Suffering Gracefully: Lessons from My Modern-day Job

2014. What a year.

Engagements. Weddings. Graduations. Pregnancies. Birthdays. Dreams. Projects. New loves. New places. New choices. New careers.

A year full of exciting adventures and life-giving discoveries.

But for some, 2014 was anything but a dream.

And for my grandmother, Mamaw, it was a relentless year, full of punches at every turn.

It’s been said, “When it rains, it pours.” and, boy, has Mamaw weathered some pouring rain.

On February 5th, my Papaw, her husband, was diagnosed with a very aggressive esophageal cancer accompanied by blood-clots in his lungs.

Shortly after, he began radiation and chemotherapy treatments that wrecked his body, leaving him unable to lead his normal life. Graciously, Mamaw took up the slack and made sure everyone and everything was taken care of.

On April 28th, a tornado ripped through our hometown, destroying Mamaw’s house with her, Papaw, and my cousin Brooke inside. In the aftermath, Mamaw was left with no house to go home to, numerous priceless family mementos lost, a broken foot, and a body bruised worse than I’ve ever witnessed. Papaw was also left with stitches, scrapes, and bruises.

In late July, Mamaw and Papaw lost one of their closest friends in Tupelo after complications from heart surgery. Losing anyone is difficult, but losing a best friend of almost 30 years hurts like losing a family member.

On September 11th, Mamaw lost her mother after suffering complications from a car wreck.

And on December 16th, cancer violently claimed the life of Papaw.

In a short 10 months, Mamaw lost her house and a majority of her physical possessions, her best friend, her mother, and her husband.

All of that on top of the common struggles and frustrations that come with raising two teenage girls.

Woah.

When I found out Papaw had passed away, I had no idea what to expect from Mamaw. I didn’t know how anyone could still be standing after suffering all of those things in a relatively short time. But when I asked, with slight confusion in their eyes, everyone who had been with Mamaw the night Papaw died assured me she was handling it well.

How do you handle the death of your husband well? How do you handle any death well?

But when I finally got to see Mamaw for the first time since that December 16th night, I understood what they meant. It wasn’t that she hadn’t cried, or that she was acting as if nothing was wrong, but there was something in her eyes that assured you she was okay. There was something inside her that assured her she was going to be okay. She had fight in her heart, and she wasn’t giving up.

And as I stood by her for a total of 7 hours over those two days for visitation and the funeral, I was amazed at the things she said, the wisdom she shared, and the things I learned. And when someone remarked that she was like a modern-day Job, I thought there couldn’t be a more fitting description.

So, in the midst of suffering and loss, these are some things I learned from my modern-day Job.

1. Crying is good for the soul, but danger comes when you invite yourself to a pity party. As countless people asked how she was doing or if she needed anything, she would always respond with “I’m okay right now. I’ll probably take some time later and just cry it out, but I’m okay right now.” To me, this was obviously a normal response. But what struck me is the one time she answered, “I might throw myself a pity party after it’s all over. Well, actually, no we don’t have time for that! We have too much to be thankful for!” I’m sure my eyes bugged out when I heard her say she had too much to be thankful for to feel sorry for herself. Thankful? You’ve suffered more loss in a year than most people do in 10 and you’re saying you still have things to be thankful for? Which brings us to point 2…

2. Always, always, always look for the silver lining. Count your blessings, even if you feel they are few, and find something to be thankful for. What does it profit us to focus on all of the things that are going wrong in life? Literally nothing good can possibly come from reciting to ourselves over and over all of the horrible things that have happened to us. But you know what can help? Shifting our focus to the things we have to be thankful for. Even if it’s something as seemingly insignificant as good weather, find something. For Mamaw, she started naming things like a new house after the tornado took her old one, insurance that has helped replace what was lost, family that is still alive and able to help out, a church family that cares, a God who never leaves us, a Savior who suffered for us, the hope of Heaven and the assurance that Papaw’s life didn’t end the day his earthly body died. Regardless of how many awful things life has thrown at you, start naming off everything you have to give thanks for. Once you start, I guarantee you will be uplifted when you remind yourself all of the things you still have to be thankful for.

3. Never let the fact that someone else seems to be suffering more diminish the pain you feel, BUT acknowledging that other people have it worse, does help keep your suffering in perspective. As someone was talking about how unimaginable the circumstances were, Mamaw mentioned that she had a friend who had lost 2 brothers, a sister, a son, and her mother all in the same year and commented, “It could always be worse.” It goes back to being thankful for the things you still have. Count your blessings, not your problems. And recognize that it’s never as bad as it could be.

4. Fall down 7 times, stand up 8. Life can only beat you up if you give it permission. So many times we are tempted to wallow in self-pity and have a “woe is me” attitude, justifying it by siting the awful circumstances surrounding our lives. But regardless of the circumstances, we can only be beat down if we allow ourselves to. We control what we let effect us and to what extent. It doesn’t mean life doesn’t hurt, or we can’t express that pain, but, rather, that we acknowledge the pain and commit to continue moving forward. However fast or slow we move, just keep moving. Never stay down.

5. Find someone or something that motivates you to keep living. Remind yourself of your reason to continue. For Mamaw, this is often her 2 granddaughters that she’s raising. I can’t count the number of times she would tell people, “I can’t fall apart. I have 2 girls I have to be there for. They need me.” Whether it’s a parent, a friend, a child, or a goal, find something that motivates you to keep going. To keep pushing. Never give up. As long as there is breath in your lungs, you have a purpose. Keep. Going.

6. When life brings you rain, grab an umbrella and keep praising Him. Never stop praising. Never stop PRAYING. In times of trouble, run to God with everything you have. Use those times of sorrow to grow closer to Him and strengthen your relationship. Take advantage of those vulnerable times. God has so much love and comfort ready to share, run into His arms and enjoy His embrace. He’s waiting for you, as He always is. Use this time to show the world the reason for the hope that is in you. Let God shine through you and bring more people to Him.

There are so many more things I’ve learned about handling life and loss from Mamaw, but these are a few of the biggest ones that have stuck with me.

Life doesn’t always happen the way we wish it did. We all experience pain and loss, some to a higher extent than others. But, thankfully, we all get to experience joy and blessings as well.

Some seasons of life bring showers. Some bring rain storms that last for days. But after every good rain, comes beautiful growth. Flowers, green grass, and rainbows.

He will turn our mourning into dancing. And we will dance with our loved ones again one day. What a beautiful day that will be.

“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—  always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”- 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

In loving memory of Charles “Papaw” Milam. We miss you everyday.

Advertisements

The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross

On Facebook this morning, I came across another blog post that was recently shared by a friend. It was 4:30am, I was in the car on the way to the airport, and anything that sounded remotely interesting was getting my undivided attention. And with a title as intriguing as “Dear Girl, a Good Man Will Still Want You” I couldn’t help but follow the link to see what this was about.

This is another one of those times where I’m thankful for Facebook, gifted writers, and friends who take the initiative to pass along these little articles.

Before you keep reading here, go check out the original post. It’s worth your time. Promise :).

Phylicia, the author of the original post, is writing a post to all the many different girls who are blissfully unaware of how much they have in common. Different girls, with different pasts, all asking the same question.

“Will a ‘good’ man still want me?”

Can the kind of man that fairytales are built around, the one fathers dream of their daughters finding, the man who seems perfect in every sense of the word, handle my past?

Can he deal with the baggage?

With a jaded past full of mistakes, is it even fair for me to desire this kind of man?

Can I still hold out for that type of man?

Am I worthy of that kind of love?

For starters, YES. Absolutely. To the girl who is asking herself these questions, it’s time to stop.

Regardless of your past, whether filthy or spotless, you are worthy of love.

