A Timetable for Grief

jim and grandma

It’s been three and a half years since Jim died.  I haven’t really talked about it much because, well, what would I even say.  It’s all so tender and fragile and holy.  It’s been three and a half years since we all stood around his bed and said goodbye.  None of us wanted to, but we had no choice. So we did. I stood in the back of the room because I didn’t think I had a right to stand closer. He was my uncle.  Not my brother.  Not my partner.  My uncle.  I didn’t have a right to be up close as he took his last breaths so I stood in the back and held mine.  In that cold hospital room, with the stupid blue chair and the horrible view of the roof and the air conditioning units I watched him die.  And some of me died there too.

Parts of me that believed that life was good and right and real died that day when the most real person I ever knew stopped living and left us all there to figure out why the hell it happened.  Even now as I write these words I still have no idea.  You know how sometimes you look back on things that have happened and say, “so THAT’S why that happened.  I understand now.”  Three and a half years later I still can’t make sense of it.  And maybe that’s just it.  There isn’t a reason.  He died because he got sick.  That’s it.  End of story.  Maybe there’s no lesson there at all.

I don’t think I’ve taken a deep breath since that day.  I’ve been shallow breathing for nearly four years.  Filled with so much sadness and grief and anxiety that I can’t catch my breath.  I got an up close and personal view of how fragile life actually is and it wrecked me.  Jenny Simmons writes, “Life is so deathy.”  She’s right.  It is.  But here’s the thing…the deathy-ness of life can keep us from the living.  It’s kept me from living.  It just feels so horribly wrong that the sense of wrongness takes up residence inside us and prevents us from taking deep breaths and seeing the fleshy colors of life all around us.  The weight of death wrapped itself around my shoulders, refused to let me go, and I’ve been sinking underneath the heaviness of it.

I couldn’t accept it, so I didn’t.  My heart has stayed there in that room, frozen in time, because I haven’t been able to deal with it yet.  And I’m terribly embarrassed about that.  I feel ashamed that I’m still grieving.  Like, why can’t I just get over it already?  Everyone expected me to get over it years ago, so I put on my happy face and pretended.  But really, inside I’m just numb and angry and devastated.

I keep feeling the need to explain why I loved him the way I did, why his death has me so messed up.  I feel the need to validate my grief.  But I can’t figure out why.  Is there some rule about who we are allowed to grieve for and whose death we have to move right past?  I don’t feel like I have a right to be this sad.  But I am.  So where does that leave me?  Not only am I still, nearly four years later, filled with red hot grief – I’m also ashamed to admit it so I’m keeping it entirely to myself.  So add to the red hot grief a paralyzing loneliness that I didn’t even realize was there.

I was pregnant with my fifth child, our first boy, when my uncle died.  I was terrified I would lose that baby as I had lost one many years before. So as we buried Jim, I buried my feelings along with him.  I became numb, the feeling parts of me closed off as tightly as I could manage while still being able to hug and hold all of my sweet babies. Bittersweet living. A new baby came and new friends and opportunities and all along the way I showed up just enough to take a ton of pictures, laugh a little and then crawl back into my hidy hole.

As I begin to emerge from my little cocoon, I realize that I am certainly not the only one who’s been here. There are so many of us who struggle with sadness, depression, anxiety or grief and we never really talk about it. For me, it was mostly because I wouldn’t have known what to say. And I’m usually pretty in touch with my feelings. I generally understand myself pretty well. Grief changes all that self-awareness though, I think. At least it did for me. I suddenly had no idea how to deal, or even what exactly I was dealing with. I heard someone say once that sin takes you further than you want to go and keeps you longer than you want to stay.  Well, I wonder if the same is true of grief – although I would never compare grief to sin.  Grief takes you hostage. It pulls you away from the living. And it cannot be interrupted, ignored or avoided no matter how hard you try. Grief has its own timetable and it will not be determined by those who grieve, we are simply along for the ride.

