Fear

Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | Be You Bravely, courage, death, Fear, finishing well, Hope, running, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | No Comments

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

Navigating Grief: Facing Triggers and Trauma

Posted by | Fear, Grief, Hope, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

 

I take the exit for Herndon Avenue. My heart starts to race as I approach that intersection. I look to my right, and my eyes linger on the stone statue of Jesus with hands spread, that circular drive, the white façade of the towering buildings. I feel a little queasy.

Although my husband only spent three days in that hospital during his cancer journey, I remember it felt like an eternity. I had to take him in after his tumor ruptured. They performed an emergency surgery. We spent two sleepless nights together tossing and turning in the nightmare of our new reality.

Both the surgeon and the oncologist told me he only had a short time to live. My worst fears were coming true.

My husband graduated to Heaven less than two months later.

For a long time, I had trouble driving down Herndon. I knew I had to pass that hospital and the anxiety would rise up from the depths of my stomach. I would start to feel sweaty. My hands would shake on the steering wheel. I would find myself frozen in time. The scenes and conversations from our time there would repeat in my mind.

That place, that intersection is a trigger for me. Triggers are common for widows and people in general who have lost a loved one or endured a traumatic event. In a simple sense, a trigger is a sight, sound or smell that brings a person back to a memory that causes her to review the death or traumatic event over and over in her mind.

My choices: avoid that street altogether or lean in and process the memories.

According to Jill Harrington LaMorie, a licensed clinical social worker with Open to Hope ministry: “Most are not aware that death by traumatic means qualifies as a traumatic stressor and leaves the survivor more vulnerable to post traumatic stress in addition to grief.”

I didn’t think about the trauma I’d been through over my husband’s death until one day when I was sitting in circle with a group of young widows and one said she had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Prior to that, I always connected PTSD with those who have experienced trauma because of military service. My dad counsels war veterans. He tells me PTSD is common among them. I never thought about PTSD in the context of other types of death and the grief journey.

Then I started paying attention.

I listened to another widow friend unfold the details of her husband’s death because of cancer. As she spoke in a trembling voice, I knew her memories had triggers like mine. She affirmed that going certain places or even seeing certain people threw her back to memories of his death. In some ways, it’s like a repeating track in the mind that just needs someone or something to press play.

Patty Behrens, my friend and therapist who specializes in grief and loss, says trauma is common in her clients. She says it’s especially prevalent among young widows and those who have lost children when there was a sudden or traumatic death. This can manifest into PTSD, depending on the length and symptoms of the actual diagnoses.

I still drive by that hospital almost every day but my reaction is not the same as it was two years ago. Thankfully, with God’s help, I have been able to work through these triggers. I had to create new grooves for my mind so it wouldn’t play that track. I learned to pray, recite scripture and deliberately move my mind to think about good memories with my husband.

I know navigating trauma is unique process for every person. For some, it might require counseling. For others, it might require the support of community. For others, that may be a personal journey leaning into the memories and learning to redeem them with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is no shame in any of these. It’s another reminder that every grief journey is unique. We need to offer up grace to ourselves and others as they steer through this difficult journey called grief.

 

 

 

Have you experienced these kinds of triggers or memories in your own grief journey? How do you face them? Please comment or share this article with a friend who might benefit.

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series? Check them out here:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

 When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope. Let’s connect!

When your morning feels stressful, start with music {and a free playlist!}

Posted by | Fear, Inspirational, rest, self-care, Stories | No Comments

 

About a year ago I was struggling with how to spend my time in the morning. I got in this rhythm where the first thing I did was reach for my phone and start scrolling through social media. One thing would lead to the next. I would read an article here, a post there. I would start a conversation with a friend about that cute kid picture she posted on Instagram or my heart would get all worked up about that political meme I saw on Facebook.

Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed and little people were crawling into my room. The day was sucking me in. I felt crabby because I didn’t have any time to quiet my soul, to read my Bible, to connect with God. I knew I had to make a change. I was squandering my time, and it was affecting my attitude.

That’s when I decided to create a Morning Worship playlist. I longed for a new rhythm, a new way to start my day. I wanted to get back to seeing God’s glory from the moment I woke up.

I am that girl who had a different sound track for every season of life. If I hear U2 or Sade or Amy Grant or Miles Davis, I can conjure up memories of another place and another time in my life. I grew up making those mix tapes on my little boom box in the ‘80s and burning CDs in the ‘90s. I was always working to assemble that just-right blend of tunes.

In 2014, I discovered Spotify. If you’ve never used Spotify before, it’s a free music app or site where you can make your own music playlists or listen to what others have compiled. Yes, this is the 2017 version of those mix tapes I used to make. I fell in love. (I even splurge for the premium account now so I don’t have to listen to commercials.)

