Grief

Wooing

Shelby Forsythia sent me an email this week saying she shared a bonus feature with content from our podcast conversation back in December. Parts of our conversation now fill an “in the meantime” slot for Coming Back and when I clicked play in the email, the words caused my brain to pause.

She asked me what was beautiful on that day back in December. December! Wasn’t I staring at Christmas lights just yesterday? Three months ago it was dark and cold and we were wrapping up one year in anticipation of the next. I was trying to live and plan ahead while hoping to cut off the pulsing blood supply to my grief wound. March was looming and with it came the promise of big birthdays and hard anniversaries.

Taking action, I thought, could help me resist the need to stay burrowed under dirt and hurt.

Ruth Chou Simons, painter of beautiful words and the owner of GraceLaced, said earlier this week on her Instagram,

“I won’t regale you with all the reasons and circumstances, but this has been a long winter for me. You, too? 

But suddenly, branches are brimming with flowering buds and green shoots break through the cold, hard earth. Turns out, Spring arrived while I was busy thinking I’d never make it through the winter.

In reality, despite the way it feels to our feeble minds, God has not been hibernating or taking time off in our winter season …

While we’re wondering if He’s still at work in the circumstances that feel so impossible, He has been holding all things together for the unfurling of His plan.

Friend: what if your winter is His wooing?”

Wooing.

A gentle pursuit rather than a braggy ‘check out what I can do for you.’ I’m imagining a God whose wooing persists through desperation. Who woos while accepting angry blows to the chest from my flailing fists.  The wooing from a loving spirit invites rest, waiting, and hope. Wooing requires trust, intimacy, and vulnerability. And wooing requires a willing recipient of all that attention.

I’ve been praying while doubting the wooing for quite some time. Asking and failing to trust all the same.

March submerged me in a pile of small grief bubbles, triggers popping like soap suds as days rolled off the calendar, moving us closer to the three year anniversary. I noticed today, though, my gosh, the days have suddenly passed.

So much has shifted since December and that interview.

When I stop to listen and sit at the feet of God’s mountains, his foothills, his rustling bare trees I see all that God has done for me and my family in our dark winter season. I’ve been angry and weeping and moving and still he kept saying, “I’m here.”

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It’s light out longer now. The sun dances through my kitchen window long passed 7 pm. The things we had been praying for for two years just burst themselves beautifully into our lives like brave tulips poking their little heads out of hibernation and into our garden plot. The same patch of dry dirt that has been waiting. The place where we plan to cultivate beautiful things in this new season ahead.

Wooing.

God’s still at it – whispering to please slow down – for it is time to till the dirt and the hurt into beautifully rich earth instead.

This morning

A friend from high school now leads a Lutheran congregation in Alaska. She posted this poem on her Facebook yesterday.

The pains of the world:
There are many.
The joys of the world:
There are a multitude.
To hold one while avoiding the other:
A human struggle of distraction.
Both are vital.
Give both the attention they request.
Your soul demands tending of both.

This is what I’ve been doing. Tending both.

Today, it has been three years since I was introduced to sorrow so deep. Three years since he died. Man, it still sucks typing those words.

In the last 365 days I’ve been flirting with joy, allowing it to tickle my toes and tempt my heart as we begin to believe that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get used to this pain.

This morning I will write a letter to my father and I may weep. I’ll head to work and have my people on speed dial should panic attacks decide to knock on my office door.

I’ll breath deeply and drink Pike’s Place coffee and mostly, this morning, I’ll remember. The sparkle in his eyes. The badly dancing hips, the sound of his laugh. The way he would get out of bed on Saturday mornings when I was in high school, making room for me to chill with my mom. I’ll remember waffles, his Einstein hair, plaid pajamas and encouraging texts and bad jokes from yahoo. I’ll remember how it got worse before it got better and how far we have come. And I’ll listen to this song by JJ Heller on repeat.

Thank you to all who have walked with us this far.

Dad, we miss you.


I see the tears sitting on your cheeks
I know you’re tired, fall now to sleep
Stop fighting so hard, it’s time to surrender
Raise your white flag and always remember
Your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning
It’s been a long day, and you did your best
Let go of the past, it’s time now to rest
The weight of the world is getting too heavy
Give it to Jesus, His arms are steady
And your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning
Close your lovely eyes
Can you feel the sunrise
Your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well
And your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning

 

Crying in Church

I’ve only heard God speak to me once before.

Seven words imprinted on my soul as I sat in a big stone church in Tacoma, Washington where I couldn’t stop crying. I was eighteen and had spent three months trying to adjust to my freshman year of college.

