Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday: A Study in Contrasts

Twenty-four hours separate one of the most outlandish global parties and one of the most somber religious observances on the Christian calendar.

Many of the same folks show up for both.

Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday”, is the last hurrah for those who observe Lent-a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation before Resurrection Sunday.

It’s a giant party-food, fellowship and fun-a wonderful way to celebrate the blessings of this life.

Ash Wednesday, by contrast,  is an invitation to remember that “from dust you came and to dust you will return”.  None of us get out of here alive.

ashwednesday

Even where the Gospel is preached every Sunday there are those who forget this life is hard and often full of pain and suffering.

If your experience so far has looked more like Mardi Gras and less like ashes, well, then-be thankful.

But don’t be deceived.

“From dust you came and to dust you will return.”

For some of us it was a similar twenty-four hour turnaround that upset our world, tossed us headfirst into the waves of sorrow and burned that truth into our hearts, not just dabbed it on our foreheads.

Sometimes I feel excluded from fellowship with the saints because I can’t join in the celebratory spirit of a worship service.

When the hymns only focus on our “victory in Jesus”  my heart cries, “Yes-but perhaps I won’t see the victory this side of heaven.”

When the congregation claps and dances to feel-good songs that celebrate the sunshine but ignore the rain, my eyes swim with tears because I know the reality of a downpour of sorrow.

Because sometimes praise is a sacrifice.

offerings

Church needs to be a place where we can share the pain as well as the promise that Christ will redeem it.

Jesus Himself said,“in this world you will have trouble”.

So I can’t claim allegience to the Church of the Perpetually Cheerful.

I want to create space for the hurting and broken and limping and scared.

How about a new demonination that acknowledges the truth that life is hard.  Instead of the Overcoming Apostolic Praise-filled Ministers of Eternal Optimism I would name it the Trudging But Not Fainting Faithful.

By all means enjoy the “Fat Tuesdays” in life.

Drink them in, dance, celebrate!  But remember that it can change in a heartbeat.  And that it HAS changed for many of us.

There is hope.

All is not lost.

But in the meantime, it’s hard.

will-have-trouble-but-i-have-overcome

 

 

No Comparison

One of the hardest parts of blogging for me is that I am committed to authenticity.  As best as I am able, I try to be honest and transparent.

This entry was tricky.

I never, ever want to minimize ANYONE’S pain-in my mind there is no hierachy of misery. But I also want to let those outside the child loss community see how much it hurts to have our loss compared by others to their very different losses. We would much rather you simply take our hand or hug us or sit silently with us on the mourning bench.

So, here it is.  I hope you receive it in the spirit in which it is intended.

It is just so hard to accept that remaining silent is often better than saying the wrong thing.

It seems like every quiet space MUST be filled with chatter-especially in our overstimulated world of screens and noise boxes.

But, I promise-if you and I are speaking, and I choose to expose my heart-I would rather you take my hand or hug my neck and say nothing than tell me, “I understand exactly how you feel.”

Unless, of course, you do.

If you have buried a child, then please, please, please tell me that!  We will cry together.

women-crying-together-cell-phone

But there is no comparison between losing an aged aunt, full of years,  and losing a child, full of promise.

There is no comparison between losing a job, a house or a dream-any of which have the potential for restoration in this life– and losing a childwhom I will not see until I reach heaven.

There is no comparison between losing a pet and losing my son.

It’s the difference between being hungry because you skipped lunch and starving to death because you don’t have access to food or water.

One is uncomfortable and the other is excruciating.

So, while I deeply appreciate your desire to empathize with me, please don’t try to stretch your limited experience with loss to include my own.

It hurts my heart and minimizes my pain.

There’s just no comparison.

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refuse Shame

I remember the night of Dominic’s visitation-a few of us, including our pastor were there early and prayed together for strength and for God’s Presence.

In that circle of loving friends and family I was overcome with the need to kneel. My body had to acknowledge the fact that my heart was humbled as it never had been before.  I was in the dust and ashes were my food.  

What could be worse?

