Grief

Gentleness and Patience in the Midst of Pain

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

While looking through my ever exciting and thrilling Facebook page a few months ago, I saw a blog post a friend of mine shared.  The title caught my eye.  It read, “Let’s be gentle with each other.  Let’s read each other’s signs.”  After reading the title I thought it sounded interesting so I clicked it.  Little did I know how powerful the story I was about to read would be.  Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How different would my friends and family be with me if my pain (this includes all types of pain) didn’t scare them?”  I have often wondered this in my life.  I have wondered how much more care I might receive if the people trying to care for me weren’t so wrapped up in how my pain/problem(s)/fear(s) were impacting them.

This post I am about to share with you is written by Melody Ross.  She shares with us her story.  It’s a story about personal pain, being cared for by others, being judged, and most of all surviving.  If you take the time to read it I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it and how it impacted you.

Here it is…

By MELODY ROSS

After a dear friend telling me about a hurtful experience she’d had this week. I began thinking again about a story I have told a few times…. a story that my children will tell to their children, and maybe even beyond that… because it was such a learning experience in our family, maybe even a turning point.

It’s a story that I think about often because we were the main characters in it 3 or 4 years ago, and even though it was something that lasted less than 15 minutes it changed all of us and now I see others differently, especially when it seems that they might be main characters in the same story…or one a lot like it. I used to be too embarrassed to tell this story… but I am not anymore. This is a human story that everyone needs to hear, I truly believe this. I hope you will stay with it, it’s kinda long.

As we move along… I want you to think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and and just be kind.

2 three signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

I need to start this story by giving you a little bit of background. You see, my husband had an accident in 2004 that injured the frontal lobe of his brain. It has taken 6 years to get him back, but in the middle there, between 2004 and now, lots and lots of stuff happened. He was essentially out of it, but not just that, he changed to someone else, we lost him.

His personality changed completely, he could not work, he was angry and depressed and could not cope with human beings.  He did not feel love or affection, really he only felt anger, rage, and he was suicidal most of the time. He did not remember a lot of things. He could not take care of our family or even himself, really (and I want to mention again that through lots of miracles, he is 100% recovered now…we are so thankful….he is even BETTER than he was before his accident).

But during that time he would have these confusing and amazing glitches of time when he would be totally normal. It was bittersweet. They would last for an hour sometimes, and sometimes for days or even weeks then he would sink back down into that horrible place. When he was sick, I protected him fiercely. I didn’t want anyone to see him like that. I had faith that someday he would recover but man oh man it was lonely. I wished every single day that I could just walk around with a sign like this…

1 signs husband Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

because on the outside I looked like I had EVERYTHING GOING FOR ME I looked like I might just have a perfect life but I was hiding a very painful secret…

Well, a lot of other things happened too. You can imagine what might happen over the years while we have a 7 acre farm, a pretty big international business that we own with lots of employees, a life that  HE managed before his accident, while he just let me do the fun and creative stuff. Now we had lots of medical bills, lots of sorrow and lots of distractions, we also had LOTS of kids — and no one competent managing the business.

Well, after a few years, I couldn’t hold it all together. Our business was suffering for all of the reasons listed above and a few more reasons on top of that and we discovered that we were really SINKING. Well, one day when he was partly lucid…he was THERE…he was coherent — I told him the condition of our life.

He kind of panicked and he went straight to work figuring out what he could do. It was insanely heartbreaking when he would “wake up” after weeks or months and I had to tell him how much things were deteriorating financially, etc. It was very hard. But when he could, he did what he could before his mental illness sucked him back into the prison it kept him in most of the time.

He called a sign place and had a huge sign brought out to our house…the kind that you can put letters on, and it was electric and lit up. He put it by the road in one of our horse fields. Then he drove our Suburban, both of our trucks, my classic Thunderbird that he got me for my birthday a few years earlier, our tractor, all of our tractor implements, the boat that I worked 10 years to get for him (and that caused his brain injury, incidentally), and he lined everything up along the fence and he put a price tag on every single thing. Then, he put the letters on that big huge sign and plugged it in.

You have to understand that we had worked for MANY years for those things. We started a business in our twenties and we sacrificed everything we had for all of those years to make it work. We owned almost all of it outright, but, when I told him that the business was struggling, this is what he did.

