Wandering Through The Wilderness Of Woe
Maybe, at some point in your life, you’ve found yourself or your family suddenly thrust into what feels like the wilderness. You know your life is forever changed, but you’re not sure at all what that change will look like and you don’t even know what to do next. There’s space all around you, but you don’t know how to fill it anymore. In a single breath, we can find ourselves in a completely different life than the breath right before it. Maybe there’s been a drastic, devastating change in an important relationship, the death of a loved one, you job security, finances, the diagnosis of a debilitating disease, a life-changing illness or injury and the list goes on and on.
Have you ever driven through the Mojave Desert in late August? Some of the drive is pretty but it does feel lonely, even if you’re with someone. The land is vast, dry and it is hot, hot, hot! It’s a whole lot of nothing but changing lanes, looking at the back of 18 wheelers and staring at the desert for mile after mile. The photo of me above was taken in the Arches National Park on 8/28/17, 2 years and 16 days before my only son would die by suicide. When the title of this post came to my mind and I began to write it, I remembered that time my sister and I drove through the desert on our way from California to Utah. As I looked through the pictures and came across this one my heart stopped, because it’s me walking through a desert before I began to figuratively and emotionally live in one. For the majority of the last 2.5 years I have been wandering through the wilderness in a life I didn’t choose.
The second I found out my sweet Caleb was gone, my life went from all planned out and content to uncultivated and dark…a wilderness. I was quite literally bewildered and broken. What just happened to me was extremely difficult to understand. Some days I feel that I have found my footing on this ever winding path of surviving child loss and some days I feel like it just happened last night and I don’t know who I am or what to do next. When a part of you dies and piece of your heart is missing, it’s extremely hard to catch your breath and move forward.
In this wilderness I have found purpose in my pain, but my life looks and feels unrecognizable to me. Before he died, my purpose was to simply love like Jesus, be a good citizen and raise 3 honest, loving, responsible humans with my husband. All of that remains but I have had to work really hard at finding a way to still be Caleb’s mom, even though he’s gone. When I cook for his friends and invite them over to hang out, I feel like I’m still being his mom by taking care of his friends. When I founded The Caleb Cares Project, I am still being his mom by making sure his name and legacy continues to do good in this world. When I share about his authentic faith and big heart, I’m still being his mom by protecting his integrity and character. When I share about his and my mistakes and failures, I’m owning that he wasn’t the perfect child nor am I the perfect mother. Finding ways that I can still be a mom to Caleb is a very lonely, sad and confusing place to be. I mean, that just sounds weird, right? I’m trying to be a mom to my son who is dead! I wasn’t done raising him and I wasn’t done being his mom. We still had so much to learn and do together! As I press on, I will always be looking for ways my pain can be used for a purpose, and I trust God and others will continue to show me how as well.
While the wilderness is vast, dry and lonely, God has met me where I am in every step of this journey. It has not been easy, but it is worth it. I am always in state of prayer or quiet reflection. I recently heard of this practice in a podcast and I’m going to take it on and make it my own. At the end of each day as I will become more aware of God’s presence, I will reflect on the day from a place of gratitude, I will pay attention to any emotions that rise up, I will choose a moment of light from the day and pray from that place. I will release the day and look forward to tomorrow. I will reflect and journal about where God showed up in my day to help build my trust, faith and hope in him again. I never fully lost any of those but they sure have dimmed down a lot since the horrific Monday night my son died, so I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear him in all I do.
As I’ve wandered, I’ve found amazing people, helpful practices and much needed peace along the way. In my deepest misery, I chose to reach out to God for his grace, mercy and goodness. I’ve chosen to remember God’s faithfulness in the past and trust him with hope and confidence in all the uncertainties the future holds. Grief suffocates and the pain of child loss is paralyzing, but I trust God even when I cannot see him. We do not move on from grief or get over loss, we simply choose to lean in and go on knowing that we are not alone and not abandoned. Whisper, cry or scream out in honest lament to God, then rest in his promises to see you through the wilderness. In the early days, weeks and months I thought I need answers in order to go on. I needed and wanted answers to why Caleb died by suicide and why God allowed it. I eventually realized and understood that I can be at peace without having answers. I’ve had to lay it down time and time again, but peace does dwell within me and it has made all the difference.
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