Remembering the Tunnel, the Sunlight, and Everything In-Between

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“When someone dies you don’t get over your grief by forgetting, you get through your grief by remembering.” – Author Unknown

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook the other day.  It’s an accurate statement of the grief journey.

The quote reminded me of how remembering my grief was the path that opened my heart back up to a love I had for writing, a love that had been buried away for years under the rubble of life.

It all started one afternoon when I looked back and remembered the first anniversary of my mom’s death.  When I did, I decided to share my thoughts in a note on Facebook. Here is the beginning of that note, written about five years ago.

July 4, 1992. I remember this date well. It was 10 days prior to the 1 year anniversary of my mom’s death on July 14, 1991. I was on my way to a 4th of July celebration and suddenly broke down in tears. One thought came to mind that completely terrified me… What if someday I forget her?” It really upset me. So much so, that I turned the car around and drove back home. Fortunately, my oldest brother and sister-in-law were in town that week visiting. I got home and she was there. Marianne understood. Her mom had passed away when she was 15. I told her why I was upset and she wrapped her arms around me and reassured me…You will never forget.

When I originally had this terrifying thought, the wound of losing my mom was still so fresh. I was nearing that point in the grief journey when you desperately want to hold on… but at the same time the holding on still hurts like hell.  It’s a hard spot to be in: wanting to remember but not wanting to hurt.

I started my first blog shortly after sharing those words above.

A blog.

At the time, I really didn’t even know what one was. I remember saying to my husband, “Maybe I should start a blog…I’m not sure if I have anything to say, but maybe I’ll try to start one.”  5 years and about 1500 posts later, I think I found stuff to talk about. :)

I know that many of my blog entries are moments of remembering, not just the grief but the beauty too. There’s no way to compartmentalize life. I will remember all of it.

As much as I like that grief quote above, I’ve lived long enough post-loss to know another truth about grieving that I find myself sharing over and over on this blog. There’s a part of you that never actually gets through grieving.  I don’t say that to discourage but to let people know that it’s okay to cry 23 years later.  It’s okay.

A quote from Corrie Ten Boom came to mind as I was writing this:

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

And, eventually, the train does come out of the tunnel. The sunlight hits your face as you sit there on that train car and a smile breaks free. But, the journey must go on. There are still miles of track to cover. There are still hard days. There are wedding days, giving birth days, miscarriage days, and days you would pay anything to pick up the phone just to hear their voice again on the other end.

So why am I sharing this?  Because, even after saying all of that…the remembering does get easier.

It does.

The remembering does become a gift, it eventually gives more than it takes.

It does.

I have not forgotten.  I will remember the dark tunnel.  I will remember the sunlight too. And, most of all, I remember how, time after time, my Redeemer has lived up to His Name.

Conversations That Guide Your Heart Home

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Don’t you love the gift tucked away in a simple conversation?

I’ve been feeling off all week.  I know it has a lot to do with the weather. I’ve woken up to clouds or rain for the past five mornings.  You can take the girl out of sunny Arizona but after a few days of limited sun she will feel like whining.  I think that’s how the saying goes. ;)

This morning, I knew my heart was pretty distracted because I had to reread the following devotional sentence multiple times before I could even retain a single word of it:  “Look to me continually for help, comfort, and companionship. Because I am always by your side, the briefest glance can connect you with Me.”

Unfortunately, like I said, it took multiple read throughs before I was even able to achieve the “brief glance.”  I always find it slightly ironic when I read reminders to focus and be still and yet my mind and heart are a million miles away.  You think that’s a coincidence?  No, me neither.

As we drove to school this morning my son and I talked.

“Mom, do you know what my favorite subject is in school right now?

“What?”

“Writer’s Workshop”  (yeah, he just scored some mega brownie points with that answer.)

“Cool”  I responded.

“We are currently working on a Halloween type story.  The best stories are going to be read to the first graders.  So you have to make sure what you write is appropriate for them.”

“So, what’s yours about?”

“Well, I just started, but mine’s about a skeleton named Nick. Nick is sitting at his kitchen table reading the newspaper and he says to himself…’I gotta find a job.’

