Category: grief


How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve known almost your whole life? He’s not family (at least not by blood relation) but he’s absolutely family. I met Larry Morton when I was 12 years old and he was 31. He was married to a sweet, pretty young woman named Ruth Ann. Our families become instant, lifelong friends. They had moved to the Atlanta area from Canada and my Southern family provided endless hours of entertainment for Mort as he observed our quirky sayings, behaviors, and food choices. He loved to practice his southern drawl on my name, calling me “Daaaaawwwwwwn” then flashing his Santa Claus smile. Mort lived with wild abandon, drove a corvette, rode a motorcycle, water skied, snow skied, and (fill in the blank with every other adventurous outing imaginable). I played the piano and it was not unusual for Mort to buy me a new piece of sheet music and bring it over to our house. One of his favorites was “The Entertainer”, a tricky little ragtime piece that I worked hard to master. When Mort and Ruth Ann had their first (and only) child, Nicole, I was convinced she was mine.

Mort taught my brother and me how to water ski at Lake Lanier on a warm Saturday morning in early summer when I was in high school. He showed me how to put my feet in the skis, hold the rope correctly, and lean back. Keeping my knees together and pulling hard when he hit the throttle on the boat, I came up out of the water on my first try! For many years after, my brother and I could not get enough of those early mornings and long days at the lake. Mort, my Dad, my brother, and I would go very early, meeting Ruth Ann and my mom later in the day to eat and hang out at a little cove we discovered. My confidence grew and it wasn’t long before I tried to slalom. That’s when the fun really began! Many a boyfriend tried to survive a day on the lake with my Dad, my brother, and Mort. Very few made it back for a second one.

Mort and Ruth Ann took me to my first professional hockey game – the Atlanta Flames. I was hooked from the first drop of the puck. Going to the games with them was the only time my parents ever let me stay out late on a school night. The highlight of those games came one night after a tough win and a few broken hockey sticks. I managed to wrangle a stick from one of the crew and Ruth Ann and I walked down to the locker room, waiting patiently for those enormous athletes to start leaving. Ruth Ann stood there with me as I sheepishly asked them to sign the stick, which they all graciously did – every last one of them. With my stick covered in Atlanta Flames autographs, I sneaked it in the house later that night and gave it to my brother for his birthday. I thought Mort and Ruth Ann were the coolest people on the planet.

We introduced Mort to my Mom’s hot buttered biscuits and my Dad’s famous ham. He introduced us to Verner’s ginger ale. It has just the right mix of sweet and burn; I love it to this day. Some of my family’s favorite meals come straight out of Ruth Ann’s kitchen. She had been a school teacher in Canada and I was fascinated by her stories of how they did things ‘up North’. Mort and Ruth Ann were easy and comfortable to be with and Mort was the kind of man who always made you feel better after you had been around him, even if only for a few minutes.

I recently heard a Bible study teacher sharing about I Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  He asked what our thoughts were on why love is the greatest. A few people offered up the canned answers: because God is love; because love is a choice; because you can’t have faith and hope without it; because …” And then he explained it in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. He said that faith is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will become sight. Hope is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will be made complete. But love? Love is eternal. Love is past, present, and future. Love will remain love for all eternity. Amazing, isn’t it? How a simple, different way of looking at something – even a word – can open up a whole new concept of what it really means. I can’t help but believe that God gave me the opportunity to hear these truths just a week before we learned that my dear friend, one of my heroes, is on his way Home.
 
Mort, even now your faith is being made sight. Your hope is being made complete. The love you gave your family and the love they gave you will go on forever. Rest, my friend. I love you.

Ask any median adult (by that I mean 55 or older) where they were in 1963 when JFK was assassinated and I will guarantee they can tell you not only where they were but what they were wearing, what they were doing, and who they were with. There was no internet, no text messaging, no Facebook posting, no cable news, no Skype sharing. Yet the whole world knew what had happened within minutes. And the whole world was shaken. America mourned the loss of a beloved president and grieved a little boy’s sweet, final salute to his Daddy.

Fast forward to 2001. Not since that fateful, tragic day in 1963 has this country come together in crisis like it did on September 11th. Rescue workers from all over the country traveled to New York, DC, and Pennsylvania to provide whatever assistance they could to whomever needed it. People opened their homes and businesses to complete strangers, providing shelter and safety, a drink of water, a comforting embrace. Members of Congress (Democrat and Republican alike) sang ‘God Bless America’ on the steps of The Capitol. Churches opened their doors on a non-Wednesday week night to host prayer vigils for the dead and their traumatized survivors. Rudy Giuliani, his voice near breaking with emotion stated, “when the final numbers come in, it will be more than we can bear.” Somehow that observation stings in my heart and mind more than any other from that day.

