My Journey of Grief

This month marks a year since my Dad died. I thought it might be useful to note some observations I have had about loss, grief, and recovery:

Individuality of Grief – Until you have been through the death of a parent or someone very close to you, there is no way of knowing what it is really like to go through grief. I was ignorant of grief’s twist and turns and ups and downs. I had been guilty in the past of expecting people just to snap out of it and move on. Now I know how insensitive and arrogant that mentality was. Grief is a real thing and there isn’t a clear formula for how it progresses.

Loneliness – When you lose someone so close to you it is like a part of you has been severed off, never to be replaced. I miss that part that was lost and never getting it back is a lonely feeling. There were months of just deep loneliness despite the great love and belonging I have around me.

Letchworth State Park, one of the incredible scenic locales that I have experienced over the last year. 

Counseling helps – I was blessed enough to have, on my campus, free counseling that allowed me weekly conversations about the grief process and all that was associated with my particular situation. As an introverted, contemplative thinker type, I am much more accustomed to the conversations I have with myself. Yet, here was a trained person blocking out an hour a week to listen to me and help me through my issues. At one point, my counselor asked me, what do you think has been the most beneficial part of our time together? We agreed that it wasn’t any of the activities he had me do or the strategies we worked out, it was the chance to talk about my dad, my sadness, my loneliness, and how I try to cope with these situations.

God provides – In the midst of my grief and inner turmoil, God provided the Apprentice Experience to give me resources and capacities to grow in the midst of my grief and not to be swallowed up by it. I have incredible co-workers who provided support, prayers, and practical acts of service that made me feel loved and strengthened my resiliency. I had unusual opportunities to travel, see some beautiful sights, and breath in God’s wonderful creation (see photo above.) It was life-giving and soul restoring.

Advertisements

Books, Songs, Podcasts and Practices That Helped Me Grow Up in 2017

I am indebted to the mentors, the muses, and the motivations I gained this past year from a wide range of areas. Each item is something that I was exposed to in 2017 that had a high impact on me changing and maybe even growing up.

Music

Band of Horses – Last January was so full of stress and tension that my only moment of respite would be the last 10 minutes of my work day when I would turn on two songs by Band of Horses. “In a Drawer” and “Casual Party” had the right mixture of triumphant rock and moodiness to break some of the tension and bring a little catharsis to my overwhelmed state.

Andrew Bird – My go-to reflective, relaxing, holding the tension between pain and praise music. Every drive back from Abilene, where my Dad suffered his last days, included a six song playlist from Bird.

Podcasts

Pray As You Go – A common companion on my runs, this app provides the listener with 10-12 minute meditations on scripture along with music and time of reflection. If you want to recharge your approach to scripture, this podcast will do the trick.

The Invitation – Josh Banner has the typical interview format but regularly will have 20 minute spiritual retreats that have been very meaningful to me. A recent one covered lament, which was very appropriate to my situation. Also, his 5-minute prayer episodes are great for making spiritual things more accessible.

Building a Storybrand Podcast – I re-listened to the first 6-7 episodes twice and was inspired each time. These Podcasts are helping shape me into the kind of manager I want to be as a director of a library.

ryan-searle-345035

Photo by Ryan Searle on Unsplash

Books

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd – I was inspired by the heart, intellect, and the spirit of God working in Zahnd’s book, Beauty Will Save the World. I heard him speak at the Apprentice Gathering and heard him mention his book, Water to Wine. This book chronicles his movement from a typical American pastor at a typical American large church to a more contemplative and spiritually rich pastor. His story is remarkable and his courage to transform his ministry after decades of doing it a certain way is inspiring.

Healing the Heartbreak of Grief by James Flamming – The author was a pastor at the church I grew up. Even as a kid, I remember his ability to mix the heady, the spiritual, and the practical in wonderfully concise and accessible ways. He is a great communicator. In this book, he does the same thing with the concept of grief. I have stepped away from this book with a better understanding of what grief is and how it works and also have been healed in the process.

Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen – I have given this book out to many people who are experiencing pain or struggle. In light of my own struggles, I began reading this again for myself. The entries from this book are taken from Nouwen’s personal journal when he was in a deep point of struggle. Not every entry applies to every person’s situation but the one’s that do are like they were written just for you.

