Saturday, April 24, 2010

Questions for Micah

Today marks 271 days since Micah has been gone. This marks the exact number of days that we had Micah with us on earth. Those days with Micah seem like a lifetime ago-- while identical in number of days, the days with him seem so short in comparison to these nearly 9 months since Micah has been gone. On this “anniversary” of sorts, I’ve thought of some questions that I’d like to ask Micah, if I could.

Do you remember, Micah, how I used to hold you up in the water while you kicked and punched the water, all the while shrieking in delight? Do you remember how energized you were by that really cold lake water? Micah, is there water in Heaven? Are there lakes? Do you like swimming? Does someone still need to hold your head above water when you “swim?” Or is it now possible for you to swim or float on your own, without fear of drowning?

Do you remember, Micah, how your daddy used to read you bedtime stories right before falling asleep? Do you remember tugging on your ears because you were so tired? Do you remember listening so patiently to me, as if you could understand everything I was saying? Does someone there read you bedtime stories?

Do you remember, Micah, all of our runs together, cruising the neighborhood in the running stroller together? Do you remember how you, me and our dog Sadie would run up and down the neighborhood streets together? Do you remember cooing at all of the dogs, the cats, the squirrels. Sadie would run ahead of us so fast that I thought Sadie could pull the running stroller herself. Do you remember how you would laugh and laugh at Sadie when she would cool herself down by swimming in Lake Hiawatha? Do you remember the sun, the breeze, and the two of us, just being together? Does someone push you in a stroller in heaven? Do they love being with you as much as I loved being with you?

Do you remember the little girl at Target who told you that you have "spiky" hair? Do you have spiky hair in Heaven? Is is as wild as it was on earth? Do you remember how I would run my hands through your hair, and you would look at me and smile? Does Jesus hold you in His arms? Does He smile at you like I used to?

Do you remember how much your mommy and I love you? Has Jesus told you how much He loves you? Has He told you what He has done for you on the Cross?

Do you know the sound of His voice? Can you still remember the sound of mine?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Meekness in Grieving

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the bold, counter-intuitive claim, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4. In the very next verse, Jesus makes a claim that is perhaps even more counter-intuitive. He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5.
“Meekness” is defined by Webster’s College Dictionary as, “humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.” Jesus himself, being under the direction of His Father, is the personification of meekness. Rather than fighting for what He “deserved,” Jesus went to the cross. Jesus said to the father, “Your Will be done.” Matthew 26.39.

I define meekness as the ability to patiently and humbly endure all circumstances in the firm conviction that God is sovereign and is working all things together for our good. In a recent article in Christianity Today, Carolyn Arends writes about how to be meek. She says, “It isn’t the experience of being misunderstood (or suffering or poverty) itself that will undue us, but rather the sense that we are enduring hardship to no good end. …We discover there is no wasted effort or pain, because there is nothing that God cannot redeem.” Christianity Today, Feb. 2010, Wrestling with Angels, p. 56.

To be meek means that we live every moment as though God determines the value of each life circumstance, not me. If I determine the value of both my life, generally, and each and every life circumstance, then not every moment will be beneficial towards reaching our self-determined goals. To the extent that I kick and scream when things don’t go my way, or a stab someone in the back “to get ahead,” or lay awake at night scheming plans of revenge to someone who has wronged me, I live a life of self-determination. Self-determination is really faithlessness. If we don’t believe that God will redeem all of life’s trials, then we will anxiously guard every passing moment and life opportunity, because these moments will define our purpose in life. To the extent that we fail in claiming victory in each passing moment of life (as defined by our own, self-determined goals), then we will either need to consider ourselves as failures or re-define our meaning.

In the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul describes in great detail our promise, through Christ, of the resurrection of the dead—both our own glorified bodies and the glorified bodies of the ones we love. Because of the promise of the resurrection, we have victory over sin, death and the Devil. Paul concludes this great chapter with an application for how our future resurrection impacts today’s trials. He ways, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58.

But fighting the fight of faith is difficult work. It is with great labor that we must strive to look beyond our seen and transient circumstances to trust in what is unseen and eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18. I am living in Christ-like meekness if I trust in God’s plan for Micah’s life and legacy. I am meek if I trust that God accomplished His purpose for Micah in only 9 months. That God wasn’t asleep at the switch; that the pea in Micah’s lungs did not catch him by surprise. I am meek if I don’t live in bitterness towards God, towards others, or towards life in general. To be meek means that God somehow wants to use my suffering and grieving to develop Christ-likeness.

If Jesus went meekly to the cross, then surely I can go meekly to my son’s grave and be grateful for God’s blessing to us in Micah. I want to have more and more of the meekness of Christ, to rest in God’s purposes for my life, and to believe that no life opportunity is wasted. I want to have less and less of the attitude of defining life circumstances on my own. To the extent that I am meek, it is only because God has provoked my heart towards Him; With God’s help, I can rest in Christ’s promise from the Sermon on the Mount that, in Him, Micah and I will inherit the earth, together, forever.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Thousand Deaths

Living after losing one's son is like dying again and again; it is like dying a thousand deaths daily.

