Saturday, November 27, 2010

The View from the Valley Continues

I promise not to write about grief forever! Indeed, I had planned to write about "The River of God's Sovereignty" this time, but I find that my brain is not working so well after driving several hours today. So I will risk giving you yet another glimpse of the "guided grief" that God is offering me. This is "raw stuff" right from my journal this morning. I will follow with a brief reflection and then that's it for this time.

Papa, was it you this morning who whispered to me as my thoughts ran towards Jettie, “You need to let her go”? You have said that to me before, but this time the context made it make even more sense. I was headed into regret, as you know. Father, I know that you don’t mean for me to let go of the memories and the legacy she left for us, but I do know that it’s time to let go of regret and the sense of loss. I suppose that grief becomes selfish at some point if I don’t recognize that for her, things are better by far and that her legacy will endure forever. Papa, I wonder if I had known how badly she was suffering whether I would have let her go even sooner. I cannot imagine the stress she was facing as she fought so hard to stay with us, but much of that was her own choosing, I guess. Still, if I had known that we would fail to lay hold of her healing…I wonder. All along I said that I wouldn’t make her a guinea pig while I “learned faith.” So given all of this, why is it so hard to let go, I wonder? And yet I cannot deny the great sense of loss that hangs over all of us, and so I grieve until you lead me to a different place.

Papa, will I ever start hearing you again like I did before? It is rare that I write any words from you here, but perhaps that is a good thing since so much of what I thought I was hearing during the journey needs to "come under review." Yet I know you are speaking. I look to you as best I can.

Tom's reflections: just a short time after I wrote these words I went for a walk, and God clearly and in unmistakeable ways spoke to me. I cannot find the words to describe how faithful He is in all of this even while I wrestle with the things I let you in on in the paragraphs above. You will find Him just as faithful, I know, and I hope that my transparent ramblings will help you to see how His kindness is unfolding in your life just as it is in mine.

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guided Through Grief

It's been 6 weeks now since my beloved Jettie went to be with her dear friend, Jesus, and I am still grieving, of course. I told my son, Josh, today that it is getting better. At first, it was like being in a hurricane with 100 foot waves crashing over me without any space between. Thankfully, during that season I was mostly numb, living in that numbed and surreal world that follows the death of a precious loved one. Now, the waves are only 25 feet high, and they are spaced out quite a bit so that I actually can see ahead and catch my breath before another one comes! Hey, that's progress!

Perhaps the most precious discovery in this journey through the valley of grief is that God is guiding the entire journey. He has always been powerfully present, of course, even when I was so numb that I could feel almost nothing, but now I am beginning to hear His voice clearly again and know His presence in palpable ways--so good to come back to that point. And because I am hearing Him again, I have been able to hear Him promise to guide me through the grief process. Who better than the God of all comfort, who better than the "man of Sorrows," who better than the Comforter to be our guide through grief?

As just one example, on November 10, I wrote the following:
"You are showing me the importance of allowing you to lead my grieving process. You are helping me to move away from regret and from mourning Jettie’s losses. You are leading me to view the time of grieving as a time of recovery, not a time of suffering. You are reminding me that your Spirit is the Encourager/Comforter, so that you, Holy Spirit, know how to comfort/encourage perfectly. You remind me that others have faced worse things and thrived, etc. Thank you, Papa.
"Papa, I cannot disobey your nudge right after I wrote about you leading me in the grieving process, can I? Yet I am so broken when I look back one year (as I sensed you nudging me to do). Yet through my tears and fears I hear you reminding me of what I wrote in my blog about your promises and that makes me hear you say, 'It’s all still true.' “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, referenced in last year’s entry) is still true, even if we failed to lay hold of its full meaning for us with Jettie. This hurts a lot, Papa, and I am pretty sure you won’t lead me back too often until the rawness of my heart is healed, but it was good to obey you this morning (of course)."

And this has been followed by many, many more times where God's hand has been so obvious as I have allowed Him to lead me. But what's been even more amazing has been how God has guided this process even when I was not aware of it or even aware that I was going where He wanted me to go (I am still somewhat bewildered at times). I am finding that the "chance happenings" of life contribute to my process of healing as well: a conversation with a friend who describes his loved one's last days triggers an outflow of sorrow for me that turns out to be healing, packing things for our move and the "accidental discovery" of something personal of Jettie's brings another gusher of tears that is healing, a song that has memories, etc. I am filled with wonder as I think back over the last few weeks and see how God has been so present and participating in my sorrow. Amazing!

