Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Christmas. I have always loved Christmas. Who doesn't? I suppose some.

This day was so monumental for me. My girls and I were home all day, just the three of us. Last year, I could not even comprehend what my husband's death could mean. I was so incapable of processing the whole thing… I just closed my eyes, hung onto the rail for dear life, and hoped I'd wake up at the end of the long, terrible roller-coaster ride. This year, I worked hard. I studied it with my GriefShare group and my counsellor. I made notes, planned ahead, made some big decisions about what me and my family could handle… This year, I was just a tad bit more prepared. 

What always takes me off guard, though, is the sense that grief doesn't belong at Christmas. The idea of coming together to fellowship over food and gifts and lights and decor… the ideals of a glorious festival, these things I love. This is how I grew up celebrating Christmas. More gifts than we could ever afford, more food than we could ever eat, and more fellowship than we could ever handle…! It reveals what I have come to believe is our cultures greatest weakness. Our inability to grieve. 

Catastrophic loss is all-comsuming. It involves the loss of person, and compounded losses of other kinds… Ideas from ones childhood. Beliefs about life, the Christian life, family, and ministry… But I have gained so much. Through loss we gain so much. This is an established principle for the life experience of the disciple. We lose our life to find it. We are blessed when we are broken. We are strong when we are weak. There is a season for everything. 

And the King of Kings came into this world as humble baby, wrapped in cloths for an impending burial, and laying in a manger…

I just want to say that I feel immeasurably blessed to have learned the greatest truth about life. That we lose when we gain. That my weakness, under the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit, amounts to great strength and unprecedented life change. 

As Jesus was born into the lowliest of places, so he is born in me. I am His dwelling place. And in me, (and all who look to Him), He is birthing something new. For the first time in these last 15 months and 23 days, I can see the light at the edge of the horizon. I have been plunging East, refined in the fire of death, grief, and difficult steadfastness. As we celebrate Christ's birth, as my life remains surrendered into His most tender care, I am beginning to witness the sunrise, as it is just nigh approaching, as the glittering streams of brilliant light, the golden streaks and pink promises peek out above the dark shadow of the earth... 

Be born in me, my Savior, in the most lowly of places. In the place of humility, brokenness, mourning, and weakness, break forth like the dawn. For behold, You are doing a new thing. Will I not perceive it? You will make streams in the deserts and waters in the wilderness. You bring peace and order in my heart and life. You will break forth in glorious light upon this humble servant… 

Lead me, Father. Lead me in the Way Everlasting.    

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A "merry" Christmas

Winter Grief, Sumer Grace, by James E. Miller, page 25:

Winter can be the cruelest season of the year, 
   cold and dreary, depressing and long.
This can also be true of your grief's winter:
   the air feels raw, days grow tedious, nights go on forever.
The shock and numbness that first shielded you have worn away.
Now you must face had-on what lies all around you:
   all that you miss and all that you fear,
   all your sorrow and all your dread. 
There can be a piercing loneliness to winter grief. 
Not only are you separated from the one who died,
   you can also feel isolated from those around you,
   perhaps even alienated from yourself.
People who do not understand how plodding grief can be
   may not be ready to bear all of your moods or all of your moans.
And your world can appear so different,
   so silent, so stark, so empty.
This is exactly the world you need. 

I love this poem, but especially the last line. This season I find myself looking at the world around me with a growing frustration. A growing frustration that feels more like a righteous anger. The lights, the singing, the "joy", the laughter, the parties, the treats…  I love all of these things, but where can I grieve? And where is Christ?

Without berating the issue, I want to say this: I am exactly where I am supposed to be. And the truth is, I am much closer to the lowly scene upon which Christ made his most magnificent entrance into the world… than many of you. I am not weak to grieve. Being broken isn't the same thing as needing fixing. At least not when we are broken unto Christ. I am blessed. I am favoured. I am loved. And I am courageous. And on this Christmas, in the most humble of places, my Jesus dwells with me. 

Be merry, this Christmas. And be humble. For he exalts those who are bowed low.

You will show me the path of life; In Your Presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My 10th Anniversary.

Who could have known that on this day (Dec 19th), my tenth anniversary, that I would be a widow. That the man who balled through our wedding ceremony, who committed his forever to me, who forced me to sign a marriage contract quite specifically bound for 75 years, (at which point, we were then free to re-negotiate)... Who could have known that at that moment, on that day, Sept 2, 2012, around 10:30 at night, a few months shy of our 9th anniversary… Who could have known that he would just… die. At 31 years of age, with no official cause of death... In mere minutes his vibrant, charismatic, and influential life taken, gone from this world. Who could have known?

