Advent Grief: Finding Hope in the Midst of Memory

Advent grief defies description.

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Depending upon where we are in our grief journey, it draws us in during Advent.  A mixture of overwhelming sadness with living Hope; growing despair with gentle resolve.

Ache with joy; doubt with faith.

God with Us.

For those who embrace Advent as a season of Hope, remembering loved ones who have died somehow diminishes the light. The grief seems darker, heavier. It’s wearying.

It’s gripping.

The reason for Advent doesn’t dim. The glimmer of Love isn’t distinguished.  It’s the journey out of grief  – it feels longer, more tiring, our hearts get heavey as we struggle – further up and further in.

When the grief is new, raw, and all encompassing, the way out is elusive.

Just beyond our grasp.

Our hearts alone become our guides as we blindly feel our way with our hands, cut and bleeding – the sharp edges of grief try to snare us and prevent us from moving forward into the pain.

There is a need for darkness. A need for quiet.

There is a comfort in the darkness. Sitting in the twilight of a new day with nothing but the glimmer of Christmas lights, I shy away from the glare of the sun. There is a safety alone in the quiet with the gentle glistening.

The light of day exposes my vulnerability and forces me to deal with it.

 Get up.

 Move.

Grow.

Remember.

As if the hole in my heart could ever forget.

I want to be stagnant for a season – a day in the season, or two days, or three – like a winter bulb buried in the cold, asleep, waiting for spring. Just let me rest here a while in my grief.

As we move out of the darkness the light is often so blinding we need to move back into the darkness. Just for a while.

And adjust our hearts to what lies before us.

I don’t retreat into deep darkness anymore, but I will always have moments of darkness. I don’t want to lose them. To lose them is to lose him. To lose the moments is to lose empathy for the darkness.

He would be 26 today. My little dark haired babe who never opened his eyes. I want to see his eyes, I want to know the feel of his sweet baby breath on my face.

Today, it is what never was that shouts into the dark.

No good memories. Only the searing pain of labor which ended long ago – overshadowed by the pain of never seeing him move.

Never tiptoeing into the room just to listen to him breathe or watch him sleep.

No playing, giggling, or walking.

I’ll never see him marry, or know the love of another daughter welcomed into my life.

No baby breath.

No “mama” words.

No embrace.

No “Welcome home son. I’ve missed you.”

Instead, he will welcome me home.

Baby yet, or twenty-six, in the place that knows not time or pain.

I had a baby boy who filled the never was for a season. A grandson who tried to make his entrance on this day, and entered into the hole in my heart. 

Not so long ago.

He filled it with December wonder in the place where winter pain had rested.

He gave me a reason to celebrate this time of the year, with Happy Birthday, and December labors that ended in physical life.

He is also out of my reach these days.

Just beyond my grasp.

The pain is complicated like the complication of the labor, where the end result was unknown, and you never quite understand how you got to this place. 

Only heaven knowns the end of the beginning when eternity is in motion.

My birth was violent. Tearing. Painful. Gentleness was absent.

There was no breath of life. Sometimes I struggle to breathe now. Missing what never was, what was, and what is yet to be.

Twenty six years ago today, he was birthed out of darkness into True Light. His first breath was a breath of Life.

Two thousand years ago He was birthed out of True Light into darkness.

Jesus’ birth defies imagination. God born of woman, to become man.

The mystery of Jesus the Christ is the mystery of Christmas. The violence of the cross had already claimed Him at his birth in a great eternal Alpha and Omega. It is the time and absence of time that only the creator of all things lives in.

Birth is often violent. Death is often violent.                                                                                 Birth is often gentle. Death is often gentle.                                                                                       The constant is Christ. He suffered it all. He understands it all. He is present in it all.

This morning in the stillness He is present. The glimmering of the lights on the tree are gentle. They call me to weep. They call me to rejoice. They call me to remember. They call me to Life.

The voice of Jesus whispers to my saddened heart that the end is not yet. There is so much of eternity to live with my babe. So much Life where the Son shines without end.

I will know as I am known.

I will love as I am loved.

I will see and understand.

My hope lies in the One who is greater than me. In a purpose that is bigger than me. In a Light that is brighter than my darkened heart can handle right now.

As the sun begins to spill through the windows, the tree lights begin to fade. The Light has called me back to breathe, move, and live. There is so much life. So much to live for. So much to do.

To be.

The light in my heart grows brighter. Lit by the memory of two infants – one born dead – one born to die.

Both, very much alive. Both waiting for me.

In memories of Hope. 

Happy Birthday Micaiah James Grubb. You are loved.

You are missed. You are so very, very, very, missed.

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And regarding the question, friends that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.   I Thessalonians 4:13-18  The Message

Advent Surrender

Surrender

 To give control or use of something to someone else (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)

“…But you don’t know what he did to me…”

“…move again?”

