Category Archives: pain

Hurting Ourselves For Others (living their expectations instead of our lives)

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“It wasn’t until I began to love myself that I was willing to let others down.” Lucille Zimmerman

When my cowgirl friend told me a story about Bob, I related to her horse like we were old buddies. Bob’s trainer said, “You have to be careful pushing him because he’s a pleaser. He’ll hurt himself for you.”

Unfortunately, people don’t think much about this when it comes to each other, so we push.

Like the church worker who “pushed” – she knew I taught school and had two young children at home, but still asked if I’d help with the youth program. When I turned her down because I was burnt out by late afternoon, she said, “If everyone felt like you, we wouldn’t have a youth program.”

“If everyone felt like me, we shouldn’t have one,” I said. My atypical response even surprised me. 

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Self-care like this, even though the church-worker never did “get it,” would have helped when my family balked at my idea to eat out on Thanksgiving. They pushed for the same meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas, which took days of preparation. I felt overwhelmed locking myself into traditions I didn’t want to keep. Sometimes I’d have to throw out food from the first holiday so I’d have a dish to put the same food in for the second holiday. I wondered if I could get by at Christmas on Thanksgiving’s leftovers.

It would have been a relief to know about self-care when my husband, John, pushed to buy a fishing boat, two jet skis, a Triumph TR6, and two motorcycles. I wanted him to be happy whether I was or not. Spending money on big toys caused a lot of tension I didn’t talk about.

I wish I’d known about self-care when I kept teaching even though the stress of the job contributed to my anxiety and high blood pressure. Plus, I didn’t enjoy a lot of what went along with teaching like scrutiny, endless meetings, and duties outside the classroom. John didn’t mean to push, but he did, when he sat silent while I talked about quitting every August before school restarted. His silence, instead of a discussion about changing careers, made me think I had to go back again and again and again.

When I talked over self-care with a friend whose personality tends to be more like my husband’s than mine, she admitted she wishes she’d encouraged her husband to change jobs sooner.

However, like John, she’s not the caretaker in the family; her husband is. Instead of offering support, she ignored how miserable he was at work for fear he’d quit and put an end to the family’s substantial income. They could live on a lesser budget, but she didn’t want to. It wasn’t because she didn’t care about him, although I’ve thought this of my family and friends when they’ve pushed their agendas that hurt. She pushed because she liked staying home with their babies and being able to spend what she wanted. Her husband’s now working a different job and happier, and they are fine financially.

I admire my friend for piping up about the topic of someone else’s self-care because it’s rare for the person who wants what they want to stop the one who is providing it.

The person in the most pain typically is the one who has to change, but it’s hard because we’re also the ones most caught up in the “push.” We want others to have what they want, and they want that too. We end up pressuring ourselves and so do they. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable when others don’t like how we change.

I learned about self-care because of a health scare and depression, because one of my kids urged me to figure it out, and because a doctor warned me if I didn’t pay attention to my physical and emotional health, I wouldn’t be around to see my son and daughter graduate from high school.

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Not overnight, but gradually I’ve pushed myself to change, making strides toward self-care …

The Thanksgiving after I suggested eating out, we did. I made reservations for whoever wanted to join me because I wasn’t cooking. It’s been an annual tradition ever since to try a different restaurant unless our grown children volunteer to make the meal.

I encouraged John to sell everything on wheels in the garage and driveway except his truck and to swap it all for something we both liked riding, a golf cart.

Almost two decades ago, I quit my teaching job a week before school started. I tried to talk Larry, a fellow teacher, into doing the same. He and I talked for an hour about self-care while I sorted through teaching supplies to leave behind for the teacher taking my place. Larry had been offered a job as full-time music minister at a church, but convinced himself he had to teach two more years until his son graduated. He had a heart attack a couple of months later (during a faculty meeting) and died. Sadly, he was the one who didn’t see his child graduate. His death had a big impact on my continued self-care.

