Pearls & Vodka

RIP, but what does that really mean?

When you become a parent, you have to take a lot into consideration; what car seat to buy, what crib to buy, did you plug up all the outlets, did you wash all the baby clothes, what detergent did you use, what will you name the child, who will be their pediatrician, natural birth vs. epidural, and once their born the list gets even longer. I can easily say being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done; and without a doubt, the very best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t get it right all the time, and frankly a lot of times I feel like I rarely get it right. We still have some outlets we come across in our house that we haven’t closed up, my son flipped over the top of his little chair and face planted on Sunday, our 100+ pound black lab Jax has been overly eager to see his human little brother lately and our son has taken some spills because of it. We just keep doing our best. Every day. We go to bed thinking about him, watching him sleeping peacefully on the monitor, we wake up at all hours of the night just to check on him while he snoozes away, we wake up and pick him up from his bed and hug him and love all over him. We post a zillion pictures every single day on social media of him. We talk about him constantly.

My husband and I love that little boy with every ounce of our beings.

Every single day, the very first thing I do, is pray. Hold the applause. That’s not my claim of Super Christianity. I do not wear a cape with a cross. My prayer is more of a begging on my behalf. It’s my SOS. My dial-a-friend. My prayer is not for all the riches of the world, though rest assured I would not refuse them. My prayer is simple, not eloquent, not profound.

“Thank you, God for another day. Forgive me for where I failed you yesterday. Please be the protection, provision, and portion of my family and friends. Give me strength for the day ahead to be the best wife, mother, and woman I can be. Surround my baby boy and husband with your angels.”

That’s it. Every day. 365 days a year. Rain or shine. Those same 53 words. Sometimes said groggily. Said often in the shower. But always said.

I’ve experienced a great loss in life. If you’ve read this blog for long at all, you have inevitably read about the loss of my father at the end of 2006. While the loss of my Daddy was horrendous and profound, I had hope.

For me, that hope is found in Jesus Christ and through Him the Salvation that offers everlasting life in Heaven.

And no, this is not a sermon, nor is it intended to persuade your thought process.

It’s really just a question.

How do people deal with death without faith?

I am not a religious person.

Yes, I go to church, no I don’t go every week.

Full disclosure, I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. I’ve even been to the Southern Baptist Convention. I wasn’t just a member of the congregation, I bought the t-shirt and showed up every Wednesday and Sunday, twice. Going to church, tithing, Lottie Moon Offering, no dancing, no drinking, no talking to boys that do. If there was a program at church I was in it, yours truly had a starring role as an angel in the famous, or infamous, Heaven’s Gates/Hell’s flames play. I knew the Roman Road to Salvation almost as well as I knew my ABCs, in daycare.

My first sign of rebellion was when we went to Disney World during the boycott of Walt Disney World, the first time, 1997 baby! At the ripe age of 14, I didn’t understand why an entire denomination of “loving church-goers” had decided to boycott the “happiest place on Earth.” The boycott was done in objection to Disney’s policy of giving health benefits to same-sex partners of employees and because of their “Gay Days” at theme parks. [1] Y’all! I was so worried my SBC-loving Daddy was going to cancel our trip. I just knew he would. He used to live, eat and breathe First Baptist and all things Baptist. I have no clue how it all played out; I’m sure I owe my Mom a big “thank you” for us still going, her bitterness over missing the fireworks there though is astounding, still, 20 years later. Thank God she has a Grandson to take back now!

I look back now on the controversial boycott, and I’m astounded, that I was so astounded, that the decision was ever made. I had always been accepted and loved in the two churches I grew up in. I made lifelong friends, developed my first crushes, got saved, got baptized and even went to a school that was attached to my church.

I should just throw this out there, that I mean no disrespect to those who invested in my life through those churches. I have very fond memories of my upbringing inside those walls. Those summer camps (even breaking my nose in a sink at youth camp at JBU), those mission trips, choir trips and special events are some of my favorite memories of my childhood.

But the idea of not accepting someone seemed so foreign to me then.

How could they want to boycott something that was attached to love? Sure, the love looked different than the love I grew up around. I had a mom and a dad, not two of one and none of the other. But it was still love. And I had been taught my entire life to “love one another, as Christ loves the Church.” And I was taught that Jesus loves us no matter what.

So, if Jesus loves us no matter what shouldn’t we love others, no matter what?

I grew up helping my Dad teach Sunday School for the developmentally disabled. I went with him during the summers to coach at the Special Olympics. My Dad never treated those men any differently than he treated every other man.

I just didn’t get it.

I was in high school when I started to “fall out of love” with the church. I still went until probably my junior or senior year. But I just didn’t love it like I use to. I had a lot of friends, so I wasn’t ostracized. I was well-liked by the leaders, so I didn’t feel like I wasn’t accepted. I just started finding things I’d rather do during the service times. I’m sure there are some sides of the story that could involve a boy, and friends, and all that jazz. But overall, it just was something I had gotten burned out on.

The older I got, the more I questioned.

I didn’t question my salvation; I knew I was a sinner, saved by the grace and love of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I knew my destiny was sealed in Heaven with God when I died. But I questioned all the rules, all the regulations, all the boycotts. I questioned the motives, the intents, the beliefs behind the rigidity I saw in the Church.

I just became disenchanted. And then I went away to college.

You always hear the statistics that something like 70% of teenagers who attended church growing up will stop attending during college. I still went occasionally. But let’s face it, the truth is sometimes we’d been out all night, or until the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes I wasn’t “feeling so good.” Sometimes the breakfast at Cracker Barrel was calling my name. And we just didn’t make it all the time, even though there were some fantastic churches in our little college town and pastors that we loved like Bro. Gary Turner at Third Street Baptist.

