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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Never the SameMy journal from January, 2012 contains only two entries. The first is a black “X” across the entire page along with one sentence that reads, “Everything—life as we knew it—changed forever.” The second entry simply says, “I can’t write.”

In the days following my brother’s suicide, grief paralyzed me in body and soul. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of pain in life: The pain of being outside God’s will, and the pain of being inside God’s will. Having experienced both, I’ve always said I’d take the latter any day. But after Jay took his life, I was tempted to rethink my preferences.

Someone once said, “Grief is life’s greatest teacher.” I’m not far enough into the journey to pass judgment. When a wound isgaping wide, you don’t care about learning anything. Grief burns a hole through the center of your chest and, frankly, most mourners just want to pick a different teacher.

IMG_4250My friend, Micki Ann, understands suffering because she has suffered. A lot. She says, “Suffering is a seed we’re given to steward.” Several months after Jay’s death, Micki Ann gave me a handful of seeds. Even though there were days when I wanted to throw them back at her, I couldn’t deny the fact that her wisdom invited intrigue to inhabit my despair.

In an effort to prove my friend’s theory, I searched the scriptures. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apostle Paul had a real knack for stewarding his suffering. Stonings? Shipwrecks? Paul went through the wringer. That’s what makes him so credible. Given his ordeals, on many nights, Paul’s words stopped my self-pity in its tracks. “Our light and momentary IMG_4254troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).

IMG_4264I believe Paul. I really do. It’s just that in the face of our present pain, eternal glory can seem so very far away. When I glance up from my computer and see the photos of Jay posted above it, glory’s gates couldn’t feel any farther away. On days like this, grief outweighs glory—hands down.

When I used to write essays and articles, I would conclude my thoughts with some neat and tidy resolution. But, grief isn’t neat, or tidy. It’s sloppy and snotty. Inconsolable and distressing. There is no closure, especially with death by suicide. Instead, there are only endless questions that will never be answered.

Grief makes a writer ramble, but I should at least be woman enough to confess what I can’t gloss over: I have no prescription for this pain. Truth be told, if the J-shaped hole in my heart could be filled with a prescription, I’d be the first person in line for that pill. I’m not trying to sound dramatic, just honest.

IMG_4261The temptation to shrink back from my sorrow and suffering is immense. But, there’s no evidence that grief’s purpose is to make us give up. Paul never backed off from God’s mission. Actually, the opposite is true. It was Paul’s pain that propelled God’s purpose, and he knew it. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 NIV, emphasis added).

By faith, Paul pressed into his pain and in doing so, his pain shaped his purpose; giving it color and contrast and depth. And so, that’s all I know to do.

IMG_1095I press into my pain as I ponder God’s Word. I press into my pain as I grasp for Micki Ann’s seeds. I press into my pain as I pray that somehow, my lament will offer hope to yours. And, somewhere amidst all this pain and pressing, a tiny bud bursts through the dirt: What if suffering isn’t supposed to be a hazard, but a hallmark? What if suffering isn’t supposed to be avoided, but embraced? What if, instead of shrinking back, I seized my suffering? And, what if I let God till this unplowed ground, hoping against all hope, that what sprouts forth will become “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”? (Isaiah 61:3b NIV)

God only knows what the seed of suffering might become. And, although there are still days I want to throw my seeds back, I have a sense that if I press into this pain hard enough, redemption will tip the scales in glory’s favor.

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“Excuse me, Miss. I’m curious about what you’re doing there.” The old man motioned toward the sand as he spoke.

“Is this something personal, or artistic?”

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I didn’t realize anyone had been watching me carve the sand with my toes—camera in hand—so I was somewhat startled by his question.

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“Both,” I suppose.

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“I lost my little brother two years ago today so that makes it personal. And, it’s artistic because I created a blog in his memory. When I leave here, I’ll post these photographs and try to write about my experience.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” His eyes were kind as he respectfully tipped his worn denim hat toward me. I couldn’t help but notice his thin frame and knobby knees.

“Thank you.” I responded, looking into the old man’s eyes.

“How did he die?”

Ah, now there’s a question that is always awkward; kind of like the old man himself.

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“He killed himself.”

My answer startled both of us. Having been asked that question numerous times over the last two years, I’ve always used the phrase, “Jay took his life,” when responding. Somehow saying it that way felt less…intense. It also seemed to soften the blow and minimize the discomfort for the person who asked and for me. That question never gets any easier to answer. While I jump at the chance to talk about my loss as most grieving people do, the suicide factor always pierces my heart clean through.

“I’m so sorry.”

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The old man’s sincerity was rather refreshing.

“Thank you for wanting to know.” I said.  “Most people don’t, or at least they won’t risk asking.”

