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.

 

How to Grieve a Good Thing Gone

Anna got married to Ben last week in a chapel where people were sharing seats to make room and the homemade wreaths hung on the doors and Kiersten and I handed out programs with smiles on our faces even though our extremities were frozen from the abnormally chilly May wind.

The Brick House was reunited, but everything was different this time. Kiersten is in grad school and taking summer classes and Kayleigh is in Colorado, doing what she does best– adventure and hospitality. Audrey is also in Colorado, but doing the hard work of teaching young minds to care about words and each other and not running in front of cars during a field trip. I sat in the tent in a much different place than I expected, confident in my job and community and with a man who loves me and whom I love deeply and who filled in for the ushers even though he didn’t know the bride or groom and who took care of me when I felt my worst that day. And Anna, beautiful Anna, is married to her person– to gentle, kind, loving Ben. She filled each space with calm and grace and poise and beauty because it was so evident she had found rest in where the Lord brought her this year and it ended with this celebration.

For one of the first times this year, it hit me that we’re never going to get the Brick House life back. I knew that last year- in the months and weeks leading up to graduation and as I sat in the Von Maur parking lot ugly crying the day after because that beautiful, restorative, safe year was over. And so was the season of living with the most incredible women I ever had the privilege of doing life with. Gone was my safe bubble of dancing to Beyonce while doing dishes and singing the Doxology as a prayer before dinner. Gone was walking out of my room to a living room full of women graciously willing to let me externally process the hardest year of my life-who let me lay my head on their laps as I cried in frustration and sadness while I unraveled the past two years and waited as God created a new thing in me. Gone was doing life with my people, all under one roof in a safe place.

That year was sacred because the Lord was so evidently there. We all knew it. We felt Him in the quiet moments following a prayer or a Scripture reading at dinner. We felt Him when we gathered with each other for movie nights and house breakfasts and lunches and dinners and porch times. We felt Him when we ran and biked and then sat on the dock one last time, knowing that the sacred year, our year of safety and rest and restoration, was over.

I think it’s natural for humans to want to hold on to these sacred moments. I remember struggling knowing there was a defined end to this good thing- how were we ever going to find anything like it again? How do we cope with a looming new season of hard and danger and lonely and inexperience?

How do we grieve a good thing gone? A thing that always had an end date?

As I sat in church last Sunday, in my exhaustion, I worshipped Jesus in my new place that the Lord so abundantly provided. It was one of those rare moments where I felt completely raw, without the strength to bury the things that hurt, like the reality that although I was with my best friends last night, it just wasn’t the same because we’ve all changed in the past year and because we aren’t all sharing the same space anymore. We’ve moved on to where the Lord needed us to go.

I stood next to Matt and looked around at my new community and up at him and felt a small twinge of guilt- guilt for enjoying this new thing that is so different than my Brick House community last year. But even more so I felt sad because my best friends, the ones who walked me through some of the hardest, ugliest moments, weren’t here to share with me in this good new thing and I wasn’t there to share with them in their new things like we had done so well in the Brick House.

As I sang the words on the screen on the verge of tears, I realized that we grieve a good thing gone by believing and knowing and trusting that Jesus is always better than even the best season. That the sacred moments are just glimpses of His glory, pockets of heaven that He allows us to experience now, moments that hold eternal weight and hope because we’re promised a forever of these heavenly moments when we leave our last season here on this Earth.

Even when the season ends, even when that good thing is gone, our Father promises us an eternity of good things. What a beautiful hope to cling on to.

So, my dear Brick House friends, I feel so honored to have lived life with you and experienced glimpses of heaven with you, and even though we won’t ever share that Brick House on First street again, I’m excited to share in new moments with you in new spaces when life allows. I think it’s taken me this past year to process through our safe haven year, and I don’t entirely think I’m done yet, but thank you for that year. Thank you for exemplifying Christ’s love and servant-heartedness and helping create one of the safest places I’ve ever known. Thank you for sharing your beautiful lives and hearts with me, and thank you for becoming my forever friends. I miss you deeply and love you even more and am rooting for you as you flourish in your new pockets of the world.