Loss-child

Coping

About six months after my son’s death, I started thinking about how I was coping and pain management in life. I made a list of the things that helped me. My list is long and not everything applies to everyone, but maybe there is one idea.

It is easy during intense grief/pain to turn to unhealthy grieving, but sometimes just identifying what you are doing to cope helps to stay in the healthy grieving lane. I had to make a choice for myself to walk through the very painful grief without substances to numb the pain. 

When stressors are high, coping skills must be high.

  1. God’s Word and His presence replace truth for lies. At the beginning, friends made verses to carry around with me, because I did not have the strength to find Scripture that comforted. Then, I just read a chapter with no expectation; I just let it wash over me. It is like eating ice chips when your body can’t handle water when you are sick. For many, it is hard to read God’s Word at all,  because of the immense hurt, questioning or anger at God, then some experience guilt. But, don’t give up-sometimes worship music/sermons/audio are easier (be gentle with yourself and give yourself time). Covid gave me time to read Scripture for long periods of time and sit and think and cry and talk to God (not fully understanding). It was healing.
  2. Exercise releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that make you feel happy and release stress. I remember walking out of a cycling class after Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s…a very difficult two months last year and literally feeling the release of chemicals in my brain!
  3. Educate yourself by taking a grief class or read a book (learn about normal grieving). Again, reading can be a chore. In one group we learned from other grieving parents: They told us to picture our grief as a large hole. The leader explained that this will never go away, but he showed how in time, we would build more life around that hole, making our grief proportionally smaller. The truth that love/grief never fully leaves, but there is relief, was exactly what we needed to hear. Reading may be difficult, if so, sign up for daily emails about grieving (https://www.griefshare.org/dailyemails)-these are very short and to the point.
  4. Helping others gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment that you can encourage others to persevere and get help in hard times. This helps me tremendously: talking one on one, taking meals to people, whatever fits your gifts and personality. Knowing that your pain may help others in life, is therapeutic.
  5. Distract yourself at first to preoccupy your brain and difficult emotions. I got a part-time job to stay busy. Not so much to ignore your grief, but enough to learn to live again.
  6. Cultivate new hobbies such as music, cooking, gardening. The newness can be refreshing.
  7. Listen to uplifting music with messages of hope. Create playlists for yourself. Share with others.
  8. Talk to others as much as it helps you. Sometimes too much can be draining, but not enough feels isolating.
  9. Pursue counseling or find mentors-talking to someone who is not bias can help you grow.
  10. Find humor-I intentionally found a show that made me laugh that we watched every night.
  11. Go to medical appointments and get check-ups. Medication for depression (if necessary, there is no shame). Get help of any kind when you need it.
  12. Make a to-do list-my memory is not always 100% as I grieve (I hear this is normal).
  13. Taking a bath and drinking tea/coffee to relax.
  14. Get outside/hike/walk/nature-take it in; be in the moment; look around; be sure to rest because grief is physically taxing.
  15. List things you are thankful for in a journal or just think about it. This is hard at first, but even one thing can move your mind and heart.
  16. Journaling/Blogging-writing down memories can relieve the pain as a way of processing.
  17. Take care of something. Get a pet or find others who have animals to pet-they may make you laugh. Cleaning the house or organizing can be a release.
  18. Work on managing time and/or online time.
  19. Stay away from triggering/depressing situations; work on healthy boundaries.
  20. Increase problem solving and communication skills intentionally.
  21. Work on emotional regulation-identify and think about your emotions.
  22. Think about your purpose, your strengths, speak gently to yourself like you would to a friend.
  23. Forgiving yourself or apologizing can bring freedom.

Watch out for unhealthy coping choices and get help if you find yourself moving in this direction.

  1. Drugs and alcohol
  2. Cutting/Suicidal ideation
  3. Pornography
  4. Sleeping too much (Depression)
  5. Overspending
  6. Anger at others
  7. Overeating/Undereating
  8. Unhealthy friendships-being around people who are engaged in unhealthy coping
  9. Isolating

Loss-pornography

Dark & Light

When I think about anger in my grief, yes, I have been angry at God, myself, my son…but as I work through it, my rage is ultimately at two things: Satan and the darkness in the world.

Here is one example.

There is a major battle raging that is causing major shame, major depression, major anxiety, and suicide rates to soar. It is sneaky and hidden.

Pornography. 

It is at the fingertips of most adolescents. 90% according to FighttheNewDrug.org.

Sixteen states have been brave enough to call it a “public health crisis.”

Pornography can become an addiction and can increase depression and anxiety.

According to Twenge research, depression and suicide risk factors and rates found a sudden increase in 2012. Five years after the iPhone’s release–massive increases in mental health issues. Teens who spend five or more hours on devices are 71% more likely to have one risk factor for suicide, regardless of the content consumed. Regardless of the content consumed. Not even considering pornography, phone usage is causing depression and suicidal rates/risks to develop. Just think of how depression skyrockets WITH porn.

Similarly, according to the new film Social Dilemma, rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide have increased significantly (60-70%) after 2010. Not coincidentally, Instagram started in 2010, Twitter in 2006, Facebook in 2004, Snapchat in 2011, TikTok in 2016. I am not writing to trash social media (it is here to stay), but rather to point to effects and ways to manage it. 

According to The Social Dilemma, the business model for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and other social media venues, is: ENGAGEMENT. Engagement means keeping users on their phones. Design techniques and Artificial Intelligence to essentially make phone addicts: the photo tag, the ellipsis, the ding, the notifications–all aimed at changing behavior. 

All designed to change adolescent behavior. The AI knows what the individual likes and tries to keep the person on their site, so they dish up more of what is liked. What if a teen tries pornography? AI leads children to more of it in the name of engagement: more time on the device/social media. Forty percent of GenZers admit to being addicted to their phones. This same AI technology could be used to put safeguards in place for children/teens.

Porn usage is at an all-time high: in 2017, 81 million people visited porn sites per day. In 2019, 115 million per day. And, this is increasing during the COVID pandemic by 11.6% in March 2020 and up to 24% from February to March. Where it is free, there were increases of up to 61% (Pornhub, 2020). In 2018, Porn Hub boasted 33.5 billion video views per year. In 2006, world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix combined. In 2014, the proposed DSM-IV proposed a new diagnosis called Hypersexual Disorder which includes compulsive pornography viewing.

Things to do for FREEDOM?

