For a few very hard years this word was my mantra.
The word means
-undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort
-undiminished in courage or valor; not giving way to fear
But the truth is, I was often dismayed by everything that had taken place, and I did battle discouragement. I battled fear and doubts. I hurt and was angry, and sometimes "undaunted" sounded more like a mockery than a mantra, and I was determined to be real about all of it in these posts, thus the name, Undaunted Reality. More than that, though, I was determined to live undaunted, not because I'm so great or strong, but because my God is, and no matter what this world looks like, He is the only reality that matters.
I pray I live the reality of Him beautifully undaunted.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Better Answer-- Part 1, The Power of Embracing Pain

After my post on the power of presence and the pain of people saying the wrong thing, I received a great email from a precious family friend. She asked what several people have asked, and the question is so important I want to address it publicly. She asked:

"In your latest post you mentioned your friends who responded to your emails in a somewhat harsh or maybe an unsympathetic way.  I'm curious and also want to be sensitive in these situations and would like to ask what would have been a better response for you at that time? "

She went on to acknowledge that different people handle loss and trauma differently, which is VERY true, so how does she know how to respond?

My answer is going to sound packed full of theology and theory, which I mostly find useless, but stick with me. I'll show you how to apply it, but first, let me give you a place to start.

Matthew 7:12 says to do to others what you would like for them to do to you.

In other words....

Take the scary step. 
Put yourself in their place for a moment.

Honestly, someone else's loss is not something we can ever truly understand. However, we can "imagine" their reality. Think about your spouse or child or parent. What would you miss? What kind of holes would there be? How would you want someone to love you? What would you want someone to say?

If your child died, would you really want someone to tell you God needed that child more than you did?

People said those things to parents whose son had drowned.

Are you shocked and mortified? You should be. Who tells a parent that?

Who tells a 13-year old, "God set your grandma free from cancer, and she is not in pain anymore. You should rejoice instead of being selfish and thinking only of yourself"?

A youth worker at our church told my daughter that.

You know what my daughter wanted to hear? She wanted to hear someone say, "That hurts so much. I'm sorry your heart hurts."
She wanted someone to sit on the floor and cry with her.


The summer after my mom and husband died we attended a family reunion, and it was HARD. I almost didn't go, and really, after the hurtful things people said, I wish I hadn't gone. 

One thing someone said to me that hit me the hardest was, "Well, it's not like Rob would have been here anyway."

I'm not sure what this person meant to accomplish with that statement, but what was communicated to me, loud and clear, was, "I don't think you should be this upset. I don't see why you are so sad. I don't see the issue. I don't see the hole you seem to think is here."

You don't see the hole?

My mom is gone. My stepdad isn't speaking to us. My brother and I don't have a close relationship. My husband I've been with my entire adult life is gone. A year ago all of those people were part of our lives, and now they are gone. My family has been reduced to my kids and me. My family as I knew it and dreamed it would be is eradicated. And you don't see a hole?

It would have been nice to hear:
"You okay? Want me to get you some more sweet tea?"
"This must be so hard. I think you are courageous."
"I miss your mom," in that voice that gets lost between the tears they are trying to keep in check and the hug they are giving you at that moment.

