Heroes in Grief

(Originally written Nov. 2013)

“Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”  

C.S. Lewis

My heart has been heavy since leaving MTI yesterday.  I knew I would feel a loss from the community that we have been living in for the last 4 weeks, but I guess I underestimated the intensity of it.  I tried sleeping in the car while traveling yesterday to lessen the blow and not think about it, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to play music and block it out, but the music playing reminded me of worship there.  Finally I gave in to what the Holy Spirit was telling me – to feel it and not fight it.  But it stinks.

I never thought emotions and grief were a problem for me.  I am that mom who cries at Little House on the Prairie, every church service we go to, and YouTube videos of puppies and kittens.  My kids are no strangers to seeing me cry.

So when Robin, one of our trainers this week said, “I want you to be your children’s heroes when it comes to walking through grief and loss” I was surprised at my reaction.  My knee jerk reaction was to think that the best way to help them was to avoid having to go through it.  I have felt like a failure many times as a parent because we are constantly putting them in situations with these things occurring.

A hero?

Apparently a healthy grief, a deep, mournful loss, a guttural prayer and moan, and a tender heart are super hero qualities!  Who knew?

So as we pulled out yesterday, surrounded by new friends – really new brothers and sisters – tears were streaming down our faces and sobs wrenched our hearts as the kids gulped and cried with us.  But we held hands, cried together, acknowledged and affirmed the deep loss we were going through, and eventually everyone settled into a silence that was full of the safe knowledge that we all understood each other.  There were no trite words, empty promises (or even real promises) – there were really no words at all.  Just gentle looks, shared groans, and healing touches.

And we keep processing.

The kids were so happy to get a Facebook hug from Miss Becca last night.  We have been texting and communicating with MTI friends all day.  Pictures are being shared and blogs being read.  And MTI has become the new “favorite place” of our children – sorry, Delta Lake!

Yet my grief just keeps churning.  Sorrow has been coursing through my heart that seems to go beyond the grief of leaving Colorado.  Tears start anew at little, unimportant things and inopportune times.

And I say to Him time and time again, “Father, Help!”  I want to feel it, yet I want to run as fast as I can from it.  I want to dig down deep and see what some of the roots of this sorrow is – yet I want to close my eyes and ignore it just as much.  But he chooses to answer my cry for help, and he starts to peel back the layers that are there.  While the grief from leaving MTI is genuine, deep, and not to be ignored, there has been a prodding into other areas of my life that I have not fully grieved.   When Tim and Robin had us probe into these places I was not only given permission to feel them, I was actually encouraged to look at them closely, to allow those things to kind of float around me for a while and think upon them – to “jump off the high dive” instead of dipping my toes into the water.

And when I started it was like a dam broke.

I grieved the loss of my mom all over again, in deeper ways than I was able to face at the time.  I miss her so much.  I want her to be here – to share in my excitement about going to South Sudan, to see pictures of where we will be living, to make plans to come visit us there, to know her grandchildren and be known by them.  As one friend said this week, I want to have her hug at the airport, but I won’t.

I grieved the end to our time in Malawi.  I gave my heart to that place, that ministry, those people.  And yet we had to leave in a way that I never really got to say good-bye.  I never really got closure.

I grieved over the loss of the church family that had become our life-line in the past few years in New York.  The people who knew us in deep ways – the right and the good and the deep, dark, ugly things.  The people who prayed with us and for us.  The people who have walked through our lives with us for the past five years.

I grieved the loss of time – the fact that another year has ended and we are not in Africa yet.  That our time with John is getting shorter and shorter.  I know His hand is in all these things, but the feelings of grief are real and need to be acknowledged.

I grieved hurts from childhood that have popped up in my adult life time and time again.  The loss of innocence, the things I saw that cannot be taken back, the feelings that were stuffed down and spilled out at the wrong times.

