Friday, February 5, 2010

The Physical Toll of Grief

Ok, I admit it. I am a coffee convert. I’ve been making fun of my parents for years (sorry, Mom and Dad) for bringing their own coffee pot, mugs, and beans to my house every time they visit me (even though I already have those items ready for when they come). And, here I am, about to turn 35, and I NEED coffee in the morning….and sometimes in the afternoon (is that bad?), as was the case yesterday! As I watched the rain continue for the 48th hour in a row, I thought I would lose my mind! February in Texas. Yuck. A perfectly unlovely month for showing love. Why isn’t Valentine’s Day in June? Where is the sun?! I wondered if I should build an ark. I drug myself to the gym, but it only drained me more. I pondered taking a nap. I couldn’t figure out why I was in a funk. And, at 2:30 p.m. coffee (God bless it) pulled me out of the gutter long enough to gracefully finish my day with the kids. Catastrophe averted.

This may be a silly example, but whether we want to admit it or not, there is a strong connection between our minds/souls and our bodies. I battled depression long before I lost Audrey or faced marital trouble, and I didn’t even know it. But, when medicine restored my brain chemistry, I was able to see that there was a very tangible correlation between my body and my thoughts/feelings. I had birthed three babies in three years, I had nursed for nearly five years straight, and my job required me to be awake at all hours of the night. I was exhausted and very discouraged. When I finally attended to my body, I was able to think more clearly, access my faith more readily, and face my life with more energy and optimism. Weakened bodies often lead to weakened emotional, mental and spiritual faculties.

The opposite is also true. When we face severe emotional trials in our life, our bodies can react negatively. Weakened emotional, mental and spiritual faculties often lead to weakened bodies. Obvious, you may say. But, I think it is relevant to point out that our Creator is well aware of how he made us. He has lovingly expressed his understanding of this aspect of our humanity in his Word. I found this very comforting when I had first lost my little girl. I was beside myself. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not function. I think my family walked me through my daily routine for at least two weeks. I don’t even know who took care of my kids. I remember talking to them, but I didn’t fix them a meal or bathe or dress them for a long time. To top it off, the whole family and many of our friends came down with a terrible stomach virus a day or so after the funeral. So, as we held each other’s heads over the toilet, I was asking God to just let me die. In addition to being emotionally bankrupt, I felt so physically weak.

Perhaps some of you have been there. Perhaps this describes you today. Whatever your emotional pain that has left you physically weak, God is not unaware of how he made you.

The psalmist cries out to God in chapter 102: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly…my heart is…withered like grass; I forget to eat my food…I am reduced to skin and bones…I lie awake.” (v.1-7)

Job also knew the physical toll of grief. “I sigh when food is put before me, and my groans pour out like water. For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I cannot relax or be still; I have no rest, for trouble comes.” Job 3:24-26.

Many, many places in Scripture, the loss of physical strength is noted. But, there are just as many references to the supremacy of God’s strength, including the promise that he will give it to those who love him and who ask. There are many kinds of strength, not just physical. But, I don’t see a reason to rule out the possibility that God is willing to give us physical strength when we need it. Psalm 46:1-2 says, “God is our refuge and STRENGTH, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”

In recent years, this verse has become personal. I like to fill in the blanks for myself. “God is MY refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear, though _________________________.”

How would you fill in the blank? Does your own strength fail you today? God is attentive to our cries for help. He knows how he made us. And, he promises to give us the strength we need to face whatever comes. Guaranteed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eternal Perspective 101

If I had to name ONE thing God has changed the most in me through the pain of the last several years, it would be my perspective….my outlook, the lens through which I interpret my world. I can honestly say that before I lost my daughter, I did not long for Heaven. I did not look for Jesus’ return. I had been a Christian for 17 years. I understood (on some level) God’s grace, his forgiveness, and what it meant to walk with him daily. I knew his presence and what it was like to hear from him. But, I had NO CLUE what it meant to have an eternal perspective.

I want to begin blogging a bit about the process I went through as I gained an eternal perspective because it has transformed me permanently. It is now the one thing I want most to teach my children because I strongly believe it has the power to take them from living a good Christian life to living an abundant, victorious one!

It would be insincere of me to give you all of the nuggets of truth I’ve scooped up along the way, though, if I did not let you in on some of the suffering I experienced as God chiseled away my former way of seeing things. For me, pain was the vehicle God used to change my outlook.

I’m not saying God inflicts pain on us because we need to change…but I’m not saying he doesn’t either. I’m comfortable believing that God is sovereign and planned all of Audrey’s days and all of mine. (It took a while for me to get there, by the way.) And, in faith, I’m going to get all of what he wants me to have, no matter what he has planned or allowed. I believe he IS LOVE, and now that I have a glimpse of what he has in store for me in eternity, I know it is worth waiting for!

With that said, I’d like to spend some time sharing with you, bit by bit, some of the very real thoughts and feelings I had as I tried to pick up the pieces after the death of our sweet Audrey. I kept a journal here and there as I processed the loss, and I think that careful communication of my experience may have the power to help other moms and dads who have had the unfortunate privilege of losing a child. I call it “unfortunate” because I would not wish this pain on my worst enemy. I call it a “privilege” because it has afforded me an opportunity to see into the heart of God in a way not everyone can.

If you have NOT lost a child, I still think my “story” can challenge you to begin to explore your own perspective BEFORE you experience tragedy or pain…or in the MIDST or WAKE of your own unique tragedy or pain, whatever that is. Do you have an eternal perspective yet? If not, with the instruction of God’s Word, you can get one…and it will motivate you to live a more dynamic, intentional, and fulfilling Christian life NOW.

If you are reading this blog because you HAVE lost a child, I empathize with you. You won’t hear, “The Lord knows best,” “It must have been her time,” or “God could have prevented it if he wanted to.” You won’t hear, “You have to move on for your other children,” “God never gives you more than you can handle,” or “Time heals all wounds.” As a fellow sufferer, I know that speculation and trite comments aren’t helpful, no matter what their intention. My heart in addressing grief in my blog is to give you something trustworthy to hold onto (God’s Word) while validating your very real, human feelings and thoughts. God knows he made us human! None of our feelings are surprising to him!

In his Word, God has shown us over and over again that he relates personally to human beings with complex problems, conflicting emotions, and intense pain. He is no stranger to suffering, and he wants us to know that. He wants us to know that his love and presence never leave us.

And, he wants us to know that this world is not all there is. He has so much planned for those who trust in Jesus! He has given us a lot of information about Heaven (more than we may assume at first glance) so that we will have hope.

My prayer is that as you read this blog you will find authentic camaraderie with another mom who has walked this road. And, I pray that you will find divine encouragement coming straight from the heart of God to yours. If at any point what you are reading is not what you need to hear, by all means, throw it out entirely! We are all different, and our experiences with and expressions of grief are equally diverse. Praise be to God, however, that His Word remains the same! It is applicable to everyone, and it is eternal.

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

I rise before dawn and cry out for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, O Lord, according to your laws. Psalm 119:147-149