Friday, November 30, 2012

2 Corin 1: Bringing Comfort to Grieving Parents

Over the past few years, I have often returned to the wonderful promises and encouragement found in verses 3 through 7 of the first chapter of 2 Corinthians.   In it, the Apostle Paul writes,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV)

This little passage has at least three significant applications to those of us who are grieving the death of a child.

Praising God for His Mercies & Comfort
First, God provides all of the mercies and comfort we receive in the midst of our great suffering.  Paul’s first point is to bless God, even in the midst of the great suffering he has endured and which he describes later in the chapter.  How is Paul able to provide us with encouragement?  Because of Paul’s sure conviction that just as God allows suffering, all of the comfort we receive, in and through suffering, is from Him.  While God may use humans and human institutions to be the vehicle of comfort, the text is clear that God is the one responsible for orchestrating human interaction so as to bring comfort to those who are suffering.  Therefore, as we experience any comfort in our grief, in various forms  and times, we ought to have a spirit of thanksgiving towards God, the source of our comfort. 

The Promise of Purpose in Suffering
Second, we can live in the sure hope that God has a purpose behind our sufferings.  What a beautiful promise it is to those of us who have experienced tragedy that no suffering is wasted.   Suffering is not random or haphazard; God knows what type of suffering will be necessary, given our unique personalities and life circumstances, to change us into people that are more and more like him.   Paul’s hope in the Corinthian church was unshaken, given his knowledge that God would work great purposes through their sufferings. We, too, can take heart that suffering is in our lives will be experienced in such a manner, and to such a certain degree, so as to provide Himself as the means to assuage that suffering. 

The Comfort in Christian Community
Third, are called to experience both the comfort and the suffering in the context of our Christ-centered community. Paul tells us in verse 4 that God comforts us in our personal afflictions so that we can comfort others who are in any affliction.  In verse 6, Paul emphasizes that if any of us (“we”) are afflicted, or if any of us (“we”) receive comfort, it is for the benefit of the community. In other words, God’s purpose in providing us comfort is not merely to provide us comfort for our own personal grief, but it is to provide us with opportunities to pass along that comfort to others. For those of us grieving the death of a young child, and who call upon the name of the Lord as our source of strength, it should be clear to us that God’s comfort is not for us alone; it is for all those fellow grieving parents with whom we cross paths. 

If you have experienced significant suffering, such as the death of a child, I pray that you would trust God for using it for great purposes.  If you have experienced comfort, I pray that you would not just thank God for the provision of that comfort, but also look for ways to pass along that comfort to others. 



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday, Son

We love you and miss you!  Love, your parents and brothers.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Update at Micah's Fourth Birthday Celebration

Last Saturday, Heather and I hosted our annual chili lunch in honor of Micah's birthday.  (Micah will turn 4 years tomorrow, on the 30th). In each of the past 4 years, we have hosted an informal chili lunch with friends and family at Nokomis Community Center in Minneapolis.  As I have done in each of the past four years, I provided everyone with a brief update on what the Lord has been doing in our lives and through the ministry to which he has called us.
In December of 2009, Heather and I started a nonprofit called “the Micah Wessman Foundation.” The purpose of the foundation is to provide Christ-centered resources and practical assistance to parents who are grieving the death of an infant or young child. In October of last year, we launched a website called “Hope for the Mourning,” which provides Biblical teaching about suffering, infant salvation as well as how friends and family members can support parents grieving the death of a young child or infant. Among other resources, the webpage has a place for visitors to provide us with the contact information for parents who are grieving the death of a young child.
Since January 1 of this year, we have sent out a total of 47 care packages to 47 grieving families. These care packages typically include three books written from a Christian perspective, some additional resources, and in some cases, restaurant gift cards. While we learned of many of these grieving parents through word of mouth or obituary notices, many of these came to us through the website. In fact, we have sent care packages to India, England, and Trinidad. We have been able to correspond and interact with many of these grieving parents, especially those who live in the Twin Cities.  Several of the families who received care packages were at our chili lunch. 
Earlier this month, a group of 8 friends and family members agreed to become part of the “Hope for the Mourning” running team.  The 8 of us competed in the Twin Cities 10 Mile race.  Each of the 8 runners agreed to find sponsors from friends, family and coworkers to raise at least $500 for Hope for the Mourning. I’m pleased to report that we collectively did more than twice that; to date, we have received more than $8,500 in pledges. Many of you pledged amounts for Hope for the Mourning. We are so grateful for how you have allowed us to minister to other grieving parents. The average cost per care package is more than $100, and so we appreciate how you have helped us offset the significant costs associated with this care package ministry. 
Ultimately, however, the purpose of our getting together last Saturday is not about fundraising; it was not even about Hope for the Mourning or the Micah Wessman Foundation. It was about our son's birthday, and about celebrating the blessing of his short life, about sharing in the unbelievable grief and shock of his sudden death, and fellowshipping with our friends and family members who have provided us with so much support through these past 3-plus years. While we are so grateful and thankful for your support, we get together with our friends and family because we can't be physically present with our own son on his birthday.  How we wish things were different-- how we wish we could celebrate Micah's birthday with him, in person, in a more conventional fashion. Perhaps at a greasy pizza restaurant with cake, ice cream and birthday hats? How we miss our Micah.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bonhoeffer & The "Sweetness" of Death