Change isn’t easy. Our caring people – parents, spouses, children, friends, bosses – care most about us staying the same because that’s most convenient for them. In the psychology books, this is called homeostasis, which is the tendency to keep things as they are.

Homeostasis is promoted by negative feedback loops like pulling back from something because it hurts.

Change, on the other hand, is promoted by positive feedback loops like noticing exercise makes you feel better so you walk more often. Both loops are necessary.

(The info about homeostasis is from an article by Alison Bonds Shapiro M.B.A., and I’ve shared the link below if you’d like to read more. Also below is a story I heard during one of my counseling classes about homeostasis, and its power to trap us into hurting ourselves for others.)

It’s important to recognize, however, that homeostasis, a necessary state of maintaining sameness, is easier than creative change, a necessary state of constantly transforming.

In other words, it’s a push and pull that keeps life balanced and beautiful. However, few people advocate change when they can’t yet see the beauty. They’re thinking about the change and how it may negatively impact them like giving up the household’s second income.

So, our pain (that may be contributed to by someone else wanting us to stay the same) ends up being ours to fix.

We can let others know what’s going on with us. If they support us, this is a plus. Support makes it easier to implement the change to eliminate our pain. However, when the people we wish were our support group turn away or sit silent because they know our change is going to cost them something too, we have to change anyway. A lot of times, our lives depend on it.

Is there something you need to change because it’s causing you pain? Is there someone who doesn’t want you to change? I hope you’ll care for yourself enough to change anyway.

#selfcaringin2017 #gettingyourownlife #whilelovingthepeopleinit

In This Together,
Kim

“Getting Out of the Way: The Balance Between Homeostasis and Growth” by Alison Bonds Shapiro M.B.A.

Here’s an extreme example of how we hurt ourselves for others, told by one of my professors during a lesson on homeostasis.

A young girl (of a mother who needed to be needed) became confined to a wheelchair almost overnight. She was taken to dozens of doctors, but not one of them came up with a diagnosis. Nothing was wrong, yet nothing gave them any hope she’d walk again. Not physical therapy. Not medication. Not experimental interventions. She stayed in a wheelchair for years until her mother died, and then miraculously got up and walked. She agreed to counseling and being part of a study that verified what doctors suspected – she’d become disabled because she recognized and took responsibility for how desperately her mom needed someone to care for.

I Have Never Once Been Sorry (about setting boundaries)

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“I know my boundaries and one day I might just enforce them.” Unknown

I curled up under the blanket on our living room sofa and ate Reese’s Cups while mulling over what went wrong.

The conversation with John was okay until we each made a comment the other one didn’t like. I took something he said the wrong way. I apologized for my tone, and I also wanted to clarify and have him understand.

His pain and anger about our interchange made it impossible to discuss what happened for the rest of the weekend.

We stopped talking about the topic and started talking about each other. We blamed, brought up the past, and, at one point, forgot what we were arguing about.

Since I recently wrote about enabling and boundaries, I sat still while John went to bed without saying good night and without asking if I wanted to pray. I can’t remember the last time he’s done that. I felt shaken and scared, but I didn’t snap.

I messaged a friend who I knew would listen and be compassionate towards both of us. She suggested leaving him alone for the evening instead of barging into our bedroom to fix us. She agreed it was a bad idea to revert back 10 years to habits like begging him to talk or explaining louder and with examples like, “How would you like it if I went to bed without saying good night to you?”

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T
he latter made so much sense, I may have said it anyway had I not remembered advice from another friend, “I’ve often regretted not setting a boundary, but I have never once been sorry when I set one.”

The soundness of her words stopped my feet in their tracks (they were headed to our bedroom). It calmed the dialogue I had going on ever since John closed our bedroom door. With all those voices in my head, I’m not sure why I needed to talk to him anyway.

I thought, What if he dies tonight and this weekend of arguing is the last memory I have?

This is my mom’s voice of fear and guilt, which I’ve let control me since childhood. I’ve learned to quiet her and her fears after almost three years of her being gone. (a boundary)

What if I’m wrong and responsible for this weekend’s entire debacle?

