Sunday, July 9, 2017

Life in the Midst of Grief: Savor the Pie

It's been a hard day. The days leading up to the 'monuments' (the days when a big thing happened) are - but, even moreso. I want to hold back tears, in order to hold on to the contentment and peace that I have felt the last few days/weeks. ...but, that doesn't lead to healing. So, for a good two hours, the tears came. They came quietly and built up into the sobbing gasp...and then, my heart breathes.

Once the tears subside, the exhaustion comes. At this point, I was hungry, so I sat down to eat my leftover cherry pie - handmade by our dear friend Jon. I planned to eat while reading...because sometimes, that's what you do when you're grieving. You try to do all the things to distract yourself.

So, while I sat to do this, I felt this urge: Savor the pie.

I was transported back to the conversation with Dan: I love that you live life because I can't.

Savor the pie.

Dan loved pie. He told me that raspberry pie was his favorite, but cherry pie was his go-to. He loved homemade cherry pies, of course - but he loved cherry pie so much that he would even eat the Hostess cherry pies. [I mean, I like pie - but I would never succumb to that. I guess I'm a pie snob. Dan was not.]

Savor the pie...because I can't.

Dan savored life, but especially food and drink. When I read through our year and a half worth of Marriage Encounter dialogues, there is a recurrent appreciation for my ...meal that I just cooked. [and, of course, I delighted in preparing those meals because it's joy to do things that are so appreciated]

Savor the pie.

So, I did. I savored the pie, enjoying the delicious interplay between tart and sweet. Each bite was appreciated and delighted in, not overlooked - not consumed as a distraction...delighted in.

Whatever your pie moment today, savor it - because you're here, right now, and this is your chance to live.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Entering my own Holy Week

Tuesday, which was the Fourth of July - a celebration for most of you, was the start of my holy week.

For Christendom, Catholics especially, Holy Week is the span from Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) through his death to Easter. ...and a year ago, July 4 marked our holy week. In one week, I'd gone from triumphant celebration of the Fourth (and a medal placing in a 5k) to becoming a widow. Upon reflecting, I realize this is my holy week. Dan's holy week. Our holy week.

July 4, 2016 - I woke up early to run the Corunna Firecracker 5K with Charles (my brother-in-law), Nate (nephew), and Karen (friend). Charles placed first in his age group, and I placed second. It was my best time of the year thus far. Dan chose not to come because he was in so much pain. Later in the day, he opted not to come to the Mason "tractor parade" either because of the pain.

July 5, 2016 - when I got home from work, Dan told me that he'd cried twice because of all the pain he was in

July 6, 2016 - after my run, when I got home, Dan grabbed my hand and told me that he loved me. When I sat down and asked him why, he said, "because you run. because you have dance parties in your office. because you live life, and you love life. because you can, and I can't."

July 7, 2016 - Dan invited his mom and dad over for supper. We had turkey loaf and some other things that Dan loved. We watched "Mom's Night Out" with his parents. Dan slept in our bed that night. Dan started to cough that night.

July 8, 2016 - We went to the U of M for our normal Friday doctor's visit and chemo. His oxygen levels were lower, and our doctor immediately moved to admit us. Dan found Deacon Wayne when he was getting some blood work done. For some reason, I couldn't stop crying that day. Deacon Wayne came to see us in the afternoon. He said, "Detachment, huh?" ...and I realized that I was so afraid that this was it. I told Dan that I was afraid this was the end. He said, "It's not the end," and we took a nap together.... and then, he got admitted.

...and all the days started to move in a weird slow motion, with every day getting worse. Of those 3 blurred days, my most vivid memories from Saturday and Sunday are praying with my sister-in-law and then with my best friend Pam...and through tears saying, "If this is your will to take him, I know it will be good. But, I don't want you to do it. But, I know you will make it good. But if there is any way, please not now."

I've realized that these were my Gethsemane moments. My moments in the Garden (literally - each time was outside in the sunshine) where I begged God to "let this cup pass from me," and finally resolving, "not as I will, but Yours be done." My last Gethsemane prayer was in the hour before Dan was administered Last Rites, and I prayed with Deacon Wayne. I had no idea how to let Dan go, and I will never "let him go" because he is mine and I am his. We're just holding onto God's hands now, in a much different fashion.

I know what that week was like for me. But, I have no idea what it was like for Dan. Before falling asleep on the 3rd, I talked to Dan about this time last year and told him that I have no idea what it was like for him.

