Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Pain of Separation

Regardless of what type of person Micah would have become, I would have loved him unconditionally. Whether he would have become athletic, intellectual, talkative or quiet, married or single, productive or dysfunctional, I would have loved him unconditionally. I would have loved him (and I continue to love him) unconditionally because he is my son.

So it is with God and His unconditional love for each one of us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." 2 Peter 3:9.

The pain is now nearly unbearable because I can’t physically love my son anymore. I can't demonstrate to my son that, regardless of his actions, his abilities and his personality, he is deeply and unconditionally loved by me. While I trust that I will see him again, even so, I am physicially separated from him for the rest of my earthly life.

I say that my pain is only nearly unbearable because I trust, through faith, that (i) I will see my son again and (ii) God fully knows and understands the depth of my pain. God the Father separated Himself from his only Son, Jesus, so that the full weight of my sin might fall on Him. At His death, Jesus felt the full weight of this pain of separation when he cried out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani--which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46. If Jesus felt this pain of separation, certainly the Father did as well. While Jesus and God the Father were separated for only 3 days, the nature of that separation was infinitely greater than my separation from Micah because of the unfathomable, infinite closeness of their relationship.

Dustin Shramek, a friend from church who also lost his firstborn son at birth, recently pointed me to Zechariah 12:10. That verse says, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." God himself, who knows what it is like to be separated from His Son, likened mourning the death of Jesus to mourning the death of one's firstborn son. Because God knows what it is like to be separated from His one and only Son, I trust that God will continue to give us the grace we need to meet the challenge of grieving Micah, our firstborn son.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is Sorrow Better than Laughter?

King Solomon said, “sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:3. Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.

In what sense are we blessed? Shortly after Micah died, a picked up an issue of a local business magazine. In that particular issue, the magazine was listing the earnings of the top executives in the area. The magazine listed those executives who, in the opinion of the authors, were “underpaid” and those who were “overpaid. “ Before Micah died, I would have been interested in this article. But it did not take long for me to lose interest. In fact, the more I thought about this article, the more I was repulsed by the inconsequential nature of the entire subject.

In the end (and in this sense, I mean the real end), who really cares about being overpaid or underpaid? Who cares about deadlines, savings accounts and the stock market? The death of your son—your future, your energy, your love, your desire, your hope, your dream—puts life into perspective. Does being overpaid or underpaid, having a big house, salary or car really matter, in the end? How much of my life has been spent on inconsequential matters? Trial by fire refocuses one’s attention on breathing, eating, loving, marriage, family. On life. On eternity.

Among other things, a “sad face” is good for the heart because the alternative—anxiety about the “here and now” --- is not good for the heart. Our “sad faces” have opened my eyes to the inconsequential matters in my life and focused my attention on eternity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Safe in the Arms of Jesus

Our earthly lives are now far less sweet following the loss of our son. Our earthly lives will be less joyful now than they were while Micah was still alive. But our grief is not infinite in depth—I look to the future (perhaps the distant future) with the assurance that at my death, or when Christ returns, I will see our son again.

I believe that Jesus has saved Micah, eternally, despite the fact that Micah has done nothing to earn his salvation. And yet, according to scriptures, that is the very same amount of works required of me to get into heaven. Ephesians 2:19 states the central theme of the gospel: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Micah is now in heaven because salvation is a gift.

Micah is not saved because of infant baptism, because he was dedicated or because his parents are believers or members of a particular church. If any of these things were true, then Micah’s salvation would be the result of works, not faith. He is saved because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has claimed all children as members of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus clearly goes out of his way to love little children. Jesus rebuked the disciples when the disciples tried to turn children away. Jesus wants all of us to develop the same sense of humility and dependence demonstrated by little children. Mathew 18:3-5 says, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

In Matthew 18, Jesus likens new believers to natural children. In that chapter, Jesus cautions adults against doing anything that would harm a young believer. If a man who owns 100 sheep (children) loses 1 of his 100 sheep, according to Jesus, the man will leave his 99 sheep and go looking for his 1 lost sheep. Why? “…It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:14.

This passage is more than just an analogy about protecting young believers from harm. As pointed out by John MacArthur in “Safe in the Arms of God,” Jesus states that “God no more wants a spiritual child to perish eternally than God wants a natural child to perish eternally. The analogy works…only because the underlying premise is that God protects and preserves the little ones who enter His presence.” MacArthur, p. 58. If we are to become dependent on God, like our children are dependent upon us, doesn’t it follow that God will look with favor upon a child’s humility and dependence?

