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Archive for August, 2012

We are the object of attention—until the day after the funeral. That’s when everyone’s life returns to normal. Everyone else’s life, that is.

But not ours.

It’s like we’re on the outside looking in. We humans want to fit in, we’re miserable when we don’t. And in the aftermath of grief we don’t belong. Anywhere. We’ve been stuffed in a sack, shaken up and dumped out. Forever changed.

There’s good news and bad news about grief. The bad news? We will never be the same again. The good news? We’re on the way to our new normal.

And the trip can take a while.

The days and the months, perhaps years, creep by and we long for the way things used to be. We choose to isolate or hide behind closed doors so that others can’t see our pain. Or we zoom here and there, filling life with any and everything. Pretending we’re okay. Trying to not think, because thinking hurts.

Family and friends prefer the hyper-active you. Because they want their old friend back. Like you, they want to pretend you’re alright too. But try as you may, the old you is gone. Forever.

Death has brought you face-to-face with a life-changing reality: life in this world is brief.

Things of this world have filled our lives, our relationships, even our worship. Most of us have lived as though this is all there is. In this age of want-more, get-more, we have tethered ourselves to the here-and-now.

Until someone we love dies.

Then our gears are stripped and we come to a screeching halt. We are backed into a corner and forced to decide whether we really believe what we have said we believed all these years. Can we look beyond the immediate to the eternal? That is a major cross-road for each one of us traveling this road called grief. It’s the intersection of a street called Earthly Delusions with the rough, still-under-construction detour named New Normal.

When our daughter died, I wrapped myself in robes of self-righteousness and parroted, “Oh, I know she’s with God and everything is fine. I’m okay. Really. Why no, I’m not angry. With God? Don’t be silly.”

And for two years I walked that I’m okay—you’re okay road ‘til one evening a family dispute raked the scab of the lie off my hypocritical words and I bled rage. The glass full of iced tea flew from my hand and splattered against the wall and I heard my voice scream, “You could have stopped this, God. But You didn’t.”

Ah. There it was. I told Him I didn’t understand and I didn’t like what He had done. But in the deathly silence that followed I had to confess to God, I was angry. Like He didn’t know.

And you know what? God didn’t send a lightening bolt to strike me dead. He didn’t turn His holy back and walk away. He didn’t condemn me.

He opened His arms of love instead, and I crawled into His lap and sobbed. And He comforted me like a loving father comforts his child after the temper tantrum subsides and the child is remorseful.

Because of  His truth and my repentance, those moments produced my first glimpse of hope and joy in two years. How? When the light of God’s truth shoos away the darkness, it illuminates and cleanses the place where anger and bitterness have thrived. Then the power of His Spirit moves into the open spaces and begins to teach us the lessons that, up to now, we’ve refused to learn.

I began learning those lessons in the following months, and my attitude changed. I was convicted of the self-righteous things I had said and the proud ways I had acted in the past. And as I acknowledged my own needs, compassion for others filled my previously cold, indifferent heart.

God brought people into my life, week after week, who were also experiencing the ravages of grief. I could sympathize with the emotions their losses perpetrated. And I was able to comfort them, because God had comforted me. I saw God work in all of our lives and my emotions were refreshed.

Through a series of unusual circumstances God brought me to GriefShare. Then He opened the door for me to lead a support group. At last my new normal was a work in progress.

I came to understand that like a thermometer, happiness was based on my surroundings. But joy springs from my heart and controls my attitude, in spite of my surroundings. Like a thermostat.

Did the pain go away? No. But I learned that joy and pain can co-exist in my heart. 

Pain is the roto-rooter God uses to increase our capacity for the well-spring of joy to continually bubble-up in our hearts. Day by day, I chose to trust God to lead me forward into this sea of new life. Day by day joy became the key to my endurance. And it still carries me forward, day by day.

When our joy is rooted in people and things that perish, grief will become our identity. But when the tap root of our heart’s joy is anchored in Jesus Christ, He will carry us safely through the storms and tragedies of life. And we will grow and blossom when He sets us down to walk in the new normal on the shores of life again.

“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, Take courage, fear not.  . . . But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (NAS Isaiah 35:1-4a, 9b-10).

Where are the roots of your joy planted today?

PRESCRIPTION: Go to www.griefshare.org and click on Find A Group. Fill in your zip code and select a group near you. Make plans to attend and let God work that new normal in your life too.

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It’s been a year. Maybe two.

You ask, “When will this pain go away?”

You’re ready to be done. Ready to be normal again. Ready for any tiny glimmer of hope and joy.

Grief is an exhausting zillion-mile-an-hour trip down Life’s Mall, through dense fog. People are talking, but you can’t understand them. Their blurry faces pass before you, but you don’t recognize them. Your mind operates in slow motion—if at all. Day. After day. After day.

