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Seasons of Disease and Death – Where Life Gets Real

I’ve been reading and meditating on John Chapter 9 and 11 of late. Those two chapters are significant to me because they touch on the very things that have most impacted my adult life – disability (or illness) and death.

John 9 chronicles the story of Christ healing the man blind from birth.

John 11 tells of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead.

As I mulled those scriptures over in my mind I looked for similarities and differences. I noted that the blind man didn’t seek Jesus out for healing, but Jesus healed him anyway. And as I thought about that blind man I wondered why he didn’t seek out this miracle performing man. Surely he had heard the gossip. John 9:32 might answer that question for us.

“Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.”

The blind man held no hope for healing. Never had it been reported that a man born blind had been made to see. It was a foregone conclusion in his mind that he would never see the world around him. Why chase after the prophet who was stirring up so much controversy? How could he even find his way to the prophet? So he sat in acceptance of the circumstances he had always known with no hope of changing them as the world passed by around him.

I understand that mentality all too well. It’s hard to carry the hope of healing while simultaneously accepting what is deemed unchangeable. How does one invest the effort required searching for a cure while expending so much energy coping with what is? How was the blind man supposed to hunt for this wandering prophet when his very survival was contingent upon the alms he begged for day after day?

On the other hand, Mary and Martha knew that Lazarus could be healed. They had access to Jesus. They had cultivated a relationship with him. They believed He was the long awaited Messiah. They had likely seen Him heal others. So they sent for Jesus communicating their dire need for His presence. And then they waited . . . and waited . . . until it was too late and their brother was dead.

And when Jesus finally showed up their deep anguish bubbled up and out their mouths as they each told him that Lazarus would not have died if he had been there. Their faith is revealed alongside their confusion and vulnerability. They trusted Jesus to come, to step in and save the day. But he didn’t do it. And they still trusted him for resurrection at the last day.

One man without faith – without hope.
Two women with faith – with hope.

And in a rare turn of events Jesus answers the most common and difficult question that always arises when death and disease become a part of our lives. Why?

Why was this man born blind?
Why did Lazarus die?

And the answers are strikingly similar in both situations. In regards to the blind man Christ responded, So that the works of God could be revealed through him. And when questioned on the reason for Lazarus’s death He replied, So that God and the Son of God would be glorified.

Sandwiched between those two stories is John chapter 10 where Jesus proclaims, “I am the good shepherd”! And in that chapter Jesus lays bare the reason for which he came, “. . . That they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (in the fullest measure).” He proclaims his power to both lay down his life for the sake of his flock and to take it up again. He proclaims himself to be the long awaited Messiah. And maybe most remarkable of all is that he flat out tells his audience how to prove that he is not who he says he is. He tells them that if they won’t believe his words, they should believe his works.

And isn’t it interesting that “I am the good shepherd” falls right between the stories of death and disability? In the grand scheme of things what leads us to question the meaning of life more than disease and death . . .

When disease or disability become our eventual reality, we can be confident that there is an important purpose for our suffering – that the works of God might be revealed through us. And when death invades your life, stealing away your hopes and plans we can be assured that God and the Son of God will be glorified.

7 But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves. 8 We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; 9 hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; 10 always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly [experiencing the threat of] being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be evidenced in our mortal body [which is subject to death]. 12 So physical death is [actively] at work in us, but [spiritual] life [is actively at work] in you. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 AMP

Our suffering is not in vain but has eternal value. And in the seasons of disease and death, where life gets real and all we’ve worked for and stood for is called into question, stands the good shepherd who is worthy of our faith and trust, who leads us and cares for us and is powerful enough to usher us from this earthly fold into eternity where we will experience life in its fullest measure.


***(From Wesley’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:10 – alittle help understanding verse 10)

” . . . Wherever we go. . . Continually expecting to lay down our lives like him [Jesus]. That the life also of Jesus might be manifested in our body – That we may also rise and be glorified like him.”

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2017 in Chronic Illness, Faith, Grief, Uncategorized

 

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There Is No Good Card For This – Book & Empathy Cards


How many times have you struggled to find the words to support and encourage others in the midst of life’s trials? Help is available. Follow the links below to check out the book and a selection of empathy cards.

 There Is No Good Card For This

Empathy Cards

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Adversity

 

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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, 2013, 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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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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Questions I Ask & Thoughts I Ponder

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:21,

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

I can in no way claim to be anything like the Apostle Paul, but I can relate to his statement – if not in whole, then in part.

