Thursday, April 3, 2014

My grace is sufficient

Mark was a big-hearted man who loved his family. He loved the Lord. He was my little brother and today marks that sad day he was murdered—shot in the back 3 years ago in his own front yard.

So I read scripture to try to make sense of it, to find some solace for my aching heart. I read 2nd Corinthians, the section about Paul’s “thorn” in which Paul asks God to remove the thorn but God says no, the thorn stays. God’s words to Paul:

 My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2Cor 12:9

I think about God’s response and how I can find some peace in His words. I suppose the Lord’s power is being made perfect because of my own incredible weakness. As if His power could be any more perfect. So glad I can help, that I can do something to make Him beyond perfect. Just doing my part being incredibly weak. But I digress. . .

For me, this message should be my mantra—“my grace is sufficient for you.” This is God comforting me when I feel the sadness, the loss, the anger, the endless questions about His plan and His goodness in light of this horrible human tragedy. My brother gets killed, it hurts, and I look to heaven and remind myself that He said His grace is sufficient.

So I suspend my lack of understanding. Nothing changes what happened. If I’m angry with God, disappointed in a life full of things that seem unfair, nothing changes. But if I trust the Lord, it changes my heart, it gives me peace beyond understanding because He has said to me, directly to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Miss you, little brother.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Missing myself

Who is that old woman prowling around my house? She keeps opening the refrigerator, looking through the pantry, hoping to find a long-forgotten stale Frito or a moldy chocolate chip. She finds nothing so she goes down to the basement to take clothes out of the dryer. Then she walks upstairs (forgetting to bring the laundry with her) and looks through the bookshelves, trying to find the copy of Olive Kitteridge that has gone missing. Unable to find the book, she goes back to the kitchen and starts prowling for food again. Earlier she made herself a filling, healthy salad with grilled chicken for lunch. Then she had some Greek yogurt with blueberries. Still, she prowls. She eats the last two tiny sweet gherkin pickles and puts the pickle jar in the recycling bin. Then she decides it’s time to finish off that last tablespoon of coconut.

Oh, wait—I think I recognize her from another life. Yep, that is me. The old me would have had barbeque potato chips in the pantry and some frozen, home-made (it makes me weep just to think about them) oatmeal pecan date cookies in the freezer. In the refrigerator she probably would have had half a Lost Dog Cafe “pointer pizza” with whole wheat crust, feta, pine nuts, and spinach. I miss her. I miss the pizza.

I have been working hard to change my wicked ways. I got through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ground Hog’s Day, Valentine’s Day, a trip to Austin, and Fat Tuesday. I haven’t had a single croissant. I had pizza once. I’ve almost completely given up alcohol and carbohydrates. I even got through yesterday—St. Patrick’s Day—without having a beer. And now, today, March 18th, a day of no significance whatsoever, I’m losing my will.

Since the beginning of November I have lost 30 pounds. I’m nearly there, though I’m not exactly sure where “there” is. A former vegetarian, I am now eating mostly protein (i.e. meat—ugh) and vegetables. It feels like an alien creature has taken over my body. And where are my clothes, especially my 50 pairs of jeans, the staple of my wardrobe? Hmmm . . . donated to the thrift store because nothing fits me now. I had to get them out of my house lest I consider growing back into them. Nothing to eat, nothing to wear.

At this moment, the thing I miss most about her, the woman I used to be, is that she would be thinking about dinner right now. She would have a big bowl of capellini with olive oil (maybe butter and olive oil) with a ton of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Undoubtedly she would have a glass or two of good red wine or maybe a beer. She might even have splurged on some Talenti Belgian chocolate gelato. (Insert the sound of weak, pitiful whining . . . )

I’m going to go prowl through the kitchen now, maybe steam some broccoli and cry. I miss her.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The stick

It’s the staff Moses carried on his way to the Promised Land, the rod St. Patrick used to chase the snakes out of Ireland, my defense against the ‘possum in the basement rafters, an obsolete security system. To me it's a thing of beauty—shoulder high, smoothed by hands over the years, with a lightness that belies its strength. Yet in the eyes of others it simply may be a big stick.

When he was a boy, my little brother Mark had a knack for finding things in the woods—extraordinary things like a motorcycle and ordinary things like the stick. The stick just appeared at our house one day when I was in my teens, and when I got married and moved away, I decided to take it with me. I didn’t ask him if I could take it. Mark was still a kid; he didn’t protest.

