A Child in the Midst: Infant Loss in Kronos Time

The unimaginable. There are no answers to be found so I write. I lament through the written word. I question. I cry out. I ponder. I answer my own question with the knowledge that an answer isn’t enough.

Isn’t necessary. 

baby

 

An answer doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change, or rearrange, or re-do, or fix.

God is the answer. His love is the answer.

He is the joy. He is the pain. There is nothing else.  No one else.

When we cry out for mercy, he lifts us up.

He carries us.

We are held. 

In this time between times.

This moment where only our imagination can take us to the place where tears are deprived of their reasons for existence. The place where immeasurable joy is a reality, instead of an yet unrealized state.

A place where babies never die. 

A longed for place.

It is a Kronos moment pregnant with the pain of a life in this world.

What I feel is only a token of empathy for others in comparison to a suffering savior. An inner knowing of the darkness we share in this fellowship of suffering. The suffering that God feels a gazillion times more deeply, harshly, and ripping. 

Yet, it is part of this existence he created. An existence that doesn’t make any sense as we embrace the groaning of creation longing for restoration and redemption.

The baby boy left this time between times to be with Jesus in the eternal. While his parents thought he safely slept he was carried into eternity – into the arms of Jesus.

But even Jesus lived until he was an adult. The death of a child defies human logic. It is quite simply unfair. It is a great struggle – and a compelling reason to step into that sacred place of

It is a great struggle – and the compelling reason I step into that sacred place of suffering when God enables me. I know the way out of our darkness. Companionship in suffering – even for a moment – brings life. Brings hope. 

 

A glimpse of the eternity where children play amidst the heroes of old.

The place where Jesus brings sets them forever in his midst – not just for a moment, but for all the yesterdays, flowing into rivers of now and before and forever, and ever, and ever.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 1:1-3).

Baby Boaz is in the midst being held by Jesus. He is in the “better place.” But those who love him are not. They have a lifetime to wait in this time between times. In this place. They have been baptized by fire into the pain of childlike trust. There is no other kind trust on the hollowed ground of suffering.

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Only Abba, Papa, hold me. Jesus, help me. Spirit keep me. 

Please remember that when you are tempted to step away from grieving. When days turn to months and months to years and you think, “Surely they are over it.” You never get over it. It is never back to normal. You learn to live again, to breathe in moments of joy and pain –  in this, they call a new normal.

It is certainly new – but never normal. 

You heal, and heal some more, and heal some more until the pain is more bearable as all things begin to be “worked out for good.”

But things are not “good now.”  The hole where a child lives is never filled. Children are not objects that can be replaced with another child. Parents learn to live in Kairos time – God’s time – moments of the now and not yet combined with the reality of our children who live in God’s eternal time. We see glimpses of it and learn to live there…

…in Kairos – God’s time. 

Moments of the now and not yet combined with the reality of our children loved in God’s eternal now. We find love, laughter, and hope in those kairos moments of shared eternal reality. 

We breathe. We mourn. We laugh. We love.

We wait.

We are held. 

NOTE: 

Things you never say to grieving parents:

*You can have another child.”

*God must have wanted an angel with them.” Or any other God must have…

NEVER say anything that starts with “At least…”

*At least you can have more children. At least he was only three months old. At least she wasn’t six. At least you have other children. At least you won’t have to put up with unruly teen years. At least they didn’t suffer.

*”All things work together for good.” (it doesn’t feel good right now)

*Do not quote scripture – if they are disciples they most likely know them and if they are not, there is no better way to turn them away from the faith.

What you can say – and please Call the child by NAME.

*This is beyond words.

*I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I’m here for you.

*I am so sorry.

*I don’t know what to say. My heart breaks for you.

*Tell me about ___. Do you have a picture?

 

*We want to talk about our children – they may be dead but they are never gone from our hearts.

 

 

 

 

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)

Holy 4

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

 

 

 

Teetering on the Edge of Salvation

So many Christ-followers live with shame and regret. Embracing the vast love and forgiveness of God, along with His power to change us simply by reaching out and grabbing the brass ring, seems far too abstract.

Instead, they are emotionally captive to the belief that they are teetering on the edge of salvation. Walled in with steel bars of, “I must do something to receive it,” holds them captive – prisoners in our own minds.

teetering on the edge

That was me. Shame and regret followed the people of the cult, but we sure wouldn’t admit it. Instead of admitting brokenness, we claimed the promises of God and become more and more self-righteous. We were too busy speaking freedom, to actually live it.

Fundamental to the core in every aspect of “obedience,” I was more mental, than fun. I followed “the Word,” and dared anyone to challenge me otherwise. I had scriptures to back up everything I did, and I could argue the theological pants off of most, and leave them naked and running for cover. It was bad and abusive theology, surrounded by too much fear to listen to the viewpoints of others. If we admitted one of our doctrines could be wrong, then everything could be a myriad of fables and our “Truth” house of cards would come tumbling down.

