Grief: A Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

 

Have you ever gone on a journey—a hard journey—not knowing or understanding how to navigate or find your way, hoping for or needing someone to travel with you? Maybe someone you love and trust to help you when the road gets rough, and someone who may need your help, too? Recently, I read a true story about a youth leader who sacrificed his first few days of marriage to accompany a high school student on a journey to Yosemite National Park. The student planned to drop out of school to become a rock climber, and because he had intended to travel alone, he was surprised that his friend wanted to go with him.

The student knew nothing of the youth leader’s marriage; but because the youth leader saw that his young friend had made up his mind and could benefit by having someone with a bit more life experience go with him, he chose to go on this journey—knowing that most likely his friend would realize on his own that this idea probably wasn’t the best. Within a couple of days on the trail, he did just that, and the younger man decided on his own that he wasn’t cut out for rock climbing and that perhaps quitting school wasn’t the best idea.

Life Journeys

Like the story above, where the two friends took an actual journey—and the younger man had his own journey learning some valuable lessons—there are different types of journeys in life: when we travel to new places, take a walk or bike ride, visit our grandparents or friends across the country, fly on a plane or ride a train. There are also the kind where we learn new lessons, change the way we feel or think, and the kind where we need help from others to understand our emotions. We often don’t understand that this kind of journey may not end in just a few days; the journey of grief has no stopwatch, and we don’t always know where we are going.

A Journey of Grief

Andrew Lindwall lost his dad when he was only four years old, and he needed help learning how to navigate the feelings and questions he had. Someone I Love Has Died: Grief is a Journey of Discovery is part of Andrew’s story. He and his grandfather take a walk—a journey—through woods, hills, streams, and valleys, and together they share thoughts and feelings that help them both travel a path toward understanding grief and a very difficult part of life.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk,
then crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward  to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 13:13, 14

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Roller Coaster of Grief

When I was younger, I loved riding roller coasters at the State Fair; I’d go every year with just enough money to buy lunch and ride the roller coaster a couple of times. But it wasn’t that way the very first time I rode one—my friends had to coax me on, and once it was over, they had to help me off!

 

Grief is often like a roller coaster ride.

 

    Ups, Downs and Everything in Between

Life events are often a lot like that first roller coaster ride, especially when a loved one dies. Like that first coaster ride, with its ups, downs, twists, turns, smooth and rough spots—and not knowing what comes next—emotions and grief are unpredictable, and the feelings that come and go and change, can be confusing and scary.

Recently, I heard a news story about a roller coaster that stopped in mid-air. The riders hung upside down for three hours before the mechanics could repair the machinery and get them down. Can you imagine? Thankfully, no one was injured—but I bet it got them to thinking twice about riding that coaster again for a long while!

Unfortunately, when someone we love dies, we don’t have the choice to refuse the roller coaster ride of emotions. And “the death of someone we love is definitely not … a journey we would choose to go on.”

In Someone I Love Has Died: Get Me OFF This Emotional Roller Coaster Called Grief, author Karen Lindwall-Bourg walks us through her and her children’s own experiences after losing someone they loved. She helps the reader understand how different grief is for each person going through it; that all of the ups, downs and turn-arounds are completely normal; and that the ride WILL stop at some point. This booklet is for anyone struggling to understand that roller coaster called Grief. Children, parents, care-givers—anyone grieving the death of a loved one—will walk off that ride with renewed strength to carry on.

Grief Book #2-LSI-9780998306414-Perfect

 

Grief: No “Right” Way

Grief: deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death. : a cause of deep sadness. (Miriam Webster)

… the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.

When someone important to us dies, it represents an end to what has been familiar for us, and we must adapt to that new—usually unwanted—reality.

I would add to “usually unwanted reality” surprised and possibly shocking reality.

When I was 17 and my brother was 14, our dad died suddenly. He had just started work for a new company, we were starting our Christmas decorations for that year, and life seemed to be rolling along well for our family—until it wasn’t. Suddenly and shockingly, everything changed.

My First Grief Experiences

As a 17 year-old, the only death I’d experienced—the first true grief—was that of my grandfather the year before. He lived across the state from us, and when he died, our family went. At least, most of the family; I stayed behind. I didn’t want to remember Granddaddy any other way than how I last saw him—so my parents let me stay home. Maybe they figured I’d need to work out my grief in my own way.

So when my dad died almost a year to the day later, I began to experience grief in a whole new light. I watched my strong, independent, “drill sergeant” mom fall apart; over the next days and weeks, she didn’t sleep, she had phantom illnesses, she stared into space for hours. My brother—who up to that point had been a fairly happy-go-lucky guy—over the next several months, became angry and rebellious and would often rage over small things.

Grief—there is no one way or right way to experience it.

As for my reaction to Dad’s sudden death—I pretty much remained calm and strong for everyone else. Because Dad was a WWII veteran, there would be no funeral or service for several weeks (his body was cremated) until our family could get to the National Cemetery. So for me, life went on. I picked up the slack around the house, I tried to calm my brother down, I went with Mom to the hospital when she thought something was wrong. My school choir was in the middle of rehearsals for a Christmas performance, so I went to rehearsals. I stayed busy with school and at home, and I spent a lot of time in my room, alone with my guitar.

There is Help.

Someone I Love Has Died: Everyone Grieves and No One Grieves Like Me  is a book where children can read about how grief is personal and individual for everyone; that there isn’t one way to grieve or to feel, that it is a process each person walks through differently. The coloring pages are available for filling in or doodling or writing, showing how unique grief is to each of us.

Karen Lindwall-Bourg also gives parents and care-givers tools with which to help guide children through their own grief process. “Written for grieving children, ages 3-99, and for those who walk this journey with them,” this little book will help people of all ages understand that grief isn’t static and that each person grieves in his or her unique way.

 

Discipled by Jesus; Your Ongoing Invitation to Follow Christ, Robert Gelinas

My book review of Discipled by Jesus

“Jesus is ready, willing, and able to disciple you himself.”

In Discipled by Jesus; Your Ongoing Invitation to Follow Christ, Robert Gelinas instructs, teaches—disciples—us to see Jesus as our true, living teacher. Using history, teachings of Jesus Himself, other Biblical words of wisdom, as well as writings of other teachers of faith, he walks us through the importance of understanding that we not only need to focus on what we learn about Jesus—but we must include what we continually learn from Him. To be discipled isn’t just what we are taught by others; to be discipled is to learn from the Living Christ how to walk out our faith “to do the good works that He prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

When I was in college and a new Christian, it wasn’t uncommon for me to start my day by asking the Lord to tell me where He wanted me to go or what He wanted me to do that day—or to walk around campus asking Him to guide my next steps…literally! My young faith trusted Him and knew He was alive in my heart. But not long afterward, the local church I joined offered a discipleship program, and I started busying myself with various good activities that I thought defined me as a good disciple. Although the work I was doing was good and helpful, it wasn’t discipleship; it was more “pre-discipleship.” I lost the understanding of what it means to truly walk with Jesus.

In Discipled By Jesus, Robert reminds us that there isn’t a specific formula for us to follow that makes us His disciples or activities that make Him real. Jesus is alive to disciple us Himself, and as we seek Him and get to know Him, He prepares and sends us to disciple others to be discipled by Him. He wants us to go into the world—which may be far away or next door. “Living sent changes the way we see our circumstances…the Father sent the Son; the Son sends His disciples.”

Robert Gelinas is Lead Pastor at Colorado Community Church in Aurora, CO. In a world that seems to be more divisive every day, CCC reaches the heart of the people in this area. The multi-cultural congregation reflects a Godly perspective—and Robert’s (and CCC’s) Biblical call to be Worship-Driven, Spirit-Led,  Prayer-Dependent, Grace-Centered, and Kingdom-Obsessed—is a daily reminder of how we should live.

Tyranny of the Good

“Sometimes saying ‘No’ is the only way back to a life of ‘Yes.’”  Shauna Niequist.

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.  I Corinthians 10:23

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Good Things

Have there been times in your life, maybe even now, when you are doing good things—really good things, LOTS of good things—but you realize that something isn’t quite right? If you’re like me, the answer is a resounding “YES!” And if we’re honest, most of us walk (or run really fast) that pathway more often than not. We get busy doing activities or jobs that are productive and helpful and serving others and life-giving. Why would we NOT want to do those things??

