Sunday, September 18, 2022

The wisdom of lament, of victory over defeat


Nothing can defeat us if we get this principle and apply it to our lives.  This is the first and only wisdom that is needed when life itself has conspired against us.  It is a gospel wisdom.

In a commentary on Romans 8, John Chrysostom (349 – 407) said,

“Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory.  See how really no one is against us!”

See what this is saying?  No matter what people do to us in this life, we, by our responses, have the victory IF only we can look at the bigger picture — life and eternity are much more than we can see!  Much, much more.

We do not need to insist on having all the answers, victory at every stage, and a way of ameliorating our embarrassment when someone “owns” us... let them own us!  What can their will do to us?  NOTHING.

By entering into this wisdom, we show that we have the wisdom of eternity, the deeper knowledge, stowed and utilised for the power of his kingdom and glory.  But to enter into this wisdom, headlong in the intent of one day owning it, we must commit to it one day at a time for the rest of our lives.

This principle applies within the midst of all personal struggles, not just the interpersonal ones.

There is a way of superintending the struggle.  There is a way of overcoming that which is designed by the enemy to overcome us.  This is a vital word for anyone who would believe it is possible, and from such a belief to have the audacity to make that possibility a reality.

This is the wisdom of lament: 
an overwhelming victory is possible 
even as we’re overwhelmingly defeated.

Live it, and you will know that you’re living it!

We glory in this defeat, and this is exactly what the cross shows us.  Even though Jesus was dead — gone for all money — the absolute enigma of it all is that only at “It is finished!” was there comprehensive, everlasting victory.

Even as Jesus exhaled his last breath, there is an eternal sigh of relief.

Do you get it?  How else do we beam with a smile even in the torment of grief?  It is otherwise a rampant absurdity.

But that beaming smile MUST be underpinned in the reality of lament.  Lament accepts what can never be changed.  Lament is the power of facing an unchangeable truth.  Lament doesn’t need to dissociate, knowing that the enemy of everything good is dissociation from truth.

Please, please, exist in the struggle by facing it, by allowing it in your presence, by allowing it to crush you when it will, by making you supple enough to seek support, by causing you to grow in humility to permit the ebb and flow of grief and acceptance as they come and go, by engaging in the lament, which is to honour the truth and not look away from it.

~

The wisdom of lament is evident in having victory over defeat.  The only way we take this into ourselves as a possession is to live it and therefore know it as a blessed way of living in the grief of life.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Lament is a final frontier of growth and healing


It’s only when you’re in a dire situation that you cannot change that you realise the gift of lament. That is, to accept in practice what is unacceptable.  It leaves you in a place of torment or anguish or depression... or of just simply sitting in it, with it, allowing the situation to be as painful as it is.

I would say that sitting in the presence of lament in such a way is the practice of patient maturity, considering that such a practice is nothing about the end point, it’s all simply about the practice of it.  It’s not about achieving anything, except that is the achievement of sitting peaceably in dread and sorrow — which just seems wrong when our western eyes read that.

Many years ago, when we were losing Nathanael, people would often say, “All we can do is pray.”  We would say, “That’s the best thing you can do.”  Prayer seems useless until it’s the only thing left.  Then we pray because it’s all we can do other than sit and wait and endure the pain of the moment.

There are many who possibly won’t have any idea about these concepts.  A living hell has never descended against them.  Or they denied the reality and ran.  They remain unenlightened.  There’s no need to convince those who cannot be convinced.

Instead, we work with the impossibility of the moment.  Instead, we spend time in silent retreat with those who understand.  Instead, we give up on words and questions and statements of conjuring.  We come to understand the sanctity in moments beyond human reconciling.  When we face these moments, we quickly recognise there are mysteries we will NEVER understand.

And that is okay.  Okay, because it must be.  There is no other choice.  Until we’ve been to a place like this, we really haven’t grown up.  Until we’ve been to a harsh reality that cannot be changed, we have no concept for how to move forward.  It’s a problem all must face and come to accept if we’re to truly mature.

It’s only when we have no concept for moving forward that we recognise that there ARE places in life that have no answers.  We can get angry or deny these realities as much as we want, it’s not going to change things.

We are invited into a better answer 
when there is no answer.
That answer is lament.

Sitting in the lament of the heartbreaking situation we cannot change, we understand, finally, that lamentation is nothing about performance or achievement or anything that we can add to it.  It is simply something one does and it’s an inherently humbling place.  We come to the end of ourselves.  What begins from there is God.

But what is good about not being able to change the heartbreaking situation is we finally come to a place where we have no control, and the only way forward is to accept that.

One of the biggest challenges to our personhood in all our lives is our insistence on controlling situations.  But when we come to this place, where lament is the only answer, the ONLY thing we can do, we approach the situation where we’re invited to understand a deeper knowledge about the fabric of life we otherwise did not yet know.

