Getting Lost, again. Getting Found, again.

April 5, 2014

I am still collecting and reflecting on my thoughts from the conference I attended last week. The first day of the Christlife conference was engaging, they won my heart with magnetic name badges (no holes in clothes) and wonderful bowls of fresh fruit. There were still moments of doubt when I asked myself why was I there, and the ever present thought that it was Justin’s birthday. I realize now that I did not comprehend how much energy it was going to take to juggle that reality.

By mid-morning I was convinced that I was where I was supposed to be, the people were  incredibly friendly.  I didn’t tell anyone that it was Justin’s birthday, through the inevitable questions about family and children, those at my table learned of Justin’s death. Doug and I are pretty good now about stating the plain fact in a simple sentence, you learn how to re-direct the conversation off the subject onto one more comfortable for everyone. I still had a deep sadness running through me, my baby’s birthday and I felt alone. So I asked God, we don’t speak much, but I did ask Him if He was around, could there be cake for dessert tonight, you know, birthday cake for Justin? By that afternoon, I could feel a migraine coming, my scalp was beginning to crawl, it feels like someone has brushed your hair the opposite direction, and the pain settles in behind one of your eyes. Sprinkled throughout my conference book are the times that I wrote down when I took Tylenol to keep it at bay. I wasn’t going to leave, I was determined to stay.

The end of the day one came, a full 12 hours since it began, it was near 8:30 PM. I walked out from the conference seating area to the reception/hospitality room and there on the tables was cake. Cake with little flowers. Cake cut into the perfect small bites. Chocolate layer cake with chocolate mousse filling and it was delicious. I wanted to share it with someone, but how do you articulate what this cake meant to me? I made my way to the car, I had reached the end of my reserves, sorrow is always greater in the evening and night. I quickly reviewed the directions for home, the exit for the beltway was a bit hard to find and it was very dark. I missed it. I figured that I could just loop around and pick up another exit for the beltway. I ended up in what I think was Hanover or Brooklyn. I couldn’t get the volume to increase on the GPS and I was becoming…frustrated, yeah, a lot. I pulled off the road and pulled up a NAV program on my phone, looked with disbelief at how it said to find the beltway, but took the turn and headed that way. Over. A. Bridge.  Bridges, we don’t do bridges. Bridges have water under them. And it was so dark. I get over the bridge, pull over at a gas station with the bright lights of the city looming ahead of me and melt down. Complete melt down. I call Doug.

I snuffled out my story to Doug and all he asked was where was I. He didn’t remind me that I had an expensive GPS, and two navigational programs on my phone, he just asked where I was. So I told him I came over a horrible dark bridge. He said he was going to need a little more detail. Well, I thought it was the Hanover Street Bridge. Okay he says, be there shortly, sit tight.  Knowing he was on his way, I was content to just sit and breathe and wait for my knight. I texted a friend and she lied and said that she gets lost too, I am pretty sure she was just saying that so I didn’t feel like the complete village idiot.  Doug arrived and slid into the passenger seat of the van, amid piles of tissues, the GPS which I had dumped on floor, my conference bag, and more tissues. “You up to following me” he asked, yeah – I am good. And so we started for home, on and off ramps, merging with crazy traffic, and all I had to do was follow him. I had a voice in my head telling me that I should just stay home, miss the rest of the conference, it was a crazy idea to go anyway, but I didn’t want to miss the rest of the conference. There was no great theological treatise or discovery that made me want to go back, it was their hospitality, it was the lovely bowls of fruit and smiling faces, kindness is a powerful draw. And there had been cake. We pulled into the driveway, safe and sound. The puppy was dancing, so happy to see me. He knew that I had been crying, he did his best to cover my face with a thousand kisses to make me laugh.  And I cried some more, I cried for a boy I couldn’t hold, I cried for another birthday without him.

