The Grief Walk

Image result for griefAs a nurse, I experience many emotions with families that cross my path. The spectrum involved in one day can sometimes be dizzying and is often exhausting. The powerful emotions surrounding loss can easily overwhelm even the most veteran nurses when tragic loss arrives during a “normal” work day, unannounced and uninvited. A chaplain offers a prayer, nurses gather to cry and hug, and then the serving resumes. We proceed through our shifts and appear to be unscathed…but loss always leaves a mark, whether acknowledged or not. The grieving process is the healing process. As nurses we talk through our losses. We manage them alone at night while the rest of the world sleeps. The goal being to walk all the way through the grief and experience healing that can then ignite deeper compassion and nursing care that promotes true health and wellness for our patients as well as ourselves.

Our response to loss initiates an extensive ripple effect through our lives. It is worth acknowledging and discussing. I think people don’t understand how many losses are really experienced throughout life. Things that we may think are “just a part of life” create losses/wounds that need to be grieved. It is easier to disregard the impact of loss then to address the emotions of these difficult times. Left alone, these emotions destroy us. They build up and become distorted and impact us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. However, when we are willing to grieve and walk through the pain and out on the other side, we transform a gaping wound to a small scar. We can lift our heads and embrace a new normal.

So why have I brought up such an uplifting topic? My work allows me to see new life coming into the world every shift, and I wonder what lies ahead for these small miracles that have landed in this family called the human race. Hatred seems to be growing like a forest fire after a drought and I have to wonder…is this a ripple from grief and loss that have not been healed but rather passed down through generations? When the response to tragedy is finding someone to blame…a seed of hatred is planted. When the response to loss is jealousy of others who haven’t experienced that same loss…seeds of contempt and entitlement are planted. When the response to loss is isolation and self-pity…seeds of bitterness and resentment are planted. Destructive coping skills can impact families through generations and create deep chasms of pain in stone hearts. These hearts turn into nations imploding.

Loss is a given, but grieving and healing areImage result for grief choices and not mandatory. When we acknowledge our feelings and our grief, we are accepting the hurt and pain that come from the healing process. We must be vulnerable and welcome uncertainty and that is not in our comfort zone. However, the beauty is that as we journey, we grow and develop new skills. We meet others that reach back to aid us in our assent. And we stop the bleeding and heal. Then we can turn around and extend a hand to others with soft hearts and eyes filled with tenderness instead of hatred. I have walked a few roads that involved extreme loss and I have many scars. These times were dark, heavy, and oppressive. I would not want to experience them again. But the emotional stamina, faith, strength, confidence, hope, and clarity of thinking that I have today were all developed and nurtured during the grief walks of my life. Now, my scars offer common ground when others that are hurting. Ripples of empathy and non-judgmental kindness instead of hatred, bitterness, and pain are the result.

Take a moment and think about losses you have experienced. Some will be enormous, like loss of trust or control from an abusive situation or loss of a loved one or wayward child. Some may seem insignificant like the loss of a pet or a friend moving away. All loss leaves a mark. When kids move away we experience loss. When we retire there are losses to address. When loved ones pass and there are no answers, the loss is immense. We all experience loss and must choose our responses carefully.

I pray for you today as you read this blog. My journey has led me to a deep faith in God that sustains me each day. I know that He can be trusted and is my unwavering foundation of security no matter what losses come my way. Maybe I just lost you there. Maybe you have been hurt by something that happened to you at church or someone’s actions who said they were a Christian. I understand and I truly am sorry. My prayer is that you take it up with God. His shoulders are big enough and He can handle even the most rambunctious human heart. This is encouragement for healing, a hand reaching back, an acknowledgment of need. Please stop the bleeding and find rest and peace.

 

 

“May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, New Living Translation)

 

 

 

 

 

Chaos…BUT God

I woke up early this morning. My mind was busy processing the events of an insanely crazy shift at work yesterday. Anyone else relate? As a nurse, frequently shifts are chaotic and busy, but yesterday was different. As the shift started with a stressful and emotional crisis, we then moved from crisis to crisis, it was a day that seemed to move in fast-forward while being paused all at the same time. Our minds raced as we attempted to keep up with the needs put in our laps. BUT…(there’s always a big but) God was there.

