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.

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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.

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Purpose in the pain

The following is something I wrote a few short months after my son Jacob died. My hope is that it may help you better understand the purposes of God in the midst of pain.

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

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Last October Stacey and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by going to Mexico. Our time there was memorable and filled with exciting, new, and fun things to enjoy. Six months passed by and we found ourselves in a funeral home preparing to say goodbye to our beloved son Jacob. Which experience would you say is better? Here the preacher says something contrary to human understanding saying it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Why? Because the character of God is learned many times through hardship and less frequently through times of laughter. Therefore the house of mourning is found to be better because it is there that we discover who our God is.

The Christian life is full of growing pangs that we would never have chosen for ourselves, but God is working in us to mature us though various trials he has chosen. We experience the fruit of joy which the Holy Spirit produces as we suffer in the many hardships we endure. This joy is obviously not based in our circumstances but in the comforting fact that God is at work in our lives to sculpt his masterpiece. “My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

A test may be grieving you, the circumstances may be grim but our steadfast endurance in the pain produces the fruit that God desires in us. The desired goal of God is that we be perfectly matured and fully equipped for Christian living through the trial. Did you notice James says we need to let patience do the work which God desires to accomplish?Does this mean we can resist the work of God and stunt our spiritual growth? I believe it does. God wants us to stop being children (1 Peter 2:2) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

There are three levels of Christian maturity. Children understand the basic truth that they have been forgiven. Children develop into strong young men by having the word of God dwelling in them and overcoming the wicked one. Young men grow into fathers by life experiences that reveal the character of God described on the pages of scripture. In all this maturing God uses trials along the way so in the end we can say with John, “I write unto you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:12-14) We move from reading the book about God to knowing the God of the book though our pilgrimage of pain.

I can honestly say that there was very little I learned about God when I went to Mexico. I resided in the house of laughter and my spiritual growth was at best was in neutral. We came home to that long hard winter which ended in the worst day of our lives on March 26th; we entered into the better place of sorrow. How is it better? In all the sorrow, pain and grief we find God, he is the brightest in the darkest of times. He reveals himself in ways that the happy times could never have taught us.

What was the first lesson I learned in the house of mourning? What was the first lesson in the classroom of spiritual maturity for me? Lesson number one for me was a lesson on grace. Being in a helpless and seemingly hopeless place I learned though suffering that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) In the weakest moment of my life Christ poured out his grace and showed himself strong. He is the God of all grace and he has plenty to in reserve for your many afflictions in life too. Allow God to refine you in your house of mourning, there is grace for you in your time of great need. (Heb. 4:16)

As sorrowful; yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10)

God bless, Mike.

Eternity, not time, heals all wounds

Whoever first said, “Time heals all wounds” obviously never lost a child. Time for me has only made horrific pain lessen and become bearable. To be healed is to be completely free from the symptoms of grief and for the parents of lost children this cannot be fully experienced in this life. Someday I will be healed when the silver strand is broken, when time is no more, and I enter into eternal rest with my God. Until then, time can only mend the brokenhearted for which I am grateful to God.

It has been 3 years since our terrible 12 months ended, during which 4 loved family members died. Our last 2 losses (which were only 6 weeks apart) was my son and then my wife’s mother Linda. All 4 deaths were sudden and all were unexpected, each impacted us deeply and when the dust finally settled none of my family would ever be the same.

I recently attended another funeral of a young man whose life ended at 29 years. As I looked around the parlor during the visitation I observed multiple parents who also had lost a child. Too young, too soon, so tragic, so sad and painful. I recalled the pain I felt during visitation and the funeral service of my son. In those moments it feels as if the intense pain will have to be endured forever. Thankfully, by the grace of God it is not.

My hair suddenly stood on my neck, I shuttered and the memory of the indescribable pain which returned to me when I heard the mother of the lost son lament and wail. I remembered my own laments, I remembered sitting exactly where she sat just 3 years ago. I remember making similar unique groans that only the soul of a grieving parent can release. A helpless bitter cry that was heard by all but only understood by God himself and handful of parents who sit in the funeral home. Time does not completely heal this wound but time will take the edge off the pain we feel.

The funeral ended and a grief journey began for a mother and her surviving family.

I remember talking to parents who had lost children at the beginning of my journey. I envied them, they said that the grief would change and the burden wouldn’t be so heavy and in time you will be able to walk with it. What they were saying to me was that time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does take the edge off. I wanted to be where they were and fast forward through the extremely difficult first couple of years.