I have spent many wakeful hours sorting out what happened last Wednesday night. I have the distinct sense that God was trying to show me what discipleship and walking with someone on their journey truly means. I never have to worry about Doug bringing up to me my getting lost or being mean to me about it, he will never make me feel stupid. He is the first one to put me right back in the car and tell me it will be okay. He didn’t ask how I got lost, or tell me if I would just simply follow directions none of this would happen – he just asked me where I was, and was I safe. And he came and met me where I was at and let me follow him home.  There is another deeper truth emerging in the quiet. I believe God was showing me that no matter how lost I get, or how dark it is, He will always know where I am and can always find me. He will never tire of finding me in the dark, He won’t tell me it is my fault that I am lost, won’t remind me of mounds of doctrine, He will just quietly find me. It is what He does, “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”  All I have to do is follow Him, He knows the way through all the thorns and thickets. Just like I followed Doug home, I didn’t have to worry about the scary ramps that seem to hang in midair, or the zillion lanes to chose from, I just had to keep fixed on his vehicle.

There is no sin in being lost, no sin in darkness, yet there is a tendency to shove quick fixes at people, give loads of advice, tell them to pray more, but very little is taught about just being quiet with them, walking with them in dark places. We are not the consolers or healers, Christ is, all we have to do is be kind to each other and the Kingdom of Heaven is present. Sometimes the most grace filled words are “sit tight, I am on my way.”

 

 

Categories: Dark Night, Doug, Faith, Justin.

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Do you trust me? The difference between intimacy and quickies.

April 4, 2014

For two Fridays in a row that question has come up in the preacher’s homily. It is asked in the person of Christ, Christ asking each of us “Do you trust me?” And my answer again this Friday was no.  I don’t think Jesus wants a fake answer, I think He of all people want an authentic relationship, not one based on BS. Why should I lie? It was the same question that the wise older priest said God was asking of me well over a year ago. My answer then was a very resounding no. The trust question is a reoccurring theme, God keeps asking me if I trust Him. But I don’t have a sense that he is cranky about my honesty. Some people would be so shocked and offended by my response. My response to them is why are they portraying Christ as some petulant immature man child who gets his hackles up when given an honest answer. Right?

If He is who He says He is, then He has the patience to wait, He has an arsenal of arrows to send my way, arrows of His love and fidelity. If this is a personal relationship that He calls each one of us to, doesn’t He expect and know that there will be doubt and fear, struggle and confusion. If this is a personal relationship that Christ seeks with each of us, then at the core He is seeking intimacy, not just a quickie. Quickies are fun, quickies don’t ask much of us, an exchange of names, body fluids, they are superficial. Is that what reception of the Eucharist has become, a quickie? Do we hide behind that quickie and call it a personal relationship with Christ? It is quite possible to lie with someone in the Biblical sense and not know them at all. Not have a clue who they are, what is lovely in them, what their heart is truly like. But intimacy, intimacy is heart knowledge, intimacy is to see inside a soul. Intimacy is to lay your heart and soul bare to the other and not fear rejection or scorn. So much to unlearn about God.  A wise monk wrote, God is The Tremendous Lover. He is not a stalker, there is a winsome quality to God, yet, so often all we hear is how wrathful and angry He is, desiring our comeuppance. He actually desires our companionship, our conversation, our bad moods, our joys, our sick cats, it is all important to Him. Pillow talk, He wants pillow talk.

I have a thought about the liturgy also. And please, don’t misconstrue my next thoughts. But sometimes I feel so remote at Mass, so separated from God and the priest. It is almost like we put barriers in the way to true intimacy in the Mass. This has been brewing in me for a long time, brought about by being liturgical gypsies for a couple of years. I don’t seek intimacy with those attending Mass, I go to find God, I seek the transcendent.  So often I find what I call Liturgis Interruptus, I know, sounds odd…and borderline scandalous. Our hearts are moved by beauty and simplicity.  Something touches my soul when a priest chants different parts of the mass, and with no prompting or rehearsal, his flock responds in kind, we chant back to him, it is written on our hearts, we know the responses, true communion takes place. Those moments are pure intimacy with God, His priest, and the flock that they shepherd. The call and response of hearts united in prayer. Do not misunderstand me, I know music plays a part in worship and praise, but it should never be the barrier. Sometimes when the plea for God’s mercy has been lifted to God by the priest, and we have to wait for a musical introduction and then respond, it is almost like having the phone ring at an inopportune moment, and the moment is lost.  Liturgis Interruptus.

