Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wrestling in the caves.

As "grown-ups" we face many practical decisions in life. Career decisions. Family decisions. Whether to buy this car or that one. To invest here or there. To send our kids to this school or that one…

How do we process our lives in order to make these decisions? There are so many factors. We want to make wise choices. We want the most for our money. We want the best for our kids. We want to do everything society tells us would make us decent, capable adults… But what if God inserts a new factor into your desicion-making? What if He asks you to have faith? What if God asks me to make a decision that goes against what my worldly wisdom says is wise? Something that others might say isn't good parenting? Something people might claim as foolish financially? How do I process those decisions, then, in the light of faith? How do I purify my desires before Him? How do I trust that He'll really take care of me? That He's really Lord? Over all these things? He trumps. If I act in faith… will He prove faithful?

I have continued to wrestle with life decisions. Career decisions. What I want for my finances. What I want for my kids. It is intimidating being a young widow. I knew so little. The overwhelming message I receive from the world is that I have to do what they say. That they know better then me what I should or shouldn't do. That they are the ones with the trump card. That their projected outcome is truth. BUT… God. But God.

All my life I have felt like a Joseph. Someone to whom God says, You are mine, at an early age, but than life happens. How does God's Word make sense when circumstance go awry? Yet those circumstance were God's Potter's hands, carefully purifying and refining the vessel, so the Word He'd put within could be perfectly expressed… unmarred. Not tainted. So God's goodness and glory could be seen without hinder, without defect.

David was anointed King at a young age. I imagine he was thrilled and excited, honoured, maybe a little (or a lot) proud. But how did he feel about it after years of waiting and fighting for the circumstances to line up with His Word? In the caves, as Psalm upon Psalm poured out of His Spirit, God was again using circumstances to refine the vessel for a pure expression of His Word. The Word was alive and active in Him, changing and transforming him, while the hands of God hedged him in, holding him firmly in place on the potter's wheel, perfectly centred, until he willed one will with God the Father…

Neither Joseph or David, or many of these biblical heroes asked for their call. They didn't pursue it. They were chosen. Then, they were left with a choice. To obey or not to obey. To believe or not to believe. To stay on the Potter's wheel, with the sharp pain, the steady pressure of those powerful hands… for years and years and years? Or leave? To leave is… unthinkable. Because no matter how hard life gets… When we know who God is, when His Word is alive within us, we are like Peter. Lord, to whom shall we go? You are the one who has words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

When wrestling in the caves like David, or in the dungeons like Joseph, let faith win. Let God's Word be the trump card that leads you to making one decision or another. And be purified. Be refined. Learn to will one thing, to be one with the Most High God. Seek first His kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you…

For God is good. He does trump. The ways of this world are as grass, blowing to and fro in the wind. But God's Word stands forever, from everlasting to everlasting. Let's believe God. And watch Him be glorified as we are purified.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My brother.

Dear Lynn,

You are so beautiful.

You told me many years ago that you believed you had a spiritual gift of faith. I think you were right. Divine faith was entangled within the intricacies of your inner person, your woundedness, your hopes, your dreams, your beliefs...

As you loved people with exuberant joy and unhindered affection, we were blessed. As you ministered in a steadfastness, an immovable sense of dignity being a son of the Most High God, with a deep assurance and strength, we were changed.

Your depth was a tangled mess of both reverent strength and human weakness. As you laughed and danced and played, you were disciplining yourself to offer every weakness to the Lord, in excellence and surrender, laying them at His feet.

After years of watching the waves beat up against you. When challenges from your childhood impacted your life. When peers accused you of being "fake", whether verbally or in silent suspicion. When your identity was in question and the matter of "call". When you surrendered your dreams and ambitions to serve. When your service was questioned, criticized, and de-valued. You stood firm. In meekness. In strength. Immovable.

Like a stone that has been carefully moulded by the onslaught of opposing waves, so are you in your glorious state. You radiate as one who has stood the test of time, remained faithful through every trial, been refined in the fire and come out as gold…

You are a complicated man, my beloved. Though on earth, you were known for your exuberant praise, in the spirit I see you as pure and refined strength. With an immoveable-ness to your nature. A sober meekness, and humility, as the backdrop to your praise.

