Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sentimentality and Infant Salvation

In “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis discusses how he found himself focusing more and more on his perceptions of her personal attributes, but not necessarily what she was actually like. He feared that the further he traveled down the road in his remaining life away from the date of her death, the more his memories of her personality would diverge from the reality of who she actually was.

Similarly, we find that some grieving parents tend to sentimentalize the life and innocence of their children that have died at a young age. I, too, am guilty of projecting an unrealized future for our now-deceased child based upon an over-idealized past. That is, we tend think to think about how, if they were still living, how perfect and beautiful they would be, or how they would be engaging in such-and-such an activity, or excelling with this-or-that skill.

Living in such groundless sentimentality provides us with have no real basis upon which we can believe anything. This is of particular relevance as we consider the eternal destiny of anyone who has died as an infant or a young child. Such sentimentality provides us with no solid ground by which we can believe that our children will be saved for all eternity. As I discuss on the “Hope For the Mourning” website, we can take great hope in the fact that, by the blood of Jesus Christ, our children are indeed saved for all eternity. http://www.hopeforthemourning.com/Where-is-my-child-now/HOW-ARE-OUR-CHILDREN-SAVED.aspx

It is crucial for us to understand that our children who died in infancy or as a young child are not saved because they were innocent or because of a projected “good” moral life had they lived longer; it is only by the blood of Jesus that our children are saved. Rather than drifting in an ocean of unfounded sentimentality about our children, we can rest in the strong and sure promise that Jesus of Nazareth, by his blood, has saved our children.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Commonplace Religion

Enduring significant suffering seems to create the opportunity to be drawn deeper into a relationship with God. In his book "The Call," Os Guiness writes, "If we have never had the experience of taking our commonplace religous shoes off our commonplace religious feet, and getting rid of all the undue familiarity with which we approach God, it is questionable whether we have ever stood in His presence. The people who are flippant and familiar are those who have never yet been introduced to Jesus Christ." It is certainly not necessary to have to endure significant suffering in order to get rid of a flippant religious attitude or what Guiness calls "undue familiarity" with God. But for me and for other grieving parents we know, we have realized through the death of our children how much more mysterious, profound, powerful and loving are the ways of God than what our simple minds had previously understood. When Christ calls us to follow him, He calls us to set aside our overly-simplified conceptions of who God is and know Him and His love for us through even the most difficult life events, even the death of our child.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Helping Grieving Parents Adjust to the "New Normal"

Grief professionals say that grieving parents will endure various “phases” of grief, such as shock, denial, depression, anger, and others. While the severity of each these phases might decrease over time, no grieving parent is ever “over” his or her grief. Grieving parents who are many years removed from the death of their child will say that, even while the “fog” of intense grief has since lifted from their lives, there continues to be an ongoing hole in their life, a void that cannot be filled. Grieving parents sometimes refer to living life in this type of ongoing grief as “the new normal.” Veteran grieving parents can attest to the fact that, even many years later, they continue to live in this “new normal.”

If you know parents grieving the death of a child, extend grace to them as they make arrangements for “the new normal.” Do not assume that they will engage in the same activities, enjoy the same hobbies or activities, and keep the same schedule. Being involved in certain activities that the parent may have previously enjoyed with the deceased child may now be too painful to endure. The child’s death may have caused a significant change in their outlook and priorities. The parents may have new interests and perhaps even new professional endeavors.

This “new normal” for the parents may mean that extended family members must make new arrangements around the Holidays and other significant dates, such a birth dates. Some grieving parents will avoid altogether any of the same activities they did before the death of their child. But regardless of whether the grieving parents wish to retain many of these same traditions, extended family members need to be ready to give up these traditions if it will be too painful on the parents.
For some extended family members, losing a Holiday tradition or other tradition is almost like religious heresy. But as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16-17, there is nothing uniquely spiritual about our traditions, days, and festivals. Don’t push grieving parents into an ongoing tradition just because the extended family wants to retain the tradition. Instead, realize that just as grieving parents must develop a “new normal,” so also must the extended family members develop a “new normal.” As you consider how to go about structuring Holiday traditions after the death of the child, consider asking the grieving parents what traditional activities they would like to be involved with, and which ones they would like to avoid. Whether it relates to Holiday traditions or other events, you can extend a considerable amount of grace to grieving parents by providing them the latitude to develop their “new normal” following the death of their child.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God's Unmatched Love for Us

It is particularly fitting for grieving parents to focus on the cross of Jesus Christ as a symbol of God’s unmatched love for us, for the measure of our love for our deceased child is the same measure of love that was poured out, for us, at the cross. The night before my own son unexpectedly lost consciousness, and later died, my wife told her mother, “I love [our son] Micah so much. I can’t imagine the grief that God went through when Jesus died.” If you are a fellow grieving parent, you similarly have a special insight into the level of grief that God the Father must have felt as Jesus was tortured, crucified, forsaken by God the Father, and finally allowed to die. Matthew 27. God’s love for us compelled Him to allow His one and only son to die. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9.

You and I would give everything, including our very lives, for our deceased children. We know how hard it is to lose our child unwillingly; to willingly give up your only child is absolutely unthinkable. But on that Roman Cross two thousand years ago, God’s love for us was proven in how he willing allowed His own son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, that we might be in relationship with Him. If God loved us so much that he allowed Jesus to die, can we not trust His love for us now? About God’s great love for us, Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32.

The cross is also a demonstration of how God’s love for us transcends life and death. In the very act of dying, Christ demonstrated that love is greater than death, and that he loves us enough to accomplish great purposes on our behalf even through physical death. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate use from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39. If God allowed His own beloved son to die, can we not also trust that our child’s death is not an indication of our being unloved, or of our child being unloved? In our grief, we must hold fast to the cross, where we can see the full measure of God’s great love for us.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Micah's 3rd Birthday and the Micah Wessman Foundation

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow, we remember and celebrate Micah’s third birthday. We continue to miss him greatly. How we wish that he were with us to celebrate his own birthday! We look forward to the day when we can see him again. In the meantime, we are so grateful for friends like you who have honored our son’s memory by your prayers for us and encouragement to us.

As you may know, in 2009 we created the Micah Wessman Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Our mission with the Foundation is to provide Christ-centered resources and encouragement to families grieving the death of a young child. We wanted to provide you with an update regarding the Micah Wessman Foundation.

• New Website

First, we are very excited to announce the launch of our website, Hope for the Mourning: God’s Promises for Grieving Parents, located at www.hopeforthemourning.com. The website will include resources for parents grieving the death of a child as well as Biblical teaching on suffering, grief, and infant salvation. The website also provides an opportunity for grieving parents to be contacted and/or to receive a care package. We decided to use the Hope for the Mourning name in order to allow our ministry to be more recognizable for those who don’t know Micah’s story. The ministry will retain the name of “Micah Wessman Foundation.” We invite you to visit the website. The website will gradually be constructed over the next few months.

• Care Packages

The initial contact between us and the grieving parents is through the care packages sent to the grieving parents. Since the inception of the Micah Wessman Foundation, we have sent 42 care packages to grieving parents. We are made aware of some of these grieving parents through word of mouth, and others through the obituary section of the newspaper. Most of these care packages are sent within the Twin Cities metro area.

We currently include the following items in the care package:

 Two restaurant gift cards, $50 to any “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurants (Big Bowl & Wildfire Grill are local options) and $25 to Chipotle. We encourage the parents to take a few evenings “off” of cooking and just spend time together.
 Three books on grief written from a Christian perspective. These books are: A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser, Holding on to Hope, by Nancy Guthrie, and Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman.
 A brochure about Smile Again Ministries, a grief retreat ministry specifically created for parents grieving the death of a child. We also provide the parents with information on the scholarship we offer these grieving parents to attend this grief retreat.

Of course, we also provide the parents with our contact information.

• Scholarships to Smile Again Ministries

For those parents who wish to attend Smile Again Ministries, we offer each couple to whom we send a care package a $300 scholarship towards their total costs of attending. Over this past year, the Foundation has contributed $2,000 in total scholarship money to Smile Again Ministries for use in providing scholarships to grieving parents.

Thanks again, friends, for your encouragement to us.

