let nothing be wasted

thoughts on grief and the goodness of God

The Uninvited Guest

When Anthony and I were engulfed in the raging sea of disbelief that our son had died, we were grasping for any tools we could get our trembling hands on to deal with our grief. One of these was meeting with a counselor.

Of course we had no experience with grief counseling before this, and our counselor was an interesting one. She would start with asking what we were feeling.

I feel like I am generally a self-aware person and I don’t have a whole lot of trouble being honest. So I would lay it all out there. The sadness, the shock, how overwhelming it is to function each day, the searing physical pain…

She would nod and wait a few seconds and then say, “But what is going on in here?” and she’d make a box with her hands and hold it in front of her heart.

I would feel a little confused and then go back through and reiterate the pain and loss and basically, how pretty much awful everything is.

And she would nod and wait and then say, “But what is in here?” and hold the imaginary box up to her heart.

Uh… isn’t that what I just told you?

But we didn’t know what we were doing or how to process this sudden death so we went back to her again. Because surely she knew best how to help us. She’s a grief counselor after all.

On our third (and final) visit I lost all patience with her and her stupid little heart box and probably made it pretty obvious. So she gave up on me and turned to Anthony to ask him repeatedly about his little box. And being more diplomatic and gracious than me, he tried to explain to her that we keep answering the same thing over and over. So she pulled out a “feeling chart” with all these mad/sad/angry faces and asked him to point to the face he most identified with.

Um. Are you kidding me?

If only grief could be solved with heart boxes and emojis.

When we got in the car and I wiped frustrated tears from my eyes, we agreed that someday this could be funny.

Someday.

And some days it is. But many days, grief is just still too overwhelming to find much comedy in a lifeline we were grasping for in the midst of drowning sorrow.

It was just so discouraging. She was supposed to be the one who had grief figured out. Because we sure didn’t have the first clue how to navigate this nightmare. What now? How do we fix this? How do we figure it out so we can function and equip our family to get through this?

Since that first failed attempt at “figuring out grief,” I have read many books and I have gone to grief groups. And I have spent many hours in prayer and processing with wise and godly people.

And I still haven’t solved anything.

While I still feel like I am fighting for oxygen in this surviving without my child nightmare, I have certainly learned that part of dealing with loss is acknowledging how impossible it is. I still spend many days in shock and just sorting through the emotions and pain.

And I grieve many things. Mostly I grieve the loss of my son and his life in my home. I grieve everything about him and everything that is gone. I could write pages and pages of what I miss about him and how raw it still feels to face the death of a child and how the shock that this is my life still takes my breath away every day. And while that is obviously the most overwhelming aspect of my grief, there are still many, many other things I grieve.

I was once on a happy little path of life. And then a bomb unexpectedly went off. And my trajectory detoured on a scary awful route I never would have chosen. And all around me I feel the expectation of, “So, you are ok now, right? Back to the original route? Just a scary, painful detour but then everything works out?”

But grief is so much more than just losing Mason. It’s all about adjusting to a whole new everything, an entirely new track my life started down and there is no reverse to take me back to the course I actually want. Grief is being constantly aware of how life is different and always bracing myself for an onslaught of emotions that can come out of nowhere, catch me off guard and suck the air from my lungs. Hearing a song, seeing a certain toy, remembering a forgotten moment. Hearing a laugh from another room that sounds just like his.

GriefShare calls these ambushes. I like this title. Just add the chaos and unimaginable horrors of war and I think it’s quite accurate.

Even nearly three years later, grief pervades much of my life.

When its the first day of school and my kids have on their new uniforms and their backpacks full of fun new school supplies and eager smiles on their expectant faces, I grieve. I miss homeschooling all my children. All of us together… rich experiences and closeness. Our time snuggled on the couch or learning in nature. I grieve what once was and what might have been.

