Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Hope of Advent

What were those weeks and months like for Mary as her body began to reveal that she was with child?

I'm sure she heard the whispers; she noticed the heads turning away to avoid eye contact with her. What gave her the courage to carry this Child in the face of such disgrace?
What were her thoughts as she traveled with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, being great with child?

The journey must have been physically difficult and emotionally demanding. What was the source of her comfort along this predetermined path?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Worshippers around the world will light the first candle ~ the Candle of Hope, as we recognize that our longings, our desires and our hope are found in the Babe of Bethlehem.

Mary was most likely well aware of the writings of the prophets. Perhaps she found great courage in the words of Isaiah ~

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
Possibly she received comfort as she focused not on the pain of the present but on the promise and potential found in the Child she carried.

In His name the nations will put their hope.
Hope ~ the anticipation of a good yet to come.

As I come alongside individuals desperately seeking peace with loss, HOPE is fundamental. It is perhaps the essential value for survival ~ a source of courage and comfort ~ as one negotiates a pathway of grief. Hope brings into view a purpose for living in the face of loss. Hope enlightens our awareness that a relationship of memory creates a legacy to be embraced. Hope conveys anticipation that we can be transformed and not destroyed by our loss.

Hope ~ the anticipation of a good yet to come.

May today's Candle of Hope illuminate for you a good yet to come.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Scott's Garden ~ A Healing Place

Early on in my grief journey, I knew I wanted to create a memorial garden in our backyard. I knew I needed a physical place to embrace my memories of Scott. A sacred place to cradle his ashes. A living place to celebrate his life.

Although my desire from the beginning was to create a place of remembering, it took us almost five years to find the energy to create Scott’s Garden. The lethargy of grief is very real ~ often impeding travelers along the journey from moving forward, even toward a healing place.

I remember some of my thoughts as we worked to clear out the overgrowth that had crept into our side yard. The task was difficult ~ down on my hands and knees in the dirt, pulling up the weeds that clung to the ground. I remember thinking ~

I am not done being Scott’s mom. How I long to fix your favorite meals, wash your soccer uniform, help you with homework, spend time talking and laughing with you. Oh, how I wanted my job back.
And then I realized what a healing place Scott’s Garden was to be. Each sprig of spurge I pulled up by the roots was indeed an act of love, an investment in what had been, and a tribute to his short sixteen years of life with us. Each flower and tree we planted became a testament to life.

There have been many lessons learned as we transformed this plot of yard into Scott’s Garden.

This past week as we celebrated Scott’s 30th birthday, we worked in the garden with our daughter Amy and our three grandchildren. Although we cannot give Scott actual presents, we chose to purchase new plants for his garden.

And as we dug around the soil to find the best place to plant the newest signs of life, we uncovered dormant bulbs from lilies set out at Easter time. I shared with my grandchildren the excitement and symbolism of these bulbs.

For there in Scott’s Garden where we grieve with hope ~ remembering his death and celebrating his life ~ there was the promise of reunion. Jesus said in John 12:24-25 ~

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

So, here in Scott’s Garden, I recognize that I am still Scott’s mom as I cherish my relationship of memory with him. Here among the dormant bulbs and pruned roses of winter, I embrace my sorrow that he is not here. And as I stand back and recognize the beauty of God’s creation, I rejoice in the hope of that blessed reunion that is to come.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Scott

Tomorrow ~ November 23rd ~ is Scott’s birthday. He would be 30 years old.

To be perfectly honest, while I rest in the assurance of where he is, I wrestle with the reality that he is not here.

Tonight, my heart cries out for Scott to be present in our lives. My ears long to hear his voice. My arms ache to hug him.

I struggle to envision what he might look like, all grown up. I can only see him as he was ~ a fair-haired, freckle-faced teenager . . . with a contagious laugh and smile! I remember one of the first things our grief counselor told us in those early days after Scott’s accident ~ You will forever be the parents of sixteen year old boy. I did not understand it then, but I know it all too well now.

I have been on this journey of grief long enough to know that I really cannot fight the emotions, or bury the sorrows. So today, I surrendered to my grief. I allowed the tears to come to the surface. What deep wisdom is contained in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 ~ Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

In anticipation of Scott’s birthday, Tony and I drove to one of our favorite local nurseries this afternoon. We thoughtfully selected new plants to add color and life to Scott’s memorial garden in our side yard.

