My little barefoot gardener. She is helping water the plants at my parent’s house. We are tending them as they seek healing out of state.
To be honest, I am still reeling from the news. Trying to justify the sickness I am aware of with the healthy, strong man who has been a super-hero to me all my life. I may be married with children of my own now, but the daddy’s girl title will be stamped on my heart forever.
It doesn’t feel fair to be here again. To be dunked down in another sea of grief, clinging to God to hold my head above water. It’s different this time, grief is there like the whisper of a shadow as evening starts to fall. It is a hint of what might be rather than an enveloping sadness. I still feel hope. On my best days, I am riding a wave of optimism. Letting the sunshine down on a glimmer of happy memories as the sea dances beneath my feet. On my worst, I feel battered by the waves and so angry that they won’t stop coming.
The sea is always a teacher, whether it is parted as we wade through on dry ground or we slip beneath its waves with faltering steps. We learn from days in the belly of the whale and we learn from the calming of the storm.
“I sank to the foundations of the mountains; the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever! But you raised my life from the pit, LORD my God! As my life was fading away, I remembered the LORD. My prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forsake faithful love, but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of Thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the LORD!”
-Jonah 2: 6-9
My parents are incredible people of faith, believers who praise in the calm and the storm. Their lives are a testimony to behold and I see them shining in the darkness and thanking God for salvation even when they are scared. I spoke with my mom this morning and she discussed witness opportunities. My heart is overwhelmed by their goodness but, as her daughter, I also wanted to remind her that sometimes it is okay to need to be lifted.
“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”Galatians 6:2
We’ve done this a few times now, walked through loss as a family and deepened our understanding of God, each other, and community.
We’ve felt the need to put on a face and have it together, we’ve felt the love from holy helpers carrying us through. It’s different this time. We aren’t grieving death, we are grieving disease and the loss of a summer with dad. I’m choosing prayer and optimism to fight through the rest of it, holding tight to the encouragement of his doctor and the healing powers of hope and love.
We have so much love around us. Our community is stepping in. Family around the nation offering to run errands, child care offers, mileage tickets, etc. So many wonderful things that we will likely draw upon as the situation becomes more clear. We have received prayer and dog-sitting and help weeding the garden.
Tending the garden has been my expression of love. It was supposed to be a community garden this year, I planned to plant with my mom and learn from her gentle hands and discerning eyes as she coaxes beauty from the dirt. Gardening is a chance to partner with the master creator and revel in His good gifts, it sparks life in plants and hearts.
I was so looking forward to learning from her this year, trading my brown thumbs for green and sharing the joy of the harvest. It doesn’t feel fair that this summer was taken. An Alaskan summer, no less, we live for those here. We wait through the long winter, the intoxicating (and not, necessarily, in a good way) smells of spring break-up, we watch buds form, and dance in celebration at the first sparks of green.This was going to be our time and now it’s not. Now I’m learning gardening via Facetime and Google, and explaining to a two-year old daily why she doesn’t get to see her grandparents.
It isn’t fair and that is okay to say. It is also okay to need help and to not be “okay”. When we did this dance a decade ago, learning to grieve gracefully…my mom made a point that sometimes letting others in, is a gift to them.
“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus. ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’“Acts 20:35
If you are traveling through grief and uncertainty and unsure if you have the strength to carry on, it is okay to allow others to lift you up. You are blessing them in a holy, eternal way by allowing them to be the hands of Jesus. It isn’t doing anyone any favors to pretend you aren’t hurting. We place such a high value on independence in our culture, but the Bible preaches unity. It preaches a body whose parts move together and give grace to the humble. It preaches community where sorrow is divided and joy is multiplied by sharing together. My friends, please don’t be too proud to admit when you need help, you have a body that will be blessed by an opportunity to surround you. I am heeding my own advice in this season, although it does not come naturally, and it softens the edges of my heart. Letting others in to help produces love and gentleness in both hearts.
To my friends who are seeking to be there for a grieving person in your life, may I give you one piece of advice?
Be as specific as possible. Sometimes it is pride that holds people back from responding to the general cries of “do you need anything?” but, often, it is confusion. Grieving people frequently don’t know what they need. There are times that they need to be reminded to eat or shower. There is so much mental effort put in to just getting through a day that thinking of ways others can help is too exhausting. This is something I have felt personally and am learning to do better for others. The general responses are still necessary and knowing you have community around is a beautiful blessing, but we are more likely to respond to specific offers. Examples I have been asked, or gotten to offer;
“May I take the kids off your hands for a few hours?”
“Is there something I can do around the house for you?”
“Would you let me drop a meal by this week?”
Offer your strengths. It is so special to see the ways people give their hearts. My parents received a package of stamps and envelopes in a care package this week and were blown away by the small details of an administrative friend. I can still remember friends from years ago who dropped off meals and boxes of Kleenex, toilet paper, or paper plates to host the traffic of mourners. People who knew the need for company and the fatigue of grief. Don’t let the fear of saying the wrong thing keep you from saying anything. Showing up is the biggest blessing, and they will remember it for years to come.