Finding Peace During Loss [Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ivy Michelle. It is Maundy Thursday. I had Ivy’s beautiful post on grief and loss scheduled for today before I even realized this. When I did realize it, I thought that it was a …
[Guest Post by Jennie Goutet – Have you ever wanted to share your story, but it’s taken you months to put pen to paper only to realize it’s more difficult than you thought? I’m so glad Jennie didn’t give up and after a few months of asking if she could share, she put herself out there and shared from the heart. If you’re struggling with being accepted as you already are — be encouraged today!]
Twenty years ago, I was living in Taiwan when my younger brother committed suicide.
I did not yet follow God, although I had already been invited to church in Hawaii and in Manhattan, and would later be invited to church in Paris, and again in New York (sister churches of the same body) before getting baptized into Christ.
In my memoir, I wrote about the return to Taiwan following the funeral, my trip into the mountains to go litchi picking with a friend, and how it was all colored by early grief:
I loved riding the motorbike. I felt so free, whipping past the people and the sights at an exhilarating pace. Helmets were not required and I didn’t care whether or not I survived a fall, so I let the wind tug at my hair freely, and brace against my body. I wanted the wind to rip the pain out of the clutches of my chest.
At first we drove and saw the familiar busy streets, loud vendors pushing their wares at every turn. We stopped at the lights, lost in an army of motorbikes, the thick white clouds of exhaust reaching up to the first story of the buildings nearby. And then the roadways opened up and became larger as we saw more and more of the countryside. We rode on for over an hour like that and then, there in the distance — the mountain.
We drove onto the path that would bring us there, the straight, wide road that crossed the rice paddies on either side, and that eventually led to the base of the mountain before going up.
Later, with our bags of litchis in hand, we came upon the mountain stream winding its way down.
Smaller rounded rocks formed a pathway in the current, and we were able to hop across them to reach the middle. There we sat talking and watching our empty litchi shells float downstream. We stayed there until the sun started to set, until we started to feel the chill in the early evening air. And then the fading light finally shook us out of our reverie, and we stood up to get our balance before hopping back across the stones, and collecting our things to go home.
I’ll never forget that day on the mountain, the day when the sights and feelings were so foreign it was like someone else’s life momentarily juxtaposed mine — the day I tried to outrun my pain.
I remember how we turned towards the mountain, coasting freely over the crisscross of yellowed roads with their large grids of golden rice waving in the glaring sun almost as far as the eye could see. And the image of that hot sun, blue sky, the golden rice, the green and brown set of mountains ahead, and me, flying, flying across it all.
I think this scene will flood my vision with its brilliant colors in my last days.
Although I couldn’t see it that day in my grief, emptiness, and sorrow, God had a vision for me — a beautiful vision that would include salvation, the love of a worthy man, children, more sorrow — yes — but with it, a peace that surpasses understanding. I didn’t know this on that day long ago when I didn’t care whether or not I survived a fall.
Romans 4:17 says “. . . even God, who quickeneth the dead and calleth those things which are not, as though they were.”
I love this New King James Version because it includes a wording unlike other versions: “He calls things which are not as though they were.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m an “are not.”
It doesn’t matter that I tried to write an elegant blog about life in France, with “Lady Jennie” as my moniker. I’m fearful, depressed, a recovered addict, an emotional eater — which is to say — I wear my weakness publicly so that everyone can see what I struggle with.
But even before I was redeemed, God called me as though I were. He called into existence traits, strengths, glory, discipline, goodness, holiness as if they were already in my possession. Even now that I’m redeemed, he doesn’t stay focused on my failings, he sees ahead to what I will become. He calls this “am-not” as though I were. It’s not because of who I am, but because of who He is.
Friend, if you are struggling right now — empty, broken, discouraged — you must believe that this is the vision he has for you.
He sees you as though you already are.
Jennie Goutet is the author of the memoir A Lady in France about travel, love, grief and faith. She is also a contributing author to Sunshine After the Storm – a survival guide for the grieving mom. Jennie blogs at A Lady in France and was a BlogHer Voice of the Year pick two years running. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post and Queen Latifah’s website, among other places. She lives just outside of Paris with her husband and three children. Connect with Jennie at ALadyinFrance.com.
*Excerpt is from her latest book, A Lady in France. To purchase on Amazon, please click here.
Transition throws me for a loop every time – silly, of course.
We all know that the only constant in life is change. But somehow my longing for comfort and control gets me to settle into a place with a deep, satisfying sigh. Close my eyes. Take a break from watchfulness. Then everything tips and I find myself rolling sideways, stumbling down a new ramp of transition. Looking for a new normal.
Some transitions are instantaneous.
In 2003 my husband collapsed on his favorite street in San Diego, Shelter Island Drive, just outside the bank. From that moment on, he never drove his truck, never wrote a check, dialed a phone, made love, or flipped a pancake. Everything changed and I spent eight years catching up.
Other transitions are expected.
The kids grow up and launch their own lives, families, children, careers. They are navigating their own transitions without me. The family home is sold. I live alone.
