Tag Archives: grief

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Thankful, Tired, and Traumatized

As I write this, a storm front has swept across the valley where my parents live and my father is dying in the hospital bed hospice moved into their bedroom. Daddy has dealt with significant health issues for some time, but hearing two weeks and one day ago that his aortic valve wasn’t closing properly and it was just a matter of time was absolutely traumatic for my two sisters, my mother, and me.

We are losing our father.

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Newborn Alicia, daughter #3, and Dad James

It wasn’t until I left home for college and got out into the world that I really realized that not everybody had a dad like mine, a dad who was deeply invested in their lives, an ever-ready source of help and wisdom, and prayed for them all the time. If I needed to talk, he made time to listen.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not claiming he is perfect. Dad can be short tempered when he is stressed out or over-tired (I inherited that!). Sometimes he might be a bit colloquial. He is definitely a true creature of habit, leading to one of his many nicknames, “Rut-man” (in this area, I pretty much married my father).

But Dad was always there for us. He attended ballet recitals, piano recitals, endless chorus/choir concerts from elementary school to college and beyond, dinner theater fundraisers, variety shows, and even softball games when my sister played in the church adult softball league (we were not big sports girls). He and mom traveled to Northern Virginia years ago to hear one of my first sermons.

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Alicia, Ellen, and Laurel ready for football

Dad taught us to hit and field the softball and throw a tight football spiral (mine’s a little rusty but I can still sometimes impress my three boys). He took us camping and taught me how to trout fish in a freezing-cold Georgia mountain stream, even buying me my own pair of fishing waders when I was about ten years old. Like the great dad he is, he baited the hooks and took the fish off the line for me. I got to do the fun parts, like casting the line and eating Vienna Sausages  (pronounced “Vi-eenie Ween-ies”) straight out of the can.

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Dad, the outdoorsman

Dad welcomed in our friends and boyfriends, getting to know them and giving them his full attention as we all enjoyed Mom’s loving, home-cooked meals. Looking back, I realize that some of these friends needed to “borrow” my dad for a bit, receiving for awhile what I received daily: his loving hospitality, interest in others, and deep appreciation of life rooted in his faith. He and Mom made sure our friends could make themselves at home in our home.

Dad and Mom offered this same loving welcome to the men who became our husbands. In my Daddy, my husband received a second father, someone who listened to him, valued him deeply, and made him laugh with endless stories (many of which have wound up in our sermons or writing) and silliness. Our husbands are losing a father.

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Thanksgiving 2014

Dad’s hope for his grandchildren was that they would feel just as at home in my parents’ home as they did in their own–just as he had at his grandparents’ homes. And they have. Three girls and three boys, ranging from age four to sixteen, all feel as relaxed, safe, and loved here as they do at their own homes. Our children are losing their Grandad (also known as Dega, pronounced “Dee-Gah”).

 

As a pastor and chaplain, I have walked this valley with many, many others. I have sung with them, prayed with them, cried with them, and read with them the scriptures that bring us hope and comfort in darkest days. I know that the valley of the shadow of death is holy, hard ground.

But now I am here in this unfamiliar territory, trying to imagine my life without this man in it. And I find that I cannot face that. I cannot even begin to fathom that.

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L-R: Glenda, James, Laurel, Alicia, Ellen

So I face just this day, just this hour. The hospice people say “soon.”

My sisters and my mother and I try to help him as best as we untrained folk can do. We adjust him in the bed, kiss and pat him, try to get him to take his meds, which has become much harder as he grows weaker and less responsive.

We laugh and sing and remember. We cry in little bursts. It seems too scary to start to really let the tears flow. My mother, who has loved this man for 52 years and been his wife for 50, explained, “I’m afraid if I really start crying, I will cry forever.”

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James and Glenda Davis, circa 1977

The daughter I am knows just what she means. The pastor I am thinks it’s just fine if we cry as long as we need to. But I can’t yet. It’s too scary.

Through the years, I have heard almost every platitude there is and every bully-cheerleader (as my colleague calls them) nonsense that denies grief its true power. I do not need to be reminded that God is good and knows best; I do not want to hear that everything happens for a reason.

My faith is strong, vibrant, and growing here in the land of lament Psalms, where I cry–when I can–the tears of an exile. We are strangers in a strange land and cannot pretend differently.

If someone can’t be with our grief, that’s fine. Don’t be. But don’t try to minimize this loss for me. I am traumatized.

God has given me an amazing father, a Daddy in the truest sense of the word. We are losing him, hour by hour.

We are thankful for every good memory and every blessing in this valley, for every prayer offered for us, for every meal we’ve savored, for every moment shared together.

