Tuesday, February 2, 2010

God brings healing

Twenty-three months ago my first born child died. There are so many people of different faiths, and those of no faith, reading this email that that sentence means something different to each of you. At the time, I was shaken enough to not even know what it meant to me. Initially, all that I ever believed fell down around my feet and, for a moment, I did not know if my child simply ceased to exist, if he was sleeping, if or if he was enjoying heaven with the Lord he loved so much. I began a journey that day of systematically reviewing all I’ve ever believed and not claiming to know a single thing again until I could prove it to myself through logic, reasoning, research and historical data.

I think you all know me well enough to know that I became a Christian at the age of nine. It was my personal decision on my grandparents’ porch and I stayed true to that decision all of my life. I attended church, bible studies, and accountability groups from that tender age of my own accord and not at the urging or pleading of others. I simply loved God and wanted to serve Him in every area of my life in the best way I knew how.

I’ve received lot of criticism, however – at times from some reading here – because my life was “perfect” and untested or challenged. I was told it is easy to “skip around” telling of love and grace when you’ve never had any suffering in your life. I was told when I encountered “real” grief and trials that my eyes would be opened to that fact that my God was “smoke and mirrors” – a magic show that didn’t hold water when I truly needed support in the “real” world. But I continued to believe and put my whole trust in my God for the next 25 years - debating, encouraging, convincing and answering questions for those of you who scoffed and those who supported me.

Now, I feel so many are waiting, holding their breath, to see if the bottom fell out. Those who love the Lord want someone to show them proof that He is faithful and able to sustain us even in the worst of times. Those who question His existence want to know if this is the time they are finally convinced or if my experience is just another proof that wishing does not make a deity real.

So, how am I?

“The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came to His ears. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy…the Lord was my support.”
2Samuel 22:6-7,17-19
I love the bold sincerity and accuracy of this verse. It explains in vivid detail what it feels like to experience trauma:

“For You, O God, tested us; You refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12

C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m up!

I have learned more in the last twenty-three months than I have in my entire life time. No one has to tell me to keep my “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2), I can’t stop thinking about heaven and reading about the things my son is experiencing. No one has to remind me to “clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the poor”(1Tim 6:17-19); I’ve experienced how unimportant and fleeting this world is and I only want to spend my time on people! Even more importantly, I’ve challenged all I believe about God and come back with solid footing about who He is, the truth of His word and power of His Spirit. The work I did in the trenches was life altering and a blessing beyond compare.

I am certainly not saying that a person died so that I could come to this new growth and learning in my life. I will never know why Nick went to heaven at only eight years of age until I am standing there myself, but I am responsible for how I react to the experience. I am responsible to learn and grow and experience God in a whole new way that only can occur through suffering and sorrow.

This is not to say I do not miss my son. Anyone who says I shouldn’t is insane. God knows full well that we experience pain when we are separated one from another. He knows better than we do that He did not design us for that. We were supposed to live in paradise together for eternity. There was no need to build in a coping mechanism for separation. But since we are no longer in paradise, He has given us His Spirit to give us strength to endure the pain, purpose for our days, and comfort that we are expected to pass on to others.

I do not grieve for Nick, though. Nick is fine – he’s more than fine! He’s exactly where he’d want to be (and those of you who really know him know how true that is!)

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philip. 1:21

I grieve for me. I am certainly sad everyday – but I am not sad all day! I am not grieving as one who has no hope.

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.” 1Thess. 4: 13-14

My whole life is wrapped up in hope – it’s wrapped up in waiting for the promise that one day I will be in paradise for eternity with Nick as it was suppose to be. The joy from this truth is my strength! (Neh. 8:10)

“Return to your fortress, O Prisoner of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” Zech 9:12

For those of you who believe I am “falling down a well” or “drowning” or “sinking in a battered boat” – let me assure you, that could not be further from the truth. I am protected by a fortress!

“The people…are strong because the Lord Almighty is their God” Zech 12:5

For those of you who say, “Oh, you are so strong, I could never survive that!” I assure you, I am not strong. My knees still buckle on several occasions – but, boy, does the Lord ever know how to make leg braces!

