Journal

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination, and I came across an article highlighting a rather unknown (probably overshadowed) but powerful speech made by Robert Kennedy during that time as he was campaigning for president.  Many on his team urged him to cancel in Indiana because of the riots in response to MLK's death, but he decided to speak anyways.  There was a lot in his speech urging understanding but the part that stood out to me was a quote from his favorite Greek poet,  Aeschylus, that had helped him in tragedy (referencing JFK's recent death):
“And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

That phrase "awful grace," evokes some kind of emotion in me.  I am wrestling if it meant that in order to fully grasp grace, one must choose to lean into pain and suffering. I realize we can understand grace without it but maybe only to an extent; until we desperately need it, do we have the full wisdom, as much as one can have on earth, of God's grace?  And it’s “against our will” because suffering is not chosen, it chooses us in some sense. We only get to choose to go through it or not. Although, I have always felt like God was my default, that I didn’t choose Him but had to or else I would drown otherwise.  The poem was also written before Jesus’ time, so Aeschylus’ understanding of the God we know now was different though, I feel, not inaccurate either. And I have discovered God’s grace in that moment, where He chose me as I raged against Him and had not the inkling to be in His presence.

After I read that article last night, I had a rare dream with Aaron in it. In it, I was around some Hope Moms but was feeling sad and crying as I saw their new babies. Then all of a sudden, I was holding Aaron but also had a thought he wasn't supposed to be there.  In fact, I felt like everyone around me knew that a baby who died should never return to earth so it made me feel self-conscious.  There has only been one other time, for a split second in the past year, where I didn't have that reality when I dreamt about him.  My conscious won’t let me fall into a false comfort even in my sleep.  Subsequently, I lost Aaron in the dream when I went to fetch Ly to see him.  I remember looking everywhere for my car where he would be but just couldn’t get out of the right parking lot.  When I told Ly about it this morning, he responded "next time, don't come get me.  Just hold him."

That response alone describes a lot about my selfless husband of 10 years.  He said something similar to me that night we were at the hospital. I was holding Aaron’s lifeless body but couldn’t let go and told Ly so. He responded, “I want you to hold him,” even though I knew every part of him wanted to also desperately clutch our son close.

Our 10th anniversary is today, and I am very thankful to God for sustaining our marriage during this difficult season.  As I reflect back, I realize that I didn’t think about our marriage much the past year because I was completely consumed by grief.  I mean, I didn’t think anything but clinging to Ly as he did me.  We didn’t and couldn’t meet each others’ needs and that was mutually understood; in the grand scheme of everything, we finally knew nothing besides God could meet our deepest needs.  It is not something to take for granted.  I believe we reaped the benefits of all the work (aka fights) we’ve had over the years and the awareness God revealed.  There is a shift this year, however.  We’ve “used up” all our good will towards one another so I do feel like we are “doing” marriage again.  The wrestling together and apart has deepened my love for him. It’s a true saying that it sometimes takes a lifetime to know someone; part of that has to do with going through dark spots to flesh out what we are made of.  Enduring probably one of the worst tragedies a couple could experience, I have learned that my husband is made of something not of this world. He hasn’t tried to make sense of it and has led our family by expressing his doubts and wrestling with God, which speaks volumes to me considering his extensive counseling experience. He has been a man after God’s heart.  I suppose this is what gratitude for new joy looks like, the result or fruit of leaning into suffering.  This anniversary is nothing like we hoped (we had envisioned an international trip because our 3 kids would be “old enough” by then), it’s also more and different than I could have hoped for between us.
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Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

As the story goes, God's people thought to reach the heavens on their own by building a structure that would allow them to ascend from the broken earth from which they were bound.  Their efforts were futile and confounded by God Himself.  

I find myself this Easter wrestling to find the faith that I once had as a young believer.  A childlike faith to simply believe the things I could not understand.  My nature leads me to question and reconcile the things that don't add up.  It is what has deepened my understanding of Him over the years and it is what's allowed me to counsel well. But I have a hard time finding that simple faith.  I wonder what it will take for me to worship Him as I once did.  That's probably not the goal, my worship, and communion with Him will likely never be the same, nor should it.  It ought to be different.  Deeper.  But I'm wrestling to find my way there still.  

I still think of my son daily and often.  The ache remains, though I've learned more how to live with it and even enjoy my time here on earth.  But my mind wonders a bit more to think about my relationship with God.  Something doesn't add up, something isn't right.  I find it hard just to accept and have faith to enjoy Him as I once did.  Perhaps that's not what He wants for me anyway.  