What I didn’t expect was the final step in another, slow, insidious change that I’m just now having to acknowledge. Over the course of Mike’s long illness, I had to let go of my online bookstore, localauthors.com, which had kept me in the loop of writing and writers.
I published my ninth book in 2002, Conscience of the Community, the memoir of the Rev. George Walker Smith. I’ve written a couple since then, but that was the last one published. It may always be the last one published. There might never be a tenth, and my writing career may be over.
I was making a comfortable salary in communications and as a political advisor, then $10,000 less after a layoff. Then another layoff three weeks after my husband died. Then $30,000 less at a temp job. Then unemployment; then the end of unemployment.
In three years, it appears my working career has also slipped away. Along with it has been a precise and surgical removal of my self-reliance, replaced by utter dependency on God’s grace.
It’s scary to be lonely and disregarded by others when status and recognition have been a part of my identity as a writer, a worker, a woman.
How I want to cling to them and scrape up some remnant of the career I’ve had, to stave off fear. Because the biggest challenge of aging and poverty is fearing that no one cares. It’s the core fear of each of us, really, at any age and in any transition. Some days I feel like I am walking the plank.
Alongside the highway of transition are neon signs, flashing with audacity at my fear. God Loves You! God Cares for You! God is Strong When You are Weak!
These words have illuminated my road for most of my life. But walking down this slow path that winds to the bottom of my ramp of loss, I see a new sign, handwritten on a simple plank.
You are mine.
It makes me smile. I am seeing the Lord provide for my daily bread. He is sustaining my health. He has given me time to ponder and read and know him. This transition may be the best yet.
Francine Phillips is an author, journalist and poet from La Mesa, California. She has an M.A. in marriage and family counseling from Denver Theological Seminary and teaches Bible study groups. Francine has raised seven children in a blended family and is now a widow.
[Guest Post by Wendy van Eyck – When my good friend from South Africa told me that she published her first book–Life, life, and more life–AND is giving it away for free at ilovedevotionals.com, I asked her to share with us. Enjoy and be encouraged.]
How God found me in my darkest time
I was 21 when I realized that I did not want to kill myself anymore. After months of struggling with depression the darkness was beginning to lift.
For months my soul had been in a place where light didn’t penetrate and I couldn’t see hope.
When I was growing up–blowing bubbles, climbing jungle gyms and jumping on trampolines–I never imagined that by 21 I would be unravelling like the hem of my trouser leg, and needing to crawl home for some love, and repair, and hope.
I was broken and shattered by all I had seen and done, in the preceding year as a paramedic. I was unbalanced and confused and bewildered, because my life was so very different from my dreams.
I was depressed. I did not know what to do next, or who I was, or what life meant. I was undefined.
I recall sitting for what seemed like three weeks but was probably only three days and writing the same words over and over. I wrote these words in big letters, I wrote them in small, I wrote them in journals and on the walls. I scribbled these words in pencil and painted them in scarlet red, I typed them and printed them and wrote them on my heart.
These are the words, that I stole from a shepherd boy who became a King*:
“God, you know when I can’t get up and when I spring out of bed; you recognize my thoughts from among millions. Nothing about me is strange to you God. You could start my sentences you know me so well…there is nowhere I can go to get away from you God, no where I can crawl that you could not find me and follow me into…You created me, stitch-by-stitch, moulded my arms and legs and liver and placed jewels in my eyes…all the days that you have given to me were planned before I drew a breath.”
I knew only one thing at the time. Even today there are times when I know nothing else but this one thing. I do not understand it. I cannot explain it easily. The one thing I knew then, that I still know now, was that when I was stumbling through my life Jesus was with me and he liked me very much.
I do not know how Jesus happened to be there, and I do not know how he found me, all I know is that he was there, and that he whispered light into my darkness.
Through that dark time of my life when my mental health hung in the balance I learnt that:
- God will find me in the darkest place my soul can go.
- God doesn’t abandon me because I’m feeling down or hopeless or desperate.
- When I’m in a dark place, God crawls into the darkness with me and then holds me till hope begins stirring again.
- God doesn’t leave me in a dark place. God gently exposes my hurts, pain and heartache to his light. And as God’s light shines it reveals his plans to take care of me, to never abandon me, and to give me the future I hoped for.
Maybe you’ve been in a dark place before?
Perhaps you feel like you’re in one now?
Maybe your circumstances are different but your feelings are the same. Despair, sadness, loneliness, anguish, hopelessness are just a few of the feelings that characterize dark places. If you feel this way I would encourage you to not only seek God but to seek out professional help.
* David was a shepherd who became a King in the Bible. He wrote the words my paraphrase of Psalm 139 is based on.
Wendy is married to Xylon, who talks non-stop about cycling, and makes her laugh. She writes for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, ever believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday throug a foreign land with just a backpack. You can follow Wendy’s story and subscribe to receive her free ebook, “Life, life and more life” at ilovedevotionals.com. She would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.
[Photo: tyreke.white, Flickr]
Over the years I have learned a very important lesson that mental illness does not define me. It does not define you either. Yes! There are days, weeks, months, and even years when it doesn’t feel that way–but it’s true. Pastor Rick Warren said in …