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

 

 

A Christmas confession

I am struggling with holiday depression. I feel its heavy pull today so I write with the reins in hand pulling back hard to keep me from writing too deep into the darkness I feel. All is well and good in my life and yet my soul is cast down- and so it goes, no reason to be sullen but darkness overshadows me.This is our third Christmas without Jacob and this is my current struggle without him during this Christmas season. IMG_1437

The world loves to expose a Christian hypocrite. A hypocrite wears a pretentious mask and desires the applause of men rather than that of God. Hypocrisy is nauseating to God and man so I decided to reveal what Christmas has become to this Christian since the death of my son. Confession is good for the soul they say. Maybe…hopefully.

It is Christmas time, I am a Christian, but my mind is rarely on the incarnation of Son of God at this time of year. Actually my thoughts concerning the birth of Jesus are elevated more around the Easter season- he was born to die and give his life a ransom for many. My confession to you (so all pretense is gone) is that Christmas for me is more about family than about Bethlehem, and Easter is more about Jesus and Calvary and less about family.

All the Christmas sights, the sounds, the smells and the bells lead my heart and my mind to one place this time of year. My Jacob. Everything about this season reminds me of him and family, not of grandiose thoughts of my Lord. This admission to myself last week was a bit of a personal revelation. I concluded after much thought that Christmas for me is more about family than about Christ. This confession makes me feel very unchristian but at least I am not a hypocrite I suppose. Lying is always bad, but lying to God and myself is worse and just plain stupid.

We say the cliché, “Remember the reason for the season.” What exactly does that mean? It can mean many things to different people. I know what it should mean to me as a Christian but it’s just not evidenced in my life. Jesus is the reason for the season but how I long for family more than him most of the time. My heart aches terribly for my son this time of year. All I see and hear reminds me of him and stirs up my pain. I wish I could say that all that I see and hear makes me ache for the Son of God; but it doesn’t and that is my terribly honest confession.

Merry Christmas my friends

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David as preached in my gospel. -2 Timothy 2:8

 

 

 

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 life and death of passion

Four family deaths and the burial of three loved ones on the same day did something to me that only those closest to me have witnessed. Today I want to reveal it to everybody. The death of Jacob has doused many passions I once enjoyed and involved myself in life. Like a bucket of water thrown on a campfire all that is left of the once hot fire are charred coals, some rising steam, and the sound of hissing.

I want to write about the death of passion for those who are on the outside of grief and know nothing about losing a child. I desire to write this not to be critical or cynical of your passions so I preface my writing so you don’t misunderstand my heart. My hope is that perhaps I can help somebody who is confused as to what changed in their friend who once shared similar passions with them. Maybe your golfing partner no longer plays anymore, perhaps your buddy doesn’t want to come over and watch the big games like he used to. What happened? I think I can explain it out of my own personal experience.

I used to be obsessed with outdoor activities. I couldn’t get enough of hunting and fishing. I once was deeply involved and passionate about the sport of wrestling. There was a time when American politics were of great interest to me and I involved myself in the dialogues and used to be a dutiful voter. I also was once a fanatically obsessed fan of Michigan sports teams. It was easy for me to enter into activities and conversations that involved my passions at one time, but not anymore. On March 26th & May 15th 2014 these fires were quenched by a bucket of grief. Oh, there are the remnants of the fire there in my life but none of my former passions mean a hill of beans to me anymore.

The death of certain passions have caused me to pull away from the conversations and activities that I was once obsessed over. Much of it is like eating a cracker with cotton mouth and nothing to wash it down with.

My former passions have all but become inane nonsense to me. I hate the political noise, I can’t change the world with my one vote so I have chosen to walk away from a former passion that is of no personal help to me. I no longer allow my thoughts and desires to be hijacked by my sports teams, or guns, politics or outdoor activities. No, grief has all but struck the last and fatal blow to those former passions. Even entering into the conversations of these things has become difficult for me to endure. Why is this? Have all my passions died?

In my experience with grief I have learned to chuck all the noise and nonsense that only adds to the chaos and robs me of peace. Most of the passions I once had  have all but died in my grief and I am not sure they will ever be resurrected again. I suppose only time will tell me that, I am not without passion however. Life’s passions for me got extremely pared down because death always magnifies what is truly important and eliminates what is not. Deer hunting, a stinky fish, political views, a football game are of little or no value to me anymore. Though I still lightly involve myself in these occasional enjoyable activities they don’t consume me.

Bring up politics, hunting, fishing and sports and I may be lightly engaging but quickly bored. And if I were to bring up my passions you might be lightly engaging and terribly bored as well. What have my passions and interests boiled down to you might ask. Read my blog posts and you will discover that I am passionate about the truth. Jesus said, “I am truth” and he also stated that “the word of God is truth.” Jesus is God in flesh, and he as the God-man beat death, was raised, ascended through the heavens, and is now seated at the right hand of God. The scriptures foretold it, it happened, and he is returning to judge the earth. I am passionate about this hope in him.

I have discovered that people have many passions but I find few people (especially men) who are passionate about Jesus and the truth.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Oh and by the way, I do have one other passion I will mention. Her name is Stacey and we have three beautiful kids (one in heaven) who we are passionate about. They have life partners now and God willing I expect my family to grow. Somehow I think that grand babies will be our next passion in life.fam

Jesus said that our mouths reveal the passions of our hearts. What we talk most reveals our true passions, so we do well in listening to the stuff that our tongues are wagging about. Many of the passions that once dominated my time, my thinking and speaking died with my son. My passions are for Jesus, the truth, and my family, almost everything else to me has become superfluous.

Maybe I am an anomaly or maybe I am not, but this is for certain. Grief pares down our passions to the most important things in life. Sorry if I don’t appear to care about my former passions anymore, the fire was doused by 4 funerals. I am pretty sure other grieving people are feeling similar things. So cut some slack to your friends and family who have silenced the noise and focused on the things that matter most to them. Death kills many passions but also gives life to the passions that matter most; don’t try to understand this, just please take note and accept it for what it is.