He Is God Through It All

Dear Friends:

I know I’ve been quiet lately. I tried to write. Wanted to write. Promised myself I would write. But a month passed, and I didn’t (at least not for public eyes). As I expressed in my March 6 post, “Unnamed River,” I’m grieving a loss. A strange mixture of emotions runs through my veins, constricting my throat if my thoughts linger too long in one place. So, I’ve kept myself busy, busy, busy with everything…everything but writing.

As I celebrate my first Mother’s Day as the mother of teenagers who aren’t yet mine, and lay to rest my dream of being a biological mommy, I’ve been extra sensitive to grieving hearts all around me. The image you see above, I shot with my iphone through the windshield of my van as I witnessed the raw grief of a young mother kneeling in the fresh soil of her baby girl’s grave.

The story you will read below, I heard from the lips of a dear friend who feels betrayed by her mother’s death and wondered aloud, “Who is left to daily call my name in prayer? Our great prayer matriarch has passed.”

Whatever YOUR heart holds this Mother’s Day, whether it be joy or sorrow, promise or pain, there is ONE who holds you through it all. May you, like Bridget, discover the gift of Jesus and the hope of heaven.

Hopeful Mothers’ Day.

Juliet

“For the LORD will comfort __________________(place your name right here),

He will comfort all her waste places;

He will make her wilderness like Eden,

And her desert like the garden of the LORD;

