The undercover Face of Grief

I don’t think I ever really grasp, until this last year, the impact that my previous “episodes” with my AVM had on me. Looking back on it, there are a number of times where it changed the course of many things and I didn’t know it at that time.  Looking back on it, my life, my family and both sets of parents are richer because of it.

I’m going to call this Face of Grief – the Undercover Face. I know I probably watch too many cop shows on TV, but you know the undercover cops? The ones who are just moving around in the “normal” world trying not to be noticed.   
Trying to do their job, trying to gain access to the center of what’s happening, and trying to do it without you realizing it. That’s what the undercover face is.

Except on the cop shows, the undercover cop is the good guy and the people he’s trying to get “in with” are bad guys. In this case, it’s the exact opposite. He’s the bad guy, grief is the undercover face that’s trying to sneak in to your life. And you don’t see him and you don’t notice the trail of dirt that he left walking through your kitchen late at night. You don’t see that all is not well.

And then suddenly, you realize that he’s there. And suddenly you see all of the things that have happened which are ways you could should have seen him coming. But you didn’t. And he scared you quite badly.  

My parents lived with that undercover face of grief from 1972 to 2018. He was always around, but not always seen. I believe that in many ways, God used the grief and the sorrow that my dad experienced with his cancer to make his ministry and his life a much deeper and more impactful life for so many.

I’ve had that undercover face of grief hiding around me for a long time too. 1978 – I was in 8th grade. And I had to go to Mayo Clinic (at that point, I thought Mayo was the place where all of the really really sick people went). 1986 – the AVM was back – just as I was finishing college and expecting our oldest…..

So what have I learned from the Undercover Face of Grief? A couple of things:

 • Trust God – God is the parent there to help you when you are scared, sad, worried, and happy, funny, joy-filled. God is there to walk beside you – invite him to join you or you join him and the Undercover Face of Grief won’t be so scary when it shows up – and it will – we live in a fallen world.

 • Remember that as scary as the undercover face might be, when he “shows up” the light of Jesus and the support of others makes him less scary.

 • Don’t live your life scared of the Undercover Face. Instead, look for the joy in life. Look for the things that will add purpose and meaning to your life. Look for the difference you can make in your world – whether it’s in your home, your community or way beyond that.

 • Look around you – there are probably people you know who are staring down that Face of Grief right now. Stand up with them, stand next to them, tell them, “You are not alone.”

One of the many things I have learned over the last years is that there are way more people who are struggling and way less people who have all of their “ducks in a row” than I ever would have thought.

So, when your grief shows his head after hiding behind the scenes, acknowledge him, look at your life – are there things you’ve been doing that have made it easier for him to hide? I’m thinking of the old country and western song about drowning your sorrows…..

God’s grace is enough. Actually, the writer of Psalm 4 says, “I have God’s more than enough”

When grief shows it’s face, know that God’s grace is more than enough.

TJV

“I’m one of those”

I’m one of those….. I said

Those what? He asked.

Those people who look fine, I said

Well, that’s good, he said

Isn’t it? I asked

In some ways, it is, I suppose…… I wondered

If I look fine, then people will treat me like I’m fine.

I think that’s good? I asked myself….

But wait, he said

If you look fine and they treat you fine, aren’t you missing the point? He said

What point? I looked at him quizzically.

The point of life, he said

Life that pleases God, he said

What is the point of life? I said

What do you think the point of life is? He tossed the question back at me

Hmmm….. Can you give me a clue? I asked

It’s got three actions in it – straight out of the Bible, He said

I need more to go on than that, I said.

How about I’ll give you the actions and you fill in the rest? He said

Okay, I’m in.

The first one is Act
The second one is Love
The third one is Walk

He said and then sat back, took a sip of his coffee and waited.

Oh, I get it…..

Act Justly – right? I said.

He smiled and nodded.

Love mercy?

Yep

Walk Humbly?

Yep – but walk with who? He asked

Look it up in the Bible, he said.

A light dawns in my brain.

“Act Justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” I said, with a big smile on my face.

Micah 6:8

A road map for life.

Simple to read.

Hard to do.

Tom

Amen or Ouch?

“Say Amen or Say Ouch”

The pastor at our church has a saying that he will use quite often in his sermons:

“Say Amen or say Ouch.”

‘Say Amen” – acknowledge that the conversation that is happening between God and his people in that particular location at that time is good.

It is soul refreshing.

It is strengthening.

It helps you get ready for another week, “Out there.”

Or

“Say Ouch” – acknowledge that the conversation that is happening is challenging you, it is making you realize that you can “do life” better. It’s a realization that what God says through the Bible in that particular place isn’t all peace and comfort. It shows us where we fall short. It shows us where God expects more from us. It challenges us to go “out there” and do better, because while we know we can’t do it perfect, we can do it better. It also acknowledges the grace and forgiveness that comes when we say “ouch” and realize we messed up.

“Say Amen or Say Ouch.”

John 13:34-35 says:
““Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.””
https://www.bible.com/97/jhn.13.34-35.msg

Love one another – say amen or say ouch?

Love one another the way Jesus loves us – say amen or say ouch? Remember, Jesus was known to have dinner with IRS agents and prostitutes.

