let nothing be wasted

thoughts on grief and the goodness of God

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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

When God Gives Good Gifts

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Mason was quite possibly the most high maintenance baby who ever existed. The sleep strikes, the incessant screaming, the crying until he threw up, the irrational tantrums when he woke from naps, the insistence on being held every waking moment… He was a grumpy, fussy baby. He refused the pacifier. He was not a child ever content to sit in a stroller or lay on a play mat.

Some weekends, my parents would come visit and my dad’s sole purpose was to hold Mason and preserve my sanity. Poppa had the magic touch. He would hold him facing out and slowly walk laps through the house, gently swaying and rocking.

We may not have made it if it weren’t for Poppa.

People with easy babies were quick with irritating advice. “Have you tried…?” “Oh, he needs…”

No. No, he doesn’t need a better schedule or a little pat on his back to “settle” him.

What he really needs… is an exorcism.

I quickly gave up driving anywhere. The shortest drives to the grocery store were filled with screaming. And then actually trying to shop once we got there? I would hold him with one arm as he cried while trying to maneuver those ridiculous car-cart contraptions for the delight of my other two, all while people would walk past and say, “Oh, someone’s hungry…” or “Looks like someone needs a nap…” and I wanted to scream, “Yes!!! Yes I do indeed need a nap! Don’t feel sorry for him, feel sorry for me! I haven’t sat down to eat a complete meal in 8 months!”

When we moved to California from Phoenix, Anthony said, “You drive my car, I’ll drive the kids.” And I tossed a “God be with you!” over my shoulder as I ran to his car and locked myself inside.

Then their air-conditioning went out in the middle of the desert and we stopped at some fast food restaurant in the middle of desolate nowhere and my sweaty kids emerged from the car and Mason wasn’t even screaming. He was covered in red licorice juice, dripping down his chin and soaking his shirt. And he was grinning from ear to ear.

And Anthony so very calmly said, “I kept playing music real loud and singing to him, and then I’d pass him another piece of licorice and he was fine.”

I think I could get through the minefield of Mason’s early years because I have a husband with a freakish amount of patience and endurance.

(And. From that point on, I carried candy with me everywhere I went.)

As Mason blossomed into a slightly less tyrannical 2 year-old, and quite a delightful little human even, I began to entertain ludicrous thoughts….

Perhaps we should have another baby.

But. Only if we could have a girl.

Anthony tried to rationally remind me that we are not the ones who decide these things. God does.

Yes, yes… of course. But clearly he will give us a girl. I desired for Ella to have a sister. Any girl growing up with a dear sister knows the special bond girls have. No other girl in all the world is allowed to make you completely insane with frustration while also holding your deepest darkest secrets, and your sacred shared memories, near and dear to the soul.

It just made sense. Why wouldn’t God want Ella to have a sister?

So… along came Griffin. A boy.

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At his ultrasound, when my questionably sexist radiologist began rejoicing over the gender of my son, I just stared at him with an expression that clearly said, “Look again.”

Ella and I both cried. Yes, that’s right, cried. We wanted a sister. Why would God not give us this little gift?

And of course we loved Griffin with every ounce of our heart and delighted in every quiet, calm, joyful aspect of this precious baby… but I would still freely admit, “I wanted a girl. Why didn’t God give me a girl?”

And as Griffin grew and copied everything Mason did, and Mason made him his little mascot and taught him all kinds of naughty things and played with him and tortured him as brothers do, I delighted in watching them but always wished Ella had a sister.

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We were at a field trip one September day and I was talking babies with a friend. I was holding Griffin and I said, for the millionth time in just 2 short years, (in my sorta-joking-but-not-totally honesty) “But I really wanted a girl. I still don’t know why God gave me a boy.”

And then, three days later, my earth shattered. And Mason so suddenly died.

Two days after everything changed forever, I was sitting in his room with my kids. And Griffin, oblivious to the magnitude of loss our family was suffering, took the extra mattress from the floor and propped it up as a ramp and proceeded to run off the bed and jump. I heard giggles and a muffled “wee!” through his pacifier. And I watched him pull himself back up onto the bed and repeat it.

This was something he and Mason did almost every single day when I sent them in to clean their room. Over and over and over again.

And it was on Griffin’s second delightful launch through the air that I so clearly heard God tell me, “This is why I gave you a boy.”

It took my breath away to feel the presence of God speak so strongly to me in that moment. And my eyes filled with tears, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, and I thanked God for knowing the future and knowing what I would need most.

And in those wretched days that followed when we were absorbing the shocking pain of our new reality, I watched Griffin cautiously approach Mason’s cars and look around to see if anyone was going to stop him. And I saw him pull down Mason’s prized jeep and push around his forbidden motor home.

