When it’s Not Always Well

In 1873, Horatio Spafford put his wife and four daughters aboard a ship traveling from the United States to Europe, with the intention of following them a few days later for a family vacation.  The Saffords had already suffered the death of their young son and lost all of their properties in the Chicago Fires.  A trip to get away was definitely in order. However, the ship Mrs. Safford and her girls were aboard collided with another ship while en route, causing the boat to sink.  The vast majority of the 313 passengers drowned in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic.  While Horatio’s wife was rescued after being found clinging to part of the ship’s debris, his daughters did not survive.  Spafford left on the next ship to be with his wife after learning the tragic news.  As his ship passed by the exact spot where his daughters died, he penned the words to the beloved hymn, “It is Well”.  The words of that grieving father have been an inspiration to me in light of such personal loss, as I’m sure they have been for many.  If one can say “It is well” when reeling from the death of not one, but five children….wouldn’t we all consider that to be a person of great faith?

A year ago, I would have agreed with that.  And many a time, I have sat at the piano and have sung those same words, thinking that I, too, must be a person of great faith to even be able to utter such lyrics.  After all, wasn’t it a great demonstration of unshakable faith and immovable trust in God to accept “my lot” in life?  If I wasn’t able to sing those words, it seemed to be a denial of that faith and trust.

But as time continues to pass in my grief journey, I find it more and more difficult to sing, let alone, hear those words.  Recently as I walked around my neighborhood one evening, those familiar words came streaming through my earbuds:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

My ears heard the words.  But my heart was not comforted.  Tears welled up as I faced the conclusion that even a year after my son’s death, I can say with brutal honesty that it is not well with my soul.  And it never will be.

It is not well with my soul that my son doesn’t get to begin his sophomore year of high school.

It is not well with my soul when I look at kids Joe’s age dressing up for a homecoming dance.

It is not well with my soul that his friends have started to learn how to drive – something he couldn’t wait to do.

It is not well with my soul to go eat sushi and not have him across the table from me.

It is not well with my soul every time I take out two plates for dinner, rather than three.

It is not well with my soul that his room remains empty day in and day out.

I am learning that as long as I have breath in these earthly lungs, I will never be “well” with Joe’s death.  There will never be a day where I don’t long to see his face and wrap my arms around him.  And that is perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in grief:

It is OK to not be OK.

It is well to not be well with the difficult circumstances of this world.  When I look at the devastation of hurricanes and earthquakes and fires and violence, it is not well with my soul.  When I see those around me suffering with illness and cancer and Alzheimer’s, it is not well with my soul.  When I hear about death of any kind, my soul cries for those who now have to walk their own difficult journey. And it is not well with my soul.

If all of this is not well with my soul, it begs the question….well, then what IS well with my soul?  The answer is one that is slowly developing with the course of passing time and the healing of my broken heart.

I am well with the sovereignty of God.  I am OK knowing that God is God and I am not. God is in control of all things He created.  He owns all things, knows all things, rules all things.  Nothing that happens in my life is a mystery to Him.  Even the death of my child.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please. ~ Isaiah 46:9-10

I am well with God’s plan for my life. I fully trust that God has a plan with a much bigger perspective than I will ever know or understand.  He sees the big picture and ultimately, I know it is not about God living out His part in my story.  Rather, it is about me living out my part in HIS story.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. ~ Proverbs 19:21

I am well with God’s mercy.  There is never a more greater awareness of the mercy of God than when walking through the journey of grief.  I cannot explain it well enough to do it justice, but it is because of this undeserved mercy that I have the assurance of seeing my son again.  My child was saved because of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.  I am too.  And this is what will ultimately reunite us.

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…  ~1 Peter 1:3-4

Perhaps it is this concept of God’s mercy that inspired Horatio Spafford to write the less infamous verse of “It is Well”.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And finally, I am well with Christ’s return like never before.   Joe and I used to joke about that all the time.  Whenever things were hard and we were dealing with difficult issues, or when we would watch depressing news stories, one of us would turn to the other and say, “I’m ready for Jesus to come back.”  And the other would agree.  But let me tell you, a grieving mother’s heart could not mean it any more sincerely to say those same words and pray it to come true every day.

