Valentines Day for Dummies
My life story was written by the sovereign pen of God. Surely “a man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” – Proverbs 20:24
There are dog ears folded in the pages of our autobiographies. Bookmarks in life that changed our hearts and changed the narrative.
In my story, like in everyone’s story there are blessings and testings that make and shape the saga.
For me those bookmarks include marrying Stacey Philo on September 17th, 1988. Add three markers for the births of our children Jordan, Jacob and Jared.
Add three more when I gave my daughter to her husband and gained a son. When I gained a daughter at Jared’s wedding and most recently added the blessing of our first grandson Eli Michael Ritter.
My story became our story and like all stories there are dark chapters interwoven throughout the goodness life brings.
May 15th 2013 began a difficult chapter that culminated in the graveside committal of 3 loved ones exactly one year to the day later.
Our son Jake, nephew Justin, mother Linda, and grandmother Marjorie. That year and those losses were written by God into our story.
The Lord truly gives and takes away. All these events penned down and foreknown by God before the opening of my storybook.
These are a few of the days that changed my storyline. Events that are bookmarked. Some I turn the pages back to and others I cannot bear the thought of doing so.
One date stands apart in my timeline that changed everything forever. Literally.
It was 25 years ago this week on February 5th 1996 that God wrote redeemed into my script. At least on my calendar he did- on his I was there from the foundation of the world.
I was in a bad place in life at that time. For sake of time the details of how I got to that place cannot be stated but just know that much was unraveling around me.
It was evening and I was cleaning the junior high school wing as I had been doing for the previous 8 years.
God was hounding me. My heart was heavy and on that winter night. 25 years ago this week my pride was broken and I humbled myself before God.
In a classroom, at a desk, in tears at about 7:00pm God laid down his pen and revealed himself and his son to me.
I met the author and finisher of my faith that night. Nothing would ever be the same for me. All that was to come afterwards would be seen through the lens of faith.
This awakening changed everything in my life. God began to shape me and change my thinking, attitudes and behavior.
That day was and is the best day of my life. Above all days, this day made the good days doubly blessed and the difficult ones filled with grace, mercy and love.
25 years ago this Friday God called my name and wrote my name in his book of life.
My story is still being revealed to me. I have read the ending already. He has revealed to me his good intentions and I am currently living in the happily ever after.
I have been graced with eternal life and for this I give him thanks.
23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! – Job 19:23-27
Thank you Jesus for a life full of your amazing grace and love. Thank you for 25 years of friendship.
Thank you for writing in the happily ever after.
The pain of losing a child is excruciating. Physically it is exhausting. Emotionally it drains you. Depression will overcome you at times. There were times when I didn’t care if life went on yet I was never suicidal.
Five and a half years have passed. Time has left an awful scar to a terrible wound. Time has been a teacher of things I knew nothing about however. Time and grief have educated me about God, faith and myself. The morning fog does not dissipate immediately, neither does the fog of grief but as it lifts the light of the sun makes your surroundings clearer. I see life and death differently. I see myself and God more clearly.
I read the social media memes of grieving parents. Many of these memes express a broken heart desperate for hope and comfort. I get that, I want that for myself as well yet in some of them I have found their words to be hollow and unhelpful. I have desired truth on my journey with grief and have found no relief in a well worded lie.
Truth has brought to me real comfort and real hope. The world scoffs at truth saying, “What is truth?” The Christian replies, “Jesus is the truth and his word is truth.” There is a comforting anchor of hope in the actual, historical, prophetical and archeological facts of the scriptures. I find no hope or comfort in mystical notions, speculations and unverifiable philosophies concerning life after death. I want and need the truth.
Truth answers the tough questions. Truth is, God answers to nobody and not all the answers made available to us. But God has made know to us his love, his grace, his mercy and in this I find immeasurable comfort and hope.
If this life is all there is and death is the end of all things then I would choose to become a hedonist. Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. If death is not swallowed up by life then I am greatly decieved and my faith is pointless. I am a fool left comfortless and hopeless if the sting of death is the end of all things.
But I am no fool and I take great comfort in the hope given to me by God in the scriptures.
The only comforting hope for me is based on actual, predicted, historical and verified events concerning Jesus. Apart from this my son is only a memory to me and we shall never embrace again. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything- it is everything- he is everything! And in this I rejoice with hope and joy inexpressible.
Cling the gospel my friends. It is our one hope and comfort in the dark days of our lives.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Till we meet Jesus and greet our loved ones again.
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”
Four family lives suddenly lost in twelve months time. A nephew, a grandmother, a mother and a son, three of which were laid to rest on the same day. That was May 15th 2014 one year to the day that Justin our nephew died.
