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No, No, No!

My heart lies in tatters once again as I hear of the loss of another son, another grandson. It’s personal this time. People I know and love . . . the second such family in two months time . . . it makes me nauseous.

Oh, how helpless I feel!

I don’t want to be there to help. . .

No, no, no!

I want to rewind the clock so this is not their present stunned and horrified reality!

I want to save them from this anguish like none other.

And since I can’t. . .

I want to draw them close and catch their tears.

I want to receive and heal their broken and distraught hearts.

I want to listen to every painful word and let them know they are loved.

That God still loves them—will still be faithful to them—that there are mercies.

“It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed because his mercies never diminish. They are new every morning; great is thy faith[fulness].” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23 (Jubilee Bible 2000)

There is no silver lining! Nothing will ever make this loss acceptable or justify it for the family even when a good work of the Lord is later revealed. Silver linings imply that this horrible loss can be wrapped up in some future good, tied with a pretty bow and completely nullify the bad. The bad is made good.  Mercies, on the other hand, are blessings within and after and in spite of any tragedy.

There are mercies!

He can take the shattered pieces of our lives and in time make something good and beautiful but still cracked and scarred for all to see. He can make us beautifully broken but never unblemished by the ravages of sin in this world.

And everyday from the moment of loss until my friends step into eternity there will be mercies.

Small mercies in the midst of overwhelming sorrow and despair.

God doesn’t promise to fix this in the here and now. He promises to draw close, to catch our tears. He promises to be faithful to us. He promises new mercies every day.

Here I sit several states away and I can’t ignore the parallel that lies before me. I am afar off but the wonders of technology allow me to be close via phones, social media, Skype, cars and planes.

In many ways I can immediately respond if my friends reach out.

But they know I can’t wiggle my nose and be in actual hugging distance instantly.

They know that God sees them, and responds immediately to their call for help . . . but at the same time they are separated from His physical touch.

Consequently, the bereaved often feel alone, abandoned and betrayed. Please don’t correct these feelings. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Wouldn’t you feel the same? Validate those feelings! It’s not sinful to feel any of those things. Hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

“My soul has been cast far away from peace; I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished And so has my hope and expectation from the Lord.”~ Lamentations 3:17-18 (Amplified Bible)

In many ways grieving families are simply inconsolable.

They don’t want to be consoled . . .

They want to go back!

Back to the moments before their lives were so tragically changed.

Three years later I can testify to this truth:  while life moves relentlessly forward there are parts of a parent’s heart that stand still in shocked horror indefinitely.

How can this be?

Surely, this is not real?

I’ll wake up from this nightmare!

God, please let me awake from this nightmare! 

Let it all be a terrible dream . . . a horrible mistake.

Please God, take this cup from me!

Yet the die has been cast and lives have unraveled in unimaginable ways.

Every sight thereafter will be seen through a lens of grief. Every written and spoken word filtered through grief. Every joyous event that follows will not be felt with pure, unblemished joy as in the past but will be bittersweet—tainted by the fact that you are no longer whole and you long for the presence of the one out of reach.

Faith will be shaken.

Minds fogged by confusion and fear, anger and frustration, and a sorrow so deep they will never find its limits.

They are shattered.

Not merely broken.

Utterly shattered!

Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not. ~ Jeremiah 31:15 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

Mourn with those who mourn!

Weep with those who weep!

God’s mercies will be new every single morning.

He has His job; we have ours.

Today, once again, I mourn for and with others. Won’t you join with me and carry those who grieve before the throne of grace?

Anguished prayers for parents, siblings and family as a whole rise in begging supplication for God’s mercies to rain down—for His presence and love to wash over every shattered heart—for this to be nothing more than a terrible dream!

The desperate prayer of my heart to see faith made sight is far more urgent today.

“Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cry for help! Do not ignore my sobbing! For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land; I am at your mercy, just as all my ancestors were.” ~ Psalm 39:12 (NET Bible) 

If you know of a bereaved family, please pray them through the holidays. If you don’t, please pray for the VanGulick, Vickers and Williams families who will each be missing their son, sibling or grandson while others gather with intact families and celebrate together. These families are secure in their confidence that Harry and O’rane will celebrate Christ’s birth in His presence; but their hearts will ache with the absence of their presence (as my friend Melanie is known to say). Please cry out to Jesus on their behalf!


*Follow the link below to read more about the beautiful sculpture pictured above. It’s only a few brief paragraphs.

Rachel Weeping for her Children Sculpture

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2016 in Faith, Grief, Links

 

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How to Discourage a Suffering Friend » Vaneetha Rendall

The holidays are upon us and we will soon be interacting with friends, family and acquaintances that we don’t see on a regular basis. As a result, you may find yourself visiting with a suffering friend or family member–wanting to be supportive and encouraging but not really sure how to go about it. There are some common phrases we’ve all used, but they aren’t always received in the way we intend them to be. Therefore, it’s probably more important to know what not to say and why.

I encourage you to read this article by Vaneetha Rendall. The information is worthwhile anytime, but it might make your holidays more enjoyable for everyone if you read it in advance of the typical get togethers common this time of year.

Below is a teaser and a link for the article. I hope you will take the time to follow the link and read this informative article – for yourself, and for the suffering people you love.

“What’s the best way to discourage a suffering friend?

I can tell you what I’ve done.

I’ve told suffering friends about how other people are going through more painful trials. I’ve given examples of how brave, godly and optimistic these other people are. I’ve freely doled out advice, even mini-sermons, about how their horrible situations will turn out for the best. . .”

Source: How to Discourage a Suffering Friend » Vaneetha Rendall

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2016 in Adversity, Chronic Illness, Faith, Grief

 

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Present Tense

I recently began a post with the intention of talking about one thing and ended up writing about something entirely different. Maybe the Holy Spirit had a hand in that.

Regardless, as I looked back thinking I would begin the the second post a new way, I just couldn’t determine a more appropriate introduction for either subject. So bear with me please, if you think you’ve read this message before—because you have—at least the initial part of this post. But your final destination will be an entirely different place, and looking back, I hope you will consider both worthy of thoughtful consideration. So here we go . . .

simple-present-tenseI have found in recent times that I have begun speaking of Bethany and Katie in the present tense.

It just feels right.

And . . .

The Bible tells us that we are eternal beings.

 

One day, sitting in the sanctuary of our home church, Pastor Wes George said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “We all spend eternity somewhere.”

This was before Bethany and Katie died.

And you know, he didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but the way he framed it, just seemed to boil it down to a profoundly powerful succinct message of truth.

We all spend eternity somewhere.