Sooooo…there it was. All in a row. All of our stuff –out in our field.

All of the neighbors driving by, our friends, the community, people who knew us most of our lives and people who knew nothing about us…we were just the young family who lived in that beautiful little farm house on Beacon Light road with the perfect lawn….or what USED to be.

You see, in addition, for months, our once beautifully manicured yard started to be filled with weeds that were now several feet high. I just couldn’t keep it up. The lawn was a nightmare. Everything was just falling apart all around me and my heart was broken over my husband, too. It was humiliating and exhausting and horrible, really.

2 please be gentle Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Well, the sign was not up in the field for more than a few hours, when my husband’s phone rang. It was someone who saw all the stuff and my husband’s phone number on the big huge sign. We were sitting out in the yard while he was still coherent and he was feeling devastated about the condition of our lawn. I was apologizing that I just couldn’t do all of it. He was so heartbroken at his limitations and that he had left me to try to handle our life alone. We were trying to make a plan.

He answered his phone. I saw that he was just listening. I could hear that the person’s voice was getting louder and louder and louder. My husband just listened. He turned his back to me a little so I wouldn’t hear. But I could hear it. It seemed to go on and on and on.

These were the things I could hear on the other end of the phonecall:

“You are bringing down the value of my property with that ugly sign!”

“What are you doing?”

“That is the most obnoxious sign, do you have a permit to have that out there?”

“Are you starting a used car lot?”

“You have got to get all of that moved and out of here or I am calling the authorities”

I sat there, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, mad, sad, devastated. I was certain that this would snap my husband back into his dark hellish place.

But, when the man was done ranting, my husband waited a second and then very calmly said something that I will never, ever forget.

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

The man was silent, and then my husband went on to tell him a few details about what was going on with our family.

The man waited a moment and then his tone changed. He apologized. I mean, really apologized and then said:

“I am going to call all of my friends and see if any of them need any of this stuff….”

***************************************

I wish with everything in me that we could have put a sign up on that big stupid lit up billboard in our field that said OUR LIFE IS FALLING APART, but all that we really could put up is a sign with the price of everything that we owned that was worth any money.

WHAT IF we could all wear a sign that said what WE REALLY MEANT? What if we could go straight past the small talk or the masks, and we could actually go straight to the heart of the matter. What if our friends and family wore signs like this?

1 four signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

…we would treat each other differently.

I think we should just try to imagine it. That when a friend is quiet…or not showing up to stuff she usually shows up to, or acting a little “off”, or a family member is wearing pajamas to the grocery store for weeks on end, or not answering the phone, or the lawn is not mowed…

2 signs in a row Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

whatever it is…

IT IS A SIGN. It is not a sign that can be read in words and letters, but it is a sign that someone needs to be treated gently. That they need help. Most of all, that they need love, understanding, and that they DEFINITELY DO NOT need to be judged.

Every time I think of this story I want to be better. I want to do better, I don’t want any silent signs to go unread before my eyes or my heart. I don’t want to make up my own answers to what must be going on. I don’t want to assume…

2 together Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

—– The original post can be found at:  http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/her-husband-had-an-accident/

What’s so great about grief?

by: Andy Gear, PLPC
                  

I remember those first moments after the accident as if everything was happening in slow motion. They are frozen in my memory with terrible vividness. After recovering my breath, I turned to survey the damage. The scene was chaotic. I remember the look of terror on the faces of my children and the feeling of horror that swept over me when I saw the unconscious and broken bodies of Lynda, my four-year-old daughter Diane Jane, and my mother. I remember getting Catherine (then eight), David (seven), and John (two) out of the van through my door, the only one that would open. I remember taking pulses, doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, trying to save the dying and calm the living. I remember the feeling of panic that struck my soul as I watched Lynda, my mother, and Diana Jane all die before my eyes. I remember the pandemonium that followed—people gawking, lights flashing from emergency vehicles, a helicopter whirring overhead, cars lining up, medical experts doing what they could to help. And I remember the realization sweeping over me that I would soon plunge into a darkness from which I might never again emerge as a sane, normal, believing man.

–Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

I remember a time when I experienced loss. As I walked home that evening, I remember telling myself this isn’t going to ruin me. I made a vow that I wouldn’t let it affect me. I wouldn’t be weak. I wouldn’t feel. I would forget; pretend it never happened. And then it wouldn’t hurt me. Then it wouldn’t touch me. I would ignore the wound; pretend it wasn’t there. Then it would go away.

But it didn’t go away. Neither did my memories. I started watching more TV to try to divert my attention. I had trouble concentrating on work, my mind wandering back to that event. To that pain. I had to distract myself, numb myself. I mustn’t think about it ever again. It was too painful. If I thought about it, something bad would happen . . . I had to avoid it at all costs.
None of us want to suffer. But none of us can truly avoid it.

We all have reason to grieve at some point in our life: loss, mistreatment, rejection. In the end it affects us all. But how we approach it influences how it forms us. As I see it, there are two basic options: we can ignore it or we can grieve it. And the path we choose determines how we come out on the other end.

On the surface, ignoring it sounds like the safer option. Just ignore it, don’t let it affect you. But it doesn’t work that way. When we ignore it, it continues to grow inside us. We waste away from the inside out.

It affects the way we approach life; we shut down parts of our selves. We shut down part of our mind. We shut down part of our heart. We become less than a whole person. Our relationships become shallow and stilted. There are parts of us that are shut away, irretrievable, unreachable to the closest people in our lives. We find ways to distract ourselves: TV, hobbies, work, porn, busyness. They may seem harmless enough. But they begin to own us. We live with eyes half open. We live with our heart half closed.

But we choose to ignore it because we feel overwhelmed and powerless. We want some sort of relief, any relief to get us through the days and nights. We keep ourselves busy to avoid our tortured thoughts. We numb ourselves to avoid the unbearable pain.

When we notice the pain less, we think we are out of the woods. We have survived the grief unscathed. But we have merely pushed it below the surface. And it will pop up again: in anger, in addictions, in unhealthy relationships. We have not saved ourselves pain; we have merely stretched it out, separated it from its source, and allowed it to dictate who we become. The irony is that in trying to escape the pain, we have given it the keys to our heart and allowed it to blindly drive us—as we simply pretend it isn’t there.

So what about the second option? The scarier option: facing our pain head on. Admitting the hurt. Acknowledging the loss. Processing the damage. Mourning what once was and will never be again.

This is the way of healing. We can choose to face it squarely. To meet it head on. To enter it honestly with our eyes wide open. It is a long and painful journey, but it can be a journey of growth not destruction.

But this requires facing reality for what it is. We cannot ignore it and hope that it goes away. A wound will not heal with lack of care; a bone will not mend without being set. We cannot heal by denying that something has been broken. We are made to share our stories, to experience our pain, to feel deeply, to mourn fully.

We must allow ourselves to grieve. This is not something that happens overnight; it takes time and community. It is not easy. It takes sharing our hurt, expressing our pain, acknowledging the damage done. Grieving does not make us weak; it makes us courageous. It is facing life as it is, not as you wish it were. There is hope in authentic suffering, but only false-hope in denial and distraction. Loss does not have to ruin us. In fact, if we face it honestly, it can grow us. 

Sweet Sorrow

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Living in this world means living in the tension between good and evil, love and sorrow, joy and pain.  It is to experience the pleasant comfort of cuddling with your spouse on the couch and to ache with the beauty of the moment, while knowing that the moment must inevitably end.  It is to experience the trauma of loss and death and to know that growth and wisdom often come through pain.  Juliet loves the sweetness of Romeo’s affection as they say “good night” and yet must release him for a time to do without it.

To deny or diminish either of the parts is to live out of balance.  To pretend there is no pain is to smother and  invalidate your genuine and legitimate grief.  To live in the pessimism that says “good is always crushed” is to smother real and life-giving joy.  We can exist in either of these out-of-balance ways, but we cannot truly live.

To love is to risk loss, and the more we love, the more pain we experience in the loss.  Intimacy requires vulnerability, and the more open and emotionally naked we become with the other, the greater the closeness and experience of connection.  We live in a world of friction, and yet within the friction there is heat and light and life itself.

If you are protecting yourself from either of these elements, consider that a full, rich experience of life in this world is only possible when we acknowledge the truth of sorrow and loss while holding on to solid hope that there is good and light in the world at the same time.

Why can’t I handle it on my own?

