Sunday, April 23, 2017

What hope looks like: Meeting us in the Question

Thomas: skeptical Thomas, questioning Thomas, empirical Thomas, hard-evidence Thomas

I think these titles might be more fitting for the infamous doubter. I find it bemusing that this weekend of the "March for Science," we encounter Thomas in our Gospel reading. Thomas gets a bum rep: unwilling to believe unless he can touch Jesus' risen body - presented as the opposite for all of us who believe without seeing...and, unwittingly, those of us who believe feel just a bit superior to poor Thomas.

This account was provided so that "you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this believe you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Note that it's not provided to feel superior to an Apostle...and perhaps, there is a lesson for us who believe to help treat those who question with more mercy and understanding - just as Jesus did.

GospelJOHN 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Marielle Frigge (2016) provides a commentary of this weekend's readings in "Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word" that is so good, you need to read it for yourself:

During Jesus' mortal life, he performed various 'signs' that for those open to perceive, led to insight and ultimately, to faith in Jesus. For John, such believing deepened into the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the believer: the fullness of life, the human sharing in the divine life.
But after his death, Jesus no longer lived as a visible, mortal human being. His disciples then, as now, asked, "How is Jesus present to us now? Through what signs can he be revealed and encountered, that others may come to believe and participate in the divine life?"  
At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Advocate (the Spirit) on his return to the God who sent him (John 14:16). In today's Gospel reading, the Risen Jesus fulfills his promise - sending forth the disciples as he was sent: they are now his relevatory sign."
In the post-Resurrection era, the Church is the presence of the crucified and Risen Jesus in the world, the tangible revelation of God's Word made flesh. 
Thomas doesn't doubt: he refuses to believe until he can experience the concrete, mortal body of Jesus, a sign in the manner he had known before.   
(Frigge, Park, Leal, 2016, p. 155-156)

That line: a sign in the manner he had known before... I am just really ruminating on that. Why did Thomas refuse to believe in the word of the others?

His heart had just been broken. His belief shattered by the death of Jesus. The disciples had hoped that Jesus would bring about a new era of Judaism - and, that was just destroyed by the cross. I think Thomas believed that Jesus was the Messiah; even that Jesus was who He said He was - the Son of Man/Son of God. How could he be dead? How could the Jews have triumphed in murdering the Messiah? How could God have allowed the death of his Son? How could anything be trusted, anymore? How could it be that Jesus was alive? This made no sense.

Thomas, like many of us when the foundation of our world - our hopes, dreams, perceptions of reality, have been shaken to the core, decides that until he can have empirical evidence (being able to experience him through his senses) that Jesus is fully alive, he will not enter into this madness. Of course Thomas had questions. Belief and reason no longer matched, in his mind. All that he had trusted in; all that he had understood to be true...now...wasn't. or was it? What was true? What could be accepted?

I think it is important to note that Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds from the crucifixion. There was a rumor circulated by the Jews that the body of Jesus had been stolen - not resurrected. What if, Thomas reasoned that his peers, in their grief had hallucinated a risen Jesus? What if they wanted it to be true that he didn't die, and they just concocted this? What if someone tricked them, claiming to be Jesus - but wasn't - and the disciples just wanted it to be true - or they hadn't asked?

He wanted to be sure. He wanted to know - without a doubt - that it really was Jesus. He needed to encounter Jesus - not just hear of him from his peers.

Are you like that? Do you need to reassurance? Do you need proof? Do you need to touch? Do you need to encounter Jesus to believe?

YES.

You do.

I do.

We all do.


What is Jesus' response to Thomas' refusal to believe until?

Jesus - moved through pity, compassion, love and mercy [not chastisement - for Jesus recognizes the stumbling block to Thomas' faith and desires to remove it because he loves Thomas and wants only what is the best for Thomas - to know the truth and be set free by it]:

in the generosity of Jesus to Thomas, Thomas recognizes the presence of God in the transformed Jesus. He professes belief: My Lord and My God.

We don't even know that Thomas actually had to touch Jesus; in fact, I think he didn't. I think recognizing the character of the Father Jesus had revealed through his ministry once manifested before him was enough.
Jesus gently addresses Thomas' questions: "[Thomas], peace be with you. [Thomas, come]: put your finger here, see my hands, put your hand on my side. [Dear friend] Do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Jesus' willingness to reveal Himself (to Thomas), to meet him in his unbelief, to invite Thomas to experience Him (to belief): that was enough for Thomas to know (believe) beyond doubt that Jesus was more than just a man. He is who He said He was: God made man. He is risen from the dead!

