January 30, 2014

The Other Side of Grief

I've debated for weeks whether to write this post or not. It feels (and is) very raw and vulnerable. But after having similar experiences with different people, I've decided that I want to write it. I want to write about the other side of grief. The kind that doesn't show well, the kind that makes people uncomfortable because it disrupts our tidy views. It wasn't easy or comfortable to write; in fact, I cried through most of its writing. And if I get to a point where I quite simply feel too exposed, then I'll take it down.

I ran into a friend at the mall today who recently lost her brother. He was twenty-seven years old. Far too young with too much life to live. Matt and I had the privilege of going to his service a few weeks ago and we immediately fell in love with their family even though we had never met them before. It's the type of family that made us say: a) we want a big family, and b) we want to be as close as they are.

My heart ached and ached for their loss all throughout his service. I found myself crying almost the entire time, even though I never had the chance to know him. At one point I literally wanted to stand and wail and mourn for their indescribable loss and grief. I cursed the American way of grieving in my mind - so solemn and composed. I wanted to immediately implement the Jewish and Middle Eastern customs of grieving with wailing and tearing of the clothes and pouring ashes on the head.

Since we have begun our own grief journey I have noticed this subtle mindset that so many have about grief. The more outwardly composed and collected we are, the more praised we are for "being strong" and being a light and example. An example of what? Not collapsing on the floor in gut-wrenching pain and weeping that leaves our eyes nearly swollen shut and our faces red and blotchy? No, we save that for the privacy of our bedrooms.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. People who experience such profound loss and grief are not any stronger than you are. We did not experience our loss because we possessed more strength than you and you are not exempt from experiencing it yourself. People who experience such profound loss and grief go on living because we have to.

As my sweet friend and I talked I realized we shared many of those same experiences. People praising her for being strong. People commending her because she looked like she was moving on because she happened to get dressed and put makeup on that day. I loved the way she confronted the last person who told her that. It's a front, she said, I'm actually living in a black hole right now.

Because people don't see the other side.

They don't see the sleepless nights and the nightmares and the constant replay of your worst memories: the still heart where there should've been a beating one, the moment she was placed in your arms and all you could cry was, You're so beautiful, you're so perfect, the kissing of her head over and over, the soaking in of her face knowing you'd never see it again, the handing her over for the final time, the collapsing on the bed in tears because you don't know how you will live through this pain. They don't see the crushing of your heart when you see someone who has what you should have. They don't see the tears rolling down your face night after night, the thousand different places in this city that you've cried and then pulled it together as you pulled into the church parking lot. They don't see the anger and the desperate questioning and the item thrown across the room because you can't stand the pain and anger anymore. And they don't see that it doesn't stop. That nine months later you're still so freaking sad and angry that you realize for the first time that grief is a long, long journey and you're just getting started.

I'm comforted when I find in the Bible the same gut-wrenching pain that has become so familiar to me. None of this ridiculous composure and "staying strong" and being the poster child for handling grief well. Isaiah tells me that Jesus was a man familiar with grief and sorrow, and when Jesus wept the original language describes for us the type of weeping that is from the stomach; you know, the kind that doubles you over.

Jesus is near to me. He is with me. He has never left me. I have laid in bed and pleaded with him to please show me his love and kindness because it felt so far and, even at times, not true, and my God, the one who leads the stars out in number by name, has done just that. He has shown me indescribable love and kindness. But it doesn't erase nor exempt me from the grief experience. Nor any other believer. Yes, God is good, but death isn't. He tells us in his own Word that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1st Corinthians 15:26). Yes, death is an enemy. And we can have every type of visceral reaction to it that soldiers have in battle at enemy lines. It is not tidy. It is not comfortable. It doesn't make for easy conversation or even relationship. It reshapes what you thought your life would be like, look like. It is inescapable.

When I talked to her today my eyes filled with tears as she spoke and shared how angry she's been, and I told her I have been as well, and I told her that's ok; it's part of the process. No, we don't want to stay there and become embittered but we don't have to have a quick palatable response to everything either. We don't have to defend God or try to make it go away for the other person. We can simply say, I know and I'm so sorry. I've been there too. I'm there now.