As much as Mason embraced Griffin as a brother, playmate, partner in crime, and best friend…some things were just off limits. These very special toys brought Mason such joy and delight.
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The thought of taking all those special possessions, and boxing them up, and putting them away, not watching anyone delight in them anymore, would break a whole new piece of my heart. And God knew that. He knew it would bring comfort to see Mason’s toys enjoyed. That sorrow would come at the loss, yes. But joy would also come at the laughter.

And now, Griffin talks, and looks, more and more like him every day. He raises his eyebrows the same way at the same moments when he is asking a question and wears his goggles in the same hilariously awkward way.

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And at times, it is a sweet honor to yet again be a translator for a 4-year-old unable to pronounce consonant blends and who doesn’t understand the concept of the correct form of pronoun usage.

And when he wears Mason’s signature monkey shirt or when I rock him at night and he is wearing Mason’s favorite pajamas, I breathe in the memories, the precious seconds Mason was a part of my earthly life. And I am thankful these clothes aren’t in a box, waiting for the day I could muster enough emotional energy to decide how to turn them into a memory.

He runs like him, he laughs like him. And while he is uniquely his own person in so many special ways, the sparkle in his eyes has a hint of a special little boy who lit up our home. And the memories that come, while often bringing tears, also bring such tangible reminders of the spirit, and essence of my son I so desperately miss.

Yes, I wanted Ella to have a sister. But, honestly, I wanted all kinds of things for my kids. Things that would never involve funerals and loss and pain and tears… a carefree childhood where fears of death were a distant impossibility.

And I know God does not purpose the death of children and that we live in world broken by sin and that all of this will be made right because of what Jesus did on the cross. And I know that he never gives gifts of pain and loss and that this was not his perfect plan for my kids either.

And he hears requests for a little girl, but he knows that what I actually need is a boy. And he preserves gifts for me in those moments when I need it most.

Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we ask for because he has something better. He knows what we need. He knows what the future holds. And sometimes his most valuable treasures are hand delivered in the midst of our greatest pain.

And sometimes, the most sacred gifts of all are gently placed in boxes of heartache, delicately wrapped in pain, and tied with bows of tears. And often, these beautiful gifts are hidden in the darkest valleys or found tossed upon the fiercest seas.

These gifts are the presence of an Almighty God. When these weary days threaten to suck me under, and the pain of missing Mason just becomes too much to bear, I continually turn to my Creator, whose lavishly gives an abundance of gifts. Gifts that do not wear out over time or fade as do the temporal things of this earth. But gifts that grow brighter and brighter with the hope of eternity.

In these carefully wrapped boxes, I find a peace I cannot comprehend, a grace I do not deserve, a love I cannot fully fathom, a supernatural strength I could not muster, and ultimately, a joy I cannot contain.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

(Oh, and all the exhausting reality of the first couple years of Mason’s life? Well, that was just his passion, all bubbling up to overflowing. Because once he was older and could communicate and express himself, there was no stopping him. It is what drove his cowboy boot days when everyone else was wearing flip-flops. It is why he wanted a 6 foot mohawk and why he could befriend anyone. It’s why he laughed from his gut and filled a room with his presence. His passion defined him. This little boy, the one who turned my world upside down with the chaos of his existence, he was a gift as well. And while I wish I could have held that gift so much longer than I did, I am so grateful for every second.)

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Do not cling too tightly

There is a little patch of dirt in my backyard, near the tree house, under the shade of a big tree that I often find myself staring at.

20 months ago, a little boy sat there with his collection of cars and drove them in hand-made tracks. By his face, I could see he was in a different world. A world with races and crashes and happy explosions.

He could sit there for hours. If I left him alone with his schoolwork, I would come back to an empty room with a sharpened pencil laying on a blank math worksheet and no kindergartner in sight.

He was outside, with the cars he had already hidden in his pocket, waiting for an opportunity like this.

In his pocket, mixed along with his favorites was at least one undesirable car, with chipped paint or a broken wheel. This he kept on hand for his 2 year-old shadow. Next to Mason, slightly apart from the land he claimed, was Griffin, making engine noises, muffled by his pacifier, copying everything Mason did.

There are numerous memories like this in my backyard. The tree Mason climbed, the hammock all my kids would pile into, the bike track back and forth on the long patio. I often sit out there and think of the laughter. There was much arguing and squeals of protest as well, but mostly, I remember the laughter.

