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Nov 15, 2023

Chuck and Ashley Elliott join me on this episode to guide us in how we can navigate both the big and the small changes in life.

Connect with Chuck and Ashley on Facebook and Instagram.

Get your copy of Used to Be ___: How to Navigate Large and Small Losses in Life and Find Your Path Forward.

 Used to Be ___: How to Navigate Large and Small Losses in Life and Find Your Path Forward


Show Notes:

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: Welcome, everyone. This is Dr. Sandra, and you're listening to I Choose My Best Life. Today, we're going to talk about how you navigate the large and the small losses in life and get back on track to moving forward. I have with me today Chuck and Ashley Elliott, and they are going to help us to navigate this process of when we used to be something, and now we're looking for what happens next.

So, Chuck and Ashley, thank you so much for joining me. I want to start by just diving a little bit into why you think you needed to write a book on this topic. On what we used to be.

Ashley Elliott: Our identity is often affected whenever we face loss. So, one of the things that I noticed whenever we went through recurrent miscarriages, it didn't just affect me in our marriage or intimacy.

It affected me at work. It affected my ability to think and to listen to people. I was a university professor at the time, and I just have a harder time bearing the burdens of my students, and I would just have a little bit of a lower frustration tolerance. And so I found that I just felt like I was off my game.

And then I felt this way with my kids. I'm like, I have two boys who are amazing. And I'm finding myself just feeling overwhelmed with things that I normally didn't. And so I noticed an identity shift in me and I felt. Inadequate in my body to be able to protect myself, really protect my baby. And so there's just so many things that I noticed in myself.

I also noticed in counseling clients and students and people in our ministry realm that they felt similarly the different types of losses that they faced.

Chuck Elliott: Yeah, because we find so much value in our identity and our titles. If I say that I'm I'm a banker, I'm a pastor, I'm a teacher, whatever that is.

That's how you introduce yourself, right? You say, yeah, I'll tell you about yourself. I'll start off and tell you about what are my roles. What are the titles? How do I fill in the blank? And then whenever you lose that, you can wonder, how do I fill in the blank now? Who am I? Because you took away the thing that I used as an identifier.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: I love that. And I love this I think because it goes so much further than typical losses that we think about. You mentioned miscarriage, death, and grief; there are so many different variations of loss that we experience. And sometimes the loss of seasons and roles and titles and identifiers as you mentioned, are not deemed to be as relevant.

Because they're not a death or something that is, that's more hard-hitting than we often think. I'd like for you to dive a little bit deeper into that because I think for many of us, when we think about grief, we only think about grieving people. Why is it also important to grieve the other losses in our lives?

Chuck Elliott: Yeah, absolutely. You can lose a relationship, and it impacts your life. Something we talk about in the book is we had some neighbors who lived right across the street from us, and they moved. Now, that may sound dramatic because I'm making it a big deal, but they didn't even meet and move across the country.

They moved across town, but you know what? That impacts me because when they come home, I don't get to see them now. Our kids played together. I could wave when they check their mail. I could stalk them and know when Amazon or Walmart or somebody delivered something at their house, and I could ask questions and ask what was for dinner.

Just all those little things that I can selfishly think impact my life. Now, that changes my routine. Am I going to grieve that the same way that I would the death of a family member? No, it's something different. We grieve differently. But if I discount that change in my life, If I discount how things have shifted and I've lost some of that part of my routine, then if I just skip over it, I might be closed off to another relationship.

What if I don't grieve it and don't say, you know what? I really miss having those people across the street, and then somebody else moves in that could be really good friends, and I don't even give them a chance. Because I'm hurt and I'm carrying what it is that I used to have and that's one of the less typical things that we give an example of in the book.

So if we can stay current with our emotions and be self-aware that we need to process something, then we can be stronger in other relationships.

Ashley Elliott: as well. And one of the things you said was that it's different to have the small loss versus big loss, but we did try to pave a path for larger or small losses.

