“Be my prince of peace, the guardian of my heart. Let ancient striving cease, and patient trusting start. Be my prince of peace, in a world of pain and war. Come now gentle conqueror….rule my life once more. Come now, gentle conqueror….rule my life once more.” (Jeff Kennedy)
We sang these words in church this morning, as we have for the past several years on “Peace” Sunday, or the second Sunday in Advent. Last week I reflected on the idea of Hope and what that might mean to those struggling with pain and loss during this holiday season. As I was reminded of these beautiful words this morning, two things sprang to mind. The first was, “What was I thinking when I committed to writing Advent reflections?!” quickly followed by “I like the image of God being the “guardian of my heart…”
The irony isn’t lost on me that I am reflecting on Peace during the most violently painful time in my life. But as with so many other things that are being forced into redefinition these days, the idea of “peace” and what it looks like….what it feels like is also getting a second look. I mentioned last week that the presence of pain doesn’t mean the absence of Christ and if that is true, and if Jesus truly is the Prince of Peace, we can also say the presence of pain doesn’t have to mean the absence of peace. If the only peace that counts is that warm, content, everything in this moment is feeling just right kind of feeling, we won’t find it lasting very long. The times change – families change – tragedy strikes – and suddenly what we thought of as peace….the feeling of peace….is swept away by the waves of pain and loss.
So, what then? Are we to wait until “everything in this moment is feeling just right” before we are to know peace? That’s not the promise! Though my heart is broken and my faith tested, I still firmly believe there is a “guardian of my heart” that not only sees my pain, but who brings me peace – in whatever doses I’m able to receive it. It’s not an all or nothing offer. Sometimes peace is a process. It certainly was for Jesus…..
Dear one who may be struggling with finding peace in this season of Joy and Light and Celebrations……know that there is a guardian of your heart that offers not only the feeling of peace, but stays with us in the process of receiving it….no matter how long it takes. He sees us, He loves us and He waits patiently with us.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
(One year ago I wrote short devotionals for the four weeks of Advent. When regarding the possibility of doing the same again this year, I found such great solace reading the words from last year I have decided to reprint them. I do hope at least some of these words find those who need a healing touch just now and for whom this time of year brings the mingling of joy and sorrow. God sees you…..God loves you…..you are not alone!)
Hope for the Brokenhearted
Today many Christians mark the arrival of the Advent season; the arrival of Christ into a lost and broken world. His humble appearance quietly shattered every tradition – every expectation the Jews had for their messiah, and yet He came. Every crèche or nativity scene I’ve ever seen displays a smiling, peacefully sleeping, or sometimes even haloed baby Jesus surrounded by his adoring parents, curious animals, visiting shepherds, and trumpeting angel, all under the glow of the radiantly beaming Christmas star. We sing Silent Night and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear because they remind us of the gentle peace of Christ….and we so need His peace, don’t we?
The thing is, when Jesus arrives to “a lost and broken world”, the scene is seldom a peaceful one. He comes into our brokenness. He enters our grief. He joins us in our anger, our confusion, our disappointment…..our humanity. These are the things (and so many more) that Jesus came to love us through – and through – and through clear to the other side. Absolutely, he brings joy, peace, salvation, light and life eternal, and we are so humbly grateful! But to those who are still in need…..he comes again. To those who once had, but now lack….he comes again. To those whose memories need to be refreshed to the goodness and faithfulness of God not only thousands of years ago, but now, today…..he comes again.
I am thankful that Jesus knows where each of us is as we enter this season of Advent. He knows where we are…..and He knows how to find us to come again to us bearing every good gift, not wrapped with a bow, but wrapped in the deep, sacrificial love that brought Him to us in the beginning – that brings Him still to us today. If there is hope for the brokenhearted this Advent season, it is in the coming of the healer…the Messiah who sees us, loves us and hopes for us until we are able to embrace it once again. Come, Lord Jesus…..come!
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
A few months ago the school district I work for offered an opportunity to all employees to take up a walking challenge as part of an annual health and fitness campaign. The idea is simple, really – just walk a minimum of 7000 steps a day, then every week, report your total steps. Easy, right? Noooo problem-o! (Let me just mention here that I work at a desk….and had never actually counted my “total daily steps” before…..) But ignorance notwithstanding, I signed up for the challenge, dusted off my trusty Fitbit and waited to begin.
