What if Tomorrow Never Came?

I know, I know, we’ve all heard it–no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Depending on the setting, and depending on your age when (usually) an older person says it, this admonition is easier or harder to ignore.

But I am here to sound the trumpet:  There might not be a tomorrow for you or for someone you care about!

So if there is something you need to say, something you need to do, please, please, please–for the love of LOVE, say it or do it!

My family will tell you that I’ve always been one of those people who says things on the phone and writes things in cards that most folks just think about but never put into words.

And since Dominic’s death, I am even bolder.

Because we had NO CLUE that the last time each of us spoke with him, or texted him, or exchanged emails with him was going to be the LAST TIME. He wasn’t sick or going off to war, so there was no reminder of the brevity of life the day before he died.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not always roses and buttercups around here.

We have plenty of disagreements and misunderstandings.  And every one of us has strong opinions about almost everything.  But we refuse to stay angry for more than a few minutes.  Even when all that can be said or done is a text, “I’m sorry.  I love you.  Let’s talk about this later when we’re not so worked up.”

That’s what we do.  

That’s what we’ve always done.

And we are not shy about blessing one another either:  “Great job!”  “I knew you could do it!”  “Sorry you are having a bad day-praying.”

Who decided that smiley face stickers were only for kindergartners?  We all need encouragement every day.

I can’t bring Dominic back.  

I can’t get one more second, one more minute, one more day with my third born child to tell him I love him and that I am so very proud of him and that he was witty and a wonderful drummer and a good, good friend to so many people.

But I know he knows.

Because even though I can’t tell him now, I told him then.

I told him often and I told him in ways that were meaningful to him.

So, I carry the burden of missing him.  I carry the weight of sorrow that comes from burying a child.  But I am free from the awful cross that I might have been forced to bear if I didn’t know that I had loved him well.

And for that, I am grateful.

 

 

What Fills Your Heart?

Jesus taught that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What I value most is where my heart rests.

Burying a child has pushed that truth right in front of my eyes.  I am pouring my life into something–no way around it.

So two questions fill my mind most days:

What am I willing to die for?  What will I live for?

Dying for something or someone would be a moment in time, an unrepeatable and finished work.  A single act.  

It’s much more challenging to think about what I will live for.  

I have to decide and commit to THAT over and over.

My first journal entries after Dominic died were filled with prayers begging God to pour His love, mercy and grace into my broken heart and to make me a vessel of healing for othersto not allow me to become bitter or hard or uncaring–

It was the only good I could imagine coming from the horror of burying my child.

Years ago, my husband gifted me with the CD “Revival in Belfast” by Robin Mark.  And in these months after losing my son, it is the one soundtrack I can play over and over because it speaks to deep places in my heart and spirit.

One of the songs,  “When It’s All Been Said and Done” has become my anthem:

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and heaven after
For you’ve joined me at my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone…

When It’s All Been Said and Done (lyrics)

When It’s All Been Said and Done By Robin Mark

“Only what I’ve done for love’s rewards will stand the test of time.”

I want my heart to be filled with love.  

I want my treasure to be eternal.

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

I Corinthians 13:13 MSG

A Daily Struggle

I despise the platitude plastered across social media memes:  “Hard times either make you bitter or better”.

It makes it sound so simple.

As if all I have to do is make a single choice between two equally available paths.

Enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.

Every day I am forced to confront my heart’s tendency to turn inward and embrace loneliness and isolation in an attempt to protect myself from further and perhaps greater pain.

Each moment I have to choose whether I will lean into despair or hold onto hope.

And I just don’t agree that there are only two possible outcomes of a life that endures hardship or grief.

Bitterness is certainly an option.

If I allow myself to rehearse the reasons why my son should not have died, why my family doesn’t deserve this grief, why my life is so much harder than it should be–then the case for bitterness grows strong and becomes attractive.  I can pack my briefcase full of evidence and pull it out at every opportunity when confronted with yet another “happy moment” splashed on Facebook.

