Pain Encircles Planet Earth

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“For God so loved the world . . .” John 3:16 NIV

“It suddenly struck me that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” ~Neil Armstrong

Pain encircles planet Earth. From suicide alone there are one million deaths annually around the globe; every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. Staggering! How many survivors does that make? Also staggering! Looking at Earth from Armstrong’s perspective, it looks like a beautiful blue marble with white swirls. From this distance it is looks peaceful and serene. But down here on terra firma where we live, it is anything but that for those with broken hearts.

How do we manage our grief on a planet of people who expect us to walk away from pain about as soon as we walk away from the cemetery?

It’s difficult to breathe after tragedy strikes. Not only is there a beloved someone missing from our lives going forward, we have to face the firing squad of looks, inappropriate comments, and the actions of others, who are eager for us to put the loss behind us and get on with living. Sound familiar? Folks who don’t understand have no idea that a suffocating mountain of tragedy has landed on top of us, nearly burying us alive. They cannot fathom out loss ~ unless they, too, have experienced the tragic loss of their child, and often to suicide. Those who don’t “get it” may have expert advice to give . . . but from my experience, it absolutely will not work that way.

If I may speak directly to those who don’t “get it”: Unless you have personally experienced the tragic loss of one of your children, please spare those you love from oft repeated platitudes. Instead, hug them. Listen. Listen some more. Listen to anything the griever wants to share about their child, even if you have heard it “100” times. Tell them how sorry you are every time you give them a hug. Nothing more need be said unless it’s asked for. Many of us are fortunate to meet other cyber grievers, who do relate to our pain. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than having no one in our circle who understands.

~ The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Reader, I know this grief journey first hand. I lost my firstborn to suicide some years ago. I know the pain you are going through, and I’m so sorry for your suffering. I’m not an expert, but as a surviving parent, I have learned to tune out “expert” advice given by anyone who has not experienced this same tragedy. I will accept their comfort and encouragement, but that is where I must draw the line. If you are new to your grief journey, I encourage you to be empowered to stand your ground. If anyone tries to tell you what to do or when you should do it, feel free to put your hand up and say, “Stop. Thank you, but I am not taking any more advice at this time.” Period. You might ruffle a few feathers, but the self-proclaimed advisers will get over it. No permanent harm done. But for them to “ruffle” you does more damage to your already fractured, fragile heart.

I basically lived “underground” for the first couple of years. It’s the only way I know how to describe it. I was shattered and damaged beyond repair. Those around me seemed to be breathing fine, but my space seemed void of oxygen. It was as if I had crashed my vehicle off a bridge, and was gradually being sucked under the rushing, freezing water until there was only a tiny pocket of air left.

We grievers have no rules. We allow the grief to consume us as much as it wants to. Your travels may be different from mine, which is bumpy, crooked, with steep hills and deep valleys. Yours probably will be, too, but not necessarily in the same order. Grief is busy doing what it needs to do to take us into healing. Heart and mind seem to disconnect after tragedy. Please don’t let that frustrate you. It won’t always be so. Perhaps we were created this way for our very survival.

In time . . . lots and lots of time . . . you will begin to breathe easier and even feel less anxious or less other negative feelings. In time grief will lessen in its intensity. There will be days when you feel more like someone you once knew, and then the next day you crash and cry buckets until you are bone dry again. It’s okay. Do not fear. You aren’t going backwards. You are working through the grief. It is slow going and cannot be rushed. I suspect I will be grieving until the day I draw my last breath, and I’m okay with that. I know I will miss my firstborn as long as I live. I carry the warm memories of him tucked in a place of safety, down deep in my heart.

One final note. Blame is easy. It takes the pain and rage we feel and plants it on a target: maybe it’s the boyfriend or the parent. Maybe you blame the classmates who bullied your child or you fault God. Many do. We see Him as a heavenly soda pop machine. We put in our coins, make a selection, push the button, and out pops the answer we asked for. After all we already know the answer we want, so God should dispense it, should He not? He has the power, so He should use it the way we ask, because we know best, right? After all who could possibly love our child more than we do? But please try to reject both blame and guilt, which will pummel your heart unmercifully if you allow. Both strategies zap any energy you may have. I know the struggles. I have them, too, but if we persistently reject them, we save ourselves added pain.

May I make a suggestion? Please don’t wait as long as I did to seek comfort from the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). You may not be a believer, but you may believe in a higher power. Seek comfort there. It has helped me so much. As I look back, I could have been aware of His comfort sooner after my tragedy, if I had even been aware of His constant presence. He will never leave or forsake His children (Deuteronomy 31:8).

I have come to see God differently. He has taught me so much along this grief journey. He has been right beside me every breathing moment. I just didn’t care or notice in the beginning. God is neither a puppeteer dangling us from strings, or a heavenly pop machine. He created us as beings to love and be loved, and when our first parents turned to the deceiver as their higher power, reluctantly, He had to back away. He created us with the power to make up our own minds about Him. He is a gentleman and would rather have us turn away from Him by choice, than force us to love Him by taking away our free will.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life” John 3:16 GNT.

Verse quoted from the New International Version (NIV) and Good News Translation (GNT)

 

This entry was posted on January 29, 2016. 10 Comments

Porch swing chats

 

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I have wonderful memories from my childhood, swinging on the old porch swing on soft summer evenings. Nothing is quite as lovely as a porch swing, especially those made of real wood. I didn’t even mind when the swing made creaky “music” as we gently swung back and forth.

