Loss is the great leveler of the human race. It is no respecter of age, race, gender, net worth or spiritual affiliation.
One of the darkest times of my life happened over 20 years ago, when my sister Brenda, who was 29 at the time, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was married with 3 children, and the diagnosis rocked our family’s world! Fear, confusion, anger, sadness hit us so hard, that we were stunned. It was as if it wasn’t real.
This happens to other families, not ours.
This happens to older women, not young ones.
This happens to people with unhealthy lifestyles, not health conscious ones. This can’t be true.
Our family was numb. We were in denial for a while. We cried for a while, then we sucked it up and got strong, believing that she was young and she would overcome.
And why shouldn’t she? She loved God. Thousands were praying for her. God knew she had 3 young children. We all knew, through prayers, family support and doctor’s wisdom that she would make it.
My sister was in remission for two years. But she didn’t make it. (Her faith was strong, her body weak.)
The emotions in me 20+ years later are still surreal. All these years later, it still hurts. It’s still confusing. I’m still not alright with this. I’ve been real honest with God on this one. I don’t understand.
There is a void in my family that will not and cannot be filled by anyone else. There is a pain in my mother and father’s heart that will not go away this side of heaven.
I’m just being as honest as I know how. All these years later the loss still aches. It was a pivotal point for my family. This loss could break us or focus us. We had a choice. Give up or grow through this tragedy.
Slowly God refocused and grew us, because the alternative was death. The alternative was to quit, maybe do destructive things but that doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t honor my sister and it doesn’t honor the gift of life, no matter how short it is.
A few years ago, like a combination punch from a prize fighter, my other sister, Rhonda, acquired a rare blood disease that was incurable, (again, too young, and a healthy lifestyle) and on December 26, 2009, she passed away and went home to be with Brenda. She left behind a loving husband and two intelligent, God-loving young adult children.
My family once again was staring at a loss that was unimaginable. Losing one sister, was devastating enough, losing two, and you are not sure what to do. For my parents, I cannot even imagine.
Once again, reality has smacked my family upside the head and we are faced with a choice. My parents have led the rest of us by example, that even through their broken hearts, they will not give up, they will not lose hope and they will not grow bitter.
There are a few things my family and I are learning about loss, life and not losing hope. Let me share with you a few of them.
The first is that “bad things happen to good people”.
Brennan Manning writes in his book ‘Ragamuffiin Gospel’ that, “Most of the descriptions of the victorious life in following Christ do not match the reality of my own. Hyperbole bloated rhetoric and grandiose testimonies create the impression that once Jesus is acknowledged as Lord, the Christian life becomes a picnic on a green lawn. Idyllic descriptions of victory in Jesus are more often colored by cultural and personal expectations than by Christ. The New Testament depicts another picture of the victorious life. It’s Jesus on a cross. It’s Jesus dying for our sins. It’s Calvary. The biblical image of the victorious life reads more like the victorious limp. Jesus was victorious not because he never flinched, never talked back or questioned but having flinched talked back and questioned he remained faithful.”
When we experience loss, God says it is totally ok to flinch, talk back and question…God just says, “Please remain faithful…I still have plans for you.”
God never asks us to participate in a pretend, religion that says “Follow Jesus and everything will be fine.”
The reality is bad things happen to good people. And that doesn’t make you weird, it doesn’t make you strange and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you.
Jesus once said, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust…you will have trouble in this world.”
My family has experienced that reality first hand, but we have also experienced the reality of the promise of the psalmist who wrote, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
The second thing we have learned is that you have to “grieve while moving forward.”
I’ve seen people either getting stuck in the past or moving onto the future so quickly that they have denied the real hurt and the real pain of loss.
Dr. Terry Sandbeck, co-author of the book, “Renewing your Mind” says, “The number one reason people are depressed is because they have not mourned the past. They have not gotten angry, they have not cried. They have tried to move on too soon.”
I have met so many people who have had deep loss in their life, and they are feeling guilty for still being sad. Friends have asked them why they are not “over it” yet. The reality is when we have deep loss, we will never be “over it”, nor should we.
My family will grieve the rest of our lives. But we are grieving while moving forward.
Moving forward is different than “moving on.” “Moving on” implies that I am not going to think about the past. I am going to pretend it didn’t happen. I am moving on, forgetting the joy and the grief of the past. That is very destructive to the healing process.
Moving forward is remembering and grieving and celebrating the past while knowing that, while we still have breath, God is not finished with us. He still has plans for us.
Grieving while moving forward honors those we have lost. We actually leave a legacy for them by doing this! Many times it is through loss that God directs us to a new purpose. That has certainly been the case for my family.
The prophet Jeremiah, who experienced personal, relational and spiritual loss lived out the principle of grieving while moving forward when he wrote, “I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all…the feeling of hitting the bottom. BUT there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering it, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, His merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great is Your faithfulness!”
My family and I are still learning how to live this out, and there are still many days when our hearts hurt and are heavy, but there is one more thing I would love to share with everyone who is reading this.
LIFE IS PRECIOUS, DON’T WASTE A SINGLE MOMENT.
Life gets busy, we get involved in petty differences or petty interests and we think that we will live forever, but life is fragile and life can be short. Let us live out the words of Moses when he said, “Teach us (Lord) to use wisely all the time we have.”
Love those who need love.
Forgive those who need forgiven.
Serve those who need served.
Honor those who should be honored.
Encourage those who are discouraged.
Hug those who need a hug.
Give thanks to those who have given you hope in this life.
Tell someone today that you love them!
Life is fragile and a gift. Don’t let it pass you by with a frivolous focus. Celebrate and live fully each day.
Author Richard Evans reminds us that, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”