1For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. ~  1 Thessalonians 4:16

The final two verses Horatio Spafford wrote are no mystery to those of us who long for Christ’s return with every fiber of our being.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

God knew we would have to walk through trials in this life.  He knew the moment sin entered the world that it would not be well.  With His soul or ours. Which is why He sent His only Son to die the death we deserved.  So that there would be no more separation. No more sadness.  No more grief.  No more death.  He made a way so that it would truly be well between Him and us.  Forever.

And that is why I can declare with all that is in me, “It is well with my soul.”

 

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Deleting the Comma

My dad is the king of unusual and clever t-shirts.  I’m not exactly sure when and how it all began, but as he and my mom began to travel more extensively around the world, a t-shirt was often purchased at nearly each destination they visited.  Over the years, my dad’s wardrobe has boasted shirts from Norway, Greece, Panama, Hong Kong, and Egypt just to name a few.  But as my parents’ travels have slowed down, the creativity of my dad’s t-shirts have not.  My sister has taken t-shirt gift giving to a new level, often scouring the internet for just the right “dad shirt” for his birthday or Father’s Day.  One of my all-time favorite shirts to this day was one she purchased for him a few years ago.  (It was arguably my son Joe’s favorite as well, as it never failed to elicit a laugh from him.)   There’s nothing particularly fancy about the shirt – it’s a plain white tee with simplistic black lettering that reads,

“Let’s eat grandpa.”

“Let’s eat, grandpa.”

Punctuation saves lives.

Now, the shirt’s message is funny in and of itself, but even moreso if you know my dad’s affinity for precise grammar – a trait I have no doubt inherited myself.

It’s interesting how one little minute stroke of the pen, such as the comma, can completely change the meaning of a sentence, isn’t it?  And ironically, I have been discovering the difference a comma (or rather, the lack of a comma) has had upon my relationship with God.

I’ll confess that I have been struggling lately with the upcoming first anniversary of my son’s death.  And perhaps not for the reasons that would seem obvious.  You see, God has been and is doing an amazing new thing in a particular area of my life that I have been intentionally praying about.  While this is new and exciting and wonderful, my heart feels overwhelmingly guilty for having all these emotions when I think I should be feeling sadness and loss and pain.  These conflicting feelings became so burdensome to me lately that I brought up the issue to my counselor.  I said, “I feel like I should be more overwhelmed with sorrow at this particular point in my grief journey.  But yet, I can’t stop feeling gratitude and joy over what God is doing in my life.  How do I reconcile having these conflicting emotions?”

After acknowledging my feelings about both issues, he said two very generic words that put everything into a new perspective.  Those two words brought tears to my eyes and a deep understanding of the grace of God to my soul.  He simply smiled and said,

“But God.”

I’ve thought a lot about those two words and how I’ve frequently them over the years in my conversations with God.  They’ve sounded something like this:

“But God, I didn’t cause this!”

“But God, I feel so broken!”

“But God, I’m lonely!”

“But God, I’m tired of waiting!”

“But God, I didn’t choose this!”

“But God, I can’t lose my boy.  I’ve already lost so much!”

“But God, I won’t survive this!”

The list could go on and on. And every time I used a “But God” phrase, that little comma would sneak right in and put the focus on myself and my own personal sense of injustice in my life.  It was almost as if I was saying, “Listen, God.  You don’t seem to understand my plight and can’t possibly know what I’m walking through.  Let me lay it out for you.”  As if God didn’t see or know my heart better than I did.  So when my counselor said those two words, “But God”, it took me a second to realize there was no comma after it.  And when there was no comma, I began to figure out that the phrase “But God” had nothing to with me at all.  Instead, it had everything to do with God’s character and His action toward me.

I decided to scour Scriptures that used the “But God…” phrase and to my amazement, found more than 30 examples of those two words side by side that clearly describe who God is and what He’s done.  Here are some of my favorites:

“…but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  ~Genesis 50:20

“…but God has surely listened and heard my prayer.” ~Psalm 66:19

“…but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~Psalm 73:26

“But God made the earth by his power…” ~Jeremiah 10:12

“But God raised him from the dead…” ~ Acts 2:24

“But God was with him…” ~ Acts 7:9

“But God has helped me to this very day…” ~ Acts 26:22

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this…” ~ Romans 5:8

“But God had mercy on him…to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.” ~ Philippians 2:27

“But (that) God loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. ” ~ 1 John 4:10

Did you notice that none of those passages contained a single comma after the name of God?  Because the comma’s purpose is to separate.  And when we continually interject the comma, we begin to separate ourselves from what God is doing in and lose trust in His plan for our lives.  But when we delete the comma, the focus is no longer on ourselves.  In grammatical terms, God is the subject and the rest of the sentence becomes the predicate – the action the subject did.  God becomes the focus and who He is and what He has done is what remains.  He makes.  He listens.  He helps.  He demonstrates. He has mercy.  He loves.  He sent.  He raises.