When I was quite young, my mom would sit at one end of the swing, and I would lie down with my head in her lap. While we swung, she stroked my hair. I loved it. Usually the motions made me sleepy, which may have been her intent. I loved it then, and I would love it now. But alas, I have no porch and no swing.

If we cyber friends had the opportunity to share a swing, I imagine we would easily slide into a comfortable rhythm while talking about our lives. Maybe our conversation would get real, even sharing something heavy from the burdens we carry. This kind of exchange takes risks ~ daring to delve into one’s personal pain.  If we share with someone equally scarred by tragedy, she would understand, would she not? When the porch swing stops, and we say our goodbyes, we are perhaps changed in some way and likely we have made a new friend as well.

Switching gears now, do you remember the New Testament story about Nicodemus? Let’s bring him in from the past for a closer look. Nick desires to meet with Jesus privately. He has some questions he wants to ask the Teacher. Being a power player in the Jewish ruling council, Nick cannot risk criticism from his peers, so he arranges to meet with Jesus late one night when most folks are off the streets and behind closed doors.

Nick arranges the meeting in a grove of olive trees way off the beaten path. In my mind’s eye, I see Nick peering into the semidarkness looking for someone. He seems nervous. Perhaps he is fearful that someone else may have followed him, but Jesus is the only one who appears. The two men greet each other in the courteous manner of gentlemen in their day. They sit down on a swing. It might have seemed rather odd for a swing to be in an olive grove, but to me it would have been the perfect place to have a private conversation.

I imagine some anonymous, generous soul had secured the swing with thick ropes tied around huge branches of two olive trees. And who could have made the swing? Why not Jesus? After all He had years of carpentry experience. No doubt it was a beautiful swing, smooth to the touch and comfortable. But let’s move along with the story.

Likely Nick is a bit nervous and comments on the weather or some daily drivel, but he is eager to get to the weightier matters on his mind. He approaches his topic by mentioning to Jesus that he and his friends have been discussing the work being done among the people by Jesus and His disciples. They have concluded that He must be from God to be able to perform amazing miracles. Jesus never wastes time. He has a habit of zeroing in on what is important when He’s given the opportunity, and He did so this evening, too. Shall we listen in?

Nick went to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.”

Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

Quite puzzled, Nick quickly fired a question, “How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time!”

“I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus, “that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” asked Nicodemus.

Jesus answered, “You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this? I am telling you the truth… You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven? And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven.”

In a nutshell, Jesus covers several topics with Nick, and all of them deep. Then He spoke words that are familiar to many:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.”

Dear reader, you may be scratching your head and wondering what does this story have to do with grief? Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch, but here is where my imagination kicks in. I, too, long to meet Jesus face to face. I can picture myself wandering through the same dense olive grove where I come across the same swing, lovingly crafted so long ago, and still nestled among thick branches. Over time the trees have spread their leafy green into a group hug, hiding the swing in a tree-like sanctuary. What a nice surprise, I think to myself. I sit down and start to swing back and forth. Back and forth. A minute or two passes, and I hear footsteps. Should I be frightened and make a hasty retreat? No need. There He stands in the shadowy moonlight, smiling down at me. I invite Him to take a seat, and together we swing back and forth. Back and forth.

Neither of us speaks, but the silence between us is peaceful. Topics and questions jockey for top positions in my head. Where to begin? I so want to ask Him “the” question which has troubled me for a long time. Of course He knows my thoughts, and before I open my mouth to speak, He opens His:

“I know your grief journey is difficult for you,” Jesus speaks softly, and as He does, He casually brings His arm to rest lightly around my shoulders as if to help His words bring warmth and understanding to my heart. “It’s hard for Dad and Me, too,” He continues. “We planned for your firstborn long before you were ever born. We knew you would be the perfect mother to raise our precious child. We knew we could trust you to carry out your parental responsibilities with love and devotion and that pleased us. We knew you would love him with all your heart, for you were eager to have a family of your own.”

“It may be hard for you to understand,” Jesus pressed on, “but we already knew this sweet child’s life would be cut short. And, trust Me when I say, knowing this was heartbreaking. Should we give him life? Should we share him with parents? Should we take him out of the pages of history just because his parents will outlive him? After much agonizing discussion back and forth, Dad and I agreed. Allowing you to raise your cherished, prayed-for child was worth all that would become a part of your story.”

Heaven had agonized. The difficult decision was made. Our sweet son would be born to us, making us a family. Thankfully we did not know the future. We would only have each day which would turn into many happy years together. Heaven would love and support us every step of the way, celebrating our joys and carrying us in our sorrows. God knew that my relationship with Him would be severely tested . . . but over time and through all the trials and pain, it would grow to be richer, deeper, closer. Ultimately we would have the opportunity to be drawn into an unbreakable bond of love which will last forever.

We kept a steady rhythm on the swing as we swung in silence. Jesus has given me much to ponder, to think about . . . but still I hadn’t asked the burning question that had troubled me for years . . . actually since my firstborn died by suicide. I was conflicted and having a personal argument in my mind:

Maybe I’m the only mom who has struggled with this thought:  If my son should not get to enjoy heaven, then I don’t want to be there either.

There. I finally admitted it. It almost made me cringe to even think the words. Why was I reluctant to ask Jesus when I had Him right next to me? Was I afraid He wouldn’t answer me? Or was I afraid of what His answer might be? Even though the time didn’t seem right to ask Him, I have no secrets. He already knows what’s in my heart. I can’t hide my thoughts from Him any more than you can hide yours.