In the early days of grief even the good things in life brought me pain. This reality was replayed over and over again in those first months and years. About a year after Jacob died I gave his sister Jordan away in marriage. In all the joy of that day there was an internal grief struggle that was stabbing me in my heart. I was full of joy but the pain was always there throughout that wonderful day. How I wished Jacob was there to see his big sister on her special day.

Today it is different, today it is better, but I never expect it to entirely go away. With every joy in life there will always be the desire for Jacob to be present for the events that families celebrate. Things like birthdays, Christmas, graduations, weddings and the addition of children to the family. These kinds of occasions were once a sharp pain but have now reduced to a dull ache with an occasional stab to the heart. The grief never goes away but it changes and becomes bearable. This too is a grace from God who is comforting and mending  my soul.

There have been many recent and coming events that would have been much more difficult to attend in years past. My youngest son Jared finished his college wrestling career by qualifying for the NCAA division 3 nationals this past March. (Jake was his biggest fan) He then went on to graduate from Wheaton College three weeks ago and on June 10th he will marry his high school sweetheart. In the early stages of grief these occasions were bittersweet, full of joy and full of pain but now time has taken the edge off my grief but has not healed my wounds. I think much of Jacob during these times and joy is now the predominate emotion not the heavy sorrow veiled with a smile.

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jared jordan

I ask the question, “Does time heal all wounds?” Well, I’m not an expert on anything but I do know by experience that God is my healer and time takes the edge of the pain.

“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.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Eternity, not time, heals all our wounds. As time passes the cutting edge is dulled and life without Jacob become more bearable than the beginning. For this I give thanks to God.

A comforting sign

It is Easter Sunday morning and I have been awake since 4:30. I sip on my coffee in the silence with this Mac on my lap as I listen to a robin sing outside my window. I ponder what life would be like if the birds hushed their singing. What a wonderful grace this is from God that the silence was broken by the melody and harmony of his creation. The wind, the waves, the songbirds and the sound of rain on my roof all speak of the gracious Creator who reveals himself even in the sounds which we often ignore.

Painted in Waterlogue

I am not a sign seeker. God is everywhere and I don’t need something miraculous to affirm that he is, I need only to look and listen to my surroundings to be assured of his presence. Yet, some weeks back, just before the three-year anniversary date of the death of my son I whispered a prayer to God. I asked him to give me peace again and assurance that Jacob with him in his presence. I asked for a comfort and to do something to give me peace.

I kind of had forgotten the prayer until some other things happened. I wouldn’t call it a sign, it was just an answered prayer from God to comfort my sometimes troubled heart.

I need to fill you in on some background before I tell you what happened.

Let not your heart be troubled

The words of Jesus in John 14:1-3 were written on the heart of my son and Jacob could quote them when he was a young boy.  They read as follows, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

On the headstone where Jacob rests are engraved the first six words of these verses. These words that came from Jesus and were etched in the heart of my son. We had them engraved in marble that we might never forget the promise of heaven and a family reunion.

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My wife Stacey found these words so comforting that she had them put on her arm. In memory of the promise of Jesus and in memory of our beloved son she had this tattoo done shortly after his death.

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So, March 26th came and it happened to be on a Sunday this year. We went to Eden Bible Church and sat in the seats we have been sitting in for years. The service began and I got a light elbow to the ribs as Stacey leaned over and whispered, “Did you notice this?” She handed me the church bulletin and you guessed it, our verses were right there on the front for us to take comfort in. Three years to the day of Jacob’s passing this was the bulletin we were handed.

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I had kind of forgotten the prayer I made to God. Sunday passed and my dad and I were having breakfast at Ursa Major on Thursday morning and our conversation triggered my memory of the prayer I had made. I told him about the prayer and the church bulletin and asked, “Do you think God used this to answer my prayer for comfort?” My dad believed he did and I do as well. Irony? I dont think so. A sign? Perhaps.

Here’s your sign

Today is Easter. This is the best day of all Christian celebrations because it is this resurrection day that stills my heart and says, “Let not your heart be troubled.”

I don’t need nor do I seek a signs from my son. But God in his grace to me has assured my heart once again by answering a prayer in a most ordinary but immensely comforting way and for that I thank him. It was like he was saying to me, “Here’s what you prayed for, let not your heart be troubled.”