When I read my sometimes hilarious and always thoughtful Mother’s Day cards from my kids, I feel loved and cherished by my family… and I deeply grieve the one that is missing.

And when my 5 year-old makes life observations through the lens of losing an older brother, I grieve the loss of his innocence.

When entering a new social situation and facing the question of “How many kids do you have?” or “What made you decide on such an age gap in your children?” I grieve the days I didn’t dread going out in public or making small talk with new people.

At church when we sing a song from my son’s funeral or one which references the grave and death and someday heaven, I grieve for a time I didn’t have to force my mind to think of something boring like making a grocery list for fear that if I don’t, I will sob uncontrollably and not only bring awkward attention to myself but completely humiliate my poor children.

And when I read a news headline about the tragic loss of someone else’s child, I selfishly grieve the obliviousness I once had to tragedy and the days I would say “oh how awful!” and then forget about it a minute later.

Yes, there is truth about God’s goodness in all this. And how he makes beauty from ashes and all kinds of other clichés that makes those not actually holding the ashes feel a little more comfortable. And he redeems and he heals and there is great hope in the certainty of eternity.

But also. There is pain. And grief. And sometimes, I just sit with it. And I just grieve.

Because once, the very son of God came to this earth and in the face of the painful loss of his dear friend he didn’t say, oh, but God is good! He’ll redeem this. Hang on, no need to cry! You’ll see him again!

Every child’s favorite verse to memorize tells us he grasped that pain. He sat with it. “Jesus wept.”

Weeping takes it out of you. It’s not just wiping some emotion from your eye. It’s some serious ugly face crying from the depths. He wept. Jesus was in the moment of grief and he let it wash over him. He faced it and dealt with it.

The truth is, I will grieve forever. In little ways and in massively overwhelming ways. I will sort through memories of a little boy I held for 6 years and said goodbye to way too unexpectedly. I will take each seed of grief as it comes and identify it for what it is. And weep over it and be honest about it.

Because if I don’t, it will burrow its way into my heart and grow some deep roots of bitterness and blossom into some pretty harsh fruit and become a plant I will be eager to water. Because its real and true and I have every justification to validate its growth.

For the rest of my life I will have to do this. Maybe more often in some seasons than others.

I always see Mason missing from his age group. I feel his absence at the soccer field. I’m aware of which classroom would be his at school or church.

And what about that little girl I prayed for? The one who was going to grow up into the woman Mason would marry? The one I prayed would be cherished and nurtured in a safe and loving family and would someday bring out the best in my son.

Well, she vanished on a dark day in September along with my little boy.

The thing is, I will never have grief figured out. But there are a few things I know. Grief will perpetually taint this life. Because being a mom is a forever thing. And, it will always ache.

God is always good and always faithful.

And sometimes his goodness feels overwhelming. And the hope of eternity is so rich I feel like I am breathing it in and out.

But other times, like September, the ache is crushing. And the tears come and the air is sucked from my lungs and grief lingers awhile. Hovering around with memories and shocking reminders of my reality.

And I don’t have a solution for it and I don’t have it figured out. I just know it means sorrow and anguish and missing my little boy.

Sometimes grief peers in through the window for a bit, a sort of lurking sadness. Other times, it violently kicks the door in, and its intrusion is chaotic and terrifying.

And sometimes, it pulls up a chair and sits awhile. An uninvited guest, it stays as long as it needs and does not leave just because of sheer willpower or stubborn denial.

But grief is not the enemy. Grief is the reality of a fallen world. And it may leave a door wide open for all those awful visitors like bitterness and despair, but grief itself is not the enemy.

So when grief makes itself comfortable in spite of desperate pleas, I have found that even though I haven’t figured it out, I am willing to sit with it. And be honest about it. And let the waves of sadness come. And identify the loneliness. And feel ok with being misunderstood. And sort through memories that make me laugh and make me weep.

And while grief will always be an unwelcome visitor, there is a Permanent Resident whose presence is always a buffer of peace. And who constantly applies the filter of eternity over every painful moment.