Rob my 49 year old brother-in-law lost his fight with cancer a few short weeks ago. Death has visited us again. Rob was buried just a few steps away from my son and mother-in-law Linda. I wish to be laid to rest next to my boy someday when I am called home.
Five years have past since the darkest days of our life. Grief has changed much over that time. Five years seems to be a marker and somewhat of a milestone on this journey with grief. A little over 2 years into my journey I met my new neighbors who were 5 years in. They said at that time that life had finally gotten on track again. I remember wanting to be where they were and wishing I could fast forward the nightmare I was stuck in.
Well, I’m there now. They were right. Five years for some reason seems to be the timetable for life getting back to normal. The new normal as we say. It was true for them and it is true for me as well. I am not alone in this thought. I recently spoke with another bereaved mother who has experienced the same thing.
I felt the heavy weight again not too long ago. I drove without invitation to the house of a couple who lost their son recently. It was the evening before the funeral. We shared, we listened, we laughed and cried. I hurt for them knowing what they are facing. Terrible things that only our hearts know and understand. Things they were yet to experience the following day. Things they are yet to feel in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.
Empathy was so helpful to us when we lost Jacob. I needed to put feet to my prayers and pay a visit to my hurting friends. I am so glad I did.
We all embraced at the end. We talked much about hope. Hope in Christ. Hope in the resurrection. Hope of heaven and hope of better things to come. There is no greater comfort to offer the grieving than the promises of God to those who believe.
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Next month marks five years since our son Jacob died of a prescription drug overdose.
My life is nothing like it once was. Thinking on these last five years of flux the only thing that remains the same is God. He is the same yesterday today and forever. My faith has changed. I have changed. Life for us is completely different than expected or planned.
This is not the script I would have written for myself. I’m not complaining I am just stating the truth. Honestly, we are in a good place in life now. Seasons have changed and we are changing with the seasons that have brought us to new places we never imagined to be.
Truly, “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Time moves forward and time brings changes. Life would be unimaginable if the seasons of weeping never changed to laughter. Life would be unbearable if our mourning never ended and the dancing never began.
God flips the script for those who mourn. He heals the brokenhearted and shines new hope into the lives of the hurting. The death of a child is perhaps the most difficult pain in life to endure but God returns the joy and laughter of life even in this loss.
I have suffered something that is all to common these days. How I respond to the seasons of sorrow as a Christian must be uncommon and it is uncommon. The unbelieving world has an unending dirge that rings of hopelessness but the opposite is true for a believer.
God does not want me to live my life in hopeless and continual sorrow. Why? Because faith in the once dead, now living, resurrected and ascended Son of God assures me that sorrow may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. Therefore I encourage you who are hurting to consider these comforting words from the apostle Paul.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Its been nearly 5 years since my son died. The three anchors that have moored me in the most difficult days are faith, hope and love. Heartache and hardships truly test the validity of these three foundational Christian principles. I have found that it is impossible to destroy these three things. The ship may be battered but the anchor always holds in spite of the storm.
I have been told by people that they have watched and admired my faith while walking through hard times. I always want to turn the compliments back to God who strengthened me and deserves all the glory. I am not to be commended for enduring the storm. I am neither the anchor nor the chain that prevents me from drifting from the harbor and sinking in the depths. My faith is in Christ, my hope is in Christ and my love is for Christ. Apart from him I can do nothing.
My faith is not in a religion nor is my hope in clever fables devised by mere men. The Christian faith is not a “I hope so” philosophy of life but a confident “i know it’s so” assurance in actual historical events. My faith is in the promises of Jesus whom I have never seen. My confident hope is that he actually and literally defeated death and offers me his life by believing in him. Love for him is the result of receiving this outpouring into my life.
I have nearly 100 entries into this blog. The blog has been a journal of how faith and grief has walked hand in hand in the darkest period of my life. Writing has been a great outlet and help to me in my journey. It has also been my desire that what I have written would encourage, comfort and offer hope to those who are grieving.
Jacobs death was, and still is, a crushing blow to my life. I need daily hope to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have no use for hopeless pie in the sky mystical superstition that is not based in truth. Christianity is factual and extremely comforting and offers good hope. Truth is, if Jesus isn’t alive from the dead then hope of heaven is also dead and my faith would be pointless. Life would be empty and death might actually be a welcomed friend because of my many sorrows.
Christian hope changes my darkness into light! I have a confident hope in the future promise of heaven because of actual, pre-written, historical events that were literally fulfilled to the letter. So I share with you the words of Paul the Apostle, an eyewitness of the One who was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 NKJV
Perhaps you are reading this and you feel like you are without hope and without God in this world. I urge you to trust in Jesus the risen one. Call out to him and you will find rest for your soul.
