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.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting off the round about

4 years have passed since 4 family deaths started my wife and I on an unexpected journey with grief. I wish this journey had a final destination where I could get off this damn bus and let out a sigh of relief from the exhausting trip. However, I have discovered the longer I travel this road that there is no ending to this trip and sometimes you get stuck driving in circles in a round about.

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Grief comes to me (us) often and stings in ways we aren’t prepared for. 3 years post-mortem of Jacob and we are still getting our butts kicked by unexpected things in our pathway. I am not driving this bus, so I have no control of where it is taking us and where our stops will occur. One thing I have noticed recently is that the ride seems to be circular and and repetative. This week I was reminded that moving forward in grief requires more than one oar in the water.

There were some unexpected stops this past week for us. Sometimes you just gaze out the window, remain in your seat, ignore the door and wait for the bus to get rolling again. Sometimes it just easier to close your eyes and wait for a change of scenery and hope for a sunnier place.

I thought I was doing pretty good on this trip. I am an open kind of guy, I talk about my grief and I even blog my feelings and experiences for everyone to read. Then I saw myself clearly for the first time in a long time this week and it set me back it my seat. I was like, Ohhhh, yeah, that is how I have been responding to grief since this trip began.

On this grief bus you can run but there is no place to hide. You can close your eyes tight and wish it away, you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. There are many expected and unexpected triggers over the years that have troubled me to which I have had a standard response. The pain comes, anxiety intensifies my grief, I withdraw and seek out a quiet place on the bus until the pain subsides. I knew this was my pattern and I didn’t see it as a problem until recently when I was asked, “Why is this your response to the pain?” and, “What are you running from?” Those were probing questions which I could not answer and honestly have yet to answer.

I can’t get off the bus but I have asked the driver to get off this roundabout because I’m ready for a change of scenery. I trust that my compassionate God will hear that prayer and merge the bus on a straight path to new and pleasant places.

I guess running, hiding and withdrawing are no remedies for grief. I thought I had a handle on this crap but the more I ride this bus the more I realize I am kidding myself. I need to stretch my legs and go to the part of the bus where they offer help for the weary travelers. The bus has been running in circles and I just noticed that I have been on a round about for some time now.

The wheels on the bus go round and round. I am on the bus for life but it is up to me to change my seat if I don’t like the one I am sitting in. There are people on the bus who can help me if I willing to move from my place.

I guess it’s time to change my seat.
 

 

 

 

 

Eternity, not time, heals all wounds

Whoever first said, “Time heals all wounds” obviously never lost a child. Time for me has only made horrific pain lessen and become bearable. To be healed is to be completely free from the symptoms of grief and for the parents of lost children this cannot be fully experienced in this life. Someday I will be healed when the silver strand is broken, when time is no more, and I enter into eternal rest with my God. Until then, time can only mend the brokenhearted for which I am grateful to God.

It has been 3 years since our terrible 12 months ended, during which 4 loved family members died. Our last 2 losses (which were only 6 weeks apart) was my son and then my wife’s mother Linda. All 4 deaths were sudden and all were unexpected, each impacted us deeply and when the dust finally settled none of my family would ever be the same.

I recently attended another funeral of a young man whose life ended at 29 years. As I looked around the parlor during the visitation I observed multiple parents who also had lost a child. Too young, too soon, so tragic, so sad and painful. I recalled the pain I felt during visitation and the funeral service of my son. In those moments it feels as if the intense pain will have to be endured forever. Thankfully, by the grace of God it is not.

My hair suddenly stood on my neck, I shuttered and the memory of the indescribable pain which returned to me when I heard the mother of the lost son lament and wail. I remembered my own laments, I remembered sitting exactly where she sat just 3 years ago. I remember making similar unique groans that only the soul of a grieving parent can release. A helpless bitter cry that was heard by all but only understood by God himself and handful of parents who sit in the funeral home. Time does not completely heal this wound but time will take the edge off the pain we feel.

The funeral ended and a grief journey began for a mother and her surviving family.

I remember talking to parents who had lost children at the beginning of my journey. I envied them, they said that the grief would change and the burden wouldn’t be so heavy and in time you will be able to walk with it. What they were saying to me was that time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does take the edge off. I wanted to be where they were and fast forward through the extremely difficult first couple of years.

In the early days of grief even the good things in life brought me pain. This reality was replayed over and over again in those first months and years. About a year after Jacob died I gave his sister Jordan away in marriage. In all the joy of that day there was an internal grief struggle that was stabbing me in my heart. I was full of joy but the pain was always there throughout that wonderful day. How I wished Jacob was there to see his big sister on her special day.