Joy and gladness will be found in it,

Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

Isaiah 51:3 NKJV

~~~

 He is God Through It All

 Anxiously I drive home to see Mom —to spend time with her, laughing, talking, or just sitting in silence. As I reflect on everything I want to share with her, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and news of her great grandson (who has grown so much since she last saw him), my excitement grows. I contemplate this reunion, anticipating the memories to be made.

We arrive in town. “Where to?” my husband asks, just as he always does when we go home. To Mom’s house, of course! That’s my first thought. Reality makes me say, “to your father’s house.” We visit with the in-laws then drive to my sister’s home, where we’ll spend the weekend. The evening is fun, full of laughter, chatter, and joy as we watch our busy grandson just being himself.

Saturday wakes me to a quiet house for uninterrupted devotional time in the stillness of the morning. I talk with God about the strength, comfort and peace I need this weekend. I want to go to church, so afterwards I can see Mom. My heart dances as I once again remember our together times. When I’m in my hometown, I look forward Saturday afternoon family time at Mom’s house with my siblings and their families.

Finally, the time arrives when I can see her. Anticipation overwhelms me. But wait…this time is different. She is not at home, or at a sibling’s house, or in the hospital, as she has been so often lately. She is at church, but not seated on a pew. She’s… she’s in a box.

Is this a…casket? Why is she in a casket? No happy expression on her face. No joyous greeting on her lips. Instead, there she lays —lifeless. Then reality hits me. There will be no more laughter. No long, long talks. No more happy moments together. My mom is…dead.

I am breathless. Suffocating. Please someone take this bag off my head so I can breathe. Take this dagger out of my heart so the pain will stop. The weight on my chest feels so heavy, I wonder if I’ll survive. There is no way I can ever make it through this. I still grieve the loss of my father. Just eleven months ago I said goodbye to him. Surely I cannot be asked to grieve for my mother so soon. Lord, this can’t be real. You can’t possibly ask this of me….not now, not today.

This is reality. There is no way around it. No way to avoid it, or forget it. I am asked to face what seems impossible. My heart aches. My mind is confused. I am all at once sad and numb and angry and indifferent. How will I survive this? How?

The days to follow are filled with sadness and pain. Mornings are hard to face and evenings —lifeless and tear-filled. I feel as if someone has removed my oxygen supply and left me to breathe without it. Continuing with life seems impossible. In my mind I know I need to. I have to. But my heart isn’t sure if I want to. I don’t know how. Consumed by pain, I lose track of time, of life. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months. Sadness moves into pain, pain into anger; anger into hopelessness, hopelessness into…

No good can come from Mom’s death, I think.

Then I remember her LIFE:

  • the FAITH she had in GOD
  • the STRENGTH she drew from HIM
  • the PROMISES she held on to
  • the BELIEF that HE would see her through
  • the COMFORT she found in her RELATIONSHIP with HIM.

All these are things she taught me. Why can’t I find comfort in them?

I recall seeing mom at the dawn of each day and again in the evening hours —spending time in prayer and Bible study, surrendering to God, choosing to be in a relationship Him. I realize if I am to survive, I MUST do the same.

My mom gave me two important gifts. In life, she gave me the gift of Jesus Christ. She introduced me to Him, taught me from His Word and modeled leaning and depending on Him. In death, she gave me the peace of mind of knowing she is resting in Jesus. She knew Him as her Friend. This brings me comfort and hope that I, too can rest in Him and be reunited with her when Christ returns to take His people home.

~Weeks Later~

Am I over my mother’s death? Not in the least. I haven’t fully grieved. I still cry every night. I still long to talk with her, to see her. My heart still aches to the point of physical pain. Sometimes I forget the things she taught me because I allow the pain of loss to overwhelm me. There are other times when I realize something is added to my pain: the COMFORT of GOD’S PRESENCE. Sometimes I even allow Him to hug me. This closeness with God helps me survive the grieving process.

I look forward to spending eternity in heaven, with God and with my mom. I strive to walk in Mom’s footsteps by living a life of total surrender, love, and obedience. I meditate daily on His Word. I seek Him in prayer just like Mom taught me. I am not past the loss yet, but as I grieve, I daily choose to trust and serve the Lord.

If you are grieving a loss, I encourage you to make the choice to also trust and serve the Lord in the midst of your sorrow, disappointment, hurt and pain. In making that decision, you will find the comfort of a loving Savior, and the joy of serving Him. God promised in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

In the words of Colton Dixon, “You Have Been My God Through All Of It.”

Growing through pain,

Bridget

bridget1

Bridget is a mother, grandmother and beloved educator. She serves faithfully as Head Elder of her church. She writes from Orange Park, Florida.

 

Unnamed River

“When was your last period?”

The back of her lab coat is a canvas. I paint the word picture I think she wants to hear.

“Last month-ish,” I respond.

When was my last period? I can’t remember. I don’t know. I’m sure it was sometime around the holidays.

I sit still, trying not to crinkle the white paper strip that keeps the exam table sterile. Trying not to think too hard about the fact that I really shouldn’t count that pathetic spotting as a “period.” I haven’t purchased feminine products in months —maybe a year.

This routine physical will provide one more piece of paper to add to a bulging green folder with “Adoption Paperwork” inked on the tab. One more piece of the puzzle that is our dossier (pronounced dos-ee-ey) “a collection or file of documents on the same subject, especially a complete file containing detailed information about a person or topic.” Yeah, I looked that up on Dictionary.com. Never heard the term before “The Boys” entered our world.

Those boys, dropped on Honey and me like two teenage time bombs. Boys on the cusp of manhood yet trapped in the emotional stages of their earliest trauma. Boys who didn’t ask to have addiction rip their families apart at tender ages or for institutions to rear them and release them into the world as adults when they are really only children with man-sized feet. Boys who begged us with their eyes to let them join our family as we hugged them goodbye after a fun-filled summer. The ones who tried our last nerve and turned our orderly grown-up world, topsy-turvy. The very ones who taught us to love two strangers who didn’t even speak our language or know our Jesus. Those boys.