I wonder how much of this wall between Him and me is simply having to reconcile the things that ought to be common to the believer?  I'm taking a class this semester on Church history and I read of people who've suffered all kinds of pain and loss.  It doesn't take much to see that what's considered tragedy today was more the norm then.  I wonder if they felt less jarring because of how often tragedy occurred?  And were the believers of that earlier age galvanized in their faith because they were forced to wrestle through the incongruence?  That as they endured the sufferings of many kinds, that their faith produced perseverance and hope.  

Part of me wonders if I simply live in a time and culture where I am protected from pain.  Perhaps I'm simply pain-intolerant and when my experience reflects the true reality of a broken world, my frail theology has difficulty to weather the storm.  What I am experiencing today, the wrestling and testing of my faith are things that ought to have been commonplace for all believers.  This leads me to question whether I just live in an age where my generation has built a structure to avoid discomfort and pain, simply because we could.  Technological advancements continue to lift our society creating comfort and ease, all without having to wrestle with the painful realities of life and having to find God in the midst of all of it. 

It's ironic that on a day I pause to reflect on the pain Christ suffered for me, His death and resurrection, it's also the day a reflect on this insidious April Fools deception that is this society I live in.  I wasn't meant to be protected from pain and the very idea that it can and should be avoided somehow offends me now.  As though my intolerance to it has crippled me and limited my faith and understanding of Him and I resent it all now.  I bristle at it when I see it come up in certain ways, in my own thinking and understanding, in my theology and how I practice my faith.  Perhaps I'm not trying to adjust my understanding of Him as much as it is I'm trying to adjust my understanding of me in this world and how this world works.  That's the part I can't seem to make sense of yet or find peace with yet.  I've been fooled I suppose, and now I'm more pain-intolerant than I care to be.

The thing is I thought I knew suffering and pain.  I grew up with such things and it is the very thing that drove me to pursue Him to begin with as a young man.  I just didn't understand a pain as deep as this.  I always knew such a pain existed, but I suppose I never comprehended that it's such a pain that I'd have to live the rest of my life with.  And I reflect that others yesterday and today have suffered this and more every day.  I'm disoriented and trying to regain my bearings even still.  I feel stupid and silly sometimes, thinking I should have known this and understood this better.  That I should have been more prepared in my faith.  

The upside is that my counsel for those who wrestle feels more compassionate and discerning.  I'm wrestling with things I know others will at some point wrestle with too.  I'm not the only pain-intolerant person in this culture.  Still, I wish didn't have to feel it though, regardless of whatever silver lining or upside there is.  It sounds stupid to say, but I'd trade all the understanding and wisdom I have or could ever have to be able to hold and kiss my boy again.  But I know God knows that about me which I guess, unfortunately, is the reason why He allows some things to happen that I can't understand.  

To know Christ is to know Him in both His suffering and His resurrection. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Today I remember His body broken for me.  I remember the pain of a Father seeing His Son die a death He didn't have to.  I remember the sorrow and mourning for those who suffered the days of the unknown in between His death and resurrection.  I remember that He is risen indeed and though He has conquered death, I remember that we who are left here sorrow and mourn until He returns again or takes us home.  

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

Over the weekend Dana and I had a conversation that sparked a recurring sentiment we've experienced since Aaron died.  She had quoted me an excerpt from Lord of the Rings, a dialogue between Frodo and Sam, talking about their journey to Mordor and the fading memory of their home in the Shire.  Our conversation wandered into a few other themes bearing the same idea.  One of our favorite movies, GATTACA depicts a man inferior to his genetically engineered brother and saddled with this insatiable need to leave this world, convinced it wasn't his home.  Upon having one last race in the ocean with his brother who he had finally beat soundly, his brother asked: "how are you doing this? how are you doing any of this?"  To which he replied, "I never saved anything for the trip back..."  

And finally, Dana and I spoke of the Apostle Paul who during his missionary journies continued to live life as though he had nothing to lose.  We resonated more deeply knowing that Paul if it were up to him, would have rathered died and gone to heaven.  But he remained because of the work the Lord required of him.  But always he longed in his heart for the Kingdom, feeling this thorn that would remind him that this world was no longer his home and that His power would and must sustain him for the duration.  

From the outside, it would seem all of these examples would exemplify people of courage and incredible strength.  They had accomplished what few could do.  But what my eyes see now are people not necessarily driven by vision or courage, though those things are certainly there.  I see people that saved nothing for this world.  As though this world had nothing left to offer them and they had no choice but to strive and struggle toward the next.  

Dana and I used to dream often about the places we'd go, the things we'd do, the goals we'd accomplish.  I'd be lying if I said we dreamed that way still.  All of those things have lost their luster.  But we still urn to move and do the next thing.  Possibly trying to move the chapters of our life along.  But I can also say, there's little fear or worry left within us.  What does it matter if we try and fail?  What is the worst that can possibly happen?  In the same token, what does it matter if we try and succeed?  What significant good can we accomplish on our own accord?  We simply do and go and let life takes its course.  It is all His anyway.  He gives and takes away.  

