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Walking Forward in Grief CV Lay-Off Day:45

We celebrated Luke’s ninth birthday last week; his big birthday wish was to go camping. Tim and I have camped in the past, long before we met each other. But we’ve never gone camping together as a family. When we moved back to Arizona four years ago, learning how to camp was on our bucket list. But, after losing Justin, our family went into survival mode, and that bucket list went on the backburner.  The more we thought about Luke’s request, the better his idea seemed to us. We needed a change a scenery.

After much preparation, we headed out on the open road, late Friday morning. Our destination was a State Park on the border of Arizona and New Mexico. Google said it would take 3.5 hours to get there; it took us much longer. It was a long, slow ride through mountain roads with hairpin turns of which I am not a fan. And then, as we were entering another canyon out in the middle of nowhere, our check engine light came on. After finding a safe place to pull over, Tim got out, popped the hood, and couldn’t find any glaring issues. Once back on the road, we eased down the mountain terrain until we reached the next city, which was about 60 miles away. In the meantime, we prayed for safety, and I tried in vain to get a signal on my cellphone just in case we needed to find alternative lodging.

We made it without incident to the auto supply store. The kind gentlemen ran the code on our truck and determined that something was clogged in our airflow system. (I am sure there a better technical term for this, but this is the best explanation I’ve got.) Somehow, the problem corrected itself, and the check engine light magically disappeared; we were back in business. An hour later, we rolled into the State Park and found our campsite. The lake immediately magnetized the boys; they couldn’t wait to skip rocks and see frogs.

Everyone pitched in to set up camp, and before I knew it, it was dinner time. We went with easy and had hot dogs and beans. Afterward, the family roasted marshmallows and ate smores; I even brought my 90% dark chocolate so I wouldn’t feel left out. Chilled by the cool breeze coming off of the lake, we huddled around the campfire with the smell of burning mesquite wood filling the air. The stress of the day melted away as we gazed at the stars and marveled at God’s handiwork. The boys headed to bed first. I smiled as I listened to their giggles and watched their shadows dance against the red nylon tent.

In truth, the preparation leading up to our outing was a good deal of work. Adding to that, all week long, I felt like I was walking upstream. The night before we left, the night of Luke’s birthday, I stood in our kitchen, enfolded in Tim and Sarah’s arms, and wept. Justin’s absence is especially magnified on special days of celebration. Justin loved camping and being out in the wilderness. I know that he would have been all over this trip, hyping up the boys, and making us all a little crazy every step of the way.

In the end, I am so glad that we went on our adventure. We learned a lot for first-timers, and have a better idea of what to expect for the next time. Mostly, I am grateful that we bonded as a family; we came home a little closer and a little lighter. In my book, that’s a win.

Stepping out and doing something new amid grief will never be easy, but in doing so, the Lord meets me with His healing balm and provides His touch of comfort. Even in the littlest of things, He cares.

Until tomorrow,

Missy

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

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Trusting God with Our Pain in Grief

I wanted to run and hide to ease the pain somehow, I was weary and heavy-hearted. A fresh wave of grief came crashing in, and my mind was racing with a hundred different thoughts all at once. I pulled out my journal and wrote;

“O’ Lord, I spent 20-years nurturing, training, loving, and guiding Justin. Now, he’s just gone. Lord, I ask you, O’ God, to take this ache from me, I run into Your arms, and I lay the pain of this loss and my heavy heart at your feet. You are the bread of life, the living water. Please come and fill this grief-the hollowness in my heart, with you and your goodness.”

Within just a minute’s time of writing out my prayer, I was led to read Psalm 46:4, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.” Upon reading those words, I knew with absolute confidence the Lord was meeting with me. You see, earlier that morning I was studying and camping out in the book of John, specifically John 4:10 and John 7:37, and eventually lingering in with Revelation 7:17 and Revelation 22:1-2. I was drawn to Jesus’ description of himself, ‘the living water.’ When my eyes rested on Psalm 46:4 and absorbed the words “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” I was sure it was yet another layer of what the Spirit was impressing upon me earlier that morning. To my great delight, upon searching the Scripture reference, I was correct!