We are tired in body and spirit from these weeks of grief and goodbye with miles to go before we sleep, to borrow from Dad’s favorite poet, Robert Frost.

And we are traumatized by what is happening, make no mistake. All three are true at the same time: thankful, tired, and traumatized.

Our God is holding all of it, and all of us, close. 

Rev. Alicia Davis Porterfield is a daughter, mother, wife, and minister. She midwives this blog and is currently serving as interim pastor for FBC Carolina Beach, NC, a fabulous part of the family of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly: Journeying Through the Darkness

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October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. In some ways, it seems like a strange month to choose. In October, we are often focused on the harvest. We have harvest-themed door wreaths and table decorations. We enjoy a taste of the harvest ourselves – picking apples and pumpkins. This is a time we celebrate abundance, and yet this is also the month when we honor when abundance is taken away.

As a child, I knew very little about pregnancy loss. I had an aunt who sometimes referred to infant she lost by name, but no one besides her talked about it much, and the subject was so hushed and confusing that I never asked many questions. As a chaplain, I experienced my first pregnancy loss with a patient. A whole new world of darkness invaded what had developed in my mind as a world of joy. I was at the age that my friends were starting to have babies. But no one had ever talked to me about the dark side of pregnancy. The darkness still felt very “other.”

Finally, a dear friend – one with whom I had shared many confidences – lost her pregnancy. We lived far away, but I had just seen her pregnant belly at a reunion of friends for the weekend. We had laughed and shared dreams about the child. It had been a weekend of light. And suddenly, that weekend was washed away with darkness. We all rallied, sending flowers, meals, and cards. We prayed and we cried. And we listened. My friend was very good about being vocal and honest about her pain. We journeyed with her through the darkness.

During our mourning period  . . . to read more, click here.

Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly is rector and pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Margaret in Plainview, New York, and a contributor to Project Pomegranate’s book Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss. This post appeared originally on Jennifer’s blog Seeking and Serving, was shared on Project Pomegranate‘s blog, and was used here with permission.

Danielle Glaze: Ordinary Miracles: “Through It All”

The chorus of this hymn has been playing in my head the past several weeks. As I have had time to be still since school has ended for the semester, I can only say “through it all…” The chorus of the song says “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God; Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

The reason I keep reflecting on this chorus is because I have had a tremendous year, but when I think about it, through it all God has performed ordinary miracles over and over again.

Ordinary and miracles don’t typically get phrased together because “ordinary” means normal and “miracle” means wonder, phenomenon, amazing, marvelous. There seems to be nothing ordinary about miracles. But if we stop and think, we realize that so many things we take for granted as “normal” in our lives are, often times, great miracles.

As I think about “through it all,” I realize that God performed so many miracles in my life over the past ten months. As I drove up and down Interstate 40 four times a week for Divinity School, God performed the miracle of keeping me safe and accident free. This wouldn’t seem to be a miracle but when you think about a vehicle traveling well over 70 mph in darkness, driving rain, ice, and sometimes amazing lightning storms–but was accident free–that’s a miracle.

Colleen Kelly, CUDS graduate, and Daniele Glaze, CUDS first year M.Div. student
Colleen Kelly, CUDS graduate, and Danielle Glaze, CUDS  M.Div. student

It was truly a miracle because sometimes I was so tired that I don’t know how I stayed awake! It was a miracle because I witnessed overturned vehicles and accidents, but through it all, God kept me. Thank God for the miracle.

Through the economic shift from full time employment to part time employment, God performed a miracle in my household and finances. Just like the widow who didn’t run out of oil until she had more than enough, God performed that miracle in my home. My expenses remained the same, and even increased.

But through it all I learned to trust in Jesus, I learned to trust in God. Miraculously every household bill was paid, I always had gas money, my children had what they needed. And not only did we have what we needed but we always had it right on time. Oh my, what amazing provision! What a phenomenon to seemingly not have enough, but to have God miraculously provide. What miracles . . .

The greatest miracle I experienced in this past ten months was that God blessed me to spend time with my dad before he left this earth. Yes, it was a miracle because I live fifteen hours away.

It was a miracle to get the call that my dad would not be here much longer and to ask God to allow me to say goodbye. It was a miracle to get a flight out within ten hours, to have amazing friends to help me get there, and to spend seven precious days taking care of my dad and being blessed with some moments of lucid conversation with him. Oh, what a miracle!

The most outstanding aspect of this miracle was to have God empower me so much that I was able to stand and deliver my dad’s eulogy. It was so beyond me. It was the hardest sermon I’ve ever preached, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but God’s miraculous anointing power strengthened me and used me to bring words of hope and encouragement and salvation to others.