I went to a Baptist university. I was required in our liberal arts program to take a certain amount of Bible courses, including Bible Interp that required an exegetical paper. If you don’t know what that means, just think thesis during undergrad and large commentaries. We had chapel requirements every week. You could only miss a couple before you lost your chapel credit for the semester and ask the Men of Kappa Chi at OBU, you don’t want to lose a chapel credit and risk not being able to graduate on time, or ever.

After college, I moved to D.C. almost immediately. We use to venture out to an amazing church in McLean, Virginia that we loved. But honestly, we just didn’t make it very often, even though everyone in our house had theoretically been raised in and on church.

The more time elapsed between my weekly church attendance and the lack thereof, the less enchanted I was with the institution itself. I am a studier, and I studied all kinds of thoughts and ideologies. I never dabbled in other faiths, my faith, and my belief system never wavered.

Flash forward to my Dad’s death.

When you have the proverbial rug pulled out from underneath you, it can really shake your foundation. I’ve found myself wondering, with all the tragic events taking place in our world, how to people handle death, without faith?

Our family attends First Presbyterian Church here in Wilmington. And we love it. We love the people. We love the atmosphere. We love our little boy’s school and his teachers. We love our friends we have made. It was not their ideology that initially drew us in; it was their love. You just cannot walk into their school, or their church, and not feel the love. It’s got its issues, as all manmade institutions do. But it feels like a family. And sure, the rules are more relaxed than the Southern Baptist, and that fits our lives a little better. But more than anything, it’s just that comforting love that keeps us there.

This blog is not about joining a church or finding religion.

In fact, religion is probably more of the problem than the solution.

Your church can come alongside you, as ours did when my Dad passed, when there is a death. They can cook meals for you; they can clean your house, they can mow your yard. They can do a lot of tangible things. And they should, without a doubt. But while their actions may carry you physically through grief to some extent, they cannot carry you emotionally and mentally, and spiritually, through a death.

There are no hands and feet that can walk your path, but your own.

And that is a daunting reality.

You can attend all the therapy sessions your calendar will allow, and you probably should, but it won’t complete your journey for you. You can cry on every shoulder in town, and you might need to, but it won’t fast-forward you through the pain.

Death requires an internal battle of the heart and mind, one that requires grueling hours, days, months and even years to fight out. And you have to fight. You have to fight for yourself. You have to fight for your loved ones still here. You have to fight for the memory of the one lost.

My faith fueled my fight.

My fight was not pretty. It was ugly. Some days looked better than others. Some days looked heinous. Some days were unbearable, and I didn’t get out of bed. And some days were too much, and I just sat with a bottle of wine. Some days I was able to smile, and laugh, and carry on as if the world had not crashed around me. But most days that was not my truth.

I relied on my faith for one very important, life-changing, healing thought…

No matter how much I loved my Daddy, love was not enough to keep him here.

My faith teaches me that he is in Heaven today. He has no more pain. No more suffering. No more fear. No more worries and that man could seriously worry. He has no more shelves to dust, or laundry to iron. He has no more yards to mow, or hours to volunteer. He has no more classes to teach or devotionals to read. He is in the presence of his Savior. He is whole. He is at peace. He is at rest.

I would not wish him back here, even if I could I could never dream of taking him from such a perfect place.

And that’s a tough pill to swallow. But my faith helped me to do it.

So I just wonder, how do you deal with death, without faith?

How could I reason, or deal, or justify, or handle, my Dad’s death without my faith in where he is today?

In Hinduism, they believe in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls, but if you have bad karma and a life full of sins, you have to take rebirth again and again. [2] The Buddhists believe in a cycle of death and rebirth called samsara. Their end goal is to escape samsara and achieve nirvana, an end to their suffering. [3] In Islam, the Muslims believe that death in this realm is merely a movement from one world to another. [4] The Jewish religion believes that when one dies their body begins a purification process, some take longer than others, and then eventually the soul will be uplifted after purification and will peacefully wait for Olam Ha-Ba, or “the World to Come,” when they believe the Messiah will come. [5] Most commonly, Catholics believe that death is the passing from the physical world to the afterlife, where the deceased’s soul will live in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory; and when Christ returns, many Catholics believe that the bodies of the dead will be resurrected. [6] The Shorter Catechism explains, “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.” [7] Which is what I believe.

All that to say, religions view death differently, but there is a major tenant to every denomination that focuses on death and the afterlife.

Thomas Boston once said, “All men must die, but as men’s lives are very different, so their account in death is, also. To an ungodly man, death is loss, the greatest loss; but to a believer, it is gain, the greatest gain.” [8]

It seems as the years pass by, death becomes more and more prevalent. There are more accidents, more shootings, more diseases, more sicknesses, more depression, more mental illnesses, and more natural disasters.

Every single human being will be faced with death at some point. Whether their own or that of their loved ones.

So how does one deal with death, without faith?

I really have no idea. But I really am curious.

Shoutout to my awesome trainer Jaime Andrews; this quandary came up during our session yesterday and my wheels have been turning ever since!

[1] http://www.cnn.com/US/9706/18/baptists.disney/

[2] http://www.refinery29.com/religious-death-beliefs

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/zfts4wx/revision/3

[4] http://www.refinery29.com/religious-death-beliefs

[5] http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a43608/religions-death-and-afterlife/

[6] https://www.everplans.com/articles/catholic-funeral-traditions

[7] https://www.opc.org/sc.html

[8] https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/seminars/what-happens-after-death

Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash