I had a moment. Coronavirus thoughts.

I had a moment last week.

It was a nice day and I was sitting outside reading. Usually, I would feel guilty sitting and reading in the middle of the day. But on that day, instead of feeling guilty, I paused and took a deep breath. I felt content. I felt peaceful. I thought to myself “I could get used to this. This feels like a healthy pace for our family.” 

I had a moment of acceptance. 

It was the moment that I (we) was working so hard to experience. 

It was worth all the hard work. 

I am beginning to accept the fact that I cannot work right now and probably won’t for a while. 

I am beginning to accept the fact that my kids will not go back to school and will be home with me every day for 4 more months.

I am beginning to accept the fact that I can’t meet my friends for coffee, go to the gym or go to Target without a mask.

I am beginning to accept the fact that sports have been canceled, events have been postponed and places of entertainment have shut down. 

I am beginning to accept my new reality and I am starting to see it’s beauty. 

And because of that, I feel like I can finally take a deep breath. 

I don’t want to make it sound like every moment since then has been peaceful and full of joy. As I mentioned early on in this journey, grief is not linear. I still have moments of depression. I am still trying to control my boundaries. I still have moments where I want to retreat to denial and believe that none of this is real. I have dreams about Covid-19 and I wake up hoping it’s all just a bad dream. 

But because I have worked hard and have had glimpses of the peace acceptance brings, I don’t stay in those previous phases of grief very long. I’m lured back to the place of acceptance by the comfort that it brings. 

I have spent most of my life trying to fight against and control my reality. As I have mentioned many times, so much has happened to me that I fiercely fight to secure any sense of control I can. It took me 16 years after my Liver transplant to finally accept what happened to me. When I did that, I truly became a new person. The Lisa that God created began to resurface again. 

I have never been so relieved. 

Feeling the need to control everything is a heavy burden to bear. One I was never designed to carry. 

You aren’t either. 

That is the reason I have been writing and sharing about grief during Covid-19. I want you to learn from my mistakes. I don’t want you to have to wait 16 years, 16 months or even 16 extra days to come to place of acceptance of the new reality Covid-19 has thrust upon us. Striving to control what is out of your control is fruitless and exhausting. 

So let’s keep working.

It starts by being aware. Are you reacting in a disproportionate way to a situation? Do you find yourself lashing out for no good reason? Are you struggling to get out of bed?

Name it. Name the emotion that you are experiencing. Let your reactions be your teacher. 

Claim it. Declare it. Own it. Naming your emotions and recognizing that they stem from a place of grief will greatly accelerate your healing. 

Give it a space and a place

Do you need to just vent? Find a safe person you can vent to.

Do you need to go to bed? Go to bed.

Give it to Jesus. He knows anyway. He created grief as a pathway to healing. Invite him into your process. Lay your emotions before him and surrender. 

Then move on. Do the next thing you need to do. You have given the emotion the space and place it needs, it’s time to move on – whether you feel like it or not! 

Then do it all over again. 

And again. And again. And again. 

And then soon, before you know it, you will be sitting outside on a nice day and you will find yourself taking a deep breath. You will feel grateful. You will realize that all your hard work was worth it for this moment.

The moment of acceptance. 

Because there is more,

Lisa

Do I have to get out of bed? Coronavirus thoughts.

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Over the last several weeks I have been trying to unpack the grief stages in the context of Covid-19. This week I want to take a closer look at depression.

Before I move forward, it is important to distinguish the difference between clinical depression and depression as recognized within the grief process. Clinical depression tends to be a long term battle. It’s onset can sometimes be linked to a particular event. Oftentimes it seems to overcome someone out of the blue. Someone can seemingly have a perfect life and still struggle with depression. It is often a result of a chemical imbalance and medication is helpful.

I believe we need to look at depression in the context of grief through a different lens. Depression in the context of grief is a deep sadness and despair that manifests itself as a direct result of a loss. The feelings are specifically linked to the loss experienced. Because of this difference between clinical depression and depression in the context of grief, it is important that we don’t just look at them differently, we need to deal with them differently as well.

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Let me explain.

When I meet someone who is experiencing clinical depression, I will respond differently to them than I would to someone that is experiencing depression as a result of loss. With someone dealing with long term, clinical depression, I would be incredibly graceful. I would encourage them to see a counselor. I would make sure they don’t feel any shame in taking medication. I would celebrate with them on the days they got out of bed. I would rejoice with each small victory.

But if I knew you were feeling depressed as a direct result of a loss, I would be more forthright. I would be more direct because I don’t want you to get stuck there. Depression in the context of grief can easily lead to long term, clinical depression if you don’t deal with it properly. Because I know it’s a phase and I know that God created a way out, I would challenge you to keep moving forward – to take the next steps. God created grief as a pathway to healing. Each stepping stone, each phase, is designed to bring us closer to wholeness. The stones are big enough to step on, but not a great place to rest.

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I’m willing to be wrong, but I think that as we are experiencing depression in the context of grief, we have to enter into the battle ready to fight and to not let it overcome us. I don’t mean that we ignore it or pretend that we are happy and grateful when truly our heart and mind is full of despair. We need to give it the space and place that it deserves and then move on.

We have lost so much in such a short amount of time and honestly this is just the beginning. WE NEED TO GRIEVE and we have a good reason to be sad and depressed. But decide how much space you are going to give it. Do you need a day to lay in bed? Then lay in bed for a day and then get up. Do you need to take a nap and cry? Then take a nap and cry and then text a friend to catch up. Do you need to tell someone about all the horrible things that are happening? Find a safe person. Tell them you just need to vent. Vent for 10 minutes and then move on.