Grief steals your ability to concentrate and focus. Misplaced keys, memory loss, forgotten bills and events are common, unwelcomed additions to life after the loss of a loved one. I would be driving down the freeway confused about how I got to that place. Worse yet, we live in the country with winding two lane roads. More than once, I wondered where am I and how do I get home?

Grief also precipitates physical pain. Your muscles tense causing neck, back, and shoulder pain. And you’re tired. All the time. Sleepy, but unable to sleep. The fridge is heaped up and running over with all those dishes of love from well-meaning friends. You’re not ungrateful, but you’re not hungry. Worst of all, you’re alone, in the middle of a crowd. That one missing loved one means you stand alone.

It’s not uncommon to see your deceased loved one walking down the hallway. You swear they’re real. But you know better. Your mind plays tricks in the middle of devastating turmoil. Troubling. But normal.

You’re not crazy. It’s grief.

But grief is not the end. It’s just the beginning.      

Remember the story in John 6:1-13 where Jesus feeds the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fishes? Truth is that was only the men. When the women and children were counted, there were probably ten to twelve thousand hungry folks to feed that day.

Do you recall how He blessed that little boy’s meager lunch, broke it up, and the disciples distributed it to the crowd?

But do you know the rest of the story?

After everyone had eaten their fill, He instructed the disciples to gather up the fragments so that nothing would be lost or wasted. And there were twelve baskets full of left-overs.

When death shatters your life, by the loss of a loved one, all that remains are left-overs. Fragments.

Then I make a ridiculous statement: God never wastes anything—even your grief.

You ask, “How can God ever use anything as dark and ugly as what I’m going through? What am I to do with the crumbs of my life? Which way do I turn? Where do I go?

The answer is to Jesus. He scoops up the cracked pieces of our lives and places them on His potter’s wheel to repair, integrate, and reshape us into new vessels. By the power of His love, the warmth of His hands, and the pain we’ve experienced, He changes pride into humility, anger into hope, and sorrow into comfort.

Then He certifies all He repairs, “comforting us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (NAS I Corinthians 1:4).

I know this arduous journey has taught me lessons I could never have learned any other way. Jesus used those scattered fragments of grief, after Michelle’s death, and made a new beginning for me.

Would I love to have my daughter back? Of course. But wouldn’t that be selfish? She’s healed and with her Lord Jesus. To have her back would mean she’d have to die again.

I am so thankful God didn’t abandon me outside the hospital room that night.    And neither has he abandoned you.

He picked up those heart wrenching fragments and transformed me.

And He is ready to transform you too.

Yes, God didn’t waste anything—even the darkest moments of my grief that sent me fleeing into His arms.

Now it’s your choice—His light or your darkness. His comfort or your anger. His love and mercy or your doubt and unbelief.

He will transform your life, if you allow Him. You will become a conduit of His mercy and grace to be poured out on others about to enter this foggy journey. And your legacy will point others toward the light of His glory that shines in the darkness of this very long tunnel.

So don’t quit. Don’t run away. Don’t take grief as your identify.

Because grief is not the end. It’s just the beginning.

 

Prescription: Sort the fragments of your grief into a neat stack. Then one by one, “Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (NAS I Peter 5:7).

           

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When our daughter died, the children moved in with my husband and me for six months while our son-in-law completed required Army schooling and relocated to his next duty assignment.

After that I relocated with the children to the new Post to help establish their household. My husband, the children’s Papa, stayed behind in Dallas to keep our home fires burning. Yet another loss for me.

My list of secondary losses grew day by day. Only I didn’t know what they were or even that they were. I just knew I hurt and everything in my life spun out-of-control. But there were more important issues to address—children who had lost their mom, and a father who had lost his wife. So I put my grief aside.

I thought.

Papa came for weekend visits once or twice a month. During one visit I gave him a box of vintage Madame Alexander dolls to take back home for safe-keeping until our granddaughter was old enough to care for them. Some were her mom’s dolls and some were my mine. Treasures. Waiting to be passed to this child of my child.

Papa rented a car for his trip and when he returned it to the rental company, he forgot the dolls were in the trunk. Half-way home he remembered and backtracked, but the dolls were nowhere to be found. Like so many other things that had vanished during the past six months, they were gone forever.

The emotional rip-tide of tears eroded deeper trenches in my aching heart.

He apologized, over and over again. But I could do nothing but weep, snarl at him, and pile this new heartache onto the mounting stack of losses. I had no idea, nor did I care how he felt.

I’ve come to understand that during the grief process husbands and wives are total  strangers. Unlike a woman, the worst thing a man ever has to face are his emotions. Now Papa had to deal with his emotions as well as a wife drowning in her raging ocean of grief. He was clueless. And I did nothing to ease his guilt.

