Posted in Faith

Grief, life and the in-between

We tend to think of grief when there is a mortal death. A family member or close friend, a pet even, leaves this life and we have to learn how to move on without them. Why? Simply because our lungs still have breath.

Anyone fresh in this period will tell you the heartache is real and the loss unbearable at times. So it makes sense to associate grief with death of life. Physical loss is evidence of a physical presence no longer existing and we hate waking up to that reminder.

But what about when we lose a relationship? Someone we deeply loved, or a dear friend who seems more distant. What about when a job ends unexpectedly or someone rejects us without reason? When those doors close and that pain is felt, it also is a death of life – just not physical. And unfortunately, we are not afforded the same time to grieve, as one would have for bereavement. So we walk around at our jobs, at the grocery store, in church, at gatherings, etc. carrying the hurt with us.

We all know other people around us and even ourselves if we’re bold enough to admit, who are grieving millions of little griefs daily.

And I’m writing about grief because I think it deserves to be talked about. I can say personally in the past I’ve struggled with grief and loss, but most recently have learned to address and work through grief more quickly for my own mental health. Taking care of our minds truly does wonders for our physical health.

Recently I took a personal trip to a small cottage and began praying for God to help me recognize where I was “stuck”. I had noticed some things in my speech and behavior that were evident of being bitter and resentful, and I wasn’t okay with it. Being a writer, I began to journal. And I didn’t necessarily need to leave my home to do this, but the change of scenery was helpful.

I went through my life and memories chronologically as best as I could and began to see a pattern in relationships, in events surrounding certain memories and in my responses to them. And many times, I reacted irrationally or in unhealthy ways. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What it revealed was that I hadn’t worked through old hurts and therefore was hurting others as a result.

Newsflash: Hurting people hurt people.

Let that sink in for a second.

WOW! What an opportunity to give grace to each other.

Most commonly in counseling, five stages of grief are recognized, known as the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.

The first stage of grief is denial. We end up in shock at received news. Our minds cannot comprehend what we’ve been told, read or experienced, and we make a choice not to believe it. It doesn’t make the event less true. We just tend to not want to accept this new reality, so we live around it as best we can.

It’s the ostrich effect in FULL EFFECT.

Then, when there is no getting around it, we get angry and many times rush to bargaining. We get upset at the inability to have had a choice made for us, and now we have to live with the resulting consequences or circumstances and we are mad, raging and frustrated! And sadly, anger is a comfy chair.

This stage especially frustrates us because we have to admit we had no control over the situation. And I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but life is great at proving over and over again just how out of control we really are. We don’t like being reminded of that.

A clue to know if you are “stuck” in this area is to ask yourself how often you talk about said event, circumstance or situation. Are you seeking validation from others when you share your story? Do you ruminate over and over? Do you stay angry and feel justified doing so?

This is a healthy stage, especially because you’re no longer denying, but not where one should camp out. Walk through this, give yourself time to get upset and seek a counselor. I cannot stress enough the value of having an unbiased, neutral person who can assess your emotions from a distance.

Once anger is processed in a healthy way, we move into depression. That doesn’t sound right, but it is. In a way, we begin to accept the outcome and in this stage have to actually process the loss. Reality begins to set in. There is simply no way around it. And it will be painful in a new way, but in a way that leads to acceptance and freedom to move forward.

Getting to the point of acceptance takes time. It takes patience in ourselves and in others. When we’re hurting, our fuse tends to be a little shorter. We don’t walk around with badges on our shirts or signage of what we’re dealing with or walking through. It would be great to have porcupine quills that would allow us to show others when we’re approachable or not. Strangers have no idea what we’re facing or processing. Sometimes we even keep this from family members and those closest to us. And yet we operate out of hardened hearts that haven’t completely processed a moment – DAILY.

There are many reasons for “deaths” and each one has to be dealt with. Each time we die a little death, we need to process the timing, circumstances, people involved, situation, our emotions, responses, etc. There is so much to loss that we don’t think of our lives as “deaths” and yet they are. We just don’t have a memorial for each and every time.

