We are the object of attention—until the day after the funeral. That’s when everyone’s life returns to normal. Everyone else’s life, that is.
But not ours.
After our twenty-eight-year-old daughter suddenly died of a hemorrhagic stroke, we were left on the outside looking in. We humans want to fit in and we’re miserable when we don’t. And in the aftermath of grief we didn’t belong. Anywhere. We felt like we’d been stuffed in a sack, shaken up and dumped out. Forever changed.
There’s good news and bad news about grief. The bad news? We will never be the same again. The good news? Although we didn’t know it, we were on the way to our new normal.
But that’s a long trip.
The days and the months, perhaps years, creep by and we would often long for the way things used to be. Sometimes I chose to isolate or hide behind closed doors so others couldn’t see my pain. Or I’d zoom here and there, filling life with any and everything. Pretending I was okay. Trying to not think, because thinking hurt.
Family and friends preferred the hyper-active me. Because they wanted their old friend back. But though I tried, the old me was gone. Forever.
Death brings us face-to-face with a life-changing reality: Life in this world is brief and death is final.
Things of this world fill our lives, our relationships, even our worship. Most of us have lived as though this is all there is. And in this age of want-more, get-more, we have tethered ourselves to the here-and-now.
Until someone we love dies.
Our gears were stripped and we came to a screeching halt. We were backed in a corner and forced to decide whether we really believed what we said we believed all these years. Could we look beyond the immediate to the eternal? And that’s a major cross-road for each one of us traveling this road called grief. It’s the intersection of a street called Earthly Delusions with the rough and still-under-construction detour named New Normal.
After Michelle’s death, I wrapped myself in robes of self-righteousness and parroted, “Oh, I know she’s with God and everything is fine. I’m okay. Really. Why no, I’m not angry. With God? Don’t be silly.”
And for two years I walked that I’m okay—you’re okay road ‘til one evening a family dispute raked the scab of the lie off my hypocritical words and I bled rage. A glass full of iced tea flew from my hand and splattered against the wall and I heard my voice scream, “You could have stopped this, God. But You didn’t.”
Ah. There it was. I told Him I didn’t understand and I didn’t like what He had done. But in the deathly silence that followed I had to confess to God, I was angry. Like He didn’t know.
And you know what? God didn’t send a lightning bolt to strike me dead. He didn’t turn His holy back and walk away. He didn’t condemn me.
Instead He opened His arms of love and I crawled into His lap and sobbed. And He comforted me like a loving father comforts his child after the temper tantrum subsides and the child is remorseful.
Because of His truth and my repentance, those moments produced my first glimpse of hope and joy in two years. How? The light of God’s truth shoos away the darkness, it illuminates and cleanses the place where anger and bitterness have thrived. Then the power of His Spirit moves into the open spaces and begins to teach us the lessons, up to now, we’ve refused to learn.
In the following months I learned those first lessons, and my attitude changed. I was convicted of the self-righteous things I had said and the proud ways I had acted in the past. And as I acknowledged my own needs, compassion for others filled my previously cold, indifferent heart.
God brought people into my life who were also experiencing the ravages of grief. I could sympathize with the emotions their losses perpetrated. And I was able to comfort them, because God had comforted me. I saw God work in all of our lives and my emotions were refreshed.
Through a series of unusual circumstances God brought me to GriefShare. Then He opened the door for me to lead a support group. And my new normal became a work in progress.
Did the pain go away? No. But I learned that joy and pain can co-exist in my heart.
I believe grief’s pain is the roto-rooter God uses to increase our heart’s capacity for the well-spring of joy. Day by day, I chose to trust God to lead me forward into this river of new life. Day by day joy became the key to my endurance. And it still carries me forward, day by day.
When our happiness is rooted in people and things that perish, grief becomes our identity. But when the tap root of our heart’s joy is anchored in Jesus Christ, He carries us safely through the storms and tragedies of life. And we grow and blossom when and where He sets us down to walk along the shores of our new normal.
“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, Take courage, fear not. . . . But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:1-4a, 9b-10 NAS).
Where are the roots of your joy planted today?
PRESCRIPTION: Go to www.griefshare.org and click on Find A Group. Fill in your zip code and select a group near you. Make plans to attend and let God work that new normal in your life too.
Thirteen-year-old Crissy Crosby chases a dream to live up to her parents’ rodeo legacy. But the rodeo championship is two months away and problems beyond her ability to solve stack and teeter like a game of Tumbling-Towers. Meanwhile rival Jodie Lea and her father, Ed Fairgate, contrive to swipe the silver buckles from Crissy’s grasp any way they can. Prejudice, anger, and dark secrets simmer in a pot of family feuds destined to boil over in a tragic nightmare at the rodeo. Will Crissy develop courage and faith to overcome the consequences of her temper? Will her dreams of buckles and titles become reality? Or will the character-building adversities of her life quash her dreams forever?
WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE
I raced to the bus stop the next morning, threw my books on the ground, and grabbed Chun’s arm. “I’m gonna ride Mama’s horse in the rodeo.” The words tumbled off my tongue.
“Star?” Chun’s voice barely squeaked. He blinked and his eyes exploded into enormous circles.
The school bus rounded the corner. I grabbed my books off the ground and gave him a nod. “Yep.”
Chun followed me up the bus steps, leaned close, and whispered, “You are crazy.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m still gonna do it.” I headed for the back seat, plopped next to the window, and stared up at Chun.
He squeezed into the seat next to me and studied my face for a moment. “Are you not scared?”
I blinked and gulped. “Goodness, no.” The voice inside me screamed liar.
Chun shook his head. “You are crazy.”
The thud of my heart beat in my ears. “Well, maybe a little nervous.” Nervous didn’t even begin to cover this pounding. Maybe Chun was right. Color me crazy.
Texas writer, DiAne Gates, illustrates, photographs, and writes for children and YA, as well as serious non-fiction for adults.
DiAne works as a freelance artist and has written and photographed for the East Texas Rodeo Association magazine, which gave birth to the western rodeo adventure series, released by Prism Book Group in August of 2015. ROPED–Available at Amazon.com. The second book in this series, TWISTED, will be released by Prism Book Group, April 7, 2017.
ROPED had the honor of being selected as a finalist for the Grace Awards this year. And just this past week ROPED has also made the finals for the Christian Literary Henry Awards. Winners will be announced December 2, 2016.
Wife, mother, and Mimi, whose passion is to share those hard life lessons God allows. Lessons she hopes will leap from the page into your heart.