In His Hands,

Cory & Heather Wessman

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Death Nailed to the Cross

Cancer. Suicide. Murder. Over the past few weeks, it seems that death has been particularly close. Whether it has been my clients, fellow church members, relatives, or the adult son of a fellow grieving parent, death is clearly prevalent among our family, church, and even my law practice.

But praise be to God, death is not supremely powerful. As Pastor John Piper preached in a recent funeral sermon, Christ's work on the cross provided us, his followers, with victory over the cross. In Colosssians chapter 2, we read that Jesus
took the record of debt that stood against us, our sin, and nailed it to he cross.
http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/victor-watters-converses-with-death-a-meditation-on-1-corinthians-1555-57. If we trust in Christ, then we can trust that our death, by reason of our sin, was nailed to the cross when Jesus died.

Therefore, as we encounter death, I pray that we would overcome fright and fear in faith. May we be able to focus on the victory that has come by reason of Christ's work and sacrifice.

O Death, where is your victory?
O Death, where is your sting?
The sting of Death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 15:55-57.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Grave Avoidance?

In the year following Micah's death, I would visit Micah's grave fairly frequently. But in the last year, Heather and I have felt less of a need to visit the grave. In fact, Heather has not visited the gravesite in nearly two years; I have not visited his marker since the beginning of this summer.

Our visits to his grave are not for our son; any time we spend at the grave is really for us. My son, having been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ on that roman cross nearly 2,000 years ago, is now in the physical presence of God. While I can not tell you what his daily life is like now (or whether he experiences anything like our "days" at all), I know Micah is in a better place. As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:1, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." We know where Micah's well-being, right now, is not impacted by the frequency of my grave visits or any other ways we might honor him.

As grieving parents, how we view our own visits to the grave might serve as a barometer of how well we are grieving, generally. Visiting the grave every day, at the expense of relationships and work ministry opportunities, would probably mean that we are "stuck" in anger, or the past, or in our guilt. Alternatively, never visiting the grave at all, even if only mentally, would probably mean that we are trying to suppress our grief through avoidance.

If we live in faith in a loving and sovereign God, we need not live in the past, as if that is all we can hope for with our child, or live in avoidance of our grief. In Jesus Christ, we have a "living hope" that, even now, our deceased children live with Him, and that we will see them again someday. To the extent that our grave visits point us toward this "living hope," they are visits well spent.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Faith -- In Fear & Trembling

In the August, 2011 online issue of Christianity Today, columist Mark Galli writes about the recent discussions among Christian leaders about hell. Along with Rob Bell, Francis Chan and other Christian leaders, Galli has written a book to weigh in on the question. Apparently, Galli's critics contend that his espousal of the traditional view of hell amounts to his "punting" on the entire question.

In response, Galli rightfully notes that accepting the traditional view of hell is not "punting" on the issue at all. Galli writes, “...God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, and this we must proclaim right in the midst of the most awful circumstances and in the face of the most mysterious questions. But we proclaim it not glibly, not easily, but in fear and trembling, with nothing to hold on to but faith. We proclaim it not because we know exactly how God will work out his justice and mercy—for this he has steadfastly refused to reveal. What he has revealed to us is that he is perfectly just and perfectly merciful—as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ...” Mark Galli, Trusting God with the Ones You Love, Christianity Today, August, 2011 (web only version).

Certainly, traditional views of hell might seem paradoxical or troubling to 21st century sensibilities. But that is the point of faith in a God whose ways escape human understanding. If you signed on to Christianity thinking it would provide you with simple, easy answers to difficult questions in life, then you probably have been sorely disappointed. Rather than approach this issue with glib simplicity, Galli correctly notes that we ought to approach this question in faith, not knowing exactly how God is demonstrating His unmatched mercy and love, but trusting that He is (and will) demonstrate these attributes through His judgements of humans.

I resonated with Galli's comments, not so much because I have thought very much about hell, but because I think the same principle applies to those of us trying to wrap our arms around God's purposes in suffering. In trusting in God's promises for us, we are not "punting" on the philosophical and theological issues that accompany the "problem" of how a loving and sovereign God could allow suffering. When you have lost your child, then easy, simple, or glib theological answers won't do. Instead,fully recognizing our inability to answer all these questions, we approach our faith in humility, trusting that whatever joy God has in store for us by reason of this suffering, it will be great, eternal, lasting joy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Purpose, Not Cause

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts the question of why God allows suffering in the world. In that portion of scripture, Jesus and his disciples come across a man who had been blind from birth. At that moment, Jesus’ disciples had the opportunity to ask Jesus the simple question that so many of us have asked God in our grief—why God? Why was this man born blind? Was the man’s blindness caused by the sin of the man’s parents or the man’s own sin? Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus then proceeded to demonstrate His authority over blindness, health, and life itself by immediately healing the man’s blindness. It seems that God purposed the man’s blindness from birth in order to provide Jesus, at that very moment, the opportunity to powerfully demonstrate His healing power.

For parents grieving the death of their children, two significant implications follow from this passage.

Turn to God’s purposes

First, we should look for the purposes that God is accomplishing through the death of our child, and not focus on the causes of his death. Of this passage, John Piper says, “The meaning of Jesus [in this passage] is not obscure. He is saying to the disciples: Turn away from your fixation on causality as the decisive explanation of suffering. And turn away from any surrender to futility, or absurdity, or chaos, or meaninglessness. And turn to the purposes and plans of God. There is no child and no suffering outside God’s purposes.” John Piper, Sermon, May, 2011, www.desiringgod.org.

If you have lost a child in death, you can trust that God is not punishing you for some sin in the past or some failure on your part to adequately care for your child. Just as the man born blind was not punished for the sins of his parents, so also your child did not die because of your past. Moreover, there is nothing that you could have done to have prevented your child’s death. The author and sustainer of the entire universe purposed that your child should live only as long as he or she lived, not a moment more, not a moment less. King David wrote, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16.

If we center our grief in the causes of our child’s death, we will be caught in an endless cycle of anger, frustration, and discontentment. In short, we will be living in the past. Instead of focusing on the causes of how our child died, we ought to try to live in the assurance that God is, even through this most difficult time of our life, working “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. Rather than living in despair, we can live in peace, trusting that God accomplishes all his objectives for our child’s life in a manner that most glorifies Himself. We can live “in the future” in the sense that we will, ultimately, come to realize that all of our sufferings were used by God in a manner far exceeding our grandest expectations.

God’s ultimate aim is to accomplish His glory and our good, not our comfort

Second, this passage shows us that God prioritizes the magnification of His own glory ahead of our life objectives, our life goals, and even our own comfort. Consider the suffering of the blind man as he lived in blindness in first-century Palestine. He did not benefit from those modern conveniences available to blind men & women. In addition to these daily physical difficulties that must have accompanied his blindness, the man suffered from the social stigma that accompanied blindness in that culture. From his birth, the man was an outcast. He was forced to endure the scorn and ridicule of those who believed that his blindness was a result of sin.

Some argue that God could not possibly desire for us to experience such significant suffering as the death of a child. The implicit assumption with this argument is that God sees the universe exactly as we do. In other words, under this misguided notion, our perception of the greatest “good” that could come from a particular situation is also God’s greatest “good.” As noted by Randy Alcorn in “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering,” a child often fails to see the good that is accomplished when parents discipline their child. From the child’s standpoint, the parent does not seem to be working for his or her greatest good. Just as children do not have the long-term perspective necessary to see the greater good that can be accomplished through discipline, so also we usually lack God’s perspective when it comes to understanding the purposes behind our own suffering.

Particularly in an age of human history where we make much of “human rights,” it seems that the worst thing God could do is take away our “rights” to a safe, comfortable life. But nowhere does the Bible apologize for the suffering that followers of Christ may experience during their earthly lifetimes. Jesus’ encounter with this first-century Palestinian blind man in John 9 underscores the fact that God not only allows suffering, but uses these sufferings. There, God purposed this man’s blindness, and all that it entailed, in order to give Jesus this opportunity, at this brief moment in history, to demonstrate His glory.