And when I weep in the midst of lonely pain, I feel him whisper…

“I know.”

The fullness of joy

Back in those days when Mason was a baby and he cried. And cried. And cried. And he didn’t sleep. And I was on the verge of losing my last ounce of sanity, I remember lamenting my woes to my dear friend who just so happened to be parenting one-year-old sextuplets at the time.

(Yes, 6 one-year-olds. Not only was she in the trenches with SIX toddlers, she actually cared and listened to all my dramatic complaints about ONE. Saint!)

I have never forgotten what she said to me, with deep love and sincerity. “Stephanie, I’m just going to pray that you experience the presence of the Lord. When you are sleep deprived and Mason won’t stop crying, just pray and invite God into those fussy and overwhelming moments. Because Psalm 16 tells us that where the presence of the Lord is, there is joy. So in the midst of all that is hard, pray for God’s presence. And with it comes his joy.”

Right. That sounds beautiful.

But. Can he just sleep? Can he just quit the incessant screaming? Can we just stop all of this that is so irritating?

I mean, isn’t the presence of the Lord so much more enjoyable with a good night of sleep? Or when circumstances are more peaceful?

It has taken years for the truth of what she said and the power of that verse to seep into my heart and begin to direct my focus. When trials come and life is hard, I just want to pray the difficult away. Because isn’t it easier to “feel” joy when everything is good? When everyone is healthy and happy and life is safe and predictable?

Somehow, it feels like some simple equation for joy. Pray away the uncomfortable and then enjoy the presence of God. He answers prayer, right? And don’t his answers bring us joy? Because obviously my peace will come in the absence of trial, not in the midst of it. So if I keep praying and experience God’s answers, then I will be joyful.

But then suddenly, I found myself plunged into a pit I cannot pray my way out of. The thing about devastating loss is that there is no solution to the pain. Nothing can fully release the heavy weight pushing on a grieving mother’s heart or erase images seared into her very soul.

Every day of my life, I see my son on that hospital bed all over again, watching an army of people fighting for him. I replay my last conversation with him, remember what it felt like to hold him. I hear his voice. And his laugh. And see that spunky little gleam in his eye.

I cannot just “pray away” the loss of a child. There is no prayer ladder to climb out of the pain of grief, where Mason is waiting at the top and everything is totally fine again. Nothing this side of eternity is ever going to fix that. And while touches of healing come in waves, I will never completely heal from the sudden death of my 6-year-old son until I am face to face with my Savior. There are some wounds that just run too deep, some circumstances that are unchangeable, and some pain that will never go away.

It is in these depths where joy takes on a whole new meaning. It is here, in the dark and lonely pit of grief where the clarity of true joy can be refined and clarified and truly experienced.

Throughout my life, I have prayed with many for all kinds of trials. Broken marriages. Cancer diagnosis. Uncertain futures. And I will continue to pray for healing. And provision. And restored marriages. And clarity for decisions. And protection. And I will pray for things that don’t necessarily matter for eternity. Such as my 5-year-old scoring that soccer goal that matters to him. Or that we can find that missing library book that is racking up the late fines. Or fun blessings from the Lord on a beach day just so that my kids can see that God delights in them. Because he does. He answers prayer. He gives good gifts. And he brings healing. And restores relationships. And lightens the burden of trials.

Our circumstances can bring us a significant amount of happiness. Words cannot express the euphoria I experience when my babies begin sleeping through the night. Or when a long-awaited answer to prayer is realized.

But his answers to prayer are not what bring joy. He is what brings joy. So even if he says no to what we so desperately want. Even when he does not heal, even when he does not make my son’s heart beat again… He still brings joy.

Joy doesn’t come from the answers, but from the One who answers.

“In your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

In your presence there is fullness of joy. Not in ideal circumstances. Not free from suffering or pain or trial. Only in your presence.

