The Eulogy

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I wanted to start out by saying that Bryce would have hated all of this. He didn’t like being the center of attention, couldn’t tolerate crowds, and over the last couple years had a hard time stepping foot into a church. Our family went back and forth as to what was right in honoring his memory while offering help and healing to those who mourn and we settled on the truth of Psalms 34:18 that says “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” So we stand for Bryce, in the Lord’s house, as a symbol of his brokenness knowing God was and is always close to him, both in his earthly body as well as his eternal one. We honor him by giving words to something he was unable to articulate independently. 

Lord Jesus, give me strength as I step out in obedience to do hard things and tell the story I have been unable to tell. Alone I am weak but you are my strength and my helper. I stand in that strength. Be glorified through these words. In your holy and precious name. Amen 

Bryce has always been my sensitive kid. Straight from the womb and onto my hip, where he spent the majority of the rest of his life. I was his person and he was my heart. As a boy he was a natural encourager. If he met someone for the first time he would go out of his way to make them smile and feel comfortable. He was sensitive to the emotions of others and always did what he could to help and never hurt. Mothering him helped to develop that aspect of my own personality for which I am immensely grateful to my boy. 

He had a typical childhood filled with family fun nights, good friends, camp outs, paintball, bonfires, lots of soccer, fun vacations to the beach, trips to the mountains, Disney, family visits to Ohio, Carowinds, and lazy summers at the pool. Now don’t get me wrong, we were far from perfect and had our share of quarrels like all families but we were always together and for the majority of his years here on earth he was happy. 

Faith has always been a priority for our family and Bryce was no different. I remember the day he excepted the Lord into his life as his savior. He was 8 years old and we were driving in the van just listening to music when he asked me to turn off the radio. I knew a deep conversation was about to ensue because he would often make profound statements or ask complex questions far beyond his years. He explained that he knew God was real, that Jesus died on the cross to save him from his sins so that he would one day get to spend forever with him in heaven. He asked me to help him pray so that God would know what he believed. So driving down 485 I was given the greatest gift a mother can receive. I heard my son give his life to the Lord. Shortly after, he made his public profession of faith and was baptized which was an amazing day of celebration. God used my young encourager in mighty ways during those years. He had a heart for serving the hurt and needy. When he was about 14 he went with his youth group to a men’s shelter to provide breakfast. My mama heart swelled when he returned home and told me about how he lead over 500 men in prayer as he blessed their meal. Naturally, he was elated when we told him about our plans to adopt. Bryce fell completely in love with Abram from the moment they met. Their bond was palpable. It was the one avenue of his life that he was able to maintain consistently through the end.

He was naturally gifted in academics. In his early teen years he began expressing an interest in becoming a dermatologist. It birthed from a love and fascination that so many young teenage boys have- pimple popping videos. Regardless we knew that if he stuck to it there would be no doubt he could be successful. So, for his 16th birthday I surprises him with some disgustingly delicious zit cupcakes which he and his friends had a fun time popping before devouring. 

Bryce was also a very gifted artist. He used his art for both pleasure and as an outlet for expression. Whether painting, sculpting, taking pictures, and most recently tattooing he found his voice through creativity. He and I share that love and have recently created several pieces together. This week his daddy was on the website that saves all of the kids school art pieces and we found something very interesting. In the 10th grade the little stink took something I had painted and submitted it as his own work. And get this, in the description for his art teacher he made the comment that he “could have done much better job”. Not only was I plagiarized but I was critiqued. 

We found out Bryce was sick on September 11, 2017 following his first suicide attempt. That seems silly to write as most people, including myself, assume signs of illness would present far before such a drastic event. What most people, including myself, fail to realize is that with mental illness there is no typical progression of symptoms. It is unlike most every other disease process. We were instantly thrust into a world of fear and confusion in which we quickly realized that the entities created to help our precious son were less than helpful. In fact we learned how abysmal they truly are. 

Despite the the brain being the most complex organ in the human body there is no lab work, X-ray, or scan that pinpoints the problem and guides physicians in a course of treatment. Doctors can’t cast a vision of hope and healing related to a procedure or medication because there is such limited research and information available related to effective mental health treatment. 

So what really happens to people with mental illness? We; ie healthcare, schools, law enforcement, society as a whole, expect a person with a diseased brain to fix it themselves. Listen to how absolutely backwards that’s sounds. The brain is so complex that decades of research by brilliant individuals has yielded minimal results of helpful treatment and yet societal expectation is that there be a level of personal control by the one who’s brain is sick. The part of their body that is diseased is the very part we expect them to use to help fix their disease process. Let that sink in. 

