Want To Survive the Valley of Suck? Ignore Conventional Wisdom

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I hate it when people don’t listen.  Really, it is incredibly disrespectful and I find myself upset at myself sometimes when I find myself not paying attention to someone speaking.  Of course, it could well be they are not a good speaker or the situation is not conducive or I’m tired.  

But when it comes to those one-on-one moments, I find myself the most upset.  One of the worst culprits is the telephone and being in a store, at the register, and having to wait for a phone call. THAT is really frustrating.  Here I am, trying to spend my money and no! Wait!  Even worse is having an appointment and having it interrupted.  I tell people who meet with me it has to be family for me to pick up the phone when I have an appointment - this is their time.

So I have a lot of empathy and sympathy when people come to me and talk about not being able to have a conversation with God in the middle of their darkest and most painful moments of life.  In the valley of suck, when everything, and I mean ALL of life seems to come down upon us, it can be so disconcerting to call out to God and get…

Nothing.

Dead air.

Silence.

Crickets.

Nada.

Years back, my first response was often to shout louder, pray more, read more, fast, and anything else I could think of or had been taught.  But as I have grown and lived and suffered, I have come to a few other conclusions along the way, ones just as valid, just not often addressed.  In a world so quick to do things, we are hesitant to do no thing.

Here is an important secret: Ignore conventional wisdom in the valley of suck. Here is how:

Realize God Is Listening.

One of Heather’s legacies for me was teaching me how to listen.  She knew I could fix most things and if I did not know how I would surely figure it out.  But Heather would many times tell me, “I need to talk to you and tell you some things but I don’t want your advice.  Don’t try to fix it.  Just listen.”  Thankfully, I was a quick learner (at least, I like to think I am).  I probably graded in at a B- or C+ but that was better than where I started.  

During many days of the valley of suck with Heather, as she declined in health, all I could do was listen.  And I too needed friends who would do just that: listen.  I guess that has been kind of a theme for me only because I’ve learned it is so important.  And, it is important for me to say this: God is listening.

So what if God is silent?  Why do we assume this is a sign he doesn’t care?  Why does it not occur to us God is doing the ONE thing so few people are willing to do - give us their full, undivided attention?  Stop making the assumption God always needs to tell you something.  Maybe, just maybe, God is saying to you, “I know no one else is listening.  I will.  I am here.  Speak.”

Stop Reading Devotionals.

Devotionals can be as good or as bad as memes.  At their best, they get us thinking.  At their worst?  They’re bad one ply toilet paper.  If you don’t think the devotional you’re reading is helping you - STOP IT!  That goes for “My Utmost for His Highest,” “Jesus Calling,” “The Upper Room,” “Our Daily Bread,” and any number of the many more out there.

You do not have to plow your way through these.  They do not contain incantations to gain special privileges from God.  Just because someone gives you one for a gift, it does not mean you HAVE to use it now.  Just because you have used it in the past, does not mean you need to use it NOW.

What may be the case, is that God is pointing you a different direction.  Maybe you need to look for a different devotional you have not read.  Maybe it is simply a book you’re being led to read alongside scripture and prayer.  Maybe you just need to read from a favorite book of the Bible, drink coffee, and say, “thanks, God.”  

If It Sounds Too Good It Probably Is.

I have shared before regarding a local ATL preacher and my cancer but just in case, I’ll drop it here again.  Back in 2000, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  The night before my surgery, flipping channels, I came across a broadcast by a preacher in north ATL who said (and I quote), “The reason bad things happen is because you have taken Jesus off the throne of your heart.”

Wow.  Thanks.  That cleared up so much for me.  It sounds good, right?  So really simple.

Then came the next week.  As I was recovering, I was flipping channels again and came across the same preacher.  I don’t know what he said.  I don’t care - the image was ALL I needed to see.  He was preaching with a cast on one arm.  I guess he had taken Jesus off the throne of his heart too.

It is so hard to hear and see people on their journey of faith come into contact with people and pastors who narrow down faith into such simplistic terms.  Put in the right ingredients, bake at 350, and out will come your perfect Christian life.  Tell me again which of the twelve disciples got out without suffering (and don’t say John - he was in exile, not retirement)?

