As I sit down to write this, I am procrastinating going on a run. So far, it’s working great!
Fast forward to three hours later. . .
It dawned on me when I sat down to write this morning that if I could create time to write, I could surely get my butt out there to run. I would probably write better after a head-clearing run anyways, so I got dressed, procrastinated a little more, then finally leashed up my dogs and headed out. I figured I would warm up by walking them and then head back out for a couple more miles.
When I walk my dogs I like to take them to a trail that runs behind the nearby creek– it’s only three blocks from my house. My dogs drag me down the streets until we get to the trail where they know…
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 alone. Ever. 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 wehave 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.
“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. . .
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.
Maybe it was a pre-emptive strike on the pending holiday season. Maybe it was because I needed some focus to get through the next month without having a hater-induced meltdown. Or maybe it was something entirely different, but the other night I jotted a December “To-Do” list in my journal–not generally what I jot in my journal, simply for the fact that I am NOT a fan of to-do lists. To-do lists often cause undo angst. For example, isthere anything on your to-do list right now that will cause the sun not to rise tomorrow if you don’t complete the task? I didn’t think so. The world will not end if your floors are not scrubbed or your holiday baking doesn’t get done. Enough said. Moving on!
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the holiday season, especially since the Christmas ware hit the store shelves (it gets earlier every year) before the Halloween pumpkins were out of the field. The Facebook memes soon followed. It all makes me really uncomfortable mostly because the holiday season brings out the worst in people and society–especially Christians, especially in the United States.
We freak out because somebody says “Happy Holidays” to us instead of “Merry Christmas” yet we walk by homeless people like they don’t exist. We rant and rave about putting “Christ back into Christmas” yet we trample each other, literally, on Black Friday for a deal on something we probably already have 10 of at home. We stuff our faces with food and drink from Thanksgiving until the New Year yet our neighbors go hungry. We sit in church pretending to do unto others yet hateful words directed at those who are different from us spew from our lips, sometimes even while we are still in the pews. To sum it all up, we use Christianity to justify our worst human behaviors and in the process we become self-righteous a@@holes. Merry Christmas everyone!
Eat. Drink. Be Merry.
Spend. Spend. Spend.
We proclaim. . .
“Jesus is the reason for the Season.”
Yet, we fail–time and time again–to serve our fellow man.
We fail to serve others because their of skin color, or because they are gay, or Muslim, or Atheist, or in prison, or an addict, or mentally ill, or homeless, or poor. . . Hate, fear, and ignorance get all jumbled together and before we know it we’re deeply offended because somebody had the audacity to greet us with a Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas yet people all around us are hurting and messed up and we don’t seem to care. Love one another? Sure, as long as you are just like me.
I say its about time we ALL get over ourselves and act the Christians we proclaim to be. After all, it’s easy to buy a cup of coffee for the next person in line at Starbucks but what about buying a cup of coffee for the homeless person standing on the street corner?
You see, from the time the first Christmas light twinkled on a store shelf mid-October to the first meme that reared its ugly head on social media, I have been irritated, frustrated, and angry. I have found myself unfriending, unfollowing, and complaining about anyone that even came remotely close to displaying their self-righteous Christian attitudes and behaviors about anything (and there has been a whole lotta hate spewing around lately), especially Christmas.
Until. . .
I realized that I was being a self-righteous a@@hole towards the self-righteous a@@holes. UGH! I was justifying my self-righteous a@@hole hater behavior with my belief that good Christians don’t act the way the self-righteous a@@hole haters were, so therefore it was okay for me to hate on them.
But wait. . .
That’s really not what being a Christian is all about, is it. Besides, I don’t want to be a hater, even to haters because hate, and fear, and ignorance take up space that could be filled with love, and grace, and kindness. And love, and grace, and kindness are essential to putting Christ back into Christmas. UGH, UGH. Hating haters is so much easier than loving them, or extending grace, or being kind. But then again I don’t remember anyone ever saying being a Christian was supposed to be easy. UGH, UGH, UGH.
As I have said a million times before, when you know better, you do better. Me blogging about self-righteous a@@holes will not change them or put Christ back into Christmas–but me, changing myself? That might make a difference for someone. After all, the only person we can truly ever change anyways is ourself. By making changes in my heart, I can hope that the ripple effects change someone else, and in turn change someone else, and so on, and so on, and so on. . .to infinity and beyond.
