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How The Last 3 Years Have Changed Me

How The Last 3 Years Have Changed Me

It has been a month of tears.

I’ve had just enough time to get past the 17th – the due date for the child I lost in miscarriage – to start emotionally preparing for the 31st.

I can’t believe he would have been 3 years old.

We would know if all that hair turned out curly like his Daddy’s, or straight like mine. We would be working on letter sounds and numbers. We would be teaching him how to snow ski for the first time. We would be reading picture books at bedtime and still giving baths to get clean.

My girls don’t take baths, anymore; they’ve long since graduated to showers.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to get a good grasp on what is grief and what is longing. How much of my July depression is about the children I’ve lost, and how much is about the children I’ve not ever been able to have. Or maybe it’s all grief, I suppose – just different strands.

Whatever it is, it makes it hard to find the will to get up every morning.

I am not the person I was three years ago. So much of me is different; deeper, wearier. I will not say that I have enjoyed or even appreciated this journey – if I am honest I have hated most of it, and fought it a good portion of the way. Yet, three years later, I can say that I see the meaning in this path. It is not desirable, no, but it is worthwhile.

On the anniversary of my greatest loss, I must recount the ways I have been changed by it all. It is in the counting that we see the Lord’s hand:

“Teach us to number our days carefully

so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” Psalm 90:12

Like the Israelites’ memorials in times of God’s intervention, I have to keep ever before me the work He is doing in my pain, so that I don’t get lost in it. No one can possibly tell you the ways the loss of a child will shift your entire world. But even less did I have any idea of just how much it would shift my understanding of the next world, too. It is that – his redemption of good from pain – that gives me the hope to carry on.

Three years. The length of Jesus’ ministry. The length of my loss. And, yet, the time He has done the greatest work in my life. Here is just a snapshot of how He has changed me:

 

I am more sorrowful.

I know this seems par for the course, but there is no doubt that my heart has a permanent shroud over it that was not there three years ago. While it isn’t surprising that I would have a pall of sadness over my life that I did not have before, what has been surprising is that it is precisely this sadness that has brought deeper joy in my life. It’s like, after Dominic, everything got…deeper in me. I have experienced, in the past three years, more depth of emotion than I have ever felt before. And although that absolutely involves pain, it has also made the joys greater. It’s like the sorrow has ferreted a deeper chasm in my soul, so when emotion flows in, more of it can fill me up. Moments that, before, I would have simply passed over as “nice” now catch my full attention as pieces of beauty. Times I would have merely enjoyed, before, I now relish.  The sorrow that casts a shadow over my soul also lets the light through in bright, concentrated beams, which spotlight parts of life that would have previously gone unnoticed in the monochromatic daily ambiance. I feel much, much more sadness in life than I did, three years ago. But I also experience much more profound joy, and find joy in more places.

I understand more fully, now, Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 7:

‘It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.”

 

I truly, truly love Jesus.

I thought I loved the Lord, before. And I did, as well as I could with the knowledge of Him that I had at the time. But it is completely true that the more we seek Him, the more we find Him, and the more we find Him, the more we love Him. My losses have led me to seek Him in ways I have never done before, and, without question, I have found more of Him every time I have searched. Every experience I have of Him confirms exactly what scripture says of Him to be true – and takes me increasingly from wanting to love Him (knowing I should) to truly loving Him, because of who I find Him to be.

I could not know that I truly loved Him until I did not get what I wanted from Him. Before that point, it’s not love – it’s self-gratification. Everyone loves the hand that feeds them. The past three years have been a quest to answer the question for myself, “Do you love Him – enough to sacrifice everything for Him – even if you get nothing you think you want from Him?”

I can now say, unequivocally, yes.

Even if I have no more children, even if I lose the ones I currently have, even if my home is destroyed and my lifestyle is torn apart and I lose my freedom or anything else – I love Him. And I will love Him. I can say that, now, because I truly know Him. And I know that He is everything He says He is, and that He really, really is working good in the midst of all of this mess. Come hell or high water, no matter the cost, I am His, and He is good. That question is now answered, for me, and I have chosen – He is my Lord. Not because my family followed Him. Not because I think it’s the right thing. He is my Lord because I know Him and I love Him. There is nothing that can happen to me in this world that will change that.

