Taking Time to Grieve

There’s a topic we don’t really like to talk about and is something that many of us don’t do very well with: grief. It’s a relevant topic because each day in the news we see new numbers of those who’ve died from this virus, and yesterday was Memorial Day, the day each year we take to honor the men and women who died for our country. But beyond that, each and every day around the world people die from a variety of causes including natural disasters, cancer, suicide and murder. Death is as much a part of life as birth and living are.

But death isn’t something that we’re so good at dealing with these days. In past times I think people have had a better handle on it and respected it more than we do today. For example in Ancient Egypt mummification was a very regular practice, they worshiped a god of death, and made huge pyramids that are still visible today as part of their death rituals. The Bible also talks consistently about death, about the grieving and mourning that people would do after a loved one died, and about how much they treasured each life, each family member, even if that person wasn’t the most well behaved.

One of those challenging relationships was Saul and David, they started out with a good relationship but over the years it got strained for a variety of reasons. But David, being the man that he was, was always respectful of Saul because God did put him in charge of Israel, and when David heard that Saul died as part of war: “David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news. They mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the Lord’s army and the nation of Israel, because they had died by the sword that day.” (2 Samuel 1:11-12). David also wrote a song for Saul and Jonathan (someone David loved like a brother), and asked for all the Israelites to learn it, as another sign of respect and a way of keeping the story and lives of Saul and Jonathan alive for centuries to come.

I initially found this passage because it was one of the few that the version of the Bible I was looking at pointed to on the topic of grief. It also included a little side note about how David and his men weren’t ashamed to grieve or that they felt it necessary to hide their grief. If someone as well-known, close to God and vocal as David finds it important to grieve, is willing to do so in full view of others, and encourages others to grieve as well, I think it’s an important statement about how we should take time for grieving as well. No, grief isn’t always a public or community thing, most of it is very personal and something that we do on our own, in our own way, and on our own timeline.

Grief isn’t just about people though, we can grieve the loss of a way of life or a loss of innocence. Many of us will need to take time to process and grieve all that’s been lost over the past few months with this virus (even if we’ve gained through it as well). The important thing to remember is that there’s no shame in grieving and that it’s healthy to grieve. God is the God of the broken-hearted and will be with you through all stages of the grief process, as well as there to help you with the living you do after.

Reality Reflection: Courage Through Change

Have you ever gone into a garden and dug a shovel deep and turned the content of that shovel upside down? Or maybe stirred a pot of soup or stew a little too vigorously? Or tried to pull a carpet or table cloth out from under some stuff? The past couple of months have felt a lot like that, that just about everything we’ve known and believed about life to be thrown up in the air and come down either completely destroyed, only able to be looked at from a different perspective, maybe able to be recovered or put back together, and with a lot of emotion thrown around.

I am a believer in change, I think it has a very important place in our lives. But it’s extremely rare to have your whole world be changed in practically an instant like our world has over the past few months. We’ve been forced to seriously question what we knew about health and the ability of the medical community to fight anything well, about our ability to work and provide for our families, and about our ability to move our society as a whole forward.

With little notice before our whole world was completely topsy turvy, we’ve struggled greatly to manage our emotions and figure out how to deal with all of this emotionally. Of course, this has completely rocked what little confidence and strength some people had and as a result they’re heading to the dark end of the spectrum and expressing a lot of hate. Yes, there’s also been a lot of support shared, but with many (most?) of us around the world affected by the virus it’s a lot harder to support each other because we don’t have the resources to tap into that we’ve had in past situations (those in one state affected by a flood can be supported by those that aren’t in that state and not struggling with it).

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that we should accept and spend some time with these challenging emotions and situations, because we’re going to continue to struggle for at least a little longer. It doesn’t benefit us to completely shut off or avoid these negative emotions and challenging situations. We shouldn’t dwell on them, but it’s OK to admit you’re struggling.

But I have faith that if we’ve pulled ourselves out of as many challenges as we have as a nation and world, we can do it again. As I’ve said before, I’ve never believed that anything is going to be achieved that is sustainable or truly able to support people when we’re nasty to each other or trying to drag each other down because we’re miserable and unhappy. The struggle will stick around for a while yet, but even while it’s here we’ve got a choice to make about how we deal with it for the most part. I expect setbacks and struggles, but I also plan to approach them with as much courage and patience as I can muster.

Thoughts on Violence, Peace and Healing

Again in the past days and week we’re struggling with three shootings and people killed and injured. It’s still in early days to know the reasons behind shootings and if there was a specific target (and we rarely get the full story), but regardless of why it’s heartbreaking and hurtful to think about.

