Great Expectations

My husband and I started talking this morning over breakfast about expectations and hope. I had earlier read to him a portion of a blog written by a young mother who expressed grief that her birth experience had not been what she thought it should have been and how she resented being told that she should “get over it.” This precipitated a discussion concerning some of our own – well, specifically, some of my own – expectations and hopes that have not turned out quite like I thought they would.

My husband – bless his heart – is a very black and white person. I, on the other hand, am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Being a woman, I also approach things on a much more emotional level than he does, especially when it comes to things that hurt, are not fair to, or cause pain to my family. I have a tendency to expect things to go or to be a certain way. As I choked up while talking about some hopes and expectations close to my heart that have not turned out as I wished they had, my husband commented concerning a few, “That’s just not logical. There’s no reason to expect they should have turned out that way.” Ahhh – Spock and his logic (Star Trek) have nothing on this man!

I think, though, we are hardwired to hope. You know, “hope springs eternal” and all that. We then add our own expectations – sometimes unrealistic expectations – to our hopes. It’s hard not to add our own expectations (the “shoulds”) to the visions we hold close to our hearts. We picture things the way we want and think things should be – with hope and expectation. We have hopes and expectations for our relationships, for our families, for our kids, for our jobs, for our futures, for every aspect of our lives. We want, hope, expect for things to go a certain way. We want, hope, expect things to turn out for the best.

When Jason was in high school, I printed and framed Jeremiah 29:11 for him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”* It sat on his bedside table. I expected Jason to prosper and to have a future. I believed God had a plan for Jason’s life – for all of our kids’ lives. I hoped for good things for Jason – for all of my kids. I expected God to protect my kids; I prayed for God to protect them and help them.

I hoped and expected my kids would all have good friends who would value them for the incredible people they are and stand by them through thick and thin. I hoped and expected that they find jobs that would be fulfilling and a life that would be equally fulfilling. I looked forward to my kids graduating from college, marrying, having children (probably). I hoped for the absolute best for my kids; I still hope for these things and pray for the best for my kids and grandkids.

I expected for our home to be a place to which our kids would return with their own families; one that would be filled with family, friends, and fun for holidays or for just any ordinary day; one where I could do crafts and bake cookies with our grandkids. I expected my life to continue on its path into a future I envisioned and had planned. I still have many hopes and expectations, although I feel they are more subdued than they used to be.

What I did not expect was for Jason to die. I did not expect to walk this long, difficult walk through grief. I didn’t expect people we counted on to disappear when we needed them the most. I didn’t expect to move from a place and home I loved. I didn’t expect my family to face some of the heartbreaks and difficult struggles they have. I didn’t expect to be 50-something (ah-hum) years old trying to better educate myself in order find a good-paying, fulfilling job so we can have enough money for retirement. I didn’t expect to have so much trouble finding once again a place to call home – a place where my heart feels at home – and a good job.

What do you do when your hopes and expectations aren’t met, when they disappear into thin air or are crushed to smithereens?

I think this has been one of the greatest struggles for me following Jason’s death and the ripple-effect of events/situations following his death. Sometimes it surprises me how long and far-reaching the ripples go and what they affect. I have a strong belief in the fairness of things and tend to expect that things “should” be a certain way. I still struggle sometimes with adjusting my expectations to the reality that now is. It’s hard for me to let go of those hopes and expectations when things seem unfair; I’m afraid I am not one to let go easily.

Proverbs 13:12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”** Deferred means “withheld for or until a stated time”; fulfilled means “to measure up to…to convert into reality.”*** Sometimes I feel like I’m over the “hope deferred” parts of life and am ready for the “longing fulfilled” parts; I’m over the “heart sick” parts and ready for the “tree of life” parts. Sometimes I just want to say “Enough already!” and instantly see things change for the better. I’m ready for some of my deep longings to become realities. I think all of us would prefer the “longing fulfilled” rather than the “hope deferred.”

You just can’t pick and choose some things that happen to you, though. Sometimes our “great expectations” just don’t happen the way we think they should.

