The end of evil

… Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today

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Anne Murray released “A little good news” in September 1983. The song rose on the billboard charts and reached #1 and remained there for 20 weeks. The lyrics of the song are timeless because the pain and problems do not change in our world. Sadly, they only get worse and are reported more often than ever. The headlines were the same for previous generations and continue to darken the monologues on the nightly news. Evil is among us and evil is here to stay. For now but not forever.

A feel good story is refreshing to our souls like a spring rain and soothing as lap full of puppies. Yes, we all sure could use a little good news today Ann Murray.

There are countless philosophies that people hold concerning evil. I don’t occupy myself with philosophical speculations as to why a man shoots into a concert venue killing 58 people. Or why a man rents a Home Depot truck with the sole intent to kill. I don’t need to wonder why these things continue and get increasingly worse because I know why.

I am a simple-minded evangelical Christian. I believe and teach the Bible. I believe in absolutes and I believe in truth. In a world of speculation concerning evil there is an answer to the big one word question.Why? I need not speculate as a Christian because truth is absolute and unchangeable. I know the truth about evil because my God has revealed it to me in his book of truth.

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— Romans 5:12 

This inflexible position is intolerable in our post-modern and post-Christian American culture. Christians are perceived as stupid, uneducated and arrogant pin heads. I accept this false diagnosis of me. The world did not accept Jesus and his diagnosis of evil and its cure. As I proclaim his message I can expect to treated with contempt as well.

Consider for a moment the following scenario.

Is an Oncologist a stupid, uneducated, ignorant liar when he accurately diagnoses cancer? Does a reasonable patient brush off the truth? Does he reject the doctor, the diagnosis and the treatment? No, because when the facts are absolutely true the patient will accept them and do all that is required so that the cancer does not kill them.

Life is full of facts, truth and absolutes. But when it comes to evil, its origins, and its consequences, the world rejects truth and enters into all kinds of religious philosophies and off the wall speculations. They reject the doctor, they reject the diagnosis and in so doing they reject the cure.

The bible diagnoses every man as having terminal spiritual cancer. There is evil present in us all that brings forth death for the soul and the flesh. The payment for sin is always death. That’s the bad news for all of us. We can reject the truthful diagnosis, we can reject the treatment, we can reject the gracious cure but if we do death will win and we have only ourselves to blame.

Breaking news! This is the moment where the headlines speak of rescue and heroism. A breath of fresh air in a landscape that reeks of death and disaster. When hope is seen in a hopeless world. We sure could use a little good news today, and there it is on the front page of the bible. Spiritual cancer was cured, life is given and death has no more sting! Yet the world turns off the good news and rejects the story of truth to their own demise. The story of the cross is foolishness to those who do not believe.

I stand with a few who hold this unbending way of thinking and faith. I am a Christian therefore I stand with Jesus and he stands beside me, therefore I am on solid ground. He humbly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” and affirmed the scriptures saying to his Father, “Your word is truth.” I say what he says, and I proclaim the good news today of what he has done to crush evil.

The good news story concerning evil and its ultimate destruction took place in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. On a cross, on account of sin, Jesus, the Righteous One, took our evil. He was made sin for us and imputed his righteousness unto all who believe in the good news, the gospel concerning him, his death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.

But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not ony that, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now  received the reconciliation.  Romans 5:8-11

There is no greater good news story in the headlines than this. Evil was overcome, evil must run its course but evil has an ultimate end. Evil will eventually be history and evil has no future storyline. That’s the good news for today!

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21;3-5

 

 

 

 

 

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A parental view on pain management

My son Jacob Michael Fekete died of an opiate prescription drug overdose on March 26th, 2014. He was 22. The epidemic is a topic I have not written on or discussed very often. But today is different, I feel compelled given President Trump’s declaration about the national heath emergency on opiate addiction.

Unbeknownst to my wife and I Jacob’s addiction began at 16 after having 2 medical procedures. The roots of addiction grew from there on this naive small town parent. By the time he had finished his second year in college Jacob got clean on his own. We learned of the depth of his problem after he came home for the summer between his sophomore and junior year. He opened up to us, confessed his addiction and made peace with his conscience. We were there to lovingly guide him through the summer and beyond but we were always concerned about a relapse.

Jacob chose not to return to Grand Valley State University that fall and opted to enroll in the Maritime Academy in Traverse City Michigan. IMG_0653Things were going well for him there and he was about a year away from completing the program. He lived with us at home and the signs of drug use were not evident, at least not to my wife and I. We were taken off guard, shocked beyond measure because we didn’t see the signs that accompany drug use.

Jacob relapsed during a particularly stressful time in his life. I said good night to him on the 25th of March and Stacey would discover him on the basement floor the following morning. All this only ten months after Jacob’s first cousin Justin Smith died of a heroin overdose. Justins drug dealer now sits in prison.

I don’t know where Jake got the drugs. His death was big news in our small community (as was Justins) and I am sure the dealer knows of his demise. A prisoner of his tormented conscience I have often hoped. I feel no anger towards whomever gave him the drugs that would take his life. Jake did something stupid, it was his choice. We live with those choices but I know he never would wish on us any of the pain we have endured. He loved us.

