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Freed


I “came of age” as a Christian in a fairly legalistic church environment. But even without that my own internal compass already points towards rules and regulation; I would’ve landed there without any external influences. Years and years of learning about grace have helped bring me to a place of really and truly believing that my actions cannot change the way God views me — for good or for ill. While my mind understands this for my salvation, my heart has still remained in the realm of un-freedom.
The verse Gal. 5:1 has stuck in my brain since my second year in college. My boyfriend at the time would quote it often and I liked it, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” Really? Are we sure it isn’t “for rules, guilt, and shame Christ has chosen you?” I felt like being “freed” from the power of sin meant being shackled to an endless cycle of rule-following, rule-breaking, guilt, repentance, wash, rinse, and repeat.

But this past year this verse finally came alive for me. It finally hit how much weight I had put on the circumstances of my life and the people in my life to make me feel safe, loved, or valuable. I have lived my life by committee for a long time. Whatever the majority opinion was about any particular decision was what I chose. And I was often wracked with insecurity and immobilized by disapproval. At 31 I found myself unable to rely on my own judgment and plagued by self-doubt, guilt, and shame for just about everything — including everything from poor choices I’d made as a teenager to my decision to consume too many cookies last night. Summed up — I lived enslaved to fear.

This is not freedom. Living like this is crippling. This is not how Jesus wants us to live. It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set ME free. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He will never put his beloved to shame. Slowly, I started to switch my value from people and things and to see my worth in Christ. These verses and so many others washed over me time and again when I felt insecure or beleaguered by guilt.

So in the midst of the worst circumstances I could have ever imagined, I also found myself growing in joy, contentment, and freedom. I wrote these words in my journal this past spring: “I think the key to freedom is manna. You know, the food of the Old Testament delivered directly by the hand of God. We get manna (grace, freedom, hope, joy) for today only. We don’t have to live all our tomorrows and all our yesterdays — we just get right now, just this moment. Despite what I lack on any given day, in spite of fear, today is good. Because my God, my Jesus, He is kind. I am a child for freedom, no longer a slave to fear. He gives manna, strength for today. And promises to hear me tomorrow. To provide. Heal. Restore. Manna for each day.”

I wrote this post several months ago. I haven’t been able to hit publish because it felt unfinished. I think it’s because I’m unfinished. This isn’t a one time thing– finding freedom from shame. I woke up this morning again feeling the weight of guilt. Guilt for not being better than I am, for not being as strong as everyone thinks I am, for not missing my kids more when I’m apart from them, for not being as present as I should with family and friends, for once again being discontent with my current status and wanting to be one hundred steps further down this road than I am. 

Guilt is a tricky devil. It sneaks in and robs you of joy at the most unexpected moments. It gets you so wrapped up in your own thoughts that you find yourself questioning and overanalyzing everything. Here I find myself on a gorgeous beach, with my wonderful family, basking in 78 degrees of warmth and yet my mind is a sad mess of mush. So I stop myself again and preach that same old sermon, “Don’t live tomorrow and don’t live yesterday. What are you grateful for today, Soul? Make a list and don’t stop until you find rest in our good and kind Father.” So I did. And I again find peace. Freedom. And hope. Manna for today. 

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When Santa Doesn’t Come

I’ve heard the story dozens of times. The story of my dad’s lonely Christmas. It is the story of his first one alone (for a variety of reasons) and, although sad, it has always been told with a bit of levity. How he picked out the last, lonely, sparse Christmas tree just two days before Christmas. How it looked more like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree than anything you’d see in White Christmas. How he went to decorate it with bulbs only to realize he didn’t have any ornament hangers and wound up removing the tops of the bulbs and sticking them right on the end of each branch. I always liked hearing this story as a kid. He told it in a winsome way that made you laugh even though I’m sure the actual memory was quite painful.