“For in Him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:28

“The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Romans 2:20

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Psalms 62: 5-6

“On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” Psalms 62:6-8

God meets us where we are and if you are trying to imagine yourself in my shoes, but find no comfort from Him there – it’s because you are not there! He’s ready to meet you in your life, not in your imagined assumptions of mine. Experience God in the time and place you are currently in because He promises to meet you there. He is comforting me beyond what any human could ever hope to provide for me. He is in Haiti ministering to the grieving mothers there as well. You know how I know? Because I saw parents in the streets doubled over in agony over their losses while praising God for His comfort and provision. That’s not biological; that’s not adrenaline numbing the pain – they’re obviously feeling it, (quite intensely I might add) – that’s God’s supernatural, overwhelming comfort in a time of indescribable grief. And He is faithful to be there every time. I know – I’ve experience it – and you will not know it until you experience it.

From here to eternity…

Now the journey set before me, as scripture says, is to “love the Lord [my] God with all [my] heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Matt. 22:37) It’s certainly not a blind faith. It takes a lot discipline, will, struggle, study and, sometimes, painful experiences. But as our Pastor once reminded us, limestone (prevalent around my home) only becomes useful, beautiful and durable after it’s been crushed under tremendous pressure for a long time.

Matthew 22:37 reminds me to love Him with all my heart – which I take as a reminder to fall in love with Him; to begin a journey of romance. To learn who He is, spend time together, focus on the things that delight Him. To bring Him the unblemished roses of my acts of service complete with all their beauty and thorns - not because it will bring me any favors, merit, kudos, or points, - but simply because it pleases Him and brings Him joy. True love does things for the other person because it brings that person joy and not because the giver may get anything out of it.

To love Him with “my soul” is what I’ve only recently experienced. It’s to love Him deep down in the places where there are no words to describe this new level of understanding. It’s when we experience a trial, grief, sorrow or suffering so deep that it opens up an understanding about life that could never have been learned over a lifetime of study. I told you I began my crawl back to God through study and reason, but the last leg of the journey could only be completed through His work of sorrow and grief forged in the places of my soul that I never knew existed before.

Loving Him with “all my mind” is where so many of us begin, but then, unfortunately, end. It’s only a portion of the picture and if we stop there, our understanding never grows because it’s only partially made. But He does want me to love Him with my mind because He created it and expects me to use it. He wants me to seek out why the Gnostic gospels are a joke, but the New Testament gospels are trustworthy. He wants me to search for Him and be sure that He is and actually exists before I feign devotion and put on false piety. He expects me to research the validity of the Gospel account of the life of Christ using good history and sound science to ensure my footing is strong. I have answered these questions and many more for myself so I can let my mind be free to learn, debate and grow and love Him fully and concretely through it all.

Now to love Him with “all my strength” is the charge to keep going and to persevere. Whoever said Christianity is a crutch obviously never walked the path. It’s a daily, determined, continuous, devoted struggle punctuated by moments of grace and mercy when we are weak. It’s going one more step when you have no strength left if it means you have the opportunity to show someone else Christ’s love and comfort.

And so I close with this most perfect summary:

Praise be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you…(I know this is referring to our salvation in heaven, but the double meaning that it has by reminding me that Nick is “kept in heaven” for me is priceless!) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, … – may be proved genuine (not proved to God – He already knows; not proved to you – it is of no concern to me whether others are on board or not; but rather proved to me that my faith is strong and true) and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9

Mantle of Praise

Garment of Praise

61:1 The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has chosen 1 me. 2
He has commissioned 3 me to encourage 4 the poor,
to help 5 the brokenhearted,…
to console all who mourn,
61:3 to strengthen those who mourn in Zion,
by giving them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes,
oil of joy, 7 instead of mourning,
a garment of praise, 8 instead of a spirit of despair. 9
They will be called oaks of righteousness, 10
trees planted by the Lord to reveal his splendor.” Isaiah

“Garment of praise”….that made think of some sort of bejeweled shawl that women wear or even the metallic ones I’ve seen some charismatic churches wear in their praise and worship services. The phrase seemed to suggest a Holy t-shirt worn to bedazzle and entertain on-lookers. It seemed so shallow and nothing like what I could possibly need from my Lord in the most painful time of my life. It seemed so thin, weak and superficial - not the supernatural support I needed as I looked at a casket containing the body of my son.

What is “garment of praise” suppose to mean anyways?

Garment – from the Hebrew “Ma ‘ateh”: meaning a wrap or mantle; From the Hebrew “ata” meaning to enwrap or envelope.

Ok, so what does garment or mantle mean?

Mantle – “garment worn over other clothes, something that enfolds or envelopes, the casing of a blast furnace or any insulated support in which something is heated (i.e. a fireplace mantle or the earth’s inner crust).”

