Holding Space for Grief

I’ve been reading the book Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, and it has validated a lot of my own ideas about my faith and how I view Jesus, the one I call my Lord and Savior. I was inspired to start it (pun not intended) when I heard of her unexpected death last month at the age of 37. I haven’t finished it yet, but I wanted to speak to one of the topics today as I have a lot of experience with it.

So, holding space for grief. Over the past few years, I’ve learned about lament and about how many of the Psalms in Scripture are psalms of lament. In them, God is cursed, wrestled with, complained to, and doubted. It was almost a relief for me to see the words in black and white and see that they matched the thoughts that were in my head. Evans provided a few examples I want to mention.

From Psalm 139:19-22:

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Or from Psalm 109:9-12:

“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.”

Not quite the words people usually share from Scripture. Right?

But, I find I must quote them if only to bring to light a major problem in the American church and some hypocrisy in my own life. There is a lack of lament in the American church. There is no “holding space” for those in grief. The nearest we come to it is individual counseling with church staff members or with trusted friends. We all suffer from the heaviest of burdens, but we refuse to lament with each other. We just pretend that everything is okay. Evans had this to say which says it better than I could. “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for “holding space” for those in grief.” (pg. 110, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans) No one is willing to sit with people in their pain without judging or offering solutions. They don’t want to share their pain either because they are afraid of being judged. This is a conundrum I’m not sure how to navigate, but I see it as a problem we, in the church, need to talk about. The comment I quoted also reflects how we choose our leaders. Because there is a veneer over their appearance in which none of their burdens are seen, we choose them thinking they are effective leaders. But then, we don’t allow them to lament or lament to them, and the cycle starts all over again

These words have resulted in another conundrum in my own life, one which I’m not proud of. There are many times I don’t feel seen in my faith community or in my life. There was even one time I was told to “go away” by someone in my faith community. As you can imagine, that comment made me feel like garbage. But, it brought me to a conclusion. I want to be important, to be an influence too. I want to be noticed and to have friends. Isn’t that what being a faith community is all about? Isn’t that the definition of community? I believe we should recognize ALL of those in our faith communities whether they are leaders or not.  But, it also made me ashamed. It made me think my wanting to be an influence was not coming from the purest of motives, that I was letting Satan influence me.

But, Jesus clarified my thoughts and reminded me of something. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be an influence for Him. He reminded me I probably wouldn’t have done the reading I’ve done if I’d been more of a “person of influence” or “leader” in my faith community. My heart wouldn’t have been open to the changes it has undergone, and I wouldn’t have been willing to explore the concept of lament or to challenge the status quo either. He wanted me to be open to His voice.

Let me leave you with another quote by Evans to consider. “Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?” (pg. 111, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans)

God bless you all today!

Holy Grieves

For almost a year, I’ve wrestled with the question of whether it’s okay to grieve in church. If I’m honest though, it’s been longer than that. I’ve just been thinking about it in particular over this past year and wondering if it was okay.

Sometimes, I think I’m the most human person in the world when I go to church. I weep when I grieve. Tears come easily though I do my best to hide them, and there aren’t many people who understand when I try to tell them. So, I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself when people ask what’s wrong, or I just don’t cry at all even though I want to. And all along, I think I’m a terrible person because it seems like I’m the only one who needs to grieve, and God must think badly of me because I grieve so openly. As you can see, I internalize many things about grieving.

But, I’m going through a book during this Lenten season as I’ve mentioned before, 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. One of the more recent entries had the answer to my question, and I’m using two of the words in that entry for the title of my blog post, “Holy grieves.” The author provided the translation of the word Luke used when he was describing Jesus riding into Jerusalem. When Jesus cried at the sight of the city, He was wailing. Yes, that is the translation of the Greek word–lament, wail, cry–all of those words. He grieved for Jerusalem. He grieved for all its inhabitants. He grieved for all of humanity.

