Happily ever after

My life story was written by the sovereign pen of God. Surely “a man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” – Proverbs 20:24

There are dog ears folded in the pages of our autobiographies. Bookmarks in life that changed our hearts and changed the narrative.

In my story, like in everyone’s story there are blessings and testings that make and shape the saga.

For me those bookmarks include marrying Stacey Philo on September 17th, 1988. Add three markers for the births of our children Jordan, Jacob and Jared.

Add three more when I gave my daughter to her husband and gained a son. When I gained a daughter at Jared’s wedding and most recently added the blessing of our first grandson Eli Michael Ritter.

My story became our story and like all stories there are dark chapters interwoven throughout the goodness life brings.

May 15th 2013 began a difficult chapter that culminated in the graveside committal of 3 loved ones exactly one year to the day later.

Our son Jake, nephew Justin, mother Linda, and grandmother Marjorie. That year and those losses were written by God into our story.

The Lord truly gives and takes away. All these events penned down and foreknown by God before the opening of my storybook.

These are a few of the days that changed my storyline. Events that are bookmarked. Some I turn the pages back to and others I cannot bear the thought of doing so.

One date stands apart in my timeline that changed everything forever. Literally.

It was 25 years ago this week on February 5th 1996 that God wrote redeemed into my script. At least on my calendar he did- on his I was there from the foundation of the world.

I was in a bad place in life at that time. For sake of time the details of how I got to that place cannot be stated but just know that much was unraveling around me.

It was evening and I was cleaning the junior high school wing as I had been doing for the previous 8 years.

God was hounding me. My heart was heavy and on that winter night. 25 years ago this week my pride was broken and I humbled myself before God.

In a classroom, at a desk, in tears at about 7:00pm God laid down his pen and revealed himself and his son to me.

I met the author and finisher of my faith that night. Nothing would ever be the same for me. All that was to come afterwards would be seen through the lens of faith.

This awakening changed everything in my life. God began to shape me and change my thinking, attitudes and behavior.

That day was and is the best day of my life. Above all days, this day made the good days doubly blessed and the difficult ones filled with grace, mercy and love.

25 years ago this Friday God called my name and wrote my name in his book of life.

My story is still being revealed to me. I have read the ending already. He has revealed to me his good intentions and I am currently living in the happily ever after.

I have been graced with eternal life and for this I give him thanks.

23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!

25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,

27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! – Job 19:23-27

Thank you Jesus for a life full of your amazing grace and love. Thank you for 25 years of friendship.

Thank you for writing in the happily ever after.

Surviving the RIP currents of grief

Walking along the shore in Oceanside California yesterday I noticed a warning sign about rip tides. Being from Michigan I am familiar with these signs because Lake Michigan has dangerous rip currents as well that swimmers must be wary of.


Fortunately, I have never experienced getting caught in these currents that can kill. They are survivable if a person knows what to do when caught by the unexpected pull into the abyss.

I stepped into the warm Pacific beach sand, set up my beach chair, cracked open an Aquafina and plopped my butt down for some beautiful  California sunshine. It wasn’t long till we left our chairs and waded into the water for a cool down. There were no visible rip currents where we were but the force and power of the water was very evident.

I struggle with grief related depression. Standing waist deep in the cool salt water I felt the strong push and pull of the Pacific and thought of the similarities between rip tides and grief. Escaping and surviving a rip current and surviving grief are very much the same.

The Pull

Grief, like the rip current, has an incredibly strong and visible pull that transports its hostage out into the deep. The victim can see the shore and all the happy beach goers as they struggle alone against the unstoppable force. Very quickly your treading water and it’s over your head, fear takes hold and there is no lifeguard on duty to help us in our distress. Or is there?

Remembering the sign

The beach sign gave instructions on what to do when caught in a rip current. Step one said to identify the current and step two was to exit the shallow water before it pulls you out over your waist. The rip current of grief is sometimes visible, you see it coming, and other times it is sudden and unexpected and catches you off guard. There are times you can walk out of it quickly and many other times you cannot.