Today it is different, today it is better, but I never expect it to entirely go away. With every joy in life there will always be the desire for Jacob to be present for the events that families celebrate. Things like birthdays, Christmas, graduations, weddings and the addition of children to the family. These kinds of occasions were once a sharp pain but have now reduced to a dull ache with an occasional stab to the heart. The grief never goes away but it changes and becomes bearable. This too is a grace from God who is comforting and mending  my soul.

There have been many recent and coming events that would have been much more difficult to attend in years past. My youngest son Jared finished his college wrestling career by qualifying for the NCAA division 3 nationals this past March. (Jake was his biggest fan) He then went on to graduate from Wheaton College three weeks ago and on June 10th he will marry his high school sweetheart. In the early stages of grief these occasions were bittersweet, full of joy and full of pain but now time has taken the edge off my grief but has not healed my wounds. I think much of Jacob during these times and joy is now the predominate emotion not the heavy sorrow veiled with a smile.

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I ask the question, “Does time heal all wounds?” Well, I’m not an expert on anything but I do know by experience that God is my healer and time takes the edge of the pain.

“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.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Eternity, not time, heals all our wounds. As time passes the cutting edge is dulled and life without Jacob become more bearable than the beginning. For this I give thanks to God.

A comforting sign

It is Easter Sunday morning and I have been awake since 4:30. I sip on my coffee in the silence with this Mac on my lap as I listen to a robin sing outside my window. I ponder what life would be like if the birds hushed their singing. What a wonderful grace this is from God that the silence was broken by the melody and harmony of his creation. The wind, the waves, the songbirds and the sound of rain on my roof all speak of the gracious Creator who reveals himself even in the sounds which we often ignore.

Painted in Waterlogue

I am not a sign seeker. God is everywhere and I don’t need something miraculous to affirm that he is, I need only to look and listen to my surroundings to be assured of his presence. Yet, some weeks back, just before the three-year anniversary date of the death of my son I whispered a prayer to God. I asked him to give me peace again and assurance that Jacob with him in his presence. I asked for a comfort and to do something to give me peace.

I kind of had forgotten the prayer until some other things happened. I wouldn’t call it a sign, it was just an answered prayer from God to comfort my sometimes troubled heart.

I need to fill you in on some background before I tell you what happened.

Let not your heart be troubled

The words of Jesus in John 14:1-3 were written on the heart of my son and Jacob could quote them when he was a young boy.  They read as follows, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 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 will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

On the headstone where Jacob rests are engraved the first six words of these verses. These words that came from Jesus and were etched in the heart of my son. We had them engraved in marble that we might never forget the promise of heaven and a family reunion.

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My wife Stacey found these words so comforting that she had them put on her arm. In memory of the promise of Jesus and in memory of our beloved son she had this tattoo done shortly after his death.

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So, March 26th came and it happened to be on a Sunday this year. We went to Eden Bible Church and sat in the seats we have been sitting in for years. The service began and I got a light elbow to the ribs as Stacey leaned over and whispered, “Did you notice this?” She handed me the church bulletin and you guessed it, our verses were right there on the front for us to take comfort in. Three years to the day of Jacob’s passing this was the bulletin we were handed.

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I had kind of forgotten the prayer I made to God. Sunday passed and my dad and I were having breakfast at Ursa Major on Thursday morning and our conversation triggered my memory of the prayer I had made. I told him about the prayer and the church bulletin and asked, “Do you think God used this to answer my prayer for comfort?” My dad believed he did and I do as well. Irony? I dont think so. A sign? Perhaps.

Here’s your sign

Today is Easter. This is the best day of all Christian celebrations because it is this resurrection day that stills my heart and says, “Let not your heart be troubled.”

I don’t need nor do I seek a signs from my son. But God in his grace to me has assured my heart once again by answering a prayer in a most ordinary but immensely comforting way and for that I thank him. It was like he was saying to me, “Here’s what you prayed for, let not your heart be troubled.”

Today I celebrate the greatest day in human history. Jesus promised to give the world a sign that he is God by walking out of his grave after three days. He conquered death and by faith in him I have been given life and my heart is not troubled. He has prepared a place for Jacob and he is preparing a place for me, he has promised to come for me so that where he is I will someday be also.

There is only one sign and only one faith that points to heaven and that sign is the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good Friday has passed Jesus is alive; There’s your sign!

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

Happy Easter my friends!