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 

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.

 

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.

It’s the little things

it’s seeing the morning star each day as I stumble down my stairs in the dark
it’s the kind smile of a stranger
it’s celebrating milestone birthdays with loved ones
it’s the surprise gift of chocolate from a thoughtful co-worker
it’s the thank you received after helping a kid succeed
it’s the faithful prayers of a loving spouse
it’s the bright smile and sweet laugh of my favorite 18-year-old
it’s hot coffee on a chilly morning
it’s cold water on a warm afternoon
it’s night-time walks with the one I love
it’s the fields, golden and ripe for harvest
it’s the way you know the sun is still shining even behind the clouds
it’s the soul-calming knowledge that this world is not all there is
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.

 

Long day

24 hours.

1,440 minutes.

86,400 seconds.

There’s no such thing as a long day.

And yet…

It’s been a long day.

Do you have long days?

What makes a long day long?

Long because of a weary heart. Long because sometimes the burden’s we carry can’t be shared. Long because people can be jerks. Long because the dark sometimes seems bigger and more powerful than the light. Long because we desperately miss someone we’ve lost. Long because change is hard. Long because of anger or sadness or illness. Long because we have a crappy attitude. Long because we’re not sure that what we do all day is enough, or worse, that it even matters. Long because we see someone we love headed straight toward a head-on collision. Long because we’re holding bedside vigil in a hospice room. Long because chaos defines the headlines.

Long.

Just long.

What do you do with long days? What do you when there’s really nothing you can do? I cook. I eat chocolate. I pray. I pray more. I stew. I pray again. I write.

And, I listen to music. This is the first song I heard when I got home today:

And the phrase that soothed my rumpled spirit?

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

“…love’s purest joys restored.”

It’s the Little Things

it’s the bubblegum-pink, cotton candy-blue morning sky
it’s sacred moments that come in everyday packages
it’s a fresh, hot, colorful, yummy omelet
it’s beauty in the intricate outline of bare trees against the winter canvas
it’s anticipation of time spent with loved ones
it’s the white blanket covering the black earth
it’s precious new life and her sweet smell
it’s loyal friends
it’s stillness and quiet

it’s community that surrounds and protects

it’s warmth from the heater at my feet
it’s the luxury of time to linger over coffee
it’s hope that what is wrong will some day be made right
it’s hawks magically-as if overnight- donning their seasonal plumage
it’s reading wise words penned two decades ago by my sorely-missed dad
it’s knowledge that the frigid chill winds will eventually give way to warm summer breezes
it’s expecting faith, hope, and love and receiving it in abundance
it’s watching the eagle in the vacant, snow-swept barren field
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.

Hoping

About 24 years ago, my former pastor said “There’s no hope without waiting.” As a 24-year-old who’d just recently experienced my first major loss as an independent adult, those words sank deep into my heart and shaped my view of this faith journey. As I grew and read the Bible, especially passages like Lamentations 1-3, another truth dawned. Not only is there no hope without waiting, but there is no hope without pain. If we don’t experience pain, loss or need, we have no reason to hope. If we have every need met, every longing fulfilled, and every dream realized before even asking, we don’t experience hope. So, in my little mind, would life be better without a need for hope? Would life here be better without pain? Is that what heaven will be? We will live in the presence of every fulfillment so there will be no need to hope. What will that feel like? What replaces hope when there’s no need for it? Contentment? Fulfillment? Satisfaction? Peace?

I’m not sure. I’m just pondering. And, if I’m honest, I’m trying to hold on to hope in the midst of some hurts and fears. People betray and disappoint, uncertainty of the future rears its head, injustice seems unchecked and my heart and mind grow weary. But I want to live in a place of hope. I want to be a person of hope.

There is pain and suffering and heart ache and the truth is, life can be hard. But I don’t want to live as if that’s all there is.

I want to be a person who lives and breathes and brings hope.

Back to Lamentations 1-3, if you read it, it’s painful. It’s about regrets, screw-ups, abandonment, disappointment and desertion. The writer despairs over his own people and their predicament. He despairs of his own life and feels alone in his suffering. He feels like everyone is letting him down and they (the nation of Israel) have let God down. There’s a sense of betrayal and bewilderment in his summary words:

 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.

Then, he follows with the oft-quoted words:

Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”
 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

What would those beautiful words of hope be without the longing and despair that came before them? Hollow. Shallow. Trite. But because of his sense of loss, pain and longing for justice, the words are filled with trust and beauty. He writes his words in the midst of his burdens, not after them. He claims hope and salvation from the very place of his intense mental anguish.

The writer’s words–his faith–his hope–gives me hope for the day–hope right in the middle of confusion and hurt. How about you? What gives you hope for the day?

Dayspring

For going on a week, the clouds obscured the sun. It’s raining now. The weatherman promises the drizzle and gray will stay all day. I remember my freshman year in college, for over a month, the sun made only brief appearances. The sky remained cloudy, overcast and damp for day upon day and week upon week. The odd thing is, I don’t remember because it was an extraordinary event. I grew up in Michigan; clouds and humidity are the norm. I remember it, because my friend from Denver pointed out that the weather was crappy. She was used to clear blue skies for days on end and never knew continuous overcast like this. I, on the other hand, only knew Michigan weather so her observations struck me and stuck with me. Now, after living in sunny Iowa for over 20 years, I understand her dismay at the absence of the sun.

