When Grief Feels a Little Like Being Lost

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

The first time I felt literally lost was on a red dirt road in the middle of Arizona with my husband and two young children. If I could choose two people to be with in an emergency, my husband would be one of them. That combined with knowing the need not to alarm our children are the only things that kept me from panic. I immediately thought about the cooler of ice we had that would provide us water should we be stranded in the desert over night. Mom thinking. 

A few years ago my husband and I went hiking with some extended family. To this day the men won’t acknowledge we were lost but when you ask other hikers for directions you’re lost. It was frustrating. The map was useless as were our “smart” phones that were out of signal range in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail, such as it was, wasn’t marked or at the least, not marked clearly. The moderate 2-hour planned hike turned into a frustrating 3 hour search of the trail we had apparently lost.

Lost is not a good feeling. I get impatient with others. I shut down except to utter a few sharp words. 

The kind of lost I feel today is worse. I know where I am. I am not in danger of the elements. My phone has a signal. I know the landscape, the streets, the faces. I just don’t know where I’m going. I am adrift, caught in the in-between. This is the place where emotions can take you under. And they are rising up in my eyes day after day.

It would be understandable if there is no faith to tether your fears to. But what is said of one who claims a faith in a God who cares? Yes, I play that through my mind. Do I think God to be a liar? His word says he cares for me – all of me. I know the counsel that friends and scripture give. I know the songs but this lingering feeling of being without purpose and aim haunts me like looming shadows. 

I wrote those words in my journal last summer. That’s when the emotions of grief began to hit hard again.

I was in my 40’s before I realized grief could be brought on by more than death. Our life had taken an unexpected turn that had us moving from the state I’d lived in for 30 years and plopped us into a ministry that left me wondering how I would fit.

Since then, grief has often been my unwelcome companion.

There was leaving our son a long two day drive away with our next move. My father-in-law’s death. Family concerns and heart break. Then mama’s obvious memory lapses that eventually confirmed dementia. The following succession of deaths of a dear uncle, my mother-in-law and eventually mama.

It’s been a long 12 years and one that has found grief waiting at every turn.

This time it comes with the anticipation of retirement. Another surprise. Not retirement but the grief I didn’t know it would bring.

For months I was trapped with the thoughts of everything I would lose. I began to mourn the loss of place (this is home), position, the known for unknown but mostly I sensed the loss of purpose.

The tears came and I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss. The kind of loss you feel when you don’t know where you are. Like being on a dirt road with no signs in the middle of Arizona.

I journaled. I made a list of things I will miss about this place. I daydream about furnishing our retirement home and being 20 minutes away from our daughter and granddaughter. But I still feel an ache in my heart. I still wake in the middle of the night feeling a little lost.

Mostly I’m holding on to these words written by another familiar with grief:

“God was faithful before; God will be faithful now. 

We weep for that which we have that is so good. We don’t diminish how desperately we will miss it. We let ourselves feel the ache because grief is good and necessary. And mixed in with the grief is gratitude for the undeserved goodness to have the gift of this life, this place.” Gina Butz, SheLoves

Let me feel my grief and cry my tears. It’s okay, I’m okay. God was faithful before and He will be faithful now.

Tell Me a Love Story

We sat on either side of our granddaughter, her rapt attention focused on the screen in the theater. We were watching the newest Cinderella and she was captured by the story she knows so well. 

Our children liked The Princess Bride. It held a different kind of charm but its characters were endearing. There was a bit more in questioning in this tale and more humor but they are among our family’s favorite love stories.

A friend of mine has one of those love stories. She was a history teacher in Georgia, USA leading her class on a tour in France. She took a fall and needed a doctor. She and the doctor communicated after she returned to the states and within a couple of years she moved to France and married him.

Hers is the most romantic story of people I know. It’s got the “made for movie” ingredients.

Sadly, after two children and twenty years of marriage it unraveled until it came completely apart.

I know other love stories of a different kind. They are stories of a Savior who loves us when we can’t even love ourselves.

We work and move among men living in a residential rehabilitation program.  It’s a free program run by an organization that would cause many to think it’s a homeless shelter. There are no private rooms and six showers to be shared by 100 men. There are rules. They live with curfews and restrictions, a dress code and requirements to see a counselor, attend meetings and participate in work therapy. 

It doesn’t sound much like love but it is a place where love is offered and sometimes love is found.

We know this because we see the change. We see it when they start to love themselves, when they recognize grace and when they accept that God loves them no matter what.

It’s a lot to believe for all of us.

This is the real love story. Not a sappy, happy all the time imitation of love but real love that hurts and resists but never gives up.

We are learning together, these men who share little in common with me but inside we are so much the same.

We’ve been hurt by what we thought was love. We’ve discovered love has more fakes than Rolex and we’ve been duped.  Duped by parents and boyfriends and spouses and friends.

