Monday, November 7, 2011

Bedtime Prayers With Josh

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take

Did you ever pray that prayer, I wonder, sweet boy whom I have never even met? I see your face smiling out of the newspaper and I think, What a happy kid!

But nothing is as it seems, is it? The world just held too much sadness for you, and it made you overwhelmingly sad trying to make sense of the whole thing. 

To escape it all, did you think of Heaven? Of Jesus, who said, "Let the children come unto me"? You believed and were sure that Heaven is a happy place, a place of no more sorrow or suffering. There would be no anxiety or pain there, either.

After I got the news, I wandered around, praying for your family, praying for my family and especially for "my" two boys, one of whom is a particular friend of yours.

And I came across this box of tiny ornaments. There was only one box of them, and there were no other ornaments like them anywhere in the store:

Of course people are starting to think of Christmas so love, joy, peace ... but hope?

The Hope ornament was pointing away from the other three, almost as if it felt like it didn't belong, almost as if it were turning its back on L J and P.

I tried to imagine what must have been going through your mind that last morning. Had you arrived at the place of no hope?

That morning as you lay in bed, maybe your prayer was more along these lines:

Now I lay me, wide awake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
If I should die before I sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep

And, dear one, that is exactly what He did. 

He didn't want to have to do it, not yet - ahhhh, precious boy, He had such great plans for you here on earth! This is what He said in Jeremiah chapter 29 and verse 11:

For I know the plans I have for you - 
plans for peace and not for calamity, 
to give you a future and a hope ...

But when you're 12 it's exceptionally hard to think of long-term plans, hard to think of much beyond the effort it takes to get from one day to the next. With all the wars and calamity in the world, and all the struggles in our own lives, it seems like there's little chance for peace.

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you

This is what God said in Jeremiah 31:3. God loves you everlastingly. He loved you from before your mother was even pregnant, before you were even born, before you were taken to your home. Impossible as this sounds, He loved you before He even made the world. And He knew about this day. He was sad, so very, very sad, about this day; but because He has given each of us the freedom to make up our own minds He had to let you go through with it. However, even though He knew what was going to happen, He didn't stop loving you - an everlasting love doesn't just reach backward; it goes forward as well, into all eternity.

You're starting to understand about eternity now, aren't you, dear Josh? Are you seeing how the pain - although awful and soul-crippling at the time - is really only a tiny part of eternity for someone who loves God? And there is no doubt that you love God.

But now there is more pain, unimaginable pain, that has resulted from your leaving. The same chapter in Jeremiah could be talking about your Mom:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.

Your Mom is the one who found you.

From the moment she walked into the house - the house she will no longer ever really be able to think of as her home - and she saw her shattered boy, her heart was shattered into a million pieces. She loves you beyond belief, beyond imagining. And what was beyond her imagining had happened.

Your Dad and your siblings too. How do you explain to a grade twoer that Josh is alive in heaven but will never be coming home again? What do you say to a Dad who didn't even get to say goodbye to his son?

Right now they don't think they'll ever feel joy again. And for as long as they live, they will miss you, they will feel an aching gap in their hearts; in absolutely everything they do, they will on some level be conscious that something vital - the last piece to the puzzle - is absent. 

You have left a hole in your friends' lives as well. They loved being with you. When you all hung out together last Monday night, you seemed so happy. These same boys will now honour you by giving out bulletins at your funeral just over one week later.

Joy seems very far away from everyone who cares for you, from everyone who misses you and mourns for you. Even though they know you love God and are with Him, this is not how things are supposed to be and they are left with scattered thoughts and deep sorrow.

Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return
and come with singing unto Zion
and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
They shall obtain gladness and joy
and sorrow and mourning shall flee away

The key point for me in this verse right now is the word "obtain". The dictionary gives this definition: "To come into possession of; get, acquire, or procure, as through an effort or by a request." It comes from the Latin verb obtinere, to take hold of. It tells me that joy after pain is not an automatic gimme; the people who love you are going to have to ask God to restore their joy and their peace. It's going to take effort on their part, and they are going to have to hold on for dear life. The word procure means "to obtain or get by effort or the use of special means" - it is going to cost them to find joy again. It will cost them sleepless nights and days of jagged blankness; it might cost them their innocence, their ideas as to how life should be; it might cost them some of their health, mental, physical or emotional.

