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The Irony of Tears

Tim Jackson —  July 11, 2012 — 1 Comment

On Sunday evening I celebrated the wedding of my son and his bride. The whole weekend was one filled with meaningful interactions with dear friends, family, and my son and his new wife. I will treasure those memories forever.

But earlier that morning when I checked my email, my heart sank. I read the email from a dear friend and colleague that his dad had lost his battle with cancer at 1:47 that same morning.

The irony was unmistakable. And I felt torn.

One family rejoices over the beginning of a new relationship. The other family grieves over the loss of a relationship. One celebrates at a wedding. The other weeps at a funeral. One celebrates over a young couple making vows with so much promise ahead. The other laments over the man who kept his promise to his wife for 62 years.

And, yes, there were plenty of tears at both celebrations.

The irony is that for those who trust in the God of the Bible, whether they are tears of joy or tears of grief, both are anchored in hope.

The hope of a new life together as a married couple crosses the threshold of a wedding ceremony is the same hope that fuels the anticipation of the joyful reunion of a new life after one walks through death’s door.

The apostle Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) makes no sense unless it is rooted in the hopeful promise of redemption (Rom. 8:20-24). It’s that hope that doesn’t disappoint us, because it’s anchored in the love that God pours into our hearts by His indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

It’s the love of our God that sustains our hope and frees us to honestly face the ironies of life—to both celebrate with those who are celebrating and to grieve with those who are mourning. Hope empowers us to embrace both.

 

 

Holidays & Heartache

Tim Jackson —  October 8, 2010 — 15 Comments

I’ve sat on this post for over a month. Didn’t know if I really wanted to post it or not. It just opens up areas of woundedness for us all that sometimes I’d just rather say nothing about. But then again, if we . . . I mean . . . if I really do believe that God is up to something good all the time (ya know, it’s a real pain when the Holy Spirit uses something you’ve previously written to remind you of your need to step into hard things), then this post is for all of us who are broken by grief and loss that is relentless. So, here goes . . .

The Labor Day holiday has always been a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love holidays–the food and the fun with family and friends. It’s such a delight. But there’s the sadness that another summer is ending. I love the warmth and will miss it in February when the icy Michigan wind is ripping at my face. Yet, the holiday also ushers in the first glimmers of fall–my favorite time of year. Fall–with it’s crisp cool mornings, the pallet of colors soon to be splashed over the maples and punctuated by the brilliant red of the staghorn sumac, the sounds of football on the weekends and geese making their pilgrimage south. And the tastes of apples, pumpkin pie, and my favorite drink–cider.

Okay, I think you get the picture. I like the last blast of the summer holiday. You bet.

But this past Labor Day holiday’s delight with my family and friends was pierced with a call from a close friend who lives just a mile from our home. She was describing to my wife the trauma of being first on the scene of a tragic accident on their way to church that Sunday morning. At the end of their rural country road, a car had failed to stop at a T-intersection and struck an embankment so hard that it was launch through the air, landing on the other side of the embankment completely out of sight of the road. It was the out-of-place plume of smoke in the woods that caught her husband’s attention and sent him exploring. He soon discovered the burning wreckage and immediately dialed 911. But it was too late to rescue the driver.

We later learned that the driver was the 20-year-old daughter and only child of a man who had lost his wife just four years earlier to cancer. The news sent me reeling. How horrible! How unfair! How sad! I was angry. I felt like I wanted to scream. I just imagined if I was in his shoes and that it was one of my daughters. How horrific! How excruciatingly difficult that would be for me . . . and I still have two more children and a wife. How alone when there’s no one else but you. How could this happen! This dear man whose daughter’s life held such promise for him is now gone. No time for goodbyes. Just gone. And he’s all alone. No wife. No daughter. Just alone.

I couldn’t get him off my mind for the rest of the weekend. From now on, every holiday–not just one or two for a while–but every holiday will be stained with the emptiness and loneliness of the absence of not only his precious wife but now his daughter as well. Celebrations will feel futile. Why bother? No one’s here to celebrate with. What’s the point?

When we think of holidays we can easily think of those wonderful, warm, glowing times that are so meaningful to so many. But what about those who struggle with facing their first holidays alone, without the loved ones who have been so precious and irreplaceable to them? When we’re enjoying the good times, do we ever stop to remember those whose hearts are breaking over their grief?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a depressing mood during the holidays. Just that we remember that holidays can be filled not only with joyful celebration but also with heartache that’s crushing for those who have lost someone special to them. And that first year is especially difficult to navigate. To remember brings both joy and pain. And yet, to not remember some how diminishes the worth and value of that unique one-of-a-kind spouse, child, sibling, parent, or friend who is noticeable absent.

To suffer in grief seems to be so unfair. Why would God allow us to suffer and not relieve our grief, our sorrow, our pain. Nicholas Waltersdorf, a professor at Yale wrote about his journey through grief in the wake of the death of his son Eric, who died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 25. In describing his suffering as a father over holiday get-togethers Waltersdorf would say, “Now, when we’re all together, we’re never all together.” He says he came to understand the suffering of God, the Heavenly Father through his own suffering . He wrote:

“It is said of God that no one could behold his face and live. I always thought this
meant no one could see God’s splendor and live. A friend said that perhaps it
means no one can see God’s sorrow and live, or perhaps God’s sorrow is His
splendor. Maybe the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer
with us when he did not have to.”

It is the message of the greatest holiday celebration of all–the invasion of our planet by the Creator God Himself who came to remind us that no matter what losses we may face in this broken world as wounded and hurting people, there is always a reason for hope and joy. Why? Because we are never totally alone. God is with us . . . Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). And God weeps (John 11:35). And, when I think about it . . . maybe it’s true . . . the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer with us when he didn’t have to.

