When anger gets the best of you

“If I allow anger to get the best of me, then I’ll have nothing left to give.”

I remember it so well.  I woke up angry that day. My mind was made up, or maybe I should say my heart was made up.

My son David had died a few months before and my emotions were all over the place. Shouldn’t we be allowed to just be angry that someone we love is gone?

Anger tends to feed us, drive us on these days. It’s not pretty or becoming. I usually hole up in my house when these emotions hit me, and God help those in the house if you know what I mean. Again. Not pretty.

My husband Mike was aware of my demeanor that day. He suggested we go to a sports bar for lunch. I REALLY didn’t want to go but reluctantly agreed. So, sporting our best Packer attire, we shared appetizers, sipped beer and watched football with others in the crowd.

I was starting to relax a little, at least until the woman next to us started getting a little over zealous in rooting her team on. She was sitting at the bar along with her husband and two young boys. I felt uneasy each time she spouted off, “Jeesus!” The entire restaurant could hear her. I found myself in a bad place.

I was just waiting for her to make a comment to us, whether it be regarding our Packer shirts or anything else for that matter. I was readying myself to call her out. I was prepared to comment on her repeated “prayers” to Jesus, all because her football team wasn’t performing the way she thought they should.

Really? She barked out Jesus’ name with such anger, arrogance and frustration. It was a stab in my heart every time. It grieved me on top of the grief I was already feeling. It angered me on top of the anger I was already feeling. My heart rate began to skyrocket.

Was I being judgmental or holier than thou in the moment? I suppose so, to a degree, but more than anything the reality of my situation began to spring to the surface as she spoke.

Bottom line, I speak Jesus’ name too, but the context is a bit different for me. David’s death encompasses my life. There’s no escaping it. My pain is as deep as I’ve ever experienced. Football games or heavy traffic have nothing to do with it.

Funny how some throw out His name in anger and no one blinks an eye, but when you cry out His name during suffering people look at you as if you have a third eye.

Yeah, I cry out to Jesus. I’m a Mom who lost her son! It hurts not having David here. I miss him so much. The fear of living in a constant state of discontent for the rest of my life has haunted me, especially in those early months and years following his death.

I know coping with anger is challenging, but adding in raw, excruciating pain makes it downright brutal. When you’re grieving, these two emotions intertwine just like a Chinese finger trap. It’s hard to break free, and the more you struggle, the tighter the grip becomes.

When left unchecked, anger becomes an offensive mechanism to prevent a defensive reaction.  It prevents us from confronting what we don’t want to think about, what we can’t quite put into words to begin with, and finally, what we feel will completely break us in the process if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to it.

This protective wall of anger we put up is not something that strong, courageous people do. It’s actually just the opposite. It’s something that broken people do in the midst of the worst pain they’ve ever encountered, but instead of protecting us, it pushes us deeper into the abyss. We can’t expect to get better if our hearts are hardened with anger.

I didn’t confront the mother that day. Mike thought it was in my best interest not to. Wise counsel. I have no doubt she would have had me for lunch! I haven’t been in a fight since, well, I’ve never been in a fight.

I think she was struggling that day too. Maybe she woke up angry just like me, and it played out as she watched a simple game of football. I’m guessing her anger and frustration wasn’t about the game, just as her behavior wasn’t at the core of mine. You never know how others may be suffering. I learned it’s best to keep judgement at bay.

How do you handle your anger?

This isn’t exclusively a grieving thing. This is a human thing. Our mood can potentially set the course for how we respond to others whose mood is also less than desirable. Some things will just set us off, and sometimes it all hinges on how well we’re handling our grief in that very moment. #emotionaltimebomb.

Acting out in anger begets more anger. It’ll eat you alive unless you tackle it, and you may not even see it coming. That’s what happened to me. I was sad and mad at the world when I left the house that day. I allowed the behavior of another to dictate mine. Yikes! This wasn’t my personality, but it was what I’d become.

Chalk it all up to grief lessons learned. I’m thankful for them. They’re what’s shaping and growing me through this journey.

* If I allow anger to get the best of me then I’ll have nothing left to give.

