The Grace of Mourning

This whole week, it has been there, just under the surface. Creativing a tension and a weariness. Adding to the unpredictable nature of my late – 40’s womanly prerogative. This awareness of a deep mourning just under the surface. 

I was able to go home last week, back to New Mexico, with the youngest two kiddos. We ate an enormous amount of Mexican food and almost satiated my need for red and green chile.

We rode Clydesdales, or thought about riding them. 

We played late night solitaire with Grandpa. 

Mostly, though, in the midst of all of this, I went home to see my Mom. I’m not sure if she knew that I was there, and those of you who have walked this road of Dementia understand that. This is the most despicable disease. I have written often in the past about the sense of a long endurance mourning which accompanies this, a mourning which does not offer any release or any healing. A mourning at the loss of the person who remains physically  present. 


Each activity is marked by an awareness of our loss of Mom’s lively personality in our midst, even though she is present. She would enjoy so much her grandchildren, and they would so enjoy her.

So, this week I have been aware of this mourning, this desire to weep, more closely present with me than at other times. 

Her Dementia continues to change her, and those changes bring a new sense of loss. A new step in the mourning.  But it is this mourning that is held in check because it is not complete, and it cannot be given completion. There is such frustration in that. A word can set off a stream of tears and then it is hard to hold back the floodgates, because they have been restricted for so long.

I don’t like to cry. I don’t like to mourn. I don’t like to think of the what ifs and the should be…and yet I am realizing that we need to make the space for that. We need, in the midst of the difficult seasons, to give ourselves the space to mourn, to weep, to shout in anger at God (he can handle it), to give our emotions the needed expression. 

So many around us are carrying such deep, deep burdens. Within my acquaintances and friends I can think of those facing divorces, bankruptcies, children dying, houses falling apart, jobs in peril….deep, aching fear and mourning and uncertainty. Most all of these people have children and have the need to keep life ticking along, as we all do, so we tuck those emotions away and try to continue on. 

Until that guy cuts us off on the freeway and we lose it.

Or the lady at the grocery store looks at us funny and we fall apart.

Or we yell at our kids.

Or we just pull in to ourselves and begin to detach to try to keep the emotions in check. And we miss…we miss the moments we could rejoice, and we miss even the moments we could mourn and find healing.

I have quoted this from Buechner before:


“some moment happens in your life that you say yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. waking up to the first snow. being in bed with somebody you love… whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. if you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul.” 


I wonder if the opposite is true a bit as well…if we find the moments that bear down upon our soul and break us, we need to cry out to God and weep. We need to not resist that mourning and allow ourselves the sorrow. Before it turns to anger because we have tried so valiantly to keep it in check.

David knew.

I cry aloud to God,

Aloud to GOd and he will hear me.

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;

In the night my hand is stretched out 

Without wearying;

My soul refuses to be comforted.

When I remember God, I moan; 

when I meditate, my spirit faints.” Ps. 77


He knew how to weep and cry out to God.

I need to read more Psalms. 

My Mom was a beautiful woman.

She still is. 


She has taught us much even through this season. She will sometimes catch us with her laughter, and it makes us pause to hear it. She is completely dependent on my Dad and brothers and I have learned that they are men of faithfulness and kindness and care in a way I never would have seen otherwise. 

I still would rather be able to talk to her. But this is what it is. 

Right now she is teaching me it is ok to mourn along the way…and she is reminding me that others carry deep burdens as well. We need to give each other grace in these days. Maybe the snarky waitress is holding back tears. Maybe the irritating driver is distracted by life changing and  difficult decisions. 

I write much about finding wonder and beauty…maybe, just maybe, today we need to hear that it is ok to recognize the pain and sorrow and give it the space needed. I wrote the other day about books being able to help with that Ugly Cry.   We were made to praise and sin and shout, but we were made just as much with the sensitivities to love and mourn and weep and have deep sorrow. Sometimes we don’t need much help, we just need to give ourselves permission. I usually give myself permission in the shower. 

Wherever it is, if you have been holding it all together for too long…allow yourself some time and grace to mourn. Then come back with a little healing under you and grace for those you encounter.

Hear my cry, O God,

Listen to my prayer;

From the end of the earth I call to you

When my heart is faint

Lead me to the rock 

That is higher than I,

For you have been my refuge,

A strong tower against my the enemy.

Let me dwell in your tent forever!

Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! – Ps 61:1-4

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Thankful for the Push.

February 4.  Happy Birthday, Dad.

Almost 24 years ago, eating McDonald’s burgers just around the corner from the radio station in Albuquerque, you asked me the question that changed everything. I was the afternoon drive host, I was music director, and I was loving working in radio. I thought I had it all, but  you knew I needed to push beyond what I was doing.  You gave me the push.

“If radio is what you want to do, where do you need to go and what do you need to do?”

Nashville.

I need to go to Nashville.

I had never put it into thoughts that clearly, I had never put actions in place. That was October, and by January I was living in Nashville working at a radio station.  Now as I a parent, I wonder how difficult that was – to encourage me to move away. 

A year later you called and asked me how the radio career was going. Not so great. Turned out the move was not exactly wonderful for my radio career.  So you pushed again…not in an overbearing way, instead in a freedom giving and empowering way. 

“How about pursuing your Master’s?”

Maybe.

“Where would you go to study and what do you need to do?”

“Regent College.”

Another whole new path was opened, another place I was supposed to be, and you were the one who gave the push to get me there. In the year I had been in Nashville I had met someone, I had settled in and found a life in Nashville. The move was what was supposed to happen, just not for the reasons I had imagined. 

 A marriage happened. A life was beginning to take shape. Because a push had been given. 


My whole life you have provided the grace and the support and the confidence for me to be who I am. Ride a motorcycle at 5? Sure! Why not! Horses and climbing trees and shooting guns?! Absolutely!  I never thought anything was impossible, or at least never thought I shouldn’t try. 

I would not be the person I am or have the life I have if you had not asked me the questions you asked 24 years ago in McDonald’s. So many things you have shaped not through demands and overbearing, but through gentle guidance and encouragement. 

Thank you for always giving us the space as kids to make mistakes, the space to work and the space to play. Thank you for teaching me to love photography and horses, to love dogs and woods and birds.


Thank you for teaching me to love well, for teaching me that sometimes that means allowing people to move away because that is what God has called them to. Sometimes that means caring for those who do not know us any more, or know us only in moments. I’m grateful for your birthday to celebrate your sense of humor, your strength and the great favor God gave me and my brothers in giving us you as our Dad. 

I’m thankful my kids know you well. I’ve always had the coolest Dad. Happy 83rd. Eat some good chocolate and know you are loved.  Always happy to write your Happy Birthday Post, every year. 

Pause to Breathe

I am so glad it is Friday. This week has exhausted me. Maybe it is simply nearing another birthday…mine is two weeks away…mixed with all the emotions of this election and the issues being hilighted. Maybe it is the awareness of my mother’s presence and yet longing for her true presence. Maybe it is migraines that have been annoying me all week. I’m not sure…maybe just the culmination of all of that, but I am worn out today. 

I am thankful for Friday morning in the coffee shop with the oldest boy. Thankful for laughter and watching goofy videos.  Thankful for good books to read and for warm fireplaces.

Last night we had an Arts Night at the homeschool tutorial. Such talented kids, and so much joy. 

Sometimes it is easy, and I know this is stating the obvious, it is easy to think that everything is falling apart and the world is ending. It is easy to be overwhelmed. There is much to occupy our thoughts in a somber and heavy manner, and we need to take the time to think through heavy issues.

We need to take the time to breathe as well. And we need to take the time to rejoice whenever we can. We need the youth around us to celebrate and remind us to dance and turn the music up too loud. We need their talent and their energy. 

Driving yesterday with the youngest two I was caught by their delight. Silly, goofy delight in simple things. Running around with sticks like light sabers and building fires out of sticks and leaves. Pretending. Delighting. 

Living.

They do not have the weight of sober thoughts bearing down on them. 

I’m so thankful for their delight. 

So, it is Friday. Let’s take a breath and find something to bring delight, something to celebrate. Something to refresh. Something to bring wonder. We cannot exhaust ourselves in the heavy things only, or we will not have the endurance for the long journey we are on. We need these Friday mornings of reflection and calm. I know I needed it this morning. 

Let’s find a way to model for our kids today that we know how to delight and how to dance, how to rejoice. Especially in this season when they sense the tension and the uncertainty around them. Let’s remind ourselves of the good the Lord has done in our midst, and let’s point it out. 

