Monday, January 2, 2017

Word for the Year? Oh Bother...



Look Out!!

As I sat in my office this time last year, contemplating what my "word for the year" would be, I had no idea what was coming. How could I know? I can't read the future. Who can?

No one.

So, I did what most of my blogger friends do this time of year, I selected a word. It was difficult because the year before (2015) had proven to be pretty ugly. My family had lost a loved one to cancer and the wounds were still fresh. For the life of me, I don't even remember what my word was for 2016, but I do remember I had high hopes for the year. "Let's make it a good one!" I remember telling friends on social media.

A good one.

Ha!

All I can think of when looking back on 2016 was all the change that had happened. Some of it self-caused while other parts just happened.

Without a plan? Of course not. God is in control of all things. His plan is perfect. I can see that now, but in the midst of the storm, it's hard to see that perfect plan at the other end.






The Year of Change

That's how I will always describe 2016. So much change and much of it too soon.

Beginning with January, because that's how every year begins...the year started out quietly. We lost my sister back in October of 2015, my husband's grandpa in November, and then my dear friend lost her mom on Christmas Day. *Sigh*

Blessedly, January was a slow, boring month by comparison. No one close to us had died.

Whew.

And then came February...

My cousin called me one morning while I was prepping inside my classroom. She called to tell me that my Aunt had been admitted to the hospital and it didn't look good. Unfortunately, my Aunt passed away not long after that.

More loss. More grief. Another family member gone. All those memories were gone, too...

But we endured and life did continue.

Life continued until March 5th. That was the day I won't soon forget. No one can forget the day they find their mom has died at home. Alone.

*Heavy sigh*

On that day, my heart was ripped out of my chest. I hadn't ever screamed like that before and it was an "out-of-body" experience.

Seriously.

I was outside myself looking at the scene of myself sitting on the ground, rocking back and forth, in front of my mom, wondering what was going on. It was surreal.

My mom was gone. Forever. Nothing could change that. I didn't realize I was suffering from trauma until the Firefighter/Crisis worker at the scene had told me so. I'm forever grateful she did tell me this, otherwise I'd be stuck in the "I'm fine, no seriously, I am just fine..." mode forever after until mental illness took over my mind.

So, I had to write yet another eulogy and plan another funeral service. And God carried us through it all.

And did I mention my Uncle died the day after my mom?

CHANGE.

Too much, too soon. Too painful. Too sad.

After all that, the year was just a blur. Death seemed to be everywhere. It began to take over my mind and the nightmares and flashbacks of finding my mom haunted me daily. Who would die next? My brothers? My dad? My husband? Oh God, please not my son!

Grief support groups are tremendous! I followed the advice of my pastor and sought out a group. It was difficult at first. Those meetings made the entire experience painfully real. I was now part of this sad group of sufferers. I had lost five loved ones in five months. My poor husband and son had lost them, too, but I guess I was the one who needed the support. And it's true. I did need it.

Talking about my pain to others knee deep in their own pain did help. Learning how to answer all the questions I had about grief also helped. Reading pre-written prayers to God helped since I couldn't even pray anymore. I would simply sit there and stare at the open Bible, unable to speak or think.

May came and I decided I needed more change. Can you believe it? Yes, that's how I am. I decided to resign as a teacher and see what else God wanted me to do with my life. That was a leap of faith off a very high cliff with jagged rocks below. Sharp, jagged, scary rocks...

Then came June.

My son...my only child...announced he wanted to move out. I don't blame him. I would want to get away from me, too. I cried pretty much everyday.Who needs that? He found an apartment nearby (thank You, God...) and moved out. I handled it better than I thought I would! Was I healing? My support group thought so.

We moved our son out and got him settled in. Then, I decided to make more changes. Good changes. I got a new job at a familiar place: Grand Canyon University. It felt like going home after your folks moved into a nicer house than the one you grew up in. AWESOME.

And then we decided to sell our house and move after eleven years. Because...CHANGE!

That's how I roll.