So you can say I'm grieving blank. You're like, wait, grieving. I'm grieving the fact that my neighbors moved. Yes, it is something to be grieved. It's a bummer. It's not maybe at the same level as whenever we lost a child. But it does affect us and makes us feel unsteady in our friendships. And we wonder if the relationship is going to last.

And so when we say I'm grieving blank and we look at how we're coping Oh, am I coping in a positive way? Or am I coping in a negative way? Am I putting up my walls and refusing to connect with other people and allow the new neighbors to be our friends? Okay, then, that's a negative coping mechanism.

And so when we learn, however we grieve, if it's a big loss or a little loss, We're going to use positive and negative coping mechanisms. We're going to do certain behaviors, and we want to learn about those patterns because if we bring God into those places, he will help give us insight. He will help us meet our needs in healthier ways.

And when we talk to each other, and we process, we can heal and find hope that maybe would be missed if we didn't take the time to

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: reflect. Yes, absolutely. And I think it's important to be aware of those emotions, not necessarily judging them, because I think sometimes that prevents us from actually experiencing them.

But as you mentioned, being aware of them and identifying when they're healthy and when they're not healthy. And one of the more unhealthy emotions that we sometimes will begin to exhibit when there's loss is anger. And you mentioned that anger can create an anger wall.

Ashley Elliott: Describe that for us. Okay, behind all of our emotions are sometimes more emotions, but we especially see this happen with anger.

So if you imagine a wall that's built with anger and you remove a brick from that wall, what would be beneath that anger brick? Maybe there is Vulnerability or jealousy or inadequacy or fear, anxiety, sadness, or any type of emotion could be there. Oftentimes, anger makes us feel powerful. We don't want to feel weak.

We don't want to feel vulnerable or lonely or sad. It's easier to feel angry because we feel justified. And so when we understand It might be easier to lean into anger and to feel some momentary strength there than it is to look at those underneath emotions. But when we do look at what's beneath our anger wall, we can find hope and resilience and

Chuck Elliott: strength.

I can tell you that when we faced recurrent miscarriages, I was angry. And if I would take out one of those bricks and that anger wall for me, I felt weak. I felt inadequate. I felt like a failure because I couldn't protect my family. I couldn't protect this little one that we lost that I never got to meet.

And it was a lot easier just to be angry. To be mad about the process, to be mad about the way this happens, mad that nobody talks about it, mad about the way that I'm feeling. But if I really got underneath it, I didn't want to feel like a failure. I didn't want to feel weak. I didn't want to think that I was weak in a failure.

So, if I just seemed strong by putting anger out there, I could mask that. But what happens is if you continue to do that, there are other negative consequences of your anger, and there are other negative consequences of not recognizing and communicating to Ashley that I felt like a failure. I felt weak. I felt inadequate.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: Now you two come from two different backgrounds as a way of approaching grief, Ashley being a licensed counselor and Chuck being a pastor. I love the combination of the two because I feel like it gives a very thorough look. How do we overcome and how do we heal? And you both have mentioned your miscarriage.

So, I want to dive a little bit into that. How did you? Get back to a place of trusting God in the middle of that pain. Cause I feel like that is the hard thing for most of us. You love God, you're saved. You believe in Jesus, all the things, hard stuff happens. How do you hold to the trust and the things that you believe?

Ashley Elliott: Such a good point that you have. We are still believers, but we are just shaken sometimes in those moments of loss. And we definitely experienced that now for me. During our first loss, we worshipped in the ER, and I remember just saying, Lord, I want to worship you. This is really hard. This is sad.

And then we had another loss the next year, and I just felt so devastated. I took a year to try to heal and try to process and do research and then. I felt shattered, and I remember starting to feel like there was a distance between me and God. I felt like God was quieter than normal. We continued to do ministry.

I sang at the church. He was on staff. I did a lot of volunteer-type of things. And so I continued to serve, but I just felt disappointed with the silence that I felt. And I think over time that built when we had a third miscarriage, I just felt like God was so silent. And I would get a little frustrated.

