Oh, the grief.
Some days it feels like it has been years.
Like it was a lifetime ago.
Some days it feels like “months” is an impossible measure.
Weren’t we just in that kitchen, taking one look over it all, not really knowing it was for the last time?
You know you have encountered a life altering experience when you look at pictures and it’s almost as if a caption pops out –“life before” and “life after”- depending on the photo you see.
The fire hasn’t been my first photo-altering life experience.
Considering I’m not even 40 yet, I’d say that I’ve had enough “experience” (haven’t we all?) and that I’d rather just live peacefully from here on out.
But from these few days I’ve had under the sun (only about 14,000 so far,give or take), I’ve learned that what Jesus says is one hundred percent true.
“In this world you will have trouble…”
Christianity, unlike other belief systems, doesn’t deny this reality.
Do I think, do I hope, that this trouble is it? That this is the grief of my life and that all I must do is put it behind me and get busy getting over it?
Do I think, do I hope, that once this problem is solved, then all my problems will be over and then I can live the life I thought I’d have by now, the life I think I deserve?
Well, I’m learning that if I approach life, and this experience, like that then I am just setting myself up for double grief in the future.
I will be grieving over this loss, past losses, the next loss and even just the fact that I am grieving yet again.
So how do I even get to a place of healing, of joy, of love, of contentment in such a world as this? A world that promises quick fixes and self-focused solutions? A world that screams that we deserve it (whatever it is, as long as it means we spend money). A world that tells us that if we have worked hard, if we have done all the right things, then we should get a reward (including those beautiful countertops and a picture worthy vacation?) A world that pushes tragic headlines out faster than a toddler throwing crackers from the high chair? A world that expects us all to get over it all yesterday?
These solutions and pushing things deeper down never work, they never hit the mark of healing. In this world full of cancers and fire and broken relationships, dogs that die too soon and nuclear weapons and earthquakes, car accidents and economic downturns, what is the answer?
It’s both that simple, and that complicated.
You see, He not only told us there would be trouble, He also told us what He was going to do about it (what He DID about it).
“Take heart, “ He said, “ I have overcome the world.”
I’ve heard it somewhere that it is like a book when, if you are in the middle of reading the story, the ending is already there, already exists, you just haven’t gotten to it yet.
“It is finished” and yet here we are, still waiting for that page to turn, to see what our part of that story is.
And while we wait, we have a job to do.
So how do I take heart? What does that even mean? What does that look like?
Well, for me it takes on four distinct actions.
No matter what I write from this point on, I want this to be clear. This is not written from a perspective of “arrival”. If I’ve learned anything from the past ten months it is how weak, how dependent I am and how black my very own heart can be. I am writing this to remind my own heart how it is possible to just keep going. That it is Jesus’ promise of grace, of strength at the very point of my weakness, that keeps me going. Any healing, any success, any tool, I have learned or acquired has been a product of Grace upon Grace. Grace I’ve been given from God, given to me by those around me who love me, given to me by strangers. At any point in time (or many points in time), I may be a messy-mess of a person, still struggling to heal. I pray my mess doesn’t get in the way of this message. I pray it just reminds you of Grace and the beautiful thing about Grace is that it is available to anyone.
My prayer has been
“Lord, have mercy. May your Grace upon Grace cover this sorrow upon sorrow”
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
That has been my experience so far.
On my now two-hour commute (almost daily), I sometimes feel like I have a lump in my throat the size of my shoe.
I am tired.
My stomach hurts.
My heart beats strange.
I am newly afraid of things that once didn’t bother me.
Grief is real.
The losses are real.
The pain is real.
Yes, God will work all things together for His glory and my good.
Yes, joy comes in the morning.
But in the meantime-between Friday’s cross and Sunday’s stone rolling-there is grief.
There is pain and sorrow and confusion and “why, God, have you forsaken me?” moments.
Being a Jesus following Christian doesn’t mean these moments don’t exist or that fairy dust is sprinkled over them and they glitter with new found quasi-beauty.
Crucifixion is ugly, it is terrible, and that is just the cold, hard, truth.
To deny this pain, pretend it doesn’t exist or to give cozy platitudes to make us all feel better is not God’s plan.
We must feel free to do the same.
We must grieve.
And then we must turn. Turn towards that cross and say, “thank you.”
Because no matter the loss, we always still have Jesus and His promise-come-true of overcoming.
This treasure cannot be taken-by force or by fire-from us.
And that means that life, with all its ups and downs, is a gift.
“All is gift.” C.S. Lewis, Perelandra
Gratitude, contentment in my “lot”, is a turning towards the cross, towards Jesus, keeping my eyes on Him, so I don’t sink.
