Grief

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No grit, no pearl

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Several years ago, I took to writing the word “grit” on my wrist. Any time I was faced with a challenge, emotional or physical, I would take a Sharpie and give myself a visible reminder to hang tough.

Because that’s what grit is: courage in the face of anything. Strength of character. Steely-eyed endurance. Firmness of mind. An indomitable spirit. Pluck. I like these descriptions; they’re traits I’d like to embody, words of fortitude, resilience, and backbone. “Grit” was on my wrist when I climbed a host of Colorado mountains by myself, when I went into difficult meetings at work, and when I ran my first marathon earlier this year. Associating myself with the concept of grit, no matter how contrived, makes me feel strong and capable and — if I’m honest — like a badass. I like this version of grit.

But there’s a more literal, concrete definition: grit can simply refer to rough, loose particles of stone or sand. The other day, I was walking Foxy on a dirt trail in flip-flops, and felt the sharpness of dust and gravel slide in against my feet. Grit can be abrasive. Grit can be painful.

Anyone who has gone through major loss knows that there are moments in which survival feels impossible. Sharp sadness invades uninvited and rubs so raw it feels as if your heart cannot go on beating, that the open wound of gritty grief might actually kill you. This has been true for me in the aftermath of my recent unraveling. On the worst days, my heart has felt so exposed, so sore, that I have been tempted to react desperately and defensively. I’m ready to build a shield to protect myself from ever hurting this way again.

But then I remember, that is not how the pearl gets made.

Like our hearts, oysters are soft and tender, relying on their hard shells to keep them safe. But occasionally, a grain of sand will sneak in, and this coarse foreign object — this grit — can cause pain, rock against flesh. One might think that the oyster would react protectively, forming a leathery callous to protect itself, but it doesn’t. The oyster remains soft, yielding to the suffering, and slowly, over time, begins to wrap the grain of sand in translucent layers of beauty.

The pearl is the oyster’s response to the pain.

I wish it didn’t hurt so badly. I wish the pain could be erased. But as my friend Becky recently said to me, “God isn’t an eraser, he’s a redeemer.” There is no changing what has happened, no denial of what’s been done — but there is hope for redemption, for something beautiful and new. God brings beauty from ashes and pearls from dirt.

So I will keep my heart soft, giving myself over to the pain in the trust that it will be transformed. I will keep my back strong, summoning the courage and resolve to keep going. And I will keep my wrist inked — now permanently — with grit.

Grief, forgiveness, and love

Monday, August 28th, 2017

A few months ago, my life was completely upended when a man I deeply loved betrayed my trust and broke my heart. While the details matter to me, all I’ll say is this: I was planning to move to Nashville so we could be together, but it didn’t happen. The relationship was serious enough to warrant me selling my house and putting a down payment on another — but when a man tells you there’s someone else, you do not follow through with a move across the country to be with him.

I have hesitated to write about this, because in doing so, I can only share my own experience. This person is living a now separate narrative, and despite the pain that his choices have put me through, I am not out to demonize or villainize anyone involved. He meant more to me than that. I’m just sad.

I want to be honest about what I’ve gone through, what I’m still going through. I am not writing from a place of resolution or remedy; the heartache is still very much in process for me because I lost so much. I lost a man who had become my best person. I lost a relationship I had been led to believe was “it.” I lost a dream of a future that had made so much sense — even felt confirmed and ordained by God, to be honest. I lost not one, but two houses. I lost any sense of direction or home. I lost the ability to trust. I lost 15 lbs and a whole lot of money. I lost everything we had been building toward. Cruelest of all, in some moments, I lost all hope.

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How do you hold the conflicting emotions of heartbreak, anger, and the remnants of love all at the same time? It’s an unbearable tension. But here is what I’m learning.

GRIEF
To experience grief in all of its awful fullness is human and healthy. To sidestep it, whether through alcohol, travel, social media, shopping, sex, or tattoos, is to cauterize our humanity. It’s best to lean straight into the pain; if we don’t, it will seep like oil through a bed of dead leaves, poisoning life from the ground up. Numbed-out grief leads to anger, anger leads to depression, depression leads to a critical spirit and a lack of peace.