I have the goofiest thing from last night, but it almost made me cry. I had a terrible headache and it had been a long day. Of course Arts Night involves a lot of sound. So, I picked up a coffee and came back a bit late…and realized I had the consequence of parking about a block away.

I forgot to mention the blister I was working on, didn’t I?

I parked and sat there for a few minutes, then simply told the Lord that I didn’t have the energy to walk that far and if he wouldn’t mind opening up a space for me. In the middle of the performance. You know, one of the six spaces in front of the building with 200 people. 

He did.  Actually two spaces. Maybe someone else had a headache and a blister.

Now, I can hear an atheist friend of mine snickering right now, and guffawing at my naïveté that the God of the Universe would open up a parking space. I know.

That’s why it almost brought me to tears. I would rather He would sweep in and solve some of our big issues and overwhelming prayers. I would love several things to happen so easily…but here’s the thing. Sometimes something very simple and very clear happens. We can guffaw and pass it off….or we can stop and realize He is telling us He is listening. 

I’ll take the latter interpretation. 

Leaving you all with two of the seniors from last night, Lilliana Napier and Joseph Gunnells, singing “The Prayer” from David Foster.​ Grace, my friends…we sure need it. And these kids are a great blessing of grace and delight.

​​​

The Strength of Beauty

Oh my soul, FaceBook, as if my headaches have not worn me out enough the last few weeks!! I began to wonder if I needed to take a break from FaceBook.

I watched the Inauguration, and then I watched my FB feed explode. Some with great excitement, some with tentative hope, some with great anger and some with outright hatred. All friends. All people I know in real life and care about. 

Over the last twenty four hours I have listened. I have witnessed such a spread of opinion not just on the news, but in the heart of my friends. I wonder how we will bridge this gap. I wonder how the conversations will develop.

I watched as friends began to post pictures as they marched in the Women’s parade, holding their posters and beaming with pride. These are friends I respect and love. Not women I shrug off and easily disrespect. Then I saw others posting articles with pictures of women dressed as vaginas, wearing shirts with vulgarity. 

Shouting profanity. 

Then the protests against the president with businesses destroyed and property damaged. 

I thought more about shutting down Facebook. 

Then…I saw pictures of a friend who had just suffered a heart attack, and I prayed. I saw pictures of another friend with their baby granddaughter just born, and I rejoiced. I saw pictures of friends celebrating and I remembered why I love Facebook.

Sunday morning I went to church and saw friends who were frustrated by the women’s march and friends who had marched. We all worshipped together and I got to hug them all and talk with them all. We all want our girls to be strong women and pray for the same things, hope for the same things for the country and our neighbors. 

So, as I sit here Monday morning my thoughts are still not clear. I could not march in the Women’s march because it was so clearly tied to Planned Parenthood, but also because I was frustrated by how it seemed to meet Trump’s vulgarity with a vulgarity of its own. Women wearing ‘pussy’ hats and calling themselves ‘Nasty Women’ simply does not resonate with me. I understand the need to demonstrate, and I even understand my friends who marched and wore the hats, and I value the freedom they have to do so. Most of my friends walked with different signs.

I want my daughter to be strong, and I want her never to know what it is to have a man take advantage of her…a man feel that he can do as he wants with her. I have had men push me beyond where I was comfortable, and that is a feeling you can never erase. I want my girl to never experience that and to have the strength to never need the approval of a man who would act that way. So how do we get there…marching dressed as vaginas?  
Maybe.

Maybe that is part of it. Maybe we need to shock ourselves into a conversation about all of this. About women’s health care and about rape culture and dating culture, about our incredibly loose sexuality in advertising and movies and culture. About ‘locker room’ talk and our young men learning to treat women with dignity. Maybe we need some shock…

But maybe we need something on the other side as well, and this is a bit more where I fall. I want my girl to be strong. I seriously want her to take Karate and know how to defend herself. I want her to know her rights and speak up for herself..but I want her to know beauty and wonder and love. I want her to know she is made by a Creator who loves her and created her in beauty. I want her to know that at her core she is loved by a Savior who came to redeem her because she is loved that well, and if that is true, she does not need to settle for a love that would abuse her. I want her strength to come from an identity rooted in love. 

And…her brothers need to know this as well. We need our boys to be raised knowing that they are to love well. They are to love with a tenderness and a protectiveness and an honor. They are not to talk about women as commodities and . They are to love with love that honors beauty and does not ravage it. To be strong  means that we create beauty and sanctuary and peace.

