Grief Is. . .

grave“Grief is just love with no place to go.”

This definition by Jamie Anderson feels true but not entirely true, because grief is often mingled with other things.

Though it has no expiration date, we all know someone whose grief has ripened to self-pity. Grief laced with regret or despair can ruin a life and spoil good memories. Grief infected with bitterness festers like a canker.

But I’ve never known grief as pure as that for my niece Paislee who was born last February at 24 weeks and passed away four days later. There’s no bitterness, no pity, no regret, no despair tainting the grief—just the cavernous loss of all we had hoped for.

Grief is most often the loss of what you had, but sometimes it’s the loss of what you weren’t able to have.

Grief is the price we pay for love. (1)

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C.S. Lewis, a man who knew something about grief and even wrote a book about it, said, “Grief is not a state but a process like a walk in a winding valley with a new prospect at every bend.”

Last summer, on an evening walk, Laura and I found a baby bat sprawled out dead on the blacktop, his pink skin still hairless. Bat pups hold on while their mothers fly. Best as I can figure, he fell off her back sometime the night before.

It doesn’t go away; it just visits every once in a while.

After Paislee died, my parents went in to hold her for the first time free of the tubes and wires. In the pictures, her little mouth gaped open, stiff from the intubation tube.

The bat pup’s mouth gaped open too, in such a strange way reminding me of Paislee, reminding me that grief is just around the corner. It doesn’t go away; it just visits every once in a while to remind us of life and death and love.

Grief is a bruise, soothing to press and to feel the throb of love that responds, to sense Paislee’s absence, perhaps even more deeply than we sensed her presence.

Grief is, as Lewis said, a journey, a winding path with reminders in the strangest places.

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Grief is blunt and cold like the February wind chilling the graveside service at a hillside cemetery, but it’s also the embrace of friends who gathered on a workday bearing borrowed sorrow for a child they hadn’t known.

Grief is a knitted cream cap, not large enough to stretch over my fist, and a father carrying an unfathomably small casket to its resting place. Grief is a potted pink tulip on my desk from a coworker whose name I didn’t yet know. In memory of your niece.

Grief is my mother’s quivering voice on the phone saying, “She’s gone,” and the old gospel song “He Giveth More Grace” that played on Pandora only minutes after. His love has no limits/His grace has no measure;/His power no boundary known unto men./For out of his infinite riches in Jesus/He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

Grief is the taste of salt and tears, and grief is the taste of peanut butter cake.

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Grief is food and the hands that prepared it.

When someone dies in the South, people start baking. The answer to death is a hot oven or a quick run to the grocery store; the solution to grief is potato salad and brownies.

Grief is the taste of peanut butter cake.

As if knowing that our heart will stop, other people step in to keep our stomach going. Maybe it’s their distraction from the grief. Maybe they just don’t know what else to do.

The day after Paislee passed away, I drove down to South Carolina to be with my family. When I arrived at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, the table and counters and fridge bore the signs of Southern grief management, of breads, casseroles, cookies, fruit, meats, candies, sweet tea, and a peanut butter sheet cake, the likes of which I’d never eaten.

It’s that cake I remember most about those days of receiving guests and comfort. The moistness gave us something to talk about, to gather around and share. Its sweetness cut the bitter, like grace on a plate.

Grief is sorrow, but not without comfort, not without hope.

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balloonsGrief is to reappraise our hope for eternity, to reaffirm our faith in Christ.

At Paislee’s graveside service, we released pink balloons, watched them climb to the atmosphere and float over the mountains like pink prayers. Who knows where they landed.

Grief is to know heaven more deeply, but to know we aren’t there yet.

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For now, grief is—

But some day no more.

 

 

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Author’s Note: Scripture references that I allude to are I Thessalonians 4:13 and Revelations 21:4.

(1) Attributed to Queen Elizabeth II, though, as quotes go, it’s hard to say where the quote actually originated.

 

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The Inconvenience of Kindness

I try to be nice to people—but I don’t always enjoy it.
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     You’ve probably heard that no good deed goes unpunished! Well, depending on your definition of punishment, that principle seems to almost always prove itself true in my experience with doing good deeds. Almost always, in­ some small or big way, I am inconvenienced, taken for granted, abused, or even rejected when I try to do something nice—or at least I am afraid of being inconvenienced, abused, taken for granted or rejected. Maybe my fear just makes it worse. (I also have a propensity for messing up even the smallest favor. As my dad would say, I could mess up a one-car funeral.)

No good deed goes unpunished!

