Anymore till evermore

I don’t hurt the same way at Christmas anymore.

I don’t dread the holiday season anymore.

I don’t desire to isolate myself at this time of year anymore.

This is Christmas number five since my son left this life. There was a time when I felt the heaviness would always return at this time of year. It doesn’t anymore. Grief continues but it has changed very much over time. Time is a friendly healing balm that the bereaved use daily to close the wounds and soften the scars.

We don’t leave the Christmas decorations in storage anymore. We do not choose to work on the holidays anymore. The spirit of the season has been given new life to us with the birth of our first grandchild.

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Holiday seasons changed suddenly to heartache five years ago and each passing year it morphs again. I am not in constant pain at this time of year anymore. The dull ache continues but the stabbing pains have become infrequent and short-lived when they visit my soul. Pain doesn’t dominate my life this time of year anymore.

This Christmas season I have embraced with open arms. It was once intolerable, it became tolerated but now has new welcomed traditions.

I empathize with the bereaved especially at this time of year. It’s so hard to endure. I thought the day would never come where “anymore” would be in my vocabulary. But it is and I am very pleased to use it.

Anymore has become one of the greatest gifts of the Christmas season. But there is something eternally better on the horizon. Anymore will become evermore.

Assured eternal hope is better than the temporary comforts of all my “anymores.” Hope changes everything because someday the journey will be complete, the pain will cease and there will be no more tears. Anymore!

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Live in evermore hope my friends and enjoy the anymore steps in your journey with grief. Grace and peace to you all this holiday season.

 

 

 

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The best Mother’s Day ever

Life for us got derailed a little more than four years ago. The wreckage was overwhelming and seemed as though repairing life and getting back on track could never happen. Thankfully it does. Lately I feel like I have finally come to accept life without Jake.

I spoke with a 30 year  club member the other day. The lady lost a daughter to a drunk driver in 1988. We shared our stories with tears and she said something unexpected to me. “Boy” she paused, “Your on the fast tract. It took me a lot longer to get where you are in the healing process.”

Actually, I have felt that way sometimes and other times I felt like I was wearing lead boots in quicksand. We are moving forward. Time is our friendly escort away from the wreckage and I rarely stop and take a look back at it. I never wanted to stop healing and get stuck in grief and it saddens me to watch those who aren’t moving forward.

Grief is a terrible place to stay. I decided long ago I would rather hurt moving forward than hurt standing still. There’s no schedule in grief but there are many exits and layovers on the journey. I expect delays but I never stop for very long. The final destination is heaven but as the country song says, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go now.” I can relate to that.

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Life took a cozy and scenic turn two Sundays ago. Our oldest revealed to us that they are having a baby and we finally get to be grandparents. It was the best Mothers Day ever!

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I remember in the early days of our pain saying to my wife that I didn’t want grandchildren. I did not want to love with the possibility of losing again. What Stacey responded with has stuck with me through these difficult four years. “Mike,” she said, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all.” She’s right.

We are greatly blessed by God who gives and takes away. Jake was taken away from us but the One who gives us life and breath is forming a new life in my sweet baby girl.

Nothing could ever replace Jacob, but God has chosen to change our season of grief into a season of joy with a new life. For this I give him thanks.

There have been many twist and turns on our grief journey. I feel like we have hit a straight away but not so naive to think that there will not be more bumps along the way.

I am enjoying life. I am excited about our future and our first grandchild coming into our family. Life is good. God is good.

13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

 

 

Seasons of silence

My wife had her heart set on a pretty dress she found last Friday but didn’t buy it. She mentioned it to me and I thought it would make her a great early birthday gift. We decided to go the next morning and left for the local Saint Patrick’s day activities.

Saturday morning we walked out of the condo into the salty south Florida air to get Stacey’s dress. Three blocks into our walk a twenty something young man was slumped over himself on a city bench. My wife and I walked by, she looked away and I looked on as the two officers attempted to wake him and feel for a pulse. It was an apparent overdose.

