Thursday, November 16, 2017

The company of God’s Presence in the numb night of grief

Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

SOMETHING is common in the experience of those who have been broken by a pain that rips their lives to shreds. God’s Presence.
A situation that pushes us too far into the realm of inner destruction makes us reach out, and in the reaching out we’re helped in ways we could not have imagined.
I can speak in these terms for two reasons. I’ve experienced it once if not a dozen times. (More actually.) That’s the first reason. The second is the people God has brought into my sphere — some who will read this — so many of them have spoken, too, of these secret hidden realities.
It seems God wants these realities to remain elusive. I find words hard to come by to explain these things in real and rational terms that are credible — words for experiences that few have — not a select few — experiences chosen for any who would capitulate.
See, we ordinarily won’t allow ourselves to be crushed.
So when life does it to us, and we find we have no recourse to remedy for denial, brutality or escape, we find ourselves in uncharted territory. Too broken not to need to be rebuilt.
Suddenly we’re in a place where there is only one thing left. Stripped bare of all things other than the experience of our existence, we reach out to the Creator. He says, “Finally!” “Son/daughter, come to Me and find your rest in Me, because you know I know your pain.”
Suddenly He who is the Hero of our faith, becomes real and living in that moment. That moment we’re met! And life can never go backwards from there. We can certainly suffer greater things, but our knowledge of the reality of God’s Presence can never again be denied.
We can praise God for the numb night of grief that cast our souls to oblivion. That is the night when, with nothing left, we reached out and met God.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Moving forward when you’re getting behind


OVERWHELMED by the sheer weight and number of issues in life, you could be forgiven for giving up. But there’s no purpose in it other than thinking it’s easier. The truth is it’s only easier for that millisecond — as soon as we give up we backslide, and the hell we move into is worse than it ever was.
There is only one way to move ahead and that is to move forward.
But that seems so hard when we can barely breathe, when life is crushing the life out of us.
Yet, by simply holding open the possibility of forward inertia, life slowly begins to change inside out. As we focus not so much on what is wrong, but on the things we can do right, God blesses our intent, and small victories come into sight, awareness and experience.
Suddenly we realise the power in our minds to create a dream rather than destroy it before it was ever imagined.
No matter how far behind we think we are, we’re only one decision away from forward momentum.
No matter how long we’ve been floundering, the transition from being stuck to mobilisation occurs in a heartbeat.
No matter how much trepidation we experience, we’re counselled to initiate movement, for only when we do, does fear ebb away.
No matter how little it seems, what little there is needed to shift our momentum forwardly is within us.
A change of mindset of faith is the only requirement. One heartfelt decision is all it takes to get the inertia moving in the right direction.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Your Presence Matters

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

TRUTH and lies fill all of our lives. Yet, we can choose to nourish truth and negate the lies. One such truth to nurture is your presence matters. It really does.
You being alive matters AND your presence in others’ lives matters, too.
God can do things through you He would not do otherwise. Put another way, without you there would be things God could not do that He wishes to do. That’s because you think in ways that are unique to you. You will get and act on ideas that nobody else may.
But, even more primary to God doing unique things through you is the fact that your being alive matters to other human beings — those who love you, who couldn’t bear to be without you. So whenever you’re tempted to disparage or berate yourself, think of those who love you who would not wish for you to contemplate or act on such lies.
Of course, your being alive matters to God. He meant for you to be alive for the entirety of your life, from conception through the passage of time and then into eternity. Being alive you bear your soul. You’re no less precious than anyone else God has ever made or will make.
Being present matters.
Every passive moment is a moment where we refuse to live. Passivity doesn’t mean we cannot rest. Rest is an active thing when we’re intentionally resting. It’s a spiritual discipline.
Being present is being active so far as making the most of life.
***
God’s counting on you being you and me being me. It’s primary to the outworking of salvation — that we would grasp just how wide and deep the love of God is.
When we do, we begin to stop judging and condemning how we look and move and respond.
We overlook what we were once so afraid of. And in this we see signs that the Gospel of Jesus is changing our lives from the inside out. Every true believer of Christ needs to witness their own fruit to bolster the truth of their belief.
When we experience the truth by living it, the wisdom of discerning truth grows in us more and more, and God shows us untold treasures related to the importance of our presence. Finally, we’re able to more fully believe we’re irreplaceable.
Your presence matters.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Do you ever ask, did it really happen?