In comparison there are literally no other healthcare patients expected to take this approach to healing. We don’t ask a diabetic to will their pancreas into making insulin, we don’t expect someone with liver or kidney disease to generate enough new healthy tissue that the diseased tissue becomes obsolete, we don’t look at a cancer patient and blame them because their cancer cells are smart and have metastasized throughout the body. We absolutely do not do any of those things because that would make no sense, it would be counterproductive, and shameful, and cruel. Yet here me when I say this, and I say it in love, this is EXACTLY what we are doing to those who have an illness in their brain. We judge, we avoid, we demonize, we project our own fear onto them, we bully, we dehumanize, and we isolate. People struggling with mental illness are our generations castaways.  And sitting here with you all today, mourning the loss of someone who could no longer take the weight of that battle is unfortunately all too often the outcome. 

When Bryce was about three years old he and I were playing and something happened that had never happened before and has never happened sense. Sitting on the floor with his tonka trucks God spoke a direct word over my son. I heard a voice in my head say, “I’ve got something very special planned for the life of this child.” That truth and promise has never been far from me. My own personal vision for that promise has morphed from a picture of Bryce living for the kingdom out of sheer abundance, to God using Bryce and his struggles as a testimony of hope and restoration, to now this. I don’t have all the answers but what I can tell you with certainty is that God is sovereign over ALL things and His promises are true. God STILL has something very special planned for the life of my child. The Lord will use Bryce’s story as a vessel for truth in a broken world that desperately needs a healer. Let us all become mighty soldiers to stop the stigma of mental illness. Let us honor Bryce through our own sensitivity, kindness, and care for those who are hurting.

I close by saying that I find tremendous comfort knowing that Bryce is no longer a prisoner inside his own mind. All of his confusion and frustration is gone. All of the lies and voices of the evil one have been replaced with sounds of eternal praise. While he was unable to access that healing in his flesh God has restored him to perfection in his spirit. He is healed.

To God be the glory.

Wasted Pain

Today marks four months from the day that my life was forever changed. Much of this time has been spent in a state of brain fog.  Struggling in a strange parallel between reality and a cruel dream that I somehow still think I could wake up from. I fight to keep my thoughts in a straight line while reality invites me to slide back into the blurry, where comfort lives within the confusion.  In the fog I don’t have to admit how much hurt exists in this new reality. The pain is physical without a wound that can be seen, packed, or stitched. It is incomparable to anything tangible and unfathomable unless experienced. A pain that brings a distaste for this earth and a longing for heaven.  It abandons me between the tension of before, now and forever with the inability to rewind or fast forward to the end of torture and the beginning of paradise.   

Grief is raw, ugly, uncomfortable.  In a world grasping for substance it is real in a way that is fascinating for some and entertaining for others.  It is the video that you know ends badly but you can’t help but watch. I suppose it is normal for a person who has lost a child to feel exposed in a society void of boundaries.  I am a physical picture of every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s too much for most to step into true empathy. I receive condolences from strangers and acquaintances with gratitude while strangely feeling a responsibility to alleviate their discomfort caused by the presence of my pain.  I see people glare and whisper when they are unable or unwilling to approach. I imagine them discussing how their reality will never be the same as mine after comparison that is hollow in its substance. Looking inward but somehow missing the point due to the natural human defense mechanism of superiority and the illusion of control.  I don’t begrudge people of their response, Lord knows I have sat on the other side of this type of reasoning. It could never be me either…until it was.  

I have been thrust into this incredibly hard personal and public grief process but I am not alone. As a believer I get to hurt with the hope that only comes from a personal relationship with Jesus.  He doesn’t promise us a life without pain, on the contrary his word says that in this life we will have trouble. I hear people say God will never give you more than you can handle. This is one of the biggest fallacies we spread within the church. He absolutely does allow us to go through things that are bigger than us. Things that we will mess up and fail if approached in our own strength. You better believe that the trauma and grief associated with my son’s death is more than I can handle. It is in these moments, when we get out of Gods way and allow Him to work through us that we are able to see his power. Jesus is the absolute only explanation for my ability to function in the shadow of my reality. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Through this promise I know that God isn’t going to waste my pain.  However, this is only true in as much as I am willing to accept my pain. I can choose to live in the fog, to push the pain to the side and protect myself against it, but then my pain will be wasted. Instead I choose to lean into my pain, to get out of His way, knowing that the God who created the universe is able to use it all for good and for His glory. 

