Walking comfortably in discomfort

It’s approaching two years since Jacob died. He would have been 24 on March 3rd but he left this life March 26th 2014 at 22 and he will forever be 22 in my heart.

I have sensed a new phase of my grief that I doubt I can communicated in words for others to fully grasp. I have arrived at a point of accepting my new reality of life without Jacob. Perhaps it’s like breaking in a new pair of stiff leather shoes. The longer you wear them the fewer blisters and discomforts you endure. The thing about these new shoes is they are permanent, these clogs are for keeps. I keep walking this rocky road with these now broken in shoes but pebbles keep finding their way inside to irritate the “soul” of my feet. It takes time to work out the painful intruder, I stop, I empty my shoe of its unwelcome guest. Slipping it back on I walk forward until the time comes to repeat the process again.

It’s taken two years to break in these boots. It’s an odd feeling I have, it’s comfortable but the comfort strangely troubles my heart. Everything in me once resisted the notion that he is gone forever yet now being settled with the reality is somewhat unsettling in itself as well.

March is going to bring some bitter sweet days. I am confident that my shoes will have to come off to remove a rock or at the very least tie the laces so I don’t fall on my face. This is my life now, I am comfortably uncomfortable in my grief journey.

My walking shoes are only part of what people see in my overall attire. People might see me shed a tear when I have an irritation in my walk. Most people know nothing about my shoes and wouldn’t notice them at all without the limp they create as I walk. It’s OK that they don’t notice and it’s OK when they do as well.

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Jacob’s boots

 

These shoes only make up a portion of what I wear every day. Grief is my everyday companion but I never want grief to overtake my identity, anymore than a pair of shoes would represent my complete attire. It should not, it cannot, it must not! Though there are times I get overwhelmed with sorrow I refuse to allow grief be how people identify me. People must see that I am wearing other items that look much better than these leather boots. Beautiful things like, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22) I hope these are noticed more than anything else  when people speak of my character.

Yes, I have been broken and I wear a new pair of shoes that get issued to a select few in this life. I walk my path, I stop to empty out the pebbles that irritate my soul. And there you are, my friend, standing with me in this road and you always stop when I stop. You always bring me comfort and support so I don’t collapse as I attempt to put these shoes back on my feet.

The feet of my friend are badly scarred by his journey as well. He has told me of how the scars came about and of all the bad things he endured which actually have a wonderful and beautiful ending.

I’m ready to walk again now, my friend has his staff in hand and says to my heart. “Come, follow me for I know this road. I have walked it before and I know it ends at a city of peace and rest.” And then I remembered the heavenly city and recalled this verse to my memory. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news and happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to  Zion, Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7) 

I looked my friend in the face again today. I smiled with a tear in my eye and said, “Thank you Jesus for walking a mile my shoes.” He gave me a nod, returned a smile and a wink and said- lets be on our way my friend, we still have a ways to go.”

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Resting in peace and resting in grace

I began this blog at the encouragement of a good friend. I recently passed the one year mark of blogging my experience through the eyes of faith. It has been my desire to show how the bible, Jesus, and my experiences are working together for healing and the greater good in my life. I also desire that others have found hope and a measure of comfort in their sorrows. Not because of me, or my experience or even because of what I write but in the God who heals the brokenhearted.

“Now may the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

I have not written, nor will not write just for the sake of writing. I feel it’s important to only write out of my experience and not to waste words on things that have not helped my faith. My hope is that my story of faith will encourage others in similar life experiences. I suppose writing ministers to me but I mostly hope that it will minister to someone else.

In this journey with grief I have tried to capture in words my experiences and feelings as they connect to Jesus and my faith in him. In the infancy of my grief experience it was all new and there was much to learn about therefore writing came easy. Again, I never want to write just to write so I have just learned to be patient and wait. In the waiting room I am living life and life brings me new experiences. I take those experiences and pour them through the filter of the bible and I come to understand the truth. My experience is not the truth, it is subjective and is not always trustworthy. Right now my life is quite uneventful, I am resting in peace and for that I am glad because December was rough.

