let nothing be wasted

thoughts on grief and the goodness of God

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.

 

An Invitation: 10 Ways to Pray for a Grieving Family

It has now been 2 years of living life without Mason.

Two years.

Two years of perfection for him.

And two, long, weary years of crippling grief for us.

There are moments it feels like decades of exhaustion, of putting one foot in front of the other.

And other moments where every second in that hospital room is so fresh its as though I just lived the horror this morning.

People often ask me if it gets easier. The further out I am from that September day… does the pain lessen? Do I still think about him? Does life feel “normal” again?

So, um, nothing is ever normal and I think about him every second of every day.

The pain does not lessen. At times, over the past excruciating months, it does take different forms. Sometimes it is still a shocking pain. As in, wait. Is he really still gone? And other times it is a numbing pain, where the shock is not as sharp and the dull ache becomes something I have learned to live with. But it still hurts. Just sometimes in different ways. 

And there is no returning to “normal.” I suppose if anything, maybe there is a new “normal” for my family. A normal we never would have chosen. A normal which involves a 2 sided filter. On the one side is much pain and grief. But the other side brings into focus a clearer and much more beautiful perspective of eternity.

Without a doubt, the only way we have gotten through these last 2 years, and the only way we will persevere through many more until that glorious day we enter perfection ourselves… is the kindness of an Almighty God who has never left us. And the powerful ways we have seen him meet every need are a direct result of the countless faithful people who have consistently persisted in fervent prayer for our family.

Prayers of truth and hope and protection have fought many a spiritual battle on my behalf. And rather than always thinking of the loss of Mason, they help me to focus instead on what is true for Mason now.

Beautiful, joy-filled perfection.

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

My senior year of high school, I had a youth pastor who constantly gave me a refreshing perspective of what it must have been like to be in the presence of Jesus.

Unlike so many artist depictions of a somber and serious Jesus painted through the centuries, he told us of a Jesus who laughed. How his disciples must have so thoroughly enjoyed every second with him. How he was not only happy and joyful, but he was also fun.

He taught us Bible stories and then he would create imaginary scenarios. Of practical jokes and laughter. After such and such miracle was when he and John plotted that prank on James… After this parable they laughed at that joke he played on Peter…

Obviously stories not found in the Bible, but ideas that capture the essence of a God who delights in us and is full of joy and laughter.

Seeds of joyous Savior planted so many years ago produced an abundance of hope in the darkest valley of my life. The truth of this Jesus, a God who laughs and jokes and delights, has provided me with such secure comfort over these last 2 years. Every time I picture my son in heaven, I see him laughing.img_0228

And then, almost 2 months ago, this same youth pastor and friend, who painted these precious comforting images of Jesus, suddenly and shockingly lost his own 2 year-old son.

Hearing the news began streams of tears and waves of uncontrollable shaking. I was overwhelmed with complete devastation for this family as they were plunged into the depths of grief and pain.

And as the days and the weeks passed and they haven’t left my mind…and I have continually felt like the air has been sucked out of me… when I feel the shift of reality and the sense that nothing will ever be the same again… when I am unable to fall asleep, or when I wake with a start and a familiar anxious pit settles settles deep in my stomach… when I think of nothing else beyond the horror this family has been thrust into… I recognize all of the emotions and pain that cloud my ability to function for what it truly is.

An invitation.

An invitation from an Almighty God, who hates death, to intercede for the hurting.

And I am reminded that this physical pain I feel, this inability to sleep, the consuming thoughts of this family… they serve a purpose. God is calling me to pray. There are depths of darkness that few can understand and he is reminding me of how oppressively awful it feels so that I can pray from a place of understanding. I am invited to battle in the most productive way we can on this earth, by interceding for hurting hearts and desperate souls.

So when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night I pray that they would find a moment of rest. And when I cannot stop crying for them I pray the Lord will give them his peace that surpasses understanding. When I do things like make dinner for my family, I pray with tears knowing the pain of putting out one less dinner plate and pray their children will know truth and security as they navigate this scary journey of grief.

I pray these things because I have lived the results of them being prayed for me. When I was in my own shocking whirlpool of pain, friends and strangers went beyond the oppressive emotions that assaulted them and prayed these things over my family. I am thankful, that when I didn’t even know what to pray, God was calling others to intercede for me.

Instead of reacting with, “I can’t even think of that, its so awful and depressing,” they recognized that the Lord was saying, “I’m giving you some of this pain to bear in empathy so they don’t have to. Are you willing to endure a sleepless night in prayer so a weary parent can rest from their grief for a moment?”

These sincere prayers have been powerful and transformative for my family and continue to save us from a dark and slippery pit.

These are the reason we have survived this tragedy. There are so many tangible gifts God used to help us get through the day, things that brought smiles and healing. Things I will forever be grateful for.

But the most important thing was the desperate pleas to a powerful God who widened our path and lighted our darkness. And our journey is far from over but I have learned because of the commitment of others for Kingdom things for my family, what really matters for the hurting.

I believe those who turned their deepest pain into their most sincere prayers fought battles for my family in the spiritual realm.

And while I will never know on this earth all the warriors who interceded for me and what specifically was prayed for our family, here are a few things I have seen answered in my own life and believe to be powerful ways to pray for a hurting family who has lost a child.