Day 1: Up at my usual 5:00 am to shower, dress, eat breakfast, water patio plants, pack lunch and jump in the car to head to work. It all felt like a lot of steps….in fact when I got to work and settled at my desk I snuck a peak at the Fitbit, pretty sure I had cranked out at least 2000 or so, and was startled to see I had picked up a whopping….. 443 steps so far. After a quick test of the Fitbit’s accuracy, (yes….it was working just fine) I got my first glimpse of what 7000 might look like in a day. By lunch I’d walked around 1700, which was a true reality check….this was going to take a little more planning and a whole lot more effort than I’d bargained on! I came home that afternoon with more than half my steps remaining and enlisted my husband to take a walk with me, already wondering how I was going to make it the two months that the challenge required. But, though I may be a bit more sedentary than I’d imagined, I’m also a bit competitive, and I wasn’t about to quit!
I started walking during my lunch hour, just to get some pesky steps off my to-do list, and then making up the rest every evening after dinner. I somehow managed to make the 7000 steps a day (just barely!) and proudly entered my first entry in the Walking Challenge log. One week down, eight to go – OK, harder than I thought, but I’d just have to power through, then think again before signing up for any more “challenges!”
So…..a funny thing happened on the way to 7000 steps a day. Quite unexpectedly, it became less and less about walking and more and more about…..healing. See, there’s not really much to DO while you’re walking….well, except the walking part, but I guess I mean there’s not much ELSE to do while walking, but walk. So to beat the boredom, I began arming myself with headphones and Pandora stations on my phone to let music help me pass the time. And I found myself flipping through lots of other music I loved to over and over again land on music that spoke to my heart; more specifically, songs of worship. I filled my ears, head and heart with sounds from artists such as Hillsong United, Jesus Culture, Passion, Gateway Worship, Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe…..and somewhere around week three I actually started looking forward to walking. (If you know me, stop laughing…..people change!)
It’s been a rough few years. This past year, in particular there have been times I honestly didn’t know if I could make it another day – my heart has been smashed into such tiny pieces, it’s seemed impossible to hope for any part of it to be gathered up and mended together again. But there are many steps throughout the grieving process, and also, I’m finding….many steps to healing. And lately a large part of healing has been quite unexpectedly found in the form of 7000 steps a day. I’ve spent literally hours alone with my thoughts, but most importantly, in prayer – with God. I’ve had a lot to say to Him, many things I’ve been afraid to say. After all…..He’s God….and I haven’t been too happy with how my life has played out lately. But do you know what my walks have shown me? He can take it. And not only can take it, but He longs for me to give it to Him. All of it. The questions, the pain, the disappointment, the despair, the grief, the anger, the desperate longing for things to be different…..all the broken pieces.
I share these words, not just to record this period in our lives, but to hopefully remind those who may be reading whose hearts are also broken that they aren’t alone. God is near to the broken hearted, and He knows we don’t – we can’t always understand why pain comes our way, especially when we love Him so. But please take heart, and whatever you do….don’t give up! Weeping may consume these nights….but joy comes in the morning. I know it’s dark….but morning will come, and I want to be there to see that sunrise!
I only have a couple of weeks left of the walking challenge, but I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon. Healing truly is beginning to take place in my broken heart, and God and I have much more to talk about. So, I’ll pack up my headphones, listen to worship music that leads me into the very presence of the One who loves me most, cry and pray and pursue healing…..7000 steps at a time.
Carried by Love,
“Anchor” By Hillsong United
I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul
Through every storm
I will hold to YouWith endless love
All my fear is swept away
I will trust in YouThere is hope in the promise of the cross
You gave everything to save the world You love
And this hope is an anchor for my soul
Our God will stand
You who was and is to come
Your promise sure
You will not let go
Your Name is higher
Your Name is greater
All my hope is in You
Your word unfailing
Your promise unshaken
All my hope is in You
It’s been more than 10 months since my last post here, and much has happened in those months. I’ve continued to write (you can find links below), just not here. It’s proven to be more difficult than I even imagined finding words to communicate the pain of losing a child far too soon. And when words do come, I’ve questioned whether it’s fair or useful to anyone to share that pain. But the last 10 months have also produced the beginnings of good fruit – the promise of hope and healing, so it’s with this fledgling faith that I come back to “Mourning Mercies”, praying that we find a way to discover mercy even through the mourning. It’s there – I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. I’ve experienced the stirring of new life, if only in brief moments, but that’s what hope is about, isn’t it? We hope in things we don’t yet know or see.