Physical distance from people can create distance in relationship – it’s just normal to lose friends to proximity. And yet it still hurts and is still painful. When someone moves, they tend to move on. Choosing to stay connected to the past requires a choice and definitely more effort so the past can stay the present.

We may have differences of opinion on certain topics, and all of a sudden, we drop a friend or family member with whom we can’t seem to agree. We are a disposable society – something gets old or doesn’t excite us anymore, we drop it and buy/get new. And so our friends and family fall into the same areas.

We have little mini-computers in our palms daily and can connect to the world around us, yet lose touch with those closest to us. We are backwards in our approach to intimacy and community. We don’t like being vulnerable. We don’t like sharing because we don’t know whom to trust. And we continue to live without actually living.

Pain in grief is also described as suffering. And I can admit that I don’t want to admit that I suffered for a long time without realizing I had/have the power to let go and move on. It’s all within my reach and will. But it would require effort.

Kara Tippetts, a young mother of four, blogger of “Mundane Faithfulness” and breast cancer victim, died two years after her diagnosis of cancer. Most would question God’s goodness, she stated, because of her years of life (she was 38 when she passed in 2015) and her diagnosis. But in her own personal grief and processing of her own mortal life pre-death, she shared some wise words:

“Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live.”

Kara Tippetts, And it was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Goodbye

What if God allows things so we could turn to Him for solace and comfort? Because at the end of the day, God is somehow the One we turn to for answers, believer or not. We either blame Him or question Him, right?

One of our pastors, Bob Bauer, wisely said once,

“What if we keep praying away the one thing God is using to bring us closer to Him?”

After hearing that, it truly became a step of deeper faith for me. What if every time I’m uncomfortable, I ask God to remove the pain and hurt and He doesn’t? Does that make Him any less good? Or does it just make me the lukewarm Christian who wants the easy life and loves God when things are good, but can’t stand when things take me out of my comfort zone?

Another newsflash: He’s not a genie. He’s our Heavenly Father.

What if we took the time to process grief? What if we MADE TIME to process grief? Everyone I know says that their lives are busy. Too much to do, not enough time, yada yada yada. Busy-ness can be a distraction from dealing with reality. It actually can keep one locked into denial because they don’t have to face the painful loss. And why don’t we want to go there? Because it IS painful.

It requires admitting pain was experienced and in order to move forward, we have to accept circumstances we may not have had an opportunity to make a choice in. Perhaps someone else made the choice for us and we’re now living/operating in the fallout of that choice.

When I think of grief, I think of the sister word “lament”. To lament is to express the grief or sorrow. Biblically, we see this best in the Psalms.

Psalms are a great way to read about loss, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know, I can hear you, “Seriously, Grace? When I’m hurting, the last thing I want to do is read about other people going through hurt.”

I get it. Truly. I’ve been there too. Hear me out…

Each of the writers of Psalms have demonstrated the ability to relate to us in this area. I was taught to read this book of the Bible early in my life to assist in “pain management”, if you will. And the truth is that I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in them at times of hurt. I could identify and I would read about the emotions these writers experienced. I could validate their hurt and frustration. I could see them shaking their fists at God and questioning His all-sufficient sovereignty. And when I would take the time to read all the way through a Psalm, I learned they usually end in praise.

Wait, what?

Yes, dear one. Praise.

Each time grief and loss is dealt with, it results in acceptance, just as a believer in Christ recognizes the truth that we are indeed “out of control” and technically never had it in the first place. So we extend praise to the One who IS in control.

We accept that God has reasons for what He allows and why He doesn’t allow other things, and though it hurts like hell sometimes, we cannot change the outcome.

We realize human beings are selfish by nature and sometimes hurt other people.

We recognize our own ability to wound and inflict pain on others, and should the Lord prompt us to deal with our own failings, we need to extend our apologies to those we’ve hurt. The Bible gives an outline of how to do so.

