Grief at a Wedding by Sarah Johnson

Just a couple of Saturdays ago, I was a bridesmaid in a dear friend’s wedding. Of course, we had the wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner the night before so the whole weekend was wedding centric. In all the prep and celebration, my mind lingered on the many tender father daughter moments I witnessed: the bride’s father tearing up while practicing giving her away, his gently teasing speech at the rehearsal dinner, him walking her down the aisle during the ceremony, the two of them dancing at the reception. My mind focused on these moments in particular because they filled my heart with both joy and pain and a longing for something I will never experience.

My friend’s wedding made me remember my sister’s wedding almost two decades earlier, when my own daddy’s eyes filled with unspoken emotions from giving his daughter away. It’s an expected rite of passage for many fathers and daughters. After my sister’s wedding, I would often imagine my daddy’s reaction to my wedding day and what he would have to say about his baby girl getting married. I had the song for our father daughter dance picked out by the time I was twelve years old. But, these things will never come to pass. 

The cancer took my daddy fifteen days before my twentieth birthday. I didn’t even know who I was at that age and my daddy would never get to know the woman I would become. During the months that followed his death, the weight of all the moments that we would never share crushed me. No proud daddy at my college graduation. No concerned father to check in with during my solo trip overseas. No sage advice as I purchased my first car. No wedding dance. Any children I have will enter the world down one grandfather. I have long since healed from feeling crushed by my daddy’s absence but I still grieve these lost moments whenever I’m reminded of all the nevers. 

 

“The guilt and shame slid away when I realized that my pain didn’t fail Jesus. Grief becomes a blessing, as sadness and joy intertwine to remind me how passionately I am loved.”

In the years I spent processing and healing from the loss of my daddy, I encountered some churches and ministries that reacted to my grief as though my feelings were sinful. They told me that my grief failed to show the Savior’s redemptive work in my life. My sadness made Jesus-the-giver-of-unconditional-joy appear to be a liar. I should just choose to be happy. All this well-meaning advice only served to heap guilt and shame on top of my grief.
My need for healing brought me to a Restoring Your Heart group, which helped to undo the good intentioned but terrible advice about grief I had received. Through RYH, I learned that my feelings of grief weren’t sinful because God created all emotions, including the so-called negative ones, for our good and His glory. The guilt and shame slid away when I realized that my pain didn’t fail Jesus. Grief becomes a blessing, as sadness and joy intertwine to remind me how passionately I am loved. 
As I recently celebrated my friend’s wedding with all the father-daughter moments, I didn’t just mourn the loss of what I’ll never have; I also rejoiced that I am a precious daughter of the King of the universe. I may never have a father-daughter wedding dance or someone to walk me down the aisle but I do have a Heavenly Father who knows me intimately and loves me deeply. While father-daughter moments remind me of what I’ll never experience in this lifetime, they also reflect how my God loves me, which is a comfort that reaches to the foundation of my identity.

Throughout all of Scripture, God promises He will meet our needs for value, security, acceptance and connection

Throughout all of Scripture, God promises He will meet our needs. In the second chapter of Genesis, God says that it is not good for the man to be alone. That’s because when God formed the man from the dust and blew His breath into him, He blew in the needs for value, security, acceptance and connection. And by creating a woman for the man, God was meeting those needs. He was at once revealing Himself to the man and drawing the man close to Him.

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When I was a kid, my family lived in Dallas, Texas. It so happens that Dallas is the hometown of the famous department store, Neiman Marcus. In the 1950’s, Neiman Marcus was THE place to shop in Dallas. There was only one location, and it was downtown, since the shopping mall had yet to be invented. A visit to Neiman Marcus was a special adventure.

My daddy, who was a family-oriented kind of guy, was pretty involved in my life, especially for activities that were outside the home. So, around the age of 5, when I needed new “dress shoes”, my daddy took me to Neiman Marcus downtown to get them. The only details I remember about that outing were actually being in the shoe department of the store and spying THE shoes. They were soft black suede Mary Janes with rhinestones all around the front edge. I instantly fell in love with them and saw no need to look at any other shoes. I remember trying them on and my daddy saying, “Now are you SURE those are the ones you want?” They were indeed the ones, so he bought them for me. Although I don’t remember many details of the outing, I DO remember the feeling of being loved by my daddy. He wanted me to have the shoes I liked and was taking the time to make sure I was satisfied. And not only that, he was glad to be with me as I picked out something he otherwise would have no interest in at all. He wanted to be with me and he wanted me to be pleased.

In just that one simple outing to buy new shoes, my daddy met my needs for value, security, acceptance and connection.

Why do I remember that one random outing with my daddy?

When that memory plays back in my head, I instantly feel valued, secure, accepted and connected. Since those are the emotional needs that God Himself created within me, when I remember that day, not only do I feel all those things from my daddy, I also feel them from God. Remembering makes me smile.

When we are children, our parents (or other caregivers) don’t always adequately meet our emotional needs. When they don’t, we as children will figure out some way to get them met, and it usually won’t be a very healthy choice. When our needs aren’t validated by an adult, we might assume that our needs are wrong, or that there is something wrong with us for even having needs.

The beauty of the RYH process is that it helps us understand and accept those needs. We learn to look to God and also to healthy relationships with people in order to get our needs met. In the process, God reveals Himself to us and draws us close.

 

I was very blessed when recently three people I know went out of their way to tell me how much being in Restoring Your Heart groups had helped them.  I also found it very interesting to hear how God had used the same material to help each of them in different ways.

