Inviting Grief to Dinner

tamara-bellis-125877-unsplash (1)The Southern California rain surprised all humanity this year, giving my kiddos a false sense of hope, “Mommy, do you think they’ll close the schools because it’s raining?!”

Um, no. That’s not a thing.

The brown hills by our house have exploded into yellow flowers. They press on their tippy-toes waving hello. Maybe California should cancel school, offering a day to admire the new life with neighbors. Because when it comes to new life, we really go out of our way to celebrate it don’t we? If we desire the company of new life, we’ll find she always brings a guest.

Life and death sit side by side. So often we shoo the experience of grieving to the “obligatory guest” table. No one wants him at the party…but sooner or later, he shows up. I photographed weddings for years, and I promise you, there’s always a wacky relative in attendance (psssst… it’s your uncle). One wedding reception, the exuberant uncle was on the dance floor, flat on his back, pretending to look up the bride’s dress. Yeah. Sometimes grief acts like that guy.  Meaning- he has no sense of social awareness. We find ourselves asking, who invited him anyways?! 

But it’s not his fault. When we shove the process of grieving far into the burrow of our lives; he’s forced to rear his head at the most inconvenient times. Can you relate? The checker at Vons asks if you have bags and you burst into tears because you left them in the car. If grief wants your attention, he’s ruthlessly successful. I’m finding that depriving him the attention he craves, only makes him fervently jump up and down.

I’ve decided it’s best to offer him a space to be heard.

Learning to set a place for grief at our table is a grueling and powerful act of faith. But it needs to be done. Joy is painfully birthed out of sorrow. When we pull the chair out from under him and ask him to leave, we’re telling him he’s not important to our story; that he has nothing of value to add to the conversation. When in reality, God often uses our grief to scoot our chair closer to joy.  God wants to speak to each of us through our sufferings.

Many believers experience guilt over admitting they’re sad. The idea of feeling guilty for grieving is not biblical! We’re taught we should rejoice in our sufferings, to always be happy because we have Jesus. There’s truth here. However, the rejoicing does not negate the suffering- it accompanies it.

God has filled me with inexplicable joy over our new journey to be foster parents. But honestly, it’s the grief of failed adoptions that brought us here. It’s impossible for me to separate my new joy from my concurrent grief. They’re powerfully intertwined. Have we forgotten that Jesus wept three times in scripture? Each time, coupled with an occurrence of great joy: before the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:35); right after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); and in the garden before his own death and resurrection leading to the salvation of mankind (Hebrews 5:7).

It is possible to sit next to joy and grief at the same time. It’s healthy to look grief the face and “talk it out” or “cry it out” or slap him in the face. Whatever you need to do to acknowledge they’re times he’s going to come to dinner and you can’t ignore him. We’ve got to deal. But we’re not alone. God’s table is big. It may mean we pull up more chairs for counselors or sisters in Christ to help us mediate the conversation. Or, maybe we need to excuse ourselves for a “prayer break,” or take a moment to wash our wounds in The Word.

As we become more intentional in setting a place for grief, we can’t lose sight that where God allows sorrow, he assigns great joy.  “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b)

God’s word beautifully reminds us that he’s with us in our suffering. Check out these Bible verses for inspiration: God’s Word-Marked by Love- Suffering

p.s. If the voice of your grief is consistently louder than the voice of your loving Father, you may be experiencing depression. They are not the same thing. Please feel free to message me and I would be honored to help you find a counselor.

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Three Ways to Comfort a Friend When They’re “Ugly Crying”

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Definition of Ugly Crying: The kind of crying that scrapes at the bottom of your tummy, leaving you raw and sore; Crying that sounds like a wailing cat; Crying that renders all make-up, ice-packs and chocolate – useless.

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years. One, I need to grieve alone. Some people drive quickly to friends or family and throw themselves into their arms, sobbing when soul-breaking hits. Not me.