While God tells us in his word to bring our requests to the Lord, and while we should continue to pray against the barrage of ailments this temporal earth hits us with, my joy does not come as a result of the conclusion of them. Grief has taught me that even in circumstances that can change and trials that do end, I do not have to wait for those answers to experience joy.

Joy comes in the waiting. In the surrender. In the perspective. In spite of the emotions. It can even coexist with sadness and deep, debilitating pain.

Joy, like peace, is supernatural. Not something this world offers and not something that makes any sense to my human mind. It comes simply and beautifully from a sovereign God in the midst of my submission and trust in him.

This means keeping my eyes not on my circumstances but on the one who surrounds me with his presence. Not on my emotions, but on God’s word. Surrounding myself with truth and constantly turning everything to prayer.

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm 119:50

While we may face trials that plague us every moment of our earthly existence, there is hope. And while God does not tell us, “When you walk through fire I’ll extinguish it, or when the waters are raging and the flood is rising I’ll pull you out,” he promises us something even better.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you:
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2,3

He will be with me. And in that presence, no matter the circumstance, there is joy.

While there is no way out of the painful pit of grief, there is a God who will never leave me there alone. He sustains. He gives peace. He redeems. He is in control.

And in all of that, He is the fullness of joy.

When Easter became a really, really big deal

I grew up in a virtually perfect Christian family where God’s truth was instilled in me at a very young age. I have lived a few decades of Easters now and have read the gospel accounts of the cross and resurrection more times than I can count.

And while I have always believed every word to be true, and while the understanding of the need for a Savior and the beautiful gift of grace has shaped my faith and continually beckoned me into a deeper relationship with God over the years, I can still say I was missing something.

I took Easter for granted.

Not until death pounced upon my doorstep and bared its vicious fangs and mercilessly ripped my child away did the magnitude of what Christ did on the cross begin to be felt in the depths of my soul.

Death sneered at me as he attempted to capture my son, but as he turned to celebrate his conquest in this minor battle, he was face to face with a victorious King. Christ defeated him. And he defeated the power he holds. He makes the pain temporary. He makes the darkness fade.

Death, with its menacing grip and oppressive darkness, has no triumph in the light of Christ.

He came and threatened what was most dear to me and it almost feels sometimes as though he won. But. Christ’s victory is what captured Mason instead.

Easter has become a big deal because death has become a big deal. I have lived the terrifying oppression of death. It has permeated my reality, saturated every sense, and attempted to cripple my very existence. It has taken what is sacred and left me vulnerable and heartbroken.

The dark void left behind contains a pain too deep, too desperate for words.

But it is this very pain that amplifies the beauty of the cross.

Now that I have lived death, and have breathed it, and felt it surround my very soul, I now am able to live the hope of the cross with so much more clarity.

One of the most comforting verses I read after Mason died is found tucked in the simple parable of the rich man and Lazarus. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet.” Luke 16:22

Carried by angels.

When I feel stuck in this realm where death feels permanent, I read this.

When my world was collapsing, Mason was being carried by angels to the presence of God.

(Sidenote: I do not read picture Bibles to my kids where angels are depicted as wimpy fairies. When we talk about angels, I attempt to paint pictures for them of warriors. Fierce and victorious, who fight darkness on our behalf. Yes, angels sing and worship God. But they also battle. And stand guard over our children. And fight wicked demons. They are warriors on the winning side, victorious because of the blood of the lamb. So when I picture my son being carried to Jesus by angels, I picture heaven’s equivalent of hard core Navy Seals.)

I am obviously no theologian and I know this passage is not a literal promise of God as to what our transportation to heaven may be.

And it probably won’t be like this. It will most likely be way better. I mean, Elijah went out in a whirlwind on a chariot drawn by horses of fire (2 Kings 2:11). (Lucky!)  The truth is, however we get to heaven… well, its going to be amazing.