And now I find myself in my own sad Christmas story. Having a lonely Christmas quite unlike the movies on my TV and the songs on my radio. A Christmas where the little people that I love most in this world are not in my arms. My babies, my precious babies are 90 miles away at someone else’s house; celebrating Christmas with a family that used to be mine. And even though I’m not alone (thank the Lord a thousand times over!), my heart is as sad and delapidated as that poor Christmas tree.

I find myself in the bedroom where I grew up, where I dreamed about what my life would be. Where I slept the nights leading up to my wedding and tingled with excitement about my new life. Where I brought home my new husband, and then new babies, and the years rolled by with life being lived in this room. Life lived together. And now I find myself alone in this room. Divorced. A word I never imagined in my worst nightmares. A reality I never wanted or sought after. It’s easy to think on a day like this, “how can it even be Christmas when the tree is so barren?”

And that’s when I’m drawn to that other rugged tree, the one that held Jesus at his death. When he found himself abandoned and alone, even separated from his own Father. There is no hope in Christmas trees or presents or holidays — or even in a whole and happy family — there is only hope in Jesus. As I lay my own life, my own dreams, and my own desires before that tree, that cross, that’s where hope comes in. Because he’s not a capricious Santa, checking his list and doling out gifts to the deserving. There is hope here because despite myself he came, he died, and he saved.

I’ve heard O Holy Night my entire life. Somehow the meaning of one line has always escaped me. “Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” I always thought that meant that seeing him in his perfection should make us realize how unworthy we are: “he appeared and we were humbled by our inadequacy”. But it hit me last night that there is another meaning. His coming shows how much he values us. By this incredible sacrifice, giving up his throne in heaven and humbling himself by becoming a man, Jesus has shown us how much worth our souls have. They have infinite worth to him because he gave up an infinite amount to save us.

So that is the present I am choosing to unwrap today. While my arms are empty and the tree is barren, I am overwhelmed at the immense love of my Savior. One who will never leave me or forsake me. One who left heaven because he found my soul worth saving. It is the only gift that matters and it’s our only hope for joy. Whether your arms are full and your dreams are coming true or the idea of “home” is fuzzy and painful — Jesus has come for you. Emmanuel, God with us.

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The Story I Never Wanted

We are all given gifts we don’t like. Maybe it’s a hand-knit, scratchy, and misshapen sweater from a Great Aunt. Maybe it’s a gift card to a restaurant you’d never eat at — or baked goods that will go straight into the trash. Or maybe it’s something much bigger and weightier than an unwelcomed wrapped present under a tree: maybe it’s the gift of a crisis in your life.  This quote has stuck with me after reading it in March of last year: “You have been offered the gift of crisis . . . they shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most.”

Six years ago I went through my first bout of “crisis.” It was unsettling and shook me to my core. I had never really understood real pain and trial until that season of my life. It was my first experience with grieving and having a story I didn’t want. I’d always admired people with really radical testimonies, I just didn’t ever want to be one of those people. I liked my happy little life and my happily ever after was perfectly fine with me. Hey, maybe God wouldn’t use me as powerfully as other people, but that seemed like a perfectly safe and enjoyable place to be.

I remember sobbing on the phone to my dad at that time, telling him, “But I never wanted a powerful story. Now I have one.” Ha. Oh, Monica from 2010, you ain’t seen nothing yet. And as the crisis intensified this past year and I went through the thick of it, people would say to me, “God is going to use you so much. You are going to be able to help so many people with what He’s taught you.” And while my head would nod and act like this news was a comfort, my heart was yelling, “I’D RATHER HAVE A DIFFERENT STORY!”

But do you know what? Everyone was right. I do have a story. And it is not at all the way I would have written it. But I’m in good company when it comes to unwanted gifts and undesirable less-than-happy endings. Most of the people in Scripture who’ve done powerful things for the Lord first walked through seasons of unwelcomed crisis. More than just being world-changers, these people, who were no strangers to suffering, they knew God in an intimate and deeper way than their less battle worn counterparts.

My church frequently sings Oceans, Where Feet May Fail and this stanza gets me every time.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

And that, my friends, that is my story. The story I never wanted. The story of being called to walk upon stormy waters and going further away from the safety of the shore than I ever imagined in my worst nightmares. But along with those storms and that instability comes the presence of Jesus. And for that, I wouldn’t trade my story for anything in the world.

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Like Him

There are hundreds of metaphors used to describe God. The most common get a lot of air time in church and Christian books: shepherd, king, warrior, etc. I’d say that the majority of the images that make us feel good are ones that portray his power, his might, and his glory. It’s why the idea of a suffering savior was so repugnant to the Jews in ancient Israel. And it’s why we tend to shy away from metaphors and descriptions of God that make us uncomfortable.

I’ve been reading Wearing God for the past few months. Devouring a chapter or two and then allowing myself to digest the information and incorporate it into how I relate to Jesus. I don’t agree with everything, just like we’ll never agree with any human author 100%. But it is challenging me to have an overwhelmingly bigger view of God, and I think that’s a healthy and good thing to work towards.

I’ve realized that there are parts of my experience as a woman—and specifically as a mother who has labored and breastfed—that tell me something about God. That’s a big deal. I’m not a shepherd, I’ll never be a prince — but knowing that God’s tenderness towards me is the same as I felt while nursing my newborns? That’s a feeling and concept that blows my mind in real concrete ways. Maybe that’s why when I was reading Jeremiah 3:8 it hit me in a profound new way: God is divorced.

It first felt awkward and wrong to describe God in those terms. In my mind, divorced people have always been broken people. I hate to admit that I often had a superior attitude to those who found themselves in that life situation. To me it didn’t just say something about their life, it said something about THEM. And yet, God? He is perfect. He is holy. He is unfailing and the perfect husband. And yet? He is divorced.

I am not perfect. I was not the perfect wife. But my marriage ended largely due to circumstances completely outside of my control. And yet I bore unnecessary guilt and shame because of my previously held views on divorce. In many ways, I saw myself as damaged goods. Irreparably broken, forever marred. But then I came across this passage in Scripture, that describes God himself being in the same situation as me. And I’m reminded: I am wounded, not damaged. And wounds heal.

I recently came across this quote in The Meaning of Marriage which reaffirmed my realization, “Divorce is terribly difficult, and it should be, but the wronged party should not live in shame. Surprisingly, even God claims to have gone through a divorce. He knows what it is like.” (p. 93)

God knows what it is to be rejected. To be abandoned. He knows what it is to love to the uttermost and not receive that love back. God himself has experienced being united to a bride in a covenant, and to have that covenant betrayed and broken. Knowing that he “gets” me and my life on this level, it has brought immeasurable comfort. And realizing that because of my woundedness I have something to offer in the way of insight about God, that gives purpose to the pain.

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Being a Sad Mommy

PREFACE: I wrote this post last January and never hit “publish”. I was feeling too tender at the time, and not many people knew what I was walking through. But now that I’m out of the fog and through the depths of the valley of the shadow of death, it seemed appropriate to share. For those of you who are still walking through dark times, I hope it is a comfort to you to know there is a way through and that there is light at the end of it all.

As I scroll through my Pinterest feed I might come across a dozen articles:7 ways to be a happier mom, or how not to be an angry mom, or 12 things every kid should see their mom doing. But do you know what I never see? How to be a mommy when you are sad. I think it is a topic that sorely needs to be addressed; at one time or another, most every mommy will be sad. I’m not talking about “mommy is having a bad day” kind of sad. I’m talking about deep, dark sadness. A miscarriage or the loss of a baby. A serious illness in a close family member. The death of a parent. Experiencing a deep relational wound from a friend. The death of a marriage. Serious financial problems that result in losing a house. A dark depression in yourself or a family member. Or maybe you are walking alongside someone you love who is experiencing one of these things. Sadness is one of the seasons we will all inevitably face, and doing it while mothering little people day and night is a particular kind of challenge.