Just as I emerged from last winter’s fog of denial about the true age of my uterus and began to grieve the death of my dream to birth a baby, we got that phone call about summer orphan hosting. Prayers I hadn’t yet prayed were answered as Honey and I navigated life as surrogate summer parents. I didn’t expect to choose love. I thought we were doing a favor for a friend. I thought hello and goodbye would just be words we would say at the beginning and end of a two month time period. I never knew they would birth emotions that would steal my breath and fill my heart so full of joy and pain and hope and fear and all the things a mother must feel when she realizes a young life depends upon her to make an eternal difference in his world.

So now my mama dream is nearly reality. In a few weeks Honey and I will board a Ukraine plane and go to court in a foreign country. Overnight we will become a family of four without ever needing diapers, bottles or car seats. We will bypass the “terrible twos,” and the preschool blues. No first day of kindergarten, tooth fairy nights or middle school fights. We will enter parenthood at the age many of our peers celebrate grandkids. No onramp. Our kids will enter our world with their palms out for the car keys and their eyes on some cute girl across the aisle. Our lives will never be the same. Ever. And that’s okay.

I should be thrilled. And I am.

(You know there’s a “but” coming, right?) Yeah…It’s a “but” I’ve been thinking about lately. A “but” I’ve been trying to put into words for the past three weeks as I’ve tried and failed to finish this post. For a writer who loves to find the perfect words, I’m at a loss. Some unnamed rivers run deeper than mere words can convey.

Something happened today to help me name my river. I held a young mama as she burst at the seams and burst into tears. Her body cradles a baby boy about to be born and her heart grieves the baby girl she buried just one month and one day ago. Her amber eyes bore both joy and pain as she spoke her children’s names. I felt her anguish filling my car as we drove to the place she calls home. Life and death are the cocktail mix she’s been forced to sip for the past few weeks.

Words again eluded me as she whispered the details of her story. I listened. Fumbled for something, anything to say to take the edge off her pain. I prayed. I walked her to her door and hugged her goodbye. Then I wept on my way home.

How, God, do we live in this world where the joys and sorrows are simultaneous? Where the absolute agony of one person’s loss sits sandwiched between two Facebook memes and we scroll right past in search of a post we can “like” or “share? How do we hold our heads up when our hearts are bowed down with unnamed grief? And how do we celebrate the lives we have when our souls ache for the lives we’ve lost? Or the lives our wombs cannot form and cannot hold?

I pondered my prayer, remembering my friend whose father’s death day came on her own February birthday, and the one who quietly mourned her second miscarriage last week. And the lady I prayed with yesterday, whose face, half-eaten with cancer, is so marred I can barely recognize her smile beneath the remains of her nose and oozing eye socket.

No funerals are held for the death of dreams. No sympathy cards or flowers sent. No stones to mark the site where we lay that grief to rest. We quietly breathe in and exhale the pain of those dark days when hope is our only light.

Our river may be the sister whose addiction keeps her from being “auntie” to our babies, the father who cannot stay sober long enough to truly celebrate his daughter’s wedding, or the brother doing time for hanging out with the wrong crowd. We think of the new mother who discovers her husband’s pornography addiction and the momma who labors hard only to have her babies placed up for adoption because she chooses a “better life” for them. We love deeply and walk in compassion for those who hurt alongside us in this world, though they may never know that inner ache we carry.

There is Someone, though, who knows my unnamed river. And yours. One who walks through the searing fire with us. One who is never a spectator to our pain, but a participant in our suffering.

I love The Living Bible’s version of Isaiah 63:9:

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and he personally saved them. In his love and pity he redeemed them and lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

Place your name where the pronouns are. Personalize these words and say them aloud. Make it present tense. Make it real. “In all _______________________’s affliction, God is afflicted, and He personally saves me. In His love and pity, he redeems ________________________________ and will carry _________________________through all the years.”

This is how our Jesus loves us. He feels everything we feel. He is walking through this with us, carrying us when the river gets too deep. I can tell Him how my heart grieves the death of my dream even as I accept His gift of two beautiful sons who will redeem those dreams I thought were lost. His healing love will flow through me to my boys and to my husband and I will move forward in faith toward the life God has planned for me.

Will you do the same with your river of pain?

I’d love to hear from you, dear reader. Please comment below, or email me at info@julietvanheerden.com. Something tells me this post will resonate with some of you. Let’s connect. Pray. Celebrate hope together.

Here’s a link to the lyrics of one of my favorite worship songs: I Am Not Alone

Kari Jobe ~ sharing this song Live.

She Was Kind. She Was Smart. She Was Important.

John 13,35We are gathered here today to remember our dear friend, Eula…” My husband stands before a crowded congregation in his best black suit. A Kleenex box makes its way down the aisle behind me as reality strikes a somber chord with another family member.

An hour later, I am not the only one smiling through tears as Eula’s positive impact on our loosely knit community is realized. One after another, folks stand up to share fond memories of the thin woman with the longest, strongest hugs. Bear hugs. Sneak-up-behind-and-scare-you hugs. Neck hugs. Squeeze-the-daylights-out-of-you hugs. Messy hugs that mussed our hair and rearranged our breakfasts.

“I thought I was the only one she hugged like that.”

“I thought it was only me she quizzed when I missed a week of church.”

“She was my friend.”

Over and over, we hear similar words from people of all ages and walks of life. She was no respecter of persons. Her hugs were freely given to all, with no expectation of anything in return.

“She will be missed.”

“I’m going to miss her.”

“Church won’t be the same without her.”

“I’m gonna miss those hugs.”

Eula was a simple woman. A childhood fall from a tree house affected her for life. That didn’t stop her love or lesson her impact. What she could do, she did with all her might. She could smile. She could hug. She could remember who was absent from church for a week or two and make it a point to ask them about it and let them know they were missed.