It moved with me many times over the years. It has been placed by the front door, in the corner of my bedroom, beside the fireplace. In every house it found a spot where it felt useful and it stayed there, standing watch, protecting me.

Three years ago my little brother Mark was murdered. Even the stick couldn’t have stopped the bullet that was fired point blank into his back. And Mark’s stick stays with me, my connection to my little brother, my defense against a cruel world. It always was and always will be such a special stick.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lessons in grief and forgiveness

“Please, Lord, teach me a new way. Open my mind, my heart to your wisdom, not to my own failed, flawed thinking. Help me to learn from the example set by Jesus to forgive all wrongs. Yes, it’s hard. I want to own my hurts, to hold on to them, and I don’t know what replaces them. But it’s time. I don’t know how to do it. Just teach me. Please teach me.”

That prayer I wrote in my journal about a month ago. And I am writing this, here and now, to testify to the amazing power of God. He listened. He answered my prayer and my heart is filled with gratitude. God has been leading me further and further down this path I am trying to describe. I didn’t see it coming, but now I recognize that, all along, the pieces were coming together. He was showing me the way, teaching me how to forgive.

For the past few months I have been participating in a wonderful weekly Christian support group called GriefShare. I joined the group because I could not seem to get past the grief of losing my father, my brother, and my friend Mike in little over a year’s time. Three deaths in a row, including the murder of my brother, was a big load to carry. In late January the group worked on the topic of forgiveness. After the session, as I worked at home through the forgiveness exercises, I became more and more angry. Reading that God expects me to forgive others as He has forgiven me made me so furious that I threw the GriefShare workbook across the room. “What have I done that is so bad to deserve this injustice? Nothing compared to what was done to me—being mistreated by that SOB, my brother murdered by that lunatic, my father’s death, Mike’s death, my aloneness.” I seethed. But I began to sense that holding on to the anger and bitterness was only hurting me more. It doesn’t hurt God when I am angry with Him. It just leaves me frustrated, withdrawn, with an aching emptiness in my chest. I wanted to cry, wail, and scream. I wanted to punch God in the stomach, throw rocks through plate-glass windows, slam my car into something. I kept cycling through this little dance—retreat, move forward, retreat—without accomplishing anything, without learning how to forgive. The workbook said to keep praying about it, so I prayed. I realized that God is stronger than my feelings and I had to turn it over to Him because I can’t do it myself.

The following week, the GriefShare lesson was on getting stuck in grief. I knew that I was stuck and I didn’t want to acknowledge why I was stuck. “No, not that, Lord. Don’t ask me to forgive. It’s just too hard.”

Everything I have read and heard about forgiveness says that for me, a Christian, it is what God requires me to do. Forgiveness is what I need to be more Christ-like as well as what I need to heal emotionally. I don’t want to be a bitter, nasty old woman. Can I detach from and give up my “story” of heartache, my litany of woes, the list of all the wrongs done to me? I have developed a relationship—an unhelpful, sick relationship—with my story. But do I really want this sad story to define who I am for the rest of my life? Do I still need people to understand how deeply I was wronged? What good does it do me if it keeps me wallowing in the pain? O, the pain—how dramatic! Seeing the dysfunctional cycle for what it is was one step in the journey. Jesus knows my whole story. He has felt everything I have felt and He emerged triumphant. Can I aspire to be more like Him? There is nothing for me to gain from the retelling. Still I know so well how hard it is to forgive—it continues to be the most difficult thing I have ever done.

 “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
C.S. Lewis

The following Sunday in church, the pastor spoke about why Jesus had to die; He died for our sins. And the root of our sin, of my sin, is living for myself and simply believing that I know best. My self-reliance, my stubbornness have not necessarily been good traits. Obviously my own perceived strength was not useful—it kept me stuck inside my grief and my sense of having been treated unfairly. Who am I to think that I know better than God? I have to stop stepping in to tell Him how to run my life. I don’t know best.

