Friday, May 10, 2013

When Holidays Are Holey Days

How do you define holidays

Merriam-Webster defines it this way ...

hol-i-days noun \ˈhä-lə-ˌdāz\
     1 : holy days
     2 : days on which one is exempt from work
     : days marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event

For those who grieve, holidays can seem like holey-days.

holey-days adjective \ˈhō-lēˌdāz \
     : days having holes

Holidays often feel like holey days ~ days that remind us that there is, and always will be, a hole in our hearts and homes. A hole in the form of an empty chair, a missing member of the family, a feeling that life will never be "normal" again. A hole formed when a parent is no longer living, or a child is taken way too soon by a terminal illness or accident. Perhaps a hole created by a prodigal who has chosen to just walk away.

Regardless the reason for the hole, literature on death and grief tell us it is actually healing to acknowledge it. Jesus said ~ Blessed are those who mourn [who feel the pain and express it], for they shall be comforted

These holey days can be a precious time to remember ~ to share stories, laughter and tears about the loved one who is no longer present with you. Holey days are a wonderful time to transform the relationship from one of presence to one of memory. For it has been said ~ memories are where the proof of life are stored.

I am very familiar with the emotions of holey days. I know the horror of brain death, and the conflicting emotions of signing papers to donate my sixteen year old son's organs to save the lives of strangers. I know the sorrow of having an estranged parent who chose to not be in my life for almost 10 years. I know there will always be times I wish I could call my mom.

I know how God has used all things to glorify Himself and draw others to His kingdom. I have seen how His hand move to bring value to my loss. And I know that I will one day see my loved ones and forever live with them in eternity.

But all the knowledge in the world does not change the fact that these special days, these holidays, often feel like holey days to my grieving heart. It is a time to give ourselves grace; to offer grace to those who grieve.

So I give myself permission to acknowledge the pain as I feel that weight of grief bearing down on me. I purposefully bring to mind the precious memories of each loved one, even though these memories may bring tears to my eyes and an aching in my heart. For this I know, memories are the proof that they will always be a part of us.

To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.
Egyptian Proverb

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Missing Grace

My heart is so heavy this morning from the culminating events yesterday in the courtroom of Judge Sarkisian.

I understand the pain of losing a child. I really do. I am so sorry for the family of sweet Ella Joy.

But what truly makes my heart ache is the opportunity which was lost time and time again in that Fresno Superior Courtroom, and in the court of public opinion. What could have been demonstrated by those who stood in judgment? What could have been expressed by those who took sides through their posts on social media sites? What could have given the world a truer glimpse of His grace?

Yes, I grieve for what might have been ~ that the world would know the power of grace to forgive even the heinous of deeds. It really isn't about what the D.A. believed happened that dreadful day four years ago. What truly matters with eternity in view is for the faith community to show the world a truly amazing grace; a grace that sees the person as full of worth and precious, regardless of any wrongdoing. A grace that can redeem the future in spite of the past.

Oh how the Holy Spirit must grieve this lost occasion to demonstrate that while we were yet in our sin, Christ took the penalty for us all ~ and Penalty paid. End of story.

There is no loophole in the gospel story. Either the cross of Christ covers a multitude of sin, any sin, our sin ~ or we are all at risk of one day falling short of His grace. 

Painting, The Offering, by Michael D. O'Brien

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Balance the Load

We are packing to leave on vacation. Seriously, preparing for the trip is enough to make you re-think the whole idea! How much stuff does one need to survive a week in a cabin?

The trunk is loaded with our luggage, fishing gear, reading material, games, and ice chest. The back seat is filled with bags of food to last the week. And if that's not enough, the roof rack holds the mountain bikes, with folding chairs, umbrellas, and fishing poles strapped between the bikes. We have carefully considered how to balance the load to negotiate the curves and climb into the Sierra Nevada mountains to our annual week at Hume Lake.

Equally, my heart is considering how to balance the load for this precious time away with family. We have taken this annual trip to Hume every summer since our children were small. Hume holds many memories for us ~ the funny ones, the sweet ones, and the tender ones ~ all of them deeply treasured in my heart.

This week I too seek to balance the load ~ to clutch the precious memories of the past, and all the while, leave room in my heart to embrace the new memories of the present.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Forever In My Heart

Every year I think it will be different. I really do. But here I am again with that restlessness in my heart that longs for reunion. The feelings are nothing new ~ they have been my companion along life's journey for almost 20 years. Perhaps it is because February is the month of love. Most likely it is because this short month is characterized by separation and loss for me. I am well aware that if you choose to love, you choose to grief.  

And I chose to love, so my heart still grieves the losses marked in these short days of February. I look forward with hope to the blessed reunion with my son, my mother and my father, all of whom entered their eternal rest during the month of love.

I find great comfort in the words of Scripture. The passages which are truly a healing salve to my hurting heart are those that embrace the pain of separation and the reality of loss as part of our journey. As this month draws to a close, I drink deeply from the following words of comfort.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle;
are they not in your book?
Psalm 56:8

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:19-23

Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
Hosea 6:1

Perhaps the words of St. Paul speak best for me today. It is true these precious losses are part of who I am. Although I grieve the fact that my precious family members are no longer here in person, I know that it is indeed a short time before we will see them again, face to face.

