Sully’s Birthday and Trusting God, Part One

Mom, Dad, siblings, delivering toys to St. Jude.

Our grandson Sully’s tenth birthday was this past Monday. The ninth birthday we celebrated and remembered his life without his physical presence. So much love for Sully, his parents, and his siblings was poured out this year. Many donated toys and money to buy toys for the children of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The love of so many people enabled Sully’s parents and siblings to make the largest donation yet in memory and honor of Sully.

It is difficult to put into words the death of a grandchild. Grief becomes a part of you. Most of the time now it lies quietly in your heart. You know it is there. Yet it does not dominate your life. You remember your grandchild every day. Mostly the thoughts are of that sweet child who brought, still brings, joy to your heart. There are times, unexpected, catching you off guard, when grief awakens. For a moment or for hours, you grieve. You weep. Your heart is sliced open again. Once again you wrestle with your faith. You wrestle with God.

In the mix of the joy and the grief of Sully’s birthday, all this week I have been thinking of two passages of Scripture.

The first is Daniel 3:17-18. Three friends of the prophet Daniel refused to worship an idol built by the king. They faced being burned alive. This text is their response. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Yahweh, the God of Israel, did rescue them from the fire, a miraculous outcome. As I heard this story as a child I marveled at God’s deliverance of these men. Sully’s death caused me to look more closely at the words of these three friends. For the first time I paid attention to the full depths of their trust in God. “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” “Even if he does not!” Even if the flames began to consume their flesh they were determined to continue to trust God.

During his short life of fifteen months, battling leukemia, Sully taught all who knew him. He taught me. People all over the world were praying for God to deliver Sully, to rescue him from his illness and his death. I prayed this prayer, fervently. I trusted that the God I serve was able to save Sully from leukemia and death. When God did not so answer our prayers, my prayers, my faith was challenged. I wrestled with my faith. I wrestled with God. “Even if he does not!” Could I so trust God? With his strength and spirit Sully taught me. The faith of those three men so long ago taught and encouraged me. God did not save our precious Sully. Yet I have learned to trust Him still.

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I wanted to slap her!

I was wearing one of my St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital golf shirts. When I wear one of the two I own someone usually asks me if I work at St. Jude. Typically I respond, “I am a volunteer. Also my grandson was a patient during his short life.” (Sully was diagnosed with infant leukemia at the age of two months. He fought valiantly. We continue to be very grateful for the efforts of everyone at St. Jude to help Sully. He died at age fifteen months.)

After lunch with my grandson Max, I went to Sprout’s Farmer’s Market. A
fellow customer noticed my shirt. She asked if I worked or volunteered at St. Jude. I answered with my typical response. Forty-four years of ministry, and especially the illness and death of my grandson Sully, have taught me not to be surprised at people’s responses to those who have lost a loved one. People mean well. As they search for the right words, so often what comes out of their mouths is not helpful. Yet I know typically their hearts are compassionate. I admit to stumbling with my words at times. Even though I know better.

This woman’s response shocked me. I was not prepared for it. “Did your grandson have cancer?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Leukemia.”

“What caused it?” she asked. Her question and tone caught me by surprise. I fumbled to explain what I understand about Sully’s leukemia.

“You know likely it was the result of the environment, cell phones, computers, and the like. You know that the chemotherapy industry is a multi-billion dollar business.”

I don’t remember what else she said as I fumbled in my effort to respond. The inferences I was drawing, but not saying, weren’t helping. You are saying my daughter and husband could have prevented Sully’s leukemia?! St. Jude’s dedicated medical and research staff are only interested in the money?! I could not believe what I was hearing.

There were no attempts by this woman to express sympathy or compassion. She saw my shirt and saw an opportunity to get on her soap box. Her parting words: “Go to this website [I did not hear it]. And keep an open mind.”

An open mind?! I wanted to slap her! My anger kept growing after she walked away.

The words of Job in rebuke of his “comforters” come to mind. “Then Job replied: ‘I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.’” (Job 16:1-5)

Admittedly this is a little rant I had to get off my chest. If it helps you think carefully about what you say to the hurting, the rant was worthwhile.

Here is a link to a very good article on things not to say to the grieving.
Things You Never Want to Hear in Your Grief

God’s blessings!

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Sunday, Another Visit to the Grave

Journey through the Shadowlands

(From my CaringBridge site in honor and memory of our grandson Sully. Written on Easter Sunday, 2010.)

Sunday had come. The Sabbath was over.  Women who had followed Jesus went to the tomb to finish the traditional anointing of the body of Jesus for entombment.  To their surprise and concern, the stone at the door of the tomb had been rolled to the side.  The tomb was open.  Entering the tomb they found the body of Jesus missing.  What happened?  Did his enemies steal his body to add further shame to his death?  While they were standing and wondering two men suddenly appeared beside them with clothes brightly gleaming. Angels?  The women bowed down before them in fear.  The men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:1-5).  The darkness and grief of the Sabbath…

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The Day after Good Friday

Journey through the Shadowlands

(From my CaringBridge site in honor and memory of our grandson Sully. Written on the day after Good Friday, 2010.)

IMG_4737A Grief Observed is C. S. Lewis’s journal of his grief when his wife Joy died after a painful battle with cancer.  His stepson, Douglas Gresham, wrote the forward to my copy of this little book.  “All human relationships end in pain–it is the price that our imperfection has allowed Satan to exact from us for the privilege of love,” Gresham writes.  “The greater the love the greater the grief, and the stronger the faith the more savagely will Satan storm its fortress.”  He gives Satan his due for the suffering in this world.  Later in the forward Gresham wrote of his mother’s death and the love she and Lewis shared.  “It almost seems cruel that her death was delayed long enough for him to grow to love her so…

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Good Friday

Journey through the Shadowlands

(From my CaringBridge site in honor and memory of our grandson Sully. Written on Good Friday, 2010.)

On this Good Friday, I remember the suffering of Jesus.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?…But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him….” Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me…My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death…a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands…

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O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. Matthew 27:27-31

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:6, 8, 10

“O Sacred Head”, this ancient hymn captures the emotion, the humility, the penitence, of the heart of the believer when confronted with the sacrifice of Christ. “Mine, mine was the transgression, But Thine the deadly pain; Lo, here I fall, my Savior!” “What language shall I borrow To thank Thee, dearest Friend.” “O make me Thine forever; And, should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love to Thee.”

In his singing of this hymn, Fernando Ortega captures the emotion, the heart, the humility, the penitence, the faith of this great hymn. As you listen I pray the Spirit will humble your heart and lift you up. “Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love to Thee.”

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Man of Sorrows

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:3, 5, 12

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:22-25

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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