We’ve bought the movie version and every shade of gray offered and found them empty and ourselves searching for more.

Eventually, we find the only love that matters is the kind described in 1 Corinthians 13  “Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what.”

If genuine love can be found in a facility for addicts, alcoholics and those who’ve lost their way in life, if this love that’s born from compassion can be shown in simple acts of kindness and hospitality then maybe we can know love. Maybe we can understand it’s not about feelings but actions. That honest love wants nothing in return only to be accepted and shared.

This is my love story.

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”1 John 4:7-10 Message

It’s Yours Not Mine

After nights of waking at 3 AM, of going out to the couch so i won’t wake him, of laying there sleepless with the usual trick of reading to lull me back to sleep, with even that failing me, you’d think I’d learn. 

You’d think I’d learn that the thoughts that wake me and occupy my mind, you’d think I’d learn those concerns are yours not mine.

The employee issues at work, the fatal overdose that was so unexpected of one with much promise, the grief that has become a silent companion, these are your cares, your concerns your problems, not mine.

But I will take them from you. Again. And again. I will hold them tight-fisted and I will lose sleep and depression will attempt to return because I’ve got this God. Life needs another flesh and blood life to take charge and step up and do the hard things. I mean, where are you but in the shadows of our prayers? 

I know the words about giving our cares to you. But tell me, how, exactly, does that work again? Because I still see a world that is filled with hate and greed and threatening to implode. I see addiction and disease taking our young and weak. And I’m one of the weak. I am so weak.

I see death and lies and rude people who don’t even know how to say excuse me. I just don’t see you. And I need to see you, right here. Because I believe you are. 

I wonder if giving all of this stuff to you is seeing you? I meant it when I said I’m not sure how that works because I’ve been holding your stuff for a really long time. We’re in this together right? I want to help and it’s hard to realize you don’t need my help. The lines get blurry between that whole faith and works thing because I’ve got the works down pretty good.

I like the notion of your will not mine. but honestly, when do I really let it be your will?

Step One: admit that you are powerless to do the right thing and that your life is unmanageable. 

I’m not an alcoholic. Not an addict. But I’m drunk on caring for things that are out of my control. I’m enticed by control, my drug of choice. All the things in neat little rows working as they should. Life, as I would have it. 

Instead of the familiar verses about casting my cares on the Lord because he cares for me, I find my comfort in the first steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, principles built on the bible, for wayward souls like me.

5 Good Things

1. sons
Our second child was a boy. It’s nearly incomprehensible how much joy both of our children bring. I delight in the differences between daughters and sons. We have been through challenging times with this boy. Perhaps that is what makes the joy so full.

2. breakfast
I’ve always been a breakfast person even when it meant a carton of chocolate milk picked up at the convenience store. Most of my life it’s been little more than cereal and milk. The past few years it’s become a more intentional menu. After visiting Israel I came home eating yogurt most days for breakfast. Greek yogurt, nuts, honey and hot tea, preferably Tazo Organic Chai…..yum!

3. community worship
I’m lousy at personal worship. I’m impatient and self-conscious and all of that. But coming together with others and seeing their expressions is where I find a deeper appreciation.

4. rhythm
I like complicated beats. The kind that aren’t always expected. A syncopated rhythm or at least one with with hesitation. It draws me in. Makes me notice. But the subtle rhythms of life are the ones that trip me up. I don’t know what takes me so long to notice them and make the connections they are drawing in my life.

5. old things
An old manual typewriter sits not far from where I sit now. It doesn’t work well. You can’t get a piece of paper in it because the paper wheel doesn’t grab properly. But I like seeing it. The record player across the room isn’t as obvious. It plays vinyl but it’s not old. It’s made to look like a replica and has a few modern hookups. I learned to type on a manual but one perhaps not this old. I asked for a record player for my 15 birthday and had one until getting the new things called c.d. players in the 80’s. Today even the younger ones are turning back to what is old. They wear wireless headphones while listening to needles glide across vinyl records. Amazing.

The best old things are friends.

Raise Your Voice

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

It was the early 70’s when my mom became a whistleblower. In her position as bookkeeper, she saw some things that she considered questionable. After a period of close inspection, she discovered her boss was complicit in the mishandling of funds. She took her complaint to the regional office.  Her boss was reassigned in another state. She lost her job. 

Years later when I was in a similar situation I went to my mom for counsel. Leave it alone, she said. Silence.

My husband has named my side of the family the Loud Family. Yes, our volume often exceeds acceptable levels but we aren’t just loud with volume. 

We are a family of women who, at times to our detriment, speak up and speak out.

There was another time when the outcome of my aunt raising her voice changed the course of events for the better.

It was early November, with an expected 6 weeks to go before giving birth to our first child, who was due at the end of December. My aunt took one look at my swollen belly and said, “You’re not going to make it to December.”  