I wish that someone had told me that grief is different for every person. The timing will be different. The feelings will be different. The intensity and effects will be different. None of that means that anyone’s grief is more or less significant than anyone else’s – it simply means that grief (like anxiety and depression) is different for all of us. I wonder if we have to actually be present within the grief to ever come back out of it? I wonder if grief isn’t something to just get through, but rather something to experience freely and fully so that we can take from it even more memories of the people that we lost. I have memories of my grief that are entwined with my memories of and with my uncle. This may sound strange, but they are as precious to me as the memories I have with him living. They feel tender to me and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

I’m grateful for my season of grief and for however long it decides to last. I will fully participate in it. I will not try to push it down or away, but will listen to whatever it has to teach me.

I pray now for each of you who are traveling your own grief journey. Let us not be ashamed or discouraged. Let us be willing and ready to remember and be thankful that we have had the beautiful and enduring privilege of loving someone so deeply. May God bless you in your grief and me in mine. 

kim

The Way of Letting Go – A Book Review

Refreshingly authentic and vulnerable, The Way of Letting Go, by Wilma Derksen is a moving story of a woman, a mother, in the midst of unimaginable pain. The writing is superb. So superb that it often reads more like a chilling novel than a memoir. The wisdom and humility in the author’s words are both surprising and inspiring. To read the details of her daughter’s gruesome murder is difficult at times, but I found myself wanting to know what happened – not from some deprived curiosity, but because I found myself connecting to the heart of the mother so intensely that I wanted to hear her heart more fully – and to do that required a better understanding of her intense pain. As a mother, this book was difficult to read at times, but it was also surprisingly encouraging.

This book is about so much more than one woman’s story of grief. It’s about healing and forgiveness. It’s about self-discovery and faith. It’s about learning to live again after the unimaginable happens. I cannot tell you how deeply moved I was by this book – it created an intense emotional response that I was not expecting.  Anyone who has ever experienced grief can find some beautiful healing in these pages.  This is a book that speaks not only to the heart, but also to the soul.

Some of my favorite Quotables from The Way of Letting Go by Wilma Derksen:

“Finding our own words for what happened is our way of healing and becoming integrated again.” (p57)

“I had to let go of the need to find a happy ending to my story. I had to let go of my perfect story – and write the story that was happening to me.” (p60)

“Privileged are they who deliberately discard that panic of self-preservation and fear and dare to live life on the edge for others. Our souls will ultimately be saved if we risk it all for love.” (p67)

“The experience of violence or any kind of injustice reorders the sense of self. It devastate our identity. Our values, interests, lifestyle, attitudes, and habits can be so drastically altered that we almost become unrecognizable. … But for the most part, when something drastically changes our identity, whenever we find ourselves wondering “Who am I?” or “What are people thinking of me now?” we can lose confidence to move forward.  We become traumatized in a different way. It’s not easy to find ourselves again.” (p98)

“In the end, we are only responsible for our end of this victim-offender trauma bond. We can only control the end we are holding.” (p135)

“forgiveness doesn’t need to be defined to be lived and felt.” (p155)

“Gratitude is the last powerful light that drives away the darkness.” (p163)

“Letting go isn’t easy. It isn’t a one-time decision. It is a long process, and even though it is integral to forgiveness, it doesn’t end there. The process itself is the most important part of the pain of being wounded in the first place. It is the learning, growing, accepting of reality, of loss, of pain.” (p173)

“There are so many ways to tell our story, and the more ways we do it, the more we learn.” (p176)

“That’s forgiveness: when our hearts are more full than they are empty.” (p180)

“Forgiveness was something we did in the privacy of our hearts – letting go and choosing love.” (p186)

“Compassion is the essence of community.  Without it, we cannot heal ourselves or our relationships.” (p189)

“put love first, justice second.” (p193)

“When we move against the norm and reach for the counterintuitive lifestyle of forgiveness, we gain a powerful guide who is capable of doing miracles.” (p204)

“Forgiveness is an autonomous decision.  It is not dependent on the response of the other.  It is a lifestyle.” (p207)

kim

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 < http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

A Mile Wide – A Book Review

“Our love of one another is the greatest measure of our faith.” (p189)

Brandon Hatmaker’s new book, A Mile Wide, is more than a call to a deeper faith – it’s an invitation into kingdom living.  It’s an invitation to live a life modeled after Jesus – filled with love, grace and mercy.