“I’m guilty,” I said, standing before the gathering at her memorial service. “I’m often guilty of being task-oriented rather than people-oriented. I’m usually on some kind of mission, too busy to take the time to hug everyone I see. Eula didn’t have that problem. We were her mission.”

My Honey and I limped home after that service, our toes smarting from being stepped on by a woman who took her last step (and her last breath) last Monday.

“Now I know who the real pastor of this church was. It hasn’t been me. It’s been Eula.” He smiled as he spoke those words. “She has been busy loving the people, while I’ve been tending to all the tasks that hit me as soon as I walk onto our campus.”

What if we were all a little more like Eula, taking time to notice one another? Taking time to hug a person, to miss someone when they aren’t around, and to let them know that we missed them?

Each of us leaves a footprint on this planet. We leave footprints on the lives around us. Are we stomping through life with cleats on, leaving scars on the turf of someone’s purple Heelsspirit? Are we zipping around so fast in our running shoes that we don’t have time to pause for the people around us? Are we high-heeling our way through our days, walking too tall to stoop into someone else’s valley?

Eula was a penny loafer Christian – sturdy, practical, dependable. She made each one feel as if we were the only one. She was never too busy, too preoccupied, too self-absorbed or too needy to notice someone else. You could find her anywhere. Or she would find you. And hug you. And miss you. And let you know you were important.

That reminds me of my favorite lines from Tate Taylor’s 2011 film The Help, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Yes, that’s how Eula made us all feel. I have a hunch that’s what she will hear her heavenly Father say, right along with “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done.”

I’m going to miss Eula. But I know that I will see her again. I will hug her in heaven. If I’m not there, she will wonder why. She will miss me. Jesus, let it not be because I was too busy to love.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:35 (KJV)

Mustard Seeds & Mountains

Last night I said good-bye to my neighbor for the last time. I hadn’t wanted to go to Haven Hospice. Don’t like the scent of death that lingers there beneath the gorgeous new building with its beautiful furnishings and loving nurses.

Sitting in my driveway, I semi-pleaded with God to let me off the hook. It was past 9:30, I was just arriving home from a season of prayer with my vigilant sisters in the Mercy Support Services Prayer Room, warring sisters on their knees. We had just prayed for my neighbor. Called her name before our loving Heavenly Father. Asked Him to give her comfort and peace as she closes her eyes for the last time on earth. Asking the Holy Spirit to draw her heart to the heart of God so that His goodness would give her the courage to believe that He exists. Begging for her leap of faith. Asking Him to move mountains in the last moments of her life.

I thought about those mountains, believing the Bible that says it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move them. But what could happen in 51 years that would cause a person to build a mountain of denial toward the existence of a loving God? What layers of pain and hurt can build a barrier between a person and their Creator? What opportunities have I, who call myself “Christian,” had to show Christ to my neighbor? Did she see something, anything, in me that ever made her wonder about the God I serve, as for almost four years now, I’ve dragged my trash to the curb and parked my car across from hers and waved as I chased my daily exercise around the block?

Giving in to God, I backed out of our driveway and headed toward Haven Hospice. It was 9:54 when I arrived to an empty parking lot and a locked front door. Still, I got in. Visiting hours are flexible in hospice, where time seems to stand perfectly still. Pushing open the door to her room, I discovered her loved ones surrounding her there. Four precious women, holding her until the very end. The room was quiet and darkened as my neighbor fought death. “We thought she would let go earlier, but she’s still clinging desperately to life,” one of them said. It made me think, as I watched her lying there, breathing with her whole chest. Am I clinging to LIFE like that? Jesus says that He is The WAY, The TRUTH, and The LIFE. Do I cling to Him with every breath? When everything else is gone and not one thing matters in this life but my relationship with Him, am I willing to hold on to that with every cell in my being?

I held her hand. Told her that I wanted to see her again. Be neighbors in heaven. I shared that God’s love for her is an everlasting love. That He carefully formed her in her mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and that He loved her before she ever took her first breath and would continue to love her after she breathed her last. I shared Revelation 3:20 almost as a prayer, “ Behold, I stand at the door, and knock…” I invited her to choose Jesus, the Door of salvation. I kissed her on the forehead. I said, “Goodbye.” Then I got into my car and wept with hope.

Today she may breathe her last breath. She held on through the night. I heard it from her loved ones. I do not know what she decided to do with the mountain of unbelief held up by a lifetime of hurt or ambivalence or oblivion, or whatever. I just pray to my Jesus that He breaks through all barriers, that His love plants just one mustard seed in her heart and that she will choose to water that seed with a drop of faith. That’s all it takes to move a mountain.

Photo Credit: winter_can_wait

Photo Credit: winter_can_wait

Today would have been my cousin Casey’s birthday. He died as the pilot in a small plane crash in 2010, at an age too tender to fathom. No one was prepared for the shock. And every year on the anniversaries of Casey’s birth and death, we who loved him come together on social media and mourn; a little community of hearts with a Casey-shaped hole in them. As I reflect today on death, I remember that my husband calls it the “culmination of our faith.”

In my heart, I choose to believe in a loving God who knows our mustard seeds. Who has witnessed the tragedies of our lives. Who has loved us since before time began. Who paid the price for our foolishness with the blood of His own Son, and who gives each person every opportunity to choose Him. Whether it’s choosing Him daily for a lifetime, or choosing Him in the last seconds before our plane hits the unforgiving Texas soil or in our last moments of coherency before Cancer and the medication that fights it causes us to succumb to the thing we’ve been fighting for years, that ONE choice stands for eternity. It counts. Believe that with me tonight and regardless of the ache that death has created in our souls, together we can shout, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”1 Corinthians 15:55-56 (KJV). Rest in peace, my neighbor. Rest in peace, my cousin. Your Savior saw your mustard seed.