BUZZ goes the phone, and as I check for the message it’s a friend. He reminds me of the significance of a date (tomorrow) I already know — yet, suddenly, God has me go in on a journey. He shows me something surreal. It catches me by surprise.
I ask, for the first time I can recall, did this really happen?
It seems like it didn’t for the pure fact that all emotion is contained, dealt with, sublime. Unless, of course, I go in, as if to lift the lid. There it is, right there, again! Just as it always was. Preserved. Intact. The combination of a reflective moment, some choice photographs, and a special highly evocative song. Then it’s as real as it ever was. But it doesn’t overwhelm us.
It is healing? Or, it is denial? It could be something else, but at times it feels like it didn’t happen to us.
Tomorrow, on the third anniversary of his funeral, we bury our son’s ashes in a special pot we will plant.
I feel compelled to write and share. Yet I feel guilty at times sharing about Nathanael. I wonder if people think I’m trying to profit in some way by rehashing these stories. The truth is, I think, that grief is a fathomless pit of experience — and not all of it is harrowing. Some of it is reflective and good. Some of it teaches me about the voluminousness of life and wisdom and all there is to know by experience. Some of it is unbearable, for sure. But much of it is ho-hum, like it would be better if it weren’t this way, but it is. I know that some people would rather I didn’t make so much of our loss. I’m prepared to be unpopular if our experience helps even one person. What we’ve experienced must have meaning. Perhaps it’s those who are unattuned to loss who feel uncomfortable?
I don’t really want to bury the box that contains my son’s ashes.
But we will. We’ve been wanting to do it for some time, yet it’s safe and clean in our house at present. Isn’t it funny that I’d want material from my deceased son’s body kept safe and clean? Some of you at least would say, no, that’s normal.
Of course, it did happen, and we know it happened.
It’s a nice, safe feeling to know I can access my historically true sadness anytime. It is a treasured legacy of having lost our shining gift of God.
I suppose it’s a nice, safe feeling because we’ve always been thankful that we can remember him and his important place in our lives.

On the other side of Acceptance

REALITY is only a threat when we cannot live in harmony with the truth. Yet reality is a real issue for every single one of us. It’s a phenomenon that must be mastered if we’re to live the life every human being is purposed to live. Comparatively few ever do. Yet it’s the opportunity God freely gives each one of us.
This is a companion article to Endurance is easier when we accept life is a test. In that article I suggested that accepting life as a test makes endurance easier; possible, when it feels impossible. Simply knowing endurance is possible, at times, fills us with hope.
Acceptance, when we land there, teaches us that our lives in their totality are in the hands of God. We have given up claim to our life. We’re ready to die if need be. The paradox is we’re never readier to live. We don’t want to die. But we’re prepared to do whatever God requires — no correspondence entered into. Of course, we land there and we can expect to be tested to that degree. That is a harrowing thought, but every landing must be tested.
On the other side of acceptance is a land where the Bible makes complete sense. Every page. Because it’s the Word of God. We expect to be pressed into discomfort. On the other side of acceptance, we accept mysteries, and perplexing situations don’t need to be explained. They are what they are. We judge less. But we’re also tested into further discomfort.
But how do we get there?
A big part of the answer to that question resides in accepting that life is a test, and accepting in our daily lives that every difficulty we experience has a purpose in our lives — as tests. These tests are not given by God or by people to stir us up, but they implicit within life. Tests of patience and kindness and self-control (among other virtues we may lack) are just the way life works.
When we exist on the other side of acceptance, tests are welcomed within our trials, because we know they’re part of life.

