Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"The thing with Feathers"

April 1, 2009

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a man who was much too young to die. His two, beautiful young children walked down the aisle of the church holding their mother’s hands, crying. I cried quietly with them. And as we sang and prayed and heard about the accomplished and devoted life of the father, the children cried audibly the tears of children – honest, forthright, unassuming and free. As I tried to muffle my own weeping and maintain adult composure, I found myself being envious of my little wise friends. They innocently shared their broken hearts with all of us and it was like a soothing balm. As I sat there, I prayed that God would minister to their tender hearts as they gave to us something very dear – love expressed freely and with emotion, love that walked down the aisle and participated fully, walking out, clinging to hope represented in the hands of their grief-stricken mother.

What would we do if we could not cling to hope? Emily Dickinson said,
“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.”

Hope does not need words. Hope is active and busy. Hope surprises us and strengthens us. Hope makes us laugh when we think we might never even smile again. Hope lifts us and cheers us on. Hope allows rest, and then challenges us to move on. Hope wakes us each morning and reassures our time for sleep. Hope always points to a future.

If hope can be defined metaphorically as a thing with feathers, then the birds outside my window become even more near and dear to my heart. For they have represented this mystery of hope. They have perched outside my window and in my soul and have sung a million songs to me through sorrow and death. But it is not the bird that I worship, but the Creator of the bird. I was at a retreat recently where the leader reminded us that God created the heavens and our earth with streams and forests and fish and birds. Then He created humans for a relationship with Him and all of his creation. And when life does not make sense, one only has to look out the window and rediscover God’s plan was and is very good. It is where our only hope abounds as life crumbles apart.

In the Christian church, this Sunday is Palm or Passion Sunday where Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem. But looking beyond the triumphal entry, we witness a theme of mockery and death. Almost all of Jesus’ followers abandoned him and he was left to be beaten and tortured and ridiculed to death. And the gospel of Mark records the words of Jesus that have new meaning for me, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those words were the same words we read in some of the great psalms of lament. They question God, but the despair is a hopeful prayer offered faithfully. Jesus did not want to die. He pleaded like we do for life, not death. But he trusted in his father and obediently walked through the events of the week to the cross, knowing that through his death, he would provide hope for the world – His world – to be fully restored. He gave his life for us. Jesus paid the sin debt of mankind and opened up the door to eternity with God. That is the good news of the Cross of Christ. God is the hope that “perches in our soul” and sings to us on the darkest of days. There is life after death. We have hope.

The Painter

March 23, 2009

The other day I met a painter. Oh, not the one who is getting ready to put fresh
colors on the walls of my house, but a real P-A-I-N-T-E-R, one who dabbles in oils, and paints portraits and landscapes. During our brief encounter, he showed me a small, but impressive portfolio of his work - beautiful Native Americans, children, churning seas, and still life. He might even be famous, but I allowed him his anonymity as we chatted. He commented that his students often ask him, “How do I paint a tree? How do I capture the crest of the wave?” He said he tells them to just think like the tree …to think like a wave.

So this morning I am trying to think like a tree - not to paint it, but to write about it. And I am thinking that trees do not think…. nor does a wave or a rock. But they do give us much to think about if we study them. Maybe that is what my artist friend meant. I guess that is how true expression of any artist comes forth – their thoughts of the object as they think about it and interpret it through their mind’s eye (and their heart’s as well). Isn’t that why some paintings are colorful and engaging and some are dark and removed? Isn’t it the mind of the painter that thinks instead of the subject being painted? If a painter thought like the tree as he painted, then wouldn’t all paintings be alike? That is, if the painter were honest in interpreting the thoughts of a tree, without adding any of his own thoughts to the canvas. Oh, I digress and am confusing myself.

Somehow, somewhere, our mind’s soul is drawn to capture something – whether it is on a canvas, at the potter’s wheel, in a conversation, or in the written word. And it is in the “drawing of the mind” where creativity flourishes. The “drawing” or the longing of finding richness, or completeness, or expression that is beyond what the human mind can conceive – but longs for. As a friend said, “There are just no words to describe a sunset – we just sit and watch it.”
Maybe we should sit and quietly watch more sunsets. Henri Nouwen says, “Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.” As I admire – with no words - the cherry and apple trees blooming outside my raised window, I return to the One who provides it all, the grand Artist, the substance of all creation who out of love, designed an extraordinary world with redbud trees, bald eagles, and tidal currents. And topping it all off, created you and me with a heart and soul to care for it all, to think and study and learn and wonder and worship – and interpret. The Artist of creation beckons us to think His thoughts, to learn His ways, to know Him. Maybe my friend meant, “Just think like God!” It makes one speechless for sure.

But more and more it is what gets me through the days. Days that can bring sadness and sorrow (great struggle) can also bring me a surprise of nature or a friend to remind and inspire me and I am drawn back in to see the big picture (great encounter) a little more clearly. As spring emerges from the cold earth, I realize how closely we are connected to the same cycle and must all die before we can emerge to life eternal. And yet, we are given the gift of today – that is grace. I do believe it is why Nature sings to us each day and instructs us constantly with wordless wisdom. What will we paint? Who will we think like? Sandi Patti’s song, Artist of My Soul, expresses my ramblings so well.
Oh Lord of light, of form and hue,
Who has created all things new,
Create in me, from shapeless clay,
An instrument on which you play.

God of the dance that planets tread,
Who walks beside and soars ahead,
O let me move to worship Thee;
come, Holy Spirit dance with me

God of the Living Word, Poet of Time,
teach me Your words in Your cadence and rhyme.
O Lord of beauty, Lord of art,
Who gives a song for every heart,
carve out my life, reshape and mold;
And be the artist of my soul

Teach me Your words in Your cadence and rhyme.
O Lord of beauty, Lord of art,
Who gives a song for every heart,
carve out my life, reshape and mold;
and be the artist of my soul.

Where are you, God?

Update March 16, 2009

I hear from so many who are hurting from loss - some past, some present, and some in the future. And God is always comes into the conversation. Where is He? Where was He? Why did He allow this? What is or was He thinking? How could this loss be in His will? And zillions of books have been written to try to explain, to offer hope, and to share personal experience. But nothing gives us the answer we really want – which is to take away that loss, to have a “do –over” from God to fix it for us.
I was reminded of this by a tender letter from one of Megan’s close friends. She shared with me how so many continue to wrestle with the loss of their friend. We discover how vulnerable we truly are when we are deeply hurt. We are slapped in the face with an untimely death or chronic illness. I remember writing early on about taking Megan back to Emory for more tests and just being in the waiting room overwhelmed me with the reality of loss for so many - too many. And I was now part of that group.