* I should’ve taken it to God to begin with, and trusted Him with the outcome. I know this would’ve prepared my heart before even stepping foot in the restaurant that day.

* Yes, even though I found her words offensive, I should’ve cut this Mom some slack, not knowing what she could’ve been going through at the time.

* I shouldn’t be surprised by the good, bad and ugly emotions I experience. As much as I shutter when emotional waves come crashing in, I also know the calm after the storm will follow. God is faithful. He has proven this over and over again to me. I’m not sure why I forget this!

No, I don’t have a third eye in the middle of my forehead, but I do have a gaping hole in my heart that only Jesus can fill. When we find ourselves in the darkest, deepest pit of despair, He is with us. Every time.

When you know who Jesus is, then you know how His sacrifice on the cross changes our outlook on everything. I know that David is in heaven. I know one day I’ll see him again. While I’m still broken, I am also very thankful. An odd combo to be sure, but hey, I’m still here aren’t I? I’m surviving! Truth be told, I was scared I wouldn’t. Believe me, this is something to be thankful for in and of itself.

Dear Friend,

Jesus’ name is more than just a name. If you want to know Him you have to know him, so I would encourage you to actually get to know Him. It just may change the way you think about Him, the way you talk about Him and talk to Him. You may end up realizing you’ve needed Him all along. I swear I won’t use the word ‘know’ again. Whoops.

God tells us it’s okay to be angry, but we need to know it can overtake us and lead to sinful behavior/actions. This can then present a whole new set of problems to stack on top of the ones we’re already trying to balance. Get professional help if you need to, but take it to God. Always take it to God. 

God bless you, and remember, you are not alone.

Jan

Promises

Ephesians 4:26

“In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

John 20:31

“But these were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

 

How Easter encourages those who mourn

“…we don’t mourn as though we have no hope.”

Shopping for Easter dinner. Done. Dusting off that china you use once a year. (Good thing you put this on your wedding registry!) Done. Filling all of the plastic eggs with candy for the Easter egg hunt after church on Sunday. Done. Praying it won’t rain during the Easter egg hunt. Done. Making sure you have plenty of wine. Done. I’ll just let this one steep for a while. Don’t judge.

I’ve heard the Easter message repeatedly since I was a little girl and I’ve always thought I had a pretty good handle on it. It’s pretty clear-cut right? Jesus dies on the cross, they bury him and three days later he’s resurrected. End of story. Bring on the ham, cheesy potatoes and chocolate eggs.

When someone we love dies it forces us to re-evaluate what we think about life, death and everything in between. You think you know what you believe until you’re forced to face it straight on. Suddenly we’re thrust into a cyclone of options and opinions; what does society tell you to think? What about past family traditions? What does Oprah say? It’s hard to zero in on one solid truth. Enter Easter.

Easter picks up where Christmas left off. Technically 33 years have passed, but by this time Jesus had lived his life, teaching all who would listen about what would inevitability happen; his death on the cross, his resurrection and what our lives will look like as believers in the wake of it all.

After the death of my son David almost eight years ago, I found myself drawn to the Easter message. He didn’t die on Easter. He died in June. Weird huh? But every single time I tried to reconcile David’s death, and I’m talking repeatedly for years, it became more about living than dying.

I found myself having this inner dialogue because David was gone. I never thought about losing my children. I didn’t think it would ever happen. I figured I would go before them. I think it’s universal. Most of us don’t think too deeply about death.

I must have missed something profound in the Easter message.  Why else did I continually come back to it? I had to explore this, and I did. This is what I learned; while the message of Easter begins with Jesus’s death, it doesn’t stop there. It’s continual. It never ends.

John 14:25-27

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Ephesians 1:19-20

“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised him from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”

We have in us the same power that raised Jesus from the grave.
Jesus knew his life would end but he also knew we would never have to live without him.

While I was searching for a deeper knowledge about God’s spirit in me, I was simultaneously being guided by his very spirit. Wow! What a great example of how his Holy Spirit has worked through my loss, pointing me to the message of the cross and the resurrection. Yep, he knows what we need and I am so thankful! Amazing!

