I had a really long, unusually packed holiday season beginning with the death of our dog, Sally, on Halloween and ending Sunday with my baby girl’s 21st birthday. With Joel’s Heaven day in the middle, two week long trips and my oldest, Joshua, graduating from college it couldn’t help but be packed.
I’ve read that the second year after losing a child can be much worse than the first. The fact that shock begins to wear off and reality begins to sink in is enough to make it true. Add a felony case in the mix. It was really hard. I am so thankful for my friends and family who continue love and accept me through it all.
Last September and October were especially hard. The cooling weather felt like it was dragging me under to the unusually warm December day that we lost Joel. I didn’t have that experience the year before. Maybe the shock protected me from it. Learning how to navigate these new waves is difficult and sometimes frightening.
On my good days, grief takes a lot of journaling and emotional energy. I tell myself many times a day, “Keep moving! Do the next thing.” Most of the time I am able to keep those thoughts inside my head. When I hear my out-loud voice talking to me, I know it’s a really bad day. On those days, my wordless prayers are expressed in sobs and wails.
One day, late in September, after hearing about the sudden death of a friend, I was washing dishes when I heard myself say, “I am doing all the right things; reading my Bible, keeping the worship music turned on, reaching out and encouraging others in the midst of it all. I am normally a strong person with a healthy outlook on life. I am going to make it through this.”
I heard God respond with one word, “Pride.”
My first instinct was to repent. A good instinct for when God confronts you with your sin. I repented several times on different levels as my thoughts raced through what He might mean. I struggled for days. Was it really God? I knew that it was. Could it have been the devil? Was encouraging myself wrong? I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I was trying to give myself a little hope that I could make it through the year, through the depression and post traumatic distress, through the death of my friend and the future deaths I would have to face.
I questioned. I prayed. I repented again. When I got up the courage to journal about it, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 finally came to mind:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I had tried to convince myself that I had “strong constitution” instead of acknowledging the truth of my weakness. I was putting my hope in spiritual disciplines when God wanted to give me experiential knowledge of His strength in my weakness. I wanted that too.. but in my weakness I was failing to be faithful in the waiting.
From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
my grace is sufficient for thee; the Lord always hears and answers his people sooner or later, in one form or another, though not always in the way and manner they desire; but yet in such a way as is most for his glory and their good…
…that the power of Christ, says he, may rest upon me, or “tabernacle over me”; he considered himself as a poor weak feeble creature, and the power of Christ as a tabernacle over him, as the power of God is represented as a garrison about the believer, 1 Peter 1:5, sheltering, preserving, and protecting…
I am starting to understand that being confronted new and confusing waves of grief is going to continue to be apart of the journey. Understanding and accepting that fact is helping. That last week with Sally, I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about them any more. If I am experiencing a wave of grief and I am sad, that’s okay. If I am experiencing joy, I am going to enjoy the moment while I can. Accepting was a turning point for me. That one word “Pride” had stung and cut, but it had also given me the grace to surrender what I never had control over. I am weak; He is strong.
I had the grace to put on a brave face for the holiday celebrations while swallowing down stabs of the grief and pain. I wanted to celebrate family, friends, Thanksgiving, Joel’s Heaven day, Josh’s graduation, Christ’s birth, and I was determined not leave out Judi’s 21st birthday; the day she turned a year older than Joel was when he went home.
With the coming of the new year came the fear of taking off my brave face. I wanted to continue experiencing joy, but I knew my heart needed time to grieve. Sometimes it screams at me in my dreams, “I don’t care how many times you say everything is going to be okay.. it is NOT okay!”
I have felt so conflicted and I didn’t know how to navigate that wave. I didn’t know how to allow myself to grieve even though I knew I needed to. I found the grace to decide that I wouldn’t worry again. Conflicted, sorrowful, joyful.. it doesn’t matter. God will be with me in the midst of the waves. He will give me the strength and the wisdom I need to navigate them as they come. This has become my new self talk along with, “Soon, Jesus will come and rescue me.”
I grieved hard yesterday. I didn’t understand why the wave chose to come that day until after 4 PM when I remembered that it was the 7th; two years and one month since Joel went to Heaven. I had forgotten, but my heart always remembers.
So here I stand in the midst of sometimes overwhelming waves.. coming to terms with my weakness; my inability to make the waves any different than they are. Knowing and accepting that I am weak is actually bringing relief. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Instead of a foolish hope in my own strength, I am free to turn my hope to the One who is sovereign over us. I can cast my cares on the Almighty, who has promised to show Himself strong in my weakness. I can trust that my Strong Tower will “tabernacle over me;” that His power will be a “garrison” about me “sheltering, preserving, and protecting” me, carrying me through the next set of waves.
1 Peter 1:3-9 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.