Joe and watched a movie a long time ago (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss in Lost In Yonkers) where the main character’s sister kept going on and on about how she wanted and pictured her life to be a certain way. It wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to be, the way she pictured it should be, but she wasn’t actively doing anything to make anything change. She was just complaining about the way it was. Finally, in exasperation after listening to this for countless years, the main character turns to her and yells, “So, change the picture!!” Although some “pictures” are easier to change and some expectations are easier to release than others, that’s become a reminder to ourselves. “Change the picture!”

I don’ think it happens just like that – change the picture. And it certainly isn’t up to someone else to change the picture for you or, without solicitation, to tell you when or how you should change it. It’s your life; you have to own your own changes in order for them to mean something to you. Sometimes a person may ask an opinion or solicit help, but for change to really stick it has to mean something and come from deep within. No one can do it for you. Sometimes it’s a painfully long and agonizing process that requires painting over that ruined picture or a long time and hard, consistent work to plant a landscape so that it is no longer a vast wasteland but a beautiful, productive garden. The healing is in the process of change, one step at a time.

I don’t want to get stuck in my lost expectations or keep my focus on the hopes that have been deferred. I don’t want the landscape of my life to be of a wasteland of unfulfilled expectations or the way I wish things were; I want it to be a beautiful garden, that stained glass window through which God can shine. I want to keep learning and growing from the experiences I’ve had. I just keep reminding myself that there are so many things I don’t understand here on earth. Life isn’t fair. Why do things go well for certain people and not others? I don’t know. Maybe it just seems they do. I think most people have expectations that aren’t met and heartbreaks of their own. I won’t have the answers to why my some of my hopes were deferred and some of my expectations weren’t met on things that are important to me until I see God face to face. I will keep on hoping and doing the best I can.

I want Jason to be proud of me and the way I have lived my life. I want to get to Heaven and have God say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want my life to mean something. I will remind myself to hope, to love, to forgive, to remember, to persevere, to appreciate those in my life who care, and to notice the beauty in each day. I will remind myself that some day I will understand, even though I don’t now. As 1 Corinthians 13 says:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.****

*http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+29%3A11&version=NIV

**http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13%3A12&version=NIV

***http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

****http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+13&version=NIV

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

My Hope, My Faith

My hope in seeing Jason again lies in my firm belief that, on the third day after His death, Jesus rose from the dead, thereby conquering death and the grave. It has been and will forever be my faith and my hope.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

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

The Question of Faith

From my journal dated December 16, 2002:

I keep praying and praying for my family. But I struggle so much with my faith right now. It’s hard to trust a God who didn’t protect Jason. Does He hear me? I have prayed and prayed and prayed for my family over the years, for their lives, for their protection. And yet Jason died. Did God hear me when I prayed for Jason?

Sometimes I feel like scrapping my faith entirely. But I know I won’t, because I do believe in God. It’s who I am. It goes to the very core of me. I have, without a doubt, seen God answer prayers. There’s so much I question, though. There’s so much I don’t understand.

During the offering “ad” at church yesterday morning, the pastor taking the offering said something along the line of “give your tithe and God will bless you,” “pressed down, shaken together,” stuff like that. I looked at Joe and said, “I just don’t know if I believe some of this any more.” He agreed.

We have given our lives to God; we dedicated our kids to Him; we have given our tithe; we have prayed; we have fasted; we have read the Scripture; we have served in the church. But I do not feel blessed of God right now! How can it be a blessing that Jason is gone??!! How can it be a blessing that the rest of us are struggling so much? It doesn’t add up for me. The formulaic approach doesn’t work for me. Do this and God will do that. Faith without works is dead. We’ve had the faith, done the works. Jason is the one who is dead. I just can’t understand how God would let this happen.

The pastor’s sermon was on joy at Christmas. I just don’t feel it this year. I can’t be phony, paste a smile on my face, and jump for joy.

