Eating Ashes

I’ve been feeling a bit like Job lately.

You might remember Job, described in the Old Testament as a man in the land of Uz who was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil. Job 1:1

And while I certainly don’t consider myself blameless nor in any way upright, tryasImight, what happens to Job – the complete collapse of everything he holds dear – feels a little too personal.

It started, I think, back in September when I broke my thumb and foot on a slow jog back to the car after a hike.

Recovery brought me to the end of myself; I managed to score a knee scooter from our athletic trainer to buzz around campus, but I was steeped in the grief of all-the-things-I-could-not-do.

Everything took longer. I had to drive to campus every morning, less than a quarter mile away, and I missed the bright walk up the hill to school when I would invite God into my day and complement Him on all the beautiful things around me that He had made.

Confused, I even questioned what He thought He was doing; did He not want to spend time with me? Was He too busy talking to His other children? I became petulant, self-pitying.

But, like Job – who lost his possessions, his servants, his health, and his children, whose wife tells him to “Curse God and die,” (Job 2:9) whose three “friends” try to “help” him figure out what he has done wrong to deserve his fate – like him, things continued to implode on me.

Half the electricity in my non-campus house went off after a storm, and it cost me dearly to get it fixed.

My car stopped working intermittently, which is the worst kind of not-working. I was supposed to chaperone some of our boys at the airport before break, and the car refused to start at 5 AM when I was to leave for Logan. Luckily, my trusted Administrator on Duty found some cables and gave me the needed jump, but the stress of that morning ruined what was usually a joyful experience of getting our students safely on their way home for Thanksgiving.

On the way out, the parking meter refused to print me the receipt I needed to submit for reimbursement.

I started hiking again after the injuries, but a trekking pole broke. Next, I awoke one morning in unbelievable pain. My back had apparently rebelled at the months of being off balance with crutches and boot; my newly salvaged freedom was once again curtailed, forcing me to count the hours before I could take the meds that would bring relief. Compelled to stand all day because it hurt too much to sit, I was exhausted by day’s end; unable to lie down comfortably, I lost precious sleep and became grumpy, unkind to others.

What had I done wrong, God?

In the meantime, one son faced multiple health adversities and the other one setbacks in his new job. My computer crashed. Weight I had lost during the scooter days crept back on as solace was sought in unhealthy choices.

What had I done wrong, God?

Turning to The Book for insight, I light on Psalm 102: “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord.”

Good start.

I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears. Psalm 102: 6

Okay. Progress. To lament is to truth-tell. To remind God of where you’re at.

Why not invite Him in?

Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 102:2

Who IS He, exactly, that I should?

You, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Psalm 102: 12, 25

I’ve been up high. Seen those heavens, looked down on those foundations. If my petty problems and pains seem small to me, up there, imagine how they appear to HIM.

Like Job, I needed to be reminded of God’s power, majesty, and compassion, His utter trustworthy nature and divine ability to know and direct and allow. I needed to remember all the ways He had led me in the past, in dark days devoid of light, through the valley and out the other side.

Could you give me another chance, God? I cautiously prayed. Something low stakes, perhaps, where I can try again to look at YOU and not the complaint?

It was not a prayer I wanted answered.

And yet – to be teachable is to believe that there was a lesson in it all. One I should want to learn.

Like Job, I don’t understand, but I’ve tried to shut my mouth and open my ears, to listen to what He might have to say.

Someday, the ruins will be restored. There will be an exchange:

Beauty for ashes.

Joy for mourning.

Praise, not despair. Isaiah 61:3

So we wait for the second adventus, when He will come as promised, just as He did, as promised before.

Monster

I feel as dark and dry as the desert tents
of the wandering nomads.
~Song of Songs 1:5

This past week, I finally climbed the slide of North Tripyramid.

The North Slide is not exactly a trail per se, but a jagged, rocky scar slashed into the forested flank of North Tri. It’s one mile of living hell that has earned a spot on the “Terrifying 25,” a list of the 25 most challenging hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. (I’ve done 11 of these so far, most unwittingly.)

I had attempted this “trail” a few years back but was forced to retreat when the slanted slabs became too, well, terrifying. I didn’t feel capable of that route, that day, and choose to backtrack and climb the mountain by a longer, safer route.

