There I was in Michigan at a Church Conference with a sick husband by the time we arrived. After a night of chills and fever and a Dr. who prescribed much needed antibiotics. Still too sick to travel home or attend the conference we had no choice but to stay put – wondering why we were there. I sat in on a few sessions and made a few significant personal contacts but the most important was what happened at Glenlord Beach that second day.
Earlier that day I email my friend, telling her I am going to the beach for a quiet time. I almost decide not to go when I receive an email from her telling me she is praying for me as I go to the beach. She has been aware of my struggle with doubt these past weeks – all my wondering if prayer mattered and while I know God is good overall, does He ever really care about how I feel? The past weeks I have been wondering…
And so, sensing God would have something there for me, I get in the car and drive over to Lake Michigan. I walk out onto the bluff overlooking the beach.
The untamed beauty blends with the drabness of the beach cluttered with debris. What I notice most are the waves. I sit down and begin to write the thoughts that are running through my head.
I come here with a sense of expectation.
Karen asked You to give me
a visual of your love here today.
You often speak to me through nature,
so I am listening.
You know my questions . . .
my doubts of your goodness . . .
doubts of your love . . .
I am not used to doubting you.
It’s a dark place to be,
yet I sense you telling me
“Don’t rush through this.”
I think you have something here for me to learn.
And so I look out onto the beach.
I love the frilly, lacy frothiness as they break.
how they caress the sand.
Nothing happening on the beach
changes the rhythm of the waves.
And then I know what you are saying to me . . .
The source of my love has nothing to do with
what you are doing
what you are feeling
It has everything to do with
my love for you,
The waves a “visual” of how
I caress you with my love.
I just keep loving – you!
even when you don’t feel like it.
even when you are broken
and especially when you doubt . . .
It doesn’t matter
how you feel about my love
or if you feel it at all!
It still keeps coming,
like these waves . . .
and over again.
(Ted Loder, “I Teeter on the Brink of Endings” – Guerrillas of Grace, Page 83.)
These lines from Ted Loder’s poem capture my pensive mood today. It’s Ronnie’s birthday and here I am, back at Lake Michigan, reflecting on the 2 1/2 years I had him in my life. A dear friend recently gave me Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts; Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are and I want to focus more on gratitude than sadness today
I brought coffee to a friend’s office this morning, stopping at Starbucks to get just what he wanted. Doing this gives me a real life picture of what it might be like if you were still alive and lived close enough for us to celebrate your birthday. When my friend found I had lost all of you, he said I could be his sister – this was a gift.
Would you even like coffee? I don’t know. There is so much I don’t know about you. I’d bring you just what you wanted if you did! We’d visit, laugh at the latest family story, catch up on the kids. I think about how there is a sister-in-law and some nieces and nephews I will never know because you were gone so young.
We’d finish our coffee…I’d let you back back to work, give you a quick hug and a big sister kiss. We’d part and go our ways, knowing we’d see each other soon. I’d leave smiling and grateful for the gift you were to me, to our family.
Instead i enjoyed coffee with my friend, grateful for those who walk with me through the losses, offering presence more than answers. And now I am here at the Lake, one of my most favorite places, thinking of how grateful I am for your short life.
On my walk down to the beach I see this sunny-yellow flower, not quite opened all the way and I think of how you brought sunshine to our lives for such a short time. We never got to see who you’d be – another dimension to the grief over the loss of a young child. Dad says the greatest grief he has known is not knowing who you would have grown up to be, sort of like this flower isn’t all the way open.
I’m grateful for the laughter and the joy you brought into our home. Your smile was full of life. Your eyes sparkled with mischief. Often directing the imaginative play for you and Gordon, you were the one that thought of making the piano bench into the river barge and the floor into the river as you traveled up and down the river on your “barge.” Those barges on the river as we crossed the Illinois River into Peoria must have made quite an impression on your little 2 year old mind.
I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned as I processed your loss over the years at different stages of my life – the latest being Feb. 2009. As my Godly counselor prayed with me, I was able to see that Jesus was right there on that terrible morning, welcoming you into heaven, and holding me, while telling me how sorry He was that I was going through this. I have learned in a new way that God doesn’t promise we will have no pain, but He does promise His presence. And I am grateful.
I am grateful that through processing your loss, I learned that God is still good. I’ll tell you that story some other time, but I expect you might already know about it.
