Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"I'll pray for you."

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16)

I've been rolling around in my head for days which topic to write about. I have warm and fuzzy topics, deep contemplative topics, sarcastic and mildly amusing topics. Today however, I am feeling pretty feisty so I am going to discuss a topic that has been firing me up lately: the modern Christian's concept of service.

When Christians hear of a tragedy or hardship, what is the #1 phrase most often spoken?

"I'll pray for you (or them)."

OK, let me make it abundantly clear: Prayer is awesome, prayer is important, we should all pray. What gripes me however is the tossing around of that cliched phrase with very little thought and absolutely no action. I'd even wager that a large number of people who promise prayers get too distracted to offer them up at all.

When Jesus prayed he took it really seriously. Heck, he even sweat blood at one point. (see Luke 22:44) I've offered up some big, anxiety ridden prayers, but I don't think I've ever come close to getting bloody for my efforts.

What bothers me is that prayer seems to be the stopping point for many Christians. Great, so you have prayed for the homeless, Great Aunt Edna's kidney stones and world peace. You're done, right? You can pat yourself on the back for being a pillar of the modern church and get on with what you were doing. Hold it just a second...

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

But what can I do?

Now let's be realistic. If you see your BFF from middle school asking for prayers for her 3rd cousin's gall bladder surgery on Facebook, am I suggesting you get in the car and drive two states over to deliver a casserole? No, and in that kind of situation a sincere prayer is an appropriate response.

But what about the lady next door whose husband died last year? Do you think she might be struggling to take care of things around her house? Should you just pray that her gutters get supernaturally cleaned out? Or how about the family who is dealing with a special needs infant that requires 24 hour care? Do you think they need real tangible help, or are a few prayers enough?
I think we get so afraid to get involved because we feel that we have nothing to contribute. Wouldn't you agree that we all have at least one gift or talent? Personally, you will never see me volunteer to bring anyone a home cooked meal. Trust me, my cooking is more of a curse than a blessing. Know what your gifts are and aren't and follow your prayers with practical actions. 

Can't I just write a check?

Absolutely! There are TONS of great organizations that are financially stretched to the breaking point who would do cartwheels over your donations.   (If suddenly you feel like contributing to a worthwhile cause I can clue you in on some wonderful choices.) But how about this? Write a check AND get involved. If you really want to grow your character and compassion get out there and spend some hands on time helping in your community. My advice is to pick a group that would never occur to you to spend time with and then watch how God will blow your mind. 

What do you mean they still need help?

Another trend I've noticed is that we all are pretty good about showing up for an emergency. The reality however is that when a person is knocked down by sickness, grief, or economic hardship the need for help lingers. People need your support more after the initial crisis, because all too quickly the crowd of "helpers" vanishes. I'll be honest, though I was extremely touched at the large turnout we had at my son's funeral, I was so out of it I really can only remember maybe half of the people who were there. What I will never forget are the people who called or wrote in the months that followed, or the people who showed their support during that first Christmas eight months later.

Now before I get too comfy on my high horse let me admit that I have been extra guilty of this in the past and will probably be guilty of this in the future as well. It just occurs to me that if we are all trying to be more like Christ then as a whole we could do a little better. Didn't Jesus first pray and then follow with action? I'm thinking he is really hoping that we would do the same.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

So here goes nothin'...

OK,  I have decided to write a blog. In our culture that makes me probably the most un-unique person you know. Everyone and their third cousin's nephew's hairdresser has a blog these days. Still, I found after writing my first blog entry I thought it was pretty nifty. However, I feel that it is only fair to give potential readers a heads up as to what they can expect:

I will sometimes write about grief and loss.

Losing my son five years ago was one of the biggest turning points in my life. It has colored so much of my perspective and I tend to get fired up when I feel like the general public needs to be educated on how to not inflict further trauma on someone just doing the best they can in the midst of grief.

I will sometimes write about God.

Being a Christian is another huge part of my life and since daily I am trying to figure out what path God wants me on you will probably read words like "Jesus", "Bible", and "Prayer". If the occasional verse bothers you then this probably isn't the blog for you.

On the other hand I will probably offend my overly churchy readers.

Here is the deal: I fail a lot, my sense of humor tends to go to the twisted frequently, and the occasional curse word will more than likely find its way into a post or two. If you are easily bothered by content that will more than likely fall into the PG-13 range then this may not be the blog for you.

So if you think reading my random thoughts won't send you running and screaming into the streets then I'd love to have you on board. There is a handy box on the right side of the page where you can also sign up to be notified of future posts by email.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thoughts on Five Years

Today is the anniversary of the worst day of my life and like all anniversaries good or bad I feel like I have to look back and reflect. Before I lost a child I admit that I had no idea about the devastation and emotional chaos that you are thrust into. I feel like most "normal" people are thinking, "Geez woman, it has been five years! Get over it already!" Still I feel that five years on this crappy road have yielded some wisdom.

Get a sense of humor because you never know when you will really need it.

Life is brutal. Need some examples? Turn on the news and hear about teenagers being gunned down because of the color of their skin, children starving around the world, mass murders and human trafficking. Examples are all around us. People cut you off in traffic, neighbors can be rude and family members can be the cruelest of all. Material for a comedy routine? Probably not, but if you can find even the smallest ways that life though brutal can be absolutely hilarious you will be far more psychologically healthy than most people you meet. People said some of the rudest things after we lost Leo. I choose to believe that they were being ignorant and not intentionally cruel, but if I hadn't found ways to chuckle at their stupidity then you probably would have read about a crazed grief stricken mother slapping someone into the next zip code. Life is hard. Bad things will happen and learning to laugh at the ridiculous that surrounds us can save you from doing 10-20 at the state penitentiary. That leads me to my next discovery...

