Ten Years … What I’ve Learned

John Robert in Claire on a ride in Dollywood

May 21 is just a date. I’m sure many things happened on this day but only one thing surfaces in my own mind and heart. It’s the day that John Robert Dobbs died.  It’s been ten years and that’s still hard to write. Before that terrible day I regarded grief from a distance. As a minister, I officiated at funerals. I was sincere in my condolences but truthfully I had no idea what the person mourning in front of me was going through. That kind of empathy is not something you can learn in school or from a book.

With some caution I’d like to share some things I’ve learned from ten years of being acquainted with grief. Maybe this post will help someone in a particularly needful time. I use the world “help” loosely, of course.

I’ve learned that grief is a real thing. It hurts physically. I thought the term ‘heavy heart’ was just a metaphor. It leaves us exhausted. It makes sleeping through the night difficult. It causes us to have difficulty concentrating. People sometimes lose their jobs because they can’t function in the same capacity. Sometimes people stop eating, sometimes they can’t stop eating.  Grief is a real experience.

I’ve learned that grief is not a temporary experience. It may vary in intensity. It seems unbearable at first. It eases up at times. It comes back unpredictably. I suppose as long as I love John Robert I will always live with a subtext of grief in my life. Because I know bereaved parents who are much farther away from their loss, I know that grief is not going to go away. I’ve often said that grief was like a stranger who moved into our hearts and just won’t leave.

I’ve learned that the first two years were the hardest. I’m reflecting on my own experience, not telling you what yours will be. Grief in the first two years was intensely and jaggedly painful, disorienting, debilitating. If it remained at that level I doubt I would still be alive. It will always hurt. It will not always hurt like this. I learned that from those who walked before me.

John Robert on a snowy day at Tulsa Workshop.

I’ve learned that there is healing and strength to be found alongside fellow strugglers. My involvement with GriefShare and Compassionate Friends became lifelines for me. Mike and Mignon Riley took us to lunch with their old friends French and Marilyn Smith. I sat at a table and looked another father in the eye as he told me he knew how I felt because his son died too. When I attended their meeting I could sense the pain in that room but I knew that everyone there was walking through the same fire I was. That’s why I still attend those meetings. I also learned a lot from GriefShare and Royce and Carol Ogle. Leading GriefShare seasons has given me an opportunity to give hope. I would not be where I am now without those who were willing to walk with me in support groups. There is healing in helping.

I’ve learned that grief is both a unique and a common experience. It is unique in that every person grieves in their own way. They had a unique relationship with the one who died. Even within families, there are different experiences, remembrances, feelings … your grief is your own. So I do not speak for Maggy, Nicole, Claire, or any other family member or friend. But the truth is that grief is also pretty common. When I started reading books about grief I realized that many of them said the same things, even if they used different words. Ultimately, how many different ways is there to say, “this hurts like hell“? Still, each book and article I read affirmed my own feelings and I didn’t regret reading them.

I’ve learned that guilt is not a grieving parent’s friend. Every bereaved parent I’ve known has that one question that hangs on longer than the rest. What if? I wish I could tell you that the answer to that question will relieve all your anxiety about the death of your loved one. But it won’t. Even if you knew all the answers to all the What If questions the fact would still remain that they are gone. It is natural for a grieving parent to feel guilt, after all, it is our job to protect and raise our children safely. We’re not supposed to out-live our children. But we have a reality to face and nothing is going to change that reality. So let guilt go, there are so many other things to which you can give your attention.

I’ve learned that grief impacts faith in a dramatic way. There is much to say on this, but, grief can either drive us to God or away from God and the choice is yours. For me, I began reading my Bible in a different light, realizing that the first family in the Bible was led by bereaved parents. I’m moved by the grief stories of the Bible. Job at the loss of his children, the heartbreak of David and Bathsheba in the loss of their baby, the surprised widow of Nain who received her son back (but ultimately he died once again at some point), and when Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus – all of these tell us that loss is a part of the faith story. I do believe John Robert is more alive now than he ever was on earth. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the empty tomb I have sure hope that this life is not all there is. I don’t know how I could face this loss otherwise. I know others struggle with that, and I acknowledge you in that struggle.

There is more to learn on the grief journey but this is growing much too long. My prayer for you, if you are a newly bereaved parent who is reading this, is that you will know that there are brighter days ahead. They might be far off in the distance. But you are not walking alone. our Gentle Shepherd knows how to walk with us through the darkest of valleys.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

If you’ve read this far and you are one of those precious friends who has walked with us through this ordeal for a decade now … thank you.  We probably didn’t acknowledge every act of kindness from the visits to the funeral to the food to the calls to the cards … everyone did everything they knew how. But there was still that empty chair at the table. We just had to learn how to live with that. We had no choice. We did, however, have support. So thank you. Truly.

