Chasing the Darkness

I live in a rural county.  You can travel for miles without seeing a street light or a house light or even the lights of an oncoming car. But the deep blue-black of a winter night can be pierced by the tiniest pinprick of light–even a pocket flashlight can chase away the darkness.

There are so many people struggling to find hope and light in this world.

Especially at this time of year, when it seems that everyone else is having a “holly jolly Christmas” those who can’t find even a spark of joy in their hearts feel abandoned and alone.

Walking this path of grief has made me so much more sensitive to people in pain.

My repeated prayer has been, “God, fill my broken heart with Your mercy, Your love, and Your grace.”  I want to shine light for those walking in darkness.

Even if it’s faint, and small and not very bright.

There are hurting people all around us and it is so easy to hurry past because their pain makes us uncomfortable.

Stop.

Look at them.

Ask the hard questions and LISTEN to the answers.

Hope is often only a tiny glimmer at first and each of us has the ability to shine that much love and light into someone else’s life.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 MSG

 

Welcoming the Stranger

Last night I did something brave (for me).  

I went to a Christmas musical production at a large church about 45 miles away from my home.  It was brave because since Dominic died I haven’t been able to go to a worship service that includes a band and worship singers without being frozen in my seat, tears running down my face.

Someone posted a video of a practice run for the song “Mary Did You Know” done Pentatonix style and it was beautiful.

Made my heart long to hear Christmas music again.

I thought sitting in a different church, with different people  might just be the bridge to help my wounded soul  reengage in worship music.

So I arrived early, walked in and sat down in a row facing an aisle, right in the middle of the sanctuary.

By myself.

Clearly alone.

And not one person greeted or spoke to me or even smiled–though I smiled at several as they passed.

Flashing up on the large screen at the front of the room was an invitation to “send us your photo” watching the musical,  followed by various ways to connect with the church online.  Cute snapshots of people from around the area and around the world cycled through.

But no one saw, or reached out, or spoke to the person right there in front of them.

My feelings aren’t hurt. I wasn’t looking for affirmation or comfort and I’ve already “found” Jesus–but they didn’t know that.

I could have been a struggling middle-aged woman who had come, desperate for hope, or a reason to keep living,  or for the Savior everyone seems to sing about this time of year.

And that made me think:  What are we doing?

Really?

Are we so busy being IN church that we have ceased to BE the church?

The music was wonderful, the staging flawless, the choir amazing.

But what frightened and seeking and lonely people really want is a personal connection not a perfect production.

At this time of year when the days grow short and the nights are long, so very many people’s hearts are yearning for a tiny ray of light, the smallest gesture of compassion, a glimmer of hope.

And some of them bravely step through the doors of our churches.

One smile can bridge the gap.  One word can invite them in.  One extended hand can give them something and someone to hold on to.  

For if you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the heathen do that?

-Jesus

 

 

 

Advent: A Season of Waiting

We spend a lot of time waiting.  Waiting to grow up.  Waiting to get married.  Waiting to have children.  Waiting for our children to grow up.  Always looking toward the next big thing.

Israel waited centuries for the Messiah.  Generation after generation was born, lived, and died without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise.

I have always loved the tradition of lighting  a candle and reciting Scripture to build anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus.The ritual forces me to slow down in the rush of holiday preparation to ponder the coming of God’s great gift.

Celebrating Advent helps me recapture that desperate hope–Israel’s longing heart for her Savior.

Since Dominic went to heaven,  Advent is no longer just a seasonal celebration–it’s an attitude of my heart.

I received the blessing of Christ’s first coming-His payment-in-full of sin’s penalty and freedom from the curse of the law.  I know my eternity is secure.

But I live in this fallen world where death still intrudes to take the ones I love.

So now I’m waiting with greater desperation and hope for the complete redemption and restoration of the earth God created and the people for whom Jesus died.

Every time I light a candle to drive the dark from a room I remember the faithfulness of God and His promise that no matter how dark it gets, Light is coming.

 

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
    light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
    you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
    Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
    sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

Isaiah 9:2-4 MSG

 

 

Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

We want to enjoy the family that gathers, but their presence makes the empty chair more obvious.

It is so hard to find a way to trudge through the tinsel when what you really want to do is climb into bed and wake up when it’s all over.

There are some practical ways family and friends can help grieving parents during the holidays:

  1. Don’t resist or criticize arrangements a bereaved parent makes to help him or her get through this season.  If they are brave enough to broach the subject, receive their suggestions with grace and encourage them with love.  Do your best to accommodate the request.
  2. If the bereaved parent doesn’t approach you–consider thoughtfully, gracefully approaching him or her about what might make the holidays more bearable.  But don’t expect a well-laid plan-I didn’t get a “how-to” book when I buried my child…this is new to me and very, very painful.  I am doing the best I can to keep my head above the waves and I cannot be expected to captain the boat through these turbulant waters.
  3. Don’t be surprised if a bereaved parent doesn’t want to exchange gifts (or at least, not receive gifts).  No one can rewind time or restore my family circle to wholeness and I just can’t think of anything else that I want or need.
  4. Don’t assume that the bereaved parent should be relieved of all meal duties around the holiday.  For some of us, doing the routine things like baking and cooking are healing.  For others, there just isn’t energy for anything other than the most fundamental daily tasks. ASK if they want to contribute.
  5. Don’t corner surviving children for a private update on their parent’s state of mind.  My children are grieving too.  When you expect them to give an update on me you diminish their pain and put them in a difficult position.  If you want to know, ask me.
  6. If there are young children in the family, it might be helpful to offer to take them to some of the parties/gatherings/church services that their parent may not be up to attending. Ask, but don’t be upset if they say “no”–it might still be too traumatic for either the child or the parent to be separated from one another.

I know that life goes on, the calendar pages keep turning and I can’t stop time in its tracks.  I greet each day with as much faith and courage as I can muster. This season requires a little more-and I will need help to make it through.

 

Handle With Care

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.

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.


A Life in Scraps

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Just a few months before Dominic was killed, this hoarding homeschool mama decided that it was time to finally give up some of the thousands of pages of handwritten, color-crayoned papers stacked in the attic, the storage building and floating in corners and crevices throughout the house.

Four children and twenty-two years of teaching them at home had produced a mountain of memories.  I began to sort through the ones I deemed “most important to keep” and “everything else”.  

Several loads were taken to the dump and tossed unceremoniously onto the trash pile.

It felt like freedom.

Now it feels like regret and longing.

Because what I have left of the physical presence of my son is represented in the scraps I have kept-the clothes, the notes, the scribbled comments in the margins of his notebooks and college texts.

I hear his voice in the tweets– his wit and wisdom, cynicism and societal critique.

Sometimes I hold them and think of the boy,the teen,the man who wrote them.

Sometimes I hurry past because thinking of who he was and feeling the absence of who he would be right now is too great to bear.

I wish he had left more voice mails-

I don’t erase them anymore.