      Part of our plan for more purposeful living involves doing something with or for others at least once or twice a month. As we were thinking through a list of “nice things to do for others,” a small part of me groaned, even as I looked forward to doing the items on the list. And, of course, I immediately recognized this as an area in which I need to grow.
     This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inconvenience of kindness, and I think there’s a good reason for it.
     Love, hospitality, righteousness, even just being nice—these are all only as valuable as the sacrifice or inconvenience involved in practicing them. As a selfish human, this isn’t something I like to hear. Though I derive great pleasure from being nice simply for the sake of being nice, the risk of negative repercussions has often kept me from doing something good for someone.
     This is probably why Christ warned against doing good deeds to get a human response. (“That your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” [Matthew 6:4 NKJV].) He knew that being reward for doing good deeds might give us a big head and rob us of a heavenly reward, and He knew that being repaid with unkindness or no repayment at all would discourage us from doing good things. God wants us to have a higher motivation for doing good—for the least of these, for Him

I’ve been thinking a lot about the inconvenience of kindness.

     On Tuesday morning—Valentine’s Day—we were walking Dudley around our apartments before work. As we rounded the last corner, a big muddy Husky came walking up to us dragging a tattered rope. Clearly, he had broken free from his tether.
     Though I love animals and felt sorry for him, I probably would have hurried by because I was afraid he might bite me, afraid he might make me late to work, afraid he might drag me across the parking lot. In other words, I was afraid he might inconvenience my otherwise well-laid-out Tuesday. Laura was the one who picked up the rope and dutifully led him like a small horse back to our apartment.
     And sure enough, he did inconvenience us. He muddied Laura’s white coat and my red sweater. And by the time we called animal control and got him tied up and got Dudley calmed down, I was going to be late for work. So I emailed my manager and switched my work-from-home day from Thursday to Tuesday. And, well, you know how a routine is when a Tuesday turns into a Thursday—the rest of the week is thrown off.
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     But if I had walked by him, gone into work on Tuesday, and worked from home today, I wouldn’t have gotten this 17-dollar Under Armour water bottle that the assembly speaker gave away this morning.
     Sometimes good things come to us when we choose to do good things—not in a karma, formulaic sort of way, but by doing the right thing at the right time.
     If we’re honest, contrary to the old saying, we aren’t always punished for our good deeds, and we certainly aren’t always rewarded for them. But doing a good thing is always good enough. And we can let God take care of the rest.
     Oh, and the owners, who had been driving around looking for the dog, eventually saw him lying on our front patio. They were happily reunited. The dog’s name was Neeko.
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Unintentionally Living Intentionally

Live intentionally.

I’ve been hearing that phrase a lot lately. I even jotted it in my journal sometime last year because it sounded like a good thing to try—sounded like a good New Year slogan.

But I forgot about it because, turns out, January wasn’t the best month. A heavy year like 2016 doesn’t just slough off at midnight on December 31. If you’re not careful, you drag it into the next year like a dead body shackled to your soul.

The Northern Kentucky weather didn’t help things. In this month, we’ve seen only a handful of sunny days. The days that aren’t raining and snowing are heavy and overcast. The ground is the consistency of a Wendy’s Frosty, and my boots make sucking noises in the mud when I walk Dudley outside. Laura and I have been sick on and off with colds.

I haven’t been able to shake the deep-down sadness

Overall, I wasn’t able to shake the deep-down sadness, for one reason or another. I could hardly get through a week without crying.

Earlier this week, I broke down once again to Laura, replaying my gloom and insecurity and fears—all I’m not, all I want to be, all I’m afraid I never will be. She answered by jotting something on a piece of paper.

“Here, fill this out.” At the top, she had written, “My goals” and at the bottom, “Steps for achievement.”

This was easy. I’d already made the list—in fact, I’d made more than one in my journal. Lose weight. Write more. Get better at hand lettering. Spend more time outside. Make more friends. Volunteer somewhere to give back. But I was overwhelmed by the expectations for myself. When I finished scribbling my list (overflowing onto the back page), Laura put another piece of paper in front of me—a hand-made spreadsheet breaking down the hours in each day of the week.

I’m unintentionally living intentionally.

We dumped our pile of goals, desires, and hours onto the table like puzzle pieces and sorted them onto the spread sheet: work, exercise, church, writing, reading, lettering, adventures, service. We fitted them together to form a life that will mean more than one of these days living, than I want to living, than if only living. A life with more purpose, more structure, more productivity, more focus—hey, maybe more intention.
I didn’t mean to do it—but I guess you could say I’m unintentionally living intentionally.

I encourage you to do the same thing with me. Here are some good ways to get started:

1. Make a list of what you want to change or goals you want to reach.

2. Figure out a plan of how to achieve that change and those goals.

3. Schedule that plan into your life.

4. Make it happen.

5. Good grief, find a good friend like Laura who will take on the year with you.

Hey, I already went to bed later than scheduled. I skipped the first day of my workout. I ate more sugar yesterday than I should have. I didn’t write on Friday. Part of starting something new is realizing that you’re going to fail, that you’ll have to make adjustments for life.

You know, 2016 is so last year. But for all we’ll fail and all we’ll succeed, 2017 is a new start.

Let’s make it count.

I’d love to know what your goals are for 2017—or even just for tomorrow. Let me know in the comments.

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