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.
 

 

 

 

 

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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

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

 

 

 

The face of addiction

Overdose. What does that word conjure up in your mind? Put a face to the word overdose and who do you see?

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The face of our Jacob; a college freshman addicted to prescription pain medication

I know what it means for me because that is how my son and nephew died. Just ten months apart Justin overdosed on heroin and Jacob overdosed on prescription meds.

I have asked myself the question,”Where did I fail as a father?” I didn’t fail to love my son nor did I fail to educate him about the dangers of drug abuse. As parents we provided every opportunity possible for him to live a productive and wholesome life. He was involved in school musicals, choir, football and wrestling. He was a good student and he was active in church youth group. We lived our Christian faith in front of him as best as our frail flesh could. Jesus sat with us at the dinner table and we gave him thanks for his provision. Yet here I sit, my son is gone and I ask myself again, “Where did I fail as a father?” One concerned but totally ignorant older man asked me if I failed to educated him about the dangers of drugs at a young age. As if that would have prevented the March 26th 2014 overdose in the basement of our home. That is just stupid.

I wish… (I only think this and never would 😉 say it) I wish ignorant people would shut their big yappers. Nothing inflames me more than hearing people pontificate about an issue they are truly ignorant about. I have discovered these are generally older people who have created a false stereotype of drug addicts. (Yes, I just profiled and stereotyped some old people) They read a pamphlet or watch a documentary and have decided that there is a solution to the problem. So they go on a crusade  and campaign against drug use to stop the madness. They assume there was a failure in the home, or perhaps they missed out on the DARE program and demand more education, laws, and law enforcement from their senators. Surely money, education and activism will slow and stop this societal blight.

My son did not die of an overdose because he lacked education, or love, or nurturing. Will education, law enforcement, governmental regulations and programs stop overdoses? It may curb the problem but there will never be enough money, police, or rehab centers to end this deadly issue that seeps into all places of our society. Love can’t stop it, government can’t stop it, money, law enforcement, education and whatever other method devised by man may curb it but drug overdoses are here to stay. I am pretty sure the statistics are telling us that overdoses are on the rise despite all the money thrown at it to slow it down. So I just refuse to join that parade around the block.

Don’t get me wrong, I reach out where I can and I support education, legislation, law enforcement and rehab centers. But as a Christian who has lost a son to an overdose I do not deeply involve myself in battles that offer little change and no lasting hope. For me it’s like shadow boxing with the expectation of landing a knockout punch on a phantom opponent. I am in a fight however but my strategy is very different from most. I am offering hope over more than drug addition. I present real lasting hope for all people over every addiction known to man through the chain breaking power of Jesus Christ. He alone beat death. It was foretold to us, it came to pass and now he offers all people freedom from the chains and abundant life in his name. This is good news and available to everyone by faith in his name.

Let’s face it; we all are addicts, we are all slaves to something. The following is God’s diagnosis of our slavish condition. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3)  We are terminal but God prescribed the cure; faith in his Son, which is a difficult pill to swallow for most.

Our addictions are just symptoms of the disease that is killing us. We are all born with a spiritual and terminal disease called unbelief that manifests its symptoms in many fleshly ways. Jesus offered the cure to the religious leaders of his day but they refused it. He said to them,  “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

We are all slaves to our passions and pleasures until the shackles are unlocked and the chains drop away never to bind us again. Paul explains, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17)

When Jesus sets us free we are truly free for the first time. Free from guilt, free from shame, free from hiding, free from sin and alive to God.

There are only two kinds of people in the world. Slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness; slaves to hedonism or slaves to Jesus. Every man will someday overdose, oh maybe not on drugs but we will all die because our preferred addictions. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)

But God has provided a cure…”but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Any other treatment plan for the disease has no power to deliver anybody from death.

I offer hope, this is my crusade if you will. It is my calling and it is my primary duty as a believer. Jesus is the bondage breaker, he defeated death and is seated at the right hand of God offering life and liberty by grace through faith in him. Believe on him, trust him, seek his face. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:25-26)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

What love cannot do

Yesterday, after 28 months, we cleaned out Jacobs bedroom in preparation to sell our home. It is a terrible feeling to box up a life of memories and to bag up items for the trash for goodwill and for storage. The room smelled of my son. Everything we handled told a story that broke our heart as we made choices as to what box or bag to put it in. Jacob loved deeply and was deeply loved in this life but love has its limits. Our love for him was powerless to save his life from both physical death or spiritual death.

