Lost in thought on a Sunday morning

Listening to Pandora this morning – this Father’s Day 2015 – songs from my childhood have put me in a contemplative mood. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” “I Love to Tell the Story.” “Farther Along.” Songs that remind me of my dad and my growing up years in the church.

sc0018cf1c01Since my father was a preacher, Sundays growing up were busy with church and church-related activities. We kids were responsible for folding the bulletins on the way to church. Church was 25 miles north of where we lived, so we had a half hour to fold them and do whatever else we needed to do to get ready for the day. Dad had prepared the content of the bulletins on Saturday. Mom had typed them up and printed them out on the mimeograph machine in the dining room late Saturday evening.

sc00025c1301Sunday School  was followed by the morning church service where we, as a family, may or may not have been involved in singing “special music.” Since we were small children, all of us had been involved front and center of church services. Church was our second home. My very earliest memories are of falling asleep on a church pew, standing up in front of the congregation singing “Jesus Loves Me” or standing beside my sister as she quoted the 23rd Psalm. She couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, and I still remember wondering how she could remember all those words and feeling bad because I was too nervous to chime in.

After church, we would go home, eat the pot roast that had been cooking on the stove while we were at church, and then get ready to record the music for the radio broadcast that would be played on two radio stations the following week.

sc0080c86eDad had prepared the “song list” for the day. We, in varying family-member combinations, sang trios, duets, solos or all together. Mom played the piano, organ and accordion; Dad played twelve different instruments, including the guitar, trumpet, trombone, banjo. Sometimes we would have a theme for the program. My favorite was the “old time cowboy service,” complete with sounds my dad made with his mouth that sounded like a horse clip-clopping up to the church door. Dad would add a 15-minute message to the music a day or so later, and the reel-to-reel tapes would be sent to a radio station in the neighboring town and off to another station over the state line in Utah.

sc003843be02In the evening, we would all get in the car and head back to church for the evening service, sometimes either preceded or followed by a “fellowship” time. Wednesday evenings were dedicated to a Bible study and prayer service. Since my junior and high school was 50 miles south, we would get off the bus after school on Wednesday evenings, eat a quick bite for dinner, and then head out for the 25 miles north to church. Up until I graduated from high school, I think I missed one service. One service. Period. And now I have a tough time just going to church.

Ever since Jason died, I have struggled with going to church and with my faith. At first, it was hard to watch people smiling and clapping just like “normal” when our lives were anything but normal any more. Carrying on “church” as we used to, like nothing had happened and as if Jason had not died, was impossible. The noise of the whole thing rattled my nerves and made me extremely antsy. And then there was the whole “disappearing act” by people we knew.

We felt so burned by the way we were treated by Christians after Jason died. I, especially, felt deserted by man and God. We had no blood-related family within 2000 miles, so all of us looked to and relied on our church and homeschool Christian “family” to be there for us. For some reason, they just couldn’t be the support we needed. And it has really affected me. It has affected all of us. Since then, finding a place where both Joe and I feel “at home” in a church has not been easy.

I’ve written extensively about how alone we were and how difficult that time was. I reached out to fellow Christians like a person drowning, desperately grabbing for a lifeline, and felt ignored or like I got my hand slapped. The church I knew as a source of comfort, support and friendship became a reminder of great loss and so many secondary losses. Loss of faith, loss of friendship, loss of support, loss of feeling safe and loved. The strong, genuine connection I felt to church, to fellow Christians and to God still feels somewhat broken. I no longer see church as a source of friendship, comfort or solace. I am very guarded toward church people…and toward being open with people in general. Instead of feeling comfortable and home-y, church still makes me tense and anxious, although not as much as it used to right after Jason died.

I’ve written about my crisis of faith before, too. As I said in my earlier post, I don’t believe that a crisis of faith is a sin. It just means that what I thought I believed didn’t line up with what I’ve experienced. It means I’m still working on adjusting my beliefs. There’s so much I don’t understand about this life and why things happen the way they do. I still struggle so much with Jason’s death and the way our lives have changed beyond measure. It’s just so hard to lose a child. Life is never the same. I keep on trying to find a purpose and keep trying to fan the flames of my faith. I miss feeling a part of something, though. I miss a strong and real connection to fellow believers. I miss my unquestioning faith and my strong connection to God.

Joe and I went to a bluegrass festival the end of February, just a week before March 3rd (the day Jason died) and attended the Sunday morning musical performances. A wonderful group of young musicians named Flatt Lonesome sang a song, He Still Hears, that brought both of us to tears. It’s comforting to know that, no matter what happens to me and no matter how much I struggle, no matter how , God still cares about me and hears me when I pray. He will never give up on me.

He Still Hears

 

When the days can seem so long and the nights are longer still

In times like these you can question God’s good will

Your heart is hurting so and you lost the strength to stand

Cry out the Lord He hears you still

 

He still hears when it seems you’re all alone

He still hears when your bread is turned to stone

God will work according to His perfect all-wise will

Cry out to the Lord He hears you still

 

When your heart is growing cold and the fire is all but out

And life’s hard work brings on an empty chill

Just stir the coals again rebuild the fire the storms have quenched

And cry out the Lord He hears you still

 

He still hears when it seems you’re all alone

He still hears when your bread is turned to stone

God will work according to His perfect all-wise will

Cry out to the Lord He hears you still

Today I will remind myself that I come from a history of faith and a heritage of believers. I will remind myself that the roots of my faith are long-standing and deep. I will remind myself that God still hears me when I pray.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

Edited 6/22/15

Hope

Our pastor preached on hope this past Sunday. I like our pastor. He’s funny. He gets his message across without condemning. He’s real. He’s also a bereaved parent, and that carries some weight with me.