I woke up to "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga. ...and when I sat down to read the lyrics and hear the song, it fits (for the most part).

Last year at this time, Dan was in so much pain. So much pain that he couldn't leave the house; so much pain that I felt helpless - I didn't know how to make any of this better, and it was so hard to stay in his presence because there was nothing I could do and just watching was excruciating. I did, though - I did stay, I was here - but I think my mind has blocked part of it.

I'm entering the last week. The last, unbearable, unfathomable week.

July 8 was the day I couldn't stop crying. The day Dan wanted his parents to come to the hospital, which he usually didn't because he didn't want to fuss...our last good day together. ...and every day after that just slowly spun out of a helicopter going down in slow motion.

What was it like for Dan? I know that on July 5, he cried twice. He told me it was because the pain was so bad, and I believe that, but I also wonder if God didn't visit him and let him know what was about to happen...because then he told me about how much he loved that I lived life, and slept in our bed for the first time in weeks and held me, and we had dinner with his mom and dad for our last night at home.

"I bow down to pray
to try to make the worse feel better,
Lord show me the way to cut through all this worn out leather...
I have a hundred million reasons to walk way -
but, Baby, I just need one good to stay."

I know Dan held on so long, fought so hard - for me. He told me so. I know he didn't want to leave, to let go - but his body physically could not do it. It fell apart around him. It had given him a million reasons to let go - and he held on for a good one, good one, good one, good one, good one....until it was no longer possible.

You guys...death is real. It exists. It hurts more than anything I have experienced in my life, and the impact will be with me throughout my life. But Dan was right. It wasn't the end. Death does not have the final say: love does. Jesus conquered death - and though we must each endure it, it does not have to be the end. Jesus' resurrection redeemed death - meaning that those who believe in him, through our own death can enter into holiness through that gateway.

“We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead. God could not want that for the creatures to whom he has given the breath of life. We die in order to live.”
Elisabeth Elliot

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Redeeming Death, the prequel

I posted a weekish ago, how Dan's death has shaped...reshaped my understanding about death. Realizing that this past week, 7 years ago, my grandpa passed away caused me to recognize that his death was the precursor. 

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, states that grief causes you to really look at what you believe. His analogy is that anyone can state that a rope is sturdy, functioning, and trustworthy. But until that rope is the only thing keeping you from plunging to your death, you don't actually have faith in the rope. 

Until now, I didn't realize how Grandpa's death affected me. 

My Grandpa Joe is one of my heroes. I loved him. I idolized him. I viewed him as...untouchable, sainted, perfect. I tend toward the idealization - and that is definitely how I viewed him. My grandpa lived with failed kidneys for three years. 3 YEARS. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand how - why - God allowed him to suffer for three years, for his body to just slowly fail...for his (my grandpa's) desire to not be burden to anyone become dependent on everyone. 

It wasn't fair. 

And because it wasn't fair, it certainly didn't seem merciful...or in the very least, loving. 

...and I think that is where I started to question just how loving God really was. I just didn't get it. I couldn't reconcile it. 

...and because I didn't really trust the love of God, I just couldn't imagine how heaven could be better than earth. Maybe it was the start of me trusting what I could see more than faith, or maybe I was just now becoming aware of the rope, the invitation to swing out off the canyon, and how much more I preferred my feet on the ground, but with the rope tied around me, just in case.

Yes, that's it. I didn't doubt the existence of God. I just doubted his goodness. 

[and let me just say that when you doubt his goodness, it makes it really, really hard to love him. he becomes hard to approach because all you want to is his love, but you are so scared that his love is not good - that instead of mercy, you'll get chastisement and condemnation)

Who would think that through the trial of my husband's cancer diagnosis and his subsequent death that I would more firmly, more tangibly, more deeply experience, believe, and trust God's goodness? Yet, that is what has happened. 

This is why I share my story. Death effects each of us in unique ways. I had no idea that Grandpa's death resonated with me in that way until I thought about it this week. That was 7 years ago. If you read what I wrote/spoke at his funeral, what I continued to write after, I still said all the right things about faith and dying, our hope being Jesus. But, my heart had a barrier to trusting the rope-bridge Jesus. When the time came, I'd be ready - but I was not looking forward to that time, and I was secretly hoping that time would never come. I would rather trust in myself. 