I wish I was far along enough in my own journey or wise enough to have a short pithy list of “8 ways to be a sad mommy”, but I don’t. I wish there was a formula that said: when life has hit you in the gut, do A, B, and C and you will be fine. But everyone’s grief is their own and so is the process. If you do happen to find yourself in the process, as little eyes look to you and ask about your daily tears, I hope you won’t shy away from these hard moments of mothering.

Vulnerability with your kids
It obviously depends on the age of your children, but I’ve always tried to be honest with my kids. When I am having hard days and am sad, I tell them that. They may not know the reason, but if they see me crying I want them to know it is not because of them but something that mommy is feeling about grown-up things. We talk about trusting God even when we don’t feel happy. They know it’s ok to be sad and not rush straight to being happy. Honestly, the movie Inside Out has been pretty helpful in talking through it all with them. They know each emotion has a place and tears are a necessary part of life.

Plan to be with people
Little souls are fragile. Hey, I get sad if I’m around someone who is sad, so why wouldn’t they? Even though I don’t hide my tears or my sadness, I also don’t want it to permeate their days. This is where planning is essential. I don’t mean planning great outings, but planning ways to break up the darkness. You need people. In your pain, people are your greatest balm. I’ve had dear friends come over, bring me a muffin, we set our kids in front of the TV, and we cry together for an hour. This allows me space to have what I need, my kids love having friends over (and the extra screen time), and then I can be more present with them afterward. Find your people. Ask for help. Plan ways to connect.

Give yourself grace
We’ve had more screen time, more messes, less organized activity, more take-out, more pajama days, and had to say no to non-essentials. Amazingly, cutting out all the extras and focusing on the snuggles and quiet moments doesn’t hurt anyone. Especially if your grief hits during the holiday season or another particularly busy time, it’s important to say “no” to things that are only going to add to your stress. The world won’t fall apart of you don’t go to every planned activity or do every craft in your advent calendar. Find simple, creative outlets for your kids and just say “this is what we are doing today, not the next 5 minutes, ALL DAY.” Legos, drawing, playdough, lincoln logs — all of these things have entertained my kids for an entire morning when I stop letting them jump from one thing to the next. I have seen their creativity exercised and stretched and when I don’t accept “there’s nothing to do! I’m bored!” they somehow move on and entertain themselves just fine. And while they are learning to play on their own, you rest. Talk on the phone when you need a way out of your own thoughts. Read when you can. Drink tea or hot chocolate. Stay in your pajamas. Take a long shower. Nap if they still nap. Be gentle with yourself, when your soul is taking a beating just focus on breathing and taking care of yourself.

Find new priorities
The priorities you have during a season of grief are not the ones you will always have. Recognize that it is indeed a season. It will not last forever, but it is here today and you need to figure out a way to walk through it. Maybe that is like what I already mentioned, stepping away from certain activities and giving yourself grace in new ways. Maybe it means hiring a babysitter once a week so you can get out. Or a cleaning service. Again, ask for help. Join a Bible study. Find people who will pray with you and for you. Go to counseling or try out medication if the depression or anxiety will not lift. Things that used to make you happy or work for stress release might be doing the opposite for awhile, make adjustments and know it is not forever. As much as you should not rush yourself through the process, make sure you are going THROUGH it and not just sitting in it. And then be patient with yourself and with the circumstances. Some pains will never fully resolve, but light will come again in some form or another.

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In the Boat

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This past year I’ve spent an excessive amount of time thinking about water. So much so, my dad in his wonderful sense of humor changed my ringtone to “Under the Sea” — I have indeed been under water in a very real sense. Perhaps that’s why the story of Peter in Matthew 14 has become a sacred space in my heart. Storms. Fear. Attempted faith. Failure. Sinking. And, finally, Jesus.

Last November was when everything started. The winds that had playfully tossed for the past years turned into something much harsher and more powerful. I remember the first morning I woke up in December with the dawning realization that God was calling me to move to the other side. I didn’t know that that meant, but much like the instructions from Jesus to the disciples, I had been in a place of seeming abundance (feeding of the 5,000) and it was time to get in the boat and go to the other side (v. 22). I remember having fear, but mostly I remember finding hope in the hopeless. Thinking, God surely will get me through unbattered and unbruised.