Perhaps the most meaningful passage for me today, as I reflect upon remember the day my son went home to heaven, is this:

BUT because of his great love for us, GOD, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved. ~ Ephesians 2:4-5

It is that love, that mercy, and that grace that even a year later, I cling to and am overwhelmingly grateful for.  It is why there can be joy in the midst of sorrow.  Peace in the midst of sadness.  Hope in the midst of despair.  And happiness in new beginnings, even while acknowledging the pain of the past.

Happy heavenly birthday, my sweet boy.  I love you forever.

Joseph Alan Brinkman

April 23, 2002- September 5, 2016

JoeBW

 

 

 

Giant Baby Steps

It’s been a favorite pastime of my daughter and mine to go to stores and try on crazy shoes we’d never really consider (or could afford) buying.  You know the ones – four-inch spiky gold heels, strappy blue-leather wedges, furry neon pink ballet slippers.  As far as we’re concerned, the wilder, the better. We never actually buy any of these – but we love to laugh at just the sight of each other in shoes we’d really never have any occassion to wear.  We’ve been doing this since my daughter was about five, when her little feet wouldn’t even come close to fitting my size.  It didn’t matter, though…she’d still be in the same aisle as me, trying on the same size shoe I would and having a grand old time clomping around.

The other day, after we finished our annual school supply shopping trip, we decided to reward ourselves with a visit to the clearance aisles of DSW.  However, this time as we began to try on shoes, I realized with a twinge of sadness that now my daughter actually does belong in the same shoe aisle as I do.  (She’s just a fraction of an inch away from reaching my shoe size.) As Ella grabbed a pair of multi-colored sequin heels to shove on her feet, she asked if I remembered the time that she nearly twisted her ankle in a tall pair of shoes while she was running.

“Hmmm….I don’t remember.  When was that?”  I asked

“It was when we were picking up Joe from youth group,”  she replied.

And as I casually carried on the conversation as if it were completely natural, I nearly wanted to cry tears of joy right there in the size 7.5 clearance aisle.  You see, that was the second time in over ten months that I’ve heard my daughter speak her brother’s name out loud.

One giant baby step.

Upon returning home from our shopping adventures, I suggested to Ella that she keep her school supplies on Joe’s bed, so that our dog wouldn’t get into the new items and ruin them.  She hesitated (as she rarely goes into her brother’s room), but then thought about it and went into his room to set the bags down.

Two giant baby steps.

Later that evening, I decided to go into Joe’s room and clean out his drawer of leftover school supplies.  After a few minutes of tossing old pencils, markers, and dried-up glue sticks into a trash bag, Ella wandered in and announced she was going to get her supplies all ready.  She proceeded to plop herself down right in the middle of Joe’s floor and begin the organization process.  As we both sat in that room – me tossing out the old, and her opening up the new – I couldn’t help but praise God for this very moment.  We were both spending time in a room that has been so difficult to even step foot in for nearly a year.

Three giant baby steps.  In one day. 

And if she could do three giant baby steps in one day, then I decided I could take a few myself.

The next morning, I went into Joe’s room and did things I never thought I’d be able to do.  I dusted furniture.  I took down the 2016 wall calendar that was still open to September. I moved a couple of things around.  Put books back on the shelf.  Neatly organized the shoes that had been tossed in the closet.  And the big one:  I washed the glass that had been sitting next to my son’s computer since the last day he drank from it.  It was time. And as difficult as it was, I told myself that doing so wouldn’t erase any memory of my sweet boy from my mind.  It wouldn’t change how much I loved him – or still love him.