As I said, we haven’t seen the sun much in the last week. The fog and mist cover the landscape and just as the earth gets blanketed in a haze, so my mind gets murky as well. Driving to work last week in a thick soup of condensation, I realized that traveling in fog is not only disconcerting because it’s difficult to see ahead of you, but it’s unnerving because your peripheral vision is impaired as well. As I drove on the familiar path, a car came up from a side road and surprised me. Then a dog ventured out of a ditch. On a sunny day, neither of these things would have even registered, but in the midst of the heavy fog, they became potential dangers. In the fog, everything closes in and your world becomes a tiny sphere around you. Sound, light, motion and depth perception distorted, it proves difficult to function normally. Out of protection for what danger may be lurking just beyond the edge of your field of view, you become hyper-aware and vigilant.

Sounds a bit like survival when life feels hard doesn’t it? Whether we’re struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, post-traumatic stress, finances or simply day-to-day living, if we’re hurting, we live out of the pain. We go into a self-protection mode. Experiences and our interpretations of them become distorted and we’re not sure what’s true. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in the sun. Low-hanging, thick air envelops us and sometimes we’re paralyzed, afraid of the unknown to the left and the right and unable to clearly see the path ahead.

It’s unnerving. It’s also no way to live.

My favorite Christmas carol is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I don’t know if you pay attention to Advent or not, but I do. In the church calendar year, Advent is the time leading up to Christ’s birth. It’s a time to reflect and prepare for celebration. This third week of Advent, the theme is “Gaudete” or Rejoice. The refrain of O Come, O Come is “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee o Israel”. But it’s not the refrain that makes this song my favorite, it’s this verse:

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

On those dark, cloudy days when the view is obscured and perception is skewed, I think of the Dayspring, the Morning star, the Light of the world and I have hope. When I worry about what’s to the left and the right and I can’t see ahead, I remember these words…

“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
The people who walk in darkness     will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Isaiah 9:1,2

“…we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.” II Peter 1:19

“Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying.. Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the Dayspring from on high shall visit us, To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1: 67,78,79

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” John 8:12

It’s my hope and prayer, that today, amid the shopping and baking and programs and sporting events and parties, if your view seems gray, you’ll reach out in hope to the True source of Light. Here’s a beautiful Latin version of O come, O come Emmanuel:

White Stone Markers

The ground soggy and the grass still wet from the recent showers, I regretted wearing sandals. I sloshed through the long rows searching for the name. Every marker bears a number, but I wanted to find the surname–his name and the name I used for almost 22 years of my life and the name I gave to my daughter as a reminder of her heritage. I wanted to find his name, my name, not some cold, impersonal numerical code.  After systematically filing through dozens of the hundreds of rows in the correct section of the cemetery, and getting desperate with the search, I finally decided I needed to look for the number. Crap. Why can’t I just find his name? Our name? I wondered. It’s hard enough to be here, among the identical tombs searching for my very unique dad but now to reduce finding his grave to matching numbers? Annoyed and sad, I plodded on with my pilgrimage.

At that moment of frustration, standing amid the big stone dominoes, the dreary, indisputable fact hit me once again.  We all end up here–in the graveyard.  We all die and leave behind people who {hopefully} want to search among the tombstones to pay homage to our memory. We all finish our time on earth six-feet under with a stone marker. It really doesn’t matter what kind of casket or vault we’re in or whether it’s a name or number graven into the stone. Rich, poor, smart, slow, beautiful, not-so-beautiful, kind, jerk, generous, stingy, loving, hateful–everyone of our earthly bodies end up in the ground.We’re all equal at the graveyard, under the dirt. Dust to Dust. Not an original or profound thought, I know, but a poignant one all the same.

Of course, I finally found his white marker. I found my dad’s grave. I found the spot that means nothing to the thousands of visitors that travel to Fort Snelling each year, the spot that birds and airplanes fly over and never notice, the spot where my dad’s earthly shell resides, the spot that means something to us, his grieving family. I found my dad’s grave and I cried. I missed his smile and laugh and smell and the feel of his hand in mine. I missed his moody, funny, forever-curious kindred spirit.

The Minnesota wind blowing through me, I knelt in the mushy ground, risking certain grass stains on my white jeans, to take a picture. Small, insignificant, sad and alone in this sea of white stones, I searched for an angle that reflected my mood.

31-3886

I lingered among the dead, feeling a strange comfort in the quiet and reverence. I again made my way between the graves but instead of frantically searching, now I studied the names and dates and words forever written in the stone. Most were generic. “Husband Father Grandfather”, “Soars with Eagles”, “Loving Brother”, and “Devoted Wife” were common.  A precious few hinted at something more personal: “Alive in Christ”, “Gracious”, “Wise Guide”, “Gentle Leader”, “Kind Lady”, “She Loved Jesus”. Loitering in the rows, imagining the lives represented by the stark white stones, I found it difficult to leave. As I meandered, all the “big” and usual questions about life and death and eternity stewed in my small brain and eventually reduced to two thoughts: I desperately miss my dad and whatever earthly life I have is only significant in light of Eternity.

White Stone Markers

If you want to delve and question a bit more on Eternity, several Bible verses came to mind as I grave-walked. The passages and links are below:

Ecclesiastes 3–especially verse 11

Matthew 6:19-21 

Isaiah 55: 1-3

1 Corinthians 15: 50-58