Sunday, October 29, 2017

Life long after loss – thankful to remember

THREE years ago today we heard Nathanael’s heart beat the final time. It’s so fitting that we’re surrounded by PKS families this weekend.  
We’re just so thankful to keep Nathanael’s memory alive. Our shining gift of God has put us in touch with this small national and international community touched in the same way. Our experience is not entirely the same, yet we’re embraced. Yet, even as I write that, we’re connected with many who have experienced similar things, if not the same. Each time we look at one of the children — a three-year-old born soon after Nathanael was — we gain a glimpse of who he might have been. That happens a lot with three-year-olds, at the present time, which is symptomatic of what we all might feel after loss. These are comparisons we need to accept do occur; we can turn them into thankful remembrances of those we’ve lost.
We will never be the same as we were, and who knows what else is coming. Yet, we know that we’re surrounded by those who life has taught to love well.
I’ve had the sense that as Nathanael passed to be with God he left something to a few of his special ones; some sort of legacy. It’s an intangible gift. Part of that gift for us is connection with the PKS community.
The present is a gift, but one we never expected to thank God for. The present keeps us connected to Nathanael. And the present is poignant, being with those we met when Nathanael was thriving in his mother’s womb, on the anniversary of his birth and death.
The image above speaks of comfort experienced at a time of pain. Besides the negative and traumatic things we experienced when Nathanael was born, we appreciate the love we experienced being cared for by the King Edward Memorial Hospital staff. Particularly the Gold Team.
**PKS stands for Pallister-Killian Syndrome. “PKS is a rare chromosomal disorder in which there are 2 extra copies of the short (p) arm of chromosome 12. PKS Foundation of Australia is a not for profit organisation aimed at generating awareness about the disorder within the general community and medical professionals; supporting kids and families of those affected by PKS achieve a better quality of life, through therapy and equipment support and generating sufficient resources to fund research into many of unknown facets of this disorder.” For more information, visit:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The courage that defines you (living in the small places)

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
LIFE is lived in the small places. Average, ordinary, ho-hum, banal, anything-but-life-like places. Places where we easily miss life rather than embrace it.
It takes courage to live in the small places.
There are large places, of course, and these require courage, too, but its in the small places we feel especially alone, afraid, tempted, mischievous, anxious, unstable, impulsive, vulnerable.
Small places are those quiet moments of insignificance where were especially susceptible to believing lies about ourselves.
Small places remind us how small and vulnerable we are.
·        we doubt our purpose.
·        disappointment, guilt or shame reigns.
·        we may face inner erosion and imagine situations of utter destruction.
·        life doesn’t seem to add up or be going the way we planned it to go.
Yet, in the small places is where true spiritual grit is learned.
Where it, as an unlikely spiritual path, a possibility of faith, is first encountered. Where testing of character blurs into experience. Where growth is fortified. Where we become, as the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:31-39, more the conquerors (or super-conquerors) through the facing our small place; neither attacking it in anger or denying it by running from it. By letting it be, and letting that become habit.
See how these small places are so necessary?
See how theyre vital in facilitating our becoming?
The difference-maker between success and despair is courage. Because it’s in the small places we face the imminence of our most urgent threats, it’s there we most need courage. And the courage we need isn’t adorned in the majesty of armour. It’s clothed in circumspect humility, ready to stand.

We’re defined by how humbly we stand in the lonely, small places of life, where courage makes endurance possible.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why grief isn’t depression and one thing you can do about it

