Monday, March 27, 2017
This week's post is a poem for all of the parents who have caught their breath and blinked back tears when seeing someone who reminds them of their departed child.
Tall and thin.
Strolling through the aisles,
Looking like my son.
Hiking along a leafy trail,
A voice calls "Mom".
Tears sting my eyes,
Sounding like my son.
Laughter at the playground,
Little ones scamper and squeal.
Tugging my heart back through the years,
Laughing like my son.
Then he grins at me,
This Jarrod look alike.
Bouncy, vibrant, alive,
Smiling like my son.
His softness touches my heart,
This Jarrod soul alike.
Rising above his peers,
Whose heads are bowed, worshipping their phones.
At home, the Lord puts his arm around my son.
From their heavenly perch they gaze
Upon this gentle spirit.
Reaching out like my son.
"Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians."
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
As someone who has suffered the loss of a child (in my case 2 children) I approach such movies with caution. Will I come away with an uplifting message or will my grief be exacerbated?
It helped that I had read the book several years ago, so I knew what to expect from the plot. The father of a murdered child receives a mysterious invitation to return the scene of the crime—a shack in the woods where he encounters the holy trinity. In the movie the father, Mack, is played by Sam Worthington, and God the father “Papa” is played by Octavia Spencer. Jesus, who is played by Aviv Alush, is a closer biblical match with his dark hair and beard, and the Holy Spirit, played by actress Samire Matsubara, manages to be both earthy and ethereal at the same time.
The over-riding theme is forgiveness. Mack must learn to forgive the murderer in order to free himself from the anger that grips his heart. I am no stranger to anger, but I have come to realize that it is a normal part of the grieving process.
After our Jarrod’s death we met with the young man who accidentally shot him. We told him that we forgave him and that we were praying for him. Forgiving him was a conscious choice that we made, and it is correctly portrayed in the movie as a difficult process. But our job of forgiving is much easier than the parent who loses a child to a deliberate act of violence. It is my hope that this movie speaks to them in a positive way.
Cancer took our other son, Chris. How do you forgive a disease? Does it go back to Adam and Eve and their original act of defiance that introduced sin in the world? Most biblical scholars say so. Cancer is a by product of a fallen world. How do you forgive God for allowing a teenager to die?
This issue is addressed in the movie when Mack becomes angry with Papa, not understanding how She could allow his innocent child to die. Oh how many of us have had that conversation with God!
This scene with Mack yelling at God and storming off the porch was very validating for me. It tells me that it is okay to get angry with God. People in intimate relationships do get angry. I think that is why grieving parents sometimes hate it when people say “It was God’s will” or “They’re in a better place.” The message is don’t get angry—just accept. Well, like Mack, we aren’t always ready to do that, and God understands.
Papa’s response was to keep loving Mack through his anger. Her answer is that God doesn’t promise to fix everything. He does promise, however, that He will never leave us. He reminds us that we can’t see the big picture, and that He can create good from evil. Papa encourages Mack to trust Her.
Another theme in the movie is that God can manifest himself in any form. In the Old Testament he appears as pillar of fire to guide the Israelites through the dessert, and later, as a burning bush. So why not a 40-something African American woman? Omniscience can coexist with warmth and humor.
How many of us have had encounters that we cannot explain? Perhaps someone appeared out of nowhere when we were desperate for help, or we received a unique sign from our departed loved one. Our Chris is fond of sending feathers. He certainly couldn’t do that without God’s cooperation. The movie lends credence to the endless possibilities of the divine.
So what was the hardest part of the movie for me? It was the scene where Mack is allowed to gaze through a waterfall and glimpse his daughter frolicking happily in heaven. One peek at my boys enjoying eternity would energize my soul for years to come! Please please, somebody take me to that waterfall! I sat in the theater, tears in my eyes, like a slighted child, murmuring “No fair.”
