Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Badlands of Grief

As a boy the first book outside of scripture that I read was about Robert E. Lee. The second was about Theodore Roosevelt. TR became a hero to me. His overcoming, energetic spirit inspired me. I remember some key events in his life like the fact that he was sickly and exercised his way out of poor health. I remember admiring a young man's determination. I remembered something else about TR. As a young Assemblyman in New York, with a very promising future, his life was suddenly shattered by the death of his young wife, Alice Hathaway Lee at 22 years old.

The thing that made an impression on me was how Theodore responded to his great loss. He simply fled. He left the child born to he and Alice in the care of his sister. He left his elected position in the State Assembly. He left the life of privilege to go to North Dakota and live on a ranch in the Badlands. He hunted, rode, roped and chased horse thieves and in general sought to rid himself of a great grief. He once captured three outlaws and took them to jail enduring forty hours of sleeplessness. Roosevelt was for me the essence of manhood. Physically strong, determined and yet, wholly unprepared to deal with grief.

I remember thinking as a boy, if I ever experienced something like TR did, I would also run to the Badlands. I must admit that, in my hour of grief, I have been tempted to run. I have been tempted to ride, work, and hunt my way through this wilderness of grief. There is something about grief that makes a man want to run to the Badlands. I don't know if it is the sense of injustice that often comes with sorrow. I don't know if the aloneness promises comfort or if you just want to risk your life in some reckless way because it is not as bright and hopeful as it once was.

So why don't I run to the Badlands? I don't have to, it seems like the Badlands have run to me. I do not want you to think I am judging my hero TR. I understand better than ever why he did what he did. I am also strangely comforted by the fact that he returned. He was never the same but TR went on to greater adventures and became the youngest man in history to serve as the President of the United States. The tragedy of his running to the Badlands was that he never bonded to his daughter Alice. She was the daughter of TR and Alice Hathaway Lee. She grew up with a father who would not allow the name of her mother to be mentioned in his presence. Sadly, Alice had the same name as her mother. Rejected, disconnected and terribly alone in life, the beautiful Alice Roosevelt was banished to her own Badlands.

I do not know what all this means. Grief makes us all victims. Our response to grief is as varied as our fingerprints or DNA. It is tempting to do something very self centered. Our response does however, have a profound impact upon us and those whom we love. Great men and women have been marked by such sorrow. God seems to use those who have been broken. Oh, God I am broken. I do not want to withdraw from life or responsibility or my family. I feel deeply wounded and condemned to the Badlands of the soul. In the midst of those powerful feelings, I trust in the Lord to be my help and to strengthen me in my grief.

Please pray for the Litton family. Please pray for strength and grace to endure these days. Less we give you the wrong impression, that all is well and we don't hurt as bad as we did a few weeks ago, we hurt, we weep and we feel lost without her.

Thank You for your prayers!
Ed Litton

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Before and After

In my wallet, tucked away for over 27 years is a picture taken in a dollar photo booth. After Tammy and I met, I could not keep a dollar in my wallet. It is a picture of two college kids, all smiles and frankly, no clue. Oh, Tammy and I knew what we wanted in life. We were sure of certain things and the unsure things we trusted to the Lord. We were in love. She did not put her arms around just anyone. She did not sit on just anyones lap in a photobooth. Our love was not yet tested. It was not yet tried and proven but it was joyful, full of life and we had a blast with one another. Our love had not earned wrinkles in this aging photograph.

We dated almost three years before marriage. We talked a lot in that time. We shared dreams and visions. We imagined what our kids would look like. We wondered where we would wind up and Alabama was never mentioned. We dreamed about how God might use us. We teased and played jokes on one another. We were yet to learn one another, accept each other and grow in grace together.

When you compare this picture with more recent ones, you can still see the boyish grin, the sweet smile on Tammy's face but there is more. There is a seasoned love that really did grow stronger with every passing day. I am not suggesting we did not struggle. But somewhere we discovered a secret. The secret is that the struggles are what makes us go deeper into the glorious place called intimacy.

She was the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. I never got over the amazement that she would be seen with me much less fall in love with me. She saw potential in me that others passed over. She saw what Michaelangelo must have seen when he looked at a rough piece of granite and said, there is a David in there somewhere. A woman is a mysterious and glorious creation of God. There are many reasons God made woman but the one I am fixated upon now, is how God shapes a man through a woman. When you look at the image on a $100 bill, if you've not seen enough of them, you will have to trust me on this one, but the image is that of a drolish man, named Benjamin Franklin. That image is taken from a painting commissioned by Madame Brillion de Jouy, while Franklin was a diplomat in Paris. She noted with pleasure that Franklin, whom she considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived is wise because, "He allows his wisdom to be perpetually broken against the rocks of femininity." Praise the Lord for a woman. Her touch, her tenderness, her sensitivity, her maternal ways, her joy, her total otherness than men. Praise God for the day He created her. His genius amazes me. At the risk of sounding like a college freshman with his first thesaures, I am in awe of what God created when He made her.

