Lessons I learned through grief pt. 2

Last week I started this two part post on the lessons I learned through grief. I touched on the goodness of God throughout my experience, the importance of community, and what it is like to take the reprieve. If you missed it, you can check it out here. In this post, I want to share a few more things I learned in that season.

Vulnerability

Before Dad died, God had been talking to me about vulnerability for a couple years. Before I attended BSSM, I thought vulnerability was weakness. I thought I had to be strong for everyone around me. Life got a little bit more fun and meaningful as soon as I got over that but I still had to learn how to walk out vulnerability.

About a month or so before he died, the Lord asked me “Are you willing to let yourself be taken care of?” Now, I knew the “right” answer was yes but I wasn’t quite comfortable with that so I didn’t answer the question. I was the one that took care of people. I quickly found out that, it didn’t really matter if I was willing to be taken care of or not, I had no choice. I suddenly needed help meeting very basic needs. My willingness would only make it easier to receive care.

Not long after I returned home from attending the funeral, I had the first of many anxiety attacks. I was in the middle of making myself a sandwich, but sudden paralyzation kept me from finishing. I somehow managed to ask for help and one of my housemates joined me in the kitchen. I asked her to finish making my sandwich. That was the height of the realization of my vulnerability. I had always been independent and capable of taking care of myself but for this season, I needed to be taken care of. Then, I remembered the question God had asked me.

It was in this season that I truly started to practice asking for what I needed, not only physically but emotionally as well. There were a couple moments when I told people what I needed to hear. It wasn’t that what they were saying was insincere, it was that the words I asked for were the only things louder than the lies and anxiety in my mind. I experienced so much grace and love because of it. It was the kind of grace and love that is only experienced inside of raw vulnerability. I was truly seen and loved in all of my brokenness. I was able to trust and receive the love people had for me.

Ride the wave

I’m not sure how far I was into my grieving process, but I found an article. I wish I could find it again but to be honest, I don’t remember what the whole thing was about. I do remember it talked about one thing-riding the wave. It is useless to fight waves of pain. We can’t stop them from coming and we will likely get knocked over and toppled not knowing which was is up or down if we try. But if we ride the wave, we will find ourselves back to shore. I realize it’s not a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea.

I took that idea to heart. On one of my more difficult days, I felt this work. It was a long day and I wanted to see a friend that I hadn’t seen since before dad had died. We could not make it work for several reasons and I was left hurt, anxious and unsure of what I actually needed in that moment. I was lying in my bed when I remembered the phrase-ride the wave. I wrapped up in my blanket, grabbed on to my headboard and held on for 10 minutes while I felt physical waves of pain overcome my body. Grief will do weird things to you. I didn’t fight it. I felt it. I felt it come and I felt it lift. I was able to get up afterward and join the rest of my housemates in the living room.

Letters

This is a more practical lesson than the others. As one who enjoys journaling, I took to writing letters to my dad. Though our relationship was restored there were still some things left unsaid. But there were also things I just wanted him to be around for. In some ways, I was able to see more of his heart after he died. I only wrote a few times, but each letter was healing. I was able to release what was in my deepest heart while feeling connected him. I still cry every time I look back at those letters and they still allow me to feel connected to him.

 

 

 

I found this piece in my journal that I feel sums up grief. I wrote this on the 1-year anniversary of his death.

Grief was an unwelcome friend. I never invited grief on this journey, but it came anyway. While it was an unwelcome friend, it was a friend nonetheless. It was the only one that could truly grasp what I was feeling. It was the only thing that brought the tangible Presence of God like no worship song ever could. It brought a kind of love that can only be experienced inside of it. Some tried to wish away my grief while others knew that being held was the only thing that would alleviate the pain. They knew about the necessary friendship of grief. Grief brought me a lot of gifts, possibly to make up for the unbearable pain in caused.

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Lessons Learned through Grief pt 1.

