Phase 3: Juxtaposition and Joy

Well.

Well, well.

Well, well, well.

There is a time for everything. And we know not the time.

This is both unnerving and comforting, depending on how you look at it. From where I sit today, it’s both at once–just one of the many paradoxes and funny juxtapositions I’m learning to live with and faintly smile at.

A few months ago, I wrote that I’ve stopped believing in answers, especially simple ones, and have instead hung my hat on certain truths that go beyond mere answers. That’s never been truer than this week, when David and I finally announced that, oh hey, just btw and in case you wanted to know, we’re going to be parents in August. The ironic beauty/day-late timing is not lost on us in the least.

You see, this little life made itself known mere hours before my mom’s memorial service. I never dreamed I’d be telling David, “I’m pregnant,” under such circumstances. But there it was, as mundane and miraculous as a double line on dollar store stick. An immediate pang at what we missed telling her and what she’ll miss, and an immediate purpose for the next eight months… eighteen years… life.

We had so many reasons to bite our tongues for the next two months. There was a necessary season of mourning that everyone around us—and we ourselves—needed to pass through. There were other babies that needed their moment in the sun. The most uncertain weeks of the first trimester to get through. So, I carried this secret, and David kept it with me, wondering when the “right time” to tell the world would be. Good thing the baby bump is pretty easy to hide thus far (did I really just type that?). And we landed on my dad’s birthday as the moment to out ourselves, despite multiple opportunities before then, because it just seemed right to say, “Hey, there are still things to look forward to this year. Maybe there are still good things about getting older.”

And it’s true.

God is still good. Grace is still real. We still have raison d’être.

After holding in our secret for forever, it’s suddenly strange—wonderful, but strange—to bring other people into this personal narrative. Babies mean community, especially when two of your cousins and multiple friends are all due within six weeks or less of your own due date. There are grandmothers that have waited years to hear their grandson say it’s his turn to be a dad. There are parents that have a claim on this kid—a different claim, but a real one. And suddenly this narrative monologue that I’ve been holding with myself for the last few months is part of a bigger narrative that’s still mine, but not just mine. I’m sure there’s some literary theory to expound on, but I neither remember nor care particularly right now. It’s funny to watch how futures collide and expand.

So. Here we are, aren’t we. Smiling to ourselves and waiting for yardsale season to begin so we can snag baby stuff below cutthroat prices. Looking at the still-unfinished bathroom and finding ourselves with, ah, deadlines. Reevaluating priorities left and right. Feeling incredibly thankful that our “five year plan” included the important memories we wanted to make. Renewing our commitment to do the hard things even—especially—with baby in tow (go ahead and laugh, you might be right). Continuing to live everyday life intentionally because life doesn’t pause or suddenly “happen” with one announcement or arrival or departure.

Well.

Well, well, well.

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Phase 2: Permanence

Life in transition continues. A coworker recently caught herself saying, “Life is beautiful” to me and thought it might be hurtful, because life isn’t okay. But I had to tell her, honestly, that “okay” and “beautiful” are two different things, and I will forever believe, as my mom did, that every day is a beautiful gift. Cliche? I happily admit that you’re right.

We’ve entered phase two of the new normal, which I will call the, “Oh **** this is permanent and not a novelty anymore” phase. Not all crap, but certain family members don’t laugh as much, certain family members just miss  afternoon debriefs with Mom, and sometimes we’re all prickly. I’m juggling new developments constantly, and trying to learn how to just BE PRESENT with my family. Given how independent my life was before, and how well I sit still (not at all), you could say it’s a growing experience.

A friend who lost his dad last year wrote me an email with advice I needed to hear about not running away (it’s much easier to be at my house than my parents’), and I’m trying to take it to heart. The question is, how do you know you’re “dealing with things” and not brushing issues into a corner? Seems like the only course is to wait for the unwatched issues to spring out from the dark and catch you in their teeth.

Funny enough, I only realized a week ago that I was trying to facilitate a MAJOR CHANGE in my own life, when I’ve read so many times that you just shouldn’t in the first year. Surely it’s obvious that my theology has shifted and morphed in the last six months, but that’s no reason to run. Not yet. I do have a burning desire to READ ALL THE THINGS and find a holistic hermeneutic for understanding my faith. When will I find the time? Whew, who knows. For now, we’re safe–and we can love and serve–the people who loved and served us so well.

I understand now when people say the pain never goes away–but I see glimpses that it becomes more manageable, like the chronic physical pain people learn to deal with and compensate for.

We’ll get there, and all I can say is I can’t WAIT for spring. I know a break from the cold and the ability to get outside and hike and exercise and enjoy fresh air will go a long ways towards healing. I’m hoping for a family hiking/camping trip, since that was one thing Mom never particularly enjoyed but Dad has always loved. I’m hoping new routines and new adventures make reality more manageable.

* * *

[SIDE VENT]

Thank God only a couple people have said “Your mom is in a better place.” I’ve gone cold each time–I may hate this phrase most of all. How it ever became a benign cliche is beyond me, as all I hear when people say that is, “Well, she didn’t really belong here anyway. It’s better this way. She deserved better, and now she’s got it.”

Of COURSE she deserves the best, we loved her. But you just bulldozed all of us left behind. Apparently, we weren’t enough for her, she needed more. Or are you saying that God whisked her away to a “better place” knowing the personal costs to her family and friends?

“Better place” for WHO?!, I want to shout. Fine, if you want to get academic, although I think the presence of God himself is on such a different plane that “better” is weak. But is she in a “better place” when she has kids who are still to graduate high school, go on their first date, have their first kid? When what broke her heart most was acknowledging that she wouldn’t be here for those moments? For us, it seems “better” that she were here. How can you possibly say it was “better” for a life to be cut short? Death may be merciful, and I believe my God has redeemed death to become a gateway. But a gaping hole in reality, and you say it’s so she can be in a “better place”? Death is still the enemy. Death is defeated, but no. There are only two separate places with a great chasm between. It won’t be a “better place” until all things–all things–are made new.

7 Things Not to Say to a Grieving Person (As Written by One Grieving)

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.” – A Grief Observed

I’ve been that friend–the one who sees grief and blurts out something before running away. Trying to find the “right words” when nothing can make reality right is bound to result in some flubs, and yet silence is hard to manage.

Now I’m (figuratively) wearing black, and I’m on the other end. People are so well intentioned, and so badly want to help. I appreciate the sentiment so much–simple acknowledgement that life is irreversibly different is more helpful than you can imagine–and yet the expression has sometimes made me shake my head. I have to laugh at the sometimes hilariously wide difference between the good intention and the bizarre outpouring.

I’m sure many people are simply clueless, as I was before this paradigm shift, so I try to focus on people’s hearts. But you know, ignorance can be helped. With that in mind, here’s a short catalog of some common, very well-intentioned comments I’ve received… and why I’ve cocked my head at the people who utter them.

*Addendum: Please, please, please know that my intent isn’t to stop people from saying anything, lest it be the “wrong” thing. Rather, that empathy and understanding may grow so that the next person may be comforted.

* * *

Well-intentioned: “If there’s anything I can do to help” and “Let me know what I can do.”

Why it doesn’t work: A couple reasons, actually. First, I appreciate the assumption that my brain is still functioning on all cylinders, but… it’s not. Right now, I have the mental energy to answer yes/no questions, but open-ended questions that require more processing from me? Not so much. Secondly, I didn’t realize til now how much grief consumes the immediate and hampers your future planning skills. For instance, I probably do need something from the grocery store. But I won’t realize it until the exact instant that I need it (e.g. milk for tomorrow’s breakfast) and the only thing to do is run out at 11p.m. at night.

Better: “Hey, I’m going to the grocery store right now, can I pick up some staples for you? Milk? Eggs? Bread? Do you have a list?” or “Hey, can I come over and clean your bathrooms? Does Tuesday work?”

My brain has much less pressure in this scenario–the onus isn’t on me to call you and hope you’re still willing to do a nebulous “anything,” and I can latch onto something concrete with easy answers. I’m eternally grateful for the people who really did clean my bathrooms and bring my family groceries–that was huge.

* * *

Well-intentioned: “Hey, you look sad.”

Why it doesn’t work: Maybe I do, and I know you’re trying to tell me that you notice my hurt and carry it with me. But… um, trying to live my life here. The place to bring this up is over coffee, not at random (or at work or in the middle of church). I’m pretty sure I’m only at half-mast but bringing it up doesn’t help me focus on what’s at hand.