 

I am more chagrined by sin.

The more I have come to know the Lord, and the more I have sought Him, the more I have become aware and appalled by my own fallibility, and the more sensitive I have become to sin in the world around me. I am constantly overwhelmed by my own pride and selfishness, and disconcertingly attuned to the ways in which I live so far off the mark from God’s guidelines. I feel endlessly convicted for the disconnect between what I seek to teach my children and what I model in my own character, and simultaneously horrified by the sin in the culture around us that I’m sending my children out into. I can no longer watch things I used to watch, or turn a blind eye to things that, three years ago, would not have bothered me. It’s like physical death awakened my soul to the spiritual and emotional death that sin brings to humanity, and I spend a lot of time living as under a burden – the burden of the unrighteousness around me, and the burden of the tremendous sin within me. Three years ago I did not feel anywhere near the burden for either.

The burden brings turmoil. Turmoil over my own incessant patterns of sin, turmoil at the blindness and enslavement of our world in thinking that somehow we will find freedom apart from God’s commands. The more I love Christ, the more I am burdened in my spirit for our wretched state before a holy God. But with the turmoil comes a passionate desire to crucify my sin nature and replace it with His nature of righteousness. Seeing the problem is the precursor to change; I am encouraged by Christ’s words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” And I know that this burden is one He wants me to bear in order to become who He wants me to be.

 

I am less tethered to this world.

Maybe one of the biggest changes within me the past three years has been the shifting of my appetites. Losing my children has changed my desires, and the things of this world increasingly do not entice me the way they did before. Things seem so very hollow. Pretty much the good majority of that for which we as Americans spend our lives working feels, to me now, as “What’s the point?” The standard of success our world uses seems increasingly pointless, and it’s like every day my eyes are opened to the values of God’s kingdom as being the only ones that matter.

I find myself longing for heaven, for the world in which God’s upside-down values reign, where it will all be about relationships, and when I will no longer have to fight the pain, the suffering, and the me-centered idolatry of my life here. I feel the urgency of time – of being a good steward of the precious moments I have been given – and at the same time I am daunted by the idea of the likely length of time I have yet to remain, on this earth.

Scripture says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earthColossians 3:2.

I believe we cannot truly be focused on the kingdom of God until the kingdom of this world falls apart for us.

 

I want more real and true.

Something about losing children makes you have a lot less tolerance for fluff; I guess it just prioritizes what is important and what is not. I find myself longing, searching, for meaning and depth and profundity and truth. I don’t do Sunday School answers and simplistic Facebook soundbites make me cringe. I want to spend time around people who have suffered and searched and struggled; those who seek to look beyond the prevailing cultural lines and masks to the authenticity of life behind and beyond. When your world falls apart, you need an anchor. Not a subjective “That truth works for you and this truth works for me”, but the essence, the totality, the immutable reality that exists for sure. I need, now, the truth that remains even when everything around me is chaos and falsehood and vapor.

The grass withers, the flower fades

when the breath of the Lord blows on it;

surely the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

but the word of our God will stand forever. – Isaiah 40:7-8

In the past three years, I have eliminated any questions about what that Truth is. I know, have experienced, the fundamental reality that God is – the “I AM” who will be no matter what happens to me here. With Him I can face anything this world brings, because all of it just puts me in a better position to enjoy the world He is preparing me for.

 

 

3 years feels, in some ways, like a lifetime. Losing my son has shifted every part of who I am and how I see the world. But in doing so, it has brought me, I believe, closer to what really matters; closer to what God has intended for me to be. I am yet a long way off, but it is suffering that has given me the grace of truly knowing and loving Him, of wanting Him more than anything this world has to offer, and has, ironically, deepened my ability to experience joy.

Since Dominic, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. I imagine this is one of the ironic graces of suffering; it enlarges our souls so that, in the next life, we will be able to be more completely filled with Him. Only when we are, there will be no more lows at all.

As Christian writer A.W. Tozer eloquently explicated, “The Bible was written in tears, and to tears it will reveal its best treasures.”

Three years into this journey I can attest –  the tears have indeed been bitter. But I can also say that I believe I am just at the beginning of unveiling the treasures.

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