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“You’re Not My Mommy”

February 9, 2020 — Laura House

Nathan was always incredibly tender-hearted and kind. All three of my kids share that quality. He was also rambunctious and ornery, giving me a slew of funny memories to treasure, and he exhibited honesty to the core. He couldn’t lie. I remember Gary coming home from work one day only to find that the brick walkway he had just built was partially dismantled. We both knew it had to be Nathan. Calling him out into the yard, Gary asked him if he had done it. Nathan thought for a moment and with great solemnity responded, “Dad, it was either me or someone else.” Pretty slick. All three of my children were very obedient, sensitive, and truly wanted to do what mom and dad needed them to do. But they had their moments—as we all do. Probably the worst that Nathan ever did was to terrify a sweet, 15-year-old babysitter.

Hiring a babysitter was a rare occasion at our home, and he didn’t like them. In adulthood, we all joked about the phrase he once adamantly hurled at a kind sitter who was simply trying to maintain peace, “You’re not my mommy!” But on this particular day, one of the teenage neighbor girls had come to babysit and the low-down from the older kids after the incident was that Nathan kept opening the sliding glass door to play in the snow on the patio. Apparently, after repeatedly asking him to stop opening the door and letting the frigid air in, the sitter had no choice but to finally put him on a “time out” in our bedroom. After a few minutes, she went back into the room to check on him, but he was gone. The bedroom window was open and as she looked out, she could see little footprints in the deep snow. Frantically, she searched the yard and house in vain and finally phoned us, her voice quivering. “He’s not here. I’ve looked everywhere. I’ve never lost a child before!” Assuring her that he was probably just hiding, I headed home, not overly concerned.

I proceeded to go into each room, opening every closet and cabinet and calling his name. Eventually, his full name came out as I demanded, “You come out right now! This isn’t funny anymore!” No response.  Frustration turned to panic as I saw the little footprints in the snow extending through the back yard out onto the golf course. He was nowhere in sight. I called my husband at his office, but he had no way home since I had taken our only vehicle. We decided to call the police. We needed help. Just as I began to dial, I heard a little voice say in a rather cocky tone, “Didn’t you think to look under here?” I had, in fact, checked under my bed, but my view must’ve been obstructed by the under-the-bed boxes stashed there. I was miffed.

When I took the sitter home that night, roaring silence filled the car. I paid her an exorbitant amount of money and never asked her over again. I’ve often wondered if she fully recovered from that incident and if she has children of her own now.

There were two other times when I thought we’d lost him; once at the mall around age five, and once at a water-park— another story of an over-zealous youngster with a mind of his own. I still remember the sheer panic, thinking he was gone, and the exuberant joy of finding him and knowing he was safe.

But this time, he really is gone, at least from earth. I won’t be finding him here again.

Today, as you and I grieve, we can also rejoice in the fact that this earthly life isn’t all there is. In fact, it’s just a speck of time, preparing us for our real life of eternity. Keep “running the race” with your eyes on Jesus. He will bring comfort and joy to your grieving soul, and purpose to the remainder of your earthly life. We’ll see them again, and this time, in the presence of our Savior.  

Heb 12: 1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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“While We’re Waiting”

February 2, 2020 — Laura House

CS Lewis wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

___________________________

There is something sweet and deeply comforting about being with others who are experiencing the same thing as you are. We made this discovery in 2017 at a special place nestled in the countryside just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, the While We’re Waiting Refuge for Bereaved Parents. Using a twenty-minute sand timer to keep us on track, each couple at the retreat shared about their beautiful child while a picture of them was passed around the circle. The children represented left earthly life due to acute illnesses, accidents, depression and suicide, congenital conditions, and cancer — every child so loved and so missed.

One of our favorite pictures

Sitting with a different couple at each meal, we forged lasting friendships while enjoying gourmet cuisine lovingly prepared by others who had also lost children.  At dusk, we took a plastic water lily with a tea light in the center, lit them, and released them in the pond in memory of our children. After dark, we sat around the fire pit, ate s’mores, and continued conversations. Finally, Sunday morning brought a beautiful time of worship together before we headed home. When we first arrived on Friday, no one knew each other and some admittedly didn’t want to be there. But when it was time to depart, we felt like family and no one wanted to leave. If you are a grieving parent, we hope you’ll consider going. There are other retreat locations around the country, monthly support group options, and a wonderful closed Facebook group that can minister to your heart.

