Grief with a purpose

 I watched the movie “Mary and Martha” the other night. I didn’t exactly know what the movie was about before clicking the Amazon “Watch Now” button. The movie description simply said, “Two women forge a unique bond steeped in tragedy in this uplifting, emotional film…”

I don’t know why I clicked on it. The title intrigued me, and I like Hilary Swank’s acting. I had no idea it was a story of child loss. I assumed the tragedy was of another sort.

Nonetheless, I started the movie. Perhaps it was the blizzard we experienced Monday in our area that compelled me to “hunker down.” I don’t know.  But start it, I did. It began innocently enough, portraying a beautiful family. Not a perfect or flawless one, but real, with small glimpses into their daily life with authentic struggles. Much like ours, really, before tragedy hit.

But the unexpected happens. Their son dies. And I watch the film as if an outsider, only I’m not. I observe Hilary Swank’s character as she sits next to her son’s lifeless body, identifying all too well the look of shock, the feeling of numbness take over her body as her mind tries to wrap itself around the truth that her child has died. I remember how, before loss, I would be moved to tears in scenes like this. Yet after loss, I now take great pains to restrain myself from “going” there, from recalling those memories of my own son’s death, of mechanically standing at the doorway of the hospital room where his lifeless body lay. I slam the door on memories as I watch the movie, try to push away the recollection of my own numbness and disbelief in those early hours of losing Matt.

I watched the mother’s behavior at the funeral and how she interacts with her friends after it’s over, and the different ways in which a husband and a wife grieve in the immediate weeks that follow, and I identified with it all.

But mostly, I recognized the guilt. The guilt I still live with.

And I recognized the overwhelming desire to find purpose after child loss, to find some sort of significance to your child’s death. I get it. I’m guessing probably almost every bereaved parent suffers from guilt after losing a child. It doesn’t matter if it’s rational, right, or reasonable. Guilt is guilt. Additionally, pain begs purpose. There must be purpose, for without it, we become cynical, bitter, and unhealed.

Guilt remains, but purpose is a salve of sorts. There is nothing I can do to absolve it. Sure, I can forgive myself for not being the perfect parent, but the consequences remain: my son no longer lives an earthly life. He will never come back to me. I will never hear his voice or see his face, watch him walk into a room, or give him away in marriage. I’ll never be a grandmother to his children. The film rightly concludes the same for the main characters, Mary and Martha. They, too, deem purpose to be a ladder, of sorts, out of the pit of grief. Purpose is the bereaved parents anthem, their lifeline to living in this world bereft of their child(ren).

Mary and Martha find their purpose in telling their story, in striving to save just one other child or person from the same fate their child suffered. If they can save just one life, then perhaps, just maybe, their child’s death was not in vain. Perhaps there was meaning. And just maybe, in some tangible way, their child lives on.

My purpose after Matt died remains the same: to glorify God, to speak honestly about my grief and to point others to Christ through it, to show that a relationship with God isn’t perfect, but He is. Because of Christ, I purpose to show that life after child loss is, indeed, possible. Life, good life and joy are, incredibly, unbelievably, possible after losing a child. It doesn’t mean your life will look like it did before. No, that’s not possible. But life must, like a home destroyed by fire, be rebuilt. It will take intention. It will take time. It will take help from others. Like Mary finds friendship and a common bond with Martha (and Martha likewise), the bereaved must forge friendships and accept help to rebuild. They must be patient with the remaking of their lives after loss. They must be intentional in shutting the door on the “what ifs” and “if onlys” and move forward by deliberately choosing to rebuild, to refuse to sit in the ashes for the rest of life. They must determine to take steps, however small, toward healing.

I’m not sure the guilt will ever go away, but I do know this: I can’t change the circumstances. I can’t bring my son back. Moreover, I refuse to live in fear. I will do everything I can to live life well because I know that if I allow my son’s death to destroy me, then death will have won, and Matt would not have wanted that. The voice of guilt is a vicious beast, but the voice of Grace and Mercy is sweet, tender, and forgiving. Death will try to convince you that nothing good remains, but that is a lie. Love remains. God remains. He has never left, never failed, never given up.