If I believe that truth, and I do, then this statement is also true:

In spite of the death of the body, life goes on; for the deceased.

Because we are mere mortals and cannot look beyond the veil to see life in eternity play out, we think of death as the end.

But its not.

Satan wants you to believe that’s true.

But . . .

Jesus conquered both death and the grave.

There is more to this world than the eye can see and ears can hear. More than any of our senses can catalog and identify.

There’s more.

Much, much more.

goethe-quote-the-soul-is-indestructible-and-its-activity-willThis is why believers do not grieve without hope. Faith and hope do not prevent the pain and suffering death brings; they give us a reason to continue on—something good to look forward to. I don’t know about you, but I need something good to look forward to with anticipation. I still fight with discouragement and even despair, but in the end, I have an unwavering confidence in the hope of Heaven.

So, I intentionally choose to speak of my deceased children in the present tense. I also speak of the deceased children of other bereaved parents in the present tense when I converse with them online for two reasons. First, their children live on, just absent of the earthly shell by which we commonly identified them. And secondly, while we can’t see or be a part of the daily lives of the children we’ve lost, those children have a legacy here in the world we reside in that lives and breathes on in the lives of others.

One of a bereaved parents biggest fears is that their child will be forgotten or deemed irrelevant by society at large. And you know what? It happens every single day. Family and friends cease speaking your child’s name. Time moves on. People forget the significant events in others lives as their own issues demand precedence.

I can’t tell you how many times a friend has said to me, “I’d forgotten you had a son.” It’s been twenty-four years and I understand that very few people ever actually saw my son in the flesh. They had no interaction with him at all and they have busy and demanding lives as well. Remembering my stillborn son is not a reasonable expectation even if it hurts when those we share deeper relationships with forget.

leaving-a-legacyAdditionally, many a friend was not present during my pregnancy. We met after Cole’s birth and burial. And when we moved into our new community and made friends, I told the people I met that I had three children. It’s more work than I want to routinely take on to recover a conversation gone south when others discover the tragic death of my son. And frankly, I’m not the most socially adept person out there.

It should be noted that I, like many bereaved parents, struggled greatly with how to answer the question of how many children I have. (*A footnote regarding this question can be found at the bottom of the page).

So yes, children get forgotten. And sadly some, especially those lost by miscarriage, stillbirth, or death shortly after birth are deemed irrelevant which is no great surprise when you consider the cheap regard with which life is held in this day and age.

Every life is relevant and valuable and carries forth a living legacy. Some leave a smaller footprint than others, but each one impacts their world. Even miscarried and aborted babies have a legacy.

You see, every child conceived impacts the lives of those who come in contact with them in some way or another. I would not be the neurotic (smile) woman I am today had I not conceived Cole, Bethany and Katie. Each one of my children changed me; shaped me. They’ve individually and together changed the way I think and interact with others. They’ve helped to refine my faith. They’ve taught me about joy and sorrow and the value of a sense of humor. They’ve increased my understanding of others, made me more caring and generous—more empathetic.

Cole’s footprint is much smaller than Bethany and Katie’s. Bethany & Katie both interacted with the world to a far greater degree. They’ve touched and impacted the lives of every person they ever came into contact with to one degree or another and their individual legacies will be carried forward. They may have contributed to an acquaintance’s overall self-image by a single act of kindness or a rude rejection. The smallest interaction can result in enormous life changes for an individual and then carry on to all the people they later interact with – good or bad.

legacyinpeopleAs a result, the children with the shortest of life spans can also carry great legacies. The child aborted or miscarried, changes their parents. The life of a child that dies in utero or shortly after birth of a disease, for example, may carry forth a legacy of treatment that prevents the death of a multitude of children the world over.

In spite of the fact that the earthly shells belonging to three of my four children have died, my children live on in and through me and the people they encountered in life. They also live on in the eternal unseen world and so I choose to behave as such. Check out this dialogue from John chapter 11 verses 23-26 between Jesus and Martha following the death of her brother Lazarus:

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 

I believe this.

So please, don’t freak out, or correct me if you hear me refer to Cole, Bethany or Katie in the present tense. I’m not crazy, delusional or in denial.

I’m enlightened.

I hope you are too!

 

*Bereaved parents are never comfortable with leaving any of their children unacknowledged which equates with a lack of value or worth and that my friend, is absolutely repulsive to a grieving parent. So bereaved parents adopt various answers to that simple question.

Some give the exact number and deal with the fallout when follow up questions are asked and the death of their child is eventually revealed. Some state only the number of their living children. Many answer with how many they have here and add the number of children in Heaven. And others base their response on how much or little they will interact with that individual in the future.

However they choose to respond should be respected by friends, family and acquaintances. The opinion of others is irrelevant. It is not okay to tell a bereaved parent that they should not count their dead child because it makes others uncomfortable. If that how you feel, suck it up and keep it to yourself. Don’t add to the burden the bereaved already carry by forcing your opinions or convictions upon them. It is also not okay to tack on to a conversation the death or means of death of a child mentioned or left out of the count. By doing so, you are tossing the bereaved into a situation they may not be prepared to deal with. Recognize that this everyday question has become one that reveals vulnerabilities not normally laid open with anyone outside ones closest relationships.

Please demonstrate the utmost respect for the parent’s choice in responding to the question of how many children they have; it’s disrespectful to do otherwise.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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Another Birthday in Absentia 

Today, November 2nd,  is the date of Bethany’s 23rd birthday. I have nothing to give her except maybe a moment of recognition – of remembrance. The hour of her birth was recorded one hour and one minute after the hour of her brother’s. I’m not sure what significance that holds, if any at all, but it’s a detail I’ve always held onto.

The doctor who delivered Cole, delivered Bethany. The nurse who assisted with Cole’s birth, assisted with Bethany’s. That meant a lot to me. The nurse was actually assisting another patient and saw my name on the labor & delivery whiteboard and traded patients in order to be my nurse. I felt as if these were gifts God gave to David and I. Maybe a gift to the doctor and nurse too – it’s no fun to help a mother deliver their stillborn child. Medical professionals carry wounds too. So I like to think God overlaid a bad experience with a good one for all of us.

Bethany was named Bethany Joy, but I later wished we’d hyphenated her name. A good family friend bought her a sippy cup with her name and it’s meaning when she was very young. Bethany was not excited to learn that Bethany means ‘House of poverty.’ I liked to tease that the full meaning of her name then was,’House of poverty and joy.’ If her name held true she would be joyfully poor. Much better than bitterly poor!

Bethany was a sophomore at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway at the time of her death. It was a long time later when I heard that the school paper published an article about her death. It was even longer, on the second anniversary of her burial in fact, when I actually saw the article. 

