A Quieter Grief

Subtle, nagging, tugging, I felt the grief pulling at my heart all day. Through worship, memories, sights, and sounds, I felt his absence.  Tears threatened and spilled over and I cried for the missing and the longing.

It’s been a big year in the life of my family–engagements, graduations, jobs, marriages, moves– and we didn’t get to share it with him. It’s not like he feels like he’s missing anything–he’s in Glory experiencing ultimate joy and complete rest. For the last three years, he’s understood an eternal perspective that I can only grasp at like a child chasing a bubble.

So I didn’t cry for him today. I cried for me. I cried for the missing and the longing.

Quiet grief blanketed me today as I remembered.  And that’s ok. Quiet, private, intimate memories trickled into my consciousness. The beautiful legacy of love and grace that he left behind gently washed over my soul. I reveled in the exclusiveness and privacy of my grief. That may sound strange, but God brought His healing balm as I walked this quiet grief-road primarily alone.

I don’t know what loss you’ve experienced. I have no idea how far along you are in your journey of grief. Maybe it’s fresh and new and your pain is public. Maybe people are starting to forget even as your own longing ache intensifies. I pray, no matter your surroundings and circumstances along the way, you’ll take comfort in the One who always walks beside you.

Lasting Legacy“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” -Jesus 

time

Where does it go? Every minute has 60 seconds, every hour 60 minutes every day 24 hours and on and on. Each increment of time stays the same. Time’s a funny thing isn’t it? A day or week can drag on and seem an eternity but a year can fly by. When I think back over my life I’m struck by the fact that there are entire decades that are a blur. How did I get from age 18 to 49? My kids are practically grown and I know I didn’t miss their growing up, but there’s a lot of it I simply don’t remember. How can this be? I don’t want to forget life. I don’t want to forget this time–this busy time of graduations and weddings and kids moving out and back and out again. I don’t want to forget people and places I’m experiencing. I’d like time to slow down, please.

This picture of my dad & me from three years ago popped up this morning in the “On This Day” feature on Facebook. There’s so much about Facebook that bugs me, and yet, this is what I love about it. This brief moment in time from three years ago, brought back to me today.

Padre

Three short and long years ago I heard his voice. Three short and long years ago I could hold his hand and smell his cologne and see his million-dollar smile. Three short and long years ago he still drew breath from his tumor-ridden lungs. Three short and long years ago he and mom could sit, side by side, in sweet harmony, a complete pair. Three short and long years ago he still graced this earth. Three short and long years ago, he and mom could have made the trip to Iowa for graduations and concerts and presentations and life events. I know he’s not really missing anything–I mean who would trade the glory of heaven for the stuff of earth? No one. He wouldn’t come back if he could and that’s ok. But, I miss him and wish he could be here to share life with us.I miss talking to him–we were so alike in many ways that he often understood things I couldn’t articulate well. I miss his intellect and depth. I miss the way he could knowlegibly converse on any topic at any time. I miss how he used to stand right in the middle of whereever you needed to be and not realize he was in the way. I miss his quick wit, movie quotes, and bear hugs. I miss that he’d be so proud of his grandsons and granddaughters and he’d love meeting the beautiful souls their choosing as their life-partners.  I miss him. We miss him.

I keep trying to figure out how to end this post, some way to make it more universal (although grief is universal). But really, all I feel today is sad and a deep longing to simultaniously turnback and speed up time.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up to a world covered in a million white sparkles
it’s time spent with my sweet mom
it’s phone calls with my sisters
it’s the countless games of cards played around the table
it’s praying as each loved one came and left again
it’s finding meaning in the mundane
it’s knowing growth will come
it’s the words of hope and comfort that sooth the weary soul
it’s hope that life isn’t lived in vain
it’s experiencing peace and rest amid a strife-filled world
it’s conversations so long and meaningful that your coffee gets cold
it’s help with the dishes
it’s the joy of hearing familiar voices after long absences
it’s laughing until you cry
it’s sharing struggles and rejoicing in victories
it’s finding a draft you meant to post two weeks ago
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things