January is a rough one for me. We are coming up on two years of my dad being gone and it has been painful and beautiful, heartbreaking but full of hope. I briefly shared in  A letter to my hurting friends some of my experience with grief. Grief and I became well acquainted on January 18, 2016. I received a call from my brother early that morning while on a break from my shift at Starbucks, that my dad died the night before. My world came crashing down right there in the back room. I couldn’t understand what was happening so much so that my brother had to repeat himself several times before I got it. I somehow managed to drive myself home from work and later fly home to Nevada.

All throughout my first year of grieving, I felt that my experience was unique. Everyone grieves differently but mine was unique in that I had the ability to fully lean into it. At the time I was only working part time at Starbucks and I was able to step back from any ministry involvement. I didn’t have a family to tend to, instead I had a family tending to me. As painful as it was, I had time to cry. I had time to ask really hard questions. I had time to stay home in bed or on the couch. I don’t take that for granted because time was definitely a gift. Time was transformative for me.  There is a lot that happened in that season that I will continue to carry with me through other seasons. In the next couple posts I want to share some of the lessons I have learned through grief.

God is Good

This one is kind of a cheat because my experience at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) is what branded this into my heart one year before Dad died. I share a little about my time there in this post and I am sure I will write more about it another time. But one of my biggest lessons from my time at BSSM is that God is good. It was no longer something I sang about during worship or heard about during a sermon. It was something I saw, touched, and experienced. I left that place knowing with everything in me that God is good. He is good all the time. When I can’t make sense of my circumstances, he is still good.

I see his goodness in the way he prepared me for grief. I was grieving my dad even before he died. For months, I couldn’t talk to him without crying. I missed him so much. His addiction made him a different person that seemed to be withering away with every passing day. I missed the man who could make me laugh more that anyone else. I missed the man who loved without end. I missed the man who could cook LIKE A BOSS! He remained kind and generous but was increasingly more withdrawn. We loved each other so much. I never doubted his love for me, but our relationship was tattered. I couldn’t bare his pain, so I withdrew.

Before he died, our relationship was restored. During a phone call had the sense to tell him about the grief I had been feeling the last few months. While I would typically avoid conversations like that, I had this strong “now or never” sense (no doubt it was the Lord) so I told him. He listened. He heard. We were good. Three weeks later he died. I cannot imagine what my grief experience would have been had I not said anything.

I had several encounters with God in this season. His promise of “I will never leave you or forsake you” became real. My struggle with anxiety also became very real. I would have paralyzing anxiety attacks. It felt like I couldn’t breathe and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t move. I had a constant stomach ache for weeks. One day, I came home after the longest day ever and began to tell my housemate about it. She asked me “Have you ever asked God to take away the anxiety?” I had never even thought of that as an option. I just thought it was apart of grief. I asked that night and when I woke up the next morning my stomach ache was gone!

The importance of community

This season is when I began to really fall in love with my community. I was already committed to them before my dad died but they showed their commitment to me while I grieved. I had five really key support people and an entire church that loved me back to health. The family I lived with allowed me to stay rent free and treated me as one of their own. There were many times they stopped what they were doing to take care of me, whether it was making me something to eat or holding me as I cried.

I was interning for my pastor and our weekly intern meetings soon morphed into counseling meetings. Many men in my church gave me “dad hugs” when I needed them the most. Most were kind and offered prayers of peace as support. There we a few that would physically hold me through worship because I felt I might break into a million pieces. I hold all of them so dear and do not take them for granted.

During my first Sunday back, I had an anxiety attack. One of my friends escorted me to the office so I could sit in a quite place. As he escorted me, three of my friends followed us. They all stayed until I was breathing normally. One coached me through deep breathing and the others waited patiently. I remember looking up and thinking “This is community.” All of them had significant stress in there lives but still they chose to sit with me.

Later that day, there was a funeral of a family member of one of the people in the room with me. I was able to be there for that. She was there for me in the midst of her pain. I got to be there for her during mine.

Take the reprieve.