When it comes to topics of faith we talk a lot about peace and love, but what I really wanted to talk about today was the fact that there is another side to this. Ephesians 4:25-28a, 31 says: “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. If you are a thief, quit stealing….Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”

These verses talk about the very real fact that we deal with anger, bitterness, and rage. Few if any people are truly immune to the darker emotions of life. Experiencing them from time to time doesn’t mean that we’re evil, it just means we’re human. The choice we have to make is how we deal with those emotions: do we respond to them by killing others or going to workout at the gym or talking through them with a counselor? Two of those are healthy ways of dealing with those emotions, the other isn’t.

God is the God of healing among many other things. He can heal our world, our hearts, our minds, our relationships and our emotions. But we have to be willing to let that happen and we have to invest in making that healing happening by avoiding our triggers, learning to take breaks before things escalate, doing what we know is good for us, and spending time with people who are good for us. This week I encourage you to pray for healing for our world, for people to continue to step up and admit the struggles they’ve faced and how they’ve gotten help for it or that they need help, and for everyone to be open and sensitive to the fact that what they see is likely only a small part of what’s going on in a person’s life. This is both an individual and a community battle, we can’t get it done alone but we have to start with ourselves.

This is an excerpt of my weekly devotional, learn more and subscribe here

It’s OK to Admit You’re Not OK

Wednesday was World Mental Health Day. Your mental health is one of the most important aspects of who you are and it’s also one of the most challenging. It’s one of the most important because even if you have physical challenges if you’re mentally healthy and sharp you can still live a really fulfilling life and have really great relationships. But if you’re struggling mentally, you may struggle in many other areas of your life.

As I was thinking about what to write for World Mental Health Day and being that we’re at the tail end of what’s typically a long day each week for me, Thursday, my partner asked me if I was doing OK, and I said ‘not really but I’ll get there.’ One of the biggest and best steps we can take for our mental health is to admit when we need help. It may seem a little scary and intimidating to take that first step and admit to yourself that you’re struggling, or take an even bigger step and seek help from a professional for your struggles, but it’s one of the best steps you can ever take in your life, health and happiness.

You shouldn’t feel shame that you’re struggling, we all struggle at one point in time or another. Just this morning I was listening to the radio and the lady admitted that she had thoughts of suicide years ago and almost followed through on it, but God stayed her hand and she sought help and now she’s here to encourage others and share her story.

Yes, it may be a long road to recovery and it may be something you struggle with through your whole life, but I whole heartedly believe that each and every one of us can be healthier mentally, feel better and more confident about ourselves and break the focus from what’s wrong to getting better.  How will you become healthier mentally today?

Dealing with Difficult People

I’ve had conversations lately with some people about interpersonal relationships, especially with regards to dealing with difficult people. Sometimes you have to deal with these people because they’re coworkers or people in leadership at your job, others you can avoid or mostly avoid by not going to the same parties or events or just not being with them at the events. But before we get into dealing with these people I thought it would be important to talk about the ‘what if’ of what if you’re that difficult person?

For some people accepting or understanding that they’re the problem is difficult. Maybe they don’t realize how their words and behaviors affect others (which is usually easier to talk through) or maybe they believe they’re entitled and should be given special treatment and can treat people however they want (which means they may not care that you’re unhappy). It’s also never an easy conversation to have with someone, to tell them that they’re mean or disrespectful or inconsiderate. These types of conversations can go really poorly, they can go well and things can improve, and the conversation can go well but not lead to any real results or make any difference.

While I think everyone has room for improvement in their life, I don’t think we always have to point out to someone that there’s an issue. If it’s an issue that you can just vent to friends or family and you can just deal with it or you don’t really plan to stick around for long, you don’t really need to address it unless you really feel strongly about it.

Most people who deal with a difficult person can’t really lay down the law and be bluntly honest.  If you do it that way it’s a great way to get yourself in a lot of trouble or ruin a lot of relationships, unless that’s something you’re allowed to do, like a tough-love coach or consultant (think of Bar Rescue or some of the other TV shows with hosts who do company renovations).  In those cases they don’t have to be delicate about telling the difficult person how difficult they are. Sometimes they are completely aggressive about it, but typically they have the experience to be able to have a constructive but eye opening conversation with the difficult person about exactly how their behaviors are negatively impacting the people in their lives.

So for the rest of us, you want to address it, you’ve got a couple of options. If you think they’re receptive or they give you the opening (“I can’t understand why no one sticks around at this job?!”), you can start to bring it up and see how it goes. If you can’t wait for the potential opening and really feel that you have to say something, I would start with why you’re bothering to bring it up (for example that you’re really committed to the relationship you have with them or to the company you’re working for), tell them you’re not sure if they’re aware of it or not and politely explain how you feel, and then share some specific situations which have impacted you negatively, and what would be helpful to improving the situation.

