Grief: You Don’t Just Get Over It

Can you “get over” grief? Can you recover from the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse, or the trauma of an attack so that it no longer bothers you?

The grief process: you don't just get over it

There’s been a twitter fight going on recently between Joel Osteen, a motivational speaker who says “yes, you can get over it, God wants you to, and if grief lasts more than a few months you’re wallowing” (okay, I’m paraphrasing), and those who say that some hurts just stay with you. The latter camp believes firmly that Osteen is being insensitive to those who have endured something huge like losing a child, and does not understand the grief process.

Personally, I fall mostly into the second camp, too.

Yes, it’s true, as Osteen supporters say, that “we don’t grieve in the way the world grieves” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but that doesn’t mean that we just get over a huge, aching void.

Nineteen years ago I lost my baby boy.

At 9:30 p.m. on September 3 he was looking like he had turned a corner. The crisis post-surgery had passed. So I kissed him on the forehead (the only place I could reach without tubes), and said, “Good night, Christopher. Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in the morning.” And Keith and I walked out of the Intensive Care Unit and walked home.

At 1:30 a.m. the phone rang. We had better come now, the nurse said, because he was crashing.

When we got to the hospital they were still working on my baby. Fifteen minutes later they brought his body out to us. He was swaddled in a blanket, and the only thing we could see was his little face, with his little tongue sticking out a bit.

We held him and cried over him, and then I kissed him on the forehead and I said, “Goodbye, Christopher. Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in heaven.” And I handed him back to the nurse.

Over the next few days it hurt to breathe.

It felt like someone was stepping on my chest. I had to concentrate to force myself to eat, to force myself to pick up Rebecca (our daughter who was 18 months old), to force myself to shower.

But then, I remember about two weeks in, I had a good day. I didn’t cry much at all. And I felt guilty about that. What was wrong with me? How could I be “over” such a loss?

I shouldn’t have worried, because a week later I was a mess again. But slowly but surely those horrible days got fewer and farther between. They still came, but there were good moments, too.

About a month after he died someone shared with me this truth about grief which helped me so much:

The Grief Process: How grief actually works over time. We don't just "get over it"

You don’t “get over” grief. Something will set you off–a song, the back of a stranger’s head, a movie–and you’ll be thrown back to that ICU room, feeling everything with the same intensity. But those moments will come less frequently, and they won’t last as long. Instead of a whole day of not being able to function you may just have an hour when you sob and journal.

And those times are random. Sometimes they may be at anniversaries, but often it’s when we’re stressed about something else, or when we’re by ourselves just thinking or even enjoying life. And then it will come–what we’re missing. And it will be so, so sad.

The person who told me this also gave me these words:

When you have good days, do not feel guilty for them. The good days do not mean that you have forgotten the person you loved. They just mean that you are still able to enjoy the good things that God has given you. That love is still there, and there will always be times, unbidden, when that love will manifest itself in tears and in aches and even in rages. But those times will be less frequent. Laughter will return. So enjoy life when you can, and give in to the tears when  you must. This world is broken, and God understands our grief. It’s okay to feel it–but don’t feel badly if you feel it less frequently than you once did.

Those words meant so much to me, and now, every time I have a friend who suffers a great loss, like a miscarriage or a death in the immediate family, I share these truths about the grief process with her, too.

In the discussion on Twitter about Osteen I was sent a lovely article by a grieving mom that tells the same story–how she still grieves, but there is also light in her eyes. And that’s okay.

And so I wanted to share that concept of the timing of the grief process with you all today. Joel Osteen proves that even those who are Christians don’t really understand grief. Grief is not unChristlike or self-focused. Jesus Himself grieves. But Jesus also laughs. And one of the most amazing things about this life is how laughter and grief can often co-exist.

Grieving is not ungodly; covering up pain and not speaking Truth, on the other hand, is.

So let’s extend grace to one another when we grieve, and let’s extend grace to ourselves, both when we have a hard time dealing with grief, and when we seem to be able to laugh too early. Neither is a sign that we are far from God; they are both simply signs that we are human. And that, after all, is how God made us.

How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, Second EditionIf you’re walking through grief right now, you’ll appreciate my book How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. It’s all about the things that we yell at God when life is difficult, and what He whispers back. And it talks about how the reality and promise of heaven can make the grief process easier. The ebook version is really inexpensive, so if you’re having a hard time–I hope this can bless you.

 

Will you do me a favour? Will you share the chart about grief on Pinterest (or on Facebook) so more people “get it”? To make it easy, you can just repin my post here. Thank you!

 

When Baby Isn’t Perfect

something is wrong with your babyToday is the eighteenth anniversary of my son Christopher’s death, and I’ll be heading out to the graveyard later, likely by myself. I like it better there alone. But I thought this post may be appropriate for the day–about what to do when you get a diagnosis that something is wrong with your baby.

I shifted uncomfortably on the cot. The baby had been pushing on my ribs for over an hour as the technician kept trying to get a better view.

“It’s a boy,” she announced as my husband entered the cubicle holding our 15-month-old daughter. We were ecstatic, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

The next day I learned the answer. “I’m sorry, Sheila,” my doctor told me. “There’s something wrong with his heart.”

