The Other Side

download (1)As I sit here writing this blog I am looking across the room at my daughter who is on her computer catching up with friends.  She’s not supposed to be here – she’s supposed to be in the bush in Kenya on a homestay with a Maasai family practicing her Swahili, eating lots of ugali and drinking Chai, and visiting each night with other members of the community around a campfire.  But she’s not.

Like the rest of us her life has come to an almost screeching halt in the the past week.  I was talking with a friend last night who said that she was grieving and wondering if life will ever look like it did just a week ago. I really related to what she was saying.  I don’t think I am allowing myself to live in a lot of fear from this pandemic, though there are definitely times when I lose myself to panic for a few moments – particularly about my children.  But I am grieving – for my daughter, whose experience was cut short, for all the seniors whose years are coming to an abrupt and unmarked end, for the small business owners whose hard work is spiraling down quickly, and for a future that I know will be changed from what I had envisioned.  I don’t think there are many of us that will come to the other end of this unmarked.

I was having another conversation with a friend about the idea of God redeeming all things.  While we are in the middle of a situation we can admit that it is hard to see how God is going to make beauty from things that, in the moment, feel like destruction.  And let’s just be honest – sometimes it’s not that things just feel hard or destructive, but it’s that they are.  Sometimes we have situations happen where even when we are days, months, or years away from them we still cannot see the good.  We have trouble believing that he really does work all things out for the good good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose, or that he will redeem.  Notice I didn’t say we struggle to believe he can redeem, but rather will he?

I want to believe that redemption means the pain is gone.  I want to believe that it means the situation fixes itself, or something bigger, better, more beautiful comes along in place of what was lost.  I don’t want to believe and live in the truth of being a Christian – that we are called to walk with him in his sufferings.  Sometimes it seems too much to ask us to believe that scars that can be so terribly ugly can be breathtakingly beautiful at the same time.

As I worked through some very real issues in my own past that turned from bleeding wounds into thick scars on my heart I have understood a little better what it means to have God work things out.  I can see a purpose in spite of the pain for most things.  It doesn’t mean that I would choose it again – I am not sadistic.  But I can see his fingerprints on the healing nonetheless.  He doesn’t have to show me anything – any peek into what he is doing is a gift of grace.  So in those places where I still can’t see even a glimmer of beauty I sit and wait.  I may never see it on this earth – I understand this now, even if it does frustrate me.  Redemption will only be whole and perfect in heaven, but sometimes he allows us glimpses of it here.  There will come a day when he makes all things beautiful and right again.  His way, his time.

And that has to be enough. Because it really is more than enough.

So I grieve now, being older and experienced enough to know that no, I will never be the same after this.  The world will not be the same.  We will all carry scars of grief and loss – some much more so than others.  When I came back to the States after our evacuation from South Sudan I didn’t fit anywhere.  I couldn’t fall back into patterns of who I was before I left.  I had to grieve the loss of the comfortable old me and start to be ok with the new scars and bruises that I might never have an answer for.  I wrote then about this concept then, quoting a passage from The Hobbit.  Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure. Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?”  Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.”

We will not be the same after this – but somehow there is beauty and hope in that.  I still believe that he will take these wounds and heal them, but even if we cannot see it, we can stand in the truth that we have been shaped to be more like him.  Crucifixion hurts.  The fire burns as it shapes the iron.  Dying to oneself is never uneventful or painless.  However, he will shape us to be able to better show him to this world because we have walked in his sufferings with him and know him even more intimately than before.  Our scars from this time or any other area in our lives where we have known pain are real and permanent while we are in these bodies.  But it is about his glory more than our comfort, and  I think he is calling us to remember that again.   When we reach the other side we will be able to say that we have sat with him in a depth of darkness that we had not yet experienced, and we are better for it. Because of that I do not mourn like those who have no hope.

So I leave us with this, because truth is truth no matter how we feel, and praise and thanksgiving are powerful weapons.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7) (emphasis added by me.)

 

Heroes in Grief

(Originally written Nov. 2013)

“Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”  

C.S. Lewis

My heart has been heavy since leaving MTI yesterday.  I knew I would feel a loss from the community that we have been living in for the last 4 weeks, but I guess I underestimated the intensity of it.  I tried sleeping in the car while traveling yesterday to lessen the blow and not think about it, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to play music and block it out, but the music playing reminded me of worship there.  Finally I gave in to what the Holy Spirit was telling me – to feel it and not fight it.  But it stinks.

