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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Personal

I have been challenged to define love several times over the past few weeks.  There’s lots of information about love out there:

  • “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”
  • “Love is a many splendored thing!”
  • “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”
  • “Love will find a way.”
  • “You can’t buy love.”
  • “Love is friendship caught fire.”
  • “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.”
  • “Love makes the world go round.”
  • “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it. “
  • “Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.

and my personal favorite. . .

  • “Your love completes me!”

The question that comes to my mind over and over is this:  Is love an emotion or is love an action?  When we are discussing love, we are usually talking about the “feelings” that are described as love.  You know those tingly feelings.  It’s all bubbly and exciting.  The world is beautiful as long as you can be around the one that is the object of your love.  We LOVE being IN-LOVE!  Many relationships are based on the feelings of love.  So, what happens when the feelings calm down and reality takes a toll on all the bubbly excitement?  There appear to be 2 choices:

  1. Decide to move on since you have ‘fallen out of love’ and you are no longer happy.
  2. Recognize that love is an action and made the decision to show love to your partner is  every way, regardless of how I feel in the moment.

How many couples have moved-in together because they were just so “in-love” only to see things fall apart since there was no real commitment to stay together?  The fun ends and the exit sign lights up when it becomes too difficult to stick around.

How many marriages fail because at least one of the people involved is “not happy” and decides to look for happiness elsewhere?  We hear “You deserve to be happy” or “You only live once, so be happy!”

Love is not an easy choice.  I love my children.  I love my husband even when he drives me nuts with some of his preferences.  I love my siblings and my parents.   I would give my life for any of them.  That doesn’t mean that I always like them or their decisions.(And just for the record, I can say anything I want about my husband, children, siblings or other family members.  But, you better not criticize or demean any of them or I WILL come after you!)  I choose to love through the hard spots, through the disappointments, through the struggles.  My heart breaks when I see any of the people that I love in pain.  I’m concerned when the choices being made aren’t the best and I offer advise even when it’s not wanted.  I stick it out because I have chosen to make love a verb.

I have friends that get really turned off  and even a little offended when I use the Bible to support my points.  However, there are several verses about love that anyone can put into practice, Christian or not.

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’

‘Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.’

One of the best known and most quoted scriptures on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.  I’ve taken verses 4-7 from the Message and made them very personal by inserting my own name in place of love:

Melissa never gives up.
Melissa cares more for others than for herself.
Melissa doesn’t want what she doesn’t have.
Melissa doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force herself on others, isn’t always “me first,”
Melissa doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Melissa puts up with anything, trusts God always,
always looks for the best,
Melissa never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

Are these truth’s about my life?  Not always.  But, these are the ideals I want in my life.  In relationships, we need to make this list personal and to work toward loving others unconditionally.  And that may mean, not complaining about the person that I say I love to someone else.  It means that I forgive and FORGET offenses.  It means that I stop manipulating the people I love and let them grow and love in their own way.   It means I have to be patient and content with my life and stop working to “keep up with the Jones”.  It means that keeping the spotlight on myself isn’t really success.

What’s your definition of love?  Go ahead, define it for yourself.

A Great Man

I have known a few great men in my life.  A great man teaches by just the way they live each day.  Today, the world lost another truly great man, James Streit.

I first remember Mr. Streit when we went to find out about band in the 5th grade. My mother and I were looking at the various instruments and someone asked “What instruments will you need?”  and he replied, trombones.  And that made my decision.  I was going to play the trombone.  When my own children began band, I realized how truly patient Mr. Streit was with we beginners.  We weren’t nearly as good as we thought, but Mr. Streit always made us feel like we were superior!

As a sixth grader, Mr. Streit was my home room teacher as well as my Texas History teacher.  That was the first year that the Crowell Marching Band made all  I’s at contest.  Our home room class made posters and had a little “coke” party for Mr. Streit that day.  I’ll never forget his bashful grin and little laugh when he walked into the room.

Mr. Streit encouraged all of us to go to band tryouts.  The first year I went to tryouts, there were only 5 of us.  By the time I was a junior in high school, we took 2 school buses to the tryouts.  Mr. Streit worked with every student.  It didn’t matter if you had a gift for music or if you couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket”, he treated us all the same.

There are several things that immediately bring Mr. Streit to mind: 1) circles, 2) the songs “Light my Fire” and “Sweet Caroline” and 3) music stands.

