Valley of the Shadow of Death

(A post from the first days after putting Jonathan in the ground.)

Day 5

Psalms 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

A spur of the moment trip yesterday afternoon to Coco Key Resort, produced a valuable image for Daniel and I to hold onto as we walk through the darkness of Jonathan’s death. Daniel is tall enough to ride the four big slides, and this summer his confidence in the water has skyrocketed. He and I tackled the first one on a two-seater inner tube. After that he was ready to tackle it alone and then moved onto the body slides.

But, he declared from the beginning, that he would not go on the two slides that did not let light in. I have to admit, I had no intention of going on those either. Later, I’m not even sure what prompted me to go on the dark body slide alone, but I did. Maybe I chose the tube because I am already walking through the darkest place imaginable. The slide was as dark as the inside of a cave cavern. I could not see the twists and turns and I didn’t know how long the ride would be, but I knew the light was at the end.

Just before leaving, Daniel grabbed the two-seater and declared that he wanted to ride the dark slide. As soon as we started down I could sense his fear. I declared that I was still beside him, and that the light would greet us at the end. When we exited the pool I told him that this how I feel with God right now. I don’t see him, but I hear his voice, and I’m trying to stand on the truth of his character. In the car the kids asked to listen to their Music Camp CD. One of the songs was “You Never Let Go”. As Daniel listened he exclaimed, “That is like the dark slide! I couldn’t see you, but I knew you were there. I know God is there, and that he won’t let go of me.”

Yes Daniel, and yes reader, God will never let go of you! Through whatever storm or dark place in this life you are going through. Our part is to know that he is here. For me, the only way to obtain that knowledge has been to read about his character in scripture, to pray, and to practice walking in faith. I can’t see where this devastating dark twist will lead, but I won’t turn back, because I know you are here.

Goals:
1. Let others help me today.
2. Work on my song.
3. Find a new copy of Barbra Johnson’s book. (Meet me at half-priced books anyone?)

Hearing God in the Silence of Grief

Romans 8:31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He 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? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”j

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 

It’s the silence, after a house full of guests, that threatens to undo me. In grief, you brace yourself for the days of deepest memories, but the days that would have been routine, those are the days that crush bones. In these difficult days I grow best if I listen to what the new aspects of grief want to tell me.

I hear God calling me.

I am here, in this season of depression, to shout that God makes a way through. I am being stretched and prepared to love more deeply than I ever thought possible, so that you know, beyond a shadow of doubt that God loves you. He has chosen you since before the beginning of creation! There is not a single second of your existence that does not matter to him.

Lean in and listen to the silence of your circumstances. Allow God to teach you more about both loss and gain than you knew before. Grief can widen our hearts to love God and our neighbor more deeply or close us off. Perspective is the only difference. Do I fix my eyes on the evil of losing Jonathan, meant to harm me (which it was), or allow God to transform my loss into good, for the salvation of many? Even typing these words are hard. I grapple with the untamed nature of God most when ask this question.

But, then I look at the son God did not spare. Was the cross evil. Yes. Was Jesus innocent. Yes. Did God spare Jesus. No  What kind of God operates this way? I have heard again and again from people suffering the horrid torment of cancer that they felt God’s presence, and were able to love more deeply than before their cancer. What kind of God determines what is evil as being for the good of the world?

A God who is not limited by evil!  A God who sent his own son to the pits of hell to save us. A God who gave us over to ourselves, but made a way for us to be better since the beginning of time. My God isn’t tame, he is dangerous to follow, but he is good! How glad that I am that God has never fit into my box, or been limited by what evil men do!

Listen to God’s call on your life and walk through the flames if that is where he leads. He may take you out of the furnace, he may take you through the furnace, or he might take you by the furnace, but one thing is certain, others will see him standing with us as we walk in obedience to his will.

 

I Have Never Been Stranded on Mars, but if I were . . .

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” –Mark Watney (The Martian)

I have had a multitude of troubles thrown my way, but I can honestly say, I have never been stranded on Mars. In the early days after Jonathan’s death a friend asked, “How are you doing this? How are you able to function?”

My answer, “I’m not.”

I knew several things almost instantly the day Jonathan died.

  1. This was hell on earth.
  2. I could not stand in this furnace alone.
  3. I would grieve with hope.

Galatians 2:20I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

I live, because Christ lives. The more I am crucified with Christ, my fleshly desire to have Jonathan alive dies. So many of us do not get over losing our children because it is a way of keeping them alive in our minds. God does not say, “Just get over it.” He mourns with us! At the same time he invites us to the realization that God will be glorified. We cannot stare longingly at the grave of our past and expect to resurrect what is not within God’s will. We must keep our eyes fixed upon the cross if we want to live.

