Archive for the 'Grief' Category

Memorial Service for Julie and Timmy

I posted recently about the tragic death of Julie Kurrle, missionary to Paraguay, and her young son, Timmy, asking you to be in prayer for their family and loved ones. Richelle passed along a beautiful post to from Christie Hagerman’s blog about the memorial service that I just had to share with you. Please take some time to read this post and to continue to pray for those who continue to grieve.

 

Tearing Down High Places- Part 1

My mother-in-law died last year, just before Christmas. This year, we’ve walked through the one year anniversary of her promotion to glory. In some ways, it feels surreal. After all, it wasn’t our first time to celebrate the Savior’s birth without her presence. As missionaries serving far from our families, that is actually the norm. But we couldn’t call… or video Skype… and just knowing that Dad was facing a second Christmas without her? …it made my heart ache. It also reminds me of a heart-aching lesson the Lord taught me in that season, a lesson about the cost of gifting sacrificial love.

When we returned to our place of service in July, 2010, we knew my husband’s mother’s health was fragile; we never dreamed she’d see her Savior face to face before that Christmas. Thankfully, Tim was able to make a whirlwind trip back to the States for that Thanksgiving, spending it with his parents, and having the opportunity to say a final earthly goodbye to his mama. I know that time, while heartbreaking for the rest of us who couldn’t go and be with Mom/Grandma, was a treasured and precious time for both my husband and his parents.

While he was gone, I started scheming. Our 16th wedding anniversary was coming up shortly after his return… We hadn’t gone away together, just the two of us, for over 8 years… A friend volunteered to take our kids for the weekend, to let us get away to a lovely-for-West-Africa little resort literally just minutes away from our house for the weekend… Offers like that don’t grow on trees! What’s more? We actually had a bit of surplus in the budget and could afford to retreat, together…

As I said, I started scheming… dreaming… anticipating time… just the two of us… after some very long, difficult and stressful weeks apart. I was excited; friends were excited for me – for us. Raising eight children – the youngest of which was just winding up nursing – busy lives, and a limited budget? That meant that those sorts of opportunities truly were few and far between. Then factor in the reality that even thinking about all the prep work required to leave this family often discourages any desire to do so. But this time? I was more than ready. One night, while chatting on-line, I quietly typed these dreamy ideas to Tim as our littlest one slept on my lap, sweet little hands cupping my face. He seemed as excited about this little get-away as I was… and I couldn’t wait for him to be home.

Literally, just days after he left the States and returned to Niger, his mother’s situation turned critical.  It was not long before the decision was made to remove one of the gentlest, sweetest women I’ve ever known from life support. Tim was devastated… we all were… There’d been unexpected moments of hope- talk of transplants and even some plans for the future. So, while not unexpected, reality still seized us by surprise, accosting our already aching hearts.  We couldn’t afford another trip home that quickly for him to attend her funeral. As Tim grieved, he started talking about wanting to just get away from the city, away from all of the people asking him how he was doing and the well-meaning but sorrowful, sympathetic looks directed his way. He wanted to take our older children to a wild game park/reserve and just camp out for 2 or 3 days, accomplishing in his mind two things: 1) escape and time alone with his big kids who are much better than his wife at living in, enjoying… the present moment and 2) scoping the place out and seeing if it might be a place we could vacation as a family.

If he took this camping trip, however, our just-the-two-of-us-get-away simply wouldn’t… couldn’t… happen. He decided – and it wasn’t the decision I wanted.

I was hurt. Hurt soon turned to anger.

I sullenly nursed anger and wounded pride (After all, what would I say to all those friends with husbands who would never choose something over a weekend away with their gal?) until a still small voice gently confronted me, stopping me in my internal foot-stomping tracks and prolific self-pity party. The Holy Spirit pointed out that my hurt-turned-angry feelings sprang from jealousy more than anything else. I had wanted to be the one Tim turned to in his grief. I wanted him to need me above all else, to choose me as the one upon whom he’d lean. In reality, he was telling me he needed time alone and away with THE Comforter. That truth should have delighted my heart… but it didn’t.