You are coming home for a reason, he whispered.

I didn’t know then what the heck that meant. I only knew I felt I had made a horrible choice in going to school so far away from home. I knew I wouldn’t stay and I hated the Pacific Northwest, and the rain wouldn’t stop, and I was ready for my mom to come and get me.

A few days later, I dropped out of the picturesque private school and my mom arrived with boxes to move me back across the country. I tried.

God told me I was coming home.

Years passed and I went to college an hour away from where I grew up. I spent time with my family and met a boy and as you know, the rest is history.

And then we lost him.

And things got murky.

And I began to wonder, ‘Is this the reason God was telling me about all those years ago?’

I like to think yes, yes that’s what God meant. I came home to bend and to grow, to meet my husband, to learn about family. Mostly, I wonder if he meant I came home to spend time with Dad.

This weekend I sat in a quirky auditorium and listened to denim-wearing hipsters with big beards play beautiful worship music on well-worn guitars. The building was much different than the stone church a few hundred miles north that I sat in years ago.

I joke I know worship songs created up until 2011, when my church-going became more sporadic. My friend told me she often doesn’t recognize the songs because the worship band writes the lyrics themselves. No wonder I didn’t recognize the tunes.

As they sang of God turning ashes into new life, and sorrow to joy, I felt it again.

God talking directly to me.

This I will do for you.

Despite my best attempts to swallow up emotion, tears started slowly rolling down my face. In a dark auditorium I wiped at my eyes and smeared my tears on my sleeves, turning my chin down so people I just met wouldn’t see.

I’m having trouble believing transformation is possible.  I want this whisper to be true.  The sorrow we carry will morph, lift and change, and the ashes we’ve spread will turn to joy.

I’m not sure I believe him, but I heard God again. Whispering loudly to me.

I was crying in church. What a beautiful thing.

Frisee and Calloused Skin

I’ve been sitting on my hands. Have you ever tried to walk forward while your arms are pinned under your seat? It’s impossible. In order for your butt to literally move forward, you have to have your hands at your side.

For the last three years, my fists have been clenched. They’ve stayed under me, or in my lap, warped fingers holding in the hurt of grief and the negative self-talk of not-quite-good enough to get over this enormous thing that happened to us.

While caring people have been helping me unfurl my fingers wound tight, I’ve been sitting, still on pause. Waiting for news, waiting for opportunity for my husband, waiting for the next shoe to drop. If my hands are balled tight, I can punch the next bout of pain away.

While poised to punch, I’ve been missing out. I know, last month I wrote a long list of steps I’ve planned and the lists of living accomplishments I’m hoping to step into this year. It’s easy to run away and retreat in the mountains and to seek companionship with crashing waves and old friends over steaming mugs and stormy skies.

What’s been harder for me is learning how to be me in my community – the one I grew up in, the one that shaped me, the one where we lost him and I still remain.

I started my career in nonprofit development. I’ve learned, oddly enough, I love raising money. I’m good at making funds flow in by telling stories to tug heart strings and change lives. Social work matters to me. And since Dad’s death, I had to step away from philanthropy. This morning, after three years out of that scene, I drove to a fundraising luncheon with the ladies who lunch. I read a book in my car as I waited – I had arrived fifteen minutes early. Chit-chat be damned – I was hiding as long as I could.

The minutes ticked as I turned pages and finally, I put on red lipstick matching my heels and walked into the grand ballroom. I scanned the crowd behind my big sunglasses and searched for my “before people” – the ones who knew me pre-death. I avoided eye contact with a few and found a comfortable seat with old friends in the distance.

I asked the networking questions and I ate my plate of greens (Really people, frisee should be forbidden from public lunches. How do you get all those loose fronds in your mouth without looking like a fool?)

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I watched as the videos scrolled and participants shared their stories of change. I got out my checkbook and I made a donation. I felt my fingers move from under my booty to my sides – thankful for my current job and it’s ability to give me a few extra dollars to donate to cause I believe in.

I felt a part of something bigger than me.

This question of fit has been with me for awhile now, taunting asks of ‘How do I stay and grow in a place I’ve lived in for thirty years when I feel and act so differently?’ When I posed this question to my mom, she responded, “Katie, I’ve had four lives in the 30 years we’ve lived here. You can be new here too.”

One need not move across the country to step into freshly grown skin.

Grief rips up your carefully calloused skin. The questions you ask and the tears you cry scrub away dead layers of you-ness previously known to others. In this excruciating process you grow beautifully precious and painfully raw skin.