When I think of drug dealers I rarely envision a thug. I see a professional in a white overcoat with a dignified MD after his name. I recall people speaking the name of a local physician as a pill pusher and snicker about it. It was common knowledge in my community whom to visit if you wanted opiates for pain management. These are the dignified dealers who should be prosecuted in my view. Medical doctors who have betrayed their oaths and hurt their patients and communities, all behind a professional veil.

I guess if I could give advice to parents it would be the following. If your kid has real need of pain control you need to take control of their pain management. Life is full of pain, surgery recovery hurts. Let them feel some pain, use the Tylenol, be careful with the opiates. Keep track of what is used, keep it in a secure location and discard of all unused scripts as directed. It might just save you and your kid a whole lot of deeper pain in the future.

There is no deeper pain than losing a child and there is no pain reliever for those who have suffered the loss. Only time can dull the sharp edge of grief but the ache never goes away. I live with pain and manage it the best I can. One day at a time and presciption free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Jake

Jacob was born March 3rd 1992. A chubby and content newborn, nearly ten pounds who could have won a cute baby contest. Soon he was sitting up, soon he was walking, soon he was dressed for his first day of kindergarten. Not long after we were attending football games, wrestling matches, choir concerts and high school graduation.

Birthdays, Christmas, vacations, and Sunday afternoon dinners with the entire family have vanished. All that remains are these snapshots of his life. Just frozen images of places, times, and events but not much more. His life doesn’t run like a movie in my mind. There are only clips and screenshots, bits and pieces that flash in my memory.

Sometimes Facebook jars my memory and I recover a forgotten snapshot in time.

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I can’t remember. I want to remember but it seems most of the files have been deleted. They are scattered, unrecoverable and taken away like leaves with the cool winds of fall. There are a few leaves left behind that the late October wind left behind. I hear his voice and the garbled laugh of his great-grandmother. I see his thin-lipped crooked smile and clips of his maturing face as he grew from a boy into a man.

There are other memories that exist in a firesafe box in the basement. They are digital memories on discs and VHS tapes. The box has not been opened. The digital images remain in darkness, unseen but available. I have not come to the place where I can open the box, the very thought still causes me to shutter. Pandora’s box? Perhaps. I guard myself from places that complicate my grief. I’m not ready and I am not sure I will ever be ready. Maybe his brother and sister will discover it years from now and open the treasure chest of their brother’s life. I hope it makes them smile. I hope it warms their hearts. Near the firesafe box is a cedar chest. Someday they will also open the hope chest  and in it they will discover all the cherished family leaves gathered in one place. Full of color, full of beauty, full of memories and full of love.

I long to hear his voice, but not in this way. I desire to see him but not on a 60 inch flat screen. Not now, not yet, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps never.

Life begins and life gets lost in forgotten moments that have passed me by. How I wish to gather the leaves into a pile and admire the beauty of each colorful fallen leaf. Scattered memories are all that remain and every so often I pick up fallen leaf in time and recall a sweet moment. Once insignificant moments in time that have become beautiful and cherished snapshots for me to enjoy today.

Someday hope will end and I will realize my hope when we meet again face to face.

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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The monkey whisperer

I usually begin to write when grief teaches me something. When the keyboard is clicking grief has had something to say to me. The quiet time between blog posts is a measuring stick of progress I suppose. I am healing and the gaps seem to get wider between the times I feel compelled to write.

Grief has been not been silent however, she gets my attention every day but not in ways that are as abrupt, harsh and cruel as in times past.

It takes a long time to accept and adapt to life after the death of a child. Some people seemingly never adapt or recover I have observed, sadly, some are drowned and destroyed. My wife and I have found that adapting, moving, and getting on with life is a necessary and often painful part of the process. Getting stuck in grief is easy to do, it often feels like you are wading through chest deep muck in water filled waders. Yet we press on.

Grief has not been silent, she whispers daily to me. She teaches me new things and has shown me something recently that got the keyboard keys tapping again. I feel free. Not free from grief, but free of the heavy shoes that weigh me down and slow my healing. I am walking with it better now. Time does not heal this wound however, there is always a limp, a stone in my shoe per-se, and the need for a walking stick to catch me from falling. I no longer feel like there is a gorilla on my back, just a nagging monkey on my shoulder who pulls at my heart from time to time.

I walked the shores in Angoon Alaska 3 years ago with that gorilla on my back. This August I returned and walked those same shores and was free from that weight but not entirely. How I wish I could have walked this beach with my son the monkey whispered. My heart sank as my feet stuck in the tidal flat that morning. Soon I was free from the pain, removed the stone from my boot and was on my way once again. And so it goes for me. I am walking free but with a noticeable limp.

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I went to sit with Jacob the other day. I sat there and talked to him and talked with God on the small stone bench opposite of his headstone. I wet the ground again at the resting place of my son and mother-in-law and thought of the strange path my life has taken in the last three and a half years. So much has changed in my life, virtually nothing is the same. I said goodbye to my son and told him we are going to California for the winter. The monkey hopped on my shoulder as I walked away from the cemetery and whispered in my ear, “I am going with you.”