“…my kids…”

To give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc… “He surrendered himself to a life of hardship. (dictionary.com)

“…actions speak louder than words…”

“…my boss…”

“…the weather…”

“…my church…”

Surrender

A very simple word with unimaginable implications.

I never understood just how big the word surrender really was until this morning. I was passing by my little table top nativity scene and pondered the little empty space among the sheep, waiting to be occupied by my little ceramic baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.

An infant. A tiny, helpless, vulnerable infant.

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It hit me like a spiritual truck.

Picture it – The creator of the entire universe, the God over all of eternity, the infinite, majestic Now who is beyond human comprehension or my fumbling words, humbles himself enough to become a helpless, vulnerable, dependent, drooling, crying infant.

Ultimate surrender

We see the scene everywhere this time of year as we sing songs about Emmanuel, God with us.

The Son of God, God incarnate – GOD – born to a human, among other humans.

 To give up control of something to someone else.

Jesus, giving up control to Mary, Joseph, teachers, neighbors… the Roman soldiers, Herod, Caiaphas…

God

From the moment it was ordained He would be born to die, He surrendered.

December is my sad month – it has been for many years. Yet, each year as I have sought God and embraced life with all of its ups and downs, joys and pains, and the ever flowing tide of change, the Advent season is becoming a time of peace.

Sadness and peace can and do co-exist.  

This December I was feeling sad, forsaken by a friend, taken for granted, missing my kids as I baked cookies alone, fretting over finances, grad school, our ministry losses, and dreading the thought of selling our home and the work involved in moving – yet again.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  Matt. 16:24-25

It always seemed like such a harsh passage and terrible burden; losing my life to save it, denying myself, taking up the cross of crucifixion. Really? What a harsh reality, this Christian life of disciples.

No, it’s not.

Our heavy burden was not only take from us, but he carries the burden and us. It’s not harsh, it’s not a burden. It’s actually quite simple.

Surrender

To agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting etc., because you know you will not succeed (Websters Collegiate Dictionary.)

Surrender

I understand the infant part – I know what it is to hold, nurture, care for, and protect my helpless babies. I know what it feels like to be willing to die if it means saving them. I have agonized when I can’t take their pain and carry it for them. I know what it is like to wrestle a toddler who doesn’t want his diaper changed, or to carry her screaming into the house and out of the storm, even though she wants to play.

Black and White baby Levi

I can surrender into safe arms like that. I can be God’s infant and stop fighting, resisting, or hiding because His arms are too big for me to fight against.

Surrender has nothing to do with our future actions, and everything to do with His past example.

When I am tempted to fret, I will gaze upon the manger and resist the temptation to hide from the One who loves me best.

Advent has taught me Surrender.

Advent Hope, Ways to Honor Infant Death

I visited the cemetery yesterday.  I spent the two-hour drive, listening to the angelic voices of the Vienna Boys Choir singing  Ave Maria, and other Advent Hymns and picturing all the children who have left us too soon, circled around the feet of God, faces uplifted in glorious song.

Vienna Boys Choir Singing Ave Maria

I decided that today, I would throw it out there and honor Micaiah by doing two things. First, by asking the people who read and are blessed by this blog to make a donation in his name, to feed the malnourished children in the Philippines. These are the kids who have been served as a result of his death –the reason I became a trauma chaplain. So far, I have gotten less than $300 in donations – not enough to provide Advent Hope for a thousand plus kids. So please share this blog, and help me spread the word. Tax deductible donations can be made at:

Compassionate Reach (100% goes to the kids)

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For some last-minute Christmas shopping without the lines, you can also purchase Yankee Candles. 40% of the price of the candle is donated back to us, and as you know, 100% of what we get goes directly to the kids. The candle funds will purchase chickens and garden seeds for sustainable food for families.  

You can order through December 13th for Christmas delivery and in time for Advent Feeding. 

Yankee Candle Fundraising Store

I said “two things” so here is how number TWO plays out:

There are few things I would like to tell you about moms who have lost infants. There is never a one size fits all in grief – ever – but these are few things common to many moms who have lost any baby preterm, at birth, or shortly thereafter.

As in all deaths, many of the same do’s and don’ts apply. I won’t list them here, they are written elsewhere and on my website.