So what do we wives do when the Lord shows us that we’ve tried to set ourselves up as our husband’s idol, expecting our man to have needs met by us when he should be running first to God? In the Old Testament, the Israelites are commanded to tear down and destroy high places tempting idol worship. (Deuteronomy 12:1-5 is an example.) The word translated tear down is, in other places, also translated “utterly destroy,” “obliterate,” “make perish completely…”  I see no other choice than to choose to die to self and free my husband from this subtly insidious expectation that he worship, adore and run to me first and foremost. To love well, I must obliterate that idolatrous construction of my expectations for what our marriage and our friendship… our relationship… will look like.

It is one thing to recognize that you have “high places” – areas that tempt you to worship someone or something other than God. It is another to realize, as you examine your life, that the Holy Spirit is gently pointing out high places I have constructed for my husband… my children… my friends, etc.?  

Might He be showing you one or two?

If so, how do we go about tearing down those places?

(Post by: Richelle)

Homesick

This is our 11th year in Niger, so it really shouldn’t catch me by surprise, yet it does.

Every year.

Just before my September birthday, I find myself moody, easily angered, tearful, rapidly frustrated by the idiosyncrasies of living here, and continually questioning God. My husband remarks on my unusually temperamental nature, wondering if I’ve been getting enough sleep. My kids know that I’m going to fuss at them about the messy state of their room – and on particularly bad days, the state of the entire house. Others words that would normally roll right off like water on oil penetrate and hurt, whether intended that way or not. Oversensitive, glum, fatigued by everything about life in this land, I plug along for another month or so.

Then one day, usually sometime in early November, the sky changes from unrelenting sun and faded blue to bright but cool blue, a breeze blows and most days there is a morning haze of harmattan dust or fog over the river. I look for my single cozy sweater to wear while sitting on the terrace and drinking my morning tea. The children (and sometimes even their daddy) dig out socks to wear with their flip-flops. Orange squash are plentiful next to the bridge on the far side of the river. And yellow leaves begin to tumble from one particular type of tree.

And I remember.

I remember why I’ve felt so not me. I’m homesick. Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year, beginning from my birthday and lasting through Thanksgiving. The chill in the air, snuggly sweaters, hiking boots and hot chocolate… Hayrides and bonfires, roasting marshmallows, harvesting apples and fresh mulled apple cider… College football (any football, really) vivid and vibrant colors gracing the trees, piles of raked leaves and giggly children playing, and deer season… Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the delight of friends and family at Thanksgiving… Autumn arrives back home, leaving me here, melancholy and nostalgic, wistfully longing for favorite things I miss, and on those really hard days, evoking regret for this decision to live, work and minister in this place.

As one living in an adopted home that is far away and so different from what I’ve always considered home, bouts with homesickness are not surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is the strength of that longing for another place, my place– and the guiltiness that wells up within because in this moment, I’m not content where God has placed me doing what He has called me to do. I don’t doubt that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I simply don’t want to be here. If I let this continue, I’m stepping into sin.

At least once I remember, once I’ve recognized the problem, I know what to do. It really isn’t a 1-2-3 list of steps to follow to banish homesickness. I wish I could wave some sort of biblical wand, like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, to erase that longing for another place, but I find that for me, it is actually a process of confession, choosing contentment, thankfulness and praise.

I first recognize that, while that feeling homesick is not a sin, my resulting discontentment and ungracious attitude towards God and others is. I repent and confess, remembering that contentment is learned. It is also a choice I can make each time someone or something tempts me to let disgruntlement consume. After setting things right with the Lord, I also have to admit my sinful behavior and ask forgiveness from those who’ve been hurt or offended by my season of short temper, spiteful words and other “yuckiness” boiling over.

Then I begin to give thanks. Homesickness is living at least one thing the Savior knew quite well: a longing for another place that never quite goes away. In that opportunity to share in the earthly experience of the Lord, I can begin to give back to God a sacrifice of praise, a gift of gratitude and obedience. I think of words in Philippians 3 and Romans 8:17:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

That longing I feel for another place? It brings to mind so many blessings that I could never begin to number them all. People, places, poignant memories, precious moments, perfect splendor as I regard God’s handiwork… all are priceless treasures. I do have a choice: I can mope and complain that I can’t live those moments every minute, that I can’t metaphorically grasp them all in my hand all at once… or I can be overwhelmed and overcome by infinite mercies and graces bestowed each day and then let my cup of praise and thankfulness run over.

