Where was God?

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God’s eyes are always on his kids

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

I’m going to toss a direct question out there for those of you who are outliving a child. Perhaps you have asked the question either silently or openly: Where was God when my loved one died?

Someone whispered in my ear at the time of my son’s death that God was with him when he drew his last breath. My first thought was ~ then he could have prevented it rather than allow it. You may have had similar thoughts. But there are always life lessons we may glean from scripture and perhaps we can gain understanding to apply to this very important question.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus always saddens and yet fascinates me. Where was God the Father while God the Son, Jesus, was on the cross? Did He go fishing? Was He on a Cosmos Tour? Or was He present? Let’s glean some thoughts from scripture to capture what might have been and then see if perhaps there is a parallel application for our understanding.

If you are a believer and are familiar with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, then you have probably read the story in the Gospels as relayed by some of his disciples. Luke describes events that transpired after Jesus died this way: Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Luke 23:44-45

Matthew adds a bit more detail: Jesus again gave a loud cry and breathed His last. Then the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split apart.  Matthew 27:50-51

Around the time of Jesus’ death, the veil was torn in half. To rip the veil (which was about 40 cubits or 60 ft high) in the temple in half, someone needed to be there to tear it. And to tear it from top to bottom, one would have to be a very tall person. Also, there was darkness on the earth as the sun had disappeared. There was darkness at the events at Mount Sinai too, when God came near the people: Exodus 20:21 says, So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. So God hid Himself in darkness at Mount Sinai. Did God hide himself in the darkness at the cross too? Did God himself tear the veil?

Note there were also earthquakes in connection with God’s presence:  The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it.  Nahum 1:5

But this still does not tell us for sure where God was when his Son died or does it? What about the story in the Old Testament when Abraham was instructed to sacrifice his son? Where was God then? Could it be a parallel to the crucifixion? Let’s review the high points of this story.

It had been a long day and Abraham was bone tired and sound asleep when his head touched the pillow, but suddenly he was wide awake. Was that God? Did I hear a command or was I dreaming? O, please, may I be dreaming! Abraham pinched himself. Ouch! That hurt! No, he was not asleep and that was a directive from a voice he had grown to know:

God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”  Genesis 22:2

Not my boy, God, not my boy! I am sure Abraham pleaded and argued in a one-sided conversation, but God spoke no more on the subject. Abraham had always obeyed God even when the request made no sense, but those was nothing compared to what God was telling him to do now. This was the ultimate test. Would he fail? Was it strange that God also pointed out the obvious ~ take your only son, whom you love?

It must have been the longest three days in history as father and son made their way to the place where God had instructed. I am sure there was conversation, perhaps even lighthearted boy talk on the part of Isaac. He had often taken part in sacrifices with his dad. It was a huge part of their way of life so this trip was not unusual . . . yet.

Finally the hard question that Abraham knew was coming: Dad, “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Genesis 22:7

Scripture simply says that the father bound his son and laid him on the altar, but what a loaded sentence! Can you picture the scene? I’ve never been asked to point a gun toward my child and pull the trigger . . . but essentially this is what God asked Abraham to do. There would be fire and there would be death.

God was watching this drama unfold . . . no doubt about that. This was the severest test of Abraham’s life, the only one of its kind in Scripture and the relationship between God and Abraham hung in the balance ~ pass or fail. Give up your only son that you love and prayed for and thought he would never be born. You must kill him to serve Me. How crazy does this sound!

The Bible says that Abraham raised the knife high in the air with Isaac watching his father’s face in horror or did he have his eyes squeezed tightly shut anticipating the pain? I can’t imagine more . . . perhaps you can, but the picture in my mind is clear. The scene was horrific to be sure.

 At that moment the Angel of God shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes, Lord!” he answered.

And He said, Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear and revere God, since you have not held back from Me or begrudged giving Me your son, your only son.  Geneses 22:11-12

Can we combine these two stories from both Old and New Testament and apply them to our question for a possible view of God’s relationship to His children? I think we can. A parallel story to the crucifixion is the story of Abraham ordered to sacrifice Isaac. Father Abraham was with his son the whole time, even up to the point where Isaac was about to die. Likewise, isn’t it possible that the God was with his Son during his agony and death? There is an obvious difference in that once Abraham passed the test, God supplied the sacrifice, but there was no substitute sacrifice at the cross. Father was forced to watch the agony and death of his only Son, for it took Jesus’s blood to wash away our sins. What a heart-wrenching scene for God the Father to watch!

So how does this help me in my struggle? Here’s a possible angle:  God loves each one of his kids. He hates the sin and cruelty we endure, but he gives us total freedom to choose. The enemy pushes and prods and goads us to sin. The more kids he kills, the more he hurts God’s heart. This planet is a war zone with spiritual consequences. Do you agree? There are bound to be casualties because we live with death and destruction all around us. But it is so entirely different and much worse when it happens too close to home, to our family.

