I was doing the math in the middle of the night, in my head, because I read the online post of a grieving parent in the middle of the night, and it was the first time I counted days, instead of months, or years, or decades, just as he had done. I initially came up with 16,000 days as a close estimate, and with a calculator in the morning, realized it was closer to 17,000 days, and I was still counting, and in the not-so-distant future, I would still be counting beyond 17,000. I’m not sure why the enormity of a number overwhelmed my emotions and thinking, nor why my thinking could not set it aside. It did make me realize a number doesn’t change anything. My daughter did die at birth almost 17,000 days ago, and I have lived these last 17,000 days without her. And “her,” our Tonia, encompasses soooo much! – the milestones of childhood and adulthood, the growth, the fulfillments, the love and nurturing that secures relationships and families, and still more – none of which happened on this earth, but all of it had been hoped for. And yet, “grief” is from our perspective and not hers. Tonia’s home is in Heaven, and I can only imagine and delight in, from a distance, all the joys and perfections that have been hers these 17,000 days, almost and still counting -- the total relationships she has had with each member of the Godhead, the relationships she has had with Old Testament believers, and with those who witnessed Christ on earth, and responded to Him, and with those who have framed the history of Christianity and those who gave impetus to the faith of her earthly family, but like Tonia, they preceded us in death. The grief I have had, and her Dad has had, and siblings too who never even knew her tangibly in an earthly sense, have had, that grief has belonged to us, and not to her.
We are told that time heals grief, and though the statement holds some threads of truth, I have only seen true “healing” within a relationship with the God Tonia knows and experiences in all the realities of Heaven. That same God has been active and present here too from the very day Tonia entered into His eternal home. Did I always know that? No, and my journey of grief has experienced many of the nuances of grief that you have experienced, but as I look back over the last almost 17,000 days, I have learned the reality of God’s presence, the healing of His grace, His enabling, and His truth, and the incredible ability God has to bring beauty – compassion, identification, the compulsion to share truth and my own presence with others – from the ashes of tragedy. Does “healing” mean I forget my child? Absolutely not. My love for Tonia is greater today than it has ever been. My awareness of her living here too through the ongoing light and influence of a life that was simply birthed here, but fully lived in Heaven, that awareness gives a pulsing gratitude to the God who created her, and whose purposes are still being fulfilled. Can the waves of consuming grief still come? Again, yes, unexpectedly, profoundly, but always with the knowledge that the God who gave Tonia a home almost 17,000 days ago, is still loving and caring for her mom.
17,000 days. Maybe your journey has just begun. Maybe the days you count are already in the thousands. Maybe your counting has surpassed my own. But our God doesn’t change. He longs to bring healing. He longs to wrap you in His love and His grace. He longs to bring beauty from the ashes of your own tragedy. And in all of your days, He will be honored as you honor and love and remember your child.
(Related Bible reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16 - 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:3 - 7)
Jeremiah 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”
Adam and Eve were God’s people and He was their God. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were overwhelmed with shame. They did what we all do after we get caught with our hands in the cookie jar. We hide, point fingers, and often times, do not take responsibility for our actions. Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the devil. Their shame made Adam and Eve play hide and seek in the bushes. Someone told them they were naked because God asked them, “Who told you, you were naked? “ My guess is Satan stood before them with that evil smirk on his face. He listed all the reasons God didn’t love them anymore and they were not worthy of His love. There they stood in all their nakedness shamed and destroyed. Lisa Terkeurst wrote that after the fall, they had to carry the weight of evil that they were never meant to carry. The fruit that seemed so sweet didn’t satisfy them; instead, it burdened them with fear, anxiety and shame.
Our God is a merciful God. He went looking for them and He called to them, “Where are you?” I was always confused by this question because He knew exactly where they were. I wonder how God felt as He watched these two, who He loved so much, hide from Him. Did they forget the many hours they spent walking in the garden, the many conversations they shared? Their shame made them withdraw from the One who could help them. He was waiting for them with open arms to comfort them. Satan’s lies of nakedness hid the truth of God’s Word that nothing, not death or life, angels or demons, not even the powers of hell, will separate us from God.
Because of their nakedness they had to cover their bodies. Can’t you see God looking at them and His heart breaking? I can imagine God searching the garden for the best fig tree He could find. Scripture does not say if they cut the leaves from the tree, but I can imagine in His mercy, He cut and gathered the leaves for them. Then He placed them neatly on the ground where He knew Adam and Eve would find them. God saw their brokenness even before they knew they were broken. He knew what they needed to cover their nakedness. Even in our darkest times, when we feel unworthy, God will give us what we need and love us even if we are uncovered in all our mess.
Lord, when we play hide and seek with You, You release us of our shame by calling, Olly Olly oxen free, free, free.
