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God’s choice

Whenever there is a tragedy, such as a natural disaster or a bombing or a plane crash, we all do our best to make sense of things.  This happens in different ways for different people, depending on our beliefs and the personal experiences we bring to the table.  This is natural.  It’s a healthy part of the grieving process to make an attempt to understand how or why such things occur.

I know that we all work through things in our own ways, and I do not want to take away from whatever helps someone else find a light in the dark.  But I think we have to be careful when we do this that we aren’t trashing someone else’s grief, even unintentionally.

One thing I see so often is a number of people who offer up thanks that “God spared them” from death/disease/injury/whatever.  That God was looking out for them, and that the prayers of others kept them safe.  That they were preserved for a holy purpose, some part of God’s plan.

The difficulty here is that it’s so easy to glibly say these things.  It’s so easy for a lot of Christians to believe them, for ourselves or on behalf of others.  The problem is, there are three underlying statements that usually go unacknowledged.  If one person was spared intentionally by God, then one of three possibilities exist for those who were not spared:

1. God intentionally brought ill on a person.  God caused something to happen that would allow that person to die, be injured, or become ill.  It was God’s intent that this person should have something tragic befall him or her.

2. God allowed something to happen to a person as part of His larger plan.  He didn’t necessarily orchestrate it in the sense of making it happen, but He allowed it because that person was the fallout of His divine will.

3. God failed to answer someone else’s prayer, or ignored that person’s prayer.  God wasn’t allowing something as part of His plan, but He was either not paying attention or choosing not to listen to prayers.

I recognize that there is a possibility, perhaps, that any of those things could be true.  But what I see is often that people jump so easily to being inspired by miraculous stories, while avoiding the flip side.

I’m not here to tell anyone to stop believing in miracles.  But I think in the wake of tragedies that affect many individuals and families, we need to be very careful how we express ourselves in the aftermath.  We need to be sure that claims of “God saved my life!” don’t leave other victims’ families saying, “Wasn’t my loved one good enough for God to spare?”

A healthier response would be to thank God for the life we have, for the blessings we have, and to find out how we can serve others out of those blessings.  Don’t write elaborate blog posts detailing the miracle of how you were spared; don’t make YouTube videos expressing your gratitude that God heard your prayers; don’t share those things on social media when you come across them.

Just give thanks and give to others.

Loss

I woke up this morning to learn that a friend had passed away.  We weren’t close, really.  We worked together at a summer job for a couple of years, kept in touch lightly after that.  I lost contact with her for several years, then reconnected with her on Facebook.  It was at that point that I learned she’d already been dealing with cancer for some years.  I tracked her progress as she continued to battle, and I saw what an inspiration she was to those around her.  Judging by the volume of comments when her husband posted about her passing, she appears to have touched hundreds of people over her short time in this world.

We first met before we worked together.  We were introduced by mutual friends who knew we would both be working at the same summer job.  I recall thinking that she seemed nice enough and that I was glad to have met someone so I wouldn’t be stranded with strangers for two months.  As it turned out, I underestimated her.  She wasn’t simply “nice.”  She was energetic, fun, good at her job, intelligent, and had a great sense of humor.  Those two summers turned out to be the high point of my college years.  As everything else in my “real” life fell apart, I had those few months of shelter from the storms.  This amazing young woman was part of that, and I am grateful to have known her.

To all who knew my friend, I am sorry for our loss.  May the things we loved about her live on in us, as we treasure our time with her and our memories of her.

Tragic losses

Last night, a young man from the town where I live took his own life.  My heart aches for his family and friends.

Doesn’t it feel, when something like this happens, that the whole world should stop?  As though everything should focus on the tragedy at hand?

When I read through my Facebook feed, I mostly saw people posting the same things they always do.  Funny photos, interesting links, and what they had for dinner.  There was a huge disconnect between the shock and sadness I’m feeling and the mundanity of life around me that others are still experiencing.

I wanted everything to just wait.  To take a deep breath, to reflect, to listen.  But that’s like asking traffic on the interstate highway to stop because I want to cross the road.

Tonight, I want to offer hope.  If you are feeling like that young man was; if you are wrestling with your ability to make it day-to-day; if you are wondering if the only way to escape the pain is to make it stop forever: please hang on.  Not because “everything will be fine”—I can’t promise you that—but because you are loved.  I love you.  God loves you.  You are not alone.  Please reach out, because you will find a hand to cling to.

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Students from my church, we your youth leaders will be at church tomorrow night from 6:30-8:30.  If you need someone to talk to, please come.  Bring your friends.  All who are involved in our church, please spread the word so that the students in our community know they have somewhere safe they can go.

Talking to Kids about Death

This morning, I had to share with the kids that a family member’s pet had died.  They were sad, as they had loved this pet, but they took it pretty well.  I wonder if this is because it wasn’t their pet, they are familiar with death, or a combination of both.

The kids are no strangers to having someone they love pass on.  Their favorite uncle, my husband’s brother, died when they were two and four.  They still talk about him–how much they loved him, how much fun they had together, how he was sick and went to live with God.  Sometimes they are a little sad, especially J, who was older and remembered him better.  They love to hear stories about their uncle.  One of their favorites is when he stayed with us when S was born.  Because my husband had to work, a friend stayed with J and my brother-in-law picked S and me up from the hospital.  First, we had to wait 45 minutes for discharge because the nurse kept forgetting about me.  He was the voice of reason, telling me not to panic, that we’d eventually get out of there.  Then, on the way home, he drove under the speed limit the whole way because he didn’t want to do anything that would endanger his new niece.  He said it was because he was afraid of what I’d do to him if he got in an accident with the baby in the car; I knew better.

The kids’ experience with death is very different from my own.  No one close to me died until I was in college.  I had two great-grandparents die, but I didn’t know them well.  They were old and it just seemed sort of like the cycle of life to me.  My dad’s father died when I was about 16, but I didn’t know him well, either.  At that point, I had only ever seen my father’s parents a handful of times in my entire life.  Having someone I knew well, and loved, die was a shock to my system.

When something happens now, I don’t shy away from talking to the kids.  I see no point in lying to “protect” them.  There is no pretending:  People and pets die.  At the same time, I do my best to leave room for them to be sad, to ask questions, to talk about things as they need to.  I had hoped the kids would be older before they had to deal with something like this, but reality is unavoidable.  I can only hope that the way we handled it as parents was appropriate and helped them process and understand their grief.

Have you had to talk to your kids about death and dying?  How have you handled it?