Surprising Tears

I had, what some might call an over-reaction a few days ago, to what should have been a small, every day inconvenience. I share because I have a suspicion I am not the only one having surprising reactions lately to what we otherwise might believe incidents that need little reaction at all. I share because, at the moment, I felt quite absurd but, later, after asking myself a few questions, was able to uncover the underlying feelings.

To say I am an HEB fan would be a slight understatement. If you live outside of Texas and don’t know what HEB is, my heart is a little sad for you. You might even be confused as to why one would have a need to be a fan of a grocery store, which is not fully describing what HEB is to Texas.

HEB is technically a grocery store. Our local HEB is what some might call a mega-store. It has food and drinks, a pharmacy, kitchen supplies, a really nice seafood department, bakery, etc. It also has a florist, and a sit-down barbecue restaurant with some of the best banana pudding you’ve ever tasted. The service is always friendly and the shelves are always stocked. (At least as much as they can be during a global pandemic and world-wide shutdown.)

HEB does smart thinking and amazing community care when it’s hurricane season or when a storm has blown through an area. They halt production and delivery on frivolous items and bulk up items people tend to reach out for – white bread, hot dogs, buns, toilet paper, bottled water, etc. They do what they can to love their neighbors and care for their customers. It’s a rare thing you don’t see in a lot of corporations anymore.

One day, when my kids were toddlers, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy when a full blown fight broke out between my son and daughter. I had run into the store quickly, only to grab prescriptions, and had put both of my children in the basket of a cart – despite the instructions on the cart clearly stating it was not a safe place for children. But I was only going to be a couple of minutes and I didn’t need the giant car cart, with its bright red car on the front for the kids to drive while I filled the tiny basket with groceries. I was only picking up our prescriptions. I simply needed to keep my children wrangled.

The fight exploded faster than I could contain it and my son fell out of the cart, head smacking the linoleum tile. To this day, I can still close my eyes and hear that terrible smacking sound of his little skull on the floor. He cried and cried and cried and I picked him up quickly to try to assess the situation and soothe him. There was no broken skin, no bump, no indention…only screams. (I could write a book on the injuries that child should have suffered over the years. He was clearly born with a tough skull, thick skin, and a very strong and swift guardian angel!) The pharmacist ran out from behind the counter, passing all the customers in front of me, bringing me a soft ice pack. I’ll never know how she moved so quickly. She then asked the customers ahead of me if they minded if she took care of me first, she handed me my prescriptions, gave my hand a squeeze, and told me to go home and rest.

Two days later, I received a card in the mail from that pharmacist. It was a “thinking of you” type card, and she wrote the sweetest message inside. She told me she understood the late afternoon trials of being a mom to toddlers, and that I was doing a good job. She reminded me to take deep breaths and know that kids are resilient and bouncy, and that she just knew my son was going to be okay.

He was.

This is one of more than a handful of examples I could give you of ways the pharmacists at my HEB have loved me well over the years. So when I found out this week that our prescription insurance would no longer pay for our medications unless we went to the pharmacy they required, I sobbed.

You may think, “Sobbed? Really?” and I would answer you, “Yes. I sobbed.” And truthfully, at first, I was incredibly embarrassed for myself. It felt so silly, so dramatic, so unnecessary.

But because I am learning to lean into my emotions, my feelings, and my reactions to certain situations, I started to ask myself questions.

What was this really about? Was I sad about the pharmacy or the people? Did I doubt the capability of the new, required pharmacy? When else had I felt this emotion lately?

Ah-ha. That was it. When else had I felt this emotion lately? That’s when the answer clicked.

This last year – actually more than a year – has been a time of government, doctors, businesses, friends, and even strangers online, telling us all what we can and cannot do, where we can and cannot go, how we can and cannot dress, who is safe, who is not safe, how we love our neighbors and what isn’t loving to our neighbors. We’ve been told that if we vote this way it is loving and if we vote that way it is hateful. We’ve been told if we support this we are righteous but if we support that we are selfish. We’ve been told we must accept this but not that, that but not this, and the idea that me, a grown, educated woman, could make a decision for her own life or the lives of her children has been criticized.

And then my insurance told me I couldn’t fill my prescriptions where I wanted.

It was one more domino in a long line of tumbling dominoes in this world and I, apparently, had reached my threshold. So I cried.

I realized in that moment I wasn’t crying for the inconvienience of having to switch pharmacies, although I really was sad about doing so. I was grieving the loss of one more piece of the “before.” This pandemic has been more than just a health scare; it’s been a reckoning. It’s changed so many policies, so many friendships, so many families. It’s shown false colors and true colors and turned so many issues into black or white, leaving no gray in between. I was grieving the loss of “before.”

I took a deep breath and allowed myself to sit in the sadness for a few minutes before asking God to step in and soothe my heart.

Philippians 4: 6-7 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Jesus Christ.”

Acknowledging and allowing space for grief is so healthy. It’s a fact I’ve known for years, but only recently have I allowed it to be true for me and not just for other people. Sometimes, grief can spiral into worry and fear, and I don’t want that to happen. When I worry, I rob myself of the peace and joy God offers me so freely in amounts that far exceed my own understanding. Grief, however, is a different bird than worry. Grief acknowledges that something has changed and may not ever be the way it was before. It’s important to grieve the changes in life, to cry for them, and then set them free…even grief as small as a pharmacist change. I’m learning that the more freely I acknowledge the tiny grief moments, the easier it is to see the big ones for what they truly are. I can talk about them, thank God for His presence amidst them, and ask Him to take them from my open hands.

It sounds so simple when I type it out but, experience has taught me my tendency is to hold tight to grief. My personality is one that likes to hold the sadness close because it proves I have been hurt or wronged or mistreated. When God offers to take these grief moments from me, I allow Him in to sit with me and then I shoo Him away. I hold tight to the sadness and try to comfort it all on my own.

The thing is, my own brand of comfort never works. So my prayers lately are shifting from “Dear God, please take away…,” to “Dear God, help me release…” He has always been and will always be willing to take away what is harmful to me. I, however, have rarely been willing to hand it over. I want to take my cue from Jesus, who showed grief when on this earth. I want to shed the tears my body needs to shed, sit with the people who want to hold my hand, and then allow God to do the work needed to bring glory to His Kingdom. Again, it sounds so simple as I type the words. I know it will take a God-sized miracle for me to do it. But then again, those are the exact size of miracles He performs.

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