God says all things will be made plain one day. It’s hard to wait. But when we are finally able to hug the ones we have loved and longed to see for so long ~ with all of us brand new ~ some questions may slip from mind.

God says he never changes. He’s always been loving and kind and good and has our best interest at heart. Just as he was with Abraham through the extreme test for his obedience, I have no doubt that God, the Father was by his only Son’s side as he suffered and died. You couldn’t part them, not even in the struggle to save humanity.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!  Psalm 36:7, NIV

This entry was posted on September 13, 2014. 10 Comments

Up close and personal

My Love

Pipy look alike. I cannot claim the same. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep. That’s Pipy. I see you sitting there on the floor beside my chair, big guy. You’re going to jump up here any second now. . . and oomph, there he is, right in my face. He does the head bump to my nose, sniffs to see if I’ve had anything interesting to eat lately that he missed out on, and tickles me with his whiskers as he settles down close enough to reach his paws up to knead my neck. Every ritual up to this point is tolerated because I love him, but we both know that kneading my neck is off limits, although he patiently and persistently tries.

Another anniversary is on the horizon now and I can see the “snow-capped peak” of pain rising up like a mountain in the distance. Pipy is a reminder. You see, he was but a pipsqueak a few years ago. Tiny, frail and probably 1 or 2 meals shy of death when he popped out of a soybean field as we strolled by one day. He’s far from skinny now and many meals could be skipped, just like his mama, but looking into his big, almond-shaped soulful eyes reminds me that I had asked my firstborn son, who was visiting us one summer weekend, if he’d like to take him home, but he said, “No”. Probably because of his allergies or maybe already he was thinking . . . planning. . . and he didn’t want the responsibility. Within days he died by suicide.

Flashbacks. Triggers. We all have them. Some may be mildly sensitive, but most are sharp as a tack, especially for me as the months tick off and another anniversary looms up ahead. My heart beats faster, my palms sweat. It’s anxiety, Lord. Do you feel it too? I am relieved when the month of memories passes, but up until then . . . it’s as if there is a distant rumble of thunder, a sense of foreboding as boiling, frothing, raging waves roll towards me threatening to capsize me, sending me into a tailspin as I struggle to give birth to new words, in an attempt to soothe away the pain. Haven’t I done that over and over already? But there is more . . . always more.

I am reminded that Someone else desires to be up close and personal. It’s Jesus Christ, my Savior and Friend. I like the way He talks about the importance of friendship with His disciples in John 15 and shares it with us.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.”

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”  John 15:9-15

I desire Jesus to be my Best Friend. I desire to love others the way he loves you and me. We humans are often a challenge to love and I am far from his example. I have often thanked Jesus for sending Pipy at just the right time. He allows us to love him and he loves us right back. When he wants to be right in my face I try to understand that he is communicating with me in his love language. And I know that many of you have pets who show you extra love when you need it most. I would love to read your stories.

Thank You, Jesus, for  your loving friendship. Thank you for sending Pipy to give us comic relief and love. Thank you for being both loving and persistent in wooing us into a heart-to-heart relationship with you.

God is . . .

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God is . . .
My Tower that never crumbles;
My Light that never flickers;
My Hiding Place that never closes;
My Shield that has no chinks;
My Guide who never gets lost on the trail;
My Guardian who doesn’t take naps;
My Eternal King whose banner I joyously wave;
My Ocean of Love that never has a low tide;
My Provider whose shelves are never empty;
My Physician who still makes house calls;
My Father who is never too busy to be with His child;
My Creator who knew what He was doing when He made me.

O God, Your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as You? You are the God of great wonders! Psalm 77:13-14 NLT

~Roy Lessin

This entry was posted on August 29, 2014. 4 Comments

Wrestling with God

Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won. Genesis 32:28

~Pain is the price of admission to life on Earth. It comes to us all and can strike at any moment~

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Battle weary, burdened and in need of rest, the trials and tragedies of life continue to overwhelm us, draining our strength. We want to lash out. We want to blame. We want a target for our pain. Things appear difficult, impossible in fact which brings a question to mind ~ have you ever wrestled with God about it? Maybe your imagination can’t stretch that far. But maybe it is in prayer and conversation with Him that we wrestle for answers and understanding. Do you think we have the right to go to God and beat on His chest? To take Him to the spiritual mat, as it were, and challenge Him with tough questions? I say yes because He says yes. Sometimes God is the Wrestler at Peniel.

