Ambushed by Grief

“I love this song!” I over heard a woman exclaimed as I sat with a hospice patient in a facility. “It reminds me of my couisn,” she told her coworker.  “He died at 16 in a car accident. My brother was driving.”  Her recollection was heartfelt.  Without missing a beat, however, her mood switched. “I can’t listen to it anymore,” she announced in a hurried voice. In an instant she had fled the nurses station and headed down the hall, leaving her co-worker and beloved song behind.

From Website:
From Website:

She had been ambushed by grief.

Brutal as it is, that’s how grief works sometimes. Out of nowhere and without notice, memories of our deceased loved ones spring up, snatch our serenity, and leave us stripped and shaken.

I was ambushed once in a grocery store.   It had been about 6 months since my father dropped dead at a gym, literally.  There was no warning. No signs of illness.  Zero chance of survival.  His aortic artery ruptured and he was gone.

The shock of his death had worn off months prior and the time of grieving, passed.  I was doing well.  Or so it seemed until I strolled down the canned food aisle. No sooner had I reached for a damn can of organic beans was I suddenly flooded with sorrow.

I was remembering a conversation my dad and I shared the year before in that very aisle.  He was baffled that I would spend twice the amount on an organic product when I could buy a much cheaper, generic brand of beans instead.  I couldn’t believe, with all that he had taught me about caring for our planet, that he wouldn’t applaud the extra money spent. The memory was so clear.  All I could do was stand there, crying with a can of  beans in my hand, ambushed by grief.

“The best way out is always through.”  I often call upon these words of Robert Frost when I collide with difficult times on life’s journey.  In order to soften grief, we cannot ignore it or run from it.  Rather, we must move through it—through the memories of favorite songs and canned beans as we flow with the tears and move with the pain that springs forth.

Processing a death or any kind of loss is on going and sometimes never fully resolved.  My sister, whose oldest son, Deniz, died as a toddler, acknowledged that years later the pain from his death lingers on. “The heart that beats,” she told me on what would have been his 17th birthday, “waxes and wanes with grief.”

And so it is.  With life, comes loss and with loss, sorrow.  Grief, an inevitable part of living, waxes and wanes, and yes, is sure to ambush us now and again.

Psalm 46 (NIV) begins with these two verses: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

When life appears to be giving way and falling apart, when grief rises up out of nowhere, it is scripture like this that lift my spirits and assures me that I do not journey alone. Even in the canned food aisle grieving the death of my father, God was and is my ever-present help.

As your own life unfolds, believe in something greater than yourself.  Be grounded in and inspired by your faith (or your spiritual practices or philosophical beliefs).  Have a safety net of close friends and/or family with whom you can rely on and confide in.  Reach out.  Be compassionate, especially with yourself.  Show empathy.  Embrace change.  And, when ambushed by grief, fear not.


The Chicken Pox Showdown

“I’m glad you’re my mom.”

chicken poxThese were the treasured words from my 14-year old daughter as I applied herbally-infused coconut oil to the battle scars from her tangle with chicken pox.

The night before had been nightmarish. The intense itching prevented any solid sleep, waking her up every hour to half hour. I spent the night offering words of assurance, praying silently, stroking her head, and administering a homeopathic remedy that brought temporary relief and gave us much needed minutes of rest.  We unfortunately hadn’t discovered anything that day that relieved the itching (I had desperately tried various soaks, salves, and concotions), so all she could do was cry until the next round of homeopathics took effect.

“Why did this have to happen to me?” she asked again and again.

Ah…that age-old question. Why me?  It is the same question my hospice patients often propose, wondering why THEY were diagnosed with cancer, or  had suffered a stroke, or were dying soon after retirement, or had contracted a rare lung disease. “Why me?” they ask.

So I talked to my daughter that night and throughout the next day about suffering and the power therein for spiritual and emotional growth. I assured her of the inner strength she had to endure this discomfort and face the not knowing (when the itching would stop, or when the pox would stop popping up, or when her skin will be fully healed).  I shared some of own times of struggle and promised her that, like me, in the future she will draw on this time of suffering to brave even bigger challenges of life .

I have no doubt I will be judged by parents who will not understand why we chose not to immunize her against the chicken pox.  Why would we expose our child to such suffering?  It’s so easy.  It’s just a shot.

