Two new holes were left in my heart this past winter, and last weekend represented the first events where these loved ones “would have been there.” I had been dreading the events without them.
First, I lost my 42-year-old brother, Mike, (from Colorado) completely unexpectedly, after his medication cocktail (due to back pain) proved lethal. Weeks later, my dear friend Jackie Lewis (from Michigan)– also unexpectedly – went to be with the Lord at age 32 after a short week’s illness.
When my uncle, Buck Seitz, received France’s Legion of Honor medal in Denver, CO, last week it was the first time that I was at a family event…without Mike. Afterward, I flew out of Denver, directly to Florida, for a business event. It was at this business convention where Jackie and I would have shared the stage at night, sat together by the pool during the day, or been boating in the ocean together as in past years.
It brought to me an irony of grief: “good grief,” I guess you could call it.
Beginning (every day) with the end in mind has been an effort of mine for years. Physical
Mike Estes ……1971 – 2014
death is not “unexpected,” as no one has avoided it as of yet. And when I know heaven awaits for those who trust solely in the Lord Jesus, I would want it to hasten its call for believers. That is the “good” part of the grief. But oh, how it aches to have that hole in my heart of one that once was here…not here anymore. To know my lifetime ahead will happen absent of these loved ones cuts deeply into me, and even more deeply when I look at the children and spouses, and those closer to the deceased than I.
The degree of grief has taken so many different forms within me. I am no psychology major, but I know that what I experienced is probably not unique to me alone.
The depth of raw heartache cannot be described. What once was…no longer is. There is nothing I can do to change it for the future. There is nothing I can do to change any past, although with these two, there was nothing I would have changed. If my mind ever wanders from the sorrow, something comes to remind me of it: a waiter named Mike, a bookmark bearing Jackie’s signature, a song that instigates a flash flood of tears. It is amazing to me how I see the resemblance of their faces in SO many people – like a mirage due to a deep longing to see them again. My heart skips a beat when I see a red head. (They both were.)
I say, “pure,” because it is the true sense of the word. Joy: that despises
Jackie Lewis 1981- 2014
circumstances. My pure joy: in knowing that Jackie is with her Savior in heaven. There is no more crying, no more pain, no need to wait for a sun to brighten her day, because the eternal Light is always there. There is such pure joy in knowing that she finished her life at such a peak. Her husband raves about their marriage –which gives me joy to thank God for the timing of her death to be at such a high! She was a speaker on stages across the country, and her desire for excellence was an influence on thousands of lives to live better. The wrinkle fairy had not yet waved her wand in Jackie’s direction. Haha! She was beautiful, so beautiful. Her love for the Lord exuded her being in all that she did, and her testimony video was recorded just this year. What a high! I have a joy in knowing that although the dash between her birth-date and her death-date was too short for my liking, its brevity is what interested tens of thousands to watch her story, which could have eternally impacted them. I have joy in knowing that though 32 years seems so short, and I wish she had lived to be 105, I can look at the grand scheme of tens of thousands of years in eternity, and the difference in a few decades on earth is so, so small.
I know some experience guilt after the death of someone due to words that were said, or not said… Visits that were not made… Time that had passed taking for granted the love and friendship of the newly deceased. Those feelings hopefully spur us to be reminded of the preciousness and finiteness of time with loved ones. But my guilt was different. It was as though every smile I gave brought with it a weight. Wasn’t I sad? Does my brother know I miss him? If I smile, will he think I don’t? What about other friends and family – am I offending them if I smile when they are not? I know it’s a strange subliminal guilt – my brother cannot “think” anything anymore. He is gone. But inside me, there is a pang, like a weight from below that feels good and right being sad, and guilty being happy. This “guilt” is probably most dangerous, because it is not from God. He is the one who allowed a weight to lift…and probably listened to the prayers of many to give me that moment of lifted weight…and yet I sometimes regretfully have given the unfounded guilt power in my day. I tend to think I need to “justify” my happiness, “Well, Jackie would have loved that I can laugh at this video now.” Or “Mike would have been laughing with me at this.” That justification may be true, but I just don’t want to miss the opportunity to say instead, “Thank you, God, for making the sun rise on my life again, because that night was long.”
Wanting to hide/avoid:
This part of grief seemed to have an undaunted allure. Do I have to attend that event? Everyone will be looking at me to see how I am handling it. What if there are expectations of how I am supposed to “look” and “act” in mourning? There will be others there grieving; I hate to look at others and see the pain I know will be in their eyes from their loss. Events with people who didn’t know the deceased were even more difficult: it seemed disrespectful to be with people who didn’t even know or care about the ones I miss so deeply. My local church family didn’t know or love my brother. Couldn’t I use a few more hours of sleep? Couldn’t the world just turn without me for a while? I am hurting.