Alleluia!
 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

What healing looks like: the heart of suffering

Reading 7  EZEKIEL 36:16-17A, 18-28
The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their land,
they defiled it by their conduct and deeds.

Therefore I poured out my fury upon them
because of the blood that they poured out on the ground,
and because they defiled it with idols.
I scattered them among the nations,
dispersing them over foreign lands;
according to their conduct and deeds I judged them.

But when they came among the nations wherever they came,
they served to profane my holy name,
because it was said of them: "These are the people of the LORD,
yet they had to leave their land."
So I have relented because of my holy name
which the house of Israel profaned
among the nations where they came.

Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD:
Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel,
but for the sake of my holy name,
which you profaned among the nations to which you came.
I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations,
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people, and I will be your God.


It is amazing sometimes how God brings our lives full-circle. (And maybe it shouldn’t be amazing – because I think that is his intention with many things – but still, whenever I am given the eyes to see it, I am amazed.)

On my drive back from Thanksgiving in Iowa, I had a pretty interesting encounter with God. Since Dan died, I’ve had some questions for God about suffering. If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know how resistant I have been to suffering. Prior to Dan’s diagnosis, I equated suffering with falling out of God’s favor; during the year of cancer, I *kind of* learned to embrace it, but still with an idea that to avoid it or to be released from “the worst” was better than to endure “the full extent” – or to realize the “worst.” …and then, what I would say was the worst outcome possible happened – and when that happens, you start to look at suffering with new eyes.

While listening to ‘Rose of Bethlehem’ by Selah, meditating on the life of Mary and Jesus, I was brought to ears and clearly realized that our suffering is intended to bring about healing.

O Rose of Bethlehem, how lovely pure and sweet, born to glorify the Father, born to wear the thorns for me.


As I meditated on this song, this image of a heart crowned in thorns came to me. Our suffering purifies our heart; purifies our faith which is stronger than gold. But, we cannot wear the thorns of suffering without a heart of flesh.

Mary's "yes" to receive the Holy Spirit and become the mother of Jesus was a "yes" to a life of suffering. Jesus' "yes" to submitting to the flesh of humanity, a rejection of the majesty due him, - but then, the final submission to suffering, the "yes" to wearing the thorn of crowns, drinking the cup of suffering and death through the crucifixion: Experiencing the suffering of life is an invitation to receive the heart of flesh; embracing the crown of thorns is to welcome the heart of flesh (the natural heart Ezekiel refers to).

What I have found is that we always have a choice. To embrace suffering or the path of grief is to embrace our cross: which is a rejection of the stony heart and an embrace of the natural one.

This past weekend at Easter Vigil, I read the above passage from Ezekiel. Easter Vigil may be my favorite church service. It’s the entire salvation story presented in one Mass. Starting with the creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:2), the Lord providing the sacrificial lamb Genesis 22:1-18), delivering his chosen people from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15-15:1), the calling and provision for the chosen people (Isaiah 54:5-14 and Isaiah 55:1-11), the rejection of the Lord by the chosen people and His wooing of them to return (Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4): and finally this – God declares his justification to judge his people because of their sin, but instead chooses to relent. While justice deems banishment justified, the Lord demonstrates mercy – and grace -  for His name’s sake determining that not only will He gather His people, bringing them home – Hehimself – the Lord God -  will cleanse them of their sin and will give them a new heart and spirit – so that they will be able to glorify God, do His will – and be a sign to the nations that these are the people loved by God. Thus, it is not by works, but by grace through faith that we are saved; the Lord God will be the one to cleanse and to enliven our bodies and souls to perform the good works designed for us. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I couldn’t get through this reading without crying. The beautiful privilege to be the people of God – we deserve it not. We have reviled him, rejected him, and soiled his name by what we have done and what we have failed to do. Yet, he doesn’t judge us as our sins deserve. He has determine to give us a new heart and a new spirit – and this gift could only come to us through suffering: the suffering of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent death. His resurrection allowed life to come to us: a new heart and a new spirit: His spirit.






Epistle  ROMANS 6:3-11
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What healing (and grief) looks like: Holy Thursday

This week, a fresh wave of grief came.

