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May 27th, 2023 – Post #85
I feel like “being still” is a form of trusting that God will use sadness to shape our futures, if we will wait and see; while “being stuck” is not being able to move forward, because of being entangled in the past.
I had to laugh last night, after posting my bubble gum analogy, when I came across this scene on the sidewalk:
I think dropping gum on the ground is about the most selfish of bad habits a person can have. The gum chewer saves themself the inconvenience of a few extra seconds stepping over to a trashcan, at the risk of inconveniencing somebody else, or multiple people, for a very long time, with the obnoxious task of shoe cleaning.
Anyway, this sight made me pause and hope that my open sharing of the bubble gum analogy isn’t a form of “dropping my gum in the wrong spot”. I want to be honest about the struggle of grief; but I don’t want anybody to get “stuck” in what I post on this site and feel like they have to side step, or clean up an unexpected mess.
This season of loss is so different than the one I was in three and a half years ago. At the time I was definitely “stuck” instead of being “still”.
I’ve Been Here Before
I didn’t realize until last night that I’m in the same location where I was in 2019, when I’d unexpectedly lost a spiritual mentor, and a great aunt, who was very dear to me, especially because she reminded me so much of my grandma, who was her oldest sister.
Their deaths happened within about six weeks of each other, in the midst of a daily back and forth dread for my uncle, Danny. He was dying, and I didn’t want to say goodbye; but I also couldn’t bear to see him suffer much longer.
The night following my great aunt’s death, several family members gathered at a restaurant, on this lake, which I’d never been to at the time. My whole world seemed to be crumbling.
Within a week, Danny was gone, too.
I thought that was the end of Wabash for me. That was September of 2019.
That month, we had two processions from the funeral home to the Friend’s Cemetery – one for my great aunt and another for my uncle. My grandma, who was a Stouffer by birth, had said many times in our remembrance, “September was always a hard month for the Stouffers.”
Her words hit home that September. It seemed the hardest yet.
Last night, I ended up at that same restaurant, on the same lake where some of us gathered after my grandma’s sister died. During last week’s familiar funeral procession route, and sitting, eating dinner at that restaurant, it seems a little surreal how unsurmountable my grief was back then, compared to the peace I sense this time around. I really can’t account for it, and perhaps the hurting will hit unexpectedly, in a different time and place; but I think a lot of it stems from the good I have seen God bring out of the heartbreak I had.
Back then, I just wanted to lay in bed and listen to sad country songs on YouTube.
I felt so stuck.
Maybe this blog has a lot to do with me handling this round of sadness better. Formerly, I tried to hide and stuff my emotions. Maybe it could be likened to being unsure what to do with a piece of chewing gum and putting in my pocket, to keep it from being seen. Eventually, the turbulence of the washing machine can make what we try to hide a completely obvious mess.
When I realized my mistake, I hoped that if I ever went through another season of grief that I’d do a better job of dealing with it.
Facing Grief Again
God gave me another chance, and made the setting the same, so I could compare…
Ironically, the only other time I’ve been back to this lake was right before my mom’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I’d been doing some caregiving, and was on the tail end of my commitment, so I was making plans to move in a different direction. On my way back to Wabash from this area, I got the call from my mom, who had gone to the ER. She was crying, which was rare.
She said, “It’s not good, it’s pancreatic cancer.”
After the doctor broke the news to her, she told my dad, “Well, that’s a death sentence.”
She was so sick, that I didn’t think she’d make it more than a couple of weeks; but she lasted nearly two years. Maybe that part has been what’s helped so much. We had time to say goodbye, and I felt like my heart was more ready to let go.
I could open my hand, instead of feeling like my fingers were being pried away.
Choosing to Be Still Instead of Being Stuck
I sat and ate my meal last night, looking out over the water, astonished to not feel hurried, or like I needed to help anybody. I feel like I have eaten most of my meals on my feet for the last I don’t know how many months, finding myself jumping up between bites to take care of one thing or another.
It felt so strange to sit still.
The restaurant was mostly empty, so after I paid my bill, I stayed at the table, realizing I had no reason to hurry away.
When I did finally go, that bubble gum was stuck on the sidewalk outside.
Not wanting to get stuck and spend the evening cleaning the tread on my shoes, I sidestepped it, then looked to the canal bridge nearby, remembering it as the spot where my friend told her husband he’d become a dad about two years ago. Their little girl is about to become an older sister, and her mom and I had been talking about the excitement of the upcoming birth the day before.
I barely knew their family back when my mom was diagnosed; but life has a way of moving forward, even in the midst of sadness. When I thought all of my Wabash connections were being severed by one death after another, God was weaving new cords of love that connected me to people here. I’m thankful for that – and a little humored about how He uses funerals to build friendships.
I Wanted To Call My Mom
Walking out of that restaurant last night, on that same lake, I “happened” to run into one of my mom’s cousins. I kid you not, this kind of thing happens everywhere. I’m at least forty-five minutes from Wabash right now. It made me laugh, because it brought back memories of standing, waiting for my mom to finish talking to whoever it was she’d recognized. I wish I’d paid better attention back then, instead of being so impatient, because now I like when this sort of thing happens.
Even in this season of wanting to hide away for a while, it was fun to see familiar faces.
When I got back to the hotel, I was behind my car, when I thought, “Oh yeah, I need to remember to tell my mom I saw her cousin,” then as I closed the trunk, I remembered, “Oh yeah, I can’t,” and that made me kind of sad. And yet, subsequent grief over the years has been a big part of why I know any of her cousins in the first place, so I need to recognize that.
Be Still My Soul
Before my mom died, we sang many songs with her. One of my favorite hymns is, “Be Still My Soul”. I didn’t know whether she knew it or not; but as I began the first verse, my mom said, “Oh, that’s my song!” I was glad, because I feel much the same way.
This version by Kari Jobe seems especially beautiful to me:
Words to the Hymn Be Still My Soul
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well-pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.
Be Still and Know That I Am God
In sadness, when it feels like everything solid is being dissolved, I have found a sure foundation.
Psalm 46 has become very dear to me.
In the midst of great tumult and trouble, we can find refuge in God.
Like a loving parent, to a child that needs to learn to trust, He tells us: “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” – Psalm 46:10,11
For a while, I wondered what that term “God of Jacob” meant. As I look back on the record of Jacob’s life, in the book of Genesis, at how he had a respect for God, as the God of his father and grandfather, I’ve noticed that he didn’t come to claim to know God personally, until he had seen God’s faithfulness for himself. Jacob worried, and wandered, and wrestled. In the end, he knew Who to trust.
*the editor in me is wondering if I should be using the word “Whom” instead of “Who” here. At least I know to say, “Who knows!?!”, instead of “Whom knows!?!” 🙂
Sticking My Gum In An Appropriate Place
Anyway, these are all things that I have been “chewing on” as I attempt to sit still and recover some from caregiving and missing my mom. All my thoughts feel a little incomplete at this point; but I guess I will just hit “publish” – otherwise, I’ll just end up stuck after all! 🙂
P.S. I have finally posted the video link to her St. Louis funeral. You can see it by clicking here.