“So, what job does he find?” I ask.

“He’s going to try a bunch of different jobs.  He’s going to try to work in a restaurant but it’s not gonna work out.  I have an idea what job he will end up doing.”

“Oh, yeah,” I ask.  “What is it?”

“I don’t want to tell you yet.  You’ll have to wait and see.” He answered.

“What?! Come on, I want to know!”

“Nope” he answered, shaking his head.  “You’ll just have to wait.”

I smiled and we continued journeying along the road and out of our neighborhood.

“Sean,” I said, “I’m so tired of the cloudy weather.”

“Yeah, it’s cloudy. But, you know, the sky is still so pretty.” He answered.

As he commented, I realized that Busted Heart was playing on radio.

“Hold on to me (Hold on to me)
Hold on to me
Don’t let me lose my way (Don’t let me lose my way)
Hold on to me.

Broke your heart a thousand times
But you’ve never left my side
You have always been here
For me”

I looked out at the horizon and couldn’t help but agree with him.

One Way to Make Pottery

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Write your way into a better story.

The first thing that came to mind when I started writing this post, other than that statement above, was the image of a pair of hands shaping and molding a clump of gooey pottery clay. I know nothing about pottery or clay. Yet, I could clearly see those hands going to work, turning a clump of goo into something beautiful and usable.

This is what it feels like before words begin to take shape on a blank page. I have no clue what the finished product will end up looking like. I only know one thing: I have to start molding them together in hopes of creating something of beauty…something of worth.

Writing helps me to process my life and the life taking place around me.

I spent many years believing I wasn’t creative or artistic. I couldn’t draw or paint well. As a child I remember how I would attempt (over and over again) to draw a dog. It would always turn out looking like a pig with a long tail.  :)  For the longest time, this was my only definition of a creative/artistic person. I failed to see writing as a form of art.

But I see it now.

In fact, now I believe that every person on earth is creative whether they realize it yet or not.

Sometimes the words I have to share really don’t seem to have much significance… clumps of words and thoughts scattered around the table in my heart.  Where do they go?  How will they all fit together on the page?

The journey is never clear when I begin. Writing opens my eyes. It’s the doorway I must walk through, the hall I must walk down. The light only begins to illuminate the path ahead when I choose to pick up a word and place it on the page.

Writing reminds me that every part of a story (yours and mine) contains beauty. No part is too small. Each piece has a purpose…and the purpose waits patiently to be discovered.

The process of writing opens my eyes to the better.

To the better which I would have missed had I not chosen to open my laptop and write.

To the better I can only experience if I choose to get my hands dirty, to pick up the words and begin shaping and molding them together.

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Galatians 6: 4-5 (Message)

 

The Missing Piece

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If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
    I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
    give you a long drink of salvation! (Psalm 91:14-16)

I read Psalm 91 this morning, the NIV translation and also the Message translation above. I love these verses but I couldn’t help but think about the times in life when it doesn’t seem like God is rescuing us or getting us out of trouble.  What then?

Sometimes people still get the terminal diagnosis from the doctor.

Sometimes people still lose their job or their house.

Loved ones still die.

Horrible and evil things still take place in this world.

I’ve come to understand that the only way any of those things make sense and the only way a person can be walking through a seemingly endless valley of pain and still say…”Yet, I will praise Him!” is because that person has done what the Psalmist suggests here:  Gotten to know God.

And, it’s not simply head knowledge, it’s a heart knowledge.  When we get to know God there’s a confidence and an assurance that goes beyond the here and now.  It’s infinitely bigger than our circumstances.

I think about the Apostle Paul and the encouraging words he would write to other believers while sitting in a jail cell.  Paul was filled with hope and it was that hope that gave him the strength and the perspective to write messages such as this one over and over again.

“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ  and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.  My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” Philippians 3: 7-11 (bold mine)

My goal is to know him...

Sometimes, life feels like a huge jigsaw puzzle and if this one important piece is missing, then the picture in front of us will fail to make sense.  Paul?  He had all the pieces he needed to keep moving forward in his faith.  The picture was clear.

