Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Song

I might have to ban Christian radio from my car.

I know.  It sounds like a pretty drastic measure and it won't actually happen, but it was the second thought that crossed my mind when You Raise Me Up by Selah came on.  (The first one was Quick! Turn it off!)  If you've read previous post, you may know that this is THE SONG that set off my daughter's hour-long crying spell a few months ago.

This is the song that played during the slideshow at my grandmother's funeral.  The song that somehow unleashes my daughter's grief, even now, almost 3 months after her earthly body has left us.  The first few notes filled the car and I quickly hit the OFF button and asked if she would like to listen to her VBS CD.  No!  I want to hear it!  I switched it back on and looked in my rear view mirror.  Her eyes went downcast.  Her lip quivered.  The first few tears formed.  And the wail escaped.

While my oldest daughter was out of the car, ringing her friend's doorbell so to ask her for a playdate, my four-year old was having crisis.  Last time, I let her cry it out, but this time I didn't.  I immediately tried to distract her and divert her attention.  Abby got in the car and of course asked why Hannah was crying.

She heard the song.

With that limited amount of information, Abby launched into the story of attending her great-grandmother's funeral.  When she was finished, she then started animatedly discussing our trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas that happened yesterday.  One mention of the log ride and Hannah jumped in the conversation.

Crisis averted.  For now.

I probably wasn't right to try to gloss over her grief. I'm not sure how to go about fixing this mistake.  But in all the thoughts rushing through my head right now, one stands out the most:

How will she cope with our trip to the beach?

Our annual beach trip is coming up soon and Grannie, for the first time ever, will not be there.  Her absence will be felt tremendously. In fact, no words can describe how much her presence will be missed.  I can picture Hannah, walking into the door of the cottage and upon not seeing Grannie perched on the couch, dissolving into a puddle of tears. Even though she is only four, she will know not to ask, Where is Grannie?  She understands that Grannie is in Heaven with Jesus.  She understands that the death of a physical body on earth is permanent and that she will not see her again on this side.  She understands the pain of losing someone that she loves deeply.  She understands...and will not bury that pain inside her when it wells up in her little heart.  She will let it out.  She will wail.  And upon her cries, she will elicit the pain that we have all buried, at least a little bit, as we scurry about our lives, trying to live them to the fullest when the void has been so great.

Her cries were murder to my heart, but why I could not bear to listen to them, why I could not allow them to flow unrestrained was because my own wanted to harmonize with hers.  Allowing my grief to escape was something I could not do at that moment. Selfish, I know.  But, the torrential worries and fears and loss that I have in my heart would be too overwhelming for her to hear.

Too overwhelming for me to hear, in fact.

My mission in life is to be present and available to my daughters whenever they need me.  Hearing Hannah's reaction and a quick glance into my own heart tell me that I have moments that I need to have with Jesus before I go to the beach.  This is God's quiet whisper, just a few notes of a song, to gently pry my hands away from my heart and let Him heal so that I might be open to whatever reaction, questions, or needs my daughters might have when they walk through that cottage door, when they see the waves, when they touch the sand, when they want so badly to call out her name...

Grannie.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Playing Leapfrog


This past week was our church's VBS, hence the reason that I have not posted until now.  Never underestimate the ability of VBS to completely wear you out.  Last night, I was asleep by 8:00.  I didn't get up until 8:30 this morning and even then I had to will myself to leave my bed.

Our theme this year was Joseph's Journey and the stage was set in Egypt.  On Thursday, the Bible point was "God gives us forgiveness."  I was in charge of preschool games and we were supposed to be playing Leapfrog because it is an Egyptian past time.  Preschoolers do not have the coordination to actually leapfrog over another, so we were going to leap over stuffed animals.  The night before, I asked God to help me connect the game to the Bible point.  God came through.  I set up a row of 4 stuffed animals for the kids to hop over and one large one at the end of the line.  I talked with the kids about how we feel when someone hurts us.  They responded immediately -- mad, sad, bad.  I asked them if they ever wanted to hurt the other person back and we called that revenge.  We talked about how all those feelings were obstacles to being able to forgive our friends -- obstacles that we had to ask God to help us leap over so that we could run into the arms of God, into the arms of forgiveness.

The kids had a blast hopping over the obstacles and who knows if they really took away what I was trying to teach them.  But I do know this -- seeing their faces as their teachers held up the large stuffed animals for them to hug showed me the power that love has to conquer all other obstacles.  The smiles on the children's faces radiated pure joy as they leaped into the arms of something bigger than themselves.    Right there, in a very tangible way, forgiveness felt good.