The Barebones of Surviving the Valley of Suck

I am tired.  Nope, let us just call it: I am exhausted.  I am tired of reading the writings and listening to those in ivory towers who feel it their duty to ask others to have faith and sacrifice. Some of us have and still are. You see, the valley of suck didn’t begin with Heather’s cancer.  It only got harder.

I didn’t enter ordained ministry with debt so as to embarrass myself but my wife and I believed God called us to plant a church and do you know what happened?  In the end, we lost all of our financial savings, our house, and barely kept our vehicles and home furnishings.  We nearly declared bankruptcy.  I had my first panic attack and suffered from migraines and depression.  I DID dream a big dream and we needed God to show up (and I would do it all again)!

And God did.  Just not how WE expected.

In the following years, I would come down with a condition that I wrote about in previous blogs called Ischemic Optic Neuropathy.  In simple terms, it was the swelling of my optic nerves and it has cost me nearly half my vision and none of the treatments available did anything to help recover my vision.  During that time both my kids faced some of their own trying experiences that Heather and I had to help them through.  The only way to get through would be with God to show up.

And God did.  Just not how WE expected.

Then came another appointment to a new church and with it, the anticipation of God doing something new in our lives.  It was new alright, just nothing close to what we expected.  Just 4 months into being at BUMC, Heather was diagnosed with colon cancer and 20 months later she was gone from our world.  The only way to get through this is for God to show up.

And God has, in the same ways I have come to see God showing up, over and over again.

It has been in prayers which never cease.  It has been in the words of Scripture which have never grown too old, and in being with faithful followers of Jesus who keep their spirituality simple.  You don’t have to memorize the Bible to do this (I’m terrible at Bible memory) and you don’t have to pray extravagant prayers with words so grandiose you have to keep a dictionary handy.  

You keep it simple.  
You keep it spiritual.
You keep it focused on Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and  let us run  with endurance the race that is  set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,  who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising  the shame, and  is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The valley of suck will end one day.  It has for Heather and I am so thankful.  I am thankful to have lived with someone who ran with such faith and endurance the race before her.  I ran alongside her as long as I could.  What she and I learned on the race we ran is you don’t survive the valley of suck on conventional wisdom but on Scriptural Holiness - the hallmarks of the Wesleyan-Methodist Movement - the means of grace: Prayer - Scripture - Communion.  For me to give testimony to some other way of spirituality contrary to this would be a false gospel.  

It is a simple spirituality, this gospel of Jesus Christ but it far from easy.  Now, are you ready?  Will you learn to run with me in the valley of suck?

Much love from the valley of suck my friends.

Take People at Their Word in the Valley of Suck

I keep wanting to wake up.  I want the choice between the red pill and green pill.  I do not want to go down the rabbit hole any farther.  Wonderland is not wonderful - it sucks - which is why Alice was running to get out.  

Becoming used to the widow or widower description is an odd transition to make in one’s life (so don’t try to understand it - you don’t want to and can’t till it happens).  While we tend to be a culture rebelling against labels, I find it helpful, and in a way, comforting to have the label.  It does provide immediate clarification about a very important part of who I have been and who I am now.  I’m also learning how important this is for relationships.  To know I am a widow/widower is to know my wife has died and I am living with the burden: always. Now, there might be an attempt to put up a front either through one’s presence or words, but it does not make grieving any less a reality.

So clarifying labels can be most helpful.  They give some understanding to the words being used.  But there are many other labels tied to emotions which seem to be a problem - cause confusion for those who suffer and those who comfort.  It isn’t an exhaustive list, you may have one or two to add.  

These are the words and definition people seem to confuse.  I have found they fall under the category of “wandering wordsmithing.”  Rather than allow them to just “be” people feel the need to play word association and not actually listen (or read) what someone in grief is saying.  Here are the top 7 Wandering Words I find people misappropriate and redefine in the valley of suck and grief. (even those of us who grieve):
 
  1. Anger does not equal being bitter.
It is one of Dr. Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grieving.  So just because I have rants about #cancersucks or #valleyofsuck, don’t take my anger for bitterness.  Anger can become bitterness if left unchecked but anger IS part of grieving and it is okay.  Be angry and get it out.   Or sit with someone who is and let them get it out.
  1. Questioning does not equal doubt.
My wife’s cancer didn’t reveal this to me but it has made it more real and taught me even more so, the value of good questions.  Questioning is the process of searching for more - of seeking answers to give peace to a sufferer’s soul.  I don’t doubt God’s faithfulness - God is faithful, I just don’t always understand and who really does?

