Choosing Joy

“I will choose to find joy in the journey that God has set before me.”

For my friends fresh in loss or other hard life circumstances, this statement may hurt your heart.

I get it!

It still hurts mine.

But what I’ve discovered is that while I cannot control the things that happen TO me, I can decide-by an extremely difficult and costly act of will-where to place my focus, trust and hope.

I no longer have unadulterated joy in my heart.

It’s tinged with sorrow and informed by pain.

But it’s still there-deep inside-where I know, know, know that my tears are seen and all of this will be redeemed.

you keep track of all my tears

I can choose to remind my heart that God is good, kind and loving.  He has not abandoned me nor is He punishing me.

This life is hard and I’m struggling.

But there are still beautiful people and beautiful moments along the way and I don’t want to miss them.

 

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A Bit of My Heart Instead of a Piece of My Mind

A friend recently posted that not all the lessons of grief are bitter.

Some are sweet.

She’s right.

I’ve learned a lot on this journey.  And one of the sweet things I’ve learned is that the best thing to offer fellow travelers is a bit of my heart instead of a piece of my mind.

a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind

We all have pet causes, pet peeves and personal opinions.  Social media makes it oh, so easy to promote them. 

That’s great.

But too often one person’s post leads to another person’s comment which leads to snarky remarks, replies and reactions.  Pretty soon what began as an exercise in free speech devolves into a free-for-all.  The only thing stopping physical blows is the distance between keyboards across the Internet.

I don’t have to make a point every time I make a comment.

I can simply scroll past that tasteless meme or sarcastic political post.

Life’s too short to be offended over every. little. thing. 

Really.  

It is.  

 

 

kindnesslikeconfetti

 

Weak Knees, Strong Savior

When I was a little girl, I used to wrap my hand around my daddy’s forefinger when we walked together.  His long legs meant that mine had to work double time to keep up. 

But no matter where his legs took us, I knew I was safe-because he was with me, he wouldn’t leave me and he would take care of me.  

When I was afraid, I could just squeeze his hand a little tighter and courage flooded my soul.  

I’m very thankful for the example and blessing of a faithful, loving earthly father because it makes it so much easier for me to trust my Heavenly Father.  

There are many things that terrify me in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Left to myself, I’d turn and run, hide or just lie down and give up.  

But I’m not alone.  

My Shepherd walks alongside me.  His Presence gives me courage and strength to keep going.  

When I am afraid, I cling tighter to His promises, lean harder on His grace and hold on for dear life to His love.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

In the hour of crisis, I may be weak in the knees, but I must step forward. I may bow in my private Gethsemane, sweat blood, and cry for deliverance, but then I rise to take up the cross and move toward yonder marked-out hill of suffering. The fight of faith does not allow me to flee in terror. … I dare not and will not deny the sustaining power of the living God.

When Paul wrote, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13), he was not boasting of his cleverness or aptitude in mastering circumstances. He was expressing deep confidence that in whatever condition — sickness or health, abundance or poverty, life or death — Christ would enable him to cope, even triumph. He experienced and preached what he truly believed: ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).   

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

 

How Can I See Love?

Fairy tales and favorite movies aside, what does love really look like?

How can I see this feeling that has driven some to distraction, some to destruction and even more to dedication to another in spite of whatever obstacles life has placed in the path?

It’s not often writ large.

In fact, it’s usually tiny stitches in the tapestry of life.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

A choice to fix her breakfast before his. * Bending down to plant a kiss on that frowning face. * Lending a tool or a few dollars knowing full well you’ll never see it again. *Refusing to leave when that friend pushes away.Bearing witness to sorrow and joy and pain and celebration. * Holding a hand when a heart is barely able to hold on. *Showing up, without being asked, because presence makes a difference. * Consistency in the face of chaos. * Doing the things that need to be done even when they go unnoticed and the one you do them for is ungrateful. * Letting go when it’s time.  * Turning up the heat for him and taking off your sweater. * Cooking a favorite meal or dessert or stew. * Carefully preserving a legacy. * Folding the towels the way she likes. * Phone calls across continents. * Refusing to give up, ever, no matter how hard it gets. 

winnie the pooh feel love

If I want to see love, all I have to do is look around.  

