Adam Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

My husband died five days ago.

This morning marks the longest time I’ve spent apart from him since we were married, 15 years last May. His absence is crushing and, sometimes, curiously ordinary.

There is paperwork to fill out and meals to prepare and errands to run and last night I burst into tears scrolling through pictures on my phone, because I’ll never turn my head to see that smile again.

Normal is so many miles away right now. So much is so different and so unbalanced, it leaves me wanting to change absolutely everything just to feel evened out again.

When I stop and breathe and let myself sit with this grief, I find my heart so full knowing Adam is finally at peace, saturated by love, completely healed, and truly whole. For him, I cry tears of perfect joy.

For myself, I keep reaching out with tentative fingers to touch the ragged hole in the center of my chest. I shrink back as each touch reminds me just how much I hurt.

I wish, for my kids’ sake, I could take this pain away. I wish there were more I could do than hold them and cry together. More than agree that everything is horrible right now, while lighting the candle of hope, because everything will not be horrible forever.

How can I explain to a fourteen year old, a nine year old, a six year old that the hole is never going to close–the loss won’t go away, but it will change. It will get better. We will see what has been broken and recognize, within, exists incredible beauty.

Redemption is a hard enough concept for me to grasp. So often, still, hope feels too new and just a little bit too wobbly.

But . . . grace. So much grace. We are not abandoned.

Even on days when it feels like my heart has been julienned, I have come to know Love still lives here.

rings-s

 

Adam, our years together as husband and wife were not as many as we’d planned. Life has not followed the route we thought she would take. Even as I wish I could hold you in my arms just one more time, I could never hold you back from the unimaginable joy of fully being present with God, eternity in communion.

Yet, I’ll hold you, always, right here in my heart, because you are worth loving forever.

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The Words and the Word

The church circles in which I was raised led me to believe bible verses were alive. The living word, I was told, would speak to me, even though it was written thousands of years ago to someone else entirely. I now understand the Living Word not to be the written scriptures, but the Son of God, Jesus. This is not to suggest I have forsworn bible study. In fact, I have come to love the bible more as I’ve let go of the idea that I somehow can find direct relevance for my life in every endless genealogy and priestly code.

I have begun asking questions that weren’t really covered much in my Sunday School lessons. What was the context of this passage? What did it mean for the people to whom it was originally directed? How could this message have affected the lives of those who were the first recipients of the words?

As a lover of language, I have long recognized there is no such thing as a truly literal, word-for-word translation. Every individual who translates text must make choices about the meanings of words and the intentions of the original author. The translator must then render these intentions in words that convey the same meanings to readers or hearers of another language. And, of course, as a social convention, language changes across times and places, so words that may have been appropriate in one place previously won’t always continue to mean the same thing everywhere.

That said, I have a great appreciation for those individuals and groups who have undertaken the tremendous task of creating bible translations. Each new version of the bible, each new language into which it is written represents years of study and prayer and discussion.

My own rewriting of verses and chapters is not nearly so academically rigorous. I don’t read Greek or Hebrew (though I would love to learn one day). I can’t say with any authority that my words bear out a given text’s single, clear significance, which I have come to understand as more myth than reality anyway. Still, I find the practice meaningful as I take time to ponder how words and phrases would have originally been read and how those thoughts might best be conveyed now to someone like me.

This morning I reviewed Psalm 23. I have paraphrased this chapter before, but it’s been about 10 years. Some of the words I used then I still love. Other words I chose no longer seem best to communicate the message. After some linguistic carving, sanding, and polishing, these words speak to my heart today.

Love is my guardian, generously giving me everything I’ll ever need.

Love calls me to rest, providing all I must have to satisfy my essential hunger and slake my spiritual thirst. Love makes my soul new.

I am able to love others, because I am loved.

Even when I find myself in dark and dangerous places, I have no reason to be afraid, because You are beside me. The power You hold in Your hands encourages me to be brave.

You bless me and celebrate me, right in front of those who hurt me. You heal me and You make it clear, You always choose me. I am filled with joy.

You bless me every day of my life. I am Your beloved child. Always.

power in your hands brave-s

In the Waves

heart beats footprints-s
The sting of chlorine caused my eyes to tear and made my nose feel like I was already underwater. Nobody used the word “tween” so many years ago, but that was what we all were. No longer little kids, not quite teenagers, our sixth-grade selves bounced into the Bolingbrook Park District building, excited for an evening school trip to the wave pool.

