Finding God In... GRIEF

“There is nothing left we can do; Hospice is the only option left.” Those words still rattle within my soul to this day. This past March those were the words spoken to me over the phone in regards to my dad. Let me paint the whole picture of this time period; my sister was in surgery having a 20-pound tumor removed from her uterus, my nine-year-old son was just released from the hospital after seven days, and I was emotionally and physically worn out. My dad had been diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) a little over a year ago, and things had progressed. In a matter of days, his MDS had turned to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), and there was no turning back. At this moment God was the only one I could turn to while attempting to navigate which direction I needed to go.  

With a clear direction after heavy prayer, I knew exactly what I needed to do, head to Boston from Arkansas. The night I arrived he was in the hospital receiving his 5th unit of blood. I sat there, reached for his hand as I watched the blood drip drop by drop down the plastic tube knowing this was the only possible lifeline my dad had left. As the blood dripped, so did my tears. In this very moment, I felt a firm God nudge. I wasn’t there to just be with my dad; I was there to help him know Jesus and help him know that this was not “goodbye,” but rather “see you later.” My dad went to church as a child, but he and my mom did not raise my sister and me in the church at all. They saw the Christian faith as a checklist and not a relational entity. It was only eight years ago that I gained my relationship with Jesus, and my dad never wanted to hear any part of my faith story.

 

As I pressed in and enlisted prayers and advice from my Christian friends, one message stood out to me above the rest, “embrace this time, not just in the blessing with your dad, but seeing the veil as close as possible on this side of Heaven.” Let me be honest here, at that moment, I had no clue what she was telling me, but I went with it anyway.

 

During this time it felt like everything in the world was at a standstill. I would sit, chat, and care for my dad. We had a lot of uphill battles on this journey including finding the right Hospice group to meet his needs and what his doctor wanted for him. We went through five Hospice groups before finding a group that was meant to care for our family. There were no coincidences through this Hospice journey, just God’s fingerprints constantly around showing He was in control. It was almost as if God laid out a breadcrumb trail for us to follow to show us the path that would take us closer to Him along this road.

 

Within the first two days, the aide came to care for my dad’s basic hygiene needs. She was only a fill-in, and the regular one would be back in on Monday. My dad hit it off so well with her, and let's say this was not a comfortable area for my dad to listen to anyone. He was listening, they were laughing, and a connection had been immediately formed. To this day I am convinced she was an angel sent by God. She would talk Jesus and share amazing Christian songs with him. Little did we know at the time that she had even come back to work much sooner than she had planned after unexpectedly losing her 29-year-old brother just two weeks prior. In Massachusetts, this is not common to find someone so passionate and open about their Christian faith, but Liz, the aide, only spoke the truth, and my dad absorbed it. Then step in the Chaplain that not only was the Chaplain for this Hospice group but he happened to be the same man that had built a rapport with my dad at the hospital after all his stays. Between the three of us and the Lord, my dad came to know Jesus in his last days and it was such a beautiful sight. We have no doubt that my dad went right into the arms of Jesus on April 18, 2018.

 

Each step leading up to his journey to Heaven seemed to have a snapshot of, “only God” moments. My computer was completely shut down on one of these days, and loudly it began to play, “Christ alone; cornerstone, weak made strong, in the Savior’s love, through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.” (Shane and Shane, Cornerstone) Moments like these were constant; it was as if Jesus Himself was sitting in the room where my dad spent his last days, just adding love and joy to such a tough journey.

 

I miss my dad, more than I can even put into words. He was a rock in my life, and I don’t know how to do every day without him. But as I did get to live right next to the veil as my friend had shared with me, I wouldn’t have changed a single moment for anything. I have so many more stories I could share about the amazing love God graced us with through this time, but if I added them all, you might be reading this for at least an hour. So instead of you reading my post for the next few hours, I am going to share what I feel the most important words He has called me to share through this experience is; even in the rock bottom hard, open your heart and eyes to all the possibilities that could wrap around you. The sounds, the sights, the smells, the feel, the tastes of all things are so different when Christ is entirely residing in the moment, and we allow our world to stand still. Embrace the hard and know that He will shine a magnificent light when we allow ourselves not just be broken but to be His.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding God In... DEPRESSION

During my first decade of following Christ, various church women approached me from time to time to commend me, “You have the spiritual gift of joy!” They thanked me, “Your joy is just so contagious!”

