Loss-child

Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

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.

Loss-child · loss-suicide

Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-child · loss-suicide

Tapestry

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

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Art-Lana Ngo

loss-abandonment · Loss-child

Dust to Dust

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-child

Questions-Part II

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic

Questions-Part I

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

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Photo-Evan Dennis

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic · loss-suicide

A-Bomb

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

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

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

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

Contributor-Liana Vincent

Loss-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