Archives For death

How to Die Beautifully

October 16, 2014

There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention.

Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch—outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that’s where they’ll thrive best. But years in Texas are teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

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I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt? I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know I will die a million deaths until the final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

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Cut

October 5, 2014

I said no to a lot of things this year and in every direction branches have fallen. Good, seemingly healthy branches and dead ones too. Their absence has left me feeling naked and exposed, broken and wondering: what did I do to deserve the axe to my soul?

I learned long ago to not make plans, partially because nothing in my life goes according to one, but also because they become a breeding ground for resentment when I am disappointed in their failure. There were seeds of doubt in me this year that grew into fear and developed into anger. Not anger at others, but anger at myself, mostly, and anger at God. Maybe others knew I was being pruned, but I felt unjustly ruined.

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

Jill Andrews has a song called Cut and Run where she says, “And it’s just like me // to walk away so early.” All my life that is my propensity. I walk away early instead of digging in deep. But this year He wouldn’t let me. He made me wait, long past the time when everyone else said to walk away. He stayed me, and then still cut me. It felt unfair, the antithesis of his goodness.

Nothing has gone unscathed.

Making the decision to stay in Texas was an act of faith for me three months ago. I felt physically nauseous when I signed our lease; it felt like a death warrant for me in some ways, and I am not prone to exaggeration. It was in part an act of submission to leaders in my life who are wiser than I, and in part submission to the Lord who presses deep on my propensity to run when the going gets tough. I began to submit a thousand small things to others too, in a way I balk against naturally. There have been times in my life when I felt suffocated by submission, no part unscrutinized by others. And there have been times when I have soared in submission, being set free under good leadership who wanted good for me. But this season of submission has felt both restraining and freeing.

The other night my closest Texas friends and I sat around a fire for half a night. The moon rose behind us and the coyotes howled. I didn’t say much, which is not unusual, but I listened a lot. I listened to laughter and sorrow, stories and life. All the things God uses to bring us to today.

He has been healing some things in me in the past few months. Not growing new branches yet, but healing the cuts from the old ones. Signing that lease, living with the four souls in our home, going to my hometown in Pennsylvania, good conversations, intentionally digging in at my church, working on projects that bring me joy, putting aside projects that steal my joy, choosing home more than choosing traveling, saying no to so many things, so I can say yes to what is most important: sitting at the feet of my good and faithful and kind Savior—the true vine, the true root, the true tree.

The Questions God Asks

August 24, 2014

I can’t shake the heaviness. It’s been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. “Where, oh death, is your sting?” Oh, it’s here. All here.

I’ve been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn’t even recognize the man who asked, “Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?”

But he knew.

And that’s what I’m stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn’t help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I’m trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot’s wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren’t you where I saw you last?

Today I read, “In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord’s first words to an individual person were to ask, ‘Why are you crying?’” And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, “Why are you crying?”

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Earth and Sky

July 8, 2014

Earth and Sky
A beautiful collision of grace and grief
by Guy Delcambre

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When I first met Guy what I was struck most by was his weary constancy. Here was a guy going through the motions of life, fatherhood, writing, breathing, and doing it without the woman he thought would be beside him for the rest of his life. I never heard him complain. I watched him put one foot in front of another, fathering, writing, leading, working, breathing. He writes in the same way.

There’s a weightiness to his words, not because they are weighty words but because they carry strength and endurance within them. They are the badge of a man who has sunk beneath the waters of suffering, who has subsisted on the bread of affliction, and who has seen the goodness of God in the land of the living and the dead.

In Guy’s new book, Earth and Sky, he writes of his life with his wife before her death, and what to do after she was taken from him so young. There is a tangibleness to the wrestling Guy does in the book, and I don’t think it’s just because I saw a bit of that wrestling in real life. I think it’s because Guy put his heart into the writing of this book—not for fame or for a name, but for his daughters. He suffered well because he was watched closely. I said to him one day a few years ago that they were learning how to grieve from him, watching him, and I couldn’t think of a better example.

