Secondary Losses: Lifestyle & Surroundings

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time — the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes — when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever — there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”– John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

Any primary loss produces secondary losses, which are like the aftershocks of an earthquake. The big event, the earth splitting tragedy, causes destruction to the main frame of things. This is what those of us who have not experienced earthquakes generally hear about and pay attention to. Grief and sympathy are often expected if not understood for this type of disaster. The aftershocks of them are also terribly devastating, but aftershocks are not often recognized.

Likewise, when a person dies he or she is publicly mourned, but the secondary losses to those left behind often go unheeded by the bereaved and also by people around them. Unless those of us who are grieving recognize and explain these aftershocks or secondary losses to people on the periphery of our grief, it is likely that they will never know about the pain of them. How can we hope for support if our supporters don’t even know about our struggle? That is what I am aiming to do with this series about secondary losses. It is my guess that if you’re reading this that you have experienced deep loss on some level. We all do. It is my hope that you will be able to recognize your own secondary losses, grieve them, and find the words to describe them to others who want to care for you.

Secondary Losses Series

Secondary Losses: Introduction (already posted)
Secondary Losses: Lifestyle & Surroundings (you are here!)
Secondary Losses: Roles & Relationships (coming soon)
Secondary Losses: Hopes & Dreams (coming soon)
Secondary Losses: Identity & Identifiers (coming soon)

My story

At the time of my husband’s death, he had been a youth pastor and the sole money-maker for our family. We didn’t have very much in our bank account, but it was enough for me to stay home with our children. When he died, that source of income was gone too. Furthermore, Eric had not been able to get affordable life insurance because of a preexisting heart condition, so when he died there was no money for me and my children to live on. I quickly realized that in order to provide for my children financially, I would need to find a new lifestyle. By the grace of God, I did not actually feel an ache in my bank account for a little while because I was so surrounded by generous and loving people. Yet, tangible provision did not cancel out the losses. I knew that the gifts would stop coming, and was daunted by the inevitability that I would soon need to take on a new job. The ache that was not immediately felt in my bank account was felt in my heart. With each monetary gift came the reminder that Eric was no longer with me.

Certainly I lost my primary financial provider, but I lost also the ability to stay home with my children – something I valued and enjoyed. For quite a while I lost the closeness I was able to share with them during any part of the day because my mind was occupied with paperwork and a new job on top of overwhelming grief. I had been breastfeeding William, but my milk supply diminished extensively and then completely with the grief – routine, role, and relationship losses. Finally, after less than two months, we moved away from our home in Wisconsin, leaving familiar spaces, friends and our church behind. Soon I sold the car Eric and I had shared and I gave away things that he no longer needed. I took off my wedding ring when I felt that it no longer tied me to Eric but rather to a statement about myself that was no longer true… two years later the spot where it sat still feels strangely empty. These secondary losses were daily reminders that Eric was really and fully gone from our lives.

Changes in lifestyle and surroundings

Many people’s lives change substantially after the loss of their loved one. A parent who loses a child no longer needs to keep track of that child’s belongings. A businessman whose financial partner dies may not be able to hold onto their shop. A bereaved dog owner might no longer need to take a lunch break so her pup can go outside. These secondary losses reach beyond the one who died, into the life of their survivors, for much longer than the primary loss is generally remembered by others. The first things to become apparent, are lifestyle changes and daily reality reminders. Things like location, occupation, social interactions, and even shopping preferences. Not all of these changes are negative, but they don’t negate the loss or sadness one might feel when the previous things are gone.

Secondary gains

The positives about what can come after tragedy are the silver linings on the clouds of loss. In my own situation, though I lost my lifestyle as a married, stay-at-home-mom, I gained a part-time position as a Communications Director – directly using my university degree. I was afraid that time with my children would be lost, but I’m still able to spend intentional, quality time with them. I lost the community I had in Wisconsin (though facebook is awesome!), but I have gained a full community here in Minnesota where my family is thriving. I’ve gained friends who I might not have had in my previous situation, including other single moms who ran in different circles than I once had. I lost my family’s space, but I now live in a multi-generational home with my parents and my grandmother. Yes, there are four generations living under one roof! My grandma is only here temporarily, as she is recovering from knee surgery, yet all the same, we are experiencing benefits of daily interactions with special people that we likely never would have had prior to loss.

After Eric died, I also lost the items that once connected me to him, but I have gained and purchased items that are mine (like my new-ish car) that make me happy because I know that I chose them according to my own preferences and financial decisions. My “new normal” is not necessarily better or worse than it was before loss. It is helpful for me, however, to acknowledge the hard and move forward in the positives of the present.

Grief Work

I’ve often said that grief is like hunting for a bear as in the children’s book by Michael Rosen. “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it.” It takes a lot of effort to move through and learn from grief. It’s a beast, and it’s tough, but I’ve been finding that there is healing as you work through it. Here are some prompts that may help you on your journey.

  • Are there things you lost or changes that you made as a result of your primary loss? Have you taken time to recognize and grieve them?
  • Is there anyone in your life that should know that you’re struggling with the pain of those secondary losses?
  • Are there any positive things that have become realities after or even as a result of the primary loss?
  • While focussing solely on the gains may hinder your ability to grieve the losses appropriately, positivity will help you move forward toward healing. Try making a list of the things that you could count as secondary gains or positive realities for you and your family.

Secondary Losses: Introduction

Secondary Losses from Grief

Another round of GriefShare is just about to begin! I am elated and relieved to be going through this curriculum again with a support group. The first time I attended a session, last Fall, I did not expect it to be beneficial. I actually planned to go to one meeting, decide it was unhelpful, and move on to either creating my own group or continuing on without one. On the first night, I was welcomed warmly with a smile by a man whom I understood attended my church, but didn’t really know. “I am so glad to see you tonight. I’ve been praying for you. I was sorry to hear about your great loss, and I hope you will find some comfort here.” Don had lost both of his parents, a brother, several friends, and two wives. He knew loss. Also in the room was a woman who had lost two husbands and then her home after a family dispute, a man who had been married to his wife for 57 years before death parted them, and a young woman whose younger brother had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. All of the people in the room had lost loved ones to death, and though we were grieving differently, we were instantly connected as fellow journeyers on this path that none of us had intended to take.

On that first night, Don told us that each time we shared our stories, that brought us closer to healing. Taking this step of processing trauma out loud helped each of us to bridge the gap that had been created between our hearts and our heads. After we each shared a brief synopsis of what had brought us to the group – our loss – we began watching a video. That first video was titled, “Is This Normal?” And if nothing had helped me the entire rest of the session, it would have been okay because knowing that I was not strange or alone in this was the best piece of comfort I could have received in that moment. The relief I felt after two hours of GriefShare kept me coming back for the rest of the year.

What Is Secondary Loss

In one of the sessions, we discussed in more detail an idea that was new to me by name but not unfamiliar in experience: secondary losses. With the death of a loved one, there is a primary loss of that person and all he or she meant to you. Secondary losses are the rest of the weight of a life without that person in your life. They are the rest of the equation – the things that you no longer have because the person with whom they were associated is gone. Secondary losses are not secondary because they are less significant, but rather because they are a result of the primary loss.

One evening a few weeks after my husband’s unexpected death, I went to the grocery store by myself. List in hand, I reached for and placed each item into my cart with care but also with pleasure. It feels nice to get something done. But suddenly, in the breakfast isle, I realized that I no longer needed to put Eric’s favorite cereal box into the cart. He didn’t need the cereal, he wasn’t here to eat it. In fact, he would never eat cereal again. Right there, in the middle of the store, I started crying. The tears poured down my cheeks just as fast as I wiped them away. I tried to finish the list, but my mind was mush at that point. I don’t remember if I checked out before I exited the store. Why was it so significant that I did not need to spend another $3.25 that day? It was not about the money. I would have spent any amount of money to need to buy that cereal for him again. My break down came from feeling the weight of a secondary loss… a realization that this thing is no longer true because Eric is no longer here.

