Day 689: An open letter to grieving people.

3 years ago I found myself in the most difficult season of my life to date. While I’m not eager to sit down and rehash this season of my life I will use this opportunity to write some hopeful words of encouragement to those of you who may find yourself with the companion of grief. Grief and I used to be well acquainted. 3 years ago,  the holiday season was spent praying fervently for 3 very dear people. Praying that God would heal these three men and restore their health and function. Never in my life had a prayed more for three situations or had so much hope that Jesus would do miraculous things in their situations.

On January 10, the first man I prayed for passed away. We grieved. We rejoiced in his absence of pain. We prayed for his wife. I again started praying for the Lord to work in the remaining two situations. January 13th, the second young man passed away. We grieved. We rejoiced in his absence of pain. We sought peace from the things the Lord was doing through his story. I again started praying for the remaining man. A month later, the third man passed away. We grieved. We rejoiced in the end of his long battle. We prayed for his wife. Then during the weekend of the third funeral I received news that my friend’s father had passed away. I made plans to attend the funeral and comfort my friend. Watching the nightly news, I learned a young student I had in a DNOW group had lost her father and step-mother as well. In one day I attended a funeral and 2 visitations. You see, three years ago I experienced a season of death. From January 10 to mid-February I walked through the deaths of 6 people. They were my friends, my chosen family, my friend’s parents. Each person I had a personal connection with or a loved one I cared about deeply.

In all of it, people encouraged me to be angry with God for how He answered my prayers. Truly, I never felt an ounce of anger towards the Lord for all of this. More than anything I felt confused. My prayers had basically been a multiple choice test where I gave God the options He could choose. You see, during that season I learned how hard it is to want to pray to a sovereign God when He answers my multiple choice prayers by writing in an additional option. I had the perfect plan for how He could use all of those situations to bring forth miraculous signs and wonders of His kingdom. Little did I know how great the reward would be for the plan He had instructed.

So there I landed. In a season I had orchestrated. Left to deal with outcomes I hadn’t prayed to receive. In that season grief moved in with me. She watched over me day and night. I’m fairly certain she would have paid the bills and swept the floor if I had been living on my own. There were days I would pass a mirror and grief blocked my view. She was a conceited companion. Begged for my time, my thoughts, my energy. Grief was a life hog that seemed endless.  That is the exact word I would use: It seemed Endless.

Dear friend, I’m here to tell you I know it seems endless. It seems like bad will continue to cover you and cloud you. Grief will block out the light from the windows and under the doors. She covers the mirrors so we don’t see who we used to be. She shrouds you in an unmistakable darkness that no light could ever attempt to dampen. It seems as though it will never end. An endless amount of aching sadness that stretches on forever.

But it will end. You’ll see the word ENDLESS break apart. END LESS. Then as it breaks apart the words skip around so all you see at first is LESS. You’ll see less pain and darkness. Less heart ache. The guilt of life will leave you. And maybe that’s the hardest part about it all. When the pain becomes less. When you wake up and the horror of the present season isn’t as terrifying. When you can take a deep breath for the first time in 6 months. LESS will come. You find yourself experiencing less of the bad and more of the good. I’ll never forget a specific moment towards the end of my season of grief. Now, I have always loved to watch the sunrise. I decided one morning that I would go and plant myself in a visible spot to watch the sun pour over the earth. I was convinced it would make me feel grateful and full of life. I made my way outside just moments before sunrise and I waited expectantly. Thirty minutes passed and nothing happened. I checked the expected sunrise time over and over and it was falling further and further behind. Then slowly the entire sky started shifting. The sky starting shifting out of the dark and into the light. The sky changed into a flurry of colors that matched the eyeshadow I wore in junior high. Then I saw a giant orange orb appear from behind a CVS Pharmacy and light up the sky. I laughed for the first time and didn’t feel guilty. I realized that the spot I had chosen was not the ideal place. Yet I felt LESS sadness and more joy.

When LESS wasn’t enough the END comes. The end of the every moment, hour, and minute that grief surges over you when you simply take a breath. That constant companion of grief will stop staying weeks in a row. She’ll stop staying overnight. Then  stop visiting with you all together. And that’s a hard part. Figuring out who you are without grief. Who are you when she no longer bars out the light and the joy and the hope of living? You don’t realize how grief fills the absence of the person you lost. Unknowingly, she helps you become a person without the one you lost. Yet, when she leaves you have to change again to figure out who you are. Think back to that sunrise I was so keen on watching. My sunrise had been hidden behind because of the view I chose. Who are you going to be when you have the opportunity to choose the view again? Will you let the CVS block your view? Will you stay planted in a spot that limits you from seeing the most spectacular things? Who are you in the absence of the one you lost? And the absence of grief?
Do me this one small favor: Give yourself permission to find out who you are again. You didn’t die. That did. That season, that person, that relationship, that hope, that dream, maybe even that prayer. It died. Not you. So grieve the heck out of it and then find out who you are. Because you allowed yourself to live, love, invest, open up your arms, have hope, dream, and pursue. You didn’t take that step to live your life or love someone or dream in the first place and not expect to change a little. So, embrace the you that was and is. And keep moving.

Everything that leaves or breaks or moves was either not made to last here forever or was not for you. That person wasn’t made to be here forever. This isn’t home. That season was a season and, hon, it’s time to go. That relationship was meant for then and not now. Prepare for the next thing. Hope is the cheese of life- sprinkle it on everything except ice cream. Never run out of hope. Dare to dream again even if it is something small. Dreaming is our way of pushing forward and accepting change as a positive. Go see a sunrise and pick a place with a good view. Don’t let things get between you and joyPray prayers and not to do lists. Pray prayers that leave the Lord space to write an essay of His heart. Pray. Pursue people, pursue love, pursue time, pursue hope, pursue Jesus, pursue others who are going through seasons of grief. Sweet friend, you were made for everlasting in a world crippling and falling apart. It’s painful, baby girl. But it’s worth it.

