Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- Don't Be a Knothead

The blog has been quiet for awhile, hasn't it?  To be perfectly honest, I've just been kind of "dry" lately.  I'm not really sure why.  Maybe because I've been very, very busy lately.  (I thought life was going to slow down when Bethany went to college ... I'm still waiting for that to happen.)  Maybe because I've found myself consumed by all of the sorrow I've been seeing on Facebook lately.  There are just too many children (and adults) with cancer.  

Last night was our While We're Waiting support group meeting, and I needed a devotional to share.  Like I said, I've been dry lately, and I just didn't know what to share with the group.  So yesterday morning, I sat down at the computer, and God finally brought to my mind what I needed to share ... and as always, it's something I myself needed to hear.

We spent the evening talking about "ruminating."

There are basically two kinds of ruminating.  I've got a visual aid to illustrate one of the meanings ... 

Meet Knothead.

Knothead is a resident of the petting zoo at Family Farm, where we hold our While We're Waiting Retreats for Bereaved Parents.  He spends his days lying around and ruminating ... which the dictionary says means "to bring up and chew again what has already been chewed and swallowed."  Pretty disgusting, right?

But there's another kind of ruminating ... something that I find myself doing a lot.

According to Wikipedia, rumination is defined as "the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.  Rumination is similar to worry, except rumination focuses on bad feelings and experiences from the past, whereas worry is concerned with potential bad events in the future.

Maybe you’re like me , and you find yourself reliving the last moments of your child’s life over and over.  Or maybe you weren’t with him or her when she died, and you find yourself going through the circumstances that led to the death again and again, trying to somehow create a different outcome.  Maybe you’ve been beating yourself up over the “If only’s”. 

Basically, it’s not that different from what Knothead spends his day doing.  You’re heaving that stuff back up and chewing it again and again.  Gross, but true.

Your relationship with your spouse and surviving children has been affected, your performance at work or at home is not what it should be, and your relationship with God is really suffering.  You can’t sleep, because every time you close your eyes, the rumination begins again. Or for me, it's often when I'm driving alone in the car.

Satan loves it when we ruminate.  It keeps us frozen where we are.  It keeps us from moving forward in our lives and serving God effectively.

So how do we stop ruminating?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just flip a switch and shut it off?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

It takes time, and it takes supernatural healing from God.  It takes an honest and earnest desire to move forward in our lives.  We must pray and read God’s word, even when we don’t feel like it.  We must ask Him to replace our ruminations on those awful thoughts with the truth of His Word. 

Philippians 4:6-8 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 

Easier said than done, certainly, but so important.  I believe that God will honor even our most feeble efforts to obey His Word, and give us His peace over time. 

Then we’ll be ready to move forward in His service while we’re waiting to be reunited with our children one day. 

So what's the bottom line?

Don't be a Knothead.  :-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ten on the Tenth -- New Year's Resolutions for Bereaved Parents

I've never really been much of a New Year's resolution person.  No particular reason ... I'm just not.

But for 2014, I'm thinking about making some.  The fact that it's already the tenth day of the year should indicate the fact that I've really spent some time thinking about these things.  And I believe that these are resolutions that all those of us who have children in Heaven might want to consider adopting as our own.

In just over a month from now, Hannah will have been in Heaven for five years.  It doesn't seem possible, but it's true.  And God has been faithful to gently carry our family through many painful days and months since that time.  These have been the most difficult five years of my life, but He has used them to teach me things that I don't think I could have learned any other way.

So, in light of that, I present ten New Year's Resolutions for Bereaved Parents:

1.  I resolve to ... Look forward to the future and not spend time agonizing over the "If Onlys".  These things are in the past, they cannot be changed, and it is a waste of my time and energy to be consumed by them.  These thoughts draw me away from doing the things God wants me to be doing today.  And I believe that it dishonors both my child and my Lord when I remain stuck in the past and refuse to move forward.

2.  I resolve to ... Extend grace to those who inadvertently add to my pain by making well-meaning, but inappropriate comments.  And I refuse to replay those hurtful words over and over in my mind, thinking about all the things I could have, should have said, that would have put them in their place.  I will remember that I, too, have said unintentionally hurtful things in my own clumsy attempts to comfort others.

3.  I resolve to ... Extend grace to those who avoid me, or who are clearly uncomfortable talking to me about my child.  They're just afraid.  They don't want to add to my pain, so it's easier just to steer clear of me.  I will remember that I have been that person, too.