When our family moved from our beloved east Texas to Colorado several years ago, I felt that if I didn’t get involved and be of service and make friends pretty quickly, I might sink. We had left the place where we raised our children and ourselves; where we helped start a church, served in the community, and were involved in myriad home school activities; we left friends we did life with and with whom we developed roots. So even before we got unpacked, I started putting my name on lists, volunteering for needs at church, and looking for people who were in the same life-vein as I was.

All of those things were good!

STOP! SLOW DOWN!  shield-1372620_640

But about a year after we got settled in CO, something—or Someone—spoke to me. “Slow down. Stop striving. Rest.” And then, “You will be just fine—even better. Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now. All of those other activities and needs and people aren’t going anywhere—but the most important ones are right in front of you. THIS is where you need to be.”

STOP! Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now.” What?! Wasn’t I doing that? Hadn’t I done that all along? I was already doing that by staying busy with all the good things and people around us, while also teaching my children about service and what was important. What does that mean, “Get to know yourself”??

Tyranny of the Good

Somewhere along the way of life, where so many good things were before me, I thought I had to do them all and work to make sure things got done. I had to serve because there were so many needs, and surely, no one else would do the job; or because others expected me to do it; or maybe because it made me feel important. Really? Rather than pray over all of those good tasks (there’s a concept!) before deciding what was best for all concerned—especially my family and me—I took off running. I loved what I was doing: working, teaching, leading, heading up hospitality committees, attending to others’ needs.

And even though I thought my busyness and service were necessary and good, they weren’t best. The work I was doing wasn’t always profitable—at least, not for me; I was striving. The goodness of life, while always a gift, had started to become a very heavy weight; and before I realized it, I was on a track where knowing God, knowing myself, and knowing those I love most, had taken a back seat.

Saying No

Soon after I heard that voice telling me to slow down and “get to know myself” and to truly connect with and love those around me, I started saying “No.” I said No when I was asked to manage a website for something at church; No when a need was posted for a co-op leader; No when asked to volunteer weekly at a food bank. All of these needs were important, necessary, and good—and it wasn’t easy using the N word (at first). But eventually, I gained a freedom that was even more important, necessary, meaningful—and so much better.

Gradually, I started saying Yes to quiet mornings at home; Yes to writing more; Yes to deep and important conversations with my adult children; Yes to serving those in my home. I had to learn No so I could get back to Yes.

In the process, I slowly began to realize things about myself and understand more of what God wanted me to know: that He will use me right where I am; I don’t need to chase after all of those good things in life I am not responsible for; He directs my path toward goodness as long as I seek Him first.

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He who dwells in  the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  Psalm 116:7

Return to Your Rest

Once you find the Rest your soul needs, you’ll realize that Life is still there, all of those good things are still waiting. But you will also be able to discern what is profitable. When you’re able to step back and see not only what the world around you needs, but what YOU need, you’ll walk toward to a more healthy and whole path and will be able to say Yes once again.

        “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness                                                                    and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 

Words…

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Words have so much power. We can use them flippantly or thoughtfully, and even just a few words can change the course of someone’s life, for better or worse. Yes, words and how we use them are important; heaven knows I’m guilty of using them unwisely and thoughtlessly. Too often, I’ve had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness from people I love  – and hurt – with my words.

Something my mom used to say to me was that if I didn’t want others to read what I wrote, then I shouldn’t write it. Good advice. Today during my junior high writing class, we talked a lot about the power of words, written and spoken. We talked about the importance of measuring them, of choosing them, of guarding them. Of sometimes not saying them, and often keeping them to ourselves. Of venting to God, sometimes written, but maybe more often, not. We talked about social media and how we can use it to divide or to bless, and how we should never ever use it to announce others’ information or tell someone else’s story.

We talked about how words hurt, how we cannot take them back ~ how we should use them in ways where we wouldn’t want or need to take them back. How once they’re ‘out there’, we’d better hope we’re ok with them being out there, because in today’s world, they may always be out there, and we don’t want to regret them.