Maybe you have a story of grief and loss that God has brought you through that you would be willing to share with others. Or maybe you’re in the middle of your journey through grief and just want to ask for prayer. Please feel free to share your story or concerns with the community of those who blog and post on this site.

Ambushed by Grief

Tim Jackson —  March 9, 2010 — 20 Comments

It sneaks up on you. Unsuspecting. Then . . . out of no where . . . wham! You get hit by a wave of loss that leaves you reeling, wondering what just happened. Could it be true? Is this real? You scramble to get your bearings. Wham! You’re hit from a different direction. Your once stable world has been thrown into turmoil. Your thoughts are confused. Your emotions are all over the map. There’s nothing firm beneath your feet. It’s as if the bottom has fallen out of your life. It has.

That’s the experience of being ambushed by grief.

We witnessed it at the Vancouver Olympics. Before the celebration of the opening ceremonies even got stated, grief invaded. Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old luge athlete from Georgia died in a tragic accident during a training run on the Whistler course. While we know that the world of sports is dangerous, his untimely death stunned the Olympic community and gripped the hearts of millions of viewers around the globe who were folded vicariously into the grief for this young man whom they’d never met but whose life was snuffed out far too soon. We hurt for a family and village that had lost one of it’s own.

Then, only a few short days later, Joannie Rochette, Canada’s best hope for a medal in women’s figure skating unexpectedly lost her 55-year-old mother just two days prior to her Olympic competition. We witnessed her pain and courage on the ice in the presence of her excruciating loss. Even in the best of circumstances, when celebration is the mood and life seems to be going well, grief can–and often does–invade without warning.

When the earth shakes and buildings topple, loses mount up exponentially. The earthquake ravaged island nation of Haiti is still struggling to crawl out from under the heap of devastation from the  January 12, 2010 earthquake. Less than 7 weeks later, grief struck again. The people of Chile were rocked by an even larger earthquake.

Our hearts are often touched by these and other stories of loss because they grimly remind us that our lives are littered with grief, because we’ve all sustained losses. No one is exempt. Grief comes to us all. And no matter how well we may have planned for it, we are still woefully unprepared for it when it arrives. When it finally comes, we most often feel ambushed.

From Old Testament to the New, the writers of Scripture speak of grief too. They knew what it was like to lose those they loved. They grieved. But grief didn’t have the last word.

Paul made it clear that trusting in God doesn’t exempt Jesus followers from grief. Instead, he qualified our grief as being different than those without faith in 1 Thes. 4:13 when he wrote that we don’t “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” Paul’s grief with hope echoes the words of King David who wrote 1,000 years earlier in Psalm 30:5, “. . . weeping may remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Jesus was the epitome of grief with hope. He groaned with grief. He wept with His friends over the loss of their sibling and His friend (John 11:33-35). Please notice that grief with hope doesn’t hurt less. In fact, if you love deeply as God has freed you to love, you will hurt deeply when you lose those you love. Jesus modeled that too. The depth of His grief demonstrated the depth of His love (John 11:36).

So, where do you turn when you feel ambushed by grief? You turn somewhere. But, where? Unfortunately, we all naturally turn to people and things other than God. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from your experiences with grief without hope as well as with grief with hope.

Puppy love . . .

Tim Jackson —  October 5, 2009 — 3 Comments

I received an email recently that set me back and pushed me to tears. It simply read:

We want to share some sad news with you. Golden-older-reflection in glass doorThis past weekend, Brittany, our Golden Retriever, died at a little over 15-years-old. She was the puppy we bought from you back in 1994. I don’t know if you remember us or not.

Remember? Are you kidding? How could I forget those precious little balls of fluff nipping at our heals? She was one of 4 puppies that our Kassy gave birth to . . . the first one right beside our bed in the middle of the night. Talk about drama. We wanted our three children to have the experience to of seeing puppies being born. It was a major event.

Puppy Pics 053

The email went on to describe the impact that this canine had on their family:

Brittany was a great dog. We were able to share much love with her. She struggled with arthritis the last few years, but she did great fighting through it. We will miss her greatly. We thought we would share this news with you, since you shared in the start of her life.

What an amazing gift. That the Creator God, our Heavenly Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children, would create such creatures that wag, wiggly, lick, and cuddle their way into our hearts that when they die, we deeply grieve. I have wept deeply for each of the 3 dogs that I have lost to various illnesses. I can’t write this without tears even now (I hope no one walks into my office right now). How can this be?

For those of you who think I’m strange, all I can say is you just don’t get it. Or, maybe you struggle to love anything or anyone deeply. That’s not an accusation, but it is a question to ponder. For those of you who are reaching for the box of tissues right now, you know exactly what I mean. The bottom line is this: If you love deeply, you will hurt deeply when you lose what you love. Even if every piece of clothing you own has a dog hair somewhere on it. The depth of our grief mirrors the depth of our love.

Jesus knew that all too well. In John 11:35-36, John describes Him weeping at the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus. The evidence was clear to all who witnessed it: “See how he loved him!” And that’s it. Love not only opens your heart to delight in the richness of life, but also exposes you to the depths of grief.

Love shared . . . even with a four-legged, whet-nosed ball of fluff that chews your favorite shoes . . . is multiplied exponentially more than we could ever imagine. So, my advice to you is this: Go ahead. Take the plunge. Jump into the deep end and love someone or something with all your heart and see what God does to enlarge your capacity to love beyond your wildest expectations. Sure it’s a risk. But it’s a risk worth taking!