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.