This month I have to pack up this house and our family has to move to a new home where new memories await. New memories that will not include Mason. New adventures that will be beautiful of course, but will be, in this mommy’s heart, always a little incomplete. Always painted with a tint of sadness.

For the past 19 months I have prayed we would buy this house. That I would never leave the home where I last held Mason. That I could always sit and look out the same window where we would snuggle in the morning hours, watching the sunrise of a new day. The same spot where I rocked him at bedtime that final night, oblivious to the nightmare awaiting us on the horizon.

The other night when giving Griffin a bath, he said with a happy gleam in his eye, “Hey mom, ’member when Mason and me would take baths and the water came all the way up to here?” and he pointed to the top of the tub.

In my foolishness, I would often leave them unattended in the bathtub. And Mason would endeavor to fill the tub as high as he could before I came back. I would be irritated yet again with the water sloshing all over the bathroom floor. And Mason and Griffin would be laughing with giddiness as they did their own version of bathtub cannon balls.

Its funny how moments that made me want to scream become memories that make me smile.

He is still everywhere in this house to me.

His laughter still echoes down the hall.

This is not about not being able to let go or the need to “move on.” This is about the memories. The comfort I get in the sentimental.

It is why I take so many pictures and save my favorite baby outfits. It is why I do not like to throw away my kids tickets to Disneyland and why I save every single card they make me.

Moving feels like taking a box of all my most sacred, irreplaceable memories… and giving it away.

In the beautiful, well-meaning intentions of others to comfort, I often hear, “God has something better.” I smile and nod and appreciate the sentiment.

I mean, don’t we all want to think that? That when things are hard they will “get better.”

But really, the only “better” in my circumstances that is a certainty I can count on from God, is eternity.

God wants the best for me, yes. In eternity.

And our next home may exceed my expectations. It may have special surprises for my kids and a self-cleaning kitchen (if only!) and a huge yard. Because God is kind and delights in his children.

But it could also be another temporary stepping stone, with small closets and noisy neighbors and no backyard. And that could actually be what is best for us right now.

The more uncomfortable this life is, the more I long for eternity.

When the unexpected happens, I am reminded of the only truth I can count on.

When my son dies suddenly, I see and long for heaven and redemption and God’s presence like I long for water in the desert.

If we allow it, the painful things in this life bring eternity into better focus. Bring clarity to all that really matters.

And as I pack up the room where I last snuggled with Mason as he fell asleep and in not too many days from now when I, for the last time, close the door to this house, empty of furniture yet full of memories, I am reminded…

Do not cling too tightly to the things of this earth.

The memories will not fade no matter where home is. But more importantly, the beauty of my true home beckons so much more powerfully. I may not live again in a place on this earth filled with sweet memories from a time more simple, but I will live forever in an eternal home where Mason will laugh with me and there will be no more loss or pain or grief. No more saying goodbye.

The memories are beautiful gifts. And no matter the view from my new window, I will still never see a sunrise and not think of the beauty Mason beholds every second in the presence of Jesus.

And a reminder of where he is and where my true home is helps me let go of the things of this earth.

Do not cling too tightly, I hear God whisper. What is seen is temporary.

Let all that stuff go… because what I have, it is so much better.

Enjoy the blessings I send you but remember, the best things on this earth are mere shadows of what awaits. It is all a small hint of something far more grand. More beautiful. More lovely than your eyes could ever behold on this earth.

As I close the door on this temporary home, I am thankful to have had the memories here that I did. But I am also reminded of my permanent home. That 2,000 years ago Jesus told us He was going to prepare a place for us with our Father. For all this time, He has been perfecting my forever home.

So why would I want to cling to what this earth has?

The good things… the really, really good things… those are forever.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” C.S. Lewis

Quiet whispers

Each of my kids have unique requests of me at bedtime. When I say goodnight to them in their beds, one will ask for my specific prayer over something, one asks for a back rub. I get requests to “way down wiff me?” or “wock me in the wocking chair?”

Mason’s request, as the house was quieting and calming at the end of the day, tucked in his bed with his favorite blankie, was to sing a song together.

As loudly as we possibly could.

He liked it to be really quiet first and then we would start by screaming out, “Go tell it on the mountain…!” And after coughing a bit after yelling the loudest at “Jesus Christ is Born!” we would do his all time favorite song. “Mom, now let’s sing New Day Dawning.”

I don’t ever hear that song now and not think of Mason. (Granted, I am never not thinking of him…) But when I hear it, I am transported back to that little boy’s bed, singing at the top of my lungs, hearing his satisfied, naughty laugh when, from down the hall we would hear, “Be quiet!” “I’m trying to sleep!” “Stop doing that! It’s so obnoxious!”

