Lost Sons

“I’m sorry but we’ve pronounced your son dead.” 

Those are the crushing words my friend Rex heard from the doctors after his infant son Kenny had stopped breathing.  In that stunning moment, he and his family experienced a devastating loss that changed their lives forever. 

Rex writes about this experience in the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE: GUIDANCE FOR THE BROKEN.  I can identify with Rex’s loss, and maybe some of you can too. He is a minister of the Gospel, and you can bet that he wrestled with his faith during this terrible experience.

Through believing in Jesus, we are assured of eternal life. My son Kenny would not be dead forever. I would see him again one day because of Jesus. That faith helped me survive...”

As I read through Rex’s chapter I see so much of my own journey there in his words. His faith helped him survive, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t giant struggles in his own heart.

…Feeling that he had failed his son

…Questions about why God allowed this to happen

…Wondering why other people’s children experienced healing and Kenny didn’t

As if those questions weren’t weighty enough, not long after this loss another loss rocked their family as well.  As Rex reflected on these losses and the impact they had on his faith and his family, he came to a new understanding of God’s work in his life. 

Before we are faced with significant loss or crisis, we often have a view of God that is genuine but incomplete. We haven’t had to rely on him through traumatic losses that have no real answer. We haven’t had to put one foot in front of the other not knowing if some other terrible thing is about to happen. The truth is that we would be content to stay in that place. But when we don’t have a choice we do gain a new understanding of God’s place in our lives.

“In the fifteen years since Laura and I lost Kenny, I’ve learned something of God’s heart that I didn’t know before. With all the brokenness that has marred God’s creation, I see how God is filled with loving mercy and compassion for those who suffer.”

What I love about the way Rex writes about his loss is that it’s just honest. It’s not demanding that you see things the way he does. He just wants to share his experience and hopes that somewhere in there you can find some hope. I appreciate that spirit. 

One day Rex and I and our families will be reunited with our Lost Sons. That is our sure hope.

Rex is the minister for the Newark Church of Christ (in Delaware).

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Surrendering to Hope (HERE) and read further about Rex’s journey.  Check out Rex’s blog HERE. You can follow him on Twitter (@krexbutts) and find him on Facebook. 

In the next few weeks I’m going to share some more from this excellent little book. Until then, Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading. JED

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

 

Still Wrestling

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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. 

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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

Book Review: A Second Look at the Savior

A Second Look at the Savior: Hearing His VoiceA Second Look at the Savior: Hearing His Voice by Byron Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I purchased and read A SECOND LOOK AT THE SAVIOR: HEARING HIS VOICE because I have known and loved the author for many years. I have worked with him when I was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gulf Coast Bible Camp. During that time Byron became our first full time Director and Fund Raiser for the camp, a work he still engages. I have enjoyed long conversations with him under those tall pines and appreciate all that he does for the Lord and his beautiful family. Byron Smith is in my estimation a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ and I wanted to read what he has written.

Especially so, since he was writing about taking a second look at our Savior … which we all need to do every day. I appreciated the emphasis on escaping the habit of approaching Scripture with the same presuppositions we always have, and seeking to open our eyes (and ears) to the Lord. We will never fully exhaust everything the Bible has to say about Jesus. Often we presume to know everything Jesus says and we fall into traps.

Often we become captain and navigators of our own destinies and then blame God for every raging storm we encounter.

The author faces very directly the truth that many things happen in life that confound us in our relationship with God. Whatever struggles you have with God, or even believing in God, I think you’ll find some things to think about in Second Look.

Questions should not be used as excuses to walk away from Jesus and Christianity. Instead they need to be asked, answered, and then allowed to change our lives.

Smith uses many episodes in the Bible to illustrate the principles he wants to communicate. These help us to see the humanity of biblical men and women rather than view them as simply stories. I think the major emphasis on the book is seeking God in the most difficult moments of your life, and not giving up. I especially enjoyed chapters of the book where Byron details his own personal struggles and faith experiences. I liked the section where he talked about going to Faulkner University (a private Christian college in Alabama) without knowing how on earth was going to pay for it. You’ll have to read the book to know how that was amazingly resolved.

My favorite chapters were the two written about Psalm 49:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that some of the thoughts expressed here are nothing less than profound.

This passage has so much depth to it. I’ve learned that I need to revisit it often when my heart has given out. … Even the strongest people will eventually ‘wear out.’

I appreciate that attitude because I’ve read too many authors who thought they had everything figured out and were ready to just tell the rest of us dummies how to live life. Byron gives all credit to God.

You can’t be still in the storm and find some addiction to distract you. You can’t be still and waste time feeling sorry for yourself and accuse God of abandoning you. … watch what strength is given when we wait upon the Lord.