Death seems everywhere these days.  A neighbor of ours, a mother with young children, is entering her last days in her battle with cancer.  Two sets of families from church lost adult children this week; two more families from church have sick infants on the brink of eternity.  So how should we view this event that, unless the Lord returns soon, is certain to occur to each and of us?  
 About death, Germon theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence.
Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up--that is for young and old alike alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death?...Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that is is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.
How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that it can transform death." Eric Metaxas, Bonhoffer, page 531.
It was faith that allowed Bonhoeffer to go calmly to Hitler's gallows in 1945.  Bonhoeffer was certain of what was to meet him on the "other side."  I pray that each of us would similarly strive to hold fast to the promises found in God's word so that, whether our illnesses are brief or extended, and whether we must endure our death or the deaths of loved ones, we would view the death of a Christian as "the mild, sweet & gentle" transition to eternity, where the currently unimaginable pleasures of God await those of us who are in Christ Jesus.   
Bonhoeffer, Metaxes, Page 531 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Too Much Grief?

Do we grieving parents make too big of a deal out of the deaths of our own children? Does God think that we grieve too much? Does our grief suggest that we have made idols out of our children?
God has created us so that, rather than being satisfied with lesser pleasures, our hearts will not experience real satisfaction until we experience God Himself. The Psalmist proclaims, "My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:5. But while we treasure God as our ultimate prize, we can enjoy the gifts that he gives, so long as that they are enjoyed as gifts from God, and not in competiton with Him. In a recent sermon, Bethlehem Seminary Professor Joe Rigney pointed out that we need not experience any "false guilt" for enjoying the gifts that God gives. Rigney cited Genesis 2:18, where God told Adam that he was going to make a helpmate for him, "because it is not good that the man should be alone." Even though God is Himself our ultimate satisfaction, God has deemed it good and right for us to enjoy the gifts he gives us here on earth, including marriage, children, family, friends, food, drink, sports, and other earthly endeavors. In enjoying any gift as a gift from God, we do not take away from our enjoyment and worship of God as our perfectly benevelent and omnipotent gift-giver; rather, such an attitude adds to our praise of God to the extent we recognize God's goodness in giving and our unworthiness in receiving.
C.S. Lewis once said, "Our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak." As grieving parents, if we try to minimize the paid of our own grief, we would have to ignore the very God-ordained affections built into our emotional and spiritual beings for our own children. More than that, we would cut off opportunities for the grace of God to fill the wounds of our life is we attempted to artificially limit the flow of grief coming from our own hearts. If we hold on to Christ, and to his promises, we need try to apologize or minimize our pain. There is no level of depth in grief that God's grace cannot rescue us from. The deeper the grief, the further down, and deeper in, God's love goes to reach us.
It has now been 3 years and 2 months since we lost Micah, and our grief extends to so many areas of our life. But God, who ordained for Micah's little life in the first place, doesn't want us to apologize or feel bad about our grief. Rather, he wants to salve the pain of grief in and through the various forms of grace he provides, so that we can stand amazed at the working of God, both in how He gave us our beautiful, precious oldest son, and in how He has comforted us since taking him away.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Birthday Gift

Heather and I are excited to let you know that we are expecting our fourth child who will, Lord willing, be born to us sometime in April of 2013.  Today, on my 36th birthday, Heather and I were able to see the heartbeat of our 4th child.  What a wonderful birthday gift! Following Micah's death, a friend prayed that we would see "the goodness of the Lord in the land of the Living.  (Psalm 27:13).  His prayer has been answered. With two living boys already in our home, we cannot express how very grateful we are for the Lord's provision for our (growing) family.  Please join us in thanking the good Lord for how He has blessed us. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gratefulness for the Past and Joy for the Future

"With all that has happened to me in my life, I feel very grateful."  These were the words of a recently-widowed client of mine as we discussed her own grief following the death of her husband.  She shared how she viewed the universe as just a random set of forces wrecking havoc in a haphazard manner.  Given all that could have happened in her life, given all the pain and suffering that exists in the universe, she lives life now with gratefulness because of how "lucky" she and her husband were, in the past, to have had the life they did together.  In other words, her future joy is based upon the gratefulness for past circumstances that, according to my client, were purely the result of fortuitous luck. 

