In December, I spent a lot of time in communities and environments with heaviness so thick I could slice it with a knife, yet simultaneously exuding enough joy to fill multiple rooms. Can such feelings of sorrow, pain and grief co-exist with immense joy, hope and strength?
“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
One of many definitions of Grief according to: The Grief Recovery Method
Triggers tried to embarrass me in front of my friends
Each year we (Reach Up Reach Out) throw a giant Christmas party with children and widowed women living in vulnerable communities in the slums of Uganda. This year we were also doing outreach in Kenya! Tbh I entered the weeks of missions excited to return to familiar faces and had a bit of a cocky attitude. “This is my 6th trip, I’ve done this before! I am a pro!”. All of these proud statements set me up for a pleasant surprise. The experience hit differently this time.
We usually do team devotions at the start of each day on the bus, and the very first one cracked my heart open. I was exposed and felt naked before the Lord. I legit was like, “Ok, God. That’s how you gon do me on day ONE in front of my friends?! -_-” The devotion topic was forgiveness. Turns out in that moment, God revealed there were people I had not forgiven-oops. This un-forgiveness immediately triggered some unprocessed grief in my heart. ***Mel exits stage right with giant sized ugly tears***
That time I ignored my grief
I wrote about the power of grief in a previous post (The D Word), but somehow chosen to burry the honest grief associated with some recent loses because I didn’t want to make space for the process. Frankly ain’t nobody got time to be sad. Ain't nobody got time to sit in sorrow. Afraid of what emotions i’d elicit, feelings i’d have to sit with, and decisions I would make as a result of “going there”, I opted to not. Buuuut, these feelings came up unexpected like, "hey girl heeeeey!".
An experience that left me lowkey sad
Compassionate Hands for the Disabled is one of the hardest spaces i’ve ever been in. It’s a home for children born with physical and mental disabilities in Kenya. Each child has a tragic story of how they came to this facility. They were all abandoned by their parents after most attempted to take their lives. In East Africa, children with special needs are less than desirable and most families don’t want to or know how to care for the children so they literally try to get rid of them.
94 children are housed in a few small rooms comprised of makeshift wheelchairs that are hardly equipped let alone the right size for the children, slipshod medical equipment has been constructed to strap children into their chairs. Some of their hands have been bound in pairs of mix matched gloves typically used to shield cold fingers in a winter season. A few children could not talk, while others laid on the beds almost completely unresponsive. The founder of this organization is an incredible Kenya women who herself lives with a physical disability. She clearly is a giant in the faith, and has the heart and mandate to care for these children! I SO admire her faithfulness as she continues to believe God for the resources to develop her vision fully.
Joy in the midst of heartbreak
Spending time with children living with disabilities broke my spirit & at the same time encouraged it. I didn’t think it was possible to share pain and joy in the same moment.
There was an interesting presence of hope in that heavy atmosphere. I saw children who could barely walk- grin and light up when our team entered the space. Some children could only communicate through sounds or eye contact, but there was still a sense of connection. I was particularly moved by Agnes, a girl who I believe lives with something like down syndrome. At lunch time I watched as Agnes got a double portion of oatmeal in two small cups, and walked toward her friend, Isaac. Isaac’s feet are twisted, legs tight and bones severely distorted. His speech is slurred and motor skills extremely weak- yet I saw him smiling as his friend Agnes walked toward him with the food. Agnes carefully held Isaac’s hand, lead him to a nearby chair and literally fed him. Friends. It was beautiful.
There is space for both
Earlier that week during that bus devotion I realized my unresolved grief needed to be given attention.
“I’m good” was no longer an acceptable cover up. Besides, bitterness and unforgiveness were starting to take root in my life and I hadn’t even noticed- yikes. The devotion triggers let me know that it was equally important to process and reflect on this missions trip. My conflicting feelings of grief were real and could not be ignored or hidden either.
Particularly after the Compassionate Hands visit, I had no choice but to face my feelings of sorrow, sadness and couldn’t simultaneously deny the parts of my spirit that lit up with joy as well.
One of my dear cousins reminded me of this valuable truth, there is room enough to hold both grief and joy at the same time. Grieving means honoring something that meant a lot. Grief isn't a betrayal on someone else's happiness. And most importantly it doesn’t mean there is an absence of a good God.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
In life you will sometimes experience conflicting feelings. You might be incredibly troubled while strangely content. Give all feelings room. Give yourself permission to examine it all. Trust that you serve a God big enough to walk through the emotional process with you.