The book is broken into two parts: The Gospel In Us and The Gospel Through Us, each part including four chapters.  At the end of each chapter there are ten discussion questions, making this a fabulous book to use for Bible study, book club or even just to discuss with your family and friends.  This book is more than just a quick read filled with fun stories and interesting ideas – it is potentially life changing.  It will challenge you, encourage you, inspire you and teach you.

Brandon is a fabulous storyteller – down to earth and funny – and his stories will leave you longing for a more authentic and tangible faith.  The way that he sees people is inspiring.  As I read through this book I found myself talking back to the pages as though the author could hear me affirming his words or asking questions about things.  There were even a few times I read a paragraph and thought – man, that needs to be a whole book just for that one thought (such as the quote below in bold – I would LOVE to see an entire book on this concept).

The thoughts and ideas here are not new, but they are written in a way that might be more accessible to the average person.  There’s an easiness about this book that makes it hard to stop reading, but the words are so deep and profound that it’s necessary to stop every so often to really soak them in.  Humility and kindness drip from the pages in this book in a way that is extremely refreshing and comforting.  There are also some difficult topics here, though – loving others, showing mercy, seeing the needs around us.  Although the book is written in a very thoughtful tone, there is nothing surface-level about this book.  It’s a call to live like Jesus.  A call to authenticity, vulnerability and grace.  A call to a deeper, more meaningful faith.  It’s a beautiful book and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Favorite Quotables from A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker (I really want to just quote the entire book to you, but that would be a lot of typing):

“..our interpretive lens should always be love.  It’s like the legend on a map helping us set our course.  How then should we love?  Choose love.  Every time.” (p5)

“Jesus came to rip the scales off our religious eyes to show us the heart behind the letters.  He moves from judgment to grace and chose love over law and people over position.  His gospel was for all, his community was inclusive, his discipleship was holistic, his mission was eternal, and his kingdom was vast.  Everything about Jesus and his dream for us was bigger, wider, and deeper than we can imagine.” (p6)

“The true gospel has never appealed to the masses, nor did it ever try to.  Jesus didn’t want fans; he wanted followers.  Yes, this kingdom will save your whole life, but you have to lose the one you have first.  There is no resurrection without a death.” (p13)

“Nothing matters more than humility, teachability, and repentance, because the opposites – pride, arrogance, and obstinacy – make us blind and deaf to every goodness and truth in the kingdom.” (p14)

“True gospel community starts with true vulnerability.  It’s where we end and the gospel begins.” (p96)

“Every move toward humility is a conversion.  Killing pride involves a thousand daily deaths that are hard and hurt and will cost us something.  But every time we choose to reject the lie of bigger and instead choose little, we are more converted to the greatness of the kingdom.” (p126)

“Everywhere we look there is physical, spiritual, emotional and relational need.  If we don’t see it, we are either looking in the wrong places or we’re not really looking.” (p138)

“Missional people attempt to live lives that are attractive to those who have no context for church.  They earn their places in the lives of others.  Only then do they hold the moral authority or personal permission to speak truth into someone’s life.” (p141-142)  [*this is probably my favorite quote in the entire book]

“Loving mercy and walking humbly are inextricably linked with seeking justice.  Loving mercy is the key motivation to justice, and personal humility is almost always the end result.” (p155)

“God is just.  But his justice is expressed through his mercy.” (p164)

 

 

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 < http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

We Belong to Each Other

I have to admit that I’ve been really grumpy lately. Grumpy and sad. It seems like every day I hear about or read about some hugely controvertial event that everybody in the whole world is either entirely for or vehemently against. Story after story pops up on my Facebook feed – guns, gorillas, bathrooms, babies – and on and on it goes. Take a quick scroll through the comments of any of these news stories and you’ll feel like there is no end to what we will fight about. And everyone is an expert. On everything. Blech. So I’m grumpy. And weary. And ready for all the fighting to end.