“Yes”, I whispered back, “And I will carry Jacob with me in my heart.”

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Purpose in the pain

The following is something I wrote a few short months after my son Jacob died. My hope is that it may help you better understand the purposes of God in the midst of pain.

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

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Last October Stacey and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by going to Mexico. Our time there was memorable and filled with exciting, new, and fun things to enjoy. Six months passed by and we found ourselves in a funeral home preparing to say goodbye to our beloved son Jacob. Which experience would you say is better? Here the preacher says something contrary to human understanding saying it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Why? Because the character of God is learned many times through hardship and less frequently through times of laughter. Therefore the house of mourning is found to be better because it is there that we discover who our God is.

The Christian life is full of growing pangs that we would never have chosen for ourselves, but God is working in us to mature us though various trials he has chosen. We experience the fruit of joy which the Holy Spirit produces as we suffer in the many hardships we endure. This joy is obviously not based in our circumstances but in the comforting fact that God is at work in our lives to sculpt his masterpiece. “My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

A test may be grieving you, the circumstances may be grim but our steadfast endurance in the pain produces the fruit that God desires in us. The desired goal of God is that we be perfectly matured and fully equipped for Christian living through the trial. Did you notice James says we need to let patience do the work which God desires to accomplish?Does this mean we can resist the work of God and stunt our spiritual growth? I believe it does. God wants us to stop being children (1 Peter 2:2) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

There are three levels of Christian maturity. Children understand the basic truth that they have been forgiven. Children develop into strong young men by having the word of God dwelling in them and overcoming the wicked one. Young men grow into fathers by life experiences that reveal the character of God described on the pages of scripture. In all this maturing God uses trials along the way so in the end we can say with John, “I write unto you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:12-14) We move from reading the book about God to knowing the God of the book though our pilgrimage of pain.

I can honestly say that there was very little I learned about God when I went to Mexico. I resided in the house of laughter and my spiritual growth was at best was in neutral. We came home to that long hard winter which ended in the worst day of our lives on March 26th; we entered into the better place of sorrow. How is it better? In all the sorrow, pain and grief we find God, he is the brightest in the darkest of times. He reveals himself in ways that the happy times could never have taught us.

What was the first lesson I learned in the house of mourning? What was the first lesson in the classroom of spiritual maturity for me? Lesson number one for me was a lesson on grace. Being in a helpless and seemingly hopeless place I learned though suffering that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) In the weakest moment of my life Christ poured out his grace and showed himself strong. He is the God of all grace and he has plenty to in reserve for your many afflictions in life too. Allow God to refine you in your house of mourning, there is grace for you in your time of great need. (Heb. 4:16)

As sorrowful; yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10)

God bless, Mike.

Embracing change

Change. If there is anything consistent and constant in life it is that life is full of change.   I have noticed that many people have difficulty with changes in life. Drastic changes cause the status quo crowd to become unraveled just a bit.

Change. I guess if there is any advice I can give to parents who have lost kids it would be to  brace yourself for huge life changes. Death changes everything, nothing remains the same after a child dies. I have learned by experience to embrace the changes because resisting them tend to be futile and unproductive.

Change. So much has changed for my wife and I since our son Jacob died a little more than 3 years ago. Changes we never would have chosen except that we felt compelled to move forward in life and embrace them. Yes, that meant we embraced pain by choice many times to get to the next place in life. Some changes we chose but many were chosen for us without our approval, either way we changed as the changes presented themselves. Changes were a healing balm for us. Much like painful physical therapy heals your body, painful changes have helped heal our souls.

Change. We sold our house, our two kids got married, I am retiring at 49, we bought a house, Stacey is quitting her job at the hospital and we are going to travel nurse for the next few years in sunny southern states.

Envy. People keep saying to me that they envy what we are doing, where we are going, and living a life that is somewhat footloose and fancy free. I have to admit it kind of bugs me when they say they envy us. I realize that they only see the positive changes but fail to remember the difficult changes that led to this lifestyle. If our loved ones had not died we would not be in the place we find ourselves. Much grief, much pain, and many difficult changes brought us to this place. Do not misunderstand me, I feel blessed to be in this place but how we got here was not fun at all.

Change. We did not want to change our life but death forced changes to be made. For those who casually say they envy the path we are currently on I think to myself, “You wouldn’t want to walk path that led to these changes.” Yet here we are and here we go into our ever-changing future.

Change. I have learned to change and adapt to what life brings my way. Losing a child changed everything in our life, nothing is the same as it was just 3 short years ago. Nor can it ever be again, so we embrace the change, adapt to the new life and move forward into the uncertain future of changes to come whether good or bad.

I guess what we have discovered is that unwanted life changes are inevitable. How we respond to the changes, and the personal changes we choose to make, make all the difference in how we heal on our journey with grief. Sometimes “going with it” is difficult but I have found that changes pay higher dividends than I ever expected.