Unpredictable Grief

I hate the unpredictability of grief.

It’s hard and inconvenient, random and unannounced. I hate feeling like I’m not in control, and if anything is reminding me of the reality that I’m never really in control, it’s the ambushes of sadness and apathy and frustration hitting hard.

So far, grief has looked like tearing up while cutting a pan of brownies a friend brought over, because brownies remind me of home and how my dad always made them from the Ghirardelli box mix my mom bought from Costco.

Sometimes it looks like tears dropping on the crisp white worship guide on Sunday morning while Matt puts his arm around me and draws me in close because we’re singing “Be Thou My Vision” and the last time I heard this hymn in a corporate, church setting was at the end of my dad’s funeral.

And a lot of the times it just feels like exhaustion for no reason. Or being overwhelmed with little tasks that seem like too much, and then frustration because I could handle them before all of this happened.

In a lot of the past few months, I’ve felt like I’ve been living two lives. My external one, where I’m hustling to get all the things done– the class slides for the next day, the grading, the reflections, the emails, the parent phone calls, the trying to be intentional about relationships, and the billion other obligations that come with being an adult. And they’ve mostly been getting done.

But I’m also experiencing life in my head, where I’m randomly exhausted and frustrated and where it just feels like there’s not enough space for all the things I need to cram in it. I want to deceive myself, and convince everyone else around me, that I’m ok by checking all the things off the list because it just seems easier. But then there are moments like when my boss compassionately looks at me and tells me I’m not doing my best because I can’t, and then I drop my shoulders–and everything I’ve been trying to hold up with them– and realize she’s right.

I’m learning that grief has its way of humbling people, and it just doesn’t care about all of the new and hard and transition already happening in life; it just barrels its way through to make you realize you can’t shove down and ignore tragic things.

Friends, I really hate this. All I want is to be ok, to ignore grief because sometimes it seems too big to face, too monumental to process. And when I look back at the past two months, I notice that I’ve been masking so many moments with busy and tasks and emotionlessness until it all inevitably leaks out unannounced.

As I keep stepping forward into this thing, as aggravating as it is, I’m starting to realize that maybe the Lord is using this hard, unpredictable grief as a grace.

Because I think grief, in all its unannounced ways, is forcing me to be kinder to myself because I just have to acknowledge the reality that I’m more broken in ways I can’t hide anymore, even to myself. It’s forcing me to slow down and to Sabbath, because I’m learning I actually can’t function without the intentional breaks, and also that we were never intended to in the first place. And it’s creating this compassion in me, one that wasn’t there before, because when people share their hurt, I can resonate in ways I couldn’t before.

In the midst of all of this hard, the Lord is using these unpredictable ambushes of grief to make me look down at my wide open wounds and allow Him do the hard, painful work of healing and growth that I’ve been ignoring with perfectionism and busyness. And isn’t it beautiful that the Lord can use the most tragic of circumstances to do His good, holy, and perfect work? The work He’s been doing all along?

I hate that this thing happened, and I hate that my dad is gone, and most of the time, I hate how grief keeps humbling me in unpredictable ways. But when I take a step back and look at the work the Lord is doing through my broken and sad and pain, I can’t help but be grateful to experience grace in new ways, ways that are softening me and pointing me towards Jesus again and again. And if that gets to be the end result of this terrible thing, then I have hope as I keep leaning into these random waves of grief.

A Month of Grief


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My dad died at the end of August.

I feel like I need to write these words down to help me continue to believe them, because honestly, I’m not sure if I do yet. I’ve pulled up his obituary online several times since as a reminder, to see his picture next to his death date because it all still feels like a terrible nightmare, one that I desperately want to wake up from.

The past month has been a blur. In the first moments especially, it took every ounce of strength just to breathe my next breath. I’ve sobbed uncontrollably in people’s arms and on the two hour flight to Chicago the morning after we heard, and I’ve felt deeply sad, well, a lot. In some moments, it was hard to stand, and I physically shook for days after hearing the news. But in a lot of moments, I’ve felt ok; I’ve even experienced more periods of joy and peace and normality than I expected since coming back home to our new apartment and church and jobs in DC. In fact, I’m struggling with this tension grief is bringing me– the tension between what I think I’m supposed to be feeling and what I’m actually experiencing. It’s all just so complicated, and I’m trying my best to keep up and lean in and be present. I’m learning there truly is no formula to this thing, even though I really want there to be.

