Friday, December 27, 2013

The Monster

Grief is such of a monster.

There is no better way to describe it on this cold, snowy morning. The holiday season was spent in a blissful numb. Several times I would attempt to take a mental temperature and try to gauge just what it was that I was feeling, expecting the pain to overtake rather than the ability to enjoy the events. Numb is okay, as Alexis reminded me. None of us minds Novocain while sitting in the dentist's chair after all. Another Christmas spent without your firstborn son and a little numb is just fine.

But like the fuzzy lip, it doesn't last long. It's reminiscent to the feeling after the first anniversary. Being all pepped up to do it well, face it all, go through the motions at least. Then it hits ... hard. Coupled with the fact that I've been on a marathon picture sorting, collage making frenzy doesn't make it easier. In grief, I have found,  you do what you can do and you do what you think you have to do, even if it might seem irrational to everybody else. I have gotten it into my head that I have to have all of my pictures sorted and printed into book format before we hope to move in the Spring. I have gotten through two and a half years, nearly 1,000 collages. Which brings me to 2011. And we all know what happened in 2011.

As my mom said the other day, I'm living in three realms: the past, the present, and the future. When I first started the project I couldn't convince my brain again that Trent really wasn't here. As if he had just been hiding in the woods for the past three years, like in the pictures. I almost called him in for supper a couple of times.

Then there is the jolting present. Shutting off the computer and seeing the empty chair and bed. No Ken-doll locks, no giggle, no smacking kisses goodnight.

But then there is the future, the glorious future. To keep my eyes trained there often times becomes difficult. It's reality seems unreal, lately. As if God has asked too much. I force my heart to repeat the promises. Clinging to the hope in them. Battling for victory.

Victory.

The victory to overcome this deceitful heart of mine. Victory over unbelief. Victory over thinking that it would be better to have Trent here. Victory to live victoriously.

I felt strong enough to venture into the February 2011 pictures today. I figured I better do it while I thought I could. I realized again the depth of my weakness. A son in a coffin three years later is harder than it was that day. I see the people again, the ones who were here with us. I see the bewilderment, and even the lost-ness, on so many of their faces.

Then I look at my face in the pictures. I can almost see the grace of God being poured out. I wonder where that it is now. I wonder why God lets it get so hard. Not blasphemously wondering, just wondering at His good plans that includes our total weakness. I wonder if at the foot of Jesus' cross it was the same. Mary, looking at her son... fully trusting God, but wondering... how is this the good plan? I envision Jesus at Gethsemane, asking if there wasn't another way. Accepting that this was the wisest way.

Somehow glory is only seen through the impossible. Our faith is only proven through the impossible. To make it to the end, longing for God alone, only happens through the impossible.

The pictures that were taken the days, even months and years, before the accident were so worldly. To see my heart three years later, and what it desires now, is enough of a reason to praise God that His ways are higher than mine. His love baffles me. Why me? Why grant this suffering to me? The other option would have been to let me go on living only for here and now, indulging even more into my kingdom rather than His. There is no appropriate description for how deep my longing runs for Christ, to see His face, to bow at His feet, to know His glory.

Would I trade that desire for a lifetime of a son, when it would mean trading an eternity of being satisfied in God? No.

The perspective helps. This blip of a life is kept in check. I try to remember to look up from the grief once in a while. For as debilitating as it is, it drives me nearer to God.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Cards


I wish thee no greater good than that God break in upon thy careless heart,
and shake thee out of thy false peace, and make thee lie down at the feet of Christ. 
~Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest

I seriously considered inscribing our Christmas cards with that line this year. But then I thought otherwise. My smiling, polite genetics got the best of me and I went for a safe, happy, NIV, non-eternal verse: "Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again - Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4) I made it through the picture taking this Summer, made it through the collage process this Fall, and have even started a list with the intention of really sending them out before the blessed holiday is over.

And then the kids who were brave enough to venture out into the below zero weather to trek through the snow banks to the mailbox started bringing me Christmas cards. Safe, happy, NIV, non-eternal versed Christmas tidings with pretty covers and well wishes for a happy holiday. I handled it well to start with. I made it through the first few. And then I cried. Cried because everybody else gets to send out happy cards this year. Cards with all their children smiling in goofy poses. Cards about how big Johnny has grown, and how sister got a new car and brother is getting straight A's.

