Archive | January 2016

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)

 

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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