When I was in high school, I wrote a lot ~ in journals ~ and I truly thought what I wrote was profound and extremely sensitive and deep. And sooo wise! Many years later, when a friend from high school years and I got re-acquainted, we laughed till we cried at some of those profundities. Those high school musings really seemed important at the time ~ but to no one but me. If anyone else saw them, they’d probably slate me for therapy, for sure.

Not too long afterward, I burned those journals. Just doing that was therapeutic. The words I wrote as a high school girl, which at the time seemed to come deep within my soul (and maybe they did), weren’t the words I’d use today, as a person who is learning to understand my Redemption. Now I know how very important it is to choose wisely, carefully, prayerfully.

Another piece of advice, again from a mother, came from Thumper’s mom ~ if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I might amend that just a little ~ if you can’t say something nice — stop — and if it needs to be said ~ really needs to be said ~ say it in a way that will be constructive and part of a solution, and say it in a way that will bless. Or as James 1:19 admonishes, be slow to speak. If we stop and asses the situation well, we may see that listening may be what is needed way more than any of our words.

Through the Looking Glasses…

I started wearing reading glasses when I turned 40. Almost overnight, my eyes changed, and written words looked fuzzy and unclear. I didn’t want to admit that my vision was getting weaker, but life became limited pretty quickly — so the glasses went on. And when I can keep track of where those glasses are, seeing words is no longer a problem.

reading-glasses

Unfortunately, glasses don’t work for everything. I still need clarity in so many areas, and vision is only one of them. Sometimes I don’t want to admit that my perspective is changing, that life seems fuzzy and unclear. Because then I have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I’m not in control anymore…that I’ve even been wrong about some things, that I’ve had blind spots, and that the life I had envisioned as clear and easy, may not be.  And you know what four letter word that brings up?  FEAR. And it can be blinding.

Those parts of life that are familiar – friends, relationships, church, work, committees – are so often life-giving and meaningful, purposeful, safe. They often define us and give us vision, and those are good things.

But those are also the areas in which we often become way too entrenched, and then we are too close to the setting to see a bigger and more complete picture. Focus gets fuzzy and the lights begin to dim a bit. If we don’t know when to step back for a different view, we can almost become crippled. And in the middle of realizing that maybe we need to move, to change perspective, is fear. We don’t want to make changes because we’re afraid of what life will be like if we move, so we stay in the ‘safe’ world of what we know.  And in the midst of all that activity, we begin to project what we perceive as the best or most important, on those we love.

When my children were growing up, we taught them what is Right and True and Good. We got caught up in the 12-step-plan, the do-all-the-right-parental-things-and-your-children-will-turn-out-like-you-want-them-to handbook. We made sure they were doing ‘all the right things’, being part of all the right groups and activities. But somewhere along the way we picked up the wrong glasses, and our perception changed – and so did our expectations; we wanted them to look like us instead of the unique people God made them.

I needed a different set of glasses. Maybe my quest to find fulfillment in the doing and the ‘perfect parenting’ was caught up in striving more than in stillness, and I put my children in the same place. “Be still and know that I AM GOD.” “Trust Me.” I wasn’t being still, and I wasn’t seeing what God wanted me to see. I let fear into my sights. I needed to step back.

And this is when my vision started to fade. I needed to get being still into focus.

If all the activity of life and parenting, which we often think defines and validates us, keeps us from seeing that it’s time to be still and trust, then what we do is as a loud noise — because Love and knowing the God of Love is the most important — above all else. When we can’t slow down enough to put that Love into perspective,  it is easy to lose our vision and we focus on all the wrong things.

But some days I think that maybe it’s coming back, just a little. I think I see a little more light and have a little more clarity. I see that the doing, all the striving, is changing to listening and laughing and enjoying and walking alongside. And being still.

Our service and activity and doing doesn’t validate us. We aren’t defined by our outward work or how we think things should look on the outside. We’re defined by who God is making us, and that looks different for each of us. And if how we look on the outside isn’t kind and caring and loving, then does it matter?

I think I’m beginning to see some things I couldn’t see before. My glasses may not always be where I need them, but I’m sure glad I have them. And I’m thankful to God for His vision ~ because His perspective is what truly counts.