And so very grateful I “found” you again, while grieving the loss of Gordon. I know you and Gordon and Brenda are just fine. I’ll be coming someday – until then, ya’ll save a place for me.
written August 4, 2011
I think I write about silence and solitude so much, not because I am “good” at it, but because it does not come easily to me. My random mind has trouble settling down. I am learning more and more why it’s called a discipline!
Settling into my old purple chair this morning,
I take a sip of hot coffee and say,
‘I wonder what it would be like to sit down
each morning with a cup of coffee . . .
just be withYou.’
And of course,
that’s exactly what I’m doing.
It’s just that I can’t see you
except with the eyes of faith
for now it’s enough.
It’s so hard for my random mind
to stop long enough to hear you.
It is important for me to show up each morning.
Thank you for always being here . . .
I don’t have a lot of say right now,
I just want to be with you, Jesus
And before I know it,
my mind is chattering about
This “being” isn’t easy.
Maybe that’s why they call it . . .
the Discipline of
Just show up
Get back into the practice.
Don’t fret you aren’t “good” at it.
It’s your heart I see.
And I begin to sing a song of worship.
I love you Lord and I lift my voice
to worship you
oh my soul rejoice
Take joy my king in what you hear
May it be a sweet sound in your ear.
And I am reminded
Music is my worship language.
It’s a way for now to stay on topic . . .
my love for you.
Thank you, Jesus.
I go to Scripture and I read:
Psalm 143:8. . . .
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.I never go away hungry from your “word” when I take the time.
Today, August 28, 2011, I remember Brenda Jane in my own quiet way, and release a green balloon into the air on the bluff above Lake Michigan at Ft. Sheridan beach.
She would be 51 years old today.
Being a tiny premie, she lived only 7 hours.
I never knew her.
I have no grave to visit
only a set of footprints to prove she lived and died.
At the beach I find a Queen Anne’s Lace
my favorite wildflower,
a full grown flower and a baby one
all on the same stem –
just like me and my baby sister . . .
12 years apart
and from the same “stem.”
As I stroll out the path to the edge of the bluff, my eyes fill with tears at the loss of a sister I never knew.
Not knowing what our relationship would be, I craft one to my own liking. Observing my cousins at the recent reunion, I see how they love and honor each other as siblings. And knowing how Gordon and I were, I expect we’d be the same.
As I allow myself to feel the sadness, I have a sweet thought. August 28th is not only a day of life and death for a sister. . . . . . .
It is a day to celebrate the birth of my beautiful daughter in law.
the wife of my son,
the mother of 4 of my grandchildren
I think of her loving ways, and her beautiful smile
and after shedding a few more tears for the sister I never knew I smile.
I must call my Daughter-in-law and tell her how much I love her.
I lift my green balloon into the air – the color of Peridot, the August Birthstone and say:
“I will sing your song, little sister
and I will hold you in my heart,
until I can hold you in my arms.”
Elaine Stillwell: a grief counselor says “”If their song is to continue, then we must do the singing. We have to find that special way that will allow us to sing our loved one’s song loud and clear . . . Knowing you are doing something to keep your loved one’s memory alive keeps you passionately busy, allows you to tell your sacred story, adds joy to your heart, brings an array of beautiful, loving people into your life, and rewards you with a meaningful life again. Your loud voice will echo in many hearts making sure your loved one is never erased from memory. [Source: Elaine Stillwell, in “Singing Their Song,” Grief Digest, Volume 2, Issue #4]
Today I read a post by Caleb Wilde a 6th generation funeral director and friend of my son, Todd. I was struck by the truth of his post and I especially like his ending. Thank you Caleb
Probably one of the more insensitive things you can say to the bereaved at a funeral is, “I understand what you’re going through, and you’ll get through it.”
You don’t really understand.
Maybe you experienced the death of child, or a spouse, or a parent, but each person’s grief is different..
I had the unpleasant duty of picking up a baby who died shortly after birth from the hospital the other day. The security guard and I were talking about what it must feel like to lose a child and we were debating if we would rather lose a child at birth or when the child was older. We decided that we didn’t want either.
He said, “I never really could understand what it must feel like to lose a child until I had one of my own. The thought of losing him would kill me.”
