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on Sites Useful to Grieving Teens and Adults

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Bill's Scribblings

Published and Unpublished Articles Written by Me   Regarding My Own Grief and Sense of Loss. 

Talks and Writings
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Journal Entries

Two Short Fictions

A "Letter of Demonic Advice" in the style of C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters
regarding the loss of a child and a short story I'd like to believe could come true.

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More Resources and Materials for Bereaved Families

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Talks and Writings

The following address was given at the Victim and Witness Services Candlelighting Service, December 9, 1997.

We are gathered here to remember our loved ones, all of them victims of violent crime. All of us survivors of violent crime.

Look around you tonight and you will see that we are surrounded by the symbols of our lives:

There is Dark, for the grief which casts a pall over even the brightest days.
Cold, for the bone-chilling loneliness we carry with us every moment.
Ribbons, for remembrance of those who are gone, with all their warmth, charm, love, and vibrancy.
There is Light, for hope for the future taken one small bit at a time, all these small bits finally adding up to a warm and persistent glow.
And lastly, an Evergreen Tree, for ongoing life, even in the face of winter’s icy blasts, raging storms, and long, dark nights, emerging from winter taller, stronger, and better able to stand for another year.

All these elements of our lives we see manifested here tonight in physical form. We have these things to hold on to. We are here and we remember. As long as we live, the memories of those we love will linger here on earth. Pale comfort for their absence, but comfort none the less. And they are remembered lovingly, tenderly, and with excruciating sorrow.

Many of us must deal with pain beyond our loss, for violent loss is never simple. The media, the police, and the justice system all complicate our grief even though they are only trying to do their jobs. Family and friends who share our loss often need our support as they lend theirs. People who do not want to think on their own mortality become more distant because we are a constant reminder to them that they share our humanity and our vulnerability; and that in one instant of carelessness or evil intent, they could also have their world turned inside-out and upside-down.

One of the things I have unwillingly learned in these past months is that grief changes things. We will grow through it, we will mature through it, we will learn more about ourselves and those around us than we ever wanted to know, and we will re-order our priorities. What was once of vital importance to us is as dull as mud, and what we never appreciated to the fullest, we find to be more valuable than gold. Yet through it all, we will survive. We will get stronger, and we will find the answers for ourselves that seem to work best for us.

We are all shuffling through a long, dark forest together, one tiny step at a time. We hold the hands of those walking with us, we try to follow the faint footsteps of those who passed this way before us. Sometimes we stumble and fall, and we are glad that there is someone there to help us up. They help us get cleaned up and back on our feet, yet at the same time the process of getting back up simply serves to put us back on our inexorable journey again.

Once in a while we see patches of light through the canopy, and we bask in it as if we had never seen light before, for we do not know how long it will last, nor when we shall come across the next patch of brightness on the forest floor. We do not know for how many miles this forest extends. Yet through it all, we survive. It is a long journey, it is a fearful journey, but I am assured that it is not so dark at our destination as it seems now.

The following are some thoughts written on Christmas Day, 1997

Just some thoughts on the birthday anniversary of Jesus.

People don't think or understand how fatal sin really is. The breaking of the commandments is one thing, that just affects our life here on earth, superficialities such as the quality of life if you will. But sin, real sin, the underlying fault of our race and source of all our misery, has a deeper root. The pride inherent in not loving God. A sense that we can survive on our own, that we can do it ourselves.

Perhaps not a hatred of God and all that He represents, or even merely a disdain for Him (though there are many who indeed feel that way); but just an indifference, a sense of uselessness for what He offers. As if a teenager was offered a baby's rattle as a gift. No doubt that it once could have brought them joy through its simplicity and delight, but now they have outgrown it in their own minds, they see no use for it, it holds no promise for them, no joy and no attraction.

It is not, however, their bodies that have outgrown it, it still fits, one size fits all, and they are still in need of simple delight and joy. But their minds have become a size too small for the pretty things. They have limited their imaginations and potential for joy to complex things. Simple childlike laughter is no longer a part of their imagination, it is embarrassing, it is un-cool. An insatiable desire for the complexity of life and its offerings begins to take hold, and the simple pleasures are left behind in a tidal wave of gadgetry and gimmicks. Odd how they so often need to be replaced, since they are prone to breaking, and are not at all designed for longevity.

