Like a broken record

I struggled with writing this post. We are, once again, on the cusp of another anniversary. Our 7th one, to be exact. Seven years of living with child loss. Seven years of living without my son. I hate these anniversaries. They are like swallowing a bitter pill, a pill that threatens to choke me each time I must swallow it. The countdown to July 29th began in earnest as soon as the calendar page turned to June. Like a broken record, the impending anniversary date throws me for a loop. ‘Round and ‘round we go on this never-ending remembrance date of the worst day of my life, the day my 16 year old son died. The anticipation, the slow, methodical, heavy march toward July 29th stomps firmly on my heart each morning.

To be honest, I had expected this year to be a bit easier, only to find it’s not. Because I failed to catch a few significant details. Details like the fact that Matt’s younger brother is turning 16 in a few weeks. Details that the same said brother will also be getting his driver’s license soon. Details that, yes, this same brother will also be working for Pioneer, the same job Matt worked and was headed for that fateful day in July, 2011. They are pretty big details to digest. Truth be told, I haven’t swallowed them well.

However, I am incredibly thankful for lessons I learned early on in this grief journey. Lessons like have a plan. Have a plan for these significantly painful days. Lessons like be honest about the grief. Lean into it and don’t stuff it. Lessons like find healthy ways to express it. I took (and continue to take) these lessons to heart. For that, I am grateful.

After weeks of wrestling with various ideas, we’ve come up with a plan. Believe it or not, I am happy and excited to share it with you all. Though I am heartbroken, I am so grateful God continues to comfort and guide. Like every year, we desire a plan that reflects Matt, one that gives others a glimpse of who he was; his personality, likes, and dislikes, his relationship with his siblings, etc. This past year, I’ve been grieving more and more for Matt’s brothers and sisters for the loss of their sibling. Siblings are often called, “The Forgotten Grievers.” I want Matt’s siblings to know that they are not forgotten. The plan this year centers on this. Matt adored his brothers and sisters, especially when they were babies. Though it may be strange to say of a teenage boy, Matt loved babies. Matt’s youngest brother was only two years old when Matt died, but one of my most treasured memories is of when Matt would come home from work at Pioneer. The very first thing he would do after entering the front door was scoop up his little brother into his arms and plant a kiss on his cheek.

We have partnered with an organization this year for the 7 year anniversary that reflects this same love of babies. It’s called Options for Women. As described on their website: “We are a non-profit 501 (c) organization dedicated to helping women who are facing an unplanned or difficult pregnancy. We offer limited obstetrical ultrasounds, medical quality pregnancy testing, education, material resources, and referrals. All of our services are free of charge and confidential as allowed by the State of Minnesota.” Family was important to Matt, and our family is not the same without him. Options for Women seeks “positive solutions for women making difficult choices; empowering them and supporting them afterward. We are affiliated with Elevate Life and Heartbeat International pregnancy help organizations. We want women to know their options.”

As I said, Matt loved babies, and he loved his siblings. Beginning July 1st, therefore, I’ll be posting a photo of Matt with his sibling(s) and a needed item for Options for Women daily for the month of July. I’ll post links, as well, on how and where to donate. There are many ways to give, and I’m excited to partner with them, to spread love and hope to women, families, and babies in need.

I’m grateful for the compassionate support, not only from Options for Women, but from friends and family who continue to walk beside us through this journey, through each difficult day that comes our way. I weep with gratitude for those friends and family who allow me to still cry on their shoulder, who give me the grace and freedom to talk about my son, to pour out my grief without reserve. You are appreciated more than you’ll ever know.

I am also thankful for the multitude of healthy ways in which to express my grief. Writing/Blogging, of course, has been instrumental. I continue to utilize cheap therapy like throwing eggs. (Seriously, if you haven’t thrown eggs, you’re missing out!) I also, on occasion, seek more expensive therapy like massage. (I get a massage twice a year, guaranteed: Matt’s birthday and death date.) I will forever be indebted to GriefShare, too, for its role in grief recovery. The Compassionate Friends, also, has played (and still does) a huge part in moving forward after child loss. Grieving is not easy, and the temptation to deal with it in unhealthy ways is ever present.

More than anything, I am grateful to God and His word. When my world fell apart almost 7 years ago, I survived because I was held by Christ. He is the foundation of my life. When my life crumbled, I turned to Jesus and found Him to be the Rock He said He was, a sure and steady refuge for the tsunami of grief that hit the morning of July 29, 2011.

