Saint Paddy From My Perspective

16 03 2015

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In past years I used to envy the Irish just a little bit–the Dutch people don’t have a day equivalent to Saint Patrick’s day to honor our heritage. And since I’m not Irish, March 17th had no major significance for me,  that is not until two years ago when my husband Mel died of a massive heart attack on that day. It’s the kind of anniversary no one wants to celebrate.

My first experience with anything Irish was  when I was 8 years old and someone gave me a music box with a small ballerina that twirled round and round to “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” Later, as an adult, it was fun to adopt an Irish heritage just for that one day (though O’DeVries sounds, well, weird. But still. . . ).  It was fun to see the river turn green, beverages and food items dyed green, and shamrocks pretty much everywhere. Today I see the day through a different lens.

The week after St. Patrick’s Day two years ago, my friend Diet Eman (author of Things We Couldn’t Say) gave me a shamrock plant as a thank you for taking her to a Passover service at my church. Though she didn’t know that Mel had died on that holiday a week earlier, and I wasn’t sure how to handle the constant reminder, her sweet gift has become precious to me.  This morning as I watered the shamrock I wondered about the significance behind it.

I didn’t know much about either the holiday or the plant. As I began to research the beginnings of St. Patrick’s Day, I found some interesting, little-known details. Although Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, he was born into a wealthy Romano-British family in Roman Britain in the 4th century. His father was a deacon in the Christian church, his grandfather a priest.

At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd for six years. During that time he was said to have ‘found God,’ and was told by God to flee to the coast where a ship was waiting to take him home. In Roman Britain he became a priest, returning later to Ireland to convert the pagans to Christianity. He worked mainly in the northern regions of Ireland (Wikipedia, et al), using the shamrock as a way to explain the Christian trinity.

It wasn’t until the 1600’s that a coin was minted showing St. Patrick holding a shamrock. From that point on the Irish

St. Patrick and shamrock

began to wear the shamrock on their lapel as a symbol of their patron saint. I found it interesting that the initial color associated with Patrick was blue, but was replaced by green in the late 1700’s mainly due to the shamrock. During the Irish rebellion the shamrock changed from a symbol of St. Patrick to one of Irish patriotism. The Irish government adopted it as the country’s official trademark in 2003. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D. He was buried at Downpatrick in Ireland, and has been considered the patron saint of Ireland since 1903.

Our Christian culture considers the evergreen a symbol of eternal life. I think initially the Irish had it right–the three sections of the shamrock leaf remind us of the Holy Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–and the green reminds us of the promise of eternal life. Fr. Vincent Twomey was quoted as saying, it is time “…to reclaim St. Patrick’s Day as a church festival.” Who knew that’s what it once was, since we’ve known it only as a secular holiday.

That brings me to my personal feeling about March 17. I have spent two years without Mel. My life changed forever because of the events of that day. The loss is still  fresh, the pain very real, but somehow it seems fitting that God chose this day to take him home. Knowing the true meaning behind the story of Saint Patrick makes me realize there is a much larger plan at work here, that maybe I need the reminder of an eternal goal. My little shamrock plant leans toward the sun each day just as I ought to be reaching for the Son. Everlasting sounds pretty good in the light of the promise of eternity we as Christians have. Mel just got to experience it a little sooner than the rest of us. Maybe he’ll be wearing a shamrock in heaven.





CONFESSIONS OF AN INTROVERT

25 02 2015

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Soon it will be two years since Mel died. Conventional wisdom says that by now I have settled into my life as a widow and should be doing well. Outwardly I suppose I am, but the truth is I’m really good at not saying what I feel. I specialize in maintaining the illusion that I have survived my tragedy and now all is great. Yeah, right.

The truth? I used to think there was a timeline. I used to believe you eventually get over a loss. I used to think life would return to normal after a respectable time of mourning. Today I’m on the other side, and I’m here to tell you that none of those things is true.

Here’s the honest truth. Grief never ends. It changes, it’s a passage. It’s not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. Grief is the price of LOVE. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint, but for those who share this state of being there is a common thread. I’m there too. My grief  is different than yours, but I share the common bond of pain with you. I understand the long-term effects. I know you don’t get over it.

Being an introvert can be extremely difficult in the lens of loss. Some of the widows I’ve been privileged to meet are quite vocal about their grief, and I envy their natural ability to express themselves. I wonder if that freedom relieves their sorrow in some small way. Much as I wish I could speak so freely, that is not who I am. So I nod and smile and say what I’m expected to say: I’m fine. Doing well. Thanks for asking.

Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, wrote the following article titled Getting Grief Right for a series in the New York Times Couch series (January 10, 2015):

“Mary was a successful accountant, a driven person who was unaccustomed to being weighed down by sorrow.     She was also well versed in the so-called stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. To her and so many others in our culture, that meant grief would be temporary and somewhat predictable, even with the enormity of her loss. She expected to be able to put it behind her and get on with her life. . .
THAT model is still deeply and rigidly embedded in our cultural consciousness and psychological language. It inspires much self-diagnosis and self-criticism among the aggrieved. This is compounded by the often subtle and well-meaning judgment of the surrounding community. A person is to grieve for only so long and with so much intensity. (Italics mine.)
To look at her, she already had done so. The mask she wore for the world was carefully constructed and effective. She seemed to epitomize what many people would call “doing really well,” meaning someone who had experienced a loss but looked as if she was finished grieving.”

That last sentence hit the mark for me. Looked as if says it all. Outward appearance can be such a liar, something most people will take at face value, want to take at face value. After all, if you dig into it and ask more pointed questions, things could get really messy. Most people don’t want to get their hands dirty or become invested because they fear the dreaded I never know what to say.

I speak for many others in my position when I say we often feel isolated, standing on the sidelines while the rest of the world moves on with their normal lives. It has become my world, not ours. It is now my weekend, not ours. I talk about my house, not ours. We has changed to I, ours to my. The list goes on, every item I tick off with a singular pronoun instead of a plural.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk about your lives and the things you are doing. You definitely should. I want to hear about them and share in your good times. It helps make life balanced for me to be told of your vacation, or some silly (or annoying) thing your spouse did last week. I need to know that how we communicate hasn’t changed. The sense of normalcy we all crave is especially prevalent in those of us who have lost a precious member of our family, so hearing about your life and your family keeps me grounded. Please don’t tiptoe around me. Pretty complicated, right?

So here’s the thing. In this broken, hurting world we live in, God’s intent is not for us to suffer alone. Regardless of our psychological makeup, it’s important to let each other in. We were not created to handle life by ourselves, but rather to bear each other’s burdens, to help lighten the load we see a friend carry. Sharing is hard, especially for those of us who hold our feelings close. It requires a certain amount of risk in the form of being judged, abandoned, mocked, or maligned. I’ve had lots of experience in those areas, and it makes me cautious. I am so thankful for the friends God has given me with whom I feel safe, feel able to share those deepest feelings. What blessings they are.

For those around whom I wear the mask of ‘I’m just fine’, I would ask that you remember this: Sometimes when I say I’m okay, I need someone to look me in the eyes, see the pain there, hug me tight, and say, “I know you are not.”





A Lesson in Compassion–Part Two

2 02 2015

I adore Anne Lamott. Her books border on irreverent, and yet there is such a wealth of faith and honesty in them. She says what most of us feel but are afraid to say. Last spring I was privileged to hear her speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing and discovered tIhat she speaks the way she writes—so straightforward and from the heart.

Her post on facebook last week hit home with me: “The world is always going to be a dangerous place, and people get badly banged up, but how can there be more meaning than helping one another stand up in the wind and stay warm?”

That is empathy. One of the best comparisons of empathy versus sympathy is a youtube short I’ve included below. 

If you have the ability to experience the feelings of another person, you have empathy for them. It goes beyond sympathy, the caring and understanding of the suffering of someone. Those words differ in their emotional meaning. Sympathy is acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance. With empathy you understand their feelings because you have experienced it yourself in some way–you can put yourself in their shoes.

Then there is compassion. You feel empathy for someone, you want to help alleviate their suffering, and you take action by putting that person first.

Sympathy focuses on awareness
Empathy focuses on experience
Compassion focuses on action

I can feel your pain. It must be so hard to get through alone. Is there any way I can help? And then give that person a hug. You have no idea how much that small action will mean to someone in the pit. I know. It means the world.

p.s. I apologize for the different fonts and font sizes. I’m having  difficulty in adapting to the new WordPress format.

 





A Lesson In Compassion–Part One

26 01 2015

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First of all, I have to admit I can be pretty self-centered. Though I could blame my background for that shortcoming, (another story for another day) it is ultimately a problem I could control if I worked at it with more intensity. Maybe this post should have been titled ‘It’s All About Me’. Because it is.

Let me explain. I have a big yard with several flowerbeds which require constant maintaining. Just a few blocks away is Blandford Nature Center. It has a huge deer population, many of which love my yard. I swear after dark there’s a flashing sign in deerinese that says ‘y’all come and graze here’. So they do. A lot.

