Wednesday, July 31, 2013

You'll See Him in Heaven: Why it's a cheap shot

It was not the first time someone told me this and I suspect it won't be the last.

Talk about bittersweet.

I suppose I should explain. I'm talking about when people hear that your child died and immediately----I mean without even pausing to take in a breath----say, "You will see him again in Heaven."

Is that supposed to make it all okay?

Tell me, what exactly do these kind folks mean when they toss out that line?

If I were to watch a mother or father crying over the loss of an infant that only breathed for a few moments or a son or daughter who lived to be forty, I would never say that line.

It's a cheap shot. My opinion. To me, it makes it seem as though there is no reason for tears. Or makes it seem that if I had real faith, I wouldn't be sad.

Don't get all ruffled up now. It's not that I don't believe. You see, I do believe in Heaven. I wish more was written about it in The Bible. On many days I wish for just a glimpse. When I'm at the ocean and the breeze blows and the waves dance against the shore, I feel I'm closer to Heaven. Or when I go for a walk and the scents and sights of spring fill my vision, I think, "Ah, this is heavenly."

I believe when people die they go to Heaven. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus was promised he would be with Jesus in paradise. Love is perfect there because the Creator of love, God the Father, lives in Heaven. There is no sin, no sorrow, no tears and no human frailty in this place of eternity.

Yet sometimes I wonder if those who tell me not to worry, that I'll be with my son again in Heaven, are not using their God-given mind to think, to ponder.

Do you really think I am going to be serving animal crackers and reading bedtime stories to my Daniel in Heaven?

There will be reunions, yes. But I will never be Daniel's mama on earth again. Gone is the dream every mother holds and that is to watch her little baby grow up. That ended for me with Daniel's death at age four. When he died, so did my need to buy Cocoa Puffs for him.

I was thirty-six then. I'm fifty-two now. That's been a lot of time for me to wonder and pray and think, and oh, yes, bite my tongue. Especially when well-meaning folk try to cast off my pain by quipping, "We'll just think, you'll see him again in Heaven."

"If Heaven is going to be just like earth where I have to take out the trash, worry about paying bills, and discipline my kids, I don't want it," a mother said to me.

Some seem to think Heaven is an extension of earth. That Heaven to many will be a repeat, only without mosquitoes and a place where consuming a pound of milk chocolate won't make one fat. Many act like it's going to be where I can see my Daniel again as he was on earth. Folks, that little body that took a beating to cancer is gone. It is no more. The Bible promises we'll get new bodies, and I imagine that they won't age. In fact we probably will all look the same age----young and flawless, like the women in all those Oil of Olay commercials.

So before you tell a mother who is sorrowful over the death of her dreams, who is questioning who she is now without her son or daughter, who dreads Christmas because it means one less stocking to fill, who has seen her family diminish in size, and who has a hard time putting one foot in front of the other on most days---even years later----THINK!

There are so many healthy and nurturing ways in which we can comfort each other. Consider them. Instead of giving a pat, "Well, you'll see your child in Heaven," why not sit down, hold a grieving mother's hand, and listen?

You just might cry when you hear her aching heart. Don't you think Jesus would be weeping if He were seated next to her, too?

She knows she'll see her child again in Heaven. Right now she needs more than that reassurance. She has to learn how to live the rest of her life without him. She has to conquer sleepless nights and inappropriate comments, criticism, and push herself to believe that she will get a day free of tears.

Let her know that she is going through the hardest journey a mother ever goes through.

Let love coupled with understanding be how you bring comfort.

~ Alice is the author of five inspirational novels and the new devotional on grief and loss, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache. Read the reviews and order a copy here.

[This post was first posted at Alice's Patchwork Quilt Blog]

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Five easy steps for writing your own psalm

Where are you, God?

How long, O Lord?

O God, why have you rejected us forever?

In this trying season of my life (I am tempted to call it The Year of Nothing Good), I find myself asking God not so much where He is, but what is He doing. I feel like Pi in the movie, The Life of Pi. "What do you want from me?"

