Another Son….

Writers usually have little problem finding the words to express themselves, but having been utterly unable to create the sentences and paragraphs, I have put off sharing the heartbreaking news that our family lost another son to suicide.

Sgt. Jesse Gabriel LaBonte, age 23, passed away September 8, 2017.

Jesse, our third son, was born on May 30, 1994 and was a wonderful, fun-loving guy who deeply loved his family and gladly helped people in his church and community. He loved to make people laugh, loved to find humor in the most mundane things, and deeply thought about the world around him. He was not ashamed of his personal devotion to God and had a deep desire to make a difference in this world.

During his high school years, he was passionate about learning Kung Fu. He not only excelled and then competed with his own skills but also enjoyed becoming an instructor to others.

Jesse was an amazing son, a fantastic brother, a loyal friend, and a faithful mentor to many.

 

While serving in the military from 2013-2017, Jesse’s excellent conduct and military leadership led him to become a Sergeant in the U.S. Marines. He served two overseas deployments to Afghanistan and the Middle East and was proud to have become a Martial Arts Instructor to his fellow Marines. He won many leadership, conduct, and tactical awards and was well-respected by all who knew him. Jesse struggled with combat-related PTSD himself yet had a passion for preventing and bringing awareness to military suicides. He had participated in several walks to support the organization “Mission 22” and eagerly reached out to those he sensed were struggling with depression.

Jesse is deeply missed by his family, community, and many friends.

Our family wishes to thank the many friends and family members who have supported us so tenderly during this sad and shocking tragedy. It is utterly unthinkable to be going through the death of another son and especially horrific that it is also from suicide. We are barely beginning to sort things out and get our lives “back on track”.

Please pray for our three adult children and for our five younger children. There is a lot of heavy pain in our family. We are clinging to each other and to our faithful Heavenly father who promises never to leave us or forsake us.

Thank you for your prayers,

Suzy

 

 

 

 

 

Eclipse (ie: Temporary Darkness)

Were you as fascinated as I by the solar eclipse that travelled across the United States last month? Although not in the path of totality, I will admit that I brushed up on my science and then remained riveted to the TV, marveling as the details of this amazing phenomenon were broadcast.

How amazing that the moon’s direct orbit between the earth and the sun temporarily blocked out the light, creating about two minutes of complete darkness for those within a 70-mile-wide path from Oregon to South Carolina!

During the course of the day, massive crowds across the country eagerly huddled to wait for the skies to dim. When their corner of the world finally darkened, they turned their faces upward and admired the heavy shadow simply because they knew it was bizarre and fleeting. Then rejoicing with smiles of relief, they clapped and cheered to see the light again.

Setting science aside, I could only think of all those who have lost their lives to suicide.

They, too, felt the temperature dropping and the darkness coming, but instead of marveling at it with awe and anticipation, they were overwhelmed by the fearful weight of this dimness in their lives. What if they had known their eclipse was only temporary? And that the sunlight was only masked and would certainly be returning? What if we could have somehow reached them and assured them that their crisis was only a temporary situation?

If only… If only…

Let us all always remember and lovingly remind those we care about that any darkness in our lives is fleeting. The rays of the sun – although sometimes masked – are always permanent. Whenever we experience seasons of depression, anxiety, or despair (and we will!) let us trust that the radiant love of God’s faithfulness is always there veiled behind any cloud or any eclipse we temporary experience.

The sun will shine again!

Suzy

 

Plan B

A well-meaning friend recently gave me a colorful little plaque that reads:

“Life is all about how you handle Plan B.”

Wow! And isn’t that the truth?

It is human nature to construct a plan for our lives and to work diligently towards the goals we set. Likewise, it is perfectly normal to be disappointed when things don’t work out the way we hoped and dreamed.

None of us who lost children, spouses, siblings, parents, or friends to suicide intended for this to be a part of the plan we envisioned for our lives. Certainly we had lofty aspirations for our children, the anticipation of spending more time with our siblings and spouses, and the normal expectations of our parents growing old and naturally dying before us. But with every suicide, dreams fade, hopes and goals dissolve, and simple expectations turn into heartbreaking regret.

Time to move on to Plan B:

  • Life without the joy of watching your child grow up.
  • A too-quiet house and silent evenings without a spouse.
  • No sibling to tease or hang out with.
  • No parent to call for advice.
  • No co-worker’s desk to walk past each morning.

For all those suffering loss – regardless of what kind – It takes great courage and strength to journey through the dark and unfamiliar valley of death. It takes great resolve to push depression and bitterness aside, take a deep breath and get on with life. Plan B is definitely tough!

In our human flesh, we believe we know what “Plan A” should have looked like. It humbles me to consider the idea that while I might think I know what is best for my life, God ultimately has a clear picture of who He wants me to be and what He wants me to accomplish for Him.

  • Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
  • Ephesians 2:10 states: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

What about you? Has Plan A miserably failed? Are you trying to formulate Plan B?

Keep your chin up as you get acquainted with your “new normal”. Leave your heart open for happiness to tiptoe in. In time, brace yourself for new joy! And always, let us trust God’s faithful goodness and seek Him for all the provisions we need.

Suzy

Minor Scratches and Obvious Dents

I saw a rusty, older-model minivan today that had a very obvious and substantial dent along one side of its body. As I whispered a prayer hoping no one had gotten injured in the accident, I wondered if the van’s owners were intending to get the crumbled metal fixed or just planning to leave it.

Our society (and the continuous ads on TV!) seems to place great value on the ownership of the latest and greatest new car model. Perhaps there is even an unspoken stigma that our vehicles are a reflection of ourselves. After all, most of us get a little embarrassed about our auto mishaps and quickly hurry to get our vehicles repaired when there is obvious evidence of our mistakes.

All of us who travel through this life unquestionably encounter bumps and collisions along the way – some families more than others. And while many of life’s fender-benders may leave little more than a marginal scrape or a petty ding on our reputation, other catastrophes leave obvious, ghastly marks that even the best auto repair shops could never buff out.

What about you? Do others see you with a little rust and a few minor scratches, or do you have major dents and gaping damage that cannot be disguised, hidden, or forgotten about?

It can be difficult to travel throughout the community – in our workplaces, at our churches, within our circle of friends and extended families – while also bearing an experience as blatant as suicide. Yet, God knows our suffering and any haunting struggle with shame and disgrace. He understands that our human nature craves an outstanding reputation, yet we cannot erase our loved one’s choices. Ultimately, we are called to live our best for our Master – not to care what the world thinks of us.

I Samuel 16:7b “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.

People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

As a mom who drives a van that is clearly showing its age, the rust on the outside of my vehicle reminds me that having a strong, dependable engine is what really counts. Let’s focus more on our destination and less on the vehicle that gets us there. Let’s determine to remember that our life experiences do not define us, but our relationship with Christ always will.

Suzy

Daily Manna

Don’t you love the Old Testament story of God providing for the Israelites in the wilderness by sending daily manna to sustain their physical needs? Can’t you imagine the people out there each morning with their baskets and vessels as they gratefully stoop to gather their sustenance for the day?

“So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little…,

but everyone had just enough.” Exodus 16:17

What a great metaphor for the grace and strength that God provides to each of us who are suffering loss. Often, the future looking uncertain or scary and it is easy to feel overwhelmed about tomorrow, next week, or next year. But with God’s faithfulness, it is a comforting thought to know that He will get us through each day – hour by hour – and never leave us lacking for what we truly need.

You may remember in the Old Testament that the morning’s manna only lasted for a day and that any unused manna would spoil. Yet, a fresh new abundant supply would be ready as the sun rose on the horizon each morning!

“Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:23.”

What a beautiful thought! God gives us exactly what we need to get through each day! No more. No less. And at the end of each day, when the sun goes does and the darkness of night drains our weary souls – making us feel as if we can’t possibly rise in the morning – we can rest assured that all the provisions we need for the next day will be there freely waiting with the sunrise.

Moses and Aaron told the people,

“In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord.” Exodus 16:7

I love that sentence! Let us all keep our hearts open to glimpse and appreciate the glory of the Lord as He lovingly provides for our needs each day!

Suzy

A Raggedy Antique Quilt

I have a small collection of antique quilts. One of my favorites is a pink and green beauty with neat patterns of triangles and squares that were carefully stitched together with tiny delicate stitches. The plump, beautiful quilt appears to be in pristine condition. Perhaps it wasn’t used very often or was kept neatly folded in a deep trunk to only be taken out when company arrived. I can almost imagine how impressive it must have looked lying across a bed so many years ago.

Another of my favorites is a thin, stained quilt that was rescued for a few dollars from the “Rag Bin” at a local thrift store. Another handmade project, this quilt displays an almost ghastly combination of colors and is held together with uneven stitches – except in the places where the seams are splitting completely apart! The fabrics are a variety of shapes and textures, and though faded and worn thin with time, they somehow still look warm and comforting. Most obviously, the quilt features large holes that reveal the matted white batting inside.

Strangely, it is the condition of this second quilt that has endeared it to my heart. I can’t help but wonder…Was it originally made with great care for a loved one? Maybe used throughout the years to warm the many children of a large family? Was it taken on picnics or made into play forts? Used as a tablecloth or thrown on the floor as a rug? Maybe it was tacked at the windows to keep out icy drafts or even used to warm up newly-born farm animals.

