let nothing be wasted

thoughts on grief and the goodness of God

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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.

Mason’s Place

On a special New Years trip to Mammoth in 2013, Anthony took Mason out for a “planning meeting” over candy and hot chocolate. He talked with him about setting goals for the year.12.27.12-5a copy

He was 5 years old. And we couldn’t possibly imagine we were looking at our final months with him.

During their time together, Anthony encouraged him with goals that would challenge him, develop character, help him to mature, and ultimately, to know God more.

Little did he know at the time, Mason would know God in perfect and beautiful ways in less than 10 months.

His goals that day contained a variety of things. Many things encouraged and directed by Anthony, such as finishing his Awana book and learning to play an instrument. But some of them were solely dreams of Mason’s. Out of nowhere, Mason added to the list, “And fly in a plane to India.”

Um, where did that come from?

Anthony fought back a smile, added it to the list and said, “I really don’t know how we will achieve this goal, but I’ll write it down and see what the Lord has planned.”

Days after Mason’s sudden death, dear friends of ours, completely unaware of Mason’s goals, approached us with a dream to establish a home for orphans in India, in honor of Mason. Generous donations were given, contacts were made and trips were planned.

And Anthony remembered a special time with Mason in a coffee shop in Mammoth and a dream that seemed so far from the realm of possibilities. And we just looked at each other and tears filled our eyes and we marveled at a plan bigger than we could ever imagine. A dream that had been planted in some small way in the heart of a 5 year old long before we knew what the future could possibly hold.

16 months after our lives changed forever that Sunday morning, after much planning and numerous trips by key decision makers, Anthony boarded a plane to India. A country he has never visited, one that I deeply love, and one that was placed on Mason’s heart before he left this earth.

As Anthony walked through the gates of a large compound named in honor of our son and as he looked into the eyes of orphans who are being loved and cared for, he was humbled by all God has done. He took pictures and video and as I watched them, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. Emotions felt so deeply there are not words to identify them. But the one emotion that bubbles to the surface, the one that overcomes that pain and heartache and reminders that Mason is gone…

… is Hope.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Is 43:19

God is doing something new. He has made a way for hope in a place that seemed too broken, too impossible. But as we have surrendered to God’s sovereignty, we have seen Him move in beautiful and amazing ways.

Mason’s Place is now home to these beautiful girls.

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It is located on more than 6 acres and includes a school with 170 students and a home for the elderly. There are plans for growth and expansion as well as improvement on some of the existing structures. (More information can be found here.)

(Every time I look at this picture now, my eye is drawn to the sassy girl in the top left… throwing down the “I love you” signs. Her spunk reminds me a bit of the boy her home is named for. And it makes me smile.)

In His goodness, God shows me over and over again what He is doing through our loss. On my darkest days and my most suffocating moments of ongoing pain, He brings me gifts. Glimpses of hope.

Meeting a new person and finding out they have been interceding for my family for the past 16 months. Seeing a nurse from CHLA who tells me about putting gifts from Mason’s birthday in the hands of patients and watching their parents cry grateful tears, so moved by Mason’s legacy. Emails about how Mason’s story has transformed the lives of people who never even met him. And now, seeing precious faces of children on the other side of the world, without parents, who are now not without hope.

When I pray over Mason’s Place, I am overwhelmed with awe. Awe at many things… the vision placed on the hearts of others, the generosity to make it a reality, those willing to give of their time and resources to travel and plan, the details of everything falling into place so quickly. I am in awe as I see these children living in a home established, not just in memory of my son, but in recognition of the Author of his short life and the plans He has that are greater than we can imagine.

I still deal with the shock of losing my child every day of my life. I wake up and realize all over again that this nightmare did indeed happen. I face the painful reality of only setting out 3 breakfast plates every morning. I see kids Mason’s age lose their first tooth and think about how the tooth fairy never came for Mason. The pain is still so, so raw. But yet,  I am still in awe that God has made so much beauty with such wretched pain.

I look at the faces of Mason’s Place and hear God’s reminders of hope and promises of redemption.1.23.16-4.jpg

I just finished reading through the book of Acts. More so than any other time I have read it, I really saw that it is not as much about the early church or the disciples or Paul or the spread of the gospel after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are all key players and important stories, but they really point to the main character of the book. The Holy Spirit. The healing, the powerful testimonies and sermons, the peace and joy… these things do not point to the men God was using, they point to the God who was working through the willing hearts of his people.

And as I read Acts these last few weeks, I began to pray that God would descend upon Mason’s Place as He did upon those early Christians. We serve the same God, the same Holy Spirit. His power is real and His promises are still true. And so I pray…

That Mason’s Place is not about the children, the orphans, the staff, the school, the elderly home… that it is not about the boy who inspired the name and whose tragic story inspired a movement.

