Tending to Grief

Tending to Grief pic

Soon it will be four years since my mom went to heaven. 

Honestly, that doesn’t seem possible. 

You know, I still have her number saved in my phone, it’s still listed with the speed dial numbers.  Every once and a while I am tempted to tap the screen just to see if someone answers on the other end.  I can’t imagine what I’d say.  “Umm…you can’t have this number, it belonged to my Mom and she’s gone and no one else is allowed to ever use this number again, K? Thanks, bye.” 

I can hear myself stammering through something like that in my mind.

It’s best if I don’t know.

Just thinking about that scenario forces me to admit what I’ve known from the start, life goes on.  The sun rises and sets, the earth spins on its axis, roosters still crow at sunrise, cities still bustle with life and commotion, harvest comes and brings with it boiled peanuts and bon fires, school gets out and offers families a time to get away and play only to start again a few short weeks later. 

Life just goes on.

Young couples get married, they buy a house, have children, work hard and eventually retire and then one of them leaves…and they don’t come back. 

It’s the order of things.

Pretty sure I don’t like the order of things.

I think if I’ve done one thing correctly in recovering from all of this pain brought on by deep incomparable loss, it would be that I shared my feelings all along the way.  So many of you have shared my pain, helped me bear the load…you have been my solid ground in a season when I thought I might literally be washed away in sorrow.

You came along side and loved me, I will be grateful ‘til death do us part.

I caught myself recently feeling embarrassed talking about how sad I am that I lost my mom.  My self-talk scolded me for bringing it up because surely others are tired of hearing about what I’ve been through.

“Get over it already, girl, nobody wants to hear how you lost your mom almost four years ago.  It’s been long enough, you should be past all of this.  MOVE ON.”

I understood enough about this unhealthy dialog with myself to realize it wasn’t true. 

Please tell me it’s not true.

Folks are so polite to me when I mention her name, they seem to be genuinely listening when I tell them I’m so lost without her for the umpteenth time.  Surely it’s not all an act.  People really do understand you never really “get over it,” right?!! 

Grief never really ends. 

Yes, you manage it, you cope with it, you hide it, you deny it, you rage at it, you come to terms with it, but you never really get over it.  It lives on every time you open your phone and see your speed dial list. 

I can’t bear to see her name, can’t bear to remove it. 

Can’t bear to go on living, can’t bear not to. 

Can’t bear to see anything that reminds me of her, can’t bear not to have reminders of her for fear I’ll forget. 

There’s no way to escape the grief.

And just when you think you might…

It lives on when your niece and nephew graduate college and Grandma isn’t there. 

It lives on when grandchildren get married.

When parents remarry. 

It lives on at Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays and wedding anniversaries, when her favorite pew sits empty week after week and especially when we sing her favorite hymns in our little country church. 

It lives on.

I wondered what life would look like after she’d been gone a while.  I figured I would either be living okay without her or dead from the pain.  I realize now that both of those scenarios came true.  I am living and doing well, but death is never far from my mind.  Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t sit around and obsess death and dying, but I am keenly aware IT CAN COME KNOCKING ANY TIME. 

Tomorrow may not come.

Sorry if all of this sounds morbid. 

There I go again apologizing for my grief, pain has changed me. 

I wonder sometimes if we don’t take enough time to “tend to our grief.” 

Momma used to always keep house plants.  She used to tell me she had to “tend to” them so they wouldn’t die. 

I have tried over the years to follow her example.  Sadly, I have a brown thumb.  I remember she used to water her greenery faithfully, and occasionally she would go through and cut off all the dead leaves and stems.  When she was done the plant might look a little thinner, less robust, but it always looked healthier.  Without fail, it would sprout new leaves, and fresh new stems would grow up from the soil. 

Cutting off the dead allowed the plant new room to grow.

I wonder, if plants could talk, if they would want to be left alone; does it hurt to have dead leaves stripped away?  Staying the same would be so much more comfortable.  But, after the pruning process, when new life springs forth, I bet the plant would thank its faithful owner for the pain so it could be more beautiful than it ever dreamed.

This beauty didn’t happen on its own, it took “tending to.”

That’s how I feel about my grief.  Without my consent the Lord began to strip off the dead places in my soul.  I didn’t’ want it at first, and I let Him know it.  But, as I began to see the results of my pruning, I began to help Him with the process, offering my sorrow and sadness up constantly so he could pull it away and allow room for healthy life. 

I am now at a place where I can see new growth and life in my heart, but it still takes great care to keep it up.