But in the days and weeks and months that followed, as the fog of disbelief lifted and the reality of pain, sorrow and missing became undeniable, it did get worse. Part of the “worse” was a sense of shame.

A sense that I should have been able to protect my son, keep him safe, make sure he lived-but I couldn’t.

The pain of child loss is often accompanied by shame:

Shame that I couldn’t save my child.  Shame of suicide, addiction, being in the wrong place, with the wrong people at the wrong time.  Texting while driving. Not wearing a seat belt. The shame of missing something. The shame of waiting to intervene.  The shame of pushing too hard.

The shame of just not being there when it happened.

The list is endless…

Often that shame keeps bereaved parents from reaching out, imprisons them in their own minds and sometimes in their own homes.

owning-our-story-and-loving-ourselves-through-the-process

But it shouldn’t be that way.

Child loss is a tragedy, not punishment.

It highlights the fact that I am not in control-and neither are you.  It happens even when a parent or a child does “everything right”.  And some kids survive to old age even when they have done “everything wrong”.  

Shame tells me that I am unworthy of love and unworthy of belonging.

And that is a lie.

It “erodes our courage and fuels disengagement” (Brene Brown) If I allow shame to overwhelm my heart it drives me away from the very help I need to make it through this awful Valley.

I have to shake it off.

I have to refuse it’s cold creep into my soul, toss it out and bar the door so that it can’t come back inside.   I will name it and drag it from hiding for others to see.  

It cannot survive the light of day.  

shame-cannot-survive-being-spoken

There is NO shame in burying a child. 

The Lifter of My Head

When I taught a young women’s Sunday School class, we were exploring the third Psalm.

David wrote this Psalm when fleeing from his son, Absalom.  He not only feared for his life, but his heart was broken by the shattered family relationships that led to this power struggle.

It wasn’t the first time he had to rely on God to intervene.

Psalm 3

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Jehovah, how many are they that trouble me, many they that rise up against me!

Many say of my soul, There is no salvation for him in God. Selah.

But thou, Jehovah, art a shield about me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

With my voice will I call to Jehovah, and he will answer me from the hill of his holiness. Selah.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for Jehovah sustaineth me.

I will not fear for myriads of the people that have set themselves against me round about.

Arise, Jehovah; save me, my God! For thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheekbone, thou hast broken the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation is of Jehovah; thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

DARBY translation

I will do almost anything to make a lesson come alive.

So I lay down on the carpet, forehead to the floor, arms outstretched and asked, “Can I defend myself in any way in this position?”

Of course the answer was a resounding, “NO!” because it was obvious that I could not.

I was at the mercy of whoever may intend me harm.  I could neither see them nor stop them.  It was a position of absolute vulnerability-the way prisoners knelt for execution in ancient times.

It was the position Esther assumed when she embraced very real danger to gain the opportunity to plead for the safety of her people.

And it reflects the inner truth that I am not in control and utterly reliant on the God Who made me to save me.

save-me-o-god-hand-christian-wallpaper-hd_1366x768

A friend posted this on her timeline and I really like it.

lift-up-your-head-it-aint-overI would change only a single thing: Instead of “lift your head” I would say, “let God lift your head”.

Because I am unable to lift it myself.

I don’t have the strength, I don’t have the power, I don’t have the energy to raise my head above my current circumstances.  I am bent under the weight of sorrow and grief.  If left to myself, I will stay here and simply wait for the end to come-it sometimes sounds easier and more inviting.

But the truth is, it AIN’T over yet.

I don’t get to make that choice.  God does.  And as long as He keeps me here I want to rely on Him to lift my head and make my life a living testimony to His power, grace, mercy and love.

There IS salvation from God-not only eternal salvation but also salvation from the pit of despair and despondency that threatens to swallow my soul.  

When He lifts my head, I can see it.

no pit

Repost: Exploding the Myth: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

You know, I don’t expect those outside the Body of Christ to have good theology-that’s like expecting me to be able to explain thermodynamics.  

