Grief and Gardens – One Year Later

Earlier this year I shared my story of loss with Grief Stories Podcast. I am thankful for this opportunity. Every loss matters. 🌼🧡

Before the interview I spent many days mulling over what I wanted to share. I had scripted most of my words for fear that I would be too nervous during the actual podcast to remember anything. The process was slow and therapeutic. Each time I went over what I wanted to share tears welled up in my eyes followed by a moment of silence. On the day of the recording I placed a photograph of Grandma and I close to me and poured myself a glass of water in her souvenir glass from Austria. I surrounded myself with memories of her and borrowed from her courage as I shared. As much as I wanted to present a perfectly packaged script I knew that I needed to let go and speak from my heart. …and with slow methodical pauses I did. Here’s to you Grandma. 🌼🧡
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Unveiling

I’ve longed for sunshine like the arrival of vacation after months of drudgery. 

My unrelenting desire is consuming. 

I beg for her return, that she would pierce the grey gloomy skies with the sharpest of knives.

Piercing and peeling back the heavy winter sky.

Like an avalanche delivering streams of liquid gold, she wakes up the hibernating Earth. 

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Grief & Gardens

I sat outside that afternoon on a blanket laid across the grass in my backyard – the sunshine providing the perfect temperature to enjoy the pleasures of summer. I was surrounded by my garden, over grown in places, but green with life.

The type of life that activated fond memories of Grandma and her gardens. My lemon balm reminds me of the time Grandma walked me through Gretel’s garden at the cottage. Grandma bent over and plucked a leaf from the plant, rubbed it between her fingers and placed it under my nose. A fragrance entered my nostrils followed by a deep breath of contentment. “Another name for lemon balm is Melissa” she smiled. “Melissa” has taken over my garden and is a stop that every visitor has to make at my home during the summer months. Just a few weeks ago I walked my sister over to the garden, bent down and plucked a leaf from the plant and handed it to her. “Smell it!” I exclaimed with pride.

A house is not a home – Grandma taught me how to make a home. My house will never be as tidy as hers, but what she taught me as a child became my pride and comfort as an adult.

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Not All Anniversaries

Jolted awake, I grasped my husband’s chest with a hug that cried, “I’m scared!” Frozen in fear I had difficulty interpreting the sudden alarm. My body was reacting to past trauma, but this time stress wasn’t the trigger (my life is much better now compared to a year ago). It had to be something else: it was memory. 

A year ago my body had reached its boiling point and collapsed. Relentless to release culminated stress, I found myself in a panic. Uncontrollable tears, depraved appetite, and what food I could swallow was quickly rejected. Sleep was only a dream. My body renounced life’s essentials. Of course, I hid this torment as best as I could behind the perfect disguise, a smile. But behind closed doors my body revolted & shook like an overworked machine – sparks, smoke and rattling parts grinding against each other. “Listen! Enough is enough!” I lost all control to ‘hold it together.’ For someone with a strong sense of pride, feeling completely out of control was frightening. I was going down and crashing was the only option.

An anniversary is an occasion for celebration. This anniversary is a different one. It marks my surrender. Although today looks very different than a year ago, my mind and body occasionally respond to the past. But I am more frequently met with support and health, and within time I’m replacing fear with trust. I’ll toast this anniversary knowing that like everything of value in this life, it’s a journey branded with both struggle and joy. 

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“What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.” C.S. Lewis

 

 

Treasures Traded

I woke up sleepy but rested. It’s a fresh start. Although my day-to-day has seen only minor changes, I have a new perspective on life. The classic, perfectly-painted life now looks more like multidimensional abstract art.

Today, I’ve embraced my life as a perfectly messy art-form. It’s beautiful because it’s my journey. I’ve re-discovered the simple treasures I lost while trying to paint the perfect life. What a lie that is! And what an ongoing battle to fight! These treasures, hidden by my own blind eyes were always there. They beckoned me, but I ignored their voice. My body was too weathered with stress and those treasures were luxuries – not necessities. One more thing my burdened soul couldn’t balance. 