Isaiah 46:9-10 “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.'”
I find it very interesting that I am here, right in this place. I’m struggling with the forgiveness of someone who has hurt me. I know this is where that root of bitterness starts; this is where the resentment begins; this is the beginning of my spiritual bankruptcy, as unforgiveness takes root and it like a cancer, it is all consuming; there is nothing that it cannot conquer or swallow if I allow it to envelop me. There are no words to describe the loneliness that comes as a result of the fallout it creates. I am filled to the brim with shame and yet, I am not willing to release the one who is inside of me, living in my head, rent free. There is a magical thing though that has happened in the past few weeks; a tiny little lump of willingness has emerged. That merciless obsession to seek revenge has begun to be lifted and the residual resentment that is left inside of me has been laid bare. I desperately want justice to be served upon this person, but I have come to the realization that my need to forgive is absolutely necessary or I will be consumed by this root of bitterness that has been lingering in my soul these past months.
Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’ says the Lord.” And so begins the dilemma of obedience versus self. Have I not thought in my mind, this person must pay, for how can I let this go? I have been fighting for justice my entire life, and this seems like the absolute plausible thing for me to do, and yet the Lord has said no. Each time I am tempted to take matters into my own hands and mete out a consequence, the Lord shuts the door and He gently asks me, “Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to go here? Do you really want to spend time and energy dredging up the past over and over again? Or, are you willing to trust Me?”
The Lord spoke to my heart this morning, and said, “Do you remember the former things long ago, when I set you free, when I brought you out of bondage, when I loosened your chains and picked you up out of that pit and dusted you off and gave you the life you have today? Was it not I who gave you the beautiful gifts you have today?” This scripture spoke volumes to me as He brought me to this verse and boldly said to me, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” He spoke to me through His Word and said, “I am in control and you don’t need to worry, you do not need to take revenge. Vengeance is mine.” (Deut. 32:35), and so I stand at the crossroads; I could choose bitterness to enter my heart and dwell there; I can choose unforgiveness; it’s completely up to me how miserable I will stay in my sorrow, how stuck I will be in my pity and how long I wallow in my pain, or I can choose to forgive, which brings freedom to the one who gives it. And so my prayer today is to ask God to give me the willingness and the obedience not only to forgive, but to let go and let God, and then to guard my heart so that no root of bitterness can spring up. I so desire His beautiful grace and mercy to rule in my life so my soul can be filled with His peace and joy once again. I loved the analogy our pastor gave last night, as this person knocks on my door and says, “Is Melody home?” I will say no, she doesn’t live here anymore. Only Christ lives here. So how can I be offended if only Christ lives in me?
As she left our home, headed for her car, I called out, “Thanks for not staying a stranger.” She is cousin to my own children’s cousins, and had connected also with our youngest son with both of them working in Manhattan. Sometimes though her work takes her to Charleston, and knowing we had recently moved to the area, decided to make a contact. We were delighted that she did. Once a stranger, she quickly became family, as we shared a meal together in our home, nothing fancy, and then sat around the table, reminisced, checked out some baby books and photo albums, laughed, just enjoyed getting to know each other, and the stranger left, promising to return, but she was now, family.
It’s a similar familiarity and closeness that our God longs to share with us, and yet even closer and more intimate. Our daughter grew within me, but very shortly after her birth on Earth, Jesus carried her to her eternal home in Heaven. She has already shared decades with Him in the beauty of perfection and the delight of a communion with the Godhead in intimate, precious ways that literally, I can only imagine. Once, as I put my own heart on paper and wrote a letter to Tonia, I said, “As I imagine the reunions that must occur in Heaven and the excitement of welcoming others who come, my heart becomes eager to know the same reality that you know. But as I stay in the place God has for me now, that tender place in my heart is tender too towards the hurts and disappointments of others. My heart has been enlarged and my capacity to give has been stretched by grace. I am far from perfect, but some day I will share in the perfection you already have shared in. And as I wait, I pray that the heavenly Father you have known so intimately all these years, will be more and more at home in my heart, that I would be no stranger to His presence when I am blessed to share it with you, my daughter.”
I long for a reality with God that pulsates with the warmth of knowing how close He is to me, even here on this earth. I long for Him to be my breath, my purpose, my motivation, my grace, and my enabler. I long for Him to be as real as Tori was when she came to our home. I long to some day know the reality Tonia already knows. I don’t want to have just mushy feelings, but I want the facts of His reality, His up-closeness, His literal presence to seem “touchable.” I want to respond to and nurture that depth of intimacy so that it will draw me still closer. I don’t want to be a stranger to His presence when I am blessed to share it with my daughter.