In addition to providing occasion for God to demonstrate his glory, the man’s blindness was also for the blind man’s own ultimate good. In exchange for the safe, comfortable life to which we think we are entitled, God calls us to a life greater than what we can fathom. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:9, “…no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” It is not unreasonable to think that, even after his subsequent meetings with the Jewish religious leaders, the blind man described in John chapter 9 became a devoted follower of Christ. I’m guessing that if you could speak with this Christ-follower right now, he would tell you that he is glad that he was born blind. His blindness turned out to be for his good, because it occasioned him to meet and be healed by Jesus and, most likely and importantly, become a devoted follower of Jesus.

If you are suffering through the death of a child, isn’t it possible that, just as God used the blind man’s infirmity to glorify himself, God will also work through your weakness to glorify himself? Isn’t it also possible that, as of this moment, we cannot grasp everything that has occurred and will occur by reason of your child’s death, and that God will use your child’s death to accomplish many and varied good things, whether in your life or the lives of others?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Baby Three



Friends,

We are very excited and very thankful to announce that the Lord has blessed us again with another little boy. At 1:05 yesterday afternoon, we received Brendan James Wessman into the world. Both Brendan and mom are doing very well. Brendan weighs 8 pounds, 9 ounces, and is 20 ½ inches long.

While the jury is still out, early indications are that he looks more like his oldest brother, Micah, then his other brother, Owen. While a bit uncertain at first, Owen seems to be taking to his new little brother quite well. (See attached picture). We are certain that Micah is rejoicing with us now, in heaven, over the birth of his second little brother.

In the past two years since Micah’s death, the New Testament book of James has been a source of tremendous encouragement to us in our grief. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” We worship a loving and sovereign God who is accomplishing all that He intends through us and our children. Today, we rejoice in the good gift given to us in the little life of Brendan James.

Thanks for your friendship, prayers and support. We look forward to introducing Brendan to you personally.

Cory, on behalf of Heather, Owen & Brendan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yearning to See Micah

Over the past few weeks, Heather and I have tried to put into words our emotions as we’ve passed the two-year anniversary of Micah’s death. Heather has repeatedly shared with me that she can’t seem to find the right words to describe her emotions. Certainly we “miss” Micah. But the gray heaviness in heart that is felt in grief is more than just “missing” our son.

We most often use the term “miss” in normal, even mundane, life circumstances. We tell others that we “missed” a sale at the store or “missed” the end to a great sports game or we “missed” a friend while away on a trip. To “miss” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “to notice the absence or loss of” or “to regret the absence or loss of.” The word seems to connote pain in separation without, necessarily, the suggestion that the person exhibiting the feeling has any hope of any future reunion with the object of their affection.

While Heather and I are agreed that there doesn’t seem to be a word in the English language close enough to our emotion, I have settled, at least for now, on saying that I yearn for Micah’s presence. “Yearning,” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a deep longing, especially when accompanied by tenderness or sadness.” Yearning suggests an intense desire for the object of affection. With yearning, one would not have the desire if one did not at least hold out hope that one’s yearning will eventually be satisfied.

In Philippians 1:8, Paul tells the church at Philippi that he “yearns for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” According to a blog written by John Kitchen, the original Greek word translated as “yearn” in this passage is a compound word. According to Kitchen, “…the root describes desire, anxiety, a wish for or to strive after something. The prefix intensifies the meaning so that the resulting word describes a deep, earnest affection for or longing after someone.” Just as Paul yearned to see his flock in Philippi, we yearn to see our oldest son Micah again.

I think the temptation for some parents who are in our position would be to take any means necessary to avoid the pain of “missing” your child. That is, to focus our energies solely on our other children or other sources of distraction in order to minimize the pain of “missing” their child. If life were lived outside the control of a sovereign and loving God who controls and directs everything in our lives, then the logical course of action would be to physically bury your dead child and then, for the rest of your earthly existence, take whatever means necessary to mentally bury the memory of your child as well. The pain of “missing” your child would be so great that the best course of action would be to bury all of our memories in a black blanket of repression, and to pretend, against all reason, that one’s now-deceased child never existed. One would need to reject, as a mistake, any fleeting thoughts of the child.

But rather than repress the memory of Micah, we daily keep our memory of Micah alive not only because we treasure the time we had together on earth, but also because we know we will see him again. In thinking about how to properly honor Micah on his “home-going day,” a counselor encouraged us to do those things as a family that we would be doing now if Micah were still with us. Rather than seeking comfort “outside” of our grief, I appreciated how our counselor encouraged us to enter “inside” the grief. Christians can enter into grief boldly and fully, knowing that despite the pain associated with the present separation from our loved ones, we can look forward to how life’s story will end. The pain of “missing” our son is great, but the yearning for him seems to grow deeper every day.

Appropriately, the Greek word used in Philippians 1:8 is also used by Paul in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. There, Paul is referring to the believer’s hope in Heaven. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

Like Paul, we are yearning for heaven, where we will be clothed with our heavenly bodies and where we will see our son again. As Christians, we don’t just live in the present, living our lives in ways to repress painful memories of the past. We can honestly enter into the painful grief of remembering the past because we know what is to come in our future.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2nd Anniversary Video

Hi Friends,

We've been told that copyright restrictions are precluding some from seeing the music video I made in honor of Micah on this, the second anniversary of his homegoing.

If you wanted to view the video and had trouble viewing it, here is a link to the video without music, which was "Blessed be the Name" by Matt Redman. Thanks, friends, for your continued prayers and support.

2nd Anniversary of Micah's Death

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No Words

Following Micah's death, we greatly benefitted from the care and concern of all our friends and family members. Without exception, we were knew that we were cared for by everyone who reached out to us, whether by word or by deed. Some friends and family members felt compelled to try to say something. Certainly, some words were more encouraging and hope-filled than others. But now, nearly 2 years later, I am still appreciative of the honesty exhibited by those friends and family members who, in wanting to empathize with our grief, apologized for failing to find any words to say to us.

In the nearly two years since Micah’s sudden death, Heather and I have corresponded with a number of other grieving parents. Even though I have experienced the death of a child first hand, I find that I am similarly at a loss for words when trying to comfort grieving parents. Ironically, even as I continue to write and post this and various other blog entries, and write letters and emails to other grieving parents, I can honestly say that words are not enough. Even if I could write like Dickens or Shakespeare, no set of words strung together would ever be enough. No words can assuage the sorrow of a grieving parent.

In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul emphasizes that even in the midst of the great trials in our lives, when the sufferings are beyond anything we can handle or even be able to describe in words, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf to God. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Even though words are not enough, God is enough. When we pray for the grieving parents, the Spirit is able to go to the Father on our behalf for the needs of the parents. The very same God who knows what the parents need can, through the Holy Spirit, help us pray. I think the best we can do is seek God’s help, in prayer, for the comfort of our grieving family and friends, and to let these parents know what we are doing.

I told one parent recently:

“I don’t have any words to use right now to express how sorry I am for the loss of your child. You are experiencing a level of pain and loss that most people can't imagine and will never experience. I don’t know what to say other than I am so sorry. But please know that I am praying for you, that God would bring you and your family comfort.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Losing Memories of Your Child

We recently received a thoughtful and honest letter from another grieving parent. The parent retold her very sad story of losing her child while the child was sleeping at a day care provider. The parent recounted to us how, a few weeks following her son's sudden death, she "lost it" when she realized that she was beginning to forget all of the “little things” associated with her son. Whether it was the smell and feel of his skin, the color of his eyes, or the sound of his voice, all of these things were becoming lost in her memory.

We can relate to this unique aspect of grief. Over the past two years, Heather and I have similarly struggled with not merely losing our son in death, but losing bits and pieces of our memory of him as well. Once your child is gone, it seems that you begin, almost immediately, to forget those “little things” that make the child unique. I’m glad that Heather and I made it to a point to sit down together soon after Micah’s death and write down everything we could remember about our son, so that as years pass and new memories compete for the same neuron space between our ears, we will never forget all of the unique traits of our first-born son.

Last year, we attended a grief group at a local church. One of the leaders of the group told us that, as we have more children, the memories of Micah, our deceased son, would "merge" into the memories of our subsequently-born children. While the leader meant to comfort us with this promise, it was not comforting. Why would we want our memories to merge together? Is it because we want to dull the pain of what we have lost? To avoid squarely face the truth that we have lost a son, a child who God uniquely created and whose attributes will never be duplicated? No, I think parents do better long-term in their grief when they can remember and recount what makes his or her child unique.