I wish you all a happy and hope filled new year.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NKJV
I don’t hurt the same way at Christmas anymore.
I don’t dread the holiday season anymore.
I don’t desire to isolate myself at this time of year anymore.
This is Christmas number five since my son left this life. There was a time when I felt the heaviness would always return at this time of year. It doesn’t anymore. Grief continues but it has changed very much over time. Time is a friendly healing balm that the bereaved use daily to close the wounds and soften the scars.
We don’t leave the Christmas decorations in storage anymore. We do not choose to work on the holidays anymore. The spirit of the season has been given new life to us with the birth of our first grandchild.
Holiday seasons changed suddenly to heartache five years ago and each passing year it morphs again. I am not in constant pain at this time of year anymore. The dull ache continues but the stabbing pains have become infrequent and short-lived when they visit my soul. Pain doesn’t dominate my life this time of year anymore.
This Christmas season I have embraced with open arms. It was once intolerable, it became tolerated but now has new welcomed traditions.
I empathize with the bereaved especially at this time of year. It’s so hard to endure. I thought the day would never come where “anymore” would be in my vocabulary. But it is and I am very pleased to use it.
Anymore has become one of the greatest gifts of the Christmas season. But there is something eternally better on the horizon. Anymore will become evermore.
Assured eternal hope is better than the temporary comforts of all my “anymores.” Hope changes everything because someday the journey will be complete, the pain will cease and there will be no more tears. Anymore!
“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 21:4
Live in evermore hope my friends and enjoy the anymore steps in your journey with grief. Grace and peace to you all this holiday season.
Life for us got derailed a little more than four years ago. The wreckage was overwhelming and seemed as though repairing life and getting back on track could never happen. Thankfully it does. Lately I feel like I have finally come to accept life without Jake.
I spoke with a 30 year club member the other day. The lady lost a daughter to a drunk driver in 1988. We shared our stories with tears and she said something unexpected to me. “Boy” she paused, “Your on the fast tract. It took me a lot longer to get where you are in the healing process.”
Actually, I have felt that way sometimes and other times I felt like I was wearing lead boots in quicksand. We are moving forward. Time is our friendly escort away from the wreckage and I rarely stop and take a look back at it. I never wanted to stop healing and get stuck in grief and it saddens me to watch those who aren’t moving forward.
Grief is a terrible place to stay. I decided long ago I would rather hurt moving forward than hurt standing still. There’s no schedule in grief but there are many exits and layovers on the journey. I expect delays but I never stop for very long. The final destination is heaven but as the country song says, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go now.” I can relate to that.
Life took a cozy and scenic turn two Sundays ago. Our oldest revealed to us that they are having a baby and we finally get to be grandparents. It was the best Mothers Day ever!
I remember in the early days of our pain saying to my wife that I didn’t want grandchildren. I did not want to love with the possibility of losing again. What Stacey responded with has stuck with me through these difficult four years. “Mike,” she said, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all.” She’s right.
We are greatly blessed by God who gives and takes away. Jake was taken away from us but the One who gives us life and breath is forming a new life in my sweet baby girl.
Nothing could ever replace Jacob, but God has chosen to change our season of grief into a season of joy with a new life. For this I give him thanks.
There have been many twist and turns on our grief journey. I feel like we have hit a straight away but not so naive to think that there will not be more bumps along the way.
I am enjoying life. I am excited about our future and our first grandchild coming into our family. Life is good. God is good.
13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)
My wife had her heart set on a pretty dress she found last Friday but didn’t buy it. She mentioned it to me and I thought it would make her a great early birthday gift. We decided to go the next morning and left for the local Saint Patrick’s day activities.
Saturday morning we walked out of the condo into the salty south Florida air to get Stacey’s dress. Three blocks into our walk a twenty something young man was slumped over himself on a city bench. My wife and I walked by, she looked away and I looked on as the two officers attempted to wake him and feel for a pulse. It was an apparent overdose.
We walked on and didn’t speak about what we had just seen. The boutique door was open and I purchased for my wife the cute black dress for her to wear to the Kenny Chesney concert. The silence continued as we took a different route home. Nothing was said, nothing needed to be said, what is unsaid is always understood between us.
I am not sure if he became a Palm Beach county overdose death statistic or not. On average 600 people die in this beautiful place each year. A cold dark reality in such a warm and sunny paradise. Seeing this triggered some horrible memories which were immediately discarded to avoid unnecessary pain.
I guess it’s time to write again. It has been 61 days since my last post, and that is a good thing. When I am not writing it’s a safe bet that I am doing OK in my journey with grief.
I have never wanted to write about grief just to write about grief. In this blog I have endeavored to express my faith and my struggle with grief in a real and practical way. These 100 or so posts have been closely connected to my day-to-day experiences. My experience with grief in the last two months has been, well, uneventful and nothing to write home about.
