God is still faithful – Christmas 2016
When 2016 began, my husband of 3.5 years and I were thriving in Beloit, Wisconsin. Eric was the Youth Pastor at Rock Valley Chapel, and I was privileged to stay at home with our young boys, Bingham and William. In January, Eric and I attended a couple’s retreat together, set a couple goals for the year and I received what I believe to be a calling to write more. We began waking up early to read our Bibles together before the boys woke up and we spent more intentional time with each other in the evenings. We talked about anything and everything, from silly inside jokes and lovely memories to short but intense discussions about the kinds of what-ifs that would leave our kids without one of their parents. We laughed together. We cooked together. We danced.
Eric’s heart–which operated mainly from two chambers as a result of a congenital heart disease and a corrective procedure called a Fontan–seemed to be doing OK. However, results from an MRI revealed that there was a little muscle tissue which had developed in the main chamber, and a stress test showed that it was impacting his quality of life. His cardiologist told us that Eric was mostly healthy, but that the muscle tissue would need to be removed via open heart surgery at some point in the next few years. The next step in the process would be to locate the exact position of the problematic blockage with a cardiac catheterization–a small camera insertion, a routine procedure with little anticipated risk.
On February 11th, we went to Madison, Wisconsin for that cardiac catheterization. The procedure itself went well, but the device that was used to close the insertion point did not function as expected. On February 13, after severe internal bleeding, multiple cardiac arrests and trauma to his brain, I said goodbye to Eric’s body.
On the hardest day of my life, I asked the Holy Spirit to move in my weakness and inability to function on my own. In God’s strength, we chose to praise the Lord because of the assurance we have that Eric is with Jesus in Heaven.
To the Facebook world, I said, “Through tears of God’s grace, I must tell you that God is STILL FAITHFUL. His promises are STILL TRUE. He is glorified. His love endures forever, for always and no matter what. Eric is in the presence–the glory, the splendor, the peace, the joy–of our Lord. In HIS name we take comfort because of His great sacrifices for all of us… that He died so that we don’t have to suffer lives separated from Jesus, that He rose again and conquered that death! That He reigns in Heaven and that we who know and trust Him will be with Him and praise Him together just like Eric is with Him now.” Eric’s headstone is located at Rural Home Cemetery in Big Bend, Wisconsin and it features Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).
In April, Bingham, William and I moved back to my childhood home in Southern Minnesota. We live on the 3rd floor of my parents’ home (Stan/Papa and Carolyn/Granna Miller) along with my sister, “Auntie” Abby. Shortly after we moved I took a part-time job as the Communications Director at Faith Church. I am blessed to be able to use my Graphic Design degree and knowledge of communication theory & systems in an encouraging environment with friends who pray for me and laugh with me on a daily basis.
Bingham is now 3 years old! He is tall, boisterous and agile. He is helpful, caring and nurturing of everyone around him, especially his little brother. In the 100% unbiased opinion of his mother, he’s brilliant with a gigantic vocabulary, elaborate memory and deep thoughtfulness. He loves to play with friends, make believe, operate toy vehicles, sing and dance. “Bing” is not without his childlike mischievousness, however. The proof is in permanent marker on his walls, bedding, toys and the recliner in his room (this literally happened in about 5 minutes on one night after I thought he was sleeping. Not even kidding.)
William–I often call him “Billy”–is growing fast as well. He is about a year a half with curly blonde hair and deep, joyful eyes. When he smiles, he lights up the room. When he’s angry, he’s quite assertive with eyebrows raised and guttural noises. He posesses a bottomless stomach… or at least he is very generous to Spencer the dog, who waits and feasts under the high chair. Billy loves to give hugs and kisses and enjoys singing, dancing, cuddling and following his brother anywhere and into anything.
