Michele’s words gripped me in a different kind of way. I have lived most of my life engulfed in fear. I was fearful of failure. What would others think of me if I made a mistake or said the wrong thing? Would I still be a person worthy of love? I was wrapped up in a blanket of fear so much so that it crippled my life. Then my daughter died and I had to face my greatest fear. I realized I had spoken similar words many times myself. My childhood home was broken by unfaithfulness, muted promises, abuse, and separation. I grew up feeling very responsible for all the wrong that surrounded me. I was a bad girl, unworthy of love, especially undeserving of God’s love, undeserving of ever being a wife or a mom. The heavy weight of guilt I carried distorted life and my own potential. I learned how to present a person who was acceptable, but my inner person was shredded with guilt and shame, and then, my daughter died.
I thought of my own words, and I thought of Michele’s. And I thought of the words others have spoken in the darkness of grief. And then, my child died. ..... And then, my husband died. And not only was there an incomprehensible grief, but it magnified the vulnerabilities that were already there. For Michele, it was fear. For me, it was guilt. For others, it is insecurity. Loneliness. Inadequacy. Confusion. Failure. Poor self-image or its assumed contrast, self-sufficiency. Even anger or resentment. Being overwhelmed with life already. Spiritual doubts or questions. How do we move forward??? Especially when grief too holds me in its tenacious grasp and my vulnerabilities are magnified. For me, I had to address the guilt. I had to find God’s perspective. I had to tear down the wall of guilt that separated me from God, either in reality or just in my thinking, by finding the assurance of God’s forgiveness in both true guilt and false guilt. I had to find a worthiness that wasn’t based on my own merit, but on the incredible, unconditional love and grace of God, and the simple fact that He calls me His child. And then I was able to find the God who walks us forward in our grief with a tenderness, comfort, and encouragement that only the eternal, unchanging Father can give.
Your story may be different from mine, and it may be different from Michele’s story, but for the grieving mom or widow – young or old – we need the sufficiency and adequacy we find in the arms of God as we rest in dependence in the warmth of His loving embrace. Those who are lonely need to fully know His constant presence. When self-image crumbles or if self-image portrays self-sufficiency – either forgets the brokenness God longs for that will keep us at His feet, waiting in dependence, and finding the fulfillment of His promises. In anger, resentment, confusion, the questions, the doubts – God has His way for us to walk, a way that will bring clarity and provision, especially when my heart is torn with grief.
I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!
(Related Bible reading: Psalm 116:1,2; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 23:1; Psalm 37:23,24; Psalm 40:2)
2 Corinthians 9:15 "Thank God for this gift, too wonderful for words."
In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp speaks of eucharisteo, the act of being intentionally thankful for all we have been blessed with. She writes, “The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be unbelievably possible.”
How do we find joy when our heart is breaking like never before? Why are we hurting? We hurt so bad because the greatest gift we have been given is to be our child’s mom. In that alone we can be thankful. Think of the joy that came when we found out this child was being knitted in our womb. What joy awaits you when that child greets you in Heaven. Our child being received into Heaven before us is never how we thought this story would go. We never thought we would bury our children. God’s plan for their life is different then our plan. I have often wondered maybe God received my child into Heaven from this earthly place to spare her from something that was too much for her to bear. In that, I can find thanks. This pain you are feeling is because you had this child in your life, no matter how long, they have changed who you are. So I ask you, can you find thanks and joy in that? This is your choice to make. Ann Voskamp wrote these words about how we choose to live after tragedy. “Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that will save us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.”
My dear mom, if you struggle to find what to be thankful for in this pain, know this pain you wear is a badge of honor. You wear it because of this child you loved. Without this pain, this child and your love would never have existed. This child’s life will continue to bless you if you open your heart and hands to the gifts that God has for you. It is too wonderful for words!
O God, open my heart and hands......................
