Grief and Gold

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Last week, April 14th marked eleven years since my brother Jeffrey passed away. Each year that has come and gone has taught me grief cannot be calculated, expected or pushed around. Grief comes and goes as it pleases and rarely gives you any kind of notice as to how she might arrive.

Some times she rolls in like a wave, moving in perfect rhythm to your favorite sad song. Some times she floats in like a whisper, causing you to close your eyes and reverently remember. Other times she bangs and crashes in like a drunken and unwelcome relative who holds little respect for your boundaries. You feel overwhelmed by her abrasive presence and, although part of you wishes to accept her, you really just want her to get the hell out. Whatever way grief chooses to arrive, I’ve learned to open the door widely and create an open space for whatever expression she needs. I’ve learned not to judge her but to honor her voice for the importance it holds.

Last year, on the ten year anniversary of my brother’s death, the drunken and unwelcome relative version of Grief visited me. The whole day, my soul felt raw and ached in all the deep places. All the memories of my brother and that dreaded day he died washed over me anew and fresh. My insides felt bruised and tender as if the blow had just happened. I spent the whole day doing all the self-care things I needed to do: I called family and reminisced all the old stories; I allowed the tears to flow – whenever/however; I enjoyed a cold glass of chardonnay in the sun with my sister while we remembered together; I read beautiful poetry and Bible verses that bring me comfort. Grief needed a spacious place and so I consented.

This year was much different. This year Grief was more like a quiet whisper. Throughout the day, she quietly and softly tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Do you remember?” And I did. I remembered his green eyes, radiant smile and the contours of his hands. I remembered how he was the master of laughter in our home. I remembered how I looked up to him for comfort and protection whenever my parents weren’t near by. I remembered the first parent-less ride in the car he took Kara, Brent and I on after he got his license on his sixteenth birthday.

As Grief gently yet persistently asked me to remember, I also remembered the harder moments. I remembered all the years filled with heated discussions and tense arguments he had with my parents about the trouble he was getting into at school. I remember what it felt like to sense I couldn’t trust what he said to me… I didn’t know what was true. I remember seeing his insecurity and the need for affirmation buried deep in his emerald green eyes. I remember the very first time I ever stepped into a prison to visit him. I remember his tear streaked face as he confessed his heart-break to me over years of self-destructive decisions. Yes Grief… I remember.

After so much time, the one thing my mom and I talked about over the phone this year on his anniversary is the sadness you feel when life goes on and the people in your life no longer remember him. It’s not sad because they should remember him, but because you wish they could remember him. Beyond our family, his memory fades because so many of the people in our life now never even knew him. It’s a part of our lives that very few people still share. And so we just hold a space for Grief to occupy that reality.

Today I am mindful of these beautiful words by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Even though Grief still visits me, and always will, this year I find myself especially grateful and thankful for my brother’s life. I personally experienced so much pain because of my brother’s story – every single one of us in our family did. From that pain, my own story took deeply painful twists and turns I could never have foreseen: an eating disorder, an abusive relationship, a wandering and shame-filled identity for years and years. During those seasons in my life, I felt deeply saddened by how my brother’s life negatively impacted mine. But with time and healing, I’ve found beauty in the process God allows us to walk through. Yes, I still experience Grief over the loss of my brother and the pain my brother experienced in his life on this earth. But I also hold a deep well of gratitude for the gifts my brother’s life and death has brought me, even in the midst of a broken reality:

He gifted me with a thirst for quirky humor and soulful laughter when I would have taken life much too seriously all on my own.

He gifted me with a longing and ability to be able to look past our skin-deep exteriors and see the gold and the beauty that lies within each person.

He gifted me with a compassion for those who are wounded, silenced, stuck, over-looked, numb, pretending and feel like they’ll never be enough.

He gifted me with a real-life picture of how God is truly ABLE to redeem our scattered and torn apart lives here on earth.

He gifted me with the chance to see exactly how beautiful, strong and resilient God made me to be.

