Horrors and Sacred Cookies

I started to write the last night. I had thoughts in mind, things stirring in my heart, but no time to get them down on paper.

I planned to sit today and enjoy a cup of coffee, giving time and space to these thoughts and grabbing a chance to write here on the blog again.

Then I woke and heard the news this morning. 


Heartbreaking, overwhelming news
.  

 I thought about what had sparked my desire to return to writing.

A cookie. 

Yep.

And then I realized what I wanted to write last night was exactly what I needed to write this morning. 

That cookie, and my eating it, is a sacred act.

You see, I ate that cookie to hold a memory my mother cannot hold any more. The memory that she loved macadamia nut cookies. The memory of things that brought delight and a moment of splurge. I could do the same with a Payday candy bar. That cookie is sweet in a deep way…because it holds the reality of a broken world, of a woman who delighted in good things, and memories. 

That’s a lot for a cookie.

We need those sacred moments. Walking through the grocery store and catching sight of something which can bring you up short. Allowing the pain of what is lost, and the delight of what has been, to mingle in the act of eating a cookie. 

That is sacred.

So what does it have to do with today?

Mom’s Dementia, the horror of Las Vegas last night…they force our awareness of the broken state of our world. We know this, of course, but sometimes we are struck forcefully by how fragile we are, and how desperately in need of rescue.

We have to watch in the midst for grace, for humor and for rescue. We have to carry on. (Yes, I’m listening to Rich Mullins at the moment). There will be moments the brokenness is so raw it will break our hearts.

There will be moments we need to weep. Moments we need to see those around us and their pain…and in those moments we need to be so thankful for those we can turn to for comfort and grace.

“The mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death and grief, either.” – Wendell Berry

There will be new memories, and there will be another sunrise and another sunset. I like very much, however, what Berry says here:

New grief, when it came, you could feel filling the air. It took up all the room there was. The place itself, the whole place, became a reminder of the absence of the hurt or the dead or the missing one. I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and grieve alike endure.”

Time helps. 

We carry on. The next sunrise helps us. But then we see something or hear something and our breath is taken away afresh. 

But we will dance again.

We will laugh again.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Buechner

I know…probably the tenth time I have used that quote.  Maybe Buechner can say that because of this…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be r I g, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

So. A cookie and a tragedy and a mother who cannot remember. They are all tied together because of a God who sees, who knows and who will one day set things right. Today, let’s find the sacred around us, let’s comfort those who weep, and let’s carry on. Grace upon grace for those around us today.

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Holding The Beautiful in the Midst of the Terrible

She had done this just the other day; falling out of bed only to roll under the bed and sleep the rest of the night there. I heard her moaning a bit, dreaming, so I gently pulled her out from under the bed and brought her in to my bed.

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It was time to get up. Time to begin another day, focused on homeschool and laundry and cooking. Time to wake and see what conversations were taking place on FB, time to listen and hear more of the state of our world.

 

I didn’t.

 

I actually didn’t have much of a choice: as I went to lay her in the bed she wrapped her arms around my neck, clasping her hands. She did not let go. I lay there, firmly grasped by the hands of a four year old.

 

The innocent, trusting and loving arms of a child.

 

And I thought about our news. I thought about the terrors all around. I thought about Syrian mothers and wondered if they lay by their child, firmly in their grasp, and smelled their hair. If they just waited and listened to the breathing, feeling that little one beside them.

 

I am sure their hair does not smell like strawberries, and their embrace is more determined because there is so much to fear.

 

I wondered about the mother near us who had her daughter, just a little older than mine, killed at a football game. One moment she was there and cheering on her brothers, and within moments she was gone.

 

I didn’t move. I inhaled the fragrance of this innocent little one, and swallowed down the fear which is so near. I thought of our sermons lately on the book of Ruth, especially this:

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.   – Ruth 2:21b

I wondered about the refugees and I wondered about so many who face immeasurable fear. Do they find the God of Israel to give them refuge? Through servants like Boaz? Like us?

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I found it interesting when I was looking at images with the above quote that none of them showed the terrible things. The quote was written across beaches and sunsets, pictures of stars and Northern Lights, in a variety of pleasing fonts.

 

Maybe it needs to be written across images of terror, because the encouragement to not be afraid rarely comes when things are beautiful.

 

Or, maybe….

 

Maybe in those moments when things truly are beautiful – like being held in the embrace of a child while the rain falls outside and all is quiet – reminds us of the starkness of terror. The sun still rose in a sunrise in Paris Saturday morning. There was still beauty, but it was all the more fragile because of the horrors.

 

I know, I am rambling. I have read several posts this morning from others sorting through these things as well. I am one of many. All of us. Trying to sort through our lives in seeming disparity from evil that is rampant. Still attempting to get the laundry done and cook dinner, teach the children and sing songs while things seem to be falling apart.

