Grief

Hard Pressed

2 Corinthians 4: 8-9

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

I’ll never forget when I first learned how to use color crayons. I was in junior high—7th grade, I believe. I know what you’re thinking, that this should be a kindergarten-level skill. And you would be correct, if I were referring to the neat and tidy, gentle, inside-the-lines kind of coloring that we tend to value so much. But in 7th grade art class, I learned how crayons were “meant” to be used. Our teacher knew that she would have an uphill battle trying to change the beliefs and behaviors that had been ingrained in us for some 12 years by that point. But she also knew from experience that there was good to come from all of this re-learning.

She taught us that we needed to press HARD on the crayons. What?! Wasn’t that wasting them? I mean, they would wear out so much faster. That is, if they didn’t break in half from the weight of the pressure. And why?! My coloring up until that point had already earned me high praise throughout my childhood. But I trusted my teacher, and I learned a technique that yielded absolutely beautiful results—vibrant, bold, attention-grabbing.

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I know that Paul wasn’t referring to crayons in his letter to the Corinthians. His analogy above relates more to an active-duty soldier, presumably in battle. Nevertheless, I believe this present analogy holds. The point is that what seems harsh and painful now may yield some great benefit later. Paul continues,

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away,
yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Will we do this also? When we face challenges, hardships, and heartache. When we experience loss, grief, and sadness. Will we trust that our God will not allow us to be crushed or destroyed, that He will not forsake us, even during the most difficult or painful of times? I hope so—for the reward is great.

Dear Lord,

Please comfort those who are mourning, strengthen those who are weak, and work all things together in an intricate and vibrant work of art that declares, “His glory, my good.”

Amen.

 

Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“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.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminded the believers in Thessalonica that we don’t mourn like those who have no hope, because we have the hope of heaven. Most funerals I attend do happen to be for believers, and I LOVE celebrating their lives, but even more so their “home-going.” So many happy tears, even in the midst of sorrow.

This celebratory feel is much more salient when we are (relatively) assured of our loved one’s salvation. But we don’t always have that luxury. Such is the case with my grandmother, who passed away on Friday, at the age of 88. Her quality of life had declined severely, due to complications of COPD and congestive heart failure. We all wanted to see her at rest and in peace, but saw her continued suffering as a gift from God, in his patience, mercy, and compassion. After all, He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Perhaps He was just giving her more time.

You see, Grandma was never much into Jesus. She spent her life in the pursuit of self-reliance. She was strong, independent, fiercely opinionated, and proud—and all of the other things that help a person to survive here on earth, but that make it hard to surrender to God, or to admit to needing Him. Nevertheless, her friends and family poured into her the truths of the gospel. She knew the “answers,” even though she staunchly resisted them.

To the best of our knowledge, she never confessed out loud the lordship of Christ, she never verbally acknowledged her sins, her need for forgiveness, or her acceptance of Christ as her savior. BUT…as Grandma’s days grew short—in fact, on the eve of her passing—her daughter sat with her, and prayed a sinner’s prayer over her in intercession. She closed, saying “Amen.” And Grandma, quite surprisingly, echoed a hearty, “Amen!” Could she have finally accepted? We won’t know until we get to heaven, but this moment gives us what we are promised—hope that we may see her again one day.

Interestingly, the next day, as the end drew nearer still, Grandma rolled onto her side, and seemed to be talking to herself—albeit unintelligibly. Could it be, though, that just as the thief on the cross did so long ago, she was looking to Jesus, asking Him to remember and forgive her? If so, His answer would have certainly been the same—“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Again, the gift of hope. Thank you Jesus!

In Memory  of Dolores E. Winget

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Mike

Mike McGregor

Psalm 23:4

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Where to begin…I guess the best place would be December 10, when I noticed a Facebook post from my friend Victoria in the wee hours of the morning, saying that her stepdad, Mike, had had a massive heart attack the previous afternoon. Her plea was for prayer, and it was clear that she and her family were praying nonstop, and believing for HUGE miracles. I know they prayed without ceasing, and they recruited so many others into this prayer effort, including myself. I found myself logging on to Facebook specifically to check for any updates. Those updates were very specific, as were the prayer requests. I believe that, throughout this trial, Victoria and her family have embodied 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Let me elaborate.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Bible tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In each of Victoria’s posts, she shared praises and prayer requests. She petitioned for an around-the-clock covering of Mike in prayer. And people responded—family, friends, and strangers. It was beautiful to see just how bathed in prayer he was.

In 2 Samuel 12:15-23, David has learned from Nathaniel that his first child with Bathsheba—the one conceived in sin—would die. Nonetheless, David “pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.” After seven days of this, the child did die. And then, “David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” When asked about his strange behavior, David responded, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’” At one point, Victoria shared that the doctors were only giving Mike a 5% chance of living. Her response? “Our God is bigger than 5%!”

