Friday, July 27, 2018

Redemptive Memory


July 27th is not a welcome day in our house.  So much about this time of year-- whether the length of the long summer days, the sunshine, the humidity, and even the relative calm of a mid-summer schedule, bring back memories we wish we could escape. It was on this date in 2009 that our son Micah, a happy little 9-month old boy, died as a result of a confluence of events. Many people in grief, or who have endured great suffering, are said to “live in the past.”  Because current circumstances create such pain in their lives, some people who have endured great hardship try to avoid current circumstances and hold on to everything about the past that provided them joy.  In that vein, we might look back at a particular event and consider its worth, to us, based only upon the joy or usefulness it brought to us in that particular moment.  For the nine years that have past since that awful July day in 2009, we have come to painfully associate the attributes of a midsummer day in Minnesota with the memories of our son’s death. 

But God does not view history the way we do.  God is working out our redemption through our framework of time.  In his book, A Grace Revealed, theologian Jerry Sittser describes the importance of using “redemptive memory” so that we can be encouraged by how God is using our history to shape us.  Sittser writes, “We see the scope of the biblical story unfold before us, situated, as we are, some two thousand years after it ended.  But the characters we read about did not have the vantage point we have not because they were inside the story.  They chose to trust God and follow him into an unknown future, however slim the evidence of a bigger story that could make sense out of their little ones.” 

I want to offer three observations about how I have struggled with having a “redemptive memory” related to my own grief. 

·         Embrace Our Temporality.  First, while God is above and outside time, God fully expects us, as temporal beings, to only be able to comprehend life sequentially.  Joe Rigney writes that our temporality is not sinful; that it is at the essence of who were created to be, and who we will be for all eternity.  The author of Hebrews writes, “These [the patriarchs] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”  Hebrews 11:13. To believe we can possibly understand all of the purposes that God has achieved in our suffering is to misunderstand our temporality. But God is calling us, nonetheless, to trust that He is using time as a key ingredient in the recipe he created for our sanctification and His own glorification. 

·         Patiently Bear the Sufferings of Others.   Second, we must patiently bear patiently with others as God works in their lives, in His time, just as He works in us, in His time.  The Apostles rejoiced in having suffered for His name, and that they bore each others’ burdens and shared everything in common. Acts 5:41. We as members of Christ’s body are called to suffer with one another, and to encourage one another.  God’s multivariable calculus is such that, with regard to any one particular source of grief or suffering, He might be using the suffering in one matter for one purpose, for a second person for a second purpose, and to a third person, at an altogether different point in time, for a third purpose.   Heather and I have been so blessed by those in the Body of Christ who, having endured a similar type of suffering at a time well before our own suffering, are able to speak words of truth and encouragement to us at the point in time when it was most needed.  As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to share our sufferings with others, as well as our encouragement, knowing that God can work both suffering and encouragement together for our common good.   2 Corinthians 1:6.   

·         Live in the Joy & Suffering Paradox.  Third, we are called to live in a joy and suffering paradox.  We are admonished to respond in joy to what God is doing in our lives in light of all eternity. James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness …” James 1:2-4.  But even while living in joy in our eternal future, we can take great solace in how Jesus showed us how to embrace the grief of temporal suffering.  In John 11, we read that Jesus was so moved by the death of his friend Lazarus that, even with the knowledge of how He would shortly raise Lazarus to life, Jesus embraced the grief with his own tears.  While God is above and outside of time, he is somehow also in it, and can commiserate with us now, in our own grief.  We can therefore live in an ongoing and continually paradox of emotions—with both great grief in earthly loss, and yet great joy in the hope of the coming redemption of all things, including our greatest of sufferings.   As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, we are “…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

The great news of the gospel is, among many other things, that we are part of the larger redemptive story and that no one event, however, tragic, can and should define us.  The cross, in itself, is the most egregious event every perpetrated on another human.  But the testimonies of millions of believers across the span of two thousand years, including our very own, demonstrate that the legacy of the Cross is not just the unjust sentence, torture, and death endured by God.  It is the redemption of those who are called by God.  

