My America. Yours Too?

28 09 2017

Let me start by saying that this is not a political post–I won’t be taking sides. I respect the opinions of other people. We live in a free country where equality is celebrated. But as I think back over the weeks and months, I am filled with great sadness. There have been moments when I’ve been proud of America, moments such as Hurricane Harvey, when so many offered help to the Texans affected by bringing in food, resources, volunteering physical labor for clearing and rebuilding. Moments such as Hurricane Irma, when we offered our neighbors in Florida the assistance they needed to find safety, get clean water, and begin the monumental task of reconstruction. Now we are faced with yet another hurricane which has totally devastated our territory of Puerto Rico, whose people are also American citizens. They need the help of their neighbors more than ever before, and I hope we will stand the test and be there for them in every possible way, because there is such great need there.

But there is much going on in our world that makes me sad. We are quick to judge without checking facts. We accept what we read on facebook and twitter without checking facts. We superimpose motives to the actions of people without finding out the story behind the action—without checking facts. We rush to conclusions without an open heart to hear what the facts are. We trust the word of certain people just because they said it, without checking facts. Yes, two people can look at the same situation and have two differing opinions. Everyone comes from unique backgrounds and has their own take. But we have to start from the point of truth before forming an opinion. And many times a person’s opinion comes from their personal experiences, often painful ones. Shouldn’t we be respecting their pain? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand rather than condemn? Shouldn’t we be actively listening with our hearts?

My sadness comes from all the unrest, the disunity, the bickering over unimportant things. I believe we were created to be kind, to do unto others as we would wish it would be done to us, to think of others before ourselves, to help each other, affirm each other, love (unconditionally) each other, forgive each other (because goodness knows we need all kinds of forgiveness ourselves) and be tolerant and understanding of each other. And to give grace by being willing to allow those differing opinions. Because no one knows what it is to walk in my shoes. No one knows what it is to walk in yours. Pure, sincere empathy should be what we all strive for without rush to judgement or the impulse we have of “you’re wrong and I’m right.” God will take care of the judging.

Why can’t we be blind to color? Why can’t we embrace our differences? Why can’t we respect each other instead of condemning and belittling and mocking those not like us or with a different opinion than ours? Why can’t we value each other? Why can’t we listen with open minds? We have a rich mix of ethnicities, backgrounds, ideas, viewpoints, creativities, and opportunities in this country. We can all contribute to the greatness possible in America. “God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

I don’t see any exclusions there. Do you?

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Walking the Path of Grief

25 04 2016

This past Sunday my church did a service on lament at which I was asked to speak on the topic of loneliness. One of the characteristics of lament is the necessity for honesty; telling it like it is. I did that.  I’ve had some requests to print the text of my talk on this blog, so here it is.

I often think of my father, a widower for twenty years. He bore the burden of his loss  quietly, rarely talking about it, and when he did, he simply said: “It’s lonely without Mom.” I thought I knew what that meant. But the depth of meaning in those few words didn’t fully impact me until loss happened to me.

When Mel died, everything about my life changed. I wasn’t prepared for his death, nor did I have any idea how impossibly challenging it would be to walk the path of grief.

Weariness became my new normal over the weeks and months as I discovered the true meaning of loneliness. My house was so very silent all the time–meals eaten alone, evenings spent alone, weekends without the companionship of my husband. I felt his absence everywhere.

And that loneliness brought me to an unexpected emotion—anger. I was surprised by the depth and force of it. Mel was a good man with much still to contribute to the world. He had great plans for volunteering in our retirement. But he never got that chance, and I was angry. I railed at God, I stormed through the house yelling, crying, shaking my fist at Him. Really, God? Why him? If You truly love me, why did You allow this? I demanded answers.

What I got was silence. God had gone, deserted me, left me to deal with all the baggage that accompanies grief. The sadness, despair, loneliness, helplessness, bitterness, anger.

And the doubt. I couldn’t feel God anywhere.

This thing called faith can be elusive. It’s hard to find in the deepest, most painful days of our lives. How can it even exist in a world where death takes children, spouses, friends and parents way before their time?

For a long while after Mel’s death I had doubts about my faith. I needed that wonderful man as my life partner—didn’t God know that?