We learned so many circle drills during my 6 years in the CHS band.  (Yes, 6 years.  We started marching as 7th graders.)  We did circles with crosses in the middle.  We did circles with bands running from one to the other.  We did a circle and a square.  We did a 4 circle drill.  While there were other songs that we used for circle drills, “Light my Fire” is the one that sticks in my mind.  When I hear it, I am immediately transported to the practice field with little flags marking our circles and the positions.  The time he spent prepping our shows was amazing.  We learned several shows through the season, not just one and he always stressed that we were a concert band that marched.  And, “Sweet Caroline”.  On my, how many times did we play that one as the band sweetheart or the homecoming queen and their courts were walked across the field.  I can almost feel the breeze and see the lights of the stadium even now.

One of my favorite memories involved Mr. Streit’s music stand.  One of the things that anyone that had Mr. Streit in band will always remember is his temper.  Mr. Streit was a very calm, very nice man.  But, as the stress level rose, so did his breaking point.  We all knew that at some point during marching season, the megaphone would go flying.  It was never thrown at anyone in particular, just at the ground in frustration.  There would be stomping and yelling.  Then, he would regain his composure (and we would try not to snicker) and rehearsal would resume with a new focus.  Similarly, during concert season, we came to expect a blowup.  When he reached the end of his patience with our antics and/or lack of attention, Mr. Streit would pick up his music stand and band it on the floor.  Sometimes, several times to get our attention.  There were several of us, including Mr. Streit’s son Scott, that spent our study hall in the band hall.  Sometimes, we practiced.  Sometimes, we sorted music or ran errands.  Usually, we just wanted out of study hall.  On this particular day, we knew that Mr. Streit was nearing his breaking point.  So, “someone” loosened the screws that held the music stand together.  That afternoon during our band period, we went out of our way to be annoying.  Finally, Mr. Streit had enough.  He picked up the music stand, but this time it fell apart in his hands;   the sound of metal pieces falling across the floor.  He stood there for a moment and then looked up.   For a moment, I thought he might throw the remains at us as tried to hold back the giggles.  He blushed, shook his head and laughed with us.

The highest honor that a band could received was to be named the state honor band.  In 1975-1976, the Crowell High School Band was the ranking Class A All State Honor Band.  In the fall of ’75, we began preparing for the marching season and our TMEA concert.  That meant, full rehearsals in the mornings before school started as well as our normal afternoon band period and our Tuesday night rehearsal.  We worked hard.  There were sectionals in our band hall as well as in  Wichita Falls.  We had clinicians that came and heard us and made suggestions.  The low brass clinician was Mr. Charles Enloe.  We went to Wichita Falls several times to rehearse with him.  After one session, we were back in our band and we began playing Chorale and Capriccio.  There’s a section that was all trombone.  Mr. Enloe had taught us to blast that section out.  The first time we did it in rehearsal, Mr. Streit stopped us and told  us “Not to do that!”.  The next time Mr. Enloe was around, he was quite upset when we didn’t play like he had directed.  This went on for a few sessions.  Finally, Mr. Enloe did a band clinic and we played the section like Mr. Streit had directed.  Mr. Enloe landed right in the middle of the trombone section giving us quite a tongue lashing.  I can still see Mr. Streit walking around the gym behind Mr. Enloe looking back at me rather sheepishly during this time.  He did admit to Mr. Enloe that we were following his directions.  We played it Mr. Enloe’s way from then on.

I am so blessed to have had Mr. Streit in my life.  I was an adult with kids before many of the things he taught me really came to light.  He taught me that people will rise to your expectations.  He taught me that you treat everyone as if they are the best.  He taught me not to play favorites.  There are students that Mr. Streit touched that had never felt important or valuable.  He instilled value in his students.  He invested his time and energy in building the best students he could and built the best program in the area.  I can only try to impart the same things to the people who come across my path.  Thank you Mr. Streit.  You were more that just a band director.  You were an example of goodness and kindness.

Our world is better for having known James Streit.  He will be missed.

Eagles

Life can be interesting. It is often a conundrum. We seek peace and calm and then complain of boredom. We look for fulfillment in our spouses and our children while blaming them for the bumps and difficulties that we face. We look for happiness in every moment, but destroy opportunities for joy along the way.

Humans are supposed to be at the top of “the ladder.” We are above all of the animals. We have opposable thumbs. We think and have the freedom to make choices about our lives. We control our own destiny. At least, that’s what we like to believe. And yet, when I watch a pair of eagles work on their nest and raise their chicks, I have to wonder. Are we really better? Eagles mate for life. Occasionally, a young female will attempt to steal the nest and the male from a pair. But, that doesn’t happen often or very successfully. The claws come out (quite literally) and the fight ensues. The established female will fight to the death to protect her nest, her chicks and her partner. Why are we humans not willing to fight to protect what we have? Why is it so easy to just walk away?

