Life Doesn’t Feel Fair

My daddy loved little reminders. He carried the same old, worn pictures in his wallet for decades. Joe Rudd was the kind of guy who made refrigerator magnets to commemorate holidays. He wanted us to remember the moments after they had passed.

Daddy also liked books, poems, and pithy sayings. The sound of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” still lands impatiently upon my ears. One of his favorite poems was by Mary Stevenson. (Who? Trust me. You know this one.) Read more

Coping with Life’s Labor Pains

Time is such a funny thing. Not sure about you, but I couldn’t wait for time when I was younger. I wanted to do everything before its time.

Then time speeds up. Where’d it go? We find ways to turn back the hands of time. How can we get it back? There’s not enough of it.

There is one phase of adulthood when time shifts – when you have children of your own.

From the moment, a mom-to-be gets the news of an impending bundle of joy, we shift into “mom time.” All of a sudden, we count everything in units of weeks. “How far along are you? – 16 weeks.” “When are you due? – 4 more weeks.” Even after the baby arrives, we start off by ticking weeks. “How old is your baby? – 5 weeks.”

Then we blink our eyes and time has flown. Babyhood melds into the terrible twos into childhood into the tween years into the terrible teens. And time marches on; except sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes time stands still . . .the phone rings . . . the news is sudden, sharp, staggering.

In a terrible twist of time, moms are so ingrained with “mom time” that even death has no power over it. “How long has it been since Brooke’s accident? – 47 weeks.” In five short weeks, an entire year will have flown by in slow motion. Then, like when the girls were toddlers, time will advance to months – 12 months, 13 months, 18 months – and eventually to years.

If I could turn back time …

Despite my protests,time marches on. There will likely come a day in this Land of After when I will have lived longer without Brooke than the time God gave us with her. That morbid milestone looms around the bend with my brother. Jay was 27 years old when he died and has been gone for 21 years come May. In a few short years, I will have lived longer without him than with him. But just yesterday . . .

All of this seems like an eternity. Time crawls. Time careens.

The reality is that the time we have on earth is just a little while. Gone in the blink of an eye. When foretelling his death and resurrection, Jesus used terms translated “a little while” to describe how long it would be before his disciples would all be reunited in eternity. Jesus describes our time here on earth in terms that any mom will understand – “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” John 16:21-22

We are all suffering. We all endure the anguish of laboring through the trials of this world. Yet, we are offered a renewed world where the pangs of this world will become distant memories. A place where time has no power. I can only imagine the joy that my baby girl feels having been relieved of the hurts and losses of this world. Her absence increases my current pain, but I have the hope that we will celebrate together when my labor is over.

Our hearts will rejoice. We will be filled with a joy that time can’t steal.

I’m already on record admitting that I would turn back time. I’d turn it back to a day that I can’t even recall and play it over like a broken record. And in my shortsightedness, that is exactly what it would be – a broken record of time never progressing through the stages of labor toward the glorious moment of “birth.”

When grief and loss are still raw, the bad news and good news is that time marches on. Sometimes, it crawls. Other times, it flies. Grief warps our sense of time. The question that we should be asking – how are we using our time?

Have the losses of life gripped you such that you are frozen in time? Unable to make progress. Stuck?

Like an expectant mother has options for coping with labor pains, we too have options for coping with life’s “labor pains.”

Breathe:

When stress strikes, we hold our breaths as if by doing so we have some power over time. There are a number of breathing techniques for invigorating the body or relaxing the body. I’m no expert in this area, but Dr. Andrew Weil has some suggestions. I cannot vouch for all of the suggestions, but I’ve used the 4-7-8 method – it works. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths (www.drweil.com)

Prayer/Meditate:

Committing even a few minutes of time to calm the mind and body can have long-lasting impact on your overall well-being. This practice can be as simple as sitting quietly and repeating a prayer to yourself. You can choose a Bible passage upon which to reflect in the quiet time that you’ve carved out. You can even combine it with the next option and make reflection on scripture a part of a journaling practice.

Journaling:

Keeping a journal may have saved my life – certainly my sanity – following the loss of Brooke. This isn’t the first crisis that has sent me scrambling to scribble down my thoughts and feelings. Looking back at different points in time, writing has been the safe place to “download” thoughts and feelings that simply occupy too much drive space.

One beauty of journaling – it doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to use proper English or even complete sentences. You can use stick-figure hieroglyphics if that is what you choose. It’s a judge-free zone. You can record memories. You can dump your feelings – good, bad, indifferent, scary, raw – onto the paper so that they can be sorted out later.