At eleven O’clock at night, two hours after the wake for my son was suppose to end, the remaining friends and family gathered around to pray. At that time, someone started singing praises to God and one by one others joined in. I was amazed to realize that one of those voices came from my body and, as shocked as I was, I did not want to stop. My soul (I say that because it was most definitely not by body or mind involved!) was singing - not because I felt like singing or even had the muscle control to support such an endeavor, but because it was the praise itself that enveloped me with support and was the salve I needed for the pain I was feeling. My life was being superheated in the most intense pain and torment I had ever experienced and praise was the mantle that was insulating me from complete destruction. I wasn’t singing because I felt joyous or full of praise, but because the Holy Spirit knew I needed a covering - a supernatural protection.

I now realize that, for me, Isaiah 61:3 must be translated “mantle of praise”. After experiencing the deepest grief I’ve ever known I decided that garment is too light-hearted of a word for me. Mantle more accurately describes the true purpose of praise. Actually, if I could, I’d rewrite it to say, “…to bestow on them…a blast shield of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” That’s a more accurate description of what I experienced!

It is praise that needs to be worn over everything else. It is praise that enfolds and envelopes the shattered, torn pieces of life in order to hold them together while the Creator mends the broken places. It is praise that insulates against the most intense heat so we can endure the pounding, molding and polishing the Blacksmith is doing to form us into a more perfect creation. Praise needs to come out of us and cover over us most especially during those times that we don’t feel happy or thankful so that we can be shielded from the flaming arrows of life.

I read a story that firefighters were walking through a completely burned-out forest in California one year and came upon the charred remains of an eagle. The eagle was an eerie sight as it stood proud against the trunk of a tree where it boldly faced its death. One of the firefighters tapped the carcass with a stick only to have it crumble to the ground and three perfectly safe chicks scamper out from underneath her. That mother eagle was the perfect mantle for her chicks. (Interestingly enough, the upper back of a bird is also called the mantle.)

Psa 36:7
How precious 1 is your loyal love, O God! The human race finds shelter under your wings.
Psa 91:4
He will shelter you 1 with his wings; 2 you will find safety under his wings. His faithfulness is like a shield or a protective wall.

How our God longs to protect us under His wing and shield us from the fires and floods of life! And He has made a way for us to live under the shadow of His wing through praise. We can’t wait to feel joyful, cheerful or even thankful – praise has to come first. It’s my armor against the blast of the most painful times of life. It’s what I must wear especially when I don’t feel like it.

And so I remind myself,
Put on the “mantle (blast shield) of praise to replace the spirit of despair”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brief Update

I was recently overjoyed to discover that this blog, which I was writing for my own therputic reasons, was actually being read still by others! I was blessed to know that my journey has opened insights for others which they've been able to use in their own stuggles. I plan to prepare a more thorough update, but in the meantime I'd like to share with you a very accurate description of my current state of mind that was actually barrowed from a friend.

"I am sad every single day.....
But I am not sad all day."

I miss my boy greatly, but I am healing. Currently, I am recording all my experiences to share with those who care for me and have been so caring to me. (I have no aspiration of publicizing my writings, but I hope to bring understanding and clarity to those who love us.) Hopefully, while I struggle with that endeavor I'll be able to post some of the insights here as well.

In short, I have not fallen off the face of the earth. I've just gotten out more and found healing in activities other than writing!

Thanks for caring!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Backwards Truth

“Don’t think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too.” Philippians 2:4

An author named Nancy Guthrie wrote that after her infant daughter passed away, she was anxious to discover the secret to relieving her terrible hurt and pain. Shortly after, an elderly widow moved in next door and was overwhelmed with the work of caring for a home on her own, so Nancy decided to go over and pull weeds and trim hedges for her. “As I exerted energy in serving someone else….my focus moved from my pain to hers. And it was a relief. It was a distraction. It was an outlet. It was a step toward healing. That day I discovered the secret of serving…”

“…People have told me that they simply can’t start reaching out to other people until their load of grief lightens. But it is the reaching out to others in the midst of your pain, uniquely because of your pain, that is the secret to lightening you unbearable load.”

I have to say I whole-heartily agree. Serving others and focusing on their needs is the only thing that helps lighten the load of my pain, too. I know it seems backwards – but most of Truth always seems to turn out that way. You don’t get better before you come to God – you come to God and He makes you better. You don’t run from God to find freedom in life – you let His arms engulf you and hold you fast in order to experience freedom without regret. To find real life, you must lose your life. To be first you must be last. And to lighten the load of grief, you must bear the grief and burdens of someone else.

It’s truly backwards – but that’s how I know it’s true!

