Seeing the big picture……

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See the pretty little girl? Pretty and precocious. See the vertical wrinkle in the carpet and the horizontal shadow from a window? She just told her Mama to “see the T”. She is looking at the bigger picture. From her vantage point it appears obvious that there is an (upside down) T. I can see it. Can you?

I wish I could have her perspective on life. To see the big picture of God’s plan for my life. It might help me understand some of the challenges and trials and grief that He has allowed in my life. I want to be like Joseph, who survived being cast away by his brothers, sold into slavery, rising to power only to be wrongfully accused and thrown into jail, and, finally, achieving a position of power that allowed him to save his people from starvation. And, all the while, he did not grow bitter. He could, at least retrospectively, see God’s hand at work.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7 NIV)

I doubt that I would have been as patient, gracious, or trusting as Joseph. Nowhere is it recorded that he whined, complained, despaired, or turned away from God. Nor did he lash out in anger or seek revenge. Somehow, through patient obedience, he was able to see the “big picture”, the overarching purpose of all that had befallen him. I fear that I might have reacted differently.

Then there is the wonderful story of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl in captivity, chosen to be the queen of Persia. She was obedient in keeping her family background and nationality secret, following the advice of her adopted father, Mordecai.Learning of an evil plot to kill her people, she feared to approach Xerxes to ask for protection and mercy. Who wouldn’t, knowing that, unless he deemed it acceptable for one to appear unannounced and extended his golden scepter in reprieve, the intruder (even though queen) would be put to death? She reminded Mordecai of this danger as he directed her to seek rescue for her people.  But he had another perspective for her consideration.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 12-14 NIV)

Mordecai reminded Esther of her position in the big picture of that time and that place and the responsibility that accompanied it. Do you ever wonder where you fit in the “big picture” of things? I do. We generally think of children and grandchildren and so forth as a type of legacy. I lost a child to suicide. How does that subtract from my legacy? What am I to do with my role as a “survivor of suicide”? My mind struggles to make some sense of it, to detect some purpose that I can now fulfill because of it. I try to comfort others that I meet who have lost children. I reach out to those who have experienced the special grief of suicide. I speak openly and write about it. But is there more that I am supposed to do with my grief?

And, I try to “tie a knot and hang on”.

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The thing is, I’m beginning to recognize that the rope is God. It is Him that I cling to, sometimes with firm grasp and sometimes hanging on by a thread. He is my strength, my hope, my salvation. He sees the big picture, while I see only snapshots. His vision is clear; mine is cloudy. So, I try to make the knot ever bigger and more substantial through Bible reading and prayer, so that it’s easier to hang on to. But, when the rope swings in the winds of life, my emotions swing right along with it.

As a very wise woman has said to me, “It’s those ‘sneak attacks’ of grief that get us.” One moment I’m laughing at a coworkers story and the next my eyes fill with unbidden tears, as I realize that my Daniel won’t be around to write my eulogy. (He was a writer, like me.)  And, what in my life will be worthy to eulogize? Am I somehow lessened by his loss? Or am I strengthened through surviving it? Am I making a difference every day? Am I living life to the fullest by staying in the moment? So many questions.

But, I keep my eyes peeled for glimpses of the “big picture”. And, I cling with every fiber of my being to that rope of faith. And, I will, somehow, keep on keeping on.

Only by God’s grace.

Welcome 2017…….

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

I’ve been trying for days to write a blog post. I wrote a really negative one at the end of 2016, listing all the things I was “sick and tired” of. After a good bit of soul searching, I have come to realize that the thing I was most “sick and tired” of was my attitude. Many friends had experienced unexpected loss, and those tragedies once again reminded me of the grief of losing Daniel.  But now a clean slate of new days, new weeks, new months, all under the control of a loving God, who will not leave me to face the bad things that life brings alone, stretches before me. So, I am attending the Survivors of Suicide group this evening, and this is my prayer as a new year begins.

Father God,

You know my tears, my fears, my regrets, and my future. You know the grief of a Son’s death. My understanding of your sacrifice is so much more personal now. Yet, how can I compare my loss to yours? Please forgive me. Help me forget the pain of “former things”, while remembering the love. Strengthen me to avoid dwelling on the past. Lead me to let YOU do the new thing in the year before me.

There are a lot of things that I think you want me to do with my life. Nursing has been one of them. Thank you for the connection I feel with patients and colleagues. Thank you for the feeling that my work makes a difference in lives. Thank you that I have been blessed with the ability to provide for my family (I see so many who have not.)