This is the treasure. This is gold. I’m holding these gifts close to my heart and I’m thanking Grief for visiting me. I’m thankful for the chance to be able to see a glimmer of how God moves us through Grief to get to the Gold.

If Grief is visiting you or someone you know, I hope you can be encouraged and reminded today that our only job is to open the door widely to her and see where she might be pointing us towards the Gold.

From my heart to yours,

~Audi

Soul Whisperings

Offer… Return… Listen.

When I get still and listen, that’s what I hear: Offer… Return… Listen.

When I look outward… Things get foggy. And inevitably I start hustling for my worth. Not on purpose, mind you, but because I was made to be connected to my Creator. Looking outward, no matter how innocently it begins, has a tendency to put my eyes on human comparisons, numerical production, and impossible perfection in nearly every realm. All of this pulls me away from my Creator. I forget what I’ve heard, I forget the two-square-feet where He’s placed my feet, and I ultimately forget my true self.

When I turn inward… when I get small enough to return to my Creator and listen, the fog lifts and things become clear. A deep inner calm wraps around my insides, like a faux fur blanket for my soul. I’m sure of what I’ve heard, I remember the holy two-square-feet where He’s placed me, and I know my true self.

We live in an insatiable world, with an insatiable appetite for the next big thing. On the contrary, we serve a God who satisfies all our desires with good things and who created us and said, “It is very good”.

So, as a creative, as a mother… how do we keep creating, teaching, being from a true place? How do we keep showing up and participating in sending up our offerings as an act of worship to the God who made us?

And I just keep coming back to slow and steadyBit by bit.

I send out my offering… I return to the One who calls me… And I listen for His whisperings.

I don’t want to be the next flash in the pan in our modern era, but a child of God who answers His call to be his hands and feet with a resounding “Here I am. Send me.” I want to be someone who is steady and true and trustworthy with what He has put in my hands. And honestly, this entire steady-stance in and of itself keeps me returning, because it’s not in my natural nature. Instead, I tend to be an “all or nothing” type of personality. Yes, you can read into that and say patience is a challenge for me. Practicing this rhythm is a practice in and of itself.

In the writing world, “they” the experts tell us to be on social media daily, to produce profitably. But when I try for this, when I put the pressure on myself to create at a pace that gets its cues from an outside voice…. I burn out. Listening to “they” tends to lead me to a place that feels a little bit like Soul Death.The whisperings in my soul tell me something else. Something echoing freedom.

The whisperings in my soul tell me something else. Something echoing freedom. So maybe my rebellious act in this world, in this season of my life, is to not listen to the experts but to listen to my soul. That whispering voice that tells me to slow down, to return, to listen and offer from a place that is rooted and grounded in His love.

So where does this leave me?

This leaves me walking out a rhythm with palms up, eyes fixed and heart content with small and simple. Tending to my soul means trusting that as I listen, God will make my paths straight. Trusting that what He has for me is good. Trusting Him to grant me peace in the places He invites me.

Turn up the Soul Whisperings and turn down the noise… I hear freedom.

What soul whisperings do you need to honor? Do you need to rebel against what ‘they’ say? How can you set aside time to listen to what God is saying to you?

Coffee with Jesus

In this journey of reclaiming our soul voice, it’s not about simply learning to be loud or learning to be confrontational or direct. And we don’t want to mistake finding our voice for an excuse to become overly focused on ourselves. Being on this journey, holds far deeper meaning.

It’s about healing the broken parts inside of us so our soul voice can be brave, strong and free. It’s about learning to be in touch with who God made us to be and then living from the fullness of that beauty. It’s about silencing the lies we’ve believed and, instead, allowing His truth to rejuvenate us at our core. It’s about trusting God to love us and use us exactly how He’s made us. It’s about perfect love casting out fear.

But how do we do all of this? I’ve learned this can only happen through our own personal encounters with the Holy Spirit.

The small, still voice had interrupted me before. I had heard it whisper to write my story at a time when I was wondering what my purpose was. I had heard it whisper to hold on, you’re not alone at a time when I was disrupted by suicidal thoughts. I had heard it whisper to go on a radical journey of self-love at a time when I could not love myself.