Anyway, back to the original question, “Do you trust me?” I don’t hear it as an accusatory question, it has become a thought provoking question, a question that I can now revisit and engage in conversation with, it seems to be asked more frequently, but not with impatience. I need to sit with another question of my own, is He trustworthy? Much to ponder, but there is peace in the pondering.

“Here deep calls to deep in the roar of your torrents.” Psalm 42:8

Categories: Dark Night, Faith.

Happy Birthday Justin

March 26, 2014

Dear Justin,

Today is your 29th birthday, our fourth birthday without you. Seasoned parents suggest having a plan in place for hard anniversaries, like birthdays, death dates, even if you don’t follow the plan, have one sketched out. I have a plan in place, an unusual one. This year I am going to attend a three day conference, starting today, by myself.  A program I know absolutely nothing about. And I am going alone, on the beltway. We hates the beltway.

This program kept on popping up on my radar and I saw that the national conference was going to be close by, but it started on your birthday. How could I be out in public on your birthday? I am a raggedty, dripping mess.  Again it pinged, so I called the contact number. I told myself that they would most likely be grouchy sounding and then I could just cease and desist. The lady was as kind and friendly as could be, no help there. So I registered.

I have a different feeling about conferences now. You know how we used to be so goal oriented, focused on what we were supposed to get out of the conference, instead of just letting it flow. We have learned a lot from Ryan about looking at things from a different perspective. You would be so proud of him Justin, so proud. He has great insights and he is still teaching us new Navy language, I can’t write much of it without offending my gentle readers, but it does make your dad and I laugh…and cry, because we miss sharing the fun with you. Anyway, I am going to this conference for me. My goal is to have no expectations so as to appreciate everything and everyone I meet today. Today I would like to honor you by being kind, enjoying the moment, meeting new people, learning new things, maybe I will take some notes, maybe I won’t. At any rate, lunch and dinner are included and someone else is fixing it. Bonus, right?

I missed you so much last Sunday. We sit in the way back of church now. I can’t bear to sit close to where your casket was, still too much of a trigger. The hymn was announced, “Come to Me and Drink.” I know, right?  Your father wouldn’t look at me. I miss how I could catch your eye and make you laugh. We never needed words, you knew what I was thinking. Some folks like to teach that heaven will be the endless Liturgy, may God have mercy.  I hope it is more like the gathering table where the conversation and stories never have to come to end, where table time and laughter are never interrupted by sorrow.

They played a song from your funeral also, I threw up the partitions and blocked it out. I can do that pretty good now, stop the tape from playing your entire funeral. I watched out the window a bit and redirected my thoughts. Although I don’t care if I cry anymore, it is what it is and I yams what I yams.

We have a lot going on. We joined a CSA this year, Community Supported Agriculture. You invest in a share of that season’s crops and in return receive a wonderful box of assorted produce every week. I am going to be volunteering on the farm to work off part of the share cost. Weeding, digging, cleaning coops, all sorts of stuff, you would love all the baby animals they have on the farm. They even have a litter of kittens. And we are going to foster German Shepherds, our first foster may be a stray who was living in a cemetery.  My first thought was, well, he had plenty of bones – I know, so warped. But you would have laughed and you know it. I can hear you, “Mom, that is awful!” as you choked on your coffee because you were laughing so hard. Your dad entered his documentary on Hurricane Sandy in four film festivals. We won’t hear anything for months, but we have learned it isn’t about winning, it is about making connections, being willing to engage, and make yourself vulnerable. You would have enjoyed that project, we met a lot of neat people.  We miss you so much Justin, you are in everything we do.

Today is bittersweet, so many memories. They haven’t softened yet, we are told that the memories will become sweet again. I think of a piece of glass that has been tumbled in the ocean, still glass, but made smooth and soft by endless pounding and scouring with sand. Grief is endless pounding and scouring with sand. So perhaps with time, lots of time, those sharp edges that still cut will soften.

