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!

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A joyful and hope filled Christmas to you all!

 

 

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.

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 grief creeper

Grief is a creeper. It creeps up on you when least expected with triggers that are unavoidable. The creep showed up on vacation in Mexico last Saturday.

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It was 8 AM at the Reef Coco Beach as we entered the lobby to catch transportation for a day trip of snorkeling. An ambulance was under the car port with its lights flashing as Victor the attendant came to us. We looked away from the emergency vehicle as he began to tell us a tragic story.

A couple from my home state of Michigan had recently arrived on their honeymoon. The mid-twenty something husband woke to find his new bride unresponsive in the bed that morning. There were many unanswered questions at this point as to what happened but the details didn’t matter, she was dead and the paramedics couldn’t help.

I couldn’t bear to look outside and hoped we could catch our bus before they removed the body. I was affected, but not like my wife Stacey, I could see her tanned face pale as Victor continued to talk. We began to tell him of our story of losing our son Jacob unexpectedly. The driver arrived at the car port a little late but in time for us to miss the removal of the young girl.

There was a time that we would be curiously interested and indifferently saddened by such an event. After all, these kinds of things only happen to other people, never to us. But it did happen to us, and to my wife, who is a nurse but could do nothing to help our unresponsive son who lay dead on our basement floor. The grief creeper nabbed Stacey on Saturday morning and held her captive. She was visibly shaken most of the day and into Sunday.

The creeper pulled the trigger and grief crept back into our souls. Suddenly and unexpectedly it cut through her heart again. She felt the pain, the shock, the unbelief and the terrible emotions that come when you are the individual that discovers a deceased loved one. You remember, you realize, and you relive the moments that the young man was enduring. It is horrific and it affected her, she hurt for him and carried the grief once again for herself and for the hopelessly shocked man. What a happy and horrible experience to have the best day and worst days of your life only hours apart. Victor would later tell us how he spoke with the man who was visible absent and in total shock as he continued to stay in the room where she died.

The grief creeper showed up in Mexico casting a shadow on a day that was enjoyable but sad. We bounced back and we moved on but we will never forget what happened on vacation in sunny Mexico last Saturday morning. Especially my wife, who knows the pain firsthand and must occasionally relive the pain when the grief creeper comes from behind the shadows to show his ugly face.

This is life with the grief creeper. We don’t like it, we can’t change it, we just live with it. The creep even shows up on vacation in a wonderful place like Playa Del Carmen Mexico. Who knows where we will meet next.

 

 

Good grief

Although my son Jacob’s death certificate says that he died on the 26th I actually know that he died late evening on the 25th. Today is Good Friday. Two years ago today was the last day of life for my son. It has been a strange, mixed up and emotional day for me today. As a Christian I remember the death of the only Son of God and as a father I remember the death of my firstborn son. Today is a day that is good and today is also a day that I grieve. I feel a bit like Charlie Brown I suppose, I would say that today is filled with good grief.

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The great exchange

On the first Good Friday the disciples certainly were put to grief. The predetermined plan of God was set in motion and all that was written of the suffering of Messiah was about to come to pass. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20) 

The crucifixion and death of Jesus bring weeping, lamenting and great sorrow for a short time. Sunday would arrive, the women would look into the tomb and the angels who were there would say, “He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come see where he lay.” (Matthew 28:6) Jesus appeared to them alive and joy was their response just as he said. They rejoice that Jesus was alive and the crucifixion suddenly has become their greatest joy.

Jesus put death to death. But what about us? Did he make a way for us to beat death also? He promised them, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19) How is this possible? It was made possible by his sacrifice and declared in his final words on the cross, “It is finished!” What is finished? “For our sake he made him to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus willingly took all my sin so that I could receive his perfect righteousness. This is the great exchange. The greatest grief became the greatest joy of the disciples and it is my greatest joy as well. I glory in the cross.