Can’t you deeply appreciate the intrinsic beauty of a well-worn, stained, and tattered quilt that authentically served its purpose? And don’t you want to be that kind of a person who sacrificially loves and meets the needs of others?

“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.” Hebrews 6:10 NLT

Washed and neatly folded, my humble raggedy quilt now lies in a special display place in my home. Honored and valued, it rests.

May we work just as hard for our Savior until He lets us know that our work here on earth is done.

Suzy

Keeping Guard

Our family recently had the honor of visiting Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. While in this beautiful park-like memorial to those who honorably served our country, our hearts were deeply moved at the immense dignity of this noble place.

Wanting to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we walked past rows and rows of gleaming white headstones until we found the solemn tribute to unnamed soldiers lost in war. Upon reaching this sacred site, we were awestruck to see a single soldier keeping guard.

Silently captivated, we watched:

He marched 21 steps down a black mat behind the Tomb, then turned and faced east for 21 seconds. Turning, he faced north for 21 seconds and then took 21 steps to the other side of the mat. Back and forth. Solemn-faced with precise movements, the guard changed the position of his weapon and snapped his heels together at each turn.

…And to think this happens over and over again. Rain or shine. 365 days a year.

As I watched my five little children respectfully and curiously observe this reverent ritual – and because I have two sons actively serving in the military, I was filled with deep gratitude for all those in our country who have given any measure of sacrifice for the freedoms I daily enjoy.

Some visitors may come to the Tomb of the Unknowns to lay a wreath, stick a flag in the ground, or offer a respectful salute in honor of lives lost in war. Others, like myself, make a brief visit and then return home. But it is the profound duty of the guards to exchange shifts and stay attentively focused on their immense responsibility of vigilant respect.

When my littlest daughter tugged on my shirt and quietly whispered, “What is that guard protecting the Tomb from?”, I will admit I had no answer. But her question did get me thinking about the sacred and personal vigil each of us keeps in our hearts for our loved ones who have died by suicide.

Some suicide survivors fiercely guard against whispers or gossip or the community’s ignorant stigma of suicide. Others feel their loved one’s character or reputation may have become tainted or stained by their choice of death. Many just truly fear their loved one will be remembered only by their death and not by the way they lived.

With utmost respect and vigilance, 24/7, suicide survivors walk back and forth, pausing at our turns to snap our heels together as we remain focused on our fight against criticism or misunderstanding. We are always defending our loved ones to be certain that the knowledge of their deaths does not destroy the memory of their lives.

Occasionally, some might pause to remember a birthday or share a fond memory, but it is us – the loyal loved ones – who walk back and forth loyally guarding what we know to be the truth.

May we do it with perseverance and love.

Suzy

Blooms In The Desert

Have you heard the news? There has been a magnificent explosion of wildflowers blooming in the deserts of Southern California! This phenomenon is being called “a super bloom” and is unlike anything that has been seen in the area since 2005.

Due to this past winter’s record setting rain and snow, precipitation has ended California’s five year drought and awakened millions of dormant seeds. Desert lilies, poppies, dune primroses, sunflowers, desert dandelions, and other desert flowers have magically sprung to life!

Hearing this amazing news occurring far from the lush farmland I enjoy sent me thinking about deserts and droughts and prickly cactus plants that initially seem more alien and repelling than inviting. These are things I know little of.

…But wait a minute…

Those who have experienced grief can easily relate to the metaphorical idea of a bleak, barren environment that spreads out in a seemingly lifeless landscape. In a grim new world that appears forsaken and uninhabitable, there may be little hope for future joy or survival. Certainly there is nothing comfortable about being in an unwelcome condition that appears only stagnant and depressing.

But like those dormant Californian seeds that just spent over ten years quietly waiting for the perfect soil conditions to soften them and create germination, God brings healing to a waiting heart. And no, not all the seeds survive; some are absolutely lost forever. Others have yet to burst to life. But definitely, there is hope and growth and life amid the arid, desolate, and mysterious environment of loss.

Have you been newly dropped in “a desert”? Or have you been stuck there for a while? God promises to be with you and to bring healing to your broken heart.

Do you have a “desert pal” who sits uncomplainingly with you throughout your drought and who loyally loves you despite your dry joylessness? If so, take the time to thank them for their patience and for the hope they hold onto as they wait for you to bloom.

Or perhaps your time in the desert is nearly over and you are learning to incorporate loss into your life. If so, give thanks!

And always remember that one never knows when a good precipitation will create a beautiful desert rose with fragrant blossoms!