Losing my dad launched me out of a strange season. For the past nine months, I’ve felt dry and uninspired and complacent. After years of such fruit and joy in learning and Bible study and writing and teaching, January 1 brought forth a lack of interest in any of it. I’d been trying to fight it, but I spent a whole lot more time scrolling and consuming rather than learning and creating. But even in the midst of not feeling like it, I still opened my Bible most mornings. I still sat in the pew every Sunday and recited the readings and sang the songs. I still muttered inconsistent, ramble-y prayers and trudged my way through some books and turned on worship music in the mornings because that’s all I knew how to do. And you know what I’m realizing? It mattered. It didn’t change my salvation, because that’s secure regardless of my efforts, but I’m realizing that the Lord grew in me even though I didn’t feel Him.

And now, even in the midst of walking through this hard thing and coming out of a strange place spiritually, I feel rooted. I feel rooted in the Lord and I’ve experienced his provision and his peace in the most real ways, even though it’s been right alongside the start of some deep anguish and extreme anger. Our people have loved us well, and we’ve been reminded through the care and words of others that pain is ok, and also temporary. That in the Lord, there’s an end date to all the sadness and that Jesus is grieving this death with us, and with all of you. Because this is all just a lot, I’m doing the thing that I know works for me, which is to come back to the page and write.

I started this blog in college, motivated by a breakup, but really because I was ready to practice writing as a craft and because I needed a place to process and discover who I was in the Lord after a lot of years trying to conform to the people around me instead. I was so afraid to start this project, especially because I didn’t know what people would think. But one of my primary champions from day one was my dad; he loved this blog and always encouraged me with each new post. So it feels fitting, both because I’m walking through a hard thing again and because he loved this space, to start writing once more.

I am incredibly passionate about sharing real stories with each other, especially the ones that aren’t neat and tidy. I’m processing in this space for a whole host of reasons, mostly because I know that writing is one of the things the Lord uses to help me heal and to practice a skill I love, but also because I truly hope, deep in my bones, that these stories and ramblings in some way resonate with you as you walk forward in your hard things, in your faith, and in your ordinary moments.

This month has been impossible and beautiful in so many ways. It’s been strange and hard as we all figure out a new normal, but I’m learning to keep putting my hope in Jesus because I’m finding a lot of life and comfort there.

 

Crooked Roads and Doubting Faith

I worked in Montana for a summer at a camp in the mountains. My high school band director used to tell stories about his time working there and I was intrigued by his tales of camping and backpacking and working with students, so during my freshman year of college, I learned more about the camp, applied, and was accepted to work there that summer.

My struggles began on the drive out west. My brother and his best friend were my travel companions for the two day trek. I was scared and put great effort in trying not to cry during random hours in the car and in the hotel that first night because I didn’t want them to know I was struggling. I tried to rationalize my fears by reminding myself that I was going to work at a Christian camp and although I had every expectation of this community looking like the ones I had always been a part of, I couldn’t shake the impulse to cry at random moments.

That summer was hard. My initial feelings of fear and anxiety never let go of me as I entered into this unfamiliar space and culture. Although this camp was a Christian community, it operated differently than any place I had been a part of before. I was closely surrounded by people who viewed faith much differently than I did. They let themselves doubt and question and do things I didn’t think Christians were supposed to do. My 19-year-old self didn’t quite know how to handle this, so I spent a majority of my time arguing and fighting for what I had always known to be true about Christian faith and community. But, in the midst of my fight against unfamiliar practices, I found myself sitting and listening and wondering about the doubts and questions my co-workers expressed.

If you’ve grown up in the church, I’m sure you have one of these places. A place that made you redefine your faith, that made you question and doubt and wonder about what you grew up with. Is it stable? Can it be challenged? Are people who view faith and Jesus and doctrine differently than I do still Christians? Montana was my place of discovery and wonder, a place that has had me asking questions ever since the moment I left, even five years later.

I was brought back to my moments of difficulty and doubt and rediscovery as I dove into Andrea Lucado’s new book English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up. Lucado reflects on her time studying for her Masters degree in English Literature at Oxford-Brookes where she encountered people who lived and viewed faith much differently than those she grew up with, most not believing in Jesus at all. She found herself envying their supposed free spirits, wondering how they could seem so at peace if they had never been touched by true grace, and asking important questions about people who had once experienced Jesus and later rejected him.