I never thought emotions and grief were a problem for me.  I am that mom who cries at Little House on the Prairie, every church service we go to, and YouTube videos of puppies and kittens.  My kids are no strangers to seeing me cry.

So when Robin, one of our trainers this week said, “I want you to be your children’s heroes when it comes to walking through grief and loss” I was surprised at my reaction.  My knee jerk reaction was to think that the best way to help them was to avoid having to go through it.  I have felt like a failure many times as a parent because we are constantly putting them in situations with these things occurring.

A hero?

Apparently a healthy grief, a deep, mournful loss, a guttural prayer and moan, and a tender heart are super hero qualities!  Who knew?

So as we pulled out yesterday, surrounded by new friends – really new brothers and sisters – tears were streaming down our faces and sobs wrenched our hearts as the kids gulped and cried with us.  But we held hands, cried together, acknowledged and affirmed the deep loss we were going through, and eventually everyone settled into a silence that was full of the safe knowledge that we all understood each other.  There were no trite words, empty promises (or even real promises) – there were really no words at all.  Just gentle looks, shared groans, and healing touches.

And we keep processing.

The kids were so happy to get a Facebook hug from Miss Becca last night.  We have been texting and communicating with MTI friends all day.  Pictures are being shared and blogs being read.  And MTI has become the new “favorite place” of our children – sorry, Delta Lake!

Yet my grief just keeps churning.  Sorrow has been coursing through my heart that seems to go beyond the grief of leaving Colorado.  Tears start anew at little, unimportant things and inopportune times.

And I say to Him time and time again, “Father, Help!”  I want to feel it, yet I want to run as fast as I can from it.  I want to dig down deep and see what some of the roots of this sorrow is – yet I want to close my eyes and ignore it just as much.  But he chooses to answer my cry for help, and he starts to peel back the layers that are there.  While the grief from leaving MTI is genuine, deep, and not to be ignored, there has been a prodding into other areas of my life that I have not fully grieved.   When Tim and Robin had us probe into these places I was not only given permission to feel them, I was actually encouraged to look at them closely, to allow those things to kind of float around me for a while and think upon them – to “jump off the high dive” instead of dipping my toes into the water.

And when I started it was like a dam broke.

I grieved the loss of my mom all over again, in deeper ways than I was able to face at the time.  I miss her so much.  I want her to be here – to share in my excitement about going to South Sudan, to see pictures of where we will be living, to make plans to come visit us there, to know her grandchildren and be known by them.  As one friend said this week, I want to have her hug at the airport, but I won’t.

I grieved the end to our time in Malawi.  I gave my heart to that place, that ministry, those people.  And yet we had to leave in a way that I never really got to say good-bye.  I never really got closure.

I grieved over the loss of the church family that had become our life-line in the past few years in New York.  The people who knew us in deep ways – the right and the good and the deep, dark, ugly things.  The people who prayed with us and for us.  The people who have walked through our lives with us for the past five years.

I grieved the loss of time – the fact that another year has ended and we are not in Africa yet.  That our time with John is getting shorter and shorter.  I know His hand is in all these things, but the feelings of grief are real and need to be acknowledged.

I grieved hurts from childhood that have popped up in my adult life time and time again.  The loss of innocence, the things I saw that cannot be taken back, the feelings that were stuffed down and spilled out at the wrong times.

And I grieved loss of home.  That is why it has been so very hard to leave MTI.  It was a safe haven.  It was a place where we did not have to explain our hearts or motives.  Where living out of a van for months doesn’t seem so strange.  And it was a place where people spoke into our lives with wisdom, challenge, and love – from experience.  We were not handled with kid gloves, but given every opportunity to grow and know God more while being prepared for the next part of our lives.  We were loved, and we loved.
Whole-heartedly.  And that’s why it felt like home – not just because that’s where we “hung our hats” for a month.  And leaving that home we are back in a different hotel each night, fast food, and uncertainty about the timing of things.

Sometimes I felt it would be easier to just not let myself love the people there.  To isolate our family and not let the kids get their hearts involved. But the quote at the beginning of this was given to us this month, and I realized that the alternative to no suffering was no real love.  I can’t have that  and I can’t teach that to my kids. It’s time to act like a grown woman instead of a little girl.

So Shawn and I are putting on our super hero capes and wading through this grief.  We are learning to communicate with the kids and each other, and giving grace in these times on loss.  Thanks for your prayers during this time.  It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.  And I do thank my God for it – because I would never have wanted to miss it.