Psalm 16:8 I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

 

Blessings,

Angie

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On a gray and cloudy day

I woke to gray, cloudy skies last Monday morning. I had already awoken from a bad dream, having dreamt that I had made a stupid decision and was suffering the consequences. (Dreams! I love reading about dreams in the Bible because they’re often explained. Unfortunately, not always so in this present day and age.) Trying to begin the day on a positive note was already a struggle, therefore, when I opened my eyes. I knew full well that if I didn’t get ahold of my thoughts, the day would quickly spiral downward.

I did what I always do on a dark day. I grabbed my devotional books and began reading. Then I headed to the kitchen to make a hot cup of cocoa. (Summer or no, cloudy skies call for hot chocolate in my book.) I cracked open my summer Bible study book, Finding I Am, by Lysa TerKeurst, and silently prayed for God to speak.

I read about Jesus’ disciples and their response to a large crowd and a late night of Jesus’ teaching. (This is the story of Five Thousand Fed in Mark 6.) The disciples had just finished telling Jesus “all that they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:30) Jesus’ response in the following verse isn’t to tell them, “Great job!” but rather, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” 

How interesting, huh? I realized this scenario felt quite similar to my life right now: doing, doing, doing. Going, going, going. I hadn’t considered before Jesus’ reply. But this morning’s study revealed something new to me. This desire to withdraw that I’ve been resisting of late? It may be Jesus telling me to come away, to rest. To trust Him to provide when the “5,000” demands of daily life are pushing and pulling on me. My response has been much like the disciples: Are you kidding me? We can’t feed this many people! We don’t have the resources for this. This is too much. Let’s just send them away. If we send them away, then all our problems will go away. Let them fend for themselves.

Seriously. Can you identify? I can! I want to do what the disciples suggested and just send it all away. The to-do list is far too long. Checking off just one item is too daunting and overwhelming. And just as with the disciples, Jesus stands in the midst. He stands with me, but I, like Peter, James, and John, and the rest, miss Christ in the staggering circumstances. Jesus is right in front of them, but they don’t see Him. They don’t understand who He is.

Friends, dare I say that we often don’t understand who Jesus is, either? 

We come to these overwhelming and difficult times in our lives, and we fail to see Jesus. Though He is right here, we fail to comprehend who He is. Just like the disciples.

Mark 6:52 says, “…for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”

They witnessed the miracle of feeding more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Do the math. This problem’s simple. The answer? Impossible. Five loaves of bread and two fish do not equal feeding 5,000 people. But Jesus did. Yet the disciples, even while gathering leftover bread, missed The Bread of Life. They failed to understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life, that He was their very substance, the Sustainer of their life. Jesus did the math. He did the impossible and came up with an overwhelming answer: He fed them. He took what was not enough and made it more than enough.

I don’t have that kind of power and neither do you.

I don’t have enough, not enough energy or time. I can’t do it all. I can’t meet the numerous needs that beg my attention. It’s like being stuck on a subway, this relentless travel through daily life, always whizzing by, barreling through from one stop to another. The doors open just long enough to quickly step in and out, but always stepping with haste, lest the doors slam shut on me.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this pressure to provide. There are others right now who feel as if life has thrown them under the bus. They’re left reeling because the proverbial rug has been pulled out from under them. They can’t comprehend their circumstances, much less God. But Jesus isn’t surprised by the overwhelming crowd nor the massive need that appears before Him. He sees. He provides.

He has not changed, friends. He is the same then, and He is the same now. Always providing. Always seeing. Always present. Jesus declares His first “I Am” statement in John 6.

 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

I don’t want to miss seeing Jesus as the Bread of Life. He stood with His disciples in front of more than 5,000 hungry people, and they missed Him. They looked around, sized up the circumstances, and concluded that there wasn’t enough bread. They didn’t realize He IS the bread they were looking for.

Gray, cloudy days obscure the sun, and I am sore tempted to believe, like the disciples, that Christ will not provide. I falsely believe that there’s no way the onslaught of life’s demands can be met. I hold up my meager amount of strength (fish) and faith (loaves) and exclaim, “But it’s not enough.” Yet Jesus replies in verse 10, “Have the people sit down.”

