Mourning into Dancing…We Need Them Both

One week has passed since we dropped the boy at college. One week of him finding his way around a new campus, sleeping in a room that is not quite his yet, finding his own meals and making new friends.

 

One week has passed and there is still a heaviness for me when I walk to the basement and realize for the hundredth time that day his absence is going to only be more felt with passing days.

 

One week has passed and I am delighted by the excitement in his voice over meeting new people he has found connection with, and over the small victories in navigating this new adulting.

 

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One week has passed and I have had to bite my tongue when he is overwhelmed and not try to fix it for him. One week has passed and my heart has broken at the fear of a little boy breaking through the cracks of manhood he is experiencing.

 

One week has passed, and I have realized that there are several friends walking this path right with me. We are joyous in our children walking in this next step of their journeys…and yet we are filled with a hollowness at the absence of these people who have been the stuff of our daily lives for eighteen years.

 

I realized as well the other day that while we have laughed at our sorrow, or commiserated over the difficulty of letting our children go, we maybe have not learned to mourn well.  We joke about our sorrow, but we need to give that sorrow its proper moment.

 

Here’s the catch….learning to mourn well something that is good and right and filled with celebration. 

 

I remember when I married Steve, and I was stunned that there was a deep sorrow in me just the day before the wedding. Not a regret, and definitely not a questioning, but a sorrow that the identity I had for 27 years was about to change. Complete with my name changing. No one had warned me about that. No one had told me to give myself the space to let that previous station in life a proper farewell so I could wholly, and joyfully, embrace this next station.

 

I fumbled through more or less effectively, and twenty-two years later I’m quite pleased with this new station.

 

Still. I think in our joviality about being sad, our jokes at our tears, especially on social media, reveal we are feeling that contradiction.

 

We have raised these children with the goal of their adulthood. Their fully independent, fully joyful, fully confident separation from our direction. I know we still have a role, and I rely on my Dad still to this day as a parent. I seek his wisdom and I value his encouragement…but what a different relationship it is from thirty years ago when I left for college.

 

Now I’m on the parental side of that change.

 

So how do we navigate this? And I have to give a disclaimer here…we have several friends and acquaintances who have navigated true tragedy recently. True sorrow, true mourning and deep grief. That is not what I’m addressing here. I do not want to make light of those moments of gut wrenching sorrow which becomes more of a state, as C.S. Lewis says, than a process.

 

This is different. What I’m on about here is the good things in life. Marriage, birth of children, and the growth of those children to the point of separation. We still need to give ourselves the space and grace for some mourning.

 

“I realized that healing begins with our taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger.” Nouwen

 

We are right smack in the middle of lots of others experiencing the same thing. Some, legitimately, are thrilled that their kids have left for college. Some are really, truly ready…but most of us are dealing with some sorrow.

 

That sorrow is not evil, and it is not weakness. It means we have loved this child well for 18 years and now they are transitioning to a position of not needing us in the same way. And part of that transition is separation. That physical absence of their laugh and their questions and their simply ‘being there’ has an impact.

 

And that impact…it should be to draw us closer to God as we navigate how to parent in this new situation. That impact should be delight in what He is doing in their lives, and awareness of the adults they are becoming.

 

“I am less likely to deny my suffering when I learn how God uses it to mold me and draw me closer to him. I will be less likely to see my pains as interruptions to my plans and more able to see them as the means for God to make me ready to receive him. I let Christ live near my hurts and distractions.” – Nouwen

 

But here’s the thing:  I’m not sure we can adequately make room for rejoicing until we have mourned what we are losing. Every new chapter means that something has closed, some role or event or identity has shifted and become something new. I think we need to give ourselves the space to mourn. And in that space…which hopefully is not a lengthy time…we meet God in a new way as well. Our vulnerability in times of mourning, even mourning small or good things, leaves us open to meet God differently. As Nouwen says above, we begin to see these pains, or transitions I might add, as a means for God to meet us.