Suzy

 

 

Source: Williams, David, CNN: California Desert’s Wildflower ‘Super bloom’ delights Nature Lovers

Scenic Overlook

Occasionally when my family needs to travel on the highways crossing the mountains where we live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, we see signs on the side of the road that read “Scenic Overlook”. At their high altitudes, these little off-road parking areas offer travelers a place to get out and stretch their legs while enjoying a panoramic vista of life down in the valley below.

There, we delight in tiny houses, picturesque churches, and little barns with shiny metal roofs. Small bodies of water sparkle in the sunlight and rural roads leisurely wind around fields of various colors. Miniature cars and tiny specks presumed to be farm animals proceed with their daily lives, totally unaware of the spectacular view they offer.

We never tire of stopping our journey, pulling our vehicle over, and stepping to the edge of the protective barrier to peer down into the tiny distant communities for a breath-taking view. This broad perspective gives us a sense of how far we have come, how high we have travelled, and how small we really are.

On these scenic overlooks, we often see groups of hikers or clusters of bicyclists and motorcyclists standing around leisurely talking with helmets or maps in hand. Some are vigilantly checking their equipment while others are busy pulling snacks and drinks out of their packs. With the strenuousness of careful travel set aside, this brief respite is good for the soul, productive for the mind.

Perhaps these travelers – as well as all survivors of life’s most surprising journeys – know that the momentum of moving forward is often fueled by pausing to remember where we have come from and revisiting what has been conquered in the past.

When March 6th arrives each spring, our family sadly remembers that our Zachary has been gone for another entire year. Yet, this sorrowful day is also an opportunity to take a deep breath and consider how far we have come. From those early heart-wrenching months of agony, we somehow moved past shock and horror and are now incorporating his death into our daily lives. Gratefully, we never let ourselves forget how faithful God has been to us:

 “Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness.

Let the whole world know what He has done.

Sing to Him; yes, sing His praises.

Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.

Remember the wonders He has performed.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

His faithful love endures forever.”

(I Chronicles 16: 8, 9, 12a, 34)

A yearly “scenic overlook” on the anniversary of a loved one’s death is an opportunity for reflection. It shows a glimpse of the “bigger picture”: life is short, little troubles are insignificant, and relationships are extremely important.

Yes, the trip has been arduous, but certainly with the help of our Heavenly Father – who faithfully brought us this far, we can finish the journey with courage and hope. Striving to honor our Savior, we are all the while fully aware that our eternal home lies blissfully awaiting us somewhere beyond the next bend.

Suzy

 

Need You Now

Throughout the years, Christian music has been an encouraging and motivational part of my life. I practically consider it to be a “necessity”! Each day, the melodies of Christian artists compel me to worship, remind me of my blessings, offer comfort, and inspire me to keep my eyes focused on Jesus. During my happiest hours as well as in my darkest, the lyrical messages in these godly songs have spoken to me during each season of my life.

One popular song that came out in 2013 by the artist Plumb has ministered to me many times: www.klove.com/music/artists/plumb/songs/need-you-now-(how-many-times)-lyrics.aspx

 

“Well, everybody’s got a story to tell

And everybody’s got a wound to be healed

I want to believe there’s beauty here

‘Cause oh, I get so tired of holding on

I can’t let go, I can’t move on

I want to believe there’s meaning here.

 

How many times have you heard me cry out

“God please take this”?

How many times have you given me strength

To just keep breathing?
Oh, I need you. God I need you now.

 

Standing on a road I didn’t plan

Wondering how I got to where I am

I’m trying to hear that still small voice

I’m trying to hear above the noise.

How many times have you heard me cry out

“God please take this”?

How many times have you given me strength

To just keep breathing?
Oh, I need you. God I need you now.

 

Though I walk, Though I walk through the shadows

And I, I am so afraid

Please stay, please stay right beside me

With every single step I take.

 

How many times have you heard me cry out?

And how many times have you given me strength?

 

How many times have you heard me cry out

“God please take this”?

How many times have you given me strength

To just keep breathing?
Oh, I need you. God I need you now.

 

I need you now. Oh I need you

God, I need you now.

I need you now…I need you now…

 

I love this song because it reminds me time and time again of a simple truth – not only for my survival of my child’s death but also in my daily life as a Christian: I need my dear and faithful Heavenly Father.

I need Him every hour of every day – for every challenge, tragedy, or heartbreak that comes into my life. And because I need Him, I run to Him, cling to Him, and trust Him to get me through each moment. In needing Him, I pause my sinfulness, quiet my impatience, stop demanding answers, and set aside my theological confusion. Instead, I simply cast my cares on Him and quietly let Him meet my needs.

“God, I need you now.

Truly.

Suzy

*Plumb “Need You Now” (How Many Times) Songwriters: Christina Wells, Luke Sheets, Tiffany Lee, DO Write Music LLC, Mike Curb Music, 2013.