One of my favorite homeschooling units from a few years ago was astronomy. There was such an eagerness in my children as we learned about the universe, all the planets and the stars. We did all sorts of pinteresty activities and made these super fun constellation cookies.

We would sit in the backyard and look at the night sky and find the constellations we learned about. When I first pointed out Cassiopeia to my kids I showed them it looked like a “W.”

“No, mom,” Mason corrected me. “Its an M. For Moose and for Motorhome. And for Mommy!”

He would often point out Cassiopeia in the night sky and ask over and over again how long it would take to get there. My eye is always drawn there on clear nights and I remember his sweet voice and sitting with him under the blanket in the backyard staring at the expanse of the stars.

And then, I imagine his special ride to heaven with the angels. And while my human mind cannot understand the dimension of heaven and how that fits into our universe, I can’t help but think how simple our existence is in the light of the magnificence of God. And I sometimes think when Mason’s heart beat its last on this earth, he began a laughter-filled, joyous journey. And on that day he found out just how long it takes to get to Cassiopeia and I think he had a tour of the planets and constellations that would blow my human mind.

And while my life was rocked with ominous silence and dreadful tears, he was listening to angels singing and he was rejoicing.

Maybe I’m wrong. But if it wasn’t like this, I am certain it was beyond. Because when Jesus conquered death and then went to prepare a place for us after he left this earth, I’m pretty sure that not only is he making heaven absolutely perfect, he is putting some amazing details in our arrival.

There is more. So much more than our hearts beating on his beautiful earth. There is hope. And purity. And joy. All available and waiting to welcome us because of Christ’s victory over death.

Christ made what could have been such a dark ending with hopeless finality a beautiful and wonderful gateway into a beginning more glorious than we ever could imagine.

What the enemy intends to use to destroy us, to separate us forever from hope, Christ uses to usher us into the very presence of an Almighty God who created us, loves us, and delights in us.

Easter is a really, really big deal. A Savior is a really, really big deal.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever felt the power of Easter until I lived the oppression of death. But Easter helps me see. Deeper and fuller. This is not the end. Death doesn’t win. Easter brings clarity to every other day of the year. And every thought of the future.

“You do not know the good he has in store for you. As time and space contract, your mind will expand to survey the eternity beyond. As film covers these dull organs of sight, the eyes of your understanding will be opened. Many who depart this life hear the songs of angels long before their ears are closed to the sounds of earth. And how precious Christ becomes to them then. They hardly knew the moment they entered heaven, for as they left earth the radiance of that bright realm dawned a vision of glory.” -Spurgeon

While I was breathing in the sterile smells of a hospital and the lonely stillness of death, Mason was inhaling the richness of perfection, the purity and freshness of heaven. While my eyes dimmed in the existence of my life without my child, Mason’s were being opened to unknowable dimensions of hope and brilliant details of beauty. And while every fiber of me ached to hold him, to feel his arms wrap around my neck, hear his little voice… he felt the rush of angels through the heavens and the soft welcoming embrace of an Almighty God. While I was feeling death, he was living eternal life.

All because the hands that welcomed him were pierced on a cross and the Savior that held him has conquered death. 

Easter is a really, really big deal.

Sunrise

There is something about the sunrise in the spring. Something new. Something more alive. For some reason, the sky feels a little more pink, the air more pure.

Maybe its the added chirping of birds. A new chorus of life greeting less chillier mornings. Maybe its the purple flowers outside my window, with a special tint in the early glowing hour. 

Something in the air speaks of promise. Of hope. Of freshness.

I like to start my morning with the filter of the sunrise. Soft, hopeful hues on the quiet world around me.

I am sometimes gifted with bouts of insomnia. It started for me about 5 years ago. I did not welcome it then as a gift. It is wretched and life-sucking and I would dread, with my eyes wide open in the dark, the hours I would face in my day when my kids would need me and I would be exhausted and fried.

