Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Laughter

A couple weeks ago, we met three other couples for dinner on a Saturday evening.  We knew we wanted to have the opportunity to really visit, so we purposely chose a restaurant which is typically not very busy and does not play loud music.

The waitstaff pulled together a couple of tables right in the middle of the restaurant so we could all be seated together.  We had all met previously, but all eight of us had never been together at the same time before, and most of us didn't know each other well at all.  Nonetheless, as soon as we were seated, we began talking, and the waitress had to return a couple of times before we were ready to order because we were too busy visiting to look over the menus.

We had chosen the restaurant well, because it was quiet and uncrowded ... perfect for a relaxing dinner and conversation.  The food was delicious, but secondary to the richness of the fellowship.  It's a good thing there weren't very many people there that evening, because I'm afraid we might have disturbed them with our frequent outbursts of loud laughter.

Three hours later, we finally pushed our chairs back and prepared to leave.  The restaurant would be closing soon, and we all needed to be getting home.  We said our good-byes in the parking lot and headed our separate ways.

If you had asked any of the patrons in the restaurant that evening what our group was doing there, they might have thought we were there celebrating someone's birthday.  Or maybe we were a group of lifelong friends enjoying an evening out on the town.  Or perhaps we were members of the same extended family, reunited for the evening.

Actually, that final guess would have been the closest.  Although the four of us couples were not related in any way, we were all part of the same family.  First and foremost, we were all members of the family of God.  But we were also members of another family ... a family no one wants to be a member of ... parents who are waiting to be reunited with their children in Heaven.  All of us were at least three years along on the road of grief.

I'm pretty sure no one who observed us visiting and laughing in that restaurant that evening would have guessed that that was the bond between us!

But that's the way it is when Christian parents who have lost children get together.  We have a bond that is instantaneous and incredibly strong.  And what may be most mystifying to those looking on, we have a surprising ability to laugh together.  Yes, we have a deep sadness ... yes, we miss our children ... but we have assurance that we will see them again.  And because of that hope, we can still smile and laugh.  And I think this is what our children would have us do while we're waiting.   

Job 8:21 (NIV) -- "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Observations from the Hiking Trail

Now that we are "empty nesters", and no longer running from high school sporting event to high school sporting event, we have picked up a new hobby ... hiking.  We usually hike with our friends, the Browns, but occasionally go alone.  We don't go on really long hikes ... generally somewhere between 4-6 miles ... just enough to work up a good sweat and get the ol' heart rate up.

So for this month's Ten on the Tenth ... here are a few observations I've made while hiking over the last few weeks.  Some of these thoughts are a little more profound than others ...

1.  "You are here" signs on a trail have absolutely no meaning to me.

2.  Men hike faster than women.  Especially when the women are talking the whole time.  This is our usual view.

3.  The first few times I hiked, I realized that I had a tendency to hike with my eyes on the trail.  I didn't want to step on a loose rock and twist my ankle, or brush up against my nemesis, poison ivy.  But if I keep my eyes on the trail all the time, I miss the beauty around me.  I don't see the big picture and I miss out on things like this ...

I have a tendency to do that in life, too ... focusing on just the narrow little area immediately around me ... and when I do that, I sure do miss out on a lot of good stuff.

4.  Hiking is easier with a friend.  The other day, Brad and I went hiking together on a trail that we had previously hiked with the Browns.  As I huffed and puffed my way up the incline, I asked him, "Are you sure this is the same trail we hiked with the Browns?  I don't remember it being this hard!"  "Of course it is!" he replied, and I realized that when I'm hiking with my friend Janice, nothing seems as hard.  So thankful for those God-given friends along life's journey!

5.  Water is essential while hiking.  I'm not much of a water drinker normally, but I carry my water bottle while hiking and take regular sips.  But I sure get tired of carrying that bottle around.  One day we won't have to carry water bottles anymore ... "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  Mmmmm ... can't wait.

6.  MapMyRun is a nifty little app.  Sure is encouraging to hear that lady call out every mile you've completed and nothing makes you want to hike faster than hearing that her telling you what your split time is. 