It had taken me years and hundreds of peaks to gain the courage to attempt the North Slide again.

Buzzing up the wooded approach trail, I felt happy. Confident. Only a little scared.

Knowing there were going to be some tricky spots, I would take my time and get to the top in one piece.

The weather could not have been more New-England-perfect; sun beat down and cool breeze blew as I grasped branches, found foot cracks and finger holds, puzzling out the route inch by slow glorious inch.

Half way up, my son called. With all four of my appendages gripping granite at the time, the phone rang and rang and rang, the only time on the slide I felt a little rattled. I was in a position where I couldn’t even pull out my phone.

Later, I did manage a few photos; the wide open nature of the slide provides some of the sweetest views in Waterville Valley.

The last one I snapped on the slide, looking down the great gully, can only be described as prophetic.

My left foot is out of the picture, otherwise occupied in keeping me from tumbling down a scree field.

Pretty soon it would out of the picture for a long while.

I knew from previous ascents that the summit of North Tri is but a muddy clearing, nothing much to see, so I lingered the last hundred yards of terror, enjoying the pure joy of being-fully-alive, until the slide disappeared into the security of the pines.

I hustled over to Middle Tri and back, then headed down the longsafe way as light began to wane.

And isn’t this when disaster always overtakes us? Least expecting, we are almost comically surprised when the badthing happens.

Jogging along the long dirt access road back to my car, my left ankle just decided to bow, pitching my entire weight onto lone left thumb.

Both.

Broken.

In an instant, still two miles from the parking lot, I was stuck.

All that hard fought joy leached out of me as I struggled back up and took tentative step.

Could I take one more? And another and another? As I told the ER doc later when he asked, what choice did I have? Yes, I had just passed a group also coming down, but I couldn’t possibly wait for them, ask them for help, could I? Hadtheyseenme? How embarrassing. I whimpered my way back to the car.

It would be the first of many helps, either offered or inferred, that I would reject in the coming days. Turns out, I’m not very good at asking for help.

I don’t want people to make my life easier for me; I just want to endure the hard thing quietly and get on with it. To deny independence is to admit weakness, and let’s face it: there are some hurts that can’t be quelled.

Later that week in Chapel, I read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together…But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster.

I look down and hardly recognize my own limb. The fattened, blackened foot at the end of my leg is a monster, a monster that has taken over all the other parts, demanding deference and complete submission.

Hip? Too bad that you don’t like the skewed angle by which you are forced to hang. Thumb? Sorry that you’re broken too, but try to keep up. Those crutches aren’t going to move themselves.

Smug, self-important appendage tyrant.

Our body, Paul says, is a model for understanding how our lives function as a church (or community): every part is dependent on every other part. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Okay, God, is that what you need me to learn?

To be willing to allow others to bless the broken parts of me, to open door or carry plate? To invite them into the hurt, rather than push them away?

Who but a monster would reject help rather than embrace it?

Like putting on pants with my leg in a boot, this is hard work. But if my weakness empowers others, allows them to function as Hand or Foot, does this not strengthen the whole body?

And haven’t you promised you’re always alongside? The perfect helper?

Psalm 59 says,

My strength is found when I wait upon you. Watch over me, God, for you are my mountain fortress (O, mountains! How I miss you already!); you set me on high.

I like to be up high.

So this is a promise I will tuck in my heart.

I don’t want to be a monster.

On Perspective

A few weeks ago, I had planned to “Grid out” July – to finish climbing all 48 peaks in New Hampshire over 4,000 feet in that month.

So far, the only two other months I have finished in my attempt to hike all 48, every month, were June and August; I was looking forward to having three full months in a row checked off.

Time for new shoes

The last hike on my list included a 20-mile out-back hitting five peaks (Zealand, Guyot, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff); three of these humps I would have to hike twice (out; then back), one of which was not even an “official” Appalachian Mountain Club 4,000 footer. Mount Guyot’s sin? Choosing to stand less than 200 feet from its official neighbor. Cheeky peak.

July had been an unusually stormy month up in God’s country, limiting my opportunities.

Also, working a summer school left me little time to execute a longer hike, so as July waned, I had my eye on either the 30th (lightning and rain predicted) or the 31st (high winds). Since much of the trek is above treeline, I opted for getting blown over as opposed to electrocuted.