A Trip Down Powerless Lane

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This morning I was thinking about my dad.  He suffered his stroke almost 2 1/2 years ago.  His life was forever changed on that day.  I’ve blogged about this on many different occasions but the journey our family has had to take watching a loved one adjust to a radically different way of living has been an eye opening experience.  If I had to pick two important lessons that have been solidified in my heart because of this journey, it would be this:

1. Sometimes we are powerless to change a situation and the best thing we can do is acknowledge it.
2. Mobility is a gift and I never ever want to take if for granted again.

Today, I want to focus on that first lesson.

As I look back on other seasons in my life when I was powerless to do anything about a situation, the first thing that comes to mind is my mom’s illness. I remember the day she sat me down in our living room and told me she had breast cancer. I was 13 years old. I remember how my young mind took the news extremely well.  I simply told myself that she would have surgery and be fine again.

Of course that’s how it would play out.

Other families experience the unhappy ending…not my family.  This plan worked for a couple of years before it started to unravel. Even though I thought I was fine, today I know that deep down I was anything but fine. I was terrified and I was unable to process, in a healthy way, just  how powerless I really was to do anything to change the situation.

Today, I believe this is one of the reasons I struggled with an eating disorder all through high school. Food and exercise were two things I could control in my young life. I fixated on eating just enough food to survive and then exercising obsessively. I went from a healthy 126 lbs to (at my lowest) 88 lbs.

My parents were concerned about me the entire time. My mom took the gentle, loving approach. My dad took the forceful, yelling approach. They would ask me how much I weighed and I would lie and tell them 100.

I hit  my first “bottom” the day I stepped on the scale and, even though  I had hardly eaten anything the day before, I had gained a pound.  I tried to stick my finger down my throat, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I finally told my mom I needed help. She took me to a nutritionist. (Umm, what I really needed was a shrink!)  The good news? I did stop starving myself but I never learned a healthy way to deal with situations where I was completely powerless to change the outcome.  In college, and after my mom’s death, I turned to alcohol instead of food. I used it as an escape.  I numbed my way through life and managed to avoid the tough or hard decisions for years and years before hitting my second “bottom.”  But, in my attempt to run away from life, all I did was dig a bigger hole.

So let’s go back to my original statement:   Sometimes we are powerless to change a situation and the best thing we can do is acknowledge it.

I’ve had to learn this many times in my life.  The biggest takeaway from the journey I’ve taken is this: The worst mistake we can make is to run away and hide from the truth.  Running and hiding only prolongs the pain and delays the healing.  Instead, we must look our fear in the face and acknowledge it.

Believe it or not…acknowledging our powerlessness gives us power.  And, it’s the only way out. It’s the only path that leads to freedom.

Question:  When it comes to tough situations, do you tend to run, hide, or confront? 

Cartwheels and Kangaroos

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I couldn’t decide this morning whether to write about the flame flickering in my fireplace, baby kangaroos, or this verse:  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” (Psalm 118:17)

So, lucky you, I will write about all of the above. ;)

My son plopped down in the car yesterday and asked me if I wanted the good news first or the bad news.  I chose the good news.  Because, well, I do prefer good news.  He proceeded to tell me how he got his picture taken with a kangaroo.  He told me how the hair/fur?  was softer than dog’s fur.  He told me how the baby was kept in a pillow case because it reminded him of the safety and comfort of his first home, his mother’s pouch.  He told me his name was Max.

I asked for the bad news next.  One of his good friends (who he just met this school year) has moved and must transfer to a new school.  Sean will no longer get to see him everyday.  I could tell my son was disappointed.  Bad news is hard. Change is hard.  Goodbyes are hard.

My son turns 11 years old next week.  11 years old. He has not fit on my lap (or in my pouch) for quite some time now.  But, there are days, I wish I had a pillow case. I want to keep him comfortable. I want to protect him from the bad news. But, I also know something else, sometimes bad precedes the good.  Sometimes we travel through dark before we get to the light. I’ve seen it happen over and over.

