Sitting With Messy Grief

In memory, the turbulence created by losing a loved one causes those first long days of mourning to become foggy, but the people who showed up, stood up, and rose up amongst the chaotic whirl of life stand out.  As one who has been cocooned in grief and blankets on the edge of the couch I remember the faces that flowed in and out. When the sorrows of life and death pile high, our thoughts can easily become characterized more by messy questions than solid faith.

It would be foolish to assume that life can happen without mess, though I might just take that option if it were available. We all face trials and bear witnesses to how quickly life can become layered and difficult. It is there in the stacking of trial that we face a choice.  Let people in.  Let the God (who already knows) in. Or, leave the facade in place.

Messy Grief Holly HawesIn a day when  friendships can be made online, the ability to seclude ourselves from interactions with others continues to increase. Our relationships often appear to be more “fair weather” than anchor. When the water is rough we need to know solid ground can be sought.  Who will be there?  What is true?

God is not afraid of our mess. Whether it be caused by sin, or by suffering, he pursues us right where we are.  In Psalm 34:18 we are reminded that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  

His nearness and presence isn’t just an afterthought, it infiltrates every nook and cranny of the story arc of time.  In the very beginning of creation people walked with God in the garden of Eden. The “with” was broken by sin, and a savior was promised, one who was announced in Matthew chapter 1 as “Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

Not, God watching the mess from far off. God with us.

There is profound opportunity for holy community in what I have come to think of as withness.

Definition: Identifying with another person, standing by their side through a storm. Being with them no matter how hard or messy it becomes. See also steadfast love.

We call this cosmic withness the incarnation. God becoming flesh, identifying with us. Jesus did not flee from the mess. He experienced: Loneliness, disappointment, loss, rocky friendships, betrayal.

He can handle our questions and days that seem brazen, broken, and dark. Mess doesn’t push him away, instead he draws near. He shows up.

Psalm 31:7 says, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,…”

We must let down the facade, the masks, and the pretense and be comforted in how God sees. He knows. Full of mercy and steadfast love, He is Immanuel.

Little matters more that who is with us and who we are with. We have the opportunity to reflect God’s goodness to the world. While acting as the hands of feet of Jesus may sound cliche, we forget what an honor it is. Until the dwelling of God is with us in glory, the people of God, by the power of His spirit, go to offer presence to others.

Holly Hawes Messy GriefThere are countless barriers to simply slowing down to be with others, especially in times of suffering or loss. We get wrapped up in our own busy lives and fail to notice that day by day they withdraw and wither. We don’t know if we should mention their pain, so we gloss over it. We wear the mask for them, pretending we don’t see that life has shattered, but we need not always force discussion when we know how to be with. We can say, “I’m here to talk if you want to, but I am also just here to be. You are not alone, just let me know what you need. I also brought chocolate, blankets, coffee, movies etc.”

It mattered to me when someone cared right in the middle of mess with truth, not platitudes.  It mattered that love became action: the friend who brought flowers, another who fed us, the one who took over my sink of dirty dishes. Though the world spun God came, and He sent his people to be with me when I could offer nothing.

When the mess of despair filled me and threatened to overflow, I was full of doubt. The presence of others reminded me that God had not abandoned me. He had not left me. The pain was palpable, but He was still sweet. He was present in the here and now, and with the one who was no longer with me.


holly-squareHolly is a wife of 7 years as well as mom to a teenager (by adoption) and a child she’ll meet in heaven. She’s been foster mom to 10 kids in the last 3 years, and works part time as a church bookkeeper. She loves interacting with people who are hungry for change and ready to see God at work in their lives. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She writes to tell the stories of what God has done, especially through her experiences of infertility, foster care, and adoption. These days you’ll find her catching up on housework while listening to a podcast, trying not to have dinner be a Pinterest fail,  and sipping coffee while teaching her daughter to drive.