It will cause them to change the speed they have run their lives on. A friend of mine, Miss Lis, put it this way in words far more beautiful than I could ever dream:  "... a joy will be in the healing a journey that sometimes has the pace of still waters."

The greatest cost to them might be expressed in one of the smallest words: Why? So many questions will arise from your leaving. And one of the hardest parts is that so many of those questions will not be answered any time soon. Your loved ones will have to take the silence as an answer in itself until that day when you will be reunited with them in Heaven. The book of Deuteronomy chapter 29 and verse 29 says, "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God." We might not have the answers for such a profound tragedy; but God knows it all - He has always known - and He promises us that some day "we will know as we are known," fully and completely. Asked and answered.

Joy will come for them - and when they have obtained it, sorrow and mourning will have to turn their backs and run away in the presence of this new-found strength. The joy of the Lord will be their strength, a much more tenacious strength than they have ever experienced before.

Which made me think about HOPE. Did everything seem hopeless, our Little Boy Blue? As I asked you at the beginning, had you come to the place of no hope?

I pondered this for many hours; and on early Saturday afternoon, as I was going about the duties of the day, my friends Joan and Rick came to the TH for lunch. "Have you seen the beauty outside?" they exclaimed.

I went outside, and this is what I saw and what I learnt:

The railing of the ramp had been transformed into a safety net. Close-up, it looked heavy and closed in ...

But when you take in the whole picture, you can see that beyond the barrier there is a path with a little hint of the sun shining, almost out of view ...

And my small lilac tree, the one no one thought would make it through the summer, looked like it was reaching toward God.

Just like Josh was, flashed the thought into my head. Just like the Joshua tree. Months ago, after a conversation with one of my nephews, I had looked up why the Joshua tree was named that in the first place, and this is what Wikipedia had to say:

The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree's unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. 

You don't know this, Josh, but ever since I received the gift of this tree I had searched for the right name for it. And in the unexpected first blast of winter, when I was thinking about you and looking at my tree, I knew that of course its name is the Josh tree, the tree reaching its branches in supplication to God, the living symbol at the TH of hope against all odds.

And that brought me back to the question of hope and you. Everything must have seemed to be hopeless to you that morning, except for one thing. And that one thing makes all the difference.

You never lost hope in God.

You believed with all your heart, with all your mind, that God would care for you, that God would make everything better. And so you wanted to get to Him, and you went the only way you knew how at the time.

Your last action on earth - dare I say it? - was a prayer. 

The angels, shuddering, covered their ears at the heart-stopping sound.

Creation groaned.

All of heaven fell silent.

And then the One you wanted all the time stepped forward. With tears running down His face, that beautiful face which had felt long, angry thorns rammed into it, He reached out His hands for you.

And as you crossed the line from time into eternity the One in Whom your broken heart pinned your last hope, with breaking heart Himself, grabbed onto your hands.

You had placed your hope in Him and He did not let you down. 

Just as I was turning to go back into the tea house, suddenly a sunburst danced over the edge of the verandah, radiant and joyful on this icy day.

And in that moment everything was white and pure. Everything was made new.

There will always be shadows that hover timidly in the background, a sombre reminder of what occurred, of what could have been. But there is hope; and because there is hope, peace will come, and love will survive. And eventually, painstakingly, joy will slowly emerge from its wintry cocoon and will unfurl its wings and fly into the clear blue morning.


  1. pain ripped through with glimpses of beauty. ♥

  2. so much pain invites us to step in ... Embrace. -- for we are all Connected

  3. Raw, heartbreaking..yet full of hope. My heart is ripped for the mother. Thanks for the paradoxical perspective of grief and hope. And what a beautiful name for the tree. How thoughtful and ripe with meaning.

