The Gifts of Grief

Grief is not a “gift” one wants.  Grief is forced upon you.   It doesn’t give you a choice.  It’s presence can be over-powering and suffocating.  You move through grief , taking life’s lessons as you go.  It’s not pleasant to endure.   As I look back,  I’m grateful for many of the gifts I received along this journey.

  1.  The more you love, the greater the grief.  On days when grief seemed impossible to endure, I remembered the great love that I had experienced.  And I realized that I wouldn’t have given up a single moment of that love to lessen the grief I was feeling.
  2. Seize the moment. You never know when death will come.  We are only promised this moment.  Don’t wait to tell someone how much you love them.  Never miss a chance to give a hug or smile.  You may not get another opportunity.
  3. Show your appreciation.  It wasn’t until after my husband died that truly realized how important he was to my life on a daily basis.  He prepared paid the bills, shopped for groceries, ran errands, drove me to and from work, held my hand, and listened to me talk.  I lost so much the day he died.  I wish I had thanked him more.
  4. Recognize the gift you have.  I was as guilty as anyone of complaining about my husband’s faults: he snored; he was a dreamer; he procrastinated.  After he was gone, I would have done anything to have one more night laying awake listening to his snoring.
  5. Cherish those you love.  Stop complaining about things that won’t matter in the long run.  Be grateful for the time you have now.  It’s not a competition on who does the most around the house.  Who took out the trash last won’t matter in the long run.  Decide to say only positive things about your spouse or family members to others.  It will change the way you think about the ones you love.
  6. Never miss an opportunity to show love.  Some might think I say “I love you” too much.   But, I promised that I would never miss an opportunity to say those words again.
  7. Relationships that withstand grief will be unbreakable.  My children and I had to learn to be a family of three.  We are probably closer than we would have been had their father lived. We spent lots of time together just trying to survive.  Many people don’t understand the bond that we have.  They don’t understand the reaction my kids have when they hear friends criticizing their own parents.  Others are not prepared for the defenses that come into play when any one of our family is “attacked” verbally or otherwise.  Our interdependence was formed through our grief.  As our family has grown, the defenses have spread out to in-laws and step-family.

When it comes to loving my family and friends, treating every moment as if it may be our last is the greatest  gift I received from Grief.  I never miss a chance to let my husband know how much I love and appreciate him.  I want all of my kids to know they are precious and loved.  I hold more tightly to those that I love because I’ve learned the value of  that love.

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“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still, Just be Still

be still

Being still is hard.  Sometimes, it feels impossible.  It’s especially difficult for me when anxiety is running wild.  We all have moments of anxiety.  But for some, anxiety is ever-present.  It’s often linked to depression.  And, it can be exhausting.

Have you ever had so much caffeine that you can’t seem to put a thought together and just felt jittery?  That’s what anxiety felt like to me.  Anxiety is defined as stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event, the inability to set aside a worry, and restlessness.  When I feel that things are getting out of my control, I can get extremely restless and fidgety.  My thoughts are not always logical.  Everything around me can feel irritating.  I have a need to “fix it” or “hide from it”.

My first husband’s death sent me into a tailspin with grief.  I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  I didn’t want to manage alone.  The fears were so strong and so deep that just deciding what to wear in the morning was almost too big of a decision.  I wanted to know where my kids were at every moment.  I had nightmares,  so I didn’t sleep much.  I spent hours just walking in circles around the living room in the middle of the night.  As the months and then years passed, I believed that I was getting over it all.  But, the reality was:  I had just gotten used to coping with the anxiety and depression.  I could put on a good face for friends, family and co-workers.  I scheduled as much into my week as I could.  I worked full-time.  I volunteered with my church.  I volunteered for activities at the school my kids attended.  I stayed as busy as I could.  My kids grew up and life slowed down.