it’s climbing into a toasty bed on a cold, damp night
it’s the smell of fresh-baked brownies mingled with the sound of my daughter’s laugh
it’s early morning texts from a far-away friend
it’s long, slow conversations about everything and nothing
it’s purpose-filled work
it’s finding scraps of paper etched with handwriting and wisdom from a beloved
it’s the privilege and strength to pray for hurting souls
it’s soul-feeding words found in unlikely places
it’s the hope and anticipation of seeing loved ones
it’s laughter in the midst of pain
it’s creamed, blueberry honey on a big bowl of oatmeal
it’s gradual peace in letting go of past hurts
it’s knowing your dear ones sleep in safety
it’s the unexpected gift of grieving
it’s typed messages on What’s App from Costa Rica
it’s being enshrouded and enfolded by a Love I cannot fully comprehend
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

Walls

Thick cinderblock 521walls lined each narrow, meandering street. Topped with barbed wire and broken glass they shouted a clear message of stay out. Iron bars covered every window and door. Heavy gates, either of solid wood or black metal, completed each mini fortress. Walking out of our simple guest house into the courtyard each morning, hearing the noises of a city waking up, yet only seeing cement walls and metal gates saddened me. A long history of government corruption, instability, and violence led to the walled, barred and gated atmosphere in Nicaragua.

It felt disconcerting to be on either side of the wall. When we were safe inside the fortresses, there was peace accompanied by a sense of loss. Lush trees, vibrant flowers, beautiful birds, and even more beautiful people lived in abundance on the other side, yet couldn’t be seen from within. When on the outside, we saw the immense beauty, but we also lived with a heightened sense of our surroundings, cognizant of the real dangers we faced on the street. Constant tension existed between experiencing relative safety and beholding abundant beauty.

90 down the mt

But if we never ventured outside the walls of Quinta Emily or Hotel Rosario, we would have missed meeting Moeses and Ricardo and we would never have seen the beauty of Mombachito or Somoto or Laguna de Apoyo. We may have experienced comfort and safety but at what cost? We went to Nicaragua to experience Nicaragua. We went to see the natural beauty, to experience a different culture, to practice another language, and to observe what God is doing through His people in other places. We didn’t go to stay safe behind walls in a sanitzed  environment.

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies is “There’s a wall there.” (Kronk speaking of Eyzma’s reluctance to share emotionally in Emperor’s New Groove) It’s a funny part of the movie because it’s true. We’ve all built walls in our lives.

In an attempt at self-preservation and protection, we build our own emotional fortresses. Some walls we erect to keep our inner life hidden, our emotions in check and our faults and secrets safely vaulted. Others we construct clearly to keep danger at bay. Block by block, we wall ourselves in, trying to insulate our lives from pain, hurt, disappointment and failure. We hide behind our walls of bitterness, envy, anger, shame, and judgment both confused and fearful of the reality on the other side. Regardless of why we build our walls or what they’re comprised of, the result is the same: we hold others at bay and hide. We don’t fully engage in the beauty on the other side of our walls and we don’t allow anyone to see our true beauty. Living inside our fortress makes it difficult to accept or give love, encouragement, and grace. We each have a unique beauty to offer this world and when we hunker down, drawing our knees up to our chest and keeping our head down, no one sees or benefits from what we could offer.

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. ~Paul to the Ephesians

When we stay hidden behind our walls, either paralyzed by fear or too comfortable with apathy, it’s impossible to give the unique gifts we possess. Living in solitary worlds behind walls deprives everyone of the beauty that is you and prohibits you from fully experiencing what others can offer.