Scripture instructs that whether we are the offender or the offended, the onus is on us to seek restoration in our relationships.

In Matthew 5:23 – 24, we are instructed: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift” . In the next chapter of Matthew, we are told: “If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14 – 15 Today’s NIV).

Jennifer Thomas, https://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2007/july/apologies-that-work.html

We, as believers, give grace and do not have to be doormats to pain, but can create healthy boundaries where we can forgive and love from a distance, thus still honoring our Lord and His commandment to love Him first and our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We can grieve and literally cry over events and not believe that we are weak in doing so. Cleansing ones’ soul due to pain and hurt is something we can only do this side of Heaven. There, God will dry our tears and we will never have to deal with sin again.

We can go to those we trust to pray with us, to share the stories that need to be told, and to help us mourn. Our friends carry burdens and these are some of those.

We also do not grieve earthly lives as the world does. See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Physical death takes us into the presence of God and if we’ve made Jesus our Lord, our future is secure. Our bodies will be changed to heavenly bodies and our sin will be eradicated. We are no longer separated by death/life. We get to LIVE ETERNALLY with Him and therefore rejoice when one we love dies. It makes us ache more for Home since we are foreigners here. There will be reunions of believers when we take our last breath here.

Healing is acceptance. Acceptance is healing. These are interchangeable.

And it’s mandatory to be able to function in healthy ways without being stuck in unhealthy grief patterns.

Scripture shares this story about Isaiah and Hezekiah:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 

2 Kings 20:1-5

When grieving, we have a Heavenly Father who is aware, still loves us, and gives us the ability and direction to go to Him with EVERY and ALL HURT.

He is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. He picks up our Humpty Dumpty selves and puts us back together like mosaic in the best way. Why? Because He is the Potter. We are the clay. And He gets to restore what was once broken with something that is made beautiful.

God will end all suffering, pain and eventually death. There will be a time when it will all end and we won’t have to deal with all of the weight of this anymore. Jesus already took onto Himself the pain of every hurt ever dished out, and God punished Him for what we are guilty of. This brings hope and forgiveness even to ourselves. The cross is our example of the lengths He would go to show us how valuable we are, even when we mess up. He is the ULTIMATE RESTORER and gets All Glory!

Heavenly Father, give us the ability to trust You when life hurts. Please allow us to say no to things that hinder our proper healing and time to grieve. We know You know what grief is like and you get the ultimate glory when you get to restore us. Give us the patience for ourselves and the grace for others daily, who struggle with things we know nothing about. May we love with Your love, give grace that can only come from You and share the love of Jesus no matter the rejection. We know You love us, and walk with us through every moment. May we remember to turn to You and seek Your face, knowing You will provide the right answers and peace during the trials. It is not up to us to fear, but to follow You. We love You, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

Here are some helpful resources for dealing with grief:

When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The God of All Comfort by Dee Brestin
And It was Beautiful by Kara Tippetts

https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/mental-health-resources/grief-and-loss-resources

How To Grieve Like a Christian

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Free Resource on Grief

Posted in Faith

Five years

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Credit: http://chrisaltrock.com/2011/08/prayer-from-psalm-39-ashamed/

It’s been five years since a very significant change occurred in my life.  On the night of September 18, 2008, I had an encounter with the North Ridgeville police department…and our Heavenly Father.  I was pulled over for the second time while driving under the influence of alcohol.  I blew a .012, which wasn’t nearly as bad as the first offense, but it was enough to get me SOBER rather quickly!  It was my second offense in less than two years.  I had a serious problem.

That night, sitting on the bench, waiting for the second officer to return so I could get my impound information, I made the conscious decision to stop smoking (which was something I felt empowered by), a decision to stop driving drunk, and a decision to live for Christ.