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Tell someone.
  2. Think about what kind of accountability you want. Ultimately, no one is really immune from this.
  3. Get accountability software on ALL devices. Delete Google and add your accountability software as your browser. Get used to using this browser that sends daily emails showing any potentially hazardous screenshots to a trusted person of your choice. Covenant Eyes and Bark are strong ones. 
  4. Educate yourself regarding the effects of modern porn. Watch brainheartworld video: https://brainheartworld.org/?_ga=2.122162123.1700900426.1602764912-1219931294.1602764912
  5. Read articles on https://fightthenewdrug.org/overview/ and https://ibcd.org/topics/pornography/for ideas on how to stop or how to help others.
  6. If you find yourself or your child on porn, don’t freak, but do get immediate counseling help. It may be a habit/compulsion/struggle, but can become an addiction and can lead to major depression. No shame in getting help. 
  7. Limit time on screens. Now, there are settings on the iPhone—ask a friend/family member to help you limit your time. Let them set a password.
  8. Parents-Plug in all phones in the parent bedroom.
  9. Watch out for “burner phones”–hidden phones that use Wifi in the middle of the night to access the internet. Check Wifi usage. Name all devices. If you see one that is using your Wifi at strange times, there may be a “burner phone” in the home.
  10. Address the heart. Satan wants anyone dealing with pornography to live in shame and to hide. He condemns and uses massive guilt to destroy. What pain is the porn medicating and masking? What lies are you believing about yourself or God?
  11. Talk openly about it, building trust. Let each other come up with lifelong plans.
  12. Don’t shame those who need help-“There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). This is our HOPE. Jesus takes EVERY sin and can redeem!!! There is nothing too dirty for Him to cleanse.

#nopornovember

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art-L. Ngo

Loss-child

Blessing

This year as I decorated for Thanksgiving, I purposefully put a blessed sign over a house. This is a reminder to me that my family is still blessed. I walk by it daily and it speaks truth. “Blessed” is a hard word to wrap my heart around during my grief. Sometimes I still pause. Is my family still blessed? With such a difficult loss, it is just so hard to accept sometimes. Suffering is a spiritual battle. How can I say that my family is blessed when we have lost a son and a brother?

One of my kids put the new worship song called “The Blessing” on in the car this summer as an encouragement, but instead, it made me cry. I realized that I wasn’t believing the words. I had cherished the Scripture that the song was based on, and now, I could not understand what felt like God not answering my prayers. 

You see, I had prayed for healing and that the chains of sin would be broken in our family, in our generation: addictions, divorce, relational strife, mental illness. I had pleaded with God to make my family different and honestly felt that this was happening. But, after the loss of my son, I was disillusioned by God. So, I researched the words to this song and found healing in my heart.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen.” This is from Numbers 6:24-26. God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to give this blessing to the people of Israel: The Aaronic blessing. I remember the first time a pastor spoke this over a congregation I was in. It had always brought me so much peace, just hearing it. 

The Lord bless you. The word “bless” means “adore” in Hebrew. In fact, “to adore on bended knee.” To bring a gift to another while kneeling out of respect. To give something of value to another. GOD gives US something of value. Righteousness, Holiness, His Presence. What stands out is how personal this is.  The Lord (Yahweh) gives US something–so tender and gentle-the Creator of the Universe gives US something–that is crazy love in and of itself. He kneels…and adores,,,before US…with a gift.

And keep you. May His face shine upon you. To keep means to “guard or protect” in Hebrew. His Presence illuminates (brings order out of chaos by shining light into darkness). His light shines grace, mercy, love, salvation, giving restoration and help. His face shining on us is so intimate and loving-so warm and inviting. His Presence with us IS the blessing.

“And be gracious to you” means He is healing, helping, being a refuge, a strength, a rescue.

“The Lord lift up His countenance and give you peace.” God’s face is lifted up, like one giving a marriage proposal, on bended knee, with a free gift, to His love. The receiver is humbled and cherished and honored. Picture the love in His eyes looking at His beloved. He is not looking down on us. Think of that. We are a pleasure to Him. 

“May His favor be upon you for a thousand generations for your children and their children and their children. May His presence go before you, and behind you, and beside you, all around you, and within you. He is with you.”  His favor is His forever relationship with us, not a lack of suffering in life. His favor is not stuff or perfect circumstances. He goes before, behind, beside–this shows His omnipresence in addition to the Holy Spirit who resides inside believers. He is with us wherever we go.

“In the morning, in the evening, in your coming, in your going, in your weeping, and rejoicing, He is for you.” He is for us regardless of time of day, location, mode of transportation, circumstance. He is good and is on my side.

So, now when I hear the word “blessed”, I pause and remind myself: we have the intimate love of God and the promise of eternal life. That is everything. It really is EVERYTHING….Because we trust that the promises of God are true, that He is good, that salvation cannot be lost. Period. Our loss amplifies the NEED for salvation, the NEED to share who Jesus is and His sacrifice, the NEED for the PRESENCE OF GOD during the suffering. The awareness of the NEED, the SALVATION, and the COMPLETE LOVE OF GOD are the blessing and this is why my family can still be called “blessed” in the middle of the most horrendous and hurtful grief. We are broken, yet blessed.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1:3b

He is like a tree

Planted near streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season

and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

This tree is near streams of water, not just one stream, but many streams. Even if one stream fails, there is another. These are streams of grace, mercy, forgiveness: the Christ Stream and it will never fail.

In the driest of times, God can make fruit and vines grow. In the agony of pain and grief, there is a soaking in of the water of God Himself that can replenish like no other: His Presence.

The country of Israel is so dry. I grew up in Arizona, which is also so hot and dry. God’s Word is water to the weary in an extreme dry land (grief can be that dry land). But, He can make vines, palm groves, gardens, aloes, cedar trees, roots, all kinds of trees, and fruit flourish abundantly. 

The fruit comes forth in season. “Patience in the time of suffering, faith in the day of trial, joy in the day of prosperity,” says Spurgeon.

Ezekiel 47:12

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.

The Lord even keeps our leaves from withering. Who cares about the leaf? God does. He cares about the tiny details. In fact, the fruit is for nourishment and the leaves are for HEALING

Whatever he does shall prosper. 

We know this promise, yet our trials and troubles “see the very reverse of the promise…But to the eye of faith this word is sure, and by it we perceive that our works are prospered, even when everything seems to go against us. It is not outward prosperity which the Christian most desires and values: it is soul prosperity which He longs for” (Spurgeon).

There are circles within circles. Within the circle of God’s greater good are ferocious losses, crosses, and sorrows: “The devil hates this leaf and the Word of God, so does he also those who teach and hear it and he persecutes such, aided by the powers of the world” (Martin Luther). There is opposition to this leaf prospering.

In Genesis 42:36, Jacob’s sons return from Egypt after talking to their long-lost brother Joseph (they do not know it is Joseph) and they tell their father that they have to take Benjamin back to Egypt. Jacob is terrified to lose another son. 

Jacob lamented, “‘You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.’” His human grieving heart hurt hard and cried out in consternation.