If you are grieving and need a friend to: pray, scout out a sunrise,  sit in the dark with you then please reach out to me. We were never intended to do this life alone.



Unwilling Clay

If I’m being honest, and I hope that I am, this semester has been incredibly trying. My entire college experience has been shaping and life changing, but this last one in particular has been refining for me.

I don’t know how else to describe it to you without telling you about pottery and what I’ve learned in my brief time in a ceramics lab. You see, that beautiful piece sitting on a shelf in a living room or as an accent piece to a table had to go through a couple different phases to get to where it is now. First, the clay has to be separated from its block or divided out from a tub and measured to the precise weight needed. Personally, I love the feeling of slicing a slab off of a square block of clay fresh from the box. Then the clay is separated again as you tear off small pieces and fling them at the table in an attempt to remove all of the air bubbles. Finally, you gather all of the clay and you wedge it by turning it in on itself over and over and over again. A couple more slaps on the table to round it out and the piece of clay is finally free of air bubbles and ready to be thrown on a bat. Now “throwing” (that means molding a piece on a potter’s wheel) a piece of clay can take a few minutes for a seasoned potter or several hours if its a new kid. The first thing you do is place throw the clay down on a “bat” (no. not a baseball bat. No. not a real bat either. Its a black disk that sits on the wheel.) and try to get it as close to center as possible. Then the potter carefully dips their hands in a water bucket and sets to work sculpting this clay into the potter’s desired outcome. First the clay is coned up to make a tower and is then brought down into what we call a “pill”. (Let’s imagine a giant tylenol sitting on the bat. FYI this is done to center the piece.) After the pill is centered the potter will place his fingers on the very center of this pill and he will press down. The clay will begin to push away from the hands and form the structure of a donut with a hole. At last! The most important moment of the process (okay all of the moments are the most important.) is to start pulling the clay up and into the desired shape. Now, this doesn’t sound too hard, but there are several things that happen at this point. The potter has gradually decreased the speed in which the wheel spins so the clay is more manageable for the hands. The potter also has to guarantee that the clay was properly centered at the beginning because if it wasn’t the walls of the piece will end up uneven. The very first pull can set the tone for how the piece will turn out. If the potter pushes the piece in then the clay molds into a narrow piece or if he pushes the clay out then the piece could end up being too wide. The longer the potter practices the more he understands how he works with the clay and he is able to recover from each of his mistakes.

With each pull, more and more clay begins to rise and the piece starts to take shape. If the piece is overly tall then the potter can pull on the piece and make it wider. Once the potter sculpts it to his liking he must go back and remove the layer of water that clings to the outside of the piece. The potter must also try to get the water out from the inside of the piece as well. If the piece stays too wet then it will take longer to dry out. In a final step, the potter runs a wire in between the bat and the bottom of the piece and he sets the piece on a board to dry.

If the piece needs trimming then the potter has to wait and let the piece dry to a leather hard state. Then attaching and trimming things becomes much more stable. As soon as the piece is completely dry then the professor loads the pieces into the kiln and they are bisque fired. The pieces come out of the kiln a nice shade of pink and you can tell a difference in the piece’s strength from beforehand. Final sanding and removal of sharp edges is completed and the bottom of the piece is dipped in wax to save it from melting to the kiln during the glaze process. With the necessary precaution of wax, the pink piece is dipped in a glaze of choice and left to dry before being fired again. The piece is placed in the kiln again and fired one final time. In a few days the freshly glazed pieces emerge from the kiln and are placed in the hands of the potter. If you ever take a ceramics class then the unloading of the kiln is like having a 10-year-old slumber party with 10 of your closest friends. Everything everyone got was “just adorable” and you all compare notes on how each glaze was done much like the trading of secrets on how you do your hair. There are oohs and ahhs and some disappointed sighs as a piece we all love turns into a piece we will hide in a storage container under our bed for the next few decades. After days of work and drying and firing and sanding and glazing and firing again, the piece is finally finished. Then you start the process all over again with new pieces.

That’s exactly how I would describe the experience I’ve had with college. I was separated from the “block” I knew. I was divided from my family and flung into a new space. I was wedged into a community with new people who were strange and new. We fought the problem situations (aka the air bubbles) and we tried to get through the conflict together. Finally, we are rounded up and things seem to be doing fine. That was my freshman year. Sophomore year, the potter slammed me down on a bat and he set to work trying to center me in the plan He had for me. He had to cone me up and bring me back down with a chill pill several times. Finally, Junior year came and he taught me to open up and he raised me to do new things. He worked on evening out the walls of my heart, but I fought Him still. Just as I thought He was finished He started scraping on my tender walls again. I thought He was hurting me, but now I see He just wanted to remove the mud so I could dry and move on to the next thing. The trials of being fired started my senior year and I felt the weight, pressure, and height of being a senior. But this semester I reached the final step. The sanding and tweaking of the slightly stronger pink piece. I am more stable, closer to the intended final product. A figure that has taken shape and stayed in the shape that was sculpted. I have not collapsed, I have not fallen off the shelf I wait on. I’m here and I’m being tweaked. This week it feels as though I’ve been dipped in the glaze. The putrid smell of chemicals blinds my nose and I realize how little I desire to be placed in the dark heat again. I don’t want to be finished. I don’t want to endure the fire again. I’ve seen the other pieces that emerge from the final fire so beautifully glazed and ready to go, but I’m not there yet. I’m not ready for the fire again. I don’t want to smell like chemicals. I don’t want to be dipped in the hot wax that saves me from melting in the heat.