When life gives you lemons . . .

We all know the end of the saying. When life gives you lemons . . .

Make lemonade.

But is that really the message Christians should be delivering?

When life gives you lemons

It has such a nice “pull yourself up by your boot straps” kind of ring to it. We are, after all, masters of our own destiny. And life is what we make of it.

But it also has an air of your problems aren’t my problems and your grief is worn best silently. Hidden away somewhere where I don’t have to deal with it.

Having lost a child, I have a somewhat different perspective on grief and suffering and what denotes strength and dignity. Having lost a child, I know that sometimes you cannot just put on a smile for the world and I don’t think you should try.

The Bible, after all, calls us to “bear one another’s burdens,” but the verse doesn’t end there. Galatians 6:2 goes on to say this is how we fulfill the law of Christ. We act out our faith by bearing burdens. Not by asking people to keep them to themselves, to silence them, to stick them somewhere deep where we do not have to be confronted by their heaviness.

We walk along side them and lift as much as we can.

It is only natural to want to make someone feel better when they are hurting. But it isn’t always in our power. And it isn’t always in theirs. It isn’t even always in their best interest. All we can really do is sit awhile and remember the One who turns mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11), praying for that day and sharing tears along the way.

Because the world may not be able to offer enough sugar to do anything with these lemons, but they are not all that I have. I have Christ and therefore I have hope.

By the goodness of God . . .

Edward Winslow wrote in A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (1621):

    . . . And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

By the goodness of God, we are far from want. In fact, we have never known want like that of the Pilgrims. Giving up their homeland, leaving for an unknown shore across an unfriendly sea, suffering disease and starvation. For what?

Mayflower survivors

We often think of all the Pilgrims had to be thankful for this season as we partake in the season’s feasting. But how often do we think of all they had to mourn?

More than half of them died in the first “general sickness” as William Bradford called it. And yet when the harvest came in and alliances were made with the local natives and strength returned to the survivors, they were able to turn their grief into thanksgiving, their despair into praise.

The holidays are a difficult time for me. Not just because little Mattias isn’t here, but because the anniversary of his death is right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The anxiety increases until it almost seems as if his death were something that is about to happen rather than something that happened already.

And how do you give thanks in the midst of losing a child? And what for?

The pilgrims sought a wealth few of us think on today. As the closing two verses of The Landing of the Pilgrims so eloquently say,

    What sought they thus afar?
      Bright jewels of the mine?
      The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?–
    They sought a faith’s pure shrine!
      Ay, call it holy ground,
      The soil where first they trod.
      They have left unstained what there they found–
    Freedom to worship God.

Freedom to worship a God who gives and takes away.

Freedom to worship a God who sacrificed His own son, that we might live.

Freedom to worship a God who said death is not the end.

Freedom to worship a God who gives me hope, even in the face of such a terrible loss.

And that truly is a thing to be thankful for.

thanksgiving-1060214_960_720

 If you post what you are thankful for this week, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I’d love to check out what you are thankful for this season!

Stop. Breathe. Cry. Sometimes, it’s worth more than a smile.

So this popped up in my facebook feed.

And I just thought, “No.”

When life gives you one reason to cry . . . cry.

When life gives you one hundred reasons to cry . . . cry and find someone who will cry with you.

When life crushes you, when the power and the depth of the anguish threatens to overwhelm you as it crashes over you wave after wave, fight back with tears. Tears and cries and even screams if necessary.

But not with a forced smile. Not with some fake attempt to “count your blessings” (as if six living children makes up the balance sheet for one who went to heaven far too soon).

Because the continual message that a smile equals strength and tears are a sign of weakness is false. And destructive.

It’s designed to make others feel better about your pain. But it doesn’t help you.

As a Christian, grieving the loss of a child, it surprised me how quickly the body of Christ lost its patience with grief. Less than two weeks after my son’s death, a Christian man told me it was time to stop grieving. That he was in a better place and that if I believed that, I should rejoice. Grief was a lack of faith.

Less than three months later, someone from church asked me how I was and when I said not so good, she wanted to know why. I stumbled over the words because I didn’t really know her and what was obvious and inescapable in my world wasn’t in hers. Nor should it be. And I never like putting people in the position of feeling like they need to apologize for an innocent enough question that bore no malice. So I just said I had been thinking about Tiggy a lot.

“That’s still bothering you?”

Said in such an incredulous tone. It stung. Three months after he died, I almost gave up on going to church. Because right there in that moment, I couldn’t see all the love and support and one comment almost overshadowed it all.

But I went home and cried.

It seems to me the Christian church should understand suffering. That strength is not in a smile, but in vulnerability. That joy is a promise we cling to, but it is a very different thing from happiness.

Because Christ Himself went to the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion and sweated tears of blood, pleading for this cup to be taken from Him. And when His disciples, His closest friends, could not stay awake, He didn’t count his blessings and put on a happy face. He didn’t talk about His miracles, His ministry, that He would rise again in three days or even that His kingdom was about to conquer death itself.