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Friendship Takes Two

Author: Kate Franken

There was a time when I rarely opened my Bible, never once did I read a book in its entirety. I would pray a stream of words that flowed from my mind and not my heart. With little understanding of what the words within my memorized prayers actually meant, I prayed to the saints and to Mary, in attempts to better reach God.

It was a time when I knew some things about God, but I didn’t know God.

I was thirsty. I sought to quench my thirst with an inordinate number of things of this world like a farm animal that repeatedly gets its head stuck in the fence due to its pursuit to be satisfied. I persisted in chasing after fleeting desire, despite experience teaching me to do otherwise. I was chasing after the wind.

One hot summer’s day, a group of friends and I were embarking on a three hour drive to a northern coast town; we were given the choice of two cars. One of the two friends driving shared that she planned to listen to a sermon on the way up, knowing that would influence some people’s decisions. While the majority packed themselves in the other car, I opted to join her and her sister. 

As we rolled down stretches of country roads, my interest in what the pastor had to say about God grew. One sermon became two. Two became three and so on. And most beautifully, for the first time, we talked deeply about the things of God as dear friends.

After that day, I continued to listen to that same pastor. His teachings helped me see God with new eyes. He awakened me to God’s invitation to have a personal relationship with Him. He helped me see that God wanted my heart, not my works. He erased the hoops I had thought I must jump to reach God, and allowed me to see that God was close. The pastor captivated me with his words, as he broadened my understanding of who God is. 

One of the most mind-blowing things I learned in those podcast sermons was that God calls us friend.

Kate Franken FriendshipJohn 15:12-17 states, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

There is no greater love than Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, laying down His life for us. He is listening as we seek him. God loves us in a way no other friend can. With God, we are known—fully, truly, and still He loves us. He chooses us. He qualifies us to do Kingdom work. He showers us in mercy and incomprehensibly calls us friend.

God simply asks that we love. We love one another. We love Him.

As our friend, He wants to hear from us. He wants our prayers, for us to seek Him always. He values authenticity and constancy, just as we do. The more honest we are with God, the deeper our friendship becomes with Him.

Friendship is a two-way street. Just as He wants us to talk to Him, He wants us to listen to Him. He speaks to us through the Bible, so we must regularly be in the Word to hear His voice. His Word is alive and active and we ought not to dismiss its power and authority.

Friendship requires that both friends prioritize one another. It’s when this doesn’t occur, that friendships fall apart. We need to be asking ourselves routinely Am I prioritizing God? If not, we must reorient.

Friendship Kate FrankenForging a friendship with God has forever changed me. He has my heart and is all I’ll ever need. I lean greatly on the truth of His Word and the intimacy of prayer to walk the hills and valleys before me. It’s a fierce and beautiful friendship that has brought peace to what tomorrow holds. The peace comes about from knowing God—knowing he can be trusted eternally.

May this be an encouragement for you to incline your heart towards Him, seek His face, and lessen the gap. Open your Bible. Pray vulnerable words. Drink from the cup where you’ll thirst no more, forge and keep your friendship alive with the Truest of Friends.


kate-squareKate Franken is a 4th grade teacher and a volunteer coordinator at her church in Oregon. She enjoys indulging in raw conversation whilst savoring a cup or more of coffee. Her hunt for good books and podcasts is endless. She finds refuge surrounded by trees, on hiking trails, with her two dogs in tow. She is especially fond of mountaintop views, wit, “best teacher ever” love letters, breakfast, a painted sky, and Jesus. She has a heart for connecting people to His church and encouraging others into relationship with Him.

Hope After the Psych Ward

Author: Sarah L. Sanderson

A few hours after my discharge from the psychiatric ward of our local hospital, I walked over to my daughter’s elementary school to pick her up from first grade. It was the end of October, and the trees bore fewer leaves than when I’d last seen them, four days before. As the leaves crunched under my feet, I anticipated my little girl’s excitement when she saw me, for she did not yet know I’d come home. But then I came around the corner onto the playground and remembered that my daughter would not be the first person I would encounter here.

