Joy and Pain. Side by Side.

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“Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.” ~Circle Forward

I read those words and I was reminded of the phrase finding joy in the mess. And then I was reminded of the times in my life when there wasn’t much to be joyful for, yet, somehow opportunities to choose a moment of pure joy would sneak in, despite the current state of messiness. A sudden eruption of pee-your pants laughter in the depths of unfathomable grief, a beautiful ray of sun appearing from the clouds when all hope seemed lost, a heartfelt hug from a dear friend in a moment of despair. Life-saving snippets of joy in the midst of struggle. Joy and pain. Side by side. How can we know one without the other? Kind of a mind blow, right? Always the paradox. Always the struggle. How can they co-exist? Yet . . . how can they not?

Choosing to find joy in the midst of difficulty is one of the most courageous acts a person can take–although we rarely give ourselves permission to do so. What if, in the midst of your struggles, no matter how big or small, you gave yourself permission to choose joy for just one day, or for one hour, or for even one minute or one second? It’s SO okay to take a break from your pain. Choosing to nurture joy does not dismiss or diminish our hurts, but instead creates space for hope to seep in. And with hope, all things are possible.

Let yourself choose joy and then nurture it. Let it live side by side with your sorrows. Let hope create the space.

That thing about grief

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This goes out to every single person that is missing someone they love. . .

Today is my niece’s birthday. She is 12. And today she is partying in Heaven with her mom and grandma, just like she has been since 2012 after a drunk driver cut their lives on earth short.

I wish I was writing this to tell you that three years later life is grand and that I rest comfortably in the fact that three of the people that I love the most are celebrating wildly and beautifully in Heaven. Every. Single. Day. Somedays, that is true. In fact, even as I write this through blinding tears on the most painful of days,  I know in my heart that it is true. They live on in the most glorious of places. But just because something is true and beautiful,  doesn’t mean that it does not SUCK.  As much as I will be celebrating my niece today (in fact it started yesterday when I drug my bestie to the bakery for cake) I will also be glaringly reminded of the fact that my niece is not here celebrating with the rest of us. The scab gets ripped off, so painfully at times, and today is definitely one of those days.

But today, like everyday, life goes on. . . the world around us often seeming oblivious to the searing pain that losing people we love brings.  At one time in my life, I would have been one of those oblivious souls. “It’s been a year (or two, or three) you should be over it by now.” Or maybe I would have said, “Maybe you need therapy or something, you shouldn’t be STILL grieving after all this time.” Or maybe I would have tossed out some meaningless platitude reminding the person that their loved one is now “better off” or that they are in a “better place.” Wow, I know so much better now. Grief doesn’t end after a certain amount of “socially appropriate” time that the world allots.  People will do all they can to avoid talking about grief because its uncomfortable, and messy, and really, who wants to talk about death anyways, right? And that is okay. I get it. I don’t want to talk about it either. But not talking about death and grief doesn’t make the hurt go away nor does it lessen the pain. If anything, it may make grieving  persons question their sanity. “Should I be ‘over this’ by now? Is there something wrong with me?”

The answer to that is NO. In fact, it’s a HELL NO. Whatever you are feeling right now is probably normal. To all of you missing someone, whether you lost them today or 50 years ago, know this. . .

You are not aloneEver. There is a massive tribe of beautiful grieving folks out there. Seek them out and bask in the comfort that being with other grieving persons brings.

Grief makes no sense. You will have good days. You will have AMAZING days. Then suddenly, as if out of the blue, you will have a terribly awful and insanely painful day. A smell, a sound, a song, a memory can bring you to your knees. Grief is like that. It creeps up and punches you in the gut when you least expect it. You suddenly find yourself gasping for air  wondering what the hell just happened. (Yes, even years later. And , yes that is okay, see above, you are probably normal.)

Grief has no time limit. Don’t ever let anybody tell you it does. But also know that life really does go on and we have to figure out how to go along with it–even if it drags us along as we are kicking and screaming. 

Also know this . . . it is okay to celebrate life, even after excruciatingly painful loss. Life, even with the pain, is too beautiful and short to not live it. (You may not be there yet. And that is okay but always look for the littlest of things to celebrate. It helps. More than you can imagine. Buy birthday candles and light them often.)