If you are grieving or you know someone who is, I recommend Earth and Sky in the same way I recommend A Grief Observed, because sometimes what we need is not all the answers, but a friend to walk alongside when the answers don’t come easily.

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Half of 28 is 14

February 28, 2014 — 3 Comments

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February 28th is my dead brother’s 28th birthday. Is that what they call the Golden Birthday? He always was the golden boy. The dead often are.

I don’t believe in celebrating the birthdays of the dead, but this one in particular sticks to my ribs, to my heart, and in my soul in a different way than all the rest. It is a benchmark birthday.

Andrew was 14 when he died and it has been 14 years since he died. Life has gone on as normal for 14 years, but now we are on the other side—the side that will have experienced more of life without Andrew than with him. It is a strange thing to celebrate or commemorate, and yet I do.

A few weeks ago a friend said to me, “Sometimes I think about all the things he’s been spared from, just by going on ahead of us,” and I had to agree. A lot of living—and dying—has happened in these 14 years. I am glad he was spared, and I am also glad I was not. God does know what is best and I trust Him in that.

There are things about Andrew that are forever memorialized in my mind, his wide mouth and smiling eyes, his lanky legs and heavy steps, his long fingers and, most of all, his kindness. Andrew was kind to everyone he met, a simple, unaffected kindness. The sort you get from hardly anyone and want from almost everyone. He had time for you, for everyone. He might have taken all the time in the world to get to you, but when he did, he had time.

For many years I felt the injustice of being the one left behind—me, the one who is always in a hurry to get everywhere, him the slow almost plodding one. And yet he got there first.

The irony is never lost on me.

Live and Let Love

October 7, 2013 — 4 Comments

The thing about dying, I have heard, is your life passes before your eyes. All the choices you have made and all the ones made for you, a clear succession of days, weeks, months, and moments—encapsulated in a second. A rush of every fear, joy, hope, and terror you’ve ever felt.

The thing about singleness is that the best way to live it is to live it hard, to die, yes, but to live, really live. The unmarried person is concerned with how to please the Lord and the Lord is the shepherd of the widest pasture known. The thing about marriage, I’ve heard, is the best way to live it is to die a thousand deaths, over and over and over. To lay every dream, desire, and fortune at the feet of a tangible other—an other who has dreams, desires, and fortunes of his own. It is an invitation to come and die.

In all my years of singleness I saw the portion before me, wide open pastures of expectation and anticipation; sometimes riddled with fear of the unknown and sometimes full of risk and reward and sometimes frustration at what seemed to never be. I teetered on the edge so many times because one wrong move seemed to set the course for my life. Come live, my Savior said, come to me and trust me: LIVE. Open wide your heart, your abandon, your treasures, your lot, and live. Come live with me and be my love, like the poet said.

In only a few months of anothering, I see only the portion behind me. My life passing before my eyes, all my fears, regrets, joys, expectations, and I see God bidding me to come and die. I uncurl my fingers from the gold of what I have built and what I have trusted in, what works for me, and what dreams have come. Come die with me and be my love, the vows could say.

Why are you writing this on Sayable, you are asking me, I know. Keep this stuff between you two. Tell us only the joys and hopes, the good things we dream of our futures. But I cannot, my friends, because I promised you Sayable would be about the gospel and this is the gospeling done in me today. Today, this week, the gospel has asked that I lay down me, all of me, every part of me I have crafted and found pleasure in, the parts I have imagine that God Himself finds pleasure in—I lay it down.

Here is a small comfort: I imagine in those moments before dying, when your life is passing before your eyes, how much life can fit in a moment? It may feel a lifetime, but a moment is so small. What you realize you are losing is so minute, so temporal, and I find solace in that tonight. My rights? My dreams? My preferences? Mere vapors, here today, gone before tomorrow.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Luke 9:23-24

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It is raining when I wake. I stretch my legs, hooking my toes over the end of my bed. I have not been able to shake the brokenness I feel these days. There is good news and bad and it comes simultaneously. The world is broken and we are in the world, and sometimes of it too. A new niece was born yesterday and a man who is like a father to my brothers died last night.

