Loss-child

Stay Out of the Pit

When grieving, it is easy to fall into a pit. The whole thing is a big, huge process. But, here are some ways to try to stay out. First, look at your views.

When grieving, we may have a tainted view of God.

“I could have come up with a better plan than this.”

“It does not seem fair.”

“God is not helping me.”

As a result, we experience unsteadiness, anxiety, and anger at God.

However, we can choose to believe the truth about God:

  1. He is growing His children (James 1:2-4).
  2. God will be a strength and refuge (Psalm 46:1).
  3. He is still faithful and good (Psalm 119:75).
  4. His ways are right and just, though I may not understand or see (2 Cor. 4:8/Heb. 11:1).

The more we choose to believe the truth about God, the results are:

  1. Hope (Romans 5:3-4).
  2. Willingness to wait on God (Psalm 130: 5-6).
  3. Strength in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

We can also bring wrong thinking about ourselves into grief:

I deserve better than this. I should not have to suffer. It is not fair.

It is more important for me to be happy than holy (Jer. 2:11-13).

I thought I would have an easy life and I look to those circumstances as my source of peace, hope, joy.

Hardship in life equals bad for me.

I will never get out of this pain. This will last forever.

It doesn’t seem like I am growing. I am getting worse.

Since this is so painful and hard, I can’t do anything.

Something is wrong with me. I am embarrassed.

I am afraid of rejection. 

I am unlikeable.

I feel abandoned. I feel alone/lonely and like no one else is dealing with this.

I am not sure if I can ever be happy again.

We can also choose right thoughts about ourselves:

  1. I am one with Christ (John 17:21).
  2. Christ died to save me and to give me a purpose to display Him in the midst of the hardest times (Rom. 8:28-30/Is. 43:7).
  3. I am willing to suffer for His name to be made known (Phil. 3:8-10).
  4. Christ was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). I will grow through suffering.
  5. There are things I will never understand (Deut. 29:29).
  6. I am the created, He is the Creator. I will humble under God and believe His ways and thoughts are higher than mine (Is. 55:8-9).
  7. Even if the hard things last my whole life, it is a small time compared to eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
  8. I can keep following Jesus in His strength for His glory today (John 14:15).

In grief, wrong thinking about others crops up:

  1. People do not understand me.
  2. How dare such and such treat me that way.
  3. That person is damaging my self-esteem.

We can choose right thinking about others:

  1. What truth do others need to hear or see from me today? How will I accomplish that? (2 Cor. 1:4). TobyMac says he is on the edge of his seat expectant for what God will do each day.
  2. Others are better than myself (Phil. 2:3-4).
  3. How can I love others? (Matt. 22:37-39).
  4. How can I display Christ to someone who has wronged me today? (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

Lastly, we can choose right actions:

  1. Trust God (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
  2. Ask others to pray for you.
  3. Seek fellowship with believers, sing praises, hear messages (Heb. 10:25).
  4. Reach out to others in service (Matt. 20:28).
  5. Ask God what you are responsible for in a given situation (communicate, deal with anger or anxiety).
  6. Get out of bed with an alarm.
  7. Make a list of duties and carry them out. Ask a friend to hold you accountable (Gal. 6:5).

David echoes this: “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2). This is a battle and a daily fight and is not easy. It may be two steps forward, one step back. But, it is worth seeking this freedom with the Lord’s help.

Contributor-L. Vincent

loss-abandonment · Loss-abuse · Loss-addictions · Loss-cancer · Loss-child · Loss-divorce · Loss-flood · Loss-pandemic · Loss-parent · Loss-pornography · Loss-spouse · loss-suicide

Not Abandoned

Today is Good Friday. Today, we remember Jesus, beaten and broken on a cross, in extreme pain, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He felt alone and abandoned for a moment. 

This fulfilled and hearkened to the same cry that David had in Psalm 22.  

And that Job had. 