September came and we had made it through another hot summer, another move (our eleventh, I think...) and settled into a smaller home for the duration of our time on earth. I hope.

The Holiday season was upon us, and now it was time for more CHANGE. But this one was definitely for the best. My support group advised doing something new for that first Holiday season without loved ones. I am so glad I listened to that advice. We spent Christmas in Prescott, AZ at a little cottage and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We laughed together! It felt great to laugh again. Really LAUGH again.




Now, a new year has begun. I'm sitting in my new writing space looking out a my new view...flowers and trees...and smiling. Really, SMILING.

God has been faithful through it all. I am truly grateful for that fact. I can look back and see His hand over me, protecting me (my heart and mind) all year. What a messy year of CHANGE.

Yet I survived. My little family survived. I'm so grateful we survived.

So, my word for 2017 will be GRATEFUL.

For my husband
my son
my brothers
my nieces
my aunts and uncles and cousins
my in-laws
my friends
my little doggies
my new job
my new home
my talents
my lack of talents
my books
my artwork
my Savior
and for all the opportunities that are to come.

I know more challenges are coming. More CHANGE is coming. Some will be self-caused and all will be God ordained because He is sovereign. There's rest in that fact.

Looking back can be painful...looking ahead can be scary...but knowing God is there through it all makes life doable.

Here we go, folks!! 2017 up ahead!!

I wish you all the best. Keep the faith! I know I will...


Your turn:  What is your word for the year 2017? Looking back on 2016, what were your biggest challenges and successes?

Blessings,
Ruth








Social Media and the Grief Process

 Social Media

While developing some college courses for a mental health and wellness program, I read some interesting articles about the impact of social media on those dealing with grief.

I had never really noticed this impact before until I was knee-deep in the bereavement process myself. We all have our opinions on social media. Some consider it pure evil while others consider it essential for quality living.

My opinions fall somewhere in the middle.

But one thing I can attest to is how effective social media has been on my journey in grief. So, I wanted to share some of that experience with you in case you, yourself, are dealing with this unfortunate process or know someone who is.






When we think about social media, images of delicious food recipes and videos, cute puppies and kittens, or funny memes come to mind. But lately, I have seen how people use social media to deal with loss. For instance, on Facebook, when my sister passed away, her page remained open. I and others have posted on her page knowing full well she will never see the posts, but yet we write on her "wall" as a means of keeping her memory alive. 

Why do we do this? 

Does it help us to express our emotions on her page? I believe it does. Somehow, knowing others are reading my thoughts and seeing my posts does much to end the feeling of loneliness one can feel when grieving. I have seen evidence of this phenomenon on other pages as well. This type of expression was never experienced before this century. People steeped in grief were only given the chance to write eulogies or obituaries for newspapers, and (if their experience was unique enough) publish a memoir. And that's about it. 

So what? You might ask this question, but I strongly feel this type of expression is good for mental health.

In the article, "You Don't De-friend the Dead," the author wrote:

 But how do we cope with this grief over time? Grief communication theorists suggest that the          attachment we feel toward the deceased postdeath can be understood as a continuing of bonds:    Rather than severing all ties, the bereaved finds way to renegotiate and understand their relationship  with the deceased now that they have passed on (Silverman & Klass, 1996). 

Continuing of bonds. Yes, I can definitely agree with that assessment. Perhaps that is why social media has greatly assisted those dealing with loss. By connecting with others suffering through the loss of the loved one, that connection to memories of experiences shared or expressed can help understand the impact the loved one had on so many. It's those connections that help keep that loved one "alive."



   



Move On, Already


But can this connection be harmful? What about those who believe it is best to "move on" from or "get over" the loss? Is there merit to such suggestions? Can social media cause the grieving to remain stuck in their grief?

Many say, no, because grief is a process and not a destination. From that same article, Pennington (2013) suggested that the connections found on social media can help those left behind form a new understanding of their relationship with the deceased that will help them move forward through the excruciating grief process. Life without the deceased then becomes a new normal and those grieving are able to heal and grow. 