Oh, what miracles I have experienced in my life! Through it all, I’m still standing through the grief, the financial struggles, Divinity school, single mommy-hood, and just plain old life. Oh, through it all, I’ve learned to depend on the Lord. Through it all, because I’ve learned to trust and depend on Jesus, God has performed so many miracles in my life–too many to count. I’ve only highlighted a few.

Despite living on auto-pilot for months on end, not getting enough sleep, through stress, challenges, and grief, I can say, I’m still standing because of the outstanding ordinary miracles that God has blessed me with. Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in His Word. His Word that says He will never leave or forsake me and His Word that says He will supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Through it all!

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Reverend Danielle Glaze serves as Director of Christian Education at Macedonia Baptist Church in Wilmington, NC, and us a frequent retreat leader and speaker. She is mother to a daughter in college and a son in high school–all while attending Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, NC.

Rachel Whaley Doll: Healing Journey

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Rachel’s painting

Early last spring, as we were preparing to move, my husband, Aaron, brought me several small bags. “I found these in the freezer. Can you believe we still have bags of breast milk?! I’ll just throw them out.” I grabbed the bags, highly offended. “No, YOU did not make this, you do NOT get to decide what happens to it!” I surprised even myself at my passionate response to these little bags. You see, my youngest child is now six, in first grade, and stopped nursing at age one.

But those little bags signified so much I had never dealt with. I put them back in the freezer and spent the next week trying to decide what their fate would be. Our move would take us 800 miles away, so the bags would not be traveling with us. But they represented a time in my life that had been so hard in coming; I was not willing to simply throw them away. It felt like I had a tangible connection to so much untouchable loss. I prayed, I meditated, and I waited to see what would be created from those little bags of breast milk, sitting my freezer.

I’m not sure how I arrived at my plan, but I saw a watercolor forming in my mind. I gathered blues, purples, and black paints; sea salt to represent so many tears. And I waited. It occurred to me that over the course of our ten rounds of fertility drugs, there had been ten embryos that had been created by Aaron and me. Ten. That number was astounding. Those little bags of milk represented the end of a four year struggle with infertility. They represented seven embryos that never attached. They represented the child lost through miscarriage. They represented the cherished time I nursed two amazing children. Still I waited.

One day, amid packing boxes and looming deadlines, the feeling was overwhelming. It was time. I stood at my dining room table and began to swirl the blues, the purples, the black. I left ten little spaces and while the paint was still very wet, I dropped the breast milk onto the canvas and watched as it swirled and mixed and danced with the colors on the canvas. I sprinkled salt over it all, and whispered prayers for each of those embryos, for the space they would always hold in my soul, for the healing I longed to take place there. Finally, eventually, it was finished. The power of that dance; of paint, milk, tears, salt, and prayers – was unspeakable. I had no idea how much I had needed that dance. When it was finished, I sat in silence with the painting for a long time. There was a powerful connection swirling in the air. Eventually the feeling of connection was replaced by a wide feeling of peace inside me. There was a little milk left over, and I walked outside and sprinkled it over the wild blackberries that grew in our yard, knowing it would feed someone; birds, squirrels, friends, strangers.

That was months ago, and the painting is very dear to me. It went to the book launch party with me, and hung that night in the art gallery as we celebrated. After our move, I hung it in our new home, in our bedroom, and enjoy its nearness. A couple of weeks ago, my hand brushed the bottom of the canvas as I went to turn on the light. My fingers came away damp, and I turned on the light to see streams of paint weaving down the wall. The painting was wet. Aaron said the recent high humidity had caused the salt to soak in the moisture from the air.

But why now, in January? It had not done this through the many humid months of summer in North Carolina. I counted up the months in my head; it has been dry and fine all this time. Chills raised the hairs on my neck as I realized it had been painted nine months ago. I realized it was weeping. I cannot explain the journey of this painting except to say we are connected, and in my eyes it is beautiful beyond measure.

Whatever journey you are walking, honor the connections your soul sees, and allow them to dance.

Rachel Doll

Rachel Whaley Doll is an educator, Biblical Storyteller, and lover of beach sand. She is also the author of two books, The Exquisite Ordinary, 2012, and Beating on the Chest of God; A Faith Journey Though Infertility, 2014. Connect with Rachel at rachelwhaleydoll.com.

Katrina Brooks: Forever Friends

Ash Wednesday came and went in my world without its typical markings. No breeze in the air. No warm sunshine. No scrumptious aromas. No reflective liturgy and no ashes on my forehead.