There are several different kinds of secondary losses. People categorize them differently, but the way I have experienced them is this:

Types of Secondary Loss

  1. Secondary Losses: Lifestyle & Surroundings
  2. Secondary Losses: Roles & Relationships
  3. Secondary Losses: Identity & Identifiers
  4. Secondary Losses: Hopes & Dreams

In further posts I’ll go into detail about each of these types of loss, but here is a quick summary for each type of loss:

Loss of lifestyle and tangible realities

If you’ve lost the main person in your life who provided financially, this category of loss is likely to affect you significantly. The biting reality of the secondary loss of income is evident in your wallet. If you had been paying great deals of money for the care of your recently deceased loved one, the opposite might be true, that the excess money which once was budgeted for them is now flowing like a muddy stream back into your bank account. Whether or not you are financially thrown into insecurity, there are other things that you may or may not be able to or want to afford now that your loved one is gone – including property or a business and things you may begin doing that you might not have otherwise.

Loss of roles and relationships

When a person dies, a hole is left behind that either goes empty or needs to be filled. The relationship you had with this person is the reason for the depth of your grief. This hole is especially noticeable in the roles and responsibilities they once attended to that they no longer can. These secondary losses are about who the person was to you as well as what they accomplished that is now going undone. Some examples include: husband, co-parent, daily companion, best friend, care-taker, sexual partner, errand runner, garbage man, gas pumper, bathroom cleaner, party schmoozer, encourager, confidant, etc. Furthermore, because of the way you have been impacted by the death of your loved one, it may make sense to move away from or spend time with different people, so there is potential for a secondary loss of communities you once enjoyed.

Loss of identity and identifiers

The person who you loved was also likely connected to you with a title – your identifiers. You were his mother, her husband, the best friend. Now that death has parted you, the title no longer applies – at least not like it used to. That relationship you once had in life will never be invalid because you will always have the memories and significance of what it meant to be connected to them, but not in the same way. Loss also changes people. If you’ve been through loss, you may notice a change in your personality, character, brain function, and interests. For better or for worse, this is the secondary loss of who you used to be.

Loss of plans, dreams, and hopes for the future

Whether or not your loved one died suddenly or unexpectedly, it is likely that you anticipated that you would have more time with them. In the time you thought you would have, you probably made plans, had dreams and held onto hopes about how you would share it. This type of secondary loss is common as well for almost any primary loss, but especially after the passing of someone who was very young.

Secondary Gains

It is well worth noting that while death, grief, and loss never feel “good,” that the process of dealing with death, grief and loss can be very good. Secondary gains are the silver linings on dark clouds of death and grief. While loss is rarely ideal, some very positive things may come as a result of it. Secondary gains can be found, I think, in each of the categories of loss. I will expound upon each of these further in the specific posts on each category of loss. (Subscribe to my blog get e-mail notifications, or check back for a link next week.)

Naming the loss, stealing its power

Grief is awful. It just is. I can’t tell you how many times I have put my pen to paper to write an open letter to the thief that threatens to steal my joy con-stant-ly. I’m often sad because my loved ones are no longer by my side, but usually it’s the secondary losses that catch me off guard, threaten to throw me into a breakdown situation, and have me walking around like a fool until I can straighten myself back to “normal.” My favorite psychologist (my dad) told me once that the triggers of trauma – those things that remind me of my loss in big and small ways – will lose their power over me when they become boring to my brain. I can push them toward boring by expecting but not fearing them, paying attention to them in a safe space, and taking the time necessary to process them. I have found that when I acknowledge the losses for what they are, a daily reality of the primary situation, it takes away their power to cause brain fog, anger, or desperation. It has helped me to write lists of my losses (such as this post for example), and to talk about them without saying things like, “it’s just a little or insignificant thing.”

The longer I wrestle with grief, the more confident I feel that I can make it through this, even better than before, and you can too. Grieving is hard. Let’s do it together.

Photo byveeterzy on Unsplash

Grief: There Are No Rules

His lower lip plumps outward as he stares intently at the lego pieces. My almost-three-year-old is focusing all of his might to get the red piece to stick onto the black one. The instructions are clear, this is the next step. His tongue comes through his lips as he squints his eyes. His father used to do this too and I’ve been told it’s an helpful concentration exercise. It must be worthwhile, because he accomplishes his goal! He holds the new structure up high with the grandest, toothiest smile I’ve ever seen. But before I can fully congratulate him, the legos fall out of his hand and land on the table, where they fall to pieces. The celebratory face of my son instantly changes to one of profound sadness and tears well up like a flash-flood on his cheeks. No matter what I say next, no matter what happens with the pieces after the building breaks, my son has just experienced grief.

All of us, inevitably, will face some type of grief in our lives. Most of us will encounter multiple types of it, from broken things or relationships to loss, death, and crushed dreams. Humans have this experience in common. However, just as every individual is unique, so is each person’s grieving process – and even one person’s process may not be the same after each loss. Like a storm, grief can feel unpredictable and scary – or simply irritating and inconvenient like an open wound. I often find myself frustrated that I can’t get grief to operate on my schedule. I don’t grieve in the same way that others do, and my grief does not behave alike either! There is no rule book for grief because it simply would not follow one, and because it makes little sense to try to fit unique people into a one-size-fits-all scheme of amoral should’s and should not’s. Here are some things I’ve been learning in my own grief and while grieving with others.

Grief has no hierarchy

Just months after the death of my husband, a well-meaning friend told me that I should be thankful that I’d lost a spouse instead of a child. “It would be hard to see your peer die, but if your child died that would be much more painful. Losing a child would be much worse than what you went through.” Ouch. I am certainly grateful to never have experienced the unimaginable pain and anguish that would inevitably come with the death of a child. Truthfully, I could never know whether it would “hurt” more to watch my children’s father die than it would to watch with him as my child dies…but I suspect that neither is better or worse. Other losses I have experienced give me insight to say that suffering does not hang out on a scale. Summary: One person’s grief is not comparable to another’s in any way that could make one loss greater or harder or make any other person’s loss less valid.

It is not measurable

Have you ever tried to measure water with a colander? Attempting to calculate grief is like that. Every person is unique, so every relationship with every person or idea or plan is different. The complexities of each situation surrounding the loss are different, and the personal value ascribed to each lost thing is different. And if that wasn’t enough to screw up any potential measurement system, grief doesn’t even stay the same from one moment to the next. Summary: There is no equation that could factor in all of the variables of the unique grief process for each individual.

There is no timeline

Grief has been explained as five sequential stages…denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. But, in my experiences of grief, I’ve found it to be much less linear than that. It goes up and down and all around then back and forth and sideways in the strangest of ways. At times, a person can be in two or three or all of the stages at once, or at least move so quickly through them that transitions disappear. In a timeline, there is a beginning and an end. But grief, especially for someone or something we already know is going to leave us, does not have a beginning. And grief, though it changes, does not have an end. It’s been two years since my husband died, and not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him. My grandfather passed away over four years ago, but I still tear up when I see his picture. A beloved dog was killed twenty-four years ago, but I still miss her. Summary: There is no time when you should be “over it.”

