Saturday, June 23, 2018

If Onlys, Accidents, and Dying on Schedule

I just finished reading One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody church.  I didn't agree with everything in it, but I liked his confidence, the questions I came away with, and the things it reminded me of.  In case you're not a reader (it seems like fewer people are these days), but you want to wonder with me, here are the things that have got me thinking...

What we call an accident might be a well-planned event to God.  Just think of the contingencies, the events that had to converge for the accident (or death) to happen...

If only we had called the doctor sooner...
If only there would not have been ice on the highway...
If only we had noticed the lump sooner...
If only they had operated...
If only they had not operated...

Let me encourage you to take those "if onlys" and draw a circle around them.  Then label the circle, "The providence of God."  The Christian believes that God is greater than our "if onlys."  His providential hand encompasses the whole of our lives, not just the good days, but the "bad" days too.  We have the word accident in our vocabulary; He does not.

Accidents, ill health, or even dying at the hand of an enemy - God uses all of these means to bring His children home.  As long as we entrust ourselves to His care, we can be confident that we are dying according to his timetable...The fact is God can send any chariot He wishes to fetch us for Himself.

I eagerly and confidently agree to all of this in my spirit and with the small part of my faith that is perfect.  And fleeting. 

But, the problem of pain enters, which reminds me at this moment that C.S. Lewis wrote a book so entitled, and I should probably read that next.  I think I've attempted it before, but it seemed too heavy for the flimsy framework I had to hang it on. 

Until I can think and write more intelligibly about the subject of pain, it will suffice to say that pain changes everything, including what we believe can be circled up and labeled as God's providence.

So, there's that. 

But, separately (although intimately tied to previous thoughts and subsequent conclusions), I'm entertaining the idea of dying on time, on schedule, or according to a meticulous plan.  Is it impossible to die "before your time"?  Is it?

It was for Jesus.  "His hour had not yet come"...repeatedly.

I've thought about all of this many a time, but the question has been given new life this go round, particularly in light of Christ's words to Peter about his own death.

"'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.'  Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God." (John 21:18-19)

To this, the author writes, "Can anyone deny that Christ chose the way in which Peter would die?" 

Umm.  Not so eager here. 

I'm tempted to rush past the question and the implications.  It leaves me with My Shepherd planning a death, even a terrible death, for me or someone I love.  I probably don't need to explain how this makes me feel, because I'm guessing you already know.  You feel it, too.   

As a grieving friend said earlier this week, "I wish I was one of those people who could go around believing and professing that everything is God's will."  I understand this.

I also understand that the desire to believe is a gift of its own.  That feeling the tension and believing anyway, is a gift of its own.  That living with belief in a good God who orchestrates death and allows unimaginable pain is a gift of its own.  A gift then.  From Who?

I'm reminded that I am never more at peace than when I believe that nothing happens outside of God's will.  This has re-centered me on as many days as I have been capable of conscious thought. 

Our life's work is not to never doubt, but to continue the work of believing, to live with unanswered questions, to attempt to live peacefully amidst ideas that are diametrically opposed, and to plead with the Lord to increase our faith, while remembering that so much more is happening than what we see and understand, and that whether we believe in chariots or not might not be the question.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Being Married on a Saturday Morning

I've been thinking about something and this Saturday morning has been the perfect crucible for my thoughts. 

I've had a lot of conversations lately with men and women who are grieving the loss of their spouse and with people who find it difficult to have their needs remotely met in the context of marriage.  In the case of the former, I hear the intensity of a husband's love for his wife, how he wished he would have appreciated her more, how a wife would give anything for five more minutes with her husband, and how many question the value of their own life without their spouse in it to give it meaning.

I find this incredibly poignant, beautiful, and heart-rending.  I can never hear too much about one person's love for another and I grieve with them. 

But, then I wake up in my own marriage on Saturday morning.

I don't see my husband in the mornings during the work week, because he's hitting the gym long before I care to be awake.  But, on Saturdays, we're both home, and I'm tricked into thinking that starting our day together in separate rooms means something.  That checking in with the outside world first thing, is an indication that everything else (including me) is the last thing. 