But this is key, you can’t let your feelings guide your actions for long. You can’t wait to feel like getting out of bed before you get out of bed. You spend your allotted time there and then you get up, whether you feel like it or not. I HATE THIS ADVICE! It is the hardest advice that was ever given to me, but it has been the most effective. Do the next thing you planned to do, even if you feel depressed while doing so. Most of the time we just need to get out of our heads. If you don’t have plans, make some. Go serve someone. Call a friend that you know is alone. Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Watch a funny show. Go for a walk. Every time we do that, we win, the depression loses its grip on us and we are able to continue on the path towards healing.

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If you try to ignore the depression, it will consume you. But if you give it a space and a place, I think you will find that you will move through the phase much more quickly.

Right now, in the midst of Covid-19, I am vacillating between depression and acceptance.

A couple days ago I was really feeling depressed. I value feeling purposeful and my biggest struggle during this time is that I don’t feel purposeful. I’m not working. I work hard on my blogs. I write because I feel called to, but I wish I was called to something else. I really want to get a job with a non-profit, but recently I’ve felt convinced that every non-profit is probably going to run out of money and I’ll end up working at McDonalds for the rest of my life (nope, my thoughts don’t spiral at all). I had planned on walking with a friend. I walked into the bedroom and declared to Bryan “I am cancelling my plans and I am going to lay in bed for the rest of the day.” Bryan has gotten a bit used to my bold declarations over the years, so he calmly said “Just let me know what you decide to do.”

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I layed down exasperated in our bed and cried. I laid there for about 10 minutes and realized, although this is what I want to do – this isn’t what I really need. So I got up and got ready for my walk. As I was getting my shoes on, Bryan asked “You’re feeling better I assume?” I replied “Nope, but I decided I didn’t want to be depressed for the rest of the day so I’m going on a walk. Even though I don’t feel like it.”

By the time I got home from my walk, I felt like a new person. I felt refreshed and ready to enjoy the rest of the day

Friends, I could be wrong, but I’ll tell you what, I have grieved well and I have also done it horribly. These things have worked for me in the past as I have navigated my way through the depression that accompanies grief. So if you start to feel depressed, try these things, see what happens, learn from my mistakes. If they don’t help, set them aside. But no matter what you do remember that in the context of grief, depression is designed to be a phase – not a way of life.

So let’s keep on moving forward one stepping stone at a time,

Because there is more,

Lisa

How flexible are your boundaries? Coronavirus thoughts.

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Bargaining has always been a tougher phase of grief for me to recognize in my own life. When people think about bargaining in the context of grief, people oftentimes think of the “what if’s” “What if I had just gotten there sooner?” “What if I had gone to the doctor earlier?” The hard thing about that in our current context, is that outside of stocking up on toilet paper sooner, there is nothing that we personally could have done differently. Everyone I know, including myself, had no idea the upheaval that Covid-19 would cause.

But I think if we pause and look a little closer we can see how much bargaining is playing out in our daily lives. Think of bargaining as the subtle slope that starts to bring us back to reality. Denial and anger keep us outside of reality. When we are in denial we don’t believe anything has changed. Anger is just chaotic. We lash out and we don’t really even know why. All we know is we are angry and anyone who gets in our way is going to be the object of our wrath. Bargaining starts to bring us down to reality. We start to realize that yes, things have changed. We start to get small glimpses of our new reality. But as we enter back in, we try to enter back in on our own terms. We cling to the illusion that we still have a sense of control. We bargain. We make trade offs. We create boundaries.

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As I’ve slowly started to move out of anger, these are a few ways I’ve seen bargaining play out. Here are some of the bargains I’ve made.

-Even though I’m autoimmune, I won’t get Covid-19. I take really good care of myself. I will wear a mask, but only if I go to the store.

-I can’t totally isolate, so I decided to go on walks with someone outside of my immediate family each day.

-I have made a schedule that I stick to each day (I’m not working).

-I have a list of projects to finish.

These ideas and practices are not wrong within themselves. In fact they have served as helpful coping mechanisms for me over the last several weeks.

The question then is, where is the line between healthy coping mechanisms and unresolved grief that I need to process through?

For me, I’m starting to recognize the difference between the two by noting how I respond when I’m asked to step out of the boundaries I have created. Are my boundaries rigid or flexible?

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Let me give you a few examples.

As I mentioned earlier, I am autoimmune and therefore more susceptible to getting Covid-19. I may not be as cautious as some would like me to be, but I’ve created boundaries that are working for me. I still go on walks with people that are outside of my immediate family. I need the social outlet. Some people may not think that is wise and some people have told me so. How I react to people’s comments is telling. Do I respond with listening ears and a receptive heart? Or do I get defensive and angry when people question my boundaries? My response will speak volumes of the state of my grief.

If I respond from a place of anger or defensiveness, there is a good chance I feel like someone is threatening my boundaries. We cling to and defend those rigid boundaries because they have created for us a sense of control.
If I respond with grace and humility there is a good chance that I have flexibility around my boundaries. I take time to consider if I need to adjust my current boundaries (which might mean less physical flexibility) and make changes as necessary.

What about how you use your time? What if you are confronted about that? I feel like people are living in two extremes: they are so overwhelmed by everything they become paralyzed and therefore can’t do anything. Or, people are so disoriented, they can’t stop doing things. The hustle keeps them from dealing with their current reality. I tend to do the latter. I figure if I keep on moving, I don’t have to deal with the deep despair I am afraid I would experience if I slowed down. How do I respond when that is questioned?

Do I get angry and explode and say things like “at least I’m doing something?” Or do I respond and say “Yes, you are probably right, I need to take a break. I need to adjust my boundaries.”

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I would love to spare you some pain. Control is an illusion. I’ve wasted years of my life to try to prove otherwise. For a long time after my liver transplant I thought I had accepted my new reality. I hadn’t. What I had done was create a reality with boundaries that worked for me, a reality that felt safe and secure. But it was all an illusion. It was incredibly beautiful, disorienting and painful when that world crumbled. But I’m so glad it did, because I finally got to see what I had been missing all along.

