The Other Side

The end and the Beginning the pic
Seems my theme this Christmas season is joy.

Joy left me a few years ago and I wondered if it would ever return.  I spent a lot of 2018 doing the hard work of recovery from devastating grief.

Grief has been my banner for four years…but not anymore.

I’ve learned a lot over the last several months, things like you really can get to the “other side” of loss.  I didn’t believe it at first, but I do now.

Now that I’ve lived it.

I’ve been taking Griefshare, a study to help overcome devastating loss, over the last several weeks and I’ve learned so much.  It was during one of the video sessions the idea of an ending to grief was introduced to me.  I honestly thought I would grieve until the day I died. Oh, it might get less intense, I mused, but grief would live on.

When I think about it, the idea of being done with grief made me feel like I might “get over it,” and I didn’t want to.  The thought of it being “over it” meant mom’s memory would fade and I couldn’t bear that thought.   Or what if others forgot about her?  Or if I went on with life, and outwardly it looked like everything was okay, how would others know how important she was to me?  I carried all of these questions in my heart in the form of feelings, not knowing how to put them into words.

It was a heavy burden.

But what I’ve discovered is although grief may be gone, sadness never leaves.  A kind of sadness where your heart begins to unthaw and you start to feel again. It’s good when the time of grieving has ended, the ending is not something to be feared.  Admitting your grief is over doesn’t speak to the value, or lack thereof, of the relationship.  No textbook definition of the ebb and flow of emotion can define what you shared.  The end of the grieving cycle allows you to say your name in the same sentence with the word healing, and that pushes you into a new place.

You’ve crossed from grieving into sadness.

It’s like grieving takes up your whole heart, that’s all there is…but sadness leaves room.

Room for laughter, room for warmth, room for friendship, room to grow…just room.

And now here we are, our fourth Christmas season without mom, and I find myself nearly giddy with expectation. First time I’ve wanted to be jolly since she was diagnosed.

My joy is not JUST because of a deeper healing that has only come with time and the LOVE of God, but also because I finally WANT to celebrate again.  I was afraid my desire to celebrate might never return.

So, we put up our Christmas tree ridiculously early and I’m not sorry about it.  We’ve strung lights, carefully placed Christmas decorations and most recently hung the stockings…by the chimney with care.   We’ve toasted pecans, had too much egg nog, and lit all the Christmas candles; the house smells heavenly.    Hallmark is playing Christmas movies on a loop and I’m crafting a plan to make cookies that I don’t like so I won’t eat them ALL!

I’m trying to figure out gifts for all the people I love.

While my mind is on earthly things, I still find myself wondering if Christmas is celebrated in heaven.  I started a book, “90 Minutes in Heaven,” and it’s made me ponder what mom might be experiencing.  Although it hurts, I can finally smile and mean it when I think of her.

She’s in perfect peace.

And isn’t that what Christmas is really about, peace on earth?

I always thought I knew what peace meant.  The absence of fear.  But, that’s only a small part of it…peace means being okay even when everything is not okay.  Resting in the FACT that although life WILL bring sorrow and pain, it will also bring joy and happiness.

It’s the seasons of each that teach us what really matters.

And what matters?

Well, that’s up to you.  For me, it’s family and making memories…lots and lots of memories.  One day when it’s my turn to cross over into eternity, those who loved me will be able to laugh and tell stories about our times together.  Hopefully, while they’re sitting around a brightly lit Christmas tree sipping egg nog.

Life is short, and it is hard, but it is worth LIVING.

And, this Christmas, that’s EXACTLY what I plan to do.

If you agree, raise your glass of egg nog and let’s make a toast…

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a healed heart.”

 

Psalm 30:5b “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

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“Costly Grace”

 

Costly Grace pic 2

I had to speak clearly as she hung on every word.  Having someone read to her was the only choice since she could no longer see.  She had been diagnosed with a disease that ravaged her body and left her with only her mind and what she could hear.

Her days were spent lying in a hospital bed, it was rolled into the living room so she could be close to the window.  Although this window wasn’t for seeing, her sight being gone and all, it was to allow the sun to press in on her face on late summer afternoons.

A little bit of life shining down on her, warming her soul.

She’d been fighting this devil of an illness for two years and her body just wasn’t able to fight anymore.  So, she laid.  Nurses would come in and change her sheets and make her comfortable and her lifelong companion made sure she had the best of care.

He rarely left her side.

She knew in her heart she wasn’t long for this world, she knew heaven was near.

It was at this exact time she managed to communicate to me through lip reading, she wanted me to read to her.  I began to pick out books and call out their title.  She would respond by shaking her head slightly yes or no.