  1. Hurting does not equal a loss of faith.
I have so many scars from growing up and just getting older.  The bigger the kid, the bigger the toys, and usually, the bigger the wounds.  Just because I lost some of my blood along the way, it doesn’t mean I lost all my blood.  And keep in mind, your body is always making it new and fresh.  Some of my faith needed to be lost so something new and fresh can become part of my life.

  1. Grief does not equal obsessed.
I cry.  I reflect.  I weep big, loud sobs sometimes.  Hell, I cried at the altar when Heather and I got married!  Tears can express joy and sadness.  As the grieving process moves through its phases, those tears change and so will my conversation.  I lost my wife and my kids lost their mom.  That is kind of a big deal really.  It is not an obsession I’m having it is just grief that I’m experiencing.

  1. Alone does not equal lonely.
My best friend is gone.  I am alone even though I have kids and family and friends.  It does not mean I’m wasting away.  Not everyone has a significant other nor is company always what is needed.  Sometimes a drive alone is good as is working in my office and so is a short hike...by myself.

  1. Lonely does not equal needy.
But sometimes it does get lonely and having a friend to talk with is good.  I do not intend to come across as needy because I did not mean to do so.  Sometimes I need my friends and sometimes my friends need me.  Just because I grieve, doesn’t mean I stop being there for you either.  We were made for relationship.

  1. Single does not equal available.
I hate to even write this one but it is warranted because I have heard from others and had just a bit of experience myself already.  Almost nobody who was the “rebound relationship” in High School, college or adult life, got a good thing.  You got baggage.  You know what, I DO!  I have so many memories and love that surrounds almost everything that was Heather’s.  Don’t confuse me being single with looking for a relationship.

What is the solution to wandering words and wandering wordsmithing? Taking time to listen and to read what others are saying and expressing. Words already come with meaning. During grieving and suffering no one has time to nuance anything - who has time for that?!? Don't be a therapist. Be a friend.

Tolkien wrote, “All who wander are not lost” (more of Heather's legacy).  They are wise words for the valley of suck and a grand piece of wordsmithing too!  I am not lost.  I know I am in the valley of suck.  I know what these words mean and I am figuring out, day by day what is next both personally and spiritually.  And while time heals wounds, the scars of loving and loss do not disappear.  If you’re friend or family of someone in grief and pain, you don’t have to define terms, just listen.  And you who wander, know you are not lost, even though it may seem so.  You’re in the valley of suck and as you wander you will come to know your way.

Much love from the valley of suck.


A Psalm of Wondering in the Valley

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Now, I wonder. I wonder about so much. It seems this is all my mind can do or accomplish. People say to stay busy - keep your mind occupied - get on a schedule - get out with people All these are well and good but they lack one important element: Heather is not part of any of these experiences.

Do not argue with me about her being with me in spirit! Why should that matter? She is not here with me in person! Heather, to me, was flesh and blood and her memory is what hurts! Her absence is what hurts. Being home, doing nothing, was doing something with her nearby. What I did without her was done knowing I could share every moment with her when she returned.

Here in spirit? Bah! Humbug! As Ebenezer Scrooge said often and loudly. It is a home and a life robbed of its heart here. We are on life support as we recover from our hearts removal.

I wonder...how long will this go on? Everyone is different as is every family. There is no way to know. I wonder...what will the relationships in our home look like? There are not just two children here, but two adult children - thrust into facing their own mortality. I wonder...what will be our next steps after this? I wonder...how far does the promise of Proverbs prevail when you “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6), it they are robbed by their mother? I wonder...who do I become; this amputated human being, I now am? I am missing part of me.

Oh, do not give advice my friends for when you do, you miss the point of the questions. The questions merely ARE - there is no answer - none that you can give to me. There is no consolation just yet. There merely is wondering and wandering in the valley of suck. Nothing is as it was and what it will become has not yet been made known. So I wonder and wander.