I can also permit this yearning for home remind me of an ever growing longing for my forever home and the awesome presence of God – directing my thoughts upward, near to the heart of God, toward heaven and eternity.

The Lord, in His grace, allowed me to remember a bit sooner this year. Maybe that means I’m making progress!

How has homesickness appeared in your life? Would you have a moment to share a bit and encourage others with how God has led you personally through these tough seasons? Would anyone appreciate prayer as they walk through a time of homesickness? Let’s all be praying today for our sisters around the world who are facing this heartache right now.

(Post by: Richelle)

Grief Part 6- Grappling with the “Why” in Tragedy and Loss

Prologue: When we first became pregnant we were surprised to learn we were pregnant with identical twin girls. 20 weeks into the pregnancy we learned our girls suffered from a rare condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. We experienced a miraculous healing of all symptoms related to this deadly disease and at 32 weeks gave birth to our twin girls, Marylou Janice, our firstborn was stillborn. Providence Joy was just over 2lbs. There was no known cause for Marylou’s death. Time has given me the courage to share some of what God has taught me through our experience of anticipation, joy and grief. It is my hope that I can use this venue and our journey to share with you, dear reader, pieces of what we have learned and experienced so you can walk away with a greater understanding of our God, even amidst pain.

I think the reason that it is not comforting for those who have experienced loss to hear things such as, “he/she is in a better place,” “you couldn’t handle x that is why it was taken from you,”  “or at least you have your ???,”  is that those things in no way explains away the pain. None of the “benefits” of the tragedy actually justify the tragedy, so those who are left in the wake of loss find themselves asking “Why?” over, and over, and over again.

My husband, Jon,  sat me down one night to tell me what God had spoken to him through Romans 8:28. We have found that as we work through our grief and disappointment over the death of Marylou, we struggle with understanding the love that God has for us. It is too easy to view him as someone distant or cold. We get lost in asking “Why?” and when we cannot find answers that justify the loss, we have trouble viewing God as loving.

Jon was helping with elder interviews at church and one of the candidates shared this verse. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, show have been called according to his purpose…” (Romans 8:28). We sat on the couch together and cried as we let the truth of this verse and then entire passage sink into our understanding. Jon articulately said, “It is not that in anyway losing Marylou feels good, but I know that God works for the good of us, those who love him.”

The powerful thing about this passage is that Paul does not just leave us with this hard to grasp concept that God works for the good of us in all good and bad. He also predicts the questions that will fire in our head when confronted with tragedy or loss the natural and good response of  “but how can this possibly be good?” He responds to this unspoken question by explaining the incredibly deep love of Christ, that he gave His Son for us. Thinking about this for a moment leaves me a bit dumbstruck. See, I don’t need to know why life’s losses and tragedies are in anyway good for us because I know that God deeply loves us and this love overflows into His goodness. I don’t need to know the why because I know the Who that controls they whys of life.

We don’t understand how losing Marylou could in anyway be good, but we know that God works for the good of those who loves him, in all things; We know the character of God. This truth is hard to grasp, beyond an intellectual understanding when faced with loss, but it does not take away from its truth.

I don’t know why God took our Marylou home to be with him, or why people have to experience loss in anyway, illness, hospital stays, separation from kids, job losses, infertility, I don’t know the whys but I know the Who. And that is exactly what we need to know. If we allow the character of God to help us be ok with unanswered whys we can navigate tragedy without becoming confused by the goodness of God because that Who is the answer, not the problem.

I wanted to leave you with this verse in context, as Paul (who experienced more then his fair share of loss) explains beautifully how this hope and goodness is possible and how its truth transcends our circumstances through the Who of Christ.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:28-39

(Post by: Amie)

Grief Part 5- Trusting God through Tragedy

Prologue:  When we first became pregnant we were surprised to learn we were pregnant with identical twin girls. 20 weeks into the pregnancy we learned our girls suffered from a rare condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. We experienced a miraculous healing of all symptoms related to this deadly disease and at 32 weeks gave birth to our twin girls, Marylou Janice, our firstborn was stillborn. Providence Joy was just over 2lbs. There was no known cause for Marylou’s death. Time has given me the courage to share some of what God has taught me through our experience of anticipation, joy and grief. It is my hope that I can use this venue and our journey to share with you, dear reader, pieces of what we have learned and experienced so you can walk away with a greater understanding of our God, even amidst pain.

