On setting goals and not getting overwhelmed

It’s that time of year again.

setting goals-min

My very favorite time of year to garden. The world outside my window is covered in ice and I’m snuggled up by the fire, looking through seed catalogs and planning the perfect garden.

There are no weeds, no drought, no flooding. No squash bugs, no aphids, no grasshoppers. No cows devouring all the corn just before it ripens. No sheep eating the tops off all the onions. The garden is perfect, laid out in neat rows, producing on schedule.

It’s all so perfect on paper.

But this year is going to be different.

OK, so it was supposed to be different last year. The garden even made it onto my New Year’s Resolution type thing. It was supposed to be different, and I suppose it was. I mean, I got as far as making the cool graphic, didn’t I?

It’s funny, the plans we make. So much like daydreams, with an added touch of hope that this year . . . this year will be the year. This year will be the year that I somehow won’t stumble over all the same obstacles.

I have a lot of plans this year. It’s the first year in a long time that I’ve attempted to tackle much of anything. And I’m plagued by doubts. Can I really do this? Is it too much? What if I fail? Is it too soon? Will failure send me back to that place that used to swallow me every time we met?

The obstacles in my mind are the ones that are the hardest for me to overcome. They are the ones that hold me back from stepping outside my comfort zone, that keep me from challenging what I think I know, that tie me to this comfortable place that plays around with dreams but does very little to realize them.

But I’m taking small steps.

One thing at a time. When I lift my head up enough to see my end goal, I feel overwhelmed. It’s too much . . . I can’t do this . . . the same thoughts that took hold after my son died.

But I don’t have to do all of that. Not yet.  Because this year I applied a little wisdom to my increasing energy. I took my biggest goals and broke them down into very small steps. Very small steps that all should lead forward.

Right now, all I have to do is what’s next.

Do what’s next and have faith that I’ll be ready for the next step when the time comes.

Because love doesn’t die

Grief is such a strange companion. At first, it seems all consuming. Everything is colored by grief. In time, it mellows. As it weaves itself into the fabric of your days, it seems to fade into the background. Always there. Always ready. And sometimes, it is the little things that catch you off guard. Little, often unimportant always unexpected.

child loss

I recently moved my blog. Some files got lost in the move; a lot of links to files were broken. I’ve slowly been going through them, a post at a time, to clean house. Most of them were not particularly important. For the most part, I’ve just been deleting the evidence. Delete the link, delete the broken image link icon, delete the reference to what used to be there.

Then I come across an old recipe to watermelon rind jelly. This isn’t a recipe blog so I don’t count recipes among my most important posts. But some of them are unique and I get a steady stream of traffic to all of them.

Steady being one or two a day. Because let’s be real. I’m not the Pioneer Woman.

It’s a broken image link. I actually remember this picture. It’s a little boy eating watermelon. The picture is still in my media files. I saw it while I was looking for something else. But is it important, stuck here at the end? Does it add anything to the post? Not really. I delete it. Then I read the rambling paragraph after it. It doesn’t make sense at first.

It takes a moment, but I realize it is referencing the image that used to be there. It also adds nothing. I start to delete it.

It’s funny how much more ruthless I am editing posts that are several years old. Maybe if I left all my posts in draft for five or six years, I could get them down to the 500 words or so all the Big Blogs say you need to be successful.

Image gone. Pointless rambling gone . . . except . . . 18 month old. 18 month old? How old is this post? I scroll back to the top to look at the date and realize the 18 month old I just deleted from an old post about watermelon rind jelly had to be Mattias.

I couldn’t breathe.

A small, unimportant bit of rambling at the end of a post. But it was my little Mattias covered in watermelon seeds. A small little memory I had forgotten. Until I deleted it.

I opened the post up in a new tab. The original text and broken link were still there. It wasn’t gone forever, but I was seized by some inexplicable panic that I was somehow going to now delete it forever anyway. Because I almost did. So I copied the text, saved it to my computer, saved it to the post, closed the post and reopened the post in the editor and on the blog to make sure it was still there.

I held it together just long enough to make sure it wasn’t really gone.

And then I fell apart. Because it is the little, unexpected things that can take me back to that day. To holding him. To pacing outside the emergency room. To watching the doctors walk down the hall and knowing before they said anything at all. To losing him all over again.

Because in time, grief loosens its grip and allows itself to fade into the background. But it never completely goes away. I’m not even sure it loses its strength . . . because love never leaves nor weakens. It just waits. For heaven, if necessary.

When life gives you lemons . . .

We all know the end of the saying. When life gives you lemons . . .

Make lemonade.

But is that really the message Christians should be delivering?

When life gives you lemons

It has such a nice “pull yourself up by your boot straps” kind of ring to it. We are, after all, masters of our own destiny. And life is what we make of it.

But it also has an air of your problems aren’t my problems and your grief is worn best silently. Hidden away somewhere where I don’t have to deal with it.

Having lost a child, I have a somewhat different perspective on grief and suffering and what denotes strength and dignity. Having lost a child, I know that sometimes you cannot just put on a smile for the world and I don’t think you should try.