A snapshot of my heart was captured as I wrote in my journal in real-time. It took a while to understand what was happening in my heart, but it finally clicked for me. As I was writing, I could hear the inner chatter of my mind asking questions, “What if God doesn’t answer me? What if I write this out, bare my heart, and I am left feeling the weight of my grief alone?”. They were honest questions because acknowledging my pain WHILE I was walking through it was something new for me. My “aha” moment revealed an unhealthy and : pattern I created. Instead of immediately taking my pain to the Lord, I regularly attempted to comfort my wounded heart by using food to soothe the turmoil within. This pattern only compounded my problems, for soon, shame was quick to follow along with the physical consequences of misusing food. I preempted taking my concern or hurt to the Lord because I feared He would be silent. Unknowingly, I was not trusting the Lord to sustain me, while instead, I tried to sustain myself.

This week bookmarks one year since I made my promise to Justin to get healthy. With certainty, that life-changing conversation propelled me for such a time as this. With the excruciating pain of losing Justin, there is a stark contrast between my manufactured comfort (food) and true comfort which comes from the Good Shepherd and Overseer of my soul. I was gracefully forced to stop using food to treat my pain. Instead, an irresistible invitation was extended to me and to you from the One who faithfully cares for our souls, “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:17

Forever held in His faithful grip,

Missy

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The Winding and Troubled Road of Transformation

Journal Entry 10-31-2016
It’s been a very hard several weeks for me. I have struggled with finding a peace of mind and a joyful spirit. In my current set of circumstances, my weight gain has been one of the worst consequences of lacking self-control. Physically, my body is maxed out. It hurts to sit, there’s too much weight on my tailbone. It’s hard to get comfortable, there’s just too much fat in my mid-section. Oh my feet, they hurt so bad. I am snoring, coughing a lot, and none of my clothes fit. Those are my physical woes…well some of them. The IBS is out of control and I look like a pumpkin! I am so ashamed and I feel embarrassed. It’s hard to look in the mirror. Spiritually, I am hanging on by a thread, thankfully, the Lord holds me tightly no matter the circumstance.

The story of Keeping My Promise, Justin
A year and a half would pass after my journal entry before I would finally decide to make a change. One Sunday evening, our twenty-year-old son Justin asked me if we could talk. For the last several months, he and I had been going back and forth about his desire to get a motorcycle. I was adamantly against it and he was passionately for it. It was clear that I was losing the battle because he had spent the previous weekend completing a motorcycle safety course enabling him to obtain a motorcycle license.
My son wisely repeated my own concerns for his safety operating a motorcycle and then very gently turned the tables and shared his own concern for my health and well-being. To my surprise, he told me that he would be willing to forgo buying a motorcycle if I would agree to get healthy! With my head swimming, I wholeheartedly agreed to his terms. Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed, but mostly humbled, because he cared so much for me to give up something that he was crazy excited about. After our conversation, I affirmed Justin and I thanked him for being so brave. I recognized that he was no longer a boy, but a man. Later when I was alone, I thanked God for his faithfulness and for not leaving me alone in my self-induced mess.

The very next day, I felt overwhelmed and a little fearful. I asked the Lord to strengthen me for my pilgrimage to stewarding my body well and then jumped in head first. I immediately cut out sugar, soda, and bread from my diet. Each night at dinner, Justin asked me how I was doing and enquired if I was still following my plan. My answer was a resounding, “Yes!”. His response was a Texas-sized smile and “Good job, Mama!”.

Only six days later on Saturday, July 15, our dear Justin was tragically killed in a car accident. Every day is a new opportunity to keep my promise to Justin as I cling to my hope in Christ Jesus.