So on Bethany’s third birthday in Heaven, here is the article her school paper published (keep scrolling down to read the article):

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2016 in Grief

 

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Spared for Salvation

Sunday morning, I opened my Facebook app and began to scroll through the posts that appeared overnight. My eye caught on two photos that included O’rane Williams, the young Jamaican international student who was with us the day of the accident that took Bethany and Katie’s lives.

O’rane spent his Christmas break with our family that year. He had had surgery in September, just a few months prior, for a fungus that had grown inside his brain. I understood his parents preferred he stayed in the states over his break due to the proximity to quality medical care should he need it. He was Alex’s roommate and best friend at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Alex was Bethany’s boyfriend of two years. So when Alex returned to Sweden to spend his Christmas break with his family, O’rane was invited to spend the holiday with our family.

While O’rane had been to our home before it was generally for a quick in and out visit with Bethany and Alex. He was a tall, slim, and quiet young man (at least around us) with a blindingly beautiful shy smile. He spent several days with us prior to traveling to the Kansas City area to celebrate Christmas with our extended family. David spent those days teasing O’rane and trying to draw him out.

O’rane missed the spicy food of his homeland and David set out to make him an authentic Jamaican dinner. The scales were tipped against David being successful in his endeavors as O’rane has a relative that works as a chef. The meal David prepared was not spicy enough for O’rane’s more desensitized and refined palette so David and O’rane ventured out to Slim Chicken’s for some super spicy hot wings the next day. David had so much fun visiting with O’rane and learning about his culture—we all did.

Prior to leaving for Kansas City, we had a small family Christmas celebration. It has become a bit of a tradition, not because we feel a need to have our own intimate time to open gifts together, but instead because we used it to open the bulkier gifts so that we didn’t have to make room for them in the car. (We are nothing if not practical)! O’rane received flannel lounge pants, a scarf and gloves that night. He seemed surprised that there were gifts for him at all and equally surprised Christmas morning to find that a Christmas stocking had been prepared for him as well.

I remember being crowded in at my sister-in-laws home on Christmas Day and seeing a O’rane at the outer edges of the crowd of young adults just after the extended family exchanged gifts. He looked a bit overwhelmed which wasn’t a big surprise since he was a virtual stranger amid a large, loud, family group, in spite of the fact that Bethany’s cousins made every effort to make him feel welcome.

And then came December 26th. We ate breakfast and packed up and left my in-laws house around noon that day. Since we’d had a late breakfast we opted to stop in Lamar, Missouri, (the halfway point of our trip) to get lunch, which we picked up and ate on the road. During our stop and for awhile after we got back on the road, Bethany, O’rane, David and I discussed evolution and creation theory. At the time, I thought O’rane was a fellow believer-but he was in fact a seeker. We also participated in a side conversation as we left the fast food restaurant about seatbelt use. O’rane had opted not to wear his seatbelt. I recall Bethany telling him that statistically, rear seated passengers who failed to wear seat belts injured belted front seat passengers in accidents because they were propelled forward. I was tempted to ask O’rane to buckle up but decided against it reasoning that he was an adult and I needed to treat him as such. I never would have guessed how important and ironic those two concurrent conversations would prove to be just an hour further down the road.

When our van came to a stop that day, battered, broken and torn, I found myself in a state of shock. As I made my way around the back of the van and turned to find my daughters, I didn’t immediately see Katie. She had a brown hoodie on that day and blended into the shadows cast over the van’s third row seat. I began turning around searching the waist high weeds next to the highway’s gravel shoulder looking for Katie thinking she might have been thrown from the vehicle like her older sister Bethany had been and as I turned O’rane popped up from the weed strewn hill. I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, O’rane is with us” before asking him to stay seated where he was so I knew where to find him. But O’rane, who had sunk back to the ground, stood back up and began moving. I’m sure he was in a state of shock just like I was and I turned back to check on Gracen and then found Katie still securely strapped into her seat.

The next time I saw O’rane, he was stretched out on a back board, neck collar in place, surrounded by a bevy of first responders. I helped a bystander locate O’rane’s suitcase so he would have his medications and that was the last I saw of him that day.

My husband, David, found himself loaded into the same ambulance as O’rane and related to me a humorous account of the experience. Apparently, the paramedic who was caring for O’rane had a thick southern accent. O’rane, himself, understandably had a thick Jamaican accent. David found himself serving as an interpreter to two English speaking individuals that day in the back of that ambulance. O’rane couldn’t understand the paramedics English due to accent and the paramedic was unable to understand O’rane for the same reason. Eventually O’rane was flown to Mercy Hospital in Springfield primarily due to concerns over his recent brain surgery.

As a myriad of concerns spun through my mind for my family, I was also deeply worried about O’rane’s physical well-being and anxious as I had no idea how to contact his parents. At that time I didn’t know exactly where he’d been taken to check on him and I didn’t even know who to ask.

Eventually I learned that the campus police department (yes, the campus has a full-fledged police department, not just a campus security department) had been contacted by the Missouri Highway Patrol and they contacted O’rane’s host family. It was with profound gratitude that I learned that Kim Hubbard immediately drove to Springfield, Missouri, to be with O’rane. Kim knew how to contact O’rane’s parents and she took O’rane back to Conway after he was released from the hospital.

I saw O’rane just a handful of times following the accident. He came to the hospital in Joplin with Alex, the hospital in Little Rock with his mother (who flew in from Jamaica) and Heather Hoyt) who became a very important person in O’rane’s life), and to the funeral. My niece, Christi, befriended O’rane, and he visited her in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and we saw him as we came through town that particular weekend.

 

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David and I were at a loss for how to handle, for lack of a better word, the young men and women who were so important in Bethany’s life. We cared about them but at the same time we didn’t want them to feel any obligation to us. And for O’rane in particular, we did not want him to experience survivor’s guilt. As a result we didn’t reach out to them much, but would “like” posts on Facebook and such.

So Sunday morning, October 30, 2016, I paused when I saw O’rane’s smiling face and read Heather Hoyts post with a sinking and shocked heart. Less than three years after the accident O’rane survived, he lost his life to the fungus that invaded his brain. He endured and survived six brain surgeries since September of 2013—each an attempt to eradicate that fungus.

My heart is broken.

The world has lost such a bright light!

