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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Lanterns & Stones

IMG_0276Preparations for this day, the second anniversary of the girls’s death, started a few weeks back. We ordered a package of Chinese Sky Lanterns and emailed family informing them that we intended to bring them to our Christmas celebration. The family was gathering on Christmas Eve and we wanted to give everyone a chance to write a message on a lantern, in preparation for flight. We also invited family to join us for the launch, December 26, 2015, at approximately 2:45 p.m. – Bethany & Katie’s heaven date and time.

In early afternoon it began to mist. The forecast for rain left me anxious. Following the news that our daughters’ fingerprints were not available so we could order a much desired memorial necklace for me and key chain for David, being able to launch the lanterns on the day of the girls’ death took on an increased level of importance for me.

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Family gathered at my in-laws home and we caravanned to the launch site. By the time we arrived, it was still misting and what had been a calm day had turned into a gusty day.  The manufacturer’s instructions said to choose a calm day and to have water or a fire extinguisher handy. We gave it a valiant effort, attempting to light a test lantern (one without a message) but it was not to be.

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We thanked the family for coming out and dispersed quickly because it had gotten considerably colder. On the way home, I looked over at my husband and quietly asked, “Are you disappointed?” (David doesn’t volunteer his feelings. If I want to know, I have to ask). A simple “Yes” was his reply.

“I am too, but you know, I’m not surprised, and not because of the weather. I guess I’ve grown accustomed to disappointment.”

And I have, but disappointment cuts much deeper when your hopes are tied to your dead child. Every dashed hope feels as if God is allowing you to be repeatedly kicked while you are down. It may be unreasonable, but then emotions are frequently illogical under the best of circumstances, and the anniversary of your child’s death is by no stretch of the imagination the best of circumstances.

The lanterns remained in our vehicle. No sense unloading them only to have them be a visual reminder of our disappointment every time our eyes landed upon the box in which they were shipped. They would go home with us the next day. Maybe we could try again on the anniversary of burial, I thought. It would be an equally fitting day, but that did not happen either.

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The truth is, we are destined to be disappointed over and over in the years to come. We will encounter big and small missed opportunities; there’s just no way to avoid it because Bethany and Katie are forever lost to us for the remainder of our days.

So maybe, it’s not a bad thing that I wasn’t surprised by the aborted lantern launch. Painful as it might be, I need to have realistic expectations where my girls are concerned. Even when the plans I make are a resounding success, they will still be bittersweet because my heart will always long for Bethany and Katie’s presence. Choosing to acknowledge circumstances that might derail my hoped for plans, will guard my heart from bitter disappointment. I need to protect my heart because it is considerably more vulnerable than it was in the past. I need to prepare for deferred hope because I don’t want to live a life underscored by constant sadness.

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If I picked up a stone and painted upon it’s surface the name of each and every disappointment I suffered through and stored those stones in a glass jar placed in a prominent location in my home where I’d look upon them every day; the constant visual reminder would surely result in bitterness and resentment toward God. However, if I placed those same stones in a lidded wooden box and set them in the same location, my response to those disappointments would be much different. I would no longer be able to see the evidence of my many disappointments. The same number of stones would accumulate in each container, but the lidded box would conceal exactly how much disappointment I’d suffered while the glass container would reveal the same information. One container demands you keep record of every perceived wrong, the other encourages you to release those over time. There’s nothing wrong with naming your disappointments. Doesn’t the Lord ask us to cast our burdens upon Him?
Satan encourages us to keep score. God invites us to surrender our disappointments to Him. Satan encourages dissatisfaction. The Holy Spirit helps us carry the weight of our disappointments until His supernatural work enables us to recognize them for what they really are; light and momentary afflictions.

So while I’m disappointed that my plans fell through, I will look for another launch date. Does it really matter that those lanterns light the sky on the day of the girls’ deaths or burial. Not so much, because I miss them every day. I don’t need to wait for a significant date to light up the sky displaying our love and longing for Bethany, Katie and Cole too.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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Grieving Mother Vilified

imageJob Being Scolded by his Wife, c. 1790, Francois-Andre Vincent

I recently read a blog post that contained a reference to Matthew 2:18b, “. . . Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” It brought to mind another reference to a grieving mother in scripture. Specifically, Job 2:8-10 which says, “And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

One scripture reveals a frequently overlooked truth about grieving mothers. Grieving mothers do not want to be comforted – they want their children back! The second scripture seems to expect the reader to remember and consider that Job’s wife is also a grieving mother, because it certainly doesn’t come right out and say it.