The story of Mary and Martha resounds because God has a purpose for our pain, a good purpose. There is an eternal weight of glory that is being prepared for those who grieve, who trust God with their sorrow, who sit at his feet among the ashes of their devastation. It is a weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Far beyond. (2 Cor. 4:17) When we choose to trust him through our grief, he will fashion it into something beautiful, something with purpose.

Watching Mary and Martha reminded me that when the voice of guilt comes calling, I have every right to not answer the door, but instead to stand back and allow Jesus to open it, for when he does, he speaks to guilt and bids it leave. I am forgiven for all my mistakes, all the missed opportunities I didn’t take, all the failures I’ve made as a parent. I can’t bring my son back, but I can move forward with purpose, trusting God to purpose good from grief.





When grief launches a “miss”ile

Like thousands of other people last night, my family watched the Vikings football game against the Saints. The sounds that rang out from our living room were decibels above the safe level of hearing, I’m sure. Diggs’ run into the end zone after catching himself from momentarily losing his footing will be talked about for weeks on social media. The last few seconds of the game will be remembered for years to come. The Vikes’ victory was a solid reminder to many to never quit, never give up. My husband called it “The Minnesota Miracle.”

I watched replay after replay of those exciting last moments of the Vikings game and smiled with joy in seeing the gladness on the faces of the people gathered in our home. I viewed the landscape of our living room packed with family and friends and cherished the sight. But my heart weighed heavy. It ached. It ached because my son wasn’t there.

Just like that, grief dropped a “miss”ile, one of those “no rhyme or reason” missing moments where the pain of child loss explodes like a land mine.

After almost six and a half years, it still sucks. I’m not sure why, but the ache of missing Matt has flared up the past couple weeks. I suspect it’s simply the grief of entering yet another new year without my son. Moments, too, like last night, are bittersweet reminders of how our life used to be. Matt’s dad is a Vikings fan and, well, Matt was not. Game days at our house were (and are) exciting. The spirit of competition runs high here. Matt was a Packer’s fan. Yep. A Viking’s fan and Packer’s fan living in the same household made for great Sunday memories (and still do, as one of his sisters and I carry on Matt’s devotion to the Pack). I can’t help but wonder how my “Mr. Stoic” would have reacted to yesterday’s game and which team he would have been rooting for.

I went to bed early last night, knowing that what I needed was a good private cry. I miss my son. I cannot bury my grief, just as I cannot bury my love. I will cherish the memories and count my blessings, but I will not deny the pain, because I know that God invites us to call out to Him in all our moments, the joyful ones as well as the painful ones.

As I laid in bed weeping last night, I turned to the two tangible things that have helped me most in this grief journey: God’s word and music. As always, God’s word brought comfort and the reminder that He sees, He knows, He cares. He loves. There is purpose in pain. Not a single second of this grief is wasted; it has purpose.

I opened my YouVersion Bible app and clicked on one of my saved reading plans from Your Time of Grace titled, “Don’t Lose Heart.” As always, God’s word was timely. I needed to hear this truth, that God acknowledges the hurt, yet supplies encouragement, endurance, and hope to persevere the permanent circumstances of child loss.

I also replayed a powerful song message from earlier in the week that I have on my playlist by Shane and Shane featuring John Piper. (Piper comes in at about the 3:30 mark.) I thank God for speaking through His people, people with the gift of music and preaching.

When one’s loss is permanent and grief launches an unexpected “miss”ile, it is all too easy to become discouraged, to succumb to despair and the thoughts of depression. But what a simple game of football with the Vikings taught me yesterday was this: persevere, do not give up, do not lose hope. We who grieve have the greatest coach, the LORD God Almighty, guiding us, teammates running alongside us, and a cloud of witnesses cheering us on to the finish line.