The way up to Zealand from Zealand Road is one of my favorite stretches of trail in the Whites. Elevation gain is so subtle you barely feel that you’re climbing, and water abounds: rivers, streams, marshes, ponds.

With such a gentle invitation, you’re not offended when slammed by the profile up to and beyond Zealand Falls Hut.

Once up high, the ridge walk is delicious: shady and cool, bog-bridgy comfort with tons of views.

Soon, you meet the short side trail to Zealand.

Someone had been there before me, so I didn’t linger.

Next, it was up and over Guyot and on to the Bonds.

The winds felt windier than predicted, but luckily the views were viewier up there. Hikers struggled to stay upright, often crouching or sitting down during stronger blasts. My hat was blown off my head and an inner debate ensued: stay off the fragile alpine plants or Leave No Trace? LNT won out, and I found myself wading through blueberries as I nibbled my way over to where my hat was stuck.

I took a break on the way back at an overlook where, years before, my youngest son and I had celebrated his 11th birthday with a similar hike and overnight.

All in all, it was a brilliant day. I couldn’t wait to get home to add the dates to my Grid doc.

Let it be said that this is a busy doc, particularly center-page, with the mountains in rows across and the months in columns above. It’s a, well, Grid – and making sure one has the correct peak, written in the correct month, in the correct format (2-digit day, comma, apostrophe, 2-digit month) is important. In June, I had made a mistake and written some peaks in the July column, but I didn’t have white-out at the time, and corrected the mistake later.

Weeks went by, I hiked Zealand and the Bonds on the last July day of 2021, and was ready to see those three fat months all checked off.

As I was adding the days’ peaks, I noticed with horror that I had written down the Twins twice on the same day and year. WHAT-???

Quickly checking my workout calendar, I confirmed what I already knew: I hadn’t hiked the Twins in July, this year or ANY year. They had been part of that mistake last month, but I had neglected to white them out. Distraught, I quickly crossed them out in pen, not caring how it messied up the document.

July was over.

I’d have to wait a whole another year to Grid it out – possibly two, since I’ve been planning a Camino de Santiago hike that Covid keeps interrupting, and I was hoping to be in Spain next summer.

Adding insult to injury, for a few extra miles, I could have added the Twins to my hike that day. They could have been satisfyingly my 399th and 400th peaks.

UGH.

I suppose I could have remained there in my disappointment and frustration, keen on my inability to fix an unfixable situation.

But lately, and with great surprise to myself, I’ve been trying to invite God into those vexations, big and small, that litter the road of our days.

How else can I see this, God?

Instead of obsessing over two lost peaks or two lost years, I felt a nudge back toward the simple reason why I started The Grid in the first place: I like to hike.

And having more peaks to hike – 178 to be precise – isn’t that a good thing? And doesn’t that also take the pressure off forcing myself to finish the hikes I still have left in the winter months?

I could be more selective. Safer.

I could even do peaks I’ve already checked off, like Moosilauke in the rain with actual company.

Or Mt. Cardigan – it’s not even on the list!

Like blueberries on the way to retrieving my hat, I’m learning how to find beauty in the hard.

I think it pleases Him when we can trust that His perspective is best; there have certainly been some big trusts He’s asked of me, when I couldn’t see what He could see.

This past weekend, we finally put my son’s ashes in the ground. They’ve been moving around with us, tucked away in an urn, for the past five years.

It was time to give him a permanent place, pretty and calm, surrounded by flowers and trees and grass.

But here’s the thing.

His short happy life did not end in that hole in the earth.

No.

As we stood quietly saying good-bye, I was reminded of something the great preacher and evangelist D.L. Moody wrote in his autobiography, and it is as true for Moody as it is for my son:

Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.

Would that our perspective be ever that simple.

It’s only a matter of trust.

Halfway

Sometime back in May, I passed the halfway mark of The Grid.

So much has been happening over the past month that this milestone came and went without my noticing.

Other milestones distracted me, good ones and rough.

A college graduation of sorts, to start. Despite a miscalculation in credits, a canceled hockey season, and classes over Zoom, the oldest earth-boy finished his educational journey and is off to the Big Apple to chase dreams.