4.  I resolve to ... Help others understand what I need from them.  If I need to talk about my child, I'll explain to them that it helps me to talk about her, even if it does make me cry.  If I need to be alone for awhile, I'll ask them to respect my solitude.  If I just don't have the energy for chit-chat and smiles, I'll explain to them why.  If I need to celebrate holidays in a different way, I'll discuss it with them ahead of time.  If I don't know what I need (which happens a lot!), I'll even tell them that.

 5.   I resolve to ... Be patient with myself.  Grief takes time ... much more time than I ever realized before.  I will give myself all the time I need, and not try to rush it (even though others may try to rush me along).  I will be gentle and kind to myself and the fellow grievers in my household.

6.  I resolve to ... Find some joy in every day.  There's a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, and happiness can be pretty scarce sometimes.  But joy is God-given, and it is possible to still have joy even in the worst of circumstances.  And it doesn't have to come from big things.  It can be found in little things ... dew on a spiderweb, the sight of your favorite pet greeting you at your doorway, the sparkle of sunshine on the water, the feeling of pulling on a pair of new warm socks on a cold day.  I resolve to look for and appreciate those things.

7.  I resolve to ... Be grateful for the 17 1/2 years I had with Hannah.  I would rather have had her and lost her than to never have had her in my life at all.  And when I consider the fact that I haven't really "lost" her, but in fact, I will spend eternity with her ... the gratitude just overflows.

8.  I resolve to ... Recognize and rebuff the attacks of Satan.  He knows that I'm vulnerable right now, and he would like nothing more than to destroy my witness and to tear my family apart.  He wants me to believe his lies -- that I'm somehow responsible for my child's death; that God is punishing me for some sin; that if only I had had more faith or if I had prayed more, my child would still be here today.  I refuse to allow Satan to have a foothold in my life.

9.  I resolve to ... Depend upon what I know to be true about God, and not on what my feelings are telling me.  So much of the time, my feelings and emotions are completely out of control and unpredictable.  I can laugh and cry and be angry and happy all at the same time.  I can be fine one minute, and sobbing the next.  And I may not even know what triggered the meltdown.  My feelings will lie to me (See #8), but God's Word always tells me the truth.  To keep this resolution, I must spend time with Him, and be intentional in prayer and Bible study.

10.  I resolve to ... Remember that I can do none of these things on my own.  I have no power within myself to keep even one of these resolutions.  It helps to talk to other moms and dads who understand what it's like to miss your child so desperately.  It's great to know that I'm not alone in this thing ..
. that I'm not the only one who struggles with these things.  But even more than having the support of other bereaved parents, it is critical that I lean on my Heavenly Father for strength.  Because it is only in Him that I can find the strength to keep these resolutions.

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."  II Corinthians 12: 9-11 (NASB)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Future Greater Than the Past

I remember how I felt that first New Year's Days after Hannah went to Heaven.

To be perfectly honest ... it was awful.

While part of me was relieved to slam the door on 2009, and all the pain and grief it contained, the thought of living through an entire 365 days without Hannah was mind-boggling.  I could not imagine how I was going to survive even that first day of January, much less a whole year.  And as I considered the fact that that year would be followed by another year, and then another, and another ... It was almost more than I could handle.

In fact, it was more than I could handle alone.  It's only been by God's help that I've survived 2010, 2011, 2012, and now 2013. And it is only through His strength that I can look forward with joyful anticipation to 2014.

A few days ago, I posted an excerpt from a devotional by Max Lucado on our While We're Waiting Facebook page.  This post was far and away the most "liked" comment we've ever had on that page.  Here is part of what I posted ...

In May of 2008, Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth lost their five-year-old daughter in an automobile accident.  They were deluged by messages of kindness.  One in particular gave Steven strength.   It was from a pastor friend who’d lost his son in an auto accident. “Remember, your future with your daughter will be greater than your past with her.”

For me, personally, that may be the single most comforting thing I've read in the past five years.  What a great reminder of what I (and what all of us who know Jesus Christ as our Savior) have to look forward to!

And in the meantime, while we're waiting for that future, it helps to remember the words of Lamentations 3:22-23 ...  "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness."

His compassion will not fail us ... We will not be consumed ... His mercies are new every morning ... and His faithfulness is great.