I’ve had more than my fair share of “if only” moments in life.  If only I had finished college…if only I hadn’t run up that credit card…if only I had listened to her advice…if only I had done a better job with my health.  These missed opportunities were a result of personal choices, with no one else to blame but myself.

 

There are other “if only” moments we encounter in life.  Ones that we have no control over—such as the loss of a loved one, a job or the end of a relationship.  If only Jesus had healed our loved one.  If only the company hadn’t folded.  If only that person had been willing to make things work.  Circumstances out of our hands, with no one else to blame (it seems) but God.

 

In the Bible we read about Martha, a woman who experienced one of those times.  Her brother Lazarus had taken ill.  Martha and her sister Mary had sent word to Jesus, letting him know about their dire circumstances.  Yet Jesus didn’t rush to Lazarus’ bedside.  He waited.  As a result, by the time he finally got there, it was too late.

 

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:1)

 

Like Martha, I have sent word to Jesus…letting him know about my dire circumstances.  When my father was hospitalized in the beginning of 2015, I prayed for divine intervention.  But no one, including the doctors, had any control over how quickly his interstitial lung disease progressed.

 

On February 3, 2015, I held one of his hands as he took his last breath.  If only…

 

My story didn’t end like it did for Martha.  Her “if only” was answered by a miraculous healing, as Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead.  I can’t help but wonder how long she might have stayed stuck in her “if only” thoughts.  You see, it’s perfectly understandable to suggest that God might have done something to intervene in our painful circumstances.  Clearly, He is capable of bringing back the dead…keeping our job intact…restoring that relationship.  But when He doesn’t, will we get hung up on the “if only”?  Or will we turn that into another statement, “But even if He does not…”

 

In Daniel 3, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace.  These three Israelites knew God’s power and ability to deliver them from the flames.  In verse 18, this declaration is made:  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

 

There is always the possibility that God won’t do what we want.  Where are you going to park your thoughts?  On the “if only” or “but even if He does not”?

 

With the death of my dad, I was able to quickly move to the “but even.”  It’s the only explanation for how I was able to sing worship songs to God, with tears rolling down my face, as I left his lifeless body at the hospice and went home to tell my family.

 

Yet there have been other circumstances in my life, where I stayed stuck on the “if only.”  This resulted in a shaky faith, with no peace.  My emotions strangled me.  Everything felt hopeless.  It’s a terrible place to remain stuck.  The longer you park your thoughts there, the more difficult it is to get out of the pit.

 

God doesn’t mind hearing your declarations of “if only.”  He can handle it.  He understands.  But that’s not where we are to remain.  The sooner we get to the place of “but even if He does not,” the sooner we will experience the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).  This is what will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

God the Source of All Comfort

The above picture is one of my favorite spots on a trail my husband and I walk frequently.  Every time we come to this area, I think of my father.  A few months after he passed away from a battle with lung disease, we were on one of our more silent walks…nothing but the sound of the wind blowing through the field.

Sadness enveloped me like a heavy blanket.  I was missing my daddy.  There was so much stuff going on in my life and I wanted so badly to talk with him about it.  It was in this exact spot on the trail that God’s still, small voice spoke words of comfort to my broken heart.  A sense of peace flooded my soul.  The breeze picked up and as it blew, I could imagine the arms of my daddy wrapped around me.  God was letting me know it was going to be okay.  Just as my earthly father would have settled the uneasiness within, my heavenly Father was doing the same.

The Bible doesn’t speak a whole lot about what happens on the other side of eternity.  It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to this subject.  However, this I do believe…its mysteries are beyond our comprehension and understanding.  I don’t think we could handle the reality of heaven because our minds are so earthly.

I can’t tell you that it was a “sign” from my dad.  Yet this I do know, God is our greatest source of comfort.  I believe He shows comfort to us in ways that are unique and personal.  He reaches into the deepest places of our pain and applies the soothing balm of peace.  He restores unto us the joy of salvation when sorrow threatens to overwhelm us.

It’s hard for me to describe what happened next—but as we made our way off the trail and onto the paved pathway, there was a noticeable difference “in the air.”  I truly felt God’s presence on that trail but as soon as I wasn’t on it, everything felt…well, normal.  Although the sorrow had lifted and God’s peace filled me, I so badly wanted to get back to that feeling—which is impossible for me to accurately describe.

We’ve walked that same trail dozens of times since.  I’ve never again experienced the same presence of God as I did at that time.  However, it’s still become a place of comfort for me as I remember the way He ministered to my hurting heart.

Do you need comfort today?  Are you missing a loved one, who has been separated by death, distance or a disagreement?  Do you wonder how you’re going to make ends meet?  Have you been waiting a long, long time for God to answer a prayer?  May the following verses be a source of comfort to you, whatever your need.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us? (Matthew 5:4)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Word has revived me (Psalm 119:50).

 

Grief Doesn’t End With the Last Sympathy Card

Time to move on…to snap out of it.  Life goes on and so must we.  This is the type of thinking some of us subscribe to when another person loses a loved one.  We understand—to a degree—the sadness.  Yet we reason that at some point, the person just needs to move past the grief.

 

Our capacity for compassion oftentimes has its limits…especially if we haven’t experienced the same type of loss as someone else.  Maybe we don’t know what it’s like to be a widow or the only people we’ve ever lost were acquaintances.

 

If I were to be honest, my thinking has been pretty close to the “Okay, let’s get back to living life.”  I understood the hurt and was there to offer a listening ear or a word of comfort.  But once I sent off the sympathy card, it just kind of ended there.  In a way, it’s as if I believed the grief ended just because the last card was sent…or the last meal was brought…or the last sentiments of “I’m so sorry for your loss” were uttered.