If God seeks humility and dependence, my son was ready for heaven. My son was totally dependent upon us. He loved to be held and fed by his parents. He loved to cuddle with his mom and dad. He placed his trust in us and was dependent upon us. Micah is now dependent upon the one on whom all of life depends. Micah is now safe in the arms of Jesus, and I look forward to the day when I can join him.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Waiting for the Lord

In "Trusting in God Through Tears," Jehu Thomas Burton discusses his spiritual struggles following the death of his son. "No amount of discussion with someone else was going to persuade me to trust in God. I had to reach out in faith and choose to trust Him even when there was zero evidence or reason to do such...As I long to be with Him, I must wait until His appointed time. I must hold onto His promises of deliverance and of eternal life. These are documented in His Word and are my hope, a hope rooted in the trust that God will deliver what He promises." Burton, 103.

The Word teaches me to hope in God and in His redeeming power. And the Word tells us to wait on God. Psalm 27:13-14 says,
"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" Similarly, Psalm 130:5: "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope."

Even when we don't see God's goodness, we must wait upon the Lord. Now. Next week. Next year. 10 years from now. Until we see the Lord face and face, when at last all we have lost will be made new, we must wait for the Lord. During these days when we still find ourselves, out of habit, expecting to hear our son cry at night, see him after work or feed him at his meal times, we must wait for the Lord. Even now, when we don't understand the end that God accomplished through Micah's short life, we must continue to wait and trust in His goodness to us.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

God's Presence & Purpose in Job 23 and Psalm 139

Job's sense of God's presence and purpose in Job 23 is in sharp contrast with David's sense of God's presence and purpose in Psalm 139. While Job never doubted God's sovereign power over his life, Job sought God out to understand the purpose for his sufferings.

1. God is everywhere--forward and backward.

Psalm 139:5: You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Job 23:8: Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him.

God orders all of David's steps, and David knows it. All of the things that David has done (behind) and things that David will do (before) are structured by God. In contrast, Job doesn't perceive God's work in his life. What is the underlying purpose between what will happen (forward) and what has happened (backward)?

2. God's hands are upon us.

Psalm 139:9-10: If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.
Job 23:9: on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.

David knows that whatever we do and wherever we go, God is sovereign over all. All things come about through his hands. Job, on the other hand, doesn't understand what God is doing. Job does not see God at work in his life. We see Job asking the question--What is your purpose behind all this suffering?

3. Darkness and Light

Psalm 139:11-12: If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
Job 23:17: God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; yet I am not silenced because of the darkness, nor because thick darkness covers my face.

Job doesn't understand why God has brought him through these sufferings -- he is "in the dark" with regard to God's plans. Psalm 139 points out that, unlike Job, God is himself not in the dark. God cannot be fooled; there is no plan or scheme that is outside of his knowledge and his powerful hand.

About Job 23, Matthew Henry writes, "Job knew that the Lord was every where present; but his mind was in such confusion, that he could get no fixed view of God's merciful presence, so as to find comfort by spreading his case before him. His views were all gloomy. God seemed to stand at a distance, and frown upon him."

We, like Job, are "in the dark" with regard to God's plans for our son Micah and for us.
But Job's struggles are a blessing to us because while we struggle with God's purposes for allowing Micah to die, we know that our questioning of the Lord is not a provocation to God. We, like Job, can trust in His sovereignty even while not sensing his presence or understanding his purposes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Living Weak

As Heather and I went for a walk along the Mississippi River earlier this week, we walked past several runners and bikers with "Live Strong" paraphernalia . As far as I can tell, "Live Strong" is the motto of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Given the compelling story of Lance Armstrong, his achievements fighting cancer, and his Tour De France victories, it is no surpise that his Foundation has a big following among the fitness crowd.

More than 100 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a famous essay called "Self-Reliance." In it, he said, "Trust thyself, every heart vibrates to that iron string. Discontent is the want of self-reliance. It is infirmity of will."

Live Strong. Self-Reliant. I can't think of phrases and ways of life that are completely contradictory to how I now live my life. Rather than a Live Strong/Self-Reliance mantra, my day-to-day mantra is more like "Live Weak." To the extent that I used to rely on my own efforts, my own self-will, I can do it no longer. I certainly don't have enough strength to face my son's death on my own. I can't bear it alone.

But thanks be to God, for I trust that He gives us strength because of our own weakness. The Word of God is filled with promises to us, the weak and broken-hearted.
In Matthew 5:3-4, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I have never felt so weak-kneed, empty of my own will, stripped of self-confidence. I pray that because of my weakness, God gives me strength to get through this. Oswald Chambers says, "Complete weakness and dependence will always be the occassion for the Spirit of God to manifest His power." How we long for the Spirit of God to manifest His power in our lives.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Smile Again Ministries

We will be donating some of Micah's memorial contributions to a new ministry for grieving parents called "Smile Again Ministries."
Having experienced firsthand the tremendous grief associated with the loss of a child, we realize the significant ministry opportunities that exist for ministering to grieving parents. We can not think of a ministry better suited to receive donations in memory of our precious little son.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Grief Observed

Grief does not seem to have a logical progression, but we trust that God is at each turn.