Our weekend at the refuge also encouraged us to continue the work that we had already started, Our Hearts Are Home. At each OHAH gathering, we discover anew how being with other grieving parents not only is helpful to them but also continues to comfort us. We come together as strangers and leave as friends. But this shouldn’t really come as a surprise, should it? God’s plan for the church is that we live in community, that we “mourn with those who mourn”, and bear each other’s burdens. What a beautiful gift.

Perhaps you are reading this today and haven’t lost someone dear but you’ve encountered another kind of earthly suffering. I’m pretty certain that includes all of us. If you can honestly say that you haven’t yet faced adversity, just wait, because you will. We live on earth in a broken world that one day will be changed. But until that time, we will all face trials and sorrow and in the midst of it, we have the unique privilege of entering into other’s pain, pointing them to Jesus, and walking with them through the night.

“What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

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“Intentional Living”

January 19, 2019 — Laura House

My sister came to visit recently and brought me an ornately carved wooden box. Explaining that she had one at home also, she shared about what she had heard on a radio program and suggested that we try it.

Apparently, the average life span for a woman in the United States is 79.3 years. If you deduct your current age, you’ll see how many years you may potentially have left to live. Now of course, you or I could die tomorrow— that is a reality we know all too well. Or you could also live much longer than the average, like Gary’s Grandma Dee who lived to 104!

Leah and I decided that counting the number of days that we might have left would be too laborious, so we opted to count the weeks. Mine was 1604 and hers, 1704. Using a heart-shaped punch and paper in three different shades of red, we cut-out the appropriate number for each of us. Inadvertently, some fell to the floor while we were counting, so our boxes might not be 100% accurate, but we decided that they were close enough to serve their purpose. After positioning a cardboard divider in the box, we placed all of the hearts on the left side. 

Each week, we move one heart from the left side of the box to the right side of the box representing the week that just passed. The whole idea is to cause us to think about whether or not the past seven days were filled with intentional living. Adding a little twist to the idea, I decided to write notes on my hearts as I move them, printing the date and recording something that I’m thankful for or that was of eternal value. 

On one hand, it’s a bit sobering to observe the right side of my box filling up week- by- week, signifying the brevity of earthly life. But on the other hand, it’s a beautiful reminder that before too long, I’ll be reunited with Nathan, Mom and others I love, and be in the presence of Jesus. These little paper hearts are turning out to be the perfect prompt for me to be aware of my need to live each day intentionally, to focus on what is important, and to strive to live my life in a way that pleases the Lord.

If you are at the beginning of grief, this kind of thinking may not seem possible. I remember wondering if I’d ever care about anything ever again. My heart was broken beyond repair — or so I thought. 

Someday you’ll be able to think again about intentional living, and this time, it will be with an insight that only those who’ve experienced loss can see. Those insights will mold and shape you into a new person— the person you are meant to be.

“Teach us to number our days,  that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” — Psalm 90:12

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“Emergency Mode”

January 12, 2019 — Laura House

The moment I knew he was gone, I switched into “emergency” mode.

Actually, I’ve always been decent in emergencies, only crashing emotionally when they were over. Once when Nathan was nine, he was chasing Megan through the yard after a brother-sister squabble. Running into the house, Megan slammed the back door, her arm shattering the glass. Blood was everywhere and panic ensued. Ryan and Nathan were distraught, pleading to know if she was going to die, Gary was asking if he should call 911, and the neighbor child who had been playing with the kids was cowering in the corner watching the fiasco and asking if Meg was going to be okay. With the cacophony of chaos, it was hard to even think. Finally, seeing no other option, I shouted an expression that was never allowed in our house. “Everyone shut up!”

Silence followed my little outburst, and my mind assessed the situation. Although the wounds were deep, no artery had been severed. We were safe to wrap her arm in a clean towel, drop off the traumatized siblings and friend at someone else’s house with the assurance that Meg would be fine, and head to the hospital.