And I grieved loss of home.  That is why it has been so very hard to leave MTI.  It was a safe haven.  It was a place where we did not have to explain our hearts or motives.  Where living out of a van for months doesn’t seem so strange.  And it was a place where people spoke into our lives with wisdom, challenge, and love – from experience.  We were not handled with kid gloves, but given every opportunity to grow and know God more while being prepared for the next part of our lives.  We were loved, and we loved.
Whole-heartedly.  And that’s why it felt like home – not just because that’s where we “hung our hats” for a month.  And leaving that home we are back in a different hotel each night, fast food, and uncertainty about the timing of things.

Sometimes I felt it would be easier to just not let myself love the people there.  To isolate our family and not let the kids get their hearts involved. But the quote at the beginning of this was given to us this month, and I realized that the alternative to no suffering was no real love.  I can’t have that  and I can’t teach that to my kids. It’s time to act like a grown woman instead of a little girl.

So Shawn and I are putting on our super hero capes and wading through this grief.  We are learning to communicate with the kids and each other, and giving grace in these times on loss.  Thanks for your prayers during this time.  It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.  And I do thank my God for it – because I would never have wanted to miss it.

Hurt

(Originally posted 2013)

This morning I had the fun task of taking RJ to the dentist.  For some reason my youngest two have bad teeth – weak enamel or the fact that they only floss when I am standing over them glaring are probably the biggest reasons, because we don’t eat a lot of sticky, sweet things!  A couple years ago I had to take Andrew to the dentist and he was put under conscious sedation.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life!  After over an hour of yelling, screaming, crying out for help and calling my name as I held him down so they could operate, they fixed 8 cavities and pulled several teeth.  (They also cleaned them while he was under!)  They were right – he didn’t remember a thing – but I was scarred for life.

Today they gave RJ laughing gas and then Novocaine, but he still had a hard time when they actually started pulling.  Watching him grab the chair and cry was terrible.  For one thing, I had inadvertently lied to him.  I was under the assumption the reason I was paying extra for the laughing gas was so he wouldn’t feel anything – but he obviously did.  And now we get to go back in another two weeks to get the other side done.  Fun times.

I know that these things are sometimes painful, and can cause anxiety in my children (and me!) – but ultimately they are for their own good.  Getting shots to prevent disease, removing infection from the body, and fixing things that are broken are all beneficial things that can seem not-so-beneficial at the moment.  When RJ was just 6 months old he went in for open heart surgery to repair 2 holes (ASD and VSD for those of you medical people.)  It was AWFUL!  Not being able to feed him in the morning and hearing his pathetic whines because he was hungry and too young to understand; seeing the tubes and the not being able to hold him afterwards;  he started getting an infection, and they had to beat on his back every few hours after breaking open his sternum – the whole thing was terrible.  Yet it was this very thing that caused him to be able to live and have a life that doesn’t revolve around hospitals and surgeries.  I hated it, but God got us through it and he is healthy and alive.

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I think about parents who have to watch their child go through sickness or tragedy.  It broke my heart today just to hear RJ crying, and have him know that I was there and allowing it to happen.  But what about those parents that have to watch as their child goes through cancer treatments?  Or dies slowly because of lack of food or clean drinking water?  What about the moms and dads in South Sudan and other countries like it that have seen their children raped, maimed, killed, and taken by their own country?  How does one heal after that?  How does one cope?  It’s hard to see the purpose in those things – they are not like getting life healing surgery or having an infection taken out of your mouth.  It’s just plain evil and sin in this world.  But these parents, these families, still need to know God’s healing and his love.

When we were in the hospital for RJ’s surgery there was a little girl there that was only around 6 – and she was going through her second round cancer.  She could no longer walk because of the treatments, and she had no hair.  Her mother was taking her around trick or treating that day in the kid’s ward (it was Halloween) and I met them on the elevator.  I was nervous and sad for RJ, but I knew I would be taking him home in a few days and he would be healthy and happy.  There was not that promise for this little girl.  Watching her mom broke me in ways I can’t describe.

