Joy comes in the morning

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.image

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)

Hope in hard times

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.

IMG_0414

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.

 Good Hope

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, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 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. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 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

 

 

 

 

February 5th 1996 was life changing

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.

IMG_3605

20 year anniversary  in 2008

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.

image

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)

 

 

Overcoming seasonal depression by the two advents of hope.

This Christmas is our fourth holiday season without our beloved Jacob. Much has changed in our lives since his departure. Much is an understatement of the truth I suppose. Truth is, everything has changed and nothing is the same for us in life which especially includes our holiday observances.

Stacey and I have often said to each other, “I can’t believe this is our life.” It’s as if we walked through the wardrobe into Narnia but the way back was lost to us. If I were given the script for our biography to read five years ago I would have placed it in the genre of fiction. I guess truth is truly stranger than fiction. Through it all I have found the words of king David to ring true and provide much comfort for my soul.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 He guards all his bones;

I am thankful that God is near me, that he saves me, delivers me, guards me and protects me in all my troubles. This is especially true at this time of year when seasonal depression and waves of grief can overcome my heart so quickly.

I remember the terrible dread of those first couple holiday seasons. I also remember hearing from others who had lost children that the grief will change, it will get better but Christmas will never be the same. I have found this to be true.

The Christmas season is here again and advent is being observed by many Christians. We all get a little short-sighted at this time of year. The holiday buzz is everywhere and I can get distracted quickly with all the sights, sounds and smells of the season. I can also easily get swamped by grief and focus on the empty chairs in the family room. My eyes can lose their focus very fast. When hope is forgotten, comfort is forfeited and despair grips my heart when I lose sight of the reason for the season.

The coming of Emanuel was prophesied by Isaiah. The hope of nations was born in Bethlehem, placed in a manger and later nailed to a cross for the redemption of all who believe. He walked out of the grave, showed himself to many witnesses, ascended to the right hand of God and now Christians wait for the great second advent of the King.

God comforts the Christian. He dries the tears of his children with the tissue of hope. My hope is anchored in the reality that Jesus is coming again. As a believer in Christ I do not grieve as the world grieves because I have a living hope. I have God. This brings me great consolation.

All my sorrow will someday be turned into joy when I see Jesus face to face and he reunites me with my boy. All this is possible because the promised advent of Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus over 2000 years ago. The second advent is assured by Jesus himself and secured by his victory over sin and death through his resurrection from the dead.

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:2-3

The prophesied first advent is over and the promised second advent is soon to come. There is something far better waiting for those who love him and watch for his appearing. I encourage you to wait patiently in hopeful anticipation as you endure the many trials of this life. I leave you with theses comforting words of God penned through the apostle Paul.

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 4:15-17

Merry Christmas Jake!

264314_10150306139259179_2060162_n

A joyful and hope filled Christmas to you all!

 

 

Better not bitter

I met a man who is a member of “the club” on a Monday not long ago. His name is Leroy and his membership began the day before his son turned 21. Leroy’s son John was murdered in 1995. We shared our stories without shame of tears in an empty laundry room for about thirty minutes. There was an immediate bond between us, an understanding that only a father or mother in the club can know.

10346383_10102570367634668_4482583475582183658_n

The lives of all parents that have lost children are segmented into life before and after death. And so our stories went in the conversation. I loaded the washer and listened to my new friend describe his pain, his anger, desperation and the hopelessness he wrestled with after his son died. He then shared how all that changed through his faith and love for God.

Our stories are very different but very similar at the same time. Like a two-track through a dark woods our paths run side by side headed in the same direction. We spoke of our paths of hope and how terrible pain pressed us both into a deeper faith in God. Of course, this isn’t always the case with bereaved people, it can go quite the opposite way in fact. I agreed and mentioned to him what the preacher said in his sermon the day before.

“Everyone will suffer in this life” the preacher said, “and how we respond to it will either makes us bitter or better.” He went on to say that the difference between the words better and bitter is simply the letter I in the middle. When suffering becomes I centered bitterness can overtake us.

Leroy described in detail his bitter anger and hopelessness in the early days of his grief. But all that changed for him in time. He went on and spoke of how God has used the death to shape him into someone much different and better than before. I can relate, and so can everybody else who loves God in the midst of suffering.

