Be Present

I remember the first year cell phones became common among my children’s friends.

We hosted an event at our home and I watched, amused, as the guests realized, one by one, that there was NO cell service out here in the country.

get smart hear me now

Cut off from their electronic connection to everyone not in attendance, they were forced to be fully present with those that were.

Some of them embraced the opportunity while others bemoaned the fact they had to carry on face-to-face conversations.

And when they found out we didn’t have cable TV, well, THAT was a whole other disappointment!

What seemed natural to me and my family was unusual and uncomfortable for most of them.

Being present takes effort.

It’s so much easier to listen with one ear while pointing the other toward Facebook, YouTube, music or some other distraction.

It’s a lot harder to sit quietly through the same story you’ve heard every Christmas.  It requires self-discipline to lean in and love on that difficult aunt or uncle who can be so critical but is really so desperate for compassionate companionship. It is unnatural to lay aside our own desire to be the center of attention and make room for someone else instead.

But being present is the present only YOU can give.

wherever you are be all there

And it is the present that others will remember long after the trinket you bought them has been lost or broken.

So put down the phone. Turn off the TV.  Hide the remote and close the apps.

BE with your people.  They, and you, are a gift.

Today is a treasure that will never be repeated.  

Treat it that way.  

 

 

 

NO One is “Strong Enough”

I’m kind of an overachiever. 

I grew up in a family where the motto was “You can do whatever you want to do if you want to do it badly enough”.

If you promised to go somewhere, do something, make something, provide something-well you better go, do, make or provide.

NO excuses allowed.

That kind of work ethic does set you apart and help you get ahead.

But it can also set you up for ultimate, catastrophic failure. 

Because there will come a moment in every life when events beyond your control overwhelm your heart and prevent you from going, doing, making, providing.

And if your self-worth is built upon a foundation of never letting anyone down, never asking for help, never being needy-well, then you go from feeling worthy to feeling worthless in a heartbeat.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I had short seasons of helplessness due to illness.  Those few days and weeks were hard but I knew that I would soon return to the woman I was before and could resume the work that was essential to my feeling worthy of love and respect.

These last years since his departure have proven to be an extended period of helplessness and brokenness that continue to prevent me from doing, doing, doing.

And worse, that have required me to ask for help-over and over and over again.

But you know what I’m learning?  I’m learning that my worth is not based on what I can give.  

I do not have to earn love.  If what I’m getting from others is because of what I do for them, then it’s not real love.

I do not have to justify my existence by working myself to death.  If that is the only reason people want me around, then it’s a lousy one.

I’m also learning that refusing help is pride.  Pure and simple.

I can wrap it up in any excuse I want, but the root is self-importance and insistence that I can “do it myself” like a defiant two-year-old.

NO ONE can do it all themselves.

We ALL need help.

Asking for it and receiving it gracefully is strength, not weakness.

you are never strong enough that you dont need help

 

 

Holding Space

We do it all the time in the physical world-leave the shopping cart in line with the admonition to the person behind us to “hold our place” while we run to get that forgotten item.

We leave a gap for that minivan to pull in just where the construction cones narrow a highway from two lanes to one.

We open a door and step aside so the elderly lady with her hands full can manage to get through without dropping the load.

But most of us are not as good at it in relationships.

I think part of the reason is because we are often unaware of the NEED to do it.  We don’t have external cues like traffic cones or physical barriers or long lines waiting to check out or get in.

So we miss the opportunity to step aside, or step back or simply wait a moment for another heart to catch up or move over or step through.

Sometimes it’s because our minds are so used to multi-tasking and treating every single minute as if “time is money” that we are unwilling to slow down enough to truly HEAR another heart.

I find that if I’m not very, very careful, I spend a good part of the time I’m supposed to be listening, constructing my response before the person I’m “listening” to has even finished her comment.

It takes a lot of discipline not to do that.

And I don’t always exercise it.

I want to be a person that holds space for others.  I want to be a heart that listens well and pays attention to the message another heart is sharing.

me too sharing the path

I believe that when I do that, I can lighten a load.

Because often what someone needs is just to know they are seen,

they are heard and

they are loved.

 

Pressure Relief Valves and Blowing Off Steam

I use a pressure cooker when canning some things from the garden.  It’s the only way to ensure food safety for low-acid, low-sugar foods.

It took me awhile before I could work up the courage to use that contraption-when a pot comes with warning labels about “check to make sure seal is intact before every use” and “always be certain pressure cock is seated properly and working”-well, that’ll make you think twice about how much you want canned beans come winter.

I imagined all kinds of awful scenarios the first time I fired up the stove under that big cooker.   But none of them came to pass.  Sixty minutes later and all was well.

Pressure-canner

I’ve thought a lot about my pressure canning days recently and how that pot is uniquely created to allow just enough steam to escape to keep it from exploding.  Sure, it gets mighty hot (that’s the point-to kill the bacteria) but not so hot that it bursts into lethal metal shards all over the kitchen.