 

There is a fine line between discernment and fear. I do not want to let evil near my children. I do not want to turn away those who are without hope and who we can help. I do not want to tell my children about the terrors that exist across the ocean, across the country. Right next to their summer camp…where the little girl was killed just a few days ago.

 

The thing I am beginning to settle more and more with is this: we simply fall apart when we give ourselves completely over to fear. There are still beautiful things. There is still good. And we have been called to not be afraid.

 

Called by One Who is able. Able to be our refuge, or use us to be another’s refuge. We…I…so need the beautiful to give me strength to face the fearful and terrible.

 

Like little children sleeping under their beds and holding on in embraces with locked hands and innocent hearts. Like the sound of the rain, or the taste of chocolate.

 

Like the realization that God came here to this mess. And it matters. I wish His justice and His refuge was more immediate and clear…but I trust that one day it will be. There is strength in that, strength to face the evil and say no, strength to comfort the refugee and the wounded. Strength to embrace the beautiful even when there are terrible things around.

 

 

 

In the darkness….rely on God.

Facebook greeted me this morning. I usually take a few minutes and speedily scan updates as I sip my coffee. I rejoiced at birthdays and people getting over colds. Liked pictures of friend’s kids doing, well, kid things.

Then I read this on Ann Voskamp’s page:

Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.

Isaiah 50:10

And I paused. I thought of one very dear to me who is now walking through the darkness of divorce. Suddenly. Starting all over. Packing things up and moving.

I thought of another who has struggled to find work and deals with burdens that are nearly overwhelming.

I thought of another who is in the midst of a confusing and heartbreaking situation, where there are glimpses of hope and yet much darkness.

I thought of many who walk in darkness…not evil, not lives encompassed in sin…but darkness that hides the light of hope and of direction. They are faithful to keep walking, to keep pressing in and squinting and looking for that glimmer of light.

This verse struck me…that in those moments, when we are stumbling and cannot find the light, that is when we most need to trust. We simply have no other choice. As Ann says on her Facebook page, we want clarity, but God wants us to press in more closely to him in those moments.

Don’t look for another light…wait. Trust that he is going to guide you through.

Trust, and rely on God.

Great thoughts. Yes.

Sip of coffee.

Next status.

Friends, who we have cheered our sons together as they played hockey. Friends who we know the sound of their voices and the way their eyes look when they laugh, and how the boy’s shoulders shrug when they laugh…those friends…their son was diagnosed with leukemia. Last night.

Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.

Isaiah 50:10

Still?

Yes. Still.  Trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God.

This is the messiness of our broken lives. The heartbreakingly real reality.

I will tell the boys during our morning devotionals. That moment when we go around the room and ask what we are going to focus on this week for prayer. Each boy picks a person they want to be focused on during that week. The choice will be simple today. This will be the closest they have come to cancer…these friends are sports friends. They are close enough that the boys will feel the punch in the gut.

We do not turn away in these moments, though. We listen. We pay attention. We reach out and we offer any help we can…and we pray.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Buechner

We realize that life is so much deeper and wider, and more fragile, than we think. We realize in these moments that there is holiness in our midst, and we realize our deep, deep need in our brokenness. We are awakened from our laziness of being entertained by the world to realize how fragile and broken, and yet amazing and wonder-filled this world is.

These moments stop us. For this family everything has changed.

The darkness is thick at times. In those moments, short or long as they may be…trust in the name of the Lord and rely on him.

“In honesty you have to admit to a wise man that prayer is not for the wise, not for the prudent, not for the sophisticated. Instead it is for those who recognize that in face of their deepest needs, all their wisdom is quite helpless. It is for those who are willing to persist in doing something that is both childish and crucial.”  – Buechner

We pray. We trust in the name of the Lord and rely on him.

 

The Babe in a manger who will destroy the terror.

Can you believe it has been almost a year since the atrocity of Sandy Hook shooting? December 14th. We are almost at the one year anniversary. In some ways it seems like it has been so much longer…this year has been filled with much activity in our household. This anniversary has snuck up on me in some ways, and yet the awareness of evil and that nearness of tragedy is a sense that does not go away. I wrote this post last year a few days after the shooting. This was my way to work through the events, and also to understand in light of Advent.

How do we place horror alongside the wonder of Advent? Well…how do we not?

This Babe in a manger will stand between us and the roaring lion who would seek to destroy us:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  

These words from 1 Peter are familiar to most of us who have been in the church for any length of time. I think I’ve had them assigned as memory verses a few times. They are part of the make-up of my identity as a believer…part of the truth of His Word that are placed in my memory. They have been pushing ther way to the surface the last few days as I, along with all of us, try to process the events in Connecticut.  Trying to process the horror and the sorrow, and the politics of how we prevent these things, and the deep, visceral emotion that desires revenge or justice or some way to make things right.