But grief? We are promised that grief leads to comfort. Beauty. Dancing. I want to be a person who looks my pain in the eye, regardless of what it costs me, and then rest in knowing that there is still goodness ahead — eventually.

FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is not primarily for the one you are forgiving. It’s for you. Choosing to forgive sets you free from the bondage of what was done to you, the pain that was inflicted upon you. It doesn’t change it, it certainly doesn’t excuse any of it — but it loosens your chains and allows you to move forward, inch by inch, breath by breath, day by day. When you release the grip on your right to harm the other person, you get your hands back. You get your life back. Slowly.

It doesn’t happen all at once. I’m finding it’s something I have to do over and over in the hopes that one day my heart will match the choice. It stings like a death; a grave is involved, the burying of a perfectly good hatchet.

Nothing about it feels fair. Nothing about it feels justified. But isn’t that the point?

LOVE
You cannot love without risk. There is no such thing. The pain I’m in comes from the love I felt, because I was brave enough to show up as my fullest, truest self and enter a relationship that mattered. And when you truly love someone, you don’t get to be in control. To force, to clutch, to cling, to do whatever it takes to get your way — that is not a picture of love. That is a picture of fear. Fear is a liar, and the opposite of love.

This may have ended in disaster for me, but I will never regret opening my heart to hope and allowing myself to be known by another. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and a testament to strength, not weakness.

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I am not “recovered.” This experience has altered my insides in ways I struggle to articulate. I was left heartbroken and homeless, and some days I’m still so sad, when I walk around I swear you can hear my heart rattle in my chest. Time truly is the only healer for something so brutal, and unfortunately, there’s no way to fast-forward. But I’ve made it through these first few months; here I raise my Ebenezer.

You may be wondering where I am. I obviously had to move out of my Minneapolis house in July, gutted and reeling, suddenly with nowhere to go. But thanks to my amazing friends and family, I’ve found places to go. Foxy is with me, of course. We’re being taken care of.

I have missed sharing my life in a virtual way. It didn’t feel right for me to carry on posting like nothing had happened, because racking up likes and comments is a false balm. The pain of this betrayal has been potent, and it’s been important for me to honor it by bearing the full weight of what I’ve lost. But I’m still here.

The path I took to get here has washed out behind me. The way forward isn’t yet clear. But I’m gathering the broken pieces in hopes of building something new. It’s not the future that I wanted, but it’s the future that I’m going to get. And somehow, I want to live it well.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon, grief and forgiveness and love intermingled, moving forward and holding on to hope for dear life.

Huge thanks to my amazing sister-in-law Ashley Parsons for capturing this image. You’ve helped remind me that I’m strong in a season when I’ve felt anything but.

“Nothing can be necessary that he withholds”

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Last Friday, I listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for the entire 9-hour drive from Denver to Kansas City. Collectively my favorite record I’ve heard in ages, it just might have the power to pull me out of athletic retirement and train for another half marathon. Running would probably be good for me, seeing as how these days I’m wound as tight as a guitar string one pluck away from snapping up and whipping you in the eyeball.

In the past month, I’ve been in a lot of airports – Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago, Rochester, and Baltimore, to be exact. Between work and my far-flung family and friends, I travel more than the average person – and I’ve found that the only way I can survive the aggravation of airline travel is to wear earplugs at all times. Not ear buds – I don’t want music. No, I want to drown out everyone and everything, even at the risk of appearing rude to my fellow passengers. Oh, you just introduced yourself? UNACKNOWLEDGED. You’ll get over it one day.

But despite the irritation, airplanes get me where I want to go – which, this weekend, was upstate New York for 24 hours. While I’ve been a bridesmaid more times than I have fingers, “godparent” is a new role for me – and there was no way I was going to miss Colin’s baptism. He is 6 months of chubby, flirtatious perfection, and I’m honored beyond words that his parents would choose me.

Colin1

When the service was over and the reception was in full swing, I stole away to the edge of Will and Miranda’s dock on Seneca Lake. Their property is beautiful – it’s been in Will’s family for generations – and I needed to be by the water. At the risk of sounding all woo-woo, water affects me spiritually. It cracks my hard heart wide open. It’s a shame that Denver is so landlocked.