Because of you, Out Here Hope Remains. JED

Some Grief Resources on the internet

Surrendering to Hope book

 

A New Book About Grief

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to write some reflections about a decade in the grief journey. I realize that many people are much farther along the path and have much more to offer. I also realize that there are many many books and blogs on the grief journey that are available and I doubt my thoughts are unique or more valuable than others. But I’m not alone in that.

Early in my grief journey, several friends gave me books. I understand that – it’s hard to know what to say and a book is at least an expression of the offer of hope and healing. As I read through grief literature I was very blessed by the things written from the perspective of broken hearts. But I also noticed two things. First, these books were repetitive. The principles of surviving grief are not really all that diverse – but they are helpful. A second thing I noticed is that most of these books were written out of personal loss  – a shared experience that gave each one a bit of a unique character, even if the principles were similar. So, I consider it a good thing to do to read a book or two about grief if you are suffering a loss. 

And there’s a new one you should include in your readings. Gary Roe’s Comfort for Grieving Hearts has potential to be a standard among writings about grief. The format is quite unique. The chapters are short and readable – very important for the grieving heart that cannot pay attention long. Each chapter begins with a thought from the perspective of a grieving person, followed by a discussion about the subjects the grieving person has raised. Each chapter ends with a grief affirmation, and they are listed at the end of the book.  Interspersed throughout are journaling prompts, and they are prompts that really get your mind thinking about an aspect of grief. 

Grief is a dynamic process. It’s always moving. It’s highly individual, defies prediction, and refuses to be boxed in. It’s all a bit mysterious. It’s a matter of the heart. – Gary Roe

At the end of the book, Gary Roe shares his experiences with grief. I think he saves it for the end because the focus of the book is not his individual experience.  The focus is on the unique experience each of us has had with loss. Although Mr. Roe is a Christian, this is not a book filled with Scripture references and overt references to Christianity… however, a Christian spirit pervades this book. You can confidently give it to a friend who may not be a Christian, but who might be open to discussing that idea later down the line. 

Grief is necessary. It is a natural and normal response to a loss. It is nature’s way of healing a shattered soul. We live in a new world now, without the physical presence of someone special. Their absence hovers over us and colors everything. Recovery, whatever that means for each of us, takes time. – Gary Roe

You can find out more about Gary Roe at his website (HERE). You can find him on Facebook , Twitter , and other social media.  Currently this book is listed on Amazon for a very low price, but that could change. Check it out HERE

 

Surrendering to Hope

 

UPDATE: WINNER of the free copy of Surrendering to Hope is John Acuff from Tennessee! I’ll get a copy of the book out to you asap. I hope you enjoy it!

This week I’m going to give away a copy of the new book Surrendering to Hope. Read to the end of this post to find out how to enter.

I wrote a chapter in the new book Surrendering to Hope, but you should buy a copy anyway. It is filled with a dozen stories of exceptional people who have faced some of the most difficult struggles of life and found hope in Christ beyond their pain. It would be a great read for someone who is hurting, for a small group or Bible class, or to keep on hand when someone you know is struggling.  I’m indebted to John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine for inviting me into the project. Several of the authors spoke recently at Pepperdine University and you can check HERE to find out how to access some of those talks. OK, commercial is over!

Ten Years

As I write this it is May 6th. At our church it was Graduation Sunday. I rejoice without reservation for our Christian graduates and the joy of beginning a new season of life.

I’ve only been to one graduation in the past ten years, and that was when my granddaughter received her diploma. So proud of her.

Still, graduation time always reminds me that my son John Robert did not wear his cap and gown and walk the stage. He died two days before he was to graduate. And on the 21st of May, this year, we remember that it has now been ten years since his life ended. 

Over the next few weeks I hope to share some reflections about a decade into the grief journey. I don’t promise that these reflections will be unique nor life-changing, just real. No effort is being made to be maudlin nor to garner sympathy, it’s just that when we share our experiences it helps others who are going through the same thing. And it helps me to share too. 

