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Those of you who have been reading Raising Olives from the beginning may remember my requesting prayer for some friends of ours who were expecting a baby with HLHS (hypoplastic left heart syndrome). Gideon was born in March and his first surgery, the Norwood, went smoothly. He was small but progressing well the last time we got to see him. The doctors and family were merely waiting for him to grow before proceeding with the second of his three heart surgeries.
He was doing very, very well and the doctors were very optimistic for a long life for Gideon, but this morning his mother Penelope found 4 month old Gideon in his crib, not breathing. The EMT were called and were able to get a brief pulse, but were not able to save little Gideon’s life.
This was unexpected and the family is asking for prayers from everyone who is willing, as this is difficult for mom and dad and the other 9 children. Please pray for them as they grieve the loss of their 4 month old son.
If you would like to leave a comment or words of encouragement, I will pass them on to the family. I know that it will be encouraging to know that many are praying for them during this time.
It has now been 2 years of living life without Mason.
Two years of perfection for him.
And two, long, weary years of crippling grief for us.
There are moments it feels like decades of exhaustion, of putting one foot in front of the other.
And other moments where every second in that hospital room is so fresh its as though I just lived the horror this morning.
People often ask me if it gets easier. The further out I am from that September day… does the pain lessen? Do I still think about him? Does life feel “normal” again?
So, um, nothing is ever normal and I think about him every second of every day.
The pain does not lessen. At times, over the past excruciating months, it does take different forms. Sometimes it is still a shocking pain. As in, wait. Is he really still gone? And other times it is a numbing pain, where the shock is not as sharp and the dull ache becomes something I have learned to live with. But it still hurts. Just sometimes in different ways.
And there is no returning to “normal.” I suppose if anything, maybe there is a new “normal” for my family. A normal we never would have chosen. A normal which involves a 2 sided filter. On the one side is much pain and grief. But the other side brings into focus a clearer and much more beautiful perspective of eternity.
Without a doubt, the only way we have gotten through these last 2 years, and the only way we will persevere through many more until that glorious day we enter perfection ourselves… is the kindness of an Almighty God who has never left us. And the powerful ways we have seen him meet every need are a direct result of the countless faithful people who have consistently persisted in fervent prayer for our family.
Prayers of truth and hope and protection have fought many a spiritual battle on my behalf. And rather than always thinking of the loss of Mason, they help me to focus instead on what is true for Mason now.
Beautiful, joy-filled perfection.
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
My senior year of high school, I had a youth pastor who constantly gave me a refreshing perspective of what it must have been like to be in the presence of Jesus.
Unlike so many artist depictions of a somber and serious Jesus painted through the centuries, he told us of a Jesus who laughed. How his disciples must have so thoroughly enjoyed every second with him. How he was not only happy and joyful, but he was also fun.
He taught us Bible stories and then he would create imaginary scenarios. Of practical jokes and laughter. After such and such miracle was when he and John plotted that prank on James… After this parable they laughed at that joke he played on Peter…
Obviously stories not found in the Bible, but ideas that capture the essence of a God who delights in us and is full of joy and laughter.
Seeds of joyous Savior planted so many years ago produced an abundance of hope in the darkest valley of my life. The truth of this Jesus, a God who laughs and jokes and delights, has provided me with such secure comfort over these last 2 years. Every time I picture my son in heaven, I see him laughing.
And then, almost 2 months ago, this same youth pastor and friend, who painted these precious comforting images of Jesus, suddenly and shockingly lost his own 2 year-old son.
Hearing the news began streams of tears and waves of uncontrollable shaking. I was overwhelmed with complete devastation for this family as they were plunged into the depths of grief and pain.
And as the days and the weeks passed and they haven’t left my mind…and I have continually felt like the air has been sucked out of me… when I feel the shift of reality and the sense that nothing will ever be the same again… when I am unable to fall asleep, or when I wake with a start and a familiar anxious pit settles settles deep in my stomach… when I think of nothing else beyond the horror this family has been thrust into… I recognize all of the emotions and pain that cloud my ability to function for what it truly is.
An invitation from an Almighty God, who hates death, to intercede for the hurting.
And I am reminded that this physical pain I feel, this inability to sleep, the consuming thoughts of this family… they serve a purpose. God is calling me to pray. There are depths of darkness that few can understand and he is reminding me of how oppressively awful it feels so that I can pray from a place of understanding. I am invited to battle in the most productive way we can on this earth, by interceding for hurting hearts and desperate souls.