Today, I’ve humbly traded my classic art piece for time. It came at the cost of my pride and position, but essential for survival. Frantic mornings have turned into a soothing routine of gratitude. Tiny kisses on my nose coupled with a rapidly wagging tail, “Good morning! I must charge the morning by announcing this yard is mine and I’m awake!” A pressed and poured Americano in a hand-picked mug, each sip a memory from where the mug was purchased. A rooster mug from Portugal. A turtle mug from Aruba. A turquoise and white-striped mug – a gift from a special family. Time has allowed for reflection, and with it, knowledge. When life speeds up, my route must be reset. I pull off the speedway and make my way down a scenic road. The natural life – the green, gold and blues – seep into me, revitalizing my soul. 

Time is a choice of focus. Shifting focus, shifts time. 

Today, I woke up sleepy but rested. I gaze beyond the picture perfect life to fully appreciate the perfectly messy art-form – the place where time is stilled and treasures dwell.

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Somewhere Between 23rd & Broad

I lost my voice along the way

Somewhere between 23rd and Broad.

A man walked away with it.

He tucked it in his wallet and carried it like cash.

One more voice ‘cashed in.’

 

My pace, somber and slow,

disappearing with each step.

I fade into the rest

Faces with no names

Branded to fit the masses

Lost in the crowd

 

I lost my voice somewhere between now and then.

Gone.       Not lost.      Paused.

Gradually it returns

somewhere between Broad and New.

I made my own cash

Bought my voice back

Held my head high

Looked everyone in the eyes

 

My voice returned

It beats with sound

A rhythm felt with no words

Robbed and returned

It’s my voice – quiet and bold.

Lost but found.

 

I lost my voice along the way

never to be taken again

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Brighter and More Beautiful

 

From time to time I reassess my life’s purpose. I feel that I’ve gained some life experience – at least enough to have an idea of what’s most important in life. My life’s purpose has changed from the need to figure out my vocation (my 9-5) to a method/means in how I live my life. My focus has shifted from ‘calling’ to the ‘day-to-day’ mindset.

A friend commented on my last post by saying how Isaiah 43 has helped her understand God’s love. I thought I’d refresh my memory and read it for myself. There were many parts of the passage that brought me encouragement, one of them being that we are made for God’s glory. Those words kept repeating in my mind and yet I had no practical understanding of what that truly meant.

The initial image I had in my mind after reading “we are made for God’s glory” was that of a proud and loving father who takes tremendous pride in his children. I have yet to meet a parent that doesn’t think his/her child is the best. Even when a child misbehaves, there is this unrelentless love a parent has that doesn’t allow behaviour to outshine all the good in his/her child. Despite the ups and downs that come with parenting, Moms and Dads dearly love their children, and if given the opportunity will let you know exactly how proud they are of them. Despite all our short-comings God, too, views us as His pride and joy.

…so this was the initial picture I had in my mind after reading “I have made them for my glory.” Isaiah 43:7b My second thought was one that crosses a critic’s mind “Isn’t that selfish of God to create us for the soul purpose of giving Him glory? As if He needs an ego boost!” Our idea of glory includes wealth, power and influence. People step back in admiration (or jealousy) when someone steps out of an expensive car or a movie star walks a red carpeted event or CEO of multimillion dollar company talks about his/her success at a conference. Not that these individuals are necessarily looking for admiration but their ‘perceived’ status makes others want to be like them. God, unlike our idea of glory, doesn’t need us to make Him ‘look good!’ He is glory. …and we are made for His glory.

To think that we are created to make someone other than us greater is an ego downgrade. This is hard for us to grasp since we humans don’t have a great track record for making someone other than ourselves look good. We are very selfish, and on the severe end of the spectrum can be down right evil to each other. If my perception of God is distant, power-hungry and uninvolved, than of course I’d think that He is selfish in wanting glory. I’m thankful that my experience with God is loving, forgiving and near therefore I have no problem illuminating who He is.