I found comfort in concentrating on anything.  Most people would call it obsessing.  Terry and I had dreamed of replacing our wedding dishes with depression glass.  So, I set about doing just that on Ebay.  I bought platonite place settings and serving dishes.  I bought emerald-green depression glass.  I found a particular glass goblet that I liked and bought a whole set in emerald-green and red as well as matching cocktail glasses.  I collected peanut butter glasses with state flowers.  I hunted for cottage cheese bowls (I had 5 different colors.)  I bought leather purses.  My kids would joke about all of the boxes I was getting.  I collected flamingos for the yard and for the house.  When I was looking for new things to buy, I didn’t have to face my life.

When both of my children left home, I had a more difficult time filling the time.  I would cook a big elaborate meal once a week and my son would come and eat.  But, the rest of the week, I would buy take out and eat in my driveway.  On weekends when my daughter wasn’t coming home or I wasn’t going to see her, I would just stay in bed and watch TV and sleep.  The only reason I would get up was to let the dogs out.  I avoided the reality of my life as much as possible.  Things that should have been important, just weren’t any more.  I felt like my life was over and I was just waiting it out.  I prayed and studied, but nothing seemed to make a dent in the numbness that had become so normal for me.

I had convinced myself that I was “just fine.”  I had worked through all of my issues.  As Tim and I began to talk about a future together, my very tightly wound ball began to come undone.  Emotions and feelings that I had not allowed to surface for years were suddenly in full view.  It was at that time, I sought the help of a counselor.  It took a few tries to find a good fit, but it was worth it.  I could sit and talk about my fears and doubts.  I began to work on issues that had been around for way too long.  I began to feel that I was gaining control; I was becoming a whole person again.

I was no longer afraid of being alone, of being still.  I realized that I needed time alone to spend with my Bible and in prayer, writing or drawing.  I had allowed grief to become self-doubt and fear.  I stood by as the enemy had robbed me of the ability of “being still”.  I had to learn, again, what peace comes with knowing God.

Stop the busyness.  Look at what God has for you.  Listen for His leading.  Be still.

Just be still.

Service or Performance: Does it Matter

During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have all seen acts of service for others affected by the storm. Churches, organizations, businesses and first responders have all banded together to do what is needed to evacuate and to provide food and shelter to storm victims. Teams of people from schools, religious organizations, neighborhoods as well as out-of-state volunteers have come into the area to clear out debris and start the recovery process. The response has been immediate and awe-inspiring. The servant’s heart has had ample use this month.  The opportunities for selfless service have been endless as have the opportunities for those seeking the limelight of recognition.  Does the motive for serving matter?

Having a servant’s heart means to put other’s needs ahead of our own.  A person with a servant’s heart doesn’t look for rewards or recognition or even gratitude.  In our social media heavy world, we walk a fine line between giving information  and seeking recognition.  There were many, many groups posting on the various social sites about helping after the storm.  These posts were important because they  got information out to those that needed it in a rather efficient manner.  Volunteers were organized.  Needs were recognized.  It worked pretty well.  There were lots of photo ops with people working and helping both neighbors and strangers.  Our city came together to help.  As the days passed, I began to see more “LOOK AT ME” posts.  The transition was gradual, but the “where can I help” posts became selfies touting “look what I did today”.  The photo ops were still there, but the focus was changing to “ME”.  Needs were still being addressed.  So, I kept asking myself, “Does it matter why we serve?”

This is a question I ask myself, quite often for some very different reasons.  I have years of experience leading worship in churches.  I started singing in church when I was 5 years old and sang “Little Baby in a Manger” at the Christmas Program.  I’ve sung solos and in groups.  I’ve played the piano and the organ for several congregations.  I’ve even played my trombone on several occasions.  I know that I can sing.  When leading others in worship, I had to review my own motives every week.  Was I singing because I wanted God to be honored or was I really enjoying the spot-light?  To be honest, there was a little of both most of the time.  I love music and I love to sing.  During a season of my life, the only reason I had to be in a worship service was because “I” was on stage.  I did not participate in anything else.  I realized that I wanted (maybe even needed) the reward of recognition that came through performing on Sundays.  But, there were also times when the greatest worship time I received was in rehearsing to lead others in worship.  It was in those moments when I KNEW that God had given me a purpose.

