RECOVERY

12 SURPRISING THINGS THAT GRIEF WILL TEACH YOU THAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED TO KNOW

Joy and grief grow in the same garden.

My first introduction to death was at the tender age of 18. This was before I knew the first thing about living, so I sure didn’t know how to process the fact that people could just stop doing it. Especially important people, like my Daddy. He was bigger than life to me, and his life seemed way more important to me than mine. I threw myself face down on the floor and began my first attempt to barter with God.  Apparently, God wasn’t interested in reversing the process and taking me in Daddy’s place, because I’m still here, and writing about it after all these years.

God has a way of giving us just what we need to survive at the time, and sometimes scarcely more than that. Somehow, I managed to get up off the floor and scrape together just enough of whatever it is that it takes to survive. I had to make a lot of hard decisions that I wasn’t ready for back then. It was like going from zero to sixty—I grew up fast. I didn’t have much of a choice.

The tragedies in my life have continued. I have not only buried my father; I have also buried three sons. Two of them were infants, one was almost 17 years old. I am forever changed. Some days I find the courage to talk about it and some days I don’t. It would be easy to wallow on the hard days, but today I choose to honor life by talking about what grief has taught me, in the hopes that it will help someone else when they go through the darkness.

THE TAKEAWAY                                   

  1. PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THINGS.

This seems like a no-brainer. I can’t elaborate too much on the obvious, but if I have learned anything it’s to put the people you love and your relationships above material possessions and the pursuit of them. The Bible, in Mark 8:36, asks, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Don’t sell out your family for money or recognition. Don’t trade your time with them for anything that seems glittery and beautiful. You can’t get the moments that you lost back again. You can’t even get the moments that you spent back again, but at least you have the memories of those. Let your memories be full of laughter and joy when you can, but also go through the hard stuff with the ones you love. The darkest night spent with someone you care for is better than the brightest morning alone with your things.

2. WE ARE NOT IMMORTAL.

Surprise! Life here on this earth does not last forever. We die. Our forever is not going to be spent here in these bodies, doing this stuff. There’s really no need to save the best for last! Don’t keep your ideas to yourself. Use them! Get out your best dishes, wear your best clothes. Have dessert first if you feel like it (I don’t recommend this all the time though. It’s not that great for your waistline).

3. TAKE YOUR MOMENTS WHEN YOU CAN GET THEM.

Embrace the precious times of your life. You don’t know what the future holds! The Bible talks about this too (a very wise book), when it says in James 4:13 “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”

Love on your family. Stare at your children. Watch them breathe. Take a moment to revel in their smiles. Say all those words you’ve been holding back. Just in case this is all you will ever have; make it the best moment it can possibly be!

4. IT’S OKAY TO LIVE AGAIN.

You are not betraying anyone by going on with your life. Continuing to breathe is not a curse, and you have no reason to feel guilty for it. God has appointed each of us a time to be born and a time to die (Yep, that’s from the Bible too). If you are reading this, it wasn’t your time to die. It’s hard and it hurts and it’s unfair and all of that. But it’s the truth. Oh, and you aren’t God. It wasn’t your choice. You can let go of that now. Keep breathing. Keep going. Keep trying. Make it a great life. Do you know what the absolute best thing is that you can do for the ones who have stopped living? For you to keep on living, and to lead a victorious life.

5. LAUGHTER REALLY IS GOOD FOR HEALING.

Don’t feel guilty for finding enjoyment in your life. Let the joy come back. It doesn’t mean there isn’t still heartbreak. It doesn’t mean you have forgotten. Joy and pain can inhabit the same house. Let them.

6. GOD KNOWS YOU’RE MAD AT HIM.

He can take it. This is His world. Nothing happens without His knowledge and permission. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Everyone dies. Also hard to get down, especially when that someone is your child or parent, spouse or sibling. Or grandparent. It doesn’t mean that you are insignificant to God that He allowed it to happen to you. It also is not a small thing that He gave His Son to die, knowing that He would ultimately beat death. I mean, that was the point. He kicked death’s ass so I could see my kids again someday. Yeah, I was mad at Him for a long time. Sometimes I still am. Then I remember that, and I get through. I know where my hope is.