Last year, on December 26, 2015, the second anniversary of Bethany and Katie’s deaths, I received the following message from Heather Hoyt. It is my consolation; my only hope in sorrow. The note begins with Heather’s initial efforts to minister to O’rane following our collision in December 2013:

“2 years ago…

I was sitting in front of my (then) boyfriend’s house on the phone with students with whom I had volunteered at UCA. I was in shock and silent. My mouth hung open and all I could say was, “Oh God no, Oh God, No…” I had just seen Bethany at a Saudi student celebration Day on campus and had recently met O’rane.

I had to do something, I could not sit and not help in some way…

I called UCA campus police, as I had a friend who was a UCA officer, and I was aware of protocol of notification of school officials in the event of serious happenings with students. All I could think was, “the Boxx family shouldn’t have to do this, and they don’t know me, but I have to try and serve them in any way I can.” I spoke with the police and the next day with a Dean.

Days after, I received a message, from Kim Hubbard, that a student needed a ride to NWA and I heard God speak to me and tell me to take him. It was O’rane and he needed to come back to your family. As I drove him I talked with him about the accident, I talked with him about his feelings and emotions. I told him that God had spoken to me and told me to take him to NWA. He looked at me and got silent. I asked what he was thinking and he told me how he had been angry with God for years. He told me that he tried to speak to God all the time but God never spoke back. He wanted to know what it was like to hear God speak. I told him what it’s like for me but it may be very different for different people, but communication is based on relationship. We began a friendship that day. I had no idea all that God had in store….

Days later I drove a car load of internationals to NWA for the funeral.

5 brain surgeries and 2 years later, O’rane is my little brother and I would give my life for him. I love he and his family so dearly. We had many many talks about Jesus, science, afterlife…etc.

In September, his host mom Kim had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer and in October O’rane was found to have another fungus growth in his brain. Surgery was needed immediately. Kim could not be there as she was undergoing chemo and so I took care of him in the hospital.

The night before surgery my family came to the hospital to bring us dinner and pray over O’rane. One of my sisters stayed late and asked O’rane if we could talk about his soul. He agreed and she proceeded to ask about his hesitations with Jesus. He laid out a myriad of thoughts, most very well thought out, and a few excuses. But he was taking all of the conversation in. He was not ready to make any decisions and went to take a shower. Upon returning from the shower he had a strange look on his face. I inquired and he said, “God spoke to me in the shower.” Just he and God having a powwow in the shower and on his own with no ones leading but the Holy Spirit, O’rane chose Jesus and gave his life to Him. He officially became my legitimate brother, in Christ!

Recently he told me how much he misses Bethany and all they had dreamed about and planned, she, him, and Alex. The best news ever is that he will, in fact, now see her again.

He deeply misses her and dreams about her a lot. He is just now becoming very verbal about it. The dearest thought to my heart about Beth and Katie is that their lives taken has resulted in life being given to O’rane. It’s not how anyone would want salvation to come but Jesus the merciful turned evil for good once again and redeemed our boy, saving his life. Your daughters helped save his life. He was very lost and now he is found.

The good work God began will continue on to the day Jesus returns and there will be a great harvest reaped, in the name of your family. I know where Beth’s head was landing regarding God before the accident and even O’rane had told me how Katie stood up to Beth when she spoke of atheism. He said Beth even made him mad when she did that, but in this I am confident… She was inscribed on the palm of His hand, her soul kept safe and protected having been made perfect by the blood of the Lamb. Her spirit, “mind, will and emotions,” was still being sanctified and in that place she suffered confusion but confusion and rejection even are no match for the unfailing love of the beautiful Savior who held her in his palm declaring, “there is none who can snatch you out of my hand”….not even yourself. She saw in part but now sees in full, praise the name of the forever gracious God- He is wonderful!

On Christmas Eve this year, O’ranes host Mom, Kim Hubbard, met Jesus face to face and celebrated her first Christmas in heaven. O’rane is aware and will be returning for school Jan 5. He spoke with her one last time a few days before he left for Christmas. He had just been given the results of his 3 month MRI, my text from him read, “there’s no more crap in my head” (best text I’ve ever received). He spoke with Kim for the last time. He has seen so much loss in the past 2 years, Beth and Katie, sheffy (best friend at UCA- car accident), cousin (committed suicide), and now Kim. He is wondering why not him…God is going to do something amazing with his life…we will watch and see!
So 2 years later and amidst the incredible sorrow and loss, life has been born. If O’ranes friendship with Beth, vacay with your family, the accident and Kim being his host mom, had not happened, things might look very different in his world- I know they would in mine.

My heart aches with your family. My heart rejoices in Salvation sweet and sure. It’s bittersweet and beautiful and I don’t mind saying so. You are so brave. I hear the words of Jesus to your girls,

“Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. For winter is past and the rain is gone.”

-Song of Solomon

May these words bring some joy in the night season.

Much love,

Heather”

 

My heart aches for O’rane’s family. It crushes me to think about what they are suffering today.

It is too painful.

I know too much.

I wish I could shield them from it, and yet that deep, dark well of grief is filled in proportion to the love and joy they have for their son and brother. (By the way, I know I used the present tense in that last sentence. It was not an error or oversight).

Love doesn’t die . . . It doesn’t diminish or fade away . . . It is a gift that resides in the heart forever.

O’rane has a legacy that lives on in the lives of friends and family and acquaintances. His smile, his laughter, his thoughts, his actions touched and changed those around him every single day of his life without conscious intent. His very existence changed the world in immeasurable ways. And while he is separate from us here and now, that won’t always be the case. O’rane went to the house of mourning, too many times in my opinion. However, he took it to heart and pondered its meaning and learned from it.

“A good name is better than precious perfume,
And the day of one’s death better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning

Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that [day of death] is the end of every man,
And the living will take it to heart and solemnly ponder its meaning.

Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad (deep in thought) the heart may be happy [because it is growing in wisdom].

The heart of the wise [learns when it] is in the house
of mourning,
But the heart of fools is [senseless] in the house of
pleasure.”

~ Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

I will probably never understand why young people die—why children proceed their parents in death. It overwhelms my heart with sadness and sorrow. I will never be able to explain it to another, and frankly, no explanation would ever be adequate to justify such a loss. A fellow bereaved parent shared these verses from Isaiah 57:1-2 at a recent support group meeting. I like how they are rendered in the NIV and NLT translations, so I am sharing both here and hope you will ponder the significance when you wonder why . . .

“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” ~ New International Version

“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.”~ New Living Translation

And from the Matthew Henry Commentary on Isaiah 57:1-2

“The righteous are delivered from the sting of death, not from the stroke of it. The careless world disregards this. Few lament it as a public loss, and very few notice it as a public warning. They are taken away in compassion, that they may not see the evil, nor share in it, nor be tempted by it. The righteous man, when he dies, enters into peace and rest.”

