Cherishing the chair

In 1987 Mr. Lynch was my future wife’s high school chemistry teacher. He once said to me “Someday, she is going to make somebody a good wife.” Mr. Lynch was right but I would add after 28 years of marriage that she has been much more than a good wife. She is an excellent wife, mother, friend and so much more to me and many other people.

All that Stacey ever wanted in life was to be married and have a family. This was truly her main desire and ambition as a 19-year-old woman. On September 17th, 1988 that journey began for us. The next October our daughter Jordan arrived, in 1992 our beloved son Jacob was born and then came our Jared in 1994.

Those years were filled with difficulty but also filled with family blessings. Stacey’s parents lived close by in the country home she was raised in. Our family was growing with nieces and nephews and the hub for all the hubbub was the home of g-pa and g-ma. We built a house near them on family property and soon after so did Stacey’s sister Lorri.

It was spring of 2013 that Stacey and I were preparing ourselves for the empty nest. Jared would soon leave for college in the fall. Little did we know how the family nest would actually empty beginning that terrible May evening. Lorri’s only son Justin overdosed less than a mile away from our homes. Granny fell at the nursing home that December, breaking her hip and passed only days afterward. I received a frantic call from Stacey on March 26th, 2014 that Jacob our son died in the basement of our home. He overdosed on prescription meds. Six weeks later Stacey’s mother slipped and fell from their truck hitting her head, and she too quickly passed from this life.

In twelve terrible months everything in our family households were turned upside down. The hub of the family wheel was broken and the connecting spokes felt the fallout. The family grew closer but we were severely fractured and nothing has ever, or will ever, be the same again.

Once again the holiday season is here. November reminds me of family gatherings, food, football, hunting and card games. There was laughter and sometimes the card flew across the table because grandma beat grandpa in a game of Shanghai. I remember the circle that we gathered in every Christmas for the reading of the birth of Christ and to give thanks to him for the year of blessings.

Today I recalled our last 3 Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Year one was so numbing, astonishing and unbelievable. Year two was so raw and painful that going to work on Thanksgiving day was a better choice than celebrating anything. Year three is upon us. We are no longer numb nor are we are in deep grief- we are simply sad. The world around us carries on with normal family life as we adjust to life without loved ones.

The chairs are empty now, the smell of fresh-baked pies is not there. It is silent. Grandma and grandpa’s dormant and vacant home is a silent reminder of what family used to be for us. Death has killed family traditions and we have given life to new ones. In the warmth of these times is the chilling reminder of what it used to be and the things that can never be again.

The ghost of holiday past haunts our household. What I want most to give my wife this Christmas is not available on Amazon. All she wanted in life was family, to be a wife and a mom with a house full of love. 3 years have passed and there are four empty family chairs that remind us of the empty spaces in our hearts. Only heaven can fill an empty heart, it is there that the chairs are occupied and will never to be emptied again. We long for the day to join them in a place where every tear is wiped away. Someday all that Stacey ever wanted in this life will be permanantly provided her in glory. Until then we heal. Until then we happily endure the holidays as best we can. Until then the empty chair brings us sadness. Until then we cherish the chairs that are filled.

Until then Jake….save a chair beside you for your mom and I.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World peace imagined and world peace realized. Finding peace during the holidays.

Northern Michigan is warm, wet and brown this December. It was a balmy 60 degrees yesterday and the weather forecast has much of the same for the next ten days. It doesn’t look like Christmas, it doesn’t feel like Christmas and it’s OK with me.

I’m not being a bah hum bugger or a grinch and I’m not on the, “Christmas is too commercialized band wagon.” either. It’s just easier for me to endure this second Christmas apart from my lost son, and other loved ones, without all the sights, sounds, smells and bells of the holiday season.

I am haunted by the ghost of Christmas past each day in December. I am waiting anxiously for New Years eve because it marks the end of another season that can’t get over fast enough. I go Christmas shopping with my wife and I get slapped in the face with Christmas music. Holiday songs awaken my grief and the ghost takes my mind to a place I once was but where I can never return. Songs like, Blue Christmas and I’ll be home for Christmas cut my heart open wide and my internal bleeding rolls down my cheek. I walk and I wonder who else is hurting like me among all the shoppes and shoppers in all this holiday hoopla.

imageHere I sit in my undecorated home. No tree, no lights, no nativity. No indication that it’s the holidays, only a couple Christmas cards on the counter and some unwrapped gifts in the bedroom. I hear the rain dripping off the roof, I see the snowless landscape out of my bay window and I like it this way. I am reminded of last Christmas as I sit here musing. The tormenting spirit pokes me again. There, on a table sits a Christmas gift to us from my brother and his wife. It is a hand crafted night light, a beacon of hope and a gentle reminder of healing really. It  reminds me of last year, our first Christmas without Jacob and the awful pain we felt. I hurt, I am sad, but that light reminds me that the pain is duller and the grief is not as intense as it was a year ago. Maybe in years to come we will get a tree and decorate it with all the special ornaments that the kids made when they were small. Not this year, not yet, and I prefer it this way.

People say remember the reason for the season. Christmas means many things to many people but as a Christian it is a reminder of the incarnation of God into the stream of humanity. December is a time to remember this great truth but for me not a day goes by that I do not remember that Jesus  entered into this world and returned home to his Father. Every day is Christmas and Easter for a believer because the good news of Jesus Christ never leaves our heart.

I remember Bethlehem, I remember Jerusalem and I remember Jesus on  a hill called Calvary nailed to a tree. I remember his death on a cross that brought peace and good will towards men. I continually remember that he walked out of a tomb and appeared to 500 people over 40 days. I recall his ascention and his glorification and his promise that I cling to daily. A promise engraved in a book, in my heart and in marble at my sons resting place. It is in Jesus that I have found daily peace and in him I have good hope and genuine eternal peace.

world peace imagined

“His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace……” (Isaiah 9:6b) .

In John Lennon’s classic hit Imagine he said, “You, may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us and the world will live as one.” Was John Lennon the price of peace?  John was a dreamer and many have dreamed along with him but will peace and oneness ever be possible in our world? Did he unite the world in the peace movement, can we today? No, the imaginations of John Lennon are impossible because peace is a byproduct of something else; something this world lacks.

Peace is a byproduct of righteousness. Isaiah said, “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:17) Is the world concerned with righteousness? The world is actually quite unconcerned with righteousness, Jesus said himself that the world loves darkness rather that light (John 3:18-21) How then can world peace be possible in a world that loves darkness?

World peace realized

I do believe in a coming world peace but not without the Righteous One; Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Any other way is for dreamers, unimaginable and frankly humanly impossible. Are we closer to world peace than when Lennon penned those famous words in 1971?

Read through the cited verses on my son’s headstone and you will discover these words from the returning Price of Peace. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-4) 

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The world cries out against peace and thirsts for blood as they did in the days of Jesus. Pontus Pilate said, “Behold your King! And the world responds as his own people did 2000 years ago. “Away with him, away with him!” Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. (John 19: 14-16) The people agreed and screamed, “We will not have this man rule over us!” They bowed to government while killing the King of the Nations.

An invitation from the King of Peace

….Isaiah concludes, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7-9) This is a real King who will rule on this earth from Jerusalem forever and ever……..

….and I conclude are you ready for this coming King?

The bible closes with an invitation to life and peace. Jesus the Prince of Life and Peace cries out from his throne and says, “Surely I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:20)

Can you say with the apostle John, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Peace to you my friends and Merry Christmas. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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