We think of you every minute of every day, miss you, love you forever.

 

Categories: Doug, Family, Justin, Ryan, Stories, Uncategorized.

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There once was a jellyfish

March 22, 2014

There once was a jellyfish who tried to fit into whatever shape anybody wanted it or needed it to be, you need a giraffe, okay, and the jellyfish would pour itself into the giraffe mold. You need a platypus, not a problem, and the jellyfish would pour itself into the platypus mold.  I won’t go on, you get the picture. Endlessly shape shifting from one mold to another, and never really taking the time to find its true shape.

One day the jellyfish tried to pour itself into yet another mold and got stuck. Something was different, it couldn’t pour itself into a different shape anymore. It got half way in and something got stuck – was that a back bone that was growing? The jellyfish squeezed itself out of that mold and felt perplexed, it tried again. It still didn’t fit and the harder it struggled to fit the mold, the greater the confusion. The jellyfish drifted away, bewildered. The jellyfish tried one last time to squeeze itself into a different mold, maybe this one would work. But no, the back bone had grown straighter and stronger. And what were these other things growing, graceful and strong – wings. The jellyfish hid now, it was obvious it was no longer a jellyfish, it had odd new parts, and didn’t fit anywhere anymore.

The jellyfish stayed hidden, uncomfortable and sad, it didn’t know if there would ever be a place for it again. It did have a very good friend though, a friend who didn’t seem to mind that tentacles still stuck out from its enormous pink bathrobe, that it had a straight spine, and wings that were sparsley feathered. The jellyfish found other friends who didn’t seem to mind the molting process process either, so it took courage and started to try out its wings. Mostly it fell, it had been easier to simply shape shift. But then sometimes there would be a lift under its wings and it felt pretty good to claim its own shape.

The new creature does not despise the jellyfish that once was, just the opposite, it learned that it needed to love that jellyfish and see the good things that it had done and forgive all the mistakes it had made. The new creature learned that failing is okay, it is the setting out in different directions that brings growth to wings, it is in the getting lost that it learned to navigate.

The new creature stretched out its new back bone, learning how to care for its new form. It stretched its wings as far as it could and gave them a great ruffle, it smoothed its feathers and tucked its head down for a rest, feeling a different sort peace, she slept.

Categories: Hope.

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The Swan, transformed pain.

March 20, 2014

For well over a month I have had “The Swan” cello solo from Camille Saint-Saens “The Carnival of the Animals” playing in my head. Not at all unpleasant, but curious, I have not listened to that particular piece in a very long time. I would hear it in my head all through the day and it suddenly occurred to me that it was Justin. Every child has their own song in their mother’s heart, a melody that plays background to all that she does. When Justin was killed, that melody disappeared. His was a lilting song, think flutes and light, and then awful darkness when he died. And now this sonorous cello filled my head, so resonant, such strength. The voice of the cello lingers on each note, so much that you can actually rest with each note, no fear of it disappearing too quickly, it ebbs and flows, weaving sorrow and strength.  I finally had to seek out a recording of it, worried that listening to it being played would stop the solo in my head, but it didn’t. YoYo Ma is my favorite, he matches perfectly what I hear in my heart.

The cello seemed to give voice to another thought that spins in my head, that of transformed pain. The realization and acceptance that the pain of Justin’s death will never go away, but the pain becomes transformed into energy. It is not the high wired energy that I once knew and felt, where things were accomplished in rapid succession, it is a lower tuned energy. And if I am honest with myself, I don’t understand how to use it, I just know that it is there. I wonder if it is not unlike those first discoveries of energy, whether it be fire, electric, steam, it has to be understood, how to focus it, how best to channel the energy. So much I don’t understand about the energy of pain transformed, but I can speculate about its properties. This energy is finite, there will still be days when exhaustion rears its head. This energy is discerning, not quick to apply itself, but moves much slower in expenditure, weighs the project at hand. This energy can let go of something with no regret or guilt, recognizing the good of the endeavor, but also recognizing a “not now.”  This energy is not the energy of spring, new and bright, it is more ancient, it is an energy that I can ask questions of, seek wisdom of, find peace in its strength.

