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Headstone 2011

 “How many kids do you have?”

It’s a common question asked between adults in all walks of life and it seems to be an innocent, generic and non-invasive conversation starter when you find yourself interacting with someone you don’t know very well. For the grieving parent though, this is one of the most horrifying and, to say the least, awkward questions we will be asked for the rest of our lives. Instantly we’re pinned between equally overwhelming desires – to recognize our child who has passed and keep them alive by keeping their memory fresh and to not expose intimate details of our private lives with every stranger who happens to cross our path.

There are several options you can choose from and no one way is right or wrong; there’s only what’s right or wrong for the individual parent. I’ve even found that each interaction might find a different option that feels right in the moment.

1. Spill the beans. Tell them everything; every detail of the events that lead up to, during and after your child’s passing. Sometimes you just have to let it all out.

2. Tip of the iceberg. Tell them you have a child who has passed on, but gloss over it as quickly as possible. You’re not looking for sympathy, but you just can’t leave it out altogether.

3. Concealed in the counting. Another option is to simply rattle off the number of children you’ve given birth to and an account of their current ages, including the age your child would have been if their Earthly journey had continued. Only you know and it still gives honor and recognition to your child.

4. Out of sight, out of mind. For some, it’s just too painful to mention their child at all. They mention the children who have survived or, in the case of only children, simply say they have no children at all. For some, this is less painful than recognizing the existence of the departed child. Or, maybe the situation simply calls for discussion of living children only for technical reasons.

This summer will mark four years since our sweet James Timothy left our home for his heavenly home, following a drowning accident in July 2009. Just a few weeks ago I found myself in group of unfamiliar faces, making small talk, and being asked how many children I had at home and their genders and ages. I hadn’t anticipated this moment and hadn’t prepared myself to give an answer. Before I knew it, I was awkwardly fumbling my words and tripping over sudden uprising emotions. As a parent of a heavenly resident, you might mention your departed child because you simply enjoy talking about them; it keeps them alive and active in your heart in your family. Talking about our passed on children helps their siblings remember them or, in some cases, get to know them. More often than not, we’re not looking for sympathy when we mention our child is no longer with us. We just want you to know they exist.

However, sometimes social situations are so casual that you might not feel right in weighing down the lighthearted conversation with such a heavy topic. Most of the time, people are just making conversation. They’re not trying to get to know you or share a connection. They’re just trying to pass the time. You may see these people very rarely or never again. In that moment, you find yourself having to feel the heaviness of each possible response and measure it against the weight of the conversation and situation. You want people to know your child exists, but you also don’t want to drag down an otherwise pleasant exchange with the burden of your revelation.

So the next time you’re talking to a random person and they seem to fumble awkwardly over such a simple question as, “How many kids do you have?” – Consider that may be a very cumbersome question for some people and forgive them while they adjust the weight.

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Love Your Neighbor

Of all the commandments given to us by Our Father, they all can be summed up into one, two-part commandment – Love{agape} God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind and love{agape} your neighbor as yourself. {Matthew 22:36-40}

Who is our neighbor? Neighbor has two very broad definitions – it can either mean someone who lives near you or it can simply imply ‘your fellow man’. It’s safe to say that God expects us to love all people because He made all people and He is love and expects us to be conduits of His Love.

Have you ever noticed that, in most cases, it’s really easy to be patient, gentle, kind and loving to complete strangers? You offer a smile, a wave, a friendly word to the cashier, bank teller or barista and most of the time it’s not even difficult. Wow, so this ‘love your neighbor’ thing must be pretty easy then huh? 

What about your friends? Are you gentle and kind with them? What about your very best friend? Do you ever find yourself ‘getting comfortable’ in that friendship and not always putting your best foot forward, letting your hair down and letting how you really feel come out because, if we can’t be ‘real’ with our friends then who? What about your family? How ‘real’ do you get with them? When you interact with your parents, siblings, spouses and children, do they see how you ‘really’ feel? Is that an expression of God’s love; or an outlet for the anger, frustration, disappointment and failure to flow? How do you respond when your husband doesn’t pick up the milk you asked him to pick up on his way home from work? If your child brings home an ‘F’ or refuses to clean their room, what’s your reaction? Of course you should correct your child or communicate disappointment to your husband, but those messages should not be laced with poison either. Does God correct us with a little bit of poison in His love? NO! What if your lunch order is wrong and you have to take it back? How many times have you screamed at the cook and called them lazy, stupid or good for nothing? I hope most of us are answering that we’ve never acted that way in public, but I’m sure there’s more of us than we’d ever admit that have reacted this way to our spouses, children or other close loved ones. Have you ever wondered why you treat total strangers with love and respect but find yourself venomous at times with your immediate family?

What if ‘love your neighbor’ means, first and foremost, to learn how to express God’s Love {agape} to our immediate family, living in our home? Maybe our first priority in this life is to simply walk in love with our parents, siblings, spouses and children in that gentle Godly way, regardless of the expectations we had that we perceive they’ve failed at, how unfair we’re being treated by them, how heavy the burden is to love and care for them or how hot their tempers are?

Why should strangers get our very best but the people who we love the most, who love us the most and will be in our lives for our entire journeys (hopefully) get the bottom of the barrel? Why? Possibly because we have yet to ‘be real’ with God about our behavior and ask Him to fill us in those deepest places with His love. We need to pursue with a passion to ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God’ so that ‘all these things’ – the fruits of the Spirit {Galatians 5:22}, reflections of God’s Agape Love {1 Corinthians 13: 4-8} will radiate from us like a beacon in the dark! Women need to ask God to mold us into a Proverbs 31 woman so our worth will be ‘above rubies’ and evident to all and men need to pursue to be made into the examples set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and the book of Titus. When we received salvation, it meant more than a ticket to heaven. These are the qualities, characteristics and life-preservers salvation gives us in this earthly life. We must go to God and ask Him to ‘work out’ {Philippians 2:12-13} the salvation that He put in us so that the fruits of His Spirit will shine and our gentleness will be evident to all! {Philippians 4:5} Yes, we are absolutely called to be a light to the world and to Love every human with the Agape Love of God – but first and foremost I believe we’re called to Agape Love our immediate family. They are our training ground for the rest of the world – if we fail at home, how can we succeed in the world? If we can’t seek God’s face and ask for His reaction to be ‘our’ reactions in the face of the harshest treatment from the people we love the most, how can we really expect to be a genuine and sincere example of God’s Agape Love to the rest of the world?

 

 

 

 

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