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)

Even the birds have a song

I still have no song in my heart and I feel almost unchristian to make such an honest confession. I do not make melody in my heart, or whistle a tune or catch myself humming a hymn. My harmonica is tarnished and dusty from lack of use and I have not desired to play it in a long time. I am not nearly as pained by the sound of music as I was 28 months ago but I still react and withdraw from much of it most of the time.

I can evaluate my grief and sorrow by the way I react to music. I know I have a ways to go in my healing by the response I feel in my heart. Solomon said, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes of a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” (Proverbs25:20) I know the chill that he speaks of and have experienced the explosive internal reaction that is described in this truth.

My church family stand to sing praise to God and I feel no compulsion to join in but am rather satisfied to just pray and listen to the harmony of their praise. I wait eagerly for the last note of music to be over so I can listen to the sweet sound of the word of God. I am an enigma I suppose, few people in this world can get through a day without music but I happen to be one of them.

Solomon had the wealth to purchase his own personal singers and musicians and he said in his pursuit of meaning that it was all an empty endeavor (Ecclesiastes 2:8). Some may wonder if I even have joy without a song to sing but I can assure those who might doubt that I definitely do. I affirm with the greatest songwriter ever that my joy, like his joy, is found someplace other than music. Actually many of the songs David wrote were the epression of his deepest joy that he found in the word of God. He said, “The precepts of he Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Psalm 19:8) and “My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.” (Psalm 119:172)


My joy is found in the same place as David but is expressed differently than song.
I want a song in my heart again. I really don’t like this about myself and as I said, I feel very unchristian because of it. It is unnatural. Even nature sings the praises of God their creator, this truth became alive to me each morning as I watched the son rise in Mexico. The birds sang beautifully, the waves roared loudly and the palms clapped their hands in the wind. Yet here I sit, without a song on my lips- it is natural for all God’s creatures give him praise and certainly we who are made in his image should shout to the Lord as well.


The only exception I can find in the bible is the one I quoted at the start. I guess I still walk with a heavy heart and only God and time can mend the broken hearted. Some morning I will awaken and sing a new song and someday I truly believe that I will hear God himself sing over Israel. For he has promised them this, “Fear not O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your 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 3:16-17)

Even so, come Lord Jesus and sing over us all.

 

 

The truth about being truly happy

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, happy birthday, happy holidays, happy this happy that. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Life doesn’t miraculously become happy by simply attaching the word happy to every occasion or holiday. If it were that simple I would attach happy to every day of the year. You and I live in the real world and we know that life is partly cloudy with occasional peeks at the sunshine.

There are seasons of sadness and seasons of joy that turn as often as trees in their seasons. The Byrd’s were right when they put the bible to song in the classic hit turn, turn, turn. A time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:4) It’s coming up on 2 years since my son died and I am still sad on a daily basis but I am not without joy. I know the pathway to happiness in this life and at its end is paradise!TheByrdsTurnTurnTurnAlternate

Is their a truly contented person who is completely happy with their life? I want to be real with you for a moment. I have a continual sadness in my heart because of the 4 deaths that spanned 12 months in my family. I hope that 2016 brings more happiness to me and those I love most in this world. Can the sadness be overcome? Is  discovering happiness just a matter of mind over difficult matters and thinking my way into bliss or nirvana? No, I am afraid it doesn’t work that way and there is more to it than that.

Ask a thousand people what would make them truly happy and I suppose you would get a thousand different responses. I want to be happy and to turn away from this season of sadness- but how? A wise president once said, “Most folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Was Lincoln right? I want to be happy. If his statement is true then my sadness in life is a failure on my part to be determined enough to be happy. This too falls short of what is needed to be happy.

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Thomas Jefferson said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In all our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness have we ever obtained the happiness we pursue? If happiness is the feeling of pleasure and contentment then we must be honest and say that happiness at best is a vain and fleeting pursuit. It’s not jut an issue of our mindset, there must be more.

Bobby Mcferrin became famous with his catchy tune, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I agree with Bobby. Putting away worry and troubles is a good practice but it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. At best, if we are free of worry we are at peace for the moment but is the absence of anxiety happiness? What if you had everything and not a care in the world, would this bring lasting happiness or just momentary pleasure?

