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Updated: Jun 27

When you're a parent of a child who's preceded you to heaven, milestone events are challenging. We had one of those milestone events recently.

Matthew turned 16. Our hearts rejoice for him and all the possibilities that await him. At the same time, our hearts are filled with sadness for everything that Zander missed out on on earth. When my heart is especially heavy like it was in the boys birthday month, I walk a lot and look for encouraging teachings to listen to while I walk, teachings about Bible promises that bring comfort to my heart, and experiences I can identify with.


On one of my walks through the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley, I listened to a teaching by Bill Johnson, the lead pastor at Bethel Church in California. In his sermon, Breaking the Bread of My Soul, he addresses the grief and hope he experienced following the death of his wife after her battle with cancer. His message talks about how believers can mourn with hope by drawing closer to Jesus who provides comfort and understanding beyond our need for answers.


He taught from the scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, a scripture I have repeated to myself many, many times since Zander went home to Jesus.


13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.


The scripture, and his expounding of it, brought me renewed comfort that afternoon as I literally and figuratively walked through the valley. He talked about how we can invite Jesus into our grief or shut him out. He compared the different responses to Jesus’ death in the reactions of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and Mary Magdalene in the garden after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (John 20:11-18). 


As believers, we have two options in our mourning. We can get intimate with God, and invite him into our grief, or we can turn away from him and focus on our loss. Mary invited Jesus into her grief. She went to the tomb after his crucifixion, and when she saw who she thought was the gardener, she turned to him. In turning to him, she discovered that the gardener was actually Jesus. In the garden that morning, Mary encountered Jesus in a whole new way, and that encounter empowered her to do the next right thing, go and share the good news of his resurrection with the disciples.


The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, on the other hand, were so consumed with their grief that they didn’t realize that Jesus was walking beside them on their 7-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Their preoccupation with their grief caused them to miss out on precious fellowship with Jesus. When they finally realized that it was Jesus who had walked beside them the whole way, it was too late. Jesus blessed their food and left them. They forfeited 7 miles of fellowship with Jesus, and hours of joyous realization that their Lord and Savior was alive and walking right beside them because they chose to focus on their grief and their loss, instead of focusing on Jesus. 


As I walked and listened and pondered on those two very different responses to Jesus’ death, I felt an urging to once again re-frame my grief in the context of our heavenly hope as believers. I felt a renewed sense of hope and comfort, and a renewed willingness to surrender my will to His will, to stop wrestling with the whys and start focusing on the joy that awaits me, the joy that Zander is experiencing right now.

Zander is celebrating his 16th birthday in the presence of Jesus. Is there really a better place to turn 16 than nestled in the bosom of our Lord, surrounded by a heavenly host of angels worshiping and singing praises to our God day and night? The joy that Zander is experiencing surpasses any opportunities he missed on this earth. The love that surrounds him surpasses my mother’s love, surpasses his daddy’s love for him, and surpasses his twin brother’s love for him. Zander is GOOD! One day I will see him again, and I will hold him again for all eternity. All those missed birthdays on earth will fade into nothingness in the face of the joy and the hope of eternity.

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