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Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Never the SameMy journal from January, 2012 contains only two entries. The first is a black “X” across the entire page along with one sentence that reads, “Everything—life as we knew it—changed forever.” The second entry simply says, “I can’t write.”

In the days following my brother’s suicide, grief paralyzed me in body and soul. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of pain in life: The pain of being outside God’s will, and the pain of being inside God’s will. Having experienced both, I’ve always said I’d take the latter any day. But after Jay took his life, I was tempted to rethink my preferences.

Someone once said, “Grief is life’s greatest teacher.” I’m not far enough into the journey to pass judgment. When a wound isgaping wide, you don’t care about learning anything. Grief burns a hole through the center of your chest and, frankly, most mourners just want to pick a different teacher.

IMG_4250My friend, Micki Ann, understands suffering because she has suffered. A lot. She says, “Suffering is a seed we’re given to steward.” Several months after Jay’s death, Micki Ann gave me a handful of seeds. Even though there were days when I wanted to throw them back at her, I couldn’t deny the fact that her wisdom invited intrigue to inhabit my despair.

In an effort to prove my friend’s theory, I searched the scriptures. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apostle Paul had a real knack for stewarding his suffering. Stonings? Shipwrecks? Paul went through the wringer. That’s what makes him so credible. Given his ordeals, on many nights, Paul’s words stopped my self-pity in its tracks. “Our light and momentary IMG_4254troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).

IMG_4264I believe Paul. I really do. It’s just that in the face of our present pain, eternal glory can seem so very far away. When I glance up from my computer and see the photos of Jay posted above it, glory’s gates couldn’t feel any farther away. On days like this, grief outweighs glory—hands down.

When I used to write essays and articles, I would conclude my thoughts with some neat and tidy resolution. But, grief isn’t neat, or tidy. It’s sloppy and snotty. Inconsolable and distressing. There is no closure, especially with death by suicide. Instead, there are only endless questions that will never be answered.

Grief makes a writer ramble, but I should at least be woman enough to confess what I can’t gloss over: I have no prescription for this pain. Truth be told, if the J-shaped hole in my heart could be filled with a prescription, I’d be the first person in line for that pill. I’m not trying to sound dramatic, just honest.

IMG_4261The temptation to shrink back from my sorrow and suffering is immense. But, there’s no evidence that grief’s purpose is to make us give up. Paul never backed off from God’s mission. Actually, the opposite is true. It was Paul’s pain that propelled God’s purpose, and he knew it. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 NIV, emphasis added).

By faith, Paul pressed into his pain and in doing so, his pain shaped his purpose; giving it color and contrast and depth. And so, that’s all I know to do.

IMG_1095I press into my pain as I ponder God’s Word. I press into my pain as I grasp for Micki Ann’s seeds. I press into my pain as I pray that somehow, my lament will offer hope to yours. And, somewhere amidst all this pain and pressing, a tiny bud bursts through the dirt: What if suffering isn’t supposed to be a hazard, but a hallmark? What if suffering isn’t supposed to be avoided, but embraced? What if, instead of shrinking back, I seized my suffering? And, what if I let God till this unplowed ground, hoping against all hope, that what sprouts forth will become “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”? (Isaiah 61:3b NIV)

God only knows what the seed of suffering might become. And, although there are still days I want to throw my seeds back, I have a sense that if I press into this pain hard enough, redemption will tip the scales in glory’s favor.

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…Like I said, I’m pushing one seed into the dirt each day. Counting down to Christmas. Counting up my blessings. Counting on His hope.

Day 11:  I dig into the dirt with my fingernails and drop the seed into the darkness. 

Seed 11

But the truth is, for as noble as all this advent planting may seem, I want to crawl into the hole alongside that tiny seed and pull the dirt up over the both of us.

Hole hiding is one of grief’s greatest temptations. The darkness beckons. Pity and woe are masterful enticers. They promise to stay, to bind and hold me there alongside them. They are in it for the long haul. Tenacity at its finest.

But, I can’t go there. I cannot crawl into that hole and I cannot hide because I know that today, somebody else’s sister will hear suicide screaming into the other end of the line.

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And someone else will have a coroner and a casket come right there in the midst of their Christmas.