Since we were torn away from you 
for a short time ~ in person not in heart ~ 
we endeavor all the more eagerly and 
with great desire to see you face to face.
I Thessalonians 2:17

Until then, they remain forever in my heart.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Clinging to Hope

Bye Scott. I love you. See you at the game.

Bye Mom. Love you too.

I woke this morning with these words echoing in my head. Little did I know on that rushed morning in February 1996 that these words would be our last conversation. Just a little over four hours later, Scott was airlifted to the regional trauma center, and sixteen short years became the length of his days.

Today begins a hallowed time for our family. Although sixteen years have passed, we remember every detail of these dark days with great clarity ~ as if it were yesterday.

Today I feel my grief in every cell of my body.

Today I long to hear Scott say ~ Love you too.

Today I am reminded that no matter how dark and difficult the journey, the God of all Comfort has been my faithful companion. It is He who draws near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. It is He who replaces ashes with garlands and clothes me with a garment of praise. It is He who has placed eternity in my heart so I have a hope.

Today I cling to hope ~ hope that made it possible for me to take my first steps along this journey of grief. Hope that is rooted in the confidence that God will use my deep pain to glorify Himself and draw others to His Kingdom. Hope that promises to redeem the future.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, 
but the certainty that something makes sense 
regardless of how it turns out. 
~ Vaclav Havel

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Heart of Thanksgiving

As the calendar rolled around to the first of November, I noticed that many posts on various social media sites are focused on 30 Days of Thanksgiving. Friends plan to post about something they are thankful for each day of November. I thought about joining in, for indeed this November I have a heart full of thankfulness. But I know a) I really do not have the time for daily postings, and b) I admittedly do not have the discipline (or brain cells) to remember to post something each day of the month.

Since I have taken a five-month hiatus from my blog (for reasons that will become evident in this post), I decided to share all in one place some of the things for which I am most thankful this November ~ to express the gratefulness in my heart and to update many of you on the events of the past five months.
A Heart of Thanksgiving
I am thankful for ~
  • Tony, my dear husband, who survived a near-fatal heart attack on May 21st.
  • God, who was pleased to give us more time together.
  • The life-saving team of paramedics from Kingsburg Fire Department who responded to my desperate 9-1-1 call at 10 pm that evening.
  • The surgeons who placed three stents in Tony's blocked arteries to save his life.
  • The faithfulness of God to supply all our needs during this time of healing and growth.
  • The wisdom and generosity of our New Path Center Board of Directors for their guidance and grace during the months of recuperation.
  • Family and friends who prayed for us, visited us, cooked for us, and carried this burden with us. We continue to feel the love!
  • Our new heart-healthy eating habits ~ our diet is nearly all plant-based and we feel terrific. We have lost a combined 50+ pounds since May!
  • The joy of living in the same town as our daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Jeff, and our three precious grandchildren. Some of the best medicine around. Such a blessing! (They loved Grandpa's hospital bed.)
  • The turn of the seasons ~ fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love living in this agricultural area, and like the orchards around us, we shed the remnants of a busy year and prepare to enter a season of rest.
  • Birthdays! November brings two birthdays to our home. We celebrate my birthday in a couple of weeks (I will be 59 for the first time. Really.) And we remember the sweet sixteen years we had with Scott on what would be his 32nd birthday.
  • The blessed hope of a glorious reunion with loved ones who have gone before ~ what a comfort to know that the best is yet to come.
My heart rejoices this November as we truly could have experienced such a different outcome last May. This coming Thanksgiving, almost six months to the day of Tony's heart attack, we will gather around the table with family to rejoice and acknowledge that the things for which we are most grateful in life are, indeed, not things!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Last Thing We Talked About

I vividly remember the last day of my mother's life. As a family, we sat vigil around her hospital bed. Although she experienced few moments of consciousness ~ when we were aware she was really with us ~ we shared precious words of love and gratitude for her life well-lived. We knew it was her last day and these would be the last things we talked about with her, as her body finally could no longer support life. It was a precious time ~ a holy time ~ to be present as she left her broken earthly tent and enter her eternal rest.

I also remember the final twenty-four hours of my son's life. Scott wanted to hang out and talk about something he had on his mind. We never in our wildest dreams would have thought that it would be the last thing we talked about.

Scott sat in the oversized chair in the living room, his long legs swung over one armrest, and his hands cradled behind his head. He asked a most profound question ~ So, where was Jesus between Good Friday and Easter?  I know his body was in the tomb ~ but where was HE?

We spent time looking at Scripture. We talked about the Apostles' Creed and the hope that is in us. We talked about Holy Saturday, those hours between His Death and Resurrection. We talked about the Harrowing of Hades when many believe Christ descended to break down the gates of Hell.

Little did we know that it would be the last thing we talked about ~ for the next day, Scott himself would enter his own eternal rest.

Today is Holy Saturday ~ it is the day between the grief of Good Friday and the hope of Easter. And I find myself reflecting upon that final conversation with Scott. Did Scott somehow sense his own mortality? Did the Spirit place these thoughts on his heart, knowing that in God's sovereign plan, Scott's life would soon hang in the balance?

Whatever the reason for that conversation that night, the last thing we talked about now brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. For it was during these hours, when Christ's body lie in a cold, stone tomb, that Scott's future, my future, indeed, the future of the world, was truly redeemed.
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him ... For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
~ I Thessalonians 4:13-18