As I have previously discussed on this blog, all of the parents I know who have lost children appreciate the opportunity to talk about their deceased child. Perhaps our appreciation for the opportunity to talk about our deceased child comes from this underlying desire to never forget what makes our child special. Regardless of whether the child was old or young, big or small, a good sleeper or a night wailer, a talker or a watcher, we want people to know and understand the beauty that God displayed in creating each of our children. We want to remember everything about our son Micah that God chose to use to make him unique.

In the end, Revelation 21:5 tells us that Jesus will “make all things new.” I’ve wondered what Jesus will do with our memory when He “makes all things new.” Will the restoration of our memory be part of God's restoration? Will he give us full memory, or only selective memory? Will Heather be able to remember every single sweet moment with Micah, and not have to deal with the terrible memories of giving Micah mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and then to watch him die? Or will we be so transfixed in the present act of worshipping God, face to face, and overjoyed with the presence of lost loved ones like Micah that we will have no need to rely upon memories of the past to add to our worship of him? Speed that day, Lord, when faith becomes sight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Trusting God for the Salvation of our Infant Children

At various times over the last two years, I have struggled with the issue of Micah’s eternal salvation. While there is strong Biblical evidence for the salvation of infants (the subject of other future blog entries), most of these references are only indirect references. There are no direct, unambiguous promises in scripture that children who die in infancy are saved by reason of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’ve struggled with God over why He did not say anything directly about this issue in scripture. God, could you have not spared just one sentence somewhere in scripture to give us certainty on this issue?

Gradually, God has given me confidence that He has saved Micah. This confidence did not arise out of a new interpretation of passage or a clever argument. God has impressed upon me the importance of simply trusting in His goodness and mercy towards us, his elect.

Obviously, an infant doesn’t need to know whether or not scripture says they are saved. The Bible doesn’t need to include a promise for these illiterate children in order for God to save them. For us parents, I have come to believe that the issue is not whether there is enough “proof” in scripture, but whether we will hold on, in faith, to the promise of God’s goodness to us, even through the storms of doubt, despair, anger and pain. I believe that even if there was an unambiguous promise in scripture about the eternal destiny of our children, many parents might still question the goodness and mercy of a God who allowed an infant child to die. Therefore, the battle is whether those of us who would otherwise question God’s goodness will submit in faith to God’s demonstrated attributes of justice, love and mercy.

The issue of our child’s eternal salvation is a specific example of what all of us are called to do—to submit, in faith, to the ways of a loving and merciful God. For those of us who have lost our children, we place our hopes for seeing our children again squarely on the goodness of God. As the Psalmist says about God, “Though art good and doest good.” Psalm 119:68. We place our lives, our hopes our dreams, everything about the future in the hands of a sovereign God who only does good for those who love Him. Romans 8:28.

Too much of my life has taken the form of unfaithfulness. Whether it has been demanding a specific response from God, or questioning His ways, I have acted unfaithfully towards my God, a God who has always loved me and orchestrated my life for my ultimate good. To demand a specific response from God explaining his ways, whether about my son’s seemingly premature death, or any other trials we might face, is a lack of faith. It means we are requiring God to fit his behavior into our beliefs of moral righteousness and justice. Instead, we should be living in faith knowing that ALL that God does is good.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Death Unaddressed

In my estate planning legal practice, I am constantly amazed at the how some clients go to great lengths to avoid thinking about their death. I recently had the privilege of representing a successful business owner. While my client would attend all of our meetings, his wife would not attend. When I brought this matter to the husband’s attention, he indicated that his wife couldn’t bear to attend, as the thought of her own death was, in his words, “too depressing to her.” Similarly, another client, a widow, began weeping during a meeting. While I initially thought that she was weeping over the death of her late husband, I soon realized that she was weeping over the thought of her own death.

Carolyn Arends writes, “Death unaddressed is the bogeyman in the basement; it keeps us looking over our shoulders and holds us back from entering joyously into the days we are given. But death dragged out from the shadows and held up to the light of the gospel not only loses its sting, it becomes an essential reminder to wisely use the life we have.” Arends, Going Down Singing, Christianity Today, April 2011.

In Philippians 1, Paul notes how he was torn between Heaven and earth. While He longed to die and be in Heaven, with Christ, he also felt a significant desire to stay with, and minister to, the young believers. Because living meant “fruitful labor,” he was convinced that God was calling him to stay. Just the same, he noted that he viewed his own death as gain. (verse 21).

Historian David McCollough notes that one of George Washington’s greatest strengths was his ability to see past the way he wanted to see the situation of the colonial army and see the situation for what it really was. (McCollough, 1776). How about you? Are you able to look past the temporary nature of life and see life for what it is—a vapor? Are you able to view life as but a precursor to eternity?

Since Micah’s death, I have been blessed to have a clearer understanding of my own mortality, the mortality of my family and friends, and a greater desire to depart and be with Jesus and Micah. I pray that all of us develop a greater desire to know Christ in our lives and to have a realistic understanding of the brevity and nature of this earthly, temporary existence. I pray for a peace in Christ as we look ahead to the moment of our death, that our hearts not be filled with dread, but with a welcome smile, knowing what and who are behind that curtain that separates the mortal from the immortal. I pray that we not balk at the thought of our last breath but that, in the words of Carolyn Arends, we plan to “go down singing.”

Saturday, April 30, 2011

God's Wisdom and Ours

A few minutes after Micah died, I was ready to leave the hospital room in which we held Micah as he died. But before we left, my brother stopped all of us and asked if he could read from scripture.

He read from Romans 11,
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable are his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
Or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
That he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36.

In those moments following Micah’s death, I was filled with many questions for God. Why did He allow Micah to fall from the chair? Why did He allow the pea to go into his lungs when he fell? Why did He allow Micah’s airway to be blocked when, four days later, Micah tried to cough up the pea? We didn’t have the answer then, nor do we have answers to our questions now.

But God does. God’s purposes, though often unknown to us, are being worked out in and through our lives to form a story far more redeeming than any novel ever written by a human hand. While I cannot use my feeble mind to reach to touch even the beginning of God’s infinite wisdom, we know that God is good, and that He is working together all things for good for those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28.

My brother’s recitation of this passage was a helpful reminder to me at that moment that God is good, even when I could not understand what He is doing through Micah’s death. God, who requires no counsel outside of Himself, whose wisdom is infinite and eternal, decided that the most loving act for us and for our Micah was to take him home. In God’s goodness and wisdom we needed to rest, and that passage provided me assurance that just because I could not understand what God was accomplishing does not mean that He is not, even now, using Micah’s death to accomplish His purposes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We Could Let Micah Go

On July 27, 2009, the day after Micah choked on the pea and lost consciousness, Micah was still on life support. While the ventilator was helping him breath, he had lost all brain activity, having gone about 1.5 hours without any oxygen. That morning, our family met with the team of doctors at the hospital, who informed us that there was no hope for recovery for our little boy. While our extended family members seemed to be in agreement that we should take Micah off the ventilator and let Micah go, I was having a difficult time making that decision.

Part of me wanted to give it more time, to see if, by some miracle, Micah’s brain activity would improve. What if we committed a week to praying for Micah, to see if the Lord would respond to our continued urgent pleas for a miracle? Aside from God’s ability to work miracles, my “earthly” mentality was to give my son every opportunity to “fight” for life. Besides, as strong believers of the pro-life movement, didn’t it make sense to support every effort, maybe even extreme measures, to keep Micah alive, regardless of the quality of life?

In the course of that morning, Pastor Kenny encouraged us from 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 6-8, which reads,
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Pastor Kenny encouraged us that, because Micah was already “away from the body” in the sense that his mind was already gone, we should let him go so that he could be “home with the Lord.” I realized that if we really believe that Jesus has redeemed us from the grave, and if we really believe that Heaven is our real home, we want Micah to “go home.” Paul tells us that we would prefer to be “at home” in our eternal home rather than “at home” on earth. Given that Micah’s mind was already gone, it seemed to us that it would be counterproductive to keep Micah’s shell of a body here even though we was already, and would always would be, “away” from us cognitively. It was good and right of us to let Micah go into his eternal home.