A year ago, Dan was in the hospital with a fungal pneumonia related to the steroid he'd been on to help control his HLH. It was a scary time. When he entered the hospital, his oxygen levels were very low. We told the doctor he was at risk for fungal pneumonia (PCP) because our doctor at the UM kept telling us to tell the ER doctor. So we did. But, he didn't get treated for a fungal pneumonia until two days later, when an infectious disease doctor finally listened to me. But by then, his heart was out of rhythm and his breathing was still labored even with oxygen. And, they made the decision to put him on a ventilator. His heart immediately went back into rhythm and he was off the vent within 36 hours. It truly was a miracle.

When this miracle happened, I knew it was. I knew this was God's gift to us. I didn't know, though, how short it would be. I didn't know that 3 months after this miracle that Dan would be put on a ventilator again...and that he would die. I didn't know.

And in that miracle time where everything was normal - Dan's blood levels, his spirits, everything, I let myself start thinking beyond the "now." I let myself start to dream about what it would look like for us to put roots down. I started noticing houses for sale. I started talking about looking for a place for us.

And in that miracle time, we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary with an awesome, perfect trip to Traverse City/Mackinaw City.

...and in that new wave of grief, as I remembered all of this from a year ago... I felt foolish. I felt foolish that I let myself "get ahead of myself"...that I let myself have hope.

...and I felt foolish because there was part of me that thought I would know. I thought I would know. I thought I would know when it was Dan's time; I thought that God would give me a heads-up. ...and in certain respects, he did. When we were driving back to our hotel after our anniversary dinner, and this blissfully perfect weekend (other than a quick trip to an ER), I suddenly had this ominous feeling come over me. I didn't know what it was - only that it felt like things were going to change, soon; that things would be very different. And, when Dan was in the hospital for that last weekend, that Saturday morning, I had this feeling that I should pack a bag to stay there that night; that was my first and only night staying with Dan in the hospital; Sunday morning, he was on a ventilator.

But other than that, I didn't know. I was scared that it was the end - but in no way did I believe that it actually was. Dan always pointed me to hope. And he told me himself on Friday that it wasn't the end ...and I thought I would know. ...but I didn't.

My mom told me that if I had known I would have treated Dan differently. She's right. And he would have hated that. HATED that. So, she said, maybe that's why God didn't let me know. His mercy, His grace, His gift to Dan and me.

Tonight, at Holy Thursday Mass, I was struck by this line from John 13:1-3:

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper, 
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power 
and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 

From Luke 22 - The Agony in the Garden:
Withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, Jesus prayed: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." And to strengthen him, an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

Jesus knew. He knew that his hour had come. He was fully aware of what was to come. He knew. He knew exactly who he was, his mission, that it was the time to execute the purpose for his coming, He knew would return to God. 

...and yet, He still was in agony over the cost, the process, the pain that his death (prior to rising) would cause. He was so grieved that he sweat blood. His heart was breaking over the loss that would come. ...and He knew! He knew that He would be returning to the Father...but his heart was breaking - for US. He knew we would be able to receive the Holy Spirit - that we could be closer with Him than simply his physical presence allowed - and still, his heart broke at the agony that his death would cause us - and the pain of separation for him.

So, where does the healing come?
In embracing that not knowing might just be better than knowing. Knowing does not preclude you from grieving. If anything, you grieve twice. Before and after. ...and maybe you grieve more because what you anticipated wasn't anything like you expected. Or maybe you grieve because you wasted all this time being sad about what was to come and not LIVING with your person. 

I don't know. What I do know is that the Lord is kind and merciful. I didn't need to know. Not knowing was my gracious gift from God. Recognizing what I feel and knowing Jesus more through this realization and His real presence - that is an added gift from God. Healing comes through Jesus. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: No Solace in the Sea

[Pardon me, I'm going back in time a couple of weeks to document this full journey. I'm not currently feeling like this, but I was.]

Trapped.

No way out.

No end in sight.

The same monotony, the same drudgery...the same grind...forever.

That's what grief feels like.

I left for Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico with one thing on my mind: rejuvenation.

I thought I wanted rejuvenation, relaxation, restoration - but what I really wanted was rescuing.

I wanted to be rescued from my grief. Pulled out of this reality. Woken up from this dream that cannot be my life. This is not the dream.

But, I didn't know it. I didn't know that rescuing was what my heart was seeking...but I did know that my heart wanted to run away. To be anywhere but here (here meaning grief). What I thought I needed was sun and the sea.