Finally Jesus breaks the silence. “It won’t be long now, you know. When you see Me next time, I will be coming in the clouds, surrounded by all the heavenly hosts of angels (1 Thes. 4:16). It will be a time of great rejoicing! Do you know why?” I smiled, took His nail-scarred hand in mine, and nodded. He smiled too. “I can’t wait to raise up ‘our’ boy and see you and your family jumping up and down in joyful embraces. I live for that moment.”

Me, too, Jesus. Me, too.

Scripture story, John 3:2-17 Good News Translation (GNT).

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Leftovers

 

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This basket of cookies look festive, scrumptious, and not at all like leftovers. My cookies never looked this good . . . but I have a year to practice.

Leftovers. I imagine you have some at your house, too, unless you have little “Pacman” munchers gobbling them up. With just the two of us, the days of cooking for mammoth mouths with hollow legs is in the past. If I make too much soup or an entrée that isn’t a hubby favorite, I’ll likely have to eat the rest of it all by myself. I can’t stand to waste food, so tossing it in the garbage is not an option. I can still faintly hear my mother’s voice, “Clean up your plate. There are hungry children in China.” If I muttered under my breath, most likely she would hear, so I’d think, then ship it to them. I know, I know, not a nice reply, and I really am grateful that she taught us girls to be frugal. As an adult, however, it really doesn’t make sense to stuff myself with holiday leftovers in December, when dieting is at the top of my resolution list come January 1st. Sigh.

As I stood washing dishes after a simple meal of cornbread and veggie omelet, a couple of distant memories pushed their way into my thoughts. The first memory was of my firstborn, who passed away some years back. He loved my leftovers. They never lasted long when he came home for a visit. He quickly gobbled them up with more enthusiasm than we could muster the first time around. Of course I made his favorites when I knew he was coming, but it always made me smile to see the pleasure he got out of eating leftovers “destined for China”.

Sometimes this kid, all grown up and on his own, would show up and surprise us. He could hardly contain his excitement when he pulled open the refrigerator with, “Watcha got to eat, Mom?” He’d look high, then low. He’d move stuff around until he spied something he hadn’t eaten since he left home. Then it was time to chow down. I love this memory, although it fills my heart with sadness, too. Perhaps you have similar memories in your memory bank.

The next memory that came to mind was of my dad. He loved cornbread. I remember watching him cut a large square, hot out of the oven. He’d slice it in half, careful to not burn his fingers, slather both pieces with butter, then drizzle them generously with honey squeezed from a bear-shaped, plastic bottle. Yum! He passed the love for cornbread down to me. We still squeeze honey from a bear. Some traditions are meant to be continued and savored.

A favorite tradition in my family has been sharing ordinary meals around the table with those I love. From years gone by, I can still hear my young children chatter as they ate their food, played with it, squabbled with each other, and somehow learned some table manners along the way. 

Now the holidays are over. Floured countertops covered with cookie dough have been scraped and scrubbed. Tins filled with holiday favorites are empty, except for that one lonely tin containing the last few cookies ~ too much to toss, too little to keep. It’s all been put away until next year. Family members have returned home safely, which hopefully include yours. As we carry the last scraps of tinsel and tissue paper outside to the trash receptacle, large snowflakes flutter from the skies. Winter white does not always show up on cue for Christmas morning. Maybe it will next year.

Now that you have cleaned up after Christmas, how well did you survive the holidays? On a scale from 1 – 10 how difficult was it? It’s tough having one’s mind centered on the present while aching for the ones who are no longer a part of our traditional family gatherings. I know how you feel. It still hurts. But better than calorie-laden leftovers, we can choose to make the most of new memories to cherish for all the holidays to come . . . in spite of our sorrow.

There is a Bible promise to carry into 2016 for the tough days ahead and it goes like this: “Laughter may hide sadness. When happiness is gone, sorrow is always there, [but] He [God] will let you laugh and shout again.” Proverbs 14:13; Job 8:21 (GNT)

 

 

This entry was posted on January 1, 2016. 4 Comments

Holiday Stuffing

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Isn’t she cute?

“He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”  Acts 14:17 NIV

We are in the hustle and bustle season again. No snow on the ground yet to slow travel to a crawl, but traffic is still bumper to bumper. “Extra” shoppers crowd the streets and the shopping aisles from Thanksgiving until after we have welcomed in the New Year. If I get stuck idling in traffic, which inevitably happens, I ask myself the same question every year, where do all these people come from? The grocery aisles are crammed and checkout lines are long, but if I need to buy groceries, the “extra” folks must get hungry, too.

Folks around here who celebrate this winter holiday probably have a to-do list to remind them that they still have gifts to purchase and wrap, plus trees to decorate with lights and ornaments, and trays of cookie dough to bake, which will fill houses with the warm aroma of ginger and cinnamon. Finally, family and friends will gather to eat, open gifts, snack on delicious remainders, and, of course, make snow angels if one is lucky enough to have freshly fallen snow. As the afternoon draws to a close, merrymakers, chilled to the bone from outdoor play, will sip hot chocolate between bites of soft gingerbread cookies. There are bound to be a few sugar-coma-induced naps, most likely for those with less pep in their step.

Your version may vary slightly or a lot. Mine exists mostly in my memory. I experience sadness every year around this time since losing my firstborn to suicide. I have family who visit, and I love them dearly, but there is one forever missing from our family gatherings going forward. He is still much loved and remembered. If you follow my blog, you know that we often talk about loss and all the many “someones” we love and miss. It’s just not the same without them with us at holidays.

