I’m Not, but He IS

Even when I can’t see Him, He is near.

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Even when I don’t feel it, He is loving me.

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Even when my strength is gone, He is sustaining me.

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I am not strong, or smart, or brave.

But He is Strength

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and Wisdom

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and Courage!

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No More “Smile and Wave”!

We live in a world of fake smiles, plastic body parts and cheap knock-offs.  We’re so used to it that sometimes we can’t tell the difference anymore.

It’s part of our relationship patterns too.

We see someone we know out shopping and toss, “How are you?” at them anticipating the obligatory reply:

“I’m just FINE!  How are YOU?”  (Said with a deep southern accent and wide, lipsticked smile.)

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But then something unexpected happens.

She says, “I’m having a hard time.  I’m struggling.  This week has been really stressful.  (Spoken in a whisper, through tears.)

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And I’m faced with a choice:  

Do I shut her down or draw her out?  Do I recognize the courage it took to be honest or do I dismiss her openness as inconvenient and inconsequential?

 

Me, I’ll take genuine, every time.

I will stop, find a quiet corner and allow her to share as long as it takes.  I will pray or listen or hug or console until the storm passes.

Because that has been, and still is, ME sometimes.

Before Dominic left us, if you saw me in the grocery store you would have gotten the answer you expected.  My eyes on my list, my head filled with the next thing I was going to do when I left with my buggy full, my heart unbroken and whole-who’s got time for chit-chat?

Smile and wave was standard practice as I moseyed on down the aisle.

Not anymore.

There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than people in this life.

compassion and stay with you

If you want proof, ask a bereaved mama.

Because no one knows with more certainty, with more clarity and will tell you with more conviction that MORE TIME  with someone you love is the ONE thing you would give EVERYTHING for-in a heartbeat. 

So I will lay aside things and chores and to do lists.  

I will give up entertainment and ignore the urge to check Facebook or Twitter.

Because the person in front of me is a gift.

And I want to unwrap that gift and be present for every moment.

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Grief and Grace:What I Need from Friends and Family

You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.

You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall.  He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.

He never made it home.

So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.

Please don’t corner me and ask, “What’s wrong?” Or worse-please, please, please don’t suggest I should be “over it by now”.

If you were reading a novel or watching a movie, you’d show more grace.

You would nod in understanding as the main character made choices that reflected the pain of his past.  You would find his behavior perfectly predictable in the context of a life lived with a broken heart.

I can’t control what makes me cry.  I can’t stop the memories flooding my mind or the pain seizing my heart.

I might be OK one minute and the next a blubbering mess. Grief doesn’t mind a schedule.

But there are some things you can do to help:

  • If you are aware of the circumstances around my child’s death, be thoughtful when highlighting similar situations in conversation, in movie choice, in recommending books or news stories.  I bump into reminders all the time, I don’t need to have them forced upon me.
  • It can be particularly hard to celebrate milestones in another child’s life when that child is about the same age as the one I buried.  Feel free to invite me, but give grace if I choose not to attend a birthday, graduation or wedding.  I’m doing the best I can and I don’t want to detract from the celebration so sometimes I bow out.
  • Ask me if, or how,  I would like my missing child included in family gatherings. Sometimes I want his memory highlighted and sometimes I want to hold it close like a personal treasure.  It might be different one year to the next. Just ask.
  • Be sensitive to the calendar.  Make a note of my child’s birthday, heaven day, date of the funeral or memorial service-these are important dates for me and they will be as long as I live.  In the first months, maybe for years, each month is a reminder that I am that much further from the last time I heard his voice, hugged his neck or saw his living face.  Those days are especially hard.
  • Don’t pressure me to move faster in my grief journey.  And don’t interpret a single encounter as the measure of how I’m doing.  Be aware that it is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience.  It is MY experience and will go as fast or as slow as it does.  I can’t even hurry it along even though sometimes I am desperate to do so.
  • Understand that the things I may share don’t paint a total picture.  There are pains too deep, thoughts too tortuous, experiences surrounding my son’s death and burial too hurtful for me to speak aloud.

I admit that I never thought of any of these things until it was MY son missing.

But now I think about them all the timenot only for my sake, but for the sake of others like me. I try to walk gently and kindly, extending grace and love.

And honestly, that’s really all I want from anyone else-grace, abundant grace.

I will be weepy when it’s inconvenient.  I will react when you can’t fathom why.  I will stay away when you want me to come near.  I will make choices you don’t understand.