Ain’t gonna happen-it’s outside my scope of understanding and practice.

I do expect those who have spent a lifetime reading Scripture, studying Sunday School lessons and listening to sermons to know better.

But many don’t.

Read the rest here:  Exploding the Myth: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing! PART TWO: Coping Strategies

So now that you know you aren’t going crazy, what to do?

Give yourself grace-understand that the old you is not the new you.

griefbrain

You will not be able to overcome these very real changes by sheer force of will. No matter how talented or together you used to be, it’s unlikely you can operate on that high plane right now. If you try, you will only exhaust the resources you have left.  

So slow down and make room for how grief has impacted your mind.

talk-to-yourself-as-someone-you-love-brene-brown

There are some basic self-care techniques that bear fruit in every area, not only mental acuity:

  • Eat balanced meals or snacks-It doesn’t matter if you WANT to eat.  Consider that you are fueling your body so that it can feed your mind.  Find a protein bar you like or eat easy-to-make salads or sandwiches.  When blood sugar levels are stable, your mind works better.
  • Get as much quality sleep/rest as possible-This is very hard, I know, when the setting sun brings memories and thoughts that make sleep almost impossible.  But research “sleep hygiene” and apply the techniques that might work for you.  Herbal supplements and teas can help as well as prescription medications.
  • Drink enough water-hydration is so very important and easy to ignore.
  • Limit alcohol and/or other stimulants/depressants -any of which can interfere with your ability to think and remember. (Do NOT stop medication unless you do so in concert with your doctor)
  • Exercise-There’s no need to run a 5K. Just a walk around the block or even around your house can get your blood pumping and providing more oxygen to your brain.
  • Get a physical exam to rule out hypothyrodism, diabetes, heart disease, or any other physical cause for your symptoms.  If prescribed treatment, follow the protocol.

brain-cogs-and-light-bulb

Develop work arounds:

  • I simply admit to people I’m meeting for the first time that I will not remember their name unless and until I use it multiple times, and even then I might forget.  It takes the pressure off so I don’t have to pretend when I see them again.
  • I write down EVERYTHING.  If I put something “someplace safe” I jot down the location in my calendar.  If I make an appointment or need to make a phone call, I write it where I can see it.  If I commit to bring something to a potluck meal, I put down what I promised and when it needs to be there.
  • I ask for help.  Like I said before, if I make lunch plans with friends, I ask that they text me the day before to remind me.  If I need extra time to fill out a form, I speak out-I’ve never had anyone refuse.  If I can’t remember something important, I admit it and look it up.  I have given my family permission to tell me when I’m repeating myself.
  • I maintain routines and habits.  Keys-same place,always. I have a carabiner on my purse to attach them when I leave my truck.  Glasses-same place, always.  Medicines in those little seven-day sorted containers.
  • I use the Internet, mail and telephone calls to expedite things and minimize stressful interactions with people.  If I am going out to a restaurant, I look up the menu online so I’m not forced to make a decision on the spot.  I look up and print directions even though my phone can navigate on the fly.  I call ahead to learn how long a repair will take, if items are available and if my prescriptions are actually ready.  I send letters and cards instead of visiting when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

take-control-of-your-life

Lifestyle choices:

  • I aim for balance:  Harder tasks with easier ones; stressful outings with quiet moments; reading with sewing; outside and inside; work and play.  Switching up seems to help keep me sharper somehow.
  • I don’t overcommit.  When someone asks me to do something, unless it is truly an emergency requiring an immediate answer, I consult my calendar.  If I already have a couple commitments for a week, I beg off or reschedule for another time.  I realize that those working outside the home have far less control over these things but perhaps you might ask your boss for some leeway.
  • I group similar tasks and do one thing at a time.  I find that doing things that require the same skillset on a single day increases my ability to do them well.  Shopping, writing notes, cleaning house are things I schedule for one day at a time.  I am absolutely NO GOOD at multitasking anymore.
  • I’m realistic about what I can and can’t do.  It is humbling to admit that I’m no longer tolerant of small children and large crowds.  I used to be able to handle both.  But I just can’t do it, so I limit my exposure.  I won’t serve in the nursery at church and I don’t attend concerts.  That’s just the way it is now.
  • I plan for laughter.  If it doesn’t happen organically, I seek something uplifting and funny to tickle me into laughing out loud at least once a day.  Laughter helps me cope and releases all kinds of feel-good hormones.  With the world of memes at your fingertips, this is an easy thing to do.
  • I refuse to apologize.  Yes, I might say, “I’m sorry” when I forget someone’s name, but I don’t make it a habit to make excuses for my inability to live up to others’ expectations.  I learned early on that anyone who has not walked this Valley can’t really understand anyway.  It frustrates me, adds to stress and does no good.  So I let my “yes” be “yes” and my “no” be “no”.  I’m beyond being embarrassed.