Just as many people loved Grandpa Joe, many people loved Dan. When we love our people, and we like God, it can be very hard to comprehend death. Like so many themes in life, "He gives us more grace," and we are invited to continue standing on the cliff with a rope tied around our waist, but trusting the firm foundation beneath our feet - or we can grab hold of the rope, jump, swing out from cliff and swim in the deep waters of goodness and love. 

He gives us more grace.

He is faithful, always near - always providing the lesson, the teacher - always gently knocking.

He gives us more grace.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Redeeming Death, part 1

This weekend, I received a text from a beloved student reaching out to me. Her beloved passed away unexpectedly and she didn't know what to do. The next day she asked me if I'd ever wished that I had died with Dan.

I didn't.

Truthfully, I didn't wish for death because I was afraid of it. I have never wanted death - only life.
I started reading my journal from 2016, and in January/February 2016 - there it is. I state very plainly that I am afraid of death. At the point, even 6 months of living with Dan's cancer diagnosis, I was still even afraid of suffering.

And, honestly, I was afraid of love, too - because I was afraid of getting too close to God. I was afraid of letting him into my life more because I thought he might take what I love most.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear - because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Back in January/February 2016, God started to address my fear - first through my understanding...and now, through my heart. What I first understood using logic, my heart eventually has come to embrace as truth.

My journal excerpt from January 16, 2016:

On Sunday, Father Mark said, "When Jesus hit the waters for baptism, they became holy. So, then, when we are baptized, we can enter into this holiness, this transformation." When Jesus takes on a human experience, he transforms it. In this transformation, it becomes holy/sacred, and a path toward our sanctification/becoming holy.
 As I think of Jesus' suffering, I realize now that this act transformed the meaning and purpose of our suffering. Suffering is NOT punishment. For those sufferings of this life that we encounter (not as a consequence of sin), they can be a mode for our transformation. This suffering - it's a way that as we realize our smallness, our inability to save ourselves that we reach toward God - and find that he's been reaching toward us this whole time.
So, if Jesus made the waters holy when he entered them, then he made suffering holy when he endured them. No, suffering is a path for us to walk toward Jesus; it is not a sign of separation. It is a path for us to walk with Jesus, and a path we walk for him, as well - carrying the hope of his presence to those who may be enduring such pain without Him. 
And if Jesus made suffering holy, we need not fear it - for the worst that could come is death. And if Jesus entering into something sanctifies it, then through the cross, Jesus took away the reproach of death. Even death is holy because through it, we enter into Jesus' presence. All the Sacraments and suffering we endure here are designed for one thing: experiencing the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. 
Death is the final door through which we pass to experience His presence in its complete, perpetual fullness. 
So, let us ask ourselves this serious question: Am I encountering the presence of God more in my life - in my joys and sorrows, in practicing the Sacraments?  
This is what God wants for you.

In the first half of 2016, I began to encounter the presence of God more in the reception of and living out of the Sacraments. I practiced the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a more consistent basis as I began to embrace the truth that I am a sinner in need of saving - and my acceptance of my humanity and need for repentance, forgiveness and grace, led me to a closer walk with Jesus.

This was the beginning of reframing the purpose of suffering, and even, death for me. But, until Dan experienced death, this was still just "head knowledge." Most of us don't know what to do with death. We know it exists; we even know it will happen to us...but, we don't live like it. We can assent to the truth of the above statements, but until we experience it - it remains in our heads, our hearts awaiting full conversion.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What Anniversaries Feel Like: More

Happy Feast of the Trinity!

The mystery of the Trinity: God existing in 3 distinct persons - Father, Son, Holy Spirit: each a manifestation of the essential identity of God: LOVE.

The priest today stated that this feast is the only feast that would have existed had the universe never been created, if man had never sinned - this feast alone would exist. It would exist because it is a celebration of God's eminent nature - not a celebration of action (miracle done for us); it is a celebration of existence. Wow. Since it is a celebration of God's existence, it is a celebration of the love - for God IS love.

Additionally, he explained that the beginning is divine love and the destination is divine love. Along the way, we are invited to experience, to share, to continue in, to progress toward divine love. This is the essence of our human existence. To know love, to be loved, to grow love, to be love. The challenge is to love like God does: loving the mere existence of the person and recognizing that they are good. [not for what they do, how they act, how they will elevate you, or who they can become: who they are in this very moment]

As I've been reflecting on this truth, I've come to this conclusion as well: if sin never entered the world, marriage is the only sacrament that would have existed. We would not have needed the sacraments of initiation (baptism, eucharist, confirmation) or reconciliation for we would always have perfect communion with God. We would not need the priesthood because we would have had full, direct communion with Jesus. I don't think we would have needed the sacrament of healing, for death had not entered the world. But marriage would have still existed...for it was in that Genesis account (prior to the fall) that God declared it was not good that man was alone, and so, a suitable helper was created.