Personally, I know I don’t always realize when I’ve built walls until they’re so high I can’t see over. Brick by brick, I build them…shame, doubt, anger, jealousy, discontententment and pride mortered together with fear. Tearing down the fortress is hard. It wasn’t built in a day, it won’t come down in a day. And sometimes, I don’t want to pull them down. I’m used to these walls and there’s a perverted comfort living within them. But it’s a false sense of security that doesn’t bring actual peace; it only adds to loneliness and isolation. It’s a risk to tear down the wall. It’s a risk to venture beyond the gates. It’s a risk to love, to share, to give and recieve grace. But in the risk, also comes a freedom and a deep sense of living the way we were created to live: in mutually beneficial community.

A friend introduced me to this song not long ago and I love it. Even though the metaphor is light and darkness, the message is the same: we weren’t created to hide.

With years of keeping secrets safe
Wondering if I could change
‘Cause when you’re hiding all alone
Your heart can turn into a stone
And that’s not the way I want to go

So I walk out of the darkness and into the light
From fear of shame into the hope of life
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
Out of the darkness and into the light

Read more: Ellie Holcomb – Marvelous Light Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Prayer of a dying man

*I posted this entry the morning my dad passed away. Two years ago today, his heart stopped beating, his eyes stopped seeing, his lungs stopped drawing in oxygen and this dying prayer was his last. I miss him every day. At the risk of sounding cliché, please, don’t take for granted those whom God gives you to love. Death is a certainty so please don’t waste this day of life, but offer it in worship.

CIMG0089A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn-bushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes.   A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.    ~Jesus

“Give me a worshipful heart”, he prayed.

Even as his breaths weakened, his spirit whispered praise.
Even as his body failed, he offered himself in worship.
Even as his mind struggled to keep events, dates, and linear reasoning intact (yes, he used the words “linear reasoning” in his last days), his heart remained steadfast.
Even as he languished with pain and discomfort, he spoke of the privilege of suffering if suffering for God.
This  intelligent, analytical, systematic, studious, loving and kind man, in the end, still offered heart and mind to his God.
The words of Paul to the Colossians became his dying anthem:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.

Loved.

You are loved.

Do you know that?

Do you believe it?

You are loved.

All summer, grief wraps itself around my heart and mind like a shroud, both sheltering and smothering at the same time.

I miss my dad. My dear uncle passed away; he and dad were so similar it’s like saying goodbye again.  People’s choices and actions directly effected the life of our family in profound ways and I grieve the the way things used to be. I said goodbye to my young charge and miss him. Both my older two children moved out–like, really moved out. I miss them. I grieve my kids not being little anymore. I miss their sweet voices and tiny hands in mine. I miss being young myself–gracefully getting older proves challenging. I grieve lost opportunities and abandoned dreams. I miss time to nurture friendships, old and new. 

Life includes loss. I get that. This season of my life feels like a season of loss and letting go. It’s not all bad and I see the hope and blessings both now and ahead. But what gets me through today and this season is not just a pie-in-the-sky hope of brighter days to come or the fact that everyone goes through it. No. What makes the grief and loss ok is the fact that I’m loved. Loved by family and friends–thank God. But even more than that, I’m loved by the Creator of the Universe. The God who governs the stars and moon and sun loves me. The God who formed the mountains and rivers and canyons loves me. He loves me and He loves you. Did you catch that? He loves you.

He welcomes and invites us to accept His love. And I don’t mean He loves us in a —ok, you can come in, but wipe your feet and stand quietly in the corner–sort of love. No, He doesn’t just put up with us. Many of us (for whatever reason) see God as a stern, un-approving father who wants to make us behave and all we do is disappoint him again and again. But I know that God’s love is an all-encompassing, selfless, doting parent, devoted sort of love.

He loves you…

Need some Truth to remind you? Here you go…

He loves us because He is love.  (1 John 4)
God loves us with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3)
God loves us so much He sent His son to rescue us. (John 3)
And God loves us just the way we are. He doesn’t wait for us to change or get our crap together. He loves us in the middle of the garbage.  (Romans 5)
And because He loves me like that, I can grieve–both big and small things–with hope. (Lamentations 3)

Whatever you face today, I hope you know the Truth: you are loved.