Our Sweet Nathan

The moment I heard that Nathan had died, I switched into emergency mode. After begging Jesus to help me trust Him, I began making phone calls to verify that he was really gone. There was no acceptance in my mind, only frantic attempts to talk to the right people to be sure that Nathan’s body would come home to us, to pack a suitcase to head to the airport, and to call our remaining children to tell them to hang on and that we were heading their way. I suddenly remembered that there would be a funeral and I needed to take pictures and memorabilia. It was surreal, but nothing could stop me from doing what was needed to “help Nathan.” Taking the biggest suitcase we owned, I gathered pictures in frames from around our house and dug through boxes to find his diploma, flight log, and other special memorabilia. It didn’t dawn on me that checking a bag with glass picture frames wouldn’t really work. Unpacking shards of glass on the other end, I discovered that truth.

I remember being shuttled to the airport by my compassionate employer, checking our giant bag at the counter and walking through the airport. Did we look like bereaved parents? I wasn’t sure what that even looked like. I remember the pleasantries of the stewardess and staff who had no idea where we were headed, my mind in a completely different place, whirling to grasp the reality of what had happened.

We walked numbly through planning two memorial services and had hours of conversations trying to comfort family and friends. There was precious time alone at the funeral home with Nathan’s body followed by a graveside service with family, laying his earthly body to rest next to my mom who had been buried less than sixteen months earlier. Exhausted, mentally and physically, we headed home, alone again and across the country from our other children.

The “emergency” was over. There was nothing else I could do. He was gone.

Then began the daily grind to continue living in the midst of the detective work of figuring out how and why he was gone. Could it have been different? Why did God allow this to happen? What were we supposed to do now? How could we go on?

Going to work, I stayed focused and tried not to let myself think about Nathan until I was back at home. And the nights? Soooo long. Before Nathan died, if I woke up at night and saw that there were several hours left until dawn, I was grateful for the opportunity to turn over and fall back asleep. But now? The nights never ended. Gary and I both lay quietly for hours, hoping the other was sleeping. Finally, one of us would ask, “Is it almost over yet?”, relieved to see the sun peeping through the blinds.

Some days, these memories of Nathan from nearly four years ago seem very distant, and other days, like it was yesterday. Grief is funny like that. But revisiting them today, I am deeply touched as I clearly see the hand of God holding us, comforting us, and using others around us to minister to our broken hearts.

Are you still in “emergency mode” today? I want to assure you that Spring will come again to your shattered heart. Be patient with yourself and express your deepest pain to the Lord without hesitation. He already knows your thoughts, loves you more than you can fathom, and will comfort you. Step by step, your wounds will be sutured together, leaving some scars from the battle — the reminders of a parent’s love, earthly loss, new-found trust, and the knowledge that our time here is short as we anticipate being reunited in eternity.

Isaiah 43: 1-3a “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

John 14: 1-3 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

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“My Promise”

January 5, 2019 — Laura House

For his whole life, he had dreamed of having a BB gun. I say his “whole life” but he was still a little guy. The requests for this item actually began around age five, after seeing his older cousin’s, and they resurfaced every Christmas. Thinking I was safe in my answer, I confidently stated, “If we ever live on a farm or out in the country, you can have a BB gun.”  That seemed logical and reasonable to Nathan, so the asking ended for a couple of years. But when he was ten years old, we moved to a farm.

I was so excited and grateful to be back in the country, a place where my children could spend their days building forts, enjoying bonfires with friends, playing with the cats, exploring, making a museum in the barn with artifacts found around the property, tending a garden, studying from the front porch swing, and making movies with friends and cousins. The thought of BB guns never entered my mind.

But someone else did remember. Shortly after moving in, he dropped the bomb. “Mom! Now I can have a BB gun!”

My mind raced to find a reply that could honor my promise without actually delivering a BB gun, but I could find no solution to accomplish that. So, just like Ralphie in “The Christmas Story,” Nathan got his BB gun, and I hoped he wouldn’t “shoot his eye out.”

With trepidation, I watched as Gary showed him how to load the BB’s, how to carefully shoot and how to stay safe while having fun. He was so cute in his safety goggles, lining up the pop cans on the fence in the backyard and picking them off, one by one. He was a natural.

Keeping my promises was always a big deal to me. Sometimes life happened and the fulfillment had to wait, but my children knew that my word was good.

As I grieve Nathan’s passing, I am acutely aware that the Lord has promised many, many things to me and to you. I am discovering that His word is good— always.

Joshua 21:45 “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.”