Step three tells the victim to remain calm and to conserve your energy. Grief can be so exhausting and it is important to weather the storm, find your peace, and keep your head above the water. Grief has taken me to places I never wanted to go but fighting the current is futile and potentially fatal. Its important to keep your head in a rip current and during grief.

There are times that I have felt like I was going down for the third and final time but I remembered the sign once again. Step four (if you are a poor swimmer) is to wave your arms and call out for help. Hurting people need helping people. We need people to talk to and people to listen to our heart. We need people to laugh with and a shoulder to cry on. We need friends and family, pastors and counselors. We need our spouses and we need to wave our arms and to cry out from time to time. Mostly importantly we need God and to call out to him. Grief should never be done alone.

Step five says to swim parallel to the shore and out of the current. Grief is hard work I have found, and it takes much effort to swim out of it. There have been times where I was just treading water and stuck in my grief. Simply put, without effort there is no progress to the shore I needed to get back to. It is tiresome and when I get exhausted by grief I remember the sign again and step six which says, conserve energy, float and relax. I have done this very often over the last four years. It is a vitally important part of getting back to the place you need to be. I never feel guilty about escaping and getting away from it all, it is a necessary part of the healing process.

Finally, step seven says to swim vertically towards the beach. With every stroke I have found that I am nearer to solid ground. Thankfully I am not where I was, I can see the shore, the pull is gone and I can feel the sand in my toes once again.

Back on the beach

Losing a child is undoubtably the worst kind of grief any person can endure. I wish I could say that the experience in the rip current was just one go around and your done but it’s not. I have found that I get back to the beach and get on with life but the cycle of grief continues. I wade out, I loose my footing, I feel the pull and I get in over my head again and again. I remember the routine and what to do. Thankfully the rip currents aren’t as often as before nor do they seem to be as strong but I do enter them nonetheless.

The lifeguard is always on duty

I can’t imagine navigating the rip currents of grief without a rescuer on watch. The Apostle Peter walked on water when Jesus called him out of the boat but Peter looked away from the Lord at the storm and he began to sink. In fear he cried out these comforting words, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”(Matthew 14:30-32 ESV) 

The Lifeguard is always on duty and has never lost a soul yet.

I doubt, I have weak faith at times. Despite this I have discovered the continual presence of my lifeguard Jesus in the rip currents of my life. He was there the whole time, he never left me and he has not forsaken me. For this I give him thanks.






Even the birds have a song

I still have no song in my heart and I feel almost unchristian to make such an honest confession. I do not make melody in my heart, or whistle a tune or catch myself humming a hymn. My harmonica is tarnished and dusty from lack of use and I have not desired to play it in a long time. I am not nearly as pained by the sound of music as I was 28 months ago but I still react and withdraw from much of it most of the time.

I can evaluate my grief and sorrow by the way I react to music. I know I have a ways to go in my healing by the response I feel in my heart. Solomon said, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes of a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” (Proverbs25:20) I know the chill that he speaks of and have experienced the explosive internal reaction that is described in this truth.

My church family stand to sing praise to God and I feel no compulsion to join in but am rather satisfied to just pray and listen to the harmony of their praise. I wait eagerly for the last note of music to be over so I can listen to the sweet sound of the word of God. I am an enigma I suppose, few people in this world can get through a day without music but I happen to be one of them.