“Curse God and Die”, words spoken by Job’s own wife, yet another villain in the book of Job. But is she really?

Search the commentaries and you will find that many believe that to be true.

The truth is, in today’s vernacular, her words are shocking and if we take them at face value, they are not what one would expect from an upright worshiper of God. Still the conclusions drawn by some commentaries go far beyond painting Job’s wife as an angry grieving mother. They assign her a role in this story that can only be based upon conjecture.

For example, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says of Job’s wife, “His wife was spared to him, to be a troubler and tempter to him.” Interesting conclusion but think about who spared Job’s wife. God initially gave Satan power over all Job owned and restrained him only from touching Job himself. So God did not save Job’s wife to play the role of Satan’s tormentor; Satan did. Satan can hope that Job’s wife develops the attitude and has the influence to undermine Job’s faith, but unless she was demon possessed, he has no power to make her play that role. Satan could have spared Job’s wife assuming what her response would be but he could not be certain because he was not created with the ability to know the hearts and minds of men. So, at best, Satan could make an educated guess at how Job’s wife would respond just as he did when he stood before God Himself boasting that Job, God’s paragon of integrity, would curse God if he should take away all of the people and things Job most loved.

The Pulpit Commentary seems to concur. Allow me to refresh your memory and remind you that Job’s wife did not encourage Job to curse God and die after the death of her ten children. Nope. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, “Job’s wife had said nothing when the other calamities had taken place” instead she had “refrained her tongue, and kept silence, though probably with some difficulty.” The commentary goes on to state that, “Now she can endure no longer. To see her husband so afflicted, and so patient under his afflictions, is more than she can bear.”

Well, that’s one conclusion. But whose to say that this woman simply struggled to stand helplessly by and watch her husband suffer fast on the heals of the loss of her children? Whose to say she isn’t terrified that she will lose him too and that living in anticipation of his death is much harder than inviting it because it gives her the illusion of control in a life that has become defined by chaos and suffering. It’s a, let’s just get it over with attitude, eliminating the anxiety she is fighting to control.

The Pulpit Commentary goes on to say, “Her mind is weak and ill regulated, and she suffers herself to become Satan’s ally and her husband’s worst enemy. It is noticeable that she urges her husband to do exactly that which Satan had suggested that he would do, and had evidently wished him to do, thus fighting on his side, and increasing her husband’s difficulties.” Ouch, that’s harsh!

Where’s the compassion? These commentaries seem to focus on Job’s suffering and ignore the very deep grief of a mother who has just lost every single one of her children. This woman carried those ten babies in her womb, fed them at her breast, and nurtured them as they grew. A mother of that day and age had very defined responsibilities. Raising and caring for her children and running her household defined the bulk of her identity and life’s purpose. Not only is it likely that she fears the death of her husband but the protection and security he provides as well. Unmarried women were extremely vulnerable in that age. This commentary seems to overlook the very real and reasonable fears and emotions Job’s wife was surely experiencing.

The Pulpit Commentary continues to support the conclusions they’ve drawn: “The only other mention of her (Job 19:17) implies that she was rather a hindrance than a help to Job. Curse God, and die; i.e.”renounce God, put all regard for him away from thee, even though he kill thee for so doing.” Job’s wife implies that “death is preferable to such a life as Job now leads and must expect to lead henceforward.”

Is the idea that Job’s wife might, in her grief, consider death preferable to life really that shocking? I’m thinking the people who wrote this commentary have no firsthand experience as bereaved parents. I know, from talking to a number of mothers in mourning that this is absolutely not an unusual concept for a grieving mother to draw.

But then comes Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. Gill points out that “Job had but one wife, and very probably she is the same that after all this bore him ten children more; since we never read of her death, nor of his having any other wife, and might be a good woman for anything that appears to the contrary; and Job himself seems to intimate the same . . .”