No. He said,”Can’t you even watch with me for an hour?”

Because I believe this is what we are all called to do for one another. Just sit. Listen. Show love. Show mercy. And let the tears flow.

Because weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

And blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

And God himself will turn their mourning into joy. (Jeremiah 31:13)

And while the world constantly presses in, telling the hurting and the grieving to “just smile through it,” I think it is good to remember that His Word tells us that is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Because grief gives you a glimpse of the state of a fallen world. It reminds you that this is not our home. It draws your attention away from yourself and toward Him. And only then can He give you beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Updated to add:

My husband wrote a free e-book about our journey and finding hope in Christ. If you are interested, you can download a copy here: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet.

Kindergarten and moving forward through grief

Micah starts kindergarten in the fall.

Around here, that’s a Big Deal. I’m planning, browsing amazon, ordering . . .  stuff. Stuff that, to a five year old, looks an awful lot like toys. And we’ll even plan a little party for the first official day of school. (Did you know that in Germany, the home of kindergarten, they celebrate the first day of school, not the last? It’s a Big Deal there, too, with cones full of goodies, pictures and all sorts of excitement.)

It also represents a change. Little Micah is growing up. We don’t do preschool here. He plays while the others are doing their lessons. And yes, he has a binder and he has lapbooks for astronomy and history. Some days he chooses to color in them and sometimes he chooses to see how high he can build a block tower. I have a strong respect for the power and importance of play in a child’s life.

But now that Micah is Five Years Old, his world can open up a little more. He can have a box of sand in the house. He isn’t limited to the watercolors when he wants to paint. He can use real tools to explore and manipulate his world.

And the first thing I did was set up his calendar. I don’t know how many of you do calendar time in your home, but it is an engaging way to practice basic math, science and literacy skills daily. I sat down with Micah and went through several websites, looking at the different calendar centers and trying to remember all I did with mine the last time I set this up.

We finally decided on a basic design and I got started modifying and printing and finally dropping it all off at the print shop to be laminated. And as I sat trimming pieces and arranging them on the poster board, I was struck with a strange sort of grief.

I didn’t do any of this for Tiggy. But I didn’t do it for Nisa or Elianna, either. For a very long time, I was just getting through the day. And it’s not that we didn’t do anything. Other than spelling, they’re all on track with where they should be. I just wasn’t in a place where I could take on a project that took daily maintenance. Even the thought of something like that was overwhelming.

The children noticed, too.

Calendar time

“Mom, why didn’t you do anything like this for us?”

“Sweetie, when I would have put this together for you was right after Tiggy died.”

“Oh, yeah.”

I paused. There didn’t seem to be anything else, to say, really. It’s hard, sometimes, to wonder just what toll my grief has taken on their lives. But then again, they were allowed to grieve, too. And they didn’t have to return to school as if nothing had happened and sit through lessons while their mind was occupied with deeper issues. And other than in spelling, I can’t really say they’re behind.

“But you can do it now.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Especially when we start recording the weather and I set up the graphs and the clock, there will be plenty here for you as well. The teacher who taught me how to do this was a fourth grade teacher. It isn’t just for kindergarteners.”

And they seemed satisfied. Especially since the finished product was “way better than anything in the stores.” At least according to them.

If you are interested in a closer look at the different parts of our calendar time, here they are with links or associated printables you would need to complete them (as I post them):

The Weather Station

The date

 

A lullaby for the soul

Sitting in the rocking chair, holding little Asa. I trace the outline of his sleeping face, stroke his cheek and unwind from the day. A pang of sorrow for the pregnancy so recently lost and overwhelming thankfulness for the warmth of his cheek against my chest.

It is good to have a few moments to reflect. To cherish what is and miss what isn’t so it doesn’t get buried too deep.

Micah walks in and I’m annoyed. I don’t want to be disturbed from this moment. From this moment of bittersweet melancholy mixed with joy that seems to make up motherhood whenever I slow down enough to notice. And he’s supposed to be in bed.

“What do you need, sweetheart,” I try not to sound too annoyed.

“Me made up a song. Me want you to sing it.”

I just want to tell him to go back to bed. I don’t know what game this is that he’s playing with his bedtime, now, but I’m not in the mood. Still, there’s that twinkle in his eye like a child on Christmas morning so I try my best to set aside my irritation.

“How can I sing a song you made up in your head? I don’t even know the words?”

“Ok, me sing it.”

And he begins singing his lullaby in his sweet little voice to the tune of Jesus Loves Me.

Rock your baby back and forth,
If him falls then pick him up,
Nurse him nurse him ’til him full,
Love him love him, and kiss him cheek.

I smile. “I like that song,” I tell him. “That’s a very special lullaby and a very special gift.”

And I love how his eyes get that same twinkle every time he hears me sing his lullaby to little Asa. His gift to my soul.