Our family will always mourn David’s death, but we don’t mourn as though we have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Today you’re either encouraged, confused, indifferent or just plain angry, and maybe, just maybe it’s because you haven’t soaked in the life changing message of Easter that follows Jesus’ death. Hope for the future can be found here. Hope is here. It never ends.

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

“The children were nestled all snug in their beds…”

“What can we do when the pain of our loss competes with the joy of Jesus’ birth?”

The kids are in bed and can’t wait for Christmas morning. The first ray of sunlight appears to announce the day. The sound of tiny feet follow. It’s Christmas!  Before you take your first sip of coffee, the surge of questions begin: “Did Santa come?” “When can we open our presents?” “What’s for breakfast?”

Maybe you have adult children. You look forward to their arrival, and breathe a sigh of relief when they’re all finally under the same roof after a long day of travel. Ahhh. All is well with the world. You know that feeling. And yes, they still want to know what’s for breakfast!

There’s something wonderful about having family together.

Christmas 2004 comes to mind. Our niece was in the Army. She’d just finished serving a tour in Iraq. Although she was back in the states, we knew she wouldn’t be able to join us for Christmas in the north woods of Wisconsin. Everyone else would be there but her. Wait for it…

Someone whispered in my ear, “Kim will be here for Christmas!” Oh gosh, I could hardly contain myself!

We all screamed with joy when Kim finally walked through the front door. Of course Mike’s Mom cried, which started a chain reaction. Hugs followed. This was “the best Christmas ever!” I thought my heart would burst! I felt that “all was well with the world” feeling again. We were all together. Life was good.

While you may not be able to celebrate with everyone in your family this year, let them know they’ll be missed and tell them you love them.

Christmas traditions that once included friends or family members who have since passed away are especially difficult. It’s hard to turn from our sadness to be able to embrace the joy of what Christmas is all about. I know it’s not easy.

I don’t know about you but after the hustle and bustle of getting the tree up and decorated, buying and wrapping the gifts, the mind has more space to fill. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to hustle or bustle this year. Sadness may creep in as we’re staring straight into the celebratory face of Christmas without those we lost.

What can we do when the pain of our loss competes with the joy of Jesus’ birth?  It feels like an oxymoron to feel them both simultaneously, but we do.

It’s normal to feel as if you’re being pulled in different emotional directions. You need to acknowledge you’re hurting because someone you loved has died. Your tears are proof of that. The pain is proof of that. At the same time, God wants you to know that Jesus’ birth is proof of his love for you.

The heart requires us to feel whatever we’re feeling. The emotions need to come out anyway right? Taking time to cry, pray or read encouraging Bible verses can be cleansing, and may be helpful prior to meeting with family or friends. Just go with it. It’s a human response to our devastating loss.

So much has happened since our ‘miracle’ Christmas. I could have never imagined we would lose our son David six years later, or that Grandma Rozga would pass away on Christmas Eve 2011. They are greatly missed.

I long for the days when David was safe and sound, under the same roof. His smile was contagious. I miss watching him play football in the snow with his brother Daniel, and making the ole standby, Swiss Miss hot chocolate for them after. On Christmas morning he was always the first one up to see what Santa brought.

I swear I can actually feel my heart ache when the memories flood in, but at the same time I know he is safe and nestled close to Jesus in Heaven; the one we celebrate now. He isn’t home, but he is home.

While life is still very hard without him, I have been able to find moments of peace while still living on this side of Heaven.

Oh, and the answer to the question?… I suppose it’s not rocket science but do the best you can. You can be sad and celebrate at the same time. Give yourself permission to do both, and try to engage with others who are hurting as well. Most of all, know that God loves you more than you can imagine. You are not alone in this journey.

Dear Friend,

I hope you’ll take uninterrupted time for yourself to just feel the emotions of missing the person(s) who have died. Don’t ignore what your heart is aching for you to acknowledge, because it can only stay bottled up for so long. This is no guarantee you won’t struggle during your gatherings, but it may lessen it a bit. Life continues to change for all of us. Cherish those in your life now, and accept the bitter with the sweet of the season.  God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

 

 

Is it time to unlock your grief room?

“It’s a place we visit from time to time, but we’re not meant to live there.”
 