How about this one, momma, “Costly Grace?”

Her head moved slightly and I knew she approved.

And so I began.

I stretched out on the couch directly under the big living room window, the same one that allowed the sunlight to stream through, lighting her gray strands of hair.  She wouldn’t want anyone to see her with gray hair, she’d colored it red since the first strand showed up years earlier.  She didn’t feel like a gray haired woman, she’d told me.  She loved her red and wanted to keep it, even if it was from a box.

I cleared my throat and began to read, my mind not absorbing a single word.  My thoughts drifted back to an earlier time, back when life was simpler and momma was well; days of chatter and trips to Lowe’s, countless phone calls about everything and nothing, coffee dates and Sunday morning church.

I missed those days.

“Can you hear me okay, Momma?”  A slight movement of her head told me she could.  I continued to read.  Chapter after chapter of the cost of following Jesus.  I’ve heard it preached accepting Jesus is the easiest decision you’ll ever make.  I’d say I agree with that, but following Him as a true believer has got to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

There’s a cost.

Momma always believed in paying the price for something worthwhile.  Her faith in Jesus meant more to her than anything else.  She would argue you to the floor for something she believed in.  Momma knew God could part the seas and cause the sun to set, she never wavered, not once in my whole life do I ever remember her doubting.  It was a simple faith, but a powerful one.  Now, she lay on her death bed still believing in the One who could speak a word and change everything.  Oh, she’d asked him to, we all had.

We’d begged.

Healing, sweet healing was our deepest desire.  But, it wasn’t meant to be and now here we were, the pair of us, sitting under the window on a summer afternoon reading a book about the cost of following Christ.

Both of us knowing it was near the end, but neither of us willing to acknowledge it.

It’s interesting she would choose that book, the one hardest to digest.  The one that made you want to eat a bowl of ice cream just to make the words go down easier.  She knew all about “costly,” she was living it.

Sometimes I wonder if she picked it for me.

Maybe she understood how much I would need to understand the cost of following the Creator, how painful it could be.  Maybe she knew I would need to know that she understood the cost, and she was willing to pay it, and, as she told me countless times before she lost her ability to speak, “It was worth it all if she could be used by Jesus.”

She lay there listening, occasionally nodding her head silently in agreement now and then, meanwhile I was replaying every encounter we’d had over the last days before she’d been sentenced to this bed.  Oh, how I wanted to live those days again, I wanted another chance to drive the country roads and spend an afternoon sipping tea and swapping stories.

I read on.

“Chapter 4- Becoming Like Jesus in Suffering.”   I knew from the title this was not going to be my favorite chapter.

“Jesus said every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God.  Each one must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“This is what suffering looks like, isn’t it, Lord?”  I thought.   I know it can take on many forms, but I KNOW this fits into the category of “enduring a cross.”  I was angry and sad and overwhelmed all at once.

I read “Jesus’ objective—To teach us that suffering develops in us an obedient trust in God, where we understand God always has our best in mind even when we cannot see what he is doing.  Suffering forces us into other-centered thinking of the kingdom of heaven and pushes us into the very heart of God.”*

I love the sound of that last line.  “pushes us into the very heart of God.”  That’s where Momma was, being pushed into the heart of God.  This sentence is the ONLY thing that explains how she could live in such a state of suffering and still attempt to raise her hands to heaven when we talked about eternity.

This is the only theology I can accept for all she endured.

Day after day, chapter after chapter, she listened intently until I turned the final page.

It wasn’t too much longer until, early on a Monday morning, slipped into eternity.

She was finally in the heart of God.

If I could pour a glass of iced tea, walk out to the yard and sit next to her in the cool shade on the wooden swing one last time, I’m sure I’d say something like…

Thank you, Mom, for helping me to understand any relationship worth having involves give and take.  Thank you, that even in your last days, you wanted me to know that having a relationship with Jesus is worth whatever the cost, because what we receive in return is worth immeasurably more.  I get it.

It took me a long time, but I realize now, she didn’t want to read “Costly Grace” because she needed it, she wanted to read it because she knew I needed it.  Her faith meant everything to her and in the end…

It cost her something.

 

 

*Costly Grace, pg. 59

Stretched

pic for Stretched

It was while I was in puppy pose a thought hit me.

These last years of my life have been filled with days and months of stretching.

Stretching what, you wonder?

Well, unlike the puppy pose, which any yoga amateur (like me) would appreciate. The kind of stretching the Lord is doing in my life has nothing to do with getting on my knees with my arms stretched in front of me while the instructor reminds me how good it is for my shoulders.

This stretching involves coping and/or handling events, people, basically life that is completely out of my control.