For me, to live is to care for Gracen, and I desperately want to be there for Gracen, but to die . . . to die is gain.

In our day and age, no one wants to hear that sentiment expressed. Maybe it makes people fearful that I might harm myself, but I wonder if maybe it is more about an individual’s fear that at some point in their life, they might find they desire death over life.

I have an eternal hope.

Death is not something I personally fear.

And neither did the Apostle Paul.

And if . . . if God’s purpose for the latter part of my life is to care for Gracen . . . if that is my ministry and service for Christ, then am I not, in effect saying just as the Apostle Paul did, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”?

Is it spiritual to laud his statement and rebuke mine?

If we as Christians are to be Heavenly minded, is it wrong to long for our eternal home?

Is it wrong to desire Heaven more than we desire this temporary world we currently reside in?

Do we unconsciously believe Paul’s ministry, the ministry of evangelism, is the pursuit of Christ and His desires, whereas ministry to the members of our family or the sick really doesn’t equate to living for Christ?

img_1412-1Is that why my longing for my eternal home is met with admonitions that I must have hope? That it is wrong for me to desire the rapture in order to escape these earthly sorrows?

Is that really wrong?

Does my motivation somehow make my desire impure?

Does God care why I desire Heaven or just that I do?

Does not a longing for my eternal home reflect the deepest trust that I, in fact, have an eternal home waiting for me?

Does it not reflect true faith?

And should I lose it all—should I lose both David & Gracen—what, if anything, would be capable of anchoring my broken heart to this earthly prison?

I know what the answer to that last question should be. I certainly don’t need anyone to educate me with the “correct” response. But what “should be” and “what is” are often two different things. I know that my mind and my emotions will not agree if my worst fears are realized. I know they won’t. They don’t now.

These are questions I ask myself.

Maybe that last question is the reason people so adamantly attempt to cram the necessity of hope down my throat.

Maybe that’s their secret fear too.

Maybe no one knows what would hold enough sway in their individual lives to anchor their souls to this world if they lost everything they value most in this world.

Maybe—God help us all—maybe there is nothing strong enough to do that for any of us.

img_1416Maybe that’s where the Holy Spirit steps in and performs a supernatural work in our hearts that enables us to receive God’s all sufficient grace instead of rejecting it in our agony . . . instead of taking action outside of the will of God due to complete despair and utter desperation.

These are thoughts I ponder.

I’d love to know how you answer these questions—if you think these same thoughts.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2016 in Faith

 

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My Consolation in Sorrow

iStock_000019848651_Medium-600x400When you lose a loved one to death, you quickly recognize that a great number of people sympathize, even empathize (vicariously experience) with your loss. Close friends and family grieve with you because they lost a friend, a brother, a parent or grandchild too. Some simply grieve for you because they love you but were not personally connected to the one who died. But very few people actually grieve in like manner with you. Even parents experience grief in unique ways. Men often process their sorrow and loss far differently than women do.

I have been blessed by numerous friends and family who have grieved both with me and for me, but none grieved as I. No one grieved as “the mother” with the obliterated heart. None but one. None but one. And I count that one woman as one of my greatest blessings in the midst of all this heartache.

10492559_10152550256319610_3231914152675065142_nHer name is Teresa and I never would have guessed just what she would come to mean to me. (Pictured left, Teresa and her husband, Jakob).

Frankly, I didn’t know Teresa well when my daughters died. I knew who she was, we’d spoken briefly, she is the mother of the young man my oldest daughter had been dating for two and a half years.

 

Teresa, her sister and her son, Alex, stepped in and met practical needs for us following the accident that took Bethany and Katie’s lives. David and I were tied up at the hospital – not wanting to leave the side of our surviving daughter. Teresa and Alex took on the arduous task of purchasing burial garb for both girls. I never saw what they choose but was told Alex had insisted on a scarf in Bethany’s favorite color, pink. They also retrieved all Bethany’s worldly goods from her campus apartment and delivered them to our home. But none of those things explains why Teresa is so special to me.

10525854_805830962812159_8008800412709942090_nAt the time of Bethany’s death, Teresa and her family were living in Sweden. The family moved back to the states approximately six months after the funeral. Her family met us for lunch shortly after their move. I had no idea what to expect and I was a bit nervous. They had been so kind, so generous. Their daughter Emma had written and performed a beautiful song for which her father, Jakob, created a photo montage (Bethany’s Song). Emma also painted a treasured picture of Bethany that hangs in our living room. But in spite of all that, I didn’t know them well but I was aware that they didn’t share the faith that had become so interwoven into my very being. I was afraid my faith would be offensive to them and maybe even afraid that they could find the chink in my spiritual armor and open Pandora’s box in the midst of my suffering. I knew I was vulnerable.

