Musings on Walking in the Irreligious Way of Jesus

My True Home

Sometime I get confused.  I begin thinking that I am already home and that I need to hang onto people, things, memories, or try to control my circumstances or else it will all go by and I will ‘miss out.’

But then I remember that home is coming.  Tim, my adult son who left this life two years ago, reminds me of this.  He is gone from me here, but I can still feel his nearness which is pulls a shadow awareness of my true home into my heart.  I know Tim lives, I know that God holds him and me and all those I love, and I know that my true home is coming.

This shifts everything.

I can relax.  I can feel what I feel.  I can be who I am.  I can venture out and take risks and find new adventures because my real home, my future home, cannot be taken from me.  I may have other losses in this world, but I cannot lose that which is most dear and most precious to me ever!  His faithful love endures forever!

When Our Children Struggle

For those of us who have struggled with children going through difficulties and find it hard to release them to God’s care, I highlight these words from A.W. Tozer:

“We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed.”

Authentic Connections are Better Than a Hallelujah

Vulnerable-2008 Some of the most difficult people to like are religious people with religious fronts.

“Hallelujah, brother. God is good and I am blessed. Are you walking in his blessing today and everyday?”

It’s not that I can’t love this guy or even appreciate his sincerity on some level, it’s just that I can’t touch him.  I can’t connect with the person who is behind those religious words and who is really like every other human.  Deep inside we are all conflicted: both needy and fulfilled, happy and sad, faith-filled and fearful, victorious and defeated… human.

Unfortunately religion creates barriers between people because it is posturing, it is a face to wear and it’s not real.

Jesus spoke of his followers as being poor of spirit and those who know they need a doctor.  Humans who are real can connect on a deep level with other human beings and that is the dynamic through which the Good News of the wonder of Jesus is can be deeply shared and communicated to others.

Amy Grant sings a song, Better than a Hallelujah, that expresses this well (excerpts here):

Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah…

God loves a drunkards cry,
The soldiers plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes…

The woman holding on for life,
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what’s been done,
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah…

May our communities be filled with something better than a hollow “hallelujah!” so that the love of Jesus can flow from one honest heart to the next in a world that deeply needs Him!

Wrestling with God

As days begin to turn into weeks since my son’s passing, I find myself staring into the face of two realities:

  1. I feel closer to eternity than I ever have before.  My spirit seems to have a deeper awareness that this life on earth is fragile, that my own physical life will turn to dust before I know it, and that the glories and beauty and wonder and joy of eternity as God created it is the greater reality that I belong to.  My son is already there and somehow this makes the scent of heaven seem so very close.
  2. I also find myself, predictably, wrestling with God.  While I have prayed for my son’s healing for over five years, I never hoped nor expected that it would come in this fashion.  This leaves my heart tenderly frustrated and, on some level, needing to “have it out” with God.  On an emotional level, my heart cries out: “God, what is wrong with you?”  “Your program is not the best.”  Your care for me is remiss.”  “Your response to my prayers falls far, far short for one who supposedly loves me deeply.”  Please do not send me any encouragements to trust God in response to reading this.  I am not speaking of a head-level reality, simply a heart that cannot fully grasp the way life is experienced in a broken world.  In my head, I already know that this experience of wrestling with God will ultimately lead my heart to a deeper place where I will experience an even more profound sense that God is the most trustworthy Papa that I can imagine and ultimately I will sink even deeper into His embrace.  But, for the moment, and as long as this process takes, my heart will wrestle.

Yet even today, as I write this, the taste of eternity overshadows the heart-wrestlings bringing a very real sense of peace in the midst.

As always, thank you so much for your support and love.  That call of eternity does stir deeply in Brooks and me pressing us toward all that God has put on our hearts to do… and with your strength beside us, we will continue doing just that.

Memorial Service: Heartache & Glory

(Originally published on June 28, 2011):

It’s amazing to me that certain life experiences can be filled with heartache, pain, sorrow, grief and yet be very, very special all at the same time.

This is my best description of last Saturday, the day of Tim’s memorial.  (For more background, see earlier posts below).