  1. Our babies (usually) have a name.(Sometimes for cultural or personal reasons the baby isn’t named.) My son’s name is Micaiah. I love his name, and I never get to hear it in reference to him. Don’t be afraid to ask if our baby had a name and use it.  (NOTE: As in all grief, never say “at least.” I have had people say to me, “At least he wasn’t like four of something.” “At least he didn’t suffer.” I’m not sure he didn’t suffer in the moments leading up to his death, but even if he didn’t, that really isn’t of any comfort.) 
  2. About being “four”… Mothers of infants who have never had a chance to hold, or see our children living outside the womb don’t have many, if any, positive memories. I never saw my son open his eyes, or held him full of life in my arms. I never heard him cry. I never gave him a bath, or held him nursing at my breast.  I never saw a first smile, heard a laugh, or the myriad of other moments that we take for granted. I have nothing positive to remember him by. Our memories are formed as we move into the future without them. Our memories are the ceremonies of remembrance, hearing their names spoken, and by having others remember them. That gives us positive memories to take with us. 
  3. The day of birth is difficult for anyone to remember, but just like you may say to someone with a living child, “How old is your baby now?” you can also ask, “how old would your son be now?” If a Mom doesn’t want to talk about them, you will be able to tell, but most moms like to know our babies have been remembered. 
  4. If you don’t remember the exact day, but you do remember the month or time of the year, you can also say, “It must be difficult for you this time of year remembering your son.” Most of us are thrilled that anyone remembers that we are missing an extra place setting at our table.
  5. You can purchase a small token gift in honor of the child. Today, there are Christmas ornaments for the deceased (I just ordered three.) My daughter started me a collection of Willow Tree figurines that have been a blessings. I think of Micaiah every time I gaze upon the little crafted angels.
  6. You can make a donation to a favorite charity in their name, beyond the day of the funeral as an act of remembrance for a birthday, or Christmas, or just because.

Christmas is a wonderful time to remember a loved one who is missing from this life. Be all things to all people, and maybe you’ll win some.

May the promise and peace of the Christ child move you to love in ways beyond your wildest dreams. 

Jamie

 

Hosanna in the Highest, Advent Resurrection (Happy Birthday Mom)

Born on December 8, 1919, she would have been ninety-six years old today; my Irish, Catholic mother named Mary Josephine Meehan.

She died thirteen years ago, twenty-four years after living with, and beating breast cancer.  She died just three months after our youngest son Samuel, came home from Kazakhstan.

She was tough, and prided herself on it. She didn’t like “sissies,” and raised us to be tough. Life is hard and she wanted us to grow up to take care of ourselves. She grew up across the tracks from Frank Sinatra and told us he was a sissy – a mama’s boy who wouldn’t even hang off of the back of the trolly’s when he was roller skating. She never listed to him sing. “Turn that sissy off.”

She spent most of her childhood in a tenement flat at 311 Ninth St. in Jersey City, NJ. There were cockroaches inside and rats in the outhouse. She talked about stamping her feet to keep the rats away when she sat on the “John.” Born to poor Irish Catholic immigrants, the depression and poverty wasn’t kind to her.  Her name Mary means “bitter” and she told me to never name a child Mary; it’s a “bad-luck name.”

Mary J. Meehan age 8 (My mother)

Mary J. Meehan age 8 (My mother)

I was taught to never put my shoes on the table or I’d have bad luck… never raise my hand to strike my mother, or when I die my hand will stick up out of the grave… never bring a sparrow into the house...never walk backwards down a staircase or Satan will be waiting at the bottom… and never stick my tongue out a her or my tongue would fall off. I never, ever thought about striking my mother, I never stuck my tongue out at her – ever – even when she wasn’t looking.

It was vitally important stuff to know. Life or death. 

She spoke highly of her mother, my grandmother who worked  twelve hours a day, six days a week, at Dix’s Pencil Company, to support her family; she despised her father who spent his days drinking away the cash my grandmother earned. Her mother had married a widower with two children and together they had four more. My mother said her mother had gotten pregnant to “the bum,” trapped, and forced to wed. That piece of information about her mother, she spoke with disgust, “How could she have gotten pregnant by that bum.” My mother ran to meet my grandmother as a child, to be the first to get the warm rolls she would bring home for dinner, often not having enough to feed the whole family. Who ever met her first and helped her carry the bags, won. 

I have heard some others speak well of my grandfather, who died before I was born, but my mother went to her grave despising him – bitterly. (I think – of course – no one can know the intents of the heart in those last moments. ) She told me about her sister that he tried to throw out at window when she born; he wanted a son and despised “another split tail.” She spoke about his drunkenness, his filth, her endless cleaning of the apartment. She talked about coffee in her bottle because it was cheaper than milk in the 1920’s, and revealed that her father had dropped his used condoms into the toy box that was kept under her parents bed. (Her mother never set foot in the Catholic church again because of the guilt – birth control was sin.) Sex was disgusting she said, and she only “did it” for children. My heart breaks when I think of the reasons she had for so much brokenness towards any, and all aspects of relationships. 

Mary (Cox) Meehan

Mary (Cox) Meehan (my grandmother, age 4)

Her bitterness towards men carried over into her marriage and towards all men. The rejection my mother held ran deep and was evident in all her familial relationships, though two of my aunts were a regular part of our holiday gatherings. Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas dinners were a trip, like a Saturday night live skit in living color… 

SNL Thanksgiving Miracle    (Sums up what dinner would be today if any relatives were yet living.)

