Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who's to Blame?

O Lord, the deep, deep pain … I grieve
the loss of hope ... he chose to leave.
Could I have loved him more, not less?
Could I have saved him from distress?
Was there nothing I could do
to stop him.. nor would you?

Then remembering a disciple once the same
from grief of knowing he was to blame
Took upon himself the right to die
And not trust in Him who would be crucified.
Jesus knew and loved him still
Yet did not stop him, that would kill.

His Master was holy in every way,
the disciple could find no blame
Jesus loved him perfectly, not like me
He taught him everything he would need
Yet his soul still overcome with pain
chose to leave.. was Jesus to blame?

So why do I in sadness still
Believe the fault, to take at will
For choices I did not alone make
For a life I alone did not choose to take
Oh God help me.. these thoughts to cease
In acceptance lieth peace.

Here I must commit my thoughts
and not focus daily on my loss.
But turn now to those who are left
and support and love them with Your best.

Let those of us who are left behind
Not let the torment in our mind
Steal from us the days left
Instead to hide within the cleft
of your love and grace remain
knowing it will heal our pain.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grief, guilt & the Gospel

The months following my son’s death were like a roller coaster ride. Not the kind of ride you experience at a kiddy park but the horrific ones where you are hurled in one direction and then another and fear that your heart won't survive until the end of the ride. I had stretches of time where I was riding on the waves of God’s grace and His peace would fill my heart through His Word. But, as the months progressed, I found myself slipping from those grace filled moments and plunged into a dark, dark pit of depression as a result of unrelenting guilt and tormenting thoughts. I have never lost a child to suicide so I have no idea what the ‘norm’ may be but I do know that the thoughts and meditations of my heart were responsible for a lot of unnecessary pain. 

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.1 Thess. 4:13

The grief I experienced in the early months following my son's death was not this kind of grief… the kind filled with hope.  I can look back now and see that the enemy of my soul was at work full time in my thought life and I, oftentimes, laid down my spiritual weapons and allowed him to plummet me with his accusations and tormenting thoughts.

It’s not as if I didn’t know better. I’ve been studying God’s Word for a very long time and had hid a great deal of scripture in my heart. I would have thought I was prepared (by God’s grace) for anything. But, in the midst of the battle, I let my guard down and  did not obey God’s Word. I allowed Satan to get a foothold in my thoughts. 

The biggest torment were the accusing thoughts of shame and guilt. Questions were hurled at me like: Why didn't he call me for help?  Was I a bad mother? Is this why my son killed himself? Would he still be here today if I had done things differently? It seemed that the only thoughts I remembered were my failures. Worry and fretting became the response to the guilt and then the depression came. My thoughts were filled with accusations. Remember that Satan is rightly called ‘The Accuser’ in scripture.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10
Were there times when I had sinned against my son? Yes! Was I a perfect parent? By no means. Did I try to be the best parent I could be? Honestly- yes! Yet even my best efforts as a parent were done imperfectly. Instead of looking to Christ, who paid for those sins and the punishment they deserved … I continued to look at myself. I became the judge, jury and prosecutor when God alone was the only One qualified. His solution, found in the life and death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, was no where in the equation. I was stuck gazing at my failures as a mother. I had lost the hope and peace found in Christ alone. 

I was blessed that several godly souls began exhorting me to take my thoughts captive in the fight against the tormenting guilt. (2 Cor. 10:5) I was reminded to 'put off' the ungodly thoughts and to renew my mind in what God's Word says. (Eph. 4:22-24) Not halfheartedly but to get serious! Then to 'put on' thoughts of who I was in Christ. I had been holding onto many promises in God’s Word since the first day we heard the news but when the guilt would come I oftentimes sat like an accused, hopeless man on death row... feeling as if I deserved the punishment.

So, I sat down and collected a list of Scriptures that would renew my mind in who God said I was. This is only part of the list I used but it will give you an idea.