It was definitely one of the hardest days I have ever walked through as we celebrated and grieved Tim’s passing.  And yet, it was one of the most profound, even powerful days of my life.  I don’t think I could ever describe how those feelings co-exist, but they do somehow and I know that most of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Tim’s story, as it unfolded at our memorial, provides a powerful picture of God’s mercy in the midst of a life headed for destruction.  Not all will want to read his story, but for the sake of those who need to see God’s redemptive power at work, I will put it down…

First some background.  Tim was our youngest child; I was a single dad and his only parent for nearly three years.  He was my baby!  He was upbeat, full of life, fun to be around, and filled with huge promise.

But, in his late teens, his life did go astray as he began struggling with depression and probably the first symptoms of a deeper mental illness.  By his early twenties he was using legal and then illegal drugs to medicate himself which exacerbated his schizophrenia to the point where he was constantly distracted by voices and, at times, he exhibited behavior that was out of control.

Tim was very aware of his condition and so frustrated by it that he attempted to take his life, first, in early March by overdosing on Tylenol (one of the most lethal drugs when used this way).  He was given a 25% chance of recovery.  Yet, it was God’s intention to raise Tim back to life to provide him and the rest of us the chance of a work yet to come before his final passing.

All of this and more came out during our memorial as we celebrated in a family-oriented, intimate, house-church-type setting in a friend’s large garden room on a beautiful, California afternoon.  This environment created a space where those closest to Tim could share their hearts fully about his life, his last three months, and then his final day on earth.

In a typical fashion, everyone present was invited to share their memories of Tim, causing all of us to laugh and cry as we remembered his antics, his passions, and his love for his family, his pets, and various other pursuits over the years.

We then turned our attention to Tim’s last three months.  Following his first suicide attempt, he fully recovered except that his windpipe required a tracheotomy putting a tube in his throat that blocked his ability to vocalize words.

Nevertheless, we found ourselves in the presence of “our Tim” who was more like “himself” than he had been in a long, long time.  Purged of drugs, dependent on others for care, Tim was more like a child again whom we could love on, pray with, and lavish attention on.

Many of us shared what a special time for us this was.  We were given so many opportunities to express our love for Tim and how much we cared about him.  He often reciprocated.  Many times, as I left Tim’s presence during this time, I would tell him how much I loved him and he would point to himself and then to me, using sign language to say: “And I love you too, Dad.”  Our family came together like no other time.  Perhaps we sensed the uncertainty of the situation.

Indeed, his struggles with schizophrenia persisted and even his hard-headed approach to life was re-surfacing.  We had to wonder, at times, if he had made peace with God in a deep way or if he was still trying to figure out how to run his own life on his own steam.

These concerns continued until the last 24 hours of his life…

At the service, we took special time to share, as a family, about the last day of Tim’s life.  Brooks and I were in Africa and, though we were miraculously given one opportunity to speak to Tim by phone, we were absent for his final day.  He was alone with our daughter, Sarah, and our son-in-law, Will.

And God had a plan in this as well…

Through tears (both sadness and joy) the room of 40 people sat enthralled as Will and Sarah described coming to Tim’s bedside and learning that, this time, the doctors absolutely did not expect Tim to recover.  Yet, for the next 12 hours, Tim was very aware and responsive to Will and Sarah.   In Will’s words:

“I leaned over to Tim and said, ‘The doctors say you are not going to pull through.  Are you ready for that?’  I thought he should know.  When I first spoke this to him, Tim’s eyes opened in fear.  He shook his head stating clearly that, no, he was not ready for that.

So, I began praying for him.  I didn’t know what to pray.  I kept thinking, we need Tim’s dad.  He would know what to pray.  Maybe he could at least tell us “the right” scripture to use.  But I knew I had to step up.  It was up to me.  So, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer over him.  It’s what came to mind.  Then I leaned over and began speaking to him about Jesus, His love for Tim and that all Tim needed to do was reach out to him and ask for forgiveness.  I shared and shared this way and it was at this point that Tim squeezed my hand…

And I knew I was on the right track.

We continued to pray and, at one point, holding his hand, Sarah said to Tim, ‘Hey Tim, I’ve been told that God has even special grace for the mentally ill… so you have nothing to worry about.’  This was some brother/sister humor that did not go unnoticed by Tim.