I'm like, God, I didn't turn my back on you. I am following you. I'm not shaking my fist, but you're so silent. Like I need you. And your Bible tells us that I can draw near and you will draw near to me. Like, why are you not making yourself evident? And I just dug into the scripture more, and I found David felt similarly he says in the Psalms like God, where are you?

Why have you forsaken me? But yet I will praise you a little farther down the Psalms. He says this over and over again as he pours out his heart. His disappointment is his frustration, but he also says, Lord, I'm going to still praise you. And I want to be like that. And I wanted that in that moment.

And so I prayed those verses over me. I said, Lord, help me to live like David. And then I looked at other verses, and I saw Job. It's ah, he had these terrible things. And we can see behind the scenes, we can see the enemy was attacking him. It wasn't God. Sometimes it feels like it's God. And sometimes people will say some spiritual answers or comments, and it will make us feel like God's doing this terrible thing to us to teach us a lesson or because of a sin or whatever.

But knowing that, I could see in the story of Job that he Loved God. He was faithful to God, and he still felt silence. He still felt uncertainty. And yet, I want to be like him. I didn't want to be like his wife. He said, why don't you curse God and die? I want to be like Job when I read that story. And so I continue to want to endure.

And so I would wrestle with different verses and say, Lord, I want to be like you, even though I'm struggling. I want to be close to you, even though I don't feel you. And there's another verse in Job that Encourages me so much. It says God speaks in one way, and in another, no man does not perceive it.

And so I held on to that. I'm like, Lord, maybe you're speaking to me. Maybe you're more near than I feel. And I'm just holding on to this truth, even in the darkness, even in the silence. And I do feel like over time it lifted. And even this morning, like we had a time of prayer I really felt a connection to God.

And so I know that God is real. But I also know that in my grief, I've had more questioning than at other times. And I just want to acknowledge that sometimes it's hard. I think that's a more normal part of our walk with God. And I think just telling people about that can be a good thing because it's comforting for me to hear from other people when they face those struggles.

Chuck Elliott: too.

That's a really good point because sometimes, in Christianity, in the church, people will think that it is not spiritual to grieve. If I'm really spiritual I'm really loving God, and I'm passionate, I'm on fire. If you use that terminology for the Lord, then that means that I don't experience pain and I'm happy, and things are going in my direction, and I feel blessed, and I don't feel the anxiety and all of those things.

I don't see that in the Bible. I see people lamenting. I see people longing to be with the Lord, and they still feel distant. I see people going through really hard times. I see the disciples after Jesus died on the cross going through difficult times, even though they have joy in the Lord. They still have persecution.

They still have difficult things that they're going through, but ultimately, their foundation is in their relationship with God.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: Amen. Amen. I want to really speak to that person who's at that place because I feel like a lot of people have gone through a lot of losses over the past couple of years. Amen.

Starting with 2020 and beyond, there seems to have been just this season of hard that has hit a lot of lives in many different areas. And one of the things you talk about is the lies that grief tells us the lies that it tries to get us to believe. And one of those lies that I'm seeing a lot is this lie of hopelessness.

Like it's the end, like there, there's nothing after this. It's just over. How can we over? What are some other common lies you've seen and how do we overcome those with God's word?

Chuck Elliott: I think that's a great example of what you said you've seen with the people that you work with. People feel hopeless.

That's a really good example. One of the other ones that we talk about is grief, lies, and telling us that we're alone. Tells us that nobody else wants to see us. Nobody else has experienced anything like us, that we should suffer by ourselves, not talk to anybody. And even if we did talk to somebody, nobody would care.

And that is a lie. It's 100 percent a lie. People want to be with you. People want to talk to you. People want to be all on this journey with you. But sometimes we don't know how to let people in. And even when we try to let people in, it can be difficult. It can be awkward because unfortunately, we don't talk about grief and loss very much.

