It Gets Heavier Before We Grow Stronger

Oh, the weight of missing the son I love!

I thought I understood just how heavy it was the moment the deputy’s words sank deep inside and crushed my heart.

But I didn’t know the half of it.

You really can’t know how large a person’s absence is until you’ve explored the edges of the world without him or her.

When folks started coming up our long and winding drive, even though I knew full well he would not be among them, my eyes strained to see inside every car. When his friends gathered in our front yard, I couldn’t help looking through the picture window trying to make out his face among the crowd. When we walked into his now-empty apartment I thought surely he was in his bedroom, around the corner, just out out of sight.

But he was nowhere to be found. And the hole in my heart where he should be but wasn’t got bigger.

Those were just the early days.

In the weeks, months and years to follow I found everywhere I set my foot that followed a path we’d walked together, I missed him. When the next movie in a series was released, he wasn’t there to watch it with me. Family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduations all went on without him and my heart counted his absence.

From sunrise to sunset my heart marks all the Dominic-sized spaces in a day.

At night, dark stillness invites me to recite them.

But after more than five years, most people no longer see any tale-tell sign of this mama’s heart longing desperately for one more minute, one more hug, one more quick exchange of “I love you!”

I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of missing.

Daily exercise will do that.

And it IS a daily exercise-lifting the missing up on my shoulders or carrying it in a basket on my head like women hauling water from a well far away has taught me to bear it well.

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I still miss him.

I will always miss him.

Greater strength means I can shift the missing to make room for living. I can carry that weight and still find room to carry joy.

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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.

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

Full of Joy and Safe in His Father’s Arms

I’ve mothered things all my life.  

Kittens, puppies, hamsters, other people.  

And then I had my very own children. 

What a privilege to pour my life into them!  What joy to see them grow and mature and become people I not only loved but admired and respected!

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

I learned so very much while raising my children.  The Lord used them to shape and mold my heart to be more like His.  They were instruments of grace and discipline.  Over and over and over I had to lay down my preferences and priorities to make way for theirs.

Now I have a grandson. 

ryker hands up and paci (2)

Another generation to snuggle and teach, comfort and care for.  

I’m already learning even more in this season.  

This little guy’s early and rocky start in life reignited passion for prayer in mine.  Watching him grow and thrive sparks hope and joy like I haven’t felt in the years since Dominic left us for Heaven.

His smile lights up my heart and the room.

Just the other day his daddy shared this picture with me:  

ryker smiling big in daddys arms

James Michael was being silly with him, oohing and aahing and making him giggle.

As I stared at the photo I realized this child was experiencing such joy, such complete contentment, fulfillment and utter sense of safety it was uncontainable.

So it spread all over his face.  

Then I had an epiphany-that’s exactly what Dominic feels right now. 

This very minute the child I am missing is missing nothing.  Precisely when I am wondering if God cares, if He hears, if He’s even near, Dominic is filled to overflowing with undeniable and uncontainable joy because what I hope for he SEES. 

And one day that will be me. 

All the heartache of this life will fade away to a tiny, tiny dot in the distance.  What has been stolen will be restored.  What has been bartered away will be redeemed.  Wounds will be fully healed and my heart will be whole.  

I’ll be full of joy and safe in my Father’s arms.  ❤

no eye has seen no ear has heard

 

 

 

Blink of An Eye

It’s just not comforting for my heart to think my son is looking down on me from Heaven.

I can’t reconcile the idea that he might be watching my sorrow with what the Bible says about Heaven being a place of joy and peace.  

But I do love the idea that he’s outside time and so isn’t “waiting” on reunion the same way I am. 

No matter how many years it may be, it will be only a “blink of an eye” for him.  ❤

Blink of an eye heaven

Choosing Joy

“I will choose to find joy in the journey that God has set before me.”

For my friends fresh in loss or other hard life circumstances, this statement may hurt your heart.

I get it!

It still hurts mine.

But what I’ve discovered is that while I cannot control the things that happen TO me, I can decide-by an extremely difficult and costly act of will-where to place my focus, trust and hope.

I no longer have unadulterated joy in my heart.

It’s tinged with sorrow and informed by pain.

But it’s still there-deep inside-where I know, know, know that my tears are seen and all of this will be redeemed.

you keep track of all my tears

I can choose to remind my heart that God is good, kind and loving.  He has not abandoned me nor is He punishing me.

This life is hard and I’m struggling.

But there are still beautiful people and beautiful moments along the way and I don’t want to miss them.

 

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I Don’t Have to Choose Between Sorrow and Celebration

Our family is looking forward to Spring and also dreading it.  

This year we will welcome a new baby (my first grandchild) and also celebrate my daughter’s wedding to a wonderful man. 

Our family is growing again!

brandon and fiona engagement

But we will also mark the fifth year anniversary of Dominic leaving for Heaven and another birthday that he won’t be here to greet.

dom on mountaintop

I’m pretty sure tears will be shed on each of these days and they will be salty-sweet, sad and happy, sorrowful and celebratory-all at once.  

There are no more hard lines in my life that separate events into distinct categories where only a single set of emotions is appropriate.  Instead my heart’s a watercolor mosaic where one feeling washes into another, darker colors make the lighter ones brighter.

My daughter recently wrote her own blog post, Guest Books & Memory Tables: A Sibling’s Perspective on Love and Loss.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even Hobby Lobby reminds me that if I’m remembering anyone at my wedding it should be the family legends of generations past, not current. Somewhere in my carefully- packed boxes of wedding decorations, sits frames and mementos for mine and my fiance’s grandparents and my forever-frozen-in-time 23 year old brother.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  She’s done a beautiful job sharing from a sibling’s perspective.

Her wedding day will be full of great joy and celebration and also some sorrow as we take pictures of the whole family minus one.

 

you should be here

I might be laughing one minute and crying the next.  

And that’s OK.  

No need to fake it.  

It’s ALL part of life. 

sorrow and celebration can coexist authentically