In Death, No One Understands …
A cliché I hear from young people goes something like this, “You don’t know what I have to deal with … you don’t know what I’m going through … you just don’t understand!”
This statement is particularly true in death.
Relationships are special, individual and irreplaceable. What you have with a loved one is only between you and them and it can never be fully understood by someone else.
No One Can Understand … Except maybe God.
In some sense, God shares a special relationship with everyone in the world. You could say that each of us, whether we want him or not, are his children.
Nicolas Wolterstoff stated, while journaling about the loss of his son, that the tears of God are the meaning of history.
In other words, the heart wrenching pain that God feels when He loses a son or a daughter is His very motivation to move and change history. You can almost picture God as a wondering and dejected parent looking for his children to bring them back home. It’s a frightening picture.
In some sense, God understands.
A couple years back, a parent who lost his child wrote a poem that he handed out during his child’s funeral. The poem was almost a diatribe against God. He wrote something to the effect of, “God if you knew what it was like to lose a child, maybe you would have cared enough to have spared mine.”
The more we think about God’s experience as recorded in the Bible, there’s little pain He hasn’t experienced.
He’s lost a son.
He’s been rejected.
He’s lost what He called His wife (Israel was his wife in the Old Testament).
Joseph, the husband of Mary, most likely died when Jesus was young. Jesus probably had to financially provide for His mother.
In the end, Jesus was murdered after an atrociously unjust court hearing.
God has been as subject to pain as we have been. Even with His great power, He’s still unable to escape the hurt that is involved with intimacy.
He Understands and Has the Strength to Help Us
He’s experienced all the effects of sin, all the injustice and pain, just like us; yet, he’s never sinned, very much unlike us. That’s why we can say He understands our pain and yet He, unlike so many others, has the fortitude of character to lead us out of it.
August, 2008 it hit me . . . three years ago, this day was the last time I saw my brother.
I had asked him to come to Illinois. Mom had been sick that summer; we almost lost her. She was out of the hospital, but still not well enough for me to feel good about leaving them for a long planned-for 8 day Alaska Cruise with long-time friends. And I was exhausted.
I had talked to Gordon about possibly coming to visit them so I could go, but he said it was Carol’s Mother’s 80th Birthday Celebration that weekend. A short time later, he called me back, telling me he was coming. He said Carol just felt it was important for him to come. Sometimes as I think of her generosity, I wonder if I would have done the same thing had the tables been turned. Maybe I was still somewhat in denial about how serious it really had been.
I do know this. While it was important for him, I often think if was more important for us – not for the weekend but for what was going to happen. How grateful I am for her generosity.
While he was here, he and Dad went to St. Louis Cardinal Baseball game, something they had not done since Dad took us to our first big league baseball game as children.. Being an avid, life-long Cardinal Baseball Team fan, it was particularly fun for him to take Gordon again. None of us knew it would be their last Father/Son adventure.
The next day, I drove Gordon back to Chicago to catch his flight back home. He went via Great Falls which necessitated a late night drive home so he could get the good airfare. What follows are my “snapshot” memories of that last day with my only remaining brother.
This visit – such grace . . . little did we know
* * *
So clearly I remember this day
Taking a photo of Mom, Dad and Gordon
“in case he doesn’t see her again,”
he thinks and I think.
A quick stop on the way out of town
for a steaming cup of coffee
Ahh, a traveling companion who gets it
the importance a good cup of coffee for the road.
A surly, Goth-looking, pierced clerk waits on us.
He sees the sign on the way in.
“People with smiles wanted – now hiring.”
Chuckling on the way out he says:
“She could be reason for the sign.”
He doesn’t miss a beat
always finding a reason for
that infectious grin of his –
always finding a way to make us smile.
A stop 1/2 way there –
How does he remember this truck stop?
He doesn’t travel this way often!
But Gordon always knows where he is.
Gordon doesn’t get lost – ever!
Gordon is like the original
A run to the airport to drop him off.
I know we hugged and kissed goodbye.
We always do.
“Bye! C’ya” he probably said.
He always did.
I just wish I could
“Be careful” I say,
“Don’t fall asleep on that lonely road
so late at night.”
They’d never find him
until it was too late,
I’ll be OK he says.”
I smile to myself.
He’s always OK!
How was I to know?