The only reason I was able to attend that funeral was because I took the reprieve I had. Typically, with an anxiety attack, I would have just had someone take me home, but I was determined to be there for my friend. I kept thinking, “I may be a wounded warrior, but I am staying on the battlefield.” When my breathing was finally back to normal all but one person left. I wasn’t ready to go back into the church, so I stayed in the office with my best friend. I had an hour and a half before the funeral. I spent the first half hour trying to “pull myself together.” I kept thinking “come on, you have to be ok for this. You only have so much time to get it together. Let’s go” The Lord kindly and gently interrupted me with a whisper “You have a reprieve. Take it” I did. I just sat in that office with my best friend not doing anything but listening to worship music and focusing on my breathing. When the time came, I got up went to pray for my friends and attended a funeral.

 

I learned to rest when it was time to rest. I learned I could trust the love people have for me. I saw the manifest goodness of God every day and learned what it meant to stay connected to Him even in my brokenness.

 

What are some things you have learned during hard seasons? Stay tuned for part two next week.

Taking 2018 by a Storm!

In the past few months, there have been a lot of things stirring in my heart over what I would like to see happen in my life for 2018. I don’t know that I have ever spent as much time thinking about “New Year’s Resolutions,” if you will, so that alone tells me there is significance in this next year. There are so many things that I am so excited for! Things that are new and full of hope but also excitingly scary because they are unknown. There are also things that are difficult and feel scary, in a less exciting way. No matter what this year holds, I’m excited to meet the person I will be on the other side.

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions. Mostly, because when I have made them, I fall into the 80% that fail so I deemed them useless and moved on. You know how that goes. But 2018 feels different. I have been waiting for the new year to start for a while. There are things I want to do but also things I want to grow in as a person. Two words have been stirring in my heart for a couple months, boldness and longevity.

I want to grow in boldness. I have been noticing important moments when I choose to hold back instead of speaking up for fear of how others might react or feelings of insignificance and not wanting to come off as “dramatic.” Now, the Lord and I have been working on this fear for a couple years so this is not a new revelation but is something I am ready to move forward in. I want to be the kind of person who isn’t afraid to speak up when needed. I want to speak up when someone needs protecting, or when my heart is screaming to be heard. I want to speak up when God has something to say through me, even when it sounds weird or off topic in my own mind. I am going to step into boldness despite fear because God is good. He will cover my mistakes and help me clean up whatever mess I make in the process. Not only that, but He wants to speak through me! It blows my mind to think about it, but He wants to use me, and I need to trust that no matter what I am feeling about myself.

Longevity is the other word that has been stirring in me since my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I tend to think in the present without regard to how my actions in the present, affect my future. This diagnosis has opened my eyes wide to the importance of what I do and how I take care of myself now. So, I am taking steps to better my health and other areas of my life. Starting with round two of Whole30! I did it in September and it is a perfect reset button for beginning 2018.

 

So what are some things that are stirring in you for 2018? In what ways do you want to grow? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

A letter to my hurting friends

“Grief is a fine dance partner for its season” A friend of mine gave me that quote last year. It’s true. It doesn’t stay forever. We danced all year in 2016. We haven’t danced as much this year but I have got to let it cut in, if only for a minute.

As much as I would like to ignore it, grief is apart of this season. Maybe not for everyone, but for many of us. Some have experienced several rounds of grief during the holidays, for others, it’s the first time. I’m on round 2 but I remember round 1 vividly.

When I think of my round 1 season of grief the word that comes to mind is sacred. It was unbearable, paralyzing and raw but it was also sacred. I experienced God in a way that can only be found inside of grief. I felt Him cry with me. I felt Him hold me close as I laid clenched in a ball of pain. He delivered me through the pain and was relentless in His pursuit of me. He would whisper “Stay connected” during the anxiety attacks. I didn’t really know what it meant but it gave me something else to focus on.

My sweetest and most powerful encounters with Him happened in this season. I remember when people around me, in an effort to be comforting, would say, “I wish I could take this away from you.” I hated that because at the time it felt like grief was the only thing I had left of my dad. One day, as a friend of mine and I were praying together, she started submitting all her own hardship to the Lord. Reluctantly, I did the same. I held out my hands, willing to give it all to him. I had this picture of Jesus coming to me with so much love in His eyes and putting my hands in his. He wasn’t taking my grief and I wasn’t keeping it from him. He held it with me. He knew what it meant and what I was ready for. He is so kind and so gentle.