At the encouragement of the Parish priest my mother married right out of high school. She was a beautiful woman. Father Mac told her Joe Casey was a good man, and she needed to get out of her poverty ridden circumstances to have a better life. I imagine her care and concern for her mother may have kept her from finding her own way. She didn’t marry for love, and her Irish Catholic husband also drank. Joe was a good guy I was told, a “happy drunk,” well liked by everyone, and kind to all. Together they had one child, my sister. When he was drafted to fight during WWII, my mother divorced him which caused her excommunication from the church.  She died having never set foot in the Catholic church again, except for weddings or funerals. She was disgusted by the annulments that can be purchased today.  She never felt worthy of the church again, yet never stopped affirming to us, “I was born a Catholic, and I will die a Catholic.”  She liked the Mass better when it was said in Latin. 

She met my father at a picnic. He was handsome, well dressed, and hard-working. He was a “smooth talker” a salesman by trade, who would become very successful later in life. He was also divorced. I didn’t know anything about my mother’s or my father’s past marriage until I was in my twenties. Divorce was shameful and it was well hidden in my childhood. My sister grew up forced to pretend she my fathers biological child with all the implication that caused to a child.  I just believed she had a couple of extra names due to her Catholic communion and confirmation.

Together, my parents had three children, two boys and me. I am the youngest. I was my father’s pet. Their marriage was a mess – wrought with infidelity and trust issues caused by my father, constant yelling, complaint, and discontent from my mother – But this post is to honor her – not to speak about the pain of her life that carried over into how she raised us. She did the best she knew how with a terribly traumatic past, an unfaithful husband, and limited skills or resources. 

She worked hard her whole life to keep a clean house, immaculate clothing for all of us, and home-cooked meals. She wanted us to have everything – a life far removed from the oppressive poverty she had known.  When I was little she bought me clothes I despised, always wanting to have a china doll of apparent affluence to parade around, in hopes of filling the painful void in her soul. The expenditures caused many battles, even though my frugal father could afford it.  She didn’t know how to express love in any other way – neither by verbal communication or a show of affection. It was quite the opposite.

The day before she died I received the first verbal response to my declarations of love for her. Usually an “I love you,”  was met with “Yeah, yeah, yeah, actions speak louder than words. ” On the day before she died, the words I had always hoped to hear were  spoken weakly, but softly, kindly, from her death-bed, exposing a lifetime of love that was buried beneath pillars of pain,   “I love you Mom.” “I love you too.”  I ran from the room and wept like a baby. I can’t write it, without reliving the moment.

She went home to the Jesus she had met and hidden from, us only a few years before. She would never let me know that she embraced the same God I did – except to say, “Yeah, yeah, I believe all too.” I was raised that a son will take care of His mother so Mary can get anything she wants from Jesus.

She was never able to grasp that the man-God, Jesus, could love her, but I know she understood He was her Savior.  After she died I found a bible we had given to her – highlighted, worn, sinners prayers written in a shaky hand, copied down from Billy Graham, evidence of her softened heart. Though she repeatedly stated we were making a mistake in adopting a little boy (with much cruder language and notions – she said we should adopt a girl) her response to meeting him, just once before she died, “He’s cute, God bless him” left me shaking my head in awe.

Today on her birthday, I want to sit down with her and drink our Irish Breakfast tea together. I want to look her in the eyes and reflect God’s love from a place of total acceptance for who she is. When I tell her that I am getting my Masters of Divinity, I want to hear her say, “What the hell are you doing that for? Get a job that pays. Become a nurse. You need your head examined, you are going to die broke and I won’t be around to help you.” I would inwardly smile, knowing she is being “tough” and making me “tough,” but if anyone else dare say I was pursuing foolish ideas, she would quickly quiet them as well with a, “Shut the hell up. You should do so well raising eight hard-working kids and twelve grand-kids. None of them are in jail or on drugs. And she homeschools them all too!”

I want to hear her  challenge my theological views against what I used to hold to, “I thought women couldn’t be pastors?” “What the hell do you have a tattoo for?” “You change your ideas like you change your underwear.” “I believe in the old ways.”

I know at times she would exhaust me, and I long for one more time to be exhausted; now, as a mature, wise,  older woman, who would no longer hear her crass language or pain driven remarks. I see a broken woman who desperately wanted to know she was accepted, loved, and forgiven. 

I never wanted to be like her – anything like her – but that nature and nurture heritage followed me in so many ways. Part of it has made me who I am. I am a survivor. She made me that way. She taught me you never give up, and you never give in. You fight for what you want, what you earn, what you believe in, and what you deserve. She was a feminist before the time of feminism, and without understanding what that meant, even as she mocked Gloria Steinem she stood for what it meant. She sent money to the poor and needy and spoke with compassion about oppressed women and children.  The stranger and orphan loved her.  I would like to hear her tell me how foolish I am to go to Haiti, the Philippines, Nepal and other places, and that I should stay home where I belong, knowing that underneath it all she would be of the woman I have become. 

