Family and friends, I’m overwhelmed in the very best of ways. I married the incredible Jessica Moreland (Rice!) this past Saturday and here’s a couple things that stood out:
1. If tears are the new macho, I’m freaking Rambo.
2. With no required proof to get a wedding certificate after being widowed, I could easily become a polygamist.
3. God’s grace to bring me this woman will forever astound me.
If I were to try and write a blog to capture our story or love journey, it’d take a month.
Here’s our story:
I think I’ve already established that I’m the worst blogger in the world. I’m inconsistent, I over promise, and lie to myself weekly that I’m going to blog more frequently. Today, I’m giving up the lies and admitting that (at best) I’ll blog sporadically. Still, I do hope that what I actually write is potent and worth your 5 minutes away from Facebook.
So here goes, I’m doing a look back at these last couple of years of being widowed. 2 years ago was a big day in my life, one that I’ll always remember. It started with a trip to the hospital with my wife Danielle, one that I’d taken dozens of times before. That morning was different though, because instead of walking in gingerly holding hands, I ran into the Emergency Room with my lifeless wife dangling in my arms screaming for help. She had stage 4 primary cardiac angiosarcoma, and it finally caught up with her, despite her valiant and gracious battle against it. That morning, as soon as we pulled up to the E.R. doors, she stopped breathing. For the next several minutes, I watched the ER team strip her clothes with scissors and defibrillate her heart back into beating. Without a doubt, it’s the worst sight I’ve ever seen.
If I could describe the weeks and months leading up to that nightmarish morning, I would say that it most resembled hell on earth. The persistent hum and rumble of her oxygen machine was the soundtrack for the movie of my life and I watched her deteriorate from a gorgeous, courageous woman, to an emaciated shell that didn’t have the energy to be awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.
I was furious. I was scared as hell. In between the momentary lapses between experiencing my worst nightmare, I would muster up enough faith to pray, or think about God and I wondered how this crushing would shape me. Would I despise God? I thought I had every right to. He gave me the front row seat to watch my Dani die and I reasoned that my only chance at retribution was to hate Him until I died.
Now, why am I reliving all of this? This isn’t a therapeutic endeavor for me, trust me, I’ve spent enough hours laying on my therapist’s couch, with tears streaming down my cheeks into my mouth as I laid there, fighting to speak, fighting to grasp what happened. And in time, those sessions, combined with a lot of great family and friends and have been a salve to my wounds.
I’m on the other side of grief, this is a scar, not a scab. If you’ve hung out with me in person you would know how content and happy I am. And that’s not a front, I really am. The point of what I just wrote wasn’t to evoke sympathy from you, but to legitimize what I’m about to say. None of my assertions come from a book I read, just simply from what I’ve experienced first hand, and know to be true.
Most people live their lives and their sole purpose is to be happy. That’s an empty pursuit. I’d actually attribute the shallowness of American thought to our over-pursuit of happiness, and our valuing it as the ultimate pursuit. Your decisions, conversations, fears, pursuits, ambitions, friends, relationships and everything else that fills your life are mostly aimed at making you happy. But suffering doesn’t make you happy…at all. So when things go wrong, you’ll immediately (as I did) dismiss the suffering as something out of place, something that we want over as quickly as possible so that we can return to our pursuit of happiness, what we think is our purpose. That my friends, is a waste. God uses our pain as a part of His plan, and nothing in His hands goes to waste.
I’m not saying anything is wrong with being happy, or wanting to be happy. As I said earlier, I wake up every morning happy and I hope every day from here on out is spent smiling and laughing. But make no mistake about it, suffering (if from God), is a gift. Equally true, happiness, if not from God is a curse. I know that sounds insane, and you might want to stop reading, but I urge you to hear me out.
When we hear about things like the terrorist attack in Boston, the explosion in West, Texas, or a story about an 8 year old dying of a brain tumor, our tendency is to believe that there’s nothing good that can come out of that. And while none of those things are good at any level, God can and does use horrendous things for our good.
There’s a scripture that I had been thinking about that on the surface doesn’t say too much, but tells us a lot.
“the disciple whom Jesus loved” John 21:7
Here, the bible is referring to John the Evangelist. You may doubt whether God loves you, but it’s clear that the Apostle John, author of the gospel of John and the Book of Revelations was someone that Jesus loved. No doubt about it, God loved this dude. So, a look at his life is an example of what God loving us can look like.