Amidst all the cacophony of noise in my soul I knew, beyond doubt, that this voice was true. This voice was leading me towards wholeness and peace. This voice was saving me.

So when our church challenged us to be still and pray fifteen minutes a day, I was IN. Each morning, I set my alarm early – really early – to ensure some quiet before my kids woke up. I’d pour a piping hot cup of coffee, tip toe over to my favorite chair, wrap up in my faux fur blanket and I’d sit. Coffee in one hand, iPhone (opened to Notes) in the other. And I’d wait. I waited until I heard that still, small voice begin to speak to me. Some days I’d have to wait longer than others, depending on the noise in my head. But eventually, I’d hear.

My child…

Do not be afraid…

I am with you…

Trust me…

Put your hand in mine…

I love you…

Because self-doubt is second nature to me, every once in a while, I’d wonder if what I was hearing was actually God. But then I’d remember a simple explanation I had learned: the Holy Spirit sounds like our stream of consciousness in our head, but it speaks only what is good, lovely, encouraging, convicting and true. In essence, this voice produces what is known as “the fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

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Bit by bit, morning by morning – coffee in one hand, phone in the other – I’d hear truth. Truth about who I was and who I was not. Truth about where I had been and where I was going. Truth about my pain and how I was healing. I’d imagine Jesus sitting in the chair next to me, I’d imagine him looking at me and it always came back to those eyes. Those eyes that loved me tenderly, deeply – ever FOR me. I’d type down what I’d heard and let it sink into my soul. If something was weighing on me that day, I’d ask what he thought about it. Drip by drip, my “coffee with Jesus” moments breathed life into me when I was in a season of feeling entirely breathless.

Have you ever stopped to be still and just listen?

Looking Upward

Was I ever going to be able to get out of this pit? Was I always going to feel buried by shame? Was I ever going to be able to experience freedom?

I remember, I had gotten to a place of being able to fully acknowledge the presence of my soul wounds. I had acknowledged them. But it wasn’t easy. Every day I was desperate to get out doors to run, just to process the broad range of my emotions – anger, sadness and grief. I knew the process was necessary – I couldn’t live like I had been – but I was feeling fearful of having to clean out my wounds. As I ran down the boardwalk on one particular morning, I prayed for God to meet me in my pain and fear.

Then a picture came to my mind.

I was trying to climb my way out of an impossibly deep, sandy pit. I envisioned myself trying to climb out, but my attempts being of little use. I was overwhelmed by the height I needed to climb in order to be free. Every time I began climbing and clawing, the sand just kept giving way. There was no possibility I was going to get out on my own. Then I looked up – past the wall of sand – toward the bright, blue sky. And there was Jesus. Reaching and extending his arms down to me. I locked my arms with his and looked up into his eyes, as he said, “Keep your eyes on me”.

That vision was one of the gifts that carried me through the intensely challenging season of dealing with my ‘stuff’. There is no question – it is difficult to truly look at our wounds. But if we want to heal, we can’t just coddle our wounds and wish them away – we must clean them out so they can truly heal. This vision reminded me that Jesus was WITH me and He was promising to pull me from the pit I had been stuck in.

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Along the way, we might freak out and feel full of fear that we’re never going to make it (I sure did). But that’s exactly when we must practice looking at Jesus, rather than the mountain we’re trying to climb. This reminds me of the story of Peter from Matthew 14:22-33, when he got out of the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus. Even Peter had a moment of freak out. David Benner writes about Peter:

While he (Peter) had the courage to step out on the waters at Christ’s bidding, he also experienced the terror of beginning to sink when he looked at the waves rather than Christ. – From The Gift of Being Yourself

If we are going to make it through this difficulty of getting to the root causes of our pain, shame, smallness and voicelessness, then we are going to have to keep our eyes on Jesus. I love the Message’s version of Hebrews 12:2-3 where it says:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Have you ever felt stuck in a pit before? How can you begin to practice setting your eyes on Jesus instead of your mountain?