Breathe. And then breathe some more. Purposefully take a deep breath. Do it again and again. And then do it some more.

So today, on my niece’s birthday, I will celebrate. I will cry happy tears and sad ones. I will lament over how unfair life is yet I will still figure out how to celebrate it–one gloriously painful beautiful moment at a time. And I will not be alone in this tearful celebration of life and death. To all of you missing someone right now, my heart and soul are with you as I know yours is with mine.

Happy Birthday Jules! I love you. Party on in Heaven little angel. Party on. We miss you like crazy.

For those times that you think you suck at life. . .

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Me, after a morning meltdown that resulted in me stating that I suck at life. I got over myself pretty quickly and made it to the office–grateful and happy. After all life it too short to be anything else. Right?

This morning, I sucked at life, or at least I thought I did. Thankfully, it was a temporary suckfest that all started when I didn’t follow through with my original morning plan.

I told my husband the night before that I HAD to get up when he did. HAD TO. I wanted to get my run in for the day before the sweltering heat returned. I told him no matter what I said to him in the morning that he should make sure that I get out of bed. He should not listen to any excuses that I may offer on why I am not ready to get out of bed. (And for the record, I am fully aware that it is nobody else’s responsibility but my own, to get out of bed. But that’s beside the point, right?)

Well, the time to arise came and went. When he finally reminded me that I said I was getting up with him so I could run and that the time had definitely passed, I told him that I was going to run later and that I already knew I was going to be sorry that I wasn’t up yet because the heat was going to suck. He replied, “Well, as long as you know.” (Perfect answer, honey, perfect answer.) 

I reset my alarm. A full hour and a half and three snooze button hits later, I rolled out of bed. I had already decided it was going to be a “bun” day for my hair so I wouldn’t need much time to get ready, which was good, because the three snooze hits had really set me back. Then the suck began to snowball. . .

The bun didn’t work. What I had planned to wear didn’t work either. I poured too much milk in my coffee, and I had already started the defeatist self-talk that went a little something like this. . .

“Why didn’t you get out of bed and run? You are lazy. What is wrong with you?”

Which progressed to . . .

“That shirt looks terrible on you and shows your rolls. Yuck, start working harder on your weight loss!”

And kept going. . .

“Why do you have a closet full of clothes that make you look terrible? You supposedly had that all figured out. You need to get better organized.”

And so it went. Two pairs of pants, two hair-dos, six shirts, and three pairs of shoes later I was finally ready to head out the door, a full half-hour later than I needed to be. At least I was dressed and out the door, right?

At some point during the fiasco of the morning, I stopped the madness to check the time, which at that time should have been the time that I was leaving work but I was not yet dressed nor did I have hair that was anywhere near work ready. It was at that point that I said, “WTF, YOU SUCK AT LIFE!” And at the time, I believed it. Dramatic, I know. Ridiculous, yep. Nonetheless, I had went there and it really hadn’t taken that long, after all, I’d only been out of bed for a short time. Suck sure multiplies quickly if you let it.

I sat in that yuck for a minute or two and then took a breath and began to shake it off. I thought for a minute about the struggles that I had this morning and realized pretty quickly that it was no surprise that I had ended up in a mini mental suckfest. Life has been a little bit more intense than normal for me the last couple of weeks. This morning’s meltdown was simply the by-product.

For starters, there have been some big personal and professional happenings in my life, all good thankfully, but these goings on have zapped my energy. All of that has added stress to the usual amount of life stress. The added stress has taken a toll on me mentally. To add to all of that is the constant ebb and flow of grief in my life, which right now, of course, is flowing like a raging river. To top it off, I am trying really hard to cut excess sugar from my diet and to actually follow a running training plan, both of which are new for me. After reflecting, I realized pretty quickly that I did not suck at life (which I knew) but I was simply having a tough morning, which was the result of a few tough weeks. I took a deep breath and focused on the things I was grateful for (at the moment I was grateful that I had a closet full of clothes that fit me so I had options during my meltdown) and extended myself some grace for my shortcomings.