Jesus fully intends to provide. He did then, and He does now. I don’t have to worry about having enough or being enough. I simply have to bring what I have and trust Him with it. I have to take of the Bread of Life. Friends, are you seeing Jesus? Is He your daily bread? Jesus invites us to come to Him and be filled. He invites us to believe and not thirst. Oh, may I sit down with Him and be filled. May I rest in Him and believe He is sufficient.

Blessings,

Angie

FYI: Blog followers

Sorry to put out a post like this, but WordPress blogs have been having issues with Outlook followers. Apparently, Outlook email users have been hacked. As a result, my WordPress blog has been receiving numerous  automatic “follows.” Unfortunately, they’re not legitimate. (’cause, really, as much as I’d like 20 followers per day, it’s highly unlikely I’m actually getting all twenty organically.)

So here’s an FYI: I have been deleting every Outlook follower to my blog. If you wish to follow, click the “FOLLOW” button on the blog. WordPress has informed me that they’re working on the issue. (And we all know how that goes!) Thanks for understanding, dear readers. As for the hackers…pray they’d use those smarts for good and not evil. 😉

Blessings,

Angie

Are you unaware?

I’ve been studying spiritual gifts for the past several months. I’ve learned much these last 11 lessons about spiritual gifts: what they are, their purpose, and how to use them. But this last lesson, lesson 12, is a bit different and, at first glance, would seem not to fit. It is a lesson on love. What does love have to do with spiritual gifts?

It turns out, it has everything to do with it.

As I learned many weeks ago, the spiritual gifts can be classified into two main categories: speaking and serving. I know that I have been given the gift of mercy (serving) and the gifts of prophecy and teaching (speaking). It’s been eye-opening to study these gifts in depth. It’s been convicting and humbling. In 1st Corinthians, chapter 12 the apostle Paul tells believers in Jesus Christ not to be ignorant regarding these gifts. I daresay there are many within the body of Christ who are still unaware of their gifts, and many others who are misinformed regarding them. I would also say there are even some who may know they possess a particular gift, but aren’t using it.

Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit. Paul addresses the problem of some members exalting certain gifts above others and a demeaning of the gifts. People in the church had a wrong evaluation of spiritual gifts. I contend that some churches today have the same issue. We need to understand that these gifts are given as the Spirit wills, and the Lord distributes them in a variety of ways. The church body is benefitted greatly when its members use their gifts in the area (ministry) Christ supplies.

When we use our gifts in the proper ministry, we build up (edify) the church and glorify God. There are many, for example, who have the gift of teaching. However, the gift of teaching for me may not look the same in someone else who has the gift of teaching. For instance, my teaching gift is, I believe, in the ministry, or area, of small children. I adore teaching two and three year old Sunday School. Someone else with the gift of teaching may have their ministry in teaching adult women’s Bible study. We both have the gift of teaching, and one is not more important or valuable than the other. Teaching two and three year old’s, for example, isn’t demeaning or “less” than. It is the Lord who gives the various ministries for these gifts to be exercised in. Therefore, we don’t need to be jealous or envy one another’s ministry. We can work within the realm of the ministry that Christ, our master/ruler, gives us. Furthermore, there are those within the church who use their gifts in the wrong area. As a result, they resent serving. Many serve out of obligation instead of prayerfully considering, “Where does God want me to serve?” “What gift has He given me, and how am I to use it?” Friends, we do no one any favors when we serve with reluctance or out of compulsion. In fact, 1st Corinthians 13 addresses this very issue.

If we use our gifts without love, we benefit no one.

Not only are we to discover our gifts and seek to use them in the ministry that the Lord supplies, but we are to remember that it is God who provides the results. The effects aren’t our doing. 1 Cor. 12:6 “There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” The results of our ministry are not up to us. Numbers (or lack thereof) aren’t the proof of “success” in our ministry. The effects of our ministry are God’s. There is no room for boasting. Nor is there room for self-deprecation. If we are using our God-given gifts how He desires, then we need not be ashamed of the effects of the ministry, no matter the size.

The study on spiritual gifts wraps up with 1 Corinthians 13 and a question on the purpose and value of this chapter on love. What does love have to do with exercising our spiritual gifts? Why is this chapter included? After weeks of studying spiritual gifts, Paul ends with a word of exhortation to believers. He explains the relationship between spiritual gifts and love. He reminds us, as author Stephen Covey said, “to keep the main thing the main thing.”