While I pondered my past year, and considered what I would write for a cheery holiday letter, I thought of the many mornings waking up to fight the battle just to get out of bed, fighting for God's glory to reign, fighting to say "thank you" for my son being in Heaven with the next words from my lips being a plea for the salvation of my children who are still here; the constant weight of their eternities laying on my heart like a rock.

Or watching my daughter cry her eyes out, focusing on grieving not as those without hope, and trying to come up with the perfect answer to the barrage of people who think her greatest achievement this past year should have been getting a driver's license rather than a deeper walk with the Lord, that time spent behind a wheel would have been better spent than time behind a Bible.

And, rather than my husband getting a promotion, how I've watched him work two jobs to support a family in this hard economic time, how I've watched him battle for victory to lead us well in the midst of his own pain, how I've watched his desire for God reign over his desire for the world, how I've watched his strong hold to Scripture win over his flesh.

I could write about letting it all go, giving up our kingdom of a farm and material possessions in attempted obedience to what we hope will be a life of being poured out for God's kingdom. But somehow it seemed wrong to report those growths, as if I would be destroying the fa├žade of everybody else's joy at this time of year.

Then I remembered that God loves me. He really, really loves me. Loves me enough to "wish [me] no greater good than that [He] break in upon  [my] careless heart, and shake [me] out of [my] false peace, and make [me] lie down at the feet of Christ."

Then it struck me how sad I was. Not so much in being sad that Trent isn't here, though I miss him like crazy, but sad because in my own power I cannot change one single person, especially the ones that I love the most, to value God's glory and "break in upon [their] careless heart, and shake [them] out of [their] false peace, and make [them] lie down at the feet of Christ." Instead I watch so many professing believers walking around careless, with peace, not lying down at the feet of Christ. As Casting Crowns puts it (Spirit Wind), "Believers leading carnal lives... wonder what they're fighting for."

Along with all this, John Piper's book, The Pleasures of God, has my head swirling with his chapter on God's glory in bruising the Son on the Cross. He talks about God's delight in His own glory, and how the suffering of Jesus to take on the curse of sin in obedience to the Father was a measure of Jesus' love for God's glory. It's as if Jesus and God are battling to prove their love for each other, round and round, one-upping the other in proving it. Which all causes me to look fresh at my own suffering and how I view God in it.

If, like Jesus, the measure of my own suffering is meant to reveal God's glory and will result in God, and myself, delighting even more so in His glory, then I am right where He wants me. If suffering weighs out our truest affection, and if one of God's greatest delights is His glory, and if He allows His children to suffer to prove their greatest desire (all the while acknowledging that the ability that it would be His glory that rises to the top ultimately comes from Him), then what a joy it will be to see the measuring rod on that day that I enter God's presence and He says, "Well done good and faithful servant. You loved me this much and trusted me to portray my glory through you while you suffered this much." 

It is not the suffering that is rejoiced in, but what is accomplished by God via that suffering: the revealing of His glory that works out even our own salvation. To come to an end of ourselves just may be God's greatest mercy. To be sure, salvation only comes about by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, but God continues to prove it by increasing our longing for Him throughout our lives.

Which brings me back to the Christmas cards. And how much easier it would be to have five children posing, but how much greater is the work that is being done to only have four. So all that rambling to wish you this holiday season:

No greater good than that God break in upon thy careless heart,
and shake thee out of thy false peace, and make thee lie down at the feet of Christ.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Pleasures of God

Don't read John Piper for an hour immediately before going to bed lest you wake up with thoughts like these swirling in your brain in all out attempt to connect the dots, before the coffee is even done brewing, and causing you to wonder ceaselessly, yet again, just who this God is that has chosen you to have a sneak peak at the unfathomable beauty of His glory to come:

* One of God's greatest pleasures is His delight in His good plans for His children.

* God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

* So, when I am satisfied in God and His good plans for me, I will be most satisfied in Him.

* To be most satisfied in God I must be most satisfied in God, not other things.

* When I pray and long for God to be glorified in me, it means that I must be most satisfied in God.

* For God to answer that prayer He must first make me delight in what He delights in, namely His glory.

* To prove that I delight in Him, as a Christian's desire would be, he removes what I do delight in to reveal what my greatest delight really is.

* The pain comes when it is discovered that it is not God, or His good plans, who is my greatest delight.