I wrestle with this aspect of God’s character, but I also know he did not spare his own son. When Jesus started talking to the followers about “eating his flesh”, many walked away. (John 6:53) This is a hard teaching! Will I leave Jesus because I cannot fully get my mind around what he is asking of me? No! Who else in this world has changed my life. Who else has loved me like you? You are the Christ and my salvation is in you alone.

I am finding that the cross is the juxtaposition of Christ! Opposites collide on the cross– life and death, pain and pleasure, law and grace, sin and holiness, shame and glory. On the cross Jesus understands, both my deepest sorrow, and the heights of his fathers glory. And as I die my spirit is revealed more and more. I pray that I too, one day, can fully state. “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” I don’t have to scramble, alone, to solve enough problems to get home. Christ already solved them for me on the cross. I’m already home!

 

Immature Plans:Trusting the plan of Salvation

John 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”

Matthew 8:And behold, they cried out saying, “What to us and to you Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

John 1223 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.…

Our plans to save ourselves are always immature. We look for Jesus to turn water into wine, so we can save the party, but God pours out his own blood to save the world. We look for Jesus to overthrow and punish our enemies. Jesus looks at breaking the chains of sin and offering salvation to those who murder us!

God hears our cries, but he will not answer until the appointed time. This can be confusing, and infuriating! We believe in God, but we don’t believe in his plan or his perfect timing. We look for idols and quick fixes to fill in the gap of our waiting. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains it this way, “Delays of mercy are not denials of prayer. Those that expect Christ’s favors, must observe his orders with ready obedience.”

Can I obey God when he let my son die? Can I keep turning the page of his plan, according to his will and not mine? I see the spectacular results of Jesus’ obedience! Oh Lord, I cry out to you. Open my mind to the possibilities of your perfect plan. Make my path straight. Thank you that you didn’t stop with water to wine! May my narrow plan open wide to the joy of your salvation. Amen

Death Touched Butterfly

Cocooned, your wings

folded into cramped quarters of

fragile purpose.

Too young–death has touched

you.

ripped your still forming chrysalis

forced your

eyes open to the dust

of humanity. So you hide deep within

safety, questioning the wisdom of

God. Why did he mold you to fly in a world

chained by gravity?

Not My Will But Yours Be Done: Learning to accept God’s Sovereignty

John 19:26When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

As I was going to sleep last night, a thought popped into my head. Mary lost a child to a brutal death. In fact she lost at least two! James, her biological son with Joseph it is believed was stoned to death for preaching the gospel. This is no mother’s plan! Mary had to be numb and collapsing as she saw Jesus, the son of God, being crucified on the cross. God did not tell her that this was the road to salvation. It is safe to say that she was not in agreement with the dangerous path Jesus was walking. In her wisdom, she wanted to keep him safe, just as she had always done. She remembered fleeing from Cesar when Jesus was a baby. She remember how this precious life changed her very existence as he grew in her belly. She had done everything she could to sustain him, to keep him alive, to be a good steward of God’s amazing gift. Surely him hanging on the cross was not God’s will. Jesus did nothing as she expected. And yet, even from the cross Jesus was concerned for his mother and providing for her.

No matter how great the plan we make as a mother, God’s plan is better. He has the end goal end in mind, when I cannot even see the finish line. His love is for all of humanity. My love is for a few. His judgment is not clouded and mine is darkened by my own selfish desires. His path is consistent, he neither wavers nor stumbles. God’s plan for Jesus was perfect. God’s plan for Jonathan was perfect. Oh, how weighty those words are for me! They are bitter in my soul. Please hear me, while God did not cause my son’s death, he didn’t stop it either–AND HE IS COMPLETELY ABLE TO! To accept God’s sovereignty in my son’s death is one of the hardest hurdles in my faith. Yet I have believed that he is sovereign in the good things in my life. Why not in death as well?

He has a purpose in allowing Jonathan to die, and as I learn to open myself to the possibilities in his purposes may the friction between my will and God’s will be removed. What is happening in your life right now that you find yourself saying, “Surely this is not the will of God.” Are you battling cancer, is a loved one ill, have you lost your job, is your marriage in shambles. Can we pray as Jesus prayed?:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes. (Matthew 6:9-13, The Message)

A Little Closer to Death

Short visit among the gray stones of remembering

Words emptied when you sunk into the earth

Silence

our new conversation.

In the quiet bosom of your death the throbbing heartbeat of creation

draws my attention away from you

and I watch life flit like spirits dancing amongst

gray stones, a little closer to death than they want to be.

