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-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

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-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-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-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