I’m out in public again, giving money rather than raising it. I’m protective of this fragile layer of self-defense and take care to honor my newness. I’m trying re-entry and writing checks. When I catch myself clenching, I smile and relax my hands, putting them once again at my side.

I face my palms open, ready to receive, pause and then I stand.

What a beautiful thing.

Twenty Things I Learned in My Twenties

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Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

Today I turn 30. The ‘big birthday.’ When I started this blog I was 23, unmarried, and unanchored. A lot has changed in the last seven years and I’m eager to see what the next decade brings. Thank you, dear readers, for watching me grow up.

Reflection brings its own kind of wisdom and before I dance into the next new decade, I’m sharing my love letter of lessons I’ve learned about myself in the last ten years. Enjoy.

  1. Career may not fulfill your soul.
    I spent my early twenties bouncing from job to job searching for the perfect fit. I had nine jobs in ten years. There will be conflict at work. There will be days that feel tedious and boring. It is important to find people you can learn from and environments to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s ok to make a switch, and ok to fail. At least you tried. There’s more to your worth than what you do from 9-5.
  2. Ask for that raise sooner than later. 
    You’re worth it. Practice negotiating and communicating how your skills bring organizations different value. It takes practice and it pays off. The least they can say is no, not right now.
  3. New paint makes a big difference.
    Make your spaces your own. Your house can be a reflection of you. Paint is affordable and it takes just a few hours to reclaim space for rest and rejuvenation.
  4. Planning a wedding is fun. Planning for marriage is improbable.
    I got engaged at the age of twenty three and walked down the aisle at age twenty five. That was young. We did marriage counseling, had dated for six years, and talked about many things. We weren’t prepared for how unemployment, unexpected death, and financial uncertainty would change and shape our young marriage. You can’t plan for all of the scenarios. You can, however, pick a partner who will fight for you and hold your hand when things fall apart.
  5. Pick up those shoes.
    Really, I leave them all over the house. Weekly shoe round-ups should be a thing. I’m messy. Tough.
  6. People will die.
    Yes, your people. They will die. Before your heart is ready with things left unchecked on bucket lists and words left unsaid. This is the worst truth of the universe. Surviving the death of my dad has rearranged me leaving gaps for compassion, empathy, and tears. Death sucks. Grief sucks. People die. It sucks so frickin’ bad.
  7. Say I love you every chance you get.
    The last time I saw my dad, he left my house without me saying good-bye. I just assumed I’d see him the next day. I didn’t say ‘I love you’ and I regret that. Life is short. Tell people how much you love them every chance you get.
  8. Friendships change.
    As you grow and change, so will your friends. Give others grace, stand up at weddings, cheer when they announce they are going to have a baby. Honor the space of sadness when the people you could always count on don’t respond as much as you’d like. Hold space for new relationships. Be the friend you want to have.
  9. Metabolism slows.
    Damn. Buy bigger-sized pants. Eat a few less french fries. Get back to the gym and love your body.
  10. Stop resisting when they offer to do the dishes.
    For a long time, I’d be mortified when my mother-in-law would do my dishes. It made me feel like a horrible host. She’s not silently commenting on the state of the kitchen. She’s instead using her gifts and sharing her time. People will show you their love in all kinds of ways. Stop resisting and say thank you.
  11. Having a dog is beneficial.
    They’ll pee on the carpet and destroy a few of your favorite things. But the little creature will warm your heart, absorb your tears, and take up space on the bed when you’re cold. Eye contact with an animal will soften your soul.
  12. Get a few stamps in your passport.
    Planning a trip and traveling abroad will give you confidence and joy in unimaginable ways. Gelato in Paris is delicious. Kidney pie in London is not.
  13. Graduate from an amaretto sour.
    Try different alcoholic drinks and explore how your tastes evolve. Know a few classic cocktails to ask for in a bar. When you order a shot of Fireball with your brother’s friends, they will laugh at you. Don’t let shame shape your choices. It’s ok to like what you like.
  14. Softball is not fun.
    I’d just rather not spend my summer evenings on the ball field. Practice saying no to the things that don’t bring you joy so you can say yes to the things that make your heart beat a little faster.
  15. I’m sensitive. So be it.
    My awareness of others suffering is a gift, not a weakness. Refuse to let others squash the sensitivity out of you. Continue to give the homeless woman a granola bar, make donations to charity, and cry at the news.
  16. People want to read these words.
    I must believe this every time I click publish. Your voice matters and you have every right to share your thoughts. Not everyone will resonate and likes and comments don’t qualify my words as worthy. Keep typing. It doesn’t have to make you money … though that would be nice.
  17. Family is complicated.
    It gets tricky when pain trickles through long-standing relationships. Keep trying. Keep praying. God’s grace can fix holes in family tapestries. Where we come from matters. Hold onto the good stuff, let go of the crap.
  18. You can take care of yourself.
    Of course I want others to take care of me. Bring me soup, vacuum the dirty carpet, offer tissues for the mountains of snot grief creates – yes please. More empowering though? Learning how to care for myself. Take space to sit and be sad. Invest in good shoes, honor your body with clothes that fit, and pay for a therapist to help process. Accepting help is self-care. Putting things in place to meet my own needs – even better.
  19. Money is a tool – let it flow.
    While I prefer to sit on my savings account for fear of not enough, I’m learning money is a tool for joy. Using funds responsibly can create positive, life-changing experiences. Travel. Save for the car. Get a haircut. Sponsor a child. Trust you have the capability to make more money and believe God provides.
  20. Hope lives in the relentless search for beauty.
    The gifts God gives are in the small and ordinary. Keep seeking good and you will find beauty. Clean water, fresh flowers, a kiss on the nose. Bubbles in sparkling wine, puppy breath, baby toes. Suffering and beauty co-exist. We won’t live in a world without both.

