Sunday, September 1, 2013

a thin vapor

I am frustrated by faint memories.  I would like them to be more vivid.  If we only use a partial amount of our brain's capacity,  then why does my life feel so full of memories, that some of them have faded almost away? Anna is 17.  I remember that at 17, my mom and I were very close.  But nothing is vivid, just a vague sense of the gist of our relationship.  Of course, there was conflict, too. (Hello...I was 17.)  But why does the conflict seem to come back in clearer tones?  I feel like so much of what was good and worth hanging on to between my mom and I is like a thin vapor.  Why is that?  Why can't I recall memory after memory that warms my heart;  I know they are in my brain somewhere.  Why does the good slip so easily away and the painful cling to us like barnacles?

I feel this way even about this summer.  Six weeks ago when she died, I was awestruck by all the ways God answered my prayers.  It seemed like every prayer for her had been check off by him.  Done.  Got it.  Yep, that one too.  But now, just six weeks later, that seems like a vapor I can't hold.  In my grief, the years of unanswered prayers grip my soul.  I'm struggling to believe, much less remember, the God who heals.  I know the other memories are in there; they represent experiences that reveal his love for me and for her.  But right now I feel stuck with a faith and a grief in a God who was silent and didn't answer when I begged. Like an elephant in the living room.  I don't want my faith to be that small...or petty.  Yet I don't know how to move on either.

This morning scripture that I have read many times seemed to take on new life.  " Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days"  (John 11:5-6).  It is clear that he loves me and he loves her.  The depth of his love for us does not correlate to his healing, at least not always.  He loves deeply those he does not heal.  He didn't heal my mom many times over, not from MS and often not from depression either.  But he loves her...and he loves me.

 I know it's true.  I know much more; like that she is now healed for eternity in a way far superior to what he could have brought for while she lived on earth.  I know that he was awaiting her this summer and ever close to her, bringing her the last part of the journey.  And yet I feel stuck, not able to hold on to what I know.  It's a thin vapor slipping between my fingers. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jude McKay

While cleaning up this morning, I came across an odd assortment of papers on the floor in our closet:  a  ballet ticket to Romeo and Juliet, a receipt from my favorite jewelry store in Southpark Mall and an old bulletin from a church service.  I was so struck I sat down on the floor.  August 28, 2007.  Had it really been 6 years?  My mind retreated to memories that seemed way to fresh to be that old.  I could not quit looking at the photo on the front of the bulletin.  Dark curls and sweet dark eyes.  He looked so sweet, just staring up at the camera.  He would have been eight.

Jude came into my life with a torrent of emotion that August in 2007.  I was at my parent's house and Chris was at home.  He called me, relayed the news, and asked me to pray.  A simple request took a grip of my heart in a way that was unusual for me.  Jude's grandfather had found him in their swimming pool.  He was unconscious when he was pulled from the water.  Now at the hospital, in a comatose state, the request was simply for Jude to wake up. 

And so I prayed for Jude to wake up.  I prayed often and fervently.  I wrote in my journal and scribbled a couple of poems about Jude, always pleading for Jude to wake up. I would go for a walk and pray...and pray and walk.  It was often difficult because of other experiences I have had in praying fervently for healing, but I prayed just the same.  It was difficult to have faith, to believe that Jude might wake up, but I prayed with all the faith I had and hoped that God would see the truth of my heart.

Jude never did wake up.

But Jude changed my life.  At the time I could tell that his life and death had a profound impact on me.  How could they not as I wrestled in prayer for him for day after day in August?  But now, six years later, I can say that his impact on me was not just in the moment.  His life and death is a factor that shapes me daily.  I am different because of Jude, a two year old boy who drowned in his grandparent's pool.

I was 40 years old as I prayed for Jude.  As I walked and prayed I would think also about how old forty is... and how young it is.  If I lived to eighty, I'm halfway there.  I began to see that life was more fleeting and precious than I had previously acknowledged.  I began to realize that living from day to day and week to week was not how I wanted to live.  I needed to have a deeper sense of purpose and drive.  I began to hear this line over and over again in my subconscious:  don't waste your life.  It seems like a typical response to such a tragedy, but it was more than that for me.  I read John Piper's book, Don't Waste Your Life.  I listened to Lecrae rap out the line over and over again.

