grief

The Most Excellent Way: Loving in the Midst of Grief

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Last weekend, over the hum of a vacuum cleaner someone was using to sweep the floor of the auditorium at Cedar Ridge, I caught up with a friend. She congratulated me on my upcoming nuptials. As we talked, she emphasized to me how love has been a consistent thread in my life these last few years as I’ve healed from a divorce and rebuilt my life. I considered what she said, turning it over a bit. And then this week happened.
My friend’s words have been jingling around in my mind since Sunday afternoon. So for those of us who are grieving, let us remember that our grief should not keep us from loving.
And by loving I don’t just mean warm and fuzzies and eskimo kisses. I mean loving in the present participle sense–the kind of love that looks for and celebrates beauty, that passionately seeks justice and mercy, that continues to reach out to and love without hesitation the poor, the needy and the marginalized..
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by my former pastor, Brian McLaren. Something he said also jingled around in my mind a bit and resonates even more following this election’s results. He spoke of how we Christians relegate the 1 Corinthians 13 chapter on love to weddings and so often miss the end of chapter 12, just before, where it reads, “and yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
The most excellent way is patient. It is kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not proud or dishonoring of others. The most excellent way is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. It lights up like the fourth of July with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love does not fail.
So whatever side you are on tonight, chances are you know and love someone on the other. What is one way, just one, you can reach out in love?
To love in the midst of grief is to exercise the resiliency of hope. To love another in the midst of theirs without a judgment call is an act of generosity.
Love yourself by shutting down your computer this evening and calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Love your mother, father, sister, husband, wife, partner and children by looking them in the eye and telling them so. Be kind. Be generous. Be hope-filled. Be love.
This is, after all, the most excellent way.

Forty Days Til’ Forty, Day 38: This One’s for My Babies

As with most things in life, I was rarely the first kid to dawn the latest styles, relying mostly on a thrifty mom whose concern for the budget was greater than her concern for my vanity. We had many privileges, no doubt, but coolness did not factor in the order of priorities. So it was that as my friends were showing off their Cabbage Patch Dolls, both the official brand versions and the homemade sewn-together kind, I watched with envy, wondering when my day would come. Then one day, my mom who was prone to springing the occasional surprise, sent me up to my closet to look and see what she’d brought home for me. Stepping into the walk-in closet, there he was, perfectly-packaged and straight from the Cabbage Patch itself, my very first brown-skinned boy, complete with birth certificate, named Adam Vaughn. He was perfect.

Subscribing as I do to the belief that God is the author of my life, I think of this fondly now as one of those moments of divine foreshadowing. Today, I am the adoptive mom of two amazing, bright-eyed and beautiful kids from Ethiopia.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I once wondered when, if, how I would become a mom. I kept my grief to myself. Those kids, the ones you hold in your mind’s eye before you even know who you’ll have them with, the ones that share your eye color and your quirky disposition–I would never know them. They would never be. One day while watching the movie “Julie and Julia,” alone in a theater, I sobbed over a scene where Julia learns that her sister is pregnant. The childless Julia cries as she reads a letter from her sister with the news. My grief occasionally caught me by surprise; my own tears startled me. I had celebrated the pregnancies and births of several friends’ children by then and kept relatively quiet about my own disappointment at not getting pregnant myself. I’d also experienced the joy of bringing home my daughter just a year earlier. Thinking back on this, I now understand that this is what we humans do when things don’t go according to plan. We grieve.

Even so, whatever was of that sadness has now been lost. There is just no room for it anymore. In its place, there is love for my two radiant kids. There are prayers for their well being, that they will know in their bones how deeply they are loved. There is hope that as they reconcile with the losses they’ve yet to comprehend in their own young lives, they will find peace. And there is joy in the adventure of getting to be there with them for the ride. Fort Days Til’ Forty, and this one’s for my babies. I love you Pooka-doo and Benjiddly. So much.

sarah and kids

Forty Days Til’ Forty, Day 16: Reaching for the Good Stuff

While driving into work recently, I heard a story on NPR about the linkage between weight and the presence of junk food. The story cited that adults who left snack foods and sugary beverages out in plain sight weighed around 20% more than those who did not store those items within view. On Halloween I made the proclamation that I would not eat any candy which I nearly managed to do. After all the trick-or-treaters were gone, I couldn’t resist having one piece; two days later, however, when my kids were sampling their sweet loot, I ate, not just one but two, three and, well, you get the picture. Feeling as though I had deprived myself of the annual candy-binge, I scarfed down a few from my son’s stash without him noticing. It was true! I would be in big trouble if that candy remained on the top of my refrigerator all year, within sight, just barely out of reach.

Grieving after a divorce is an animal in itself. There is the loss of not only the relationship, but all the plans and expectations that were made within the framework of that commitment disintegrate as well. Add to that the complexity of feelings that can follow, depending on your circumstances, and recovering and regaining ones footing can feel tentative. Resentment, anger, sadness, regret are like emotional undertow. I am often surprised by how accessible those feelings are even when I’m feeling really good. They are right there, within reach.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is gaining some attention lately, perhaps because it is less focused on changing the inevitable, our feelings. Instead, the focus is on accepting and acknowledging our reactions, choosing a course that honors one’s values, and then taking action. Instead of dwelling in the negative feelings that resurface, through the ACT approach, we can become more objective of our reaction. This practice has been empowering to me as I’ve continued to pursue growth and healing following a painful divorce.

Up to now, my coping skills (exercise, prayer, journaling, self-care) helped me survive throughout a season of loss that broke my heart. More recently, though, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had also expected that I would eventually not be sad or brush up against uglier feelings. I’ve begun to recognize that the tension between grief and moving on to new-and still-good-but-different things may quite possibly always remain. When sadness or anger drift in like unwelcome houseguests, I acknowledge them but don’t make room at the table. They can stand ,or better yet, just get out. But I don’t beat myself up for knowing them.

Gratitude, creativity, and faith satisfy the apatite. Instead of reaching for regret, we can celebrate our strengths and hopes for tomorrow and satiate ourselves with food that brings real comfort. But we must take care in what we leave out on the counter, with life-giving choices in view and reach for the good stuff . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness.