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.

Transparency

This word has different definitions and different contexts in which it can be used. There is a TV show I like to watch where the main character has traveled from the future. I always get a kick out of watching the episode where she thinks the future technology of transparency has already been developed, but the other character is using the word in the context of honest business practices. It shows the need for us to be careful in our word usage and to make sure the other person knows what we mean when we’re speaking.

With that being said, I want to define the word before I go any further. The first definition is the more scientific of the two. From Merriam-Webster.com, transparency means “having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly or sheer enough to be seen through.” It doesn’t really apply to my topic, but I wanted you to know the difference. Here is the second definition from the same website. Transparent means to be “free from pretense or deceit; easily detected or seen through; readily understood or characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.”

The second definition is the one I want to discuss today. To be “free from pretense or deceit.” I’m pretty sure that’s how God wants us to act in our churches. If I didn’t know for sure,  I would refer to Leviticus 19:11. “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” I would also refer to Colossians 3:9-10. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

These verses seal the deal for me. We should be honest with our Christian brothers and sisters. We should be free of pretense. But, we’re not. For two reasons. One, we’re all sinners, and two, we’re uncomfortable with the hard emotions. It’s fine and dandy when someone is happy and joyful, but when someone is sad or angry, we try to avoid the emotion as much as possible even though those emotions are just as valid as the first two are. We are uncomfortable around hard emotions and don’t want to deal with them. Yes, there are some people who are compassionate, but I think the same philosophy applies. We aren’t sure how to sit with people in the hard emotions and hold them up like I think God commands us to.

So, what that means is, people who experience hard emotions aren’t willing to be vulnerable around others because they know people are uncomfortable with their sadness. It’s why people put up shields at church and pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. We don’t know how to handle sadness, conflict, or anger. I saw a wonderful quote by Brennan Manning (Thank you, Encounter Ministries for posting it.) which talks about this. “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

I don’t do that naturally though because I know it makes people feel awkward. It’s more like I’m driven to it through things which are happening in my life, and even then, I don’t know how to reply to the person who comes to me in my tears. The Christian books I read don’t help either. For the most part, they say we are to be strong in the Lord and to show His joy. While I don’t disagree with this, what happens when there are tears or hard emotions? When or how are we supposed to show them?

I think the answers lie in the words I quoted earlier and in several places in Scripture. I won’t quote them all because there are way too many, but, in summary, God wants us to be transparent before Him. That makes tears just as appropriate as joy. In fact, if we didn’t cry, there would be no tears to wipe away as it says in Isaiah 25:8. “he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to when I get to heaven — to know for sure that my sorrows were just as valid to Jesus as my joys were.

I want to be transparent before my Lord and Savior now though. I want to be the person who doesn’t wear a false face and who doesn’t pretend. I believe that’s what God has called us to–all of us, and I want to reflect that in my walk with Him.  Praying we can all be transparent with our Lord and Savior!

May God bless you all today!

The Courage to Cry

This is an entry for the Writing Contest: You Deserve to be Inspired. Hosted by Positive Writer. http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-you-deserve-to-be-inspired/

Most of us have the tendency to not want to cry in public.  Crying is seen as weak and not at all like how we want to be seen by the public around us. People who have it all together or who seem to have it all together are more respected in our society. There is also the actual issue of control that limits our ability to cry. I want to argue that crying or expressing emotion takes more courage than those who try to “maintain shields in public.”

It’s almost been a year since my husband was in the hospital for possible heart issues. He had experienced chest pain like he had experienced the previous year when he had also been in the hospital for a night. Every test that was run during both hospital stays had shown that things with his heart were normal. But, there was no explanation for why he was having chest pain or why he was so exhausted all of the time. He was at the end of his endurance as was I, the only difference being that it was okay for him to express it and not okay for me. I needed to be strong so I could take care of him and give him the encouragement he needed. This was not like his previous health issues. For those issues, there was a clear diagnosis and path to take care of whatever the issue was. It was not like that this time.

He was released from the hospital, and I was a tumble of emotions trying to handle his care, our household, and homeschooling our then 16-year old son. I didn’t know where to turn, and I felt lost, but didn’t feel like I could express it. On Saturday, I took our son to a youth event which would last overnight and came back home. I had been praying this whole time for healing for my husband, for clear answers, for something that would turn all of this around. (Oh, by the way, did I mention that my husband was the sole support of our family?) God had something else in mind though.

I woke up Sunday morning on edge and not certain whether I should leave my husband or not though I was going to have to go up to church to get our son by the time service was over. My husband was frustrated which increased my frustration. He wanted to go to church himself, but wasn’t in the shape to do so. I wanted to yell and scream and hurl insults at God for putting us through this. There had been no end to the pain and suffering over the past couple of years, and I wanted it to be over. I wanted, no, I needed to break, but didn’t know if I could. I was worried about what people would think of me.

I ended up deciding to go to our worship service and hide in the back so no one would see me. It was on the opposite side of the auditorium from where I usually sat.  But, even though I didn’t see very many people I knew, God still saw me. He spoke to me through the words of the songs and through the people who spoke to me. He also spoke to me through the sermon. I know the words came from God because my pastor had no idea what was going on. During the final prayer, tears started spilling from my eyes. I couldn’t hold them back any longer. When the congregation started singing Never Once by Matt Redman, I knew that was God’s signal. It was time to face my fear of rejection by being emotional in public.  I was weeping so much I could barely see as I made my way towards the front. I choked out words to my pastor. “Please pray for me. I can’t take this pain anymore.”

There were other words too, lost in the jumble.  He prayed, and people surrounded me, many more people than I had expected. I cried and shook from the relief of releasing the pain and stress. Once he finished the prayer, people hugged me and said it was ok. Their words were so encouraging, and I was blessed. I wondered why I had ever had any fear of breaking down. The relief I felt was palpable, and I felt strength come over me that I had not felt earlier in the morning. I was inspired to keep going.

Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart. There are many stresses and pressures. Couple that with the fear of being judged for expressing emotion which had been programmed in me from childhood and it could have been a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t though. I was still loved even though I had cried. I figured out there was a reason God had given us tear ducts, and it wasn’t just to cry in private. I also wrote about it in my journal. These lessons helped me then and have helped me many times in the year since. Having the courage to cry is more beneficial to all of us physically, mentally, and emotionally than trying to hide our emotions. God knew what He was doing that day in my life by blessing me with this knowledge which is why I shared this post today. Blessings to all who read it.