Finding the Goodness of Grief

It seems impossible to say. It seems impossible to be at this point. It seems impossible that 16 months have passed since Andrew died. The statement, “all things are possible with God,” comes to my mind. Had it not been for my faith these past 16 months I can’t imagine where or how I would be right now.

Grief is a tumultuous turn of emotions, you feel everything and nothing all at once. Pain so deep you don’t think you can stand, fear so sharp it cuts to the bone, your heart and body hurts, your mind spins in the web of memories and sometimes clarity is a fleeting thing you can’t quite grasp. Grief is different for everyone, a wound that never truly heals and always leaves a scar. The healing time is different for everyone as well. You cannot gauge your healing against someone else’s. There is no, “this is how it’s done, and now you are good.” It is not something you can do and check off your list.

I had to wade through all of my feelings, like sloshing through Mississippi mud, which during a pandemic hasn’t been easy. The isolation and the pain were not friends, but they were inseparable. There were days when I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. There were times I just needed someone to stay with me and hug me and tell me everything would be all right, but no one was there. There were times when friends would stop by or call and encourage me, but not as often as I needed. More often than not, I was alone with my feelings and had to learn how to keep my head up when waves of grief crashed over me.

The valley seemed the deepest six months after his passing. Life had gone back to normal for everyone else, the world was still spinning and time was moving forward. But it was moving forward without him, without us. I had to come to grips that I was no longer part of a we and I couldn’t remember how to be just me.

My church was the hardest place for me. Not because I blamed God, but because that was something we did together. It was our place, our relationship was better there, he was better there. After he was gone, I couldn’t bear, still can’t bear, to be there without him. I still deeply love my church family, but I have never felt so crushed by the weight of being alone as the times I went back through those doors. I still watch online and don’t have that feeling.

I know things have a season and during my prayers, I feel God pulling me to find a space that is mine, where I can explore who I am becoming. Where I can be a Me, and not be under the shadow of the We. My church family still loves me and has supported me through all of this and for that I am thankful. There may be a time to go back, but that time is not yet.

I have to say, the thing that saved me was that my tribe let me tell stories and relive memories that made me laugh and smile at the good life and love I felt when Andy was alive. They let me know it was ok to cry and take a moment when I needed it.

The goodness in my grief was the joy God gave me through the telling of those stories, those treasured memories that not only made me laugh but also made others laugh as well. The laughter healed my soul in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I could feel God’s hand leading me through the hardest moments and my deepest valleys. I leaned deeply on God’s wisdom on how to put one foot in front of the other. He made a way when I saw no way.

My other saving grace during this time is the beautiful relationship with my stepdaughter. She pulled me into a family I never thought I would get to experience. We shared a love for a man we both dearly miss. And her sarcasm and mannerisms remind me of him so very much it touches my heart. She has given me the biggest blessing during this season of grief, I had the honor of being called grandma for the first time and about to be a grandma for the second time. Getting to be a part of their lives is a gift I am so very fortunate to have, it takes my breath away.

Lately, I feel that it is time to say goodbye for now to my beloved, to give him the proper honors he deserves for his service. I know I will see him when my time is done, but for now, God still has work for me here. On May 27th I will have a military service to honor his memory and inter his ashes.

We were married on the Friday before Memorial Day during our lunch hour, so I felt it was appropriate to say goodbye for now in the same fashion. He would find it more than a fitting tribute.

I know he would never want me to stay in a state of sadness, he loved it when we laughed together and he loved making me laugh. I can hear him in my head laughing now, telling me it is time to move forward and have some fun. Those of you who knew him, know the truth in this.

Thank you to my tribe, for loving me and taking care of me. You all matter more than words can say.

The Space Between

Have you ever had to wait for something? I don’t know about you, but for me waiting is hard.

We are not creatures of change, we like to stay in our comfortable space of knowing what’s next. Especially if you are a planner, you know the steps that will lead you from this to that, but what about when you have no control over those steps? Someone else has to make the decision to take those steps and you have to wait on them, on the process. The space between what we know and what comes next is uncomfortable, at times unbearably so. Uncertainty has a way of filling our hearts with things that are not warm and fuzzy. Things like worry, anxiety, and fear can paralyze us if we let those feelings run rampant. But there is hope.

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That’s where I feel the rubber hits the road. God does some of His best work right there, in that space between this and that. Of course, it is hard to see it while you are in between, when the emotions run away with every possible scenario and your mind is trying to make sense of the chaos your emotions are churning around like butter.

In this in-between space, faith is tested and God does incredible things. My husband will tell you I am terrible at waiting, patience is an area where God is constantly at work with me. When I look back and see how I have struggled in those spaces between this and that, the times when I didn’t rely on my faith, on God, I clearly see how I made things much worse than the times when I opened myself to the possibilities of God had in store for me.

