January 2017

On Grief

There’s never a good time to talk about grief. Why talk about sad when I’m happy? And when I’m sad, or the skies are grey, I’m often looking for happy, so wrestling the topic of grief isn’t usually high on my list. Consequently, I’ve rarely – if ever – written specifically about grief.

But grief rarely arrives when I expect and frequently appears when I’m unprepared, which is one reason I’m so grateful for a new book by a friend of a friend.  Reading Esther’s story has helped me give words to my own experience and her book is already a well loved resource on my shelf.

Within the first weeks of this year I’ve found myself talking about grief a half dozen times: a miscarriage, grandmother, a father, cancer returning, an avalanche, and a colleague.  In every one of these losses there’s a ripple effect of grief – expanding circles of lives touched by the life they mourn.

The Bible says there’s a season for everything. A time to dance and a time to mourn. Today is not my season for mourning, but these conversations have been my window into lives who know grief today. I’m reminded that in my own grief, I was helped by those who walked alongside me. A friend of a friend who had also lost her fiancé in a tragic accident sent me a card that I treasured. Her words spoke truth to me and gave me hope. She was someone on a similar journey, just a little farther on down the road. I remember seeing that note as proof that there was life on the other side of grief. The road would be difficult, but there was light up ahead.

Someday you may find yourself in a season of mourning, or walking alongside someone wrestling grief. This post is for that season. Read it now and save it for later. Share it with someone grieving. I pray these unfinished thoughts offer proof that there’s life on the other side of grief. There’s joy on the other side of grief. Keep walking, there’s light up ahead.

Be honest with yourself, with those around you, and with God.

My own experience has taught me there’s no guide for grief, it’s messy, and it’s as unique as the person wrestling it. Extend grace to yourself and to each person who grieves. We must allow ourselves to mourn. Mourning brings a deluge of emotions, but healthy grief is honest grief.

A friend wrote me, “She’s led a full life. I know she passed peacefully, that she’s in a better place, but I’m so sad.” Another shared, “I know he’s no longer in pain, but I’m so aware of this hole in my life and I want him back.”

Great grief is evidence of great love. I’ve come to think of it as two sides to the same coin. We celebrate great love – it’s shiny and valuable. Great grief is the other side of the same coin – less shiny, but just as valuable. Even as I mourn a physical loss, the great love isn’t gone. I am who I am today because of the people I’ve loved. Their love has made me, me. Their absence doesn’t remove their love. Mourning their loss – lamenting their absence in my life – deepens my gratitude.

“God wants your sad so He can transform it with His hope.

He wants to bless you in your most broken places.”

Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

It’s ok to be sad…or angry or hurt, or any number of emotions. It’s ok to be honest about those emotions.

What you do with your emotions will shape your path through grief (and through life). May I gently suggest taking it all to God? Some call it prayer. I tend to consider it throwing a really, good temper tantrum with God. He already knows how I feel, but He wants me to share it. He’s not put off by my emotions, He bends down to listen, sits down with me in my funk, and His quiet calms my inner storm.

Not long after losing my fiancé, I had one of those moments on the way to work. I was stuck in traffic on the GW Parkway waiting to drive over the bridge into DC. I remember sitting there, thinking, praying and I honestly just told God I’d rather have Richard back than have Jesus. It was a raw, unfiltered, honest statement of where I was in my grief and how my grief shaped my faith in that moment.

(If you’ve never been that candid with God, hear me, that’s His desire. God can handle all of you, all your emotions, and all your honesty. He’s ok with the tough questions, too. “Why did this happen? Why did you let this happen to me?”)

After that moment I began to glimpse a different Jesus that the Jesus I learned about in church. I knew Jesus intellectually, but the moment I could honestly trade that churchy Jesus for Richard was the moment I began to know the Jesus I’d only heard about.

I’d read the stories where Jesus asks His disciples, “But what about you, who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-16; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-20) And later, when wasn’t as pleasant to be a disciple, Jesus offers them a chance to leave, and Peter replies, “To whom should we go? You have the words of life and truth.”

Those two interactions represent the heart of what I believe. Jesus invites me to decide who He is. Not just what others say. Not what I’ve heard or read. He offers me a choice to stay or go, and when I stay, I discover life and truth and realize there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.

In my grief, I found the vulnerability to seek and discover the life and truth I was created to know but only read about. Jesus sat with me even when I didn’t pick Him. Even in that valley of the shadow of death, Jesus picked me, walked alongside me, surrounded me with His people to whisper truth and life to my aching heart.

Friends, we don’t talk about grief but it’s all around us and it’s time we equip ourselves (and each other) to keep walking in faith even when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death.

If it’s your valley, surround yourself with those who speak life and truth. Look a little farther up the road for those who prove there’s life on the other side of grief, that there’s joy on the other side of grief. Keep walking, there’s light up ahead.

Earlier this week, a dear friend and I were talking about what to do to love some friends who are grieving right now. “I’ve been at a loss with what to do,” she said.

Do exactly what you did with me,” I said. “Sit on a bench in the middle of Fairfax Corner and talk about nothing, anything, and everything. Call and text even when they don’t answer. Just be there.”

Friends, if it’s not your season of grief, just be there. Speak life. Whisper truth. Extend grace upon grace and marvel at the faithfulness of a God who allows us to see Him sit with the broken. Let their testimony strengthen your faith.

{Read more about No More Faking Fine and order your own copy here.}

Faking Fine

My girls are back in school today. Hallelujah, my house is quiet. I can think. There will not be a preschooler meltdown for several hours. I lost track of the meltdowns over the holiday break. EPIC. Every tantrum began with a quivering lower lip and the sad eyes looking up that warned of imminent waterworks. But I’ve seen that look so often lately that I’m immune to the cuteness, and so is her Dad, mostly. (Big sister is over it entirely.)