Relief from Shame
Admittedly, I have struggled with my weight since I was a young girl. I well remember a night much like my journal entry above; I was in the pit of discouragement feeling ashamed and embarrassed. It was a vicious cycle of defeat and I saw no way out. I cried out to Lord in my distress and he renewed my hope with a tenderness that I have never forgotten. He led me to Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.” With tear-stained cheeks, He lifted my chin to gaze upon His majesty showing me His love was not conditional to my behavior. When I look to Him, my shame vanishes. Isn’t that the hope of the Gospel? No matter the sin we have become entangled with, the power of Christ offers us freedom. For if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 When the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, He simultaneously provides the power and strength to change. Our sin and thorns in our flesh enable us to realize our desperate need for our Savior. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9,

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Power to Change
If I were to attain my goal weight, fit into my favorite pair of jeans, and it was all accomplished through mere behavioral modification and willpower yielding no lasting change in my heart, it would all be rubbish! My goal in life is to love God more. If the affections of my heart only shift from one sinful pleasure to another, it is all vanity.
When the Holy Spirit convicts us, our eyes are opened to the folly of our sin, and the only acceptable response is repentance and trust. Through this super-natural reconciliation of forgiveness, our heart’s are transformed more into the image of His Son, for it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4) Therefore, like Paul, we can “boast in our weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest upon us.”

10 Months Later
At the time of this writing, I am ten months into my pilgrimage. It has been a winding and troubled road, but at every turn, He is faithful. Through his strength, I have made progress and I am able to physically accomplish so much more than before. If Justin were still alive, I know he would be beaming. God in his sovereignty arranged our conversation at just the right time when I would need it most. My heart is filled with gratitude for His love and care for me. He gives me grace upon grace along with the strength for what each day will hold.

Forever in His grip,

Missy

Side by side comparison

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There Will be a Day

Nine months is quite a significant number to any mother. I carried Justin, our firstborn, to full-term counting down the days with eager expectancy. I spent numerous hours preparing for his arrival and tried with all my might to imagine what it might be like to be a mother. While I was full of anticipation to meet him, I was also petrified that in some way, I would ruin him. I eagerly listened to radio programs like Focus on the Family, I searched the Scriptures with a new set of eyes for wisdom, and asked as many questions as I could think of to other Mom’s that seemed to know what they were half-way doing. In the early days of his life, my biggest prayer was, “Oh dear Lord, please don’t let me mess him up!”. Truth be told, nothing fully prepares you for motherhood until you are holding your precious little one in your arms and an unstoppable bond transpires.

In the same way, nothing prepares you for your child’s death until you are walking in that very reality. For nine months, I have struggled to adjust to Justin’s absence. In this journey of grief, sometimes it’s the simple things that are the most difficult to bear. I look at his empty chair that sits at our dinner table and I am reminded of the many conversations and outbursts of laughter that once filled that space. I see his portable speaker and immediately can hear the music that once played at its highest volume faithfully blaring throughout our home while he sang out tone-deaf at the top of his lungs. I gaze at his enormous whiteboard etched with co-worker’s names, Scriptures, and beautiful truths and my heart brims with both joy and sorrow. With a grateful heart, I remember that no matter what went on during the day, there was always an “I love you” at the end of the night. I still smile when I think of my twenty-year-old son tenderly saying, “Night, night, Mama. I love you.”

Justin was quite taken with Heaven and talked about it often. I remember him repeatedly exclaiming, “Won’t Heaven just be wonderful!” or “Aren’t you excited to go to Heaven?” I confess that my reply was not at all elegant and I would usually say, “Yes, Justin, Heaven will be so wonderful. But please stop, you are freaking me out. I want you around for a long time.” We cannot go back and change the past, but I do wish I would have breathed in those specific moments with him and lingered there. It is obvious that the Lord in His kindness was giving him a glimpse of eternity. I do not beat myself up over such things, but I do take note of my limited understanding.