King Solomon had and used every resource available to chase pleasure, he had wine, women and song, pleasures without barriers and found no happiness in it. “I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2) He discovered that the pursuit of  pleasure does not end with happiness but at emptiness. Isn’t that the way the world approaches life much of the time? We seek happiness in relationships, family, educational pursuits, jobs, careers, pleasure, gathering stuff, experiencing life and yet we are discontent, disappointed, and unhappy with all our pursuits of happiness and left empty and grasping for a phantom named Mr. Happy. 0f57928c01fdf9cdcb1c785bb82d6e9f

I have a confession to make; I puke a little in the mouth at the sound of Joel Osteen. I sure like his pretty teeth and his hollywood smile however. Is the blessed and happy life just a matter of name it and claim it positive confession which he preaches? No,  It is nothing more than a game which sells lots of books and merchandise which is surely providing Joel his best life now at the expense of people who want happiness in a bad way. It doesn’t go far enough either.images-4

Wasn’t Jesus born into poverty and hated, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief? Didn’t he promise his followers troubles and persecution and pain just as he suffered? Yet Jesus possessed joy, and his joy is provided to believers in our pain, grief, death and sorrow.

The Lord looked past his cross to the joy of returning home to his Father in heaven. King David foretold of his post resurrection joy in Psalm 16:11. “You made known to me the pathway of life; in your presence there is fulness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forever-more.” Hope is a wonderful thing. Hope gives me joy, and someday my joy will be full in the presence of God with my loved ones who have preceded me. True happiness in this life is only a glimpse into the overflowing happiness the Christian will possess in our eternal home.

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Where is happiness found?

Happiness begins in the mind just as we have been saying. The key that opens the doorway to happiness, even in our sadness, is found in the words of Jesus. He said the blessed and happy people think this way. They are poor in spirit, humble, and mourning over sin. Happy people are meek, and those who seek after righteousness. Happiness is for the merciful and those who are pure in heart. Happy people are peacemakers and those who suffer for the name of Jesus. (Matthew 5)

Happiness is found in these beatitudes but to understand this does not go far enough. Jesus teaches us that the pathway to happiness is to kill every self-serving and prideful thought with humble servitude as a slave to God. Jesus washed the disciples feet on the night before he was to be crucified and listen to his advice about finding true happiness. “For I have given you an example, to do as I have just done unto you. Truly, truly, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed (happy) are you if you do them.” (John 13:15-17) What I know and how I think doesn’t go far enough to give me happiness. True happiness is found in humble self denial and obediently serving others as we would serve ourselves.

Jesus was God, became a man, emptied himself and humbled himself as a slave. He became obedient to God, endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him he endure it all for us. (Philippians 2:1-11)

Happiness is available. This is the truth about happiness!  🙂

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Happy New Year my friends!

 

 

 

 

 

Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter stopped

I have always been a cut up and totally appreciate a good belly laugh. My laughter was silenced for a long time after all the death of my son and 3 other loved ones. I had to think deeply as to the last time that something made me laugh hard enough to make me cry. Then it came to me. We had just finished watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers and were ready to call it a day. The Family Guy came on as we got off the couch and I was about to turn off the TV. I decided a long time ago to not watch this show because it goes over the edge too much for me. Peter Griffin happened to catch my attention that night. I watched about 90 seconds of the episode, turned it off, laughed till I cried as I climbed into bed for the night. The whole thing was a spoof on grief and total nonsense but it made me and my wife laugh hysterically. You may not appreciate it but I still giggle a little when I watch it. Grief needs levity and the sorrowing need their funny bone touched on occasion.

When laughter is inane

There are times in grief that laughter is a great antagonist to the sorrowing. We have days when nothing seems funny. There are solemn days when the laughing people and what they laugh about bring me great irritation. Those times are fewer as I move forward in my journey. I understand better the wisdom of Solomon who said laughter is vainity and madness.  (Ecclesiastes 2:2) The king would also record, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” (Proverbs 14:13 ESV) 

When laughter is medicinal

There are certain people I need to see and hear from when I am down. I seem to run into them at the most needed times of my grief journey. These are male friends who have wept with me and have laughed with me in one sitting. A couple of them in particular lighten my heavy load and have a way of extracting laughter out of my soul like a turkey baster. These people are a medicine to me that cannot be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a physician. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV) Somehow these friends make me laugh and refresh my heart when I need it most. I am so thankful to have a few funny friends. Certainly Readers Digest knew something of this natural remedy for sorrowing hearts. I love to read their articles, Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter leaves us

I battle depression from time to time, I have been struggling with it of late. When depressed I lose my laugher. I determined early in grief that I wasn’t going to use medications to help me to cope. Not that I oppose it for others but I personally decided to endure the pain and not sedate it. Why did I make such a choice? Because Jesus Christ endured the sorrow, pain and grief of the world without narcotics or anti-depressants. Isaiah records, “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; on him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV) Grief, sorrow, stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded all without pain relievers. Read on.

Isaiah wrote of Jesus 600 years before Bethlehem and the Psalmist records his experience looking down from the cross centuries before the tree ever gave root into the dry ground. “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” (Psalm 69 20-21 ESV) Poison was offered to him but the poison was refused.