I miss Matt. I will never stop missing him, not until I enter paradise and the presence of God and meet Jesus face to face. But until then, I am called to persevere with joy, in the strength and grace of God. With faith, hope, and love, I will run into the end zone of heaven some day…right into the arms of my savior Jesus Christ, and my son Matt. What a touchdown that will be. #notlosingheart




There’s a book stuck in my head

You know those books or movies that are so powerful they stick with you for months or years? They’re the kind that, when you are in certain situations or conversations, you keep going back to them. They become a filter for much of your life’s daily living. Last year, our church leadership board read the book, “Sticky Teams” by Larry Osborne. It’s one of those books that had a significant impact on me, one whose insights I continue to apply to various areas of my life, both personally and professionally. I almost never highlight in a book. I tend to be a minimalist with possessions and most often give books away when I’ve finished reading them. I rarely re-read a book.

But not this one.

I have highlighted something in almost every chapter of this book. I have re-read much of it. It sits on the headboard of my bed instead of acquiring dust on the bookshelves like many of my others. I refer to it often in conversation.

I also do not “do” New Year’s resolutions. I’m a realist and know that making resolutions basically sets myself up for failure. However, last year I did make one resolution: to read more books. I didn’t set a number on it, but simply determined to read more than I had the year before. (I did it, too!)

I’m making the same resolution for 2018: to read more books. And re-reading books counts, by my rules. 😉  “Sticky Teams” is one of those books I encourage everyone, especially those who belong to a church body, to read. If you have given your life to Jesus Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit within you. And because you have the Holy Spirit in you, you have been given specific gifts, gifts to use within your church body. Using these gifts are what builds unity in the body, grows a healthy and strong church, and glorifies God. It’s what enables your church to be a “Sticky Team.”

PS – If you want to dig deeper regarding spiritual gifts, has an excellent Bible study: Spiritual Gifts: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts. You can also read “Discover Your Spiritual Gifts the Network Way” and take the spiritual gifts inventory in the back of the book.

Here’s to good books and more reading in 2018.




How will you respond to the Light?

Advent pic sermon series

Our pastor and church have been delving into our Advent series theme “The Light Shines in the Darkness” the last four weeks. Sunday morning Pastor Dave spoke on the title “Responding to the Light.” If you’re familiar with Pastor Dave’s preaching, then you know his sermons consist of three main points. (I am particularly fond of this!) The three main points on Sunday regarding the theme of Responding to the Light (Jesus) were:


  1. Many will be oblivious to the Light of Christ. (John 1:9-10)
  2. Many will reject the Light of Christ. (John 1:11)
  3. Many will receive the Light of Christ. (John 1:12-13)

Obviously, this numbered list doesn’t give you the whole context of the sermon, and I’m only mentioning a few points that spoke particularly close to me. (You can listen to the Advent series online here: The Light Shines in the Darkness.) Pastor Dave elaborated on these points, as always, and illustrated the bigger picture. He stated, “For many people, Jesus does not fit into their Christmas celebration…for many people, the focus of Christmas is all about family and friends. For many people, Santa Claus is the central figure of Christmas.” Christmas is more about “gifts and good will.” Pastor continued, “For many people, Jesus remains in the shadows; a Christmas decoration and nothing more.”

I was struck by the truth of these statements. Of course, family and friends are important, and we should cherish the time we have with them, but when they become the central reason for celebrating and take precedence over Jesus, it’s time to re-focus. And if the only time we think about Jesus is at Christmas, then He has, indeed, simply become an ornament on the tree, a sparkly bulb to unwrap at the beginning of the season, only to pack back up at the end of it. Friends, Jesus isn’t seasonal.

Pastor Dave’s second point is hard truth: Many people today still openly reject Jesus. Pastor defined several ways in which this is true. One way is that “There are those who want a purely secular Christmas without Jesus.” Look no further than your local retail stores and shopping mall and you’ll see this is true. Secular greetings of “Happy Holidays” have long since replaced “Merry Christmas.” Moreover, a number of atheists have incited cities to institute ordinances where nativity scenes are no longer allowed.

Another way some have rejected Jesus: “There are those who want to replace Christmas with a winter solstice celebration.” There is a winter solstice celebration in my city this Thursday, in fact. While we are to rightly enjoy and care for the earth God created (and its creatures), we must be careful not to worship the created, but to worship the Creator.