In our case, the idea of “redemptive memory” does not mean that we should try to forget the great grief.  We think of how Micah died and how if in any one of a number of things would have gone differently, he would still be with us today.  But at the same time, it is far too early for me to write a definitive account of Micah’s life and legacy.  The way in which Micah died cannot be viewed as a self-contained event having meaning within itself.  It must be viewed along with the various and numerous grace-filled blessings that have arisen in our lives by reason of it. Just as the Cross of Christ cannot be viewed outside of its redemptive impact on human history, so also we should view our sufferings in light of what God has done, and continues to do, by reason of our son’s death.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

2018 Hope for the Mourning Running Team

Again this year, we are looking for runners to participate in our Hope for the Mourning Running Team. We ask each runner to commit to raising at least $250 in total contributions. Each runner would solicit his or her own personal contacts in an effort to raise as much as possible for the Hope for the Mourning ministry.

YOUR RACE OPTIONS: All races are part of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon family of races on October 6-7. 2018. You have the opportunity to run in one of four different races:

 -Participate in the 5K on Saturday, October 6th
 OR
 -Participate in the 10K on Saturday, October 6th
 OR
 -Participate in the 10 Mile on Sunday, October 7th. (Members of the 10 Mile team will need to win a lottery in order to participate; if a runner is not selected as part of the lottery, he or she will run in the 10 K.)
 OR
 -Participate as a runner in the TC Marathon on Sunday, October, 7th.

YOUR WEEKEND BENEFITS: As in previous years, all members of the Hope for the Mourning running team will receive:

           Registration for the desired race;
           The Medtronic Marathon “finisher’s” t-shirt provided by the race;
           A Hope for the Mourning long-sleeve race to wear proudly on race day;
           An invitation to you and your family to join us for the pasta dinner on Friday night, October                5th.

NEW FOR 2018!!! Since we seek to provide support to the entire family, we have decided to encourage more youth to be involved in our fundraising event. Any youth (up to age 16) can register to participate as a “HFTM Runner”, just like the adults. The youth HFTM runner can register for any of the events listed above or the 1 mile run on Saturday, October 6th. The weekend benefits are the same as the adults. We ask each youth runner to commit to raising at least $50 in total contributions. Each youth runner would solicit his or her family and friends in an effort to raise as much as possible for the Hope for the Mourning ministry.

THE CAUSE Through your efforts, the contributions raised in support of the ministry have allowed us to reach the families grieving the passing of these children:

Jonathan Wurz

Kate Fronek

                                                                          Daniel Peso

The Wurz, Peso and Fronek families, along with more than 180 other families, each received a care package in the past year. Each care package includes an invitation to respond to us. While not every family is in the same position to respond to us, we are honored to be of assistance to many families who chose to respond. Locally, we’ve been able to meet with several of the families who have lost children in the past year and who have received care packages. Through your generous efforts, we are able to minister to these families.

 We invite you again to make a difference in the lives of hurting families by letting them know through this ministry that there is Hope For The Mourning. Please respond to Craig Wessman by JUNE 29TH of your own interest in being part of the 2018 Team. Additionally, if you have a family member, friend, colleague that might also be interested in joining the 2018 team please forward this page on to them and have them respond back to Craig Wessman at this address: candkwessman@gmail.com . For more information about Hope for the Mourning, go to: www.hopeforthemourning.com

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Deeper the Cost, The Greater the Prize

We, like many grieving parents, wondered what sin we committed in the past that prompted God’s removal of our son Micah from our lives. Other parents come with a sense of self-righteousness, believing that because they had previously been faithful to God, God had no “right” to take a child from them. Both lines of thinking are really a self-centered, self-created form of righteousness, a type of righteousness that God clearly does not ascribe to. Throughout the Old Testament, God uses the law to show how distinctly different (“Holy”) He is. Our human inclination, to every fiber of our being, is bent upon making ourselves dependent on ourselves, to make what few things we can do relatively well as the epicenter of a self-created system of righteousness. The death of Christ is the demonstration that our greatest works are completely insufficient to bring us into relationship with God. Pastor Tim Keller says, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” The good news of the Gospel is that our earthly circumstances are not the result of a transaction with God based upon our performance, about us fulfilling some set of rules. Rather, our relationship with God has been set permanently by the blood of Christ on the Cross. The Apostle Paul says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14. God will glorify Himself through us, and the lives of our children, living and deceased, and in Him now we can take the utmost joy. The more we understand the cost that Jesus paid for us, the more appreciation we have for the prize we have in our salvation in Christ. We pray that on this Easter, you would take great joy in God.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Holding on to the Promises.