And when you bring people into a relationship and a community around those times, it can be a little bit difficult. But that doesn't mean that you're alone. And that's one of the big lies that we've really seen.

Ashley Elliott: And one of the things that you shared is the hopelessness. We tend to feel hopeless when we get stuck in a negative space.

Now, in all relationships, we go back and forth between being in a positive space and a negative space. And you can think about it easily to jump in with a positive-negative space. It's like a positive or a negative mood, but it's much deeper than that. We have our positive thoughts, feelings, and behavior whenever we're in a hopeful state.

And whenever we start to feel a sense of despair, that hopelessness starts to creep in negative emotions and anxiety. And we doubt God's word. We doubt ourselves and. This ends up affecting our values and our belief system. And so I believe that when people start to bring God into their negative spaces, they start to call on the holy God who can bring hope in the darkness.

And there's a verse that says we are overcomers by the word of our testimony. That testimony does not happen alone. It happens in the community. The devil is a Christian relationship destroyer. He wants us to suffer alone. And when we call on God, when we fight the enemy in the community, God works and does wonders and miracles.

But again, it's hard when we feel alone; it's hard whenever we're suffering, and we don't always see that. So for us, it's been helpful to say. I'm in a negative space. This isn't how I feel when I'm in a positive space. So I've got to get in God's word. I've got to get in the community. Even when I feel resistance, I acknowledge that resistance is a natural process, a human process that comes to try to make us feel more alone.

And so this is, these are some of the lies that happen. But again, God's word can give us that hope and encouragement.

Chuck Elliott: I really like that you said hope because oftentimes we wait until we feel hopeful and then we want to talk about Jesus. I'm in a good mood. Things are going right. All right, I can bring God into it now.

But when I feel hopeless, and I feel blind, and I feel like I don't have any idea what I'm supposed to be doing next, God doesn't want anything to do with this now. That is a lie. God wants to be in the middle of your hopelessness. He wants to be in the middle of your depression, the middle of your anxiety, the middle of your confusion, the middle of your temptation, the middle of your sin, and the middle of your mess.

He wants to be right in the middle of every single one of those things.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: A man. And I love that you also brought in the whole community aspect of it, the need for other people. I think sometimes when we're hurting, we almost feel like the leper is I don't want to get my hurt on you. So, we avoid other people because we fear we're going to bring them down or we don't want to burden other people with our pain.

But I get, I have to tell you during some of the hardest times of my journey with God. The closest friends that I have right now are those people who didn't try to fix me. They didn't try to work me to death. I love the word of God, but when I'm hurting, I sometimes am not receptive to certain things.

They just sat with me in the pain. And I had one friend who just a couple of years ago, my dad passed very unexpectedly. And she literally, she's in Canada. She's millions of miles away from me. I'm in the Southeast. She sat on a Zoom with me, and we wept together. And I can't tell you the healing that brought to my soul and the way it bonded our relationship because she wasn't trying to fix me.

She just wanted to be present with me. So, I love that you brought those two components together there.

Chuck Elliott: I hope your audience heard what you just played through like she didn't fix you. She didn't try to fix you. She didn't word you. I like that. You use that as an action thing. She didn't worry you and beat you up with it, right?

And she sat with you. She sat with even over Zoom. And it was okay to be there and to cry, and you know what? She didn't have to fix it, and you didn't expect her to fix it. I think that's a really good prescription for the people who are listening to that pattern.

You don't have to have the right scripture in the right moment and the right thing to say in the right comfort and bring over the right casserole at the right time. You need to be there. 

Ashley Elliott: You just show up. And I think the phrase word you think people word you, I think people want to be spiritual. They want to bring some sort of hope.

And so we'll write on the card, the Lord is near to the brokenhearted. I have done this, and I still do this, right? But I'm like, Hey, I didn't feel God's nearness, and I held onto it. So, even if this verse hurts a little bit, I just want to remind you that he is near even if he doesn't feel it. And I think sometimes.