10 Ways to Pray:

Strengthening of family. Pray for the strength for families to grieve together. Pray for wisdom and the ability to be in the moment with one another… laughter or tears, whatever hurting hearts need. And sometimes both at the same time. Because so many were committed to pray for my family, this awful wretched thing that could have wrenched us apart in our own unique grief only served to unite us even stronger in our love for each other and our faith in a God who is sovereign over all.

For needs, big and small, to be met. Day to day functioning in the midst of grief is overwhelming. Pray for an easement of other stresses in life. Pray for financial needs to be met. And pray for protection from unnecessary pressures and expectations. Pray that the secret wishes of hurting children will be met by a loving God. Nothing I could do would ever take my kids’ pain away, but the gift of a day at Disneyland or a surprise visit by an incredibly generous Santa can bring reassurance to a child’s heart.

For a cushion to grieve. I am thankful for people who brought us dinners and had our house cleaned and did fun things with my kids and alleviated financial stress. It is hard enough to get out of bed in the morning and face another day without Mason and a simple thing like not having to cook dinner helped ease the heaviness of the day to day. But I am also thankful for the space we were given when I didn’t want people stopping by all day with meals or gifts. I’m thankful for the long seasons of quiet where I didn’t have additional pressures put on me beyond just loving my kids. Many people prayed that God would send what I needed when I needed it. And I saw that answered over and over again.

Truth to be stronger than emotions. Processing the sudden death of a child is nearly impossible. Emotions are unreliable, crazy things and they swirl around and assault the senses. Yet they are valid and powerful and real. And they can suffocate truth. Pray that the Holy Spirit whispers deeply in the heart of the hurting what is true and unchanging. Anger and frustration and shock and deep sadness are normal and healthy responses to loss. Knowing what to do with those emotions so that bitterness and depression don’t settle in the heart come from supernatural intervention by a loving God who brings clarity through his sovereignty and goodness. Pray for healthy grieving.

An ability to glimpse things through God’s perspective. Specifically, pray against those awful images of death.

Especially those first weeks and months after Mason died, I was haunted by hospital images and ambulance rides. I could not get the details out of my head. I didn’t even have to close my eyes to see it all, over and over again. Not just see it, but live it.

One of my friends, instead of praying that I would never think of it or have to remember it, said to me, “I will pray that as the reality of those final hours assaults you constantly, that you will see, in the midst of it all, how God never left you. May you see that he was right next to Mason when you couldn’t be. And how he ordained each of those amazing nurses and doctors. And how he whispered truth straight into your heart when fear was threatening to creep in.” I will never erase those hospital memories, but I never want to. I have never seen the presence of God so powerfully in all my life. There was much pain, yes. But there was also God, sovereign over it all. And because of this, there is so, so much hope.

I constantly see how God fought for me and for Mason and how he ordained every moment of his life. I have hundreds of verses that God has spoken directly into my heart. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it does soften it with a perspective of truth.

A filter of eternity. I have a deeper longing for heaven than ever before. I now have a depth of understanding I never knew I was missing before Mason died. Not only do I find immense comfort in pictures of Mason in the arms of joyful and loving God, but I have been given a filter of hope through which I can view the painful monotony of this life. This perspective gives hope and purpose.

A return of sweet memories once forgotten. A year after Mason died, a friend prayed that a new year would bring new memories. In her words, “May you be overwhelmed by the sound of your son’s laughter, voice, stories, jokes and even tears. May the Lord remind you of memories you may have forgotten.” The very next day, I was reminded of the most simple yet sacredly precious memory I had not thought of in years. And these sweet, simple reminders still continue to come. Each one is a treasured gift.

No guilt over lost moments. I have many parenting moments I’d like to forget. And that I pray my kids can forget. A couple of weeks ago, I felt this overwhelming realization that I never think of my less than stellar moments parenting Mason. I don’t think of the times I did not discipline with patience or stop what I was doing to listen to him (and I know there were many.) I don’t dwell on my lost moments with him. God has graciously filtered my memories.

Pray scripture. When your emotions are drained and words fail you and your brain is so tired you cannot even imagine what to pray, pray God’s Word. Pray for the truth of “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 2:14) to permeate everything. Plead for God to feel close to the broken hearted (Ps. 34:18). Claim his promise that he works for the good for those who love him (Romans 8:28) and pray that good will come out of heartache and loss.

Pray for peace. Pray Philippians 4:7 with faith. There is a peace that surpasses understanding. I know this because I lived it. It simply does not make any sense. But it is beautiful and its real. And it comes from only one place.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

These may be ways to pray specifically for someone who has lost a child. But even beyond this, when we feel anger at the news of abuse or shock at reality of human trafficking or despair over immense pain and suffering, may we practice the discipline of responding in prayer.

These emotions God gives us when we hear of something awful, they are a call to respond. They are a call to battle for the suffering. To fight against injustice and pain in the world. To call out to an Almighty God who uses our prayers to win battles that matter for eternity.

Answer the invitation. Pray with faith.

“There is no power like that of prevailing prayer, of Abraham pleading for Sodom, Jacob wrestling in the stillness of the night, Moses standing in the breach, Hannah intoxicated with sorrow, David heartbroken with remorse and grief, Jesus in sweat of blood. Add to this list from the records of the church your personal observation and experience, and always there is the cost of passion unto blood. Such prayer prevails. It turns ordinary mortals into men of power. It brings power. It brings fire. It brings rain. It brings life. It brings God.” -Samuel Chadwick

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