This is how people are with the gift of God's love. It is not that we have gotten too big for it, our hearts have gotten too small and too hard for it. And since we have no use for Him in the foreseeable future, we disregard the simplicity of the Godly life, and begin to take hold of the complexity inherent in worldly living. And if faith is simple, religion becomes more and more complex with every passing day.

What an incredibly shortsighted and thoughtless concept. Have people no understanding of what a concert violinist goes through before they are allowed to play in public? Don’t they know that only through constantly practicing the basic skills and techniques of our spiritual lives and keeping God’s face before us at all times will we ever see the practicality of faith? Don’t they see that being asked to put faith into practice will come all too soon in one’s life, and if one isn’t ready to lean on the strength of the Lord, they will buckle under the weight of the burden? Don’t they see how eminently practical faith really is, and how vitally important it is to exercise it daily lest it atrophy? When one is caught in the whirlpool, it is far too late to learn to swim.

I think that this is why God insists that we *die* to the world when we accept Him into our hearts. There is no place in there for both Him and the world, and in fact, for Him to begin the remodeling process, and increase the size and capacity of our hearts, the complex concepts and gadgets of the world with all their bright colors, shortened attention spans, and plastic parts must be thrown out. Our myriad attachments to the complexities of the world must be cut, not merely disentangled, and we must begin to forge one single strand connected to Him only.

But, oh the process by which the heart is increased in size, the process by which the lines of attachment to worldly things are cut. It is surgery, and the only anesthesia is our fixing our gaze upon His steady and clear image. Bit by bit, the cords are cut and removed, pulled away from their tenacious grasp on our being. Then, once the attachments are removed, the heart must be conditioned for its new purpose, as the psalmist says, it must become "contrite." How many of us know that the word "contrite" means "pulverized?" Crushed, broken, kneaded into a supple and moldable substance. No hint of hardness or calcification will do, all must be as soft as refined clay, or else the pot will show a defect, it will impose its own will on the wheel (perhaps even scratching the hands that work to shape it, causing them to bleed), and blemishes will become more and more evident, causing it to be tossed on the scrap heap. No redemption for these pots in this world, though I believe there will be some consolation in the next, though they will be far behind those of us who reach the desired level of pliability here on earth. Pots they will be, though misshapen, and useful for no purpose whatever as vessels. They will not hold water, nor anything else for that matter, and they resemble only in a grotesque way the shape that the Potter intended for them.

As we become the pulverized clay which the Potter can use, many things may go into this pulverization process. Often the very thing we are afraid of, or too attached to, is that with which we are confronted. At times we are brought to our knees by things we did not imagine possible in our lives. And yet, it is only earthly and temporal things which we become too attached to. We have *never* been asked to give up anything that we would not have to give up on the day of our deaths anyway. The only thing we should never be willing to relinquish is the thing that God wants us to have in its absolute fullness. A total and complete love and adoration of Him and a communication with Him unencumbered by earthly distraction.

Does this mean that we should all head for the nearest monastery? Certainly not, for if we did, how should our Lord reach the others who have closed their minds and hearts to Him? How will He reach the grieving, the sad, the unwilling, the proud? Only by our infiltration of every part of society can the world be exposed to God’s loving kindness. Only when we show the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives can others see just how practical our faith is in our daily lives. Love, mercy, compassion, patience, kindness, all these and more give hope to the hopeless, because they are God’s attributes, represented here on earth by none other than these jars of clay which He has thrown on the wheel and which have willingly molded to the shape He intends. Obedient vessels which carry living water over the face of the earth by the gentlest touch of His Spirit. Gradually, we die to ourselves, in order to have the most perfect of all gifts which can be bestowed – Life, in God.

How can one steer a horse without pulling on the bit in its mouth? If the horse and rider are in accord and in tune with each other, the tug is nothing more than a slight pressure on the flank or the bridle. To all observers in the stands, the rider remains nearly motionless while it appears as if the horse is doing all the thinking, though we know that cannot be, because we know something of the mental capabilities of a horse. If it were true that the horse itself were doing all the complex patterns on its own motivation, a miraculous thing would be taking place in front of our very eyes. If, however, the horse is of his own mind and temperament and is defiant to travel his own way despite any urging, the attempt to turn him to the path the rider chooses can be a difficult or impossible struggle indeed (if one respects the wishes of the horse).

