The familiar pit: Grief

The familiar pit: Grief

A side effect of a summer full of travel surfaced recently. Hours after midnight, I’ll sit straight up in bed and fumble for the lights in a mad panic. My disoriented mind attempts to discover if I’m in a hotel in Brazil, a condo by the ocean, or a sleeper train on my way to Scotland. In the dark, I could be anywhere. As the light suddenly fills the room, two questions pop into my head:

Where am I? How did I get here?

My eyes quickly find familiar objects…my lamp. The picture on the wall. My dresser. My wife. Those answers give me perspective. Context. Even though my heart is racing, the adrenaline begins to subside. My breathing slows. Awareness of my situation helps me move on. I am not entirely unchanged…even though I’m safe at home in bed, this is disruptive. I’ll be a little extra cranky tomorrow. The memory of panic will return throughout the day. Yet the truth shines through… I’m home.

Experiencing the same grief again is a similar emotional process. Self help sites and well-meaning friends may tell us grief is something we process, move through, and get over. At some point we should be better. We can expect life to be normal again. The truth is, when we lose someone we love dearly, their absence leaves a hole in our world. It’s possible to stumble into that hole again and again for the rest of our lives. When we do, we find ourselves disoriented and confused, like my panicked fumbling in the middle of the night. To find our way through it, we ask those same two questions:

Where am I? How did I get here?

Recently I found myself in that familiar pit again. Like most of us, I’ve experienced loss. Grief is familiar. I’ve recently learned that when it comes, accepting and pressing into it is much healthier than denial or avoidance. Acknowledge it for what it is without minimizing it or giving it more control than it deserves. Understand that the deep hurt is a reflection and validation of love known, experienced, and lost.

Just like the whimsy of love can drop in at any time, grief can as well. That’s what happened this time. I was staring blankly at my screen. When my screensaver kicked on, my mind snapped back to the present. “This is a familiar darkness…hello again, grief.” 

 

Although the weight had settled into my soul the day before, I finally recognized it for what it was. I was in the pit. Oh, but I knew that first key answer. Where am I? I’m in the pit. I’m mourning. Recognizing my surroundings was vital.

 

There hasn’t been a personal loss in my life lately, though. So the next question became key. Just like in my jet-lagged panic, I first had to answer:  How did I get here?

Our minds work in strange ways. Although mysterious, they aren’t entirely unpredictable. As autumn approaches and the daylight hours decrease, I tend to drift toward melancholiness. This was different. It was triggered by something. I realized social media had been showing me memories of my past.

This time, it wasn’t the anniversary of a loss that led me to the pit again. Instead, it was the anniversary of the beginning of a relationship that ultimately left me heartbroken. I had been revisiting the start of a life-changing relationship that would be cut short mere months later. Seeing the beginning prompted my mind to revisit the entire journey, including those familiar feelings about what might have been.

The wounds became fresh again. I’ve heard a broken bone become stronger than the original once it has mended. I don’t think that’s true of our emotional breaks. Years later they can still be uncovered and be once again raw and sensitive. Falling into the pit of grief reminds us that the wounds on our heart never fully heal. The pit remains because the love remains, which can be a freeing thought. Grief is a consequence of love, and love is worth it. Understanding this key helps validate our time in the pit, even years later. It frees us to feel the pain without the self-condemnation that often accompanies it.

It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to mourn again. In that way, these wounds that remain fresh do ultimately strengthen us emotionally by allowing us to revisit that love and acknowledge the loss. When we allow ourselves to feel the loss again, we also give ourselves permission to experience the joy, too. The scars we live with aren’t unlike those on Christ’s hands and feet, which the Bible tells us are eternal. Those scars are a reminder of the permanence of love. He thought it was worth it. We should, too.

My time in this particular pit had a wonderful outcome this time. By allowing myself to feel the loss, I began to remember why the loss was so deep. It wasn’t because of the way that relationship ended. The reason I find myself in this pit again is because of the joy, good times, and love. I don’t miss the ending, I miss the during. So I reached out, because in this case I can. An incredible conversation followed, and a bit of a reconnection happened. A ray of light broke through the darkness of that pit. 

Even though revisiting the pit is ultimately beneficial, it’s important to remember that life does go on. Although it is vital to allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief and loss when they return, it is just as important to press forward into the remaining days we have been given. 

Although we glance back over our shoulder at times, our life is meant to be lived looking forward. The keys to the journey out of the pit are similar to flipping on the lights in my confused state in the darkness. Answering where am I and how did I get here was the first step for me in this new journey through this old pit.

I’ve walked this road before. I’ve been in this particular pit before. Although it’s not exactly pleasant, the familiarity makes it easier. Remembering the love that was found…the special times we shared…these things cast light into the pit. Light illuminates the path.

Endings

Endings

As I stood worshipping during the final chapel at Moriah Christian Academy, one single, simple quote came to mind. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Quickly grabbing my phone, I took a pic to capture this moment. Both my boys were up on stage, one strumming and singing, the other pounding the keys. This bittersweet moment was fleeting and would never come again.

“I want to hear voices of angels above singing as one, ‘hallelujah, holy, holy.’” As those words echoed through the sanctuary, gratitude overwhelmed me. Smile because it happened, indeed. Our eight years at MCA have been miraculous. We were told on our first visit the school was named for the biblical Mount Moriah, which means “the Lord will provide.” He has.