My mind swings back and forth between the reality of those who are grieving the loss of their person and sitting alone on my futon, feeling like we're getting it all wrong.  I start to feel resentful and pull away in this black-and-white-world-where-you-wish-you-had-five-more-minutes-with-the-one-you-love or you sleep walk through the next forty years. 

And I pray.  I pray that the Lord will illuminate the truths that I've forgotten and help me to see what I'm inclined to ignore.

And He answers. 

I remember that it would be impossible to live forward in time with the intensity of frustrated love, which belongs to the grieving.  That to buy more gifts, spend more time, appreciate every moment and opportunity to love sounds so wonderful, but is impossible to maintain. 

I remember that human beings have a certain capacity to love and give and invest in others.  This same capacity is largely influenced by hunger, sleep, intro and extroverted natures, schedules, time, emotional strain, and how long you have to keep it up.

The intensity of love in a marriage is often shrouded by the dailiness of it all.  Love looks like washing dishes and bringing the grill back in and going places you don't want to go and being awake when you'd rather be napping.  But, it's there.

We don't have to see something to know that it exists.  Ask any dog who lives in a yard with an invisible fence.   

Love is there and so often, it looks like beginning again.  Trusting again in that love which you cannot see and as often, cannot feel.  And it's worth everything you can throw at it, commit to it, or sacrifice on its altar. 

This time, in my case, it will look like an apology for being cold with no explanation and refusing kindness without gratitude, and maybe a blog post which encourages us to believe again in a love that we're tempted to doubt. 

The outstretched and enduring nature of our mission as married folks is daunting.  It is impossible to do it perfectly, but possible to do it well.  And part of doing it well is persevering...until death do us part.  And between now and then, taking advantage of what is, to feel fully that which you have to give, and giving it. 



Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Acid Test of Flight

"All our ideas, all our calculations, all our hopes lie there before me, waiting to undergo the acid test of flight...Today, reality will check the claims of formula and theory on a scale which hope can't stretch a single hair" writes Charles Lindberg about his preparations to make the first transatlantic flight in The Spirit of St. Louis.

This is not my normal reading fare, but a recently widowed man recommended it to me, so I went to the library and checked it out the next day.  I'm only a third of the way through, but I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying it and how Mr. Lindberg is able to nail descriptions of things that are difficult to describe.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised since doing difficult things was kind of his specialty.

The acid test of flight...

As a hospice bereavement coordinator, I work with the bereaved.  Those who are grieving.  Those who are learning how to live with grief.  And none of them feel like they know how.  And yet, they do it, through the seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years. 

Sometimes there are preparations that last years and other times not even a single day.  They anticipate, imagine, plan, discuss, and guess about how things will come to an end and what it will be like, all the while saying "I don't know how to do this" while they are in fact, doing it.

The acid test of flight...

After the recent death of a patient I had the privilege of getting close to, I was struck by the five seconds it took to write her name and the word "funeral" after it in my calendar.  How can that be?!  We die in less time than it takes for someone to pencil our funeral in on their calendar.

It probably seems morbid to you, but this prompts me to imagine people writing "Heidi's funeral" in their calendar, followed by a time for the service.  I wonder who would come and whose attendance would surprise me, and pray that people aren't whispering sadly to themselves, if only.

As I read somewhere, I believe that we die in a moment and all the rest is living.

The acid test of flight...

Beyond thoughts, preparations, and intentions to actual flying.  Not thinking about flying, but f.l.y.i.n.g.  Living, for those of us who have never had a flying lesson.

I love what Charles Lindberg writes about preferring steadiness to accuracy in a compass, if forced to choose.  It's easy to subtract or add a few degrees to one's magnetic course.  

And when the skeptics press into the cracks of his own doubt, he replies, "I can't very well miss the entire European coast."

I'm not sure I can explain it, but this sentence that has no obvious relevance to my own life, makes my soul laugh in relief.  Yeah, I can't very well miss the entire European coast. 

My hat is off to Mr. Lindberg for his always hopeful and detailed account of his endeavor to make the first transatlantic flight and to you, my fellow flyers, who are acing the acid test of flight, in spite of not knowing how.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Waking Up to Time

Isn't is strange that our lived experience has never happened outside of time, and we can still be surprised by it?   We wake up to alarm clocks every day, and yet an instant awareness of time can jump out of nowhere and shock us to the point of tears.

