Raising Sensitive Men-The Turkey is Dead

Dear Romeo,

The week of Thanksgiving, you and your sisters spent almost an hour assembling a gingerbread turkey from a kit I got at the grocery store. The three of you had so much fun in the process with lots of giggles and candy stealing. Melody called me in to inspect your work when it was finished. We took pictures of you 3 with your creation and cleaned up the mess. You guys wanted to eat it right away, but I asked if we could wait until after Thanksgiving so the turkey could be a decoration. You reluctantly agreed, but no sooner had we positioned the turkey on its decorative perch than he began to list badly to the front of the box.

Me: “Okay, you guys. If he falls over I guess you can eat him.”

All of you: *loud cheering*

About 20 minutes later, the turkey was dead and the scavenging began, each of you claiming slightly larger than a cookie sized piece of fallen gingerbread turkey. The girls ate a bit and then threw pieces away, declaring the gingerbread bitter. You ate a few bites slowly, then I noticed you sitting with your piece of gingerbread in hand, looking at it sadly. “I don’t want anymore,” you said. I suggested you throw the rest away, but this suggestion agitated you and so I asked if you’d prefer to set your piece on the counter for later and you agreed. After you’d put it down, you came crashing into me for a fierce hug. When you pulled back, I noticed the tears welling in your eyes.

”What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked as I hugged you again.

”I’m sad that the turkey isn’t a turkey anymore,” you said in a choking voice. You clearly were trying NOT to cry. “It’s ok that you’re sad the turkey broke. You can cry if you need to.” And you did need to. You crawled into my lap and held on tight, grieving the dead gingerbread turkey that had brought so much joy a little while before. You cried hard for a little over a minute, then snuggled into my arm to watch a Christmas movie. 15-20 minutes passed, and you looked up into my face and said, “I don’t feel sad at all anymore, Momma.”  And as I leaned my face against your soft blonde hair, I thought about how thankful I am for all we’re learning together about emotions and grieving and letting ourselves feel, even when it might seem silly. Even when it’s over something small. I love you, my little tender-heart. Thank you for trusting me to be your safe place.

<3

Mama

 

Raising Sensitive Men-Creating Space For The Storm

Dear Romeo,

This morning we weathered a storm together. I’m still learning what that should look like. To help you make it through an emotional storm in the healthiest way possible. My instincts are not reliable here, because a part of me still views anger and sadness as frightening. The enemy. Something to be avoided and controlled and stuffed in favor of the brighter emotions. When you become angry or sad, my knee-jerk reaction is to stop the noise. Squelch the discomfort. Redirect the energy. This does not work well with you, my love. And for this I am actually grateful. Because it forces me to search out a better way.

This morning, it was time to do our math routines for school. I asked you and Jubilee to stand up and get ready. You lay down in the floor instead, giggling. It was your turn to choose the counting pattern/physical activity. I asked you a second time to stand up so we could get started and you told me no. So instead of you getting to choose first, I asked Jubilee to choose. She chose counting by 10’s and running around the kitchen island. You jumped up and joined in, but halfway through you slowed down and an angry shadow crossed your face. When her chosen activity was done, I asked you to choose. You stomped your feet and growled at me. “It was my turn to choose first!!!” you cried indignantly. “That’s true. But I asked you twice to get up so we could get started and you told me no. That’s okay, but we needed to move on with our school work, so I let Jubilee choose first.” Angry tears began to fall from your eyes. And because I’m still coming to terms with making space for anger and sadness, I first tried to cajole you to snap out of it. I told you that if you couldn’t shake it off and participate, you would need to go to your room. You cried harder. I told you I would count to five and if you couldn’t stand up and choose your activity, Jubilee would choose and we would move on. You took a deep breath and chose your activity, but as the two of you went through the motions, it was clear to me that the joy of it was gone for you. For the next 20 minutes, every school attempt I suggested was met with angry resistance, tears and foot stomping. Every fiber of my being wanted to shout at you to STOP being so obstinate. To go to your room so I didn’t have to watch. To DRY IT UP so we could get on with our day.

But you, my darling boy, simply could not pull it together. And as I looked into your eyes, I saw beyond the stomping feet and the red face into your soul, where an immense sadness and grief was swirling and raging. And I internally stepped past my hang-ups and need for control and asked you to come to me.

I saw the battle raging in your heart and mind. A part of you wanted nothing more than to collapse into my arms, but another part of you didn’t trust me. I had just been angry with you for being sad and tried to talk you out of your feelings by declaring that we had no time for them. I saw you drawn by my invitation while simultaneously fighting the urge to run away from me. So I didn’t push. I simply opened my arms. Told you I could see how sad you were. Asked if you wanted me to hold you for a while.

And so we paused in our all important schedule. We stopped the work of learning and moving forward. Your little body crashed into my bigger one and you let the floodgates open. You sobbed and you railed about how it wasn’t fair that you didn’t get to go first. How it was your turn. My own sense of justice wanted to remind you that you missed your turn because you chose not to obey me. But in that moment, I realized that in the midst of a grief storm, you can’t hear my reasoning. You simply need to ride the wave until you wash up on the shore, spent and calmer. So I held you as you cried. I reflected your words. “It doesn’t feel fair. You didn’t get to go first. You really wanted to go first. Now you won’t get to go first until next time. You’re sad and angry because Jubilee got to go first instead. I’m sorry, buddy.”