People who don't know us well will comment at times at how much we do and have going on.  I don't tell them, but in my mind, I think there's a lot that can be done when you're not weighted down by the concerns of this world.  We're not saving anything for the return trip.  

I miss my boy so much.  The days get a little easier, especially when I can remember him and talk about the things I love about him and miss about him.  I try to even though I turn into a ball of weeping mess, but I know I need to do it.  I want to.  After 15 months we try to keep living life and finding joy mixed in with the pain.  And I can't help but think I'm 15 months closer to seeing my son again.  Until then I suppose I might as well live this life as best I can until I can make it to the other side.  

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Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

Over the last month, Dana and I have been watching a TV show called This is Us.  I had heard enough about it to be aware that it was a show that'd I'd have mixed feelings about.  It captures the pain, sorrow, and joy of life that feels true and visceral.  What I appreciate about the show is how it captures the different vantage points of life throughout time, connecting one joy or pain of the past with joy or pain of the present.  Nothing is seen or experienced in the vacuum of one singular moment, the way we experience life in our own reality.  Rather, the audience is given a perspective of how chapters of life unfold over years and decades, intricately woven into life.  Pain and heartache echos through time, takes on different meaning, and is experienced in different ways.  

Perhaps I'm still just longing to jump time.  To advance myself to a time where I can see this all different, feel about it all different.  Even as I think about that, I find myself cautious of envisioning life to be full of joy one day.  I think that goes directly to the reason why haven't found peace with God.  I can accept this reality, even be okay with it, but I can't find myself being at peace with Him.  The tension still remains.  No matter how far I try to see into the future, there always seems to be this thorn, this reminder that there's something not right about this world. 

Terrible suffering can happen and there's no predicting it, no preventing it.  I am coming to terms with the truth that God did not design this fallen world to prevent or protect us from suffering.  It is not His good and perfect will that we be free from such things here on earth.  I accept that to be true.  I thought I did before, but it has to be true for me now in a more real way.  I'm not sure how I'll ever be at peace with that though.  

It's a strange feeling.  One moment I can laugh and enjoy this world.  But in that same moment, somewhere in that back of my mind, I understand there's still something deeply wrong about this life.  After a year I don't think it's pessimism or cynicism any longer.  I think I can truly allow myself to enjoy and engage this world.  I feel like I see things and live in a different reality though too.  Constantly aware of a God that is more unknowable, confusing, unpredictable, and even unsafe (at least in the sense of him not doing things the way I'd do it).  

My job requires me to listen to people's pain.  Sometimes their stories are horrible.  I don't find myself numb or detached.  I can empathize with their suffering.  But at the same time, part of me thinks, "yeah, this is life.....there are times it can really suck."  As though I'm not surprised, not angry with God about it, but not at peace with it either.  It just is. 

If I were to glimpse 15 years into my future, what would life look like?  Would I be surprised if I saw that my daughters were suffering, if my wife or I had died of cancer, if something unimaginable happened?  I don't know, maybe I'm just trying to protect my heart, trying not to hope and just expecting bad things to happen so I don't get hurt again.  But I don't feel that way.  I do believe goodness and blessings can happen.  I hope for it.  I just live life remembering this world isn't designed to prevent pain.  That's a facet of God that I'm trying to integrate into my world view.  I'm okay with it, but not at peace with it.  

Today I stopped by our son's grave.  A family had just finished a burial site service for their child just 20 feet away.  Our son's marker was just installed and I stood there staring at it, thinking about my son.  Feeling the ache of missing him and wondering what life would be like with him here with us.  Remembering all his little features and what it like to hold him, see him smile, and smell his scent.  All the painful things I only let myself do when I'm alone and safe enough to weep.  And then I think about the family mourning the loss of their child, freshly laid in the ground.  The pain they must feel.  And then I think.....this is life, and I need to learn to be at peace with that.   

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

After God delivered the Israelites out of Egpyt, His people wandered the wilderness for forty years.  An entire generation had to die before they could enter into the promised land.  As if the old had to die off before the new could begin.  

I find myself trying desperately and in every which way I can to let the old die off.  As though I'm trying to shed my skin.  And so this year has been a year of casualties.  Many things have suffered and died off as though they were part of my son's death.  We sold our home.  I refashioned my job at church into something completely new.  I sold off one of my cars.  We changed homeschool communities.  We have or are in the process of selling all our assets and old businesses.  I have an insatiable need to live in the temporary.  We rent an apartment now, unwilling to make any long term commitments to a house.  If our 15 year old car should die, I'd only entertain leasing for a couple years.  When asked what our plans are, I feel uncomfortable forecasting beyond the next month.  

