Holiday Hangover

“Happy New Year!” How many woke up on January 1stwith a touch of “rockin’ pneumonia” from ringing in the New Year? When you’ve been through (or are still dealing with) a tough time, the holidays bring a different kind of “hangover.”

“They” expect us to be happy during the holidays. Thanksgiving is a time focused on gratitude. Christmas is an expectant time to celebrate the gift of the birth of Christ. New Year’s ushers in fresh starts and excitement for what the new year will unfold.

“They” underestimate the amount of energy required to get from November to January. Mustering the drive needed to make that holiday haul can zap us – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we do arrive at January still intact, we are kinda left wondering, “what next?”

When one year has been tough, hitting the reset button on a fresh year can be a welcome relief. New year, new job. New year, new gym. New year, new house. New year, new you!You name it. Whatever held you back in the prior year can be wiped clean allowing you to move forward.

Other times – even when a year has been unrelenting – we don’t want to let go. Sometimes, we’d rather time stand still. Sometimes, we’d rather rewind the days to a time when things made more sense. The holidays have already left us hungover and now “they” are saying that we need to “move forward.”

Time becomes warped when you are in fresh grief. [“Fresh” is a relative term as grief really has no shelf-life on this earth.] When I hear “Last Christmas” or “Last summer,” my mind immediately meanders to 2016. My heart harkens to the last time that my little family made sense. My soul is stuck in an era when Brooke was physically with us. 

Last New Year’s (when we ushered in 2018) may have been the worse New Year ever. My prior experience with loss did very little to prepare me for the realization that we would make no new memories in 2018 that begin with “Remember when Brooke [fill-in the blank].” 

Of course, I already knew this. Yet, one of the blessings and curses of how the mind warps with grief is that you don’t know everything at once. It’s as if the mind spoon feeds new realities to you as it thinks you are ready. Other times, it’s as if the mind breaks like a bloated levee no longer able to hold back. That’s what happened on January 1, 2018. My mind held back as long as it could from telling my heart and soul that there’d be no new memories. Then, it was almost as if the holiday fireworks were bomb blasts exploding away a dam of emotion. The realization hit hard.

So, you’d think that having come to appreciate this new reality that it would be easier “moving forward.” You would think that sailing into 2019 would be smooth. Not so much. As I scrolled through posts in some of the online support groups, I found (somewhat relieved that I was not alone) that other parents who had lost children were also reeling from the holidays and feeling angst about the new year – even those who had many “new years” under their belts.

There are a couple of takeaways. First, no matter how “well” it might appear that a grieving parent (or sibling or spouse or child or whomever) may be handling a loss – grief does not move in logical, linear progression. Grief looks a lot more like a pile of tangled Christmas lights than neatly hung party lights. 

Second, any event or “celebration” that spotlights the loss will sting – no matter how joyous that occasion may be. We – the bereaved – can celebrate joy, but it is just a little different. That “before and after” date splits us into two halves. As we piece back our new existence, the halves don’t quite line up. One half praises the blessings – because there are still so many blessings. Memories of our lost loved ones are a treasured blessing, and we are ever grateful for new blessings as they come. Our other half curses the injustice of living “without” and wages an all-out war against anything joyful.

Life – as if it were not already – becomes a constant battle to remain faithful to God, to our families, and to ourselves.

The good news is that the battle is already won. If we can only “sweat out” the lies that keep us focused on our hurt and loss, we’d see that even in the midst of unspeakable hurt, we are not alone. Our God stands victorious between us and the enemy. He stands beside us in comfort. He stands behind us in strength. When time passes from this life, God will wipe away every tear.

Dear Heavenly Father, help us not to fear the passing of time here on earth. Send your Spirit to untangle our wounded souls. Hold us in your victorious right hand. With your Son as our model, fill us with faith so that our battered hearts beat only for You. Shake off the forces that seek to drain our faith. Make our spirits drunk with joy for You, and may your unfailing hope displace our hurtful hangovers. May we overflow with delight as we look forward to a day when there will be NO MORE TEARS. Amen.