Lately I feel like the ink well is drying up and have considered ending the blog. That is good in many ways because it tells me that I am healing and grief is not the dominate emotion and experience for me as it once was. However, reality tells me that grief will follow me all the days of my life. Therefore the blog will likely never end. I love my son, I think of him daily and I have accepted that grief is as permanant as a birth mark.

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I have an ugly life partner named grief and it’s certain that our romance will not be over until death do us part. She sleeps at the moment but I know that she still lives and will awaken my heart to the pain once again. I am thankful for the times she rests because in those times I also find rest from her nagging voice.

I have such a short memory. I struggled during the holidays and I feel I am doing OK at the moment and I forget that there is more to come. I  remind myself that March is coming and Jake’s birthday and a death day are on the horizon. I have a hunch that my sleeping companion will be awakened soon. I have a hunch that the inkwell will be refilled and the stylus will be taken in my hand to communicate the words buried within me. There will be new experiences, there is more for Jesus to teach me, the story has really just begun and future pages will reveal the wisdom I have gleaned from him.

Life is full of unrest, like a bird seeking her nest we flutter through life wanting to rest in peace. We lite here and we lite there but we never find peace, rest eludes us as we grow more and more weary of the flight. We need only to go home to the only sanctuary of true rest in this life. Jesus beacons us home to the safety and warmth found under his wings. We seek places that offer peace but discover they can never provide the rest we seek. Is it possible to rest in peace before we are laid to rest, if so, how is that possible?

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First we need to understand that there can never be peace without the presence of righteousness. They are two peas in the same pod. “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)

Second, we all fall way short of perfect righteousness so we can never find perfect peace within ourselves. Actually, peace is accomplished by a historical event “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of Christ in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:4-5) Jesus  takes our sin and punishment and we receive by grace his righteousness by faith in him. By faith in Jesus I received “A peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:17) when I believed in the righteousness of Jesus and chucked my own. “For he himself is our peace! (Ephesians 2:14)

Grace is a difficult pill to swallow for many people, but without grace we could never rest in peace. Jesus said that there is only one who is good, that is God. That excludes all of mankind from the equation, this is why we need mercy and grace. This is why Paul would begin his letters by saying, “Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace always comes first and peace follows behind. Peace is a work of God accomplished through grace which is only received by faith.

Its offensive to most people to consider the fact that we are totally bad and no part good apart from the righteousness that God provides in his Son. Pride says I’m not so bad but God says your not good at all. But for those who humble themselves and trust in grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone peace is the result of his gift of righteousness. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy..” (Titus 3:4-5a)

I am resting in peace, I am resting in grace. I trust what he did that I could never do for myself and the result is rest for my weary soul. The Price of Peace offers grace, mercy and peace to you in the same way, receive it freely by faith. He says to you and I, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart…

…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”-Jesus

 

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Rest in peace son

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The truth about being truly happy

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, happy birthday, happy holidays, happy this happy that. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Life doesn’t miraculously become happy by simply attaching the word happy to every occasion or holiday. If it were that simple I would attach happy to every day of the year. You and I live in the real world and we know that life is partly cloudy with occasional peeks at the sunshine.

There are seasons of sadness and seasons of joy that turn as often as trees in their seasons. The Byrd’s were right when they put the bible to song in the classic hit turn, turn, turn. A time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:4) It’s coming up on 2 years since my son died and I am still sad on a daily basis but I am not without joy. I know the pathway to happiness in this life and at its end is paradise!TheByrdsTurnTurnTurnAlternate

Is their a truly contented person who is completely happy with their life? I want to be real with you for a moment. I have a continual sadness in my heart because of the 4 deaths that spanned 12 months in my family. I hope that 2016 brings more happiness to me and those I love most in this world. Can the sadness be overcome? Is  discovering happiness just a matter of mind over difficult matters and thinking my way into bliss or nirvana? No, I am afraid it doesn’t work that way and there is more to it than that.