Yet, the larger purpose was revealed—-this excruciating, illogical, crazy circumstance kept the Israelites fed and alive during the drastic famine and a remnant was saved for later deliverance.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1:3a

He is like a tree

planted by streams of water…

In my first house, we had a prodigious, live oak tree in our front yard. In our second house, we planted red oaks in our backyard that grew to be climbable and now in our third house, we once again have enormous live oaks surrounding our home.

All these trees were planted. Just as this verse says…a tree planted. We are likened to trees that the Lord has planted. He grants us salvation, grace, and mercy. We don’t plant ourselves. We don’t earn our righteousness. He permanently plants us, we don’t get uprooted. So, we are like trees in this way. 

What kind of trees? 

…to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;

that they may be called oaks of righteousness,

the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Oaks of righteousness.

In Isaiah 61, it shows that those who have suffered can be oaks. The Lord wants to give mourners, a beautiful headdress, the oil of gladness, the garment of praise. Most of us are grieving something or have lost or suffered in some way. After experiencing ashes, mourning, and faint spirits, He desires to give them the opposite of their earthly experience. And, that through these sufferings, they would be called “oaks of righteousness” that the Lord planted to give Him glory.  Oaks permanently planted in His Presence.

An oak tree can withstand huge storms, hurricanes even. They are tough trees with deep root systems. The battering winds shaping their branches.

This tree does not fear when heat comes or when the year of drought descends according to Jeremiah 17:8-

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

 for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

 for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Notice–the heat WILL come and the droughts WILL come. But, the Lord can help us to stand like oaks of righteousness planted, cared for, strong, deeply rooted, when the difficulties of life bear down.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-child · loss-suicide

Shame-Part II

Remember Hester in the Scarlet Letter. Her sin was worn prominently on her chest, all the while Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale etched his chest and decayed from the secret of their adulterous relationship that bore the child, Pearl. One person completely exposed, the other’s sin hidden, until the end of Dimmesdale’s life. 

Hester’s sin screamed in the open; Dimmesdale suffered in silence. Both sorrowful for their sin. Both under the hypocritical eyes of their fellow sinners. 

To have compassion on the proud, I remember Jesus crying as He looked out over Jerusalem: Why? Because He had compassion on men and women, who think they have it together but are ALL full of wretchedness of one form or another.

It’s a matter of admitting it and turning from it and running to Him. Remember King Saul and King David. Both sinned: Saul not obeying God’s instructions, David having sex with Bathsheba (another’s wife). Saul was stiff-necked and prideful, while David was contrite-begging for mercy.

So, whether our sin is known or not, we all do it. So, why shame those whose sin is out in the open. Rather, have compassion because maybe your sin will be made public one day and you will have wanted that same grace and mercy.

What would Jesus gently say to people after protecting them from each other? Gently, gently-Go, and sin no more (knowing they would). I can hear the tone of love in His words.

Also, have mercy for the struggling in the shadows. It is not shameful to get help when needed. This is a ploy of the enemy-to keep the struggling in a state of shame and to remind of the many failures and falls. There is no shame in having a mental illness or an addiction or unresolved issues or family problems or past sin and getting the specific help or treatment necessary!!

Cry out for help, seek it out, until you find what specifically works for you. Get down to what is happening in your heart and mind. And, for sure, don’t let shame hold you back from the Healer of your soul!

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-it-mean-for-jesus-to-despise-shame

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-child · loss-suicide

Shame-Part I

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore

And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot

In the Caribbean by providence impoverished

In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

The opening words of the play Hamilton. Loaded with possible shame.

In grief, shame can come in the strangest of ways. It can be in knowing or unknowing individuals making fun of that which you are going through, comments made to separate oneself from that type of situation or avoidance of speaking to someone in difficult circumstances.

When you have lost someone, sometimes people struggle with knowing what to say. I made a commitment not to judge others for this. I would have been the same way. In fact, I remember a time with a friend who lost a dear one and I did not know what to say and I did the same thing: I avoided, because I thought I would say the wrong thing. It was easier.

This has not been the bulk of my experience. The vast majority of my experience has been people who embrace and initiate. I have been extremely rich in this way. My community has embraced our family. But, when shame strikes: I have a verse that I think about to get me through the grief-filled moment. 

Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When it says that Jesus despised shame, I thought, yes, I can despise shame too!!!! I don’t have to receive shame. I can hate it and reject it. And, the anger that juxtaposes it. So, when I feel judged by myself or others, I think to myself, Jesus despised shame, I can too

He looked to the joy set before Him as the verse says. He knew why He was on earth and the purpose and actions that He must take. I, too, know that I have a purpose on the earth and I know that the Lord has things for me to do. I do not need to get bogged down in mud of shame. The enemy tries to hold my head in the filthy, muddy water of shame, plunging my head in, making me suffocate and gasp for air. Trying to make me dirtier than I already am. Wasting time. Whispering lies.

But, Jesus gives me this very, very practical example. He knew that He would endure the shame of His own disciples running away for a time, ashamed of Him. The shame of being flogged, tortured, mocked, questioned, spit at, yelled at, and complete exposure on the cross. Feeling abandoned by God and people. But, He went through the suffering anyway and fulfilled the job that the Lord had for Him on the earth.

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1:2

Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stand in the way of sinners,

nor sit in the seat of mockers,

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 

A blessed man is a delighted man, a man who is dwelling in the safety of his Refuge, relieved to be forgiven despite iniquity: he will enjoy God’s forever favor. He is full of satisfaction, because he is redeemed (Titus 2:14). 

Not getting caught up in sin brings joy. Sin is depressing. Instead of walking, standing, and sitting in sin, the blessed man can have happiness in the instruction (law) of the Lord, in the words of God. It is not joyous to get trapped and to go deeper into sin. This is a sneaky battle. Sin starts with words (counsel), moves to participation (way), and then a position (seat) at the table. The fighting, blessed man learns to walk, sit, and stand in holiness. But, this duel brings delight and freedom!

Delight is an activity of the heart, an internal state, where God is experienced. The blessed man wants to glorify God and devour His words. He is hungry, famished, starving. Delighting is devouring not duty. Devour is consistent contemplation, internalizing for direction. Not religiosity, but a need and a genuine desire for help or to be close to God. According to Martin Luther, “no prosperity, nor adversity, nor the world, nor the prince of it, can either take away or destroy” God’s Word; “for it victoriously burst its way through the poverty, evil report, the cross, death, and hell, and in the midst of adversities, shines the brightest.” Delight comes in knowing that though there is failure, there is forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-2). It is not a curse or duty to be in the law (God’s Word), but rather a delight, because of the immense mercy offered.