You continued to cry and moan for what seemed like forever. As I felt impatience begin to rise in myself, I chose deep breaths. I chose to picture my own warmth and the peace in my heart oozing into your body as it pressed against my own. And slowly you began to calm and relax. You were quiet, but you didn’t let go of me. I asked if you wanted to get back to school, but you grabbed on tighter, squeezed your eyes shut and shook your head no. So we sat in silence for probably 10 more minutes just rocking and me rubbing your back. When you were spent, you slowly stepped down and sat back in your own chair, smiled at me and asked what to do on your worksheet. You were back to “normal.” And we finished our work without further angst.

I will admit that I am learning as I go. But what I learned from you this morning is priceless to me.

1. When the storm of emotion hits, the trigger doesn’t matter. Reason is useless in that moment. And I waste a lot of time trying to convince you that you have nothing to be upset about because you caused the injustice by your actions. It’s like arguing that a driver should have made different choices before a crash while standing beside his burning car as he screams for help from amongst the flames. My admonitions and arguments are irrelevant.

2. My feelings that we have no time to deal with your storm are not rational. Because if we don’t stop and take the time, all attempts at productive activity until we do will be wasted. Something that normally takes us 5 minutes to complete will take 30, and we will both be constantly frustrated in the effort. I can either choose to spend the time to work through your feelings with you, or choose to waste time ignoring them. Time passes either way.

3. You may have mixed emotions because you sense my discomfort with anger. It is my job to make myself available and allow you to move through however you feel most comfortable. It is my job to create the space you need to feel what you need to feel.

Thank you for deciding to trust me with your sadness and anger today. Thank you for teaching me how to be uncomfortable for a cause. Because as I learn to create space for your feelings, I also learn to hold space for my own. I don’t want to toughen you up and teach you to stuff it. Our world will try to teach you that just by your living in it. I want to teach you to stop and be angry. To stop and be sad. To ride out the storm to the other side and to learn any lessons after you’ve moved through the hurt. I’m so thankful that God chose me to mother a sensitive and tenderhearted little boy like you. I’m sorry I’m not a faster learner. But my messy attempts at doing better are heartfelt, I promise. And you, my sweet little man, are so worth it.

Love,

Mama

 

 

Raising Sensitive Men-A Series

With all the violence and ugliness in our society right now, primarily at the hands of white males, I find myself wondering about the way we are raising our boys. Historically, at least in my family lineage, boys have been raised to be tough. To shake it off. To dry it up. To “rub some dirt on it.” This philosophy teaches our boys, at the youngest ages, that crying, or admitting to hurt or sadness, is inappropriate and not “manly.” This is not a healthy view of emotions.

I am not a psychologist, but I know from my own experience that when I stuff my emotions, especially intense sadness, it leads to things like overwhelming anxiety, or misplaced anger. Even as a woman, a part of me is uncomfortable with emotion. And our society as a whole is even more uncomfortable with the expression of emotion in men. Little boys are not encouraged to explore or hold space for their feelings. Feelings are messy and uncomfortable and inconvenient, which leads to a desire to minimize or ignore them. Unfortunately, they don’t just go away. They morph into things like violent tendencies, dehumanization of other people, and lack of ability to hold intimacy with friends and spouses. Entire generations of men have been taught to shut down their emotional processing and channel their strong feelings into accepted activities like contact sports, hunting and violent video games.

I won’t pretend to have the answers to this problem, but I have a deep conviction that the main way I can make a difference and move toward change in this generation is to raise my own son to be different. I want him to be comfortable with having and expressing his emotions. He is a tenderhearted and sensitive little boy, which leads to him getting his feelings hurt rather often. He doesn’t tolerate meanness well from other boys. He grieves little losses deeply and sometimes inconveniently. But as his mother, I am determined to teach him to allow himself to feel. To create and hold space for the full range of his emotions. And to work with him on how to move THROUGH things rather than pretending like nothing is wrong.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how boys won’t survive unless they toughen up. How learning how to “take it on the chin” is necessary. How being sensitive and being able to cry will get him labeled a wimp. I disagree, and frankly I don’t care what the world thinks. My definition of strength and courage is not to be cold and distant. It is to learn how to hold fear and sadness and anger and still move forward in function. The world has plenty of assholes. I am not interested in teaching him how to be one. I would prefer that my son be seen as weak in the eyes of some, so that he may learn to possess true strength. I want to raise him to be a tender and loving husband. A father who can sit with his crying child until the storm passes. A friend who sticks closer than a brother.

I want to catalog all I’m learning in this process of raising a sensitive boy. So I’ve decided to write him letters as I learn, posting them in this series entitled, “Raising Sensitive Men.” Every lesson may not resonate with every person, but this is a way for me to process what I’m learning while sharing with others who may be on the same journey. Let’s raise a generation of men with higher emotional IQ’s that they don’t have to work for. Because they’re worth the extra effort on our part, and the world needs more kindness.

The Las Vegas Shooting-Holding Space for Grief

Yesterday in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman randomly shot into a crowd of hundreds of people who were attending an outdoor concert. At this writing, 58 people are dead and 515 are injured. Yesterday afternoon, the Sheriff of Clark County made a live statement that there were still bodies in the venue that had not been recovered. The process of identifying the dead and notifying family is long and tedious, and officials were still in the process of getting through it all.

In the meantime, my Facebook newsfeed is blowing up with conversation about the shooting. There are many who are just praying for the families and the victims, but a huge percentage of folks are on their soapboxes already. Gun control, the NRA, mental illness advocacy, Democrats, Republicans, and on and on and on. I posted something yesterday on my personal Facebook wall about it being disrespectful to use this as a platform for these conversations in this moment.

My democrat friends argued about how there’s never a “right time” to talk about gun violence, etc. My republican friends were virtually fist bumping me because the republican public rhetoric yesterday was about how this tragedy should not be made into a political platform. Ever. Because of course, that meets with their agenda. It was not my intention to align with either “side” by posting what I did. So here, I want to clarify my plea to WAIT about all the political stuff, hoping that a few more people can truly grasp the concept of making space for grief.

We, as a society, are completely incapable of sitting in our sadness. When we feel sad, anger feels safer, so we launch off into finding an issue or a person to blame and things to argue about to distract us from our sadness. Or we set about to contrast the circumstances in our own lives with those of the victims to distract us from our fear that it could happen to us. My post yesterday was meant to be an invitation to create a safe space for grieving before we shift the conversation. It was an invitation to be the society that is willing to hold space for the pain of these victims and their families. To offer the spotlight to those who have lost so much so that they can use these first few days to give all the attention to the lives of those that were snuffed out yesterday. I’m asking us to set aside our need for the instant gratification of making our viewpoints known and to quell our urge to voice the important issues at hand RIGHT NOW. I’m asking us instead to put our arms around the hurting and the broken and say nothing other than, “I am so immensely sorry for your pain.” If you need to talk about the issues, please whisper in the hallway until after the funeral. Don’t try to yell above the eulogy.

I want to hold that center stage place for a mother who wants to share about her son who served our nation in the military and made it home safely, only to lose his life celebrating and having fun at a country music concert. A space where a wife can post about the amazing man she was married to for barely a year and all he meant to her before he left her life yesterday forever. TODAY, it’s not about the body count or even what caused it. It’s about the fact that a brother will be missing from the Thanksgiving table in just a few weeks. A mother won’t be in the stands at her son’s soccer game this weekend. It’s about the daughter who won’t be there to make Christmas cookies with her mom and sisters the week before Christmas. Multiplied by 58. People died yesterday. Not “victims of gun violence.” Not “gun toting republicans.” Not “liberal democrats.”

People. Neighbors, sisters, brothers, moms, dads, daughters, sons, cousins. PEOPLE. And those people deserve the spotlight for at least a little while. Before we launch onto that stage with our soapboxes and our political arguments. Those issues need to be talked about, they definitely do. But let’s give these families a chance to bury their dead. If we must get on our soapbox? Let’s make sure we haven’t set it on top of the bodies still lying in the square, waiting to be identified. Let’s hold space for grief, and allow those who were personally and directly impacted by this unspeakable tragedy to honor and mourn and bury their loved ones before we turn our focus away. Because until we can start viewing people as PEOPLE again? I suspect violence will be something we have to live with. And if you lost someone in the tragedy of yesterday? I am so immensely sorry for your pain. <3

Christians freaking out about The Shack. . .listen up.

The Shack, a movie adaptation of the book by William P. Young, is shaking the Christian blogosphere these past few days in a profound way. Many are re-posting criticisms of the book written shortly after its original publication date. Others have their feathers ruffled anew. We’re hearing very harsh and daring words tossed about like “heresy” and “blasphemy.” But as a follower of Jesus, who completely believes He took my sins and died on the cross to save my life, and then physically rose from the grave 3 days later, I have a different perspective that may surprise (and possibly upset) you. That’s ok though. You can disagree with me if you like. I won’t hold it against you.

I can’t even begin to take a head on approach to each negative commentary that’s out there. Simply because the accusations and reasonings are so varied and broad. Some are upset that God is portrayed for part of the movie as a woman. (God says He chose to appear that way because Mack’s past history of abuse may have made it difficult for him to receive love in that moment from a father. Spoiler-He doesn’t remain a woman.)  Others say representing God and the Holy Spirit as tangible people or as ANYTHING solid is creating an idol to worship. Still others warn that because the focus is on forgiveness and the love and goodness of God, the movie fails to present sound doctrine because it doesn’t mention the justice and judgement and holiness of God.

In all of these warnings, I hear a fear that the dogma we hold as safety in our religion will be crushed. Worry that the emphasis on His scandalous and unfathomable love will somehow destroy God’s character by making Him seem like less. I read the book and I saw the movie. And while I would not refer a fellow believer struggling to learn doctrine to the movie (or any movie) for clarity, God, in all of his character and glory, is still on the throne. And this book/movie has not destroyed sound doctrine.

Complete doctrine is only found in holy scripture. The only tenant of faith that we “Christians” all agree upon is Christ crucified for our sins and resurrected. We disagree on many other things. How do we fulfill The Great Commission as presented in Matthew? Or wait, in Mark? How and when do we receive the Holy Spirit? Do we baptize in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Or in the name of Jesus? Or both? By immersing in water or sprinkling? Pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib rapture for believers? Or no rapture at all? Should the Sabbath be celebrated on Sunday only? Or Saturday? Or does it matter? And SO MUCH more. Otherwise there would not be catholics, lutherans, methodists, baptists, pentecostals, etc. This movie does NOT deny that basic tenant of faith and in fact points to it as truth. That Jesus gave Himself for us because of His great love for us. Why would that be necessary if not to save from judgement? Why do we expect a movie to present the entire Gospel message for us? Have we missed the fact that Truth has many different dimensions?  And that Scripture is the one and only source of all of those dimensions? Part of the reason we can read the same scripture multiple times over our entire life and get a new perspective on it each time is because of just how big the truth of God is. . .and how many layers are there and available to be revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Why can’t God use a movie to show us one side of something that many people have struggled to understand? Why couldn’t an unbeliever who has only ever seen the judgement of God portrayed by the religious people in her life see this movie and suddenly find herself drawn in by His kindness and mercy and love? He used a talking donkey to get Balaam’s attention. He used the marriage of Hosea and Gomer to show us the redeeming and long-suffering nature of His love. Who are we to presume what He can or can’t use to move upon the hearts of people?

As I read through all the backlash, what keeps rolling around in my heart is Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (The whole chapter is a good read for me every time I find myself getting too big for my spiritual britches.) Who are we to presume that we know what God can or cannot use to draw people unto Himself or to bring Him glory? We have become so afraid in the American church of threats to our doctrine that we have missed the fact that Jesus encourages exploration. Questions. Seeking His heart and face and scripture for ourselves. We have become a culture who reads the commentary but not the Word, which is alive and powerful and life-changing. Trust me, no one watching this conversation is confused about the fact that God demands justice. We have done a very thorough job in presenting that aspect of His nature. Many of us to the exclusion of the fact that the scripture says God IS love (1 John 4:8) And that He is good (Pslam 119:68). And that His KINDNESS leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We often leave those attributes out when we attempt to present Him in His role as righteous judge. Because any way we present Him is based on our truly limited understanding of the full nature of our Father. If the message put forth in this movie has made you very uncomfortable, I challenge you to seek to understand why. And to be careful with using your public influence in criticism and warning until you have done so with an open mind. (See Matthew 7:3-5)

We have become a culture who reads the commentary but not the Word, which is alive and powerful and life-changing.

As far as unbelievers being deceived and this movie putting them in danger of hell? They were already in danger. And God calls us as Jesus-followers to love them with the love of Jesus, be the light of the world, and always be prepared to give a reason for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) He never asked us to defend His justice or to point out their sin. In fact, I ask you to consider this: Are we equipped in our human state to even represent the true picture of God’s judgement? Because His judgment never exists without His love. He cannot be less than who He is.

Because God is secure in who He is, we do not need to debate and explain our dogma to the world. If an unbeliever decides to invite Him in and seek His face? He promises to meet them. And He can only come as His whole self. Full of justice and mercy and goodness and burning against evil while equally on fire with love. It’s ok. We can let God be Himself. He will never disappoint.

Matthew 24:23 says “If anyone tells you then, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Over Here!’ do not believe it. False Messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” What is the best way to recognize only the true Messiah in those (these?) days?  Not by closing the closet door of our doctrine and ignoring the world around us, but rather by seeking to know our Messiah for ourselves, so that we are able to recognize His face. Commentary and devotional books and movies depicting Jesus are not dangerous, but SHOULD be weighed against scripture. See whatever movie you want, and if it shakes your doctrine? Find out why. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate scripture for you as you read it for yourself. Examine your heart and understand why something might make you uncomfortable. Take every thought captive to Christ and look at it with Him as your commentary. Put down your “Danger” sign and pick up your bible. And use your influence to encourage others to do the same.

In the meantime, if we bicker amongst ourselves within our Christian community, we do a disservice to our reputation as His followers. Let’s seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and give Him back the power He already has. To show Himself for who He really is, in all His glory. If you’re really worried that a brother or sister may somehow be led astray? Pray. Pray that God will work all things together for His good (That’s His promise anyway!) Pray that God will shine His light on your own heart and doctrine and show you where it may be holding you back. If it is sound, it will withstand the fire of examination. Invite someone who disagrees with your perspective into a real, open conversation and really listen to their heart. Be open to being wrong. Read the scripture while asking the Holy Spirit to bring new life and revelation to the words on the page. And above all, leave space for God to be God. I promise, He’s really good at it.