I can attest to this from personal experience. As a writer and avid social media user, I find that posting about my journey through grief as well as sharing memories about my deceased loved ones has helped me heal and grow as I move on toward that new normal. It also benefits me to know there are others out there who have endured and made it through the various steps in the process. These "friends" converse with me in the virtual setting that proves to be more comfortable than an actual face-to-face setting (Pennington, 2013). 

This encouragement leads to mental health and wellness. 






Better Left Unsaid

Unfortunately, there is always a dark side to social media and some decide it is best to air their grievances toward the deceased on social media sites. These acts can cause much harm to the grieving. As per all parts of social media, discretion is necessary and some people aren't capable of this type of critical thinking. So, harmful and hateful posts are read, leading to more harm than good. But could this harmful behavior also happen without social media? Yes and has happened since modern communication methods have existed. That is truly unfortunate. The grief process is different for everyone and emotions can take over. 




Social Media to the Rescue?

In the end, can social media benefit those who are grieving? Research suggests that it can. There are so many valuable forms of social media sites helping those deal with grief:

Blogs
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter
GoFundMe


All of these sites offer effective assistance to those dealing with loss. I have used many to help me through the process. One thing is for sure, in this age of technology, social media has touched so many parts of life now. Is it going away anytime soon? I, for one, do not think so. Therefore, why not make social media a benefit to those dealing with loss rather than a hindrance? Blog about your experience, post about your loved ones, or simply acknowledge the loss someone else is experiencing. You could be helping someone more than you know. 


Your turn: Have you ever posted on a deceased person's Facebook page? Why or why not? How have you seen social media impact grieving and loss? 



Blessings,
Ruth


References

Pennington, N. (2013). You don't de-friend the dead: An analysis of grief communication by college students through  Facebook profiles. Death Studies, 37(7), 617-635.  doi:10.1080/07481187.2012.673536.










Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Race Set Before You









Hebrews 12 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God..."



The Race Set Before You

Today in church, I was reminded of the hardest marathon I have ever run. We are studying Hebrews 12, where the writer advises us to prepare for the race set before us. 


The race.


We are reminded of those who have gone before us and are now our witnesses. We can gain comfort by reading their words in scripture because they ran their race and endured to the end where they earned their imperishable crown. 


As I sat there listening to our pastor teach, I couldn't help but remember the race and how it's a perfect analogy for what the writer of Hebrews meant...







Prepare


Good shoes, a good training plan, and good health are needed for marathon training. I live in Phoenix, so an October marathon meant training all summer. 


All summer in Phoenix. 


Yuck. What was I thinking?? I did it, but swore I'd never do that again. 




Register


Signing up for a marathon requires commitment, but to register for the most popular marathon in America requires a little bit of luck. Because the Marine Corps Marathon is so popular, you have to enter the lottery and hope your name is selected.


I was selected that March of 2014!

















Upon arriving in Washington, DC to pick up my race packet, it meant waiting in line for an hour just to get in the door, but that's ok. I've always wanted to run this race ever since I saw Oprah run it so long ago. I had no idea there was a Marine Corps Marathon! I knew it was the only race that would mean something to me. I knew I had to do it. 


The Race


My father was a Marine and so was my husband. I was a Marine Corps wife, so the Corps means something to me. But I knew running the marathon was nothing compared to what they had endured during boot camp. I had to finish for them because they finished for us. 




The Course


My uncle had run the race before, so he advised me of the course. "It's hilly, so prepare..." and I did prepare. But you can't really know the course until you are on it. 



The Obstacles


Training for a race always has obstacles to face and this one was no different. During my summer training, I did run up hills to prepare, and in the process blew out one calf muscles. I couldn't even run half a mile! As I wallowed in self pity, I knew there had to be something that could treat such an injury. I sought out the treatment, followed doctor's orders and rode my bike instead of running. For 9 days, I didn't run. That's torture for someone in training! But obeying doctor's orders paid off and I was able to resume running on schedule. 


But that wouldn't be the only obstacle in the way...