They envied me, “I wish I had your joy!”

It was my warm, throaty laugh, room shaking and head-turning, they said, that caught their notice. They loved my quick wit and ability to transform even the mundane into a joke. They were struck by the pure abandon I evinced during worship, hands upraised, face radiant.

The gift of joy.

What could I do but smile and say thanks?

 

Should I have confessed that I cannot recall a time when sorrow didn’t underpin my joy, ebbing and flowing like an underground river, bubbling up in wells of tears at the most inconvenient times? Maybe I should have corrected these well meaning sisters? I laugh as a dam against torrential sorrow. I keep people belly-laughing because I have yet to find an audience to sit through a display of sorrow. The enthusiastic worship you note is the sweet relief of finding respite in the eye of an emotional storm.

For ten years, years brimming with laughter and humor and worship, the ever present despair deepened and widened, rising and churning, pressing ever harder against my defenses. Finally, the dam broke. In 2010, my depression overwhelmed me and all I had left was tears. I cried each time I entered church; I broke down in front of an audience; I wept through each worship set, gasping for breath. Women no longer approached me. No one congratulated me for my grief. No one envied the gift of sorrow.  

For almost five years, I seemingly lost my joy. Rather than navigating a constantly shifting tide of sadness, I was drowning. I fought to tread water and be joyful with every trick in a Jesus-loving girl’s book. I attended church faithfully, despite the fact that the simple act of entering a place of worship started a fresh wave of tears. I read my bible every morning, for longer and longer stretches of time. One bible reading plan, then another, then a devotional, then another. I got to the point where I was devouring scripture 2 ½ hours each morning. I prayed. I prayed harder than I ever had before. I filled my prayer journal with pleas. I cried out to God desperately, begging for an end to my sorrow, begging for a solution. I called on every scriptural promise I knew to give me hope… “He who has started a work in me will be faithful to complete it”... “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning”... “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I raised my hands in worship when I had nothing left to give, gasping to mouth the words through my sobs, desperate to believe the lyrics, “Though darkness fills the night. It cannot hide the light. Whom shall I fear?” I reached out and made connections with other Christian women in a way I never had before, attending bible study, praying fervently for a Christian woman to be my friend. I finally got so desperate, I did what, for me, what was once unthinkable, and tried to get counseling. The pastor at my church who handled such matters shooed me away with a list of references, “You really need to see a professional.” As I called one disconnected number after the other from the decade old referral list, I lost hope of finding wise Christian counsel.

None of my efforts worked. Not in the way I thought they should work anyway. Not by my standards. I wasn’t cured of my depression. My pain was not removed. I didn’t trade my sorrow for a river of overflowing, abundant joy. Instead, all the striving and chasing left me empty and frustrated. Aching bones weary. Soul spent.

And the worst thing, it left me guilty. What kind of a Christian can’t find her all in all in Christ?

I was supposed to have the joy, joy, joy down in my heart to stay, right? If I was really following Christ, He’d instantly transform all this grief into joy, right? The heavens should open up and light pour down, chasing away all this darkness.

Instead, not quite five years in, I began to notice thin rays of light gradually piercing my personal night. Slowly and miraculously, but steadily, joy blossomed and spread. That joy did not cure me of my depression, but it did shine brilliant and ferocious through the darkness. And I began to see that, yes, I did still have the gift of joy. But that wasn’t my only gift, oh no! My lavish and generous Father, giver of good gifts, loved me too much to let one single hurt, one single tear, go to waste and so he gave me another gift.

He gave me the gift of sorrow.

Sorrow that makes me empathetic to the broken and the hurting.

Sorrow that teaches me to mourn with the mourners and weep with the weeping.

Sorrow that backlights my moments of joy the way stars shine brightest in the darkest night.

Sorrow that keeps me headed back, day after day, to the throne of the joymaker for a fresh supply.

Sorrow that reigns me mercifully back in each time I wander too far from my gracious Father.

Sorrow so overwhelming and all encompassing that I am finally beginning to understand the depths of God’s grace. His grace is so wide and so long and so deep that even when I am so broken that I can do nothing to please God- not worship, or pray, or connect, nothing but cry and plead- that even then I am enough.

Enough to love. Enough to rescue. Enough to die on a cross in order to save. Enough for Him.

 

And that is, indeed, my greatest gift.

 

To read more from this amazing lady, please check out her blog at A Softer Shade of Red.