Anniversary. Usually, the word brings an anticipation, a celebratory sense of something good that has continued or something perhaps you were honored for many years ago, and it deserves to be given recognition and even festivity. My husband and I were approaching our fiftieth wedding anniversary, although we were far too young to be doing such a thing. And we were anticipating a celebration, maybe a river cruise in the Northwest or up the Hudson in New York. The word though is sometimes suffocated more in dread with nothing celebratory even being appropriate, and yet it is still an anniversary, one we cautiously, apprehensively, shrink from while at the same time knowing the disillusionment or heartache of its significance and knowing there is nothing within us that can ignore it or simply let it be another day.
And sometimes such anniversaries come in a stark, foreboding parade. It’s the birthday that precedes or follows the anniversary of the death of a child or a spouse. And the memories come year after year after year. It’s the tragedy that made national, even international, headlines, but you and your family, in the midst of that tragedy faced loss upon loss. The calendar marks the holiday, but your own heart marks the anniversary that leaves your loved one absent. Even decades after the death of our infant daughter just before Christmas, we take time first to remember the daughter God gave before we remember the Son He gave. And for some, such timing gets very complicated. The week of 9/11 brings stark reminders of the tragedy our family was personally impacted by in many ways, but it also brings memories of the death of a brother, a son, and a dad who died just a few days before 9/11. And within that same week is a wedding anniversary of the mom and dad of the son who died, and their own marriage splintered while eight siblings struggled to survive childhood and teen years without a place called “home,” and then the dad who left his family, died, and that anniversary comes too in that same week of 9/11.
Anniversaries. We can grow special memories through the good ones and celebrate with smiles and laughter. But, what do we do with the ones that bring a return to anguish, sorrow, and pain? I hear the pain in the voices of many moms who are drawing close to the anniversary of their child’s death. And it’s not just the first anniversary, or the second, or the tenth, or ............ It’s a time to remember and it’s a time to ask God to pick us up, hold us close, and let us feel the warmth of His embrace, let us ask our questions, and let us share the feelings that swell a mother’s heart. It’s a time, not to hide, but to seek out a friend. It’s a time to rehearse God’s promises, over and over and over. It’s a time to remember the good God has given even in our brokenness. It’s a time to be intentional. Do the things that are best for you to do – for some, it will be a quiet place; for others, it will be a place you once enjoyed together. And know the turmoil of emotions will quiet and soften once again, for another season, and your God will stay with you, encourage you, and grow within you a place of refuge you can share with still others. I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.
(Related Bible reading: Psalm 40:1-3; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 30:18-21)
1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
There was a story of a little boy who was afraid of the dark and one night when he was troubled by a thunderstorm, he cried out from his room, “Daddy, I’m scared!” The father responded, “Son, don’t be afraid; God loves you and He will take care of you.” The boy responded, “I know God loves me, but right now I need someone with skin on.” Sometimes I feel like that little boy; I know God is everywhere, but sometimes I wish I could feel Him, experience His presence physically, instead of just spiritually. Sometimes I wish I could touch Him and hug Him and crawl up into His lap and just let Him hold me. The desire to touch God is the very reason why we need other believers in our life. We sometimes forget that they can be “God with skin on.” God can fill us with His presence and we can at times feel His touch in ways that we have never experienced, but when He doesn’t come down and physically give us a hug, He can send a friend along your path to hug you when you need it the most. He may not kiss you, but when your child sees you crying, He may lead him to kiss your cheek and crawl up into your lap and hold you. Each hug, each kiss, each pat on the back can be a touch from God through the arms of one of His children.
One of the reasons I miss my child so much is that he was a cuddler and a snuggler; he loved to reach out and touch people just when they needed it the most; he loved to crawl up into my lap when I was upset or when I was crying and he would pat me on the back and literally say, “Oh, oh, oh,” and reassure me that everything would be okay. Even though nothing had changed, his presence was such a comfort to me. So often, for me, he was “God with skin on.”
Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” God has taught me over the years that Jesus is “God with skin on.” He was here on this earth and experienced everything that I am going through, He has been in the deep valleys, He has seen my weaknesses and knows my frailty, He was a human being and experienced a horrific death and all the pain and suffering that went along with it. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16.)