Everyone grieves differently

Since the loss of my husband, I’ve chosen specific days to lean into the pain as far as possible. On those days I focus on feelings of sadness or anger. I spend time writing, revisiting places with memories, listening to sad music, and crying. Generally I grieve privately, but I also process it publicly. On days of wallowing and all the days in between, I’ve drawn strength from prayer and God’s word. I have friends and family who don’t like to sit and wallow, but prefer to allocate all of their time to focusing on the silver linings and the beauty that comes from ashes. Some of my friends like to keep themselves busy, and rarely express their grief. Your particular method for dealing with grief may not be perfect for me, just as mine may not work at all for you. Have grace with yourself as you learn what works best for you. Summary: Each grief process is as unique as the person grieving.

There are no rules for how to deal with your own grief. It is much like what the children learned in Michael Rossen’s Going on A Bear Hunt, “can’t go over it; can’t go under it… gotta go through it.” Wherever you are on the road through loss, grief, and healing, I hope that you’ll give yourself grace and take comfort that there is no wrong way to travel this path.

The majority of this content was first published on Bridging The Gap.

Grief Rules: Grief is unique to each personGrief Rules: There is no timelineGrief Rules: It is not measurableGriefRulesHierarchyGrief Rules: There are no rules

Featured Image unsplash-logoCaleb Woods

March Was Madness

Life Rearranged

When tragedy comes, it has a way of tearing things down until they are no longer recognizable. Our family’s life-changing tragedy, the loss of my husband and my babies’ Daddy, shook us and changed the kaleidoscope of our surroundings. Just over two years ago in the middle of February, all I could see was the rubble. It felt like the end of all things; the death of not only a person but of the life we knew and the dreams we had together. In many ways it was.

Yet, everything had not changed; my family’s foundation was firmly set in an unchanging God whose love and faithfulness never fail. Knowing and holding onto those truths comforted me, and kept me from fully shattering. We were broken, but surrounded by loving arms and helpful hands. We were sad, but our tears landed in safe places.

So when the time came for me to rebuild our life, I was supported and fueled. I wince to call it a “new normal,” but that is exactly what I was working toward. I moved forward into a different way of living that considered the past but focused on the present with hope for the future. On April 1, 2016, we physically moved away from the home Eric and I had made together and into the space my family of three would now begin to live. And we did: we lived. We live.

Time Marked

Have you noticed that people tend to measure time according to major life changes? Whether it be delightful or disastrous, the big things often shape the way we think about the days in between. The stuff of every day is the way life is lived, but the large happenings are the way time is marked. At the very least, this is how it works for me.

A year after Eric’s passing, I decided that March would be like our family’s New Year. Since tragedy ended one way of living in February, March would represent the beginning of a different lifestyle and marker of another year. My journals begin in March, with a single word on their title pages: “One.” “Two.” And “Three.”

For the one year anniversary and also the second, I took the month of February to intentionally grieve and to rest. I anticipated the pain of the flooding memories, and expected to need time to grieve, so I scheduled it. I reminded my close friends, coworkers and family members that I would likely not be performing my best in that month (grief or trauma can chemically alter your brain function), and that I’d be taking time to let myself heal. I took off time from work throughout the month, rested, and planned a couple special remembrances and family trips. I practiced self-care, sought friendship, and chose media to read and watch with intention to cry, reminisce, and release.

Just as I had allowed myself time to grieve, rest, and replenish in February, I had plans for March. I allotted to my New Year full anticipation of energy, motivation, poise, and presence. I also assigned myself all the things for the month. Sort of like resolutions on steroids.

Best Laid Plans…

In February, I practiced some good self care, but I went overboard in several areas as well. For example, I indulged in once-in-a-while things regularly in the name of “giving myself grace” because I’m sad and “I deserve it.” At first it was fine, but it didn’t take long for the indulgences to pile up in unhealthy ways. My favorite drink? Yep, another please. More shopping? Check. All of the food with extra sugar? Of course. Netflix binge? How about three. And the extras were fine for February.

But then March hit. Almost like clockwork, my feet began throbbing the second I stepped out of bed. Instead of feeling refreshed and renewed as expected, 28 days of actually over-indulgent self-care had left my body in a desperate state of un-health. Not only that, but I didn’t even have to open my planner before my head began spinning. Every time something remotely postponable came up during February, I scheduled it for March. My mind was quickly filled with all the things now fully on my plate: projects, personal disciplines, meetings, appointments, blog posts… so. much. overwhelm. Unfortunately, the energy, motivation, and poise did not come so easily into this month. I rushed forward anyway to try to get everything done with as much speed as I could muster and as little sleep as possible.

There Is Grace

From the first day, March was a month of striving… March was madness. I rarely stopped to see progress but just barreled ahead. In about the middle of the month I snapped at the people I love and said some things that I immediately regretted. I was wound so tightly that not only was I actually not accomplishing the things on my list (causing my stress level to go up further) I was hurting those closest to me. I needed to slow down and breathe.

I retreated to my room and sat in the quiet, and began to tell God, “I just can’t.” I imagined Him silently pulling me into His arms like a father would. In His embrace I could let go, and rest. It was time to have real grace with myself – the kind that says it’s ok if I messed up, and it’s ok to try again. Grace that says that it’s ok to be still sad in the month meant for doing things. The kind of grace that comes from knowing that my true value does not come in what I do or do not get done – but from the Father who was holding me and helping me in my overwhelmed state. He loves me completely, cares for me without ceasing, and wants to help me live well. All of the comforts of the world and all of the completed lists could not surpass those truths.

I still had plenty of work to get back to the “normal” of a routine that wasn’t stressful and a body that didn’t hate me. The rest of the month, however, was spent in mostly forward motion, with real grace, toward the health of my mind, body, and heart.

February Babies

I have never been able to pronounce the word, “February.” Seriously. At the very least not on the first try. When it comes up in conversation, I usually say “the second month of the year” or “the month before March.” It’s a difficult month to like anyway, because of it’s dark, Wintery, Christmas-less coldness. I have enjoyed Valentine’s Day some years – my family has shared lovely traditions – but one sweet holiday doesn’t redeem an entire month.

In the February of my 13th year, my hatred of the word and the month became more intense when I had personal evidence to claim it as the worst of the year. In that month, my dog, Sadie, was hit by a car. Sadie was a dark-haired golden retriever who came into my life when I was only 5 years old. She was our family dog, but I thought of her as my own. We curled up to read books or cuddle stuffed toys together, went through obedience and agility dog training together and walked together. When I was angry at my parents or my siblings, I told Sadie about it because she was the best listener. On the night that she died, I experienced death of someone close to me for the first time. Days after that loss, I received a peculiar note in my instrument locker at school. I was homeschooled at the time, but participated in band and the middle school play. The handwriting on the note simply said, “You don’t belong here. Stay home.” Then, later that same day, not long after I returned home from school, my mom told me that my grandmother’s sister had died. On the list of people who mattered the most to me, my grandma held a top spot. Seeing her in such pain made my heart ache. From then on, February became my absolute, hands-down least favorite month. There were, of course, some good things that happened, but none of them came close to erasing my disdain and instead devastating events continued to crowd the month.

In February 2016, an interesting thing happened. With the death of my husband in the middle of the month, I was tempted to drudge on with further increased hatred of February and write it fully out of my vocabulary. On facebook, e-mail, snail mail and in person, people were showering me and my family with sympathy and support. The encouragements, commiserations and good vibes came like a waterfall into my world, and I was so thankful for them in the midst of my hardest days. Yet, grateful as I was, most of those notes faded quickly into the recesses of my mind after I sent a heart or a thank you. I expected them. What I didn’t expect was to find such light by holding and seeing pictures of brand new babies! Several of my friends were pregnant at the beginning of February and many of them gave birth in that month. I had never really been a “baby person” before. To be honest, I had pretty close to zero interest in babies before the birth of my first son. But the tiny features of these new little February babies, with their sweet soft heads, grasping figures and intense stares were different.