What I loved most about this book was Lucado’s raw honesty about her struggle living and interacting closely with people who did not share her same beliefs and consequently, her own struggle with faith. As a well-known pastor’s daughter and as someone who grew up in the arguably-sheltered American church, she realized how difficult and confusing it can be to learn that Christianity is much more resilient to doubts and questions than her upbringing led her to believe. And she also learned how freeing and beautiful it can be to live with this kind of faith- a faith that is strong enough for our questions and crooked paths and insecurities. Her honesty creates space for a needed kind of courage in the church today, the courage to wonder and ask and be open to receiving unexpected answers from the Lord. The courage to interact with people who look and act and believe differently than we do, to take risks and to learn over and over and over again what it looks like follow Jesus, especially in the midst of uncertainty.

Lucado’s ringing message to her reader is a beautiful reminder that when we inevitably encounter places of doubt and we allow ourselves to lean into our questions and into our searching, we find more of Jesus. We grow in Him, we allow our worlds and lives to be expanded by Him, and we experience His faithfulness. I needed a place like Montana to break the mold of what I always knew, to find a fuller Jesus, one who can be experienced through many denominations and cultures. I needed Montana to push me to ask questions, to search for truth, and to find it in His word and in unexpected places and paths.

I hope you read Lucado’s story too, allowing yourself to remember the place where you started to question and grow or to receive permission and grace to find that place to wonder and doubt and come to know Jesus more fully.

Morning Commutes and Trusting the Lord

I moved to a downtown neighborhood this past summer into a cute, two-story historic house nestled closely within the surrounding homes. I live with roommates and travel a little bit longer to school and to church and to Matt, but it’s a lively neighborhood packed with people and hospitality and social events every month.

If you talked to me at all this past fall, you know how much I hated the drive to work in the dark, early mornings and during rush hour through downtown after soccer practice. I hated having to get up earlier to get to school obnoxiously early because I was afraid to leave and arrive to work too close to the time we started because it didn’t leave much room for error. What if there was a crash and too much traffic? Or if the weather was terrible or some part of my route was closed down? What if I arrived to school late when I had more to prepare for the day? I didn’t ever want to risk it, so I got up early in attempt to minimize any problem before it could happen. 

As much as I dreaded this new commute, when I think back to the fall, one of the most consistent memories I have was in my car in the mornings. It was always dark and the roads were empty and it was quiet. And around October, in a strained effort to up the game in my prayer life, I started to pray aloud for at least half of my drive. At first it felt weird to talk to someone who couldn’t audibly respond, but as all habits do, it became normal and needed and a necessary part of my morning routine.

Through these prayers every morning, I started to practice remembering what the Lord has done. Because on days when I walked into the classroom exhausted after emotionally draining late-night games, He gave me energy and the ability to connect with my students. And in the moments when I’ve been overwhelmed with wedding details, Matt has been there to calm me down and my mom has been there to take the reins on whatever needed to get done. And in the moments when I’ve needed rest, He’s worked through the people around me to allow me a break, even when it came in the middle of 2nd period. Through this practice of remembering, I’ve realized that even though the Lord has provided every single thing I have ever needed to keep moving forward and to thrive, actually trusting that the Lord is in control has always come as an afterthought; something I realized once the struggle was done.

Trusting in the Lord is something I’ve always tiptoed around, something I’ve tested before believing that He’s someone I can always and consistently count on. Because when I look back on this past year, in so many situations I only trusted when it was the last resort, when it was the only option I had left. When I had finally held up my white surrender flag after realizing that I couldn’t do it all– all the driving, coaching, teaching, loving, communicating, planning, and organizing– without Jesus.

I hate this reality even more than I disliked my morning commute at first. Because I’ve been a Christian my whole life, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know Jesus. But I get stuck in the rules and the expectations and the ridiculous notion that I am in control, even though that’s failed over and over again. But the Lord is gracious and he provides well and I want this year to be a year where I trust more in these truths than in the unnecessary expectations I put on myself that only lead me to exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

And so, I want this year to be a year of remembrance, of always knowing that the Lord provides abundantly what I need. I’ve tiptoed around this reality for too long, testing God first only to look up at him in awe, wondering how he could do such a good thing. I want this year to be a shift from sheepishly wondering whether the Lord will provide to completely trusting that He will. I want to trust that he is enough for my mistakes and insecurities and anxieties before they get to be too overwhelming. I want to fully trust that he is a God who answers prayers and who fulfills callings, that he is a God who restores his people to himself, even in the midst of complete and utter mess and brokenness and especially during times of prosperity, joy, and excitement. 