It may sound rather ego-centric to say this. I run the risk of making it sound as if I am the sun and she was a surrounding planet. Not at all. I had the joy of her. I was given a great gift in Tammy as my friend. At the end of many great days, surrounded by many great people, it was always my joy to go home with her. I remember standing in a United Nations reception in New York shortly after 9/11, the year I served as First Vice President of the SBC and I looked at her across the room and I thought, she goes home with me. I have been delightlfully broken upon the rocks of her femininity.

God sent Tammy to me as an artist and God took her hand and in the most gentle way I believe He wispered, lets help Ed. I loved loving her but I loved being loved by her even more. No one was more honest with me. No one knew me like Tammy. She captivated me and she completed my broken, raged edges. Many mornings we sat in a quiet room with a cup of Starbucks and talked the morning into day. We respected each other.

So when you look at us in more recent photographs, you see earned wrinkles, my fuller cheeks and less hair, four wiser eyes, some ravages of the aging process but look close, notice the smile. The smiles are undeminished by the pains, undaunted by the terror, and unending in their joy.

I rise to bless an artist, a woman, my beloved wife, Tammy!

Ed Litton

P.S. You can also see our kids.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Gift No One Wants

Dr. Paul Brand was a medical missionary who dedicated his life to the study of a disease that has struck fear in the heart of humanity for ages, leprosy. His work with leprosy patients gave him a lifetime of insight into pain and suffering. He made an astounding statement: "If I held in my hands the power to eliminate physical pain from the world, I would not exercise it. My work with pain-deprived patients has proved to me that pain protects us from destroying ourselves." Dr. Brand has helped us understand and appreciate the central nervous system which allows us to feel pleasure and pain.

For centuries people believed that leprosy was a flesh eating disease. In fact leprosy is a disease that destroys the central nervous systems ability to register pain. Without pain the body cannot tell when damage is being done. Many foolishly assume that to be without pain is a good thing. North Americans consume 50% of the manufactured drugs in the world. One-third of them work on the central nervous system. We kill pain better than anyone, yet the more we do the more pain strikes back. If leprosy is the inability to feel pain, then alcohol and drug addiction are forms of self-imposed leprosy. We are rendered pain free and thus appendages are broken, damaged and eventually rot away from abuse because there is no pain to warn. Pain is a gift. It is the gift none of us want, but a gift none the less.

Imagine a garden where there was no sin, no sorrow and yes, no suffering. Imagine a place where the central nervous system of Adam and Eve was fully functional for pleasures and delights but not pain. There were no thorns. Then sin came and with sin, death and with death, pain. Reality hit the human race like a speeding locomotive. We have been hurting, bleeding, and suffering in pain ever since. Yet, God gave grace in the midst of our fall.

Grace is God's power when we have no power. Grace is God's ability when we have no ability. Grace is God's provision when we have no provision. Grace, if you can grasp it, was built into our central nervous system, waiting for the need. The central nervous system was designed by God and so well designed that even the fall could not keep it from providing a powerful function. The ability to feel pain is God's gracious gift to keep us from doing worse damage to ourselves.

My central nervous system is fully functional. I am in great pain. I am not pretending. This pain reminds me that I loved deeply and was loved greatly. This pain reminds me that I am alive and that I survived, even as I fight a strong wish to the contrary. This pain reminds me that greater damage can come if I do not carefully heal. This pain reminds me that there are deeper truths I have been skipping over in my exuberance. This pain reminds me of what God actually did promise and some things I falsely assumed He promised.

What He actually promised was His presence and the clarity of His voice. Most importantly, He promised that He is enough. Ps. 68:19 says: "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." This pain, I grudge the thought, is a gift.

Ed Litton

Friday, September 14, 2007

God's Help In the Shadow-lands

I am often asked, "How are you doing?” Those who ask, pause as if they had asked a dumb question. It is not a dumb question. It is a caring question, a comforting question, a great question. It is a question that shows someone cares.

So how am I doing? I am filled with a strange mixture of overwhelming sorrow and perfect peace. I have an odd combination of pain and joy; both bring me to tears. I have discovered that I can weep both tears of sorrow and tears of joy simultaneously. This must be what it feels like for the Lord to be my help.