Acceptance teaches that trials can be welcomed as tests; a purpose revealing God’s glory in us and our growth in Him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Endurance is easier when we accept life is a test

‘Running the race’ in our occasional backyard

NOBODY really likes the sound of that title, I know. But deeper consideration of this truth evokes the super-conquering hope Paul talked about in Romans 8:37.
And a super-conquering hope empowers the possibility for endurance. Get this right. This is no triumphal prosperity doctrine. This is hope for the white-knuckled ride of life, because life is unliveable without it.
But it’s hard to learn because it’s something we can’t do; we can only allow it its way.
When we reduce life down to how it actually is — the rudiments of reality — we find there’s absolutely no purpose in resenting it. Bitterness is a rabbit warren to nowhere. And life is indisputably packed to the abundance with them. Around every corner there are things to get upset about — (unless we see them as tests that God knows we can overcome).
We only need to think of the absurdity in the following questions: do you have a happy life? Is everything as it should be? Have you reached all your goals? Is your life completely free of anxiety, sadness, fear and loneliness? Do you have enough money? Do you have a perfectly intimate relationship with anyone? With God?
Honesty forces the ‘no’ answer, because none of us are in heaven (yet). Indeed, the very authenticity of reality convinces us there must be a better way of dealing with it. Acceptance is what holds us afloat under all circumstances, whether acceptance is purely aspirational, at one end of the spectrum where grief interrupts unabating, or it’s a lived reality at the other.
Endurance is easier when we accept life is a test. When our expectations are conformed to how reality is, we’re licensed to walk the intrepid journey toward maturity.
We’re blessed when we endure the test. Sounds easy, but surrender is only easy when we let go. Most of us find that hard. To change that, expect life to test you, and accept it when it does, then endurance is easier. And hope abounds in joy despite circumstances.
That’s living the good news. The true effect of the saving grace of Jesus.

None of it is easy. But it is possible. And far easier than the way we’ve tended to live. Still, not easy. But worth the sacrifice of giving it a go! Like when the AA’s say ‘give it a go for three months’ — anyone who does never turns back, because they get to see mountaintop glimpses they would never see otherwise.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How the stages of grief manifested in me

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash
ONLY after three full years is there now the drawn-out dawn of a new era. New perspective continues to grow.
The stages of grief theory was of course posited by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (and David Kessler). It involves denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. The strength of the model is it highlights real stages we go through as we experience loss. One of its weaknesses is it’s not linear — the stages tend to reoccur chaotically. But it’s overall flow is true.
Here are my observations of the grief I’ve experienced over the past three years:
DENIAL – I’ve written a lot about our experience of grief losing Nathanael, which seems to eclipse the hundreds of articles I’d already written on grief previously — viewed through the lens of divorce. Much of what I’ve ever written is true to my experience, but some of it is aspirational. I’m an appreciative communicator and person, believing the best in others and myself — too much at times. And some of that I see as denial — the idealism that confounds realism. It’s the strength of light, but it’s also the weakness of not bearing the world well. I can admit that weakness now. I have often so wanted a particular better reality that I have attempted to wish it into creation.
Of course, life never quite works out that way.
ANGER – I’ve dealt with a lot of anger over the past three-plus years. It’s had a negative and regrettable impact on some crucial relationships. My anger revealed fear, and grief like nothing else breeds fear. Often pride has risen up, but it was truly fear that underpinned it. I have hated admitting my anger, as if pride would not allow exposure of such an odious weakness. No man wants to have an anger management issue, but my anger manifested mainly in ways that led to my own demise. I’ve had to pay for it. No one ever excuses it as a product of grief.
BARGAINING – linked somewhat to the comments I’ve made in ‘denial’, I’ve bargained so much through the past three years, mainly due to peripheral losses (that hurt just as much if not more than the central loss). I’ve bargained with God for the work that I’ve lost and therefore wanted back. And yet, the grief process has suggested I’ve had to grow through it, because not one iota of bargaining has worked. I’ve had to learn through not having the work that the work is superfluous. I am not defined simply by what job I do.
DEPRESSION – I can chart my progress with depression quite easily. Early in the three-plus year period I had low days, but the season was punctuated by never being too far from the black dog. More recently I’ve faced significant challenges — 2016 was the hardest year of my life thus far — and yet those low days don’t defeat me like they have, nor am I anywhere near the black dog these days. But I know the black dog well enough to know I’ll never be too far ahead of it.
ACCEPTANCE – I honestly have felt in the acceptance zone from day one, and yet I’ve experienced the full grief experience — all stages seemingly at the same time on occasion. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much ‘acceptance’ I truly experience as I endeavour to wish it into creation. Somehow acceptance has elements of the other four — denial, anger, bargaining, depression — in it.
***
Nobody ever tells you how hard it is to hold your world together in grief. And sometimes people simply don’t understand. Nor do some want to.
You can experience compassion from ninety percent of your world, but if the crucial ten percent regales without kindness your whole world is easily fractured. Such as it is with grief.