Time and time again, I have convinced myself that it feels better to hold onto my anger, that somehow it protects me from future hurts.  I have held onto the disappointment because it made me feel superior to the person who has hurt me.  I have held onto my sadness because wallowing in self-pity seemed to elicit a good amount of attention from others. 

Lies.

All of those lies, sugar-coated, to keep me from tasting the real goodness of God's love and His power to help me forgive.  Knowing how short I fall everyday, knowing how desperately I seek His grace, knowing how lost I would be without His mercy, propel me over my hurt, disappointment, and anger, and into a space of forgiveness.

It's not as easy as playing leapfrog, unfortuntely.  Many times, I speak forgiveness out loud, only to have those negative feelings creep up on me again.  It becomes a process, especially when I have been deeply hurt, to not stay stagnant in those negative emotions, but to tap into that bottomless reserve of God's love for me and the person which has harmed me.  To remind myself that I have forgiven -- choosing to love instead of hate, speaking wisely and not maliciously, reveling in freedom instead of remaining in chains -- keeps my heart and mind centered and at peace.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Shirt off My Back


Last Sunday night, I was convicted.  By a four year-old.

We were at a BBQ at a friend's house.  Being that my daughter seems to be magnetized to water no matter where she is, she found herself soaked after playing in the backyard.  I asked her if she wanted to change her clothes and then turned to Carter, her friend, and asked him, Can Hannah borrow a shirt from you since she got her dress all wet?

Sure! he said, and promptly started unbuttoning the shirt he had on.  Oh, no, no, Carter. I didn't mean the shirt you have on...just one from your drawer.

 His fingers paused and he gave me a quizzical look.  Oh, okay.  He headed toward his room to find one.

I know.  Awwww.  How sweet?  It was a cute story, one that we all laughed about as the children continued their playing and the adults continued their chatting.  But it's one of those stories that God used to start my heart churning about what it means to give.  Am I willing to give the shirt off my back?

What is the shirt off my back these days?  What are the truly sacrificial gifts that I can give?  Can I give them with joy?  Without a second thought?  Can I have the enthusiasm and sweetness of Carter, who was not concerned about what he would be left without?  (Although, I'd have to say, I'm sure as a little boy he could care less about what he was or wasn't wearing.)  Do I stop to ponder what I might receive in return or what I will lose if I choose to put another before me?

The other day I was asking a friend if she could keep one or both of my kids while I had surgery.  As we went back and forth making plans, I told her that I would love for her daughter to come spend the night at our house one night, too.  Her reply?  Of course!  That would be fun!  

But you don't owe me...

What was she trying to say?  She would take care of my children because she loves them?  That she values me?  That this is a gift that needs no reciprocity?

Yes.

Back-to-back events that hit me on all sorts of levels -- How can I give more often without expecting something in return?  How can I accept that others choose to give me gifts with no strings attached?  And, on some level, do I still try to earn the love of Jesus, who gave me the ultimate gift of eternal life?  A gift that in no way would I ever be capable of earning? 

I am asking God to help me to view giving as He does, to help me find joy in all sacrifices, to stop keeping score or measuring on scales.

To be willing to give the shirt off my back, without pause.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Wave of Permanency

I haven't written much about my grandmother's death recently.  I can honestly say that there was kind of a lull between grieving the initial loss and whatever this wave of grief is called.  Too, I felt like people were kind of over me talking about my grief, so I just kind of put that aside for awhile.

I can't quite pinpoint when this stage of grief started to seep into my life.  Goodness knows I do not have time for weeping these days.  With both of my kids out of school, much of my time is taken up with them and trying to clean out my house.  Oh, then there is my part-time job that seems to have gone from 10 hours a week to about 20.  There is a myriad of other things, but I don't have time to lay them all out.

Ka-boom. Life explodes and now I'm supposed to grapple with this?  Again?

If I hadn't decided to start cleaning out and organizing my house, I may have delayed this process a bit longer, but I happen to be a Type A personality that absolutely hits the ceiling after seeing clutter for more than, um, a few days.  Since it had been a few months, surely some of you know how I must have felt by then...

I had to organize all my old family pictures after doing a 90th birthday photo book for my grandfather.  What I didn't expect to find were some pictures of my grandmother (not this grandfather's wife) lumped into the pile.  There were a few of her with my dad and a lot of her and me throughout my life.  It had been a few weeks since I had made her photo tribute book (I had been looking at pictures so much that I was kind of immune at this point) and I guess seeing them again just brought up the fact that she is still not here.