It was at that lunch in an extremely crowded Freddie’s that I discover the blessing that is Teresa. She is God’s gift to me from an entirely selfish perspective. Let me say that Teresa is a wonderful woman in an absolutely average way; the way most women are. They work jobs, raise children, care for their homes and support their husbands.  They don’t live in the spotlight but they are the glue, the strength and the heart of their homes. They are good friends, and contribute to their communities, largely behind the scenes. They are the heart and soul of this world far more than any politician, famous actor, musician or celebrity. Teresa is just such a woman – the world is filled with such talented, everyday but far from average women who make a difference in their small corner of the world. But what makes Teresa so special to me had little to do with any of those things either.

What I discovered about Teresa in that crowded fast food restaurant, what makes her so special to me, what sets her apart as a gift that could have only come from God is only one thing. Teresa loved Bethany with a mother’s heart. Not like a mother, but as if she had adopted Bethany as her own child. Teresa expressed grief that day that mirrored my own. I have not encountered one other person whose feelings and grief over Bethany’s or Katie’s deaths so closely reflected my own.

In the months that followed, Teresa and I got together many times. Over and over she expressed feelings so very similar to mine. The last time we got together, I told her that I find myself embarrassed because people always ask me how Gracen is doing. They always tell me that they are praying for her. And while I am so thankful for that, there is this quiet voice within that wonders if no one cares about how I’m doing, that wonders if anyone is praying for me. I feel selfish. And I feel as if everyone expects me, or David and I, to be finished grieving – to be moving forward.

Teresa confided in me that day that her friends and family also ask how her son is doing; not how she is doing. She too feels as if people expect her to be beyond her grief. What she’s really communicating is that others knew and expected Alex to grieve deeply, but didn’t expect Teresa to grieve as deeply as her son. They understood Alex’s close relationship with Bethany – his grief was expected, but they didn’t realize the depth of the relationship Teresa had developed with Bethany as well. Her grief was unexpected because her love for Bethany was outside the norm of parent relationships with their children’s girlfriends or boyfriends.

In part, Teresa is a treasure because she validates the progression (or lack thereof) of my grief journey. She makes me feel normal in the midst of my personal nightmare. But most of all Teresa is a blessing because her grief is mine. She loved my daughter to such a degree that her heart is as broken as mine.

Bethany was a fortunate beneficiary of Teresa’s love in life and I’ve been the beneficiary of her grief. I’ve benefited by the knowledge of how deeply Teresa loved my girl – I’ve benefited by the gift of someone to share the depths of my loss – to know I’m not alone in my deepest sorrow. I’ve benefited by the friendship she’s bestowed upon me.

While I would never wish my pain and sorrow on another, I can’t begin to describe the ways in which Teresa’s grief has been a consolation for me. There are so many ways in which words meant to comfort unintentionally diminish the value of the loved one lost. Teresa, added value to Bethany’s life and memory. That is why Teresa is such a special blessing to my aching heart.

Thank you, Teresa, for loving my girl and for freely sharing your grief with me.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2016 in Grief, Links, Music

 

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I Can’t Do This Anymore!

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that, I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by a loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind.

 

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I Can’t Do This Anymore!

deep-sorrowThere are days and moments and very long nights when I think, I can’t do this anymore. Come to find out, that simple thought is a trigger for tears.

Intellectually, I know I can.  Physically, I know I can.  Emotionally, well there’s where the breakdown happens.

I don’t know if my impending empty nest is permanent or temporary.  I know who I am for the next three months but not who I will be after that.  I’m really afraid of that answer.

Emotionally I am weak, very weak.  Within the borders of my emotions I fear failure — to prepare Gracen for what’s ahead for her physically — to be there for her in an effective way — to watch her experience the devastation wrecked by progressive disease — to experience it for myself alongside her — to watch David experiencing it alongside her, alongside me. To see the toll it takes on each one of us individually as we somehow images (42)continue to put on a brave face and hide the true depths of the pain and sorrow from each other so as not to increase their individual burden in this bizarrely intertwined protection dance we unconsciously perform.  And as all this plays out within our home and personal relationships, the current culture demands that we have a positive attitude and recognize our blessings. It’s exhausting. It’s overwhelming.  It’s frustrating. It’s impossible.