Of course, it was ridiculous to even consider we could be wrong.

The iron bars of what I believed to be “sound doctrine” kept from knowing the freedom that Jesus bought and paid for. I thought I was keeping the “world” out, but instead I was locked in a prison of spiritual abuse.

I was “saved” and never questioned it, “purchased by the shed blood of Jesus Christ,” and there was nothing I could do to add to it.

Yet, I lived my life filled with rules upon rules, and the pain of knowing I never got a one day, one hour, one minute of my “walk with Jesus” right. “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” was not happening (Matt. 5:48). I was disgusted with myself, and my constant sin and failures. Where was the “new creation” the bibles spoke about.

A well-hidden self-hatred was becoming a perfectly orchestrated symphony in the cycle of read, pray, fail. Quite plainly, life sucked.  

The beautiful song Amazing Grace, sardonically was lived out more like this,

“Amazing grace was a sweet sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was free but now I’m bound, my doctrine captured me.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, but hearts are soon deceived, that grace began to disappear the longer I believed.

The Lord has promised good to me, but sin, my doubts secured, I can’t believe His grace for me, my failures He’ll endure.

My chains were gone, I was set free, but works soon came and ransomed me. And like a flood, my life swept in, and kept me drowning in my sin.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine. If I keep struggling to do right, perhaps I’ll make Him mine. I hope I make Him mine.”   (For the record, I love the song Amazing Grace, by John Newton, and the story behind it.The adaptations and liberties were taken by me to prove a point.)

I see it everywhere I go – people going down front to get right with God – again, and again, and again, and again. Or telling me, “…but you don’t know what I’ve done; if you knew what I’ve done…”

If salvation by grace and not by works, why the need to repeat the event over, and over, and over, again, based upon our human failures

Even if our theological views hold to eternal security, the shame and regret of being anything less than perfect in our daily “walk,” still prevails. It just isn’t publicly revealed in a weekly jaunt to the alter – making it easier to wear our masks of perfection while the cloak of self-doubt hangs draped across the back of our chairs.

I worked so hard to make sure I pleased God. I didn’t really believe I was teetering on the edge of salvation, because I knew the Word, claimed the promises, and walked in obedience. I just knew I never pleased Him. Ever.

If I could just stop yelling at my kids; be a more submissive wife; stay in my bible more; pray more; serve others more; stop yelling at my kids; forgive more, quite wanting my own way; stop yelling at my kids. (Apparently the long skirts, isolationist life, separation from worldly TV and music, and never using a doctor wasn’t enough.)

Oh, and stop yelling at my kids. 

Always busy doing the right things, there was hardly any time to be still before God, and listen to the voice of Jesus beckoning me to be loved, and love, from a place of grace.  

The pressure to “conform” and have my mind “renewed” was insurmountable and unattainable. Who I was created to be, and who I was as an individual, no longer mattered in the fundamental teachings of conformity, and obedience. There is no such thing as individuals, just unity in the body of Christ.

I knew the Word of God far more than I knew God; I knew the Word of God far more than I knew myself. 

At least I thought I knew the Word of God – but you can’t have one without the other. You can’t know God without first knowing the Love of Christ. Jesus is His word. Jesus loves us. He proved that.

He reveals to us what life can really be like when it is lived from a place of reckless passionate, crazy, laughing, and uncontrollable, surrender, in perfect Love. 

No bars, no chains, no “have to’s”… Just a whole big heart full of “want to’s.”

It’s a life of laughing without guilt, fighting without condemnation, repenting without shame, praying with hope, and living with Love.

It’s messy but marvelous, broken but beautiful, crushing but life giving, dark but light, losing, gaining, moving, standing, quiet, shouting, perfect, damaged – life to the fullest, life.

It is knowing that God’s love for us is,

Immeasurable. Unfathomable. Indescribable. Unstoppable. 

It never leaves us teetering on the edge of Salvation. Ever. 

The un- Faithfulness of God

One of our sons had a potentially deadly car accident last week. After a long night of work, sleep deprived, and suffering a bad head cold, he found himself facing off with a semi-truck – an “eighteen wheeler.” The truck flipped and exploded and his small car was totaled, but mercifully no one was significantly injured. My son tore some ligaments in his ankle and will be in a type of cast for a little while – minor under the circumstances.

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I only mentioned it to a few people for various reasons. First, everyone was fine, and I was respecting my son’s privacy. There was no fault or wrongdoing, it just happened. My other hesitation in telling others, was because of the common response when you share a story with a happy ending,

“God is faithful.” 