7. WE AREN’T MEANT TO DO THIS ALONE.

Don’t isolate and expect to get through it all on your own. There’s no need in it. If you don’t have friends or family who will walk through your grief with you, find a recovery group. Celebrate Recovery is a great place to go. If not that one, then another. There are moments when you need to shout, cry, fall apart, and vent. You might just want to share some funny old memories. You might not know what to do with your anger and unforgiveness. That’s what these groups are for. People are better than things and substances for helping you to get through. They need you too.

8. LIFE IS A MIRACLE.

Do you know why you are still here? Neither do I. It’s a miracle. Treat each breath as the gift that it is. Embrace the fact that you are alive and go dance in the rain.

9. ALL WE LEAVE BEHIND IS WHAT WE GIVE TO OTHERS.

No accomplishment, no amount of money, no possession will matter after you are gone. When people think of you, let it be because they remember what an impact for good you made on their lives. Stand up for what is right. Fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Love everyone the same. Don’t discriminate because of color, social status, or wealth. Give everything you can give to other people. You can’t take one thing with you where you’re going anyway (no matter which direction that is).

10. IT’S OKAY TO CRY.

You can grieve for as long as you need to grieve. I believe that there are some losses that you will always grieve for on this earth. The loss of a child is one of those. If you need to cry, don’t let anyone tell you that you should be “over it.” Your grief is your grief. Feel it and live your life anyway.

11. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND YOUR LIFE TRYING TO MAKE THEIRS MEAN SOMETHING.

Their life was not in vain, and neither was their death. It has already taught you so much! You have precious memories to hold forever. Their lives already had meaning, and they always will. Don’t spend your whole life setting up foundations in their name, donating to causes in their name, furiously trying to immortalize them. Let them rest in peace. You don’t have to make their life mean something. The best thing that you can do to honor them is to make your own life mean something! Work on that. Take responsibility for you. Get better so you can help other people.

12. THE NEXT “YOU” WILL BE DIFFERENT.

This journey that you are walking through grief will change you. That’s okay. You might think that you were meant to be that other person who was never touched by loss. Things would have turned out another way. Perhaps you can make a case for that, but I doubt it. Life, death, and God did not steal anything from you. Remember that everyone’s time is appointed to them. That means that you are meant to be the person touched by loss. The question is “why”?

Use the things you have learned to help other people. Sure, you are different, but you’re not lesser than. You have a world of experience now that was very hard-earned. Don’t let it go to waste. Use it for good. When the opportunity comes, take it.

These are some of the surprising things that grief will teach you that you actually need to know. Somewhere down the road, you will have the chance to share them with someone else in a way that helps their heart. Doing it will help your own.

just a doll that looks like Samuel…

RIP Samuel Allen Dowden, born dead, July 17th, 1998

Happy 21st

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ENCOURAGEMENT, MOTIVATIONAL, RECOVERY

Don’t Give Up On Yourself

Quitting On Monday

I think that the easiest day to lose hope is Monday. When the week starts, it should be full of great possibilities, but the reality is that Monday is the day the cold hard truth usually slaps us in the face. It’s the day we are forced to stop pretending that everything is great. We often need to go back to work and leave our dreams behind again. It gets hard.

It isn’t just work though. The whole world will come against you sooner or later. Maybe it will set up a pattern all your life. Things and people that you count on will be snatched away from you. Just when you feel the most secure, something will happen that will set your world on tilt.

Don't Quit Your DayDream painting

Quitting On Tuesday

Maybe it’s Tuesday that makes you want to quit on yourself the most. The struggle to get through Monday has taken its toll, and you just don’t have anything left. Hard things happen, and you don’t feel like you are equipped to deal with them anymore, if you ever were.

At first, when the hard things happen, you may want to give up on God. It’s easy to throw the blame on the Almighty. He is ultimately in charge. But, when you think about it, you realize that God hasn’t failed you in any way. You may begin to ask yourself if you have failed God.

Being Angry With God

It’s hard to always stay positive in a negative world.  I get that. I really do. I’ve had my share (and more) of tragic circumstances. I have not handled much of it very well. I did not turn to God in my pain and loss like I should have. I turned away and blamed Him instead. At least I did for a while.

It was when I was the angriest at Him that I realized that I still believed in Him. Of course, believing isn’t enough. I also had to get to a place where I remembered that He was good and that He loved me. I had to realize that He still had a plan for my life, even though my own plans had crashed and burned. Coming to that point was the hardest after I buried my 16-year-old son. This kind of loss makes you question all that you have ever believed.