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I still hear him singing along any time it came on the radio or saying the chorus to someone when they would ask, “What song is New Day Dawning?”

“Bless the Lord Oh my soul. O. O. O. my soul? That one?” he would answer quickly with a duh look on his face. (After all, who doesn’t know New Day Dawning?)

When I hear that song, I also think of that Sunday morning Mason died. He left this earth as a new day dawned outside that hospital window. As the sun came up and we sat alone in that hospital room, I was overwhelmed with shock and disbelief and pain and emotions that do not even have words.

Sometimes, when a new day is dawning, I think, “How am I going to make it through another day?” and I hear Mason’s favorite song in my head and I pray, “Lord, please help me to still be singing when the evening comes.” And I am reminded that the Lord has been faithful each and every second since Mason left this earth and His name is great and His heart is kind. And His mercies are new everyday.

People often ask if it gets easier. That perhaps losing a child is similar to phasing out of an addiction. As time goes on, you crave that thing less and less. It becomes a distant memory from long ago.

But I think losing a child is more similar to needing water. The longer you go without it, the more you long for it. The thirst grows and the silence created by the absence becomes deafening.

The memories of Mason do not fade. I have not slowly adjusted into being ok with a family of 5. Every time I set the table or count out how many chairs we need at church, or when someone asks me, “How many kids do you have?” my heart physically hurts. There just is no new normal or being “ok” with Mason being gone. I do not forget him or get used to life without him.

But that absence in my heart, that missing part of my very being, has caused me to cling to Jesus more than ever before in my life. That in itself is a gift which brings beautiful clarity to the realities of this world.

This long journey of grief has brought along with it a necessity to slow down in life. There is no additional energy for things beyond the basics… just meeting my kids needs. And breathing.

I do not look to fill my days with activities or other interests. My schedule is: what do the kids need? And God gives me the strength for whatever that is.

Grief has forced me into a season of quiet. Of a season of being a homebody. And I am thankful for the slower pace. All I want most days is quiet and nothing on the calendar.

What has become so beautiful as a result of this quiet, is hearing God in the midst of it. An inability to fall back to sleep when anxiety wakes me in the pre-dawn hours, brings me out where I read God’s word and pour over truth. I journal the things God is teaching me, the memories He brings me of Mason. I spend much more focused time in prayer for the needs of my family and my own struggles.

God is not a supplement to my life. He is my life. His presence and power have sustained me, guided me, and protected me through this valley of the shadow of death. I have feared no evil because He has truly been with me.

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  1 Kings 19:11-13

Often the Lord’s power and presence is not what we expect. We want Him to move mightily, but instead He speaks gently, softly. So softly, we must be very still to hear Him.

Not just hear him, but to be in His presence. To know Him.

The still, scary quiet of life is actually a gift. It opens our ears to the whisper of God.

As I have sat in the quiet before the Lord this last year and half, through His word, I have heard God as never before. I know Him in a way I never expected.

In the stillness that has been created, my moments in the presence of God have multiplied. My reliance on the Lord has increased. My perspective of the things of the world has been refined and clarified. My faith has strengthened. My hope has grown.

My view of God and my understanding of His power has become richer and more meaningful than I could ever imagine.

Not because of a burning bush, His audible voice or the parting of a sea. But because His still quiet voice has breathed truth into my life.

Trials in life can bring us to a point of desperation. We cry out to God and sometimes, in our impatience, expect His quick and powerful answer. We want a burning bush, an explosive storm, an earthquake. We want to see loaves and fish multiplied and the walls of Jericho crumble before us.

But we often miss that God sometimes speaks most clearly and most powerfully when we are silent and still before Him, immersing ourselves in His word, waiting with the patience and confidence that comes from trusting in the assurance of His sovereignty.

The earth may not quake, lightning may not flash. But God speaks. God is at work.

For me, the last 18 months has been hearing the whispers of God in the silence. And I cannot imagine a more powerful way to hear him.

So… before this day dawned, I lay in bed, wide awake thinking of that day exactly 18 months ago. Griffin, who is a faithful, very welcome arrival every night into my bed, was snuggled next to me. I held him tight in the dark and felt his warm body and breathed in his skin and I thought, how has it been a year and a half? How have I made it each and every day of this awful journey?

No one signs up for this stuff. No one says, “Oh, I’m strong enough to handle the loss of a child. Pick me, God!” No one ever thinks it will be their story.

And yet, here I am.

And when I think back to my life before this horrific nightmare began, I see the old me. The blissfully ignorant woman whose greatest trial may or may not have been a decade of sleep deprivation. I loved the Lord. I trusted Him. I saw Him as sovereign over my life. But these past 18 months have changed me so beautifully.