I am so grateful for the words of encouragement spoken to us that morning through Pastor Kenny from the book of 2 Corinthians. God spoke through that passage that morning to give me assurance that it was good for us to let Micah go from our earthly, temporary home here in Minneapolis so that he could go to his eternal home in heaven. And what a home that must be!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Habbakuk 3:17-19

In grieving Micah’s death, we relied (and continue to rely) heavily on the promises of the Bible. As an encouragement to all of us to know and study scripture and to let the word of God speak to us in our daily lives, I wanted to share, over the course of a few posts, a few of the scriptures that spoke to us through the circumstances surrounding Micah’s death.

Praising God Even With No Fruit on the Vine

First, Habbakuk 3:17-19 encouraged me to praise God even through the hardest day of my life. The morning of Micah’s internment and funeral, I was reviewing some of the messages left to us under Micah’s online obituary. A Christian colleague of mine had left us a message that included a citation to Habbakuk 3:17-19. At home that morning, I wrote the passage on a piece of paper and brought it with me to reflect upon throughout the day. This passage reads,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom
Nor fruit be on the vines
The produce of the olive fail and
The fields yield no food
And there be no herd in the stalls

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
I will take joy in the God of my salvation
God, the LORD, is my strength
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.”

When there seemed to be no redeeming value, no “fruit on the vine,” to the death of our only son, all we could do is worship God. We turn our affections to God even during these trials for, as the Psalmist says, “Whom have I in Heaven but you?” (Psalm 73: 25). If we don’t praise God now, we will lose ourselves in anger, bitterness and depression. But if we lift up our eyes to Heaven, we can live in the hope in the resurrection to come. When there seems to be no benefit to what the Lord has brought, all we can do is praise God not for what we see, but for what we hope to see, someday, when God reveals the purposes He accomplished through trials such as Micah’s death.

When we arrived at the cemetery for the internment, I stood next to Pastor Kenny. While we waited for others to arrive, I pulled out the piece of paper on which I had written the passage. Pastor Kenny noticed the paper and asked what passage I had written. As it turned out, Pastor Kenny had planned his internment message around the very same passage. The Holy Spirit, it seemed, was using this particular Bible passage to encourage me to lift my attention up in worship to God, even when I could see no “fruit” in everything that had happened to us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring is Coming

In 2008, Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman lost his youngest daughter, Maria Sue, when she was accidentally hit by a car driven by one of Chapman’s other children. On his 2009 album, “Beauty Will Rise,” Chapman writes about grief, about spring and about longing for the coming resurrection. He sings,

“We planted the seed while the tears of our grief soaked the ground
The sky lost its’ sun and the world lost its’ green to lifeless brown
Now the chill in the wind has turned the Earth hard as stone
And silent the seed lies beneath ice and snow
And my heart’s heavy now, but I’m not letting go
Of this hope I have that tells me


(Chorus)
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And all we’ve been hoping and longing for
Soon will appear
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
It won’t be long now
It’s just about here

Hear the birds start to sing
Feel the life in the breeze
Watch the ice melt away
The kids are coming out to play
Feel the sun on your skin
Growing strong and warm again
Watch the ground
There’s something moving
Something is breaking through
New life is breaking through


Repeat Chorus

Spring is coming (Out of these ashes beauty will rise)
Spring is coming (Sorrow will be turned to joy)
All we’ve been hoping and longing for (All we’ve hoped for)
Soon will appear (soon will appear)
Spring is coming (Out of the darkness beauty will shine)
Spring is coming (All Earth and Heaven rejoice)
It won’t be long now (Spring is coming soon)
It’s just about here (Spring is coming soon)”


These days, Heather and I are eagerly anticipating spring. It seems like it has been a particularly long and difficult winter. Heather is blessed to be a stay-at-home mother. Because of Owen’s sleeping schedule, it is particularly difficult for Heather to get too far from our home (and Owen’s crib). In order to combat cabin fever, in good weather she has enjoyed taking Micah, during his lifetime, and then Owen, to our little neighborhood park or around a favorite neighborhood walking route.


Unfortunately, the winter weather here in Minnesota has not cooperated with Heather’s attempts to combat cabin fever. We’ve had near-record snowfall, and the temperatures continue to be more typical of February than late March. While the days are getting significantly longer, and the sun is getting higher in the sky, there is still a chill in the air. The brisk winter wind still takes your breath away. The pile of snow in the yard is still fairly significant. There are no buds on the trees, and any grass that is visible is brown.

Just as Heather feels in bondage to the inside of our house, Minnesota seems in bondage to winter. In Romans 8:18-23, Paul talks about how even creation is in bondage to sin until Christ returns. Paul says,
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.”

No doubt about it, we are looking forward to spring. Heather is looking forward to taking Owen to the park again. I’m looking forward to introducing Owen to baseball, the golf course, and walks with Heather around the lakes. But as much as we are looking forward to the change in the weather, our ultimate hope for redemption from our circumstances is in the coming second-coming of Jesus Christ, when He will redeem all suffering, and Jesus will resurrect our son from the dead.

Lord willing, we will someday experience springtime in Minnesota. As in Chapman’s song, we will soon start to feel the sun on our face, see children playing outside again, and the last vestiges of ice melting away. This year, when I see these signs of spring appearing, it will be a reminder to me that, like the coming spring and summer, the Day of our Lord is just about upon us.


At that day, the sound of our groans for redemption will be replaced by the trumpet call. The dank smell of death will be replaced by the smell of life. Our dark days of grief and lonesomeness for Micah will be lost in the illumined brightness of seeing Jesus face-to-face. The earth over the top of Micah’s grave will be removed, and I will no longer be limited to touching only his gravestone, but will touch him, his hair and his hands.


How excited are we for spring? Are we just as excited about the second-coming of Jesus? Just as expectant? Are you ready for that day? As excited as I am for ballgames, golf rounds, and strolls around the lake this summer, I have no doubt that the joy we experience this spring and summer will pale in comparison to our joy of finally seeing our Savior and our son once again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Blessing from God

Heather and I are excited to share with you some great news--we are expecting again! Lord willing, we will welcome Baby #3 into our home in mid-August. This morning’s 19-week ultrasound revealed a healthy baby. Unfortunately, due to the baby’s position, we were not able to definitively determine the baby’s gender (the technician’s opinion is that the baby is a boy). Regardless, we feel very blessed about the possibility of welcoming another child to our home.

One of my two brothers was present with me as Micah died. In that hospital room immediately following Micah’s death, my brother asked to read from Romans 11, verses 33-36.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen


I have thought a lot about our path and this passage since Micah’s death. God’s path for us over the past two years is never something that we could have predicted. If our lives were up to us, we would still have Micah with us. If it were up to us, our path would have taken different turns than paths to emergency rooms and funeral homes and cemeteries. If it were up to us, we would have walked the path of loving our oldest son for longer than just those nine sweet months.
We admit that we don’t know why God would give us our oldest son, then take him away from us just as quickly. His reasons for taking Micah are still so very confusing to us. Why would God give us Micah, then take him away, only to give us two more children? Why aren’t God’s ways simpler? Why involve so very much heartache? Clearly, God’s reasons are “beyond tracing out.”
It is easy to say that God, in his eternal wisdom and love, has given us Owen and now, Lord willing, Baby #3. It is difficult to say that God was right in taking Micah so soon. But if God is the God of all circumstances, then God was not asleep when Micah died. Instead, Romans 11 tells us that God, in his eternal wisdom and knowledge, took Micah away. Be happy for us, my friends, that God’s judgments appear to include provision for Heather and me to enjoy the opportunity to steward the life of yet another of God’s children. But also rejoice with me, friends, that God’s ways are eternally wise, that even in the death of our little boy, we can trust His goodness. Even when our grief is greater than what we can seem to bear, we can trust that God is actually working through our pain and the suffering in ways that are too great for us to possibly understand.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Our Sons at 9 Months