He smiled at those words.  And we realized it was all coming through.

A few minutes after that, we were able to receive a call from Africa.  Somehow, our Skype connection, iphone to iphone, began to work.  We put the phone up to Tim’s ear as his dad shared his love for him and prayed for him from 12,000 miles away.  We could see, that Tim was at peace.”

As one friend who had been praying for Tim later told us, “I had such peace that God and Tim were working things out.”  We know this is true and God was so good to give us a firsthand account.

(Side note: I believe so many of our loved ones whom we have prayed for over the years do get things worked out with God whether we get to hear the firsthand account or not.)

Then, Will and Sarah continued to describe the last 12 hours of Tim’s life in which he became unresponsive.  They remained by his side, nursed him alongside the ICU nurses, and heroically cared for him until his last breath.

Will said at the end Tim leaned forward with eyes wide open, took his last breath, and settled back down with incredible peace on his face.  “It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” Will shared…

(Long pause as I write this allowing the tears to come and go one more time).

Sarah had put together a slide show of Tim’s life with the Delirious Song, “Not Forgotten.”  We showed this and then several people wonderfully shared pertinent Scriptures on the reality of eternal life in Christ.

Finally, Sarah shared a poem which I will share in its entirety at the end of this post because of its poignancy and pertinence.  But let me close here by saying that, yes, the heartbreak, the pain, the frustration, the loss, the anger comes and goes… as does the incredibly deep peace and assurance that, in the words of this poem, “Somewhere very near, just around the corner, all is well.  Nothing is past; nothing is lost.  One brief moment and all will be as it was before.  How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

___________________________________________________________________

Death is Nothing at All
From a Sermon Written by Sir Henry Scott-Holland in 1910

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Saying YES to Grief and NO to Shame

(Originally posted on June 21, 2011):

For my own catharsis, as we walk through this season of grief around the loss of our son, I want to write out some thoughts on both the power of grief as well as the twin destroyers of shame and guilt.

Pure grief is good.  While I am very far from loving pain (even when it’s good for me), I have learned to honor grief when it comes legitimately through life’s losses.  “Blessed are those who mourn,” challenges me because it’s Jesus’ affirmation that we will have trouble in this life and the pain of grief is both necessary and valuable.

The difficulty I have with grief, though, is two-fold.  First, it hurts: I guess that’s why it’s called “grief.”  Secondly, it comes and goes as unexpectedly as a summer squall.

One moment, my wife, daughter, and son-in-law are having lunch together and actually laughing as we remember some things about Tim from his childhood that remind us what a stubborn child he could be.  And the next moment, without a moment’s notice, all of us are choked up with tears streaming down our faces as we consider how his hard-headedness contributed to so many of his problems as a young adult—ultimately leading to his own self-inflicted demise.

The fact is: I love him and miss him; and despite all of the comforts of heavenly thinking, on earth I miss him so deeply that I want to release a groan from the depth of my very being to express the pain that seems to reach from below my toes streaming up and out of my mouth in cries or tears or simply sounds that cannot be expressed in words.

Yes, grief hurts.

And I have discovered, through many years of living on this planet, that that is really okay.  It’s better to let grief have its way then try to deny it.  It’s better to feel the pain than it is to try and run from it.  Ultimately (though lessons are completely hidden at this stage) pain, loss, and grief are some of the best teachers and healers that God provides.

BUT…

My real purpose in writing today is to remind myself that grief rarely comes in its pure and healthy form.  Instead, it so often carries the twin leeches of shame and guilt that are so potent, so dangerous, and so potentially lethal to the soul, that if they are allowed to take root they can strangle the very good that God is at work doing.

Shame destroys and guilt is even worse.

The first thoughts that readily pop into my head, as I feel the pain of Tim’s passing and the loss of his life is this: “This isn’t right; there must be something wrong with me.”  Or, “It’s shameful, disgraceful even, to have a situation or problem of this nature.”

This is shame.  It internalizes problems as being an indicator that I am a problem—that I am not right—that there is something inherently wrong with me or with my life with God.