An example...

This morning, my middle boy, properly sleepy-eyed on a Saturday morning, crawled onto the futon with me, where I was reading, and sipping coffee.

I was so thoroughly enjoying it, my heart bubbled over into my mouth and it said, "Walker, never move out, okay?  You should live here forever..."

Now, he's only 12, but he has had an unswerving conviction about joining the Marines for as long as I can remember.  A few months ago, we were cleaning his room and he handed me something.  "Here, you're going to need this."  It was a Proud Parent of a Marine sticker.

USMC Proud Parent of a U.S. Marine Crome Decal Marine Corps Sticker Decal EGA

Anyway,  this morning I told him that instead of joining the Marines, maybe he could write letters to the soldiers to encourage them, and work at HEB, the local grocery store.  He looked at me with pity.

So, I pressed.  So, are you going to go to college before you join the Marines, so you can go in as an officer?  He shook his head.  "I don't want to be in a position where I  have to send people into a situation where they might get killed."  Well, if you're not going to be an officer, what are you going to be?  "Infantry."  Yeah, but you will either be sending people, or be sent.  "I'd rather be sent."

Gulp.  Without my permission, my brain subtracted the 18-year age requirement (without parental consent to enter at 17) from his 12 years and I said "That means we only have you for six more years!"

He smiled.  "I only have to wait six more years.  Six more birthdays, six more Christmases, six more Easters,  six more Mother's Days..."  Stop, I told him, with tears streaming down my face.  He rattled off a few more examples and got a little misty-eyed himself.  I called him on it, but, as a future Marine would be inclined, he denied it.  "It's just that I'm tired and the light is in my eyes."  Whatever, dude.

He got up and said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."

This is something I understand and will support, even if my heart is breaking from sorrow and bursting with pride at the same time.  Sheesh, makes me cry even writing that.

Zooming out from my living room to others, I'm reminded why I love working in hospice.  People live with an awareness of time.  Sure, there are more tears.  But, there is more laughter, too.  There is often less of what they want, but, in most cases, there is more of what they need.  And that is love - whether you are inching through life or hastening toward death.

I don't know about you, but trying to love someone whose days are more obviously numbered (for ALL of our days are numbered), feels like a high-stakes venture...

Did I say too much or too little?  Stay too long or not long enough? Should I send that reflection that made me think of them?  Or a text to say, "I'm praying"?

God only knows.  My own rule is to pray and to follow the inspirations I have.  And, perseverate afterward.  Sorry, that's the best advice I have, if you're looking for some.

Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts and minds as how best to love those with little time.  And thank you for little conversations and tears to help us appreciate what is, for as long as it lasts.  Amen. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wondering Outloud about the Parkland Shooter

A 19-year-old boy killed 17 unsuspecting students and wounded many others.  I grieve for everyone who knew and loved them. 

Since that horrific day, I've participated very little and overheard a lot of conversations about who and what are at fault, who is covering up what and why, and how do we fix it, now and forever.

We would be totally deranged if we weren't in a fervor, and if the discussion didn't start around the gun debate.  It is such an obvious starting place.


But, what about the boy holding the gun?  Was there a time he was innocent, and believed the world was a good place, full of people who loved him, and whom he loved in return?

I don't know, but I suspect there was.  Even for a little while.

"An environment is needed for the flourishing of every kind of life...a living environment, circumstances that will allow the person who wishes to live to breathe, grow, and nourish himself.  If the environment disappears, so does the life..."         Fr. Bernard Bro

If I were some fixture in his room throughout his childhood, I wonder how many times I would have wished I was alive and could go to him, because he was sitting in the corner, crying.  Alone.

I have a friend who has endured much loss, disappointment, and betrayal in her lifetime.  She once described herself as feeling like a set of shelves.  A time came when there was one heartbreak too many and she felt each shelf break in turn, right down the middle.

I believe we have threshholds, and threshholds can be exceeded.  And who knows what after that.