Solomon had the wealth to purchase his own personal singers and musicians and he said in his pursuit of meaning that it was all an empty endeavor (Ecclesiastes 2:8). Some may wonder if I even have joy without a song to sing but I can assure those who might doubt that I definitely do. I affirm with the greatest songwriter ever that my joy, like his joy, is found someplace other than music. Actually many of the songs David wrote were the epression of his deepest joy that he found in the word of God. He said, “The precepts of he Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Psalm 19:8) and “My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.” (Psalm 119:172)

My joy is found in the same place as David but is expressed differently than song.
I want a song in my heart again. I really don’t like this about myself and as I said, I feel very unchristian because of it. It is unnatural. Even nature sings the praises of God their creator, this truth became alive to me each morning as I watched the son rise in Mexico. The birds sang beautifully, the waves roared loudly and the palms clapped their hands in the wind. Yet here I sit, without a song on my lips- it is natural for all God’s creatures give him praise and certainly we who are made in his image should shout to the Lord as well.

The only exception I can find in the bible is the one I quoted at the start. I guess I still walk with a heavy heart and only God and time can mend the broken hearted. Some morning I will awaken and sing a new song and someday I truly believe that I will hear God himself sing over Israel. For he has promised them this, “Fear not O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17)

Even so, come Lord Jesus and sing over us all.



Xanax altenative: my prescription for grief

In our journey with grief my wife and I have not used medications as a means of coping with the pain. It wasn’t long after Jacob’s death that I went for my annual physical and I told my doctor that I just preferred to deal with everything head on without drugs.

Grief is warfare and I battle its symptoms daily. I fight against sadness and loneliness for my son. I get anxious and I fall into depression. I get irritable, frustrated and angry at times. Grief is still a daily battle, I expect it to change but I would be a fool to believe that I will ever be free of it. I can’t suppress it, or ignore it, or expect it to just go away. I don’t believe I can medicate or drink it away either. I can fill my life with busyness, entertainment, work, vacations and run from grief but though I may run I am unable to hide.

So how do I cope? Some may think that I run to religion to medicate. After all Mike is a man of faith and for him religion is his crutch to hold him up. It may surprise you to know that I reject religion, it is a blight on the earth because religion is built on lies and I prefer truth. I believe in unchangeable absolutes and I apply the healing balm of truth to the pain of life to comfort my troubled heart. Truth is medicine for the soul and Jesus the lover of my soul is truth. He alone can mend my broken heart.

I often walk with sadness in my heart. When the heaviness for my son weighs on me I often pray the simple prayer of, “God, help me.” In those times Jesus the Good Shepherd comes near so that I never lack any good thing. He brings me to the still waters, he causes me to rest in green meadows. He restores my soul.


When confused and without wisdom on how to navigate the pain he leads in in the right path and I follow him for the sake of his name.

There are times I have felt as though I was dying inside, robbed of my joy and utterly destroyed. But the Good Shepherd says to me, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) The times I walk through the valley of the shadow of death he has calmed my anxiety and quelled my fears. For he is present with me, with his rod Jesus corrects me, and with his staff he gently guides my steps.

Though the enemy of my soul desires to destroy me I am richly blessed by the Good Shepherd. I look around, I see his grace, my cup overflows with his blessings. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

When hope sees dim and the dark days casts doubt over my faith I remember the truth, I remember his way and I recall his life. The Good Shepherd speaks and I hear his tender voice, he calls me by name and I follow him. He whispers to me, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

So with confidence and great hope in the truthful voice of the Lord my shepherd I have hope and eternal life. I can conclude my life as David the sweet psalmist did and joyfully proclaim, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23) This is my hope, this is my future, this is the truth and it is good medicine for my soul.

Jesus gives me what no medication can ever provide. He gives me faith, hope and love. He provides me comfort, peace and assurance of the future. He makes me strong when I am weak, we makes me wise though I am a fool. He is mercy, he is grace, he is all I need. I don’t need Xanax and I certainly don’t need religion all I need is the truth. Jesus is truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Medication left in a bottle will never help anybody get well and the same is true with the Christian faith. Dosage directions on the label are to be followed precisely for the good of the patient, this is true of the Christian faith as well. The symptoms of grief are many, they attack my soul continually. When I am anxious, when I lose my peace, when I hurt I look to my Good Shepherd and he offers me his cure. I follow his prescription instructions and do as directed by the great physician my soul. It reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philipians 4:6-7)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”- Jesus