What I found instead was this truth:
Sometimes, the sea is no solace.
Sometimes, nothing can assuage the pain.
It just is.
Sometimes, the sea seems more like a constant barrage;
the same battle, every day: the same resistance,
the attack: the roaring sea forcing itself upon rocks that will not move, that will not let the sea advance.
And, yet, over time, the sea wins.
It wears divets,
holes away at the rock,
leaving spaces for pools, for eddies, for waterfalls...
but the rock is changed by the sea.
The sea is not changed by the rock.

So, I don't know...which are we? We are the rock?
Steadfast, firm, meeting the wind and waves;
resisting...but worn down.
Unable to stand forever, the sea will break us down.

And then, just like that - a change in the horizon.


Life emerges from the battle of the elements -
a crab, gorgeous in his red and blue,
crawling upon the surface of the rock,
resisting the waves,
finding solace in the eddies and cracks resultant from the battle between sea & earth.
If you look really closely on the left-side, you can see Mr. Crab.

We are not the sea.
We are not the earth.
We are life.
We are like the crab.
Crawling,
sometimes quickly,
sometimes slowly.
Sometimes, finding solace,
sometimes moving against the tide.
But doing our own business:
our own calling, our own purpose
separate from the elements.





Sometimes, there is no solace in the sea.



...but, that does not mean that there is no solace.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: (Like It Used to Be)

There are so many things I could write about with the amazing turnout for Donuts for Dan - but, I feel the need to write about what I am currently feeling. The reason why I write about my feelings is because I don't have a therapist. :) Writing about my feelings helps me process them: to think about, recognize, and voice them. Once I can give a voice to my feeling, I can release it. That feeling no longer has a hold on my mind or my heart.

Here's the deal with grief...or maybe my deal with losing Dan. It doesn't always feel real. I have had many people tell me that losing their spouse was like losing a limb - like losing a part of themselves. But, honestly, I haven't felt that. ...until now.

For the first seven months, I have felt the loss, yes - but not the loneliness.
I have described it as feeling held, loved - complete. I have felt so much this sense of being buoyed by hope. The waves may wash over me, but I am still floating on hope.

But now, I feel the ache of loss so much. All it took was for someone to see me - the woman not the widow...and in the wake of that reminder of what it feels like to be recognized as someone who is vibrant and vital...I feel like I have drifted farther out to sea. It brings to reality the fact that I had someone who saw me and loved me, someone to whom my presence brought life and light to their life...and the reminder that it is gone.

It super sucks.


I have written before that sometimes Dan speaks to me in song. He started this when we were dating - creating a playlist of (mostly) love songs for Valentine's Day 2010. The first time I listened through this playlist, I realized that these were the songs of Dan's heart for me. He wasn't the most romantic or verbally expressive - but, he had the gift of finding the right song for an occasion.

I thought that the 2 playlists he made for me were lost when my iPod didn't make the move from Arizona. My original iTunes account was connected to my iastate email; I forgot the password; I had a bunch of complications with my i-account when I got my iPhone 6...so, long complicated story short: I thought it was lost.

And in the last few months, I have lamented the fact that those movers stole my iPod and my Dan-playlists. But, the Sunday before Dan's birthday, I opened up my old computer and searched through folders of my songs saved from my iTunes account to salvage what I could find. One of the songs I'd bought (even before dating Dan) opened up in my iTunes account!

...and there were my 2 Dan playlists!

I spent the entire day listening to Dan's heart for me and making art. It was beautiful because I needed to be reminded.


Today, while I was working, one of the lines from a song from Bedroom Music 1 (it's such a Dan name for a playlist) kept playing in my head. "Baby, put on your favorite dress and just let go; we'll go downtown, stop at the first bar we see; yeah, we can throw it down, hot baby, just you and me."

I couldn't figure out why until I played it longer in my head: "we'll shoot the lights out, no one else can see - yeah, we'll close our eyes and wish it was like it used to be."  ...and that it is what grief sucks. As much as you know that life in the valley of the shadow of death is still life, and that it can be good, fulfilling, purposeful, hopeful, and loving - you just want to close your eyes sometimes and wish it was like it used to be.

I was never very good at dating or being single, but I'm pretty good at being a wife, and a friend, and a helpmate... Yes, maybe someday in this life I will be loved again and love again, but for now, I wish it was like it used to be.

Like it Used to Be - Randy Rogers Band

Monday, January 16, 2017

What grief feels like: Joy comes in the morning

To pick up where my last post left off, not every day is like Disney. Just a few hours after I felt like I was deluding myself and that my grief could suffocate me: I ran 6 miles through Epcot with my heart as full as it could be. I certainly did not think that was possible - but it just goes to show you that the Psalmist knew something when he penned: "Though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning."