Just like my momma’s plants, I have to take the time to water my spirit.  I do that by reading God’s word and reminding myself where she is, and that I will see her again someday.  Sometimes I take long walks and talk to her by breathing sentences into the wind.  Somehow, getting those words out of my heart and into the world helps me.

I have to prune the dead places inside of me.   The deadness being the numbing your soul feels as you try to cope with and comprehend what has happened.  To help with this, I try to remember her laughing and loving and LIVING her life to the very fullest.  Sometimes I will look at old pictures, other times I will sit and try to imagine her well and whole and happy. 

I KNOW she would want me to be happy. 

I’ve learned getting through grief, or tending to it, takes a lot of work.  But, it is worth the effort.  It takes time, lots and lots of time.  I guess that’s where I started from today, being patient with the process.  Being willing to listen to a suffering soul tell yet another story of how much they miss sew and sew is valuable beyond your greatest imaginations.  Please don’t get tired of listening, don’t get annoyed with how long it takes for a person to cope with their personal loss. 

In time, maybe a long time, you’ll start to notice some new growth in them, new green life sprouting up. 

And in a few years, or however long it takes, you’ll notice they look robust and healthy.

Just like momma’s plants.

Advertisements

The Sting of Rejection

Recently I walked through our local Wal-Mart and felt the sting of undeniable rejection from someone who used to be a friend.  It was painful.  Kind of like an ant bite to your soul, it burns, then leaves a whelp and keeps you up itching throughout the night.  Momma used to recommend ammonia to take the sting out of a bite, too bad there’s no ammonia for the soul.

My normal response to this type of Wal Mart encounter was to walk my mind down a familiar road into self-loathing and eventually end up drowning my sorrows in a bag of Reece’s Pieces. I would start by convincing myself I wasn’t worth friending and finish by reliving every stupid thing I’d ever done in living color.  Then I would agree with any problem they found in me, and, trust me, there are plenty to find, and offer to stand alongside them (hypothetically speaking) and throw stones at my self-esteem.

Then I would spend the next few hours lamenting and wishing I was a better person.

That used to be such an easy trap for my mind, I believed every lie the enemy threw at me.  Lies I often did not recognize as false because they camouflaged themselves as a dirty look or negative word spoken at a vulnerable moment.  Or by being ignored when you desperately want to be heard or finding out you’ve been talked about unfavorably by someone you trusted.  Or maybe it’s not being invited to an event or wishing you felt more like a part of the group.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

Rejection is the worst.

But, this Wal-Mart day was different.

This day, unlike so many others, I actually recognized the lie and called it out for what it was.  And then with a prayer on my lips, I walked right onto the health and beauty aisle to pick up my mascara.  There was still a sting, but, only slight. The whole idea of someone not liking me or being misunderstood used to tear me up on a thousand levels.  But, because the Lord is growing me up in this area, I’m slowly finding the freedom I need to be myself; even when “myself” is not popular.

This newly found freedom from the heavy yoke of popular opinion did not happened overnight; as a matter of fact, it has taken my whole life to learn this lesson.

Here in the up and down days of my mid-life crisis, I’m discovering self-assurance.  This assurance is rooted in finding peace with who I am, and watered by forty something years of experience that’s taught me there’s no such thing as perfect.

I’ve learned to appreciate who God made me to be, as my daddy would say, “flaws and all.”

It’s taken a very painful season to shove me into a place of dealing with my response to rejection.  It’s painful enough when it happens, why spend time thinking about it?  Just shove it down deep and move on, that was my philosophy.  I wish I was one of those people who loved looking deep within my psyche to find why I behave the way I do.  I guess if I was one of those “deeper souls” it wouldn’t have taken my entire life to understand how much I needed to change.

Not to change so I might “fit in,” rather to learn how to reject rejection.

I am a little different than most.  Some call it unique, others don’t call.  (I know, totally cheesy, but I couldn’t resist!)

I remember a few years ago wanting so badly to be a part of a ladies group that met frequently in our small town.  This is an invite only type of deal and I was told my name had been mentioned as a potential member only to find out later, I didn’t make the cut.

Ah, the sharp sting of rejection.

I was so sad and hurt.

I remember my husband being so sweet to me.  You know the person who tells you, “You don’t need such-and-such anyway.  It’s their loss.”  Well, he’s that guy.  He listened to me talk about how I was such a reject and how pathetic I was until I feel sure he wanted to run.  But, thankfully, he prayed for me instead.

Why is it, the “friend” grass always looks greener on the other side?

Why does it look like everybody has the best life and the best relationships except you?