My March Madness


March is a particularly difficult month for my wife and I. Jacob’s birthday and his death day come and go on the 3rd and the 26th. Winter overcast has taken its toll but the seasonal depression is lifting. Its has been 2 years this month since Jake overdosed, he would have been 24. I want to reflect back a little on this journey and evaluate myself and what has changed in me over the worst period of my life. Grief has changed me, this is what has changed to date.

relational change

Death is the great awakener to the value of relationships. Those closest to me have become nearer and dearer. My love for my God, my wife, my kids and my friends has deepened. Time is an un-renewable resource in this life, time spent with people is priceless and has taken on a much different meaning than it once did.

My job is great, it is at work that I spend most of my time with Jesus. There is nobody in this life I would rather spend time with than Stacey my wife. My kids take a close second and a perfect day is to be with them all at once.

 change of interests

Passions in my life have drastically altered. I am more single minded in my pursuits and the things that once gave me a charge are pretty much dead throw away batteries now. Hunting, fishing and various sports were once a pursuit of mine but now have slowed to a snails pace or dead all together. I can take it, but mostly I want to leave it. I don’t enjoy much conversation in those subjects and find myself wanting to withdraw from people who are impassioned about them. I would say interest in theology and bible study has increased, as well as my desire to share, teach and write about the God who love’s me.

I vacation much more than I ever have. My wife has converted me into a beach bum and I like to go to Alaska to see my friend Dan. Dan is there for the fishing, I go to get away and to spend time with my friend. I do a lot more getting away (escaping) these days.

emotional change

I would say I am a little more tender with people but in the same breath I will admit I have less tolerance for nonsense. I don’t listen to music, mainly because it draws out emotions I  rather not deal with. I have no song in my heart yet, I don’t hum or whistle or sing in church- I feel that this is changing some now.

I used to follow politics closely but now am extremely irritated by it all and wish never to enter the dialogue. I have enough problems of my own I can’t fix, my vote won’t change the course of America so I choose not to.

Disappointments in life seem much more magnified and difficult to bear than before. I have become more guarded and less hopeful for fear of disappointment, loss and pain.

Chaos and noise are more bothersome than before and not wanting to be around children is an issue with me. This poses a daily problem because I am an elementary school custodian.

There is a lingering daily sadness I still have. I don’t laugh and joke like I once did. I have always been serious or silly but till now silly is out and serious seems to be the prevailing mood.

Physical change

I have more gray hair in my beard, less on my scalp and more on my back. Gravity is doing a job on me and it isn’t pretty. I work out and lose weight so I can get fat when I go to Mexico each spring.

Psychological and spiritual changes

About a month ago I went to see a traumatic grief counselor. I had never sought help up till then but I was struggling with things I could not resolve on my own. I was having constant nightmares for about 6 months. I would wake up with the sensation of being held down and being choked. I thought it was acid reflux, eating too late and merely a physical issue. I made the necessary adjustments but nothing changed. I went to see Tim and described my experiences of waking up in fear and the feeling of being choked. We discussed the spiritual possibilities in the matter and he gave me advice on how to pray. We prayed together, and I prayed that God would deliver me. He heard our prayers and the problem has left me.

Theological changes

The death of my son made me wrestle with God. Theological issues I once thought I understood  have come to the surface. I have learned to search the Scriptures for answers to questions that cause me trouble. My theology of suffering has changed. My theology of providence, sovereignty, pain, death, grief and much more has broadened and deepened in the last 2 years.

What I would like to change

I would like to feel normal, I don’t feel normal anymore. I would like my irritations and intolerance’s to diminish. I want to be kind, I don’t feel like I show kindness.

This will sound odd but I want to think of Jacob more than I do. I wanted to write today of a story about something in his life- I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I started, stopped, deleted and did this instead. Sorry for the disappointment! My thoughts of his life are snapshots and not stories. The memories are just short peeks into his life and that is all.