When a Single Moment Changes Everything

A single moment can, in fact, change everything.

Sounds like a line from a movie trailer or a cheesy motivational slogan, right? When we are living out a healing season in our life, it usually comes as more of a bit by bit process. It’s a string of “Aha” moments strewn together that creates the whole. But what if I told you that one single moment DID in fact change everything for me?

My therapist, Elaine, and I had spent a few intense sessions digging into why it was so hard for me to hold compassion for myself. Why was I so on the hook for all of the mistakes from the past – mine and everyone else’s? Why should I have ‘known better’? Why was there so much disgust and hostility towards myself? As we would talk, we’d get a little movement here, a little there as far as processing some of my pain. But when asked what I thought about myself amidst the mistakes and the hurts? I literally could not hold any compassion for myself. Zero. It was as if I had put myself on death row, considering myself guilty of every crime in the books. I was ready and willing to sacrifice myself on the alter of humanity. Looking back on this view point now, I can see I was operating from a place of not truly believing Christ’s sacrifice to be enough for me. And I needed to pay.

Elaine suggested we try a specific therapy method that would help me re-process my pain – hopefully leaving me with the emotions, understanding and perspective I needed to move towards health. Amidst her modern method, Elaine invited the Holy Spirit to guide us and meet us in our process. She asked me to close my eyes and sit with all of my past mistakes, hurts and pain. Then she directed me to ask God what He thought of me in regards to all of it.

As I closed my eyes, I saw myself as a small girl, around the age of eight years old. I was small, lanky and blonde, wearing a pale pink dress that hit my legs mid-calf. I was standing in a wide open field, as dry and as flat as one can imagine. I was all alone in the great expanse. Out of no-where, an enormous tidal wave of water swept over me in all it’s furry. It knocked me over and consumed me in an instant. I knew this picture represented me being up against our family struggles, my feeling not good enough, being lonely in my younger years, and the narcissistic/abusive treatment I had experienced.

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The next imagery I saw was of Jesus, holding me like a sick child. His eyes were full of tenderness as He looked at me and gently said: It was all just too much for you. He set me down and knelt down to remove the impossibly heavy ball and chain around my ankle, which I hadn’t noticed was there. He stood up and let me touch the scars on His wrists. He said: I know what it is to be wounded… I understand your pain and fear, and I promise to help you heal. You don’t have to carry it any more.

When I opened my eyes, Elaine’s eyes held mine. We sat in silence together, honoring the enormity of the burden that had just been lifted. I whispered into the silent room, “It was all just too much for me.” Tears rolled freely down my cheeks. For nearly ten years I had been weighed down and had beat myself up for all the pain. I had to, because all I could see was God looking at me with eyes of anger and disappointment. But this?

This changed everything.

My God – who I usually experienced looking at me with eyes of judgement, anger and coldness – just met me in my desperate need with eyes of tenderness, understanding and love. He arrived to me, personally, in the midst of my brokenness and released me of the weight I had been bearing for so long.

I had experienced a personal paradigm shift in how I viewed God and how He viewed me.

And. This. Changed. Everything.

If you were to close your eyes and imagine Jesus sitting with you… What would His eyes look like? Do you believe, like me, that He’s looking at you with anger or disappointment? Or maybe you don’t imagine Him looking at you at all, as if He’s forgotten about you? Does this exercise give you any indication of what might need healing in your relationship with Him?

Mended

Tonight, I’m very simply sharing the lyrics to the song ‘Mended’ by Matthew West. My two tiniest loves have been dueling throughout the last few nights, including tonight already, so I have to wave the white flag and change my posting plans.