And then that moment—that one sure moment, the epiphany when I felt the Holy Spirit smack me upside the head. I was in the laundry room putting clothes into the dryer and thinking that the next day was my son’s birthday. As I left the room, it hit me—I had spent 38 years adding chapters to the sorry story of my life. That was it. I wanted it to be over. Not one more day. I fell to my knees at the foot of the basement steps and cried out to God to forgive me for my arrogance. Until I see my own flaws, my own sins, I cannot begin to forgive others, therefore never setting myself free of bitterness and resentment. I sinned by thinking I was too good to have bad things happen to me. I thought I had been treated unjustly. I had ignored God’s goodness, His multitude of blessings, the death that Jesus suffered on the cross for my sins. In my arrogant, self-centered life, only my feelings were important to me. I realized that I was not going to move beyond my grief and sorrow unless I forgive hurt that I’ve been carrying around for 38 years.
    “When the Lord shows us what’s wrong in our lives, He always provides a remedy for change.”    
David McCasland
I admitted to God that I could not figure it out by myself, that He would have to teach me, to show me the way. He gave me eyes to see so that I could trace back the sadness in my life, well beyond the deaths that I have been grieving in recent years. I saw that my own sheer willpower wasn’t working; it just kept me stuck in a cycle of feeling sorry for myself instead of trusting God’s will. I saw that I needed to do what I thought was impossible for me to do—to truly forgive. “I can’t do that,” I told myself. “That is just too much to ask. How can I ever forgive that?” And when I recognized that forgiveness is beyond my ability, I had to give it over to God. So I prayed that God would take this unforgiveness from me and lift the burden from my heart.

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

When the Holy Spirit begins to move, just step back and watch the awesome power of prayers answered! I found a Christian book on forgiveness that is changing my perspective. A hand-out in the GriefShare group walked me through, step by step, what I needed to do. I saw that forgiveness doesn’t just happen. Time does not heal all wounds—Jesus heals wounds. Forgiveness is a choice. I chose to forgive, by name I prayed for the people who hurt me, asked God to forgive everything, and prayed that they would be blessed in their lives. No holding grudges. No hanging on to one little bit of the wrong and maybe throwing out a zinger at some point. I have to keep doing this again and again. I have to keep trusting that God’s way is infinitely better than mine.
See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Thessalonians 5:15

Note that it doesn’t say “to those you want to forgive” it says everyone. Everyone! This is reason enough to forgive, to hold no grudges, to wish no ill befalls those who have wronged me.

Every day I ask Him again to forgive my arrogance and to help me to choose to forgive those who have hurt me. Every day I ask Him again to renew my trust in Him. And every day I walk deeper and deeper into a life closer to Him. Ultimately it is this that will heal my heart.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nothing means nothing

Everyone has been asking me why I haven't written much lately. Hmmm. . . . it's not that there's nothing going on. Actually something quite incredible has happened in my life, a shift that took me by surprise. But it's taking me time to process it. I'm processing, jotting down notes, processing some more, thinking, praying. I'm trying to make sense of it and write about it in a coherent way. It makes sense in my head, but since there's virtual yellow caution tape wrapped around my brain it seems best to wait.

No recipes either. I haven't been cooking much, at least not cooking anything interesting. Just healthy protein, veggies, some fruit, and a little dairy. Yes, I've lost a little weight thank you Jesus. I've been thinking about cookies, though. I want to work out a recipe for cashew ginger cookies. Maybe macadamia nut ginger cookies. Almond, ginger, toasted coconut cookies? Then there's the spinach artichoke pizza . . .

That's quite enough.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Philip Seymour

Since his death several weeks ago I’ve been writing something in my head about Philip Seymour Hoffman. After he died the Washington Post headline was, “Electrifying actor of moments great and small.” Yep, he was that and more. Everyone kept saying, “Such talent—such a waste.” But I am so strangely crushed and disappointed in him that I can’t add another word to what already has been written and said about him. So I’ll write nothing.

Weeks have gone by since his death yet still I’m shocked. It’s not like I knew him or even saw him in person. The closest I ever got to him was when I passed the theater on Broadway where he was playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. I saw his name on the theater marquee. I was going to another play—an excellent play, but not the one with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I remember where I was when I heard that Elvis had been found dead in the bathroom at Graceland. What a waste to lose Elvis, the king of rock and roll, the boy from Mississippi whose voice defined a generation. I was driving on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, Nathan was in the back seat, and I was almost at the stop light at Westmoreland Street when I heard it on the radio. I remember where I was when I heard that Marilyn Monroe was found dead, nude, in her bed in Hollywood. That sweet, sexy blonde—what happened to her? And such a waste that she died so young. I heard the news on a summer afternoon. I was sitting on the sofa watching television at a house in my neighborhood where I was supposed to be babysitting that unfortunate boy Michael Anderson. I was a terrible babysitter. And Philip Seymour Hoffman? I was driving my car, passing the town center at “the compound” where my mother lives. I heard the news flash on the radio. I stopped at a stop sign, so stunned that I couldn’t move the car. People probably thought I had a stroke.