And to that I say I am aware of the many dangers of childhood illness. Without a doubt there are risks to having chicken pox, which is why she was immediately put on a regiment of immune supporting vitamins, herbs, and minerals; dietary changes; and bed rest.

Knowing the risks, I still believe my role as a parent is NOT to always plan a life for her (and our son, for that matter) that is easy, or predictable, or comfortable.

I am preparing my children for real life—that unpredictable thing which despite our best efforts, plans, or predictions throws us chicken pox, and cancer, and car accidents, and conflict, and general disappointment.

My daughter’s daily living and teenage plans were put on hold to face down and recover from the chicken pox.  She has missed out on some fun, but in the long run has gained much more.   To be sure she is a bit more spiritually and emotionally mature than she was 4 days ago.

I am so grateful for her loving words as I tended to her pox, and give thanks that she is on the mend and on her way to being an even stronger, more vibrant, young woman.

Accepting the Passage of Time

copied from“Turn the clock back.”

Yet another beauty promise, this time from a promotional video for a health spa procedure to diminish the signs of aging.

I can’t imagine routinely turning back the clock on my outward appearance.  Those who do must be hyper vigilant at keeping those pesky wrinkles and gray hairs at bay, terrified to look a day over 30, or 40, or 50…whatever number they set on that dial to which to turn back.

We are plagued in the United States by a strong stigma of looking old.  My own daughter has remarked about the silver hairs that are gracing my head, wondering if I might choose to dye my hair anytime soon.

I get it. We are enmeshed in a society that does not value the aging process.

And why is that?  Perhaps the push to look younger is an effort to somehow slow time.  I can hardly believe how fast the months fly by these days.  If I looked in the mirror and saw a younger me, would I be less anxious about my life eroding away too quickly?  Would that youthful reflection assure me that I had more time to live?

At nearly 46 years old, it is safe to say that I have lived half my life, give or take a few years. In truth—there is no going back.  There isn’t a spa treatment in the world that can return me to the lost days of my youth.

And honestly? I desire no such fountain of youth.

Sure.  It’s very bizarre to see wrinkles make a permanent home on my face and disheartening when my body doesn’t work quite like it used to. But I rather embrace this natural process than cover it up with the latest spa treatment.

You see, the physical (and sometimes mental!) changes I see in myself remind me that I am moving into another season of my life.  Like fall leaves that announce the coming of winter, my signs of aging call to mind that I am entering a time where wisdom is my trusted friend, not a bottle of dye or latest chemical peel.  Although sometimes painful,  the life lessons that I have endured have taught and shaped me.  My faith has grown.  I have become more knowledgeable, skillful, and confident as a minister with each passing year.  And, over time, I would like to think that I have become a better wife, wiser mother, and more genuine friend and family member.

I am proud to be older.

And instead of desperately chasing the next promise of a youthful appearance, I’d rather gracefully accept the passage of time, thankful for one more day of living.

So we do not lose heart.

Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 

2 Corinthians 4:16




Thankful in all times?

I was working on the spiritual discipline of gratitude recently.

My body had fallen into another funk in which my irritating neurological symptoms were rearing their ugly heads.   The main culprit? Fatigue.

To my disgust, I was once again requiring afternoon naps. My nights were restless and regardless of how many hours, the amount of sleep I did get was never satisfying.  I was most frustrated that my activities had to be dramatically minimized to conserve the limited energy I had to expend.

It was a disheartening reminder that my health cannot be taken for granted.

And so the spiritual discipline of gratitude was called forth…reluctantly.   Honestly, this is when my inner pessimist comes out to play or in this case, protest.

Not easy being grateful when things are not going well, is it?  But what if you are dying?  During my week of intentional gratitude, I had an epiphany.  There, on the wall directly above one of my hospice patients were these words in big bold print from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

Be thankful in all circumstances…


I was struck by the profundity of the image. Wow. Even in our dying days we are called as Christians to be grateful. Whether we are healthy or chronically ill, wealthy or destitute, living or dying we are to be thankful…in ALL circumstances.

One of my favorite gratitude stories is told by Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place.  This Dutch woman along with her father, brother, sisters and other family members, helped Jews escape capture by the Germans in WWII. They were eventually arrested.  Along with her older sister Betsie, Corrie faced the perils of Dutch prisons and finally the Ravensbrueck concentration camp where her sister would die. (Learn more about Corrie here)

The sisters had miraculously smuggled a Bible into prison and used it as their primary source of strength to spiritually and emotionally endure.

