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

 

Light a Candle

“I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear in a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?…Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness…”

This time of year… family, friends, decorations, lights, trees, gifts, music, yummy spicy smells, cookies…Christmastime. So many love to start celebrating early each year and keep the Christmas music going and the tree and lights up through winter. We all love the storybook Christmas.

But this time of year is also sadness and loneliness for so many — often magnified because of all of the lovely holiday trappings. Life doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas. Every year, I seem to be more acutely aware of this side of Christmas, of the messiness of life, of those who are hurting. I can take cookies, send gifts, say words of encouragement, pray for peace and healing — but the sadness and pain are still there. There are those walking through a dark night of the soul, and Christmas lights don’t take that darkness away.

There are so many.

But God…

For He is Light. Jesus. He knows the pain and the loneliness and the darkness. And for those of us who love Christmas let us remember why we love it. All the fluffy things are wonderful. But God became flesh in the midst of a dark and hopeless world. He is the Christmas Light. He gives hope  —  because we all need it.

So each night during this season, I light a candle for those whose hurt is magnified during Christmas, and I’ll pray for some small comfort, some small light to guide them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

 

candle

But God…

There have been many times over the years — and especially lately — I’ve wanted to vent and rant on social media about one thing or another. But because I vowed many years ago not to use facebook in that way, I fight off the temptation.

But believe me…I grapple and struggle with and work through — thoughtfully and prayerfully and often tearfully — all the issues and events going on around us and in this oh-so-much-smaller-and-louder world in which we live. And sometimes when it seems too hard or I get angry, I want to go back on that vow I made and shout from the rooftops. Or I selfishly want to retreat forever.

But I know that neither is an option.

Because no matter how I feel today or tomorrow about a, b, or c, and no matter what changes take place in the world overnight, we have a Great God who is calm and compassionate, and He desires us to be the same. Oh how easily and quickly we forget that our confidence is in Him, no matter what is going on around us.

The nations (and events and evil and fill in the blank) can rage, but in vain, and the authorities and powers-that-be are ultimately not going to win.

So what it comes around to is this: there is no reason to rant or vent or shout. Instead, I need to remember, trust in and rest in the One who is truly in charge. His Grace is sufficient.