How do I do this child loss thing?

I don’t know when the countdown began. I only know it has started. The heaviness in my chest moved in the other day, like an elephant foot planting itself on my heart, not caring where it landed, squeezing the breath out of me. Words have begun to fail me, and I do not want to write. I know what it is, and I still want to deny it. I want to deny grief, I want to deny the loss of my son. I want to run away, bury myself in busyness and ignore the coming days. I don’t want to make room for sorrow, for I have worked too damn hard at finding joy and carving a space for laughter and light. I fear drowning in grief again as July draws near. July 29th. The day my 16 year old, my firstborn, died. Oh, this still sucks, this grief.

The six year anniversary of the day Matt died is coming up, and I still have moments of utter disbelief. (See? I can’t even believe I’m saying years much less six.) I still wonder at times if this is some kind of horrific nightmare from which to wake up.

But it’s not.

It’s real life. My life.

This “crapiversary” (a term I’m borrowing from Anna Whiston-Donaldson from her blog An Inch of Gray) certainly isn’t like the first five. We’ve survived. Unbelievably. We’ve come such a long way since the beginning of the brutal induction into this “club” of child loss.

It truly testifies to God’s word. Every morning since the day my son died, God’s lovingkindnesses and compassions have not failed. They were new every morning, and His grace was, and is, sufficient for each and every day. Of course, there were days when it certainly didn’t feel as if it were enough, but it was. It was because I am alive, my family is alive, and our lives are a testimony to His abundant grace. We are well. Matt is still gone, but he is alive and lives in heaven. We still grieve, but we are good.

Lamentations

We still talk about Matt daily, remembering things about him which make us feel he is close, remembering all the things that made him uniquely Matt. I cherish the “God Nods,” those little, but big “signs” that reassure us he is not so far away, that God sees our hurting hearts and acknowledges them.

My heart twinges bittersweetly at the occasional glimpses of Matt I see: in the way his younger brother walks, when I read a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, or when I catch a glimpse of a dark-skinned 16 year old boy with glasses and a buzz haircut. I cherish the reminders, though they cause the ache in my heart to flare up.

Each crapiversary has been different, our family participating in whatever way felt “right” that year. The plan for this year? Uffda. It’s different, all right. My family is staying home while I attend The Compassionate Friends National Conference in Orlando, FL. The conference falls right over the crapiversary date. Besides being with my family, what better place to be for the anniversary of my son’s death than with thousands of other bereaved parents? It will be tough, but it will be good. I will be way out of my comfort zone (Because traveling is NOT my thing and volunteering to introduce workshop presenters puts me in FRONT of people when I’m far more comfortable behind the scenes!), but I know this is where I should be this year.

As July crouches close, I am reminded to stick ever closer to Christ. Last week, this post, in particular, hit me hard. The excerpt below is from Joni Eareckson Tada’s interview with World Magazine:

Does depression still ensnare you at times? Are you happy? I make myself be happy. I make myself sing because I have to. The alternative is too frightening. My girlfriends will tell you, in the morning when I wake up, I know they’ll be coming into my bedroom to give me a bed bath, do my toileting routines, pull up my pants, put me in the wheelchair, feed me breakfast, and push me out the front door. I lie there thinking (gagging noise), “Oh God, I cannot face this. I’m so tired of this routine. My hip is killing me. I’m so weary. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime. I have no energy for this day. God, I can’t do quadriplegia. But I can do all things through You as You strengthen me. So God, I have no smile for these girlfriends of mine who are going to come in here with a happy face. Can I please borrow Your smile? I need it, desperately. I need You.”

I echo Joni’s words, only instead of her words “God, I can’t do quadriplegia,” I utter, “God, I can’t do this child loss thing. ” There are moments, days, where I, too, think this is just too much, I can’t take this any longer. I can’t do it. I’m so tired of it all, so tired of grief.

Additionally, Joni says:

Our weakness, God’s strength. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with paralysis. I choose the Holy Spirit’s help because I don’t want to go down that grim, dark path to depression any more. That’s the biblical way to wake up in the morning, the only way to wake up in the morning. No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “Boast in your afflictions.” Don’t be ashamed of them. Don’t think you have to hide them and gussy yourself up before God in the morning so that He’ll be happy with you and see that you’re really believing in Him. No, no, no. Admit you can’t do this thing called life. Then cast yourself at the mercy of God and let Him show up through your weakness because that’s what He promises—2 Corinthians 12:9.