Meditating means to intently observe, to hunt, compare.  It means to chew the cud-like a cow. Swallow the Word, digest it, spit it back up, and do it again and again and again-getting the sweetness and nutritional value out of the Word. Sometimes I chew gum and get all the sweetness out of it. Chewing on God’s Word is similar. Each time you chew on a new piece, there can be a sweetness and a delight that satisfies. This sweetness helps cure the deeply hurting heart, the painful wounds, the aching of the soul, when nothing else works. Sometimes I chew one piece of gum, but it is not enough, it is too small of a treat, so I must get another and another. Same with God’s Word. Sometimes I just get a little hint of the healing or the truth being told to my tattered heart, but if I keep going a little longer, a little longer, my heart then gets a large dose of medicine, an epiphany, a catharsis.

Notice—truth is needed both in the day and in the darkness of night.

Loss-child · loss-suicide

Guilt

Grief consists of a tangled ball of emotions: sadness, anger, guilt, blame, rage, abandonment, trauma. It is not necessarily a neat predictable ordering of emotions. Each person can experience different emotions. Suicide grief has conflicting emotions and an intensity of emotions. Abandonment and rage, yet love and sorrow are felt.

I distinctly remember what I thought was a strong English writing assignment for Romeo and Juliet as a high school teacher. The assignment was called: “Who’s To Blame?” The essay prompt was asking who was to blame for the death of two teenagers who died by suicide. Was it Friar Lawrence and the Nurse who allowed them to marry? Was it the Capulets who had insisted that Juliet marry Paris? Was it the circumstances–including the killing of Mercutio? Was it fate? Was it timing? In none of these situations was abuse involved. Many movies are the same. The parents, antagonists, or others are typically to blame. The focus is on who is to blame instead of signs or suicide awareness or mental health awareness or the grief of the families/friends/communities afterward. 

Blaming others or self does not take away the piercing pain, it creates more pain: more anger, more bitterness, more hatred. Blame/guilt has been the hardest part of grief. Every action of parenting or relationship is analyzed. Maybe I tried too hard, maybe I didn’t do enough. The deepest sense of failure is felt.

But, this is the truth: you are not responsible for your loved one’s death in any way. Why do suicide survivors blame themselves: “Psychiatrists theorize that human nature…resists the idea that we cannot control all the events of our lives” so strongly that people would rather blame themselves than “accept the inability to prevent it” (SOS). The closer you are to the person, the more harshly you might blame, “I should have known or seen the signs.” However, we are human. We are not perfect people. We do not foresee perfectly. We do not have perfect discernment. Think of all of the things that you DID do to help your lost loved one. 

As I was reading the Gospels during the Covid shutdown, I read about the disciples not being able to cast out demons when they went out on their own in Matthew 17. They were human and not God. They were imperfect people, and even with Jesus right there, they did not have perfect discernment and power!

So, who is responsible? Notice, I said responsible. Responsible simply means an acknowledgement of fact. Blame is accusatory. This is the tricky part of grieving a suicide: many times (90%) clinical depression or mental illness is involved. Therefore, one is suffering in a black, treacherous pit of despair. Never did I know how powerful depression could be: a power unto itself. Likely, the forces of evil assaulted more than intensely, a frenzy of attack and ambush. However, on some level, “there was a conscious choice made…even if made with a clouded mind” (SOS). This is tough to swallow and survivors find it easier to blame themselves many times. Acknowledging this does not mean that you do not love them or that this defines their eternity. Just as I should not blame people for my actions, I should not blame myself for others’ actions. Free yourself from guilt.

(SOS Handbook) For those who have lost someone to suicide: suicidology.org/resources/suicide-loss-survivors/

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1:1

I am a year out from losing my youngest son and over the past six months have realized that reading Psalms really helps with grief. I have long gone to the Psalms when I needed comfort or direction. Now, I see the authors lamenting and then seeking God. Both of these coexisting: being real with the pain, but then remembering the truth of who God is and what His Word says. Grief and Glory. The Psalmists use a lot of metaphors–this helps those who are depressed or grieving. So, I have decided to study them in depth.

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 

Psalm 1:1

Psalm 1 was the very first Scripture I had ever studied. I had just become a believer and my friend, Lori, asked me to study the Word together. This became my life chapter.  I remember reading this Psalm and trying to figure out the meaning. I was 18. I read bits of  the Bible the summer before, but after praying to receive Christ as my Savior and Lord in December of 1988, I read the Word and it was different. Things made more sense. It was like blinders had come off. Now, 32 years later, I reread these same verses and there is still more digging to do and more wisdom to see.

Spurgeon reveals that this Psalm is called the “Christian’s Guide”–discovering the quicksand where the ungodly sink and the firm ground where believers stand. Augustine and Jerome claim that this Psalm is intended to describe the character of Jesus. Many see this Psalm as an introduction to the entire book of Psalms.

Blessed. This has been a very hard word for me to get my mind around while grieving. I have had a hard time understanding and believing that I am blessed now, because I am experiencing so much pain. But, the definition of this word helps-blessed means “deep-seated joy and contentment IN GOD”.  It may not be that I am feeling happy. But, I do know, even when I am angry with God (a normal part of grief), that I have a deep-seated joy and contentment–understanding His love for me and sacrifice for me. There is a core joy in my heart beneath all of the tears and hurt. Another definition is “redemptive favor”: the idea that He has redeemed me is what makes me “blessed.” His salvation is what makes me blessed.

This Psalm starts out similarly to the Sermon on the Mount: the first sermon that Jesus gives on the side of the Sea of Galilee to his disciples and listening Pharisees. It is a benediction-the utterance of a blessing upon a group of people.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or ungodly. Instead, he walks in the commandments of the Lord which brings the way of peace. Luke 1:79 encourages that the Lord can “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” His footsteps are ordered by God’s Word and he does not herd with those who do evil. It is important to remember, though, that hardship and suffering may come, even when we seek God wholeheartedly; however, obedience still brings peace.

The ungodly gives counsel.

The sinner has a way.

The scorner takes a seat.

What is the ungodly’s counsel? He doesn’t care about his salvation or the salvation of others. He advises: don’t trouble yourself with prayer or reading or repentance–thinking his ways are right, even appearing to live rightly. Maybe even taking the part of teacher, counselor, instructor but not being qualified as he does not humble himself to walk in the law of the Lord.

The sinner’s way? Pick your label. Pick your sin. Pick your vice. But, this verse says don’t STAND in it. Stand means to be “firm or fixed” like a column. Don’t stay in it like an ancient column in ruin. We all sin, but we can repent and seek restoration and forgiveness. We are all sinners. However, Christians are repentant sinners.

The scorner sits. Sits down. Makes themselves comfortable in the mocking of God and in believing all unbelief.

So, here we see the contrast between the unrighteous and the righteous. Both sin, but the godly person cares about salvation and the salvation of others. They repent and resist sin. This may be a huge battle, with many defeats, but it is a battle nonetheless; the believer is not comfortable in the sin and in mocking God.

