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Leaning in to grief...

The irony of this post being published on Valentine's Day is not lost on me. It just HAPPENS to be on this day of love that my heart recognizes the fact that without having experienced love, grief is simply unwarranted. It is because of love that our hearts ache.

This last year has been one of discovering that leaning in to grief is absolutely a choice. Since the dramatic and sudden loss of my sweet dad at age 60, I have had to choose to accept those feelings of loss. The feelings of hurt and heartbreak and regret and resentfulness. Call it the addiction in my blood or learned behavior but my very first instinct is to do anything and everything to AVOID feeling sad.

Or mad.

Or anything at all.

Just make it STOP.

My coping mechanisms of choice this year have been many. Searching for that next dopamine hit from "likes" and "loves" on FB and Insta. Escaping into other people's imaginary and perfectly filtered worlds for a moment or, an hour. Using food as a source of comfort and regretfully welcoming the self-sabotage that comes along with it. Going up a size in jeans and doing it anyway. Drinking too much coffee and then buying a Groupon for teeth whitening. I intentionally snap my thoughts back into reality and tell myself to get real. This is not a direction I want to go. Where will I be in 6 months if I don't deal with this? In a year? I know better. So I use my oils. I look at old pictures. I listen to the sad songs. I stretch. I pray. I imagine that I wrap it up in a little box with a twine bow and place it in the hands of Jesus for him to carry because that little box is

JUST. SO. HEAVY.

And he does.

I get outside and move my body. Movement is like medicine. My spirit quickens and I feel like I can be or do anything after fresh air and working up a sweat. But like any good thing, even that can be a form of avoidance for me...

Because I listen to FAR too many sermons and podcasts and books on Audible because often I don't want to hear the thoughts coming from in between my ears. I have to take the earbuds out of my head and let my thoughts GO THERE. Let them come. Just BE. I give permission to the stinging tears to well up and roll down hot on my cheeks, racing to my chin and gathering on my neck. I wish I had brought Kleenex on my walk. There is healing in the process of letting them fall. Like letting steam out from under the lid of a boiling pot. Reduce the pressure. This was my view as I cried.

As of today, I haven't picked up a bottle to escape for 930 days. I don't even know if I realized that's what I was doing before. There are many painful things in my life both from my childhood and in adulthood that hurt when I think about them so escaping with booze made complete sense. Getting buzzed at 3pm was easy AND socially acceptable?! EVEN for a Christian. Winning. I always have been a people pleaser. As long as I was doing what looked normal and didn't cause too many ripples, things were good. As long as I could hide the number of drinks I'd had from my husband but didn't go past the point of being a cheerful, tipsy mom & wife into an angry and combative stranger then things were good. I was so tricky.

There's a reason I count the days.

I want to remember.

I have to remember.

I need to remember.

When I catch a glance at his picture hanging in my office and my heart tears a little more, I take a deep breath and remember dad's 20+ years of sobriety. How he had more reason to drink his feelings away than I ever thought about possessing. And I muster up courage. I am not going to pretend that alcohol doesn't cross my mind as soon as my heart starts pounding and the sobs try to escape from somewhere DEEP down in my belly. The kind where there are no tears, just heaves and noises you didn't know were inside you. In those moments, I am learning to just let them come. We have to let them come. We have to teach our children to let them come. We have to show them how it's done or they, too will look for ways to escape them.

I believe everyone has that kind of grief. Whether it's from someone you lost, a love lost, a dream that didn't happen, abuse or failure or abandonment. Some have learned to bury their sobs so deep that they have little hope of surfacing to escape without intentional unearthing. And they grow. They grow into insecurities and bitterness and harsh words in which we use to cut others down to protect ourselves from experiencing or remembering that pain is even there in the first place.

Here's what gives me HOPE. One day.

I don't know which day, but one day...

This will all be over!

All of this. This brokenness and pretending and striving. One day I will be with Jesus and there will be no more sobs. No more need to escape to a blissful place because I will BE there. Because HE didn't want heaven without us even though we rebelled. We rebel. Constantly. But GRACE. And until that day, I will continue to wrap up my hurts and hand them over to the One who knows my pain and the only true source of comfort. If you don't have that kind of hope, I don't know what to say other than maybe you should ask him. Maybe you should ask Jesus if he can carry your pain and your sin and your hurting heart and see what he says.

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Andree Johnson

dandreej@gmail.com

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