I can tell you almost every detail of our lives from 9/11: Rachel was a toddler, still in her pajamas, playing in the den with our two dogs Tiger and Bo. I was still in my pajamas as well, enjoying my coffee while Rachel played. Richard had gone out to run an errand that morning and as I answered his phone call there was no mistaking the seriousness in his voice: “Turn on the TV. Turn on the news. I’m on my way home.” Minutes later we sat glued to the TV, trying to convince ourselves that it was air traffic controller error, a horrific computer glitch, something. Anything. And then the second plane crashed into the tower. This was no accident we whispered, as if whispering somehow made it less true. Rachel continued to climb on the dogs and serve them tea from her toy kitchen set, completely oblivious to the fact that our lives had changed in a moment. Nothing would ever be the same. Nothing.

We spent that afternoon and evening trying to explain to almost-12-year-old Alex what terrorists are and what drives them to commit unspeakable acts of violence. We tried to put in perspective that God was in those tragic final moments for the thousands who lost their lives. And that it wasn’t wrong to pray that the people responsible would be brought to swift and sure justice. Over the next days and weeks, we drove a little slower, spoke kinder words to strangers at the grocery store and gas station, shed tears without hesitation or embarrassment, and made the time to say, ‘I love you.’

We engaged in an unparalleled rally of American pride, unity, strength, and resilience. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance with stronger voices, steadfast resolve, and unwavering confidence in WHO WE ARE as Americans. We drew comfort from a president’s tender yet unmistakeably strong message of hope. Yes, we suffered a severe blow at the hands of madmen that day. We bore the grief of millions on our broad American shoulders. We endured the mocking humiliation and shame of those who thought they had won the victory. We swallowed the bitter gall of death. But we need to remember there is One who had already done it all before.

For all the men and women who serve and fight bravely every day for our freedom in America, I know the One who served and fought bravely for our freedom in eternity.  He suffered severe blows at the hands of madmen. He bore the grief (and sin) of millions – no, billions – on his perfectly broad, sinless shoulders. He endured the mocking humiliation and shame of those who thought they had won the victory. He swallowed the bitter gall of death. And he came back victorious. He won the battle and He has already won the war. For you. For me. For the world. On this tenth anniversary of 9/11 as we remember and reflect, I encourage you to get to know Him.

His name is Jesus.