Yes, God is faithful, God is just, God is merciful, God is kind, God is long-suffering, God is patient, God is compassionate, God is love, God is…

And if my son had been more seriously injured or killed, God would still be all of the above and more. 

To claim the faithfulness of God only in reference to happy endings, good times, and “blessings,” is to deny His very nature. It is a very American God. God is love. (I John 4:8,16) He is always love.

He doesn’t cease to be love in the face of suffering. He is not un – faithful in face of loss or devastation. 

God was merciful last week, He was present, and He was not caught unaware, but humans make choices, make mistakes, suffer illness – humans are humans and good things and bad things happen in life.

God was faithful when our beloved son’s life was spared last week and God was faithful when our beloved son died in 1990. Two sons with two different results, one God with eternal purpose.

God is faithful – at all times, in all situations. 

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I spoke with a friend recently who lost a nephew in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. We briefly touched on the pictures and statements that float around the internet bestowing the faithful and miraculous intervention of God to save lives on September 11th. What about the thousands who died? I have to agree – once again it claims God’s present faithfulness in the miraculous of saving lives but his absence in hardship.  ( God in suffering )

God resides in suffering as much as in joy. I believe, He is even more present when we need Him the most – even more “faithful.” We may not feel it, we may not want to think about it, we may want to curse God and die, but He is still faithful towards us.

The faithfulness of God is a prevailing theme in the bible, one that is far too extensive to cover in a blog post. The Psalms are filled with the faithfulness of God as a source of hope and encouragement after dark times with a, “but will I trust in you.” David lamented through the faithfulness of God continuously.

In the book of Lamentations, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah spoke about God’s faithfulness to restore. (The definition of lament is a passionate response to grief or sorrow.) Even though the destruction had been prophesied and promised due to their disobedience, the covenant of God’s faithfulness was sufficient for Jeremiah to encourage hope in the people of Israel.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,                                                         ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” 

But we have Christ so all of the promises of God are yes and amen in Him, right?

Yes! The promise is that He will be present with us in all of our suffering, and hardship, and blessings, and goodness – all things. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39) He was with Paul in prison, exiled, and put to death. He was with Stephen stoned. He was with the Saints in the upper room.

When we proclaim the faithfulness of God in reference to deliverance only, we expunge hope in the Good News as life changing and life sustaining.

It is easy to believe in a God who will reward us with all good things, but necessary to know the God who sustains us through all things. 

God is faithful. He can’t be otherwise.

Lazarus, Not Raising the Dead, and the Glory of God

lenten losses 2To me, the story of Lazarus is one of the most profound messages of love in the scriptures. For years, I read it over and over again in awe of the God who raised a four days dead, stinking, maggoty, corpse to life. Songs proclaiming that “it’s the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in me” were sung with confidence and naivety. We were young, completely in love, and indestructible. If something did go wrong, we had the dead raising spirit of God in us. No worries. We lived in a safe, rural area in central Vermont, where David held a job that was adequate enough to provide for the basic needs of our large, single income, family. We were happy, healthy, and full of faith.Though I had been to Europe as a child, neither of us had ventured outside the U.S.A, to countries where provision and safety have a very different meaning, and “faith” stares back from the face of a starving child, or a mother whose entire family perished in a typhoon while she prayed for mercy.

Then our son died. 

Being part of a hyper-faith cult didn’t help our theological perspectives, nor did the people who wanted to know where we had “missed it.”  Within the false doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity according to your “faith,” reasons have to be found when the unthinkable happens and we don’t receive the “promises” of God.

“Lazarus come forth.” 

The three word focus of this passage that reveals the power of God, are the most often emphasized, while bypassing the most human part of the story.

In John 11:5 we read that Jesus “loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus,”  and Christian love is a verb – it’s an action word. When Jesus finally arrives at Bethany and sees those who loved Lazarus mourning, verse 33 says He was deeply moved and troubled.  Love hurts. Yet to reduce this just to pain filled emotion is to rob the scriptures of their intent – the original language implies that He was emotionally outraged or angered.

God hates death. 

The purpose of the cross, the reason for Jesus’ anger, was that He fully understood what was required to conquer death.

His own.

He was troubled by the pain that death causes, and angered at what sin had brought into a previously perfect world. In verse 34 Jesus is taken to where they have lain Lazarus, and the emotions of a fallen world are strikingly revealed in verse 34,

“Jesus wept.” 

Those two words are all that needed to be written to exemplify death. Even the One who would bring life to the dead, remove the sting of death, and grant eternal life to those who call upon His name, was so emotionally overcome by the site of death, he was reduced to weeping. He knew within moments that Lazarus was to be called forth, and restored to His family and loved ones, and still He wept

We know the rest of the story – Lazarus was miraculously raised from the dead to the glory of God, and we see the third reason we should pay attention to the story of Lazarus. The miraculous, creative miracle of the raising the dead brought glory to God.