Ask a thousand people what would make them truly happy and I suppose you would get a thousand different responses. I want to be happy and to turn away from this season of sadness- but how? A wise president once said, “Most folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Was Lincoln right? I want to be happy. If his statement is true then my sadness in life is a failure on my part to be determined enough to be happy. This too falls short of what is needed to be happy.

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Thomas Jefferson said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In all our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness have we ever obtained the happiness we pursue? If happiness is the feeling of pleasure and contentment then we must be honest and say that happiness at best is a vain and fleeting pursuit. It’s not jut an issue of our mindset, there must be more.

Bobby Mcferrin became famous with his catchy tune, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I agree with Bobby. Putting away worry and troubles is a good practice but it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. At best, if we are free of worry we are at peace for the moment but is the absence of anxiety happiness? What if you had everything and not a care in the world, would this bring lasting happiness or just momentary pleasure?

King Solomon had and used every resource available to chase pleasure, he had wine, women and song, pleasures without barriers and found no happiness in it. “I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2) He discovered that the pursuit of  pleasure does not end with happiness but at emptiness. Isn’t that the way the world approaches life much of the time? We seek happiness in relationships, family, educational pursuits, jobs, careers, pleasure, gathering stuff, experiencing life and yet we are discontent, disappointed, and unhappy with all our pursuits of happiness and left empty and grasping for a phantom named Mr. Happy. 0f57928c01fdf9cdcb1c785bb82d6e9f

I have a confession to make; I puke a little in the mouth at the sound of Joel Osteen. I sure like his pretty teeth and his hollywood smile however. Is the blessed and happy life just a matter of name it and claim it positive confession which he preaches? No,  It is nothing more than a game which sells lots of books and merchandise which is surely providing Joel his best life now at the expense of people who want happiness in a bad way. It doesn’t go far enough either.images-4

Wasn’t Jesus born into poverty and hated, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief? Didn’t he promise his followers troubles and persecution and pain just as he suffered? Yet Jesus possessed joy, and his joy is provided to believers in our pain, grief, death and sorrow.

The Lord looked past his cross to the joy of returning home to his Father in heaven. King David foretold of his post resurrection joy in Psalm 16:11. “You made known to me the pathway of life; in your presence there is fulness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forever-more.” Hope is a wonderful thing. Hope gives me joy, and someday my joy will be full in the presence of God with my loved ones who have preceded me. True happiness in this life is only a glimpse into the overflowing happiness the Christian will possess in our eternal home.

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Where is happiness found?

Happiness begins in the mind just as we have been saying. The key that opens the doorway to happiness, even in our sadness, is found in the words of Jesus. He said the blessed and happy people think this way. They are poor in spirit, humble, and mourning over sin. Happy people are meek, and those who seek after righteousness. Happiness is for the merciful and those who are pure in heart. Happy people are peacemakers and those who suffer for the name of Jesus. (Matthew 5)

Happiness is found in these beatitudes but to understand this does not go far enough. Jesus teaches us that the pathway to happiness is to kill every self-serving and prideful thought with humble servitude as a slave to God. Jesus washed the disciples feet on the night before he was to be crucified and listen to his advice about finding true happiness. “For I have given you an example, to do as I have just done unto you. Truly, truly, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed (happy) are you if you do them.” (John 13:15-17) What I know and how I think doesn’t go far enough to give me happiness. True happiness is found in humble self denial and obediently serving others as we would serve ourselves.

Jesus was God, became a man, emptied himself and humbled himself as a slave. He became obedient to God, endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him he endure it all for us. (Philippians 2:1-11)

Happiness is available. This is the truth about happiness!  🙂

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Happy New Year my friends!