Whenever I feel alone, whenever I need to experience God in a physical way, I pray for it, and He is so faithful and will always provide everything I need. If I need a hug, I pray for a hug; if I need someone to talk to, I pray for a godly friend to come alongside me, and He has always provided me with every single thing I have ever asked for or needed, more abundantly than I could have ever hoped for. If you need to experience God with skin on, pray for His presence to appear in tangible ways that you can recognize and know He is near and cares about every single detail of your life.
Way back when our two oldest boys were still very young, our church sent us to Haiti for two weeks. For them and for us, it was “a vacation with a purpose.” Our boys actually went with us and they immersed themselves with us, living on a mission compound, finding the intricacies in a country that was largely poverty stricken, and weaving our lives together with the national believers. Worship transcended the language barrier, just as warm handshakes and smiles expressed the love we had in our hearts for a people different from us in many ways, and yet a people we felt very close to as we shared together in a common faith. Many short term missionaries return to the States recognizing that they went to give, and they received far more than they gave. We had very similar feelings. “Poverty stricken” doesn’t adequately describe a people that rank lowest on the economic scale for the western hemisphere, but our most vivid memory of Haiti is watching an offering being taken. An offering to assist those who were poorer than the poor. And we watched those who had so very little give out of their near-barrenness to help those who had even less.
Barrenness has different faces, and I sit often with moms who know the barrenness that comes when a child dies. Life was too short, cut off by seemingly senseless tragedy, and the heart of a mom grieves deeply, intensely, lost in the darkness of her pain. And yet, she finds herself wrapped in the warmth of God’s love, comforted by His faithful presence, strengthened and enabled by His grace, reaching for the good and the purposes He still has for her. A group of moms recently gathered locally for mutual encouragement and reminders of the hope God offers. Some were very fresh in their grief, and others were walking their journey, still mindful of their loss, still “poverty stricken” in very real ways, but walking forward, reaching for that good and for those purposes. As I contemplated the moms around me, I realized I was seeing what I saw in Haiti, as those farther along in their journeys gave to those who were really just beginning. A hug, a listening ear, an understanding heart, a word of encouragement, sometimes a tangible gift, sometimes gifts of time, energy, and resources. They gave what they could to those who had still less. I was blessed. Just as I was in Haiti.
Giving. Not out of our abundance, but giving because we have something to give. And that something may be small, but it is also, heartfelt. It may be tangible. It may not be. Others may notice, but more than likely, they won’t. But the one you give to will notice. And you will make a difference. Giving, because God has given to you, and though you may not have a lot to give, you know you have enough to share with another, and you will both be blessed.
(Related Bible reading: Mark 12:41-44)
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I was raised in a Christian home by parents who had a strong faith. I saw them live this faith on a daily basis. I attended church every Sunday until the day I was married. That was the last day my husband and I entered a church. We both chose to walk away. We decided to turn to the world and what it had to offer. We thought at the age of twenty-one that we knew better than what our parents’ belief had offered us. There was always one area of this new belief I was accepting that troubled me, the death thing. I remember a song written by Jackson Browne that summed up my new belief. The words went like this: “I don’t know what happens when people die, can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try.” It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, that I can’t sing, but I can’t help listening. This new belief I chose offered me little comfort and no hope. I proceeded to live in this place for well into my early forties. It wasn’t until I found myself in one of the darkest times of my life (or so I thought) that I reached back to the faith of my parents. The difference this time was that it became my faith.
My faith saved me from my darkest moments and helped me cope when my world really tumbled down around me. I am so thankful that when my daughter died, I had given my life to the Lord. I can only imagine the dark place I would have found myself in with my worldly belief. The song in my ear would have been one of hopelessness and despair. Instead, I have a song of the love of a Savior, forgiveness for my shortcomings, and a future and a hope with my daughter for all eternity.
Lord, what a sweet sound in our ear Your love creates.