It’s difficult to explain, but let me try. These little people have not experienced the burdens of our world, and yet, they’ve also just come through one of the most terrifying things a person could experience – being taken from the only home you know and placed into something entirely foreign. While the new place is scary, it’s also full of positive potential – surrounding babies is hope and expectancy, relief and rejoicing!

February babies, with their fresh new life, brought wonderful light that year into a month I’d always seen as dark. One friend posted a video of her baby girl that drew me to instant tears because of her life in the midst of a season that had felt like death. When I held another one of my friends’ babies, warmth flooded my body and my tears weren’t as sad as they were profoundly touched. That particular baby was actually being born at the very same time that I was burying my husband (more about that here). I felt the peace of Heaven come freshly into my arms when I held that child.

It’s been two years, and still, I feel a connection with the babies that are and were born in the month of February. In a month which holds for me anniversaries of deaths for a grandfather, a dog, a great aunt and a husband; I’m thankful for the vibrant joy of new life and the peace from God that he sends with the blessing of babies.

I still can’t pronounce the word, “February” (don’t make me read this out-loud), but it is no longer a bitter month for me because of all of the glorious sweet.

Holding Babies Brings Hope, Joy, and Peace
Holding Bravery (Brae) Atkins for the first time | February 2016

Featured Image: unsplash-logoAlex Pasarelu

Hope Assured: Birth and Burial

Lindsey Atkins is one of my closest friends. Not only do our names sound similar, but our lives have run parallel in several ways. Some examples: we’re both long-haired brunettes; we both love art, design, and writing; we’ve both been married to youth pastors; and each of us has two sons ages 2 and 4. Also, in February 2016, both of our lives underwent epic changes, culminating to a profound juxtaposition on that Saturday, February 20th. These circumstances compelled us to write our stories together.


Sunday, February 14, 2016:
Weight and Waiting

Lizzie:

Waking up on Valentine’s Day, I felt in my body the crashing reality that my husband was not and would never be next to me. After suffering severe internal bleeding, multiple cardiac arrests and trauma to his brain as a result of complications from a heart catheterization procedure, Eric was dead. That morning the weight of my limbs and the sickness of grief paralyzed me into the mattress. In desperation, I called out to God. “God, I can’t. I cannot get up from this bed. I am physically unable to move even a finger unless you take over my body and move it. I need you to be my strength today because I have nothing left.” People had been praying that Eric would be healed, but a miracle did not come in the form of a risen husband returning to his wife and kids. Instead, my kids’ mother got up from that bed. In God’s miraculous strength, I did move forward. In a daze, with loved ones by my side, I faced the next week of my husband’s funeral preparations.

Lindsey:

It was hard to drag myself and my toddler out the door. Everything felt heavier this morning, and it wasn’t just because I was 9 months pregnant. As I waddled into the church, I knew I wasn’t the only one in such a low state. The density of despair was almost physically tangible as many had just heard the news of our dear friend Eric Lindberg’s passing. The gravity of this 25 yr-old youth pastor departing from his students, friends, family, young wife Lizzie and their two little boys was barely sinking in. The lobby was quieter that Sunday. Somber. I dropped my child off in the nursery, then made my way to the sanctuary. I spotted and made my way toward my friend Tricia, who was sitting by herself because her husband and mine both worked at the church and were busy with pastoral duties. She turned and saw my face–an available commiserating face–and threw her arms around me as she burst into tears and squeaked, “poor Lizzie” as my tear faucet sprung on, as well. Somehow we regained some semblance of composure. I struggled to completely engage in the service, but I remember elements of it speaking to the situation. Afterwards, I processed some emotions with a few people. While the emotions processed at church were mainly pertaining to Eric’s passing, there was more than that for me to process. I was waiting mere days until the due date of my second child. I felt impatient to not be uncomfortably pregnant anymore, and excited to hold my son in my arms for the first time. However, I was scared about the laboring process, as I intended a natural, unmedicated labor. I dreaded the pain of birth, but was so eager to rejoice when the life inside me was born.

Friday, February 19, 2016:
Help to Grieve and Help to Relax

Lizzie:

The night before the funeral, my girlfriends gathered with me… four women who had stood by me on my wedding day. They were all in town for the funeral weekend, but that night I was hoping to do something fun. I wanted to be the host that I so often was in my small group of friends. But I couldn’t wrap my head around what to do. I remember feeling so tired. Emotional. Not necessarily happy, but very touched that my friends were there for me. As I tried to decide what to do, I remember someone saying, “maybe you should just get some sleep…” “No,” I said. “I want to have girl time.” There was a short silence, and then someone said, “…Lizzie… you have to bury your husband tomorrow.” I came back to reality, but only partially, as a tear or two slipped from my eyes. My bridesmaids wrapped their arms around me in a gentle embrace and prayed over me. I do not actually remember a word that they said, but I did feel thankful for them.

Lindsey:

Most of the day had been spent resting. It had been a long week. One evening was spent celebrating Valentine’s Day with my husband over a nice meal, which we tried not to take for granted, and where we talked about how God had been leading us to a name for our new son. We chose to name him Bravery. I had been hospitalized that week twice for pregnancy-related reasons, the latest of which involved labor starting and stopping, but not before spending over 24 hours in the hospital enduring contractions, tests, iv antibiotics, vomiting, finding out I was allergic to penicillin, no sleep, nearly being induced, etc. After finally being discharged early that morning, my mom watched our son to allow my husband and I to catch up on sleep. That evening I felt much better and was ready for two of my bffs, Kaylee (a nurse) and Heidi to arrive after insisting to drive two hours to give me moral support, try some home remedies, and show me some crazy exercises in order to help with labor. We laughed a lot. I was so grateful for them. That night, I went to bed and slept sweetly and hard.

Saturday, February 20, 2016:
Dressy and Casual

Lizzie:

In the morning, I cracked open a journal that Eric had started years before in January of 2014. He began the journal as a way to “prove” that he loved me through love notes back and forth between us. That journal is one of my most prized possessions with his handwriting, his signatures, and his words of love for me. I wanted to write something, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Eric’s last entry to me had been June 5, 2015. He hadn’t signed it. I turned to the next blank page, wishing that I had written back to him before now, and wanting so much to talk with him today. I wrote the date, “February 20, 2016” and continued,

“Today, when I get up from this bed I will put on my little black dress, slip on new shoes, try to get my hair to look nice, and go to your parents church to attend your funeral.”

I hesitated for a while, knowing that what I had written was my reality, but also somehow unable to connect with the words – to actually believe them. I closed the book, gathered my things, and slipped on my mourning clothes. I looked in the mirror, unsure of my reflection. His ring on a chain around my neck was the only thing that looked like it belonged there. My face seemed like that of a ghost. One week earlier, when I’d first left the lifeless body of my beloved in the hospital, I had looked into another mirror and seen a skeleton staring back at me. I had thought it then , and I thought it now, “When I walk out that door, I will be stepping out as a widow. I am a widow.” That word rang in my ears, the pitch of it like something from a horror movie… the kind from which you can’t look away but you can never unsee.

We all moved forward in our funeral clothes. My toddler wore a blue shirt, black vest and a yellow tie. My 9 month old also wore a blue shirt and black vest, with a yellow bow tie cut and sewn from the very same tie that would be buried with his dad. Eric was wearing his favorite gray suit, a fitted blue shirt and that yellow tie… though no one wouldknow because an unrecognizable body gets hidden beneath a closed casket hood. Bingham, William, and I wore silk flowers to match the casket spread.