The defining difference between us as older women, is that I embrace how great God’s unconditional love for me is, how His grace and forgiveness is the sum total,  and I can live out my life free of bitterness, anger, or rejection. I can love myself and others as God does – the all-encompassing commandment of law and grace. I know the peace that she never gained in this world, but that she has embraced in eternity.    

I love you Mom. I know you are happy now and all of the things I wrote, I can picture you are probably rolling your eyes – but you roll them from a place of total love, acceptance, and tear-free abandonment.

I miss you Mom. You were one hell of a woman.  Save me a place in the Kingdom and fist bump Jesus for me My next tattoo will be in your honor. 

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(I apologize if anyone is offended by language, but that is exactly how my mother spoke, and I loved her for her she was at. If you are offended, I would challenge you to think about how much you can embrace others who speak far worse, do far worse, and needs so much more the grace and love of God reflected by us.)

Shalom.

 

Glory to God in the Highest; Advent Grief

I haven’t blogged in over a month.

For me to write openly now is to speak of the inconsequential or to reveal my scars… during a most vulnerable season.  I tend to carefully hide them knowing many well-meaning and loving people may accidentally rip them open with platitudes or Christian cliches. Self-care is my best training. I have learned to practice what I preach. 

So, I guard my heart, and in doing so, the healing is deeper, lasting, and I am more available to help others throughout the year. 

I can write trivia, or I can be real. I can write blessings, or I can speak truth. Social media has become so negative. It used to be a nice way to stay in touch, share views, see photos, have fun. Now, it has become a political platform and a place of personal catharsis. My desire to meet hurting people in the places of my wounds is risky at times,  but it is a gift. God moves in Truth. He heals in Truth. He abides in Truth.

There are people out there like me – people who have been deeply wounded by great losses and further traumatized at the hands of others in the name of Jesus. Lots of them. Many have not found their way back to the God who loves them. Some have never tasted His love. Some will hide behind their own Christian cliches and happy scriptures covering up the darkness in their hearts and the fear in their souls.

People who have had all of their plans for life thwarted, tossed aside, crumpled up, and turned inside out; blown away in a wispy cloud carrying all of their dreams. 

People who need to know that God truly loves them and it wasn’t He who spoke in cliches or trite comments, but it is He who weeps for them even when they don’t.

People who need to love the church again, if they ever did at all – with all her flaws, perfections, heartaches and joys. It isn’t Jesus speaking unkind words. It isn’t God unleashing negativity or all over their lives. 

Advent tears

Genuine compassion cries for the broken and bleeding.

She is beautiful this church of Christ. She is also flawed, arrogant, heartless, selfish, hurting, needy, broken, and desperately needing to learn to listen to the heartbeat of humanity.

Just like me.

I am a torn member of the body of Christ who sometimes behaves more like an infected appendix than a beating heart.

We are all walking stained glass windows revealing works of art replete with imperfections woven throughout. Flaws that Jesus fills with color making us beautiful reflections of the One who calls us loved – to those who are equally imperfect. Like stained glass we must get intimately close, even pressing our noses against the cold to see through the colored haze and into hearts…

Waiting to be forgiven.

Suffering turns into gold; pain grows into compassion. 

In a few days it will be a quarter century since my son died in a completely preventable, traumatic event.

I should be over it…Christians have hope… my loved one is in a better place… wah-wah, wah-wah… Like the murmur of the Peanuts gang, a nickels worth of faith from tear-less naysayers. 

I will never get over having been so brainwashed in a Christian cult that we gave up all sense of reason and lost a child. I will never get over that I was taught such a distorted view of God that how I lived or what I did mattered more than what He did and how He lived.  I will never get over how unkind people can be when they are convinced they have arrived at all “truth” instead of journeying towards it, in it,and through it.   

I don’t want to.

Healing is not “getting over” the things that formed you, it is embracing the broken, forgiving the offenders, and growing in grace. 

It is forgiving ourselves. 

That I have done. 

If not I would have neither the boldness or the humility to write about life in a cult. 

Please don’t talk to me about declaring the promises of God, or my need for deeper healing. Don’t tell me you will “pray” for me in that patronizing tone of voice that hides your own brokenness or need for “prayer” – as if there is something inherently wrong with lament, and absolutely nothing wrong with your life.

We were willing to die for what we believed. It’s easy to claim or declare when nothing is really at stake. It’s utter foolishness to think otherwise. Ask the Christians in Nigeria, Syria, Haiti, the Philippines, or the countless other countries that are unsafe, war-torn, unhealthy, hungry, and stricken. When you have money and medical, safety and surety it’s easy to believe…When an ambulance can be called and our laws mandate that no in need of urgent care can be left to die on a street.