I’ve seen them meander across my yard during the day as well. You’d think they owned the place. Many flowers, bushes and trees have seen their demise because of these creatures. The purportedly ‘deer proof’ plants have been devoured with relish. Four hundred plus tulip bulbs were an appetizer. Gone. Thirty rose bushes served as dessert. (Why aren’t they blooming? Oh, silly me, the deer ate the buds.) The rest (or most of it) has been the main course.

Am I frustrated? You bet.

I’ve tried many remedies. Liquid Fence for the low, low price of $40 plus per container (I need at least two of those a year) and other more creative options have all failed. Can I say it without being judged? I hate the deer. Absolutely hate them. The hunters can just have at it as far as I’m concerned. (Wait, don’t send hate mail just yet! Please read on first.) Used to think the fawns were adorable and the adults were beautiful. Not anymore. They have cost me hundreds in replacement foliage, plus all the gallons of Liquid Fence. Did I mention the smell of the aforementioned spray? Well.

So yesterday I caught a glimpse of some type of large animal outside my bedroom window. When I looked more closely, I saw a full-grown deer leaning up against the house. Grabbing my iPhone, I snapped a couple of pictures as the deer stared at me not moving. It didn’t seem at all afraid as I shot the photos. The deer’s eyes were calm as it studied me and I saw no fear, only that steady gaze meeting mine. I could have touched it had there not been a window between us.

Then I saw something else. The deer was standing on three legs, the fourth held high off the ground. It was too close to the brick to see why it stood like that, so I waited. Several minutes later when it hobbled away from the house I was able to identify the problem. It had been permanently crippled, the back left leg somehow mangled. The deer stopped a few times, looked back at me, then limped on slowly working its way to the back of the yard.IMG_1058

I can’t get the image out of my head. I will never see the deer in that hateful way again. That creature will die this winter, of that I’m sure. Its ribs were prominent, the speed with which it was able to move was minimal, and it certainly had no allies. Here’s what that deer did for me: it made me see it as real. A living, breathing, beautiful yet damaged creature created by God. What an awful fate it will face. My heart broke for that deer looking for shelter and food.  A hard thing for this crippled one. And it made me think.

Although many of our handicaps aren’t visible, aren’t you and I damaged too? That part in the first paragraph of this post about it being all about me, that’s a handicap. My vision of the world around me is limited to how it affects me. Poor me. Pretty sad that I’m so absorbed in myself that I can’t see the pain of the world around me. Gotta work on that. When others get accolades about their accomplishments or have something good happen to them, it’s so human to think but what about me? I deserve that. I work hard. Why not me? Gotta work on that, too.

Can I become a better person? Absolutely. That deer taught me to appreciate what I have instead of envying what others have. My kind of crippled can be worked on, but that deer–well, its fate is pretty much sealed. Those animals need to forage in order to survive, regardless of what that does to my yard. As for me, I have hundreds of blessings to appreciate. It’s not all about me. God created me, so I know I’m not junk. He gave me much in relationships, in good health, in a  brain that serves me well, in circumstances that could be so much worse. . . He gave me enough. So if the awards or recognition don’t come, if I never make it in the publishing world, if all I do is write what is in my heart and share with those I love, leaving the rest to God, so be it. I’m working on accepting that, not as willingly as I should, but still.

By the way, I’m starting a new career–cheerleading.





Legacy

16 07 2014

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My father was born in 1915, the youngest of seven, to farm-laborer parents. He was the only child who had farming in his blood and after completing sixth grade, he became a full-time worker in the fields alongside his father.
As he grew older he knew he wanted to farm, but buying land in the Netherlands was impossible. He decided his best avenue would be to learn a trade and save up to move elsewhere, though the place he would go wasn’t yet clear.

After taking night classes and completing his required training, Dad became a barber, first as an apprentice and later owning his own shop. When he and my mother married in 1943, he began in earnest saving every penny he could, a difficult task since war had begun the year before.

The thing about Dad was, he had the most optimistic view of life of anyone I’ve met. Pair that up with sheer determination, add an adventuresome spirit and a fearless attitude, and you have Dad. So he packed up his little family of four and set off for America in 1947. And he worked hard.

Fast forward to the 1950’s and Dad owned a small, seven acre farm in Washington where he raised asparagus and tomatoes and milked a handful of cows. He moved us from farm to farm until he purchased a forty acre parcel growing concord grapes, with a contract to sell each crop to Welch’s for juice and grape jelly.

Dad became a successful man who farmed well and worked hard, but most importantly who loved his family and his God without reservation. A man of principle and faith, devotion and loyalty. A truly good man. The world was blessed to have him for 92 years.