People have said they want to do more than “just” pray for me; I am convinced that prayer is the greatest thing anyone can do for me. I have no strength of my own. However, through prayer, God's sustaining grace gives me strength and is sufficient for every need. This must be what it feels like for the Lord to be my help.

At this moment in my life, though I have a very weird, strange, and odd mixture of deep loss and great gain, God’s powerful presence is not shy. Temptations are real. At times, I am tempted to give in to bitterness, anger, questioning, and resentment. Yet, in the presence of those enemies, He makes me to settle down. He restores my soul. My cup overflows. Surely, His goodness and mercy follow me this day and everyday. This must be what it feels like for the Lord to be my help.

While walking through this valley of the shadow-lands, I hear terrifying howls. At first they seem to come from distant dark places. Then I realize they are coming from within my own soul; loneliness and grief are crying out. But I am not alone, for He is with me. I am comforted by His rod and staff. This must be what it feels like for the Lord to be my help.

When evening falls, it falls quicker in the shadow-lands. It seems darker in the shadow-lands. Yet, He is with me. Though death is still threatening, I don’t dread it as before. Though death is still a mighty foe, its victory was vanquished when my Shepherd conquered the grave. Though we all deserve death, the grace of God gives us eternal life in Christ alone. Sin has lost its power. The power of death is now gone. The sting has been removed. This must be what it feels like for the Lord to be my help.

Ed Litton

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Satan does not respect your grief

When it comes to my relationship with Tammy I have no regrets. I said this the night of her visitation to several people. As the hours turn now into days and days into weeks, I have challenged that thought. I certainly do not have regrets about our relationship. It was rewarding beyond my ability to describe. It was joyful and full of laughter. It was amazing how we fit and how God shaped us to each other. But that word regret has been on my mind. Until last week. Do I regret anything now? I do.

In adjusting to our new normal, I have been cleaning, doing laundry, cooking (please understand what I mean by that word), paying bills, managing accounts, schedules, on top of our own unique ways of grieving. I do not know how Tammy did all that she did. I knew she made the lives of her husband and children easy and wonderful. I know that her gifted servants heart was enclined by God's design to serve us but I do not even know she could track all that she did. At first as this thought crept over me, I began to feel real regret. Did I tell her enough, did I show her how much I appreciated her? Cause I really did, not just now in my new and lonesome awareness of her. Then it happened. The Accuser wispered. "No, Ed you did not appreciate her enough!" A deep sadness crawled on me. I wept regret all over myself.

Yesterday I opened her drawer. You know, the draw a woman has where very personal things are kept. Beneath some clothes, resting quietly was a stack of letters, cards and notes. There are letters from our kids to their mom. There was a note of encouragement from a dear friend. On top of all of them was a note from me. I do not remember writing it. It has no date. It was a note that expressed my deep appreciation for everything she does to make my life worth living. I told her how I could not do ministry or function without her. I told her how I cherish her. An awareness came over me. A joy filled me. Satan, I said, I just remembered something. You are a liar! I just want to remind you that your going to Hell forever and ever. Get out! You have no right or authority over me because I'm under the blood of Jesus.

We all need to stop listening to him.

Ed Litton

Monday, September 10, 2007

Life is Daily

Tammy and I met while attending the University of Arizona. We were blessed to be a part of a move of God in a college ministry at First Southern Baptist Church of Tucson. Our pastor, Ron Hart was a young radical pastor whom God used to spark a revival among us and our fellow students. We were so full of passion for the Lord that we would witness to anything, anywhere at anytime. Our love and passion for Jesus seemed to explode at times. We did things that today make us blush.

Believe it or not a group of five of us were so bold, that we drove
eight hours to Fullerton, California to meet Chuck Swindoll. Swindoll
had just began a national radio broadcast called Insight for Living.
It was a different style of preaching than we were accustomed but there
was depth and practical application and we loved it. In case you are
wondering, yes, we made an appointment. What we did not take into
consideration was Los Angeles traffic, and we arrived for our
appointment thirty minutes late, and Chuck had already left for his
next appointment. His secretary felt sorry for us, so she whispered
the name of the restaurant in which Chuck was meeting someone for
lunch. Today, I can't believe she did that or that we did what I am
admitting to now. Grief must makes men more honest.