Even now I watch as Blair goes to work everyday in a children’s hospital. She witnesses firsthand little lives in crisis. She witnesses suffering children looking out the window on a sunny day, wondering why they have to be sick, longing to be that child skipping along the sidewalk – free and well. It is not fair, we say. And we ask over and over, “Why?” And we cannot find all the answers we seek. But we can find some. We can scrutinize our own situation and we can discover where God is in the process. We have to really look. It is hard and painful, but we can find Him in the midst of our heartache. Even though He can become almost hidden it seems, He does not leave us. I know that.

From my friend’s book “Hannah’s Hope”, the author says, “I am struggling very much with being angry with God. Yet something I can't understand is calming me down. Sometimes I am so mad I don't care to understand this soft, gentle Spirit. I was so close to God. I loved him. I still do. I was totally impressed with Him and adored him. I think that is why it is harder for me right now. I feel very much like a wounded lover. I am waiting for God to recapture my heart and to ignite my flame for Him again."

I love the transparency of this writer. I love admitting “something I can’t understand is calming me down” during the crisis. I felt it, and did not understand it. People would come into our home and would say they felt it. Yet at the same time we all felt so terribly wounded. We were so hurt that God was not stepping in to restore Megan’s mind. We didn’t and don’t understand it.

Looking back over the past two years, I have discovered one place where God hid himself, invisible and yet so present. He was right there beside of Megan, ministering to her and to all of us, speaking through the updates that were posted weekly. That was not me; I can assure you of that. When I first started writing weekly, I often would wait a day or two until posting. I was uncertain of my words and totally inexperienced at writing. I felt vulnerable. As I would reread to edit, I would often cry, because I knew these words were not my own, but God’s. I just happened to be a fast typist who could somehow keep up with God’s thoughts (well, at least some) and capture my pain in print. It kept me sane. It kept me focused on a task that seemed productive when nothing else did. The further she slipped away, the faster I wrote. The greater the pain, the more the words came it seemed. I remember feeling stronger after I would post an update - like a surge of energy shot through me until the next week. It marked the time. It chronicled the journey. It kept me with God, who was “recapturing my heart” in the very midst of my grief. I have to believe it broke His heart as well because Megan was so in love with Him. And scripture says that Jesus wept over a world trapped in sin and death. He wept over those he was close to and I have to believe that those who love God and have been faithful to him must make him a little teary-eyed when they face life’s death trap – at least on this side of death. He is compassionate and loving; slow to anger and full of grace.

I think what I am trying to say in this explosion of thoughts is that today, while I have Dr. Feelgood and Owen and Blair, today while I have my family and friends, today while I have others who need a caring hand to hold, today is the day I offer it. I should go and sit with the one who is ill. I should take the time to talk to my neighbor. And I should be grateful for all that I have been given.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article about being grateful during these uncertain days. Grateful for a job, less complaining on the job simply because one has a job; gratitude instead of greed has become more fashionable on the job front. The turn in the economy, just like a turn in one’s personal life, makes us all think simpler thoughts, review our wish list and mark off a few things unneeded. And at the same time, we learn to add a few forgotten things like gratitude and generosity, and well-spent time with our Creator, who reveals and discloses truth as we draw close and make our hearts available to Him… again.

The Insurance Adjuster

February 18, 2009

The birds outside my window this morning seem unusually loud. In spite of the cold rain, they are persistent in their singing. My resident cardinals sing “What cheer! What cheer!” And the robins sing, “Cheerily, Cheer-Up!” Nature is cheerful, outside our door, to welcome us to another day, no matter how the day begins. But before the birds started to sing, I woke to a most unwelcome song of dripping water coming into our attic and another familiar voice singing (oh please, let it be a dream at 5:00 a.m.), “Oh, No, don’t let the rain come down! My roof’s got a hole in it and I might drown!” We thought we had that fixed a few months ago. Apparently not. My plans for the day have changed to be at home to meet with insurance adjusters and repair people. And as I sit here and wait and write, I am thankful for the song of the birds. Nature waits in perfect harmony while we adjust to an imperfect world.

Yesterday I received news of another family adjusting to the heartbreaking news of a CJD diagnosis. For a disease to be so rare it certainly has reared it ugly head too often and I am overcome with grief and heartbreak for a family that I do not even know. All of a sudden, I am swept back into the first knowledge of a foreign disease attacking my child, reliving and remembering the horror and disbelief of the diagnosis, aching now for someone else who has to walk that road. But it happens every day. Someone wakes up to change in the weather or change in their lives that is not easy to bear. So we look for help. We call friends and doctors and adjusters. We wait and listen to the rain fall on our lives, helpless until help arrives; hoping the damage is minimal and quickly fixed and we can get back to normal. We change our plans. We don’t always sing about it.

It is just a few hours now since waking to the rain and I am happy to report that our insurance agent has already sent the adjuster and the claim has been filed and help is on the way. Now that is fast service. Insurance is a good thing since more rain is expected this afternoon. Isn’t this all very similar to having the Lord in our lives, ready and available to help us with our “claims”? But often, we treat the Lord like we treat our insurance adjuster. Oh, we go to church and we give our time and money, filing our Bible like we file our policy, but we don’t really KNOW the one who can help us until a crisis comes and we cry for help. Then we rummage around, find the phone number, and start making demands for service right away. Where is God when I need him?

I am reminded to be so grateful when I wake to the music of the cardinals and the robins remembering what Megan and I said every day, “This is the day the Lord hath made, we will be glad and rejoice in it.” And I will spend some time waiting on God, the Great Adjuster, the one who covers our lives with a promise for whatever the day may bring, reading his Word, listening for His direction, knowing that there will be some rain at some time. And even though our hearts have big, big holes, I know I won’t drown. I can trust the One who paid for my policy on a cross. It’s good insurance.

Catching Secrets

Update January 25, 2009

If we are watching, inspiration is often just a glance away. If we quiet ourselves for even a short time, trust can find us and fill us with a hope that is not from earthly provision. And it fills us up with an overflow of the goodness and wonder of God. Throughout the long illness, we felt it in our home. We did not understand it, but we all felt it and drew courage from it. And we marveled and wondered through our tears. We found strength in the beauty of a night sky or a blooming flower as well as fervent prayers. Together, we moved through the seasons with the long illness and every step there was symbolic and real provision.

