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.  

 

 

 

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.

 

Why I Have To Talk It Out

I admit I’m full of words.  When my mama came to pick me up when her best friend was babysitting for awhile, she said, “You can’t have her yet, she’s telling me all kinds of things!”

More than once my mouth got me in trouble.

It’s still the source of most of my problems.

But for a time after Dominic left I found that the only words I could muster beyond what was absolutely necessary were written in my journal.  Because the words I wanted to say were bitter and harsh and tasted bad as they came up my throat and threatened to roll off my tongue.

I didn’t want to tell the story of that early morning knock.  I didn’t want to speak aloud the terror that gripped my soul, the literal shattering of my heart, the unholy darkness that enveloped me.

I HAD to make phone calls.  I was forced to say, “Dominic is dead” over and over and over.  Then I wanted to hide in silence and stay on the fringe of conversations that filled our home and the church before we buried him.

It seemed easier to swallow the words than taste them.

But I couldn’t do that forever.

Eventually the words began to rot inside me and make the pain even worse.  I had to let them out.  I had to talk about it.  All of it.

The actual events.

The feelings associated with the accident.

The pain of choosing a cemetery plot, a casket, an order of service, of writing an obituary, of burying my son.

The awful emptiness that one life missing makes in a family of six.

The fact that at some point I woke from the stupor enough to wonder how the God I had worshiped for all these years let this happen.

And I needed someone to listen.  I needed someone to be a witness to my words.  It was no longer enough to write them down, wrap them up and hide them away.

They had to be spoken so that the power they had over my soul could be broken.

business-authenticity

Thank God for people who are willing to listen!  

I have friends and family who let me recite the same thing over and over and over so that each telling helps my heart toward healing.

I have several online and in-person communities of bereaved parents who do the same (and more!) because they understand precisely how I feel and can offer hope from their own stories of healing. *

Listening is love in action.

If you know someone whose heart carries great grief-and child loss is not the only hard journey hearts are makingoffer to listen. 

Give up a few minutes to hear how they are really doing, what is really hard, what they really need to say but may be afraid to speak aloud.  Leave spaces in conversation so a heart can work up the courage to share.  Don’t be quick to offer platitudes that shut down deep discussion.  

It often takes many, many repetitions of traumatic events for a heart to begin to heal. 

And each time you grant someone permission to share and listen to his or her story, you are applying balm to a weary soul.  ❤

listening is a postive act

 

*Here are two online closed communities for bereaved parents:   While We’re Waiting Support for Bereaved Parents  Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child

The Compassionate Friends offers in-person support groups around the country.

GriefShare also holds classes and offers in-person support.  Check online for availability in your area.

 

 

 

The Best Way To Help A Struggling Heart

The best way to help a struggling heart is to simply be available.

Anyone can choose to be a safe space for others to share their hearts.

Anyone can make room for honest conversation, welcoming another soul to unburden itself of whatever heaviness is weighing it down.

All it takes is a listening ear and time.

best way you can help me

Still Put My Foot In It…

You’d think that being on the other side of untimely or even painful comments would shape my conversation so that I am not the one blurting out hurtful or thoughtless words.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

While I am much more careful about what I say and how and when I say it, I still put my foot in it on a regular basis.

I talk instead of listen-rushing ahead to share MY pain instead of sitting silently while someone else shares theirs.

I make comparisons instead of extending boundless compassion.

I focus too much on the words and not enough on the wordless communication of facial expression and body language.

I try to “fix” the problem or person instead of simply being present.

I overwhelm a hurting heart with too much information.  Even good information delivered from a firehose instead of a water fountain is unhelpful.

I interrupt, cut people off, turn away and shorten uncomfortable conversations.

I want to do better.

I want to be the safe space hurting hearts need.

I want to be full of grace and mercy and kindness.

I know I fall short, but I’m still learning.

still-learning

 

 

Subtle Disapproval

I mention that today is a hard day to someone who knows my story and the words fall with a loud “thud!”  between us.

I don’t know whether to pick them up or not and she isn’t having anything to do with them.

So I move on to another topic.  Clearly this one isn’t going anywhere.

There are lots of ways to send messages of disapproval.  You can “just say NO” like kids are told to do in anti-drug and anti-bullying campaigns.  You can rant and rave and argue and rail against someone or something in person and on social media.

Or you can just ignore someone when they spill what matters to them like an offering on the ground at your feet.

The opposite of love is not hate.

It’s indifference.

The opposite of support is not opposition.

It’s looking the other way.

Strangers line streets to cheer marathoners on-offering cups of water and words of affirmation.

“You can do it!”  “Keep going!”  “You are more than half-way there!”  “Don’t give up!”

hobbling-runner

And yet many of us are running the race of our lives without a cheering section.

I get ityou are so very tired of the fact that I am so very tired.  I have worn out the welcome mat to the door of your heart.  It DOES get old when I bring the same baggage with me each time we talk.

baggage

Trust me, I’m working hard at unpacking it.  I’m doing all I can to lighten my load and what I ask you to help me carry.

But it is a slow, slow process.

And every time I need help or encouragement and don’t get it, another brick is added to the suitcase.

You might think you are helping me learn to ignore the pain by ignoring my mention of it but I don’t have that luxury.

It’s my heart wound, not yours.  

It’s my child buried, my child not here, my child gone from sight-how exactly should I ignore that?  Which of your children could you put away for a lifetime and forget was ever here?

If you want to help me lighten the load,

let me unpack my pain by telling my story.

If you want me to finish the race strong,

cheer me on.

best way you can help me

 

 

Which Weighs More?

Remember the childhood riddle, “Which is heavier, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers?”

feathers

It was great fun to catch someone giving the wrong answer.

Because, of course, a ton is a ton is a ton.  Weight is an absolute measure.

But it takes fewer bricks to reach that quota although it takes just as much strength to lift the burden.

weights-dumbbells

One thing I’m learning in my grief journey is that there are so many people carrying a load.

I find my compassion radar has been fine-tuned to hear even the faintest whisper of hurt in someone’s voice, to see the tiniest gleam of a tear, to notice the smallest stoop of shoulders or the beginning of a frown.

And while some of us have had our ton of pain and sorrow delivered via bricks-suddenly, forcefully and overwhelmingly dumped-others have acquired their ton over a lifetime of disappointment, struggle and testing.

They both weigh a ton.  

And they both require great strength to carry.

It’s a challenge to resist the urge to rank my experience on a continuum of pain.

Although I bridle when people compare their loss of a pet or job to my loss of a child (as I wrote about here), I do try to extend grace when others expose their own wounds.

I want to comfort other people with the comfort I have received.  Not only the comfort from Christ-which is the ultimate comfort-but also the comfort I’ve received from wise friends and caring sisters-in-loss.

I want to be a listening ear, a compassionate heart and an outstretched hand.

Reaching Out to Help Someone in Despair

I want to be a witness, a fellow traveler on the journey, an encourager.

Grief

is grief

is grief.

A ton is a ton is a ton.