Better: “Do you need a hand with that project? I’m happy to help.” Or send me a note that I can read in my own time.

* * *

Well-intentioned: “I’m a safe person. You can talk to me anytime if you need to vent or scream or cry.”

Why it doesn’t work: I have to preface this by saying why this sentiment doesn’t work FOR ME, as maybe others do need it. I’m incredibly blessed to have strong friends and a strong community, and I’m also a relatively private person. I know that when people say this, they really just mean they want to help. But if I didn’t have a strong relationship with you before this, why would I pour out my soul to you now? Understand that unless you have been through similar circumstances and have special wisdom to give, a grieving person is not going to take you up on that offer. When someone I barely know says this phrase, it can sound downright opportunist. If you really want to help, offer something concrete, like a meal or a notecard with encouragement/prayer.

Better: “I’ve been thinking about you guys a lot, and I love you.” You’re honoring my boundaries while telling me you care. This means the world.

* * *

Well-intentioned: In this scenario, you’ve just seen the person for the first time since the death/the big news, and you’re both in the middle of a larger event. You go up to your friend and say, “I’m so sorry about [blank]. How are you holding up? How was the funeral?”

Why it doesn’t work: I can’t stress enough how important it is to choose the timing of your condolences. I understand that you want to know, but I’m in the middle of a party, a Christmas celebration, a big get-together after work, and you want me to conjure up my grief in a completely incongruous situation, on the spot, for you? Sometimes, it’s just nice to enjoy a kind of normalcy for a little while. Of course I haven’t forgotten the pain–rather, I’m choosing to focus on something else for a little while, because that’s healing too. Let me.

Better: “I’ve missed you over the last few months. It’s really good to see you again. Hey, would you want to get coffee soon?” This lets the person know that you’ve noticed their absence, and you care. Plus, it offers a gateway to a private conversation, without the stress of answering pointed questions.

* * *

Well-intentioned: “I know how you feel. My mom died when she was 80.”

Why it doesn’t work: No two griefs are the same, and assuming you know how another person is feeling/processing is just that–an assumption. We all know death, but not in the same way. For example, my own mom died at 52, leaving behind four kids still at home and three in highschool. I’m sorry your mom died at age 80, but please understand that I’m grieving decades of lost time and unmade memories, as well as trying to step up to help meet my younger siblings’ practical needs. No, you don’t know how I feel, and I’m trying hard not to feel insulted by your comparison.

Better: “I’m sorry for your loss” and “Hang in there. I promise someday it gets better.” If you’re not so close, the tried-and-true line is a good one. If you’ve been through strong, close grief, then maybe an encouragement that someday the weight lifts a little is appropriate. It doesn’t assume the griefs are the same, but it does offer some hope.

* * *

Well-intentioned: “God is in control.”

Why it doesn’t work: Closely aligned with “God will use this for good somehow,” statements like this fall into the really-bad-timing category. Maybe they are true. But in grief, we want a God who is close and immanent and feels our hurts. A big God in control of the whole universe (yet a loved one died) working out some distant good (my hurt is now) is quite frankly irrelevant at the moment. I need a Jesus that weeps with me, who knows my sorrow because he carried his own.

Better: “God himself mourns with those who mourns. Death is still the enemy, and I’m so sorry you met it now.” Remind me that God’s heart breaks with mine. Remind me that even in God’s grand plan, death is still an inherent wrong that needs to be righted.

* * *

Well-intentioned: “[Blank] lived a full life, and is with Jesus now.”

Why it doesn’t work: This one isn’t so bad, actually, but it’s pretty incomplete. First, you don’t know if a person lived his own definition of a full life. And we miss them here, with us. I fully believe that my mom lived every moment of her almost-53 years to the brim, but the days are empty now. What you’re saying has a cognitive dissonance with my new reality.

Better: “[Blank] was always so full of life. I remember that time…” Share a memory you hold dear with me. I don’t get to make new memories now, so the shared ones are much dearer. I love hearing them.

* * *

There are no perfect responses to loss. But thanks for listening and trying to say the less-bad things, all the same.