I am God’s child. (John 1:12)
I belong to God. (1 Cor. 6:20)
I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)
I am holy and blameless in Christ. (Ephesians 1:4)
I am a member of God’s household. (Eph. 2:19)
I am set free in Christ from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2, John 8:32)
I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. (2 Cor. 5:17).
  When the enemy (or my conscience) would hurl the accusations of things I had done (or not done), I would confess them (if I had not already) as sin (if they were), ask God’s forgiveness and then I would remind myself that I had been forgiven by what Christ did on the cross, his death and his resurrection. I would then IMMEDIATELY go to the scripture list I had placed above my kitchen sink and start reading the scriptures to myself .. sometimes even out loud. I had to be consistent and I had to do this IMMEDIATELY at the first thought and not allow the enemy to gain any ground in my thought life.

The gospel and God’s Word became my life line…. literally.

As the days went by the torment became less and less and within less than a week I was set free from the depression that was a result of the guilt that was not handled biblically. The thoughts slowed down to a place where they only occasionally pop up in my conscience now.

The grief still comes … but I watch very closely over my thoughts and do not allow myself to entertain anything that is contrary to who God says I am ‘in Christ’.  I still grieve for the loss of my son but have realized there is a difference in a godly grief that brings glory to God and one that allows sinful thoughts to steal the peace found with God through Christ Jesus. 

We often treat the gospel as if it only pertains to our salvation. But, over the past several years, I continue to learn how the gospel relates to every area of my Christian walk and how life changing it is to preach the gospel to myself daily.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

Scriptures taken from the ESV Bible.

Monday, January 14, 2013

One year ago today...

One year anniversaries can mark many things. Often, they are reminders of happy events.. a birthday, an anniversary, a year free of cancer. Today is the one year anniversary of the death of our youngest son. I cannot say that it marks a happy event. For our family it marks a day that is filled with the memories of some very dark times marked by many tears and deep sorrow.

It’s taken me a year to be able to write the words that follow… our youngest son committed suicide.  Even after one year of the Lord gently working me through the grief from his actions I still experience a horrific pain when I face the decision he made to end his life. 

But, today on the one year anniversary of his death, I do not want to focus on the darkness of this past year. I want to share with you the constant thread  that so evidently wove it’s way through the ups and the downs of this past year. The evidence of the Lord’s presence with us through the ministry of family and friends and the comfort and power of His Word were our saving grace. 

In some ways this past year reminds me of the story of  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were thrown into the fiery furnace. Their faith in God did not rescue them from experiencing all that the trial produced.  But, as they were thrown into that furnace the Lord made His presence known to them. He was in the furnace with them. That is the overall banner of this past year. God has been with us!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 42:2-3 (ESV)

I’m not sure I can even adequately share with you all that God has done over this past year.  I believe the greatest measure of His presence has been through His Word. His Word has been a light that has shone bright through the darkest valley and when I have looked to Him for direction… He has directed me safely to the next step. I have fallen many times but that has only been when I have taken my eyes off His Word and listened to the lies of the enemy.

The  first night after we had arrived in Texas (where my son lived) I began to plummet emotionally. We had been busy throughout the day with many details but after loved ones had gone to their rooms for the night then I was bombarded with many dark thoughts. No one knew what was going on inside my head… not even my husband. But, the enemy of my soul was throwing his fiery darts of accusations and instead of taking up the shield of faith (as I had known to do in times past) I accepted each hit. Suddenly the phone rang (as it had all day). I had not been taking any of the calls. I just couldn’t talk to anyone. But, at that exact moment the Lord gave me grace and I picked up the phone and the Lord ministered to me through the words of a dear friend on the other end of the line. She had lost a relative through suicide and was able to encourage me through those first dark moments. After our phone conversation ended I picked up the Gideon bible found in the hotel drawer and started reading. The Lord brought to mind a scripture I had not thought of in literally years. His Word instantly filled my heart with peace and that scripture became a very important weapon in my fight against the guilt that would hound my  soul over the coming months.

