The Comforter has come

The image of a mother kneeling and lamenting at her sons coffin draped with an American flag has troubled me this week.

We know all too well the depth of sorrow the death of a child brings on a soul.

Grief grips you tightly. There were days that I thought I’d never be free from its grasp.

The mourners of those 13 kids will be comforted in the coming weeks and months. It will come in odd ways through various means.

God is the healing balm for their souls. It’s applied daily and slowly until the wounds develop a scar and the sharp pangs subside to subtle aches.

The ache and scars never leave however.

God employs his people in this therapy. I remember their faces, their prayers, their presence and comforting silence.

The Holy Spirit is our comforter. He blankets us with love, soothing the pain of the soul.

There will be comfort in the coming days for these bereaved. Compassionate empathy and comfort will be dispensed. Most likely through other gold star parents.

When comfort comes we know it is directly from God who dispenses through whatever means he chooses.

Nothing is wasted with God. Our pain is someone else’s gain. Let us use our painful past to comfort those in present distress. It’s a God thing. It’s how he comforts the afflicted.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The saplings in our lives

I called my friend Barry when I was deep in grief and unloaded all my burdens on him.

I was angry. I was angry with people and circumstances that day. I spewed all my frustrations on my friend that sunny afternoon.

After my release of emotion I apologized for my rant. He replied, “Mike, if you are in the same place a year from now I’d be worried about you.”

Many years earlier before the death of my son Barry and I had a conversation about anger while sitting on his back porch.

He pointed at the enormous white pine in the back yard and made an observation.

He said, “You see that tree? When it was a sapling you could walk up and pull it out very easily with your hands. But now it has deep roots and years of growth. It will take a lot of hard work to remove it now.”

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If tomorrow never comes

I am not absolutely sure, but I think the death of a child might be the deepest pain that an individual can experience in life.

I am confident however it has been my deepest hurt in life. There are things I would do differently if I had known Jake would die at 22.

Tuned into XM radio the other day Tim McGraws famous song Live like you were dying began to play.

https://youtu.be/_9TShlMkQnc

As I listened to the words again I thought about our easily forgotten destiny.

We all know that everybody has an expiration date. It’s not a thought we rest on too long. It’s uncomfortable. But if we did it just might change us for the good.

If you knew you or a loved one had a week to live what would you do? What would be on your bucket list?

Not to be too dark but we all are on a death march. We aren’t promised tomorrow and if we knew that tomorrow would never come for us what would that change today?

Two condemned criminals on crosses next to Jesus were in that very spot. Hear the words of a man who began to live like he was dying and the gracious response to him by our Lord.

[41] And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” [42] And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” [43] And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:41-43

Listen to the thief’s confessions about himself and his new faith in Jesus at deaths door. This is truly the beginning of living like he was dying and he received eternal life.

Today is the day of salvation. It’s the only day we presently have.

If we lived today, and every day, as our last day the world would be a much better place. Live like it is because it just might be. We aren’t promised tomorrow.

A teacher called grace

A teacher called Grace

Seven years have come and gone since our Jake passed in March of 2014.

Grief has been a teacher to Stacey and I (others also) through this difficult season of life.

I think the greatest lesson I have learned since that awful day is that the grace of God is without end. It is deeper than I ever imagined.

At my salvation I experienced Gods grace through faith. As I began to walk by faith his grace continued to be revealed to me. This is a wonderful experience.

At Jacobs death and the years that have followed I have learned more of Gods grace in the pain than in the days of pleasure. This is a wonderful experience as well.

Grief is a tool God used to teach of his boundless grace and strength. I didn’t enjoy the class but pain has taught us things about God that aren’t known apart from discomfort.

Seven years ago I was at my lowest and weakest point in life. It seemed unbearable but Jesus carried the burden with us the whole way, till this day.

Jesus taught us things about his grace that we never could have understood apart from losing our son.