Even our relationships have suffered as a result of this shedding process.  We haven't returned back to our Life Group at church.  My work place relationships are severely limited now because of how hard it is to just be around people that were part of the old life.  Even my closest friends and family are hard to be around sometimes because they are a reminder of my past and an uncertain future.  I long to just live in the present.  The only ones that seem to fit with me along in this ride are my wife and girls.  They are forever part of my past and I could not imagine a future without them.  Perhaps that's why I am only truly comfortable being normal with them.  Beyond them, the past is too painful and the future too unclear.  It's like we are wandering a desert, just waiting to enter a land we believe we'll see one day, just not any time soon.  

So I shed.  Trying to leave behind whatever I can of the old life.  Hoping that in doing so I can enter into the next chapter sooner.  I can see why some marriages don't survive.  If one spouse moves on too quickly and one is stuck, this insatiable desire to shed and move or stay and wait can tear a marriage apart.  

This Christmas has caused me to wonder about the past and future.  The traditions of our past are too painful to remember and repeat.  And yet I wonder if Christmas will ever be redeemed, will they always be painful memories?  I honestly do believe that there will come a day when the chapter of our life will be joyous and full one day.  But it feels like so much must be shed and reborn for that day to come.  Part of us must die as we wander in this waiting place.  

This became clearer to me as I sat in our church's Christmas Eve service and listened to the songs that once made me worship and weep.  Part of me has been in anguish wondering why the Lord has been so silent.  I don't ever wonder about His goodness or why things go well or bad in life anymore.  Life is life.  I do struggle with His silence.  His presence can make the horrible things of life a joyous experience.  That's all I've really wanted and yet I feel so far from Him.  Part of that could be Him being beyond my understanding, part of that could be just me being too deaf and blind to receive from Him, and now I realize part of it could just be me not being ready to be near Him. 

Because I know if I enter His presence, my heart will feel full.  And part of me isn't ready for that.  I'm not ready to feel whole and at peace.  As though I must wander for a season, to die off and mourn what I must before I can enter the next chapter.  I suppose I had hoped that one year would be that for me, but I still don't feel ready.  As though their must be a clearer marker or separation between the chapters of my life.  2016 was a life long past.  2017 is the year of desolation and pain.  I'm still wandering and waiting, unready to enter into my promised land, whatever that means or looks like.    The result is this need to live in temporary everything.  Temporary housing, temporary vehicles, temporary relationships.  As though everything that we do in this period of life will be discarded one day, left behind in the desert. 

Every once in awhile someone will ask me when we'll buy a house.  It's strange because I used to invest heavily in real estate, but can't bring myself to invest into that.  The thought of being in a home conjures thoughts of the next life.  A life where we can plant roots and make memories with a family that's whole and at peace.  One day I hope to have that.  But knowing we are no where near that, I shudder at the thought of making a move like that.  A move that would seem so hollow and fake and untrue to where we are in our state of wandering.  

Everything must be temporary.  Here today.  Gone tomorrow.  No connection with the past.  No certainty of tomorrow.  That's the only thing that feels right to us right now.  The only thing that feels congruent to our emotional and even spiritual state.  

Maybe God is silent in my suffering, teaching me something new about Him.  Maybe I'm just not ready to hear from Him.  I feel like I'm young believer again.  Like I don't really know myself well enough to move with confidence and certainty.  I don't really know who I am anymore or the kind of person I am to become.  I've been in this kind of desert before.  I've wandered until I've found myself and my way.  But this is different.  Harder.  Not scarier, maybe because I've been in the desert before and I know where this will go (or at least I think I do).  Just harder.  

This Christmas we have a wood fire burning throughout the day.  I sit here writing this journal in front of it, listening to it crackle and roar as I tend to it and keep it going.  It's the first time we've had a wood burning fire place to do this.  It's a new tradition.  Something unrelated to the past.  It feels healing to do it.  To watch it burn.  The same kind of healing we have being near the sound of water and rustling trees.  Not only are they new and different, and not only are they reminders of nature and God's creation, but there's just something about watching a fire burn with such life knowing that in a short while it too will die and pass.  As the flames consume the wood, there's just something that feels right about seeing things that are temporary.  Here today.  Gone tomorrow.  Life and death.  Good and bad.  Joy and pain. Heaven and Hell.  Life on earth is all just some place in between filled with seasons of wandering and waiting.