Perhaps some explaining is in order. There is an old Bible story about Jacob. His bio is fascinating and you are welcome to check it out. Meanwhile I’d like to zero in on a portion that touches me deeply . . . in that deep soft spot where gnawing pain resides, although thankfully it is more subtle now with the passage of time. However it is pain I must learn to live with and I imagine you agree if you, too, have lost a beloved child.

Pain didn’t start with us, however. We have to go way back to the beginning of time and there we will find pain. Bible stories are proof enough that to follow God is to walk not with a swagger, but with a limp. God has always used pain in the lives of those who choose to follow Him. Pain is never our choice; it is what is chosen for us. Why? Let’s see if a particular Bible story can shed some light on the topic of pain.

There are many examples to choose from and three, who have had personal experience with pain, come readily to mind:  Peter, the arrogant hot head, Saul, the violent persecutor who became Paul, and Jacob, the lying swindler who is the subject of today’s story. All three men discovered first hand that God never leaves us where we are, but rather turns us into something useful for His glory. Let’s pick up Jacob’s story in Genesis 32. You may follow along if you like while I attempt to share a bit of his story in my own words (with the help of Pastor Brian Zahnd, wolc.com, who brings Bible characters to life in his storytelling).

Jacob was a twin. He followed his brother Esau out of the birth canal holding on to his heel. Thus he was born a supplanter or “holder of the heel”. He became a fast talker, a manipulator, a hustler. He honed his instincts to size up and use people on his way to the top. He cheated his brother out of his birthright and went on to con his uncle who conned him back. His definition of success was to swagger through life with the confidence of a con man. Life was a race and he wanted to cross the finish line first with his backpack full of riches.

But as it often happens, Jacob’s life suddenly took a nasty turn when he got word that his twin brother was hot on his trail with murder on his mind. Jacob quickly divided his family into groups sending them to safety while he stayed behind to face his brother alone. He prayed that God would save him from the wrath of his brother. Alone in the darkness, with the words barely out of his mouth, he was knocked to the ground by an unknown assailant. Esau? No, it couldn’t be Esau. This guy was way bigger and stronger than he remembered Esau to be, but there was no time to figure out who his attacker was for he was in for the fight of his life.

Let’s “invite” Jacob to continue the story in his own words.  ~ Down we went into the weeds and reeds, tumbling over and over in slimy mud. Who is this madman? Desperation gripped me in a cold sweat. It was hard to get a grip on this guy, but if this fight was to end in death then I was going to give it my all. My mind raced ahead, grimly reminding me of my evil deeds, one on top of the other. Is this how my life will end? Will I never get to tell Esau how sorry I am for everything? For stealing his birthright?

We fight on into the night, the silence broken only by the sounds pounding flesh. I willed my body strength, but we were ridiculously mismatched. Clearly he could take me, so why didn’t he and get it over with? It’s obvious he’s playing with me. I’m his prey, his pawn. Just as the foggy whisper of dawn nibbled at the edge of darkness, he made his move. It looked like a lightening bolt passed between us and zapped my hip. Searing pain like a hot knife engulfed me. I writhed in agony on the ground. Did I catch a glimpse of his face or was that pain talking?  He was trying to pull away now, but I clung to his neck with a grip tighter than I knew I had. I would not let go. The agony of pain was nothing compared to the agony of soul. My wretched life passed before my eyes . . . it couldn’t end this way. I must have a blessing. Please . . . I must have his forgiveness! Defeated and crippled for life, would he now leave me here alone? I held on for dear life. I felt his hot breath on my neck when he finally spoke,

“Let me go, for day is breaking.”

I dug my nails into his skin. Through clenched teeth and with a voice strained from fatigue and pain I cried,

“No! I will not let you go unless you bless me!”

Then he asks me my name. I told him. Then he said the most amazing thing,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.”

I relaxed my grip, stunned by his words. Though in agony I could hardly wrap my mind around the blessing I had just been given. I was no longer Jacob, “supplanter”, but Israel, meaning “‘God prevails”. How awesome. I could scarcely take it in but I would have plenty of time later to replay the greatest event in my life. Now I must ask him one more question,

“Please tell me your name?” He leaned down to my ear and softly spoke, “Do you really need to ask?”

No, I didn’t. My heart knew. I began to quiver with emotion from head to toe. I had wrestled with my Maker .  . . and survived to tell my story! How is that possible?

And Jacob said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and I am still alive”; so he named the place Peniel. Genesis 32:30

Heavenly Father,

As hard as it is for me to admit and even harder to be thankful for . . . over time, lots of time . . . I have come to be thankful that You brought about pain in my life. For it was in the horrific crucible of losing my son that I truly found You.Thank You for reminding us through Jacob’s story, that it is through wrestling with You that we prevail. Amen.