Despite the extra padding I usually tried to hide under baggy, brightly hued sweaters, once I had changed into my swimsuit and covered it with one of my dad’s white cotton undershirts, I mostly forgot how little I was wearing. I tagged along after the rest of the girls in our group to the zero-depth entry. We sat, allowing the waves coming from the deep end to wash over our toes as we bathed in the glow of the electric lights.

In groups of two and three, my companions gathered up their courage to swim into the waves, daring one another to see who could get the closest to the giant paddles (rotors? fans? I never got close enough to actually see what made the waves). I held out for the first hour of our visit. The small waves lapping on our imaginary shore were harmless, but looking toward the far end at the choppy, frothy water, the waves looked bigger than those I’d encountered along the beaches of Lake Michigan. Still, I wasn’t yet comfortable enough in my own convictions to simply say, “I don’t feel safe.” I had to prove I wasn’t a scaredy-cat, even if, really, I was.

I worked my way down the center of the pool, walking along the bottom until the water hit above my waist and waves crashed over my shoulders. Though I’d never taken formal lessons, I knew how to swim. I’d grown up swimming every summer, mostly in the calm water of KOA campground pools. Once I got as deep as I thought I could go, where the bottom of the pool had dropped off below my feet and I found myself bobbing on the mechanized waves, I was ready to be done. Just then, the wave-making apparatus stilled.

Perfect timing, I thought.

I began swimming ahead and to my right, aiming for ladder in the deepest part of the pool. I was no more than an arm’s length away when the wave machine unexpectedly whirled to life. Caught unprepared for the pull of the water, I reached out toward the ladder, but couldn’t quite stretch my fingers around the rungs. In the trough between one wave and the next, I found myself pulled away from the edge and, worse, down under the water. As the next crest came, I’d battled my way above the surface just enough for a cough and half a breath before I was sucked once more down into the wave and away from the edge.

I didn’t have the strength or the breath to fight for very long. When the next wave came, I swam with all my might toward the ladder and grabbed on with one hand. Yet the waves still crashed over my head, pulling me away from the edge, back under. The t-shirt I’d worn into the pool bulged up around me. That extra layer of protection added another challenge to overcome in my fight against the water.

The battle to breathe, to move, even to see, waged on wave after wave. For the first time in my life, I truly feared I wouldn’t make it. Though I was surrounded by people, I felt powerless to call out for help. Nobody seemed to realize just how I struggled. No one was coming to my rescue. I was all alone.

My memory of that trip to the wave pool three decades ago arrived unbidden into my consciousness this morning. All the fear, the gasping for breath, the struggle to grab hold of something–anything–to keep my head above water felt as though it were happening right now. It took me only a moment to realize it is.

Sitting beside my husband, my best friend, the father of my children, watching as he slips away into eternity day by day feels just like drowning. There are people around, so many wonderful people offering to help, to share, to sit with me and cry, to watch my kids and do my laundry and so much else. Still, I am the one who must battle through these waves. No one else can feel my pain for me. No one can grieve in my stead.

That night in the wave pool, I discovered I had more ability than I’d thought. I was stronger, I fought longer than I knew I could. Today, as I wait and I pray and I cry and I wonder whether I truly can make it through this crushing loss, a small voice in the back of my head reminds me.

My beloved child, you live in My love, no matter what. Your heart beats with Mine as you walk in My footprints. When you feel lost, know that you are found. When you feel afraid, know that in Love there is no fear. When you feel alone, know that I am with you always and everywhere. There is no place you can go where I am not. When you feel that things are broken beyond repair, know that in Me all things are redeemed. Nothing is lost. This is My promise to you.

Breathing Together

I am moving slowly through troubled waters, yet I know the waves will not overtake me. The rocks will not crush me. Though I am beaten and bruised, I will heal. I will live. I will love and be loved and know joy in the midst of inexpressible sadness.

I don’t like that.

Why does there have to be sadness at all? Why not just inexpressible joy? Why does there have to be sorrow in the world?

Maybe it’s us.

I had that thought this morning, sitting here in the meditation room at the hospice house. Maybe it’s us. Maybe we’re the ones that cause the sadness.