Holidays are supposed to be filled with the pleasure of sharing good food, love, and laughter. Many of us will come from all directions to spend time together. We share favorite foods and stuff ourselves. We enfold those we love as they arrive, and hug the stuffing out of them. When the holiday time is over, we return home stuffed with memories to treasure and savor until the next special gathering.

My mind quite naturally goes to a memory where the word “stuffing” is a verb. With your indulgence let’s segue to a warm month so I can share a memory that takes me back to the days when my children were young explorers, and summer vacations were filled to the brim with activities. Since my husband and I are in the sunset years of our lives, we find ourselves pulling out these old memories to enjoy again and again.

One particular summer Grandpa had joined us, and we were spending our vacation in Yellowstone National Park having a grand time. Off the beaten path we stopped to watch a chipmunk diligently doing her business. Shhhh, kids. Be careful not to scare her. Excited children aren’t naturally quiet, but Ms. Chipmunk was too focused on what she was doing to be chased from her territory.

Then we got an idea. We had some crackers in the car. Let’s feed her! Certainly she’d like the crackers we packed to snack on as much as we did, so out came the tasty wheat squares. We tossed one in her direction and waited. She darted here and there and then got a whiff . . . food . . . and without having to work for it. Nice! Now began the fun watching her stuff her face. Ms. Chipmunk quickly discovered that putting a square cracker in her round pouch was not as easy as it looked. With her tiny paws she worked it round and round, as if trying to smooth off the edges to make a way for it to go in. Finally, in it went, and she scampered off with her treasure. She must have dumped her booty somewhere nearby because we didn’t have to wait long until she was back for more. Again and again we tossed a cracker to her and watched her maneuver it just right so she could haul it away in her “purse”.

What fun we had feeding and watching Ms. Chipmunk stuff herself for future meals. What fun we have had over the years gathering for holidays, making memories, catching up with each other’s lives, laughing and playing, and yes, stuffing our faces. Not unlike Ms. Chipmunk, we’ll likely do it again this year. Although it hurts to celebrate without all of our children present, they will always be in our family circle of love.

In spite of our losses, we still have blessing to count, do we not? An added bonus for believers is that we are grateful anew for the Christ child.

“May the Lord himself, who is our source of peace, give you peace at all times and in every way.” 2 Thessalonians 3:16 GNT

NIV = New International Version; GNT = Good NEWS Translation

 

 

This entry was posted on December 18, 2015. 2 Comments

Bake It Forward

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Holidays will forever be bittersweet at our house. If this holiday season is the first since your precious loss, I am so sorry for your added pain.

I remember facing that first Christmas after the loss of my firstborn. I dreaded it going in, and was grateful when it was over, finally to have tunes on the radio other than the familiar seasonal ones. So it will pass again this year, but maybe, just maybe, there will be some special memories to linger after the holidays are over.

Here’s a thought: if you are looking for a way to keep yourself occupied this season, and you enjoy baking, why not “bake it forward”? (I will explain in a moment.) Sometimes the tantalizing aromas of sugar, butter, and spices mingling in the oven can be as soothing to the soul as they are to the tummy.

One of my Christmas traditions has always been to bake a variety of cookies. I send large tins to work with my husband, and take containers piled high with sweet treats to my neighbors. I won’t admit that my cookie receivers are “guinea pigs”, but I will admit that I love trying new recipes along with the old tried and true. I have loved the excuse to look through my assortment of cookbooks. The holiday season usually finds me studying the colorful cookie photos from my many cookbooks, which are stacked high in an already bulging cupboard.

As much as I look at cookie and other festive recipes, I don’t love the holidays like I did years ago. The old traditions aren’t fun anymore. I so miss my firstborn who loved food. He would be the first to sample hot cookies right off the baking sheet or stick his finger in something being prepared, moaning that he was going to starve before the meal was ready. I would shoo him away, smiling to myself . . . his larger than life presence is greatly missed. I miss his feet under my kitchen table. You feel the same?

I know how hard it is to keep up with holiday traditions year after year. The first Christmas after my firstborn’s death came four months later. I think I was still numb, because I set about . . . probably on autopilot . . . baking up a storm like I had done every other year. I guess I didn’t want to disappoint friends, neighbors, and the guys in my husband’s shop who had come to expect a tin of homemade treats to add a little joy to their holiday spirit. Granted, I did start baking early, even before Thanksgiving, stashing the cookies in the freezer. I suppose that was my way of getting the baking out of the way before the radio began playing holiday music that would bring on the tears.

The next year found me dreading the whole baking thing. Why bother were the words going round and round in my head. But my family loved the old traditions, so out came the flour, butter, sugar, and all the other essentials for baking batch after batch of fragrant, mouth-watering goodies.

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If cookie baking is your thing and you are looking for a way to stay focused on other things, here’s an idea I heard advertised on the cable cooking channel. The idea is not new, and variations abound if you google, but HGTV calls it “bake it forward”. Here’s the gist of it:

  • Food Network is promoting Bake it Forward to help end child hunger by teaming up with No Kid Hungry
  • When #BakeItForward is used on Twitter, Food Network will donate to fight child hunger
  • Simply bake your favorite treat – share it on social media with the hashtag “#BakeItForward” and Food Network will do the rest
  • Food Network has set a goal of providing 1,000,000 meals to children in need
  • Promotion runs 11/1/15 through 12/31/15

Even if you are focused on your pain and operating on auto pilot this holiday season, try to remember the important things like: the delight in a eyes of those you love, happy children with smiling faces and sticky fingers, the expression of utter bliss on the face of a teenager biting into his favorite cookie, a hug from behind when your apron is well dusted with flour, or your favorite carols sung in soft candlelight. Whatever your favorite traditions, they are precious gifts in no need of wrapping. Mark them in your mind for later remembering.