Grief is the embodiment of all stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — some days all five at once.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Life long after loss – thankful to remember

THREE years ago today we heard Nathanael’s heart beat the final time. It’s so fitting that we’re surrounded by PKS families this weekend.  
We’re just so thankful to keep Nathanael’s memory alive. Our shining gift of God has put us in touch with this small national and international community touched in the same way. Our experience is not entirely the same, yet we’re embraced. Yet, even as I write that, we’re connected with many who have experienced similar things, if not the same. Each time we look at one of the children — a three-year-old born soon after Nathanael was — we gain a glimpse of who he might have been. That happens a lot with three-year-olds, at the present time, which is symptomatic of what we all might feel after loss. These are comparisons we need to accept do occur; we can turn them into thankful remembrances of those we’ve lost.
We will never be the same as we were, and who knows what else is coming. Yet, we know that we’re surrounded by those who life has taught to love well.
I’ve had the sense that as Nathanael passed to be with God he left something to a few of his special ones; some sort of legacy. It’s an intangible gift. Part of that gift for us is connection with the PKS community.
The present is a gift, but one we never expected to thank God for. The present keeps us connected to Nathanael. And the present is poignant, being with those we met when Nathanael was thriving in his mother’s womb, on the anniversary of his birth and death.
***
The image above speaks of comfort experienced at a time of pain. Besides the negative and traumatic things we experienced when Nathanael was born, we appreciate the love we experienced being cared for by the King Edward Memorial Hospital staff. Particularly the Gold Team.
***
**PKS stands for Pallister-Killian Syndrome. “PKS is a rare chromosomal disorder in which there are 2 extra copies of the short (p) arm of chromosome 12. PKS Foundation of Australia is a not for profit organisation aimed at generating awareness about the disorder within the general community and medical professionals; supporting kids and families of those affected by PKS achieve a better quality of life, through therapy and equipment support and generating sufficient resources to fund research into many of unknown facets of this disorder.” For more information, visit: http://www.pks.org.au/pks-fun-run/

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The courage that defines you (living in the small places)