I’m welling up now…just thought about what he would say to me in this moment. He was such an encourager, I loved that about my boy. He knew how to comfort and love people from the heart. I guess that is something I would like to change in myself in the coming months. That I may learn how to better love and comfort others like he did.

Much has changed and much will change in the future. Some is good and some is bad. I suppose the time of reflection has been good for me to measure my healing and to evaluate the direction I need to head. March madness is here, March sucks, but I will march on!


Precious memories: Grief and comfort during the holidays


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





rest in the desert


All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis.

I guess if I could define my life before grief I could use the word sunshine. Three healthy kids, a loving wife, stable jobs and a cape cod in the country.  Life certainly wasn’t without trouble but overall we enjoyed mostly sunny skies and only a chance of rain.

But somewhere between heaven and hell I find myself in a desert wasteland called earth. My wilderness storm came suddenly and without warning, leaving the landscape of my life barren and stripped of the comforts that sunny days provided. The eye of the storm has passed followed by dark overcast skies over the last 18 months. I am starting to see some breaks in the clouds, the wind seems to be dying down a bit and I feel I can come out of my shelter for a walk around.

Being a Christian didn’t give me a free pass on suffering in this life. Jesus suffered and so will I. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) What about me, how can I endure the storms and be an overcomer? John tells me, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith.” (1 John 5:4)  I look to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. He has both killed death and provided me life, holding my hand in all my desert wanderings.

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in a desert look for an oasis.

430 years in Egypt and the time of the Jews deliverance came as promised to Abraham by God centuries before. Moses was sent to deliver them from the bondage, and by faith he kept the first Passover and that night were delivered from the hand of their oppressors. By faith Moses led them through the Red Sea  and by his faith he led them into the wilderness towards the promised land. Three days into the desert and there is no water to be found. Water was then found but they found it bitter and undrinkable. “And the people complained against Moses, saying what shall we drink? So he cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:22-25) What can I learn from their wilderness experience?

As a Christian I have been delivered from death by Christ who is my Passover lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7) By faith I follow him out of bondage and start my journey to the land of milk and honey by following the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

In the journey I can expect desert wanderings and come across bitter water to drink. Some of my most basic needs in my journey can be the greatest tests along the way. We come to pools of bitter water, we are thirsty beyond measure and all we do is complain and never pray. We forget that the tree of the cross has been thrown in the bitter waters of life and made them sweet for us. In all our sorrows we have a savior.

“Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) The Lord invites the thirsty to drink from his sweet pool. “Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money , come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis.

After the bitter pool of Marah the Israelites traveled on in the desert journey. “Then they came to Elim, where there were 12 wells of water and seventy palm trees ; so they camped there by the waters. (Exodus 15:27)

After coming to the bitter waters, after the bitter pools are made sweet and as you continue on your wilderness path remember to look up. There is always an oasis in the wilderness for the people of God. It is a place of shade and sweet relief from the blistering sun. The water there is refreshing and plentiful restoring the weary soul.

It’s been 18 months since my son died. I guess if I wanted I could stay at the bitter waters, complaining, prayerless and faithless. Or I can remember Jesus who makes all my bitter waters sweet in my journey of grief and follow him to an oasis of rest.

I feel I am at an oasis at the moment. I am truly thankful to God for this time of rest for my soul. But like the Israelites of old, the time at the oasis will end and they must enter into the wilderness and move towards Canaan. Most of that generation died in the wilderness because of unbelief. But by faith Caleb left the wilderness and obtained the promises of God. God commends him by saying, “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land which he went, and his descendants shall posses it.” (Numbers 14:24) 

There is much to learn from the examples of the Hebrews. One thing that God will not tolerate forever is a complaining and grumbling spirit in our wilderness journey. Be thankful for the bitter pools that God has made sweet. When trials come, afterward look for the oasis of rest. When all are afraid and fearful to enter into Canaan by faith remember the spirit Caleb which God notices and rewards. And always try to remember…

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis. 

Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter stopped

I have always been a cut up and totally appreciate a good belly laugh. My laughter was silenced for a long time after all the death of my son and 3 other loved ones. I had to think deeply as to the last time that something made me laugh hard enough to make me cry. Then it came to me. We had just finished watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers and were ready to call it a day. The Family Guy came on as we got off the couch and I was about to turn off the TV. I decided a long time ago to not watch this show because it goes over the edge too much for me. Peter Griffin happened to catch my attention that night. I watched about 90 seconds of the episode, turned it off, laughed till I cried as I climbed into bed for the night. The whole thing was a spoof on grief and total nonsense but it made me and my wife laugh hysterically. You may not appreciate it but I still giggle a little when I watch it. Grief needs levity and the sorrowing need their funny bone touched on occasion.

When laughter is inane

There are times in grief that laughter is a great antagonist to the sorrowing. We have days when nothing seems funny. There are solemn days when the laughing people and what they laugh about bring me great irritation. Those times are fewer as I move forward in my journey. I understand better the wisdom of Solomon who said laughter is vainity and madness.  (Ecclesiastes 2:2) The king would also record, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” (Proverbs 14:13 ESV) 

When laughter is medicinal

There are certain people I need to see and hear from when I am down. I seem to run into them at the most needed times of my grief journey. These are male friends who have wept with me and have laughed with me in one sitting. A couple of them in particular lighten my heavy load and have a way of extracting laughter out of my soul like a turkey baster. These people are a medicine to me that cannot be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a physician. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV) Somehow these friends make me laugh and refresh my heart when I need it most. I am so thankful to have a few funny friends. Certainly Readers Digest knew something of this natural remedy for sorrowing hearts. I love to read their articles, Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter leaves us

I battle depression from time to time, I have been struggling with it of late. When depressed I lose my laugher. I determined early in grief that I wasn’t going to use medications to help me to cope. Not that I oppose it for others but I personally decided to endure the pain and not sedate it. Why did I make such a choice? Because Jesus Christ endured the sorrow, pain and grief of the world without narcotics or anti-depressants. Isaiah records, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; on him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV) Grief, sorrow, stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded all without pain relievers. Read on.

Isaiah wrote of Jesus 600 years before Bethlehem and the Psalmist records his experience looking down from the cross centuries before the tree ever gave root into the dry ground. “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” (Psalm 69 20-21 ESV) Poison was offered to him but the poison was refused.

Some time ago I had the medical marijuana subject defended by a young user who was not ill or in pain. He made the defense that since the herb is natural that surely God would be supportive of him using. I pointed out the fact that God certainly would never roll a fatty with him and here is the reason why. On the cross while being crushed for the sins of mankind Jesus began to thirst. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34 ESV) Jesus was offered a mind altering drug to ease the grief and pain and he refused it. I personally think it best to refuse it too.

When laughter is restored

I believe God has provided us with laughter. But it is somewhat odd to me that Jesus is never recorded laughing in the scriptures. However as a man I surely think that he did laugh. But he is remembered as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our sorrows and our griefs he carried so someday all sorrow would fade away.

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 21:4 ESV)

Perhaps laughter is the sound of joy that flows from our contented souls. I want to laugh, I need to laugh but laughter for those who grieve children is slow in restoration. Somehow I know that the laughter I once knew will never be restored as it was. But I also know that I can smile and I can laugh more and more as days go by.  Laughter truly is the best medicine but for now my dosage is small with the expectation of more belly laughs are in my future. Someday all I will ever know is joy, till then I have his joy in my heart with an occasional   chuckle to help me along the way.