Shortly before he died, we had a professional photographer take some "9 month" pictures of Micah. Last month, Owen reached and surpassed the same 9-month mark. As we did with Micah, we had Owen sit for his "9 month" pictures. You'll notice that Owen fills out the same outfit just as well as Micah did.
It has been a difficult month for Heather and me. We have taken several trips to Children's Hospital and urgent care to deal with hand, foot, and mouth disease, RSV, pneumonia and just last night, a very high temperature. It has been a month of anxienty--too much anxiety. While God has brought us through this month with Owen in good health, it feels like we keep re-learning what it means to trust God.
Owen has brought joy and laughter to our house. There are two large pictures of Micah in Owen's bedroom. When Owen gets up from a nap, we usually hold Owen next to one of these pictures and say his name. In response, Owen lets out a happy yelp or chatter, and waves his little hand at the picture of his big brother. We think that Owen already knows Micah's name. Lord willing, Owen will grow up to know all about his big brother Micah.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trusting God Through Tragedy

A friend asked me to write a short paper on whether I continue to believe that God is sovereign and loving after Micah's death. Here are my thoughts:

************************************************************

For most of my life, I have believed what the Christian Bible says about God. Along with most Bible-believing Christians, I believe that God is both sovereign and loving. Admittedly, however, until tragedy struck, intellectual objections to the goodness or sovereignty of God seemed esoteric. Significant suffering was something that happened to “other people.” My life seemed to go going along quite well, and, as a result, it was easy for me to espouse the traditional Christian view about God.

In July of 2009, I experienced a type of suffering that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy—the death of my oldest son. Our little oldest son Micah, then nine months of age, was in perfect health. He loved to play with his parents, to laugh at our dog, and to wave his little hand at passers-by. He would be content to ride in our stroller as my wife, Heather, and I pushed him around our neighborhood or around one of the lakes of South Minneapolis.

On Thursday afternoon, July 23rd, 2009, Micah had fallen out of his high chair reaching for his toes. While he sustained a black eye from his fall, no one felt that his condition was serious, much less life-threatening. On each of the next two days, various pediatric doctors saw Micah because he developed a low fever and an unusual cough. The doctors diagnosed Micah with pneumonia, probably as a result of inhaling something down his lung when he fell. However, the doctors were not concerned. They felt that whatever was causing his pneumonia in his lung would probably dissolve in a matter of days, and he would be back to his normal, energetic self in short order.

On Sunday morning, July 26th, I drove to the local Target to fill a prescription. When I arrived home, my wife came running out of our house screaming at me, “Micah has stopped breathing! Micah has stopped breathing!” Within two minutes, the EMTs arrived. A few minutes later, the ambulance arrived. But no one could revive Micah. The gravity of the situation hit my wife first, then it hit me. I held my wife in my arms on our kitchen floor as we screamed and cried together, praying as earnestly as we could that God would allow our little son to take a breath and come back to us. But God didn’t answer our prayer. We never heard him cry again.

Micah was eventually taken to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where the doctors were finally able to revive Micah’s breathing. But after nearly one hour without oxygen, there was no hope for any brain activity. Over the next 24 hours, we prayed that our sovereign and good God would miraculously heal our little boy. But by 10 am the next morning, we were told that Micah had so little brain activity remaining that there was no hope for recovery. We were told that we needed to say goodbye to our pride and joy, our little boy. After a very emotional family gathering around Micah’s bedside, each of us had our own opportunity to say our last goodbyes. Heather, deciding that she could not be in the room when Micah’s ventilator was removed, said her final “goodbye” by encouraging Micah to, “Run to Jesus, sweetie, run to Jesus.” A few minutes later, I held my son in my arms as the doctors removed the ventilator and other equipment that was keeping our son breathing. In the single greatest moment of anguish that I have ever or will ever experience, my son’s little heart stopped beating.

Following Micah’s death, doctors determined that Micah had aspirated a pea when he had fallen from his highchair trying to touch his toes. The following Sunday morning, when trying to cough up the pea, the pea became lodged in his windpipe. The pea lodged itself in just such a manner as to block any airflow. According to pediatricians, the chances of this occurring are infinitely small.

No longer just an esoteric or theoretical question, Heather and I have grappled with this very real question of how a good and sovereign God, if He exists, could allow this happen. If God could create the stars, planets and the human body, master the precision of gravitational forces, how could He allow a pea to kill our son? How could this happen to our son, when no pediatrician has even heard of this ever happening before? But rather than pushing me away from God, Micah’s death has, paradoxically, actually drawn me closer to God. Looking back at my life since Micah died, I believe that Micah’s life and death has impacted me in many ways that are consistent with what the Bible says, generally, about how and why God uses significant personal suffering to achieve His purposes. Allow me to briefly share three ways in which Micah’s death has changed me and caused me to trust even more fully in a sovereign and loving God.



STRENGTH

First, Micah’s death has provided an insight into my own powerlessness and God’s strength. Most cultural leaders tell us that in order to be successful, we need to trust in our own strength—“to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” Most of us live by the credo penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote, "Trust thyself, every heart vibrates to that iron string. Discontent is the want of self-reliance. It is infirmity of will."[1] Similarly, 7-time Tour de France cycling champion Lance Armstrong lives by the mantra, “Live Strong. “ But I can't think of phrases and ways of life that are completely contradictory to how I now live my life. Rather than a “Self-Reliance” or “Live Strong” 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. The death of my son is, among other things, the clearest demonstration possible that that I am not, in any way, “the captain of my ship…and the master of my soul.”[2]

During Micah’s lifetime, I pictured my future as being a good dad to my son. I envisioned helping Micah with his homework, fixing his broken bike, or talking him through important decisions. I thought I be the “fix-it” man for my son. But on that Sunday morning, July 26th, 2009, I learned that I am absolutely powerless, on my own, to carry out my dream of being the “fix it” man for Micah. In that whirlwind of activity, all of my strength, my knowledge, my love for my son didn’t make a difference. After a half hour of failing to resuscitate my son on our living room floor, the paramedics moved Micah out of our living room to the ambulance. So instead of helping my son with homework, broken toys, sports teams, relationships, school, job and life choices, I found myself doing the only thing I could—holding the door for my son’s now-lifeless body and the paramedics as they quickly left the house, never to return. And with them departed whatever sense of control, strength and self-reliance I had left.

Micah’s death has caused me to believe, subjectively, what has always been objectively true—that I am an impotent little creature previously mistaken about my ability to affect change or accomplish goals. Ironically, the Bible teaches that this realization of powerless, this self-emptying of pride, is a good thing. Jesus taught that it was through weakness that God’s power would be demonstrated. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."[3]

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the early Christian leader Paul notes how he pleaded with God, in prayer, to remove certain suffering from his life. Eventually, God made it clear to Paul that God was purposely choosing not to answer Paul’s prayer in order that, through Paul’s suffering and resulting weakness, God’s power might best be demonstrated. Of God’s response to his prayers for healing, Paul writes, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”[4]
I cannot honestly claim to want suffering in my life, as Paul did. But I can attest to how God has used my weakness to showcase His own power. I have no other explanation as to how I can even keep a job, stay married, and be even remotely conversant at social functions. If it were up to me, if it were up to my own ability to “pull myself up by my own bootstraps,” I would have given up on life following Micah’s death. But by breaking me of my self-reliance, God has demonstrated His power to me.



JOY

Second, God has used Micah’s life and tragic death to begin to change the source of joy and happiness in my life. I cannot adequately describe my anguish as I sat in the hospital next to my little son’s body. I determined in those moments that, so long as I live on earth, there could never possibly be any set of earthly circumstances that could provide my wife and me with sufficient joy to make up for our loss. As much joy as marriage, children and family have (and will) bring to us, there will always be a place missing at the dinner table, a child absent from family pictures, and gifts lying unopened under the Christmas tree. His death has left such a void in our hearts and in our home that no set of circumstances can ever make us or our family “whole.” The moment that my son’s little heart stopped beating, my dreams for happiness on this earth died along with him.