On Saturday, the waterworks began faster than expected… because we made her leave the bookstore.

As I carried her out of the store, this temper tantrum made me smile. Because if you’re going to cry about something, I’m ok with tears about books and staying in the beautiful bookstore. By definition, I’m a bookworm. I love to read. Most of my childhood memories include a book. I love taking my girls to the library. I love to walk the aisle of bookstores (without kids). Since our town has a small local bookstore with a children’s area that reminds me of the Shop Around the Corner, we occasionally wander in and explore.

One reason we’d ventured into the store was to see if they plan to carry a book that will be released next week. Late last fall I received an Advanced Reader Copy of No More Faking Fine; Ending the Pretending by Esther Fleece. Before I’d even read page one, I loved the book, because the title and subtitle spoke directly to one of my lessons in 2016.

More and more I’m realizing I crave authentic community. Moving frequently means meeting new people frequently, and for someone who has a hard time with small talk, that’s challenging (and exhausting.) But I’ve learned that relationships are built on the small talk that gives way to real stories about real life. We build community as we invest in building relationships. We get to know our new neighbors by doing life together and sharing the small stuff and the big stuff. Over time, we begin to realize we can share the ups and the downs, and surprisingly, sharing the tough stuff builds more community.

Except those times when I’m surrounded by what could be community and I feel alone.

Over the last year, in those lonely moments I’ve paused to ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  I’ve discovered that it is in the gap between what I believe and what I’m living that I can change my life.

I believe in community, so I need to live community.  But I don’t always feel community.

In fact, as I look at the most difficult seasons of my life, all but one are marked by a deep feeling of loneliness. Those were the times I most craved community: when I had a newborn who couldn’t eat and who wouldn’t sleep; when I had a toddler who couldn’t stand or walk and I drove 100 miles twice a week for physical therapy. I felt utterly alone and wondered why the friends who were around for the festive things like baby showers didn’t understand.

They didn’t understand because I didn’t tell them I was hurting.

If there’s one reason to pick up your own copy of No More Faking Fine, it’s to realize that it’s okay to admit life is difficult. Esther calls this lamenting – it’s honestly owning the hurt and the emotions that arise as a consequence of that hurt. She shares her own story about growing up with the “Suck it up” mentality and learning to stuff her emotions. Despite fantastic professional success, she was living with deep hurt and had somewhere along the way begun to believe that Christians are supposed to take the hard stuff to God, believe that He makes it better, so get over it, and move on.   But the problem with that mentality is that sometimes, we’re just faking it. We’re faking fine, pretending to be ok – because the Bible says we will be, right? – but we’re not okay, and by not admitting it to ourselves or to others, we’ve missed the boat. We don’t feel the healing that God promises us because we haven’t honestly lamented our hurts and allowed for the healing.

If you’ve spent any time stuffing your emotions or just trying to move forward and get past a hurt of any kind, Esther dedicates an entire section of her book to learning to lament honestly. It’s permission to own your pain, not wallow in it, but to own it and talk to God about it. Take the time to care for yourself by learning to lament honestly so that you can heal, and you can move on.

If you’ve ever read my writing, or heard me speak, you know that I’m pretty straightforward about throwing temper tantrums with God. As I walked through my own tragedy in my 20’s, I lamented loudly to God. In that season of grief, I found myself surrounded by friends who cried with me, hugged me, and reminded me what I believed when I didn’t remember on my own. That community of friends spoiled me for life. (Thank you, friends.)

So when life threw me curveballs in my 30s, the loneliness of those seasons not only surprised me, it nearly crippled me.

Reading Esther’s book put words to a concept that God’s been working into me over the last year:

The authentic community I crave depends on me showing up authentically. (It might even be directly proportionate, but I’m not ready to say that, yet.)

 

I didn’t hide my grief in my 20s, and my friends showed up in spades. In my 30s, I didn’t share what was difficult in my life (or how I felt about it), and my friends didn’t know to show up.

Esther writes, “For so long, I’d thought I should hide my grief because I didn’t want to cause anyone to question God’s goodness. I kept my laments inside so I wouldn’t burden anyone else’s faith.”

I think there’s a million reasons why we don’t share our hurts and lament in community, but that quote right there is my Achilles heel. I poured out my heart in prayer but I didn’t want to complain to my friends, I didn’t’ want to cause anyone to question God’s goodness to me. God has given me so much, I have such a testimony of His love and blessing, a happy ending despite tragedy – I couldn’t justify sharing my grief about the challenges of motherhood.

Friends, we do ourselves a disservice because we decide our lament, our hurt, our grief, our challenge at the moment, isn’t worth sharing. I did. When I choose what is and isn’t worth sharing with my friends, I limit how authentically I show up. My friends don’t know me if they don’t know my hurts. And my friends won’t know the God I know if I’m not willing to live authentically.

“Lamenting is actually a testimony of God’s great love for us. It demonstrates that we have a God who listens to us, a God who hears us, and a God who concerns Himself with every area of our lives, both big and small.” — Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Hear me, this isn’t a license to complain, it’s permission to admit when things are not okay. It’s permission to believe that authentic community is born when we show up authentically.  It’s permission to trust your people to be your people, to cry with you, hug you, and remind you what you believe when you’re not sure you remember.  The friends who share your burdens will share in your joy.  My testimony to God’s faithfulness is even stronger among those who’ve heard my laments and seen God answer my prayers.

As we begin a new year, many of us set resolutions and goals.  We review the past year and decide what we want to be different in the new year.  Consider asking yourself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  It’s in the gap between what I believe and what I’m living that I can most change my life.  What do you believe in 2017?  What will you live?

{Read more about No More Faking Fine and pre-order your copy with free gifts at www.estherfleece.com}