Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Isolation of Grief

     It has been nearly a month since my sister passed away. Shock has worn off, and grief has really begun to take its toll. Although the Lord has given me a tremendous joy by allowing me to discover my pregnancy shortly after Rachel passed away, the extra hormones, fatigue, and nausea have not exactly made grieving easier.

     As I have been trying to process everything that has happened over the past year, the lie that I am all alone in this has been creeping into my mind. Of course, the best lies are those that contain an element of truth. The truth is that no one outside my immediate family understands what the experience was like because no one else experienced it first hand. No one other than my family carries the memories of the last year. No one else understands what it was like to rejoice when Rachel made small improvements, all the while being horrified by the knowledge that we would soon be watching this process in reverse. No one else understands what it was like during the last two weeks of her life when my brother, sister-in-law, and I essentially moved into my parents' house because the burden of being away from her was too great. No one else watched when her pain pump malfunctioned and her eyes became wild with pain, and we were helpless. No one else spent the last week watching her for hours just breath and counting the seconds between her breaths because she developed Apnea. At times, I have nightmares about these memories that haunt me.

     In some very real ways, no one else really understands, and we are alone.

     But just because others don't fully understand doesn't mean they are disqualified from empathizing and sharing in my burden. At times, I have allowed myself to believe the lie that I am completely alone in this struggle. But then God has graciously sent along someone with these words: "I know that I don't understand what you are going through, but I am so sorry you are experiencing this." Sounds simple, but the effect is profound because the words were genuine and heartfelt. At other times, God has sent me friends who just quietly listened to my anguish. In these instances, the Lord gently reminds my heart that I am not alone.

     But even greater than that, I have a God who knows my heart intimately, who has been there with me in every moment. He knows my every emotion and thought from the past year. I have been so comforted by Hebrews 4:15-16 which states, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need." It is because I have a God who intimately sympathizes and understands that I can confidently know He will extend me grace and mercy during times of need. When I come to Him in prayer, He never responds with "I have no idea what you are going through." Rather, Christ is called "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Is. 53:). I take great comfort in having a God who understands.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lessons from 2013

     2013 obviously will not go down in the books as the easiest year of my life. But as difficult as this year has been, I have learned so much about the Lord. Many of these lessons were things that I have known on an academic level since I was a child. However, this year I began to understand these things on a deeper and more practical level.

     1. At times life is too overwhelming to live a day at a time. Sometimes it is too hard to see the end of a day, and the only way to remain sane is to repeatedly carry my sorrows, anxiety, and anger to the Lord on an hourly or momentary basis. During Rachel's final days when we were all essentially on death watch, I never knew what each day would bring. Would she decline today? How much? Will her pain be controlled today? Will she die today? These unanswerable questions tormented my mind until I learned to frequently escape into the Lord's arms. I would pour out my heart and vocalize my frustration with the fact that I could not understand what the Lord was doing. When I was frustrated because the Lord allowed her to remain and struggle after she was unable to move and communicate, I had to repeatedly cast down my cares as I felt my anxiety rise. I learned that I have to trust the Lord in this moment, then trust Him again when the next moment arrives.

     2. God is sovereign and His timing is perfect. Clearly, I do not understand everything the Lord is doing with His timing, but He has been gracious to show me momentary glimpses into His timing. Rachel was diagnosed with her cancer just weeks after I finished my student teaching. So I was able to be available to assist my family. The Lord also provided me with an online tutoring job that allowed me to remain accessible to my family. the timing of these events provided me with flexibility so that I could spend a significant amount of time with my sister. Thus, I grew closer to her. I saw the beauty of her heart during this struggle and came to truly admire her.

     3. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is a purely emotional state of being, and in the past month, I have not experienced a lot of genuine happiness. Sure, I have had moments with my husband, daughter, other family members, or friends that have brought me happiness, but those have primarily been brief distractions. However, joy has been much more abundant. Joy is a choice, a worldview, an attitude about life. I am joyful that my sister Rachel has been perfectly healed and is now in Heaven. But, I am not happy about it because I miss her here on earth. In combating despair, I have to choose to focus on an eternal perspective and on the things I can be joyful about.

     4. Truth is crucial. My heart lies to me on a daily basis. My heart tells me that I'm alone, that God has forgotten me, that no one cares, and so many other lies. This year, I have learned to cling to the truth because it will set me free (John 8:32). I have learned to tell my feeling they are wrong and dwell on the character and promises of God rather than letting my mind run wild. I have begun to learn to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5)

     5. Compassion is truly beautiful. As previously stated, I learned so much about compassion from my sister. In her final weeks, she was comforting others as they grieved. And it was beautiful to watch. It was a beautiful display of the strength and grace of God. In those moments, I didn't see a sick and dying 22 year old; I was Christ shining through her. I saw the beauty of her heart.

     I haven't set any resolutions for 2014 nor am I super excited about new beginnings because grief doesn't end with the beginning of a new year. This next year will be hard because each holiday and event will be my family's first without Rachel. I do not know what joys and hardships this year will bring, but I do know that God will still be good. He was good last year when I miscarried a pregnancy. He was good when He perfectly healed Rachel in Heaven. He is good. And He will still be good this year, regardless of what comes.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 13:5-6

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

See You Soon, Rachel

     On December 31st at about 1 AM Rachel went home to be with the Lord. She is now in the presence of her Lord and Savior where she will no longer struggle or experience pain. And I look forward to the day when I will get to join her.

     Over the past several days, I have been thinking a great deal about my sister's life and about who she was as a person. Compassion dominated my sister's life. Every time Rachel would ask for prayer for a friend or acquaintance, she would cry or tear up because she had a heart that genuinely hurt for other people. She could feel the pain of others and she carried it in her heart as if it were her own pain. My sister's soft heart taught me so much about the love and compassion of our Father God. Her life and behavior often challenged me to view people and their pain the way that God views them. Rather than being self-centered, Rachel exhibited a pattern of putting others before herself. Even during her battle with cancer this past year, she took time to pray for her friends because their struggles were important to her. In her final weeks, she frequently told me that she was worried. She was not worried about pain, death, suffering, or the loss of her physical abilities. She was worried about her friends and family and the pain we would experience

     Because of her compassion, Rachel was a person of forgiveness. Since she cared so deeply about the hurt and feelings of others, Rachel was often able to forgive when anger and resentment would have been an expected reaction. She forgave those who mocked her, forgot her, ignored her, or used her. Regardless of how people treated her, she still cared about their well-being and expressed concern for them. I seriously cannot remember a time in which Rachel spoke about having a hard time forgiving someone. I remember once several years ago when Rachel was telling me about feeling left out with a specific group of people. My advise to her was to write off those people and find new friends. Of course, she ignored me, and began to tell me about all the problems these friends were dealing with. She told me she needed to be there to help them even if they only wanted her around when they had a problem. Her friendship was selfless.

     Rachel was not the deepest thinker nor could she impress you with her knowledge of theological terms, but she had a heart like Christ. She loved people quickly and demonstrated that love in her words and actions.

     I will deeply miss my sister. I will miss her encouragement and positive outlook. I will miss her smile and her devotion to others. I will miss watching her play with my daughter and niece. But I look forward to the day when I will get to join her in the presence of Christ. We had a common bond in our desire to serve our Lord. When the Lord allows me to finish my race, then I will be reunited with her in Heaven.

     See you soon, Rachel.