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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Why? (My Missionary Cousin)

I stood in a room filled with books at the Seminario Teologico Bautista in Lima, Peru. The building was simple and dedicated to training young men for the ministry. Before me was a memorial plaque dedicating a section of the books to My Missionary Cousin.  A few days earlier I had listened to a group of missionaries telling their stories and several of them mentioned My Missionary Cousin. They had known him and had planned to minister shoulder to shoulder with him and his family.

In 1977, ten years before I stood in that small library and sat in that living room in Lima listening to missionary stories, My Missionary Cousin and his family left for language school in Mexico. They were to learn Spanish to prepare to serve in Peru. They had only been there a short time before it became apparent that something was wrong. He was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Over the course of the next 5 years his condition deteriorated and he passed away in May of 1982 during my senior year of high school.

As I listened to the missionaries’ stories, I thought about My Missionary Cousin. He loved God. He loved Peru, the Peruvians, but he never made it back. He loved his wife and 3 young sons. But he had to leave all of that behind in a long torturous death. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I could not hold them back. He was part of the inspiration that led me to Peru as a Summer Missionary Apprentice that year. I was there, but he was not.

After his death I began to ask “Why?” When My Uncle died, I was too young to ask.  Perhaps I was still too young to ask at 12 when My Pastor’s Son died. However, at this point in my life I was beginning to question not only My Missionary Cousin’s death, but also why My Uncle and My Pastor’s Son had to die. All of them loved God, were serving Him, and yet they died. Their loved ones experienced this horrible loss and grief. It seemed so very unfair. I wondered why and somewhere deep in my heart began a stirring doubt about what kind of God would do this.

"Why" is a normal question when facing grief. 
How are you or how have you worked through that question?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Strength in Loss (My Pastor's Son)

A slight man with blonde hair stood at the end of a lightly yellowed pine pew near the front of the plain country-creamery-turned-church. His face was set in a solemn pose, filled with sadness and yet with peace. The lines that often crinkled at his eyes and the smile that picked up the corners of his mouth were not evident that day. A line of people snaked out the sanctuary doors into the foyer. Most people found a place to stand inside on the March 9, 1977. Person after person stopped and shook the slight man’s hand and spoke words meant to comfort and assuage his grief. Yet so often he was the one offering comfort, hope, and strength.

After they stopped to speak to the man, the people moved forward to stand beside the casket. Inside the casket lay the body of a thirteen year old boy. A framed picture of him rested against the inside of the open casket lid. My Pastor’s Son.

My Pastor’s Son was seven months older than I. He was born on November 11, 1963. He was the only son of My Pastor and his wife, the only biological son they would ever have. Although we knew each other when we were in upper elementary grades, we didn’t hang out much. He was a grade ahead of me and he was a boy . . . and at that age, boys had cooties.

When he was 12, he was diagnosed with leukemia. His parents did all they could to get treatment for their son seeking help from both medical and holistic sources.  I don’t remember seeing him much after he was diagnosed, but his dad continued to preach and shepherd our congregation.  I remember three things about his dad during this time.  

I remember My Pastor telling us several times that he would give his life for his son, that he would gladly die so that his son could live . . . if only he could.

To this day I cannot read 1 John 5:13 without thinking of My Pastor’s Son. My Pastor talked about his son’s imminent death and the normal questions about what would happen after he died. My Pastor’s Son had underlined this verse in his Bible: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13 KJV). Not only had My Pastor’s Son underlined this verse, but he had circled the word KNOW over and over again. This was the confidence that My Pastor’s Son had regarding what would happen after he died.

The last thing I remember about My Pastor was the obvious depth of his pain and his great strength and faith in the face of that pain. His pain was so stark, so unrelenting, and so all-encompassing and yet his faith was stronger. In the face of his loss and pain, he clung to God with unswerving faith and taught me that in the worst, most terrible losses of life, God is there and able to comfort, strengthen, and provide – even when He chooses not to heal.

Have you had someone in your life that taught you about facing profound loss?
What was he or she like? What did she or he teach you?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Why a Series about Grief?

Why a series about grief? In a few words, to create a safe place to share our stories by first sharing mine, and to invite you to share your story of loss.

Grief has touched my life in many ways and far too often. Too many people I know have lost a loved one, lost a home, gone through a divorce, or suffered another type of loss and experienced deep, profound grief. I too have experienced painful losses.

I became aware of this pattern of grief as my church experienced a season of untimely deaths. Later while working on a timeline of my life for a spiritual formation class, I realized that grief was not only a theme in my church, but in my own life as well. As I processed this with our pastor, he challenged me in two ways:
First, he challenged me to complete grief-work of my own that had been left undone.

Second, he challenged me that working with people who are grieving is delicate work that needs to be done with skill as well as love and compassion.

His challenge started me on a journey to work through my own unresolved grief and then to learn how to help others walking through the intense pain of loss.

Since then, I have read and studied, listened and learned about grief and how it impacts us. We never "get over" grief, but we can assimilate it into the narrative of our life in a way that allows us to both love the one lost and to live again ourselves. One of the key tasks of working through grief is to share our stories, to be able to put our loss into words and know that it is heard.

So, this series is about me sharing my story and inviting you to share your story of loss, about us coming together to comfort and encourage one another, to share experiences and hope, to share what helped us through, and to strengthen one another in this place called mourning, grief, and bereavement.

If you feel comfortable to share your story in a comment, I would be delighted to hear it. 
If you would rather contact me privately, you may send me a private e-mail.