All the Sacraments are expressions of Divine Love, but marriage is the most easily recognized as love. Today's feast of love happens to fall on a day of particular importance in my family: my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary.

On June 11, 1947, Joe and Ellen Kremer united their lives together in the sacrament of marriage. My grandpa passed away nearly 7 years ago. When I realized that today is 70 years, I started to cry.

Why? I asked myself. Rationally, we will say that they had a long and fulfilling marriage; 63 years together, 6 children, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren - there is so much to be thankful for. Indeed there is, and believe that I am quite thankful, but this is the truth that I realized with my own wedding anniversary two weeks ago: love will always want more.

My own experience arriving to this truth (and most likely, a continual progress toward living this and knowing it more and more) came on our anniversary, and I think, as both Dan's, and God's, gift to me.

Our 6th anniversary fell on Memorial Day. I determined that I wanted to spend it with Dan, so I went to the cemetery armed with journals, books, coffee and water - and a triangle donut (one of Dan's favorites, though not filled with maple cream so he would've been disappointed). It was a beautiful sunny day, and I sat on a blanket at Dan's graveside. The day reminded me of the afternoon we spent napping in the parking lot of a Catholic church (Christ the King) in Ann Arbor in the early days of diagnosis and tests.

In reading a year of our Marriage Encounter dialogues, and cards that I had written Dan last year, there is always an element in my writing of moving forward - of reaching higher - of accomplishing the work set out for us. Dan referenced it in some of his dialogues - it's as if I was willing him to get better.

and, I was. At least, I was trying. and, he was willing me to stay grounded; to be focused in this moment; to be right here, right now. I was willing him toward healing, and he was willing me toward hope. We were the embodiment of Winston Churchill's famous saying: "Never, never, never, never give up."

I think that's why this year has been so hard. Dan was everything to me - I gave all my effort to his care, well being, life...and I would gladly do it all again - and SOONER.

and I am convinced he would say the same. In his writing, there was always an element of wanting to be more for me; of not living up to his true potential or calling - of always feeling like he was falling short of the bar.

When I read our dialogues, I came to this realization: I just didn't get it! I knew that Dan loved me. I knew that he loved me very much. But, I didn't know how much Dan loved me, and I didn't REST in that love as a fact. There are times that I do, and you can tell because I write like it. In reading Dan's words, I realized that I needed to take more opportunities to build Dan up. He needed to hear words of encouragement and affirmation from me.

Recognizing this, I took some time to talk to Dan about it - and apologize for not realizing the depth, and not affirming more often how much I respected him. The day before our anniversary, I was sharing this insight/regret with my friend Andrea, and instantly, Bruno Mars' song, "When I Was Your Man" popped into my head.

"I shoulda brought you flowers,
shoulda held your hand,
sat around and talked for hours - when I had the chance,
taken you to every party - because I remember how much you love to dance,
those are the things I shoulda done, when I was your man."


Popping into my head with a song, again. This time, to let me know that it's okay; he had regrets, too. He would go back and do things differently - better - too.

Of course.

Of course, we both wished for more. More of everything.
Of course, he wishes he had shown more romantically.
Of course - because he loved me - and when you love someone, you always want more.

When you are in love, you can simultaneously be beyond thankful for all that you have, and want more. You want the love to never stop, to never end. THIS is our example of God's love: we always want more of love! THIS is the beauty of God's infinite self, and Trinitarian unity: we will always be filled, and there will always be room for more. We will not be bored in heaven. There will always be more to explore in love: the heights, the depths, the width, the breadth of love continues on into everlasting.

Love doesn't end.
Love multiplies.
Love grows.

Love fills.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What Marriage Looks Like: The Importance of a Name

May was a big month. A lot of growth...a lot of pain to get to the breakthrough. But, I am going to write the posts, they are important steps in the journey. For those who are grieving, for those who will, maybe seeing the process will help you. AND, maybe acknowledging them will help me, too. :)

This journal entry is from 5/19.

Today on Facebook memories: "we were enroute to Tucson." 2010. 