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

In August of 1997, I began a journey to understand what the Christian faith was about.  It was my first real exposure to the gospel.  Through out the next 10 months I questioned, searched, and debated whatever I could to find answers to things I did not understand or could not accept.  Until one night at a retreat where I continued to question and debate with the leaders and pastors that were there.  I told my cabin counselor that I was looking for some kind of sign, a message from God to tell me He was real.  My counselor told me simply that God didn't work like that.  I was too blind to see and too deaf to hear.  I simply had to choose faith, I had to choose to believe.  And so I took a step of faith and gave my life over to Him, without ever seeing what I needed to see.  No answers, no word, no special revelation.  Just simple choice.  

That was just under 20 years ago.  Since then I've seen more and learned more about God and my relationship with Him.  The things I could tell that 19 year old stubborn and arrogant boy.  I have been given eyes to see that which I could not then.  

One year after my son's death, I am still getting accustomed to this new normal.  This normal where life is as much pain as it is happiness.  Where suffering and blessing can co-exisit and perhaps even be one in the same.  The waves of grief have pushed us out into a depth of the sea where such things are the reality and the norm.  Bad things happen.  Good things happen.  Ten tragically bad and horrible things that can happen doesn't mean that good is around the corner.  We are never due blessings or calamity.  God doesn't work that way.  There is no reason, no guarantee, no protection.  Just this week our family has suffered another pain.  I can't tell if it's just not as painful, if we're just numb to pain, or if it's just a reminder of what normal everyday life really is for us now.  Some times good things happen.  Some times bad things happen.  There is no "why".  

The "Why" question is perhaps the first point of wrestling.  Everyone who has suffered tragic loss asks the question.  It's because loss for the believer is so easily quelled if there is purpose to the pain.  The human mind can endure all kinds of pain as long as there is hope, purpose or meaning.  I'd like not to live in some delusion.  Thinking that somehow God's purpose in all of this will reveal itself to me sometime.  That there is goodness and redemption to come.  That one day I'll receive the "why".  This is my new normal.  There is no rhyme or reason to pain and suffering of this world.  It happens to us all without prejudice or protection.  My son died.  I could lose more children tomorrow.  

In the first few weeks and months that followed after our son's death, I thought, I hoped that God would deliver a word to me, some sort of special revelation.  To simply have an encounter with Him would ease my pain enough.  I didn't need to know why.  Just knowing His presence would have assured me of His plans, even if they were hidden to me.  But in talking with other's who have lost, it seems I'm not alone in hearing nothing from Him.  I suppose there's some comfort in that.  At least I'm not the only one He isn't talking to.  

Twenty years from now I wonder if I'd say the same thing I do today about my need to hear a word from Him back at that retreat.  God doesn't work that way.  Where there is no faith, there is no revelation.  And so I find myself having to choose again, having to take a step of faith in a world where anything can happen.  I have to choose joy.  

All I know is that last year I had my wife, two daughters and a son.  Today my son is with the Lord, while we remain behind.  Today I have my health, my wife, my girls.  Tomorrow God may bless me with more or He may take more from me.  Each day I am forced to choose.  I try to remember the Wood Cutter's Wisdom.  This is the new normal, a life where anything can happen on any day, where there is no why, where there is no word, simply faith, a choice to know joy in Christ alone.  

I miss my son with that same terrible ache.  Today I knelt over his grave and watered the grass with my tears.  I embraced my wife as we wept together.  I wore the same shirt that day he died, the shirt where he fell asleep on my shoulder for the last time.  After, we saw some family, ran some errands and lived life.  We laughed a little and enjoyed the day with our girls.  There is pain and there is delight.  Through it all is the capacity for joy, I just have to choose to hold on to it.  Sometimes it's hidden and hard to see, kind of like how God is these days for me.  But I think we'll get there some day.  

I feel like an alien....a foreigner where the customs and norms are all different.  I grow tired of trying to find my place in it all.  I just want to be.....

There's so much I miss about you my son....I don't have the words....
https://youtu.be/5BjLFJtJiNw

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.”  1 John‬ ‭3:19-20‬

This verse has been my anchor for the past week as it has been a bit of a struggle trying to figure out what it means to “honor” the big milestone of the one year anniversary.  Firsts are the hardest, and now there are no more.   Part of me wants to invite those who have been a significant part of our journey to an event remembering Aaron. We have been carried by prayers and tangible support by so many, including those we never met before this difficult journey.

“I [God] will come down and speak with you [Moses] there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them [elders]. They will help you carry the burden … so that you will not have to carry it alone.” Numbers 11:17

At the same time, as we approached the one year mark, I realized a few things that have changed for me over the course of the past few months. I feel that I have pretty much said all I want to say about the matter to God and to others. I shared once with someone who I didn’t know well and immediately regretted it. It dawned on me at that moment how much I needed to keep this tragedy sacred.  I want to only share with those whom I sense a prompting from God to share with and make peace with it when I don’t.  When I was in GriefShare a month back, I learned how grief can become one’s identity in unhealthy ways.  I think that’s part of what makes it hard to live where it seems like everyone knows and treats us as such. On the flip side, I know I wouldn’t be where I was without my community.  The dualities continue to emerge in this tragedy, especially during the holidays.