"For most people, the family is the place where one learns to love, or not...We most likely do not learn to love from our school, or from our place of employment, or from our interactions with the government.  Now we might, when we are older, learn a lot about love from our friends or a romantic love.  But at crucial developmental periods prior to adulthood, if we do not come to understand the contents of attentive, secure, sacrificial love from our family, we will likely be impaired in ways difficult, if not impossible, to transcend in the matter of giving and receiving love."
-Helent Alvare, The Family and the Values of Human Life

There are people that I love, who are in my life at this very moment, who feel completely missed in the world they show up in every day.    Unseen, unheard, and unknown.  By all appearances, they are thriving, but they carry devastating, life-altering burdens.

I wonder if a milk carton campaign for the "missing" who live among us would be an effective remedy.  Hey!  That's so-and-so who sits over there every day at lunch by himself.  Hey!  That's my  colleague right down the hall.  Hey!  That's my next door neighbor.  Hey!  That's my son!  Based on the little I know about the boy's life, and the number of times the police were involved over an extended period of time, I believe he was missed.  He is not understood, but he is no longer missing.  He is seen.  But, he will never again be seen as a person worthy of love.  And that is no way to live.

I don't know.  And I'm pretty sure I know less now than when I began typing.  The only thing I know for sure is that tragedy has struck, we must continue living, and we've been given renewed permission and encouragement to wonder aloud.

And I wonder if this sort of thing is what God was referring to in The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, [describing perfected souls living in an imperfect world].  They would "be content to endure anything for My Name's sake; and when an injury is done to someone else, they endure it with compassion for their injured neighbor, and without murmuring against him who caused the injury...

That which thou dost not see thou shouldst not judge in thy mind, even though it may be externally open to mortal sin..."

If you've stayed with me til now, and are up in arms, please know that I am not defending the shooter.  I'm just remembering that bit about environment, and life that flourishes or dies because of it.  And I'm also remembering that God, Author and Distributor of Justice and Mercy, has something to say.  And maybe He's already said it. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Want to Die Gambling

I attended my sixth annual silent retreat last weekend.  When challenged to boil three days of silence into one word, "gambler" was the one that rose to the top for me.  28 women circled up and went around in turn, sharing our word.  I was last.  The ladies before me chose words like love, trust, Father, serenity, remember, and silence.  When I said "gambler", everyone laughed.  Until I explained...

At one point, the priest leading the retreat described God as a gambler - one who knowingly takes risks.  Giving free will for the possibility of love was risky.  God did it anyway.  Love has to be freely given to be true.  Loving first with no guarantee of being loved in return is risky.  But, we're called to do it anyway.  I want to be a gambler.  Not ignorant, or in denial of the risks involved, but fully aware and choosing to love - without reservation, anyway.

If my love isn't received or returned, I have my explanation standing ready.  "It could have gone either way.  I knew it was risky."

I recently attended a funeral for a gentleman I've gotten to know over the last several months.  His wife told me once that she was a "fool for love" after sharing some of what she had suffered in her marriage, and yet she stayed - until death do us part.  I admire her foolishness.

During the service, a family member got up to speak, "We come from a long line of slaves and sharecroppers..."

I hope my face didn't reveal the shockwaves I felt within.  I've never heard words like these directly, nor been anywhere this was true for most of the people in the room, nor been anywhere I was the only white person, and yet, there I was - Stopped cold by the hard truth and the stark differences between our stories, our skin color, and our ability to worship without restraint.  Every worship service I've attended prior to this one is pale by comparison.  (I don't know where that phrase came from, but I have a new appreciation for it, for sure.)

No matter our skin color and our earthly heritage, our spiritual heritage is identical.  We were created to love and be loved, freely and fully.  If we are slaves for love, it is because we've freely chosen it.  We've come from the Father and are returning to the Father, just like Christ.  As we were reminded on retreat, this is our foundation, and an unshakeable one.  Our identity and our security is in Who we belong to.  Can I get an Amen?!

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.                                      -John 16:28

In between this coming into and leaving the world, we pray.  Sometimes more.  Sometimes less.  Sometimes, we even write these prayers down.  And more often, we forget that we've ever prayed them.  But, every once in a while, we rediscover them, and realize that our forgotten prayers have been answered, at least in part.  And we thank God.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I should die before I wake, 
I pray a gambler of me you make.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Free to be Fearless

I've had a lot of incredible conversations, lately.  Conversations that skip the inanity of what the weather has done or is going to do, what's happening at work, or how the kids are doing in school.  Conversations that happen right inside the door none of us want to open.  Inside the door that fear and shame beg us to leave shut tight and locked up. 