Doubt (with a capital “D”):
Have you ever prayed so intensely that it hurt? Physically, hurt? Have you ever lost entire nights of sleep or days of meals while praying for someone’s life to be saved? Have you ever visualized the victory so deeply, that you almost forgot whether the prayers had been answered yet or not, because you trusted that much that victory was imminent? Have you ever felt like you sweat blood?
Have you ever prayed that much and God still answered, “no.”
And that was His “final answer.”
Not, “No, check back with me next week.”
Not, “Wait… I like how you are depending on Me. Keep depending on Me. Let Me work on it.”
Or “We lost him.”
Did you ever go back and doubt that your hours upon hours of fervent prayers were even heard?
Is doubt sin? YES
Am I proud? NO
The Bible talks about doubt:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. James 1:5-8”
But there was a time a few years ago when I doubted my prayers were heard, and I am ashamed. I have to tell you a little secret though:
I told God about it.
A. Weatherell Johnson, in her autobiography, Created for Commitment had this to say about a time of doubt in her life:
“I went to God and bluntly said, ‘God, I’m sorry but I don’t believe You always answer prayer.’ Immediately after I had spoken those words aloud, I corrected them. ‘God, I do believe but I don’t understand.’ God then gave me His loving assurance. He said, ‘My child, wait for Me. I have not finished.’ My very voicing of unbelief (to God alone) delivered me. I started to praise Him.”
Reading that, I remembered my own gut-wrenching tearful surrender that was so similar.
However, since answers to prayers do not always take the same shape of the mirages I have created, I believe we have to have the attitude my friend Diana had when she admittedly felt like prayers bounced off the ceiling back to the sickbed where she lay.
“I don’t understand, but I trust.”
The truth of the matter is that we cannot be afraid to speak out our doubts honestly, and immediately to the Lord. The very voicing of the sin can deliver us from it. How can a drowning victim be saved if she won’t admit she’s drowning? Besides, do we think He doesn’t already know our heart? Do we think He doesn’t see behind the fig leaves with which we cover? Are we surprised when He asks, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11) He already knows.
Jesus, Himself, prayed for His circumstances to change so earnestly that His sweat was like drops of blood, (Luke 22:44) yet He humbly submitted when God said, “no,” so His life was used to save mine.
The Lord holds our tears in a bottle. (Ps 56:8)
If we can just …hold on to Him a little while longer. (Haggai 2:6-7)
When God Says, “No”
Just recently, Pastor Stephen Davey shared about the topic, “When the Answer is No.” (I love it when I have a blog half-written and someone else covers the exact topic!) You can read his message: here or listen to the audio here.
He taught five components to our response to God when He answers “no” to our fervent prayers. We should respond with humility, gratitude, surrender, praise and readiness.
The Bible is clear that there is a time for mourning, a time for tears. (Ecc 3:4) Even Jesus wept at the loss of his friend. (John 11:35)
And yet, the fact that Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time,” to me, says that the time is finite. It ends. Yes, I will miss these loved ones, but there is more. There is more to come in this life than mourning….when I respond with humility – recognizing that my desires do not include the whole world like God’s desires do. When I respond with gratitude – recognizing that the fact I miss these loved ones means I have some memories for which to be thankful. When I respond with surrender – recognizing that I am not in control…and really never was. When I respond with praise – recognizing that I do LOVE the One who IS in control. And when I respond with readiness – recognizing that there is more to come. This is not the end. I want to be ready to serve the Lord as Jackie was, to spread laughter as Mike would have done.
Just wait, there’s more.
I once heard it said, “Everything will be all right in the end; and if it is not all right, it is not the end.”
Girlfriend, it is not the end. Last weekend as I lived without these two was a sort of victory for me. It wasn’t the end! Yes, I cried again… at the loss… and the change… and the grief of continuing life without them. (I even held my brother’s newborn granddaughter, whom he never met.) But the victory was in the ability to say, “I am ready, God. I don’t understand, but I trust.” I guess that is the good that gets squeezed out of the grief.
“Good” grief! I couldn’t have said those words together a few short weeks ago. But God knew the day would come.
The world still turns, even though there was a time when its turning seemed impossible. As I shared at Jackie’s funeral, I feel like God is holding on to my heart, saying, “Just wait. There’s more…”
May we heal through worshipping Him in a real relationship, no holds barred, no doubts hidden, in real communion, as we wait on His “more” to come.
“The difference between waiting on God and wrestling with God is worship.” – Stephen Davey in Nehemiah: Memoirs of an Ordinary Man
– Terri Brady
Psalm 42:3-4 says: My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.