Leave. Me. Alone.

Jenna, want to walk and talk it out today?

No.

Jenna, let’s grab a coffee and you can process with me.

No, thank you.

Can I at least call you and affirm you?

Nope.

I’ve wondered if something is wrong with me? Am I too proud to accept help?  I’ve come to find, telling my precious friends I’m not ready to talk…IS asking for help.  I’m asking them to help me grieve in the way that works for me. Finding friends that don’t take offense to this = ginormous blessing!  All of us process heartbreak in different ways.

This is what it looks like for me:

  • A LOT of ugly crying.
  • Lying face down.
  • Uglier crying.
  • Praying.
  • Grisly crying.
  • Reading the Bible.
  • Civilized Crying.
  • Prayer journaling.
  • Dainty crying.
  • Repeat for minimum of one week.

True friends give us the space to ugly cry alone- if that’s what we need. Seriously, if I even look a friend in the eyes during this time, I burst into uncontrollable tears in school parking lots.

I just can’t.

Profoundly, the women in my life honor my request. They don’t come bursting through my front door. They stand outside my door and patiently wait for me to come out.

I recently had a season of mourning and each time I opened my front door, there was a mocha, or a croissant, or flowers or chocolate, or a note saying ‘You are loved’…even homemade Tabbouleh salad (UH-mazing).

Each treasure a reminder, “We’re here for you – when you’re ready.” This helped me in the healing journey more than the physical solitude. Because,  I don’t really want to mourn alone. My body wants to be solo, but not my spirit. My spirit was being loved and prayed for as my body was huddled on the floor. I could feel it. And it made all the difference.

It’s teaching me to ask questions about my own role as a friend. How do my friends feel loved by me? How do they grieve? What makes them feel seen? How am I showing them I’m here?

This is sincere friendship. Meeting others in the spaces they understand as support. It may not match up with the way we receive support.

Three ways to help a friend who’s having a brutal week:

  1. Ask them what they need and accept the answer. If they don’t want to hang out, don’t push the subject. Find a way to love them outside the door – a thoughtful note, their favorite chocolate, cozy slippers. If you offer a coffee date and they say, ‘yes!’…jump in your car and hustle over there. Elijah affirmed his friendship with Elisha saying,As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 2:2)  The point is to affirm they’re not alone.
  2. If they don’t want to talk, text them your prayers. I have a best friend who texts me prayers as though she is speaking them over me. Complete with, “Dear Lord” and “Amen”. Sometimes a simple, “I’m thinking of you right now,” is all we need. “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God. (Job 16:20) The point is to affirm you care enough about them to carry their pain to God.
  3. Bring them joy. Make them laugh. I have a dear friend who knew I was having a rough week, and instead of asking how I was feeling over and over, she texted me a photo of her newly cracked treadmill with the line, “I killed it with my fatness”. I literally laughed out loud. This gorgeous Mamma isn’t overweight, she’s 8-months pregnant! Laughter brings our spirits up for fresh air. “The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.”(Psalm 30:5 MSG) The point is to affirm perspective. They won’t feel this way forever.



Resurrecting Love

‘With much prayer and consideration, we have decided to close our International Adoption Program in Ghana…’

I read the email again. I felt nothing. I tried…but nope. Nothing.

Three years of working towards International Adoption, shot down with a bullet-like, single, sentence. Fifteen thousand dollars, non-refundable, seemed a single cent up against the late night prayers, longing hopes and maybe baby names scribbled on the edge of my journal pages…all, non-refundable. The hundreds of times I glanced at our family photo hanging on our red wall, imagining a beautiful brown-skinned girl sandwiched between me and Eli. There was just enough space there for her, I thought. When we get matched, I can Photoshop her in! I wanted her to know she was always with us, even before we even met her.

We knew there were five children ready to be dispensed to families in the program. We were number three on the list. It was just a matter of time before we received the file with our child’s photo tucked inside. But all it takes is a new person in power sitting at the adoption desk, to halt these international adoptions.

