Troubling Triggers

Without question my grief trigger over the last three years has been music. From day one music has triggered for me sadness and pain. I can honestly say that I hated music, I hated everything about it and I found it nearly inescapable no matter how fast I tried to run from it. The sound of music is everywhere and it pierced my soul with pains so that even background music in a TV commercial would cause me to cry. I made every effort to shut music out of my life to reduce the triggers of grief it caused.

The following video is one of Jacob performing a song he wrote only 4 months before he died.

 

The music trigger for me was set off every Sunday that I sat in church. I found myself in the deepest pain when the people sang. I do not sing, nor do I yet feel compelled to sing in church. I listen to the voices, I pray and I try to focus on worship while greatly anticipating the music ending and the sermon beginning.

I have been able to measure my healing by my ability to listen to music. I have moved from hatred of music, to tolerating it, to now being able to tune it in with only minimal grief. It has been uncanny how each anniversary of Jacob’s death marks a recognisable step in the healing process for me. I have noticed that the trigger of music is not what it once was at this three-year anniversary mark.

My heart is healing and not so heavy, music doesn’t make me shudder in pain like it once did. King Solomon wrote a proverb that perfect describes how I have reacted to the troubling trigger of music. “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)

Grief Changes and triggers lighten

My wife Stacey has discovered Kenny Chesney’s satellite station called No Shoes Radio. Silence is usually what I am tuned into when we drive together but lately on the road I have tuned into her favorite station. I have been able to listen, but not without an occasional pull at my heart which I try to endure that the healing may continue in my soul.

Coming home from Chicago a couple weeks ago I heard a song by Kenny for the very first time. As soon as the song began Stacey turned and said to me, “You can turn it off.” I responded by saying “No, it will help me heal.” The song is called Who You’d Be Today.  It was hard to listen to and made for difficult driving as I pondered his words.

Time does not heal all wounds but I am discovering that time does change the troubling triggers of grief. With time grief becomes manageable and the triggers come less often. Who knows, maybe next year I will be able to sing in church once again, or maybe I will play my harmonica again. Time will tell because time changes everything.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4

Why God?

My blog “Wrestling with Jacob” is approaching its 3 year birthday. Tomorrow, March the 26th marks three years since our Jacob died of a prescription drug overdose and I began blogging shortly afterward. I chose the name of the blog for several reasons and some might assume it mostly has to do with me wrestling with Jakes death. You would be correct if you guessed that but only partly correct. My 60 plus entries has much more to with my wrestling with God than wrestling with the grief I feel over the loss of my boy.

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Losing Jacob has stretched my faith and opened my understanding of the very character and nature of God. His attributes are clearly seen through his creation, his word, and Jesus his son. By looking in those three places God has revealed himself to me and deepened my worship of him.

I have often said to people that I miss the days when I was ignorant of the things grief has taught me. Yet, in the next breath I confess I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I have gleaned from it. Suffering is a teacher and a tool used by God to reveal himself in ways that nothing else can. Before the trials began in my life I was quite ignorant of the God I worshiped but now I see God more clearly than ever before.

I remember the first lesson in the early days of grief was that of God’s grace. In the weakest moment of my life I found that his grace was sufficient to sustain me through the pain. Lesson two was dealing with the sovereignty of God and choosing to bless him despite the fact that he took my son from me. Lesson three was concerning hope and whether or not I really believed in the hope of the resurrection. Lesson four was about comfort, then it was love, then peace, then mercy and so it went…and so it goes.

What I am saying is this, God revealed himself to me more clearly in the pain than he ever did in the pleasure. I saw grace clearly and differently, I see sovereignty more clearly, he showed me his hope more deeply. God disclosed his love more intimately and his peace more abundantly. In the suffering I am discovering the God I worship but the God that I did not know very well at all. For this I am thankful.

I miss my son terribly every day, I miss everything about him. It has been said that ignorance is bliss but is that true?  I do not miss the ignorant days I lived in prior to Jacobs passing. There is much bliss I enjoy now that I could not comprehend then and that I am not willing to trade. I lost my relationship with my son but I have gained an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus; my God whom I worship.

The why question

Looking at the life of Job I have learned that most of the “why God” questions will not get answered but the “who are you God” questions will.

Job lost everything. All his children, all his wealth and his health were suddenly taken from him. His worshipful response to such grief is stunning, he said,“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20) In all his grief Job wants a sit down with God to answer the why questions of his suffering and God gives him that opportunity. God says to him,“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” (Job 38:2-3) 

God never answers Job’s question but does reveal to him his divine nature. Job shut his mouth in awe before the very God who formed him in the womb. Again God calls Job to answer him by saying,“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:7-8)

What was the response of Job in his pain when given a chance to ask the why question? He again shuts his mouth except to acknowledge his ignorance. He confesses that what he had heard about God cannot be compared to what God disclosed of himself when confronted by him.