In lieu of a march across the stage – there wasn’t one – frowny face – he and I walk the campus visiting old haunts and marveling at the time in-between. Four years ago, his convocation was also a bust when we had to rush him out of the line to the hospital, deep in abdominal distress. The absence of pomp on either end seems meet somehow.

Later, I’m weepy driving his stuff to New York.

I’m not sure I can handle another departure.

Back at the ranch, his brother, more gifted, shall we say, in the organizational arts, redecorates their room. I suppose a new area rug can say I miss you as much as a hug.

Then there’s the other boy.

Five years is a long time, but we are blessed by the full funding of his scholarship. The radical generosity of friends somehow makes this milestone more bearable.

The final push is actually a party where I eat too little and drink too much (Jesus. Take. The. Wheel.), but the joy of seeing his myriad friends and hearing how they are living their beautiful lives enthralls. Maskless and giddy, I toast and tear with those who knew him well.

Then there’s the littlest one.

So like her mother in sass and smarts, her milestones race by between visits and I can’t keep up.

And somehow, in the midst of it all, the season changed.

576 is a lot of peaks.

Month by month and year by year, I’ve been chipping away at them, faithfully filling in the form, until, somehow, unacknowledged, the midway comes and goes.

In many ways, The Grid has saved me.

It’s the place I go where I can always depend on God showing up.

He’s everywhere, of course, but sometimes just more everywhere than most.

Sometimes He’s veiled and sometimes on full display, but He’s never, ever not there. It’s easy to lose oneself in all His showy splendor.

Halfway in The Grid is 288 4,000 footers.

It’s meant hiking in negative degrees, rain, wind, fog, bugs, and heat.

It means planning routes, nutrition, hydration, footwear, and gear.

It means checking trip reports, weather updates, forest road closures, parking lot conditions, and water levels.

It means leaving my itinerary with the kids because I mostly hike alone. Texts from trailhead, summit, trailhead, and home are what have kept me safe; or, if not safe, at least findable, should that become necessary.

I don’t take stupid chances because there are some milestones you just don’t need to rush. Mistakes are part of the process, but I mitigate as best I can.

I want to make it to 576.

The thing is, we may not know when we are halfway to something.

It’s easy to forget when you’re in the thick of something craggy that you could be halfway through it – or even a wisp away from the terminus.

But He knows.

And that’s enough for me.

The Pearl of Great Price

I often marvel at how events that seem so heavy at the time are sometimes just a gentle tool in the hand of God.

This was a rough week at the end of a trying academic year. Staying open was so good for our boys, and I’m truly thankful, but it’s come at a cost. There’s a collective exhaustion, a heightened reactivity, a general frustration at the very protocols that have gifted us safety. Living together on a closed campus as we do, it’s not easy to hide our vulnerabilities.

Things take on added weight.

Immersed as I was in the hard, I wasn’t thinking about my son’s next birthday, his would-be-27th.

He’s everywhere, of course; I can’t walk down the hall without seeing him.

Little him and big him, smiling him and still him.

It was estimated that there were 600 people at my son’s memorial service.

Maybe you were one of them.

I’ve taken to praying for the 600 every morning. They are precious to me, like the pearl of great price:

Later that day, Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeshore to teach the people. He taught them many things by using stories, parables to illustrate spiritual truths, saying:

Heaven’s kingdom realm is like a jewel merchant in search of rare pearls. When he discovered one very precious and exquisite pearl, he immediately gave up all he had in exchange for it. Matthew 13

I cannot say for sure, but perhaps that’s the exchange.

A marvel.

Most Noble Mouse

I caught a most noble mouse the other day in a sticky-trap hidden under the radiator in my kitchen.

He reminded me of Reepicheep – the most valiant of all the Talking Beasts of Narnia, and the Chief Mouse…[who had] won undying glory in the Second Battle of Beruna (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

This mouse, my mouse, back legs immobilized by the pad, had managed to drag himself and trap by his forepaws across the expanse of the kitchen. When I turned the light on that morning, he lifted up his tiny whiskered face and met my gaze with courageous defiance. He continued to struggle and squirm even as I carried him to the bathroom and, with some regret, tried to plunge him into a watery grave.