After wrestling with my angst for many nights, I finally decided, if I can’t sleep, I am determined to do the most productive thing I can. I will open my Bible and I will fill my prayer journal.

I sat in my living room in the dark early hours of the morning and soaked up the presence of God. And I was beautifully surprised. There was a depth to my studies not normally experienced in my current status of motherhood. I saw the value, and the reward, in seeking out wisdom. My prayers were more intentional. The things God put on my heart lingered there throughout my day.

And although there were definitely still tired moments, I was not controlled by exhaustion anymore. God met me in my insomnia and sustained me.

These sleepless moments became a gift, spending rich, beautiful time in God’s word. And as the sane hours of morning neared, I would open the blinds so I could watch the darkness slowly fade, the soft filter of light descending upon a new day.

Watching the sunrise from my quiet, comfortable chair, after filling myself with God’s truth, was a sweet reward.

I remember the day I wrote in my journal I was thankful for insomnia. I actually laughed at myself. But I was, indeed, truly thankful.

It was in the trenches of insomnia that my understanding and acceptance of God’s sovereignty was molded and fortified. I was being prepared for a future I never could have imagined and what I learned in these moments carried me through the minefield of terror I was about to step in.

I never could have known that God was planting specific truths in my heart to strengthen my foundation and prepare me for the unthinkable. But I am forever grateful he pursued me in the only time of my day that could not be interrupted by anything else.

And while the extensive stretches of insomnia eventually lessened, born in those long nights was a discipline developed for early mornings. I began to find much joy in beating the sun to my chair by the window, soaking in God’s word while my house slept. And while the warmth of my bed still often begs me to stay, I know that what is waiting for me in the living room is more valuable than a few more morsels of sleep.

When Mason died, sleep was again elusive. The heaviness that settles on a grieving heart, while causing every bone to ache with weariness, forbids the peace of sleep. The shock of death can strike even in the waves of unconsciousness and startle me awake. And the nightmare awaiting me in reality often prevents the ability to fall back asleep.

A discipline I had developed in the previous years forced me in those moments to not allow the fear and anxiety and overwhelming heartache to hold me hostage in the dark. If tears came and what ifs started haunting me, I refused to stay in the blackness and allow them to assault me.

I made my way out to the same chair I’ve spent many sleepless hours, opened the same Bible that floods me with truth, and allowed the beautiful presence of an unchanging God to fill me.

This time in the word, reading and absorbing God’s promises, creates a solid filter of truth over everything else I experience in life.

I am not a huge fan of bright sunny days. I much prefer a blanket of fog, or thick clouds. The bright sun of midday makes my sensitive eyes squint and usually leaves me with a headache. The bright sunlight is a little severe for me, a harsh filter that diminishes the beautiful hues of flowers or the welcoming softness of grass. I delight in the filter of clouds. It calms me, invigorates me.

And sunrise… I love sunrise. The best way to start my day is with the sunrise. Watching the darkness slowly give way to the glow of light. The filter of freshness lying thick on the beauty around.

And while beginning my day with the sunrise is refreshing and enjoyable, beginning my day with the Word of God is life giving and sustaining.

I hate living every day without Mason. The pain of grief is harsh, and it can create a grim filter of fear. It can cast bleak and bitter light on what is actually beautiful. It can make things that once seemed so hopeful feel lost. Living without Mason is a reality that needs the filter of truth. Much like the bright sunlight makes my eyes squint and my head hurt, years without my little boy make my heart weary and focus blurred.

But when I spend time absorbing God’s truth, letting the filter of what is unchanging and certain settle over me, I see light saturate my darkness. I begin to see beautiful hues on what can seem painful and harsh. As the morning sun makes every petal of a flower more vivid, God’s promises bring clarity to my perspective.