What I learned about grief from Disney is this:  not every day is like Disney - and not every day is like Disney.
Meaning: not every day does grief have a strangle-hold on you...and not every day do you feel like life-is-the-most-beautiful-gift-and-what-a-privilege-it-is-to-live!

Perhaps, there is a play on words present here: it is this: joy comes in the mourning. If we let it. We do not have to let our hearts be touched at all - either by grief or by joy. In our sorrow, we can choose to let our hearts be entombed in stone, so that nothing can penetrate or hurt us - or heal us. In our sorrow, we can resist healing. We can put up the shield to joy.

But if we choose that, we miss out on the greatest gift we can receive from grief: it is all gift - given to you to be lived. This gift was what I encountered while I ran through the thoroughfares of Disney and the streets of Epcot.

My friend Karen, who was running the half-marathon, got up with me at 2:45 IN.THE.MORNING so she could be present with me before and after the run. Talk about dedication! When she was setting her alarm Thursday night, I asked what she was doing. When she explained that she was getting up to run with me, I thought, "oh.... um... i was not planning on doing that for her. i was just going to sleep and then meet her at the finish line. uh-oh...." [thankfully her race was canceled, so we could both sleep in!]

We rode the bus from the resort to the start (just outside of Epcot)...and we waited for about 2 hours. I thought that someone would ask me about Dan - or at least why I was running - but no one did. In fact, no one talked to us at all - which I think is kind of weird, now...but, then again, I guess I wasn't initiating a conversation with them either.

About 4:45/5am, I walked to my corral to wait. ...and wait. ...and wait. There are 6 corrals (I think), and I was in #5. They release a corral - then wait a while to release the next. I think our corral finally started just about 6am. While I waited, I centered my thoughts by the praying the Rosary.

Then, the run started. We started by running along a "highway" (aka 2-lane road) toward Magic Kingdom. Along the way, there are character stops - I ignored them because there were lines at least 30-people deep. While I wasn't running for time, I also wasn't not running for time! As long as it felt good, I was going to run.

Here's one of the great things about running Disney: it's not a run you do for time. There are thousands of people so the odds of you getting a PR (personal record) are pretty slim - unless you are a cold-hearted jerk who wants to take zero pictures.
However, even though you're not setting out to PR, you still feel really great about yourself because you're passing all these people because you actually trained for the event (technically, you trained for more than the event) - which, let's be honest, DELIGHTED me!

That day, it just felt so good to run. 

Just after mile 3, we entered Epcot. The sun was just beginning to rise, so they had everything lit up. It was beautiful!

While running past "little China" (or whatever they call it), they were playing one of the themes from Mulan, "I'll make a man out of you!"

EPCOT! PURPLE EPCOT! [Purple is the official Team-in-Training color, and thus became the theme color of the weekend.]

While running down this road, I had the thought overcome me: 
THIS is what it means TO LIVE.
 
One of my friends/former TRIO colleagues was helping with a water station at Mile 4.8. I was so excited to see her! I planned my water breaks so that I could stop at hers. I was glad I spotted her right away! She was stationed at the "French Quarter" and had this awesome sunrise view.
The only time I walked was along this wooden boardwalk. It was wet and very slippery. I wasn't really interested in injuring myself beyond the tendonitis!

Approaching the final stretch!
One final selfie before the kick to the finish line. At this point, my hips were starting to tighten up - but I was going to push to the finish line!

As I approached the finish line, I started to quicken my pace/sprint. With each step I took, I kept repeating, "For Dan, for Dan, for Dan, for Dan....!" until I crossed. After I crossed, Karen shouted to me from the sidelines - and then I was knighted with my medal. (okay, it's not like getting knighted, but what do you call it? medaled? you bow your head and they place the medal over your head)


Thanks be to God - the author, the sustainer, the perfector of our faith! 

"I have come so that you may have life, and have it to the full." (Jesus in John 10:10)

 
It is all gift, my friends.

All of it.






 



 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What grief feels like: a thousand times

Well, if we're Facebook friends, then by now, you've seen the jubilant photos from Friday:


I ran a 10K at Disney! For the Leukemia Lymphoma Society as part of Team in Training! It was a very jubilant time. I mean, runner's high + happiest place on Earth = jubilation.

But what these photos don't show you is the amount of...depth of pain and grief that I was experiencing on Thursday, the day I traveled to Orlando. You may see my posts and know things about me that I don't know about myself. Like that I am strong enough and brave enough - that I am enough to do hard things. ..and participating in this race was one of the hardest things that I have done post-losing Dan.