We finally understand the goal of humility 
is to bear the capacity of humbling gracefully.

There is something good about all this, and that is how we gather the eternal competence of maturing through bearing heartrending situations we cannot change and therefore can only accept in the moment.  See how it’s NOTHING about our performance or how good we are at it?

When we stay in a season of lament, when we are able to sit in it without insisting our circumstance be changed, we practice a maturity that can only be practised and never attained as a possession.  It is both the hardest and easiest thing to do.

Only when we have practiced this ancient contemplation of lamenting and have consistently experienced the ability to surrender our control does God show us what maturity looks like.  Until such a time, we cannot see it, and it is not a reality we can claim that we’ve attained.

Lament is a final frontier of growth and healing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Receptive hearts transform things or there’s no hope at all


I think I will need to write about these things ad nauseam to get my point across.  There is absolutely nothing that compares with receptive hearts able to listen and comprehend what is going on for the other person, and you need this in both parties.  Then, truly then, does conflict become an opportunity where miraculous outcomes are possible.

When we deal with the opposite situation, which is rather the default, where one or both parties cannot step into the other side at all, there is no hope and the plans and dreams of both perish in a calamity of despair.

Far too many people have grown up in these circumstances as their parents warred with one another whether within the marriage or as divorced parties.  Adults behaving as spoilt children, or as often is the case, one adult and on a collision course with tyranny, doing their best to steal, kill, and destroy as an agent of the enemy — always justifying such abhorrent behaviour.

The only hope for happiness for any of us is when we step out of ourselves long enough to stay in the other person and their interests.  Interests are defined as what a person wants, and importantly WHY they want it.  Many people want what they want because these are needs.

Consider that sometimes the way to get what you want is to give the other person what they want.  Consider too the power dynamics within conflict.  It is too easy to see ourselves as the least powerful.  As a counsellor, I view anyone who feels unsafe as vulnerable and threatened as a party with less power, but of course often the other side says they feel unsafe too.  It is one thing for a person to feel they’ll be taken advantage of, and it is another thing entirely for the other person to feel in mortal danger.  See that in terms of safety?

The absolute masterstroke for an ex-husband, and I lived this life successfully for many years, is to keep on giving, keep on being kind, and keep on being understanding, and be the emotional support.  The more you give your resources away with no thought of return, the more spiritual grace you’re given, and there’s nothing to compare material retention to spiritual graces.

What I’m trying to say to ex-husbands is throw away your demands, invest in a life that gives itself away, and you will suddenly find yourself living a life you always, deep down, wanted to live.  Throw yourselves away to your children, giving them your time, your love, your energy, your kindness, your patience, your gentleness, and many times this is augmented by becoming known for a regimen of genuine apology.  This cannot be faked.  You will be believed when your heart has changed.

Do you want your children and ex-wife to start saying to people, “He has changed, now he’s so humble, and we feel safer, and he is now more trustworthy than ever.”  Nobody will say these things about you until they see them in you for six or 12 months, because it requires a heart change, and heart change sticks simply because the core of life is in the heart.

As Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”  The best investment any Christian can make is to invest in watching over their heart, keeping it soft and pliable, so it would listen to others’ needs.  A Christian’s life is a life of service to others, especially those in our family.  Much of the time it is mothers who watch over their children and who notice their anxiety.  Mothers and children have safety needs on a deeper plane than husbands ordinarily.  There are some exceptions to this, but few in comparison.  The parent who has the children’s needs most in mind needs to be listened to.

Finishing this where I started, change only comes when two hearts come together for the common good, but this will invariably involve one heart — predominantly the husband’s — willing to give by faith.

Indeed, it has been my experience that those who have given more have ultimately received more, but the heart must give in these situations with the intent not to receive.  The heart must give away unconditionally.  The heart must give away with the full expectation that anything that comes back to them will be offered back in return.  There is no interest in returns.

The more we seek to bless another, the more we will be blessed.

Men, be the one known as humble enough to forge a new path for your estranged, broken marriage and family.  Humility is the fuel of miracles.  Just remember, humility expects nothing of others, and serves with cheerfulness.

Give away what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose — those riches in the eternal realm (yes, they come in the here-and-now) come at us WHEN we’ve given ourselves away.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Depression when the realities of grief overwhelm


Some moments in life swallow us whole without any consideration whether we can bear them or not.  Clearly, we cannot.  We’re consumed and absolutely unable to respond as we otherwise would like to.

Such a moment, though both exposing and terrifying, is instructive.  It takes us many levels deeper as we journey from the deck of our life to the engine room to become acquainted with the workings within.

The fact that we’ve descended to a place far deeper and lower than we’ve previously conceived not only shows our strength to bear such weakness, it shows our capacities of humility in being momentarily humiliated without being comprehensively crushed.  Even if we do feel crushed.