Gratefulness is not a bad thing.  Of course, in my client's case, there is no one to be grateful to, given her view of the universe.  For those of us who out to follow Christ, we ought to be grateful for every blessing we have received from the creator and sustainer of the universe, the God from whom we receive all good things.

But unlike my grieving client who has only the past from which to derive joy, parents who are grieving in Christ need not be "stuck" only in the past. We can, and ought to, look to the future with joyful anticipation. Paul tells us in Philippians 3 that he was "...forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead... [to] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."  We grieve not as those who have no hope, but with the sure expectation that we will see our children again, in Heaven.  (1 Thess 4:13).  In Christ Jesus, we can focus our mind not on the past, but on the prize of Heaven, where Christ will have made all things new, even our precious little children.   

All of us will inevitably grieve the death of a loved one.  The question is, will we focus only on the past with them, or do we expect to have the future, too? In Christ, we can have both.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

A President's Loss: 47 Years Later

During World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as Allied Supreme Commander, in charge of the North African campaigns and the D-Day invasion.   After the war, Eisenhower went on to become the 34th President of the United States. Throughout his military and political career, Eisenhower commanded millions of lives and billions of dollars.  And yet nothing during any of those years compared to the grief he and his wife experienced with the death of his first son, "Icky." 
In a 1967 autobiography, Eisenhower recounts what he considers, "the greatest disaster and disappointment" of his life. It was not any military loss or political mistake; it was the unexpected and untimely death of his oldest son. In 1920, Eisenhower's three-year old son, "Icky," contracted scarlet fever and died suddenly.  Forty-seven years later, Eisenhower writes, "Today when I think of it, even now as I write it, the keenness of our loss comes back to me as fresh and as terrible as it was in that long dark day soon after Christmas, matter what activities and preoccupations there were, we could never forget the death of the boy." At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, p.181-182.
The more fellow grieving parents I meet, the more I come to believe the basic truth that the grief felt by parents at the death of their children will never go away.  No matter who we are now, or what our lives will become in the future, grieving parents are never the same.  Even if we wanted to "go back to normal" (an altogether different question), there is no way that, in burying your son or daughter, our lives could ever be the same.  As many fellow grieving parents have told us, the death of our child is, in some way, the death of our "old life," and we must begin another. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are we scary?

Especially the first few years after our son died, we got the sense that people were so afraid to say the wrong thing to us that they didn't say anything at all.  Rather than welcome us in, emotionally, people shut us out.  If you know a bereaved parent, please don't be afraid to reach out to them, even if you make mistakes. A fellow grieving parent, Jill Sullivan, has provided some excellent thoughts on how fellow church members can help bereaved parents:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Three Years

Three long years have passed
Since I last grasped
Your pudgy, soft hand in mine
For now, for the last time
Then, I had to let you go
O Son, how I wish it were not so
Even though you are just fine
In the loving care of Glory Divine.

Your earthly life was so short
That no else cared to report
That lost was Micah, my eldest son,
Just as life had begun

But how your mom and me
Miss you so unspeakably
The pain felt deep inside
No medication causes it to subside

Tell me, my son, can you throw a ball far?
I want to know, now, how you really are,
I don’t want to just pretend
But see your face, and my heart, mend
To laugh and read and run
To lay down each night
with the idea right
That our lives together had just begun
Some might call me a fool for my belief
That I will soon find relief
That our future is bright and grand
So wonderful, I can’t now understand
The joy in our future reunion
Will overpower every inkling
of present confusion
concerning peas, doctors and death,
It will be as if taking our first breath
Our hope is not in our past
But in the promises of Christ, we hold fast
To see you again when the trumpets sound
Oh, how joy at our reunion will abound
Even if we have to wait many years
Through many, many more tears

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Self-Absorbed in Grief

One of the central tenants of the Christian faith is the need for each one of us to repent; that is, to seek God’s forgiveness for our behavior. Jesus tells us, “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4. It may some harsh, but even those of us who have been deeply impacted by the death of a close loved one need to hear the call to repentance. 