Some time ago I had the medical marijuana subject defended by a young user who was not ill or in pain. He made the defense that since the herb is natural that surely God would be supportive of him using. I pointed out the fact that God certainly would never roll a fatty with him and here is the reason why. On the cross while being crushed for the sins of mankind Jesus began to thirst. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34 ESV) Jesus was offered a mind altering drug to ease the grief and pain and he refused it. I personally think it best to refuse it too.

When laughter is restored

I believe God has provided us with laughter. But it is somewhat odd to me that Jesus is never recorded laughing in the scriptures. However as a man I surely think that he did laugh. But he is remembered as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our sorrows and our griefs he carried so someday all sorrow would fade away.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Perhaps laughter is the sound of joy that flows from our contented souls. I want to laugh, I need to laugh but laughter for those who grieve children is slow in restoration. Somehow I know that the laughter I once knew will never be restored as it was. But I also know that I can smile and I can laugh more and more as days go by.  Laughter truly is the best medicine but for now my dosage is small with the expectation of more belly laughs are in my future. Someday all I will ever know is joy, till then I have his joy in my heart with an occasional   chuckle to help me along the way.

These things I have spoken to you that you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;

but be of good cheer

I have overcome the world- Jesus

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Me not laughing 🙂

 

 

 

 

Smiles of sadness; A letter to my deceased son

Dear Jacob,

I have been especially weepy and sad lately. There is a sadness that is with me that dampens my life like a misty morning walk. I think about the family allot, especially you son; mostly of you Jacob. I want to be happy, I laugh and smile on my journey but I have constant sadness in my heart. The smiles are not forced they are real, yet the kind of happiness I once knew died with you and the others. I suppose I cannot recover that kind of happiness ever again. I wish I could regain a cheerful song in my soul again. Someday perhaps, or perhaps never in this lifetime.

I am on a foggy road and sometimes I cannot tell whether it is good or bad. Music drones everywhere and has been a particular torment to me. My heart will not permit me to be completely happy and the blues give me the blues. I want to escape every happy melody and run from the sad dirges of lost love. I have hung my harp on the willows and I never care to hear a tune; I have rarely picked up my harmonica to play since you died. There is much sorrow in song and all the laughter seems senseless to me; it is all painful noise to me now. I sit in the pew and I do not sing, I listen and I weep. I wonder if you sing to God, I wonder what you sing to God with that beautiful voice he blessed you with.

I walk with your mom on a fractured path. Nothing is the same and it can never be the same, it seems like a dream but this dream is now our life. All the family gladness has a tone of sadness of what was and can never be again. Family laughter is a faint and fading echo in our empty house. We are here, we are in your childhood home but there are no birthday celebrations, no dinner table talks, no Christmas morning family time no late night baseball games. There is silence and the silent house makes me sad. Yet there is a comfort here because this is where you lived, loved and left us behind.

What you wanted most for your sister has happened. She is married and she is truly happy and yet they are forever sad at the same time. I hear your brothers laugh and it make me happy, it does my heart good to hear it, yet it hurts because he no longer has a brother in his life. I have 3 brothers and now he is left alone; this saddens me too. You were always so proud of them both, you were a wonderful brother to them.

I hurt, I wish the pain away yet I know it’s here to stay. It builds and builds until a day like today when the tears flow and sadness finds its release. Grief is without containment, it finds a way of release whether in good or bad ways. I wish I could say that only good has come of it for myself, but to believe that would be to believe a lie. I am different, I am better and I am worse in so many ways. I pray to be shaped in a good way and that the work of God would not be resisted by me. Yet I am just a man, prone to failure and weak in my flesh. God help me.

Your mom; what can I say about your mom? Your mom has few words for her hurt, she is afraid to cry because the crying may never stop. Grandma came to see you six weeks after you left us. Life got twice as hard and she is carrying allot of sadness as well. She is strong and we are stronger together than when you left us. I see her words in her eyes, they tell me things that only I can understand. Her faith has given me strength and I thank God for giving me a wife that helps me in my many weaknesses.