Exercise:

Pick your poison – any movement is better than no movement. Like journaling, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Add some steps to your day – park at a distance from the door when you arrive at work or the store; take the steps instead of the elevator. Join an exercise class or get a streaming service so that you can work out right in your own living room. Take a dance class. Go curling! (I swear this is harder than it looks and it is a ton of fun).

The more fun you make it, the more likely you are to do it.

Music:

Crank up your jam! Create various playlists designed with the intent of lifting your mood. Better yet – let a service like Pandora make the playlist for you. Just tell it one of your favorite songs or artists and Pandora will personalize a radio station just for you.

Those who have endured it can tell you – I can’t sing. They will also tell you that it doesn’t stop me as often as it should. True confession – I’m that girl who sings at the top of her lungs at the stoplight or into a hairbrush when no one else is home. Give it a try. There is something healing about singing it out.

Make Connections:

I’m an introvert. I could spend days without ever engaging in contact with another human. Yet, even I know that man cannot survive in isolation. Humans are social creatures who require varying degrees of interaction with other humans in order to thrive.

If you are one of those extrovert types, then socializing isn’t much of a challenge for you. You typically have a full dance card. If you aren’t sure which one you are – most extroverts probably stopped reading a long time ago as they were busy chatting with someone.

Best advice -like exercise, the more fun you make it, the more likely you are to do it. Join a club or group that engages in an activity that holds some excitement for you – a gym, book club, quilting bee, small group with your church, a curling league, a tennis league, a supper club, a cooking class, a writers’ group . . . the possibilities are endless.

The more challenges life throws at you – the more critical it is to find ways to cope. Sometimes, you can’t cope on your own. That’s okay! We all need help at different points. If that is you right now, then I beg you to seek help. Acknowledging the need for help is not a sign of weakness – rather it is the ultimate show of strength.

If you have additional coping ideas – please share in the comments!

Life is too short to “labor” without using all of the coping methods at our disposal. There’s no reward at the moment of “birth” for having gone “natural” over “taking an epidural.” The only point is to labor through the pangs of this life as we best we can so that we can bask in the eternal joy that awaits us.

It is that hope of eternal joy that keeps me going. The more that I learn about just how glorious eternity will be, the more that I am buoyed through the trials of this life.

This life is a mere blip of time when compared to eternity. There will come a time when  the anguish of the anxieties that now plague us will be erased – simply wiped away.

That promise of hope is yours – claim it!

 

SDG

The Path of Hope is Muddy

Who hasn’t had to memorize “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening?” What 7th or 8th grader hasn’t had to study “The Road Not Taken?” Robert Frost is one of the great American poets studied by school children across the nation.

What does “The Road Not Taken” have to do with grief or loss?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

What if your “yellow wood” is your home office in the wee, dark hours after a horrible accident has taken your youngest daughter’s life? A “yellow wood” could just as easily be the backseat of the car as your mother takes you home after seeing the team doctor. Homes are awfully lonely in the wake of divorce – even when bathed in yellow sunshine.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

We’ve all stood at our own forks in the road. We’ve all inspected the paths.

As I surveyed the landscape in the hours after Brooke’s accident, I recognized something dark and grim about one path. I’d been down that road before. Not the exact same road, but one similar. Did I want to travel that road again? Where would it lead this time?

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Unlike the traveler in the poem, I don’t look so gleefully upon the first path as an equal option and certainly not one to which I’d voluntarily someday return.

One of those paths led straight into a perilous pit. That path is all too inviting – and familiar. During Hurricane Katrina, our home was flooded with over six feet of water. The girls and I lost “everything.” Following Katrina, I took a path that was flooded with company (bad pun, sorry). Like so many other victims of Katrina, I numbed the pain. A glass of wine to relax after work. Understandable – the hour-drive from Baton Rouge to Mandeville could take up to three-hours (rarely more) during those days. And a glass of wine while I prepared dinner. One with dinner. One to relax after dinner… A glass of wine here and a glass of wine there and pretty soon we are talking real wine.

Two years later and a few pounds heavier (have you counted the calories in a bottle of wine?), I shook off the foggy weight of loss. While time had passed, I certainly hadn’t made any real progress down the road of “dealing with” the very significant loss of Katrina.