As Christians, we believe God knows best….until things don’t go as we’ve planned. Then we have the audacity to think we can control our lives, that God needs us to direct Him. Maybe I felt that way. As if I know better than God. As if I have any say in what happens next. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is let go of all that—all the control—and trust God knows best.

That’s really tough when all you feel is gut-wrenching pain. So yes, I questioned my faith. But gradually through the days and weeks, I realized it was still there.

Because what do we have if we don’t have our faith? I admit mine was tested, but in the process it deepened as I felt the comforting arms of God around me in the middle of many sleepless nights, or in the solitude of a winter snowstorm.

And in those lonely days, God hadn’t gone away, hadn’t deserted me. Instead, He’d given me space in which to work my way through the messiness, all the while quietly walking alongside me. He allowed the process of grief to take its course, gradually lifting the initial blessing of shock so that I could do the important work of grieving.

I still have those moments when I feel as if I’m going through the grief process all over again. Some of my joy is gone, some of life’s wonders are diminished, and there is heaviness in my heart. I miss Mel. I mourn the days ahead without him, the 50th anniversary he won’t be here to celebrate with me this August. As my dad said, at the end of the day it’s lonely.

Chris Tomlin’s song God of Angel Armies says I know who goes before me; I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side. The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine. The God of angel armies is always by my side.

I awoke with that song going through my head on March 17th, 2013, and I continued to hear it as the day wore on. That afternoon, God took Mel home. In His divine providence, He gave me the words of that song to carry me–then and in the weeks to follow. To remind me I’m not alone. And that has truly been evidence of His amazing grace.This





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 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.





Finding Joy

10 02 2014

The trim white houses stretch as far as I can see, clones set in a row like soldiers at attention. Each yard is manicured, each drive an exact replica of the others. Mailboxes have no numbers to distinguish one from the rest. Panic overtakes me. Where is he?

I’ve knocked on dozens of doors, but there’s no answer. I’m frantic. Not a soul is in sight—no children playing in the yard, no fathers mowing lawns or trimming hedges, not a single car to be seen on the road. Fear constricts my throat as I try to call his name, but I have no voice. The stillness is eerie. I hurry on, searching for him somewhere on this endless street, searching, searching. Where is he?

I awaken with a start, my heart pounding as my eyes dart around the room. I see the familiar tie-back curtains, the floral throw pillows on the chair. My heart begins to slow, panic recedes, and I tell myself it was just a dream. Slowly, I rise, pull on my robe. It’s Saturday morning. The coffee will be on in the kitchen, the day ours to plan.

But then reality shoves aside my normal, and I’m forced to remember. That comfortable routine is forever gone. My husband isn’t going to be there, and coffee won’t be waiting for me. My normal will never be normal again, at least not in the old way.

He died. That’s the short version of the story. Grief has taken over my days and my nights, all aspects of my life, and it has changed everything. Forever. He’s gone.

I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. My parents endured a cruel war in the Netherlands before they brought our family to America in search of a better life, and their first years here were hard. We had little money, but there was an abundance of faith. I remember my father whistling hymns, my mother singing them, sometimes in Dutch and other times in English. I suppose you could say I inherited my faith. I didn’t question God in those formative years. But it didn’t feel real then the way it does now.

Much later, when life began to happen, the soul searching began in earnest. When my daughter was ten, her best friend, Shelly, died of cancer after a long, painful battle. She spent her last three months in the hospital, basically waiting to die, and it was heart-wrenching to see that brave little girl be so sick. I would scream at God with tears streaming down my face on my way to the hospital and again on the way back. I cried, I yelled, I questioned. I was so angry.

God was silent. And Shelly died. How do you reconcile that with the God who loves us?

I researched the word grief. Book after book gave me the clinical “steps of grief.” If I went through the steps, I decided, then I would be done. But you know what? I never dealt with it. Instead, I allowed my anger and frustration to stuff the grief and then I smugly walked away. All better.

As I look back now I see that God was laying groundwork for me, preparing for this day more than thirty years later. I’m learning to lean in to my grief instead of ignoring it. My husband is gone. I won’t see him again until the day I go to heaven. But God is never going to leave me. It took several months for me to learn this lesson. Initially I was angry, depressed, filled with pure black pain.