 

 

 

 

 

The good, the bad and the beautiful

The difficulty with change

I am a creature of habit and the few constant things that I control in life seem to bring me a sense of comfort. I always sleep on my side of the bed regardless of what bed I might be sleeping in. I sit in the same seat Sunday after Sunday in my church; right side, 5th row back , 1st seat next to the aisle. I suggested to my wife a couple months ago that we change our location in the church. Our row was once filled with family but now has become somewhat empty because of all the death. Sitting there had become emotionally difficult for me. Stacey responded by saying she has had enough change in life and was comfortable with our routine and refused to change. So there she sits in row 5, right side, 2nd chair in from the aisle, Sunday after Sunday right next to me.

I suppose there is a comfort in controlling the small things in life because much in life seems out of our control. Life is full of daily choices of great and little consequence. I choose the time to set my alarm, I choose whether to forgo shaving, I select my clothing, I choose to blog or not to blog and so it goes. Then there are the choices that change your life, things like choosing a wife, a college, a career, having children or the purchase of a home. Then there are the changes that I did not choose.

Losing a son has changed many things in the last year and a half. One of the most difficult adjustments to life after death are the many heightened emotional changes that come. Sudden change is disquieting and disturbing, it is the enemy of control and comfort. Grief causes me to be emotional and sometimes the emotion is difficult to manage. I am learning to live with this, it’s not all bad, but at the same time it’s not all good either.

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I expect to be emotional during the holidays and I can sense the emotional buildup. Last Sunday at church, during a Christmas song, before God and everybody, I stood and left my assigned seat being overwhelmed with emotion.

The Sunday prior I left church and stopped to get a headlamp for the car. We had a late night trip back home from Wheaton College after visiting our son Jared. The simple task became difficult and I blew an anger gasket right there in the parking lot of the auto parts store. Sadly, I directed it towards my wife who was only trying to help me. I rarely blow my fuse, but I occasionally do and I always feel terrible afterwards.

Grief has created huge emotional changes in me. Emotion is nearer to the surface now that Jake is gone. This has shown itself to be good and bad at different times but God always makes things beautiful in his time.

The good…

Some good emotional changes that have occurred. I think I am more understanding, compassionate, sympathetic and empathetic towards people. Empathy is an acquired emotion that is different than sympathy. You cannot understand the sorrow and pain of another until you wear the same boots and walk down the same path. It is good to sympathize with people but to emphasize (though I would not choose it for myself) is a better emotion to possess.

People ahead of me in the road of grief have been of great comfort, help and value to me. I hope to offer the same to others as I walk this road and see grievers merge into this highway of pain and emotional turmoil. Though I would not choose this path of pain for myself there is one before me who did just that. He put on his boots and walked this pathway long before me. He chose the wood on the trail and selected the nails. Jesus built a bridge to God for me to cross and through his cross I will see him and my son in heaven.

The Christmas season marks the time when God became a man and entered into the pathway of humanity through a virgin. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, to make propitiation for the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17)

The bad…

Some other emotional changes that have occurred have not been so good, if fact they are sometimes downright ugly and sinful. Because grief resides with me each day, each day is different emotionally. Sometimes anger can  show its ugly head when I least expect it. Grief will build and build over time but sooner or later, I know, the levee is going to break. When the dam lets loose it does not always take the form of tears but occasionally shows itself in rage. Truly, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

I have discovered that I prefer a good cry over a raging fit when my emotions decide to let loose. With tears there is a natural release and comforters are sometimes near to help me through. Rage on the other hand has caused me guilt and shame after I have spewed out all my frustrations. Many times anger is directed towards people we love most, but Jesus, the one who loves me most forgives and helps me. This is a beautiful thing!

…and the beautiful

The Easter season marks the time when Jesus returned to heaven to do the work of the High Priest that only the God man could accomplish. He understands me, he has sympathy and empathy in my failures.He helps me when my emotions get the best of me and I sin against him. He is full of compassion and merciful to me.

“Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find help in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Christmas is difficult for those who have lost children. It is a heightened emotional time with many highs and lows, smiles and tears. If nobody else understands I am confident there is always one who does understand and empathizes with me daily. Jesus has walked my road and does not leave me comfortless. He provides me grace, mercy and help in my time of need. Christmas in in 3 days and I need all the help I can get. I am weak emotionally, but encouraged by his word to me. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) That to me is a beautiful thing!