I shared that information with my doctor. Because we gave action to our voices I was prepared for the November 18th arrival of a full term, healthy girl. 

Raising our voices seems to be the default mode in women in my family. We’ve raised them in the pulpit and the carpool. But that hasn’t been the history of women in general.

Join me on the Red Couch at SheLoves Magazine to read the rest and raise your voice in comment section. Thank you!

The Perfect Side of Boring

Yesterday was the reason people live in South Florida. The skies were a cloudless blue. Humidity was low and the temperature never got above a pleasant 80*. It was perfect. It’s January and this is our winter. 

My freshman English teacher assigned us to write how we envisioned the world. I don’t remember the words I wrote only her comments written in red on the top of my paper. I wrote my vision of a perfect world and she wrote “how boring” that would be.

She didn’t know my parents had divorced earlier that year and that my dad took my younger brother and moved to another state. She didn’t know mom and I also moved and were living far from family. She didn’t know my perfect world had been turned upside down.

How could there be a problem with perfect? If it were boring it wouldn’t be perfect. How did my teacher not get that?

In the years since I’ve learned a lot about perfection and perspective. I know that most of our days are average and ordinary. They are doing the mundane things that must be done. We’re buying groceries and preparing meals. We’re doing laundry and washing dishes, sitting in meetings and standing in lines. We’re fighting traffic in our daily commute while trying to remember everything on our to-do list for the day.

If we’re honest, on the days nothing breaks down they are perfect. And perhaps, some would say, boring. 

So what is perfect? Is it blue skies and 80* in winter? 

If I could, I’d live somewhere else July – September. The humidity is stifling and temperatures rarely get below 77. Heat + humidity = feels like in the 90’s. Every day, month after muggy month.

But we stay because we love palm trees and the close proximity to the ocean. We know the promise of winter. The same reasons some stay through snowy winters. They know the promise of summer.

Perfect is personal. That’s what my teacher didn’t understand.

When my parents divorced I still went to school, mom and I still went to church. We did all the same things but it wasn’t the same. What was ordinary before now looked perfect. Obviously it wasn’t for my parents but it was for my 13 year old self.

It would seem the route to perfection is through hard times. Through times that aren’t comfortable. The prettiest roses I’ve seen grow in climates with cold, snowy winters. 

The weather is simply an analogy for how it is in life. It helps me see that a day of doing all the things can be perfect, if not spectacular. 

Living in the Now

Our daughter got a new car recently. It’s a Nissan Rogue. I’ve never noticed that particular car but now I see them all over. That’s how it happens. They’ve been there all along but once it’s pointed out we notice.

That’s how it is with being present. Have you noticed the talk about living in the moment, being present? I hear it on the morning news shows, see the articles online and come face to face with the advise from a friend who works as a counselor. 

The problem is, I’m a literal person and over thinker. That can be a tough combination. It provokes questions like, how long do we live in the now? Now asks what do I want to make for dinner which leads to thinking about later and that isn’t the now. See what I mean?

Now has me telling you I’m watching college football and forgetting about the recent holidays. Yes, I exhaust myself with this over thinking!

I understand the value of this moment. I get the importance of not living in the past or the future. But one will always lead into the other. That’s what time does. 

Time has found us living in the narrow spaces of in between then and tomorrow. We are packing up our life, or so it seems. For the first time in over 20 years we know we’ll be moving and we know where and when. When I’m packing things in boxes I’m definitely living in the now. But my thoughts quickly turn to where we might put this in the new house.

Now finds me unsettled and anxious at times. Now doesn’t offer the answers I want. But now is where I name the 5 good things. It’s where I say the prayers and remind myself to pick up the dry cleaning.

Now is when I make supper for the two of us and when I lose myself in a book.

Now isn’t scary. It’s obvious and simple. It’s routine and predictable. Now is comfortable which makes me wonder why I squirm so much in trying to figure out the future. 

The present slips quickly into the next moment and that’s the temptation that lures me. It promises control that creates expectations and both come tumbling down like a house of cards. 

So I’m working on training my focus to what’s in front of me. It’s not easy. I have years of second guessing myself and believing I can control life. I’m not sure how this living in the now is suppose to work but I’m willing to try. It starts with breathing in, ‘Yah’, and out ‘weh’….breathing in and out the name of God.

Are You Ready? (& my one word)

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” ― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I feel I should give you fair warning. We’re going through a lot of lasts these days as we ready ourselves for retirement. It finds me with rich memories that dampen my eyes and new questions that can’t be answered – yet. At times, it feels like I’m trying to keep my balance while on a rocking boat. I love the water but those waves remind you to steady your balance and that sometimes you need to let the waves carry you.