(Fragments of) The New Normal

“What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?” – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Maybe it’s too soon to write this post. Maybe there’s never a right time, like there’s never a right time to die. Where, O Death, is your sting? Here. Now. Not eternally, but now.

How do you meet grief? Some people slam the door in its face, and some people smother it in their arms as a type of memory worth holding fast. No one exactly welcomes it. I wrote Mom’s obit and held people close and took two weeks off work–one for funeral events and travel, and one for Christmas that followed it. I have done things that affirm the very clear reality of my mother’s absence from the body, and even so I catch myself waiting for her to come down for dinner.

I haven’t had trouble sleeping, but the dreams did suck for a couple weeks. I know some people welcome their loved ones in dreams as a bit of remembrance or reprieve, but I couldn’t. The woman in my dreams kept denying the reality I and my family live in, and was nothing but an imposter. As Lewis wrote, this phantom was merely a fragment of my own imagination–some fashioning of my mom in my own image, not who she really was. It was an image perverted, and some of the dreams woke me up with their twisted reality.  I’m glad the dreams have ebbed, as I found no comfort in them.

On the other hand, we all find ourselves drawn to her images in the photo albums. She was the family photographer, but thankfully she never shied away from having her picture taken when her hair wasn’t perfect or she looked tired or her body was recovering (hello, seven kids). I’m so glad she didn’t. It’s hard to comprehend how someone so absolutely alive in the photos could be dead now. Still, it’s good to remember her as she was–cautious, but mischievous and full of life in the everyday circumstances. Some days the slideshow is easier to watch than others.

We’ve had genuinely good days, and good moments. Parts of Christmas Day were better than I could have imagined, and seeing the cemetery the day after we buried her was healing and calming and beautiful in its own way (though I hadn’t wanted to go). I hadn’t realized that one can be surprised by the good moments as well as the bad.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

I understand now why people call death a “loss.” Not just something has been taken away and gone on a trip, but something is actively missing. On the easy days, it’s a bit like tasting tomato soup and finding someone left out the tomato flavor. Or, in keener moments, realizing your leg has been cut off and you’ll never run the same way again (thanks for the image, Jack). When the twins turned 18, just a few days after Christmas/Mom’s birthday, her absence was its own presence. When I found the birthday card I had optimistically bought for her weeks in advance, I found myself contemplating how she wouldn’t ramble a bit after she answered some question over the phone and update me on daily life at their house. I’m thankful her birthday and Christmas are the same day, so we don’t relive some things twice.

I feel a slight hesitation, a nervousness, when I’m away from loved ones. The nervousness grows much larger when someone runs later than they tell me. There’s a small, not at all irrational bit in me that knows they may never come back. Losing someone in three months, almost to the day, is almost instantaneous relative to a normal lifespan, and you realize how quickly it can happen. Perhaps, in this sense, I have truly “grown up,” for I have intimately realized that neither I nor anyone I love is invincible.

Day-to-day is easier at my own house than at my parents’ (it is still their house, because they built it together) since the change isn’t so obvious in that place. My own life was at least a little separated from hers, while my dad and younger siblings have no such refuge. You realize how many little habits and little jokes your parents had once one of them is no longer there to fulfill the routines. I’m thankful Dad is a talker, not a bottle-upper, though it means the moments are always fraught with something. I’ve been encouraged to keep my own life, but it’s clear how much we all need to be together constantly. It’s exhausting, like every other aspect of grief. “No one told me that grief feels so very like” … exhaustion.

2013, you were truly the very best of times and the very worst of times. I look forward to getting outside again, hiking and camping and doing things Mom wasn’t so apt to do. I know the exercise will at least make us sleep well, and I look forward to being surprised by joy via blue skies, though I expect to find the “still point of the turning world” all over the place. Slowly, slowly.

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”

Seasons Change

The leaves turned colors and fell outside Mom’s window over the last couple months as we’ve watched with her. Autumn is profoundly mysterious and awkward–the shining forth of color as living things wither and draw inward and pass away. Beauty and imminent death, calmness before months of lack. I’ve put pen to paper many times in this season, and I choose to believe God is drawing out something worthy of wonder even as I stare at the looming hole in reality.