 

The world is full of dark shadows to be sure, both the world without and the world within, and the road we’ve set off on is long and hard and often hard to find, but the word is trust. Trust the deepest intuitions of your own heart, trust the source of your own truest gladness, trust the road, trust him. And praise him too. Praise him for all we leave behind us in our traveling. Praise him for all we lose that lightens our feet, for all that the long road of the years bears off like a river. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. But praise him too for the knowledge that what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to the light, would scarcely fill a cup. – Buechner

 

In the midst of our mourning, in the midst of our sorrow, even if we fill somewhat silly or as if this is not something to mourn, we need to learn to praise God. I love the above quotation from Buechner. It speaks so deeply to true deep mourning, and also to this intermittent and even lighter mourning we experience.

 

So to all my friends walking this week and catching yourselves filled with tears and emotion. Let them come! Let the tears fall and let the emotion come. We need to allow those emotions their moment, so that we can fully rejoice and delight in the new station of being parents of adults.

 

 

Remember Psalm 30? I know…sending a kid to college is not quite the equivalence of the dedication of a temple after years of deliverance by God. But still. Weeping may endure…but a joy comes!  Cry a good cry and then be ready to be a cheer leader for your kiddo, and rejoice with them as they navigate their new role.

 

 

Weeping may endure for a night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

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Sorrow Sent by God…

 

Whew. Sometimes the weight of sorrow surprises me.

 

I came online today, logged in to the blog, and tried to translate some recent thoughts to coherent words.

 

I made a very quick trip home about a month ago. I wanted to see Mom, and the rest of the family. There is a lingering homesickness that strikes sometimes, even when you moved away from home 24 years ago. Even when you have lived away from home longer than you actually lived at home.

 

That homesickness is amplified when you grew up in a place as unique as New Mexico, where the skies have a special shade of blue and nothing else will take care of the craving for red and green chile.

 

And it is amplified even more when one key, elemental, powerful force of your life is slowly inching her way toward eternity.

 

We all are, I know, but Mom is in her own way. She is holding her place physically here in our presence, while most of her is somewhere else. Her thoughts, her words, her connection…it has become hidden. Her laughter.

 

Her smile remains, and the twinkle in her eye.

 

I sat down and tried to put words to this nagging feeling, this sorrow, that has been present for years. I have several friends who continue down this road and I wanted to share something that would encourage…or at least remind that we are not alone.

 

 

And then this came up in memories on FaceBook…a picture from ten years ago.

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And the sorrow settled upon me.

 

An acute sorrow with this picture of a more clear minded person. A person who was able to interact and who still knew in some way.

 

There is a sense where mourning is set aside with a long disease like this. I don’t know what it would be like  if it was a long disease where her mind was present, but I know on this journey we simply cannot be sad all the time…it is exhausting.

 

I think of Mom as this place holder…this bookmark in life. Or maybe a pause button is more appropriate. She is present and not…and we continue with life, and yet we don’t. My brothers and my dad are more impacted by this, obviously than I am, as the rhythm of their days is dictated by her meals and her life.  But she causes this pause in life, she reminds us that she is still here, and yet she also reminds us of all we have lost.

 

She reminds us that we are broken. That sorrow is lingering around the edges of our joy. Sorrow because things are not as we know they should be. Sorrow because we long for something else.

 

G.K. Chesterton has a poem where he suggests that sorrow is used by God to bring us back to attention to the divine, to the eternal…

 

Sorrow

At last, at even, to my hearth I hark,
Still faithful to my sorrow. And inside
Even I and all my old magnanimous pride
Are broken down before her in the dark.

Sorrow’s bare arm about my neck doth strain,
Sorrow doth lift me to her living mouth
And whispers, fierce and loving like the South,
Saying, “Dear Pilgrim, have you come again?

“Whether you walked by wastes of upland green,
Whether you walked by wastes of ocean blue,
Have you not felt me step by step with you,
A thing that was both certain and unseen?

“Or haply is it ended? haply you,
Conquering and wholly cured of loving me,
Are but a wavering lover who would be
Off with the old love ere he take the new?”

But, seeing my head did but in silence sink
Before her ruthless irony and strong.
She gave me then that dreadful kiss to drink
That is the bitter spring of art and song.

Then with strange gentleness she said, “I choose
To be thine only, thine in all ways; yes,
Thy daughter and thy sister and thy muse,
Thy wife and thine immortal ancestress.

“Feed not thy hate against my rule and rod,
For I am very clean, my son, and sane,
Because I bring all brave hearts back to God,
In my embraces being born again.”

Thus spoke she low and rocked me like a child,
And as I stared at her, as stunned awhile,
On her stern face there fell more slow and mild
The splendour of a supernatural smile.