Your remembered by us every day. I recently walked and thought of you on a stoney Alaskan beach and I cried with each step.DSCN1866 I saw beauty and desired that your eyes could have seen the things I saw, yet my eyes have yet to see the beauty that you now behold. I wanted to hear your voice, see that crooked smile and enjoy that gargled laugh of yours. I walked alone and I walked sad as I missed your presence on that far away beach, your in my heart every day. Your never forgotten, your life mattered to all you touched- you made an impact and people are different because of you. Your life has changed me for the good.DSCN1894

Some memorial tattoos have been inked on some special people. Shawn, YoYo, mom, Ed have all done something special to honor your life. Jared and I have ours coming; yeah Jake I want to get a tattoo. They do mean something, mine is on the front cover of my bible on a sticky note. Do you remember what you wrote? “Smile dad, your son loves you- Jake” I am smiling son, I’m just sad with a smile on my face.FullSizeRender-9

Wishing I could hold you…until then I will have smiles of sadness

I love you- dad

A time to mourn and a time to dance

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Jordan and Jordan

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My girl

I will be giving my only daughter (Jordan) away in marriage in a few weeks. We are so happy for them and it does my heart good to see her beautiful smile of anticipation for the wedding. Jordan lost her brother and grandmother 6 weeks apart about this time last year. In her deep grief I remember her saying she didn’t care about an engagement anymore and gave up hope on the idea of marriage all together. Many of the people she wanted most to attend a wedding were now gone and the thought of having a celebration without them caused her to abandon her dreams of getting married. Late last spring we took Jordan and her boyfriend Jordan (we call him Jordan squared) to a movie and coffee afterwards. We were all hurting over the losses in our family that father’s day and spoke of our loved ones over comfort food and mocha lattes. We talked late into the night, hugged and said goodbye, got into our cars and headed for home. Not long into the drive we received a picture text from Jordan “squared” of a ring with a rock. He said, “Maybe next time I can get away long enough to talk to you guys about this.” Stacey gasped and texted back, “I just peed my pants!” That night and that text shined a faint beam of light into a dark time in all our lives. Now it was on, how and when the proposal would go down would run into mid summer, she had no idea what was coming. Unbeknownst to him he chose to propose at the very place I asked my wife to marry me.

I was in my time of mourning and I had a long way to go before I healed enough to exchange my tears for laughter. I wondered if it would ever, or could ever take place, sadness dominated me so much that I was concerned about being happy on her big day. I have struggled with weddings since my son died; mainly because all of those hopes and dreams for my son died with him. I truly wanted to be happy but happiness was evasive. Walking into the pain has helped prepare me for Jordan’s wedding, here’s how.

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The rock!

Hit pause for a moment and let me tell you of 3 weddings that I have observed since that night in the coffee shop. Each one has helped me heal and move me a few steps closer from sadness to gladness.

The first wedding I saw were total strangers. I observed a group of young people in a wedding party in a photo shoot. They were in the downtown area where we had coffee some days before, they were full of life and smiles. It hit me at that moment that Jacob would never experience that for himself or with his friends. It was raw, it hurt to watch people be happy when I was so sad.

The second wedding came later that fall overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan. The couple was around 20 years old and bursting with love for each other. As they recited their vows I was struck by the phrase, “In good times and in bad times” and what that actually meant to me that afternoon. How can you know at 20 what that really means? Now, at 46 I realize the depth of love needed to grieve together in the most difficult seasons of life.  We left for the reception and ate with friends but it was more than I could endure. I had to leave when the music and dancing started, sorrow was dominating my heart and I could not be happy even though I was happy for the newly weds.

The third wedding took place last December. Our nephew got married and I was still sad but the sadness was diminishing, although I did have to step away two or three times. I made it through the whole ceremony and reception with less difficulty. I had now witnessed the wedding of strangers, of friends and of family. I was working through the pain and my season of grief, I was healing and being prepared for my time of joy and dancing with my sweet baby girl.

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We had this made for her big day- Leland blue and gray pearl

Hit play again now. What I wanted least at my daughter’s wedding is the predominant feeling of sadness to overrule the joy that should be there on the occasion. I am ready to laugh, I am ready to dance. Am I sad? Yes, I am still sad but the sadness has diminished with time and time has granted me some happiness. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 ESV)

Ten months of preparation for the big event has past and the final details are now being finished. It began with the engagement, all the special considerations for the bride and groom are done. The guests can expect a beautiful ceremony, a wonderful meal and plenty of joyful faces. I expect to cry. Some tears will be from the lingering sadness of absent loved ones, this will never go away in this life and I wouldn’t want them to dry up. But I also expect tears of happiness and hope shed for my daughter and our new son-in-law.

Daughters are treasures! I lost a son, but now I am gaining a wonderful son-in law. As time goes ahead the seasons of life will change again and I hope to have grandchildren. I actually have not wanted that role or title at all, mostly because I am hesitant to love that deep again because the deeper you love the harder you grieve. But as my wife has said, “It is better to have loved deep than to never have loved.”

So, it’s been a little over a year since we lost mom and Jake. My time to mourn is getting farther behind and my time to dance is just around the corner. How did I get to this point? Jesus carried me the whole way. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4) He invited me saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy; and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV) Death and sin have been defeated, Jesus has carried my sorrow and grief and I have found rest for my soul. It is now time for me to dance!