Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Come and Have Breakfast

“Our church is celebrating Lent!”  I said happily to my Catholic friends one Friday afternoon in March.  We talked about beliefs for a while; they had been rooted in the traditions of Ash Wednesday and going without an indulgence for 40 days; I was just sprouting in my understanding, eager to know more. As the conversation came to a close, I was asked casually, “So, what are you doing tonight?”

Oh.  Suddenly I was embarrassed to let the words come out of my mouth.  Here I was, fascinated that my church traditions were reflecting, at least a glimmer, of those around me, but my response was about to reveal I had so much to learn...

“I’m going to a steakhouse tonight.”

My friends were gracious in their response; giving up meat was not a part of my church tradition, but as I sat at dinner wolfing down tangy ribs with sides of cornbread, green beans, and sweet tea, I wondered about this practice of giving up meat on Fridays.  I had seen signs around town for fish fries and Lenten soup meals.  As much as I love eating, I’d never visited such a gathering until one day I was unexpectedly invited to a fish fry. 

Sunnies and crappies were battered in Shore Lunch and cooked in a deep fryer, then served up on paper plates.  The food was so good that I almost started crying.  It reminded me not of where I was, but I where I wanted to be: the lake.  I looked outside the window that March day to see grass and pavement, but I closed my eyes and tried to envision a heron flying across the expanse and a boat coming in from fishing.  I thought about kayaks and hammocks and ice cream at the Chocolate Ox.  I tried to hear the birds singing, the breeze blowing, and my little nieces and nephew dancing around me, wanting to play a game.

Then, by some act of grace, I was taken to John 21.  It’s hard to believe that eating a filet on a paper plate, smothered with store bought tartar sauce while standing near a deep fryer can be a spiritual experience, but it was!  I looked around the room and realized this was bigger than longing for the lake; this practice of eating fish brought people together to share a meal who were normally apart.  We were huddled around in a circle looking at each other face to face.

It seems like John could have wrapped up his gospel at the end of chapter 20.  He had witnessed Jesus performing miracles: seeing dead people raised to life, water turned into wine, and the feeding of thousands.  John goes on to tell just one more story. Maybe John had a feeling of nostalgia as he penned his last chapter.  Perhaps he missed the small things of being with Jesus--like the sound of his gait as he walked, the way he whistled, or his inviting smile.  I like to imagine that John wanted to conclude his writing in 20 chapters, but this last interaction was so poignant, so personal, that his book demanded an afterword.

The disciples were going about the routine work of fishing, when suddenly they realize their friend is on shore.  Peter gets so excited that he jumps into the water and swims to meet him, not waiting for the boat to come in.  The fire had been started, the bread was baking, and the fish were about to fry.  I wish I could have been on the beach that day, savoring fish together.  I’m sure it tasted like hope, rest, and joy—like memories of the lake on a cold March day.

Can you see the fire crackling?

Can you smell the fish frying?

Can you hear Jesus calling?

An invitation is being offered to you, “Come and have breakfast.”

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.