Well, he suffered along with the early church, lost a lot of friends and family presumably watching them be eaten by lions and/or burned. To top it off, he was eventually boiled (alive) and then exiled. I repeat, he was boiled alive and exiled. Not the happiest life, but that’s not what God is after for you or for me. God’s love for you won’t ever prevent suffering. If God loved John, and he got boiled alive, we can’t assume to know what God loving us looks like..
I know a lot of people and have many friends that can’t believe in God at all because of suffering. It is oftentimes the hurdle to believing, and I think that’s because many people believe the goal of life is to be happy. I’d say that the Apostle John, or any other Christian that suffered at the hands of God wouldn’t agree with that, they’d say the opposite. They’d say, as I’m saying to you now that the pursuit of God and the pursuit of happiness, while not mutually exclusive, are not the same. Even more importantly, our entire purpose of being here, the only thing that will fill us is God, and knowing Him makes all things garbage in comparison.
Here’s a couple things I’ve learned in 2 years of being widowed that I wouldn’t trade for the world:
1. There’s no clearer moment in this world than when it’s just you and God.
2. God really won’t ever leave or forsake His people. Seriously. Even when I wanted to punch Jesus in the face, God was faithful to me, and walked with me every step of the way through the present.
3. God likes you. He’s not out to get you.
4. Suffering situations are the ripest soils to grow to know God better.
5. Suffering situations are the ripest soils for you to get to know yourself, your true self better.
6. God loves people that hate him. Angry prayers prayed through tears, yelling and frustrations might be the purest prayers you’ve prayed, or will pray.
7. Though painful, God never acts arbitrarily. If there’s a God, and I believe there is, than He’s infinitely more wise than us.
8. We live for God, not the other way around.
9. Knowing God is the ultimate satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness and purpose of all of our lives.
10. I don’t have a #10, but 9 things seemed weird.
(Haven’t blogged in a minute, but I’m back and better than ever. Stay tuned for some ridiculously exciting news on my front.)
be·hav·ior (noun) \bi-ˈhā-vyər,
Definition of BEHAVIOR
a) : the manner of conducting oneself
b) : anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation
c) : the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment
2. the way in which something functions or operates
As yesterday has officially started the season of Advent, I’ve been thinking a lot. As a general rule in life, past behavior is a good indicator how someone will act in the future. The connection between the two is unparalleled. Wars and elections have been won simply by understanding how a group of people have acted in the past. Countless hours are spent every week around the country in NFL facilities as teams study their opponents’ films. Because what they will do, is found in what they have done. I bet that if you look at your own life, your greatest successes and failures are directly tied to your ability or inability to grasp that.
With my walk with God, as much as I wish the opposite were true, I can be incredibly short-sighted about this one very thing. The Incarnation of the past is our guarantee of help in the present. Paul said it best in Romans 8:32,
“[God] who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
How did God act in the past?
1. God gave us himself.
2. There’s no limit to His provision and care for His children.
3. God’s past behavior toward us is giving up His all for us.
Advent is the season where we, along with billions of other people in the world wait to celebrate Jesus’ birth and in doing so we see the world through this lens.
No worries about the future, because the past is our greatest predictor. This is just how God works. God has no limit in how He cares for us, leads us and sacrifices for us and he’s proven it through Christ. We can rest assured in that.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
What’s up mi gente, been a while since I’ve blogged. I’m a terrible blogger really. I generally wait for something to kickstart a blog and today would have been the 3 year anniversary of marrying my late wife, so that’s what got the engine revving today. A lot of great stuff going on in my life right now, and I haven’t had the time to blog. So that’s a good excuse right?
So now is a great time for this post. This one’s a little different, its not me spilling out what’s happening in my life, but it’s a post for you, a “what to do” of sorts. Perhaps the clearest thing I’ve learned is that people, religious and atheists alike have very little comfortability and understanding of what to do when someone close to them is experiencing a loss or going through a difficult time. I’ve spoken to men, women, black people, hispanics, white people, people that have lost children, spouses, siblings, friends etc., and the stories I’ve heard from those trying to help is appalling. But more important than that, the “DO’s” in this post have helped me and countless others get to the other side of grief, and are worth a look.
Chances are this post won’t help everyone reading right now, and I hope it doesn’t. I hope you don’t know anyone experiencing acute pain, but since we all die, since tragedy is all around us, chances are one day you will know someone who is. So, what should YOU do? It all leads to this: The anti-climactic truth is that the best thing that you can do is to mourn (or weep) with those in pain. This is true for you whether you’re a Christian or a Scientologist.