I take a phone call at work, and for the next half hour, my mind is focused on my job. I’m thinking about the issues faced by my client, how to achieve a certain result. For the next half hour, I’m lost in a world insulated from the real one. But at the end of the telephone call, I look at a picture of Micah on my desk, and it all comes back to me again.

The memories of Micah falling out of the high chair. Going to the hospital. Micah going blue. Heather screaming. The wail of the sirens. Holding him in my arms as he died. The wake, the burial the funeral. And now visiting the gravesite. I have to grapple on a daily basis, again and again, that my little son is gone from us, and there is nothing that I can do about it.

A few weeks after Micah died last summer, I played with my softball team in our annual state softball tournament. Softball and baseball are both characterized by short moments of intense concentration (when the pitch is thrown), followed by longer moments of inactivity (the time in between pitches). I remember how excruciating those moments of inactivity were for me. In between each pitch, the excruciating realities would come to mind again and again, as if they were coming to mind for the very first time. At the end of that long day of softball, I remember how utterly spent I was emotionally.

This rhythm of life is emotionally exhausting. Mundane matters of life provide momentary respites. But we’ve found that the longer the respite, the greater the pain of re-engaging in the sorrow of our realities. Respites are necessary to function, but they sometimes make re-engaging in the realities of our grief even more difficult.

God has made us with such a great capacity for love. He has also given us great intellectual capacity, to direct a stream of consciousness toward (or against) a particular subject. It is possible to insulate oneself from painful realities by, among other “insulators,” consciously focusing one’s attention on anything (or everything) but the reality of the pain. Because of the manner in which God gave us emotional and intellectual abilities, it is possible to “stuff” or “avoid” grief for a long time. Humans have the capacity to successfully avoid grieving through using their mind to overcome the emotions. Grief counselors have said that some people are able to use their minds insulate themselves from grief for the rest of their earthly lives.

Some people have asked when we will “get over” Micah’s death. Being nearly 9 months removed from his death, I’ve come to realize that we will never, ever “get over” Micah’s death. Micah, and his unexpected death, will always be with us, and while our grief will get easier because we will learn to manage it, it will always be there.

We’ve also realized that we don’t want to “get over it.” We don’t want to ever forget how much our little boy loved us. How much he enjoyed cuddling with his mommy; spending time in the swing pushed by daddy. How much he loved watching his dog Sadie. We don’t want to forget anything about our little boy. All of these sweet memories we have of our son, this God-given treasure in our lives.

This morning, I laid awake in bed thinking about Micah. A scene came into my mind which is emblematic of my struggles. In that scene, I am driving my car at dusk, heading east. In my rear view mirror I see my little boy sitting on the side of the road. As my car takes me further and further away, it is increasingly difficult to see the features of his face, both because of the growing darkness and the increasing distance between us. For whatever reason, I am powerless to turn the car around and go to my little boy. But what really bothers me is the increasing difficulty to see his face.

I’ve learned to welcome the grief that comes each day, even if it means re-living all of the events of his death a thousand times a day. This is preferable over the alternatives. To push Micah out of our lives (through any means) would be to dishonor not only Micah himself, but the God who chose to bless us with this little guy for nearly 9 months. To push Micah out of our conscious thoughts and emotions would be to attempt (unsuccessfully) to undo the purposes that God has and will accomplish through Micah’s short life. I believe we best honor God’s purposes for Micah’s life and death, and Micah himself, by allowing ourselves to feel the full weight of the grief, again and again.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Our Suffering Savior

On the night that Jesus was arrested, Jesus prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had to have known at least some of what was in store for Him in the next 24 hours. Greatly distressed, He asked the Father that “this cup” be taken from Him. Matthew 26:39.

Over the next day, our savior was subjected to unbearable physical suffering. Scourging. Beating. Mockery and ridicule. A crown of thorns. Nails in his hands and feet. Nakedness to the noon day heat. Thirst. Suffucation. Excruciating death.

In addition to that physical torture, we believe that Jesus also experienced the spiritual torture of separation from His father. How else can one explain those stirring words uttered shortly before He died, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46.

Even though Jesus had some sense of what he was about to face, He still felt abandoned by God. "Why, God, have you abandoned me." The sum of his physical emotional and spiritual suffering was so great that he could not help but cry out, in that moment, why, God, have you abandoned me?

Through this past Good Friday and then Easter, Heather and I have been reminded that we do not worship a Savior who is unable to unable to sympathize with our sufferings. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.

As Jesus did on the cross, we have CRIED OUT to God in our pain. Jesus' exclamation on the cross demonstrates that the experience of suffering is greater than the mere knowledge or anticipation of suffering. Before Micah died, I could have given you an intellectual answer for why God allows people to suffer, but I could not show you a life (my life) scarred by suffering. Before Micah died, we didn't have a sense for what suffering really is, how it works in your heart, nor how God shows Himself strong through significant suffering. Before Micah died, did we really know God like we do now?

Nicholas Wolterstorff says, “God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God. It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splender and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil. Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.” N. Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, P. 81 (emphasis added).

Praise Be to God! For He is not merely the God of the strong, but also the God of those who have lost and those who cry out to God in pain. This is the God I worship.