It’s hard to explain the panic you feel when you hear that something is wrong with your baby, even one who isn’t born yet. And that panic only worsened for us as, over the next few weeks, I endured a dizzying battery of tests. We learned our son had Down Syndrome and a very serious heart defect.

I experienced such intense fears during that time. Could I handle a sick child? What would this mean for my daughter? Would all my time be taken up in caring for my son? What would his future be like? And above all, would I have to watch him die?

As soon as we learn we are pregnant—and for many of us, even before—we start dreaming of what it will be like to hold the baby, to watch him grow, or to see her blossom. But for some of us, those dreams are shattered. The child we dreamt about isn’t coming. The one we have has something wrong.

The first few weeks can be the most difficult in your life as you struggle to cope with grief and fear, care for a new baby and perhaps even rearrange your life. Here are some steps to help you through this challenging time.

1. Nurture your marriage

An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.

2. Take your feelings to God

Cheryl Molenaar’s daughter Lindsay, now 12, was born with a chromosomal defect that has left her profoundly disabled and with the mental level of a one-year-old. Cheryl remembers feeling grief at the loss of all her hopes and dreams, mingled with intense frustration at not being able to ease her daughter’s suffering.

It’s only natural that these feelings lead to anger toward God. How could He let this happen? For Cheryl, the experience shook her faith. Yet through wrestling with God, Cheryl learned God will always carry you through. “Sometimes you can’t feel God,” she says, “But ask God to let you see Him, and He will show you Himself.”

My son Christopher died when he was 29 days old. Though I never received an answer why, I was given something better: a peace I cannot explain that could only have come from God. God is big enough to handle our questions, when we seek Him out and let Him in.

3. Seek early intervention

Paul and Judith Colley’s daughter Laura was born prematurely at 25 weeks. A year later she was diagnosed with hearing problems and possible developmental delay, so she was quickly fitted with a hearing aid. At two years of age her speech was slow and doctors were concerned with her development. Today, though, after years of speech therapy, she is above average on almost every scale. This child, whom they once thought might be permanently delayed, is flourishing. The reason is early intervention.

When you’re given a diagnosis for your child, the simple truth is that no one knows the potential he or she has. Certainly some children will have a harder time learning than others; but for many early stimulation can help. Ask your paediatrician to connect you with community resources or books that can guide you through the process.

4. Ask for help

No one likes to feel that they can’t cope. Yet for Cheryl, outside help saves her sanity and keeps her from the brink of exhaustion. Seek out help from friends, relatives, your church, and community resources. You’ve been given a big burden to carry, but God never meant for us to carry our burdens alone (Galatians 6:2).

We live in a society that values perfection. Having a baby who’s not perfect throws us through a loop and challenges everything we believe. Yet through that challenge, we will inevitably come to “taste” God more as He sustains us day by day. As Cheryl cares for Lindsay, she is constantly reminded that His “grace is made perfect in weakness”. Her child has taught her things about God no sermon ever could. And as she loves Lindsay, so protectively and fiercely, she gets a clearer picture of how God cherishes her.

If you’re dealing with disappointment and grief, Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella?, can help. Read more here.

The Least of These

My story of how we were pressured to abort our son, but chose not to. And how his short life mattered anyway.Yesterday would have been my son Christopher’s 18th birthday. Or rather, it was his birthday, but he celebrated in heaven. I wonder if he’s all grown up now?

One of the things that I wonder about is what I would have called him. I call my daughters by the short forms of their names–Rebecca is Becca, Kathryn is Katie. Would Christopher have been Chris? I never had time to find out. I guess that’s still to come.

It really was Christopher’s short life and death that started me writing. My first few articles I wrote were all about grief and going through hard times, and one of my first books was How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, where I share some of the things I learned about yelling at God–and what God whispers back. I’ve written a second edition to that book now.

The very first thing I ever had published, though, is still one of my favourites, and I thought it fitting to run it today. I couldn’t run it on his birthday since it was a Wednesday, and I always do marriage posts then. But here it is. It was first in print in the magazine Celebrate Life back in 1999.


The cardiologist walked into the room, glanced at my chart and asked, “So you didn’t get an abortion?”. As I was 34 weeks pregnant, it seemed an unnecessary question.

For one agonizing night we actually considered it. Twenty-two weeks into my second pregnancy we learned the boy I was carrying had Down Syndrome and a serious heart defect. Though my husband and I detested the idea of abortion, we wondered if we were cruel to let him live. On April 17, 1996 we sat in our living room, numb with shock. “What if sparing him suffering is the only thing we can do for him?” Keith asked our minister, Duke Vipperman, who had come by to talk to us.

“You sound as if you believe it is you who are causing his suffering,” Duke replied. Then he explained that we do not cause suffering, it just happens. Those closest to God, who are most at peace, are often those who have suffered the most. “If you try to ease his suffering by denying him life,” Duke told us, “you are in essence saying you can do God’s job better than God.”

For Keith this settled the issue. He had never wanted to abort, but as a physician he wanted to “fix the problem”–to make sure he was doing all he could for our baby.