Bitterness is always a temptation, and I must refuse it everyday.

But “better” implies that I lacked something that I have now gained.

Better diminishes my grief and gives the impression that I’d do it all over again because my painful experience has wrought amazing results.

Losing my son, regardless of what I have learned, is not the same as sticking to a diet or working up to a marathon run or getting a master’s degree.

The subtle danger in declaring myself “better” is that I can decide I’m a measuring rod for others to judge their grief journey.  Or I can become like the reformed smoker who forgets how many tries it took to quit or how hard it was to finally stop smoking and instead mocks those who are still struggling.

I am not “better”.

I am broken.  

I am bankrupt of any illusion that I am the captain of my ship.  I understand by very, very painful experience that there are no earthly guarantees life will turn out according to plan. I embrace with both hands the notion that the most precious gift is people we love and no matter how long we have with them, it will never be enough.

I can’t claim a final victory of faith over doubt, of good out of bad, of lessons learned from effort expended.

Instead I extend my empty hands and hurting heart to be filled with grace and mercy.

I choose love and refuse hate.

I continue to engage this broken world from my broken perspective and offer compassion and understanding to those who are broken too.

Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement; who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation whatever, through the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 DARBY

 

 

 

 

 

Dropping the Mask

Despite my commitment to authenticity, I do have a plastic smile I can pull out of my pocket and slap across my face.

Sometimes I just don’t want to have to have to answer the question, “How are you?” with more than a nod and a wave.

I tell myself that it demonstrates maturity and self-control.

And I actually think that’s OK. I don’t always need to spill my guts to every unsuspecting stranger I meet.

But if I allow it to become a habit or use it as camouflage to keep my distance from my fellow man, it is unhelpful.  It gives the false impression that life is mostly smooth sailing, when that’s just not true so much of the time.

And it builds a wall between me and others.

Because if the people I meet think that I have it all together all the time, they are going to be much less likely to admit that they don’t.  And let’s be real, none of us have it all together.

We all have at least one place in our lives that hurts and that needs healing.

Everyone has scars.

Losing a child is teaching me many things.  One of the things I am learning is that I am not self-sufficient.  I am not capable of meeting my own needs or bearing my burdens alone.  I need companionship in this journey.

When I walk around with my mask on, I isolate myself from the very people that might help me heal.

It is humbling and sometimes frightening, to let others SEE my brokenness.

I might be inviting judgment and condemnation.  But I am also welcoming love and companionship.  I am opening my heart to the gift of friendship.

When I refuse to pretend, I give permission for others to take off their masks too.

Being real creates space for authentic healing.

It unlocks doors to sharing truth.

Jesus came as God in the flesh so that He could experience our trials, our temptations, our joys and our sorrows. He came to KNOW.

But He also came to make the Father KNOWN.

And He has left His followers to continue making the Father known in the world.

If I want to minister to the painful places in the lives of others, I have to let them see the painful places in my own. I have to drop the mask and reveal my face.  When I do, I invite them to let me help carry their load and to let them help me carry mine.

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

 

 

Loving Well: Being a Friend

I’ve thought a great deal about friendship since losing Dominic.  I’ve been blessed by those who have chosen to walk with me and dismayed by some who have walked away.

It takes great courage to sit in silence with those who suffer. We must fight the urge to ward off their pain with chatter. Quiet companionship requires that we allow our hearts to suffer too.

For fifty years I was on the “other side”-the one where I looked on, sad and sometimes horror-stricken, at the pain and sorrow friends or family had to bear.

I wanted to help.

I wanted to say the “right thing”.  I wanted to express how very much my heart hurt for them and that I badly wished I could carry some of their load.

Sometimes I think I did a pretty good job of reaching out and touching the wound and offering a little bit of comfort.  But other times, I would say nothing because I didn’t know what to say.

Now I am the one bent under the burden of grief-my heart and body and soul laboring to carry the weight of burying a child.  And there are those who are brave and reach out to me and offer words or hugs or prayers and their efforts give me strength and comfort.

Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, these gestures are lights in the darkness, hope for my heavy heart and encouragement for a weary body.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

It’s tempting to avoid someone when their world is dark.

It’s uncomfortable to choose to enter their pain.  But Jesus has called us to walk beside the suffering, to encourage the disheartened and to lift up the ones who stumble.

There are no magic words to erase heartache.

Only presence.

And isn’t that why Jesus came?

We are most like our Savior when we are willing to leave our place of comfort and venture into the threatening world of another’s pain and suffering.

“Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”

(Philippians 2:5-8)

Loving Well: Relational Acts of Kindness

Focusing on “Loving Well” has reminded me again of the dear friends and sisters who consistently, compassionately and sacrificially love me just when I need it most. They came last week for a visit and spoke courage to my heart once again.

Loving well takes time and effort and is costly.  But I think we represent Jesus best when we love extravagantly.

“You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”

– Amy Carmichael

I have two very special friends.

After Dominic died and the meals and visits and cards had dwindled and the silence and heartbreak had become oh-so-overwhelming, they came out to spend the day with me.

The whole day.

With me.

With this crying, couldn’t hold it together, didn’t know what to say mama who had buried her son just weeks ago.

They brought lunch.  And let me talk–or not. They didn’t try to fix me, didn’t offer platitudes or Bible verses to smooth things over when conversation lagged.  They hugged me and listened.

And they have been doing this every few weeks since.

It costs them a whole day and it’s 60 miles each way–but they keep coming and keep lifting me up so that grief and sorrow don’t drown me.

Social networks buzz with posts and tweets and Instagrams of “random acts of kindness”. That’s a good thing.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, those are easy.

We pick a stranger, discern a way to help (maybe paying for a meal or a coffee) and then both walk away feeling warm and fuzzy. No relationship, no comm

Relational Acts of Kindness are much harder.

We can’t just do our thing and leave.  Our hearts and resources are going to get tangled up with theirs.

It might get expensive.

That’s what my friends did.  They leaned into relationship with me even though it was messy, and hard, and costly.

So my challenge to you is this:  who do you know that could use a relational act of kindness?  A neighbor?  A distant relative? Someone who sits alone in a pew?

There is no greater kindness than coming alongside someone at just the moment they feel their strength is gone.

I know that without these friends I would not be able to bear my grief nearly so well.  I pray that God will bless them abundantly as they have been a blessing to me.

“Help carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.”  

~Galatians 6:2 GNT

 

Loving Well: Just Say His Name

I know you are afraid.

You think that speaking his name or sharing a memory or sending me a photo will add to my sorrow.

I understand.

But even when it costs me a split second of sharp pain, it is truly a gift to know that Dominic lives on in the hearts and minds of others.  It gives me courage to speak too.  It creates space where I can honor my son.

It helps keep him alive.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” ~Banksy

I know you’re busy.  I know your life is full and bustling with so many people and activities demanding attention that you don’t have any to spare.

It is easy to forget.

He wasn’t your child. The date of his homegoing isn’t etched into the marrow of your bones, it isn’t scribed on the inside of your eyelids.

Every time the calendar screams “12” I make one more chalkmark on my heart counting the days since I saw him last.

But please remember.  Please don’t let the day slip by and not acknowledge that it is as important a milestone to me and my family as his birthday.

I know you’re scared.

Death is scary.  Even for us who trust Jesus.  And the death of a child just trashes the notion that we are in control, that we can fully protect the ones we love from all harm.

But you are frightened of what you cannot comprehend.

I am living the reality of your greatest fear.

Be brave.  Step out and welcome me in.

Give space for the longing to hear my son’s name, to know my son matters, to relive some of the happy moments and funny times and even some of the hard days.

I can sit by myself and remember him.

But sharing him with you breathes life into the recollection and speaks hope to my heart.

It fuels the fire that helps me see that even when I’m not here to carry him into the land of those still living, someone else will do it for me.

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.

—Anonymous