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I know God is at work right now, I am in the space between, even as I type this message.  Sometimes when you hear something, it strikes a cord that wakes up your Spirit and compels you to act, to read, to pray, to listen, to write. Today my pastor said, “my hope is alive in the midst of the storm.” Immediately the verse below came to mind.

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Look at the Israelites, Moses brought them out of captivity, God told them where to go, they were in the process of going and spent 40 years between this and that because they weren’t obedient and open to what God had in store for them. I don’t want to be out of God’s will for me, I want to be obedient. My prayer right now is, “Thank you Lord for this gentle prompting in my Spirit to stay calm, lead me, show me Your path, I am here waiting in the between and I am at peace, help me to keep that peace no matter where the path goes.

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My mantra for the last month has been ” I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future.” God is doing a new thing, and while I don’t know what that may be, I know I am to be content no matter how long the between lasts.

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What is Community to You?

Dictionary.com defines Community as: 
  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2.  a locality inhabited by such a group.
  3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists(usually preceded by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
These were the top 3 definitions, as you can see, a community can look different depending on your vantage point. Consider your community, is it a neighborhood, sports team, church, school, work? The list could go on and on.
Recently my church moved into a new community. We have been there a few months and are not familiar with the neighborhood. This move has me pondering how to engage with those around us? I find myself going back to a book we read as a staff at work last year. This little book called The Art of Neighboring really had some practical insights and I highly recommend it.  Why study a book on neighbors? Shouldn’t we love our neighbor as ourselves?
The Art of Neighboring Book

Ask yourself, how often do you intentionally reach out to your actual neighbors? Do you care about what goes on in your neighbors’ lives? Most of us don’t even know our neighbors anymore. So maybe we need this book more than we realize. We come home, through the garage, close the door, retire to our dens or backyard without even seeing those around us. No kind words or even happy waves happen. We are in and we are out.

I believe so many times we alienate ourselves from our neighbors because they don’t look, act, or talk like we do. We are afraid to step out and introduce ourselves or afraid to make a social faux pas because we don’t know the person. But how can you get to know someone unless you step out on faith?
When we were stationed overseas, no matter the country we visited, I always tried to learn, at the very least, how to say “please” and “thank you.” Americans are notorious for expecting you to speak English no matter what, but the ones who at least try to speak the language are blessed with helpful people and forgiveness for butchering their language. My point is, most people are more forgiving if they know you are trying.
I am a strong believer in the power of diversity. As a child, I colored with every crayon in the box. Too often in this world, we tend to gravitate toward sameness,  what we know and where we are comfortable. There is a wealth of richness and beauty in relationships with people who are not the same as you.  You don’t have to agree with someone to care about them. Genuine, loving, long-term relationships with our neighbors requires us to be present, get to know someone by listening to their story. Stories bring us together and allow us to relate on a level we might miss if we don’t have time to listen.
Too often we feel we need to fix people’s problems or tell them what they should do. Most of the time, people just want to be heard, to feel like someone really cares and is there if they need to share.
Matthew 5:43-45
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; 
So my thought for the day is…What is “community” to you?  How do you live that out? How do you connect with those around you? What can you do differently to truly be a good neighbor?

Journey into the unknown

Spaceship parking

Have you ever felt completely out of your wheelhouse? Or thought that you knew something and then it turns out, you actually knew nothing? That is exactly how I felt at my first Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. It was a journey into the unknown, stretching me to new limits.

In 2015 I remember leaving Memphis, where the conference was held, feeling like I had been hit by a truck. So many things bumped up against what I had been taught, against the status quo. It was earth-shattering, mind-blowing and more than I could digest in 3 days.

Yet, I was so moved by Dr. John Perkins and Coach Wayne Gordon’s Bible study every morning, my heart was opening to the possibilities. I was also overwhelmed. What could one person do to turn the tides against hatred, racism, injustice and a host of other wrongs in the world?

This CCDA thing was so much bigger than I realized, so much more personal than I realized. My empathy grew. My heart ached for people to the point of tears. My soul cried out to God, “why does it have to be this way?”  God still hasn’t answered that one, just in case you were wondering. But I keep asking.

I had to accept that as Christians we had gotten much of God’s mission for us wrong. This kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven part of the plan, we had messed it up. I saw too much hate, intolerance, persecution, pain, and injustice in the church as man has made it across the ages, the ON EARTH part of the equation was non-existent. That was a hard pill to swallow. It hurt to know that as a Christian those who look to me, see hate, intolerance, persecution, and pain, they do not see Jesus. They see the hurt that was put on them by me and others like me. I am not very Christ-like, I will never be, but I am trying. I am convicted.