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I cannot hide because just last week I stood among a group of “survivors”.

I cannot hide because they are not hiding and tragedy tied us all together, right there in the middle of the courtyard.

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“This is our daughter,” a woman sobbed, pointing to a picture on the wall behind her. “She killed herself three months ago.”

My heart plummeted onto the cement and splattered out all over. I know her pain. I know how hard the grief bites in month three. And I know that for as much as she is hurting, she hasn’t even felt the worst of it…yet.

“My son went for a ride on his motorcycle. He was run over by a drunk driver.”

Her words are met by another mother’s knowing nod. Before the night is over, she too will stand and tell us that her child was run down while riding a bicycle and that the driver fled the scene.

“My son was shot and killed on the interstate.”

I reach for another tissue when what I really need is a towel.

The stories continue.

“My brother was murdered by his wife.”

“The pieces of my daughter’s body haven’t been found yet. It’s been three years.”

“This is my son,” another woman says, clutching a photograph. He completed suicide. He was our only child.”

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That’s it! I can’t take it! I want to bolt out into the parking lot, climb into the car, and wail my guts out. So does everyone else.

But we all stay right there, strangely riveted by the sacredness of the moment.

Our snot and sobs crescendo into the night sky, joining in the chorus of a million others and I wonder how we can even stand. 

But here we are.

Standing.

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We are all still standing.

So, I must push the dirt into the hold and cover up the seed, knowing that for as much as I want to stay buried…

I can’t.

I cannot stay buried…

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Because He didn’t.

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I cannot hide…

Because people are bleeding out all over…

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And they must know that all this pain and heartache is covered by the blood of the One who bled out for us all.

By His Wounds

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For 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” (1 Thessalonians 5:13-14).

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It’s been nine months since I got “the call”

Nine months.

I’ll never forget the moment I received word that my little brother was…gone.

NEVER.

“Penny. Penny! PENNY!” My sister kept sobbing my name over and over again on the phone, each time with increasing intensity.  That weekend, we had both been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a hold of Jay. When he hadn’t responded to our repeated texts or calls and his friends hadn’t heard from him, she decided to drive over to his house. Deep within my gut, I knew what she was about to confirm.

Her words paralyzed me in every way. I listened to what she was saying, but refused to hear the tragic truth: That our brother had barricaded himself in his bedroom, ending his pain the only way he knew how.

“No. NO!” I cried. “I don’t believe you. I’m not going to believe you! It’s not true!”

I curled up fetal on the floor, wrapping myself in the blanket my grandmother had sent me two weeks earlier.

“Wrap this around yourself when you need a hug,” she had said.

The crushing weight of my grief and sorrow was more than I could bear. I wept in anguish for the rest of the night…

As I would on many nights thereafter…

My journal from those first agonizing days contains one entry.

Nothing has been the same since December 11, 2011.

NOTHING.

But, while I never could have conceived it nine months ago, I am slowly coming to understand…

That the labor pains we must bear in death…

Are God’s passageway to birth new life.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24

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After you have suffered for a little while…

The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ…

Will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you…

To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:10 NASB

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When a day that has always marked his life…

Beckons to remind me only of his death.

When the hole in my heart…

Threatens to swallow me whole.

I grab a firm hold of my grief, before my grief grabs hold of me…

And, determine to do what I’ve always done on this day.

Because in surrendering the sorrow of his absence…

I celebrate the sanctity of His presence…

And, somehow…

Someway…

It is I who receives a gift.

“…that I may gain Christ.”

Philippians 3:8

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What’s a woman to do when…

The basket on the table contains the ashes of her brother…

 And sorrow comes parading…

To bid one last goodbye.

When she weeps as those who loved him…

Reach in for one last touch.

When words are few…

But, tears are many.

Just what IS a woman to do?

A woman must surrender at sunset…

 

And exchange his ashes…

for His beauty.

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”

“In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3

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I wish the sun would stop setting.

If, even for just a moment, God would stop it from going down…

Right here in this very place.

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But, the sun will set…

And, tomorrow’s ache will come long before I’ve dealt with today’s.

Because grief waits for no one.

But, then again…

Neither does love. 

“Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23a

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