I knew I could never go through with an abortion, but it was not just because of my moral objections. I had felt him kick. Even though he was small, I sensed him fluttering at only 14 weeks, and he just kept growing more active. I could never abort him. I loved him. He was my son.

Christopher arrived eleven days early on August 6, 1996. Suddenly he was no longer a medical problem but a tiny bundle who breathed a little too fast, and who stared into my eyes with recognition and, I think, love.

His first two weeks were peaceful ones, as he was healthier than we expected, and we learned all the facets of his personality. He enjoyed being cradled and listening to singing, but would kick and scream in indignation if he lost his soother. When our 1 ½ year old daughter Rebecca visited him, she would lean over the bassinet, pat his blond fuzzy head and say, “My baby?” I would nod, and promise that we would take him home soon.

But we couldn’t. As his heart began to fail Christopher grew increasingly tired and lost weight instead of gaining it. He was transferred to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children to await surgery.

During the evening, as I sat alone with him in his room, I would hold him and whisper, “Do you know how much Mommy loves you?”. Babies, so tiny and helpless, inspire a purer love than most. It is an unselfish love, since babies–and especially those who are sick–cannot promise anything in return. I am a goal oriented person, yet with Christopher, I learned to sit and just “be”. I had no choice. And in the quiet, I sensed God whispering His own unconditional love to me, too. “Thank you, God,” I whispered, “for the chance to know this precious boy.”

Usually his room was bustling with visiting friends, relatives, and Keith’s colleagues. We even held a dedication service there. The event was somber, for though we were celebrating his life, we all could see how tiny he was for the battle that lay ahead. The doctors gave Christopher a 25% chance of post-operative survival, for he was only 4 ½ pounds.

On the morning of his surgery I was terrified I wouldn’t hold him again. “I want so much more for you, honey,” I said. “But I am glad to have the chance to love you. No matter what happens, I will see you again.”

For five days he recovered well, and the doctors grew optimistic about his chances. But on September 3 Christopher’s breathing again grew rapid. That night my mother watched Rebecca, and Keith and I visited him together. “Mommy loves you, sweetheart”, I whispered as we left his room. It was 9:30 p.m.

He was only 29 days old when he died later that night.

The number of people at the funeral amazed us. Along with family and friends, many from the hospital attended, too. We asked Duke to talk about the importance of Christopher’s life, as we felt so many had discounted him because of his disabilities. “We must not look down on little children, for they are our model of God’s kingdom,” Duke preached. Jesus Himself chooses to identify with them, for whoever welcomes them, welcomes Him (Matthew 18:5). “Christopher was what we are to be: a little one, utterly dependent on God, struggling against apathy and everything that would deny us the sweetness of life.”

The two years since his death have been full ones. I have shed many tears, but I also smile now when I remember him. We have a new baby girl, and Keith is establishing his own pediatric practice. I often think about how different life would be had I aborted him. I would have no memories and no peace. And how do you talk about your pain? People understand my pain when I say I had a baby who died. Would they understand if I had aborted a baby at 4 ½ months? I can visit him at his grave. But most of all, I can look my girls in the eyes and tell them with conviction that I love them unconditionally. And they believe me, for I loved him.

How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, Second EditionMany may think his was a wasted life. He never came home from the hospital, he never smiled, and he was rarely even awake. But they didn’t watch the faces of his grandparents when they held him, the nurses as they watched us, or the people we have comforted since. They do not know how Christopher changed us. And so they cannot see that his life is much more than those 29 days. Recently Rebecca told me not to be sad, because Christopher is in heaven, and he is happy now. I think she is right. And one day we will meet him again, and the blessing that was his life will be complete.

My book, How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, deals more fully with this story. Find out more here.

You can also watch a DVD series that deals with the pain in our lives here.

How to Face Today When You Want to Turn Your Back On It

At the young age of fifteen, Jennifer Rothschild was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative eye disease that would eventually steal her sight. Known for her substance, and a down-to-earth style, Jennifer weaves together colorful illustrations, universal principles, and music to help audiences find contentment, walk with endurance, and celebrate the ordinary. Today she shares about how to face today, when you feel sad, depressed or stuck. 

face today“Mom, do I have to get up?

“Yes Jennifer, you have to get up; you are the mom!”

I would begin most days coaching myself to get up and be the grown up I was supposed to be. I didn’t want to face the day because that day was probably going to be like all the yesterdays… dark, hard and long.

That’s how I felt most mornings for a solid year. It was a long year of depression that was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I had been blind since a teenager and I was used to darkness – physical darkness, that is. But, this darkness was different. It was scary and stifling; I had more fatigue than faith.

The doctor explained how menopause had come and my body’s chemical support had gone haywire. I was full blown, chemically depressed! It had affected everything. I was tired, hopeless, forgetful and afraid.

I had relied totally on my mind to navigate blindness. You know, I’d have to pay attention to how many steps I took, which direction I was facing, where I placed my cup, and the like. I had to keep so much information in my brain like my calendar, my to do list, my phone numbers… and on and on.