By the time I finally got my butt out the door, my mind was racing. I am a physically, mentally (although not this morning, obviously), and spiritually healthy person with an amazing support system and a stable life. My life is really good and yet I STILL struggle sometimes. Soon, my thoughts wandered to those times in my life that I have not been in a good place. A morning like this could well have triggered some really yucky emotional stuff that could have quickly spiraled out of control. Then, I thought about all of the people that struggle with this every day that are maybe not in a good place. What do they do when they can’t escape the suckiness?

I kept thinking about it while on my commute and soon realized that no matter where you are or what you have going on in your life, there is always a way out of the suck-fest.  I promise you that if you mindfully practice the following, you may begin to see the light at the end of the suck.

To begin with, BREATHE. Yes, BREATHE.  Close your eyes, inhale deeply, hold it in, then exhale forcefully. Repeat this. Again, and again and again.  Then repeat some more. Eventually you will begin to feel calmer. When you are calm, you can think more clearly which creates space for reflection. Besides, breath is a life-giving force, literally. Use it your advantage.

Next, with your newfound clarity, take a moment to REFLECT. Why are you thinking the way that you are? Any changes in your life recently? What is your stress level? Have you been practicing self-care? By taking the time to reflect on the happenings in your life, you should be able to figure out why you are feeling the way you are right now. Be honest with yourself and you will be able to gain some clarity.

After that, take a hardcore GRATITUDE check. The absolute quickest way to get yourself out of a funk is to make a list of all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for. Gratitude is the antidote to self-pity and every single one of us has something to be grateful for. If you can’t think of anything to put on your list, start with this. . . be thankful you have the ability to read this, that you have access to the internet, and that you are breathing.

Lastly, learn the meaning of the word GRACE. Life is hard, so hard sometimes! Most of us though, are doing the best we can with what we have been given. We can’t always choose what happens to us in life but we can choose how we respond to what does. Start by choosing to go easy on yourself. We are all human and we all struggle. Practice showing grace to yourself first and then learn to extend it to others. Eventually, you will find that grace is pretty amazing.

If all else fails, B-R-E-A-T-H-E again and remember that this day is only 24 hours long. You can get through it. For the next few hours, give yourself to permission to sit in your suck and then vow to begin the next day with a fresh perspective. Breathe in the good and breathe out the suck. Sleep it off, and the next day, start anew. Life is just too short and amazing to let it be otherwise. 

2014: The year of the dance

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…” – C.S. Lewis

A friend of mine posted these words on her Facebook page yesterday. The words struck me. I couldn’t help but think how absolutely perfect this powerful quote was as we close out the old year and welcome a new one.

As I then began to reflect on 2014, I thought about how I don’t really feel any different that I did a year ago. Except, that I do. I KNOW that I am a different person. You cannot go through a year of dancing and not emerge a different soul. It’s impossible. Even though I am sitting on the same sofa, probably in the same jammies, doing the same thing I did last January 1, my life is so completely different now that it would take days to explain. For me, 2014 was the year of the dance–the one of joy and grief. Old paths intersecting with new ones as the journey of life danced on. . .  whether I was ready for it or not.

As I was reflecting, I remembered a blog post, (one of way too many that I had started and never finished in 2014) one that sheds some light on the dance.

It is like a dance really. . .

The one of joy and grief.

Some days, it’s like a lively Irish jig–the back and forth of emotions moving as quickly as a river dancers feet. Joy and grief simultaneously morph into something so mind-blowing that I have yet to find the words to adequately describe.

Then some days, the dance, well, it’s more like a graceful waltz. Joy and grief moving together as beautifully as they possibly could given the circumstances that brought these two emotions together in the first place.

And still other days, it’s like the mosh pit of a punk rock concert. Out of control and coming at you full force, like the beat of a thousand drums pounding at you until you just want to run away forever. But you can’t. You can’t escape a mosh pit. You are stuck until music ends.

And that’s the dance of joy and grief.

When you are missing people who you loved like crazy, the dance is always there.

But, life goes on–it doesn’t stop because we are grieving. Joyful moments intersecting with painful ones. One unable to exist without the other. And just as you are beginning to find a familiar groove, a new dance suddenly begins. Jigging, waltzing, moshing. The dance is there waiting to remind you that even though life is good–so very good-there is a hole in your heart so big that it’s impossible to fill. Those days are mosh pit days. And I am not a fan.