I wonder, my God, who am I to understand you to be now? I wonder how does our arrangement continue? I wonder how will your grace present in my life? Oh, better still, how will you present grace into the lives of my son and daughter? I wonder (and worry too) if your grace is sufficient in their eyes or in their heart? You do know, my God, they hurt and they blame and they hold you to account for it? I wonder, my God, do you care? Will you answer them?

I know the pattern. I know that from grief, from the valley of suck, I will move from these wonderings but be a very different man. I wonder, my God, who will I become? What will he look like? How will he do life? But I wonder too, my God, How about them? People do not know the strains of being a pastor’s kid and now to this reality, a new one is added? Will you refine them? Will they let you? I wonder...I wonder if their hurts do not become my own? I wonder my God, if I can journey with the Psalmist:

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:1-6)


I wonder, my God, is this how Cain felt? A marked man wandering the world? We suffer and we cause suffering. All this time and so little has changed inside us or with us. I wonder, is pain and suffering the only way to truly get our attention? Okay, nevermind, I do not wonder this - it is truth - a most excruciating truth.

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering,” observes Roberta Flack. I wonder why there remain so many snake-oil salesmen selling a lie? I wonder, my God, how after all this time, we still live and love life on the fringes of truth about You? I wonder, my God, why you let so many “sell” your blessings? Do you not care? Is this what living life as one of your prophets was like? Is this how Elijah felt? Isaiah? Hosea? Jonah?

My God, I wonder and wander because THIS is part of the journey through the valley of suck is it not? I wonder and wander because you redeem suffering in your own way and own timing. But is it wise for the younger ones, I wonder and worry. And I wait.

You will come by, my God, you must. Just as I did this day, two weeks removed from her death, I sought you in your temple, my God. As I wonder and wander in the valley of suck, I am waiting for you to come to me and Heather’s children. I will sing again. Will they? I wonder still. Deal graciously with them. Deal graciously will all who wonder and wander in grief and pain.

Deal bountifully with us not for what we’ve done but because we have waited - trusted - you, my God.



Our Family & Faith in the Valley of Suck

Dear Logan and Jay,

This sucks.  In all my years I never imagined having to write this.  Why did I think our family was immune to suffering and pain?  Well, we aren't and we had already learned some of the suffering we could endure. Why did I ever think I could protect you from the reality of being in a family?  Into every family, death IS going to come.  I was lulled into a false sense of security as it is so easy to do.  Just like our cats who doze off until someone sneezes or thunder booms - your world has been rocked to the core.

I tried to prepare you for some of the things you would hear and read.  People WANT to SAY the right thing desperately.  You DON’T have to believe that but it helps with living and surely helps during dying.  People WANT to DO the right thing to help you.  They do not know what it is though and you probably do not know either.  Nothing prepares you for death but death.  And nothing could have prepared you for the death of your mother.  You only had one.  I only had one wife.

We’ve talked enough now and you have heard and seen so many things.  So very much of it centers on what others think you should do and what other people think God’s role in this was.  I have seen your response and I have heard the pain and anger in your voice.  This is what grieving looks like.  You wanted to deny it was happening at first.  Now you are angry.  

Being angry is okay.  
Being angry at the world is okay.  
Being angry at “people” is okay.  
And being angry with God is okay too.
You are not the first and you won’t be the last.

You’ve heard phrases like, “God needed her,” “God has got this,” “God has a plan,” “She is an angel now,” “at least she is not hurting anymore,” and more.  I have to stop writing these somewhere.  People mean well when they say these things but they don’t help.  I know, they don’t help me either.  Remember, I am a pastor.  I have a Masters of Divinity Degree and am an ordained clergy, and I’ve been in full-time ministry for over 20 years now.  They don’t help.

God didn’t need your mom.  God already had your mom.  Remember Advent?  Remember the name you grew up hearing every year?  “Emmanuel.”  It is one of Jesus’ names and it means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  God was already here and God had your mom.  She was formed by God in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and God has known her and loved her.  God didn’t need her but always had her.