You are my brother. And you are free from this time capsule of trial where life and death hang in the balances…

You are beautiful.

I love you,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Lonely Monster.

In those early months after Lynn's death, when the cushioning bubble of shock and denial remained intact, loneliness was like a dark enemy, peering around corners, sneaking toward me in empty hallways. I kept him at arms length, unable to swallow the raw wickedness of his presence. He waited patiently for loss to take over, for reality to set in, to assume his position as dreadful companion, unwelcome yet unavoidable guest…

Being alone is the most terrible, awful, wretched state of existence.

I have been alone for 14 months and 19 days. Not really very long in the grand scheme of things. But I have come to know this loneliness as my worst enemy… and my greatest fear.

Part of the "adjustment" of the bereaved as they "progress" through their grief, is living with the emptiness in their life that was once filled with an individual. That loved one, as a dynamically created human being, took up space in this world that only he/she can fill. At first, the emptiness is all-consuming. All the bereaved can see is death and loss. Sometimes people have said to me, Well, [so and so] lost a spouse and a child. And [so and so] lost all their children. You just need to recognize that your loss isn't that bad. But for the one grieving a loved one, it doesn't matter. To be honest, it doesn't even matter to them that tsunamis have struck and wiped out tens of thousands. They are all-consumed by this massive void that has taken up residence in their lives. It is massively out of proportion. It is irrational. It may even be unfair. But until you know the feeling of a real live person being ripped out of your heart, stolen by death or some other circumstance, you will not understand. And that's ok.

The "progression" of grief is when that all-consuming void slowly but surely gets "put back into perspective". It NEVER goes away because that loved one, in my case Lynn, is NEVER coming back this side of heaven and NO ONE can enter in, touch, feel, or understand the emptiness in his place. This is the cold burning* sensation of grief, the finality of death, the icy-cold-bitter-while-burning-like-hot-coals sensation.

One of the things I HATE most about this loss is that the only person I could share it with is the person missing. I hate that my parents can't understand my loss. I hate that my siblings can't. I hate that even my kids or best friends can't enter into that place with me that only my husband and I shared. No one can go there with me and feel what I feel. Other widows can go there to an extent, but even still, our relationships and individual spouses and marriages are unique. Therefore, our grief is uniquely crafted around all these unique dynamics that no one else could understand but Lynn. Where I once found communion and intimate fellowship, there is a gaping hole, an icy-cold-bitter-while-burning-like-hot-coals sensation… and I HATE it.

I've realized recently that loneliness has been a real challenge for me with my girls (not only personally for obvious reasons). I walked along side them through their grief, hours of screaming, days and months of crying for Daddy, but my daughters cannot reciprocate the favour (not that I ever intended to view motherhood as a favour…). They cannot fathom my own grief, and even though they are my closest family, closest to who Lynn was and who we were together, they cannot go there with me. They are too young. They are just kids. They cannot understand. They don't go easy on me when I'm having a really hard day. They don't bear with me when I just want to talk about Lynn or look at pictures. They want to play and have fun and move on like normal children. This makes me feel even more alone, even more aware of Lynn's absence, and the bitter-cold-burning sensation even more bitter.

Loneliness is something many of us feel (all of us!), from a variety of circumstance. Sometimes in relationships, sometimes in the loss of relationships we've never had the privilege of having… Loneliness is a terrible reality of the Fall. It is evidence of humanity's brokenness, apart from God. It is symptomatic of separation.  As the body needs food and water, the soul needs fellowship and intimate communion. To be without it is like starving.

Misty Edwards sings, I'd rather sit in the house of mourning, than at the table with food. Blessed are the hungry. You said it, I believe it. Hunger is an escort to deeper things of You. You satisfy… (Soul Cry, album Fling Wide)

God's saving grace promises a new fellowship in a redeemed oneness shared with the triune God. This dynamic God is said to satisfy all my needs and desires. For this reason, when I am filled with God's Holy Spirit, I cannot be starving.