Like most of the great adventures I have embarked upon, this Lenten journey began whether I was ready or not. Like clockwork on Wednesday, my inner self called my name and demanded I begin this year’s quest by counting my blessings.

Two of the greatest blessings in my life are Tia and Debbie. One I met the weekend I came as a candidate to be one of her pastors. The other I met through our daughters before her family became a part of the church.

With both it was love at first sight. My success over the years with female friends was zero, so no one was more surprised than me when we bonded.

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Tia invests herself vocationally as an academic principal for middle schoolers and Debbie as a dean of students for a liberal arts college. Tia has a boy and a girl. Debbie has two girls. Tia and Debbie both grew up in ministerial homes…one in the north and one in the south. Debbie is a bit older than I am and Tia a bit younger. Tia builds things and Debbie makes beautiful things.

I am the nontraditional one. I am the one who prefers wild finger nail polish and a hair color I was not born with. I am the one who brazenly challenges orthodoxy. I am the one who lacks homemaker skills and I am the one who is still trying to find herself vocationally after all these years.

These women “get me” even when I do not “get” myself. Having entered their lives as their pastor, I was not prepared for their friendship. Maybe it was their professionalism or maybe it was because they grew up in ministerial homes, but something inspired them to seek me out as more than “their pastor” … I was their friend.

In 2011 the season for being their pastor came to an end when my spouse took a job in a different state. I would like to say it was an amiable transition, but truth be told I fought the move. One day I will write it all down, but for now let’s just say my beloved friends pulled me through. They knew enough about grief and about me to realize that no matter how “adult” I was pretending to be when I exited the church system, I would crash and crash hard.

Unable to stop the crash, these blessings of mine walked with me. They listened and cried with me. They offered insight and thought-provoking questions. They let me grieve.

When the grief slid into depression they upped their game and intentionally connected with me in spite of the miles. Their love kept me afloat.

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When I could not find a job, these friends of mine reminded me of my gifts and talents. They pushed me to try something new and not dwell in the past. They inspired me to dream again and boldly step into a new adventure. When I did find a job and it was something outside my wheel house, these women dared me to try.

As I fashion and form who I am in this season of my life, Tia and Debbie continue to inspire me. They ask bold questions and send me thought-provoking books. They encourage me to step out and not settle. They dare me to dream big and insist I boldly step into new adventures.

These women unashamedly remind me to be the one I am destined to be and not less than. They challenge my inappropriate self assessments and dare me to try new things. They invite me to question and to wrestle with my unrest. Our friendship bears witness to a love that keeps covenant.

Gratitude for a love that never gives up, never fails, seems to be the perfect starting marker of a Lenten quest.

These women and I do life together, challenging each other to continue to be formed and fashioned by the One who modeled what love is. In spite of the miles that separate us, we commune together and are real together. We laugh and cry, weep and celebrate.

What began as a relationship between congregants and their pastor has become something very precious to me. I am the minister I am because of Tia and Debbie. I am the mother I am because of Tia and Debbie. I am the disciple I am because of Tia and Debbie, my forever friends.

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Rev. Katrina Stipe Brooks has served as a pastor, campus minister and youth pastor. Part of a clergy couple, she is also a mother to a daughter in Divinity School and a son in college.

Bailey Edwards Nelson: Identity Crisis

 I can own the fact that I am one of those “I am what I do” kinds of people. Unhealthy? Perhaps. Many have tried to make that argument, particularly while sitting in CPE group sessions. Still, that’s me. It’s hard for a first-born, over-achiever, OCD, Type A personality not to get completely caught up in what you are able to “do”. Every day is a new opportunity to produce or create. It’s another chance to be reminded of your purpose and to achieve something great- or die trying.

I have had many titles- pastor, minister, chaplain, resident (just to name a few). Different periods of my life brought with them different titles and job descriptions. Honestly, it never really mattered what they were, as long as there was something. As long as I was able to call myself something, have somewhere to be and something to do, I was alright. You see, all of these things may read as nothing more than a great professional resume to some people. For me, they read as a resume for my life.

Eleven months ago I lost my job. Eleven months ago I lost my title. Eleven months ago I lost my identity. These days I wake with no sermons to write, no meetings to attend, no lessons to prepare, no parishioners to visit, and no emails or calls to return. I wake up with no requirement of showering and putting on one of those “business casual” outfits that have overtaken my closet. I wake up with no clue when all of this will change, when it will all go back to the way it used to be, or that it ever will.

Seven months ago, I took my (then) three year old son out of school. It’s hard to financially justify daycare when a parent isn’t working anymore. And with that, came a new title, “stay-at-home mom.” Shudder.