Like many other grieving parents, I was guilty of being self-absorbed in my own grief. Throughout various periods since Micah died, I have focused so heavily on my own grief that I shut out most everything else from our attention. Everything else in life, whether God, marriage, family, work, or hobbies took a backseat to the pain that was driving my life. In his book, Hope for the Brokenhearted, theologian and fellow grieving father John Luke Terveen admits, “Pain had become the center of my existence, while God and his grace were all but excluded. The biggest obstacle that needed to be cleared away, preparing the way for the Lord to bring his grace and comfort, was my self-absorption.”

We cannot learn to trust in the promises of scripture if all we think about is our own pain. We cannot learn to learn wholly on God’s grace if are too busy trying to deal with our grief with our own strength. We, as grieving parents, need to recognize our need to move beyond ourselves and to turn our attention to the promises of God. Terveen writes, “It may seem a curious and inappropriate thing to say to someone feeling profound loss, but the call to repent—to turn to the Lord—is the important first step in experiencing a divine comfort that begins the healing process.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Using Past Blessings to Overcome Present Sufferings

What if we felt like we never “tasted” the goodness of God? What if all we know in life is complete suffering and abject depravity? How do we respond when all we can’t see any good in life?

In the movie, the Grey, the main character, John Ottway, played by Liam Neeson, has endured trial after trial. After we are told that his wife has left him, and that he has even tried to commit suicide, the plane he is traveling on in the arctic crashes into the tundra. Throughout the movie, all of the rest of those who had survived the plane crash die by various causes: starvation, drowning, hypothermia, or at the jaws of a pack of wild wolves. At the climax of the movie, Ottway sits alone in the wilderness, pleading for God to show him a sign---anything to prove that God is real, that God cares about him, and that God will save him from this predicament. Following a few moments of silence, Ottway states matter-of-factly, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

As the title of the movie suggests, Ottway could not see the brightness of the blessings of God anywhere. Everything about this particular movie is colored by a grey despondency. For so many of us, the accumulation of a seemingly unending line of personal sufferings, events without any readily apparent redeeming values, beats one’s attitude into despondency. As a result, we feel like we have no hope for help from Heaven, and that we must, like Ottway, “do it ourselves.”

In contrast to Ottway’s mentality in suffering is the example of King David. While King David experienced numerous and multiple different types of sufferings, he did not live in “the grey” of a Godless despondency. Even in his most difficult days, he trusted in a good and sovereign (all-powerful) God who He knew was using David’s sufferings for greater purposes.

In Psalm 63, David writes, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, As in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because you steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Psalm 63:1-3.

The difference between David and Ottway was not that David endured less significant trials. What kept David’s faith alive through difficult days was a reflection upon all that God had done for him in the past and to trust that God would similarly use the present sufferings for his ultimate good. David saw the past blessings provided to him as a demonstration that God loved him. This promise was, in itself, more precious to David than even his own earthly life. David’s reflections upon certain past blessings (his time “in the sanctuary”) keep him going through difficult days. For us, it can be the memory of past experiences, when we are walking along the mountaintops of life, in the sunshine with God, that could maintain our faith in a good and sovereign God even through the dark valleys of life. If we were to continually remind ourselves of these past experiences of God in our life, resulting in blessings to us both large and small, then we should be able to keep praises of God “continually on our mouths.” (Psalm 34:1). Then, when nothing seems to be going right in life, we can bring these blessings to mind, and use them as footholds of faith when we otherwise can’t see the benefits of suffering.

Both of Ottway and King David have, like many of us, experienced forms of suffering that, at the time, appeared to have no redeeming value. The key question for us is whether we will respond by succumbing to the “do it yourself” mentality of fighting through suffering without God (i.e., “in the grey,” ) or using past blessings from God as evidence that God is loving and powerful, and in so doing, living in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Busyness & Significance

In Psalm 39, David prays, “O Lord, make me know my end And what is the measure of my days; Let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, And my lifetime is as nothing before you Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Sure a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; Man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” Psalm 39:4-6.

If you are like me, you busy yourself with all sorts of activities. But how much of it will survive? Of all the things we worry about today, and we will worry about tomorrow, how many of them will be discussed at our funeral? Chances are, none of the things that I worried about today, or you gave considerable attention to, will even cross the minds of those in attendance at our respective funerals. When we say goodbye to a loved one, we grieve the loss of their friendship, companionship and those God-given traits that make them unique. Ultimately, however, we love those closest to us not for the attributes that fill the obituary sections of the newspapers, but simply because of the nature of their relationship to us.