There on the dock, I thought about the stories that the majority of my friends are living, and how different mine is turning out to be. I tried to tell myself that it’s okay, I’m okay, that not having a family of my own is actually far less complicated and I should be happy for the simplicity of my little life. After all, as some well-meaning friends have told me, it’s dangerous to love someone so deeply – because then you have so much to lose.

Well. I’ve never been divorced. But I’ve never been married. I have never lost a child. But I’ve never had a baby. Hope unrealized brings with it its own invisible grief, one that doesn’t fit into an obvious category, the kind that solicits cards and casseroles. Could it be that things that haven’t happened can hurt as badly as things that could?

Because it’s one thing for all of your friends to get married. It’s another when they start having kids. It’s entirely another when they decide to be finished having kids… and you’re not sure if you’ll even start.

I know, cue the sob fest and the weeping ovaries. Except.

Here’s what I’m discovering: joy is found in connection, and connection comes in all sorts of forms. I might not be a wife, but I’m a friend who can and will hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly across the country. I might not be a mom, but I’m an auntie, and a dog lover, and now a godmother. I’m a daughter and a sister. I’m a hard worker who cares about the well-being of the people I work with. I’m a writer and a wanderer and a hoper and a dreamer, and damn it, I want to be one who celebrates the things worth celebrating, even if they’re not happening to me.

And until those celebrations are my own, I’m clinging to John Newton’s words: “Everything is necessary that [God] sends; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

Given that, I’m really thankful that God has sent Foxy Brains and Colin Warder and Southwest Airlines and red wine and Taylor Swift.

Sandy Hook

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I spent the weekend like so many others did: glued to the news, refreshing the websites every hour, watching every interview, every commentary. Along with the rest of the nation, I am horrified at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and at a loss for how to process it.

I took a long walk on Saturday, and another on Sunday. I prayed for the families, and found myself taking deep breaths, thinking of those who must feel like they can barely breathe. I poured over the victims’ names, and recited them over and over in my head: Charlotte, Daniel, Rachel, Olivia, Josephine…  I thought of my friends who have buried their children in the past, and how we’ve wished that no one ever experience that pain again.

I listened as pundits along with everyday Joes spouted their opinions on gun control, mental health, and policy change. When I walked around the Cherry Creek Mall on Saturday, I felt nervous. I saw a security guard, and stopped him. “Thank you for being here,” I said. He smiled and patted my shoulder.

We need Christmas – not because of the happy feelings it evokes, or the distraction, or the sentimentality. We need Christmas because it’s the only hope that we have: a baby born into darkness, a Father giving up his Son so that when parents lose their own children, it isn’t the end of the story.

Until then, I’m heartbroken.

“The Undoing”

Monday, May 9th, 2011

It feels strange to not be writing here.

When I don’t write, I’m reminded that this blog was born out of a need in me, for myself, and not really for anyone else.  I can’t not write.  I think I have to, as a part of being the truest version of myself.

But I haven’t been writing here. And I’ll admit, I’m not feeling much like myself these days.

But here’s a new song, recorded yesterday with a stuffy nose, super lo-fi style in the living room.  It gives a glimpse into these days, the days when it’s difficult to write anything else.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

[Song has been taken down – maybe you’ll hear it some other time.]

Tonight

Friday, February 25th, 2011

I am leaving for Haiti tonight – on the heels of the saddest week of my life.

The situation involves more people than just myself, so I won’t say much.  But this is something that began all the way back here – and now, over 8 months later, my heart is torn down the middle like a paper valentine.

I will be boarding the plane tonight a hollow shell.  I could not have planned that the timing of this trip would coincide with the events of the past few days.  I am raw and fragile and physically shaking, and easy as blowing on a dandelion, I come apart.

But I have been shown such kindness in the last few days – from friends and co-workers and even a few strangers.  Thank you for purchasing my songs, and as of today, fully funding my trip to Haiti.  Thank you for your emails and phone calls to tell me that I’m cared about.  Thank you for taking responsibilities off of my plate so I could focus on the crisis at hand.