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
LIFE is lived in the small places. Average, ordinary, ho-hum, banal, anything-but-life-like places. Places where we easily miss life rather than embrace it.
It takes courage to live in the small places.
There are large places, of course, and these require courage, too, but its in the small places we feel especially alone, afraid, tempted, mischievous, anxious, unstable, impulsive, vulnerable.
Small places are those quiet moments of insignificance where were especially susceptible to believing lies about ourselves.
Small places remind us how small and vulnerable we are.
Where:
·        we doubt our purpose.
·        disappointment, guilt or shame reigns.
·        we may face inner erosion and imagine situations of utter destruction.
·        life doesn’t seem to add up or be going the way we planned it to go.
Yet, in the small places is where true spiritual grit is learned.
Where it, as an unlikely spiritual path, a possibility of faith, is first encountered. Where testing of character blurs into experience. Where growth is fortified. Where we become, as the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:31-39, more the conquerors (or super-conquerors) through the facing our small place; neither attacking it in anger or denying it by running from it. By letting it be, and letting that become habit.
See how these small places are so necessary?
See how theyre vital in facilitating our becoming?
The difference-maker between success and despair is courage. Because it’s in the small places we face the imminence of our most urgent threats, it’s there we most need courage. And the courage we need isn’t adorned in the majesty of armour. It’s clothed in circumspect humility, ready to stand.

We’re defined by how humbly we stand in the lonely, small places of life, where courage makes endurance possible.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why grief isn’t depression and one thing you can do about it


HAVE you ever visited a psychotherapist once, never gone back, and realised it was the best hour you could have ever spent? I’ve had one of those experiences. And the older gentleman taught me the difference between depression (which I thought I had, but didn’t) and grief (which I had). Sure, I was depressed, but…
Being depressed is intrinsically part of the grief process, and that can form into clinical depression,[1] but importantly, the basis for the depression is the grief. Typically, when the grief is attended to, we recover. It takes months, if not a year or three or more, but we do recover if we’re being honest — if we’re wrestling with our stuckness.
Grief can feel like clinical depression, but thankfully we have a reason for being so depressed. Not all depression has such rationale.
About grief, pain is an indicator of reality; an important factor in not simply our plummeting, but a pivotal feature in our recovery as well. Especially when there’s more pain involved in remaining stuck than breaking free and moving forward.
“… pain [is] necessary to know the truth, but we don’t have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive.”
— Mark Nepo
Loss is etched in truth we cannot get away from. It leaves us stuck in a truth that has held us, embodied in love or a state of being we found so acceptable it came to be part of us.
Even though grief isn’t depression it certainly is possible that it could open the door to an extended season of life where we do have clinical depression. But one thing that can free us is knowing and remembering what started the cycle in the first place — an event, a sequence, a tipping point.
That event may have been a catalyst. It may have brought all our burdens to bear at once. It could have caused a breakdown, and a deconstruction of our identity.
Additionally, often grief leaves us with unanswered and unanswerable questions. It takes time to accept the hard things we cannot change. Grief is a journey of acceptance.
And grief certainly does challenge and change our identity. But the truth remains the same. When we can accept that truth as a reality and the pain is gone — though it will always remain as a sad reality — that is when our grief stages are complete.
Even in acceptance, reality bears scars of a pain that once was, a reality we know was once so real.
One thing we can know about grief is it is more tangible than classic clinical depression. One thing we can do about it is, embrace the future with such meaning from the past.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

One thing they never tell you about loss

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash
THERE are so many dynamics and nuances and variables in loss. But one thing remains the same. Grief is a phenomenon that changes us irrevocably.
And there is but one choice — to go in the direction of one of two destinations: to move into the new life beckoning or to stifle its flow. Inevitably, even as we move willingly into that new life, there are also many days when we cannot and will not move forward. Indeed, we could not. And yet, grace permitted growth on freer days.
One thing about loss is inevitable. We must move. We cannot remain the same.
This article is about this solitary idea:
Loss feels like the end when truly it qualifies us to begin.
Of course, loss is something we never desire and can only detest. Why me? Why this? How this? When will this nightmare be over? How long, O Lord? Why do so many around me have no idea? What did I do wrong? Why this loneliness? When will the pain finally abate?
Loss feels like the end. It feels like life should not be this bad. Unconscionable pain.
A cosmic collision of emotional meteorites. Inherent unpredictability. Scary possibilities. Faint hope, if ever. Despair lurking. The end, favourable.
So many know these states of being. Loss is crushing.
But few it seems know the power entwined in the second part of the idea. Few other than those who accept the things that can only change.
Loss forces the abandonment of what no longer works. We’re forced to find a new way. We hope for a return of the peace we had, and surreptitiously God ensures we begin a quest for the new life — what we think is a return to the old. The old life no longer works, and even in mid-bargain, because we may not yet be able to accept it, we’re forced to create something new.
No one ever tells us this second part, because unless we experience it, it seems so outlandish. But it is true, alright!
Loss feels like the end when truly it qualifies us to begin.
That beginning can indeed be heaven. Not that we wouldn’t have what we lost back. We would. One thousand times so. But we see the purpose in loss when we’re compensated spiritually.