~ Life is made up of moments of time, never to be repeated. Your memories will help to carry you through hard times of healing. ~

“Don’t hold back—give freely, and you’ll have plenty poured back into your lap—a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, brimming over. You’ll receive in the same measure you give.” Luke 6:38 VOICE

 

 

 

This entry was posted on December 4, 2015. 4 Comments

A song for my heart

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“Sing hymns and psalms to the Lord with praise in your hearts.” Ephesians 5:19 GNT

I was in the throes of deep grief, having lost my firstborn son to suicide just a few months before. Fall colors were in full swing. Everyone but me, it seemed, was eagerly anticipating family gatherings for Thanksgiving. How could any holiday be a reason to celebrate ever again? I could not yet accept the reality that one chair would always be empty.

I wasn’t the only one on a grief journey. My husband lost his son. My “baby” lost his older brother. Extended family lost a nephew and grandson. I was slowly learning that we cannot combine our grief. We each have a unique loss and must walk our grief journey in the solitude of the heart.

It was a break from the heaviness of grief when my youngest came from the deep South to spend a weekend with us. We were delighted. It was good see him. He had just relocated before his brother died, and hadn’t started his new job when he got the tragic news. When he returned home to begin his job, we knew he would have to “hit the ground running,” since he was already behind schedule before his first day. We were eager to find out how he liked his new position and the new life he was carving out for himself.

Being a weekend, we went to church as is our custom. My son came with us. It warmed my heart to look down the pew at his face smiling back at me. Never mind the flip flops, so commonly worn year around in his beach-y state, and so different from the sturdy shoes we wear up North as summer gives way to fall. Seeing flip flops on his feet made me smile.

It seemed rather strange behavior when our son pointed to his dad’s shoe, and mimed his desire for his dad to remove his shoe and pass it down to him. Dad complied. Son tried on the shoe, checked the fit, then took it off and handed it back. Was this a new ritual he had picked up down South? It was odd behavior, but we were in church. I could satisfy my curiosity with a question about it later.

When it was time for special music, I was curious as to why my son stood up, walked to the end of the pew, and strode up front in his flip flops. What was happening? When he took the microphone and background music began to play, it all became clear why he had driven all those miles. My son had traveled such a long way to see us and gift his mother with a special song, sung just for me.

I don’t even remember the name of the song he sang. I was caught between choking back sobs and smiling from ear to ear. My son, without many words about losing his brother, was singing his heart out to God and to me. He was undoubtedly pouring out his love for us, as well as his love for his brother and the pain of losing him.

I pause while writing this post to say that words can be frustratingly inadequate. I’ve never felt it more than I do right now. How can I express my deep love and appreciation for my son who chose to gift me with a song? Sung from deep within his heart, he gave me joy and soothed the ever-present sorrow. Through my tears, I felt his love, and I know I will cherish this special memory for the rest of my life. When it comes to mind that he rarely speaks of his brother, I will remember how he expressed his emotions so beautifully so soon after our tragic loss.

We all miss our son and brother terribly, and we look forward to seeing him again. This time he will be all brand new; we all will be brand new. On that day, we will lift up our voices and sing with thankful, joy-filled hearts to God. What a grand reunion!

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”  Psalm 63:7 NIV

PS – Perhaps I should explain the shoe test, in case you are still wondering. My son was nicely dressed . . . from ankles up. Sitting in the pew looking at his feet, probably reminded him, “Oh, I forgot to pack dress shoes.” His dad has smaller feet, but apparently he thought it was worth a try. Watching him “flip flop” up the aisle, probably to the amusement of others, makes the memory all the sweeter.

 

 

This entry was posted on November 20, 2015. 2 Comments

Falling leaves . . . Falling tears

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Where I live, we have distinct seasons four times a year. The fall season is one of my favorites. The trees begin to change their wardrobe from summer greens to yellows, oranges, and all the lovely shades of red. Add in bright sunshine and clear blue skies ~ what’s not to love? Even though winter is waiting in the wings, the crisp freshness of Indian summer makes it seem far away. All too soon the bright colors will fade and the leaves will begin to fall . . . which reminds me of our falling tears.

With each autumn season for the past ten years my mind quite naturally goes to a place of sadness. I long for my firstborn, who no longer sees the beauty around us. He loved all the seasons with the exception of falling leaves and here’s why.

The first autumn in our current home found our boys helping their dad rake leaves to either burn or add to the compost pile. Our large back yard was full of towering maples which meant lots of cleanup. During this aching raking workout one of the boys piped up, “Hey, Dad, we’re going to cut down all the trees before next fall, aren’t we?” This question still brings a smile to my face. Back in those days we had two boys at home and both had bright futures, or so we thought. Little did we know that we would outlive our firstborn. He died by suicide sixteen years later.

That first fall after my son had died, I longed to talk with him. My logical mind knew he could not receive mail, but I wrote a letter to him anyway. Whenever my heart was overflowing with yearning, I wrote him a letter. Recently I came across a large envelope. Curious what I could have stored in there, I reached in and pulled out a sheaf of papers. There was my collection of letters that I had written to my son for a year following his death.

