Thursday, January 24, 2013


A few days ago a kind man shared some advice with me. The advice was given in love, and came from a place of understanding.  This man lost his son to suicide a few years ago, and was trying to comfort me in my grief.  He shared with me some advice about a mother who lost her child and sought counsel from a religious leader.  The leader listened to the mother in her mourning and grief and then said she should be grateful that she had a child, and to think of those women who are unable to have children.

I have been thinking about this anecdote all week.  I'm not sure what the source is, or if the story was told correctly, but I understand the point. The point, I think, is to be grateful.  Be grateful for what you recognize that you are blessed even in the midst of trials.  Gratitude is a principle I believe in, but true gratitude seems somewhat twisted by this story.  I keep thinking about the story because it feels wrong to me on some level.

Gratitude is not born of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt said that "Comparison is the thief of joy." I believe that is true whether we are comparing ourselves to individuals we consider to be "above" us or those who seem to be "below" us.  Comparison robs us of joy because it forces us to rank ourselves on some imaginary scale of happiness, when no such scale exists.  Happiness is not linear, it's not a ladder to be climbed.  It is more fluid like water.  It moves around us and through us.  Sometimes it fills us, and sometimes we thirst for it.

When I traveled to Africa with a humanitarian group I was unprepared for the abundant joy I found among starving women and children. These children would be considered at the bottom of the happiness ladder by many.  They were experiencing the trials of death, and starvation, and sickness.  Yet they sang when they greeted us and smiled freely.  They were simply grateful, and their gratitude was not tied to the prosperity and health of others.

I don't believe we can rank life's adversity.  Sometimes I find myself trying to evaluate someone else's pain in comparison to my own...would it be harder to lose a child to an accident in infancy, or to a drug overdose in adulthood? Is it harder to miss someone after a lifetime of memories, or to be left with only 14 short months of joy to remember?

People often tell me that losing a child is the hardest trial. I have come to the conclusion that it is all hard.  Wanting children and not having them is hard.  Being alone is hard.  Nursing a parent through old age and death is hard.  Cancer is hard.  Divorce is hard.  Watching your child die is hard.  It is all hard, it is all pain, and finding respite in someone else's suffering is short lived and ultimately extremely unsatisfying. As I grow older and understand more fully the pain of others my heart aches more, not less. 

Since losing Jonah I have discovered that it is possible to feel gratitude in the midst of darkness.  Gratitude brings with it a light and recognition that my life remains full of mercy and grace, even though I have lost someone so precious to me. But gratitude should be able to stand on it's own two feet.  I am grateful for food, because it nourishes me and gives me strength.  I am grateful for my home because it is a refuge and place of safety.  I am grateful for Jordan because he strengthens me and loves me with all of my weakness.  I am grateful that I had the chance to feel Jonah grow inside me and to be his mother because it was a transcendent experience.

My gratitude for these things is not increased in the lack of others. On the other hand I'm learning that my gratitude is not, or should not, be diminished because I desperately want things that others have. 

Gratitude is an illogical response to a world that never had us in mind as an audience; but it is the fitting tribute to an original Creator who anticipated our joy and participates fully in it.  from The God Who Weeps.

Friday, January 4, 2013


I know it's been a while...months even.  I have writer's block.  Every so often, mostly on lazy Sunday afternoons, I sit down at my computer to write.  For the past year writing has been my solace and, more importantly, free therapy.  I have craved your comments and support, and my heart has been soothed by your kindness.  While typing I have released all the messy emotions and complicated thoughts that tend to crowd my brain.  But lately, when I sit at my computer, that is all I do.  I just sit...and stare...and then I get up and do the dishes, or vacuum.  Sometimes I think about an idea all day.  I roll it over in my mind.  I sit and wait for my fingers to move, and they wont.

Its not that I don't have messy emotions anymore, or that I'm not thinking about God, or life, or death. I have not forgotten Jonah or the pain that punctuates my quietest moments, but I can't seem to share it with you. I feel hesitant.

I've been trying to pinpoint why. Why has this once intensely personal free-flowing river diminished to a trickle?  I have shared everything on this blog, my deepest pains, my regrets and my sorrows. What is different now?  I think that fear is at the heart of it.

I realize that I am moving into a new stage of grief now.  I don't cry everyday.  Sometimes I go a whole week without crying. I am distracted by work, and entertainment, and making dinner. My thoughts have shifted from the past, through the present, and now they spend most of their time in the future; worrying and dreaming. My grief is transforming from mourning to rebuilding.  Honestly, I don't know which one is harder.

Mourning is exhausting.  It is a constant physical and emotional struggle. In the depths of mourning I desperately needed help. I needed people to hear me and carry me and cry with me.  The initial stages of grief are so visceral.  It is all about survival.  My daily goals included trying to eat and to get out of bed. When you are in the depths of sorrow all effort and improvement feel impressive. You can't help but be proud when you put on makeup, or go to the store.

Rebuilding is different.  Rebuilding is about faith.

Rebuilding reminds me of playing with Jonah. I used to stack his colorful wooden blocks while he stood anxiously waiting beside me. As the blocks rose higher Jonah's chubby hand would reach wildly to swat it down.  When they crashed to the floor he giggled with delight and waited for me to build again. On my darkest days I wonder if God is like a destructive toddler, waiting to topple my flimsy towers.

That fear compels me to confine and qualify my dreams with the possibility of pain. The possibility of toppled towers. I think to myself be prepared...sometimes things fall apart.

But there is something brighter in me that responds...sometimes miracles happen.

I long to believe that God is a God of miracles.  I want to believe that life is not just about pain and endurance, but it is also about joy. I having been praying lately that God will help me have faith. Not faith that he can heal, because I have felt His healing.  And not faith that he loves me, because I have felt His love. But faith that He will make miracles happen in my life. I want to believe that God cares about my desires. As I have prayed I have felt a growing confidence that He not only hears my prayers, but that he cares about what I want most in life.

Rebuilding is far more personal that pain and grief.  It is the essence of hope.  In order to start again, to try again, I have to let myself dream of brighter days and taller towers.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Psalm 30:5