So when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night I pray that they would find a moment of rest. And when I cannot stop crying for them I pray the Lord will give them his peace that surpasses understanding. When I do things like make dinner for my family, I pray with tears knowing the pain of putting out one less dinner plate and pray their children will know truth and security as they navigate this scary journey of grief.
I pray these things because I have lived the results of them being prayed for me. When I was in my own shocking whirlpool of pain, friends and strangers went beyond the oppressive emotions that assaulted them and prayed these things over my family. I am thankful, that when I didn’t even know what to pray, God was calling others to intercede for me.
Instead of reacting with, “I can’t even think of that, its so awful and depressing,” they recognized that the Lord was saying, “I’m giving you some of this pain to bear in empathy so they don’t have to. Are you willing to endure a sleepless night in prayer so a weary parent can rest from their grief for a moment?”
These sincere prayers have been powerful and transformative for my family and continue to save us from a dark and slippery pit.
These are the reason we have survived this tragedy. There are so many tangible gifts God used to help us get through the day, things that brought smiles and healing. Things I will forever be grateful for.
But the most important thing was the desperate pleas to a powerful God who widened our path and lighted our darkness. And our journey is far from over but I have learned because of the commitment of others for Kingdom things for my family, what really matters for the hurting.
I believe those who turned their deepest pain into their most sincere prayers fought battles for my family in the spiritual realm.
And while I will never know on this earth all the warriors who interceded for me and what specifically was prayed for our family, here are a few things I have seen answered in my own life and believe to be powerful ways to pray for a hurting family who has lost a child.
10 Ways to Pray:
Strengthening of family. Pray for the strength for families to grieve together. Pray for wisdom and the ability to be in the moment with one another… laughter or tears, whatever hurting hearts need. And sometimes both at the same time. Because so many were committed to pray for my family, this awful wretched thing that could have wrenched us apart in our own unique grief only served to unite us even stronger in our love for each other and our faith in a God who is sovereign over all.
For needs, big and small, to be met. Day to day functioning in the midst of grief is overwhelming. Pray for an easement of other stresses in life. Pray for financial needs to be met. And pray for protection from unnecessary pressures and expectations. Pray that the secret wishes of hurting children will be met by a loving God. Nothing I could do would ever take my kids’ pain away, but the gift of a day at Disneyland or a surprise visit by an incredibly generous Santa can bring reassurance to a child’s heart.
For a cushion to grieve. I am thankful for people who brought us dinners and had our house cleaned and did fun things with my kids and alleviated financial stress. It is hard enough to get out of bed in the morning and face another day without Mason and a simple thing like not having to cook dinner helped ease the heaviness of the day to day. But I am also thankful for the space we were given when I didn’t want people stopping by all day with meals or gifts. I’m thankful for the long seasons of quiet where I didn’t have additional pressures put on me beyond just loving my kids. Many people prayed that God would send what I needed when I needed it. And I saw that answered over and over again.
Truth to be stronger than emotions. Processing the sudden death of a child is nearly impossible. Emotions are unreliable, crazy things and they swirl around and assault the senses. Yet they are valid and powerful and real. And they can suffocate truth. Pray that the Holy Spirit whispers deeply in the heart of the hurting what is true and unchanging. Anger and frustration and shock and deep sadness are normal and healthy responses to loss. Knowing what to do with those emotions so that bitterness and depression don’t settle in the heart come from supernatural intervention by a loving God who brings clarity through his sovereignty and goodness. Pray for healthy grieving.
An ability to glimpse things through God’s perspective. Specifically, pray against those awful images of death.
Especially those first weeks and months after Mason died, I was haunted by hospital images and ambulance rides. I could not get the details out of my head. I didn’t even have to close my eyes to see it all, over and over again. Not just see it, but live it.
One of my friends, instead of praying that I would never think of it or have to remember it, said to me, “I will pray that as the reality of those final hours assaults you constantly, that you will see, in the midst of it all, how God never left you. May you see that he was right next to Mason when you couldn’t be. And how he ordained each of those amazing nurses and doctors. And how he whispered truth straight into your heart when fear was threatening to creep in.” I will never erase those hospital memories, but I never want to. I have never seen the presence of God so powerfully in all my life. There was much pain, yes. But there was also God, sovereign over it all. And because of this, there is so, so much hope.