There’s still more to do in his room.  Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.  And maybe I won’t.  I’ve learned in grief to have low expectations and high levels of grace.  (Trust me – not easy for a type-A, task-oriented girl like me.)  I might set a goal and have every intention of making it happen, but not be able to do it when the time comes.  And I’m learning that that’s OK.  God is teaching me that my list, my agenda, and my plans may not be His own.

What about you?  You may not be grieving the loss of a child, but are you allowing yourself grace when it comes to your expectations for your life?  Maybe life didn’t turn out at all how you thought it would.  Maybe you’re beating yourself up for not accomplishing more in your life.  Maybe you’re really good at playing the game of “If I had just done this instead….”  Oh friend, do not fall into that pit!  Do not think for a second, that anything that has happened to you is wasted.  God is using it ALL for His glory.  It is ALL part of His ultimate good for those who love Him!  He has positioned you right where He wants you.  And He is ready for you to take those steps – however big or small – to His outstretched arms.

For my daughter, it was in the clearance shoe aisle this week.  For me, it was picking up that dirty glass and walking it to the dishwasher.  To most, it might seem insignificant. But to us, it was taking giant baby steps of healing towards our Father, who stood ready to pull us into His loving embrace.

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Moving Forward

One of my favorite childhood memories was going on summer vacations with my family. As a family of five, we couldn’t afford to fly, so we’d all pile into our Pontiac 5000 and travel cross-country to wherever our destination happened to be.  One year, we had a particularly long drive ahead of us, so my ingenious mother wrapped up little gifts for us to open each time we entered a new state to celebrate.  My siblings and I would pour over the atlas and count down the miles until we could open our next treasure.  I remember looking ahead down the seemingly endless interstate, thinking that once we crossed over a border, the scenery would magically change.  Or that perhaps, there would be some large definitive boundary line surrounding the entire state to mark the difference when crossing over from one to the next.  But as I soon learned, there was merely just a sign saying “Welcome to….”.  And that was it.  Not only was that a disappointment, but imagine my dismay when Iowa looked just like Nebraska.  And eastern California looked just like western Arizona.

Funny how it’s the same with age, too.  We go to bed one age.  We wake up a new age. And yet, there is nothing that really feels any different than the night before.  Nothing’s changed or newly significant.  (Well, unless your now old enough to drive or drink or rent a car.  After that, there’s not much to look forward to….except senior citizen discounts.  But I’m pretty OK with waiting for that age.)

So tonight I say goodbye to 41.  I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this age.  When I turned 41, I had a son who would tease me mercilessly about getting older.  I had a freshman in high school who was excited about his future.  I had two children to love and care for under my roof.  But 42? That age doesn’t have those things.  I keep asking myself, “How can I turn a new age without Joe here?”  I know I don’t have a choice in the matter, but knowing that I am forced to move forward to a new number while he remains forever 14 is too much for my heart to handle most days.

It’s difficult to see my son’s peers moving forward…growing taller, voices changing, starting school as sophomores, and getting learner’s permits.  It’s difficult to see my daughter moving forward….growing taller, developing a preteen hormonal attitude, and using Clearasil soap. (She’d be mortally embarrassed if she knew I wrote this, so let’s keep it on the DL.)  My nephew is starting Kindergarten soon and my niece now talks nonstop in complete sentences.  All around me life keeps moving forward, despite my wish for it not to. And yet, my boy remains forever frozen in earthly time. Never moving forward.

God has taught me a lot about what “moving forward” in grief looks like during these past ten months.  Moving forward doesn’t mean I have to wash the dirty glass that still sits by Joe’s computer.  Or that I need to take all of his clothes to Goodwill.  I don’t need to straighten the shoes that he carelessly tossed in the closet.  Nor do I need to dump the water from the bottle that I found in his backpack from the day before he died. And most surely, it doesn’t mean I’ll ever have to stop crying or expect my heart to be fully healed this side of heaven.

Instead, moving forward for me means celebrating just getting out of bed each day. Being sad when I need to be.  Knowing that taking two steps back doesn’t mean I’m not healing. Trusting God even when I still don’t get it.  Opening up to others about my grief.  Not trying to hold it all together.  Asking for help when I need it.  Staying close to God through His word and prayer.  But most importantly, moving forward means always remembering and talking about my precious son, no matter how much time has passed.