Now, I am no longer “freaked out” by one of my children contemplating Heaven, I welcome the thought of how glorious it will be. Justin had it right, his hope was anchored for what is to come. Now more than ever, I long for the day when He will wipe away every tear from my eyes and death will be no more. Gone will be mourning, sadness, and pain. The striving will be no more, and I shall see my Savior face to face. I will touch his nail scarred hands and my eyes will see what my heart has believed! “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 There will be a day that I am reunited with our dear Justin and we will worship the Lord together. I am certain that I cannot begin to imagine the pleasures of Heaven, but oh how it fills my heart with great joy to think on such things.

As for now, in the waiting; gone are the days when tears were a rare commodity, now it seems I have an endless supply that flow freely from my eyes showing up whenever they please. I am no longer alarmed by their presence, in truth, I have become so accustomed to them gliding down my cheeks that I am convinced that one day, I will have permanent grooves as a remembrance of what once was. I do not loathe these tears for I am reminded that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17 To this I say, Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Until that day,

Missy

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Cultivating a Heart of Wisdom

So teach us to number our days that we might get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

For the last decade, I have plastered this verse on note cards, I have written it in my journals, it has been highlighted, hearted, and underlined. I have held this Scripture so dear because I wanted to remember how fleeting this life is. Looking back, I am beginning to understand why the Spirit fervently impressed this truth upon my heart.

When Justin was ten-years-old, and Sarah was eight-years-old, my husband began talking to me about the idea of homeschooling, I was not at all interested. At the time, it felt like such a radical move. In deepest recesses of my heart, I felt completely inadequate for the task and I danced around the subject with Tim for quite some time. Through a series of events, the Lord got my attention and confirmed that He was calling me to quit my part-time ministry job and enter the land of homeschooling. I was totally overwhelmed, but the Lord gave me the courage and strength for each task that He called me to. I am not implying that working for a ministry or sending our children to public school was wrong nor am I suggesting that homeschooling our children made me some “super-hero mom”. The Lord called our family to something else for His purposes. Incidentally, our school days were less than ideal, and my weaknesses did not suddenly become my strengths, but He sustained me.

Looking back, my heart is filled with thankfulness and gratitude because now I can see what a gift that the Lord gave me, time. My shortcomings and lack of what I felt I needed didn’t matter; He knew the number of Justin’s days. The Lord graciously allowed our family to spend an amazing amount of time together making Justin and Sarah best friends. That treasured time allowed Tim and I to pour into both of our children before their three-baby brother’s arrived onto the scene. We enjoyed a sweet like-minded fellowship up until Justin’s final days on this earth.

And now, having tasted the bitterness of death, I truly know what a vapor this life is. With absolute certainty, I recognize that this battle we fight to hold fast to what is good is not in vain. The battle I speak of shows itself in a hypnotic melody that threatens to slowly lull us to sleep with simple distractions and misplaced affections on temporal and worthless pursuits. For the glory of God and in His grace and strength, we must stay alert, guarding our hearts and minds closely in order that we do not waste our allotted days on this earth.

I pray that Psalm 90:12 will be forever branded upon my heart in order that I might be transformed by its power to spend my days wisely. I see with clear vision the blessings that the Lord has entrusted to me. Firstly, I think of my husband. Often, I look into his gentle eyes and realize how thankful I am to be married to my best friend. He has a beautiful gift enabling him to see the big picture in ways that I never can. The Lord has used him to teach me think more deeply and to camp out and wrestle with difficult truths mostly likely preparing me for such a time as this. We have been given a beautiful daughter who is full of life, wit, and insight, with an increasing love for the Lord. Lastly, we have been blessed with an additional three sons who promise to keep us young for many years. Their lives are full of wonder and mischief and their tender hearts toward the Lord is a delight. Therefore, I must stay vigilant, even amid my grief, for each one of these are precious gifts and I do not want to squander one day.