The great hope

Grief for a Christian is different than that of unbelievers. I have the great hope of seeing my son once again because Christ made it possible for me by dying, being buried and rising from the dead. Christ is coming again for his saints, this is the great Christian hope.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

I struggled for nearly a year with the terrible thought that my son was not in heaven. This is a terrible kind of hopeless grief to live in daily. I was not at rest, I was without peace and I think that this pain that I was enduring was actually harder on me than the actual death itself. I really got a sense of an unbelievers grief and their hopelessness in that time. Then one day, I sat at my desk at work and just wept over this and God did a work in my heart. I wrote this poem that morning, it is a a poem I believe God wrote on my heart.

Waiting for the rain

You our rosebud in a garden of thorns; you grew up in sunshine waiting for rain. Waiting for rain your bud would push out; blessings from heaven would surely bloom out.

Beauty in the blossom was our hope in the drought, waiting for rain it’s sure to come out. The thorns ever present and your bud bulging to bloom; waiting for rain it is sure to come soon.

The sun is now covered and the clouds have come in; waiting for the rain and for the blossom within. The rain came quickly; a storm in the night. It cut down our rose bud before the dawns light.

Cut down by the storm, there our bud lays; awaiting the rain has cut short his days. Our rosebud is broken; we placed him in a vase. Pricked by the thorn we lean on God’s grace.

Our bud has now blossomed though not like we planned; his bloom has now opened in a heavenly land. I know you have bloomed in a place that is bright; for you are with Jesus where never it’s night.

Waiting for rain, I see your sweet face, our boy, our son, our child in the vase. Here we sorrow awaiting the rain to cut us soon down and free us from pain.

We love you son, we’re doing OK; were waiting for rain to unite us some day. Someday we will bloom, be joyful, and say, “It’s good to see you, what a beautiful bouquet.”

Have a joyous Easter

Imagine that!

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I can only imagine what your enduring. I have heard that statement countless times in the last two years. Year two after the death of our son was unimaginable for us, we had no idea what we were in for after the first year fog began to lift.

Saturday, March 26th, 2016 marks the end of year two of living life without our son.

They’re right. You can only imagine the pain if you have never experienced the loss of a child. But, I had an epiphany this past weekend that might engage your mind to better understand what year two is like for grieving parents. To help you understand I need you to enter into your own past experiences. Take a moment and think of good things that have taken place after waiting long periods of time for them to occur.

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Remember the anticipation of a planned vacation, perhaps to Europe or a Caribbean cruise to a far away island. Recall the hope of graduation and the anticipation of college. Bring to mind the hope, anticipation and excitement of starting a new career, getting engaged, getting married, buying your first home or having a child.

Keep that thought

Now, bring to mind the surreal moments you had when all your wonderful hopes actually arrived. Recall when you were sitting on a beach sipping a margarita while watching the sunset and saying, “I can’t believe I’m finally here!” Remember the surreal times when you said to yourself things like this. “I finally have a my degree! I can’t believe I’m wearing this engagement ring! Wow, I am married and on our honeymoon! This baby I am holding belongs to me! I am a mother, a father, a grandma, a grandpa!”

Now let’s imagine those moments become daily and those everyday surreal feelings suddenly get turned upside down becoming dark and painful. This is the feeling that you can never imagine, though you just imagined it. It’s like waking up terrified from a nightmare that seems so real only to discover you never were asleep to begin with.

Imagine yourself in that moment when you first realized a loved one was really gone. Or that moment at a severe auto accident when the mind and emotions scream, “This can’t be real!” Hold on to that moment and never let it go, now multiply it by God knows what number. This is the unimaginable feeling of losing a child in words that can never fully express what has actually taken place in our hearts.

This is the best I can do to describe what most can only imagine. All those surreal moments in life being felt on a daily basis except they are not joyful moments but sad, heavy and full of tears. I have said to myself many times, “I can’t believe this has happened, I can’t believe this is my life.” On the day Jake died I raced home and remember saying out loud, over and over, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real!” Those words continually echo through year number two. Though I saw him dead in my home, in a casket and at the graveside, acceptance was a slow coming train that has taken every bit of two years to come to terms with.