I’m praying that God will bless, comfort and strengthen the Williams family in the difficult days, weeks, months and honestly, the years ahead. Praying they will be aware of His presence and love especially when they feel weary and worn; broken and lost, alone and lonely as they miss their son and brother.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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What Does it Mean to Suffer?

vodoodollI was recently shocked to hear a fellow grieving mother express that she had to explain to someone that the pain she was suffering was not treatable by the ingestion of a Tylenol or Advil. And that one comment flipped a switch in my mind.

You see, although my daughter, Gracen, has Muscular Dystrophy and suffers from migraine headaches, I don’t think of her as sick. I guess I define sickness as a temporary condition. One that prevents an individual from going to school or work. A bacterial or viral infection that results in fever, requires bed rest, leads to weakness, pain and digestive distress. A condition that requires hospitalization or chemotherapy and radiation. That’s how I’ve always defined illness.

But in truth, my daughter is sick. She’s been diagnosed with a degenerative disease. It is silently and destructively at work within her body while she attends school, goes to therapy appointments, hangs out with friends, etc. Just because her condition doesn’t keep her in bed 24 hours a day or require hospitalization doesn’t mean she is healthy. She is in fact very sick.

Our culture appears to live under the same misconception in regards to the way it defines suffering. We seem to  believe that suffering is not suffering unless it includes physical pain. Pain can be treated with medication, surgery, different forms of therapy and a myriad of other medical interventions. And although mental and emotional pain can be treated with pharmaceuticals, those interventions don’t eliminate the pain, they just enable the individual to better cope with the anxiety and depression that often stem from the heart and mind. Therefore, mental and emotional pain (and let’s not forget spiritual pain) is not perceived by society as pain at all and as such is excluded from the definition of suffering. Mental, emotional and spiritual pain have basically been redefined and reduced to nothing more than the practice of wallowing in self-pity.

From my personal perspective, mental, emotional and spiritual pain are better described as the bombardment of multiple feelings that coalesce into anguish and torment. Grief is definitely intense mental torment and emotional anguish. A lot of situations result in that kind of pain alone. Does the lack of physical pain mean an individual isn’t suffering? Does the Bible say that suffering is only physical in nature?

thegarden

 

 

We need only consider the example of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest to understand that biblical suffering includes mental, emotional and spiritual pain. In the garden, when Christ separated Himself from the disciples to pray, He literally sweat blood as He beseeched God to let the cup of His upcoming, arrest, betrayal, rejection, humiliation and fear of His impending beatings, crucifixion and separation from God to pass from Him. He was not in any physical pain at that point in time, but He was definitely suffering that dark night.

 

01afc9407cce38dbd431b2f53c8f6ba2It’s not unreasonable or hard to imagine that God the Father is also no stranger to suffering. Can you imagine the mental and emotional anguish God suffered as He denied His son’s request to have the cup of suffering pass from Him? How must He have felt knowing that His sinless, perfect son would take on the sins of the world and be separated from their intimate fellowship for the first time ever? How must He have felt knowing the excruciating pain that awaited His beloved son? He surely suffered as He watched as His son was arrested then abandoned and betrayed by His closest friends. It must have hurt to watch His son hit, spit on, taunted and mocked as He was passed from trial to trial throughout that long night.

christbeatenCan you imagine the torment as He watched as His son was whipped and struggle to carry His cross to Golgotha-His anguish as He looked on in horror as nails were driven through His son’s hands and feet, as He struggled to breathe hanging on that cross for hours and finally-finally hearing His one and only son cry out begging to know why He’d been forsaken by His father? Can you imagine the suffering? Could you willingly go through any of that with your child? God the Father was not Himself experiencing physical pain, but He was surely overwhelmed and tormented by suffocating anguish.

three-crossesNeither God the Father, nor Jesus Christ discount or belittle the anguish and torment that results from mental and emotional pain. They both experienced it. They both understand it at the most intimate level possible.

Feel free to gently remind the naysayers of that.

The sufferings of Christ included agony and torment far beyond physical pain and when we forget that, we minimize the extent of His suffering for our souls. We devalue His sacrifice. We make Him less instead of exalting Him to the extent He deserves. And we repeat that slight over and over again when we refuse to acknowledge that mental, emotional and spiritual distress is in fact suffering.

I would not wish for any bereaved parent to remain in that raw state of agony forever or even that bone deep ache that lingers as time marches on but your heart stands still in the quagmire of grief. And I don’t think we have to either. I believe we will always live with the awareness that someone of great value is missing from our presence. Their absence will always linger in our conscious and subconscious minds. Yet I also believe that God binds up and heals our wounds. His word tells us that is so. We live with the scars, but the intense minute by minute pain recedes like waves hitting the shoreline. The tide continues to rush in with birthdays, loss anniversaries, family gatherings and celebrations and other unanticipated events that trigger intense feelings of sorrow and loss. But the tide will then recede allowing us to catch our breath, to relish memories of living life together, to rest in the hope of reunion, and to enjoy the good things and people that still surround us. I experienced it after the death of my son 24 years ago. I know it can happen for me again as the Holy Spirit does His work in my heart. He can work that miracle (could any loss parent describe it as anything else?) in the hearts of every broken believer too.

wrestling-with-god-intimacy-webI think healthy grieving involves wrestling with God. As much as it is in your power to do so, ignore those who are blessedly ignorant and foolishly judgmental. Wrestle well with God. Don’t exclude Him from the process. Contend with Him! He is strong and loving and faithful and He grieves with us and for our broken hearts. He doesn’t condemn us for our anger and sorrow, instead He pulls up a chair and sits with us through it longing to draw us into His arms to comfort us. One day, I hope every broken believer finds themselves there, in His waiting arms, sobbing out their anguish and frustration and when the tears and shuddering gasps of sorrow release then I hope they will find their hearts to be safe in His care. That’s my hope for myself, for every bereaved parent, for every hurting Christian, for every lost soul struggling to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out after their cherished plans have been swept away.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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The Ultimate Decision

it-is-in-your-momentsI have found in recent times that I have begun speaking of Bethany and Katie, in the present tense.

It just feels right.

And the Bible tells us that we are all eternal creatures.

One day, sitting in the sanctuary of our home church, Pastor Wes George said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “We all spend eternity somewhere.”

This was before Bethany and Katie died.

And you know, he didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but the way he framed it, just seemed to boil it down to a profoundly powerful succinct message of truth.

We all spend eternity somewhere.

And let me tell you—that somewhere—that somewhere is absolutely the most important thing to a bereaved parent—spouse—child—friend.