The night before the race we were in a car accident. Yes, the night before. Blessedly, no one in our vehicle was hurt. The driver at fault was hurt and flown to the hospital. We were a little shaken up and exhausted from sightseeing in DC all day, but I went to bed and awoke rested and ready to head to the staring line. 


The next obstacle? Finding the starting line. Sigh.


Washington DC is a BIG city and because this race is so popular, there were 30,000 people also trying to find the starting line. After almost 2 hours of driving and searching, we finally found the place to park and the shuttle to take us to the starting line. I'm so glad my husband was with me. I would have talked myself out of the whole thing, I was so stressed!







But we made it to the start and that alone felt like a huge accomplishment! And then it dawned on me that I still had to run 26.2 miles. Oh yeah!




The Race Set Before Me


Finally, I was on the course. Yes, it was hilly just like my uncle had warned. In fact, as we ran through Georgetown, we had 7 miles of hills! But oh how I loved that run. Georgetown was spectacularly beautiful with the architecture, the little shops that lined the route, and the fall leaves fluttering through the air. And the cool air! Mind you, it was still about 104 degrees back home, but it was a balmy 60 degrees that morning. Awwww....







As we entered DC, we ran by the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and headed toward the Washington Monument. My legs began to ache. I knew I was getting weary. Of course, my body was revolting and wanted to quit. 


And that's when we entered "Memorial Way" where the Gold Star Moms are out,  encouraging us to run our race. Here they were to encourage us when we should have been hugging them! It was moving.


Enlarged photographs of fallen Marines lined the route. Some were pictured holding their babies, others were in combat fatigues, and others were pictured in civilian clothes just grinning in life. As I gazed into their young faces, a surge of pride rushed through me. Tears filled my eyes and I knew I couldn't quit. I wouldn't quit. I had to keep going.


I had to keep going for all of them. 


The mantra during the whole race is "Beat the Bridge" because if you don't, you'll be stuck on the other side of the draw bridge waiting for a ferry to come take you to the rest of the race! No one wants that, so I pushed it and ran my fastest 20 miles ever. I made it to the bridge and crossed it on time. 



The Finish


The last 6 miles were excruciating because all my energy was gone. But, as usual, there's one last surge of energy at the end and I pushed through. When you approach the finish line, the whole area is full of Marines cheering you on. Yes, I know they are probably ordered to be there on a Sunday morning, but they aren't ordered to clap or cheer. Yet, they do. They encouraged us on even though they themselves had endured boot camp for 13 weeks. No one cheered them on. 


Finally, I could hear the cheers and the music and that's when I knew I was near the end. One last hill greets you at the end (leave it to the Marines to put in one last hill at the end...) complete with signs painted on the ground encouraging us on:


Beat the Hill!


Dig Deep!


"Okay, I'll dig deep. I'll dig deep.." I thought to myself and pumped my arms. But after a while, it seemed like the hill went on forever!


"Who put this hill here?" I huffed. "Who's idea was it to have this stupid hill here at the finish? I hate this hill!"


One last sign was painted on the ground: 


What Hill?


Arrrgh!! 


Funny Marines. Hilarious.


There it was, the finish line. As I crossed, I saw my husband and smiled for a few photos then made my way to where a Marine Corps officer waited with a medal. He placed it around my neck and I couldn't help but cry. 


I cried because it was over, because he was so young, and I cried because so many Marines didn't make it home. 


When you finish the Marine Corps Marathon, you finish at Arlington. You finish at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial, that stalwart statue that epitomizes the fortitude and reputation of the United States Marine Corps. 


I cried because what I had just endured was nothing in comparison to what that Marine, what my father, and what my husband had endured to become Marines and have that eagle, globe, and anchor pinned to their uniforms. They endured marathons everyday during boot camp: physical and mental marathons that they couldn't quit if they were to become Marines. 


I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for all those who had endured and that my race was finally...finally...over. 


And that's what the writer of Hebrews meant. 


We have the martyrs and the saints who endured the race of life all around us, encouraging us to continue. We have their testimonies to read so we can know the course and all that it entails. 