I have been nothing but blessed as we’ve worked toward organizing the RIPPLE Care Network. I first began to consider it back in March and now I’m so glad we’re actually acting on it!

Spending time with those who are homebound, arranging meals for families in need, organizing the rummage sale for the less fortunate of Lemont are the things that have begun to slide the broken pieces of my heart back into place.

It’s backwards again. I’m in pain and instead of tending to my own scars, I tend to the scars of others and mine begin to heal. I’m exhausted and instead of resting I bear the burdens of others and find my strength renewed. It is a beautiful secret – the healing balm of service. When you need it the most is when it’s time to reach out and give it away instead.

It’s the amazing backwards Truth of Life!

I love how Nancy puts it: “You can keep sitting around waiting to feel better, or you can get up, look around, and seek out someone to serve. Prove me wrong. I dare you.”

I double dare you! :-)


Monday, July 21, 2008

My answer to "why"

Many people continue to console me with the phrase, "there's no answer to why these things happen, but know that you will see your son again."

As much as I appreciate their efforts, the "why" is all that matters while we're waiting for heaven. It's the "why" that takes up all the days and nights and must be resolved before you can put down the pain even for a moment and learn to focus on something else. If "why" is not answered, pain and grief hog tie your whole life and keep you from moving on to do the good works that God promised would come out of every circumstance in a Christian's life.

I did write about this back in April, but you'll be surprised to know that it was long and wordy. (so unlike me!) So, I thought I'd shorten it up here and clarify a bit....

(the long blog is at: http://nickwithchrist.blogspot.com/2008_04_01_archive.html you'll have to copy and paste the link.)

But briefly put...

The loss of my son has changed me and grown me in ways that could never have happened any other way. I am a completely different person and - if I'm honest with myself - I would not chose to return to the person I was before.

In comparison to who I've become, I was shallow, short sighted and cared only for the things of this world having no concern for the reality of eternity. And I also know that I am not the only person who was remolded due to this experience. Everyday I hear from someone else who was radically changed and awakened to the true importance of life and eternity and their family and faith.

I know I will see my son again. I have joy in the realization that my time with him is not over - just interrupted. The agony over the interruption is inexpressible, but if it means that other's can be saved from "unawareness" - unawareness of how precious their families are, unawareness of how important their relationship with God is, unawareness of how short and unimportant this fleeting life is, unawareness of how much others need us right up until the day we're called home, unawareness of where our "real" home is - then I can actually say it is painfully and agonizingly worth it.

No, I will never know God's true purpose in his death in until I speak with Him face to face, but I do see Him working through it - and the eternity that I am promised will more than make up for the pain I'm enduring now. Nick's death has brought people together, taught others to love their kids more fully, open people's eyes to the reality of how short life is, and changed each member of our family in innumerable ways.

Simply put...

"God is in the business of creating and He hasn't stopped yet!"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More to life

Ecclesiastes 5:15 “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.”

There seems to be more shock over Nick’s death simply because of his age than over any other facet of the tragedy. Most aren’t stricken with compassion because Cody was there to watch his brother’s body completely shut down. They aren’t filled with sorrow over the fact that as Nick reached out to his Papa asking him for help, there was nothing my father could do. Most don’t agonize over the realization that his death was swift and unexpected leaving us to feel like we were “sucker punched” not even knowing from where the punch came. There are so many aspects of his departure that are disturbing, but still I don’t get any response more often than the line, “He was so young!”

Why does that realization affect us all in such a profound way? I have no relevant degrees or experience to boast any expertise in this area, but I do have an idea to share.

I believe that we all feel we have the right to a “full” life here on earth. We think “full” is defined as being given a life that is long enough to acquire all that we want. You may not be the type of person who wants to acquire things, but you have a certain expectation about the live you feel entitled to. Maybe for some it is 18 years or more of education, or a marriage with several biological kids, or an existence free from foreclosures, debt, starvation or loneliness. We think having several years on this rock we call earth is an entitlement because, really, what else is there?

We need a house with three bedrooms because we have three kids. We need a four year degree to get a good job so our families are free from financial stress. We need our kids to be signed up for hundreds of dollars worth of sporting events because otherwise they would just sit on the couch and watch TV.

But why do we feel we need all these things? Surely there is more to do in life than just make money and die.

The outside world’s distress at Nick’s young passing bears witness to the fact that we cannot let go of the belief that “this is all there is”. We think someone has “missed out” when they exit this world without the opportunities we expect.