I was brought forth in iniquity.

There are those who excuse those words as poetry. But what is poetry if not man’s attempt to make sense of what seems senseless or too mysterious for simple words? What is poetry but God’s way of making beautiful what seems ugly? When science fails me and theology is too wondrous for me, I take comfort in mystery, in poetry.

An unsettling verdict, a drug overdose—”this world breaks every one of us, and later we are strong at those broken places.” Hemingway did not believe in original sin, I don’t think, but even the best and worst of us knows the cracked and creviced face staring back at us from the mirror. Are any of us whole? Really whole?

A week of conversations on brokenness, where baggage on original sin and depravity and hope circle and devour—it leaves me feeling brokenness more acutely. No one is unscathed, and especially not the one who thinks he is. We all walk with a limp and better that we acknowledge it than try to hide it. You’re broken? Me too. Let us walk more slowly beside one another then, the journey toward the kingdom is not a sprint or a race, there are no winners—or losers. His glory is our collective trophy.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and contrite heart, you will not despise.

Brought forth in brokenness, brought forth in wholeness—either way, what He desires is the cracked and creviced child. The one who knows her sin and her faults, her needs and her Savior. The one who knows his helplessness and his fears, his limps and his Healer.

What need have we for a Savior if we can find a scrap of wholeness on our own?

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Corinthians 15:51-57

What is Lost

March 27, 2013

When you have experienced loss in aching ways there comes a time when you are expected to be finished with your mourning. One year, two, the imaginary line is drawn and you feel guilty mentioning the thing that you once held more dearly than anything else.

You might be grieving a friend, a husband, a brother. Perhaps a relationship or a home or a job. But what you are grieving and what you have lost are different things. What you have lost is security, the knowingness, and no matter how much warning you are given, there is no way to prepare for a mourning of this kind.

So you dip your head, you close your eyes, you let your hands rest in the soapy dishwater until they are wrinkled, the skin as translucent as your heart these days. People are patient and careful with you, afraid of your fragile skin and see-through heart. And you are grateful for the ones who say nothing, simply put their warm hand on your cold and crooked neck. And you are most grateful for your own bed, your covers which wrap you tightly because it is security you miss more than anything.

But there comes a time when people begin to wonder about your overgrown grass and glassy eyes. “Isn’t it about time…” they say, with their heads nodding like bobble heads in the backs of New York City taxi cabs, plastic and too large for their bodies.

And so you begin cutting your grass and looking people in the eye again. You nod to them in the grocery store, even if you don’t remember they brought you five casseroles in a row once. You no longer talk about what you grieve in the present tense.

Years later you casually mention what you lost once, surprising yourself with the cavalier tone—are you turning into a bobble head too? But you still go home, wrap yourself in your covers, knowing joy comes in the mourning and in the morning too.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers,
about those who are asleep,

that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
I Thessalonians 4:13

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This has been sitting in my draft folder for a while now, but over this past week several people in my life have lost loved ones and so I thought it apropos to post. Grieving looks different for everyone, but we are still called to mourn with those who mourn. Pray we would mourn well alongside them, with hope against hope.

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Drinking Often

March 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

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I am thinking of the first communion these days, more part of the Easter story than the Christmas, but how can we love the birth if we do not love the death? I am thinking of that cup of wine, the sign of the new covenant, the blasphemous words of a man at a table with 12 friends: drink this new way of doing things, this new kindness of God. Drink it in remembrance of me.

“As often as you do it…” That’s what he said. It’s odd that a man who was saying, “I’m doing away with your rituals and sacrifices, your habits and your rules,” was also saying, “do this often.” But this is what I think about last night falling asleep: He has set for us pleasant perimeters. He says do it often, but remember it’s not your religion anymore.

He knows us so well to use a word like often.