But the months passed and the storms wailed. Like the disciples who found themselves in a small boat, rowing for 12 hours, I found myself exhausted and frightened. The waves were too big. The storm was too strong. The boat wasn’t big enough. Jesus was nowhere to be found. The path to the other side was NOT supposed to be like this. I prayed for calm waters for months on end; wailing to Jesus through the night and dragging myself through each day begging for his intervention.

Jesus came to me in the spring. Saying, “Do not be afraid.” I gained confidence and hope and strength that I didn’t know I had. So like Peter, I said, “OK, Jesus. Take me out of the boat on this faith walk. Let’s see what you got!” But, you know how the story goes. The waves all of a sudden seemed more threatening. And though I could see Jesus somewhere in the mess, he felt desperately far away and like he had no interest in helping me. I forgot that my weakness was not a surprise to him. I lost sight of the fact that my human frailty is what he expects the most from me and is, in fact, the reason he came to save me.

I spent a great deal of time sinking. Not because Jesus lacked the power to save me, but because I felt incapable of looking to him for help. “The waves, Jesus! They are too much! They keep hitting me. I cannot breathe. You promised I wouldn’t drown, but I’m drowning! Where are you? Where the heck are you? Why are you letting these waves hit me?” But slowly and tenderly, as only Jesus can, he scooped me up and spoke to me his promises of unfailing love. “Do not be ashamed of your weakness, my love. You are weak and the storms are strong. But I am Strength. I will give you my strength, just look to me. Keep asking, keep clinging, keeping choosing me — I will be a wave of love over you and the storm will turn into showers of blessing.”

And you know what? I finally believe it. He looks on me, no shaming tone in his voice, longing to help me and be my strength. Wanting me to have greater faith because he is so very capable, not because he’s surprised at my doubting. Like Peter, Jesus has put me back in the boat. I don’t know that I’m to the other side yet, or if there is such a thing, but I do know that I’m safe from the water. I do know that I am with my Jesus and he will protect me from the storm. Not that he will remove me from it, but he is abundant and powerful to get me through it. 

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The Letting Go

At the risk of bringing to mind Disney lyrics, I wanted to write about the idea of letting go. Of acceptance. It has been perhaps the biggest hurdle I’ve faced in my healing process. I’d always heard about the stages of grief and remember thinking it was odd that acceptance was on there. What is there not to accept? If a terrible thing has happened it seems like the least helpful thing in the world to live in denial and to keep holding on and keeping on as if the world hadn’t just blown up. And yet, that’s where I’ve found myself these past months. 

About a month ago it hit me that this was the next step. I could feel myself holding on with a death grip to the life I wanted for myself and refusing to find any hope in any other possibilities. For some reason accepting felt like agreeing. It felt like saying, “everything is ok and no wrong has been done.” But it’s not that. Acceptance is something else entirely. 

Turns out, not accepting is a form of unbelief. I was so certain that I knew what was best for my life– for my heart and my kids — I refused to believe in God’s plan. I took on a posture of pride, telling God his plan was bad and that he simply could not fix it. Acceptance requires humility. An admission that I am not God, that I do not know the future and I am a fool to limit him in these ways. 

The strange thing about letting go is that it gives God space to start bringing in new things. For every loss I have experienced he has brought in a gain. For the parts of me that have been annihilated in this process, he has created new life and new growth. For the physical losses I’ve sustained he’s brought in new friendships, new opportunities for service, and a multitude of blessings to cover my needs. When I couldn’t accept my station it prevented me from seeing these blessings and giving thanks to God for them. 

