Monday, August 26, 2013

Grief, Joy, Laughter through Tears & a Challenge

This weekend I learned that the baby of a friend of mine who was born way too soon is thriving on his original due date and has a bright future. A child many of us worried would die when water broke so unbelievably early, has fought through with God's mercy and lived.

It's been a weekend of rejoicing what is, that could just as easily have been a weekend of mourning what could have been. What should have been. The child's name is Jonathan, but in a way he is an Isaac of joy and laughter, too, I'm sure.

While this sweet baby continues to grow stronger, another mom of three is growing weaker...

You see, this weekend I also learned that a friend of mine has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. As friend number 1's baby learns to control his muscles and hands, friend number 2 has been losing control of hers. The disease is robbing her of what should be.

As I've grieved for friend number two, I've found myself pleading, "Oh, God, please.... No!"

I know it's arrogant of me to even presume I know better than God what is good and what needs to happen. Still, it feels disloyal to my friend not to beg Him to reconsider the plan here.

This mixture of joy and sorrow is nothing new. Life from our perspective is rarely all good nor all bad at the same time. We've probably all even heard the saying that "you have to take the good with the bad." Perhaps that's even why Romans 12:15 was penned. God has a way of blurring the lines between grief and joy, yet still we need to grieve fully at times.

We have a way of blurring the lines, too. Sometimes we laugh so hard that we cry. Other times we'll be in the throes of grief and someone will toss in a statement or joke that instantly lightens the mood. After just such an event, a character in Steel Magnolias (Truvy) famously quipped, "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."

I know this road is terrifying, but my friend was also granted inconceivable peace prior to receiving her firm diagnosis. For that I am grateful. She's not afraid of death itself, but the dying part is scary of course. She's requested prayer for her children mostly and for one particular neurologist she sees. Mainly, she wants to live, fully live and enjoy every moment while she still can.


How do I even pray for her? For her children?


I keep thinking of a song that came out when I was coming of age -- Home Free, by Wayne Watson. If I remember correctly, he wrote it in response to the funeral of a little girl in their church whose healing they had prayed for without abandon. Right now, it's the only thing that really helps me process grief like this. (Well, that and the last few chapters of Job.)

I haven't told many people, but I had a cancer scare earlier this summer. In fact, I pretty much had myself in the grave and was quite stunned when everything checked out okay. I remember marveling how I'd been granted a new lease on life -- that since I apparently (at least for now) have the gift of time, that God could ask me to "take one for the team" regarding some of the personal difficulties I'd been experiencing.

In retrospect, this weekend has been a reminder of that realization and a challenge for me to fully live, but not just in the cliche' "enjoy every moment". Yes it is good to look around and be thankful, but I sense God drawing me to something more...

Every day of life is a gift -- a gift that I can give back to God when I return kindness when it seems un-deserved -- living at peace with those who frustrate me, seeking instead to love them, pray for them, and find creative ways to spur them on to good as well.

I'll be praying for my friend, too, as if it were I myself who were in her situation. One day, we all will be there, whether we receive advanced notice of it or not.

-rg-

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer!

"Do you remember when the winter was so long, it seemed that summer would never come. And then in summertime, winter was so long ago we almost forgot what it was like?" -- Mary Ingalls, as quoted in These Happy Golden Years

Yep. That -- what Wisconsin feels like to me.

There's a reason I haven't blogged since April: The snow finally *FINALLY* melted (long after March, when I first started bidding it farewell).

Winter overstays its welcome up here. There's a quick meltdown we obligingly call "spring," and then summer is fleeting. There's just enough time to thaw out your toes.

We cram 9 months of stuff into summer. I'm so not kidding. Everything is so green and different, that it almost seems like we've moved somewhere else since winter. But it'll all be gone soon enough.

"How did Ma and Pa Ingalls ever do it?" I wonder. I'm pretty sure they must have been quite skinny. I have a cellar, too, but I'm guessing my garden isn't nearly as big as theirs was. I'm trying to branch out, though, and plant perennial things that will produce or at least start growing in spring -- strawberries, asparagus, and even "pie plant" (rhubarb).



In Texas, I loathed summer and welcomed the chance to go off and do things in air conditioning and/or cooler weather. Mission trip to Wisconsin or the mountains of New Mexico? You betcha! I'll work hard, but it'll feel good.