Real provision was demonstrated on the golf course yesterday. Two birds, entirely different, each in their own habitat, inspired my thoughts (if only Nature could inspire my swing). As the four of us played our round, there were these brief, silent pauses just to gaze at them. One was a beautiful blue-gray heron, almost camouflaged by the gray of the bare trees, perched at the edge of the lake, watching for the moment food would appear – still, quiet, watching, and waiting. The other was a giant hawk peering down from a high vantage point of a pine tree, waiting for us to move on so his own still, quiet, watching and waiting could continue without human disturbance. Each bird, so wondrously fitted for their place in the world, so different in shape and size, both waiting on provision, instinctively trusting that they were in the right spot for survival.

Oh, that we could be that quiet and confident. We flit around, change positions, and alter our surroundings, neglect duties and end up lost and confused – and still hungry for something that our efforts just don’t seem to satisfy. And being blessed with the power to reason, we take it to the extreme with worry and stress, thinking that everything is dependent on our own ability. Hope and trust vanish. We forget that we, too, were created by the same authority that created the hawk and the heron, with a plan and a purpose for our lives.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” And so then I guess we have to ask ourselves if we feel “valuable” in the eyes of God. Do we understand we have a heavenly father who loves us? Oswald Chambers says that “at the beginning of a Christian life, we are full of requests to God (I have made my share of those!). But then we find that God wants to get us into an intimate relationship with Himself – to get us in touch with His purposes. Are we so intimately united to Jesus’ idea of prayer – “Thy will be done” that we catch the secrets of God? What makes God so dear to us is not so much His big blessings to us, but the tiny things, because they show His amazing intimacy with us – He knows every detail of each of our individual lives.”

I think one of the “secrets of God” we caught through the long illness is that we can count on Him in the tiniest of things for provision. It might be through a favorite book reread with new insight; it might be through a new friendship found, or something as simple as catching a glimpse of a bird doing what it does naturally. We are covered everyday with secrets. They are ours for the catching.

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

January 12, 2009

At church yesterday a group sang “As I went down to the river to pray” and we were invited to come to the baptismal font and dip our hands in the water as a reminder of having the Holy Spirit in our lives. We moved forward to the verses, “O Sister, O Brother, O Father, O Mother, O Sinner, come on down, studying about that good old way, who shall wear the robe and crown, Good Lord, show me the way.”

As I listened to the chant of the gospel song, I was thinking more of an event that happened earlier in the week far out in Idaho. With permission to share, Owen told us about going one night after work to some natural hot springs to soak (poor man’s jacuzzi!). He said the stars and moon were brilliant shining down. And sitting there beside him was the presence of Megan. What an experience! To sit in the warmth of the earth’s heated waters, to witness the starry heavens in unpolluted skies, and to feel a sister’s presence so intensely is a picture I will never forget. And for him, it must have been one of those “Ah-ha” moments - not capturable on film or even a written page, but only in and for his aching heart.

Sometimes we have to get away from it all to find it. Sometimes we have to clear the air, find a remote place, and seek silence to find it. The defining of “it” is often the issue – for me in Atlanta or my son in Idaho. Going to the waters of the baptismal font took me back to the basics of who I am and what I am called to be. Possibly going to the hot springs was the moment God came near to Owen, letting him have a glimpse of Megan in her beauty and wellness, assuring him that He is in control and is with us as we journey through life. I will believe that hot springs do have healing power.
And as I tried to define “it” last week for me, my word for the year “work” seemed to be totally unemployed. I was trapped in frivolity, lingering (by choice) in confusion and distraction, and I gave in to the good intentions of my friends who said I needed it, deserved it, earned it. By the end of the week it got to be comical and I felt as though God, in his sense of humor, was showing me just how very tricky and easy it is to self-indulge by many “good” things, and leave him waiting for me to get serious about the best that He has for me.
For several reasons I will not forget the events of this week early in the New Year. I will look at it on my calendar as a reminder of what I am doing today, tomorrow, and for whom. I am reminded of a quote that Megan had on her refrigerator in her apartment that reads:
“You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
Christ, who dwells in you has something
He wants you to do through where you are.
Believe this and go in His grace, love, and power.”
Robert Halverson

A Word for the New Year

December 30, 2008

This is the last writing for 2008 – a most memorable year. Much has been said. Much has been left unsaid. The New Year is coming and there is much to do. There is part of me that wants 2008 back –all the care, the time around her bed, the smell of her freshly washed hair, the visits, the prayerful waiting together, holding her hand, the fellowship of clinging to the hope that she might be miraculously cured. And there is part of me that, as along as I live, will never stop wanting her back– her joyful presence among us, healthy and well. Our whole family will always want that, but know it is not possible and so must work this year to learn more about acceptance, hope, identity, survival, and maybe even some joy.

So, on Christmas Day, we flew away to the desert to begin the re-identification of our family. We enjoyed golf, the spa, dining out, sightseeing, and warming by the pinion fires. We sang “Happy Birthday” over the phone to Owen working in Idaho and sent him pictures of giant cactuses and ourselves acting happy. Every night we looked up at the bright stars and every morning, watched the sun rise over the desert mountains. Sometimes it felt more like work than a vacation, but it was a step toward the New Year.

For as long as I can remember, Dr. Feelgood has selected a “theme word” for the New Year. Words like discipline, focus, champagne and candlelight (not his best choice for 2008, but I am hoping he will try that one again!) come to mind, just to name a few. Last year, I joined him and selected a word of my own – light. It served me well and offered its glimmer on my darkest day of the year – September 12th. God’s Word was a “lamp onto my feet and a light onto my path”.

And with that light to guide, I have decided this year that my word will be “work”. That may sound simple to some who have regular jobs with descriptions that keep them on task “9 to 5” and provide a lifestyle. But I am thinking of a more difficult kind of work. For me, it is the work of grieving a loss and moving through it, discovering new steps I need to take in order to become productive and contribute to my world in ways that have worth – not just for something to do, or for my bank account, or someone else’s approval, but for God’s glory.

Maybe it has not been your best year either. Some of you have journeyed so very closely that you are as grief-stricken and exhausted as I am. And yet, there is exhilaration in our experience of loss, knowing that God came near in 2008 and made Megan new eternally - forever. I will not ever understand this mystery of faith, but I cling to it and am grateful for the hope it provides. It will be enough in 2009.

And because I did not send Christmas cards or write the traditional letter, here is my copied New Year’s Greeting (author unknown – maybe God?) that I find rather wonderful. I will read it often as I work.