Let me unpack what this means, and more importantly DOES NOT mean. I’ve stated it before, and at the risk of repetition for the 3 people that read this blog regularly (4 if you include my mother), American culture can be incredibly shallow. Rampant materialism (of which I’m guilty) is just a symptom of a society that doesn’t value the depths of humanity as we should. As a result, when someone is in pain, people tend to try to alleviate that person’s pain. That’s a great intention, but oftentimes does far more hurt than good.
The other day, I was in the hallway at my office building and a man was walking in with severe difficulty. He has polio, and as his metal arm and leg braces supported his weight, he walked gingerly and assuredly. As timing would have it, the floor was recently mopped and still wet. I cringed as he walked, fearing the worst and I went to his side to make sure that he wouldn’t fall, and he told me perhaps the most profound thing I’ve heard all year. “If I fall, let me fall, you’ll do more harm than good by trying to stop it.” As soon as he said it, it hit me like a ton of bricks…this is what happens over and over again when people deal with other hurting people. With the greatest of intentions, we try to stop people from falling into pain, and unknowingly cause more pain in the process.
When Paul says to mourn with those who mourn, he’s saying don’t try and stop them from falling into pain, the best thing you can do is walk beside them and help them up.
How can you do that? Here’s what I’ve gathered in the last 16 months of conversations with hurting people.
Be physically available and present with people hurting.
Facebook likes and ReTweets are nice, text messages are even better, but people overestimate what a cliché will accomplish and greatly underestimate what just sitting around with someone will do. NOTHING says I’m here with you like actually being with them. If you’re trying to solve people’s pain, this’ll be uncomfortable for you, because the first thing you’ll think about is that you don’t know what to say. If that happens, realize that you being there is the best message you’ll ever preach.
Don’t don’t don’t reach out to a person and get deep. Christians have this problem more than non-Christians in my experience, but its still a pervasive problem. What people want is their loved one back or for their suffering to stop, not a well thought out statement. What do you say to the husband whose wife just hung herself? Or what should you say to the parent whose child died of a brain tumor at 7 years old? Better yet, what do you say to the man who just got diagnosed with AIDS? I hope you’re drawing blanks, because you should. You shouldn’t know what to say, because there isn’t anything profound that can be said. If I broke my shin and went to the E.R., I’m not going to hear the doctor tell me what happened to my bone, I’m going to get it set, so the healing can begin. For you its the same, be a part of the process, nothing more.
Make definitive requests to hang out or do something for them. Most people that are hurting are in such a fog that they have no idea in the world what they want to do or should do. I get that you don’t want to burden them, and you shouldn’t, but it helps tremendously when people didn’t make me think of what I wanted to do, they presented definite options and gave me a lot of space to accept or reject it.
Simply sending a text and asking could you come over at 6pm on Thursday is great. One of the best things someone did for me was taking me out to dinner 2 weeks after my wife died. He invited me out at a specific date to a specific place and didn’t make me think about too much. I could’ve said no, and I’ve said no to a million things, but I didn’t have to think.
Please don’t try and make someone feel better faster. They’ll feel better when they can process what happened, not a second sooner. I had a lady that told me that I should just think about how good God was and then I’d feel better. Statements like that or “snap out of it” type of attitudes are incredibly damaging.
Be committed to them. It’s a new place for them, and they need friends, old and new. Make some sacrifices to be available to them. It’ll go a very very long way.
Bite off more than you can chew. They need you, but so does your family and you need yourself. If you overcommit you’ll end up burning yourself out and be no good for them or you.
More do’s and don’t?
Leave some suggestions in the comments!
Today marks one year since I lost my wife, my best friend and my lover, Danielle. And over this past year I’ve learned a number of things. Honestly, there are very few things I can say that I really know. Divorce rates in this country alone are evidence that what we think we know and what we actually know are 2 very different things. We’re taught a lot of things in school, from our parents, but we really don’t know too much. However, the following are 3 things in particular that I know to be true.
All of us have felt this sting to some degree. I won’t attempt to sanitize my thoughts on this, it won’t help me or you. I get countless e-mails from people who are experiencing grief on one level or another and feel guilty for hurting as bad as they are. They try to rush and stop hurting so that they can appear faithful to some of their christian comrades, who continually insinuate that the pain they feel and the faith they proclaim are mutually exclusive. In my own experience, I’ve had the reservoir of clichés poured out over my wounds and each proved to be as completely ineffective as the next. Death sucks. It stings, it hurts, it confuses and it leaves a void in the life of the loved ones that hurts more than I could have ever imagined. Most importantly, it should feel that way.