When the fog lifts

A parents worst nightmare has only begun in year one. It is  frantic fast-paced and foggy. The nightmare slowly becomes reality in year two. I believe that this slow reveal of the new reality is a kindness and a grace given to us by God to heal our soul.

Physical trauma and emotional trauma have much in common. Healing takes a long time and the pain doesn’t go away, it dulls but never disappears. Year one is the terrible day, the ER, the trauma center, surgery, ICU and the beginning of recovery and rehabilitation. God mends the brokenhearted. There are divine medications prescribed to block the pain because we couldn’t handle it all at once. God never gives us more than we can bear but provides a daily dose of grace for our everyday pain. He is kind to us in this way.

Year two comes and we are on our feet doing painful PT but still in need of heavy doses of grace. The initial shock is gone, the fog is lifting and we are starting to see clearly our new crippled life.

Grief is exhausting and painful but I have experienced the grace of Jesus holding me up as I learn to walk once again. There comes a time when the rehab sessions are completed and you get discharged. You still hurt badly and walk with a limp but the lover of my soul is near by. The comforting thing about being released is that the Great Physician never leaves my side. This is of immense value because the residual pain will never fully diminish and his grace will be needed again and again. He is the God of all grace and is eager to share it with me.

Year one is like a black circular curtain pulled around your life, year two is the curtain being slowly pulled back to reveal your new life without your child. What does year three hold in store for me? God only knows. What I do know, and take great comfort in knowing, is that I stand in his grace today. I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.

Where is comfort and hope found?

My comfort and my hope are found in the great and precious promises of God and his risen Son Jesus Christ. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) 

Job lost all his children, lost all his wealth, lost his heath and the support of his wife and friends. Yet Job speaks and God speaks to my heart giving me comfort and hope for today.

What was the hope of Job? He said, “For I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27) Job was confident of a future resurrection; this is also my assured hope.

Why was the story of Job recorded? “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10-11)

Jesus is Job’s Redeemer and Jesus is my Redeemer! I am, “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:13-14)

My Redeemer lives!

“But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6)

Happy Easter!

“Surely I am coming soon.-Jesus”

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My March Madness

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March is a particularly difficult month for my wife and I. Jacob’s birthday and his death day come and go on the 3rd and the 26th. Winter overcast has taken its toll but the seasonal depression is lifting. Its has been 2 years this month since Jake overdosed, he would have been 24. I want to reflect back a little on this journey and evaluate myself and what has changed in me over the worst period of my life. Grief has changed me, this is what has changed to date.

relational change

Death is the great awakener to the value of relationships. Those closest to me have become nearer and dearer. My love for my God, my wife, my kids and my friends has deepened. Time is an un-renewable resource in this life, time spent with people is priceless and has taken on a much different meaning than it once did.

My job is great, it is at work that I spend most of my time with Jesus. There is nobody in this life I would rather spend time with than Stacey my wife. My kids take a close second and a perfect day is to be with them all at once.

 change of interests

Passions in my life have drastically altered. I am more single minded in my pursuits and the things that once gave me a charge are pretty much dead throw away batteries now. Hunting, fishing and various sports were once a pursuit of mine but now have slowed to a snails pace or dead all together. I can take it, but mostly I want to leave it. I don’t enjoy much conversation in those subjects and find myself wanting to withdraw from people who are impassioned about them. I would say interest in theology and bible study has increased, as well as my desire to share, teach and write about the God who love’s me.

I vacation much more than I ever have. My wife has converted me into a beach bum and I like to go to Alaska to see my friend Dan. Dan is there for the fishing, I go to get away and to spend time with my friend. I do a lot more getting away (escaping) these days.

emotional change

I would say I am a little more tender with people but in the same breath I will admit I have less tolerance for nonsense. I don’t listen to music, mainly because it draws out emotions I  rather not deal with. I have no song in my heart yet, I don’t hum or whistle or sing in church- I feel that this is changing some now.