In the past two months, our existence as a family has been nothing short of charmed. This is especially true of the last week and a half, when Mom came back from the brink and we all hung around her and the house while she flurried orders, wisdom, and reminisces from the hospital bed. The ICU stint was the warning bell, and propelled everyone–well, I hopefully think so–to spend the one-on-one time they’d avoided or didn’t realize they needed. Mom has responded with a twinkle in her eye even though we know she’s low on fuel given her appetite. She’s smiled and buoyed us up and cracked jokes when Dad accidentally refers to lowering the hospital bed as “putting her down,” and acts like a 5 on the pain scale is easy peasy lemon squeezy. Even when the pain creeps higher than that, she refrains from the swear streams I know would be leaving my mouth. She says she doesn’t want to taint her witness as her condition gets harder to bear, as if the last couple months have been cake. I know she’s fighting to believe truth, like we all are. But sometimes, we’re surprised. Last week gave me more peace and joy than I ever believed could coexist right now.

That said, I’m awfully tired of the ache in the back of my throat, and of carting around mascara and makeup removing wipes. We vacillate so fast. Last night I was telling a story that made me laugh so hard I could barely finish it, and twenty minutes later the lump was back as the pain jumped to a 9 before Dad got it back down with the serious stuff. Sometimes, a baby comes to visit and Mom coos and laughs and it seems like we might have weeks. Three hours later, there’s a visceral wish to make it stop, and the brink seems close and merciful.

Last week forced me to articulate what I believe about miracles, and that kind of sucked and was kind of a relief at the same time. Mom’s near-miraculous bounce back after the ICU and the couple truly stellar days in the middle of the week tempted me to wonder if God was doing something special. You start hoping despite your best efforts to face reality, because how could she look so good, and why on earth is her handwriting less shaky today? And then the one bad day creeps into the next several, and you have to acknowledge that this shit is real. Again. It’s safer not to believe in miracles than dare to hope and believe while seeing nature take its course and divine intervention stay away. But really? We did get a minor miracle. Maybe not the full, complete miracle, but the chance to say what we meant was a chance we very nearly lost.

Are God’s hands tied? I fully believe He doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer, as I’ve articulated before, but I recognize that my reasoning for why He doesn’t intervene was so, so limited in scope. I took into account the rest of the world; I should’ve taken into account the universe itself, the powers invisible that we so quickly forget because we only have five senses. But Dad has reminded us that we live caught between two warring factions, even though the end result is a sure thing. Are we collateral damage in the fight? Not exactly. But he pointed to 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, and drew out the early verses. Nothing will separate us from the love of God–but damn if those forces won’t try, and death is still their chemical weapon, used with abandon on all that lives. There’s much more than the turn of the earth going on, and perhaps some things simply must be in the grand scheme. The verses say that Christ MUST reign until he has subdued all his enemies, and we know the kings of earth are no match for him. Rather, we are not forgotten though the universe rages on.

Maybe something bigger is at work–I know I’m too close to the center to tell, but I choose to believe when people I barely remember call and say that Mom’s story is being shared in places she’s never been. I see hints of this in the overwhelming number of meals people have brought my family, and the many texts and notes people close to me have sent (you will never know how much those are worth to me!).

I also pray that this outpouring of love and my own sadness wakes me up to love and compassion. It’s kind of strange–when I shared with a few friends that Mom had been diagnosed, they shared their own hurts back with me in ways I hadn’t known before. And I was so humbled, and also a little ashamed at how little I recognized or noticed their wounds before. Sorrow like this imparts a special kind of credibility, both to comfort and to speak truth, and I have listened most closely to people for whom intimate grief is familiar. I wouldn’t wish membership into the sorority of suffering on anyone, but these are the people, the women, who have a credibility to comfort in ways others don’t. And that’s precious and beautiful in its own way.

Sometimes, the truth is as simple as an acknowledgment that damn, this HURTS and this is REAL and this is NOW. I realize now how quickly I’ve passed by others because their grief made me uncomfortable, and I wish I could turn back the clock on those moments. On the other hand, could I have said anything of value back then? Likely not, but I know now that hugs and acknowledgement are always accepted. I want to see people as I have been seen. Not because it makes my experience “worth it,” but so this means of grace may be extended to others as it has been to me.