Let me highlight my point another way. If we truly believed down deep in our souls that this life is merely a dress rehearsal for a much better existence yet to come, our whole culture would look very different than it does now. Instead of sending condolence cards upon someone’s death, we would send “congratulations on your graduation”! Instead of closing ourselves off in our big air conditioned homes, we’d buy a small home in a crowded neighborhood with lots of opportunities for friendship and use our excess funds to bless others while enjoying the health and happiness that springs from the lack of financial strain in our own lives. Instead of 18 years of teaching each other how to struggle to survive with knowledge that will be obsolete in a maximum of 70 years, we’d focus on caring for each other on a regular basis.

(Think about it for a minute….when we die, only our relationships, with God and each other, will live on. Multiplication tables, chemistry equations and financial planning will no longer be a necessity. Could you see any company on the planet thinking it wise to spend 18 years developing something that is guaranteed to be null and void fifty years after it’s complete?)

Those of us who knew and still love Nick miss him because of the relationship we had with him that we are missing out on – and that relationship will be returned to us – Praise God! But when we mourn because of what we think he’s missing out on we tip our hand and show the world what our true belief system is.

This world is not all there is!

Nick is not missing out on a single thing. I guess he does miss out on sunburns – but not on playing in the sun! He will skip acne, but he will still become a man. He sidesteps the land minds of dating, but does not lose intimate relationships with people. He will miss out on having a home mortgage, but God had a mansion already prepared for him when he arrived!

Nick was not robbed of anything, but we will be if we put all of our riches into this world instead of the eternal one.

“Naked a man comes….and so he departs.”

But we can be rich eternally if we deposit our wealth into the real future! How do we get it there? By investing all of our energy, hope, talents, and focus on people. People, relationships, compassion, time, caring, love and effort are the only things that will be waiting for us when we die. The house I bought will be cared for by others for as many years as the Lord decrees and then it will be destroyed and all of my hard work with it. But – praise God – my relationship and love and time with my son will endure forever.

I have a plea…

Please, do not waste all your time, money, focus and effort on a house that someone else will completely redecorate in 10 -20 years or less; or on a car that will be out of fashion in 1 year and rust completely away in 15; or on a career that saps you of the energy you need to be fully involved in your family; or even on an education that will be irrelevant in 50 years if it means that you will ignore God’s word which will last for all eternity.

There is so much more to life than just surviving the current situation we are in now. I cannot say it better than Christ who said,

" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22: 37-39

I miss my son horribly, but I am so excited that he has run the race, finished the course, obtained the prize – even if he did run faster than me! What mother wouldn’t be proud when her son runs,completes and wins the prize in life’s most important race! And I know he is standing at the finish line waiting for me to join him. I am truly blessed!

Saturday, July 12, 2008


By Steve Goodier © 2002

On Nov. 18, 1995, violinist Itzhak Perlman, performed a concert at
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. Stricken with
polio as a child, Perlman painfully walked with the aid of two
crutches to a chair in the middle of the stage. He carefully laid the
crutches on the floor, loosened the clasps of his leg braces, extended
one leg forward and the other underneath his chair, picked up his
instrument and nodded to the conductor to begin.

But something went wrong. After only seconds of playing, one of the
strings on his violin broke. The snap was a gunfire reverberating in
the auditorium. The audience immediately knew what happened and fully
expected the concert to be suspended until another string or even
another instrument could be found.

But Perlman surprised them. He quietly composed himself, closed his
eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra
resumed where they had left off and Perlman played -- on three
strings. He played with passion and power. All the time he worked out
new fingering in his mind to compensate for the missing string. A work
that few people could play well on four strings Perlman accomplished
on three.

When he finished, an awesome silence hung in the room. And then as
one, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered wildly. Applause burst
forth from every corner of the auditorium as fans showed deep
appreciation for his talent and his courage.

Perlman smiled and wiped the sweat from this brow. Then he raised his
bow to quiet the crowd and said, not boastfully, but in a quiet,
pensive, reverent tone, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task
to find out how much music you can still make with what you have

Perlman should know. Polio left him with less stamina than he had
before, yet he went on. Playing a concert on three strings is not
unlike his philosophy of life -- he persevered with what he had left
and still made music.

And isn't that true with us? Our task is to find out how much music we
can still make with what we have left. How much good we can still do.
How much joy we can still share. For I'm convinced that the world,
more than ever, needs the music only you and I can make.

And if it takes extra courage to make the music, many will applaud
your effort. For some people have lost more than others, and these
brave souls inspire the rest of us to greater heights.

So I want to ask, "How much music can you make with what you have