No Perfect Formula

Everyone loves a formula.

We spend millions (billions?) of dollars seeking the perfect, easy way to whittle our waistlines.  We spend hours (days?) googling tips on reducing clutter, improving relationships, decorating our homes (Pinterest, anyone?).

Christian bookstores are filled with tantalizing titles that promise a quick and effortless method for happiness and holiness.

We just want someone to tell us what to do, when to do it and exactly how to do it–we want life to work like a math problem: 2+2=4.

Sometimes, for a season, it looks like a formula might work.

But there is nothing predictable about life. And as long as people are involved, there’s no reliable method to accurately predict outcomes.

It’s just not that simple.

Looking for the perfect equation to balance life’s challenges distracts me from the life I’m actually living.  It offers false hope that one day, some way and somewhere, things will be “perfect”.

It seduces me into thinking that people behave like numbers and that I can size them up, put them in the math machine and turn out identical and predictable products.

Burying a child rips that notion right out of your head.

Nothing predictable about that.

There are no shortcuts.  No pat answers.  No perfect formulas.

Life is relationship.

With God,

with people,

with ourselves.

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:2-3 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Really Matters

Every day we are bombarded by numbers.

We judge and are judged by how well we  “measure up”.

How much do I own?   How big is my house? How small is my waist?

But how do you measure the value of a life poured out for others?

As you gather with family (some more difficult than others) this Christmas think on this:

If you could pile regret- one missed moment, an unspoken word, a hasty retort, a too-busy-right-now-stacked akimbo tottering high above your head, it would never be tall enough or monumental enough to convey the heartbreak of not having a second chance to love the ones God has given you.

The only metric that matters in the end is how much and how well I love.

Your glory, LORD, lights up the world; where love is real, it shines.

 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!

I John 4:7-12 MSG

Navigating Grief for Those Who Have Lost a Child

With GPS apps on our phones and in our cars, getting lost in the physical world is becoming ever more rare.

But grief is disorienting and every day I must relearn which way is true north.

It has never bothered me to ask directions.  I’ll pull off in a heartbeat–ask a stranger–stop a mailman–look for a fire station (they have to know all the addresses of their district).  I’m not shy and I’m not proud.

But as a bereaved mother,  I’ve struggled to find a map, or guide or landmarks that can help me navigate this wilderness called grief.

Twenty months down this path, here are some practical ways I’ve discovered to help me get through this unmarked world.

It is hard to concentrate so I have learned to break tasks up into smaller units.  I might only clean the bathroom sink and then move on to something else, coming back later to do the tub or mirrors.

I have trouble remembering EVERYTHING so important things like my phone and keys ALWAYS go in the same place.  My purse has designated pockets for specific items and I hold onto my keys when I get out of my truck so I don’t lock them inside.

Going to the store can be very challenging with all the noise, distractions and people (and the memories of his favorite foods).  Even if I’m only shopping for a few groceries, I make a list.

Keeping track of things like phone calls, gifts or thank you notes is also difficult. I use an inexpensive spiral notebook that lives on the kitchen table to write down numbers, notes or anything I need to remember.  I staple receipts to a page so that I won’t lose them.

I use a pocket calendar to note appointments, family schedules or important dates.  I don’t agree to or change anything until I have it in front of me.

I have learned to ask people to repeat things that I’m not sure I understand. Sometimes it seems as if folks around me are speaking a foreign language because my brain simply won’t process the words.

I don’t apologize for my tears or for my need to give myself space and time to make a decision when asked to do something. 

Grieving requires so much emotional, physical and mental energy that there is little left for everyday tasks.  But life goes on even if I want it to stop.

This is who I am now, and I will need to make accomodations for that as long as I live.

 

 

 

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.