That weekend we flew to Arizona to look for a place to live (for his new job as the UA Livestock Judging Coach). We stayed with Barb and Steve (my aunt and uncle) and borrowed their Prius. (which Dan was a little self-conscious about; he didn't want his new co-workers to think he was hippie, you know. But, he soon came to realize that it's Tucson. a) who cares? and b) everybody's a hippie. at least a little bit. :) 

We drove all around Tucson - to Harrison, on Grant, Tanque Verde, River Road. We at lunch at Sauce on Campbell. We learned about the wonder that is Eegee's fries (but I don't think I ever had any - ever). [it's amazing to go back into that memory - these streets that you experienced for the first time that then became so familiar, second-nature...home]

We drove up to the Catalinas to explore (that's one of the four mountain ranges surrounding Tucson for those who haven't been there). Dan kept commenting on how "wild" everything was.

And it was.

And it made me laugh to hear him say it, "wild" - with such...wonder.

I'm sure it was on that trip that it started to hit me that he'd be leaving me in two months. This man who had become such a staple in my life was moving to this wilderness...without me. How could I live without his presence?

It was on this trip that we came up with our nicknames for each other:

My Shining Steed.    
My Wilderness Companion.

It was while driving along the saguaro-studded hills of the road into the Catalinas.
We didn't want cutesy nicknames - we wanted words, names, that held meaning of who we are to the other - names of strength, endurance, respect, and fidelity. None of that "cupcake" and "pumpkin" crap. :)  For the etymology of our names:

Shining Steed: 

Maybe it's weird that it's an animal and not a prince or a knight...but those terms (trust me, I considered them) felt false to me. Referring to Dan as a steed feels right - accurate:
A workhorse,
salt of the earth,
loyal, forever true, faithful - 
but still, wild - worthy of respect.

And Shining: 
because, to me, he is. My love. My light. My hope. Pure...purified by love, light, and the hope of us, wholly mine; shining: what we aspire to be.

Wilderness Companion:
willing to walk beside, no matter the path - 
finding light, strength, beauty, and hope in the journey together.

Everything that I aspire to be...everything that I want people to see in me, captured in one name. Even now - especially now - I draw strength in my name, bestowed in love, by love, for love.

We referred to each other by our names frequently. The picture is of the envelope from my 5th anniversary card. Till the very end. Always. 


Friday, May 5, 2017

For the Graduates: Look for the Mentors

This is graduation weekend at Michigan State University. There is a special class of seniors graduating. Yes, when you've been in education for any length of time - secondary or post-secondary, each year there are special seniors graduating. But because there are special seniors each year doesn't diminish the special-ness of this year's seniors...rather, witnessing the growth of a freshman into a senior - this is our fuel - to look for the special-ness in the next group - while cheering on these seniors now "fully embracing" adulthood. :)

I teach a professional development course where my students develop, improve, and refine their job application skills through practice: writing resumes, searching for a job posting that fits their skills and interests, writing for a cover letter, and interviewing for that job. Each month, we have a networking breakfast where students have short (8-minute) conversations with an animal science professional or alumni to learn about their job and career path. My goal is to "take the edge off" the job search process - to make entering "the real world" seem less daunting and scary.

In addition, my students take the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment from Gallup. Many of them have taken the MBTI personality test in ANS 101. I utilize Strengths instead of MBTI in this class because the premise is that strengths drive engagement, and if employees are working to their strengths, they will be happier, more satisfied, more productive employees. However, most students of us don't think about our strengths...and few of us know how to recognize them.

Reading course reflections reiterated this. Several students commented about how it was nice to have "someone else" point out their strengths. Strengths are a combination of skills and talents that we often use so much in our daily lives that we don't recognize that particular way of operating as a strength. Students find it encouraging to have these 'quirks' affirmed as a strength - as something unique to be celebrated - because too often we only focus on our weakness. "We are constantly being reminded of where we fall short - not what we do well."

With that long introduction, my seniors, I want to tell you this:

You are about to enter the lion's den. I'm sorry; I could try to sugar-coat it...but "the rest of your life" is going to be a bumpy ride at times. NOT ALWAYS.

You might have seen some different articles floating around the Buzzfeed universe from your older friends about how 23 is the worst year of your life. I can't speak for everybody - but it was for me, too. There's no amount of preparation to get you through it. We can talk about things to consider in job application packages and budgeting - but, that is only a part of the hardness.

