Saturday was a tough anniversary for me. My son Christopher would have turned 20. He was a month old when he died.
I posted about it on my Facebook Page and I was just blown away by all your kind messages and responses and even the personal emails. Truly blown away. Thank you very much. It made me feel so supported! I wanted to publicly acknowledge that, because I don’t know if you all realize how much personal comments, either here or on the blog, really mean to all of us bloggers. When we just type onto a screen while we’re sitting in our living room, it can feel really impersonal. And then all we can see if numbers–how many people read this or saw this.
But when you comment, I feel so much better, like, “those are real people! And they care not just about what I say but about me, too.” That meant a lot to me this weekend.
My daughter Katie was away this weekend doing hair for a wedding, so she wasn’t around on his birthday. But she texted me (unprompted!) at 7:30 in the morning, which was very kind. She’s a good kid.
I sometimes find my emotions around Christopher confusing when it comes to Katie. We wouldn’t have had her if he hadn’t have died, and we love her so much. That’s a funny thought, though, isn’t it? As if you’re choosing between two children or something.
But as the years go on I find it much easier to just hold the two of them in separate hands. What I feel for the one doesn’t impact what I feel for the other, and I can be sad about him and still be happy about her without betraying either. Our human brains can’t quite hold all of these emotions, but I think God somehow helps me to sort them out.
The really big feeling that I had on Saturday, though, was one more of gratitude.
I was thinking back to his delivery and how scared we were (we knew that his heart was really bad before he was born, so we knew it would be difficult). We were so young. So very young.
We were only in our mid-twenties, and we had to make so many difficult decisions and handle such difficult news. And somehow we did.
And as the years have gone on we’ve been okay. We really have. Yes, we’ve cried and yes, we’ve mourned, but we’ve honestly been grateful too: Grateful for the family we have, grateful for the time we did have to spend with him, and grateful for how God brought us through that.
And, really, God honestly has brought us through for the last twenty years.
I received an email from a woman this weekend who told me that she had a “complicated relationship” with God and the church, but she likes reading my emails anyway because I don’t make her feel condemned.
I’m glad. I know that many of you who read me faithfully don’t see God the way I do, so thank you for the liberty you’re giving me to talk about this today. But yesterday, as I was out for a walk I was just trying to isolate what it was that helped Keith and me heal from those wounds of losing a child.
And a few thoughts came to me.
Our perspective certainly helped.
I remember the first time I visited the graveyard shortly after he died. And I had this overwhelming feeling that Christopher was not there. It was almost an empty feeling as I looked down at his grave. But at the same time, I had this vision of a little bubbly boy in heaven, and I felt heaven for the first time. I can’t explain it, but I knew that heaven was real because I knew that my son was there. It wasn’t just some intellectual thing where you know that heaven is where you’ll go when you die, way off in the future. Heaven was NOW.
And knowing that God understands suffering and hurt somehow made me feel that when I was sad, God was sad right there with me.
Death was never his intended plan. It only came because humanity chose to live without God and do our own thing, and so the real intimacy we were supposed to have was broken. And that brought death.
God gets mad at death, too. So it’s not wrong to feel sad. And knowing that Jesus Himself is called “The Man of Sorrows” meant that I could talk to Him about it and He wouldn’t be upset at me for not “getting over grief” or dismiss me. He’d sit down with me in my pain.
And finally, just feeling loved by God helped tremendously.
To think that the God who created the universe and holds it all in His hands sent His Son to earth to live with us and laugh with us and die for us, and now wants to have a relationship with us–that really is amazing. That I can pray, anywhere I am, even in my head, and He hears me. That’s awesome, in every sense of the word.
But those things–knowing there’s a heaven; knowing God understands pain; knowing that God hears prayers; while true, and while certainly elements of faith, are not the whole package.
They started the journey towards peace that I really do have, but they are only a part of the story.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain the big part, the central part, because all the rest is dancing around the edges. It’s necessary, but it’s like a prequel to the main thing.
And then I remembered a neat story in Acts chapter 16. Paul and Silas had been telling people about Jesus and they got in trouble. They were put in jail, and their feet were chained up to the walls. And while in jail they started to sing praises and pray. About midnight this earthquake came, and every prison door flew open and the chains came loose.
That’s how I feel.
When we praise God, we break chains.
Paul didn’t break those chains. He didn’t pray the right thing so that the chains were broken. He didn’t have the right perspective so that the chains were broken. God broke those chains because Paul gave God room in his life.
Let me explain what I mean, because this is so crucial to understand. Praising God in a situation like that doesn’t mean saying that everything is peachy keen and life is great and I’m absolutely ecstatic about being in chains. Praising God in a situation like that, I think, simply means saying,
God, this is really tough, but I know that you’re with me, and what happens here is not going to change my opinion of you. I love you, and I want to serve you, and whatever happens, I know that you’re using it.
Praising, I think, just means acknowledging WHO God is and who we are in response to Him. He’s the Big Guy; we’re not. We don’t have to be in control.
When we say that–I don’t have to be in control–then we give Him the authority to do stuff in our lives.
Sure, God has the power to do whatever He wants, but He doesn’t just barge in unless we invite Him. He doesn’t do things unless we really want Him to.
And when we say, “I yield myself to you, no matter what,” God does amazing things.
They praised–they gave up control. And God did an amazing thing.
That’s what I think happened to me. The more I said to God, “I am yours,” the more room He had to work on my heart without me even seeing it. I can’t even explain it except to tell you that even though I had to watch my son die I am a whole person, I am at peace, I am strong. And it’s what God did in me.
I know many of you have that same “complicated relationship” with God and the church. I just want to tell you today that it’s okay to be confused and it’s okay to not have everything sorted out. But when we can come to God and say, “I am yours, whatever happens,” and mean it–we set God free to change us. And He does. When we admit that we need Him, that we’ve messed up, that we can’t do this on our own and we want Him to take over–He does.
Too often when we think of God we think of sin–I did these terrible things, and I have to fix them. That makes God seem angry and us seem like we have such a huge hill to climb, sort of like how smokers who are trying to quit feel or how people who join Weight Watchers feel. “This is going to take so much will power and discipline.” And who wants will power and discipline?
But it’s not like that. It’s more like a father who just wants the best for his children. That means that his kids shouldn’t be stupid and make bad decisions for sure! And Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to bear the punishment of what we have done. God wants us to live right.
But the way we live right isn’t be trying so much as it is by acknowledging WHO God is and giving him the authority to start to change us. It’s by acknowledging I’ve done wrong; I need you; I can’t do this on my own. And then starting to talk to God and get to know Him.
And God is one who breaks the chains.
He isn’t asking you into a relationship with Him so that you can straighten yourself out and be perfect. He’s asking you into a relationship with Him so you can be totally honest before Him and authentic and real, and let Him be in control so He can start His work on your heart.
I’m okay today because God made me okay. That started with me giving up control, but it ended with God doing His thing.
If there’s anything on this blog that I really want you to get, it’s that. God can do amazing things in our marriages when we start by giving Him control. God can do amazing things in our kids when we start by giving Him control. God can do amazing things helping us get through hard times when we start just giving Him control.
And He really is there, waiting for you. If you don’t understand that, that’s okay. But I dare you to just start talking to God. Just start asking Him if He’s real. Just start telling Him how. You feel and having those conversations. And start seeing what happens!