I couldn’t allow myself to end up on that path again. I couldn’t afford to dull years of my life only to awaken one day to the reality that I would still have to grieve the loss of Brooke.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Though Frost’s traveler looks upon both roads wistfully as equal options, the forked roads of grief and loss are not that forgiving. However, those of us suffering with loss, addiction, divorce or a myriad of other pains have something very important in common with the traveler of the yellow wood – choosing the road less traveled will make all the difference.

What is the road less traveled? It’s simply to choose hope, the path that forges out a future somewhere beyond the “bent in the undergrowth.”

Standing at the two roads diverged before you – this path is not the grassy one lined with a parade of butterflies and lilies. That’s actually the beckoning path of the abyss. No, take a closer look at the muddy one chockfull of potholes. Not your everyday potholes. These are the kind that yell out to New Orleans’ potholes, “Git in mah belly.” It’s a gritty, rocky road.

Here’s the deal. The folks over at the “Path of Hope” spent all of their resources on the end of the path. The folks over at the “Path of the Abyss” did just the opposite. They spent every last tax dollar sprucing up the entrance. Problem is they ran out of money quick and the path leads nowhere – at least nowhere good.

If we all know the ultimate truth about both paths, why is the Path of the Abyss bumper-to-bumper traffic while the Path of Hope has room to pass? There are as many roadblocks as there are individuals. For some, addiction is real. (Despite the earlier story, I am not an alcoholic but I do not make light of alcoholism or other addiction. It is real.) For others, mental illness (often undiagnosed) is at play. And, then there is fear. Sometimes – as is frequently seen with victims of violence, abuse and oppression – threats of harm and other lies instill a fear, deep and disconnecting.

There is another obstacle that veers travelers toward the abyss. Ironically, the source of this detour is one that should serve as a traffic cop directing everyone toward the Path of Hope. Well-meaning family and friends hand out platitudes like “get out of jail free” cards. Things such as “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Or have you ever heard, “When God closes a door, he opens a window?” Perhaps my favorite (and I’ve been guilty of saying it) “Everything happens for a reason.”

These words are spoken out of love by those at a loss for words.  They just want to take away our pain. Sadly, these threadbare clichés make for a poor traveling cloak.

How can we do it better? I don’t have a full answer but I know that facing the reality of pain is an area where the culture within the church and society as a whole have a lot of room for improvement.

We are instructed to love our neighbors. Part of loving our neighbors must be to provide real options for dealing with real issues. For those standing on the outside, churches can be intimidating. If you have real problems (and we all do to some degree or another), the church should not only be a place for well-visits but it should be open for urgent care and a flat-out Level 1 trauma center with state-of-the-art care.

Floodlights are being erected at the gateway of the Path of Hope so that travelers can see the progress that is to come down the road. Changes are coming, albeit slowly at times. In the meantime, here is a list  of “traffic cops” who can help guide you toward the Path of Hope:

Alcoholics Anonymous – www.aa.org
American Association of Christian Counselors – www.aacc.net
American Counseling Association – http://www.counseling.org
Anxiety and Depression Association of America – www.adaa.org
Bereaved Parents of the USA – www.bereavedparentsusa.org
Catholic Charities – www.catholicharitiesusa.org
Children’s Advocacy Center – http://www.nationalcac.org
The Compassionate Friends (support for family after the loss of a child) – www.compassionatefriends.org
Divorce Care – www.divorcecare.org
GriefShare – www.griefshare.org
Journey Out (anti-human trafficking) – www.journeyout.org
Narcotics Anonymous – www.na.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness – www.nami.org
National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-373-7888 www.polarisproject.org
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline – 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) www.rainn.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 – www.suicidepreventionallifeline.org (for online chat)
The Salvation Army – www.salvationarmyuse.org

This list doesn’t event scratch the surface of places to turn for help. If you have others please share! My hope is that it at least provides a start.

Are you at a fork in the road? Have you started down a dead-end path? Do you fear that you’ve already reached an abyss? Unlike Frost’s traveler, we need not tell our stories with a sigh “somewhere ages and ages hence.”

The Path of Hope is available to us. The Path of Hope is always available to us.

There is nothing special about me or my circumstances that I chose a path of hope in what seems a hopeless situation. As I sat alone trying to wrap my head around the events that had just turned my life upside down, I simply acknowledged that I had traveled down one too many dead-end roads in my lifetime and recognized at a critical moment that another dead-end road was calling my name.

More importantly, I consciously chose to lean on my faith. “Easy for you,” you might say. Not really. My road to faith has been a long and winding one. In fact, it is still a journey. I’m not even sure that “faith” is a destination at which one arrives so much as it is more of a companion along the way.

Hope to see you along the Path!

SDG