“Everyone will recognized that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

If someone looked at your Facebook wall – would they see the love of Jesus on there?

If someone saw the comments you make on someone’s social media post about police shootings or race/hate crimes or protest marches or refugees seeking to come to America, would they see the love of Jesus?

If someone watched ________________________ that you did, would they see the love of Jesus there? Would they see your love for one another?

Or does “one another” only refer to people in your circle of friends? Or people who speak English as their first language? Or people who are……..

In all of the struggles that this world is going through, we have an opportunity, as the church of Christ, to show love.

How do you think we’re doing?

Yeah, me neither.

TJV

When we can’t see…..

When we can’t see……

When we can’t see why bad things happen…..

When we can’t see why bad things happen to good people.
When we don’t want…..

When we don’t want these bad things to happen……

When we don’t want to deal with the pain and grief of these bad things

When we don’t want to wrestle with the why question. Why God?
When we don’t think……

When we don’t think we can handle one.more.day……

When we get angry at God thinking He must not care because….

When we don’t get it.

When we don’t understand God’s plans and it makes us doubt.

When we want to…..

When we want to scream and holler and throw things…..

When we want to scream at God and say, “God, why don’t you do something?”
And we just hear silence

And more silence.

And the sound of our tear drops is the only noise that breaks the silence.
Until we hear a still, small voice.

“I’m here. I’ve got you. Trust me.”

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

TJV

Hospitals and Schools and Airports

I find myself fascinated by Hospitals and Schools and Airports.

“That’s really odd,” I can hear you thinking that already. Don’t deny it. 🙂

Why?

What do they have in common?

No, it’s not the size of the buildings.

No, it’s not where they are located.

It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money they make.

Or with how many cool toys there are at each one.

Or whether it’s run by the government or run by a private organization.

That’s not what fascinates me.

“Well then, tell us!”

It’s the stories.

Most of them you don’t know.

But.everyone.has.one.

And they are almost always not nearly as pretty of a story as it looks. And they are always significantly deeper and more varied and complicated than they look.

The “very successful business man” getting on an airplane while carrying his briefcase and talking on his phone (usually too loudly). You can’t see underneath to understand his true story. Maybe he isn’t successful but is trying to look the part. Maybe he’s off to visit another location of his business and eliminate 60 jobs at their plant in California. Maybe he’s…. or maybe he’s going…….

The young mom traveling with two little ones – is she going to visit Grandma? Or Dad? And what has led to this trip?

The family with “similar” looking winter gear on, obviously heading to somewhere with bigger hills than we have to do some winter activities together.

And the doctor walking down the hall at the hospital, she has 7 significantly younger staff (probably residents) following just barely behind her; she’s got a story. A story of good, of sleepless nights wondering if she did “it” right, of successes, of failures. A story of explaining to her kids that she couldn’t do …… Because she had to tend to the needs of someone who……..

The mom being pushed down the hall in a wheelchair holding a new born baby. So much happiness, so much wonder and a good bit of nervousness too. Dad follows behind carrying all of the flowers and balloons while trying to get used to the new name, “Dad.”

The older man with the stooped shoulders trying to navigate how to get to his wife’s hospital room. Worry worn very obviously heavy on his heart.

The elementary school students all full of energy and chaos and questions. What do they take home with them? What stories outside of school impact the way they “do” school?

The middle school students – that awkward phase where you are trying to figure out who you are and what your place in this world is, let alone what place in your school is “your fit.”

You can’t forget the high school students. A conundrum of conflict between the kid that I was and the adult that I think I’m going to be. A time where parents need to work themselves out of a job – and let them grow and think and do for themselves. And that involves pain and struggle and skinned knees and bruised egos and it involves big steps and small steps and closing doors and knocking on new ones.

High School – I’ve heard it said that the only people who like high school are the teachers and staff. I’m not sure that’s true but many of the former high school students I know (present company included) would agree with it.

And then there’s the teachers – Did you know that a math teacher doesn’t really teach math? And a Spanish teacher doesn’t teach Spanish?

That’s right, what they really teach is life. Sure, it’s life through the window of Math, or life through the lens of a foreign language or life through the thoughts and ramblings of Atticus Finch or Shakespeare or Dante. But it’s life they are teaching and the stories they get to see a glimpse of as they do that, it’s an amazing privilege and an awesome experience to see the “lightbulb” go on.

Stories – a multitude of stories. Some happy, some sad. Some strong, some weak. Some simple, some complex. Some wet with tears, some overflowing with laughter.

I look around and I see a whole bunch of people. But even more, I see stories. Everyone has a story. Many of us have many different chapters to our stories.

Most of us aren’t willing to share our stories, and so we keep them stuffed down inside. Sometimes that’s good, other times, if our stories aren’t told, that leads to deeper scars and harder stories.

And each of our stories has something to offer, something to teach, something to encourage others with. But they won’t, if we don’t share them.

That’s why the Facebook page for Humans of New York has over 17 million followers the last time I checked.

17 million – that’s like the entire population of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

So share your story. Even if it’s only with one person.

Even if it’s only one chapter of your story. You just might be the boost that that one person needs.

TV