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Monthly Archives: November 2015

What is the Value of a Child’s Life?

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

I recently recognized that a series of issues I’ve been struggling with all have one theme in common.   The thing that ties each of these issues together boils down to the worth of my children.

Death seems to strip an individual’s value from them in the eyes of the world.  Daily life moves forward and it’s not long before the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind”, applies.

What is the value of one child’s life?  To their parents, their siblings, their extended family, their circle of friends and acquaintances, to the community they lived in and even to the world at large?  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that their value generally diminishes as you go through the list.

The grieving long to have their loved one’s worth acknowledged, appreciated and validated beyond the funeral and burial, beyond the first week they return to work, beyond the year of firsts, beyond . . .

This bereaved parent questions her own value as well – to God in particular.  I wrote this quite awhile back.  It’s a prayer of a sort, and deeply personal, but it clearly reflects how circumstances can cause a person to contemplate their significance.  Keep in mind that my first child was stillborn, then I lost two in a car accident, and my surviving child has a rare and progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy.  I’ve taken a series of hits.

“Am I so much more expendable than other Christians?  Do my hopes and dreams mean so much less to You?  From a logical perspective I know the answer to those questions is no, but from an emotional perspective I’m not so confident.”

“Why do You keep hurting me or allowing me to be hurt?  Do I just suffer well for the cause?  Am I too stubborn or rebellious to learn the lessons you want to teach me without suffering?”

Value and worth, it’s a struggle I see other parents who mourn wrestling with.  Support groups, blogs, and Facebook posts are filled with the underlying theme.

Some make a shrine of their child’s room.  And the outside world shakes their heads in pity – failing to understand why.  Honestly, the parent may not be able to put into words why they do it themselves.  But their child’s possessions are a visual, touchable testimony of both their existence and who they were below the surface.  That room and the pictures they treasure, are often all the parents have to hold onto.  They’ve lost their child and cling to the things they loved and touched in their absence.

And really, if you think about the alternative, can you blame them?  Does anyone really think about the emotional price a parent pays when they sort through the remnants of their child’s life?  Do they realize how it feels to decide what to give away – and who to give it to?  What to keep.  What things most effectively reflect the child they loved.  What to throw away; now that, well that’s the nauseating one.  Disease or accident, murder, suicide, or addiction,  military or public service, has snatched their child from their hands and now they feel as if they are choosing to throw away their child, bit by excruciating bit.  Maybe the shrine makes more sense now.  It’s not shameful, it’s nothing less than a grieving parent defiantly refusing to toss away the evidence of their child’s life.  It’s all about value and worth.

Almost two years after the collision that killed my daughters, I am still sorting, still deciding what to keep, what to give away – what to throw away.  Granted, I was caring for Gracen, but I’ve had time to complete the task.  Every once in awhile, I open the doors to the two rooms that hold the things my children once touched and I make value judgments until my heart can tolerate it no more.

Some parents set up foundations in their child’s name for a cause their child was passionate about or to raise funds or awareness for the disease or tragic circumstance that took their child from them.  Those foundations meet needs, keep their child’s memory alive, and validate their child’s worth.  And some parents stand jealousy on the sidelines because their child did not live long enough to discover their purpose and passions.  There will be no foundation and their child will all too quickly be forgotten, overlooked, or intentionally left out for fear of reminding the grieving parent of their death.  Personalized gifts will not include their name, you will be introduced as the parent of one less child – and the parent of a stillborn child will not be asked about their child’s birth weight and length; all in the name of compassion.  It’s not always true that actions speak louder than words.  It’s amazing how loudly silence speaks.

Polite society encourages the family to let go, move forward, have another baby, take in foster children, adopt, and of course, be thankful for the children you have left; unwittingly conveying the message that the child you lost no longer has significance and that continued grief equates to a lack of appreciation for those you still have.

And the grief-stricken parent fights the war within; attempting to reconcile the worth of their child between the messages they receive from society and the intellectual truth that their child’s worth never stemmed from their accomplishments but from the fact that they were theirs and created by God.

The grieving parent is begging – demanding really – that society validates the worth of their child; their contribution, their significance in this world; regardless of their length of life.

I’m not sure any parent passes through the grief process until they either “feel” the validation they crave (because a small group of people do just that) or until they resign themselves to the real truth – that it is enough if they alone recognize the worth of their child in this world.  The battle within has been won, the enemy defeated by love – the love of God and the love of the parent.  The only thing the parent needs to let go of is the desire to have their child’s worth validated by society.  However, that’s easier said than done.  Knowing what needs to be done does not make it easy to do.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and it’s a process that’s mastered one painful step at a time.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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Thanksgiving 2015

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This Thanksgiving we will return to Kansas City as we have for the last ten years. Every time we choose to go “home”, we pass the accident site twice. In fact, we rarely drive north unless we are heading back to see family and friends. The crosses usher in a heighten level of anxiety for the painful moments that are simply unavoidable. And the return trip heralds in memories of where it all went so wrong. To say I need to emotionally prepare myself for these trips is an understatement of gigantic proportions. But staying home – being alone in our unnaturally quiet house – is exponentially worse.

Gratitude and grief co-exist within my heart. Therefore, this year I plan to allow myself permission to do something I’ve never permitted myself to do in the past. If I feel overwhelmed, if the sight of healthy intact families, and bright futures pinch just a bit too much, I will slip off and ensconce myself in the room we make use of when we are in town.