Lindsey:

After almost 7 hours of precious sleep, just before 6 AM, I was startled awake by my water breaking. I woke my husband and let him in on the news that it was actually time. I was so grateful for sleep and definitive evidence of birth being near, but I was also filled with dread for all that would likely come beforehand. My husband threw on sweatpants and a sweatshirt and jumped into action, gathering the items we’d set aside for the hospital. I’d packed comfortable clothes for our hospital stay; things that would be gentle on a swollen, traumatized, sore body and would be easy to attempt breastfeeding in, but would also make me feel at least a little presentable for visitors and probable pictures that would be taken. It was early in the morning, but that classic, subtle pain of cramping began to wave in and out now as contractions gradually awoke, making me more alert, as well. I knew this was just a faint echo of the deafening pain that was to come. Childcare arrived for our son, and we went to the hospital again. The decision to not try and travel hours away to Wisconsin in order to attend Eric’s funeral that same day was probably best.

Saturday February 20, 2016:
Numbness and Pain

Lizzie:

I can still remember an aroma that was in the air on funeral day. The smell reminds me of the color violet… a dull soft, aged purple. The scent likely came from the many flowers lining the stage, surrounding a black metal casket. His picture was on a stand next to it – a photo which had been taken just before his twenty-fifth birthday the previous October. Beside the picture stood a small vase containing two single yellow roses. Around the vase, a pretty blue ribbon read, “Daddy.” There were many colors represented in the flowers, as they attempted to tell the story of a vibrant man who lived with purpose and passion.

During the next few hours, I passed in and out of conscious attention. I believe that God graciously allowed me to remain in shock, knowing that the full weight of my reality might have shattered me. Whether it was due to shock or because of an uncanny connection to the hope of heaven, a friend recalled that I was surprisingly optimistic on that day, and nearly always smiling. In the receiving line, arms fell around me and words flew at my ears. Eventually, the line had to be cut off so that we could find our seats.

As the funeral began and continued, I nodded, worshipped, and smiled. I barely remember shedding a few soft tears and chuckling at eulogy memories. I remember wondering if I seemed calloused or cold to onlookers. I am sure that I caught myself many times wishing that I could tell Eric about each detail I was seeing.

Lindsey:

I arrived at the hospital, and was guided to my room. They hooked me up to an antibiotic again, but this time they used something other than penicillin. I suspect one of the reasons I went through what I did 2 days prior was the Lord protecting me from being sick on top of being in hard labor. Praise Him.

I was only dilated to 3 cm, but contractions were steady. They grew increasingly more painful than two days earlier. It became more and more vivid. By the time my mom arrived, and my best friend, Sarah, shortly after, I was dilated to a 5 or 6. For a little comfort, I labored in a specialized bathtub for a little while. It provided a little relief at first, but it wasn’t long before the increasing pain picked up again.

At some point, Kaylee arrived. She was a nurse at a birth center as well as had lots of other birthing experience, so she jumped right into coaching mode. When I was in labor with Wyn, I was instinctively compelled to move around a lot. This usually helps the baby get into or stay in safe, productive positions as things move along. This time around, it was especially excruciating to move much. I just wanted to lay in bed, close my eyes, and not do it. Despite my protesting and dirty looks, Kaylee discouraged that. She kept telling me that I needto keep moving. Everything will go faster and be better if I keep moving. I was frustrated with her a few times, but I knew she was right. I moved from the bed to the toilet, to the exercise ball, to Greg’s arms, to the bed again. Hours passed. At one point, I was almost falling asleep in between contractions, which weren’t far apart. I was just so exhausted and miserable. I just wanted to pass out unconscious. Kaylee let me do this for a little while, then gently but sternly said, “Lindsey, you need to keep moving. Contractions are slowing down. It’s just going to take longer. We need to get this baby out.”

We kept working as the pain got worse. My companions weren’t sure how to help me. They put a mixture of essential oils under my nose. Earlier, they were beautifully fragrant and uplifting. As my suffering grew worse, they became putrid. I pushed them away and pleaded no more. They tried rubbing my back. Though at one point I might’ve thought that comforting, it was abrasive. I did need to be reminded to breathe. I’d start to panic and even hold my breath, then they’d tell me to breathe and show me how. How does one forget to do the most ingrained, subconscious habit of existence? That’s what pain can do. They held my hands. Them just being there helped. I did ask for prayer. Though sometimes I felt silence to be the most helpful, I did ask Sarah at least once to read Scripture to me, which I’d selected weeks earlier. Her soft, musical voice carrying Truth fostered strength. Through the rest of the labor, I couldn’t help but meditate on one verse in particular, over and over: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us…” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV).

Saturday, February 20, 2016:
Singing and Screaming

Lizzie:

According to a video recording of the funeral, Pastor Luke Dufek had opened by saying, “today is a brutally hard day for all of us. And yet, as we gather to mourn Eric’s death, we are going to look where Eric found hope, in Jesus Christ. And so today is a day that we mourn, but we do not mourn without hope.We do not grieve without the realization that Jesus has risen.”

The musicians worshipped, and so did we. We sang about the God who can heal any earthly sorrow. We sang about God’s faithfulness, and hopeful peace beyond understanding in the souls of believers. And just as I had sung over Eric’s body in the hospital, I remember being fully present to let my heart cry, “you can have all this world, you can have all my world, just give me Jesus!”

Through praise and tears, memories and hope, four pastors gave eulogies. Each of these men had discipled Eric in some way and they not only spoke highly of him, but of the one to whom Eric clung throughout his whole life. In each testimony, there were delightful stories and clear presentations of the gospel. Eric lived his life in such a way that it was nearly impossible to talk about him without sharing the thing about which he was most passionate – the saving power and intimacy of Jesus Christ, the hope and healing of heaven.

At one point during one of the eulogies, when a pastor mentioned celebrating Eric’s residence in Heaven, I glanced around at the other funeral attendees. I noticed one of Eric’s relatives staring in what seemed to be complete shock, utter confusion, disbelief, and/or disgust. I am sure that what he was saying was so foreign to what we usually hear in the world, that anything about death, especially death that seemed to have cut a young life so short, could be worth celebrating.

Lindsey:

Every time I didn’t think the pain could get worse, it did. I started groaning involuntarily. It wasn’t long before the groans turned to screams. I couldn’t help but remember when I’d spent the night in the hospital two nights before. I had laid there, miserable. I heard the echoes of regular hospital sounds outside my door: distant beeping, muffled voices off and on, carts rolling, occasional footsteps, but for the most part, it was quiet. Then something jumped above the night shift low-volume setting. A woman who might as well have been in the next room was groaning. She groaned and moaned every once in a while. Then she groaned more frequently. Then she began crying out. Then I began crying, eyes wide, sniffling and blubbering scared in my hospital bed. She began blood curdling screaming. I had not been ready for this. I hadn’t felt the pain that badly yet, but I knew it was to come. I had been sick, tired, and had felt some pain, but not like that; not the kind of pain that elicits a reaction without abandon…where composure is forgotten and ceases to even be a possibility… Fast forward to two nights later, and I was sure my screams were louder and longer than that woman’s…. Compared to mine, hers seemed tame, even. The pain had caused me to go wild. I had lost control. I wasn’t afraid, though; there was no room for that…there was no room to categorize, analyze…only vivid pain, anguish, exhaustion that made everything else fade away. Kaylee helped me focus. When I started shrieking, she’d say, “low~groan in a low voice,” modeling the tone as she did. I could still react to and express my pain, but this helped me channel it, direct it. I had a goal in the midst of it, and focusing on how to best react to the pain somehow distracted me from it.