On weekday mornings, when Mama goes to work, Granna teaches the boys pre-preschool with books and activities related to those books. Both boys enjoy doing school, making things, watching educational videos and going on bear hunts. Auntie Abby joins the trio for lunch and then puts the boys down for their afternoon naps. Everyone’s usually waking up just after Mama gets home from work and the evening’s activities vary from week to week. We keep pretty busy on the weekends, especially visiting friends and family. Some of our favorite weekends are spent with Grammie (Cheryl) & Buppah (Scott) and Uncle Ian Lindberg at their new home in Wisconsin. One of many good things with which God has blessed us is the closeness we share, that we are family even without a connection rooted in law.
Grief is a strange thing; I am obsessed with it, with knowing how to cope with it or how to survive it or even how to overcome or beat it. Yet, just as no grief is alike (because no person is exactly the same and no situation is perfectly similar to another) there is also no timeline, no way to measure progress, no “right” way to feel. I learn this again and again as I encounter people going through deep losses of their own and I haven’t the slightest clue what to say or how to help them. I am an extrovert, and I’m generally energized by interactions with people, but sometimes something inside just seems to “snap” and there is no one on earth I want to see. Other times I ldelight in life and my heart leaps with fullness of joy… like when I held my first baby niece, Elouise Jane on her very first birthday or when my boys sat for pictures with their cousin and kissed her forehead. Sometimes the smallest thing threatens to send me into a tailspin in a memory of a time and place in which I’d much rather be. Other times I laugh in the remembrance of my best friend and his quirks and the fun we had together. I have found that in my own, unique grief, there is almost nothing “normal” or simple. Nothing is light. Nearly all things are both bitter and sweet. Sometimes I am driven to seek connection on earth or to find and bring truth to those around me. Sometimes I want to hide and shut out the world. The longer I linger here, the more I realize that my greatest desire is to be where Eric is–Not because he is there, but because Jesus is there. Because I belong there. Because that is my true home. Nonetheless, this is the place God has put me and this is the time He has given me to glorify Him and to raise children who will do the same.
Sometimes it is difficult for Bingham, William and me to be alone together as the void where Daddy used to be is more evident in those times. The tears we shed together, however, the warmth as we hold each other and the conversations that follow those tears, are priceless pieces of healing for each of the three of us. Bingham knows and I think understands more than most 3-year-olds about life and death. He knows that Daddy’s body was sick and broken, that it was not able to get better or be fixed and because of that, he died. However, Daddy loved Jesus and trusted Jesus to forgive the bad things Daddy had done so that he could go to Heaven. When Bingham is asked where his Daddy is, he says, “Daddy died. But he’s with Jesus. He has a new body with Jesus.” And that? The knowledge that my son can say that? That is the most bittersweet thing of all.
As we have become fully enveloped into the holiday season, amidst the jolly reds and greens and sparkly dreams for the new year, I’m finding that the things that generally cheer and warm me are looming ominously and causing me to cower. Pine trees, peppermint flavored drinks, presents, lights and bells don’t truly excite me and I know that they won’t bring me joy this year. Eric’s absence is enough to make me want to skip Christmas altogether–until I turn my focus to Advent. This time of standing still while waiting for the hope at the end, the call for Emmanuel to ransom the captives who morn in lonely exile, the truth that is coming to us. One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, explained it this way in her book Bittersweet,
“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the response to the howl…Advent gives us another option beyond false Christmas cheer or Scrooge. Advent says the baby is coming, but He isn’t here yet, that hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real. Sometimes, depending on what we’ve lost this year, Advent is what saves us from giving up on Christmas and all its buoyant twinkling-light hope forever. Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we’re grieving without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas” (Niequist, 2010, p.91).
Thank you, friends and family, for your encouragements in words and gifts. Thank you for the financial support you’ve extended to us, for thoughtful goodie baskets, for sharing your songs and writing notes to us. Thank you for trusting the Holy Spirit’s promptings to speak or give at the most appropriate times and for sitting in silence with me when there’s nothing left to say. Thank you for your prayers. He is faithful to answer them. He is good and He is truly working in all things for the good of those who love Him.
With love and blessings for Advent,
The Lindberg Family