We walked on and didn’t speak about what we had just seen. The boutique door was open and I purchased for my wife the cute black dress for her to wear to the Kenny Chesney concert. The silence continued as we took a different route home. Nothing was said, nothing needed to be said, what is unsaid is always understood between us.

I am not sure if he became a Palm Beach county overdose death statistic or not. On average 600 people die in this beautiful place each year. A cold dark reality in such a warm and sunny paradise. Seeing this triggered some horrible memories which were immediately discarded to avoid unnecessary pain.

I guess it’s time to write again. It has been 61 days since my last post, and that is a good thing. When I am not writing it’s a safe bet that I am doing OK in my journey with grief.

I have never wanted to write about grief just to write about grief. In this blog I have endeavored to express my faith and my struggle with grief in a real and practical way. These 100 or so posts have been closely connected to my day-to-day experiences. My experience with grief in the last two months has been, well, uneventful and nothing to write home about.

Thinking about this, and having nothing to say, nor anything to write, it dawned on me that I should explain to my readers why I get silent.

In the early days of the blog when grief was so intense it was easy to communicate what was happening because it was all fresh and new. But now, living life without Jake feels normal and I have accepted this reality now. It’s not without pain and discomfort but the shock is gone and this no longer feels like a bad dream.

Jake left us 4 years ago on the 26th of this month. Early in my journey I remember having a conversation with parents who were 5 years into their journey. I recall them describing their healing and wished I could fast forward to the place they were. Now that I have arrived to that place I have less to write about because grief is no longer the dominant thing in my life.

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There was a time it felt as though the pain would never subside. But it does, the seasons change and life goes on without the one I love. You take a walk, you remember, you buy a pretty black dress, you celebrate a birthday, you go to a concert and a Saint Patrick’s day parade. You move on and you live life.

Obviously I have my difficult moments and days but the healing has given me less to write about. I have considered ending this blog on a few occasions but realized there will always be something to write about in my grief journey. Grief doesn’t end for me until my life ends, but I have a hunch there will be less and less to write about as time goes by.

Enjoying my season of silence in sunny south Florida.

 

Getting caught in a grief bubble

Life is difficult. Doing life while grieving is extremely difficult. There are coping mechanisms that I have used consciously and unconsciously to deflect and protect myself from unwanted pain. Since our son Jacob died many times it has felt as though we have been at our emotional limits. There is a coping mechanism, a shield, or a force field per-se that guards us from feeling the pain of others. We see, we hear, and we know the sorrows of people but we often withdraw and put up our guard to avoid entering into their pain. We reside in a grief bubble with a thick wall. We can see out but nobody is allowed in. Sometimes we do this deliberately and other times it is a gross oversight.

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I unconsciously did this recently to some people I love very much. I should have known better but I neglected being there physically and emotionally for some dear friends who are going through some deep waters and grief. They were always there for me but I failed to be there for them. I was lovingly called out on my absenteeism and shown the ugly other side of the bubble I have placed around myself.

There is a point in time, I believe, that the shield must come down and the bubble must burst. I believe this because I am a Christian and Jesus himself reached out to others in his deepest pain and grief on the cross. He never withdrew from the needs of people even in his darkest hour. He had no bubble. He willingly ministered and offered grace to a criminal on the cross beside him. He provides comfort to his mother and John who wept below him at his pierced feet. He asked God to forgive his executioners while he himself suffered for their sin. He humbly ministered to the needs of those around the cross.

Seven hundred years before Calvary Isaiah wrote of what would take place on the cross. He said of him, “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:3-4. Jesus entered into our pain, our grief and our sorrow so that someday all tears might be wiped away.

In an infinitely lesser degree my suffering in this life is not pointless as a Christian, on the contrary it is quite purposeful. All comfort comes from God and the primary tool he uses to provide comfort to people is people. I hope I burst your bubble on that one because it’s true. The apostle Paul speaks to this issue to the Christians in Corinth.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Believers can never say that they can’t endure any more pain. That is just not true because God is the God of ALL grace and ALL comfort. His grace is sufficient for our every weakness and his comfort is boundless to heal the broken-hearted. Therefore, when we enter into the sufferings of others there is plenty of grace and comfort for all involved.