Speaking of grace, my old co-worker’s explanation of “grace for today” is constantly on my mind. His wife was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer when their youngest was still a toddler, and she continues her struggle today. But in the early stages, he said something that’s really stuck with me, about God’s mercies being new every morning. “That means we only have the grace for today, not for tomorrow–tomorrow’s mercy hasn’t arrived yet. We receive the grace for today only, and wait in faith that tomorrow’s will be new and waiting for us when we need it.” They chose “Grace Sufficient” as a blog title, and I think I glimpse now what they meant.

Grace for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy Faithfulness

Why Not Give Up?

Mom recently asked me why it’s important to keep going during this season, why any of it (and all that “it” encompasses) matters now. Why shouldn’t we just resign ourselves to inevitabilities and just… stop. Why continue to live life actively instead of curling up and wallowing? The question was half rhetorical, half challenge. I’d only half articulated an answer to myself before she asked, and I promised a more thorough explanation. Well, here’s my attempt.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve long since stopped believing in answers. Especially easy ones.

Instead, when I ask myself what keeps me going during this strange season of simultaneously having and losing, I hang my hat on certain truths, and those aren’t the same thing as answers. They are not trite, and frankly some may not quite be hermeneutically acceptable or accurate. But they are truths nonetheless. And, most days, they are enough to convince me that that day matters.

I remember back a decade and quite some change ago when I first encountered G.K. Chesterton, who introduced into the fatalism of my hyperCalvinist mind the possibility of mystery and beauty. In Orthodoxy, I found a new way of seeing in the philosophy of fairyland, of “imagining for one mad moment that the grass is really green.” The world could be so much less–and so much different–than what it is, and yet there’s a Creator who somehow made it just so. Seeing the beauty in the everyday, in the ordinary, broadens the scope of my imagination, and lets me believe that there is more beauty than I have yet encountered. As Chesterton expressed it,

“But nearly all of the people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.”

Something secure–orthodoxy–paired with the strange–the remarkable fact of creation. That worldview is a starting point for hope. I believe wholeheartedly that this world is full of things far greater than I can understand because there’s a great Magician who created it with powers far beyond my little scope. So that’s my first truth: that faith invites me to see beauty and mystery in the everyday.

Independent of and complementing that, I have come to accept that this world-gone-whack as not the Magician’s fault. Cancer? Fallen world issue. Loss? Common, but not natural. Lack of miracle? Well, what kind of a world would it be if I expected the Clockmaker to fix everything on my own timetable when he’s managing something much bigger? I admit to bordering on deism sometimes, so my Clockmaker naming isn’t incidental. But that’s the trick, isn’t it–believing in a God who can intervene yet often does not. I make peace with this because decay isn’t his “fault,” but a natural consequence to abide. So when something miraculous does happen–it’s the fairytale wonder that emerges, not a foregone fact taken for granted.

Do I believe God doesn’t intervene because somehow loss is “good” for me? Insert-every-four-letter-word, NO. I have yet to have the verse/passage pointed out to me that says our suffering per se is good. Rather, I choose to believe that God will take the broken and redeem it, not merely leave me with the pieces. I believe that he makes beauty from ashes, not that he stokes the fires consuming what I love. That’s cause for hope. Hope that redemption means better. 

Maybe I could say that I choose to believe that the good in this life is from God’s hand, and the evil/death that happens is part of sin’s consequence on the world, the laws of atrophy at work. Do I believe that God is sovereign? Yes. Do I believe that God sends a violent hurricane on an unsuspecting New Orleans to chastise us for specific sins, some punishment that doesn’t fit the crime? No no, I don’t. I have yet to believe that all hardship is discipline (sidenote: Hebrews 12 is talking about the struggle against sin and the discipline that comes with that, how is that descriptive of all suffering? Even Jesus said the son’s blindness was not for sin of his parents or his own). Sometimes, the worst happens simply because the world and our bodies are broken.

Frankly, when I hear someone talk about the “frowning providence of God,” I think that person is overestimating our own importance. Yes, God cares for the sparrow, but he does not tailor the wind to each sparrow, nor bend the laws of nature to save us heartache; a hurricane that gives one person a fresh beginning will leave another reeling for years. When were we ever promised a tailor-made path through this world? We are not promised a unique world, but a meaningful life and redeemed experiences despite a world held in bondage to sin.

