Free Chapter From My Next Book: You’re Still Here – Surviving the Death of a Child

holding handsI’ve mentioned on Twitter that I’m working on a new ebook for people who have lost a child, or know someone who has. I’ll also release the book through CreateSpace as a paperback. It’s not going to be terribly long, and I’m not a doctor or therapist or big name celebrity pastor/author, so it’s not going to be terribly popular. But what it will be is honest. Perhaps too honest.

But as I’m writing for hurting people, that’s not a bad thing.

See, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for people who’ve buried a child. Be it a stillbirth, a miscarriage, SIDS, an early childhood illness or just the injustice of a fallen universe, a lot of people are hurting without many resources to comfort them. I don’ t know if it’s because those resources have a limited audience and therefore remain unknown or if companies and writers are simply unwilling to publish on the topic. It also may be that there are tons of resources available and I just don’t know how to Google search them.

I doubt that last point, though, because every time someone I know experiences a child’s death – be it personally or via friends and family – one of the first questions I get is always, “I’ve looked online for resources on this, but there don’t seem to be that many. Can you recommend something?”

The thought of writing something for hurting parents and family and friends has been in the back of my head for a while. I’ve put it off because A- I don’t have the platform to effectively write and sell such a book, and B- I’m not an official expert in the matters of grief. But I got a message from my cousin the other day on Facebook asking about resources for someone who’d just lost a baby. I gave her a couple of books that Rachel and I had read that kind of helped, and gave her some advice on what not to say or do around the grieving parents. And I realized: I don’t have to write the definitive book on surviving the death of a child. I don’t have to be psychologist or counselor or mega-pastor to speak from a place of wisdom.

I’ve lived it. And if I keep it short and sweet, and tell my story as a way of offering advice and insight, then that would be enough.

Part of writing is offering help to the people who read what you write. Whether it’s escape or insight or just a momentary sense of camaraderie, giving something to your reader is an essential piece of being a good writer. I know that enough people come to this blog on a search for information on stillbirth and child death to know that even a short book on living through such a horrific life trauma might help someone else grieve better. So I’ve put my other projects on hold for the moment in order to get this book done.

If you know someone who might benefit from this book, please be on the lookout for it’s release. I’m hoping to get it done relatively soon, with sections for both the grieving parents and the friends and family of the aggrieved. It’s not going to be lengthy – maybe 30,000 words all told, but it will be sincere. If you work for a funeral service or maybe as a grief counselor or hospital chaplin, I’d love to send you a manuscript file before I publish and get some feedback and a review for the book. You can fill out the form below if you’re interested.

For everyone else, you can have a free chapter from the book by simply downloading the sample via this link: Sample Chapter_You’re Still Here. The chapter is titled The God Dilemma and it’s a quick look at how the question of God comes into play after the death of a child. The file is read-only.

If you know someone who’s coping with the death of a child, please share this post with them. I’d love for them to know that someone understands, and that a resource is being developed to offer some help in their time of need.

Monster Fighters

ImageSo I’m sitting here this morning, listening to Jon and Ella play. Over and over Ella keeps emphasizing to Jon that the figures they are playing with are “monster fighters – they fight monsters so normal people don’t have to.” Anytime that declaration is made, it is quickly followed by a series of “Hi-yah! Bam! Smack! P-sht! Wee-boom!” sounds that illustrate just how thoroughly the monster fighters are kicking monster butt.

And I’m thinking: “I wish I had a monster fighter.”

I mean seriously – who wouldn’t want to have their own private monster fighter. Especially for the monsters that most of us face: doubt, depression, fear, uncertainty, and other creatures from the adult nightmare lagoon. How many of us wouldn’t love to call on someone else to handle the finances when they get tight, or the office when it gets too stressful? Or someone who could appear and deal with the baggage of our past in fell swoop? That would be awesome.

And even as I write this, Jon calls his monster fighter “Daddy” and Ella calls hers “Mommy.” There’s another monster fighter named “David” too, but I’m kind of hung up on Mommy and Daddy being the leads.

Because there are days when I don’t feel like fighting anyone’s monsters. There are days when I wonder if I have requisite power to fight my own. And yet that’s part of how my children see me: as their protector. Now, they have no delusions that I’m some sort of super dad (Jon asked me the other day if I could lift a weight. A weight. Sad.), but they do know that daddy’s the one to run to when you don’t understand something.

Ella does this all the time; if she can’t wrap her mind around an injustice in the world, or a question about theology or God, she comes to me and we begin one of our hourly games of “The Third Degree” – where she mercilessly hammers away at me with questions until I either answer her to her satisfaction or I finally go insane and scream, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” To me, it can seem like an annoyance (and really, timing is generally the issue), but for her it’s a form of monster fighting: the world seems big and mean and scary, and she wants to know that there is a way to make sense of it all, find peace in the midst of the scariness.

So I help her fight her monsters.

As a father, that’s a pretty cool thing to realize. I’m not big and brawny and “manly-man” so the notion that my daughter still finds value in me – in a big old nerdy nerd – is even better than a Father’s Day card. In fact, instead of cards yesterday, I got a day full of hugs, thank yous, and “You’re the best dad, ever!”s. I also got approximately 100,000,000 questions between Ella and Jon, but those just laid the groundwork for the hugs, thank yous, and best-dad-evers.