It has been my belief that writing is also a course you want me to pursue. You seem to be reminding me of that through reminders of “Is the next book finished?” or “likes” on a blog post. Yet, in spite of these messages,  I have wallowed in grief and despondence and depression, and I have failed to invest the time and energy that I should in the work of writing. Forgive me. And help me to do better. Grant thoughts and words that can speak to others, that can encourage or inspire, that can tell a good story while honoring your name. Strengthen my will to persevere in the work, for it is work. Banish procrastination. Focus my mind. May everything that I do be to your honor and glory.

And, Lord, help me always to remember that you have a plan for all my days in this life. Help me to recognize and be faithful to your guidance. At my passing, may it be said that I lived well, loved well, and made a difference in your kingdom and this world.

I pray these things in your beloved Son’s name,

Amen

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14 NIV

May each of you readers have a blessed 2017, filled with the knowledge that God’s love for you is a reality.

Words set free…….

The “club”………..

The definition of club from The New Oxford American Dictionary:

a group of people, organizations, or nations having something in common

My heart is broken because another old friend has become a member of what I call “the club”. You do not enter by special, anxiously awaited invitation. As a matter of fact, you NEVER want to join. It is not a place of fun and games or intellectual discussion or playing bridge or gardening. It is a dark and lonely place full of tears and regret and questions and broken heartedness.

Some are recruited by way of a known end-stage terminal illness. Some are pulled into the ranks by accidents or violence or a loved one’s self destructive behavior. Some have been unexpectedly ambushed by a sudden death, of an infant or a toddler or a teen or a young adult. Many elderly members have been drawn into the group by the death of an only slightly less elderly child.

Because this is “the club” of those whose children have preceded them in death. It’s not supposed to be this way, we all know. Children are supposed to bury parents, not parents bury children. All grief is hard, and all grief is personal and individualized. It is my opinion that the grief of a child’s death is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Since losing my Daniel, I have become so much more sensitive to other parents who have lost children. Keep your eyes and ears and hearts open and you will recognize that you meet them everyday. We are out there–friends, acquaintances, church family, coworkers, people in the check out line at Walmart. I used to tell patients who confided in me about the loss of a child that “that must be the hardest loss”. I was right, while never guessing that I would experience that grief myself.

However, the loss of a child can open one’s eyes to the immeasurable value of the greatest gift that the human race has ever been given–Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Just think about it, unwilling members of “the club”, God the Father willingly sent his son to die in our stead. He might be considered the Divine Chairman of our group. And, His son, Jesus, often promised that one day we will be reunited with our children in a place without sickness, death, or tears.

That’s what I hold on to. My prayers today go up for all of the membership of “the club”.

Letter to Dan…….

 

DSCN0699Dear Daniel,

I’m really having a hard time with this blog, because it’s been nearly a year since I did much writing. It’s like your death redefined my life. I am now the mother of a child who committed suicide. It’s not a pretty definition. You were so very proud when I published that little novel! Since your death, I’ve written hardly anything. I think it’s time for that to change.

You know, losing you was a terrible experience, made all the more painful because you didn’t “pass away” quietly or die from some horrible illness or tragic accident. You chose to leave us, on your terms, your time. That has made this whole experience so much more hurtful, I think. Sometimes I’ve been just plain mad. How dare you hurt us like this? How selfish of you, thinking only of your personal pain and not thinking of our survivor pain.

I know, you didn’t realize, weren’t thinking. You were in such a deep, dark hole of depression and dismay, not knowing how to beat the addiction to methamphetamine, not having enough courage to own up to your mental illness, recognizing the hurt that you were causing the wife that you loved, the child you adored, and the grandchild that you felt you would never be good enough for. You had truly, as your loving wife explained, “lost your way.”

You are not forgotten. Steffie loves you still-she chose and designed your gravestone, and it is so much what you would have chosen. She even included your logo on the vase. As we drive by the cemetery each Sunday morning, I feel tears threatening. How I would love to see you and comfort you and make things better! Your brother misses you, particularly when he has some “project” to do, like jack-hammering concrete floor to fix a leak. And your little sister has been changed by your loss. She, previously so filled with the desire to escape her depression, now says openly that she would “never” hurt the family like you did. I am grateful, because I don’t think I could survive losing another child through suicide. Being a survivor of suicide is, indeed, a label one never wants to wear.

I think of you every day, son. I wear a necklace with your name on it in remembrance. It gives me comfort. Although I miss you with every inch of my being, I at last know that you are safe and at rest in our Heavenly Father’s arms. And, through it all, my faith is ever stronger. God is good. His love, grace, and mercy are enough to see us through the darkest of days. I only wish you had remembered those truths from your early years. Perhaps, then, you would have never chosen to leave.

Rest in peace, son.

Your loving mother

 

The art of healing…….