See, the first go round, it was really about saying good-bye and mourning her loss at that time.  Now the grief is about mourning the fact that she is never coming back.  It's the Year of Firsts -- all those events that normally she would be a part of that she now won't.  It affects me in small ways -- moments when I would love to have her encouragement during times of stress (i.e. NOW) and I cannot pick up the phone to hear her voice.  It affects me in big ways -- knowing that we are preparing to go the same beach we have all gathered for 30 years and she will not be physically present.  She will not be there to play in the sand with my daughters, to tell me stories about Howard, to stroke my hair as I lay my head in her lap.  I will not hear, You are my treasure.  I will not see the pride in her eyes when I walk into the room.  And I will not feel her arms around me as, even in her frailest state, she was able to communicate such strength as she hugged me.

I have moments again that are just overwhelmingly saddening.

I'm sure that this grief will ebb and flow with time, but if I don't take it in as it comes, I will not be healthy.  Living this grief out loud helps me heal.  It becomes a testament to the fact that as humans, no matter what is deemed accepted or expected, we can't just get over loss like this in two to three week's time.  Love and loss run deep and no matter that we know that our loved one is in Heaven, the fact remains that he or she is not walking with us. That takes some getting used to, for everyone.

The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running. 
-Nike running poster

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Showing Up

You know it's a bad sign when you think that your mascara has run and you try to wipe away the smudge with make-up remover only to find out that it's not mascara at all.

Enter in the dark under-eye circles of fatigue.

I'm currently in the process of running myself into the ground, but have seemed to caught myself before it gets to the cry-at-the-slightest-little-thing phase.  This, to me, is a huge improvement and it's nice to sit back for a second and realize that I really have learned a thing or two as I have lived my life.  My husband and my children, I'm sure, appreciate it, too.

My routine has lately consistent of continuously running around between a graduating Kindergartner (I had NO idea that the end of the year would be THIS insane), a 4 year old that has been out of her 2-day-a-week school for almost 2 weeks, a part-time job, hosting a silent auction at my church, trying to blog and write a new childrens' book, and then all those things like laundry, cleaning sticky messes off kitchen floors, and emptying the litter box.  You know bad things can happen when you let certain things go unchecked...

Anyway,  I am so tired that I can hardly go to sleep at night because I am so wound up.  I get in my bed, close my eyes, and realize that I have neglected to pray, to even acknowledge God in any real way, and the guilt creeps in.  Guilt about not praying for my children, for not praying for my friends, for not thanking God enough, for not confessing enough.  Sound familiar to anyone?  At that point, I would begin to earnestly pray for someone and my train of thought would last a whole time of, oh, 30 seconds.  My to-do list would creep in,  my oh-&@#! I forgot to do ________ would appear, and the Do you know, I am still mad about ___________ would inevitably rear its ugly head.  Needless to say, the prayer time was not productive.

Then, yesterday I had arranged to have both kids at playdates so I could get some work done.  I set a "work-until" time and when that was over, I decided I would go have some planned quiet time with God.  I opened my devotional, read the the blurb for the day, opened my Bible, and promptly closed my eyes.  Overwhelmed by my lack of motivation to study or to even think, I just sat there and breathed.  I need my time with You to just be an oasis.  I just need to be able to sit here.  I have nothing to bring You right now except myself.

I felt prompted to crack open (and dust off the front cover first) a book that has been laying on my nightstand for, um, months called Prayer: Does it Really  Matter? by Philip Yancey.  I figured out where I left off and began perusing.  This quote from Henri Nouwen completely struck me. He writes, sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning -- day after day, week after week, and month after month, it total confusion and with a myriad of distractions -- radically changes my life.  Now, really, at this moment in time, I have no idea where an hour of my day might come from, but the lesson that I felt like God was telling  me was that it was not a perfect prayer life that changed Nouwen, but the offering of time.  He obviously did not always have the eloquent words or a one-track mind.  He openly confessed that distraction and mundane feelings of unproductivity interrupted or inhibited that lofty goal of having a miraculous encounter with God.  Knowing that my prayer life does not have to feel like striving, that the end product does not have to be glistening and gleaming, that God will accept me, imperfections and all, makes me just want to sink down in His lap.  He is not something to check off on my to do list, but rather He is a sanctuary where I can find rest.  He is an oasis in a dry and barren land.  He is a Counselor that makes me lie down in green pastures and beside still waters.  He is the restorer of my soul.

When I perceive my relationship with Him as this, I hunger for the relaxation that He brings.  He does not necessarily take things off my plate, but having balance in my soul brings more balance and perspective in the daily ins and outs of my life.  He is no longer a chore, or a stern teacher that mandates that I do my homework.  He is not a boss that breathes down my neck, demanding perfection.  He is a Father who welcomes me even when I have nothing but a small offering of time to give Him.
                                           photo by Jono