Grace and peace to you my friends! Have a very Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precious memories: Grief and comfort during the holidays


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remembering Jacob- a blessing in a box

Last evening I sat down and went through a shoebox of old family pictures. Not a big deal to most people but for myself it was a step towards healing my grieving heart this holiday season. It was an impetuous decision I made with guarded apprehension knowing the pain I was exposing myself to.

Memories. I suppose most people would assume that parents of deceaced children reminice continually about their child. I don’t know about other grieving parents but I have yet to allow my thoughts to plunge too deep. Don’t misunderstand me, I think of Jacob often every day but the thoughts are only flashes of his life. Small things like his laugh, his love and kindness, his smile, his likes and dislikes in this life. Just small things, small events and quick stops I have made into wealth of my memories that are stored away.

For 417 days I have found it rare to actually think intently through an experience I had with my son. People say, “Oh, you have the memories to cherish.”Yes, but till this day I have pushed down the memories knowing the pain it stirs up within me.

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remembering family Christmas- a shoebox photo

Sifting through a shoebox of photos was a big deal, it is a big step because every captured image speaks a thousand words. There was a time that the images would speak a thousand words of joy and love. But in the infancy of grief the images speak a thousand words of joy and a love that can never be again; the images hurt. This is slowly changing now. This time the words they spoke to me were not so sharp and they didn’t bruise my heart as much; they brought me comfort.

By this I recognize that God is healing my soul and comforting my broken heart.

I don’t believe for a minute that time heals all wounds. I never heard of a parent who got over the death of their child. It is a rediculous notion. Does time  heal the wounds of a soldier whose legs were lost from an IED? He survives, he is scarred for life, he has phantom pains and nightmares the rest of his life. The same is true for us who have had limbs cut off from our souls.

Time for me  is nothing more than a soft cushion between the day of the tragedy and today, December 1st 2015. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but timeless eternity will.

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remembering grandma’s and her girls

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 ESV

I have had 417 days of grief since March 26, 2014. With each passing day the cushion expands and I learn to live without my son. Time passes and grief remains but the cushion makes grief more bearable. I am grateful for the passing time, the healing, and the precious memories of those I love.

I attempted to look through the shoebox about a year ago, I remember that night very well. My wife and I had gone Christmas shopping and I became overwhelmed with grief inside a store. This was our first Christmas without Jacob and grandma. We came home and I went through the same shoebox I opened last night and found myself falling into depression for a couple of weeks.

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remembering shared moments

This year was different, I was able to look with a few tears and a few smiles as the photos jogged my memory. I finished the box and was reaching for another and I stopped myself. “No, that is enough.”I thought.

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remembering a brothers love

I was brought back in time to enough places for one day. I viewed perhaps a hundred photos that communicated a hundred thousand words to my heart- it was enough. I found the memories to be sweet, enjoying and reminiscing of love filled days of my past.

I had my fill, I didn’t get depressed, I am healing and that for that I give thanks to God who promises to mend the broken hearted.

Memories. For me memories are controlled by bridle and bit and I have the reigns in hand. Yesterday I loosened the reigns and galloped for a short refreshing ride to another place and time. When it was enough I pulled in the reigns and came to a full stop and tied the straps to a hitching post.

I will get back on the horse again soon and a little less fearful of the beast I ride. Each time I expect to be a bit more relaxed and willing to loosen my grip on the memories that I have restrained. In time I expect remembering will be a sweet and welcome friend.

Memories. There are many more photo boxes and albums waiting to speak to my heart. Not to mention the countless videos of family gatherings, sporting events, school plays and vacations. Memories are what remain and the memories have brought me pain. Memories are becoming precious to me.  Last Chrismas I ran to the shoebox and was deeply distressed. This Christmas I cautiously opened the same box to find the precious gift of comfort.

 

Precious memories how they linger, how they ever flood my soul. Alan Jackson does the old hymn as good as anyone, have a listen, you will be glad you did.

 

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