The Psalmist, David, puts this in the negative: walks not… nor stands…nor sits. There is no room for having BOTH: Don’t listen to the godly and ungodly, don’t follow the sinner and the righteous, don’t sit with the scorner and the humble as to the way you should go. Sometimes we listen to both. This passage is saying don’t. Instead, go to the law of the Lord to instruct and teach and show you.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

loss-suicide

Preserve

All three of my kids worked as lifeguards in the summers. More than a year ago, driving him home from work, my youngest son, shared with me that he had rescued a little girl from the lake. She had fallen from a zipline into the water and was unconscious. Another lifeguard alerted him, and he picked her up out of the water. She awoke in his arms. 

Helping to save a life is a big deal. This is National Suicide Prevention Week. Over the years, as a teacher and counselor, I have aided many students through suicidal ideation/self-harm and assisted them in finding help in the deep water of depression. I had never lost anyone. This year, after losing my son, I have received many requests about helping people through suicidal thoughts. 

I picture being ready for this, much like CPR training, it is essential to stay fresh and updated. There is a QPR training at qprinstitute.com/individual-training that I find very insightful. It takes 60 minutes and costs $30. It is WELL worth the investment. Most suicidal people “tend not to self-refer, resist treatment, self-medicate, hide their level of despair, go undetected, and go untreated” (QPR).

Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR). This training gives strong questions to ask-indirectly-Have you been unhappy lately? And direct questions-Are you suicidal? It dispels myths such as—asking someone increases the risk. It teaches you how to be brave, listen well, and become a better listener. This is huge. Then, persuading the person to get help. “I want you to live. Will you go with me to see…?” If no, then refer, there are numbers to call 1-800-SUICIDE, hospitals to go, 911 to call. Relevant warning signs are covered. This small paragraph is no replacement for the training.

There are no guarantees. But, we can try hard and try to be as prepared as humanly possible. John Locke philosophized-we have the right to LIFE, liberty, and property. Jefferson wrote about LIFE, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. They called these natural rights. Locke believed our function was to create a society with others to work and PRESERVE both oneself and the community. We long deeply to help and preserve and love those who are suffering and sinking in this way. When the jailer…was about to kill himself…Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself!” (Acts 16: 27-28). This is the cry and prayer of my heart!

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art-Lana Ngo

Loss-child · loss-suicide

Tapestry

My life changed one year ago. Today I wake up to a warm early morning dawn, but I remember the nightmare of a year ago. The darkness of the night, driving to the dawn of a new day. A completely new day. A completely changed life. In shock-laying there in the crisp white bed sheets, clinging to one another. Feeling a pain so deep your body shuts down. Not knowing what to do. Just waiting and numb. Waiting for family and friends to face this reality with us.

This weekend with the While We’re Waiting (https://whilewerewaiting.org/) ministry, our leaders shared that losing a child to suicide is on par with a concentration camp experience according to the American Psychiatric Assoc. Corrie ten Boom survived the Holocaust, after a grueling experience with her sister Betsie. She writes her story in my favorite book The Hiding Place. I viewed this play last year, feeling the connection of pain yet hope. After WWII was over, Corrie traveled, speaking of her experiences and survival. She would show the audience the underside of a tapestry: there was a tangled, ugly mess. No rhyme or reason, just a bunch of threads going every which way, and lots and lots of big and small knots. The beauty of the tapestry could not be seen. On the front side-a beautifully embroidered crown.

God works through the very messiest of situations. In the midst of the worst, He can still be found, the Master Weaver. Betsie, Corrie’s sister, has one of the most abiding lives I have ever read about. Some of her words are some of the most gentle, insightful, focused perspectives in the midst of extreme evil: “The center of His will is our only safety. Let us pray that we may always know it.”

My missions pastor read Corrie’s poem to me as a comfort during this past year. It can be found in the home where she and her family hid people from the Nazis:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art-Lana Ngo

loss-abandonment · Loss-child

Dust to Dust

Dust to dust. Dust to Adam (Genesis 2:7). Adam to dust. Spirit to heaven. Spirit reunites with dust. New body. New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). No tears. No pain. But, for now, sin and brokenness create pain.

As I stare at the stone, I look at the dates. So young. So tragic. Why? What happened? The familiar, repeated whisper: Help me. The sun rises. The breeze blows. Ironically, I look to other gravestones for comfort. I see “1946-died at birth.” Ouch. How hard would that be. We are not alone in losing a child. I search for more. December 23, 1973-December 15, 1974. Less than a year of life. I start a subtraction frenzy, looking at every stone. Imagining what happened. 21 years. 30 years. 89 years. 12 years. A dad and a child died on the same day-maybe a car accident. Veterans: World War II, Vietnam, Korea. Heroic deaths maybe, others maybe not. Each life with its own lifespan. Each life with its own story. Some weak, some strong. I stand realizing, I too will be here one day. No one knows when, where, how. But, death awaits. Therefore, grief awaits. I think of The Book Thief. Someone shared a story of growing up orphaned with me this week and this strangely comforted me: Some of us grieve for a lifetime.

Romans 8:23-24 talks about the suffering and groanings of Christians: “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves (as does the creation), waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”

Our groaning is due to the corrupt conditions and sin in ourselves and others. The contrast between who we are and what we will be causes a deep groaning. I’ve never quite felt such groaning before now. But, now I really get this verse. Things are wrong in the world. But, we are to wait patiently, persevering, enduring the suffering, being ready, knowing that what the Lord allows is best. So, we groan, and the Holy Spirit can comfort us as we groan. “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;” The Spirit groans too and links our heart to His and ministers to us in our time of weakness.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-child

Questions-Part II

As I mainstreamed back into regular life, I was walking into Hobby Lobby.  I walked to the back of the store with all of the life sayings on wooden plaques. I was stunned. I read them and I talked to myself. I don’t believe half of these anymore! I was numb. Not that I received my wisdom from wooden rectangles, but it brought up questions. God, what am I supposed to do? Again, the question came like a bolt of lightning: I don’t understand WHY this happened. What am I supposed to do?  I lost my son! The thought came: Job.  That’s all I could think of. Job. So, I started thinking about Job. I googled Job 1. He lost 10 children! I never noticed that before. Ten children! I felt like I lost 10 children. He suffered so greatly and yet, it says that he was a righteous man (sinful, yes, but righteous because he believed God). Job didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to bring his calamity upon himself. I identified with this. I asked myself, in the middle of Hobby Lobby, how did he handle this?????? Answer: He didn’t curse You. He talked to You, He even questioned You, but continued to pursue You. THAT is what I am going to do.

So, I keep talking. To say that I lost my son for my betterment or growth does not make sense. Most answers to WHY do not satisfy. 1 Corinthians 13:12 states, we do not see fully on the earth; we see a poor reflection, but one day we will see face to face.