The Bible, after all, calls us to “bear one another’s burdens,” but the verse doesn’t end there. Galatians 6:2 goes on to say this is how we fulfill the law of Christ. We act out our faith by bearing burdens. Not by asking people to keep them to themselves, to silence them, to stick them somewhere deep where we do not have to be confronted by their heaviness.

We walk along side them and lift as much as we can.

It is only natural to want to make someone feel better when they are hurting. But it isn’t always in our power. And it isn’t always in theirs. It isn’t even always in their best interest. All we can really do is sit awhile and remember the One who turns mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11), praying for that day and sharing tears along the way.

Because the world may not be able to offer enough sugar to do anything with these lemons, but they are not all that I have. I have Christ and therefore I have hope.

Shared with Grace and Truth Christian link up at Arabah Joy.

By the goodness of God . . .

Edward Winslow wrote in A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (1621):

    . . . And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

By the goodness of God, we are far from want. In fact, we have never known want like that of the Pilgrims. Giving up their homeland, leaving for an unknown shore across an unfriendly sea, suffering disease and starvation. For what?

Mayflower survivors

We often think of all the Pilgrims had to be thankful for this season as we partake in the season’s feasting. But how often do we think of all they had to mourn?

More than half of them died in the first “general sickness” as William Bradford called it. And yet when the harvest came in and alliances were made with the local natives and strength returned to the survivors, they were able to turn their grief into thanksgiving, their despair into praise.

The holidays are a difficult time for me. Not just because little Mattias isn’t here, but because the anniversary of his death is right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The anxiety increases until it almost seems as if his death were something that is about to happen rather than something that happened already.

And how do you give thanks in the midst of losing a child? And what for?

The pilgrims sought a wealth few of us think on today. As the closing two verses of The Landing of the Pilgrims so eloquently say,

    What sought they thus afar?
      Bright jewels of the mine?
      The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?–
    They sought a faith’s pure shrine!
      Ay, call it holy ground,
      The soil where first they trod.
      They have left unstained what there they found–
    Freedom to worship God.

Freedom to worship a God who gives and takes away.

Freedom to worship a God who sacrificed His own son, that we might live.

Freedom to worship a God who said death is not the end.

Freedom to worship a God who gives me hope, even in the face of such a terrible loss.

And that truly is a thing to be thankful for.

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 If you post what you are thankful for this week, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I’d love to check out what you are thankful for this season!

Stop. Breathe. Cry. Sometimes, it’s worth more than a smile.

So this popped up in my facebook feed.

And I just thought, “No.”

When life gives you one reason to cry . . . cry.

When life gives you one hundred reasons to cry . . . cry and find someone who will cry with you.

When life crushes you, when the power and the depth of the anguish threatens to overwhelm you as it crashes over you wave after wave, fight back with tears. Tears and cries and even screams if necessary.

But not with a forced smile. Not with some fake attempt to “count your blessings” (as if six living children makes up the balance sheet for one who went to heaven far too soon).

Because the continual message that a smile equals strength and tears are a sign of weakness is false. And destructive.

It’s designed to make others feel better about your pain. But it doesn’t help you.

As a Christian, grieving the loss of a child, it surprised me how quickly the body of Christ lost its patience with grief. Less than two weeks after my son’s death, a Christian man told me it was time to stop grieving. That he was in a better place and that if I believed that, I should rejoice. Grief was a lack of faith.

Less than three months later, someone from church asked me how I was and when I said not so good, she wanted to know why. I stumbled over the words because I didn’t really know her and what was obvious and inescapable in my world wasn’t in hers. Nor should it be. And I never like putting people in the position of feeling like they need to apologize for an innocent enough question that bore no malice. So I just said I had been thinking about Tiggy a lot.

“That’s still bothering you?”

Said in such an incredulous tone. It stung. Three months after he died, I almost gave up on going to church. Because right there in that moment, I couldn’t see all the love and support and one comment almost overshadowed it all.

But I went home and cried.

It seems to me the Christian church should understand suffering. That strength is not in a smile, but in vulnerability. That joy is a promise we cling to, but it is a very different thing from happiness.

Because Christ Himself went to the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion and sweated tears of blood, pleading for this cup to be taken from Him. And when His disciples, His closest friends, could not stay awake, He didn’t count his blessings and put on a happy face. He didn’t talk about His miracles, His ministry, that He would rise again in three days or even that His kingdom was about to conquer death itself.

No. He said,”Can’t you even watch with me for an hour?”

Because I believe this is what we are all called to do for one another. Just sit. Listen. Show love. Show mercy. And let the tears flow.

Because weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

And blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

And God himself will turn their mourning into joy. (Jeremiah 31:13)

And while the world constantly presses in, telling the hurting and the grieving to “just smile through it,” I think it is good to remember that His Word tells us that is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Because grief gives you a glimpse of the state of a fallen world. It reminds you that this is not our home. It draws your attention away from yourself and toward Him. And only then can He give you beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)