I will never….ever “get over” the loss of my son, Brett. But it is my continuing hope that I can somehow transition from mourning his absence to celebrating not only his life, but the goodness of God, who continues to pour the oil of mercy and healing, slowly and deeply into our hearts.
So…. from time to time I’ll share stories, songs, videos, words of others….anything that might encourage us to keep inching forward. Forward is good. And my hope is, that whether you keep me company every step of the way, or just check in from time to time as your own heart allows, we can journey together. If there is anything I have learned in this unexpected and most unwelcome season of grief, it is that we are absolutely not meant to do life alone. So, for the wounded and hurting, fall into a big, comfy chair and rest awhile here. For those who better want to understand the heart of one who deeply mourns, you are also welcome. And for the one who might not be sure where God is in the midst of your pain – you, my dear friend, are especially welcome….let’s travel this road together!
I’m sitting here, waiting for the sounds of a large truck due any minute to deliver my son’s car from New York. For weeks I’ve thought of this event as “the last big thing.” I actually went to work this morning thinking I could stay busy and just run home for the unloading then return to work. Then it hit me with all the force of a freight train that this really is the
Last Big Thing….
There are so many steps – tasks, really following the death of a loved one. There are people to contact, service arrangements, travel arrangements, accounts to settle….on and on they go like metal rollers on a conveyor belt of grief-life. So many details and decisions to tend to – in a way it keeps you moving forward, which is good. Though there is pain, there is also form, and for a person who likes to keep lists (like me) it has given me a sense of comfort, in a way, to tend to what have really become our responsibilities as though they are still our son’s….and we’re just helping him. His apartment is closed, final bills paid, belongings shipped to our hometown and placed in a newly rented storage facility, services planned, attended, and memorial paraphernalia (pictures, mementos, programs, etc.) neatly stacked in a corner of our bedroom, along with those of my mother who passed just three weeks before Brett…..
What needs to be done today? Who do we call to take care of that? When do you you think we’ll get word on ____? Tasks….jobs….details….all propelling us along to the next day. Some days have gotten easier as there are less and less things to tend to. Most of the paperwork has been handled, no more daily texts and calls with Navy personnel; in fact, all affairs seem to be in order. There’s just the Last Big Thing: Brett’s car.
The sporty little black Nissan Sentra is Brett’s first “real” car. It’s the first one he bought on his own, with his own money. In fact, after getting some advice from his Dad, he decided that, though he had enough in savings to purchase it outright, this would be a great opportunity to establish come credit, so he took out a loan and set up automatic payments so he would never be late. He loved that car! He kept jumper cables and a gas can in the trunk and a fluffy blanket in the backseat for the spur-of-the-moment road trips he was so fond of. It took him from South Carolina to New York where he learned to drive in snow and ice for the first time. He and the Nissan picked up and dropped off countless sailors who either didn’t have rides or needed a DD to get home safely. And it took him to and from work at all crazy hours of the day and night – something I frequently prayed about!
We wanted – we needed that car. It was important to him and that made it so very important to us, not only as Brett’s property, but as a part of him. Finally having it home, here in CA has been the last surge on the conveyor belt. As long as it was “out there” somewhere, we still weren’t done. And you would probably think that would be a good thing, right? Being done?
It’s so not. As long as there has been something still unfinished – as long as the conveyor belt was still moving – there was propulsion…something to keep us moving forward. But after today all of the “things” will be done. And we will somehow have to learn to take more steps on our own to keep breathing and keep living. I’m sure we will…..I just don’t know how yet.
Hey, remember in my first post when I said I couldn’t promise this blog would always be uplifting, but would always be real? Ummm…..this is one of those days. It hurts in every crevice of my body and soul. I’m homesick for my son. And I would do, say, give anything to have one more big hug from him. I so want to save him. I really do. But instead tonight I will sit in his car and once again try to feel his presence and love him as best I can from so far away.
My Heart’s Lament and Psalm
Oh God – with such deep love has come such deep sorrow. I know your love is never away from me. Please hold me close and let me hope of joyful days again. I choose to trust in you, and I choose to believe that I will see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Selah
A little over two years ago our then 24 year old son gave his dad and I a call and asked if we could make the two and a half hour drive north to see him….he had something he wanted to talk to us about. After quickly settling on a day and time, we did what most caring parents of young adult children would do….tried to figure out what was going on! We (OK…I) ran multiple scenarios through our (my) minds; everything from a new love to, heaven forbid, being in some sort of trouble. In the end, we knew we would just have to wait the few days until we met, during which I prayed fervently for grace to handle whatever it was.