 

That all changed over a year ago when I lost my dad.  Although I’ve attended many funerals for people I loved and cared about, this one hit me in a way unlike any other.  The initial stages of grief were like a sucker punch.  It would sometimes come in waves.  And it has lasted a long, long time.

 

I learned that my grief didn’t end with the last sympathy card I received.  The sentiments stopped.  But my heart continued to ache.  To this day, it hurts to think of my dad no longer being here.  The way I’ll never hear the words, “Hi Sweetie” or wrap my arms around him for a hug.

 

Just when you think the grief process has reached its conclusion, it all comes crashing down upon you.  It could be a holiday, a memory, a commercial, a song, running across an old picture—all sorts of things that remind you of that loved one.  The waves of grief don’t have time limits.  It can happen in the days, weeks, months or years following the loss.

 

Grief doesn’t really end…because how do you “get over” losing someone you loved dearly?  No, I may not feel the same devastation I did at the beginning.  And the days of crying are much, much less.  Until I’m reunited with my dad, I’ll forever miss him.

 

My thinking has definitely changed.  Or should I say, my understanding of loss has changed.  Compassion no longer has a limit.  I know that grief doesn’t end with the last sympathy card.

 

Some Things I’ve Learned about Grief

 Sorrow that seems unstoppable.  Tears that have no end.  Unanswered questions.  Words of comfort that fall on deaf ears.  Grief is an agony of the soul that one day will exist no more (Revelation 21:4).  But until then, we all must take the journey.

 

There have been a few people from my life that have died—some battled a prolonged battle with illness and others were taken suddenly.  However, the most difficult death I’ve ever endured was the loss of my father. Gone over a year now, I still find myself navigating the grief process.  It isn’t nearly as painful as it once was—however, it’s a loss I continue to work through.

 

Here’s some things I’ve learned about grief that I believe may help others…

 

  • It’s okay to “check out” when in the beginning stages of grief.  I remember going to the grocery store the day after my father passed.  I felt like a zombie walking through the aisles and a bit foolish as I fought to keep the tears at bay.   If I had thought about it, I would have sent someone else.  Although my family needed to eat, I wasn’t ready for this simple task.  Sometimes you need to step back and let things go, or delegate.  There is nothing wrong with checking out in the initial stages of grief.

 

  • Don’t look at grief as your enemy.  I fought the grieving process at times.  I didn’t want to feel, didn’t want to hurt or cry anymore.  But grief isn’t the enemy.  Death is the enemy and one day it will be defeated.  Until then, grief is part of the healing.  It’s what helps us process the loss and move forward.

 

  • There is no “right” way to grieve.  Grief doesn’t have an expiration date.  It can last weeks, months or even years.  Also, the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) are guidelines.  You may not go through every stage.  Some stages may last longer than others.  You could end up back at a certain stage you thought was over.  Everyone grieves differently…and that’s okay!

 

  • Know the One who can fill the gaping hole left by your loss. Things will never be the same when you’ve lost someone close to you.  I’ll never send another Father’s Day card or call my dad to provide an update on my son in the military.  There is a gaping hole left when someone dies. Holidays will never be the same.  New firsts won’t be experienced with your loved one who has passed on.  Moments are now just a memory.  But there is One who can fill up that hole.  His name is Jesus.  He understands our grief and He wants to help us walk through this dark valley.  Jesus will bring us to the other side of hope, comfort and healing.

 

Revelation 21:4

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 

 

Praise to God in the Midst of Brokenness

My dad no longer struggles to breath. He's breathing free and easy in Heaven!

My dad no longer struggles to breath. He’s breathing free and easy in Heaven!

Tears flowing.  Engulfing sobs unable to be held at bay.  Heart aching.  Pleas to God that I would wake up from this nightmare.  Declarations of how unfair this situation was and that I shouldn’t have to be part of it.

 

Yet in the midst of the heartache and sorrow, songs of praise to God.  I had turned on my personal music selection from my phone.  The volume turned up high.  Attempts to sing along proved futile because of the crying.  But a song still rose from my heart.  I was singing praise to God even as the tears flowed.

 

This all took place inside of my vehicle, at 3 a.m., as I was driving to the hospice where my father laid dying.  This after several pleas through text messages from my stepmom that my sister and I come.  She had to make a decision to turn off the machine keeping him alive.   She couldn’t do it alone.  I fought with God in the midst of reading and answering her text messages.  I didn’t want to go.  I couldn’t be part of that decision and I certainly couldn’t watch my father die.

 

In the end, I went.  But not without digging my feet in and letting God know how much I hated it.  That no daughter should ever have to participate in that type of decision.

 

Not even 3 hours later, he was gone.  The decision made.  My stepmom near his face, my sister holding one hand and me holding the other as he took his last breath.  In his final moments we cried and my sister prayed.  Overwhelming sorrow.  Difficulty accepting this new reality.  And then going through the motions of talking with staff about the funeral home he would go to and how much we appreciated their kindness.

 

Tears flowing yet again.  Sobs engulfing me.  Heart broken.  Pleas to God that He would help me get through this. Declarations of God’s goodness…yes, despite all of this pain.  God was still good.  And I let Him know that.

 

Once again the praise and worship music filled my car.  But more importantly, it filled my heart.  Death may have come but Christ still lived inside of me.  And now my father was in Heaven, experiencing Christ in a whole new way—able to breath without struggle, strong and vibrant in a way never experienced on earth.

 

When once a verse I’d had familiarity with through reading His Word, Job 1:21 became a personal experience.  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

 

Friend, in spite of your circumstances…regardless of how you feel…no matter the terrible deal life has dealt you…God is not only worthy but He is deserving of your praise.  Let the name of the Lord be praised!

 

This song carried me through the death of my father.