Saturday, February 20th, 2016:
Burial and Birth

Lizzie:

Following the eulogies and message, we sang Hallelujah for the Cross (written by Ross King and Todd Wright) and In Christ Alone (written by Steve Getty and Stuart Townend). A line in the second song caught my ear. “There in the ground, his body lay, light of the world by darkness slain.” Eric’s own body, broken and disfigured, would soon be buried into the cold dark ground. I hadn’t really ever considered the earth until that moment, but it hit me hard that Eric was really, truly, fully dead. His body would soon lay six feet under the ground in lonely, unforgiving, darkness. Jesus’ body had also been disfigured, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14 ESV). On Friday his body was bloodied and broken and he died. He was put into a tomb in devastating, dense darkness. But Jesus did not stay dead… on Sunday he came back to life! Jesus conquered sin and death. He got up from his grave bed and walked in his body. Because he lives, Eric will rise too, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. My hope is not in Eric, who is powerless to rise himself from the ground, but in Jesus, who has already done it. Today in paradise, Eric is with Jesus. He is completely healed, free from fear and suffering and pain. Though I am still on earth, my hope is in Christ in whom I find strength to live and move and breathe, who knows every single moment of my life and has a plan for good beyond my wildest imagination. As the song continues, “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

When we left the sanctuary, Eric’s uncles carried his casket and I followed behind it on Eric’s brother Ian’s arm. On the way up the aisle through the attendees, friends, family, and others, I kept my face forward and my eyes above them. Many of their eyes were fixed on me, just as they had been when I walked down the aisle on my wedding day.

The trip to the cemetery lasted far longer than the clock would have marked it. The ground was not fully frozen, nor was it covered in snow. Instead it was a muddy graveyard, underneath shivering trees and coldness that stuck to my bones. Yet, the place was beautiful in a strange way. I think I remember birds chirping and flowers embellishing headstones. There was a river valley in the distance, and sunlight poured out over everything. Clinging again to Ian’s arm, I looked ahead as the casket was set on its mound. The funeral worker said something, and then Luke said something, and then everyone just sort of stood around in relative silence. Sensing that it was up to me to approach the casket, I moved forward. Standing in front of it, I wondered how I was supposed to do this. I searched my mind to remember how they do it in the movies. With the feeling of a thousand eyes on me, I wasn’t able to summon tears.

Though I had loved Eric’s body, I knew that he was no longer residing in it. Days before this moment, I had told my son that his daddy had received a new body in Heaven. We had spent the morning celebrating the life of someone who loved Jesus, loved people, and loved telling people about Jesus. Now Eric was in paradise with the Jesus that he loved, and the people he loved had heard all about his Jesus at the funeral.

When I felt like I had been standing there long enough, I made my way to the car, moving forward with the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lindsey:

Kaylee suggested I roll over onto my side, which I hadn’t successfully done yet. I tried. Bad idea. The pain was even more horrific. If Kaylee was going to make me move again, I realized I could maybe try getting on my knees with the bed inclined, leaning over the back of the bed. We did it. It felt right.

Then the nurses and doctor came in. It had been about 10 hours, and they hadn’t checked my cervix in a while to see how far I was dilated. One nurse tried putting a monitor on me, while the other tried examining my cervix. They both struggled. They asked if I could move. Between screams, I expressed I’d rather not. The nurse checking my cervix said, “I don’t feel anything.” My heart sank. I was hoping for, “she’s at a 10 and I can feel the baby!” If she didn’t feel anything, did that mean the baby was way up there still and that my cervix wasn’t open enough for the baby to be very low? I looked desperately into Greg’s face, trying to grasp the possibility of hours of more torture. I screamed through another contraction and said, “I can’t do this!” Multiple voices commanded, “yes, you can.” A nurse asked if I felt a need to push. I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t think about much other than not wanting to be in pain. I muttered breathily that I didn’t think so. The nurses started taking their gloves off, and they made their way towards the door, along with the doctor.

All of a sudden, my body started pushing involuntarily. I screamed, “I’m pushing!” The nurse nearest to me yelled, “I see the head!” I was shocked and relieved. I heard commotion behind me. The low-key, soft-spoken, calm doctor we’d been getting to know had just a little panic in his voice as he asked if I could turn around. I said no. “I really need you to move, Lindsey.” He said again. I really didn’t want to, and my desperate eyes met Sarah’s compassionate, determined ones for help. She nodded. I mustered up courage and tried to lift myself in order to turn around. I assume a better view of the progress was revealed as I did so, because everyone immediately started yelling at me to get down again as the doctor failed to get a glove halfway on. I quickly laid down just as another contraction came on, and I shrieked and pushed with all my might. The internal, aching pain changed to a different, sharp, momentary pain as I felt warm relief while pressure and pain left, surprised commotion around me and my baby was suddenly placed in my arms. As I looked at this new life for the first time, all the pain dissolved and was replaced with bursting, overflowing joy. Yes, that pain was real, it was intense, it was traumatic…but that made the reward even sweeter. I felt like I could face anything on the other side of that. Suffering to hope.

Forever:
New Life and New Life

In God’s original design for humanity, birth was not supposed to be painful, and death was not supposed to happen. Because of sin, pain is brought on by both birth and death. However, though birth brings forth life temporal, because of Christ, death can bring forth life eternal. Therefore, at the same moment a woman can shout out in pain while ushering a life into this world, those confident in Christ can shout out in joy while ushering a life out of this world. Each experience brings both pain and joy, but Christ is the reason the suffering can become hope, and the reason joy is possible. In John 11:25-26, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus can make both kinds of suffering beautiful. “God permits what He hates (suffering), to accomplish what He loves.” – Steve Estes via Joni Erickson-Tada.

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Lindsey Atkins Family PhotoLindsey Atkins is a wife and mother of two beautiful boys. If you would have told Lindsey ten years ago what her life her life would look like today, she would probably be mad at you for ruining the surprise. On any given day, you’ll find her in their home near Minneapolis, Minnesota playing super heroes with her oldest and making funny faces with her youngest, with random artsy projects sprinkled between. Lindsey’s passions include international missions, her loved ones, and art.

Better to Have Loved and Lost

Is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

Little did I know, in August 2009, that the man who insisted on holding my arm instead of my hand would soon hold me through some of the best years of my life. As a friend, boyfriend, fiancé, and then husband, Eric Lindberg showed me great depths of love and closeness that I had not expected even existed.

We weren’t a perfect couple. In fact, we weren’t really even compatible according to the tests and types. Eric had plenty of flaws, quirks, irrationalities, and struggles just as I did. In our relationship we faced many difficult days and rough patches. We argued passionately and we were able to hurt each other more than anyone else could–and we did. Yet, the love we began to have for each other continued to grow until it was an unstoppable force. It was like something that sticks harder the more you try to pry it apart.  And it was also like a passionate tango between two awkward people… just ask one of my siblings. By the time we were married, Eric had become everything on earth to me and he loved and cared for me well. He was kind, generous, and faithful. He encouraged me, he laughed at my attempts at humor, he supported me and helped me to get back on track when I fell or failed. He showed me grace, lifted me up and pointed me toward Jesus. Our marriage was not complete bliss, or even mostly bliss, but it was deep and precious.

Lizzie Miller and Eric Lindberg Engagement

Eric’s sudden passing in 2016 nearly crushed me. On that day my heart was ripped open – I felt the most acute pain I had ever experienced. All at once I lost my beloved, my best friend, my co-parent, my spiritual leader and the one person in the whole world who could make me feel beautiful. The agony of that moment, of the reality of his death, was exactly as difficult as my love for him was deep.