To this I say, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Psalm 15:1

Forever held in His grip,

Missy

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He Hideth My Soul

Our minds were reeling with the news of Justin’s accident. The sheriff’s office patiently walked us through our next steps as we tried to process this horrific loss. They asked us if we had any clergy that could come and be with us. I called a friend and incoherently told her that we needed to get ahold of one of our pastors.

Not too long after, two precious pastors came to be with us in our darkest hour early that Sunday morning. They hugged us, sat with us, said little, and listened a lot. I remember them praying over us as they expressed their own anguish for the pain that we were facing. Upon their parting, they gave us two excellent words of wisdom that I remember to this day:

  • Take care of yourself and your family, this is a season to huddle
  • Grief is isolating

In grief, there are many adjustments and much to process. I wake up daily to the reality that our Justin has departed from this world. Like an optometrist painstakingly working to adjust his patient’s prescription to 20/20 vision, I find myself working to adjust my mind to the fact that this is our new normal. Everything looks different because everything is different. There’s an unfamiliar dynamic at work in our family. Our firstborn, the trailblazer of the Linkletter five, is gone. My children lost their big brother and their best friend. Our once loud and laughter filled home has taken on a more subdued liveliness. Somewhere along the way, it has become a normality for one of us to randomly begin to cry and for the rest of us to huddle around the one.

In the early days, the more people who could be around us, the better. As the days have turned into weeks, and the weeks have become months, it has become more difficult to interact with others as we normally once did. The loss of Justin is a searing pain and leaves little room for pleasantries and small talk. I have found that the isolation is not from a lack of people caring, the isolation happens inwardly.

During these heavy-hearted periods, it is often too laborious to try to express what I am feeling. In these times, I have repeatedly asked the Lord to “hide me”. I allow myself to weep and I know without a doubt that He understands the depth of my pain for He is the one who made me a Mother and gave me such love for my children. When I whisper, “Hide me, Lord”, I imagine Him holding me tight much like a Daddy holds his distraught little girl. I am reminded of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, “He Hideth My Soul”:

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

While walking through this grief, I struggle to complete daily tasks. The laundry gets done on an “as needed” basis and dinner is often thrown together at the last-minute. Our homeschool days are less than ideal. Honestly, I can become easily discouraged about such things. I have a dear friend who often reminds me that there’s grace upon grace for me and every single follower of Christ Jesus. She is so right! These things will come in due time. For now, He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand.

Forever held in His grace,

Missy

He Hideth My Soul II

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Six Months Later

Life can change in the blink of an eye. One minute I was telling Justin to be careful and that I loved him. The next minute (or hours later) we were being awakened by the sheriff’s office telling us something no parent ever dreams of hearing, our dear Justin was gone. As anyone can imagine, there was wailing, weeping, and pure disbelief.

In those early days, we walked about in a fog. Dear family and precious friends began pouring in from all over the country to be with us in our great time of need. We were surrounded by loved ones, did they ever love us well! Our house was cleaned, meals prepared, our children were doted on, and laundry was completed (no small miracle). Mostly, we just cried and they patiently listened and held us tight.

We, with the help of a great army of laborers, planned a memorial service. We honored our dear Justin’s young 20-year-old life. The Lord called Justin to salvation at a young age. We are overwhelmed with joy that he loved the Lord with much enthusiasm and an authentic wonder. He was one to talk about heaven often and how he longed to be there with the Lord. A sweet memory to always be cherished is the night of the memorial. A great number of us sat together in our living room singing hymns and songs of worship to our mighty and faithful God. Justin would have loved it. I have found one anecdote for my heart in the deep seas of grief is to sing praises to our King. It puts me in my rightful place and reminds me of my hope.

Just days later, we buried our precious son with guttural moans, each of us longing to join him. Eventually, we returned to our home and life as it once was no longer existed.

Everday is one where we learn to live without his presence, his loud music, and his contagious laugh. Each of us misses him so and try and imagine what it must be like for him in heaven!

Forever hoping in our faithful God,

Missy