We need this, with our hearts so prone to attempting and trying, to sacrificing the modern lambs of our time, our tithe and our truant hearts.

We need this, we who do not understand that the kindness of God draws us to repentance and anything less is a marauder of faith and a shortcut to legalism.

I drink the cup this past Sunday with no resolve in my heart to do better next time or try harder tomorrow, no attempts to force a change of heart or fall into an apathy of my soul. I drink it with the freedom to drink it often, as often as I need a reminder of the new covenant, as often as I need the kindness of God drawing out my repentance. I drink it in gratefulness.

Someone said to me a few months ago: I’m only grateful for the Old Testament because it shows me where I’d be without the New Testament. I think about this often. That’s really what Jesus was saying, drink this small cup, this sip of wine, do it to remember where you were and where you are now.

Doesn’t that taste good?

(Published originally this past year on Grace for Sinners)

Whenever tragedy strikes, for the young boy who has lost his dog or the recent Connecticut shooting, it’s in these hollow places our theology makes itself known. We may say we are not theological, but Tozer once said that “what a man thinks about when he thinks about God is the most important thing about a man,” and so we are all theological.

It is in these dark moments that we think about God the most. His existence or His absence, the strong tower or the hollow void—we shout our questions out and wait for an answer, or don’t. We think about God and so reveal ourselves.

Mere hours after the shooting on Friday crosses formed on the school property, candles were lit, and people kneeled down, heads bowed. Churches filled for vigils and our President read from the Word breathed words. Children singing Silent Night opened Saturday Night Live, and today a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah circulated from NBC’s The Voice.

It seems that when tragedy strikes we all find ourselves pulling at the familiar spiritual things, bringing forth faith in an agony akin to childbirth with none of the beautiful reward.

But sometimes our hallelujahs are empty because we don’t know the God with whom we’re pleading.

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After my brother was killed, I can’t remember whether it was days or weeks or months after, a family friend erected a cross, painted it white with his name on it clear: Andrew David Ferguson. My father put that cross in the ground less than a mile from where we lived. I was there when my brother died, misshapen on the wet highway, and the cross is nearly forty feet away.

I passed that cross for years and it’s still there, I’m sure, overgrown with weeds and tall grass—and every time it is not a reminder of my brother, but instead my father. My father, though he tried to get there quickly from seven hours away, was not there with us on that rainy April morning. The cross is a reminder of the void—not of my brother and the tragic way he died, but of my father, the one I wanted to take care of us, explain this, clean this mess up, make sense of it.

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And so in moments like these, when we are all seeking sense, building towers of thought and politics, I understand the fumbling words people say and don’t mean, the beautiful heretical tributes, the plastic crosses and empty prayers, the haunting hallelujah song and the comfort we find in trite verses. I understand we are all trying to make sense of it all—using whatever we understand to make our way there.

We are all looking for a Savior in the hollow places. We are all betraying our theology of belief or unbelief. We are looking for someone to make a way, make sense, make whole.

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So be gracious in days like these, hold the gospel near if you believe it is truth, and if you don’t, come near, come and drink. God is not a God who promises answers, even to His children, but He does bind up the brokenhearted and set free the captive.

He was once a Father who set up a cross in a moment of unspeakable tragedy too.

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If you’re interested, I have a guest post up at Everyday Awe today on The Worth of a Soul.

“He shouts, breaking in, throwing his grand cloak over our unrighteousness, our unworthiness, our most tender parts and our weakest shames. She’s mine! He says. He’s mine! He says. I’m claiming this weary soul. I’m calling its worth.

A new and glorious morn.”

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How to die beautifully

October 20, 2012

There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention.

Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch. Outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason that the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that that’s where they’ll thrive best. But a year in Texas is teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt?

I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like that. That makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know that I will die a million deaths until that final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

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This post was originally posted in October, 2011. But in honor of peak week at home, I’m posting it again. Enjoy your leaves northern friends!

TRADES

September 11, 2012 — 4 Comments

You listened to part of the transcripts this morning before someone who knows you better than you do told you to stop, before you’d end up in the closet, in a ball of tears.