I needed music in 2014 more than any other year. I remember those days vividly. Each morning before school, I urged my three girls to kiss their daddy one more time. We would pile in the family Highlander with our usual mess of backpacks, coats and lunches. I often choked back the tears, wondering if this would be their last goodbye. As the cancer continued to spread through his body, I had to juggle “normal” mama duties and being his caretaker.

The only thing that would lift me from the horror of each day was worship music.

On the drive back to our house from school drop offs, I would blast my music. The lyrics washed over me, lifting me, guiding me home. I poured my heart out to God in song. And He met me there.

I learned to redefine worship in that season. Music was not just playing in the background. It was my guide taking me to God in the darkest moments.

One of my favorite examples of how God uses music to bring healing in the Bible is in 1 Samuel 16. King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit that filled him with fear. His servants suggested looking for someone to play the lyre. They understood the power of music to calm the soul. They recruited a young man named David.

I Samuel 16:23 says, “And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him” (ESV).

I recently read an article that talked about the neuroscience behind listening to music. The article said a single song can reduce anxiety up to 65 percent. Music has the power to calm our nervous system.

In this age of unprecedented stress in our jobs, swirling politics, chaos in our country, tension online between friends and in communities, we need to develop habits to start our day with our Creator who holds all things in His hands.

My challenge to myself and to you in 2017 is to start each morning with music. I’ve curated a FREE music playlist for my readers to get started. Try listening to just two worship songs each morning. Meditate on the words. Let them lead you into prayer or Bible study.

***

I hear the alarm ring out in the darkness. I lean over to turn it off and press play on my Morning Worship playlist. As my body and my mind are still waking up, the music dances through my room. I take in the truths of the lyrics. I pray. I open my Bible.

It’s a habit now.

This is the way I pivot toward God each morning instead of being sucked into the chaos of social media and the to-do list. This is the way I center myself. When dawn’s light slips into my bedroom window, I am ready for a new day.

Cover yourself with grace and join me.

Ready to start a new morning rhythm and start your day with music? I’d love to send you my specially-curated FREE Morning Worship playlist. You can try it out and then create your own!

The Ministry of Presence

Posted by | community, Compassion, courage, Culture, death, Fear, friendship, Grief, Hope, Personal Stories, politics, protecting kids, relationships, serve, Sharing faith, Social Justice, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 2 Comments

 

Last night I woke to the sound of my 5-year-old whimpering in the next room. I ran in to check on her. “Mama, mama, I had the baddest dream,” came her trembling voice. I climbed into the top bunk bed next to her and laid down. “Mama’s here,” I assured her. She put her little hand in mine. Immediately, I felt her body relax. She drifted back to sleep. In that moment, I realized what my baby-girl needed was my presence.

That little scenario made me pause. I couldn’t help thinking about the emotions I have felt in the weeks following the election and the Inauguration last Friday. This season has been harrowing to say the least. I have voted in six presidential elections in my lifetime, and I never remember it being this bad. The divisiveness, the name calling, the character bashing, the violence, the fear, the dismissiveness of those in my community grieves me.

Immediately following the election, I read a lot of posts on social media that people should stop being crybabies about the outcome. I read more of the same after the Inauguration on Friday and the Women’s March on Saturday. These were painful to read because there is so much more at stake here. It’s not a simple, “Your team won; mine lost” scenario. Meanwhile, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have also been teeming with posts about hate crimes and sexual assaults committed, about friends with families and local businesses who fear being deported, about school children expressing uncertainty about their future.

My heart aches for my people and our country.

I have been searching for my place in all this. I have been asking myself, “How can I use my voice as a woman, as a multi-ethnic American, and as a Christian in this climate? How can I leverage my privileges to lift up the most vulnerable? How can I offer grace and love to my neighbor in tense times like these?” The answer I keep hearing is related to what my 5-year-old taught me when she was fighting her nightmare. I need to offer up the “ministry of presence.”

In this context, a “ministry of presence” means moving in close to listen, laying down our defensiveness and agendas, and offering up empathy instead. I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s latest book, The Broken Way, and she reminds me anew that Jesus always moves into the places of grief and offers up the ministry of presence. She writes, “In a broken world, isn’t the call always to koinonia, to communion with community that bears our burdens with us? Wasn’t suffering then actually a call for us to be a community, to stand together and bear under, trusting that arms of love are always under us?”