Then, my brain chemistry and my female hormones engaged in World War Whew! Let’s just say, when blindness met menopause, they did not play nice. I was depressed. Plus, on top of that, I was depressed that I was depressed.

I’d tried to fix myself but I just couldn’t. So, every day felt the same – dark, hard and long. I didn’t want to face my day; I wanted to turn my back on it and roll over and pull up the covers.

Ever felt that way?

I bet you have. We all have. It is for different reasons that we share that dread.

It may be because of illness or debt that you don’t feel you can face your day.

It may be because you dread another encounter with that teenage child, aging parent or controlling boss that you feel you can’t face your day. It may be rejection, insecurity or depression that makes you want to turn your back on today.

Or, it could be your despair, your weight or your bank account that makes you want to call out, “Mom, do I have to get up?”

But, my friend, you do have to get up! Deep down, you want to. So, here are 3 ways to face your day when you want to turn your back on it:

1.  Cry when you hurt

Jesus wept (John 11:35) and so should you. When life hurts, admit your pain and cry. The physical act of shedding tears is important and protects our physical health.

But, crying out to God or emotionally expressing our sorrow is also vital in protecting the spiritual health of our souls.

When you cry out to God and tell Him your fear, despair and concern, you invite Him to join you in it. Don’t try to hold it in, suck it up or pull it off all on your own. When you’re hurt, abandon your pride and reservation and humbly admit your disillusionment to God.

Honesty leads to intimacy but repression leads to isolation. Don’t go it alone my friend. Cry when it hurts; your tears are safe with Him.

 2.  Trust God more than your feelings

Feelings are real, but they don’t always reflect absolute reality. In other words, our feelings about a situation may not always match the facts of the situation. We can misunderstand, misinterpret, and become miserable because of it!

Feelings may be unreliable at times, but they are still important to acknowledge. They hint at what is in your heart and in your head. They point to what you fear and what you desire. They often reveal beliefs you didn’t even know you held. So, don’t totally disregard them. Learn from them. What do those feelings represent? What are they inviting you to pay attention to?

Feelings can be incredibly revealing, so don’t repress them. But, let them serve you rather than govern you. If you let them serve you, you employ them as an intuitive detective that can lead you to ultimate truth. Feel your emotions, but don’t confuse them with facts or base your faith on them.

Your feelings will change; this season of pain will change. But, God never changes. That’s why we ultimately trust him more than our feelings (2 Corinthians 5:7).

God is faithful, God is with you, and you can trust Him with every detail and moment of your day…of your life!

3.  Choose loyalty over logic

Choose to loyally love God and faithfully follow Him even when the path you travel feels dark, hard and long. When sorrow invades our lives it rarely seem sensible to us. Just settle in the mystery of God and be more devoted to His revealed character than your mind’s natural reasoning.

Rest in the fact that your logic sometimes just isn’t enough. What God says about Himself is more dependable than what you “think” during a time of trial.

You can face your day when you know He is with you; He is for you; He is compassionate; He is good, and His ways are perfect.

God has been and will be faithful to you. Don’t miss the blessing that waits just around the bend by abandoning the walk of faith. As you choose to remain faithful to Him, you will see His faithfulness to you more clearly.

My year of depression came to a gradual end and God used it to usher in greater perseverance and gratitude. God can use whatever you are facing that makes you want to turn away also.

Don’t be discouraged my friend, and don’t lose heart. The next time you want to call out, “Do I have to get up?!”  whisper to yourself, “No, you don’t have to, but you want to because you don’t face this day alone!”

God is Just Not Fair Jennifer RothschildJennifer RothschildJennifer is a wife, mother of 2 boys, speaker, and writer. Connect with Jennifer at www.jenniferrothschild.com. Jennifer’s new book, God is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, walks through 6 tough questions of faith including, God do you care? Are you fair? Do you hear prayer? These are questions Jennifer wrestled with during her time of depression, and maybe you’ve been there too. Jennifer serves as your guide as you delve into the deep questions and doubts, and all the while, she holds your hand to comfort. She meets hearts right where they are when life doesn’t make sense. Learn more about the book at www.notfairbook.com.

 

How Miscarriage Affects a Marriage

Today, please welcome guest poster, Lindsey Bell, who shares her heart-wrenching story and wise advice from experience.

How miscarriage affects a marriageHaving a baby is supposed to be one of the most exciting events in the life of a couple.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Far too often (approximately one in three to four pregnancies) what began as an exciting new phase of life ends as a nightmare.

Here’s a little bit of my story.

My husband and I waited as our doctor began the ultrasound, anxious to see our little one’s heartbeat again. We were twelve weeks along and had already begun planning our baby’s nursery and thinking of names. Our oldest child was at home with Grandma, but he too was excited about having a new baby brother or sister.

Because we saw the heartbeat three weeks prior to this appointment, we thought we were in the clear. That the risk of miscarriage was gone.

But we were wrong.

As the smile faded from my doctor’s face, the silence was deafening. Then came the words no parents ever want to hear: “I’m sorry, but your baby’s heart is no longer beating.”

That was miscarriage #1.

In the next two years, we lost three more babies to miscarriage.