I think as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, He begins to get a little pickier with us.  What I mean is, He expects more out of us just like we expect more out of our children as they grow older.

This year although full of wonderful things, has been a tough one.

This month, in just about two weeks, it will have been four years since my mom died.   October, although FULL of festivities and fun, is always a little hard on me.

As I’ve walked the long, painful road of grief, I’ve noticed a theme.  The lessons I’ve learned from my pain the Lord gently requires me to practice.   As he teaches me, he expects more from me.

Sometimes, I want to run from these expectations.

I don’t want to do the MATURE thing.

And, sometimes, I actually DO run from these expectations and I don’t choose maturity.  And every time I don’t choose maturity, I regret it.  You know, being an adult is not at all what I thought it would be back in my childhood years when the thought of making all of my own decisions sounded so romantic!

What I wouldn’t give to feel the freedom of childhood.

Stretching…right, I need to stay on topic!

At the first of the year my husband got a promotion.  It all sounded wonderful on paper, but the reality was more hours away from home and less time together.  Since my children are grown, I don’t have school and multiple schedules to juggle.  There’s nothing to distract me so I notice every lonely hour he’s away.

But, the right thing to do was to be thankful for the opportunity, but thankful was only part of what I felt.  I wrestled with happiness, expectation, fear and uncertainty.  I was a giant ball of mixed emotion.   Every time I started to complain, I could feel an impression in my heart to stop and be grateful.  So many nights when I sat on the couch by myself, the last thing I wanted was to thank the Lord.

Stretched.

Just a few weeks ago I watched dear friends bury their twenty four year old only son.

It felt like a punch in the gut.

That level of loss I can’t comprehend.

I watched an entire community come together and weep with the family, pray with them and wrap them in love.   I still can’t understand why it happened.  I try to wrap my mind around it, and I simply can’t.  I have no desire to hear the shallow answer that “God must’ve needed another angel.”  Are you kidding me?  This family wants their son, and heaven didn’t need another angel.  There is no easy answer and I want to rail out against the senselessness of it all.

Again, I am stretched.  Stretched so thin.

My daughter commutes two days a week to a school over eighty miles one way…rain, sleet, snow or shine.    So many days I stop and pray for her.  There is always a real possibility of the unthinkable happening.

I feel stretched.

My husband flies airplanes for a living.  Do I even need to tell you the stress that goes along with having someone you love with all of your heart hanging in the air by two engines, a wing and a prayer?!

My son has a girlfriend and suddenly I am no longer the only woman in his life.  I knew this day would come, I knew he would find someone he really cared about and I would have to step back and allow the budding relationship to grow.  But, I’ve never been in these waters before, and even though I am so happy for him, I find myself jealous and unsure of where I fit into his life.

This year I have faced some serious rejection.  I wrote about it a few months back and so many of you responded to my pain.  It’s amazing how many of us can relate to rejection, it’s a true test of character as I’m challenged to take the high road when I would rather defend my cause.

Rejection is the worst.

And, again, I am stretched.

I think that could be the resonating theme for me this year.

Being stretched thin.

Figuratively speaking, that is.  All this stretching certainly hasn’t made me “thin.” Ever heard of stress eating?!

I’ve learned by attending my yoga class that stretching is so important.  It keeps us strong and flexible and strengthens our muscles to hold us together.  This strength keeps us from injury, builds our immune system, helps with hormones (hallelujah!), helps with balance, sharpens our memory, improves sleep quality and gives you more energy.

You know, there are so many similarities in physical stretching and spiritual stretching.

When I follow the impression laid on my heart to do the right thing in spite of how I feel, it’s hard and it doesn’t feel good.  Just like yoga, when I’m in upward facing dog and want to cry (literally), I remind myself of the benefits and I congratulate myself when I’m done for holding the awkward pose and not giving up.

The benefits outweigh the difficulties.

Spiritually speaking, it’s the same.  If I’ll follow through and stay in that awkward pose of uncertainty or stay there and allow God to fight my battles, when it’s over I feel the Lord congratulate me for holding on and being obedient….upward facing dog, spiritually speaking.

I’ve learned we don’t get to pick our battles, sometimes they pick us.  BUT we do get to decide how we handle them.  Do we listen to the small impression the Lord puts on our heart or not?

Upward facing dog or not?

For me, I’m heading to yoga.

 

Romans 12:1-2 MSG  “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

Living Life One Hundred Percent

Living Life One Hundred Percent pic

Last time I wrote, I wrote to those who know someone who’s suffered deep, personal loss. I asked you to be patient with us and allow us plenty of time to recover. Coming back from deep grief is a LONG, painful road.   Recovery takes lots of time, but we eventually find healing and learn to walk in our new normal.