When I finally got over myself (which I am pretty good at because I have to do it often) I made my to-do list. My list is short but challenging to me. For those of you that know me well, you know which “dos” on the list will challenge me the most. Some of you will probably snort with laughter like the hub did. You better sit down before you read it.
Anyways, the list went into effect December 1. So far, I’ve been doing pretty good, but it’s early in the month, Christmas is coming, and change is so hard! I have vowed, though, to do the following every day–either until the changes are so ingrained in me that they become innate or until this list kills me. At this point, it could go either way. So, here goes!
This holiday season (drumroll please) I vow to:
DO KINDNESS. Yes, that means to self-righteous a@@holes, to people that are different than me, and to strangers, and to my friends, and to my family, and to myself. Kill ’em with kindness, they say. (Ironically, this may be the one that kills me.)
DO SELF-CARE. For me this means hydrating, drinking green smoothies, running, and trying to get enough sleep. It is only when you practice self-care that you can serve others to the best of your abilities. Putting your mental and physical health needs aside is plain foolishness. You CANNOT take care of anyone else if you choose not to take care of yourself. Don’t be a self-care martyr. Just don’t. Period.
DO GOOD DEEDS. For others, for myself, for the planet, for whatever “doing good” means that day–even if what I need to do makes me uncomfortable. (Like being kind to self-righteous a@@holes.)
DO SPEND WISELY. This means my time and my money. Consequently, I have vowed NOT to buy myself ANYTHING material until the New Year. (That is the part where the hub nearly lost it.) Yes, that means clothes, shoes, purses, makeup, and the like. I have more than enough. I plan to do something good with the saved time and money.
Will my to-do list move mountains and end all the hate in the world? Of course not. Will a trend of actually putting Christ back into Christmas sweep the nation as we all set aside our differences and do unto others? Nope. Not even close. But will my to-do list make me a better person? Yep. Will my to-do list make the world a better place for somebody else? It already has.
P.S. And as an added holiday bonus, there is currently one less self-righteous a@@hole in the world. Well, at least for this holiday season anyways. Maybe to-do lists are good for something after all.
One that will go on long after I am here to write about it.
Rising from the Ugandan dust. . .
An orphanage grew.
That doesn’t just happen.
Orphanages don’t just appear.
But this one did.
Beauty from the ashes. . .
An orphanage born of redemption and grace.
But most of all LOVE.
Because love never fails.
It shows up.
Even in death.
Even when we are brokenhearted.
In a few short days, I will be boarding a plane to Uganda to visit the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home. I will be traveling with some very special people. At the moment, I feel like I am about to burst from pure joy and excitement.
And yet, I can hardly believe it. . . even though I’ve been there before.
I’ve seen it.
I’ve hugged the children.
I’ve touched the red earth.
I’ve felt joy and grief simultaneously flood my heart. . . until I thought it would explode.
It’s all very real. . .and yet, still so surreal.
I sometimes can’t help but wonder if this all a really long, tragic-yet-beautiful, neverending dream.
Some days I think that maybe this will be the day that I wake up.
I’ll call my mom and sister-in-law and tell them about this crazy dream I had about an orphanage.
And they will listen as I recount every detail.
I’ll chase butterflies with my niece and tell her that I’ve met a whole bunch of her 100 kids.
And she will tilt her head back and laugh wildly!
Then I realize that I am awake. . . and I remember that they already know about this orphanage.
Because, when I was there, I saw their spirit everywhere. . .
In the faces of the beautiful children and in the butterflies that would linger.
I saw them gloriously looking on from above.
Their love reigning over us.
Love is like that.
It shows up.
It builds orphanages.
It transcends death.
It heals the brokenhearted.
February 7, 2014 would have been my dad’s 72nd birthday. Today, would have been my mom’s 70th. After my mom’s death 18 months ago, I found myself grieving my dad as well as the collective loss of my parents–something I never expected would happen.
I cleared the leaves and freshly fallen snow from my mom’s newly laid gravestone. It had only been a few months since she, along with my sister-in-law and eight year-old niece, had been killed by a drunk driver. As I looked at her name etched into the stone, I was sure the heaviness in my heart would cause it to explode. My mom was 68 going on 50 when she died and I had yet to make any sense of her senseless death. I stood there in tears for a while and when I finally turned to leave, I noticed my dad’s gravestone. It was covered in layers of dead leaves and snow, nearly forgotten by me. My heavy heart sank further into my chest.