Today is Micah’s 8th birthday. Like many grieving parents, we could try to live in the past in order to find “joy” in the memory of those brief, fleeting “happy” moments. But what hope does that bring for the future? A present hope in God, continually renewed by the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the promises of scripture, must be the sole source of our significance and hope for the future.
We grieve how short Micah’s time with us was. But ultimately it is not Micah’s tragedy that we grieve, it is sin itself. For even with our life-long spouses and friends, we will ultimately be separated by death. In contrast, we are promised in scripture that, if we are trusting in God now, that we will be with Him forever (Psalm 73). Our hope in each other and ourselves will disappoint, if it has not already. In contrast, Jesus promises a joy in himself that will never end. (John 4). Jesus shared with the outcast Samaritan woman at the well the same startling truth that He knows we need--that nothing on this earth can fill us with the joy in Him. The great promise of our faith is that joy in God is exceedingly greater than anything else offered by this brief physical life. On Micah’s 8th birthday, we hold on to this promise.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

High Expectations of God

In my law practice, I try to "under-promise" and "over-deliver." That is to say, I try to manage the expectations of my prospective clients to make sure he or she understands precisely what I can do, and what I cannot do. Ultimately, I want to make sure I complete those tasks we agree upon, but avoid any misunderstandings beyond those tasks. In contrast, God tells us that our expectations of Him can never be high enough. We are told in Ephesians 3 that God is "able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us..." Ephesians 3:20. Rather than attempting to minimize the significance of our earthly and temporary trials, God promises that the end result is greater than we dare imagine. None of us can escape the impact of sin; whether the premature death of a child, job or marriage loss, or poor health, all of us feel the profound grief of an unacceptable earthly existence. We were created to look for, and experience, true and lasting pleasure and significance. Rather than ending a search for lasting pleasure and significance, God tells us to switch our pursuit from whatever occupies our thoughts, now, to a pursuit of Him. Whatever we are currently enduring, He promises that He will make it worthwhile. "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you...My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips..." Psalm 63:3,5. Rather than lower our expectations in life, let's look to God to give us hope, and look to see how He will meet those high expectations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On the 7th Anniversary of Micah's Homegoing

Could we show that Micah belonged to us, and not to God? Could we show that Micah's death was a surprise to God, and not within his plan? Could we show that Micah's death was God's punishment, and not as an act of love? If just one of these three legs of the three-legged stool were kicked out, then our faith would topple over like a misshapen top. We would be justified in living a life of self-absorption, of fear, of anger, or a combination of all three. And yet God has shown us through life and scripture that He, in fact, upholds all three legs of our faith. God says, "Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine." Job 41.11. "[God] can do all things, and no purpose of His can be thwarted." Job 42:2. On this, the 7th anniversary of Micah's death, we submit in reverence to the love, power, and plan of God.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Email to a Sick Friend

Like Job’s friends, I think many of us have a tendency to want to give the “easy” or “Sunday school” answer to you in these difficult days. We want to simply assure you that God is in control and therefore all of this “will work together for our good.” (Take Romans 8:28 out of context). But such “pat” answers eliminate the reality of your pain—your physical pain and the relational pain it causes between you, family members and even God. We ask questions like, “What possible good could come from this?” Lord, whatever lesson you are trying to teach me, did you have to impose such a burden on me. There HAS to be a more efficient way of glorifying yourself through me and my life, considering the havoc that this is wrecking on our finances, my career, our marriage, and our family. Lord, if you are in control, why can’t you stop it? I pray that the Lord would put an end to your sufferings immediately. But if it does not, I pray that you would bear patiently under the stresses of this health, even as you wait for your “redemption” from both the physical healing you need your lack of understanding in God’s purpose in all of this. In 2 Corinthians 4:8, Paul says he is “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” I pray that you and your family would moment-by-moment bring your petitions, physical ailments, and needs before him so that, while you can quite rightly be perplexed by God’s purposes, you would not give up (“be driven to despair.”) King David could sleep soundly in the knowledge that the Lord would preserve him from the thousands who followed Absalom and wanted his very life. Likewise, I pray that you would trust in God to heal you. “Arise, Or Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” Psalm 3. May God break the teeth of your ailments. I pray that in your struggle with God over meaning and purpose, that you would come out of this current phase with an increased reliance on Him, knowing that while His ways are above and beyond our understanding, that He can accomplish great and lasting changes through us and our mortal bodies.