“Well, it’s beautiful what you’re doing there…for your brother,” he said. “Really beautiful.”

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“This is the best part,” I explained. “Watch what happens next.”

We watched as the tide came in, bringing the magenta-colored daisies with it.

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A few minutes later, a woman who was walking along the shoreline began plucking up each one of the daises from the sand and surf.

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Soon she cradled the entire bouquet.

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I could tell the man was concerned about her picking up the very same flowers I had so tearfully released into the sea.

“It’s alright,” I said, responding to his worry before he had the chance to admit it.

“Every time I release flowers in Jay’s memory, I sit back and watch them for a while. Eventually, the tide brings them back and someone comes by to gather them up with wonder, as if the ocean has handed them a miracle. The last time I did it, a little blonde girl ran along the sand and presented her mother with an ocean-bouquet. I watched as she pointed to the flowers and then out to the waves, trying to explain to her mother where the flowers came from.”

“As I release the flowers, I guess I release my brother all over again. Each petal represents a memory that I treasure. And somehow, God gives Jay back to me. God allows Jay’s memory to be a thing of beauty for someone else who never even knew him.”

“Jay’s life still brings joy, even through his death.”

We sat there for about fifteen minutes talking about life and loss and God before the old man finally stood up, dusted the sand off his cargo shorts, and reached out to shake my hand.

“Bless you,” I said, as he turned and walked away.

Just before I gathered up my things to vacate my sacred spot, a single magenta daisy caught my eye.

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I coddled it gently, as if I was cupping Jay’s face right there in my hands.

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You see, that’s the funny thing about grief. The more you let go, the more God gives you back. I know that’s not some new earth-shattering lesson or anything. It’s been a part of God’s economy from the get-go. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But the difference is that now, I know this truth.

I know it because I’ve lived it.

I am living it.

Sometimes you just have to live something out for yourself, before it becomes really real, you know?

As a fellow survivor so poignantly put it,

“Once I accepted he was gone…”

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“I realized he never really left.”

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…Like I said, I’m pushing one seed into the dirt each day. Counting down to Christmas. Counting up my blessings. Counting on His hope.

Day 11:  I dig into the dirt with my fingernails and drop the seed into the darkness. 

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But the truth is, for as noble as all this advent planting may seem, I want to crawl into the hole alongside that tiny seed and pull the dirt up over the both of us.

Hole hiding is one of grief’s greatest temptations. The darkness beckons. Pity and woe are masterful enticers. They promise to stay, to bind and hold me there alongside them. They are in it for the long haul. Tenacity at its finest.

But, I can’t go there. I cannot crawl into that hole and I cannot hide because I know that today, somebody else’s sister will hear suicide screaming into the other end of the line.

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And someone else will have a coroner and a casket come right there in the midst of their Christmas.

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I cannot hide because just last week I stood among a group of “survivors”.

I cannot hide because they are not hiding and tragedy tied us all together, right there in the middle of the courtyard.

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“This is our daughter,” a woman sobbed, pointing to a picture on the wall behind her. “She killed herself three months ago.”

My heart plummeted onto the cement and splattered out all over. I know her pain. I know how hard the grief bites in month three. And I know that for as much as she is hurting, she hasn’t even felt the worst of it…yet.

“My son went for a ride on his motorcycle. He was run over by a drunk driver.”

Her words are met by another mother’s knowing nod. Before the night is over, she too will stand and tell us that her child was run down while riding a bicycle and that the driver fled the scene.

“My son was shot and killed on the interstate.”

I reach for another tissue when what I really need is a towel.

The stories continue.

“My brother was murdered by his wife.”

“The pieces of my daughter’s body haven’t been found yet. It’s been three years.”

“This is my son,” another woman says, clutching a photograph. He completed suicide. He was our only child.”

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That’s it! I can’t take it! I want to bolt out into the parking lot, climb into the car, and wail my guts out. So does everyone else.

But we all stay right there, strangely riveted by the sacredness of the moment.

Our snot and sobs crescendo into the night sky, joining in the chorus of a million others and I wonder how we can even stand. 

But here we are.

Standing.

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We are all still standing.

So, I must push the dirt into the hold and cover up the seed, knowing that for as much as I want to stay buried…

I can’t.

I cannot stay buried…

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Because He didn’t.

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I cannot hide…

Because people are bleeding out all over…

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And they must know that all this pain and heartache is covered by the blood of the One who bled out for us all.

By His Wounds

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 5:13-14).

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Way Down Deep

Tomorrow's Hope

 

I’ve been pushing seeds down into the dirt since December 1st. Counting down the days to the coming of the Christ-child…counting up my blessings.