I read the author’s words and felt better about my question. We’re all familiar with the Scripture where Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death though he was about to be resurrected. But, the other instances, I had never heard them explained so clearly.

We don’t do a good job though of wrestling with this in the church. The author of my book calls it “wrestling with the mystery of the Incarnation,” and I think that’s appropriate. We use words that are easier for us to understand though they cut open the heart of the receiver because we don’t understand the point and the purpose of grief.

Here are some of those words quoted directly from the author. “You shouldn’t cry, grieve, wail, or weep. God is in control. He works all things for the good of those who love Him…so there’s no need to feel___.” (Alicia Britt Chole, 40 Days of Decrease) I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard those words spoken to me or have spoken them to others. We’ve lost the art of just sitting and grieving with each other.

So, I wonder what I should do in church when I hurt. Should I weep and feel awkward and lacking in faith after I do so? Should I keep it all in and not share it with anyone? Or should I remember this sentence from the author of my Lenten book? “It is never weakness to grieve where God is grieving.” (Alicia Britt Chole, 40 Days  of Decrease) Crying is not a sin, and grieving is not a sin, and I think I finally understand what God has been trying to teach me.

May all of us who are believers grieve authentically knowing that our Lord and Savior grieves with us. Praise God that “holy grieves!”

God bless you all!

Slivers of Joy

For the past few months, I’ve been working through issues in my life and how they’ve related to my faith. I’ve blogged through a devotional and learned more about being brave. I’ve gained courage through doing things I wouldn’t have considered before. I’ve gone through the motions as I’ve worshipped, and I’ve been paralyzed as I’ve considered the question of what comes next. I’ve also considered joy and what that means to me as a Christian. But, all the parts of this didn’t coalesce until yesterday, and it makes better sense to me now.

First, I want to define joy. Wikipedia defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” with such synonyms as delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, glee, exhilaration, elation, and more. Dictionary.com defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” All of these words I’ve written down are what I grew up with as the expression of joy. Having joy meant I was happy with my life and how it was going.

When I became a Christian as a teenager, I applied this same meaning  to the Bible verses I read about joy. Verses such as John 15:11.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 12:1-2 is another example. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)

Here is an example from the Old Testament. From Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (emphasis mine)

Another one comes from Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (emphasis mine)

And finally, from Galatians 5:22-23. “But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I might have overdone it on the emphases and the examples, :-), but it was hard just picking these five. Scripture is full of examples calling us to joy. Joy in our lives. Joy in our Lord and Savior. Joy in our praise and worship. Because I equated joy with happiness, I thought that having Jesus in my life meant I was supposed to be happy all the time.

But, as we all know, we’re not happy all of the time, and I realized that as I grew into adulthood. I was confused and still am confused, to be honest, with these verses that say we’re supposed to be joyful. How does joy work when I’m not happy? The church doesn’t do a good job in teaching about this either. We come together to worship, and we don’t think we’re allowed to be sad. We think we’re supposed to be happy and reflect it in our worship. So, that’s what we do. We put up our shields, and we act like we’re happy and joyful even when we’re not. We talk about the people who look sad, and we might even admonish them for being sad. I’m guessing the reason we do this is because we equate happiness with joy, and God tells us to be joyful in Scripture.

In my life though, I’ve learned that joy and happiness can’t be the same. They can’t. Too much has happened to me for that to be true anymore. Why? My diagnosis of clinical depression, for starters. For years, my thoughts and feelings from this diagnosis made me feel worthless and think I was a failure at following Jesus. Another reason has been the amount of time I’ve spent in hospitals. Except for when I had my children, I was not in the hospital for happy reasons, and it was hard to be joyful. I made it through, but I’m not sure joy was a part of those times. At least, my definition of joy wasn’t. Then, there’s the grief. So much grief and loss since I became an adult. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws and other relatives of my husband, good friends, and people I consider to be family. All of which have hurt me down to my core. I’ve grieved during my life. We all have.