The first letter was written during Indian summer ten years ago. It verifies that I have not changed. I still miss him with each beautiful October that passes, and, of course, every other month as well. No doubt you, too, remember special times that foster fond memories. (If it is yet too soon for you to remember good times, don’t be disheartened. They will come. It seems like the mind is totally focused on the bad memories for a time.)

I don’t know if you write letters to your loved one.  I never could have imagined that I would be sharing my private thoughts with my readers, but it seems quite natural to do so, since I have been blogging for several years now. As I picked up my first letter and read it again, it seemed timely to share a portion of it with you. If nothing else, perhaps it will inspire you to write letters of your own. It’s not a useless activity. It’s one of the things we can do to help our healing.

My Dearest Son,

It’s Monday and the coldest day we have had this fall. You are missing the beautiful changes in color brought on by cooler temperatures. The leaves are quickly losing their grip on the branches and swirling in the wind. Your brother has moved south and away from the seasonal changes you both have known all your lives. He will miss snow this winter unless he makes a trip home.

I find myself longing for you. Today we received another memorial gift in your memory. This one is from the school where you received your degree. They remembered you fondly and wanted to honor your memory. So many people loved you and miss you. If only you could have felt that love while you were living. If only . . .

We love you so much, Son. We hurt that all we have left of you are memories. We know we live on borrowed time. None of us knows how many days we have on this earth, but we never expected you to decide to stop living. How could you do that because of a GF, and one who did not appreciate you for the wonderful person you were? I cannot hold anything against her. I cannot have anger towards her eating at me. Whatever part she played in your death, she will undoubtedly suffer with your memory the rest of her life. She was definitely not worth dying for. Maybe you just couldn’t face being lonely again.

We don’t know what you were thinking. How I wish I understood. I know it will all be made plain one day when Jesus returns. As these hope-filled verses say, “On that day, with a command that thunders into the world, with a voice of a chief heavenly messenger, and with a blast of God’s trumpet, the Lord Himself will descend from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 4:16 VOICE), and when He comes, your precious face is the first one I want to see.  Then all the reasons why you died will seem unimportant. See you soon, my sweet Son.

Love, Mom

For now, dear reader, your tears and mine fall . . . like the autumn leaves. Until Jesus returns, there will be seasons, but each day, each season that passes, we live in the hope of seeing our sons and daughters again, and very soon.

“The Sovereign Lord will destroy death forever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The Lord himself has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8 GNT

 

 

 

This entry was posted on November 6, 2015. 2 Comments

Heaven on a pit

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 GW  

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I look forward to each and every summer. I love the luscious fruits produced in abundance: peaches, plums, grapes, and watermelon, but sweet cherries are my absolute favorite. I love the deep red “Bing” cherries, and I buy pound after pound in the peak of their season. I also love the yellow-skinned, rosy blushed, “Queen” Rainier cherries. In spite of them being pricey, I still buy a pound or two each summer. To me they taste like “heaven on a pit”.

Speaking of heaven, I imagine some readers believe there is one and some don’t. Some may believe their loved ones are already there enjoying all that heaven has to offer, while others believe they aren’t there yet. Those of you who believe heaven exists, do you ever wonder what it’s like? I’ve heard tell that we will sit on fluffy clouds and strum harps. To me that would get boring after a while. Considering the Bible says there will be no night there, that’s a lot of daylight strumming a harp (Revelation 21:25). I’d rather learn to play a pipe organ in heaven. It’s always been my dream.

I’m always thinking about food, so I would be really disappointed if we were just wispy spirit forms and didn’t need food. But thankfully the Bible says we will have bodies, we will recognize each other, and we will get to eat! Certainly heaven’s food will be much better than anything we have ever tasted, don’t you think? What about size? Do you suppose the size of Earth’s fruits is puny compared to those in heaven? What if one sweet cherry were as big as a peach! What if apples were as big as cantaloupes! We will have lots of variety, for we are told there will be a different fruit every month. Let’s read the verse that explains it:

“On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2 GNT). It’s hard to imagine this one tree will produce a different fruit each month of the year. It has to be a behemoth for its roots to be grounded on each side of the river of life.

The largest trees we have for comparison are: “The mighty tree in Santa Maria del Tule, which has a circumference of over 160 feet at its base, and is between 2000 and 3000 years old, making it one of the oldest living things on earth.” (delange.org) Another giant tree is the mighty General Sherman in Sequoia National Park, which “stands 275 feet (84 meters) tall, has a 102-foot (31 meters) circumference, and weighs an incredible 2.7 million pounds (1.2 million kilograms).” (livescience.com)

Besides the tree of life, what else do we know about heaven? There are a surprising number of verses that provide some details about heaven. It’s not a place of mystery or a fairy land. In fact, God holds the master key, the Bible, which unlocks secrets ~ things we might assume we can’t know until we get there. But why wait? Let’s take note of some details, and see for ourselves what is in store. It’s exciting, so let’s get going!

Q     What are some things we have on earth that we won’t have in heaven?

A    No violence (Isaiah 65:17, 18). Animals will live in harmony (Isaiah 11:6).  No more disease (Isaiah 33:24).  No more blindness or deafness (Isaiah 35:5, 6). “Babies will no longer die in infancy, and all people will live out their life span. Those who live to be a hundred will be considered young” (Isaiah 65:20 GNT).

Q     Where will we live?

