The Spiritual Path of Grief and Growth

An excellent article by Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor of New Life Church, on the importance of grief in the process of growth.  “Hope is real. It is available. And it always prevails.”

The Spiritual Path of Grief and Growth

The tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., 12 years ago that resulted in the loss of 12 students and a teacher is eerily similar to the tragedy we experienced 65 miles south at New Life Church in December 2007.

A troubled young man came on our church campus after our morning worship services and killed two of our teenage girls, injuring her father and wounding another woman, before taking his own life in the hallways of our church.

We know the pain of the Columbine families and we know what it feels like to pause each year afterward and remember, mourn again and pray. Our lives continue while the lives of others were cut short by senseless violence. How does a school, a church, a community or anyone move through a dark valley like that?  Continue reading…

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Noticing the Small Victories


Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I visited a new chiropractor and x-rays were part of the exam.  I noticed a quizzical look on his face as he reviewed the films.  It wasn’t my spine that gave him pause, it was these spots on the film making him wonder if there was something wrong with the equipment—he then asked me if I had any metal in my shoulder. Oh yeah, I guess there is, “Shrapnel”, I said, which didn’t seem to give his quizzical look any relief.

I try not to go into the whole story if I can help it—it can make people feel uncomfortable and awkward. However, if they ask, I tell them about our miracle, especially when it is right there, on film.  It has always been a miracle, but the trauma attached to the miracle brings a lump to my throat or a catch in my stomach, so sharing as at times been difficult, especially with strangers.

The small victory is that yesterday, it was simply a matter of fact, no deep breaths or momentary “catch”, I hadn’t even given it a thought until he asked. Trust me, this is unusual since I can still remember feeling uneasy about metal detectors at the airport (which proved to be no big deal) and sometimes routine medical questions at a check-up can leave me uneasy. Like when a nurse inquires about body piercings because of tests like MRI’s, saying, “we have to ask because it can rip metal out of your body”—yah, that kind of thing stays with me for a few minutes.  Fortunately, I have not needed an MRI, so we will just cross that bridge should the occasion arise.

Yesterday was just the story of a miracle. Though brief, it left an unmistakable impact; he was speechless, yet, not from discomfort, from awe. Looking at the films, looking at me—yes, a miracle indeed, which is a good reason to stop and really drink it in.  And victory for me, to boot!  I love how God’s goodness touches so many places all at the same time.☺

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Responding to Tragedy

I took this photo of an Omaha sunset in 2008

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The grievous shootings in Omaha and Tucson are deeply saddening, families have been devastated and precious life taken. Walking into church on Sunday it was on my heart and mind, the emotions overwhelming as we prayed for all those involved.  It will take months, if not years for these communities to process the shock, grief, and lost sense of security.  A grocery store parking lot, a high school, these are places we cannot imagine feeling unsafe as we navigate daily life.

In the midst of the deplorable politicizing that sullied the tragedy in Tucson, is a remarkable story of a family in Omaha. Samantha Flynn, now 16, has been touched by tragedy twice at such a young age. Her resolve to heal and live life with a positive outlook is exemplary. Honestly, I didn’t think much about her three years ago when she lost her mother to violence at the tender age of 13—we endured similar circumstances just days later with our own 12 and 16-year-old daughters.  We understand the long road of recovery and our prayers go out to Samantha and her father, who face it yet again.  Their grace and courage are inspiring.

Long after the media has moved on to the next headline, the families of these two communities will be adjusting to a new normal, as life will never be as it once was. They will need continuing prayer and practical support, as well as trauma counseling.  If you know the families involved, offer to clean house, run errands, deliver meals, buy groceries, tutor children, mow their yard, walk their dog, or do any number of simple, yet potentially overwhelming routine tasks. Flowers, cards and notes of encouragement are meaningful, especially for those not at the center of media attention.

There is tremendous comfort when loss is acknowledged and someone is willing to grieve with us when we are grieved.  May the peace of God rest on each of these communities like a blanket and His presence be tangible in their midst.

Romans 12:15 (NIV) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Contact information to contribute notes of encouragement and support:
Tucson Victims:

(Samantha Flynn’s school)
Millard South High School
14905 Q Street
Omaha, NE 68137-2599

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For some, trauma isn’t the result of a single event, but instead a pattern of life without a single day to reflect or grieve.  For us, a window of just minutes encapsulates the traumatic and horrific shooting at our church. December 9th is certainly not the only day we deal with the events of that day—our lives were forever changed in those moments. But unlike other aspects of trauma recovery which force their way into life through loud noises, flashbacks, overwhelming grief, or confrontation of loss, anniversaries provide an opportunity to be proactive—to remember on purpose.

That purpose is to advance healing. Public ceremonies are important for victims and their families, as it acknowledges the pain, which is significant in the healing process. Beyond public ceremonies, I believe it is imperative for anyone affected by the trauma of violence to be intentional about the anniversary of the event. This last week, for some reason it was the memory of the police taking photos of my injuries at the hospital that stirred in my mind. Sometimes I think remembering these particularly painful aspects helps me to recognize the tremendous healing that has taken place and God’s faithfulness throughout.