It was a glorious day.

Who are the monster fighters in your life? To whom do you turn when the situation gets scary and you need consolation? We may not have our own private Indiana Jones or Superman at the ready to battle the evil we encounter, but we probably have more resources than we know.

So who’s helping you fight today?

Quick Question

I have the Question page at the top of the blog, a personal hope that from time to time people would give me ideas to write on. It gets used infrequently (and that’s being charitable), so I’m going to ask those of you who follow the blog to take advantage of it and help me get out of my writer’s funk.

It doesn’t have to be a question. It can just be a suggestion of a topic you think I’d do well with.

Thanks for the three of you who might do it! I appreciate it. :)

Human Too

I’ve written a lot about what it means to be human. It’s one of my favorite subjects, because it’s endlessly fascinating; the idea that we, the human race, so varied and multifaceted in our makeup, still share so much in common – well, it’s a writer’s dream. Usually, my observations come from reading things people write – magazine articles, books, blogs, comments on blogs – but this past Saturday, I took a group of people into Atlanta to work with Seven Bridges to Recovery, a Christian group that works with the homeless.

We went all over the city, into places that the average person would never dare go, not for any reason. Under bridges. Into abandoned apartment complexes. Down streets with nothing but abandoned houses. Everywhere we went, the result was the same: people, beaten down by life, coming out of the woodwork for a simple grocery sack and a hug.

The cynic might read this and say, “Well, they are where they are because of the choices they’ve made.”

The cynic is right. Several of the people we met on Saturday have made excruciatingly bad choices. In some instances, appallingly bad choices. Some even confessed to their dysfunctional lives with candor.

Said one man, formerly a professional boxer, “This isn’t what I wanted for my life. But I didn’t choose very well. It’s all on me.”

But the cynic also needs to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with them and know that not everyone gets the same kind of choices. The cynic needs to hug someone who has HIV, and hear that person say, “You’re the first person without gloves on to touch me in three years.” The cynic needs to look into the eyes of a young woman who, along with her 18 month old daughter, takes a meager sack of food with great shame, not because she’s made bad choices but because she doesn’t feel like she’s worthy of making good ones. The cynic needs to see a book, well-worn and marked with notes, lying beside a flimsy cardboard bed, held open by a pair of discarded women’s reading glasses, reminding anyone with eyes enough to see that even the most destitute still have minds and souls that need nourishment.

The cynic, as is often the case, needs to get out more.

I stood underneath bridges and smelled the overwhelming stench of human desperation. I watched as men, drunk by midday, sheepishly took a bag with a juice bottle, bag of Funyuns, and a tiny sandwich as if it were a five-star meal. I prayed over a woman named Missy who was so high on crack that she couldn’t speak a coherent sentence; whose body was so ravaged by her addictions that she only had half her top teeth and half her bottom teeth, neither on the same side. Her face was contorted hideously just to line up one top and one bottom tooth in order to take a bite.

What we did was stare into the face of a problem that we can’t possibly begin to fix. Some people can’t be saved – I know that. But some people can be. And if handing out sack lunches, hugs, and a reminder that the homeless are human, too, might bring one person off the streets, then it’s well worth it.

It was for our guide on Saturday, a young man named Jay who’d previously been homeless for over a decade. He was once an addict too. He’s been clean, sober, and off the streets for almost six months, thanks to Seven Bridges. He told the group on Saturday, “Today is my 170th day off them streets, tomorrow is 180, and that’s huge.”

He also told us, “Them people, they need love too, y’all. A little love can do a lot, if you’ll show it.”

He was right – a little love goes a long way.

We’ll go back in October, and on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, re-issuing humanity one sack lunch and hug at a time. We meet on the last Saturday of the month at 10:30 at my church, if you’d be interested in going.

It’s amazing, but true: in making other people feel human, you feel human, too.

A Blur of Mini-blogs

Since I have thoroughly sucked lately at keeping this blog updated, I’m thinking it might be time for a series of micro-blogs–short, to the point ramblings on whatever happens to be tooling around in my head. There’s a lot going up there these days, and there’s just not enough time to chase every thought down and give it full voice.

So, that being said, today’s first micro-blog:

Our church is sending a team to the Dominican Republic to do some construction work and general d0-goodness the week of July 21-28. The cost per person is roughly $950 (plane ticket, meals, lodging, taxes) and we’re going to try and raise as much money as we can to help make the trip more accessible during these tough economic times. While there are traditional fundraisers (anyone up for some no-name chocolate bars?) and standard fundraisers (all hail the spaghetti dinner!), I’m thinking of something a bit outside the box.

I have an old journal that I kept on my very first mission trip, a one-week excursion to Jamaica in 1999. I was 23 years-old, just getting my preaching feet under me, and wanted desperately to see what God might do through me to spread the Gospel. I kept that journal every day, jotting down every observation that I could think of–spiritual or otherwise.

So I’m thinking that I might take that journal, along with some new essays on missions and the need for laypeople to “Go!” (as Jesus commanded), and turning it into a book that could be ordered. All profit from the books (every last dime above cost and shipping) would go towards the mission trip in July.

Good idea? Let me know what you think in the comments (or on my Facebook page).