Category Archives: Grief

Learning to Understand Autistic Life Animated

We have someone attending our Sunday school class who appears normal…unless you try to talk to him. Sometimes I see him look my way, like he’d like to talk, but if I approach him or try to engage him, even in light conversation, he doesn’t respond and will look away. I assume he’s autistic, and I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with him, but after a year, I haven’t broken through. Do you have anyone in your life space like this? If you do, and you’ve been able to connect, please share any advice!! For one thing, when our class starts up again for the fall semester this Sunday, I’m going to try something new I just learned about this summer!          Recently, I saw a really inspiring docudrama about Owen Suskind.        Life Animated (2016, PG, IMDb 7.5) shares the Suskind family’s story.                      Their father was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal       and Owen was the second son born into a warm and wonderful home. Owen seemed normal for the first couple of years, but then suddenly he began to regress, stopped communicating, and developed strange behavior patterns. The Suskind’s ideal home was turned upside down in a heartbreaking search for understanding what had happened. Owen was eventually diagnosed as autistic. The rest of the movie traces the heartaches and challenges of trying to learn how to communicate with their son.                              Probably every child’s journey is quite unique,                             but Owen loved Disney animated classics,  and the family eventually learned how to use pictures of scenes from the movies to communicate emotions… love, joy, grief, kindness, and kinship.                    Life Animated follows Owen’s journey from childhood to adulthood,  educational achievements, and even touching on the topics of romance, hoped-for marriage, and learning how to cope with the limitations and disappointments of autism. In many ways, Owen’s story is a wonderful story of success and triumph over trials. Today, Owen is able to give lectures and offer suggestions and ideas for other autistic young people.                                   Life Animated made me cry and rejoice.  Why can’t Owen (and millions of people for so many different reasons) just enjoy a normal life like the rest of us? Why do so many people suffer and have to live with broken dreams? In all the heartaches of life, I console myself by remembering that life on earth is not the end, it’s only the beginning…a place to develop character and find grace. To find the end of ourselves and the beginning of God. To lose our lives so we’ll find eternal life. God is good. He can be trusted.

As Karla Akins says, “Autism isn’t forever, but love is.”

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Hurricane Harvey: A Truly Epic Storm

A blog follower from India asked what’s happening with the rain in America, so I thought maybe this would be a good day to share what’s going on with Hurricane Harvey. So far, it’s the biggest rainstorm in continental U.S. history, and it’s still raining, so we have no clue what’s yet to come. Hurricane Harvey started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on August 13, 2017, made landfall on August 26 at Rockport, Texas as a Class 4 hurricane, went back out to sea and has returned again this morning. Hurricane Harvey has unleashed over 50 inches of rain east of Houston, and it’s still raining this morning.  The record so far is 51.9 inches near Mont Belvieu, TX  (40 miles east of Houston). The downpour also caused one key reservoir to spill over, which has led to the largest flood in Houston’s history. Although isolated areas of Hawaii have had more rain, the overall effect of Harvey has had no rivals in American history, dropping about 3 feet of rain over most of the Houston region—some estimated 9 trillion gallons of water!— which affects more than five million people. According to the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin, the probability for such a storm is about one per thousand years! Last Sunday morning, the National Weather Service tweeted: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”

One problem that’s gaining attention concerns the wildlife, which are swirling in the floods. There are hundreds of thousands of American alligators in Texas (some seen have been up to 8 feet long), 23 species of snakes (all of which can swim, but only 5 of which are poisonous), and billions of invasive fire ants (who are the ultimate survivors, because they band together by the thousands to produce massive flotillas up to several feet across). In addition, there are all the usual wildlife common throughout America, such as deer and coons, that haven’t been able to flag down a Noah’s ark for rescue and are trying to find safety. For example, under the Waugh Bridge near downtown Houston, a colony of 300,000 free-tailed bats have lost their home in the surging waters.

Of course, the most pressing issue is saving human lives. Fire fighters from around the country are arriving to help, and even civilians who own pleasure boats are coming to aid in the rescue efforts. I saw an interview of one man who said “I got tired of watching it from the comfort of my own home” and decided to help. He had rescued over 2 dozen victims last night and this morning. The death toll has confirmed 30 dead, but untold numbers are missing. One center was trying to prepare dry clothing and food for 5,000, but so far over 8,600 have come for help.

In the midst of all the horror and grief, there have been some bright spots. Several news reporters pointed out that people were responding with compassion towards everyone…regardless of race…no questions asked about creed! One man pointed out that the heart of America doesn’t come out “when there are pitched political shows, we see the heart and the true nature of our country when you have a tragedy strike like this. Everybody wants to help.” Praise God for that mercy!

However, the tragedy is still very much in the making. Harvey’s path inland is producing some bleak predictions for Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even into the Ohio River Valley. Please stay tuned, and thank you to all who are helping and praying. The estimates of economic damages are up to 50+ billion dollars, and I’ve noticed that charities such as Samaritan’s Purse are accepting gifts as they try to respond to the crisis.

Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

 

Poetry from Job and Vistas of the Grand Canyon

Job is often thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. Have you ever read it? It’s full of flowery speeches about why men suffer, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” Job is also listed as one of the twenty-five righteous prophets in the Quran, so his fame extends throughout the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.  What I love best about Job is that we know from the beginning Job’s suffering was not because he was evil. In fact, he was one of the world’s most upright men! Although it’s true we usually think of people as prospering if they are honest and work hard, from Job we learn that this is not always the case, and that some of the finest and best people suffer despite having sterling character.  In the end, God proclaims that He alone is the all-wise, all-knowing One, and Job’s mouth is stopped. But, during his trial,  Job receives a revelation so beautiful that Handel incorporated some of it into his timeless oratorio, Messiah: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23-26).  The Bible advises us to live with compassion and respect toward all men. We have no idea what their lives have been like. Great advice, don’t you think?

Anyway, my son Jon brought home about 2,500 photos from his trip white-water rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as I was thinking about what he’d learned and the beauty of this unique area, the words of Job 38 came to me. I thought they might be perfect paired with some of God’s creative magnificence and mystery, as recorded by Jon in July:

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee,  and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?  or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?  or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors,  when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof,  and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,  10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,  11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:  and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;  and caused the dayspring to know his place;  13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,  that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  15 And from the wicked their light is withholden,  and the high arm shall be broken.  16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?  or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?  or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  19 Where is the way where light dwelleth?  and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,  20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?  or because the number of thy days is great?  22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?  or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,  23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?  
24 By what way is the light parted, 
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder; 
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,  wherein there is no man;  27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground;  and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?  28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  29 Out of whose womb came the ice?  and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.  31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?  canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?  34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee? 
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?  36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart? 
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,  38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?  39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,  40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?  41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God,  they wander for lack of meat.” 

This eloquent reminder of human limitation goes on for several more chapters, but chapter 42 records Job’s response: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That’s where I’m at. I have surrendered to God’s ineffable wisdom
and acknowledge that even though I don’t understand his ways, I trust Him. As Job said, “Thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

(Photo Credits: Images related to Job from Wiki; all other photos were taken by Dr. Jonathan Armstrong in July, 2017, except the winter, aerial views, which I took last January, 2017.)

 

 

Chicago Baby

“We’ve left our house in Spokane and are moving to a department (apartment) in Chicago,”  Amélie confided soberly. Moving is NO FUN! I was just Amélie’s age (5) when our family moved from Indiana to Michigan, and I was heart broken, particularly because I wasn’t sure how I’d find my way back home so I could marry my boyfriend (also 5) when we grew up. It was the summer of 1956, and “Que Sera, Sera” was playing on radios everywhere! “Whatever will be will be.”  Somehow, I found the words comforting and remember singing them to myself as I explored our new home in East Lansing. Little people feel things with every bit as much passion as adults! In an effort to soothe the kids, Jon gave us all a little slide show of their home and friends from Spokane, and I think it might have helped Amélie in her efforts to process everything, but poor little Sophie (3) burst into gales of inconsolable tears. Jon and Linda have been doing everything they can to ease the way, but there’s no doubt about it: Moving is tremendously unsettling! Yes, it’s fun to spend some time with Nana and Grandpa, and yes, it will be fun to spend some time in Germany and visit with Gerlinde’s family, but leaving all their friends and moving from their lovely home out west into Chicago—one of America’s biggest (and scariest) cities—is paramount to panic!  Are you facing a move? I think it’s good to get in touch with our feelings during transitions, but I also think it’s important to track our thoughts. We shouldn’t just listen to ourselves, we should talk to ourselves too…speaking truths into our lives to give us courage, such as Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  God loves us. He is doing a good work in us to make us more like Himself! Rather than being fearful about the future, let’s ask God for the grace to claim Isaiah 26:3,  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”  P.S.—I am so thankful for my courageous daughter-in-law, who is a beautiful example of Sarah from the Bible (and her mother Sarah, who left her homeland and followed her husband to the mission field in Tanzania). “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (I Peter 3:6).

“When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother
What will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me

“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

“When I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart
What lies ahead
Will we have rainbows
Day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said

“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

“Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother
What will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
I tell them tenderly

“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
Que Sera, Sera.” (—Composed by Jay Livingston)

Have You Ever Experienced a Season of Heartbreak?