I know that – without the birth, life, and death of Jesus – there would be no resurrection, no hope of seeing Jason again. I do believe. I do believe that Jason is in heaven. I do believe we will see him again; that we will see my dad, the baby we lost, my grandpa, and all the others who have gone on ahead. I do believe that Jesus was born, that he died for our sins, and that He rose again so that we can have eternal life.

I’m just really struggling with parts of what I believe right now. I question so much. What’s real faith and what’s not? It’s an odd position to trust in/believe in God and all that goes with that – and yet being so angry at him that sometimes I feel like grabbing Him by the lapels (assuming He has any), shaking Him, and asking Him why He didn’t protect Jason and why my family has to walk through all of this.

I trust, but I question. I trust, but I’m mad at Him. Church has always felt like a safe home for me, but I’m struggling with being angry at “His people” for abandoning us when Jason died (and since then). I suppose I’ll eventually find some middle ground. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I picture my faith like a large tree with roots that go deep. But that tree has been nearly cut off at ground level. I’m questioning everything I took for granted – the sayings, the teachings, the cliches, the formulas, the things I thought I knew and understood to be true. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I think God is big enough and has enough grace to handle my questioning.

I feel like my faith will grow again from the roots up, but it may not look the same as it did. I don’t want some pie-in-the-sky cliche. It’s got to apply to the tough stuff, to daily life. I want a faith and a hope that is real, practical, strong. I want a “rubber meets the road” faith in God that will carry me until I see my boy again.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Lessons from the Book of Job/Viewing Job as a Bereaved Parent

From my journal dated August 25, 2002:

People have just got to cut us a little slack right now. We are all so emotionally raw. We just can’t be expected to act or react “normally,” whatever that is. It’s like expecting a person whose leg has been amputated to get up and walk or run again right away like “before.”

Our family has had part of it amputated, abnormally cut off.  We have a gaping hole where we are wounded and bleeding. Who is there to help us? I know that Christians think God is the one to help us, to heal us. So…what is their responsibility? To stand back and wait until God heals us? To tell us they are praying and do nothing else? To pass us on the other side of the road? To pretend they don’t see us, don’t know us? To pass the buck to the invisible “someone else”?

I do believe God will help and heal. I also think we as Christians need to be doing more than we are. Why else would God have given us a whole book of instruction on what we are supposed to do? “Faith without works is dead.” It’s not all up to God when things are tough for others! It’s up to us!

I can only speak for what I see in our Western culture, but it seems like we are so much about ourselves any more – our busy, busy, busy lives; our needs and wants; what is easy or convenient for us; what will fulfill us; what will bless us. Are we as Christians doing enough, just doing our own little “God” things?

It’s funny that the book Prayer of Jabez is so popular now. “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory. Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (I Chron. 4:10). But the previous verse says that Jabez was more honorable than all his brothers. Doesn’t that mean that his honorable life came first? He must have been quite a guy to be called “honorable” in the inspired Word of God. It’s easy to zero in on the “bless me, keep me from pain” and skip the fact that his honorable life came first.

I’ve been reading some in the Book of Job. Sometimes I wonder if there’s an associated guilt in people’s minds toward us…sort of like a “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” attitude that Job’s friends had toward him. Is there a feeling that we have something that’s “catching”? That we or Jason did something wrong to deserve this ugly pain that no one wants to look at or be around?

Excuses, excuses! My mind sort of understands “the other side” of the coin. But my heart just feels pain and abandonment. Raw, excruciating, incapacitating pain. Abandonment by those who could have filled in the need for “family.” I have voiced my alone-ness and loneliness, and it had made no difference. Nearly six months of being avoided and left mostly alone has been hard on me. I know I’m struggling with being bitter – not against the kid who killed Jason and Alina, but against the “people of God” and sometimes even God.

I desperately want God to help us, to protect my family and help us, to make good come out of this. And yet I sometimes have a hard time believing God hears me. And sometimes I’m flat-out mad at Him. Sometimes I want to scream “WHY?” right into His face. Not a very spiritual attitude, is it?

