Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Conversation About Grieving

Today I visited with my 6 yr. old friend MaKayla. She said she's started meeting "with a lady who asks her questions." It took me a few minutes to realize that God has given her a special friend just like He has given me. I told her I also meet with a lady who asks me questions and helps me talk about things I'm feeling. 

Last week when I was meeting with my "lady", I started crying about something. Now I've been crying about this something for about nine years now, and I've been comforted by a lot of different people. But this lady explained a few things in words that I've never quite heard before. It was like she turned a light on in my heart to help me see and understand what I was experiencing. I want to share some of our conversation because it was such a great comfort for me, and I know I'm not the only one grieving right now. 

H: I can't explain how I feel. The memory is a happy one but it also makes me so sad, even to remember his face. The only way I can think to describe it is by comparing it to the way someone might feel when visiting an elderly person who was recently widowed...you feel happy in their presence because they're so sweet, but also sad because of the loneliness they're facing.

C: So, it's bittersweet. 

H: Yea..that's a good word to describe it. 

C: That is one of the most honest feelings we can have this side of Restoration, Hannah. Your memories are bittersweet because in them you taste the sweetness of Heaven- the love and friendship you shared, but also the bitterness of Hell- the very real loss of that love and friendship. The reality is that we live in a world right now that is made for good, but broken by sin- and we are awaiting the restoration of all things. The good you remember is real, and the pain of loss is real. The goal of grieving isn't necessarily forgetting or losing those painful feelings, but letting your heart be enlarged in order to contain them; both the bitter and the sweet.

H: That is like balm on a wound, knowing I don't have to try and bury the memories that make me sad, but rather learn how to grow up with them and let them enlarge my heart. But is it strange that I'm still this sad about the things that happened? Will it become less intense as time goes on?

C: It will both lessen and grow in intensity as time goes on. It will grow in intensity as you get a greater perspective on the ways God was working through that season and as you see more broadly the beauty of His redemptive work in your story. That's why you're crying fresh tears now. But it will also lessen in intensity as your heart makes room for new relationships and new memories. The old ones won't go away, they'll just have more company. 

I hope this encourages and comforts you if you're currently experiencing the pain of an enlarging heart. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Conflict

So the past few months, a group from our church has been working through Winston Smith's study, "Marriage Matters." (I highly recommend it!) This is one of those interactive, share from your own experience kinds of studies, which s good for me. I tend to fly through something and only give it cursory attention unless I'm actually required to work through it by sharing examples from my own life.

Last week the topic we discussed was conflict- and let's just say I had plenty of examples from which to pull! It's good for me to share though, because it helps me to see patterns in the way I relate- bad patterns. As I keep sharing, I'm learning that bad patterns (even after I'm aware of them!) die hard.  I've learned that I can't assume "I won't make the same mistakes as my parents" (to coin a common phrase) just because I can see from this vantage point. I can't assume that I'm free of those styles of relating- those sins- that burned me growing up simply because I renounce them. I might swear up and down, "I'll never be like that!" but it doesn't ensure that I haven't already learned to be just like that.

I might go into detail soon about how this is true for me. But today I want to share what really spoke to me from the study last week. While acknowledging that conflict is dangerous and can be damaging, the author of our book  encouraged us to see conflict as a good gift from God to help us grow. We tend to think of conflict as a sign that something is wrong- and usually, it does mean that!- but it doesn't mean only that. It also means that God is providing opportunities to teach us: to make us face our fears; to loosen our grasp on control; to help us see some of those sinful patterns we might operate in; to allow us to grow in intimacy with others; to humble us and bring us to repentance. In other words, conflict is God taking us to school. It's a lab for our growth. It's Him allowing our discomfort for our good

I never feel this way about conflict in the moment, but afterward I find myself thanking God- often. "Lord, thanks for letting me get caught cheating. It forced me to deal with the sin that I had been hiding." "Lord, thank you for bringing all that to a head with my friend. Now that we've talked about what was really bothering us, we've grown so much as friends." "Lord, thank you for forcing me to stand up to my boss! I've never had the confidence to enforce boundaries before." "Lord, thank you for allowing me to see how much of a jerk I've become. Thanks for exposing this problem so that I can work on it." "Thank you for giving me grace to respond lovingly when she blew up at me! I know that you were working through me to display Christ's love!" I could go on and on and on. 

So all that to say, studying conflict this past week has crystallized this reality for me. It is helping release me from fear of conflict. Instead of dreading it (OK I'm sure I'll always dread it on some level) I can see it as an opportunity for growth. Instead of wanting to melt down if Michael and I have a conflict, I can see it as God teaching us something good, as one of the primary means through which our marriage will continue to be strengthened. Instead of walking into conflict armed with weapons to wound and kill my opponent, I can go in with the humility of readiness- readiness to see what God wants to illuminate about my own sinful heart, readiness to grow in love and grace toward others, and readiness to experience Him at work in my life. 