At that time and even right now I wonder, was it worth it? Was it truly better to have passionately loved Eric and to have felt the tearing anguish of his absence than to never have loved him at all? Most of the time my answer to those questions is a resounding “YES.” Other times, when breathing becomes like rocket science and surviving is the only reachable goal… I wonder if love is worth the pain of loss.

During the time since Eric passed, I’ve been learning something entirely unexpected about the “better” to which Alfred Lord Tennyson might have been referring when he said “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

When Eric stood next to me, I turned to him in everything. When I had a hard day, he was only a look or a text away. When I felt like an incapable mother or an inefficient wife or a bad friend, he was there. When I was unsure of my work, Eric encouraged me to keep going. When I was afraid because of a world event, or a noise, or a terrible dream, Eric’s arms wrapped around me in a safe embrace. But on the day that the unthinkable happened, I could not run to Eric.

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On the morning of Valentine’s Day 2016, I woke to the crashing reality that Eric was not and would never be next to me. The weight of my limbs and the sickness of grief paralyzed me into the mattress. In desperation, I called out to God. “God, I can’t. I cannot get up from this bed. I am physically unable to move even a finger unless you take over my body and move it. I need you to be my strength today because I have nothing left.” The miracle of that morning did not come in the form of a risen husband returning to his wife and kids. Instead, my kids’ mother got up from that bed and stood on her feet in God’s strength and kept on living.

Had I never loved Eric deeply, I may not have felt the void that I did when he was no longer with me. If the one to whom I held the tightest had not been ripped from my grasp, I may not have felt a need that would lead me to ask for God to fill it to the extent that I did. If I had not called out to God to be my strength, I might never have felt him do it. When I could no longer find comfort in Eric, I turned to Jesus. He caught me and held me and began to teach me a closeness with Him that I had never imagined existed. Even my sweetest memories of Eric fall short of the abundant love I have in Jesus. When I collapse into my bed after a long day or when the loneliness creeps into my bones like an inescapable coldness… when I am unsure of the next step, when I am uncertain of my future, I turn to Jesus. I lost the one my heart loves, but I will never lose access to my Savior who hears, holds and answers me.

Featured Image by

unsplash-logoJamez Picard

The Loss of a Dog

Dashing through the snow, my golden retriever was having the time of his life. As his paws tossed snowflakes in every direction, his jaw opened and closed frantically to try to catch it all. He rolled around on the cold ground and then nuzzled tiny snowballs. Teddy, in the snow, could only be described as the epitome of joy. Teddy’s left front paw was misshapen from birth with too few claws in all the wrong places. This malformity didn’t slow him down, though. In his own way, I think it actually lent itself toward a strength. Teddy’s hugs, for example, were incredible. His paw curved in at what could be considered the wrist, which allowed him to wrap his arm around me when I pulled him close. He was an unforgettable companion.

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Teddy also suffered from a great deal of anxiety. At first, he seemed normal if not fully delightful, when he waited for my return home from school with bated breath. He barked when I came inside and hopped around my legs, licking whatever part of me he could. When I moved away to go to college, the anxiety began to surface in terrifying and often frustrating ways.  When I would come back to my parents home for extended periods of time, I rarely saw my dog resting as he usually seemed nervous about something or another. While I was gone, Teddy would become frantic when left alone at the house. We think that he was trying to find me, but it was not normal. On more than one occasion, Teddy was so desperate to escape that he bloodied his own mouth and paws on doors and their frames. At the time, we tried everything we could think of, every suggestion given by our vet, oils we didn’t even understand at the time, and whole lot of prayer. Unfortunately, the anxiety did not go away.

October 22, 2013 was a Tuesday. Ironically, it was the same day of the week that my first dog, Sadie, had been killed by a car. My parents called in the evening to say that they had taken Teddy to the vet that day. Dr. Williams told them that it was likely that Teddy had multiple cancers in his body. That he’d probably had them for a long time and he was suffering badly (one possible reason for Teddy’s struggles with anxiety). The previous week he had begun to lose significant motor function. Buddy, our other dog, had also tried to alert my family. Possibly because he could smell the sickness in Teddy. The call had hardly started when my senses shut down. My mom said, “…it’s Teddy…” and I didn’t hear anything else. The tears came like waterfalls and I just couldn’t hear anything. I could hardly muster a word.

On November 21, 2013 I wrote:

“I was reminded again today when I tossed an empty toilet paper roll into the trash can. Teddy loved to chew on those. I thought for a moment that I would retrieve it and take it back to my parent’s home with me for the holidays. I thought, “Oh how Teddy will love that!” But, then I remembered, Teddy won’t be there. He won’t be there nuzzle my leg roughly as if to hug me. He won’t be there to greet me with loud whines and kisses. He won’t be able to hop around in the snow with excitement or pull on Buddy’s ear to play, or to tear apart that toilet paper roll. He won’t be there because he went to sleep and woke up somewhere else… my Teddy is no longer alive. It has taken me exactly one month to write that… and to let myself just cry. There’s really not much to write. I just really miss him. It is so hard to think that he won’t be there. That he just isn’t there. At that moment, that day, that week, that month – right now – I just need a left pawed Teddy hug and I know I’ll never have another again. I will never get to see my Teddy again.”

The loss of a beloved pet is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. It is the loss of one who loved unconditionally and was there when it seemed like no one else was. It is the loss of a helper, a tender teacher, a faithful listener, a friend. It’s the changing of lovely memories into sad remembrances because of obvious absence. It’s the creation of sacred moments that once seemed inconsequential. Today, I remember my grief for Teddy less frequently than I once did, and the reality of his absence affects the tone of my day much more subtly than it did when the cut was fresh. Yet, the unique type of grief I experienced when my Teddy left this world is not something I expect to ever forget.

Every once in a while, I like to imagine something sweet concerning my lost loved ones. Today my mind’s eye paints a picture of my beloved ones playing together. The snow is glistening in Heaven’s fields as Sadie, Teddy and Buddy romp around. Eric is sharing a cigar with my Grandpa Burkes, and they’re laughing while they watch my friends’ children build snowmen. Everyone is happy, worshipping Jesus as they delight in His perfect creations. And Jesus Himself is smiling, overjoyed to hold these dear ones close to His heart in His home.

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“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”- John Grogan, Marley & Me

Let Me Tell You About Zuarungu | Guest Post

Today I have the privilege to share this blog with my mom, Carolyn Miller. She and my dad, Stan Miller, have the opportunity to go on mission to Ghana for the third time February 1-14, 2018. Each time they tell me their stories and about the experiences of people there, I get goose bumps. If you’re someone who is especially concerned with talking about women’s right’s and talking about tangible ways to support women in a culture where they are extremely undervalued, you’re going to want to keep reading.

Carolyn Miller – Missionary to Ghana through ASON International

CarolynMiller_Ghana with DomnikaSince 2015, I’ve been able to participate in a women’s conference held in Zuarungu, Ghana in West Africa. These beautiful women have taught me to dance. They have inspired me with their wonderful ability to choose joy and hope and trust in spite of the very difficult lives they live. Let me explain.