Depression within the realm of the realities of grief correlates that much with clinical depression, the two merge and may be indistinguishable.  The symptoms of deep grief and clinical depression are so similar, all we may deduce is that grief separates from depression only to the degree that a tangible cause of loss is identified.  Surely there’s a huge part of depression in grief.  Both are an affront to and an overhaul of the identity.

When the realities of grief overwhelm us, where there’s panic because a life we cannot let go of has ended, and that life is either ours or someone precious to us, there is absolutely no scaffold to hold onto, and the sense of acute or chronic panic is justified.

Even as we will enter into such a season where there is withdrawal from life at large, as light diminishes and hope shrinks under the gravity of despair, as new powers of darkness hover overhead, there is a broadening of the personhood under such a temerity of challenge.

That’s what must be held in tension all along—when you’re going through hell, keep going, as Sir Winston Churchill said, because hell is a place, a situation, a time, a bearing, and it’s not a destination.  It takes such courage to face hell, to travel so close to it, to approach it knowing it nears upon the moment.

The moment of overwhelm in depression comes like a thief in the night.  When it’s snuck up on you a few times, it leaves you feeling vulnerable to its capacity to drag you under, especially as a bout of acceptance is enjoyed for its fleetingness.  The scary reality in that bout of acceptance is it will end at some point, and as peace ebbs quickly away, despair fills the void with cosmic emptiness that resembles death.

Depression in its fullness is the most terrifying reality on the record of our consciousness.

Validate the one you know who faces their depression valiantly.  If it’s you, be validated by these words.  You’re braver than you know to face these terrors alone even if there are a crowd of helpers.  You know how brave you’re being.  Perhaps you’ve never before conceived life could ever descend to this.  Now you endure a state of consciousness that opens your mind and heart that loss, grief, and depression could end you.  There’s nothing scarier than situations where the floor disappears.  Just know how brave you’re being.

Your courage is exemplary, and God knows, of that be assured.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Submitting to the sifting Spirit that challenges pride


This, I find, is the absolute core of Christian discipleship.  It’s the moment when we are revealed, by the Spirit of God, as culpable in some way or other.  The fact is, we are all susceptible to mistakes and errors of judgement and morality.  It’s when we are caught in the act, either by another person or by discerning it for ourselves, that we have the opportunity to respond to that cherished principle of the conviction of sin.

The Spirit of God pointed this phenomenon out to me during a recent counselling session where the person I was counselling identified this very wrestle.  It lit a light in me.

I think we’ve all been there, in our pride, justifying our self-justification, all the while negating that conviction of heart that would propel us in the humility of restoring a relational dynamic.

In this moment, we sit on a precipice, as we listen to both the flesh and Spirit.  The moment is a conquest between good and evil, between God and the enemy, between humility and pride, between right and wrong.

In this moment, we are very unlikely to look at the log on our own eye, preferring the attractive glint in the speck we see in the other person’s eye.  If natural forces are to prevail, and most often they do, we will completely nullify that still silent voice that would lead us in the way everlasting, recalling that mightily cherished prayer of Psalm 139:23-24 — 

“Search me, God, and know my heart... test me and know my anxious thoughts... see if there is any offensive way in me... and lead me in the way everlasting.”

None of us likes to pray this prayer or be this honest, because it requires us to submit to the sifting Spirit that challenges our pride.  But this, right here, in the present context, is the absolute essence of Christian Living 101.

Indeed, Christian faith has nothing to do with knowing the Bible back to front, inside and out, being an expert on theology, knowing creeds, and all sorts of other knowledge that puffs us up.

What Christian faith is centrally about is 
orienting the heart toward trust in God.

Orienting the heart toward trust in God requires us to fall into line with the truth.  And so often the truth testifies against us, especially when we operate in self-justification and in the condemnation of others.

For any of us to sit there and ponder the war going on in the head and the heart as we choose between pride and humility when our sin is revealed, we have a cosmic choice before us.

90 percent of the time I’m sure we will go with the natural flow and stick with self-justification to our peril.  But if only we can go against a record that would acquit us, preferring to see the inconvenient truth, we might turn toward the truth and choose to walk by faith, and be humbled by the truth that would set us and others free.

The person that goes the latter way of walking by faith, against the pride that’s been sifted by the cleansing Spirit, pours contempt on their pride, and walks directly into freedom — but they don’t experience the freedom UNLESS they first walk that way by faith.

This operation of being humbled by the Spirit of God when our pride is riled proves who we are really committed to.  If we cannot submit to the sifting Spirit that challenges our pride, we really do not have a part in the Kingdom — it’s as simple as that.