I look back now and I realize I was trying hard to belong to a group I was never meant to be in.   If I had been accepted “in” I may never have dealt with what it felt like to be “out.”   And “out” is where the rejection lived.   “Out” is where I needed to be so I could start getting better.  And by better I mean finding wholeness—being well.

Liking myself.

Recently I read a devotional I haven’t been able to shake.  It talked about turning opposition into opportunity.  Honestly, this whole idea does not appeal to me.  I want to live opposition free, I don’t like hard things and I don’t like dealing with difficulty.  But, I do long to be healthy way down deep, so I read and re-read the devotion.

It is so easy for me to read something powerful like this and vow to change, to try and view difficulty as a chance to grow and learn.  I declare I am a willing vessel for God to use in the life of another, even if it means getting hurt in the process.  But, then I stand there in real life walking through Wal-Mart being ignored, feeling small and unloved, and I am tempted to duck into the pharmacy section to hide.

The fiction of my vowed devotion fades quickly in the face of reality.

Okay, so in keeping with my desire to be fully transparent…I don’t want this kind of opportunity, you know?  I want to be included, noticed, loved, accepted, appreciated and affirmed without any strings of hardship attached.

I want easy.

God wants what’s best.

And there’s the rub.

Since we live in a world of insecurities and competition we will never be able to escape the pain of rejection. And since God’s best involves facing the pain head on and not hiding in the pharmacy section, I find myself with “opportunities” that push me into maturity.

I wish I could just buy maturity in a tube right by the toothpaste, it would be so much easier.

Again, I want easy and God wants…you get it.

So, on this particular day, after I picked up my mascara, I spun my cart around headed for the grocery section.  Well, I sort of spun my cart, it had a damaged front wheel so it was more of a desperate dragging, not nearly as savvy sounding as a good spin.   But,  that didn’t stop me.  As I headed back to frozen foods, I continued to pray, think of God’s Word and remind myself I was loved, and you know what?

It worked.

No, it did not take the sting of rejection away immediately, but it did keep it from leaving a whelp.  I guess you could say, I took my momma’s advice.

I put “ammonia” (the medicine of God’s word and prayer) on the bite of rejection and the sting wore off.

And, amazingly, it didn’t itch later.

 

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him…”

1 Peter 2:4

Back Porch Revival (conclusion)

Back Porch Revival pic

Often I go out onto my back porch to have devotions or to pray.  There’s nothing special about it really.  It’s screened in, but we have to leave the sliding door open so the dogs can get out to the yard when needed.  Flying insects that find themselves trapped in my screened in haven from time to time and for some reason love to fly in my face.  My view isn’t especially great as there is a house right behind us, so I’m not out there to soak in a majestic view of all God’s created.

But, you know what, that small place, like my park trail, has become holy on more than one occasion.

On this particular morning, a few days after hearing the podcast with life changing words about receiving, I was kneeling in the center in my screened in space, right under the ceiling working hard to provide a breeze.  I was staring out into the backyard just as the morning dew was lifting.  A cardinal had taken up a home in a nearby tree, she landed on the fence and stared at me as though she wanted to speak.  I stared back at her; she was as radiant and red as fire, perched proudly and she began to sing.

I bowed my head low and began to pray again for peace, sweet peace.

It was in this very sacred moment, in my black fuzzy robe on a not so fancy back porch the Lord spoke so clearly to my heart.  “Peace has always been there, Sandi, you just have to receive it.”  “Receive it, Lord?” I whispered for me and the cardinal to hear.  “Yes, just receive.”

“What exactly does that mean?” I thought.

My mind was quickly taken back to a time when I was kneeling at an altar with a friend and she, even back then, was praying for peace of mind and soul.  As she was praying she spoke to me, “I can feel the peace of the Lord like RAIN in my soul, can you feel it friend?”  Weeping, I said, “no.”

Reliving that moment reminded me the Lord had been trying to give me this gift of peace for so long but I didn’t know how to receive it.  Just like the podcast speaker, I was too afraid and I didn’t believe.   More out of desperation than anything noble, I cried out to the Lord for help.

It was at my back porch revival I spoke the words that bubbled up from my heart, “I receive, Lord, I receive your peace.”  There were no bells or whistles, no big fanfare, just a strong sense I had been heard and a solid feeling everything was going to be okay.

Peace.

It’s funny because nothing about my life changed in that moment, but everything about HOW I LOOKED at my life changed.

I’ll never forget it.

I’m marking it here on this page, like a chronicling of the beginning of a deeper place.