Perfectly Imperfect

During my trek through the chaos and confusion of the worst of my grief, I learned to see the world in a different way. What was ordinary to me before became extreme. Casual beauty became exquisite when I realized how temporary it all is. I learned to focus on the smiles of my children and to take in every breath that they breathe. I learned that the imperfections that I once saw as flaws are what makes something beautiful and unique. The world irrevocably changed for me, but it wasn’t all good.

What Our Children Face

I looked at our world and what we have made of it. Sin and ugliness have run rampant through our societies. The children that we bring into the world are forced to grow up in fear of what tomorrow will bring. If they are living unaware of the potential danger of the future, then they are ill-equipped to face it. On the other hand, to tell them what it may be like is a betrayal of their innocence. How do we know what to do? How do we tell them that the walls protecting them are made of glass?

The problems we face seem to be insurmountable at times. Human trafficking, the threat of war, and the divisiveness of our country due to political affiliation, religion, race, and economics to name a few. We get mixed messages from the media and don’t fully understand what the truth is and how to teach it to our children. Like my Mama always said, “Babies don’t come with blueprints stamped on their butts.” Do we protect them with the truth, or protect them from the truth? I don’t know.

Who Failed Who?

All I know is that God didn’t fail us. That leaves the obvious answer. If He didn’t fail us…. We failed Him. With that realization, hopelessness can start to creep up on you.

Depression. Anxiety. Feelings of worthlessness and fear. The idea that you can never get it right because you never have before. The overwhelming sensation that you are about to drown in your sorrow, anger, and helplessness.

I’ve been there more than once. If you have ever felt like that, you aren’t alone. Don’t give up on yourself.

A Life of Abundance

Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came so that we would have abundant life. An abundant life is a life full of meaning and joy. That is the kind of life that God intends for you to have. He didn’t say that you can only have this kind of life if you deserve it and never do anything wrong. He didn’t say that you’ve got to operate in a realm above the human realm to create and achieve this life for yourself. He simply said that He came so that you could have it.  

Your abundance is found in God through Jesus Christ. No matter what the world throws at you. No matter what Monday brings. It doesn’t even matter if you need to leave your own dreams behind. Whatever heartbreak you have faced has not changed the truth. Grief and loss can’t take away what Jesus came to give you. Your abundant life is in Him. Not in yourself! Not in your circumstances. Not in your loved ones, your dreams, your hopes. Abundant life is also not lost in the outcome of a failed plan or dream. What an eye-opening thing to finally learn!

The Freedom to Keep Trying

This doesn’t mean that you should quit trying to achieve anything on your own. It means just the opposite! Now you are free to pursue your hopes and dreams without the fear of failure because your worthiness and your abundance was never meant to be found in any of your personal accomplishments anyway. You are free to love with all your heart because death can’t steal your hope! You can dance in the rain because no storm can wash away the sacrifice already made for you.

Your Focus

Take your focus off yourself. That’s not what your life is supposed to be about. All you could ever hope to be can be found in your relationship with God. Yes, I said it. It’s not about you. You may be dangerously close to quitting on yourself. Don’t do that. The problem is relational. Pursue a relationship with God if you want to add meaning to your life.

 Matthew 6:33 says to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” If our focus is on Him, where it should be, and off ourselves, our lives will be full, and everything will fall into place just the way it’s supposed to. If our focus is on ourselves, we will always experience chaos and a feeling of off-centeredness because we were created for Him and by Him, and not to be self-serving.

The Truth

I believe that this is the truth that we should teach our children. If we want to equip them to be warriors in whatever battle comes their way, we must first introduce them to the source of their hope and life. We need to teach them as we learn ourselves that our identity should be first understood as a “child of God.” Whatever is next is not only secondary, but it’s also temporary.

Here’s what I believe to be the truth: the things you do for yourself on this earth are going to die with you anyway. The only things that you leave behind are what you do for other people.

The Prize

Knowing that my abundance is in Him is just the catalyst that I need to keep going, to keep plugging away and staying in the race even when it feels like I’m defeated. I can never be defeated if I’m running the right race—the one for His kingdom and in His design. It’s easy to fall back into the temptation of seeking to define my worth by earthly standards and how I feel, but the actual cold reality is none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that I keep my eyes on the prize.