Hymnlines: “Part the Waters”

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Hebrews 6:19

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This doggy looks like he’s having the time of his life. Does this picture remind you of you? Boy, it does me . . . the dog paddle part anyway. I have no claim to fame in the swimming department. In fact, dog paddling is the only stroke I mastered . . . minus the chunk of driftwood. Perhaps the wood would have kept my head out of water. But it’s tough swimming strokes after suicide. We have no strength. We have no interest. We’d rather drown. But God tosses us a life preserver ~ or driftwood so we keep paddling.

There is a song that Evie Karlsson sings that I just love. The words have much meaning in my life ~

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

I do feel like I am going under, Lord. Don’t you see me frantically paddling, kicking my feet, but getting nowhere? Thanks for the piece of driftwood, but I need more. I need your hands under me, guiding me like a rudder to safer depths and maybe soon I will even touch bottom and stand up on solid ground.

Knowing You love me through the burden I must bear,
Hearing Your footsteps lets me know I’m in Your care,
And in the night of my life You bring the promise of day,
Here is my hand, show me the way.

Lord, take my hand. Lead me to safety. I know you know everything about me and those around me. I know you know far more than I know about those I have been forced to say goodbye to. I know you know I long to understand why. I know you know I find myself blaming you and others for his/her death. I know you know you can take the blame for you took all our sins and laid them on your one and only Son at the cross and left them there. And He arose to everlasting life, showing us the way to life eternal. So that horrible “goodbye” was not final.

Knowing You love me helps me face another day.
Hearing Your footsteps drives the clouds and fear away;
And in the tears of my life I see the sorrow You bore,
Here is my pain, heal it once more.

Here’s my pain, Lord. I am ready to hand it over to you. Knowing you hold me up in the raging waters, knowing you will part them and lead me to shore, knowing you are the only one who can heal me I hand over my pain to you. I choose to lean on your everlasting arms. You love me unconditionally and I love you back. You will supply my every need and I thank you for that. And when the storms of pain rise within me threatening to engulf me once again, you are my anchor.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

If there is even one person within earshot of my words who thinks drowning is an option, please listen. I know the intense, insatiable pain of losing a child, but adding our deaths only doubles the pain on those left behind. I know the temptation to blame others and to blame God for I have experienced both. So where to turn? Turn toward the sun; turn toward the Son of righteousness. Believe in the One who knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. It is he who has an undying love affair with you. Who else can claim to care that much about you? He shares your pain and someday, in the not so distant future, all will be made plain and when you are reunited with your loved one, all of this pain-filled world’s history will fade from view and we will be free of the enemy at last and home at last.

My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me,  and I give them eternal life, so that they will never be lost. No one can snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:27-28, CEV

 song by Charles F Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking wounded

For God so loved…John 3:16

We are the walking wounded, friend. I see your pain, feel it in your words; it is both pulsing and palatable. This is not a path we would have ever chosen, but it is ours to walk. We do it hand in hand, walking with an unseen Guest who knows our grief first hand. It was God and His Son, Jesus Christ who agreed to a plan that they would not have chosen either if there had been another way to save mankind from self-destruction in the hands of evil management of this world.

In God's hands

In God’s hands

From my years on this journey I have the “vantage point” of reflection while looking back to remember all the stages and how God has led. You may not factor God in the equation and that is okay. But if you don’t mind I want to continue this train of thought.

I was born with an empty backpack waiting to be filled. All negative things were easy to store in my backpack which grew heavier as I grew older. I got busy raising a family, therefore, like most of you, holding down two jobs. There was always something to push my nose out of joint so in the backpack it would go. Maybe it was a snide remark made by a coworker or boss that I was afraid if I spoke up I’d be fired. Maybe it was a smart remark  from one of my children as he skidded out of the driveway staying away until he thought it was safe to return . . . and I’d have forgotten. I have a memory like an elephant . . . for pain that is. So in the backpack it goes. There’s always room for more pain in there. Sound familiar?

And then the unspeakable happened. Suddenly, tragically, we lost our firstborn child to suicide. That pain would not fit in my backpack. It was the size of Mt. Everest and broke me. I shattered like shards of glass splintering in all directions. There was nothing left to salvage. The me I knew and others around me knew,was no longer. It seemed as if time should stand still now. The atmosphere void of oxygen. Not even a heart left to beat.

Perhaps you would describe your experience differently or maybe you are nodding in agreement. You can add more sentences and we would all nod in agreement for we are familiar with the trauma of sudden death. It sucks the life out of the living making even thinking about living impossible . . . for a time.

But I do have good news. God can recreate. It’s His specialty. He loves His sons and daughters on Earth with an unconditional love ~ a love so awesome He would agree to watch His own Son be murdered by our ancestors. He loves us still; both Father and Son love us inside and out. And they know the trauma we live. They suffer with us in our grief.

“Spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the Devil is one long, continuous struggle. The battleground has front lines and rear flanks. There are soldiers of Christ and backsliders gone AWOL. The Enemy has a strategy, and he’s out to kill, maim, and wound. But God’s strategy is to advance His kingdom and reclaim enemy territory. ” ~Joni & Friends

God is fighting for us and Satan is fighting against us. And we are caught in the crossfire in this battle between Good and evil. There are converts on both sides. You and I have met both. Perhaps in your grief you have met those who don’t give you the time of day. In their ignorance they are allowing the enemy to speak through their mouths and work through their actions. This may be more than you can comfortably swallow and that’s okay. What I am suggesting is that the picture is much larger than our minds can fathom. The whole world groans with the actions of the enemy and God misses none of it. He hurts when the enemy destroys a child, any child. and too often it is our child. God is not the destroyer. Satan is. (John 10:10)

So where is the good news? This is how I describe it. God is recreating me brick by brick. I don’t know when I will be completed; perhaps I am a work in progress until Jesus returns. But I now know where to turn. I turn to God. I take off my heavy backpack and drop it at His feet with words that go something like this. “Here. You take it. I’m done carrying it.” This is an act of total surrender to a Power greater than myself who sees time from beginning to end and “giving up” is giving Him permission to act in my life. Surrender must be practiced daily for it is too easy for me to want to get behind the wheel and take over again. And even though my heart is often very heavy, my steps are light and my mind can sing His praises because I know I don’t have to fix what I am incapable of. That’s His job and He does it with love.

 Recreating brick by brick

Bricks of hope, forgiveness, faith, love, trust . . .

 

This entry was posted on August 15, 2014. 6 Comments

Hymnlines: “God Will Make A Way”

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Tragedy is the biggest blind side. We’re never prepared for sudden death. Never. Whether by accident or murder or suicide to name three big ones, we’re never prepared. It’s hard enough when disease slowly ravages your loved one’s body and death is breathing down their neck, it is still hard when they breathe their last.

If you’ve never heard this song, you will find it on YouTube by Don Moen, who is credited with writing this popular song born out of tragedy; God gave him the words when his family was in a tragic accident. There are at least two versions and I happen to like Janet Paschal’s which is shared here.

Must have felt strange to end up stranded between an army and the sea                       
They must have felt forsaken wondering why God wasn’t all He said He’d be
When your back’s against the wall
It’s the hardest place of all
But somewhere between provisions and impossibility

Is your back against the wall? Often mine is. The anniversary of my son’s death creeps slowly upon me like a snake weaving back and forth as it stealthily inches toward its prey. It’s ugly. Who care bear it? The memories should have faded by now and be fresh no longer, but they are! Granted, the edges are softer now than they were years ago, but it still hurts and is likely to until I draw my last breath. It’s time to seek comfort. I tap awake my iPod which I haven’t bothered to touch in years; long forgotten are all the songs that meant so much to me back then . . . and a song by Janet Paschal, cancer survivor, begins to play and my tears begin to fall . . .

 

God will make a way
When there seems to be no way
Forever He is faithful
He will make a road
When you bear a heavy load
I know, God will make a way

“To put it simply, the only way to have hope is to have Him. The only way to have peace is to have Him. It’s Jesus alone. As Paul reminds us in Romans 15:13, hope — as well as peace and joy — come through faith. It is true that many people claim to have faith in God during the good times, but when trials come their way, their faith is clearly lacking. In times when our vision of God becomes blurred by sorrow, the eyes of faith are more important than ever.

George Macdonald, author and mentor to C.S. Lewis, once wrote: ‘I think faith can never have a greater victory than when it will trust even in the midst of darkness and doubt and temptation.’

What a great definition of victorious faith! — faith in our victorious God who never loses control of His people…and His planet.”

When a wall of circumstances leaves you crying in the night
And you struggle til your strength is almost gone
God will gently hold you in the shelter of His heart
And carve a road for you to carry on.
So carry on ~

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“The truth is, God’s will for us isn’t even nullified by our suffering, nor does it end at the grave. Our hope rests in the promise that our lives will stretch far beyond these few fleeting moments on earth, into an eternity of heavenly joy and satisfaction. Are you willing to believe that God will make a way where there seems to be no way? He works in ways we cannot see…He will make a way!” Dr. Stephen Davey (Oneplace.com)

No matter your favorite artist or which version you prefer, the message will give you encouragement and hope, strengthening your faith in the One who has us in the palm of his hand and tells over and over in so many ways how much He loves us. We are each unique; each one His beloved treasure.