I have been sad today. Not a hostile sadness, not a forlorn sadness, but a sadness which is brought about because of sorrow and grief. But I think that in losing something, I have also gained more than I ever thought possible. Grief opens the spiritual pores. It returns us to the path of the living. It makes our reality more real, and our daily decisions more intense. And it turns us to God. Can one truly pray unceasingly unless they had something that required constant prayer? Can one even begin to value life if they have never had one taken from them? Can one truly appreciate walking in the light if they had never experienced total and complete darkness? I am blessed by God to be given burdens to bear that seem too great for me, for that means that I must rely on His strength every moment to remain on my feet.

I have never thought for a moment that God views death the way we do. He can’t. His view is better by far than ours. It is as if we are looking at a complex machine from the underside, and all we see is the grime, and the grease, and the grit, and all those ugly moving parts. But from above, God sees the whole of the beauty of the machine. The sleek lines, the vibrant colors, and the power of the machine which operates under His control.

God does not view death as we do. In fact, it wasn’t until Jesus’ revelation to us that we as humans even knew that there was an eternity of reward and joy awaiting us. Such a surprise for the prophets of the Old Testament to die and find out that there was this delightful secret that they had not yet been let in on. Now, it has been revealed to us, and we find very quickly how wise God was in holding off on this revelation until rather recently. The Jews served God because God was to be served, and adored, and worshipped. The reward was unknown to them at the time. Today, I fear that there are many who profess to serve God to get the reward, and know little of obedience first.

They are the ones who will be indignant when the workers who come into the vineyard ten minutes before quitting time get the same reward as they do, and as a result, they will be dismissed. The parable of the vineyard in Matt. 20:1-16 is one that we hear all too rarely because I think it goes too strongly against our cultural mindset. It concerns the Owner of the vineyard paying *everyone* who works in the vineyard that day the same amount, regardless of how long they are on the job. The ones who have been working, watering, harvesting all day long receive the same pay as the workers who come into the gate at the end of the day. The paymaster treats all alike. We all get the same recompense for our work, which tells us something about the work itself, I think.

First, the work done in the vineyard is a function of actually being in the vineyard to begin with. No one in the vineyard does not water, plant, and harvest. All are busy, by virtue of the fact that they are vineyard workers. All are obedient to the instructions given to them to work, and that is the job they perform. It is intriguing that nothing in the parable is mentioned about the status of the workers *already* in the vineyard, only about the pay for those entering to work there. All of them work, and the only requirement is that they help maintain what is the Owner’s.

Second, the work is secondary to the actual entering into the vineyard itself. If it is assumed that you will work as best as you can once you are in the vineyard, the only thing that matters is that you enter into the gate. Outside you are idle and have no purpose, once inside, you will be an obedient servant regardless of when you entered. The only alternative is to be idle all day long. The work in the vineyard provides those who are idle with purposeful and rewarding activity and the negotiated pay for a day’s wage is fair and acceptable to the workers. But, you must enter the vineyard to begin with. No work directly relating to the Owner’s property is available outside the gate.

The trick then, is to get into the gate. How do these workers get in? They are invited in by the Owner. They are the ones standing idle in the marketplace. The Owner of the vineyard seeks them out, not the other way around. And at the end of the day, when the last of the workers receives every man the same as the first employed, it is the ones who have been serving all along that begin to complain and argue that they deserve more than the last in. The pride and greed of servitude begins to break through and they are ultimately dismissed. Their hours worked became more important for them than the fact that they were the Owner’s vineyard workers. If they truly had a vested interest in the vineyard itself, the work would be of less priority to them and they would rejoice that there were others brought in by the Owner to help serve in the vineyard, sharing the labor, bringing in the harvest, and generally maintaining the upkeep of the Owner’s property. The joy is in the company, that more should come under the Owner’s employ.

So it shall be for all of us. Some have served God all our lives. Some for only a few years. Still some will only truly come to know and serve Him with their last breath. And even if their last words are no more than, "I am at peace. I am going to be with Jesus." That single act of toil will be equally rewarded as those who have spent years in the sun, sweating and toiling for God’s Kingdom. And we will rejoice in their labor.

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