I’m giving you warning because I feel as if I’m repeating myself and talking too much about this part of our life. I don’t want to be that person but it’s taking up a lot of mental space these days. I’m trying to get a jump on the packing well in advance so we can be ready. So far, that’s the easy part. I’m also trying to focus more on being emotionally ready and that’s where it gets tricky.

We had a wonderful time over the holidays with family being in and out and allowing us to pivot our attention on being together. There is always a lot of laughter, too much food and satisfied exhaustion from staying on the go. 

The decorations have been packed away and our house looks bare in comparison to its recent festive glow. The linens have been washed from our full house. The fridge still holds some leftovers daring me to do some creative cooking. 

Getting ready for the next thing always starts with some cleaning up, some putting away, and some letting go.

I need toclean up my habits which perennially include drink more water, move more, and (this year) eat less. 

I need to put away my attitude…the one that is full of sass and let go of my expectations of others. 

I also want to remember to embrace what is before me. So far, I have a clear view of what is behind and only vague uncertainties about what is ahead. I can let it come or I can choose to welcome new possibilities. Embrace is the word that called out to me as a gentle guide for this season. It’s the posture I want to guide me to a new readiness. Arms wide open.

Christmas at My Age

In recent years many of my doctors have started conversations with these words: “At your age….” At your age I want you to take a baby aspirin (even though I have no family history of heart issues)At your age your teeth start to shift. At your age your eyes, your skin, your sleep…..

There is one childhood Christmas that sticks in my mind. It’s the year I asked Santa for an Easy-bake Oven.  I was 8 or 9 and the anticipation filled me with such excitement that I woke up in the middle of the night to peek into our living room to see if Santa had come. 

There is another year where I remember hearing the reports of where Santa and his sleigh were at that moment. I was a year or two younger and don’t remember the desired present but it was the excitement and anticipation of the event.

At my age, I’ve seen a lot of Christmases. Not all were happy or filled with excitement. We shift from the fables and presents and getting and think more about preparing and giving. We try to figure out ways to balance all the things without losing the reason we celebrate.

At my age I want the kind of Christmases where I still experience the wonder of the season. I want to be filled with the glory the angels sang about and know the joy of giving. 

At my age I want to hold dearly in my heart the memories of those we’ve lost while I hold the joy of their eternal peace and wholeness. 

I want to deck the halls and smile at the twinkling lights, to line our shelves with the Santa’s collected over the years, to celebrate the remnants of our past and the hope of our future.

At my age, I want to remember that Christ is being born every day, over and over in our life when we cling to his hope and peace and share his joy and love. 

Merry Christmas

Where Is This Prince of Peace?

Our second Advent focuses on peace. Hope was an easier one to write about. Hope is what we cling to and give. It’s our message, our mission statement. But I’m wrestling with getting a grip on peace.

It sounds so simple and makes for a nice song. But what do we tell those in our care about peace? What do we tell people whose lives have been marred by drama and conflict? What do we tell our own children who practice active shooter drills in school? Peace isn’t the same as quiet or calm. It’s not merely the absence of war or conflict. Though that often seems to be our main objective.

How do we put in concrete terms and practice something that seems as hard to grasp as air?

If only it were as simple as saying Step 1 or accepting Jesus as Savior. It is and it isn’t. 

Saying, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable” does bring a measure of peace as does accepting Jesus as our higher power, our Savior, our redeemer. But then ….us. Our messy lives are still here. Old patterns lurk about and the habits of gossip, lying, and negativity are as destructive as any chemical. None of them harbor peace.

The children of Israel were hungry for peace. They’d spent years as captive slaves, then wandered in the desert and even in their homeland there was no assurance of peace. Where was the promise of the Messiah, the one Isaiah called the Prince of Peace?

When this promised king was born the heavens lit up with an angelic choir. A star brighter than any other guided the way for curious scholars. But even then fear, not peace, ruled. King Herod believed this prophecy of a new King and ordered all boys under age two to be killed. Violence not peace ruled the day.

Dissension between people groups continued. While Jesus calmed the waters by saying “peace be still” he riled the religious leaders by healing on the sabbath and eating with thieves. What kind of peace is this?

I was in high school during the Viet Nam war. I remember watching the beginnings of the Gulf War on television. We all can cite exactly where we were when the planes flew into the twin towers. 

Social media has only ramped up the cycle of friction as people go to war with words. Our own president can’t seem to find restraint. There is no calm, no quiet. There is no peace.

This has been the verse that restores my soul when the world is too loud. It can seem too abstract at times as I’d prefer peace to be something we can feel externally, not just within. 

But it turns out that, much like hope, peace is how we choose to live. 

Be aware that a time is coming when you will be scattered like seeds. You will return to your own way, and I will be left alone. But I will not be alone, because the Father will be with Me. I have told you these things so that you will be whole and at peace. In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.” John 16:32-33 VOICE

Where is this Prince of Peace?