All the things—every deed—goal—hope—expectation—ideal—every single thing that draws our attention in this life is reduced to one primary concern when you stare death in the face. Where will eternity be spent?

The body dies but life goes on; even for the deceased.

And what the bereaved believes about the afterlife is all of the sudden of utmost importance.

And frankly, it’s all about the bereaved at this point in time.

The deceased has lost the opportunity to figure out and act upon what they believe about eternity. The choice they made, or chose not to make, in this life is now their eternal destiny.

notmakingadecisionBut for the bereaved those beliefs have the power to extend hope or destroy the heart.
And that’s why the cultural belief that all roads lead to Heaven, that we all worship the same God regardless of what name by which we call Him, is so deceptively destructive.

It allows us to make light of the most vital question and decision every human must address. And the failure to make a decision is a decision in and of itself. The decision to postpone making a choice, and the decision not to choose, result in eternal consequences, just as making a conscious choice does. And that is why the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:2,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting (or in some translations, the house of mirth): for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”

The loss of a loved one—the natural end of all men—forces those with hearts not already harden to seriously consider exactly what they believe about the afterlife and hopefully leads them to make a conscious choice—for the sake of their own eternal future.

Everyone spends eternity somewhere.

I have made my choice.

I have no question and no fear about where I will spent all of eternity.

It’s not a decision I’ve made lightly.

I didn’t just drink the Kool-aid, so to speak.

Twenty-four years ago, I took my first real trip to the house of mourning. As a result, I reexamined everything I believed about eternity—who got to Heaven and how. Then I reaffirmed the choice I made many years before when the need to make a decision seemed far less critical.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the priority of that choice, and that fact was never more evident than when I knelt by the side of the road frantically trying to determine if my oldest daughter was alive or dead. She was 20. Twenty years old, far younger than the average lifespan in our current day. And then I repeated that same assessment, dead or alive, for my 18 and 16 year old daughters.

That day, my 20 and 16 year old daughters lost the opportunity to make a decision regarding their eternal futures. The choices they made, or failed to make, prior to that day had already begun to be played out for the entirety of their days without end.

Consequences good or bad . . .

On that day, I wasn’t confident that my 20 year old had chosen the way I desperately desired for her to choose. Even in a state of shock, I knew . . . I knew the time for deciding was lost. My opportunity to influence—over. And ironically, just an hour before the accident that stole her life, we’d debated the issue of evolution and creation theory.

One short hour before her death.

And as I knelt at her side in stunned disbelief, my heart fractured in a way it had never done before. In my shock, during which I’ve been told my mind entered a state of disassociation, I stumble from her side in order to find my two other children. Now, when I rewind the tape of that moment, I literally see myself sitting back on my heals and keening out a desperate and despairing cry of, ‘Noooooooo!’ to the heavens, and collapsing on her still form. ‘Noooooooo, Noooooooo!, Please, God, Noooooo! There is no more disturbing and heartbreaking sound on earth than that of a mother keening out her sorrow over the body of her dead child. And there is no greater fear than being unsure of your loved one’s eternal destiny—unless you feel assured that their eternity will be spent in Hell instead of Heaven—and that’s nothing short of terrifying.

It was three long months later when I discovered a journal with only two entries that had been written four years prior to her death, that gave me any hope, any peace, that she might be spending her days dining with the Savior of her soul in paradise forevermore.

Three utterly agonizing months.

And, I won’t really rest easy until I see her again; face to face.

If you’ve not decided what you believe about the afterlife; I urge you not to delay.

My greatest frustration in regards to the topic of the existence of God and the afterlife is that our culture seems to endorse the concept that every resource, aside from the Bible itself, is a legitimate source with which to make such an all-important decision.

lifeisshortThose who encourage you to disregard the Bible are doing you a grave disservice along with manipulating you toward the decision they want you to make. I encourage you to choose the Bible in addition to any other resources you desire. And frankly, I can say that because God is not at all concerned with how His word stands up against any other source.

By encouraging you to research other sources including the Bible, it should be plainly evident that I’m not trying to manipulate your decision. Instead, I want you to compare and contrast what God’s self-proclaimed word says with what any other source you choose has to say. You will probably discover that every other source tells you what the Bible says. You may think that means reading the Bible yourself is unnecessary but that’s not the case because verses will be quoted, but taken out of context, and thereby the true meaning is warped or lost altogether. The Bible is the only inspired source revealing God’s character and His own declaration on every moral choice presented to man. So it’s important that you include the Bible in your choice of resources in order to make a non-biased decision.

Research and choose.

Don’t forfeit your chance to consciously decide where you will spend all of eternity; because . . .

Everybody spends eternity somewhere.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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It’s Personal!

its-personal-pt1-tm

When my son, Cole, died . . .

When Gracen and Katie were diagnosed. . . and every fear filled moment prior to that . . .

When Bethany and Katie died . . . and Gracen was in surgery, then the ICU . . .

When David and I sat in courtrooms. . .

Every loss, every painful moment. . .

Was deeply personal . . .

Between God and I.

Between me and Jesus.

Between us—the Holy Spirit who resides within and the old and new man (the human and the holy) battling within.

If I believe that God has plans for me—that everything that happens to me is filtered through His hands first—that He allows and disallows things in my life—that none of it surprises Him—if I truly believe that then . . .

It’s personal.

So, so very personal.

And that’s the hard part, you know, because I do believe all those things.

And while I immediately recognized those events as personal disappointments or tragedies, and I also recognized them as personal on a spiritual level, that truth (losses being spiritually personal) was a bit overshadowed by some well known scriptural references.

When we find ourselves in deeply personal situations we often try to step back so that we can see the big picture. Isn’t that our goal when we think about verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11?

These are forward thinking verses. Verses that lead us to think far down the road; past pain and suffering. Let’s consider Romans 8:28 first:

“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

A common interpretation of Romans 8:28 is that tragedy will be redeemed by testimony. You don’t testify to yourself. You testify to others. And as such Romans 8:28 becomes a call to ministry. And all of the sudden my personal tragedy is no longer personal as a corporate expectation forms in the minds of men.

The first Sunday I returned to church I heard how my testimony was already at work in the lives of others. A number of people have mentioned ministry opportunities to me. And really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I want to give back or I wouldn’t write a blog; among other things. It’s not a complaint. I’m just trying to use these examples as a means of helping you understand that the personal nature of my spiritual issues?, obstacles?, concerns?, frustrations? . . . whatever you want to call them, was lost and overshadowed to a degree as I considered God’s overall purpose for my disappointments and losses.

