When Holidays Are Holey Days

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How do you define holidays

Merriam-Webster defines it this way ...

hol-i-days noun \ˈhä-lə-ˌdāz\

  1. holy days
  2. days on which one is exempt from work
  3. days marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event

For those who grieve, holidays can seem like holey-days.

holey-days adjective \ˈhō-lēˌdāz \

  1. days having holes

Holidays often feel like holey days  – days that remind us that there is, and always will be, a hole in our hearts and homes. A hole in the form of an empty chair, a missing member of the family, a feeling that life will never be "normal" again. A hole formed when a parent is no longer living, or a child is taken way too soon by a terminal illness or accident. Perhaps a hole created by a prodigal who has chosen to just walk away.

Regardless the reason for the hole, literature on death and grief tell us it is actually healing to acknowledge it. Jesus said ~Blessed are those who mourn [who feel the pain and express it], for they shall be comforted

These holey days can be a precious time to remember ~ to share stories, laughter and tears about the loved one who is no longer present with you. Holey days are a wonderful time to transform the relationship from one of presence to one of memory. For it has been said ~ memories are where the proof of life are stored.

I am very familiar with the emotions of holey days. I know the horror of brain death, and the conflicting emotions of signing papers to donate my sixteen year old son's organs to save the lives of strangers. I know the sorrow of having an estranged parent who chose to not be in my life for almost 10 years. I know there will always be times I wish I could call my mom.

I know how God has used all things to glorify Himself and draw others to His kingdom. I have seen how His hand move to bring value to my loss. And I know that I will one day see my loved ones and forever live with them in eternity.

But all the knowledge in the world does not change the fact that these special days, these holidays, often feel like holey days to my grieving heart. It is a time to give ourselves grace; to offer grace to those who grieve.

So I give myself permission to acknowledge the pain as I feel that weight of grief bearing down on me. I purposefully bring to mind the precious memories of each loved one, even though these memories may bring tears to my eyes and an aching in my heart. For this I know, memories are the proof that they will always be a part of us.

To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.  –Egyptian Proverb

Missing Grace

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My heart is so heavy this morning from the culminating events yesterday in the courtroom of Judge Sarkisian.

I understand the pain of losing a child. I really do. I am so sorry for the family of sweet Ella Joy.

But what truly makes my heart ache is the opportunity which was lost time and time again in that Fresno Superior Courtroom, and in the court of public opinion. What could have been demonstrated by those who stood in judgment? What could have been expressed by those who took sides through their posts on social media sites? What could have given the world a truer glimpse of His grace?

Yes, I grieve for what might have been ~ that the world would know the power of grace to forgive even the heinous of deeds. It really isn't about what the D.A. believed happened that dreadful day four years ago. What truly matters with eternity in view is for the faith community to show the world a truly amazing grace; a grace that sees the person as full of worth and precious, regardless of any wrongdoing. A grace that can redeem the future in spite of the past.

Oh how the Holy Spirit must grieve this lost occasion to demonstrate that while we were yet in our sin, Christ took the penalty for us all – and we.all.walked.away.free.of.sin. Penalty paid. End of story.

There is no loophole in the gospel story. Either the cross of Christ covers a multitude of sin, any sin, our sin ~ or we are all at risk of one day falling short of His grace. 

* Painting, The Offering, by Michael D. O'Brien

Forever In My Heart

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Every year I think it will be different. I really do. But here I am again with that restlessness in my heart that longs for reunion. The feelings are nothing new ~ they have been my companion along life's journey for almost 20 years. Perhaps it is because February is the month of love. Most likely it is because this short month is characterized by separation and loss for me. I am well aware that if you choose to love, you choose to grief.

And I chose to love, so my heart still grieves the losses marked in these short days of February. I look forward with hope to the blessed reunion with my son, my mother and my father, all of whom entered their eternal rest during the month of love.

I find great comfort in the words of Scripture. The passages which are truly a healing salve to my hurting heart are those that embrace the pain of separation and the reality of loss as part of our journey. As this month draws to a close, I drink deeply from the following words of comfort.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. –Psalm 34:18
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle; are they not in your book? –Psalm 56:8
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –Lamentations 3:19-23
Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. –Hosea 6:1

Perhaps the words of St. Paul speak best for me today. It is true these precious losses are part of who I am. Although I grieve the fact that my precious family members are no longer here in person, I know that it is indeed a short time before we will see them again, face to face.

Since we were torn away from you for a short time ~ in person not in heart ~ we endeavor all the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face. –I Thessalonians 2:17

Until then, they remain forever in my heart.

Clinging to Hope

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Bye Scott. I love you. See you at the game.