The smiles of the two other mothers pulled me towards them before I thought better of it. “Sarah!” they exclaimed. “How are you?”

“I’m doing better now,” I replied thoughtlessly. “I was just let out of the psych ward this morning.”

I watched their faces contort with confusion and horror, and I realized too late the ridiculous awkwardness of what I’d just said.

“I… I mean… I was… diagnosed with postpartum depression,” I lied. Suddenly the truth seemed utterly unfit for public consumption. “But they gave me medication, so I’m doing better now,” I sputtered.

“How awful!” One friend finally found her words. “But… I thought antidepressants took a long time to take effect?”

Did they? I didn’t know that. I felt no choice but to edge back toward the truth. “Oh … well… I’m not actually on antidepressants. They gave me… anti-psychotics?”

The other woman erupted into nervous giggles. “Anti-psychotics! You don’t mean you were delusional?”

She stared at me with derision. I stared back, shocked into silence. How was I to explain what had just happened to me when I didn’t understand it myself?

I get her laughter, now. I know that mental illness is the accepted butt of many a cultural joke. We laugh at what we fear. But the sad truth is that I was silenced by that other mother’s laughter for a long time. It would be months, after that encounter, before I could speak my truth honestly to anyone outside my closest circle.

We do not all face mental illness, but we all know brokenness. Your brokenness may be chronic illness or addiction or marital difficulty or financial struggle or something else altogether, but I know it’s there.

Jesus knows something about brokenness, too. And He who was broken to the utmost for our sakes tells us that we too must “take up our cross.” Does He mean that we need to heap more suffering onto our already broken lives? I don’t think so. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, I wonder if he’s really just telling us to own the brokenness that’s already present in our stories. Take it up. Own it. Be real.

The story of how I let go of my fear of sharing what really happened to me in October 2011 is bigger than this space will allow. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: Perfect Love casts out fear. The perfect love of Jesus allowed me to let go of my defenses and share my real story with the world.

After all, this is the particular brokenness God has seen fit to allow me to carry. I can’t hide it any longer, so I am speaking the truth: I was hospitalized for postpartum psychosis. Now I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You don’t need to laugh. You don’t need to be afraid. Let’s just be real.

