As I sit in the cool night air, I am struck by the peace and calm of the insects singing all around me. This night seems to be in stark contrast to many of the nights that appeared to repeat in slight variations over the years. Grief is funny that way, and though I tried my best to ignore it both growing up and as an adult, the sadness of stolen moments just wouldn’t let me go.
I know that every human being who has lived any significant amount of time will have experienced grief at some point. It always fascinates me how some people seem to heal quickly with purpose, resolve, and no visible signs of wounds. Then, there is me. The tender-hearted, brain-damaged “softy” who has a difficult time processing and letting go of things I don’t understand. I compensate for all of this by striving, achieving, and controlling life, all the while looking for validation. With every loss, my trust in the goodness in life, and God, diminished so much that I either masked the pain or ignored real emotions until the point that frustration, anger, depression, or flat-out apathy took over. Just writing these words and admitting the truth makes my cheeks and ears burn!
My relationship with God started when I was nine years old. I was raised in church but didn’t really FEEL God until I lost it all. That was also the first time I met Grief. I didn’t really know what God nor grief was, but I could feel them both deeply after an accident where I fell out of an attic onto my head and ended up with a blood clot on my brain. When you are nine, appearances and experiences are everything! I missed Halloween that year and had to relearn EVERYTHING, including how to walk and talk again. I also lost friends due to my newly shaven half a head, not yet a popular trend in the fourth grade. I struggled to communicate effectively, and years of my memory ended up like a blank slate that would make me feel like I missed my childhood (a reality I wouldn’t name until many years of adult counseling).
It’s funny to me how it is so easy to name what I lost, but yet it is hard for me to admit that IT HURT and still does sometimes. When the headaches come, or brain fatigue hits, it is difficult to explain what I need. Sometimes, life just demands that you “pull up your bootstraps” and keep going, while God says, “Let go, my child…I’ve got you!” I can’t quite explain how I heard God throughout my brain injury. What I can tell you is that when I was in His presence, I found inexplicable peace. As I would come to find out, God’s peace is always available but hard to hold onto. It is a decision.
Throughout my adolescence and into adulthood, the knots and notches of pain and peace would repeat, building on each other, one after another, in a leapfrog style. Fear joined the club after I watched a friend die of cancer as a teenager, followed in my 20’s by a terrible bout of insomnia and a string of deaths of people I knew. I lived as BIG as I could, trying to outrun the next grief moment. I traveled to Australia and moved to Florida on a whim. Rarely did I consider inviting God to my pain party. I got married, had a child, and bought a house. Things seemed good, really good! Then my most painful grief moment happened, a divorce that rocked me to my core!
Pain, Despair, Insecurity, and Fear became my best friends, as well as my identity. I never thought that I would hear my husband say, “I’m done. I never wanted to get married,” as our 18-month-old slept in his room in the dreamhouse that we bought a few months earlier. Add in the daily challenges of life—like a broken toilet or washer or dryer or garage door or the day I was bitten by a dog—and I broke—more like, shattered!
Maybe as a Christian I am not supposed to say this out loud, but after all of these seemingly unfair circumstances, I was mad, REALLY MAD, at God! How could a loving Father who has the power to heal ANYTHING allow so much to happen in less than 40 years? How much was I supposed to “handle” with grace and positivity, and what about the other people who were hurt by each of these life events or endured far worse than I had? I had just one question,
“God, where were you in all of this?”
I would like to say that after the recovery from my brain injury that I was full of faith and confidence in God’s goodness. In all honesty, I was anything but. I felt guilty for feeling mad, angry for the onslaught of challenges, helpless and hopeless, and I blamed God. On the outside, I was sunshine and rainbows. On the inside, I was dying! Anyone close to me could attest to this, as they were the ones who had to bear the wrath of my anger, sadness, mood swings, and depression. Little by little, I had allowed life, and the lies of the enemy, to chip away at my faith, hope, joy, and ability to love. I became so self-centered that you were either on my train or about to get run over by it! God was NOT yet allowed onto my Hot Mess Express. He still waited.