I constantly see how God fought for me and for Mason and how he ordained every moment of his life. I have hundreds of verses that God has spoken directly into my heart. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it does soften it with a perspective of truth.
A filter of eternity. I have a deeper longing for heaven than ever before. I now have a depth of understanding I never knew I was missing before Mason died. Not only do I find immense comfort in pictures of Mason in the arms of joyful and loving God, but I have been given a filter of hope through which I can view the painful monotony of this life. This perspective gives hope and purpose.
A return of sweet memories once forgotten. A year after Mason died, a friend prayed that a new year would bring new memories. In her words, “May you be overwhelmed by the sound of your son’s laughter, voice, stories, jokes and even tears. May the Lord remind you of memories you may have forgotten.” The very next day, I was reminded of the most simple yet sacredly precious memory I had not thought of in years. And these sweet, simple reminders still continue to come. Each one is a treasured gift.
No guilt over lost moments. I have many parenting moments I’d like to forget. And that I pray my kids can forget. A couple of weeks ago, I felt this overwhelming realization that I never think of my less than stellar moments parenting Mason. I don’t think of the times I did not discipline with patience or stop what I was doing to listen to him (and I know there were many.) I don’t dwell on my lost moments with him. God has graciously filtered my memories.
Pray scripture. When your emotions are drained and words fail you and your brain is so tired you cannot even imagine what to pray, pray God’s Word. Pray for the truth of “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 2:14) to permeate everything. Plead for God to feel close to the broken hearted (Ps. 34:18). Claim his promise that he works for the good for those who love him (Romans 8:28) and pray that good will come out of heartache and loss.
Pray for peace. Pray Philippians 4:7 with faith. There is a peace that surpasses understanding. I know this because I lived it. It simply does not make any sense. But it is beautiful and its real. And it comes from only one place.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
These may be ways to pray specifically for someone who has lost a child. But even beyond this, when we feel anger at the news of abuse or shock at reality of human trafficking or despair over immense pain and suffering, may we practice the discipline of responding in prayer.
These emotions God gives us when we hear of something awful, they are a call to respond. They are a call to battle for the suffering. To fight against injustice and pain in the world. To call out to an Almighty God who uses our prayers to win battles that matter for eternity.
Answer the invitation. Pray with faith.
“There is no power like that of prevailing prayer, of Abraham pleading for Sodom, Jacob wrestling in the stillness of the night, Moses standing in the breach, Hannah intoxicated with sorrow, David heartbroken with remorse and grief, Jesus in sweat of blood. Add to this list from the records of the church your personal observation and experience, and always there is the cost of passion unto blood. Such prayer prevails. It turns ordinary mortals into men of power. It brings power. It brings fire. It brings rain. It brings life. It brings God.” -Samuel Chadwick
Like most people in Oakland—and like a lot of people around the globe—I have been unable to stop thinking about the Ghost Ship fire. I am heartsick over the loss of life. I am pained by the complex economic realities that force the Bay Area’s low-income people into dangerous and unhealthy living situations, a condition shared by artists, students, the elderly, the unemployed, immigrants, those with mental and physical heath issues—the list is long. Even Montclair Presbyterian Church, with all of our resources, has struggled to pay for building permits and to abide by their directions. The cost of living safely is considerable, which means often our community’s most vulnerable populations do not live in safe places.
When I think about the Ghost Ship I have two abiding convictions. First, I am convinced no one should have to risk a life—and certainly no one should have to lose a life—in order to find a place to live, create art, or dance to live music. Second, I am convinced the safety of buildings where we live, work, and play should be a right and not a privilege afforded only to the wealthy.
But those convictions—righteous though they may be—exist in my mind as a way of distracting me from the overwhelming sadness that might paralyze me if I allow myself to look into the abyss of overwhelming grief that yawns in the place where 36 beautiful lives once lived and loved and created and danced. What I know, however, is that as people of faith, we need to go where the grief is. We need to mourn as our community mourns. We need to shed tears with those who are bereft. This is important spiritual work.
And then, in due season, once the intensity of the grief has subsided, we need to work for change in the way housing safety is made available to the residents of Oakland. It will be hard work, just as grieving is hard work. Both grief and societal transformation will require dedication and courage.
My prayer for all of Oakland, is that our tears will be as profound as our grief, that in the end we will find peace, and that when the time for grieving is past we will stand firm in our resolve to make Oakland a place where all God’s children can live and work and dance in safe joy.