I keep questioning. When I ask why, I am saying that I need some answers. I keep asking until there is a transformation to what can I do to grow. Job asked 16x, Habakkuk asked God what He was doing, Jesus asked (Why have you forsaken me?) It is okay to ask. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). We don’t always know WHY, but we can focus on the answers that He HAS given. We can focus on the WHO. Who is going to heal this shattered heart? The One who brings comfort (James 4:8a-Come near to God and He will come near to you). We can focus on HOW-how can I use this in my life to glorify You? Those are some things that I DO know and can daily choose to focus on.

I keep pursuing. In Job 42, Job talks to God: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand… You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Job lost the God he knew. (I lost the God I knew. I thought life would have a certain pattern: I obey, things go well. I know that is very limited now.) Job was not sorry for his honesty with God, but for his narrow view. I had a narrow view. Job thought he knew God, but only when he lost everything, did he truly SEE God. This is my pursuit…to KNOW Him and SEE Him in the midst of great hurt.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-cancer · Loss-flood

Joy Found

Sometimes you smell something, but you don’t know what it is or where it is.

Summer of 2017, I was on a hiking vacation with my family when my best friend from college called me to pray for her, as she was having a biopsy for breast cancer.  We prayed for wisdom for her and she was quickly diagnosed with Triple Negative IDC, a very aggressive form. I smelled something.

The thought of losing my dear friend was terrifying – but constantly reminding myself of the truth that God is sovereign over every detail in our day brought comfort. 

When we returned home, on my to do list was that mammogram that I kept putting off, thinking it was a box to check off my long running late summer list before school starts – four days later I was sitting in front of my OBGYN hearing “You have cancer” in disbelief and uncertainty of what lay ahead. It was serious smoke for sure.  

In a whirlwind of daily appointments, scans, etc. – we had to make decisions and fast.  The Lord was so gracious to provide wisdom and establish a team of doctors and nurses that we felt confident to take this on.  God provided generously when we were not sure how to meet all the bills pouring in. God protected us when days before our major surgery, Harvey hit, as well as an outlet that caught fire AS WE WERE LEAVING home – we smelled smoke and could not pinpoint where – the Fire Department came, and found an outdoor outlet that the GFCI did not work.  Our entire house would have burnt down had we left!  

Despite all of this, God ‘s goodness poured out on us through supportive family, friends, and church community.  God gives wisdom as we continue on a preventative path to get to the root causes of my weak immune system.  God also gives healing in allowing me opportunities to be a vessel to share in my sufferings with newly diagnosed breast cancer friends. The smoke dissipated.

God brings trials into our lives to prove and increase the strength and quality of our faith – so what will you do when your trial comes?  Will you embrace it as an opportunity to grow?  Or be angry and bitter?  You have a choice! Count it all JOY. Trials are an opportunity to test your faith into a deeper communion with God and greater trust in Christ. Now, there was another scent–a sweet fragrance.

While we don’t know if a recurrence is in my future – we do know that we have a God who loves and cares for us and wants to be in our midst – whether the days are certain or not – He is unchangeable and we can rest in His constant unchangeable character! “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”  (James 1:2-4).

Contributor-Heather Harbuck

Photo credit-Dawid Labno

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic

Questions-Part I

There are many emotions in the grieving process. I started with questioning. The very first day after I lost my son, in my fog, I wondered how God could have allowed the death of my child.  Why did He not stop it? I have long leaned on the sovereignty of God. Sovereignty meaning that He is in charge of everything. How was it possible that He could have permitted this to happen? These are hard truths–brace yourself.

I recalled how God allowed Joseph’s brothers to throw him in the pit and be sold into slavery, He allowed a famine, He allowed Joseph to be unjustly accused and sentenced (Genesis 37-50), He allowed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 4:21, Romans 9:17) and the Canaanite’s hearts (Joshua 11:20), He allowed an evil spirit to torment King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14), He allowed evil to rise up against David in his own house (2 Samuel 12:11-12), Jonah was thrown overboard. Job lost 10 children. Sinful men convicted, tortured, and crucified Christ. The Holocaust. Pandemics.

On the first morning, I read in Isaiah 46: “for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning  and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” God was still in charge and He knew the beginning and the end. He doesn’t get surprised. He doesn’t stop being in charge, even for a second, an hour, a day.

I concluded: God allows people to make their own choices, allows demonic forces, allows evil for His purposes (Joseph/Job) or to discipline (Saul/David) or to lead unbelievers to repentance (Jonah/Jesus) or to bring judgment or deliverance (Canaanites/Pharoah). These things are not wrong on God’s part. God can govern the actions of sinful man. However, God is not evil and does not do evil. His goodness and mercy contrast starkly with unspeakable, dark evil.

I just reread little notes from my son’s friends who I met with and asked to write their questions. The number one question is: Why did God allow it? The why will never make complete sense to me on this earth, even if someone or God tried to explain it, nothing would justify his death. God doesn’t owe me an explanation. I told you, these are really raw truths, but this is genuine faith. I believe God and I trust that He is in control (Job 13:15a), He is good (1 John 4:10), and He understands (Psalm 147:5), even when I cannot see and even when it hurts.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Photo-Evan Dennis

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic · loss-suicide

A-Bomb

In the introduction to the book, 1984, a revolutionary book revealing the atrocities of Stalin’s regime and communism in Russia, which was released in 1945, it likens its release to the world with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski at the end of World War II, saying that it would change the face of the earth. Indeed. The book did and these bombs would kill and wound over 200,000+ people. As a point of reference, 500,000+ have died at the time of writing from Coronavirus. Another type of bomb.

What were the effects: some vaporized instantly, others felt the effects for days, months, years. Some were close to the bombing and some were at a distance. Keloid scars from burns, A-bomb cataract, trauma, disfiguration, bleeding, diarrhea, leukemia, cancer, radiation injury penetrates deeply into human body and injures cells. Deep painful effects.

An atomic bomb. This is how I picture the effects of suicide. According to the World Health Organization, despite efforts toward suicide awareness, a suicide occurs every 40 seconds. So, an atomic bomb drops on a family and community every 40 seconds. I think about this silent bombing often. Sometimes I will count 1, 2, 3…and realize this is happening—sometimes secretly and sometimes we read it in the newspaper. I pray for the unseen families and for the families I know impacted by suicide. I pray Isaiah 60:18, “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” That there will be NO MORE VIOLENCE IN THE LAND (within a family, within a school, within a community), but instead that the same people will find salvation and will praise God for His unexplainable mercy and grace and will seek help at all costs for themselves and others.