It didn’t end there.

Dark-eyed with fury, Mr. Mighty Mouse pawed and paddled to keep his snout afloat until, unable to take it anymore, I was forced to press him under with the butt of a candle. This battle left me disquieted, sad.

What price to pay for a pellet-free stovetop, a counter unsullied by mousy feet.

And yet, a lesson for us (for me, if I’m being honest here) in this time and season, this year of horrors and setbacks and pains. Has there ever been a time in recent history when not a one of us cannot claim some loss? To feel as if no matter how hard we grapple, we cannot free our legs from the snare, cannot run or breathe or swim?

It would be all-too-easy to allow ourselves to spiral into discouragement, anger, or blame. To not see this season as only that – a season, which, like others before it, will pass away.

King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes: To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Tempting though it would be to assume the laughing-dancing-time will never come, are we not now in the perfect season to remember that other season, 2,000 years ago, when God, silent for half a millenia, determined that the fullness of time had come?

When startled shepherds quailed as glory descended humbly wrapped in a chubby-cheeked Kinsman-Redeemer?

All throughout the Old Testament, the message had resounded: The King is coming!

And all throughout the New, the Promise echoes: The King is coming!

The verb tense reflects an already-not yet-always. For a God who calls Himself I AM, it makes sense: I was. Now I am. Forever I will be.

This is really, really good news. We are not bound by time, because he is not bound by time. Yes, there are seasons that come and go, but the span, the measure of God’s kingdom will always be.

From the Old Testament, Jesus proclaimed through Isaiah : Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

From the New, Jesus announces his arrival in that same prophet’s words, adding: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

God promised a Savior: He came. God promises a return: we wait.

Is He coming soon? Not even He knows, only the Father.

Today, however, right now, our season is changing. Past-dwelling should not be our practice.

To dwell means to think on, speak, or write at length on a particular subject, especially one that is a source of unhappiness, anxiety or dissatisfaction. For many, this describes 2020 perfectly; for me, perhaps all of the last decade. But going there – remembering past pains, rehearsing wrongs, thinking up pithy retorts for old stings – what good is that? It only serves to anchor us in the long-wheeled ruts of regret and betrayal and shame.

The new-springing-thing is on its way! His kingdom is steadily advancing, taking ground, preparing for His return.

Reepicheep felt this as the Dawn Treader was pulled along in the current of Aslan’s eternal purpose.

Lewis writes: No one in that boat doubted that they were seeing beyond the End of the World.

“This,” said Reepicheep, “is where I go on alone.” …he bade them good-bye for their sakes; but he was quivering with happinessmy belief is that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day.

Reepicheep, noble mouse, does not die when his coracle vanishes into the waves. Nor will we, if we look to the One, born for a season, who opened the way for us, for our own eternal season that never ends.

Until then, we keep dragging that trap across the floor, keep looking defiantly into the face of our giant. Struggle. Swim.

The end is not the end; it is only the most glorious of beginnings.

My prayer for all of us this season is this:

Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope! (Romans 15:13)

Grace

We find ourselves again in the Days of Awe.

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, between creation and atonement, we sit, contemplating our wrongs.

I wander at the end of a very-long-day-not-yet-over, wondering about offense.

How is that we are so easily offended? And why is so hard to forgive?

A colleague on Zoom tells me something about my son, a silly little thing, that I never knew. Apparently, he loved stuffed breadsticks and once ate 12 of them and nothing else for dinner at the school he loved. The school I love. My friend was so kind to share this with me, a new nugget, and it made me smile.

My son.

On days like today, I could use his sweet embrace that often did nothing to change a thing, but somehow, still, made it all better.

Don’t worry about that, Momma, he would say. It will all turn out alright.

I’ve forgiven him for dying, of course, for driving drunk and leaving us all behind. I’m grateful on days like today that this is not my forever home, any more than it was his.

In a cemetery at sunset, I sit on a tiny child’s bench, flaked by time, and lament.

Isn’t that the point of the Days of Awe? To ruthlessly examine our flaws and offer them up to God? Ever patient, He tenderly squeezes our hearts until, squirming, we no longer seek to justify our imperfections or hold others’ against them.

It’s okay, my daughter, He whispers. I’ve taken care of that.