In all honesty everyone has their difficult moments, but some people choose to make a lifestyle out of them, and some people fall into the bad habit of being difficult frequently.  I encourage you to take a moment this weekend and apologize to some people who you’re hurt recently when you were difficult, or consider if you’re one of those frequently difficult people who needs to make some changes.

Are You Memorable?

Most of us spend a good portion of our days with other people, whether we’re talking with them thanks to technology or interacting with them in a more physical way like driving the same road, shopping in the same store, working in an office or living in the same house together. It’s both a blessing and a challenge that we’re so connected and have so many people in our lives. Some of the people that you’ll spend time with you may never really know or ever see again after that one interaction, while other people you’ll see again and again throughout your life journey. Most of us meet so many people that we don’t fully remember them, what they said, who they were, their name or where we know them from when we first met them, but if we meet up with them again we may remember them for two reasons: how they acted and how they made us feel.

Some people are just memorable people. Maybe it’s because of how they dress or the accent they have or the funny/tragic/bizarre story of how you two met. Sometimes many years later we’ll still tell the story of meeting that person and what went on even if we don’t ever see them again or know their name. But for most of us the people who seem memorable in the moment quickly become a memory. We move on and meet other memorable people, people who do add to our life journey, experience and lesson in their own way, even if we don’t really remember them.

The people we remember in crystal clarity even decades later are those who made us feel stand-out special or like dirt. Maybe it’s the school teacher who showed such love, grace and compassion on all the students in your class, and you knew that you’d always see a welcome smile on their face and cheery welcome, even if the rest of your life wasn’t great. Maybe it’s the boss who consistently talks down to you, has a nasty attitude towards you and doesn’t accept your ideas even when they asked for suggestions. Both of these situations are such that you have repeated interactions with the person and really get a good idea of who they are, not just the snapshot you get when you meet someone once. But sometimes you will only meet someone once and it’s a lifetime experience, like meeting the CEO of the really big company you work for and they make you feel like you’re not just one of thousands, but that you personally make a valuable contribution to the company.  Or you meet the person who’s been your hero from afar (sports stars, celebrities, leaders etc.) only to be completely dismissed by them.

How do you treat people? How do they feel after interacting with you? What will they remember you for? I know I would rather bring a little sunshine to someone than ruin their day, what about you?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The Expectations of Exploring

This month we’ve been talking in part about the topic of exploring, and I did some exploring with my partner to a Halloween/autumn attraction recently and either I wasn’t in the mood for the exploration or it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I think it’s a little of both, but it got me thinking about what happens when we go out and do the brave/courageous thing and explore and don’t find what we expect, or the reality didn’t live up to the hype or we find that the destination is really just a beginning. We get to the end of the road and say something like “now what?” or “that’s it?” or “there’s more?”

I think part of the reality is that life is a journey and even when we explore we’re not necessarily going to end up at a true destination, but that what we thought were destinations are really just stops in the journey. But let’s talk about making the most of your explorations. First, know that not all explorations will be successful or awesome. Even if you put a good spin on them, there are some things that just don’t work out. Yes, they can be chalked up to learning experiences and attempts, and they’re important to have as long as that’s not all that’s happening. If it’s not a great exploration, learn what you can from it and move on.

Second, manage your expectations. Yes, you should go into everything with a positive expectation, or at least the expectation of learning something, but that doesn’t mean that your expectation will be that it’s the end-all, be-all. I can remember going on a trip to a bunch of National Parks among other things with my family as a child and being incredibly underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon, the vast canyon that countless people have raved about since it was discovered. But I’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon since then that have blown me away because of the cloud formations or weather that’s part of the image. It’s important to note that I clicked on the link for the picture not because I loved the Grand Canyon, or because I was expecting to see another picture of a hole in the ground, but because I hoped that maybe I would get to see something that was a glimpse of what many people experience when they look at it, and I did.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the Grand Canyon or that Halloween/autumn attraction again or not, but I’m not going to let some not-so-great explorations ruin me forever. I’m still excited to visit more National Parks and more local attractions, and maybe with a little better attitude and slightly adjusted expectations, I’ll have a better time even if it’s not my pick. Sometimes it’s not even about the destination, but about the thrill of exploring. Yes, the destination is great, but sometimes the journey getting there is even better.