Blessed are the hungry… I am lonely, but I am hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Like fasting, I choose to starve my human soul, trusting that God will Open up His hands and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:16)

As the dear pants for streams of water, so my soul longs to be satisfied in the Lord. 

North American Christians always think that if we have faith, we'll be happy. If we claim the promises of God, all our pain will vanish. Loss tells us that though God's promises are real and true, but they fit into a much bigger picture than our own individual happiness. God satisfies me in the Spirit, but that doesn't diminish my human desire for arms that once held me, the companionship Lynn and I had shared, the presence of another person so intimately involved in my life. Two are better than one (Ecc 4:9). This is the truth.

It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen 2:18)

*Lament for a Son

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One step forward, five steps back.

I can barely catch my breath. At 11:00am, a heavy fog persists, laying thick and heavy over the water, enveloping the fields, threatening the roads... Is it the weather? Or my own heaviness that steals my breath away this morning? For I find myself in deep despair, under intense pressure, once again forcing the intake and exhalation of air to and from the lungs, clinging to hope, desperate for mercy...

You would be amazed at all I've done. Not really :) But, I am. I have pursued the possibility of a masters degree, have engaged in job opportunities, have mapped out the next steps in writing my first book(s), made several appointments necessary for both family and financial health... I've agreed to sing on the worship team (occasionally) at my church, have committed to writing monthly for a public writer's blog, and am planning my trip to Bangladesh... MUCH more impressive to me, however, is the fact that I've nailed, wired, measured, and hung mirrors and pictures around the house, I've begun digging through Christmas decorations, in the early stages of setting things up, I've purchased wire, cut down branches, and started stringing up my organic garland around the deck railing, and I still managed to feed my family with homemade soup and biscuits, lots of vitamins, and healthy snacks...

My aunt Susanne recently said to me, There's something different happening. There's a sparkle in your eyes I haven't seen there for a long time. There is more strength to your voice. There's an energy there I haven't seen in years. 

My aunt Susanne is right. I have been unable to capture it in words, the amount of growth and healing that has taken place in me during these Fall months... I am awed and honored that God would heal me, both in soul and in body, after so many years of pain...

Today, though, as I try to catch my breath, as I send my kids off to church without me because I can't scrape my body up off the floor, as I wrestle with feelings of fear and shame, hating weakness, hating that I can't will my body to function... I am humbled by the awkward rhythm of grief. No matter what, it seems to progress with one step forward and five steps back. Even though I am struggling with this never ending battle of overcoming grief, for the first time, I am able to sense a progression. I am able to recognize that even after falling five steps backward, I am still ahead, having grown leaps and bounds since the place on which I started this unwelcome journey... I have a peace that goes deeper than its gone before. I have a thankfulness that is broader than its been before. I have a contentment that stretches much longer than it ever has before... In short, my soul has grown. And I can tell. (*Jerry Sittser)

I feel deep gratitude for this forward motion, humbled by how hard I have worked for it, more humbled that it has all been grace. But, it still does sadden me. The further I move ahead, the harder it is to hold on to the past. The more I step forward into life, into living again, the more I turn away from what was. The more I turn away from what was, the harder it is to close my eyes, to reach into those moments with all five senses, to feel my husband's presence beside me, to hear his laughter, to see his eyes sparkling in delight. The more I move forward, which is the healthy, inevitable choice, the harder it is to remember. And this pains me. I wish I could remember. Everything.

In my GriefShare small group, many of the men and women are discussing their choices regarding Christmas. This is my second Christmas after Lynn's death, but for many of them it is their first. They are older, most of them alone, deciding not to decorate or celebrate in any way, just close their eyes and open them when it's over. One sweet lady, Heather, looked at me and said, But with young kids, you don't have that choice, do you? You have to smile and put up the tree and celebrate whether you want to or not.  The more I am with them, the more aware I am of how awkward it is being widowed young. I don't even fit in with the widows, let alone anyone else. One woman questioned me, It has been over a year since your husband died? And you're just now coming to GriefShare? She was worried she had come too early, with her husband dead just two months now. No, I said, you're not too early if this is your time. It's different with kids. I had to take care of them first. Only now can I try to figure out how to take care of myself... It's just a very different rhythm. 

Today, I am not super woman. I am not all-powerful prophet :) Not that that exists :) I am lowly little me. I yelled at my kids all morning. I drank coffee after coffee trying to wake up. I felt like I disappointed the world by admitting that I couldn't make it to church. I haven't eaten right this morning... in fact I haven't eaten much of anything at all. And I may just lay down and watch Netflix all day...?

Rest is a command of God. A beautiful command. And this is why. I am not supposed to be superwoman. How do I continually forget that?? I am not supposed to handle thing after thing on my own without help. I am not supposed to be all-powerful as though I could attain to some divine characteristic that was not intended to be mine. I am a child. A daughter of the King. It is not based on my performance, it just is. I rest in His grace and His mercy today. I call upon His strength to be revealed in my weakness. I honor Him and praise Him for being my All-Sufficient One.

Today, I am content to be me, right now, in this instant, wherever I am at. Something I have never been before...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A holy grief.

Heart pounding, my feet hit the dirt along the side of the road. Each breath is intentional, rhythmic. In through the nose, out through the mouth. My chest rises and falls and my legs groan with labored movement, begging to be free... I run. My feet keep landing on the ground, but they long to take flight, to lift off, to suddenly find themselves soaring through the air. With every breath, I feel Lynn's presence. I feel one with him, as though I could close my eyes, go back in time, and find myself running beside him.

How do people think this world is all we are, when just beyond our grasp another world is so vibrantly present, alive behind the veil???

These days, my heart is crying out, How long oh Lord!!?? How long will this heaviness remain? How long will this loneliness suffocate? How long will I have to fight for life, with death and despair beckoning at the door??  Like Job, I sit and cry out, Vindicate me, O Lord! Show yourself faithful!! Like Naomi, I cry out embittered, Call me Mara, for the Lord has dealt harshly with me (Ruth 1:20). Like Joseph, I surrender, trusting that God's ways are higher than mine.  Like David, I wait. For I would have lost heart if I had not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13)

Grief is profound. I don't grieve for Lynn as I used to. I grieve because of sin. I grieve because of death, and brokenness, and pain. I grieve because evil has played a role in my existence. I grieve because the woman I am and what this world has to offer falls short. I yearn for a better place. I ache for a new day. I long to sing the song of the redeemed, to hear the praise of many angels, the cheers of witnesses who've gone before. I thirst and hunger after righteousness. I weep and mourn for loss of all things. I cry out for redemption, restoration, and gain.

Sorrow is more profound than depression. Grief is more acute than mental illness. It is the deep cry of the soul for a heavenly kingdom that reigns just beyond our reach. The Holy Spirit within us cries out, Abba Father!!! and reaches forth to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. A spirit that is alive in Christ, but bound to this world of earthly death is supposed to cry out, Forgive us, O Lord!! We have sinned!! We fall short of the glory of God!! May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven!!

Why is it that in the church, we do everything we can to silence these cries. We mask our pain and deny the soul permission to mourn what is meant to be mourned. We lead others away from the very positions of brokenness, poverty of spirit, and grief... that would align us to receive the holy salve, the divine blessedness of God, designed to touch the humble.

We have lost the light and understanding found only in a holy sorrow, a light that is beckoned by darkness. Not a sorrow of the world that leads to death, but a sorrow that is according to the will of God, that produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation. (2 Cor 7:8-10)

There is a season to mourn. It is a season, not a long-term commitment. But, in it's pain, there is a beauty. There is a birthplace of true light and understanding found only in the hollows of emptiness and loss.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  (Matt 5:4)

*Thank you to my small group for continually providing such nourishing discussions, enriching my understanding as we delve into the depths of God's Word in the beatitudes.