Why have I had this gut-wrenching, visceral reaction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death? He was found in the bathroom with a needle in his arm. I think of someone I know and love who is addicted to heroin. He too has been found passed out in his bathroom. Luckily he survived. He has been in and out of treatment more times than I can count. Now he’s in treatment again. I pray that he never again puts a needle in his arm. Don’t die like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Such a waste.

Celebrities aren’t that interesting to me. To me Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t a celebrity. He was an extraordinary actor whose ego disappeared in the roles he played. That’s what I loved about him. I loved the frumpy-lumpy way he looked and I loved his cockeyed smile, and his fearlessness. I keep thinking about the priest he played in Doubt, a charming, seemingly kind and compassionate man who may or may not have had a very dark side. It seems that the actor may have had a dark side too.

It’s sad. Such incredible talent. Such a waste. And I can’t write about it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday, Sunday

Sunday, Sunday. Can’t trust that day. I used to love Sunday mornings, but the feeling has gone. It’s just another day. Maybe I’ll clean the bathrooms. Maybe I won’t.

And lately it seems that the only music I listen to is Gregorian chant. Other than a brief blip in my music world (when I got a wild notion to hear Perry Como sing “Papa Loves Mambo”—go figure) for the past few weeks I’ve listened to nothing but the Gregorian chant station on Pandora.

What does this strange behavior mean?

In early October I resigned from the church that I have been attending for a few years. I started going to the church when it was first planted. I became attached and watched it grow. It’s not worth rehashing the details, but in my mind there was a miscarriage of justice and a failure of leadership. I still believe that resigning was right thing to do; it was what my conscience was telling me. And, yes, I prayed about it and the Lord never indicated I was making a big mistake. After leaving I tried another similar church for a couple of months. It was a good church with solid teaching and seemingly a God-centered group of members. But it was so similar to my old church that I had trouble trusting that I would not end up in with a similar sad, disillusioned departure.

Going home becomes a question, not an answer. I’ve been considering going back to the Catholic Church, the church I was born into and belonged to for most of my life. I can’t think of the church without its obvious flaws—clergy who abuse trust and power, a history of draconian rules and practices, and a lack of focus on God’s own word in the Bible. But I found that evangelical churches have flaws too—like pastors with big egos and little formal training or experience. Is fervor for the Gospel enough to qualify a man to preach and lead?

Both the Catholic Church and evangelical churches relegate women to the same diminished role of servants, unworthy of real leadership. The music is different and there’s a different style of worship service. The Catholic Church has strength in the centuries of tradition and the sacred nature of its liturgical worship; it feels more spiritual and worshipful. Perhaps this is why I am recently drawn to a steady diet of Gregorian chant. The evangelical church has strength in its teaching and building cohesive communities. At my evangelical church I knew the pastor well and knew nearly everyone in the church. We ate together and prayed for one another. In the Catholic Church there seems to be little focus on building community. The parishes are all very big and it is not easy to develop relationships and interact with others in the church. You go to church on Sunday, perhaps nod to the people who always sit near you in the same pews at the same time every week, but real engagement in Christian community seems lacking.

I have always loved and admired the social justice undercurrent in the Catholic Church, love that radical element that reaches out to do the work that Jesus taught us Christians to do. Yet there are some (perhaps many) things about the Catholic Church that I do not admire and cannot embrace. Many Catholics just ignore the things about Catholicism that are troublesome Can I return to the church—what I still consider my church—with the attitude that I will accept what I love about it and dismiss the rest?

I don’t know the answer to that question. So, for now, I spend Sunday mornings drinking coffee and reading the paper. It seems odd, empty. Maybe there’s a happy middle ground. I’m praying to hear from God what He wants me to do next.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unique enough

I’m a thrift store junkie. It’s the thrill of the hunt. My heart beats a little faster when I find an Eileen Fisher skirt that appears brand new (retail price over $200) for $4.99. If it’s Monday or Thursday there’s an additional 25 percent off. I’m not exaggerating—I have found things like this recently. Sometimes I’ll buy something for my sister just because my conscience won’t let me leave an incredible bargain like that in the store. And then there is the occasional discovery of pieces of vintage Mexican pottery for $1.99 each. Or maybe 40 pieces of Polish pottery for $40 on a Thursday when I got the extra 25 percent off. I live for those moments. So a lot of my clothes and home furnishings have come from thrift stores. Yes, thrift stores can be disgusting—filthy floors, stinky used vacuum cleaners, whining kids who were kept home from school because they’re sick. Heaven help you if you need to use the bathroom. Toilet paper is a rarity. One of the places where I go doesn’t even have toilet seats. That's why God invented hand sanitizer.

