Friday, November 30, 2012

Good Grief ... Getting Through It

I'm the pastor and I'm pretty sure it's there in the pastor handbook that I should never say something like what I'm about to say.  (Hey.  Wait.  I never got my handbook.  I NEVER GOT MY HANDBOOK!!!)  I'm fairly certain I'm suppose to be beyond this kind of thing.   But let's just get real for a second.

This week has just kicked the crap out of me.

Debbie and I returned from a wonderful, albeit brief, vacation last week.  We celebrated our wedding anniversary where we had honeymooned.  It was barbecue, fresh mountain streams, minor league hiking, awe inspiring views, and the wonder of a long lasting romance.  All laughter and joy.  We came home in time for Thanksgiving with the fam.  Loved every minute of it.  Then ... Well, then it all fell apart.  A precious friend and from our church passed away at a seasoned 88 years old.  Then the horrible news came that Ashley had been summoned to Jesus side.  We said goodbye to Mike and Lori, my Associate Pastor and his wife, as they left us to serve in another church.  We both got bombed by some stomach virus from hell.  Then came Juanita's visitation.  Her funeral was the following morning.  Then Ashley's visitation and funeral the morning after that.  The stomach bug held on like Brian Urlacher attacking a Green Bay quarterback.

Today is Friday.  I'm off work and I found myself staring at the TV screen for nearly an hour.  Nothing odd about that.  Except that I haven't turned the TV on all day.

And I wonder ... what do you do when life sucker-punches you?  Bunches of us are reeling this week from losing Ashley.  I drove to the cemetery alone late yesterday afternoon.  I found a mound of earth covered by fresh sod and a  pile of weathered flowers.  I did not find Ashley.  That little lady is the cornerstone of the pain.  The pain coup 'de grace. She's the mountain and the other events of the week are the foothills.

How do you get through it?  How do you take the pleasantries and platitudes we speak about her life and death and turn them into a cohesive plan to get through the grief?  I admit that I'm still putting the plan into effect myself.  I've not nearly finished.  But here are the only things I am aware of that actually work.

First, you own up to reality.  This might be more difficult than you think.  We all  like to say sweet things to help each other painful moments.  Unfortunately, some of the things we say sound great but are just not true.  Ashley is not an angel looking down and watching over us all.  That's nowhere to be found in the bible.  She is much more than that.  She is a saint of God that He purchased with His own blood.  No angel can make that claim.  Don't short change Ashley by calling her an angel.  The bible says, "Do you not know that we will judge the angels?"  (I Corinthians 6: 3)  Ashley is ABOVE the angels.  That's pretty cool any way you look at it.  Also, it really does not help to "send warm thoughts and good vibration's" to others who are hurting.  I mean, how do you do that?  How do you send a thought?  How do you package up a vibration and send it?  Again, that sounds good.  Surely the intentions are good.  But get real.  This is the time to pray for each other.  It is appropriate to talk to God and ask Him to help those who are hurting.  That is prayer.  Do you want to help?  Voicing prayers works because you are talking to God.  Sending thoughts simply makes you feel warm and fuzzy.  And I think right now we need the real touch of God.

Second, grieve.  Grieve real and grieve hard.  If you need to, go ahead and kick and spit and cuss.  You can tell God what you think.  He has big shoulders.  Now, I do my best to be very respectful when I pray.  I mean, He IS God, after all.  But don't chicken out of telling Him what you really think and feel.  Guess what ... He already knows.  Once you tell Him about it maybe He'll hug you.  Maybe He'll say, "Yeah, I know.  I hate death too.  That's why I'm killing it."  (I Corinthians 15: 2, "And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.")  It's great to know God hates the same thing you hate.

Finally, put all your marbles into one basket.  You already know what I'm going to say by now.  (Hey, I warned you.  I'm "the preacher.")  The basket that works ... the ONLY basket that works ... is God's basket.  Tell Him that you need help getting through this.  Ask Him to walk you through the pain and the grief.  Ask Him to put people in your path that understand.  Find a friend, a counselor, or a pastor and dump on them.  They probably already have kleenex around so you'll be fine.  But friend, if you bottle this up it will eventually wreck you.  I've been wrecked a few times.  I've got the scars.  I managed through my stubborn stupidity to damage myself physically in ways that will not heal.  Living stupid does that.  Maybe your stupid involves a bottle or a pill or an out-of-hand party.  Those things do not work.  Walk away from them.  They leave their own brand of scars. And you need to trust me about the scars. You do not want them.

I believe if Ashley were writing this blog she might end it with more than her classic humor and twisted teasing.  I believe her love for her family and friends would cause her to say something from the heart.  Something of substance.  I believe Ashley would say that she is supremely happy and joyful today because she put her faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I believe she would want you to do the same.  And I believe she would speak the words found in Psalm 130: 5 ... "I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in His Word."

You see, we did not really "lose" Ashley.  How can you say something is lost when you know where it is?  And we know where Ashley is.  "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5: 8)


Anonymous said...

For anyone who has experienced the death of a close one, or knows someone who has experienced the death of a close one...okay, I guess that means everyone should read this! I think it applies to any real struggle in life. Thanks, Ron!