Today I celebrate the greatest day in human history. Jesus promised to give the world a sign that he is God by walking out of his grave after three days. He conquered death and by faith in him I have been given life and my heart is not troubled. He has prepared a place for Jacob and he is preparing a place for me, he has promised to come for me so that where he is I will someday be also.

There is only one sign and only one faith that points to heaven and that sign is the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good Friday has passed Jesus is alive; There’s your sign!

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

Happy Easter my friends!

 

Never Forgotten

Remembering

When I was younger I never gave thought to my legacy and how I would be remembered after death. Now that I am beyond mid-life I think of it quite often and am reminded that each day I live is a day that might be shared in my eulogy.

We want to remember the lives of those we love and we do many things so that they might not be forgotten. This week I will transplant Jacob’s memorial tree from our old house to our new home.

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Jacob’s tree

Last week I had a memorial tattoo put on my right arm of a sticky note that Jake secretly placed in my bible. People have memorial events, establish memorial scholarships and give donations to charities in the name of the ones they love. All of this is good and comforting to do because we never want to forget nor do any of us want to be forgotten.

I visit the graveyard where my son and other loved ones lay in rest for the great day of Christ’s return (John 14:1-6). I remember their lives, I walk around and I see the names of many unknown and forgotten people. There are people who have been resting there for over a hundred fifty years and I ponder who they were and does anybody remember their life? Unless you made a huge dent in human history it is likely that people will forget all about us after about 3 or 4 generations. My life is a vapor, I am here today and gone tomorrow (James 4:14). The most I can hope for is that I leave something behind for this generation and the next that was meaningful and eternally significant.

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Rewarding

 I expect to be forgotten and I am just fine with riding into the sunset and disappearing like a morning mist. Perhaps in a hundred fifty years somebody will look at my headstone and wonder, “Who was this Mike Fekete and what was his life like?” I am OK with that but what I am not OK with is to be eternally forgotten by my eternal God. Thankfully, with God, there is a legacy believers are currently living in this life that will never be forgotten and better yet will be rewarded by him. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10) Let us not forget that when we love and serve our Christian brothers we love and serve our Lord. Let us work, let us labor in love, let us persevere to the end for the name of Jesus. FullSizeRender-9

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

In ancient temples the wealthy memorialized people by purchasing a marble pillar in the name of the deceased. Jesus knew this and said to the church, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:12) Those who overcome are never forgotten and always rewarded by Jesus. When we honor him on earth he promises to honor us in paradise.

 

 

Why God?

My blog “Wrestling with Jacob” is approaching its 3 year birthday. Tomorrow, March the 26th marks three years since our Jacob died of a prescription drug overdose and I began blogging shortly afterward. I chose the name of the blog for several reasons and some might assume it mostly has to do with me wrestling with Jakes death. You would be correct if you guessed that but only partly correct. My 60 plus entries has much more to with my wrestling with God than wrestling with the grief I feel over the loss of my boy.

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Losing Jacob has stretched my faith and opened my understanding of the very character and nature of God. His attributes are clearly seen through his creation, his word, and Jesus his son. By looking in those three places God has revealed himself to me and deepened my worship of him.

I have often said to people that I miss the days when I was ignorant of the things grief has taught me. Yet, in the next breath I confess I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I have gleaned from it. Suffering is a teacher and a tool used by God to reveal himself in ways that nothing else can. Before the trials began in my life I was quite ignorant of the God I worshiped but now I see God more clearly than ever before.

I remember the first lesson in the early days of grief was that of God’s grace. In the weakest moment of my life I found that his grace was sufficient to sustain me through the pain. Lesson two was dealing with the sovereignty of God and choosing to bless him despite the fact that he took my son from me. Lesson three was concerning hope and whether or not I really believed in the hope of the resurrection. Lesson four was about comfort, then it was love, then peace, then mercy and so it went…and so it goes.

What I am saying is this, God revealed himself to me more clearly in the pain than he ever did in the pleasure. I saw grace clearly and differently, I see sovereignty more clearly, he showed me his hope more deeply. God disclosed his love more intimately and his peace more abundantly. In the suffering I am discovering the God I worship but the God that I did not know very well at all. For this I am thankful.

