Repost: Of Leaking Buckets and Grief

I first wrote about this a few months back when I was pondering the FACT that no matter how wonderful the moment, how beautiful the gift, how marvelous the fellowship of family or friends, I am simply unable to feel the same overflowing abundant joy I once experienced.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about the great heroes of Scripture and studying their stories in detail.

I may be wrong, but I haven’t found one whose life did not contain pain.

Read the rest here:  Of Leaking Buckets and Grief

Why Self Talk Matters

What you tell yourself matters.

What you rehearse becomes what you believe.

What you believe becomes what you do.

When Dominic first ran ahead to Heaven, I was determined to hold onto truth with both hands.  I would not allow my mind to wander the winding path of “Why? or “What if?” or Where now?”

I was able to keep that up until the funeral.

Then the bottom fell out.

All the thoughts I had kept at bay crashed through my defenses like an invading army.  My mind was consumed by questions, doubts, horrible imagery and awful anxiety.

Slowly, slowly I recaptured the conquered territory.

I hung scribbled Bible verses and encouraging quotes all around the house.  I refused to read or listen to news stories recounting accidents.  I began the day with remembering Dom was gone, but also remembering I was still here and that my three living children, husband and parents needed me.

When my heart screamed, “Give up!  Give in!  It’s not worth it!”

My head answered, “No.  I will endure.  I will continue.  I will be the one to carry Dominic’s light into the world.”

If I speak doom, gloom and despair to myself then I will live darkness, defeat and disillusionment.

If I speak courage, calm and compassion to my heart then I will live with hope and reach for happiness.

Self-talk matters more than we know.

How I frame my experience-both my son’s death and my ongoing interaction with the living-determines if I will waste the days that remain or will work to make them count.

I have no control over the past, but I have a little over the future.

I can’t change what happened, but I can change my attitude.

Self-Talk-Poster-2-15-13

 

#Iknow

After publishing the last post, there has been interest on some private grief support sites to create our own version of the #metoo hashtag sweeping social media.  

We tend to talk among ourselves, lamenting the lack of understanding that losing a child changes everything.

So here it is, folks.  Our opportunity to stand and be counted.  Our chance to have our voices heard.

Let’s speak up.  

Let’s refuse to be shamed into silence.

#Iknow

child-loss-overcome

 

 

“Me Too”: The Power of Validation

In the wake of revelations that Harvey Weinstein built his media empire in part, by harrassing (and worse) women who worked for him, there is a Facebook wave of “me too” posts by women and men who have also been harrassed, molested or assaulted.

It is empowering.  

Because when hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands raise their social media “hands” to be counted, suddenly the lonely heart hiding in the corner realizes they are NOT alone.  

I am thrilled that the secrecy and shame of sexual misconduct by men against women is being dragged into the light.  That is where it belongs. 

I want to do the same for child loss.  I want to do the same for grief.  I want to start a bold campaign where mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents and others say, “Me too!”

My heart hurts too. 

My life is NOT the same and will NEVER be the same without my loved one’s companionship on earth.

I STILL look for him to come through the door on holiday weekends.  I still long to CALL her and share good news or talk over my day.  I CANNOT give up his old clothes or put away her toys or bundle up his belongings for charity.

I have to suck in my breath when a quick glance at a passing stranger tells my heart, “THERE HE IS!”

But my head says, “No, that can’t be him-he’s GONE.”

Songs-all kinds of songs-provoke memories, feelings, tears.  Dry it up.  Keep the fake face smiling.  Look forward, don’t let them see. 

There are thousands of us.  Thousands. of. us.

Who will stand and raise their hand and SHOUT, “Me too!”?

me too sharing the path

 

The Problem With Microwave Presets: Struggling with Others’ Expectations in Grief

I hate microwaves that have the “quick minute” presets! 

It takes MORE time for me to undo that feature and tap in how long I want to nuke my food than it would if it weren’t set up that way.

And sometimes I feel as if “undoing” is a great deal of what I do as a griever.

I have to dispel others’ expectations of what I should be feeling, doing or thinking.

I have to help them understand that unless you have been here, you CAN’T understand.

I pray they never understand.

dont expect everyone to understand

But in the meantime, here we are, walking the same road but experiencing discord in communication, relationship, expectations and outlook.

Sometimes it’s ME.  I’ll admit that up front. 

Sometimes I am feeling so vulnerable and broken that the slightest misplaced syllable, the tiniest hint of disapproval, the merest whiff of impatience sends me down the rabbit hole of darkest night and endless grief.  I receive things not as they are MEANT but as they FEEL filtered through my own pain.

But sometimes it IS the other person. 

Sometimes they are thoughtless, heartless and unsympathetic.  Sometimes they think that time has healed all wounds and that I should be “over this”-whatever THAT means.  Sometimes it’s inconvenient for them to continue extending grace when what they need is a spot filled on the roster, a hand to help or a quick fix to one of their problems.