We will never be crushed if only we come to Jesus. He said, “Come to 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.” Matthew 11:28-30

I have found that it is easy to rejoice with those who rejoice. What isn’t so easy is to weep with those who weep, but as a believer I am called to both. This week I was reminded that the comfort I received from God through my friends should have been returned to them, but it wasn’t, and for that I am ashamed. I asked for forgiveness and they graciously obliged and I learned a valuable lesson about grief once again. Comfort is not only to be received graciously but to be graciously dispensed.

In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul. Psalm 94:19

Overcoming seasonal depression by the two advents of hope.

This Christmas is our fourth holiday season without our beloved Jacob. Much has changed in our lives since his departure. Much is an understatement of the truth I suppose. Truth is, everything has changed and nothing is the same for us in life which especially includes our holiday observances.

Stacey and I have often said to each other, “I can’t believe this is our life.” It’s as if we walked through the wardrobe into Narnia but the way back was lost to us. If I were given the script for our biography to read five years ago I would have placed it in the genre of fiction. I guess truth is truly stranger than fiction. Through it all I have found the words of king David to ring true and provide much comfort for my soul.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 He guards all his bones;

I am thankful that God is near me, that he saves me, delivers me, guards me and protects me in all my troubles. This is especially true at this time of year when seasonal depression and waves of grief can overcome my heart so quickly.

I remember the terrible dread of those first couple holiday seasons. I also remember hearing from others who had lost children that the grief will change, it will get better but Christmas will never be the same. I have found this to be true.

The Christmas season is here again and advent is being observed by many Christians. We all get a little short-sighted at this time of year. The holiday buzz is everywhere and I can get distracted quickly with all the sights, sounds and smells of the season. I can also easily get swamped by grief and focus on the empty chairs in the family room. My eyes can lose their focus very fast. When hope is forgotten, comfort is forfeited and despair grips my heart when I lose sight of the reason for the season.

The coming of Emanuel was prophesied by Isaiah. The hope of nations was born in Bethlehem, placed in a manger and later nailed to a cross for the redemption of all who believe. He walked out of the grave, showed himself to many witnesses, ascended to the right hand of God and now Christians wait for the great second advent of the King.

God comforts the Christian. He dries the tears of his children with the tissue of hope. My hope is anchored in the reality that Jesus is coming again. As a believer in Christ I do not grieve as the world grieves because I have a living hope. I have God. This brings me great consolation.

All my sorrow will someday be turned into joy when I see Jesus face to face and he reunites me with my boy. All this is possible because the promised advent of Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus over 2000 years ago. The second advent is assured by Jesus himself and secured by his victory over sin and death through his resurrection from the dead.

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:2-3

The prophesied first advent is over and the promised second advent is soon to come. There is something far better waiting for those who love him and watch for his appearing. I encourage you to wait patiently in hopeful anticipation as you endure the many trials of this life. I leave you with theses comforting words of God penned through the apostle Paul.

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

Merry Christmas Jake!

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A joyful and hope filled Christmas to you all!

 

 

Learning contentment during the holiday season

Stacey and I sat on our deck in late August of 2015 eating dinner. I pushed my food around the plate looking for the words to say that had been on my heart. I sipped on my iced tea and said, “I have been thinking it might be time to sell the house.” She replied, “Funny, I have been thinking the same thing.”IMG_1164

The death of our son Jacob on March 26th 2014 set us on a course in life that we likely would never had chosen otherwise. We sold, I retired at 49 with 30 years of public school employment. Our nest emptied, the kids got married and we currently have no grandchildren. Stacey quit her job and signed on to become a travel nurse. We left Michigan for southern California on September 18th to work for the winter.