I feel like so many of us (bereaved parents or not!) are like that pressure cooker-boiling and roiling with heated emotions getting hotter and hotter and threatening to explode.

Some of us do.

It’s messy or even dangerous.

angry

I’ve thought about how critical that relief valve is to the proper function of the pressure cooker and how people need relief valves too.

Some of us find relief through hobbies or exercise or journaling or praying.  But many of us can only relieve our sense of building pressure by talking to another person. 

We need to be HEARD and SEEN in order to let off steam.

We need someone to be the relief valve for our pent up feelings so they don’t spew uncontrollably over everyone and everything. 

So when you are thinking about what YOU can do for someone going through a tough time, here’s a thought:  Offer to meet them and let them talk.  Just let them say whatever they need to say without correcting them or judging them or steering them toward safer topics of conversation.  

Just listen. 

Offer appropriate comments now and then so they know you are paying attention but let them empty their hearts of the pent up steam of strong emotions.

Then keep all the secrets they shared in your own heart.  Don’t spread them around to others and don’t use them later as ammunition or leverage.  

listening is a postive act

Listening is love in action.

Providing a safe space for a heart to let go is one of the best gifts of all.  ❤

 

 

 

 

Ten Ways to Love a Mourning Heart at Thanksgiving

We are all on a journey through life and each carry some sort of load.  Mine is child loss.  Yours may be something else.

We can help one another if we try.  

Love and grace grease the wheels and make the load lighter.  

Here are ten ways to love a mourning heart at Thanksgiving:

1. Let them grieve.  Give space and grace for any outward display of grief or emotion.  It doesn’t require comment.  Maybe an outstretched hand or a tissue or maybe not.  Sometimes silence presence is best.

2. Begin conversation with statements that are true for you and then listen.  I appreciate someone sharing their heart with me.  It’s really OK to say, “Hey, I’ve wanted to reach out but I just didn’t know how.”  I would rather hear that than excuses.  ❤

3. Share a memory of their child or their pregnancy (if a child was born straight into heaven).  Whenever I hear a story about Dominic I may not have heard before, it is a gift.

4. Speak their child’s name.  It may make me cry.  But I cry anyway.  And if no one says his name I cry because I think they’ve forgotten.

5. Give them room to step away.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed and I just need a breath of fresh air or a moment to gather my strength.  Don’t send the cavalry to “rescue” me and don’t make me feel bad by drawing attention to my absence when I return.

6. Find a way to commemorate their child in company with the living.  Light a candle, place a photo, set an honorary place at the table, give a gift in his memory to a charity and display the card-there are many ways to make him part of the holidays.

7. Allow them to participate/ not participate as they are able.  This will be our fourth set of holidays and I still don’t have a routine that feels “right”.  I do enjoy and even crave cooking meals so I appreciate being asked to do that.  Some other things are still hard so I appreciate not being forced to do those.

8. Don’t use this once or twice a year gathering to require an extended debrief of how they are feeling/coping/doing.  Invite me to share and then respect the boundaries I establish in my sharing.  It depends on the day whether I’m going to give you a brief response or a long one.  Let me lead the dance.

9. Try not to make assumptions about what is best for their heart.  Ask questions instead of making pronouncements.  Like I said, I still don’t have any traditions that feel right after nearly four years.  I need space to think about and make choices about what may work for THIS Thanksgiving.

10. Remember that all holidays are hard.  When the whole family gathers, it highlights even more that my son is missing.  Other times it’s easier to play a mental game with myself and pretend he’s just off somewhere.  But when the chairs are drawn around the table and his is empty, there’s no denying that he is gone, gone, gone.  Lots and lots of grace makes it easier for my heart. 

empty chair prayer

 

 

 

 

Too Scared to Stay

How many reading this enjoy roller coasters?  Or scary movies? Or action films?

My guess is that most like one or the other or all three.

Why?  Because it’s fun to dip our emotional toe into deep water when we know we can take it out at any moment.

We experience a sort of “high” when the “fight or flight” adrenaline pumps through our veins but our minds know full well that we are in no real danger.

What’s much more difficult is to commit to experience in real time with real people the real emotional roller coaster of hard situations and unending sorrow or pain.

Then people tend to withdraw because they are too scared to stay.

I am so sorry that broken hearts are wounded further when friends or family just can’t bear the pain of watching us hurt and run away instead of walking with us.

leaf heart

They are afraid.  I used to be afraid too.  But I’m not afraid now.

My new bravery was purchased at great cost.  And I don’t want to waste it.

This Valley is teaching my heart to reach out further, quicker, more often and to stick around longer than I was willing to before.

hands-passing-heart

I want to stand with and speak courage to wounded hearts.  

I want to help healed hearts that choose to be brave and commit to walk with those in pain. 

And I am learning to extend grace to the hearts who choose to run away.   

Fear is powerful and I can’t blame them.

But for those who remain, I am so, so grateful.  

always leave people better than you found them