On the day when we laid our son Micah’s body to rest in the grave, we were provided a wreath to lay across his little casket. The wreath simply read, “Son.” In a word, that is what Micah is to Heather and me, and why we grieve, even now. Whether our children or other loved ones live 8 days or 80 years, the pain at their departure is the same because of their relationship to us. While our loved ones may have achieved varying degrees of worldly successes, that is not why we love them. We love them because they are, simply, “Son” or “Daughter;” “Wife” or “Husband;” “Dad” or “Mom.” Similarly, as we think about the eternal destiny of those who have died knowing God through Christ, we know that our loved ones are not saved by reason of any human achievement. They are saved because of what Jesus did on the cross, as a free gift to us, not because they deserved it in any way. In saving us who believe by His blood, I think of Jesus as symbolically laying a wreath across their lives, a wreath that reads simply “Child of God.”

Our eternal significance is not based upon the quantity of goods we leave behind, nor about our list of achievements. Ultimately, what will be significant about our lives, in eternal terms, is nothing we can accomplish on our own during our brief earthly lifespan, regardless of how busy we try to keep ourselves. Just as my son Micah’s significance to me has nothing to do with the brevity of his earthly lifetime, so our significance in God’s sight has nothing to do with our achievement, and everything to do with Jesus.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dying Young

What is the worst tragedy that could happen to a human? Is it dying young, or is there something worse that could happen? In his book, “Screwtape Letters,” author C.S. Lewis creates fictional correspondence between two devils: a senior, more experienced evil spirit named Screwtape; and his young, inexperienced understudy named Wormwood. In Screwtape’s “Letter No. 28,” Screwtape lays out for Wormwood why it is better, from the devil’s point of view, that humans be “kept safe” and be allowed to live as long as possible. According to Screwtape, middle age is an ideal time for temptation because a human might succumb to temptation through one of two forms: through despair, by reason of one’s self-determined failure; or comfort, if a man or woman achieves worldly success. With regard to the later temptation, Lewis says “…prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is “finding his place in it,” when really it is finding its place in him….You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.” Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 143. Had Micah lived a full life, would he have succumbed to the temptation to despair by reason of unfilled dreams? Or would he have been, in Lewis’s words, “knit to the world” because of worldly success? As much as we miss Micah in our home, we know that he is without the daily disappointments that accompany living on earth. Micah has been released from the thousands of heartaches, temptations and maladies he would have otherwise experienced on a daily basis had he lived a “full” life on earth. Instead, we are certain that Micah suffers no lack of joy now, in His presence. The Psalmist proclaims, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11. One of the blessings of Micah’s unexpected death has been the recurring emphasis to make Micah’s current joy my own joy. In other words, since Micah’s death has in no way diminished his opportunity to make the greatest possible joy (God) his own, we must seek to avoid the temptation to “make ourselves at home in the world” and instead do what we must in order to make God our greatest joy. The worst tragedy is not dying young; it is losing sight of Jesus, one’s greatest possible joy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Giving our Children to the Lord

This past Sunday, Heather and I were blessed with the opportunity to dedicate our third son, Brendan, during our church’s child dedication service. Just as we had done with Micah and Owen, we committed to raise Brendan to know and treasure Jesus Christ above all else. Among other words of dedication, we stated that we would “…release all worldly claims upon Brendan’s life, in the hope that Brendan would belong wholly to God forever.” These words have become so meaningful to us, having been spoken by Pastor Kenny twice over Micah (once at his dedication, once as we removed Micah’s life support and he died) and now once over each of our two living children. In reading the book of 1 Samuel recently, I had occasion to reflect upon the act of dedicating our children to God. In the first chapter of 1 Samuel, we are told that Hannah, despite her strong desire to have children, was not able to do so. Hannah vowed that if the Lord chose to provide her a son, she would “give” the child to the Lord. Once Hannah received the gift of a son, Samuel, she fulfilled her earlier vow. Once she had weaned Samuel, she brought him to the temple, and gave him in service to the high priest Eli, “so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” (1 Samuel 1:22) We shouldn’t be surprised that the Lord looked favorably upon Hannah and Samuel. While his mother Hannah had three more sons and two daughters (1 Sam 2:21) we are told that Samuel himself “continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and also with man.” (1 Sam 2:26). In Hannah’s case, she understood that she received the gift of Samuel only because God had chosen to answer her prayers. She had no “worldly claims” upon Samuel’s life. In fact, whether we dedicate our children or not, and whether we believe it or not, all of our children belong to the Lord. Having lost Micah like we did, we have an acute awareness of how fragile life is and how our children’s lives are truly in the Lord’s hands, to do with as He wills. Do we truly believe that, or are we exerting “worldly claims” upon the lives of our children? As in Hannah’s case, when we dedicate our children to the Lord, it is not as if we are sacrificing our child’s best interests to a lesser objective. Samuel had a tremendous influence on the history of Israel, all stemming from Hannah’s dedication. In dedicating our children to the Lord, our child’s best interests, and the Glory of God, are one and the same.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