I used to follow politics closely but now am extremely irritated by it all and wish never to enter the dialogue. I have enough problems of my own I can’t fix, my vote won’t change the course of America so I choose not to.

Disappointments in life seem much more magnified and difficult to bear than before. I have become more guarded and less hopeful for fear of disappointment, loss and pain.

Chaos and noise are more bothersome than before and not wanting to be around children is an issue with me. This poses a daily problem because I am an elementary school custodian.

There is a lingering daily sadness I still have. I don’t laugh and joke like I once did. I have always been serious or silly but till now silly is out and serious seems to be the prevailing mood.

Physical change

I have more gray hair in my beard, less on my scalp and more on my back. Gravity is doing a job on me and it isn’t pretty. I work out and lose weight so I can get fat when I go to Mexico each spring.

Psychological and spiritual changes

About a month ago I went to see a traumatic grief counselor. I had never sought help up till then but I was struggling with things I could not resolve on my own. I was having constant nightmares for about 6 months. I would wake up with the sensation of being held down and being choked. I thought it was acid reflux, eating too late and merely a physical issue. I made the necessary adjustments but nothing changed. I went to see Tim and described my experiences of waking up in fear and the feeling of being choked. We discussed the spiritual possibilities in the matter and he gave me advice on how to pray. We prayed together, and I prayed that God would deliver me. He heard our prayers and the problem has left me.

Theological changes

The death of my son made me wrestle with God. Theological issues I once thought I understood  have come to the surface. I have learned to search the Scriptures for answers to questions that cause me trouble. My theology of suffering has changed. My theology of providence, sovereignty, pain, death, grief and much more has broadened and deepened in the last 2 years.

What I would like to change

I would like to feel normal, I don’t feel normal anymore. I would like my irritations and intolerance’s to diminish. I want to be kind, I don’t feel like I show kindness.

This will sound odd but I want to think of Jacob more than I do. I wanted to write today of a story about something in his life- I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I started, stopped, deleted and did this instead. Sorry for the disappointment! My thoughts of his life are snapshots and not stories. The memories are just short peeks into his life and that is all.

I’m welling up now…just thought about what he would say to me in this moment. He was such an encourager, I loved that about my boy. He knew how to comfort and love people from the heart. I guess that is something I would like to change in myself in the coming months. That I may learn how to better love and comfort others like he did.

Much has changed and much will change in the future. Some is good and some is bad. I suppose the time of reflection has been good for me to measure my healing and to evaluate the direction I need to head. March madness is here, March sucks, but I will march on!

 

The day the music died

Those closest to me know that I never listen to music, at least not deliberately anyway. It has became particularity difficult for me after Jacob died to listen to songs about lost love and the disappointments of life . Music is penned from the soul of people and while it brings comfort to many I have found mostly pain in it all. Music rubs at my raw soul the wrong way I suppose, so I choose to shut it out of my life.

I do not have a playlist or any downloaded music on any of my apple devices, Pandora was deleted long ago and the radio in my truck only displays the time for me. I have wished, and actually prayed that this would change for me but up to this point I still struggle with it. The day that Jacob died is the day that the music died in me.

After he died I found myself literally running to escape music. I could say with honesty that I hated it because of what it would do to my heart when I heard it. I cannot, and have not found comfort in music. I remember sitting in a Burger King as I tried to choke down a chicken sandwich while enduring Elton John’s classic hit, “Sad songs.” I sat there and sobbed alone that afternoon hating music and hating the fact that it was inescapable and everywhere around me. Why is it that Elton John can find a gentle touch in a sad song and I get a sucker punch to the stomach? Even simple TV commercial riffs have caused me to quickly grab the remote to avoid getting the wind knocked out of me.