I turned the fire on in our fireplace again this morning.  After 15 months of living here, this is one my favorite parts of our house….instant fire.  I realized this morning that turning the fireplace knob on a cool Autumn morning brings me almost as much joy as turning on the Christmas tree lights in December.  There’s something so peaceful and inviting about the light.

Last Sunday evening, I had the chance to share a portion of my journey again with a couple of ladies.  I got to hear their stories too.  We shared the good and the bad.  We shared the dark and light.  I think I’ve mentioned this before but verses like the one above, about God’s ability to save us and how it’s hard to keep quiet about it, are some of my favorite moments in scripture.

These are verses that prompt my heart to do cartwheels.

I think about how the Light left his home (the pouch) and came to be the light for us.  He came so that we might live. He entered a bad situation to make it good.  Today, I know this to be true.  I also know that, in this life, I will hear and live the bad and the good.  There will be days with some painful goodbyes and there will be days with soft kangaroo hair. But no matter what, there will be joy available in the midst of it all.  Because {insert cartwheel}  He has done it! 

A Life Long Journey

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For years, I didn’t give the Holy Spirit much thought.  It was a portion of belief and faith I would occasionally hear mentioned in a Sunday sermon or I would  come across in Scripture.  However, it’s only been in the last decade or so where this portion of the Trinity has become more tangible to me.

As I sit here this morning enjoying the first fire of the season in our fireplace, a quote from a recent Sunday message comes to mind:  “You really don’t know what you believe until you go through a fire.”  I would also add that, personally, I had a hard time learning to listen to the Spirit until I was in the midst of the flames. The fire woke me up.

When I was a little girl I remember loving a song by Leslie Phillips called “By My Spirit”

“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord,” were some of the lyrics.

At 13 years old, I don’t think I realized that those lyrics were actual scripture from Zechariah 4:6. All I knew was I loved the song and whenever I sung the song, it would stir something inside me.

Sometimes, I wonder how different my life would have been had I really grasped the concept of the Holy Spirit.  Now, I’m not saying I have a complete understanding today, not even close. But, today,  I do have a better understanding than I did then. Today, I know that my faith and my ability to follow Christ hinges on the Holy Spirit. Years ago, I didn’t understand how crucial listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit really was in this faith journey. The Holy Spirit was there. I knew that. I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But, learning how to follow the Spirit’s lead?  That would take me decades to learn. In fact, it’s a life long journey.

I’ve had to learn that while accepting Christ is a one time decision, following Him on a daily basis, is a moment by moment decision that can only be accomplished by the assistance of the Spirit.

Whenever I find myself in the Book of John and read, again, what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit, the same question inevitably comes to mind.  “Lord, how did I miss this 30 years ago?”  (John 14 & 16) Why did it take me so long to grasp the importance of this? 

This is everything.  This is our lifeline. This is our oxygen. Our faith, and the journey we must take, is not sustainable if we fail to recognize this one small HUGE detail.

When I share my journey with others, I often explain it by saying that, for years, I made the mistake of turning down the volume on God over and over.  He is always talking to us through His Spirit and every step of the way we have a choice as to whether or not we will be receptive to that voice.

Today,  I want to make the choice to turn that knob up a notch.  On second thought, I  want to crank it up so loud that it drowns out all the other noise I am tempted to hear and listen to.

I want you to make the same decision today too.

One beautiful thing about His Spirit is that it is only capable of singing Truth.  Those are the only words it knows.  And that truth will lead us down some pretty amazing paths.

Thought I would share Leslie Phillips old song.  Brace yourself it is very 1980s. :-)

Maybe a Picture Really is Worth a Thousand Words

There’s this picture that was taken on my wedding day that tends to come to mind more than any of the other pictures.  It’s been nearly 12 years now since my husband and I got married. We have a ton of bride and groom pictures, and each are beautiful memories of a beautiful day,  but it’s this picture that pops into my brain most often when I think about that day.

Look closely at the guests as this adorable flower girl walks down the aisle.  Can you pick out her mom?  I’ll give you a hint since the photo is a little blurry. She’s got what I call the  “proud momma smile” and her face is glowing.