In the 80’s, I heard a sermon that addressed the many people who had come to salvation through the work of some well-known and fallen evangelists.  Jim and Tammy Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart were known as ministers of God’s word.  They built their ministry serving others and reaching out to others in need.  The Bible was taught.  People were saved.  But supporting the ministry became the primary need.  People were no longer encouraged to be involved in their local church.  Once the performers became more important than the God they served, things came crashing down.   A lot of people were hurt and  turned their backs on God as a result.  I believe we have to look at our own motives for every act of service.

In most cases, I don’t know that it matters to anyone else why we choose to serve others.  As long as we are meeting the needs of those around us, we are fulfilling a purpose.  In the end, though, we have to stand before God and give an account of our lives.  I will have to own up to the times that I was more interested in the praise of others than I was in following Him as a servant.  I will have to admit the times I was fishing for a compliment.  I will have to confess the moments when I wanted my star to shine brighter than any other.  I will have to face the moments when performance and not service was my primary goal.

 

But, I Want to be Angry!

I am beginning to avoid reading anything from the news to social media these days.  Everywhere I turn, someone is tearing down someone else.  It’s bad enough when it’s people that I do not know, but when life long friends take to social media to bash other life long friends (either openly or passively), I cringe.  I’m not going to weigh in on the “controversy du jour”.  It really doesn’t matter what the issue is or is not.  The reason changes weekly if not daily, but the voices, the criticism, the anger never change.  I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that there are some who are just angry and need to have something or someone on which to focus that anger.

I believe in free speech.  I believe in candor and honesty.  I also believe that a little tact goes a long, long way to promote the unity of opposing sides.  I enjoy a healthy debate.  I think discussions are pivotal to a healthy community and world.  But, mud-slinging and name calling are not be part of it.  Social media does very little to foster productive discussions and usually just fans the flames of both sides.  My opinion may not matter to you, but it does to me.  I have been known to adjust my views when presented with a calm and rational argument.  Continuous bashing and belittling of others’ convictions or opinions (right or wrong) are perceived as anything but calm or rational.  I had a supervisor who mentored me in my younger days to pick my battles carefully.  I learned to take a deep breathe and step away for a bit to collect my thoughts BEFORE I bulldozed through the issue.  I discovered that I usually got much better acceptance and cooperation this way and the outcome was often what I wanted in the beginning.  The path to get there was just a little different.

So, take a breathe.  Calm down.  Anger is debilitating to the bearer and often counter-productive.  As many old grandpappies have said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Invisible

invisible

Do you ever feel invisible?

Are there times your voice is not heard?  Is it because you do not speak up?  Or are the other voices and sounds drowning you out?

Do you ever want to be, maybe even need to be,  invisible?

When I was newly widowed, there were many times I felt invisible.  I didn’t fit into any group.  I was no longer married, but wasn’t quite single, either.  My friends were still in the married group.  I moved from “part of the group” to “third wheel” status in the blink of an eye.  I didn’t know how to be seen.  Others seemed to look through me, not ever seeing the ME that stood there.  I didn’t know how to be seen, because I didn’t know how to see myself.   I watched as others buzzed around and wondered how I could be so lonely in a such a busy group of people.  I didn’t know how speak up,  it was easier to fade away than to endure the pain of living in the world in which I no longer belonged.

One can be invisible for lots of reasons.  When another’s need to be recognized  is louder and more aggressive than your own, their need pushes all others out-of-the-way.  I feel the shutters begin to close in around me.  My opinion doesn’t matter.  My voice in not important.  Even the facts and information that I know are dismissed and discounted if they are not in agreement.  I am forced to disappear within myself to avoid further conflict.  It is often that very need to avoid conflict that pushes me further onto the sidelines.  When I am helpless to change anything, when  I’m caught on the carousel of life and there’s no way to regain control, I disappear.