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Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don’t you tune in and turn them on
They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much

The cutting edge of the knife has dulled some over time, thankfully it’s not as bad as it was. In the onset of grief I would actually get queasy and shaky when certain genre’s of music were heard. It became difficult to escape from the noise and my awareness of it became extremely heightened. Music is everywhere and is impossible to be totally free of in this world, though I try, it still finds me and catches me off guard and punches my soul.

I realize I am a bit of an enigma when it comes to my contempt for music. Most who grieve find a place of comfort and peace in it, I am glad about that because my son and daughter have been comforted by it. Music has been a healing balm for them.

Jacob had a beautiful voice, he loved to sing and play his guitar. He was an old soul, he appreciated the music of Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson and was somewhat critical of contemporary musicians. He sang in choral groups when in high school and would occasionally play and sing at church, weddings and funerals. Three months before his own death he sang the Old Rugged Cross and Amazing grace at his granny’s funeral. He wanted me to accompany him with the harmonica but I decided to opt out. I regret that decision sometimes but I figure that I have been spared a bitter sweet memory.

I have taken out my harmonica and played a couple of times in the last 22 months. I hope that someday music can be a part of my life again. March 26th, 2014 is the day the music died for me and sadness replaced my song.

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I sit in church and wonder what Jake is singing for Jesus in heaven. I have yet to find my song in a worship service. As a sojourner in earth I feel like the captive Jews of years ago who who hung their lyres in the willows. “For our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalms 137:3-4) 

Someday in heaven I will sing a new song with my son. Someday I hope to play a harmonica with Jacob singing Amazing Grace…how sweet the sound. Till then the sound of music is not so sweet to me. By the grace of Christ I hope that in time music in this life will no longer be bitter to me but sweet once again. Someday… perhaps.

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The big picture we cannot see

No matter how tragic my story of grief has been I am quite often confronted with stories of  losses more tragic than my own. I am left muttering, “I can’t even imagine.” Losing a child is a unique grief, a fraternity of sorts whose dues are higher than we ever wanted to pay. I don’t have to imagine what that is like, I know the depth of sorrow it brings. I felt that weight again today, I felt it for a woman who lost her husband and two sons.

Today I read the heart wrenching true story penned many years ago but it reads like front page news. It is a story that has all the right components and intrigue to keep my attention. There is crisis, tragedy, grief, love, rescue, romance and a wedding leading to a happily ever after. I read the ancient biblical book of Ruth and found myself captivated as though I was reading it for the very first time.

Naomi is a grieving widow who left Bethlehem with her husband and boys because of a famine. They settle in Moab but she loses everything and decides to return home to Bethlehem alone. The events in her life were part of a bigger picture that she could not see.

There are some things I noticed about Naomi’s grief that brought me to tears today. As I walked in Naomi’s skin I picked up on a couple of helpful reminders for the broken hearted.

Beware of bitterness

Naomi becomes bitter at the fact that her daughters in-law have no husbands and no children. Naomi’s (whose name means pleasant) life is unpleasant and bitterness is setting in. She loves her girls and is willing to lose them too so that they might have a new start in life. This was just another bitter pill for her to swallow. She said to them, “No my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13b) She pleads with them to go back to their people and marry, but Ruth insists on returning with Naomi to Bethlehem.

Naomi believes God is against her because of her hardship and the bitterness grows. She in danger of making bitterness her new identity. When she arrives in Bethlehem with Ruth she actually renames herself. God renames many people in the bible, he names Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel and Simon to Peter. Each name given by God has their new identity weaved in the meaning. God did not rename Naomi, she took it upon herself and defined her new identity and gave herself a new name. I asked myself if I have taken an identity that God has not assigned or given me?

