A Question of Trust: What About Signs?

It comes up often in bereavement groups:

What about signs from loved ones who have gone on to Heaven?  

What about books that tell stories of people who have been to Heaven yet “allowed to return”? 

What about cardinals and butterflies and feathers and dreams?  

It would be so very easy to allow my feelings to rule my heart and to reject the truth of Scripture. It would be less of a struggle to walk this Valley of the Shadow of Death if I could “talk” to Dominic while waiting to join him.

But the Bible is plain:  I cannot trust in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ. Every thing and every one else is fallible and will eventually lead me astray. 

I wrote this a few months ago and hope it’s helpful to other grieving parents:

Signs

I Am What I Am

The cartoon character Popeye responded to critics with “I am what I am”.

popeye-yam-spin

And while this phrase can be used to excuse all sorts of bad behavior, there is a ring of truth to it.

Every one of us is the sum of our experiences.  Each of us is hemmed in by what we know and how we are made.

We are more than the things that happen to us.  

But, in part, we are  Defined by Moments.

 

Changed

Advertising works on a simple principle:  exposure.

The more exposure a person has to the product, the more likely that person will want to buy it.

My eyes lead my heart.

I go where my gaze rests.

What I stare at changes me.  

In the first moments, days, weeks after Dominic’s accident, it was very hard to lift my eyes from the reality of pain and sorrow that began like a hard kernel in my heart and grew to a mushroom cloud of destruction that took over my whole body.

But even then, God broke through to remind me all was not dark, all was not lost, and, in the end, all would be well.

See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?

Julian of Norwich

As the cloud began to lift, I was able, by degrees, to choose where to turn my eyes.  I could read and write and focus on truth, or I could fill my gaze with deception, darkness and lies.

aslan

I am going to stare at SOMETHING-I have to decide what or Who will fill the horizon of my days.

In my sorrow, I can stare down the black hole of death or I can lift my eyes to the Hope of Heaven.

I can linger long at the grave or I can point my face to the sky and look for His return.

 

My gaze can rest on the emptiness of today or it can rest secure in the promise of tomorrow.

I can sit at the feet of Jesus and let His Presence fill my eyes and guide my heart or I can turn away and let despair overtake my soul.

I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.

Psalm 27:4 MSG

When Moses came from God’s Presence, he glowed.

His face was transformed because he beheld the glory of the Lord.

He was sustained in the dry season of leading the Israelites through the wilderness by the abundant life he received in communion with God.

This season of grief is hard.  

It is DRY, and if I focus on the sorrow, it will suck the life right out of me.

I feel the sorrow.  I feel the pain.  There is no escaping reality.

But I can fix my eyes on the truth that this world is not all there is.  

I can focus my gaze on the finished work of Christ and the promise of reunion made possible by His blood.

Wearing Michael Jordan’s shoes won’t make me a basketball star.

But spending time in the Presence of Jesus will make me more like Him.

As I expose myself repeatedly to His grace, mercy and  beauty , I am transformed.

Our faces, then, are not covered. We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory. And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ICB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Does My Help Come From?

I’m old enough to remember Maranatha Praise albums. Fifty to sixty minute sets of themed worship songs, they were a wonderful blessing.

When we got our first CD player, I kept a stack of these CDs next to it-they were the background music to life with littles and often just what I needed to make it through the day.

Many of my favorite songs were scripture set to music in ways that made it easy to memorize.

My Help Comes From the Lord, Hosanna Music

I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

My help comes from the Lord,

My help comes from the Lord-Maker of Heaven and Earth.

When faced with a seemingly undefeatable enemy,  Jehoshaphat led the charge with a worship band.  

When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 2 Chronicles 20:21 NASB

These days find me humming or singing old tunes that speak truth to my heart,  lift my spirit and declare the victory of Christ when things look dim.  

In the midst of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, God uses these songs to remind me of His faithfulness, even here.  

comfort

Why Not?

I cannot bring Dominic back-I cannot have my child once again in my arms.  I cannot undo the damage death has wrought and the great gash loss has made in my heart.  

And so I am left with my pain and my questions.

“Why?” is not a particularly fruitful question (although I ask it still).

 “Why not?” is probably more helpful.

If I consider the lives of all the people God chose as examples of His faithfulness and grace there is not one who escapes heartache.

Not even one was allowed to walk this sod untouched by suffering that forced them to lean hard into the only Hope that lasts for eternity.

Adam and Eve reaped the consequences of their sin, were cast from the Garden and buried one son murdered by the other.

Noah watched the world descend into unbelievable wickedness around him and then witnessed the destruction of all flesh on earth.

Abraham left the familiar, trudged for years in a land promised but not given, had a son that he loved but had to send away because he was begotten outside the plan and will of God. He finally received the son of promise but was aked to sacrifice him.

He grew old without the blessing of possessing much of what God had promised him.

Jacob reaped the reward of his deception but lived a complicated and heartbreaking life.

Joseph enjoys a happy ending,  but it was a long lonely path that led him there.

David, Moses, Paul, the apostles, Elizabeth, Hannah, Mary, Esther, Ruth-all were called to walk in sorrow as vessels of God’s glory.

Only recently in human history have we been able, in small pockets of abundance, to mistakenly assume this mortal life is as wonderful (or, dare I say it?) MORE wonderful than the promised eternal life provided by God through the ultimate and complete suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

I want victory without war.  

I want harvest without planting and working the fields.

I want to be happy and satisfied here yet still have a heart for heaven.

It is impossible to have both.

Only in light of eternity am I free to live a life set apart for God’s use in the here and now.

Only as a recipient of God’s grace can I be a conduit of that grace to others.

Only in deep sorrow can I find the true value of Christ’s promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

Only alone can I fully appreciate the gift of God’s constant companionship.

Only when I am truly hungry can I taste the bread that satisfies my soul.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life [you are our only hope].

John 6:68 AMP

Waiting on Sunrise

I realize that some people reading this can’t imagine a scenario where Google Maps won’t guide them to the nearest Starbucks.

But I’m old enough to remember when paper maps were all we had, cell phones were science fiction and Interstate exit signs didn’t include helpful footnotes to tell you what restaurants and gas stations were just beyond the tree line.

Even further back in time, people traveled with only the sun and stars to mark their progress.

The rising sun was a sure and faithful witness to which way was east.

Every morning a wise traveller took note of where they had been and made sure that they were headed in the right direction to get where they wanted to go.

Grief often feels like I’ve been picked up by a whirlwind and deposited in a country with no familiar landmarks and all the signposts are in another language.

If I try to depend on my own sense of direction, I’m condemned to walk in circles, wind up lost and never find my bearings.  I will not be able to point myself toward home.  .

For my hurting heart, God’s Word is my morning sun.

I orient my thoughts to His truth and walk on, even when I’m unsure of the road, because I can trust His promises.

Each day, I shake off slumber, open my eyes and look for the infallible Guide that can lead me in the right direction.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and with hope I wait for his word.
     My soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 GW

 

 

 

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.