Later came the update that: “Our precious Mike is fully healed. He is celebrating his victory in Heaven….Our God is GOOD. He is very good. And while this doesn’t feel good, HE is good. And He did not leave 1 prayer unanswered, down to the very last minute.” Amen. Such faith, such strength in Jesus, such a testimony of what it means to mourn, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

This blog is called, Fathoming Heaven: Living a Life Inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:11, and Victoria and her family are living that out right now. God has set eternity in the hearts of Mike and his family. And that makes a victory of what otherwise would be a tragedy. We pray for comfort, peace, and JOY for Victoria and her family, even in the midst of this great sorrow. God be with you (Psalm 23:4). Amen.

Worse Things

Psalm 34:18

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Today I decided it was time to wash the delicate clothes that had been piling up in my closet for months. In particular, I decided it was time to wash Laredo’s tights and leotard, in which she dresses up like a ballerina almost daily. But as I went to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I noticed that something blue in the load had bled on the pale pink leotard. I said to myself, “Thank God I didn’t put her fancy white Easter dress in this load.”

But then I stopped myself. I realized the fault in my perspective. You see, as Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath continues to cause destruction not two hours from here, I understand that there are worse things that I could have to worry about. There are far worse things that many people are facing at this very moment—even some people I know. And I don’t want to be the kind of person who dwells on silly and inconsequential things, when there are people out there in need of compassion, and prayer, and tangible help.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are most certainly times in life when those worse things will happen TO YOU. I wouldn’t tell those who have lost everything and even loved ones to tell themselves that there are worse things. At some point, you need to recognize that you’ve just lived through the worst day of your life. When you’ve been evacuated from your home by boat in the middle of the night, and been shuttled around from one shelter to another in search of one that will allow your pets to stay with you… Or when you’ve faced some other tragedy, emergency, betrayal…some of you may know this feeling firsthand. You know what it’s like to feel helpless, hopeless, and lost. Be honest about it—let your family, friends, and community come alongside to help you.

But for those of us who aren’t suffering greatly right now, I would encourage us all to take a posture of gratitude, humility, and compassion. Let’s recognize that those little things that frustrate or disappoint us are exactly that—little things. Let’s remember that there are (unfortunately) worse things than what we are facing. And let’s pray that God will give us HIS heart for the brokenhearted. As is so often said, let’s ask Him to break our hearts for what breaks HIS. And I can just about guarantee that what breaks His heart is not a stained leotard, or even a ruined Easter dress.

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Missing

Philippians 1:3
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…”

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I remember the first time I saw this picture, hanging in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. Only she wasn’t my mother-in-law yet. We weren’t even engaged. So how she ended up with a picture of my dog and our two future children is a mystery to me. And when I say “my dog,” I mean that. You see, Bernese Mountain Dogs typically have a double coat that makes both coats lay straight. But Spicket was raised in warmer climates and never developed that second undercoat, resulting in a slightly curly coat, just like the dog in this picture. His other features likewise resembled this dog.

Of course, the picture features Spicket watching Tijge and Laredo as they look now. And sadly, he only lived until Tijge’s first birthday (technically the day after…who wants to have to put their dog down on their kid’s birthday?). He never even got to meet Laredo. So there’s something about the scene in the picture that brings a strange mix of emotions. There’s a sweetness and comfort to the idea that Spicket is still with us in our hearts. But there’s also a sense of sadness that he isn’t here to see them now. But mostly, it makes me miss him. Some might suspect that I don’t like the picture, because it brings up too many emotions. It’s actually quite the opposite, though. Looking at the picture reminds me of a loved one I’d never want to forget. And missing him is just further evidence of that love.

I believe the same is true for our less canine loved ones (and please hear me say that I am NOT equating the two!). When we lose people, we grieve and then we heal, and we continue to live our lives in the absence of their physical presence. But I don’t think we ever stop missing them, and that’s okay. Missing them brings back fond memories, and those memories bring a smile to our face, and for a moment we can sense their presence again. And even better, if we can be assured of seeing them in Heaven one day, the missing them and the fondness that grows stronger with their absence will only make our reunion that much sweeter.

So if the new year finds you missing a dearly departed loved one, don’t fight it. Grieve if you need to, let your heart heal, but don’t forget. Instead, welcome opportunities to remember, even if they bring with them a tinge of sadness. And as you carry on, let God fill the hole that loss has left in your heart. And may God bless you as you go.