So, how does all of this work with joy? I’ve started first by being honest about my dark times and my dark places. I’ve worked on getting my physical symptoms straightened out, and I’ve spoken or written out words that needed to get out of my head. I’ve also been persistent through illness this year. We’ve not had much of it so far, and though my husband has had to make some lifestyle changes due to his diabetes, we’ve not had any hospital stays in 2018, knock on wood. 🙂 The final thing this year which has helped me to separate the definitions of happiness and joy has been, believe it or not, the grief I spoke of last week. I’ve grieved the loss of my college dad like I expected I would. I know I will see him again. That’s a fact. But, I will still miss him here. I will miss his wisdom and his musical talent. I will be sad he is not present with his family.

But, and this is a big but, I’ve begun to find slivers of joy in my heart in the last few days. This was the key to separating joy and happiness. I’m not happy David is gone or anyone else in my life, for that matter. I’m not happy when I get sick. I’m not happy with living in such a broken world. I do have joy though, and it has nothing to do with being happy. I have joy David is no longer in pain and is with our Lord and Savior. I have joy Jesus is with me even during the dark times. And I have joy God gave us all of our emotions. I think that’s the point about joy. It needs to be rooted deep in our hearts along with the other fruits of the Spirit so we will have a reservoir to draw from when the bad times come. Not to act happy when we’re not, but to know Jesus is our constant companion no matter what happens in our lives!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

Grief and Going Back to my Roots

The two things in today’s title wouldn’t seem to be related, but they have been linked in my mind since I received the news last Wednesday night no one wants to receive. My heart aches as I write these words, but I need to get them out. I need to tell this story.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have much in the way of roots. Yes, we would go and visit my grandparents every year. I guess, in a way, those could be called roots. But my family didn’t live in one house very long. We were nomads. There was always a better job that came along or a better opportunity in the computer world, and we moved to where it was. I’ve even coined a term for it. I was a “computer brat” during my childhood. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the opportunity to have seen different places, but I still wish I had roots. It’s confusing, I know.

The closest I came to having roots as a child was the time I spent in South Carolina. Because of that time, I decided to go back there for my college years which turned into staying there for my young single and young married days. I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking this, but there was a point when I told myself that my roots were in South Carolina. Relationships that I treasured. People who I considered to be family. In fact, I tell people today I am from South Carolina though I wasn’t born there. That’s how deep the roots go.

Today, grief connects with my roots in a poignant way. Last week, I received word that my college dad had passed away. In shock, I sat on my bed with tears pouring down my face. I know death is a part of life, and I know we, who are believers, are supposed to look forward to our eternal home with Jesus. But, part of me thought my college parents would be there forever. I guess it’s just the way we think about the people who are closest to us.

As my husband and I waited over the next day to hear when the funeral would be, he told me I needed to go. Knowing that I had been there in person to honor and remember this special person would help my grief in the days and weeks to come. I agreed with him, and that’s when the pieces started falling into place. I had the offer of a place to stay, and my husband rented a car for me since he would need mine to move our son back to college. God had a point and a purpose for me going which I would soon realize.

I headed out Friday morning on the 300+ mile drive. I was sad and still a little overwhelmed as I drove east, but then I started playing Christian music, and God and I started talking. There were no distractions and no people saying I should grieve a certain way. Just me and my Lord and Savior. I cried during that drive, and I laughed and sang at the top of my lungs as I remembered thirty-three years of friendship. I was going back to my roots as I was about to start the next phase of my life, and I knew I needed to think and pray during this alone time with God. I arrived safely that night and spent time catching up with my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in seven years.

The next day was the service. Before my friend and I went to the church, we took a tour of places from my childhood and saw the church where I was married twenty-four years ago. It was good to see places that were part of my roots and get to take pictures of them. I felt like I had gone back in time.