At one point, Job felt that God had torn, gnashed, broke, dashed, slashed, and hated him (17:4-14)-his words, not mine! 

In pain and grief, there are moments when you wonder if God has abandoned you.

Job felt totally abandoned and alone and in the middle of his battle, cried out for mercy two times! (19:21) It was at this climax, that he proclaimed that HE KNEW THAT HIS REDEEMER LIVES!!! At the point of his greatest despair, his faith was at the highest level.

Astoundingly, he knew that he was in need of a Redeemer (19:25). Job likely lived after the time of the Tower of Babel but before or during the time of Abraham. When ALL was taken and friends did not understand and even accused him, he knew he needed REDEMPTION and God would vindicate him. 

He knew that there would be a day of justice (“at the last He will stand upon the earth”) when he would SEE GOD with his own eyes. This is where he goes for COMFORT. 

For Jesus, He was experiencing the outpouring of divine wrath as He bore our sin. All three: Jesus, David, Job experienced reproach and ridicule. All three kept relying on God through it and experienced his rescue and mercy.

The truth is: God was always watching over Jesus, David, and Job. God never ditches His people. Hear this: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). And this: “For he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5b-6). And it goes on and on: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ And God said, ‘I will be with you’ (Exodus 3:11-12). 

God does not leave us while we suffer. He has compassion for us and stays with us. He is the Father who stays!! He does not desert us and this is the greatest promise ever. He never dumps us but is right next to us as we cry and hurt. He never mocks our suffering or our faith. He wants us to reach out to Him and let Him comfort us. He wants us to talk honestly and openly. Jesus, because he felt forsaken, understands us completely. God does not hide His face from us, but rather is listening and hears every cry.

Psalm 22 ends with these words: he has done it. Jesus said, “It is finished.” We have a Redeemer who gets every ounce of our agony, affliction, and aching. Today we remember the darkness He went through to save us. He died for the broken. He was broken for the broken. He is with the broken. This is my body broken for ____. Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have MERCY on me, a sinner.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Photo-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Comfort

When friends are grieving, it is hard to know what to do or not to do. Even if you have grieved before.

Job lost almost everything. Eliphaz and Bildad (Job’s friends) wisely started by sitting silently with their friend for seven days. They gave Job credit for being wise and helping others before his losses hit his life.

However, they, then, resorted to accusing him of not fearing God (15:4), being prideful (15:9) and even mocked his pain and the sounds of his trauma (15:20-21). They did not let him be honest and real in his grief.

The most damaging part: They wrongly believed that all blessings were caused by obedience and tragedy was caused by sin. Thus, they failed to hear Job and lacked empathy. 

A third friend emerged and attacked Job on a new level. Zophar accused him of being guilty and unrepentant. He told Job that he should have had wisdom and to devote his heart to God, to pray for forgiveness, and to put sin far away. 

Interestingly, even though Zophar was wrong about Job, there was truth about sin in what he said: if there is sin, changing is the correct answer. Stop what we are doing, examine our hearts, go before God, identify and turn away from sin, and recognize patterns to try to grow.

In fact, Psalm 51 is a good guide for repentance. David had sinned with Bathsheba and we see his remorse. He appealed to God’s mercy (v. 1-2), he did not make excuses for his sinful behavior (v. 3-4), his desires changed and he wanted purity in thought and deed (v. 6), and lastly this led to praising God for the freedom he experienced after confessing (v. 14-17). When we confess, we can repent without regret, earnestly and eagerly clearing ourselves, hating the sin, longing for restoration and desiring justice (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Repentance is a good thing.

The problem was: Job’s problems were not due to sin. Job is the ultimate example of dramatic irony. The reader knows something that the characters do not and we know that Job’s sin did not cause his losses, but his friends did not know this. And, this is life. Sometimes tragedies are due to sin, sometimes not.

So, we need to be careful as friends, seeking much discernment: being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”(Matt. 10:16). But, the insightful friend looks at 1 Thess. 5:14 (And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all) and asks: is a person dealing with sin or are they fainthearted and weak? If fainthearted and weak: comfort, help, encourage, be patient.