SDG

Waiting and Watching and Watching and Waiting

As a child, my daddy had the most annoying habit on Christmas day. He’d gather us around the Christmas tree to open presents. That’s not the annoying part. No – the annoying part was where we’d have to wait. Wait for our turn to open gifts and Watch as everyone opened each of their gifts. Waiting and watching. Watching and waiting. Read more

Taking Faith on a Dare

Are you a sucker for a dare or a challenge? I wish that I could answer “no” to that question, but sadly and all too often the answer is “yes.” In my younger days, tackling a challenge usually meant that I would get myself into some sort of trouble. There was that time that I had to prove that I could ramp a BMX bike like my younger brother and his friends. That one landed me on my head – literally, complete with a ride in an ambulance and a luxury, all-inclusive stay at our local hospital.

More recently, the dares and challenges that I accept would be considered “good for me.” I fell for that 30-day plank challenge that was all the rage on social media. Nailed it! Back in 2007, I was goaded into running a half-marathon. Crushed it!

No, I was not a runner. No, I don’t enjoy running. Yes, I get a deep sense of satisfaction when I push myself to achieve goals that seem just out of my reach. In this sense, my stubborn streak could be seen as both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, we could be calling 9-1-1 or on the other I could enjoy toned arms and abs of steel for 30-days.

Of all of the dares and trials that come our way, none are more challenging than the ones Satan throws in our ways.  When Satan scorches our paths or litters the road before us with shattered dreams or lines our trails with broken hearts, he’s goading us. He’s taunting us with his demonic version of “I bet you can’t.” I bet you can’t fight the diagnosis. I bet you can’t overcome the disability. I bet you can’t survive the loss. I bet you can’t pick yourself up.Satan’s subtle insinuation is that we have to pick ourselves upin order to win his wicked wager. And, when we play into his hand – we lose hope and our faith is rocked and he wins.

Yet, how often do we play right into his hand? How many times do we first react to hurt and loss with I can’t imagine?Or I can’t handle it?Or I don’t want to go on?Defeat is frequently my initial reaction. Then typically my stubbornness takes over with its best impression of – imagining, handling, and going on.I can put up a great front, but all of that putting on a front takes a toll. 

There was a point during that half-marathon challenge when I didn’t think that I could take another step. I was tired to the bone. Each step was heavy and required deliberate effort to continue. Then, I turned a corner. Literally. I came around one corner and I could see the finish line. It was about a mile or so away. Even so as soon as I saw it, I knew that I could make it. 

I had found my second wind. I felt lighter. Stronger. Confident. Hopeful.

When Satan tries to wedge doubt into my heart, I need a second wind. (And a third and a fourth ad infinitum) And that Second Wind stands ever ready. When we let down our fronts and take on the Holy Spirit for our guidance, strength, and comfort – We become a little lighter We are stronger. We are more confident. We find hope.

We turn a spiritual corner. We can see the finish line. We are reminded that we don’t run this race alone. When we allow the Spirit to guide us, we’re empowered to take Satan’s dare. When we turn to God as the source of our Second Wind, the finish line practically moves itself to us. 

Each time we put our fate in the hands of the Father when the prognosis is poor; each time we put our faith in the resurrection of the Son in the face of our broken hearts; each time we seek the comfort and strength of the Spirit when our own spirits have been deflated – Satan is defeated. 

With the holidays upon us, we are especially sensitive to Satan’s goading. Our lives don’t mirror a Norman Rockwell painting and the differences are glaring. Yet, we still tend to carry a belief that our lives should be picture perfect – if only for these few days between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

As I approach this season, I am seeking the Second Wind. This is a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way – I can’t handle the holidays (or most other days for that matter) under my own strength. And – neither can you.

Father, thank you for sending your Son to double down against Satan’s double-dog dares. Thank you for your Spirit to be our Second Wind in order to face our challenges and trials.. For all who are struggling – especially at this time of the year – please keep your Spirit close.

More than anything during this holiday season, thank you for the many blessings both past and present. Thank you for memories of loved ones to fill the empty chairs that fill our earthly tables. Thank you for the promise of a heavenly table where empty does not exist.

SDG

Chaotic Musings: Holiday Edition

Chaos is a funny thing. Sometimes it overwhelms me. The cacophony consumes me. Other times, it swirls about me perfectly choreographed so that it comes ever close but never actually touches me. Like a Square Dance caller who yells “Swing Left” at the precise moment when “swing right” would have all the madness crash into me.