Love is so much more than flowers or candy on a single day of the year. 

It’s a life lived in service to another. 

It’s a pouring out. 

Real love is costly-in time, in effort, in energy.

And it’s always, always brave. 

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

 

Repost: What is Safe?

I remember as a  young mother of four working hard to keep my kids safe. 

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

Next to fed and dry (two still in diapers!) that was each day’s goal:  No one got hurt.  

It never occurred to me THEN to add:  No one got killed.  

Because the most outlandish thing I could imagine was one of them falling or touching a hot stove and us having to rush to the emergency room.

Then I became a mother of teens and one by one they acquired a driver’s license and motored away from our home.  

That’s when I began to beg God to spare their lives.

Read the rest here:  What is Safe?

How To Be Fierce Without Being Fractious

It’s funny how child loss has, at the same time, made me more yielding and more steadfast.

I give in without a moment’s hesitation to other people’s choice in where to go for lunch, what to do for birthdays, how to arrange this or that at church.  My brain simply doesn’t have the capacity any more to argue over trifles.

But I will stand up to a lion for the sake of love or to protect a hurting heart.

wounded_heart-960x600

I can be a little reactionary when that happens-snapping and biting the heads off those who might have said or done something in ignorance and not intentionally.

So I’m learning to think a minute before I launch into a tirade and try to discern just what will be most helpful.

I want to challenge and educate folks, not send them running for cover every time they see me coming around a corner.

I want to be fierce without being fractious.

I ask myself, “How can I communicate truth in love?” and I try to follow these precepts:

Don’t attack the person.  Quite often people speak without thinking and speak about things they haven’t experienced.  They may just be parroting something they’ve heard and not even actually believe it themselves.

Ask questions.  Try to suss out WHY they said or did what they said or did.  Again, without thinking?  Or is there a motive behind it?  Fear is a frequent motivator for pushing hurting hearts away.  People are afraid of how much they might have to invest in a relationship or they are afraid that what happened to me can happen to them and they just don’t want the reminder.

Many People Thinking of Questions

Educate.  I often start by saying something like, “If you haven’t buried a child, you would have no way to know this but…” and follow up with whatever I think they might need to hear.  No one can argue with my experience.  I’ve never had a single person walk away angry when I share this way.  Some have come back and thanked me for the insight.

schoolhouse

Extend grace.  I know child loss but I don’t know everything or even a tenth of everything.  So while my friend may have stepped on MY toes by saying or doing something today, I’ve probably stepped on HERS another day.  I try to assume that the person in front of me is doing the best he or she can and not aiming to inflict pain on my heart.

grace tree

Choose to end fruitless discussions.  If I realize that the person I’m speaking to is defensive, resistant and unyielding, then I find an opportune moment to end the conversation.  We’ve all been there-someone itching for a fight decides that now is the moment to have one.  I’m not interested in debating anyone over my experience so I just don’t.

calvin-cartoon_debate

As long as I walk in this world there will be others with whom I disagree.  some who actively seek to wound and many who are just ignorant of situations they have never experienced. 

I don’t want to bludgeon them with words, forcing them to agree with me.  

I want to be a light that opens eyes, a gentle breeze that blows away the fog and helps them see clearly.  

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.

letting-go

Time, by itself, heals nothing.  But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.  

If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.  

Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow.  I cannot turn back time.  Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them.  I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.

Daily choices add up.  When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me.  Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church.  I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.

Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith.  It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away.  They won’t.  I have to drag them into the light and examine them.  Doubt is not denial.  If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory.  He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.

My mental diet matters more than I might think.  I have to be very careful what I feed my mind.  If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger.  If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.

I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like.  Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing.  But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.

me too sharing the path

Grief is hard.  

It’s work. 

And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.  

I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity.  But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.

I want to live. 

I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.  

So I do the work grief asks of me.  

Even when it’s hard.  

give yourself space to do the work grief requires