Learning contentment during the holiday season

Stacey and I sat on our deck in late August of 2015 eating dinner. I pushed my food around the plate looking for the words to say that had been on my heart. I sipped on my iced tea and said, “I have been thinking it might be time to sell the house.” She replied, “Funny, I have been thinking the same thing.”IMG_1164

The death of our son Jacob on March 26th 2014 set us on a course in life that we likely would never had chosen otherwise. We sold, I retired at 49 with 30 years of public school employment. Our nest emptied, the kids got married and we currently have no grandchildren. Stacey quit her job and signed on to become a travel nurse. We left Michigan for southern California on September 18th to work for the winter.

We left our friends, our family, our jobs and all that was normal in our lives. Life has taken such a dramatic turn for us since the four deaths in our family. Stacey’s mother died suddenly 7 weeks after Jacob, her death forever changed the dynamic of the holiday season for us.

It is this time of year that our life changes become most glaring and difficult. It is hard to watch families during the holidays because those times have been taken from us. Traditions ended abruptly in 2014 and there haven’t been any new and lasting traditions established since then.

We have no Thanksgiving plans, no plans for Christmas and no plans for New Year Eve. Please, I am not looking for pity but painting a picture of the reality of life during the holidays for many people. It is easy to become depressed and discontent at this time of year.

Thankfully, we have our kids coming to be with us for a week in early December. So stoked about that!

We are doing well. God is gracious. We lack nothing and yet we are having to learn how to be content with the things we no longer have. Things that are forever lost in time and will never be restored. Thanksgiving Day football, deer hunting, food and card playing till midnight. Christmas Eve at grandmas for dinner and opening of gifts. Sharing in a large family circle giving thanks to God. Christmas morning with the kids and Stacey’s annual breakfast with my in-laws. Bowl games, cards games and good times on New Years Eve. All these frozen images in time, they are gone, and we must now learn contentment with the way things are.

Yes, it is difficult to watch families enjoy what has been taken from us at least for the moment. We are not jealous nor envious of others but it hurts to watch just the same. We are content with the things we have and are learning to be content with the things that have been taken away.

In all of this I have found strength and encouragement for coming holidays in the words of scripture. The incarnate One is with me and I am content with him and his promises.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

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

Every rose has its thorn

Grief still lingers.

I suppose that many around me that know the story of the loss of our son, and 3 other loved ones are happy for us when good and positive blessings happen in our lives.

We get all the smiles, congratulations and pats on the back and all the while grief still lingers like a nagging tooth ache. We smile through our pain and are conflicted in our emotions. Happy occasions become occasions for pain and grief is always under the surface of our smiles. Most people don’t see it or get it but some understand it because they have also been there and done that.

We smile, not necessarily because we are happy but because sometimes the smiles are all we have to disguise our pain. Many times we want to bolt and fly like a bird to our mountain. I recall multiple times when we have bolted. Times when my wife and I go to remote places to hear the waves, escape people and find solace. These are well meaning people who are truly happy for the blessings that are coming our way, but naive as to the pain that is present in life’s blessings for those who grieve.

We sit in our beach chairs and remind ourselves that it’s not their fault, they just don’t know, they have not walked this path or worn these shoes. Oh how often I have wanted to be in a state of ignorance again and to not know what I know all to well today.

Every rose has its thorn in grief. We see its beauty and smell its fragrance but for those who grieve we handle the flower by its stem and it pricks us. The pokes are painful and bring both tears of joy and sorrow in times of blessing.

In the days since the deaths there have been engagements and weddings.There are college graduations coming next May and in June our youngest son Jared will marry his high school sweetheart. We are happy but there is always a thorn that will poke our souls. We guard ourselves from the pain, the dull ache occasionally becomes very sharp and departs somewhat slower than when it arrived.

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The moment

This is how we roll in grief for now. I hope that someday I can see the rose and smell its sweet aroma and not be poked by a thorn. But, for now, every rose has its thorn. When I feel the pain I am reminded of the one who understands my grief and was himself pierced and felt the sting of death for me. Jesus is the beautiful fragrant rose, he is the Lilly in the valley. My hand feels the thorn but his hands took the nails and he understands my grief. He takes my hand in his and comforts my soul.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Jesus took the thorn and I am healed. Someday I will enter his garden of roses that is free of every thorn. Until then, I suppose, every rose will have its thorn.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b)