Friday, May 29, 2015

Sustaining Love

Writing is soothing for me. Choosing words and fitting them together like puzzle pieces to form a thought picture is enjoyable and at times rather cathartic. Some can use brushes to move paints across a surface and create an image that exists only in their mind; for me a pen applied to the page or in this case, fingers to the keyboard serve a similar purpose and allow me to share my thoughts. It’s been a long week, a hard week. After these days of tears and laughter, greetings and good-byes, sweet notes, kind words, photos from far away family and long comforting hugs, I find myself turning to words again to soothe and share. My hope is with the sharing that it will be a comfort for someone else as well.

We have returned home and started to unpack the bags. Part of me is still smiling after hearing for the umpteenth hundredth time that someone hasn’t seen me since I was “so” high. Apparently a lot of people knew me when I was somewhere between knee and waste height. Part of me is so tired and heavy hearted that I feel like if I were touched just a little too hard I would dissolve into the floor. I sit here tonight and try to slow down my brain, close my tired eyes, and trust that my fingers will know the location of the keys.

A song has been sitting in me, I feel like it’s melded into the lump of tears and love that feels stuck behind my rib cage. The song is “I Am Loved,” sung by the Gaither Vocal Band. It is a song with a chorus that seems simplistic on first hearing, but is really quite profound when givens some thought.

“I am loved, I am loved
I can risk loving you
For the One who knows me best
Loves me most
I am loved, you are loved
Won’t you please take my hand
We are free to love each other
We are loved”

Very gentle and deceptively simple words seem to me truly an anthem of willingness to take on complexity of other people with tender strength. I have seen the effects of love being present in homes, hospitals, and at the funeral home. I have seen it in events surrounding the paperwork and all of the things to do, at the cemetery, in the homes. Sustaining love, like a wholesome food or needed sleep, love provides its own sustenance. I watched it in the receiving line as there were more hugs than I could count. These people know each other, their strengths and weaknesses. And yet, here they are in the same room to offer wide open arms and support to one another and us.

So, what do I do with that? How does that impact my world? It seems that at these times we pause and reflect on how very precious our time is with each other, to care for and share with each other. I also know that as much as I focus on this as a priority, it will become much harder to keep that in the forefront as life returns to the normal patterns. It is a choice to love others as we are loved by Christ; loved as Jesus loves us, loved with great sacrifice and great hope. I hope the words to that song stay with me for a long time, right there, folded into that knot of grief as a sustaining love to appreciate and share.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

But This I Call to Mind

The last days have been a whirlwind of change as we said good-bye for now to my grandfather and he went home to be with Jesus. I think we have all had moments when it seems as if a fog descends in our minds and it makes thought difficult, sleep difficult, and well - everything a little more difficult. Buzzing about in my brain, memories are like hummingbirds landing on one spot, just to fly to another and stubbornly refuse to stay in one spot but a moment. The to-do list is most definitely written and being added to, as it will otherwise soon be forgotten. The support of family and friend has been tremendous and means so much. My heart is so full that I wanted to capture a few of these things before they become lost in the moving fog of a tumultuous time and little sleep.

Lamentations 3 starts with “I am the man who has seen affliction.” The list is long and indeed full of terrible afflictions. He is besieged and turned away, made a prisoner with heavy chains, made desolate, brought low from others’ taunts, and left without endurance. Right at that heavy moment, when I can practically feel the writer being crushed into the ground with all of these immense difficulties, he says something tremendous.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

Hope, mercy, faithfulness, my portion and again hope; these words are rich in meaning, strong and full of goodness. They resonate in my heart. Mercies have come abundantly in the form of helping hands bringing meals. The love has taken the shape of friends going out of their way to lend compassion. Supportive hands and backs have been reaching out to shoulder part of the burden. The faithfulness is in buoying words asking about what is going on and truly wanting to know the answer. Encouragement has come from many sources, both looked for and as surprises. The new mercies are a delight to keep looking for and find in a clear night sky with stars shining, doggy kisses, snuggles with little boys, warm quilts, fresh fruit and robins on nests. My to-do list seems to be ever growing, but not nearly at the rate of the portion of blessings. The sun brought beautiful colors to the sky and then a much needed rain cooled and freshened the air. Nurses with sensibility were kind in their honesty. Late night and very early morning laughter with a friend over a pile of papers that needed sorted through, travelers who unexpectedly surprised us here – just to tell us, “That is what family does.” I have seen the irises, the roses, and the peonies blooming; though they may not be the traditional lilies of the field, they have still been a source of steadfastness in their splendid arraignment. My heart is sad, but my soul is rejoicing. I indeed have hope in the great faithfulness of the Lord. I will continue to call these things to mind. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Remembrance to Bring Healing

Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day, started just a few short years after the finish of the Civil War. In a time when our country was bloodied and bruised from collective wounds, families of many and few across the nation needed profound healing. Just as the arrival of spring days brought new flowers, new growth and life after winter’s silent garden, time was starting to bring healing to wounds.