When we are alone, the room behind this door is the coldest, darkest, and loneliest room we will ever inhabit.  It's the room where we sit with all of the lies we believe, chief amongst them being, "I'm not enough." and in some cases, "I'm too much."

These are confusing beliefs if you also believe that you are a child of God and created in His image.  "I am something other than what I should be" doesn't really seem like an idea God would build into His people.  So, did we learn it somewhere?  Where did we learn that? 

Most of us don't have to look far to find potential, probable, or unmistakable places and times these loud-mouthed, lying seeds were planted in very fertile soil.  I don't like to give the devil credit for much, but it seems he got around and didn't bother getting creative with the message.

Regardless of why or how those seeds took root and grew into patterns of thinking and ways of relating, they've become part of us.  We will often do anything in our power to keep people from discovering the truth about the lies we believe, wrestle with, or operate out of.

Since opening up about my struggle with insecurity and fear of abandonment in my marriage, I've had the comfort of hearing a lot of "me toos".  Sometimes, it looks exactly the same, sometimes different.  But, whatever the particulars are, fear and shame are at the root of it. 

Because my conversations keep circling back to the same things, because of the silent and devastating nature of the lies we believe, and because of our ever-increasing inability to get to places of honesty, vulnerability, and understanding, I want to invite you in and ask you to consider who you would like to invite in, as well.

That cold, dark, and lonely room is transformed by an open door, the light in the hall, and the presence of another. 

As a guest in my room, I want you not only to know my fears, but to know what helps me live with and conquer them, too.

I believe God created us to be FREE.  Free to choose thoughts, words, and actions.  

Free to be fearless.  

I believe that God has allowed the circumstances, which have fortified my imperfection.  My imperfection/brokenness/weakness, is no longer something for me to fix, but a springboard to the One who can fix it, if He so chooses.  I finally see my struggle as part of His Will and not something outside of it

I have noticed something about the saints.  Their prayers always boil down to the same thing.  They want to love God, love His Will, and quite often, to love suffering. 

So, I'm pretending to be a saint.  I've copied a page out of their prayer book and am praying like they prayed.  Lord, please grant me the grace to love You, Your Will, and to love suffering.  Amen.

I cannot convey how dumbfounded I am by the results. Is it really possible that three simple prayers can transform a life?  I think so... 

I say this tentatively, as I'm only about a month in practice.  I've been tried several times, but only mildly.  I cannot remember the last time I've felt so fearless and free.  If I could actually love suffering, I would no longer fear suffering, which means I could use all of the energy I spend to protect myself from suffering, to love others.  And that sounds heavenly.

For the first time in my life, I am treating my insecurity like the spiritual battle it is.  I am no longer asking for it to be removed or healed, but accept that it might be here to stay.  God's will be done. 

Any time I start down a road I don't want to be on or get stuck in a vortex of negativity, which looks like doubt, fear, suspicion, jealousy, resentfulness, worthlessness, etc... I call on Christ.  I remind myself that feelings of fear and of being bound are contrary to what God desires for me, and it is time to suit up and step forward.  I name what I'm feeling, renounce (refuse to recognize or abide by any longer), rebuke, and reject it in the name of Jesus, and cast it to the foot of the Cross, reclaiming the victory that has already been won over it.  I don't have to do anything, but claim what has already been done.   

In these moments, I see myself as a little girl wrapped around my Father's leg and clinging to it for dear life, pleading not for one more ride around the living room, but for peace and love for all that is good.  I mean, have you ever tried to shake a kid off of your leg that is determined to take one more ride?  It's like that...

And I'm okay with this.  

Running away doesn't work.  Looking back doesn't work.  Introspection doesn't work.  Ignoring it doesn't work.  And looking to your spouse certainly doesn't work.  

Looking up works.  Clinging works.  And once this sinks in...oh, man I hope this is sinking seems like maybe, just maybe, Somebody has been trying to tell me this all along.  

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Matthew 6:33 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  
Matthew 11:28