Archive for January, 2011

Updates

January 31, 2011

Just a couple of things here to update you on:

1 – I’m taking Luke to Durham Wednesday to go see a doctor about his foot.  He’s had a swollen right foot off and on for almost a year.  It happened in the summer, we did some testing and couldn’t find out what was going on, and it went away.  It then cropped back up in December and is still swollen.  We’re going to see a pediatric rheumatoid arthritis specialist (although bloodwork is somewhat inconclusive at this point, so we’re not sure that’s what it is).  It could also be related to a strep infection, believe it or not.  Please pray for Luke’s foot and the docs.  (And yes, when I said Durham, I mean Duke…..ugh….Luke and I are committed to wearing our Carolina gear there – but it’s one of the only 2 places in the state that have a pediatric focus in this area).

2 – Book update – thanks for all your great emails and well-wishes related to the book, and being excited for us.  We have the deal basically in place and are starting to work on final revisions.  Had a conversation with the editor on Friday and she’s excited.  We seem very much on the same page in terms of our vision for the book and series.  It will be published likely in Spring 2012.  We’re actually still deciding on the final title of the book and series. I’ll let you know when we nail that down.

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Listening Well

January 30, 2011

My experience with people who have expressed sympathy and offered help since Susan died has been extremely positive.  Extremely.  So many kind people, so many folks that care – we have truly been overwhelmed by kindness.

I came across this quote, though, in a book I’m reading called “Children and Grief” and I thought it was well-said and worth sharing.  It’s from Debbie Gemmill, who went through the horrific experience of losing a child.  It really speaks to what those of us who are grieving need the most.

My baby has died.  Please don’t tell me you know how I feel.  You don’t.  You can’t.  I hope you never do.

Don’t tell me he’s with God and I should be happy.  How can I be happy when every time I go into his nursery all I see is an empty crib and toys that will never be played with?  How can I be happy when my arms ache to hold him?

Please don’t tell me God needed another angel.  It’s hard for me to understand why God would take away this little one who was so loved.  Maybe I’ll understand later.  But for right now…let God find another angel.

Please, please, please don’t tell me I’ll have other children.  Maybe I will…but my son was not a puppy that ran away.  He cannot be replaced.

Maybe you could just listen when I remember out loud all the things we did together – the walks, the early morning feedings, the first time he rolled over.  Maybe you could just sit with me while I cry over all the things we’ll never do together.

Please don’t tell me it could be worse.  How?

I really don’t want to hear about your grandfather’s death.  It’s not the same.  Don’t think my pain will be eased by comparison.  Of course I’m glad he didn’t suffer, but I’d be a lot happier if he hadn’t died at all.

I know it must be hard for you, but would you mind looking at his picture just one more time?  We don’t have many of him, and I’m just a little bit afraid that I may forget what he looked like.  He wasn’t here that long, you know.

Could you please just listen?

Don’t tell me I’ll get over it.  There is no “over it,” only through it.  Maybe you could just be with me while I take my first steps through it.

Please don’t tell me I should be glad he was just a baby, or that at least I did get to know him.  I knew him.  I knew him before I ever saw him.  He is a part of me.  And now he is gone.  I haven’t just lost a seven-month old baby.  I have lost a part of myself.

I know you mean well, but please don’t expect me to tell you how to help me.  I’d tell you if I knew, but right now I can hardly put one foot in front of the other.  Maybe if you looked around, you could find some things to do, like taking my daughter for a walk, or doing the dishes, or making some coffee.

Please don’t try to remove my pain or distract me from it.  I have to feel this way right now.

Maybe you could just listen.

(Debbie Gemmill, Getting through Grief: From a Parent’s Point of View, (Escondido, CA: Beachcomber Press, 1996), 129.  As quoted in Children and Grief, Ch 3, by Joey O’Connor)


Unexpected Gifts

January 27, 2011

I’ve been emailing back and forth a bit with a friend who lost her husband almost ten years ago.  In one of her emails she was telling me about several incidents that happened to her after her husband died where she had a distinct feeling that God was with her in a specific and special way, reminding her of her spouse.  The kind of stories that make you say – wow, that is amazing.