We serve God when we love others, and this is done most especially in the heat of conflict.  In the heat of conflict is when our true spiritual mettle is tested.  Where humble hearts come together in conflict, an opportunity to transcend selfishness prevails.  THIS is how Christians ought to behave with other Christians and with everyone else who don’t yet call Christ their Saviour, Lord, and King.

Those who don’t submit to the sifting Spirit that 
challenges their pride don’t display the fruit of the Spirit.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Those last 49 hours before Mum died, her death, the days since


The days and events surrounding Mum’s death were up until a few days ago replayed over and over in my head.  I guess I was just making sense of a profound little season of history.  I have found that as a funeral celebrant, until I went through the loss of one of my own parents, I didn’t really ‘get’ that style of grief.  Ordinarily, I’m not one to compare griefs — it can be very unhelpful!

Even though we as a family had been given a range of one to four days to expect Mum would pass away in, there was still something in my mind telling me we had more time.  From the time we were told Mum would start palliative care to the time she passed was 49 hours.

I’ll never forget the call I got from Dad at 10:10 or where I was when I received it to alert me that the hospital could do no more for Mum.  I was over two hours away in a regional town inspecting tyres on a fire appliance, and that feeling of being psychologically ambushed I’d not had since 2014 or 2003.  It was the familiar feeling of a panic attack, but not quite as sharp as what I’ve experienced in the past.  I was in a place and a location that I didn’t want to be in!

I immediately advised my manager and told the staff I was working with the situation.  Then I was on my way back, making hands-free calls where I had signal.  A strange calmness fell over me between bouts of tears and praying.  I returned the vehicle to my workplace and immediately made my way to the hospital.  Family were already there.

At one point, I asked one of my aunts to take a photo of Mum, Dad, and us three boys.  The palliative care team took us aside while the nurses were tending to Mum, and we advocated for Mum from a position of disbelief.  Surely, she could make it through this time as she’d done so many times in the past two years.  I bargained with the palliative care doctor, “Can we get one more month,” and the doctor said that that was ambitious (unrealistic).  The palliative care doctor and nurse attended Mum with us family there, and those details are private.

Soon Mum was unconscious as the treatment started.  The following morning, though Mum looked comfortable, it was clear that Mum’s condition has worsened — my eldest daughter was stellar in updating all of us family throughout the week from her experience as a nurse and discussions with the doctors.

That day basically the entire family sat in vigil with Mum as she slept in comfort with her body dying.  I stayed that night with Dad at Mum’s bedside, a family member to support him.

At one point early in the evening, the nursing staff re-positioned Mum and it was clear that she was anything but comfortable.  I rang the nurses and needed to advocate for Mum.  “She could get bed sores,” the nurses said, and I quipped back, “Mum’s dying, bed sores are the least of her concerns.”  They re-positioned Mum on the side she always slept on.

Early in the morning Dad left briefly to have a shower.  When Dad returned I waited until about 9:45 when more family were there, and I left for the hour trip home to freshen up and be back later in the day.

As I approached home, my phone rang, and it was a sister-in-law, and I knew immediately what was happening.  “Steve, Mum’s passing...” and I turned straight back to the hospital, in a state of surreal disbelief.  Over the 50-minute trip back to the hospital, I had about five bouts of sobbing and a few bouts of simply praying for Mum, thanking God for her life.

As a family we spent time with Mum and each other in the hospital.  She had passed away in a peaceful and very graceful way with several family around her, Dad, two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter.  As a family we then gathered with Dad for a few hours to take stock.

We left mid-afternoon to take our son to a birthday party he’d been looking forward to, and something really horrible happened.  We were shutting the boot of the car before going into the party and it came down on top of our son’s head and he screamed in pain — like shutting a child’s fingers in a car door.  We were suddenly all in tears again.  Those few hours were the most horrible hours almost in living memory (I’ve actually had far worse to be fair) as we were all upset at a celebration of life.

I struggled in absolute shock of Mum’s passing for two days, and an immense state of feeling alone in this world came over me.  That night was hard, waking in the morning was hard, but I did wake with a sense of purpose to gather together several of Mum’s photo albums together to take down to Dad where us brothers were gathering.  It was a good day, and the entire week of planning Mum’s funeral was one of Dad and his three sons and their families being together and working together for a beautiful funeral for the best Mum any child could want, and the best woman any man could be blessed to have by his side for 60 years.

The shape of my grief has changed over the past two weeks.  In the past few days, being back at work, I’m filled with more purpose, but thoughts of Mum never leave, but the pain has morphed into acceptance relatively quickly.  I’ll never not miss my Mum.  I accept that.  But I think the abiding sense of gratitude fills my heart because Mum truly was an exceptional Mum.  Her memory lives on in her husband, sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, other family and friends.