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God is love and the greatest commandment is to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as we love ourselves. Yet love is powerless to deliver us from our greatest fear and enemy death. If love had this power your loved one would not had died of cancer, or a car accident and my son would not had died from an overdose. No matter how much we obey the golden rule and love our loved ones and neighbors there is no power in love to deliver anybody from death.

Do you think, if it were possible, I would have made efforts to prevent my son from dying? Your right. We did the best we could by giving him the right instruction, family life, church, friends, education, etc… We poured love in his life, we demonstrated it yet there we were yesterday boxing up a life that we deeply loved but were powerless to save. Have you ever considered that the love of God by itself could not save us either? The love of God alone could not save us from sin and death nor sorrow and pain. But grace, mercy and love combined can if we only would believe the following.

“For God so loved he world that he gave is one and only Son.” (John 3:16a) Gave is a word of grace, and my God is the God of all grace. His love for you and I by itself could not redeem us, but he demonstrated his love towards us in that while we were yet enemies and sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) What love could not do for ourselves or for others God did by sending his Son to die for sin.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

What would be the greatest demonstration of love you could show towards your family, to your kids or grandchildren? Is it time? Is it stuff? Perhaps a fat inheritance? Would it be that they see you in the bleachers for every game or that you send them a nice card with words of love on special occasions? No, all our love and affection is powerless to save anybody, but God is mighty to save. So perhaps we should be sharing his love, his grace and his mercy if we truly love them. Point them to Jesus and proclaim the Son of his love, “And whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16b) This is the greatest love story ever told and sharing it is our greatest expression of love.

“The Lord God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) 

Even so, come Lord Jesus

Xanax altenative: my prescription for grief

In our journey with grief my wife and I have not used medications as a means of coping with the pain. It wasn’t long after Jacob’s death that I went for my annual physical and I told my doctor that I just preferred to deal with everything head on without drugs.

Grief is warfare and I battle its symptoms daily. I fight against sadness and loneliness for my son. I get anxious and I fall into depression. I get irritable, frustrated and angry at times. Grief is still a daily battle, I expect it to change but I would be a fool to believe that I will ever be free of it. I can’t suppress it, or ignore it, or expect it to just go away. I don’t believe I can medicate or drink it away either. I can fill my life with busyness, entertainment, work, vacations and run from grief but though I may run I am unable to hide.

So how do I cope? Some may think that I run to religion to medicate. After all Mike is a man of faith and for him religion is his crutch to hold him up. It may surprise you to know that I reject religion, it is a blight on the earth because religion is built on lies and I prefer truth. I believe in unchangeable absolutes and I apply the healing balm of truth to the pain of life to comfort my troubled heart. Truth is medicine for the soul and Jesus the lover of my soul is truth. He alone can mend my broken heart.

I often walk with sadness in my heart. When the heaviness for my son weighs on me I often pray the simple prayer of, “God, help me.” In those times Jesus the Good Shepherd comes near so that I never lack any good thing. He brings me to the still waters, he causes me to rest in green meadows. He restores my soul.

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When confused and without wisdom on how to navigate the pain he leads in in the right path and I follow him for the sake of his name.

There are times I have felt as though I was dying inside, robbed of my joy and utterly destroyed. But the Good Shepherd says to me, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) The times I walk through the valley of the shadow of death he has calmed my anxiety and quelled my fears. For he is present with me, with his rod Jesus corrects me, and with his staff he gently guides my steps.

Though the enemy of my soul desires to destroy me I am richly blessed by the Good Shepherd. I look around, I see his grace, my cup overflows with his blessings. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

When hope sees dim and the dark days casts doubt over my faith I remember the truth, I remember his way and I recall his life. The Good Shepherd speaks and I hear his tender voice, he calls me by name and I follow him. He whispers to me, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

So with confidence and great hope in the truthful voice of the Lord my shepherd I have hope and eternal life. I can conclude my life as David the sweet psalmist did and joyfully proclaim, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23) This is my hope, this is my future, this is the truth and it is good medicine for my soul.

Jesus gives me what no medication can ever provide. He gives me faith, hope and love. He provides me comfort, peace and assurance of the future. He makes me strong when I am weak, we makes me wise though I am a fool. He is mercy, he is grace, he is all I need. I don’t need Xanax and I certainly don’t need religion all I need is the truth. Jesus is truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Medication left in a bottle will never help anybody get well and the same is true with the Christian faith. Dosage directions on the label are to be followed precisely for the good of the patient, this is true of the Christian faith as well. The symptoms of grief are many, they attack my soul continually. When I am anxious, when I lose my peace, when I hurt I look to my Good Shepherd and he offers me his cure. I follow his prescription instructions and do as directed by the great physician my soul. It reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philipians 4:6-7)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”- Jesus