Darkness to Light

How do I do this?  How do I continue to live in a world where a piece of my heart has been removed? How do I remember to breath in and out…in and out? My son is dead as a result of his own mental anguish, and while I rejoice in the knowledge that he is no longer suffering much of his pain has been passed on to those he left behind.  The darkness of his depression now waits in the shadows to steal, kill and destroy the rest of us under the veil of grief. The evil one is patient, relentless, practiced. He wants nothing more than to finish off my family through the tension and confusion he created in my beautiful boy.  

BUT GOD provided a power strong enough to fight through the overwhelming darkness and pull us up from the suffocation of sorrow.  That power generates from an unassuming source; LOVE. A love unlike anything I have ever experienced. Not merely an expression but a mobilization from our local community, our church family, our work family, our truest friends, and our trusted relatives.  People whom I know, and some that I don’t, stepping directly into battle with swords drawn and shields positioned to protect my family from the flaming arrows of darkness that are relentless in their attempt to put out our light. I am awestruck by the power and wonder of a love strong enough to push back the despair that threatens to destroy us.  There aren’t enough words to express my appreciation to everyone who unites in love and purpose to stand in the gap during this indescribably painful time. The Lord is using all of your prayers, cards of encouragement, acts of service, meals, gifts, understanding, and time to remind us of His true nature. This is the beauty of the church. My brothers and sisters in Christ have become a physical representation of Jesus and when my flesh can’t understand my soul is reminded that God is sovereign, even in the mess.  He uses all things for good according to his purpose. He is the provider of the peace that surpasses understanding. He bottles our tears and promises a future without sorrow. He points us toward eternity where gladness replaces sadness and joy replaces mourning. God is love and he breaths life into my brokenness.   

So here I sit breathing in and out as a direct result of loves sheer force.  Forever changed by the darkness that overtook my son and the light that followed.  In the reflection of these details I can’t help but wonder how different Bryce’s story would have looked if he had been the recipient of this type of love during his life in the same way we experienced it after his death.  I lament for this missed opportunity but I have learned that God uses our disappointment as fuel for change.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and yet we believe the lie that says suicide could never happen to me or someone I love. We disassociate ourselves from “those people” believing they are victims of a catastrophic trauma or somehow chose the misery in which they live. I invite you to examine our lives to find the smoking gun that explains our circumstances. Bryce had a beautiful life and a bright future until he didn’t. Our story could belong to anyone. The reality is that people are sick, they are hurting and lost in this fallen world that offers little help. For true societal change and healing to occur it must generate from the Great Physician through the obedience of the body of believers. Imagine the impact of a world where the church routinely unites in love and purpose. I don’t have to imagine it, I am living it, and I am able to continue to fight for the kingdom because of it. The church has a mighty tool at its disposal and yet we seldom utilize it to its full potential. Satan does his best work in the dark.  Let us be the light that pushes him back into the shadows. It’s a mess out there. Would you join me in getting a little messy?

“Merry Christmas”

“Merry Christmas”

Here I stand in the shadow of mental illness stealing my son from this life and the heaviness of these words are suffocating. What happens when Christmas isn’t “Merry”? The gravity of my family’s situation brings a strong and persistent pull towards sadness, loneliness, confusion, and despair. It doesn’t leave much room for merry. So how do I live in a world where time doesn’t slow down as a result of my trauma and grief? Gifts are still bought, lights are still strung, cookies still made, carols still sung, and all the while I muddle through my confusion like an outsider looking in at a snow globe of fictional merriment.

As I navigate the holidays in this new normal, I have learned a new truth. It has been here all along, I’ve just never seen it with such clarity. Christmas is the celebration of this huge, miraculous event unlike any other in history; when the God of the universe came near to his people. He came near! He came near so that he would experience and understand every human emotion we experience, even grief. He came near to give us his strength when we are weak. He came near to provide his peace that surpasses understanding when there are simply no answers. He came near to give us rest when we are weary. He came near because he knew that we couldn’t fight that pull towards despair on our own. He came near to save us from ourselves so that we could spend an eternity in our true home with him. He came near! He came near! He came near! So, in the middle of this mess I celebrate the true gift of Christmas. Jesus came near so that no matter the circumstance I am never on my own. He is near!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:9-14