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Disoriented: What to do when you no longer know up from down

Writing is cathartic for me. The words spilling onto the page are the overflow of my heart. In difficult seasons, this blog has helped me sort through my emotions and find a way forward. Over a decade ago, God started calling me to be transparent. That hasn’t always been easy, but I see now that it was an act of great kindness—God prompting me to pull back the curtains on my life. So many times, it would be easier to draw the shades and sit with my pain in the dark. But letting others in is like letting the sunlight in. It sheds light on pain and gives it purpose.

It has been 51 days since Olivia went to Heaven. I wrote her eulogy and a blog post to tell the world she was with Jesus. A month later, we were burying Robert’s brother Thomas.

My pen is my outlet, but lately it seems to have gone dry. I don’t know if it is the challenge of returning to daily life or the weight of grief. The latter still takes my breath away and leaves me unable to eat or sleep at times.

All I know is that pages of my journal remain blank when they would typically be full.

Even writing a simple thank you note has felt like an impossible task. It’s not that I am not appreciative. The outpouring of love and support for our family these past few months has been humbling and almost incomprehensible. It is always hard to know what to say or do when someone loses a loved one. I know this now from experience. Still, I am brought to tears at the way that God pieced a thousand acts of love into a quilt of sorts—taking what each of you willingly gave and stitching patterns of peace into the fabric of our life, wrapping us like a blanket in His comfort when we needed it most. Thank you. Our family is so grateful. (Please forgive me for choosing to express our gratitude here instead of in the traditional way.)

I feel like a shaken can of soda—like I may erupt if I do not write. And yet, the task is harder now than before.

When I am still and quiet enough to think, I’m forced to confront the possibility that I struggle to write because loss has turned my world upside down. Things look different from down here. The future I’d constructed in my mind has been toppled.

In more ways than one, I can relate to Simone Biles. She’s an American gymnast who was expected to win five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics and instead came away with one silver and one bronze. In her first vault of the team competition, Biles stopped a full rotation short of the skill she had intended to do and barely landed on her feet. She then removed herself from the competition, later explaining that she had a case of something gymnasts call the “twisties.” She had lost her sense of where she was in the air, and in her words: “literally [could not] tell up from down.” The U.S. gymnastics team won silver as Biles cheered them on from the sidelines. After withdrawing from four more competitions, she finally returned to compete on the balance beam with a routine that did not include twisting. She won the bronze.

As a young gymnast not nearly so talented as Simone Biles, I experienced the “twisties,” though I did not have a name for the disconnect between brain and body. I was learning to do a double full (a back flip with two full twists) and forgot how to do a single full. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my body to slow down and only twist once. Eventually, I couldn’t twist at all and had to return to a basic back flip and relearn the more advanced twisting skills. The feeling is terrifying. One minute your body is faithfully, almost automatically, performing as it should. The next, you’re upside down and flailing, with no idea how to find the ground.

Disorienting.  That is the word I would choose to describe the last few months of my life. For as long as I can remember, my worldview has been grounded in God and who I know Him to be. On mountaintops and in valleys. In hospital rooms and in church sanctuaries, I have perceived the world through the lens of His goodness and His faithfulness.

Then Olivia died. God did not answer my prayer the way that I thought He would. My spirit still knows He is good. My heart knows it is safe in the hands of my Faithful Father, but my mind is grappling with the day-to-day realities of life without Olivia. I go in and out of her room multiple times a day, and she’s not there. When I wake up, I remember that she’s gone, and I’m sick to my stomach. When I lay down at night, my mind refuses to rest. I’m disoriented.

My God hasn’t left me. He’s here, patiently carrying me through this season that I don’t understand. I know that my tears do not fall unseen. I know that He won’t let go.

He whispered the strangest thing to me the other day when I came to Him with the questions that hurt the most. The ones that make me feel like I don’t know up from down. Like trust has me flailing, though it had nearly become automatic before.

“Watch Simone.”

God is gracious enough to speak however we will listen, and it didn’t surprise me that He used a gymnast (whose career and Olympic journey I had been following) to get my attention. So I watched Simone. I watched her find the courage to climb back up on a 4-inch balance beam. I watched her revert to a basic dismount—a non-twisting one she hadn’t needed to use since she was 12 years old. I watched her regain her confidence, and rediscover her joy. I watched as she allowed her dream to be repurposed. I was able to watch, because throughout the ordeal, she remained transparent. She let the world see. The value of that—to Simone and to those looking on—was worth much more than five gold medals.

I watched Simone, and I realized that I needed to find the courage to get up again. I needed to allow my confidence in God to be restored—to be willing to trust what I know is true, regardless of what I see or how I feel. I needed to rediscover the joy of belonging to Him.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”—Psalms 51:12

How do you re-orient a life that feels topsy-turvey? I am still figuring that out. But I am learning to go back to the basics. To anchor myself in who God is. To prioritize the truth of His Word over the chaos and confusion:

  • God is good. (Psalm 119:68)
  • God is love. (I John 4:8)
  • God is faithful. (II Timothy 2:13)
  • God is just. (Job 12:22; Isaiah 30:18)
  • God never changes. (Hebrews 13:8)
  • God knows and sees everything. (Proverbs 15:3)
  • God is always kind. (Psalms 63:3)
  • God is on the throne, and He is in control. (I Corinthians 15:27)

I am reminded of a basic truth that is foundational to everything I believe and place my hope in—four words that Robert and I held to throughout Olivia’s life and on the day she died. We still hold to them today:

THE TOMB IS EMPTY!

Jesus is alive, and that truth trumps everything else.

Father,

Reorient my life. I know that You are good and that You do good. You are faithful, and that has never changed. You’ve never left me—not for a moment. Remind my heart. Re-teach my mind. Anchor my soul in Jesus. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. I am so grateful that I belong to You. Thank You for the many people You’ve placed in my life, knowing I would need them to navigate this season of grief and loss. Father, You are always deserving of my trust. Forgive me for withholding it. Thank You for being so gracious to me. Thank You for holding my hand and helping me to walk on shaky legs until the ground feels solid underneath me again. I lay my dreams at Your feet, knowing that You always know best. Repurpose them for Your glory.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

3 comments on “Disoriented: What to do when you no longer know up from down

  1. Amanda Brand

    What amazingly beautiful and gracious words. I am forever thankful that God is faithful. I love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous

    Absolutely beautiful and perfect ❤
    I love you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love you my precious baby girl!

    Liked by 1 person

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