Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Other Side of Horrible

Oh how good it is to be on the other side of horrible!  Let me explain. You all know what this year looked like for me. My mom was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and died in what felt like just a few breaths but was really six weeks. One month later, my Uncle – who was an incredible mentor and role model in my life passed away as well. One of those would have been difficult to navigate. Both at the same time was simply too much. And the icing on the cake was that both my Mom and Uncle were members of Easter Lutheran Church– which meant their funerals were in the very space where I go to work every day. I love this place. It’s my holy place, my sacred place. It’s the place where I have come to know and love so many people; it’s the place my kids love and call home. And yet – I found myself unable to get through a worship service without crying; Unable to walk the halls without having flashbacks to one of the saddest days of my life.I came to the point that when asked, “How are you doing?” I just wanted to say, “horrible” every single time. Instead, I looked in people’s eyes and said things like, “Oh – you know, I’m OK.” Or put on the smile and said, “I’m good….” And walked away. The truth was, I wasn’t OK. I was crumbling on the inside – feeling like if I just kept going, things would have to get better.  

It was the Sunday when the choir sang “On Eagle’s Wings” and the congregation sang “Beautiful Savior” that finally did me in. Like – really did me in. And I knew that to just keep going was the worst possible solution. To walk around with a plastic smile on my face while my insides screamed – “I’m NOT GOOD! I’m not even OK! In fact, I’m HORRIBLE” was simply not an acceptable way to lead this congregation, not a healthy way to raise my children, not a faithful way to live my life. That is the moment that I believe God gave me a STOP sign. It was big, red and bold – and I knew that if I chose to drive right through it – I would be choosing the expected path, but not the faithful path. 

So I stopped.It was a hard decision. It felt like a risky decision. I was plagued at first with thoughts of self-doubt. “Why can’t I do this?” and “People’s parents die all of the time, other people seem to be able to handle this, what’s wrong with ME?” and “Will people think I’m weak?”  But thank GOD for the people in my life who said no to all of these things. Instead of shaking heads and pointed fingers I heard words like, “You are so brave,” and “I am so proud of you.”  When I talked with church leadership about my struggles, it was their suggestion that I take some time to heal, to grieve, to be there for and with my family. Sometimes the people who know us best know what we need before we do.So in March of this year I began a three-month sabbatical for healing, for restoration, for perspective. It was the single best decision I’ve ever made (next to marrying my husband) – and now I’m on the other side of horrible.
So what did I DO for three months?

Month one – I grieved. Plain and simple. I cried, prayed, screamed, cried some more, cleaned out my mom’s house and ate too many cookies.

Month two – I joined a gym. (Read, too many cookies)…. I know that God has designed us in such a way that body-mind-spirit are all intricately woven together. Lifting weights and sweating bullets helped to cleanse my body as well as my mind and spirit. (I’m really strong now, watch out!)AND I started meditating. MEDITATING? If you know me, you are laughing out loud right now. My grief counselor suggested meditation might be a good practice for me to develop. I laughed at him several times. But one day I sat down on my floor, closed my eyes and said, “Holy Spirit, Come”. And then – I SAT there. Still. For five minutes. It was a loooonnnnngggg five minutes. But for some reason, I did it again the next day and the next. And I felt peace creeping back into my heart  and pretty soon I was anticipating my meditation times not with dread but with a Holy expectation.

Month three – I started thinking about coming back to work. I knew by the beginning of month three that three months would be enough. I started to miss being around the amazing people I get to share life with at Easter Lutheran Church. I started asking myself how things would be different now. Have I learned to slow down? Have I learned once again to let God lead? Have I learned to be open and vulnerable – to tell people how I am REALLY doing and ask for what I need? Have I learned that the weight of the world isn’t on MY shoulders? (God took that one on along time ago..)

I have now been back from sabbatical for three months and I can say that it did what it was supposed to do. I still have days of stress and sadness – but who doesn’t?  Mostly, I feel blessed to be on the other side of horrible and to have people who were willing to walk with me through that valley. My eyes still well up when I look at a picture of my Mom or think about this time last year when she was first diagnosed. But I know those tears are signs of having loved and been loved – and I hope they never dry up.

Times of suffering can do one of two things. They can crush us, or they can re-focus us. For awhile, I thought it was going to crush me. I could feel the weight in my whole body every day. As it turns out – God was there the whole time inviting me to turn to Him. God was in the people who showed up at exactly the right time. God was in the food and the prayers. God was in the people of Easter, my friends, my family, even people I’ve never met who prayed for me and welcomed me back with open arms. God was in all of the tears of empathy. God was at the gym and in my counselor’s office. And the whole time, God was saying – “Look to me, I will bring you to the other side of horrible.”

While I am on the other side of horrible – it is not the same place I started. Somehow, life is more beautiful than before, my work more life-giving than before, my heart more thankful than before, my family more precious to me than before. My heart more open than before. I don’t think God did this TO me – but I do think God used this valley to show me what life can look like at the summit again.Thank God for the other side of horrible.

“I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the mirey pit, setting my feet upon a rock and making my footsteps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” – Psalm 40


  1. Another wonderful meditation from a wounded healer. Thanks.

  2. May we continue to bring all our horribles and all our thankful leaps-in-joy to the Infinite One who brings all things together for good. Great piece, Kris. You write well.