God’s purposes always seem to reach beyond a single individual. They are often His means of reaching the lost, conforming the saved into the image of Christ, gaining the glory He so richly deserves, and the culmination of all of those things in a multitude of believer’s lives leads us to the fulfillment of end times prophecy.

God’s purposes may be personal, but they are also corporate.

And Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Despite the individualized nature of Jeremiah 29:11, it somehow serves to depersonalize the events of life. Maybe it’s because I am fully aware that that verse was written to a group of people not any specific individual such as the biblical examples of God speaking directly to Moses or Joshua or the prophets. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Babylonian exiles promising the return to their homeland—after 70 years.

70 long years.

Every single exile suffered individual and personal tragedies. But the message was for a group. . . all those plans for God’s people . . . plans for prosperity, for hope and a future . . . plans that weren’t harmful . . . were plans for the overall group of exiles—and very few, if any of those exiles, would survive to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. The message would have been passed down from parent to child to grandchild as the 70 year exile played out.

We apply Jeremiah 29:11 to individual circumstances, but I wonder if, like the Babylonian exiles, those promises for prosperity, hope and a future—for plans that do no harm, won’t be realized by the individuals we try to encourage in dark days. Maybe the New Covenant audience for that verse is for the Bride of Christ as a whole, more than it is for believers individually.

And that is why I was shocked to find myself telling my grief counselor so emphatically that every issue I am struggling to overcome can be categorized as personal spiritual angst.

It’s not corporate.

The body of Christ may benefit from the tragedies of my life but they don’t share my tragedies. They don’t experience my suffering.

Those standing on the outside looking in . . .

Are not standing in the crumbling ruins of their lives.

And talk (biblical or not) is cheap—it’s easy—when you are on the outside looking in precisely because it’s not personal.

That’s not to imply that others don’t sincerely care.

It’s just so much easier to offer advice—to take advice—when it’s not personal.

But it’s devastatingly personal for me.

dominosIt’s devastatingly personal for the young father whose wife succumbed to breast cancer. . .

For the parent whose child has committed suicide. . .

For the family whose home has been destroyed by a fire.

And each of those things are a bit deceiving because each one is merely a domino in a line of dominoes. Financial strain, mental health issues, etc., always follow.

Adding insult to injury, the believer often finds that God is silent. It may be that we are so desperately grasping for answers that we are unable to hear His voice, but sometimes He just holds His peace. Job knew something about that.

God’s taken what you knew or had and seemingly abandoned you.

And beneath the layers of grief and sorrow and loss lies the apparent betrayal of your closest friend and ally.

It is so very, very personal.

And you are left to chose to take His hand believing that He has something good for you ahead. . .

While fearing more of what experience has taught you . . .

Or choosing to stumble around in the dark at your own risk.

What is more frightening to a broken believer? To a believer who has experienced great loss not everyday hardships?

And while outsiders look in from the safety of their own relatively stable lives expounding upon God’s goodness, His plans, His working all things out for good, we, the walking wounded, are reminded of John the Baptist and John the Revelator and of Stephen. Not every saint is set free from the prison they’ve been cast into. Some die there after they have been exiled and tortured mercilessly.

Is it any wonder that some choose to sit still in the darkness instead of stumbling forward on their own—instead of taking the hand that led them to destruction before?

It’s personal.

It’s not just about the circumstances or the situation you find yourself in, it’s about the personal nature of those circumstances—of that situation. It’s about knowing God allowed them, or didn’t prevent them from happening to you individually.

Talk to me when your world has collapsed around you. Talk to me when you are afraid. Talk to me when you can name your fears and when they are a vague Specter looming threateningly over your shoulder, unnamed but real nonetheless. Talk to me when you are afraid to take your Savior’s hand and when you are equally afraid not to. Talk to me when the ability to project a positive outlook has been striped from your arsenal of weapons. Talk to me when it becomes desperately and intimately personal. Then I will think you understand. . .

Because the fact that it’s personal . . .

That it feels like you’ve been blindsided by a betrayal of trust. . .

Makes all the difference in the world.

“God is good all the time” is not a flip statement you rattle off to project confidence in your Savior. It’s not a mantra you repeat hoping to convince yourself of its truth. Those six words are a sacrifice of praise that are torn from the depths of despair and lifted in defiance from the ashes of a life burned down around you.

They are costly and precious.

They are the widow’s mites.

They are absolutely all she has left.

“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”” ~ Luke 21:1-4

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ~ Psalm 51:17

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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A Life Deeply Mourned & Celebrated*

Stillbirths: How a New Openness Helps Parents Cope is an insightful article originally published in Newsweek Magazine January 30, 2009. Click on the link above to read the article. It reflects a much needed and long awaited trend toward ending the silence surrounding stillbirth. In fact, in recent years the term ‘stillborn’ has been replaced with ‘born still’. It’s a small but significant change as it demands acknowledgement of the existence and value of the deceased child.

The article is more than facts and statistics. It includes personal stories and introduces an organization dedicated to helping hurting families hold onto the children who have left their arms but not their hearts.

Never their hearts.

How I wish Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep existed in 1992. I’m so thankful it is available to families today. In 1992 David and I were encouraged to hold our newborn son and I’m glad I did. You just always wish for more. . . to know the color of their eyes, the sound of their voice, the feel of their tiny hand wrapped around your finger, wiggling toes . . . memories to hold onto.

Anticipation is making me wait for that moment promised in 1 Corinthians 13:12:

“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.”

When Cole was born, by all accounts healthy, just weeks before his due date; there weren’t many support groups available specifically for bereaved parents of infants. Fortunately, that is no longer the case**. The books on the market focused on miscarriage, a worthy subject and a far more common form of child loss, barely gave a nod to the subject of stillbirth.

I was rocked by the fact that my son was healthy . . . but dead. Healthy and dead. The two are simply incompatible; yet it was true. It never dawned on me when I prayed for a healthy baby that I needed to pray for a living, breathing baby at the same time. I never made that mistake again; I assure you.

I felt very much alone.

Those who had previously experienced early miscarriage expected me to quickly move past my grief. Nobody wanted to talk about my son. It felt as if people wanted me to pretend the previous nine months had never happened. And of course the obligatory comments designed to offer hope and comfort were extended. “You can have another baby.”, “This was God’s way of taking care of an unhealthy child.” I wonder if those who offered that last bit of wisdom recognize the irony of it in light of the fact that I later gave birth to two children with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy? I doubt it. They probably don’t remember saying those words, although I certainly recall hearing them. That’s not meant to be snarky. For some it’s better if they don’t remember; their intention was good. For others, remembering may help them recognize it is untrue and better left unspoken.