Experiences

Running – The practice of running is so time consuming that in the past I have had to choose blogging or running because I couldn’t do both. But this year, I realized how much I love running and how helpful it is to me physically and spiritually. Running is such a good stress reliever and if I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t spend much time outdoors, which is not good for my mental state. When I think about the many gifts my Dad gave to me during his life, running might be one of the most meaningful.

Fasting – About a month after my Dad’s death, I took a day and a half and fasted. I wanted to give time and intention to my grief and all that I needed to do to move forward. This was one of the best decisions I could have made. This time was so rich with memories, nudges from God, insights from scripture, and healing. I have now committed to practice these fasts quarterly.

Examen – Our days just move along to their usual conclusion and then we reboot and do it all over again. There is often no time for reflection, for gratitude, for confession, for a challenge. Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, lays out a simple method of what church history has called Examen. At the end of each day, you practice the following:

  • Be grateful for God’s blessings.
  • Review the day with openness and gratitude, looking for times when God has been present and times you may have ignored him.
  • Pay attention to your emotions in order to listen to God.
  • Express sorrow for sin and ask for God’s forgiving love.
  • Pray for the grace to be more available to God who loves you.

This practice has allowed me to not end my day with stress, anxiousness, disappointment, and guilt; which I am so prone to do. Instead, I place myself back into God’s hands and know that I can trust him with the outcomes and with the promise of the next day.

 

My Tools For Overcoming Grief (Part One)

In the weeks since my dad’s death, I have tried to do a spiritual check in on myself and recognized that I am struggling. I am out of balance. I am stretched thin and lack a lot of stamina when it comes to spiritual things. I am barely able to provide emotional awareness to my family and I tend to turn in on myself instead of look outward for much needed companionship and support.

I am grieving, I know, and I am not just being hard on myself or trying to rush the grieving process. But, if there is something that I can do now to keep myself from sinking too far into despair or bitterness, I need to try it. If there is something that would be beneficial to me, even in the midst of a dark time, there is no reason to wait. Despite the hurt and difficulty, God wants to help and desires that I seek out means to allow his grace to come crashing through like a tidal wave.

So, I would like to share with you the tools I have used to help me get through my grief. If you are struggling with anything, perhaps some of these tools might be beneficial to you as well.

The Psalms –

Two Psalms in particular have risen to the surface of my awareness. In one of those times when particular passages get mentioned in multiple venues and contexts, I figured I needed to pay attention to Psalm 30 and Psalm 77. In Psalm 30, there are lines like, “weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning;” and “you turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with joy.”

Psalm 77 begins with…

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

but later says …

I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Eugene Peterson says that all prayer ends in praise. Many Psalms were reminders that I can’t just remain in my sadness and despair. There is a time and will be a time when I need to consider all of the Lord’s work and begin to turn my tears into joy. The Psalms can guide me through that.

Music –

I have always been encouraged, convicted, and inspired by music. I look back on dry periods in my spiritual life and can recognize that there was a consistent lack of music.

For several weeks, I was having to drive three hours back and forth from my home to where my parents live. That gave me many hours to listen to music and to find comfort and peace there. I found myself gravitating towards the texture of the music rather than the content of the lyrics. I needed sounds that were comforting and uplifting in a sad sort of way. I know, a very specific formula. I found it in a collection of 6 songs by Andrew Bird. Many of his songs, and the way he uses instruments, just wash over you and then carry you away to a reflective place. I was in a reflective mood and needed to tap into this side of me.

 

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard –

Throughout this summer, I have been reading this classic by my hero, Dallas Willard. I have read it several times since 2002, the year it came out, but this time was different and it was incredibly comforting and motivational.

dallas-cropped-and-small

If you haven’t read it, Willard describes the vision and the means for having Christ transform all of the parts of the self including our thoughts, emotions, will, and social dimension. With each description and process for transforming a certain part of myself, it was easy for me to evaluate what progress I have made in 15 years. Then you throw in being in the arena of struggle, pain, service, and loss, and it is like a Minor League player stepping up into the big leagues.  There was no denying my progress and also where I needed to improve. I saw areas where God has done some amazing things in my spiritual growth but I also saw some areas where I have neglected to do my part and little growth had risen to the surface. I was comforted and convicted at the same time. That is a great place to be in your spiritual life.

Next time: Three more tools for overcoming grief.

 

Where Is God When It Hurts?

During the final months of my dad’s life, I learned that God takes care of you even when you think he isn’t taking care of you.

There were many prayers for my dad, and myself, that went unanswered. Prayers for his healing, prayers for his ease of mind, prayers for an easier situation for my dad, as well as for my mom and my sister and I. Those prayers seemed to go unanswered.

But all around the situation seemed to be evidence of God’s care for us in profound ways.

One such incident occurred the day I returned to work after a few days of helping my Mom care for my dad. These few days were some of the lowest points in the slow awful process of his cancer. He had become non-communicative and his attempts to walk and conduct just the most routine of movements had become almost impossible. We were forced to start looking at options for care outside of our own capabilities.

I was beat down and frustrated and helpless. Still, I had to work and fulfill my duties of my job.

A computer in our area was not logging on correctly and the usual fix was to climb underneath the computer station and start to mess with the chords. As I was doing this, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I saw that it was a torn out piece of paper with some words on it. I figured it was just trash and would quickly discard it. But, I did take a look at the writing and noticed these words:

“Cast all of your worries on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Who knows how long that piece of paper had sat there, maybe weeks or maybe even months before I found it. And for me to find it at one of the lowest points of one of the lowest moments of my life was no mere coincidence or good luck. God was providing for me, was encouraging me, and was reassuring me of his great care.

Carillon_de_Taninges

Wikimedia Commons

When my dad died, my wife was out of the country on a mission trip. The care and love that she received from the local believers in Zambia demonstrated that God’s love and provision is available half way around the world. The day he died, 22 girls at a Girl’s Retreat, which my wife help lead, sought and received Christ’s gift of salvation.

In the absence of my wife and her present support, three of the staff members of our church drove 170 miles to attend the funeral. Also, three colleagues at work made a similar trip to demonstrate concern, compassion, and support. Two of my longest and dearest friendships were represented and found me before the funeral to bring me encouragement and comfort.

I could go on and on in demonstrating how God was present and moving during this time.

Sometimes, as we look for God’s big miracles we miss all of the thousands of little miracles all around us. My dad was lost to us too early and under great strain and suffering. There is no denying the awfulness of his disease and what it did to his mind and body. I don’t understand why it was necessary for him to go through all of that and why we had to watch it happen. But in spite of that grim reality, I saw God work. I felt God’s comfort. I experienced God’s provision. I tasted his goodness. God was with me and with my family and with my wife. He never abandoned us.

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

—Frederick Buechner, Godric, 96.

 

The Loss of A Friend

https://i0.wp.com/tnuk.scdn2.secure.raxcdn.com/ebay/9780830835102.jpg

I lost a good friend on Friday. Over the years and through many letters (yes, letters), phone calls, and a men’s retreat, he and I ministered to each other. Our friendship went way back and it has always been rich and meaningful and God was often at the center of it. Our friendship was one of the truest examples of a spiritual one that I have ever experienced. I thank him for that.

Through our friendship, both personal and spiritual,  he taught me:

  • That in order to help someone you have to not only do the nice thing but also try to do the best thing for that person
  • That service to others means being creative and letting God guide you
  • That to help someone, it may take risks. But those risks are worth it
  • That life’s struggles aren’t superficial. They may require sacrifice beyond measure
  • That true friendship doesn’t have to have an agenda
  • That being a brother in Christ means more than being a friend
  • That overwhelming obstacles can be overcome
  • That you can always do more
  • That I am powerless over so much
  • That my prayers can be ridiculously selfish
  • That there may be more questions than answers
  • That genuine bonds can spread over decades
  • That hurt may be present but love shines brighter

One of the last things he wrote to me was, “You’ve been there.”And then he signed off with, “Thank you my Brother.”

No, thank you my Brother and friend. What you taught me I will carry to help others and our legacy of friendship will be a testimony to God’s great work in our lives.