 When a doctor is an option if you’re sick, a welfare system if you are broke, a soup kitchen if you are hungry.

Perhaps my heart for the poor and needy lies in having lived without any options of medical or financial help. Trust was our only option. As misguided as it was, I understand what it is to pray when prayer is all  you have.  So I grieve when American prosperity gospel lays claims to the sale of a house for more than it’s worth, or a greater blessing just because we think our “Father” has promised it to us. Dave didn’t get a higher paying job, we lost everything in our home, and we are in far worse shape than we have ever been with a bleak looking future. In this world.

We also have more peace in God than we have ever had.

More faith

More trust

More compassion

More empathy

A more abiding presence of God that doesn’t have to worked up, prayed up, or stored up. It isn’t lost, put aside for Sunday, speak in Christianize, or get discouraged when things don’t go our way. I like to think that we understand what I Cor. 13:5 means, Love doesn’t “seek its own way,” or “demand its own way” or “is not selfish” depending upon your personal favorite translation.

I have been broken into a million pieces and put back together by the hand of God. 

One jagged piece at a time.

I will always hear the words that caused the death of my son. They are embedded in my mind. A reminder of how a hardened heart will stifle the ability to hear that beautiful, still, small voice of God, and cause pain in others.

A reminder to listen, love, learn, and lament.

Pain is only one piece of the jagged puzzle.

I am living proof of the power of God to restore even the ugliest circumstances into something beautiful. Loss upon loss, all adding layers and depth to my life by the One who makes all things new.

I wait with expectant hope for some of the “new” things to happen- especially in relationships that have gotten lost in a sea of “what ifs” swallowed by waves of because. I long to see my husband carry his shoulders in the way he did before the burden of one wrong choice locked a yoke of grief about his neck. It’s coming. I see it through eyes of faith. 

I am more about what I can do for God than what He owes me. To be in His presence is enough. To own Him as my own is everything. The presence of God is my breath of life. I have nothing left in me. Nothing. He has increased. He breathes for me when I can’t. I exhale, He inhales.

The breath of Life

This time of the year is a reminder of so many losses. Unknown to most. Yet, this season is a season of expectant and glorious HOPE.

This time of year I reminded that my child died, but in his dying I learned to live in the One who lived to die for me. Mind boggling? Yes, to me too. But it is what I hang my ornament of Hope on during the season of promise.  And loss.

 I stand among those who passionately love God in spite of it all and daily live in the joy and peace of knowing the Savior in the deepest recesses of my heart.

I weep, rejoice, and weep again. And again.

Hosanna in the highest. 

It is how I put one foot in front of the other and have peace in doing it. It is how I serve others with compassion and professionalism.

Emmanuel, God with me.

Healing comes in the face of  child and the form of a bloody cross. 

A memory is are made in a pair of hand sewn mittens – never worn on lifeless hands, unable to scratch the tiny face…

Safely tucked away by the babes sister who knew someday they would heal a portion of her mothers heart. 

No, I don’t ever want to get over it. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:11-14

 

 

 

Holy Love in the Philippines, Feeding the Poor

Partaking the Passion and Death of Christ through Service to the Poor     Day 2     By Bryan Mattilano

Holy Friday marked the 2nd day of the feeding operations. In God’s Grace, the typhoon that was threatening Eastern Visayas went to the northern part of the Philippines and weakened.

Day 2.1

Early in the morning, my family prepared the menu composed of chocolate porridge, hard-boiled egg, milk and chocolate bars. My father suggested the menu since Holy Friday in the Philippines, we would usually prepare something sweet to incite fasting and abstinence.

day 2.3

Children were taught by my Nanay, Lucila, to say graces before meals as some of the BHWs look over the children, ready for the distribution of the meals.

Day 2.4

Some of the cute kids were eager to partake the meals as they were prepared with their utensils. Some of them came from the outskirts of San Jose along the foot of the mountains and far flung rice fields.

day 2.5

day 2.6

We owe the success of these operations to our Barangay Health Workers (BHW). These awesome ladies were untiring in gathering all the kids and the upkeep of the proceedings.

day 2.10

Holy Week 9

 

 

Santa-god

“You better watch out,

You better not cry,

you better not pout, I’m telling you why….

Santa Claus is coming to town…

Ever wonder how our modernized Santa Claus ended up with many of the same attributes as God? Not only some attributes, but Santa also has the same judgmental, “you’ll get what you deserve” attitude that many Christians mistakenly believe about our Father God.

santa godI think our modern, commercial, very American Santa, is a bit of a stalker. He watches us when we are sleeping, and knows when we’re awake? For a  jolly fat guy who is supposed to love children and bring them their most desired gifts, his love seems rather conditional and based solely on a child’s performance.