 

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us everlasting consolation and encouragement and well-founded hope through [His] grace (unmerited favor), comfort and encourage your hearts and strengthen them [make them steadfast and keep them unswerving] in every good work and word.  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

This entry was posted on August 8, 2014. 2 Comments

Silent Salute

For me there is something powerful in our military salute. I love it! I love my country. I am sure you do too and we support everyone who defends our freedom. It is a costly task leaving many spouses, children, parents, siblings and other family and friends to mourn. Thankfully, these United States of America are still free. May we always be free.

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One of my children served in the U.S. Air Force and I am proud of his accomplishments. He has served his country faithfully, doing his best, giving his all and fortunately lives to share his stories.

Then my firstborn died by suicide. I have only why questions and no answers, not unlike many of you. We survive the tragedy by the grit of our teeth; enduring the shock of it all by God’s amazing grace.

Perhaps your memories of loss are etched in your mind . . . seared more likely and tattooed forever on your heart. Me too. Getting through those first hours, days are still somewhat a blur . . . perhaps never to be fully slowed down and the blanks filled in but instead, just remain a blur. But there is one exception in my bank of memories about the events that followed after my son’s death.

I love each one of my boys unconditionally. I was blessed to give birth twice. I was privileged to add a 3rd son by marriage. Soon after we had our first real family gathering, we were forced to say goodbye to my firstborn. Of all the choices I am allowed to make in my life, preventing his death was not one of them. Fortunately my remaining children have managed to go on and live their dreams which gives me great joy. They are privileged to live by independent means and I am blessed to share my life with them even if only in small ways and sometimes from a distance.

Recently I watched our President share heroic stories about our fallen comrades, those who gave themselves as a living sacrifice to defend our homeland. I know the pain in the hearts of the families will never go away. They have been blessed to share their children to keep us free. We owe them a debt of gratitude and our President paid the nation’s respect in their honor. After the stories came the medals followed by a crisp salute given by our President and received by the one who is fortunate to have survived.

Perhaps this post will seem disjointed. For that I apologize. The pain in my mind and heart slow down the flow of words to the page even though my mind swirls in search for just the right words in an attempt to convey feelings from my heart to yours. Perhaps you understand this internal conflict? Those of us on a survival journey “get it” and require no further explanation. There is a story that I shared in my book “Shattered by Suicide” that took me forever to write. The telling was so wretchedly painful and the words so deep that unearthing them seemed an impossible task then and still does now. I have a point. Really.

The point is about the salute. I won’t quote the book. That would be silly. And I won’t reread it now for I don’t want this to be a carbon copy. The images are stuck forever in my mind. We had gathered to say our last goodbye to my firstborn son. We were sitting in the shade under the canopy that hot August day. Morning or afternoon. Hmmm. I remember sunshine, but I’m unaware of the time of day. Apparently it didn’t make the cut in my memory. You know the drill. Most of us have experienced such a gathering at least one time in our lives and too many times it is in honor of one of our children . . . way too often and if you, too, have lost a child, let me say how sorry I am for your pain.

My stepson spent much of his life serving his country. He looked fine in his uniform, creased and pressed to perfection. He had the gait, the language, the perfect performance, the manners learned and executed flawlessly throughout his career. He knows the salute and has given it often when in the presence of a senior officer. Nothing less would be tolerated. It is a habit, but respectful to be sure.

Back to the tent. The last words of comfort had been said although I don’t remember them. I heard sound ~ mostly my own weeping. We each caressed the box . . . oh how I hate the box . . . but it contained precious remains so I must cherish it. Slowly we stood to our feet. It was time to leave the box behind for that is the decision we made at the time. Mind numbing pain = mind numbing decisions which could later be mulled over and regretted, but not now. Now we must bid a fond farewell to the box displayed on red velvet. No matter the softness of fabric . . . nothing about this moment softens the blows to my heart.

And then I saw it. My stepson stood to his feet, approached the stand where the box rested. He paused, then snapped to attention, clicking his heels together and gave his brother a sharp salute. Silence. Even the air seemed to pause in respect and stood still. Through blurry eyes I witnessed a shower of honor bestowed on my firstborn by an elder brother. For him, the salute offered the highest respect, love and praise to his fallen brother. No, my boy did not die in combat, not like we usually think of combat. And yet it is combat. The forces of evil fighting against the forces of Good. My heavenly Father, in His unfathomable love and mercy gently laid a hurting heart to rest . . . for now.

Slowing the story down frame by frame is not intended to draw tears (even though mine flow) but to bring relief. If you are a parent who has lost a child or you lost your sibling or a dear friend, you understand the need to slow it down, do you not? The heart aches to unearth pain. The heart aches to release to the wind the agony it feels. The heart aches to share it, for it is in the sharing that we deepen our understanding of loss where mind and heart ache to be connected again. We can’t bring our loved one back, but we can open our hearts for the benefit of others who may not have experienced such tragedy. Not to be morbid, but somehow in the telling of our stories we help others to become wiser, more reflective and understanding in the love and honor we feel about our fallen child. Does that make sense?