But even so, those who came before us do not want us to focus on them. Like those Gold Star Moms cheering us on, they are there to point you to the finish line where the real reward lies. 


Those who came before us point us toward Jesus, who endured so much more than we ever will. 


While I was running the marathon, the streets were lined with people cheering us on. Imagine enduring such a race with people spitting on you, threatening to kill you, mocking you, and throwing stones at you. 


Jesus endured that and more. 


I had my husband at the finish line. Jesus was abandoned by His friends at His finish line. 


Our life race is unique to us all. You could ask 100 marathon runners about their experience and you'd get 100 different stories. We shouldn't compare our races nor boast in them. Instead, we should use our races to encourage those who come after us. Like those marathon coaches who run back to find their teammates and encourage them, explaining what's to come on the course and informing them of water stops up ahead. 


Those of us who have experienced much must use our testimonies to encourage others. After the race, I couldn't imagine keeping quiet about it. I am so glad I spoke up in Bible Study today because my story of completing the Marine Corps Marathon analogy encouraged many in attendance. 











Looking to Jesus


The whole point of running the marathon for me was to pay tribute to the Marines. But the whole point of running this race called life is to focus on Christ waiting for us at the end. 


And when He places that imperishable crown onto our heads, we will immediately remove it and place it at His feet in adoration and worship because, as the author and finisher of our faith, He, alone, has earned it. 


What I have learned?


Endure to the end. 


Run the race that is set before you.


Looking, always, to the Savior at the finish line. 



Blessings,

Ruth






Monday, June 6, 2016

Never Fear the Storms












Lake Powell, AZ




Nowhere in the Bible is it written that the life of a Christian will be easy. Instead, we are told the Christian will suffer as Christ suffered. Meaning, storms of life will come and go and leave their marks on us as they do the unbeliever.

I remember last October, after my sister passed away from cancer, I had registered to run a half marathon at Lake Powell. I wasn’t sure if we should still go so soon after my sister’s death, but we both knew my sister would want our lives to go on. As my husband and I were driving toward Page, AZ, for a half marathon race, we could see storm clouds gathering above the city. It’s hard enough to run a half marathon, but to run in the rain and wind makes it even harder! I could feel the fear and trepidation building inside me.





We tend to fear storms because we’ve all experienced them: literally and figuratively. We know how dangerous storms can be. All of us would love to live a life without storms, but what would that life look like?

Years ago, in Tucson, Arizona, scientists built the Biodome: A place where scientists could live and work in a perfect environment. They had perfect air, water, and soil to grow perfect food. They even made a simulated ocean! There within the Biodome, these scientists could study the effects of a perfect environment in hopes of replicating it in life.

After a while of living in this perfect environment, however, these scientists noticed something shocking: the trees they grew were dying. They were simply falling over dead at a young age. Concerned, they took samples of the air, water, and soil to try and figure out what was causing the deaths of these perfectly healthy trees.

All their tests showed nothing was wrong with the water, air, or soil. Perplexed, the scientists had no idea what was causing the deaths of the trees, until one day the answer came to them: No wind.

You see, there was no wind inside this “perfect” environment, but trees need wind. As a young tree grows, the wind beats against the trunk causing the roots to dig in deeper and the trunk grows stronger after each storm. Without those strong winds of a storm, the young trees did not become stronger. Instead, they became weaker and fell over. 

 


We might desire to live in a “perfect” environment (a life without storms…) but by studying God’s creation, we can see that a life without storms makes us weaker.

I thought about this life lesson as we approached Page, AZ. I knew I could run the race in the rain, but it wouldn’t be easy. The morning of the race proved to be beautiful with the sun rising through the thick storm clouds. It only sprinkled on us as we ran.

Later that night came the rain, wind, and lightning. But we watched it from a safe haven inside our hotel room. It was a beautiful sight!

