[Mis] Perception

“I’ll believe it when I see it!”

That’s the standard, isn’t it?  We trust our eyes to tell us the truth.  We rely on our senses to winnow out the chaff of falsehood and leave us with the meaty grain of truth.

But what if my eyes aren’t as trustworthy as I think?

What if my perception is limited and unreliable?

Living in the south means long, hot summers.

In the middle of July I would sign an affidavit that it has to be at least 100 degrees outside and not much cooler inside unless I run my air conditioner to the tune of a huge electric bill.

But if I do a little digging, I find that the average high for July and August in my part of Alabama is only 90-91 degrees.

Now, that doesn’t mean there are no days hotter, but it does mean that my sense of interminable heat is inaccurate and untrue.  As a matter of fact, the average temp begins to decline mid-August when we are all panting for fall to make its appearance.

My point is this:  when I am sweating in the middle of summer, I’m not in a position to give you an accurate weather report.

All I know is that I am hot.

All I know is that I think I will be hot for days and weeks to come.  All I know is that a cool breeze would be welcome but it doesn’t seem to be in the offing anytime soon.

I don’t readily perceive the tiny creep toward cooler temperatures that is happening right under my nose.

It’s been the same way in my grief journey.

Four years in and I am definitely in a better mental, emotional and spiritual place than I was even a year ago.

But if you had asked me at any point during that time if I could perceive a shift toward healing, I would have said, “not really”.

I was (and am) relying on my senses to tell me where I am in this process of embracing the life I didn’t choose.  Yet they are easily overwhelmed by my daily experience-crying one day, laughing the next, undone by memories again, blessed by a friend’s text or phone call-filled to the brim with input.

I have a hard time sorting it out and looking objectively at what the data suggests.

When I can take a step back, I see that my heart has healed in some measure.  I have enfolded the truth that Dominic is not here into who I am and what my life will look like until I join him in heaven.

And understanding THAT helps me continue this journey.

braver stronger smarter

I don’t want to be stuck in the misperception that I can “never learn to live without my son”.

I am learning how to do just that.

I don’t like it.  I will NEVER like it.

But I am doing it.

Little by little, in tiny increments, every day reaching out, reaching forward and making choices that promote healing.

It’s happening.

Even if I can’t see it.

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

butterfly away from hand

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  

forgiveness_is_the_fragrance_that_the_violet_sheds_on_the_heel_that_has_crushed_it-385646

Time Alone Does NOT Heal

time does not heal its a lie Time, by itself, does not heal the pain of child loss.

But time, plus the work grief requires, plus God’s grace poured out on my heart and in my life, does bring a measure of healing.

heals the broken hearted

I did not believe that in the first months or even years. But I can testify to that truth today.  It has been a slow and very painful process full of stops and starts, one step forward, two steps back.  

Am I still very broken?

Absolutely!

Am I still limping?

YES!

Until the day I die I will never be the same.

But I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of sorrow and God is helping me turn the ashes into something beautiful.

beauty-from-ashes-clothespinThat something bears witness to my son, to my pain and to the truth that, with God’s help, I can endure faithfully to the end.

 

And God is no respecter of persons-He has not given me anything He will not pour out on every single heart that asks.  

My prayer for each wounded reader is that you will feel the Father’s loving arms around you and that He will flood your broken heart with His grace, mercy and comfort.   

 

close to the brokenhearted

Repost: What Does Healing Look Like?

As I continue to walk this Valley, my heart asks the question, “What does healing look like?”

Fewer tears?  Check.

More laughter? Check.

Better able to function? Check.

I’m definitely not as fragile as I was in the days and weeks and first months after Dominic left us.

I can do what life requires without falling apart (most of the time).

Read the rest here:  What Does Healing Look Like?

How “Sunday School” Answers Isolate Wounded Hearts

We of the conservative right rail against political correctness.