Giveaway

So, yeah, I’m giving away a copy of Surrendering to Hope. How do you enter? It’s so easy. I’m just asking two things of you. First, would you share the link to this post somewhere in social media? I don’t even care where and I’m not going to check. If you’ll lie about that, you have other issues I can’t help you with! Second, leave a comment below (I’ll select a winner from the comments). As comment fodder why not tell us what state you’re posting from? That’s just a suggestion. The book is not available in Kindle format yet, so I can only send you a paperback. If you win I’ll contact you about your mailing information.

Thanks for reading … and for reading Surrendering to Hope. Put it on your Goodreads “want to read” list today!

JED

 

 

 

Still Wrestling

stillwrestling.jpg

UPDATE: Winner of the book giveaway is Cecil May, III … picked at random from those who entered. Thanks for reading and participating. Another book giveaway coming soon!

Thanks for checking out this blog post today. Be sure to read through the post to find out about a book giveaway!

I can still remember being stunned beyond belief the day the phone rang in my office at Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe. It was my friend Mark from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He called to tell me that the wife and child of one of my best friends had been killed… murdered. Maggy and I began preparations to head down to the Coast to offer what support we could. Les Ferguson, Jr was living a nightmare, and we were helpless to do anything but tell him we loved him and would be there for him.

Over time Les has chronicled his journey on a blog called Desperately Wanting to Believe Again. Nowadays the blog is titled simply, Les Ferguson Jr. Writes. And Les does write, he’s written a book called Still Wrestling. This book begins with a chilling account of the loss that Les and his family endured. In vivid and heartbreaking detail Les shares both what happened and his response in trying to deal with the many complications of this loss.

The honesty with which Les writes will draw the reader in. But not only as an observer of what has happened to him, but as a participant in the struggles of life that have significant challenges for all. A few highlights from the book…

Over the days, weeks, months, and now years that followed, I wrestled with God, wrestled with myself, and wrestled with my faith community. I am still wrestling. I suspect I will be wrestling as I draw my last breath.

But this I promise: unless you have lost a child, you cannot comprehend the level of grief, pain, and suffering I am trying to describe.

There is no going back for me. The hands of time cannot be rewound. All I know how to do is move forward. Sometimes bravely. More times than not, tentatively and fearfully.

In my thinking, God wanted me to accept and serve something fundamentally different from the God I had known before. In the horror of tragedy, he wanted me to trust him. In the horror of tragedy, I was convinced he was unworthy. So, I ran.

Yes, I have mourned the loss of me. The connections, the location, the friends, the life I once had. It all went away. And faster than you might believe.

As it turns out, my tragedy simply shined a light on the brokenness that was already there.

In most of the chapters, Les centers in on a Biblical character who has had significant life losses and struggles. In the retelling and examination of these stories we are reminded that though our losses may be different, the God who sees us through them is the same.

But I see myself in each character. I feel his pain. I share the struggle. I am just as human as every person we’ve studied. … I am not alone. And neither are you.

In the end, Les centers his faith in Jesus Christ. However, this is not a book that denies the ongoing pain of loss. I appreciate the way that Les balances out the pain and the faith that seem opposed to one another.

I have fallen. I will fall again. But here is the good news: In Jesus Christ, I am more than the sum of my mistakes, failures, sins, and epic disasters. Because Jesus was and is the ultimate Savior, a day will come when my value and worth will be seen completely in him.

That’s the Jesus I want to know. The Jesus who leaves you weak and trembling. The Jesus who unequivocally declares that love and service to others—even death on a cross—is what matters. It’s not our arguments. It’s not our differences of opinion. It’s not our posturing. None of that matters. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus. All Jesus. He is our doctrine. Everything flows from him. He is the invitation!

Discussion questions follow each chapter, making it suitable for a small group or class. I read the Kindle edition which was excellent and performed perfectly. 

books_13467c (1)

Ah, the giveaway! Thanks for reading this far. I’m going to offer one free copy of Still Wrestling to one reader of this blog. All you have to do is leave a comment letting me know if you’d rather have a paper copy or Kindle edition. I’ll choose from those who leave a comment in a week or so.

I appreciate Les for bringing us along on a journey he never wanted to take. We don’t always get to choose our journeys but we do get to choose our Savior.

No matter how hard the path seems, out here hope remains.

JED

Surrendering to Hope

stHOPE

Today I received advanced copies of Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken. I am blessed to have written a chapter in this book of twelve stories of loss, pain, struggle … and hope. 

The life of John Robert Dobbs forever changed the hearts of his family and friends. It is a tale of tears and heartache but that shouldn’t be the entire story. It is my hope that by sharing about our loss I can also share what John Robert taught us and how we honor his memory as we live on. But mine is just one of the stories shared in this collection.