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“What Can You Give a Grieving Friend? “

December 28, 2019 — Gary and Laura House

Before losing Nathan, our attempts to minister to our grieving friends fell short of what they needed. Even though our hearts were breaking with theirs, we really had no clue what to say or what to do to be a comfort to them. Now, people sometimes ask us what they can do for their grieving friends, so we’ve written down our thoughts. These aren’t in order of importance or helpfulness, but all of them may bring comfort to those you love.

Give the gift of helpful words.

Your words are powerful. At the beginning of someone’s loss, your words can bring comfort or distress; encouragement or anxiety. Grief is a tricky thing, and those who are walking in it need patient friends who will simply be there.

So what are some things to say or not to say?

Don’t say: “I know how you feel.” You really don’t. The reality of grief is that none of us fully knows how someone else feels. If you’ve lost a spouse, we can’t completely relate to your grief because we haven’t lost a spouse. Even if you’ve lost a child, that child wasn’t ours.

Don’t say: “At least you have other children.” It’s true that the grieving parents we’ve met who have other children are very grateful for them because as parents, they love all of their children. However, the reality of having other children doesn’t diminish the pain of losing one. To see the fullness of this, ask yourself this question. Which one of your children would you want to lose?

Don’t say: “You’ll get over it.” They won’t. They lost their child, and that will never change. They won’t “get over it,” but they will walk through grief and be changed by it into a new person with a new identity. When we meet together with bereaved parents, they often talk of their family and friends expecting them to “move on.”

Don’t say:“It’s going to be okay.”  Not helpful. It doesn’t feel okay, and your grieving friend needs you to acknowledge that.

Don’t say: “You are so strong. I could never do that.” Wow. We’ve been told this one several times and still find it hard to respond appropriately. We have found strength we didn’t know we had, but we aren’t really strong. Never in a million years did we expect to lose a child, and if we had entertained the thought, we wouldn’t have believed that we would survive it.

So what can you say that is useful?

When the loss is fresh, there really aren’t many options. Our minds are numb, disbelief rules our thinking, and dozens of emotions are present and change from moment to moment. In this situation, the old adage “less is more” applies. The following comments are some of the most helpful things that people said to us right at the start of this journey. Their words let us know that they loved us, loved Nathan, and wanted to be there for us, even though we had no idea what we needed at that moment. The Bible says to “mourn with those who mourn” and that is what these heartfelt comments demonstrated to us.

“I am so, so sorry for your incredible loss.”

“There are no words. I’m so sorry.”  

“I’m so sorry. Please know that I love you and I am here for you.”

“I can’t begin to imagine what you are going through. I am so sorry.”

“I am so sorry for your indescribable loss and am praying for your family.”

Months down the road, there are other questions and comments that are useful. In the past, we might have asked someone, “How are you doing?” We genuinely wanted to know and didn’t realize that the question wasn’t appropriate. Our question usually forced an answer of, “I’m fine.” No, they weren’t fine. Our question put them in a difficult spot. Today, we ask someone, “How are you doing with grief? “ It acknowledges their reality.

Here are some other good options:

“I really want to know how you are doing through this very difficult time.” 

“I imagine that the holidays might be really hard when you’re missing _____. How are you really doing?” 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about you and ____. I can’t imagine how much you must miss him. I would love to be a blessing to you. What can I do to be helpful?”

Give the gift of listening.

One of the biggest gifts you can give a grieving person is simply the gift of listening. Don’t offer advice about things you haven’t experienced. Just listen. Sit with them and don’t try to fill the silence. At the beginning of the account of Job, his friends had it right. Without giving advice, they just sat with Job and grieved with him. If you’ve read the Book of Job, you’ll know that his friends’ helpfulness went downhill from there.

Cry with them when they are crying and be honest about not knowing what to do for them. Simply say that you don’t know how to help, but you want to be a blessing to them. They probably don’t know what they need either, but still ask.

Down the road, even years down the road, listening is still one of the best gifts to give a friend. Invite them to talk about their child.

Give the gift of remembering.

Even though you may be uncomfortable saying the child’s name or be afraid that you might cause hurt or pain, trust us on this one, your friend wants to say and hear others say his/her child’s name! One of the greatest fears of a bereaved parent is that people will forget the beautiful human being that their child was. If you are a bereaved parent, then you’ll concur that our children remain an important part of our family— forever.