We are all like porcupines during this anguish.  If threatened or aggravated, our quills extend, aim, and fire at the first shift in the landscape. We are so self-absorbed, we don’t recognize that other family members are also grieving. We focus on ourselves. On our pain. On our loss. Unable to comprehend that our hemorrhaging hearts need a transfusion.

But the old saying—the bumps are what you climb on—holds true. And eventually these losses are rocks we must climb and conquer. Some are not too bad, but others are jagged boulders that feel like we’re scaling Mt. Everest.

So how do we begin managing these troublesome after-the-fact losses?

One profound fact is, Hurt people hurt people.

That’s true among family members where death has intruded.  Understanding this doesn’t take the sting out of hateful words or actions we’ve received or inflicted, but it encourages us to think about why and then choose to forgive whoever caused the pain and anguish. Just like Jesus forgives us when we cause Him pain and anguish.

A few weeks after the lost dolls, I was reading the Word and crying out to God when I heard that still, small voice inside me ask, Would I withhold anything from you that you needed?

I had to answer, “No Lord. But her dolls? Lord, why?”

My mind flew back to the verse that had become my life-ring, The secret things belong to the Lord. The things revealed belong to you and your children forever…”(Deuteronomy 29:29). This would be another one of those secret things.

Again, another question.  Do you trust Me?

My pathetic voice, saturated with fear and very little faith said, “Yes, Lord. I trust You, even with those dolls.”

And for the moment His peace reigned in my heart.

That’s what the grief journey is about—a rollercoaster ride through heights of His peace interrupted by heart-stopping plunges into the abyss of the next secondary loss.

This pain and confusion you’re going through will not last forever, but it lasts longer than you ever imagined. The goal is to accept the fact you are mourning the loss of someone you loved and you must let tears come when they may. Jesus wept over Lazarus, even as He knew in the next moments He would issue the command and Lazarus would walk out of that tomb—Alive.

Over the years, I’ve wondered if perhaps some father or grandfather who worked at the rental company saw those dolls and his little girl had no dolls. Could those dolls have brought joy where there was none? I choose to believe God allowed those dolls to be held and loved by a little girl He knew needed them. And I thank Him. I’ve also come to understand that God never wastes anything. But we’ll talk about that next week. That’s right. God never wastes anything—even your grief.

Prescription #2:   Be still and quiet before the Lord God and read and listen to His Word.  Then make a commitment to compose a Loss History. Take a sheet of paper and list every loss you can remember experiencing. At the edge of the paper make two columns Historical and Current.

As you list each loss, evaluate whether you’re still grieving. Even if it was fifty years ago. If you are, mark Current. If there is no churning or anger, mark Historical. Every loss must be individually dealt with.

Every grief is unique. You can choose to forgive, even when your heart and mind want to raise a ruckus. Cast your pain on God and leave it there. Refuse to hurt people because you’re hurting.

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Those of you who follow my blog know my husband and I lost a daughter eleven years ago. Michelle’s death plunged us into deep, inky waters of grief. While struggling just to survive we were blind-sided by Grief’s ugly-step-sisters—Secondary Losses.

Grief is an unwelcome guest who stays much too long, not pretty at all, who plunges the family into chaos. But Secondary Losses are the evil relatives of Grief that slip in the back-door and linger forever. They litter the landscape with shrapnel-sized-shards of anguish that are often as difficult to deal with as the original loss.

Worse yet, they lurk behind the shadow of family members, good friends, even making appearances at happy events. Ever waiting to earn the greatest buck-for-the-bang and then they implode. The injuries they inflict are not terminal, but often perpetrate permanent disabilities upon their victims.

So what in the world are secondary losses?

Well, they’re certainly not bashful. Their name shouts their identity—a related loss that evolves out of the original loss. An additional loss that strikes when you least expect it, when you are most vulnerable.

Like the granddaughter whose grandmother died this year. Her Mimi was the glue that held the family together. Several weeks after her death, grandpa announced he wanted all her stuff out of the house and wanted nothing to do with the rest of the family. Ever. No more Sunday dinners at grandma’s. No more visiting the home that stored a lifetime of memories for this teen. No more relationship with the grandfather she had loved. Three secondary losses that left this grandchild shattered.

When an infant dies, the parents loose their future—their dreams. There will be no first steps, first words. No smiles or hugs. No first day at school. The list multiplies. For years after a baby’s tragic demise, secondary losses accumulate, building a wall of separation and blame between the couple. Unless the grieving couple gets help, more often than not, their marriage disintegrates.

When a husband or wife dies the spouse will most likely remarry. The family is swept up in a reconstruction zone. Where the flood waters of grief mix with the dust of new construction and can cause a murky mess.  Often there are too many in-laws for the new mom or dad to deal with. These secondary relational losses impact everyone—kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and yes, sometimes even family friends. Holidays, birthdays, and special events change or are forever lost.