There is a stillness and calm in this energy. Pain transforms us from the inside out, time is the greatest gift you can give to someone in that transformative process, it cannot be hurried or cajoled, bullied or demanded. Like water, it shapes and molds its own path.

I am sure I will blunder as I attempt to live in harmony with this new energy, it cannot be grasped or held, it will not be manipulated, but I believe it to be generous and flowing. I know that I can live with Justin’s new song in my heart, he will forever be that cello melody that plays background to all that I do, all that I am. It plays counterpoint to the song that is Ryan’s, melding, weaving, I still have two sons, forever brothers.

swanpic

A postscript, I had an extraordinary moment after I wrote this post. I am working on clearing the ground clutter around the house. There has been a small stack of Justin’s CD’s on a bookshelf for three years, they are CD’s that didn’t make it in the box we sent Ryan of Justin’s music collection. And there in that small stack was this, suffice it to say I had a good cry.

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Categories: Grieving, Hope, Justin, Ryan.

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Six Degrees of Separation. Letters to a Young Poet

March 13, 2014

A small book by Rainer Maria Rilke, ten letters the poet wrote to the young Franz Xaver Kappus. A book I wish I read earlier in my life, then again, it may have not made sense to me then. I have come to believe that books find us when the time is right. You hear a title and it haunts you until you look it up and finally lay hands on it. And then you open it up and find a kindred spirit, someone who speaks to your soul. This extraordinary book could be read swiftly, but why? Like a rich chocolate cake, it is best enjoyed by small pieces with no other distractions, and visited again and again for small slivers. I have gone back and read and reread some of letters three, four, five times, they just get better. Rilke describes the different places he is writing from, shares small snippets of daily life, and writes with such generosity to this aspiring poet, no critique, no harsh shredding of his work, he speaks with such concern and love, acknowledging the courage that it takes to offer someone an inside look at your soul, your work.

I am reading another marvelous book at the same time, something I promised myself I would not do again, read several books at the same time. I am reading Robert Wicks “Riding the Dragon.” I discovered his book while researching education programs on death and grief. I fell in love with what he wrote in the preface:

“In the area called “post traumatic growth” studies are reporting now that some people who have encountered severe stress, dramatic loss, or trauma experience a positive paradox…they experience new psychological growth and spiritual depth that would not have been possible had they not undergone a trauma or severe stress…although no one should want to suffer dramatically (and when it does happen it certainly should not be underplayed or denied)…the terrible occurrences can actually turn out to be the source of unforeseen personal development.”  Robert Wicks, Riding the Dragon

He speaks of facing our “dragons” not stuffing them down inside caves, but learning to ride our dragons. And, this is so important, he validates the pain, he understands that there will be darkness, deep darkness. I am nearing the end of my first read of this gem and who does he quote?  Rainer Maria Rilke! He quoted from “Letters to a Young Poet.” I sat and just enjoyed the moment, what a rush of excitement, another kindred soul! I will reread “Riding the Dragon” as soon as I finish my first time through, in my eagerness to consume the entire book, I know that I have missed much wisdom.

I was just interrupted in my writing by our canine door bell, he loves it when “brown” delivers. So do I. I have been eagerly expecting the arrival of a new book. I read a quote by Joel M. McMains from his book “Dog Logic: Companion Obedience”, it stayed with me, rang true with why I believe in consistent, loving, training for our canine friends. I had placed a moratorium on purchasing new books, but then Amazon has this feature where you can search inside a book, and who was quoted? Yes! Rainer Rilke again! Of course I hit the “order” key, so excited  to have found another friend of Rainer. How small the world is when we step out into its vastness.

I feel like I am following pearls along a path, they catch the eye with their reflected light, a light from another soul. I am continuing my God hunt, I have found Him in unexpected places, kindness is His hallmark. I know He will change up the game once I get good at it, but for right now, it is a great game.

 

Categories: Faith, Hope.

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