Four miscarriages in two years wreaked havoc on nearly every aspect of my life.

Before our first miscarriage, I assumed going through something like that would be painful, but I had no idea how much it would affect my marriage.

Baby loss can either bind you to your spouse or tear you away from him.

Here are a few things I learned through my miscarriages that helped our marriage remain intact:

1. It’s okay if his grief looks different than yours.

After our first loss, I expected my husband to cry. I was in tears all the time, after all, and it was his child too. When he didn’t cry (or didn’t cry enough), I was hurt. Scratch that. I was angry.

How could he not cry about the baby we just lost?

Didn’t he love our baby as much as I did?

Didn’t he care that we weren’t ever going to get to hold him or kiss him or hug him goodnight?

What I failed to realize at the time was that everyone grieves differently. Just because he didn’t cry as much didn’t mean he didn’t love the baby.

I also failed to realize my husband might not have been as attached to the child as I was. This child was growing inside of me. It was a part of me from the beginning. I loved it from Day 1.

Some men might feel this strong of an attachment from conception, but others won’t. For some, the attachment grows with the relationship. At birth, when he holds the baby, it grows a little bit more. And then again as he feeds him in those early months of life.

This doesn’t make him a bad father, and it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the child. It simply makes him a man.

2. Let him help you.

One of the hardest parts of our miscarriages was that my husband couldn’t fix it. He wanted to make it better for me with all of his being, but he couldn’t.

Plain and simple, it was out of his hands.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t do anything to help.

One of the best things I did after our miscarriages was tell him exactly how he could help me. This made him feel like he was doing something at a time when we both felt helpless.

3. Give each other some grace.

Grief can make you angry. It can make you irritable. It can make you weepy. When two people are both in different parts of the grief cycle, it’s easy to understand why conflicts arise.

For the months (and possibly years) following a miscarriage, try your best to extend grace to your partner. You are both hurting, and fighting with one another will only make the pain greater.

4. Don’t give up on intimacy.

Miscarriages affect intimacy. For a woman, she might fear another miscarriage and therefore avoid sex altogether. Or she might want to get pregnant so badly that she urges her partner to have sex so much that it becomes a chore.

What used to be something that was fun and fulfilling can easily become scary and upsetting.

Give yourself some time, absolutely, but don’t give up on intimacy altogether. Allow this loss to bring you and your spouse together-not push you apart.

Let’s talk: What other things help a marriage stay intact after loss?

Lindsey writes often about miscarriage on her blog. You can read her miscarriage posts here: http://www.lindsey-bell.com/search/label/Miscarriage.

IMG_0685Lindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity, a parenting devotional that will be released in January 2014. She’s also a stay-at-home mother of two, minister’s wife, avid reader, adoption advocate, miscarriage survivor, and chocolate lover. You can find Lindsey online at any of the following locations:

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorLindseyBell

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/LindseyMBell01

17 Years Ago I Said Good-Bye to My Son

On September 3, 17 years ago, I said good-bye to my son. He passed away in the wee hours of the morning on September 4. So I’m thinking of my baby boy today!

My husband and I were talking recently about how his death impacted us. It’s a very hard road back from something like that to trusting God again. As we were leaving our oldest daughter at her new university last weekend, we had to put her in God’s hands. And as my husband said, that’s really tough. If you lent some tool that you loved to a neighbour, and they returned it broken and scratched up, you wouldn’t be so ready to lend to that neighbour again. And when a baby dies, it’s easy to feel that way about God.

It is hard to trust again.

And yet Christopher is not broken and all scratched up. He is alive and he is thriving with God.

Christopher, I’m so glad you’re able to run and jump and laugh and do all the things you would have found challenging here on this earth.

And I’m glad that each day that I spend here is not one more day that I’m away from you; it’s one more day that I’m closer to being reunited with you. I’m still your Mommy.

On this day, to honour him, I thought I wouldn’t write a new post. I’d just link to other things that I’ve said about my precious boy.

Remembering…here’s my recollection of our last day together, and how God helped me to let go.

How Big Is Your UmbrellaHeaven is For Real…how a glimpse of heaven last year helped me to get through the anniversary of his death. We all need a little glimpse of heaven!

And for those of you who have also lost babies, here’s  A Prayer Through Tears, a column I wrote as a prayer for all of us walking through this.

I talk a lot about Christopher when I do women’s retreats, and about how having him helped me to be able to truly say that God is enough. And I learned how to trust God in new ways. I’ve written a book about it, How Big Is Your Umbrella–just a short book to help people walk through the things we often yell at God when life is tough, and the things that God whispers back. You can see it here.

Or, if you’re interested, here’s an audio download when I tell my story, but also weave in other illustrations of finally being able to fully trust God.

And now we’re going to have a family day where we celebrate those we have to hold here, and those we are waiting to hold in heaven.

Sometimes We All Need a Glimpse of Heaven

GlimpseofHeaven

My mother always warned me that time goes faster as you age, but I never really believed her until this summer, when I started to notice how fast my own girls are growing up. Yet it is not only the younger generation that is growing older. Last week my husband’s oldest friend lost his mother, after a very long illness. Life suddenly seems rather short.