But it was not just emotion for me.  It refined me.  God used it to renew his calling on my life to disciple younger believers.  I became convicted that I needed to steward my physical body better so that I can be here and  be healthy for longer.  I still think about it regularly now; what does God want me to do with my finite life?  Lately it has been a season of care giving and preparation, and still discipling and mentoring.  This spring Chris and I weathered a ten-day period when we thought I might have cancer.  While it was incredibly stressful, I did not have regrets.  No wishful thoughts about how I have chosen to spend my time. I felt affirmed that I'm not wasting my life; I'm living it as God desires and to his glory.

I never knew Jude in person.  He was only two years old, but he changed my life. Isn't that just like the God we worship?

Friday, August 16, 2013

a profound sadness

Thirty eight days ago my sweet mama left this life for one that is far better.  Life has been a whirlwind for me since then, putting over 3000 miles on my car as I have travel the Eastern US making the best of summer happen for my kids.  Between meals on the run and living out of suitcase for about a month, I am ready for school to start and to stay in one place for a while.  I think along the way I have mourned.  I have cried a great deal.  Not loud uncontrollable sobs.  No regrets.  Just a constant stream of sadness that  is undercurrent all day long.  Nothing seems all that different and yet nothing truly satisfies right now either.

After years of fighting disease and a body that refused to work any longer, there is a sense of relief and accomplishment.  She finished the race.  She endured.  She battled and fought to the very end and has now won the reward of being with God forever more.  What was broken and gnarled is no longer.  What was a struggle is no longer.  I'm awed anew at the example she has left for me about how to live and persevere through anything.  I saw her 48 hours before she died and she told me she wasn't ready to give up yet.  I suspect she was in many ways, but for me she did not want to leave.  I have not longed for her to still be here with me. She weighed 70 pounds and every bite she ate was a struggle to get down and keep down.  She could no longer see.  She could not maintain her balance so as to sit  up in a chair.  And yet she persevered on.  So no.  I do not long for her to still be with me. 

It was not surprised when the call came.  I had been awaiting it most of the summer.  Weeks prior I had bought a black dress and a tie for Huck so that we would be ready.  In fact watching her live since early spring had been painful.  I hurt for my dad who watched his bride shrink to just skin and bones and wondered how he had the strength to continue on.  But he did.  Many people encouraged him to place her in a home where she could receive "the care she needed".  My dad knew that what they both needed and desired was to live out what remained together in the house they had shared for most of their marriage. I'm very thankful that she could stay in her home and die there.  She loved their home.

I have been grieving the loss of my mom for years if you want to know the truth.  In many ways I have been losing her slowly for two decades.  With each passing year the illness would take more and I would lose more of her.  So many basic things lost that otherwise might have been taken for granted. Sharing a long phone call or lunch at a favorite diner.  And yet I am shocked at the depth of the grief I now feel.  I didn't expect the final goodbye to be so sad.  I think it is the finality that makes it so.  The recognition that I will not touch her face to mine or hear her voice for many more decades.

  And it is also the recognition of how deep a part of me she is and always will be.  I suspect that is the way it is with all good mothers.  I understand better how someone could tattoo "mother" on their arm.  It is a way of trying to express the depth she has touched and shaped her child.  I am my mother's daughter.  I have her temper and vengeful streak but also her fight and endurance.  She has taught me to sew and to cook and to clean; sometimes I even do these things with the excellence she taught me to.  I long to remember more of our time together and with a crispness that will not fade, to keep her alive to me.  And yet even if and when my memory fades, she has left a deep enough imprint on me; I can rest knowing it will not fade.

I find myself wondering when I will stop crying.  I am tired of crying.  It hits me at unexpected times for the most bizarre or insignificant reason. I suspect Sound of Music to make me tear up; but peanut butter?  Really? It seems like every time I slow down enough to let God see into my heart that my eyes well up.  Sadness is the only emotion.  I don't have regrets. I'm not angry.  I think I walked a lot of that journey earlier.  I'm just sad.  Sad for the mother I have been missing for a lifetime, and sad that I can't just touch her anymore, can't tell her one more story about the kids.  Sad that it will probably be a long time before we are reunited.  Just profoundly sad in ways I can't articulate.  And don't want to because it is too personal. I am keenly aware that many have lost a parent and walked this road before me with wisdom to share, but right now I'm not ready to ask just yet. I feel as if I know nothing about how to grieve and that I am just stumbling down this path in the dark.  But I fear if I knew more of what to expect, that I would run too fast...trying to get to the next stop.  Somehow stumbling in the dark, I think I am more likely to follow my heart as it heals.