And the main thing is love.

Love is the glue that holds it all together. Without love, the church is merely going through the motions. Without love, its members will lack distinction; Christ will be missed by those watching. We are made in the image of God, and we are called to glorify Him. We glorify Him when we use the gifts He’s given us properly and position love in the driver’s seat. Spiritual gifts are Love’s passengers.

Seeing this well-known “love” chapter in context blew me away. I was convicted of my own reasons for serving and use of the spiritual gifts I’ve been given. I’ve been humbled to see how gifts have been misused and misunderstood, but excited to share what I’ve learned so that my own church would not, as Paul urged, “be unaware.” When we fail to understand spiritual gifts, the body will not work properly. There will be imbalance and weakness. Spiritual gifts, used rightly, will build a strong, healthy church. The body will function properly and order will prevail. Unity and edification will result. Above all, God will be glorified and Christ will be proclaimed.

I leave you with this, my brothers and sisters in Christ: Are you using your gifts? Do you know what they are? Will you glorify God with them? I pray you would discover your spiritual gifts, use them within your local church body, and build it up, with love as the reason for doing so. You will, indeed, be a reflection of Christ to those within the body and without.

Remember that all these things will end, but love never ceases.

Blessings, Angie

Grieving with Hope on Mother’s Day

I have traveled six trips around the calendar since my son died. That’s “celebrating” six Mother’s Days without him. This Sunday will be my seventh Mother’s Day without Matt. Seven. I had seven children. I HAVE seven children. Oh, how my grateful heart aches. Grateful for these six children that remain. Grateful for sixteen precious years with my Mateo. It isn’t easy offering a sacrifice of praise, I can tell you that. But I refuse to give death one more thing. I refuse to become bitter.

Yet Mother’s Day is a paradox for the bereaved. Grief and gratitude often swirl in the heart like oil and water –seemingly incompatible. Sorrow weighs like oil, heavy and thick. But gratitude, like water, brings refreshment and life. How do we, who grieve, swallow these two when we feel as if our throats are closed? These holidays become like crushed red- hot peppers, burning the throat and tongue as we gulp down this, oh, so painful day. We fear we will choke on this recipe of life without our beloved.

The delicate blend of grief and gratitude is a learned skill. Grief, too much in the beginning, overpowers. However, as we learn to sprinkle gratitude on this mixed bag of holidays, the bitterness slowly dissipates. Slices of thankfulness tossed in become sweet reprieves to the distaste of this day. Gratefulness for the moments, however short, we had with our precious loved one becomes the sweet sauce that flavors this horrible dish of loss. Slowly we find that gratitude and grief can indeed coexist on this plate of sorrow. They sit at the table, not as enemies, but as teachers to us. We learn much from both.

This seventh Mother’s Day without my son has taught me that I can, indeed, survive. It reminds me that I have much to be thankful for. It reminds me that I am still a mother even if my child has died. Death does not get to take away the gift of motherhood, for once we become a mother, we are always a mother. Death can steal my child, but it can never steal my love. On Mother’s Day, and every holiday, our grief will burn a little hotter, but love is the bucket of water that pours out, rushing over the flames. This Mother’s Day, I will grieve. But I will also love, and with a fierce love, I will remember that I am loved fiercely. I am loved every second of every day, and love will see me through every second of these days which rotate around this blue planet of ours.

Our God is a God who loved us to death. He loved us with all of His life. Every breath. He loved us then, and He loves us now. He never stops loving. And neither will we.

The gentlest of Mother’s Day to you, friends. May your love multiply. May it abound and overwhelm. You are loved.

(Posted to the Grievingwithhope Facebook page)

Blessings,

Angie

 

On 25 years of marriage

Whoa. 25 years of marriage sounds so, so…old. I remember when I would meet people who had been married that many years and think it was such a loooong time. And now I am one of them! Wowza.