Amy and our grandchildren ~ Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack ~ will join us in Uncle Scott’s Garden tomorrow. We will prune back the perennials and place in the soil each new sign of life. Our work will be a labor of love as we strive to not lose heart. As we toil to bring beauty to what is seen, we long to bring into focus what is unseen, what is eternal.

In this small way we celebrate the life of our precious Scott and give thanks for the sixteen years we had with him. All the while, we cling to the hope of our blessed reunion when there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, and no more goodbyes.

Happy Birthday, Scott ~ I love you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November 17th

Have you ever heard a song on the radio ~ and instantly you remember where you were and who you were with when you first heard it?

Perhaps you have walked past a bakery and the sweet aroma sends you right back to a special time in your childhood.

Memories are such a powerful force in our lives. They can fill us with fear, move us to tears or bring joy to our heart. For those who grieve, memories can be a sweet retreat ~ a place to go as we treasure and renew the relationship with someone who is no longer present in our life.

I witnessed the power of memory this week as my nieces and nephew shared together memories of their dad. Ray died seventeen years ago, yet each year my nieces and nephew remember him on his birthday. (If you read my blog, you know that one’s death does not change one’s date of birth. It may seem like a matter of semantics but it really matters to those who love. Ray’s birthday is, was and always will be November 17th.)

I was blessed to participate in their exchange on Facebook. It began with a comment of tenderness and sorrow ~ Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you and miss you. Then, each shared a funny remembrance of their dad. They recognized their regrets for the things they cannot experience with him today ~ like watching him be a fun grandfather to his grandchildren.

I am proud of you, Kevin, Kara and Kelly, for your willingness to transform the relationship with your dad from a relationship of presence to one of memory. It demonstrates your great love for him and the value you place on redeeming the future.

Memory is where the proof of life is stored.
Norman Cousins

Friday, November 13, 2009

He Still Speaks

During the weeks following Scott's death, I struggled to make sense of the countless emotions which had taken residence within me. I read books on grief and hope, on suffering and grace as I attempted to bring some meaning to this tremendous loss I had experienced.

One book I read was by a bereaved mother who also lost her teenage son in an accident. I sadly do not recall much about her story but the title of her book remains vivid in my mind. Roses in December has become somewhat metaphorical of a precious part of my grief journey that I discovered while reading in the Book of Hebrews.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is known as the Hall of Faith ~ where tremendous examples of faithful living in difficult times are shared from the Old Testament. There in Hebrews 11:4, right along with the heroes of our faith, are listed the names of Cain and Abel. I often wondered how a chapter which focuses on faithful living would list the names of a) Cain, a brother who murdered his sibling and did not live faithfully, and b) Abel, who died as a young man. As I dwelt on this verse, I began to understand some of the mystery of redeeming the loss of my own son.

There is was ~ just a half of verse, actually, that has become a source of joy and hope to me. Hebrews 11:4b states ~
And through his faith, though he died,
he still speaks.

Just like unexpected blossoms in the winter and beauty among ashes, God brings value to our loss as we hear others speak of how Scott’s life, although cut short by death, touched their lives. I received just such a bouquet yesterday!

A classmate of Scott's ~ Immanuel High School Class of 1998 ~ found me on Facebook. She is married and lives with her husband and their three beautiful daughters in southern California. In her message to request my FB friendship, she wrote:

I became a trauma nurse because I couldn't help Scott the day he was injured . . . I save lives every day in his honor, maybe to make myself feel better for not knowing what to do that day, or maybe because that's the way it was designed to be. I have always wanted to find you and tell you that Scott is saving lives . . . through people that are still here like me. You may not know all of us anymore, but we are out here doing the work! Recently, I was given the opportunity to teach others how to become nurses at a college level. This should yield crops of life-savers, and I am so excited that thousands of lives will be saved because of my experience with your son.
Stories like this make the words of the Hebrews passage live again for me. Her words are truly like roses in December, giving off the sweet fragrance of life, eternal life. We cannot change the fact that we carry this burden of grief. But God is continually gracious to give us a glimpse of His bigger picture ~ one with eternal value ~ that allows us to understand how those who are gone, through faith, still speak of His faithfulness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Two Dozen Red Roses

Thirty-six years ago today, November 10, 1973, I worked the afternoon shift at the JC Penney store in the Lakewood Mall.  To my surprise, when I arrived home from work there were TWO ~ not one, but TWO DOZEN red roses waiting for me.  The card enclosed with the flowers read:

Tonight is going to be very, very, very special!
Love, Tony

Tony and I have known each other most of our lives ~ my earliest memories of him go back to age five.  We grew up in the same southern California town, attended the same church and saw each other at children's meeting, social events and gatherings.  My dad was his third grade Sunday School teacher.  His mom was my sister's Sunday School teacher.  We knew each other for many years when we began dating in 1970.