I experienced a sacred love in that season, not only from God but from my community. They were the ones that held me when I felt like the earth was going to open and swallow me whole. They were the ones who constantly brought me to the feet of Jesus. When I was vulnerable and broken, they picked me up and showered me with love and grace. They showed up every time I needed them, without complaint. Not once did they tell me to stop crying or move past it. They were not annoyed or exacerbated when I asked them to be with me. They loved me well, even in my brokenness.

The nearness of God is what made that season sacred. He promises to never leave or forsake us and He is faithful to His promises. I know that if I can get through that with God, then I can get through anything.

This year is different. I am whole. I am not broken. I have moments of grieving my dad but it no longer overshadows the joy of the season. I also know this is not the case for everyone. A few weeks ago, I sent a text to a friend of mine who is going through an unbelievably difficult time. I knew as I was writing this out that it was from the Lord and I knew it wasn’t only for her. My friend’s grief is different than mine. Chances are, yours is too, but I hope you are comforted and encouraged by this.

 

Hello my dear friend!

I want you to know that though you feel broken, drained and grief-stricken, you will come out on the other side. You will be victorious. I want you to know that you are seen. You are known. You are so loved and valued. If any of us could take the pain away, we would. But the interesting thing about pain and grief is that God’s presence is the sweetest and most tangible in it. It is life-giving and sustaining. His beautiful presence is the thing that says “you can keep going for the next 10 minutes…hour…day” His presence is what says “stay connected, I’m here, we’re gonna make it.”

I love you so dearly. I hurt when you hurt. My greatest prayer for you is that you will feel the Holy Spirit wrapped around you, like a cozy blanket straight from the dryer. My prayer is that you will see the fierce, beautiful eyes of Jesus and be transformed by his unending love for you. My prayer is that you will experience God as Father, the one who never leaves, never forsakes. The one who comforts and welcomes you into His arms.

You will make it out of the woods. In the meantime, stay connected. Stay connected to Jesus, to yourself, your family and your community.

Getting Free from Shame

Shame is the opposite of humility. Shame is self-deprecating and wants to keep you hidden. Humility wants you to be seen. It wants to show you that you are still worth being loved even in the middle of your mess. Humility is what brings change. It requires a tremendous amount of courage and vulnerability. But the minute you decide to show your cards, a wave of relief comes. Its like new life is breathed and the chains of shame are unraveled. They can no longer keep you bound.

While I attended Bethel, I learned that basically my entire thought process was shame based. It’s a bit earth shattering to find out you have been thinking with a lens of shame your whole life. I never thought anything was wrong. I thought I was normal. Turns out, I was normal but not free. When you experience any measure of freedom there is no interest in going back to bondage. Since then, I have been very intentional in kicking shame out of my life. It is a battle and my main weapon is vulnerability. The second I share what is on my mind and heart with a safe person, I experience freedom.

Occasionally, I discover another pattern of shame. It happened this weekend. I discovered another area in my life that is influenced by shame. The shame storm commenced, and I was a ball of anxiety. How did I get here? How could I let this happen? If I would have done something different this wouldn’t have happened. I knew I needed to talk but I had never talked about it before and I felt shame about needing to talk about it-go figure. Shame wants to keep you locked inside your own mind.

I really wanted to stay in bed and binge on New Girl but as much as I love Jess and the boys, they have not lead me on the path of victorious living. So, I took a walk and started praying out loud and listening to what the Lord had to say about it. He is so patient and kind and good. The next day I was surrounded by people who were willing to truly see me and ask how I was doing. I was honest and vulnerable about my struggle and they offered love, grace, and helpful suggestions. By the end of the day, I was exhausted but no longer anxious.