Humble people have shared their stories and failures and hardships to comfort and encourage me and have listened for hours on end. This vulnerability has brought tremendous help.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Photo-A. Tikhonova

Loss-child

Not the Same

“We are not the same people.”

“I know.”

I cannot count the number of times that my husband has whispered this to me.

On the outside, a grieving person looks like the same person. They walk around and seem like the same person. But, on the inside, something has changed.

If you have ever read 1984, in the last chapter, Julia and Winston meet after betraying one another. They have both been drastically tortured. Winston notices changes in Julia-her face is sallow, a scar, and that her waist is thick and stiff. Physically and emotionally there were changes. Now, when they see each other, they are numb: “Something was killed in your breast: burnt out, cauterized out.”

There may be hidden physical and emotional changes. The griever may have not slept for days, weeks, or even months through the night. They may have experienced PTSD-flashbacks to the events preceding their loved one’s death. Recurring thoughts about what they could have done differently. 

In the movie and true story, Born on the Fourth of July, in the midst of chaos, as a squad leader in Vietnam, Ron Kovic accidentally killed a fellow soldier, Billy Wilson, a 19-year old in his squadron. The guilt tore him up. He suffered with PTSD and the reality of paralysis. He broke down with his parents–unleashing the enormous anger inside. The anger at himself, anger at God, anger at anyone around him, anger at the government, anger at his circumstances. He looked for relief from the anger and guilt and shame in drugs, alcohol, sex, and a new place. 

But, one day, he decided to face Billy Wilson’s family and sought forgiveness and truth. After Ron explained how he believed that he was the one who killed Billy, Billy’s mom comforted, “We understand the pain you’ve been going through.” One sufferer comforting another sufferer. She lost her son: she understood pain. Ron suffered with guilt; she released him. 

Ron was not the same person coming back from Vietnam. Grievers are not the same people. They may look the same, but they have been through sometimes unspeakable journeys. They don’t want pity, but it’s good to try to understand the depth, even if you never talk about it. Sometimes it is just your presence.

They are asking: who am I now? It takes time to figure out new identity, but there are answers. There is hope. 


Meanwhile, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Heal & Grow

Today I realize that I will be in a spiritual battle the rest of my life. If this seems like a negative thought, another way to think of it, is that I will be running a race of perseverance. That was always the case, the moment I believed in Christ, it’s just that since the loss of my son, I realize it even more. I am more dependent on God now for my daily thoughts. I must constantly seek truth and His Word to keep myself healthy.

Paul said this too: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

GOOD NEWS: HEALING AND CHANGE ARE POSSIBLE

In the midst of suffering or grief, a person is vulnerable to attack. The person is weak. In our loss, we bring thoughts about God, ourselves, and others to the table. We also bring our desires and our motivations. These are not always aligned with truth. We fight to know the truth and believe it.

There are many theories that the world uses to try to help us in our suffering. Many tell us to change our thoughts and possibly our environment in order to see change in our lives. This is a good beginning, some of it works in the moment, but there can be many missing components: 

First, the Lord and need of a Savior. For the Christian, God is at work through the Holy Spirit in our lives. He can change us. His Presence can change us. 

Second, ourselves. Many theories treat us as the “victim”-that we are grieved, anxious, depressed and there is nothing we can do about it. But, Scripture says, we CAN grow and we CAN change and we CAN heal. Practically, we can get medication, counseling, learn to breathe, get exercise, manage our time. All those things are good. But, most importantly, we can seek God for long-term change. We are not victims. There is hope. This is a gradual and lifetime process, it takes time and effort and IS worth it. 

Lastly, God’s Word. God’s Word is truth and it can challenge the lies, the desires, the motivations. God has given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him” (2 Peter 1:3)

HEART CHANGE

Another missing piece-changing our thoughts is not enough. Our hearts need change. What does that mean? That means our desires, motivations-what we long for, yearn for, crave and how we satisfy these. 

