Thursday, September 5, 2013

God of Wanderers and Wilderness

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 
There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac... I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." – Genesis 28

At this point in his life, Jacob is headed backwards. God had called his grandfather Abraham to Beersheba (a land of water, wells, leisure, and peace) from Haran (“parched”), one of the two ancient capitals the Mesopotamians had dedicated to their Moon god. 

Between Beersheba and Haran, Jacob settles down for a cold, lonely night beneath the light of the very moon his grandfather left behind. 

While Jacob is in the desert between Beersheba and Haran, God meets him.

Friday, May 31, 2013

For All Who Climb Dunes

Each step Vince and I took in the sand
last Monday we slid down the dune a little
but never enough to stop us, and each step
took us slowly, beautifully, up.

Not like the time I first climbed
a different dune without my father,
when six feet took six years,
and the sand of my steps filled his grave
as I staggered up a haunting hill that
crumpled with every step.

Even as my son and I conquered
this Memorial Day climb
I grieved for a young friend who was that same day finding no solace in memories,
her steps filling her cousin's grave as she numbly climbed a
steep, lonely, and crumpling path.

Vince and I climb.
We sit.
We rest.
We start again.
We ache.
We persevere.

This much I can do with you, too,
my weary, heartbroken friend who also climbs dunes.

(For TG, climber of dunes)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Last Tea Party

From my friend Gloria, who is posting about her journey through grief as her mother succumbed to a brain tumor:

"Mom and dad stayed at the base at the guest house since we had such a small house. There are several things that stick out to me during her stay. As I remember, it feels like such a long time ago. There are times when I think I should have been a better host. I should have taken care of mom better during her stay. I should have spent more time with her, asking her questions that now I have. 
While mom was visiting I was suffering for a terrible toothache that in the end needed to be pulled. Mom not only went with me to the dentist, she took care of me when I came home. She made me jello and took care of Carmelinda! I remember lying in bed and hearing Carmelinda (age 5 ½) and mom having a “tea party” in the next room and Carmelinda asking mom, “Grandma, so how are you doing?” Mom responded, “Well, I’m doing alright!” I remember wanting to cry, realizing that this would be the last tea party they would have together.
It's a good journal, full of honesty, pain, and love. You can read more at

Friday, March 29, 2013

Struck Down, But Not Destroyed

It was Valentine's Day, 1951.Two brothers, Dick (11 years old) and Gary (7 years old), had just come home from a Cub Scout Party. The family farm was situated on the west shore of West Grand Traverse Bay, about five miles from town. The frigid February temperatures had just put a thin film of ice over the whole bay. The boys and a friend were excited about the new ice, and without saying a word to their parents they left the safety of the farmyard and headed across the road to the bay.

When the brother's dad discovered they had gone down to the bay he went running after them...but it was too late. Their dad nearly drowned that day. He searched desperately for the boys, repeatedly falling into the frigid water as the in the hole in the ice got larger and larger. But the three of them were gone. 

As their younger brother Ted grew up in their home, he heard many stories about the boys, about that horrible day, about loss. Though his parents endured by clinging to their faith in God and the community of their church, Ted learned what life looked like when it is scarred by grief.

Let's be honest: even those of us who have placed our hope and trust in God have our share of pain, grief and loss. 

Unexpected events can arise that shake us to the core and leave us wondering what happened. I suspect that every one of us could tell of events that have rocked our world. More than one follower of Christ has turned away from him because they could not regain their sense of stability following the pain or loss that came their way.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Childlike Hunger of Grief

(I posted this a while ago, but in rereading it, its main point resonated with me again. Hopefully, it will with you as well.) 

When I attended the National Writer's Series at the Opera House in Traverse City, I met Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers (among many other books).  The book is a certainly a dig at the Left Behind crowd (the leftovers are people who remain after a Rapture-like event), but that's just the backdrop for a story about grief.

     When I began reading, I thought this book would perhaps be a screed against the idiocy of Christians who believe in the Rapture. By the time I was done, the precipitating event has given way to a poignant story of the effect of cataclysmic loss on a small town.

     As the evening progressed, two main thoughts struck me.

     First, Mr. Perrotta and I are very different when it comes to our view of God, faith, religion, and social issues, though he was very tactful when talking about people and beliefs with whom he disagrees. He was careful to note that he used the Rapture scenario because it was in the culture's imagination thanks to the Left Behind series, and he decided to use it as a way to explore how communities respond to such massive upheaval.

     Second, grief unites us in spite of our differences, and (I suspect) with more meaningful bonds than happiness.  Let me explain.