There is grace in pain. A depth of grace that is discovered only in our weakest points in life.

God didn’t remove our pain. Jacob is gone and that is a continual ache in our hearts.

I hated the hurt and wanted it gone. But now I wouldn’t trade the pain for what I have gained and learned through it.

The apostle Paul experienced tremendous pain and Jesus refused to remove it. Paul also was instructed by a teacher named Grace.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Wonderful things are learned in Gods classroom of pain. What have I learned most? Gods teacher is named Grace and she is more wonderful than I ever imagined or thought possible.

Grace and peace to you all. Mike

Hope guaranteed. A new body and abundant life

I long to see my son and loved ones face to face in heaven. The great hope of the Christian faith is the resurrection made possible by the life, death resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

He is firstfruits of that harvest. Whom I will give thanks to, in person, in a new body, forever.

I will be buried next to my son someday. I want to be laid there so that when the voice of God calls us out of the ground Jacob will be one of the first faces I see.

This is my guaranteed hope.

“You only live once.”

We all likely have coined that phrase in our lifetime at some point.

We have said it but have we ever thought on it? Is it true? Have we truly lived at all?

The world clings to this life because this is all they get. If that were true I would join in the party. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

But Jesus is alive and that changes everything for everybody, and I literally mean every body.

A box or an urn is not going to be anybody’s final resting place. We will all meet Jesus face to face. With a real face, with a real body resurrected for a real and eternal existence.

Yes, you will be resurrected. What does that look like?

Listen to the words of Jesus.

28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice
29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. – John 5:28-29

Jesus is Lord. Yes, he is our King even if you haven’t bowed your knee to him in this life.

We all will bow with a real knee and we will all confess with a real tongue whether it is now or later is up to us. I choose now.

He died and was raised so we could live. He is worthy.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

You only live once? Maybe you never lived at all.

What form will you take, and where will you and your eternal resurrected body be?

The great hope of the Christian is this, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”- 1 Corinthians 15:52

Serious matters that demand serious consideration. Choose wisely and live my friends.

Happily ever after

My life story was written by the sovereign pen of God. Surely “a man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” – Proverbs 20:24

There are dog ears folded in the pages of our autobiographies. Bookmarks in life that changed our hearts and changed the narrative.

In my story, like in everyone’s story there are blessings and testings that make and shape the saga.

For me those bookmarks include marrying Stacey Philo on September 17th, 1988. Add three markers for the births of our children Jordan, Jacob and Jared.

Add three more when I gave my daughter to her husband and gained a son. When I gained a daughter at Jared’s wedding and most recently added the blessing of our first grandson Eli Michael Ritter.

My story became our story and like all stories there are dark chapters interwoven throughout the goodness life brings.

May 15th 2013 began a difficult chapter that culminated in the graveside committal of 3 loved ones exactly one year to the day later.

Our son Jake, nephew Justin, mother Linda, and grandmother Marjorie. That year and those losses were written by God into our story.

The Lord truly gives and takes away. All these events penned down and foreknown by God before the opening of my storybook.

These are a few of the days that changed my storyline. Events that are bookmarked. Some I turn the pages back to and others I cannot bear the thought of doing so.

One date stands apart in my timeline that changed everything forever. Literally.

It was 25 years ago this week on February 5th 1996 that God wrote redeemed into my script. At least on my calendar he did- on his I was there from the foundation of the world.

I was in a bad place in life at that time. For sake of time the details of how I got to that place cannot be stated but just know that much was unraveling around me.

It was evening and I was cleaning the junior high school wing as I had been doing for the previous 8 years.

God was hounding me. My heart was heavy and on that winter night. 25 years ago this week my pride was broken and I humbled myself before God.

In a classroom, at a desk, in tears at about 7:00pm God laid down his pen and revealed himself and his son to me.

I met the author and finisher of my faith that night. Nothing would ever be the same for me. All that was to come afterwards would be seen through the lens of faith.