 

My Dad Died In His 50’s-10 Things A Daughter Wants You To Know

This is a process of pain I never anticipated. I am still in the midst of it. But these are 10 things I’ve learned as I’ve navigated the grief process of losing my dad suddenly before old age.

1. It pulls the rug out from under you. It doesn’t matter if he was sick, or a risk taker or both. There is no way to truly understand what’s coming. My dad was a relapsed alcoholic with end-stage liver failure. For many years. I knew he was in poor health and I knew he could die at any time. But I didn’t know he would die that day. That’s the only way I know to explain it. No matter how much information you have, there’s no way to prepare yourself for the death of your father who is only 58 years old. There just isn’t. It’s a shock. I was smack in the midst of the grief still wondering how I got there.

2. It doesn’t matter what kind of father he was. You think it will, but it doesn’t. If he was present and involved, you will grieve his absence and his love. If he was absent  and distant, you will grieve what could have been, or what you wish he was. If it was more complicated than that, your grief will be just as complicated. And you WILL grieve on some level. Don’t try to argue yourself out of it, just let it come.

3. It doesn’t matter if you have another father, too. I love my adopted dad. He has been a dad to me since I was 7 years old. He is a wonderful grandfather to my kids. He is/was way more present in my life than my biological dad ever was. I love him big and I am secure in his love for me. But that is separate from this pain. It doesn’t diminish the loss of my biological dad in any way, just like knowing and loving and grieving my biological dad doesn’t diminish my love for my adopted dad. The two are different relationships. Perhaps thought to be connected because they share a “title.” But not the same at all.

4. The grief is weird and nothing at all like losing a friend or a grandparent. And hard to explain. It feels like a little piece of me died. I look down at my hands that are shaped like my dad’s and feel weird to have them. I see him when I smile and it makes me sad and happy all at once. The knowledge that a little piece of him lives on in me brings me comfort, and then the finality of him being gone washes over me all over again. It’s hard to really wrap my mind around.

5. The grief lasts longer than you think it will. My dad died in January. This is June. I thought the sadness would be more occasional by now. Instead it feels like it has burrowed down deep into my soul and will never leave. I don’t cry every day anymore. But I feel heavy. Light and happy moments are rare and occasional. And lots of good things are happening in my life right now, but it’s hard to enjoy them.

6. People won’t truly understand. I have the best friends a girl can ask for. Really, I swear they are better than any friends I know. But none of them have yet lost a parent. Because we are not yet in that season where one EXPECTS to lose a parent. And they are fabulous listeners. And wonderful comforters. But they can’t really and truly GET it. Because they haven’t lived it. I never got it before. I would listen to others talk about losing a parent and think I could understand what they were feeling. But I didn’t. Because I swear I’ve never understood it before now.

7. Because people won’t truly understand, you’ll try to be alone. A lot. Being alone feels like the right thing most of the time. Because I feel alone even when I’m with people. And I WANT to be past the grief, so I don’t like me very much sometimes. I feel like I’m a walking bummer.  And I assume you don’t want to hear about it anymore. And I’m actually tired of trying to explain it. But it’s on my mind a lot. So it becomes easier to just be alone. I force myself to be with people a few times a week because I know my personal warning signs for deep depression. But it is work to plan things. And if there is any resistance to the things I plan to get out and be with people, I surrender quickly and go back into my hole. Not because my friends and family aren’t worth it, but because this grief takes all my energy.

8. You’ll have a very low “emotions threshold.” Things that normally roll right off my back will send me into days of deep darkness or angry irritability or exhausted sadness. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m walking the razor’s edge of emotions at all times. My emotional cup overfloweth. . all the time. . about all the things. So I may need some time to collect myself over things that seem really minor to everyone else. Be patient with me. I’m not quite myself right now, and not sure when myself will come back or what she will look like when she does.

9. Your siblings will become your go-to people. I didn’t know my sister (my dad’s other daughter) very well before he died. We live 4 hours apart. We didn’t grow up together. We have an 11 year age gap. She has a different mother. We don’t have a lot in common. And none of that matters. We clung to each other during the week after my dad’s death when we were together. And we have stayed in close contact since. Why? She gets it. I get it. Our individual relationships with Daddy were completely different. She was a daddy’s girl growing up. I met him when I was 24 and only spent time with him for 3 years. None of that matters either. We both knew him. We both were made from him. When I don’t have the words to explain my heaviness, I call or text her. Because I don’t have to explain. She is living it with me. And something about sharing that unspoken pain has bonded us. And I’m grateful to have her in a way I never saw coming.