For us, the desire to hear Nathan’s name, hear stories about his life, and hear from his friends and family about how important he was to them and how much he is missed, grows stronger as the years go by. The most valuable gift anyone can give us now is a photo, story, email that Nathan sent them, or just a note telling us that they miss him too. If you know someone who has lost a child, these are simple yet tangible things that will mean the world to them.

Give the gift of action.

When one of our friends loses a child, we want to DO something. The most horrible thing we can imagine as parents has just happened to them and we want to help. So, here are a few practical things that truly are a blessing to them when their loss is new.

  • Drop off meals in disposable containers that don’t need to be returned.

But don’t place expectations on them to want to talk. If they don’t ask you to come in, just drop it off, tell them you are so sorry, you love them and are continuing to pray for them, and then leave. Contact other people to make meals, but gather the food and deliver it yourself. It can be hard to face a multitude of people when you are grieving. Meals that can be put in the freezer are a blessing and can be popped into the oven on those inevitable days down the road when your friend simply can’t prepare a meal. Gift cards to a local restaurant that offers take-out are also appreciated.

  • Send cards—lots of them.

In our day and age, most people don’t send “snail mail” but only rely on emails and texts. Those are great, but grieving parents may not be at their computers or on their phones. A card, expressing your love and an encouraging Scripture verse, can help soothe the soul. Remember, most cards will come within the first few months. Keep sending them after that time, when most people have forgotten and moved on. One friend of ours sent us a card every month that first year and it meant so much to us.

  • Offer to take your friend’s remaining children to classes, appointments, or whatever commitments they have.

Be gentle and loving to those children who have just lost a sibling. They are devastated as well. Don’t ask, “How are your parents doing?” That question ignores the pain the sibling is experiencing. If it’s appropriate at the time, let them know how sorry you are. A teen we know recently lost her sister. Our comment of, “I’m so sorry about your sister,” caused a simple response of “thank you” but the look in her eyes was that of great appreciation. Every time our paths cross, she is quick to say hello and clearly feels comfortable around us.

  •  Send a text, email, card, flowers, or a small memory gift on special days. Or pick up the phone and make a call.

Birthdays, “Heaven”-days, and holidays can be exceptionally difficult. On one of Nathan’s birthdays, one of his friends from engineering school connected with a few other students and sent a beautiful flower arrangement with an even more beautiful note. It’s hard to express how special that was to us. Just knowing that friends remember the day is such a comfort and help. Even a text or Facebook message can be a comfort and blessing.

  • Pray for your grieving friend.

Pray that they will find a way to truly trust Jesus. Pray for comfort. Pray that the Lord will give you opportunities to show them love.

  • Try not to forget.

Your life is moving on, as it should. But for your friend, the process of incorporating this new identity into their way of life will take a long time. Please don’t forget about them when the crisis seems to be over — when everyone else returns to normal life.  In his book, Grieving the Loss of a Loved One, H. Norman Wright explains, “For many who have lost a child, it can take six to ten years to stabilize.” That’s a long time. After having the privilege of gaining friendships with a host of bereaved parents, we see that even after a dozen years down the road there will still be moments of grief. When you acknowledge that your friend is still missing their child, you give them a priceless gift. Call, email, write, and pray. We are all privileged to live out Galatians 6:2. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

To the multitude of precious people who have ministered to our family in so many ways for nearly four years, thank you again from the bottom of our hearts. We thank the Lord for you.

”A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

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“Christmas”

December 22, 2019 — Laura House

Christmas was a special time for us. When the kids were young, the day was usually spent with extended family, where the cousins performed an annual Christmas pageant in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room. This drama often had drama of its own, like the year that one cousin wanted to use a Barbie doll to depict baby Jesus in the manger and Megan, horrified at the thought, adamantly disagreed. As the kids got older, the pageant continued because there were still little ones that wanted their shot at being a wise man or a shepherd. Those years, the teen participants served as narrators or directors.