This awakening changed everything in my life. God began to shape me and change my thinking, attitudes and behavior.

That day was and is the best day of my life. Above all days, this day made the good days doubly blessed and the difficult ones filled with grace, mercy and love.

25 years ago this Friday God called my name and wrote my name in his book of life.

My story is still being revealed to me. I have read the ending already. He has revealed to me his good intentions and I am currently living in the happily ever after.

I have been graced with eternal life and for this I give him thanks.

23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!

25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,

27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! – Job 19:23-27

Thank you Jesus for a life full of your amazing grace and love. Thank you for 25 years of friendship.

Thank you for writing in the happily ever after.

Wrestling with why

Why? The unanswered question of a bereaved parent.

Jacob was 22 and struggled with anxiety, depression and drugs.

We raised Jake in a Christian home with biblical teaching and values. But like many young people with the same upbringing he seemed to turn his heart away from the faith.

This grieves the heart of parents who endeavor to raise their kids in the faith only to watch them walk away.

Thankfully, not all who wander are lost.

Wrestling with the why question is exhausting. It’s a treadmill that must be turned off and walked away from.

I find myself back on the machine once in a while however.

I am a simple man. I believe there are knowable, but partial, answers to the why did my child die question.

Rarely it is black and white. Most of the time it’s unclear.

Jake died of a prescription drug overdose. He did something stupid and paid the ultimate price for it.

This answers some of the why questions. Bad choices lead to deadly ends. That’s simple and true.

Sometimes the why question is answered in the black and white of the scriptures.

1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments,
2 for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. – Proverbs 3:1-2

Why Jake died is not fully known. But I do know this. Jacob failed to remember and apply the wisdom and instruction we gave him.

Jacob lost his peace and his days on earth were shortened to 22 years.

It didn’t have to end this way. But it did and I understand why.

Partially

Meaningless memes

The pain of losing a child is excruciating. Physically it is exhausting. Emotionally it drains you. Depression will overcome you at times. There were times when I didn’t care if life went on yet I was never suicidal.

Five and a half years have passed. Time has left an awful scar to a terrible wound. Time has been a teacher of things I knew nothing about however. Time and grief have educated me about God, faith and myself. The morning fog does not dissipate immediately, neither does the fog of grief but as it lifts the light of the sun makes your surroundings clearer. I see life and death differently. I see myself and God more clearly.

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I read the social media memes of grieving parents. Many of these memes express a broken heart desperate for hope and comfort. I get that, I want that for myself as well yet in some of them I have found their words to be hollow and unhelpful. I have desired truth on my journey with grief and have found no relief in a well worded lie.

Truth has brought to me real comfort and real hope. The world scoffs at truth saying, “What is truth?” The Christian replies, “Jesus is the truth and his word is truth.” There is a comforting anchor of hope in the actual, historical, prophetical and archeological facts of the scriptures. I find no hope or comfort in mystical notions, speculations and unverifiable philosophies concerning life after death. I want and need the truth.

Truth answers the tough questions. Truth is, God answers to nobody and not all the answers made available to us. But God has made know to us his love, his grace, his mercy and in this I find immeasurable comfort and hope.

If this life is all there is and death is the end of all things then I would choose to become a hedonist. Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. If death is not swallowed up by life then I am greatly decieved and my faith is pointless. I am a fool left comfortless and hopeless if the sting of death is the end of all things.

But I am no fool and I take great comfort in the hope given to me by God in the scriptures.

The only comforting hope for me is based on actual, predicted, historical and verified events concerning Jesus. Apart from this my son is only a memory to me and we shall never embrace again. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything- it is everything- he is everything! And in this I rejoice with hope and joy inexpressible.

Cling the gospel my friends. It is our one hope and comfort in the dark days of our lives.

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 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

Till we meet Jesus and greet our loved ones again.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
 The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” 

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.

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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