Mum, for who you were and are always, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So dearly loved, endlessly missed.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Rescuing people from their pain is as bad as emotional bypassing


Compassion is such a nuanced thing that care often sits on a knife’s edge between not caring enough on the one hand and enabling or rescuing on the other.

When I was planning Mum’s funeral last week, being the one conducting such a precious occasion, I gave one of my daughters the heads-up to be on the lookout for those who might try and rescue me.  Her task was to be a guard.  I didn’t want anyone interrupting the sanctity of that time of grieving.

Rescuing can seem the ideal opportunity to come to someone’s aid when they’re experiencing distress.  But it isn’t always a good idea.

Indeed, rescuing someone from the pain they could endure and learn from betrays their opportunity to grow.  It’s destructive.  At the very least, a person can learn to depend on another person instead of learning to bear the pain that is ordinary to life.  Oftentimes those who come in and rescue have the ulterior motive of, “I’ll be there for them on every occasion,” or “They need me,” or “They won’t get through this without my help.”  And so they intervene.  Some even see themselves — consciously or unconsciously — as playing the saviour role.  It’s always harmful.

Being rescued is like the opposite of emotional bypassing, but both are damaging to the grieving process.  Emotional bypassing interrupts the vocalising of pain and squashes that expression with some flippant remark like, “Time heals all wounds,” or “You’ll get over this,” or “Look at all the good things in life you have,” or there’s some justifying of the pain of grief that simply doesn’t belong.  Rescuing is at the other end of the continuum of over caring rather than under caring — which is what emotional bypassing is.

In terms of enabling, a person who rescues someone from a pain they could otherwise bear enables a toxic pattern of maladjustment to occur.  As emotional bypassing interrupts the vocalising of pain and squashes its expression, rescuing a person from the natural processes of lament also interrupts the grief process.

Such an interruption forestalls the grief process entirely, when simply engaging in truthful lament would actually facilitate healing, albeit a long process.  But it works, does lament.  Lament works because it is about facing truth, and it is only truth that will set us free.

But there are people, and I have manipulators in the frame here, who exist for a purpose to connive and coerce and control.  Some rescuers do have a good heart, but they still do the wrong thing.  Those who manipulate, however, manipulate people and situations so that they can control the narrative to make themselves look good.  This is birthed in insecurity.  It’s all about them and they bring death to the hope of healing.

~

This article wouldn’t be complete without making some effort to explain what care looks like that neither enables nor rescues.

True care bears another person’s struggle 
without reaching in and attempting to fix it.

It takes management of one’s own anxiety.  It takes a heart that genuinely serves the other person.  It takes ‘putting off the self’ and ‘putting on the servant’.

It takes the authentic empathy of being ‘in’ the other person.

It takes silence by and large, with the only exceptions being to utter small though powerful affirmations, especially to counter untruths that those that suffer often speak over themselves, and doing this without lecturing, with silent affirmation being the predominant posture.

It takes the commitment to bear the tension of another person’s struggle WITH them, and in doing so they can see that it CAN be done.

~

True lament connects us so intrinsically with our broader truth that it opens the door to reason and a more holistic perspective.

Whenever we connect deeply with painful truth we’re also inadvertently connected to the truths of the joys in our life.  Once peered into, truth is a prism through which many thoroughly good things are seen.  Commit to seeing the depth of pain and hurt, and inevitably the truths of joy and cheer also shine through.

Commit to the truth in the pain and the eventual reward is a deeper sense of joy.

But when the journey of grief is interrupted by rescuing, healing is averted.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

On the night before Mum’s funeral


One thing that helps with my grief is to write about it; to both explore the nuances of pain and mystery, and to share those things with others.  Like on at least two occasions previously, where a single life event has changed the course of my life, this too has that same effect.

Life has never been like it is right now and it will never be like it was when Mum was here.

This is NOT to say that it’s all doom and gloom; it’s just me saying that the person who brought me into the world, the person who believed in me every step of the way, the one who disciplined me and loved me with the truth for my own good every single day of my life until the recent days, is gone.  I’ve never lived any of my days without my Mum being physically alive before.

I know there will be many reading this who will really understand, those who have lost a parent, and who will attest to the hole that a parent’s loss leaves in oneself.  Frankly, I’m pleased for this, as a funeral celebrant myself, what I’ve experienced this week is almost essential life experience for a funeral celebrant.

On the night before Mum’s funeral, we as a family could not have done better in standing together and in planning a wonderful send-off for the matriarch of our family.  We’ve been together constantly every day deciding each decision together, imagining what Mum would like, and dividing the responsibilities in a way that could only please her.  We’ve stood by Dad and cried and laughed with him.  As a family we are all so grateful for the legacy both Mum and Dad leave in showing us how to love with a love that loves mercy and walks humbly.

Knowing that life will never be the same again is on the one hand a tragedy, yet on the other hand says so much for a love that makes a huge impact both in life and death.

