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.

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Facing fears and finding me…

The past few days I have spent some time reflecting on my weight-loss/health/fitness journey. And while reflecting on this journey is something I tend to do regularly, I have been extra reflective as I get ready to write down my 2016 goals. Adding to that, a good friend recently asked me for some weight-loss tips the other day which really got me thinking. . .

This was the very first honest post I wrote about my weight and my struggles. I wrote it on January 23, 2012 and I remember this night vividly. We had just returned home from Iowa after sending our youngest off to Oman to study abroad. I had looked at the going away pictures. I remember consciously trying to stand in a way that would make me look not as large as I was when we were taking the pics. Those pics were my tipping point. My surrender. Later that night I sat down to write this after I ordered my scale. Again, thank God for Amazon one-click or I may have chickened out. I am also not sure where I found the courage to hit the publish button that night. . . but I did. Facing your fears and owning your story, is the most empowering and freeing thing I have ever done in my life. Happy New Year. May you find yourself and be free.

Hangin' by a Thread



Part of truly being yourself is owning your story. Today, I’m owning a pretty big part of mine…


I did something today that absolutely T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D me, something I have avoided- successfully or not, depending upon how you look at it- for years. My heart is still pounding a bit, but thanks to one-click shopping at Amazon.com I didn’t have time to stop and think before I tossed it into my virtual cart. Boom, it was done. No going back. I had to face this once and for all.

Anti-climactic, I know, but the big, scary thing I did was order a digital scale, something I haven’t owned for years. For many people, hopping on the scale is not a big deal, but, as a person that has battled an eating disorder for a good share of my 40 plus years, the thought of owning and stepping on a scale is…

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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.

A rambling good-bye

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My map of what breaks me open, an exercise in turning brokenness into beauty. I am currently navigating my way through a book called “the Geography of Loss” by Patti Digh. She talks about taking those moments that break you open and creating a map using those moments as landmarks by which to move forward–creating beauty from brokenness. This is my beauty of a map. Artist I am not, but luckily that wasn’t what this map required.

Update July 29, 2015: When I originally wrote this, I was sure I was ready to move on and start fresh in a new blog. Well, I guess I lied. I’m really not going anywhere. This place has too much of me poured into these pages to ever let it go. I was and will always be Hanging by a Thread. ~Melissa

This is a rambling, a jumble of words, a see-ya-later-but-not-really.

They say all good things must come to end, and so to must this blog.

When I began Hanging by a Thread in January of 2012 I was a different person, one that had done the work and was ready to take charge of her life.

And took charge I did.

But little did I know what life had in store. . .

Unimaginable loss. Change. Grief. Pain. Heartache.

Comfort and safety snatched away.

Healing. Love. Gratitude. Growth.

Grace. Redemption. Hope.

Learning to trust His way.

Little did I know that the title of my blog would become an aching metaphor for life. . . 

And now I have come to a crossroads. . .

A season of major life changes, a season of loss, a season of finding me–is slowly fading.

I can feel it in my bones.

What is next?

I have no clue. . . only visions in my head of where the path is leading.

Visions placed there by the whispers of my soul.

It feels like a settling in, of heading where I am being called, of finding the courage to share with my whole heart what life’s journey has taught me over the years.

And even though I am ready to take the leap, to dive headfirst into the deep end–it is scary.

Very scary.

But in a good way, I think.

It’s a new season.

A new day dawning.

I have felt it for a while now.

But it takes courage, both to let go and to move forward.

And sometimes courage is hard to muster. Really hard.

It is easier to just stay where we are at because it’s comfortable. It’s safe.

Then I remember that comfort and safety are really just illusions anyways.

I wrote this a while back and just found it the other day. I don’t even really remember writing it. It was one of those thoughts that popped into my head and I recorded it on the spot. I knew it was a perfect snapshot of where I was at, of where I am, and of where I am heading.

Change is coming again. I can feel it. I don’t know exactly what it will be, even though I have an inkling. I have learned to be okay with not knowing. I have learned to trust, even though I wonder. I have learned to be patient, even though I’m not wired that way.  I have learned that even though I know the change will be amazing, it will be hard. It always is. Growth and change and healing are like that. They don’t call them growing pains for nothing. 

I have learned to trust, even though I wonder . . . luckily my middle name is faith.

Faith.

It’s what has gotten me through, given me hope, and brought me home.

Even though this blog is ending, I am not done writing.

In fact, I am just beginning. . .

You can find me here, in my new place, with my new blog, My Middle Name is Faith.    http://melissafaith.com/

I don’t know exactly what it will be. In fact, there isn’t even anything there. And even though I don’t exactly know what it will be yet, the words real and raw come to mind–kind of like a conversation with those that know me best. A space where authenticity, tolerance, grace, and love are welcomed . . .

Thank you all for your encouragement and love over the past few years. I thank God for each and every one of you.

Thank you to all who have shared my tears, watched me come undone, and stayed by my side through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And lastly, thank you to those that have remained through the brokenness and the beautiful of this journey. 

Let the new chapter begin. . .

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.