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law was listing various health complaints, when I commented, “growing old sure doesn’t sound that fun, but at least it’s better than the alternative.”

Heaven Is For RealMy dear mother-in-law then said something very wise. “But how do we know?” She asked. “I’m sure heaven is far better than what we have here.”

I believe it is, and yet often that belief doesn’t translate into my everyday life. Too often I live thinking only of the here and now.

Yet if there is something beyond this life, shouldn’t we spend some time figuring out what that is?

Perhaps that is easier for children, who seem to have a better grasp on spiritual things. In just two short weeks I’ll remember the anniversary of my son’s death, fifteen years ago now. His memory is still so much a part of our family, and so my daughters have grown up without being shielded about death, as many children are. And yet it has not made them sad. I remember listening in on a conversation then 6-year-old Katie was having with a friend who was over to play. The friend had picked up a picture of my son and asked Katie about him. She replied, “That’s my big brother Christopher. I never got to meet him on earth, but when I get to heaven he’ll be my tour guide.” I’ve always liked that image.

It is in times of grief that these images are often sealed, either for good or for bad.

We either reject the possibility of a deity and an afterlife, or we run desperately into God’s arms for comfort. I have chosen the latter, and I have found that even in tears, it brings peace.

It was that peace that radiated at the funeral last week, as my friend Bruce reflected on his mother’s Margaret’s life. The service was a beautiful testimony to her sense of humour and her faith. And Bruce ended with a story from December 23, 1986. He had called his mother to come and pick him up in Belleville, but she could not find the keys to the car. “Check your pockets,” she said. He did. And the keys rattled. She told him that perhaps it was time for him to learn a lesson and walk home.

With no other alternative, he started to trudge to his house northeast of the city. Over the years, Bruce admits, the story has become embellished. He admits now that he did not walk uphill the whole way. He was not barefoot. He did not have to climb over mountainous snow banks. And yet, on that day, he remembers his overwhelming thought was of his mother, safe and warm at home, while she left him to walk alone. And as he stood at his mother’s funeral, he had that same overwhelming feeling: she was safe and sound, at home, and he was left to walk alone.

When we lose someone we love, that overwhelming sense of loneliness is inevitable.

I know those days will descend upon me again, whether it be soon or decades in the future. I hope, though, that those days come, I will be able to keep three images in mind: the God who welcomes me; Margaret, safe and happy at home; and my son, waiting to be my tour guide.

Evil Knows No Social Class

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan.  This week, I want to talk about evil, where it is found and what to do with it.

This week’s column deals with a horrible murder that took place in Ontario, the province where I live, just a few weeks ago. Tim Bosma went missing from his Ancaster home right when I was in the middle of a speaking tour in that neck of the woods, so I saw his posters everywhere, and just really feel strongly about this case.

Tim advertised his truck on kijiji; two guys came by to see it, and he took them out for a test drive. He was never seen again. Millard was arrested a week later, and Tim’s remains were found on Millard’s property.

Tim was a strong Christian (well, he still is, as now he is face to face with his Saviour). He and his wife Sharlene and their 2-year-old daughter attended the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church, which has come alongside them wonderfully. I just ask that you keep that family in your prayers. How absolutely awful to have your husband killed like that.

Ancaster resident Sharlene Bosma spent Mother’s Day in agony, wondering about the fate of her husband Tim. After taking two guys out to test drive a truck he was selling, he was never seen by his family again. His body has now been found.

Police charged aviation heir Dellen Millard. Bosma’s truck had been located at his mother’s house. He had been identified as having been with Bosma. Yet when he was taken into custody, his lawyer, Deepak Paradkar, expressed incredulity that the police would zero in on his client. According to the CBC, Paradkar said, “He’s a very unassuming, humble person. He’s intelligent, well-educated and financially well off, so there’s no motive here.” He went on to note that Millard had attended the Toronto French School. How could someone who attended an elite private school be suspected of doing such a thing?

Forgive me for feeling a little sick to my stomach at that statement. Evil knows no social class. I do not know whether Millard is guilty or not; but I find this “why would a wealthy person do this?” statement offensive in the extreme. Are we supposed to believe that rich=good and poor=bad?

A few years ago I read a brilliant book by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck of The Road Less Traveled fame. In People of the Lie, he wrote about the most frustrating part of his practice: coming face to face with evil. And evil people, he thinks, can’t be cured, short of a major spiritual intervention. What they need is a priest, not a doctor.

Over and over again Scott Peck saw in his office people whose state of mind couldn’t be explained by their upbringing, or by psychiatric theory, or by conditioning. He saw people who chose to lie when the truth wouldn’t have harmed them. He saw people who cared nothing of those around them, while still giving the impression that their love could not be questioned. He saw people who would lie to your face, but when accused of it would question your sanity. These people were dedicated to deception for one reason: to deflect any responsibility for their own moral choices.

It’s not the fact that evil people do wrong that is so terrible, says Peck. All of us do wrong. But, Peck says, “the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.” It’s narcissism to the nth degree.