The merchandise is an adventure in itself but I’ve also seen a lot of strange human behavior in thrift stores. Like the woman in the shoe department who was trying on a panty girdle—a panty girdle with enhanced butt pads that I suppose would give you that Brazilian butt lift look. (Yes, they sell used underwear at thrift stores. I do not buy used underwear in case you were wondering.) The woman put on the girdle, decided it did nothing for her derriere, took it off, and left it on a shoe rack. Oh, well . . . guess you just don’t know about these things until you try them on.

I saw a man in a Salvation Army store scanning books with an electronic device. I understand the devices tell you whether a book has any resale value. He culled through the books and selected a couple of grocery bags full of books. Then he walked out of the store with the books with nary a wave to the cashier. Oh, well . . . guess he doesn’t know there’s a special place in hell for people who steal from the Salvation Army. He’s probably the same guy who robbed one local bell-ringer at Christmas.

The thrift store I go to most often does not have fitting rooms. The regulars know to wear leggings and tank tops to try things on. Or they wiggle into the racks of clothes to try to conceal themselves to try on those Lucky jeans. Isn’t it amazing how some women who should be wearing XXXL stretch pants will try to squeeze into a pair of size 4 jeans if the price is right?

My beloved daughter-in-law was here from Seattle over the Christmas break. She’s fearless and loves thrift stores too. So, while they were here, as a twisted rite of passage we took my 7-year-old granddaughter to Unique, the biggest, cheapest, grungiest thrift store in the area. We found wondrous things—a down jacket with a fur collar for my daughter-in-law and lots of clothes for the kids, including a Tin Tin in Vietnam t-shirt that my granddaughter loves. Awesome find! Perhaps even an epic find.

So we’re in the children’s section, intensely searching the racks, barely aware of what’s going on around us. My daughter-in-law looks up, turns her cart to walk in the opposite direction and says, “Too much skin. Way too much skin.”

I hadn’t noticed. There was a man—not a teenager, not an old man, somewhere close to middle-age range—standing bare chested in front of a mirror at the end of a rack in the little girls’ section. Mind you, it was cold outside, kind of a slushy-snowy day, and the man had nothing on above his waist. Apparently he was trying on shirts. We tried to ignore him but he was occupying the one section of the store we had not yet explored. As if the bare chest wasn’t enough, he then stripped down to his underpants to try on pants. Not tasteful, discreet underpants that a man might be wearing in the aisle at say . . . Neiman Marcus . . . but grubby multi-colored jockey underpants. They might even have been bikini briefs—honestly, it wasn’t something I wanted to examine closely. We made our way around him. He had thrown piles of clothes on the floor, like some sort of stoner with Grateful Dead posters on the wall. Except, it wasn’t his bedroom, remember—it was the little girls’ department in a store.

My daughter-in-law asked if we should do something about the nearly naked man. Should we report him? I doubt there is any security in the thrift store. I imagined them making an announcement just like they always do when they announce special sales, first in English, then repeated in Spanish. But I have never heard them say, “Good afternoon. Thank you for shopping at Unique Thrift Store. Would the naked man in the children’s department please put on some pants? And have a nice day.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bless me, Father

I know, I know--some "writer" I am. Pure silence coming from me. So I decided I needed to do a blast draft of a short story. This is based on a true story--something that happened to a friend of my mother's in Costco just before Thanksgiving a few years ago:

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been about 50 years since my last confession.”

Edith felt a surge of self-consciousness and began to pick little bits of Styrofoam from the edge of her coffee cup. She stared at her half cup of bitter coffee as the priest across the table from her took an awkward bite out of a half smoke. Father Martin realized he had put way too much mustard on the half smoke and wondered if he could walk over to the condiment bar and get more napkins. But Edith had just said the first words of her confession and, thus the sacrament had begun. The excess mustard would have to wait.