I know that waking up tomorrow won’t change much.  The end of 41 will look a lot like the beginning of 42.  No numerical line I cross will delineate one season from the next…the landscape is still the same. But little by little, day by day, God is slowly working to help me move forward.  Not move on from, but move forward. And I’m learning there is a BIG difference between the two.

For those of us walking this journey of grief, moving forward is so difficult because it means moving away from the time we’ve last seen our loved one.  But for the believer, it also means moving closer to the time when we will see them again.  And that is what we must chose to focus on.  Press on, my friends.  Keep moving.  It ain’t over yet.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called 

me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 ~Philippians 3:14

(Joe’s favorite singer, Toby Mac…we played this song at the end of his funeral.)

Jesus is My Pool Boy

When people ask how we desert folks survive the intense summer heat, my response is always the same:  air conditioning and a swimming pool.  I’m not sure how anyone survived 100+ temperatures before these things were invented.  Not everyone is blessed enough to have their own backyard pool here in Phoenix.  But when we were looking for a rental home three years ago, my kids took one look at the pool and diving board and knew THIS was the place to live.  And they were right.

Now, before any of you non-pool owners get any ideas about how we just walk out the door when we feel like it and jump into the cool water, let me stop you right there.  Not only were we fortunate enough to have a pool in our backyard, but we also had a palm tree near the pool.  A really TALL king palm tree.  Sounds pretty scenic…unless you know that king palms send out these long green shoots at the end of May.  And those shoots open up and blossom with little white flowers.  And those little white flowers fall at the slightest of breezes. And it takes WEEKS for all those little white flowers to fall.

What does that have to do with swimming you ask?  Nothing, I suppose, as long as you don’t mind floating around in a pool full of little white petals, dead bees and itty bitty pieces of palm tree debris.  I find the whole scenario rather disgusting, which is why at the first sign of those nasty green shoots, I immediately call my landscaper to come trim my nearly 30-ft. palm tree.  Problem solved, right?  Well, yes….except that the neighbor’s king palm tree sits directly over the wall just to the southwest of my pool. And they could care less about all those shoots and flowers and debris that make their way into my pool.  So, therein lies the real problem: every time we want to swim, I have to spend more than a half-hour skimming all the debris from a tree that isn’t even mine.  (Pity party for one, please.)

It’s a back-breaking task that takes extreme patience, perseverance, and a great deal of strength, too. (And I did mention that it’s over 100 degrees most of the summer here, right?) I cannot go out to the pool and expect to be done cleaning in a matter of minutes.  I know it will be a long, arduous process.  I can skim over a certain area of the pool over and over and over again…just to return to the same spot and find it still a mess. Sometimes as I feel I’m nearing the end, a big gust of wind comes up to extend my cleaning time.  There are moments I have to set the long pole down and take a break. But I don’t quit.  I keep going.  Because I know in the end, I get to sink into that cool, refreshing water and relax.

In those quiet moments as I silently skim the mess from the pool, God has been speaking to my heart about this incredibly difficult journey I’ve been on in my life and how much it is like this process of skimming.  There is no doubt that my days are filled with so much debris and mess.  Broken relationships.  Loneliness.  Grief.  Financial worry.  Anxiety. Fear of the future.  The burdens of others I love.  And just when I think some area of my life is “fixed” and clean, I come back to it over and over and over again, to find out what a mess it continues to be.

Do you identify with this as well?  How many times do you find yourself asking God, “When will this be solved?”  or “How much longer do I have to keep dealing with this?”  Somedays I just want to quit, don’t you?  I just want to put down that heavy metal skimming pole and walk away from all of life’s battles.

As much as I detest cleaning that pool, I have come this conclusion:  I have gained considerable strength (and a decent tan) from those half-hour upper-body workouts. (Hmmmm….perhaps I should consider skimming my pool in the non-swimming months as well.)  If I only had a few measly leaves in my pool, my gain of strength would be quite minimal.  When I stand and survey the mess before I begin, I can’t help but think,  “Why couldn’t there just be a few leaves?  Why couldn’t the neighbor just trim his tree?  Why is today another windy day?”  But as I get to work, it hits me:  The fact that so much mess blows into my pool on a daily basis, which is seemingly frustrating, is the very reason I am stronger.