Most of you are out on your very own for the first time. Some of you are living in an entirely new community. Even if you stay in the same community - same university where you went to college (like me) - it's still hard! Because the people who made that place for you - they graduated, too. They are in different cities and towns...and the underclassmen (who now are upperclassmen), well - they just don't get it. They still get to take naps every day at 2pm and pull all-nighters, while you are trying to get used to being in an office 8-9 hours a day.

Oh - I think this was supposed to have a positive spin. Don't most of my writings?

Yes - because in this furnace of 23, you are going to transform into the professional that you were designed to be. The foundation was laid as a student - but, you are still clay. In college, you probably put some shine on (painted with glaze to make you a desirable candidate). However, those of you create pottery know that NOW your form has to first dry out and then be fired to be made firm. As potters will tell you, during the firing process some pots crack; some didn't have a strong form and the heat causes them to crack.

Let me tell you this: you will crack. Why? Because you were not designed to be a pot and hold water: you were designed to shine. But to shine, you have to endure flames through trial-and-error, disappointment, heartbreak, suffering...and there will be times that you may feel you are on the brink of being reduced to ashes.

How do you endure the flames? At this point, I want you to look for a mentor. Your mentor is the one who calls forth life from the suffering, beauty in the ashes, potential in the clay, purpose in the pressure. Your mentor sees you both as who you are - and who you were designed to be. They can stand seeing you in your mess because they know that you are more than a mess. They see your strengths - and they remind you of them when you feel like you're mostly a ball of weaknesses and faults.

I look back upon my journey - the last 20 years and I recognize my mentors and their importance in my life. There will be mentors who stay with you through life - and those who come in for moments: both are valuable.

High school: Deb Hall, my county extension education director - who recognized an entire person of potential beyond the shy, reluctant-to-speak freshman Jessica. Because she encouraged me to step out and speak up, I did. My involvement in county, area, and state 4-H activities would not have happened without her. Without that involvement, I would not be where I am - I would not be who I am. ...and even today, I call on her for advice - and she speaks such encouragement and truth to my heart. She sees my strengths when I can't.

College: Dr. Robert Martin - my college advisor - undergrad and grad school; Dr. FC Parrish, Jr. When I met with Dr. Martin, I always felt like I had the potential to change the world. That I brought light to someone's life...that I could be more than I currently was.

F.C. - man, he changed my life. He taught the Animal Products course - a course I never would have considered taking (until I dropped a super-boring Agronomy class and needed something and my friend Kelli told me to take it with her). He was the first professor who requested to meet with me after class; the first to question me about why ag ed - and the first to plant the seed of graduate school. After his retirement and my graduation, we continued to meet at least monthly for lunches - and I am forever grateful for his friendship. He was a mentor professionally, but even more so a model of how to life life well. He loved his wife; his family; his students; his job and his community - active in his church and community groups.

My first professional job: Lisa Schmidt. She was just a few years older than me - but she modeled professionalism. She was committed to constant growth and development. She wanted to be better - and she was an excellent model of being a woman in the workplace. I was in awe of her composure, her commitment to pursue a graduate degree while working full-time, her dedication to grow spiritually. She continues to inspire me today - in each of those areas, thought the commitment is now her commitment to her family and faith - to make a dramatic career move for the good of her family (and follow the call of God when it's not popular or easily communicated in our culture).

Mentoring relationships can be assigned, of course. In my experience, those have connected me with great people who became friends...but these lifelong mentors - those happened organically (or by providence for those of us who see everything as God-incidence instead of coincidence).  Likewise, there will be people in your personal and professional path placed to be your mentor. If you look for them, you will find them. 

When we break, our mentors are the ones who remind us that we are more. Good mentors practice the art of "kintsugi" in our lives. This practice repairs broken pottery with lacquer dusted with gold, silver, or platinum - treating the breakage and repair as part of the history of the object (Wikipedia, 2017). We are more than objects. The fire of 23 isn't designed to consume us: it calls forth who we really are. ...and our mentors help point out that those cracks: they are beautiful - because they are what gives us power, experience and strength.

My seniors: you are more. You are more than your accomplishments. You are more than your failings. You start a new journey: it will be difficult. It will be joyous. It will break your heart. It might break your spirit, at times. But it will not break you: you. are. more.