I found those points to be the most obvious, but Pastor stated a few other ways in which people openly reject Christ: “There are many who want a form of spirituality devoid of Christ.” “There are some in the church who want a human Jesus but not a divine one.” “People reject Jesus because he is a threat to their power, position, and personal agenda.” I wonder if that’s not one of the biggest reasons people reject Christ. See, in order to place your faith in Christ as LORD and Savior, you have to bow the knee. You have to acknowledge that you aren’t ruler. You have to humble yourself and follow Jesus, doing His will and doing it His way.

The message of Advent has been, and will be, rejected by many, but Advent comes anyway. Jesus came as the Light of the world, and He continues to shine in the darkness. We have a choice, Friends. We can choose to hide in the darkness or step into the Light. Pastor Dave ended his sermon with the question I reiterate: “How will you respond to the Light?”



Why you can’t do grief alone

I’ve been re-reading Ann Voskamp’s book on Advent, “The Greatest Gift.” The entry for December 12th drew from the book of Ruth with the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi’s story gives a glimpse of real life, life with death and disappointment. Naomi’s husband has died, as well as both of her sons. She has been through famine and a subsequent move, and is preparing for yet another move. Her life hasn’t been easy. I know some of you can relate. However, Naomi does have her two daughters-in-law. But, seemingly strange, she tells them both to return to their mothers’ homes. Her words to them reveal much, I think, about her state of mind.

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1)

Even if she thought there was still hope, Ruth is still hopeless. What happens when hope is gone, you wonder? Ruth’s words leave no ambiguity. Bitterness slides in when hope evaporates. With all her heart, she believes God is against her. Do you feel like Ruth, Friend? Listen as Ruth continues:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1)

Wow. That’s strong stuff, right? Naomi doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s clear who she thinks is to blame. Bitterness doesn’t hold back, and neither does Naomi. Bitterness blames, but God’s favor (and character) are not dependent on our circumstances. Circumstances do not dictate God’s character. I believe that’s where Naomi got it wrong. While she’s correct that the LORD has afflicted her or allowed these things to happen, her response to these tragedies, albeit honest, is wrong. She, like many of us, missed the obvious truth: God is sovereign. He reigns. He alone has supreme power and authority. Pastor and theologian J. Vernon McGee put it this way: “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.” 

Grief has a way of clashing with sovereignty. We want our way. We want things done sensibly, understandably, neatly. But heartache, catastrophes, and sorrow are never these. Seeds of bitterness, watered by hopelessness and despair, grow quickly if one disregards the soil of sovereignty. Many who have lost a loved one can tell you how how swiftly the temptation towards bitterness sweeps in, how the temptations to choose bitter over better keep rolling in like waves upon the shore, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Friends, left to ourselves to deal with our grief all too easily creates ripe conditions for bitterness to take root. Naomi wanted to be left alone with her bitterness. She wanted to nurse the wound, reject healing. Like bitterness does, it wants to complain. Naomi doesn’t lament; she complains. She complains about God rather than lament to Him. Complaint blames God. It demeans Him and separates us from Him. Lament draws us to Him with honest cries and a yearning for Him. Lament draws closer despite not understanding.

Thankfully, Ruth refuses to leave. Ruth stays and Naomi is ultimately blessed through her. Naomi couldn’t do it alone. She had Ruth and the women around her to remind her of the truth. They reminded her that God had not left her, that He was, indeed, the restorer of her life and her sustainer.

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4)

Grief will do its best to isolate and embitter. Allow those around you to carry hope for you until you can again. Don’t push away the hand of healing, but embrace the One who died for you. Accept that though He wounds, He also heals. Ruth stayed with Naomi, and there are “Ruth’s” who will stay with you. Compassionate Friends is one Ruth. If you’ve suffered child loss, CF is there to make sure you “need not walk alone.” GriefShare is another Ruth. For loss of any kind, GS is available to provide hope and healing through a Christ-centered perspective and video seminars.