It would have been nice for someone to hurt with me instead of telling me why I shouldn't hurt
or how it isn't that bad.
There. I said it.
It would have been nice for someone to hurt with me.
How hard is that?
The day Mom died, I came home, and two of my neighbors came over to be with me. I had been up...36 or so hours. I don't remember. I went back to my bedroom, lay on the floor, and cried. Deena came in my room and sat on the floor beside me. I put my head in her lap and sobbed.
She sobbed, too.
"Deena, my mom died."
"I know, honey. I know."
"I just want to hear her voice again."
I could feel her body shake. "I am so, so sorry."
"I know she is out of pain, and I really am glad she is in a better place."
"But she's your momma."
Yes. She's my momma.
Folks, that person who died is a husband, a wife, a sister, a brother, a child, a parent, a friend. There is a person-size hole left where that life adventure used to be.
If you want to help that person heal, 
you have to embrace the pain.
Too many people want to stand in the afterward where it is easy and comfortable and tell the person how to get back to normal and then wonder why the person doesn't respond. The only way through the pain is through. If you want to help them on the journey through loss, you have to be willing to embrace the reality that this person could be you. You have to allow your mind to go to dark, scary places to  think of what you would need to get out. You have to let yourself hurt with the idea that loss could be yours.
You want an idea of how to help someone who has buried a spouse? Lie in your bed and imagine knowing the person who fills the other side is never coming back. Reach your hand out to the emptiness and let it soak into you. Feel that? Feel your heart catch in your chest as you let emotions wander into what most married people consider one of their worst nightmares?
Stand over the bed of your child as he or she sleeps and imagine that bed empty. Imagine dust gathering where toys or clothes or CDs gathered. Let yourself go into the nightmare.
People live those nightmares.
If you want to help--truly help--you can't be afraid of them. You have to be willing to walk right into them knowing it is scary, knowing it may shake you, could be you.
You cannot help the person through the grief unless you start in the pain.
People who are willing to embrace that kind of pain choose words wisely, act purposefully, focus on rendering aid to the hurting person, not protecting their comfort zones.
I am convinced people who toss out those seemingly thoughtless statements are not really that thoughtless. They are protecting themselves. If they can make the pain not so bad for you, then it somehow protects them. It allows them to keep their comfort zones.
People who are willing to embrace pain have already let go of their comfort zones. They've already said this isn't about them, and they have already determined their focus on the hurting person. They can tend the wounds. They can see what is really there and respond to it instead of tossing a Snoopy band aid at an amputation.
The only way to help a hurting person is to get where that person is, and that means stepping right into the pain with them.
The next question is: What do you do once you are there?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Necessary Blessings

My daughter is wheeled out of the ER, and I watch her go. I cannot go with her, so the nurse stays with me.

We wait for her to return and for the results of the CT, and we talk about the changes in medicine.

"If it is her appendix, they might be able to treat it with antibiotics," Sandra, an answer-to-prayer RN, says. "In the past, we've taken out tonsils and appendix and anything else we didn't think was necessary, but we don't do that now. We are far more conservative. We assume if it is there, there is a reason, even if we don't know what it is."

I nod. "If it wasn't necessary, God wouldn't have put it there."

She smiles. "Exactly. Who knows why that appendix is there? If it is there simply to teach her empathy, it is necessary."

The words sink deep.

"If it is there simply to teach her empathy, it is necessary."

Isn't that it? Our whole purpose on this planet? The reason for this stop in the road of eternity?

I've been one who claimed the verses of blessing, declared the prosperity of adopted status. I've been the one who said as the child of the King I am entitled to more, but the greatest of the Sons came not to be served but to serve, to give Himself, to live a life for others.

Is that not the real purpose? To become the blessing?

We pray, "Lord, use me," but we expect Him to leave our comfort zones alone.

Instead, He takes us at our word...the one that says, "Use me. Mold me. Make me what I need to be for you. Be You through me."

And He touches our jobs.
And He touches our families.
And He touches our finances.
And He touches our teenage daughters' appendix.

He sits with us through unemployment.
He sits with us through divorce.
He sits with us through bankruptcy.
He sits with us during emergency surgery in the early hours of the morning.

And sometimes things turn out the way we want, and sometimes--God help us--they don't.

And in the dark places we hit our knees,
and we can cry out,
"God, why this?"
or we can cry out,
"God, use this!"

We either become bitter because it happened to us,
we become the blessing because it happened to us.

And who knows what blessing lies in the appendix of a teenage girl on her way to get a CT scan in the early morning hours? The blessing she can't see through the tears of pain. Who knows what blessing is being deposited even as her appendix is removed?

I can't tell you for sure. All I can tell you is...

It is the necessary one.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

She kneels on my bathroom floor and gives up whatever is left of lunch to the toilet in front of her. When the stomach convulsions stop, she lies with her face on the cold floor because we all know when it comes to stomach viruses, no one understands us like the cold tile of a bathroom floor or the chilled porcelain of a toilet bowl.

But I understand.

I understand this virus is lasting around twenty-four hours, and I understand there is absolutely nothing I can do to make the roiling stomach feel remotely better. I also understand being alone in misery is more miserable, so I lay a blanket across her aching body and plop a pillow on the floor beside her. I lie close enough for my hand to touch her back. She moans but says nothing.

And we lie there.

She slips in and out of sleep, and I stay where I am.

Sometimes when there is nothing you can do to make things better, the best thing to do is just be.

My mind wanders through care bags for caregivers, Thanksgiving Day possibilities, and the hope that no one else in the house gets this bug, and as it wanders, her voice steps across my mental path. The words are weak, and the voice is tired, but I hear her heart loud and clear.

“Thank you for staying with me. You’re amazing.”

I smile and give a finger pat. “I love you, too.”