8 Months and 28 Days

Today we passed another milestone of sorts. Just as we have seen our second son, Owen, outlive his older brother Micah, so also our youngest, Brendan, has now lived longer on earth than his oldest brother. Today, May 6th, Brendan turns 8 month and 28 days, the exact age that Micah was when he died. A few weeks ago, I spent about two late-night hours holding Brendan, who was sick and not able to sleep. Perhaps because of this upcoming milestone, I felt blessed that night just to hold him close, listen to his voice, and compare him with his oldest brother. They look so much the same: the wide grin, the blue eyes, the near-white blonde hair. They are both gentle in spirit, pleased to just giggle and take all of life in. Our earthly lifetimes are certainly too short of a timeframe to begin to understand all of the possible ramifications of each of our lives, including Micah’s. But I am increasingly certain of one implication, to me personally, of Micah’s death. I am so grateful, and so appreciative to God, for every waking moment with our two younger boys. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4. Who are we to receive these blessings from God? Everything is grace. Nothing is deserved. Everything is extra. Nothing is owed to me. Will you give your living kids an extra hug, knowing what an extra privilege you have to parent living children?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What is that to you?

At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus predicts that Peter will ultimately be crucified because of his willingness to follow Jesus’ call. Jesus remarks that “…when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will…carry you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18. Upon receiving what must have been very unwelcome news, Peter asks Jesus about the fate of his fellow disciple, John. Jesus responds, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:22. Peter abided by his master’s direction to follow Him, at whatever the cost. Christian tradition has it that Peter was ultimately crucified, upside down, for his faith. In contrast to Peter, John lived a long earthly life. This exchange between Peter and Jesus is noteworthy not only for the fact that Jesus was predicting two very different “callings” for two of his closest disciples, but also Jesus’ lack of explanation for these two different callings. Why wasn’t Peter allowed a longer earthly life, during which time Peter could have provided leadership to the church? Why was Peter’s life shortened by a brutal martyr’s death? Why wasn’t it John, rather than Peter, who was executed? Heather and I have sometimes envied other families who have their entire family intact. Why can’t we be like them? Why have we been “called” to be a family with a missing member? In his book, “The Call,” Os Guiness encourages us to discern the nature of our life’s calling from deep-seated desires that, if left unchecked, result in envy. He writes, “Envy will not embrace what is fate-given, chance-given, or God-given.” According to Guiness, envy is “essentially profane,” and that if we are guilty of envy, our grudge is “not ultimately against the person whom we envy, but against God.” In order to avoid developing a “grudge against God” through envy, it seems imperative to keep Biblical truth in focus. Do we think that God exists to serve us—to make our life “fair,” to serve our every whim and desire, even misplaced ones? Or, do we exist to bring Glory to God, for the ultimate good of ourselves and our fellow believers? Is life all about an egalitarian sense of fairness in accomplishment and consumption, or about something more? For Heather and me, it seems that in order avoid the unhappiness that accompanies envy, we have to avoid focusing “horizontally” on those families around us that have I all of their members intact, and to focus “vertically” on our God and His great promises in Christ Jesus. I hear Jesus telling us, “What is that to you that I have granted other families the opportunity to live together for a longer period of time? Have I not blessed you, Cory and Heather, with every spiritual blessing, justified each of you and Micah freely by grace through my blood shed on the cross, and promised you eternal salvation?” Are not these promises sufficient for you? Is this not a wonderful calling, sufficient for a lifetime of grateful adoration of Me?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Looking for the Living Among the Dead

On Easter morning, when the women went to Jesus' tomb, they found it empty. The angel asked them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen..." Luke 24:5-6.

Yesterday, Heather and I and our two younger boys visited Micah's grave. We want our two living boys to eventually understand that while their oldest brother is deceased, they can share with us our hope of seeing him again, through the Resurrection of Jesus. In fact, it is only because of the Resurrection can we go to the cemetery, remember Micah, and wait for the Second Coming of Jesus. Just as Jesus was not to be found among the dead, so also our little son is not to be found among the dead. He is more alive, now, then He ever was. On this Easter morning, we rejoice together, with all the saints, as we thank Jesus for what He has done for us and for Micah.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Receiving an Invitation to Enter Into Grief

Before we lost Micah, I was under numerous misconceptions about how we ought to support those in grief. One of these was a misunderstanding about how to best support those in grief in the context of everyday conversation. I incorrectly assumed that any reference to the deceased would trigger certain memories or emotions that he or she had not previously experienced. In reality, a grieving person could tell you that you cannot harm them by discussing the deceased. A grieving person does not “pack away” memories of the deceased into the attic of the mind, and then only bring out these memories when someone else refers to the deceased. Anyone grieving the death of a loved one will tell you that thoughts of their loved one are nearly constantly on their mind.