I suppose there’s no one alive who hasn’t experienced a season of heartbreak at some point. Isn’t it a universal part of each human tapestry? Every person who has loved deeply has had to cope with loss. It might not be as traumatic as losing a child or experiencing divorce. It could be something as natural as losing an aged parent or parting with your adult children when they move out of your home for the joy of marriage, or to transfer locations in order to further their career.

Although Mark Karris’s book focuses mainly on the issues facing those who’ve experienced the heartache of a major breakup, the strategies for grieving well and overcoming heartache are helpful for anyone who’s feeling the pain of loss—or even for those of us trying to prepare for the inevitable future as we see loved ones (and ourselves!) aging. Mark’s objective was to “provide a powerful, life-giving resource that will help you not only survive your season of grief but also thrive and be transformed.” That, I thought, was a very lofty goal, and personally I felt he succeeded, at least in how his book impacted my life.

But, Mark was even more ambitious that that! He also aspired to finding “powerful practices to help me embrace grieving as a liberating spiritual discipline.” Wow! Come again? Is that possible? Actually, by the time I finished the book, I understood what he meant. I can’t say that I’m free from heartache as a result of being liberated by developing appropriate spiritual disciplines to deal with grief, but I can say that I understand the many principles and practices he taught, and it’s helped me explore areas of grief that were hidden in the crevices of my heart, forgotten but unhealed because I never knew what to do with them!

I intend to keep my copy of Season of Heartbreak as a reference book, knowing that in the years ahead I will inevitably experience my own intense seasons of grief, either as I pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, or as I watch loved ones passing on from this life to the next. However, I’m willing to lend you my copy if you’ll promise to return it! Otherwise, it’s available on Amazon, although if you’re willing to buy it from Kregel Publishers directly, then they don’t have to pay a commission to Amazon. The link is:

http://kregel.christianbook.com/season-heartbreak-healing-heart-brain-soul/mark-karris/9780825444715/pd/44471X

If you’ve experienced heartache and never really addressed it, or if you’re still actively feeling the sting of pain from the loss of love, please consider reading Mark’s book. As a family advocacy and support specialist for the United States Navy as well as an ordained pastor and licensed marriage and family therapist, Mark Karris has a wealth of experience in identifying the issues, and he’s done a masterful job of teaching strategies for coping and overcoming. He has insightful chapters with provocative titles like “In Need of Story Catchers,” “Forgive to Live,” “Holy Huddle,” and “A Theology of Suffering.” And…about a dozen more!

In ostensible theory, I chose this book because I have over a thousand young adults who follow my blog, and I thought it might be helpful for them. In experiential reality, the book opened my heart to some buried, unhealed griefs and helped me in my own spiritual journey. If you have a heart that’s still beating, it’s a worthy read!

“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

A Lion of a Little Boy

Have you seen Lion? It’s a heart-rending biographical drama adapted from the non-fiction book, A Long Way Home.  Lion premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival, is PG-13, and has an 8.1 IMDb rating.  If you’ve been adopted or have adopted…if you’re a foster parent or have grown up in an orphanage, Lion will break your heart, but it might also help heal some of the pain that haunts most people who’ve grown up without knowing their biological parents.  The story begins back in 1986, where little five-year-old “Saroo,” lives in Khandwa, India with his mother, older brother, and younger sister.  Saroo and his brother steal coal from trains to trade for food, but one night Saroo is so tired that he falls asleep at the train station rather than helping his brother.  Through a series of misadventures, Saroo ends up lost on the streets of Calcutta, many hundreds of miles from home.  In fact, he doesn’t know the name of his hometown…or even his full name!  He survives many frightening episodes before a kindly man helps him get to an orphanage, where he learns some English and is later adopted by a couple in Hobart, Tasmania.  The story picks up again nearly 25 years later, when Saroo, as a young adult, sets out in search of his lost family.  Although I wouldn’t recommend the movie for children (at least until you’ve viewed it first), it is a very moving account that brought out a visceral response in me…I felt the horror of lostness, the fear of strange adults, the hunger, the loneliness, the pain…the relief…the deep, lasting grief. I came away feeling like I’d experienced a tiny taste of what it might be like for the millions of children abroad—and at home—who’ve grown up without the loving support of their parents.  I’ll never meet someone who has been orphaned now without feeling more compassionate toward them. It’s one of those movies that has a lasting impact.

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy
(Psalm 82:3).Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
and to keep himself unspotted from the world
” (James 1:27).

(The photos are a combination of two real pictures of Saroo as shown at the end of the film, plus images from the movie, Lion.)