Again, I relate to her words. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with child loss, yet another day without my precious son. But, like Joni, I recite God’s word and promises to myself. I can’t do this child loss thing by myself. I throw myself at His mercy, where I am promised His strength and am reminded that His compassions never fail, and His lovingkindnesses never stop. They are new every morning. Every morning. (Lam. 3:22-23) I don’t have to worry about July 29th, wondering how I (or my family) will make it through yet another anniversary. I am promised enough grace for each day, as much grace as that particular day will need.

He is a compassionate and faithful God…for every day, every circumstance, every need.

Blessings,

Angie signature

An Open Letter to Thank My Pastor

I was a young college student when I attended Bethel for the first time. My experience with church growing up was, well, quite honestly, dry. Boring. A list of rules, most of which translated for me into “Be a good girl. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Do this and you’ll go to heaven.” No one told me about Jesus Christ (except that he died on a cross for our sins). But I wasn’t aware of his sacrifice for me. It was all very disconnected.

In college, I tried to continue being the good girl, but I was empty, searching for fulfillment. I thought I found it in a relationship with a guy, but I instead was consumed by insecurity and fear. Rejection soon ensued, and I found myself alone and afraid. My life fell apart, and my grades in college reinforced what I had always feared: that I was dumb, stupid. I wasn’t prepared for higher education, and I was lost. My health suffered, my job was at risk, and my future unstable.

In desperation, I tried church. But the familiar denominational church I attended left me feeling even more alone. I was seemingly invisible as no one greeted me, neither as I entered the church nor left after the service. The feeling as if something were missing was palpable, the ache in my heart unfulfilled.

My roommate at the time, however, attended Bethel. I asked if I could catch a ride with her one Sunday, and so the following week, I nervously entered the doors of Bethel Baptist Church. I hadn’t a clue what Baptists were like, the stereotype completely foreign to me. All I knew for sure was that when I walked in through those doors, I was greeted warmly. I was seen. As I left after the service, I was invited to stay for coffee and donuts. A couple people asked me about myself. Their genuine interest in my life took me by surprise.

I continued to attend Bethel for several weeks, all the while hearing stories about Jesus Christ and listening with amazement that God seemed so alive here. Pastor Dave preached with confidence, transparency, and vulnerability. It was a far cry from my previous experience with church where authority rang loud, but love lacked, and Jesus still hung on the cross. I will never forget the day Pastor Dave preached about the Word, saying, “Don’t believe me. Look it up for yourself. Make sure what I’m saying is what the Word says.” I’m not sure a Bible has ever been flipped open faster than I did the one sitting there on the chair.

Many weeks later, Pastor Dave preached about the need for Christ, the emptiness and longing that many who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior feel. He went on to explain what it meant by knowing Jesus as LORD. He spoke of what salvation was and what it meant. And then he extended the invitation to accept Christ, to ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior for anyone who desired. I needed saving. I knew 100% that I could not control my life, that I needed Christ to lead. I accepted the invitation that day, and my life has never been the same.

My life and the lives of my family have been forever changed because of Pastor Dave. He spoke truth, he challenged me to discover what God said and to explore God’s character. By being vulnerable in the pulpit, he showed me that a man in a position of authority wasn’t perfect, but only relying on God and as needy as the rest of us.

Pastor Dave has served our church for 30 years. 30 years. That is faithfulness. That is commitment to the hard, hard task of shepherding some very stubborn and stupid sheep over those 30 years. He continues to speak truth and challenge our church to dig deeper, reminding us that we can never plumb the depths of God’s word to completion. He speaks scripture with clarity and manages to preach it succinctly, somehow tying it seamlessly in to our everyday lives, making it relevant and applicable to our lives now. (And he does it with his trademark 3-point sermon!) He serves with enthusiasm even after 30 years. It chokes me up that he still gets choked up over communion.

Pastor Dave, I know the job of leading this church has been difficult and, at times, downright heartbreaking. I want you to know how appreciated you are. I want you to know that you, and the years you (and Suanne) have served, have not gone unnoticed. I want you to know we recognize the thankless job you do, but that you have done it well. Pastor Dave, I am indebted to you. It is because of you that I came to know Jesus. And because I came to know Jesus, my children know Jesus. Each of our kids have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and responded. (That’s quite a harvest!)