In our case, we have found that, when a friend or family member is kind enough to converse about Micah, the conversation brings a flood of emotions, not because we have not already been grieving inwardly, but because the conversation provides an outlet to share these emotions. Rather than resulting in unwelcome emotions, sharing memories with us provides us with a welcomed outlet for our emotion.

According to our mentors Pat and Judy Misener, it is incumbent upon us, as the grieving parents, to grant others “permission” to enter into grief. In other words, because friends and family members don’t realize that it actually benefits us to talk about our deceased child, we need to invite them to do so. Whether we initiate conversations surrounding Micah, or even create new traditions or activities to remember Micah, it is good and healthy for us to “invite” others to grieve along with us.

If you know a grieving parent, I encourage you to accept any invitation offered to you to enter into their grief by conversing with them about the deceased loved one.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Micah's Age in Heaven

In the last scene of the movie, “Tree of Life,” the main characters are shown walking together through the ocean surf in front of a beautiful sunset. The movie follows a family of five (three sons—just like ours) through various times of life. While the disjointed plot of the movie does not provide us with many of the details, we do learn at one point that one of the boys had died unexpectedly. This final scene of the movie, in which all three of the boys are pictured together with their parents, provides a moving image for us, as we await our great reunion in Heaven.

Of particular interest in this final scene was the fact that the deceased son was pictured as a young boy, and not as an adult, like the other two sons who reached adulthood. Instead, he is shown to us as he was portrayed earlier in the movie--at about 7 to 10 years old. For these parents, they enjoyed not only a joyful reunion with their sons, but were reunited with their long-deceased child according to how they, as parents, last remembered him.

As grieving parents, Heather and I have often wondered how old Micah will appear to us when we see him again in Heaven. Will he be 9 months, or will he have grown older in the interim, just as we have grown older here on earth? Like other grieving parents we speak with, it is our hope that we might be able to see our son as he appeared to us, so that we might be able to not only enjoy our son’s presence again, but enjoy the very process of seeing him “grow up.”

I was surprised to learn that many Christian theologians down through the centuries have asked the question of how old we will appear to be in Heaven. Thomas Aquinas, for example, argued that regardless of our age when we die here on earth, we will all be about 33 years of age in Heaven—about the age of Jesus when we was crucified and resurrected. The theory is that, since this is the age when most humans reach a peak of physical strength, but before the human body starts to degenerate, then this is the age we will all be, as pictures of perfection. According to contemporary author Hank Hanegraaf, “If the blueprints for our glorified bodies are in the DNA, then it would stand to reason that our bodies will be resurrected at the optimal stage of development determined by our DNA.”

Others suggest that the New Earth will be filled with people of all different ages. For example, in Isaiah 11:6-9 we are told that, in the New Earth, “…the infants will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest…” If infants are going to play next to cobras and vipers in the New Earth, then not everyone can be 33 years of age! Instead, grieving parents might have the opportunity to parent their children through those years that they thought they had lost with them here on earth.

I’ve decided that it is OK for us to consider how we will see Micah again on that wonderful day. While we don’t know for certain how Micah will appear to us, we can be certain that God will reveal Micah to us in a way that will give us the most joy and God the most glory. For many children, Christmas is so enjoyable because, regardless of what they receive as gifts, they know that they will not be disappointed. Similarly, we as believers can look forward to Heaven, because while we might not know what Heaven will be like, we know we won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Heart Laid Bare to God

In his book, Hope for the Brokenhearted, theologian John Luke Terveen writes about how U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt faced his grief following the death of his first wife. Roosevelt, the great politician who was never short on words, wrote in his diary the day of his wife’s death that, “All of the light has gone out of my life.” John Luke Terveen, Hope for the Brokenhearted, 61. And yet, after a short time of grieving, Roosevelt never mentioned his first wife again. Several years later, when a friend of Roosevelt’s also suffered loss, Roosevelt simply counseled the friend to “put it out of your mind and never mention it again.” Terveen, 61.

Rather than following Roosevelt’s example in grief, Terveen suggests that we follow the example of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah lays out his heart in brutal honesty to God as he laments the condition of Israel. At the time of Jeremiah’s “lament,” the nation of Israel has been subjected to the humiliation of the rule of the Babylonians, a nation that does not honor God. Throughout the book of Lamentations, it is clear that Jeremiah’s attitude is not that the Israelites should just “grin and bear it.” Rather than trying to minimize the pain, or “make the best of a bad situation,” Jeremiah calls the nation into a state of mourning. Jeremiah tells Israel to “…let your tears flow like a river day and night…” and “…pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord…” Lamentations 2:18-19.