These things I have spoken to you that you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;

but be of good cheer

I have overcome the world- Jesus


Me not laughing 🙂





Jacob’s sunflower: An allegory of life

Shortly before Jacob died he posted on Facebook his plans to plant a garden behind our home. I am not too sure what gave him this desire, he really wasn’t the green thumb type. Perhaps some of his mothers interests were starting to bloom within him. Stacey loves flowers and works in her labor of love around our home tending many beautiful blooming things. Jake didn’t get to plant his garden last spring, in fact Jake himself was planted in a seed plot on May the 15th. I would have never known his desires for a garden without Facebook. I scrolled through his posts shortly after his death and read of his desires. I decided that I would plant Jacob’s garden for him.

The Post

The Post

Grandpa came and tilled up the area which used to be our pig pen, a perfect place for things to grow and the place which Jake wanted to use. I went to the store shortly after this and purchased seeds. Sunflower seeds were all I bought, I have always loved sunflowers and I thought Jake would be very approving of it. I carefully chose different kinds, colors and heights for Jacob’s garden and immediately went to work in planting. I planted a 30 foot square of small 4 foot sunflowers, then inside that I sowed 2 more squares of medium height flowers and finally the inner 2 squares of the large 10 footers. All different heights and all different colors would all grow together in a tapered cube of beauty.

I watered the garden of flowers all summer long, much of the watering came from me crying as I weeded out the thorns that sought to choke the life out of the plants. The garden grew and blossomed, giving me much healing as I worked in it over those difficult first months. The fall came and winter stormed in once again. Jacob’s garden was dead now, the passing beauty left with the change of seasons yet something bloomed out of Jacob’s garden this past spring. One sunflower was reborn out of all the seeds that dropped off all those dead plants, however it was not found in Jacob’s garden. It grew in a strange and most unexpected place.

Unbeknownst to me Stacey discovered a sunflower growing in her flower garden at the front of our house. Jacob’s garden and Stacey’s garden are perhaps 200 feet apart. She seeing that the plant was not a weed but a sunflower let it grow among her other plants all summer long. Sadly, I did not notice it until she showed me the sunflower around labor day. Immediately my heart was tender and tears came to my eyes. Thoughts raced to my mind and pictures began to form  in my thinking that Sunday morning as we left for church. With those thoughts and the pictures now in my head I decided to write the allegory my heart saw.

Jacob's sunflower

Jacob’s sunflower

One of God’s creatures brought that seed to the edge of the paver blocks in that flower bed. Perhaps a bird dropped its meal after leaving Jacob’s garden for lunch. Who knows? God knows! The sunflower is one of the smaller kind that I planted, it is about 3 feet high with 4 flowers on the stalk. Three of the flowers had their petals and one did not. I arrived at church and sat to celebrate the day of the Lord, Sunday- his day that he came out from the grave. My mind moved to the sunflower again during the song service. I thought of God raising my son out the ashes and making him beautiful. I pondered the four flowers that bloomed and viewed them as the four remaining family members he left behind. Myself, my wife, my son and my daughter, every flower very much alive and very close together. I considered it odd that one flower did not have petals and my heart began to race. Sorrow overtook me where I sat and this is what I thought.

The petals for me represented the beauty of faith, not just any faith but faith in Jesus, a faith in his death and resurrection. Three family flowers with petals of faith and one without, yet in my mind I saw the one without petals as being two. My daughter is married now, and they are now one in the sight of God. I began to heave, I began to sob and I began to call out to God to put the petals of faith on my family who do not know him, love him and serve him. There I sit, overcome by grief in the middle of the church calling on God to do a miracle. By faith I believe he will.yoyo 2

This is an allegory. It is something that happened, an experience that I do not  view as anything more than a teaching moment. My son did not visit me, nor did my son become an angel. Jacob did not become a bird, or guide a bird to deliver a seed from his garden to Stacey’s garden. My son is not the seed, nor the plant, and the blooms are not my family. This is an allegory, it comforted me and caused me sorrow and joy at the same time. It caused me to hope and to worship God and to plead for the ones I love. It was a strange and comforting allegory of life and nothing more