No one invites trauma or the lingering, victimizing effects of it, but avoiding painful memories or trying to forget in the name of “moving-on” can delay healing. Move forward by deciding to remember, grieve, celebrate life, reflect in the way that you choose. Allow emotional margin in life around the anniversary, visit important sites, schedule a massage, lunch with a friend, or arrange a counseling appointment well in advance, just in case you need it.  Let it remind you to tell people you love them and live life as a gift.  Overcoming trauma doesn’t just happen; it is a willful and courageous feat.

This photo of our family was taken just days after in Dec 07.

Tonight we look forward to reflecting and celebrating life together around a family dinner, followed by decorating our Christmas tree.  This day is always marked with grief and gratefulness; opposing, yet tandem emotions.

1 Peter 5:6-7, 10
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. …10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

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When God Doesn’t Do What He Said He Was Going To Do (via WhiskeyFoxtrot)

An honest, gut-level testimony about dealing with loss and trauma — its impact on faith, and faith’s impact on the journey of healing.

When God Doesn't Do What He Said He Was Going To Do “Bad guys don’t usually take the time to sterilize their bullets before they use them”, Dr. Fisher told me as I lie in the Emergency Room at Penrose Hospital on the afternoon of December 9th, 2007. “So, we are going to have to go in and clean things up.” I managed a bit of a smile. The pain didn’t matter now that I had a steady drip of morphine. Nothing much mattered at that moment  and I wasn’t worried now that my daughter Rachel and I were in t … Read More

via WhiskeyFoxtrot

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Post-Trauma: Reaching Capacity

Capacity Image by Kristen Purcell

Our entire community felt the impact of the shooting at our church a few years ago in one way or another.  Finding words to communicate the hurt and confusion was vital as we tried to make sense of all we were experiencing post-trauma.  Capacity became the code word to let each other know we were simply at our emotional, conversational, and functional limit.

The last couple of days, feeling frustrated with my lack of energy, inability to focus, and level of irritability, I was reminded of that time.  As I mentioned in my earlier post Heart Attack: Harder to Recognize Than You Think, we realized before leaving the hospital on Tuesday that Matt’s heart attack was traumatic, both physically and emotionally.  Just hours later I had familiar post-traumatic feelings of overwhelm, I had reached capacity.

Understanding the reality of our capacity is just one aspect of the post-trauma journey. You might wonder why it is necessary to put words to the experience, to identify the link between emotions and the event.  I believe it is significant because it is the moment our mind and our heart get on the same page—the knowing and the feeling match-up.

Capacity: Defining It, Not Defined By It

Capacity is feeling as though the receptors in your brain are maxed-out, causing even simple processing to slow.  Basic decision-making is difficult and exhausting.  The multitasking you once did without a second thought, the conversations you easily followed, the words you quickly sequenced into complete sentences—gone.  Physically, it feels like you are trudging through waist-deep water.  The emotional veil lifts exposing the anger, insecurity, sorrow, guilt, irritation and grief you were once able to manage.

Over Capacity by Kristen Purcell

Imagine the water level in a bottle representing your physical, emotional, and mental capacity, all combined in a single vessel.  The level rises and falls based on what is going on in life and what it takes to deal with it.  Normal could be described as a “water level” fluctuating somewhere between half and two-thirds in the bottle.  Sure, sometimes you can get so busy you forget details or end up late because of a tight schedule, but there is some degree of margin to manage the load.  According to Richard A. Swenson M.D., margin is the space between our load and our limits.

Physical or emotional trauma like abuse, assault, debilitating illness, auto accidents, divorce, death of a loved one, or a near-death experience can easily raise the “water level” by half, in an instant.  If your normal keeps you running close to capacity, a trauma to you or someone to love can blow the cap right off the bottle.  There is no longer any margin, no longer any room for even the smallest of drops.

The bottle doesn’t get bigger or expand. Post-trauma, intensity of any kind—movie scenes, loud noises, strained conversation, intense personalities, large crowds—erodes our margin. The energy it takes to process faces, noise level, and hyper-vigilance, can quickly overwhelm. The excess, which spills out of the bottle, generally splashes on those around us. Our human capacity to navigate the emotional, mental, and physical demands of processing the event or circumstances leaves little or no room for anything else.

So today, I’m putting down the to-do list, making notes about the whirlwind of information  so I don’t forget, and planning a nap.  I’ve walked this road before, at times with a limp, but my hand clings tightly to the One who is always with me.  My capacity does not limit God’s reach.