There are times when I try to blend into the background.   There are other times when I need desperately to be heard,  to be seen.  But, I’m  invisible.   It’s as if I’m speaking in an unknown language or wearing the cloak of invisibility.  No one is listening.  No one sees me.  Regardless of how hard I try, I cannot break through.  I begin to believe that I’m truly invisible, that I truly do not matter.  And, that is the real problem.  I accept the invisibility.  I stop trying.  I fade away.

We need to be aware of those invisible people that surround us.  The invisible person may be that homeless person that has become a part of the background.  The invisible person may be the senior citizen that tells the same stories over and over and over again.  The invisible person may be the widow that reminds you how fragile life is.  The invisible person may be a friend or family member that refuses to see things your way causing you to rethink your own ideas or decisions. Invisible people surround us.  They work in the deli’s in our offices.  They stand on the street corners.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our family.  We need to put on our “X-ray vision” and find those invisible people.  We need to see them.  Listen to them.  We need to care.

God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139 :1-12  MSG

 

 

And here comes 2015

Christmas 2014 is history. Its time to take down the lights and start the move into 2015. The new year with all its unknown. This is the time to look back and see what has been and then plan for what we want the new, fresh and clean year to become. And I just want it to be over and done. I’m tired of looking into the future and seeing a long, lonely road. I don’t want to think or contemplate the future. It’s just more of the same.

2014 was a big year of changes for me. I started a new job with a new company that I really enjoy. (Totally a God thing.) I’ve taken a break from some of my ministry commitments in order to refuel and decide my next steps. My daughter moved into her own place and is establishing her life away from me. I found out that my son is going to be a father in the spring of 2015. Good changes, really. But, it doesn’t mean they were easy changes. And, there are more to come.

I have realized that I cannot look at 2015 in one big view. It’s too overwhelming for me. I have failed before the new year has even begun. I’m not sure how to approach 2015. As hard as I try, I can’t dream about the future. I’ve learned the hard lesson that when dreams die, it hurts. I’m afraid of disappointment (my own and of others) and any more loss. I know that living in fear of loss/pain robs me of many wonderful experiences. I barely held it together during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays this year. I have forgotten how to be content on my own. I have lost the art of being one and only one. I have become too dependent on others and on busyness to keep me distracted from what my life really is. I have to figure it all out, again.

So, for me, 2015 means ONE. I have to relearn being ONE. I have to separate “me” from my children, my friends and my work. I must stop depending on others and learn to stand alone. I have to face 2015 day by day, for this is my life. There is no one else to live it with me or for me.

Psalm 121:1 -2 “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” (KJV)

When?

There are lights on every street, twinkling as I pass them up. Homes are decorated inside and out. People are dressed in holiday sweaters and shirts, some even wearing antlers on their heads. Holiday parties and lunches abound over the next weeks. The candy canes on my snowman calendar show that only fifteen days are left. All is festive and ready. So, why do I feel as if I’m standing on the outside looking in the window?

I’ve gone through the motions. I’ve done most of my shopping and some gifts have even been received. I rsvp’d for the company party. I have my dress waiting for the night. I’m singing the Christmas carols and wearing all my Christmas attire. The weather is even cooler this year. So, when does the Christmas spirit kick in?

I know that happiness is a decision that I make for myself. I just don’t seem to be able make it work right now. I miss the joy of the season. I miss the excitement, the breathless anticipation. I miss counting the days until the next party or lunch or tea or surprise. I miss picking the perfect thing that will make that special someone’s eyes light up with pleasure. I miss adding that one new Santa Claus decoration to the collection. I miss baking and creating sweet packages for friends. I miss being together. When will the cloud lift? When does the dread go away? When does the desire to sleep away every spare moment end? Will I ever do more than just go through the motions? Will I ever love the Christmas season, again?