You’ve never seen New York like this. Eerily silent and dust covered. A city of the walking wounded. You stare into the eyes of strangers for five, ten, forty seconds before either of you realized that in New York City you don’t do that. You avert your eyes, look away, avoid, but not this week. This week you stare. And you nod at the end, sighing in unison. You are both thinking the same thing after all: what just happened?

Every park is filled, every corner is filled, every mind is filled: what just happened?

Fences are filled with Missing Person signs and the homeless aren’t the only ones laying, dazed, on park benches and curbs.

You know things are going to change you, but you don’t know how much, or to what length. You don’t know, for instance, while you watch planes crash into familiar buildings, that in ten years two of your baby brothers will be soldiers and men, stationed in countries torn by war. You don’t know that in ten years every day you will pray for peace, mostly because peace means that they will come home in one piece.

You don’t know that in the weeks to come, you will open the coffee shop every morning at 5am and you will listen to your fellow countrymen wake up to the news, giving their best war-plan strategies while they hand you their dollar-sixtyfive. You don’t know these things. You don’t know that freedom really does cost something, but in your wildest dreams you never imagined it would cost this.

You stumble through a shell-shocked city, one wrapped in yellow caution tape. You try to make sense of what just happened.

You don’t know that everyone you know knows someone who knew someone and you find out years later that you knew someone too. You regret losing touch.

You love history because when you hear about what has happened, it helps make sense of what is happening. But when what is happening is happening in real time, in your life, around you, there is no sense to be made of it.

You just stare at strangers a little longer. You both nod. Maybe you reach out and touch their arm.

What should have made us afraid, for a few weeks there, made us brave.

You’re proud to be an American. You are. You pray for peace. You hate conflict. You hate that your baby brothers wield guns and wear uniforms. But you love your country. You loved it dusty and shell-shocked, and you love it bankrupt and tired. You loved it confused and bewildered, and you love it arrogant and corrupt.

But you love heaven more and you long for it. So you pray only this, but every day: even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Come quickly. 

(Originally posted on the ten-year anniversary of September 11.)

I’m tired.

There, that’s out there.

I’m exhausted. No, I don’t have a little baby waking me up at all times of the night, or four kids to corral into fine formations, or a family to provide for or a company to lead. But I am just one person and being just one for 30 years can be tiring too. I’ve been getting up while it’s still dark most mornings and for this night owl, that’s enough to spin me into the oblivion of tiredness.

bed sunlight white sheets

I sat across from a friend on Wednesday and we talked about what it means to enter into one another’s sorrow. How it means that we don’t just feel pity or empathy or a burden, but that we actually enter into it. We feel it. We know it. We know it as acutely as our own sorrow.

This goes for joy too. But somehow joy peddles us forward, while sorrow only seems to hold us down.

There are so many, many sorrows in me today. I can’t even give number to them and so few of them are my own that even if you ask, I won’t tell you anything is wrong, they are not my sorrows to tell.

My pastor back home told me once to do my homework in class: pray for a friend while I’m with them, counsel them right there, and that doing this would alleviate some of the burden someone with a gift of mercy is going to carry.

It was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten and I rarely let an opportunity go by without praying for someone.

But sometimes mourning with those who mourn means that we ache with their unanswered prayers. Sometimes it means we wake up aching and go to bed aching. Sometimes it means we keep careful watch on our phone for updates and careful watch on the messages we send out, keeping watch over souls that have been entrusted to us.

I’ve been depressed before, no secret there. And this season feels acutely like those seasons before: I want to sleep, I forget to eat, smiling feels like too much work, work feels like too much work. But last night as I slid between my sheets and put my head on my pillow, closed my eyes and felt the tears brim to the surface, fall over my cheeks, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “There is nothing light about mourning, but there will be light in the morning and morning is coming.”

I woke up late this morning and for the first time this week the sun streamed in my window, a sliver of light across my comforter.