How Grief Gives Me Joy

She said you carry them inside you, collecting them along the way, more and more and more selves inside you with each passing year, like those Russian dolls, stacking one inside the other, nesting themselves, waiting to be discovered, one and then another.

Shauna Niequist | Bread and Wine | 182 

My Gramma had a set of Matryoshka (Russian) dolls. I remember carefully unlocking and lining up each new, smaller figure. The thin wood gave off such a distinct smell; I could almost smell the craftsmanship required to create that very set. Each doll had similar coloring and patterns but didn’t look identical to the one before or the one she held inside. Now, years later, I cannot think of a better picture of this process called life. Though the core of who God created us to be remains intact, we develop different layers as we mature. Each layer, like those stacking dolls, is still inside, making up our history, filling out the person who we have and will become. Our season in life and our circumstances help form the current shell, but we can unpack those former selves with some simple pressure on the seams that hold us together.


Sometimes I can’t wait to jump into a newer and bigger self. I’m all too eager to cover up my previous model and start filing out the roomy interior of my new circumstances. Although there were nerve-racking elements to the transition between high school and college, that was one time I was ready to move on. I wanted to explore a new place, stretch my intellectual, spiritual, and social muscles in a different arena. Distance and youthful energy helped me snap the college Emily shut over her high school counterpart.

Then there are the times I have a hard time clipping the newest doll over the old one. I’m not ready for the changes that come with a new season. I fear the old doll, my old self, will be lost, that everything embodied in part of me will be gone forever. The years following college were a bit like that. The seams of a new season were already pressed shut around me but I so desperately wanted to go back to what I knew best. I missed the structure and scholarly stimulation of higher education. I missed the freedom, with limits, that college afforded. My new responsibilities and the endless possibilities made me uncomfortable.

I’ve added a couple more dolls since then. I established a wonderful community of friends in California. I dated, then married, Tim. We moved to Idaho. We became homeowners. We began chipping away at developing a new community. Each of those new layer was added with mixed feelings, some more mixed than others. And now what seems like the biggest change of all, parenthood, is forcing another changing of the guards with my Russian dolls.

The adventurous, newlywed, Emily is having a hard time being shut into darkness. She keeps reminding me of the great things about herself – freedom, energy, possibilities – and the other dolls nested inside her. With such a drastic life change approaching, it’s difficult not to look back instead of forward, to see the things I am giving up instead of things I am gaining. I want to celebrate the things ahead, but am having a hard time letting go of the things behind. And that makes me feel guilty, especially because what lies ahead is truly a joyous thing.

But as I look back on those nestled dolls with sadness at what I can’t get back, I realize that too is part of the process. I cried over the loss of my intimate circle of friends when we moved. I cried about acclimating to a new church culture. Even marriage, something I had longed and prayed for, came with it’s own set of things to cry about as Tim and I adjusted to one another. I’ve shed tears about being pregnant, too.

Grief without GuiltI’m learning that grief is good. And because grief is good, I can let go of the guilt. Grief, without the guilt, is what makes us able to move forward with joy.

A vital aspect to living in the present is learning how to grieve and how to grieve well…When your life is going to change, there needs to be an acknowledgement of what is changing.

Kristin Ritzau | A Beautiful Mess | 144-145

My pregnancy wasn’t planned, but I expected my emotions to react like having a baby was all part of the blueprint I had drafted in my head. The quicker I tried to shove myself into this new season, the bigger and more unruly I became. Had I allowed myself to fully mourn the loss of my life plan, it may not have taken me so long to begin accepting God’s plan.

Twenty-six weeks in and my dolls are finally settling into their new home. I still have to process my new identity as a mom on a regular basis, but now when my former selves get angsty, I allow myself space and time to grieve with them. I acknowledge the changes ahead, open my hands for God to take what I’ve been holding onto, and accept whatever He gives to replace it (which is always better than I could ask or imagine!).

photo credit: backpackphotography & Rdoke via photopin cc

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Home and Choosing Joy

It’s been over a week since Tim and I returned from New York and I’m still recovering – less from jet lag (though there was plenty of that) and more from the emotions of leaving a place and people I dearly love.