I will stop here. Just wanted to give you a glimpse of our amazing God as seen from the sometimes dim depths of my pain and sorrow. The glow of His care is perhaps even more radiant "down here in the depths." My hope is that you will catch some this glow for your heart as well.

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Receiving and Giving Comfort

I am a rich man, a very rich man, when it comes to expressions of love and encouragement. I continue to be flooded with words of encouragement and compassion as I walk through this dark valley (which became even harder this week with the death of my sister's husband from cancer--he was a dear friend to me).

As the words of encouragement have come, I have noticed that I appreciate them best when I listen more to the heart behind the words rather than just the content. People can say some pretty odd things when they are giving comfort, and if one were to focus on the content of these he/she could become rather frustrated at times! But not too long ago, as I was voicing some of my frustration about this to Papa, He told me to listen to the hearts of those giving the encouragement. No surprise that everything changed to the positive when I heeded His counsel, eh?

As for giving comfort, I have a story along with a few thoughts. I start with the story.

I once read that the great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, went to comfort the widow of a close friend of his who had recently died. Because of his deafness Beethoven was not comfortable with engaging people in conversation, so when the widow opened the door to him, he quietly went to the piano and sat and played and played. Then without a comment, he left. The widow later said that his visit was one of the most encouraging experiences she had had in her grief. I love this story and can picture it easily, especially because so many have played their songs for me.

This story illustrates the importance of the heart in giving encouragement. The widow caught her composer friend's heart in the music he played. Comfort to the grieving is a heart thing, dear ones, not a head thing. Trying to give explanations or the facts as you see them rarely gives comfort to the one receiving them. On the other hand, sitting silently with the grieving person, touching them appropriately, reminding them of something pleasant from the past, listening to their anguish without feeling a need to "fix them" or their theology--these things speak volumes. And if you listen to Papa, He will give you many other creative ways to share your heart, I think. I know I have been the grateful recipient of many, many heart to heart messages, and I am sustained in my grief by them.

Here are a few other observations about this that I list in rather random order, just for your consideration.

First, I am quite convinced that God doesn't take people, rather He welcomes those of His children whom death takes. Carrying out the logic of God "taking people" even for good reasons, leaves us with a cruel God indeed! (Think about it!). Related to this is the faulty idea that, because God is sovereign, everything that happens is His will. People who believe this make every death His will, everything that happens, etc. But this again leads us to a very cruel God who "kills babies and children," takes grammy away from her grandchildren, etc. Actually, this kind of god is the god of Islam, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are lots of things that happen in this sinful world that are not God's will, as you will realize as you reflect on what happens in our sin-twisted world. You see, God's sovereignty means that He is able to take all things, even the worst of them, and by redeeming them make them fit into His amazing story so that in the end it will totally reflect His glory (goodness). But lots of individual things that happen are not God's will except in the very general sense that He chose to creative as free to choose. I could write more, but not now. The point is that God's knowing is not the same as His causing, and that His sovereignty is seen in His redeeming everything not in His causing it.

Second, death is not healing! I am not sure where this rather strange idea started, but in scripture death is always presented as an aberration from God's original intention and as our enemy. Some have suggested that Jettie's death was her healing, but having watched her die I can assure you that what she experienced was not healing. Please don't feel bad if you said something like this to me! I know what you meant and I heard your heart. But death is what happens when healing doesn't happen (I am not in a place yet to hear Father's counsel about why healing didn't come, of course). But what we mean to say when we call death "healing" is that death, because it is a defeated foe, is the doorway to perfect and eternal healing. And because God is always redemptive, He can take everything, even the times when healing doesn't come, and turn it into something good for us.

Just a few thoughts--I will stop here. I am very much in the throes of grief, and those of you who have experienced what I am going through (and even worse), know especially how hard it is at times to think clearly, so I trust that what I am writing makes at least some sense. I also hope you hear my heart, most of all.

From the valley, deep and dark but rich with Father's grace and the love of His people,

Tom, one of Abba's children