After our kids were in college and we had moved to a different region of the country, we enjoyed a relaxing celebration together. Sometimes we would attend a Christmas Eve service or watch a movie rendition of the birth of Jesus. We still prepared our fancy Christmas morning brunch, always consisting of a breakfast casserole, sausage links, buttery grits, orange rolls, (Nathan’s favorite), cinnamon rolls, and fruit. Opening gifts from each other on Christmas morning, there was genuine excitement — the giver filled with anticipation to see the recipient open the gift they had carefully chosen for them. From the time our children were old enough to give gifts to each other until adulthood, they delighted in being the gift-giver. I remember one Christmas when Nathan had purchased a marionette puppet for Megan at the Wilmore Community Center thrift shop. Watching her open it was the highlight of his day. Although we were never expensive gift-givers, the gifts always had meaning and were treasured by the recipient.

Nathan and the “Firebird”

Then there was the year that Nathan got his much wanted remote control airplane, the Firebird. Even though it was nearly zero degrees outside, he just had to launch its maiden voyage that day. As the rest of us huddled close to the window to watch, he trudged through the snowdrifts out to the field, tossed the plane in the air like a pro, and expertly guided it with the remote control. Flashing a giant grin at the window, he was oblivious to the fact that a giant maple tree sat squarely in the path of the little plane. After the unfortunate crash, Gary bundled up, duct-taped two long pieces of furring strips together, and fished the Firebird out of the tree. After repairing one wing, it was good as new—almost.

As fall approached that first year without Nathan, and our family discussed calendar plans, there was an elephant in the room. What would we do with Christmas? The traditions of former Christmases and cherished family times no longer seemed possible. After a few contemplative moments, Megan voiced what we all were thinking and posed a solution. She stated that clearly there was just no way to recreate our family Christmas as we had always known it because Nathan wasn’t there. And she was right.

None of us are good “pretenders” and besides that, all of our hearts and minds were grieving. Megan suggested that we start a set of new traditions. On Christmas Eve, we had a nice meal together then opened our gifts that evening, something we had never done before. When we woke up Christmas Day, there was no pressure to “recreate” what we had treasured all those years, but just a time to be together.

How about you? Some people find comfort in continuing the exact same holiday traditions they have always enjoyed, while others need to do something new. Spend those days in whatever way seems best to you. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself grace. Is there a friend or family member who could spend the day with you? These holidays and milestone dates, like birthdays and Heaven days, may seem unbearable now. But in the future, and for some it is several years in the future, these days will become times to reflect on cherished memories that will bring solace and gratitude. Incidentally, our third Christmas without Nathan, we returned to our old traditions.

In a few days, we’ll attend a Christmas Eve service together and have our morning brunch and gift exchange. Although missing Nathan will always remain, we have joyous memories of the beautiful times together at Christmas and are able to talk about them.

It’s interesting how differently I see everything now as if I’ve gotten to pull back the thin veil that separates this earthly life from our future life in eternity. Many of the things that seemed so important before are put in proper perspective. What is Christmas? It’s all about God loving us, His creation, so much that He made a plan to redeem us.

Luke 2: 10-12 “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [eChrist the Lord.”

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“Hidden Treasure”

December 15, 2019 — Laura House

I lost my mom fifteen months before Nathan. Unbeknownst to anyone, she had pancreatic cancer that had silently been ravaging her body. From her diagnosis to entering Heaven took less than two weeks. I could write an entire book on how important mothers are, what a dear friend she was to me, all that I learned from her, and how much I miss her.

A few months after mom was gone, my sister, dad and I went through her many filing cabinet drawers and boxes of papers and were amazed to see the sheer volume of cards, letters, school papers and other things she had saved. Not only were they saved, but she had dated them and often had included a notation explaining the circumstances. We were digging for gold with every new box. Remember all those “lovely” pictures and art projects your children made that you said you’d “send to Grandma” so you could still have room to live in your house?! She had saved those too. I didn’t know then how grateful I would soon be for those items.

After Nathan was gone I panicked, wondering if I had saved anything from his childhood. Gary and I dug memorabilia boxes from the attic and rifled through every single paper in all five filing cabinets, looking for treasure. Weeping with relief, we found notes Nathan had written to us, filled with his witty humor. There were Mother’s and Father’s Day cards, school papers, drawings, art projects, and pictures that had long been forgotten. And there was another treasure.

Gary had logged every family event and the activities of each child on a yearly calendar and had filed them in our fireproof box, thinking he might like to look back at them someday. I always thought that wasn’t really necessary, but “to each his own.” But now?! He was my hero. I reconstructed twenty-five years of Nathan’s life and all of our family activities on a Google document.