    He writes the following about a daughter whose mother disappeared:

"For a long time after she left, Jill found herself overwhelmed by a childlike hunger for her mother's presence. She missed everything about the woman, even the things that used to drive her crazy - her off key singing, her insistence that whole-wheat pasta tasted just as good as the regular kind, her inability to follow the story line of even the simplest TV show. ..Spasms of wild longing would strike out of nowhere...leaving her dazed and weepy...She eventually stopped crying herself to sleep, stopped writing long, desperate letters asking her mother to please come home..."

On the next page:

"These days, the only time Jill consistently missed her mother was first thing in the morning, when she was still half-asleep, unreconciled to the new day. It just didn't feel right, coming down for breakfast and not finding her at the table in her fuzzy gray robe, no one to hug her and whisper 'Hey, sleepyhead...'"

A father whose son disappeared notes an unusual event:

"One night, my son came to me in a dream. You know how sometimes you see people in dreams, and it's not really them, but somehow it is them? Well, this wasn't like that.  This was my son, clear as day..."

    I get all three of those examples.  They resonate with me.  The "childlike hunger" for my dad's presence after he died; the desire to to hug him like Vincent hugs me now; the empty loneliness in the ordinary moments of life; the dreams that are both ethereal and real.  I've been there.

     If Tom had written a clever story about laughter while rafting down a river, I would have felt connected with him to some degree, but not like I did.  Good times are good - thus the label - but hard times are cohesive in ways good times aren't.  When I talked with him in the book signing line, I discovered we both have lost fathers.  Ahh, that explains it.  In spite of very different lives, we have shared the "childlike hunger" and the ordinary moments of loss, and the dreams.  

   I was thinking on the drive home that my best friendships have been forged through the furnace of grief and hardship.  The friends who never seem far away are the ones whose lives intertwined with mine when the going was tough.  Tim, who cried with me (and I with him) when our lives hit some rough spots; Clint, who gave a lot of money, time and friendship when my Dad died;  Don, who lost a brother to cancer and allowed me into his spiritual journey in the aftermath; Ben, who helped me through a breakdown before I walked with him through his tumor.... the list goes on.

     I wonder if that's why Jesus was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).  If we are looking for a God with whom to identify in the midst of life's struggles, we don't need a laughing Savior. We are not looking for the assurance that God understands our lives when we are at a party, or enjoying a sunrise, or enjoying a solid meal with friends.  A Jesus who was a "man of laughter, acquainted with happiness" would be good - and he certainly laughed and was happy - but if that was our primary memory of his life here, would we really turn to him when the bottom drops out?

     When we "bear each others burdens" (Galatians 6:2)  - when we weep with those who weep - we fulfill the law of Christ, which means we love God and others (Matthew 22:37).  And that's a good thing, even if it is best experienced in the midst of pain.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Imprint of the Past

In my experience, there is a cycle to grief.  Something from the trauma of the loss gets embedded in us - in our heart, our head, our emotions, maybe even our physiology. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but I have noticed over the years that grief has left an imprint on my flesh as well as my spirit. My body remembers that something monumental happened on January 9, 2003, and it dutifully reminds me each year as the cycle of life unfolds.

Ten years ago today, my father died. 

     Reality shifted in a way I had never experienced before. Something in the world broke, not just in him but in me.  I have mended for ten years now, and much like broken bones can become stronger after they mend, there are parts of me that have matured in ways that could not have happened without that experience.  But for the past week I've been depressed, exhausted, on the verge of tears, unable to focus, using entertainment to get me through the evening on the way to a restless sleep.
     My body remembers. It commemorates that week in my life every year.  I have thought over the years that the world should have changed more when Dad died. Perhaps it did, and I didn't realize it. 

    A decade is a long time

     There are times I feel like I should be over it more than I am. Other times, I'm pretty sure that I'm always supposed to have a place deep inside that misses him. Somewhere between despondency and amnesia I have found a healthy place where I miss him gently, poignantly, during the moments when a good father ought to be missed. During weeks like this one, I am reminded that the once broken do not become the never broken. The broken become the repaired. Though they heal, they carry with them the history of their losses.  
      On rainy days, my surgically repaired knees hurt. I'm okay with that. The rainy days remind me that what I had been feeling every day has faded - not completely, but enough to make me grateful that broken is not the same as hopeless.
     On days like today, my heart hurts. I'm okay with that, too. These days reminds me that what I had been feeling every day has faded - not completely, but enough that I can recognize the gift of a father whose passing is worthy of my lingering grief.
   May his memory stay embedded in me, body and soul.