Jacob's garden

Jacob’s garden

The bible is absolute truth and is not an allegory. If taken literally it becomes simple and understandable; turn it into an allegory and everybody will have a different interpretation and a different truth for themselves. This of course fits well in our relativistic, pluralistic and syncretistic world. All that I understand from its teaching guides me into understanding the things that God wants me to know. By it I know that Jacob is not an angel, and that he cannot visit me here in this life. I know that there was only one incarnation of God, and God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. I know that Jacob will never be reincarnated as a seed, or a bird or as a sunflower. By this truth, I know that he awaits the resurrection of his body from the dead. And I rest on the promise of the Incarnate One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall  never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26 ESV)

I look at life much differently these days, I see things through the lens of faith and also through the lens of grief. Life has many teachers, creation will take you to school if you allow it to. Sunday, September 13th, I went to teach my class at church and again I became the student.  What was my lesson? Remember your hope in Jesus, and remember to pray continually to him for those you love. This is my story, an allegory, and that is all.IMG_0289

? Why grievers stay busy !

How are you doing since your loved one died? I have been taking notice in talking with people who are in grief or in emotional trauma as to what their standard response is to this question. O, they say, “I am staying busy.” I have been considering this response by people for some time now. I am no psychologist or counselor but I understand what it means to grieve and to be traumatized by sudden loss. I have come to some conclusions in my own consideration of this matter. I am not too sure that I see it all clearly, but the following are some things I have observed.  Why do we respond to trauma this way? Why do we answer this question in this way?

Angoon Alaska

Angoon Alaska

Our minds are continually busy and much activity fills our days. We run, we rush and rush until life’s no fun. We go, go go until we run out of gas and lay on our beds where we are suddenly confronted by the stillness. Busyness can be something that occupies space, it fills a vacuum that we don’t want filled with our pain or our present reality. Business fills our minds, our time and our days with allot of stuff. Stuff that is easy to manage and stuff that is perhaps easier to deal with than the heavy things. Stuff like hobbies, entertainment, projects, work, vacations, busy doing this and busy doing that.

Having lost a son I recently asked another father in the same situation what do you do on holidays when it gets tough. O, he says, I work on those days- I stay busy because my most difficult times are at home where it is quiet and I’m alone.

A grieving daughter who had lost her father recently said she has been devouring books. Why, I asked? It helps me escape reality, I am in a different place and can be free for a time from my pain. I totally understand that, grief is a leach and sucks the life out of you. It is constantly attached to you and escapism is something I have found myself doing as well.

These are just a couple recent encounters I have listened to and contemplated, there are many more that followed the same track. I have learned even by my own experience that busyness is a defense mechanism I have in place to counter my fears, anxieties, grief and my pain. I chuckled at this when I remembered the E-Trade commercial from few years back. Solitary confinement- just a man and his thoughts. The quiet confronts us and we begin to remember our trouble and begin to sing the old spiritual, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody but Jesus.”


The quiet got ahold of me recently while on a visit to Angoon Alaska.

Juneau Alaska

Juneau Alaska

The business ended, the quiet set in and the stillness moved my heart to my pain. I hear people say that there is coming a time when the memories will be sweet. I am looking forward to that day because the memories are still bitter sweet for me at 17 months out. There isn’t a calendar existing that will show me when that day is to arrive- it is my hope that it will arrive sooner than later.

Perhaps staying busy is a numbing agent for grief and pain. It seems to be a standard reply, especially by those who are working through the early sorrow filled days.

Perhaps being still and feeling the pain is the best balm for the wound. I must walk through it, I cannot go around it  so maybe the best way to heal is for me to be still. In those moments, in those times of silence we hear the comforting voice of Jesus who says, “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.” And I reply, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” and begin to hum the old hymn, The Comforter has come.