Today, I look around me… I have two amazing daughters whom I am so honoured and privileged to raise. I learn from them, from who they are… I see Lynn in them. I learn more about him, who he was… We have a beautiful home that is starting to feel like a home… I am learning so much about myself, who I am, who I was, and who I am becoming... I have family that loves me. Friends that are patient with me...

I am so blessed. There's just… no Lynn. No husband. No father of my children. And when I'm not extremely diligent, the emptiness of my loss so easily capitalizes on my weakness and rises above the blessedness of life, overshadowing it with ugliness and despair...

There are memories of Lynn everywhere. Even though I am in a new place, with a new house, some new things, some new people… Lynn is still everywhere. I used to think there was such a fine line between past and present, like my mind could slip into the past so easily, losing sight of the present, later having to struggle to find my way back… But now I think there is no line. Time is an amazing thing. We move forward, but life in the past is never left there. It is a part of us. Who we are in the present. Who we are becoming…

Lately, I hear the echo in my spirit over and over again of this long told Scripture, This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).  No matter what has happened or is happening or will happen, all of it effects me, but my grounding is in Today. That this day the Lord has made. And for that fact and that fact only I will rejoice and be glad. I come to him NOW in this day with all that I was, all that I am, and all that I will be. This day, in Him, I am perfect. I am whole and complete. I lack nothing.

Life is a mysterious thing. Where it comes from, what it means, when and how it will end, and then what follows… I can not rationally come up with a good reason to live again after death. When I wake up in the morning and my kids are either still asleep or have already woken each other up and begun playing… I lay there. Trying to convince myself to get up and start the day. But why? I freeze beneath the weight of that question. Why? Why get up and live when in an instant it can all disappear? Why get up when there is little meaning to this life without my loved one. Why get up when I know the suffering that this life holds. It tricks us into thinking we can gain, gain, gain, and not have to face the rhythms of life and death, ebb and flow, joy and sorrow, gain and loss…

I get up because, This is the day that the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it. 

Dec 19th, was my 10th anniversary. Accept it wasn't. In truth, we didn't even make it to 9 full years of marriage… But still it was this day, 10 years ago, that we beautified ourselves, prepared our hearts, minds, bodies, joined together as one, vowed and committed a lifetime to each other…

I remember everything. Almost every minute of that day… I was aware of every passing moment, each event that took place, as the hours passed throughout the day. I relived what once was as the time ticked by… But yet, this day (the 19th, 2013), is just a day. My wedding was one moment that once was and is now gone. My marriage was something more. Our oneness something even better still...

Life and death. Ebb and flow. Joy and Sorrow. Gain and Loss.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A year of jubilee.

A new chapter. A new decade. Thirty, flirty, and thriving… (Okay, just kidding! Line taken from "13 Going on 30".)

Father, I commit this day, this moment, this week, this month, this holiday season, this year, even this decade… I commit my way unto the Lord, and trust also in Him, with confidence that He will do it. (Psalm 37:5, paraphrased)

As I evaluate my life, my heart, my strengths and my weaknesses… I find myself greatly lacking. I lack in peace. I lack in faith. I lack in assurance and confidence to do His will. I lack self-control, knowledge, and wisdom… In these areas, I find myself weak. And yet, God looks on me and finds me faithful. He has given me His name. He has given me His Word. He has given me His Spirit, with every spiritual blessing under heaven (Eph 1:3). A heavenly armour to conquer against the enemy. And a divine purpose with which to live. He has bestowed me with favour and honour in a kingdom that sees not as the world sees, but looks to the heart. For God is looking for those who are broken vessels. He is looking for a house in which He might dwell. He looks to and fro to find for Himself one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and one who trembles at His word. (Is 66:2)

I find in these ways, that perhaps I might be just what He is looking for. Perhaps He does look on me and find me blessed. Perhaps instead of lacking, I am overflowing with abundance. Because blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God. (Matt 5:3)

I find that I am entering this new decade with a new mind. It was a gift :) My friends prayed for me and we took off some of my broken thought patterns that inhibited healing in my grief. Areas of mine and Lynn's life in which I could not accept peace. But was ruled by fear and guilt. My peace came when I could relinquish my perspective and take on a new mind. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5)

A new chapter. A new decade. A new life, but not without the old. I do not move on forgetting what was. I am overwhelmed by how Lynn remains to impact my present and my future… But peace. I must have peace to enter this new chapter. To accept what was and now is. To trust in the Lord and do good; to dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. To delight myself in the Lord, and he will give me the desires of my heart… (Psalm 37:3-4)

Father, I have laid all my fears at your feet. I have surrendered my concerns, ambitions, and desires… I desire your will above my own. I desire fruitfulness and peace. I desire one thing and one thing only, To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple... (Psalm 27:4)

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; For he hath clothed me with garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels. For as the garden causes the things that are sown to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. (Is 61:10-11)

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Cold December.