Job sees God for who he is for the first time through unimaginable suffering. He worshiped God throughout the suffering in ignorance of his true nature. In the end he discovered the deepest worship came when his spiritual eyes were opened. For the first time Job sees himself clearly and God clearly and he responds accordingly with informed pure worship.

“I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-5)

Blessed be his name

Now, more than ever I am resolved in my heart to sing the following worshipful refrain.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name
Blessed be Your name
You give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
God you give and take away
Oh you give and take away
But my heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
Oh you give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-12) 

Best wishes

Our beloved Jacob Michael Fekete would be 25 today.

In my minds eye I see 25 imaginary candles on a make believe cake that will never be baked. 25 imaginary flickering flames to blow upon, to extinguish and to wish on better things. I remember your hopes, I remember your dreams son. I remember with a heavy heart and wish that those hopes and dreams for you had come true.

I wish to wish, if I could wish, if it were possible, if reality were not so real and birthday wishes really did come true. I would wish to blow out those 25 candles and these 25 things are the wishes I’d wish for you.

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I wish you could see your sister. I wish you could see her smiling face at her wedding to one of your most loved friends. I wish you could see their love and I wish you could meet Oakley their one year old puppy. I wish that you could visit with your Bo and again share joy and laughter with your siblings.

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I wish I could hand you tickets to the NCAA wrestling finals your brother will compete in next weekend. I wish you could cheer for him- you were always his biggest fan. I wish you two could sit and catch up and I wish you could see what an incredible man he has become. I wish you could stand as his best man this June and I wish you could see his bride and the beautiful person she is. I wish you could meet their enormous puppy named Pine.

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I wish you could speak to your mother’s heart and I wish you could still her soul. I wish you could see her strength, her faith and her perseverance. I wish you could write an assuring love note and tuck it under her pillow like you used to do. I wish you could could walk through the doors of our new home in Beulah and lay a big Jacob hug on her. I wish you could walk with her down Center street to the beach and to the shoppes downtown.

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I wish we could all sit as a family once again. I wish I could hear your voice, your gargled laughter and I wish I could see that thin crooked smile again. I wish you had found that simple girl you wanted to marry in a pretty yellow sundress. I wish you had found love.

I’d wish for your peace. I’d wish for your joy. I’d wish for your contentment.

I want you back but I would never wish you back Jacob. 25 candles and 25 birthday wishes for you but of those wishes only three have come true. You are at peace, you have pure joy and you are completely content. Best wishes and happy birthday in heaven son.

We love you.

 

 

 

 

Grace in the dark place

Jacob Michael Fekete would have been 25 on March 3rd but instead he is forever 22. On March 26th we will have completed our third cycle around the sun without our son.image

This path is not one that any parent would choose to walk. Yet in this journey there is wisdom that I have gleaned that could have only been acquired by walking it.

I have learned more about God and about myself in the last three years than I had in the previous 45. There are innumerable topics I could write about but today I will lightly touch on just one. Grace in the dark place.

Grace

I have a deeper knowledge and experience of the grace of God in my life because of my son’s death. However, I sometimes wish I were still ignorant of the depth of this grace because it took me places I never wanted to go. But when plunged into the depth of sorrow I have found a surplus of grace in the sometimes overwhelming pain of grief. This all-sufficient grace is only experienced in the deep and dark places of life. Grace is precious and it is needed to persevere through the pain.

Most of the weakest moments of my life have been in the last three years. I can say that in those moments of despair, and having nowhere to look but up, that grace has sustained and strengthened me. Jesus said to Paul and also has assured me of the abundant supply of this all sufficient grace. “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

 I have discovered the hidden treasure of his grace in the deepest darkest places of my life. Jesus is the treasure, He is the diamond discovered in a mineshaft without light. No treasure is ever discovered unless one descends into the mine. I didn’t want to go but God sent me anyway and I would not trade the treasure I have discovered in the shaft. I discovered Jesus in the mine and we became much better acquainted. It was there that he uncovered for me the precious abundant treasures of his grace. It was there also that he showed me the immense value of faith in him. He has disclosed for me the jewel of his hope diamond and the endless golden vein of his love found only in darkest places I never wanted to go.

I can say that the pain is worth enduring because the payout is priceless. I lost intimacy with my son but I gained intimacy with Jesus in the experience. Jesus is the treasure.

 There is pain involved in growing in the grace and knowledge of God. The maturing process cuts to the bone but I have clung to the following verse through it all-knowing its purposeful end. Peter said, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Jesus never hid himself to me in the darkness. No, rather he revealed himself to me. He himself is restoring my life, he himself is confirming me till the end, he himself is giving me strength in my weakness and he himself is establishing me for every good word and work.