I told her that I hadn’t had any of those experiences in the past few weeks.  That maybe I would at some point.  I don’t know where this ranks, but for me, today, I had one of those oh-my-goodness/take-your-breath-away moments.

I found a journal.  It was hers, and sitting as plain as day in my bedside table.  I was cleaning out some books and stuff, saw it and opened it and I immediately had a strong memory of what it was.

After my junior year in college, when Susan and I had been dating for three years, I went on an overseas mission trip to Kazakhstan.  It was five weeks long, which for a dating couple madly in love, felt like an eternity for both of us.  It was a situation where there was very, very little communication.  Only a phone call here and there, with the frequent chance of getting cut off, and obviously, no email.  (My kids can’t understand a world without the internet)  We were basically cut off from each other.

Both of us committed to keeping journals for one another.  This was hers.  Now recently, I’ve found a bunch of letters that she kept.  Back in the day (again, pre-email), when we were dating, we would write each other in the summers.  I was usually in Raleigh, she was in Charlotte.  She kept all of these letters I sent her (and I must say, I wrote a lot – pretty proud of myself for that).  What I wasn’t proud of is that I apparently didn’t keep any of hers to me.  (typical guy)  So I have been reading the ones she kept, but just reading what I said to her.  Which has been cool, but I tire of reading myself pretty easily.

This journal I found, though – it’s a whole book full of her thoughts and feelings about us, and what the “separation” we were experiencing felt like.  Wow.  On the first page I turned to, she mentioned a song that she’d started listening to that day that made her start to cry because it made her think about us and the distance between us at that point.  It’s crazy, but I’ve been listening to that same song lately.  And to have the first thing I read be an entry from her talking about that same song 17 years ago…it was pretty unexpectedly overwhelming.

Maybe this journal has been in this drawer for a long, long time and I just found it.  Or maybe she left it for me…I don’t know.  But to have her words about how she felt when we were so far apart in those days…it just means a lot to me right now.

I’m going to get back to Job sometime here.  Just wanted to share that with you.

On an unrelated note – most of you know that I’m the lead/teaching pastor of Lake Norman Community Church in Huntersville NC.  We are having an “open house” type brunch this Sunday from 10-11:30.  No service, just a hang-out time and a chance to eat some good food.  Just wanted you to know that everyone is invited, and this would be a good chance to check things out if you’re looking for a church home.  Email me at jerellaw@mac.com to RSVP, our church site is www.LKNChurch.com.

Have Your Way

January 26, 2011

I found this song in some of Bailey’s music.  I don’t think Susan ever knew it, but it reminds me exactly of what she was feeling about – and saying to – God all along the way.  Especially the last few months of her life.  It just kind of wrecked me here, and I think God used it this morning to remind me not only of who she was and is, but who He always is.

Have your way. It’s really the most important, meaningful, honest prayer we can ever pray.

“Remind me you take broken things, and turn them into beautiful…”



What to say, what to say…

January 24, 2011

“How are you doing?”

I’m lousy at answering that question these days.  I don’t mind anyone asking it.  I’d probably ask it of someone else in our situation, too.  It’s just that I have a hard time answering.  I understand the question, and I know where it comes from.  People genuinely want to know what the latest is with us.  People care.  And it’s also the question we tend to ask when we don’t know what else to say.  I totally get that.  It’s hard to know what to say to people who have experienced – are experiencing – great loss.

But I don’t think I’ve answered the question all that well to anyone that’s asked.  I’ve definitely not answered it the same way twice.  Maybe the real answer is – “I don’t know.”