10. If you were estranged when he died, another wave of grief is coming. This one plowed me over like a locomotive. Why? I’ve thought about it a lot and decided that the simplest explanation is because the risk is gone. He can’t hurt me anymore. We hadn’t been close in over 10 years. And the rift that happened back then created a hole in me. I had forgiven him. I understood addiction as much as I could. I knew he still loved me but just couldn’t beat his personal demons back far enough to continue to pursue a relationship with me. My own hurt was also a factor in the distance between us. But now that he’s gone? I think more about the good times. I had filed those memories in a vault labeled “hurts too much to think about because of where he’s at right now” with a subtitle of “stay away or you’ll get hurt even more.” But now that he’s gone, he can’t hurt me anymore. And so that guard comes down and the good times are all still vividly there in my memories. And they are wonderful and terrible to think about. Because they’re over. Forever. And they were some of the best times of my life. I’m not sorry I have them. I wouldn’t go back and change them in any way. But allowing myself to immerse myself in those memories is a kind of pain I can’t explain. It is sooooo bittersweet. And so personal to me.

And that’s really the gist of it. I’ve learned these things about this specific grieving process, but even if your story looks a lot like mine? Your grief is still your own. It still can’t be completely simplified and distilled into a list like this one. And I’d love to hear from others who have learned things in their process of mourning. Please leave a comment if you’re one of them.

Love, Handprints

Shades of Grief

My biological father died in January. That feels weird to write. Our story together is a complicated one, more because it is together and apart and disconnected and together and disconnected again. And one day, I might take the time to really write the whole story out. More so that my children can know that part of me. A part that contributes much to who I am in all of its messiness. But today, Jubilee asked that I play a song in the car that reminds me of the good times with my dad, and I felt an odd feeling wash over me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I haven’t cried about my dad’s death in several weeks. I still have waves of “Oh yeah, he’s dead.” Like the reality of it fades in and out for me. We were not close at the end. We went months without contact. I hadn’t seen him in over a year. And with that kind of distance comes an oddness in the sinking in of loss. It’s not here in my face. No one else here really had a relationship with him. So it makes it easy to let the sadness fade to the background over time and not really think about it that often.

The first week, I was with my sister and brothers. That week the grief was raw and sad and awful and ripping. We talked about him together honestly. We laughed at the fun we had with him. At his great sense of humor. We cried about missed opportunities, and addiction and destruction, each of us affected in a different way at a different level. About the distance. Each of us chose a different relationship with him once he started using again after 12 years sober, for our own reasons. But together, we were at peace with that. There was no judgment between us. No “you should have done this” or “well, I always did that.” We just sat together and felt our own personal sadness and our group sadness. These 4 people who share his DNA and the best parts of his heart.

Once I came home, the grief changed a bit. Added to the raw and ripping was the loneliness. Life was moving on as normal around me. No one at home was really grieving. So I was alone in my memories and my sadness. My husband held me and listened as I talked it out. My kids tried to relate and Melody cried with me a lot. Mostly because she is quite possibly the sweetest, most empathetic soul on the planet. Jubilee tried get into the grief with me by asking a lot of questions about my dad and listening to songs that she knew reminded me of him. One of them became a favorite for her and she asks for it in the car often, like this morning.

Several weeks followed where the sadness felt more heavy than raw. There was still an occasional tear or bout of crying. A remembrance pillow from my sister made from one of his favorite Hawaiian shirts came and I sat and hugged it and missed him and cried. My sister and I in particular were in very close contact throughout those weeks as she was feeling the same sense of lonely grief as me. In a much different way as she had a very different closeness to mourn. But still, we talked about how the loss of a parent feels so much different than that of a grandparent or a friend. The heaviness made it a bit hard to function normally. It felt like a deep sadness that lay beneath all of my other emotions. Sometimes I would wonder why I felt so awful, then remember that I was sad. One particular friend I talk with a lot lost her dad several months before and we talked about the deep heavy sorrow that crying couldn’t reach. And how long it would last. And how we would walk through it.

Today, as the song Jubilee requested played, I realized that a part of my heart is trying to move on, but the wound is still there. I wanted to refuse to play the song. My grief today feels like a deep wound that is scabbed over, but still sore and I just don’t want to poke it. But I know that any feeling that exists under the layers likely needs an outlet and so I turned on the song. And it brought up some sadness, but also a feeling of fond remembering that was too overshadowed by the heavy grief for a while. And I just realized how much of an individual process grieving is. And how healthy.

Our human hearts crave pure emotions. Mixtures are uncomfortable. We want to get all the sad out so we can feel the happy. But we were created for so much more depth and breadth than that. And so I reluctantly peel back my bandage and poke at the wound of grief in my heart. And it oozes a little, but it also gives me the opportunity to admire the new skin that’s growing in. My dad’s untimely death will always be a part of my heart. Just like his complicated life is. And I am cautioning myself today to slow down and make peace with the fact that I will likely never think of him without a tinge of sadness. And that it’s okay. Because that’s a part of who I am, too. And I’m starting to kind of like me. <3

-Handprints

Judge Not. No Really.

Politics bug me. And right now, politics are everywhere. Unavoidable. They fill up my Facebook newsfeed. A nation entrenched behind party lines. And while the “sides” agree on nothing, they actually agree on one thing pretty much across the board. That they’re right. The Democrats are right. The Republicans are right. The independent revolutionaries are right. And they are right with no room for new ideas or opening their minds to new ways of thinking.