But I’m not three. So I know better. The fighting will never end. It will continue on and on until Jesus returns and completes what He began at the manger.

In her book, Carry On Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton writes, “I love God, whoever he is, and I’d really like to get closer to him.  I’ve been thinking about how one of the simplest ways to get close to a woman is to be good  to her children.  To be kind and gentle and to pay close attention to the things that make them special.  To try to see her children the way she sees her children.  And how God made us in his image.  How he is the mother and father of all of us.  So I wonder if that would be the best way to get closer to him too.  By being kind and gentle to his children and noticing all of the things that make them special.  So many of us spend our time trying to find God in books, but maybe the simplest way to God is directly through the hearts of his children.”

Man, that’s good.

The best way to get to know the heart of an artist is to study his art.  The best way to understand the heart of an author is to study the books they’ve created.  The best way to understand a songwriter is to listen to the songs they’ve written.  So it would make sense that the best way to get to know the heart of the Father is to study his creation.  Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image.  In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”  Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

I’ve recently been reading a book called The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper.  At the beginning of her fabulous book, she talks about what God meant when he said that his creation was “very good”.  She says this:

At the end of the sixth day, the writers declare, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good [tov me’od].  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31).

Tov is the Hebrew word for “good,” but the word does not refer only to the goodness of the object itself; it also refers to the ties between things.  In the Hebrew conception of the world, all of creation is connected.  The well-being of the whole depends on the well-being of each individual part.

– The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper, pg 30-31

Our connectedness is what makes us whole and healthy and “very good” in the eyes of our Creator.  This connectedness brings peace and love and happiness.  It helps us to remember our worthiness and our sense of belonging.  It helps us to remember that we are not the center of the universe, but rather an integral part of a beautiful whole that includes everyone.  When we remember that we’re connected no one gets left out or left behind.  Mother Teresa once said that “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  I believe this is THE reason that we can’t stop fighting.  We’ve forgotten that everyone belongs, everyone is worthy, everyone matters.  Not just me.  Not just you.  But everyone.

%22If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.%22

What if we lived as though everyone mattered?  The person in the car we just cut off, the lady in front of us in line at the grocery store who has eight bazillion coupons, the teenaged kid who is bullying other kids because he feels so worthless that he’s afraid someone else might think he’s worthless too, your kid’s teachers – who are doing the very best that they can, your pastor, your in-laws, your kids, your spouse – they all matter.  And everyone else that makes you mad, pushes your buttons, wastes your time or makes you feel rotten – they all matter too.  And so do you.  Not more than everyone else, but just as much.

Can you imagine how the world might change if we thought that way and then let that thinking influence our actions?  We might learn to seek to understand instead of seeking to be understood.  We might be able to look across the table and find common ground.  We might even turn our attention to more important things to fight against – like hunger, sex trafficking or racism.

“I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God.  I am humble because I believe that everyone else is too.” – Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On Warrior

Looking at each other as equals requires both humility AND confidence.  We can no longer see ourselves as less important, but we can’t see ourselves as more important either.  Everyone gets the same score on the scale of value.  We all make the cut.  In fact, we all hit the bullseye in terms of worth and value.  No one misses the mark.  