I sat with my mother-in-love when the doctor told her about the cancer that was destroying her body. Polly, I called her “Mom,” was no stranger to the God she loved, the God she shared with others, the God she longed to see when death would graduate her from Earth to Heaven. When the doctor finished speaking, I was consumed by her response. With a quietness and an anticipation, she spoke the words, “Now, I know how I will go to see my dear Lord Jesus.” Even as I write the words, the tears come, because this was a woman who was deeply in love, and her God was no stranger. Oh, Father, help me to know you with a passionate, intimate knowing. Just like Tonia. Just like Mom.
(Related Bible reading: Psalm 63:1-8)
Luke 1:42 “Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.’”
Luke 2:35 “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
We read this story about Mary and the joy she felt learning she was to be a mother. I remember my joy when I was told that news. Her son would be called Jesus. He would be great and called the Son of the Most High. He would reign over Israel forever; His kingdom will never end. Sounds to me like Mary had to feel like her future with this child would be bright and rosy, no problems here. I wonder her thoughts and feelings she felt as she watched her little boy grow into a man. What hopes and dreams were crushed as she watched Him continually rejected. The pain she finally endured as she watched Him be crucified and spat on, had to make her wonder the words Elizabeth had spoken to her. Did she question her maker? Lord, You told me my Son would be great. He would reign over Israel and be a great king. He would reign forever. I was to be blessed above all women and You promised my Son would be blessed. This is not the picture I had planned for my life or my Son’s life. Yet Mary also was told by Simeon that a sword would pierce her own heart. How could she have imagined this would be the outcome for this little baby she held in her arms.
We all know as a mother, we experience pain right from the get go. No child enters into the world without a mother enduring the pain of birth. Even the woman blessed above all women birthed the King of Kings through pain. We too had plans for our little ones once we knew they were being knitted in our wombs. I am sure just like me you never imagined your little one leaving this world before you. This time of year always brings the story of Mary and Joseph even more real to me. The joy of welcoming a new little baby into a family offers dreams and hope for the future. We know we will be blessed to be called parents. Yet this is not a perfect place and there will be hearts pierced by a sword. I for one would never trade my pierced heart for being blessed above all women to be called Katie’s mom.
Lord, thank You for the blessings of Christmas and a reminder of being blessed above all women to be our child’s mother.
Under His Wings
When my Mom passed away, she was finally honored, for her love, for her faith, and for her persistence. Under His Wings was one of my mom's most favorite songs. We grew up with nothing, but we grew up with a mom who held on to her faith in the darkness of life, and she sang -- in the choir, but mostly to her children -- all 8 of us sleeping 2 to a bed, heads at different ends, two bedrooms with four beds, bedrooms fully open one to the other, in a Brooklyn "railroad flat." Mom sat on one of the beds and began to sing the old hymns I still love, until we all fully fell asleep. She sang the songs of faith that tell me much more about my Mom and my God today than they did decades ago. And one of those hymns was almost always, Under His Wings.
As much as Mom knew and persisted through a deep depth of darkness as she fought to bring her children to adulthood, she clung desperately to her faith. She sang the words that she begged God for the reality of. She yearned for her God and she knew the refuge He could give in sorrow. And, yes, she hid beneath His wings of love, shelter, and protection until Jesus called her home to Heaven.
When my own daughter died, my Mom would have done anything she could have to protect me from the ravages of pain and emptiness, questions, guilt, shame, and the isolating loneliness that the death of a child can bring. My Mom could do none of that, but her words of truth, in time, penetrated my grief and sent me to the God who wanted to draw me close, cover me with His presence, and in a profuse outpouring, immerse me in the faithfulness of His promises. Roy Lessin says, “Being under His wings means being close to His heart – you are not only sheltered, you are loved; you are not only secure, you are cared for; you are not only covered, you are reassured.” I have said many times that what I most wanted in my grief was to know with absolute certainty, that my God is right here – to know I am not alone, to know my emptiness and my tears are softened and quieted by a presence that can come no closer.
God’s faithfulness though embraces both me and my child. It is a forever faithfulness, a faithfulness of redemption, a faithfulness that transcends from temporal to eternal. It is a faithfulness consistent with His heart of love for both me and my child – a faithful love that longs to embrace both me and my child in the eternal perfections of Heaven, a place where my child can not only dance with Jesus, but some day, I too can dance with my child. And while I wait in the temporal, God’s redemptive faithfulness brings beauty from the ashes of tragedy, and as I rest beneath the sheltering protection of His wings, I will find too that my child is not forgotten, and the light of my child’s short life can still shine.
Under His wings, under His wings, who from His love can sever? Under His wings, my soul shall abide, safely abide forever. Thank You, thank You, precious Father, for the faithful warmth of Your embrace.
(Related Bible reading: Psalm 91:4)