In the infinite wisdom of the Creator’s gift of choice, we can choose badly. Being made for intimate communion, our choices, good and bad, selfish and generous, wise and foolhardy,  grudging and lavish, all affect those whose lives intersect with ours, for better and for worse.

This is not how I would have set the world up, I comfort myself by thinking, if I were God.

Not being God, though, maybe I could choose humility for a moment and wonder, perhaps it really is better this way? Just maybe, the ability to choose is so vital, so utterly imperative, it’s worth all the pain.

I don’t want pain to be worth it. I’m not sure I want pain to have some kind of redemptive value that makes it good. Pain sucks. Grief tears at my heart with sharpened claws. I will never be the same. I don’t want to consider I’ll be better.

if I were god-s

And maybe it’s not time for that yet. Maybe better is still such a long way off, I need to simply sit here for now, to cry and to grieve and to wait out this awful burden of pain until the morning dawns with unexpected joy. Yet, maybe not. Maybe what I need is the very possibility that there is some purpose to this pain. There is some way through that doesn’t just kill off anyone and everyone who enters this desert. There is more than my eyes can see and my heart can understand, more that will bring healing, even through death.

Maybe just the idea that there is hope is all the light my eyes can take right now. And maybe, someday, I can work a little more on the community expression of hope and joy and peace all together, sharing with each other, bringing life and healing to one another through our abundant generosity and lavish love rather than a stingy selfishness borne of fearful scarcity.

But today, I think today is a day to just breathe. Breathe in and out for as long as I can. Love others by letting them give to me in this space where I need to receive. And breathe. Together.

Amen.

For You, in the Deep Darkness

I wish I could write the words to help you see yourself as I see you. If only I could put together just the right phrases that would open your eyes to recognize you are greater than the sum of your choices. The beautiful person you are is not defined by anything you did that you shouldn’t have done or didn’t do that you ought. You are so much more valuable than some sort of tally sheet, marking off the good deeds against the bad. You are incomparably worthy, just being you.

Right now, you are nearing a precipice, not the edge of a cliff where one misstep will leave you tumbling down, but the crest of a ridge, a mountain peak that offers you a view you’ve never seen before. You’ve been climbing, first through the forest, following the path as best you could, hardly knowing where you were headed, just that the path was hard and it seemed all uphill. Then you hit the tree line. The sun was bright and hot, the ground rocky, the air thinner. The path was not as clear, just a mere trace of those who had walked this way before you. You still can’t see the top, but you hope you’re almost there because it’s starting to get hard to breathe. I want to stand nearby, bouncing on the balls of my feet and call out, “You’re almost there! You can do it! I believe in you! I love you!”

deeper magic-s

Why should you take heed what I say? I can’t actually see the top either. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what your next step will look like or what it will take before you can look at yourself with love and compassion and joy. I don’t know how many moonless nights you wait, unable to sleep, hoping for the bright light of day, only to find morning dawns dim, light darkened by impenetrable fog. I can only give you what I do know: no matter how deep and dense the black, no matter how far it invades, there is deeper magic than the darkness. And that is more real, more true, more right than any experience or imagination I’ve ever had.

In this knowledge, I hold on to hope and pray healing and wholeness for you. Rest when you need to but, please, don’t stop now! I picture the joy on your face when you finally begin to drop these heavy burdens you’ve been carrying. You are radiant. I am drawn in by the beauty of the light that glows from within you.

And, even so, if you continue to struggle with depression and shame, when you lose battles again and again, I am still here. I still love you. No matter what. Because you are worth loving forever. Let me repeat that, just to make sure you caught it.

I am still here. I still love you. No matter what.

Because you are worth loving forever.

Morning Prayer

Lord God Almighty,

May I allow You to open my eyes to the blindness of my own hardened heart.

May I dive so deeply into Your passionate love that Your heart of consuming fire burns away all I have placed between us.

May I permit deep intimacy with Your Spirit within the essence of my being to fill me with grace, peace, love, joy, hope beyond imagination.

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May I hold loosely in expectation my hands, my feet, my lips to be used for Your good purpose: to heal rather than to harm, defend rather than condemn, engage rather than dismiss, to share rather than to hoard.

May I be so immersed in Your presence that I pour out Your blessing like rain on the parched earth, bringing back life in the face of death.

Amen.

Church Is Hard, but God Is Good (Part 2)

(Read the first post in this conversation here)

My friend responded to my thoughts about churches and community and vulnerability with a refined version of his original question.