Will you join me in taking up your cross? Can we be honest together about our own private battles? Can we show our scars to the world? It is difficult, yes; but oh, so liberating. Only when we share our truth can we draw strength and courage from one another’s stories.

~~~

Readers, What do you need to be real about today?

Sarah Sanderson is currently working on a memoir about God’s presence throughout her psychiatric hospitalization and subsequent healing journey. She is in the process of transitioning from a blog, confessionsofahumanmom.blogspot.com, to a personal website,www.sarahlsanderson.com. Sarah lives in the Portland, Oregon area with her husband and four children.

Hope in Being Single

Author: Sarah Dohman

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It makes me a little nervous to write about my relationship status (or lack thereof).  It’s personal, and frankly my philosophy for sharing my being single has been on a need-to-know basis only.  It’s for me to know, and you to find out.  I think it keeps the mystery alive.  However, in the spirit of obeying God, and living my life based upon faith, not fear, I’ve decided to write about my experience of singleness as a young woman at 30.


Let’s start back before 30, actually.


In high school I had a group of girlfriends who committed to not dating.  Most high school relationships end, and they took a stance to remain single so that they could focus more upon God.  I joined the bandwagon.  I focused on developing friendships instead, and I’m glad I did.  


In the beginning of my 20s, I carried on developing friendships as well.  I began a very long process of applying to nursing schools.  My focus was growing in my relationship with God, and studying nursing prerequisites including numerous hours of biology, chemistry, psychology, etc.  I continued not to date because I didn’t find any young man worthy of giving up my free time.  I felt enormously happy being fancy free.  I developed an interest in travel, and given the opportunity, I packed my suitcase as quick as I could.


In my early-mid 20s, I began to watch my best girlfriends meet, date, become engaged, and eventually get married.  I also attended many other church friends’, old roommates’, and family members’ weddings.  I love a good love story, and it was so lovely to share in my friends’ joyous moments.


Now, at 30, I am the “single friend”.  I am one of the rare few in their early 30s at my church who is not married.  I attend weddings without a plus one.  I travel to places by myself, sometimes quite far.  I am the single girl amongst a group of married couples in the community group I attend.  I don’t intend to make anyone feel awkward, but sometimes it happens.


My purpose in this post, I suppose, is not to gain pity.  I’d say 99.5% of the time I am completely satisfied in my singleness.  I have an anchored hope in Jesus (that’s for you Chara), and I’ve allowed Him to fill that need for a relationship.  I’m not saying I don’t want to get married, because I do, but I am also realizing that God has a plan and purpose in my singleness.  I am able to readily serve others, I can foster healthy relationships with friends, I am able to seek out opportunities that might be a lot more difficult to do if I were married or had kids.  Whether or not God will fulfill this desire of my heart remains unknown, but in the meanwhile, I am seeking after Him, and I know that He is good.  He is good if I do get married, and He is good if I don’t.

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So, if you are reading this post and you are dating/engaged/married with a “single friend” in your friends circle, here is what I recommend you do: 

  • Encourage them.  Pray for them.  See James 5:16.
  • Ask them what God has been teaching them.  Share with them how God has been working in your life.  Single friends can learn from their engaged and married friends, and vice versa.  
  • If you are getting together with other couples, and you are contemplating whether or not to invite your single friend, invite them.  We are single, not contagious.  Don’t avoid the single friend because of potential awkwardness in a group setting.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve loved being the third wheel, or fifth wheel, or whatever wheel.  My best friends and their husbands are particularly good at inviting me along to activities, and I rarely ever feel left out. 
  • If you’ve ever said this to your single friend: “I can’t believe you aren’t married, you’re such a great catch,” or “It’s just not the right timing for you,” or the ever-so-grating “God’s just not finished with you yet,” please, for the love, stop.  God doesn’t complete you when you get married.  In fact, God continues to stretch you spiritually in marriage.  According to my married friends, marriage amplifies all of your imperfections under a magnifying glass.  The church needs to quit placing marriage on top of a pedestal, and fix our eyes upon Jesus instead.  
  • Lastly, try and remember what life was like as a single person.  It’s exciting, it’s freeing, it’s terrifying, it gets lonely.  It’s full of adventures, and it’s the perfect time to focus upon God and serving His people.  Singleness is an opportunity, and you too were once in this stage of life.  

If you are reading this post and you are single, here’s what I’ve been learning/working on:

  • Seek out opportunities to serve your church & community.  It’s really easy for singles to avoid getting plugged in.  We are often known as floaters, going to and fro as we please.  However, there is something to be said about plugging into one church, one community group/house church.  No one church body is perfect- that’s why we have a merciful Savior.  For the past 6, nearly 7, years, I have been plugged into a local church, Outward, and I can’t even describe the support and love I’ve received by this body of believers.  We are all vital members of the church (single, married, divorced, widowed), who are all needed to plug in and serve others in the church as well as our community.  See 1 Corinthians 12.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  Pray that God will continue to reveal Himself to you.  Pray for your future marriage.  Pray that God will use you mightily, even if you don’t get married.  Pray for those who do not know Jesus.  Pray for those who do know Jesus.  Learn to pray about anything and everything.  See 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • If you have the desire to be married one day, surround yourself with married couples at all stages in their relationships, particularly ones who are seeking after Jesus.  Ask them to be transparent with you.  Ask them the tough questions.  Break bread with them.  Babysit their kids.  These will all aid in preparing you for future relationships, parenthood, etc.  Singles are often put off by hanging out with married friends, but I highly recommend it. Be the third wheel, or the fifth wheel.   

I’m sure there is more to be said, but I don’t want to lecture, I just wanted to share from my heart.  So there you have my thoughts on being single … 



Find more from Sarah @  http://sarahelizabethjoy.blogspot.com/