I do the best I can as long as I can.

And when I reach my limit, I admit it without being shamed.

 

shame-is-the-intensely-painful-feeling-we-are-unloveable-brene-brown

 

 

 

 

 

Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!

I’m looking right at her.

I know her.  In fact, I’ve known her for years.  But please don’t ask me her name.

I have no idea.

It happens to all of us-meet someone in the store or at the Post Office and you just know you know them, but cannot-for the life of you-remember a name.

file-cabinet

Chatting on, you search mental files desperately trying to make a connection you can hold onto.  Five minutes after she walks away it pops up-oh, yes!  That’s so-and-so from such-and-such.

Imagine if instead of searching mental files without success you can’t even find the file cabinet and start to wonder if one ever existed.

That’s what “grief brain” does to you.

Here are a few more examples of things that actually happened:  

  • Someone would say something to me and I hear them as if it’s another language-I have absolutely NO IDEA what they just said.
  • I had to write a list each morning of the most basic things to do (like eat) so that I didn’t forget to do them. I had to tape the list to the kitchen cabinet because otherwise I lost it.
  • I could no longer walk away from the stove when it’s turned on-I burned more than one pot of peas.
  • There are times I couldn’t remember my phone number or street address when asked.
  • I answered the phone, heard a familiar voice only to be confused about exactly who was on the other end of the line.
  • I became momentarily “lost” on familiar streets or in familiar stores.
  • Sometimes I literally couldn’t remember what day it was.
  • I forgot appointments, meetings and what time church starts on Wednesday night.

confused-huffpo

I began to wonder if I was losing my mind.  

And, in a way, I was.  

At least the mind I had BEFORE my son was killed.

The initial shock was only a beginning.  Ongoing stress and related hormones as well as increased blood pressure, poor sleep, anxiety, profound sadness and being forced to acknowledge my own lack of control bombarded my mind for months.  Pathways I’d relied on for most of my life were changed or destroyed.

If you think of the brain as an interconnected web of associations, functions and activity, it’s easy to see that rerouting or destroying some of the connections makes it harder to access information and do tasks.

neurons

“[W]hen brain imaging studies are done on people who are grieving, increased activity is seen along a broad network of neurons. These link areas associated not only with mood but also with memory, perception, conceptualization, and even the regulation of the heart, the digestive system, and other organs.”  Prevention Magazine

It’s no wonder that I found it difficult to think and do the most routine tasks after child loss!  

My mind was fundamentally altered.

It’s not as bad now as it was in the beginning.

But I still struggle to remember things that used to come easily.  I still hear words that I don’t always understand.  I depend much more on paper and pencil to keep track of important dates, appointments and phone numbers than I used to.  And I never walk away from the stove.

If I make a lunch date with a friend, I ask that she message me the day before to remind me.  If I don’t comprehend what someone is saying, I request that they repeat it.  I keep a paper copy of important information in my purse and an electronic copy on my phone.

It’s frustrating sometimes, but it is not a moral failure that my brain isn’t as sharp as it once was.

What was embarrassing at first is now something I openly acknowledge. 

I ask for help and I don’t apologize.

It’s really OK.

grief-brain-quote-from-cf

Featured image via: bedraggled & kicking