I have endured many storms in life. Recently, my whole family endured that hurricane called “cancer.” We endured for a year alongside our sister, mother, aunt, daughter, and friend: Tammie.  Watching someone you love die a slow painful death isn’t easy. You feel helpless and hopeless. You walk away from that storm forever marked…forever changed.




  
  


But, after the rain and wind departs, the skies are clearer, the sun shines brighter, and the new day is remarkable. You walk away a stronger person for having endured the storms.

The good shepherd knows how to handle the storm. He gathers his sheep and provides a shelter. During the storm, he watches the sheep to make sure none wander off and fall into a raging river or off a cliff to their deaths. He keeps a vigilant watch all through the night. And in the morning, he counts his sheep to see if any are lost. If any are gone, he searches for them and returns them to the fold. He binds their wounds and heals them.


So, never fear the storms of life. They come to make you stronger. The rain makes you grow and the winds make you stand firm.  Praise God you have the Good Shepherd who will remain with you throughout the storms. He will never leave you nor forsake you.  There is purpose in everything He does.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11


“As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Ezekiel 34:12


Blessings,
Ruth

Friday, May 20, 2016

Are You Ready for the Summer?


New Smyrna Beach, FL


Rest & Relaxation

Ah, the beach. For me, there is no better place to relax and unwind after a busy school year. As a former school teacher (this was my last year...), I found much solace in sitting on the beach and listening to the waves last summer in New Smyrna Beach, FL. It was the best way to decompress. 

What about you? How do you prefer to rest? Do you even rest at all?

I tend to have many projects going at the same time. I'm crazy that way. I think I find busyness as a way of avoiding things...primarily completion. But I have improved upon that little hiccup in the system. I actually do complete novels, paintings, or blog posts. I know many people who never complete a project. They just go on to the next. 








He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures

Lately, I have been working on a project that speaks to my heart. I am writing a women's Bible study based on Psalm 23. The part I focused on today is the concept of rest. In the first verse, David writes about the Lord our Shepherd.

"He makes me lie down..."

Curious isn’t it how David wrote that the Lord makes him lie down? Wouldn’t one want to lie down in green pastures?
Think about it. When was the last time you stopped and rested. I mean really rested? The good shepherd would stop his flock and make them lie down to rest.
I, myself, understand this idea perfectly because I usually am against resting.  I am very good at multi-tasking. Aren’t most women? It is hard for me to stop and take a break from anything. My brain is usually going one hundred miles an hour. 
As a runner, I almost feel guilty when I take a day off from running even though I know my body needs rest to recover. Rest is the best way to avoid injury.
So, I can easily understand why the Lord has to make us lie down in green pastures to rest.
That’s a sad reality, isn’t it? But we women tend to become so busy that we do forget the importance of resting.

"Pastures of tender grass..."

The phrase "green pastures" is translated as "pastures of tender grass.” You know the kind of grass: soft and cool to the touch. It reminds me of that rye grass we plant in winter here in Phoenix.
Imagine your bare feet on the soft cool tender grass shaded by a tree. Who wouldn’t want to lie down on that grass and rest? Contrast that to the dry harsh desert landscape: The coarse sand and rock burning in the sun. The Good Shepherd seeks out the green pastures for his sheep to enjoy. 

He seeks out the land for us to enjoy! 

Why would we not follow our Shepherd and find that rest? My challenge this summer is to make the time to rest. It will be a challenge, too. I want to finish three books and self-publish them this summer, start a drawing instruction YouTube channel, and also write and teach this Bible study. 

Oh and did I mention I am also looking for a full time job? Tired yet?

See what I mean about crazy busy? It can become overwhelming and the Shepherd must lead His sheep to the green pastures, stop them, and bend their legs to force them to lie down as a good and loving shepherd does. 

It's up to you and me to actually follow His lead. He knows best. Who are we to fight Him?

So, are you ready for the summer? Are you going to be so crazy busy with projects and plans that you will forget to stop and rest? Or will you truly heed the Master's call and spread your bare feet in the cool shady grass that He provides for you?

I hope you heed His call and find rest.


Enjoy your break!


Blessings,
Ruth