This is John’s voice when he is frustrated and hurt. I’ve learned to reason with him (his voice in my head better than him in person) and resolve I’m not all wrong. (a boundary)

What would it hurt to follow him into the bedroom, apologize again, and curl up there instead of the sofa?

This is my toxic Jiminy Cricket’s voice saying I SHOULD be able to fix everything. And, let me tell you, when I start shaming myself and saying things like “What would it hurt …,” I hurt myself by not setting boundaries, especially when I know he is momentarily unavailable. (a boundary)

“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.” Brene Brown

Instead of giving into John’s frustration and my fear and shame, I set boundaries I may have disregarded had I not been writing to y’all. 

#GettingYourOwnLife
#WhileLovingthePeopleinIt
#WhileLovingtheHusbandinIt

Are you determined to set boundaries, but you haven’t yet? I highly recommend them.

Thanks to John for encouraging me to blog about our stories, and for blogging with me through our relationship and life. Thanks to my friend for hanging in there late into the evening and advising me well. Thanks to you, our friends/readers. I hope you find here both courage and ‘couragement. You’ve certainly given both to me.

We love your comments! Thank you.

In This Together,
Kim

What Happened That Was So Bad?

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“The real violence, the violence I realized that is unforgivable, is the violence we do to ourselves when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.” Unknown

While a friend and I talked about depression, she asked about my past and said, “What happened that was so bad?”

Although whining and blaming are unattractive, I didn’t mind a chance to tell my sad story. I launched about details I had never told her. Fortunately for you, I won’t share all of it here.

Emotional, religious, and sexual abuse contributed to what happened that was so bad. I knew better than to talk about my abuse with my parents because it wasn’t as bad as what Mom had been through, so I tried to help fix hers. The more I encouraged her to let go of her past and live happily ever after, the more strained our relationship became. She wanted sympathy, not solutions, but I needed her fixed.

My parents being unavailable and unpredictable contributed to what happened that was so bad. Dad spent nine months out of the year at the beach, running the family business. Mom either numbed out at home or couldn’t handle her emotions. I lived under threats like this one when I didn’t act like she wanted me to, “You’re lucky I didn’t do anything to hurt myself.”

Living around mental illness contributed to what happened that was so bad. Before Dad left for Vietnam, he moved Mom, my younger brother, and me in with my great aunt who raised Mom and her siblings. After Dad returned home and retired from the Air Force, we stayed put. It wasn’t long before my mom’s brother moved in with us. He walked around in stained t-shirts and with his pants unzipped, burned carpet and furniture with his cigarettes, and made sexual overtures that Mom ignored until he’d get so out of hand she’d temporarily commit him to mental institutions around the state.

I thought a sympathetic ear about my past would be comforting, but the more woes I shared, the worse I felt. What happened that was so bad was not about what someone else had done to me, but what I was still doing to myself. My family was long gone, but I still lived and talked about their crazy legacy.

Vivi, the alcoholic mother in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, describes it best in a conversation with her daughter’s fiancé. She said, “I know she blames me. Of course she does, just like I blame my mother. I didn’t screw up her life any more than my mother screwed up mine. She almost did. But all the real long-term damage … I did to myself.”

So, what really happened that was so bad?

  • I repeated my past by setting out to fix my husband and my children just like I tried to fix Mom. Even when a friend said, “Your family will get better when you get better,” I kept focusing on them. I felt overwhelmed (and still do sometimes) by focusing on/fixing myself and living my own life.
  • I doubted my decisions and myself all along. Self-doubt makes it hard to stand behind my commitments, as well as hard to enforce boundaries I’ve tried to set. Self-doubt makes taking care of myself almost impossible. I give in and give up instead of standing up for what I want.
  • I self-destructed because whining, being lazy, and blaming others come easier than practicing a healthy routine. I eat too much chocolate, stay up too late, and overlook opportunities to live a sensible and happy life. I defer to fear if things get hard. I’d rather wallow around with a problem than research a manuscript. It takes a lot of work to get well. It means #GettingYourOwnLife.

