Loving the Grieving Heart

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way we who have encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate.  And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

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.

 

 

 

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn?

What blessing is there in mourning?  What comfort in distress?  What good can come from pain and brokenness?

Good questions.

Honest questions.

Questions I have asked God. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”~Jesus

The folks that followed Him up the hill were part of a nation that had waited centuries for deliverance from sin and persecution.  Jesus was surrounded by people powerless to change their circumstances. They were grieving, mourning, in distress.

So when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” He was offering real hope to the brokenhearted. He was issuing an invitation…

When we  reach the end of our own strength in grief, God invites us into a fellowship of suffering that includes Jesus Christ.

Burying a child is a humbling experience.  It is teaching me that I am powerless and oh, so dependent on the grace and mercy of God.

My heart was broken open wide to receive the truth that fierce love makes me vulnerable to deep pain.

And the pain cleared the clutter and noise of the everyday to focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on the eternal.

My life is swept clean of distraction and foolish things and filled with new understanding of what is important and lasting.

My pain has not disappeared.

But it is making room for the God of all comfort to fill it with hope:

That what I am feeling right now is not forever and forever is going to be glorious…

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21:4 KJV

 

 

 

 

 

Dry Places

I discovered these one morning in the hard ground of my gravel driveway.

New life where one would never look for it.

Are you walking in a hard, dry  land?

I am.

But I trust that God is working even here. And one day life will burst forth beautiful and full.

 Even if the fig tree does not grow figs and there is no fruit on the vines, even if the olives do not grow and the fields give no food, even if there are no sheep within the fence and no cattle in the cattle-building, yet I will have joy in the Lord. I will be glad in the God Who saves me.

Habbakkuk 3: 17-18 NLV

 

 

 

Wrestling With God

Jacob (the deceiver) becomes Israel (one who wrestles with God) after a face-to-face encounter with the Living God on his way back to meet the brother he tricked.  While his story is certainly a tribute to the triumph of grace, it isn’t pretty.

I think that we give too little attention to the middle of Bible heroes’ stories–we gloss over the struggles and temptations, the grief and pain and rush to the final chapter where “all’s well that ends well”.

But life isn’t lived like that.

It is experienced moment by moment, day by day and with no notion of what tomorrow may bring. Sometimes we find ourselves wrestling with God and begging Him to bless us.

Grieving my child’s death has forced me to really think about what I believe and in Whom I believe.  It has made me reconsider the power and purpose of prayer–is it to force God’s hand or to mold my heart?

I wonder what exactly Jesus meant when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you.”  There are fewer verses than you might suppose on what heaven looks like and what we may be doing when we get there (all popular “I’ve been to heaven and I’m back to tell the story” books aside).

I’m not the only one who wrestles.

I tell my story and speak my heart because I want to make space where those who are struggling, those who are grieving and those who are wrestling can speak the truth:

LIFE IS HARD.

God is not diminished by my desire to understand and make sense of my world–He doesn’t owe me an explanation–but He gives me the freedom to ask the questions.

Wrestling is not unbelief.  Wrestling is the hard work of true faith.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4 MSG

 

In the midst of pain, I will choose to persevere and trust that one day my life will be a testimony to the triumph of grace 

Heart of Flesh

We see the news, we hear the numbers, we count the dead.  We thank God that it wasn’t our friend, our husband, our child.

But it is someone’s child…every person is someone’s child.

I knew when Dominic died I wasn’t the only mama who had to open the door to a police officer with the news every parent fears. Mamas around the world bury their children.   Many because of hunger, or for lack of clean water or the most basic healthcare.

Last night many died because of violence.

In our hyper-connected world, it is so easy to become numb, to become hard.  I can shut down and shut out the things I don’t want to hear, don’t want to think about.

But it doesn’t make them go away.  

So I ask for grace to care.  To love.  To pray–not only for the victims of the violence, but for the families of the perpetrators as well.

No one is so far away from God that His love and mercy can’t reach them still.  

“LORD, take my heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.  Make me tender-help me mourn.  Stir me to prayer and action.  Give me hands that reach for those who hurt and feet that rush in when others run away.  Fill my lips with words of life so that those who have lost hope will know that You are God.”

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.

Minus More Than One

No child grows up in the SAME family because the addition of another child CHANGES the family. So does the subtraction…

We all miss him.

But each in our own way.

A family isn’t just the sum of its parts.

It isn’t a simple equation that can be worked out on a chalkboard or around a dinner table-this person plus that person equals two persons.

A family is an organic mixture of personalities, relationships, strengths and weaknesses that exponentially influence one another.

I always joked that our family was a ready-made committee.  Wherever we went we brought a fully staffed, action-ready army of six that spread out and triumphed over whatever challenge we faced.

The last great task we conquered together was burying Dominic.

Our family has been diminished by more than one person.  

We have lost the unique relationship that each of us had with him, lost the added strength that those relationships wove into the fabric of our lives.  There are gaping holes everywhere.

Some people say that on earth we can only see the ugly underneath of the beautiful tapestry God is making of our lives.

That’s probably true.

But I long to get a glimpse of what loveliness is to be wrought from these threads.