Gill contends that Job’s wife was not blaming her husband for insisting on his integrity and justifying his behavior, nor was she wondering aloud how he could keep his integrity “among so many sore temptations and afflictions”. Gill further states that Job’s wife was neither rebuking him for his religion and continued practice of it nor was she mocking him or hating him for continuing to live according to his to his religious convictions as Gill points out that Michal did David. Instead Gill contends Job’s wife was “suggesting to him there was nothing in religion, and advising him to throw up the profession of it; for he might easily see, by his own case and circumstances, that God had no more regard to good men than to bad men, and therefore it was in vain to serve him . . . ”

Gill also points out that “curse God, and die: which is usually interpreted, curse God and then destroy thyself . . . or do this [curse God] in revenge for his hand upon thee . . . [even] though [cursing God would have the following result] thou diest”. Gill finds this interpretation unlikely concluding it is “too harsh and wicked to be said by one that had been trained up in a religious manner, and had been . . . the consort of so holy and good a man”.

Gill explains that the phrase curse God and die can also “be rendered, “bless God and die”; and may be understood either sarcastically, “such as “go on blessing God till thou diest; if thou hast not had enough . . . and see what will be the issue [result] of it; nothing but death;” or understood to mean “wilt thou still continue “blessing God and dying?”

“Her words could also have been offered sincerely, as advising him to humble himself before God, confess his sins, and “pray” unto him that he would take him out of this world, and free him from all his pains and sorrow . . . ” or may be interpreted, “bless God”: take thy farewell of him; bid adieu to him and all religion, and so die; for there is no good to be hoped for on the score of that [God or religion] here or hereafter . . .”

Hmmm, could Job’s heartbroken wife, who had likely lost every trace of naiveté about the fragility of life, simply been encouraging her husband to make sure he was right with God prior to his impending death? Could her statement have been so emphatic because she was afraid for the state of his soul if his circumstances indeed reflected Job’s standing before God, which was a common belief of the time?

Was Job’s rebuke of his wife heated or was he simply attempting to broaden his wife’s spiritual perspective?

The Bible tends to read as a narrative, yet we here in the West are accustomed to reading stories liberally sprinkled with adjectives designed to ensure the reader understand the emotion or context relevant to the story.

The Bible, however, doesn’t coddle the reader with adjectives, and therefore interpretation becomes more challenging. For example, Job 2:9 does not read, “Then his wife incredulously or angrily said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” And how do we really know if the correct translation is “Curse God and die!” Instead of “Bless God and die!”?

Likewise, Job 2:10a doesn’t read, “But he” reasoned with, yelled at, strongly rebuked or patiently corrected “her,” “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”

Was Job’s wife a villain as she is frequently portrayed? Overall, it’s not an important detail; unless you’re Job’s wife. But have you ever wondered why God left all those helpful adjectives out of his inspired Word? Could it be that He expects us to learn enough about the way people respond to grief in order to better discern the correct interpretation? Could it be that He wants us to take our time, meditate on His Word and ask Him to reveal those things if they could Help us to understand Him and His ways better? Could it be a bit of both?

As a bereaved mother, the manner in which Job’s wife is portrayed and understood is important to me. I hate it when others make judgments about how well or poorly I am traversing this passage through loss. We judge Job’s wife based on a few words with opposing meanings. We judge her because we are unaware that her words even have opposing interpretations. We jump to conclusions because the vast majority of people can’t begin to truly comprehend how a grieving mother thinks and at best can only imagine her thoughts and feelings. But in making these judgment her reputation and her integrity is either lauded or maligned which I believes bears consideration.

Still, the one very important detail that every commentary I consulted failed to address is that at the end of the book of Job, God had words of rebuke for Job’s friends, but not for his wife. Now that speaks to me! Maybe what the Bible doesn’t say can be as significant as what it does say.

The character and intention of Job’s wife may seem insignificant to many, but those who write commentaries seems to believe it important enough to explore. More importantly, 2 Timothy 3:16 proclaims that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”. So, in my estimation, God felt the words of Job’s wife were indeed significant. God inspired the writer to record her words that the body of Christ might profit from them.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief

 

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Looking Back on January 4, 2014

The alarm rings and David and I rise.  This is not our home, not our room, not our en suite bathroom.  How could we stay there without a single one of our girls?