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The same thing is true in our current context. As we continue on our grief journey and start to get glimpses of our new reality, it will be tempting to try to enter in on our own terms. Our natural instinct will be to create our own world that feels safe and secure, a reality that gives us the sense of being in control. That world cannot sustain us and will crumble under pressure. That world may feel safe, but don’t stay there. You will miss out. Because on the other side of grief, there is a big world waiting. It is a world that God created with all of time in his sight. It is a world full of adventure, sorrow, joy and pain. But we can have peace as we experience all those things, because we know we live in a world that God created and holds in the palms of his hands.

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Because there is more,

Lisa

You can’t control the waves. Coronavirus thoughts.

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Grief is fluid. You can’t summon it, it happens to you. You can’t control it.

Trust me, I’ve been trying.

A big part of why I write is to hold myself accountable. If I pose a challenge to others then I am much more apt to rise to the challenge myself. One of the main reasons I’m writing about grief during Covid-19 is so I will commit to grieving myself.

I have been allowing myself to be in denial, to feel angry and even feel a little depressed. I haven’t been trying to suppress my feelings. But the last several days I have found, as soon as I start feeling those big feelings, I respond with judgement. I feel the big feelings.I know what they are. I name them and claim them.

Then I judge them. I judge myself.

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It’s as if somewhere along the way I decided it was okay to feel the feelings, but only for a few minutes. After that, they are no longer acceptable.

Let me give you an example. One of my struggles over the last several weeks has been the noise level in my house. I am an extrovert and I receive all of my energy from being around people – but I’m actually not super chatty. When I’m home I love being around people, but I am content sitting in silence. That is not the case for Bryan & Piper. They both have to have music on ALL the time. Piper is extremely loud and Bryan loves to tell me every detail about his day every time he gets a break from work. Bryan has set up his office in our bedroom and we have someone living with us in the basement, so I have nowhere to escape to. Yesterday I was in the middle of writing and all of a sudden everyone decided to take a break from work and school and came down to have lunch. I had just sat down, I had just settled into a moment of silence. All of a sudden it felt like everyone was yelling. Bryan’s stirring felt loud. I could hear Cole’s chewing across the room. Every word Piper said felt like she was screaming it in my ear. I freaked out and started going on and on about how loud everyone was and I just needed a space to myself. I started to cry and ran up to my room (which was free only because Bryan was eating lunch).

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I overreacted. I had a big response to a small problem. I responded that way because my anger stemmed from a place of grief. Within moments of ascending into my bedroom, I was mad at myself – I was mad at myself for reacting the way I did. “You know better.” I told myself.

As I spoke those words to myself, I heaped judgement upon my grief.

As I shared this with a friend yesterday, she challenged me to try to respond to my grief and emotions in a different way.

What if you responded to your grief and emotions with curiosity and compassion, not with judgement and shame?

Would that change anything? 

Let’s look at the same situation. When I started to feel frustrated, instead of allowing my anger to overcome me and propel me to overact, what if I took a pause instead. What if instead of blowing up – I stepped back and asked myself gently “What’s going on? Why am I feeling this way?” Your tone as you speak to yourself is key here. Just a simple change in your voice inflection can change everything. What if I asked myself those same questions from a place of curiosity and compassion instead of judgement?

I had an opportunity to test it out today.

After lunch today I found myself sinking quickly into funk. I paused and gently asked myself what I needed. I was feeling suffocated, I needed to go for a walk. So before I could begin to spiral downwards, I put my shoes and left for my walk. I listened to a podcast, breathed the fresh air in deeply and when I got home I was ready to move on with my day.

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You see the more we try to control grief, the more it will take control of us. It is something that happens TO US and we need to learn how to ride it’s waves with curiosity and compassion – not judgement.

Not only do we need to respond with curiosity and compassion to our grief, we need to embrace its fluid nature. As our grief changes, we need to recognize our need to change our response.

One thing I have realized over the last few days is that in different phases of grief, I need different things. The first couple weeks of staying at home I really needed a schedule. I needed to feel productive. I needed to set goals for myself to meet. But as I enter into the next phases of grief I am realizing that I need different things. I am feeling depressed about our current situation. Because of that, instead of a schedule bringing me joy and purpose, when I have something on the schedule – it is actually really stressful for me. If I make a list of people to contact in the morning, the list looms over me all day and causes anxiety. Last week, if I didn’t have a walk or a call on my schedule, I felt lost and fell apart. But as I move on with my grief journey, my needs are changing – scheduling a call feels completely overwhelming to me right now.

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And as I recognize that, I need to respond to those needs with compassion – not judgement. It’s not the time to muster up all the strength I have and gut it out. It’s the time to not only ask myself questions with curiosity and compassion, but respond to myself in kind.

Friends, grief is like the waves on the ocean. As much as we would love to control their current and movement, that is not our job. Our job is to simply ride the waves. Sometimes we will be able to stand and graciously surf the waves. Sometimes we will have to sit, close our eyes and cling to dear life as the waves crash upon the shore. But however we get there, however we land, our job is to pause, wipe ourselves off with compassion and grace and prepare for the next wave to come.

Because there is more,

Lisa

Is there Me in Team? Coronavirus thoughts.

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I love team sports. I had kids so that I could be a soccer mom. Selfishly I can’t wait to host a carbo load. I love team sports because I believe that they teach kids important life lessons. I would have really benefited from being on a team.

I say that, because by nature, I am not a team player. Because of past trauma, I have a deep felt need for self preservation. My personality also feeds into that tendency. I can get really enamored with my own ideas and I hate to waste time. It is incredibly invigorating for me to come up with a good idea and just run with it.