It is perhaps counterintuitive, but on some days the pain is more intense now than it has ever been. In the weeks following Micah's death, we were not capable of grasping the magnitude of the loss because it was so new. We were also provided with the God-given human response of shock throughout those first few weeks. Now, the shock is wearing off. After these 6 weeks, we continue to "wake up" to what happened to us, to the horror of the events of that day, and to finality of our loss. After the last few months of joyous noises in our house--of a little boy laughing at the dog, of crying before naps, and of loving parents singing and reading to their little boy--the house is now so painfully quiet.

C.S. Lewis talks about his experience with grieving the loss of his wife in writing the little book, Grief Observed:
"I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don't stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there's no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat. "

Many days seem like walking through deep dark valleys. The pain casts darkness over our ability to walk the path immediately in front of us. Without a lamp--that is, without the ability to see into the future-- we don't how long this darkness will last, where the path will take us, or what predators we must face. Right now, darkness clouds our horizon because our future has been intertwined with our hopes and dreams for our son and for the life that we planned to enjoy with him.

How grateful we are for the promises of scripture.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me,
your rod and your staff
they comfort me."
Psalm 23:4

Regardless of how deep our grief is and could become, God promises that there is no depth of grief to which He cannot reach. How I love God's infinite power and reach--for while the suffering seems to me to have no bottom, that doesn't mean that God has'not measured the depth of my grief, and has (and will) give me strength to reach the bottom of it. While he doesn't tell us what the future holds, or that we won't be without conflict or suffering, we are promised that the grace he will give us in the future will be sufficient to walk through this valley of darkness, however long it takes, and whatever obstacles we meet.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"It is NOT About You"

At Micah's funeral, Pastor Kenny Stokes repeatedly encouraged us to remember that, "It is not about us." This phrase has been a source of encouragement between Heather and me as we continually seek to trust in God's sovereignty.

Earlier today, we met with the Chief Doctor at Children's Hospital along with another member of the Hospital staff. It was a very productive meeting, as the Doctor provided us with more details surrounding what the Hospital believes to be Micah's cause of death and what the Hospital is doing now to look into the care Micah received. In the course of the meeting, Heather asked the Doctor if there was anything that she could have done to save Micah. In response, the Doctor said, "It is not about you... There is nothing that you could have done."

I am quite sure that the doctor did not (1) realize the significance to us of these words or (2) wanted to encourage us to consider God's sovereignty. But God is sovereign over all things, even words. In this small way this morning, God reminded me that he is in control. None of us -not Heather, not me, not any doctor ultimately had control over the little pea in Micah's lung. It became lodged there--and stayed there--because God purposed it so. It is not about us.

Another blessing from today was Heather's CPR re-certification class. As we previously indicated, Heather needed to be re-certified in CPR before she could go back to work. As it turned out, the CPR class was modified. It turns out that the class was far less intense then in previous years. We made it through--another blessing.

The Changed Cross- from Heather

I was reading in my devotional book "Streams in the Desert" the other day, and I discovered a poem that really ministered to me regarding my questions to God about "Why me?" and "Why do I have to go through this?" The poem is called The Changed Cross and I typed it below.

A weary woman thought that the cross she must bear surely was heavier than those of other people. She wished she could choose another person's instead. When she went to sleep, she dreamed she was taken to a place where there were many different crosses from which to choose. There were various shapes and sizes, but the most beautiful one was covered with jewels and gold. "This I could wear with comfort," she said. So she picked it up, but her weak body staggered beneath its weight. The jewels and gold were beautiful, yet they were much too heavy for her to carry.
The next cross she noticed was quite lovely, with beautiful flowers entwined around its sculptured form. Surely this was the one for her. She lifted it, but beneath the flowers were large thorns that pierced and tore her skin.
Finally she came to a plain cross without jewels or any carvings and with only a few words of love inscribed on it. When she picked it up, it proved to be better than all the rest, and the easiest to carry. And she looked at it, she noticed it was bathed in radiance that fell from heaven. Then she recognized it as her own old cross. She found it once again, and it was the best of all, and the lightest for her.

I am constantly reminded that God is in control of my life and God knows best the cross I need to bear. I may look at other people's life and desire less pain, more joy, children, etc; but God knows that the trials and suffering that I am going through is to shape me and mold me into the person that he wants me to be. And I trust that he will bless me with good as His word states in Romans 8:28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Thank you ALL for your prayers today. We made it through! We are exhausted with all of the emotion, but God was ever present!