The music fades. The last reverberation of this fleeting moment slowly becomes silent. Through the years I have often stood outside with my back to doors that God has closed. Jobs, ministries, and even friendships. “What’s next” is a question I face with uncanny frequency. The experience is familiar but never easy. Each ending is a reminder that life is a journey and each season is only for a time. Smile because it happened.

But oh, these precious times and memories go deep. Tears carve a canyon in our soul. The heart longs to return to treasures of the past. Remembering first days, first friends, and first adventures….Science fairs and talent shows. Yes, we smile because it happened. We thank God for the incredible times we have had. Letting go is oh, so hard, though. The smiles we now share are through tears. Even as we rejoice for all God has in front of us, we grieve for those times that will never come again. We mourn that these halls will soon be empty and “what’s next” for each of us lie down different paths.

Our oldest son is graduating, which is a beautiful thing. At last week’s chapel I mentioned that He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20) certainly did so with my sons. Each are unique, but each is immeasurably more than I could have ever dared to ask or imagine. I’m often humbly driven to my knees, wondering what I ever did to deserve this kind of blessing. These young men are like “arrows in the hands of a warrior,” (Ps 127:4) ready to be launched into the world, guided by divine providence to make an impact on the world. Now is their time. First one, followed quickly by the other. My role is quickly transforming from coach to cheerleader to spectator as they step fully into manhood.

Tears meander toward the earth as I turn for one last look at that closed door. I smile. Unlike that famous quote, though, I believe it’s okay to cry because it’s over while you smile because it happened. We carry both grief and joy on our travels down the road to where He is leading us next. Denying one or the other is an injustice to our past and undermines our future. We trust that it will be as profound, impactful, and significant as the roads we have traveled so far.

Missing You

Missing You

Just like autumn, this season cycles by regularly. Missing you.wp-1471208972972.jpg

I remember the journey…the months our paths crossed. I tried so hard to make it work. We all did.

But I was missing you. Even though I tried to love without expectation…to fully accept who you are and where you were at…I see now the impossibility. I did have expectations. I tried so hard to love with my whole heart…to pray with my whole spirit…to cling to you with all I had.

I see it now…we didn’t meet you where you were. We were missing you. We tried to meet the needs we perceived, which were different than the needs you actually had. Although we thought we were walking together down the same path, our journeys never really intersected did they? Were we one family? In my heart we were. And we continue to be. But I was missing you.

To some degree, maybe I was enamored by the potential of you. The potential of us. God had given me the daughter I had longed for but never knew I wanted. With my eyes wide open, I recognized your past, faults, and personal limitations and didn’t care about any of it. I accepted you exactly as you were. As much as I hated the abandonment and hurt you had suffered, I thanked God it led you to us. To me. Together, I knew you could finding healing. You could recover. And then you could thrive. That’s what I expected. But I was missing you.img_20151105_141421-01.jpeg

You didn’t need transformation. You weren’t after recovery. You didn’t want a forever family. You never asked us to be one. And yet we tried to be that for you. You aren’t to blame. We were simply missing you. We missed who you really were. We missed getting to know the real person inside the young woman trying to survive. I didn’t understand that your life experiences did not prepare you for the life we threw you into. You had no context for what we offered. And yet we expected you to embrace us. We expected you to appreciate us. We expected you to love us. We expected you to try. But we were missing you.

That you managed to stick with us so long is a testament to your persistence. Or maybe it’s your stubbornness. The life we made for you was a gilded cage, though. It had peace, but you don’t crave peace. It had space, but you don’t need space. It had stability, but you’ve never known stability. It had us, but you’ve never needed us

This isn’t a right or wrong thing. You are who you are, as am I. I still treasure your heart. I still accept you as you are. The jagged and broken pieces of me tear against yours. I grieve because I lost you. And I grieve because I lost the potential of you. And I grieve because I failed to see the real you, and that is a true tragedy.

Now, just like then, I am missing you.

#TeamTori

#TeamTori

Sweet baby Tori (from Tori’s Triumph – Team Tori) is healed and whole this morning. IMG_5484In light of this news, I have to write. That’s how I process stuff. That’s what I do.

There has always been something special about Tori. Even before her terminal diagnosis, her smile captivated everyone. It was a joy to see her on Instagram every day. And those eyes… they were a glimpse at the joy we all long for deep in our souls.

When she was diagnosed and throughout her illness, her incredible parents demonstrated to the world how to walk through the most difficult of times with faith and enduring joy. In the middle of the hardest times they have never stopped trusting Jesus. They have shown all of us that sometimes the answer to prayer is the presence of Jesus with us and the fellowship we have with other believers. We will never be completely healed and whole in this life, but we can look forward to the day when every tear will be dried and every pain will be a faded memory. While we wait for that day, we run our race with endurance, confident in what lies ahead. Confident in the promises He has made and the love He has for us. Even when this world doesn’t make sense. Especially when this world doesn’t make sense.

I’ve carried a picture of Tori with me for longer than I can remember. She has been with us as we worshiped in Aracaju, Brazil. She was the only guest that tagged along as Joey and I did our father/son trip to the UK. I have taken her picture with famous authors, podcast hosts, and even a wax figure of Sherlock Holmes. Of all the pictures, the oneIMG_5822 I took at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England is my favorite. The time we have here on earth is precious. Yes, we look forward to the eternity to come, but right here and right now matters, too. This time is significant, and it will not last forever. Treasure every moment. And please, please, please…don’t let another moment pass without accepting the truth about the God who created you and sent His son into our world to demonstrate how much He loves you. None of us know how many days we have. Don’t waste a single one by running from Him