Today’s seed goes 730 days down deep…

…black dirt caked thick under my fingernails. I cover up the seed with dirt, but I can’t cover up my heart; aching and raw. Once again, my tears water this tiny seed, believing beyond all belief–beyond the missing, beyond the grief, beyond the questions–that what will sprout forth from this death will be a tree of life, a mighty oak of hope, “a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

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Click below

The Lens of Redemption; When Healing DOESN’T Happen” 

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You’d never know it if you saw us all there on that stretch of the shore.

No. You’d never know…

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That her niece was drowned in a pool.

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…and that their husbands just couldn’t go on.

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That my brother ended his anguish…

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Or that their only son was slain.

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No, you’d never know any of this if you saw us there;

In the warmth of the sand and the sun.

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You’d only know that we had made a pilgrimage…

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We’d come with a purpose.

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To let go of her niece.

And my brother.

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To let go of their husbands.

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And their only son.

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And we’d never know it…never comprehend grief’s great mystery.

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That only when we let go of their lives…

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And let the sea swallow all of our pain…

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Would their love be right there…waiting.

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For in our hearts they will always remain.

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“What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage…

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.”

Psalm 84:5-6

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My journal from January, 2012 contains only two entries. The first is a black “X” across the entire page along with one sentence that reads, “Everything—life as we knew it—changed forever.” The second entry simply says, “I can’t write.”

IMG_0465

In the days following my brother’s suicide, grief paralyzed me in body and soul. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of pain in life: The pain of being outside God’s will, and the pain of being inside God’s will. Having experienced both, I’ve always said I’d take the latter any day. But after Jay took his life, I was tempted to rethink my preferences.

IMG_1532

Someone once said, “Grief is life’s greatest teacher.” I’m not far enough into the journey to pass judgment. When a wound is gaping wide, you don’t care about learning anything. Grief burns a hole through the center of your chest and, frankly, most mourners just want to pick a different teacher.

IMG_1530

My friend, Micki Ann, understands suffering because she has suffered. She says, “Suffering is a seed we are given to steward.” Several months after Jay’s death, Micki Ann gave me a handful of seeds. Even though there were days when I wanted to throw them back at her, I couldn’t deny the fact that her wisdom invited intrigue to inhabit my despair.

IMG_1538

In an effort to prove my friend’s theory, I searched the scriptures.

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It didn’t take long to realize that the Apostle Paul had a real knack for stewarding his suffering. Stonings? Shipwrecks? Paul went through the wringer. That’s what makes him so credible. Given his ordeals, on many nights, Paul’s words stopped my self-pity in its tracks. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).

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I believe Paul. I really do.

It’s just that in the face of our present pain, eternal glory can seem so very far away.

When I glance up from my computer and see the photos of Jay posted above it, glory’s gates couldn’t feel any farther away.

On days like this, grief outweighs glory—hands down.

IMG_1512

When I used to write essays, articles, or blog posts, I would conclude my thoughts with some neat and tidy resolution.

But, grief isn’t neat, or tidy.

It’s sloppy and snotty. Inconsolable and distressing.

There is no closure, especially with death by suicide. Instead, there are only endless questions that will never be answered.

IMG_1523

Grief makes a writer ramble, but I should at least be woman enough to confess what I can’t gloss over…

I have no prescription for this pain.

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Truth be told, if the J-shaped hole in my heart could be filled with a prescription, I’d be the first person in line for that pill.

I’m not trying to sound dramatic, just honest.

IMG_1529

The temptation to shrink back from my sorrow and suffering is immense. But, there’s no evidence that grief’s purpose is to make us give up.

Paul never backed off from God’s mission. Actually, the opposite is true. It was Paul’s pain that propelled God’s purpose, and he knew it. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 NIV, emphasis added).

IMG_2702

By faith, Paul pressed into his pain and in doing so, his pain shaped his purpose; giving it color and contrast and depth.

And so…

That’s all I know to do.

I press into my pain as I ponder God’s Word.

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I press into my pain as I grasp for Micki Ann’s seeds.

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I press into my pain as I pray that somehow, my lament will offer hope to yours.

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And, somewhere amidst all this pain and pressing…

A tiny bud bursts through the dirt.

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What if suffering isn’t supposed to be a hazard, but a hallmark?

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What if suffering isn’t supposed to be avoided, but embraced?

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What if, instead of shrinking back, I seized my suffering?

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And, what if I let God till this unplowed ground, hoping against all hope, that what sprouts forth will become “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”? (Isaiah 61:3b NIV)

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God only knows what the seeds of suffering might become.

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And, although there are still days I want to throw my seeds back, I have a sense that if I press into this pain hard enough…

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Redemption will tip the scales in glory’s favor.

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