There was a need to start to repair the fractures of the country, to comfort the mourners and remember together the brother soldiers on both sides of the war. Coming together in what is now Arlington Cemetery, this “silent assembly of the dead” - of Union and Confederate soldiers alike, were recognized for their sacrifice by the decorating of the graves.

I remember Memorial Days fondly on road trips with my mom; leaving home, heading to Ohio and then into the hills of Kentucky. If we got into Kentucky late enough, I knew that we would see a thousand fireflies dancing down the hillsides. Driving on (really fun) twisty, turny roads we would arrive at the family cemeteries. Walking sticks, trash bags, song books and new flowers for decorating graves in hand – we would head up the hill to where the moss is inches thick and cushions our footfalls. Graves are cleaned from old flowers, and newly decorated. Stories are shared. Someone opens a songbook and starts us up. Soon notes to tunes like Sweet Bye and Bye and Amazing Grace are drifting among the trees, slowly flowing down the hills to the bottom. They mingle with bird song, crickets, and the ever present buzz of bees. Laughter and tears mingle as we remember those we have loved.

Yesterday, I had the honor of witnessing a service to commemorate veterans of foreign wars. In that cemetery, flag filled and flower draped, taps was heard. As I walked through the cemetery and saw headstones reflecting many veterans of service, I wished I could thank them for their sacrifice. But, they are gone and my words wouldn’t carry to them. Instead, I started to think about helping our nations’ own fractures from war. I hoped that the sincere gratitude of those present would be a balm through the pain of remembering. Just as the act of recognizing the loss of Union and Confederate soldiers was a start for healing for the survivors, I hope the acts and words of thank you are even a small source of comfort for our own living veterans and their families.
Thank you. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Through All These Things in the Luggage

I laughed along at a radio commentary today stating that on the average women pack eight pair of shoes for a week-long trip. I then complimented myself for only packing four, plus of course the shoes I was currently wearing. Throwing some shirts, jeans, a dress, and all of the miscellaneous necessities (books of course included), into my luggage; bags were hauled out to the car for a trip to visit my very ill grandfather. Very ill, dangerously ill – the miles between home in Iowa and my family home/ grandparents’ home in Ohio stretch out much further than the miles marked off on the highway.

What happens upon arrival is that all of these bags have to be carried in. Knees unbend from their cramped space in the car, arms stretch up to their full range of motion overhead and then sweep down to grab the bags and take them to their designated areas. Wait a minute, did someone stuff bricks in here? I don’t remember this being this heavy when I left. The longer I carry the bag, the heavier it seems to get. Could it be carrying its own gravitational pull? Surely, the bulging seams and strained zipper are not signs of too much in the bag, the bag must have just gotten smaller. Right?

The what if worries are taking their toll this week as we search out information and try to mentally walk through every contingency plan. The thing about the what ifs are that they are disruptive to carry around, and do not add a lot of substantive value. Luke 12:27 states: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

I know I am not alone in this bonanza of over packing preparedness. As the packing process is going on, the what-ifs very punctually show up and start asking questions. What if your feet are cold, maybe one extra pair of socks of the thicker variety would be good to have. What if you need to have mucky tennis shoes, shouldn’t you just toss them in? What ifs quickly move into the bags, shouldering out justifiable items.

I am a kitchen sink packer. Friends can confirm it. But hey – the weather might swing 50 degrees and then who will be toasty in her parka or nice and cool in her sundress? Someone else might forget something, I’ll pack that too – just in case I will be prepared. In my own defense, I didn’t bring a jacket, hat or gloves on this particular trip. It is nearly June and that might be overkill. Maybe…

I pack my bag trying to think of contingencies. I might need this sweatshirt – toss it in. Extra socks? Sure, those are always good to have around. Lotion, mascara, and of course the various chargers and computers and such. Water bottles and snacks for the road are loaded in the car and we set off. The trunk is full and my feet are cramped for space. Considering my normal packing habits, I thought that this was pretty good.

Sounds pretty easy – right? No? The thing is, I have to choose to leave the what if and to pack the prayer instead. I have to choose to dismiss the what if and instead pick up thanksgiving. I have to put down my way and pick up trust in the sovereignty of God. The kitchen sink is still packed, but it is from a different kitchen. This one doesn’t strain my bag with bulkiness and is lighter to carry. Put down those what ifs and pick up thankfulness, prayer, and supplication.