In our hearts, we may know what is right, but desire what is wrong. Eve knew what was right. Abraham knew what was right. David knew what was right. Yet, they chose to do wrong. James 4 explains that we can know what is right, yet do wrong. James 1 talks about how yearnings (even good desires for acceptance, security, identification, satisfaction, happiness, approval, comfort, escape, strength, pleasure, success) can turn into sin. James 4 asks, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions [my lust, my pride, my selfishness and more] are at war within you?” Am I willing to sin to get my desire? Am I willing to sin if I don’t get my desire?

The battle is in this. First, in the heart. To put off and confess old patterns and choices (identifying the desires/passions) and to put on the “new man”-renewed thinking, having a new pattern of truth. This is where change happens. Then, actions follow the change in thinking and motivations. Then, peace. Sounds nice and linear. It’s much more messy.

I will be trusting God with some really hard truths and some really hopeful promises the rest of my life. This is the major and most important part of my coping with my loss. The good news: healing and change are possible.

Contributor-L. Vincent

loss-abandonment · Loss-abuse · Loss-addictions · Loss-divorce · loss-suicide

LOVE

Today is Valentine’s Day. This makes us think about love. One genuine act of love is FORGIVENESS, a free gift that God gives us every day. Forgiveness is love and counteracts anger, a feeling that a normal part of grief.

In the 1990s, a book called The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent, taught people to forgive others through writing.

When my kids were little, I taught them the four promises of forgiveness (within the context of learning to overlook, talk it out, and get help with conflicts) from Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker:

I promise I will think good thoughts about you and do good to you (good thought).

I promise I will not bring up this situation and use it against you (hurt you not).

I promise I will not talk to others about what you did (gossip never).

I promise I will be friends with you again (friends forever).

If we read these as an adult, we quickly see that this is not easy to do with severe hurt, but the possibilities of freedom for all involved are huge.

If I forgive someone, I usually focus on the offense and then work to forgive that hurt. Then, if that event/offense comes to mind again, I forgive again (Jesus said 77 x 7), and so on (Matthew 18:21–22).

I thought I knew quite a bit about forgiveness based on these things, but I learned something HUGE this year in the book, Forgive What You Can’t Forget by Lisa Terkeurst. The author has insight into forgiveness: she suggests writing down not only the sin that occurred against you, but all of the EFFECTS that the person’s actions had on you. A friend told me that this is a part of TRAUMA recovery.

The EFFECTS can create so much anger and bitterness, in some ways, without our awareness! The effects are what people are typically dealing with after the offense has occurred. So, yes, forgive the act, but also any effects that came about due to the act. This is powerful.

I forgive you for the act (write it out). I forgive you for the effects (make a list). And keep adding to your list as things occur. Then, if you want to be symbolic and concrete about it, take something red and place it over the list, symbolizing that Jesus died for ALL of this. This is one piece of how to forgive a traumatic event. This sounds simplistic but is a process and may take time. Be gentle with yourself as you try to even think about forgiving a large hurt. Ultimately, it will free YOU. Love yourself and others with the gift of forgiveness.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

Contributor- L. Vincent

Photo-B. Kerckx

Loss-cancer · Loss-child · Loss-flood · Loss-pandemic · loss-suicide

Suffering

There is a core question that most grievers ask at some point: Why does suffering exist? Why do some suffer greatly and others do not?

In the past I would have answered: to help you grow (John 15), to grow your character (Heb. 12), to show you where you misplaced your hope (1 Peter 1:13-14), to make you stronger, more persevering (James 1). And, this can absolutely be true. But, now I realize that there is MORE to this answer–that there are some kinds of suffering that will never have answers. 

Sometimes suffering comes from our own sin or others’ choices to sin. Other times, we do not know why we are suffering. Sometimes it is a combination of the two.