When I open my Bible for some comfort and guidance, I turn to the Psalms. I see that many of the psalms are a deep cry to God. There are not at all trite. The psalmist is in clear agony, even danger. He doesn't understand what is happening or why. He fears. He groans. He weeps. His tears are his food day and night. Even so, he looks to God, the creator of heaven and earth. He knows where his help comes from. He knows that God is close to the brokenhearted. He may not "feel" God at all. In fact, often, he doesn't. The psalmist knows he can be honest with his Lord, authentic; he has no time for pretending; he lets his raw guts show.

Writing through pain is healing. That has been proven and that's why support groups and psychiatric hospitals use writing as a way to connect to our feelings. When my son Daniel was in the hospital for cancer treatments, I wrote in a journal about what he was going through and about my feelings. When he died at the age of four, I let my agony gush over the pages. Writing provided therapy. It released the bottled-up fear, sorrow, questions and doubts onto pages that were able to contain them all and hold them safely. A journal is a safe place and when we are in the seas of anguish, it can be just what we need for respite.

I discovered the value of writing my own psalms. I found both freedom and clarity in putting my own heart onto paper in the form of a psalm. Digging into the psalms provides an excellent way to be stirred by language, emotion, imagery, and God's faithfulness and wonder. By using the templates of the psalms from the Bible, you'll discover how composing a psalm can energize your writing, and your life.

Here are five easy and simple steps to get you going.

1. First, read the psalms. If we want to learn to write anything (romance, sci-fi, historical, etc.) we must spend time reading what other authors have written. Read a few psalms silently and then pick a few of your favorites to read aloud.

2. As you read, note the patterns, and emotions. Psalm 74 wonders if God has rejected His people forever. Psalm 77 starts with desolation but ends in remembering the mighty acts of what God has done in the past, while Psalm 150 is complete rejoicing.

3. Allow some of the lines that grab you or speak to you to be memorized. Write these lines on notecards and keep them by your place of work or stick them to the bathroom mirror. Psalm 34 verse 18 might be where you are today and like me, you might have underlined it and let it be your daily mantra: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

4. Get your journal, a notebook, or a sheet of paper and start with a string of words based on your mood. Are most of the words ones of praise, lament, or a little of both? One practice you can try is to borrow a line from a psalm and use it to jumpstart your own. Start your verse with this line from psalm 69: "Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me."

5. In my writing classes I have participants write a psalm of woe and one of beauty. Usually the one of woe is easiest to create. There is, after all, much sadness in our world and in our lives. Children had died, relationships have been torn, jobs have been lost, trust betrayed. With each sorrow, we are able to find room for it on the page. A psalm of beauty sometimes pushes us to have to dig deep. Even if you aren't feeling particularly hopeful, push yourself to be observant of the beauty around you. Start by jotting down what you are thankful for.

Although you can use single sheets of paper for your creations, I would suggest that you keep a notebook or journal of your creations. Add to them. The more you pen your own psalms, the more adept you will become.

Read them aloud; edit if needed, by changing a word or phrase. Share as you see fit. Most of all, let your psalms draw you closer to a God who loves you.

~ Alice's next three-week online Writing the Psalms workshop starts August 5. Read more about what this course offers at her website.

Broken Psalms: Expressions of Grief and Loss is a writing workshop held in Forest City, NC (Rutherfordton County) on August 17th. Join the day! Read more here.

Alice's new devotional is filled with the psalms. See what others are saying about Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache (Leafwood Publishers 2013) here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Broken Psalms: Expressions of Grief and Loss

There are days when we just want to pull the covers over our head and not have to be anywhere. Or do anything. Or think.

We feel as though a sea of sorrow has raged into our lives. We are desperate. Desparing. Sad. Confused.

God, where are you? God, how can I carry on? What do you want from me?

Sometimes we hear Him bring words to mind: I love you. I will never leave you or forsake you. You belong to me. I carry you close to my heart.

Other times we hear nothing. Some days we open our Bible and gain strength. We fight the temptation to believe the lies that God does not care or than He is tired of our tears.

We remember that He has made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. He loves us with a perfect and everlasting love.

Broken Psalms: Expressions of Grief and Loss is a workshop where the psalms are used as a method of dealing with our grief and losses. In this workshop we'll take a fresh look at the psalms and create our own. We'll share from the depths of our hearts and discover how writing our heartache helps us to heal.

For more information on this all-day workshop taught by Alice Wisler, click here.