When I sit and watch the darkness start to fade by the hints of morning light, I see other things too. Little gifts. Glimpses of beauty which only the special filter of light can expose. Softness in the world around me. Intricate details of leaves. Drops of dew on blades of grass. Dimensions of the clouds which can only be viewed through the depths of a sunrise glow.

The light of Christ creates similar beauty. It pushes out the dark that hovers over me. It brings clarity and beauty to the painful tedium of living life without one of my children. And just as the filter of sunrise brings beautiful dimension to these purple flowers, Christ brings hope through my pain. He brings a soft clarity to what I still have on this earth that is sacred and beautiful. He helps me see the depth of joy that is found in him and these promises that feel faded in the harshness of grief’s darkness are still true. And his love is steadfast. And his sovereignty is sure. And as eternity nears, his light continues to dawn brighter and the harsh memories of death slowly fade as the filter of truth shows the dimensions of hope.

Little (and big!) promises are brought to light every time I find myself in God’s word. And while I do not see a sunrise and not think of the one dawning the moments Mason’s heart was beating its last, I also do not see the light pushing out the darkness and not think of the sweet glory of my boy’s existence in eternity and the hope I can cling to because of the power of Christ.

When everything isn’t merry and bright

I know a pain that taints the merriment of the holidays. For many people, all the commercial hype and the expectancy of happy memories and jolly times tend to shine too bright a spotlight on all that is actually, not all that happy and jolly.

What is “merry and bright” can really be a painful magnifying glass on deep loss and missing family members. On unbearable pain in many forms… death, divorce, cancer, loneliness, unemployment, infertility… Really, the list can go on and on.

The holidays, they can be painful. In an unbalanced, unfair sort of way. The years keep coming, stretching agonizingly on with the absence of Mason becoming like this hole in my heart that does not shrink over time nor can it be filled by anything else. In every mom’s heart is an exact, perfectly shaped piece for each and every child she has been given. A unique gift, engraved by a Creator’s hand that does not alter or diminish over time.

Each new milestone, new holiday, brings new waves of grief. A new dimension of pain. A magnifying of an incomplete family, a missing smile, an absence of Christmas gifts, a void of life that once completed my happy little circle, my simple existence. A gift I loved and cherished for 6 years, that I never anticipated being pried from my fingers, is gone.

Nothing ever feels quite right.

This time of year is hard, as I am sure it is for many, because its not just a celebratory day but an entire season. Memories and traditions and celebrations that stretch from Thanksgiving to Christmas and on to New Year’s. My home is filled with lights and special cookies and my children fill with the anticipation of traditions and laughter.

But my heart, while often filling with joy and laughter, will also always have a spot once filled with Mason, now filled with an empty ache for a little boy who left this world way too soon.

So I enter the holiday season bracing myself, knowing the joy and the laughter will also in many ways, amplify the reality of the absence and pain.

Reading through the Christmas story in Luke this year, my heart was drawn to the account of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple. And here they meet Simeon, who was “…righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Isreal, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:25)

So he saw this little baby at the temple, knew he was the Messiah, and he took him in his arms and praised God. And while his parents marveled, Simeon said, “… for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation…” (vs 30-32)

The fulfillment of centuries of prophecy. All this hope and promise!

But then he looks at Mary.

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.'” (vs 34-35)

The expected judgement. The promised redemption. The prophecy spanning our entire existence, everything in the past and everything to come hinges on this baby. So much could be said, so much praise, so much more hope.

But to Mary he says, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

This phrase is in parentheses in my bible. Sort of a side note, but yet not a side note. In the midst of the greatest fulfillment of God’s prophecy that he will send a Savior and redeem all the world, God speaks through Simeon directly to a mother’s heart.

Yes, a sword will pierce your soul. You will watch your son suffer and die. This will be costly for you. It will hurt. The pain will be great, but I see it. I know.

I will redeem it. I know you will experience pain unimaginable. I know your heart will be pierced.

And although it serves a huge purpose, the fulfillment of my plan and hope for all eternity… it will hurt.

