Grief: It’s Not for Lily Tappers

Sometimes it hits when I least expect it. I am fine. Then I am crying. Then I am fine again. No matter how long it lasts, I am ten times more tired when it is over than I was before it hit. I have learned to let it pass through me, lest it undo me. I don’t even apologize anymore. I just carry a kleenex in my hand.

We went white water rafting in Colorado this summer for vacation. The guide was specific in his instructions telling and demonstrating exactly how to paddle and to know the meaning of his commands. He warned that if you didn’t dig the oar into the water, if you just grazed the surface and didn’t contribute to the efforts being made by the whole group, you would be in danger of being called a “lily tapper!” I immediately  identified with his analogy with regards to grief. Grief is to be seized else it seizes you! I have learned to welcome it like the rushing river waters and dig my oars in hard and deep in order to contribute to the getting through of it.  I cannot let it come to me and skim over it hoping to make it through unturned or simply glide over the rocks and think I won’t get stuck.  Grief is hard work and yet not at all in your control; it’s like the moment on our raft when all of a sudden the guide yelled,”High Side Right” and those of us on the left jumped up and over to the right; but he yelled too late, and we jumped too slow and were dumped out into the river like a bucket of live bait.  Flailing and scattered, all five of us were completely under water desperately trying to swim back up as quickly as possible.

It was “in the moment survival,” no time to look around or think, only to follow the instructions we were all hoping we wouldn’t need at the early morning crisis training describing what to do if you went in.   Yep, we went in, and now we were in crisis. Our family friend grabbed my eldest daughter and dragged her toward another raft. My youngest daughter was in front of me, and all I saw was our young guide pulling her into the boat and then there he was standing over me, my friend yelling in the background, “feet up, feet up!” I got a deep breath and tried desperately to get my feet in front of me and face the right direction,  caught a glimpse of distress in the guide’s face. He was definitely undone, but still actively solving the issue of having lost his entire raft in one swift rapid between some unexpected rocks and gushing waters. My back throbbed; just bashed against a very large rock, and I gasped for breath again, looked up and saw his strong arms reach down, grab my life vest, half dunk me, and then with great force pull me in and throw me over his shoulder like a trout! I went sailing across the raft face down flopping around and trying hard to gain some kind of stop; pretty sure my face was going to be torn up in a big way. Had I been watching Funniest Home Videos, I surely would have been belly laughing at the sight of it. Once I found my seat, secured my feet, and caught my breath, I started frantically looking for my son who had adventurously found his way across the river to the side and was creeping across the rocks to get out. It was in that moment of relief that I began to process just how gracious God had been. None of us had any real experience with this type of activity… we were definitely “city-folk come a raftin’ ” yet we had survived. What could have been a very long recovery in the coming weeks, ended up being a great tale of both rescue and overcoming and a new vacation memory.

Rushing rapids with lots of hidden, sharp-edged rocks have crashed into our family with mine and my husband’s unexpected separation this past April. Since then, serious surprises have gushed in over us leaving us feeling bashed against the rocks, quickly taking us under and leaving us desperate to catch our breath. Every time we think we have our feet up and facing in the right direction, awful information drags us back under, like an untimely marriage to his “new found love” only one month after our divorce. It has created layers of grief that none of us have any experience with.

We all handle it in different ways; some of us silently keep paddling, some of us try to lift our butts up and miss the rocks, hoping to skim over them and not get stuck; others of us come in flailing like a fish and flop around trying to come to a stop. We all have a strong sense of being out of control and don’t have a clue what could possibly be next nor have any paradigm of how to deal with it when it hits the heart. We all wish we had the handsome young guide looking out ahead of us to shout out “High Side Right” or to reach down and grab our life vest and pull us into the safe place. But, this is real life. It is real grief. It is unpredictable and messy. It requires “in the moment survival” and when we are through it, though weary from the ride, we get the sense of having been dealt with graciously by our Savior in spite of our heavy breathing and fast beating pulses merely because we survived it.

Divorce is not at all what Hollywood makes it out to be. There is absolutely no glamor in it. In fact, now that we have experienced it up close and personal, I see it is an evil not to be taken lightly. It destroys all memories and paints sadness across every promise of tomorrow. It takes away the joy you always connected to the events your family shared together, taints the special references you all make to specific family moments,  and makes all new things a little less joyful for who is missing and not there to share in it. It is very much like death, only worse for the element of betrayal. It does what all measure of sin does; it kills, steals, and destroys all that was intended to be by a holy God who covenanted together “til death do us part.” It puts all love ever expressed in question in the hearts of those to whom it was spoken, including the love of God.  It creates a great sadness to be reckoned with forevermore. The enemy of God wants to make you believe that what you have is not what you deserve, that you deserve more than you are getting out of the relationships you are in. Sound like Jesus? Not hardly. It is the enticement of Eve in the garden being convinced that she deserved more. It is the feeding of man’s pride, entitlement, and greed which only leaves a family whose head has been lobbed off by the enemy flailing and flopping and trying to regain its true north.