I am truly sorry.

But child loss is not something I chose for myself, it was thrust upon me.

I am walking this path the best I know how.

When you extend grace and love me through the roughest places it makes all the difference.

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Blessed Assurance

One of the ongoing challenges in my grief journey is fighting back fear.

Fear of what COULD happen, now that I know by experience what it feels like when it does.

So I try to remind myself on a regular basis that my life and the lives of those I love have never been in my own hands

Who’s Holding on to Whom?

Do Good, Be Light, Extend Hope

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

James 2:14-17 MSG

James doesn’t mess around.

He says what a lot of people are thinking but are too timid to speak aloud.

I like that.

We could use a good dose of his brand of preaching in the church today.  Let’s stop pretending that following Jesus is just about getting our theology right.  Let’s stop acting like going to church, serving on committees or teaching Sunday School is the best indicator of where my heart is relative to my Savior.

Let’s face facts:  if my life does not look different than the lives of those who do not know Jesus, then either I don’t know Him or I’m not paying attention to what He’s telling me to do.

I have been blessed on this grief journey by a few dedicated friends who go out of their way to do good, be light and extend hope to my heart when I’m barely holding on.  They have chosen, often sacrificially, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my life.

And they make a difference!

Sometimes it’s a card in the mail, sometimes a text or message and sometimes a visit-but they DO something.  They might not understand why God is putting me on their heart, but they obey the prompting.

So if the Spirit is nudging you to reach out to someone, don’t ignore Him or put it off. Sure, praying is important.  We are commanded to do that.

But we are also commanded to be physically present and to extend practical help to hurting hearts.  We are supposed to BE the hands and feet of Jesus.

Who knows, I might be the answer to my own prayer that God send encouragement to someone else.

I can choose to do good.

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I can choose to shine light.

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I can choose to share hope.

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And my small gesture be the very thread that holds a broken heart together.  

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17 NIV

 

 

Celebrating the Small Victories

This journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

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If I keep my eyes focused on the miles I’ve yet to trod, I can be discouraged and tempted to give up.

But if I think about the miles I’ve covered and the progress toward healing that has occurred, I can gain strength to keep on going.

It’s hard.

That’s not going to change.

I have mountains yet to climb.  I won’t always be victorious-I’ll suffer setbacks.

But today, I’m celebrating several small victories:

I spent two hours laughing hysterically with a friend over lunch.

We were so loud and having so much fun that the wait staff was undoubtedly convinced we had enjoyed a liquid lunch although we didn’t drink anything stronger than water.  And it felt GOOD.

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I am teaching again.

Since I was a little girl lining my dolls up for pretend school, my heart has been inclined toward teaching.  Through the years I’ve taught Sunday School, seminars, parenting classes, speech classes and my own children from kindergarten through high school.  But it’s been awhile-a long while since I’ve had the energy to be the focus of a room full of people.  It’s just a small class on Sunday nights, but it’s a start.

I cut my hair.

Now, you are wondering how is that a victory?  But in the throes of despair after Dominic left us, I vowed that I would never cut it.  Because (this is the biology nerd in me) my hair contained the only cells in my body that would not be shed and renewed.  I wanted this physical part of me that existed when he was still here as a reminder of just how long it had been since I hugged him or heard his voice.  But the other day I knew it was time.  So before I could lose my nerve I did it.  And I’m glad.  He would definitely approve!

I baked shortbread for my mother’s birthday.

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Family celebrations are still very hard. When we are together, the hole where Dominic should be is that much more apparent. And shortbread was one of the only things that could tempt my fitness fanatic son to break training and indulge his sweet tooth.  So I haven’t made it since before he left us.  But it’s Mama’s favorite too.  And I’m learning to experience these memories wrapped up in doing things we did BEFORE as a blessing instead of only as a painful reminder that Dominic is gone.

You may be very fresh in your grief.  You may despair of ever making headway toward healing.  You may FEEL like you will ALWAYS be held under the tidal wave of sorrow.

It does seem that way for a very long time-longer for some people than others and definitely longer than we would hope.  

But please be encouraged!

Your victories will look different than mine, but they will come. If you face the pain and do the work grief requires, you can begin to heal.

No, you will never be the same.

I’m not.

I don’t want to be.

Burying a child has taught me many things for which I am grateful and the pain I carry is a testimony to the love I have for my son.

But I am learning to live again.

One small victory at at time.

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