The loss of an older child results in the loss of an expected future for the entire family. The role that child played in the family circle sits vacant. For siblings, it’s a wrenching or splitting apart of the oneness that brothers and sisters enjoy that leaves them empty. Half of a whole. If the siblings were twins, many more layers are involved.

The aging process robs us of our parents. While they may be sick and ready to leave this life, there are secondary losses even with an expected departure. You and I are moved up—next in line. We unwillingly become the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. The structure of the family changes. Everything changes. And we don’t like change.

So what are we to do with these loose strings of grief that tangle, knot, and upset our lives? Are we doomed to a life of grief? No. Not at all. But we must travel those dark corridors. Not climbing over, tunneling under, nor sneaking around the pain. We must work through the grief. And it is work. Left to itself, grief will make you bitter. With God’s help and comfort you will become better. But it’s your choice.

We must understand and accept that it is alright to grieve. It is necessary to grieve. It is normal to grieve. And yes, Christians must grieve. Grief is the normal reaction when someone we love dies.   

Tears are the safety valve God has given the pressure cooker of our injured hearts and our shattered dreams. I tell my GriefShare folks they  must cry 5,395 times during this sorrowful journey, so they’d best get started. Scripture tells us God saves our tears in a bottle. (NAS Psalm 56:8).

Strength and ability to endure great tragedy and loss comes from the power of God, through the Word of God, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. There is no true healing from this traumatic life experience outside of the touch of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Oh, you can stuff your agony into the depths of your heart. But I promise you, if you bury grief alive, there will be a resurrection one day, and it won’t be pretty.

So let’s determine to walk together in this wretched journey for the next few weeks and I’ll introduce you to several prescriptions that will bring you safely to the other side of this horrendous event, if you’ll follow the Great Physician’s orders.

Prescription #1 – GriefShare is a Christ based support group that is a safe place to empty all the pain and anguish threatening to drown you. Go online to www.GriefShare.org and click Find A Group to locate a group near you.

Next week we’ll talk about how to manage those nasty secondary losses.

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Ever suffer a consequence initiated by a wrong choice, a rebellious act, or a broken relationship? I can almost hear you groan. Are you saying, “Let me count the times and ways.”

I’m right there with you.

In the early ‘60’s I deliberately disobeyed God. Forty-nine years later, the consequences of that choice continues to billow. Like a hot air balloon in the lives of my children, that decision continually soars to greater heights in troubled skies.

God is faithful to forgive our sin and rebellion when we repent, but unfortunately the consequences of our foolish choices remain. That is why it is imperative to “train up your children in the way they should go…” because when they are old the consequences of your training—whether good or bad—will follow them. Forever.

Parents, you get to make the choice of good or bad training. But you aren’t allowed to choose the consequences.

Failure to teach children the law of the Lord, and the resulting consequences, parade across the TV screen every night during the evening news. The juvenile and criminal courts are full of men, women, boys and girls caught  in the consequences of ignorant or willful rebellion to God’s Word. And the failure of the church to follow God’s instruction to, “love one another,” and then, “go and make disciples,” have multiplied the consequences of bitter, hateful hearts all over the globe.

Only God can chisel the sin and shame from a hardened heart. Only God can take a hurting heart and make it healthy and whole again. Only God can rescue and transform a bitter heart into a tender and transparent one.

I wonder what the hearts of those young girls at Red Neck Heaven are becoming as they grow older? Caught in the sensual thrill of the moment, they become captives of the flesh which cries gimme, gimme, gimme. More, more, more. Do you think, after being exposed to the lustful attention of crowds of men day after day they can be satisfied in one marriage, with the attention of one man, for the rest of their lives?

Do young women brazenly use their bodies to attract young men in order to satisfy their need of an absent father’s love and attention? Have girls become so desensitized they don’t realize they are sacrificing the opportunity for God’s gift of a pure, lifelong relationship with one man? Or are they even aware of the possibility of joy and oneness in an until death do us part marital relationship, because of the examples we have given them? Could this be part of the divorce problem inside and outside the church?

And what about our young men? Mothers, you can verify the fact that your  boys are pursued with a vengeance by girls with a hormonal body, a cell phone, and a computer. Mere children, exploited and bombarded with delusions of fun, pleasure, and excitement. However, the consequences are life changing. Painful. Tragic. Is it any wonder so many men are addicted to pornography—even those in the pulpit?

Is it possible when we give our children carte blanche to the whims of all that surrounds them—movies, books, clothes, attitudes of rebellious friends, fads, the list goes on—we set them up to fail?

The only answer is to teach them God’s truth, that joy and contentment in life only come when you allow God to fill the hole in your heart. Seeking success and fulfillment the world’s way will bring disappointing, lamentable, even disastrous consequences.

What are you going to do today to squash the deception that is suffocating this world, seeking to destroy your child?

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on  your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up,” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7 NAS).

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