The town was buzzing at the return of Naomi, she must have looked much different because of her grief. “The whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; (pleasant) call me Mara (Mara means bitter) for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity on me?” (Ruth 1:19-21) 

Anger towards God and circumstances is a real dangerous place to stay. I was reminded that I must guard my heart and not allow grief to make me an angry and bitter person. There is a temptation to blame God, blame others and blame myself when life gets dark and difficult. Was Naomi right in her conclusion? No, there was much more happening that she could not see. The same is true for me as well. I constantly need to be reminded that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Difficulties in life are going to come and rob us of happiness but  joy is different than happiness. Joy is not connected to our circumstances but is anchored in hope, a hope that sees the future. Paul speaks to this matter, he said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in  us.” (Romans 8:18) How can joy be found in a life filled with pain, grief and sorrow?

Joy is rooted in a historical event. The friends of Jesus were going to grieve terribly after the crucifixion of their friend. Jesus knew this and spoke of a joy that no man or circumstance could alter or take away. Jesus said to them, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) The Lord walked out of his tomb and appeared to the disciples. Thomas needed to see for himself and Jesus did just that. “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” That was good enough for Thomas but what about us who don’t get to see? Do we get the same joy that they received? Jesus also said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed (happy, joyful) are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:28-29) For the Christian our hope and joy is anchored in a historical event.;The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter says to us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8)

When I think of genuine joy rooted in a future hope I think of my mother in-law Linda Philo. 15 years of serious sickness and the death of 2 grandsons 10 months apart brought her much sorrow and pain. She died 6 weeks after my son Jacob and she died with a joy that could not be taken from her. She was known, and is know for her encouraging smile and her sincere joy despite the many hardships she faced in this life. When I get down I think of her spirit, I remember her joy that was rooted in our shared hope in the risen Lord. He is our hope and joy that no man or circumstance can take away.

linda

Linda Lou Philo

This is much bigger than me

Snap shots and intagram is about all we get in the big picture of what God is doing in our lives. This is another lesson I was reminded of in the story of Ruth and Naomi. Who knew what God was going to do? This is true for me as well in my story of grief and pain. What I learn from this book is that there is a bigger picture that I don’t see and it’s not all about me. Actually the short story of Ruth really isn’t about the people in the narrative. It’s a quick peek into the providence of God working in humanity to bring about his promised Messiah. This is a story about Jesus and his family tree. This is the big picture that Naomi could not see.

God promised childless Abraham a son and through his lineage the entire world would be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3) Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.

Naomi, a Jewess, loses two sons and her husband then returns to Bethlehem bitter. Ruth comes with Naomi and marries Boaz. Ruth gives birth to Obed, Obed has a son named Jesse, and Jesse gives birth to king David. King David is promised that the Eternal King (Jesus) would be  in his lineage. (2 Samuel 7:16) Jesus was conceived by the Spirit in Mary (as promised in the garden of Eden Genesis 3:15) and in him every nation has the promised blessing of eternal life in his name. Peter said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

The promise to Abraham and to David are being fulfilled in the Instagrams and snap shots found in the book of Ruth. There is a purpose in the pain, this is much bigger than them. Little did Naomi know that he Canaanite daughter in-law would be a part of the big picture that God was painting.

If you like happy endings and a great story read the short book of Ruth. In all the grief and pain there is a good God working his plan together to accomplish his desired good end. (Romans 8:28) I will give you the ending but there’s allot of good stuff in-between chapters 1 and chapter 4. Take the time to read it, you will be glad you did.

Naomi’s bitterness  left her and she became joyful once again. “And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:17) I noticed that the name Mara that Naomi chose for herself was never used in reference to her. Life became pleasant for her again, she was not bitter and she was given joy from God despite all the sorrow. This is my great hope in my troubles as well.

The book of Ruth reminds me of many things I need to consider in my journey of grief. I don’t know why God allowed my son to die at 22. What I do know is that God is good and has good intentions for me all the time. I cannot see the big picture but God does. I am reminded to not allow anger and bitterness to be my identity and to rob me of the joy of the Lord. In the end I am again reminded that I am just a snap shot in history and this is His story and it’s all about Jesus and not me. There is a big picture that I cannot see but someday I will, and on that day I will no longer walk by faith. On that day my faith will be be sight.