John 9: 1-3-As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So, when Jesus was asked if the blind man’s suffering was caused by sin, he answered that there was a greater purpose. 

Sometimes things happen in heaven that humans know nothing about and that can’t be explained. Sometimes very difficult things happen to faithful people. It is simplistic to think that sin is always the cause of suffering. 

In the book of Job, one day in heaven, the angels and Satan gathered. Satan accused Job of following God because of the protection and blessings. Job was described as blameless, upright, one who feared God. His family was close-knit. God, then, allowed Satan to test Job within certain limitations. The Lord allowed Satan to remove his blessings, but protected Job’s life.  God could have prevented the suffering, but He did not.

There were two tests: In the first test, Job lost his 10 children, servants, all possessions. 10 children.

In the second, he lost his health.

In the first test, he answered, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In the second test, he answered, “Shall  we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job’s answer was both humble and even grateful. He had been completely broken, yet he maintained faith. He understood that a faith-filled life did not guarantee a life free of pain and sorrow. If faith only mattered in good times, it did not matter at all.

Job also grieved: he fell to the ground, his heart was heavy (6:1), he felt punished and mocked (6:4-6, 23), he lost his appetite (6:7), he was in massive pain, with little hope (6:8), he had nights of misery and tossed in the night (7:4), he thought he would never see good again (7:7), he asked hard questions like why even try (6:29-30) and wondered if God was fair (6:22), yet, he appealed to God for mercy (6:15) and saw Him as holy, wise, strong (9:4-10). All of these are very normal in severe grief. Reading Job can be a relief to a griever–seeing a faithful person experience the same emotions, questions, and yet still have faith.

John Stuart Mill and others claim that God cannot be omnipotent AND good at the same time. However, in Job, it is seen that God is in control and is good. He also allows suffering for a purpose and has a relationship with Job through it. What is the good-this is not fully answered, but partly that Job would continue in his faith regardless of the most severe circumstances. But, Job knew nothing of the events and conversations in heaven. This is the humbling of man-he does not know everything or the reasons for everything.

Martin Luther King, Jr. explains that God’s goodness is a high and fixed purpose aiming at the supreme good of man, and that accomplishing His purpose reveals His true power. And, His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).

Job never knew about the scene in heaven. He never had answers for the reason for his losses. And, for some kinds of losses this is the case. The believer will have to learn how to keep living and have faith WITHOUT answers.

Job, also, could not make the connection of his own sin and the atrocities that happened. Yes, he was a sinner, and he confessed this, but the severity of the losses did not match the sins he committed. He understood that any bit of mercy from God was a gift, but this degree of suffering did not make sense.

In the case of suicide, it is true that the victim sinned (in great pain and darkness); but for the survivor, the question is-why did God allow this? The survivor will have to learn to live without the full answer and this is super hard, but doable.

God allows the suffering of His children. God is sovereign over all that we experience: our grief, our physical ailments, our humiliation. Our suffering does not take God by surprise (Hebrews 12:5-6; 1 Peter 1:6; John 15:2). God gives us grace in our suffering (2 Peter 1:3). In the middle of suffering, it is important for the believer to remember that God is at His core, good. In the end, what did Job cling to? He had his faith in God’s goodness and the hope of his salvation. 

Contributor-L. Vincent

Photo-L. Vincent

Loss-cancer

Salons, Scissors & Seeking

God still works miracles! I remember the day I decided to shave my head. I didn’t want to have to deal with seeing big strands of my hair fall off due to chemo. I woke up early that morning and got in the shower, thinking to myself that I would make an appointment at the hair salon and drive over. I was determined to be radical in my brave decision to cut it ALL off! 

In my younger years, I had watched the movie GI Jane and the actress Demi Moore just looked SO COOL!!! I had even thought, if I lived in Europe, I could probably pull it off and get the look.  

As I was getting dressed and thinking of where and who could do the job, my phone rang unexpectedly. Amanda’s Salon, one of the high-end beauty salons in the city, was on the other end of the phone line.