All I could do while looking at the walls was pray.  I would shake my head at my ability to get caught again.  I would tell God that I knew I screwed up but that He had to help me this time!  And I would pray that I would have words to tell Mom and Dad what I had done.  I was so remorseful.  Sadly, and now laughably, I remember telling the one officer how sorry I was for making him do all this paperwork at 1am in the morning.  He just smiled and said it was okay.  Really???  And I consciously remember asking rhetorically, “How could this happen again?  I thought I was past this”, only to have God respond in my spirit, “It’s ALL or nothing, Grace…all or nothing.”

That was all I needed to hear.

Prior to that day, I had been living a life that is not worthy of sharing (and since I’m forgiven, I’m not going to provide the details-that Grace is gone!).  But God didn’t care as much about where I had been, compared to where I was going.  He was telling me He forgave me, but I had to stop pushing Him away and going the other direction.  It was either align myself with Him or these things would continue.

I was so sick to my stomach.  I was ashamed.  My parents had raised me better and I was misrepresenting them.  They taught me God was forgiving and loving, but that we also had to deal with consequences of sin.  I knew better than to deal with life the way I had been.

That night, I said yes to God.  It wasn’t the first time, but it definitely had significant meaning.  After my breathalyzer reading was recorded, I was sent home with a court date and no car keys.  A friend picked me up and dropped me off, never to hang out again.  It appeared to be the death sentence of my social life.

I had to tell my parents the next day.  I didn’t know how.  I had to call off of work and think, and after sixteen hours of straight thinking, I was DONE thinking!  I was twenty-eight years old, and had no car to get to work. When I did tell my parents, disappointment reigned, and I was told I could move back home.  My stubbornness kept me from doing that, so I agreed to have my mom pick me up from work, take me to my apartment so I could code charts in the evening after work, and then she would pick me up from there to sleep at their house so she could take me to work the following day.  What a toll emotionally and physically it put on my parents, for seven full weeks!  I will never forget Mom’s sacrifice as we both trudged back and forth from Cleveland to Brecksville to North Olmsted and back.  Dad and my sister provided rides when they could.  It was so appreciated!

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Credit: http://www.the3dstudio.com/product_details.aspx?id_product=519790

I thank God for His intervention and that I finally listened to the prodding in my spirit.  I thank Him for His provision, and for getting me through the court dates, lack of license, lawyer fees, hotel expenses for my “dry-out” weekends, and impound costs.  I also thank Him for my loving family who helped me see my need for change, never stopped loving me and who prayed for me during my struggle to let go of the flesh.  And mostly, for my now-husband, Kevin, who was my best friend during my struggle.  He didn’t leave my side, but believed in me, and urged me to stay the course, even when neither he or I would know what that meant.  I had to make some serious lifestyle changes.

If you know someone who struggles with alcohol and isn’t able to say no, please listen to their cry.  I had gone through my divorce during my first DUI offense, and knew it was because I was numbing myself.  The second time I got caught, was just me not knowing how to say no to what allowed me to disconnect.  Both times I was caught, I was relieved.

I will be clear: I am not against drinking by any means.  I still have a social life, and a full one!  I love to be social, share a glass/bottle of wine in celebration, or meet for a few drinks after work to connect with someone. However, when alcohol determines your calendar and life choices, it becomes a problem.  My previous struggle has been given to God and it now isn’t an issue for me if I don’t have alcohol.  I can take it or leave it.  But for some people, that is not an option.  I realize it MAY be an issue if I let it, so I have to be careful. We all have a tendency to do something in excess, but when it starts costing you jobs, relationships and money, it is NOT worth it.

And friends, I am not judging any of you.  This is not an “I’m better than all of you” post by any means.  I just wanted to share my personal account because milestones are huge to those of us who overcome things.  This was a huge struggle for me to overcome given my reasons for starting drinking in the first place.  For a time, it defined me.  But now God defines me.

I guess you could say this is my public service announcement for drinking responsibly, putting others first and surrendering the parts of ourselves that prohibit us from having right relationships with God and others. Where some may think this was all just a conscious part of my being able to stop bad habits, I know in my heart, it truly is a gift of God to stop sin from taking over me again in that way.  True surrender means letting go and giving it to God.  And He definitely took it.  🙂