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This picture came to mind again yesterday as I waited in the car rider line to pick my son up from school.  Not sure what it is about that car rider line but it has me well-trained:

catch glimpse of son= smile

It reminds me of this Maya Angelou quote, “How do you react when your child enters the room? Do your eyes light up?”

Before having a child of my own, I appreciated the moment in this picture. Once my son entered the world, I’ve had the chance to live moments like this over and over again.  As a parent, just catching a glimpse of my son is one of the best feelings in the world.  Our children don’t have to be doing anything spectacular or amazing, all they have to do is walk into the room, walk down an aisle, or wait in a car rider line.  It’s a bond of love like no other.

It was to my surprise last night after having thought about this picture earlier in the day, that my son (out of the blue) brought up the little girl in the photo.  Her family is still good friends of ours.  The little girl (who is now a young lady) has gone on to do some pretty incredible things.  She’s traveled abroad, studied abroad, and learned a couple of languages. Last night Sean said to me, “Mom, I want to do things like Maggie has done.”

“Okay,” I said. “Then do it.”

I have no clue what the future holds for my son.  I don’t know what he will be passionate about next year or even next week. But I do know this.  I want him to know that I love him no matter what.  I want him to know that I’m his biggest cheerleader. If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then I want those words written all over my face.

Who Do You Say I Am?

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…”continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

I thought about those words from Philippians this morning immediately after thinking about a question Jesus once asked Peter “But what about you…who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:15)

Although I get distracted more often than I like to admit, those two ideas are ones that should take priority in my every day life.  How I live and move and breathe and the choices I make throughout my day should hinge on my answer.  When my eyes open in the morning and I am given another opportunity to journey along life’s path, I need to think about that question again. I need to think about it as if Jesus is beside me and we are conversing over our morning cup of coffee.

But, Eileen, what about you, who do you say I am?  

At church last week, I was part of a small group where we shared pieces of our journey with one another.  One of the things I told the group was that I’ve come to know Jesus as both my friend and my redeemer.  He has walked with me through both rotten times and happy times.

Sometimes I’ve been a good friend back to Him. I’ve listened to Him. I’ve stood up for Him. I’ve been completely honest with Him and shared the deepest parts of my heart with Him.

Sometimes I’ve been a horrible friend. I’ve stood Him up on many occasions. I’ve held back from Him. I’ve even done what I like to call “pulled a Peter” where I’ve denied Him.  I’ve denied Him with my words, with my actions, and my lack of faith.

Sometimes, I’ve gotten our relationship right.

Other times, I’ve gotten it way wrong.

Yet, though it all, there is one thing I know for certain, He saved me.  He redeemed my life from the pit.  He rescued me and brought me out into a spacious place.  He did that.

So, to go back to the first words I typed this morning.  I will “continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.”  This I know I must do.  I already know what it’s like to let go and to choose to not even try to work it out.  And, I refuse to go down that path again.  I know where it leads.

When I have a question….I want to run to Him for answers.  When I experience pain and disappointment…I want to run to Him where I know I will find abundant peace.

Today, I want the first goal in our relationship to be this: I want to be willing to show up trusting that my Redeemer is strong enough and faithful enough to do the rest.

The Biggest Lesson I Learned in Recovery

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This morning I started thinking about an invaluable lesson I learned during my early days in recovery.  I started to learn (or maybe relearn) how to confront and tackle problems and stresses head on instead of ignoring them, running from them, or trying to find ways to numb myself from them.

Basically, I learned that if there’s an elephant standing in the room, you point it out and talk about it. You don’t try to do the impossible such as denying its existence or picking up the biggest broom you can find in hopes of sweeping the problem out of sight.

Learning how to approach problems has made my life so much easier to live.  It has brought with it incredible amounts of freedom. I can sleep at night because I’m not attempting to run or hide from life. By learning to live this way, I’ve also realized that many of the so-called problems that arise are not as unmanageable or as scary as I first made them out to be in my mind. I tend to be able to visualize the worst case scenarios. However, what I’ve learned is this: the elephant shrinks when you admit it’s there and begin to deal with it.

What’s the elephant in your life right now?

Acknowledge it and begin figuring out ways to address it.