My husband was also the one who took too many pictures on our vacations — or so I thought. Now, my gratitude is boundless for the hundreds of pictures, posed and candid, that he captured as we did life together. “Ok everyone, just one more picture.” We’d groan and go along with the request, and oh how glad I am.

At the beginning of my loss, every piece of memorabilia was viewed with a lump in my throat and a weight in my chest. Many tears were shed, questions renewed, and prayers spoken to Jesus, once again asking Him to help me trust Him. But now? These items are all around my house. On my refrigerator hangs the stick figure drawing he made as a child labeled “Nathan, Mommy, and Daddy.” My office bookshelves hold his engineering textbooks, pilot’s flying log, high school graduation diploma, Lord of the Rings figures, two mechanical pencils, a circuit board, and other memorabilia under a shelf filled with pictures of the kids from childhood to adulthood —always best friends. The living room is filled with family pictures and Nathan’s college diploma, honor cords, and honor society pins are displayed. Clothing items, motorcycle boots, and work gloves have a place in the closet and my wallet holds a Foxytronics business card. All of these things bring comfort to me, helping me remember the moments we shared.

I’m thankful that the objects that once brought so much pain have become treasured friends. If these things still bring you crushing pain, know that someday they will become cherished items that will bring a smile to your heart. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time. There is no rule or time-table for grief.

And above all, trust Him.

Psalm 91:1-2 — “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

This note is one of my “treasures.”

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“Questions”

December 9, 2019 — Laura House

The dreaded question seemed to be everywhere after Nathan died. “How many children do you have?” Nearly every new person I met seemed loaded and ready to ask. It was as if I had a sign on my back. After settling into my seat on a flight, I’d say hello to the person next to me. With one look into their eyes, I could see it was coming.

Photo was taken by Nathan as he traveled to Spain.

At first, I anticipated the painful question with a racing heart, my mind considering the options of how to respond. If they asked, “Do you have any kids?”, I could potentially say yes and mention what my other two were currently doing. After all, they were just trying to make pleasant conversation and didn’t really care. But when they asked for a number, I needed to say three. I have three precious children— one of them just isn’t here. But the obvious problem with “three” was the risk of more questions. “How old are they?”, or “What do they do?” It went deeper and deeper.

In the beginning, my thoughts were about me and how I felt when someone asked me those questions. But pretty quickly, I started feeling bad for them— the innocent, unsuspecting person simply trying to be friendly. I knew the horror they would feel if I answered truthfully.

So what did I say? Usually, I’d say “I have two kids here and one in Heaven.” I said it with a smile on my face, hoping to circumvent the uncomfortable territory they were entering. It was their turn to have a racing mind, trying to figure out what to say next. Usually, it was, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I’d say thank you and hope that the conversation topic would change. Sometimes they raced from the topic as fast as possible, but much to my dismay, a good number of people kept asking more questions. “What happened?”, “How did you lose him?”, “How old was he?”, “Oh, I can’t imagine?” I can’t either!

If they were simply making conversation to bide the time, I didn’t share anything more with them. But surprisingly, most people genuinely showed compassion and wanted to know what could’ve happened to the child of this stranger they had just met.

Rather quickly, something started happening inside of me through these conversations. You see, somehow in the midst of my own grief, I had momentarily forgotten that everyone around me was also living on earth and facing struggles, grief, and pain— many of them without the hope that I have in Jesus.  As I shared about Nathan, they usually started talking about a loved one they had lost, a child they were worried about, or their own depression and struggles. A momentary friendship was born as they confided in me, a total stranger. Often, my conversations ended with an exchange of emails, and always with me sharing about GriefShare.org. Everyone knows someone who has lost someone.

Today, my perspective has drastically changed and I’m curious to see who I’ll meet in the next plane, waiting room, church pew, or grocery line. Sometimes I just share a little and the person is off and running, telling me their whole life’s story. Other times, I accidentally end up “spilling my guts” to an engaged audience asking for more. And often, I’m next to someone who pleasantly says hello then pops on their headphones, so I’m able to get some work done. 

I’m grateful for the new eyes I have to see the opportunities around me to touch the lives of others. Admittedly, I don’t always notice them, as the cares of earthly life sometimes obstruct my view, but I truly hope to continue to grow in hearing and heeding the Spirit’s prompting.