According to a 2016 study, it is estimated that 115 people are exposed to a single suicide. These people are called Suicide Survivors. Just as atomic bomb survivors must seek help, so must those who survive a suicide. Counseling, Bible studies, GriefShare texts, talking to friends/family, books, medication, listening to sermons or podcasts, helping others, educating oneself, problem solving, drawing near to the healer (Jesus)—healthy coping. There is help and depression can get better with help. Fight for life!! National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-parent · loss-suicide

Freedom

The phone rang and as I heard my aunt’s trembling voice, I immediately knew something horrific had transpired. “There’s been a terrible accident.” I hesitantly sat up, sensing deep inside something unfortunate had taken place. One day prior to this, I purposefully drove to see my dad, wanting to reach out and make sure he was fine.  My aunt dropped the unexpected and unwanted bomb: he was gone…I can still hear myself screaming frantically, “MY DAD, MY DAD, MY DAD!” As a believer, he had suffered from manic-depression and had taken his life. Ironic. I had been suicidal myself. Questions began to torture my mind: “Why him, not me?”

The reason for MY earlier despair was: unresolved issues. Lack of self-forgiveness caused great depression in me. I had been a Christian for so long and didn’t understand why I couldn’t be FREE of guilt. But 1 John 1:9 promised, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” The Bible proclaims Satan is the “accuser”-constantly reminding us of our sinful past. The enemy fills minds with unending doubt. His utmost goal–to “steal and kill and destroy.”

I stood firm believing my loving Savior’s words: “I came that they may have LIFE and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). I braved counseling and discovered that we are in a spiritual battle. People can pray over us, but ultimately, we are forced to take charge of our own life and commit to accepting that, and to live abundantly, we need to change our mindset. Every day, we need to choose between allowing Satan to rob us of our joy or rebuke him and live FREELY with the Lord. I live by His Word “So if the Son sets you FREE, you will be FREE indeed” (John 8:36).

Contributor-Ivette Menendez

Loss-child

Beggar

Last year I taught the Beatitudes and taught students to teach them. The first one is “blessed are the poor in spirit.” I remember describing it as being like a beggar on the filthy ground, teeth rotting, fingernails dirty, hair greasy, hands outstretched, hungry, thirsty, crying out desperately for help, in a place of serious need: “Help me!!!” Blessed means being satisfied/full. Blessed is the one who is super needy. The second one- “blessed are those who mourn.” Blessed is the one who is severely sad. In college, my pastor said these were the upside-down messages of Jesus. Paradoxes. The blessed are the lowly, the bottom of the heap of humanity. How can you be blessed and needy/sad at the same time?

I thought I understood the meaning. I did to the extent that I could. But, today I am truly “poor in spirit” as I mourn the loss of my son. I have been majorly humbled. As a child, I grew up in humble means. We did not have a lot of money, I did not wear the right clothes, drive the right car, wear the right shoes…but we worked hard. I was naturally poor in spirit, not having much to offer. But, as time has gone, with education and opportunity, pride has grown. It is easy to have haughty attitudes. Even when humbled by death, I can still choose pride over humility.


A friend challenged me that when we truly understand the Gospel of Grace, we will be gracious to others. This implies that I understand the sacrifice made for me and the enormity of my sin. I was immediately convicted of sin recently. Not seeing someone as FRAGILE, not being tender with someone’s feelings. When I understood the depth of my sin, I was humbled. I know this is where God wants me to reside, constantly reflecting on His mercy and goodness and gift of life, confessing MY sin. As I do this, through the Holy Spirit, I can change and be loving and patient. I can be TENDER and gentle with others: He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

Isaiah 66:2 reads, “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” as a beggar on the street. Understanding my need. Desperate for God. Satisfied in that. You are full and satisfied only when you understand your need for God.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art credit-Lana Ngo

Loss-cancer · Loss-child · Loss-parent · loss-suicide

Breathing Time

Breathe. Just breathe. In and out. Sometimes when you experience the same activity done with your deceased child with a different person, you can have a physical reaction as you experience the emotions. When this happens, I immediately ask friends to please pray for me.  It happened this week. As I breathed through my grief, I decided to listen to music on an errand.

As I drove, the Holy Spirit prompted the thought-Matt Redman lost his father to suicide. I read his story a few months ago. As I relistened to his famous song, “10,000 Reasons”, I had a completely new view. I imagined his pain and how that pain must propel him to worship God and encourage others to do so. I recalled my daughter: a few years back, playing this song on the piano to a group of cancer patients at the Ballard House. She came home telling how her group had gently sang this song together with the residents; I was so moved that she and her friends could bring lasting truth and hope to the hurting, suffering. I thought how they (facing the possibility of death) must have sighed deeply as they vocalized, “And on that day, when my strength is failing, the end draws near, and my time has come, still my soul will sing your praise unending…” I teared up thinking about the sweetness of this moment for all involved.

Now, I listened to this song again, and I took a deep breath as I continued the tune, “ten thousand years and then forevermore, forevermore.” This is the part that I thought about for days. My son is gone. That is the reality. I cannot bring him back. It hit me that I will have 10,000 years and forevermore with him and the Lord. That is a such a wonderfully big number!!!! Infinite.

The sermon in my head started: I need to be present while on the earth. I want to have 50 more years on this earth (I just turned 50)…so that I can support my husband, my daughter, my son, their spouses, their children, and their children and to share the hope of this God who is “slow to anger” and whose “heart is kind.” Each day I wake up claiming the promise that a friend, Mary Kay, gave me on a frame, “His mercies are new every morning…great is thy faithfulness, oh God!” Each day is a new day of mercy…a “new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again…whatever may pass and whatever lies before me”—we have no idea what will happen within each day, but we can still “be singing when the evening comes.” Our “life is a vapor” (James 4) and we “endure momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4) compared to the eternity waiting for us. Doing our “drop in the ocean” (Mother Teresa).

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-cancer

Transformation

Out of nowhere, a bird appeared in my window and the soft voice of the Holy Spirit reminded me–I was not alone. Following chemo, I would be confined to my room, feeling nauseated and weak, not wanting to be disturbed. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45 and thought, “I have lived a healthy life. What went wrong?” My focus had betrayed me– battling with self-esteem, I spent hours in the gym in search of “perfection.” This unwelcomed disease destroyed my dreams. I had a radical mastectomy and six rounds of chemo. Panic attacks during chemo would only subside with my family’s prayers. Looking in the mirror at 3 a.m. was horrifying–a reminder of disease and unrecognizable self. But, God works in mysterious ways: He announced my journey in a dream three months before being diagnosed. If God allowed this, I thought to myself, I wanted to be the faithful and strong woman in my dream. In Psalm 46:10, God told me to be still and know that He is in total control. He explained that He would keep me in perfect peace as I trusted in Him with all my heart (Isaiah 26:3).

Many of us think we’ve been walking with God, but the truth is–until something radical hits, this is when we know Him face to face. The scars on my body are a reminder of God’s love and mercy. In the midst of this, God whispered in my ear I should only listen to His tender voice. The loss of femininity and physical changes were the hardest to accept. During my walk to recovery, He revealed His unwavering love for me. In His Word, I found comfort; in prayer, I was strengthened. His revelation of who I am in Christ gives me peace. It’s been eleven years since my Father healed me. I know that I am complete in Him (Jer. 29:11).