I remember that meeting so clearly….we were sitting on the outside patio of a Starbucks, making small-talk until Brett was ready to tell us what was on his mind. “So, I wanted to tell you….. after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to join the Navy.” Immediate relief! Quickly followed, however, by a multitude of questions and concerns (mostly kept to myself) about how my sensitive, justice-loving, crazy-smart but also a bit quirky son would fare in the military. More specifically – in boot camp. Though his Dad and Grand-dad had both been sailors, Brett never expressed any interest whatsoever in military life. But, as he explained in his thoroughly well-reasoned and matter of fact way that he needed a job, and he figured the Navy would not only teach him new things but basically “take care” of his daily needs, I knew his mind was set. I remember looking at him, knowing his life was about to change, and praying he would be OK. And I also remember feeling such great pride in his choice. I knew he was nervous – and that made it all the more admirable somehow.
Brett had always been a “smart” kid; a voracious flashlight-under-the-covers-late-at-night kind of reader that lost himself in books full of adventure, humor, history – just about everything. Even as a very young child, I remember his little face lighting up as he pictured the world that words were forming in his imagination. That appetite for learning – absorbing, really anything that interested him carried him through school, resulting in several notable Academic Decathlon awards and a reputation for being super-intelligent, but at the same time unassuming and kind to all. I don’t know anyone….and I do mean anyone who didn’t like Brett. Not everyone understood him, but no one could argue he wasn’t a really, really good guy.
It was a near-perfect score on his ASVAB test for the military that caught the attention of his recruiter who in short order encouraged him to sign up for the Nuclear Propulsion Program – only the top 5% of Navy recruits are selected for this very rigorous training that is known for the hardest of work, the longest of hours….and the smartest of minds in the Navy. When Brett learned he could not only be in the Navy, but be a part of a group of other sailors who, like him, were competitive and driven when challenged to learn together, there was no looking back for him. We were so incredibly happy for him, and he was maturing in leaps & bounds. At 24, he would be among the oldest at boot camp, but he was also even-tempered, realistic about the challenges and most of all – ready to begin his adult life.
We sent him off to boot camp in Great Lakes, IL, wrote to him every day and celebrated his graduation with him there. We also attended his graduation from “A School” in Goose Creek, SC many months later where he graduated with honors. The study hours were long, the work load grueling, and more often than not he sounded exhausted, but he never complained or questioned his decision to join the Navy. He was getting anxious to “get to work” putting what he was learning into real practice. He loved the science, the math, the physics of it all. Brett bought his first car with his own money, and after a mega-shopping trip with Mom to outfit his new apartment, drove to Ballston Spa, NY where he would begin training in the Navy’s nuclear training facility there. Such an exciting time for him!
Though most of the work he did in training is classified and he couldn’t really talk to us about it, it was clear he was enjoying it, if sometimes frustrated at the frequent break-downs at the facility and delays while repairs were made. Because of these delays, he couldn’t be sure about a graduation date, but thought it would be next month sometime. We had already made plans to be available whenever the graduation date was – there was no way we were going to miss this final recognition of his two years of incredibly hard, dedicated work to be a “Nuke!”
Just yesterday we received word that his class would be graduating today……his friends and fellow sailors sent messages – some to us, many more to one another – about how it didn’t make sense that he wouldn’t be there. He was always the encourager….the one who helped anyone study to pass that next test. We were told over and over by his chiefs, even his commander how Brett was the epitome of an honorable, hardworking, conscientious and loyal sailor. His friends told us story after story of how he helped them with rides, cash, studying….he never failed to help when he could.
He should be there, graduating with his class, receiving his first orders………
We should be there with him……….
I should still have a son.
God…..have mercy. Please be near and give me mercy to get through this long night of despair.
Ever notice how there are people who seem to fall apart at the first sign of struggle, let alone tragedy? They just can’t seem to keep their feet on the ground and flail helplessly when the winds of trouble blow. They live on the surface of life – and as such are pretty much victims of circumstance, or so it seems.
Then there are those whose roots are planted deep and strong – who don’t seem to be greatly affected by trouble or change – they “take it as it comes” and are by and large in control….or so it seems.
