To my grief readers: I realize my place in my journey with grief is mine. Today feels hopeful. Tomorrow I might want to say one million eff words. You never really know and it really is all a journey to embrace the feelings, memories, and find hope. As I have learned these few short and long months though every day is different. If this is a hard day to read about heaven cause you hate heaven, I get it, skip it. Sometimes I cannot do certain things for weeks and then one day wake up and can. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But grief and loss like this is new to me. Embrace your day and embrace your Jesus, together they’ll get you to the new mercies of tomorrow where you can try again.
Mostly, I’m sorry you know deep loss. Your heart aches. Your new normal is missing someone so special. But, GO YOU, for being alive and awake today and exploring for help, healing, community, and purpose. I am truly praying for you today. I mean it.
Ok, now onto the blog.
One of the wildest, perspective shifting truths I have learned in the last few months is I never needed to protect Joshua from Heaven.
The prayer didn’t sound like that, it sounded more like “Jesus Save him! Don’t Let him die!” In retrospect, I was so terrified of death and losing him and that one day his addiction would cost him is life. Truth is though, he didn’t need prayers keeping him from death.
Heaven is healing and wholeness and joy and wonder. It is forever and one day we will join him not for a moment – but forever. Our hearts will indeed get everything we ever wanted.
What a world rocking, readjusting, rerooting, and revealing statement that has been to me to not pray against death but rather over life. For sure, it is the greatest truth that I have learned through Joshua’s death. It’s the truth that confronts the lie I sometimes cozy up to – that God didn’t answer us the right way. We didn’t pray wrong, but we didn’t get the answer we wanted. We wanted him free on Earth and he could have freed him. How could that be a bad thing to want or pray and believe for?
It’s not that my prayers were wrong or ever ill intentioned. It’s that I didn’t see till now they could have been different. Rather than telling God what to do (oops, Renee), they could have been about today and the purpose upon his life each day REGARDLESS of how broken or powerful that day seemed. Because God isn’t in the business of using only whole people, he specializes in moving through the broken and weak because they are likely in the closest proximity to others broken and weak. Joshua’s brokenness privy’d him to be used by God despite the circumstances where he was. Now I see he was the perfect formula for God to work through, but my shattered heart from our earthly experiences of sharing his worst days clouded my vision and I truly missed most of this.
We learned after Joshua’s death was how many people he impacted in deeply broken moments. My first glimpse of this was in December. After an excruciating week and truly the most terrorizing days I have ever lived, I was in charge of him and to rehab we went. I hated these days. I still do, honestly, because even though they are powerful in memory and emotion they are the smallest percentage of Joshua’s life. But it’s amazing how powerful some experiences are and feel bigger than they should. My prayer is in time these memories lose their power to the larger time we spent with Josh. The broken days paved new roads in us though, ones I’m grateful for. These days exposed how deep addiction ran in him despite how he was a boy with family and community and God. Drugs were not a force, they were a demonic pursuit upon him and we all could see it, feel it, and continuously confronted the war for his life. You learn the art of fighting and warfare differently when you have to stare the devil down, but you also learn you can look at the devil in face and not be moved. You only learn to face giants when there are giants to face.
If you’re not into religion, believing in a spirit world, or that there is a purpose for you that someone doesn’t want you living, this might be a little much for you. I get it. But, I’m going to keep going. This is just your friendly checkpoint.
During my visits with Josh that month, it was just he and I for a few hours. I met every – dang – person on the grounds and everyone loved him. Everyone was encouraged by him, felt special and valued because of him, and in a hot minute he was given the role to stay in the same house as new arrivals because he wasn’t afraid to talk to them, to welcome them, to connect with them, and to make them feel like it was going to be ok. The staff saw this in him and said, “We need you to help. Here’s a role, get busy!”
Everyone I met those weekends expressed love for Joshua. It really impacted me how instantaneously the leadership upon his life went into action. Sober Josh was truly magnificent to me, but Joshua inserted into the darkest corners of our world was not impressive – he was anointed. I love that he did know the wonder of what it means to feel in your bones the anointing of God move in and through you. We talked about how God designed him so perfectly for all seasons. I can still see his big ole grin at the round table overlooking the pond as we talked about how God had anointed him and was using him and it was just the beginning. Silly me, it wasn’t the beginning at all. God had been using him this way for years.
I think these days made his death harder for me. The magic of God moving in and through him no matter where he was revealed that God’s purposes upon his life were more powerful than any broken part of his body. That built my faith for ALL I knew God could and would do for him.