 

 

 

Sorrow is appropriate. The words are gone and the understanding is gone, but her presence remains. In the same moment it reminds us that this world is broken and it is painful, and because we know in our being that it should be otherwise, sorrow sparks hope that things will ultimately be put right.

 

The rest of my day was shadowed, though, as that picture intensified the sorrow. And maybe that is what I was to write about after all: it is okay to be strikingly sad that those we love dearly no longer know us, and no longer can speak to us. It is okay to take time in the long journey of a set-aside mourning to mourn with tears and acute sorrow when God allows sorrow’s stern face to bring us back to know our need for Him.

 

I think we all carry a sorrow with us that is part of this broken world, and sometimes God uses this acute sorrow to allow a true mourning that cleanses us. A good cry can be tremendously healing, so we can sit back up and be present in the midst of this broken world and bring hope.

 

So for today, if you took a picture of us together, I may not mirror her quite as I did in the picture above. Her expression has relaxed as her knowledge of me has slipped. If you ask how she is I won’t know quite how to answer…I wonder what whispers God is telling her that we cannot know.

 

 

And for those who are on this same journey…take heart. You are truly not alone, and God is moving even through this. Lean in to the sorrow and hear God’s heart. Do not try to ignore it or overcome. Allow the moments of deep mourning, and be reminded of the hope that all will be made well.

 

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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.

 

I can only bear so much sorrow….

I have had many discussions with my friend Michael trying to get a grasp on how much we are to bear as a people. The internet has opened the floodgates of information and given news media an even larger ability to stir our emotions as tragedies happen, it has opened the floodgates for information of people far from us to become an intimate part of our thinking and our hearts.  We now are in a time when the tragedies from far away impact us wherever we are.

 

I’m not sure that we are created to bear so much sorrow, to be called to pray for so many so intimately.

 

There was a time when the news came slowly, and I know that there would be challenges with that…the fact that you wouldn’t hear for a very long time about the death of a loved one, or a tragedy would be well over when the news reached the other part of the country, let alone the world. Each step of technology has brought news more quickly and made our world smaller. Radio, newsreels, television, internet. Now we are hit with news of all our friends near and wide on Facebook, and even those we do not know…the news of children suffering and of families facing great challenges. We are impacted emotionally and spiritually by all these stories, and I’m not sure our souls were made to carry so much.

 

Sometimes I think that we become incapable to reach out locally because we are overwhelmed by the needs of too many.

 

My heart has been broken along with the rest of the world as I have watched the events of Sandy Hook. I’ve avoided most of the news and filtered things so that I was not overwhelmed. I have, however, looked at each sweet face and I have prayed. I have been unable to look at my own 6 year old without thinking of shattered families. Today, though, I know that I have to release them back to their community. I do not have the right to grieve in the same way that those who knew these sweet souls and brave souls do. I grieve as a spectator. They grieve as a family, and I have to trust that they will care for one another well and they deserve to have their grief to themselves.

 

I was not made to bear the sorrows of all the country, or of all believers.

 

I was made to bear the sorrows, the joys and the trials and struggles with those within my grasp. My real, physical grasp. I can tell you the challenges that friends are facing around the country, but there are those within my grasp that I do not know their struggles. I have not reached out to them to weep and to walk alongside.

 

Sandy Hook shook us, and it should. We should spend time on our knees and we should grieve and we should hold our own children closer. But, we do not own their tragedy and it is theirs to walk through in intimacy that struggle brings…without spectators.

 

Somehow I need to translate the emotions that have been stirred by this horror to those around me who may not have as staggering a trial, but still are feeling hopeless and overwhelmed and grieving.

 

A few years ago I wanted to take a whole year with no internet. That didn’t pan out, and I realized that I have friends I rely on who I connect with through internet. It is not all bad. There are great things that the internet brings, and relationships are part of the blessing. Still….I think we have to learn to know our limitations in carrying suffering and sorrow.

 

There is only One who can carry the sorrows and the grieving and the struggles of the whole world.  I can weep and mourn because this was a tragedy and is not to be shrugged off as just part of a fallen world. Then I need to release them back to their community with a blessing that God may work in the intimacy of their relationships where they can physically care for one another and weep together without distraction of being watched by the world.