One year later, I still miss Aaron fiercely. On Tuesday night, I had a dream where all I could remember was seeing these twin boys who were maybe 5-6 years old, and then I started to weep because I realized how much I missed my baby. I cried so hard in my dream that Ly later told me I was hyperventilating in my sleep. He had to put his hand on me to calm me.

One year later, I have somehow managed to reinvest in life. We’re still continuing homeschooling and the girls are now avid swimmers.  However, I do it all with an air of depression; I’m still seeking to understand where joy fits into it. I did receive a letter this week that helped me understand how joy and pain can co-exist...I guess it’s what people refer to as a life not “wasted” or wanting meaning from life. It’s joy that produces profound sadness and gratefulness at the same time.  All I know is a part of my boy’s heart now beats in another.

Based upon information that we have received, at least 1 individual life has been transformed to this date through your son’s gift of tissue donation. We are pleased to provide the following information that has been submitted to us at this time...Aaron’s heart valve was used in a procedure for an infant male in Utah.

One year later, I’m gaining perspective of the stark reality of life but am still grasping for hope. Something happened recently where I felt duped for even having hope. I still find it difficult to balance the realities of life but also living life fully. So many who have walked difficult journeys have done it, so I know it will come if I want it to. I just don’t know how much I want it. It’s probably because I often feel so far from it. The incongruence between what my heart feels and mind knows to be true is what makes me feel crazy sometimes.  Yet, life continues so I try to continue wrestling when I find the strength. More often than not, I grow weary and only have the strength to remain in the present. Perhaps it is a good place to be for now.  It’s time for me to be willing to hear from God. I have talked enough and need simply to sit still and wait.

Dearest Aaron, we send you off with Bahama Blue granite, something your sisters picked out for your marker.  It’s fitting as it reminds me of the paradise you’re already experiencing and one day, we will too alongside you.  We love you, Didi, and are forever anchored together with you in Christ (Revelation 21:5).

Journal entry by Dana Tran

This was a story shared to me that has helped me tremendously the past month:

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before—such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”

The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.

After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?

“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”

“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.

The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”

The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.

“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Yours son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

This last week my birthday came and went.  And similar to when Dana had her birthday, I didn't want to celebrate mine at all.  I wanted nothing to remind me of it.  I wanted it to be as normal and routine of a day as possible.  But my mind couldn't help but go to painful and dark places.  Remembering what my life was like a year ago.  I remember sitting in an early morning meeting with a number of other pastors.  There was joking and laughing and important work being discussed.  But I found myself shifting between past and present in that room.  I'd try to anchor myself and get my head back into the moment, but I'd find myself slip every few minutes into the low and desolate place.  

Though I wish they’d come at more appropriate times, I've come to understand that these places and times aren't to be avoided, but are even necessary for me to grieve and heal.  It's easy to run from these moments, to distract myself and engage in a fake and far less painful reality.  But it's also easy to lose myself in the pit and get lost for hours and days in what is authentic to my state.  Somehow I have to find a place in between, letting myself be pushed out further in the depth of the sea of this pain, only to find a deeper and stronger anchor each time.  It's scary and I'd rather just not, but I do know this is where discovery happens.  

In allowing myself to feel the rage and anger, in letting myself express words like "how could you?" to God, I've discovered something new about why I feel so far from Him.  I would never have been conscious of it or have said it out loud before, but my theology was deeply flawed.  Not in terms of what I believed, but what I felt and secretly held within me.  Early on I bought into a belief of some kind of perverted agreement between me and God.  

When I listen to people share their testimony about what God has done in the aftermath of losing a child, I often hear about how things began to change dramatically once they began to consider how their loss might be restored and used for God's glory.  People find new meaning and hope when they consider how their story might do something good for others and His Kingdom.  I've known God to operate this way.  He takes the broken and ugly things of this world and makes them new.  What we see as destruction, He sees an unfinished work of art.  

The problem is I knew this.  So much so in the first few years after becoming a believer, and understanding that to know Him is to know suffering, I had this recurring waking vision.  Knowing that suffering was a part of glory, I imagined the worst pain I could think of.  It was the loss of one of my children.  And from that point I feared that one day God might require me to endure such a pain, only so that He might be glorified in the aftermath of such pain and destruction.  I remember having this vision of standing before a multitude of people at my church, testifying to His goodness and redemptive work after my child had died.  