Our modern Santa is a total contrast to the real St Nicholas. We know very little about St. Nicholas and legends about him abound. He was born in A.D. 280 in what is now modern Turkey, to Nona and Epiphanius. His parents were neither poor, nor rich, but devoted Christians during a time of persecution. He was named after, and educated by his uncle Nicholas, who was a Priest. His  parents died while he was quite young and left him a modest inheritance. He followed in his uncles footsteps and also became a Priest. History tells us that at one time he was imprisoned for his faith.

tumblr_meohxsuv811r11kw2He became a legend for championing the cause for the poor and needy.  As is typical for Christian legends, much about him was paganized, while paganized pieces about him became Christianized. His legend grew to include various methods of transportation to serve the poor, and his legend was carried worldwide. At first banned by the Puritans, the Dutch colony would later keep St. Nicholas alive. Our first written record of him dates back to December 23, 1773, almost one-hundred-fifty years after the Dutch brought him to New York City.  Interesting to note, the tradition of the Dutch is to exchange gifts one week preceding Christmas, keeping the day of Christs’ birth separate and holy.

St. Nicholas pointed to Christ, and he had the heart of Christ in his service to the poor and needy. He didn’t reward the good and punish the bad, but he sought to reflect the love of the Christ, by caring for the needs of the poor.

Baker_artThis is the first year I have really embraced Advent, and in doing so, I have embraced the anticipation and reverence of what the birth of the God-Man means to me, and to humanity. I think I have a tiny taste of what the Jews must have felt as they waited for the promised  Messiah. Yet, so many looked right into His eyes, yet never saw Him; listened to Him speak, but never understood His words.

So it is with so many Christians today.

Just like Santa Claus, we come to Him believing that He will “reward” those who believe, yet they live in fear that if they do something wrong, He will remove all of His promised gifts.

He will remove Himself.

I can’t help but wonder if our Americanized/ modernized version of God and Santa Claus have influenced by each other.

unhappy holy day 2Our society is performance oriented – much of the world is. You have to strive to get an education, strive to get a job, strive to get promotions, strive to make a good salary. Persecution of minorities, and majorities abound… The list goes on and on.

We come to Christ like children, eager to learn about the God who accepts us as we are, and loves us unconditionally. But all too soon, performance requirements enter in – either placed upon us by our peers, church, or by ourselves. We learn the bible and in our own interpretations of the scriptures, work towards becoming what we think we now have to become.

We forget what the story is really about. We forget who we are, and who we are in Christ. 

We begin to fear that God is displeased with our performance. Maybe now, I am on His naughty list, maybe I need to go to the altar and get it right, or work harder at changing who I am. Maybe I got the wrong tree.

unholy holy day 3 linus After all, He sees me when I’m sleeping, He knows when I’m awake, and He knows if I’ve been bad or good, so be good…

We are given the free gift of Christ but our nature to strive takes over. We are set up as young children to “be good” or be left out.

God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden totally accepted and at peace. All of life was a gift to them.

A gift. 

They didn’t need to work, compete, strive, or perform.

They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loved them, wholly, and completely. 

Then that all ended, and when it did, life was no longer lived as a gift. Sin brought in the pain of strife, work, competition, death, fear, rejection, performance…

For thousands of years all of humanity held their breath as they waited for the promised Messiah to come, and change the rules that were set in motion on that terrible day. One day, born in a stable, it happened – Immanuel.  God with us.

Jesus Christ came to take away the barrier of that prevented us from living our lives as a gift. 

The effects of sin – the toil of living in this fallen, difficult world will be with us until the end of the time, but the spiritual work is abolished! 

Farm and Christmas barnFrom his birth in a humble barn, to serving, healing, feeding, caring for, and teaching others, He lived a life of simple humility.  As St. Nicholas pointed to Jesus, the Christ pointed to the love of the Father. He modeled being connected to the Father simply by who He was.

And then He told us we also are children of God, and that Abba, Daddy, our Father – adores us. Whether or not we are good or bad, we are accepted in the Beloved when we place our total trust in Him.

All around the world we see the word “Believe” in reference to Santa Claus, but God is saying to us “believe.” 

The cross is not covered by a Santa’s hat, but by a crown of thorns. 

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Ever.

His gift to us this Holy season is His presence. 

 

Twenty-Four Years and Twenty-Four Months – Advent Expectation

What we are doing is often mistaken as a mark of a mature Christian more than who we are becoming.

Advent is all about expectation.

IMG_7550Second only to the coming of Jesus, our greatest expectation should be who we are becoming as disciples of Jesus.

Twenty Four Years ago today, December 10th,  I buried my infant son.

Twenty four months ago, the effects of the traumatic loss were drastically, dramatically, and painfully revealed for the last time, when I experienced an event that triggered that time in my life.

For eight years previous to the event of two years ago, a lifetime of suppressed grief had finally begun to heal, and heal deeply. Twenty-four months ago the wound was badly re-injured, revealing the need for it to be permanently closed.