I certainly agree that authentic, organic, courageous relationships in community is one of, if not the most essential part of Christian community. What I am pondering is how to make that a normal expectation / behavior / value / lived practice that is an essential part of our DNA in the North American Church vs. “an hour on Sunday.”

Let me begin around the far side of this question and wend my way back to the beginning. It has been (and continues to be) such an mind-bending, life-altering experience to realize the “truths” I always thought I understood about God’s love for me aren’t true at all. In my own life and writing, I keep circling round and round, then repeating myself again, making sure I reiterate just how much we are loved by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe NO MATTER WHAT. We don’t have to believe a certain doctrine or follow a particular ritual or even try hard to be a good person. God loves us just because we are.

We are worthy, we are valued, we are adored, just breathing. For me, simply coming back to that truth, repeatedly sitting with it, pondering it, feeling the amazing fearlessness of knowing–no matter what I say or why I do or how I mess up or whenever I fail, I can never be unloved–utterly releases me. I am free to love, free to share, free to embrace myself and everyone else, no matter where we may find ourselves on this journey of life and faith. I can dispense with the spiritually codependent notion that I am somehow tainted by getting too close to the messiness of others’ lives. When I remember that I am not even being judged for how cleaned and polished I’ve kept my own life, I can embrace my vulnerability, admit to my very human failings, and be open to the intimacy of relationship for which we were all designed. For when I am weak, then I am strong (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

I regularly revisit the words “shameless honesty.” I love the phrase for a lot of reasons, but the most powerful is the idea that we can be completely honest, sharing our true and deepest feelings and thinkings and beings without self-recrimination. I have no need to be ashamed of who I am, just as I am, because I am loved without reservation.

adored just breathing-s

Sadly, this is not a truth I came to the experiential knowledge of at church. Oh, sure, I was taught from infancy that God loved me. Even, once I was old enough to understand the term, I knew God loved me unconditionally. Yet every human interaction, every religious experience seemed fraught with conditions. Going to church meant dressing up, brushing hair, and smiling, even when I didn’t feel like it. Gathering with what passed for Christian community over most of my growing-up years meant peppering our speech with blesseds and amens and praise-the-Lords. It meant, I learned, to pretend to be confident, positive, and joyful, even when I was doubtful, conflicted, or depressed. If I weren’t clapping my hands because I was happy (and I knew it) or feeling peace like a river, joy like a fountain, and love like an ocean, I darn well better act like I was or else somebody might get the mistaken impression that this Christianity thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

As individuals, especially those of us who grew up “churched,” we have a lot of expectations of what going to church is supposed to be like. For many of us, even though we no longer believe that’s what church is or was ever meant to be, we’re not sure what else to do.

Which brings us back to our question: how do we change this culture? On a corporate level, how can we share the incredible gift of this great and powerful love beyond all measure? How can we allow others to catch a glimpse, to see themselves bathed in the redeeming light and love of Christ? How can we build a community of faith that actually expects and practices deep communion?

Here are the best words I know to offer, words I heard when I was praying for the heart of a beloved friend camped out in a dark canyon on the path of life.

Ask.
Invite.
Do not demand.
Watch and listen and most of all love.

Though the words are simple, they are not easy. I am much more apt to fall into the trap of telling, requiring, and demanding. I want to skip over the messy, uncomfortable, time-consuming process of love, yet it is in this very time and discomfort and mess that real relationships are forged.

As the Church, as congregants and clergy, as family, can we begin to ask one another, with compassion, “How are you? How are you really doing?” Can we offer our prayers, our help, our selves? Can we invite each other over more regularly to share coffee or dinner or an evening of board games? Can we share in the joys and the sorrows and the everyday doings of life together? Can we respect the limits of others who may not be ready to dive deep into relationship right now? Can we continue to treat those who hold themselves away from us with honor, respect, dignity, and grace? Can we watch and listen for opportunities to love the members of our community with our words, our attitudes, and our actions? Can we sit and stand in the uncomfortable places, simply to be together?

And, as we try to answer these questions in the affirmative, can we keep our own hearts open and receptive, so that each of these activities continues to be a response to the outpouring of Christ’s love for us, rather than becoming yet another ministry project? I know we can, because this is the community we are called to inhabit. This is what we are empowered, through Christ, to do. This is who we are.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11, NIV)