During the week we have reflected on so many beautiful messages of how Mum has touched others’ lives, and each of these touches us, because we notice how much impact Mum has made by her just being her.

Personally, I have not tried to keep up and communicate back to people with the majority of these messages, simply because the focus this week has been on one thing and one thing only, and that is to plan the best funeral possible, and in doing so spend time with precious family and affirm one another in our love.

I think there is so much wisdom in grieving as a whole family for the complete week after a loved one’s death.  I’m sure many of us have been tempted to try and integrate our grief into the flow of our hectic lives, but at least in the present time, our family has genuinely enjoyed doing this for Mum together.

One thing for sure, once the dust settles, and we are back into the swing of ordinary life, I feel quite certain that the thought of Mum and her memorial presence with us will be the key difference of what life was like beforehand and what life’s like now.

All this is a reminder not to take a moment for granted, because in the moment we take for granted is the stuff of life that really counts.  But the strangest thing about all this is that we are bound to take life for granted, because life is full of mundane moments, and those mundane moments only take on the significance from the view of hindsight having lost someone special.  Now I look back on my activities of writing during the days that would now be Mum’s last, and wonder, “What was I thinking?  I was clueless about what was coming.”  Yet, I was getting on with my life, just as Mum would have wanted.  She’d have had it no other way.

The process of healing grief is interrupted by many things, not least guilt and other blockers to forgiveness, in the journey of accepting what life has come to be.

All this simply leads us to a better focus, and that is to be thankful for what we had, and to live with a new purpose, knowing that our dear loved one is with us.  I know that Mum is.  Mum, who was a constant reassurance, and someone who could beautifully balance and inform a skewed perspective, still offers that wisdom, if only we remember what she would say.  We can take that loving, kind and wise perspective with us beyond her death.

A few nights before Nathanael’s funeral I wrote, “Not long now, son, and we will mourn you, for your tent will be gone.”  We had such little time with our stillborn son.  Just four months to get to know him (after we learned his plight at the 20 week scan) and then say goodbye.  We’ve had Mum all our lives to this point, and she was a woman who left such a profoundly kind and gracious legacy.  THIS is the reason there’s a hole left inside of us that cannot be filled, and yet this hole is like classic Japanese kintsugi—the art form that takes broken pottery and lacquers the pieces together with a substance mixed with powdered gold.  In our brokenness is our healing.

What is left to say?  So many things, the limit of which is possibly infinite.  I will save you, poor reader, that task.

For who you were and are to me and us,
for all you gave to me and us,
I will love you always, Mum.
See you when it’s my turn.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Loss after a lifetime of love


I wrote the following only three days ago and never got to finish it:

“I’ve been in this place so many times, as have my precious extended family, all those under my parents’ line.  We have watched Mum go downhill every couple of months where she is hospitalised and she’s back in there now.

“It’s times like this that I prepare myself for when Mum is gone.

“As I scrolled through my Messenger conversation with Mum over the years, there have been so many humdrum moments that I’d forgotten about so many of them, until I re-read them.  I’ve been saving my voicemail messages of Mum into sound files.”

But now Mum’s gone. . .  I realise that there is N O T H I N G that any of us family could have done to prepare for the moment.  No matter how much we HAVE prepared.

For me, it matters not one iota that I’ve written on grief and counselled so many over the years through loss.  For me, and for my family, life is just plain so unfair.  We don’t know how we’re going to live without her, but as was pointed out by one of my brothers yesterday, we need to live for each other more than ever now, particularly for Dad, as Mum’s legacy lives on.

Mum was such a powerhouse of service to her family and friends that her kindness and joy—despite her massive health challenges—spoke as if in unison with Dad’s gentleness and humility.  These two have been inseparable for 60 years, ever since Mum intentionally tripped Dad over at the Bullfinch (I think) swimming pool in July 1962.  Their marriage has been a beacon of light about what it means to serve the other with a love that knows no other way but to sacrifice for the other.

My Mum has loved her husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and her friends, so astonishingly well that loss after a lifetime of that love leaves us floored for a response to the grief we’ve been cast into.

I’m no stranger to grief, after losing my first marriage 19 years ago and taking so long to come to terms with it, and then losing Nathanael in 2014, which was heartbreak on an unprecedented scale in many ways, but today I’m at a loss to see how I could even move forward.  I know that somehow I will, and I know that that is Mum’s will—that we do—but this is next level grief.

To lose someone who has been there for each of us through so many personal and private battles, a person who defines the best in terms of motherhood, not just to three sons, but to four daughters in law, and to her grandchildren as well, is incomprehensible.

Some will think that it’s weird for me to write this on the same day as my dear mother left this earth, but what else can I do?  Like the rest of our family, I’ve poured out my tears dozens of times today, real ugly crying, and it brings little solace, but is also necessary.