The darkness of the mineshaft is discomforting but there is grace and treasure to be discovered in the deep pit. Jesus is there, yes, I would even say that Jesus is more easily found in the darkness rather than in the light. His value is discovered in dark places and I would not exchange this intimacy for the world. No, I would not exchange this even for my beloved Jacob. Why? Because apart from Jesus I would never had my son nor would I ever get to be in his presence again. I will see my son again but that was only made possible by the immeasurable grace of God found in his only Son.

When the mountain is on top of me and the weight of the world is on my shoulders my burden is made light because of Jesus. I cannot carry this burden and am thankful that I can cast my cares on him because he cares for me. What a marvelous Savior. What amazing grace. What a priceless treasure he is.

 

 

 

 

 

When hope is lost

Life is difficult. Pain is real. Grief, sorrow and trials are experienced by all in this world. We live by the golden rule, we walk by faith…or so we say, or so I have said. Yet lately, for longer than I want to admit to myself I have lost my hope. Oh, I say that I hope in God but that hope is mingled with a hope for better things in this life. I had dreams, but they died. I had desires for good things but they were cast down. I suffer pain, grief, sorrow and loss and I feel disheartened and crushed. I must admit that the death of my son Jacob has crushed my spirit to hope for better things.
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Therein lies my problem. I have fallen into the trap of placing hope in this temporal life, for passing earthly hopes that disappear as quickly as they appear. Oh, I would say that I was also looking to heaven for my eternal hope, but when my eyes fell again on the horizontal plane towards my hopes in this life I have been repeatedly disappointed. In these past three years I have guarded myself from hoping for better things in my life. However, when I let my guard down many times I was crushed again by another disappointing and difficult life event. I had forgotten and lost my sight of the promises in the valley of the shadow of death. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
We have faith in God, we have love for God and we have good hope in God. Faith can be turned to fear, love can grow cold, and hope will be shaken when the eyes of our soul turn away from Jesus to the things of this life. God has corrected my eyesight in the last couple of days with the help of some of his servants. I had lowered my spiritual eyes and turned away from the only eternal and unwavering hope. I still desire, expect and hope for good things from my gracious and merciful savior in this life. I will hope and wait for his goodness but whether in the pain or in the pleasure my hope is assured by an anchor in heaven. When hope in this life is robbed by trials I have learned, and have been recently been painfully reminded again that earthly hope is a mirage and a dissipating vapor.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV) There have been times I have wanted to put a choke hold on people who quickly respond to trials by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” While this is true it is of no comfort to the sorrowful, in fact it can be maddening. I have been in the fire, I am in the fire and I expect be in the fire again. This verse assures me that the my afflictions are temporal and no matter how bad life gets they are considered light and purposeful. I can rejoice in hope in the fire that prepares me for my future glorious inheritance in heaven. This is assured and this is our unchangeable and eternal hope.
I have been comforted by God and my hope has been restored because my eyes have turned heavenward where Christ my hope is seated at the right hand of God. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thess2:15-17) Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
 

Black Beauties: A commentary on Hidden Figures

Take One

I was born on the day that senator Robert Kennedy was shot by the hands of Sirhan Sirhan. On June 5th, 1968 I came into a world of terrible social injustice and hatred of black Americans. Two months prior to my birth on April the 4th, 1968 my Christian brother and fellow American Dr. King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray.

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I am not old enough to remember segregation because I was born in the era to end it. When I see the historical images of the prejudice, hatred, segregation and oppression I am shocked by the America that preceded my birth. I am a white man in rural white northern Michigan without a context to understand those times.bobby

I was reminded of this America in a vivid way last Saturday evening. I rocked back in my theater seat enjoying my popcorn with my wife and friends as the struggle of the 1960’s was masterfully presented to us. We came to see the film Hidden Figures and it did not disappoint. Last Saturday many women assembled nationwide to be heard in Washington DC as I watched a movie about how black women changed American prejudice in a much different way. It may shock you to hear that it was done in a manner that was very quiet and very Christian.

Jesus was from Nazareth, a northern Galilee hick town with a bad reputation. No one significant ever came from there. But Jesus, the oppressed and unjustly hated Jew became the most significant and single most influential person ever to walk this earth. In the face of injustice, prejudice, mocking and eventual murder he overcame it all and turned our world upside down. Nothing in our world would ever be the same after he gave his life.

In many ways these black beauties working for NASA overcame similar injustices. The film beautifully pays tribute to the manner in which they defeated racial and sexual discimination. What stuck out to me most in Hidden Figures is that these obscure no name women responded to oppression the same way Jesus did. Through humble service and meekness they dramatically changed their world and the world of those who followed in their wake.