I have better days now at over three years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I even have better weeks every now and again.  But what a given day or week will be like is still not mine to decide.  Although I steel my mind and heart against the sorrow and missing, one word can pierce the armor I so carefully arrange and I am felled.

So I try to help my friends and family understand that.  I spend time (especially when I am less emotional) explaining what it feels like to continue to miss my son. I hunt down examples to share that may speak to their hearts and circumstances. I write this blog.  I’m honest when making plans to say that I may have to back out at the last minute or only stay for a portion of an event.

In many ways it’s like having an infant again.  When I was nursing my babies there were always things I had to say “no” to or situations that had to be adapted to accommodate the baby.  Feeding schedules and nap times dictated my life.

No one seemed to mind then. 

My current life is equally hemmed in by what I can’t control.  

Try as I might, it’s impossible for me to meet the expectations of others.  I’m not a microwave.

please be aware i am trying

Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).

It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.  It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

Not MY strength, but HIS.

It’s the strength Isaiah meant when he wrote:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 KJV

This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:  

I have to exhale my doubts, inhale His truth and then allow His Spirit to weave that truth into armor so that I am strong for battle.

armor-of-god

There were twelve spies that scouted out the Promised Land.

All twelve had experienced the parting of the Red Sea, all twelve had seen the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day,  all twelve saw God conquer the Egyptians.  But ten of them never allowed that experience to go further than head knowledge.

Only Caleb and Joshua embraced that truth and allowed God to use it to change their hearts.  Those two were willing to fight the giants because they knew it would be God fighting for them and through them and they did not have to depend on their own strength for victory.

That’s what “sterkte” is-it’s inviting God’s power to dwell inside me so that I am strong for battle in HIS strength.   It’s letting His Spirit speak courage to my heart so I have the endurance to live this life NONE of us chose.

In my own strength I am doomed.  In His strength I am guaranteed enduring to the end.

When I was searching for a verse to help explain sterkte-because it is such a lovely and succinct expression of how hearts can and do endure this awful pain, the dark nights of doubt and yet remain strong in this journey-I found it in Habakkuk.

It’s a tiny book tucked into the back of the Old Testament and begins with the prophet asking God questions:

“Do You know what Your priests and leaders are doing?  Are You going to DO something?”

And God says, “Yep.  Going to use the Babylonians to wipe them out.”

Habakkuk answers, THAT’S Your plan???”

God responds, “Yes-but see, I’m going to be sending a Messiah to make all this right.  I’m doing something you can’t understand.  I’m working my plan for history and eternity.”

Habakkuk ends his book with these verses:

16 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

Habakkuk 3:16-19

Nothing changed!

Bad stuff was coming!

But Habakkuk appropriated God’s strength for himself and knew that would be enough to see him through. 

He was broken but trusting.

There is no shame in being broken.

Here’s the deal:  God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow llife across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Hallelu-Yah!

This is NOT a once and done kind of thing- I m here to testify that it is most certainly NOT.  I am assaulted repeatedly by pain and doubt.  I circle back around and revisit places I thought had healed over and over and over.  A sound, a sight or a memory can bring me back to Day One in a heartbeat.

So what does faith really look like?

Is it always a never-ending, wild “Hallalujah!”?

I don’t think so.

I think faith is essentially this:  turning my face toward the God I love even when (especially when!) I’ve stopped expecting an answer and maybe even when my heart has despaired of help.

I would argue that faith is precisely that step forward into the dark unknown, onto the broken road, lifting the unbearable heaviness as an offering and trusting that

God sees,

that He hears

and that He will not abandon me.

Each time I doubt I am quicker to acknowledge the pain and admit my doubt– I take my questions to God.  My mind is more likely to access TRUTH and my heart is more inclined to appropriate God’s strength, my personal bravery, my invincible army.

hebrews-11_1.jpg

I used to think that Hebrews 11:1 was essentially a personal verse-my faith confirmed to ME that God was working.  But now I see it in a different light.  I think it is a corporate verse leading my heart to emulate lives that exemplified enduring faith-that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on from Heaven.

I did not choose this life but it is the one I’ve been given.  My prayer in this Valley for myself and all of us who are broken is this:

“God to mold me and make me into the masterpiece You designed me to be as a testimony to the fact that You are who You say You are.”

I long for my faith to be evidence to a doubting world that there is MORE than the eye can see.  I want my endurance to be an invitation for others to join me in pursuing what lasts for eternity and not just for this short mortal life.

Full redemption will have to wait for Heaven, but God is working even now to bring some redemption from my pain. 

He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’

Julian of Norwich

courage and perseverance

 

Trust After Loss: Access the Truth

 

“I wake before the morning light.  Every. single. morning.

I get my coffee, sit in my chair and wait for sunrise.

I never worry that today it might not happen.

I’m never concerned that after all these years of faithfulnessthis day may be the one where daylight fails to make an appearance.

There is no fear in this darkness because I know it will not last forever.

Morning is coming.

Morning. Is. Coming.

And that’s the hope I cling to in this longer darkness of the Valley of the Shadow of Death-no matter how many years it may bethe Valley has an end.

