When I go to the dentist to have work done on my teeth, with the exception of a cleaning, I get a shot of Novocaine.  For about two hours, I don’t have any pain.  It starts out feeling pressure and then moves to a tingling sensation until finally, I get the feeling back in my mouth.  On another occasion, I got a shot to numb an area on my face.  And still several more times, my eyes have gotten drops to numb them for laser surgery.

Numb is good most of the time.  It helps us not feel physical pain.  But when we talk about numbness because of a tragedy, there is a dark side too.  If being numb means we don’t feel pain, that can be a blessing.  But otherwise, numbness can keep us from feeling anything.  We can’t think clearly, we are distracted, we sometimes … don’t care about much.

Numbness blocks memories too.  When grief runs deep, some people can’t remember the funerals of their loved ones.  The blurred memories usually never become clear.

How do we get the feelings back that so deeply desire?  The medicine wears off.  But it isn’t as simple as that with our emotions.  Perhaps we should do what David did after his infant son died.  We should get up and worship God (II Samuel 12).  Maybe we should recognize the presence of God and cry out to Him (Psalm 18:6).  God doesn’t reject our cries.

Will we ever get over being numb?  It can disappear in a short time… like Novocaine.  It can stay with us for a long time like a physical wound that is healing.  Eventually, we will feel again.  And we will still remember.


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A Reunion

Kathy was my step-sister.  Her dad married my mom in 1971 in the greatest little chapel in the world… our living room.  That’s where a lot of family weddings took place.  Kathy sat next to me during the brief ceremony and we gave each other a look that would say, “Ok, we’re related now.”  We teased each other often.  She was a junior in high school and I was in 6th grade.  She rolled her eyes a lot in the time she lived in our house until she left and got married (in our living room).  Our parents divorced, but we didn’t.

Time.  Very fast forward,  because I didn’t see or hear from Kathy until I got acquainted with Facebook.  Then, it was like we picked up where we left off.  Our talks were comfortable and full of teases.  She liked beer and I’d always say, “Yuck.”

Then, Kathy got sick.  She battled cancer and had major surgery.  I prayed she’d get better from the surgery and I told her so.  But things just got worse.  Her husband died.  She mourned his passing.  And she got sicker.  Kathy asked if I could come see her and I found a way.  She was in a rehab, learning to use muscles again, including walking.  We visited for a couple of hours, reminiscing about our teen years.  We talked about our reunion we had three years earlier when my mother passed away.

I left Kathy that day.  My last words to her included the only prayer I had ever had with her.  Then a hug.  And I headed back from South Bend, Indiana to my home in Cincinnati.  Two weeks later, I got word that Kathy had passed away peacefully.  Her sister Janine told me that my visit gave her the comfort she needed for her last day.

My trip back to my home town in Michigan came a few days later.  I met many of Kathy’s family, some I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years.  The memorial service was very personal and I went away cherishing our reunion and our last time we spoke.

It is a time like this that all of us need to treasure, because life is really, really short.

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When Peace Like a River…

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When Peace Like a River…

The author of this great and touching hymn, wrote it after his four daughters died at sea. He was not with them.  His wife alone survived the tragedy.

The writers of Psalm 46 (noted as “the sons of Korah”) understood the heartache of loss.  So the following words were written:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. 

A violent storm arises.  Everything falls apart and our grieving emotions take control.  There is nothing left, we think.  How can we deal with such destruction of our hearts?  And yet, it’s reasonable — even though difficult — to agree with the songwriter with what he says:

“When peace like a river attendeth my way;
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, It is well with my soul.”

I would like to think that if I faced a tragedy more than I have already, I’d be prepared to trust in God who is the only One who can give me the comfort and compassion as complete as I need it.  God uses others around us to help us know His peace.  Words.  Prayers.  Hugs.  Assurance.

The storms that rage are real.  They are “elephant on the chest” painful (as a friend of mine said just today).  And harder yet is that we can do very little to nothing about it.  I can be fully aware of Jesus, who walked on the violent sea to get to His disciples.  And I can be a little like Peter who was the only one to venture out of the boat to walk to the Savior.  Then, even as a human I might fail a bit, Jesus will calm the storm.

Psalm 46 finishes with these words:

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The Lord of hosts is with us;

Most comforting, isn’t it?

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Sometimes, you just want to curl up in a corner or climb under the covers, thinking that every heart-ache will go away soon.  You want to be left alone because talking is trivial and quite annoying at times like this.  Every musical note is welcomed and yet shunned.  Every ring of the telephone is an encouragement, but a reminder that others’ lives are going on.  You don’t want to go to work or even to the mailbox.  You want your groceries just to be there instead of you having to go out in public to buy them.

And then, your heart cries out that you want someone — anyone — to be there for you.  Most have already gone home and back to work or school.  The leftover potato salad at the funeral dinner has been packed up for you and you find there is no one left to share it with.  While you don’t want company, you still want someone there.  You want to cry on a shoulder and then be left alone.

Isolation is one way to cope.  It doesn’t solve the problem of loss, but it gives us opportunity to pray in private, to grieve in private, to find peace with our Eternal God in private.

Believe it or not, there are many, many people who empathize with that.  To be alone forever, though, doesn’t give us the total strength of heart we need to live again.  We must find solace with our friends and family who may also be grieving.  Together, after a time of going off by yourself, you grow strong and courageous again.


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Opening Gifts

It was only a few years ago that I discovered the cassette tape that had my grandmother’s Memorial Service on it.  The preacher of her church spoke a few words and my brother and I told personal stories.  That cassette tape was transferred to cd’s which I gave away at Christmas to several family members.  I remember the expression on my mother’s face when she opened her gift.  She gasped a little gasp, looked up, and just smiled.  It was HER mother’s service on that cd.
Christmas gifts have special meaning most of the time, especially for the giver.  Some are fun, while others are practical.  Many times they are sentimental.
Then there are the gifts we never open.  We just remember.  They include gifts of joy, wisdom, faith, compassion, excitement, and humor.  We don’t wrap them up in pretty paper or bind them with an entire roll of Scotch Tape.  We don’t display them on a shelf or play with them on the living room floor.  And we don’t hold them in our hands.
But we DO hold them in our hearts.  They become our most treasured possessions.
So, do a little remembering this year.  Remember that Jesus is the reason… well, you know.  Thank God for those who came into your life for the season.  And I’m sure… very sure… you won’t regift these presents!

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Our Grief and the Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas this year will be “firsts” for many people.  Eleven families from our church will be among them.  You may be, too.  It will be the first holiday season without your mother or your father, your first-born child, or your very best friend.  Maybe you will cry or find a room just be by yourself for a time.  But you will remember.

Hopefully, you will take the time to be thankful for who you had in your life and the time you spent together.  The grief of their deaths will never leave, nor should it.  However, the kind of grief you can live with falls in the categories of compassion and love.  Grief is deep and it is clear when we meet these “firsts.”  It reveals to us our uncompromising love for those who have gone before us.

I think of Thanksgiving and am thankful for my grandmother, step-father, mother, and niece who have all passed away in the last 17 years.  I think of Christmas and how my Savior brought Eternal life — what a GIFT!

When the holidays come and we grieve the way we do (or will), remember that we can have peace because of our God.  Without God, there would be no peace when we come to our “firsts” this year.

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