Seasons of Overcoming: Purification of Grief?

Jesus_117It’s February, a time of transition rich with ancient symbolism, refining elements of nature and seasonal celebrations. There are many good reasons to celebrate love, new life, historical traditions and international tributes. Currently some are happy about the Super Bowl outcome while others cheer on the Winter Olympic winners! The word February comes from Latin origins meaning to “purify” or “expiate”. The ancient Romans recognized it as a season of purification—where festivities were held to reestablish a renewed focus on righteous living. Winter rains, snow and ice provide a cleansing with anticipation for renewal as we wait with hope for spring.

This is my February story about how the purifying fire of grief changed my family and my life.

It was not an ordinary February day—no not in any way. After a restless night of fitful sleep combined with prayers and tears I was drained. Thankfully I had previously arranged to redeem a massage (an unusual but very special Valentine’s gift from my husband). On my way home, I stopped and purchased some pretty primroses and planted them in spite of the frigid weather. I’ve always found gardening to ease my soul. I warmed up in front of the television, when a special news alert came on announcing that two bodies were found nearby with no further details available. Anxiously I searched the internet for further information and then waited for the evening news.

Alone in the darkness I heard a loud knock at my front door. Who could it be? I wasn’t expecting anyone and already knew my husband planned to work late. When I opened the door and they asked if I was Carol Smith my heart broke with anxious thoughts of why they were at my home. “Did I know Stephen Smith?” the detective asked. “Yes, I am his Mother” and then I immediately asked “Is he okay?” Immediately I broke down in tears because my worst fears were about to unravel as they asked to come in and talk with me. “No! No!” I cried, “Please tell me it isn’t true.” I knew it was true as I was silenced in shock. They were compassionate and patient. I gasped for God. This was absolutely the worst tragedy…

February 21st, the day life stopped. My beloved son Stephen was found dead a short distance from our home. The last time I saw him, he made me breakfast and his last words were: “I love you Mom.” He seemed upbeat as he left that morning but he did not come home. The next time I saw him he was cold and absent from his body. His cause of death: heroin overdose. Stephen suffered from a broken soul: anxious, deeply depressed from so many injuries and personal losses. He became addicted to anything that would ease his pain. I’ll never forget picking him up in a small but heavy box…placing his ashes in the back seat for the drive home from the mortuary.

So many threats and unknown attempts finally culminated in his death—ruled accidental but was it his final suicidal fulfillment of his desire to escape this troubled world? Shame, guilt, fear and worry can overcome the best of us. Judge not for you know not the full story—especially if you have never experienced mental illness, brain injury, serious diagnosis and addiction in your own family. We tried everything to get him help: unceasing prayer, faith and hope that he would be healed. We were diligent with interventions, trips to the emergency rooms, psychiatry, prescriptions, temporary detoxifications, rehabilitation all ineffective fixes. We felt helpless as all our son’s attempts to get help failed. We observed his desperate cries of self-condemnation; we witnessed his tormented anger at God. We endured many relentless days and nights of fear. We leaned onto our faith in a loving merciful God. We sought help for ourselves through our church, Al-Anon and professional counseling. We tried detachment with love. Nothing we could do would fill the emptiness of his soul. He knew we loved him but it was not enough. Only God could save him.

Addiction is a chronic and deadly disease that affects everyone in the family. It’s been a generational curse in my heritage. Everyone in its path is l victimized by the crisis and consequences of it’s destruction.  We felt helpless but we refused to give up hope. Stephen felt he was permanently damaged unable to climb out of the depression. He expressed over and over how he hated being an addict. He could not control the unceasing drive to ease his chronic pain brought on by brain damage, multiple injuries and worse yet the withdrawals. Stephen warned us he was giving up just two more days before he was scheduled for another rehab.

Stephen will always be a part of us. He is constantly in my thoughts. I get flashes of him as I see young skateboarders or bicyclists along the road. Relief comes just as quickly as grief grips. Memories can be painfully haunting or sweet and sober. I cry and immediately pray “help me Jesus” over and over. God gives comfort and renewed strength. Thankfully my husband and I have drawn even closer through our faith and love. We share a mutual compassionate understanding as we mourn the excruciating loss of our “one flesh.”

What anguish to lose anyone you love; we are not designed for death or separation. No matter how it happens, you can never prepare for grief—especially when devastating losses keep coming. What could be worse than sudden death of my husband’s baby sister Christina or the mysterious disappearance of my youngest sister Michele—never to be found?

