Monday, May 25, 2015

Easier to Appreciate the Sacrifice When You Understand the Loss

I remember in my youth how much I loved to have Memorial Day because it meant that I was getting a three-day weekend.  We would have family BBQ’s and go to the cemeteries to decorate our relatives graves with flowers-mostly relatives I had never met.  I do not remember feeling any sadness.  In fact, I don’t even remember really thinking about the significance of the day or why we even celebrated this holiday.

In my adult years, we continued to do the same things-traditions carried forward.  I was always happy that my husband had a three-day weekend.  And I felt little to no sadness as we went to decorate the graves.  I did, however, have a greater appreciation for the purpose and significance of the holiday.

I will never forget the first Memorial Day after my husband’s passing-he had been gone for three months.  It was no longer a three-day weekend to look forward too.  It was not about BBQ’s.  It was not a “party” weekend.  It was actually a dreaded weekend because I knew that I would be going to the cemetery and placing flowers on graves-the graves of my two best friends, my husband and my mom.  My mom passed away just six months before my husband.

Let’s face it, although Memorial Day was established to remember those who died while in the service of our country, those who have lost someone very close to their heart will also feel those pains more significantly on this day.  For me, this day used to be a day of family gatherings and some remembering, but not an understanding of the loss of loved ones.  Now there is understanding…a deep and painful understanding.  It is easier to appreciate the sacrifice when you understand the loss.

So, now as I remember our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, I have a greater appreciation for not only the service they rendered, but for their families-the sacrifices that the mothers and children made.  I am so grateful for the men and women who lost their lives fighting to protect us and our freedoms.  And I am grateful for their families.

I am also grateful for a husband who was a valiant warrior.  He battled cancer. His mortal body lost, but his spirit won.  He did not let the cancer eat away at his soul like it was doing to his body.  He was always valiant, courageous and remained strong. He was and is my greatest hero.

The painful, abiding sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one is universal.  Whether your loved one died while serving in our country’s armed forces, in a car accident, or some other way the end result is the same.  They are no longer here with you.  And you miss them more than words can say. 

I think about and remember my beloved husband everyday.  I remember his goodness and kindness, his sense of humor and laughter, his wisdom and love, and his never-ending support. Our children remember the singing, the laughter, the love, the stories, the humor, and the endless unconditional love from their daddy.

This is my third Memorial Day without my mom and husband.  The pain is still there, but not as deep.  I miss them both, but fortunately the tears are less.  We now have moments of happy and moments of remembering without the sadness.  There are good days and there are bad days.  And there are in-between days. 

I have a choice today.  I can sit and wallow or I can be grateful.  Grateful for the men and women who sacrificed their lives so I can enjoy my many freedoms.  Grateful for the privilege and honor of being married to an amazing man…I had 14 years of amazing…some do not even get one day of what I experienced.  Grateful I know that he still lives and one day we will be reunited. 

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stuck in a Pile of Mud!

Have you ever been stuck in the mud with shoes on?  I have.  Several years ago we had a water line break and we had a huge flood in our back yard.  The water was running down into the window wells and seeping through into our basement. 

As the neighbors came rushing to help us with buckets in hand, we all ended up standing in deep mud.  Most were able to get out of the mud with shoes in tact.  I, however, was not so fortunate.  My flip flops were not allowing me to move.  I was stuck!  As I kept tugging and moving I managed to get free, but one of my flip flops could not endure the constant tugging and it broke.  The other was too stuck to get free and I had to leave it in the mud in order to get out.  I was so sad because they were my favorite pair.  They were so cute! 

Maybe you too have had a time where your shoes were stuck in the mud and no matter how hard you pulled you couldn’t get loose!  You realized the only way to get free from the mud was to release yourself from the shoes, leaving them behind in order to move forward.

I have discovered, the death of a spouse can become a messy pile of mud in this thing called life.  I have also discovered it can become easy to get stuck in that mud.  Grief, which includes fear, sadness and loneliness, is something that can cause someone to get stuck.

We all have situations arise in our life that can become a pile of mud.  Maybe you are afraid to let go of someone, even though it is not the best situation for you.  Maybe you have a dead-end job.  Maybe you are involved in an abusive relationship.  Maybe you are addicted to pornography.  Maybe you are battling cancer.

Our trials, hardships, or just even the simple things of day-to-day living can become different piles of mud in our lives.  We can become stuck in the thick of it all and not quite sure how to get out and move forward.  We may free ourselves from one pile only to discover that we have stepped right into another.

Whatever your situation, it can become scary to free ourselves from the mud in our lives. What if there is no one better?  What if I can’t pay my bills?  What if no one else wants me? What if I fail?  What if I can’t overcome this addiction?  What if I die?