One friend spoke to this directly when she wrote me these words:

We know that many times people don’t understand about things that don’t fall into the perceived “norm” of “Christian” problems.

These words were SO important to me serving to counter the enemy’s attempts to shroud my life, and this situation in particular, with shame and darkness.

The reality is that we do have problems of every variety.  The Christian culture that we are part of often declares that some problems are better not shared nor spoken about too openly.  It’s as though we want to keep ourselves believing that our lives, as Christians, are supposed to somehow be above others and above the depravity that marks the rest of the world.  This feeds right into the shame that wants to get under my skin.  This causes too many of our struggles to remain unspoken and hidden as though the light of God’s glory cannot shine into and even through these types of situations.

On the plus side, as I have shared just a bit of Tim’s story, I realize that this gives other people the opportunity to break down those walls of shame and share their stories with me:

“I know exactly what you are going through.  We went through something similar with a child (or brother, or sister, or parent, or friend).”

 

“I rarely talk with others about this ___________________ issue with that we have experienced with one of our own children.”

The opposite of shame is to let the light in; and one of my hopes in processing my own grief is that all of us will let more light into the struggling areas of our life because it’s the light (not the lies of shame) that bring ultimate healing and freedom.

And let’s also not forget about guilt.

Even more deadly than shame are the lies of guilt that often come like an uncontrollable flood:

  • If only I had done this or that.
  • I should have said this and I didn’t.
  • This wouldn’t have happened if only I had done _____ or ______ or ______.
  • This wouldn’t have happened if only I HADN’T done _____ or ______ or ______.

One of the things we are trying to do openly, as a family, is acknowledge and then challenge these guilt sentiments that each of us struggle with.

Guilt is NOT grief; it’s self-destructive, self-flagellation based primarily on the lies and accusations of the enemy.

So, as I process today’s grief, my prayer is that we would not run from the pain of it, we would let it have its way as we let go of yesterday and pass (eventually) into tomorrow, and that we will not give way to the leeches of shame and guilt seeking to destroy what God is at work in for good.

Thank you for allowing me to process my heart, here, and for continuing to hold our hands!

The Passing of Our Son

(Originally posted on June 13, 2011):

This is, obviously, a very personal post written to our friends, so please don’t pass it along into the public domain…

The last 24 hours of our trip in Africa has been a time of deep grief in the midst of God’s huge comfort.

For the second time in two months our 23-year-old son (Brooks’ step-son) took an overdose of Tylenol with the express intent of ending his life.  This time he was successful.

On Saturday Tim passed into heaven.

Brooks and I are both taking great comfort in several things.  First, in remembering the day that Timmy was baptized when he was much younger.  As a young adult he has led a headstrong life that has included drugs which severely added to his mental illness, yet we always knew that he knew His savior.  Then, in the last two months of his life, while he was recovering from his first overdose, we had so many opportunities to share our love for him, to hear him express his love for us, and I had the chance to pray with him many times.  Finally, during the last 24 hours of his life he was cared for wonderfully by his sister (my daughter, Sarah) and her husband, Will.  Will prayed with Tim several times while he was still conscious and asked him to reach out to God and call on the name of Jesus, Tim squeezed his hand.  I believe Tim has called out to God many times and was not resistant to the love of Jesus, but somehow the trials of this world were more than he could endure.  We both have an overwhelming sense that Tim is, at last, safe and at peace.  We both know that, because of the struggles of the last several years, this is a great relief to him.

We feel privileged to serve a God who, in His own very unique and often mysterious way, holds us and our loved ones firmly, deliberately, and faithfully in His grip no matter how it sometimes looks to us along the way!

So, as you can imagine, both grief and comfort.  In fact, we find that our tears are sometimes from the loss of knowing that we will never see, touch, or hug Tim again in this life, and sometimes from gratitude for the wonderful way God has reached out to Tim.

With this latter comes the vision of the reality of a Gospel that is more than Good News, but life itself:  life that transcends this world and even death.   Despite the pain we feel, I do have to say, that this vision of the reality of the Gospel is shining brighter and putting more fire in our hearts than ever before.

Thank you so much for your prayers that sustains us through it all!