And I miss him.





Landscapes of the Past

23 06 2014

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My brother and I named the area of trees and bushes at the back of my father’s farm The Jungle. We were kids, and the world was an exciting vista awaiting our discovery. I spent hours wandering by myself through this magical place, my imagination running wild. Pretending to be lost in the myriad of streams and trees, my heart would pound as a delicious sense of adventure kept me looking for wildflowers and tracks of mysterious creatures. We had heard of wildcats back there, though we never saw one. There were insects and baby turtles and snakes interspersed with the plants. The river was just a short distance away with its bounty of rainbow trout and salmon. That larger body of water fed these tiny streams I followed and sustained the vegetation around me.

The fields of the farm have long since gone to seed. Where the house once stood there is a charred area surrounded by weeds, though the trees shading the side of our home still stand sentinel. Two of the trees are bare, long dead but still upright. My brother and I walked the farm a few years ago as part of a trip to pay homage at the graves of our parents. It was, in our eyes, a memory tour, a visit to our childhood. So much had changed.

That trip verified that nothing stays the same. Maybe it’s our memory that’s at fault, the events of the past being shrouded in this cloak of happy times that preclude the hard things. When you revisit, truth replaces memory and changes the images that were there. Regardless, I choose to hold on to the magic I felt as a child, allowing one memory to weave into another to create an endless stream of recollection.

Four years have passed since we revisited the farm. If I close my eyes, I can envision my young self there again. The pasture where our old sway-backed horse grazed isn’t fenced now, but I can see him there, lifting his head as I walk by. He shakes his mane, pauses a moment, his liquid brown eyes gentle on me. He lets out a soft whinny and goes back to doing what horses do best, being content to nibble at the grass of the field. I wave and walk beyond his world to my own, that magical Jungle of my childhood. And I lose myself in memory.





A Gala for Death

18 04 2014

Imagine a huge party with millions worldwide attending. Laughter and joy fills the space, the celebration going on and on through day and night. There’s dancing and singing and more food than you’ve ever seen in one place, an event unlike any you’ve ever experienced. Happiness paints the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and reflects off the faces of those who are here. The very air shimmers with joie de vivre.

Outdoors, sparkling stars are dancing in the heavens, circling the moon, the sun and each other in a frenzy of wonder. Every creature on earth is leaping, crawling, flying, swimming, moving in sheer joy, no longer enemies or predator and prey. Nature has joined in with a wild, gloriously flagrant display of color and perfume.

In the midst of all the happy chaos sets a casket. It’s ugly, black, non-descript, unembellished, no flowers in tribute, no notes of sympathy around it. And you realize—this is a funeral. But whose is it? It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Over my lifetime I’ve attended many funerals. Funerals for infants, children, young people, adults of every age. Parents, spouses, children, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, good friends. The causes of death vary from illness to accidents of all kinds to murder to old age. None of the funerals have been happy occasions. Sometimes the death was welcomed in the sense that the deceased suffered much in those last days, or was very old and had lost all sense of who they were due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. But the pain of loss was still felt, tears still shed by someone, and a precious soul still missed.

Funerals have one thing in common; there usually are mourners, even if it’s just a single individual. At some point in the deceased person’s life, he or she was loved by at least one person. People are devastated by the death of a loved one. They cry over their loss. Tears and pain are a tribute to the importance the loved one held in their lives. It’s honoring to them.

So my post title may not seem to make sense to you, but trust me, it does. I assure you, there will be one funeral yet to come at which there won’t be one tear shed. Everyone on earth will want to attend, to celebrate for days on end. Not one person will be sad. Instead I believe there will be a huge party of celebration and great rejoicing.

And here’s the best secret ever: it will be the LAST funeral we will ever attend. The last one.

At the very end of time, the biggest event will be the death of Death. When the day that God has preordained to be the last day finally comes, I look forward to that final funeral. What an event that will be, the funeral for Death. Never again will the awful words ‘Death’ and ‘funeral’ need to be spoken. That black-cloaked figure with the scythe who comes after every living person will himself be inside the casket, never to reap a life again. Imagine the joy of all mankind on the demise of Death!

Want to join the party? It’s easy to be included in the guest list, and your invitation is printed all through the New Testament. Just believe in, trust in, rely on God. Right after Paul and Silas are released from their chains in prison because of an earthquake, the jailer falls down in front of them and asks the question we all need to ask.

“…what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:30-31 (NIV)

Oh, and the celebration? It goes on forever. I, for one, want to part of that.