Like a maze, we work our way thru twists, turns, stops and starts as we tackle the pain from within, trying to put it into words not only for the healing of our hearts, but to help those who cannot fathom our suffering. With encouragement from a willing listener we are able to unearth some painful words deep in the core of our being and release them for a bit of relief. Granted the process repeats often for there is always more, still more. Such is the process of healing, slow and steady.

For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.  Philippians 4:13, LB

 

This entry was posted on August 1, 2014. 4 Comments

The touch of leather

And He reached out His hand and touched him.  Matthew 8:3

This post is dedicated to all my dear readers who understand the value of “stuff” that once belonged to a beloved someone we have been forced to say goodbye to, but keep them tucked forever in our hearts. Maybe you decorated the mantel or the shelves in a curio cabinet or keep their room just as they left it or you know where the boxes are stored. It matters. Their stuff matters. I have my son’s billfold. It represents his life.

Contents represents life

The pulse of life

I am drawn to leather ~ good quality leather with its rich aroma and  smooth touch. Lest this sound like a description of a leather skirt or pants, let me hasten to add that I would never qualify to wear leather on any place on my body other than my feet, but I love leather purses, leather Bibles, leather seats . . . and  my son’s leather billfold.

It’s just a thing. And not a very big thing, but it holds notes, a little money and his identity. Other than our photos, it is all that remains to remind me that my firstborn once had a life.

Just like mail. Does anyone get excited about getting mail? Remember the movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail”? Both could hardly wait to get home, hit the power button, wait for the computer to warm up and then the magical voice, “you’ve got mail!” Be it the rarity of snail mail or the frequency of tweets and texts, who does not relish the exchange of words with those we care about?

Mail, like my son’s billfold, contain words that imply life. He once had a very busy, fulfilling, successful life ~ or so we thought. He had an address where he got mail. After his death, all future mail was transferred to us and still it comes. The latest is a Subaru car sales advertisement ~ advertising their product, encouraging him to “come in and take a test-drive in the all-new 2014 Subaru Forester 2.OXT with a 250=hp turbocharged Subaru Boxer engine.”

Of course they have no idea that he is no longer on Earth’s radar screen, but for his mom it is a painful reminder that he is not here. I wish he were here and perhaps take a test drive and tell us all about the new Subaru, or share his excitement over new changes in his life fulfilling his dreams. But it’s not so. Like your precious person(s) you have lost to death, we wish they were still here with us enjoying life.

In our grief journey when we are able to process our child’s life, we realize that with hindsight comes clarity. We are unable to see the future or we would do everything in our power to keep every one of our children safe. But we have little foresight or I would have realized the amount of pain my son was carrying. Depression leads to bleakness and frantic darkness and excruciating pain of mind and heart. I can’t begin to comprehend what he went through before he made the decision which changed our lives forever.

My questions will get answered one day and so will yours. God has promised to wipe away all tears which suggests to me that he will reach out and touch our faces and wrap us in a hug for the first time. There will be conversation and explanations too, don’t you think? Perhaps when I see my son’s face with his cute grin and little chuckle I will forget I ever had questions. But for now all I have is a billfold to remind me of the years I had his sweet presence in my life. I would gladly trade a piece of leather for the touch of his hand . . . soon, may it be very soon.

He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.  Revelation 21:4, TLB

Another fish story

This post is written in honor of my firstborn son who died way too soon at age 30. He was the angler in our home. My children were very young when introduced to the fine art of fishing for fun ~ catch and release. They got into it and made many canoe trips down lakes and rivers seeking the best and biggest fish for bragging rights. Maybe they will get to pick up where they left off in heaven.

After this, Jesus appeared once more to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Simon Peter said to the others, “I am going fishing.” “We will come with you,” they told him. So they went out in a boat, but all that night they did not catch a thing. John 21:1-3

mandy 195_pe

If someone were you ask you to give a physical description of Jesus’ appearance, how would you imagine him? Would you naturally go in your minds eye to the form of the typical Jesus? Isn’t he usually a baby in a manger with a sunbeam over his head, surrounded by parents and cattle? Or the figure of an emaciated Jesus suspended on a cross, with blood running down his side, deathly pale, gaunt, and with his eyes looking upward ?

I’m not condemning either picture, but could there be others? According to my reading of the Gospels Jesus had muscle. After all, didn’t he flip over tables sending coins tumbling and money changers scrambling? He showed his temper too didn’t he? Well, what about the possibility of a playful Jesus? Does that seem rather out of place? Do you think that he and his disciples ever had any laughs in the three years they were together? Just for fun let’s explore a fish story tucked inside the book of John in the Gospels. There were several fish stories, but let’s explore the one in John 21 and if you will allow a little imagination . . .