Because in a typical hour, here’s what I find myself doing:

-Thinking about Susan almost all the time

-Wondering what I’m going to make for dinner

-Trying to manage my time so that I get everything done that I need to get done

-Before 2pm, of course, when the kids get off the bus

-Listening to a song we used to love together

-Realizing that the stuff I left in the kitchen rushing around to get the kids on the bus is still there, and that it’s not going anywhere until I deal with it (and also realizing this is another reminder of how much I miss her – not that I miss her picking up after me, but more the partnership we had and the feeling that someone else was here too)

-Deciding how and when I’m going to guard my writing time today

-Thinking about what’s next for LKN Church and how to get done what I need to get done

-Seeing a hundred – no, a thousand – reminders of Susan that sometimes feel like little knife wounds all over

-Remembering that God is here, even in the middle of this, and reflecting on that

-Getting distracted by a YouTube video – (just happened, this time it was “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Brad Paisley – I’m into sappy stuff these days)

-Wondering what she’s doing right now.  What’s she thinking?  Feeling?  Experiencing?  Does she think about us much?  Does she still look the same, or is that all different in heaven?  (And lots of other strange thoughts like that…)

-Reliving so many moments and memories from our life together

-Planning the next grocery trip

-Helping someone with their homework

-Worrying about whether the kids are going to get what they need from me

-Trying to trust that this is going to all work out

All of which makes it hard to answer the question.  So if I just say “I’m doing OK”, or “We’re getting by”…now you know what I’m really thinking.

 

1-20-11

January 20, 2011

Thanks to all of you who are celebrating the book with me.  I appreciate your kindness and your supportive comments.  The hope is that it will be out before Christmas.  I’ll let you know when I know more about that.

We’re traveling to see family for the next couple of days so I won’t be checking in here until Sunday.  Here’s a quote from the CS Lewis book that has resonated with me lately.  He lost his wife to cancer and wrote about it in “A Grief Observed”:

“It’s not that I’m always thinking of H.  (his wife)  Work and conversation make that impossible.  But the times when I’m not are perhaps my worst.  For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss.  Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs – nothing that would sound even remarkable if you told it at breakfast-time – but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly.  So with this.  I see the rowan berries reddening and don’t know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing.  I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound.  What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking?  Then I remember.

This is one of the things I’m afraid of.  The agonies, the mad midnight moments, must, in the course of nature, die away.  But what will follow?  Just this apathy, this dead flatness?  Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal?  Does grief finally subside into boredom tinged by faint nausea?”  (p 47-48)

My big news is…

January 19, 2011

…I have a book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishing.

It’s for a middle grade action/adventure fiction series about a kid who discovers he has powers only angels are supposed to have.

Wow – it’s crazy to even see that sentence in print.  It’s been a long time coming.  Let me give you some background – and this is something not very many people know about me.  I’ve been writing fiction for about 10 years.  I love stories, and back around 2000, I had an idea for a book and decided to go for it.  It was fun (and Susan was gracious to allow me to spend a bunch of evenings working on this) but nothing happened with it.  I tried a few more times with different stories over the next several years, but again, nothing took.

Back in 2009 I had an idea that was a little different for me – something written more for Bailey and Christopher.  I had time (I was on a sabbatical in the fall), and got the idea to the point where I felt like I was excited about it, and I thought it just might have potential in the Christian fiction market.  But I wrote it for them, hedging my bets, not wanting to be disappointed again.

I finished the manuscript in January of 2010, and the kids loved it.  A good sign.  Christopher read it in two nights and came down the stairs saying, “Dad, it’s awesome!”  Blew me away.  Then, through a series of events that I believe was nothing short of God-inspired, it landed in front of the right editor at Thomas Nelson – the largest Christian publisher around.  And in ten short months (ha!), they decided they wanted it.  I received an offer last week.

A couple of things:

1.  I am thrilled. It’s been something I’ve worked hard on, I think it’s a pretty unique idea, and the kids like it and are excited for me.  That’s what we were celebrating with ice cream last night!  It’s been really fun sharing this with them.  I’ve been dying to let people know, but didn’t want to share the news until I had something solid.  I think there will be some great opportunities in this for kids (and hopefully adults too) to ask deeper questions about who God is and what He is like.

