Monday, December 26, 2016

Walking in the Dark

I used to do preschool story time at the library, and one of my favorite stories was We're Going on a Bear Hunt.  It's a repetitive song/chant that the kids would sing along with. The story follows a family who is, as you may have guessed, looking for a bear.  They come to a myriad of obstacles that block their path: tall grass, a deep river, a dark forest, and well, you get the idea.  When faced with each seemingly insurmountable barrier the chorus repeats:
"We can't go over it 
we can't go under it. 
Oh no! 
We've got to go through it!"  
The family would then plow through whatever was in front of them, emerging victorious on the other side, only to be met by an even bigger challenge.

We've got to go through it. These words keep ringing in my head as I think about my brother's funeral tomorrow, and the long road ahead of grieving and healing.  We can't go over it.  We can't go under it.  We've got to go through it. We have to face this giant wall of pain that looms over us.  I'd give just about anything to fast forward through the next 24 hours.  I don't know how I'm going to deal with the pain of having to bury my baby brother.

When faced with unbearable pain the natural reaction isn't usually to run full tilt into it. It's natural to want to shrink back from our pain and avoid as much of it as possible.  But I don't think that's the best way to move forward after something like this.  Maybe our best option is to just lean into the grief and process our suffering in God's presence.  Something tells me that any attempt to deny my sorrow would be met with failure.  It will surface in one way or another.  Better to bring it out into the light and confront it no matter how horrible it is.

It feels a bit like I'm walking in the dark, groping my way along an unfamiliar path.  I don't really know what the next step is.  I have no idea what the next few days will be like, the next 6 months, the next 6 years.  I know that this hole in our family will never be filled.  There is a pain that we'll walk around with for the rest of our lives, but that pain needn't define us.  God has stepped into this darkness, and there is a light of hope ahead.  At the moment it is merely a flicker but it is there. I know God won't let go of me.  He is the anchor for my soul, and even though I don't have answers to what lies ahead I know that I don't have to face it alone.

I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from our friends and family this past week.  There are so many people who want to mourn with us and help us heal.  It's been a blessing to see the body of Christ really be the body of Christ.  I'm so grateful that this painful road isn't one that God asks us to walk in isolation.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Last Photograph

People are always giving me a hard time for wanting to take group pictures.  I've always been one for  capturing memories, but there's usually at least one person in any group photo who grumbles as I reach for the camera.  That was the reaction I got from my brother and sister on Thanksgiving when I wanted a sibling picture.  I'm glad I was persistent.  That was the last photo we have of my brother.  I look at that picture and remember how happy we all were that night, unbeknownst to us that it would be the last time any of us would ever see him.  We talked and laughed; Brian played with his nieces and nephews.  We knew he'd been struggling with anxiety and depression but that night he gave us all hope.  He seemed to be on the upswing.  We had no idea that just three weeks later we would be grappling with all the questions that plague those who face the loss of someone they love to suicide.

I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that he is gone.  None of this seems real yet.  Maybe it never will.  We all have so many questions swimming in our heads but one thing I know with absolute certainty is that even in the face of the greatest tragedy and pain God is with us.  Not a moment has gone by when He has not been near.  Not a tear has slipped down our cheeks that He hasn't counted.  Not once have we cried out and He has turned a deaf ear.  God doesn't stop being good simply because we walk through periods of suffering.   I find myself leaning into God's goodness all the more since the news of Brian's death came barreling into my life.  I find hope in the truth that I have a Savior who has suffered.  God can relate to pain.  He's been there.  Done that.  Conquered it.

My joy is in knowing that, while my heart breaks, there is coming a day when all pain and suffering will be forgotten, as Jesus himself wipes away every tear from our eyes.  I don't know how many days I have left on this earth, and I know that every one of them has been permanently marked by my brother's death.  But I also know that a day is coming when Jesus will make all things new.  The temporary pain of this world stirs in us a longing for something more.  We seem to know intrinsically that heartache and pain is unnatural.  Because it is.  We move through a world wrecked by sin and it's our pain that points us heavenward.  Our hearts cry out for our hurting selves to be restored, and that is the promise we have in Christ.  One day our suffering will be redeemed and we will forever live in the light of His grace.  No more death.  No more tears.  Praise God for giving us reason to hope.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Preparing for Advent

The season of Advent is upon us, and it is certainly a time of divided attentions.  It's hard to ignore the lure of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, yet we feel the pull to put it aside and reflect, to wait, and to experience the hopeful anticipation that our Messiah is on His way.  The joy of the Christmas celebration is missed if we neglect to slow down and consider what it is we are celebrating.

We prepare for many things in life; the coming of a new baby, a wedding, exams, even making dinner each night requires preparation.  We are a people who need time to ready ourselves for what is to come.  I think that was an intentional part of our design when our Heavenly Father carefully wove us together.  This same need to prepare follows us into the season of Advent.  This is meant to be a time to set aside the busyness of life to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

This celebration is not only for the joy of the coming of Jesus into the world to be salvation for sinners.  While we eagerly look forward to celebrating our Savior's birth, Advent has a dual meaning. We are keenly aware that there is more to the Kingdom of God than this earthly realm.  For followers of Jesus Advent is a time when we wait expectantly for Christ's return.  We are reminded that our present suffering and pain is only temporary, and we have a great hope that one day all will be restored, and Jesus will Himself wipe away every tear from every eye.

It can be so hard to wait. But there is joy knowing that our waiting and persevering is with purpose.  So each day during Advent I encourage you to pause.  Be still.  Enter into God's presence and feel the weight of His love for you.  Allow yourself to be overcome by the magnitude of His grace.  Consider the lengths He has gone to in order to rescue you from sin and give you abundant life.  Rejoice in the truth that though we don't deserve it, God lavishes us with His love and mercy.  If you are a follower of Jesus rest in the knowledge that His death on the cross is sufficient for your salvation.  Let us spend this Advent season praising God for what He has already done and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come.