Tim and Angie wedding pic
May 8, 1993

It was raining on this day 25 years ago when I married my husband Tim. Rather fitting that it’s raining today, also. And while it may seem as if 25 years is an endless amount of time, I can definitively say that the years have flown by just as God’s word says they do.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. –James 4:14

Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow. –Psalm 144:4

Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths,… –Psalm 39:5

This life is short. My husband and I know that full well, for nothing will solidify you of this truth like child loss. Our marriage is deeper, richer for the reality of experiencing the shortness of life. We often disagree, but we are quick to forgive. We make our marriage a priority; above work, above the children, above “stuff.” That doesn’t mean we play hooky or ignore the demands and realities of daily life, but it means we make a consistent effort to carve out time for us. Over the years, especially when the children were little, we suffered the consequences if we didn’t. The consequences for our marriage in not doing this, this purposeful setting aside of time for us, is the same for any other relationship: disconnection. If there’s anything a marriage can’t survive, it isn’t child loss. It’s disconnection. It’s loss of relationship, emotional intimacy. And while it was hard when the kids were little, it’s really no different now that most of them are teenagers.

We’ve learned a lot of lessons on marriage over the past 25 years. Too many for me to list right now (’cause, running teenagers everywhere!), but I dare say we are more committed now today than we were 25 years ago. We will take time tonight to head out for a casual dinner and maybe stay awake long enough for a Netflix movie once we get back. It may not sound exciting to many, but as my friend Julie used to admonish, “Make sure you hold hands!” for it is in holding hands that connection is made.

momAndDad-1

Happy Anniversary, Babe! You’re still just as funny, smart, and energetic as the day I married you. I love you.

Love, Bug

Remembering love, not death

It certainly looks like death has won. My son died. That’s pretty convincing evidence, isn’t it? Tomorrow would be his 23rd birthday, but he’s not here to celebrate it. How do you celebrate your child’s birthday when they have died? I don’t know because I (we) don’t celebrate. Instead, we remember. We remember what a gift we were given. We remember 16 incredible years with this amazing kid. Was he perfect? No. Was I a perfect parent? Absolutely not.

But there was love. And love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13)

Death struts his stuff, thinking he has the victory. Yes, my son died, but he LIVES. He is ALIVE in heaven. As much as my heart breaks and longs to have him here with me, I can think of no better place for him to be, for he is experiencing a place that Jesus called paradise. (Luke 23:43) He is with God, the ultimate One; creator, sustainer, perfect, and holy. Matt is in His presence where there is no evil, no sin, no death, no disappointment, or broken relationships. There is only good, only perfection. We cannot fathom it, for we know nothing of perfection, except that this world is bereft of it.

Death would love nothing else than to steal more than my son. He would love to steal my faith and my hope. He is no different than he has always been: a liar, a deceiver. His M.O. never changes; he causes us to doubt, to doubt God, to doubt His goodness, to doubt His word. Oh, I doubted, alright. But doubting is human, and questioning is human nature. It’s what we DO with it that matters. Do we bite into the apple of doubt when it’s presented, falling into satan’s trap? Or do we dare to stand firm and declare, no matter how incredulous, our faith in God and in His word?

I want nothing more than to celebrate my son’s 23rd birthday with him tomorrow. My heart aches, and the longing to be reunited feels unbearable. But I refuse to let satan steal anything else. He can steal my children, my husband, my health, and everything I own. But he cannot steal my God. He cannot steal God’s word that has been hidden in my heart. He cannot take what belongs to God. He cannot remove love. Satan delivers devastating blows, and people wrestle with their faith, but he cannot force us to take a bite from the fruit of doubt. He cannot separate us from love. Satan may hold the fruit of doubt, but we hold the choice of whether we’re going to grab it from his hand and take a bite or whether we throw it to ground and look to our Father who offers us the best thing of all: Himself. God is love.

And so tomorrow we will remember love. We will remember how deep is the Father’s love for us. We will remember what deep, deep love this boy brought to our lives, to his siblings’ lives, and his friends’ and family’s lives. We will remember the things he loved, things like McDonald Mocha Frappe’s, Ping Pong, Computer Programming, troubleshooting and repair, serving as church media technician, watching The Office and Lord of the Rings, eating Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, Cheez Its, and Starlight mints. We remember his favorite dinner of goulash and how he just wanted plain yellow birthday cake with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Mostly, however, we remember how incredibly deeply he loved his sisters and brothers. We remember how much he loved Jesus. We remember he chose to be baptized as a public statement to the world of identifying with Christ as his Lord and Savior and to follow Him.

So death has not won, no matter what our circumstances look like, no matter that Matt is not here with us to celebrate. We celebrate that he is alive in heaven and that because of Jesus, we will have far, far more than 23 years with him in eternity.

I love you, Mateo.

Love, Mom