Someone shared this perspective not long ago and it's stuck with me. How much would I love it if my children came to me when they were older with their real problems and questions and struggles and sin, more than if they simply always told me the "right" thing so that I somehow felt better about them? I love my children desperately and nothing could ever separate me from loving them. I crave relationship with them, not a surface appearance of them doing the right things but me never actually knowing them, truly knowing them. And it makes me wonder how much more so our Father? He's not looking for us to have our spiritual ducks in a row first. He's not looking for us to redeem our own pain and experiences. He is the Redeemer. He is the one who sanctifies. He is the one to work out all things for good.

I think people who suffer and grieve have such deep faith because the believing doesn't come easy anymore. It's been purified in the Refiner's fire. We can no longer say that God is good because our lives are going how we think they should; we now say God is good because He is simply good. Because it is who he has been for all of Eternity and he is incapable of being anything other than himself in all his perfection. His goodness isn't true because we have good gifts. His goodness is true because it is who he is.

Yes, my faith is deeper. My belief in God and his Word are stronger. But it's not without severe pain and wrestling.

And something tells me that there are some of you who can relate. And I want you to know, It's ok.

January 20, 2014

Blue-Eyed Baby and Hope Restored

When I was pregnant with Micah (who is turning FOUR in two weeks, someone kill me) I hoped so badly he would be blue-eyed. I know it's vain but I wanted at least one blue-eyed child. I have blue eyes and Matt has brown so I knew it was a 50/50 chance. But probably more like 80/20 since brown eyes are dominant. When he was born they were most definitely blue but of course all the naysayers said they'd probably change. They were wrong, as naysayers usually are. You've always gotta have one Negative Nelly in the bunch.

Don't mind the peanut butter and jelly hanging out of his mouth.

With Asher I don't remember thinking much about it. I think I felt since I had one blue-eyed baby, I didn't care so much anymore. In fact I think we all expected him to be Matt's clone. Well, I can only say I'm so glad he has Matt's distinct chin dimple or we would all wonder....


Chin dimple! And dried banana.
More chin dimple!

My sweet Gracie-girl most definitely had the same eyes Micah and Asher had at birth so I think it's safe to say she would've been our blue-eyed baby girl. She looked like Asher the most, including having the same black hair Asher had at birth (who has since turned into a towhead).

Asher starting out with black hair.
And Asher now. 

This time around we are rooting so strongly for a true Matt-clone! I would die of happiness if Baby Luke looks like this.

This is Matt. I'm dying too.

Seriously, I can hardly handle thinking about it. My heart.

And then this picture for no other reason than I was pregnant with Grace and I used to love to sit on the couch with the boys while we watched Dora and revel in her kicks and rolls. This picture brings me back to those moments instantly. We knew her situation was heartbreakingly serious but we were so hopeful.

I came to a low point in 2013 when I said to the Lord in desperate anger, I hate hope! I hate hoping only to be let down so severely and so devastatingly I feel like I'll never recover!

So I've prayed that God would restore my hope. That this would be a year of hope restored. I'm learning (ever so slowly) that I can't put my hope in my desired outcome; I have to put my hope in the Lord, who will one day make all things right.

Whew, that's a hard one in real life, isn't it?

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5

January 07, 2014

Albuquerque Christmas 2013

I know we're two weeks past Christmas and everyone's over it (including myself) and we don't want to see another Christmas tree for at least four months and if we hear one more jingle our brain cells will fuse together and become obsolete, BUT. I had to get get this post written because I don't have many other memory-keeping avenues besides my personal journals and I'm not sure that's the place I want to send my family for memories in 25 years. So please. Bear with me, yes?

This is the first time ever in over six years we've driven to Albuquerque for Christmas. Or for any reason for that matter. As I've mentioned before I worked for two major airlines for five years and we were quite spoiled with our flight benefits. We used to fly there or elsewhere usually once a month or at least every other month. And on good tail wind days, it takes 54 minutes to fly from Missoula to Salt Lake. Fifty-four minutes. It took us fifty-four minutes to make our way out of the house and into our vehicle sitting in the garage.

We had terrible weather until we got to Utah which slowed us down quite a bit but after that we made good time. Moab was our stopping point and I wish we had had a couple days to spend there. Moab is one of my most favorite places on earth. Arches National Park is like a giant and indescribably beautiful playground for adults. We woke up after our night there to the sun rising over the red rocks and not a cloud in the sky. I can't explain what it did for my soul.