Making me uncomfortable, for my good.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Forgetting Lunch

So I've written a lot lately about God allowing me to be uncomfortable in order to grow me. This might seem intuitive and obvious- of course growth requires discomfort!- but I'm surprised by it every time. I'm surprised every time my day doesn't go according to plan; I'm surprised every time the world doesn't bow down to me. Maybe even more so, I'm surprised by how quickly I turn into my own evil-stepsister when these things happen. "Hannah King, seminary student, get upset over a few minutes of traffic? No, not me! I'm mature! I'm holy!" 


Last Wednesday, I went to work and Michael stayed home. This slight bend in our schedule caused me to go a bit scatterbrained and I forgot to pack my lunch. I had of course, planned our meals perfectly for the week and had a delicious helping of peanut-chicken stew at home with my name on it. But I also pride myself on being time and gas efficient, so investing in the twenty minute drive home to get my lunch was not an option. Since we share a car, I couldn't even sweet-talk my husband into being the one to drive it over to me (if he wastes gas to bring me food, that's OK). 


So by about 10:30 am, I had become aware of the very serious dilemma before me and was growing increasingly...uncomfortable. (Did I mention I'm also really indecisive?) I called Michael to get some input. He said, "I'm sorry. Do whatever you want, sweetie." He gave me permission to spend money and waste time! He released me from my self-imposed martyrdom of frugality and opened wide the doors of lunch-time options in the Dallas area. But no, that's not what I wanted. I wanted someone to feel my misery! I didn't want grace, I wanted to live up to my own expectations. I wanted not to be in this situation at all. I wanted to have remembered my lunch so that I could enjoy my perfect time and money management skills. I masked it in a holy (there it is again) commitment to "stewardship" and "God-honoring responsibility", but it was really about control. Controlling every dollar in my wallet and building a time-and-money pedestal for me to climb on and announce to the world: "Hannah King, seminary student and good steward!" 


But God loves me, and He wants to free me from my homemade pedestal-turned-prison of control and pride. And how easily it comes crashing down anyway! One forgotten lunch and my Kingdom crumbles. I am thankful for this God who allows me to be uncomfortable- who reminds me of His promise to work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)- and how even a forgotten lunch is a part of that. It is good for me to lose the illusion of control. It's good for me to be released from pride. It is for my good that God makes me uncomfortable. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spoken Word Video

I know that Advent is technically over as far as church calendars go, but I found this video in the last few days and want to share it. This is the same guy who wrote the spoken word poetry that I posted a few months back, and I think it's a really helpful explanation of what Advent actually is (other than the time leading up to Christmas). Listening to it reminded me that while the Advent services may be over for the year, the church is still in a season of advent- of waiting for the arrival of Jesus- until He returns. 

Right now if you're experiencing pain, suffering, disillusionment, or heartache, Advent affirms that. It says, "Things are not as they should be. Things are broken. We're awaiting the only One who can heal and restore our broken lives and this broken world." It both acknowledges our current hardship and gives us future hope.

Enjoy! (Sorry I don't know how to imbed it...this is a stone-age blog)
Advent: God With Us

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reflections on the Real

Well. In the last two weeks, we spent five days on the road, slept on four different mattresses, visited sixteen family members, saw nine different friends, and finished three books. It was a good holiday visit on the East Coast, but it was a busy one. It was meaningful and much-needed, but it was tiring. It was (as I've already shared) a powerful display of God's goodness and faithfulness toward me, but it was not warm and fuzzy. 


In a way, it was exactly what I asked for. I waxed poetic a few posts back about "A Real Christmas"- an encounter with the Incarnational love of Jesus Christ that is neither comfortable nor picturesque, but good; about a God who gives life in a gritty, painful, real sort of way. I wrote about a God who turns our expectations upside down but who, in offering Himself brings a much deeper joy than could any of our expected deliverers.


This Christmas, He turned my expectations upside down. I wanted a restful, comfortable, peaceful vacation. I wanted stress-free interactions with family and friends. I wanted everything to be smooth and happy at all times and I wanted to wake up on Christmas morning with stars in my eyes. I'll summarize by saying those things didn't happen. I didn't get what I wanted out of Christmas. Instead, I got what is real- and I ate my words a little bit. I realized how much more painful it is to embrace the real over the romantic, and I questioned my desire for it, because it reminded me of the truth that when God- the Light- comes, I see some things that I don't want to see. I'm faced with some realities that aren't pretty. When the Real comes, it means I have to deal with the real crap that is under the candy coating of my so-desperately-longed-for-comfort.


This may seem pessimistic, but it actually has encouraged me. It has shown me that I can't put my hope in a comfortable holiday. It has shown me that my efforts to keep up appearances and hide the junk in my heart are weak, and it has put weight to the words that real is better than romantic. This Christmas, I got to face my choices. Keep hiding, or face the Real. Neither path is painless, and only one leads to true joy.


I'm learning that it's scarier, quite possibly more painful, and definitely harder to face the Real. But I'm also learning that a painful joy tastes far better than a sugar-coated tragedy. I'm learning.