After being moved to an overcrowded, flea-infested barracks, Bestie recalled the same scripture from 1 Thessalonian 5:18 and began listing off what she was grateful for: She and Corrie had not been separated but instead had been assigned to the same barracks.  The sisters had not been searched before entering their new quarters so the Bible, contraband that it was, remained in their possession. The barracks was overcrowded, but that meant they could share God’s light and love with more women.

And then Bestie gave thanks for the fleas.

“The fleas!” Corrie writes in The Hiding Place. “This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.'”

But Bestie insisted.  “Give thanks in all circumstances,” she reminded Corrie. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

Much to Corrie’s surprise, a genuine gratitude did come, however.

It was Bestie who overheard a guard adamantly refuse to enter their barracks because of the flea infestation.  The fleas. Although the women had noticed an unusual absence of guards, all was now clear.  Since the guards were avoiding the fleas by remaining out of their building, the sisters had been able to hold regular worship for their fellow prisoners.

Yep.  Thank God for those tiny, irritating creatures.

I’ll end with these words from writer and poet, John Milton.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. 


So practice being grateful every single day, no matter what comes your way.

Even the smallest blessing can be found.  Let your daily “transcendent moments of awe” not only enhance your experience of life and the world, but let them prepare you to gracefully face your own mortality.

Into your dying days, may gratitude be ever flowing.


The Dormant Soul

One thing I loved about living in Vermont was witnessing the frozen land burst forth in new life when spring would finally come around. “How is it,” I would marvel each year, “that all these beautiful plants successfully remain dormant through the long frigid winter and reappear in such splendor?

cactus in bloom3
Our neighbor’s cactus in it’s springtime glory.

After four years in the Green Mountain State, my family and I moved to Arizona, the land of eternal sunshine—over 300 days of the year.

Spring did exist and had a unique beauty to it, but it was not the same as the yearly dramatic resurrection of the New England landscape.

I was looking back on a journal entry from my early days in the desert.  I was so desperate to move back to a cooler climate where the landscape’s changes were distinct from season to season.

I was surviving in the Sonoran desert, but not thriving.  I wrote that my very soul had become dormant in that place.


A great word.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means:

(1) :  being in a state of suspended animation (2) :  not actively growing but protected (as by bud scales) from the environment

“Not actively growing but protected from the environment.” That’s exactly how I felt.  A majority of my energy went toward protecting myself from the environment.  I was alive, but not growing in splendor.

As I have learned in my ministry with the dying, one’s soul can be dormant for many different reasons.

We protect ourselves from past traumas, whether consciously or subconsciously, by diminishing or burying the experience. We look past our own transgressions, unwilling to acknowledge the havoc or pain we have wreaked in our own lives or the life of another. We continue to view ourselves negatively as others have defined us, not as God has, beautiful and beloved.

We have no desire or are unable to grow spiritually.

We do not hunger for the transformative experiences where the healing powers of unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness are discovered.

One of my favorite, inspiring quotes is from author Anaïs Nin:

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom. 

Perhaps for many, the hunger for inner growth is not powerful enough to demand action.  But for others, it becomes too painful to remain where they are.

The lack of purpose weighs too heavy.  The level of anxiety is no longer acceptable.  The addiction has caused too much destruction. Rage and resentments have become too crippling; the number of broken relationships, too many;  depression, too deep.

Whatever the catalyst, being “tight in a bud” is no longer a viable choice.   The soul can remain dormant no more. The risk to blossom, to heal and grow spiritually, becomes the necessary path.

That was true for me while living in the desert.  My depression was growing with each day I faced.  The longing to move was transitioning into an obsession. By Spring of 2012 it was clear I had to change.

I shared here at Desert Sojourn of my soul’s transformation:

Within the last few months, I have come to terms with my life here in the land of endless summer. I have ceased compulsively striving away from the Now and have accepted that this desert is my home.  I have been able to let go.


That was such a turning point for me.  In fact, I had not noticed until now that in July, that following month, I posted more than ever.  My blossoming soul, no longer dormant, was enjoying a glorious springtime resurrection! Thanks be to God!

And what about you?  Are you experiencing a dormancy of your own soul?  Has it become too painful to remain in that frozen state?

Stay alert.  Rest in prayer and meditation.  And trust that God’s grace will move your very being into a season of healing and new life!

May you take that risk…and blossom!