letting the pain in

The infamous one year anniversary is coming up.  It looms over us and threatens to rob each day of any joy. It never leaves the mind and causes weariness, and leaves us begging for peace, comfort, a pain free moment.

But grief has taught us a very important lesson. We do not believe that we as humans, can selectively numb our emotions.  When we attempt to numb pain, with drugs, denial, or distraction, we numb joy, and gratitude, and love…so we are even more miserable than when we began. We do not believe that we can numb hard painful feelings without sacrificing the good and coveted ones. And we are not willing, cannot not, sacrifice the good ones.  It would dishonor the Lord, and sadden Grant.

So we suffer, feel the pain, and wait for the joy to seep in. We suffer and let that pain remind us of a time when there will be no more suffering.  We suffer and let the pain in, but force it to make room for gratitude and courage, to love again without fear.

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Another holiday.  Oh how we hate holidays this year.  We miss him more than words could ever adequately express, so I won’t even try.

Easter means so many different things to so many different people. It means Easter egg hunts, Easter baskets, bunnies, baby chicks, Easter dinner, baked ham, and deviled eggs. It means we are free from the wages of sin, we can receive eternal life because of Jesus’s resurrection, and rejoice because Christ has paid a debt that we could never pay.

But this year, Easter means simply this to me. Easter is forgiveness of my past, power for my  present, hope for my future.

Forgiveness for the past: so grateful for forgiveness this year as I have remembered so many things I wish I hadn’t done, forgiveness for things I wish I could do over, do differently. It’s all been forgiven. The regrets, the wrongs, the short comings, the apologies that will never be spoken.

Power for the present: power to get up in the morning. Power to keep on living. Power to trust. Power to live without fear. Power to love again and again and again. Power to rejoice. Power to live with joy.

Hope for the future: hope of eternal life. Hope of reunion. Hope of seeing him again. Hope of spending more time with him than apart from him. Hope in the grieving, because of what’s to come.

Easter today, more than ever before, is simple. Easter: forgiveness of the past, power for the present, hope for the future. Grieving with hope.

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with hope

This song was written by singer and song writer Steven Curtis Chapman, after losing his daughter in a tragic accident. It says what I wish I could say, in such a beautiful way, and it resonates with my heart and soul.  It is called “With Hope”

With Hope

This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you’ve gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you, but …

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
‘Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
‘Cause we believe with hope
(There’s a place by God’s grace)
There’s a place where we’ll see your face again
We’ll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God’s plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father’s smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
‘Cause now you’re home
And now you’re free, and …

We have this hope as an anchor
‘Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true, so …

So we can cry with hope
And say goodbye with hope
We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope.

And Click Here to listen to it.

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enter into the pain

I had a precious friend write me this morning, and ask me this, “I am going to a funeral in the morning of a friend that has lost her son. Is there something that a friend said to you that took a little bit of the hurt away? “

And as I responded to her, I thought I would repost it here.  So many people have asked me what to say, what not to say, in this situation.  All of us want to help someone that is hurting so deeply, and yet we just do not know what to do or say.  What follows is my response to her…

“Friend, you are so precious to want to take her pain away. Absolutely precious. But you can’t…there is absolutely nothing you can say or do that will put her shattered heart back together. Condolences are beautiful and well meaning, but they can seem trite when someone is in agonizing pain, as she is. I would just hold her, cry with her, tell her how sorry you are, and tell her you cannot even imagine how much pain she’s in.

And then check in…like you have done with me. Check in often, but check in, in a way that does not require a response. Text her that you’re thinking about her. Write her a card that relives a precious memory that you have of her son…with all of the details. She will weep, but it will mean so much to her. Text her months from now and tell her, that her child is not forgotten…that you will never forget.  And don’t forget him.  Check in occasionally reminding her that he is not forgotten, she is not forgotten. 

So rather than focusing on trying to take her pain away, be willing to enter into the pain with her, walk beside her, cry with her, laugh with her, remember with her. And in doing so, you will be taking away some of the pain.”

As I was writing this, I was so aware of how many of you have done that for me…countless touch-ins that have enable me to breathe for another day, soothed my soul, pulled me out of darkness, caused me to weep healing tears, helped to glue pieces of my broken heart back into place.  Your touch-ins have been life giving, and your willingness to enter into my pain and sit beside me for however long it takes has enabled soul survival.

You all know who you are, and I will never be able to express my gratefulness or how much it has meant to me.  But know this…and know it is as true as the gospel itself…I could not do this without you.  Thank you for entering into my pain, and in doing so, helping to bear the parts I am not strong enough to bear alone.

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11 months…how can that be

Kay Warren lost her son exactly one month before we lost Grant.  Her son was 27, Grant, almost 25.  Her son died April 5, 2013, Grant, May 5, 2013. My heart breaks for her today as I think of her trying to survive today, the one year anniversary of her son’s death.  It also puts a pit in my stomach as I know that means our one year anniversary is one month away.  Oh, Lord give me strength for that day.

Last month, Kay wrote this letter on Facebook, which was then the 11 month anniversary of their son’s death. Within seven days, her 800-word missive had gone viral with 3.75 million readers and 10,000 comments. Thousands of individuals shared stories of their own loss and could relate to what Kay had written about grief.  When I read it to Glenn he immediately said, “You need to put that on your blog. Everyone needs to read this.”

So today, on the 11 month anniversary of losing our precious son, that is what I am going to do.  I re-post here, Kay Warren’s letter, written on their son’s 11 month anniversary of his death.  May it serve us all, whether we are grieving or comforting those that are grieving…

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.

Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. 

You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.

Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”

None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.
Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB).The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.”

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making room

I have been missing you for almost a year.  Every moment of everyday, missing, longing, aching.  Long phone calls have been replaced with faded memories.  The joy of Holidays and family vacations, are now threatened with sadness, aching masked with soft smiles, as we all try to celebrate around the gap.  Laughing until our stomachs hurt, has been replaced with muffled sobs. The ache never goes away.  I am forced to make room for it, hidden behind every smile. You are always on my heart and mind, these last 11 months.

And in 10,000 years, 11 months won’t seem very long, but it does today, Grant, it seems like such a long time today.

Missing you Grant, every moment, of every day for these last 11 months…

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the end

I desperately want to know how this ends.  When will happy be my default again?  When will I be able to get thru a day without crying? Ten years from now, when I look back on this, will I be better for it, more in love with God, have a stinger more steadfast faith?  I am the one who sometimes reads the end of a book to make sure it has a happy ending.  I don’t even watch a movie if I know it ends sadly.  I want the happily ever after in my stories. But is happily ever after just a cruel lie perpetuated by fairy tales?

So will this thing I call life, end in happily ever after?  I want to know how this things turn out.  I want to know the ending! I yearn for answers to so many of life’s unknowns.  Will I carry this dark part of me the rest of my life? Or will light break thru and over come the dark crevices? Will I have happiness without the pangs of sadness someday again? Will I see the goodness of God in this situation, this side of Heaven? Will I ever be able to smile, when thinking of Grant, without a tear stained face?

Obviously, I do not have the answers to any of these questions today and countless others I can think of.  However, I do not need the answers in order to have peace and contentment. I may not have the answers to specific questions I ponder, but I do not need them in order to find satisfaction with the ending of this story I call my life.  My soul is reassured this morning as I ponder the ending of my personal story.  You see, it has already been written and God, its author, has let me in on the conclusion, that final page of my book of life.  This story, my story, ends with this.  “And she lived happily ever after with her Savior, in Glory!” The End

So regardless of the answers to all of my questions, regardless of the twists and turns the plot may take, regardless of how hard life can be, I know this story, my story, ultimately, has a happy ending; when God writes your story there is always a happily ever after!  And because of that, I  grieve with hope today…

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i know

“God is not a belief to which you give your assent. God becomes a reality whom you know intimately, meet everyday, one whose strength becomes your strength, whose love, your love. Live this life of the presence of God long enough and when someone asks you, “Do you believe there is a God?” you may find yourself answering, “No, I do not believe there is a God. I know there is a God.” ~Ernest Boyer, Jr.

These are not just words on a page, some pithy quote. They are strong, challenging words, truths.  Truth that I have spoken often.  But in times past, it rolled off of the tongue, there was no cost in speaking these words.  It’s what I believed, and I could read them with a resounding, yes, I know!

It’s different today, on this side of grief. They no longer “roll off the tongue.” It takes courage to say them, believe them. I have to swallow hard, take a deep breath and do a soul check…I can say, today, I still believe, I know.  But it has come at an infinitely higher cost than I could have ever imagined to read these words, speak these words, believe these words, and answer with a resounding, yes, I know there is a God.

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soul survival

As I walk thru this valley it is crucial that I remember joy and happiness are not the same thing.  Happiness comes from circumstance and therefore can come and go, wane back and forth.  Up one minute, down the next, dependent on my situation, how I am feeling, what thoughts are dominating my day.

Oh, but joy. Joy is untouchable, if it is true joy.  In fact, during trial and times of great sorrow, joy and grief can exist simultaneously, affliction and contentment can live side by side.  I know, I live it. I need to allow the sadness, not deny the grief, but at the same time I need to let joy in, fight for it! And joy comes from knowing the Lord and believing, trusting His promises.  Yes, I can have joy even when happiness is elusive.

So again, it is important that I know the difference between happiness and joy as I walk through this pain.  Happiness is fleeting and when it is gone, it can leave us weak, helpless, vulnerable. But the joy of the Lord? The joy of the Lord gives strength. Strength we need daily, moment by moment, for every breath we take, for soul survival. And joy, true joy can prevail, stand strong, can exist even when happiness eludes us. Yes, the joy of the Lord will be my strength through these unhappy times.

 Nehemiah 8:10 Do not be grieved, for the joy of The Lord is your strength.

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how do i measure

I am feeling weak and sad today.  Grant’s little sister had such a hard day yesterday, tears, far away looks, no appetite.  Another fitful night with haunting dreams for me, waking before the sun and absorbing the reality again, of the new normal.

When I am suffering my temptation is to question God.  Why are we suffering?  Why have you allowed this to happen? Can’t you see our pain?! Why didn’t you heal Grant? Why did you choose this for us! I falsely believe if I just knew why this happened than I would be satisfied. I believe if God answered my endless questions I would find rest.

In reality however, my sober mind knows even if God chose to answer all of my questions, the answers would just lead to more questions.  My need today is not information.  I do not need to know why, I need to know who.  I do not need answers to my questions today, I need more of God.

I will never be able to completely comprehend the ways of God. However, I do not need that comprehension in order to trust Him.  I can trust Him because He is God and I am not.  I can trust Him because He is full of mercy, grace, and steadfast love ordering my life in a way that is perfect for me and brings glory to Him.

In the midst of my pain this morning I will resist the temptation to measure God’s love by my circumstances.  But rather, I will measure His love by standing at the foot of the cross and gazing at Calvary.

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