My husband never doubted that God would heal the twins. We sat in the office of the perinatologist and the doctor drew a diagram on the paper cover on the examination chair,  explaining what was wrong with the girls. He concluded by telling us that the body was not designed to carry twins and that our girls only had one chance, being surgery performed by one of only a few surgeons in the US, one of which was in Kirkland. He scheduled an appointment and tentative surgery date for the following day before we left his office. On the way out he apologized for being the bearer of such sad news. Jon made phone calls to our family to let them know and I cried all the way home. That night we read through the literature the nurse sent us on our girls condition, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, the complications it presented and the surgery that could potentially save their life. That night we prayed together for our girls health. I was too afraid to trust God, I couldn’t shake the fear that he would not heal our babies and that my faith would then be destroyed. My prayer that night was something like, “your will be done” but what I was really saying was, “Ok God, I am trying to prepare myself for the worst”. My husbands prayer was quite different, “Lord I trust that you can and will heal our girls”. Over then next several weeks I worried that Jon didn’t understand the severity of the medical condition. In my mind if he understood, his prayer would be different. But Jon understood and what he understood about our God that I did not was that God was bigger then the medical diagnosis and that He desired us to Trust Him with our deepest desires.

Trusting God with our deepest longings and hurts, while understanding that He is God, was a big part of our journey. It is quite easy to acknowledge God’s power to heal but a little harder to grapple with the fact that He does not always intervene to stop our pain like we most desire.  This is where faith becomes reality. The stories we read in scripture become more than just stories and history. They give us glimpses into the character of God as God. He acts and works according to His will not ours, and we are called to Trust Him, not because he will act as we most desire, but because His character is good. Abraham, Paul, David, Joseph, Rachel and Hannah are all examples given to us of men and women who struggled to Trust in the character of God even though things were not always as they desired. When we are called to trust in God on a daily basis it seems an easy practice, but when God does not execute his ability to “fix” difficult situations as we desire, this seemingly simple action becomes a bit more complicated to flesh out in daily practice.

God did not choose to heal both of our girls as we most desired, and he called our precious Marylou home to Him much earlier then we had asked Him to. Looking back, though, I know our trust in God was not in vain, but an act of obedient faith. God could have done what we most desired and chose not to, but ultimately our trust was in His character as God, not that He would execute our desire for healing. If we had trusted merely that God would heal the twins because it was what we desired, we would have been asking too little of God. Instead we were called to do something profoundly more difficult, trust in God’s ability to heal and in His wisdom to decide whether or not to execute it.

How has your trust in God been strengthened through answers that were different then you expected, or in ways that God exceeded your expectation? How did God use these circumstances and your trust to grow your faith?

(Post by: Amie)

*Photo by Heather Fuqua

Grief Part 4: Faith through Loss

Prologue: When we first became pregnant we were surprised to learn we were pregnant with identical twin girls. 20 weeks into the pregnancy we learned our girls suffered from a rare condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. We experienced a miraculous healing of all symptoms related to this deadly disease and at 32 weeks gave birth to our twin girls, Marylou Janice, our firstborn was stillborn. Providence Joy was just over 2lbs. There was no known cause for Marylou’s death. Time has given me the courage to share some of what God has taught me through our experience of anticipation, joy and grief. It is my hope that I can use this venue and our journey to share with you, dear reader, pieces of what we have learned and experienced so you can walk away with a greater understanding of our God, even amidst pain.

A few years ago I watched a re-run of a dateline show while nursing Rose about a “deeply religious family” who were journeying through the medical trauma of having conjoined twins. At one point the father said, “My faith wavered”. He concluded (when the surgery to separate them was successful) by saying that seeing the girls after surgery caused his “faith” to be restored.

I sat on the couch afterward feeling deeply disturbed. I know dateline could have edited this man’s comments to reflect something other then what he intended so I will not comment on him, but I was deeply disturbed by how many, myself included, tend to flippently view faith and trust in God.

More simply put, our faith is deepened when we see God’s miraculous and healing intervention,  but it is not (or should not be) shattered when we see God choosing not to intervene. Faith is being certain of what we do not see, and while miracles may point to God’s sustaining grace, his choice to not heal also points to his majesty, divinity and “God-ness”. He acts in ways we would not. So both health and sickness, pain and joy serve to strengthen my faith, one through fire and one through rejoicing.

