Day 13: Grief, Welcome

Tonight I sit on my couch with the Olympics on, a tube of Lays chips in front of me, and dishes from dinner by my feet. Blanket, TV remote, fiction book, Bible, phone, journal, and headphones surround me on the couch. It's the essence of a lazy evening.

Yet there's an unwelcome guest in my home. On my right is Jesus, a constant companion in ups and downs - and no, He's not the unwelcome guest. I sit in the middle, and on the other side is Grief. Like a house guest who doesn't know when to leave, she stays regardless of my wishes, and her presence must be tolerated. I suppose I may as well welcome her. In fact, she may have some important things to say, lessons to share and experiences to contribute.

For perhaps the first time, I can think of Grief as helpful. She helps me process my experiences in Cambodia. She helps me start to understand how deeply I care for those in Cambodia. She helps me understand my desire for comfort and a pain free life, and she helps open my eyes to how even Christ was led into grief and difficult seasons by the Holy Spirit Himself, by the Father Himself. Jesus, too, calls us clearly into hardship. Not to torture us but because He knows He's worth it. The pain, the agony, the struggles are worth it because Jesus is worth it.

Grief, me, and Jesus. I'll stop fighting, just for tonight, and make room for Grief on the couch. I'll sit with her, tears forming periodically, and the three of us will share this moment in life together.

Grief, welcome. I guess you can stay tonight.

Sadness, disappointment, all unpleasant emotions: I wonder what I have to learn from you. I'm sorry I haven't listened well, been a willing student. It's not my natural bent, but I will do my best to welcome you, too. Perhaps, eventually, there will be more than a party of three on my couch on a lazy afternoon.

Day 10: Worlds Lost

I'm reading this book called The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It's the first fiction book I've read in a long time, and it's no disappointment. I kept hearing about it, and when I needed a few more dollars worth of merchandise to qualify for free shipping on my Amazon order, I chose to purchase the novel.

It's set in the late 1700s and follows an Irish girl whose parents die on the way to America. She ends up being raised by a black family on a tobacco plantation, where the storyline becomes quite complex. It's really a very interesting read.

Reading transports me to a safe, faraway place for a while, which I thoroughly enjoy. After I read several chapters tonight, I set the book the book aside and started getting ready for bed. 

Suddenly, it hit me. In the turbulence this little girl experiences in the book, it seems her world is ripped away from her. Right now, I feel the same way.

It sounds absurd to say this about myself. That it feels like my world has been ripped away. But that is the exact best way I can describe it.

I tried really hard to assimilate into Cambodian culture, and I suppose I did a better job at it than I thought. I learned humor and customs, and I was starting to learn more about holidays, language, and the natural rhythm of life there. American culture, humor, stores, mannerisms, and certainly price tags are now foreign, difficult to understand, and overwhelming. I feel off nearly all the time, like something just isn't quite right. 

Perhaps as I grieve Cambodian culture and lifestyle, I'm also grieving the comfort and ease with which I used to navigate America. Sometimes the deathly quiet roads weird me out with the absence of honking. Often the sheer amount of food in stores and the number of choices leave me feeling dazed as I walk the aisles. Last week I couldn't handle one more new thing, so I hand washed my clothes and hung them out to dry on a clothesline I set up on my balcony. Transition is hard.

So much has changed and shifted in my church, my city, my state, and my country. America is in disarray, and it wasn't when I left it. How do I fit an international view on politics into a very close-up, inwardly focused country? How do I explain six months abroad seemed to hold years' worth of experiences and changes in my views, my character, my faith, and my heart? To others, it was six months. To me, it was possibly the most life-shattering, perspective-altering, formative time of my life thus far.

Another question: how do I grieve when I'm not even sure where to start grieving?

Truly, it feels whole worlds have been ripped away from me. The world of Cambodia, where the struggles and needs sound like fairy tales when I say them out loud in the States because of how far removed the relevance is to problems here. The world of Waco, Texas, because suddenly cultural norms aren't so normal anymore.