And these people are everywhere. They’re doctors, and lawyers, and executives. They’re married. They look outwardly normal, but they cause chaos wherever they go. Many of us have experienced this in our families or at our workplaces. There’s someone we could never quite get along with, but every time we question them they turn it around so that we’re the ones with the problem. They can’t be pinned down. They’re slippery. They’re slimy. And they’re scary.

Peck ended his investigation weary and disheartened. Psychiatry does not have the answers for evil people. They can’t be “cured”, except perhaps by an exorcist. Therefore, it’s time to call a spade a spade and not muddy it up with diagnoses making it sound as if these people aren’t culpable.

So, Mr. Paradkar, I don’t know if your client is guilty, but I do know that rich people can cause havoc just as much as poor people can. And until we admit that evil has no bounds and no excuse, we’ll be living a lie as much as they are. Instead of lies, let’s tell the truth: Evil exists. Evil can be anywhere. And evil needs to be resisted, not excused.

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On Rick Warren, Tragedy, and Prodigals

On Tragedies and ProdigalsRick Warren and his wife Kay suffered unbelievable tragedy over the weekend when their youngest son Matthew committed suicide last weekend at the age of 27. He had been battling mental illness and severe depression for years.

I can’t imagine how horrible this would be for a parent. To lose your child in a car accident is a tragedy indeed; to lose a child to suicide is even more so. There’s stigma, and there’s all the questions about what else you could have done (even if there really is nothing you could have done).

A good friend of mine’s brother committed suicide when he was 16, and she was just a teen. They were a strong Christian family who did things well. He had become moody and withdrawn, but nobody knew the depth of what he was feeling, and he left no note. Later on stories came out in the press about things that a high school coach had been doing, and there were always questions as to whether or not this had been a reason. But those questions cannot be answered on this side of heaven, and perhaps it’s those questions that drive us the most crazy.

I pray that Mr. and Mrs. Warren receive a ton of comfort, and prayer, and space. In fact, I’d ask everyone reading this to say a prayer for them right now.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the attitude that’s been in much of the media, and even many of the Christian blogs. When tragedy strikes, people are quick to assign blame. And so there’s so much vitriol on the media, and in news websites, and even on Christian sites of people who disagree with him politically.

I think this is completely wrong and completely unbiblical.

I read an amazing article about this phenomenon last night from the blog Rage Against the Minivan, where she says this:

When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren’t to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent.  It’s a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it.

Read the whole thing.

I believe she’s exactly right.

Whenever we hear of a tragedy, we immediately start to list all the reasons why it can’t happen to us–and therefore we implicitly blame the parents that it did happen to.

The Newtown school shooting? Thank goodness we homeschool. A child abduction? That’s why I don’t work outside the home; so I always know where my kids are. A teenager gets pregnant? At least we do family devotions every night.

We need to stop that, because it’s not biblical. We are to “mourn with those who mourn”, says Paul in Romans 12:15.

And we also need to become a little (or a lot) more humble.

I find the story of The Prodigal Son so fascinating on so many levels. One of those is the fact that the father figure in that story represents God. Is God a good father? You bet. Did God work so hard so that he never saw his kids? Nope. Did he discipline inappropriately? Nope. Was he prone to fits of rage? Of course not. God parents perfectly.

And  yet He had a prodigal (and, we know in fact He has many). The story is meant to illustrate many different points, but I think one of them is this:

When we have prodigals in our families, we should not assume that this reflects badly on the parents. Kids make their own choices. We all have free will.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn how to parent well, or that we shouldn’t try to raise our kids to love the Lord and to do what’s right. But there are never any guarantees. I’m not implying that Rick Warren’s son was a prodigal, by the way; anything I’ve read in the news says that he was a strong Christian; he just suffered from mental illness. I’m just saying that often we look at parents (not the Warrens, but others) who have kids who have turned astray and we tend to do just what people are doing to the Warrens: we blame them.

Why? Because we want those guarantees. We want to know that if we do everything right, everything will turn out okay, because we love our kids so much and we don’t want anything to touch them. We don’t want them to make mistakes and wreck their lives (or, God forbid, end them). We want to know, as we look into the face of a cherubic 4-year-old, that he will grow up to not use drugs, to love God, to get a good job, and to marry well. And please, no horrible illnesses.

But that doesn’t always happen. And perhaps one of the main lessons that God wants us to learn from parenting is that sometimes we just have to trust and realize that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. To live is not to be a parent. Our children cannot be our whole lives, and they cannot come before our love for God. And our relationship with God isn’t like that of a genie, where we do all the right things so that He’ll come through for us.

Our relationship with God needs to be one of trust and submission.

Not trust that everything will turn out the way we want it to; but trust that no matter what happens, God will carry us, and God will be enough for us.

When our son died seventeen years ago, we had people say hurtful things to us, things that they likely didn’t realize were hurtful. Things like, “it was just God’s will”, or “you have to ask what God is trying to teach you through this” (as if implying that if we failed to learn, God might zap our daughter Rebecca next), or “this is a good time to examine yourselves before God”.