 

No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

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Hooked

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For the past year, I have been privileged to lead a Sunday school class for our church’s older members, the Harvesters (so named for the biblical concept of first sowing, and later reaping a harvest). A few months ago, I taught based on an example of what we like to refer to as “God in culture,” and I chose the television series Once Upon a Time. In the first place, I have grown to love the show, and in the second, it seems to me to have many parallels to or reflections of biblical principles and ideas. In that lesson, I brought up the term simulacra, which has been studied extensively in sociological circles. It is essentially the idea that in modern culture, we have created many mediums that convey some level of likeness to or similarity with reality, and yet those cultural objects have in some way lost their reference points, and become an alternate reality of sorts. It’s a complicated idea, to be sure. But in my own life and experience, it is very easy to relate. Let me explain.

When I watch a movie or a television show, I often become swept up in the plot line, in the characters, and so forth. I may watch a movie or a TV episode and ruminate over it for days, or even weeks afterward. They almost become real—like some kind of digital velveteen rabbit. They truly affect me, at a fundamental level. And yet, they don’t really reflect anything. They’re fictional, made up, fantasies. Fun ones, but artificial nonetheless. You’ve likely experienced this same phenomenon, after watching a series finale perhaps. I mean, come on, Netflix has coined the term “showhole” to describe this feeling of loss. So maybe you can understand where I’m coming from, and if so, you may appreciate a glimpse into this past week’s Sunday school lesson, wherein I again went back to God in culture, to simulacra, and to Once Upon a Time

…Well, my simulacra is acting up again, which means it’s time for an update on Once Upon a Time. And of course, our main focus is still on the “Hook and Emma” arc—where Captain Hook and Emma Swan (the heroine of the story) are trying their darndest to successfully pursue a romantic relationship—but life and magic keep getting in the way. When last we left them, Emma had tried to save Hook from a fatal wound using dark magic—thereby imbuing him with dark magic. She kept this a secret from him for a while, but when he learned the truth, he felt betrayed and decided to embrace his dark side. In the end, though, he made the right choice—to die a hero and rid the world of dark magic forever. But that sent him to the underworld, which is basically like a kind of purgatory where people go if they’ve died with “unfinished business.”

And as it turns out, one of the story’s villains had tricked Hook, and channeled all of the dark magic to himself, making Hook’s death an apparent waste. So, in the winter finale, Emma and her friends and family resolved to go to the underworld and rescue Hook—and that’s where they’ve been all spring. While looking for a way to get Hook out of the underworld, the team of heroes manages to help many of its residents recognize and resolve their unfinished business, allowing them to move on from there. A few end up in the River of Lost Souls, which is most closely equivalent to hell. But most of them follow a bridge toward a light—presumably heaven, but that’s never stated explicitly.

Well, long story short, it turns out there’s no way for Hook to return to the living world. Emma is crushed, of course, but Hook comforts her and encourages her to let go and go back to Storybrooke. She goes, but only with his promise that he will move on from the underworld, and not allow her to be his unfinished business. So we can expect that one day, they might be together again, in the afterlife. I think that may provide a greater level of resolution for Emma than it does for me. You see, for me—in the real world—Hook is a fictional character who will never be again. He’s just—GONE.

I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of emptiness is akin to the feeling that people experience in the face of loss when they don’t have the hope of heaven, or a belief in God. It seems so, based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which states, “Brothers, we do not what you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” But it is, no doubt, exponentially worse for those who mourn the loss of a real live person, and one whom they have loved. As often happens, my compassion for these souls—those who’ve left and those left behind—is renewed and deepened, as I attempt to empathize with such an unbearable position. Won’t you join me in saying a prayer for the unbelieving among us—that they would find the hope that comes only through a saving relationship with our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen!

How Then Should We Grieve?

1 Thessalonians 4:13

“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.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 makes clear that man’s longing for heaven is inevitable. And I know that, whatever heaven is like, it will not disappoint. So when a loved one goes on ahead of me, there’s a part of me that’s envious. But then there’s another part of me that knows how dearly they will be missed. I know that with the Lord, a thousand years is like a day. But, by the same token, our days on earth can sometimes feel like a thousand years. And it seems that days lived without those for whom we’ve cared most deeply are the longest ones of all.

So, in light of eternity, and our ultimate quest to get there, we’re faced with a sometimes difficult question: How then should we grieve? 1 Thessalonians 4:13 offers the key to godly grief—HOPE. We have hope that our loved ones are healed and whole in heaven—and happy. We have hope that we will see them again someday. We have hope that the Holy Spirit will comfort us through times of sadness and our sense of loss. We have hope that Jesus is preparing a place for us and preparing US for that place.

All of this hope rests in God, which is why 1 Thessalonians says that those without faith in God grieve without hope. I can only imagine the despair that death must bring in the absence of hope and faith. I pray that all who grieve without hope, without faith in God, and without the assurance of heaven will turn to Him and thereby find comfort and peace.

In Loving Memory of
Larry Kenrick
1942 – 2015