  4. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading the leaves. It brings a sense of peace and calmness to me on some crazy days.

  5. Nice article. I cannot imagine how tough it is for the family. Praying for them.

  6. Encouraging words for parents and others. Encouraging for me. It is too bad Josh could not see the beauty of life. Will pray re the events of the day.

  7. No matter how dark or how long --

  8. A heartsong of 'The Josh tree' with adorned branches stretched high.. within the quivering shadows, hope is there.

  9. Crossing from time to eternity... there is always hope, because we have eternity. Thank you again for your words.

  10. Karyn, thank you for writing this amazing blog. You've so graciously described our wonderful boy and the terrible choice he made. We miss him desperately, but do cling to the hope that Jesus can give him the hugs that have been torn away from us and that one day we will be able to hold him again because of our shared faith in Jesus' victory over sin and death. We hope to plant a tree, maybe a "Joshua tree" in the yard of our new home. And thank you for the ornaments.

    1. Ahhh, Trish, I pray for you almost every day. And a verse that has come to me again and again the one where Jesus says unequivocally that HE is the resurrection and the life, and he that believes on Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live. (That's Josh ...) And whosoever lives and believes on Him shall never die. (That's you ...) This might not be the scholarly meaning, but the image of it has come to me repeatedly.

      One day you will hold your beautiful son again. xo

  11. Dear Sisters: Karyn, Trish and Di,
    I'm in the land where Jesus was crucified. A more horrible, public, destructive death there could not be. He knows what Josh experienced, what you the family went through. His pain hides Josh, and as the enemy confronts Him on this matter, He holds out his still-pierced hands and says, "Enough! It is finished." And that's the end of it. Josh is covered and whole, this day he is with Jesus in paradise. Two months have gone. A very short time, yet an eternity. Courage and love, and yet weeping, have marked every step. That is the way of the cross. I love you and pray for you all.

    1. Here we are 10 months later.... The pain is still so real and the questions so big. Why Josh? The unashamed public expression of tears and grief, have become private, sacred moments only to be shared with select few.
      I stumbled over this Blog today as I was looking for a specific email. Thank you from the depths of my heart to Bronwyn and "The Tea Bag". These words are to be treasured as your support and compassion

    2. Dear Di, I was thinking of Josh's family yesterday, it turns out at almost exactly the same time as you were posting this comment. I was at the funeral of a dear friend who had passed away at age 75 after a brim-full life, and I was contrasting that with Josh's abbreviated time here on earth. The questions loom large, and they will as long as they remain unanswered. The sad reality is that they will probably not be answered until we are face to face with the One who even now holds Josh in the palms of His hands, the very hands on which Trish and you and the family and those who love Josh are engraved, as Isaiah 49:16 tells us. Not just your names, but YOU. And if all of you, your very selves, are engraved on the palms of His hands, that means that Josh is no more than an arm's length away at most. In addition, Deuteronomy 33:27 comforts us with the reminder that "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms ..." Those arms are the ones attached to the same hands upon which we are engraved. This is what those two verses put together mean to me: The person who takes the time to engrave us on His hands has taken the time to know all about us more deeply, more intimately, than any other person ever could; and that same person's arms support us and bear us up without question, without hesitation, without judgment. There is no need for judgment because of what else those hands contain - the scars of the nails pounded into them on that darkest of all days in history when God's own Son lost his life ... when God's own Son GAVE his life ... in order that we might live, first on the earth and later in Heaven with Him. How God the Father must have wept that day as He had to turn His back on His Son who hung there, dying! No wonder Jensen wrote the song "Tears are a language God understands ..." (If you get the chance, go to . And notice the verse, Psalm 56:8, that is at the very end of the song.)

      Please know that there are others still mourning with you. God is collecting your tears in His bottle. Each one of them is precious to Him because He understands, as no one else can, the cost of those tears.

      With much love and continued prayer,

      The Tea Bag.


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