Amanda’s soft voice greeted, “A friend at church told me you might be needing a haircut.” I could not believe what I heard! I told her I was just about to grab the phone and make an appointment to get my head shaved off. She told me I didn’t have to go anywhere, because she wanted to come over and help me out.  

Instantly, I thought how awesome and amazing God is. He knows our desires and always shows us that He IS WORKING THINGS OUT that we can’t see!  

She ended up coming over, and even prayed for me before starting the process. This moment in time reminds me of God’s LOVE and MERCY. He is in the smallest of details. Sometimes His miracles are in the middle of the hardest, most painful things that we go through in life. And, in the painful, fearful place, He shows up with a miracle, and it is the very same place that we worship Him. PAIN/FEAR to MIRACLE to WORSHIP. 

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7 

Contributor-Ivette Menendez

Photo-Kadir Celep

Loss-spouse

Stones of Remembrance

Dartmouth College has developed a Life Change Index Scale also referred to as “The Stress Test.” One is to go through the listed events assigning them a designated score for that event. Events include death of a spouse or close family member, divorce, loss of job, moving, change in eating habits, etc. The higher the score, the harder it will be for one to recover. Many of us have gone through such events. How is our recovery going?

Think of Joshua and the Stones of Remembrance. After the loss of a close family member (Joshua and the Israelites had lost Moses), after moving (they had moved around for forty years), and after experiencing a change in eating habits (think manna and quail)-What would Joshua’s score have been? What would all of the Israelites score have been?

According to Dartmouth, it would be very high, and they were at risk for a very difficult recovery.  Yet, despite the stressful events, including crossing what was a full river Jordan (yet miraculously dried), Joshua decided that a memorial should be built, “Stones of Remembrance.” He wanted them to REMEMBER all that God had done: To stop and take the time to reflect on God’s faithfulness in the middle of their stressful circumstances and to use this to teach their children about who God was.

In Joshua 4, the Israelites built a memorial out of stones. These stones were taken from the middle of what could be considered the SOURCE of their stress. The Jordan River. This was also the exact spot of miraculous work. They stayed longer in the dried-up source of stress, the place of miracles, to create a memorial to remember God’s divine deliverance and great goodness. In the exact same dirt: the source of stress, a miracle, then worship.

The stones were to serve as a prompt–so that future generations would ask what the stones were for and they would be told the testimony of how they could not cross the Jordan River (their stress) until it was dried up by the Lord. So that ALL could know that “the hand of the Lord is MIGHTY, so that [they would] fear the LORD [their] God forever.”  

I want to be like Joshua, allowing the Lord to use stressful events and my recovery to bring him GLORY for generations to come. Now… what will my “stones” be?

Contributor-A. Rightmire

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic

How Long, O Lord

This is a New Year. Over the past year, I have listened to many sermons. Many focused on the disappointments of Covid. Changes, cancellations, job loss, death-all unexpected & unwelcome. 

We are not used to suffering. We are not used to death. Understandabily. It hurts.

In the middle of unforeseen tragedies, there is groaning deep inside: HOW LONG, O LORD? 

Maranatha means, “Come, Lord Jesus!” I whisper this more often these days when I hear news of another strand of the virus, or of a neighbor dying from Covid, or a friend’s friend losing their child to suicide. I wonder–how long, O Lord? How long until Covid is gone? How long until You come back?

It reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years asking the same question. But, I also think of how they persevered in great trouble. Generations of people in history have withstood massive suffering: the Roman Empire brutality, the Black Death, religious wars in Europe, the Crusades, slavery, potato famines, the Holocaust, the French Revolution, corrupt kings, the Russians under Stalin, the Italians under Mussolini, wars, wars, and more wars.

Paul David Tripp comforts that “Scripture never looks down on the sufferer, it never mocks his pain, it never turns a deaf ear to his cries, and it never condemns him for his struggle.”