And that is always the risk when we encounter heaven through the eyes of Hollywood. The loose ends are usually tied up much neater than they are in real life. Overall, as a grieving Christian, I found that the movie did not stray from my basic biblical beliefs, and it tickled my imagination reminding me that God is always with me, but not always in ways that I can fathom.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Peace is really all that most of us want. But what is peace? Is it getting what we want? Is it freedom from anxiety? Is it the certainty that everything will work out eventually? Is it knowing that we are right where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing?
Getting that job, the nice house, the achievement award—those all produced only temporary peace for me. How about you? Soon the job was stressful, the house needed repair, and the award got dusty. There was always something more that I wanted. I just wasn't sure what it was.
Phil 4:6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ."
When my teenager, Chris, was enduring lengthy cancer treatments I felt a certain sense of peace just being in the hospital playroom, playing bumper pool with him. (He used to call me "Mrs. Bumperdoodles".) In that situation my sense of peace came from knowing that I was meant to be Chris's mom, and while I didn't know why he had to get cancer, I felt in my heart that we were predestined to spend those precious times together.
Chris's sense of peace on his deathbed was a life-changing experience for me. "Don't worry about me, Mom, "Jesus is coming, and I'll be fine." His peace truly had transcended any understanding that I'd had up until that point in my life. At the time I wasn't a bible reader. I hadn't given Chris any scripture or any pearls of Godly wisdom. His peace had come from outside of our earthly realm.
I have shared that story many times. I am still in awe of how the Lord allowed my dying son to witness to me.
After Chris died alcohol gave me a form of peace. The warm glow spread throughout my body and dulled my senses. At first, anything seemed possible. Those of us who have battled addictions know what it is like to return again and again to a chemical peace, a false spirituality. What seemed like freedom at first eventually became a prison.
When I finally surrendered to a loving twelve step group, the sense of peace I felt was overwhelming. Here was a bunch of people who understood me better than anyone else, and they did it with true unconditional love. They talked about a higher power that gave them peace. It started me on a quest to find that loving God. In the years following Chris's death I started studying the bible and sharing my growing faith with Chris's younger brother, Jarrod.
Jarrod, like me, was always and outside the box kind of person. He had a gifted IQ, but hated school. Unlike his older sister, who thrived in school, Jarrod had trouble conforming and ended up finishing online. But during those sometimes troubling years Jarrod and I became very close, and he trusted me enough to confide in me and ask for my advice on matters of the heart. "Do you think I said the right thing, Mom?" He'd ask after sharing a conversation he'd had with his girlfriend.
My heart would swell with love and pride when Jarrod and I had those conversations. I could see the man that Jarrod was striving to be. Once again, I felt a tremendous sense of peace knowing that I was fulfilling my God-given motherly role.
When Jarrod was 19 he and some friends, who were all under the influence, got in trouble with the law. As as a result, Jarrod had to spend 2 months in jail. The Lord used that time to work on Jarrod. He requested that I bring him a bible.
"Mom, I read this cool passage today," He told me from behind the plate glass. "I really like how it talks about the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit." Here was my son, stuck in jail, finding peace in Ephesians 6. And like my other son, he was teaching me the true meaning of peace.
At the tender age of 21 Jarrod was killed in a freak accident. Like Enoch, the old testament prophet whom God suddenly called home, he was no more. Maybe God was pleased with Jarrod also and wanted him. I know Jarrod didn't always walk with the Lord like Enoch, but I do know that they both ended up in the same place.
A few days after the funeral, Jarrod's girlfriend called and said, "I have to tell you what Jarrod said to me a couple of days before the accident. He told me that he felt really at peace with God."
I have some friends whose children are atheists. They worry about where their children will spend eternity. While they can still call them on the phone, sit down to meals with them, and give them hugs; they don't share the same peace I have about my children⸺a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Do I feel peaceful all the time? Absolutely not. I cry out for my boys that I miss so much. Some days it's hard to get out of bed. Some days my life without them feels more like a life sentence.
But I have come to realize true peace doesn't mean feeling good all the time. It is grounded in the certainty of an absolute truth. This truth has been planted in our hearts by a creator that we all long to return to. Knowing that we will someday—that is peace. It waits gently behind my tears.