Moments such as this one, Progressive Disease – A Moment of Triumph, are rare and bittersweet.  (At the beginning of the clip, keep your eyes on the right side of the screen so you don’t miss Gracen’s appearance.)

“Don’t be afraid — trust God”, we are told in the midst of situations where there are very real things to fear.  Sorry, those commands, biblical or not, are not helpful.  I’m not saying they are wrong, just that they aren’t comforting and encouraging. It’s almost impossible to talk yourself out of fear — especially after your worst fear has already been realized. Those words, “Don’t be afraid — trust God”, heap indictment of failure on already emotionally overburdened believers who interpret those words as an accusation — “You aren’t trusting God”, instead of as the encouragement they are intended to be. At the same time, the searing pain within testifies to the truth that what we are trusting God for is eternal in nature. We are terrorized by the knowledge that our desires, for ourselves and those we hold dear in this temporary world, play second fiddle to God’s purposes.  This, of course, I can attest to from all too much personal experience. God’s will serves our ultimate eternal good but the rub is that we reside in the here and now. And while from an eternal perspective our lives are no longer than a blip on a radar screen, in the here and now that blip lasts ten, twenty even thirty years or more.  Our afflictions are light and momentary from an eternal perspective but they don’t feel that way in the day to day.

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Yes, I need to cultivate an eternal perspective, lay up eternal treasures, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But frankly, there are days, moments and very long nights during which I’m too emotionally frightened and exhausted to exercise my spiritual muscles.

 

 



 

Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  Pray that the bereaved will put on the full armor of God.  Their faith is under attack and they are exhausted and deeply vulnerable.

disenfranchised-grief-52.  Avoid the use of platitudes and trite phrases. They serve to frustrate and unconsciously communicate unintended messages.  (i.e., faith and trust in God mean things hurt less, our hope for eternity exchanges grief for joy, joy and happiness are the same thing, the salvation of the lost justifies the death of a loved one).

3.  Be extremely careful in the use of Romans 8:28,  “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (KJV)  There are a time and place for every season under heaven.  There are a time and place for this verse. I personally think it’s more harmful than helpful in the face of raw grief and more appropriate a year or two down the road when the bereaved can look back and hopefully recognize the fulfillment of this promise.

4.  Be cognizant of the fact that believing God has filtered everything through His hands before allowing it to happen can lead a believer to blame God for the tragedies that befall them.  In truth, spiritual warfare, an individual’s exercise of free will or the fall of man that affected all of nature are responsible for the death of their loved one. The fact that God allows bad things to happen to His children is not the same as causing bad things to happen. For all we know, Satan was tempting while God was pleading when another’s actions lead to the death of a loved one. “For ours is not a conflict with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world–the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.”  (Ephesians 6:12 ~ Weymouth New Testament).

0372730254f966f20889e1599ae7c79d5.  Validate feelings.  A grieving father who feels like beating the crap out of the person responsible for their child’s death is normal.  It’s okay; it’s helpful actually to say, “I’d feel the same way if I were you.” Validating feelings in no way condones sinful actions. Feel free to tack on, “You’re not planning to act on that, are you?”, if in doubt.

6.  Do NOT correct the emotions of the bereaved. Emotions are not right or wrong; they were designed by God and serve a purpose.  A fellow new-perspectives-in-borderline-personality-disorder-73-728mourning mother recently told me, “Emotions are for emoting.” How an individual responds to their emotions can be right or wrong but never simply expressing them.  Do NOT tell the grief-stricken that they can’t or shouldn’t feel any given way or that their feelings are sinful!

7.  Affirm the bereaved’s ability to continue on.  Be there for them through cards, text messages, phone calls and lunch or dinner dates.  Don’t take it personally if your call and invitations go unanswered. Simply try again another time.

download178.  Before you offer any advice, imagine yourself in that individual’s shoes; then personalize the advice.  You are now the parent whose child just committed suicide. Consider how you might feel should someone tell you to count it all joy, or that God is good all the time, etc., before you offer any advice to the bereaved. Perspective changes when things get personal.

9.  It is indeed rare for a bereaved person to continue in deep grief for an extended period of time (more than two years).  There are always a few who never recover, however, Christians need to trust that God will heal the hearts of the bereaved as His word promises, in His time. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4b KJV). When you encourage a fellow believer to move on, choose joy and be thankful for what they still have, you are, in effect, expressing that you yourself don’t trust God to heal their grief, but instead believe that the grief-stricken Christian must work to heal themselves.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief

 

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