Bye Mom. Love you too.

I woke this morning with these words echoing in my head. Little did I know on that rushed morning in February 1996 that these words would be our last conversation. Just a little over four hours later,  Scott was airlifted to the regional trauma center, and sixteen short years became the length of his days.

Today begins a hallowed time for our family. Although sixteen years have passed, we remember every detail of these dark days with great clarity ~ as if it were yesterday.

Today I feel my grief in every cell of my body.

Today I long to hear Scott say just.one.more.time – Love you too.

Today I am reminded that no matter how dark and difficult the journey, the God of all Comfort has been my faithful companion. It is He who draws near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. It is He who replaces ashes with garlands and clothes me with a garment of praise. It is He who has placed eternity in my heart so I have a hope.

Today I cling to hope ~ hope that made it possible for me to take my first steps along this journey of grief. Hope that is rooted in the confidence that God will use my deep pain to glorify Himself and draw others to His Kingdom. Hope that promises to redeem the future.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. –Vaclav Havel

Mary Did You Know

Good Friday always finds me pondering the sorrow of Mary as she stands near the cross and watches her son in anguish. The weight of grief she carried as the life of her first born slips away. It is perhaps not so strange that during the holiest of weeks I hear the words of that modern Christmas song echoing in my head ~ Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

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As a mother who has laid her son in the arms of God, I lament with Mary. I grieve for this mother who bore a son only to have his life cut short. I weep with this mother who longed to wrap her arms around him one.more.time and tell him how much he is loved.

And yet, I find my own grief overcome with joy because, unlike Mary, unlike those who stood near the cross that day when the sky darkened over Golgotha, I know with assurance what Sunday brings.

In the midst of my longing to fill the void left by the death of my own son, Scott, I find comfort in the words Jesus speaks to his mother from the cross. In his own anguish, he sees her tears and looks down from the cross ~ to meet her in the form of her need, to fill the deep void now created in this mother's heart. The account of the events of Good Friday found in John 19 tells us:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

As I bend beneath the grief of Good Friday, the hope of Easter lifts me. I embrace the power of the resurrection that brings a glorious reunion with those who have gone before. I hold firm to the promise Jesus taught his disciples about his Kingdom, ushered in by his very death.

You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me.  John 16:22, 23

May I stand today in awe of the One who sees my sorrow, wipes away my tears, and saves our sons and daughters. May I bow as the Centurion beneath the cross and say ~

Truly this is the Son of God who redeems the future by his sacrificial death, even the death on a cross.

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Photo: The Pietà (1498-1499) is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo, housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Grief's Grip ~ God's Grace

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Today I feel the grip of grief. No matter what I do, I cannot seem to escape its clutch upon my heart. And yet, my soul is not anxious to find a place far from this shadow of death. For it is truly in this dark place, in this wilderness of my soul, that I find God to be so near.

I am no stranger to grief's hold. I have known it now for fifteen years. And over this past decade and a half, I have come to realize that I must eventually surrender to my grief.

In one sense, I find myself asking this today ~ Has it really been 15 years? And then I hear my heart ask ~ Has it really been ONLY 15 years?

I recall so vividly that phone call, fifteen years ago this very hour. I remember the thirty hours of waiting with hope only to be forced to reconcile my heart to the horrific reality of brain death.

Yet, as I reflect on my journey of grief, I can truly say that I am grateful for God's unlimited provision of comfort, grace and peace. He has remained faithful to His Word ~

He keeps count of my tossings and put my tears in His bottle.
Psalm 56:8
He draws near to my broken heart and saves my crushed spirit.
Psalm 34:18
waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth,a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
Psalm 40:1-3
How blessed I am when I mourn, for I will know God's comfort.
– 
Matthew 5:4

I can rejoice that He does not waste my sorrow. That through the things He has taught me along this path of sorrow, I can say of Scott, as the author of Hebrews said of Abel ~

Though he be dead, he still speaks.
Hebrews 11:4b

And if I can trust Him with this great loss, I can have confidence in His promise of reunion ~

But I do not want you to be uninformed, Bonnie, 
about those who are asleep, 
that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 
For since you believe that Jesus died and rose again, 
even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him 
those who have fallen asleep. 
For this I declare to you by a word from the Lord, 
that you who are alive, 
who are left until the coming of the Lord, 
will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven 
with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, 
and with the sound of the trumpet of God. 
And the dead in Christ will rise first. 
Then you who are alive, who are left, 
will be caught up together with them ~ with Scott 
in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, 
and so we will always be with the Lord. 
Therefore encourage one another with these words.
– 
I Thess. 4:13-18

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Photo: Christ in Agony by Michael O'Brien