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.