I woke up this morning overwhelmed and humbled by the circumstances I participated in yesterday. Tears flowed as the emotion was finally able to come to the surface and be felt. The time for intense focus has passed and today, on this day off, the time for reflection is here. Reflection today inspires humility and gratitude. My God is big! His promises are for real. It is o.k. to trust Him, He is trustworthy.

As you may be wondering what transpired, I can’t really say due to patient confidentiality and the like, but please continue reading as I take a few moments to focus you in on the important details. #1 Be grateful. As you go through your day today, know that there are people who have studied and persevered through trials and difficulties to become experienced to serve you should you have a medical crisis. As I assembled with a team preparing for a critical arrival yesterday, I looked around the room and was humbled and in awe. Dedicated people, a wide range of knowledge bases, different ages, cultures, races, religious beliefs with one goal…service. Later as I dressed to attend an emergent c-section delivery, again I looked around the room in awe…same scenario, different floor. I am in awe and humbled to be a part of the medical field. Not perfect by any means, but devoted to compassionate care? yes.

#2 God is trustworthy. For years I tried desperately to get out of nursing. I spent the first decade of my career terrified that I would miss something and someone would be injured or worse. As my faith was wobbly I did not understand where the peace could come from when I knew that tragic events happened to Godly people. It seemed that God was wild and unpredictable, how could I rest and accept his word that he would protect my patients and me? Over time God has shown me that my perspective was misdirected. While I was focused on my performance, anxiety and worry overwhelmed my daily life. Yesterday was confirmation to me in so many ways that God is faithful and trustworthy. As circumstances were intense, I had the ability to see God’s hand moving and going before me because I was focused on Him. The emergencies still happened…BUT God was there. The loss was still real…BUT God was there. I still had to work and endure a draining day emotionally, physically, and mentally…BUT God was there. He provided the people who needed to be there. He provided extra hands that were a bonus. He provided opportunities to laugh amidst the seriousness. He provided opportunities for me to love, touch, and minister to hurting people. He went before me, with me, and continues to be involved in each scenario even though I have moved on to this day. He is amazing and you can trust him.

#3 Jump In. Over the past couple months a transformation has been happening in my mind and heart. I finally kicked fear to the curb and told God, “alright, I’m 100% in. I surrender and give you my whole life…now what?” It has been amazing! Idols are getting obliterated as I have eliminated my addiction to Diet Coke and also food. Addictions that have ruled for at least 30 years (wow I’m old). The weight has dropped off as I’ve accepted his plan for me which encompasses taking care of the blessings he has given me, including a body that can work and move. I have learned that I must still work hard physically, emotionally, and mentally, but his help and strength are real things when I stay close to him. And my biggest take away from yesterday is the blessing of being in at 100% when the rubber hits the road and circumstances and challenging…being a vessel for God’s love and mercy to others is amazing. Being able to serve others and focus on them instead of me and my weaknesses allows me to enjoy God working in the situation because I am freed up to see Him. It allows me to lay down my pride and need for approval and just be a piece of His glorious plan being fulfilled. He offers abundant living and it happens when I jump head first and remain focused on my role…which is surrender to Him. He has all the heavy lifting in this relationship!

Over the past couple years I have been growing in my trust in God. He has been faithful to show up and speak to me through his word, during my quiet times with him, and through other people too. As I’ve sought help with anxiety and fear, He has shown me the steps needed to overcome these very common obstacles. Surrender. Accept. Trust. Receive. These are the steps and they work every time. This year as I have a goal to stop striving for anything else before Him, I am living in freedom in a new way that is exhilarating. I share with you today because my heart is full and I am so thankful to see His powerful hand at work in the my small piece of the puzzle. IMG_0546 (2)The God who knows the number of
grains of sand on every beach just because he can and designs the sunrise and sunset every day in a glorious display no matter who is paying attention because He is worthy of glory and praise…this is the God that was present with little, insignificant me yesterday, all day, moving and working as I bumped into people who needed help. Amazing.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is” (Romans 12:2, New Living Translation). 