And being convinced of “rightness” is sadly not a limp that is limited to politics. I have observed a sad trend of the same nature within the Christian community. Now before anyone thinks I am advocating for some kind of New Age doctrine where there is no absolute truth, let me explain. I believe that the bible is the truth. I believe that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. But where the tricky part comes in boils down to a word that is thrown about often within our circles and it means different things to different people: Judgment.

Merriam-Webster defines judgment as –

  • an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought

  • the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought : the act of judging something or someone

  • the ability to make good decisions about what should be done

I see a recent trend among my Christian brothers and sisters that can be summarized as a split among doctrines. And it resembles the split between political parties in both content and spirit. On the far left are the Christians who believe anything goes. They feel that their responsibility is to live their lives according to their interpretation of right and wrong and leave everyone else to live theirs in the same spirit. Their job is to have no opinions about what activities constitute sin and what behaviors fall into the categories of permissible or profitable (1 Corinthians 10:23). No one has the right to judge them either, because all things ARE permissible. And they often exercise their “rights” to the exclusion of anyone who might stumble over their lifestyle or choices. You do you, they’ll do them. They believe God tells us not to judge anyone, but have fallen into the trap that the admonition not to judge means that they should not HAVE judgment. Which is a far cry from the truth.

On the far right are the Christians who believe that we are to strive to be as close to perfect as is humanly possible. They believe the way to win unbelievers to Jesus is by being blunt about what sin is and what one must do about it. Speak boldly and powerfully about those who are in sin. Of course offer them a picture of grace, but make sure they have no doubt about the black and white of right and wrong found in the bible. They don’t go so far as to call it “judgment” but speaking out against sin is a big foundational principle in this camp. Many in this group still do talk about our responsibility to love one another and the unbeliever, but love the unbeliever from a distance. Do not associate yourself closely with them or invest your heart with the unbeliever lest you fall away into the same sin. Do not show the world your weaknesses and struggles because that is not a good example to the world. This camp is entrenched in “truth,” but like the far left, they have also missed a big section of truth.

I recently read an article written by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof entitled “5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress.” He talks about the concept of judgment as a part of the legal system, specifically referencing an interaction he had with his criminal law professor in law school. The picture painted is perhaps the most accurate scriptural portrait of biblical “judgment” I have ever seen. He asked, as a lawyer, what he was supposed to do if he was called upon to represent a client he knew was guilty, even though the client would deny his guilt. The answer? “You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”

Read that again. Let it really sink in. The truth about our stance on sin is somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in between the far left and the far right of Christian dogmas. Are we called to seek out truth? To understand what God calls sin in His word and to understand as much as possible what is okay and what is sin? Absolutely. Being familiar with the law is always a good idea. But are we called to pass judgment on whether or not a “sinner” is guilty or not guilty? Nope. No way. No how. Is it okay to have an opinion? Sure. Is it okay to shove that opinion of guilt or innocence into the face of the person we are loving to Jesus in hopes that it makes them “turn or burn?” NO.

So back to the definition of judgment. Judgment is an opinion. Formed after careful thought and consideration. The judgment of sin in others is frankly above my pay grade. I would not want the responsibility of deciding where another person will spend eternity. No way, no thanks. I have my hands full with my own willful heart. And therein lies our call in this hour of history.

Go deeper. Deeper into your heart to really investigate the things that are hiding there. Be honest in your pursuit of intimacy with God. Tell Him when you’re mad, even at Him. Pour out your grief and sadness at His feet. Ask for Him to show you His heart in the matters of sin and judgment and winning others for Jesus. Then listen, and check what you hear against the Scriptures He has given us to bring us to places of growth and discovery and depth.

Romans 2:4 (AMP) – “Or do you have no regard for the wealth of His kindness and tolerance and patience [in withholding His wrath]? Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]?”

1 Peter 3:15 (NLT) – “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

Points to consider:

-If it is HIS kindness that leads us to repentance, how much more should it be OUR kindness that leads others on the same path. HIS character is always good. Ours. . .not-so-much. So kindness is essential.

-I doubt someone is going to ask me about my Christian hope if I have no relationship with them because they are a “lowly sinner.” The only difference between me and them is that I have accepted a gift they may not even have an inkling about. My job is to show them love and kindness and humility. Allow them to see my struggle and then allow them to see my hope. If I don’t associate with the person who does not follow Jesus, how on earth will they know enough to WANT to ask?

-It’s all about balance. And balance is typically found at the center of God’s heart. So if I’m not pressing in and tuned in to His heart? I’m going to miss it. And I cannot know the heart of God outside of a constantly deepening relationship with Him. I honestly believe that if every Christian was so completely focused on building a deeper relationship with our Abba, our effectiveness would increase 10-fold, because we would exude HIS charisma and goodness and love. And people are drawn to His character. Read about the life of Christ. The man could never get away to be alone because people were drawn to Him. They didn’t completely understand why, but they were driven to be near Him in the hopes of finding out. And those who pressed in to Him with open hearts were changed.