All things, good and bad, have a definite, useful, and good purpose in the life of a Christian. Who is a Christian? We are those who love God and love his Son Jesus Christ. The believer understands that suffering is used to shape us into something good. Someone better. Someone beautiful.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

All things really do happen for a reason but this promise is only for a believer. The good purpose of God is to use everything in shaping those who love him into looking like his Son. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 

I suppose suffering can push those who hate God to confusion, despair and hopelessness. But for Leroy and I we spoke of our love for God and his love towards us. Without a doubt the murder of John and the overdose of Jacob were the most terrible events in our lives. Have those events made us bitter or better? We only spoke of the good intentions of a loving God in our shared stories. There are only happily ever afters for those who love God. God is making us better.

The purposeful good end of all things for those who love God is that he shapes us into the image of Jesus on his potter’s wheel. Someday the shaping will be complete and I will in my flesh behold the face of God. 

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

What a beautiful and meaningful ending to our journeys with suffering and pain.

I am better not bitter.

 

The end of evil

… Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today

notes

Anne Murray released “A little good news” in September 1983. The song rose on the billboard charts and reached #1 and remained there for 20 weeks. The lyrics of the song are timeless because the pain and problems do not change in our world. Sadly, they only get worse and are reported more often than ever. The headlines were the same for previous generations and continue to darken the monologues on the nightly news. Evil is among us and evil is here to stay. For now but not forever.

A feel good story is refreshing to our souls like a spring rain and soothing as lap full of puppies. Yes, we all sure could use a little good news today Ann Murray.

There are countless philosophies that people hold concerning evil. I don’t occupy myself with philosophical speculations as to why a man shoots into a concert venue killing 58 people. Or why a man rents a Home Depot truck with the sole intent to kill. I don’t need to wonder why these things continue and get increasingly worse because I know why.

I am a simple-minded evangelical Christian. I believe and teach the Bible. I believe in absolutes and I believe in truth. In a world of speculation concerning evil there is an answer to the big one word question.Why? I need not speculate as a Christian because truth is absolute and unchangeable. I know the truth about evil because my God has revealed it to me in his book of truth.

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— Romans 5:12 

This inflexible position is intolerable in our post-modern and post-Christian American culture. Christians are perceived as stupid, uneducated and arrogant pin heads. I accept this false diagnosis of me. The world did not accept Jesus and his diagnosis of evil and its cure. As I proclaim his message I can expect to treated with contempt as well.

Consider for a moment the following scenario.

Is an Oncologist a stupid, uneducated, ignorant liar when he accurately diagnoses cancer? Does a reasonable patient brush off the truth? Does he reject the doctor, the diagnosis and the treatment? No, because when the facts are absolutely true the patient will accept them and do all that is required so that the cancer does not kill them.

Life is full of facts, truth and absolutes. But when it comes to evil, its origins, and its consequences, the world rejects truth and enters into all kinds of religious philosophies and off the wall speculations. They reject the doctor, they reject the diagnosis and in so doing they reject the cure.

The bible diagnoses every man as having terminal spiritual cancer. There is evil present in us all that brings forth death for the soul and the flesh. The payment for sin is always death. That’s the bad news for all of us. We can reject the truthful diagnosis, we can reject the treatment, we can reject the gracious cure but if we do death will win and we have only ourselves to blame.

Breaking news! This is the moment where the headlines speak of rescue and heroism. A breath of fresh air in a landscape that reeks of death and disaster. When hope is seen in a hopeless world. We sure could use a little good news today, and there it is on the front page of the bible. Spiritual cancer was cured, life is given and death has no more sting! Yet the world turns off the good news and rejects the story of truth to their own demise. The story of the cross is foolishness to those who do not believe.

I stand with a few who hold this unbending way of thinking and faith. I am a Christian therefore I stand with Jesus and he stands beside me, therefore I am on solid ground. He humbly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” and affirmed the scriptures saying to his Father, “Your word is truth.” I say what he says, and I proclaim the good news today of what he has done to crush evil.

The good news story concerning evil and its ultimate destruction took place in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. On a cross, on account of sin, Jesus, the Righteous One, took our evil. He was made sin for us and imputed his righteousness unto all who believe in the good news, the gospel concerning him, his death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.