In this writing I would like to talk to those of us who have personally suffered loss.

It’s a club we never wanted to join, yet, here we are.  

Many of us have travelled down this grief road for a while and have learned to cope.  We have a few years of “loss experience” under our belt and we don’t cry every single day like we did at first. 

We walk with an emotional “limp,” but WE ARE WALKING.

It’s taken me a while to come to this place in my healing; how about you?  I’ve worked hard to be exactly where I am, as a matter of fact I am about to start a class on coping with grief.  I look forward to finding out if I’ve processed my pain in a healthy way.  Sounds strange to use the word healthy in the same sentence with pain, but I believe it is possible.

I believe it’s possible to walk through soul-searing pain and learn more than you ever thought you could.  

But, that’s the catch.

Who wants to wish pain into their lives to learn?  I don’t see any raised hands.  Me either.

Since we are inevitably going to suffer on some level or another throughout life, I want to find some silver lining to what I’ve been through.  What can I glean from my personal tragedy, what have I learned?

Well…

I’ve learned I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.

A friend told me recently, she’s averages 100% in living through hard days.  She’s made it through every one and is still here to talk about it.  If you’d told me I was going to live the rest of my days without my mom, I would’ve told you I might die without her.  But, you know what?   I didn’t die.  I’m 100% on living hard days without her so far.  I get up, face each day as it comes, it’s not always pretty, but when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I remind myself I’m still here and still LIVING. 

 

Since death wreaked havoc in my life,

I’ve found I can handle hard times with more courage.

What does that mean?  Well, when a day goes awry I remind myself “I’ve been through MUCH HARDER TIMES than this.”  When I feel left out, or overwhelmed or frustrated, I remember I’ve LIVED THROUGH WORSE. 

And I’m still here.

I don’t want the strength the good Lord has grown within me to be wasted.  Even if the only meaning I can find in my loss is to use it for coping with the days ahead, I’ll take it.  There has to be more to what I’ve been through than to get past it, more than just getting over it.  I want it to count for something.  And when times do get really hard, I remind myself…

A bad day can’t come close to where I’ve been. 

I’m going to make it.   

 

I have a better perspective on life.

When you’ve looked death in the face, it changes how you view everything around you.  Not right away, but eventually, you begin to be THANKFUL for any and everything in your life.  Even the most average of days can be a festival of thanksgiving when you realize all you have.   A simple walk around the park can feel freeing and beautiful.  Sitting in Sunday morning church feels sacred. It’s like my senses are heightened and I’m keenly aware of the good things around me. 

Even though I have to leave my youngest child in a different town so he can get an education, I am thankful to be here to cry about it.  Yes, I am thankful through tears.  That’s a bonus I’ve discovered since mom’s death, tears come easily and I don’t take them for granted.

Be patient with yourself, it takes a while to start feeling thankful, but if you do the work it takes to find healing, thankfulness will come.

 

I LOVE to make memories!

I’ve learned any event can be made into a memory and that is so important.  Lately I’ve been remembering a lot about my mom.  I can even remember events without crying.  I thank the Lord often for the gift of remembering, it has been a life saver.  So, I try to have as many “outings” as I can with my college age kids.  Even if it’s just a simple trip to meet at Cracker Barrel.   I plan and save for vacations where I know we’ll laugh and play together.  Anything we do, I try to keep in mind our lives are flying by and I want to have lots of events to look back on and smile. 

 

I am a picture fanatic!

Don’t get too close to me or I’m liable to snap your picture.  I don’t believe you can have enough pics of the ones you love.  Mom hated being photographed so I don’t have nearly as many pictures of her as I would like. I am so sad about that.  My poor kids have been photographed half to death.  But, they know not to give me a hard time, so they stand for the thousandth time and smile for the camera.  You know what?  I’ve created a chronicling of their lives and I hope one day they’ll thank me for it.  I try my best to be willing to have my picture taken on my best and worst days because, one day, I know they’ll be able to look back and smile as one memory after another is laid before them in digital color. 

 

Grief has been a defining point in my life, but I do not want to be defined by my grief.  I don’t want to park there and never become the person God intended.  I want my grief to mean something, to be worth something, and to be used to wield good all around me.  I want to offer hope and compassion to those who don’t think they’ll live through another day because of the pain.

All of this hurt can’t be for nothing. 

If I could choose, I would take my mom back in a Mississippi minute and trade all of these lessons without thinking twice.  But, since that option is not on the table, I like to think she’d be proud of me for taking something REALLY hard and finding the good in it.

I think she’d give me a 100%.

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.