We too should be angry at death. After returning from a natural disaster like the tornadoes of 2011, the Philippines typhoon, or the recent earthquake in Nepal – shootings, accidents, or a local funeral, my usual comment is, “I hate death.”  

Death is ugly, messy, and beyond human words or comprehension.

The loss of a child in particular defies everything we know to be good and right in the world. Death should stir within us a deep troubling of the fallen nature of this world and provoke us to fight death through acts of social justice, compassionate care, and agape love, revealing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Second, we should be moved with compassion at the suffering of others. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is “time to weep and a time to laugh,” and Rom 12:15 as well states “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” There is no shame or lack of faith in tears.

Grief is not evidence of a lack of faith, but the presence of love. 

Compassion is often revealed in tears. It is impossible for me to work with people who have experienced loss and not be moved with compassion. My own losses have enabled me to have a deep sense of empathy, and sometimes what I consider a healthy counter-transference. Though some would argue there is such a thing, I believe that is exactly what is revealed through the emotions of Christ in this passage of scripture.

Third – The Glory of God. Most individuals will live their life without witnessing the raising of the dead. Stories abound – some believable, some not. Healthy reasoning should cause a certain amount of skepticism at the miraculous. Yet, God is glorified in and through us every day, all over the planet. How we react to  suffering, how we react to the poor, needy, ill, mourning, or forsaken, is how we glorify God. The ridicule thrown at the church today does not revolved around our lack of miracles, but our lack of love. When we witness suffering, we need to heed the words of I John 3:17

“This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.”   (The Message)

We need to reveal the power of God in our daily lives – not just in the miraculous raising of the dead, miracles of healing and deliverance, but in the love we have for a suffering humanity.

Yes, it is the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead that dwells in us, and that Spirit IS Love.

The Face of Jesus in the Philippines; Holy Love

As we enter into the weekend, please consider how selfless servants in developing countries spend their Holy Week, and may we learn from them as we read the words of Filipino volunteer, Bryan Mattilano,

Holy 5” Compassionate Reach International , together with my family and the Barangay [Village] Health Workers (BHW), initiated feeding operations in our barangay beginning] Holy Thursday.

As Christ dined with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist, we may also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.”

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Thursday: Supper of Salvation

Day 1 “There were 192 identified malnourished children in the barangay, and 163 of them participated in the feeding program. All the children were weighed and the height was measured. The MUAC strip (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) was also used to determine how malnourished each child is.

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The menu was composed of rice, chicken adobo, egg, vegetables, and hot milk.

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The Barangay Health Workers (BHW) identified each of the malnourished children in every purok (sections of the barangay), getting the weight, height and the MUAC measurements, for the locations of the feeding, and follow-up home visitations.

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From 163 respondents, 103 of them (63%) are already at risk for becoming malnourished, while 38 children (23%), were identified as malnourished. Only 22 children, (less than 13%) were in normal ranges for nutritional adequacy.

Holy 1This malnutrition is due to scarcity of resources: sufficient food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, brought about by the devastation of Super-typhoon Yolanda, in November of 2014.

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines

San Jose, Dulag, Philippines 1/2014

The super-typhoon also destroyed the local crops, rerouted water sources, killed coconut trees, and negatively affected the landscape and other resources in this fishing and farming community.

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The feeding operation was just on time with the Holy Thursday as Christ dines with His apostles to initiate the Eucharist.

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May we also share His Body and Blood as we serve the least of our brethren with compassion, especially those who are victims of calamities.

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More than anybody who are most vulnerable are the children…. ” 

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PLEASE NOTE:   Filipino volunteer Bryan Mattilano, is a professor at the University in Tacloban.

Bryan grew up in San Jose, and his parents and family still reside in the village (barangay). San Jose is a 40 minute commute by jeepney or other public transportation from Tacloban. This work of great love and compassion, is done by Bryan, his family, and other volunteers, without pay, and during their “vacation” times.

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Bryan and Chp. Jamie – January of 2014, providing trauma support for the local population, and trauma training for the teachers of the elementary school.

Please consider becoming a sponsor of the feeding initiative in San Jose so we can continue to help rebuild lives, while caring for the least of these.

Compassionate Reach is a volunteer organization.  100% of donations go towards helping the poor, needy, and traumatized victims of disasters.

For more information email:  jamie@compassionatereach.org  and go to our website.

Thank you on behalf of San Jose and the volunteers of Compassionate Reach International. 

Contact us to find out how you can train as trauma chaplains, and/ or volunteer for mission outreach and disaster response, with Compassionate Reach International.