It has never been more important than now to be a team player. In order to flatten the curve, we need to stay home. If not for us, we do it for the greater good.

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But it’s hard for me to think about the greater good when by 1:00 pm everyday I feel like I’m going to internally combust. I know it seems contrary, considering I have a suppressed immune system, but I’m really struggling to stick to the current shelter-in-place recommendations. I’m also an extrovert and an activator. I feel depression settling in when I’m home for more than 4 hours.

So the question I am asking myself is: How do I survive, or even thrive, in this season with the greater good in mind?

As I ask myself that question, I’m reminded of what it means to be a team player. I’ve heard over and over that there is no “I” or “me” in “team”. I understand what people are trying to say, but I disagree.

I say that because the thing about being on a team is that it is not about you, but at the same time it is all about you.

Let me explain.

Each player on the team has a role. In order to be a valuable player on a team you have to excel in that role. In order to be effective in that role, it is going to take a lot of work on your part. Your team can encourage you and cheer you on, but ultimately it’s up to you to do the work necessary to excel in your role on the team. The team is only as strong as its weakest link.

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So in this season, where we need to be a team more than ever, what do I need to do to excel in my role on this team?

For me….

I need to prioritize exercise. I’ve always valued exercising. But in this season, it is no longer just a priority, it’s a necessity. It stabilizes my mood and emotions. In order to be present and available for my kids I need to be in a good space emotionally. 

-I have to see one person a day that is not my immediate family. I go for daily walks with my neighbors, family and friends. We meet at a park and we walk 6 feet apart from each other. I connect with people this way so I don’t put myself or others in danger, but after I walk I’m able to appreciate my immediate family so much more. I’m just better afterwards. 

-I need to feel productive. I really value being productive, being efficient and adding value to the world. Right now, I can’t do those things in the same way I would like to, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do those things at all. I have started asking God to give me names each day of people I should pray for and for people I should reach out to. I’ve also started making lists of things to do. I even put things on there I have to do each day like “brush your teeth”. It is very type A of me, but it also shows me what I have accomplished in a day. Without this I can so easily feel like I have wasted the day away.

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Those are some things I am recognizing that I need to do to add value to the team. Without those things, I am crabby, selfish and depressed – therefore I have nothing to contribute.

What do you need to do to excel in your role on the team?

To many this mindset seems counter intuitive, selfish even. I am not saying that we do what is best for us when it is best for us. That is selfish. No I am saying, with being a team player as the top priority, what do you need to do to excel in your role? What do you need to do to be a valuable player on your team?

You can’t just ask those questions of yourself. A good teammate is always asking his or her teammates how they can help or support them. A good teammate knows that the team is only as strong as its weakest link. A good teammate knows that no matter how hard they train, their efforts will be in vain if they are the only one training.

So take a minute and ask yourself, what do you need to be a valuable member of the team? What you need will not be what I need. After you have a few answers then go to your people, your team, and tell them what you need. Ask if it is something they can encourage and support. Ask for input and adjust as needed. Then ask what they need to succeed in their role. Ask them how you can support and encourage them. Make a game plan and commit to each other as a team.

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We are playing a new game that doesn’t have a playbook. We are learning our roles as we go. We are going to stumble. We are going to step on each other’s toes. But I believe if each day we show up ready to go, prepared to excel – we will win this game.

As a team.

Because there is more,

Lisa

What does grief look like? Coronavirus thoughts.

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My hope and prayer is that we can walk through this grief journey together, in real time, so we can come out on the other side – healthy, whole and ready for whatever is next.

Before moving forward I do want to note one thing. I talk about grief as if it is linear, it is not. It is dynamic. You can vacillate between the different phases within minutes, hours, weeks or months. But for the sake of clarity, I communicate it as if it were linear. So if you find yourself going in and out of different phases of grief, there is no need for alarm.

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A lot of people ask me how to know if they are grieving. Let me share about my emotions over the last few weeks. I hope my experiences will shed light into what grief may look like and where you are at in your own grief process.

Like most people, we had felt pretty distant and un-affected by COVID-19. We went to Duluth on vacation and had a nice time. We felt relaxed about the whole thing. Then something shifted in Bryan. He became concerned. He sat me down and told me that we shouldn’t go out anymore; we needed to quarantine ourselves. He told me the Coronavirus was much more serious than we thought. I actually think I laughed at him. Then I just started yelling. When I feel out of control, sometimes I just start yelling. If you are familiar with the Enneagram, I’m an 8. It doesn’t ever work out well when people tell me what to do. I’m also a 110% extrovert and I hate being at home. I thrive when I’m social. So when he told me that we had to stay home, it was like telling me I was going to die (No drama here).

For the next couple days I kept trying to explain to him I absolutely could not stay home and he read the recommendations wrong. There is no way that we, Americans, had to be quarantined – that only happened to other people in other countries. But unfortunately, I couldn’t find any contrary evidence.

That is what Denial looked like for me.

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For others it looked like people flocking to tourist destinations in New York City on the weekend even though the city is in a state of crisis.

For others it has looked like people going on with their lives like nothing has changed, trying to ignore the reality around them.

Does any of that resonate with you?

I am no longer in denial, I’m angry.

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I am aware that all of the things I feel angry about are very shallow when you look at the big picture. But I believe this minimizing mindset is what keeps people from grieving properly. I am very aware I have a lot to be grateful for. I hold my grief and my gratitude in the same space. But I need to grieve these things, because I lost them. If I don’t grieve these things now, it will come out sideways later.

Keeping that in mind…..

I am so angry this is happening. I was substitute teaching, so I no longer have an income. I’m angry I have to figure out another job.
I am angry that I have to homeschool my children. It is on the bottom of my list of things I ever wanted to do.
I’m angry I can’t go to the gym. Not only is exercising a lifeline for me, it’s a social outlet for me as well.
I’m angry I can’t meet up with my friends. Like I mentioned earlier, I am 110% extroverted, if I am alone for more than 4 hours I get depressed.
I’m angry my daughter can’t properly transition out of 5th grade into middle school.
I’m angry my anxious daughter now has something else to be anxious about.