After three years of dating, I knew that the roses ~ the TWO DOZEN red roses ~ meant only one thing: that night I would be asked to become Mrs. Tony Redfern!  He reserved a table at The Gate of Spain restaurant on the top floor of a building along the Santa Monica coastline.  He paid the maitre d' for a window table.  After our meal, he pulled a handkerchief, with my engagement ring tied to it, from inside his coat pocket (he said he was so afraid of losing it)!  And he asked me Will you marry me?

So tonight, like every November 10th over the last 36 years, Tony asked me out on a date!  It will be a tender time ~ maybe even tearful time ~ as we celebrate the decision we made to make a lifetime commitment to one another thirty-six years ago, and the faithfulness of God to carry us through the best of times and the worst of times.

Thanks for asking me ~ my answer is still YES!

I am so proud to be Mrs. Tony Redfern!

I love you!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Time Travel

Time travel ~ that’s what it feels like when I find myself suddenly, once again, surrounded with the pain and reality of Scott’s death.

It always amazes me how fast I can go there.

This morning I decided not to go to church. I have fought this flu bug for almost two weeks and I decided to give myself an extra day of rest. So I poured myself a cup of coffee, sat down on the couch, and turned on the TV.

A woman was speaking to a sanctuary filled with parishioners. (I recognized the church right away; the glass windows surrounding the sanctuary were a sure giveaway.) I really did not intend to keep listen to her, but she was very engaging and the story just kept pouring out of her. I did not hear all the details but her story was about the faith of children who prayed for a miracle. She was an administrator at a Christian elementary school and she asked all the students to pray for a young friend who was having surgery for a brain tumor. The results of the surgery were not good. She shared how she had to go back to those students to tell them that their little friend was not going to get better ~ the little girl had been placed on life support. Doctors saw no signs of life and were advising the parents to turn off the machines.

The children couldn’t understand why they should stop praying. They believed in a God of miracles and were going to pray anyway. The next day, the doctors told the little girl’s parents that they saw a small hint of life in their daughter. Then the next day, they saw more life, and so on, until the little girl made a dramatic recovery.

And in that instant, I was overcome with doubt. In a matter of seconds, I traveled back in time. I was standing next to Scott’s bed at the medical center. I was holding his unresponsive hand. The nurses were coming in and out to check for any changes in his condition. His chest would rise and fall with each vent from the respirator, but there were no signs of life in him.

Scott did not recover. He was declared brain dead. He became an organ donor.

As I sat there on my couch this morning, I found myself once again questioning brain death and comas and vegetative states. It is personally very difficult for me to hear of someone who was declared brain dead and then wakes up after who-knows-how-many-years. Perhaps what complicates this for me is that these terms (brain death, coma, vegetative state) are used interchangeably so often by the media and those sharing these stories of recovery.

So once again I found myself wrestling with our decision. I went to the computer ~ again ~ and googled brain death. So many of the events of Scott’s final hours came into my mind as I fought against feelings of despair.

The statement from the neurosurgeon who first admitted Scott’s airlifted body ~ I see not life in your son.
The maxillofacial surgeon who operated on Scott for more than six hours ~ I literally just closed him up; I did all I could.
The 100+ high school students ~ many on their knees in the hallways ~ praying for a miracle.
The CT scan that was performed ~ convincing two neurosurgeons to declare Scott brain dead.
The blood flow test we demanded ~ and not one drop of dye went past Scott’s brain stem.

It is not that I don’t rejoice with the speaker this morning. I am so grateful that even one family did not have to live with the grief of losing a child!

What I want to say is that I believe in a God of miracles, too . Sometimes we do not receive the miracle we ask for. I truly wanted my son to survive. I still wish I could somehow have my son back. But that was not the miracle I received.

The miracle I received was grace ~ deeper and wider and higher than I ever knew before.

A grace that has the strength to carry me when I am weary.
A grace that is tender enough to catch all my tears in a bottle.
A grace that draws near to my broken heart.
A grace that transforms mourning into dancing.
A grace that guarantees a time to come when there will be no more tears, no more death, no more goodbyes.

And then it happens again ~ His grace transports me with those everlasting arms and gives me the courage to face the realities of life, and brings me the hope of a blessed reunion.