I pray that Mason’s Place becomes, always and forever, about a sovereign God who makes beauty from ashes. Who answers prayer. Who heals the broken hearted. Who puts the lonely in families. Who is powerful and just. Who is loving and merciful and full of compassion.

I pray that the Holy Spirit fills the hearts and the minds of these precious children. And He fills the hearts and minds of those whom He would call to partner with us… through praying, or serving, or giving. That what is done at Mason’s Place has a beautiful impact not only today, in this generation, but that leaders would arise from this home who would go out and share the hope of Jesus in a dark and hurting country.

I pray for more children in need to come and find a home here. For healing and hope and love to transform their lives and a vision and purpose to be put in their hearts to share this hope with others. I pray that out of Mason’s Place, God would bring world changers and He would use them as instruments in the story He is writing.

I pray that God does more than we can possibly imagine. That someday in eternity, when I see my little boy again, with his huge smile and his energetic bounce, he will be pointing and saying, “Look! Look what God did! Look who is here! And look, all that pain, all that heartache, all that deep grief that you felt for so many years without me, He has redeemed it. All of it! And mommy, all your tears… He is here to wipe it all away.”

9.10.14-12a.jpgI pray with confidence that we will see in eternity how God redeemed all of this pain for so, so much more.

Everyday, when it still hurts to breathe, I remind myself with this truth: “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.” Eternal.

Eternity is my prayer for each of these kids.

hope

For Christmas two years ago, Mason asked for a matchbox car garage, a lego set with guns, and an American Girl doll.

(And yes, you better believe I would have bought my son a trendy, over-priced doll had I know it would be my last Christmas with him.)

It’s not that he actually loved dolls.

It was that he loved his sister. And she loved dolls. And she had just saved her money to buy her own American Girl doll and she absolutely loved everything about dolls at that moment.

So for Mason, having an American Girl doll was having something he could enjoy with his sister.

And legos were Bennett’s favorite thing. And Griffin was really getting into cars at the time and they played together, driving and racing cars, for hours (or as long as Griffin didn’t touch Mason’s special ones.)

Mason’s wish list was less reflective of what it was he wanted to play with. And really, more about who it was he wanted to play with.

(Not that I’m trying to misrepresent him as a selfless saint. But. He did sure love his siblings.)

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Christmas was brutal for me this year. What once brought me giddy happiness, now just makes my heart ache. I would sit in the quiet of night and look at the Christmas tree and see Mason’s ornaments through the years. I would see gifts under the tree that don’t have his name. And I wondered, what would have been on his wish list this year?

I made moose sugar cookies to honor the boy who isn’t sneaking cookie dough when I’m not looking. When we make our snowflakes and gingerbread houses, I picture Mason there, making gingerbread bombs and snowflake grenades. And out of all of us, he’d be the one most likely to help Griffin, sitting next to him, encouraging him with the profound patience I saw manifested absolutely nowhere except with his little brother.

This season, we did advent and tried to keep up with the traditions we established in happier days. And I do still enjoy these memories with my kids, but new memories are always missing someone. And that just isn’t easy. In fact, its unbearable.

I see the absence everywhere I look. I feel it every time I breathe.

I try to fake it for my kids. I would make Christmas cookies and ooh and ah over Christmas lights and decorate our tree and remember previous years memories.

But I also try to be honest. Because faking it through the sudden loss of a loved one doesn’t do anyone any favors. So along with our happy Christmas memories, there were also times of deep grief… sharing tears and acknowledging our pain.

Sometimes it’s the honesty and recognition of the darkness of our lives that makes the brightness of hope all the more necessary.

One night, when reading our advent, I heard this account of John the Baptist in a whole new way.

“Calling two of his disciples to him, John sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?’” Luke 7:19

John was in prison. For speaking truth and prophesying hope. It may have been dark. It was probably dismal and oppressive. It was most certainly lonely.

And so he asks the question of Jesus, are you the one?

I can’t help but think that John already knew the answer to this question. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. He was empowered, directly from a sovereign God, with prophetic messages about the Messiah. Not only was he there the day his cousin stepped into his ministry on this earth, preparing to die for our sins, but he baptized Jesus himself and heard the voice of the almighty God from heaven.

John already knew.

John’s life was devoted to preparing the world for the Savior. And what was once so clear when he could hear the voice of God and see the Holy Spirit descend from heaven, may have dimmed in the darkness of his prison cell.

And day after lonely day of enduring prison, maybe deep down, he knew Jesus was the Messiah. But maybe he didn’t necessarily feel it. Maybe he knew all the prophecy and he knew the power of the Holy Spirit and he knew the truth. But perhaps, he had grown weary in his chains. Perhaps what once felt so powerful standing in the Jordan River started to fade as he felt locked away and forgotten.

And maybe he was close enough to the God of the universe, maybe he knew his cousin well enough, to be honest with his emotions. Jesus accepted his honesty, his pain. “Are you the one?”