By: Andy Gear

When I think about life before the Fall, I don’t think of people going around lonely. But that thought comforted me because I realized loneliness in my own life doesn’t mean I am a complete screwup, rather God made me this way. You always picture the perfect human being as somebody who doesn’t need anybody, like a guy on a horse in Colorado or whatever. But here is Adam, the only perfect guy in the world, and he is going around wanting to be with somebody else, needing another person to fulfill a certain emptiness in his life . . . I wondered at how beautiful it is that you and I were created to need each other. The romantic need is just the beginning, because we need our families and we need our friends. In this way, we are made in God’s image. Certainly God does not need people in the way you and I do, but He feels a joy at being loved, and He feels a joy at delivering love. It is a striking thought to realize that, in paradise, a human is incomplete without a host of other people. We are relational indeed
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
I often feel like I should be able to handle all my problems on my own. Images of John Wayne and Bruce Willis float through my mind as I suck up my pain and try unsuccessfully to pull myself back up by my bootstraps. If only I just relied on God more, all my loneliness would just melt away. But as I read the first chapters of Genesis, I begin to question this assumption. Adam walked in the garden in perfect fellowship with God, and even then God said that Adam needed other people. He didn’t create us to be lone wolves. He created us to need each other, and He doesn’t call this weakness. He calls it being made in the image of God. We are relational, like our Father.

Growth in maturity doesn’t mean learning to solve all our problems on our own. Seeking caring, empathetic, and authentic relationship is not a concession for the weak. It is the wisdom that comes from realizing who we were made to be. We were not made to ‘stick it out’ on our own. In the Old Testament God called a family and a nation. In the New Testament He called His church to do life as a community of brothers and sisters. He wanted us to understand our need for help in this journey. Why can’t I handle it on my own? It’s not because there is something wrong with me. I was never meant to do it alone.  

A Prayer in Pain: Lamenting in Sadness, Depression, Grief, Disappointment, Sorrow…..

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I don’t think it a coincendence that many of our posts on this blog have talked about the lost and silent feeling that often accompanies pain, sadness, loss, grief, suffering, sorrow, depression, darkness, etc., like here and here and hereto just name a few. In these dark places in our lives and hearts, we are often at a loss for words or just don’t know where to start. In the Bible, godly people would cry out to God in prayer from those places, and it is called a Lament. I’m sure you can see that this is the root word for “lamenting.” There are many Laments in the Psalms and the book of Job, which God has given us. You can also write your own. A great book on this is A Sacred Sorrow, by Michael Card. Here is a a prayer of pain modeled after the way God has shown us in the Bible.

I jumped into the deep end, or I was pushed, I’m not quite sure.
The water is dark and icy, torrent like a storm.
I can’t even recall what the sunshine feels like on my face.
My tears well up in my heart, and overflow onto my cheeks,
Though they are veiled by the rain.
Do you see my tears?
Struggling to swim, gasping for breath,
My arms grow tired.
Do see my hands reaching for the sky? Do you even see me?
There are weights on my ankles,
And the more I fight, the heavier they become.
I wish I could say my voice is hoarse from calling out your name,
I wish I could say my eyes have never left the horizon, searching for your face.
I’m afraid I have drifted too far out to sea.
If you’re there, I cannot see you.
If you’re there, I cannot hear your voice.
Have you left me to struggle alone?
Do you see me at all, or have I wandered too far?
I told you I was prone to wander,
You knew it was true.
Where was your hand in mine?
Did you forget me too?
I just can’t do it anymore; I’m just not going to make it.
My Shepherd, you have never failed me, you have never let me drown.
I cannot save myself. I cannot protect myself, try as I might.
I must hide in the shadow of your mighty wing.
You see every tear I cry and hold it in your hand, my Comforter.
I long for the day when you will wipe away all my tears.
Keep me firm in your embrace until that day. Hold me fast.
I beg you not to let me drown.
Please do not forget me.