Once we understand all of that, we can learn to build bridges, cross divides and discover new common ground.  We may have to build that common ground, but once we see everyone as equally worthy we can begin to mend the hurt and create a new future together.  Sounds idealistic, and it is, but I also believe it’s the stuff of the Gospel.  Bridge-building, peace making, worthiness, grace, common ground – it’s the stuff of Jesus.  

by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you

 

 

Love Comes First

I was raised in a Christian home and was in church from the time I was four.  I grew up in a small Southern Baptist Church in the DFW area and, although I know that everyone has a different experience of church – no matter the denomination, my experience in church was overall a very positive and affirming one.  I was loved, cared for, taught and encouraged.  I was also admonished when I needed to be, but with love and kindness.  When I think back on my experience in church growing up, I feel very blessed.  The people of my church were my family.  They taught me things.  They helped me become who I am.  Without them I cannot imagine where I’d be.

Richard taught me how to love people no matter what they looked like by loving me just as I was and no matter how I dressed.  Nita and Ginger taught me about missionaries and what it looks like to serve God in other places.  Johnny taught me about worship and later he and his wife, Leona, taught me about marriage and parenthood.  Miss Rose taught me about Jesus.  Miss Bessie taught me about faithfulness.  My friend, Chris, taught me about loyalty and about unconditional love.  Paul taught me about evangelism and his wife, Christy, taught me about modesty.  Pattie, though she may not know this, inspired my dream of becoming a worship leader.

Later in my life and ministry Eric and Paul Michael taught me about what ministry really looks like and they both encouraged me and believed in me enough to help me find my own.  Dennis taught me about myself, who God made me to be, and that I didn’t need to be afraid of it.  After over ten years of ministry in churches, I’m still learning from the people who I serve with.  Lee is teaching me about grace – not only through his words, but mostly by his example.  Rachel is forever teaching me about forgiveness and courage.  Amy is teaching me about joy and friendship.  I cannot count the number of people who have spoken love and life to me over the years.  These people are all church people.  These people are all my people.  We speak the same language.  We think the same thoughts.  We have the same burning passion for Jesus and for people to know Jesus.  Church is meaningful to me.  Church people are meaningful to me.

I never understood the enormous difference between my experience with church and the experiences of the people around me that seemed to be so negative.  That was, until I had some negative experiences of my own.  It’s amazing how completely oblivious we are to the world around us until we get a taste of it ourselves.  I have been deeply hurt by church people, too.  I carry deep scars that may never fully heal from people who follow after Jesus.  And I’ve left scars of my own too.  And I think that’s the part that hurts the very most.  Church is supposed to be a place where broken, hurting people can come to be healed and loved by Jesus and supported and encouraged by each other.  And sometimes we’re great at that.  But sometimes we’re not.  Sometimes I think we’ve missed the point entirely.

Christians spend so much time trying to stand out from the world as “holy” or “set apart” and that’s exactly what we should be.  But I often wonder if we’re trying harder to ACT holy than we are trying to BE holy. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”              – John 13:34-35

Love comes first.  That’s how they know that we follow Jesus – by how we love each other.  Christian to Christian.  Christ follower to Christ follower.  Believer to Believer.  How we love each other matters to the people around us.  When they see us bickering over stupid things, arguing over theology, fighting over semantics it makes it look as though we hate each other.  The world is having a hard time believing that following Jesus is worth anything because even His followers can’t get along.  Forget about how we treat the rest of the world – although that’s enormous too – we can’t even get along with each other!

Think about that.  We’re part of a family that has something incredible to offer.  We desperately want the world to know what we have to give.  What we have to give is good and real and life-giving and FREE!  So we stand up and start telling everyone how wrong and stupid and awful all our family members are.  Then we tell all of those people how horrible and unlovable they are too.  And we cannot figure out for the life of us why they aren’t interested in our offer.  It’s ludicrous.  It really is.

The world needs Jesus.  Desperately.  He is the source of love, peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, healing and everlasting life with a perfect, holy and loving God.  But the world won’t ever see Him in bickering Christians, or prideful pastors.  When we spend all our effort and energy on “defending the Gospel” instead of living the Gospel we’ve entirely missed the point.  I don’t believe that the Gospel needs defending anyway.  What if instead of boldly proclaiming the truth (as we understand it) we were graciously living the love of Christ?  Instead of boldly proclaiming … graciously living.  Wouldn’t that make the world stop and take a look?