I love my son. I love his humor, intelligence, creativity, wild spirit, and even his over-talkative, OCD quirks. He is a lot like me- poor kid. Was it part of my plan to stay at home with him? No. Was it part of my plan to ever be called “stay-at-home mom”? No. And yet, here I am. This job is ten times harder than most would imagine (unless you’ve done it, in which case you know exactly how hard it is). I thought demands were high in the office: semi-sane parishioners calling every second while trying to be everything to everyone at every moment of every day. Forget that! At least those people didn’t follow me into the bathroom!

Now I am in demand ALL THE TIME. I am talked to incessantly and asked to play ridiculous games over and over again. I’m questioned about every smell and sound that enters our house and I’m screamed at when meals do not arrive on time and in proper condition. I’m hugged and kissed and punched and kicked.

I am mom and I am never alone. For an extreme extrovert, like me, that can be a very wonderful thing–unless you’ve lost your identity. Non-stop attention is tough when you don’t know who you are anymore.

You see, I am a good mom. I work hard to make sure that my son feels loved, accepted and supported. We play those silly games and we laugh at the bodily functions that boys love best. I turn food into kid-friendly works of art and I wrestle until my body is black and blue. I read and sing and put on dinosaur puppet shows. I correct and redirect when he goes too far. I listen to screams from the time-out chair one room over. I forgive and hug and move on. I fix boo-boos and fret over head injuries (of which there are many). I do it for hours until even the moon is weary in the sky. And then I get up and do it all again.

When it comes to this job, I am far from the over-achieving picture of perceived perfection that can be seen in the workplace. Rarely do I get it right and I often go to bed feeling like a complete and utter failure. The moments that I lost my temper or used the television to get just a moments peace or went with that sugary snack because I was tired of listening to him beg…well, they happen on almost a daily basis.

But do you want to know a deeper, darker secret? This is the best I can do right now. These mistake-riddled, temper-losing sugar-pushing days are often the only thing I can muster when I wake up and roll out of the bed in the mornings. Why? I don’t know who I am anymore.

OK, yes, I can hear fellow mothers screaming, “But you have an identity! You’re a mom! There is no shame in that!” I agree. I am a mom and that is a title I would never want to lose. Heck, that’s a job description I would never want to lose.

But…dare I say…sometimes being “Mom” just isn’t enough. There are days when I want to curl up in the corner and cry (sometimes I do). There are mornings when the sound of my son’s voice screaming me to rise to duty makes me want to bash my head against the wall. There are nights when I finally sit in silence and wish I were somewhere else entirely.

Depression, anxiety, stress…most ministers are familiar. We scream about our schedules and the demands our congregations place on our time and sanity. Often, we scream the loudest about the lack of time with our families, especially our children. I know that ten hour days at church that left with me a whopping half hour to spend with my son were torture. Ironically, my biggest complaint used to be not having enough time at home with him. Now, I wait and watch for the moment I can go back to work, back to ministry.

Now, are you ready for another confession? My son can smell it. Yep, he can smell the fear, anxiety, stress, pain, grief and longing on me just as strongly as the perfume I put on every morning. He sees in my eyes a lackluster glow where fire used to be. He hears in my voice a quick snap or depressive tone where excitement and joy used to be. He notices my preference of sitting down and being quiet over my once music to the max, swinging from the chandelier approach to life.

But here is the kicker…my son has become my minister. I joked over four years ago now that he also became a “reverend” the night that I was ordained, since he was furiously kicking inside me throughout the service! He seems to be living into that prophecy. When he senses my pain, he offers compassion. Many a morning has he wiped a tear from my cheek saying, “Everything’s gonna be OK mommy!” He can tell when I start sorting through all those bills, to him just a bunch of envelopes and papers, and the stress and worry builds in my body until I snap at his requests for my attention. He moves to another room gifting me with the space he can sense that I need. And when I do return to him hating myself for what I didn’t do for him, he forgives. I get a big smile and, usually, an “I’m so glad you’re here, Mommy!” Or the days when my heart is so heavy with the grief of past hurts and losses and holds little hope for a future, there is my boy ready to heal me. He runs for his plastic doctor kit and begins a thorough check-up, promising to make me feel all better.

My son is my minister. My son is as Christ to me: loving, healing and forgiving when I need it most. My son holds my hand as I walk through this dark valley and I know that when we spot the mountaintop he will look at me and say, “There it is, Mommy! I told you we could do it!”

 

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Rev. Bailey Edwards Nelson has served on the pastoral staff of congregations throughout the southeast, most recently as Senior Pastor of congregation in North Carolina. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology and Furman University. Bailey holds a deep love for preaching and the creative arts.