Thinking about this, and having nothing to say, nor anything to write, it dawned on me that I should explain to my readers why I get silent.
In the early days of the blog when grief was so intense it was easy to communicate what was happening because it was all fresh and new. But now, living life without Jake feels normal and I have accepted this reality now. It’s not without pain and discomfort but the shock is gone and this no longer feels like a bad dream.
Jake left us 4 years ago on the 26th of this month. Early in my journey I remember having a conversation with parents who were 5 years into their journey. I recall them describing their healing and wished I could fast forward to the place they were. Now that I have arrived to that place I have less to write about because grief is no longer the dominant thing in my life.
There was a time it felt as though the pain would never subside. But it does, the seasons change and life goes on without the one I love. You take a walk, you remember, you buy a pretty black dress, you celebrate a birthday, you go to a concert and a Saint Patrick’s day parade. You move on and you live life.
Obviously I have my difficult moments and days but the healing has given me less to write about. I have considered ending this blog on a few occasions but realized there will always be something to write about in my grief journey. Grief doesn’t end for me until my life ends, but I have a hunch there will be less and less to write about as time goes by.
Enjoying my season of silence in sunny south Florida.
We reminisced of our younger days with some dear friends the other day. She was 19 and I was 20, we got married and started a family just a few short months later. It was the fall of 1988. I was a boy, a selfish young man who knew nothing of life, of being a decent husband or good father. I was clueless to the needs of my new wife and God knows I didn’t have a way with kids. How I ended up being the loved janitor of an elementary school is beyond my understanding.
I wasn’t the ideal father when my kids were young. If you looked closely at my life you might think that I loved whitetail deer and salmon more that my own offspring. I was a self-absorbed functioning provider and my wife was a sportsmans widow. I missed out on a heck of a lot of things that I now would love to have back.
Speaking about, and later thinking on my life sobered me as I pondered it on a south Florida highway late Sunday afternoon. I opened a conversation with Stacey and said to her that I doubt I would have liked the young Mike Fekete if I had met myself today. She responded with some comforting words and reminded me that we can’t live life consumed with regret. We can only change today and hope to be better tomorrow.
We drove a little farther and I broke the silence again. I said, “Life sure would have been a whole lot different for us if God had not intervened with me.” Stacey agreed.
Late December 1995 I was told by Stacey that if it weren’t for the kids and Christmas that she would send me packing. This was not an idle threat, I knew she meant what she said. Stacey never minces words and these words cut through my thick skull. God used her words to reflect on my life deeply and to consider Jesus once again whom I had closed out of my life. The weight of my sin and the heavy accountability I had before God for my wife and kids was crushing me in early 1996. I knew I was going to have to answer to him someday. Soon the dam would break and I would find the peace I needed.
We attended church one Sunday morning and the following scripture cut my soul like a hot knife through butter. The preacher read the words of Jesus in Matthew. “On that day many will say to me Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? And cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23)
I thought, if Jesus said this to the religious, what would he say to me who was irreligious? I knew the answer to that question and it caused me to turn to God for grace and mercy.
February 5th, 1996 I was working nights as a janitor at the local high school. The preachers words burned in my heart and I broke down before God in a classroom and called my dad for advice. I told him my heart and all he said was, “Mike, you know what to do.” He was right and I hung up the phone. I called out to my heavenly Father, believed on his Son and he rescued me. I was saved and peace entered my soul for the first time.That day was the great turning point in my life.
This was not a decision to be morally better but a great awakening and spiritual rebirth. What Jesus said to religious Nicodemus he was saying to me, “You must be born again” to enter into the kingdom of God. I was 28 years old and I heard the voice of God calling into my soul and I responded in faith.
I’m not sure where I would be today if God had not reached down that cold February night. I told Stacey what happened in the classroom and she responded by saying, “We will see.” She had every right to be skeptical. I had much to prove and restore.
God saved me, God saved my marriage and my family. I am not perfect, we are not perfect but the God who is still working in us certainly is. 22 years later God and time has changed so much for our good and his glory. We will celebrate 30 years of marriage this September and God willing I hope he grants us 30 more.
As I think of my old life I have many regrets but I have never regretted turning to Jesus. He changed everything in my life and by faith I am still being changed for the better day by day.
I am on the potter’s wheel and he continues to shape me into the image of his Son. Some of the molding has been very painful especially when we lost our Jacob. But I have found that in the worst of times that his grace has been sufficient. God has used even this to reveal himself to me and to shape me into the man I have become. There is still much more work for him to do. God never abandons any work be begins. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
To God be the glory, great things he has done!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; and behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)