Turning away from the gifts that are given because they aren’t what I want or because I still have other gifts I am waiting for-that is ultimately turning away from God.
When I do this, I am acting like I know better, that I am entitled to more. I am living from the false belief that there is scarcity in the Kingdom of God.
“I’m going to get what I deserve,” my heart stomps, “even if I have to turn my ear to the hiss and break the branch to get the apple.”
Gratitude is the “choose life” perspective, not a living in denial kind of approach. I am not grateful for the loss of a town, or the house, the new fears, the nightmares, the baby books that no longer exist, the wiping out of history of all kinds from all different generations. But, I am grateful for life (still), and for a place to call home (even if temporary) and for my husband and my children, for my dogs and for the flowers that insist on blooming even though their branches are scarred by flame.
There is still so much beauty.
I must choose to look towards it instead of only looking at the loss.
It doesn’t happen naturally-look at Eve! She, who had a perfect garden, only focused on the one tree that wasn’t given.
I’m not sure, but as far as I know there were no warnings about the tree of life. Eve could have sat there, picked from that tree and had an eternity of Eden. But she chose the one thing that was withheld instead of the one thing that is necessary.
How many times do I break branches and listen to the whispered hiss that makes me believe what I have isn’t enough? That it isn’t what I deserve?
Where does this always lead?
Discontent, selfish-blindness, separation from God and separation from others.
Gratitude, both thanking God for His gifts and being content with His plan, is not natural but it is powerful.
It makes my heart understand that what is given is enough.
It puts my heart’s trust in the One who already has given all, instead of making my heart bow to other (flammable) things and (faliable) people.
And what happens when I live from a state of enough?
I can live given.
I can live poured out and in community. I can’t live well in community if I am worried about “me” all of the time. Suddenly, my focus shifts from what I don’t have to all I do have. I can listen instead of only speak. I can forgive instead of resent. I can give instead of “get”.
When I give, I receive.
See, what I am discovering (oh, so slowly!), is that when I most want to be heard is when I most need to listen. When I grasp and grab and try to fill the brokenness with my own fixes, I break even more.
Do you know what? The only books that I don’t miss from my home library, the only ones I don’t grieve being lost by flames? They are the books I gave away, some just days before the fire. Most of those burned in the house of a neighbor or a friend or a stranger. But the gift, the act of giving, was not tarnished by the fire.
It was forged.
It is in the giving, in the community that comes with the giving, where I find the courage to “take heart”. It is turning towards Jesus, in living within the understanding of “enough”, where I see and know and feel that all is a gift. Giving is where I don’t turn away from what is given to that which I want to take, but where trust and then love and joy abound.
“This is how you live with your one broken heart: you give it away. This is how you enter into the wholeness of koinonia, communion.” Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way
You know, the experts say that ten months is a huge point in the healing process. All of the heartache and reality and stress meets right there on the timeline and you might just feel like you are walking through fire (again).
It can be “easy” to think that, around the next corner, when that next problem is solved, it will all be better (and I just won’t need to work on my heart, after all).
But, around that next corner, there is new trouble.
And the grief from the last trouble, if we get stuck there, will be waiting for me.
It can be “easy” to get stuck in the grief.
Grief is messy and painful and without healing it can be a quicksand of sorts.
When I refuse to go through these actions of acknowledging Grace, processing the Grief, finding the Enough of God’s Kingdom with Gratitude, and living Given, I begin to flail through my days and sink deeper.
I can dig in my heels and to refuse healing because healing sometimes looks more like hurting (think a dentist drilling out a cavity, or a doctor resetting a bone).
And this is why I am sharing this, and not just leaving it on a yellow note pad by my night table. I want to dialogue with others about this.
I want to remind myself of these truths.
I need to remember these things, even on the hardest days.
I must remember this.
I will need to circle back to Grace.
I need to grieve, to let the tears fall as the dreams lost are realized. To go through all of the stages, even the painful and humbling ones. Taking all of it to the One Who understands it all and Who loves me still. Taking it to others who are living this way, by Grace, processing Grief, with Gratitude.
We are not made to heal alone.
I must remember to (daily, hourly even) give thanks by first looking at the cross and remembering what has already been done and the character of the Man who finished it and then, noticing the gift of enough all around me.
When these become my normal, this is when I will be able to give from the abundance that somehow grows among the Grace and Gratitude, and my heart will not be left flaming and bitter, but forged in the fire of redemption.
If you are interested, you can find posts about Hope and Mercy here and here and about living The Broken Way here.
If you are interested, you can find posts about Hope and Mercy here and here and about living The Broken Way here.