Thank you, Pastor Dave, for serving us 30 years! You are a blessing, and we are blessed.

Friends, if you haven’t thanked your pastor recently, I encourage you to do so. The task and responsibility he assumes is enormous. He faces tremendous challenges daily, but perseveres. He hears criticism often and doubts his abilities occasionally, yet leads courageously. Despite fear and opposition, he does what God calls him to do: speak God’s word and lead His people. Like Moses, pastors are men who are not perfect, but only obedient to what God has called him to do. And while I realize there are many pastors who are not these things (teachable, obedient, humble, etc.) our church is blessed with a pastor who is.

With a grateful heart,

Angie signature (and family)

Grief doesn’t play by the rules

The thing about grief is that we wish we could pack it up into a little box and shove it under the bed, keep it out of sight. But grief is a vicious beast. He doesn’t play by the rules, he is a wild animal. And wild animals are unpredictable. Just when you think you have a handle on him, have him tamed just a tad, he lunges at you. He fastens his teeth and refuses to let go. This is the beast of the bereaved.

lion and a box Phoenix Zoo image
Grief takes a nasty bite and leaves an indelible mark. However, every animal has its enemy, and grief’s enemy is truth and joy. Truth tackles grief to the ground, subduing his power. Grief may have taken a bite, but truth is the Lion of Judah, the undefeated King over all.

Grief knocks the wind out of the bereaved, but the answer doesn’t lie in fighting back (for we all know we’re overpowered). Our power comes when we choose to believe truth. Truth leaps in, overpowering our adversary. Truth secures the victory.
In your grief, have you grabbed hold of the truth? The truth is that our loved ones (and us) are never out of reach of God’s love. The truth is that God redeems ALL things. He redeems what grief destroys. He has a plan, a good plan, that we will someday see fulfilled. He wastes nothing. There is no sorrow so deep that He cannot touch. His power is greater than the enemy’s.

While grief leaves you scarred, truth binds you up, stems the bleeding. The scar remains, but joy is the courage to remove the bandage, to look the enemy in the face and acknowledge that God’s final word is not grief and despair, but joy and peace. He purposes redemption. Joy is possible because grief doesn’t have the final word. You can slide the box out from under the bed because grief doesn’t need to stay there. Grief may occupy the space, but there’s room in the box for truth and joy.

Blessings,

Angie signature

This MN girl may be moving

After a solid week of rain and gray skies I seriously contemplated moving.

And then the sun broke out, and I recovered my sanity.

In all seriousness, however, it’s not funny. The gray skies, rain, and cooler temperatures did something to my brain. The only blue color to the week was my mood. I battled a heavy load of dark thoughts and struggled to find light. Although I knew what the problem was, the struggle was real. It’s why I invested in this a few years ago.

There are those who would say Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) isn’t real. To that I say come visit me when it’s cloudy and stay until the sun comes out. You’ll witness a real “Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde” moment!

Anyway, I’m not sure what my point is except to say that when darkness presses in, one has to press harder to find the light. Find any and every available means that will help you glean a sliver of light. For me, this has meant taking my vitamins, exercising regularly, writing, playing praise and worship music continually, and participating actively in church ministries and Bible study. And buying a therapy light.

Additionally, I’m intentional in giving thanks. Though I don’t keep a “One Thousand Gifts” list, I mentally record seemingly small and insignificant things for which I am thankful. (Of course, the “big” things are noted, as well.) Hearing the breeze through the trees, smelling the strong scent of lavender from the lilac bushes, and watching a dragonfly flit across the yard are just a few of the simple things I mentally scribble down.

It should go without saying, too, that keeping a bit of margin in the calendar and getting enough sleep are instrumental in finding the light. But it’s always easier said than done, right? (Trust me, I know this. Lord willing, I will have four teenagers in the house next month, two of which are actively obtaining their Driver’s permit hours. If you want to find me, look for me in our van.)

There are necessary things (like sleep), but how often do we acknowledge light as a necessary thing? Yes, we know that light, as in the sun, is necessary. But so is the light of God’s word. His word is what sustains us, giving us hope and truth. The Word is what pierces the darkness. Friends, when dark days come, His word becomes the flashlight we wield to extinguish the black that surrounds us.