They won’t be made right.

What has been pushing its way into my thinking is the fact that in this broken world there is evil. It is easy to ignore sometimes, depending on where my focus is for the day. It is there, though. The list of horrors in our world are long: Hitler, Stalin, Khmer Rouge. The horrors of Mexico or Rwanda or so many other places. Child molesters. Murderers. Rapists.

The events in Connecticut move us emotionally and violently because they are such an affront to our senses….completely unprovoked attack upon innocent children and teachers. In a place that should be safe. Maybe that is the key…maybe that is part of what enlarges this in our focus. I’m not trying to minimize, but trying to articulate that this horror is placed in the context of a multitude of horrors. Because there is evil.

Sometimes we make God’s love a vapid, hard-to-grasp thing by making it without any justice or truth. If God simply loves everyone with no qualifications…no call to holiness, to repentance, to belief…that love is rather meaningless. Well, sometimes I think we also make evil rather vapid and hard to grasp…we make it vague.

God has told us, though, that it is not vague. That there is evil that seeks us out to destroy us. There is an evil one and he is not compassionate or vague. He hates all that is good and he hates all that is innocent and he rejoices in the horrors that bring us to confusion and tears….but that same evil that would seek to destroy us does something else. It illuminates our deep need for help. That same evil that would destroy us drives us to the redemption of a savior.

I have to repeat the poem from Madeleine L’Engle I posted Friday night because it summarizes Christmas so well for me:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

-First Coming

Christmas is not just about a babe born in a manger. It is part of the story. The story did not begin there, the story began when we chose to turn away from God and He began to redeem us. Christ coming to earth, the Word made flesh, the Maker of the stars born….was God dealing with evil. This babe in the manger, this tiny one, was an unimaginable response to the sin that we cannot overcome and the one who would try to destroy us. This babe in the manger, this God who would enter our pain, will restore and redeem and conquer.

This does not make the horror less easy to understand, it does not make the mourning softer….no it makes the mourning louder and the cry for justice stronger. We know that the evil is wrong. We know that it is beyond gun control laws, beyond marshals being placed around us to protect us….we know that there is one that hates us, but we know that there is one that loves us more. There is one that loves enough to suffer with us to redeem us and that is the only thing that can bring hope in the midst of a broken world. We are part of the brokenness, our sin is part of the pain and the horror. We have to not let the Santa cheer and elf-on-a-shelf cause the enormity of the Incarnation be softened.

God came to earth as a man to deal with the evil that would prowl around as a roaring lion seeking to destroy us, and with the sin that would choke us and destroy us without fanfare. Rejoice! Rejoice!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5

Taking care of our souls…

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Saturday morning with some snowfall, a warm coffee shop and good books. Restoring to the soul.

The last two weekends I have been away from home, and this weekend I find the routine falling back into place. Plans for things to teach the children, books to read for myself and for them, field trips and soccer practices. The business of life.

Part of that routine is the care-taking of our souls. Sometimes I forget that and I try to just plow through the days. Not living, not really embracing but just getting through the day. Finishing the duties to be able to relax. There are days like that, but I do not want them to dominate.

Wednesday night at our homegroup something happened that surprised me. During our time of taking prayer requests I updated everyone on my last trip home and as I was telling about how my Dad sees caring for my mom as his delight and not obligation, I choked up. I don’t cry publicly. I mean, like never. I could feel the well of emotion right there, though, and that awareness that if I began to cry I would not be able to stop.

All the writing of joy in the midst of walking through this season, all the lessons learned, all the things of trying to see God in the midst does not negate that this is my Mom and this is terribly painful to watch. And sometimes I need to weep about that. I’ve written about that before…that this dementia is a long mourning without release and sometimes you have to just be a bit removed or you would find yourself overwhelmed with emotion.

But sometimes we just have to weep.

This world is broken and is filled with so many who are holding that well of emotion just in check as they try to get through the duties of the day. That maybe why they look so angry or distracted. But I wonder if it is partly because we do not spend time in care-taking our souls. Not just talking about having moments of prayer or of Bible reading, although that is part of it….but having moments of weeping and moments of embracing what is our life in this time. That may be joy or grief or fear or hope…or more likely a mixture of it all.

I want to write a bit about how music plays into all of this, because it is an important element for me, but this post is getting long already. Maybe tomorrow…

For now…maybe it is stealing away some time on a snowy morning at a coffee shop to think and read and pray and journal. Or maybe it is weeping in the privacy of the shower. Letting the emotions and the experience of life be felt before they become a tide we can’t hold in check.

It is okay to feel…and sometimes we need to make the space for that in our routines….to take care of our souls.