I Am The New Year
I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.
I am your opportunity to practice
what you have learned about life during the past 12 months.
All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out with more determination.
All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve,
is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.
All that you dreamed but did not dare to do,
all the faith that you claimed but did not have –
these slumber lightly,
waiting to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.
I am your opportunity to renew
your allegiance to HIM who said,


Security Sings the Blues

December 23, 2008

Almost nine years ago, I wrote in my Christmas letter “A special Christmas memory is the way my mother lit up an evergreen tree on our farm in Kentucky. Each year she would put strands of blue lights on a Blue Spruce tree in our snow-covered yard. We lived high on a hill, and the lights could be seen for miles. To me they were always too sad and serious, but to her there seemed to be something special about them”. I wish I knew. Maybe it’s because this Christmas I’m so blue myself, missing her – missing Megan - that I think about the blue lights on that tree so much.

You are probably thinking this will be an Elvis essay….not this year. But “blue” does seem to be the theme of the scriptures where I have been camped. They are in the book of Psalms, but these are the ones that are seldom used in our worship services – especially at Christmas. In these “psalms of lament” as they are called, we hear the strong, emotional words of sufferers. These are words written by real people, in very difficult situations. These Godly sufferers know that God will not be angry with their honesty, for even when they scream at God, it is a scream of faith.
They read of discontent, frustration, personal anguish, longing for deliverance. They seem to fit my mood. No matter how many cookies we bake or miles we travel, we cannot escape the pain. Our Megan is not here with us and the Psalms seem to give solace to me when they read,
“How Long, O Lord?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
And every day have sorrow in my heart?”

In His book, Invitation to the Psalms, Michael Jinkins writes better than I can express,
“If the Lord reigns, why do good people suffer? If the Lord reigns, why do injustice and violence continue? The psalms of lament exist because people of faith – people who trust God, people who know the story of God’s faithfulness as their own history – refuse to close their eyes to the world around them. They meet life realistically, and they interrogate God. The psalmist holds God ultimately accountable for the world in which we find ourselves, because the psalmist truly believes the Lord reigns.
The psalms of lament grab God by the lapels, eye to eye and face to face, and demand to know, “Where are you, Lord? Have you forsaken me forever?” These are personal prayers, sometimes angry tirades or chronicles of grief. At times overflowing with regret, at times steeped in the psalmist’s feelings of having been personally wronged by God, they are nonetheless faithful prayers. The psalms of lament invite us into a faith that for us as Christians, cannot rest until in embraces the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Theses psalms hold to the hope against hope that the seismic stresses caused by our confidence in God’s reign and our experience of the terrors and risks of human existence can be held together, but only by God. The world God created bears witness that God loves freedom more than safety and the psalms of lament never cease to hold God responsible for the dangerous world in which we live. They confirm that life’s terrors are inseparable from life’s wonders, and sorrow is the price tag on everything we love.”
Most of the lament psalms have a definite order – the cry for help, the complaint, the confession of trust, the petition, and the vow of praise. For me, that about covers my emotions this Christmas. One day I am full of complaints and tears. The next day I am more trusting and hopeful. Some days I actually am humming a tune in praise. And on a really roller-coaster day my heart can be racing, throbbing, and skipping beats all at the same time. That is when I really have to repeat “Be still and know that I am God.” And God is with us and He has a plan…
I was reminded by a friend of the Jewish Kaddish, the “mourner’s prayer” which is purely a praise of God. He says that in the Kaddish, the praise is in the future tense. The mourner is not asked to praise God in his moment when the grief is so intense, but to affirm that God will bless the future.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve….Christ is born. The future is secure.

Home for Christmas

December 16, 2008

While walking, a kind gentleman said to me, “Will all of your family be home for Christmas this year?” Feeling like a politician, I avoided his real question and with a weak smile responded, “This will be a quiet Christmas for us. What about you?” He said, “Oh, they are all coming home. I hope we can find room for everyone.” We said “Merry Christmas!” to each other and walked away.

I began to sing to Bodey (I think he likes for me to sing):
“I’m dreamin tonight of a place that I love, even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road home ….I promise you….
I’ll be home for Christmas…you can count on me…..”

And that’s as far as I got. That song has made me cry since I first heard it 30 years ago.
Karen Carpenter brought Bing Crosby’s song back to life in the 70’s. You who are Megan’s age should read about her and listen to her sing the song on YouTube. She, too, died way too early at the age of 32. Karen and Megan had a lot of similar attributes that people loved and still remember. The song was originally written during the war and soldiers listened, knowing that as the song said, they would be home, but maybe only in their dreams. You can almost feel as if Karen is singing about a home where someone is missing for good – a dreamy, longing kind of remembering.

What is it about going home for Christmas? What is it that floods us with thoughts and memories, home to be reunited, home for gathering and gifts, home to rest and rejuvenate, home safe from the cold of a harsh world, home to every thing we know and love? How do we get our arms around home?

Dr. Feelgood and I just watched the old movie, Home Alone. While it is hysterically funny with the antics of robbers and an absurd story of Kevin being left at home alone, it offers another story as well. The neighbor was also home alone. Kevin thought he was a crotchety old man, but he soon discovers what it feels like to be left alone for the first time. There are lots of unspoken conversations and they began to share a new common bond. Alone. Forgotten. They shared the “Christmas longing” of things being made right - for Kevin’s family to return home and the neighbor’s family to be restored.

Maybe we have never been left home alone, but we all experience the longing of restoration. There is this yearning in all of our hearts for home. Sometimes we feel alone. Sometimes we are homesick – or maybe heartsick. Maybe it is a little the way Adam and Eve felt when they first experienced separation from God. Bart Millard said in his book Homesick “For Earth’s first couple, freshly banished from paradise, this separation was a new sensation. For us, it is an ever-present awareness. I have felt it tug more at some times than others- my first day of school, leaving home, welcoming my children into the world, and thinking about the day when I will have to let them go, watching family and loved ones slip away – but the feeling that something’s missing will never fully go away this side of Heaven. And that’s probably as it should be. After all, this world is not our home”.