I think it would be fair to say I am of the second group – I don’t take a lot of credit for this, it’s just who I’ve always been. I am blessed with great reserves that are replenished readily by things such as music, prayer, beauty, helping others, authentic conversations……things I try to invite into my life regularly. So, even when spent – tired – frustrated – angry – sad……when it seems I’ve hit bottom emotionally, there has always been room for more. I’ve had a rich supply of “reserves” that have served me well. Had a particularly difficult day? Dip into the reserve. Worried about family….finances….health….relationships….commitments….work…etc; draw from the reserve. Then, when I sense the reserve it getting kinda low, I just become intentional about getting away or spending more time with God or seeking out just the right friend….whatever it takes to “fill the tank” and keep on running.
For the first time in my life I’ve discovered the last drop of reserve. And try as I might, I seem to be using up whatever grace is given me through the night by about 1:00 in the afternoon! I’m still refueling….just not over and above what it takes to get through the day. I don’t like it. It makes me feel vulnerable and exposed. I don’t have the depth of patience and understanding that I’ve come to expect from myself – and it occurs to me that this time of such great suffering in our lives has resulted in the emptying of the reserves…..
I had intended on my second post on mourning to begin with an introduction to the son we lost….it’s so important to me that you know something about him, that you know he lived and that he was loved, not only by his family but by so, so many! But tonight as I try to focus through tear-blurred eyes and a “been crying too long” headache, I know I would fail miserably. The story of Brett’s life deserves to be told with a heart of joy and fearless passion. But it’s ever so much past the afternoon…..and my reserves are dangerously low. I know I face a challenging day at work tomorrow and, though I will start it at 5:00 am with daily scriptures and a beautifully creamy cup of steaming coffee (thanks to the husband who loves me no matter what my reserves look like) I just don’t have the energy or the heart to go to such a tender place tonight.
Instead I offer my all-time favorite verse (and the inspiration for the name of this blog) from the book of Lamentations – 3:22,23
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Perhaps in time I will not only share who my beautiful boy was, but also the other events of the past year and a half that have led me down this path of mourning – but it’s important to share now that were it not for the daily replenishing of my reserves….though they may only last for that day – I would not have survived. I have never met a morning where new mercy wasn’t waiting for me. God – who knows me best and loves me most – is ever near…not to remove the suffering – but to hold me through it. It’s all I have for now. And it’s enough….
“I love you, son.” “I know, mom….I love you too. And don’t worry….I promise I’ll call you if it gets too bad.”
That was the first and only promise to me he ever broke.
In the early morning hours of July 15, 2014, just 6 days after his 26th birthday, my kind, smart, funny, gifted, loyal and altogether beautiful son made the unimaginable and irreparable decision to end his life.
And though I know I must…and I will go on – that God is still loving and good – I just can’t imagine what that life will look like. It’s unfathomable to think of him being truly gone – that I won’t hear the Skype tones indicating he’s calling for a video chat, or that he won’t be graduating with his class from Nuclear Propulsion Power school in November. How can we think of Thanksgiving….or Christmas….or every day from now on without him?
We’re the Warrens. The four Warrens: Tom, Shellie, Brett and Kelsey. How can we suddenly not be that anymore? I have questions with no answers. I have dreams now altered. I have a God who loves me. And I have a severely broken heart.
The idea to write about our journey in mourning came quickly on the heels of Brett’s death. I was overcome with a depth of emotion such as I’d never experienced before. I was sure there were important insights and maybe even lessons that might be helpful to others down the road, and I was afraid of losing it all in the rush of time and amid the raging flood of details that suddenly assaulted us with urgency. Writing has always helped me organize and better understand feelings, but putting such intensely personal and painful feelings on paper has proven to be a far more difficult task than I could have imagined. I’ve taken weeks in setting up this simple blog – and another week to find the courage to actually type the first words. However…..though I am terrified….I am also compelled.
People tell us it will be at least a year before we get through the “firsts” – first holidays, first birthdays, first vacations, first…..whatever the tradition is that reminds you that someone is missing. We are a very, very close family. It’s going to be a very, very long year…..
So, I’m going to write my way through it. I don’t promise it will always be encouraging or uplifting or even interesting. But I do promise it will be honest. I also promise I will seek God for mercy and healing with every letter of every word……
My Heart’s Lament
Oh God, my God. I’ve never know a day without your presence and forgiving love. But tonight I am lost – I am shattered with grief and the loss of this one you created in my very body – this one we waited for so long. How can this possibly be? Why, God? Help me trust you…..
My Heart’s Praise
Where can I go you are not there? What can I fear you have not overcome? Who can pour comfort and healing into my heart and mind but you? You are faithful. You are loyal. You are trustworthy. I choose to believe you are good!