Micah’s death has caused me to re-examine every aspect of my life and where I find joy and happiness in my life. Is my joy from my job? But what happens when I lose it? Is my joy in my hobbies, my athletic pursuits or my entertainment? What happens when I lose my sight or my ability to run or walk? Is my joy in my spouse and children? What happens when my child or spouse dies? How will I have any ability to carry on in life if all of my joy was centered solely in my child or spouse? To the extent that you use your life circumstances as the sole means for joy in your life, I believe that you are living in a dream world, for sooner or later the fa├žade will come crashing down, and you will have nothing left. What of joy then? Where will your joy come from then?

Rather than suffering as a demonstration that there is no good God, I see suffering as God’s clear demonstration to us that joy in life cannot be lived centered around our circumstances. It is not that God is cruel and doesn’t want us to experience joy—He wants us to experience joy. But rather than allowing us to live in the artificial joy of happiness in circumstances, God desires that we have a profound, eternal joy. This eternal joy can only be found through His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself told His disciples that the reason for his teaching was for our eternal joy. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[5]

In the Bible, we see several examples of people centering their affections for God and not their own circumstances. One of these was King David who, as King of Israel, led the Israel through its greatest, most successful years. But rather than focus on his own circumstances and significant earthly successes as the source of his happiness, David tells us that it was God that ultimately brought him joy. In Psalm 27, David says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”[6] David said, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’…The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.”[7]

Heather and I want to follow David’s lead in finding ultimate joy in God. Suffering has a way of souring the taste of anything that competes with one’s affections for God. Like David, we have come to believe that no earthly joy tastes as sweet as a joy centered in God.[8] It is my hope that Micah’s death serves to increase my joy in God alone.

SIGNIFICANCE

Third, through Micah’s death I have recognized the degree to which God brings significance to all of life, even to life’s darkest hours. Rather than believing that God was “asleep at the switch” when that pea blocked Micah’s windpipe, I believe that God’s designs for Micah’s life are greater than what I could have imagined, and that He is somehow using Micah’s death to achieve his purposes. Of course, this means that we must live in faith that God is indeed good and working in ways we cannot see.

The author of the Biblical book of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”[9] One of the greatest biblical examples of faith in the Bible is the story of Abraham. In the book of Genesis we are told that God promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation—what would become the nation of Israel. But God took his time to fulfill this pledge. Not until well past their child-bearing years did God finally and miraculously give Abraham and his wife a son, Isaac. Later, when Isaac was still a boy, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to a nearby mountain and sacrifice him.[10] Obediently, Abraham took Isaac up the side of a mountain. At just the last moment, when Abraham’s knife was raised to sacrifice his long-awaited son, a ram was provided as a substitute sacrifice.

In Abraham’s case, the story ended well. Isaac was spared, and Abraham became the father of the nation of Israel. But not many of us will achieve anything close to Abraham’s earthly significance, particularly our children who, like Micah, are lost in infancy. Many parents who lose a young child struggle over the lack of significance that other people attach to their child’s life. In the minds of the parents, the child never even had the opportunity to succeed, to accomplish something, to be significant. And, if there is nothing beyond our sensory experiences, then achievement, fame and fortune alone dictate significance, and the death of a young child is truly insignificant.

But rather than thinking that Micah’s little life was insignificant, we believe that it is significant because God is using it to accomplish his designs. One of the most audacious claims of the Bible is that regardless of where we go, we cannot escape God. Even in death, God is there.[11] God holds the power to give life and take life. Since God is using each and every action to accomplish something greater in our lives, every life is significant. Who knows the full impact that Micah and his death had on us, our family and friends, the medical community, and others? It would be highly presumptuous of us to think his death had no meaning when we lack the omnipotence to fully understand how God uses human events to achieve his purposes.

The Bible does not apologize for the clear fact that God sometimes chooses to use the worst human suffering imaginable to achieve his purposes. Based upon the descriptions of Jesus in the Bible, Jesus deserved human acclaim. He healed the sick, taught about love, and challenged hypocritical religious leaders. He deserved to be significant in the eyes of the world, and to become a “significant” person in the eyes of the world like a president, king, or emperor. But instead of becoming the new king of Israel, he died an agonizing death on a cross. Through the cross, Christians believed that He accomplished something more than He ever could have accomplished if He had been just a great political ruler. Through his perfect life and agonizing death, we believe that Jesus redeemed my life, and the lives of all of His followers, for all time.

The cross of Christ is the symbol of hope for Christians in the midst of even the most terrible circumstances, for it means that there is meaning and not absurdity in the cruelest of all human sufferings and that, somehow, God will turn our greatest sufferings into our greatest joys. God promises that just as He used Christ’s great suffering to bring about great purposes, so also He works in our lives, even in our darkest hours, to accomplish His purposes.[12] The Bible says that, “…neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[13] Even though we continue to struggle at times with why God’s plan must involve our earthly separation from our son, Heather and I continue to see Christ’s death and resurrection as a clear demonstration that God can indeed use Micah’s death to achieve His plan.

I often return to the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son as a source of encouragement in my own faith. The story is indeed difficult to understand; in many ways, it doesn’t make logical sense. But to me, that is the point. Like us, Abraham had the capacity for logic; he could have questioned (or defied) God’s demand because it didn’t make logical sense. But Abraham, without questioning God or his ways, was ready to be obedient to God, even to the point of the death of his own son at his own hand. In the book of Hebrews, we are told that as Abraham led Isaac up that mountain, he considered his son already dead. Abraham, “considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”[14]

For Heather and me, we have learned that we must walk as Abraham walked with God—in faith. We will not know what purposes God achieved through Micah and his death, at least not until we see God and Micah again. Even through anger at God, unfulfilled dreams and nights of weeping, we believe that God’s plan for us and Micah involve peas wider than windpipes, little graves, and short earthly lifetimes. We believe that God has power over death, and can bring significance even through Micah’s death. Through these difficult circumstances, our faith, the “assurance of things hoped for,” has become dearer to us than it ever has before.

Someday, I will hold my little Micah again in Heaven. Our happiness in being together will have not been reduced by the pea that stuck in Micah’s throat. Instead, we will be able to spend eternity together learning about the endless wisdom and power of God, worshipping God for how He divinely orchestrated human history to display His wonderful attributes to us. Until then, I can be thankful, and live in faith, that God uses events in our lives to teach us more about Him, including how He wants us to find strength, joy, and significance in Him.

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.
[2] William Earnest Henley, Invictus.
[3] Matthew 5:3-4.
[4] 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
[5] John 15:11.
[6] Psalm 27:4.
[7] Psalm 16:2,5.
[8] Psalm 34:8.
[9] Hebrews 11:1, 6.
[10] Genesis 22.
[11] Psalm 139.
[12]About God’s power, Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
[13] Romans 8:38-39.
[14] Hebrews 11:18-19.

Friday, February 11, 2011

8 Months and 28 Days

Eight months and Twenty-Eights Days. The length of our older son Micah’s life here on earth. Today, February 11, 2011, marks the day that our second son Owen reaches exactly the same age. It is a day of mixed emotion for Heather and me.

On the one hand, we are grateful that God has ordained Owen’s days on earth to number at least as many as Micah’s. We are blessed by each day with Owen. To wake up every morning to see Owen’s smiling face is yet another gift from God, a gift that we don’t take for granted.
On the other hand, we grieve the relative brevity of Micah’s earthly life. It seems like just yesterday that Owen was born. This short span of time is all that we had with Micah. It’s hard to believe that this little vapor of a life, came, lived and died in such a short period of time. It all seems just so very short, and we are grieved by all these days that we are living on earth without him.

A few days before Micah died, we hired a photographer to take photos of Micah, which of course are now highly prized by Heather and me. At the time we planned on later supplementing these “9 Month” pictures with numerous other pictures. Later today, Owen is also having pictures taken by a photographer. We look forward to seeing and sharing pictures of Micah and Owen, side-by-side, taken at exactly the same age.