The first one was a Filipino pastor I know from my trips to Quezon City in his country.  He had been through a rough time when my team met him on our first trip to The Philippines.  He felt like he had failed God and his ministry because of some circumstances that are not as important as the fact that he had repented of them and come back to God.  But he still felt guilty and was doing secular work.  After talking to some of our men and completing a Processing Pain group he says he is feeling much better about himself. He also feels that his relationship with God has been restored and he has returned to the ministry. He is very excited about being in an Understanding Emotions group now with the same group of men whom he got to know so well the first time.  He also wants to be trained to be a Restoring Your Heart group leader because he wants to help others work through the same material that helped him so much.

The second person is a lovely American woman who became a Christian as an adult.  She tells me that she was very happy to be a Christian but found it difficult to settle into a church and to grow spiritually. Her life changed very little because of her conversion experience.  When she heard about Restoring Your Heart groups, she knew she wanted to be in one.  She completed a Processing Pain group and went on to do Understanding Emotions and Conquering Shame groups.  She found that some of the emotionally based problems she had experienced in the past had been preventing her from growing spiritually.  After dealing with many of these problems in RYH, she found a good church that she loves and started attending a Bible Study there also.  She reads her Bible regularly and understands it on a new level.  She now prays regularly and has many Christian friends. Most importantly she now feels close to God.

The last person who shared with me is a very youthful middle-aged American woman in full time Christian work.  Her relationship with God was not her problem.  Because of her past she found it very difficult to trust anyone except God, her husband and her children.  She had become a Christian years ago and wanted to have Christian women friends but found it very difficult. When she heard about Restoring Your Heart groups she also knew that she wanted to be in one.  While she was participating in the Processing Pain group she began to discover what had happened to her in her past that made it very hard to trust people.  She has worked through the restoration process and has experienced a great deal of healing in the areas of trusting people and self-esteem.  She also developed some wonderful friendships with the women in her group and found she could trust them.  That Processing Pain group went so well that the women decided to do an Understanding Emotions group next and then went on to do a Conquering Shame group together also. This group now has regular reunions and feels like God has knit their hearts together as sisters in the Lord. My friend is so happy to have a place were she “belongs” with other women.

My conclusion from these three stories and the many similar ones I have heard in the past is that Restoring Your Heart groups really are discipleship groups.  They help us to grow spiritually, to draw closer to God and other people and to be more effective in our ministries.

forgive painting

Forgiveness is a lovely thing to witness. Having led more than a few Restoring Your Heart (RYH) groups, I’ve had lots of opportunities to watch the forgiveness process as it unfolds in people’s lives. The following is one such story.

I know we have all experienced forgiveness at one time or another. Maybe by giving it or receiving it ourselves. Or perhaps been a witness to someone else giving it or receiving it. We’ve all learned about it, studied about it and most likely, struggled with it.

One of the most encouraging and unexpected times I saw forgiveness in action was in a RYH group I led many years ago.

Margie was about 45 years old when I met her. She had joined a RYH Processing Pain group that I was leading in a local church.  Margie, myself and five other women met together for two hours each week to go through the RYH Processing Pain workbook and share emotional hurts from the past. The purpose of the group is to better understand our childhood, grieve our hurts and come to a place of forgiveness. It’s a healing process. During the three months of meeting together in a safe environment, the group members generally form a close bond with one another. Margie’s group was no exception.

A little history on Margie. Margie grew up in a strict home. Her parents were cold and stoic, and as we went through the lessons together Margie told us how they frequently called her stupid and ugly when she was a child. She was neither, by the way.

Not surprisingly, Margie married a man who didn’t treat her much better. She was accustomed to being put down and although she didn’t like it, it was “normal” to her. One day, when Margie’s sons were close to high school age, Margie’s husband left her…for another man. And although in many ways Margie was glad he left, the way he did it confirmed everything her parents had told her about who she was, ugly and stupid.

When we started the RYH group, it was clear that Margie had an enormous amount of animosity towards her ex-husband. The lessons in the first half of the workbook are focused on childhood but Margie had a hard time staying with her childhood issues. She wanted to vent about her ex-husband at every session. About a third of the way through the workbook, Margie realized the process was moving towards forgiving those who had hurt us. She became very agitated and announced that there was one person she could never forgive…her ex-husband.

Everyone in the group validated Margie’s feelings, confirmed that she had been mistreated, and comforted her in her hurt and anger.

Fast forward to the end of the workbook, just past the forgiveness part. Margie walked into the group session that night and she looked radiant, seriously glowing. She was happy and excited. She looked like a different person.

“You will never believe what has happened to me!”

Of course, we all wanted to know. Margie looked so beautiful we wanted whatever had happened to her, to happen to us as well.   “What? What?”

“I have forgiven my ex-husband! I don’t know how it happened! I never thought I would forgive him! But I have and I feel SO FREE!! God is so awesome!”

During the process of Margie acknowledging her pain and grieving her losses, she was able, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive. It not only changed the way she felt, it literally changed the way she looked. That night I actually saw the beautiful face of forgiveness.

If Margie’s story has encouraged you or perhaps touched something deep within your own story, and you would like to see and experience the healing power of forgiveness in your life, learn more about the WDA Restoring Your Heart Ministry at  www.RestoringYourHeart.com.

 

WDA’s Restoring Your Heart Ministry had a busy and fun week meeting all kinds of counselors, lay leaders and ministers at The American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference.

Our RYH staff and Booth Volunteers were manning the booth from Wednesday to Saturday and had wonderful time telling people about the benefits of RYH for Counselors and Pastors and Leaders.

We redesigned out RYH webpage to provide plenty of information about how the RYH Group Experience can work along a Counselors group setting and also how a Pastor or Leader in the Church can begin a RYH Ministry.

Check out some of Photos on our Facebook Page too!