And you were designed for hard things! After all, you're a SPARTAN.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What Grief feels like: Living Plan B

Every semester, I give a talk to students called "Preparing for Jobs that Don't Exist Yet: and other impossible things." During that class, I present the idea to students that the idea of having a "Plan B" to vet school way to live. So, instead, I posit the premise that students recognize the "parallel plan" that exists in preparing for life, whether that is to be a candidate for vet school, grad school, or working. Who wants to live their life as "this is my plan B"? NOBODY! 


Last week, like a ton of bricks - or more aptly, a bucket containing all your reasons "why" was knocked off your head - it hit me.

plan b. 

except plan b, for me, it's not a plan. it's some impossible reality that i'm living. 

but it's not impossible. it is reality.

Fifteen years ago, I was a senior graduating from college. And "my dream job" at that time was this: get married, have kids, be a professional volunteer in my community. [essentially, be my mom] Reality was that I was graduating having been on an average of 1 date/year of college - which meant that my 'dream husband' hadn't materialized in those four years. So, I had to go to plan B: get a job. build a career. figure out what God wanted me to do with my life. 

My "Plan B" was putting my degree to use. :) In college, I developed myself as a professional - but never put a lot of thought into constructing or identifying a path. I just identified what captured my heart, and identified those as "good fits." Then, after a brief, "failed" stint at the DNR, I identified the 3 things I wanted most in my next job. ...and TRIO Educational Talent Search fit that incredibly well.

During that time of living my Plan B, I grew in so many ways - but the primary two would have been spiritually and professionally. While living my "Plan B," I began to discover what I was capable of as a professional. I realized that pursuing a Master's degree so that I could obtain jobs where I could apply my strengths to do more good was necessary - so, I did it. Because of my spiritual life, I realized that the best path for me in that education was agricultural education...because, even though I'd been "living Plan B," my heart still yearned for the rolling hills - for the life that 18-year-old dreamed of: the wife of a farmer, the mom of farm kids, impacting her community. 

...and God opened a window. 

April 29, 2008. 

I met Dan Kiesling, the graduate student shepherd at the Iowa State Sheep Teaching Farm. (I didn't even know that was a thing) He was the 2000 Michigan FFA State President. He was interesting to talk to. He was funny. He was interested in me. He enjoyed talking to me. He danced with me. He asked me out that night. ...and even, when I had plans for Friday night, he pressed for Saturday instead. ...and when I had plans for Saturday night - and I countered with a late night dessert - he accepted. 

If you know our story, you know that it was immediate. ...and it wasn't. It wasn't quick. It wasn't easy. Both of us had our own mountains that stood in our way. ...and when we (individually) realized that we couldn't stand in the way of a great opportunity, a great person...then, the breeze came in through the window. 

You guys, that is what Dan represented in my life: the breath of fresh air. Breath. Life. 

Being married to Dan gave a breath to my life that...I knew I was meant for. I knew I was meant to be a wife. And I thought I was meant to be a mom. For those five years that I was Dan's wife, my life wasn't easy - but it was full of life - of breath - of richness - of purpose - of love. It was full.

I was full. 

My cup overflowed.

Last week, through a series of events, I was jarred to reality: I. am. empty. 

Are you familiar with the idea of "filling your bucket"? The idea is that encounters in our day either fill our bucket or empty the bucket. When working with others, the premise is that we fill others' buckets through our own - but also that they are filling ours' in return, so that we never go empty.

My image on Friday was this: a bucket filled with little slips of paper, carried on my head, was knocked - violently - to the ground...and my bucket and its contents were strewn all over the ground.

...and, I. was. shattered. 



My dream job...a wife and mom. 

My reality...a widow at 36. a childless widow. working at her husband's alma mater, in his office suite, his dream job for his beloved department, pouring into students' development - and getting raked for those efforts being not enough and too much - longing for grace, understanding, love... 



A life of confetti paper littering the ground.

That is what grief feels like.

The past ten months, I have done what I knew to do: keep going. I did my job. I tried to focus. I fulfilled my commitments. I put on pants when others would have stayed home. I poured it out. All that action: I tried to fill the void. Not consciously, but the void Dan left, I tried to fill. 

...and now (instead), I am feeling it. I feel the void. I feel the emptiness. 

...and now, I am going to sit on the ground with my confetti life, and I am going to pay reverence to them. I am going to honor and recognize the love that has been poured into my life. 

For the foreseeable future, I am going to just sit with my bucket...and I am going to let God fill my soul with breath.

This is what healing looks like. This is what hope is.

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'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?


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!


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.