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As a medical professional, I have long known that assisting others with physical healing involves both science and art. Evidence based medicine, the “science” of it is the gold standard for modern healthcare. But,
— the art of being truly “present” with the patient,
— the art of having insight into what motivates that individual,
–the art of relating to the person with sensitivity, empathy, and compassion,
all have a critical role in achieving good outcomes.

A few weeks after my son’s suicide, I serendipitously encountered a fellow writer at a conference. We met in the prayer room as she prayed with me in my grief. I left the conference with a gifted book, authored by this dear lady who had taken the time to share in my sorrow. She signed the title page, “Hemmed in Hope! Cynthia”. Little did I know how that book would speak to me in the weeks to come.

Cynthia Ruchti’s  Tattered and Mended–the Art of Healing the Wounded Soul (Abingdon Press, 2015) helped me to reframe the pain and loss that has changed my life forever. She eloquently compares the process of healing souls tattered by tragedies, choices, and traumas to the art of reclaiming and restoring various treasures. As I read each chapter, I found myself drawn into the understanding that God can use even the worst that life on this earth brings to us, mending us into stronger and more centered souls.

Cynthia describes the restoration of two-hundred year old Japanese garments through the techniques of sashiko and boro. As I read of the art of quilt restoration and discarded copper recycled into works of art, I began to believe that I could survive this loss and not be defeated. She writes of tapestries restored, fine arts reclaimed, stained glass recovered, antique dolls redeemed, and broken furniture refurbished. Throughout are two themes: that broken hearts are not to be viewed as unfixable and, thus, left to a miserable existence instead of joyful life in Christ, and that the tattered and mended soul can become a thing of greater beauty and worth than the original.

I still struggle to know how my loss will ever result in something of beauty and worth. I know that since it has occurred, I am ever more sensitive to the multitudes of parents who have lost children and the many survivors of suicide in this world. And, I am thankful for gifted and inspired writers like Cynthia who invest time and talent and effort into offering a new perspective for those of us who feel we have suffered the most unimaginable pain and loss this life can offer. I pray that someday I can help bring similar healing and hope to others.

The door. . . . .

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See this door? It is a steel, triple-locked, standard door required for a “safe room” which meets government codes to provide a refuge during tornadoes. It is also the door to our home office and gun safe. The floor, ceiling, and walls of this room are all concrete. Living in Arkansas, a part of “tornado alley”, the construction of this room when we built our home seemed wise. It does provide a sense of security when the weather radio sounds or all local TV programming is preempted with blow-by-blow (no pun intended) descriptions of the paths of dangerous storms approaching our area.

However, I need to use the door as an illustration. I have posted infrequently on this site for the past several months. My most recent post was on August 31, just days after my son committed suicide. Ironically, the post that preceded it (posted in July), referenced a conversation with him in which he was reminding me of my neglect of this blog. I wish it had been a longer conversation. The experts call this feeling I have survivors’ guilt. I just call it regret–regret that I lost him before I lost him. His illness and addiction effectively divorced him from his family, locking him away as securely as the safe room door.

But, there’s more to the door analogy. Because I go through each day–working, cooking, going to church, doing laundry, attending our grandson’s football games, being “social”–doing all these things with the door to my denial and anger and grief securely shut and locked. I think. Yet, at the most odd and inopportune times, that door swings spontaneously open, and my mind is filled with the last images of Daniel. A silent scream of disbelief echoes through my head. My heart fills to bursting with the ache of his absence and the effort of drawing in breath is magnified a hundred times. My body is suddenly crushed by the weight of this loss. And a cloud of sadness envelops me.

Sometimes I am able to cry. Sometimes I am simply overwhelmed and sit in a daze wondering how I got to this place in life. But always, eventually, I, piece by piece, bury those images, silence that scream, tell my heart to keep beating, breathe deeply, and drag my heavy self with its cloud of sadness surrounding me (think Pigpen’s cloud of dirt in a Peanuts’ comic), to that sturdy door with it’s triple dead-bolt locks. I shove all that denial and anger and guilt and grief inside and click by click by click lock all those locks, lean against the secured door, and pray that someday it will remain closed, knowing full well that it won’t.

In truth, I wouldn’t want it to. Because somehow I know that repeating this process is a part of healing the hole in my heart. A card I received observed that I have “a hole in my heart that cannot be fixed by any cardiologist or thoracic surgeon”. I treasure that card because it so perfectly describes the loss that I feel. I now am the mother of two living children and one deceased child. The remnants of the place where Daniel lived will always be there, but, by the grace of God, I know that it will someday bleed less, hurt less, and, ultimately, scar over, so that I can once again not fight with the door.