And so it went. And so it goes. Raw becomes real. As the numbness of the first year after loss began to fade, year two slowly became a dance. A very painful one. My old life constantly intersecting with the new. Well worn paths and new ones forged–colliding, over and over and over. The dance became one of clinging ever so tightly while slowly letting go–like you are hanging onto the edge of a cliff and one by one your fingers are slowly slipping. . .

Loving.

Living.

Growing.

Healing.

Praying.

Looking back.

Moving forward.

Dancing.

It’s almost like a cha-cha now.

And instead of dancing in the rain. . .

I dance through tears–the ones of joy and grief.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that you make the choice to stay and dance or you choose to leave the party. You choose to jig, waltz, and cha-cha through the ups and downs of life, or you choose to stay stuck in the mosh pit, even after the music has ended and the crowd has gone home.

I choose to stay and dance–sometimes, like no one is watching.

And I’m glad.

Because even though the dance is exhausting, and painful, and messy, it’s also beautiful and joyous, and worth every crazy, aching moment.

To all of my friends and family that have danced with me in 2014. . .

I thank you and I love you.

Good-bye 2014 and hello 2015.

I can only imagine the new dance steps I will learn.

Happy New Year to all.

May 2015 be all that you hope it to be.

A little bit of 2014
A little bit of 2014. There are many, many more photos I’d like to put in here but ran out of room. Life is good. Live it. Love it. And don’t forget to dance.

Four simple truths about gratitude

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I’m resisting the urge to write volumes on the subject.

Because I could.

It’s that powerful.

It’s that game-changing.

It’s that essential. . .

To all that’s good in life.

But, I promise to keep it short and sweet.

Because the truths speak for themselves. . .

Four simple truths about gratitude

  1. Gratitude is a choice. Living life with a grateful heart doesn’t always just happen–especially when life sucks. You may have to choose it-over and over and over again–even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t make sense. Because eventually, it will make sense. It will become part of your DNA. You’ll wonder how you could breathe without it.
  2. Gratitude is self-pity’s kryptonite. Try feeling sorry for yourself and being truly grateful at the same time. It simply cannot be done. I know this because I’ve tried. More than once. And I’ve failed. Every. Single. Time.
  3. A joyous life is absolutely impossible without gratitude. So is a peaceful one, or a content one, or a loving one, or a courageous one, or an abundant one. . . And you get the picture.
  4. Practicing gratitude will save your life. I know this because it’s saved mine.

So what is stopping you,

Despite where your life may be at this moment,

From living your best life?

The one that includes you with a grateful heart. . . and a joyous soul.

As somebody once said, “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.”

And it’s true.

One thousand million percent true.

There IS always a reason to be grateful.

Besides, like I said. . .

Gratitude will save your life.

Now go ahead. . .

You go be grateful!

What are you waiting for?

Some thoughts on gratitude and service

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A Thankful Heart from Joy for the Journey

Some thoughts on gratitude

It was the fall of 2012, a couple months after the crash. For the past month or so, I had been reading a daily devotional that I had found on my mom’s bookshelf.  I had given it to her for her last birthday and I had been reading it faithfully since finding it. The passages had become a source of comfort for me and I looked forward to the brief moments of solace from my intense pain and grief that reading those words every morning brought to me. The devotions seemed to fit everything that was going on in my life at the moment, just like they had for my mom when she had started reading it.

Then, just like life can suddenly go from beautiful to broken in the blink of an eye, the devotions on those pages did the same. In an instant, I was frustrated and angry at the words I was reading. Why, you ask? Well, I can sum it up in one word. Gratitude.

The devotional had themes and that week’s theme was gratitude. Because, really, how dare a devotional that is meant to be healing and uplifting, share a message of gratitude? Right? Didn’t they know that grieving people would be reading this book? What do people smack dab in the grips of intense pain need to know about gratitude? I’d be lying if I said a few choice words didn’t fly out of my mouth.