Do you relate to any of that? How about these?

Are you angry that you still need to go to work, while thousands of other people have the opportunity to work from home?

Are you angry that what seemed liked a secure job two weeks ago is suddenly now up in the air?

I mention denial and anger specifically because my guess is that is where the majority of us have landed so far. I will continue to process through all the steps as we continue on this journey together.

So now what? What do we do with this information? What are some practical steps to keep us moving forward through this process?

First, take a pause and evaluate where you are at. Are you still in denial? Are you still trying to move forward as if nothing has changed? Or are you feeling more quick to react, like your angry reaction is just below the surface? Are you finding yourself angry about little, stupid things?

Name it. Naming something is a huge step towards healing. Knowing what stage in the grief process you are in will greatly accelerate your journey towards healing. Being able to give language to my struggle has always helped me take leaps towards healing.

Claim it. After I got back from getting the kids’ school supplies this week, I started to cry. Bryan came and tried to comfort me. I told him, I’m just really angry all of this is happening and I need to cry for 10 minutes. I cried for about 10 minutes and was able to move on with the day.

Then give it to Jesus. You will hear me say it again and again, grief is beautiful and God created it as a pathway to healing. Ask God to join you in your journey, he will meet you there. As I cried on the floor in the bathroom, I told God how angry I was that this was all happening – but that in the midst of it all I loved him and knew that he would make good out of bad. Then I got up.

Then do it again. As emotions rise up, stop and evaluate where you are at. Then name it, claim it, give it Jesus and repeat. Your emotions will begin to change, they won’t necessarily get easier – just different. That means you are making progress. Rejoice, take a deep breath and then start the process all over again.

We are going to get through this friends. We are going to get through this together, one step at a time. .

Because there is more,

Lisa

Let’s grieve together: Coronavirus thoughts.

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As a writer I have been challenged to find my “niche”. People have access to so much information, so many stories, all the advice they ever wanted and every opportunity to be inspired. So I’ve asked myself….

Why do I write? What unique perspective do I have to offer a world who has all the inspiration and information at their fingertips?

Grief. 

Yup, grief.

I have asked God those two questions over and over again looking for a different answer. But each time I’ve asked, in my spirit I have heard him say “Speak to people about grief.”

I’ve always felt like that was such an unusual calling, but the last several days I have wondered if he has given me this passion for such a time as this.

I say that, because we have all lost so much, so fast. We have lost our world that felt safe from super viruses, rations and quarantines. We have lost our sense of normalcy, everything feels unsteady and unknown. We have lost our ability to see the people we love, in fear of making them sick. We have lost the life we had just a few weeks ago.

I have had a lot of opportunities to grieve in my life and I have not done it well. I have paid the price for that and so have the people I love. I want people to learn from my mistakes.

I want people to have a better understanding of what grief looks like in real life. It doesn’t just look like a weeping widow or a desperate mother. If you are looking, you can see in a person’s eyes or hear it in their tone. You can observe it in people’s shoulders or how they hold their gaze. If you are looking, you’ll see it all around you.

Especially right now.

The Coronavirus is still pretty new to us, so we are in the early stages of grief. Most of us are still in shock. My hope is that I can unpack the stages of grief in real time, so that we can avoid the bottled up effects of not grieving properly later.

You see, we need to experience these feelings now or they will come out sideways later.

For now, just take my word for it.

Last week I wrote about the importance of grieving. I’ve written extensively about my story (Transplant) and what grief has looked like in my life (start with Denial). I’m going to take some of those thoughts and reframe them in a way that can hopefully help us make sense of the emotions we are experiencing as a result of the Coronavirus.

But before we dive right in, I want to share a few basic thoughts I have around grief.

It’s beautiful. I love talking about grief. It is universal. Every human experiences it, whether they realize it or not. It’s completely predictable and unpredictable. God created it. He created it as a pathway to healing – a pathway to wholeness. Because God created it, he will meet us there. Grief gives us a glimpse of clarity in the midst of chaos.

You can trust Jesus and still grieve. After my transplant (Transplant) I believed I couldn’t be upset about what happened. I felt like grieving meant I wasn’t grateful. My world was black and white. When I felt sad, I felt like I was betraying God, Cheri (my donor) and her family. I was alive and someone literally had to die so I could live. What did I have to be sad about? I experienced an incredible breakthrough when I realized that I can be sad and grateful at the same time; it does not have to be one or the other.

Someone dying isn’t the only cause of grief. Grief comes after loss. You need to grieve loss. Again, I didn’t give myself permission to grieve early on because I didn’t die. In fact, it was the opposite, I felt I had risen from the dead! But I lost so much that day. I lost my life as I knew it. I lost my health. I lost my innocence. I lost my memories. I lost my body. I lost my world that felt safe and made sense. We also have all experienced a lot of loss in a short amount of time. Like I mentioned earlier, we have lost the world that felt safe from super viruses, rationing and quarantining. We have lost our jobs. We have lost our savings. We have lost our freedom to be out and about. We have lost control. And it is just the beginning.