I couldn’t muster up acceptance. I tried. I didn’t even want to let go. Everyone told me I needed to and I just couldn’t. So I was told to pray. Pray that I would want to let go. I gritted my teeth and prayed through a clenched jaw, “God. I don’t want to do this. You are going to have to do something here.” And slowly the tension released. Slowly my prayer became, “God help me let go.” And then one day it was, “God, here you go. Here are my dreams and pains and hurts and longings and my entire life and being. Do your will, Jesus. I am your servant.” And surprisingly enough, one day I found myself praising instead of pleading. Thanking God for what he was doing and had accomplished instead of begging him to do something. And most astonishing of all, I found that I had let go. 

Friends, I don’t know what trial or pain you endure today. I don’t know if your life has ended as you know it and you are shaken to your core. But I do know that our Lord is good. I know that he is kind and unfailing in love towards us. I know that he can surprise us and once you let go of the life you wanted, you might find a life you never dreamed of. 

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An Old Blanket

When my daughter turned one my mom gave her a snuggly sheep pillow and one of those blankets with one side that resembles fleece and the other side that is luxuriously soft. She immediately became attached to the blanket. It became her lovey and she hasn’t slept without it in almost two years. As you can imagine, it’s been through the wash a time or two (or one hundred) over the last two years. The fleece-y side is caked over and not very soft. It’s a dingy grey color when it used to be bright white. It’s way too small for her ever growing body; her feet are no longer covered by it when she sleeps.

She’s still in the earlier stages of being nighttime potty trained and accidents still abound. Two nights ago she wet through the blanket and, as you can imagine, it was very much in need of a wash. But I had a very busy day and wasn’t home long enough to get a load started so it sat in my laundry basket until nap time. And as Thomas the train would say, “then there was trouble.”

Anticipating that she’d be upset, I had placed a brand new blanket on her bed. One from Costco that is the same style as her beloved blankie. Not only is it the same style — it’s better! It’s huge and soft and bright white and without blemish and certainly without last night’s accident soaked in. I was hoping that she’d recognize that this blanket was better than her old one.

Sadly, she wailed and threw a thirty-minute long tantrum calling out for her blankie. She was so sad. So so sad. I just held her tight and kept saying, “I’m so sorry honey. It is so sad that your favorite blankie is yucky. But you cannot have it the way it is. This blanket is bad for you and what is waiting for you is even better than this one.” She eventually relented, calmed down, and accepted the replacement blanket. She still missed the old one but the new one was undeniably better for her.

I’m currently in the wailing stage. The kicking and screaming and the longing for my old blanket. My dear friends and family keep reminding me that this isn’t the only blanket. That there are better ones and this one actually is bad for me the way it is. So many promises in Scripture keep reminding me that there is a future and a hope and that Jesus wants good for me and to satisfy my desires. But because I can’t imagine a better blanket than the one I had, it’s just so hard to let go. You can explain to me a hundred different varieties of blankets that might be infinitely better, but I miss my old one. The one I know and have loved for so long.

So in the wailing it is a comfort to know that Jesus is holding me close and whispering, “I’m so sorry, dear one. I’m so sad that you are hurting and missing what was once so good. Hold on to me until you can believe that what I have for you is better.”

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Love You Can Feel

Thank you all for your kind words about my post on grief. I am obviously in a very raw place, even as I begin to process some of what’s happened to me over the past year– so thank you for being gentle with me. Jesus is definitely the hero of my story, but my friends and family come in a very close second. Very few of them can relate to the degree of suffering I have felt, and yet they have been the real, tangible arms of Jesus to me. I’ve kept a running list since May of all the ways people have shown up for me. It is pages and pages long and rarely a day passes without a name and a comfort being added to the list. If you know someone who is grieving, maybe these ideas can help you. Because while Jesus is the only comfort for my soul– my body and mind and heart have often been refreshed by TANGIBLE love from others. Love that you can see and touch and feel. This is what grieving people need.

Words and prayers. No one knows what to say to me. Most of the dear people in my life have told me so at one point or another. And yet they offer words of comfort and prayers that serve as warm blankets on the days of bitter cold pain. I have gotten so many letters. From high school friends. From college friends. Family who are far away. Real, handwritten letters on thoughtful cards that show up at the right moments. Messages and texts from complete strangers who are praying for me. Prayers in the middle of my living room when I’m slumped over without any hope left. I’m wrapped with love as people bring me to the throne of the only one who Really Understands.

