How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16

 

 

 

 

To-Do’s for My Last Day

To-Do’s for My Last Day
Wrightsville Beach, NC

“If today were your last, would you do what you’re doing? Or would you love more, give more, forgive more? Forgive and give as if it were your last opportunity. Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again.”

Max Lucado

On my way to a funeral I was struck by life’s contrasts. How I could be enjoying such a beautiful spring day; driving under a perfect canopy of dogwoods at the same time a friend’s father has died.

My friend Jim said we need to attend a funeral every year, and I think he’s right. Nothing reminds us of the hope we have as Christ followers like life that continues forever. In the last twelve months or so I’ve met my quota for funerals.

I remember my mother-in-law saying that if you have to die, Easter is a good time. I’d never thought of that but it did make sense. Death swallowed up in new life.

I wish I’d made it to Eva’s 60th Birthday Party. I was delighted that her throng of friends planned and hosted the surprise event. I smiled at the joy I saw on her face in all the images. I’m sorry I missed it but I’m glad I took time to find her address and send her a card. I’m glad I wrote a personal letter on the card before I put it in the mail.

That birthday —it would be her last. She was gone just like that! Snatched from this life right in the middle of loving people like it was her job—all people, as far as I could tell. She and her daughter  were  reported missing on a Monday, the day after they failed to show up for church. They were always at church. The proverbial phrase holds true–they were there every time the doors were open. And they always served as volunteers to help keep the church life going.

In the midst of several hundred people how many people would leave such a void? How many would be so much a part of the fabric of the community that their absence was deafening?

It pains me to say this, but I don’t think I’d have had known Eva if she hadn’t reached out to me. Always with a hug, a big smile and positive attitude.

Eva almost always commented on my blog posts. Continually affirming me. When you take the risk to put your words out there for the world, nothing means more than encouragement.

Eva had experienced hardships and sadness. The funny thing is I don’t even know much about what she endured because that’s not what she focused on.

They died a horrific death. Yet somehow I imagine their last thoughts and words brought honor to their Heavenly Father.

Our church hosted a prayer vigil for the two and as I sat there, tears welling up, I had the feeling that they should be there. It wasn’t right for them to miss anything. Their absence was obvious. I subconsciously looked for them right up there near the front; left side.

It will take time to process and come to peace with all of this. But I do know that God always teaches us stuff we need to learn even in the most devastating situations.

Eva’s life and sudden death has me thinking of things I’d like to be plopped down in the middle of on my last day.

I’d like to be writing a thank you note or an encouraging letter to someone. My last words to my husband would be “I love you and I’m so proud of you”. Filling my gratitude journal, smiling and helping strangers, taking a walk, enjoying outside, reading and learning and growing. Listening to a friend, reveling in the lives of our grown up kids and granddaughter. Bringing a meal or helping a young mom, inspiring and assisting a client in her home.….I hope I’ll be doing some of these things.

Honestly, I don’t know if the photos will be in books.  My recipes may still be a jumble; you may have to search through piles to find favorites. There may be a few too many sentimental “keepsakes” that haven’t quite made it to the donation site.

Hopefully there’ll be forgiveness for my undone things while I’m minding the eternal stuff.

Hurricanes and Other Storms

Hurricanes and Other Storms

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I started writing a blog post last week, but somehow I couldn’t get excited about describing emotional trauma caused by mountains of clutter in a home I’d visited. While I was writing, something happened–Hurricane Matthew. I kept imagining mothers in Haiti hovering over their babies while the winds were sweeping away their flimsy homes. My mind was scrolling through images I’d either seen or imagined.

I experienced my own angst as I heard the familiar scary howling sounds in the pitch darkness just outside my walls. I’ve lived near the coast my entire life and gone through many storms. Night is most difficult because you can’t see what’s happening right around you. I recommend Benadryl for these occasions. I was caring for an adult daughter with severe cognitive challenges and a very sweet mother-in-law who has her share of memory issues. When the lights went out I consciously spoke in soft sweet tones trying to keep my charges “happy”. I kept reminding myself how fortunate I was to live in a sturdy brick house.

Nearly a week after the storm, the images keep coming through social media, I’ve had to fight feeling overwhelmed. I hurt so for the victims. How can I complain about hurricane inconveniences when others have suffered much more in comparison? As I was praying for the ones hurting and also for my own heart, God reminded me that I’ve weathered my storms, and others have weathered their own. We can’t determine what storms we’ll encounter. Only our Creator  knows what we’ll face. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God is sovereign —”He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)  What I can control is the way I respond to what comes my way. I’m not helping the Haitian people by worrying, but I can help in a small way by supporting the efforts of people who are serving. (http://samaritanspurse.org) And I can pray.