It can be incredibly difficult to let go of the “what if’s” in our lives.  But those “what if’s” are often the cause for us becoming stuck in the mud.  In order to become free from the mud, we need to remove those things that are preventing us from moving forward.

Recently, I realized that there was a situation in my life where I had become stuck in the mud. Upon that realization, I knew that things needed to change in order for me to become free to move forward.  What it meant for me was letting go of someone who I cared about. I have learned that “It’s not holding on that makes one strong, sometimes it’s the letting go”. 

Sometimes you have to let go of people not because they are bad or because you are, but simply because you are unable to progress any further.  You are “stuck” in a situation where things just simply cannot be. For me, that is the hardest kind of relationship to sever. Life is about progression and moving forward.  Sometimes that means cutting off all ties-as painful as that may be.

We have to remove those temptations in our lives that prevent us from letting go. Facebook, like other modern technology, is a definite temptation…it is human nature to want to know about others, especially someone you care about.  Let’s just be honest here, when trying to "move on", if you can continue to see and know what someone is doing, how do you let go? Sometimes the knowing what is going on creates more pain and doubt within your soul.  So, yep, it may even mean you have to “de-friend” someone on Facebook...just make sure whatever you do, you do it with kindness. 

Letting go is not always easy, in fact, it can be incredibly difficult and painful.  My recent experience was very hard for me.  After shedding many tears, I have also learned that “sometimes the hardest thing, and the right thing are the same”.

My life was forever changed after the death of my husband. I have had to let go of the dreams we created together for our future…or I get stuck in a pile of mud.  I have to live in the present and not dwell on the past or worry too much about the future…or I get stuck in a pile of mud.  I have to be willing to let others help me…or I get stuck in a pile of mud.  I cannot focus inward on self, but I must focus outward on others…or I get stuck in a pile of mud. 

I have also learned it is not just about eliminating things in my life, but also there are specific things I must do on a daily basis in order to prevent me from getting stuck in a pile of mud. I must pray regularly, read the scriptures, show gratitude, and focus on serving others.

After I released myself from the mud and left behind my beloved flip flops, I purchased a new pair.  It took some time to get used to them.  They looked and felt different, but everything worked out fine. 

In time, I actually became fond of the new pair of shoes.  In fact, I have replaced the original pair several times and have found something unique and different about each pair.  Some were definitely cuter or more comfortable than others, but I have survived each new change!

Putting on a new pair of shoes can be both exhilarating and a bit uncomfortable.  As you begin to wear new shoes, you realize that they feel different than what you are used to.  Maybe they feel a bit snug.  Or maybe they even hurt your feet for awhile.  But with time they become less snug.  They become more comfortable.

As you adjust to wearing your new shoes, you may discover that you really like them.  In fact, they may become the most favorite pair you have ever owned. In time they will get worn out and you will need a new pair.  But that is ok because your new pair can also become your favorite pair.

You may buy a new pair of shoes and discover they are never comfortable. You are dealing with the blisters and constant aching feet for awhile and then realize maybe you better get some new ones.  And even though it is a pain to go look for new ones, you realize that you must or your feet are always going to be hurting.

That is how it is with life, sometimes we are forced to make changes and leave things behind.  Those things may be loved and cherished beyond measure.  Or they may be things that are not so good for us.  Or a combination of both.  Whatever the case may be, we will find that it is possible to adjust to new circumstances that surround our lives.  Those new and different circumstances may be very uncomfortable at first or may not be the exact way we want it, but in time we may even become fond of and even cherish them.

Let’s face it, life is hard!  It becomes even harder when we are stuck in a pile of mud.  It is time to free yourself of that horrible, thick mud! Remember it is not always about  eliminating things, it also requires doing certain things.  

Are you stuck in a pile of mud? 

What are the things in your life causing you to become stuck and preventing you from moving forward?

What and how are you going to change to free yourself from the mud?

What things do you need to be doing to help you stay free from the mud?

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Friends Tragedy is Healing the Hearts of Many

Ashlee Birk has been one of my many tender mercies the past couple of weeks.  See her story here. I am grateful for her friendship...she has sent me text messages of hope, love and encouragement.  She gets it!  She understands the importance of directing your attention outward instead of inward.  Life is not about self…it is about others.

What makes Ashlee so amazing and why do people love to hear her story?  Is it because her husband was murdered and she discovered at the same time that he was being unfaithful, or is it because of the way she has chosen to handle her situation? Or maybe it is not an either or situation.  Maybe the tragedy draws people in and simultaneously they want to know how is she doing this? 

As a friend of Ashlee’s, I can say that she does not share her story because she wants pity or glory.  She shares her story because of a desire for you to know and act on the principles she has discovered.  It is more than her belief in God and His teachings, but it is the action from that knowledge that is helping her successfully navigate through her trials.  She has chosen not to let her story end there…at the tragedy. She has chosen to turn her tragedy into a success story. 