But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not ony that, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now  received the reconciliation.  Romans 5:8-11

There is no greater good news story in the headlines than this. Evil was overcome, evil must run its course but evil has an ultimate end. Evil will eventually be history and evil has no future storyline. That’s the good news for today!

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21;3-5

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving the RIP currents of grief

Walking along the shore in Oceanside California yesterday I noticed a warning sign about rip tides. Being from Michigan I am familiar with these signs because Lake Michigan has dangerous rip currents as well that swimmers must be wary of.

IMG_3397

Fortunately, I have never experienced getting caught in these currents that can kill. They are survivable if a person knows what to do when caught by the unexpected pull into the abyss.

I stepped into the warm Pacific beach sand, set up my beach chair, cracked open an Aquafina and plopped my butt down for some beautiful  California sunshine. It wasn’t long till we left our chairs and waded into the water for a cool down. There were no visible rip currents where we were but the force and power of the water was very evident.

I struggle with grief related depression. Standing waist deep in the cool salt water I felt the strong push and pull of the Pacific and thought of the similarities between rip tides and grief. Escaping and surviving a rip current and surviving grief are very much the same.

The Pull

Grief, like the rip current, has an incredibly strong and visible pull that transports its hostage out into the deep. The victim can see the shore and all the happy beach goers as they struggle alone against the unstoppable force. Very quickly your treading water and it’s over your head, fear takes hold and there is no lifeguard on duty to help us in our distress. Or is there?

Remembering the sign

The beach sign gave instructions on what to do when caught in a rip current. Step one said to identify the current and step two was to exit the shallow water before it pulls you out over your waist. The rip current of grief is sometimes visible, you see it coming, and other times it is sudden and unexpected and catches you off guard. There are times you can walk out of it quickly and many other times you cannot.

Step three tells the victim to remain calm and to conserve your energy. Grief can be so exhausting and it is important to weather the storm, find your peace, and keep your head above the water. Grief has taken me to places I never wanted to go but fighting the current is futile and potentially fatal. Its important to keep your head in a rip current and during grief.

There are times that I have felt like I was going down for the third and final time but I remembered the sign once again. Step four (if you are a poor swimmer) is to wave your arms and call out for help. Hurting people need helping people. We need people to talk to and people to listen to our heart. We need people to laugh with and a shoulder to cry on. We need friends and family, pastors and counselors. We need our spouses and we need to wave our arms and to cry out from time to time. Mostly importantly we need God and to call out to him. Grief should never be done alone.

Step five says to swim parallel to the shore and out of the current. Grief is hard work I have found, and it takes much effort to swim out of it. There have been times where I was just treading water and stuck in my grief. Simply put, without effort there is no progress to the shore I needed to get back to. It is tiresome and when I get exhausted by grief I remember the sign again and step six which says, conserve energy, float and relax. I have done this very often over the last four years. It is a vitally important part of getting back to the place you need to be. I never feel guilty about escaping and getting away from it all, it is a necessary part of the healing process.

Finally, step seven says to swim vertically towards the beach. With every stroke I have found that I am nearer to solid ground. Thankfully I am not where I was, I can see the shore, the pull is gone and I can feel the sand in my toes once again.

Back on the beach

Losing a child is undoubtably the worst kind of grief any person can endure. I wish I could say that the experience in the rip current was just one go around and your done but it’s not. I have found that I get back to the beach and get on with life but the cycle of grief continues. I wade out, I loose my footing, I feel the pull and I get in over my head again and again. I remember the routine and what to do. Thankfully the rip currents aren’t as often as before nor do they seem to be as strong but I do enter them nonetheless.

The lifeguard is always on duty

I can’t imagine navigating the rip currents of grief without a rescuer on watch. The Apostle Peter walked on water when Jesus called him out of the boat but Peter looked away from the Lord at the storm and he began to sink. In fear he cried out these comforting words, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”(Matthew 14:30-32 ESV) 

The Lifeguard is always on duty and has never lost a soul yet.

I doubt, I have weak faith at times. Despite this I have discovered the continual presence of my lifeguard Jesus in the rip currents of my life. He was there the whole time, he never left me and he has not forsaken me. For this I give him thanks.

IMG_0654