Contributor-Ivette Menendez

Art credit-Tey Bearden

Loss-parent · loss-suicide

Mountain Journey

I received a phone call at 9 p.m. three years ago—it was my step-dad telling me that my mom was in the hospital. Or maybe it was my grandpa. I can’t remember. It’s a blur. A few hours later, a second call came. She was gone! Heart attack. My mom was only 62. Up to that point, I had never heard my husband wail. He did.

I immediately booked a flight leaving the next morning to Arizona. I drove two hours through the winding purple mountains to get to her home. When I was about 15 miles from the exit, all traffic suddenly stopped. The cars sat. Staring. Helicopters began to hover over. Thundering, loud sounds from these machines. People began to open vehicle doors and look up. I ambled to the car in front of me, “Do you know what is going on?”
“No.”

Next, three armored SWAT trucks and about six police cars formidably waited behind us. They directed to move all vehicles to the right side of the road and proceeded to pass by with circumstance. Someone asked the police what was going on.

A man was in his car with a gun. Threatening himself.

Two hours later, no cell phone service, no bathroom, with hundreds of others, I decided to turn around, and take a new route—the very long route to my mom’s house—-a six hour drive around Roosevelt Lake. As I drove, I honestly thought about myself and why God was putting me through this. I talked, I prayed. It gave me time to think about all my mom had done for me as a teenage mom and how sometimes we take time with people for granted. Losing a loved one takes us on a journey much like my trip around the lake—it can be unexpected, filled with many tears, regrets, guilt, anger, questions, maybe a long path, maybe puts us on a new path-but eventually we reach a destination.

Another layer to this story unfolded for me last week as I told it—-now, when I tell this story, all I can think about is the man in the car. His family. Three helicopters, three SWAT trucks, six police cars—I am grateful for the lengths that they went to save his life!!

God is always for LIFE——regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, age, sins committed, convenience.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art credit-Lana Ngo

Loss-child

War

“I feel like I’ve been in a war.” This is what I uttered out loud slowly to God one day as I drove in the car somewhat aimlessly and stopped in front of a local bookstore. I felt war-torn, beat up, traumatized, thrown to the ground, shredded to pieces, wounded, barely walking, barely able to get up, dazed, confused, disoriented. I pictured the scene from many war movies—of a hospital with beds lined up right next to one another. There we were like incapacitated soldiers: my husband, my daughter, my son, me-laying in the beds–our heads wrapped, our bodies wrapped—not able to get up—with one empty bed. We were severely wounded, grieving, and it would take time to heal.

At that moment, I looked up verses about fighting through this, asking God to help me continue in the battle. I found 1 Timothy 6:12-Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I discovered Ephesians 6:12-For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

I realized, yes, indeed, we had been in an intense struggle: a spiritual battle with a very serious enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy…and lie and confuse and twist and scare and guilt and shame. But, the ultimate victory for the war belonged to the Lord of hosts. Romans 8:37-No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. We would get up. We would heal. I also knew that after healing, we would need to get up and return to battle. I vowed that I would get up, not give up, and would continue sharing.

Yesterday I needed strength and a friend read this over me in Psalm 27-Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. I have to keep going, trusting God and His ways, seeking healing, and continuing to battle against lies, untruths, and attacks.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art credit-Michael Huang

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic · loss-suicide

Loud and Quiet Pain

My journal reads…“I thought about the initial shock last night. The moment I knew (I had lost my son)…and the shudder, shock, horror that burst through my body. I immediately numbed and the tremors of crying and wailing, like nothing else. I fell to the ground, crying out for God’s help. I felt that I couldn’t handle the pain. You scream for the pain to be released, like a pressure cooker, but louder.” My pain was so loud. Contrast this with those whose pain is silent. Silent. Can you hear silence or do anything about silence? Look out for silence. Do some have so much pain inside, all bottled up inside, but they can’t cry out and scream for help. Oh, how I wished they would! Why is some people’s pain deadly quiet and mine was so loud? “I stepped out of my door and cried the loudest guttural cry of my life-from the depths of my soul—echoing down my street—“Help…me…God!” 

Today as I do laundry and clean, little pings of pain hit as memories mottle the mind. I whisper to the Lord, “Help me, Lord” and He does, because I know He hears and cares.

In the midst of this, a dear friend prayed for me that I would have endurance in the pain. Hebrews 12:1-2 reads “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to JESUS, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him ENDURED the cross…” When Jesus endured the cross, Matthew 27 explains that He too cried out in a LOUD voice. Isaiah 41:10 promises,”Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I WILL HELP YOU, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Jesus is our salvation and our help right in the middle of the pain. 

Inevitably, we will have pain in life. Today I read about healthcare workers: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/16/health/coronavirus-ptsd-medical-workers.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200517&instance_id=18563&nl=the-morning&regi_id=119103292&segment_id=28165&te=1&user_id=17b0d4d5df6a1e8b81955fd8a41cc5be

No one can fully take your pain, but they can help you endure it. Don’t be silent. Whether our pain is great or small, it is more than okay to cry out for HELP to GOD and to OTHERS in a loud or quiet voice. It is good, it is right, it is needed.

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art credit: Lana Ngo

Loss-child

Why Grief and Glory?

Today is May 11, 2020. Nine months ago, I lost my 15-year old son tragically. For the past months, I have been journeying through a treacherous grieving process. The hurt is deep. I have read tons of books, been to grieving small groups, countless hours of counseling, talked to myriads of friends and family, read my Bible for hours, listened to sermons, walked and exercised to try to grieve in a healthy manner. Gratefully, I have tons of support, but even with all of this, last week I wept and ached and hurt deeply–missing my son–and I talked with my husband for hours, recounting the depths of my heart: questions, regrets, sorrows. This this is part of the WHY on GRIEF.

What about GLORY? As I journey through these sorrows, there is HOPE. After losing my son, we sold our family home. Before it sold, I would go inside and pray for the next family who would live there. One day, while there, I received a letter from my son’s summer camp. He had written a note to himself and it came to our mail about six weeks later. As I read the note, the Lord answered a very specific prayer showing me his commitment to the Lord and I sobbed. I walked outside our home and laid on the ground with the noon day sun on my face. I could see the bright light through my eyelids and as the sun warmed my body; I prayed and told God that this sun reminded me of His glory–a bright light and presence. In that moment, He reassured me that my son was with Him in His glory and an overwhelming peace came over me. I thought of the promise of salvation and was overwhelmed by the idea of MERCY–we do not get what we deserve for our sin and this is truly amazing news.

So, this blog is dedicated to my son and is an effort to comfort those who have loss (there are many kinds of loss) and to encourage you along the journey to continue to have HOPE despite your pain and suffering.

Contributor-Liana Vincent