Giving Impossible Circumstances to the God of Possibilites

Edgar Allen Poe dug up Annabel Lee . . . or so the ghost tour guide in Charleston, South Carolina wanted us to believe. Often times we take bits of truth such as, Poe wrote a lot about dying women and he is shrouded in mystery and blow them up into legends. Behind Poe’s poetry on death was a real person, who himself may have been stuck in grieving and trying to figure out, is death the final blow. His father abandoned him, and his mother died when he was only 3. His siblings were split up and his foster family was tumultuous at best. He did not have guidance into a firm and secure adulthood and, I believe, became stuck in an impulsive and impetuous childhood as an adult. He tended to alienate others because he had a sharp tongue and used it often. Drinking and gambling became two of his fallbacks when life was not going his way. He could neither manage success or enjoy it. Poe’s life seemed set up to fail. His final words were reported to be, “Lord, help my poor soul.” (biography.com)

We have a real enemy who loves to attack our children. Jesus warns that the punishment is severe for those who harm our children (Matthew 18). Some of us have been born into abusive families, some of us have  hardship after hardship, and some of us have chosen our own destructive path. I am working on reading the Bible cover to cover this year and one thing is clear: GOD IS NOT LIMITED BY OUR CIRCUMSTANCES! From Adam to the end God turns the darkest of circumstances around. Rahab the prostitute is in the lineage of Jesus, Joseph the slave, saves his family who sold him into slavery, Roman occupation into the stage for a cross, a death and a resurrection.

Poe, like many of us could not see the possibilities beyond his circumstances. I tell you the truth, not even death can stop us! Jesus’ enemies thought they had cut off the head and that the disciples would fall apart. They were almost right, the disciples could not see past their fears or the grave. But, when Jesus arose and continued ministering and preparing the disciples, this band of rag-a-muffins became a powerhouse of restoration to the sick, poor, lost, hungry and all those whose circumstances seemed impossible! So, don’t think for a second that what you are experiencing is beyond hope.

http://tonynolan.org/3min-testimony-interview/

Depression, my Jericho Wall: How do I defeat my enemy?

Joshua 5:13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

The wall! I expect it these days, so I don’t go running into it full force,but sometimes it looms so large I can’t breathe. I don’t know what caused this wall of depression, maybe starting another round of insomnia,my kids grief, or my own. It is so real I can see it and touch it. I can’t go further, and I refuse to go backwards, so what are my options?

My option is to cry out to my heavenly father! I cannot move, climb over, or go around this wall, but he can. In college I was reading about Joshua in my Navigator Bible; the caption spoke about the ruins of Jericho. The way the stones are positioned it is clear that the walls fell outward, not inward. A mighty force pushed from the inside!

I need a mighty force knocking down the wall of depression from the inside. If we are in Christ we have a mighty warrior on the inside–the Holy Spirit!

Acts 2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesa as the Spirit enabled them.

Much of what has transpired since the death of my son has been through the Comforter (another name for the Holy Spirit). I thank you father for what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do. Direct my path so that I may be a living witness to your power and strength over depression. This is my Jericho wall! You are a force to be reckoned with and no wall can stand against you.  Maybe you have allowed this wall in my life to show others that nothing is too big for you! Not our doubts, not our fears, not our enemies, not depression–nothing can separate us from your love! Thank you for giving me your peace, that makes absolutely no sense in these circumstances. Teach me to abide in your will no matter where you lead me. Amen!

Jesus Redefined Death with His Beautiful Blood

Today was all about death . . .okay not exactly. God was revealing his active role in my circumstances, through worship . I heard the song Beautiful Blood by Kutless for the first time this morning and I cocked my head in disbelief. The opening line: I never knew death could be so sweet . . . For someone mourning the tragic death of her son to suicide, the opening line was not something I am easily inclined to accept. My spirit is resistant to stating anything about death as being beautiful. Death is our brokenness, death is our bodies breaking down, death ends our connection to our loved ones, death is cancer, death is loneliness, death is final.

Today was about death . . .  My pastor called death a bully this morning! Jesus’ friend Lazarus had been dead for four days and it was impossible to come back from. Death didn’t even have the decency to spare Jesus’ best friend! Why in the world didn’t Jesus save his friend while he still lived?  Say the word Jesus and my son is healed, say the word Jesus and my marriage is restored. You know that I love you, you know that I follow you . . .don’t I deserve something extra? In fact Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, responds to the death of their friend by saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Oh I have never understood Thomas’ grief more than now.  John 11

You and I may struggle to look beyond death, but Jesus’ has heaven in view the whole time. He comforts the sisters of Lazarus and his disciples with these words, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”… Oh Jesus I want to, help me with my unbelief! Jesus had raised others from the dead, but not after 4 days in the tomb. The other miracles could be explained away, but not Lazarus walking out of the tomb alive. While everyone was celebrating , with this miracle Jesus had signed his death warrant. (Read on)

Today is all about life because Jesus’ chose death on a cross, in our place. His death is beautiful because he died while I could do nothing about it. I was still caught in sin and he chose me! So his blood is beautiful because I know that my son’s suicide is not the end of my story, God will be glorified.

I never knew these nails would love unfold
I never knew these wounds would heal my soul

Read more: Kutless – Beautiful Blood Lyrics | MetroLyrics