If you’ve experienced suffering because of loss, chronic illness, mental abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, racial oppression, or struggled with same-sex attraction, you will find something here to which you can relate. As you read their stories you will see a common thread. There is hope for those who are broken by the painful experiences of life.

I appreciate editors John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. Together they have curated a cast of fellow sufferers who are willing to share their hurtful experiences in hope that they may bless others who walk those same paths. I am grateful to have been included among the other authors, all of whom I admire greatly.

If you happen to be attending Harbour: The Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu this May, you can hear from several of the writers in this book. Hear lectures by James B. Angus, Jr., Les Ferguson, Jr., Sally Gary, Eric Greer, Paula Harrington, John Mark Hicks, Jim Holway, K. Rex Butts, 

According to Amazon, the book will be available May 8th, but you can pre-order today. I would encourage Christians and churches to keep some of these on hand to give to those who are struggling through hurt.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 

 

Blogs / Websites of Some of the Participants:

John Mark Hicks

K. Rex Butts

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Sally Gary

Paula Harrington

Bobby Valentine

Christine Fox Parker

Other Books Recommended:

Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed Through Brokenness by Les Ferguson, Jr.

Meeting God at the Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery by John Mark Hicks

Loves God Likes Girls: A Memoir by Sally Gary

The Legacy of Billy Graham

bgrahamBilly Graham’s death today at the age of 99 gives me a moment to pause and reflect on his influence in American Christianity. I’m not alone as I see so many people expressing both sorrow at his passing and memories of his great accomplishments. 

Graham’s influence can partly be attributed to the times in which he lived. His crusades persuaded many people to follow Jesus Christ both in person and through television. He had a simple way of preaching the basics to the everyday person in such a way that it could be received. Though he sat with Presidents and celebrities, he never seemed to let that become his purpose. From the excellent obituary in the New York Times we are reminded about the vast influence of Dr. Graham: 

In 2007, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimated that he had preached the Gospel to more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories since beginning his crusades in October 1947 in Grand Rapids, Mich. He reached hundreds of millions more on television, through video and in film. (Link below)

Confession. My experience with Billy Graham isn’t all wine and roses. I grew up in a faith family that often scoffed at Graham’s crusades and the multitude of people who poured forward to pray for salvation. (To be honest, my tribe is so independent that I’m not saying ALL of them felt that way. But I heard many criticisms, corrections, and dismissals.) That sounds really harsh and I wouldn’t say it just that way but after reading some Facebook posts from some who still cling to that perspective I know it’s still true. Yes, it is my conviction that the Bible teaches that our salvation experience with God includes baptism that washes away sin. Graham invited people to say a “sinners prayer” to be placed in a right relationship with God. We differ. But somehow for me, that doesn’t translate into dismissing the greatest evangelist of my generation. Billy Graham was an evangelist. The work of discipleship and growth in God’s will was left up to the teaching and ministry of local churches. I am pretty sure he knew that he had one job: bring people to Jesus. 

– Admiration for Billy Graham –

My admiration for him has grown over the years. I admire his strong convictions about the Word of God and the passion for reaching out to the lost that characterized his efforts. I admire him for his high moral character and faithfulness to God, even as other televangelists crumbed into the morass of greed and sexual sin. I admire the way he had a connection with his audience. Stadiums full of expectant hearts awaited him during the crusades. Local churches were invited to participate and to follow up with the respondents.  Everything I can see about his efforts point to Jesus Christ and not Billy Graham. I respect that.

I don’t think there could be a Billy Graham today. The advent of the internet widens the field of influence among many teachers and preachers. The spirit of division and hatred that has a big influence over our country has even influenced our churches. Though as I noted earlier there were always critics among the churches, today I think that the cynics, punsters, and self-appointed saviors would be relentless in the attempt to destroy his efforts. The fact that there is no Billy Graham-like figure today demonstrates the truth of the matter. The televangelists who draw large-scale audiences today mostly do not resemble the humble and Bible-centered approach that Graham took.

My appreciation for Billy Graham is not based on total agreement with him on everything he said and taught. But he brought awareness of God’s presence and a positive influence on our country through some very difficult times. 

My guess is that the current generation if they have heard of Graham at all, will think of him as a relic of the past. Maybe so, but our world was better off because Billy Graham loved Jesus Christ and stood before masses to beg them to follow Him through books, television specials, and in crusades. 

God bless all the voices that keep calling us to look to Jesus … that call us out of the world of darkness into His marvelous light … they remind us that out here hope remains. JED 

Obituary in the New York Times