Recently as I've talked with others who have gone through their own loss, they have done such things and have found meaning, purpose and hope.  But as I hear them talk about their story I can't help but feel a twinge of resentment.  

In those early years as I'd have those waking visions, I suppose I made an unspoken agreement with God, at least on my end.  I wanted to serve Him and His purposes for me on this earth.  But I didn't want to have to endure such a pain.  So I suppose I believed that if I could devote myself wholly to that purpose, there would be no need for me to suffer such a loss.  And so there it was.  "God I will serve you with all my heart and search You with devotion and fervor.  Just don't do that."  Of course at the time I was a young believer and my understanding and theology of God didn't correct or inform this thought.  But I suppose it did become a deep seeded narrative of how God and I were suppose to operate.  

So fastforward to that night and as I'm speeding to the hospital and following the ambulance that has my son, I think in my head, "there's no way....this can't be happening....surely He wouldn't let this happen."  Even up to the point in the ER when the doctor tries to explain to me while I hold my lifeless son's foot, and I yell out, I feel half hearted because half of me can't believe this and half of me somehow knew and feared this day might come.  And now I carry a sense of resentment.  Because when I say, "how could you?" what I'm really saying is, "I thought we had a deal?"  And even worse, I can't envision a redemption story in all of this right now.  Partly because I thought I gave Him my all already, and even if I had anymore of my heart to give Him I feel swindled and unwilling to give anymore.  

This is all terrible theology and having grown and matured over the years I understand this to be faulty on multiple levels.  But grief has a way of forcing you to look deep within and discover things about yourself you never knew.  Ugly and broken things.  As I'm pushed further out to sea and I see what lies beneath the surface, I realize that I'm not liking what I find.  But at least I know what is true and authentic.  Now I must begin the work of finding a deeper and stronger anchor in this place.  I feel a bit lost and unsure of where to go with Him from here.  

Romans 7:23-24 “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

The night DiDi died, I recall being in the emergency room and the doctor on duty trying to gently explain to us there was no more they could do.  I remember holding my son's tiny foot while the words were coming out of the doctor's mouth.  It was perhaps the most surreal moment of my life.  It felt like I was in a play of some sort and this was all some kind of dramatization.  I closed my eyes and let my head drop.  I let my voice loose and screamed out "NO" as loud as I could and as long as the air in my lungs would allow me to.  It felt hollow...half assed.  I never felt like I could fully express my agony and anger in that moment.  I felt like part of me was held back.  I'm not sure if it was out of some sense of propriety or disbelief, as though I was just playing the part of a grieving father.  

Later that night as we packed up our things to stay with family for a few nights, I remember walking outside and staring up at the clear sky.  The moon was bright and full.  I remember feeling the anger and bitterness toward God, but I couldn't say anything.  Instead I walked over to my fence and proceeded to pound it senselessly with both fists until the skin came off my knuckles.  

Throughout the next few months, the only times I'd let myself let go and immerse myself in the depths of the different emotions was in the shower when I was by myself and in bed as I tried to fall asleep.  The shower was always particularly painful because I'd remember the precious times when I got to bath him and it was just the two of us.  I was reminded of this last week after our weekly swim at the pool.  After we'd finish swimming, Dana would take the girls into the women's locker room and shower with girls to get them ready.  I'd walk by myself into the men's locker room and sometimes see the other dad's with their sons.  It's not a devastating reminder, but enough to make me pause and think and wonder.  

There would be these moments where I'd allow myself to not only weep but to feel the rage and anger within me.  I never stay there long.  Perhaps it's because the beliefs in my head drown out the feelings in my heart at the time.  But I do know the incongruence is there.  And it still lurks within me.  I'm not sure what that does to me or my connection with Him.  But there's no denying that I feel it, as much as I might try to ignore it.  

Last Saturday Dana and I went to an open worship and prayer setting.  We listened to musicians play and worship while we sat and knelt in prayer.  Pretty soon into the experience I let the tears come.  I kept my head down and didn't bother with the tissue.  I let the ache, the pain, the sorrow, the memories, the anger, the fear, all of it....I let it run through me and overwhelm me.  I sat there letting the tears form puddles on the ground while my hands and arms clinched fiercely in front of me, as if I were shaking my fists hopelessly before Him.  I let myself do this on and off for 60-90 minutes.  As the worship team encouraged us to lay our suffering and petitions before Him, I found myself saying the words, "How could you?" over and over again.  For that time I paid no attention to what was right, or what my theology dictated.  I just let myself express what I felt and this is what came out.  

I've come to understand there are no answers to be had in moments like this.  The pinnacle of suffering opens one's eyes to more than what was ever seen before.  I have come to terms with that my new place in life is to change into a new person in this place of grief.  There is no outcome in which we are plucked from this place and back into the old life.  That's all gone and all that remains is this place.  We are to become something different.  We are now required to change, not our circumstances.  