In the days since this experience, I’ve learned peace is not something that comes to stay; it is something to receive each day.   It’s been a challenge to keep peace as the enemy loves to stalk us with fear and uncertainties.  He wields unbelief like a sword slicing away our resolve.  But day after day I continue to ask the Lord for peace and then I remind myself to receive it.

Receiving is an invitation to fill my mind.  I looked up the word in the dictionary and one of the definitions kind of surprised me.

  • RECEIVE- to act as a receptacle or container for –ex. the cistern receives water (RAIN) from the roof.

I want to be that empty cistern; the empty container that receives peace my Father wants to RAIN down from heaven.

I nearly jumped for joy and cried all at once a couple of days later as I walked my familiar trail and the next topic in the podcast series was “Receiving.”

It was just the confirmation I needed to look toward heaven and pray for “RAIN.”

Back Porch Revival

pic of me

A friend of mine has introduced me to the wonderful world of podcasts.   I know, I can see your eyes grow wide in my mind’s eye as you read this.  Podcasts have been around forever, or so I’ve heard.  I’ve been slightly aware of them for quite some time, but not knowing who in the world records them or exactly how to use the podcast app on my phone, I conveniently ignored the whole idea.  

I’m not very good at diving into new things; does that mean I don’t like change? 

I’ve discovered I enjoy listening to these podcasts as I walk around our little small town park.  I’ve had some holy experiences while walking, listening and, many times, raising my hands and giving a hearty “amen” for the birds and heavens to hear.

Occasionally I get a strange look by a passer-by, but, mostly it’s just me and the Lord and He knows me, so it’s okay.

Lately, I’ve struggled some as I’ve questioned my motive for writing this blog or helping anyone in general.  I never want to have a pious attitude or secretly harbor feelings of self-righteousness in my heart.  I was sharing this with my friend when she suggested a podcast that features the series “Postures of the Heart.” 

I knew instinctively I was supposed to listen the moment she told me about them.

Despite my best efforts, I’m still not very savvy with technology.   After a small struggle, and a few desperate prayers, I finally found the series she mentioned; I plugged in my earbuds, laced up my tennis shoes, ready to walk and listen.  You know, I’m not even sure how many times I circled the park; I was so involved in the story flowing into my ears, piercing my mind and heart, that I lost count.

I wiped tears and felt my heart tender with compassion as I listened, I know how it feels to suffer and long for God in all of it. 

She talked of personal trials and how God was walking her through with such tenderness, teaching her dependence in the deepest places of her weary heart.  She told of doctor’s visits and feelings of hopelessness that compelled her to fall on her face and pray hard for peace and rest in her painful storm. 

I just wanted to reach through all the technology and give her a big hug.

While sharing the healing stage of her struggle, she said something that nearly stopped me in my tracks.  What she said wasn’t so profound really, but because God had said something to me a few days earlier that sounded eerily the same, it made me take note.  You know, when the Lord speaks something into your spirit, it may lay there for a while and it may or may not take root.  But, it doesn’t go away.  After some time, or a lot of time, it seems He will bring something into your life and suddenly that Word, the one you hadn’t thought of for so long, springs to your mind and you realize there’s been a resurrection and a revelation. 

This type of revelation doesn’t happen to me often, but I love it when it does.

Even though the doctor told the podcast speaker the good news she longed to hear, she still found herself sitting in her car in the parking lot in disbelief.  Instead of the joy she should have been feeling, she felt numb.  The next words she said resonated so deeply, “I had been given this gift of good news but I didn’t know how to receive it.  My fear was stopping me from being able to celebrate and believe what God had done for me.” 

I felt so totally understood in that moment.

Many of you know I’ve been on a personal campaign to find joy, only to realize joy is directly related my own level of thankfulness.  (If you would like to read more about my personal journey and discovery in this matter, check out “Baptized in Salty Water.”)  It was a beautiful moment of revelation when I could see how thankfulness increases joy which increases thankfulness which increases joy and the cycle never ends. 

Well, I’ve also been praying for peace.

Not momentary peace, or situational peace, but real solid, here-for-the-long-haul peace of mind and heart.   I’d been praying and seeking God for it for so long my asking started to feel stale.   I wondered if peace was just an illusion, something people talk about, but is really only a pipe dream. 

To be continued next week…

 

Baptized in Salty Water

Baptized in Salt Water 5.23.2018.docx pic

At the beginning of this year I felt a strong sense the Lord was going to give me joy.  Or maybe He was going to resurrect joy in my heart, or uncover it. However you want to say it, I could hear Him speaking “joy” into my spiritual ears.    I was so excited!  I posted about it on social media, wrote a blog about it and pretty much sat expectantly waiting for joy to slap me in the face. 

