Below is an excerpt of one of my monthly posts at LifeWay Voices.


Five years ago this month, I lost my 29 year old brother to a drug overdose. The moment I heard the devastating news will be etched on my soul forever. The last time I saw my brother James alive was in July of that year. That hot summer day I never would have guessed the next time I laid eyes on him he would be lying lifeless—cold in a casket. Up until that moment, the news of his death felt like nightmare I would wake up from soon. Surreal. Yet, when I walked into the funeral parlor with my parents and remaining two siblings, we saw the proof of his departure. Death indeed had come. All that remained of James was his decaying physical body.

As we stare down our fifth Thanksgiving without James, the loss is still present and the sting of death lingers. However there is much hope—even in my deep grief—to hold on to. The hope we can experience through trials and loss is directly attached to our view of God. If our view of God is big, the reality of our hope will be big, too. Here are six truths about God we can cling to as we walk through the holidays with grief in our hearts.

So much of my life has been spent leaving. Leaving California for Auburn. Leaving Auburn for Jacksonville. Leaving Medical Technology for full-time ministry. Leaving Cru to go into church ministry. Leaving Florida youth ministry for a full-time Kentucky pastorate. Leaving Harrodsburg to move back home to Florida.

In some ways, leaving is easier each time because you’ve experienced God’s provision during the previous move. Yet, inevitably it just all catches up to you. The goodbyes. The loss. Even the little things you miss out on simply because you are no longer there.

And there are always regrets. People you miss. Choices you wish you made differently. Time wasted that you long to redeem.

Yet with each move and new city, with each new relationship and assignment, there is grace. We receive an opportunity to learn from the past and start fresh.

Leaving naturally leads to looking back. And a backward glance allows you to see the providing hand of God in ways that are simply hard to see when you are in the throws of the moment. And as I look back on the dreams that I had for my life, the visions of what life would be—and who it would be with—is so much different and so much smaller than what God has had planned for my life.

So, yes. Leaving has been a big part of my life. And instead of focusing on the pain and tears leaving has caused, I choose to believe wholeheartedly that leaving—again and again and again—has been His call, His plan, His desire for me. I choose to focus more on what I’ve gained from each experience instead of what I’ve lost.

And as I stand here today so very tired of leaving—still counting the loss, still morning, still waiting for the emotional space and energy needed to make new relationships in our new place—I’m grateful. I’m grateful for every assignment. Grateful for every friend. Grateful for every goodbye. Grateful for the promise that even if God calls me to leave again, He will never leave me.

I was born in Long Beach, California. My mother was an ER nurse and my father worked for McDonell-Douglass. We lived in Cerritos, near Anaheim. (And, yes, we visited Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm often.) I remember walking a few blocks over to watch the 1984 Olympic cyclists fly by us on the freeway. The main streets in Cerritos were lined with purple Agapanthus (one of my favorite plants today), and the pet goldfish I had for about a week is buried in the flowerbed in the front yard. (Well, it was buried. A couple weeks later, I got curious about what he looked like, so I tried to exhume him … but couldn’t find him. Maybe the neighborhood cat go to him first?)

When I was in 2nd grade we moved up to what is known as the High Desert, and lived there until I graduated from high school in 1996. This past spring, I had a speaking engagement that brought me back to the area and it was an emotionally charged visit. (More on that later.) Some of my most cherished memories are of afternoons roaming the neighborhood, making blanket forts in the boy’s room, weekend trips to visit Grackey and Papa’s, and the epic summer road trips we took as a family.

I’m not what you would call a cryer, nor am I super-sappy, but I’m realizing how much of my childhood is etched in my mind as precious. I find myself wanting to give my kids the same experiences … though I might unintentionally take it up a notch. The first time we took Kenneth to The Magic Kingdom, I cried. Walking down Main Street was magical, and I was sure this was going to be Kenneth’s first special memory. Who knows, though. He was only 4.

But our Magic Kingdom visits are nothing compared to the National Parks. My guess is, my parents took us to somewhere around 10 National Parks. I remember my brother James being so puzzled when we reached the Petrified Forest. He wanted to know where all the trees were. (He was about 6.) At the Chickamauga Battlefield in Tennessee, as a teenager, I had the attitude of a lifetime (and the family picture to prove it) because it was HOT and HUMID (something this SoCal girl knew nothing about) and BORING. Yet, deep down, I loved all those parks and I do even more so today. The redwoods and caves, deserts and mountains, forts and battlefields are symbols of our time together as The Landrums.