I believe that eventually joy will return.  The things I love will once again satisfy, and until then I will keep on keeping on.  That is what she taught me to do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Trailer: more to come

It has been a yucky, blah, do nothing and feel bad about it day.  I saw Fruitvale Station  last night.  It was an excellent movie.   It left me feeling depressed at the entrenched state of racism in our society.  How ironic that the movie is released as the nation is still reeling from the Zimmerman trial.  Two young black men did not need to die, and we are not talking about 1965.

And on top of that, the kids are gone ( yeah, I know, but I miss'em).  And the cat is missing (well, he showed up and hour ago, like nothing was wrong).  So I decided to make a list of things that make me try and upturn my mood.

1.  Watching Anna swim:  she loves it and she is good at it.  There is nothing like the joy of seeing her drop time and get out of the pool all smiles.  This was my delight over and over again this past weekend.

2.  Hiking and biking with Chris:  I love him and I love to be active outdoors.  It is food for the soul.  We hiked this weekend in Eno River State Park (NC) and we are biking later this week in Ohiopyle State Park (PA).

3.  Big fresh tomatoes:  room temperature with a little salt and pepper.

4. Knitting:  anytime, anywhere.  I love new yarn!

5. Sitting on the beach all afternoon:  even better with a good book, a drink and a good friend.

6. Watching baseball:  preferably the Braves, but any game will do.

7. Walking in Jetton Park:  again, much better when with a friend

8. Wednesday morning Spin Class with Bear:  bring it on!

9. Flowers in my yard

10. Working on a puzzle

See.  It might not have been such a good day, but I am on a roll.  Happy, Happy, Happy!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

suffering around the Christmas tree


I'm not sleeping well these days.  I keep waking up from anxiety ridden dreams that make no sense.  And during the waking hours my thoughts keep drifting to places of suffering.  To Newtown.  To the face of my mother, for who life is way too big of a struggle.  To thoughts of the Bethlehem community that faced the massacre of its own babes all those years ago.  It changes the feel of Christmas.  But in some way, I think Christmas always seems to come with a mix of emotion. 

There have been other years where I have had a heavy heart, like the year my sweet friend lost the baby girl she was carrying. For all the joy and excitement and love, there seems to be equal parts of brokenness and hardship and pain without end.   It all makes me crawl up on the couch with my Bible.  It makes me long for God.  Not just the celebration of his birth, but of his return. 

It drags me back to the question without answer... Where is God in our suffering?  Why does he allow gunmen and disease to kill us and those we love?  Why does he heal and protect some and not others?  I don't see where God has ever answered this question (although some well-meaning
Christians have tried to speak for him...never a good idea to speak for God when he is silent).  I don't have answers despite pondering the question and studying it for years. 

Yesterday we said good-bye to my parents.  We had had a wonderful celebration with them and my brother's family.  Good fun, food, festivities.  Lots of laughs.  But it is not without pain.  We don't talk about it because we are not sure how much the children actually notice.  But their Grandma is becoming a shell of who she use to be.  She has lost over 50 or so pounds since Easter.  She can't see.  She struggles to put her thoughts into words and to hold her head up.  She's tired a lot.  She is truly just a shell of the woman who raised me, and I seriously wonder whether she will be with us next year for Christmas.  Part of me sincerely hopes she is not.

Part of me longs for her to be free from this body.  From this fight to breathe and eat and think.  I long to let her go into the hand of our heavenly Father.  Odd to think that one who has all to gain by death lives and those in Newtown with all to live for, they died.  Where is the justice in this?  Where are you God?

As much as my heart asks the question, my heart also knows.  God is here.  He is with us.  He is with me.  He was in Sandy Hook Elementary school that awful Friday morning.  He is with my mother every morning she awakes.  We suffer but we are not alone.

praying for those who are D positive

Today my pastor and friend, Mike Moses, has posted my blog entry from yesterday on his blog.  I gave him permission to do so because he has more followers than I do (not saying much, since I have about 5).  I would like to think my journey in the key of D could benefit others in their journey through the same chord. So today I pray for those who struggle with depression. 

Paul prayed this prayer for the Ephesians:
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints , to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.      (Ephesians 3:18-19). 

