s words: ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). In the ugliness of intensified grief, the Christian is supernaturally enabled to rejoice.

The hallelujahs of joy reverberate on broken heartstrings. My sorrow touches every part of my life, yet I sorrow not as those who have no hope.

My rejoicing is not that of happy feelings; it is triumph in trial and confidence in a supreme God. The true joy of the Lord is divine enablement, not effervescent emotions

James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Sometimes it seems like it’s hardly worth it. Our circle is small and our testimony just a whisper. But we won’t know the full story of how our struggle glorifies Him until all things are revealed.

Our hope is a Living Hope.

It’s no pie-in-the-sky fairy tale.

Your story matters.

It’s being written to be shared as a testimony to God’s goodness, His faithful love and His enabling grace.

Hang on.

You’ll be glad you did.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever thought about the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the promise that we will also be raised? How do Peter’s words about our “living hope” impact your faith?
  • Peter denied Christ and most certainly didn’t ever expect to have a second chance to make that right. Do you feel like you’ve done or said or thought something that puts you outside the love and grace of God?
  • In the midst of a trial are you aware that it’s a refining experience? Do you care?
  • Does the promise that our steadfast endurance will be revealed in the last day as a testimony to God’s glory and grace encourage you? Why or why not?
  • What practical steps do you take to hold onto hope?

PRAYER:

Lord, sometimes I feel hopeless. I forget that the resurrection proves You have conquered death and the grave. I forget I have a Living Hope and that hope is the person of Jesus Christ.

Trials come and the heat is so intense. I want to shrink away, to hide, to find some safe corner where pain and sorrow won’t find me. But that’s not the world we live in. Whether I’m persecuted for my faith or just the target of someone else’s sinful actions or words, it hurts!

Give me the strength to endure regardless of how intense the struggle.

I want to finish strong. I want to be a testimony for Your glory and to Your grace. Thank You for providing every needful thing.

Speak courage to my spirit, breathe life into my faith.

Thank You that I can rest assured that the hope I place in You is not just a fanciful wish but a sure thing.

Amen