When is it appropriate to move out from your grief room after someone you love has died? Every one has an opinion on this. It’s more of a state of mind and emotions than a room of course, but you get the idea.

I believe going through all of our emotions is important. Its necessary, but there comes a time when remaining here for too long can be harmful. We need to be able to engage outside it.

Maybe this means finally getting the counseling you’ve been avoiding. Having coffee with a friend. Going to a movie. Calling that friend back whose left you a million messages. Addressing that stack of laundry. Yeah, those yoga pants? You should wash those. Going to church on Sunday. Volunteering at church. Going back to Bible study again, or accepting the various invitations to join one.  Doing things you used to. Trying new things. The list is endless.

We have a million excuses.

It’s overwhelming and even harder to explain how such a place of pain can become a safety net. We find ourselves spending more and more time in it rather than outside it. Only you have the power to unlock your grief bubble and peer out into the world where life continues on.

We’ll never get over our loss but we need to work toward our healing, without taking out a second mortgage on our grief room. It’s hard work. Really hard. Have you struggled with this? I have.

I know I will always need to be healed from the inside out as I continue to miss my son David, and the synthetic drug battle also continues to rage on. This just adds yet another layer of grief.

Despite this indescribable anguish that grips us, God’s mercy is stronger. Where there is anguish there is also healing, and where there is healing, there is also living. Right now.

There comes a time when any good father gently guides his children forward. It’s a sign of his love.  Over the years, ours sons played sports. My husband and I were always there to root them on.  Mike may have told them to “rub dirt on it,” “shake it off,” or my personal favorite, “stop playing with bugs in the grass!” If the boys let themselves get side tracked, they wouldn’t be able to focus on the next play, let alone the next game. Mike was simply giving them the extra push they needed to move forward.  God does the same.

God wants to reshape, renew and redefine us. He is with us each and every time we muster the courage to venture out of our comfort zone. It’s a big deal. It’s a check mark.

I don’t know about you, but at some point during these cycles I just get tired of it. Don’t you ever want to engage in what’s going on ‘on the outside?’

Dear Friend,

No matter how recent your loss, spending time in our grief room is normal. It’s a place we visit from time to time, but we’re not meant to live there.  God meets with you here to be sure, but he also wants to lovingly ease you out into the land of the living. 

Some of you have spent far too long in this cramped space. I pray you will trust God nudging you toward the door. Crack it open, air it out a bit. Walk outside and feel the sun and wind on your face. 

Promises

Joshua 1:9

 

 

 

 

 

The Repetition of Seasonal Grief

“While these ‘invasions of pain’ appear to prevent us from moving forward, they actually play a large role in our growth, renewal and recovery.”

The most brilliant greens have taken over the Iowa landscape. The farmers have been hard at work preparing their fields for planting. Perfect rows of tiny green shoots have taken over, and soon it will be time for harvest. All in due time.

While the origin of “green shoots” is associated with plant growth, I find its meaning particularly insightful as it also describes the process and ultimate endgame for those of us coping with loss; “any sign of growth, recovery, renewal.” We want this don’t we?

We’re always in the middle of some sort of ‘season’ in our lives; Family, marriage, children, jobs, etc. If you’re grieving you may find yourself revisiting your loss from time to time.  I don’t know about you, but I had no idea my grief would ebb and flow in a way that would jumpstart my pain over and over again. I’ve never experienced anything like this, ever!

The heart keeps track of everything associated with our loss. Sporadic seasons of grief will invade our life.  It might be brought on by a song on the radio.  It may hit you on your loved ones birthday or anniversary of their death. It can be brought on just about any time, on any day.  You can’t shake it off. (I’m picturing The Pink Panther walking under a cloud right now.)  You just feel it clinging to you.

God knows when it’s time to slowly bring the dormant grass, flowers and so on back to life after a long Iowa winter. Surely He loves us enough to do the same for us… I know He does.

While these ‘invasions of pain’ appear to prevent us from moving forward, they actually play a larger role in our growth, renewal and recovery. Our job in this whole process? Persevere. Go to God. Pray. Study the scriptures for sustainment and encouragement. Get help. Call your pastor. Talk things out with a trusted friend. Make arrangements to visit with a grief counselor if you need to.