We know how easy it is to sing in the light, but when was the last time you sang in the dark? We thank Him in the light, but have you praised Him in the dark? I know the difficulty of this, the sacrifice of praise when the heart is shattered. But I also know the closeness of His presence that sometimes only comes in the dark. For sometimes, the dark blots out the things of this world so that we can witness the light that’s there all along, the light we fail to see until darkness falls. Our praise, our thanksgiving, each whispered word, every broken hallelujah punctures the night, becomes a pinprick of light showcasing God’s presence and glory. Do we shine like stars in the night? Do we reflect His light? Darkness is a given. Perhaps our praise should be, as well.

Blessings,

Angie signature

When the heart aches

Faith's Lodge
Faith’s Lodge – Danbury, WI

It’s gorgeous, isn’t it, this view? The weather in Minnesota has finally turned to summer. The hot temperatures and clear blue skies provide the proof we desperately needed: that winter, indeed, doesn’t last forever.

But this gorgeous scene? It only shows what the eye captures. It doesn’t reveal the heart behind the lens. In this world of social media, lives are daily displayed in living color. Pictures are posted of our “Pinterest perfect” lives, leading others to believe that perhaps everyone else but you have their lives all together, their families whole, relationships pristine. To be sure, there are the Facebook “rants” and random messy peeks behind the social curtain, but the majority of posts portray a happy, cleaned-up version of our personal lives.

Why is this, I ask? Why do we strive to put forth appearances that are anything less than perfect? I suspect there’s more than one answer. For some of us, it may be that we are simply finding joy and expressing it, wishing to share it with the world. As Christians, we desire to give glory to God, to show others what He has done and is doing. Joy has a way of spilling over, resembling deep waters that cannot be contained. Like a rushing waterfall, joy shouts. Or, like streams in the desert, joy runs deep, sometimes reflecting instead the still, mirrored surface of our heart, a heart content with the moment by moment provision of God.

Others, perhaps, strive for an outward expression of inward desires. They hope, maybe, to somehow bring about the longing in their heart to fulfillment. Consciously or unconsciously, they want the peace portrayed on the screen. They recognize hope and thirst for it.

A few, however, gaze at the seemingly perfect lives of their friends and family through the social media lens and scoff. They know better. The still water and blue skies don’t fool them. They’ve been through more than a few storms and know the aftermath of them. They don’t see the beauty from before the storm, but only the devastation afterward. They want the “real” picture. They want the grittiness of life, caring not about platitudes, but honesty. They just want someone, for God’s sake, to stand up and be truthful, to bare the ugly as well as the good.

The social media snapshots of our lives may be breathtakingly beautiful, but they are just that: snapshots. Rarely does one have the full picture of the life beyond the screen, past the ‘net. The truth is, life isn’t perfect and some of the hard has made some hard. But some of the hard has made some soft, chipped away at the edges, the sharp corners. Some of the hard has made some, not bitter, but better. Can you see it? Does it look familiar?

Friends, the picture may be stunning and, while we give thanks for the beauty, let’s remember there’s more to what we see. Let’s not forget that a heart can hurt, can grieve and ache all while acknowledging the lovely. Let’s gaze with eyes of grace, mouths formed, not of pouting, but of pulchritude. May we recognize those who appear perfect, not as better than ourselves, but as one with a story, a perfectly imperfect story.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when was the last time you asked someone to tell you the story behind the picture?

(That photo above? It’s from Faith’s Lodge. Faith’s Lodge is stunning, a haven for the hurting. It looks perfect, right? But it’s beauty? Well, there’s a story behind the picture; an achingly beautiful story.)

Blessings,

Angie signature

Exodus

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Our church has been exploring the book of Exodus recently through a sermon series titled, “Becoming God’s People.” Believe it or not, it’s been amazing. I think many people hear “Exodus” or “The Old Testament” and their eyes immediately roll back in their heads and a yawn ensues. Oftentimes, I’ve heard remarked, “The Old Testament doesn’t apply to our times; it has no bearing on us now. It doesn’t really relate to today.” To that I say, “Wow! You’re kidding, right?!” I’m a bit shocked, really, because when I think about it long enough, I realize we are no different from the Israelites. We complain, we grumble, we disobey. We, like Moses, are oftentimes reluctant leaders. The Israelites had the very presence of God (through a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire), and we have the very presence of God (through Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit). Yet we both murmur and fret, disbelieve and turn our stubborn hearts away from Him.

