I Would Have Been Back Sooner

I thought I had this grief thing down.

Like delicate china, I’ve stored the echo of my son carefully wrapped in the back of a cupboard: close enough by, but not so near at hand as for daily use.

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I can manage it better that way.

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Take it out on my terms, when I’m good and girded and able to handle the fallout from it, because, well, you just never know where it’s gonna go.

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Giving grief its time and space is vital and healthy, but there are instants when it finds you unsuspecting – naked & exposed – and justlikethat you are back on that day, that couch, that lonely Planet Pain.

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Today, I was just looking to get outside. The mountains are closed, so I thought I’d take a road walk, look at spring, watch the water sparkle, get away from the screens and the COVID for a while.

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I wasn’t really even listening, the sky so sweet and blue, when through the earbuds came a song I’d never heard before, a line: Are you singing with the angels, are you happy where you are?

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Then it hit me. TobyMac. Lost his son, just this past October.

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One thing was certain – I couldn’t stay on the road. Had to escape. Not expecting that, no I was not.

The forest.

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This month, Gordie would have turned 26.

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April 24, his April 24, was a very good day in a month when lots of very bad things seem to happen. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Humboldt bus crash. Columbine, Chernobyl, the Titanic, the fire at Notre Dame.

Of course, I knew it was coming, this frozen birthday of his; of course, I was already preparing.

So when TobyMac began crushing my heart with Why would You give and then take him away and 21 years makes a man full-grown, 21 years, what a beautiful loan, I tucked in fast to the trees and wondered how it was that April had already arrived, before I was fully ready.

Nothing to do now but let it come: all those lost years flooding out of my face until I found myself literally lost in the woods.

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Where did all those signs come from? And how was it that I never noticed them before?

Around and around I went in my head, feet looping the paths, up and down and around obstacles, until I forgot which way was out and had to pull out a map on my phone.

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Are you happy where you are?

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Where was I, exactly?

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A place where life was bursting out of dormant shells and the ground itself was weeping.

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Lost for a moment, but believing in a way out.

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It’s not possible to outwalk heartache here on Planet Pain, but we have this hope.

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Isaiah, that cranky prophet, tells us so.

Of Jesus, he writes:

He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. (Isaiah 25:8)

Face-wiping seems like blasphemy in this current crazy of sanitizer and masks; it is such an intimate act. I’m puzzled as to why I would even be crying when I finally meet my Lord.

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Until then, for what it is worth, here is what I have learned so far in the years following a traumatic event as a student of Grief 101.

Year 1 – Brutal. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much.

Year 2 – Brutal, times two. That baseball-bat bruise has changed color, but don’t be fooled: you have push deeper, but the wound still festers. You realize he really is never coming back.

Year 3 – There is light. Some normalcy. When sorrow leaks out, you guard it, carefully. Disbelief resurfaces.

Year 4 – Here is where I find myself. Thinking: how is it that I can now feel joy, laugh and sing and sometimes even forget. Then, an ambush. It’s okay – you know whose you are, and He knows you.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139: 1, 16)

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All the days. 

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All my days, all your days, all of my son’s days.

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As I head into Year 5, I realize could not have forestalled Gordie’s death any more than I can my own.

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But we can trust Jesus, this Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

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What seems like a lifetime later, I finally pop out of the woods, grateful for grief and the release that follows.

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Thank you, Lord, for my beautiful son.

Under Construction

We were talking today in my online church community group about how we are now, in our personal quarantines, a lot like the Apostle Paul, who spent much of his adult life in prison.

If he wasn’t being beaten by rods, stoned, or shipwrecked, you could usually find Paul locked in some dungeon somewhere writing letters to his beloved churches and occasionally being sprung from behind bars by an angelic encounter.

The man certainly led an interesting life.

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(Image from Owlcation)

I adore Paul’s writing.

I often pray this passage from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians over my children:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

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Amen indeed!

I like to go back to passages of Paul again and again –  Romans 81 Corinthians 13, and one of my favorites, Philippians 4  – and each time that I do, I find new treasure I hadn’t noticed before or a nuance from his words that leads to a deeper understanding of some truth. I know I could do this the rest of my life and never plumb the full depths of his beautiful scripture.

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The other day, I was in Ephesians and I came across this:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 

In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

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The school where I live and work is currently constructing a new center for the arts. It’s a massive project that will result in a massive building which will, in turn, allow us to offer our boys ways to grow and create and expand in ways previously unimagined.

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This past fall, when one of the gigantic beams was ready to be raised, everyone in our community gathered around and signed our names on it. For as long as that building stands, a record of us will be tattooed on its bones.

I thought about Paul’s words – that we are members of his household.

Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets

Christ Jesus is the chief cornerstone, that is, the focal point, the place where the building begins and from whom the building garners its strength.

It’s a structure made up of us, his children, and every one of us is either a brick or a board or a nail or a door – and together we become a holy temple, each of us doing our part to make space for God to live by His Spirit.

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I thought about the process of construction.

It’s terribly messy, to be honest: piles of steel and wood and glass, traffic cones and cigarette butts, blowing plastic, canting port-o-potties, trailers and fencing and buckets and mud.

Is that us?

Constantly being added to, adjusted, straightened – wobbly and skeletal, marked by tool and time and trial – relying upon one another floor by floor as we reach toward heaven?

Without that first stone – our Jesus – the building would topple. We would topple.

I am so grateful we have a patient Savior, a kind and loving foreman who doesn’t look at all of our mess and think – that will never amount to anything.

Too many holes. Not enough shingles.

We may be constantly under construction, but even so, we are His holy temple where He has chosen to dwell.

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As we bide our time, like Paul, in isolated cells, I pray that we will consider the critical role we play in girding those around us.

Brick by lovely brick, the One who can do immeasurably more than anything we could possibly ask or imagine will shape us into His cherished and enduring edifice.