She knows, and it isn’t the words that tell her. It’s the warmth.

It’s her mom lying on a floor less than four feet from a comfortable bed because she knows the tile floor understands stomach upset in a way a pillow can’t. It’s everything else that isn’t getting done while I lie there and do nothing…except love her.

Is there anything like the paradox of love that screams its powerful active presence in its quiet, gentle being? Is there anything that affords me the opportunity to be so amazing by being so…nothing? Is there anything else in the world that shows me to be so useful when I really am so useless?

How outlandishly absurd is that?!

But it works.

And when you’re lying on the floor thanking God for cold tiles because of a stomach virus run amuck…
…or at the hospital waiting for news because things look bad…
...or staring at a life gone wildly wrong and wondering how it got that way...
…or face down anywhere else where life has left you feeling no one knows your misery or really can understand…
Love…even when it can be nothing but present…isn’t absurd…or insane…or silent.

That is when it is most amazing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Battle-Made Courage for Those Fighting the Battle

This morning I am thinking about courage.

The children and I are serving a local Relay for Life next spring. There are so many areas where we could serve, which is really what “leading” is. Leading is simply serving with an identifiable name tag.

When the opportunity to serve with Relay came up, I was surprised. Every door I have knocked on for an involved outlet has slammed shut, but this one opened right in front of me as I was walking down the hallway of life. The odd thing is we’ve participated with Relay before, and it wasn’t the greatest experience. We’ve never participated with this group, and if you had asked me what I wanted to do with my time and energy, this would have never hit the brain waves. BUT, oddly, once it popped up, I was excited.

It was not the kind of, “Thank you for the perfect thing I’ve been praying for the last forever but it is finally here,” kind of excited. It was the excitement of feeling like this is where I’m supposed to be, like there is something in me the people here need, like their world will be better because for this kairos moment in time God put me there.

So, I met with our community director Monday, and we went to the meeting last night, and the whole time I’m thinking, “I know I am supposed to be here, but really, nothing is grabbing my heart. None of this feels like me. None of this feels natural. None of this feels like breathing.”

When the meeting was over, I wondered if I had made a mistake. The kids were excited. We had ideas for theme and team themes, fundraisers, and so on. Everything seemed to be exactly what it should be, except me. I was lost.

Before we left, I took a moment to speak with our event chair, and somewhere in the conversation about dismal experiences, needing to feel encouraged, the caregivers need to be given care, and the courage it takes to take care of someone you love who may die, the answer came to me. THAT is my heart.

My heart is to care for the caregivers. My heart is to shepherd the sheepdogs. Who is taking care of the warriors who are watching over everyone else? Unless you’ve been a caregiver or a watchman or the sheepdog or the warrior, you don’t know the burden. You don’t know the responsibility.
As a caregiver in any capacity, you know how to cover others. You know how to pour yourself out so others get filled. You know how to give so others have. You know how to encourage others.

You also know how few encourage you.
There was a day a few months after my husband died when I sent a text to a few friends. It was a horrible day. Wonder Girl’s birthday had just passed. Mother’s Day was coming up, and I missed Mom horribly, not to mention it was my first Mother’s Day single, and what would have been a 20th anniversary was looming not far ahead. Plus, I had just taken an emergency medical response class, which had generated dreams of Rob dying in my arms. Needless to say, it was an emotionally battering week, worse than the typical battering, and I sent a simple text saying I didn’t think I could get out of bed that day. The response was astonishing.

The first response said, “Jerri, you have the strongest faith of anyone I know. If you can’t have faith to get out of bed, what does that mean for the rest of us?”

Another one said, “I never took you for a quitter. Guess I was wrong.”

Two mentioned the fact that I had two kids to take care of so I had better get my butt out of bed and do my job.

One told me as a Christian I needed to repent for not trusting God and questioning His ability to help me with the day.

The other one didn’t reply. I was glad.

You might be appalled at those responses, and you might think they rare. Unfortunately, I’ve talked to a lot of warriors who have given and given until they are exhausted, and in a moment of courageous vulnerability reached for reinforcements only to be shot by the people they reached out to.
Rare is the person who grabs the reaching hand and holds strong, knowing even warriors need care.

But I know.

And this morning I am pondering how to care for these warriors—how to give them a place to breathe, give them a place to refuel, give them a hand they know won’t give way. I am considering how to encourage the courageous, how to let them know I think they are amazing for the path they have chosen.
How do I take my battle scars and turn them to balm?