It's hard. We just want to have something spiritual to say. And our spiritual words can feel sting like they can feel painful whenever we are hurting, and knowing that we don't want to use God's word as a weapon against our loved ones. We want to use it as a healing bomb to help them.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: Amen. Amen. I love that.

I also want to mention something called switch therapy. What is that? And how can that help us in this process of navigating

Ashley Elliott: losses? Yeah. I'm glad that you used the word because we did talk a little bit about it, but it is that positive and negative space. So, we use that back and forth between the positive and negative space.

We call it switch theory because we go back and forth between this positive and negative space. And again, in our positive space, we feel hopeful, and we have positive thoughts, feelings, and aspirations, and our behavior is more positive.

Chuck Elliott: The negative, you have negative thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and you're less hopeful.

So you have those two ends. Of what it is that you're dealing with.

Ashley Elliott: Yeah, so it's normal to go back and forth. Sometimes, we can go back and forth in a positive or negative space with each other. We can collectively get in a negative space with our kids. We can be in a positive or negative space with God with our co-workers.

And especially when we start to feel like we get stuck in a negative space with everyone, that's whenever depression really grows. And if we begin to feel anxious in one area of our life, it can push us into a negative space and other areas. And so where we typically do the most of our counseling and coaching and pastoral work is whenever people are stuck in this negative space.

And so we believe God can help us make a manual reset in that. First thing that we don't do typically as humans. We don't always bring God into it. We're a little bit like Adam and Eve in the garden. When they sinned, they went and hid. We can do the same thing. And we want to bring God into that negative space so that we can find the healing that we need.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: We've been chatting with Chuck and Ashley Elliott. They are the co-authors of I Used to Be Fill in the Blank, How to Navigate Large and Small Losses in Life, and Find Your Path Forward. I want to give you each an opportunity to just share some final thoughts to that person who's listening right now. And I don't know if they're going through the loss of a relationship, a loss of, as you mentioned, like a miscarriage or a job or a title, whatever their loss may be, they're at that place where they are just questioning.

How to move forward. What would you say to them?

Chuck Elliott: Yes, absolutely. God wants to be in the middle of it. He wants to be in the middle of your pain, in the middle of your anger, even your anger towards him. He can handle it. He can handle those feelings, those emotions, the things that you feel like are filthy and nasty, and those thoughts and stuff that you're not proud of.

And you're even ashamed of it. He wants to be in the middle of it. And we also tell people that you're not just doing this work for you. You're doing this work for your family, for your loved ones. When you do the work to process your grief and your loss, whether it be large or small, you're leaving a legacy.

You're being available for your kids, for your spouse, for your co-workers, for the people who are looking to you for support. You can be emotionally present. You can be the leader that you need to be. You can be the coach that you need to be. You can be that when you take some of those steps to process.

Ashley Elliott: maybe you've been prompted in one area. Maybe it's the anger with God, or there's some sort of loss that maybe you're pricked by, but pick one thing that you're going to do. Sometimes, we can think, Oh, I've got to do all of the things. But if you pick one thing, maybe I'm going to open my Bible today, and I haven't opened it in a very long time.

Or maybe I'm going to get together with a friend and open up about how I feel, or I'm going to get a book. Go to church or whatever it is that you're going to do. Start counseling, coaching, and do something, but pick one thing that's small enough that you think you actually can do it this week.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: Excellent.

I want to make sure they know how to connect with you and to purchase a copy of I used to be _. Where can they do that?

Chuck Elliott: Absolutely. You can connect with us at chuckandashley. com. You can find links to all of our social media accounts there, and the book is sold everywhere books are sold. Also the audio book.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith: Excellent. I'll, we will link to that in the show notes to your website, as well as to a direct link to the book. I want to thank you both so much for joining me. Thank you. Until next time, everyone live fully, love boldly, and rest intentionally.


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