I have been offered the gift of presence several times in my life, and it has been important to my healing. When I was in college, I was walking to class one day and two men grabbed me from behind. In the days that followed that sexual assault, fear rose up inside me like an all-consuming monster. Thankfully, I escaped rape but the damage to my mind had already been done. I could not walk down the street or a hallway without feeling anxiety or going into a panic attack.

During that season, a dear friend and her boyfriend (who later in life became a police officer) decided to be present with me. They woke up early every morning and walked me to my classes. They waited around to see me home in the evenings. It was a simple gesture but their presence made all the difference in the world. Little by little – through counseling and mountains of prayers over many years – I regained confidence. I found the tools to combat my fear. Of course, it was unrealistic for them to be my bodyguards for life but their willingness to be present with me in that initial season was a powerful gift.

More than 15 years later, I faced a devastating stage four cancer diagnosis for my beloved husband. This was a different kind of trauma. During that journey, I had hundreds of people who offered to help us in tangible ways but it was the ones who offered the “ministry of presence” whom I needed the most. Friends came to play worship music for my husband in his final days. Friends came to sit with us through the long hours of the night when he faced the most pain, and I was the most exhausted. My community stood with me by the graveside, and they offered my young daughters and me a safe space to grieve in the months to follow.

One family offered us the gift of their presence just a few months after his death when it was time to buy a Christmas tree. Our family’s tradition was to go to a local Christmas tree lot and pick out a tree with Daddy. As the time drew closer to Christmas, dread heightened in my heart. Our friends asked me this question, “How can we be present for you this season? What’s something we can do to support you?” They agreed to accompany us to the Christmas tree lot.

The girls ran down the aisles of the tree lot in search of the perfect tree with their friends. The husband helped secure it to my car. My dear friend hugged me tight as we put it up in our home. The tears pooled in my eyes when a gathering of friends came to decorate our tree. We shared ornaments with all of them as reminders of my husband and his quirky personality.

This simple act was healing for our family because it was more than a “like” on Facebook or an act of service, more than a check or card in the mail. They were not focused on giving advice or urging me to get over it. These friends stepped into a messy, awkward situation full of grief and memories, and they were present. They listened to our needs and offered to go with us on the journey. We were not alone.

I give these two examples because I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

We recently visited a family who has adopted children from Ethiopia and Mexico. A picture of Donald Trump flashed on the television behind us. Their middle son asked his mama again and again if his brother would be deported. She told me he has asked hundreds of times in the last week. His parents try to reassure him and offer up comfort, but it’s hard.

I sat at my kitchen table the other day listening to the story of a dear friend who has been working for years to get her American citizenship. The process has been hairy. She watched the election with fear and trembling, realizing the ramifications for her family after living and contributing in the U.S. for decades. I listened. She educated me. She spoke with courageous faith and prayed for God to make a way for her now.

I recently dined with a group of my heart friends at a local Indian restaurant, where we often celebrate each other’s birthdays. This group of friends represents a diversity of cultures and professions. We all attend different churches and live in different parts of the city. It was important to be present with each other, to sit face to face and listen to each other’s unique experiences. One woman’s son was afraid his grandma (who is a citizen) will be sent back to El Salvador. Another friend said one of her clients just chose to move to Mexico to escape all that is happening.

I considered my own multi-ethnic daughters, whose hair colors and skin colors vary in hue. How would these next four years shape their cultural identities? Would they endure comments and prejudice? As mamas, my friends and I contemplated: How can we administer grace, teach resilience and model peace in our communities and our homes?

My challenge to myself and to you is to ask: How can I be present for someone today? This is not just about acts of service or help. It’s taking time to listen, to empathize, to grieve alongside others.

These are some practical examples that have inspired me:

-invite friends to dinner and ask them to share their stories
-walk to school with neighbors and friends
-make something and deliver it to a neighbor from a different cultural background and ask them how they are doing
-offer to sit and be present with someone who is grieving
-read books to your children about empathy, kindness and other cultures
-stand with someone in your community who is afraid
-speak up against racist or sexist remarks

Friends, this is how we can be used by God in these uncertain times. In Matthew 1:23, an angel announces the birth of Jesus Christ: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.’)” God chose to put on flesh and come to earth as a baby, who grew to be a man, who chose to be with people, to walk alongside them in their suffering, and lay down his life for them.

In the same way, we are designed to dwell with others in community. We need to carve out space for lament in our churches. We need to ask the hard questions and listen to our neighbor’s story. We need to set aside our political differences and be present with others, especially those vulnerable during this season. This is activism too. We need to seize the opportunity to be Immanuel – God with us – to those in our community.

**This article was previously published on www.inAllthings.org.

Reduce stress and start your day with music! Let me send you my specially-curated FREE Morning Worship playlist! Join me!

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