When loss gives us something we never had before, we don’t so much resent the grief as understand what God can do with it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

When a 4-year-old grieves the loss of a sibling they never had

DIVERSITY of experience is the fullness of life. We will all grieve losses at various points in our lives. Here’s one glimpse into ours. One that took us by surprise early one recent evening.
Sitting at the kitchen table, a bizarre conversation takes place.
Our four-year-old, without understanding what he’s saying, says playfully, “I want to kill you, Dad.” One of us said, “That’s not very nice. If Dad dies he can’t come back…”
Suddenly, our son paused and then he broke down saying, “I want Nathanael to come back and he can’t come back.” We looked at each other not really knowing what to do other than sit there with him. His sobbing was intense for a minute or so, but he was soon placated and redirected emotionally. He also had a similar emotional reaction a day or so after, and it seemed that he was missing not having a younger sibling as many of his peers do.
Grief is a confusing subject for a four-year-old, obviously. It seems that at his age and stage it’s the issue of having a younger sibling that is poignant at present. Because some of his schoolmates have younger siblings, he has made the connection that he had a younger sibling but no longer does. He misses what he never had.
When it comes to Nathanael, it seems our four-year-old initiates conversation a lot more than we do. We don’t avoid it, but he is talked about more often than we plan to talk about him. And this aspect of not having a younger sibling is the current nuance of grief that our four-year-old is transitioning through.
Our son is learning to live with grief in stages at his own pace. And he will grow in understanding with our support.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Son, you would’ve been turning 3 soon

EXTINGUISHED now is the deep pain of our loss, yet what has replaced it is the precious void we share together as we remember our son.
Often, we talk about how old he would be, and we particularly miss him not being the loyal little brother to our now four-year-old.
Gone is the pain. Yet, the mystery remains, and ever will do. The rollercoaster ride is over, and it’s only the memories that endure. Sometimes we’d love to step back into the tremulous breach. To hold him just once more. Thankfully, acceptance has been God’s gift for our healing.
As my wife embraces the soft teddy bear bearing our son’s birth year (2014) she smiles with a mixture of giddy pride and reality’s sadness. Acceptance is the right noun describing her gait.
We understand the gravity of loss, but not only that, it’s the reach of loss that accosts us all. One in four pregnancies are lost. And loss, of course, occurs within the myriad milieus of life — death, sure, but divorce, job loss, unrequited dreams, and trauma, to name just a few. There are so many who have their own story. Ours is not unique. Although it is remarkable, every story of loss is equally remarkable.
And still there is the memory of our son, Nathanael. He ages with us in our hearts as we age. Never will his memory leave us. He lives with us, as long as we live.
I write about these types of personal things for a few reasons, not least for my own therapy, and to encourage others who’ve experienced loss to partake in therapy’s expression, as well as those presently on their journey of grief. I often wonder if it’s helpful or even appropriate to share so publicly, but I also see the role of my ego not wanting others to think I’m profiting out of our loss when I have such thoughts. I cannot control what others think or how they attribute my motives for sharing. What I can do, however, is be a voice breaking the silence regarding loss. I can share in good conscience, trusting it’s God’s will to do what I do.