God has a plan (the same as “God has got this”) and what I know of that plan from Scripture and study is God wants everyone to come to know and believe in God.  But we must cooperate with the grace God gives.  Oh wait, was that different than what you’ve heard?  Sorry, no, I do not believe God holds sway over every moment and every decision we make.  When I read Romans 8:28 I read two things, one is, we must pursue God and love God, and second, if we do love God, then the good which is worked is part of that bigger plan - for all to believe God.  This is why I find this phrase so unhelpful in the midst of grief and I expect by what you’ve said, you do too.  Dealing with all of humanity is a bit overwhelming at this time in our lives.
I know it sounds good to hear Heather is an angel but we weren’t created for this.  Hebrews 2:7 says only right now, we’re lower than angels.  In the next world, we are to be “crowned with glory and honor,” we “heirs” with Jesus.  Angels are wonderful creatures of God’s creation but God has more in store.  It is one reason your mom had John 14:2 read at her service: Jesus went to prepare rooms and mansions for those who are the Children of God.

“At least she isn’t hurting anymore.”  This one doesn’t bother me quite so much because yes, I’m thankful she doesn’t know pain anymore.  I saw more of that pain than you did but if you remember, you’ll see it.  The problem with this one is it doesn’t address what you are feeling right now.  There will likely come that time when this will bring comfort but it is not NOW.  No, I suspect this is more of what you’re feeling along with C.S. Lewis: "You tell me, 'she goes on.' but my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back." ("A Grief Observed")

You are not alone in your grief and your anger with God.  You are in good company but nobody seems to want to hear it.  And like in centuries past, we only want to hear the good stuff, the blessings, the favor of God.  We don’t want to hear people might be disappointed in God!  Forbid it!  Silence it!

But I will not.  It is not fair to you or to any of those who have cried out and found God silent, the way shut, and we can’t get a signal.  You need truth and the truth is, all those Bible verses printed on mugs and pencils and bouncy balls are pull quotes which rarely tell the full story.  You don’t just need hope in your grief, you need to know you are not ALONE in your grief and pain my dear children.  And you are not...

My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out to the ground
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
because infants and babies  faint
in the streets of the city.
(Lamentations 2:11)

Their heart cried to the Lord.
O  wall of the daughter of Zion,
let tears stream down like a torrent
day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
your eyes no respite!
(Lamentations 2:18)

Well of course, this is Lamentations!  Fine read the words of the prophets.  Read the Judges and how the people suffered.  Read Psalms.  So could it be just an Old Testament thing?  Then read of the greatest missionary Paul and what he suffered in 2 Corinthians 11:21-30.  And how did he die?  Likely as a martyr in Rome.  

Logan.  Jay.  You stand in good stead with many through the centuries who have grieved, wept, ate sand and the gravel of suffering.  It hurts. You are in the valley of suck and it sucks.  Period.

What you NEED is for people to remember and live Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  It isn’t time for rejoicing, not yet, and you don’t have to.  Don’t fake it.  But it will be again one day.  Right now the NEED is for people to WEEP WITH YOU (Hear this my friends). There are people who WILL do it.  Your church IS.  Your friends ARE.  I AM TOO.  Just as she was your mother; Heather was my wife.  

Will I give up on God?  No.  Though this valley sucks, it doesn’t end in suck.  Your mom believed it and her pain was worse than ours.  Wherever she is, that is where I want to be and since she didn’t give up on Jesus, then neither will I and I will pray, as she did, for you to not give up on God.  Cuss God.  Yell at God.  Be angry and call down wrath but don’t let go!  Like Jacob at the river, you’ve got God and you may not even know it.  Don’t give up.  Ever.  Just as your mother loves you even now, so do I and will always.

Love always and forever,

Dad


Where Widows Wander in the Valley of Suck

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What did I do?  After all this time, what did I really do?  I have to imagine others who have been caregivers ask the same thing.  I don’t just mean caregiving, I mean what did I DO BEFORE THAT?

There is, in large part, a fantasy world surrounding the question.  Every moment of this time, I wanted to be only one place - beside Heather, serving her, caring for her, loving her.  I wanted to be at home, to support my children with my presence.  Why did it come to this only then, though?  There is such a tearing of the soul over the balance of vocation and family.  There always has been.  Even for ancient ancestors, they had to leave home, family to hunt and plant, to scout and care for their relatives and their tribes.  Is it curse?  Indeed.  Oh mother Eve and father Adam, could you not have listened and heeded?!  