We got into Albuquerque in the afternoon and thus began one of the most relaxing weeks we've had in a very, very, very, very long time. Matt's mom and step-dad live there and Matt's mom most certainly has the gift of hospitality. She spoiled/loved us rotten. And since I'm from there I had a list of restaurants and food that I had to eat while we were there and we over-fulfilled those requirements (in addition to all of her delicious home-cooked meals).

Matt and I got to sleep in every single day because she got up with the boys every morning. One morning I went in there because I was starting to feel bad and Asher said, "No! Nana! Naaaa-NA!" I think they missed me.

Prepare yourself for lots of pictures. I'll let them tell the stories of our time there. Micah calls Albuquerque Albaqerty, so thank you Albaqerty Nana for loving us so well and giving us the rest our bodies and souls needed. It was a restorative end to a long and difficult year.

This was in Salt Lake. We had a coffee and Nutella and banana toast break. Only 17,000 more hours!

Ahhh, the sunshine. Sweet blessed sunshine and blue skies.

This doodle toy was seriously a win for the car ride. Thanks Montana Nana for early Christmas presents!

Watching Planes for the 38th time. 

Still soaking the blue skies in. There are more of these where this came from. Interesting fact: we are on the Navajo reservation here and my mom is Navajo and grew up not far from here. A lot of family history here.

Oh sweet Serious Texas BBQ, you always were my first love.

This was the picture we sent Nana to let her know we were almost there!

There are the Sandia Mountains; we're officially in Albuquerque! My only tearful melt-down happened about 17 minutes before this picture was taken. But we'd been in the car for 19+ hours so who can blame me, right?

Just arrived at Nana's house and she had some sweet toys waiting to be played with. Such a good Nana.

Matt and his sweet mom whom I love so much. (That's a Starbucks drink in her hand, not a beer.) (She thought it looked like a beer.)
Getting some exercise after all our hours in the car.

He's been riding like this for months. He'll go as fast as he can and put his feet up and coast until he stops. (And don't worry, he had three set of adult eyes on him like a hawk; he wasn't randomly riding in the street.) (I feel like you have to qualify dumb things like that in Bloglandia.)

Sweet Baby Luke at 17 weeks.

The local amusement park was open for Christmas festivities. It was such a blast. I honestly love nothing more than watching my children have a great time and sharing it with them.

Oh Dion's, you always were my first love (too). This is Christmas Eve dinner. 

Micah made several ornaments at his school so we brought them with us and added them to Nana's tree.

This was my favorite. A sheep made out of cotton balls and q-tips.
My mom sent us a video on Christmas day of Grace's resting spot decorated with lots of pictures of her family and stockings for everyone. She made it so festive and beautiful. I hated that I wasn't going to be able to visit her on Christmas so it meant so much to see our girl so loved and cared for. There is this indescribable ache of missing that's exacerbated on special holidays. Someone's missing. Somebody irreplaceable and deeply loved and missed. I was so thankful to my mom for doing that.
A sweet gift from a sweet friend. 

Christmas Eve.

Micah made this star too.

It has a bow in the middle because those lights went out and were unfixable. Adds character, doesn't it?

I love that these are called "Troubled Teeth." Yes, indeed, my pearly friends, you have seen some troubled times.

This toy may have been hidden every single day after it was received. 

Christmas morning. Don't mind the bedhead.

Slinky! That totally let me down on the Stair Test. One stair, my friends. That's as far as it got.

Setting up for Christmas lunch.

Linda and Matt's step-dad, Kim. We got Kim Griz paraphernalia for his gift so now he'll fit right in when he visits.
We went to this place called Gravity Park and it was so fun! It has tons of trampolines and foam pits built into the floors and wall. The boys had a blast. I loved watching them.
Getting ready to jump!

This is the Dodgeball Pit where games are constantly going on and you just jump in.

We had a lot of car-napping. Too much fun was still to be had to stop and nap!
(Also: the cheeks.) (And also: the double chin.)

We made Salt Lake our stopping point on the way back and In-N-Out burger may or may not have been my primary reason for this. (And IKEA.)
Oh the happiness.

And then this was the part of our road trip that I wondered if happiness existed.
Northwest, you kill me in the winter. Gah

Wow, bravo to you for making it through that. A cookie?