Expectation

The work of grief and the work of “being,” as an important aspect of Christian growth, has been replaced by doing. We are too busy, too, too rushed, too broke, too involved, too stressed, too overwhelmed, have too many commitments – simply too “over-everything,” to actually slow down enough to sit at the feet of Jesus and give ourselves time to feel.

“Our efforts to disconnect ourselves from our own suffering end up disconnecting our suffering from God’s suffering for us. The way out of our loss and hurt is in and through.” Henri Nouwen

I see this most clearly at this time of the year – a time which represents the birth of the King of Kings, and the second coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to be still, to know, and to be.

Twenty -Four 1It is a time to heal the fragments of relationships and the fragments of our soul.

Expectation

You can’t heal, from what you can’t feel. It is like a person with nerve damaged feet, trying to prevent frostbite when they can’t feel the cold. The damage has already been done when it becomes visible.

So it is with pain.

To feel means pain, and pain is a hindrance to the false image of our ability to handle everything that is thrown at us. We are over-medicated, overindulged, over committed, and over extended. Somehow, “busy” has become the new answer to, “How are you?”  

The results?  Anxiety is now the number one reason for doctor visits.

Busy keeps us from having to delve deeply into who we are. Busy keep us from becoming Christ-like.

What we are doing, has become more important than who we are becoming. Success is measured in events, toys, jobs, careers, sports, church growth, money  – all things which represent our own image instead of the image of Jesus.

Expectation

We see the 80/20 principle applied here – 20% of people are doing all the work in a church or ministry, while 80% are not doing any of the work. I have to stop and wonder how many of the 80% are doing it because they are driven – falsely finding themselves in the work they do, instead of in Christ.

I’ve been there. I lived there after Micaiah died. My kids were raised there. Work. Do. Don’t be. Don’t see.

Expectation

IMG_7577Christian references often reflect this mentality:

“They are committed members of the church…attending every service, as well as helping every time the doors are opened. They tithe faithfully, and have been Sunday school teachers for 15 years. You cannot find more willing servants in the church anywhere.”

That is a great reference,  but it wouldn’t tell me who a person is, just what they do. Actions don’t always speak to the depth of a person’s relationship with God, or with each other.

Expectation

What would happen if someone wrote a reference that said, “I have never met a more Christ-like person in my life. Each year I have seen him/her change more into the image and likeness of Christ so I know that surely they have been with Jesus.”

Expectation

Twenty FourTwenty four months ago Jesus began to close my healing wound for good.  He said, “Look in there, Jamie and tell me what you see.”  I tried to avoid it – as I had been avoiding it for a long, long, time. I didn’t like what I saw. I had avoided the pain of the death of our son, the PTSD label, the traumatic grief, the spiritual abuse, the shame – for so many years that it had festered into something ugly. Something more painful than the death itself. Eight years ago I accepted and acknowledged it for what it was.

Eight years ago the healing began.

Expectation

But twenty-four months ago, Jesus was asking me to see myself with the same love and forgiveness that He did. He wanted me to look into the raw wound and see grace. To forgive myself for the years of traumatic grief that my children endured; for the years of loss and pain and legalism, and anger.

“Even when I’ve hurt the ones I love most Lord?”  “Especially when you’ve hurt the ones you love the most.”

Expectation

“But Jesus, you never had to forgive yourself, you were perfect in relationship.” “Exactly. So sit here quietly with me. Do not move, or work. Be with me. Just be. ”

Expectation

Jesus revealed the years we confused works with growth, quiet for peace, happiness for joy, sin management for grace filled acceptance. He taught me not to confuse religious expectations with genuine friendships, or to accept wearing a mask in the place of His grace.  I no longer confuse Christians with Christ, or aspire to be someone else who I thought was more spiritual than I.

Expectation

I am the most spiritual person I know.

After all, I am the only person I know.

Expectation

And only Jesus really knows me. He is enough.

Dave is next, and Jesus reveals Himself through Dave to me, and through me to Dave. Such is the way of love that has endured the floods and fires together.  It becomes a bond made of Titanium.

Unbreakable. Unstoppable.

Expectation

For wounds to close, we have to be still. We have to be willing to sit with Jesus long enough for Him to speak into our healing.

Expectation

My son was born, and died, during the second week of advent; the week most commonly known as the week of Love, Peace, or Expectation.

IMG_7564Without the pain, I couldn’t know  deep joy.

Without the pain, I wouldn’t know true Hope.

Without the pain, I couldn’t know the healing given by the Son of God, born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Immanuel – God with us.

 Expectation

“The birth of Christ is the central event in the history of the earth — the very thing the whole story has been about.” — C.S. Lewis

Happy Birthday Micaiah James.  I wait with expectation.  “I’ve never been more homesick than now…” Mercy Me