I’ve had a few people reach out to me recently, asking if I’d heard this song before. I hadn’t… but I’m so glad I was encouraged to listen. I’m literally in the middle of writing a post (I hope to share with you tomorrow) very related to these words. It’s about when we finally see how Jesus sees us – that He sees us through eyes of love amidst our pain, brokenness and all – it literally changes everything.
Enjoy my friends! ~ Audi

Mended
How many times can one heart break?
It was never supposed to be this way
Look in the mirror, but you find someone you never thought you’d be

Oh, but I can still recognize
The one I love in your tear stained eyes
I know you might not see him now, so lift your eyes to me

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I’m not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

You see your worst mistake
But I see the price I paid
There’s nothing you could ever do, to lose what grace has won

So hold on, it’s not the end
No, this is where love’s work begins
I’m making all things new
And I will make a miracle of you

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I’m not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

I see my child, my beloved
The new creation you’re becoming
You see the scars from when you fell
But I see the stories they will tell

You see worthless, I see priceless
You see pain, but I see a purpose
You see unworthy, undeserving
But I see you through eyes of mercy

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
You’re not too far gone
You’re one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I’m not finished yet, no
When you see wounded, I see mended

Ooh, I see mended
Woah, oh I see mended
I’m not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

Songwriters: Matthew West
Mended lyrics © Atlas Music Publishing

Into the Deep

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A few months after my 4th of July breakdown, I experienced a moment of break through that empowered me and brought me a breath of life. I had spent the in-between months trying to see and understand why I had been making myself small in life, why I had deemed myself unworthy of love and belonging.

Our family was up in Oregon at our family lake cabin. The majority of our family and extended family had decided to go swimming at the communal swim dock in another part of the lake. While everyone else was in the water having fun, I sat in a chair on the dock disheartened because I had forgotten my swimsuit. I guess I would be a cheerleader and observer from the sidelines today. I felt my heart sinking deep in my stomach. Isn’t this how it always goes? Me sitting on the sidelines, watching, while everyone else fully lives?

I watched Harper scream with delight as Jeremy threw her into the lake. I felt my soul sinking down into the deep, dark pit of hopelessness. For a moment, I fully embraced the storyline of me being a mom who wasn’t any fun, who did her duty to care for her family but never engaged in the party. I felt trapped and incapable of playing any other role.

Having perceived what I was feeling, Jeremy walked over to me and said, “Remember what Elaine has been saying: don’t allow yourself to be small. You still have a choice here.” Elaine was my therapist and in our previous session she had challenged me to find moments where, when all I want to do is be small and fade into the background, that I choose to practice doing the opposite.

Instead of living out a life contract of “miserable victim”, I had a choice to make. I stood up and called to Harper to join me at the edge of the dock. “Do you want to jump in with me?” She studied my face to see if I was serious. When I raised my eyebrows and smiled in confirmation, her eyes sparkled and a smile swept over her face – “Yeah!” I grabbed her hand and we counted together, “One…two…three!!!” And there I was in the deep end of the pool with all of my clothes on.

David Benner says this about going on our soul journey:

Hear God’s call to a deep personal encounter as an invitation, not a reprimand. It is an invitation to step out of the security of your boat and meet Jesus in the vulnerability and chaos of your inner storms. It is an invitation to move beyond objective knowledge to personal knowing. It is an invitation to truly know God.

This is the choice we all have in front of us. Will we stay in our boat or will we brave the deep waters?

The confines of our boat offer us a certain kind of security and comfort. It’s where we’ve been able to rely on ourselves or the things around us to keep us afloat. It’s where we’ve known much about God and have forgotten who we really are. The boat is where we’ve been small, bound and voiceless.

Stepping out into the deep waters takes courage and faith that God will meet us in our need and carry us. It’s the scary place where we leave behind the security of who we think we are or who we have been until now. The deep is where we break contracts we made with ourself years before. It’s where our true self is revealed to us and where we were meant to thrive. The deep is where we get to know God personally and intimately because we are trusting Him to help us walk and not sink. There is no safety net other than a God who is ever so closely abiding with us. The deep is where we find our fullness, freedom and voice.

When I jumped into the water that day, clothes and all, I knew it represented more than a mere “carpe diem” moment. I knew I was committing my soul to the deep. To the things God wanted to reveal to me and restore in me as He journeyed with me in reclaiming my soul voice.

I’m believing your invitation into the deep is simply awaiting your ‘yes’.

Where do you find yourself living today? In the boat or in the deep?