2 months and 27 days later
in an early November snowstorm
on a hunting trip
he would get lost,
fall asleep on a lonely road
and wake up in heaven because
they wouldn’t find him
until it was too late.
Three years have now passed.
He found his way “home.”
He really is “OK”
just like he said!
And he’s probably smiling still!
If I could tell him goodbye
just one more time,
we would exchange a quick
hug and kiss.
He’d say ”
“Bye – C’ya.
And this time I would remember
Next time we meet
he’ll say “Hi.”
We all will.
and never again will he say
(To read about the story surrounding those “Days of Loss” CLICK HERE)
Linking with Diedra Riggs and The Sunday Community
Psalm 18:2 You , oh Lord are my rock. my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my strength in whom I will trust.
The ground surrounding the rock changes . . .
muddy, soft in rain . . .
firm in sunshine . . .
gives away in the summer.
The ROCK is firm . . .
providing firm footing
in rain or sunshine.
LORD, You be my ROCK!
I will plant my feet on YOU
through the ever-changing
landscapes of my life.
When the ground around me shifts,
help me stay and trust the ROCK.
Originally written June 2008 – during a time of much uncertainty and change in many areas of our life. As I re-read the entry today, I notice much of what prompted this has not been resolved and newer more urgent issues have arisen, but , but the”rock” and what it signifies continues to encourage and bring peace.
I am in a small group and we are to ponder our answer to Jesus’ question, “What do you really want from me?” I found something I wrote back in February and it captured the essence of what I want right now –
God, I need to hear from You . . .
sense your presence . . .
know you are near . . .
really know it.
Today I feel the “true me”
stepping into the shadows.
Why do I think it’s safer there?
It’s not safe for my soul . . .
the “true me” you made.
The “me” you have made often hides
behind a façade of
being “in charge”
the very façade
I so detest
I find myself wanting those shadows.
No, I don’t want to go
as much as I feel
pulled . . .
I am tired.
The effort not to go
is too much.
And I end up there
by default when I am
too tired . . .
Yet I wonder.
Maybe it is not so much a desire to be alone
as an obsession with what others
might be thinking of me.
And I always believed it to be noble
to worry about others,
to be willing to submerge
I thought it was about them,
when often it was about me.
Lord, I need to be reminded today
of who I am.
I am Your servant!
Help the true me to come to serve today
Dear Carol . . .
My presence will go with You
the Real You
I’ve always been with the
When you are with your
you have a harder time
feeling my presence!
Keep your eyes on ME!
My son and his wife live in an OLD stone farm house. In the back yard is an old root cellar…. a weird focal point to the back yard. The kids love to climb over it. (for the grandmas reading this, the door is secure!) Tonight it’s back yard Graduation Party for my son who has graduated from Seminary, 10 years, 1 wife and four children later . . .. .
The night air filled with
the sound of children at play
and the easy conversation of adults
is broken with a fearful cry . . .. . .
a cry that escalates with the fear.
A little boy in a yellow shirt is perched atop the root cellar,
afraid to come down
because of a Big Spider.
Daddy hears . . . comes to rescue him
and investigate the source of his fear
As Daddy sets him down and inspects the offending Big Spider,
the little boy in the yellow shirt scampers right back up beside him.
The fear of the spider is broken. . .
The little boy in the yellow shirt suddenly fascinated
by the very thing that caused such terror
moments before . . .
All because Daddy is here.
It reminds me that the presence of Jesus can
calm our fears,
grant us courage
even when things
Isaiah 41:10a (The Message)
Don’t panic, I am with you
The model airplanes are flying again,
diving low, at times skimming the lake
and rising again,
banking to the left and then to the right,
at times simply flying through the air.
I think of how the safety of the plane depends on
the skill of the operator.
Lord, as our lives dip, turn, rise, flip and roll
Help us to remember . . .
You have the controls of our lives.
There is no problem with Your skill as operator.
Our response is to simply rest
in this confidence
as we move through the
days . . .
weeks . . .
months . . .
you have remaining for us.
There will be times it won’t turn out
“all right” . . .
all the time . . .
to our liking . . .
but as long as it’s to
Your liking . . .
Your plan . . .
and in Your time . . .
we can rest secure.
Even when we lost Gordon,
He was not lost to You.
We did not die.
We still love You.
We still say You are good.
Blessed by Your name!