And I care about your pain.

The Sunday after Mason died, when I had resolved to hide under my covers until Jesus came back, Anthony encouraged me that it would be good for us all to go to church. And there, while protectively hovering outside the Sunday school classroom of one of my children in the event escape was necessary, one of our amazing children’s ministries ladies approached me with tears in her eyes.

“I’m not sure if you want these now, but I have some of Mason’s crafts.”

This one particular piece jumped out from all the rest. He had painted over a hidden message. And his art revealed one word.

Chosen.

It was almost a whispered word from the Lord to me. I have chosen Mason for eternity. I chose him from before you first held him. I knew every day of his life. I chose him. And I have chosen him, even in death, to accomplish much for my kingdom.

And as the truth of this washed over me, all I really wanted to say was, “No thank you. I want him back.”

This artwork is in my Bible. And I look at it almost daily. And while I have not wavered in my trust in the sovereignty of God, I still often say, “No thank you.”

No mother’s heart ever volunteers to be pierced by a sword.

I am sure Mary was far holier and more submissive than me. But in heaven, I am going to find her and ask what her response was. When Simeon held the Savior of the world in his arms, your precious baby boy, and *blessed* you by telling you a sword would pierce your heart, did you want to say, “Um, no thank you,” and snatch your newborn baby back and run from the temple?

God’s whisper in the parenthesis said that even this divine knowledge, that all of creation would be redeemed through the birth and death of this baby, would never be enough to buffer the pain of the piercing of a mother’s heart.

God knows. The promises and assurances are true. And the pain is also real. What I find to be the most significant parenthesis in the Bible is found right in the middle of the promise and fulfillment of all hope and redemption. This is God’s whisper, I see your heart. I see your pain. And it is great. And it will always exist this side of eternity. But I care.

Christmas, and the whole season surrounding it, is not easy. Not for many.

But that deep pain can be met by the deep and unwavering truth of a compassionate Savior. And deeper than my sadness over my little boy not being here is the truth that I will see him again. And someday, and for all eternity, we will celebrate together.

While my heart has been pierced by a sword and the scar surrounding that hole will exist every day of my life on this earth, there is also the comforting arms of a Father, wrapping around me saying, “I know.” I know your heart has been pierced and I know that the pain is great. And that is why I sent my son to redeem it. To heal it.

Our scars represent memories. They remind us of events in our life, usually associated with pain. The biggest physical scar I have is from Mason’s emergency c-section. And while that was most definitely not a pleasant experience in and of itself, I look at my scar and remember the gift of my baby boy.

This Christmas, the scar on my heart reminds me of something much more meaningful than Christmas lights and presents and holiday memories. It reaches far deeper than all the delightfully beautiful things on this temporal earth. My scar reminds me there is a Savior. Who has and will redeem all this pain.

Mary’s scar from her piercing maybe reminded her of a visit from an angel. She actually heard the spoken, personal promises from an almighty God who chose her. Mary’s scar probably reminded her of a birth in a stable where shepherds were sent by a host of angels to worship her baby. And yes, her scar had to remind her of other memories with her firstborn son. The first time he walked and the how he said her name. His laughter and his joy.

Our scars this Christmas can remind us that God sees. He knows our hearts have been pierced and he knows the pain of this world is great. He sees every tear and he knows a mother’s ache.

So while the Christmas season brings a magnifying glass to my pain and the absence of my little boy, it also greatly magnifies the true and deeper purpose of this season.

Yes, I will see Mason again. But even better, I will see my Savior. Who redeemed all of this, who himself was pierced for me, who knows pain and sees our scars and he will make it all right. He will redeem every tear. And the day that he wipes our tears from our eyes he will also fill those holes in our hearts and mend the scars of years of pain.

Because he makes all things new.

Everything he fulfilled and everything he has promised… Hope. Redemption. This is what truly makes Christmas special.

 

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