When Grief Suffocates

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

To experience grief is to be human.  Grief disorients us.  It exhausts us.  It clouds our ability to see clearly.  What was once our normal routine in life, which we accomplished with ease, now feels daunting.  Something that at one time caught our eye with its beauty now fades into a landscape of grey.  We feel less alive. 
During a season in my life where grief seemed paramount to any other thing, I remember feeling like I was suffocating.  It was harder to breathe.  Think.  See people I knew.  Talk.  What I used to consider “normal” in my life now seemed unattainable.  A new “normal” seemed to be settling in.  There were times when my chest felt as though a hundred pounds lay on top of it.  It hurt to breathe.  It hurt to be alive. 
Thinking seemed just as labor-some as breathing.   The more I allowed myself to think about the very thing(s) that was grieving me, the more suffocated I felt.  I tried not to think about the “thing(s)” I was grieving.  I tried to numb myself in various ways to stop thinking.  Stop feeling.  Stop the pain.  Though I tried, I could not run.  Thinking was inevitable.  Feeling was inevitable.  Breathing was a necessity. 
I groaned before the Lord many times.  “Lord, help me.  This hurts.  How will I sustain these losses?”  “Lord, please….PLEASE….do you hear me?  Are you there?  I am in pain.”  I groaned as I lived in the pain of grieving. 
So how have I survived my grieving?  Honestly, I really don’t know.  I suppose I can say that even though I groaned before the Lord questioning His love for me, I knew I was safe in His care.  Even though it was hard to breathe, think, feel, live, I knew He loved me and was not allowing me undue pain.  And soon, as time passed, I learned that my grief revealed His truth, His beauty, and His sovereignty.  Aside from fighting to hold on to the truth of God’s love for me, I surrounded myself with an army.  Of course I don’t mean a real army, but I do mean an army of support.  Godly friends, pastors, counselors, speaking truth to me as though it were my food, because while I was in my deepest places I could not read scripture on my own.  I needed them to be my strength and shield from the overwhelming darkness that had taken up residence in my soul. 
Then, over time I began to breathe again, and think again, and the pain felt less suffocating.  I hope you do not hear some kind of formula in all of this, because although time has passed, I still grieve.  Grieving is a journey.  At times, it still hurts to breathe, think, feel, and live.  Yet in all of this, no matter if I have an “easy” grieving day or a “hard” grieving day, God’s truth remains.  God’s goodness to me reigns.  He is my Father and I am His daughter.  These are the truths we find in scripture. 
For those of you in the midst of living in the pain of your grief, may I suggest you read two things?  One suggestion is to read the Psalms, a book in the Bible.  I would encourage you to devour them, as they are life giving to the hurting soul.  The second suggestion is a book called “A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows through Loss,” by Jerry Sittser.  

Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.

Change and Loss

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Every change involves a loss. While we tend to limit the extent to which we allow ourselves to grieve and process unwelcomed loss and change, even more often I think we deny ourselves the freedom to grieve the losses that accompany longed for or beneficial change. Even those welcomed and “good,” every change brings with it necessary and non-optional forfeitures. Preschool graduation lets go of toddlerhood. A new house forces goodbye to the home of many memories. A wedding signifies shifts in many relationships, not only one. Job transition causes competence to be compromised. Moving out of town sacrifices the security of the familiar.
 
There is comfort in consistency. There is safety in what is known. Feeling both “positive” and “negative” emotions simultaneously about one circumstance can be confusing and at times frustrating. It is much easier to stuff down or ignore away the less pleasant emotions than to allow the two to coexist. However, if we allow ourselves to embrace this tension and ambivalence, we will live more honestly, be more connected to our own hearts, and experience the full reality of what every change entails for us. How do we begin to we do this? By allowing ourselves to acknowledge the presence and the weight of the loss. What losses in your life story have brought ambivalent feelings? What good things have you had to let go of in the midst of attaining other good things?
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France

Facing Plenty

By Jonathan Hart, LPC


Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


The concept of “facing plenty” has bugged me for a long time.  We don’t often use the language of “facing…” when we are talking about a good thing.  “I was facing a time of wealth and comfort, but I made it through by the grace of God.”  But this is the language Paul uses: plenty and abundance are something to be faced, in a parallel way to facing lack and poverty.  There are unique challenges in having plenty and abundance, and they can be as difficult as having want and need.


Part of the challenge, I think, comes from our habit of thinking that plenty and abundance are “the norm” and that anything less is a burden to be borne and overcome as soon as possible.  I can’t imagine relating to abundance in this way.  “I have too much money.  I have to get rid of it somehow and get back to scraping by from check to check!”  How many people are dropping into horrific debt in order to “maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed”?  