John 10:10 says,
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Needless to say, I spent so much time questioning God and agreeing with Grief that I lost the only thing that I can give up willingly, TIME. I neglected to see the provision and opportunities that my brain injury afforded me and simply fought the good parts with self pity. Who cares if the brain injury increased my creative capacity and allowed me to empathize with others? I just wanted comfort, ease, and normalcy. Who cares if I was given more deep and meaningful friendships than most—people who locked arms with me in life? I just wanted a break. I refused to listen to my gut about praying, or slowing down, or diving into the Word to understand who God actually IS. Instead, I slipped further and further down the rope, burning scars into my heart until I had completely lost the strong, spontaneous, “silver lining” girl I once knew. I could only see the first half of that verse. But God was good. He just waited for me with arms wide open. It was at the very last string of my rope that I tried the only thing left to try, LETTING GO and LOOKING for God!
I call it:“The Experiment,” the Great “What-If?”
It seemed that the most content people I knew had one thing in common, a deep relationship with God. They had their own challenges but also seemed to really know how to use the Bible to navigate a lot of things in life. Me, on the other hand, I really didn’t think that “The Word” was Truth but, rather, a nice book to read. I was at a point of desperation and out of ideas. So, three years ago, God entered my experiment, guiding me along the way with Grace, Mercy, and Love. The start was relatively simple. I sat down in a quiet place and said,
“Okay, God. If you are real, then you are going to have to help me—like, a LOT! I’m going to need you to show yourself in a very real way. I feel nothing but sadness, and my heart hurts. I don’t know where to start, and I don’t know where to go.”
And then I sat.
I promised myself that I would repeat this communion with God every day for 21 days, as I had read that it took that long for habits to form. Over the 21 days, I found myself in unexpected places. For the first couple of days, I was numb with thoughts of, “This is dumb and isn’t working.” Then, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed as I started to release the depths of my pain. And then it happened like a light switched on in the dark. I felt something. Feeling love and acceptance was scary after so many years of guarded hiding from who I was and how God made me! I’m not sure where it came from, but it was like a warm hug wrapped around me. I felt Immanuel—God With Us!
Just spending time with God being honest, raw, and real unlocked the prison of lies that I had been stuck behind for so long. The “true me” that longed for acceptance and protection, provision and love just came pouring out! The more I poured out to God, the more He gave back! People came into my life to lift and lead me. History mended itself one piece at a time. It was, and still is, like God and I are putting together the pieces of a bigger puzzle—one that I can’t do on my own. I became ravenous to know more about God, as well as the people and promises in the Bible. What I found surprising is that EVERY SINGLE Bible hero had a hardship to endure, AND they were far from perfect with flaws of their own. Somehow, that made me feel like maybe, just maybe, God could use me too, scars and all. I still haven’t read the whole Bible (or even half of it). Instead, I am taking my time diving deeply into the second half of John 10:10. I don’t ignore the first half but see it for what it is, an attempt to take away what God is so willing to give!
I don’t know what “life to the full” will look like, and I know that the storms will still come. I know that accepting God’s peace is an intentional decision to work through the dark spaces—like a plant struggling to break through the dirt—not escape them. I know that verbalizing my need at the end of my rope activates God’s strength. In my weakness, He is strong! (2 Corinthians 12:9) I am learning to embrace what comes and enjoy the daily blessings moment by moment, one day at a time. I’m starting to release control and perfection and trade them for peace and authenticity. I’m also starting to see how the pain of the past has been woven together for the masterpiece of the present. I’m learning to trust God with what was, what is, and what is to come!
I don’t know what YOU are facing, or may have faced in the past. What I am learning is that GOD WILL work all things together for good (Romans 8:28) if we let Him. When I feel lost, as I sometimes do, I run to my Heavenly Father and tell Him exactly how I feel and what I need. Somehow, He never gets tired and always provides even when it doesn’t look like what I think it should. Remember that divorce? My marriage has not been restored. Instead, through the process, not only have I learned the depths of God’s love for me, but I have learned to love differently, too, by learning to love myself just as I am-imperfections and all! Now, I have a new idea of what family can mean. Is it perfect? No. Is it easy? No. But, our unexpected extended family has given back tenfold in extraordinary ways from what was taken, and forgiveness has led to freedom!
If you find yourself searching for something to hold onto at the end of your rope, why not try an experiment of your own? What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’m living proof that tears that come at night CAN become joy in the morning (Psalm 30:5) as God turns ashes into beauty (Isaiah 61:3)! Now, I cannot wait to see what road is up next, for God is WAITING to light the way for us to navigate together, and He is good! Let the adventure continue!