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I acknowledge the power of messy pasts and the power of destructive family patterns. I also acknowledge how powerful it is to take responsibility for what we’re doing to ourselves and to make a decision to do something different. I hope you’ll join the Conversation and the Change.

In This Together,
Kim

Thank you for the swamp photo, Joel Carter. It looks as desolate as my life felt for a while.

Thank you, Rhonda Hensley @ Inspiration Images and Media, for the photo of balloons. They represent change.

Too Good for My Own Good (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

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He must become greater; I must become less.  John 3:30 (Image from iStock)

He must become greater; I must become less.
John 3:30
(Image from iStock)

Although suffering is inevitable, Sunday’s sermon shed light on how often we suffer unnecessarily. Our stubborn will is the cause. We put something other than God in the place that he set aside for himself.

Our will goes something like this –

We worship intelligence only to end up feeling stupid.

We worship beauty only to end up feeling ugly.

We worship success only to end up feeling like a failure.

I knew before the sermon’s end what I worshipped – being a good person. It never crossed my mind (until now) that being good was anything but admirable.

The sermon put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unlovable no matter how many times I’m told “I love you.”

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt ashamed, never mind all my attempts at being perfect.

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unkind even though my husband says over and over, “You’re the most caring person I know.”

How did trying to be good turn out so bad?

It’s pretty simple when I apply the sermon’s formula – I worshipped my own goodness only to end up feeling anything but good.

I put my goodness before his Godness, and nothing good comes from that.

What’s getting in the way (no matter how admirable you deem it) of your relationship with God?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I’ve wanted to get out of my own way for some time now. Thank you, Iain, for the sermon. Thank you, God, for the shove.

On the side: I’m posting next about Robin Williams and suicide – a man and a topic that deserve to be talked about.

What Died? (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

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“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown  (Image from iStock)

“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown 
(Image from iStock)

I’ve spent nearly a decade grappling with Dad’s death and with the death of thoughts that I had control over my now 36-year marriage. Both losses left me feeling lifeless.

When friends said grief takes time, I nodded. However, I knew this was more than being sad that Dad was gone. It was also more than letting go of the control I tried to have over my husband. Something else died and it scared me that I didn’t know what it was or how to revive it.

I prayed every single day for more than three fourths of those years.

I prayed for energy and motivation to write and exercise and live life as it came. I prayed to focus on myself instead of staring at what others had done to me. I prayed to know what died so I could begin accepting it was gone and move beyond days that were dark and heavy.

Prayer didn’t work (meaning it didn’t make the pain go away). 

Neither did gratitude lists that included seeing my first article published, celebrating our children’s wedding and engagement, and sharing a precious granddaughter with the world. The more good that happened, the darker and heavier I felt for not feeling grateful.

Neither did advice about my attitude, attempts to diminish my pain in the light of others’ more devastating pain, or my own self-contempt for not being able to shake depression.

And neither did attending church, reading positive passages, or talking to family and friends who looked sympathetic, but confused. Their expressions said, “Now, tell me one more time why you’re feeling sad and lost?”

I almost stopped trying to explain because I didn’t know myself what was happening. That was, until I tried one more time.

“Nothing’s motivated me like trying to get it right with you and Dad,” I said to my husband. “Sick as it sounds, struggling for your attention and Dad’s approval got me out of bed every morning.”

He heard me. 

I heard myself.

Since burying my dad and my marriage (as I knew it), I’ve been missing my sickness. I wrote in my last post that suffering serves a purpose, but suffering is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Instead of learning and being changed by suffering, then moving on, I’ve tried to revive it by staggering too often into the past, flirting with fear and self-doubt, and throwing pity parties. Not that I’m saying this party girl is finished, but I’m over-the-top relieved to know what died – my suffering that masqueraded as purpose. When I’m ready, life is waiting.