Reality Reflection: The Process of Grief

Today is one of those days that makes you really think about life and how special it is.  Here in the US we’re taking time to honor those who lost their lives in 9/11. There have been ceremonies and memorials throughout the past week and into this coming week that encourage us to not only honor those who died and support their families, but also encourage us to be stronger as a nation.  Seeing and hearing the number of tributes and events this weekend is encouraging and hopeful for our future as a united nation.

This weekend also brings up a complicated topic: loss and death.  Loss isn’t something we enjoy dealing with and many of us stink at dealing with it.  Some of us pretend it doesn’t affect us, some ignore it, some deal terribly with it, some never get over it, and how others process it (because they do actually process it) varies from person to person.  Aside from intentionally hurting yourself and others during your grief process and not dealing with it, there are few wrong ways of working through loss, and you shouldn’t judge others for how they go through their grief processes.

Taking time to grieve and let go of things and people that were important to you is healthy.  While it may not be a big ‘loss’ to move houses or cities for you, others need time to process the move and changes in their life.  You may prefer to do a traditional funeral for someone as part of your grief process, while others prefer a celebration of life.  The best thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to support them in whatever way they need, but not to judge them over what they need.  Maybe they need someone to look at old pictures and remember things with them, maybe they need someone to get out and have fun with, maybe they need someone to go shopping with, maybe they want to finally see a therapist or counselor and make positive changes in their life, or maybe they just need some things to remain normal in their life and not do anything different together and be allowed to grieve in their own way when they’re alone.

How do you remember and honor people who died during events like 9/11, as well as those individuals in your life who have passed on in other ways?

Reality Reflection: Time for Healing

It’s been a busy week for me, I’ve been doing lots of thinking and discovering.  Of course with that typically comes up a lot of the feelings, thoughts, and memories that you wish could stay buried forever.  While some can be reburied immediately (or as soon as possible), others need to be considered and dealt with, typically because they haven’t been dealt with in the past.  It’s not bad to have these things come back up, and honestly, the sooner they do, the better.  Because it’s not until you’ve dealt with them truly that you can really move forward.  Even if you didn’t remember the pain, fear, anger, frustration, hurt or other painful emotions from the past and the memories that they’re connected to, they could be holding you back.  While I’m not a big believer in digging up as much dirt and the past as possible over and over, sometimes it’s necessary to work through what happened and how you felt in the past because it will help you navigate the current change you’re going through in a better way and free you to see the world in a new light.

Whether you’re reinventing yourself, bringing things back to life, looking at things from a new perspective, creating something new, or making changes, you will have to deal with some challenging emotions, including those of failure.  While I don’t expect that you will fail in your process (I hope you don’t!) many people do experience some failures when they’re working through the change process.  Why? Because when things change we typically run into things we haven’t experienced before, or we’ll hit our personal stumbling blocks (including those we haven’t dealt with from the past) and we’ll trip and fall or not get it right on the first try because it’s new to us.   And again, while it’s not fun to fail, no one is perfect and few of us get things right on the first try.

So if you’re going through a time of transition like me, don’t hide or run from the past or the emotions and challenges that you face as you transition, change, think, grow, create or discover.  Know that they are part of the journey and could teach you valuable lessons to apply to your future.  And even if they don’t apply to your future, finally working through them can free you from baggage you didn’t even know you had holding you down.

Remembering The Liberator

July 18th was the birthday of one of the great men of the world: Nelson Mandela (celebrated as “Mandela Day”). No one is perfect (Mandela included), but he’s someone who showed throughout his life that he was a true leader. A 2013 article on Mandela called him a “Dissident, Liberator and Statesman.” Those are 3 big titles that all say something important about who he was, but the one I wanted to focus on today is “liberator.”

Mandela knew what it was to be not free, he spent 27 years in prison for his efforts to make South Africa a better place for people. Some people, having had his experience, would throw in the towel and spend the rest of their years quietly, thankful to be free. But Mandela never gave up on his dreams of and plans for a better life for himself and the people he loved, and people around the world too.

We take time each year to remember people like Nelson Mandela and the dreams they had for a reason, a reason that seems more important than ever with the violence over the past few weeks and months around the world. People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and countless other men and women who have passed on would not be proud of the people some of us have become. I think they would be happy to see that some thing have changed and are changing for the better, but sad that we are fighting on many of the same things that should have already been addressed, and creating issues that shouldn’t be issues and haven’t been in the past.

What it comes down to is that the world is always in need of more people like Nelson Mandela. You don’t have to be in a traditional position of power to make a difference, you have to decide that you’re going to give your best effort to fixing or alleviating the problem(s) you see in the world. Whether you make that effort in jail, on the street, in your office, in a school, or as a president doesn’t matter. What matters is that you choose to step up and let people know that they too can be liberated and choose what they want to make out of life.