Empty Vases

1 Peter 1:23-25 The Message (MSG)

22-25 Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said,

The old life is a grass life,

its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;

Grass dries up, flowers droop,

God’s Word goes on and on forever.

When tragedy strikes, it can hit us like a tornado that enters our life with no warning.  Out of all the things we worry about that “could” happen, the unexpected comes in and throws us on our backs.   It can be a death of a loved one, a relationship gone awry, a loss of a job or a medical event.  The list can go on and on.  It can feel like someone took us flying high above the clouds and then pushed us out of the emotional airplane.  Our world as we know it comes tumbling down around us – or we came tumbling down into it.

I can remember the moment when doctors sat at the end of my hospital bed in the labor and delivery unit to advise me that my newborn daughter may not survive.  Her MRI indicated that she had an en enutero stroke, they said.  If she did survive, the odds of her having a quality life was low.  My brain, like glass, shattered into a million pieces along with my heart.  Though she did survive and is now 8 years old, I don’t think I ever fully bounced back as the same woman I had been before that chapter of my life.

Now, I share this one story of grief but the same pain that leaves one feeling like the world is surreal, that they are just floating through the day in shock occurs on many levels in many types of losses or news.  I, too, have endured death of loved ones.  I have survived the deep pit of many other types of despairing situations.  If it wasn’t for the cushion of so many people that helped me stand up to somehow function after my face- first fall, I don’t know what alternate outcome could have occurred.  There was a multitude of people I knew, and didn’t know, praying for my daughter and my family.  There were multiple meals home-cooked and delivered to me.  The calls of warmth rang throughout the day.  It was like a matrix where I was falling at the speed of light but there was this loving group of people that became my parachute right before impact to help me gently land each day.  The flowers of sympathy and concern filled my hospital room, my home and my life.  It was the beautiful distraction from the disaster.

We all have experienced times where- out of the blue- people surrounded us, stopped by just to check on us, offer their condolences, offered their help or just gave us their shoulder on which to lay our tear stained face.  The first stages of the grief clock passed by as we faced each day with a little bit more strength than the yesterday.  Eventually, the cards of our daily responsibilities and tasks of our lives would need to be dealt.   The same for the people that became our cushion- they too would also need to get back to tending to their families, finances and home.  We would need to sit up in our bed, place our feet on the ground and take the next steps.  The bouquets of roses, dandelions and lilies have withered in their beautiful vases that we would empty and place in a memory box.  Just like the person we were before this unforeseen event, the natural process had occurred and the flower withered.

We were left with empty vases.  We FELT like a cold, empty vase.

How symbolic and ironic our God is during the trials.  The empty vases and baking dishes were needing to be washed.  We soon find out that we are like those empty vases, once filled with tangible expressions of love and hope were now needing to be rinsed out to be filled again—sooner or later, when needed.  That is, if we felt like it and based on the now silent home where we are left to actually face our racing thoughts alone, we sure weren’t going to have time to buy flowers for ourselves.  The days ahead felt like they were going to be very empty and very cold.

You see, God doesn’t work that way.  He is not a temporarily filled vase that is only a centerpiece for a short time.  I guess you could say He is a recycling God.  He can take whatever is used up, dry and useless and turn it into something even more useful, more abundant- if we let Him.  And He knows that all things go through different stages and humans – though similar of a flower that gets planted, withers, then gets re-planted- His guidance, His invisible force is WITHIN us and not outside of us.  What is within us can never die.  The physical things of life go through stages and some of those things are taken away from us.  At the same time, while we may feel empty and alone, there is an INvisible growth that is occurring because of Him—whether or not we hold on to Him and realize it.  It’s our choice to notice and let that new growth occur internally. Let Him be our parachute for those days where life pushed us out of the plane just when we thought we were on the right destination.  Allow ourselves to be an empty vase so that we can be filled with a new perspective, a new path and a new strength that lay dormant during the downward spiral of our grief.

Life, unlike a plane ride, is not linear and we can not expect our stages of grief or growth to be smooth.  There will be ups and downs.  There will be hope and despair.  There will be…us. Imperfect humans with imperfect lives.  The goal is not perfection but a perfect objective.  Just keep heading towards that objective and you are on the perfect path.  That is all that God asks from us because that is how we allow ourselves to be empty vases for Him to fill.  The grass may wither and those flowers may fall, but the new spirit within us that turns breakdowns into breakthroughs endures whatever may come its way.

Allow the process of being emptied and filled—again and again and again.  Remember to hold on to the truth of the process of emotions that you will have to acknowledge on a daily basis.  Let the grief softly arrive and then let the grief softly pass.  It will feel like there are multiple personalities inside of your thoughts and you will feel like an island, the only landmark left after a tsunami.  However, you are never alone.  The intensity stage does not feel good as it surfaces and there can be a fear that you think is grabbing you and spinning you into a frenzy.  However, the frenzy will wither because something else is getting planted—a new appreciation, a new wisdom, a new priority.  As the stages of grief occur, God will open that door of alternatives to offer choices of actions besides just marinating in your woes.  He will introduce you to others who have made it through the same experience, He will speak to you through epiphanies of daily simplicities.  Remember to seek His resources of healing- talking it out with trusted loved ones, praying, resting, focusing on only today- because that is the watering of a new seed that just got planted.  It is not just a circle that circles back to pain.  It is also a circle that circles back to beautiful growth.  And so it is.

Remember that the process never dies.  We just learn to wear a parachute. We will be okay <3.

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