The number of times my Mum and I spoke about death and her death on the phone over the past two years, the number of times I recited with her Psalm 23 (a favourite of hers), the number of times she said she knew where she was going—to reunite with daughter, Debbie, who Mum and Dad lost to stillbirth in 1973—is phenomenal.  What is more phenomenal is her absolute willingness to talk about these matters.

The journey of grief has only just begun, and the first stage is absolute shock and the terror of the thought that from now on our journey is without her.

But we can honour Mum’s request now that sincerely she wanted to go first, that it would have crushed her had any of us gone before her.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

I don’t want to say goodbye


I find it’s an unconscionable thought, death, of that loved one.  I must have felt this before but somehow, I’d forgotten it, that unavoidable sense that death is beyond mine or anyone’s control, that I must learn somehow to say goodbye.

Saying goodbye involves so much pain, and it’s all because of love.

Nothing prepares us for this reality, even if we all know we’ll all die, and that we’ll have to say goodbye to those we’ve always known we’ll lose.  But when it comes time, it’s all too surreal.

There isn’t must that can be said or that needs to be said.  Words won’t make a difference.  I’ve found I’d rather people not make a fuss, let me breathe and grieve in my own time and in my own way, just like everyone must have the sanctity to face their own sorrow and the fact that time cannot be rewound.

That’s the thing about loss.  I want to go back in time to re-enjoy times when things were “normal,” where there were different perhaps more mundane concerns.

But loss is loss.  It’s loss.  It’s a very concrete concept.  Too concrete.  But somehow through loss, as we mediate our grief, as we face that which we cannot change, we’re somehow transformed into more empathic beings.

So many previously innocuous things change in loss, but those innocuous things leave large gaping holes that are noticed ten miles away.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Humility is the solitary empowerment for change


Anyone might think I’m against people who act entitled in relationships, especially in marriage relationships.  But it’s not so much that than a desire to see a person change and grow.

The only person who cannot or obstinately will not grow is, by definition, a narcissist.

They can never own that they were wrong for anything, hence they cannot transcend their present malevolent behaviour.  There modus operandi is to exploit people and situations for their own gain out of a warped penchant of entitlement (i.e. more acute entitlement than most) because they lack or have an absence of empathy—they do not and cannot empathise.  Importantly, narcissists feature all three E’s, because there are plenty of people who may lack or have an absence of empathy who are not narcissistic.  Equally, those who are entitled may have empathy and in that case they would not be narcissistic.  And there are those who do exploit people and situations, but if they have little entitlement and they do have empathy, the exploitation will be more like influence.

The focus on humility as the one key ingredient in the quest for change is obvious.

With humility, shame is nullified, and nothing in terms of growth stands in the way of a person who cannot be shamed.  Humble people are more gripped with godly grief for their part when they do something wrong, and godly grief always instigates prompt repentance.  Narcissistic people are paralysed by shame so they cannot face the fact they could be wrong or could have done wrong.  The humble are grateful to be learning.

With humility, actually moving through change presents less barriers because each day is taken a day at a time.  With humility, a person neither thinks of themselves as better than they are or worse than they are, they have a grounded view of themselves and their challenges.  With humility, a person is less daunted by what lay ahead.

With humility, a person views themselves more objectively as a person capable of both success and failure, and if it’s failure, a humble person can and will apologise sincerely.  They will be “cut to the heart” for their wrong and will actively seek to reconcile with those they’ve transgressed.  The humble person isn’t motivated out of guilt or self-preservation to do this.  They do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Humility is the solitary empowerment for change because it’s all you need.  Everything else anyone would need to embark on and follow through with a change campaign is nested within humility.

Within the character trait of humility is every other virtue, and it’s truly the virtues that take us everywhere in life.

~

Humility is elusive.  The main reason for this is there are so many activators of entitlement, there are so many opportunities to exploit, and empathy needs to be continually nurtured.

Once a human being is given power, and quite a lot of power or ultimate power in a setting, and they keep that power for a long length of time, AND there is very little accountability, i.e., they really do not have to account for their decisions, that situation is toxic for that human, and they will almost certainly become corrupted by that power.  This is called Hubris Syndrome.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Inability to confess, apologise, repent – the biggest red flag


We who see injustice see a person do certain things that shouldn’t be done, things that could be forgiven if only they were owned, if only they were lessons to be learned.

For the person who has neither interest nor willingness in being held to account, cannot and/or will not see their wrong, and will not apologise with any genuineness of heart, they wave the biggest red flag.

Any apology will be a minimisation of the situation, a veiled justification for the context, and a platform for their own self-righteousness.  They will use the moment to promote themselves, mostly to distract and deflect, but also to look good, because nothing else is in the frame of their self-concept.  The pitiful thing is it is often believed!