Photo by Jonatán Becerra on Unsplash

HAVE you ever visited a psychotherapist once, never gone back, and realised it was the best hour you could have ever spent? I’ve had one of those experiences. And the older gentleman taught me the difference between depression (which I thought I had, but didn’t) and grief (which I had). Sure, I was depressed, but…
Being depressed is intrinsically part of the grief process, and that can form into clinical depression,[1] but importantly, the basis for the depression is the grief. Typically, when the grief is attended to, we recover. It takes months, if not a year or three or more, but we do recover if we’re being honest — if we’re wrestling with our stuckness.
Grief can feel like clinical depression, but thankfully we have a reason for being so depressed. Not all depression has such rationale.
About grief, pain is an indicator of reality; an important factor in not simply our plummeting, but a pivotal feature in our recovery as well. Especially when there’s more pain involved in remaining stuck than breaking free and moving forward.
“… pain [is] necessary to know the truth, but we don’t have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive.”
— Mark Nepo
Loss is etched in truth we cannot get away from. It leaves us stuck in a truth that has held us, embodied in love or a state of being we found so acceptable it came to be part of us.
Even though grief isn’t depression it certainly is possible that it could open the door to an extended season of life where we do have clinical depression. But one thing that can free us is knowing and remembering what started the cycle in the first place — an event, a sequence, a tipping point.
That event may have been a catalyst. It may have brought all our burdens to bear at once. It could have caused a breakdown, and a deconstruction of our identity.
Additionally, often grief leaves us with unanswered and unanswerable questions. It takes time to accept the hard things we cannot change. Grief is a journey of acceptance.
And grief certainly does challenge and change our identity. But the truth remains the same. When we can accept that truth as a reality and the pain is gone — though it will always remain as a sad reality — that is when our grief stages are complete.
Even in acceptance, reality bears scars of a pain that once was, a reality we know was once so real.
One thing we can know about grief is it is more tangible than classic clinical depression. One thing we can do about it is, embrace the future with such meaning from the past.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

One thing they never tell you about loss

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash
THERE are so many dynamics and nuances and variables in loss. But one thing remains the same. Grief is a phenomenon that changes us irrevocably.
And there is but one choice — to go in the direction of one of two destinations: to move into the new life beckoning or to stifle its flow. Inevitably, even as we move willingly into that new life, there are also many days when we cannot and will not move forward. Indeed, we could not. And yet, grace permitted growth on freer days.
One thing about loss is inevitable. We must move. We cannot remain the same.
This article is about this solitary idea:
Loss feels like the end when truly it qualifies us to begin.
Of course, loss is something we never desire and can only detest. Why me? Why this? How this? When will this nightmare be over? How long, O Lord? Why do so many around me have no idea? What did I do wrong? Why this loneliness? When will the pain finally abate?
Loss feels like the end. It feels like life should not be this bad. Unconscionable pain.
A cosmic collision of emotional meteorites. Inherent unpredictability. Scary possibilities. Faint hope, if ever. Despair lurking. The end, favourable.
So many know these states of being. Loss is crushing.
But few it seems know the power entwined in the second part of the idea. Few other than those who accept the things that can only change.
Loss forces the abandonment of what no longer works. We’re forced to find a new way. We hope for a return of the peace we had, and surreptitiously God ensures we begin a quest for the new life — what we think is a return to the old. The old life no longer works, and even in mid-bargain, because we may not yet be able to accept it, we’re forced to create something new.
No one ever tells us this second part, because unless we experience it, it seems so outlandish. But it is true, alright!
Loss feels like the end when truly it qualifies us to begin.
That beginning can indeed be heaven. Not that we wouldn’t have what we lost back. We would. One thousand times so. But we see the purpose in loss when we’re compensated spiritually.

When loss gives us something we never had before, we don’t so much resent the grief as understand what God can do with it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

When a 4-year-old grieves the loss of a sibling they never had

DIVERSITY of experience is the fullness of life. We will all grieve losses at various points in our lives. Here’s one glimpse into ours. One that took us by surprise early one recent evening.
Sitting at the kitchen table, a bizarre conversation takes place.
Our four-year-old, without understanding what he’s saying, says playfully, “I want to kill you, Dad.” One of us said, “That’s not very nice. If Dad dies he can’t come back…”
Suddenly, our son paused and then he broke down saying, “I want Nathanael to come back and he can’t come back.” We looked at each other not really knowing what to do other than sit there with him. His sobbing was intense for a minute or so, but he was soon placated and redirected emotionally. He also had a similar emotional reaction a day or so after, and it seemed that he was missing not having a younger sibling as many of his peers do.
Grief is a confusing subject for a four-year-old, obviously. It seems that at his age and stage it’s the issue of having a younger sibling that is poignant at present. Because some of his schoolmates have younger siblings, he has made the connection that he had a younger sibling but no longer does. He misses what he never had.
When it comes to Nathanael, it seems our four-year-old initiates conversation a lot more than we do. We don’t avoid it, but he is talked about more often than we plan to talk about him. And this aspect of not having a younger sibling is the current nuance of grief that our four-year-old is transitioning through.
Our son is learning to live with grief in stages at his own pace. And he will grow in understanding with our support.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Son, you would’ve been turning 3 soon