A    Jesus is building mansions for us in His Father’s house (John 14: 1-3). We will build another home and plant vineyards, enjoying their fruit (Isaiah 65:21). It sounds like we will have both a city home and a country home. From what I read, we will be creating for our own pleasure.   

Q     What will the New Jerusalem be like?

A     Surrounding the city will be high walls, 66 meters or 144 cubits (Revelation 21:17) with 12 gates of solid pearl (Revelation 21:21, 12). There will be streets of pure translucent gold (Revelation 21:18, 21). The city has 12 layered foundations with jewels everywhere (Rev 21:14-19).

Q     How big will the city be?

A    The city’s foundation is 12,000 furlongs or about 375 miles on each side (Revelation 21:16). The city can easily house two billion people. In comparison Tokyo has 35 million and New York has 20 million. “A metropolis of this size in the middle of the United States would stretch from Canada to Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the California border. The New Jerusalem is all the square footage anyone could ask for. If the city consisted of different levels (we don’t know this), and if each story were a generous twelve feet high, the city could have over 600,000 stories. If they were on different levels, billions of people could occupy the New Jerusalem, with many square miles per person.” (epm.org)  

Q   What are the sources of water and light?  

A     There will be lakes and rivers, but no sea (Revelation 21:1). A river will flow from God’s throne (Revelation 21:1-2). There will be no night in heaven. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23 NIV).    

Q    What might possibly be the most wondrous change ever?

A     “I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.’ The Enthroned continued, ‘Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate'” (Revelation 21:3-5 MSG). 

When you add up all the facts, does it make you long for heaven? Me, too!

There are those of us who mourn for a beloved child or other loved ones and long to see them again. I picture my son radiant with joy, all sadness is forever gone. As we clasp each other in a bear hug, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Heaven has come at last. The darkness of earth is forever gone. Nothing remains to mar our perfect happiness from here on. Eternal bliss . . . served with a cherry on top!

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Splashes of Blessings

~ Take the plunge into God’s sea of blessings ~

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I’ve been putting it off and putting it off. Finally I gave in. It was time to pull on my swimsuit (ugh), and head to the local YMCA for some warm water aerobics. Some of you may think this does not qualify as “real” exercise, but when the body has been allowed to “go to seed” one has to start somewhere, right? Besides I was in the good company of “Silver Foxy” ladies and felt right at home.

Most of the exercisers have been coming to the YMCA for years, and knew which exercise was coming next. Instead of listening to the instructor, they were chitchatting away in little groups. Me? I had to strain to hear instructions, for I was born with two right hands and two left feet which have minds of their own and insist on going in all directions. But I am there to corral them, and they will learn.

The little lady, in a bright purple swimsuit, standing near me in the pool, said that she comes twice a week to get limbered up. If she doesn’t come, her body stiffens up, keeping her in bondage to old age (my words, not hers). Doing exercises in warm water gives her freedom to keep moving. I admire her spunk and motivation. I should take lessons from her.

Then there’s a lady who lives in a wheelchair because of her disability. The chair is her constant companion which propels her from room to room, but she never has the opportunity to get her circulation moving from head to toe. The only time she feels her body is more friend than a foe, is when she’s in the pool. Buoyed by the water, she swims lap after lap. Her hands splash in the water and move her along. For those minutes, she is free. The onlookers cheer her on ~ what a nice bonus!

So where do I fit in? Their hair may be whiter than mine. I may be more out of shape than most of them, so I need to join them and stick it out as long as they have to improve my health. Is there any other benefit? Surprisingly, yes. On my way to the YMCA, I drive by the cemetery where my son is buried. I have to keep a firm hand on the wheel, or I will automatically turn in. All the emotions of loss and coping come rushing over me. And the negative thoughts begin to churn in my head: Why do you need exercise? Why not just skip it? Nobody will know or miss you, so why bother?

But I keep going. I park my car, walk in, and step down into the pool. Ahhh. Wet, warm comfort envelops me. Yes, I move my body parts against the water’s resistance in an attempt to stave off the “flab” of gravity under the scowling face of Father Time. But something else happens. I receive an unexpected blessing ~ my spirits get bathed, too. I did not anticipate this to happen. No one there will ever suspect that I am a lifetime griever. The flab they can see; nowhere can it hide. But no one can see the invisible scars on my heart.

Now I look forward to being soothed and embraced by splashes of warm water, which will eventually bring better health to my body. It will also bring a brief respite from emotional pain in my mind and heart. Perhaps there are readers who will consider trying this, too. Blessings can be found in the most unexpected places.

I watched a lady on crutches after surgery (many surgeries, so said some ladies) find her freedom. She dove in the water head first, getting wet from head to toe, and coming up to gulp sweet air. A smile broke across her face. For a few minutes she was free. No need for crutches and no fear of putting weight on the injured knee.

That’s me, Lord. I don’t dive, but I want to plunge into your sea of blessings, and come up drenched and grateful to be alive. May Your sweet blessings cling to my spirit, allowing just a bit more healing today than yesterday. Descend on me Your gentle rain, soft like the dew on blades of grass. And Lord, please bless every reader who grieves. I know very few names, but You know them all. Splash over them, drenching them in Your comfort and peace. Thank You, amen.

“Let my teachings come down like raindrops. Let my words drip like dew, like gentle rain on grass, like showers on green plants.”  Deuteronomy 32:2 GW

 

This entry was posted on October 9, 2015. 4 Comments

Bible Moms: Rock-a-bye Baby Moses

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Nile River

When I was a child, I loved to play “let’s pretend” with my older sister or with my friends. Did you? Now a grownup, I have outgrown childish games, but I find that writing with a healthy dose of pretending or imagination brings words to life, particularly ancient words.

