Today we pause, reflect and chat about this day seven years ago. My blogging is few and far between. Every year we find ourselves drawn to those who have tragically lost loved ones. A strong belief I have is “death seperates man from man but not man from God”. For those of us who walk with Jesus and try to be obedient to His teaching we have a hope that gives a different perspective. The house is full with Laura’s boyfriend and his parents. Mike spent several years with them for a week in August. So we celebrate and sit round the fire telling stories. See you soon mike!
Mike, its taken 6 years to return us to a Friday night and Saturday morning. The actual days you went on ahead. It is surreal. As I wake at 4am and again at 06:30 this song is in my mind. Love you buddy. Dad
The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down,
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound,
Half in hopeless sorrow half in fear the day,
Would find the soldiers crashing through to drag us all away.
Then just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall,
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call,
I hurried to the window and looked down to the street,
Expecting swords and torches and the sound of soldiers feet,
There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in,
John stood there beside me as she told us were she’d been,
She said they moved him in the night and none of us knows where,
The stones been rolled away and now his body isn’t there.
We both ran toward the garden then John ran on ahead,
We found the stone and the empty tomb just the way that Mary said,
But the winding sheet they wrapped him in was just an empty shell,
And how or where they’d taken him was more than I could tell.
Something strange had happened there but what I did not know,
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go,
Circumstance and speculation couldn’t lift me very high,
Cause I’d seen them crucify him and then I’d watched him die,
Back inside the house again all the guilt and anguish came,
Everything I’d promised him just added to my shame,
But at last it came to choices I denied I knew his name,
Even If he was alive it wouldn’t be the same.
But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume,
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room,
Jesus stood before me with his arms held open wide,
And I fell down on my knees and clung to him and cried,
He raised me to my feet and as I looked into his eyes,
Love was shining out from him like sunlight from the sky,
Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release,
And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace.
He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.
He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.
He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide
When the “storm of our lives” has passed and I don’t just mean your average storm, I mean the one that changes landscape, the one that flattens and wipes out, we sit there dazed for a long time.
Over the past few years I have made several comments as I have reflected;
- “As I looked at Mike’s dead body I realised that the primary had become secondary and the secondary primary”
- “In the week leading up to Mike’s passing we decorated the lounge. I stripped it bear. As we started to bring items back into the room, we paused and asked do we actually still want this?”
As the ability to breathe and function returned, I did two “Re’s”, Re-prioritized and Re-arranged my life.
Essentially the 3 aspects of our lives are generally given equal time. The previous 7 years, up until August the 1st 2009, mine was unbalanced and looked more like this.Emotionally energy looked more like this!
5 ½ years on, I continue to hold onto those priorities. I recognised that whist so much of what I was doing was “good”, there was better. I realised that when everyone goes home, even mum and brothers, its just me, Kathy and the girls. So why do I give so much time and energy in an unbalanced way to “other” good things?
I realised that even my relationship with God was not healthy. I recognised “I worked for God but not with God!” (A danger for many if full time “God work”).
So today, I am at peace to say “no to good things” because “I want better things”. I fight to keep the main thing the main thing, not to let primary become secondary. I reflect continually whether I am giving space in my mind to topics that create strong emotion and occupy my thoughts and conversation or just refuse to engage with the topic because I want other things to rent that space. How I spend my time, money and capabilities are purposeful. I am at peace to say “no” because I want to say “yes” to something else, even when I don’t know what that yes is yet. I leave space for the “yes”
The paramedics tried to Re-suscitate Mike ,they could not.
I wanted to Re-count to a family of 5, we are 4
Can I not Re-turn to having a son, I have 2 daughters
The “Re” is the desire to go back to a previous state. We use words like rebuild, restore, redeem, return and renew to articulate that desire. But what happens when the “re” does not happen? How do I move forward in a healthy way? How to I transition from where I was, accepting the loss and now finding I am at a new place, more often than not, not by my choosing?
Oh and then we say have faith, pray more! Well the divorce went through, the business collapsed, the cancer continued, the redundancy went through. The Re was absent! I don’t have an answer here, sorry. All I can do is cry with you and walk with you as you look at the new landscape after the storm has wash away what was norm.
My story with regard to Mike is a little different. I can honestly say that today, I do not want to return to that place. How an earth can I say that? Well it has to do with my faith and hope in the Redemptive Story. I believe the words of Paul in the Holy Scriptures that says
“ Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. “ 2 Cor 5
Mike has been Re-stored, Re-united and Re-turned in completeness. He is with His Heavenly Father. Whilst I am missing him, I know he is in the best place I could want for him. If he were to have been Re-suscitated he would only have to die later anyway! So within the Redemptive Story I can say 5 ½ years on “I do not want to re-turn” to having a son present, I do have a son, its just he went on ahead!
Developing on my process of where I am 5 ½ years after Mike’s death, let me chat about “what do I focus on?”
Whilst I was spinning out of emotional control, trying to make sense of life, trying to get a bearing, I found great comfort from grief & pain. I know, that may surprise some of you but it kept me close to Mike. Whilst I was doing that, it could have prevented me from seeing the evolving Redemptive Story. At that point, I would say that is natural and not denying my humanity. To be focused on the Redemptive Story would have shown emotional instability. Of course the very first words I said to Kathy was “I don’t believe they will find anything wrong with Mike, God took him!”. If you have not read Kathy’s book “Breadcrumbs in the Storm” then please get a copy. There you will see in the proceeding months how God revealed Himself to us through “amazing God-incidences”. Here for my integrity I have to add, some people were concerned in the first few months that we were too “spiritual”, i.e. in denial. Our good friend and founder of our organisation, George Verwer, heard about the concern and asked to have a day with us. We so enjoyed walking along canals and eating good food with him. At the end of our day he simply said “I believe you have the gift of faith”. I had no idea what that meant so over the next year I did a study on faith. I brought my many pages of notes down to one statement: “faith is believe with legs on it!” Faith is very much linked to focus.