EXTINGUISHED now is the deep pain of our loss, yet what has replaced it is the precious void we share together as we remember our son.
Often, we talk about how old he would be, and we particularly miss him not being the loyal little brother to our now four-year-old.
Gone is the pain. Yet, the mystery remains, and ever will do. The rollercoaster ride is over, and it’s only the memories that endure. Sometimes we’d love to step back into the tremulous breach. To hold him just once more. Thankfully, acceptance has been God’s gift for our healing.
As my wife embraces the soft teddy bear bearing our son’s birth year (2014) she smiles with a mixture of giddy pride and reality’s sadness. Acceptance is the right noun describing her gait.
We understand the gravity of loss, but not only that, it’s the reach of loss that accosts us all. One in four pregnancies are lost. And loss, of course, occurs within the myriad milieus of life — death, sure, but divorce, job loss, unrequited dreams, and trauma, to name just a few. There are so many who have their own story. Ours is not unique. Although it is remarkable, every story of loss is equally remarkable.
And still there is the memory of our son, Nathanael. He ages with us in our hearts as we age. Never will his memory leave us. He lives with us, as long as we live.
I write about these types of personal things for a few reasons, not least for my own therapy, and to encourage others who’ve experienced loss to partake in therapy’s expression, as well as those presently on their journey of grief. I often wonder if it’s helpful or even appropriate to share so publicly, but I also see the role of my ego not wanting others to think I’m profiting out of our loss when I have such thoughts. I cannot control what others think or how they attribute my motives for sharing. What I can do, however, is be a voice breaking the silence regarding loss. I can share in good conscience, trusting it’s God’s will to do what I do.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Reaching into God as He Reaches into us

Photo by Jin Hyeong Kim on Unsplash

FREQUENTLY I am asked questions like, how do I get closer to God, pray better, know I’m praying enough, know I’m saved. These all sound like different questions. But there is a commonality of answer:
“It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”
― Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582)
Let’s keep ‘heaven’ within the present discussion in the frame of the here-and-now. The Teresa quote certainly applies to one’s journey through revelation to repentance to redemption of the ‘me’ according to the plans and purposes of God — to the ends of the overall destination — being saved for heaven.
But let’s spend some time musing about something more proximal:
the heaven that is God’s Presence, now.
Here’s a proposition to work with:
To the extent that we reach into ourselves we allow God to reach into us. We know God the best we can when we allow Him to make us known to ourselves. We can only be intimate with God if we’re intimate with ourselves.
Sounds easy on the surface of it. But it’s a tumultuous journey to enter and embark upon. Mainly because it’s dry and unstimulating at times. At other times it’s humiliating; our pride hates identification; honesty’s a price to be paid. And there are certainly times when the upward climb is so taxing we’re sorely tempted to give up. The spiritual journey inward to the heart of God is an arduous pilgrimage.
We never experience all the love God has for us until we face all the truth He knows we’re yet unaware of. God loves us with the truth. At a pace we can cope with.
It’s a journey of the Spirit by prayer, which is communion in Him, which is connection.
The spiritual journey is one of being drawn on the one hand; of surrender on the other.
We’re drawn because our hearts want to be drawn. God has won us. There is no longer any conscious resistance, but that doesn’t mean there is surrender. There is still possibly unconscious resistance, or we may be conscious of resistance to surrender that’s within us but we don’t know why.
It’s frustrating when we crave closeness with God and He seems still so far away.
One way of overcoming this is to simply enter into ourselves; to gather insight through reflecting over our experience. To tap into our psyche, into what drives us, our sin, our desires that become demands and then move into the realm of idol worship.
Trust God. He will enter the cauldron of that contemplative space!
As God begins to speak to us at a soul level we get information about where we’re at on the journey. The destination is irrelevant. Willingness to be is key.
The less we try, the more we trust, the better our intimacy with God’s Presence.
Reaching into God occurs as God reaches into us. As we attain communion, He searches us, we see His truth about us, we experience His grace, and in His love, we grow.