Then, we went back to her place and got ready for the service. We went to the church early so I could see and talk with my college mom and other members of the family. It was so good to see everyone, share memories, and love on each other. It had been seven years since I had seen most of them. I also saw people who I hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years. It was cool to see them look at me, see the light of recognition dawn in their eyes, and remember who I was. I saw I was remembered, and that touched my heart so much.

It was a good service too. I laughed as much as I cried. His sons, nephews, and others sang; we sang; and they told stories. It represented him perfectly–his love for music, family and friends, and his Lord and Savior. So many memories–singing in Christmas and Easter productions when I was in college (He was the part-time music director of our church), Sunday lunches and dinners with the family, Sunday evening services at the lake in the summer, birthday parties, weddings. The life of a family, and I was part of it. His life was a life well-lived for our Lord and Savior.

I came back home yesterday because–life does go on. My heart was heavy with grief, but it was full of reassurance too. David shared my faith, and I know I will see him again. I know where he is now. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him, but he will also live on in all of us. We will grieve, but many people will not understand after the first couple of weeks. In those moments, I hope we will all remember Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

I want to finish with this quote by C.S. Lewis. “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” This is how I feel about everyone in my second family. I am different for having known David and for knowing all of them.

Thank you for letting me share about a wonderful man as I took a journey back to my roots.

God bless you!

In Memory of David Anthony Mitchell, Sr.

Grieving with Hope

The last eight days have been a perfect storm for my family. Not only have we lost the instrument through which God was providing for us, I lost a precious friend on Tuesday. Her daughter is one of my best friends, and I have known the family for almost thirty-one years. I mention that because I don’t have a lot of those kind of friendships which have stood the test of time since I moved around a lot as a child. So, losing even one of those friends is painful.

Since I found out on Tuesday, I’ve spent a lot of time by myself trying to process this punch to the gut I was feeling. Losing this precious lady hurts a lot. She was like a second mother to me. But as I thought and wrote and did all the things I usually do to process something painful, I realized I had embers of hope stirring in my heart. Words that said this lady was okay now and that we would all be okay too. What words were those? She was a Christian like me so she is now with Jesus and celebrating having a whole and healed body. Would I really want to take her away from Jesus? Of course not. I am looking forward to seeing Jesus one day myself.

But, the pain, the pain of grief can be overwhelming. In addition to this lady, several friends of mine here have also lost loved ones this week. There is a loss involved with someone going to Jesus. The people they were closest to will no longer have them in their lives. They will no longer be able to call them or spend time with them. Their absence will be noticed at holidays. A void will be present that was not present before, and this void is painful.

I don’t think we, as Christians, know what to do with grief. In general, I don’t think people know what to do with grief. They think the person that is grieving should take the proscribed amount of time off from work and then not talk about it anymore. We are uncomfortable with people who show the emotions of grieving, and most of us don’t know what to do to help them. Yes, we have hope in Christ, but there is also pain, a dichotomy to be sure.

God knew we would have pain though, and there in an example in Scripture showing us that Jesus experienced pain in loss too. It was when He lost His friend Lazarus. The story is told in John 11 with verses 32 – 35 showing His sorrow.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

They ended up taking Jesus to the grave where he called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb which would seem to negate His pain. That’s not the point though. I think God was wanting to make sure we knew that He understood our pain because He had experienced it Himself.

We will have pain in this life, but those of us who believe in Him have hope too. A tether to hold onto, I think. A rope to bring us out of the deepest recesses of the pit. And we have someone too, who stays with us until we’re ready to take a hold of that rope. Jesus understands our grief, in a way no one else can, and that is why I can grieve with hope.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The Grief that Led Us Home

Today is an anniversary I wish I didn’t remember. An anniversary that caused my family untold pain, but has gifted us with the sweetest joy we never would have dreamed of otherwise. Yes, these are unusual words, but they are part of my family’s story.