Just. Like. That. These five children, who had no other living relatives that could care for them; no one who wanted them in their own country, were left frozen in an orphanage. Across the sea, there were five, waiting families frozen in shock.

We planned on naming her Zellie Anne Hope. Zellie was short for Gizelle; which means ‘a pledge’. Aaron and I were pledging to God that we would care and defend the cause of the orphan, and our precious, ransomed daughter. Anne; honoring Aaron’s Mom who passed away unexpectedly 5 years ago. Hope; because that is what people would see when we walked hand in hand in Trader Joes.

All of these imaginings: Non-refundable. Two nights later, I sat on the floor, holding all of these thoughts like a sack of potatoes; heavy and awkward to manage for my small frame.

Ok God, you shut that door, but what do I do with all THIS? All these things I can’t return, I can’t get back. It feels like I’ve wasted so much on something that wasn’t even real.
I wish I had a poetic way of describing how I felt, but the truth is, I was sad. Just so, so sad. Deep, I’m so heavy, I may crush-and -crack -the -floor -beneath- me, kind of sad. The truth is, I am still sad over this loss. It feels like a death to me.

Jesus knows a thing or two about death. He knows a thing or two about resurrection, too.

Sometimes, he allows death, to show us he has the power to resurrect. He loves us that much.

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea” (John 11: 3-7 NIV).

Catch this: Jesus chose to stay where he was two more days. If Jesus had gone to Lazarus as soon as he heard he was sick, he could have made it in time to heal him. He would not have died. Even Martha says this to him when he comes, “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21-22).

But, he did die. Jesus knew he would; he intentionally waited until Lazarus was buried in a tomb. But why did he wait? The Bible tells us one reason in the preceding sentence, “Now, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, SO…he stayed where he was two more days”.

In other words: Jesus loved them, so he allowed death. This side of heaven, this is a hard truth to comprehend.

In this specific instance, Jesus chose to resurrect the dead. He did this so the disciples traveling with him would believe in his power, “for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:15). But what about Martha? She already believed, saying, “I know that even now God will give whatever you ask”.

Could it be, he allowed the death not to show her his resurrecting power, but his resurrecting love?

“When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’.  Jesus wept” (John 11: 33-35).

Martha witnessed the man she confessed to be, “Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27), moved with compassion.

She watched the King of the World, the Alpha & Omega, the Saving Messiah, the Creator of all things: Weep.

I find this to be more powerful than the resurrection of a dead man.

I find this to be more powerful than the resurrection of our adoption dream.

We have a God who mourns with us.

Martha did not ask Jesus to come. She sent a messenger to tell him her problem. I imagine she knew he would come.  It appears Martha didn’t expect an earthly resurrection at that moment (John 11:24). But, she did expect Jesus.
We may expectantly pray for Jesus to resurrect certain things in our life. But in most cases, that is not what we really need. What we really need, is Jesus to come.
We need to understand that he is deeply moved with compassion for us. We need to see that he is willing to sit next to us and cry.

I do not know if God will allow adoption in our lives. It is a confusing time for us. I used to pray that he would resurrect this situation and blow me away by opening doors in Ghana again, or in the U.S.A., or anywhere! These prayers were not bad. But my heart and focus have shifted. He has heard my ‘problem’, and he has come. Jesus is with me. He has shown he is deeply moved in his spirit for me. He has wept with me.

Oh, I still believe Jesus has the power to resurrect this situation! But let me clear, the King of the World has wrapped his arms around me and whispered: I have come. I see you. Let me cry with you. I love you.

When all is stripped away, the only resurrection that matters is HIS. I trust him in all things. In death, in resurrection, in the waiting. I trust that whatever he allows, is because he wants more people to witness his compassionate love and faithfulness. So I write this to declare, even when I don’t understand his ways: My God is good! My God is with me!