Till Death Do Us Part

T&J toes This life is wonderful and difficult.  Along the journey we will most likely experience mountain-top highs and deep valley lows.  We will enjoy times of joy and contentment and times of grief and pain.  We will bound through exciting times and yawn our way through tedious times.   Knowing this truth about life…deciding who to travel with is of utmost importance don’t you think?

Cultivating healthy relationships is a huge portion of a healthy lifestyle.  We are always growing and changing and so our relationships are constantly changing too.  This is important to understand.  As our circumstances change and life happens, we must respond and react in healthy ways to maintain a healthy relationship or it will crumble and be lost.  Just as a plant needs consistent watering, any relationship needs constant attention and maintenance.  Maybe you have suffered a lost marriage/relationship.  This information can apply to any relationships you are currently in with friends and family too.  Remember each circumstance is unique and each person is unique.  Sometimes the other people in a relationship are not interested in being healthy.  Sometimes we aren’t interested in being healthy!   No judging, no getting stuck in the past, let’s just journey together and keep learning!  Striving for healthy relationships and communication is a good thing whether it is in a marriage or not.

One of my most-treasured places to be is at my husband’s side, whatever we may be doing.  We will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on July 29th.  In many ways it seems like it can’t possibly be that long that we’ve been married, but in so many ways it also seems like we’ve just always been together.  One of my biggest pet-peeves is when people look at us and say, “oh you’re so lucky”.  Let me clue ya’, luck has nothing to do with it!  Tom and I have not always had a healthy relationship.  When we got married I was 19 and he was 20.  I was idealistic and co-dependent, Tom lacked direction and perspective, but we of course thought we were so grown up.   I remember sitting in front of our pre-marriage counselor and having him say to us, “with the possible exception of infidelity, you two will likely face everything that people get divorced over.”  I proudly thought, “well, he doesn’t know us very well!”  Turns out, he was very wise!  Over the years there have been financial arguments, depression, dysfunctional communication patterns, hurtful actions, conflicts over parenting, and I could go on and on.  We have basically grown up together .  It could have gone horribly wrong at several points.  So, why are we together  now and happier and healthier than ever?  Here are a few of the key components to a healthy relationship that we have learned over the years.

Be Kind and Polite

Common courtesy tends to fly out the window once we step through our front doors.  Tom and I have determined over the years that we shouldn’t be nicer to strangers than we are to each other!  Please and thank you go a long way after a long day.  Kindness is also contagious.  As you begin to show kindness to each other, others will watch and be influenced by your behavior…like you kids, your neighbors, your friends, and then those relationships in your life will become healthier too.  Plus it just feels better to be kind.  It isn’t always easy and it requires you to step outside your own emotions and view a situation from another perspective, but the benefits are enormous.

Next phone call with your spouse, try this out.  Be kind, gentle, and supportive.  Use a tone that is friendly.  Stop the biting tongue that just blurts out thoughts without filtering them first.  And do this because you love them, not so that they will think you are great or give you something in return.  Tell them you love them/miss them/are eager to see them/enjoy talking with them, it is uplifting to them and to you to hear these words.

Trust God  Hands down this is the most valuable point.  Without Christ, Tom and I would not be together, I guarantee it.  As people, we are just really good at hurting each other.  Tom and I have not had a free pass on this, we are completely and totally human and that means sinful.  Over the years, there have been many times when crying out to the Lord and accepting His guidance was all we knew to do.  But God was and is faithful.  God has directed us and taught us how to forgive and extend grace to each other and our families.  God has worked in our hearts to bind us together spiritually, emotionally, and mentally so that we can enjoy marriage as He designed it.  I give Him all the praise and I’m so thankful!  My marriage is one of the biggest blessings in my life, and I would have missed it if I had just given up and gone my own way.