Jochebed is an ancient name found in the Old Testament. For a moment, let’s pretend Jochebed has joined a grief support group. She is seeking kinship among other mothers who know loss. Jochebed knows loss, too, but hers is different from theirs. She has just weaned her child . . . and given him away. Let’s join the group and listen as she shares her story.

Hello. My name is Jochebed. I’m a mom like you. I have suffered, too, over the loss of my child. However my loss is different from yours. My son has not died from suicide or other causes. Hopefully he has not died at all. Perhaps it will help you to understand if I tell you what happened.

I became pregnant with my little boy, Tov, at a most horrific time in my life. I am Hebrew. My people are slaves to the Egyptian people. They work us hard and beat us if they think we aren’t doing our jobs fast enough. In spite of our circumstances God is blessing my people, and we are multiplying greatly. It seems the size of our families worries the Egyptian Pharaoh, so he ordered all male babies to be killed during birth. Midwives defied the law and let baby boys live. This so enraged the Pharaoh that he ordered all newborn baby boys be cast into the Nile River! Being pregnant I was beside myself with worry. None of us wanted to lose our babies. Many of my friends were already in mourning because of this heinous law, and babies will continue to die as long as this law is enforced.

Then little Tov was born. He was such a beautiful baby . . . how could I give him up? Few Hebrew women knew of my pregnancy, and they would not tell. I decided to try to keep my baby hidden from sight, hoping he wouldn’t be heard. I met his needs quickly to keep him comfortable and quiet. My plan worked for three months, but then he became too noisy to keep hidden any longer. He was a big baby with a loud and lusty cry. I lived in constant fear some Egyptian would hear him and report us.

But God gave me an idea. I would put him into the Nile River, just in a different way. I made a basket out of papyrus and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. When it was dry, I added a blanket for padding and nursed my sweet baby one last time. My husband, 7-year-old daughter Miriam, and 4-year-old son Aaron took turns holding him and loving on him. We closed the lid, and in the early dawn I set our little water baby among the tall reeds at water’s edge. Miriam, who was assigned the task of keeping watch, hid among the reeds nearby.

What a dark day that was. Would we ever see our precious bundle again? Would he die of starvation or be eaten by wild animals? I shuddered to think something horrible would happen to my baby, but I couldn’t allow him to be thrown into the Nile as Pharaoh had ordered. I would just have to trust in Jehovah, my God.

Miriam watched the basket as it rocked gently on the little ripples near the riverbank. Tov loved to rock, so he remained quiet . . . for the moment.  Miriam hadn’t been at her post long when she saw Pharaoh’s daughter, with her servants, approaching the riverbank to bathe. As the princess walked along the bank, she spied the basket. Curious, she called for one of her servants to retrieve it for her.

They could hear a baby whimpering as they drew near, and when they opened the lid, Tov let out a wail. “Oh, this must be a Hebrew baby,” she said, her heart melting at the sight of such a beautiful baby. Instantly Miriam sprang into action. She approached Pharaoh’s daughter and asked, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” (Exodus 2:7). The princess agreed, and Miriam took off running to get me.

When Miriam burst through the door with her news, can you imagine my relief? Hurriedly Miriam led the way to the riverbank where the princess was holding my baby in her arms.

Pharaoh’s daughter said to me, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So I took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, I returned him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2:9-10, paraphrased).

Now you know how my baby got his name changed to “Moses”. I was so overjoyed to have him in my arms again that I tried not to think about what lay ahead. I knew he would be given an Egyptian name, but I chose to focus on the present. I was happy that I could nurse him, and openly love him, and he would be a part of our family for a little while longer. The most I could hope for was maybe three more years. It would have to be enough. We tried not to spoil Moses, or treat him better than our other children, but it was hard not to. Every day I sang to him, and told him stories about God. How much would he remember? After years in the palace in Egypt, would he even know he wasn’t born an Egyptian? So many thoughts made my heart ache.

Then came that awful day. I had been dreading it as you can imagine. My husband and older children had bonded with Tov, too, so we were all sad to hand him over as promised. He would grow up Egyptian. Later we heard what his new name was, so foreign among my people. He now was one of them.

That’s my story. I weep every day for my child. I can’t see him. I never hear how he is doing. There are so many unknowns: Does the princess take good care of him? Is he accepted along with the other palace children, who were born Egyptian and not Hebrew? Will God keep His eye on my child, who will be brought up to believe in heathen gods? My heart is heavy with grief.

Now I must move forward without my son. I have other children who need me. And we are still enslaved to those who have my son, but I can’t pretend I never gave birth to him. This is why I joined your group. I pray you will accept me, even if my story differs greatly from yours. I want to hear your stories, too. I cannot fathom the depth of your pain from loss. I ache for my child, but I believe he is alive. I am so sad that your children are not. I hope that as we share our stories together, we will all be comforted.

Sidebar:

Moses did live and he did reach out to his Hebrew family when he grew up.  As a man Moses heard God calling him to play a mighty role in rescuing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The story of Moses continues . . .

“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians. So now, go. I am sending you [Moses] to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelite’s out of Egypt.’” Exodus 3:7-8, 10 NIV

Baby Moses’s story found in Exodus 2, New International Version (NIV)

 

 

 

This entry was posted on September 25, 2015. 2 Comments