But we don’t expect that this will be the last time that Owen’s pictures are taken. Lord willing, we will add to our personal photo collection of Owen at ball games, school events, birthday parties, holidays, and maybe a school graduation (or two!). Every milestone and every photo opportunity will be bittersweet, for while we can view pictures of Owen’s milestones, there will be no such pictures to view of Micah’s milestones. It seems that in some ways today is the day when the similarities end, and the differences begin.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1 Peter 1

The book of 1 Peter has been of great encouragement to me in working through grief. Of particular application has been 1 Peter 1:3-7, which reads as follows:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Here’s how I am using 1 Peter 1:3-7 to “preach” to myself and, as I have the chance, to encourage other grieving parents:

(1) God, in His Mercy, has Saved Our Infant Children
“According to his great mercy…”
First, we can rejoice in God’s mercy towards us, for it is only by God’s mercy in granting salvation is my child saved for all eternity. Since salvation is granted by reason of God’s mercy towards us, and not by reason of our actions (or inactions), we can rest in the comfort knowing that Christ’s work on the cross accomplished not only salvation for those of us adults who believe, but also salvation for our little children—for those whom Jesus described as, “the least of these.” Because God has demonstrated both the power and the desire to save infant children, we can trust in the promise of eternal salvation for our children who have “gone Home.” “The LORD is gracious and compassion, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” Psalm 145:8-9. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9.

(2) God Will Resurrect Our Children Again
“...he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Second, because Jesus is alive, right now, so also is our hope of seeing our children again. Just as Jesus conquered death and the grave, so also we have a living, ongoing hope that He will raise our children from the dead. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, there would be no hope. But because Jesus is alive, we have an ongoing living hope that, someday, Jesus will raise our children from the dead. Of this resurrection, Paul wrote that, “…God raised the Lord and will also raise us up in His power.” 1 Corinthians 6:14.

(3) Our Children Are Free From Sin & Death
“…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…”
Third, we rejoice in the life that our Micah now lives. Micah’s little earthly body has been decomposing in the cold Minnesota ground. But unlike his earthly body, Micah’s eternal body is glorious. Micah is now free from sin and death. He is free from greed, envy, anger, hypocrisy, sickness and disappointment. Paul writes, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54-55.

(4) God Helps Us Parents Persevere in our Faith in Order to Join our Children
“…kept in Heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time…”
Fourth, through God’s power is we can persevere in faith so that we, too, will share in the riches of eternal salvation. The same gift (“inheritance”) that our Micah has received will be ours, too, if we continue in the faith. In preserving to the end, it is not as though God has left us all alone. For it would be one thing if God called me to “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and make it through the next 2, 10, 20, 50 or years of earthly life fighting for faith on my own. Left on our own, there is no way that we could turn from sin and head in the direction of the “narrow road that leads to life.” But God, in His sovereign power, is actually interceding in our lives through the Holy Spirit to make us more like him. God is “guarding” us through faith so that, at the end, we will be saved.

(5) We can have Joy, now, in Jesus
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,…
Fifth, God is working in our lives for the purpose of developing a joy in God that exceeds even the joy that we had in our own children. If the only joy or happiness that we develop in our lives is as a result of our circumstances, then when circumstances go awry (such as when our children die) there is no possibility of life-long, soul-satisfying joy. But Jesus has given us a joy in Him. In John 15:11, Jesus said, “These things [the gospel] I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.”

(6) God is Purposeful in the Suffering He Has Allowed
“…so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Sixth, and finally, we can trust that there is a purpose for our suffering. I am certainly not the only grieving parent who has struggled at times with God’s purposes in and through the death of their child. And while scripture doesn’t give us particular answers to the “why” question that gives us so much heartache, this passage provides two great promises for what purposes, generally, God is accomplishing through our particular suffering. First, the suffering we experience through the death of a child, like any other type of suffering, can decrease our appetite for those things that can get in the way of God, and increase our desire for God. When your child dies, you are forced to put all your poker chips in the middle of the table; there is no “diversification of risk” with regard to whether you are going to find joy in your circumstances or in Jesus Christ and the life He calls us to. In addition to many other purposes which I will only know about on the other side of eternity, God has allowed this suffering so that I can “set fire” to things that stand in the way of God and be “purified” through the purifying fire of suffering.

Second, our suffering is used through relationship with others so that God can be glorified through us, vessels of weakness, grief and sorrow. In our relationship with others, we pray that God’s strength is seen in our weakness, and that people would increase their own desire for God because of the grace seen through God’s mercy. I can’t think of a greater purpose for my own life or Micah’s little life than to display the glorious wisdom and strength of our great God.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to Help Grieving Parents

Beginning immediately following Micah’s death, many of our friends and family came alongside Heather and me and were of tremendous blessing to us in our grief. These friends and family members seemed to know just how to help us. Below are five ways in which these friends and family members were helpful. We thought we would post a list of things that were helpful to us so that if you have friends or family members who have also lost a child, you might also try to be of blessing to them.

(1) Remember the Child: Send the parents a note, card or email on important days. If you remember the child’s birthday or the date of the child’s “home going,” send the parents a card letting them know that you are remembering them and praying for them on that day. When you talk to parents about their family situation, try to include the memory of that child in the conversation.

(2) Communicate: Call the parents. Keep communicating with them, even if they don’t respond. Don’t stop communicating with the parents just because you may not be sure how to address their grief. Don’t be afraid to let the parents talk about the deceased child. In fact, most of the grieving parents I know appreciate the opportunity to share memories with you of their deceased child. Even though the parents might be emotional, the parents appreciate the opportunity to grieve with you; they don’t want you to try to carry on your relationship as if nothing happened. Parents live with the constant reminder that their child is no longer here, so you don’t need to be concerned that bringing up memories or talking about the child will somehow increase their level of pain. Instead, we think grieving parents would be encouraged to know that you care enough to enter into their grief with them.

(3) Practical Assistance: In the immediate aftermath of the death, find ways to be of practical assistance to the parents. For us, having meals prepared was one of the most helpful and practical ways for people to help us. Especially early on, preparing a meal was just too difficult of a task. See if you can provide the family with a home-cooked meal, or, if that is too difficult, a frozen meal or a restaurant gift card. Shovel the driveway or mow the lawn. Clean the house or help with laundry and dry-cleaning. Make a Target or grocery store run on behalf of the family. Heather and I found it particularly difficult to be in large crowds of people or even to go to places such as the grocery store where there are vivid memories of shopping with the child. If you are going to the grocery store anyway, consider asking the parents if you can pick anything up for them on their behalf.

(4) Prayer: Pray that (1) God would use this suffering in the lives of the parents to be drawn closer in a new or existing relationship with God through Jesus Christ, (2) that the marriage would be sustained, that no blame or disconnect between the parents would occur, (3) that the parents would realize their own limitations and reach out an seek the help of God, professionals, and friends and family.

(5) Resources: If you have a favorite Bible promise that relates to suffering, write it down and send it in an email or note to the parents. If you have a favorite book, song, sermon, or music album that would provide the parents with an opportunity to worship God through their suffering, provide that to them. We appreciated not only the resource itself, but also just the fact that we have friends, co-workers and others who were thinking of us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Carter's Eternal Hope

Over the past year, we have been blessed by several couples who have also lost their children and who have come alongside of us and encouraged us. One of these couples is Ryan and Heidi Retzlaff. On December 13, 2008, Ryan and Heidi Retzlaff lost their only child at the time, Carter. Ryan, Heidi and Carter were on a flight from Minnesota to Puerto Rico for a family vacation when Carter suddenly stopped breathing. Despite efforts to revive Carter, including an emergency landing by the aircraft, Carter died. The Retzlaffs have never been able to determine Carter’s cause of death.

Following Carter’s death, Ryan and Heidi started a ministry called “Carter’s Eternal Hope.” The ministry provides care packages to grieving parents as well as scholarships for students to attend Christian camps. We have been so encouraged by Ryan and Heidi and their testimony. More than anything, they want others to know the same hope that they have in Jesus Christ. The Retzlaffs have recently completed a website, which can be found at: www.carterseternalhope.org. I encourage you to visit this great resource!

We have been so encouraged by Ryan and Heidi and their willingness to reach out and help others, even through their own grief. Like us, Ryan and Heidi have been blessed with another child subsequent to the death of their only son (a daughter, Elsa). We hope that the Micah Wessman Foundation can, like Carter’s Eternal Hope, be glorifying to God. We hope that through the pain of the deaths of our respective sons, others would be encouraged in their walk to follow God’s only son, Jesus Christ.