Bart Millard of Mercy Me wrote the song “Homesick” (listen to it also online) after experiencing several deaths of close family and friends. His words offer meaning for me this year:
You’re in a better place, I’ve heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you
But the reason why I’m broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you
I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
Lord, won’t You give me strength to make it through somehow
I’ve never been more homesick than now
Help me, Lord, ’cause I don’t understand Your ways
The reason why, I wonder if I’ll ever know
But even if You showed me, the hurt would be the same
Because I’m still here so far away from home
In Christ there are no goodbyes
In Christ there is no end
So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
To see you again
To see you again
What does your heart yearn for this Christmas? Where is your “home”? Maybe it is a relationship that needs to be discovered or rediscovered, like Kevin’s neighbor. Maybe our heart yearns for a new relationship with Christ – the one who offers hope to our hearts and a spiritual home forever – never to be alone again.
St. Catherine of Siena said” Make two homes for thyself…one actual home…and another spiritual home, which thou art to carry with thee always.” So today, Blair and I will make cookies in our actual home. We will make Megan’s Star Cookies and think about Heaven, our spiritual home where Megan now lives, and it will carry us through.

Pain Management

December 1, 2008

I am distracted by the pleasant surprise of snow flurries and have raised my window to catch a few snowflakes to welcome Christmas. I could let nostalgia overtake me with memories of white Christmases on my farm in Kentucky, but I will stick to my thoughts that prevented sleep through most of the night.

Thanksgiving came and went and Mike, Owen, Blair and I hung in, shared a prayer, a meal, and many unspoken thoughts and memories of our daughter and sister. We all knew that if one of us let go, we would all be lost, so we held it together to hold each other up. I was proud of us on Thanksgiving. But I knew my emotions would let go at some point. Looking back now, they make me laugh at myself (my own version of therapy). Once in the grocery store I had to really focus on a canned tomato label, tricking my emotions back into their hiding place after keeping up a strong appearance for well-wishers. Once at Blair’s and my traditional early morning shopping venture on Friday, I could not answer a friend’s gentle inquiry as to Megan’s health and as I burst into tears, brave Blair came to the rescue to answer, “Megan died on September 12”. Hearing those words and knowing they have to be said over and over bring great pain. I suppose they always will.

I have been fortunate that throughout life, I have never had much illness or suffered from any kind of chronic pain. In fact, I have led a fairly pain-free life. I have never experienced a lingering headache or nagging backache or even much heartache – until now. Pain management is not something that I understand. What I do know is that it surfaces at crazy times, catching me off guard.

But a prescription was delivered through the internet. We received an email note from friends who are out of the country. Bob did Megan’s service and he very lovingly and wisely gave us some words that continue to offer relief when the surprise of hurt and pain attacks. He said to “embrace the pain as a manifestation of deep love, and rejoice that the pain does not write the final line.” He did not tell me specifically how to do that. He did not give me three steps to recovery - for which I am so grateful. I suppose each must find his own way. How does one embrace pain as a visible expression of love? Scripture tells us that God is love. And because of that great love for us, he became a man in Jesus who embraced the pain of the cross and defeated death. His resurrection gives us reason to rejoice - that death in fact does not write the final line. So do I embrace the pain of losing Megan as a visible expression of God’s love? I must when I trust that death “does not write the final line”, that because Megan trusted Jesus in her life and in her death, she is now with Him forever. That is the deep love of God.

I can trust the claims of Jesus and be confident about eternity. It’s the present that is so hard. Maybe I can embrace the pain alongside my tears and memories - trusting Jesus who cries with us, offering his comfort and joy. This Advent, I am most confident in the One we celebrate, and the miraculous manifestation of God’s love for us all.

Grateful or Grumpy?

November 24, 2008

1 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance and knowledge of him.

I still laugh with a friend about a person we affectionately nick-named Grumpy (not to her face, of course). Now we loved Grumpy, but Grumpy would come to our office in a stew, always complaining and never smiling. Nothing ever suited or satisfied. And she seemed to like being that way. When we would hear that Grumpy was coming to see us we armed ourselves with courage and forgiveness to face the mighty foe.

“It is hard to be grumpy and grateful at the same time.” This quote from a friend and former pastor returns to me this Thanksgiving. Simple – I can remember it. Profound – it makes me think. The two are diametrically opposed and cannot co-exist. Grumpy fights gratitude. Gratitude overcomes grumpiness. Grumpiness seems to come naturally, where gratitude is an attribute that must be cultivated. Grumpiness looks in. Gratitude looks up – and out. This year, I could say I have reason to be grumpy and everyone would understand because of this empty chair at the Thanksgiving table. Something is definitely amiss. As we count our blessings (yes, we will count them and they are abundant) this year, 2008 might not go down as a banner year when we look at ourselves and our loss. But it will go down as a banner year if we look up and out, thanking God for the overflowing of love and provision - every card sender, gift giver, prayer giver, dinner provider, friend sitter, and time together and God in our home every day. It will be important to look up and out instead of in, cultivate a grateful spirit, and not give in to the pain and self pity that lingers at the door.

In searching for a way to find my way to gratitude, I was reading through some of the traditional songs and seemed to find a place of understanding when reading about the great hymn, Now Thank We All Our God. It was written after some of the severest human sufferings imaginable during the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s in Germany. Martin Rinkart was called to pastor the state Lutheran church in his native city of Eilenberg, Germany. He arrived there just as the war began and spent the next thirty-two years of his life faithfully ministering to these people, caring for the sick, burying the dead (he buried over 4000 people by himself). And afterward he could actually write a song!

“Germany, the battleground of this conflict between warring Catholic and Protestant forces from various countries throughout Europe, was reduced to a state of misery. The German population dwindled greatly. Eilenberg was a walled city and became a overcrowded refuge for political and military fugitives from all over. Deadly diseases and famines swept the city, as various armies marched through, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Rinkard was the only minister left to care for the sick and the dying. His triumphant, personal expressions of gratitude and confidence in God confirm for each of us this truth taught in Scripture, that as God’s children, we too can be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” ( from the book Amazing Grace, 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions)

I am inspired by the strength of Martin Rinkart. I don’t think I will ever be asked to bury 4000, but I was asked to bury one and that was enough loss for me. I will sing this song with new understanding and appreciation. In the first verse, he speaks of God’s countless gifts – nature, families, friendship, love. In the second verse, he speaks of the God who is with us through all good times and all bad times – I can so relate to “and guide us when perplexed”. He also speaks of the next world – where Megan has gone. And the third is a grand doxology of praise and thanks to the one eternal God.

1. Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
2. Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!
3. All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

And so I can say to all of you “Happy Thanksgiving!” and really mean it – with a grateful heart to God for his faithfulness through this year.

