Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Good Grief

“Have you ever considered writing about this stuff?”

I looked at her and smiled, thinking about the hours I had already spent writing about disability.

“I think you have something to say.”

When I wrote Walking With Tension, one of the things I wanted to illustrate was the journey of grief I had walked down.  Even as I moved through each stage, no one ever said to me out loud, “You are grieving.” I only knew what I had learned about grief from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ On Death and Dying.  As a nurse, she was approached by seminarians who wanted to understand the process of grief and death.  They interviewed people who were dying of terminal diseases.  The book was so heavy and sorrowful that I couldn’t bring myself to finish.  I turned enough pages, however, to learn that these interviews were how the five stages of grief were discovered.  I met people on the pages of this book who were asking the same questions I was.  We both had lifetime diagnoses, there was no cure for any of us; the only difference is that they would have to die from their disease and I would have to live with my disability.

I thought, even after reading On Death and Dying, that Grief was a short-term relationship.  Grief was filling in on an interim basis just to help me move forward in life.  Grief helped me see that I wasn’t lingering over something I once possessed and then lost, but rather, I was ruminating on the loss of potential, things that will never be.  Small things like high heels and two-wheel bikes, and big things, like second dates, and babies.

I still didn’t realize this journey I was on until I had arrived at acceptance.  Like the Road to Emmaus, I didn’t recognize who my teacher was until she had disappeared.  Grief had held my hand, leading the way out from the shelter of denial that no longer seemed to protect me.  She sat with me while I cried, gave me energy to be angry, and kept score during the mental game of ping-pong called bargaining.  Once we got to acceptance, Grief carried me over the welcome mat and across the threshold into a house of wholeness and peace.  That’s where we parted ways.

Until she came knocking on the door.

At first, I wanted to yell, “Go away!  I’ve already dealt with you!,” slamming the door in her face.  But, I’ve discovered, she continues to knock on the door anyway, and I am slowly learning how to invite her in for a cup of coffee, because Grief has a few things to say:

Grief is unexpected, like an unwelcome house guest who arrives just as you were about to start your day.  You had other things planned, but now they will have to go on hold because Grief has arrived and needs tending to.

Grief wears different hats.  Sometimes she appears like sadness and depression, like a big thick cloud that will never go away.  Sometimes she looks like anger brooding under the skin.  Sometimes she is a bargaining auctioneer, ready to make a deal, hoping that some small exchange will result in a solution.  Grief is hard to recognize so it’s wise to memorize her wardrobe.

Grief does not show up to tear down the house of wholeness you have already built, but she does come to stretch out on the couch of ambivalence.  Sometimes Grief can be an expanding experience where you discover the mysterious ability to be joyful in your sadness, thankful in your anger, and content in your bargaining.  You develop a larger capacity to hold contradiction than you had before.

Grief neither takes over your life nor disappears completely.  Sometimes Grief moves into the spare bedroom temporarily and you swear she will never depart, but she does leave eventually only to return again.

It’s okay to say Grief’s name aloud, and it’s even okay to talk about her with other people.  To grieve is to be human, and sometimes we need others to walk with us when Grief is back in town.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

God Be With You

I find myself struggling to wrap my brain around this quote from C.S. Lewis because so many human interactions are the reverse. 

We forget so often in our relationships that we are human beings, not human doings.  We forget so often the best thing we have to offer, is simply ourselves.


This is when we need to remember that God is not an overtaxed administrator, buried in paperwork, behind on e-mail, so stressed that you hardly dare knock on the door. 

God is the one knocking on our door, hoping we will hear the call to come and eat a meal together.

“God be with..” seems to be the preamble of so many of my prayers lately as they fall from my lips.

So today, I hope you can find yourself in these words:

God be with you as you start a new job.

God be with you as you as you get up and go to the same job, day after day, even when you’d like a different one, even when it’s hard.

God be with you as you parent.

God be with you in your infertility and your longing.

God be with you in your marriage.

God be with you in your singleness.

God be with you in your brimming joy.

God be with you in your depression.

God be with you in your youth.

God be with you as you age.

God be with you in your health and abundance.

God be with you in your sickness and loss.

God be with you when the sun shines and the gentle breeze blows.

God be with you in the storm.

God be with you when you gather with friends.

God be with you when you eat alone.

God be with you in your busyness.

God be with you in your rest.

God be with you today.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Disciple Jesus Loved

I think one of my favorite human experiences is when I am hugged.

There is a delightful splash of oxytocin that floods the system when eyes light up, arms open, and two bodies are pulled into an embrace.  Hearts up against one another, you breathe deeply, and remember you are safe and free to be yourself because you are wrapped up in the reality that you are loved and among friends; you are home.

Why does this desire run so deep?

There are  a host of cited reasons for hugging: decreased feelings of isolation and depression, increased self-esteem and sense of security, strengthening the bonds of a relationship, and increased immune system.

Could it run deeper still?

John describes Jesus as someone from “the bosom [kolpos] of the Father.”  “Bosom” in Greek is the word “kolpos,” the space in the chest between the arms--it’s the anatomy we use to hug each other.

Can you imagine this with me?

God the Father, embracing Jesus, holding his head tightly against his chest and whispering, “You’re my Son.  I’m so pleased with you. I love you so much.”  Jesus in that moment, never more fully Himself, never more fully connected to the ones He loves.  The embrace of the Trinity is a picture of how God can be one person, yet very much three.

John himself wanted to have that kind of experience with Jesus.

I have always thought that if the apostle John were to read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, he’d learn that his love language was touch.  The other disciples likely became annoyed with him from time to time because I am sure he was a hugger.  At least six times he names himself in his gospel as the disciple Jesus loved, but it seems to me that can be traced to the last supper when John finds himself next to Jesus, head resting on his chest (here’s that word again, kolpos), hearing his heartbeat.  Can you imagine the tenderness of that moment: breathing in and out, resting on the chest of Jesus?  No wonder he couldn’t stop talking about it!

This kind of love helped John to embrace others.

This week I found myself hugging a friend who had lost someone, and I felt like I could hold my friend close because others have held me.  If you Google “The Embrace of Jesus,” you will find lots of pictures of Jesus hugging, but scroll a little further and you will find a man with his arms outstretched on a cross, a setting where John once again learned to embrace:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, "Woman, here is your son,"and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.