We arrived at the restaurant. Now, please understand, not one of us
had ever seen Mr. Swindoll. His voice was so handsome we assumed he
was tall, sun tanned and blonde. Getting out of the car Tammy had the
presence of mind to ask the obvious question; "How will we know him?"
No one thought of that before. I said, "Come on we will figure it
out!" This has been a repeated theme in my life. I led this gaggle of
naive, Swindoll groupies into the Hungry Tiger restaurant, wide eyed
and expectant. After asking the greeter where Chuck Swindoll was
seated and receiving a blank stare I looked around the room for the man
I imagined him to be. It was at this point, I realized how impossible
it is to identify someone's looks by their voice. So I did what any
stupid, bold young neo-radical would do, I spoke out loud his name in
the entire restaurant. "Chuck Swindoll! Is Mr. Swindoll here?" Every
eye turned toward me as silence fell on the crowded dining area. From
a booth across the room, a timid and reluctant hand rose. Now, I was
thrilled to identify him but now I encountered another dilemma. This
somewhat portly, middle aged man who frankly, looked nothing like he
does on radio, was red faced and understandably annoyed by our
interruption. Who could blame him? All five of us gushed all over
him. In less than a minute we poured our gratitude out on the table
for his faithful preaching of God's word. We assured him that it was
making a huge difference in our lives. In the awkward silence that
followed we knew it was time to leave. We left and drove back to

Our passion, misguided at times, was a powerful fuel in our lives. God
shaped us however, through a willingness to go anywhere and do just
about anything for Him. However, it takes more than raw passion in
life. It takes wisdom, courage and grace. We wanted to grow in Christ
more than anything in life and we did grow. We grew as fast as weeds
but as strong and fruitful as trees. One phrase that Tammy and I heard
Chuck Swindoll say was; "The hard thing about life is that it is so
daily." That one phrase captured us as an insight, simple and
real. It is amazing how many times over twenty-five years you will
repeat an insight that impacted you. The truth of that statement even
comforts me today. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, yet
another group of passionate followers of Christ who were in need of
maturity said: "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal
procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of
the knowledge of him." (2Cor. 2:14)

Through the years one thing has proven itself true to me. Passion can
be misguided at times, however, a passion for Christ even one that
bleeds over onto others, is a powerful and wonderful thing. It is life
itself and many mature saints long to regain passion. Regardless of
what you face today, God leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.
When we follow Him, He leads us ultimately to a throne of Grace. We
tend to live for major events in life, but the truth is life is daily.
Each day has trouble of its own. Each day has grace sufficient. Each
day is an opportunity to fuel our passion and walk in simple daily
obedience. We are to be the aroma of Christ wherever this day leads us.

Now that I dwell upon the thought of Tammy's life, it is like planting
my nose in a beautiful flower and breathing in the aroma. She was a
servant like Jesus, tireless and joyful. She was honest about who she
was and comfortable with that. She loved broken and honest people
because she knew that you must be broken before the aroma can come out.

Her sweet aroma lingers!
Ed Litton

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Future

The future seems incredibly daunting. To be honest, it is terrifying. When I allow my mind to dwell on the future, panic invades my heart. I am confident this will not always be the case. However, it is reality at this point. My mind wants to return to that place where dread dwells. My thoughts run to the dark shadows of a very undesirable place in time.

So, what can I do with all the uncertainties and “what-ifs” of life? My dear friend, Billy Graham encouraged me from his own experience with grief. He did what a good friend should do. He reminded me of what I already know, in order for me to apply the truth to my hurting heart.

According to scripture—the truth, how are we to handle an uncertain, scary, and dark future? First, remember God is present. Psalm 46:1 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When Moses saw the burning bush and asked God what His name was, God simply replied "I Am." Jesus affirmed that He was the same "I Am" God. Why would God reveal Himself in this odd present tense? Most people introduce themselves with the things done in the past, or their dreams for the future. Not God; He is present. However, because He is the God of the present--this moment, does not suggest He cannot see the future. The future is as clear to Him as our past is clear to us. Actually, it is clearer. In Matt. 6:34 Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In these verses, He reminded us that He gives us bite size chunks of life, to be lived out daily--one breath at a time, while trusting in His sovereign plan for all our tomorrows.

Second, realize why the future is so frightening. The future frightens us because we cannot see God in the future. All we see is the ominous unknown and we imagine the worst case scenario. Praise God! He is with us in our present pain, sorrow, or suffering. Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” There is a problem when we look toward the future: we cannot see what God will do, if the worst case scenario happens. We tend to see only that which causes us fear. If the worst possible dread becomes reality in our life, His presence becomes the difference between despair and hope.