The same God Who keeps the earth in orbit around the sun has ordained that death will not have the last word.

Light will triumph.

Darkness will have to flee.”

From Morning Is Coming

sunrise trees

I have loved Scripture as long as I can remember.  When I was in second grade I got the notion to read the whole Bible straight through-in the King James Version.  I made it to Leviticus before I threw in the towel.

By the time my kids were grown I had read and studied Scripture for decades. 

But three years before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I realized my reading had become rote-I felt like I “knew” all the stories.  So I slowed my study to a crawl-only one chapter a day-and I usually copied the whole chapter plus my notes into a journal.  I had just finished this time through the Bible in January before Dom was killed in April.

And all that truth stored in my mind and heart was what I “read” for months when my eyes were too full of tears to see print on a page.

Many verses stung-some still do-but I was committed to bathe my broken heart in what I knew was true.  I would take it like medicine, even when it tasted awful.  I knew-in the end-it was my only hope for help.

It’s easy when doubt creeps in to let my heart hold onto it-even in the face of Truth that puts the doubt to rest.

But if all I do is question, question, question and never still my soul to receive God’s answers or His comfort, then I will simply run out of oxygen and faith.  I will lay prostrate with the enemy’s foot on my neck.

I will lose all hope and give up and give in.

I let my feelings, questions and doubts OUT, but I also choose to take the Word of God IN.

And when I can’t do anything else, I recite and cling to the names of God:

Jehovah-Roi-the God Who Sees Me.  This is the name Hagar gave God in the desert.  He didn’t change her circumstances but He assured her that she was seen, not overlooked and not abandoned.

Jehovah-Nissithe LORD my Banner.  God is the One I look to in the battle.  He will not always save me from the fight, but He has guaranteed the victory.

Jehovah-Shalom-The LORD my Peace.  Jesus is Sar Shalom-the Prince of Peace Who promises Himself to every heart that will turn in faith to Him.  This peace is inner certainty that He is Lord over all, even when the evidence I can see is telling me that’s not true.

THE NAME OF THE LORD IS A MIGHTY TOWER.  THE RIGHTEOUS RUN TO IT AND ARE SAVED.

I leaned hard on the Word stored in my heart. I was too broken (and some days still am too broken) to open my Bible.

God had prepared David for years as a shepherd to lean hard on Him.  David’s Psalms don’t end with “Where are You, God?” they progress to a recitation of the character of the LORD, to an enumeration of His past faithfulness, to a true understanding that sometimes there’s NO understanding what He is doing.

And David leaned in, hung on and recited truth to his heart even when his head couldn’t figure out how what he was experiencing squared with what he knew to be true.

The whole book of Job is full of questions but it is also contains Job’s declaration he was firmly convinced that “as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last.”  (Job 19:25)

hallelujah1

“You can’t hold your breath forever.

But when you first learn your child is dead you want to–oh, how you want to.

I don’t know if it was defiance or hope that made me certain that if I could just stop breathing, I could freeze time.

I could undo the truth.

I could stop the creeping terror that seized my heart.

But it was impossible.  My body insisted that my lungs release the poison of carbon dioxide and refresh my oxygen supply.

There is a spiritual counterpart to the physical desire to stop breathing. 

Most bereaved parents will tell you that at some point in their grief journey, whether they would describe themselves as “believers” or not, they have had to examine their notion of God.

They have to ask, “How am I to relate to this Person that controls the Universe–this Being that could have saved my child–but chose not to?”

I am a Christ follower.  I believe in Jesus and I trust His Word.

But I will honestly confess that burying my child has made me reexamine just what that means and just Who He is.

Before my son was killed, I gave mental assent to the idea that “God is in control” but wasn’t forced to reconcile His control with my heart’s desire to guarantee my family’s safety.

But His existence, and His character does not depend on my understanding.  And to be frank, a God I can comprehend wouldn’t be much of a God at all.

I could not will my body not to stop breathing.

And what I am learning in this grief journey is that I can’t hold my spiritual breath forever either.

The poison of doubt and the insistence that I be able to comprehend the fullness of God will suffocate my soul as surely as lack of oxygen will stop my heart.

So, “Hallelujah” is my exhale.

It is my letting go-my drawing in again the life-giving truth that God is God and I am not.

And acknowledging that while I cannot understand His ways, I can choose to trust His Father love.” 

From Hallelujah is an Exhale

There is no easy answer for why children die-no sweet saying that can wash away the pain and the sorrow and the regret of burying your son.

But I know this:  If my healing depends on me, I am lost.

If the God of heaven is not the god of all, then I have no hope.

If Jesus didn’t really come, and die and rise again,  I have nothing to look forward to. 

Ann Lamott recounts this tale in her book, Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith:

There is a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who alwasy told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts.  One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?”  The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside.  But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words fall inside.”

My heart is already broken-burying my son did that. 

Now I’m waiting

and trusting

that the holy words will fall inside.  

band-aid-and-heart