In the tradition of Paul I pray:

For those of you who struggle with depression, that you would hold tight to truth, even when it seems so contrary to your emotions, and that you would trust that the Father loves you deeply, not as a despicable excuse for a human being, but as a chosen adopted child, the one He wanted and because He wanted He pursued.  I pray that you would trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain you even in the pit, to put your foot on sure footing and to hold you secure through both the fire and the flood no matter how long it lasts, assuring you that it will not overcome you.  I pray that you would choose today to not listen to all the self-criticism and shame that wells up inside you against yourself, that instead you would choose to think some about how tenderly God is with the broken-hearted (which you are).  I pray that something small would cause you to laugh and have hope. I pray that the Father would be your constant companion, not judging you but assuring you that you are not alone, forgotten or unseen.  I pray at the close of the day you can sigh, satisfied with today because of God's love and hopeful for tomorrow because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.  May you lay your head on your pillow and sleep peacefully under the eyes of the God who never slumbers or sleeps.  Amen

Monday, April 22, 2013

My life in the Key of D

It is a typical spring in many ways around our house.  Running kids to some type of practice and watching our kids play sports they love.  We love it too.  And, like everyone else in North Carolina we and all we own are covered with lime green pine pollen.  Huck's eye are a constant shade of red and Chris is once again snoring every night.  And I'm waiting.  Because it hasn't arrived yet.  Perhaps it won't come this year...I'll get a pass and skip directly to summer.  That would be nice.

What am I awaiting?  Sinus infection? No.  Strep?  Been there and done that two weeks ago.   What I am awaiting is my fairly regular seasonal bout with depression.  Most people who struggle with depression struggle more often when its gloomy and cold (read winter), but not me.  Mine seems to bloom out on me just like the flowers in my yard:  in spring.

Our church is doing a series currently about the blues and yesterday's sermon was on depression.  For my money, Mike Flake hit the nail on the head.  I have been struggling on and off with depression for at least 20 years and by far the greatest comfort and hope comes in knowing that God is always present with me.  When I am in the pit and when I am not....I am never alone.

I especially like what he said about how we often see depression as weakness.  One of the cruelest aspects of depression is the shame those that suffer with it feel.  We always feel like we should be able to pull ourselves out of this.  Get going.  We should be grateful for all we have.  We shouldn't be so indecisive or waste so much time doing absolutely nothing....we should...we should...we should...  Perhaps the cruelest words we ever say to ourselves.  And such an enormous lie. 

"We should" is a lie that leads us to further despair and further from the arms of God. "We can't" is the weak, puny truth that brings life back.  We can't   do anything we should by ourselves; we can do only with God, and though God.   And what little or great is done dependent on God is sufficient enough, amen.  I am a strong woman.  But when depression blows through my life it is sometimes all I can do to keep food in the house (I am not even saying I prepare it; and I can't  do this and keep up with laundry).

On those days my life is reduced to the basics and my prayers become how to get through the day.  Do A, then B, then C.  Sometimes I can't even decide this on my own; at which point the woman who use to run a very successful branch of a small business calls her best friend.  I tell him my dilemma and he tells me what to do with a kindness that doesn't besmirch my already tattered dignity.  And I do A with God's help and do B with God's strength, and I try not to think about all the times I have done A and B and it was so easy that I never even thought to ask God to come along for the ride.

On these long days God's presence is EVERYTHING.  It makes me feel known and not completely alone.  It is like a shawl that I can wrap around me for comfort and to hide beneath...because the longing to hide and be invisible is great.  He allows me to be proud to have brought home groceries even if I forgot the bread (which is why I went to the store in the frist place).  I can feel proud because I walk with him doing the very little, puny, insignificant thing he calls me to and then strentghens me to do.  Today it is all I can do.  Yesterday I may have moved a mountain, but he reminds me that that was yesterday.  He hasn't called me to move a moutain today; just to go to the store and don't give up.  Tomorrow will be another day.  Maybe it will be another mountain moving day, but maybe we will just go to the store.  It won't matter because we will do it together, and this dependent obedience is all he asks of me anyway.  It's all he asks of everyone of us.

There is so much more I could say about this profound journey I walk in the key of D. But if I could leave behind bread crumbs for those coming up behind me, it would be this.  God's presence, the Immanuel, is EVERYTHING, and it is enough.