We hit the showers and iron clothes and dress in fine, dark clothes befitting the occasion before slicing a pill in half and taking turns swallowing the pieces down.  The room is bright but our hearts are not.

We pack up our things and exit heading off to do the thing we least want to do but cannot bear not to.  It is January 4, 2014, and it is chilly out.  Another day of moving cement encased feet, one in front of another.  It’s day ten.

We arrive at the church and head to the sanctuary where we are greeted and hugged by longtime family friends, Jack and Sherry Erisman and their grown and married daughter, Maryann.  We turn and enter the darkened and silent sanctuary; empty but for two identical flower-draped caskets, and pictures of our smiling daughters standing alongside.  We walk slowly forward where I lay a hand first on one, and then the other casket, thankful we chose the bright, vibrant sprays of flowers, so reflective of Bethany and Katie in life.

I don’t want to be here!  No, that’s not right.  I don’t want to have reason to be here.  I wish the nightmare would end.  Wish I’d awake to find we’re pulling into our driveway ten days prior, December 26, 2013, at 3:15 in the afternoon.  That’s the time we would have arrived home had we not encountered Troy Robins.  Wish I could watch my three daughters, my impatient dog, O’rane and David climb from the van, stretch and tumble into the house dragging blankets, pillows, electronics and suitcases along with them.  If only I could rewrite that day!  If only . . .

Instead, Pastor Wes George and his wife Lisa join us and we prepare for the visitation that will be held before the funeral begins.  David and I stand facing the rear of the sanctuary, to the right of the caskets which will not be open for viewing.  Ten days is too long.  And then the doors open and  people begin lining up to share our sorrow and express their condolences.

That half-pill erased most of my anxiety over strangers and reporters.  Simple gratitude remained for those who patiently waited to hug us and tell us of their prayers on our behalf – for those who stooped to place a shoulder beneath the cross we struggled to carry that day and the nine before.  My focus was narrow.  The person before me, David to my left and Bethany then Katie to my right.

It was time.  Pastor and Lisa drew us back into the choir room behind the platform at the front of the sanctuary, gave us last minute instructions, inquired as to how we were holding up and gave us a moment to take a deep breath before the girls final service began.  And the music started – “He’s Been Faithful to Me”.

We reentered the sanctuary and took our seats huddling together, holding hands and focusing on the music and the brief synopsis of our girls’ far too brief lives.  Clinging to scriptures of faith and hope – scriptures of our loving God and an eternal future for our girls and for ourselves.

All too soon we were loaded into a car and driven to the cemetery where we found the girls’ caskets set at staggered heights with Hunt Chapel serving as a fitting backdrop for the faith we profess.  A few final words were spoken, and then . . . we turned our backs and walked away, my heals wobbling and sinking into the grass as we crossed the expanse of lawn back to the car.  We left our girls for the last time – the last time – in that beautiful and cold cemetery where nothing and no one would ever hurt them again.  Oh, the agony of it!

My only regret is that I do not have a picture of the graveside service.  The tent with friends standing and seated, the staggered flower topped caskets, the chapel and David and I standing before it all.  It’s an important, albeit devastating moment of our lives.  I’d like to have that moment under glass so I can slide my finger over it as I remember the beauty of the place, the beauty of the sorrow, and the beauty of broken hearts. Broken hearts are beautiful.  They reflect raw love in the wake of incomprehensible loss.

I remember that day in graphic detail.  The ride back to the church, the meal served upstairs for friends and family, the international students in attendance, the ladies who served lunch. I remember padding downstairs in stocking feet to load up plants and flowers to take to the hospital hoping to brighten Gracen’s room, hoping to share her sisters’ last day with her and so I could hold onto their beauty and fragrance until they were no more.  I remember saying goodbye to family, changing clothes in a bathroom stall, a quick stop home and driving back to Little Rock.  I remember the vast relief of seeing and touching Gracen again – still breathing – Thank God she was still breathing!

And as tears roll down my cheeks, I remember that day as if I am walking through it again on weighted feet with leaden heart as keening sounds claw their way up my throat to tightly clamped teeth and lips holding back the shrieks of pain and sorrow in deference to the now twenty year-old girl who lies on the sofa in the other room; oblivious to my journey down memory lane.

Yes, I remember that day as if it were yesterday.  I think it will forever feel like yesterday.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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