We left our friends, our family, our jobs and all that was normal in our lives. Life has taken such a dramatic turn for us since the four deaths in our family. Stacey’s mother died suddenly 7 weeks after Jacob, her death forever changed the dynamic of the holiday season for us.

It is this time of year that our life changes become most glaring and difficult. It is hard to watch families during the holidays because those times have been taken from us. Traditions ended abruptly in 2014 and there haven’t been any new and lasting traditions established since then.

We have no Thanksgiving plans, no plans for Christmas and no plans for New Year Eve. Please, I am not looking for pity but painting a picture of the reality of life during the holidays for many people. It is easy to become depressed and discontent at this time of year.

Thankfully, we have our kids coming to be with us for a week in early December. So stoked about that!

We are doing well. God is gracious. We lack nothing and yet we are having to learn how to be content with the things we no longer have. Things that are forever lost in time and will never be restored. Thanksgiving Day football, deer hunting, food and card playing till midnight. Christmas Eve at grandmas for dinner and opening of gifts. Sharing in a large family circle giving thanks to God. Christmas morning with the kids and Stacey’s annual breakfast with my in-laws. Bowl games, cards games and good times on New Years Eve. All these frozen images in time, they are gone, and we must now learn contentment with the way things are.

Yes, it is difficult to watch families enjoy what has been taken from us at least for the moment. We are not jealous nor envious of others but it hurts to watch just the same. We are content with the things we have and are learning to be content with the things that have been taken away.

In all of this I have found strength and encouragement for coming holidays in the words of scripture. The incarnate One is with me and I am content with him and his promises.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better not bitter

I met a man who is a member of “the club” on a Monday not long ago. His name is Leroy and his membership began the day before his son turned 21. Leroy’s son John was murdered in 1995. We shared our stories without shame of tears in an empty laundry room for about thirty minutes. There was an immediate bond between us, an understanding that only a father or mother in the club can know.

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The lives of all parents that have lost children are segmented into life before and after death. And so our stories went in the conversation. I loaded the washer and listened to my new friend describe his pain, his anger, desperation and the hopelessness he wrestled with after his son died. He then shared how all that changed through his faith and love for God.

Our stories are very different but very similar at the same time. Like a two-track through a dark woods our paths run side by side headed in the same direction. We spoke of our paths of hope and how terrible pain pressed us both into a deeper faith in God. Of course, this isn’t always the case with bereaved people, it can go quite the opposite way in fact. I agreed and mentioned to him what the preacher said in his sermon the day before.

“Everyone will suffer in this life” the preacher said, “and how we respond to it will either makes us bitter or better.” He went on to say that the difference between the words better and bitter is simply the letter I in the middle. When suffering becomes I centered bitterness can overtake us.

Leroy described in detail his bitter anger and hopelessness in the early days of his grief. But all that changed for him in time. He went on and spoke of how God has used the death to shape him into someone much different and better than before. I can relate, and so can everybody else who loves God in the midst of suffering.

All things, good and bad, have a definite, useful, and good purpose in the life of a Christian. Who is a Christian? We are those who love God and love his Son Jesus Christ. The believer understands that suffering is used to shape us into something good. Someone better. Someone beautiful.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

All things really do happen for a reason but this promise is only for a believer. The good purpose of God is to use everything in shaping those who love him into looking like his Son. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 

I suppose suffering can push those who hate God to confusion, despair and hopelessness. But for Leroy and I we spoke of our love for God and his love towards us. Without a doubt the murder of John and the overdose of Jacob were the most terrible events in our lives. Have those events made us bitter or better? We only spoke of the good intentions of a loving God in our shared stories. There are only happily ever afters for those who love God. God is making us better.

The purposeful good end of all things for those who love God is that he shapes us into the image of Jesus on his potter’s wheel. Someday the shaping will be complete and I will in my flesh behold the face of God. 

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

What a beautiful and meaningful ending to our journeys with suffering and pain.

I am better not bitter.