Grief was not the end of Naomi’s story, and it is not the end of yours. Naomi’s God, your God, proved Himself faithful. As He sustained Naomi, trust that He will sustain you. You are not alone. This holiday season may you be reminded, most of all, that Emmanuel, “God with us,” is with you. Yes, in even the grief.



Finding hope in homeschooling when you’re weary

So….I don’t know where all of you homeschool mamas are in this season of home education, but I’ll be honest and say that I am weary. I don’t want to discourage anyone when they see this 17 year homeschool “veteran” spilling her exhausted thoughts, and thus gain an inaccurate view of homeschooling. For the most part, it’s been an amazing journey, one I cherish and wouldn’t trade for the world. It is a joy, a gift, and a position I don’t take for granted.

But there are times, seasons, miles, whatever you want to call it, where home education is downright grueling. The reality is that there are challenges. There are days (months?!) when a particular child just isn’t “getting” it. There are times when you question whether you’re cut out for this, when the voice of doubt doesn’t whisper in your ear, but shouts intimidatingly in your face like a drill sergeant. Life and homeschooling happen simultaneously, yet some of us (me!) forget that. We try to compartmentalize school from our daily life, but there’s a reason it’s called homeschool. Public school is great, but home life and education at home are like peas in a pod; they coexist. Compartmentalizing isn’t conducive to homeschooling.

This morning as I printed off my kids’ assignments and checked our calendar for the day, I knew it was going to be a struggle to complete our work. I had already left the house to deliver two teenagers to the High School before 8am. (My one teen takes 3 classes, and the other participates in a foreign exchange student program, studying abroad in the U.S.) We were scheduled to be out the door again at 10am for a library event, and then I left the house once again shortly before noon to pick up the first teen. I will leave the house again this afternoon for one more drop off and pick up. So how does one do school if one is never home? How do I accomplish what needs to be accomplished if I’m leaving the house five times in one day? (Welcome to the teenage years. And I thought the toddler years were hard. Little did I know they were just prep years for having five teens!)

The 2017 school year has been hard. It’s been frustrating. It’s been exhausting. I have lost the joy in teaching, and patience is a thing of the past. School has become about check-marking the “done” box instead of fostering a love of learning and encouraging academic strengths while working on weaknesses. I remind myself often that this homeschooling thing is a season, but the truth is, it’s not helping. While I am convinced that the majority of our home school problem lies with my students’ bad attitudes, the legitimate reason rests with my attitude. Ouch.

However, this is good because I realize it. I just didn’t know what to do with it. Until today. See, my plan of action was that I was just going to plow through the school year until we were done. I was going to grit my teeth and bear it, joylessly. (And make everyone else miserable in the process and kill their joy, as well.) That is, until I watched the following video this morning. (How do you motivate people to do difficult work?) Though a video from the Global Leadership Summit may seem unrelated to our homeschool woes, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The message was an eye-opener for me. I realized I need to change direction with our schooling for this year, put on my own oxygen mask, so to speak, and rediscover joy.

What does that look like, you ask? Well, to begin with, I’ve determined to put away the textbooks periodically and do more hands-on learning, incorporating more field trips to museums and other institutions of learning. We will make use of our Netflix subscription and library membership watching documentaries and historical DVDs. Perhaps, more importantly, I’ll intentionally make fun a priority in our day. We’ll implement educational board games, as well as educational websites currently unexplored. One of the best things about homeschooling in 2017 is the plethora of resources available.

I’m so thankful that homeschooling isn’t always difficult work. But when it is? Then it’s an occasion, perhaps, to explore hope. When you are weary with homeschooling, it may be time for the teacher to become the student.

I’m still learning…and finding hope.


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Needing Jesus

Jesus. Every hour I need Him. I know it doesn’t make sense to some. Some see this as the epitome of weakness. But the truth is, my weakness is the very place in which He steps. He becomes the strength I lack. He is not my crutch. No. He is my spine, my very support for this imperfect body. I need Him, and I am not ashamed to need Him. Every hour. Every day. #Christinme



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