Navigating the hard days

I want to post a journal entry from November 23, 2015. This was a particularly tough day in my journey and I wrote about the details of how I prepared myself to make it through that day. I hope this gives hope and encouragement to those who need some practical advice. During a difficult season we don’t always know when the pain will come in like a flood, so we have to be prepared to balance our struggle with our regularly scheduled lives. 

Today I write with raw, unfiltered emotion. I just said goodbye to my boys at the front door on a cold, early morning. They are headed out of town with their dad and grandparents, a trip that will be both fun and exciting for them. The tears started to flow as I kissed them goodbye. They are both so loving and sensitive, I worry I burden them with my sorrow. But my heart is overwhelmed and my eyes can’t hold back the reservoir of emotions. So I let them go, the tears and my sweet boys.

I heard my former father-in-law’s voice on the other side of the door as my boys slipped out on to the front porch. I was ugly crying at this point so I gently closed the door behind them. Later, I wished I would have let him see my tears. It’s okay to show we are struggling, hurting. It’s okay for them to see us fraught.

I think moments of pain and struggle are expected in this life. But what do we do with them? How do we handle them? I think we all have different ways of coping but I want to share my morning with you as an encouragement that we can overcome.

After the boys left I went to my master bedroom window and looked out to the street beyond my back yard. I saw them drive off, headed to the highway. The first thing I did was to pray for them, for a safe trip, that angels would surround their vehicle. That they would have a special time together with their dad and grandparents.

Let’s back up 12 hours. Last night I ran to the store to return a movie and fill my car with gas and while I was on my way, I felt God nudging at my heart. Whenever my kids travel—whether by plane or by car—I always like to prepare them a travel snack bag, full of their favorite snacks (well, combined with some carrots and apples). I just needed to pick up one more thing at the store to make their bags complete. “Add something for your former in-laws and your former husband,” I felt God speak to me. Sometimes when God pushes me to do something I kind of let Him have it before actually saying yes. But last night, I listened. No fight, no struggle. I am finally starting to understand God’s plans.

I have never felt this kind of distance between me and other humans in my entire life. Sure, I’ve made mistakes and lost friends. I’ve disagreed and not seen eye-to-eye with people and we’ve grown apart. But I feel completely estranged from my former family. God sees it all, He knows the depths of my pain (and theirs). So He challenges me with His Word. He knows that as I bless and pray for them, my heart with change. As I replace fear with peace and bitterness with acceptance, I will be truly free.

And so I take a few moments to remember their favorites. I know my former husband likes sunflower seeds when he’s on a road trip. My former father-in-law loves Twizzlers. (My boys do, too. And they have a kind grandfather who loves to share.) And my mother-in-law likes chocolate. Although I think her preference may be dark chocolate, I pick up a milk chocolate bar, just because it looks so yummy. (I somehow justify that me getting her something I would really enjoy will surely be a real treat for her. I’m not so sure I’m right, but it goes into the basket.) I also throw in my last item for the boys and start making my way to the check-out.

But there’s one more thing on my list. I know they are coming early and probably don’t have time to make breakfast so I add some of my favorite breakfast sandwiches to the collection. “I’m going to remind them of who I am,” I think to myself. I would do something like this for a friend, why not for my former family? I want them to see my heart. If I’m honest, I want to be loved and accepted by them again. But realistically, I just want them to know that my heart is open…quite guarded, but open a crack.

I set my alarm to give myself enough time to shower and prepare breakfast. I keep the sandwiches warm in the oven and wrap them individually in foil and put them in the snack bag as my boys get ready to leave. I don’t expect a thank you, and that’s how I know I am doing the right thing. I ask myself the question, “What can I give out of love without expecting anything in return?” For me, today, it’s preparing a breakfast sandwiches and sending a few favorite snacks. That is a sincere version of me—nothing fancy, nothing overdone. Just something simple, practical, to make the trip a little easier for this crew.

I slowly turn the lock on the front door after the boys leave and bury my head in my hands. I am broken. I have flashbacks to two years ago when I said goodbye to the boys for their first holiday away, and it happened to be Thanksgiving. I remember being extremely depressed that week as I struggled with not having them with me for one of my favorite days. So many people have told me it will get easier and in some ways I have really been able to adjust to my new reality. But when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, well, I still struggle.

I cried so hard this morning that I wore my mascara off completely. I look like I just got up, make-up free, bags under my eyes and red eyeballs staring back at me as I look in the mirror. I can’t help but laugh, I am a mess and yet I love that I am expressing my true emotions, letting them out, not holding them prisoner in my heart.

I pulled up my go-to worship songs on my phone and played them over the whole-house sound. The words lingered as I laid on my bed and cry. They spoke to my heart. I sensed God’s presence which is the ultimate gift when we are at the end of ourselves. God picks us up and carries us, burdens and all.

I stayed in this quiet, tender space for quite awhile. It was beautiful because during this time calls and texts came in from family members and best friends. God knows how and when to rally our tribe. I was surrounded with His love in a practical way, too, from the people in my inner circle. As I was taking in God’s presence, I felt Him prompt me to open a teaching app I have on my phone. Guess what popped up? “Let God Fight Your Battles.” It was next on the agenda. God spoke to me and stripped me of some burdens I have been carrying around. As the morning progressed, I felt His peace all over me. He was taking care of me.

Next is His word. Reading, digging in, finding his truths for our lives. God has such an amazing way of loving us, of wrapping his arms around our hearts when we are hurting. Scriptures started coming to me, and I paused to meditate on a couple of them:

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:3). Thank you, Jesus. You are promising here that you will stand me up today and help me function like a normal human being! You are my glory…the magnificent one, full of splendor, beauty and wonder. Grand and brilliant, praised and exalted. You are all of these things and you are mine.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). Okay, God, now we’re getting somewhere. You are going to help me navigate this road I am on, and you will give me JOY in the process. You don’t promise us happiness, but you do promise joy. Happiness is external and based on situations, events, people, places, things and thoughts. I believe joy is something we experience when we are connected to God and to people, with no consideration of circumstances. In other words, we can choose joy. We can look to God for our joy. We can expect joy as we are working through our obstacles.

“Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5b). I believe this verse is communicating that we will have sorrow, we will have pain. And it’s appropriate to express those feelings through our tears. But there is hope. As God lifts our heads, there is joy.

And so, as I go about my day today I will reflect on the pain I felt this morning and acknowledge its place in my life. It’s real and it hurts, but it will not overtake me today. I will blend it with the promises of God, His joy and His peace. I will miss my boys today, my heart will long to be with them. But I will also focus on the fact that they will be having a blast with family and friends who will be loving on them while they are away. And I can focus on the love of my family and friends, and the joy that God has given me today. Time to sign off, I’m finally ready to face this day and all it has to offer. With God’s help, we can do this. We can function in a healthy way even when we are hurting. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Jesus tells us (Matt. 11:30). I will accept the gift of a light burden today. I will not only accept it, I will embrace it.

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If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear. 

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