So many of my life’s messes I did not choose.  And I know you didn’t either, sweet friend. How many times do you survey the mess and ask God those hard questions:  “Why did my marriage have to end?  Why did my loved one have to die?  Why did I have to be the one to get cancer?   Why do I have to struggle with finances?  Why did this happen to ME???”

Most likely, we will never know the answers to these questions on this side of heaven. But I do know this:  it is those VERY messes that grow a deep faith in us, strengthen us beyond anything we think we could endure and empower us to live a life pointed to Christ.

It is the debris of our lives that God uses for His glory and His purposes. 

And the absolute beauty of this truth, is that no longer do we bear the burden of holding onto that skimming pole all by ourselves.  You see, we have the most amazing, strong, faithful, loving, sacrificing pool boy, who takes the pole from our hands and says, “Dear child….you are not alone. I’ve got this mess under control.  Let me help you.”

Make no mistake.  There are days I don’t think I have the strength to keep dragging that net around and around the pool.  But as I am weary, Jesus comes alongside me with His strength as He so faithfully promises to do.  And He reminds me of why I keep going, moving forward, continually skimming those itty bitty pieces of junk. Because there is hope and complete assurance that when all the mess of this life is over, I’m going to put my feet into the refreshing waters of eternity.  And it will be SO. INCREDIBLY. WORTH IT.

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In the Same Boat

One of my favorite things to do in college had really nothing to do with college itself, but rather with one of the over 10,000 lakes in the state of Minnesota. To me, there was nothing more peaceful than walking the perimeter of my beloved Como Lake.  It didn’t matter the season….I simply found the presence of the water to have a calming effect on my very hectic life.  It was also a chance to escape the big city life and commune with nature.

It’s ironic then, I suppose, that I currently live in a desert, where walking by water either means being near a canal or passing by the neighbors’ yard when the sprinklers happen to be on. But today, I had a chance to walk around a lake in Sugarland, Texas – an opportunity I was not about to pass up. I enjoyed observing things I don’t get to see in the desert:  snowy-white herons posing like statues near the water’s edge, large blue dragonflies buzzing about the trail, and a scattering of ducks sunning themselves on the grassy bank. As I crossed over the bridge to the opposite side of the lake, my eyes caught sight of a small, lone turtle. I stopped and watched him for a few moments.  Poor turtle.  All alone and attempting to paddle against the natural current. Not really getting anywhere. He could use a buddy, I thought. “I feel your pain little guy,” I said aloud as I continued to walk over the bridge.

Being single is OK.  Sometimes.  But it’s not exactly where I thought I would be in my life at this point.  And truthfully, it’s not where I want to be permanently. I didn’t plan on being divorced or choose it, like most toilet-on-the-sidewalk moments.  But life has definitely taught me that you don’t always get to chose what happens to you.

I continued on the trail, thinking about that little turtle and hoping to find another turtle, this time with a companion. You know, as a sign of hope from God for the future?  I never did see what I was looking for. Only because God had something even better for me to see.

Out of the corner of my eye, they came into view: a pair of rowers, gliding silently through the water. Every perfectly synchronized motion looked effortless, but I could see quite a bit of strength and teamwork went into that scene.  And they were going against the current. Together. In the same boat.

I’m not going to lie. Part of me felt jealous watching that scene. Because that’s what I want. Not literally, of course.  Lord knows me rowing an actual boat would be rather disastrous. But I do want someone to choose to come alongside of me, climb in the boat and be my rowing partner through life.

I stared at those rowers for a bit, as they easily made a turn and gracefully went under the arches of the next bridge.  “I want someone in my boat, God,” I whispered under my breath.

And as God often does, He speaks truth into my life through music. Through my Pandora station. Right into the earbuds in my ears. Because this is what I heard so clearly God speaking to my heart:

“From the need to be understood, from the need to be accepted, from the fear of being lonely, deliver me, O God.  And I shall not want. When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.”

 

Oh, how I forget the goodness of God all too easily! There is nothing to want, because God provides all I need for this day. And the next. And the next.

There is no doubt in my mind that not I’m alone in this boat called life.  God is in the boat with me, guiding me around every bend. I have dear friends who row their boats beside mine to encourage me. And while that is a huge blessing, God knows my heart aches for something more. SomeONE more. Someone who will be my best friend. Someone who looks at my broken heart and still chooses to love me. Someone who is honest and faithful. Someone who is passionate about his relationship with Christ.  And someone who knows that Christ needs to be the center of our lives.  I can make all the lists I want, but God knows my heart more intimately than even I do. He knows who is best. His plan is always better than the ones I have for myself.