Humility wants you to be seen. Don’t get me wrong, it is difficult to utter out loud the very thing you have intentionally kept hidden. It is risky because you don’t know how the other person will react. What will they think of you? Will they respond with the same disgust you hold inside? Will what you tell them, change their view of you? Will they leave?

I have found that often the response is “I get it. I struggle with that too.” Or “thank you for sharing” or “I love you. Thank you for telling me, how can I help?” I have learned who my safe people are, and I know that at the end of the day they still love me. I can bare my soul to them because they have bared theirs to me. We have carried each other through.  Humbling yourself is always hard but when you know what is on the other side, it’s a lot less risky. The only thing waiting on the other side is freedom and love. I’m not willing to let anything stand in the way of that.

What about you? Is there anything standing in the way of your freedom? The enemy has had his hold long enough. It is time to take it back.

The Struggle is Real

I’m noticing a common struggle between the will and mind. People have an idea of the type of person they want to be but in an effort to become that, they focus on what they don’t want to be. It seems counter-intuitive but we’ve all done it. It is really easy to find all the negative and want to avoid it. It is a bit more effort to stay focused on the positive. As followers of Christ, our desire is always to be more like him. We want to be loving. We want to be responsible. We want to be humble, etc. But instead of going into a situation and looking at what would be loving, we go into it saying “I don’t want to be unloving.” Instead of looking at the day with “ I am responsible” we say “I don’t want to be irresponsible.” Suddenly, we are right back into the patterns we always fall into. We end up stressed, disappointed and frustrated with ourselves.

What would happen if we simply made the decision to be loving?

Or responsible?

Or humble?

Or whatever your desired character trait is?

What would happen if we lived out of what God has ALREADY called us?

We often forget that we have been made a new creation in Christ and that we have the mind of Christ. Meaning, we have more ownership over ourselves and who we are then we act. Because of the freedom we have in Christ, we get to choose how we will respond in life. We are free to live and love well. We are free to love others well and even more free to love ourselves well.

Don’t get me wrong, this can be difficult, especially when we don’t necessarily feel like being loving or responsible or whatever. The good news is, our feelings don’t have to dictate how we act. Our feelings are indicators of what is happening on a heart level and should be acknowledged but they don’t have to be a driving force.

We become what we behold. We are transformed by what we focus on. If I focus on Jesus and who he is I will become a person of hope, joy, peace, patience, etc. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” When I am focused on Jesus, I can put everything I encounter up against him and decide to take it or not. If what I hear or believe lines up with who Jesus is then it is good. If it doesn’t then it is not.

So, what are you focusing on? What does God call you?

 

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Nature’s Patience

The time is finally here! Christmas music time! The music is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. Music makes it feel so magical.

I have been waiting all year to be able to listen to Pentatonix Christmas albums! I caved, and started listening to it the day before Thanksgiving. But then, I heard that Hillsong put out a new Christmas album. I set aside Pentatonix to give Hillsong’s Peace Project a listen. It. Is. Beautiful. It captured my heart. To be honest, the song Seasons captured my heart. It took a couple days before I even listened to the rest of the album and after I did, I went back and played Seasons again. It has been on repeat ever since.

There is a line in the first verse that stopped me in my tracks.

\\Oh how nature acquaints us with the nature of patience\\

The new year tends to bring about transitional seasons. There is a lot of reflection on what has happened but also great anticipation of what is to come. The time in between can leave us feeling restless or maybe even stuck, especially in the winter. It is dark, cold and long. It’s dreary but also magical.

As I listened to the song, I was looking out my window and thought about how trees is not concerned about when it will get its leaves back. I think oftentimes I get so caught up in the anticipation and impatient in the waiting that I start to wonder if the actual change will ever come.

\\You’re the God of the seasons

I’m just in the winter

If all I know of harvest

Is that it’s worth my patience

Then if you’re not done working

God I’m not done waiting\\

God does not have to give us a timeline. These lines are so comforting but also empowering. They remind me that He is still good. He is not stuck or impatient. He is also, not resting like the trees. He has a plan. It will come to fruition and it will be AWESOME. The Kingdom of God is worth the discomfort in the waiting.