Because on Thursday, grief was choking me. It choked me in the morning...on the plane...on the bus to the Expo to pick up my runner's packet.

For lots of reasons - this race...I didn't think it would actually come, and yet, here I was working toward it. Running has given me a focus. Something to keep me pushing forward. . ..and it also marked a milestone of sorts. It's been nearly 6 months. I don't even know how that it possible - but it is. I guess back in August when I thought about running this, I thought that maybe some things will be different. Maybe this will be a major turning point. Maybe...I don't know.

When I say the grief was choking, I mean it - literally. I felt an intense pressure on my throat as I tried to not completely break on the bus to the Expo. The depth, the intensity - and the doubts pulling me down - all said that I could not do this. I couldn't. It hurt too much. In the happiest place on Earth - how ridiculous to be surrounded by the bright shiny people. I felt so isolated in those moments. My ankle hurt. What if I couldn't do it? What if I failed? What if I didn't train enough? I could not do this. How stupid of me to have even tried.

The best way to describe these times: it's like Dan is dying all over again. That when I face these "milestones" I am facing his death in a new way again. The reality of the depth and intensity of my loss/his absence is more pitched than before.  ...and I think that's what grieving is: we lose them over and over again, in little and big ways. Some describe it as waves coming over you.
[either way, it sucks]

So, as I drown on Thursday, I reached out to some very close friends and told them how alone and inadequate and grief-choked I felt. ...and my cousin Valerie called me and got me talking to break the choke-hold. ...and Heather sent me motivational words. So, I checked in. ...and started to feel more peace. Allisha called me and talked me through the run itself. I could do this. I am going to do this.

I found this shirt and knew it was for me:

Never, ever, ever give up; Eventually you learn that the competition isn't about the other runners; It is the voice in your head urging you to quit. Run - until you're done!






Grief hits us a thousand times. At times, grief overwhelms us. At times, grief steals all the good, the light, the joy, the peace. But, it is not eternal. It is temporary. It will come - but it will not win. Run - until you're done!

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3


Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Come, Come - a Christmas letter



Dear My Friends and Family,

I have wanted to write this letter for a few weeks now, but have struggled with the appropriateness, the timing, the desire to have it look just right...and so, it's now Christmas Eve, and I've written no letter.

It's hard, honestly, knowing what to write. Do I recap the year? Do I tell you about all the times that we enjoyed in the first 6 months of 2016? Do I share pictures of our anniversary weekend to Traverse City? Do I create a funny cat Christmas card of a series of pictures Dan took of Acadia? Or, do I write an honest letter about me now - and make you cry in the midst of the joyful family photos? It seems like anyway I'd do it...it wouldn't be entirely accurate. In the past six months, I have realized that there is an element of sadness with the happy now; a bit more bittersweet. ...a bit more...real.

The last few months have been long, and hard. I find that I have only so much focus to give and most of that focus has gone into work. We have experienced a shortage of teaching and advising staff this fall - and I was teaching 3 classes (two were sections of the same class). There were points that I felt like I had gone far past the breaking point. I was glad to just get.through this semester. Christmas was the farthest thing from my mind.

As long and hard as they have been, there is also a light in those days. By the grace of God and intercession of Mary, I have been brought much closer toward the heart of Jesus. I have found a family at St. Mary's (our church) from our small group this spring at Alpha to a group of women who welcomed me with open arms (literally) at 'Wild Goose' to an opportunity to praise God with others through singing.

When I wanted to write a letter to you, my family and friends, this advent season, it was because I don't want you to miss the beautiful invitation that is advent: O Come. 

O Come, Come Emmanuel: My birthday falls in mid-November...and the days leading up to it were hard. I missed Dan. He always missed my birthday due to it falling right when he was traveling to NAILE (the North American International Livestock Exposition aka Louisville). Saturday, November 12, I attended Mass. Father Mark invited us to imagine our heart as a castle and in the center, our throne room where God (should) reside.

As I imagined mine, I felt like I was so far from being ready to enter the throne room. As Mass continued with the Eucharistic rite, I was just overcome with sorrow. I was so sad, so grieved, so heartbroken; as we were praying the Eucharistic prayers, again I saw the castle. This time, I saw the throne room. There were two thrones. But, both were empty. I first thought this must be because Jesus has come out of the throne room to find me - lost in one of the rooms. Because, wouldn't that be just like Jesus? Leaving the throne room to find us? In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us that he (Jesus) considered equality with God not a thing to be grasped - and so he emptied himself of his right to divinity to come to us.