In this northern part of Ghana, much of the culture is still primitive and tribal. The primary religious upbringing would be characterized as animistic, which means that they believe that plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomenon are inhabited by souls.  They believe in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe. Islam and, to a lesser extent, Christianity have infiltrated the culture giving it a unique flavor that doesn’t always belong strictly to one set of beliefs. These people see the world through very different eyes and perspective than I do. Over the past 2 years, I have had the opportunity to go to several of their villages and homes. They are very loving and hospitable people. I love them.  Women'sConference_Ghana

But as I connect with the women through the women’s conference where I have taught, I’m really saddened by the way they are treated in their culture. Few of them have any formal education at all. They clapped and danced when we gave them notebooks and pens, though most of them did not even know how to write or even read their own names. Most have them have limited say in when or whom they will marry. And then, if anything bad happens in their husband’s life, they are frequently blamed and punished harshly. It is culturally acceptable for a man to take more than one wife. When that happens, the previous wife (and any children) are often thrown out. Sometimes, after a husband takes a subsequent wife, previous wives are allowed to stay in the home as lesser wives with increased responsibility. As you can imagine, there is a lot of competition between the women. At animistic funerals, which typically last for four days, the surviving wife is dragged around the funeral pyre as she is beaten as part of the ceremony. If they survive, most are crippled from that point on. Having walked with my daughter following the loss of her husband I’m still incredulous when I consider that there are really still cultures that treat women with such contempt.

One man, Peter, is making a big difference in this part of the country. He calls his wife, Comfort, his ‘honorable’, and treats her with great respect. He is greatly respected by the others in the community and on his property he has a communal well, a school, a church and a radio station. He is an effective agent for change. He mentors a small group of young adults who are impacting this area greatly! He sponsors an annual leadership conference for pastors in this region. Until recently, these pastors have not had the Bible available to them in their language. Their form of Christianity has just been handed down by word of mouth. At this leadership conference they are given Bibles in their language, when we can get them, and they study together what the Bible actually teaches. It is really changing the landscape of faith in the region.

A few years ago, a women’s conference was added. I’ve been privileged to be ateacher at that conference for the last 2 years. I got to tell these women that they are loved and significant. That their lives matter. My husband, Stan and I get to go again this year to provide individual counseling and prayer for those attending the conferences. What a tremendous honor it is.

CarolynMiller_GhanaSupportAChildWe also sponsor a young orphaned boy, Michael. We are excited to visit him and hear about how he is doing in school. Our sponsorship provides much-needed financing for his school and food for the family that has taken him in. I feel so blessed to be used in such significant ways in the lives of such wonderful people.

How Can You Help? 

Here are some specific ways I have been dreaming about that you could do to actively support the women of Zuarungu, Ghana in West Africa.

  1. Pray for them! We’re praying that the truth would win in this region, that they would no longer be held captive by faulty belief systems but that fear would be replaced with truth and hope. We’re praying that this revelation would have the ripple effect of improved marriages and family systems, better health, and longer more vibrant life.
  2. Join our facebook group! Our trip will be February 1-14, 2018. Internet in this part of the world is sketchy at best, so I make no promises, but we do our best to connect or to get updates posted on the group timeline through family members and friends. 
  3. Learn more about ASON International, the agency sending us. You can also watch a video featuring Peter Awane at here.
  4. Sponsor a child. Chose a child to sponsor through ASON International. Their school is in much need of support and their families struggle to have enough rice to go around. You would truly be making a big difference for this child.
  5. Purchase a handwoven basket. As a way of supporting themselves and their families, several of the women have banded together to weave and sell beautiful baskets. You can purchase a Bolga Basket online. If there is a specific size, style, or color you would like, and you don’t find it there, I can ask for them to make it when I go, and I can bring it back for you! (You’ll have to send the money with me to pay the women.)
  6. Support our team financially. If you’d like to donate to our team that will be in Ghana in February, please send money through the Faith Church, Austin website, or you can send a check to Faith Church, 1800 12th Street SW, Austin, MN 55912. Please specify that the money is for Ghana. The deadline is January 26, 2018.
  7. Donate an Audio Bible Device. Many women in Ghana are poor, and lacking in both resources to receive God’s Word and the ability to read it. We have found a solar-powered device that we would like to take to as many women as possible. They are called “Proclaimers.” According to the website, “This tough little digital player is completely dedicated to proclaiming God’s Word in the heart language of its listeners.” This gift would give such encouragement to one of my friends long after I am gone. Her whole family would benefit. The devices are $100 each and we will purchase and take as many of them with us as we can afford. 
  8. Donate Fabric. They wear 1-yard lengths of 100% Cotton Woeven fabric, either as turbans or as aprons or scarves and use it for so many things. They can carry a baby, use it as a sling or a rag, and other things we don’t even consider. If you have any extra fabric laying around, waiting for the right project, this may be it! We would love to take it with us. (Contact Lizzie about getting the fabric to me before January 26, 2018.)
  9. Donate Hard Cover Children’s Books. The school has very few books. If you have any hard cover children’s picture books in fairly good shape, we would love to bless the school with more books as well. (Contact Lizzie about getting the books to me by January 26, 2018.

Thank you for giving me the chance to share this opportunity with you. Please prayerfully consider joining me in this venture. Together, we can make a big difference for the people of Zuarungu.

Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:18

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It’s Not About Me

Previously Published on November 9, 2017 at Bridging The Gap

One night, when I was about 5-years-old, my nose smelled something delightful. I wasn’t sure what to make of the smell as I was already tucked tightly into my bed. As I entangled my fingers in my blankie, I realized that my parents had not only sent me to bed much too early but had also decided to make my very favorite treat without me! I was shocked by their audacity. Delicious overtones of golden buttery goodness wafted through my room. Infuriated that my mom and dad would have popcorn without me, I stomped down the stairs, met their eyes, and unwaveringly proclaimed, “I have a nose, you know.”

From birth, children are hardwired to speak up to make sure their needs are met. When a baby belts out her first post-womb cry, she asks, “What about me? Do you see me? Will you help me?” Her wailing likely stops when her call is answered with a blanket or as she receives food. When a preschooler says, “Mom, Mama, MOMMY!” he generally isn’t left without a reply. As a child, I asked “What about me?” a lot. My parents nearly embellished a T-shirt for me with the phrase. Unfortunately, it did not continue to be cute as I aged. My first inclination is always to wonder, “What about me?” And if I’m honest, it takes some serious work to get out of my head and pay attention to the needs of other people.

At a recent conference, Mandy Arioto, CEO of MOPS International, spoke about the “what about me?” phenomenon in the context of leadership. She pointed out that if our minds are consumed with wondering what others are thinking of us, we will be much less effective at seeing and meeting the needs of others.

Since September, I’ve had the opportunity to be a leader in my local MOPS group. I’ve taken on one of my favorite roles so far as the emcee. This means that I get to take hold of a microphone and stand in front of a group of people who have to listen to me because I’m louder than all of them. Well, they don’t have to listen to me, but they usually do. I get to be the person who welcomes the women, shares announcements and prays before and after meetings. Each time I take that echoey sound box, my extrovert energy goes nuts because of all the people I get to talk to. But inside, my self-centeredness starts welling up. My inner dialogue sounds something like this:

“Did that sound stupid? Ok, she’s smiling, that’s probably good… But that mom over there is frowning, so I bet she thinks I’m an idiot. Is my hair acting weird? Can they see my lumpiness through this shirt? Wait, did her eyes just glaze over? I’m talking too long. Can someone stop me from wrecking my train all over the front of this room!?”

In contrast to my own natural tendencies, Jesus led with others in mind. Instead of promoting himself, Jesus built others up. He did not degrade himself or sink into seclusion because of insecurity, but he did serve people in order to point them toward God. Paul presented this model for Christian leadership to the Philippians. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others,” Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV).

Being in a leadership role can sometimes feel like lying under a microscope. It’s tempting to wonder about the inadequacies others might see in you and to focus only on those things. If you’re too concerned with the way you look or sound, you might miss the real needs of those you’re leading… you might lose sight of the reason you want to lead in the first place.

It’s freeing for me to remember in those moments that these people need Jesus, they do not need me. I don’t have to look for approval one way or another. I don’t need to worry if someone thinks this or that. I only need to remember that, it’s not about me. It is about Him.

unsplash-logoCharles Deluvio