I’ve not been in the situation where my spouse walked away. My husband died. There were no second chances. During our marriage we fought. We fought with each other. We fought to stay together. We fought to raise our children. There were many times that I would not describe as “happy.” But, we had a life-long commitment to work through the bad times. We were willing to fight for our marriage and our family. I guess that’s why I love to watch the eagle-cams on the internet. I can relate to the pair of eagles as they work together to protect and nurture their family.

I was blessed with a good marriage to a Godly man. For eighteen years, we worked at keeping our family together. We laughed and cried together. We faced fears and illnesses. We coped with extended family issues. There were times that we both entertained the idea of walking away. But, the promises that we made to each other were real. We were together until “death do we part.” We were committed. And all too soon, he was gone. No do overs.  There were no more options for us. As a result, I don’t have any tolerance for the common excuses for breaking marriage vows: “I deserve to be happy” or “We’ve just grown apart.” No one deserves to be happy. You choose to be happy. You choose to grow together.

Now, I’m engaged. After 9 ½ years of widowhood, I’m planning a new life with another wonderful, Godly man. And, honestly, I am scared to death! I’m also extremely happy and blessed. As we make plans to blend our lives and our families, I am so excited about what the future holds. I never dreamed that I would get a second chance at love, a second chance to build a marriage and a new life. I know there will be challenges. We are not in our twenties. We have children (and a grandchild) and all the baggage that comes with a more mature life. We have dealt with death and divorce in our past marriages and as a result we face trust and security issues. But, we are committed to building a strong marriage on Godly standards. We will face life together and weather the storms that come.

During the ice and snow storms last winter, there was a video released of a bald-eagle sitting on its nest, covered in snow. At first, it was hard to see anything but the snow. Only the eagle’s beak was uncovered. Then the snow began to move. The eagle emerged from under the covering of snow and tossed it aside with its strong wings. While inspecting the eggs that were protected from the cold, the partner eagle flew down and brought food and relief. They were a team. That’s the marriage that I want to build. Again. No matter what problems seem to cover us up, we will be together. No matter what storms approach, internally or externally, we will stand against them together, supporting each other. When one partner is covered up, the other will be there with the support that is necessary and needed. No one walks away, grateful for the happiness but seeking the joy that comes from a marriage established with God as the center.

This year will be exciting, happy, stressful, scary, fun and joyful. And that’s what makes life so interesting: the Ups and the Downs. Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a ride to remember!

“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV 

Boundaries

I don’t like being told “No”. A sign that says “Do Not Touch – Wet Paint” is an open invitation to reach out and test the true wetness. Too many times, “Do Not” becomes “I Dare YOU” in my mind. In many cases, I don’t like boundaries.

When I was six years old, my aunt pointed out some pretty pink flowers during our family Easter egg hunt and said “Don’t touch these flowers.” I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to them if she had not been kind enough to point them out to me. I kept wondering why I couldn’t touch those flowers. They were really pretty. I decided my aunt was just being stingy and she should really share. So, I went directly to the hot pink flowers and grabbed one. Unfortunately, these particular flowers were attached to a prickly pear cactus. Instead of the pretty flowers, I ended up with two handfuls of cactus spines. I cried as the spines were pulled from my fingers and as I heard my aunt say “I told you not to pick those flowers!”

Sometimes boundaries are necessary. They keep my dogs in my yard and hopefully other dogs out. I know to stay on my side of the road and I try to park my car between the yellow lines. Cell phones are not welcome in movie theatres (I have been know to sneak a quick peek!) I’m expected to be at work during specific hours. A married person is off-limits, no matter how unhappy or “free thinking” they claim to be. As a single-again, I’ve learned to appreciate the art and even the importance of “No.”

Personal boundaries are the most difficult for me. I have no problem erecting a high wall around my personal space. It keeps me safe and secure. I find that I want to push out of those boundaries and test the life I see living around me. But, you see, I have some issues with knowing the difference between the prickly pear flowers and the plain gardenia. Too often, I’m drawn to the drama and the excitement and totally miss the quieter opportunities that God has presented to me. And then, when the drama and excitement leave me in tearful pain, I run from even the most joyful and delicate choices. How does one love completely and unconditionally and avoid the pain? You don’t.

I believe the key is to love unconditionally. There are flowers I can appreciate and enjoy within limitations. While they may be beautiful, I’ll never get too close for fear of the spines or odor or other irritants they harbor. But the flowers that I love completely, are the ones I can hold and sniff and enjoy up-close. I am aware of how delicate some of the flowers can be and I handle them carefully. There will be times that I’ll come across a thorn or a bug hidden among the petals, but it doesn’t change the complete adoration I have for their grace and beauty.