I look up and it’s the first thing I see.

I Will Sustain You

I finally got around to watching the Downton Abbey film this week. It was like stepping back in time, but not in the way you might think.

While the lauded series chronicled the life of the fictional Crawley family in and around World War I, watching the 2019 movie brought me back not to early 1900’s England, but to a dark period earlier this decade when my life’s threads were progressively unraveling.

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During THAT TIME, forsaken and alone, I sat riveted to PBS every Sunday night as people who never existed became so real to me that I could not help but care as they married, gave birth, bickered, died.

I loved the Crawleys and their sassy servants; they distracted my own heart from its welted pain, gave me license to laugh or weep, and kept my chin above water just long enough to take a breath before I went under again until the next week rolled around.

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Is that not the power of story?

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The good news is that spending time again with the Countess Dowager and Mary and Anna and Tom helped me to realize how far I have actually come since THAT TIME.

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God’s story in my life, our story, is nothing if not a page-turner.

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It’s not a typical story, with a beginning and an end; timeless as God, my story with him stretches as far back as my pre-created self —

My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:15-16)

— weaves through the times that I might prefer to forget —

“Because she loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue her;
    I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name.
She will call on me, and I will answer her;
    I will be with her in trouble,
    I will deliver her and honor her.
With long life I will satisfy her
    and show her my salvation” (Psalm 91: 14-16)

— sustains me as I soldier on into evening —

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you (Isaiah 46:4)

— and reassures me that though there are many, many chapters ahead, not one of them will be the final one —

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand (John 10:27-28)

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Woo hoo!

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So as I watched the Crawleys debate the future of Downton Abbey – their highly predictable way of life, progress, how things change – I wasn’t sad anymore. I didn’t need to wait for the next week; the series is over, and that chapter closed.

Overcoming is as simple as taking the next step forward in trust; and though simple is simple, it’s not always easy.

How could it be?

What kind of story would it be if not for the heroes and villains, plot twists and conflicts, romance and battles and birthing and pain?

Yet, the promise is for us all who put our hope in Him:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go…I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:9,5)

Please Don’t Cry

One of my daily liturgies is to open an email from BibleGateway to see what God might be saying for the day.

Today, on the 4th anniversary of Gordie’s home-going, I am surprised-but-not-surprised to find that God was thinking of me and wanted me to know.

Today I read:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

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With all that God has going on in the world – pandemic, stife, poverty, riots – how is it that he could remember today, sit with me awhile, lift the heaviness from my heart?

There is a story that always gets to me, as it reveals that no matter how much we might feel we are forgotten or overlooked – God is always there, willing to identify with us.

Shortly afterward, Jesus left on a journey for the village of Nain, with a massive crowd of people following him, along with his disciples.  As he approached the village, he met a multitude of people in a funeral procession, who were mourning as they carried the body of a young man to the cemetery. The boy was his mother’s only son and she was a widow. When the Lord saw the grieving mother, his heart broke for her. With great tenderness he said to her, “Please don’t cry.” 

Please don’t cry.

Jesus, doesn’t this passage imply that you were crying?

For clearly it says His heart broke for her. 

Just like when your friend Lazarus died, and you knew – you knew, just like you knew here, with this son – that you were not going to allow him to stay dead – even then, you wept?

Why? 

Was it because, in that moment, you could see not only this widow’s grief, but all the future griefs of this world – all the deaths that were to come, all the future mothers and brothers and sisters and friends who would mourn as they carry their loved ones to the grave?

Could you already see mine?

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But wait.

Then he stepped up to the coffin and touched it. When the pallbearers came to a halt, Jesus said to the corpse, “Young man, I say to you, arise and live!”

Immediately, the young man moved, sat up, and spoke to those nearby. Jesus presented the son to his mother, alive! A tremendous sense of holy mystery swept over the crowd as they witnessed this miracle of resurrection. (Luke 7:11-16)

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Alive!

That is what we need to remember.

Although the immediately for my son looked much different than the widow’s – just as it may be for the  thousands and thousands that will die today, and tomorrow and the tomorrow after that – we can trust that our Abba-Father is infinitely willing to identify with the tender and particular of both our mourning and rejoicing.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid – please don’t cry – you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

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.

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