Now that I live in Wisconsin, I find myself begrudging anything on my calendar during June, July, & August. Can we visit relatives in Texas during spring break, when it's still too cold to do anything up here? Can we have VBS in January when the kids are stir crazy for activity because it's dark by 4:30 in the afternoon? Mission trip to Central America in February anyone?

So now I'm trying hard and hoping that I can get all the yard work done before the first frosts begin erasing the memory of what is planted where. There is such a long time between growing seasons that I forget. Sometimes I have to wait until things bloom before I know what is a weed and what is not.

I can almost hear my neighbors muttering under their breaths, even though most of our landscaping is nice and neat. Still, other areas are pretty sad:

(This is what happens when the weed control fabric of a previous homeowner is not completely discovered and removed before planting all those cool native plants.)


Maybe this fall I'll remember to label the good guys before they disappear? I'm hoping to dig down deep before summer's end and nab those holdout invasive roots sheltering under that deeply "planted" weed fabric I discovered too late. And maybe, just maybe, I'll remember to make my list of stuff I want to order for next spring and note where there's room to plant it...

-rg-

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grief Before Blame. Always. Then Mercy.


It's a real place. These are real people. And they're shocked, devastated, and weeping. Those are my thoughts as I sit here in tears thinking about the tragedies that have happened in our nation recently.

I grew up in a small town in Texas. So, the tragedy in West yesterday evening hits home a bit more for me. I've been through West. My family always looks forward to swinging by the Czech Stop for kolaches when we go home for a visit.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but when I first heard of the fire and explosion, the thoughts of others and myself were that we hoped the Czech Stop wasn't damaged. We had no idea the devastation. We didn't realize people had died. We had just latched on to what we knew personally.

Tragedy is awful anywhere. But when it hits a small town like that, everyone suffers. If the death toll of 60-70 people holds up (and I earnestly hope it does not), it means every single family in that town has probably suffered the loss of a loved one -- maybe not their immediate family, but a cousin, an uncle, a neighbor. Someone close. Someone too close to be lost.

There is a time to look for answers. There is a time to find out what we can do better. But now is not it. 

I truly believe we lose a part of ourselves when we choose not to grieve with those who are grieving. To ignore the pain, skipping right to the anger and the blame, is to callous our skin and harden our hearts.

And oh my gosh never is the time for sarcasm. Nor belittlement. Can we get through one disaster without the idolatry of politics once again ruling the day?

How long was it after the horrid tragedy in Sandy Hook that our facebook feeds filled up with gun control debates, both for and against? Children had just been viciously stolen from their families, and already people were arguing with each other instead of praying for those picking up the pieces of their devastated lives.

When I first saw the photos and memes after Sandy Hook, I instantly thought about those parents and wondered how awful that must be to see. I would just be screaming at the top of my lungs, "I'm broken and hurting here! Can't you see?!?!? I'm burying my child at Christmas. Don't you care?"

The previous goes to everyone. But to any Christians reading this, I would add this:


I know that there are many more helpers than hurt-ers out there. Their stories are beautiful and encouraging. And on the scene, you see them clearly. But from a distance, they're harder to recognize amidst all the other junk. We can either magnify their light or dim it by our words and actions.


Jesus did not come to the earth nor to die for our political causes. Neither, liberal nor conservative, no matter how righteous they may seem. No matter how much of an expression of our faith they may seem. Judas made that error -- there was plenty wrong in their country that needed fixing. And he betrayed Jesus in doing so.

Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus, not Judas.

Let us resolve to bind up the broken hearts. Comfort those who mourn. Rebuild the ruins. Be the tender-hearted hands and feet of Jesus.

And ignore the mocking debates in Herod's Court.

It's easy for me to get caught up in them, too. I have an opinion. Someone is wrong on the internet and I feel the need to clarify. But I've resolved it's a waste of time. People generally do not want to be confused by the facts. Instead, I'm determined to:

  • Pray. 
  • Volunteer. 
  • Give. 
  • Get trained. 
  • Help the first responders and second responders -- 
  • the Red Cross, 
  • my denomination's Disaster Relief Agency, 
  • a mission of mercy organized in my town or your town...


To do anything else, I believe, is to risk betraying Jesus. And the hurting. May I never do that again.