The Shrieker

November 17, 2008
I had a dream the other night –out of season, but it keeps popping up in my mind, so I guess there is a message in it somewhere. I was walking outside and came up to a tree where I heard some commotion amidst the blowing leaves. There were two little baby cardinals (oh, no – not cardinals again) perched on a branch, shivering side by side, about to take their first solo flight. Above them was their parent, fussing and shrieking (at me?) as I stumbled upon and interfered with this important rite of passage for birds.

As I thought about the dream later, the shrieking adult bird seemed to be me (or maybe it was Dr. Feelgood as I like to think that I am not a shrieker) trying to help our two children face life with uncertainties around us and unfamiliar territory ahead without Megan. The ludicrousness of “the shrieker” made me laugh at myself, seeing in the cardinal so many of my own feeble parenting traits, thinking if I ruffle my feathers enough and shriek loud enough, my children will be protected from danger and live happily ever after. Or maybe it was to remind me to get out of their way and let them have their space to take off without my interference. Or maybe it was to remind the fledglings to take the plunge independently, risk the unknown, and push them to head out and learn to fly on their own. Whatever the meaning, shrieking is not attractive in humans. There must be a better way.

In November of ’03 Megan wrote in her journal “God, my heart is yours. I trust you with it. I am trying not to reserve pieces for myself and just let you have the whole thing.” This is something I long to do as our family approaches this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I know that I have been “reserving pieces of my heart” for myself – especially since it has been broken. I have found myself questioning, and yes, even shrieking at uncertainties and injustices, trying to protect and heal and recover. I feel strangely displaced, like Elisabeth Elliot who found herself alone with her young child in the Ecuadorian Jungle after her missionary husband had been savagely killed. She said she found herself musing “What happened? What am I doing in this place? How am I to glorify the Lord now?” She remembered Psalm 16:5 “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” She goes in to say in her book, Secure in the Everlasting Arms, “Our heavenly Father knows to place us where we may learn lessons impossible anywhere else. He has neither misplaced nor displaced us. He assigns and designs according to His inscrutable wisdom – always for our blessing and conformity to the image of Christ.”

Throughout her journals, Megan often prayed that God would protect her heart. She trusted Him with it and we witnessed His faithfulness to her – and us - throughout her illness. That she could radiate a joyful spirit throughout her life came from a protected heart – one that had not been reserved for self, one that never shrieked, but one that had been given over freely to God to “assign and design” according to His will.

Isaiah 32:17-18 says, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” I hope the prophet meant that verse for this Thanksgiving, because we have decided to face it bravely at home. I am praying for God to protect our broken hearts, giving all the broken pieces back to him, not reserving any for ourselves, with true thanksgiving for each other and our tremendous blessings.

Looking at God

November 11, 2008

The leaves are unusually bold in color this fall. There is much written about the falling leaves and the rich colors so I won’t be quoting poetry, but I might hum to myself a few bars of The Falling Leaves … drifting by my window …. I did a mini science refresher and found that the extremely bright colors we have enjoyed – almost electrical – have always been there camouflaged in the green color of summer. As the chlorophyll vanishes with colder temperatures, the yellows and oranges are allowed to show off for a time before the rain and wind grabs them and sends them to the ground. And the dry summer has made for a concentration of sugar in the leaves, yielding the vibrant reds. The beauty of all the colors have been there all along, hidden, just waiting to come forth. When one thing goes away, another steps in. And behind it all is a great plan.

Tomorrow will be two months since Megan died. I hate to use the word “died” because I feel her with me every day. I have felt her with us at the beach, in the mountains, in the kitchen, in the garden, at church. I hope this feeling will never go away. But in her absence, other “bright colors” have stepped in and taken part in God’s great plan for our lives. Dr. Feelgood and I sat around a fire with friends, listening to a song written just for us as we find our way in this mystery. And although only one wrote the song, each could sing a different verse in how they stepped in and allowed their own light and love to shine as Megan’s bright light faded from our presence. And our family is finding our way. We do not like it – none of us - the path is tear-sodden and covered in loss. But those gold leaf colors did not happen overnight. Gradually, God transformed them – and I pray that is what will happen to Blair and Owen, Mike and me, little by little, finding rich and new color in each little bit of transformation as we look to Him in this personal season of change.

A Swiss philosopher once said “Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail." So true. Through this vivid display these past days, I have felt God almost screaming to all of us, “Look at me! Look at my colors! Look and admire my provision! Look at my beauty and worship only me. These colors pale to my colors of Heaven. Look at my creativity and cleverness – seasons were my idea, you know. Look at my power over the universe –and tonight, check out my full moon. And oh, by the way, you are right there in the middle of my plan and I love you more than all you see.” And somewhere in my imagination, I like to think I can hear Megan saying, “Lord, could you just turn up the color intensity a bit this year, just to let everyone have a stronger glimpse of what I am experiencing with you now?”

David said it well in Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
Their words to the ends of the world.

Waiting and Imagining

November 4, 2008

This morning, there are brave workmen on my roof above where I type. They are stomping around, singing, hammering, and throwing old cedar shakes to the ground outside my window. Occasionally, there is a huge thud that sounds like they might be falling through the ceiling. They are distracting me. I could go to another part of the house, but I am a little worried and want to be quick to call for help should something go wrong up there. I cannot imagine having to go to work every day where I must climb a ladder 30 feet up and then stand on a steep slope to do my job. I appreciate their bravery and confidence.

Sometimes doing the task is easier than imagining it. So often through Megan’s illness and death, a kind note or conversation would include the phrase “I cannot imagine what you are going through”. I could not imagine it either, interestingly. To think back now, remembering the stages of Megan’s decline makes me want to jump out of my skin. I know now that God through his merciful love protected me from the worst of the pain and gave me the ability to face the task daily with a type of bravery that seems now so unattainable.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was All-Saint’s Day at our church. On this first Sunday in November, we recognize those church members who have died during the past year. This is often a neglected liturgical day in many protestant churches because the tradition is rooted in medieval Catholicism where homage is give to those who have been canonized – like St. Francis of Assisi who stands in my garden. Our pastor entitled his sermon “We are Blessed” taken from Matthew 5:1-12, the Sermon on the Mount. He said that through our baptism we all are claimed as saints by our Lord and should act like it. He said we should live our life with joy with every breath we take because of what Christ did on the cross for all of us. He said we should remember and give thanks for those who pointed us to God and modeled the virtues of the Christian life. And then we stood as 50 names were called out and a candle was lit for each as a bell chimed. As I heard my own child’s name called, the finality once again hit me hard and I was steadied by the loving arms of friends at my side. But my tears dried as I listened to the ancient Irish prayer, Be Thou My Vision, and I felt warmth and a sense of strength that only God provides, giving thanks that Megan was a model of the virtues of the Christian life and that she is shining in Heaven – safe and secure.