And we begin to discover answers to the sorts of questions we have for God.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How my counsellors helped me in my deepest grief

READING a touching and true little compendium of grief reminded me that I had one more chapter to write of my own. To my counsellors…
I adore you, I salute you, I thank God for you. For without you I possibly wouldn’t be here to write this. Without your gentle God-led intervention, I would be a different person, and I’m simply glad today that I am who I am, due in no small part to you. You were God in skin to me at a time in my life when God had to be real.
My deepest grief involved a period of complete mental breakdown, emotional collapse, and physical catatonia. On one such occasion. My counsellors were there. In the most unfathomable pain, I usually hid myself away, alone with God, and wept bitterly. And my counsellors didn’t bang on the door, nor did they harangue me with phone calls. They let me agonize those agonizing hours the way I needed to agonize them. They dignified the need I had to experience pain I could not otherwise escape. The hardest pain, I found, was dealt with alone. Not that my counsellors didn’t witness me at the end — they did. My starkest days were incomprehensibly dark, lonelier than I can even fashion words for today, and bottomless when fear felt like I was constantly falling. My counsellors were there. Through the tortuous minutes and the arduous months. Through the months that strung together to comprise a full year. Through the occasions where pain would return as a thief in the night to torment me. My counsellors were interminably available.
What did my counsellors do? They sat there in their lounge room with me, and, as I repeated the same sad, sullen and hopeless stories, they simply listened, only interjecting when it was respectful to do so. And I did repeat my stories; sometimes day after day after week after month. Not once did they say to me, “Come on, you just keep repeating yourself… it’s no good for you… stop it!” No. They made space for me to say what I needed to say, again and again, over and over, even when I was sick of saying it, and they still kept listening. Not judging others, not giving advice, not attempting to fix the situation, because it couldn’t be fixed, advice was superfluous, and judging was futile.
Who were my counsellors? I can and will name them. They were my mother and my father. In spite of the sheer temerity of that season, we grew closer through the strength they loaned me through a love that gives its all. They gave their all to my support. Not once did I feel unsupported. Not once did their support miss the mark. They travelled the season with me. Sure, I had other mentors and sponsors, but not counsellors like this. See how blessed I have been?
Some might think, “Well, you’re a grown man [at that point, mid-thirties]! Snap out of it and stop being such a Mummy or Daddy’s boy! Toughen up!” I will always see it differently, and am unashamed. Not only did it take guts simply to endure that period of my life, I think it took a special kind of humility to accept help from my parents. Knowing them, they wouldn’t have had it any other way. Love is no burden. It does what needs doing as if what seems an unreasonable sacrifice were no sacrifice at all. For this, I’m so proud of my parents.
So how did my counsellors help me in my deepest grief? They sat and listened to me repeat my laments ad nauseam as much as I needed them to sit and listen. They never tore anyone down, but each time they lifted me up, not through their words, but through their presence.
It is now exactly fourteen years ago since the worst day of my life. Amazingly, until that day, the previous worst day of my life was exactly fourteen years before that — to the day. I am glad today was just a normal day.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A world that won’t understand, and a God who will

WHAT a Jesus-legacy Jean Vanier has given to the world. Compassion, gentleness and kindness ooze from his lips resplendent a heart ablaze with the love of Christ. This, on loneliness…
“To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”
― Jean Vanier
Immediately my mind is thrown into the cauldron of a recent shooting disaster, dozens dead, several hundred wounded. I wonder instantly the mental state of the shooter. What on earth is going on in someone who will bring about such destruction? Sure, there will be those who wish to strike down such sentiment. Compassion for a mass-murderer? Easy to say for someone who hasn’t lost one of those precious ones who so innocently died very prematurely! Fair enough. How on earth do we reconcile such loss. We cannot. Not this side of eternity.
Yet, the Father in Jesus forgave even Barabbas. Only the Father knew his story.
Only the Father could judge, and that judgment was compassion, because He understands the entire backstory. There is always a backstory.
And still, I, in my humanness, can barely conceive how God could be compassionate in forgiving such evil. Fortunate for us all that — in Christ — He doesn’t count our sin against us.
Or, what about the elderly lady I encountered in the Nursing Home recently, obviously ailing from a pejorative neurological disease. My nearest proximity was her cue to break down in desperation to leave. I prayed with her, but the loneliness of her being shut in beyond hope in this life is just incomprehensibly sad. And we must leave that as it is. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can acceptance of harsh realities come. Transcendent of our own understanding.
What if we were to sense the loneliness in another individual, and simply attempt to meet them there. To just be there with them. Not try and fix anything. Just listen if they want to speak, and to hold the tensions of the irresolvable kind. To allow them the dignity of non-engagement. The sanctity of silence, which doesn’t seem to us to be much of a ministry. Funny how when we move aside the Holy Spirit often moves in.
The moment a lonely person is met they encounter the Spirit of the living Lord. It’s a dynamic engagement promising nothing but delivering everything words cannot.
The Holy Spirit does all the work of our spiritual ministry. All we need to do is be prepared to be His vessel as He points Himself toward the broken.