The  Lord would continue to minister His Word to each struggle I would face in the coming days.  Some were given in my quiet time with Him. Others came through a few close friends who patiently ministered to me through those dark days. His Word, when obeyed, became the light that continued to help keep me on His path of peace. When I deterred and stopped obeying His Word then that is where I entered those dark places of torment.

Secondly, the Lord  made Himself known as our Provider. I started following Christ when I was 17 years old but I had never experienced such an outpouring of generosity as we did in the days following our son’s death.. not only for ourselves but the entire family.

Most of you may know that my husband became disabled a few years ago and as a result we are living on a very tight budget.  The morning that we received the phone call that our son was dead we immediately called our daughter in love. There was no hesitation in our hearts … we knew we had to travel to Texas immediately regardless of what it cost . We were able to find a plane leaving within 4 hours and so we booked the flight.  We had not even left town when a close friend showed up and handed us money for our trip. Within hours we received a phone call and were told that a family member was sending money to help with expenses. Then we received word that another one was sending money. A dear friend and her husband paid for our hotel room on our trip bringing our daughter in love and grandchildren back to California. By the time we arrived home our entire trip had been paid for. Oh my! I can’t tell you how much this ministered to us. God did not keep us from the deep painful grief of those beginning hours and the days that followed but He ministered to us through the outpouring love and generosity of others. He was making Himself known as our Provider.

After we had made it through the funeral and had arrived home we started opening cards that were handed to us at the services. We found love offerings in nearly every card. We were speechless. We just couldn’t believe it. Our hearts were overwhelmed. There was enough money to not only pay the pastor for his services but enough money to start saving for his cremation plot. My mother’s heart wanted his ashes placed somewhere permanent as a remembrance. I knew it would probably take a few years to save for the cremation niche but my husband and I agreed that it was important and committed to saving for as long as it took.

The day that his ashes arrived at my front door was another dark time of sorrow. The grief hit like a tsunami wave when I took the heavy box from the UPS carrier. I didn’t even let my husband know it had come yet. I was trying to gain the courage to tell him when I heard the mailman drop the mail in the garage slot. As I began opening the mail I couldn’t believe what I found in one of the envelopes. There was an extremely large check that covered the rest of the burial plot. Only a sovereign God could orchestrate such a huge blessing to arrive on such a sad day, for we had told no one the desire of our hearts. We immediately called our daughter in love - our son's widow- and all of us were able to drive to the cemetery and make plans for his burial. Our son’s ashes would have a resting place and we experienced the comfort of knowing a tender God had again provided for not only for our needs but our desires.

I never again want to go through what we experienced this past year but I can tell you that I have come to know God in a more intimate way through it.  He has been my comfort. His Word has been my guide. His presence has been my peace. I can not imagine.. I mean this in full sincerity… how I would have lived through this past year if I had not known Him as my Savior.

Thank you.. from the bottom of my heart.. to all that prayed for our family.. to all that gave so generously of your hard earned money… to all who reached out to my children in the weeks that followed and brought them meals… to those who stayed behind and helped my daughter’s family get a room ready in her home for my daughter in love and grandchildren... to my other children and their spouses who gave of themselves in so many ways..to all who helped provide money and clothing for my daughter in love when she arrived (that is another story all in itself!). The list goes on and on. You will never know how you ministered to my entire family. 

To those I have never met personally but have known you as an online internet friend and who prayed and sent money… thank you so much for reaching out to someone you have never met. Thank you to all those at Victory Life Center who allowed us to have our funeral at the church where our son grew up and who gave of your day to provide food and organize all that went into the planning and to a dear friend who made a beautiful picture memorial of our son. The list goes on and on and I fear that those I have not mentioned will not know how much each gesture, small and large, meant to us.  Each of my family members repeatedly said during those following months that WE were learning how to minister to others in their time of need by the way that others had comforted us.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

May God bless each one of you!