Never Once

A year ago we filed into the church pews, sang hope-filled Truth-songs, heard words of love and legacy and faith, and said good-bye to my dad. Hundreds came to the funeral. Many I didn’t know and had never seen before. People of all sizes, ages, colors, nationalities,  and social classes. People came to honor dad and grieve with us. For my own family, personally, we were blessed, touched, uplifted and comforted by several of our dear friends who traveled to share our sorrow and honor my dad. They didn’t have to come. They didn’t have to rearrange schedules, miss work, and travel from other states to minister to us, but they did and a year later I am still moved to tears by it.

My friend sent me Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” yesterday and, although I already know the song, God’s faithfulness struck me again. I know the song is primarily about God never leaving us or forsaking us, but I realize over and over again that He shows us that enduring love by sending others to be there physically. “Never once did you ever walk alone.” His love and grace and mercy are manifest in the love and grace and mercy tangibly displayed by the people in our lives. Sometimes the people are highly intentional–like my friend sending me the song–but often times, God uses prayers, phrases, songs, hugs and merciful words without the people realizing the enormous impact of their actions.

Thank you, lovely friends, for walking beside our family for the past year plus. Thank you for the grace, mercy and kindness offered through your physical presence at the funeral, through your life-giving words, through your constant reminders that you are with us in our hurt, and through your encouragement and prayers now, a year later.

I hope, dear reader, that you’ll be spurred on to offer life-giving encouragement to someone today. I *know* someone in your life is hurting and needs to know love and grace. Will you be the one to offer it?

Never Once by: Matt Redman

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far weve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much Youve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore well be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Healing hope

Upon my kids urging, I got Snap Chat. I think I’m too old; I don’t get it. I mean, I get it. But I don’t. Josh said “Mom it’s just like texting with pictures.” Hmmm. Ok. So now I’m walking around and looking through “snap chat eyes”. I looked out and saw the sun against the storm clouds and thought Dad would love this! I should send this to dad!  Oh. Wait. I can’t send it to dad. And I can’t take a goofy snap chat with him or instagram or any other photo with him.  Ever. Again.
And the tears came, just like that, in a torrent.

No more pictures.
No more new book titles in his library.
No more movie quotes.
No more funny, quirky dad quips to send us into fits of laughter.
No more poignant, sage wisdom from the faithful scholar.

It is hard to lose a parent no matter the age. I know I’m 47, but he was my dad and I loved him and he loved me and I miss him more than I could’ve anticipated or imagined. And I don’t know if losing him when I was 57 or 67 or 77 would have felt any easier.

As the year anniversary of his death approaches, the pain of separation feels new and fresh.

This week in American Lit, the kids discussed Emily Dickenson’s “death poems”. It was fine until the teacher started delving into the lesson a bit deeper and started talking with the kids about death-bed vigils. I’m sure it was a great discussion and got them thinking and pondering, but I wouldn’t know because I left. One boy started to share his story of loss, and I knew there was no way I’d make it through without crying, so I left.

I left and cried and missed my dad and remembered sitting by his side, just a year ago. Just a year ago his hands were still warm, his heart still beating, his tumor-ridden lungs still taking in oxygen. Just a year ago I could still talk to him and listen for a response. Just a year ago, we–my mom and sisters and I–could still kiss his brow and hold his hand and share sweet precious moments by his side.

My heart literally aches and the tears obscure my vision and the lump in my throat grows. I know it will be ok. I know I’ll continue to get up and go to work and care for my family and live my life. But the ache of separation remains.

Aching hearts, searching for comfort, we all struggle with the pain of loss. Maybe you grieve the loss of a dear one or perhaps it’s the death of a dream or the loss of innocence or the trauma of betrayal or the pain of a lost and broken relationship, I don’t know. But I do know that your pain is real and the need for comfort and healing is valid and necessary.  Did you hear that? It’s ok to admit pain and seek healing. God is the Master of Redemption and no matter your hurt, I truly believe Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.