As I sorted through all of this in my mind, I recalled other storms in my life. Hurricane Frederick is the one I associate with becoming a single mom. My little boy was nearly two and I was pregnant with my daughter. I never planned to “single parent”, but sometimes those storms come along as well. I remember the winds whipping up as I dragged all the garbage cans, chairs and flower pots to safe storage.

I remember that my little boy, Ben, and I moved in with our friends, the Beavers. We ended up losing power for many days and the short distance between our houses was blocked; huge trees littered the streets. Neighbors brought thawed food from freezers and cooked on grills. We disinfected the water we’d saved in the bathtub by adding Clorox. We lived with our friends for at least a week or so. The closeness to loved ones balances the memories of painful realities in my life at the time.

A baby shower for Kathy had been planned during the time of “Frederick”, which of course, had to be postponed. When Renee hosted the party a few weeks later, it took on a festive hurricane theme!  Cynthia, the cake decorating genius, created a disaster themed cake; broken Twix candy bars became strewn trees.  We rearranged the art on the walls in a lopsided fashion and turned decorative pieces over as if a wind had blown right through the home. We agreed to use no lights, only candles and kerosene lamps. And……Spam was on the menu! Spam became an undesired symbol of the hurricane during the aftermath.  It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re hungry!

Just one week ago, this house, belonging to our friend Grey, was torn in half by a large oak tree.  Amazingly, he was spared from harm— dashing from his bedroom as he heard the tree coming down. God’s love in the midst of the storm. Writing has helped me to recall difficulties I’ve come through and most importantly, God’s faithfulness. I take comfort; knowing He will likewise be faithful to His other hurting children. I’ll keep donating drinking water to our North Carolina neighbors and help however I can.  And I’ll remember to let go of things outside of my control, which is nearly everything.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Help Grieving Friends

How to Help Grieving Friends

6946253448_0413828369_cI’ll be attending two funerals this week. I want to be there to support their loved ones in the most difficult of times. Tom and I have each lost a parent in the last couple of years and I remember the kindnesses shown to us while our grief was fresh. I’ve learned from others how to encourage grieving ones.

When my mom passed away two years ago I was surprised how much little gestures affected me. A simple text, a voice mail, a comment on social media; all these efforts meant so much. One friend left a message that she really wanted to talk with me. Knowing her, I knew what she meant. She wanted to give me an opportunity to talk. Another just commented in a text how special my mom was. She’d known her back when we were in our early 20’s. Just a quick comment, but heartfelt. What I have learned is this- just do something. Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t feel that you must have the right words. Don’t use some flowery super-spiritual words about how God “needed” him or feel that it’s your responsibility to offer an explanation.  Don’t feel you have to make a meal or even buy a card, although those things are great! Instead of doing nothing, just express your concern. A friend once told me that she felt comforted when I said, “I’m so sorry”, while she was in  a difficult place. Sometimes that’s about all we can do, and sometimes it’s enough.

Here are some ideas that have been meaningful to us:

  • Offering food  “I really want to bring some food over. Where should I deliver it?” Said in such a straightforward manner, it is really hard to say no, especially when it fills a legitimate need. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Let me know if I can bring food” or “Let me know if I can help”. I’ve made these statements many times myself when I didn’t know what to say or do. However, I think it takes an emotionally strong person to ask for help.  I’m now trying to boldly say what I’d like to do for the ones in need. Just picking up a few snack items and drinks from the store is immensely helpful. Even getting to the grocery store is difficult while managing grief and difficult decisions.
  • Gifts of green plants  Our friends brought us a beautiful peace lily. There is something encouraging about a thriving green plant. That plant makes me happy.
  • Sending a card  We were surprised and deeply touched by the people who sent cards. A friend from years past sent cards to us when each of our parents passed away. It was so meaningful to me that she would take the time to do that. A note is always appreciated, but even just a signed card means so much. Sometimes I think people may not remember a card in the mail, but I know we do!
  • Showing up  There is something about having someone physically be there for you. Touch is tangible comfort. The people who waited with us at the hospital and all the friends and acquaintances who attended the funeral, we will never forget. Also, it’s never too late to visit or drop in on someone. They will still be thinking about their loss, and will value you for thinking of them at any time.
  • Text messages and phone calls  The quickest and easiest forms of communications shouldn’t be discounted. The messages Tom and I received in various forms were so encouraging and meaningful.

We have such an amazing ability to encourage each other. I’ve learned that even simple actions mean a great deal at just the right time. And I’m thankful for my real life examples that have helped me to be a better friend in times of need.