When we are in pain, grief, loss, hurt, or distress, we do one thing uncommonly well: we complain.  We articulate our pain, we feel every inch of it and talk about it in the hopes of finding someone who can identify with it and tell us it’s OK to feel that way about it.  What if we “complained” about our abundance the same way?  What if we treated our abundance and surplus the same way we treated our challenges and loss?  We don’t often do this because of our misconception that plenty and abundance are the norm: we are entitled to them and therefore they are not noteworthy.

I encourage many people to “wallow” in their good times, to store them up in memory and savor them richly.  I encourage people to concentrate on being fully present in the joy of the moment and holding on to it so that when it passes (as it inevitably will), we can more fully recall it and taste it again in our mind.  Articulate and “complain” about how good things are, much as we articulate and complain about our pain, because joy and pain alike are part of living in a broken world.

I am not talking about disassociating from joy and pain, as much of Christianity is taught to do: “Times are bad, but the joy of the Lord is my strength!!  I don’t feel the pain because Jesus is so good!”  I am actually encouraging us to feel the joy – and the pain – more fully.

This practice can give us much more resilience and strength to last through the difficult times.  We can soothe our hearts and minds on the fact that pain and shortfall are not all that has ever been, that resources come and go, that pain, like joy, is temporary in this life.  The seasons continue to turn, and life is more than this present moment;  the joy of last year still exists, even though this moment is hard, and the joy that I knew then will come again in time.

This practice helps us hold on more tenaciously to times of plenty as well.  We can practice the recognition that this joy is temporary and that it is a gift, rather than an entitlement. Nothing draws our attention to life more than a death in the family.  Nothing raises our awareness of the value of our spouse or children than to hear that a friend has lost those most precious to them.  If we can practice this mental discipline of savoring our joy and plenty because it is temporary, we will live and enjoy it much more fully.

Gardening and Grief

By: Katy Martin, LPC
I was robbed.
When someone takes something from you, it is a horrible feeling, no? It’s a feeling of violation. Someone came too close to you and took something valuable, without taking your feelings or needs into consideration. Or without considering the time and energy you spent to take care of whatever was taken.
For me, it was tomatoes. I walked out to water my garden on Tuesday morning and my tomatoes were GONE. My garden has produced two pea pods and one jalapeno pepper, so my hopes and dreams were hinging on these green, but growing, six whole tomatoes. And now they are gone. A furry creature has taken the fruit of my labor.
So where does grief come in?
In my disappointment about the missing tomatoes, I began to think about a loss of greater impact: loss felt when a loved one dies. (Really, I did.) The loss of a loved one absolutely does not compare in magnitude to my six tomatoes but I think it compares in that we often feel robbed when we lose someone close to us. And this feeling of being robbed is something we don’t acknowledge or talk about. We acknowledge the sadness, anger, and so many other feelings of loss. But feeling robbed of this person’s presence isn’t often something we can anticipate.
We are robbed of our future with this person. We are robbed of that person’s role in our life: mother, grandfather, sibling, etc. We are robbed of someone knowing us. We are robbed of what should have been with that person. It’s remembered with birthdays, holidays, and life changes. Who was there is now gone, and who they were in our lives has changed to memories. Our own roles change, as well.
And it’s easy to feel violated. Angry. Frustrated. And this is often directed towards the person, the circumstances, or towards God. It can result in complicated grief. Grief becomes complicated grief when symptoms of sadness, depression, and hopelessness extend for over a six month period or become more intense or even debilitating over time.
Can you relate? God is not a stranger to these feelings of loss. As He gave His Son on the cross, He experienced the death of a loved one, His child. God experiences loss every day when we choose to not turn towards Him. We can turn to Him. We can share our feelings and memories with those around us. We can turn our sadness into honoring the one we lost. We can pursue counseling to sort out the hurt left behind.
You may feel left behind, robbed, but you are not alone.
My garden may have been robbed, and may appear barren, but a perfect, green, ripe cucumber emerged a few days later. In the midst of sadness and grief, life is still happening even though it may not be what we wanted or what we thought it would look like. Don’t give up hope. We can find comfort in Lamentations 3:22-24: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”