First, the anniversary. Seven years ago today, my mother-in-law passed away suddenly. We weren’t expecting it though she had been experiencing some health issues. In fact, my husband had taken her to the emergency room the previous evening, but they had sent her home saying she just had a simple infection. There was nothing simple about it though. She passed away that afternoon, and in the hours and days following, I felt like I was in a fog. We took care of everything that was necessary and made all of the notifications. We had a viewing and a graveside service, and everyone came and told us how sorry they were. Then, they left, and we were left to pick up the pieces. Anyone who has been through settling an estate knows of the difficulties, and I’m pretty sure we had them all in the year it took to settle everything. We had been living with her at the time so we ended up having to move, but it worked out in the end because my husband had found a job about an hour away from where we were.

We had lived in the city where we moved to previously; actually, it was the city where we had met and where both of our children had been born. It had been several years since we had lived there though so there was a time of adjustment. We were grieving too so it was not an easy time. My children were nine and twelve, and they had just lost the only grandparent they really knew. But, we kept going. We had to. We relied on each other and bonded as a family.

Was that the end of the story? No. It turns out God had bigger plans for us than we ever could have imagined. Because, you see, during that time, we did not have a faith family around us, and we were not involved in a church. Yes, we said we were Christians, but were we practicing Christians? If I wanted to be honest which I do, I would have to say no, we were not practicing Christians at the time. We did not rely on God, and he was not the companion to us that He is now even though my husband and I had both been professing Christians since we were teenagers.

So, God had more work to do before He led us home. A year and a half after my mother-in-law died, my husband got sick, had to have surgery, and subsequently lost his job. I felt so lost. It seemed like nothing we did was working out, and people didn’t waste chances pointing this out to us. There was no work to be found where we were so we traveled across the country to family who said we could stay with them. My husband looked everywhere for work. He didn’t limit himself. Shortly after we arrived, he applied for a job opportunity in a state we had crossed. It took four weeks for the interviews to be completed, and then he got the job on my younger son’s twelfth birthday! We drove back the opposite way to our new state. We were so happy to be on our own again!

It is almost unbelievable the way God showed Himself then, but once I explain it, you will understand what a miracle it was. First, I need to explain that during all of this time, I had been homeschooling our children. We had just finished our fifth year when we journeyed across the country. Anyway, I had made several online friendships during the years we had been homeschooling, and I always consulted them when I had homeschooling questions. Moving to this new state brought questions. I asked them, and it turns out one of the ladies lived three miles from where we were going to be. We met her and her family the first weekend we were there, and we hit it off. Our first friends in a new state.

I sank to my lowest point that fall and winter. Six weeks after we moved to our new state, I miscarried our third child. My friend was there for me and my family, and I will never forget what she did. By that point, my heart was starting to search for something though I wasn’t aware of what it was.

Winter turned into spring, and my older son decided he wanted to play baseball. We learned our way around our new city that spring going to the different ball parks and made some great friends in the process.

By the time baseball ended, the load on my heart had lessened a little more, and I was ready to answer the question my son asked me one day. He asked if we could find a new church. It took me unawares for a moment, but I realized his heart was searching for the same thing mine was–a home and a relationship. I called my friend and asked her. She said, “You need to bring him to Crossbridge. Mackenzie says it’s the most welcoming youth group she’s ever known.”  Her daughter and my son were the same age so I listened. My son and I began to visit Crossbridge that summer, and she was right. They welcomed us warmly. It was just a few short months before my husband and our other son joined us. We felt the presence of God in a way we had never felt before, and He re-entered our lives in a big way. It was the neatest feeling to know without a shadow of a doubt that God was in my heart, and He was there to stay.

I have learned more in the last three-and-a-half years about my faith and what my God means to me than in all the years previously. It wasn’t the end of bad times. I have dealt with depression, and we have dealt with job loss and illness since. But, I know that even though this story started with grief and the ache of loss, I know also that this grief we went through led us home to our God and to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and that I would not trade for anything!

God’s blessings on all of you today.