Fast forward 25 years, and I am now an official all-out nerd when it comes to the National Parks. We go out of our way to stop and visit the parks. We’re on our second National Parks passport (the first one didn’t have enough spaces for all our cancellation stamps.) The kids do the Junior Ranger programs at each park we visit (if they have one), and receive badges for their work. I’ve lost count on how many parks we’ve visited … but the kids have well over 20 badges. Each. We’re taking a trip up to Kentucky soon, as Chris will be officiating a wedding for a sweet couple from our previous church. The plan is to hit two parks in South Carolina on the way up, and Chickamauga on the way home.

Redemption!

I’m not sure if my obsession with making our trips memorable, and for our kids to have experiences together, is shaped more by the wonderful memories I have or the fact that my brother is dead and no longer around to make new memories. I’m sure it’s a mixture of both. Carrying some of these traditions is a celebration of what my parents provided for me and my siblings: a good, safe, and solid childhood. And I’m so grateful for all they sacrificed to make it so. I know all-too-well now the temptation of being a lazy parent. It would be much easier and a HECK of a lot cheaper to just stay home and let the kids play video games all summer. But I want them to have the memories I have to hold on to. I want them to have these centering trips that force us to interact with one another, get to know each other better, and to just be The Orr Family. Together.

I get all fired up when I hear “preachers” saying God wants me to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. “You deserve more, better,” they say. “Just set your mind to something and go for it. God is for you. He will give you what you desire if you love and obey Him enough. Have faith, and life will go well for you.”

Problem is, these are half-truths—shadows of Scripture. Sound bites that are close enough to sound right and are highly motivational, but in actuality, hold devastating implications. When life doesn’t go our way we wonder what we did wrong or what we didn’t do enough of to get God to act on our behalf. And when life is peachy-keen, our need for God dissipates. We turn Christianity into a formula to be figured out and followed.

Fact is, we are not promised smooth sailing. We are not guaranteed to bypass the difficult storms of life just because we are Christians. And the presence of a squall does not mean God is upset with us. I’ve found the opposite to be true in my life. The trials I’ve faced have proved God to be lovingly present, tenderly purposeful, and powerfully able to use all things for my good. I’ve learned that being a Christian doesn’t give me some force-field bubble that protects me from harm. But having the hope of Christ within me—knowing and holding onto all He has done for me and all that He will do—brings a deep-down peace that no positive-thinking prosperity message can provide.

I’ll say it again: walking with God is not a formula to be found out and followed. Abundant life with Jesus is a journey of continually drawing near to His presence while holding fast to the gospel—our anchor of truth. All who are in Christ possess the treasure of hope. It’s a noun, not a verb. But don’t always experience the hope-filled abundant life because we either don’t truly know the gospel or we forget.

We often want to measure growth with external charts and checkboxes, but I believe true spiritual growth cannot be evaluated simply by our deeds. Actions can be modified. Attitudes can be mimicked. But holding fast to hope cannot be faked.

If our view of God is big, the reality of our hope will be big, too.

God, I confess the places where I have not trusted in Your promises. Help me to see that You are steadfast and sure. Open my eyes to see You more and more each day.

hope in god


This is an excerpt from my Everyday Hope Full Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase. Thanks for your support!  study, an easy to use, four-week Bible study. Designed for women who are pressed for time, yet crave depth from their Bible study, Everyday Hope Full Disclosure: At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase. Thanks for your support!  offers a relevant and lasting approach for reading and understanding Scripture. In as few as 15 minutes a day, discover how to hold fast to His promises amidst feelings of hopelessness.

Time, you are flying by.

It seems the older I get, the quicker you make my days pass by. Like a book flung open in the wind, you are blowing my flapping pages furiously toward its conclusion.

I feel these fleeting moments often when I look at my youngest, no longer a baby; he seems to grow taller everyday. My oldest is beginning to shed the skin of little boy as he tumbles towards the teenage years. And a quick glance at my middle-child reveals a shadow of the woman she will one day become.

Time, slow down.

On one hand, it feels as though there is plenty of time to read all the books we want to read, visit the sights we want to see, and instill the lessons we want to leave with our children. But then—just like that—we are over half way through this chapter of parenting and I’m not sure I’m ready for what’s ahead.

Time, I want you to be predictable. Safe.

I know all-too-well that I am not promised tomorrow. My personal clock may stop tomorrow. Or my husband’s. Or one of my children. Or one of my parents. Or another one of my siblings. And some moments, the thought of losing any one member of my family is more than I can bear.