However, the Holy Spirit nudged me to look around - to realize that I was in the throne room. I was not far off; so if I was not far off, where was God? In my sadness, He left the throne to sit beside me. To comfort me in my sorrow, he came to me. He was embracing me. ...and this is the beauty of Christmas - that Emmanuel God has come to us; to be with us; to embrace us in our time of deepest sorrow (or joy).

Rejoice! Rejoice - Emmanuel shall come to you: this time of grieving, it will not be forever. Jesus, the promised Messiah, has come to bind up the brokenhearted. In this time, we will grieve; in this life, we will taste the bitter and the sweet. He has come so that he can be present to us - with us - and to bear the pain and burden we carry.

O Come All Ye Faithful - I wasn't planning on really decorating for Christmas. I'm in Iowa for almost two weeks, and I didn't really see the point. I also really didn't have the energy. ...and then in a burst of time and energy over a December weekend, I had a clean and decorated house. It was my own Christmas miracle! (But really, it was. I have had very little energy after work to do much) Honestly, it was a gift. And I decided to host a "cocktails and caroling party." I invited some friends - and we gathered at a local elder community. Just singing for someone else with others brought so much joy to my heart.

At one point, one of the residents asked how we were all connected. Those present included my brothers-and-sister-in-law, friends of Dan's, our friends from work, and my friend Leslie. We were connected because of Dan...because of me...because of God bringing us all together: The faithful.

[Friends with kids: teach them the hymns! ...and go sing for others - because as Buddy the Elf says: the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!]


While worshiping to O Holy Night this Advent, these lines struck me in a new way:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees - oh hear the angel voices! 

You guys, for the first time, Dan's soul has finally felt its worth; in the presence of Jesus and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit - Dan knows how much he is (and always has been) loved. For him, a new morning has broken, surrounded by glorious light, everlasting love and peace. ...and for him, he now hears the angel voices singing in exultation:

Sing choirs of angels - sing in exultation; O Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above: Glory to God - all glory in the highest - 
O Come - let us adore him;
O Come let us adore him;
O Come let us adore him Christ the Lord!

In whatever mood this Christmas spirit finds you - the bitter or the sweet - the mourning or the joy: our invitation remains the same: O come. We are all invited to come. Come. You can praise the Lord with loud singing or with tears; both are precious to Him - because you are sharing your heart with Him.

Come.

May we know how much our souls are worth to Jesus; how much we are loved and held. May we hear the angels voices as we raise our own in wonder, in worship, and in love.

Love,
Jessica





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Eight Decembers ago, part 1

I'm not sure what triggered this thought this morning, but December is a pretty special month in the Dan & Jessica story. It's our love month. Meaning - this is the month that God did some pretty big miracles in our hearts to bring us together.

We met on April 29, 2008 at the AGR Graduation Party held at Outlaws (the "country" bar in Ames). So, depending on who you ask - we either met at a bar (Dan) or at a graduation party (me). Both are true. Dan asked me out that night - which was the first time I'd ever been asked out the first time someone met me - so I was immediately intrigued at this "decisive" person.

That summer we went on dates, but were...weird. Neither of us would have said that we were boyfriend/girlfriend, but this was the most consistently that I had gone on dates since 2004. (to be fair, I didn't date much) ...and on October 6, we had a very definite break-up talk. I cried while we talked, not because I really liked him - but because I really liked him. Meaning: I was going to miss him - not the idea of him (which is why I think a lot of us stick around with guys who are just "sort of" into us); I genuinely liked who he was as a person - and I would miss his presence in his life.

His response was, "Can't we still be friends?" (which is what he always did; go on a few dates and remain friends) And I said, "No, I don't think so. It doesn't work that way." (with my heart) But, God did a new work in my heart. I went to bed that night asking God to bring Dan back - if it was His will - when he was ready. Because the jist of our talk that night essentially was that Dan, recognizing that I was amazing (my words), but he didn't think his heart was in the same place mine was, and that I should be with someone who cherished that amazingness.

The new work that God did in my heart was - the next day, I was able to thank God for bringing Dan into my life - rather than being mad at God/Dan for not being "the one" - recognizing that God had finally brought someone into my life who recognized my worth, but who also respected my heart enough to not lead me on. And so, within 3 days, I realized that Dan and I could be friends. I let go of all fears and expectations - and just let him be...and decided to be more of me with him.