The year was 1977 and I was eight when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 34 years old and his death was shocking to me, even at such a young age. Standing at his grave 35 years later, his death seemed like a lifetime ago. The older I had gotten, the less I had seemed to think of him (even though I did occasionally) and at times, I still really missed him. So many years had passed though that for the most part, my memories of him had faded deeply.
My mom had remarried when I was 15 to a wonderful man who I have considered my dad for the three decades. My stepdad walked me down the aisle, was grandpa to my children, and loved my mom to no end. He had been there for me, through thick and thin, throughout most of my life whereas the man buried at my feet had only been there for the first few years. Yet, I shouldn’t have forgotten. Even though he had been gone for so long, my dad had loved me deeply, that I had known from early on. As time had passed I had taken those memories and tucked them away. Maybe it was to protect myself from the hurt, maybe I really had forgotten, or maybe it was a little of both. I wasn’t really sure. All of these things quickly raced through my mind and suddenly, I found myself sobbing. With guilt-laden grief, I quickly dropped to my knees and began to clear away his stone.
As I drove home, the tears kept coming. I had just been thrust into an unexpected, adult-sized mourning of his death at the same time I was mourning the new loss of my mom. I found myself grieving a lifetime of memories lost as well as grieving the collective loss of my parents, something that I hadn’t considered would happen. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The two people that had loved me and cared for me from the very beginning of my life were now gone. If it was possible to feel orphaned as a forty-something adult, this had to be what it felt like.
Over the next few days, I found myself in tears quite often as I kept thinking a lot about the early years of my life, especially those days and weeks surrounding the time of my dad’s death. Even though those memories had been dormant for what seemed like forever, my grief-stricken brain easily–albeit painfully–recalled them. Saying goodbye the morning of his death, being taken out of school knowing that something was gravely wrong, going with my mom to pick out his casket, sitting with her at his funeral, as well as the sorrowful days that ensued— these memories were now incredibly fresh in my mind. As they flooded in, I found myself reliving the pain of that time, not through the eyes of my eight-year old self, but instead, through the eyes of an adult. As a child I knew the loss of my father was tremendous, but as an adult, I was able to realize fully the magnitude of his loss and it hurt– big time. Even though I thought I had completely grieved his loss years ago, I found out that really wasn’t true at all. Now, as an adult, I was able to give my eight-year old self the space and permission to hurt and then to heal. I had discovered quite out of the blue that grief is funny like that. It sneaks up on us and can send us reeling into some dark places when we least expect it to. We can either run from that darkness or through it to the light. I chose to move towards the light.
It has been just over a year since that grief-ridden, heavy-hearted day in the cemetery. Since that day, I have been able to heal from the childhood loss of my father in a deeper and more meaningful way than I ever thought possible, even while grieving the recent death of my mom.
The biggest lesson that I have learned throughout this time is that grief and healing are constant and fluid, ever changing as time passes. I know that I will always be grieving my parent’s deaths, both individually and collectively, in some way or another, and I am completely okay with that. I know that with every resurgence of grief, the opportunity comes to heal and grow, and to reconcile and release the pain of their losses. I know that it is okay to give myself permission to grieve and to create space in my life for healing, whether it’s from something that happened years ago or just yesterday. This new understanding of grief and healing has created a newfound peace in me–despite the pain— and I know that with each new level of healing that I reach, I will be able to stand in that cemetery. . . my heavy heart a little lighter than the last.
As I was listening to the choir sing a verse of “Silent Night” this morning in church, a tremendous feeling of peace washed over me. It was instantaneous, pretty awesome, and in fact, I swear it felt like the Holy Spirit was thumping me in the forehead and saying, “PEACE, DO YOU GET IT, C’MON!?” I felt myself take a deep, deep breath and just soaking up that amazing moment. In an instant, I was relaxed and just breathing, not something I do very well, ever. I wish I could bottle that feeling because it was I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E. Then, as if I didn’t really get the message, I came home and read this in an email. . .
“Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there, our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.” ~Henry Nouwen
Powerful, powerful words. In our weakness, we find peace. . . and Lord knows I am weak.
As we hustle and bustle our way through the next couple of weeks of the Christmas season, my wish for you is that you find at least a moment of peace. May you find it through your brokenness, your insecurities, your agony, your “to-d0” list, and your fears. Let it wash over you like a gentle breeze and soak it in.