After encountering loss, you will experience grief whether you realize it or not. That is the reason I want to start the conversation about grief now, so that as much as possible, we can navigate our feelings together in real time. Denial is the first phase of grief. It is our initial reaction to loss. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s also God’s protection. It can cause us to go into shock. It’s the adrenaline that allows us to plan funerals and give inspiring tributes in front of hundreds of people. Like I said, grief is beautiful and I strongly believe God designed denial as a protection. It allows us to get through those first few moments, few days or even months. But the problem is, a lot of people stay there. People may acknowledge their loss, but in their heart they can’t let go. They refuse to redecorate. They will not change routine. In my case, when I entered into denial – I didn’t take care of myself like I should have. I wanted to believe I still had a healthy 18 year old body. I didn’t care that I was more susceptible to skin cancer, I wanted a tan. I didn’t care that I needed more sleep, I didn’t want to miss out. Denial is designed as a defense mechanism, not a way of life. And unfortunately many of us live there, although exhausting, it feels safe. As I have mentioned, the problem with unresolved grief is that it will come out sideways later.

Unresolved grief will quickly surface in the presence of another person’s grief. There is an appropriate sadness that occurs when we hear of another’s loss. Then there is the unresolved grief response. Have you ever heard a story of someone else’s grief and all of a sudden you have been overwhelmed with deep sadness? Have past painful experiences quickly risen to the forefront of your mind as you listen to someone else’s story? It’s happened to me, more than once. The person that is sharing doesn’t even have to have a similar experience that I have had. I have tried to ignore those feelings, push them aside; I’m just being empathetic, right? Nope, these feelings are deeper. They rise up within you from a deep, dark place. Sit there, don’t ignore those feelings. Something doesn’t belong, that past experience hasn’t been processed and put in its proper place. Don’t be surprised that if in this season past pain resurfaces. I don’t know all the psychology behind it, but I do know that grief begets grief.

We are in uncertain times. We don’t have a playbook on how to navigate this. But we have been given a path, a path that brings clarity into the chaos and creates a pathway to healing and it’s called grief. God never promised that our journey would be easy, just that he would be with us on our travels. God created grief and will meet you there. You will see me there too, we are all in this together.

Because there is more,

Lisa

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Acceptance

acceptance

When I look back at my journey, the driving force behind my grief  is control. So much happened to me in a fairly short time. Over the last 18 years I have grasped to control anything I  possibly could. Jobs. My health. My reputation. My emotions. My friendships.

I was pretty good at it. I am very persistent and can be very convincing.

Then I met my match.

Her name is Piper. She is my daughter.

We had a rocky start. After my transplant, we had decided to adopt instead of having kids biologically. I was scared. There was so much unknown around my health and so many babies out there that needed homes. Then I had a dream. The dream that changed it all. I don’t remember much about the dream, but I knew that when I woke up we needed to try and have a baby. I couldn’t make a decision out of fear. I gave God a month. If I didn’t get pregnant in a month, we were moving forward with adoption.

I got pregnant.

As I have shared, my relationship with God at the time was transactional. If I was obedient, God should give me what I want. That line of thinking led me to believe that if I was obedient and got pregnant, being a parent was going to be easy.

Just in case you don’t know, parenting is super hard. And when two strong willed, feisty people create a human, it tends to even be harder.

A couple years ago we were deep in the trenches with Piper. I was working through deep resentment towards God and Piper. She was so hard. Piper was mirroring the anxiety I had spent my whole life battling and had tried so hard to hide. I blamed myself, God and her. When she wasn’t weeping, her anxiety manifested in anger and rage. We were walking on eggshells. We didn’t want to upset the beast. We sought peace at all cost. We tried all the tricks. We did all the things. Nothing seemed to be helping. Our marriage was suffering as we sought to survive the storm.

We were defeated. We didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t do it anymore. Nothing was working. It was a fight we couldn’t win.

Right around the same time, I was struggling professionally. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, but I sure knew what I wanted to do. So I pushed. I tried to control my circumstances and convince the people involved that my plan was right. On a conscience level I didn’t realize I was doing that, but I knew something didn’t feel right. I felt like I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Those around me saw beyond my arguments and confirmed what I already knew, the job was not the right fit. I was the square peg that didn’t fit in the round hole. Although in my heart, I knew it was the right thing, I was angry. I was lost.

On top of that, my friendships were changing. I had had hip surgery and recovery was much harder than we had anticipated.

Everything around me felt so out of control.

I could no longer steer my ship.

I had lost.

I was broken.

I couldn’t control my friends.

I couldn’t control my body.

I couldn’t convince anyone that I was the best one for the job.

I couldn’t change Piper as much as I tried and tried.

I couldn’t fight it anymore.

I slowly began to surrender.

I waved my white flag.

I finally accepted. I began to accept the fact that 18 years ago, my life changed forever – even though I never did anything wrong. I began to accept the fact that my body does not have the same capacities it used to have. I began to accept the fact that God never promised that we would be shielded from pain, only that he would be there. I began to accept the fact that I am going to have a lot more things happen in my life that are super hard. I began to accept the fact that I have an anxious, defiant daughter, whom I deeply love. I began to accept the fact that I am not going to always get what I want when I want it.

I began to accept reality.

I have never been so relieved. Feeling the need to control everything is a heavy burden to bear. One I was never designed to carry.

I literally felt my heart begin to melt. I felt all these layers of grief and confusion begin to shed. And with each layer, I felt lighter and lighter. The Lisa that God created began to resurface again.

I have wondered over the last couple years why these circumstances in particular brought me to a place of surrender and acceptance. I’m not really sure. After everything I have gone through, why my anxious daughter and a failed dream were what brought me to my knees remains a mystery. But I’ll tell you this-I am eternally grateful. As I continue to cease to try to control my life and everyone involved, I am in constant awe of God’s presence and provision. Breakthroughs in my faith have been accelerated. I have grown more in the last two years then I did in the previous 15. My relationships have gotten so much sweeter. I can make decisions faster and with more confidence. I can hear God’s voice more clearly and discern his path more quickly. I’m becoming more grateful and less discontent. I am becoming more graceful and less judgmental. I am much quicker to see my pride and confess my desire to control.

Acceptance is so peaceful. Fighting is exhausting.