Lam. 3:22-23 states “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease. For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” Lovingkindness means loyal love, faithfulness based on a promise, not on performance. Since the death of my son, this verse has woken me up every morning. I awake and don’t plan to say it, but I do. I rely heavily on its promise.

How long? God’s answer: I am faithful. No time given. This year, take one day at a time. Each day with new mercy, focusing on God’s character. A challenge-choose to remember, think, speak, sing of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

We aren’t the only ones who have asked this question. This is David speaking in Ps. 13  likely during the time that his own son tried to stage a coup to overtake him:

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?

How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul,

Having sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Mary & Joseph Believe

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Each year at Christmas, I revisit the story of the birth of Christ and try to see a new aspect of something I hadn’t seen before. One day while listening to the song “Precious Promise” by Steven Curtis Chapman, I thought about the unforeseen circumstances of their story.

Mary’s condition would have surely caused her and others to shame and question. Pregnant? Not wed? Mary had done no wrong to bring about this particular result. Luke reminds that she had found favor with God. Questions and fears were likely for Mary. How was this happening? And, would Joseph believe? Yet, she rejoiced. Her faith was remarkable in the Magnificat. She saw God’s mercy toward her, even though this may have been difficult: “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

Joseph’s faith was surely tested. Would he believe even when he didn’t understand the occurrences? At first, he considered divorce. But, God intervened supernaturally. Would he act on his faith and believe the angel, though his circumstances might be perceived as shameful? Would he worry about what others thought or continue to obey God? He chose to obey God.

Later, their son was crucified. Ouch and double ouch: The pain this couple endured. They were just ordinary people like us. Their marriage survived it. Hearing stories of others who face agonies, can inspire, embolden, and fortify.

This year I see something new in the Christmas story: humans and God together in the midst of confusing, unexpected events and facing shame, yet glorifying Him. Mary and Joseph both had to trust God and believe that God would do something bigger than their situation. They chose faith rather than fear. They must have believed that God was good.

In grief, this is essential too: to continue to believe despite plights and predicaments. It is hard and at times, hearts doubt, because suffering hurts so much. Your faith may feel like a tiny mustard seed some days, but that is okay. Maybe Joseph and Mary felt that way too at first. This story can strengthen and encourage perseverance through confusing hardship.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Psalms Devotional

Psalm 1: 4-6

The wicked are not so,

 but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1:4-6

Literally: “Not so the wicked, not so.” This is a double negative, emphasizing the fact that the blessings, previously discussed, are not true for the wicked. Wicked-this is such a strong word. What does this word mean? Those who reject God. Those who don’t enjoy the rushing water and refreshment of God-closeness with God. The wicked do not love the law of God; they are not like trees planted by streams. “They are like chaff.” The husks around the grain that have no life-giving nourishment. Chaff is easily carried away by the wind: no matter how much power–industrially, academically, monetarily. Chaff is dead. Dead to what? Dead to God…not alive in Him. 

This begs the question-who are the righteous? Scripture says that there aren’t any (Rom. 3:10)! True, so, the righteous are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered, whose iniquity is not counted, the one who trusts in the Lord (Ps. 32). They are not perfect, but real. They look to the Lord for help and for hope (Ps. 146). They do not have a righteousness of their own or from the law (Phil. 3:9), but from faith in Christ.

On earth, the righteous and the wicked commingle. In heaven, they do not. This is sobering. In heaven, tares are separated from the wheat.

The Lord watches/approves/attends/acknowledges/affirms/guides the righteous, even when they are in darkness or in the “tempest of affliction” and He understands. Job says, “He knows the way I take.”

But, the wicked perish and so does their “way.” Their way leads to separation from God. This is heartbreaking. The righteous should have deep concern and compassion for this. The righteous are here to live amongst the wicked, sharing a message of deliverance: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8-11). The message that no matter the circumstance, the despair, the sin, God can deliver us and help us. We reap what Jesus has sown. When we are burdened beyond our strength-there is a Savior.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

 O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin & the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:54-58).

The sting is sin that is exposed by the law. The law exposes sin. And, all people sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Without a law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15). Absolute truth reveals sin and that sin leads to death (separation from God). But, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). One can have faith. The law does not justify, but Jesus does. No one is justified by following the law, the righteous live by faith…Christ redeemed believers from the curse of the law. Sin entered through Adam, but grace entered through Jesus (Rom. 5:17). He made Jesus who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17). On the cross, Jesus remained holy, but was treated as guilty for all the sins of those who would ever believe. The wrath of God came down on him. Righteousness is credited to the believer. It is a credit in your spiritual bank account; He erases your debits. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (Is. 25:8). This is the paradoxical Gospel. And, this is what I am banking on for myself and others, because I know for sure that daily we do not measure up. Even the best of us. However, I know we are loved regardless.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child

Cycling

In a Les Mills Sprint cycling class, speaking figuratively, my highly positive instructor pronounced she was going to put her mom on her indoor bike for the last high intensity Sprint interval. She revealed to us that she lost her mom a year ago. 

Of course, I then imagined my son, whom I had lost within that year, on my stationary bike with me. She did not know about my son. A sort-of “God moment” occurred that happens often.

I closed my eyes, as my legs pedaled swiftly, and imagined all the times of riding bikes together…he loved biking so much. We biked down the boulevard to the shaved ice place, we biked in San Francisco last Spring Break. When he was a baby, I would put him in my running stroller, while my two other children rode their bikes beside us. Sometimes as a young family we would all ride together down the bayou or around the big lake. He would ride to the donut place, and all around the neighborhood. The memories flooded. I would notice his face, his smile, his happiness and joy, especially when he rode his bike. 

I could see his joy as I rode my stationary bike in that Sprint class. I pictured him in heaven being free, fully oxygenated, his eyes lit up, wind blowing his hair, and full of joy. To this day, that same image comes to mind often.

I continued on my imaginary bike and my imaginary journey, the music blaring and trying to keep pace with the fellow Sprinters. The class is described as a place “to push your physical and mental limits.” I was tired, but I kept going, sweat rolling down my face. 

Though this was a static, imaginary journey, I was on a VERY REAL, moving journey. The workout time was a perfect metaphor for my grief. I would try to cycle fast, yet it seemed like I was up against a wall. It was arduous. I would picture myself cycling up a steep mountain. I pictured my grief as a steep mountain. I would step down hard on the pedals, imagining that I would do the same with my grief. I would remind myself: just like I am persevering one spin at a time, I can make it through grief one moment at a time. Sometimes the emotion of trying so hard to cycle fast would bring me to tears, because my body was so full of grief and emotion.

The wall in the Sprint class had words on it painted in red motivational font: “hills, endure, persevere, grit, strength…” I would choose a word for the day as I exercised and think about how it applied to my grief. 

I thought to myself. I must finish my “sprint” down here on earth: I am here for a reason. Life may be like my class: l will hurt and have pain and climb and push going through many hills and valleys, sometimes feeling like I have no energy, sometimes going slow, sometimes fast. But, I will get through it to share hope with others. 

My Australian instructor, traveling her own personal journey, encouraged and prodded the class emphatically, “You…can…do…it!!” 

Yes, I can. I breathed. With the Lord’s help.  Hebrews 12:1b,3-“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Contributor-L. Vincent

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

Contributor-L. Vincent

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. Watch Social Dilemma.
  7. 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. 
  8. 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.
  9. Parents-Plug in all phones in the parent bedroom.
  10. 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.
  11. 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?
  12. Talk openly about it, building trust. Let each other come up with lifelong plans.
  13. 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-L. Vincent

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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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.

Contributor-L. Vincent

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.

Contributor-L. Vincent

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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-I. 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-I. Menendez

Art credit-T. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. 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-L. Vincent