A friend wrote the other day whose husband had died and said, “On the days when I am really missing him, I remind myself that if he had the choice to come back to me, he would choose to remain in Heaven and I find strength and hope in that.” As much as she loved us and loved this life, Megan would choose Heaven. I am just trying to imagine it.

And the only way to somewhat imagine what God has planned for us is to wait, trust, and be still before Him. The days when I fall apart are the days that I have given Him so little of that day. But it is the first of the month and I have returned to the front of my book, Waiting on God, and read a beautiful poem at Day 1. At first I stumbled over archaic words like fain, nought, and henceforth, but with rereading – and pondering – well, it says it all. Do not let the outdated words keep you from the richness of the meaning.

“Wait Thou Only Upon God”
Wait only upon God, my soul, be still,
And let thy God unfold His perfect will,
Thou fain would’st follow Him throughout this year,
Thou fain with listening heart His voice would’st hear,
Thou fain would’st be a passive instrument
Possessed by God, and ever Spirit-sent
Upon His service sweet – then be thou still,
For only thus can he in thee fulfill
His heart’s desire. Oh, hinder not His hand
From fashioning the vessel He hath planned.
“Be silent unto God,” and thou shalt know
The quiet, holy calm He doth bestow
On those who wait on Him; so shalt thou bear
His presence, and His life and light e’en where
The night is darkest, and thine earthly days
Shall show His love, and sound His glorious praise.
And He will work with hand unfettered, free,
His high and holy purposes through thee.
First on thee must that hand of power be turned,
Till in His love’s strong fire thy dross is burned,
And thou come forth a vessel for thy Lord,
So frail and empty, yet, since He hath poured
Into thine emptiness His life, His love,
Henceforth through thee the power of God shall move
And He will work for thee. Stand still and see
The victories thy God will gain for thee;
So silent, yet so irresistible,
Thy God shall do the thing impossible.
Oh, question not henceforth what thou canst do;
Thou canst do nought. But He will carry through
The work where human energy had failed
Where all thy best endeavors had availed
Thee nothing. Then, my soul, wait and be still;
Thy God shall work for thee His perfect will.
If thou wilt take no less, His best shall be
Thy portion now and through eternity.

Freda Hanbury

Hard Work

October 27, 2008

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not man…it is the Lord you are serving. Colossians 3:23

Dr. Feelgood and I were invited for a weekend away. It was refreshing to sit by the sea and read, and to walk along the pounding surf under a starry sky. We worked at our golf game, trying to correct that annoying, recurring, swing flaw, and we gladly worked for our dinner, cracking giant crab claws and peeling fresh-caught shrimp.

Now, there is work….and then there is work. Working to get the succulent meat out of a crab claw yields instant gratification. And the process is fun – sitting around the table with garden tool utensils, laughing at each other, sharing a meal that tasted oh-so fine. No one minds working for such reward. However, the golf work does not yield such quick return for the effort. After two days of repeating errors, on my to-do list is to schedule a lesson – or a series of lessons. And then I will need to practice and practice. Golf is work. Up to this point, it has been fun to get out in nature, to be with people I love, and just to hope I can move the ball forward without holding up play (a major annoyance to men). But I am getting tired of a lingering high score and working at it is the only thing that will bring it down.

Last week, I went back to visit Whitefield Academy where I worked before Megan became ill. Work was a joy for me, probably not a passion, but a meaningful experience where I learned so much and grew in my faith. I loved going there daily and working with creative, caring colleagues. I had projects to accomplish and worked hard to see them through. I was challenged and rewarded. Rewarded with an income, yes, but rewarded by feeling that what I was doing had meaning and purpose in the lives of others. My work, like the crab claws, made me feel good.

Megan loved her work. She poured her short time as a teacher into creative lessons in her classroom. She used a lot of her own money for snacks and special activities. Once she made a birthday cake for her student and delivered it to her home because she was sick. She was passionate about the little lives she was touching and had wonderful, lively stories about so many of them. But she also worked at her friendships, her family, and her faith. She was always busy - joyfully working at her work, and loving the process. Even the day after she died, September 13th, she was busy being honored as a bridesmaid - all the way from Heaven!

So what exactly is work? Is it just what we do for money? Is it what we do with our time to yield some kind of reward? Is it what we have to do when we are not having fun? Is work a passion of our heart’s dreams or is work an effort to simply accomplish a task? Maybe the task is not the Monday To-Do List, or of our own choosing, but rather a way of life – like working through a series of Chemo treatments, or working to live with a chronic disease or disability. Maybe work is the task of forgiveness or loving someone unconditionally. Maybe work is grieving a loss.

Right now I do not like my job – this work that I did not choose. Grieving is hard. It hurts. There is no consistency in the process. I WANT LIFE THE WAY IT WAS! I want Megan to call me on the phone for our daily chat about nothing. I want her to snatch Dr. Feelgood’s wallet and make him play the wallet game where she takes out a card and he has to ask which one she took. I want her to take a road trip to visit Blair on her birthday this week or make Owen some brownies. I want something that I cannot have ever again in this life – something I loved.

And so we must work at accepting this loss - the grief process. We are finding our way day by day - it is called stumbling and just allowing the tears to fall – often at surprising times. Time with the Lord in the morning is what comforts and teaches and provides a sense of assurance in the midst of great sadness. To be able to rise every day and read verses from scripture gives me strength to move through the next 24 hours and then I start again. It is enough. God alone is enough. Here are just a few:

Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not man…it is the Lord you are serving.

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and train you in the way you shall go. I will counsel you with my eye.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.

1 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I believe that each of us are all serving the Lord through our work, that he will not only instruct and train, but will watch over us with his eye; I trust that I do not always understand things, but that our path will be directed; I will not lose heart, but will expect renewal day by day, trusting that our troubles are somehow in some unseen way working to some glorious eternity.

30 Days

October 13, 2008

Yesterday on our drive to the golf course, Dr. Feelgood said, “Today is one month.” I sat there for a few minutes, thinking about how we tend to measure life and the things we do by time, knowing after just 30 days without Megan that there might never be a magical number of days to our complete healing.