If you think you might say something stupid just shut up and give a hug instead.

People say dumb things all the time. Normally this isn't too big of a deal, but if you are dealing with someone who just lost a child you could be inflicting serious damage.
   "I know just how you feel." Nope, not unless you also lost a child. The death of your 95 year old grandmother doesn't compare. Nor your third cousin, nor your next door neighbor, nor your goldfish. Parents will probably die before you. Spouses could possibly die before you, but a child??? This goes against everything normal and natural in the world. We have words like "orphan" and "widow", but is there a word in our enormous dictionary for parents who lose a child? None. It defies description.
"God took your child because they were too perfect/beautiful/sweet." Whoa, whoa whoa!!! The God that I believe in is not so cruel or heartless that he would kill off a child because they were apparently an awesome example of babyhood. Countless scholars and theologians have spent centuries debating the nature of God without firm answers, so unless you have a personal hotline where God gives you answers to questions that have puzzled man since the dawn of time then its best to just be quiet.

You aren't Houdini so don't pull a disappearing act.

One of the most amazing phenomena I have seen after the death of a child is how people who you thought would be there for you no matter what suddenly vanish from your lives after you lose a child. Or maybe they see you from a distance and they suddenly avoid contact or reverse direction. What is probably happening in their mind are thoughts like "I just don't know what to say." Perhaps they figure a phone call would be too intrusive or bothersome so they never dial your number again. I think deep down many feel like that level of sadness and despair could be catching so they avoid it at all costs.
Conversely, people that you barely knew, had little contact with or you suspected were schmucks will step up and show a depth of caring and compassion that you didn't know was possible. These sweethearts will genuinely restore your faith in humanity. Decide now before tragedy hits someone you know, are you going to be a schmuck or a sweetheart?

It doesn't get better, but it does change.

Let's pretend for a minute that you are driving down the road listening to some awesome tunes on the radio. The weather is perfect...nothing but clear skies ahead. In a split second without any warning a huge semi broadsides you and your life is changed forever. You wake up in the hospital surprised to be alive, but then discover that you have been permanently paralyzed and will spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. You spend months and years just learning how to navigate in a world that looks familiar but is now filled with challenges at every turn. Five years later is it better? Well, yes and no. At this point you have learned how to get around. You have learned how to integrate the pain into your life. You have accepted that your life will never be "normal" again.
Much like someone who suddenly loses the ability to walk, I have discovered how to get around, how to function and how to let the pain be a part of my life, but not consume my life. It certainly isn't better, but I am thankful that it is different.

My marriage is amazing!!!

One of the other things the schmucks liked to bring to my attention after Leo died was how often couples who lose a child wind up divorced. From personally getting to know hundreds of families whose marriages remained intact after the death of a child I find this statistic inaccurate. However, let's review what Darrin and I have been through in the past five years:

  • losing a child unexpectedly before we even celebrated our first anniversary
  • losing our business
  • subsequent extreme financial hardship
  • continued legal battles with my ex-husband
  • raising two teenage girls
  • all the inherent bumps, bruises and difficulties that go along with a second marriage.    
And through it all we have stood strong! Pardon me while I do a victory lap for that one. I am really proud of us!

God doesn't mind the tough questions.

Ok, here comes the big, ugly confession. Are you ready? After Leo died I was really angry at God. I don't mean slightly peeved. I am talking about deep down gutwrenchingly pissed. I had been through one of the worst divorces ever and had just managed to meet a decent guy and was all ready to enjoy a little of the good life. For what? To get the rug yanked out from under me in the cruelest possible way. Why would God do this? Haven't we all heard stories of people near death that were somehow saved in ways that could only be termed miraculous? OK, so where was my miracle? Wasn't Leo destined for great things? Give me one good reason why a seemingly healthy baby could go down for a nap and with no explanation just never wake up???
I spent quite awhile furious at the Almighty. I stopped reading my Bible and stopped going to church. There was however one thing I didn't stop doing. I never stopped talking to God. Often the conversations were pretty one sided with a lot of demanding on my part. ("How could you? Why did you? Explain yourself!") Sometimes they were pleading. ("Please, please, please give me back my son. I'll do anything, give you anything, be anything") Did I then or do I now think that I was being sacrilegious in any of these prayers? Not even a little. God understands my pain and I discovered that he loves me more than I can even grasp. For now that is enough. The final and most important thing I have learned is the answer to the request I asked of God the night that Leo died....

"Lord, where are you in all of this?"

I should have buckled my seat belt for the answer to this one. God answered me that night and has answered me continuously over the past five years. So where is God in all this?
He is in the people who rushed down to be with us in the ER that awful night. In the many practical good deeds that people did in the months after we were consumed with just trying to get from one day to the next. He is in all the friendships I have made with other "Angel Moms" who are always ready to listen and truly understand. He is in the sweethearts who have made Darrin and I feel surrounded by love on this awful day. Need proof? Take a peek at my Facebook wall today. See a glimpse of God, yet? How about the generosity of all the texts, voicemails, and prayers that we have been on the receiving end of today? And yes, my personal favorite....a box of cupcakes and cookies left by my front door. Is God in a cupcake? You bet He is when it is given out of love and compassion. God has shown me that I am blessed beyond comprehension because I am surrounded by people who want to make it just a tiny bit better.
Isn't that where God is for all of us? We can all agree that the world can be horrible, unfair and cruel, but if we allow God to use us to show His love and compassion we can help make the world a little less hard to get through. Really, that is the secret for us all whether we have lost a child or not. Healing from any pain can come, but only to the extent that we are willing to reach out and love others.