It was two days before Thanksgiving. When Edith saw the long checkout lines at Costco she immediately regretted going there to do her grocery shopping. But she needed some wine and a gigantic pumpkin pie to bring to Melody and Gary’s house and she had promised to bring a veggie platter to the pre-Thanksgiving volunteers’ luncheon at the Veterans’ Home. She calculated how long it would take if she just ditched her cart, left Costco, and went to her little neighborhood market but decided just to stay in line and get it done. She began to chat with the middle-aged friendly man in line behind her, the man with the kind face whose cart was full of apple cider and frozen turkeys. They quickly bonded in their agreement that it was crazy to have expected a quick trip to Costco so close to the holiday that was centered on food. But maybe it was just part of getting in the holiday spirit.

"You must be having a lot of people for dinner,” Edith said, nodding in the direction of his cart.

“Oh, no,” he said. “These turkeys aren’t for me. I’m the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy and we give turkeys to all of our church staff members for Thanksgiving.”

Edith’s face turned red. “You’re a priest? Oh, I’m so sorry, Father. I didn’t know you were a priest.”

“No reason to be sorry,” laughed Father Martin, “I’m here in disguise, dressed as a real human being.”

The line barely moved. Among the bright lights and the clamor of carts and voices and electronic gadgets, Edith began to tell Father Martin her life story. She had been raised Catholic and she was a young German war bride in the wake of World War II. Her husband Al was in the U.S. Army, an officer with the final wave of liberation troops. She married Al and moved to America in 1946, leaving behind her German heritage and her Catholic faith. And now Al, his memory nearly completely gone and his body failing, would probably soon die. She feared being alone and she wondered what would become of her without her husband. She told Father Martin that she thought it ironic that she unknowingly struck up a conversation with a priest, when in the past few months she had felt a strange need to return to the church of her youth.

“Sometimes I drive by the church and feel like God is telling me to go to confession and come back to church. But I never do it. I just keep driving.” She got out her Costco membership card and began to unload her purchases on the conveyor belt.

“Don't think about it too hard. Why not do it?” asked Father Martin. “Let’s just do it here. I can hear your confession now. Find a table in the café and I’ll meet you there as soon as I’ve paid for my turkeys. Trust me, God is speaking to you and there’s no time like the present.”

Edith looked at him and nodded, wondering what she had just agreed to do.

So she got a cup of coffee and a pretzel and found a table under an umbrella, off to the side near the ladies room. Father Martin bought his half smoke and pulled up his cart beside hers. He sat next to her so her so he could hear her quiet voice with his good ear. And it seemed that Edith and Father Martin were the only two people in the Costco café on that busy day before Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Empty nothings

How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood. Job 21:34
Sometimes it seems I’m walking through this process so slowly that I barely perceive any progress. Yet, when I look back I can see how far I have come. I still have so much to learn about grief, about what it really feels like—for myself, at least—and my insights, my perspective keep evolving.

I’m attending a church-sponsored grief support group that has been so enlightening, so much comfort. When I hear the stories of other group members whose losses have been more recent, I remember the numbness and the utter heartbreak of my earliest days. We recently discussed how others may try to give us comfort but fall far short of true empathy. I suppose I should not be so critical of others who are trying to help those of us who are grieving, but it often seems that the well-wishers just can’t bear to see our pain and want us to “move on” and get back to our lives. They often say exactly that. What they don’t understand is that there may be no old life left, that what we need is to create is a new life without the person we have lost, to find a new normal. That process takes a lot of time.

Many in the grief support group have had the experience of someone telling them that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I’ve had this happen, too. I had a friend hand me a homemade laminated card that said, “Remember that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I threw the doggone laminated card across the room and said, “Well, then, God is wrong. This is more than I can handle.” I probably frightened her and seemed ungracious, but it’s true—sometimes God does give you more than you can handle.

In the Book of Job we read of the unbelievable trials of a good man named Job. Some people added to Job’s troubles by giving him laminated cards that said God wasn’t giving him more than he could handle. Others comforted him—thank you Lord, for sending other people to walk beside us, to be our friends in the darkest hours. And Job’s ultimate comfort came from faith in God, from trusting Him.
Sometimes I lose that trust in a good God. I think God has abandoned me to face all of it alone. I think if He is all-powerful then He would fix things, that He wouldn't let people I love die, and He wouldn't allow wars and an endless stream of human heartbreak. But that's not the way it works. We are human. We have broken hearts and broken lives. Gradually we learn that grief is the cost of loving someone. All the while He is with us. Even when we think He has given us more than we can handle.