Stillborn The Invisible Death was the only resource I found dedicated solely to the topic of stillbirth. It was a painful and cathartic read for me. I’d pick it up and read until my heart hurt so badly I had to cast it aside. But it kept drawing me back. It was one of the few places I heard the barest whisper of, “Yes, that’s it. That’s how I feel!” It was heartrending. It was validating and affirming. My experiences with friends & family, emotions, and subsequent pregnancies were clear reflections of those portrayed in the book. I was not nearly as alone as I felt. I wasn’t crazy, paranoid, or ultra-sensitive. I was very, very normal.

The book is a compilation of survey responses by bereaved parents. But this editorial review found in Library Journal gives a far better description of the book than I can relate 24 years after the fact:

“According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 33,000 babies are stillborn each year. For the parents who experience this traumatic event, and for familes, friends, and professionals, this book offers understanding, hope, and comfort. Drawing on the moving and eloquent testimony of 350 parents of stillborn babies, it explores such topics as blame, shock, and guilt; seeing, holding, and remembering the baby; the autopsy and funeral; effects on family relationships, including moving and divorce; thoughts of suicide; increased substance abuse; surviving children and subsequent pregnancies; returning to normal; and reaching out to others. An empathic and compassionate book that would have been enhanced by a list of support groups and resource organizations.Nevertheless recommended. Jodith Janes, University Hospitals of Cleveland Lib.”

These many years later, I’d still recommend this book to bereaved parents who’ve experienced the birth of a stillborn child.

Seriously, follow the link above and read the Newsweek article. You never know when stillbirth might touch your life or that of someone you love. You never know when you might be called upon to minister to, or encourage, an individual or family living in the deepest, darkest grief following the ninth hour loss of the child they’ve dreamed of and prepared for. You never know . . . maybe you should.

 

*Newsweek article paraphrase

**A multitude of support groups (both online and face to face) can be found via internet search. I’m partial to While We’re Waiting, an organization dedicated to ministering to bereaved parents. Please see whilewerewaiting.org to find out about the free services offered to grieving parents.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2016 in Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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Neurosis

borderline-personality-disorderIt’s 11:40 a.m.

Gracen has not yet made her daily morning call signaling her desire for help from her bed. She’s been routinely waking up around 9:30 this summer. I try not to worry, not to be paranoid; but it’s been like this since Cole died. I refuse to be ruled by fear—fear that I will find her “sleeping”—in the biblical sense. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

A prayer, a plea, escapes my mental captivity. (2 Corinthians 10:5) I quickly turn my mind to something else – anything else that will hold off the anxious thoughts, the mental images of what I might find should I open her door. I’ll give her till noon to call. She might have stayed up late reading. Twenty minutes of distraction to avoid feeding my fears; acting on my paranoia.

I distinctly remember having a conversation with my friend and colleague, Judy, when Bethany was just a baby. I don’t remember the conversation word for word but I recall the gist of it. I’d asked her what the point was in entering Bethany’s room to see if she was still breathing in her crib. What could I do at that point? Judy responded that I could administer CPR, that it might not be too late. A wise response.

I think, even then, though, that I had begun to expect the worst. That I was resigned to the things I could not change. And that mentality carries forward to this day. Experience has done nothing but reinforce it.

I can just imagine the response of the choose joy contingent. I must have hope, I must think positively. . . It’s been 2 1/2 years, why can’t you get over this? (Or maybe that’s my own conscious condemning me). I’ve been infected with the cultural message that if I just do this or that I can get beyond this. But as I discussed in my recent post, Trust, Works & Supernatural Power, my analytical mind also realizes that I need the Holy Spirit’s intervention in order to heal. Maybe I can overcome without His help, but honestly refusing to work through my pain won’t lead to healing. And in the long run it’s more hurtful than helpful.

So why would I share my personal neurosis with all of you? What is my motivation?, I ask myself. Am I just seeking pity?

Oh, heck no!

There’s a small but hurting population of loss parents out there who grapple daily with fears for their surviving children, for their spouse. Individuals for whom an unanswered text or phone call or a late arrival without explanation incites anxiety far greater than the average person would experience.

For those men and women, a post like this validates their own fears. I can’t begin to tell you the enormous relief a loss parent experiences when someone says, “I feel that way too” because it doesn’t happen very often. More often than not, their very real fears are dismissed. No one wants to believe that it could happen again. That God would be so cruel as to allow you to lose another child. But every loss parent knows it could happen and David and I are living proof. That’s not to say that God is cruel, but that line of thinking is an all too common belief, even among Christians.

So yes, I want to validate the feelings of every loss parent I encounter.

Validation leads to healing.

And for those of you who haven’t experienced such a devastating loss, maybe this post will give you a glimpse into the mentality of a loss parent. Maybe you will not be so quick to jump in and remind a brokenhearted parent that they must have hope or shouldn’t think the way they do. Maybe instead you will gift them with understanding. Maybe the words that will tumble out of your mouth will be, “I can certainly understand your fears” or even, “I think I’d feel the same way.” Maybe you will be wise enough to stop right there; to fight back the urge to tack on, “But, . . . “, because pretty much anything that follows that word, but, will invalidate and dismiss any understanding the bereaved might have derived. Tacking on that one word, but, is a bait and switch. What appears to be understanding and compassion, is revealed to be admonishment and rebuke; criticism and judgment. It’s cruel yet offered with the kindest of intentions. It reflects ignorance or an unwillingness to imagine how those words might feel if you stood in the shoes of the bereaved.

Grief is all about feelings.

Processing feelings.

Grief is not an intellectual pursuit.

C.S. Lewis said in his book, A Grief Observed, “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.” “Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?” He went on to say, “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?” And then, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

What are you most afraid of? How do you feel when someone implies your fears are unmerited or little more than paranoia?

Never forget that you have the luxury of walking away—whether you feel your words were a helpful encouragement or woefully inadequate. You. Walk. Away.

The bereaved do not.

There is no escape but there are moments of relief.  Moments when the burden is lifted as a friend or even a stranger yokes up with the wounded and hurting by sharing and validating their feelings—strengthening the bereaved for the moment when the burden once again settles onto their shoulders alone.

11:49 a.m.

My cell phone rings.

The display reads, Sugar Shaker Boxx, and sweet relief surges through me followed quickly by a bit of dread. I rise, bracing myself for the sight of the wheelchair that stands sentinel beside Gracen’s bed. Bracing myself for the tasks no mother ever wants to accept their grown child needs help with.

I put on a smile and adapt a sedately cheerful persona (Gracen is not a morning person) and I open her bedroom door.

Another day has begun.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2016 in Grief

 

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