Third, trust Him for tomorrow. Nothing intimidates God; however, we are intimated. In Ephesians, Paul reminded us that we are not unaware of the methods of Satan. Satan plays upon our fears to manipulate us into actions that ultimately do us harm. He does not respect our grief and pain; he delights in our suffering. He is a pervert! 1Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

I have purposed to pray and seek the prayers of friends so that I may not fall prey to Satan’s evil schemes. I struggle to focus and look to the future; when I do, I rest my fears upon the Lord. I trust my future to Him. He is not unfaithful. He is LORD! I find with grief, grace is abundant and obvious.

Thank you for Praying!
Ed Litton

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

To See His Face

The seventeenth Psalm is simply titled a prayer of David. It is a prayer not unlike the prayers you and I would pray when we face pressure and danger in life. David asks for God's favor in dealing with real and perceived enemies. The prayer of David here is beautiful but it is how he ends the prayer that arrest my heart this day. Psalm 17:15 And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

When Tammy slipped through the painful bonds of life into eternity, the first things she observed in that moment of awakening was His face. His face. What an amazing thought. To see the one who knows everything about you and yet His utter knowledge does not deminish His utter love for you, is overwhelming in thought. To look into the face of the one who gave His all for the joy of this moment. His joy is to see His beloved redeemed finally and completely. I can imagine that in that moment for Tammy, there was a warm, deeply intense, purifying warmth that swiftly erased the childbirth pain of dying. Then in that moment I imagine her eyes widening, pupils dialating and her tender lips seperating in awe. She saw Him, Jesus. The corners of his lips now turning upward. His embrace so utterly enveloping and satisfying like mighty wings wraping her in His love. In that moment, Tammy knew what David imagined. "I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness."

I must tell you a secret. Our love was intense but it grew to be like that. We were able to share a great love because of Him. You see Tammy had a love before me and I before her. The love of her life is Jesus. I got more love out of Tammy by her keeping first things first. It was tempting to put her in the first place but I knew not to do that. He must be first and when He is my love for wife, children and friends is greater than it could have been consuming all of me. I lost Tammy a long time ago to another man. The God-man, Jesus. I am glad I did.

In my good grief I receive comfort in this. Grief becomes so self-centered. It becomes all about my pain and sadness and loss. God's word reminds me through David's prayer that it is about something more, something greater. It is about Him. When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing Him! Then I will go looking for her.
Ed Litton

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


In the midst of grief there is something else. I can only describe as help. Psalm 121:1-2 "I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."

Help comes to make practical decisions. Help comes to face difficult truths. Help comes to hang up a garment of your loved one, now ten times more valuable, returned from the cleaners. Help comes to look at a picture that reminds you of just how much you've lost. Help comes when you walk into Target and are flooded with a memory. Help comes when a horrible fear climbs on you at sunset. Help comes when you reach for the phone to call her and share a joyful or funny story, only to remember. Help comes when the tear damn breaks, again. Help comes.

Where does the help come from? David was right, it comes from the Lord. Psalm 121 is a song pilgrims sang as they went to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. As they made their way up the hill to the city, filled with expectation, they would sing. Called a song of ascent, it was the act of worship before you arrived at the place of worship. It was a reminder of the price of worship, ascending upward when you may not feel like it. I am struck by the reality that in order to ascend you must first descend through the Kidron valley. It is a song fitting for those who grieve.

The Lord helps. When you read the eight verses of this song you will agree that the Lord watches over you also. He shades you with His right hand. "The sun will not harm you by day or the moon by night." The Lord is faithful to help. Make no mistake, His help comes in the midst of pain, sorrow, suffering, loss, grief, and danger. The Lord is there in the crowd of problems, hurt emotions and anger, standing out in the midst of these things, bringing His help. He does not remove
these painful realities but He does not seem intimidated by them either. We wish He would just zap them but He does something better, He comes to us when they arrive. The look on His face tells me that He has a plan. "My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." It took quite a plan to make heaven and earth, I can rest assured He has a plan for me.

When precious hurting people ask to help me in practical ways, I cannot fully describe to you what it does to me. It comforts me. Their love warms me and reminds me of the love of Jesus in the flesh. Many have expressed what I have often felt in comforting another. I felt like I needed to show my love and concern in some practical way. I would say: "I am praying for you but I want to do something more!" Regardless of the cost, I want to help my hurting friend. I have come to depend on such help and I see it joyfully as the hands of God moving through His body, the church.

Friend, thank you for your love but I want you to listen to me, You can not do more than pray! Pray as the Spirit of God prompts you in the night. Pray for God to move. Pray for the Lord to be my help and the help of my family. Where you not praying, I cannot imagine what I would do.

My help comes from the Lord!