Each chapter ends with a prayer that can be prayed, reflecting the thoughts of the chapter. The last two chapters tie in the contents of the book with the life of Jesus and an expression of how to seek and find salvation through faith in Christ.

There’s a lot of good in this book and I’m glad I read it. I want to be up front, though, so I won’t be accused of giving a cushy review and ignoring some issues. I haven’t asked Byron (and I won’t) if he hired a cold-hearted and thorough editor, but if he is moved to reprint the book that would be a good idea. This is the greatest danger (in my opinion) of self-publishing. It’s hard to read our own writing and find errors and cloudy areas. And it’s hard for people who love us to be unrelentingly specific with the red pen. I only mention this because I think any of my friends who read this book will take notice of the same things I did – and I’m no professional editor. I feel certain there are errors in this review! So that’s the reason a ‘cold-hearted’ editor is a writer’s best friend.

Even so, please don’t let that keep you from giving this book a chance. I think it would be a good book for a Sunday School class or Small Group to work through. There is a ‘Study Guide’ in the back of the book, although it functions more as a ‘Teacher’s Guide’. The ideas and suggestions in the ‘Study Guide’ give helps to those who are teaching both young and old, with a good variety of activities and questions.

Byron Smith (I have thus far avoided using his nickname, the only name I knew him by for a long time. You can thank me later, Byron.) suggests that this is the first in a trilogy of ‘Second Look’ books. I hope he keeps writing and I look forward to reading what he composes. I don’t know this but I’m sure he writes with the beauty of Gulf Coast Bible Camp in view … perhaps the lake in the center of the camp. I imagine that it is quiet except for the symphony of crickets and birds and other creatures of the forest that surrounds that place that is very special to my heart. I pray that when he writes his books he hears the voice of the Lord in the breeze that flows over what I have always considered to be Holy Ground.

To purchase, please visit the website HERE.

JD

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Book Review: A Light in the Darkness, Light of Loian

A Light in the Darkness, Light of LoianA Light in the Darkness, Light of Loian by Heather Sutherlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because I know someone who knows the author, I decided to read A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS. It is certainly not in the category of books I typically read, but I did enjoy it. It could be classified as Christian Fiction, but only in an allegorical sense. It would also classify as fantasy fiction, with ghostly figures, princes and kings, and mystical powers.

The story chronicles the development of Merrilyn from an orphaned girl into a powerful healer who has powers she did not know she had. One of the King’s sons has disappeared and his other son, Prince Justan, is charged with finding out what happened. Justan and Merrilyn grew up together and have a growing love interest. There is danger and intrigue as they battle the forces of darkness who are attempting to destroy Merrilyn because of her newfound abilities.

The reason I gave it a good rating was because the story was well written, enchanting, and engaging. The story moves along fairly rapidly but with enough detail that one is drawn into the imagery and begins to feel that we know the characters. As a 53 year old man, I would think that I’m not the core audience for a book such as this. But I suppose anyone can enjoy a good story. I think this would be a great story for a preteen through adult to read. It is free of profanity and graphic (or any) sexual content, which I appreciated.

I’d happily recommend it to a youngster who was looking for a good story and also to any adult who just enjoys a good story. This is the first in a series.

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Book Review: Food – A Love Story

Food: A Love StoryFood: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I tend to overload my reading with theology and devotional books. Occasionally I read through a fiction book. After reading Jim Gaffigan’s FOOD: A LOVE STORY I’m going to have to try to read more humor books.

Supposedly there are good fats and bad fats. I like to think of myself as a good fat. It helps my self-esteem when I look in the mirror.

Especially Jim Gaffigan. What I like about him both in writing and on stage is that his talk is not peppered with profanity (rarely) and graphic sexual content. He’s a dad and married to a devout Catholic and I think he really keeps his family in mind when he’s writing his material. They are there, present in all of his bits … and that tells me he’s not only a comic, but a husband and father who loves his family.

I struggled through my twenties and thirties, and then one day I looked in the mirror, saw my belly, and said, “I give up. It’s all over.” It wasn’t defeat as much as it was acceptance. I figured, I got a hot wife. If she leaves me for getting fat, that means she’s shallow. “Honey, do you think looks are important? No? Good. Now pass the gravy.

Another reason I enjoyed this book is that I’m as fanatical about food as Gaffigan is and his unabashed love affair with food had me laughing and agreeing all the way through.

These pompous responses are because no one admits they go to McDonald’s. McDonald’s sells roughly six billion burgers a day, and there are only three hundred million people in this country. I’m not a calculus teacher, but I figure some of these people are lying.

Yes, I believe we need to do a lot of serious reading but every once in a while it helps to just smile a little … enjoy an outright laugh … and realize the Scripture is true that laughter is good medicine.

I’d never want my last real meal to be a kale salad or a PowerBar.

I’m with Jim.

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