Scientist have come to the following conclusion after some tests. “When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.” I would suggest, that a dramatic event is “clutter”, it occupies our minds 24/7.
Watch this short video and hopefully you will see my main point.
Now it does not have to be a significant event in our lives that stops us seeing change around us. The point here is that what I focus on is what I see. If I focus on the bad, I see bad. If I focus on the good, I see good. If I have filled my life with “clutter” or an event outside of my control brings “clutter” then I will most likely miss change around me. This is why its important to “Jump out and look in”. We may not like taking time to be analytical or reflective, but it can allow understanding and if we choose, course correction. So we mentally jump out of our current situation and ask simple enquiry type questions. As I did that and continue, I see a larger picture being revealed, I see His Story coming into view, I see the positive, in fact jaw-dropping good events in people’s lives happening. Of course I also saw and see new pain and heart ache in other’s , but that too was/is positive as I stopped focusing on self.
The reality is we do tend to focus in and we miss the change around us, only to wake up one day and wonder why the world around us in unrecognisable. So whilst I focus on one aspect, it does not correlate that other aspects are not changing in front of my eyes, its that my brain is not processing the change. Hence the feed back is not there and I lack cognitive enlightenment and then I may well of missed some amazing God Story. Its also true that over the years we allow “clutter” to build up. Unfortunately it often takes radical change to clear it out, incremental change does not motivate us!
So 5 ½ years on, I see some wonderful changes, growth, new beginnings, levels of new maturity, opportunities and on and on, in people’s lives that have had contact with Mike’s story through our story but all in the context of The Redemptive Story. How can I focus but not miss seeing that change that is simultaneously happening? There are the two realities, the human story and the Redemptive Story. I cannot tell you one in isolation of the other, that would lack honesty. There has been swearing and praise, sadness and joy, tears and laughter, confusion and clarity, fog and blue skies.
Over the past months, I have been trying to make sense of where I am today, five and a half years on from that life altering event. My difficulty is that I have been afraid that what I say may both hurt my family and not be understood. So my blog has remained untouched, but I want to start again processing my thoughts through writing.
Today I want to grapple with a topic that in many ways is so hurtful and yet it’s a verse from the scriptures!
I don’t know about you but I have heard, read and had it said to me “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Rm8:28 For 20+ years I have grappled to understand this verse. I find it one of the most hurtful things to say when there has been tragedy! It makes my blood boil, but why?
Some years ago when I was studying business, I came across the word synergy “The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects”. This was a great help at that time to be more at peace with this verse. Individually, an event can be bad, but combined with other events, the sum total can be good! Of course we are talking here about spiritual good. I just could not accept that a rape, murder, death of a loved one etc could be “good” as I listened to some well-meaning but annoying person come out with “And we know that all things……………” Are you crazy? Do you not have an ounce of compassion in your soul? Have you never experienced pain of loss or rejection? These are the type of thoughts I would quietly hold.
I am a huge fan on the topic of narrative or story. I love to ask the question, what is the narrative here? That can be a question for an individual, family, community, and nation. If you want to understand the culture and behavior of Carlisle, you have to look at the story. A city that is on the boarder of England and Scotland, a city that has been invaded and ruled for short periods by non-English. Once you dig into the narrative, you can see the longer term effects that has had on the formation of current culture.
So what has that to do with this verse?
There are four parts to God’s story, Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We are in the 3rd part of the story, redemption. Simply put, God through Jesus has made a way to deal with our wrong and bring us back into relationship with Himself. This is the redemptive story. Mike’s death, someone else’s horrible story only make’s sense, when it is placed within the redemptive story. Outside of that, it remains a terrible event. But when we look at it within the context of the redemptive story, well it changes everything. I witnessed the other week two sisters being baptized as a sign of their relationship with Father God, on the one year death anniversary of their amazing Godly mother. Their mom suffered from MS for many years and was wheel chair bound. “BAD”. But she loved Jesus and had a wonderful active walk with her Saviour. Her life and death had a huge impact on these ladies and God used it within the Redemptive Story to bring these daughters into beautiful reconciliation with Himself.
We have seen God take Mike’s story and use it in ways we could never imagine for “GOOD”, even good in my, Kathy, Akila and Laura’s character. I can only see that now after 5 1/2 years. We only see the “good” as we look back. There is no “good” in the storm!
So I have moved on from accepting this verse in the context of “Synergy”. Today, I can accept that God can take something so horrible, so painful, so bewildering and use it to continue writing His Story, The Redemptive Story. I would still plead with my friends to not speak this verse to people who are going through a hard time. Just love them and be quiet and let God be God and pray He can use a bad situation for good as He continues writing His Redemptive Story. Then years later or as time has passed, look at the narrative and yes join me and say with tears running down “Nothing but good has come from Mike’s death”
The old writers of spiritual truth had a cool way of articulating truth. The Holy Scriptures teach that until I die to self I cannot experience life in Christ. Until I come to the point that “I” cannot do anything for God, in regards to keeping His laws, I will not be free from the law. Once I recognise I can do nothing for God then I am free to allow Him to do everything for me.