2.  Susan was soooooo excited about this for me, and us. Which is why I wanted to put it out on her blog first.  The timing of this is crazy…we talked about this a lot and were looking forward to sharing this together.  There were several times in the fall when I thought we were going to get word, but for various reasons the decision kept getting delayed.  I wanted so badly to talk to her when I got the news.  I’m trusting she already knew, and I know she’s cheering me on anyway.

3.  This doesn’t change what I’m doing with the church. I’m still focused on LKN Church and excited about it.  (And trust me, it’s not THAT kind of contract – where you quit everything and retire to a tropical island to write in a beachside bungalow)  But it does give me something else fun to focus on, and I think it will be good for me to have that in terms of working through the grieving process.

There is a lot more I will share with you along the way – and I’ll be returning to Job and sharing my journey through that.  But it was time to let you know, and let you share in some GOOD news for the Law family for a change.

 

CS Lewis and Grief

January 18, 2011

I started reading a powerful little book this week, called A Grief Observed, by the brilliant C.S. Lewis.

It’s a collection of his writings after his wife passed away.  Some of them are just stream of consciousness thoughts, others are more organized.  You can tell at times he is questioning, doubting, faithful, angry, confused.  It’s like reading his daily journal entries along the way.  I’ve found it so far to be somewhat helpful.  When someone puts words to an experience it seems to help others.  I’ve had some comments on the blog that our words (Susan and me) have put some flesh on the bones of the experience of both life with cancer and wrestling with death.  In the same way, for some reason it helps to read Lewis’ journey.  I’m not looking for a destination point right now (i.e. the end of my grieving) as much as the comfort of a fellow traveler.  In other words, I don’t need a “10 Steps to Overcoming Grief” book (not sure that exists, btw) as much as I do these more real and honest words.  Of course, maybe someday I’ll want and need the other, but not right now.

One of the things I’m finding difficult right now – and he spurred this thought with some of his words – is the loss of memory.  I didn’t anticipate this.  Not my memory, or memories, of Susan and me, the kids, our life and experiences, etc.  The loss of her memory. The collection of memories that existed only in her mind, things only she knew, things that only we shared.  Places we went, things that happened that we laughed about, words Susan and I said to each other, promises we made, songs we sang, food we ate, and so on.  It’s like when you share a secret with someone.  There is something to that secret-sharing that makes your relationship special, unique.  Sometimes it’s not the thing itself, it’s just that you share something with one other person that no one else knows about.  But if that person is gone…you’re the only one who knows.  And who really likes to keep a secret all to themselves?

The kids and I had dessert at Friendly’s tonight (thanks to a generous person who gave us a gift card!).  It was a little celebration dessert, which I’ll probably tell you more about tomorrow.  And the whole time I’m thinking that I know exactly what Susan would have ordered (the Reese’s hot fudge sundae).  I’m more of a banana split guy.  I know how she would order a burger or a chicken sandwich or a salad.  I know how long it would take her to make a decision off of the menu.  It’s this collection of memories, actions, beliefs, attitudes, tastes, idiosyncrasies…these are gone, the things that made Susan so fun and unique and special.  I’m feeling that loss of the collective memory she and I had.  It makes me wonder how many of the experiences in our lives we consider significant are only significant because of who we have them with.  (Does that make sense?)

Case in point – I have absolutely no desire to watch American Idol this week (or really, any TV, now that I think about it).  It’s because watching it was about Susan and I doing that together.  I’m realizing I don’t really care about Randy and the new judges.  I liked watching because of what it allowed us to share.

(I just re-read this…depressing!  So sorry…)

But I do see her in my three beautiful children.  In so many ways – in their eyes, their laughter, their smiles.  In how smart, funny, and wonderful they each are.  They really are, as so many people have told me, where those things that made Susan who she was, live on.