So my admonition to us as a church is this: Be authentic in your struggle. Let those around you see the depth of your inner darkness so that they can see the light of the hope that you have. Associate with those who have not yet accepted the free gift of salvation, but press in to Him so that His character shows in you without the need to perform/act. Show more kindness than dogma, and never speak the truth without love and grace in equal measure.

God is calling us as a church to a new level of authenticity and transparency before the world. He is calling us to press in to know His heart as never before, so that His face can be seen through the way we love people. Broken people. Sad people. Angry people. Ugly people. People just like you and me. So let’s find the middle ground, you and I. Let’s trudge forward into the muck and the mire of suffering. Because I truly believe that only there will the depth of His love be known.

Complicated.

This is different from my usual posts. It is a bit raw as I am processing a lot of things. Call it a poem. Or a glimpse into my heart and mind. I considered scrapping it because it’s. . .well. . .a bit on the weird side. But then I thought…maybe there are those among you who can relate and would find some comfort from a glimpse of the dark and deep heart of a fellow traveler through this imperfect and unpredictable life…so I leave you with my thoughts. 

Love, Handprints —

Grief.

It rolls and boils and pulls and drowns and smothers. I push and hold on and cry and agonize and beg. The sadness sits in the pit of my stomach while I move on with my day. Always there. Always waiting to suck me back in when I’m finally alone. And so I endeavor not to be alone. While craving alone. While running from alone.

Anger.

It pushes and tangles and screams and yells and punches. Sometimes a cry and sometimes a roar. It sits in my throat and burns. It frowns and fights and rages and simmers. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I sob. Always I run. I am afraid. It is a red, angry face of terror. I get lost in busyness to silence it. But still it simmers. And it is irritable and cranky. And it craves control and clean and neat and perfect.

Time.

It runs. Always running. Always forward, never back. Always pushing, breathless, late, relentless. It makes lines and scars and nostalgia. It makes the happy yesterday and the sad look like darkness on the horizon. It’s the sand that runs through my fingers no matter how close together I hold them. It won’t come back. Always forward toward the unknown.

Fear.

Always chasing. Can’t look straight in its face because of what I might see. Death. Sickness. Loss. Old age. Loneliness. Terror. Grief. Anger. Time.

Love.

Perfect love casts out fear. Grief is here to stay. I lost him. I will lose them, too. If not now, then later. Always before I am ready. I will never be ready. Because I love. I love deep and wide and long and from many angles. Because He made me for love. And I am glad and angry and sad and afraid of love. Because it is so beautiful. And so painful. And so rich and so deeply agonizing. But to avoid pain is to avoid love. And I crave love. I long for love. I open my heart to love and allow it to wound me deep. Deeper than I would have thought possible. I bleed as it burrows deeper and I groan as its pain shows me levels of hurt I never truly understood when I stayed in the fear. But it also shows me a contentment and a raw kind of joy I never experienced before I stopped and let fear catch me. Let anger roll over me. Let grief bowl me over like a giant tidal wave. Realized that time is forever and doesn’t really exist at all. Because He is eternal. And He is love.

And as I surrender to Grief and Anger and Time and Fear and Love. There is Peace.

Because there is still Love.

Perfect…in a moment

I write a lot on Handprints about my struggle against being so caught up in my pursuit of perfection that I miss my life. Just recently I blogged about how my birthday was “ruined” and I realized it was only ruined because it wasn’t perfect. That was a painful realization for me, because it feels like I’m not succeeding in my attempts to be content in the midst of the everyday moments of my life.

Yesterday, the kids and I were in the car on the way to meet some friends for a spontaneous coffee/breakfast date on a day off school. We were listening to the radio and chatting. Jubilee smiled at me in the rear view mirror with her top-toothless smile and I blew her a kiss. Romeo’s favorite song came on the radio and he got all excited and started to smile and sing loudly in his off-key 3-year-old way. In the rear view, Melody showed me the face he had made when he heard the song come on and we both chuckled at how silly he is and I just took a second and admired her sweet woman-child face, still capable of silly expressions, yet so mature in some ways. And for the first time, I experienced it. Or maybe for the first time I realized it. Either way, I felt it wash over me. For about 30 seconds, I felt a surge of contentment mixed with thankfulness mixed with joy mixed with peace and love. In that half a minute, there was no sadness or regret or anger. And I saw it and took a deep breath as if to breath it in deep and savor the taste of it.

Perfection.

I chatted with a friend who has been having a very hard time with her teenage daughter. She described a few moments where her girl snuggled up next to her in bed and she was able to just hold her and smell her head and kiss her soft cheeks and savor. And said that no matter what has been or what is to come, for that moment her heart was all in. And she felt the love she has for her daughter wash over her in a moment of beauty and deep abiding love.

Perfection.

Perfection is possible. It does happen. But not in the way I always yearn for it. I’ve been looking in all the wrong places. It’s there hiding in the ordinary. Like a beautiful pearl waiting to be hunted out and discovered. Or waiting so obviously right around the next corner. Like the sunset you’re not really looking for as you drive down the interstate that suddenly makes you stop and suck in your breath at how beautiful it is.

And I’m endeavoring to slow down and start noticing it. Because it’s worth it.