We were blessed to grow up in homes where our families were intact and based in faith in Christ.  Not flawless, but we are blessed with a legacy of commitment and faith for sure!  I do not take this for granted and I know it is not everyone’s story.  God’s love is big enough to heal you and guide you to a relationship with Him that will radically change your heart no matter what your story is though, so take heart!  God knows how difficult it is to love people.  He understands each heart because He created it.  God is into relationships!  Seek Him first and trust His plan because it is perfect.

Communicate Honestly and Listen   Learning to communicate with each other effectively is so important! This is not something you can gloss over and have a healthy relationship.  Most couples bring different communication styles and backgrounds into a relationship so it is important to talk about how you want to communicate and continue to talk about it.  If you are like I was when we first got married and don’t know how you like to communicate because you have been so wrapped up in just not disappointing anyone, this process can be long and difficult.  It takes time to learn how to be married and work together.  Just as a new business partnership takes work and time to develop trust and effective teamwork, a marriage is the same way.  One of the reasons that Tom and I are so close is because we stuck it out and kept talking even when it wasn’t fun or didn’t even seem productive. We just kept talking and listening to each other, asking questions and listening, taking time and learning.

Communicating openly and honestly needs to be a priority.  If you did not grow up in a home where this was modeled in front of you, then this will be a challenge; but it is a learned behavior so you are not trapped or branded because of someone else’s lack of communication skills.  It is important to set aside a time to debrief and visit about household and daily grind kind of stuff, but also about personal accomplishments or struggles that happened that day.  You have to make time or it won’t happen.  If you are part of the typical busy household you may be laughing at me right now and thinking it just isn’t possible.  I hear you, it is a choice and an investment.  This is why I make a point to say that communication needs to be a priority.  You may need to rearrange schedules or change habits to become effective in your communication, but it is worth the effort!

Respect  “A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way”, this is the definition of respect from Webster’s Dictionary.  It seems to me that respect is losing ground in our society.  The attitude of entitlement kind of sweeps respect onto the floor to be hidden among the dust-bunnies.  Respecting your mate means believing and treating them as valued and worthy of attention and acceptance.  This creates a space of safety and intimacy.  Have you ever been out with friends and heard one spouse throw the other spouse under the bus and observed the change in body language that occurs?  Have you ever heard one spouse make fun of the other spouse and watched the hurt expression that follows?  Usually it is palpable and it is always sad.  Respect your mate.  You chose them!  If you want a relationship that will encourage each person to be their best, there has to be respect.

Be Fiercely Protective  There is a song by Dido that is precious to me.  It is called “White Flag”.  When I hear it, it still brings tears to my eyes.  My husband sent it to me after a really rough phase in our relationship.  He told me that he was committed for the long haul if I would be too.  Here is the chorus:

“I will go down with this ship
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I’m in love and always will be”.

From this point on in our marriage, we both agreed to be fiercely protective of our relationship, of our family, and of each other. This means that if one of us needs time to talk, we re-arrange schedules to make it happen.  If one of us needs to be alone, we respect that request and help make it happen.   If one of us is uncomfortable with a situation, we change it.  If there is a disagreement, we resolve it.  We decided to live more simply and focus on our relationship and the other relationships in our lives.  The payoff has been huge.  It is a challenge because other people may not understand at times, but that is ok, they don’t have too.  We continue to talk about choices as they come up and ensure that we are sticking to the priorities we have decided are important to us.

I’m proud of my marriage.  I’m proud because we have fought to hang onto something that has turned out to be a priceless treasure and joy.  The things we have learned will continue to help us grow together and support a stronger and deeper love for as many years as we have together.  I’m also proud of the example we have put in front of our kids.  They have had a front seat to the growing pains and have learned a lot about commitment and relationships along the way.  There have been lots of interesting conversations and teaching moments and I’m thankful for God’s wisdom in those times.  I’m also happy to blog about this today and encourage you guys to fight for healthy relationships in your own lives.  This life can be so much fun and fulfilling if we focus on people and not stuff.  If we stretch our arms out to support instead of judge.  If we keep learning and growing instead of determining that we know everything.  Stay healthy my friends!

 

 

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