Friday, January 28, 2011

Finding Freedom in Loss?

I recently had to surrender my five-month-old German Shepherd puppy.You see he had turned on our other, smaller puppy and attacked him viciously. Needless to say it was a difficult decision to come to, and a painful process involving several days.  Those of you who are animal lovers will understand. Others, please bear with us. In my pet owning history I have had three pure-bred GSDs (German Shepherd Dogs). Each one was a beautiful animal that I had to say good-bye to. It is its own particular grief. The first, was an abused and abandoned puppy that was left in our neighborhood in Marietta, GA. I met him, we became attached, and I took him into our home. I was unaware that he had a fatal disease called "parvo." In just three weeks time that sickness overtook him and I had to make the terrible decision to have him put down. What amazed me was how quickly I became attached to this little guy. I handled my loss. A couple of years later I was ready to purchase another pure-bred GSD. I did my research and found the most amazing female and named her Reagan. She was my dog and I was the big dog! Going through my divorce five years later I realized that I had to give her up. Once again, a difficult decision, but necessary. Fortunately there was a friend of the family with a lot of property that loved GSDs. I said my good-byes and handled my loss.
After this last experience I have decided that I have reached my limit of owning, training, loving and saying my good-byes to GSDs. But, just like every other loss that I have faced, this has become a time of learning and reflection for me. One of my discoveries about loss and grief is that the newest loss acts like a kind of sonar and sends a signal to my prior losses. That "ping" resounds off the past losses and returns with renewed strength. In my case my grief over losing my puppy called back all of the relational losses I experienced through my divorce of nearly ten years ago. It kind of reminds me of a phrase in the Bible in Psalm 42:7
     "Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
     All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me."
If I (we are) am not careful this can be overwhelming. Grief calls up past grief, does it not? Every one of us has experienced some kind of loss. And the more significant the loss, the more depth to the grief.
Okay, you say, this is all well and good Vinny, but how can you say that there is freedom in loss? The answer is that I simply posed the question. But I do believe that there is freedom when we handle the loss in a healthy manner...since grief is a fact of life. Early on in my education I learned from a wise woman named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She identified five stages of grief that hold up pretty well many
decades later. They are:
1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression and
5. Acceptance.

Now, their order is interchangible and it is not written in stone that everyone will experience each one all the time. But they are an effective guideline for recognizing the need to move through your grief in a healthy manner. The trouble with human beings is that we do not always follow the proper order of things! That  ping of the sonar can recall, not only the memory, but the emotion as well. It did with me with my recent loss. The grief over my damaged relationships with my adult children came echoing back amplifying the lesser loss of my puppy. I recognized it, verbalized it (to my wife), and I am thereby able to keep it in perspective.
What also helps is the reality that all personal loss is not all bad! My first GSD was relieved from his misery. The second gained a huge piece of property to run on and after stressing over the placement of my puppy last week, my veterinarian found an older disabled gentleman who had been looking for a GSD for companionship and assistance.
In the greater losses I am still awaiting reconciliation and personally trusting God that He will make it happen.
So, we are still begging the question: Can there be freedom in loss? I believe the answer is yes. Freedom can come when we face the loss squarely, admitting its effect on us, express its depth to a trusted person, recognize the positive aspects of that particular loss and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our life is still worth living.
My challenge to you is to find the "freedom" in your losses.
Until next time, God bless you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Freedom in Simplicity

Richard Foster wrote two incredible books that included the topic of simplicity. The first was "Celebration of Discipline" written over 25 years ago, and the second was an expansion of one of
the chapters in that book called "Freedom of Simplicity." While in seminary I had the privilege of hearing him speak on each topic and I was moved. Well, as a graduate student I was living pretty simply anyway, so it wasn't hard to find all kinds of agreement with Mr. Foster.
Over 25 years have passed for me and although I still agree with many of the principles in his book, I have found it difficult to embrace. Why? Simply because I like things! There, I said it! After
all, how can anyone live in this advanced culture that offers such wealth and not be materialistic? Yes, there are some who choose to live very simply, with the most recognizable being the Amish. Sorry, that's not my upbringing. I've known some that think that living in such a way is in and of itself a form of spirituality. It might be. I have even heard that there are some (a few) who voluntarily give up their means and choose life on the streets. And, what about monks and nuns? They have taken vows along those lines. I certainly admire Mother Teresa and have defended her incredible work and sacrifices publicly.
But, all that being said, how can the average American in the twenty-first century live a simpler life without giving everything away pitching a tent in the woods? Which, by the way, may not even be legal in some states.
Well, here is my point: There is freedom in simplicity. Even in the wealthiest nation on earth a person can choose to live a simpler lifestyle. We have it all available to us, but that does not mean that we should strive to own it all! Our pastor is currently taking us through a study along these lines on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. I've heard much of the teaching before, but like so many other subjects, was not ready to really embrace it. But now, especially in these trying and uncertain times it's a wise person who at least entertains some new ideas on simpler living. Tips like:
     >Limiting indebtedness as much as possible,
     >Don't buy impulsively,
     >Save something for a rainy day and
     >Give some away.
I guess the reason why I believe this is becoming a more critical issue in the state of our economy. When there is uncertainty, it's wise to be prudent. Right? My wife and I are committed to the above principles, including the giving away part. We give to our church, other ministries and non-profits as we are led by God.
There IS freedom in living more simply. For us, it frees us from worry about tomorrow. Many marriages stress to the point of breaking apart as a result of financial problems. I am currently on unemployment and my wife is working. We have had to trim some things and it's all right. We're committed to limiting debt, not buying impulsively, saving some and giving some away.
There is great freedom in committing to a simpler lifestyle. It can be done...and it will
free your mind.
Find Real Freedom!