So I had a Reese’s hot fudge sundae tonight instead, and with each spoonful I thought about how much she would like it.  The kids and I laughed together, had random conversations, they said some amazing things, we missed her, and in a way hopefully we remembered her well tonight.  I pray that I, and we, will honor her well and remember the things that were significant to her along the way.

Job 3 and Honesty

January 16, 2011

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

“For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Job 3:1, 24-26

I’ve been told that you can expect the grieving process to happen in waves, that it’s not linear.  And so far for me, that has been true.  There isn’t just a gradual diminishing of pain, from Susan’s death until now.  There are times when I feel like I’m doing okay…then there are waves that hit.  When I am deeply, deeply sad.  Which are okay times too – I don’t want to try to push away the sadness, pretend to have it all together and appear normal.  We try to rush everything in our world, but I know that the grieving process takes time and I am perfectly fine with that.  This is happening with the kids too.  They are doing pretty well, considering it all – they have their moments, their “waves” too, which tend to come at different times than mine.  And we help each other through.  I’m just trying to communicate with them that however they are feeling about their mom is okay, it’s right, it’s normal.  They need space and time to work this through too.

This passage in Job really speaks to me.  It is a shockingly honest chapter, Job 3.  Because there are a lot of us who wouldn’t admit to thinking what he says out loud.  I have a hard time saying it out loud too – mainly because I don’t want people worrying that I’m going off the deep end or whatever – since what he says would earn him a nice trip to the hospital today.  (So, just so you know, I’m not going off the deep end when I say this)  When the wave of grief crashes in, I have felt like him.  Like I don’t know when this feeling is going to end.  I don’t know how life is going to turn out.  I’m not sure how to live without Susan.  There are moments when I’m not sure I want to.  (Again – I know how this sounds, I’m just telling you what it feels like in the moment)

He says: “Sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water.”  Yes – that is it.  Job nails how loss feels.  There are days when it is painful to breathe.

And then I look at our kids, I read the Scriptures, I pray, I experience the love and care of our friends and family, and I know that somehow we are going to be okay.  The wave recedes.

But if I can be honest like Job for a minute, I don’t like the “being okay” that doesn’t include her.

Just so you know, I’m not fishing for sympathetic comments here.  It’s just that when I read Job, I resonate right now.  It helps me to get these thoughts down.  I’m actually feeling stable and grounded and looking forward to this week – in fact, there are some things I’ll share with you later this week, hopefully, that are pretty exciting.

For now, I’m amazed and grateful that these words of Job are in the Scriptures.  Maybe because it is comforting to know that other people, even in the Bible, centuries ago, felt the way I feel, and made it through.

Friends in the ashes

January 13, 2011

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz…Bildad…and Zophar…heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13

It’s hard to overstate the role of friends in our lives right now.  I love this picture of Job’s three friends.  They heard about what happened to Job, and immediately they went to him.  They met together, planning their trip, so they would be united for their friend.  They genuinely wept for him, they began the mourning process themselves.  And then they sat with him on the ground.  Just sat.  Didn’t speak, didn’t try to explain things, didn’t try to have something eloquent to say.  For seven days and nights they said nothing.

Their presence with him, though, said everything.

We have great friends, and whether they traveled great distances to be with us, or just across the street, I have had people “sitting” with me, with Dana, Bill, Martha, the kids.  Words are important and they have their place.  Many of you have offered heartfelt words and they are meaningful and helpful.  But presence is different.  There is a certain, unique power in it.  Even though this is a lonely road, your presence is helping.

In the middle here, I count it a blessing to have friends who sit with me in the ashes, who mourn, who grieve alongside, who don’t feel the need to offer empty words, who just want to be.  I can’t remember a lot of what people say in conversations these days, but I remember people.

Job’s three friends offer a real, beautiful example of what it means to mourn with one another, to bear one another’s burdens.  I’m thankful for the friends that are sitting with my family and me today.