* God takes away what I desire more than Him for my own good, for my eternal good, to prepare me to delight in Him above all else for an eternity in His presence. He makes Himself my greatest desire so that I can say as Paul did in Philippians 3:8, "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ."

* Nothing else will satisfy me like God will. Attempts to be satisfied elsewhere will graciously fail if God is going to be glorified in me.

* When I am fully satisfied in God, my delight in Him will overflow.

* God is like a mountain spring, never ending, never needing filling, freely offering my thirsty soul to fill on Him alone to be satisfied so that I will be able to run down the mountainside and share with others, knowing that there will always be enough grace and He will never run dry which means that I can be filled yet again.

* God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

~My thoughts from the book by John Piper, The Pleasures of God

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Morning

 
It's Monday again. How the days go by so fast, I don't know. This chilly morning brings with it extra kids snuggled double in a bed, cousins excited for doughnut day at Aunt Terri's house (click here for the recipe if you, too, find the desire to add an extra five pounds to your hips). The noise level is a bit higher in this old farmhouse, and the boy energy has been flowing since before eight o'clock. I make my face smile, squeeze extra tight with the hugs, and clench my coffee cup as I push the dog off the recliner while seeking a quiet corner to right my heart before my Savior.

The conviction of luke-warmness, with a dollop of bubbling anger, has boiled to the top lately. I now wake up without immediate thoughts of a son in Heaven. I wonder how the funeral predictions could actually be coming true that eventually you do go on and begin to survive without the ever-pressing force of grief. The normalcy of life without Trent is forcing its way in. Still not a day goes by without tears, or a fervent missing and crying out to God, but they are going by with less intensity.

As appealing as that sounds, I fear for the lack of impact it has on my soul. The expectation of eternity has waned, the realization of this mist of a life has dwindled and is being replaced by thoughts of paint colors and decorating schemes.

...anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10:37a-38

That verse may not challenge anybody else, as my dear {young teen age daughter with no children} daughter pointed out that she doesn't have any problems with it or loving Jesus the most. But this old mother was convicted to the core. I imagine standing before the throne of God on that day that my name is called to give an accounting for my life, especially for this time that I was granted the privilege of suffering in order for God to do "his will, and work in me what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever" (Hebrews 13:21).

I've realized, recently, how unwillingly I have taken up this cross to follow in the path of Jesus. How quickly I would take back my easy life, pre-child death, and live contently until the ripe old age of ninety-two without a care or thought of eternity. The outcome would be not seeking Jesus this way. Not counting the cost. Not being forced to look the powerful truth of Scripture square in the eye. Not having to acknowledge who I love the most, Jesus or fill in my own blank. Not knowing if I would be found worthy.

Not being tested means never realizing the worth or validity of your faith. Not being tested means not seeing God's power revealed. Not being tested means remaining stagnant. Not being tested means risking your eternity.

And what do you do with that?

I plead with God to right my motives and make my days count. Somehow pursuing eternity, investing here only as much as is absolutely necessary, and making sure my salvation. I ponder how to store up those treasures there, where moth and rust will not destroy, while treading this earth and needing it's resources to physically live. I pray and trust that my children will not be warped as we refuse to indulge them with the goods this life has to offer, but would instead constantly find their joy in and turn their attention to an unseen Judge and Savior.

As Rob read Scripture to the kids the other night, pondering in the book of Acts about Jesus ascending to Heaven to take his seat at the right hand of God, I sensed a precipice of sorts. I recalled, not so long ago, five young children squirming on the couch listening to their father proclaim the promises of life ever after. Now one child is living the reality of the words while the rest of us try to imagine it; try to live our lives expecting it.

I wonder how to lay out the importance of it to the rest of them. Failing on my own, and instead relying on prayer and God's grace. Longing to impress upon their young souls the foundation of loving God the most, assuring them that it is easier to start serving Him young rather than when the stubbornness of age has established it's rugged path in their daily lives.

Sigh.

The reality of how to live out these Biblical truths reveals itself in the smiling faces before me. Investment into those whom God brings into our lives. Being where He calls us, faithfully serving where He leads us. Counting the minor things as major.

The houseful of children get nervous when I finally rise from that old, worn out chair, two cups of coffee later, with an opera song rolling sweetly {annoyingly?} from my lips as I dance with the smiling blonde girl. It's time for doughnuts, kiddos. I'm sure the extra sugar will make this Monday all the sweeter.