It’s amazing to think about, really. The more I read about the Israelites, the more I see myself in them. Like many of the chosen people of Israel, I find myself getting caught up in legalism, trusting in rules over relationship. I, like them, fail to give grace, but offer plenty of judgement. I am stingy with love, but don’t hesitate to dump a truckload of harshness.

I particularly identify with Moses. Here he is in the wilderness, minding his own business, doing his own thing shepherding when God grabs his attention and gives him a mission. It’s not like he misunderstood or misheard God, either. God was abundantly clear in His instructions for Moses. (Ex. 3) Like being hit with a 2 X 4, Moses couldn’t deny what was being asked of him. He knew what he was supposed to do.

But how does Moses respond? Is he happy to leave the wilderness, to step out of the place to which he had run when he fled from Pharaoh? (Ex. 2:15) Was he eager to serve God, confident that God would be with him and work through him? Did he reply, “Yes! Finally! This is what I’ve been waiting for!”

No.

No, in fact, Moses responds by saying God’s got the wrong guy, that he is a nobody, that God is asking a completely unqualified guy to do the job. He continues by trying to convince God that no one will believe him and throws every excuse he can think of not to obey. He even resorts to begging God to please don’t make him go, don’t make him be the one to speak. Friends, does this sound familiar? Or am I the only one that can relate to Moses? I don’t think so. I believe there are many Christians like me who know what God wants them to do, but, like Moses, argue with God. We plead with Him to send someone else. We recite our list of faults to God, hoping that he’ll pick someone else to speak. Oh, friends. I relate.

What amazes me in these first chapters of Exodus is how God specifically states what He will do. He emphatically tells Moses that He will provide. He makes it clear that He knows every detail and foresees even Pharaoh’s response. He reassures Moses that he is not alone and will not be forsaken, that Moses will go in God’s power and strength. (Ex. 4) Friends, is there something you know God is asking you to do, but you keep giving Him excuses? Does what He’s asking you to do terrify you? Are you doubting your own ability? Have you questioned God, wondering if He’s made a mistake, chosen the wrong woman (or man)?

Ultimately, Moses obeyed God. He and Aaron went to Pharaoh and spoke God’s word. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright hard. I always remember, though, something a precious friend of mine once said: “Just because it’s a difficult road, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong road.” (Wise words from my dear friend Julie who died 12 years ago, yet is alive in heaven.)

God will ask you to do hard things, my friend. But, just as He did with the Israelites, He will do for you: Provide.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Is the cross a barricade?

My daughter was reading the book, “But Don’t All Religions Lead to God?” in the van while we ventured out for a day of shopping the other day. She read aloud as I drove, and a paragraph from p. 57 (chapter 7) about the cross struck me with wonder.

The author writes that those who reject Christ “will have to push past the cross of Jesus Christ, which He has erected as a powerful barrier to stop people from going to hell.” I had never thought of the cross as a barrier before. The Bible tells tells us that God desires that no one should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), but there are those who refuse to look to Jesus Christ for salvation. They have been blinded by satan, deceived. They see the cross as the enemy, a killjoy to their life of pleasure and self-sufficiency. They don’t see their need for saving, and they certainly don’t want to change the way they’re living; to glorify God in all that they do, say, and think. They see the cross as restrictive, offensive. Worse yet, some believe they are already saved. They think Love excuses sin, allows loopholes because, after all, that’s Love. Finally, they have swallowed the lie that this life is all there is. They have no hope or realization of eternity, whether in heaven or hell.

To this I say be careful. Just as a road barricade is put in place to safeguard against impending danger, the cross is raised before each of us to guard our lives. The cross compels us to consider our path. It begs us to examine our way, to inspect it’s claims. The cross makes incredulous statements about our life here on earth. Have you stepped up close to it, felt the rugged wood on which Christ was crucified for you? Will you stop before it, trusting that it is there to save your life instead of rushing past it, refusing to look up, believing that somehow the road ahead isn’t washed out, that it doesn’t lead to eternal death? Friend, take caution. Please don’t run past the barricade. Let it save you.

Blessings,

Angie signature