I will not make myself be strong when I feel weak as I have done in seasons past. I will not force myself to wear a mask in order to make others comfortable in my presence. I’ve long been aware that I’m not responsible for how comfortable others feel with my grief, at the same time I’ve always assumed responsibility for shielding others from my emotions, for their sake and mine.  Frankly, an open display of my vulnerabilities is abhorrent to me. In the past I’ve felt as if leaving the room was just as bad as crying in public. Doing either draws attention and leads people to talk. Now, I’m just tired. I also realize that it’s not unreasonable or shameful to remove myself from a situation in which I’m uncomfortable. To remain, to pretend good cheer, that’s a burden too great for me to bear and this year – I just don’t have the energy.

Small talk is chief among my personal anxieties. I can talk about Gracen. I can talk about David; but I cannot talk about myself. I have absolutely nothing to share. So if conversation stalls, I will remind myself that I am not individually responsible for keeping the conversational ball in play. If asked questions that are awkward, I will, for the first time ever, say, “This is not a good time to discuss that.” or “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Deflection, a highly valuable social skill, is not one I’ve ever become adept at using. Over the years I’ve been put on the spot and found myself exposing vulnerabilities to family, friends or mere acquaintances to my personal detriment. In the coming weeks I will practice simply not answering a direct question by responding with a question of my own.

Grief is teaching me a world of useful and unexpected lessons and fiction has provided a multitude of examples from which I intend to draw. (I knew I’d eventually uncover a completely reasonable excuse to justify the inordinate amount of reading I indulge in.)

Most importantly, I will remind myself of this truth:  Honesty does not require transparency; nor does it require vulnerability. It is my right to choose both when and what I feel comfortable sharing and with whom I wish to be transparent and vulnerable.

I don’t want attention or pity: I want privacy and understanding. I don’t want others evaluating how I’m doing based upon their personal perceptions. If asked, I’ll share what I’m comfortable sharing and hope if others later inquire, that no more than what I’ve shared will be disseminated. Anything more is little more than fodder for gossip.

I will never forget how gutted I felt when I bumped into a friend following the death of my son and she said, ‘I heard you weren’t doing very well.’ What was worse was realizing that the person who reported on my well-being had never asked me how I was doing; they simply watched me and drew their own conclusions.  Gossip hurts.  While long forgiven, and completely beyond my control, I remain hypersensitive to how I am portrayed to others. It’s my reputation and it’s my heart that suffers for idle words spoken.

While the things above may seem simple to many, they are challenging for me. So this year, I will keep the commitments I’ve made to myself and will do my best to let go of the things I can’t control. There is grace and forgiveness for those things.

Of the many things for which I’m thankful – the blessings among the thorns, I’m most grateful that I still have David and Gracen. However, I dread that moment that often occurs at Thanksgiving gatherings when asked to share that for which we are thankful. To express my thanks for my husband and daughter draws attention to those who are missing. It’s awkward – for me and for everyone else. While grief may overshadow my gratitude, that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize and appreciate my blessings. So this year, I will give thanks, but I might not have a happy Thanksgiving. Contrary to what the Veggie Tales teach, a grateful heart is not always a happy heart; and that’s OK, gratitude is sufficient.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Grief

 

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Bethany’s Song – A Tribute Video

 

This video is a tribute to Bethany Boxx. Bethany was my son’s best friend and the love of his life. Our family loved Bethany very much and she is terribly missed. Bethany and her little sister Katelyn’s lives ended way to soon in a needless traffic accident caused by a reckless driver, driving without a driver’s license. The song is written and performed by Emma Nilsson who wrote this song as a tribute to the positive, strong, smart, beautiful, young Bethany. Our hearts goes out to the Boxx family, Alex Nilsson, and everyone who knew Katelyn and Bethany. They will be missed and never forgotten. Rest in peace. — Jakob Nilsson

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Links, Music

 

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Metamorphosis

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Larry Howard Jones, who served as the Music Minister of our church in KCMO, always shared the best illustrations about matters of faith when he taught the College & Careers class.

I remember him telling us that at the point of salvation God sees the new believer through Christ’s righteousness. That we could picture ourselves clothed in Christ’s pure white robe of righteousness. That from the point of salvation forward God sees us as if we were just as sinless as Christ Himself.  Not that God is unaware of our flaws, not at all, but He has cast our sins as far as the east is from the west.

So this statement about the butterfly resonates within me. Because, regardless of how God perceives me, regardless of where I am on this road to sanctification, I do not perceive myself as Christ-like.

When we look upon ourselves the image is warped. When others look upon us, the image is also warped. It’s like we are looking at two different sides of a funhouse mirror. We see our failures, our sins, and often magnify them beyond a true representation of our true character. Friends, are often kinder (but not always). They tend to see a more wholistic view of our character but often inflate the true nature of our character ignoring lesser sins.

The media, oh the media, radically enhances a public figures character or viciously destroys it making one Saint or sinner depended upon their agenda. They gloss over or ignore behavior in order to present the viewing public with a predetermined image of a public figure, be it celebrity, politician or a high profile businessman. The media of today no longer reports news it manipulates news and we are often the unwitting victims of the spin doctor.

Only God sees us precisely as we truly are. Only God knows the heart. Only God knows our true motives and if they are pure and righteous or proud and self-serving. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)

Only God has the ability to see us both as we are today and as we will be, when we are made like Christ. Only God can envision us, the as yet unfinished work of His hands, as clothed in the pure radiance of Christ’s righteousness.

This picture of a butterfly and the quote attached to it remind me that I can’t accurately discern my true character. That when friends evaluate my character, I may appear as a pretty butterfly, but to those who don’t like me much, I probably look more like the less attractive moth, but God sees me in every single stage of transition. He sees the metamorphosis – the work in process – the blending of the two sides of the funhouse mirror, still imperfect, ever changing day to day as the Holy Spirit performs the work of sanctification in my life.

But one day, one day, I will be revealed in pure sanctified glory, like the most rare and beautiful butterfly, to everyone, myself included – no more distortion- and that’s how I will be known for all eternity.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2015 in Faith

 

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