7.  Referring back to #3, I've noticed that if I look too far ahead down the trail, I can get discouraged.  This is especially true when we're climbing up a steep incline.  If it goes up, up, up as far as I can see, I suddenly become a lot more tired, my feet start dragging, and pretty soon I'm ready to give up.  If I concentrate on conquering a little bit at a time, I do much better.

8.  Maybe because it's been so hot lately, the gnats and mosquitos on the trail have been vicious.  Why is it that they want to buzz right in front of your eyes and in your ears?  And no amount of swatting can drive them away.  Reminds me of all the things that distract us along our daily walk, not to mention the relentless attacks of Satan that can wear us down.  

9.  I know better than to go hiking alone.  If I did, I would probably never find my way home (See #1).  I might spend days wandering Deaf Chief Trail.  (Yes, there really is a Dead Chief Trail.)   Those trails go off in all kinds of different directions.  I need a guide to keep me on the right trail.  Just like in real life.

10.  Hiking is more fun when there is the promise of a reward.  It could be a beautiful view ...

or an ice cream cone at the end of the hike.  And these rewards can't even begin to compare with what awaits us at the end of our life's hike!  Hmmmm ... I wonder what the view is like from Heaven?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Being "On"

This past Saturday, we had the great joy of hosting another While We're Waiting Mini-Retreat for Moms.  Once again, the day was a huge blessing, not only for the moms who attended, but for me personally.  Due to a variety circumstances, we ended up having the smallest group we've ever had ... but it really didn't matter.  In fact, because we had a small group, we were able to really relax and take the day at a slower pace than usual.

It's always interesting to me to see how God brings a particular group of people together.  On this particular day, we had a group of moms whose losses had been relatively high-profile losses.  All of us, in one way or another, were forced to deal with the loss of our children in a somewhat public way.  So for us, there was comfort to be found in just relaxing and sharing honestly together.

One of moms summed it up when she said, "It's so nice not to have to be 'on.'"  And I knew exactly what she meant.  I really don't feel that way so much anymore at 4 1/2 years out, but in the early days, weeks, and months after Hannah's death, I felt like I was always being watched.  Because we had taken a strong stand of faith as we dealt with her cancer, using "God is good all the time" as our daily motto ... lots of folks were watching us, waiting to see if our faith would crumble after our prayers for healing were not answered the way we had desired.

And because of that, I dutifully played the role of the strong Christian woman in public, even in the face of devastating loss and disappointment.  Now please don't misunderstand ... I never did lose my faith or doubt God's goodness ... but there were many, many, many days that I did not feel strong or Christlike.  But because I knew it was expected of me, I presented my happy face to the world and kept all the ugly painful stuff hidden away.  There were times when I longed to go to a place where no one knew me and I didn't have to keep my chin up all the time.  It was only with other bereaved parents that I could truly be honest and real.

I know I'm not the only one who has felt this way.  I think all of us do it to some extent ... some more than others.  Some of us get really, really good at it ... I'm thinking of lots of the bereaved parents I know who are incredibly good at hiding their hurts from the world.  This becomes a very heavy burden over time.

It seems that maybe this is just part of life for parents who have lost children, but God certainly does not require it of us.  In fact, Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30).

God never intended for us to carry this kind of burden.  Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved."  We need to let Him carry that burden of being "on" for us ... He promises that He will sustain us and keep us steady.

Does that mean that it's appropriate to spill our pain out on everyone we encounter?  No, I don't think so ... there's probably no quicker way to run off our friends and acquaintances.  But I think we need to continuously cast our burden on the Lord, and find a few Christian friends we can trust to pray for us, encourage us, and listen to us without judging us.  Most of the time, but not always, these friends will be people who have experienced losses similar to ours ... and may be a few miles farther down the road than we are.

That's what the While We're Waiting events provide ... a safe place to share our deepest hurts without fear of judgment.  Caring people who want to hear about our children and look at their pictures.  And a reminder that our pain is not for nothing ... that God is still in control and that there is hope for the future.  A place where, for awhile at least, we don't have to be "on" ... and where we can gain strength for the next step of the journey.