And I trust Him to find my boat companion.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” 

~ Psalm 37:4

The Saving Power of Red Liquid

If you ask me the question, “Have you ever seen the movie….?” (fill in the blank), there’s a good 90% chance, I’d answer no.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy movies.  I’m just not sure I have the time or the patience to sit all the way through one.  It’s hard for me to sit still for more than an hour watching nearly anything.  But alas, summer vacation is now upon us teachers, which means having more time to do…well, really all the things we’ve put off for the last 10 months.  Including watching movies.

That said, I finally watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a couple of days ago. (I know, I’m a bit behind the times…12 years to be exact.) I was familiar with the basic premise of the movie, but never quite fully realized the depth of parallelisms to Christianity.  (I’ll spare you the majority of my thoughts about this, as I’m sure it’s nothing new under the sun.)  I also didn’t realize that a part of the movie would trigger a very emotional response.  But for those who have walked and continue to walk through the daily battles of grief, you know these things can happen whenever and wherever, often without warning.  And that’s exactly what happened as I watched the movie’s epic battle scene.

In case you need a little background information about said battle, let me enlighten you. The evil White Witch, a.k.a. the self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia and her army stand ready to defeat the army of Aslan the lion (whom she had already killed).  The Queen’s army is made up of largely grotesque creatures (I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to look at yaks the same way again), who are poised to kill and destroy.  I knew both sides would endure casualties, but surely good would triumph and win over evil, right?  That it did, with the resurrected Aslan coming to the rescue at just the right moment to kill the White Witch.  But not before she had mercilessly stabbed the boy Edmund.  There was an innocent child lay on the ground, fighting for his life.  And while any regular mom would have been sad, in a detached sort of way, this grieving mom was transported back to seeing her own son on the ground, fighting for his life.

After the epic battle is finished, all of Edmund’s siblings rush to his side, knowing there is nothing they can do for their dying brother.  That is, until little Lucy remembers she possesses the gift of red cordial, which was given to her by Father Christmas “to heal any ailment or injury.” She drops a bit of the cordial into Edmund’s open mouth…and voila!  Edmund is healed and whole again and hugging his rejoicing siblings in a matter of seconds.  My heart broke all over again.  Oh, how I wish I had had a little vial of magic red liquid to drop into Joe’s mouth to save him! But there would be no reunion of hugs for me that day.

Watching that scene made me overwhelmingly sad in ways I cannot even describe.  But it also made me angry.  Angry that God didn’t bring my boy back to life, despite my desperate attempts. Angry that I now have to live on this earth without him.  Angry that I’ve already lost so much.  I know it was just a movie, but it seemed incredibly ridiculous to this grieving mom’s heart that someone’s life could be saved with some life-giving magic red liquid!  That’s not how life and death works.

Or is it?

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

~John 6:53-54

How easily I forget what has been done for ME.  For Joe.

As much as I wanted to stay paused in that moment of anger and injustice, my mind rewound to the scene just seconds before when Aslan, after killing the White Witch, says, “It is finished.” Powerful words that brought peace and comfort to every soldier fighting that battle.  The enemy had been defeated.  The victory won.

It is no different for us, dear friends. When Jesus said those words on the cross, it was the ultimate fulfillment of every prophecy in Scripture.  To be exact, 353 different prophecies of Scripture.  But here’s what it comes down to for us:   Sin was finished.  Satan was finished. Death was finished.  A life forever separated from God….also finished.  That brings such an incredible peace to my heart and sustains me on those days when everything about life seems unjust.  My separation from my child is temporary. And someday, even that separation will be finished.

Every day is a battle, not just for those of us grieving loss, but for every person battling the struggles and trials of this fallen world.  But take comfort in this:  we already know how the battle turns out.  The enemy has been defeated.  The victory won.  It means my son lives, not through the work of my own hands, but through the work of Christ’s outstretched hands.  It means I will see him again in a joyful reunion in paradise.

And it’s not because of some Hollywood-created magic red liquid, but because of the real life-saving red liquid of our Lamb.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.

~Revelation 1:5b-6