Deep, searing pain opens the heart to a need for deep, soothing hope.

I have seen God in ways I never knew Him before. I have grown and as a result, my understanding of Him has grown. I never before knew these depths of His peace and kindness. I never experienced the heights of joy and strength that come only from God. And I have never before had such longing to quiet myself and expectantly wait for those whispers from a God who loves me so faithfully. I have learned, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me… to sing, like never before… bless the Lord, oh my soul.

wear the helmet, carry the sword

This morning, as I sat on my couch and watched the world come awake out my front window, I felt the weight of 17 months of grief.

I saw, for the first time, these beautiful purple flowers blooming in my front yard and realized I must have missed them last year. I heard happy birds and saw the promising signs of spring in front of me.

But then, I just so happened to glance at the clock at the exact minute, 17 months ago today, that Mason left this earth.

And I am instantly back in that room. His tiny little body, so full of laughter and naughtiness just hours before, lifeless in front of me.

Seventeen months completely evaporates and it feels like it just happened this morning. That it was just yesterday that I touched him, heard his little voice, watched him running at soccer practice, read books with him in the rocking chair.

There simply are not words that really express the depth of the ongoing pain, the void left behind at the sudden loss of a child.

I just want Jesus to come back already. Is that too much to ask?

As I have navigated this valley these past months, I have seen God guiding me, protecting me, equipping me. And when I haven’t seen him, when it has been too dark and suffocating to see anything, I have felt him.

He has never left me.

Not for a second does this mean it has not been painful. It has indeed been a horrific journey. But it does mean there is hope, there is comfort.

It means, in some supernatural way, when my heart is breaking and life is crumbling, there is still overwhelming peace.

Peace that doesn’t say, “Hey, everything is all ok!” But rather, peace that says, “It is not ok. None of it. But I am here.”

And now, almost a year and a half after losing my child, I am facing other things I do not want to face. Admittedly, nothing as severe as the death and pain I have tasted, but unwelcome nonetheless. Things that come attached with deep sadness and require sacrifice and faith amidst the uncertainty.

Things that make me want, much like most every day of the last 17 months, to just lock myself in my room and pretend that surely, this is not really happening.

But while I would like to live in denial and seclusion, this life keeps going. And my kids need me. And seasons change, and well, this world has troubles.

This life cannot be a pity party. Eternity hangs in the balance and there just is not time for it.

And I remember that what I tell my own children is true for me too.

This life is not about you. 

You have a purpose.

And it is not success, wealth or even comfort.

It is not your happiness or your accomplishments.

Your purpose is to glorify God.

He wants to use you for his kingdom.

And although this life feels impossibly long and the pain makes each day stretch into seemingly unending drudgery, in reality, in the scope of eternity, it is nothing.

It will not be that long before I find myself before the Almighty God. Where every moment of this life will be brought into focus… every choice, each sacrifice, the moments of deep pain and obedient perseverance.

And, as I tell my kids, the most important goal to have in this life is to hear in eternity, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want to see Mason. I long for an end to weariness and pain and tears. But the beautiful news is that it is coming. And I know I can hope for that with certainty.

But until that day, I persevere. Because in this life, trials and troubles will come. No matter the depth of present suffering, the pain of current circumstances, trials will continue to come.

What have I found persevering to mean practically?

It means I immerse myself in God’s word. Focus on truth. Pray constantly.

And then repeat.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“Do not think that as you grow in grace your path will become smoother and the sky calmer and clearer. Quite the contrary. As God gives you greater skill as a soldier of the cross, He will send you on more difficult missions. As He more fully equips your ship to sail in storms, He will send you on longer voyages to more boisterous seas, so that you may honor Him and increase in holy confidence.

You would think that in Abraham’s old age – after he had come to the land of Beulah, after the birth of Isaac, and especially after the expulsion of Ishmael – he would have had a time of rest. But “it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham” (Gen 22:1). Let Abraham’s story warn us to never plan on a rest from trials this side of the grave.

The trumpet still plays the notes of war. You cannot sit down and put the victory wreath on your head. You do not have a crown. You still must wear the helmet and carry the sword. You must watch, pray, and fight. Expect your last battle to be the most difficult, for the enemy’s fiercest charge is reserved for the end of the day.”

The trials of this life are weary. And at times, never-ending. But there is hope. And until that day, when Hope is ultimately victorious and all the tears have been dried… with God’s grace, I will persevere.

Read God’s word. Focus on truth. Pray constantly. And then repeat.

Wear the helmet. Carry the sword.

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