I miss my son terribly every day, I miss everything about him. It has been said that ignorance is bliss but is that true?  I do not miss the ignorant days I lived in prior to Jacobs passing. There is much bliss I enjoy now that I could not comprehend then and that I am not willing to trade. I lost my relationship with my son but I have gained an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus; my God whom I worship.

The why question

Looking at the life of Job I have learned that most of the “why God” questions will not get answered but the “who are you God” questions will.

Job lost everything. All his children, all his wealth and his health were suddenly taken from him. His worshipful response to such grief is stunning, he said,“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20) In all his grief Job wants a sit down with God to answer the why questions of his suffering and God gives him that opportunity. God says to him,“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” (Job 38:2-3) 

God never answers Job’s question but does reveal to him his divine nature. Job shut his mouth in awe before the very God who formed him in the womb. Again God calls Job to answer him by saying,“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:7-8)

What was the response of Job in his pain when given a chance to ask the why question? He again shuts his mouth except to acknowledge his ignorance. He confesses that what he had heard about God cannot be compared to what God disclosed of himself when confronted by him.

Job sees God for who he is for the first time through unimaginable suffering. He worshiped God throughout the suffering in ignorance of his true nature. In the end he discovered the deepest worship came when his spiritual eyes were opened. For the first time Job sees himself clearly and God clearly and he responds accordingly with informed pure worship.

“I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-5)

Blessed be his name

Now, more than ever I am resolved in my heart to sing the following worshipful refrain.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name
Blessed be Your name
You give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
God you give and take away
Oh you give and take away
But my heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
Oh you give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-12) 

Grace in the dark place

Jacob Michael Fekete would have been 25 on March 3rd but instead he is forever 22. On March 26th we will have completed our third cycle around the sun without our son.image

This path is not one that any parent would choose to walk. Yet in this journey there is wisdom that I have gleaned that could have only been acquired by walking it.

I have learned more about God and about myself in the last three years than I had in the previous 45. There are innumerable topics I could write about but today I will lightly touch on just one. Grace in the dark place.

Grace

I have a deeper knowledge and experience of the grace of God in my life because of my son’s death. However, I sometimes wish I were still ignorant of the depth of this grace because it took me places I never wanted to go. But when plunged into the depth of sorrow I have found a surplus of grace in the sometimes overwhelming pain of grief. This all-sufficient grace is only experienced in the deep and dark places of life. Grace is precious and it is needed to persevere through the pain.

Most of the weakest moments of my life have been in the last three years. I can say that in those moments of despair, and having nowhere to look but up, that grace has sustained and strengthened me. Jesus said to Paul and also has assured me of the abundant supply of this all sufficient grace. “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

 I have discovered the hidden treasure of his grace in the deepest darkest places of my life. Jesus is the treasure, He is the diamond discovered in a mineshaft without light. No treasure is ever discovered unless one descends into the mine. I didn’t want to go but God sent me anyway and I would not trade the treasure I have discovered in the shaft. I discovered Jesus in the mine and we became much better acquainted. It was there that he uncovered for me the precious abundant treasures of his grace. It was there also that he showed me the immense value of faith in him. He has disclosed for me the jewel of his hope diamond and the endless golden vein of his love found only in darkest places I never wanted to go.

I can say that the pain is worth enduring because the payout is priceless. I lost intimacy with my son but I gained intimacy with Jesus in the experience. Jesus is the treasure.

 There is pain involved in growing in the grace and knowledge of God. The maturing process cuts to the bone but I have clung to the following verse through it all-knowing its purposeful end. Peter said, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Jesus never hid himself to me in the darkness. No, rather he revealed himself to me. He himself is restoring my life, he himself is confirming me till the end, he himself is giving me strength in my weakness and he himself is establishing me for every good word and work.

The darkness of the mineshaft is discomforting but there is grace and treasure to be discovered in the deep pit. Jesus is there, yes, I would even say that Jesus is more easily found in the darkness rather than in the light. His value is discovered in dark places and I would not exchange this intimacy for the world. No, I would not exchange this even for my beloved Jacob. Why? Because apart from Jesus I would never had my son nor would I ever get to be in his presence again. I will see my son again but that was only made possible by the immeasurable grace of God found in his only Son.

When the mountain is on top of me and the weight of the world is on my shoulders my burden is made light because of Jesus. I cannot carry this burden and am thankful that I can cast my cares on him because he cares for me. What a marvelous Savior. What amazing grace. What a priceless treasure he is.