Accepting loss becomes easier with this perspective, that God doesn’t owe me a customized trip through life. It also makes the hope and comfort offered in surviving the experience much more precious. And finally, this understanding frees me to believe that rain falls on the just and the unjust–and that even in a drought, I believe it will fall again. I want to be ready to plant my seeds when the rain falls, so I better keep pushing through now.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent. What else? Well, I see nothing in Bible or in my heroes that encourages me to quit. Paul encouraged us to run the race set before us, not quit halfway. And if he can keep going, maybe I can too, sustained by grace. Nowhere do I find my God saying, “Well done, good and faithful quitter.” Do we reshift? Reorient? Radically evaluate our priorities and rail against a fallen world? Absolutely, but to quit would be to admit there is no hope, no future. I choose to believe continuing will be worth it, someday, because I believe God redeems even what I cannot bear.

I believe our losses matter to God. I also believe that our little lives matter to him. Well, whether you eat or drink… I believe that was I do has purpose, meaning, and therefore I will not quit.

This is a particularly deep valley, no doubt. It may go so far and so deep that I forget what sunshine feels like; but sunshine will still exist. The dragon might slay a hundred knights before being slain himself, but the fairytale only depends upon the one knight who lives. I refuse to believe that the story ends here, before the end. For me, I’m still “young” and I have reason to believe I’m not done yet.

It’s not a particular secret that I’m in love with Doctor Who (well, David Tennant), but why is worth exploring. Really, I love that the show is about a man who loses everything again and again, and somehow keeps moving forward–allons-y!–and proclaiming the small wonders of small lives “fantastic.” The world keeps turning, and we keep breathing. Can I really bear to spend those breaths waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next calamity, curling into a fetal position for however long I have? I will, at moments. But there is too much beauty and living and ordinary adventure to stay in that position forever.

I’d rather a life of pain and acute loss punctuated by eternal hopes and moments of sunshine than a gray half-existence. Will I be able to convince myself of this when the days turn darker? I do hope so. But even the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, is a little less dark the next day. I will rely on the slow return of spring as a matter of fact, of faith, even when all I see is the night.

“The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost… This world and all our powers in it are far more awful and beautiful than even we know until some accident reminds us.” – Tremendous Trifles, 1909

The Beauty of Routine

A couple weeks after diagnosis, finding a “new normal” has surpassed the immediate grief reaction. And, happily, we’re finding peace and joy in the process. Two weeks is such a short amount of time, and an eternity. You get more obsessed with life when mortality is at your back.

I can’t express how grateful I am for the return to work at [no I’m not saying but it’s big and financial]. At times it feels so strange to tickety-tick away at my keyboard in advertising, that fleeting shout about a fleeting thing. But then, all of life is fleeting, so why should financial services not get its due? The routine feels wholesome, purposeful, an affirmation that our silly lives continue and still give us reasons to smile. Mom had brain surgery (literally, even though it was outpatient and knifeless–how weird is that?) the second day I was back, and I felt so lucky to have pre-built relationships with my coworkers so I could tell a few people without wondering if they’d second-guess my commitment or intentions. My plate is still a little bland, but I’ve been here before–I know it picks up, and I know how to scrounge up the work when it’s hiding.

Talking about it is easier. It’s become an accepted fact, like how the autumn days are getting shorter and moving towards a season of night. I can still love the season, even though I despise darkness. Is this new-found acceptance a type of objectivity, or peace? I’m not always sure. And yet, I never give an “update” the same way twice when people ask, as I discover new concerns, new hopes, and new faith in what God will do.

I do forget that every time someone who cares about my mom finds out, there will be a strong reaction. I realize more and more how many people she has touched with her quiet faithfulness and compassion, and how many people are taking the news hard. But selfishly, although I’m grateful she’s loved, I get so drained when people grab me in a hug and start crying. I appreciate their intentions, but we’re all choosing our moments carefully, and rationing our emotional energy. Is it rude to wish people would take their cues from our current moods? The lesson for me: remember to enter into people’s grief where they are at that moment–because sometimes it will look like joy, for life is beautiful.

This is the real adulthood. It’s not the close to my roaring twenties I expected, but a full reality of letting hope, happiness, pain, and the fleeting time coexist gracefully together.