(Continued from Seasons: Beautiful, Harsh, and Unrelenting – Day 1)
After living in Florida for several years I’ve grown accustomed to the ever unpredictable hurricane season. Although all kinds of predications are made, no one really knows how the hurricane will develop, which route it will really take, and how much damage it will leave behind.
This past October we faced Hurricane Matthew. My husband and children were home while I had just flown out of state. I binged watched the weather channel and constantly texted my husband to check on his progress while he prepared our home. Although we didn’t know exactly what would happen, at least we knew it was coming and prepared as best as possible. I am grateful the storm didn’t hit our area hard and they were kept safe during the storm, however, many people experienced heavy losses during Hurricane Matthew and some are still trying to rebuild.
Have you ever experienced a personal storm? Did you have warning? Did it come unexpectedly? Storm season knocked on my door Thanksgiving morning November 22, 2001.
I woke up to an abrupt knock on the door of the room I was staying in after a long road trip. I was handed the phone and as I answered I heard my oldest brother deliver the unthinkable news that my sister had just passed away. I don’t remember much except collapsing with deep sobs as brokenness consumed me. Loss.
She was gone and my heart and mind didn’t want to accept that she wouldn’t be back, that I would never hear her sing again, that I would now sit by myself at the bookstore wishing she was there with me. She would miss my engagement, my wedding, and the birth of my children. She would miss it all.
The season of loss is by far the hardest for me to come back from. I’ve experienced the loss of loved ones, the loss of friendships I thought were meant to be forever, the loss of opportunities, the loss of confidence and so much more.
Loss leaves you numb.
It doesn’t seem to give back.
But if you are reading this and are experiencing loss please take a few minutes to read on. For the first few months after my sister’s death, I had to keep reminding myself to just breathe. I wanted to wake up and find out it wasn’t true. Like poet Belinda Stotler wrote, I wondered,
“Shall I wither and fall like an autumn leaf,
From this deep sorrow – from this painful grief?
How can I go on or find a way to be strong?
Will I ever again enjoy life’s sweet song?” (Belinda Stotler, February 2012)
It’s hard to imagine life can carry a “sweet song” again when all you feel is pain. I have to be honest, I’m struggling with explaining that road, the road I walked on from that day forward that has led me here. But I can visibly see the road vividly in my mind. There are words transcribed in the dirt along the paths I took and though I felt so very alone…I see what’s written on them and dates they carry….
November 22, 2001 …
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23 NKJV
empty and broken
feeling the burn of defeat
powerful words were spoken
that made me feel complete
through my strength wavered
and I questioned God
“the Lord is my Shepherd ”
his Words my heart calmed
I open the notebook with my sister’s words etched in them. Words I had spoken weeks before my sister left us…she writes down the question, “What can I learn in each season? Remember what you have learned about God through all your experiences with Him.”
Deep down I knew we live in a broken world. I’ve never expected perfection from it. But, although I knew that was true in my intellect, it weighed down heavily on my heart. My heart wanted to reject what my intellect believed. Yet, the road was still marked by God’s words:
November 24, 2001
“He restores my soul”
“He restores my soul”, I whispered. How is it possible? Yet God my heart slowly renewed as the long winter months passed. I began to understand what the words of Dr. Larry Crabb describe so well, “God says: I make no promise to protect you from suffering in this world. I do promise the power to believe in my goodness when bad things happen, the power to hope with confidence that a good plan is unfolding when nothing visible supports that hope, and the power to reveal the goodness of My love no matter how distraught or empty you feel.”
As as the days passed something kept bringing me back to life every time life would slip into hues of grey. It was an unwavering peace soothing my soul each time I thought about how God was with me, understanding the pain I felt. I knew He too experienced much loss, losses which as I thought about them, seemed unbearable. I began to think about His ultimate sacrifice so one day all things would be made new. I began to trust even if it didn’t look like what I imagined it would, He still had me and it would be ok.
Loss comes in my forms. You may be experiencing the loss of a friend. After losing a close friend inexplicably during one of the hardest times of my life without any explanation at all, just receiving her silence, I questioned people’s inherent goodness. Perhaps, you are experiencing the loss of your marriage, your dignity, your health, or even your hope. I want you to know you are not alone.
Hold On: If things just simply don’t make sense, just hold on. Hold on knowing He has you and cares. Hold on knowing He will refresh your weary soul. Sometimes, our pain immobilizes us but even there…just hold on. Cling to God first, let Him strengthen you when you can’t find strength anywhere else.
Let Others Be There For You: Although loss can make us turn inward, be open to those around you willing to simply be there. Many may not know what to say or do, but as they try to surround you with support, let them. The day after my sister’s death, my house was full of friends and family arriving, mourning her loss. I didn’t want to be around anyone but one of my best friends along with my fiancé (now husband) simply asked if I wanted to step out for a drive. I don’t remember where we went and I don’t think any words were spoken but I was able to breathe and be left alone in my thoughts. We drove around in silence for a while.
Give Yourself Time to Recover: Healing takes time. At times, even after it has long passed, the thoughts will flood back and you may feel the sting of pain. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean you trust God less, it means you’re human.
Allow Yourself to Laugh and Feel Comfort: As you begin to heal, you will begin to feel joy again. Don’t resist joy. It’s ok to laugh. Think about the people and the simple things that bring comfort and make time for them. For me, reading and writing are comforting. I started picking up encouraging books and gave myself time to think about other things. I especially made sure what I let in my heart was beneficial and helped strengthen me. I also journaled when I needed an outlet. About a month before she went on her last journey, my sister bought me one of the journals I’d being keeping my eye on. As I journaled I began to realize, if I allowed it, her words, her love, her song would live on…and the hope of seeing her again when we meet in eternity need not be my only comfort.
Although it doesn’t always seem like it, seasons do pass and others inevitably come. In each, there is an opportunity to grow. I have learned things about myself and others I could never have learned otherwise. I no longer look for who to blame after my losses. I’m just grateful God chooses to use them for my good even when my heart resists it.
March 5, 2017
“The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.”
“He restores my soul”
Psalm 23 NKJV
Crabb, Larry. God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience. Zondervan, 2010.
Stotler, Belinda. “Seasons of Grief”. February 2010.
Bible. New King James Version.
Johnson, Cristal L. The Highway Man Came Riding. 2016. Photograph. Allaire State Park, New Jersey.
Follow on Instagram @ cristalinaj.