You are worthy of respect.

And that worth was given to you by the Father who created you and NO ONE can take that away.

Stop questioning whether you are expected to settle for less. Stop doubting that you are worthy. Let me say that again. You. Are. Worthy.

Now that we’ve addressed the lies, let’s get to the reason I’m even writing this instead of just sharing the original post.

As I was reading the article, I was enticed by the truths that were shared. I loved how she shared profound truths in such simple language. Reminding us that “even the free forget their freedom sometimes.” And that “God isn’t using your past as His outline for your future-and neither should you.”

But above all else, this article brought to mind the hearts of close friends. Girls that have expressed these same thoughts. Girls who were manipulated in previous relationships. Girls who made mistakes that left deep scars and still haunt them years later. Girls, all too close to me, struggling with the idea that they aren’t worthy anymore. That somehow, their past has left them as “damaged goods” and they no longer deserve the love of a “good man.”

And then, I got angry. Angry because these are the lies that are spread out of good intentions. Bible class teachers give lessons on sexual purity and use illustrations like “a flower wilting after it’s been touched” or “a diamond losing its shine when it’s handled by too many hands” to promote abstinence. And while the intentions, no doubt, are good. Have you ever considered the implications of those illustrations? How you can give girls with past mistakes the idea that they aren’t worth as much anymore? That they no longer have the privilege of being a shining diamond? That they aren’t good enough? Or worse- that the sole reason for remaining pure is to be more valuable to your husband one day? That they are merely a prize to be won and the more valuable the prize the more desired they will be?

And can we acknowledge the double standard?

I’ve never heard about anyone giving guys a lesson on purity using illustrations like the ones above. It’s not common to hear guys who have made mistakes in past relationships question whether they are worthy of a “good woman.” To be honest, I’ve never heard any guy say he wasn’t good enough for someone despite their jaded past.

Maybe it’s something guys think, but don’t vocalize. But I don’t know anyone who can argue against the fact that it’s accepted in society for guys to do things that girls are condemned for. In society, sleeping around makes guys “men” and makes girls “sluts.” Harsh, but true.

I am absolutely NOT, hear me say this, NOT pushing for the acceptance of promiscuity for either gender. But I am asking that we realize these are delicate issues to address. And we should consider the implications of our words.

There’s no question that God designed the sexual relationship to be enjoyed within the boundaries of marriage. And, no doubt, God places high value on His children honoring those boundaries. But when we give His children the idea that past mistakes or bad choices have deemed them unworthy or less than others, we are spreading lies. We, unintentionally, imply that doing good and avoiding evil earns us a higher level of salvation. A more prominent spot in the Kingdom. Makes us “more worthy” of God’s love than others.

When we give someone the idea that they aren’t worthy of a “good man’s” love, we are cheapening the value of God’s most valued creation.

We are giving the devil a foothold in their life to convince them, somehow, they can never be fully forgiven.

They can never be fully whole again.

That they can never be fully loved.

God’s grace covers a multitude of sins. His grace restores brokenness and redeems jaded pasts.

His grace is sufficient for you.

Are you listening?

You are dearly loved, sweet girl. His grace is waiting to restore you. To redeem you.

Let go of those hurts that have cut deep.

Stop letting the Devil convince you that you aren’t worthy of a good man.

Don’t listen when he screams that you are “damaged goods”, unworthy of being pursued.

“You may think your story is too alarming for a good man to handle. You may think no Godly man could love a woman with a past like yours. Listen: God’s men are draped in the same unmerited favor that you are. There is no favoritism. There is no better-than. But there is hope…the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

And to my feminist friends, you know who you are, who have talked about this issue before, I’m sorry for rolling my eyes and brushing you off. I’m sorry for acting like you were overreacting. I get it now. It finally clicked. And I get it. It’s not fair. It’s not beneficial. And something needs to change.

Can we commit, together, to spreading more truth, more Grace, and more encouragement?