Of course not for neither can I.  Neither can you.  We commit the sin of selfishness and selfish ambition every day.  Every moment.  Every second.  And it is felt in the same place where the hole resides inside of me - in my soul where my dearest love lived and wrestled for my attention and devotion all these years.  The curse won.

Well, not fully.  The truth of the pain and gaping hole now takes center stage.  I love her more now than ever, now of course that I cannot be with her - cannot touch her skin, kiss her lips, hear her laugh, see her smile, resonate with her voice.  What a cruel joke that I am now more aware of love than when she was with me.

C.S. Lewis’ observation of “A Grief Observed” delve not into just any grieve but that of a loss of one’s spouse.  This is an important distinction - it would be foolish to just compare any grief to any other grief.  None of us are the same.  I know now, what I wish I knew then.  Like so many other things, I suspect my past self would never have listened to my present self just as you will likely not listen to me but heed it if you dare, for Lewis’ words ring true:

“...bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.  It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer.  It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases: not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure (pg 39, “A Grief Observed”).”

Hear the ancient vows and again, heed the bell that tolls: “Till death do us part…”  It is not a play on words nor is it a creation of Shakespeare: these are the ancient words of truth - death will come and part lover from lover.  Two will become one again.

Each day in the valley of suck takes us to the deepest parts of our soul if we let it after all, isn’t this where love truly resides?  Is it not from the roots the tree depends on water to flow to produce fruit?  Is it not from the roots the mightiest trees and strongest weeks depend to hold them firm to terra firma?  Cut off the top and if the roots remain, they will grow again...my lawn is a parable in practice!  

As is my soul.  Even now, in my grief, in the soil of suffering, I find my love grow.  Mainly, it is towards my children but it is beyond.  My love for Heather grows for her and all of who she was and who she still is.  Do not let me idolize her memory, though, she was not Christ any more than I am Christ or you are Christ.  We are sinners all and it is the true danger to make more of the deceased in death than who they were in life.  She was saved by grace not by any works and this is the grace, she boasted in.  If I go too far, I suspect, Heather as she is, will be certain to knock my feet out from under me just as she did in this life whenever it was warranted.

But I know too each item, each note, each book she loved and touched retains part of her in some form; some fashion; though foreign to my soul.  She is here but not.  

All grieving brings us to the valley of suck and it takes us through places familiar and places unknown.  We don’t go alone, I need no more reminders and I am very aware of the truth.  I am cared for by dear friends and family.  I know the Shepherd of my soul is by my side; often most silent but still, ever present.  And even though this is true, widows wander on a way unknown but to widows only and the way is worth every moment of love and life in the past, present, and the future.



Breath Prayer for Days of Darkness



With each moment comes another gasp for air.  There is a willing which I must will to get out of bed; to start the day; to pick up the pieces of our lives.  Those reasons are at times a mystery, cloudy and shadowed long into the darkness where my eyes strain.  As clear as the pictures of our past are in the photo albums and on our computer, so to is the clear darkness of the future.  Where once we dreamed there is now an unknown.

Is it fair to say we ever knew the future? No, not really.  Those days were never promised and are not even now. Let me caution you to beware and be wary; yes, in your arrogance and mine which thinks you are owed something by this world we live in.  This is the realm of the satan; it is the world of the accuser.  Yes, the very one Job faced in the darkness; it is the same one you face now.

The beasts of the valley of suck, the valley of shadows, the valley of death serve an accuser who revels in raking us across perceived failures and shortcomings.  In such days when darkness threatens, travelers must rely on those means which have previously sustained us.  The light that shines need not be a light to illumine all the darkness; it need only provide light enough for the next step.  

This breath prayer formed in my heart and on paper in the last hours leading up to my wife’s death.  It was not what I needed then but has been what I have needed now.  Sustain my soul, my God, in days of darkness such as I experience now.  The accuser throws no accusation against me which is not already known by you and by me.  Yet even now, I feel the weight of my failings, of all the ways I failed Heather and my children.  Sustain me God for you alone are able.  Have mercy on me, a sinner.

May I Suggest? A breath prayer serves as a short prayer, prayed silently along your normal pattern of breathing. A number of people have shared how they use these images as a wallpaper on their phone during the week. Set the image and an alarm to remind you to pray for one minute at the top of each hour.