There was a glint of hope every now and then, but most of the time I was bleeding grief. Words don’t penetrate that kind of pain, but I found that music can. Slowly, as I heard the words of praise songs I had come to love, the message began to make sense. God loves me. He’s right there beside me, showing the way, holding me up when I can’t walk the path.

I don’t know the why of my husband’s death. But there’s a much bigger picture here than I can see. It’s like that giant tapestry that looks like a tangled mess from below. When you see the right side, the beauty of it is breath-taking. Someday I’ll see the finished tapestry, and I’ll understand. But in the meantime, my job is to trust.

I read somewhere the phrase, “The work of grief.” It’s an appropriate description of a hard event. Yes, grief is hard work, but it can also be something holy. Grief is my way of honoring my husband. It honors the 49 years he was part of my life, it shows evidence of his importance to me.

Make no mistake, it’s messy. It hurts. Sometimes it strangles. Nothing about it is easy. But I’m learning a new meaning to the word joy. It’s not a sense of happiness, or fun. Joy has a much deeper meaning, a gift God gives us if we accept it. Joy is that sense of peace that even on the most painful days, even in “the valley of the shadow of death,” we are not alone.

I’m working through my grief, not just for the loss of my husband, but for the loss of Shelly all those years ago. I don’t expect to get over it. True grief never leaves you. But those sharp edges that cut at you begin to wear down, and gradually the pain dulls and recedes. In its place you begin to feel peace, thankfulness. Grief becomes a companion, always there, but in a good way. And you learn to feel joy.

You see, God knew grief, too. When His son died on the cross, God’s grief was magnified beyond our comprehension. But He did it for love, and who are we to question that?

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.





And Then Everything Shifted

23 07 2013

Little did I know on the morning of March 17 that my world was about to crash. It was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday, Saint Patrick’s Day. I had addressed perspective in a couple of my previous posts, a topic that seemed appropriate in light of the book review I had done on The Sunflower by Floris Bakels, and that morning I had just posted ‘On Knitting Your Life.’

Perspective. It has a whole new meaning today, just over four months later. And I realize that the true meaning today is so different from the one I so glibly explained then, because my whole world has imploded.

It was to be a short run, getting back into the routine of training for a marathon–the third one in four years. Half marathons had become cop-outs, he insisted. Do it all or do nothing. So he went for his run. I decided to read, catch up on the news in the Sunday Press, and work on my Words With Friends. He didn’t come home the time I had estimated, but maybe he’d stopped to chat with someone, or possibly he’d had a cramp. I heard a siren at around three-fifteen and briefly wondered where it was and what it was about, but then went on with my reading. At quarter after four I was worried enough to get into my car and look for him. He was nowhere to be seen, and I could just imagine him showering when I returned home and laughing at me for my alarm. But there was something. . .

Home again, and still he wasn’t there. I took a breath and dialed the hospital. And that siren. . . but no, it wasn’t anything. The woman in emergency took my information, asked a few questions, and put me on hold, and then a man’s voice came on. A policeman. And I knew.

The rest of the day is a blur. A massive heart attack, no vital signs, no blood pressure, all this after several efforts to bring him back. They did everything right. But now everything is wrong, and it will never revert to the way it was.

Grief is a monster. It rears its ugly head every day, some days sinking its teeth in and causing excruciating pain. My husband is gone. Even saying the words out loud doesn’t make it seem real. Maybe time will heal, but I doubt that the hole will ever be filled in the way he filled it. My whole world has shifted, and it doesn’t feel right.

At the funeral my son-in-law said, “Death sucks.” That about sums it up. My hope is that I will be able to bring something positive to this blog in the near future as I look back at this dark time, but it’s hard to see the light while you are still in the dark. I hope the saying is true–“it’s always darkest before the dawn.” I look forward to the dawn.

I am blessed to have a strong faith, one that allows me to know my husband is in heaven and that I will one day see him there. Though that will never take away the pain of grief, it does give me some comfort, and I have witnessed firsthand the power of being on the receiving end of prayer for these past months. Family and friends are such a gift.

Here’s my advice: Cherish each and every day as if it is your last. If it’s not, you are truly fortunate.