There was no end in sight to his imprisonment. No trial. No hope of release. And ultimately, it didn’t get any better for him. He was beheaded on the whim of a heinous woman and his head was paraded around a banquet hall. I mean, could this humiliating ending to a faithful life be worth it?

Are you the one?

This Christmas, I wasn’t really feeling it. I believe in the hope and in the Savior and the redemption of Christmas. With every part of my soul. But I wasn’t feeling it this year. Quite honestly, I was just ready for it to be over.

I would hear my favorite Christmas lyrics, “A thrill of hope… a weary world rejoices…”

And I would sigh.

Here’s the deal. I believe in the hope. I believe it is indeed a divine and holy night. Amazing really.

But I am just so, so weary. And I just didn’t really feel like rejoicing this year.

Because sometimes my own life feels dark and dismal. And the life-giving, exuberant emotions I have felt in response to absolute truth and powerful hope… can dim as grief wears on. The intensity of missing Mason doesn’t diminish over time. It increases. And that just makes this life so incredibly exhausting.

But because I know the Savior like I do, I know that he accepts my honesty. He doesn’t get angry when I say, “I’m not feeling it this year. It hurts. I’m sad. I’m so weary of this pain day after day after day. And really, will this all be redeemed? Really?”

We got boxing gloves for the boys for Christmas. There has been much laughter (and a few tears) as the boys pummel each other over and over. While I watch them and brush aside that nagging feeling that perhaps this was an unwise purchase and something is going to break, I can’t help but think about Mason. Shouldn’t he be here? Naughty laughter and rambunctious energy, in the middle of the melee? I try to picture him, to hear him. And then for some reason, all I see is images of him in the hospital instead. Final moments that I can’t erase.

Will this really be redeemed?

Sometimes, that’s my version of John’s question, Are you the one?

When I used to read Jesus’ response to John’s disciples, it often felt a little impersonal to me.

“And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.'” Luke 7:22

But now I see it different.

When Ella read Jesus’ response to John to our family that night, I no longer heard a generic, impersonal statement. He’s not saying, come on. You know better. Instead, I hear a longing in Jesus’ voice to encourage. And the compassion he has for the suffering. His understanding of John’s darkness.

I think he mourns that his cousin is in prison. And just maybe his heart hurts for the pain, the confusion, the grief, the injustice… the longing for hope.

The compassionate God I know welcomes the question. “Are you the one?

“It’s dark in here. It’s lonely. Will this really be redeemed?”

His answer wasn’t a resume of things he was doing. He was quoting prophecy from Isaiah. Prophecy that John would have known, prophecy that Jesus was fulfilling. Prophecy that defined everything about John’s own ministry. When Jesus stated this, I tend to think he was pointing John to other answers, more prophecies, more promises. More hope.

Because in that same reference to Isaiah, the prophecy he was assuring John he was fulfilling, John would be able to recall, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:4

It was almost like he was speaking in code. Maybe in his answer Jesus is whispering:

You know the prophecy. Don’t forget truth. The Messiah will come to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk. Don’t forget what else it says. Don’t forget that there is so much more! I will redeem it all. I will redeem this fallen world. I will conquer death. I will bring hope!

It may be dark in your prison cell. And it may even get darker. But take heart, I will overcome the world!

Anthony took each kid out for a special time alone this past week. With each of them, he set goals for the New Year. And I admire that he always tells them to aim high. He encourages them that its better to try really hard and not obtain everything, than to just set things you can control and not really have to challenge yourself.

And so that makes me think of goals for myself. I’ve never really been someone who sets “resolutions.” (Probably something to do with that streak of rebellion I can’t quite suppress… the one that doesn’t like the idea of doing something just because you “should.”)

In many ways, I’m unable to look at the year as a whole. It truly takes everything in me to make it one more day. My new years resolution is: “Make it through January 1st.”

And then each day, one day at a time after that.

But each of those days, that I breathe in and out, I want the whispers of God to always bring me back to the promises of hope.

Not because of my circumstances, but in spite of them. Hope, not that my tears may ever cease on this earth, but because one glorious day they will all be wiped away by the same hands that hold Mason when I can’t.

12.29.15-5

This year, I want my children to see and experience hope. Not because this life should be happy and perfect, but precisely because it isn’t.

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

The answer Jesus gave to John also points to this promise in Isaiah. A promise sent to me as a prayer earlier last year by my sister. A promise I cling to and pray over my children constantly.

 “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:2-3

There is redemption. Redemption not just for our own sins, but redemption for all the pain in this world. Redemption for the death of a little boy. Redemption for all the tears cried. And all the pain felt.

Redemption for unmet expectations and for years of incomplete memories.

Redemption, not actually for our happiness and comfort, but ultimately, that he may be glorified.

This year, I want to know truth so deeply that when hints of it are whispered at me in the dark, those whispers shine brighter light and remembrance of a much bigger promise.

Hope.

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