This year, I’ll keep getting up too early and start to say my prayers once I pass the Keystone exit. I’ll continue to practice remembering who our God is with the hope that I learn to trust him more, before the overwhelming moments come. But even when I forget, even when I’m stuck in my anxieties and control, I’ll remember that my Lord has restored me before and will graciously do it again because that’s who he is and what he does. Today I’m grateful for this new year and this time to be reminded to start over, to inch my way forward in learning how to trust a God who has always been in control.

How to Stop Trying So Hard

She came into my room when the lunch bell rang, looking up at me with hopeless, confused eyes before she broke down crying, repeating,

“I’m stupid. This is stupid. Why am I crying? I don’t cry.”

I gave her a hug, sat her down in one of my desks, and asked her what was going on. Her significant other broke up with her last period over a text, she said, and now she didn’t know why she was crying.

As I probed to get some details, I learned she just started dating this person a month ago and all seemed fine last night. And then this. But more than being upset about the broken relationship, she seemed more upset over letting herself feel. She was angry at herself for crying, for breaking down and for letting hurt crack through her hardness to places she tries to hide by distracting herself with relationships and grades and accomplishments- places that confront her worth.

I had two other students come to me that Friday, crying and frustrated because they couldn’t meet their own high standards or the standards they felt the world calling them to meet. They were frustrated because they felt their worth dwindling after not being able to check every box on their expectation list. I hugged them and reminded them that their worth is not in what they do or who they’re attached to or what they can or cannot accomplish.

It’s incredibly humbling to give this advice when it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with the past several months.

I thought second year teaching would be easier- that was my expectation. But as my expectations have been shattered in the hardest ways, I’ve found myself stuck in the whirlwind of a longer commute and practices and games and makeup games and three preps and creating a new curriculum and grading and planning a wedding and learning about marriage and trying to invest and invest and invest to learn that I can’t.

I can’t. I cannot invest in everything, I cannot take on everything. Not on my own. And as the weeks have flown by and I’ve accomplished a majority of the things on my checklist, I still feel behind. I still analyze and overanalyze every conversation that could have been more others-focused, I want to fix every problem people have had with me, I want to be more productive with my minutes and I simply want to feel like I’m doing a good job in my classroom and conversations and relationships and alone time.

And when I take a step back, I find myself taking good things, holy things even, like the desires to invest and be compassionate and love others and slow down, and twisting them into my control, deceiving myself that I’m the one in charge of making all of these desires gone wrong, go right.

When I find some quiet, when I finally surrender to not being in control and when I sink into my bed early on a Friday night with a candle crackling next to me and a week of mistakes and ramblings and papers piled up, I’m reminded to seek first my God.

Because when all I keep doing is seeking my own desires to change and to fix and to control, the Lord says to stop and to seek Him instead.

In Him I will find my rest and my worth. I will find grace and love and meaning and space. I will find the strength to stop kicking myself for every mistake I make and every unchecked obligation on my list and instead, I’ll be restored in the Lord’s grace and hope and deep, unchanging, unending love. In this place, I’ll find the strength to slow down and to rest and to consider others before myself, the very things I’ve been trying to do on my own because I know they are the best ways.

When those girls walked into my room that Friday weeks ago, I saw myself in their mess because I’m there too. I wanted to talk about why they were struggling so deeply with their emotions and their unmet expectations and their mistakes. I knew where they were at and since I couldn’t specifically tell them about Jesus and grace and rest because public school, I want to take the time here to remind you dear reader, about the Lord and seeking him first, because I bet you’ve stood in those girls’ places too.

So friends, we can desire good things. We can want to be productive and loving and compassionate and whole, but we can’t do these things on our own because we will twist them into stress and dissatisfaction and frustration. The Lord calls us to seek Him first, that in Him we will find our worth, we will find our desires fully met because he is enough and in him, we are enough too. The reminder you and I need is to seek Christ, even before our desires, because in him, we’ll find the very things we’re trying to do on our own.