Time, you are a constant reminder.

I cannot control you, but I know the One who does. He knows. He weaves. He carries. And in His perfect work, Time, He will allow you to march as fast or slow as you need to do His will for His perfect plan.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever.
Amen.
(Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

How is time passing for you these days? What verses do you cling to that point your heart to the One who holds every second in His hands?

You would be 32 today. As if I could forget, Facebook reminded me it is your birthday.

Clark got married a few weeks ago. You were born almost exactly a month a part. It was a beautiful time of celebrating the love he has for his new bride. And though I am so very happy for him, the reality of a wedding that will never be lurks in the shadows. It was yet another indication of the finality of your life. I’m beginning to see every milestone I cross over without you will be such a reminder.

The reality of your death hurts just as much in this moment as it did upon its first blow. But the heavy fists of grief don’t hit me down as often as they used to. For that, I am thankful.

Though I wish you were still here, so we can enjoy weddings and Thanksgivings and yet another round of Settlers, I sometimes feel like you are missing out with all the happenings of now. Truly, I’m the one missing out. You are experiencing the glory and comfort and love of our Savior. No more pain. No more heartache. No more struggling.

The perfect, powerful, peace-filled presence of God.

What a solace! This is the hope I hold fast to when the sting of your absence pains me, that God loves you oh-so-much more than I do. You are in the eternal shadow of His wings.

Happy Birthday, Bubba. I love you.

hope in death

It seems as if the only words I have for this space lately are grieving ones. I write much behind the scenes, for studies, for newsletters, for other blogs. But my words for my own blog seem to come only when my heart is stirred with pain. Today I had to watch yet another friend grieve the untimely loss of a father. And as friends grieve, I cannot grieve alongside of them without entering into my own.

My heart aches for them, for me, for all that’s been lost. All that is no longer. All that will never be.

For the Christian, we know there is always great hope, even within our deep pain. However, we often don’t always know how to experience that hope alongside our troubles.

As I write in my new Everyday Hope study, hope is not a verb. It is not a job I need to go and do better at. When I “lose hope” the solution is not to figure out how to be more hopeful, as if it were a state of mind I must fight for. For the Christian, hopelessness is forgetfulness. When I forget what is true — especially during the times of tears and dark days — despair takes over. Instead, I must remember who God is, and who I am because of Christ, regardless of what my situation is screaming at me.

Remembering who God is and how much He loves me doesn’t make me numb to the pain, or impervious to the shock and sorrow that comes with a great loss. But remembering does allow me to see the hope I’ve had all along. Hope is not something we do to escape the storm. Hope is what we hold fast to as we endure each wave.

What Hope Is

Our hope is only found in the glorious truth of the Gospel. There is much we have to hope in, through Christ. Here are five truths, specific to our pain and tears, we can cling to.

Five Truths to Treasure through My Tears

God knows my tears. Every one. Just as he numbers every hair on my head, every star in the sky, every grain of sand on the seashore, he numbers my every tear. The sad ones. The angry ones. The sin-stained ones. The happy ones. I am never alone. Never forgotten.

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? . . . This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust (Psalm 56:8-11 ESV).

Jesus enters into my grief. When Jesus saw Mary, grieving over the loss of her brother, He wept. He was present in that moment and entered into grief with her and the others weeping. I have the Spirit of the living God within me, and when I weep, He is present in my grief.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled . . . Jesus wept (John 11:33-35 ESV).

Jesus knows my pain. It’s one thing to say that God sees and enters into my pain. It is quite another to know that He humbled Himself, limited His divine nature for a time, and became human so that I could be with Him forever. Jesus loved. Jesus lost. Jesus grieved. He knows the pain I am feeling.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . . Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-4 ESV).

God will wipe every tear from my eye. Every single one. He sees every tear. He cares about every cry. He redeems every pain.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:8-9 ESV).

My tears will end. My pain. My ache. This emptiness that longs for death to end. It will all be taken away and replaced with the all-consuming, completely fulfilling, perfectly healing presence of God.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5 ESV).

Though pain and tears and sorrow are inevitable on this side of eternity, we hold a great hope. Praying you and I can continually remember the hope-filled truths of who God is, and who we are (and will be) because of Christ. Let’s hold fast to the Gospel.

It was two years ago this evening I received the news. Since I had been flying home from speaking at a retreat in Texas, I’m pretty sure I was the last to find out. 

My 29-year-old brother, James, is dead. 

My husband and I frantically packed our family of five and left for home the next morning. During that eight hour drive, tears came often and sporadically. This can’t be real. He’s really not dead. He’ll be there when we get home. He will. 

It felt like a really bad dream. Completely surreal.

———

I stood shaking, with my mom and dad, brother and sister in the funeral room parlor. We sobbed for what seemed like hours as we said our final goodbyes to James. My eyes played tricks on me as I looked into the casket. His chest seemed to raise and lower. But it couldn’t be. He had been dead for days. My eyes saw what my heart longed for. Breath. Life. A second chance. 

My hand touched his cold face and I kissed his forehead.

Goodbye, James. 

Back at my parent’s home it felt as if he should be home for dinner any minute now. Still, to this day, I expect him to walk around the corner and make his appearance.

But he never does. He never will.

How I long to see him again. To be a better sister. To store up and savor every moment we had together. 

There is a place in my heart that will continually long for him to pull up in the driveway to join us for dinner. The grief-filled room will forever be in my blueprints.

As a family, we are completely incomplete without James. We have yet to take any new pictures together. It’s not that we’ve made a pact not to. We’ve not even talked about it. It just doesn’t seem natural anymore; it doesn’t seem right to take a family picture with one of us missing.

dealing with grief

Maybe we’ll be able to this year. Maybe.

A year ago today, my brother died.

death of a sibling

It’s hard to believe it has been over a year since I saw him last. In some ways it feels like yesterday.

I can still hear his goofy laugh and his low voice saying goodbye for the last time. Though I didn’t know it would be the last time we would be together, I treasure that last hug on a Kentucky July and those final I love you’s exchanged.

When I allow myself to go there, the pain is deep. A good friend told me grief comes in waves. She was right. But she also mentioned that the waves lessen in frequency as time passes. She was right about that, too.

A year ago today, I stood on the beach as grief’s relentless waves slammed me hard. Moment after moment a new wave of realization threw me to the ground. Time doesn’t make the hurt go away, nor do days passing lessen the ache when the waves come, but the waves are calmer and slower. Sometimes I can even see them coming, and I can back up the shore in time to avoid its sting.

death of a sibling

It’s in this way that I know a year must have passed.

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me . . . Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you . . . “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” – Jonah 2:3,8-9

God allowed a deep place in my life. Yet He has proven Himself my faithful provider through the crash of every wave.

death of a sibling

We miss you terribly, James.

I’ve lost a brother.

Grief is a peculiar emotion. Yet, I’ve come to know it’s more than an emotion. It’s a journey.

There are days when this journey leaves me heartbroken. I wonder why God allows death. Other days I am able to avoid the tender places, but then I begin to feel guilty that I diverted my attention—that I didn’t let myself think about James that day.

The thing is, they still go hand and hand. Maybe one day I’ll be able to think about him and not get upset. But for now, it’s just not the case. Especially if I’m alone.

Grief is like a messy room in my house. I can close the door and choose not to enter, thus ignoring the mess inside. But the room is always there, and I know what awaits me when I open the door.

I move past the James room everyday. Just the mention of his name brings me right to the threshold of this room of grief. I brush past the door with a mental nod. I acknowledge its presence and move on.

I don’t have time to open the door. Not now. I can’t do this right now.

Because I know what awaits me, and it’s not simply a room filled with messy clothes. It’s a space full with the mess of my emotions.

When it’s quiet and I’m alone, I open the door. Sometimes I don’t even mean to, it just happens. I simply stand in the doorway and the memories wash over me like a flooding wave. His voice. Mad Libs at Christmas. Settlers. Laughter. The last hug. Seeing him in that casket, cold and lifeless. I’m unable to remember the good times without the inevitable ending. To experience the good memories, the pain must be experienced with it.

Presently, as I write this, I’m in the room. The grief is fresh once again. The loss is real. It hurts, and, as long as I sit here on the floor of this grief room, it will hurt. I have to get up off the floor and shut the door.

It’s just easier right now to stay out of the room. It doesn’t mean I don’t love James. I haven’t forgotten about him. I just can’t function while face down in my tears.

I just can’t.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”

I’m thankful that God is with me. He dwells within my heart as my Comforter and Strength. He wipes every tear from my eyes and records every sorrow (Psalm 56:8). He is present in every part of my life.

Even the grief room.

Do you have a grief room? Have you experienced the comfort of His presence?