Here’s the thing, Ashlee, like me and everyone else, has her hard moments…her less than happy moments.  She still has moments of sadness.  She still has to battle forgiveness every day.  She still has her doubts about herself and feeling like maybe she is not enough.  But she also knows that those times will pass.  She understands that God will help her through this.  She understands that knowing, understanding and discussing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others is a beautiful thing.  But the beauty does not lie in the knowledge, it is in the action and doing that we receive the greatest blessings and joy.  It is when we focus our attention outward, rather than inward that we are able to act on what we know.  It is through the action that we receive the healing.

Upon thinking about Ashlee’s tragic story, and after recent conversations with several friends who have and are experiencing some pretty tragic and hurtful situations, I have started to wonder. ... Why do good people make poor choices?  This has led me to do some serious pondering and praying for answers.

In my pondering and searching, I have discovered something that is common in every one of the cases.  I have discovered that it all leads back to selfishness. With this realization, I started to think about selfishness and how it relates to grief. 

In thinking about the whole grieving process, I have come to realize that grief can be a selfish process.  It is during the healing process that we focus on self.  Grief is about why me; how could this have happened; what is going to happen to me; will I ever feel better; what and who can help me feel better; etc. 

Obviously, grief is a necessary part of God’s plan or it wouldn’t happen.  We need to remember “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4)  Life is about learning and there are things we are able to learn through the process…so, yes, we need to grieve.

 So…maybe it’s not so much about eliminating the selfishness of grief, but minimizing it.  It is about learning to become more selfless.  God is not looking for us to just “get over it,” He just wants to help us get through it. We cannot just go around or over our trials, we must go through them.  God understands this and is willing to help us.  It’s about knowing God and doing the things He KNOWS will work to help us get through the process of grief.  And one of those things is service to others.

Many of us have experienced great losses, whether it be through death, divorce, or any other tragic situation, and because of that loss or hurt we can become a better person if we choose.  We can turn our losses and hurt into a gain and obtain a greater understanding of God’s plan, and then we can implement that knowledge and live accordingly.   We can live a different life.  A life with great meaning.  A life of service. In order to live a life of service we have to let go of pride and ego.  It is not about what we can get, but what we can give to others.  The irony is the more we build others up, the more we are built up.

So how do we become more selfless while grieving? Sharing your story, your heartaches, your pain and your sorrow can be an act of service.  It helps others to connect with you.  It helps them to see that they are not alone.  Sharing facilitates the creation of relationships.  But where the grieving process becomes selfish is when we forget to let others share with us. It is about understanding that they too have had hurt and loss.  It is about getting to know them and showing compassion and understanding toward them. It is not always about them helping us to feel better, but about us helping them to feel better. 

Like Ashlee, I discovered early on that when I was struggling with my grief if I turned outward and focused more on other people, my own grief was diminished which in turn helps with the healing process. When I am being more selfless, I am better able to cope with my losses…I receive the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is when we are selfless that we make better choices and decisions. When we are selfless we think about what might hurt someone before we do it.

Unfortunately, when we lose sight of being selfless, it is difficult to be aligned with God. When in self-mode, we tend to forget about others, which includes God.  If we are not receiving personal answers from God, is it because we are so caught up in our self that we are not aligned with and willing to listen to God?  And more importantly do we see that maybe we need to be more selfless? I have wondered how often God has tried to communicate with me and been unsuccessful because I was in self-mode.

Maybe, at times we are trying to regain what we lost by taking things into our own hands because we are focused on self instead of God. Unfortunately, by doing so, we remove the help we can get from God.  We don’t trust that He will make things right, because how can He possibly make things right for us here in mortality?  It may not be the “right” we thought it was supposed to be, but someday it WILL be made right.  And, who is to say that something very different than what we thought it should or would be is not the right thing?

We can’t trust God, if we don’t know God.  How can we know God if we are focused on our self?  Self-mode does not lend itself very much to getting to know others.  In order to know someone we have to talk to them.  Ask them questions.  Show love and concern for them. And we need to listen to them and actually hear what they have to say.  So it is with God.  We need to talk to Him through prayer.  Read the scriptures to understand Him.  And we need to listen and hear His answers.

Like Ashlee, I have also discovered that you need to turn it over to and trust God.  Learn to really pray.  Learn to really listen. It is not always easy…some days are better than others. But with God’s tender mercies and help we can make it through this thing called life!

Let Ashlee’s story inspire and motivate you.  Motivate you to DO what she does.  It is more than just hearing and knowing her story…it is in the doing.  Follow her lead and DO what she does. It is those things that will help YOU to HEAL!

 P.S. Don’t forget this is a daily battle.  Do not lose hope!  And always remember you ARE enough and MORE!