Romans 5:3b-5

“…because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” 

Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 4

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under Heaven; a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

God is not surprised by our seasons of grief, or any other season in our lives for that matter. Are you enjoying a brief reprieve from your sadness, or are you fighting your way out from under a cloud? You don’t need to go it alone.

Dear friend,

The seasons of grief we experience are a continuation of the journey we’re currently on and will always be on.  I pray you will embrace the seasonal clouds when they come, and rejoice when they dissipate. There is a time for both.  Having faith in God isn’t easy, but when we persevere, we can count on Him to grow us, help us to recover and renew us along the way. Continue to persevere. Get to know God. Read the Bible. Cry out to Him and cling to His promises. Don’t give up on God.

The weight of Mother’s Day

“…what follows will shift your focus from the brick in your pocket toward the joy of the day…” 

The heaviness felt on this day is challenging for those who have lost a child or a Mother.

The commercials started a couple of weeks ago. Facebook will soon be inundated with celebratory pics and that’s the way it should be. So, how can we navigate our hearts to celebrate with others while also carrying the deep weight of our loss?

This is a question we’re faced with all the time isn’t it? Life goes on and we need to keep up, but this requires balancing our pain in the process. Does it ever go away?

In the movie Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman’s character tragically loses her son.  She asks her mother, who’d lost her son 11 years ago the same question, “Does it ever go away?” The mother describes it this way,

“No. I don’t think it does. But it changes though…the weight of it. At some point it becomes bearable.  It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and…carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you, you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and – there it is. Oh right, that. Which could be awful – not all the time. Not that you’d like it exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So you carry it around, and it doesn’t go away which is fine actually…”

I’m not sure if the writer wrote this response from personal experience but its stuck with me. Fictional or not, it’s a great word picture.

Mother’s Day will look different for everyone. For me, I will acknowledge the heaviness of the day. I’ll grab the oversized card my son David gave me seven years ago, a month before he died. I’ll read and re-read it. I was loved. He is missed every day. Tears and prayers will follow.

Then, I’ll release my hold on the brick and embrace the joy right in front of me; spending time with my son Daniel who graduates from college this weekend. (There may or may not be a bullhorn involved during the formal ceremony. Just sayin.) Family and friends will gather for BBQ, cake and hugs. Tears and prayers will follow. What better way to spend Mother’s day? Beautiful.

Dear Friend,

Take time for yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling.  Don’t ignore it. Reflect with sweet remembrance of your Mother, son or daughter. I’m praying what follows will shift your focus from the brick in your pocket toward the joy of the day, as you celebrate with the people you love and who love you. Beautiful.

 

The promise of Easter

“Jesus raising from the dead is the basis of our hope.”

I can still hear my son David waking up his younger brother, “Come on Daniel, the Easter bunny came! Did you get peanut butter eggs too?!” These memories make me smile.

Easter 2017, our seventh without David. It still doesn’t seem possible. Our routine hasn’t changed much; Easter candy, church, a family dinner, then a trip to the cemetery. There we find the encouraging words of John 11:25-26 etched in David’s beautiful granite memorial stone; a scripture that reflects what he believed, what our family believes. 

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Our family’s sorrow and the promises of Easter intersect with each trip to the cemetery because Easter glues together the promises of our eternal home in heaven with Jesus. Each day that goes by is one day closer to being reunited with our David. These verses serve as a reminder, and I need this reminder today. I’m missing him today. 

You may celebrate today with overflowing baskets of jelly beans, chocolate eggs and stuffed bunnies, but I hope you will stop and take time to remember what this day really signifies. Jesus raising from the dead is the basis of our hope. It means that while we may grieve today over people we wish were joining us at the dining room table, we still have confidence that God’s power isn’t bound by anything.

Dear Friend,

As you remember your loved ones today I hope you’ll be able to celebrate the hope and assurance that the Easter message brings, where the pain of our loss and hope for our future home is reconciled. I’m praying you reach for God and feel His comfort. God bless you.

Promises

John 11:25,26