Food. It nourishes any soul, and this one in particular. Food is one my love languages and it’s a language that is kind of confused right now. I mentioned the identity piece before and I’ll say it again. My love for cooking and food were heavily wrapped up in my marriage and it’s confusing to even think about food when it hurts my heart so deeply. So my friends have fed me when I can’t think about food. They’ve showed up for months with meals, gift cards, dinner invites, and homemade cakes. Someone who is grieving cannot think about what they will eat or feed their kids. It’s the straw that breaks the camels back three times a day. So feed your hurting friends. And eat with them. Anyone who’s eaten alone with three moderately capable self-feeders knows an extra hand would be welcomed.

Gifts. This sounds so self-serving. But I’m not writing to say “send me gifts, y’all!” No, I’m writing to honor the gifts people have sent me. After eleven years of a shared life every piece of clothing, household item, piece of art, piece of jewelry– everything is loaded with emotional significance. But there is comfort in being wrapped in a brand new scarf, handmade by someone who barely knows me. Or in staring at new artwork, hand-lettered by a dear friend. Or in falling asleep to a new diffuser with calming essential oils. Or in wearing an heirloom family ring or hand-me-down necklace. Or in filling a new journal with thoughts that don’t have past pains already recorded in them.  Or in cooking with a new pizza stone, microwave, or toaster oven that some friend’s pitched in to help me buy. These all create new patterns and new environments that feel safe. Every time I wear something new I feel wrapped in love. Every time someone shows up at my door with flowers or printed family photos or a box of snacks for my kids — I’m forced to remember that I’m worth something to a lot of people.

Books and Music. Send grieving people books. Our minds are a mess. A gigantic mess filled with self-doubt and hurt. We need truth like no tomorrow. Send us books on the particular thing we are going through (Unraveling is incredible). Send us books on God’s character (None like Him and Wearing God have been transformational). Send us devotionals on suffering (Beside Still Waters is such a comfort). Send us funny novels that make life seem fun again (All the Harry Potter. All the Time). And we need music. It fills up our minds with truth and sometimes speaks a language deeper than words alone. Plus, music is loaded and charged with memories. Hearing new songs and falling in love with new bands brings it’s own kind of healing. Bonus if the songs have meaningful lyrics that bring us back to the truths of God (Sandra McCraken’s two albums Psalms and God’s Highway have been such encouragements to me).

Support. This goes without saying, but asking someone how they are doing when you already know the answer can get exhausting. I’m sure. And yet my friends always ask. They always care. They always say, “what can I do?” This means the world. People showing up to move me, and move me again, and move me yet again. People sitting with me. People meeting real needs like lawn mowing, babysitting, getting groceries, paying bills, fixing toilets, sending cash, helping pack/unpack, cleaning, running water tests, paying for counseling or doctor appointments, and helping with electronics. The reality is with this type of loss my workload has doubled. And a lot of the new things that I’m responsible for I’ve never done before. So people showing up and helping me figure out how to do those things and doing the things I can’t do — it’s everything. And a lot of the old things that I’m used to doing have become harder and more complicated with the additional physical, mental, and emotional stress of grief. Getting help with things I “should be able to do but just can’t right now” — that’s huge too.

Activities. We know we aren’t the most fun people to be around in our grief. So when you invite us out anyway — um, that’s some serious love right there. Knowing someone still wants to have dinner with me or go out for a glass of wine? Or watch a movie with me? Or take me and my kids on a hike? Or take me away from life for a day and go to a theme park with me? It makes me feel human again. Sometimes I even laugh for awhile and life doesn’t feel so heavy. Time is the only thing that can bring healing, so being distracted every once in awhile in the waiting/healing period is so helpful.