To be made for His glory frees me up from exhausting thoughts about my life’s purpose. To look beyond what I can get out of this life to how I might I illuminate God’s glory. “We weren’t meant to be somebody – we were meant to know Somebody.” – John Piper. Wealth, fame, glory, power and so on, are signs that we have somehow ‘arrived’ in life but have nothing to do with our life’s purpose. Our purpose isn’t to turn ourselves into a god (someone important or above others) but to reveal Him in our daily lives. “It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.” – John Piper. God was never made for us. We are made for God’s glory. Being made for God’s glory means we illuminate who God is – loving, faithful, kind, just and forgiving.

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Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

Once again I feel like I am like a child trying to understand the complex truth and nature of God. Being made for God’s glory frees me from trying to figure out my life’s purpose. Instead, I know that in all things I need to embody who God is – kind, loving, forgiving, just and faithful. I know that God views me like a proud and loving parent, and hopes that I choose goodness, kindness, faith over selfish desires. When we welcome the living, personal presence of God we become “brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” 2 Corinthians 3:18

God’s Love Is Permanent

With one hand grasping an Americano and the other spreading open the pages of a recently purchased book, I read the words “God’s love is permanent” and the noise around me ceases. A calm comes over me. I’ve heard the words “God loves me” many times in my life and in many different ways, but to think that His love is permanent brought a new perspective to my beliefs. What struck me was how I don’t live like I believe that “God’s love is permanent.”

It’s hard for me to imagine anything in this life as being permanent. Tattoos aren’t forever thanks to laser technology. Marriage is meant to be a life-long commitment but love often doesn’t last forever. Even landscapes change over centuries. ‘Permanent’ in my experience is simply ‘a really really long time,’ or ‘until I get sick of it,’ but not necessarily forever. It’s no wonder I have a difficult time imagining God’s love as being permanent.

I’m happy to say that I’m not the only one who struggles to understand God’s love. Paul described God’s love as “too great to understand” but wants us to have the “power to understand” it:

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19

My limited understanding of ‘permanent’ has made it difficult to believe that God’s love isn’t just a ‘really really long time’ or until He gets sick and tired of my roller coaster life. Our human ‘forever’ love is conditional on how we feel about the other person on any given day. If we get annoyed with them, we have no hesitation changing our relationship status. Even the degree in which we love family (the most ‘permanent’ relationship) is conditional on how we feel about them. Our experience with relationships makes it difficult to understand this idea that God’s love is permanent – it doesn’t change and it is always apart of us. God’s love is not constrained by our sense of time or limited to our good deeds or lack there of.

While I’ll be quick and sure to say “God loves me,” if I take an honest inventory of my life, I live as if God’s love has an expiration date. It’s found in very subtle ways: When I’m overwhelmed with life, I’m so busy trying to figure out things on my own that I don’t have time for God’s love (or to think that He actually wants to be apart of my busy schedule). When I’m exhausted and feeling low, I go into a survival mode and can’t feel God’s peace. When I’m immersed in selfish pursuit, I picture God sitting at a distance with His arms crossed waiting for me to ‘get it together.’

As I sat amongst a sea of laptops at the coffee shop where I was reading, I knew I needed to let those few words “God’s love is permanent” take ownership in my soul. I’m finding more and more often it is the obvious truths (the truths that I once knew so strongly in my early Christian life) that I need to return to. It’s like hearing the words “I love you” over and over again but longing for the intimacy behind those common words.

The delicious yet bitter taste of my Americano became more rich in flavour with the words “God’s love is permanent,” and it triggered a month long journey back to a place of letting God love me. I’ve been allowing the words to sink deep in my soul and change my outlook of who He is and who I am. I’m discovering love doesn’t look for faults, neither does it overlook them. Love is patient when I’m ignoring God or pursuing selfish desires. Love doesn’t sit in the judgement seat but in gentleness holds a mirror of truth to my face and gives me time to reassess my life. Love is more than a pat on the back or an inspirational quote like “Stay strong and keep going!” Love believes in me when doubts have clouded my judgment. Love befriends me in my loneliness. Love is forever imprinted in my heart. It never leaves me and the more I welcome it, the larger its influence becomes in my life.

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“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9