“How many children do you have?” My answer to that question today is still the same. “Three. Two live here and one is in Heaven.” But my answer is no longer accompanied by palpitations. Sadness? Yes, always — but also incredible gratitude that I was given the remarkable gift of having “three on earth” for twenty-five years.  Like you, I look forward to being reunited again in Heaven.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 promises, For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

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“Thanksgiving”

December 1, 2019— Laura House

The last few weeks have been difficult. Grief is funny like that. Like a lion stealthily hunting its prey, you never know when it’s going to sneak up and grip you again.

Nathan loved Thanksgiving. It was his favorite holiday. He loved to eat.

We gathered with extended family and the cousins made movies, played board games, and spent hours talking and laughing.  We ate more than we should have— turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, spinach salad, rolls, Watergate salad, and assorted pies. (Just typing these words makes me recognize the disproportionately high level of carbs!)

But this morning, I woke up and realized, like almost every morning, that you weren’t here. The empty feeling returned— sadness, and a longing to see you walk through the door and to give you a big hug— to hear you laugh with your siblings and cousins and talk with grandparents, uncles, and aunts.

I let my mind unearth memories of previous Thanksgivings and tears flowed. But in the midst of my grief, I became keenly aware of the beautiful gift of Nathan’s life, given to us for twenty-five years. I thought of him enjoying the meal, leaning back in his chair with a satisfied sigh, and always, his gratitude. In fact, after nearly every meal I ever made throughout his entire life, he said “thank you” and commented that it was “great,” then took his plate to the sink. How I miss that. Thank you, Lord, for the precious memories.

I wonder what he’s doing now? The Bible really doesn’t give many details about Heaven, but if there is feasting, it will far surpass anything we could begin to prepare down here.

If you are remembering a loved one today or in the midst of another trial, I hope you’ll know anew God’s unconditional love for you. He cares about the details of your situation and is faithful to be with you through it, to guide you and comfort you. I love the words of David written in the Psalms, as he pours out his heart, and oftentimes his fear and grief. In the familiar Psalm below, the recognition of the faithfulness of God is displayed. Indeed, we are held by the Creator of all.

Psalm 23

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.  He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. ­–­You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”


“Our Hearts Are Home”

November 23, 2019 — Gary and Laura House

Welcome to our blog and thank you for taking the time to let us share our thoughts with you. We hope in the posts to come that you’ll find encouragement, inspiration, and challenging content that is useful to you. However, for our inaugural post, we simply want to introduce ourselves and Our Hearts Are Home.

We’ve been married nearly 37 years, and have three amazing children — two who work in ministry here on earth and one who resides in Heaven. It’s this last one, Nathan, who left us unexpectedly in 2016, shattering our hearts and leaving us to grapple with a host of unanswerable questions that every bereaved parent faces. Why did this happen? Why didn’t God heal him? 

And then there were all of the “what if’s” and “should haves”. There are so many questions that grieving people struggle through. If you are one of those, then you understand. But over the past few years, we’ve accepted the fact that many of those unanswerable questions truly are that — unanswerable. 

Oftentimes grieving people struggle with questions about God. Does He truly love us? Can we trust Him? Like never before in our lives, we can answer a resounding “yes” to all of those questions. We understand more fully now that when we seek God in the midst of grief, hardship, or suffering, we enter into deeper intimacy with Him and experience the depth of His love for us.

Not too far into our journey of grief, we discovered the blessing of being with others who were also walking this road, and that is why Our Hearts Are Home was born. When grieving people come together, amazing things happen as fellow travelers share their stories, seek to encourage one another, and are challenged to trust Jesus, the only one who can truly comfort our broken hearts.

I Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

We are different people today as God has done something in our lives that can only be accomplished through suffering. Emerging from this experience is a clearer picture of the purpose of earthly life and a deeper gratitude for God’s abounding grace and unconditional love. 

Whether you are grieving the loss of someone dear, suffering in another way, or simply want to help those who are walking a difficult road right now, we hope you will enjoy listening to our podcast (Gary) and reading our blog (mostly Laura). And if you, like us, are waiting to be reunited with a child in Heaven, perhaps we will see you at an upcoming Gathering.

Many blessings to you.

Gary and Laura

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