We chafe at the constraints imposed from government, media and society that make us feel strangled when we share our faith, our opinion and our life values.

“Free speech!” we cry.

Yet the church has its own form of political correctness that often silences and isolates the very ones we should be serving.

It comes in the form of quick Scriptural replies to heart cries of “Where is God?” (“He’s right here beside you, faithful and good.”)

“Why did this happen?” (“All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.”)

“I don’t think I can take it anymore!” (“I can do all things through Christ.” Or “We are more than conquerors through Jesus.”)

Where is the compassion in that?

I firmly believe that:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16

Yet, wisdom isn’t only knowing WHAT to say, it’s also discerning WHEN to say it.

wisdomSunday School answers only serve to widen the gap between hurting hearts and the hallelujah crowd.

What wounded hearts need first is understanding, not correction.  They need to know that church is a safe place to speak the pain they carry.  They need to be welcomed into a community of grace and mercy where healing can begin.

in every encounter pretty

 

Feel and Deal to Heal

If I touch a hot stove my hand jerks away almost before my mind registers the searing pain.  It’s reflex.  Our bodies were designed to react to and protect us from things that cause pain.

Run away.  Don’t go back.  Set up barricades and warning signs so that others can be protected.

Most of the time, this reaction serves us well.

But sometimes those reflexes keep us from healing.

Anyone who’s had major surgery knows that when the nurses come in the next morning saying, “We’re going to get you out of bed today!”, the last thing you want to do is swing your legs over and stand up.  It HURTS!

We want to avoid what hurts, not embrace it.

So it’s no surprise that when we suffer deep emotional wounds, our first response is to try to run away or bury them or ignore them.  The last thing we want to do is face them.

But if I am to heal, I have to face them.  I have to take hold of each place where the dagger of grief and sorrow and regret and anger has pierced my heart and examine it closely.  I have to decide what to do with it, how to integrate it into my life after loss.

Grief is work!  That is one of the reasons grievers need solitude as well as companionship on this journey.  And that is why grief can’t be hurried along.  It takes a great deal of time to do the work grief requires.

If instead of facing our pain, we try to run away or distract ourselves or numb ourselves with alcohol, food or drugs, we only prolong the process.  Grief will not be ignored forever.

healing doesnt mean damage never existed

We must FEEL what we need to feel.

Then we must DEAL with those feelings-it might mean seeking a professional counselor or a trusted friend.  Online or in-person grief support groups are a wonderful resource. Journaling can help too.  But we have got to acknowledge and work through these feelings.

And then we can begin to HEAL  Hearts that have embraced and made some sense of grief can begin to beat again.  They can begin to love again and feel joy again.  They can learn to carry both sorrow and happiness-to remember and honor the missing child while also honoring and loving family and friends still here.

It’s not a “once and done” exercise.

I have repeated these steps over and over in the nearly three and a half years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  New feelings show up at the door of my heart and I have to choose to feel them, to search for what they mean and why they are here and then allow them to be woven into the fabric of who I am NOW-this side of child loss.

It takes courage and stamina and determination, but it is the only way forward.  

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

 

 

Wounded Healers

I’ve come to believe that my wounds and the grace God has provided in my woundedness are not my personal possession.

God did not cause my pain, but He is redeeming it.  He is molding me into a different person than I would have been if Dominic hadn’t run ahead to heaven.  And that person has more compassion and grace and mercy and patience than the person I was before.

If I hide my wounds then I am hiding the hope He has hidden in my heart.  

I won’t do that.  

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG

Nobody escapes being wounded.  We all ar wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.  The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we  put our woundedness in the service of others?’  When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God’s wounded healer:  through his wounds we are healed.  Jesus’suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.  As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.  ~ Henri Nouwen

brennan manning share our wounds

Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 PHILLIPS

Sharing our wounds makes us vulnerable.

When we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, we invite others to do the same.

But  in this community of mutual vulnerability, healing is possible.