Terveen, a theologian and a fellow grieving father, writes that Jeremiah wants us “…to learn the lessons of grief by remembering our sorrow with unflinching honesty within the embrace of an understanding Father God.” Terveen, 62. Thankfully, Lamentations shows that we and other grieving parents need not “stuff” our grief. It cannot be healthy for us, or honoring to Micah, to pretend that Micah never existed or that we should just simply “get over” our grief. Even when the newness of the tragedy has worn off for those around us, we still have an understanding Father who has not forgotten and can bring great comfort in the midst of our heartache.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

God's Ways and Ours

In Isaiah 55:8-9, God compares the nature of His thoughts to ours.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (ESV)

In his book, “Be a Circle Maker,” Pastor Mark Batterson discusses the size of the universe--the distance between the heavens and the earth. In one day, light travels 160 billion miles. In one year, light travels 5 trillion, 865 billion, 696 million miles. And yet, even at these incredible speeds, it would take light 15.5 billion years to travel to the edge of our universe.

The size of the universe is difficult to comprehend. And yet God uses the size of the universe as an analogy to how much greater his wisdom and power are in comparison to ours. Not only can I not begin to comprehend the nature and extent of all of God’s ways in our own lives, but I cannot even begin to comprehend how much superior his ways are to mine.

In light of this gap, we have reason for hope. We can trust that, when life circumstances appear to be a nightmare, or when there appears to be no redeeming value to a life failure, that God’s ways are greater than ours, and that he will ultimately redeem our sufferings. Grieving parents can live in the hope that our children did not die because God could not save them or, if he could, that he chose not to because he does not love us. Instead, we can live in the hope that our God, whose ways we cannot hope to completely “trace out,” has ordained our child’s passing for our ultimate good and the good of our children.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


"I have sometimes thought that we cannot know any man thoroughly well while he is in perfect health. As the ebb-tide discloses the real lines of the shore and the bed of the sea, so feebleness, sickness, and pain bring out the real character of a man." President James Garfield.

One of the ways that God uses unspeakable suffering is to make us more like Him. But like skipping through the middle part of a book and reading the end of the book first in order to find out how it ends, we are being unrealistic if we gloss over the reality of what it means to be “sanctified” (that is, made more like Jesus Christ).

It’s a startling, humbling discovery when you pull back the veil around your heart and you have occasion to see the full extent of your own selfishness and sin that resides deep inside. The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9. While it is true for all of us, it seems that for me and for a few other grieving parents I know, deep grief has a way of accentuating each and every imperfection in our life. Those who know me best know that, even before Micah died, I could be impatient, selfish, short-sighted, and easily angered. Now, with Micah's death, each of these undesirable traits seem to have been magnified. Rather than becoming more patient, I found that in my grief I had grown less patient; rather than extending grace to those around me, I found that I could feel the anger boiling up inside of me at a moment’s notice. My imperfections previously seemed like small ant hills to climb; now, they now appear before me like the Himalayas.

The Apostle Paul , the man whom God handpicked to lead the early church, is not shy to disclose the ugliness that he sees residing in his own heart. He naturally follows the law of sin that dwells within him. He even calls himself a “wretched man” for his innate sinfulness. Romans 7:24. Regardless of the way we view our own morality, the Bible teaches that none of us are good enough, on our own, to make it to God on our own. For each of us, our moral imperfections keep us from God. That is, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:24.

In light of this moral ineptitude, how much sense does it make to “turn inward” in order to address the obvious ugliness that springs from within? In researching the options generally available to grieving parents following the death of a child, so many resources are premised upon the idea of finding the answer “within ourselves.” But my experience, coupled with clear Biblical teaching, shows that it is illogical for us to turn to our own hearts to find hope in our grief and to address obvious personal shortcomings. The answer is not found within ourselves. When we have a greater awareness of our own moral separateness from God, we have no choice but to fall upon God for his grace and his mercy.

God, in his mercy, provided His Son, Jesus Christ, as an answer to our ugliness. Paul writes in the 8th chapter of Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” If you know me, you have extended grace towards me and put up with a lot of ugliness since Micah died. Similarly, if you know another grieving parent, you might need to be ready for some additional ugliness in their lives. But, by God’s grace, none of us are left alone in this ugliness of our own making. Let’s praise God for how, in spite of our moral imperfections, and the ugliness that has been apparent to God even when not apparent to us, He came to earth to save you and me from an eternity stuck in our own ugliness.