They will not own the original act, because it’s an admission of fault, and apart from not being able to enter their shame because they are scared of it, an admission of fault is an admission of fallibility.  With no concept of humility, a person like this cannot apologise.

So with people like this we must have low expectations.  We can’t expect an apology that will satisfy the needs of the situation; that is a sincere enough apology that we can tell their heart is in it.

With low expectations around apology, our intent must be on another goal.

The goal certainly isn’t reconciliation, even if that is the biblical best.  With people who can’t or won’t apologise, reconciliation is a bridge too far.  One person, or one party, cannot broker reconciliation.

The goal can, however, be centred around the truth, and if we can’t broker a peace through reconciliation, surely we can broker peace through the freedom that comes from truth.  It’s a peace those who are healing opt into, just as it’s a peace the perpetrator opts out of.  Those who heal, heal because of their alignment with truth.  Perpetrators despise truth, so anyone who despises the truth, who are they?

The freedom that comes from truth is a freedom that sees us in a healed state without any hope or actuality of reconciliation.  This is because the truth shines forth.  And like the noonday sun is a beacon of light that cannot be darkened and that showers the earth with beams that show nature off, truth bears witness to a reality that speaks of the lies within the lack of apology and repentance.

Truth is its own vindicator.  The goal is to stand in the truth, and that often requires us to wait for the truth, because as we all know, the truth comes last.  But don’t be discouraged because the truth always vindicates those who are in the truth.  The truth is a perfect and an irrepressible vindication.

The inability to confess, apologise, and repent, is the biggest red flag of all.  All relationships are wise to test the bounds of apology, to assess the heart of the other to see if it is capable of the humility required to simply apologise and bear sufficient responsibility to repent.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The commonness of the fawn response in everyday life


I’m hoping this will be a massive encouragement to anyone who suffers the fawn response trigger in the face of danger.  I’m hoping to show that it is a very common response, more common than most of us would care to imagine.

We don’t think in these ways typically, but these days we acknowledge trauma responses more than ever before, which I’m personally very thankful for.  As a society, we are gaining a better awareness and grasp over these issues that are common within the fabric of our humanity.

Trauma and its responses are prevalent in all societies.

The fawn response is so common that we hardly even bat an eye when we see it.  I saw it today when I tuned in to an online church service, and saw someone on stage introduced, and the way they moved and responded to the other person was an example of the fawn response.  They were simply told to move forward a step, but because the person felt awkward being on stage, plus with another person telling them to move forward, their implicit skip of a step forward showed their fawn response – to please and appease the one they were doing it for.

Hardly anyone would have noticed it, but it looked awkward.

To be honest, we see the fawn response in so many people so often we hardly notice that it’s a trauma response.  I think it’s the most common trauma response, and it’s especially present in Christians.  Those of us who want to be kind, who want to be patient, who want to be gentle, find ourselves entrenched in a world that is anything other than these three qualities, and we find ourselves fawning.  Without a choice.  It’s instinctive.

How very sad it is that a trauma response is initiated simply through wanting to be kind and patient and gentle with people, and that it comes out most of all when people are unkind, impatient, and harsh with us.

The fawn response is the automatic reaction we give when we sense there is a threat to our safety.  And imagine that this response seeks to protect the person and serve that person who is a threat!  Imagine extending such grace to someone who would not give you the time of day.  That’s how it is with the fawn response.

You give someone the blessing of your gentle and kind and considerate nature, and they either spurn it, manipulate you, or take advantage of the situation some other way.  This is how the world works.  The vulnerable are taken advantage of.  Those who are inherently safe to be around, those who find their life purpose is to love other people sacrificially, are unsafe around unsafe people.  Because love is always manipulated and kindness is always abused by narcissistic people.

The commonness of the fawn response in everyday life is striking.

If we said that a third of the population were capable of manipulating people, and generally entered into that behaviour, you could say that another third would be fawners, and that these are the manipulated.  Those who are the godliest in society are probably most prone to being fawners, especially when we acknowledge the prevalence of trauma in all our societies.

There ought to be no shame in a person who finds themselves triggered by a manipulator that causes them to respond in submission, which does no harm to the manipulator.

But that gentleness, patience, and kindness is costly for the fawner.  They must bear the cost of knowing what it feels like to submit under aggression.  It’s demeaning.  And the manipulator not only doesn’t care about what it costs the fawner, they get some sick pleasure out of having such aggressive power and control over them.

I want to say to the fawner that you know you wish nobody any harm.

You would rather be harmed than harm.  To harm is unconscionable for you.

The opportunity ahead is simply to notice the initiation of fawning, to not judge it, to accept it as preferable over abusing a person (better to be abused than to abuse), and even to imagine that you’re being a blessing in your loving the other person despite how they may treat you.