After he died, when so many others he knew came forward and shared stories with us of how he saved their life on their darkest days in rehab the few years prior, I realized how much I had indeed missed. December was too short a glimpse. I wanted more.
Grief is not a journey, it is a wrestle. A daily and minute by minute effort sometimes to bring sense and understanding and give rest to the hard and good. To never forget the past, find peace in the presence, and figure out how the one million pound weight on your chest isn’t too heavy to create vision for the future. It’s hard. I never could have imagined how hard. But asking God to show and reveal to me his plan for Josh and allowing myself to sink into this journey has opened my eyes in ways I could have never imagined to how close Earth and Heaven reside. For me to see how God used him, I have to relive moments I hated. But it has been healing to see God in the hard where I had missed him before.
The last movie Josh and I saw together was I Can Only Imagine. Our church is doing an At the Movies series and wouldn’t you know this weeks movie was, I Can Only Imagine. Obviously I cried til I had a headache. It reminded me of how my greatest fear came true. It reminded me the many days my heart was so shattered from what he was experiencing. It reminded me that the fear that I thought would break us and kill us I now know doesn’t hold that kind of power.
It brought me back to the hardest moment in this journey for me – closing the casket.
When we started planning Joshua’s service there were a few elements each person in my family knew without a doubt needed to be there. My mom immediately stated she wanted when we closed the casket they play the song, I Can Only Imagine. I was sure she had lost her mind.
In thinking of that moment I wanted to just shut it and move past it, surely not sit in that moments for minutes. I could not fathom surviving that moment for more than seconds. How in the living hell of our life were we going to shut the casket? How the freak were we going to listen to those words when we did it? How on earth do you have the strength to stand in front of 600 people staring at us from behind as we lived the most unthinkable moment – to stand in witness to an act of ending you hate with your whole being so much your emotions have bore the most physical pain you have ever known.
I can’t believe we lived through that moment. But, we did. Like this entire process of learning life without Josh on Earth, we are living through it.
The moment was truly piercing. I could feel our crumble just this time it was the worst one and in front of hundreds of people who loved us. They were crumbling, too. We all were. We did the only thing we knew how to do and we worshipped as a family in the holiest hurt we have known. We listened to every word of the entire song and we felt the Holy Spirit be in fullness his name, Our Comforter, as we did the very thing we – never – ever – wanted – to – do. Cloaked in the exquisite love of hundreds of people behind us carrying our shattered hearts we sang with Joshua’s earthly body one last time and closed the *&$%# casket. But that song did something beautiful in our holy hurt, it lifted our eyes to where he was. It forced us to see how heaven and earth are not living two separate spaces of time – they are in one accord, one time, and while we were shattered, you were made whole.
Living through your greatest fear is horrible, but there is always another side of the experience. Fear is a limiter and a liar. Fear is small minded and shallow. Fear is unproductive and apathetic. Fear is a fog and lack of vision. Fear is only as powerful as we let it become. Fear itself is nothing. Fear is empty. Fear never has to be powerful. Never.
If I could go back, I would tell myself I was doing a great job but that I am still capable of more. Not doing more to save Josh or making bargains with the Lord, he didn’t ask me to make (another post on this one and why it made wedding planning impossible). But, that rather than living in fear of what could happen and how to emotionally prepare to live out your fear, LIVE OUT TODAY with the full power we all have access to. Surely this is why God says to not worry about tomorrow.
I am grateful I spoke life, vision, purpose, and freedom over Josh and our relationship was heaven centered, but I am sad I lived in my own torment of what could happen because it surely held me captive and made my fear an idol. I was so terrified I’d lose him, I lost pieces of myself in the process. I am grateful God is kind and always a talker. I love he has revealed and opened my eyes to the active anointing that was upon Joshua’s life and now to the wonder of what he is experiencing.
The hope of heaven is not that there is a mystical place we’ll end up one day – it is much greater than that. The hope of heaven should build within us holy confidence that we do not need to have a greatest fear, because whatever we hold on this Earth is temporary and no matter what we win. We really do win.
When he tore the veil from top to bottom in holy symbolism that we were not separated it changed everything as we were able to commune in heavenly ways on this Earth with our Father. Heaven is only as far away as we let it become. But if we want glimpses of it, he will give them to us. We can experience how Heaven and Earth share praise and worship in preparation for what’s to come forever.
Our greatest desire isn’t lost and it’s not on hold. It’s hard to remember this on hard days when all you want is HIM. I hope I remember this on my wedding day. But, today, I am grateful that just like I could not have imagined the wrestle of grief, I can truly can only imagine the wonder of what heaven will be together. Until then, we shall boldly call heaven to earth because we actually can.