Joy left when mom died and I was so ready for its return!

Grief has been a mysterious thing.  It’s come in waves and stages and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t seem to make any sense of it.   Just when I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud, I am somehow sucked back in. It’s like a vacuum of pain that won’t let me go.   

So you can understand why the word joy made me giddy with expectation. 

Well, days passed, then months, and I lost all confidence in my “word from the Lord.”  My days would start the same and end the same and all that lay in between felt the same.   I despaired of ever feeling any different.  I questioned the Lord on occasion about the word I thought He’d whispered, but my prayers seemed to fall flat. 

So, after a while, I forgot to keep asking. 

As a matter of fact, I forgot about joy all together.

Can I just stop here and shout a “praise the Lord!”  We may forget, but He NEVER does.

A few weeks ago I told you I had taken a Bible study with some ladies at church.  It was a study about finding meaning in life.  It took me deep into my heart to places I hadn’t been in a while; maybe even places I had tried to lock up forever.  Facing unfulfilled dreams is not my idea of a good time.  I learned a lot about myself, I cried a lot and took a lot of soul-searching-late-afternoon walks.    It was all so hard.  It was at the end of this study the author recommended we read a book that had helped in her quest to find meaning.

I remember when I read the name of the book, I’d heard of it somewhere before.

I went home and shared some of what I was going through with my daughter and mentioned this book. She said, “Mom, I gave you my copy of it over a year ago.  It’s in your room on your bookshelf.”   In that moment, with supper simmering on the stove, and my mind in a hundred different places, the miracle of what God had already prepared for me didn’t sink in.   

Since I was distracted, I didn’t immediately look for it on my bookshelf and soon forgot all about it.

It wasn’t until one glorious day sitting in white sand, watching the tide sweep seashells onto shore that I cracked open the cover of the book my daughter had given me a year earlier.  As I read, the salty breeze blew the rim of my hat in and out of my face while seagulls shrieked above me.   With the symphony of waves crashing into the hard sand, my vinyl chair, comfortably nestled under my colorful umbrella, became a holy place as I found my heart on page after page. 

The more I read the more I was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of being understood.

Yes, it hurts to grieve; it also hurts to question the very foundation of your faith and beg the question, “Why does grief exist?”  It doesn’t just hurt for a moment or even a period of time. 

It hurts forever. 

As I was reading, the word God had promised began to dawn on me like a slow sunrise.  I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but suddenly it was clear the Lord was speaking.  Between the study on meaning and my daughter’s book, He was beginning to lead me down a path.

A path to joy.

Salty tears began to slide down my sunburned cheeks.

At that realization, I laid my book down on the towel beside me and began to walk toward the ocean.  I will never cease to be amazed by its liquid power.  I pressed my feet deep into the hot sand, my steps measured and determined, my sights set on something deeper. The moment the water touched my hot skin, it felt cleansing and cold. I let out a small whimper of discomfort but pressed on into the clear blue.

 I wasn’t turning back. 

The cold waves began to crash against me, pulling me out.  I was waist deep when I stopped and dug my toes into the ocean floor.   I looked up into the heavens, closed my eyes and took in all of the sounds around me.  And then, with great intention, I sank down into the icy water.  I held my breath and allowed the current to pull me back and forth.  When I emerged from the sea, I felt lighter, like I’d left a heavy burden beneath its surface.  I couldn’t put my finger on it right then, but I knew something had changed. 

I’d been baptized in salty water. 

The joy I felt in that moment was something I hadn’t experienced in a very long time.  I laughed, frolicked and played with my adult children.  I felt free and fresh and incredibly thankful for the answer to a thousand desperate cries for healing. 

I tried to explain this to my husband after we’d come back out of the water to rest under the sweet shade of our umbrella.  But, all I could do was cry.  God was answering, He had not forgotten.

I was still rejoicing in my spirit as we wiped sand from our feet and washed it out of our hair.  I’m still holding onto my holy baptism even now, all these days later. 

It’s not something I will ever forget.

Like scripture says, weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.*   Notice it doesn’t say grief goes away and it is replaced by joy, it says joy joins the grief.  Joy is mixed with sorrow, also in scripture.**

I think that’s what I am learning in all of this searching; grief is not the enemy of joy.  You only recognize one because you’ve experienced the other.  But, I do think there is a tipping point in the grief journey where joy begins to outshine the sorrow.

And that’s the moment you come up out of the water. 

  

*Psalm 30:5b

**Proverbs 14:13