Who Steps In? Who Walks Out?

I was absolutely overwhelmed in those first days.

Cars, cars, cars filled my long driveway and front yard.

People spilling out like ants scrambling after the hill is disturbed.

Oh, our hill was disturbed-knocked wide open by that deputy’s visit.  Phone calls to let others know.  Phone calls from people who couldn’t get in touch with him and were just checking “in case something had happened”.

It had happened.

It. HAD. happened.

After the customary ceremony and handshaking and food, the cards flooded in. Some with hand-written heartfelt messages of, “praying for you”, “we are so very sorry”, “we love you”. Some with pre-printed poems that absolve the sender of the need to find words for things for which there are no words.

My son is dead.  What can you say to that?

And then the silence.  The morning that I woke up to  realize I had done all I ever could do for Dominic.  My last act was to find his body a resting place and pray his soul to heaven.

He was home.

I was left in a strange country filled with landmarks I no longer recognized and a language I no longer understood.

Who comes into that?

Not many.  Only a few brave souls stick around for the after-only a few true friends keep calling and coming and caring for the long haul.

Because sitting with me in my grief, listening to me question my faith, keeping company with uncertainty and loss of control is frightening.  It takes great self-control to simply be present and not try to say something or do something to try to fix the unfixable.

If it could happen to MY family, it could happen to theirs.  And no one wants to think of that unless they have to.

So many leave.

Not immediately and not flamboyantly.  They just drift away like unmoored sailboats caught in the rising winds of life and busyness and school plays and church socials.

My personal tragedy is a footnote to their life journal-and who reads footnotes?

But there are a few who purpose to make my burden their burden.  

A few who call and write and text and message on the important dates like when he died, his birthday, Christmas, Easter.  Even fewer who call and write and text and message just because-just because they heard a song or saw a sunset or remembered for a moment that there is a mama out there who carries this grief 24/7.

I have no idea how Jesus will reward His followers when they make it Home.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the ones who choose to run in when others run away will receive a crown. Because their faithful love in the dark places brings life and light to hurting hearts.

And isn’t that the essence of the gospel message?

You are not alone.  

You are loved.

There is a way forward.

When you have exhausted all your own resources, God has made a way where there was no way. Even when you can’t take a step on your own-especially when you can’t take a step on your own-Jesus will carry you.

The ones who stay sing the gospel song to my heart.

They remind me that Jesus hasn’t forgotten.

presence best gift

One More Time: What Broken Hearts Need From Others During Holidays

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it.  I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

Read the rest here:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

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

blessings-come-through-rain-drops

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.

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” is bandied about freely among those who, if they thought about it before they said it, know it isn’t true.

god-doesnt-give-you-more-than-you-can-handle

Usually it’s tossed at someone going through a tough time in an effort to encourage them.

Can I just let you in on a secret?  It is NOT encouraging.  At. all. Not one bit.

Because what’s implied is that I SHOULD be able to handle this.

But I can’t.

And it lets you off the hook.  

It’s like I’m drowning and instead of diving in to rescue me, you’re giving swimming lessons from the safety of the shore.

It’d be much more helpful if you threw me a lifeline.

life-preserver

God routinely gives me more than I can handle.

It’s one tool He uses to turn my heart to Him.  It’s one way He helps me understand (although He knows it already)  that I absolutely cannot handle it by myself.

So instead of sending the message that I should be able to handle this-join me in the dark place, hold my hand as we walk together and help me feel God’s love through you.

 

presence best gift

 

 

 

How To Respond When Someone Shares Their Pain

empathy-dictionary

We’ve all been there-we ask a routine question and someone refuses to play the social game.  

We say, “How are you?” and they answer honestly instead of with the obligatory, “I’m fine.  You?”

Suddenly the encounter has taken an unexpected turn.

“Oh, no!  I don’t know what to say,” you think.

It can end badly-both of you walking away uncomfortable and wary.

But it doesnt have to. There are ways to express compassion and empathy, words that can comfort and encourage.

What should you say when I, or anyone, shares their heart-their pain?

  • Acknowledge my pain. Don’t be silent or gloss over my declaration by changing the subject.  Silence often feels like disapproval and changing the subject feels like dismissal.  I have just entrusted you with something important, something it was hard for me to share, something that is a great burden on my heart-let me know you heard me.  Good responses that are always appropriate:  “I’m sorry”; “That must be hard”and “My heart hurts for you”.  In person, a hand on the arm or a hug is good.  Give me space to cry if that’s what I need to do.

 

  • Ask questions.  Not the who-what-when-where-why questions that fuel gossip and make good news stories.  But questions that can help me share more:  “Do you want to talk about it?” or “How can I help you?”.  It may take a few moments for me to answer-I may have to think about if I really do want to share more.  You may help me by asking, “What’s especially hard right now?”  

 

  • Accept that this hurts ME-even if you think it wouldn’t hurt YOU. Everyone’s story  is unique.  You may be more emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually resilient than me.  Great!  But this is MY story, and this hurts ME.  Please, please, please do not try to talk me out of my pain.  Please don’t toss Bible verses or platitudes at me seeing if they will stick.  Please don’t tell me about how YOU would handle my situation (unless I ask). And, more than anything, please do not turn my heartfelt sharing into a discussion of how my pain causes you pain.  It may be true, but now I feel guilty instead of supported.

 

  • Affirm me for sharing, for enduring and leave the door open for next time.  It takes courage and energy for me to share my pain.  Many days I gloss over inquiries because I’m just too worn out to spend the limited emotional energy I have left on the drama of sharing honestly.  If I risk it, it’s because I’m either desperate or I trust you.  Either way, let me know you appreciate my bravery.  Tell me that you see how hard it is and that just carrying on is an accomplishment.  Leave my heart better than you found it so I’ll be encouraged to share again.   

Brene Brown has done some amazing work in the area of shame, hurt, compassion and empathy.  I’ve found it valuable in my own valley and also instructive in serving others in theirs.  

This short video based on her work is incredibly helpful. Please take a moment to watch it:  Brene Brown on Empathy

brene-brown-on-empathy-image

 

 

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