First Father's Day in the Valley of Suck

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/shadow-of-death

How soon we begin to lose heart on the journey of grief.  How quickly it tempts and tries our resolve to keep the memory of the one we lost alive.

But how can they be alive still?  They are dead.  There, I said it again.  This word we dread to speak, this word I dread to say from my lips or to place on this page.  As I write I read and it rips me apart the full weight of what I am saying and what it means.  Heather is gone.  In the wake of the loss, I do fear; am terrified even; I will lose the memories of the one I loved and replace them with some romanticized, twisted, and lame version of who she was.  

Heather was real.  As real and authentic as I could ever hope to be.  She was full of beauty and soul with both wit and wisdom to cut to the heart of the matter and cut me down to size when I needed it the most.  She never intended to shame me and never did but she was called upon to sharpen me.  I could never match her insight and intellect.  Nor could I match the sacrifices she made for her children.  For me.  I need to write this because someday, I hope, her children will read these words and know more fully the reality.  Today is Father’s Day, the first holiday without the one who gave me the gift of being a father and guided me gently on the path.

As real as anything was her faith and her desire was to pass it on in her children.  I am terrified by the way she lived and loved God and experienced God’s grace.  We were so different in this.  She already knew well her giftedness and the ways of her Lord.  Me, I always stumbled about, never giving up hope and watching her love for Jesus grow daily and the fruits of the Spirit blossom.  Her children saw it, and like me, I think they too were amazed.

At her graveside, CeCe, her spiritual director observed that as Heather’s body deteriorated under the onslaught of cancer, her spirit grew stronger, in gentle hues and tones.  She did not want to lose any moment and fought tooth and nail for her faculties with a fortitude only written about in fictitious fantasies.  But she was no fantasy and I know I have been entrusted not to create one.  

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/diary
Now that she is gone, I have only in passing glanced into one journal she left behind.  In those few sentences, I hear her voice again and realize how little I truly knew her.  Yet she knew me and her kids and loved us so well and with such abandon that my previous description of my love for her seems so shallow.  

This Father’s Day, I hurt because my children hurt.  They have expressed and are expressing the dreaded world and pain of the valley of suck in the form of grief and the first waves which will call into question all faith, hope and love, she and I sought to instill in them.  These can be cruel monsters in the darkness of the valley...

denial.

anger.

bargaining.

depression.

acceptance.

God will have to answer for this.  God will be the one held to account in their hearts and mind.  It may occur in your life too.  

When asked what keeps me going, my response was two-fold: my children and a burning desire to wrestle with God.  I cannot expect my children to understand what this means yet. I am holding God to account for what his role is. But I'm not sure what that is. In the wrestling, I am doing it for me. I am doing it for them and her memory in their lives.  Doug Thrasher noted well and rightly in his sermon during Heather’s memorial that God did not take Heather but God did receive it.  He is right and it needs to be said.  Death was not the desire God had for us.  It is an interloper; part of the tragic love story between God and us.  Death is an antagonist of a most vile sort.

Here in the valley of suck, everything IS twisted and tainted.  Our hopes, our dreams, our joy, our love, and even our faith, is sucked at like a dementor from the world of Harry Potter.  Only again, it is no fiction for even our fiction is based on fact.  

In his last moment, Jesus does not back away from God as his Father.  Luke shares with us that Jesus, “...calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father,  into your hands I  commit my spirit!” And having said this  he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).”  The other gospels all indicate there is a releasing of his mortal body and a trust God will receive his spirit; not that God has taken it.

I cannot take the steps of faith for my children any more than I could substitute my life for Heather’s, a life far more worthy than my own.  God did not need Heather in heaven for if God was here, with us, if God is Emmanuel, then God already had her, held her, and loved her.  No.  Death was not the will of God nor is it God’s will now, not that I can comprehend.  God sent Jesus because God’s will is life.  Though the valley of death, the valley of suck drained life from the mortal body of Heather, it did not and could not touch the spirit which made her...her.

On Sunday, one week ago, Heather crossed from the Grey Havens to the Undying Lands.  Today, I continue on in the valley of suck; looking after, loving on, and leading forward a family God loves even if God does not do as I wish.  


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