Over the years, many of our closest relatives passed away in winter. But in February—the designated month of purification I lost my Mother and many years later my Father and now my youngest son. We are weary from the seemingly endless adversities but I vow not to give in. Nothing can separate us from God and His love.

What do you do to get through grief? Grief penetrates very deeply. My husband and I grieve very differently. Ron became more active in his volunteering; I withdrew and needed time to process with God alone. I needed to pray, read, research and write. As a couple we listened intently, cried and comforted one another with patience. We received loving support. We found solace in solitude. There were moments when I wanted to end the suffering, go to sleep and join my loved one in peace. But for us it was important to give in any way we could for in serving we experienced healing relief.

Each day, I am challenged to choose between gratitude or grievance? Will I focus on my pain and suffering or will I trust and seek God for overcoming in Christ?

Letting go of suffering is a continual surrender especially when there is a very painful ending. Grief is awfully deep as it fiercely strips every layer of your sanity and sensibility. Too many “if only;” “could of;” or “should have’s”—or even worse the regrets of Why’s with no answers!

One year later, I survive but not without struggle but I will keep holding on. Grief is not necessarily something you overcome…there is no closure until Jesus comes and brings an end to all death. Revelation 21-22

There is healing as we trust in God’s promises especially Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“And they overcame…because of the blood of the Lamb

and because of the word of their testimony,

and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” 

Revelation 12:11 NASB

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Focus: Trust

     My Reckless Abandonment – Part I

“What she trusts in is fragile, what she relies on is a spider’s web.
She leans on his web, but it gives away, she clings to it, but it does not hold.”

This verse aptly describes my formative years as the continuous strands of abuse, betrayal and abandonment formed my web of destruction. A spiral of sticky naïve ignorance kept me from making good choices and blinded me of my true worth. The venom caused painful symptoms in my mind and body; but fortunately it was not so dangerous to take my life. Although my past web has been abandoned the cobweb scars linger…so I learned to trust and found healing in a loving God.

My first twelve years I did what I was told; the next twelve years I did life my way! I was rebellious against every person who broke my trust especially my abusive addictive parents. My father was a raging alcoholic and my mother’s drug of choice were “Black Beauties” (the Rx for weight loss). I hated the agony and abuse they inflicted upon themselves and their six children. Since they abandoned me, I chose to leave the chaos and foolishly continued the destructive ways enlarging my own web of destruction.
I began a pattern of relocating and seeking love in all the wrong places. I preferred older men of influence: someone who would provide a way of escape. I settled for the “bad boys” choosing drug dealers who numbed my pain; then I switched to incredibly wealthy selfish men in Palm Beach. Next I sought the educated and dated successful business men, my community college professor, my Real Estate Instructor and Amway leaders. I eventually turned away my doctor, Willie Nelson’s drummer and even Jimmy Buffet. The reality was none of them proved to be trustworthy of my love.
My choices minimized my value and filled me with shame, guilt and sorrow. I added more addictive traits to my web portfolio. I knew it was time for another escape and relocation. I became a seeker replacing my self-destructive choices for a new spiritual journey. First I experimented with new age, meditation, yoga, Hinduism and Scientology. I was open to invitations so I attended Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist churches.
God seemed so distant, so far away and mysterious. I could not comprehend a loving Father nor could I understand His ways. To begin life, unwanted and abandoned is incomprehensible. To experience repeated abuse, abandonment and rejection over and over again creates deep wounds. I did not want to live my life as a victim. At 23, I was exhausted, wounded and ready to give up. I didn’t trust anyone especially myself and definitely not God. It was difficult to be unable to trust, so isolating without someone to love and so awful not to be loved.

I finally found hope in Jesus Christ. I fell deeply in love with God and found my first really satisfying relationship. I began a new journey of intentional abandonment to a loving Sovereign Lord. I learned how to experience absolute trust even in suffering, in spite of circumstances, even in the face of death, beyond my fears for genuine unfailing love.

A prayer of abandonment and trust in God:

“Dear Father-God, Open my heart that I may receive your love. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may abandon my selfish and destructive ways. Forgive me and help me to graciously forgive. Lord, create in me a new heart, renew my mind and restore my soul. Guide me in your everlasting truth, grant me wisdom, and set me free in your grace. I believe and trust in You. I love You with all my heart, mind and soul. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

My next post will be how I learned to trust again and how to practice complete abandonment  to God and His divine providence.

A few of my favorite TRUST Scriptures:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” Proverbs 3:5

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” Psalm 13:5

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:4

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture” Psalm 37:3

[1] Job 8:14-15 The first quote was actually a false accusation from one of Job’s friends Bildad, whose name means ‘son of contention.”