(Don’t tell me you didn’t Square Dance in junior high. It’s an American right of passage. Or at least, I thought.) Read more

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Some of my fondest memories growing up in the late 70s was when my daddy took on the role of  “human jukebox.” We didn’t call it that back then, but that’s what he did. We’d all sit around the turntable as he’d carefully slip away the album cover and then cajole the album from its sleeve. There in his deep, olive hands would gleam black, shiny vinyl. Daddy would ever so gently place the album onto the turntable and guide the arm to the exact spot that would play his song of choice. As the song wound down, he’d reverse the process and then start over with the next song on his “playlist.” We’d do this for hours. Read more

The Struggle is Real . . .

Writing this blog has become an outlet for me as I process the loss of my daughter. It carries the hope of not only transforming me but others as well. I enjoy the process of producing the blog. I find comfort here. So, I was surprised this week with how much I’ve struggled to write the blog.

In fact, I’ve spent countless hours searching for the “perfect” topic. I’ve scrapped drafts of two different blog posts. And, I’ve struggled.

Then it dawned on me. Sometimes, the struggle is real. Sometimes, we just have to give ourselves a little grace. Sometimes, we need to refocus. Sometimes, we need to re-center.

I’m really good at doling out advice. But, this week, all of that advice applies to me.

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activities celebrating Brooke’s memory. Her birthday was June 12th. On the same day, Professional Women of St. Tammany awarded two scholarships in her memory. A few days later, the Southern Yacht Club held the second annual swim-a-thon in Brooke’s name.

I’m tired. Not the kind of tired that can be wiped away with a nap. Rather, the kind of tired that settles in your bones. Can you relate?

This time last year, I was reading A Case for Hope by Lee Strobel and journaling about the scriptures that he highlighted in the book. What follows is an excerpt from my journal in June of 2017 – just a couple of months after the accident:

A Case for Hope – Day 10:

“For I know well the plans that I have in mind for you – oracle of the Lord – plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The “letter” (scroll) containing this verse was written by the prophet Jeremiah. The scroll was addressed to the elders of the people exiled in Babylon. The essence of the message is “don’t waste your time in exile.” Even while in exile, God continues to lay a foundation for prosperity, hope, and a future. These are His plans for us.

This chapter of Isaiah seems to confirm my belief that my focus must remain on hope. The trickier part is to move from trying to focus one’s mind on hope/ a future – to living with hope. Truly living.

When does the day come when it no longer feels like living in a shell? When will the shadow be cast out? As I write that question it dawns on me that shadows are only seen in the light. On cloudy days, the shadow can’t be seen.

On the harder – cloudy days – the pain settles in a like a misty fog. On “sunny” days when the sun peeks out from the clouds, the shadow is still there. When I catch a glimpse of it, the shadow overtakes everything.”

Fast forward back to the future, what have I learned in the past year?

  • God’s plan for us is one of hope.
  • When the plan results in loss, hurt, or despair, it’s not God’s plan.
  • Hope doesn’t mean that all will be made (my version of) right on my timeline.
  • Hope is the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Hope is the firm foundation that paves the road between this life and eternity.
  • Hope is what assures me that not all of our days will be misty and blue.
  • Hope is the thing that destroys death’s power.
  • Hope is the guarantee that one day He will wipe away every tear.
  • Hope is the promise that eternity will overshadow every hurt of this world.
  • Hope doesn’t disappear on cloudy days.
  • Hope is the motivation to pick up the pieces and to try again.
  • Hope is the place where we can seek solace when the struggle is real.

SDG

Here Comes the Rain Again . . .

Raise your hand if you played in the rain as a kid? We did – all the time. In fact, my parents encouraged it. Can’t say whether it was the allure of not having to bother with bath time at the end of the day or the fact that it was cheaper than a “slip-n-slide” that made kicking us out the door so appealing. Or, maybe, it’s just the way they did things back then.

The last time that I recall voluntarily heading out into the rain was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. It was one of those soft, southern rains that sprout up on summer afternoons. No pomp and circumstance of thunder and lightning. No cold front to steal the warm air. I can’t recall what we talked about, but I can remember strolling around the neighborhood and splashing through puddles with my daddy.

Despite it’s questionable PR campaign, I love the sights, sounds, and smells of summer storms. The flash of lightning against an inky sky. A crack of thunder just a little louder than anticipated. Read more