Every trip to my now beloved Central New York leaves me more and more bewitched by a certain little lake and the rural landscape that seems to shout simplicity. Now more than ever it’s a place to relive good memories, spend time with family, and relax.

After spending 8 days in my happy place, I was hard pressed to keep my return flight. I’m convinced that if I wasn’t returning in a month, Tim might have been flying to Idaho by himself. Well, and the fact that I would miss him terribly… Despite the fact that I am returning so soon, the end of this trip was bittersweet.

I’ve finally reached the point where I don’t consider Southern California home only to have it supplanted, not by Idaho, but by New York. Our trip wasn’t just a vacation, it was like going home – and leaving home is always difficult for me.

Dueling Lakes

The first couple days back in Coeur d’Alene were tough. I was wrestling with desires I knew couldn’t become reality at present and a present reality I thus had a bad attitude toward. I’m still wrestling with the former, but the latter was improved by a realization, and resulting choice, I had last Friday.

Tim was preaching at our church’s Father Daughter Camp. The 45 minute drive to Camp Cocolalla (great name, right?) is rather lovely. As Tim remarked on the pretty sky and the setting sun shining through the copious pine trees, I found myself not wanting to agree. I actually did find the landscape quite pleasing, but didn’t want to admit it for fear it diminished my appreciation for New York’s natural beauty.

I was purposefully holding out on the truth in order to make a point.

Where did that get me? Nowhere except for Sulkville. Despite the fact that Sulkville was initially soothing to my bruised desires, I knew it wasn’t a place I could live indefinitely. God and Tim know my desires without me being pouty to make a point.

My choice was obvious: I could remain gloomy or choose joy. Though I am not always successful, I am trying to choose joy. For me this means seeking and acknowledging the little treasures around me – the scent of Fall in the air, pine trees and thunderstorms, new friends and building community.

Just because I acknowledge the things I really enjoy about the present doesn’t mean I have to abandon my desires. It DOES mean that I surrender those desires to God and continue to give thanks for His many treasures.

When unpacking is an exercise in thanksgiving.

I watched Tim vacuum our living room with a mixture of anticipation and agitation.  Our vast expanse of uncluttered carpet was going to be piled high with furniture and boxes in a matter of hours.

Twelve days ago, we had watched our possessions being loaded on to a large van. Those boxes and pieces of furniture would later be transfered to an even larger freight truck, then hauled North on its way to Idaho.  The next day, we made a much more direct and speedy journey to our new home.  Blueberry, my trusty Honda Accord, was packed with clothes, bedding, and a few other items we had deemed necessary for survival during a week (or so) sans the majority of our stuff.

joy is my best offeringEven after a trip to Target yielded a cart full of items to make our apartment functional, the empty spaces around the place were a bit startling – at first.  I quickly got used to eating frozen pizza on an upturned laundry basket and sleeping on an air mattress.  When we got a couch, I was shocked at the amount of space it seemed to occupy.  In reality, it was just odd to have a large object amidst the nothingness.

After reading Organized Simplicity a couple months ago, God has been reshaping my attitude about living intentionally.  Tim and I went through a great purge before we moved and I’ve enjoyed the beginning stages of pairing down our belongings.  Though this week of simplicity has had challenges – no oven mitt to take out aforementioned pizza, not wanting to buy hangers when we have some on their way, colder temperatures than we were prepared for in the clothing department – I realized I was growing attached to our stark apartment landscape.

So, on one hand, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of our coffee maker (yes, I am a caffeine addict), books, and real bed (oh to be at least a foot off the ground…).  It will be lovely to cook for new friends in an operational kitchen and hang family photos in the living room, but I know that with the delivery of our possessions comes a healthy dose of distraction. I am wary of being consumed by the task of unpacking, by the desire to make things perfect.

My prayer is that the process of unpacking would be an exercise in thanksgiving, an act of praise for His provision.  As we create a home out of our apartment, it is my desire to give joy as an offering to the One who has given to us abundantly in life and love.

Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem! Rejoice in the LORD your God! For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness. Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring.  {Joel 2:23}