I can honestly say that I never thought for a moment we would be in this particular lifeboat. We thought we were a family of love and happiness. I truly cannot pinpoint at what point we were actually dumped into the rushing waters, but I do know that we haven’t been able to quite crawl back up onto dry ground. It is devastating to find out that life is completely different in reality than the life you have been living. My take away is that christian couples need a wake-up call!  We must snap outta social media/internet Lala land and do whatever difficult or hard thing we have to do to stay in right relationship with God and spouse.  Not paying attention to what’s ahead or around the corner can prove deadly. We must run to Him to help when we are feeling enticed away. The enemy’s sway is thick, and at times, we must act in an exaggerated way to avoid being drawn in by his promise of something (or someone) “better or more deserved.” We must somehow look into the eyes of our children  and our spouse and find the integrity to keep our promises, make true our words over the course of their lives, and commit to leaving a legacy of faithfulness for them to build on. We must decide to do whatever is needed, have whatever hard conversation, go to whatever measure or length is necessary to get help for addictions,  accept godly counsel from professionals and those who love and care about us- whatever is needed to save and preserve our families.  I don’t agree with what so many say when they are seeking divorce. They say, “Ah, the children will be fine; in just a matter of time, they will be just fine.” Yes, our God is a mighty strong guide; He will carry us through to overcome the evil done in our lives and bring it to bear on our future for good,  but as both now a child of divorce and a wife who has been divorced, no one involved is ever again “just fine.”

Wherever you are in your life, whether confidently secure or on the edge of a disastrous fall, you must make Christ the priority relationship in your daily life that he desires to be and call on Him to provide the hedge of protection  that’s needed to guard your heart, your mind, and ultimately your family. When we seek Him first, He feeds our soul, and keep our hearts from floating away or getting pulled under by the current. When we feed our flesh, we reap death-Death of the very thing that just moments ago was exactly what we loved and had built our entire lives around. I believe we have to dig our oars in hard and pull our weight to keep aright in this present darkness. I believe we have to say “Hell No”  in exaggerated ways as we are tempted to walk away from the Lord’s precepts and go after the hollow promises of a “more deserved” life. These days, when it comes to getting over the unexpected rocky places with commitment, integrity, and faithfulness, there is absolutely no room to be a lily tapper.

Recommended Reading for Reflection and Prayer: The Roots of Endurance by John Piper 

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7 Thoughts to “Grief: It’s Not for Lily Tappers”

  1. Nancy W

    Oh Tammy, your words stir me to such emotions that I can’t even express it. I can’t remember reading any more truthful account of what divorce is all about than this. I know this is just scratching the surface of what all your family is feeling now and in the days ahead. Please keep doing what you are doing. It is making a difference for His Kingdom. I am praying for you and the kids.


      Your words are healing to me just for the knowing that you understand implicitly. I so wish we lived closer. Let’s continue to pray that God will continue to heal me in such a way that I can share through speaking. I keep wanting to share very important specifics but here is not the place. I know that it is all God’s timing of healing for me and my kids. There are beginning to be evident some very broken hearts and places among them. All this has made me know that worry is not even needed though the struggles are large. So, therein is already growth. But, this message that God is working out in me is for today’s christian marriage and the lies it is buying into hook, line, and sinker.
      I know that His timing to redeem is perfect, so I will trust Him for it. Love you my friend. So wish we lived closer. Oh, I already said that didn’t I?

  2. Tammy Whitt

    This is one of the most wonderful things I’ve read Tammy Hayes. As I continued to read I was moved to tears, not just out of hurt for you and your kiddos but because of the spiritual truths that you shared about marriage, family and the responsibilities and promises that go along with them. Divorce isn’t just done and then over with and everyone moves on. The generational effects of that evil continue on. Being a child of divorce as well I always told myself surely this evil won’t find me. The truth is no one is immune to Satan’s evil desires to destroy our marriages and our families. You are so right about staying in daily “spiritual connection” with Christ to stay in that lifeboat. Wake up husbands and wives and say “hell no” everyday to the one who waits to steal and destroy what God has put together!! We must stay spiritually prepared! Tammy thanks for your words today. This is very good stuff. You are pretty amazing !!!

  3. kris koenigsberg

    Tammy…this is unbelievably well said. my prayer is that this writing is cathartic to you – it is certainly wisdom that can help anyone who reads it.

    grief is perhaps the most difficult ‘rapids’ i have ever had to navigate and — to confirm your point — it changes/colors everything AND it doesn’t end. the river just offers some smoother waters to give you rest as you get further downstream.

    here’s my tip for the day: the shower. best place to just stand and cry.
    hugs to you today …


      I know you know the grief we are in even though the circumstances involved in our stories are very different. The “surprise attack” of it all though I imagine is similar. I am grateful for the understanding that is coming to me for the brokenhearted. But, I do look forward to whenever I am a little further downstream. I do see how it makes us groan for heaven though. So wish we could sit in one another’s company and enjoy a cup of coffee, a warm fire and deep conversation.
      Love you and Tom always,

  4. Donna

    Very true words, “no one is ever the same”., especially not the children.

  5. Oh Tammy…these words are powerful! I know your heart is breaking into a million tiny pieces with the feeling you have hardly enough glue to repair. Thank you for sharing your deepest wounds and the Truth from Jesus that anchors your soul …and the challenge for all to wake-up and pay attention. Love you! Wish we could talk more …

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