And so is more suffering and I’m okay with that.

Are you smack dab in the middle of your sickness, your struggles, and your suffering? Are you feeling more dead than alive? I hope this post offers some answers, some optimism, or at least lets you know you’re not alone.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – It takes what it takes for each of us. I’m grateful to be at another crossroad where I have insight and hope and choices, and, yes, awareness that there will be more suffering.

On the side: In hindsight, some of the things I listed – prayer, gratitude, church, reading, and sharing with family and friends – did work (meaning they made my days feel gentler, they moved me forward, they grew me up), just not as quickly or as dramatically as I wanted.

Here’s additional reading about suffering from A Holy Experience, “The 1 Unlikely Secret to Hold Onto When You’re Sad.” 

Too Much Suffering, Not Enough Fluff (about suffering and about acceptance)

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"Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain." Rick Warren (Image from iStock)

“Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.” Rick Warren
(Image from iStock)

“God is more concerned about our spirituality than our comfort” came to mind during Sunday’s message about the purpose of our struggles. At first, I wasn’t anymore thrilled about the sermon than I had been the quote. After all, I just want to be happy.

I contemplated only writing light-hearted, fluffy posts. You know, so I’d be known as the happy-go-lucky blogger, but, then, I didn’t have much to say about that.

Next, I contemplated asking for prayer so I’d be more happy-go-lucky, but God didn’t have much to say about that.

Finally, I contemplated what God did have to say and it wasn’t about happy-go-lucky, although I’m sure he has nothing against our happiness. It’s just that, from what I keep hearing, our priorities are often times not his priorities.

The sermon and the quote offered insight into our suffering and an explanation as to why we don’t need to run from it or pray it away, even though I continue to try both. We’re supposed to be changed by it.

God’s obvious concern about my changing over the past nine years has left me wondering if he had concerns for anyone else’s spirituality, but of course he does. He has big plans for us all, even though I’ve been focused on the pain that I equate with God’s punishment. Painful events have led to painful thinking.

Suffering, however, is not about punishment, although it is sometimes a consequence as the result of our behavior. Suffering is a mirror into which we catch a glimpse of what’s inside of us. No, Facebook doesn’t cut it.

Suffering is for our own good and for a higher purpose. Our time here is designed to help us stop edging God out (ego) and, instead, start edifying him. Unfortunately, most of us are hard headed and some of us are hard hearted.

What gushes out during the tough times is what’s been inside all along. Usually it’s a combination of love and fear, grace and griping, humility and entitlement, meaning we all need the changing power of suffering.

What are you suffering through? How is it changing you?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Here’s to graciously walking through our suffering and being changed from fluffy-seeking to faith-finding.

On the side: Beth Vogt also wrote a blog post this week about suffering. Click here to read In Others’ Words: Wrestling Match.

Dying To Love

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“Even though I’d give anything to have her back, I’d never go back to the person I was before I lost my daughter.”  Anonymous, Artwork by Cindy DeLuz

“Even though I’d give anything to have her back, I’d never go back to the person I was before I lost my daughter.” Anonymous (Artwork by Cindy DeLuz)

In the last month, my mom died.

A friend/former colleague died.

And, early yesterday morning, I received a phone call about a friend’s 31-year-old daughter who died.

Yesterday was the second Sunday morning my friend has been awakened around 4 a.m. with news of losing a child. Her son died in a car accident some years ago.

I don’t claim to know how she feels or what to say or how to help. However, after we talked, I understand more about the necessity of loss.

Without losing, I’m not sure we can grasp loving.

Death is the harsh half of bittersweet. It’s the yin of yin and yang. It’s the ultimate pain of our journey, but it’s also the ultimate wakeup call, even if, like my friend, it’s not the call we hoped for.

During our conversation last evening, the tone of my friend’s voice, as well as her words, expressed tenderness like I’ve never heard in a counseling session or sermon. Not that she won’t get angry and experience moments of questioning God, but she’s got hold of something that some of us never do. She said she was crazy and probably would be for a while.