But, it got me to thinking about hope. It’s what all of us, especially as bereaved parents, want. We want the “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” that old hymn talks about.

There are many things I believe and know. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe that Jesus was born, died, and was raised again so that I could have eternal life. I know that Jason was a Christian and that I will see him again. I know that all of my questions will be answered when I see God. I know that, although I see through a dark glass now, someday I will understand. Someday all my tears will be wiped away.

Here on earth, though, sometimes I struggle. I have had a long struggle with my faith since Jason died. Research has shown that many bereaved parents question and examine their spiritual beliefs following the death of a child. I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason after I had prayed and prayed for our kids, their lives, and their protection. I don’t know why we’ve had to walk this long, lonely, difficult path. I have had a long struggle believing the validity of fellow Christians actually being the hands and feet of God on this earth and getting into the trenches to help those who deeply grieve. I have questioned the concept of the church as a hospital for the wounded. I didn’t go to church for a while. It was just too hard. It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to “hope” again.

I can’t deny what we have experienced or what we have seen with our own eyes. It’s been a rough journey; that’s a fact. I would have to acknowledge that, for the most part, fellow Christians and the church failed us miserably after Jason died. On my part, I was extremely hurt and reacted by pulling even farther away. I built up a protective wall around my heart and hunkered down behind it.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. In retrospect, probably not. There are many things I would do differently if I had to do them again. I did what I knew how to do  and what I had the energy to do at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

But, I don’t want to convey a hopelessness to others who may be early on in their grief. My experiences are not be the same as yours. There is so much more information available for helping those who deeply grieve. You are not alone. You will make it through. You are stronger than you know. Reach out to others. You may be surprised who reaches back. Others have walked a similar path before you. Those who have suffered a great loss generally have a deeper, more empathetic outlook on life. They survived; you will, too.

More than anything, though, I want to encourage those surrounding grievers to be proactive. Do something! You can make a difference! I want to encourage those in the church to look outside of their own group of friends or acquaintances to see if there is someone new or someone who is hurting. Someone may need more than your shaking their hand “good morning.” You can give hope by small acts of kindness…but you have to be involved with them beyond a perfunctory smile to do that.

It’s easy to stay within our comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same place at church or hang out with the same friends. We like to be around people we know. We go to lunch with the same people, go to the same Bible studies, attend the same social events. But maybe there is someone new who needs a friend or just a kind word. Maybe there is someone right in front of you who needs some hope. Are you unintentionally excluding someone who may need a glimmer of hope?

My dad used to joke about people who would pray, “God bless me, my wife, my son John and his wife. Us four, no more. Amen.” He wanted to encourage others (and especially “us kids”) to realize that there are more people that God wants to bless besides those within our own little circles…and he may want to use you to do it.

I have long contemplated how I can best help those who grieve. I have a “helper” personality and am strongly empathetic. How can I best help? I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe this blog is one of my attempts to do just that.

I realize friendships and relationships take a while to grow. It takes time to connect. But there has to be a reciprocal desire by both parties. I may have a need to reach out to you and I may make the effort to do that; but if you don’t see me reaching out and reach back, there’s no chance for a connection. There’s no chance for a relationship. There’s no chance to encourage or give hope to someone who may need it.

Does that make sense?

There may be people around us reaching out for friendship, for hope, for encouragement. Do we see them? Do we take the time to notice? Do we take time to share some hope?

I subscribe to GriefShare and receive “A Season of Grief” daily emails from them. The last few have encouraged those who grieve to find support in a local church. Are we, as a church, prepared to do that? There are people, in their deep grief, looking to us for hope. Are we ready to show them hope – “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Are we, by our actions, ready to show them the God of all hope?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Observing Life

From my journal dated December 11, 2002:

Sunday was a really tough day for us. Maybe it’s because Christmas is fast approaching – our first Christmas without Jason.

Went to church; sat up in the balcony. Neither of us knows where we belong right now. It just feels like we don’t fit anywhere. I feel like I’m just observing – observing church, observing activities, observing life. Sometimes I feel very detached.

Joe and I talked some about this whole “not knowing where we belong” thing when we got home and what to do for Christmas. Joe was just so sad today. He cried and cried. He’s a broken-hearted daddy.

I don’t know how we’re going to stand celebrating Christmas this year without Jason. It hurts so much just to think about it.

Dancing on the streets of gold

From my journal dated October 6, 2002:

They announced today at church that a lady from the church community died yesterday. “Dancing on the streets of gold in her red tennis shoes,” they said.

I’m sure she is!

She and her husband have two little boys, though, and the gal making the announcement today said that she had promised the husband the church would help raise them.

I wanted to say, “Please don’t make any promises you don’t intend to keep.” Not that I  think the person making the announcement today doesn’t intend to keep her promises, but so many people don’t realize that this is just the beginning…the tip of the iceberg. The major stuff is still to come – learning to live without your loved one – and it goes on and on.

The initial meals and whatever are great. But then people tend to disappear. Everybody moves on and leaves you alone to do stuff by yourself and deal with stuff on your own. Maybe that’s just my perception. Maybe it makes a difference if you’re better connected, especially in a large church. I don’t know. I can only speak from my experience.

I hope they have all the support they need for a very long time…as long as they need it.