My desk :) I am sitting at my new desk… Well, new to me! My cousins Janel and Steven got it for me as an early Christmas gift. Having a place to sit and write feels luxurious and wonderfully empowering!

Life is full of these little gifts, that come up alongside great agony, involuntarily putting a smile on my otherwise sullen face. December is like that. Many gifts. Lots of smiles. And cold winds that brush up against great agony, often causing an involuntary response… Sometimes laughter. Sometimes tears. Sometimes just unspoken pain.

I have learned and agonized over many terrible truths these last few months. Sometimes, I think it is just so cruel that I am facing all of these "truths" just shy of 30 years old. I was 28 when my husband died. It seemed young before, but now even more so.  When I look at others my age, I grieve my innocence. I wish I could be carefree like them. I wish I still thought learning how to balance all the good things in life was the greatest evil I would ever face.

I miss my friends in Truro this Christmas season. Soooooo much. So many times I have tried to write letters, explain my decisions, portray my heart to you in a clear and understandable way. But every time, I get overwhelmed with emotion, and sometimes despair. There is no easy, clear, rational explanation for what has transpired in our lives and relationships. The reality just is, that I am devastated. That I am a wreck. That I have lost everything. And that I grieve.

I am learning more and more about grieving in our society, right now through another book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John W. James and Russell Friedman. I am so angry at the how difficult everything is. If our society was better equipped to handle loss, if I had been better prepared to handle Lynn's sudden death, more emotionally mature… Then maybe, just maybe, it would be a little easier. It wouldn't feel so impossible to understand one another, to share with close family and friends, to lean on loved ones… But it is so hard. And every griever knows it. As my sweet Aunt said last night, Nobody wants to join this club. But unless you're in it, you just don't get it. But we don't want them to get it. It's just too terrible. 

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. I am trying so hard to be positive. I am trying so hard to be kind and gracious and full of God's love. But I am angry. I am so so sad. I am devastated. It just gets heavier and heavier.

I am learning that forgiveness is a HUGE part of working through grief. Forgiving loved ones, forgiving the deceased, and embracing forgiveness for yourself. I find this hard. I find it hard to feel like life is so out of my control. That I can't fix anything. That I am so at the mercy of God's grace. That I can't talk to Lynn and beg his forgiveness for not being a good enough wife. That I can't change this terrible thing that happened so that Lynn and I get to grow old together, and learn more about each other, maturing together, figuring life out... In my head, I know it is all nonsense. But another thing I am learning, is that Grief is not a head matter.

In most cases, North Americans have a habit of converting their feelings into intellect. This does not work in grief. Grief is an EMOTIONAL MESS. It is an emotional response to loss. There is no rationale. There is no appropriate way to understand or experience it intellectually. This is precisely why so many grievers end up isolating themselves. Because loved ones try to be there for them by converting the emotional experience into intellect, as though we could rationalize the pain away. With Bible verses, myths about grief and "moving on", etc… This inevitably leads the griever to believe that their feelings are not acceptable, so they must keep them private and grieve alone.

I am shaking in my boots knowing that I am 1 day away from turning 30, entering a new decade, one more milestone that shuts Lynn away as part of my past. I am 10 days away from facing our 10th anniversary alone, and opening the time capsule we sealed after we were married. I am terrified of another Christmas. Last year was AWFUL, but I couldn't even conceive of what was happening. I had no way of preparing for it or knowing how to handle it. So I just gritted my teeth, dug my nails in, and hung on for dear life, hoping to make it to the other side. This one is different. I am more cognitively aware of Lynn's death and absence, and I have to find creative ways to remember him, to acknowledge him, to honour him this season…

I went to a Remembrance Service last night at my church. It was lovely (…apart form the very hokey music that Lynn would have HATED!!!). But I was unable to go up to the front, to light the candle and say aloud, This is in memory of my beloved husband, Lynn Robert Erskine, who died 15 months ago, father to Roya and Alea. I couldn't do it. Maybe next year. But it was good. It is so good that they have services for grievers to find a safe place to remember… "Aunt" Wendy gave me a candle to take home and kept it lit all night long. (It was a battery operated fire-less candle with Lynn's name written on it.)

Okay, Father. We're still on this journey. I'm so tired. I'm so sad. I can barely find the strength to open my eyes each morning. But I know you're with me. I know I'm in Your hands. I know You're in control. I see that this path does lead somewhere… Towards healing and wholeness, strength and joy. So go ahead. Be glorified today. You are my Lord. Lead me in the Way Everlasting...