I thought about the movie I had just seen – Fireproof. A man whose marriage is in trouble is given a 40-day plan for healing his marriage. He realized at about day 25 that he has only gone through the motions without giving over his heart completely to God’s plan for marriage. And somewhere toward the end of the movie, he is on Day 43, discovering that some things take longer than planned.

Moses is a good example of that. Oswald Chambers says that when Moses saw the affliction of his people, he knew that he would be the one to deliver them and quickly took things into his own hands. But God had different plans and needed for Moses to experience 40 years learning “true fellowship and oneness with God.” Chambers calls it “getting into God’s stride”. And what I find so amazing is when Moses was finally ready by God’s standards, then Moses humbly responds “Who am I that I should go?” Chambers says, “It is difficult to get into stride with God, because as soon as we start walking with Him we find that His pace has surpassed us before we have even taken three steps. He has a different way of doing things and we have to be trained in His ways.” He goes on to say that Jesus always worked from the standpoint of his Father and that we must do likewise. It is not intellectual reasoning. It is an act of the heart allowing the Holy Spirit to “change the atmosphere of our way of looking at things”.

The verse that appeared for me this morning – after 30 days - was Psalm 39:7 “And now Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.” Like the man in the movie, my heart still has little, dark, human thoughts of what I need and what I think God can do (or could have done). But God’s heart is bigger, always out there ahead of me, stretching and pulling in His direction. Being weary and hardly knowing what to expect is where God wants us because then we wait on Him. I say that mostly out of obedience while I writhe in pain over what is gone. I want to be used by God, but does it have to be so costly?

As I study the Psalms with a group at church, my teacher simply says “STICK WITH IT!” He says that when we don’t understand or cannot comprehend life’s journey, prayer is what forms us, makes us different, and teaches us that God is present even in our distress. There is no 30-day recovery from death, my friends. It will not be business as usual for a long time. But the Gaddis family is strong. Maybe we will move forward some days, doing what we do, tenderly caring for each other in new ways.

We will stick with it, watching for a change in the atmosphere, and wondering if it will take 40 years…..

Breathing Lessons

October 7, 2008

Today I will meet with a friend who has lost a child. She asked me to go to lunch but food makes my stomach hurt. I would just rather sit with her and watch her breathe because sometimes I feel that I cannot. There is assurance in being with someone who has walked the path, felt the unexplainable, carried the emptiness, and yet – there they are – dressed, living, breathing. And they have thought of me, knowing from experience that living and breathing – and sometimes even getting dressed – can be a challenge. I will feel revived after we talk and maybe cry. Oh, I have gotten over my embarrassment of public tears. Most of those are shed in the safety and comfort of my church family and friends and they cry with me. But crying at a restaurant or standing in line at the grocery store just seems to make everyone around kinder to each other. There is a hushed silence and this bewildering sense of calm that is rather soothing.

Even in silence, we can come alongside others to carry a burden. And we never know the burden that someone might be carrying. I read a story once about a pastor who was on an airplane and was looking forward to a nap during the flight. But a father and three children were in the same aisle and the weary man could not seem control his brood. The pastor wanted him to take charge of things. At some point the men made eye contact and the weary man teared up and apologized to the pastor, telling him that they had just come from their mother’s funeral. Nothing more needed to be said.

I wish I could take back all the times I charged ahead, demanded my rights, and made quick assumptions of others who might be in a situation like the man on the airplane. Now I know the pain one can feel when trying to fit back into “normal” life when life has changed forever and taken on a new size. I need to just practice breathing and being still, knowing that God is in control and will guide my next step. And if the step is too hard, he will carry me through – somehow.

As I sit by an opened window this morning, the much-awaited for rain is falling on Dr. Feelgood’s new grass seed. There are a few morning glories catching raindrops. And there is my bright red cardinal, feasting on some of the seeds. He has never left me. The leaves are just beginning to change colors and the summer garden is gone, but new lettuce has been planted for the cooler season. I am encouraged by the Psalmist who said in 23:13-14 “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.”

Stars, Angels, and a White Heron

September 22, 2008

I am a creature of habit. Even though no Hospice nurses will come today, here I sit in our bedroom, facing a wall without Megan and her bed. I look at the collection of art still hanging above where she rested. It is comforting to remember how she would seem to find courage in gazing at a cross or a verse or a poem. And now I, too, find strength in “He is making all things new”, “God cares for you”, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all ways”, “A friend loveth at all times”, “Joy”, The Serenity Prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, “Everlasting”.
We are trying to pick up and resume life – gradually, carefully, quietly. On Wednesday after Megan’s service, Mike went to Florida on a business trip and I went to stay with Blair for a few days at Alabama. We returned and Saturday and standing at the coffee pot together, Dr. Feelgood said, “Would you like to go to the recycling center with me?” I knew then we would survive. After 37 years together, we can still enjoy a morning of recycling and lunch at the Varsity! On Sunday we returned to the peace and beauty of our sanctuary with our church family, and that afternoon Owen joined us to return to Settindown for a round of golf.
In spite of trying to move forward with a “new normal”, I know that we all feel paralyzed with sorrow and yes, even after this long illness, there is still a type of shock and disbelief that her physical presence is now actually gone from us. Oh, how we all loved her and miss her terribly. As Jean Valjean sang in Les Miserables, “To have loved is to see the face of God”.
And so God in His infinite mercy continues to show His face to us. One way is through creation, our spectacular earth and its abundance that surrounds us daily. Last Friday, we looked up at the beautiful pink sunset and there in perfect formation was a huge cloud in the shape of an angel dancing before our eyes. A friend wrote and said on the night of the 12th, the stars shown exceptionally bright over the French countryside. She found out later that Megan had died at 8:30 that night. And yesterday on the golf course, a white heron circled around us on number 11. All just gentle reminders that God is near to us, the broken-hearted, and offers comfort and love in rich supply when we seek Him.
I glance up at “Megan’s Wall” through my tears and notice one piece of art that she created. It is a painted wooden board – green with blue dots - with her artsy printing that says, “And this is love that we walk in obedience to His commands.” 2 John 1:6. And through my shuffling in her journal, an index card marked her book. On it, she had written from the Message in Romans 12:1-2, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing that you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit in without thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you and respond quickly to it.”
So it is almost 2 on Monday and I will take on “my everyday ordinary life” and once again enter my church sanctuary to celebrate the life of a former teacher of Megan’s whose life was also too brief. My role will be different today. I will offer comfort and support instead of receiving it. But somehow in the giving, I will receive.