Dawn asked me to write a guest post for Father’s Day about three seconds after I asked her to write her guest post for my blog. Being her friend, and always looking for a chance to add a writing credit, I quickly agreed.
Then I started thinking about what to write.
Should I be funny? Should I be heartfelt? What could be written about fatherhood that hadn’t been written before?
Then my grandfather got sick.
The past couple of weeks my dad’s side of the family has been on high alert over my Pop Harold. He went into the hospital with trouble breathing, only to find out he had congestive heart failure and a heart rate just this side of deadly. The docs were able to get the fluid off his heart, but they weren’t able to isolate the cause of his heart racing, so that meant an extended stay in the critical care wing. Turns out it was a tiny valve malfunction and a blocked artery. They gave him medicine and sent him home on Tuesday.
They don’t expect him to ever really recover. We’ve brought in hospice to help out.
Being on the verge of losing my Pop Harold made think about the three main fatherly influence in my life, and I realized: if pedigree were all that mattered, I would be the world’s greatest dad.
Between my father, Rickey, and my two Pops – Pop Harold (my dad’s dad) and Pop Emmette (my mom’s dad) – I have the kind of patriarchal lineage one only finds when reading Biblical genealogies. Those three men represent the finest collection of fatherly wisdom ever assembled – a Daddy Dream Team – and it is my privilege to call myself their son.
I lost Pop Emmette eight years ago this August. I remember the day he died, how I stood over his body in a tiny ER alcove while the world went to hell around me. Doctors and nurses were rushing by outside the curtain that was supposed to give us privacy, and it was a weird juxtaposition to my feeling as if the world had suddenly stood still. Pop’s body seemed half its size; without his soul to fill it, the skin just sagged.
I spoke at his funeral. I told stories that he had told me, stories that were inappropriate for a funeral because they were designed to make people laugh their butts off. I think I may be the only preacher in the world who intentionally turned his grandfather’s funeral into a stand up routine and had the audience roaring with laughter despite themselves. I remember thinking, in that moment, how much of a gift Pop had given me through his stories. How much of me was bound up in him.
Now, with Pop Harold at home but simply waiting to pass on, I find myself planning to speak at another funeral. This one will be different, however. Not because Pop Harold wasn’t a funny man – he certainly could be – but more because Pop Harold’s life has been more of a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s because I was too enraptured in Emmette’s stories to ever ask Harold for his, or maybe it’s because Pop Harold never wanted to share his stories like Emmette did, but whichever it was, I don’t know nearly as much about Pop Harold as I did Pop Emmette.
But what I’ve learned is different. Not better, necessarily, but different. It’s like having silk in one hand and Egyptian cotton in the other – the texture is soft and wonderful for each, but for entirely different reasons.
Pop Harold has shown me the challenge and majesty of aging. That when people seem to have outlived their usefulness, they still have purpose: to teach those around them about the power and necessity of love and family. Pop’s life has become one final lesson from the Good Book – something he spent years studying – and it’s a lesson that we have learned fitfully, painfully even, but one we’ve learned well. When he is gone, there will be no laughter. There will be tears and plenty of them because such is the depth of our love.
And through all of this has been my own father, Dad, as I call him. In some ways we are polar opposites – he’s quiet, good with money, not artistic in the least – and in other ways we are almost carbon copies of each other. I look in the mirror and see where my hair is going gray in the same places his did, at the same age. I see his brown eyes looking back at me through my glasses. Our hair even parts on the same side (when I part mine).
We’ve never been talkers, the kind of father-son duo that can sit up late into the night swapping stories and telling tales. When we do talk, it’s usually to-the-point conversations, even when we’re just shooting the breeze. I’ve never thought it odd or abnormal because what my father says is so packed with wisdom and meaning that it simply doesn’t take more words than he uses.
Unlike me. I can take more words than three people need. But that’s just what makes him so interesting to me. It’s part of why I respect him.
He leads by quiet example, almost by sheer force. Not as a bully forces, mind you; more like Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird. When my father sets a course of action, his integrity almost compels other people to choose that same course. This explains how he was able to become a vice-president in a major bank without his college degree: he learned everything he could, choose what was right, and got others to do the same.
And then there’s me.
I’m a father now – my daughter, Ella, is 5 and my son, Jonathan, is 2 – and one would think that given the examples I’ve had, I’d be a flawless father.
I’m not.
But even as I make major mistakes, I’m learning that perfection is not required of a father. Nothing astounds me more than when I screw up and my kids look past it. Not in a “we’ll remember this later and use it against you” way, but in a genuinely forgiving way. The more I am with my children, the more I begin to understand things like grace and love and mercy – not just from me to them, but from them to me. I can look into their eyes and see how much they truly love me, not because I’m perfect but because I’m daddy.
That’s a lesson that no one but your kids can teach you. And it’s the best lesson in the world.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there, wherever you are.
I have known women over the years whose deepest heart’s desire is to be a mother.  They are kind, loving, generous, tender, compassionate, and dedicated to giving their absolute best to the fruit of their womb.  But their womb is empty.  They know all too well the words, ‘barren’, ‘infertile’, and ‘incapable’.  Motherhood defies them, even mocks them.  They pray, they fast, they cry hopeful tears of joy followed by devastated tears of sorrow.  They visit doctors, search the internet, and subject themselves to all sorts of tests and procedures.  All to no avail.  
These women grieve what will never be.
I have also known women over the years who had the opportunity to bask in the glory of being called ‘Mother’.  They are women of integrity, character, strength, and passion.  They know the thrill of announcing, “We’re having a baby!”  Delivering their very own bundle of joy is excruciating and exhilarating, counting fingers and toes is fascinating, and kissing those rose bud lips is glorious.  They have swaddled an infant to their breast, nourished them with the very best nature has to offer, and settled their anxious child with a softly whispered, “shhhhh…Mama’s here.”  But they know the excruciating pain of losing a child – a child of any age – and being forced to say good-bye much too soon. 
 
These women grieve what was.
And over the years I have known women who had the opportunity to be a Mother, women who saw the stripe turn pink or blue and decided – for good reason or for no reason – to end the life of their unborn child.  Whatever your thoughts and feelings about abortion, make no mistake about it: these women grieve, too.  Maybe not publicly, probably without condolences from loved ones, but they grieve.  In the quiet of the night when thoughts will not surrender to sleep, they remember.  As they pass a maternity store window, or gaze across the park at a mother pushing her child in a stroller or on a swing, they remember.  They wonder.
These women grieve what might have been.
None of these women would deny in their heart they want to be, have been, or could have been a mother.  They all had dreams of some sort: to be a Mom, to be a Mom forever, to be a Mom later.  My guess is that for these women Mother’s Day is the most difficult to endure.  Hopes crushed.  Dreams lost.  Choices made.  Innocence lost for both mother and child.  I believe, as Scripture promises, that God keeps their tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8).  If He in fact knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30) and sees the sparrow fall (Matthew 10:29), imagine how His heart must break when tears flow from agonizing emptiness, grief, and regret.  
As we approach this Mother’s Day may we look beyond the greeting cards, department stores, perfume counters, and jewelry stores to see those who truly need our love and encouragement ~ these women who would be Mom. 
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