I have said so many times that grief is designed to be a pathway to healing, not a way of life. If you allow the current of emotion that I have learned to call grief carry you, you will end in the ocean. A place of freedom, adventure and awe. But if you try to stop the current, it will bubble up and you will drown..

Do you feel like you are drowning? Look up and breathe deeply. Acknowledge that life was not what you expected. Invite God to join you. Get angry. Just make sure it isn’t pointed sideways. Bargain. Just don’t let it be your foundation in which you build your faith. If you feel depressed or anxious, don’t be afraid of it, it’s normal. But try to keep perspective on the driver behind the emotion. Seek outside help. Never feel ashamed. Then surrender. Surrender daily, Surrender hourly. Because please, learn from my mistakes…

In Matthew 16 Jesus says to his disciples “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Let me take the liberty to paraphrase…

If you try to control your life, you will lose it. But if you surrender your life to him, he will save it.

This is the end of my series on my grief journey. Stay tuned for what is next!

Lisa

Anxiety

Woman Praying In A Dark Place

Usually if I was at home, watching a movie, with Bryan-I would be okay. Not this time. None of my tricks were working. I was curled up in the fetal position. Sobbing. I had never felt so desperate. At the time, there was a popular worship song that had repeating lyrics that said “I, I, I’m desperate for you.” In that moment I thought, “This is what it feels like to truly be desperate. All those times I had repeated those words were just lip service.”

It was the end of a 5-day mission trip. I had taken 8 girls to an Indian Reservation and all of sudden I felt sick. I was exhausted and I was sure that I was going to throw up. I ran to bathroom and nothing came out. I began to panic. I had a full out panic attack in front of hundreds of people, and I didn’t stop panicking until we arrived home. Four hours later. I have never been so embarrassed.

I would find myself rushing home to curl into a ball and cry in between meetings. And just as I would reach to my phone to call and cancel my next meeting, I would somehow muster enough strength to get up and make it through the next hour.

Anxiety.

It all started when I was asked to travel for work. When I first heard that I would be gone for two weeks for training in Colorado, I was excited. But the closer that I got to the date of departure, I found myself feeling really hesitant to go. My “what ifs” spoke louder and louder and I became very anxious about the trip.

I went on the trip. I survived. I did it, but it was hard. And I came back different. Something shifted in me. Life all of a sudden felt less certain. I felt a lot less safe. I found myself a lot more cautious. Up until that point I had prided myself in how independent I was. That was no longer the case. All of a sudden, I really liked being with Bryan. A lot. Okay, all the time. He was my rock. He was my safe place.

I had dealt with separation anxiety as a kid. We moved to the Twin Cities when I was 12. Everyone was worried that I would react poorly. I did great and it was almost as if I was miraculously healed. For years I lived with no fear. I traveled all over and made bold, risky decisions. I didn’t even experience anxiety for several years after my transplant. After the suddenness of my transplant, no one would have blamed me at the time if I put myself in a glass container and stayed home for at least a year.

But it wasn’t until 5 years after my transplant that it hit me. It really caught me off guard. It took the wind out my sails. It cost me a job that I loved. It cost me relationships. It cost me credibility. It was an incredibly painful time in my life. It wasn’t just painful for me, it was very painful for Bryan and those around me.

Before I move on, I want to clarify something. I am over simplifying my anxiety for the sake of making my grief journey relatable and understandable. My anxiety is much more complex than I am making it sound. Although I do believe that where I was at in my grief journey was the catalyst to re-introduce my anxiety, I also strongly believe I am predisposed to anxiety and have a chemical imbalance that is also at play.

In the midst of all the pain, I kept wondering, “Why now? Why not five years ago when everyone would understand?”

I wish I could tell you with great confidence why I didn’t struggle with anxiety 5 years earlier when it would have felt acceptable. I don’t know exactly why taking a trip, when I generally loved to travel, was the tipping point for me. I don’t know for sure, but I think I understand at least a part of it…

Life had become a bit more normal. It became more predictable. I didn’t feel like I was at death’s door anymore. Bryan and I were married. I was doing what I felt like God had created me to do. I was growing up. I was still angry at times and I continued to bargain with God, but I actually kind of felt like a normal person, doing normal things.

It was no longer just about what happened in the past or what I wanted God to do in the future. I was here. I was alive. And for the first time in a long time, I thought that it was going to stay that way.

I was here…

I was alive….

It seemed like it might stay that way….

That felt very unsettling.

For years I had spent my energy outside of my currently reality. Denial had allowed me to believe that things were not different, I could stay in a world that had not changed. Anger had pushed my emotions out on to the people I loved. It wasn’t about me. Bargaining with God gave me an illusion of control. It kept me in the future.

Anxiety anchored me to today.

anchor

An anchor is designed to secure your position. It’s designed to keep you in place no matter what is going on around you.

Before I knew it, I found myself anchored to anxiety.

I felt it. I experienced it. It had an all-consuming grip on my reality.

And while I could write a whole blog, even a whole book, about anchors, I will spare you a sermon, and maybe years of heartache. Anxiety hooks are deep and ruthless. I can guarantee your position will be secured. I’m still digging myself out.

I know I don’t belong in denial, which made me long for the past. I don’t belong to anger because it allowed me to ignore my today. I don’t belong in bargaining because it kept me trying to control my future. But I also don’t belong anchored by anxiety today.

Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”

That is where I belong. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not today.

Anchored in hope. Anchored in forever.

This has been a long journey for me, one I am still on. But these days in those moments where all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry, God has given me a new song to sing. It has taken me awhile, but I’m finally starting to whisper……

I have this hope                                                                                                                                   As an anchor for my soul                                                                                                                    Through every storm                                                                                                                             I will hold to You

Anxiety is not for the faint of heart my friends. May God give you a new song….