All I could think was, “Crazy in love.”

And I can relate some. Since Mom’s and my friend’s deaths, I have more lovingly reflected and intensely missed them than in all the years they lived. Death, if we let it, brings to the forefront our own tenderness.

Whose death has left you at a loss so much so that it also changed you?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Often I have posted what a counselor said when she asked if I felt like I was dying, “You’re really being born.” I believe dealing with death is often a birth into deeper love.

Related post: Pain, the fabric softener of life

On the side: Click here for more artwork by Cindy DeLuz.

Keeping My Distance (from bad news, from pain and from Sandy Hook Elementary)

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“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Chinese proverb, photo credit to Christy Young

“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Chinese proverb (Photo by Christy Young)

I finished raking the yard yesterday evening about 11, just before bedtime.

Prior to taking the rake off its hook and rolling the green garbage receptacle to our front yard, I sat cross-legged on a wicker chair in our living room and babbled for more than an hour.

My husband John yawned and his eyes glazed over, letting me know he was tired even though I was nowhere near finished talking about how to stop sad events, like 20 children being killed in their classrooms.

Not one bit closer to an answer or peace, it seemed now was as good a time as any to do yard work. Our lawn was well lit by a front porch light, along with the streetlight. Rain stopped an hour earlier and I learned wet oak leaves rake easier than dry ones.

The rake scraped over the yard while I recalled some 32 years ago, John swinging an ax every spare minute for three days in a row and into the evenings. He stacked the wood high enough for dozens of fires even though the previous winter we’d only burned one.

Kind of like my raking, I guess chopping wood was all he could think to do the day after a masked gunman attempted to rob him outside a restaurant he managed in Columbia, S.C.

At gunpoint, John handed over the restaurant’s bank deposit and the keys to his car. He turned around like he was told and walked slowly across the parking lot without looking back.

A policeman, making his final round, happened upon the scene. He pulled his squad car between John and the gunman. The gunman ran, but when several police surrounded him, he turned the gun on himself.

The 26-year-old armed robber, only four years older than we were at the time, knew the nightly routine because he’d recently been fired from the restaurant chain in a nearby town. The police found photos in a wallet of his wife and daughter.

When I picked up John from the restaurant that evening, I hugged him, but detached from the story. We didn’t discuss it for years.

I noticed anytime negative things happened, I didn’t curse the darkness or even ask God “why” so much as I tried to figure out how to make it all stop … the bad things, the painful and sad feelings, and the fear. I tried to avoid, or at least distance myself, from anything unpleasant, as well as alleviate the same from lives of family and friends. Acceptance seldom came to mind.

Last Friday was no different. When I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary, the conversations in my head commenced.  

“I’m relieved our kids have graduated and no longer attend public schools,” but then I thought about our grandchildren. Our first is due in July.

“This sort of thing happens up north,” but the truth is it also happens in the east, the west, and in a restaurant parking lot in the south.

“My kindergarten teaching days are over and thankfully without incident,” but I can’t ignore someone else’s teaching days were cut short and not by choice.

“Sandy Hook Elementary is far away and I didn’t know the children who were harmed,” but now I do, through emails and Facebook and blogs, and each of their young faces reminds me of one I taught.

No rationalization lessened the hurt. It never does, but I’ve kept trying. Still, I can never muster enough indifference, or push the victims far enough away.

I only get crazier trying, which means if I really want to help, I come to terms with not understanding, with feeling shaken and out of control, with lighting a candle when I prefer to ignore the darkness.     