No, this is simply a time to cry, and to weep, and to be a mess as you lie down before God and beg Him to help you be able to climb out of bed each morning, and continue to breathe even when your chest aches, and to one day be able to laugh again.

God did that in our lives. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from Christopher’s death; I did. I learned to trust God more. But that does not mean that God causes tragedy because there is something wrong in our lives. Like Jesus said of the man that was born blind, he and his parents didn’t sin so that he was born blind; it was just so that the works of God could be displayed in his life. (John 9:3).How Big Is Your Umbrella

When tragedy strikes, let’s resist the temptation to list all the reasons that it won’t happen to us. Let’s resist the temptation to blame the parents. And let’s instead pray for those who are grieving, and use that opportunity to throw ourselves once more on God’s mercy, asking Him to teach us that no matter what happens in this life, He will always be enough.

Struggling with saying “God is enough”? Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella, that she wrote after her son’s death, can help walk you through this journey of trust.


Wifey Wednesday: Hope For those in Hurting Marriages

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I write a post, and then you all can either comment or link up your own marriage post below!

Everyday I receive so many heart breaking emails from women in dire straits in their relationships (I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten back to  you yet. I try to answer my emails, but I’m really inundated right now).

I firmly believe that it is lonelier to be an unhappy marriage than it is to be alone. There is a unique kind of loneliness when you feel that the person who is supposed to love you and care for you doesn’t. It hurts. Badly.

Help for Those in Hurting Marriages
Yet I also believe that one reason it hurts so much is because of the “Myth of Marriage” that our culture has, and that Christians, perhaps, have propagated. And that myth goes something like this:

In this life, the best happiness you will ever experience will be feeling like one with your soulmate. Nothing is as fulfilling as to love and be loved in return. When we feel completely intimate, we reach a high that nothing else can compare to. And all of us can experience that, with the right person. Indeed, that is God’s will for us: that our marriage will mirror what He feels for us, and that we will feel completely and utterly completed in our marriage.

I have to admit that I talk like this sometimes, especially because I do have a good marriage. And I do believe that relationships are supposed to reflect Christ.

But here’s where the danger comes in: we start to believe that the GOAL of this life is to achieve that kind of oneness, that kind of happiness. And when we don’t have it, we figure that we’re missing out on something so dear that our lives will never be complete. Maybe it would be better to start again! Or, if we do stick with the marriage, we know that we are sacrificing God’s real will for our lives; we know that we will never have the kind of life that we deserve.

I think that’s a misunderstanding of both the role of marriage and the purpose of our lives.

We are on this earth to learn to hear God’s voice, to obey that voice, and to lead other people to that voice. That is all. We are on this earth to decide to follow Christ, and to start living that out. That is what we will be doing in eternity.

As such, even if you don’t have a great marriage, you can still completely fulfill your purpose. Look at all the people around the world who live in horrific circumstances! Christians are imprisoned for their faith. People spend decades in prison camps. People live without food. Orphans grow up on the streets. We have it so easy here that if our biggest problem is that we have a bad marriage, we’re actually doing pretty well. Life is full of hardship.

But that’s only to be expected, because God never promised that our reward would be in this life. In fact, Jesus said that those who had easy lives had received their rewards in this life; other people’s rewards were still to come.

And that’s what we often miss: this is not your real life. This is not all there is. Heaven is our home, and it is heaven that we should be looking forward to. Sometimes the wait between now and heaven is really difficult, but in the light of eternity it is only a blink of an eye. And as Paul wrote in Romans 8:18:

For I know that the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.

Our hope is in heaven, not in this life. So if life isn’t perfect, that’s okay. It just gives you a longing for heaven that God wants you to have.

I believe that we have made marriage into an idol. This is partly a reaction to families falling apart all around us; the church responded by trying to boost marriage, and by saying how wonderful and fulfilling it can be, all of which is true. But let’s never forget that our hope is not in our husbands; our hope is in Jesus.

Yes, it is possible to have a great marriage. And it is possible to turn a difficult marriage around. But marriage is not the main thing we should be living for, and marriage is not the source of our hope. God is.

So if  you’re in a difficult place right now, let me reassure you that what you are experiencing is not all there is. This life is eighty plus years, if you’re lucky. The life that is coming is forever. This life is full of hardships; the life that is coming is full of joy. This life is rooted in the here and now; in the life that is coming, you will talk to saints from all generations. You will know a heap of new friends. You will experience true intimacy that you have never dreamed of.

Yes, life is hard, but God never promised that it wouldn’t be. What He did promise was that no matter how hard it was, He would carry us, from this life to the next. And perhaps if we kept our eyes on things that were eternal, rather than on things that were temporary, we’d have a better perspective on marriage, life, and everything!

There is hope, ladies. But that hope is not in your marriage; that hope is in God. And He is faithful. Looking forward to heaven is not a crutch; it is simply basing your hope on a reality. So don’t feel like you have failed, or that God has failed you, if your life is not perfect or if you are lonely here. This is not all there is, and Jesus is already preparing a place for  you.


Now, what advice do you have for us today? Or has God ever really comforted you with the hope of heaven? Leave a comment, or link up the URL of a marriage post in the linky below!

Sheila is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.