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

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Silent Malignancy

I have a friend whom I have known for about 50 years. (Yes, it may be hard for some of you to believe that I am old enough to have known a friend for almost 50 years. It’s a fact!)

My friend is actually a little older than I am. As a young teen, she lived nearby and occasionally babysat my sister and I (poor thing ~ not that I was a terrible kid ~ but I did have my moments). Then, as newlyweds, she and her husband were sponsors in my high school youth group at church.

They have remained young at heart ~ staying active, enjoying traveling, appreciating art ~ and still in love after all these years. So it came as quite a shock this past spring, when her husband was diagnosed with a tumor ~ a large malignant tumor near his kidney and in close proximity to his aorta ~ that remains inoperable. As a healthy man, he experienced no discomfort, no signs that these cancerous cells were growing inside of him. If he had not gone in for a routine physical, they had no reason to suspect the presence of the tumor.

Over the past few months, he has undergone tests, scans, countless appointments with specialists and massive doses of chemotherapy. He lost his full head of hair. His body reacted to the chemo treatments and began to retain fluids. His energy level dropped to limited activity around the house. The good news is that the tumor did shrink. He no longer requires chemotherapy, and his energy level has improved to almost where it was before the treatments. The bad news is that the tumor did not shrink enough. He is scheduled to begin radiation treatments in a little while.

My friend keeps an online journal of their journey with cancer. One of her entries this week truly made me stop and think ~ how well am I?

Here is a summary of her entry . . .

It is almost hard to remember the days when he felt the effects of chemo; to recall how hard it was during those endless days and nights. He feels so normal now. We almost forget that he still has a malignant tumor in his body. There is no pain, no sign of it that he can feel or know, or be reminded that it is there. These last eight months that we have been on this journey have been experienced because the doctor told him he had a problem.  He never knew ~ and still would not know simply by how he feels ~ that he has a tumor which will kill him. This is really rather stunning when you think about it. How can there be something deadly in one’s body and have no idea it is there?

But it is still there, lurking in the dark, waiting for us to forget; to leave it alone so it can grow back and take over ~ how sinister! It reminds me of how attitudes and thoughts can take over in our spiritual lives ~ small or big, quietly yet deadly ~ growing . . . hoping to take over our minds and hearts if we are not watchful and prayerful about how we live and breathe, always asking God to show us those areas where we need His care and healing to remove them, to make our spiritual health intact, to live and grow in Him and bring glory to Him through our life.

Her words reach deep within my soul!

Sometimes I think we are quite good at masking reality. Denial, at the moment, may seem an easier path. But like any cancer ~ cells of unrighteousness and unforgiveness, of anger and disappointment, of hurt and envy ~ will fester and multiply. The Great Physician desires to heal us ~ redeem us ~ in every fiber of our being. His Spirit scans our mind, our heart and our soul, and reveals the thoughts and attitudes that seek to destroy our peace with God, our relationships, and ultimately, our very purpose for living.

I am reminded of the story in John 5 when Jesus visits Jerusalem. He passes by a pool where the blind, lame and paralyzed lay ~ each hoping for someone to come and meet their needs. Jesus approaches a man who has been an invalid for 38 years and asks him, "Do you want to get well?" It sure seems like a redundant question to ask someone who has been sick all of his life if he wants to get well. But Jesus knows our tendency to not deal with hard issues ~ thoughts and attitudes we choose to ignore. Jesus looks at what life could be if we are willing to face these silent malignancies that hold us back from the abundant life he truly desires us to live.

Jesus also knew wellness was going to cost this man. The invalid would no longer be carried everywhere; no longer have food brought to him. A well man would need to accept responsibility for his life.

Oh, to have eyes that see and ears that hear His offer of healing. I pray we take the first steps to redeem the future . . . acknowledge there may an area of the heart ~ a silent malignancy ~ which needs to be restored. 

Do you want to get well?

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
Matthew 13:16

Monday, November 2, 2009

No November!

For the majority of my career as a teacher ~ 20 of my 25 years, to be exact ~ I spent my days with five and six year olds.   Gotta' love kindergartners and first graders! When the calendar in the classroom changed to November, the following poem was always a part of our fall celebration.  It came to mind today as I noticed the date. 

No green grass
No blue sky
No bare feet
Going by
No birds
No bees
No fall leaves
On bare trees

Although November brings many changes to my heart and the world around me, it is a blessing and comfort to know that the God who created the changes that mark each season, holds me in His everlasting arms.