When I see Providence walking around I think, “Wow, my little miracle.”, and my faith in God is encouraged by knowing how he truly stepped in and sustained her life, but when I see Marylou’s picture sitting on our mantle my faith ought to be, and with God’s grace can, be strengthened. This fortitude of faith comes from reflection on God’s character, which in turn strengthens my faith as I realize that this all-powerful, all-knowing God that sustains life and takes it away will one day re-unite us with our loved ones and bring true healing that can only be found in Him. Amen.

How has loss in your life affected your faith? Let’s be faithful to pray for strengthened faith for one another and those around us who are experiencing loss and grief.

(Post by: Amie)

Grief Part 2- Choosing to Grieve Well

Prologue: When we first became pregnant we were surprised to learn we were pregnant with identical twin girls. 20 weeks into the pregnancy we learned our girls suffered from a rare condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. We experienced a miraculous healing of all symptoms related to this deadly disease and at 32 weeks gave birth to our twin girls, Marylou Janice, our firstborn was stillborn. Providence Joy was just over 2lbs. There was no known cause for Marylou’s death. Time has given me the courage to share some of what God has taught me through our experience of anticipation, joy and grief. It is my hope that I can use this venue and our journey to share with you, dear reader, pieces of what we have learned and experienced so you can walk away with a greater understanding of our God, even amidst pain.

April is the worst month for me. It is the month where the reminder of Marylou and Providence and all the trauma surrounding their birth seems to hit me from all sides. Every year I think that it will be easier because another year has gone by but instead it just seems that my grief hits me differently. It is like grief is a package (and not a fun one) that just as I think I am getting to the bottom I discover a whole new unopened section that I must unpack.

This past week I have struggled with being angry with God. Angry that with my first pregnancy I was not able to experience anything normal. Angry that pregnancy and birth will never be innocent, angry that Providence is still experiencing the effects of her prematurity and angry that once again there will only be one child in the two year old photo shoot. I think it all came to a head the other day when Providence’s cough went from bad to worse. Because of her extreme IUGR and prematurity, any type of infection settles straight to her lungs, every time. This happened the same day I went to buy Rosemary new diapers and realized the girls are in the same size. Yes I did cry at Sam’s Club, pitiful I know. It really breaks my heart to see my child (a year behind growth wise) struggling to sleep and breathe because she was born early, because she was a twin who now has to grow up without her sibling. I think it is all exasperated by the fact that at age two, preemies are supposed to have “caught up” and are often given “non-preemie” status for future health care. We were looking forward to this medical clearance because it would allow us to pursue ministry overseas, but with two years being only a few weeks away, we both know for several reasons that this clearance won’t be happening any time soon for the squirt.

All these thoughts were brewing in my head and I felt angry at God. God is big enough to handle our anger (thank goodness) and in my honest frustrated venting I found myself realizing that I had allowed myself to make the wrong choice. Because of sin, death and illness are a part of our life, a part of life we never ask for but are given none the less. My frustration over Marylou’s death and Providence’s (relatively mild) sufferings was a natural response to things not being right in the world but I can take that frustration and allow God to use it to mold my heart to long for heaven and eternity with Him or I can take it and allow it to make me embittered and angry at God and others.

This past week rather then allowing my grief to enlarge my view of God and how he works and to enlarge my heart, I chose to take my frustration and allow it to become internally focused in a pity party for me and my daughter. Such a choice leaves me no further ahead at the end of the day, but rather further behind in my pursuit of God. It is not possible for me to take my sadness and use it to enlarge me, such a task is beyond my ability or scope but if I ask for the help of God and choose to give that raw emotion to Him and ask what he want’s me to do with it, He transforms that frustration into something more. So Today, with the help of my Savior, I choose to take my grief, embrace it and allow it to enlarge my heart to better understand God’s character and to further my longing for the day when He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and where there will be no more pain or crying. The day when I will be in the presence of my God.

I wrote this several years ago but am still faced with the daily choice to choose to grieve well. God can enlarge our view of Him through our grief, or we can cling to our grief in such a way that can make us bitter and angry. What are some ways you have been able to release your grief to God, and in doing so allow your pain to become a tool to enlarge your heart’s view of God and its longing for future glory?

(Post by:Amie)


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