 To create vulgarity and chaos is easy. To create peace and beauty is difficult, and that requires true strength.

I do not mind the march. I do not mind my friends who marched. The vulgarity bothered me, but I guess that was part of the point…it forced me to think. I do not consider any of my friends nasty women, though. I consider them women who carry beauty with them, and who carry the ability to create wonder and peace all around them. Where others are creating vulgarity…let’s bring true strength.  

An Adjustment in Vision 

There is something refreshing about a shiny, bright new year. Even though the situation is the same as a few days ago, there is a spark of hope and a spark of energy present this morning. Even on this very grey, rainy morning.


Christmas and New Year’s were dominated by migraines for me, so the presence of merely a minor headache this morning has also helped the enthusiasm. Still, there is something about turning to a new calendar, a new journal, a new … year. Resolutions, Revolutions, Hopes, Imaginations. And sometimes…

Desperations. 

We all have those thoughts on the changing of the year. The things we would like to be different in the coming months. The exercise routines and the diets, the reading plans and the shunning of social media. I have posted years on end how I would step away from online activity to focus on real life activity. Only to be drawn back continually. 

Then to feel frustrated with lack of discipline and lack of persistence. Then to meet the next new year with a sense of desperation that the list of resolutions remains the same as last year. Still unfulfilled. 

Not this year. This year is different.

Sitting here in one of my favorite coffee shops organizing my shiny new bullet journal,

I realized that this year I do not want new resolutions. This year, I want instead to be at ease with who I am.

That is not to say that there is not room for improvement. There is always, always room for improvement. 

I realized this morning, however, that some of the frustration I face is trying to force a system on myself and the kids that simply doesn’t work that well. Instead, I need to find a way to make what is good and unique about us blossom and flourish.

Yes, I know. That was obvious.

And yet, not so much.

When we began home school one friend who had done this for years challenged me not to simply bring school home. We had before us this great freedom to do things differently, and the challenge is to find the way to flourish in that freedom. I’m not sure we have hit our stride yet. There is still this sense of knocking out the work so they can get to the fun stuff…and my heart wants the kids to see the learning as the fun stuff. 

I know it cannot completely be fun all the time, but the learning can make us come alive. When we find the way to learn that speaks to us. This translates to the work, to the resolutions as well. The resolutions do not make me come alive, and they surely are not fun after the second week. So how do we approach this year differently so the resolutions are not so much a drudgery but a way of understanding ourselves better? A way of giving ourselves the freedom to operate in a way that nourishes our souls?

I’m honestly not completely sure how this works out yet…but I think the key is to be looking. What makes me feel alive? Music. Books. Really great movies. Discussions with people I love. The giggles of little ones. 

What makes me pull inside myself and become depressed? Not meeting unrealistic goals. Feeling constantly behind and unprepared. Failing to complete things. 

What about you? What speaks life to you? Make room for that this year. What makes you step with energy and with enthusiasm? Make sure that is present in your life. 

We still have to make our beds. We still have to wash the dishes and put away the laundry. We still have to do the work, but maybe our resolution can be to find a way to do the work and nourish our souls at the same time.  Or nourish our souls so we have the energy and strength to do the work. 

That is my resolution on this January 3rd: Find a way to nourish my soul and make the ‘work’ of keeping the house and educating the children become something that speaks life. Rather than forcing a structure that builds frustration, building a freedom which encourages learning and work to be done with enthusiasm. Naive and impossible? I’m not sure, but I think it is worth the effort. I think it is worth the adjustment in vision rather than a list of resolutions.  Let’s see what we can do with 2017.

Advent failure? Meet the Relentless God.

I posted this two years ago, but the title struck me this morning. We are in a similar situation in 2016, and yet God continues to be relentless. Relentless in loving us, in calling us, and in meeting us right where we are.
So forgive the reposting….but the truth remains.

 

____________________________________________________

 

The theme for my Advent Season 2014?

 

Um. Mostly failure.

 

We have not read the Advent books, we have not faithfully made our way through our Advent Calendar. We have not opened the book of creative ideas for inspiring the children through this Advent season.

 

The kids have played too much X-Box and computer. I have lingered on FaceBook longer than I should.

 

The laundry basket just seems to stay full of clothes that need to be put away. Presents are just beginning to appear under the tree.  Not sure everyone is even in what they are receiving.

 

Tamales made that turned out so-so rather than really great. Frustrating.