I had always wanted to be married, to be in a relationship. I often put that desire on a pedestal. When Dan and I first met, I wanted Dan to be "the one" because I wanted that relationship (not him, per se). When we want the relationship more than the person, we often will make little sacrifices of ourself - suppressing part of ourself because we might be too much or not enough - we might be rejected. For me, I didn't know how to be vulnerable with Dan. I didn't know how to trust him with my heart. I didn't know how to broach the subject of our different approaches to our faith life (Catholic vs. evangelical).

So, we broke up. God healed my heart. I started praying for "raspberry pie" (which happened to be Dan's favorite dessert - but I wasn't intentionally praying for Dan): i.e. the gift of God's grace which would be the perfect-for-me, yet surprise of a mate. [The weeekend before we broke up, I had been at a junior high retreat and the speaker gave the analogy that God's grace is like chocolate cake - which I found unappealing - so I replaced cake with raspberry pie. The raspberry pie analogy spoke to me as something I knew would love (because I love raspberries and I love pie), but had never had before.]
We had dinner the night of the election; he didn't come to my awesome 29th birthday celebration - and I didn't care because there were other guys I was also interested in there.

Then came Thanksgiving. I emailed him with an invitation to come with me to our church's Christmas play, Esmerelda (which I had previously been afraid to do when we were "dating"). He wrote me back the Sunday after Thanksgiving with a 3-paragraph response.

THREE PARAGRAPHS.

I knew that something had changed. [oh yes, I had also been praying since my birthday that God would do a miracle in Dan's life] I didn't know what, exactly...but something - because THREE PARAGRAPHS. [and yes, he agreed to come]

Two days later, I was musing to God wondering if this was all just me-sided (like I invite and he responds, but he wasn't really interested). Ten minutes after I asked God my question, Dan called inviting me to dinner that night. Ok...so, maybe not just me? 

That was December 2nd. We were going to go to Esmerelda on December 11 and agreed to have dinner beforehand. I learned that night that he was going to be in Ames on Christmas and thought, "I should invite him to our house; no one should be alone on Christmas." ...and then thought better of it because...awkward. I made the mistake of telling my mom this - who said, "You should invite him to our house; no one should be alone on Christmas." [I know Mom, but...awkward] 


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What grief is like - the journey

[This quite accurately sums up all that I've been feeling in the last 6 weeks, I think. It's more of a poem, and while outside of my normal writing, I like it. I guess I needed to write this more than I thought I did. It was a journey for me, and fitting to end the way it does since it is All Saints' Day.]

What grief is like...

Currently, it feels like injustice.
...and injustice feels lonely.
That is not to say that I am alone. I am not.
I am surrounded by people I know love me and support me. I know that.

But, grief feels lonely.
To sob while your heart breaks,
deep, heaving sobs while sitting in your car
sitting at a stoplight trying to catch your breath

that is lonely.

To turn to the radio for cheer or comfort,
and hear a line like "your world's not falling apart,
it's falling into a place"
is like a fresh slap in the face
courtesy of your bright, shiny Christian station.

"stop holding on and just be held" is the new "let go."

Grief isn't simple. I wish it was.
I wish it was as simple as letting go and being held.
But, it's not. It's a knot.
A knot of love that is somehow a memory
A memory of love that once sweet tastes acrid in its wake

Where once, in the freshness of death, I could see clearly
The purpose of life, the purpose of love - it was all in its place
Now, the further we drift, the more fog overtakes me.
All I know is this life; how could I understand what it means to live in the wake of loss?
All I know is this earth; how can life exist when the love that was life is gone?

What I once knew, I do not know.
How to see God,
how to hear God,
how to find God in this darkness -
It is no longer clear.

The foolish sing of God's simplicity.
He is not so simple.
He is both / and. not either / or.
I understand the difference between cause and allow.
But, why does death lead to life -
but here, life feels so much like death?

What is grief? what is life?
and why do both feel like a grind?
wrung out
strung out
hung out to dry
tired of the try.

But still,
we rise.
we shine.
we press on.
we forge ahead.
we will it.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
but sometimes, I crawl.
sometimes, I cannot stand, and I kneel.

The valley
of the shadow
of death:
it is dark.
But I fear not evil,
Your rod and your staff: power and might,
Your presence: Light.
You are with me.
So, the darkness trembles...

and I press on.
I forge ahead.
Thy will becomes my will.
Your saints surround me.
Your kingdom comes.