-rg-

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Blessing or Prayer for a Baby Shower

We had a baby shower at our church today for two women expecting "bonus children", so to speak! Typical quirky pw that I am (and becoming even moreso as I age) -- I spent some time last night on pinterest searching for ideas of what to bring. I started a group board with other pastors' wives for shower/girly food, and then also a private personal board specifically for baby shower ideas.

Guess what I brought? Yep! A pre-made cheese and cracker platter I snagged at the store on my way to the shower. I just flat ran out of time! In fact, I was late to the gathering because I got confused with a turn and ended up on the wrong side of town!

So anyway! Last night, God seemed to be prompting me to work on a blessing to give to or pray over the moms and their new little ones. I looked up some verses, and here's what I came up with. I'm posting it in case it may be helpful to others. It can easily be switched from prayer to blessing with a few "May you's" and such along the way:

Thank you for these beautiful moms whom you've clothed in strength and dignity. They are strong women who manage their families well.

Thank you for these precious gifts whom you are knitting together in their wombs.

We look forward to getting to know them! Until then, we rest in the assurance that you've known them before they even existed, already acquainted with their ways.

May you give them a safe and easy delivery into this world, and help them to thrive once they're in it.

May they grow to love you with all their heart -- running to Jesus, just like the children did when you walked the Earth.

May our church love them with our hands and feet, as well as with our thoughts and prayers.

So, I guess if I was going to spend the time on a creative pursuit, I hope in this case it was better spent on the blessing rather than the creating of something edible or cute!

I don't usually write out prayers, so this was new to me! I grew up in a church where we did have printed liturgy and prayers, but people were always in such a rush to get through them, that too much was lost in translation. I'm gradually re-embracing some of that heritage, and have found it especially well-received in the multi-cultural setting we are now in.

 -rg-

(p.s. I was inspired by an e-book I downloaded after Sarah Bessey posted a short selection from it. Today's prayer from that book, Common Prayer. A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals included the idea of loving with our hands and feet. Two days in, and I am loving the electronic version of this book!)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I'm Not Blue About Autism

Today I went on a college tour with my eighteen-year-old son. He's a fascinating person. He sees things in ways I would never see them. He does things I'd never think of doing.

I still remember the time in middle school when he got bored during library time, so he translated his history assignment into Chinese. (His teacher of course was amused, but made him re-translate it back into English before re-submitting it.) One of many fond memories I have of his childhood.

So, imagine my excitement when I learned today that the school we were looking at actually offers classes in Chinese! I know that secretly, it excites him, too. I saw the smirk on his face.

Things haven't always been easy for us. I'm not meaning to gloss over that. Sensory overload was tough to understand and accommodate at first, to say the least. And I certainly understand why people find autism puzzling. (And highly recommend Temple Grandin for helpful insight.)

Oh yes, if you haven't guessed already, my son does have a diagnosis of autism, at least from the Psychologist. If you want to get technical, he has PDD-NOS with medium impairment, diagnosed by a Pediatric Specialist when he was almost 3. Though in working to understand him and help him, his "impairment" is now considered mild.

I mention it as an afterthought because my son is himself first. Autism explains why he doesn't catch on to certain ways of standing and certain social nuances. It explains why he can be disorganized about some things and won't always speak up for himself when he should. However, autism does not define my son.

Today, I'm going to say something that I've been sitting on for about 6 years. I think it's taken me that long to get the backbone to say it and not care about the consequences. In fact, I already posted something on Facebook and some of my friends there are not happy with me!

So let me clarify right from the beginning...  I know that people mean well. They post photos with puzzle pieces and/or blue lights because they know and love someone with autism! I get that, believe me!


But, there's more to the story...

AUTISM SPEAKS DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME NOR MY SON!

That feels good to say! Please let me explain...

I have NEVER secretly hoped my son would accidentally wander off into a pond and drown. I have NEVER considered driving off a bridge with him in the car, only to be stopped by the thought of my "normal" children still needing their mother.

And I'm concerned that the "cure" for autism will most likely look a lot like the "cure" for down syndrome.

Confused? I'll let someone with autism explain, because their voice is what has been missing from the conversation all along (or at least for the last 6 years):


Why I am against Autism Speaks, by I am. I am. I am.


Oh, and might I recommend Autism Acceptance Month instead?

 -rg-