America is great, perhaps the greatest country to ever exist, but one thing we don’t have a good grasp on is death and grief. Maybe because technology is so great, that we can download 10 songs in a minute or email a friend 3,000 miles away in seconds, but we’ve lost a grip on the beauty and necessity of slowly processing things. Quick fixes like xanax or a drunken night are the go-to for many, mostly because above all, we want what we want, NOW. Grief doesn’t work that way, healing happens in time. Clichés or a million Facebook likes won’t lessen the pain any. Below is a picture from a funeral procession in Haiti. Most of the people in this line stayed up all night the night before mourning and remembering the lost. The village shut down to mourn with those that mourned, and that is what helped in the time of need. They get it, there’s no quick fix. There’s no rush to attempt to hurriedly quench the fires of pain, it’s normal.
Sadly, the American Psychiatric Association has now started to classify grief related depression as actual clinical depression as soon as 3 days to a month after a serious loss. 3 DAYS! If you’re sad and depressed 2 weeks after losing a loved one to a car accident, at that point they could start you on a pill regiment to alleviate your pain. Now, I’m not saying that medication is wrong in all instances, but this is just incredibly sad and telling of how much of a microwave generation we’ve become. Have we become that shallow as a society to the point where we are incapable of dealing with the inevitability of death? I’m afraid we’re heading in that direction.
Despite what prosperity preachers would have you to believe, life is hard. Its not perfect now, nor will it ever be. Now, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean its purposeless, but Jesus taught that “in this world, you will have trouble” . Whether it’s a brain tumor, an economic recession, hemorrhoids, a root canal or anything in between, you’re going to have difficulties. Nobody stays young forever, despite all of our cosmetic attempts to the contrary. One day Halle Berry will be no more attractive than Chuck Berry, (ok maybe not, but just go with me).
This is not to say that you can’t have a good life, but good and perfect are quite different. Suffering is a part of life, if you suffer it’s because you’re human, not necessarily because you’ve done wrong. It’s a part of the human experience. Not only that but God uses our sufferings, difficulties, obstacles to allow us to know Him. Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 12
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Kudos to you if you kept reading to this point, I have a shiny star to put on your notebook. But I know, I know, this is the way a Christian blogger is supposed to end each blog. With some reassurance that God is good despite the turmoils that we face in our lives. That’s partly true, but rest assured, I am not saying this to make anyone feel better; on the contrary, to boast about God that really is with us. Before you applaud me for my attempt at piety, know that at times during my wife’s illness, I thought that I would be so angry at God for letting my wife die that to spite Him, the first thing I was going to do is to fly to Amsterdam to party like never before. The crazy part is that the opposite happened, and I was (and still am) so trapped in the grip of God’s grace that I couldn’t walk away from God even if I wanted to. He is always with us, especially when life is hard, and because of His great love and care for me, I’m closer to Christ than I’ve ever been. He uses pain, suffering, desperation as a master potter uses his tools to make beautiful things. When I say that God is good, I’m not regurgitating something I read about it in a book or heard in a church service, but because I know He’s faithful, loving, forgiving, caring and empowering. He’s everything He’s promised, and I hope I can live my life to make that known to anyone that will listen.
More importantly, God’s goodness has absolutely nothing to do with how great or terrible your life is. To say God is good is akin to saying I’m an African-American male. No matter what happens, I will always be that. It’s an immutable characteristic. The same is true for God, He’s good. Period. In times past I’ve flippantly correlated God’s goodness to how fortunate my circumstances where. We’ve all heard it said. “Got a new job, God is GOOD!” or “the test came back clean, God is GOOD!”. While those are true statements, the insinuation is that God’s goodness depends, even so slightly on our situation. The opposite is true. God is good, period. Without a doubt, the statement “just found out my wife has cancer, God is GOOD” is equally as true, and is more likely to put us in the situation to see how truly long-suffering, kind, loving, compassionate and with us He truly is. The old saints have it right when they say “God is good, All the time, and All the time, God is Good”.
All that being said, over this last year, my pain has greatly subsided and I’m overwhelmed by what God has done in me, to heal my wounds and walk with me. I wish I wasn’t as familiar with how much death sucks, or how difficult life can be at times, but I’m grateful to have learned that in spite of everything, God is good.