Grace is hard for me, as it always has been. Why can't I adjust back? This is my country. This is where I grew up. But a thick fog blocks my view. I'm trapped moving in slow-mo in the middle of a nightmare. I am a shell of myself.

How in the world can it be this hard? I ask God this question tonight, as my face becomes a mess of tears and snot. Reality is not pretty.

I'm angry with Him sometimes. I don't want to be. Tonight, though, I tell Him it isn't fair. Even if He will sit with me in my grief, He can be there, in Cambodia, when I can't be.

This is when I realize how alone I feel. I feel even God doesn't understand this transition.

It isn't what I expected, this utter lost-ness. Not after six months. After six years, maybe, or even after two years. Not six months. I don't think others expected this either, and helping them understand is both comforting and terribly difficult. Because in the end, they won't understand. They will understand this is dreadfully difficult for me, but even I'm not sure how much more difficult this will get. I am in uncharted waters. Others have walked through reentry, but no one has walked through this exact reentry.

This scares me. I wish I could end this post (which is more like a very raw word vomit) with an analogy of how I'm trusting Christ in these uncharted waters. But the truth is, I'm not. I feel deeply wounded and confused, and though I'm grateful for Him holding me during this time, I'm just trying to survive.

Excuse me while i grieve two worlds I've lost, try to survive, and read some more of The Kitchen House.



Grissom, Kathleen. The Kitchen House. Touchstone Books, 2010.

Day 6: Grief

Grief is like a punch in the stomach in the middle of a night hanging out with friends. A hard, calculated blow that knocks the breath and the fight out of you. The smiles and laughter which couldn't be held back before suddenly turn into halfhearted attempts to get through the night without calling too much attention to yourself.

Grief is like a thief, robbing you of happiness and joy when you least expect it or most expect it or anytime in between. Grief is a cruel thief, and its attacks feel like assaults on your soul.

Grief is a great big sadness brimming over inside of you, crying to come out but sometimes showing no physical evidence of its presence except a few lone tears.

Grief is red eyes and a wet face. Pain in the chest and the stomach, and a weight 1,000 pounds heavy always pulling you down. Grief is sitting on the floor alone, crying. It's breathing hard and trying to catch your breath between tears.

Grief is missing people, the sound of voices and the laughs and the feel of their hugs. Their sweaty, hot, love-filled hugs. It's knowing you can't call that friend and invite them over, and you can't count on or depend on seeing them at an event or on a regular basis.

Thousands of miles separate you. Twelve hours of time difference separate you. Culture and level of development separate you.

Grief isn't just missing the people; it's missing the experiences. It's missing your favorite activities and way of life. It's missing the bicycle rides and smiles from your landlord. It's missing going for iced coffee in the afternoon or trying to coordinate a trip to the pool to swim. It's not being able to walk to the noodle place down the road, the one that's cheap but you still think is delicious. It's not being able to go get bong ime in the evening. Or bun xeo after classes. Or calling everyone to eat using Tagalog.

Grief is a backpack full of bricks and a knife wound in your gut.

Grief isn't an extra long goodbye. You can't grab that person and hold them one last time. You can't hear their laughter and see their smiles and listen to the sound of their voice as they tell you goodbye and that they love you. Grief is a grasping at memories. A grasping at, not a grabbing hold of. A hand, two hands, grasping at the past and only coming up with sorrow and emptiness and loneliness.

Grief is wondering if it's worth it. If this whole going-all-in and loving with everything you have no matter the time limitations is worth it. It's wondering if the pain is worth it. The pain of grief.

Grief is painful. And slow. And difficult. Does it sound like I'm describing torture?

Grief is to be felt. The only way out is through.

On the other side, I know I'll say:

Grief is temporary.

Grief is healing.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is valuable.

Grief is humbling.

Grief is a process.

At the moment, I think it's a terrible one. One day, when the tears pass and the pain is all felt out, maybe then I'll see the rainbow. Maybe I'll see the clouds as white and not as dark storm-bearers.

But for now, I'll grieve. I'll kick and scream inside my head, and I'll cry until I'm dehydrated. I'll weep until my whole body shakes. I won't push it down; I'll feel it.

The only way out is through.