It was late. The sea of Tiberias (or Galilee) was as smooth as silk and it beckoned. It had been a rough few days and the boys were exhausted. Their Master had been tortured and executed by Crucifixion and they either watched or ran. They had left their livelihood and families behind to follow when He had invited. Apparently His mission had been accomplished and theirs would soon begin . . . without him. They needed some time to unwind. What better way than to go fishing?

“I’m going to take dad’s boat out and cast some nets. You in?” Peter tossed out the question as the guys polished off a late meal this moonlit night. “Yeah, let’s,” they chorused. Nothing like going fishing to clear your head. But other than some good conversation with intermittent dozing throughout the night the sea had kept her secret stash. They did not catch a single fish all night long. Bummer. Now it was dawn and muscles ached from being scrunched in tight positions; their bodies clamored for a good stretch. Perhaps it was time to pack it in.

Their whereabouts was not unknown to the beach comber on the shore. He was keeping an eye on his friends as he grilled breakfast. From the distance and in the foggy morning mist the guys saw a loner on the beach, but that was common. They didn’t suspect it was Jesus and he didn’t bother to clear their vision. He took pleasure in keeping his identity a secret for the moment.

Jesus had been turning the fish on the grill, but now he got to his feet and stretched. He thrust his hands deep into his jean pockets and watched his mates intently while chewing on a piece of dried reed. He knew they had caught nothing. Tossing the reed, he cupped his hands around his mouth and called out to the fisherman, “Catch anything?” Peter yelled back, “Naw. Lousy night.”

Jesus could have staged a show-stopping, pyrotechnic display to arrest their attention and fill the heavens but that was never his style. Not at birth and not now. Instead we see a side of Jesus probably only known to the disciples who were along side him day and night for three years. Because they recorded their stories in the Gospels we have snapshots of sometimes a playful Jesus. And here was one of those moments where Jesus let the drama play out, no doubt enjoying every second.

Now the beach comber hollered, “Why don’t you cast your nets on the right side?”    

 What? Who had said that to them before?  Who else could it be but their Lord! Smiles broke across their faces like the dawn. It’s Jesus! They hustled to cast the nets anticipating what would happen ~ just like old times. In seconds the nets were bursting with a writhing catch. With biceps bulging and backs straining they hauled the catch into the boat and before it could sink and they lost it all, they headed for shore. Of course, impatient Peter couldn’t wait that long so pulling on his clothes he dove in and swam to shore. Dragging his soggy body unto the beach, he grabbed Jesus in a wet bear hug. Can you picture it?

The rest of the disciples pulled the boat up on shore. They’d take the count later. Their bellies were empty and the smell of grilling fish hit their noses. Yum. Breakfast fit for a king and cooked to perfection by the King! How wonderful to see their Master again. They all grasped him in bear hugs. This was the third surprise visit since his resurrection and they loved it. Perhaps still not fully comprehending all that had taken place they were learning they could trust Jesus completely.                                                   

With bellies full, they relaxed around the fire ~ sometimes chatter ~ sometimes silent in private thoughts. The boys knew Jesus would soon return to heaven to carry out his work from there while they took up the mantle and carried the Good News far and wide. They had gotten to know Jesus and by knowing him, they met his Dad, for Jesus had said,  If you have known me, you will also know my Father. From now on you know him through me and have seen him in me.” John 14:7, GW

Thoughts for this story came from “Beautiful Outlaw” by John Eldredge. It is a wonderful book about the unexpected, playful, light-hearted Jesus. It’s so human, to real, so not religious; a far cry from the serious, stoic Jesus we usually read about. I can’t do this story justice, but if it creates in you a thirst for more, you won’t be disappointed.

We can add one more tidbit to this playful side of Jesus. Fishermen do not dally when hauling their catch to shore. You can’t sell stinky fish, so the boys knew they had delayed this chore long enough. “We’d better get the catch counted, boys,” one of them stated. “Yeah,” called another, “we’d better,” as they unwound their bodies and got to their feet.

Jesus spoke up softly, “There are one hundred and fifty-three.” Oh, yeah. Right. We have Jesus with us. No need to count this catch. There had to be high fives, back slaps and grins all around.

They were a band of brothers who personally knew the King.

*  *  *

“Cast your net with all the might of your faith into the waters of His will. Send it deep into the sea of His promises, into the waters of His abundance, into the depths of His supply. As you do, you will gather ~ more wonders than you have ever seen, more surprises than you can ever imagine, more blessings than you can ever hold.”    ~Roy Lessin

 

This entry was posted on July 18, 2014. 4 Comments