I left that worship setting having exhausted my emotions.  That was perhaps the most I'd ever let myself go and just feel it all come over me and go through me.  The next couple days I was in a very low place.  The intensity of the emotions and the realness of what I felt took everything out of me.  I had never said those words before, "how could you?"  But when I said them, it struck a cord within me and echoed for some time.  As I sat to reflect on what those words meant to me, it's clear some where within me I had come to believe that I was owed a certain kind of protection.  The words convey a sense of betrayal.  A certain level of appalling.  This fits with the entire notion that He has become too big for my understanding and that He is unpredictable and dangerous.  He has done something that deep down inside I thought He'd just never do.  If I'm honest with myself, I feel He has betrayed me and all my sensibilities of who He is.  

The adult in me understands the world we are in.  I understand the brokenness of humanity and that to live this life is to know Christ in His sufferings.  But the child in me still wants to throw a temper tantrum.  I feel abandoned and forsaken by Him.  And then my mind immediately was drawn to Christ on the cross, and His word that have preceded my own, "my God my God why have you forsaken me?"  I can't help but consider that Christ knew the plan the Father had for Him.  It is the very reason why He wrestled so hard in the Garden the night before.  But even with the knowledge of His Father's plan, upon the cross Christ still felt the pain and sting of feeling as though His Father's had turned His back.  In that moment of suffering and death upon the cross, He felted the deafening pain of God's silence.  

And I wonder what time felt like for Him during those three days in death?   I bemoan the thought of suffering in this position for the rest of my life on earth, but I wonder how long those three days were for Him.  Upon His return, He is the same Christ, but different.  Transformed.  Transfigured.  I know that will be the same for me and Dana.  If we press into Him, I know we will not be left unchanged.  But perhaps what's most important to me is that Jesus too felt the painful silence of God, that in His words He too is saying, "how could you?"  The Son of God, who knows the Father's will, can know something to be true in His mind, but feel something completely different in His heart.  This is God incarnate and God with me.  

I still sense the difficulty in coming near to Him.  It takes a concerted effort to want to worship and draw near.  Part of me feels apprehensive, part of me feels resentful.  And I know that I won't be able to heal and move into a place of wholeness and joy in this life again until I can.  I know I can fake it.  I know I can just pretend to myself.  But I know there is no blessing for me in that.  I know He sees into me and through me.  And I know I won't find myself in that place of transformation until I know what it means to enter into His presence with both pain and peace.  I know where this is going to have to go and I know it's going to have to take time.  I'm just not sure how to get there just yet.  I suppose this is what it means to grieve well and to wrestle with God well.

Journal entry by Ly & Dana Tran

I woke this morning knowing this and I felt deeply within my soul that I should be the one to lay him down and cover his body in earth and soil.  That was good for me.  It was only right that as I was the first one to see him enter into this earth, that I would be the last he would see.  I held him last before he died, I laid him down for his last slumber on this earth, and I'm the one who laid him to rest in the ground.  He's my son and it was my joy and privilege to have done all those things.  

 

That was the easy part of this day.  It was the coming back home that was so painfully hard.  We had not lived at our home since that night Didi died.  Each night since then has been filled with moments of heartache and moments of peace.  Tonight we have more the former than the latter.  

 

There are little holes all over our home.  Little spaces where our son should have filled.  Burying his body we could do today.  But missing his presence in our home, in our everyday lives is so hard.  We miss him so much.  We miss his face.  We miss his smell, his breath, his skin, his stare, everything.....the holes are small yet so immense.  

 

Thank you Lord for today.  For being our Portion.  Help us to fill this spaces and holes with Your presence.  That we could remember the beauty of our son, to feel the warmth of the memories we had with him, while still feeling the joy of your presence.  That these memories would be marked with thankfulness for what you've given us and not the heartache that feels so crushing.    

Ly & Dana’s Story

Site created on December 29, 2016

On Friday December 16th, sometime between 4:15pm and 6:25pm our 4 month old boy Aaron Josiah died during his nap.  This online journal is a place for us to process out thoughts and emotions, and to converse with the Lord in question and prayer.   Here you can follow our journey so you might know how we're doing, what we need prayer for, and perhaps even be blessed by what God is doing through the heartache and tragedy of our loss.  Thank you for visiting, for supporting, and for praying.  


An audio of the message for Aaron's memorial service can be found here: https://youtu.be/ZTv6QlncarM

Aaron's Slideshow Video: https://youtu.be/5BjLFJtJiNw

To view the transcript, scroll down to December 31, 2016 journal entry.  

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