In his book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians debate, Justin Lee said this: “Jesus radiated grace and compassion in such a way that people came to him to hear his views on things.  By contrast, we Christians were so focused on preaching our views on things that we were driving people away, turning them off to church, Jesus, and everything we had to say.”

I believe that the way that we treat each other as Christians greatly affects the way people around us view Christianity.  I know that it is such hard work to find common ground with people you vehemently disagree with, but if we are to be Christ’s love to a hurting world we have to try.  We have the ultimate common ground: grace.

“Grace sees people for what makes them uniquely beautiful to God, not for all the ways they’re flawed or all the ways I disagree with them.  That kind of grace is what enables loving bridges to be built over the strongest disagreements.  Gracious dialogue is hard work.  It requires effort and patience, and it’s tempting to put it off.  All of us have busy lives and a lot of other issues to address.  But for anyone who cares about the future of the church, this can’t be put off.  The next generation is watching how we handle these questions, and they’re using that to determine how they should treat people and whether this Christianity business is something they want to be involved in.” – Justin Lee (Torn, pg 252)

I couldn’t agree more.  If the world is ever going to care what we have to say, they need to know how much we care about them – and how much we care for each other.

Love comes first.

 
PS: If you’re at all interested in helping to bridge the divide between gays and the church, please go buy and read Justin’s book. It affected me deeply.  You can also find his blog here.

 

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I read a book last year that took hold of me and started me on a journey to a different kind of thinking.  I cannot tell you how profoundly this book impacted my heart.  The book is Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle.  Father Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in California.  His book is about grace, redemption, love and life.  I urge you to go read it.

I was flipping back through it this morning, reading all of the things I highlighted and underlined.  As I was reading through his chapter called Gladness, I felt compelled to share a bit with you.

“Jesus says, “My ways are not your ways.” but they sure could be.  In the utter simplicity of breathing, we find how naturally inclined we are to delight and to stay dedicated to gladness.  We bask in God’s unalloyed joy, and we let loose with that same joy in whoever is in front of us.  We forget what a vital part of our nature this is.” (p150, Tattoos on the Heart)

“We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being – the fragrance of it.  And it works on us.  Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere) – to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight, confident that this is God’s only agenda.” (p151, Tattoos on the Heart)

I must have read that last sentence a dozen or more times.  Even now as I read it, I feel so affected by the truth of the statement that it brings tears to my eyes.

We breath in the delight of God and it works on us.  Then we breath out that same delight to the people around us.  This is God’s purpose for us.  To breathe in His delight – His pleasure in us – His love for us.  We breathe in His love and we breathe out His love.  Inhale and exhale.  Delight in, Delight out.  Acceptance in, Acceptance out.  Grace in, Grace out.  Peace in, Peace out.  Love in, love out.  That is our greatest purpose.  I truly believe it is that simple.  We are to be instruments of His love, His peace, His grace, His mercy, His delight.  God’s love for us, His delight in us fills up our lungs and our hearts and our minds and we breathe it back out into the world.

Father Boyle says, “We have grown accustomed to think that loving as God does is hard.  We think it’s about moral strain and obligation.  We presume it requires a spiritual muscularity of which we are not capable, a layering of burden on top of sacrifice, with a side order of guilt.  (But it was love, after all, that made the cross salvific, not the sheer torture of it.)” (p155, Tattoos on the Heart)

We make loving people and loving ourselves so complicated.  We have all these prerequisites for worthiness.  When really there are none.  It’s not complicated.  It may not be easy, but it’s not complicated.

Breathe love in.  Let it work on us.  Breathe love out.

Inhale.

Exhale.

My prayer for you this week is that you breathe in the incredible love of the Father who delights in your very existence.  That you let that delight work on your heart until you understand how very enough you are – how very loved you are.  That you exhale that same love, grace and compassion to the people around you.

Love you guys!

Kim