Take two – America first

The women were driven by a higher purpose than themselves. America was in the space race and nothing else mattered except getting John Glenn on the moon before the end of the decade. Despite the oppression and injustice they put their noses down and did their jobs making themselves invaluable to the mission. There was never a more unjustly oppressed man than the sinless Son of God yet despite this he set his face towards the cross to accomplish his Father’s mission. In a similar way these black beauties were selfless and driven for something greater than themselves. This is truly a dying spirit in America I am afraid.

The women suffered in the workplace but overcame the cruelty in a very Christian way. These black beauties were humble, respectful, and gracious in the face of ugly oppression. There was a Christian principle they followed throughout the film, it reads like this-

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. – 1 Peter 2:18 ESV

The hidden figures suffered wrongfully but were never presented as harsh and retaliatory. These ladies had an internal beauty that was obvious to God and all who observed their good conduct. (1 Peter 3:1-6 ) They followed the example of Jesus in refusing to speak evil against their oppressors, nor did they pursue vengeful retaliation as Dr. King taught them.

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For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.- 1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV

My take

True Christianity rejects moral relativity and the culture is growing increasingly more intolerant and hostile to absolute truth and Christianity. Opposition and intolerance are the embers of persecution and the fire has already started in America. Will the American Christian stand up and march, or will we humbly follow Jesus as these African-American women did? We are getting a slight taste of persecution, injustice, oppression and what will our response be? Perhaps American privilege has caused us to forget our higher calling to suffer joyfully for the name of Jesus.

As the credits rolled I thought that these women shined as examples of the Christian faith in the face of terrible injustice. I am not sure if they were confessing believers but their life sure reflected it. The film inspired me to follow the example of Jesus and of these women to persevere in the faith whatever the cost.

Live godly in a godless culture and you will suffer persecution. But the benefits must never be forgotten by those who desire to live this way. There is the benefit of grace and glory for all who suffer wrongly for doing all the right things. Jesus suffered and the Christian will suffer because of his name as well. Remember, and be encouraged by the words of Peter the persecuted apostle on how to defeat the roaring lion.

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11 ESV

I am not a film critic, I am just an American Christian. I give this movie a five-star rating and two thumbs up despite my lack of credentials. I recommend it as a must see!

An unexpected and inexpressible gift

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I received the most amazing gift from my wife this Christmas. I was caught a bit off guard when I received it because we decided not to exchange gifts with each other. The gift came unwrapped, without a bow but was to me the most beautiful and thoughtful thing I have ever received. I say it was thoughtful, actually I am certain it was deeper than that. Though the gift was spontaneous, impulsive and emotional when presented to me I have come to realize it came from the deepest part of her heart and soul.

From Thanksgiving to New years day we endured the holiday season for the third time without our son Jacob and Stacey’s mother. Linda died suddenly six weeks after our son and I can see in my wife’s eyes the grief she carries for both of them. I struggled again to get through this holiday season but in my heart I believe Stacey’s struggle with heartache may be double what mine is. There is no way to measure this and most people haven’t a clue-but I do.

Not many words are shared between us about the pain we feel during the Christmas season. Yet volumes could be written from the unsaid words that our souls communicate to each other. Sometimes by just the meeting of our eyes and other times the holding of our hands we say it all.

Grief always finds a way to be released. It builds, it creates pressure and eventually that pressure finds it way out. It could be expressed by tears, in anger, in frustration, by sullenness, isolation or a myriad of other ways. It was New Years eve and Stacey’s grief came to a head and when released (strange as it may seem) it became the most amazing gift she has ever given to me.

I will spare you the details of how and why we came to this point on the last day of 2016. Suffice it to say that it was a difficult grief day and there was a moment of painful release. Moments later she gave me the gift. She said, “I know you love me and I know that you will do anything for me.”  I can die a happy man knowing that this came from the deepest place of her heart.

For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in happy times and times of grief her words have become very precious to me. They are the greatest gift a Christian man could ever receive because this is how Jesus loves me and this is how he instructs me to love my wife. He loves me perfectly, infinitely and sacrificially. I am just a mortal man, imperfect on my best days yet Jesus loved me and gave his life for me. Somewhere deep in the heart of my wife she knows I love her and will sacrifice all for her just as the Lord did for his church. I am called to love like this and it warms my heart to know it is sealed in the heart of my wife.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” (Ephesians 5:25a)

What Stacey gave me was affirmation that in all my short comings and failures I am loving her the way God has called me to love her. This was her great gift to me but it pales in comparison to the greatest gift given to mankind. The free gift of eternal life through the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I know he loved me and he demonstrated the love of God towards me by sacrificing all for me.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Grace to you and peace in 2017