It Started with Stand-Up

It started with a stand-up comedy routine. This one to be exact.

We’ve been watching it on repeat at our house. Sarah’s routine sparked important conversation for Dylan and me. After watching a few times, I found myself wondering, ‘Yeah! Do I contribute to the problem of men feeling like they’re losing their voice?’ There needs to be space for men to make plans and pay for dinner.

This is a BIG feminist discussion and I don’t have an answer to the mystery of emasculation in our culture. I tend to think it’s not q.u.i.t.e. my problem if men who’ve historically made bad decisions are feeling crushed by powerful women.

Both men and women have different strengths. I believe feminine and masculine traits live in all of us. How these traits are lived out has a lot to do with our culture, and the media, and the muddied messages of chivalry, independence, patriarchy, and equality.

It is my problem, however, when my husband is holding back because I overpower his voice and poo-poo his plans.

So, on Friday night, after starting a text thread asking how he wanted to spend our evening, I had to consider my silencing. He suggested, ‘let’s go out, get a drink, listen to some jazz.’ I stifled the urge to say ‘shoot, I was hoping for Mrs. Maisel and a glass of white wine while wearing pajamas.’

He had made a plan.

I shushed my impulse to lounge and instead I blew dry my hair, put on some red lipstick, and set out for an evening of saxophone and cocktails.

As we walked down the stairs to the basement bar, I whispered to myself, ‘I’m tired of being afraid of living.’ I think we both are. We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for a while – waiting on news, waiting on opportunities, living in the just-a-little-longers. Grief tends to rip the plans right out of you.

So for this year, I’m going about living boldly and holding space for the rising tides bringing us back to shore again. I’ve booked a birthday trip to the mountains, am headed to Portland to see an old friend, and am carving out space to fashion a book out of these posts. He’s going to fix up a car, draft some buildings and learn new software. Together we’ll tackle our ugly basement, paint some cabinets, and build a website.

We’re going to get up off the couch and hold hands as we step into jazz clubs, letting brushes on drums and stand-up bass bolster us up.

We’re making plans again. What a beautiful thing.

Coming Back

I’ve been practicing telling my grief story out loud. To people using their ears and their eyes.

It’s easier for me to type my story. I’m more comfortable when you’re just reading what I write.

I’m dreaming of new ways to bring my speaking voice to my experience and sent an email ask to Shelby Forsythia if she would be willing to host me on her podcast Coming Back.  She lost her mom when she was in college, and dove right in to learning more about grief, healing, and the power of owning one’s experience.

Shelby describes herself as an intuitive grief guide and works with people struggling with grief and loss. In her interviews with others, she offers refreshing perspectives on the way our culture handles grief, and focuses on real experiences with real humans as we continue to live with loss.

Her tagline, “because even through grief we are growing” pinched my heart and said, ‘pay attention to this’ – she’s on to something.

I’m thrilled to share our conversation here and am very thankful to be in her group of people growing with grief. We talk about introversion, a little bit of Jesus, and how searching for beautiful things informs my process with loss.

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Shelby is also looking for new folks to interview on her podcast for her FIFTH(!) season.  If you are interested in sharing your experience with grief, send her an email and tell her I sent you.

Happy listening.