And as inconsequential as it may seem, thank you for reading these words today.  It would have felt dishonest to not share the state of my heart as I leave – and it’s a really big deal to be able to share a little sliver of one’s struggles, even if just through writing.

Despite all I have lost this week, I am blessed.  I really am.  Next time you hear from me, I’ll be at Mission of Hope, blogging with a Haitian accent.

Heaven stands

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I will never understand this life, furious and fragile.

Please pray for my friend Steve.

I’m listening to JJ Heller‘s “Your Hands” and “All I Need” this morning, and pleading that the words be true.

Some thoughts on grief

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

“As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer’s long hair in water.  I knew the weight was there but it didn’t touch me.  Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown.  So I just didn’t stop.

The substance of grief is not imaginary.  It’s as real as rope or the absence of air, and like both those things it can kill.  My body understood there was no safe place for me to be. (The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver)

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I love the way that this woman writes.  My body understood there was no safe place for me to be.  That is grief in its truest, most potent form.

I am finding in the most concrete way of my entire life that there is absolutely no hope apart from Jesus.

This is not a “Christian blog” in the same way that some are – I tend to write more about my hair and my bras and my couch than I do about my faith.  I know that a lot of you reading this do not believe the same things that I do, and let’s be honest – talking about pop culture and music and whatever tomfoolery I got into over the weekend is usually more fun than a bible study.

But in the midst of it all, and above it all, I believe in Jesus – in redemption, in healing, in grace.  As much as my hesitant heart fights it, I believe that God loves us and has good plans for our lives.  That is my bedrock.

So when I hit rock bottom, standing on that bedrock is a good place to be.

The grief is still there, and the substance of it is so real that I’m afraid it will strangle me – but grace is flowing downhill, and pooling in the darkest places of my life.  It is taking on the weight of my pain, lifting the burden from my head, and moving me forward.

Our only comfort

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Last week, my sister-in-law lost her dad.  My nephews lost a grandpa.  And all of the Parsons lost a man who has been family for the past 9 years.

Today, Kent McElroy will be laid to rest in a cemetery in Missouri.  A few weeks ago, he chose his plot, and bought kites to be delivered after his death, asking that Jeremy and Ashley take Micah and Tyler to fly them next to his grave.  He knew that he was leaving.  If he could have willed himself to stay, he would have – but cancer does not honor our will, our wishes, our fight.

It is cruel.  It is callous.  And in its aftermath, it tempts me to be the same.

But Kent was the opposite.  He was generous, and positive, and selfless.  In the face of terminal, inoperable cancer, his heart was continually for God, and for others.  He touched so many in his 56 years – and never so many as in his last one.

I was in Kansas City last week to say goodbye.  It’s so hard to see death up close – painful, and terribly sad.  But it’s also an enormous privilege to be invited into that precious time.  I will never forget it.

Hearts are broken today.  They will be for a long, long time – and maybe forever, because I don’t know that we ever “get over” the loss of a loved one.  I think of my sweet sister-in-law Ashley, and how the mountains of her heart have slid into the sea – how nothing will ever be the same again, how nothing COULD ever be the same again.

But, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).  And even when I can’t see it or feel it, I have faith – and faith, no matter how small, is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

kent

Broken

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

This morning in our new house, because of a miserable failure on my part, we awoke to no heat and no hot water. We have spent the past 2 weeks with no internet, and since I left my phone charger in Kansas City after Christmas, I’ve been limping through with no real phone access. My closet doors fell off the tracks. My Chi hair straightener has mysteriously stopped working. I had a flat tire on Sunday night, and when I called AAA for help, was informed that my service had expired. To top it all off, the first time that Mel used the mug I gave her as a housewarming “happy to be roommates!” gift, the coffee flooded out through a crack in the bottom.

A lot of things in my life are broken. But none more so than my heart.

Little Ben’s broken body was taken from this broken world on Tuesday. And there are simply no words to express the grief, the anguish, the suffering of his family and community. It’s the most devastating tragedy I have ever experienced.

God is good. But life’s a bitch.