Signs of being at capacity:

  • Everyday things feel like “one more thing”—a ringing phone, barking dog, people standing too close, long lines, crying babies, honking horns, unexpected loud noises, etc.
  • You feel like there is a constant lump in your throat, you could cry at any moment.
  • Reading more than a short paragraph is difficult to process, reading sentences repeatedly.
  • Shopping feels tedious, there are too many items to focus on and too many decisions to make.
  • Conversations are difficult to follow, forgetting much of what was said.
  • At work, it takes enormous effort to do the bare minimum, making uncharacteristic mistakes.
  • Sleep doesn’t seem to help.  You are sleeping, but you don’t feel refreshed when waking.
  • Being in crowded places can feel overwhelming.
  • Social engagements for you or your children feel stressful rather than enjoyable.
  • You lose patience more quickly, feel less in-control.
  • Feelings of isolation, you perceive life around you continues as “normal” for others, as though you are outside or set-apart.
  • Change, even good change, is hard to assimilate.

What to do about it:

  • Recognize it for what it is. You are not experiencing capacity or overwhelm because you are a lesser human being. God is infinite; we are finite, given limits from the beginning of creation.
  • Give yourself permission to do less, for a time.
  • Plan activities you enjoy, those that reduce your “water level” and increase margin.
  • Learn to listen to your body.  Rest, even if you have to let some things go, even good things.
  • Write about the experience, how you feel about it. This exercise provides feedback in the future.  Journaling gives witness to the milestones and personal growth we experience when actively processing through difficult circumstances.
  • Talk about what you are feeling with a trusted friend or counselor. Saying something out loud helps the heart and mind get in sync.
  • Ask a friend or relative to accompany you at important appointments; ask co-workers to sit-in on important meetings.  Another person can help process information and hold you accountable if necessary.
  • Tell those who are a regular part of your life what you are experiencing so they can understand you may need time and space from the usual patterns of life for a season.
  • Pray and ask for prayer. Writing-out prayers or writing the Psalms in your own words brings tremendous comfort and healing. God is our greatest counselor and help in times of trouble. “It is human surrender that releases the divine power.” ~John MacBeath
  • Get some practical help. Trying to handle everything by yourself will just propagate more of the overload you already feel.
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Heart Attack: Harder to Recognize Than You Think

Two weeks ago while in Lawton, Matt went for a walk/run and after jogging a short distance began to feel fullness/pressure in his chest and tightness in his arm as though he had been lifting weights. He stopped, the feeling subsided after a few minutes, he decided to get a check-up before resuming exercise.

Last week he saw our doctor, had an EKG (which was normal) and blood drawn. The doctor recommended that he see a cardiologist for a stress test before resuming exercise. His boss, who has dealt with heart problems for years, recommended his cardiologist, so we were on track to get things checked out.  Matt flew back to Oklahoma the next day, set to return home on Friday night.

Saturday morning we went for a light walk when Matt experienced tightness in his chest. That feeling of heaviness/tightness continued as he debated whether to go to the hospital. Sitting in a chair and leaning forward seemed to relieve it. The lack of any other classic heart attack symptoms like pain, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath, made it difficult to assess what was really going on.

At 3:30 pm, we decided to go to the hospital.  Within a short time, they called a cardiologist, which happened to be the one we were planning to see this week (a blessing).  To our surprise, he told us he was taking Matt to the cath lab and would probably be putting a couple of stents in his heart, but they would not know until they got in there.  We were stunned.  By 5:30 pm, he was headed to the cath lab.

When the doctor showed up in the waiting room just 20 minutes later I assumed he would be telling me they did not find anything major. Instead, he said that during the procedure Matt’s heart became irritated, went into cardiac arrest, and they used the defibrillator. (Blessing: if you’re going to have a heart attack, he was in the perfect place.) His left circumflex artery was 100% blocked and the right coronary artery was 60-70% blocked. He went on to say that, had he gone down (had a heart attack earlier) he would not have gotten back up again. This was staggering news, to say the least. I was so grateful we got there in time.  Two stents were placed in the left artery, but the other was not addressed because his heart was still irritable.

The cardiac unit did not have a bed available, so he was taken to critical/intensive care instead with three nurses caring for him. This proved to be another blessing due to the V-tach he continued to experience until almost 10:00 pm that night. The next morning, I recognized his new nurse, Colleen.  She was one of my nurses at the wound clinic.  It was such a comfort to both of us. Once a bed opened in the cardiac unit, he was moved and our new nurse was Margie Nicole, a High Country mom I knew years ago (another blessing).

He will be laying low this week, back at work next week. His boss graciously reassigned him from the project in Oklahoma to a project at Ft. Carson and is taking care of having his things in Lawton will be brought back for him.  We are thankful beyond words.

Yesterday, just before he was released to come home, we had a moment to reflect and process the prior 72 hours. We realized his heart experienced trauma; we will need to address physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of what that means, just as we learned to after the shooting. Although a lesser trauma, the process will be much the same—assessing/grieving losses, dealing with mortality, rejoicing in life-spared, adjusting to a new normal.

We decided to share our journey here, as we process, with hope it may help someone else in some small way.  If you’d like to continue to receive updates, just click the subscribe button.  We are thankful for the prayer covering our family, thoughtfulness of friends, as well as the excellent medical care we have received—it means so much.

For more information about understanding and recognizing the signs of heart disease, check out my post on The Stuff of Life.

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