Relationships are similar. There are some people/relationships that are toxic or even dangerous for me. I can appreciate the people involved and love them for who they are. But, I cannot lose sight of all that God has for me and get caught up in the excitement of the life they represent. I may to be in their world, but I cannot be a part of it. Thankfully, there are glorious opportunities for friendship that God has placed in my life. They remind me that it’s worth getting up every morning. These are the friends that I trust and invite behind my own personal walls. The few that I love completely, without reservation. Our only boundaries are trust and love. These are relationships that take time and effort to cultivate. They don’t always look exciting or even interesting, but the end result is indescribable.

I would like to think I’ve learned how to push my boundaries as I’ve gotten older. I try to see the beauty in everyone I meet. I still look for thorns before I rush to pick a flower.

And, I still leave finger prints in the wet paint!

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Fear, Failure & Other Silliness

I have NOT done lots of things in my life because I didn’t want to:
a) look silly
b) fail
c) get hurt
d) lose
e) admit I was afraid
f) ask for help
g) all of the above

In school, I didn’t try out for anything unless I was fairly certain I would succeed. I avoided any activities that might be above my current capabilities. I didn’t want to fall and maybe be hurt. If I did take a risk and then I fell, I NEVER tried again. (It’s amazing I learned to ride a bicycle!) I stuck with the things I could do best and pretended I didn’t care about the rest of it.

As I matured, I learned that there were times when taking the risk was worth it. It was okay to try and to fail. I actually found that I could excel at looking silly and survive! I’ll never be a champion skater (or even very good for that matter!), but I can say that I tried. And fell. Many, many times. On a few occasions, I’ve been forced to face my fear of heights and bugs and snakes and telephones and have lived to tell about it even if I still get a bit nauseated at the memories.

One area in which I continue to struggle and grow in is developing true relationships. I’ve never had a problem meeting people. I can be friendly and even helpful. But, when it comes to really allowing another person past my personal fire-wall, that’s a different story. Because behind this facade is a person that fears the risk of transparency. You may discover that I’m actually silly or shallow. I may not be able to live up to your expectations. What if you don’t like me or find me annoying? Will you stick around if I admit that I’m afraid or that I desperately need your help? What will I do if you let me down? And those fears have tried to rob me of the joy of truly knowing and loving others.

There are no guarantees. Some people have come into my life for a specific time and now our lives follow different paths. There are people who I have loved and mourned when they were unwilling or unable to return that love. And then there are the people who are so deeply and richly ingrained in my life and memories that even time and distance cannot break the bond. I’ve had my heart broken and bruised through the years. There have been times that I promised God and myself that I would NEVER allow anyone the opportunity to hurt me that deeply ever again. But, as the pain subsides and the new normal becomes more familiar, I know that I need to step out of my safe zone. And, I’m so glad I haven’t given up on loving and caring about others. For all the tears and pain, I’ve also experienced so much love and joy.

If I had waited until love was safe and hassle-free, I would never have married. If we had waited until everything was perfect in our lives and in our world to have children, I wouldn’t have Zachary & Gracie. If I wait until there is no risk of being hurt before I love and care about others, I’ll live a very lonely, empty life. If I only live the parts of my life that come with guarantees, I’ll never know what it is to live life fully. Every day, I ask God for guidance and wisdom and protection. And every day, He reminds me that I am loved.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

Powerless

There are days when I just feel powerless. Helpless in the face of all that life is bringing to me.

Friends in pain and I’m unable to stop the hurting.
Hearts broken when love is denied and all I can do is watch.
Growing pains in the “new” reality of life, adjusting to the unwelcome changes.
I can only watch in confusion as the “bad guys” seem to succeed and the “good guys” suffer.

But. . .

I’ve learned that pain forces me to move, to change and to grow. To endure.

I’ve realized that not all love is good. There’s wisdom in the saying “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Broken hearts do mend. There will always be scars and fears. And, we learn to use caution before giving our hearts away too freely, too easily.

I try to accept and adjust to the new reality that each day brings to me. Because, what choice do I really have? Change may not be welcome, but it is inevitable. Change is often GOOD. Instead of fighting every change, I’m trying to move on with grace and acceptance.

I still question the fairness of life. I struggle with forgiveness. What does it look like? What if no one asks for it? Do I really have to forgive and forget?

Ultimately, God is the only one that understands the reasons. I have to turn it over to Him on a daily basis.

And, I still ask “Why?”