 

These are the things that run through my mind…little failures where I can see what could be. I can see more wonder and hope and joy and peace and love. I can see more order and more patience, rather than haphazardly bumping my way through the season.

 

More than that though: frustration, anger, impatience, arrogance. Sin. Throughout the season. The reality of my fallenness. The reality of my lack. The reality of the brokenness we sit with as we try to take in the wonder.

 

The reality of a Mom who slips farther from reality.

 

The reality of friends truly struggling simply to have the basics, let alone the luxury of Christmas gifts overflowing.

 

The reality of others struggling with life-consuming illness. Fear. Uncertainty.

 

The realities that sometimes cloud our hope and faith and love and peace and joy.

 

I can slip into a deep awareness of my lack, and be overcome by it. My fears and failures demand attention….and then I realize that God is more relentless than my fear or my laziness, or my uncertainty.

 

God simply will not be overshadowed.

 

Every year, every where we go, God is proclaimed. Maybe it is covered over with too much fluff, and He is made too safe. Maybe the Gospel is a bit softened by the Ho, Ho, Ho’s. Maybe it is a little confusing…and yet, it is still relentless.

 

Beginning in November the stores start proclaiming: Christmas is coming. Maybe they are not aware, but they are also proclaiming: Christ has come.

 

The songs start playing the decorations go up, all around us. The parties start being planned, the gifts being wished for and listed, the food starts being prepared. The performances being. The familiar choruses begin being sung on Sunday mornings.

 

Relentless reminders:  Emmanuel. God has come.

 

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:6-7

 

Every year, no matter the failures or the frustrations, no matter the fears or the angers, no matter the weaknesses on my part…God reminds me He came. I may not make it through the whole Advent season with focused intent and awareness, I may not even make it through with a clean house and presents bought on time. Doesn’t matter.

 

God came.

 

Grace.

 

Wonder.

Hope.

 

Peace.

 

Joy.

 

Love.

 

No matter how your Advent season has progressed,  the reminders are all around us. We can soften them with our trivialities, or be overwhelmed by the demands of the season…but the reminders still stand. Relentless. God keeps reminding us He is near.  Underlying all the decorations and Ho, Ho, Ho’s…the reality that the God of the Universe came. That is staggering, and even though we may be so familiar we shrug off the reality…He keeps tapping us on the shoulder each Christmas season. There is a deep truth that underlies all the decorations, and it is amazing.

 

I am so thankful He is relentless.

 

Buechner sums it up this way, from Whistling in the Dark:

 

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

 

 

From Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, Jill Phillips singing Labor of Love:

 

Oh Lord, Widen My Imagination This Monday Morning…

Distracted. 

The weekend has worn me out, along with the three-day-old headache. Mondays following a travel hockey weekend always feel distracted. The need to get my footing back in line with the normal routine.

December is not normal, though.

December is laced with wonder, alongside the stress of holiday preparations. They seem to compete through the month. It is difficult to maintain imagination and wonder when you are stressing about holiday events, food planning and parties. These things which should add to our wonder sometimes, well, wear us out.

So. Advent.

Yep, again, the season of Advent tries to quietly draw us in to something different. Something more centered in peace and allowing the space to as fully as possible grasp the reality that God is with us.

The holiday season of culture is filled with noise. There is delight and fun, but oh my soul is it noisy.

Looking outside the sky is grey today and there is a stillness that is trying to get my attention. Trying to get through the distractions and settle my soul in to listen.

Advent does not yell and force our attention. We have to be quiet enough to listen and pay attention.

That is difficult on Monday mornings with pounding headaches  and dirty dishes, running out the door to the next appointment. Still, even there…there is space for quiet. For imagination. For Advent.

Stretch a little today. Stop the noise and turn your attention to the need we have for a savior. The need we have for redemption and rescue. Turn your heart toward what Mary might have been thinking and experiencing. Turn your heart toward the wonder of Advent.

“A Widening of the Imagination

“It came to me, recently, that faith is “a certain widening of the imagination.” When Mary asked the Angel, “How shall these things be?” she was asking God to widen her imagination.

All my life I have been requesting the same thing-a baptized imagination that has a wide enough faith to see the numinous in the ordinary. Without discarding reason, or analysis, I seek from my Muse, the Holy Spirit, images that will open up reality and pull me in to its center.

This is the benison of the sacramental view of life.”

Luci Shaw