Day in, day out. The message of gratitude seemed to drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I argued with the devotional every morning. “Surely, this wasn’t meant for grievers” was the core of the one-sided argument I had become engaged in. “Really,” I would think. “Easy to be grateful when things are good. Surely, you can’t expect me (or any others that are hurting) to be grateful after experiencing profound loss.” And on and on it went inside my head. Finally, after a few days of the reading about gratitude, I had had enough.  I read the day’s passage and in a fit of desperation, I looked to the heavens (from my bathroom mind you) and screamed (yes, out loud)–“FINE! I FUCKING GET IT! I’LL BE GRATEFUL!” (Yeah, God has gotten to witness some stellar moments from me over the years. Gratefully, he is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving.) Another gut-wrenching moment of surrender had befallen me (one of many in my life) and I vowed–half-heartedly, of course–to give practicing gratitude a try. Long story short. . . it worked. Even in my deepest moments of hopelessness and despair, I began to find moments of comfort and peace when I viewed the world through a lens of gratitude and not my own pain. Go figure. Maybe God was on to something here.

Some thoughts on service

Some time later the devotional moved to a theme of service. Yeah, cue the first part of this story here. “Really,” I thought. “You want me to serve others when I’m grieving. Surely, you can’t be serious. I can barely take care of myself at the moment and you want me to help somebody else?” Again, on and on it went. Although slightly less dramatic this time around, I experienced another moment of surrender in my bathroom and vowed (yes, half-heartedly again) to find some way to serve others. I wasn’t capable of much, but I dug deep and did what I could–I said a prayer for somebody other than myself, sent words of encouragement to somebody in need, or donated money to causes I supported. Again (surprise, surprise). . . it worked. Viewing the world through a lens of service had given me small moments of reprieve from my grief, just like practicing gratitude had. Through each new moment of comfort and peace that I experienced, I began to gain some hope that healing would be possible. I remember thinking how good God was at this stuff.

A few more thoughts

I’d like to say that it was my grief-fogged brain that kept me from listening to those first few messages in that devotional,  but I don’t think that would be entirely truthful. Besides my own stubbornness in not always listening, I came to learn that much of the traditional literature out there surrounding loss and healing doesn’t always talk about gratitude and/or service as part of the arsenal of tools that we have at our disposal as we begin to move forward. After all, it seems paradoxical to practice gratitude and serve others when we are suffering from incredible pain ourselves. Or does it?

Since those darkest of days in the beginning of my grief journey, I have learned more about the power of gratitude and service than I ever thought imaginable. And. . . I’m still learning. I’d like to tell you that my grief journey is done but I really feel like in some ways it’s just beginning. The numbness of the first year slowly faded and life got very real for me in year two. VERY REAL. I still find myself feeling like I am going backwards some days even though I know in my heart that I am always slowly inching forward. It’s in those real times, those painful times, those times when I feel like I am heading down the rabbit hole of despair that I focus even more on being grateful,  for everything. I have found that as time has gone on, gratitude and service have become innate functions of my very being. I have been so transformed on the inside from these practices that I can’t imagine not viewing life through the beautiful lenses that I have been given–even on the worst of days.

Start simply and grow

If you are reading this and you are in the early stages of healing, it’s very important to note that you might not want to hop right in and tackle things new things right now. Those first few weeks after a loss are so extremely difficult. Just getting out of bed (or not) is hard enough, let alone trying to add anything else to your plate. In time, though, you will want more. You will want more than simply surviving, you will want to thrive. That’s when gratitude and service will eventually come in. Start simply where you are at and grow from there.

As we head into November you will see an explosion of all things gratitude–challenges, journal writing, Facebook memes etc. If you aren’t practicing gratitude regularly, now may be the perfect time to start. If you are already mindfully practicing gratitude (or trying to), think about how you can move your gratitude practice into one of service. If you are already practicing both, I challenge you to kick it up a notch or ten. The most important thing to remember is to do what you are capable of. Some days, it still takes all I can muster to get through the day. Other days, it would take kryptonite to bring me down. Remember, even on our best days, we can’t do everything all of the time. Learn your limits, use your gifts, and serve accordingly. . .  all the while giving thanks. Then, be prepared for your life to change. God is really good at this stuff.