As we go to South Sudan we will meet parents who have lost kids in all ways – famine, war, poverty, childbirth, disease – even preventable ones.  I am asking God to keep my heart tender and breakable, even though it will hurt badly at times.  I want to always see people through his eyes and with his heart.  It’s not a prayer I take lightly – but I believe it’s an important one.

Anxiety Wars

(originally written Nov 1, 2018)

Yesterday  I was having a conversation with Shawn about a particular situation we have been working through that went something like this:

Shawn: “How are you feeling?”

Me:  “I feel good.  Like, I actually don’t have any anxiety.  I feel like God truly is going to work this out in a way that tangibly us shows his love for us and he will get the glory.  This is a strange feeling..” (Long pause, overthinking, deep gulp of breath) “And now I have anxiety about not having anxiety!”

Oh, Heather of little faith.

I can chuckle about the whole conversation, but the truth is that it really isn’t funny to be that familiar with stress and so unfamiliar with the peace of laying that at His feet.  I was (over) thinking about it again later and had to start really ask my self some hard questions. How did that brief moment of peace feel, and why is it so foreign to me ? Why is it so uncommon and momentous that I want to write about it?

Let’s be real for a minute here.  Having a moment of panic or anxiety pop up is NOT a sin. It is a natural by-product of our new selves in Him constantly fighting our old selves of the flesh. Add to that the brokenness of this hurting, chaotic world and we are bound to have it attack us sometimes.  I am also not talking about an anxiety that requires medication.  There have been times that I have been on meds for these types of things. The only thing wrong in that case is feeling too embarrassed or weak to seek out help because of it. Those are lies.  However, with the daily, normal stress of everyday there is a problem with allowing oneself to wallow in it, or to jump in head first and whole-heartedly because it feels familiar and – dare I say – safe.  It is easier than the fight.  It is “normal.”

This is where I know some of you are saying, “But what about…” or “You have no idea…”

I understand, friends. I truly do.

You can see from my opening conversation how “normal” anxiety is for me.  As a matter of fact, many counselors all over the world could retire from what my family alone pays in counseling services.  I  second guess myself and my decisions about every little thing. I remember once when I was pregnant for Andrew I had debate within my mind over whether it would be better for our family to have another girl or another boy to add to the crew. I got seriously stressed over it, feeling on the verge of a panic attack before allowing the Spirit to actually breakthrough and give me His peace about the fact that I had ZERO control over the whole situation anyway and – oh yeah –  if the God of the universe, who created every single person and family was in control, then maybe it was ok for me to trust him rather than waste precious sleep time having that debate.

I’m a mess.

I’ve experienced panic attacks in the car on a regular basis since I was a child.  I can think of probable reasons for this beginning, but after 40+ years I somehow had talked myself into believing that this was just who I am and I gave up hope of ever feeling victorious over it.  I made myself believe it is just a part of who I am.

Then I watched my youngest suffer through debilitating panic attacks.   The kind where there is no reasoning, no talking, no loving  that can bring him out of it until he is removed from the situation that brought him into it in the first place.  My maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and I started to do everything I could to help him overcome and find peace.  My hope and celebrations for RJ as I see victories, and the soul-crushing hopelessness that comes when it often seems more like one step forward, two steps back drove me deep into the Father’s arms in ways I had given up on for me. My glimpses of peace made me long for that for my little boy – and for me, and a new type of war began.

Today as I sat in the counselor’s office she was asking me about this very thing.  She mentioned that when you live with something for so long in your life, you don’t know what to do without it and even welcome it back.  I told her about my conversation with Shawn, and she smiled knowingly.  Suddenly I felt a sense of freedom the promise that I am not the only one dealing with this, as well as the reminder that it is not something I always have to hold on to and be “ok” with.  I will do what it takes to be free – whatever that is.  Freedom comes in different ways for each of us, and in each situation. There is no shame in that. 

So today I begin again.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God.”