  • Light a Candle – I’ll mail a card because I have to do something. I always have to do something. Here’s the address if you have to also:

             Sandy Hook Elementary School
             12 Dickenson Drive
             Sandy Hook, CT 06482

  • Light a Candle – I’ll accept I can’t eradicate darkness by ignoring it, any more than by cursing it. I can, however, pray for the family of John’s gunman who I’m sure has not forgotten even though it’s been decades, and for the family of Sandy Hook Elementary’s gunman who won’t forget even when decades have passed.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll pray for the children’s parents and the staff’s families, that the upcoming holiday feels gentle, that life feels gentle. I’ll pray this for all victims, everywhere.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll grieve and be angry when appropriate, but I will not debate who is to blame – God, parents, gun advocates, a flawed system. It doesn’t matter and only intensifies the darkness.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll focus on what is good and right in the world. When life turns out to be the opposite, I’ll act maturely, taking responsibility for whatever is mine to do. Rather than sticking my head in the sand, I’ll face pain and respect that it serves a purpose even when I don’t know what that purpose is. I’ll listen instead of interrupting with neatly packaged answers (see link below).

How do you cope with pain and sadness? What can you add to the candle lighting list?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Pain is unpreventable, however, lighting a candle prevents darkness.

On the side: Click on its title to read a post about what to say and what not to say at a time like this, “Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer” by Proverbs 31 founder Lysa TerKeurst.

Thoughts about what we can do from “Brave in Brokenness” by Kelly Rae Roberts.

Grief and the Fantasy, grieving what never was

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“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch (Photo by S. Kim Henson)

After her 20-year marriage ended, my sister-in-law talked about what her counselor shared to help with the grief. “You’re not grieving over what you had. You’re grieving over what you wish you had,” she said.

Grief doesn’t distinguish between losing something real and losing a fantasy.

Sadness is sad. Pain is pain. Loss is loss.

Still, the counselor’s explanation offered clarity.  Many times I’ve wondered why I was so distraught to be rid of something that plainly wasn’t good for me or that obviously ended before I let it go. Or that I never had in the first place.

I saw this played out the night before my dad’s funeral, when our son was bewildered by his sister’s sobbing. Even though our son maintained a close relationship with his grandfather, he wasn’t outwardly emotional over his death and didn’t understand why his sister was, especially since she and my dad didn’t share much of a bond.

Our son didn’t understand she was grieving the relationship with my dad that she wanted, but never had.

It explains my downheartedness when a long-time friend walked away rather than talking through our differences. Prior to our breakup, we were on the phone two to three times a week. We gossiped, criticized others to build up ourselves, and justified our unhappy lots in life. Our time together wasn’t good for either of us.

Still, when our relationship ended, I grieved the healthy friendship I wished we had, but didn’t.

Knowing what we’re grieving, even when it’s loss of an illusion instead of reality, may not lessen our pain, but it does introduce soundness during an emotional time. It also may keep us from going backwards, trying over and over to make a wish come true.

Are we honest with ourselves about grief? Are we letting go of what we had or what we wished for?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Even though an explanation doesn’t make it all better, it does allow us to make better choices.

Pain, the fabric softener of life

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“Lord, help us to accept the pains and conflicts that come to us each day as opportunities to grow as people and become more like you.” Mother Teresa, A Gift for God (Artwork by Kelly Rae Roberts)

In her caretaking role over the past few years, a friend visibly softened while dealing with her mom’s demands during declining health.

I hated what I witnessed both women going through. Yet, I treasured how acceptance and allowing others closer became a part of my friend’s life. Too exhausted to judge, she set that aside, which made our time together more gentle.

Unfortunately, after her mom died, my friend reverted back and seemed harsher than before.

Pain’s like that. It has a way with us.

It shows no favoritism and leaves no choice but to change. We all feel it and we all choose our responses. We either become bitter or we soften in its aftershock.

I suspect that is one of pain’s purposes, to give us a chance to get better.

Author Hannah Hurnard in her book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, illustrates poignantly how sorrow and suffering are analogous to joy and peace. Hurnard’s character Much-Afraid learns from her woes and takes an upward journey to high places – the same journey of our lives, when we’re willing.

How do you react to pain?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Since pain is a part of life, let’s make the best of it and let it make us the best we can be.

On the side: Post by artist Kelly Rae Roberts about kindness and softening.

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