Still Here and Still His

Of Life, Love and Loss. Of Knowing and Being Known. On Being His.

Month: November, 2013

Of Loss and Life (part III of III)

(read part I of III here) and (read part II of III here )

I don’t want to be known just by our loss.
I want to be known by our life. 

I remember last spring when it felt like winter was never going to end here, in Minnesota. It was supposed to be springtime but we were still waking up to snow. Some complained. I maybe would have too, but at that point in life complaining about the weather felt rather shallow; my heart was buried in (and complaining about) deeper things. At the time I thought, I can handle more snow even though it’s supposed to be spring because I know that spring will come eventually. It always does. But I was having to tell my heart the same thing, that the depth of grief I felt couldn’t possibly last forever.

It seems strange to me how prone we are to get worked up about something that we can’t control (like the weather or a million other things). Last spring when winter lingered I felt that if, for even one moment, I let my heart be buried in the cold and snow, I wasn’t sure it could ever be rescued. So I made snow angels. And one night I went for a midnight walk up and down the snow covered street in front of my house just to take in what I hoped was to be the final snowfall of the season. It was beautiful. I remember thinking there can be beauty on the darkest winter night. Sometimes you have to look hard for it, but sometimes it’s so obvious that the dark and cold only serve to make it stand out more.

Grief over circumstances we can’t control (ones we didn’t play a part in causing) is a bit like enduring a long winter. We didn’t invite it. We didn’t want it. We don’t like it. And we can complain. But spring will come eventually. And we can look to see if there is beauty and glimpses of light that exist amidst all else that seems dark. Sometimes there isn’t any to be found; I’ve been in those dark places. But sometimes there is.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

IMG_0477For me, there is something deeply good about the change of seasons–summer to fall to winter to spring–over and over again. It awakens me, it wards off the mundane and it reminds me that there is purpose behind each season. I know that there are places all over the globe that don’t experience the seasons in quite the same way we do here. But I’m grateful that earth spins at a slight tilt, causing this part of the globe to see all four seasons. I’m grateful that God has placed me here to experience it. And I’m grateful that what I see outside resonates with what God is doing (and has done) with my heart over the years. But there is a new struggle now when the change of seasons comes. There is the painful reminder that time has passed without Jeremy. My heart is repulsed by the clock that ticks, the seasons that come and go and the dates we pass by as I watch the boys grow. I have found I don’t always want to move onward. Over the past few months I’ve had this reoccurring thought that if grief were the season of winter, I don’t know that I’m all that opposed to it anymore. Maybe I’d be fine if it just stayed winter.

The grief that was once unknown to me, and what I feared, I now know well. I know what it is, how it feels, how to live in it. But I also know that in loss there is risk of letting grief rename me, instead of Christ. And while I have actively fought against this over the past two years, it’s hard to leave the familiarity that grief has become. In relation to parts I and II of this post, I have found myself wondering…is there risk of grief itself becoming my companion in the place of Christ? Could the tears, the prayers, the hope of better days to come and the remembering somehow get in the way of actually experiencing life beyond grief? Maybe.

And then there’s this: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4). I’m no theologian; I have not studied what is at the root of these blessing statements. But I’ve known God’s comfort in my mourning and I will tell you there is an immense blessing in being comforted by God. It’s unmatchable. Shall I keep mourning so I can keep knowing His comfort? Could it be that this once awful winter has turned into scenery that I’ve become satisfied with? Is there risk of ignoring His invitation to move onward–to be known by my life, not by my loss–in an effort to preserve a season that wasn’t meant to last forever? Maybe.

Every year looks a little different. I guess they should; don’t the years always look a little different? God is always at work. He is always making us, moving us, preparing us, restoring us. We will all have lingering winters; we will have autumns that aren’t nearly long enough. But I believe that God is intentional with His timing and intentional about what needs to happen in our hearts. I don’t know what God is doing in and through me in the midst of my grief. But I’m sure He’s doing something.

The thing is, we don’t always know or understand the mystery behind the seasons we experience; only God knows those secrets (Eccl. 3:11). This is why, in the midst of changing seasons, what matters most is that I am His, that my affections are found to be towards Him and that I refuse to be known at all apart from Him. I don’t need to linger longer in winter for the sake of knowing His comfort. Rather, I can pursue gaining every ounce of Christ that I can in every season. I can trust His hand and good intention behind every circumstance I encounter with Him. And I can live a full life–not necessarily a life without loss, but one that is more full of Christ despite what I’ve lost.

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)

 

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Of Loss and Life (part II of III)

(read part I of III here)

…I don’t want to be known just by our loss.
I want to be known by our life. 

IMG_0663But what then, of the times when I want to be known by our loss? Like when I’ve had to fill out paperwork for the boys’ school and other activities and it asks for the father’s contact information. It seems so cruel to leave it blank. I don’t want anyone to think the boys never had a father or don’t know their father, that we never married or that I’m divorced. So I write, “Jeremy Erickson, deceased 6/2012” and I leave everything else blank. How long will I do that? Already it seems somewhat out of place. That part of our story matters immensely to us yet, it’s not the information they’re asking for. But I want them to know so that they don’t have to wonder. I want them to know the road we’ve walked, not to gain their sympathies but to gain their understanding. I don’t want their pity, I want their encouragement. 

There are many people I have met in the last year who never knew Jeremy. They never knew him. And I wonder, can they really know who I am apart from knowing him? (Of course they can). But the truth is that I don’t really want to be known apart from him. I would rather always be known as Jeremy’s, to be known by my loss.

But can I say that about Christ? (This is at the core of my heart these days.) Are my affections for Him strong enough for me to say, I don’t ever want to be known apart from who I am in Christ? I say I want that, but is my heart actually positioned that way in the midst of my grief? I hope so…because ultimately, in every season of my life, who I am directly relates to Christ and His work in me. He is (or ought to be) the defining factor of my life. In Psalm 16 (NRSV) David writes, “the LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…”. I believe the LORD has set the boundary lines for my life. And I want people to be drawn to the One who sets the boundaries for my life rather than what is within them (or the lack, thereof);  I want to be drawn to the One who sets the boundaries for my life. If I ever choose to look at the circumstances or people within those boundaries–both blessings and trials–and somehow think that they define me, I have forgone the greatest and the best (and the Only).

A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer last week and shared this quote in an email: “There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart.”   -Dr. Alan Redpath

IMG_0667I guess this is the way I’ve always seen it to be. If my circumstances have “gone past God and past Christ” then I can fully entrust those circumstances to God. Though it feels that my loss crushes me it is Christ that makes me whole. And this is not a truth that applies only to me as I’m comforted by God in grief. This fits every day, in all situations (and I am grateful). Jeremy’s death just happens to be an opportunity in my life where God has (and is) redefining the boundaries. It is hard; I liked what was. But it’s not for my harm (though I don’t understand what He’s doing). We don’t always need to understand why this and not that is within the boundary God has placed for our life; we just need to understand that He loves us, that He’s for us, and that there is good intention behind His actions.

Does it matter, then, if people who don’t know of my loss wonder about me and how I ended up parenting three boys alone? I will admit, it has mattered to me in the past. But God doesn’t wonder about me. He knows more than I know. And if I can truly rest in being known by Him then I will care so much less about what other people are thinking, or what their hopes are for me or what they’re dreading for me. I can maybe even be okay with my loss remaining an unknown history to some. And while I have somehow managed to find some comfort in having been Jeremy’s, I must remind myself that I first and foremost (always and forever) belong to Christ, and that Christ in me is the greatest source of life that anyone will see.

 …I don’t want to be known just by our loss.
I want to be known by our life. 

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