I mean, who hasn’t been hurt by church? More and more people are stating that they are just DONE with religion and organized church. Why? Hurt in one form or another. But does it have to be this way? No. We can help create that Heaven on Earth, be good and loving to one another.

How? I realized this journey is one of love. Love is the key to it ALL, and that love lives within me. I can change the world, one smile at a time. The challenge is to LOVE EVERYONE, even if they don’t love me, even if they don’t look like me, act like me, worship like me, believe like me, even if I don’t agree, even if I am on opposite side of the debate or the aisle, LOVE MATTERS. Love is never insignificant.

Does that mean we will all gather together and sing Kumbaya, My Lord? Not even close. Too many times we think of love as a soft, warm fuzzy. Anyone who has truly loved knows it’s hard. It is not all sunshine and rainbows. It is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt. And you will fail occasionally. Sometimes you have to do it from a distance. The key is to keep trying. To listen, to respect, to try to see the other side and love even when it doesn’t make sense.

Friends, a word of warning, it is impossible to show love when all you can see and feel is judgment. I grew up under constant judgment, spoken and unspoken, and it has a way of wearing you down until you feel completely insignificant. It is hard to love or be loved from that place.

A place of insignificance is where my journey began. I understood it, and I felt comfortable in my insignificance. I felt I could do nothing to change the course of things, so why try, who would listen to me? Insignificance kept me captive. Love set me free.

Do I have the answer to life’s burning questions? That would be a big, fat NO.

I have long believed judgment should never be mine, that is the Lord’s job, and one WAY too big for me. Rather than judge, I choose to love and to smile.

Can you make someone else’s day brighter with a smile? I challenge you to step out into the unknown and share a smile or a laugh with someone new. I know for your introverts, that will be hard.

You will be amazed at how it will improve your life, reduce your stress levels and begin to build bridges to others who are not like you. Your world will expand and their world will be brightened. You are the light of the world, a city on a hill that can not be hidden.

You may not be able to right the wrongs of someone’s past with a smile, but at least they will see something in you that brings them in, makes them feel a bit better and maybe, just maybe, they will see a glimpse of Jesus in you.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Christian Community Development, I encourage you to follow @iamccda on twitter or https://www.facebook.com/iamccda/ on Facebook. CCDA principles can be found in the book Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development
by Wayne Gordon et al.
Link: http://a.co/0O7tjak

Finding my tribe

Hello gentle readers,

It has been a long while since I’ve posted. My introduction into the world of nonprofits has been a learning experience and while I sometimes still feel like a babe in the woods, I also feel like I have found my tribe. The people of Compassion Coalition are not only my coworkers, they are my family. We pray together, talk about what matters and strive daily to make Knoxville a better place for EVERYONE to live.

I knew they were my tribe from the first hour I began working with them. They get me. I’m an odd duck, so that’s amazing in itself. They also help me be the best version of myself and I enjoy going to work EVERY SINGLE DAY. That is a blessing from God. Nothing worthwhile is easy, and sometimes things are tough, we operate on a shoestring budget, fundraising can be hard, foundations and churches close, coalition members lose funding and are unable to give, yet I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, what we do matters.

It seems, all of my life experience thus far brought me to a place where all of my gifts can be used and appreciated. My people skills, artistic skills, organizational skills but most importantly my spiritual skills. My gift has always been one of encouragement. This position has given me the opportunity to connect with people on a deeper level, hear their story, share hope and help.

While it has been a busy two years, it has also been a period of growth. Stretching my mind, my heart and soul to care more, love deeper and seek justice. This didn’t happen by chance, this job, these people, they care. They care beyond anything I have ever experienced before, and not just for the people they know, their hearts ache for the hurting and marginalized. They help people. People in churches, people on the street, people in the pews and outside the church walls. They help churches cross denominational lines and break down barriers and work together to find common and sometimes uncommon solutions to problems in the community. They connect social work with church work, like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before, yet they are one of the most underutilized community/church resources in town.

Compassion Coalition Staff
Grant Standefer, Jessica Bocangel, Charmin Foth, Gina Whitmore and Carolyn Hansen

Some days it seems impossible to put all that we do into an ‘elevator pitch,’ “Our mission is to inform, equip, and connect churches to transform lives and communities through the love of Christ.” Yet I say, we love people well. That is what we are called to do, and we do it with all that we are. 

In future posts, you will hear more about my journey into the nonprofit life and Christian Community Development (CCD) and as a newbie, how that process has changed me from the inside out. For now gentle readers, I invite you to learn more about the organization I work for, and if you are touched and led as I am, consider giving.

A quote from Sister Simone Campbell at the Christian Community Development Conference this year, #CCDADetroit, says it perfectly, “Our hearts are broken open by the stories that surround us. It is all about community”