Lisa

 

Ps. Traditionally people recognize depression as the 4th stage of grief. The woman that coined the 5 stages was referring to people that were on their deathbed. The more I have researched I think that there is something to be said about that it would make sense for people to feel depression with a hopeless diagnosis. People who have experienced loss and have to create a new reality may experience higher levels of anxiety as they try to make sense of their new world. I identify anxiety as my 4th stage of grief. Just a thought…

Bargaining

letsmakeadeal

Bargaining is a time of grasping. You are grasping for things to be what they once were. You reach for any sense of control you can find. You are no longer blinded by your anger and reality begins to surface.  Being in the present is too hard. You fruitlessly reach into the past and beg to change things, “If I had just done this..” “If we had not gone on that walk..” Or people look to the future, “If you just make my mother better, I will be a good person for the rest of my life.” The present reality is too hard, so we either reach forward or send our gaze backwards.

As I have read about grief, people say that often times bargaining is the shortest phase in the grief cycle. Some people don’t even include bargaining in the grieving process. When I started looking at my own grief journey I thought for a moment that I had bypassed that phase.

I was very wrong.

My bargaining was not the shortest phase in my grief cycle and I certainly did not bypass it.  No, I bargained hard. I dove in deep and stuck in it for the long haul.

The problem was that the one that I was bargaining with was the creator of the earth and sky. My odds were stacked against me from the beginning. Even knowing that, my hardened heart approached the throne of grace.

I had demands.

It sounded like a lot like this. “If you love me, you will not let things like this happen again (reaching forward). I am a faithful follower. I have always done what you asked, crazy things even (reaching into the past). I will continue to follow you on my terms. You must protect me in the way that I feel protected. I will take care of myself and you can fill my life up with blessings. I have done my share of suffering. Take it or leave it. That is my deal.”

Let me spare you of YEARS and YEARS of heartache.

We don’t get to bargain with God. At certain places in my faith journey, hearing that would make me mad. If you are there, know that I have been there. I’m with you. I get it. Please continue to read and learn from my mistakes.

I spent 16 years bargaining with God (in fact, I’m still pretty good at it).  Bargaining with God became a key pillar of the foundation of my newly rebuilt faith.

In Words, I talk about a conversation I had with a friend. The condition of my heart and the innocent question he asked turned into a perfect storm that shattered the faith I had built my life upon. I was grieving, bargaining with God, and rebuilding my faith at the same time. It was not a good combination.

Let me explain.

My faith crumbled within the first year of my transplant. I couldn’t handle it all. The God I knew was good and safe. He loved me and I loved him. That had all suddenly changed, yet the depth of faith that I had wouldn’t let me walk away from God. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, things were different. I had come to the bargaining table and freely shared my demands.

My demands became the foundation on which I rebuilt my faith on. IF you protect and bless me-the way that I want you to, then I will follow you.

Matthew 7:24-27 says “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In that season of rebuilding, I read the bible. I read these particular verses many times. In fact I got a double major in bible and ministry. I had read the words, I knew God that never promised that we would be without struggle. I knew that I should expect suffering. I knew that in my mind, but not my heart. And whether we realize it or not, the foundation upon which we build our faith is based on the condition of our heart, not the words we speak.

 Needless to say, my house crashed a lot.

I have had some really hard things happen to me since. And because I built my faith on the idea that if I took care of myself and continued to follow Jesus, he would protect me in the ways I wanted and bless me in the ways I wanted. But then something bad would happen that was out of my control and my faith would crumble. I couldn’t accept the reality that bad things would happen, so I would reach into the past. I would remind God of all the things I had been through and how faithful I was. Instead of sitting in acceptance, I would reach into the future and think,  “Okay God, lets try this again. This is the last time. Next time I’m serious, I’m walking away.”

Unfortunately, God doesn’t work like that. When it comes to bargaining with God, we don’t get to set the terms.

Isn’t that truth so unsettling?

That is the thing that I hate the most and love the most about God – he’s in charge.

Like I mentioned earlier in my post, I bargained with God for 16 years. I built my faith upon the truth I was willing to accept, even though it never worked. Trusting God fully again felt too scary. I didn’t care that my house continued to fall, at least I felt in control as I built it back up again.

About two years ago a few things happened (which I’m sure I’ll share about soon) and my heart began to melt. My bargaining chips had never really worked and I was exhausted by continuing to build my house back up. I gave in and approached the throne of Grace. I did not come with terms or stipulations for my faith. I came broken and humbled. I accepted the truth.

God may never protect me the way I want him to. Really hard things are probably going to happen to me. God never promised that I would be safe.

But when I met him there he reminded me of his truth.

He reminded me that he is on my team. He reminded me that he will make good where there is bad. He promised that he will carry me when things are hard. And that he will protect me, but not necessarily in the way I want.

I began to rebuild my foundation. Not on my terms, but on the truth. I take one step forward and two steps back. But I know from years of experience that if I don’t build my house on the truth of God’s word, I will continue the cycle of crumbling and rebuilding. It’s exhausting.

Let me encourage you. Since I have accepted these truths, my faith has accelerated. I have had more breakthroughs in my faith in the last year then I have had in 20. The lies that I had believed created a barrier between me and God. I am truly becoming a new person.

I encourage you to take note. Take note of when your faith begins to crumble. What truths have you built your house upon? If they are not from God, I promise-your house will crumble.

The good news today is that God’s not leaving his throne of grace. In fact, he is graciously waiting for you there. He is there waiting to remind you of the truth. The truth that life is going to be hard and that a lot of times there is nothing you can do about it. The truth that protection will look different than you want. His purpose is not to make you feel safe. But he will also remind you that makes good in the midst of the bad. And even in the midst of your pain, he will remind you that his is on your team. And then he will help you start to rebuild. And together as you walk in the truth, you can rebuild your foundation.

Because there is more,

Lisa