I know that I believe in God. I trust – or maybe just hope at times – that He is in control and working on our behalf. I want my heart to be right and not end up crippled by this. Sometimes it’s just the knowledge that Jason is in Heaven before the throne of God that keeps me looking to God. I long to see him again. I miss my boy so much.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Notes:

I have been reading the book of Job again. I see the Job differently than I used to before Jason died. I see him as a bereaved parent. My heart understands him and what he says as a bereaved parent – mourning the loss of his family, of what he knew, of the presence and hand of God on his life. He cared deeply for his kids and prayed for them constantly. (Job 1:4-5)

Job was a bereaved parent, losing all of his children at once. On top of that, he lost his business (his sheep, oxen, camels) and then he got sick. His friends came to sit with him after his children died, as was the custom. They didn’t recognize him when they approached him, but sat with him for seven days without saying a word. When Job spoke, he was in agony. He wanted God to put him out of his misery (Job 6:9). He said, “Where’s the strength to keep my hopes up? What future do I have to keep me going?” (Job 6:11, The Message Bible) How many times have I said that since Jason died?

His friends told him he must have done something wrong and that he needed to repent. They thought they knew what was going on with Job, how he felt, what he he had done, what was going on between him and God, and what he needed to do to make things right. They ganged up on him and verbally attacked him.

Job got mad at his friends for assuming the worst about him. He says about his friends, “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers [friends] are as undependable as intermittent streams as the streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice and swollen with melting snow, but that stop flowing in the dry season, and in the heat vanish from their channels…Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid.” (Job 6:14-18, 21 NIV) Very harsh words for his friends, indeed.

Job doesn’t feel that God would hear him if he went before Him to plead his innocence. He says, “I don’t understand what’s going on. I hate my life!” (Job 9:21 NIV) He wishes he’d never been born. He feels beat up and weary.

He gets mad at God. “People take one look at me and gasp. Contemptuous, they slap me around and gang up against me. And God just stands there and lets them do it, lets wicked people do what they want with me. I was contentedly minding my business when God beat me up. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me around.” (Job 16: 10-12 The Message Bible). (It makes me smile at the mental picture God grabbing Job by the neck and throwing him around.) He begs God to hear him, to make things right.

Job felt deserted by those he knew and felt treated as a total stranger. “He has alienated my family from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me. My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger.” (Job 19:13-15 NIV)

He still believes in God and yearns for the day when he will see God (Job 19:25-27). He doesn’t under stand why God doesn’t answer him, why He is silent to Job’s pleadings for understanding of why the wicked seem to prosper when he is in such anguish (Job 21:4-18). He says that he struggles with being bitter (Job 10:1).

He yearned for the “good old days.” “Oh, how I long for the good old days, when God took such very good care of me. He always held a lamp before me and I walked through the dark by its light. Oh, how I miss those golden years when God’s friendship graced my home, When the Mighty One was still by my side and my children were all around me, When everything was going my way, and nothing seemed too difficult.” (Job 29:1-6 The Message Bible)

God finally answers Job and tells him how powerful He is, that He controls all, knows all. Job is speechless and in awe of God’s reply. God, however, lights into Job’s friends, “I’ve had it with you and your two friends. I’m fed up! You haven’t been honest either with me or about me—not the way my friend Job has.” (Job 42:7 The Message Bible). At least Job, even in his anguish and grief, spoke out of his honest emotions. God then told Job’s friends to repent with sacrifice and ask Job to pray for them for God to be merciful, because Job would not treat his friends as he had been treated. And then God restores and blesses Job over the next 140 years of his life.

Now, I don’t claim to be Job. I don’t want to be Job. He lost way too much, suffered way too much. But, I find it interesting that so much of what Job says echos what a current-day bereaved parent would say in the depths of their grief…things I have said and struggled with. It seems I’ve struggled, as a bereaved parent, with feelings that have been around with for a long time. I’m still trying to understand and learn…and to accept there are some answers we will never have until we see the face of God.

All scripture quoted from http://www.biblegateway.com.