Loss

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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Vantage Point

Romans 12:15-16a

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another…”

The other night, I re-watched the movie, “Vantage Point.” The movie portrays a terrorist attack, but from about nine different points of view. There’s a Secret Service member, a local police officer, a spectator, members of the media, and even a couple of terrorists. What’s interesting is that we, as the audience, had no real idea what was going on until the end—after all of the vantage points had been pieced together. Granted, by the end of the film, there were still a couple of questions remaining, but for the most part, the plot was resolved.

I think this film actually provides a relevant comparison for some of the major discussions and events going on in our country and our world today. I think we are experiencing a lot of uncertainty, confusion, separation, division, self-righteousness, anger, resentment, disparity—and the list goes on.

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But I believe that much of it stems from (or is at least aggravated by) our limited vantage points, our myopic perspectives, and our self-righteous agendas. We have refused to acknowledge and empathize with the positions and perspectives of others around us, in particular those who are not like us. We have elevated our own needs, desires, and comforts above those of others. We have denied or ignored disparities and injustices. And Romans (among other passages in the Bible) makes it clear that this should not be.

Instead, we should rejoice with those who rejoice AND mourn with those who mourn. A huge step in that direction is for us to actively and intentionally adopt—even momentarily—the perspectives and the vantage points of those with whom we are at odds. It may be that we would find ourselves in greater awareness, understanding, and even agreement with one another. This might well allow us to feel greater empathy, express greater compassion, and extend greater assistance to our fellow human beings. In short, we would be that much closer to living in the harmony that Paul calls us to in Romans. What do you say? Shall we give it a try?

 

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!

The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.

Resilient

In this life, there will be pain. Many of you know that all too well, because in this life there has been pain. Or in this life, there is pain at this very moment. We collectively and personally experience pain of all kinds. We witness natural and manmade disasters; physical, emotional, and spiritual battles; financial hardship; and other tragedies. Other than to fault a fallen world, we often have no explanation for the pain we experience. But do you know what I’ve discovered over and over again in the midst of great pain? Resilience.

There’s a song that I love by Gungor that says:

“You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust;
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.”

And I see this in those around me who have suffered, yet carried on. I can picture your smiles, your experiences, your relationships, and all of the amazing opportunities you’ve had as a result of that pain. I find encouragement from watching others suffer well, even though I know we would all prefer a pain-free existence—at least we think we would until we realize the ripple effect (often positive) that our reaction to this pain can cause.

I also find encouragement in a number of scripture passages that give strength in times of trial and hardship, and that help me know that—when I too face hard times—God will sustain me.

  • “I can endure allthese things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 CEB). I love the versions of this verse that highlight its true meaning. Many translations claim that we can “do all things” through Christ’s strength in us. But this not-so-subtle distinction takes us from a place of control, initiative, and confidence to one of dependence, vulnerability, and weakness. Thankfully, it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect and is displayed for all to see.
  • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). More than conquerors. We are not simply survivors, we are not even simply victors. We are MORE than conquerors through him. We will win and we will prevail—no matter what shape that victory takes in the end.
  • Love … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Many times our pain and loss result from our willingness to love sacrificially, in a way that protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres—in a way that, frankly, calls us to risk everything. Understanding this risk, we may be tempted to avoid love altogether. But love perseveres, and when we have love, we too will persevere.
  • And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love remains, no matter what. No matter what our circumstances, no matter what our hardships, we are in a position to love. First and foremost, we must love God. When we do that, we will love others by extension. And when we love others, we aren’t called to love selectively. We are called to love those who curse, persecute, judge, hurt, and betray us. We are also called to love those who grieve, those who are persecuted, and those who suffer loss.

Resilience. Perseverance. Strength. Victory. Love. If you’ve lived these out in front of me, I thank you for the inspiration you’ve been. I pray that God will continue to sustain you, for his glory and your good.

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