Affection. This can come in many forms. Appropriate physical affection is hugely comforting. I’ve had people just sit and hold my hand as I cry. Hugging, back rubs, foot rubs, sitting right next to and entering someone else’s personal space. After a decade of marriage, entering the bleak world of no physical affection is really startling. I have found myself bawling getting a facial or massage or a pedicure, it’s so meaningful to have someone care for you in that way. But compliments, encouraging words, and terms of endearment are precious too. Having someone call me sweetie, or tell me my hair looks pretty, or just hearing “I love you” — all of these are so powerful. My kids aren’t great at unprompted “thank you’s” or “that was a great dinner mom, thanks for working so hard”. So it is important to hear from others, “You’re doing great. You are a wonderful mom. You work so hard and I’m so proud of you.”

It truly does take a village, no one person could be everything for another, but a community of people can provide waves of comfort. God’s only plan for showing tangible love on earth is through other people. Every time someone makes the effort to love and care, it’s a reminder of God’s love and care for me. Grief like this is a marathon, not a sprint. My dear friends have been walking me through this since November of last year and I’m so thankful they are still in this with me. If someone you know is grieving commit to them for the long haul. These problems don’t go away overnight, and sometimes the pain doesn’t diminish for months or years. Grief is lonely and isolating. Show up for grieving people in anyway you can: it might be the only thing getting them through the day.

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Grief is not Linear 

Grief is one of the most unsettling of experiences. Having a happy childhood and losing only distant relatives to death, I was totally unprepared for what grief would be like. I mean I assumed that going through an impossible trial would bring sadness and maybe anger, but I had no idea that grief is something else entirely. 

Grieving is like living in a haunted house. The world around you looks familiar, but everything is a little off and absolutely terrifying. It looks a lot like your life but everything is wrong. It doesn’t just redefine your present or make the future look dim, it radically transforms even your happiest of memories into painfully sad ones. 

Grief is like starting from scratch. Normal situations that you’ve been in a thousand times make you respond in completely different way than you ever would have before. It’s as if every learned pattern or response you’ve ever had is no longer relevant. You’re a newborn all over again and the world is scary and the most basic of skills seem Herculean. 
Grief is like moving to a foreign country. You don’t know the language, you don’t have the right currency, you don’t know where you are going, and you don’t know the customs. You get dizzy and overwhelmed and lost just trying to get groceries or take a bus. You keep trying to connect with other people but there is a huge communication gap that prevents you from feeling understood. 

Grief is like dancing in a field of land mines. Seemingly innocent tufts of grass bring on explosions of sadness or anger or fear. An otherwise harmless momento or song or food or smell can bring you to your knees in an unguarded moment. Nothing is safe. There is no place you can go that will keep you fully protected from being assaulted by the pain. 

Grief is not linear. You do not find yourself on a precipice, freefall into a pit, and then slowly climb back up the mountain. Going through grief is much more of a rollecoaster. You feel like you’re inching your way up to normal and then another jaw-dropping descent looms before you. Your stomach is in your throat and your body is slammed to one side and gravity forces you down so you can’t even raise your head. Then a loop appears and it feels like ascent only to have everything turned upside down again. 

The weirdest thing about grief is trying to help others understand what you are going through. There seem to be three types of people: those who’ve grieved and understand, those who haven’t grieved and know they don’t understand, and those who haven’t grieved and don’t know they don’t understand. This post is for the latter two. These word pictures have given voice to my experience this last year. I hope they help you understand — or at the very least, help you realize that you don’t understand — and that’s a more helpful place to be for the grieving person in your life. 

You can sit with someone who is grieving. You can cry with them and pray for them and hold them. But you can’t advise them when you haven’t known it firsthand. That’s why it’s so essential to know that Jesus grieved. He knows grief and loss and pain. I can feel misunderstood by everyone on the planet, but my soul know that Jesus gets me. He is my steadfast refuge and my rock in a world that is shifting and unfamiliar. If you’re trying to comfort someone experiencing grief, offer the True Comforter to them. Jesus, man of sorrows, he understands me. Even when it feels like no one else does. 

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